Science Funding and the Survival of Spirit

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

The better parts of ourselves, even collectively, continue moving forward despite any terrible things others might do. Even as we work to correct any wrongs that are committed, it is important to remember the great and wonderful accomplishments of which we are equally capable.

Some of us believe that money and power should not hold such a central focus for the aspirations of humanity. We believe that the universe itself and our mysterious existence within it is an incomparably better focus for our energies. If there is such a thing as “trickle down”, our better understanding of the principles that define our fundamental reality offers far more to humanity than green paper, numbers stored in bank computers, or the elevation of some individuals who might impose rule over us. If leaders, distant from the realities we all face, are what we must have, my hope is that these leaders learn to rule with a subtlety which enshrines the more noble aspects of our nature rather than our more gross and primitive instincts like greed and territory.

Above is a picture of the Mars Rover “Spirit”, one of two ground-roaming probes we sent to the planet Mars more than four years ago, in January of 2004. They were expected to survive for 90 days. Today, almost five years later, they are still operating, sampling soil and rocks from various terrain and analyzing the chemical composition of the Martian atmosphere as it changes across the Martian seasons.

Some day we might all travel to Mars, just as people traveled to America from Europe on transatlantic ships. We know that Mars used to have water, and still has vast polar ice caps. We currently have several probes both on and orbiting Mars, continuing the exploration. Plans are in the works to send people within the next few years, who will utilize the natural resources we have found to sustain themselves. At this point, humanity will have taken its first real step into inhabiting a far more vast and wondrous universe than we have ever known. What becomes of territorial boundaries, in this?

Spirit, for all these years, generates its power to function by harnessing the light of the sun. But as you can see, Mars is very dusty; an almost powdery dust. If the solar panels get too dusty, no sunlight can be absorbed. But Mars also has many, many dust devils that whirl constantly about, across the landscape, which have, through a happy accident, worked to keep the solar panels clean. It was not just chance that helped these rovers perform their mission so well. The scientists and engineers took their time to design and build good stuff, and do it right. Monetary budgets can wreak havoc with good science. More than half of all “budget” missions NASA has farmed to private sector corporations have failed. However, the missions built in-house at NASA have a stellar success rate.

Interestingly, NASA does not blame private sector corporations for their failings. Instead, they blame the US Navy. Apparently the US Navy produced a report many years ago that suggested private sector companies can do the same work the government can, only much cheaper. Somehow, this report has become gospel. Now, private sector companies, as an unspoken rule of government funding, receive only this fractional allocation of money to get the same job done. And where NASA projects are concerned, this can be disastrous. Most likely, this is true with any leading science-based projects.

Ah, but mortgage lending bankers and assorted usurers need their Christmas bonuses. Just so we know, we could have completed 1,000 comparable Mars missions with this money. Or built 20 more space stations. We could even have started another war! Actually, it would have been nice just to have a tiny fraction of that money to complete the space station we already have, to its original design.

It makes me a little curious. Which costs more money: the wasteful habits of scientists who work in government and academia, or the necessary profits that private companies must produce both for themselves and their shareholders?

It’s an interesting question, with more than few ramifications. It’s not a simple one. What money-people might call waste in an academic setting can lead to unforeseen revolutions in both science and for all humanity — even for all other species on the planet. The big answers we get, the answers that are truly revolutionary, usually happen unexpectedly, hitting us square atop the head from out of the blue. It is nothing something you can pre-plan. This is true for both large, collective issues as well as our own private, individual epiphanies.

And what happens when we channel all of our money into companies whose business is making more money? Why would our money ever leave that corral? Of course, there are appearances generated, intended to lend credence to their purpose. But taken as a whole, the vast majority of the money never leaves that corral. No discovery and curiosity exists in that corral. Only greed, hoarding, self-gratification, and a lust for some abstract notion of power. Any benefit to humanity is merely incidental. Giving our money to money-people is the true waste of money, despite what money-people say.

I wonder what would happen if we gave our money to NASA, who could then hire whole generations of scientists in many disciplines, devoted to their passion of uncovering the nature of our existence. I wonder what would happen if we gave our money to doctors and biologists whose passion was understanding how our bodies work and keeping them healthy. In other words, what would happen if we made our hearts and minds the focus of our energy, instead of money?

In a few days, on November 29th, the orbits of Mars and Earth will position us on opposite sides of the sun. This solar conjunction will block all communication with Spirit for approximately two weeks. Winter is also fast approaching on Mars. The rovers will be commanded to sit still with their solar collectors aimed at some hopefully optimal position to collect enough sunlight to keep them alive through the winter. Spirit is barely finding enough energy to stay alive even now, before the onset of winter, after a recent, large dust storm dirtied much of its panels. Hopefully another little devil might find its way by, to do some accidental cleaning for us.

Right now, the power is so low in Spirit that it keeps switching into a safe mode in an attempt to protect itself. It stores its discoveries for several days at a time, and only speaks to a satellite orbiting Mars via its low power antenna. This satellite then speaks for Spirit, relaying its discoveries back to us. Spirit’s only hope for survival is to avoid its instincts to enter safe mode. Today, NASA is trying to shut down all the distractions so that just a bit of warmth might remain to see it through.

Transitory Electromagnetic Connections to the Gaudy Ball

No, I am not very fond of the sun. It is both garish and domineering. And if you get too close, you get burned. But the damn thing has its fingers in every pie.

Recently we discovered even more. The incredibly wacky THEMIS probes have revealed some strange connections between our little island home and the sun. You can read some background on our home and this mission in a piece from early last year, if you like.

It’s a good feeling having solid science. We know now that every few minutes magnetic “portals” open between the sun and the earth, connecting us across all those 90-some million miles of space. When these magnetic connections happen, charged particles flow between us. This is plasma, the so-called fourth state of matter, that is so energized that electrons are stripped from atoms, floating freely.

These periodic magnetic connections are called flux transfer events (FTE’s). Their existence is a shock to many scientists who, although they have been proposed by others for decades through good science, have refused to believe in them. And rightly so. But what a happy vindication today is for those scientists who have fought for the acceptance of FTE’s.

It is inevitable that the fringe Electric Universe people will interpret this as another tick mark on their “told ya so” column. Then again, back in 1984 they were already comparing an electrical connection between the Earth and sun to a capacitor that must periodically discharge, while mainstream scientists are now confused about why these magnetic connections happen every few minutes.

For those of you interested, the Electric Universe people believe that electromagnetism is the predominant force of the universe and that gravity is not what holds things in shape. They believe electrical currents are everywhere in space, flowing between all things. This is why novae look like plasma in magnetic fields, for example. Mainstream science says that no electrical currents travel through space. However, mainstream science is happy saying that the energy observed in “empty” space is the result of particles spontaneously coming into existence by borrowing energy from the future, from which they soon annihilate. What do I know? I like chocolate.

Oh, right, that giant, glob of a gas ball pressing down on us all the time. I was going to say how nice it is, at least, having its goodness trickle down upon us to energize the processes of life. Here’s another example. Nine banks are receiving $125 billion dollars from us taxpayers, the justification being that it will give them cash to free up the credit markets. However, they have apparently reserved $108 billion for executive bonuses.

This includes our Treasury Secretary’s former company. He claims that they needed to be allowed to do this, otherwise they would not have been likely to participate in the bailout we offered them. Sounds more like blackmail to me.

Also, don’t forget that our Vice President’s former company Haliburton made over $20 billion in the last year, mostly through US government contracts that were not put out for competition bids from any other companies, related to war and oil industry maintenance. Oh, and prisons. Also, our patriotic Vice President’s company has the vast majority of its business operations based overseas, effectly paying little or no taxes on any of the money.

Yup, that giant, garishly fat sun, shining down its radiance upon us. I don’t exactly understand how religious people can be so behind these guys. So many of the poor an disenfranchised people just keep giving them more. Is it because they mention God?

I wonder what kind of blindness it is that allows people to adopt and support the very things that have made their lives miserable. It’s as strange as 70% of black people voting to support California’s Proposition 8, which curtails the civil rights of a minority. These people actually voted to oppress a minority.

Ugh. Yes, happy, happy Obama. He really does have his work cut out for him, if he plans to break many of his campaign promises, to accomplish what he originally stood for, before the vote pandering began. I really do hope that he is a liar and a weasel. Sort of. But not really. Actually, I’m just confused.

Which is likely why these invisible magnetic connections are so inspiring and appealing to me, even if they are to just a bloated ball of gas. Maybe it is because I hope that, in being connected, the flows might travel both ways — that the sun might come to appreciate its position and gain the awareness of its responsibilities as the collective source.

I suppose that is as far into optimism I am willing to tread, presently. Neither optimism nor pessimism is very scientific. Rationality can stretch there, however. But not just yet.

An Inspirational Fall

rent a car bulgariaFall is arrived. The chill, damp odor of rot, rising fresh from the chaos of that which fell. It is beautiful, this ongoing cycle forever playing out, at least while nature holds.

Us, with our intentions fixed upon some inhumanly self-fulfilling abstraction, hoping for change that is humane. In this we are the prime mover of our own cycles.

Heads spewing out rank files, lines like fences herding cattle destined to lift up some sack of flesh that knows how we best must be moved.

The game played within their small vocabulary of strategy, bombs of money dropped brazenly upon already suspecting heads, and the fat dish that gathers and scoops up to hoard all that must be shared.

The fall with its fresh smell of rot, sweet as the perfume worn by bill collectors, their caked makeup gripped to the skull like zombie flesh than moans to consume more brains.

While the bloated eat even more, bragging like boys and their sport, yet too fat to lift their own finger to the field, to play any more. Too fat but to lie, commanding to be fed.

In the season, drown in the shades of red, the little game that grips each mind wins, just as the house must do. A cackling grandma in the glitter of slots. The old dog that rolls and farts to make men wish to please him. The American Dream atop the pinnacle of scarcity, where it must be held for others to lift and climb.

Where the young, who yet dream what they are given, as if it were their own, carry out to fortify all that they would change.

The narrow logic of numbers might count the fallen leaves, strategically noting patterns of distribution. Then, bound by rule, re-cock the gun.

As all the while that which filled us, bleeds out, even as strangers watch and know, because we are all here.

And the furthest imaginative recourse? To cover heads under the familiarity of earth, waiting in our busy tasks for the passing of snowfall — waiting for the spring that must come along upon the Wheel. The pull of a lever. The push of a button. The happy pill.

The fall is arrived. The chill, damp odor of rot, rising fresh from the chaos of that which fell. Just as history reveals.