Whimsy and studiousness from a nice lady who lives in Michigan and loves Objectivism.

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Name: Amy
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Monday, October 13, 2008

Amy Does the Astro

Here is my evaluative essay assigned in my Astronomy class for your reading pleasure. I had to rank space exploration-related events in order of cultural, technological, political, historical and PHILOSOPHICAL importance. Also included at bottom is my Instructor's positive comments. Yippee!

This was a difficult task, but I was especially proud of my descriptions of the Moon landing and "First Human in Space." (When I read the "First Human in Space" paragraph, I almost cry out of anger!) You know, I love how Objectivism has given me so many great insights that I can apply to so many things. See if you can spot my applications!

The Not-Just-The-Facts Big 6 Project
by Amy Nasir

#1 – The First Moon Landing

Human beings have existed on Earth for about 200,000 years. Within that time, they have looked to the moon as a constant source of wonder, imagination, and even fear. In ancient times it was viewed as an unknowable and mystical object. The Age of Enlightenment regarded it as an increasingly measurable and predictable satellite. It was once scrawled by primitive man onto cave walls, worshipped and sacrificed to as a symbol of the Greek goddess, Diana, among other supernatural deities, viewed as a cause of lycanthropy and insanity, thought to be made of cheese, then used as a unit of time to measure months, traveled to by various probes, measured and photographed, and finally walked upon by human beings, the American flag being first to mark it. This historical and cultural perspective frames the moon landing of Apollo 11 as the most important space mission in history, and perhaps one of the most important events in all of human history. All technological components and procedures of this flight had been tested and rehearsed, except for the landing itself and the ascent from the moon’s surface. On July 20, 1969, the entire world, not only Americans, watched and waited with bated breath as Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, with only 25 seconds of fuel remaining, guided the lunar module to the surface, walked down the module ladder to touch the moon’s ground, and then lifted off of the moon safely to return to Earth four days later. The only people who were displeased by this event were the Soviet Communists who had engaged America in a space race. It was important for a nation of freedom-loving people to beat out those who, in the U.S.S.R., were known to murder hundreds of thousands of their own citizens and threaten other free nations. The United States of America had won the space race.

#2 – Sputnik

Sputnik 1 was the wake-up call that struck fear into the hearts of Americans and jump-started efforts to join the space race. The launch of the Soviet satellite took the Eisenhower administration by surprise as the U.S. was in the process of developing a satellite much smaller than Sputnik 1. Even though President Eisenhower at first considered the Soviet’s achievement as insignificant, the American people broke into a panic to quickly establish more government agencies to develop and research space and defense programs. There was a good possibility that this satellite would be a technological stepping-stone for the Soviets to deploy nuclear weapons against us. The government created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency, later renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), consequently increasing government spending and taxes. Just a month after the Soviets lauched Sputnik 1, they launched another satellite, this time with a dog on board, Sputnik 2. An American satellite, Explorer 1, was finally launched successfully into orbit about three months later. This satellite was better equipped than both the Soviets’ however, as it was able to detect the Van Allen magnetic radiation belts. Without Sputnik and the subsequent fearful reaction by Americans, NASA may not have been established and the motivation would probably not have been strong enough to send men to the moon as soon as we did. The fear of Soviet missiles seemed to be a bigger motivator than human being’s quest for knowledge of the heavens. Without NASA, our country’s defense systems would not have been built so rapidly and resulted in us having the best military power in the world, as it is today.

#3 – First Human in Space

The Soviet cosmonaut, Yari Gagarin, became Communism’s best example of the greatness, innovation and power of its iron fist. He was selected by the U.S.S.R’s military for his physical endurance, small stature for fitting into the Vostok 1 space capsule, handsome looks -- and his willingness to be a tool of propaganda. His name may not be remembered by most, but the fact that an American was not the first to reach space and orbit the Earth will always be remembered, despite the U.S.S.R. having crumbled long ago. After returning from the April 12, 1961 flight, Gagarin received several medals from around the world, touring Italy, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, and Japan to promote not his own achievement, but the Soviets’ achievement. It’s almost unbelievable how this nation of dictators and puppets could have devised such technology. If their country hadn’t been air-tight, lined with barbedwire, guardtowers and guns, the scientists and other men of the mind would have not been there to help them achieve this. Perhaps the spies played a part. At the time, many people living in free countries still harbored sentiment for the idea of Communism, and this Soviet achievement bolstered their beliefs. Little did they know that same year, Nikita Khrushchev, Premier of the Soviet Union, encouraged East Berlin to construct the Berlin Wall and murder those trying to cross into freedom. One of the biggest blows to freedom had been dealt by the hand of a cosmonaut achieving an air of respectability for a totalitarian regime. This darkened one of the greatest technological achievements in human history.

#4 – Development of the Space Shuttle

The Space Shuttle program was officially launched in 1972 and is currently the backbone of space exploration. The Nixon Administration agreed that NASA needed a reusable space vehicle. This would present major improvements to save on costs (taxpayer’s money), time, effort and materials. They chose a design that would cost less and would last for 10 years or 100 launches, an incredible accomplishment of engineering. It started with a test vehicle equipped only for flight in the atmosphere, not space. Giving way to public demands, this first vehicle was named Enterprise, based on the Star Trek TV show. It would launch a reusable winged orbiter attached to an external tank and two rocket boosters, then after completing its mission, would use its thrusters to leave orbit, re-enter the atmosphere, and simply glide down to an unpowered landing, all of which tested successfully. Despite its generally flourishing history, the Space Shuttle program suffered two disasters – the destruction of the Challenger and Columbia shuttles, resulting in the deaths of fourteen astronauts. Since then, the program has undergone extensive criticism to help it improve not only its safety, but to stay within its budget. The current Space Shuttle will be retired in 2010 and replaced by the Orion spacecraft in 2014. Its last mission is scheduled for October 2008 when it will repair the Hubble Space Telescope. As a lesson for the future of space exploration, these technical malfunctions and disasters should be addressed in the context of the effectiveness of our government. There are countless government programs that are dismal failures when compared to those projects and organizations found in the free market. The success of the private venture, SpaceShipOne, speaks loudly to this observation. Although this is a tremendous opportunity for re-examining our fundamental motivations for space travel and changing direction to private organizations, it is still only a potential opportunity for impacting history and technology. It is now time to question our existing system and let those who want to privately invest in exploration, colonization and education do what they would like, relieving the financial burden of taxpayers who choose not to invest.

#5 – International Space Station

Although the plans for the International Space Station have ended the space race and involved commitments from several countries, including Russia, it has only slowly and expensively come together to currently result in the potential for useful experimentation. The plan was initiated in 1993, only seven years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Russia starting the construction in 1998, and the U.S. adding to it the same year. Between 2003 and 2007, the ISS suffered five major incidents due to the Columbia disaster, ventilation malfunction, computer failure, a torn solar panel, and a damaged Solar Alpha Rotary Joint. Since 2000, it has only conducted experimentation on human biological responses researching effects of kidney stones, circadian rhythm and the effects on the nervous system by cosmic rays, as the station has been continuously staffed. These experiments may enable NASA to understand the viability of long-term space travel by humans, although these goals have been currently met through the use of robots. The station’s completion will have cost at least $50 billion dollars over 23 years (1994-2017), the current estimated completion date being 2010. With our gross national debt approaching $10 trillion (about $31,000 for every American man, woman and child), a very serious evaluation must be made now on whether to keep building upon it or not. As it currently serves no direct military function to protect the U.S. nor results in major scientific accomplishments, space tourism has gained momentum resulting in five private citizens visiting the ISS, each paying about $25 million to the Russian space program. In light of the current political antagonism from Russia selling arms to Venezuela and Cuba and having talks with them to form a military alliance, along with aggressive naval exercises in the Caribbean, it was a mistake for the U.S. to share technology with and work with Russia on this space station. At least for now, the monetary and political costs outweigh the benefits of the ISS.

#6 – Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope’s story is a simple one. It has no truly significant impact on our life on Earth, no major political ramifications, and only some historical importance. However, this story does have a straightforward technological significance. NASA built a better mousetrap, not to catch any mice, but to take better pictures of them thousands of light years away. Being placed outside the atmosphere, which distorts light coming from the stars, it can clearly detect X-rays emitted from high-temperature phenomena in stars. Ground-based telescopes cannot yet do this, however new advances in adaptive optics have improved their imaging abilities. In a billion years, Hubble’s data might ensure that astronomical phenomena -- black holes, dark matter, comets, meteors, exploding suns, space gases, parts of the universe expanding -- does not harm Earth. Of course, it would be a wonderful thing if human beings survive and flourish a billion years from now. But in our current political and economic situation, the additional enormous costs to maintain the Hubble Space Telescope outweigh the beautiful pictures it takes. If space programs in general were run by the private sector, the rationale for implementing them would have to be securely tied to a good reason and a future purpose. America’s money belongs to those individuals who earn it every day. It should never be forcibly taken from them and used willy-nilly to build a better mousetrap, when the mice aren’t relevant to our defense or useful to our space exploration plans to begin with, and especially when they couldn’t even get it right the first time due to the faulty mirror. Considering the fact that total federal spending in the past eight years rose 68%, this will hopefully give pause to Michael Griffin, NASA’s current Administrator.

And my Instructor's response: Very well written essay. Very creative and original as well. I liked your take on the USSR, one of the absolute worst governments ever. It's a shame Putin has pointed Russia back toward those bad-old-days.

Isn't that encouraging coming from a teacher?

Ok...on to my next Astro Chapter!


Blogger Kelly said...

Wow, incredibly encouraging to hear that from a teacher. Both the comments on the USSR and on Putin were surprising to hear from a college teacher.

Well written, Amy!

October 13, 2008 5:45 PM  
Blogger John Drake said...

Great essay Amy! I joined the trip down memory lane. I used to be a physics students, once long ago, so it was fun to read your take on this major achievements. Good application of Objectivism!

October 29, 2008 11:20 AM  

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