Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Moon Is Made of Money

Well duh, you don't think Luxembourg has a Space Agency for grins and giggles do you?
From EARTH, jointly published by Nautilus and the American Geosciences Institute:

The Moon Is Full of Money
Capitalism in space.
I was slung in my favorite deck chair, drink in hand, having a gawk at the night sky. Andromeda, Pisces ... I trawled the constellations, mind abandoned, still aware in some curve at the back of my brain that the world is coming apart at the seams and we’re all fucked, and enjoying the gentle paradox of it, the clink of the ice in my glass and the slumber of the dog.
By and by I found my gaze resting on the moon. There it was, the great provider: breeder of wonder, werewolves, and all those songs. The place where beauty meets philosophy, where hope and despair alike are lost.

Gnawing through the romance though was a little something I’d read not long before. An astrophysicist had claimed that the moon could save our planet. Not immediately: This would be in about 4.5 billion years when the sun explodes and roasts us in wrath and fire unless we get out of the way.

Frankly, the notion of Earth making a break for it seemed implausible to me, but this Canadian professor said we could do it by shooting off an army of rockets on the far side of the moon. Slammed out of its orbit by the collective blast, the moon would sail off with Earth, yoked by gravity, trailing behind it. A thousand years’ travel and we’re out of harm’s way—albeit dark and freezing unless we initiate phase two of the plan. As the sun receded in the distance, we would replace its rays with a trillion lunar argon arc lamps. A flip of the switch and the moon would become the sun: blue sky, puffy clouds, everything just as before.

I’m gazing up at the night, not quite in a reverie thanks to the gnats, but thinking yes, well, lovely. Imagine the parades. Still, to get that opportunity the human race would have to last (long pause, phone math) 22,500 times longer than it has already. At that point I heaved myself up and went inside for more booze.
Looking back, I believe that night marked the shift in my thinking from save it (Earth) to save us (me). Or if not me, someone. Because when you’ve got surfing champs riding the curl from an ice wall collapsing in the Arctic, when an Ivy League egghead offers mathematical proofs that the human race is doomed if we don’t get off-world, and Stephen Hawking and others are ululating on the same theme, and thousands are tunneling and stockpiling ahead of TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World As We Know It), then you have to start wondering if it’s not time to break camp. Or at least to establish a beachhead on the moon, just as some governments, corporations, scrappy start-ups, and freestanding oddballs are trying now to do.
On the moon, our genius can fly free.
Granted, we’ve heard such talk before, back in the days of the Apollo program. Lunar colonies they promised us, farms, industries, a platform to the universe. What did we get? June 2008: “Space Station Resident Fixes Toilet.” The big difference today is that some people are actually serious about it. In the ’60s it was just something to say. For despite all the soaring rhetoric, the only thing Washington really cared about then was beating the Soviets there.

As a kid when I heard the word Soviets, I got a taste in my mouth like lead pencils. I remember a Weekly Reader from maybe fourth grade with a picture of J. Edgar Hoover beneath the headline, “What You Can Do in the Fight Against Communism.” What winning would mean—Let’s Win the Cold War!—no one ever explained, but the consequences of losing were clear. The Kremlin and the Kingston Trio agreed, when the big one hit, we’d all go, next year, next month, tomorrow ...

Everyone lived in a state of controlled hysteria and doublethink. To safeguard the nation the Atomic Energy Commission put out a call to any and all Americans to get out there and find more uranium so the government could build more bombs. We pay cash! People were streaming across the Colorado Plateau with picks and shovels, Geiger counters, whole families, some in the newly popular uranium designer-wear including the form-fitting “U-235 suit” for Mom and the “Diggerette Jr.” model for Sis. No protection from radiation expressed or implied, but so what? Handling uranium was safe.

People believed this not just because the Mouseketeers were out looking for it, or even because the government said it was safe. They believed it because it was impossible. A lot of these same folks were putting fallout shelters in their homes. Everybody was. My parents got one immediately. We had a small basement and the shelter took up half of it: a little blockhouse of dank concrete with cans and shelving. My mother had to squeeze past it to get to the dryer. Even as a child I knew that sealing the five of us up together for more than an hour and a half was inconceivable on its face. I’d returned home from the dentist one day to find our cat had killed our hamsters and our dog had killed our cat. That was the kind of vibe our house produced among pets in the living room. Put the people in a hole and you can imagine.

Then Sputnik went up. This was in the fall of 1957, and the whole country plotzed. I remember standing in the backyard on those autumn evenings, like millions of other Americans, staring dumbly at the sky trying to spot its winking light. Every 90 minutes the thing passed overhead, accidentally opening and closing garage doors, and with each orbit the Soviets claimed the universe one more time.
What would the Commies do next? Would they bomb us from outer space? Would they bomb us from the moon?

Not to worry, the Russians said. True, in five to 10 years they would be enthroned there but strictly in the interests of peace and science. At 8 I was merely skeptical. Washington’s response recalled the time the great acting teacher Stella Adler told her students to react to the bombing of Pearl Harbor as if they were chickens. One of the first ideas advanced, perhaps predictably, was to nuke the moon.

To be fair, it wasn’t the only thing American officials wanted to nuke. If there was one group in those days even more in thrall to the bomb than everyone else, it was the people in charge of it, many of whom united the self-surrender of cultists with a sort of mad curiosity about what it could do.

The Atomic Energy Commission went on a campaign to create a deep-water harbor in Alaska with five thermonuclear bombs. But the moon! Not only could we keep the Russians at bay by firing a warning shot into its head; the demonstration of strength would have “beneficial psychological results” for our citizens, as Jet Propulsion Lab chief William Pickering explained—plus, he said, scientists could harvest and study the hail of radioactive debris. Thus in 1958, top-secret Project A119 got the go-ahead with prestige support from the RAND Corporation and JPL. A modest strike, the planners said. We won’t be obliterating the whole moon any more than we destroyed all Japan.

Ten months of work was sunk in this scheme. Along the way team member Carl Sagan, later the face of space on public television, established that a Hiroshima-sized blast in lunar gravity would fly in all directions, not mushroom as on Earth, a plus propaganda-wise since it would be easier to see.

Then just like that it was over. NASA was born and the project was scrapped. The new, karmically improved plan was to put men on the moon before the Russians could. For a time this looked unlikely. The Soviets orbited the first animals, the first man, two men, three, the first woman, with a vaudevillian’s arrogant skill, while NASA’s small successes splashed down to a mix of scorn and anxious clapping. But derailed by in-fighting, the Russians flagged, and on July 20, 1969, there was Apollo 11 touching down and America waving the big foam finger.

Ironically, when TV screens showed that white beetle climbing down the ladder, it didn’t matter who had won.

That’s what people said, and for a moment it was true. We’re on our way! NASA cried. Next stop the stars! But with the Russians beaten the rest was gravy, or would have been except there was no gravy: Up close the moon seemed to have nothing a person would actually want. By the mid-1970s NASA’s budget had dropped dramatically, and as an icon of the age the moon faded out, to be replaced by the disco ball in Saturday Night Fever.

Why then, all these decades later, the hunger to return to the big white stone? What’s driving it? The one-world ethos of the Apollo program is long gone. Humanity in the main couldn’t care less about understanding the cosmos. Saving mankind? You couldn’t get the funding.
We’re going back because, like the voice of Gatsby’s beloved Daisy, the moon is full of money.

In the 1990s the rumors began: talk of new fuels there, strange isotopes. Probes from India, China, the United States dove and hovered like hornets over a jam pot. Then water! Confirmed! In two shakes the moon went from a circular corpse to a whiteboard covered in calculations. Some picture it now as the industrial hub of the inner solar system. They see alien-hunting telescope farms, hotels, zoos, gardens, and everyone having sloooooow sex in one-sixth of Earth’s gravity. Plus swimmers like flying fish, cubic basketball, gymnasts like figures in a dream. Lunar eveningwear! Genetic warehousing! Glass roads! And there’s a vision even more extravagant …

Alfred, Lord Tennyson had some thoughts on buying and selling in outer space. As he saw it, when “the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails / Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales,” universal peace would shower down as well. A foolish dream, you say? Tell that to today’s entrepreneurs who’ve caught the opiate perfume of phrases like “Persian Gulf of the 21st century,” “Saudi Arabia of platinum,” and “biggest wealth-creation opportunity in modern history.” They believe that new energy sources from the moon, non-polluting and inexhaustible, could transform and heal our planet. Equally excellent, they see themselves profiting unimaginably from these sources without interference or restraint.

Capitalism this pure, it’s almost too good, it’s like uncut heroin, it stops the breath. Look at the target market! Everybody!....
....MUCH MORE

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