Friday, February 15, 2013

No Money, Mo Problems: Why Investing in Space Matters

I am late to this game. My boyfriend, Alex, has been on top of this issue for a long time, and I have always kind of blown him off or argued these same points: Why spend money on space programs when we have so many poor people in this country/there are so many hungry people/have not done anything to fix global warming/have other, better, more important thangs to spend our collective money on? Well, it turns out this is all total bologna. There are lots of reasons to spend money on space exploration that will positively affect life on Earth, and maybe even save life on Earth. 

Does anyone use this device? Thank NASA!
taken from
Technology transfer is one reason. When we study space, we learn a lot about the world we live in. We learn a lot about humans. We learn a lot about how to make life on Earth less complicated, in turn figuring out more efficient ways to grow food, clean our water, and create new materials and gadgets that will make life on Earth better, particularly for people in developing countries. Much of the technology we take for granted today came from our study of outer space. 

Spending money on space exploration and spending money to eradicate hunger are not mutually exclusive. In fact, much of the technology that allows us to eat healthier food, grow food more efficiently, and keep our food supply from rotting came from our study of space. Finding foods that hold up well in outer space is research that can be applied to our everyday lives, and did you hear about the solar powered refrigerator that was invented by NASA? I think people in developing countries will agree that this is a fabulous invention. Again, Congressional budgets are more complicated than this- money that is currently being spent on federal welfare programs would not be cut to fund more space programs. It's just not a zero sum game, and this is a very short-sighted way to look at what investing in the future really means. You were right, Alex. I was wrong. There is a first time for everything. 

taken from the
Technological developments aside, this post comes to you on a very exciting day for astrophysicists and space enthusiasts alike. It has also been a terrifying, horrible day for those in Russia's Chelyabinsk region, where a meteor the size of a bus injured approximately 1,200 people. I live with a science freak. All he could talk about for the last several days was this asteroid, which missed the Earth by 17,150 miles, and was three times the size of the meteor that injured all of the people in Russia. NASA didn't know about the bus-sized meteor that crashed into the Russian mountains, which apparently happens every thousand years or so. 

Call Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, stat!
taken from
The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs was about 6 miles in diameter, and there has been talk the last couple of years that this asteroid, which is 1 mile in diameter, could crash into the Earth in the year 2028.  They have decided that this is highly, highly unlikely, and the asteroid will probably miss Earth by a pretty significant distance-- but still. I am not huge on conspiracy theories, and I don't get scared easily, but the fact remains that asteroids have led to mass extinctions in the past. It could easily happen again. The good news? We have lots of ideas about how to stop this from happening. The bad news? As usual, we are too cheap to allocate the resources necessary to do anything about it. Ironically, it's not really the crashing of the asteroid into the planet that causes mass extinction- it is the large amount of debris that such an impact causes shooting into the atmosphere that kills everyone. The climate changes too quickly... rapid climate change can cause mass extinction? Who knew?

Hey, kids! Space is still cool!
taken from
I am not saying that we need to invest in space exploration just to save ourselves from a mass extinction. In fact, I think studying space has lots of positive impacts on all of humanity, including getting children excited about learning and science- a simple outcome maybe, but its importance cannot be overlooked. Politicians talk a lot about "investing in our future." Investing in space exploration is a great way to invest in the following areas: asteroid impact prevention, agricultural research, water conservation research, drought prediction, technological advancements, education, and how to improve the management of our natural resources. Whether the investments in space directly impact these areas or become inspiration for future projects, it is all money well spent. So let's do it, Congress! Cut the bologna, and invest in space exploration! 

EDIT: This comment makes this blog post even stronger, adding points I thought of but promptly forgot about, as well as more examples of why space exploration is important. I am biased since he's my boyfriend, but I think this comment adds a lot to the post. In case you don't click on the comments button below, I have added it here.

Alex Stephens:
"The truly excellent thing is that nerds, dorks, and amateur enthusiasts the world over have already been cooking up schemes to avoid global disaster. The most practical one is hardly intuitive though.

Unlike “Armageddon”, the best way to prevent an asteroid from annihilating the Earth isn’t by placing nuclear bombs inside of it but by gently and repeatedly pelting the object with thousands of tiny impacts. You send up a rocket, essentially a ‘space shotgun’, to intersect the path of the approaching asteroid. When it’s in position, the mechanism shoots out tons and tons of smaller marble to fist-sized bullets that start punching away. Gravitational equations show that many tiny impacts are more powerful than large singular blasts. If launched soon enough, and if intersected far away enough, the asteroid can be nudged off course from the Earth.

On to technology now.

One excellent example of 'space technology' comes from the initial failure of the Hubble Space Telescope in the early 90s. After being placed into orbit, it was discovered that the lenses on Hubble were faulty. Images of distant cosmic objects (Star, Galaxies, Nebulae etc) were distorted and blurry. It would take the convincing of Congress + 3 more years before the replacement lenses could be sent up and fitted on.

So what did we do until that time came? American mathematicians began writing new algorithms to decode and re-process the blurred images to make them viewable. Indeed it worked. That breakthrough, that hard work trying to fix a problem, led to the revolution in imaging for mammography. Yep. Women the world over can be thanking NASA for accidentally producing faulty space lenses.

The point is obvious and repeated in so many other examples. When America pushes the boundaries of what's possible, even if it makes a mistake, the resulting process nets enormous benefits for everyone.

And so Julia is quite right! Investing in one venue, SPACE!, is an investment in everything and in everyone. It's only a shame is takes near cataclysm for everyone to demand protection, demand responsibility, and demand a future." 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Senators! Tell President Obama he is WRONG!

This is how Harry Reid should feel
about drones, don't you think?
taken from
If President George W. Bush were still in office, the Senate would be jumping up and down about the drone attacks that violate Constitutional law and kill American citizens without due process. Remember when liberals were horrified about the illegal detention of suspected terrorists people who looked scary at Guantanamo Bay? (I still am, for the record.) Why aren't we even more angry about the unlawful killing of American citizens without due process, and drone strikes that kill so many civilians

President Obama cannot be held to a different standard than George W. Bush was. He cannot hide behind the Powers of War forever, and isn't he a Constitutional scholar? In this case, I absolutely believe he is abusing his powers, and I cannot believe people are not more angry about this. Drone strikes are inherently undemocratic, and in my opinion, do not make us safer in the long run, just as holding prisoners illegally at Guantanamo did not make us any safer. It's total bologna. 

The only dude worth watching on that there TV...
taken from
The episode of Moyers & Company that aired on February 1, 2013 was on this very topic, and the two panelists, Vicki Divoll, a former general counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and deputy legal advisor to the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, and Vincent Warren, the Executive Director of the Center of Constitutional Rights, made a very strong case against the President's current policies. 

Although there were many moments during the discussion that I found myself going, "Yes! Exactly! Why aren't we more upset about this?" I thought there were several quotes that made this point much more sustinctly than I ever could- These people are S.M.A.R.T. (Moyers does it right, doesn't he? Just love him.) Here were a few of my favorites:

"I'm not convinced that the US doesn't torture at this moment just because President Obama said that we don't. One of the reasons why I'm not convinced is because there is so much information that is still remaining classified, that there's so much work that the Obama administration could have done, particularly in the last term, around pursuing accountability for the Bush administration that they're not doing," said Vincent Warren. 

Isn't the resemblance a little scary with regard
to torture/drone attacks/lack of accountability
when it comes to this stuff? Creepy...
taken from
Yes- why didn't President Obama pursue accountability for those involved with the torture and illegal detainment that the Bush administration loved so much? Remember? He said he was going to. I remember in 2009 when everyone was saying, "the past is the past. Liberals need to just let it go." Well, it seems that they listened, and apparently even followed suit. We can't trust this administration when it comes to torture either. And Guantanamo is still alive

"Anwar Al-Awlaki, he's a United States citizen born in New Mexico. I'm not saying he's not, probably wasn't a very bad man. But that's hardly the point. We have lots of very bad people, who perhaps we would like to put behind bars or even execute, depending on your point of view on those things...there's plenty of evidence that lots of people are suspected of doing lots of things. And that doesn't mean we shoot them from the sky," said Vicki Divoll. 

If we are shooting people "from the sky," why should we think we are any better than the people we are fighting against? We cannot fight terrorism with terror, and I think we have to call President Obama out on this load of bologna.  Vicki Divoll made the argument that the Senate needs to make the first step.  Liberals, personal politics win over partisan politics in this case! If Democrats do not hold each other to higher standards than those of the Bush administration, who will? We know it won't be the Republicans...

*I encourage you to watch the entire episode of Moyers & Company, which you can find here

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Football is SO Important.

Hey, we like football, too!
Happy Superbowl Sunday, everyone! I am going to take this time to blog about something that has always driven me crazy. Football is a sport by men, for men. Sure, some women like to watch it, but it is largely a sport that excludes women, particularly from playing. (Don't tell me about that female second-string  high school punter you knew of- that makes up what, like .0001% of players at the high school level? Please.) I don't mean to be a hater, but I am sick of people making such a big deal about football and making such a small deal about things that actually matter. I'm glad people have something to watch to take their minds off of work, family, and life's crap, but I am not glad people have an excuse to stay uninformed and ignorant of what matters. 

I am happy to see that football is becoming a more welcoming and open place to the gays, kind of, (as long as they are good at playing football,) and I know the NFL and NCAA are a huge boost to the economy, generating billions of dollars each year. But I am still sick of hearing conversations between two men who know statistics, players, and coaches like the back of their hand, but they have no idea who the vice president is. We all know these people, don't we? They seem to be the norm, and I think it's bologna

Do you need to watch this again?
This is my blog, and my opinion, and I think there is a time and a place for football. I am all for kicking back and relaxing, but do your job first. I'm not talking about your occupation or career, I am talking about your job as a citizen of the United States. If you don't know how a bill becomes a law, who your state senator is, or who redraws the Congressional Districts, you are not doing your job.  So, by all means, watch the game today. Laugh at your favorite commercials. But tomorrow, when the season is over, take the time to learn about the country you live in and what role you play as a super lucky citizen of this amazing, albeit at times crazy, place.