Our Generation Is Not Getting A Moonshot, And This Is The Reason Why
“We could take equally bold steps today if we wanted to. There are literally thousands upon thousands of astronomers, physicists, engineers, technicians, computer scientists, hardware designers, rocket builders, habitat designers, and many other skilled professionals who would love to participate in a moonshot for a new generation: a generation that grew up where crewed spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit was only a historical memory.
Instead of investing a substantial amount of resources in truly reaching towards new frontiers, we’re delegating them to uncrewed, robotic space probes. Sure, the amount of scientific information we can get out of them is much higher for a much lower cost, but getting the most bang-for-our-buck isn’t why we push the frontiers of knowledge. Instead, we’re taking baby steps where great strides are called for.”
Have you ever dreamed of traveling to another world? Even if you yourself aren’t game for the journey, have you dreamed of humanity achieving that goal? For most of us alive today, we have never lived during a time where human beings were present anyplace beyond low-Earth orbit. Unless something dramatically changes, that will likely remain true for the remainder of the century. Humans aren’t headed to the Moon, to Mars, to a satellite world in the outer Solar System, or to an interstellar destination unless we seriously take the initiative to re-invest in basic research and development. Until we start stably allocating resources, personnel, and R&D priorities towards these ends, we’re going to remain stuck here on Earth.
Read this if you want to get motivated towards changing the course of human civilization for the better.
America Is No Longer Attracting The Top Minds In Physics
“We find ourselves, today, at the very beginning of what could be the end of America’s greatness in the realm of scientific research and education. Science has always been touted as the great equalizer: the scientific truths underlying our Universe know no borders and do not discriminate based on race, gender, or religion. We still have time to reverse this trend, and to welcome the brightest minds the world has to offer into our country.
But if we fail to do so, that intellectual capital will thrive elsewhere, leaving America behind. If we do not change course, “America First” will be the downfall of scientific greatness in our country.”
In the decades leading up to 1933, Germany was second-to-none in the fields of physics and mathematics. Yet all of that shifted extremely quickly. In April of 1933, Germany terminated the ability of Jews to engage in public service; over the coming months, 18 mathematicians were removed from their position at the University of
Göttingen alone. When the minister of education asked David Hilbert, the pre-eminent mathematician there, how things were now that the jewish influence had been removed, the sober response was simply, “There is no mathematics in Göttingen anymore.” We are witnessing an unprecedented drop in international students applying to physics in the United States, and politics are to blame.
If we don’t do something to reverse course, the scientific greatness we’ve taken for granted in our country will come to a screeching halt. It’s already happening.
NASA’s Next Flagship Mission May Be A Crushing Disappointment For Astrophysics
“This is NASA. This is the pre-eminent space agency in the world. This is where science, research, development, discovery, and innovation all come together. The spinoff technologies alone justify the investment, but that’s not why we do it. We are here to discover the Universe. We are here to learn all that we can about the cosmos and our place within it. We are here to find out what the Universe looks like and how it came to be the way it is today.
It’s time for the United States government to step up to the plate and invest in fundamental science in a way the world hasn’t seen in decades. It’s time to stop asking the scientific community to do more with less, and give them a realistic but ambitious goal: to do more with more. If we can afford an ill-thought-out space force, perhaps we can afford to learn about the greatest unexplored natural resource of all. The Universe, and the vast unknowns hiding in the great cosmic ocean.”
While the Trump administration just proposed a new branch of the military, a “space force” if you will, NASA has just demanded that every one of the proposed astrophysics flagship missions abandon their large ambitions and present a scaled-down, sub-$5 billion version of their proposal. That means smaller telescopes, reduced capabilities, and less knowledge that will be revealed about the Universe. Every single one of the four will suffer from this, but the biggest losers may be us. In terms of science, society, spinoffs, and civilization, we’ll all be poorer if we fail to invest in something that truly makes a difference in this world.
Why grandstand when you can literally grandly stand where no human has stood before: at the frontiers of knowledge? It’s time to invest in something that matters.
Why Science Demands We Keep The Iran Nuclear Deal
“But if we end the deal and reimpose sanctions, all the nuclear non-proliferation policy victories immediately dissolve. The current agreement gives us a decade of peace, 25 years of absolute accountability, and regular inspections that ensure the stockpiles of radioactive materials include nothing suitable for creating a nuclear weapon. The rest of the world’s scientific experts agree. If Trump has evidence that there’s something else afoot, he owes it to the American people and the world to present it. The prior two secretaries of energy were Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz: prominent atomic and nuclear physicists; today’s secretary of energy is Rick Perry, who has been silent on the Iran nuclear deal since the 2015 diatribe that some speculate got him this job in the first place. If the United States rejects and pulls out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we’ll see one of our greatest fears come true: ‘America First’ equates to ‘America Alone.’”
In 2015, the culmination of 13 years of intense negotiations between the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran all came to fruition with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known commonly as the Iran Nuclear Deal. Iran agreed to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Association, to non-enrichment and non-proliferation terms, and in in return had sanctions against them lifted. Nuclear power, as has been the case since Eisenhower, has been there for the energy benefit of all humanity, and this deal was what put that in place. Trump, meanwhile, has come out and called this one of the worst deals in American history. Is that true, though?
Let’s take a look at what the science actually says about nuclear weapons, enrichment, and the true dangers, and then compare it to the deal. I think you’ll come to the same conclusion as me: that this deal is not only worth keeping, it’s a stroke of genius.
Winners And Losers In NASA’s Budget For 2018 And Beyond
“Loser: Long-term stability. As big of a fight as it was to get this bill passed and the crippling proposed cuts by the President overturned, it expires on September 30th of this year. All of these battles will likely need to be fought again in the very short term; WFIRST, James Webb, the Office of Education, and NASA’s Earth Science will quite possibly see additional attempts to curtail, cut, or eliminate them entirely. In past administrations, it was rare to see an already funded-and-agreed-upon mission cancelled. If this year is any indication of what’s to come, there will likely be additional battles required to ensure that many of these missions are seen through to fruition.”
Last week, both houses of Congress put forth the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, where after threatening a veto, it was signed into law by President Trump on Friday. On the surface, it looks like a tremendous victory for science across-the-board, as many programs that were threatened to be cut or cancelled had their funding restored. However, it’s extremely important to remember that despite all the efforts that went into overturning the President’s proposed cuts, this victory only extends for 6 month; on September 30th, this $1.3T budget expires. At that point, all of these hard-won victories for science, education, and the American people may need to be battles that are fought all over again. In addition, there are some dangerous new precedents that are set here, including the warmongering “America First National Space Strategy.”
Be pleased with the victories that have just been won in this latest budget fight, but don’t get complacent. The war for the soul of America is just getting started.
Repealing Fuel Economy Standards To Cost American Households Nearly $1000 Per Year
“Across the board — cars, crossovers, SUVs, minivans, and pickups — the fuel efficiency of vehicles have continued to climb steadily, even just during the past decade. An economic analysis details the impact that the impact that this can have on the typical American household. For middle-income families, defined as households making under $100,000 in 1980 and under $120,000 in 2014, transportation costs make up a total of approximately 20% of total expenditures, a figure that rises to 30% for low-income families. Yet the increased fuel economy alone has saved families a tremendous amount: an estimated $17,000 over the 1980-2014 time period.”
Earlier this year, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and the Trump Administration announced their plans to roll back the Obama-era regulations on fuel economy standards. Since 1975, the first year that fuel standards were enacted, the savings to Americans has been tremendous: a total of 1.5 trillion gallons of gas have been saved, resulting in a direct cost savings of approximately $4 trillion to US consumers. Meanwhile, the costs have been borne by the automotive industry, not passed along to customers, resulting in a huge boon to the American economy across-the-board. It’s the low-and-middle income American families that benefit the most, and a rare case where the science and math support a universal conclusion, regardless of political affiliation.
So why are we talking about repealing the regulations? Don’t let this issue fly under the radar; get informed today!
The GOP Tax Plan Will Destroy Graduate Education
“Despite earning $23,000/year, you’d pay taxes on $40,520 or $57,914 at a public University, and despite earning $32,500, you’d pay taxes on $81,440 at a private University. For this last figure, this would result in a higher tax rate than anyone else in the nation pays. These numbers represent increases in taxes of $2,628, $6,193, and $10,650, respectively, on these hypothetical graduate students.”
The way that graduate school works for most of the 3 million Americans currently enrolled is that they work as either a teaching or research assistant, get a tuition waiver, and support themselves with a small stipend. Earn $23,000/year, and you pay taxes on $23,000/year. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s fair. The tuition waiver, on the other hand, is money that the University pays directly to itself; it’s money that you never see. At some Universities, the tuition waiver is valued at up to $50,000. And one of the biggest changes to the tax code under the new GOP proposal is that all of a sudden, your tuition waiver would be treated as taxable income. For a 1st-year student at University of Florida, your tax burden would jump from 6.2% to 33.1%; for a student at Princeton University, your tax burden would change from 8.8% to 41.9%. In other words, graduate students would become the most heavily-taxed group of Americans of all.
Is it an intentional part of the GOP tax plan to destroy graduate education? I don’t have the answer to that, but if you have any interest in higher education, you’ll want to know about this for sure.
5 Incredible Advances Science Could Buy With The Government’s $600B Military Budget
“5.) A “super-Hubble” over 100 times as powerful as today’s. The Hubble Space Telescope was a revolutionary observatory, and in many ways is still the top dog in the field of astronomy and astrophysics. But at just 2.4 meters in diameter, it’s already reached its maximum resolution. In fact, to see objects ten times as faint, it needs to observe them for 100 times as long! But if we built a space telescope ten times the diameter, at 24 meters, it would not only have ten times the resolution, but would see in just 2 hours what it takes Hubble over a week to see.”
For the past decade or so, the amount of investment in fundamental science, such as NASA and the National Science Foundation, has been flat at around $25 billion per year, total. Meanwhile, military spending has ballooned up to $600 billion annually, meaning that we spend less than 5% on these avenues of exploration and scientific inquiry as we do on war and defense. It makes you wonder what we could do if, even if just for a year, we spent that kind of money on science? Have you heard of the dream of nuclear fusion? For far less than $600 billion, it could become a reality. Did you want a human colony on Mars? For $600 billion, we could have at least four of them. How about a residential solar revolution? For $600 billion, we could give a 2 kW system to every household in the country. And much, much more, from particle physics to space-based observatories.
Don’t fall for lies about how we can’t afford this type of investment. Instead, focus on how incredible our society would become, with just one year’s worth of military spending, if we chose science!
Science’s Greatest Lesson For Humanity Is ‘How To Be Wrong’
“Science is a never-ending story of careful investigation that requires you to continually challenge your assumptions, to revise your understanding in the wake of new and better data, and to improve your methods and ideas over time. It requires you to throw out the frameworks and theories and ideas that didn’t describe reality as well as others did, no matter how elegant or compelling you found them to be. It necessitates not only saying, “I was wrong,” but to seek and find a description of the physical Universe that’s more correct than the wrong ideas you previously held. In short, science teaches you to be humble before the Universe, and the way you do that is by continually looking for superior explanations for everything you can imagine.“
Science isn’t the easiest endeavor you can undertake. Sure, the rewards are tremendous: you can wind up understanding any phenomenon in the Universe as well (or better) than any human has ever understood it before. But on your way there, you’re going to have to do some of the most difficult work you’ve ever done. It isn’t just mathematical and scientific work, either, but internal work on your own psyche. You’ll need to learn how to be wrong. No one comes into a scientific field already knowing all the answers; that’s why we do the science in the first place. When you’re just learning it, you put an incomplete number of puzzle pieces together, and your incomplete picture is usually incorrect. Or at least, less correct than the best picture. This means it’s up to you to challenge your assumptions, revise your internal beliefs, and draw superior conclusions. The reward, if you can make it, is not just a better understanding, but the lesson of how to be wrong, and how to be better in the future.
It’s a lesson that goes far beyond science, and can be applied to all areas of our lives. Imagine what the world could be like if we all did it.
5 Things The World Needs From Star Trek: Discovery
“It’s incredibly difficult to even make the effort to understand those with different experiences, different priorities, or even different values from ourselves. Yet Star Trek is at its best when it gives us the opportunity to confront our worst impulses. Unless we are willing to consider the validity of perspectives other than our own, often including ones far outside our own experience, we may be doomed to dividing, rather than uniting, the world. With political issues like nationalism, sovereignty, autonomy, secession, racism, misogyny, police brutality, immigration and more in the spotlight right now, Star Trek has the unique capacity to confront these issues with the distance of the far future but with the intimacy of humanity. It is with this in mind that I most look forward to Star Trek: Discovery.”
When you think about Star Trek, a whole variety of things might come to mind. It might conjure images of space exploration, feelings of optimism about the future of humanity, the inextricable link between prosperity and technology, or the fear of the unknown. But what has always set Star Trek apart from any other sci-fi or fantasy show has been its ability to hold a mirror up to humanity, and force us to confront our greatest moral and ethical quandries. We inhabit a world today rife with “othering,” where we look at those who we see as different from ourselves, and are quick to condemn them as being inferior to those we see as more like us. This extends not just to physical traits, but ideological ones as well. Yet each of the Star Trek series in the past has embraced this conflict, and with five stunning examples from Star Trek’s past, I’m happy to elucidate my great hopes for what Star Trek: Discovery just might bring to the world.
Starting next week, we’ll once again have a Star Trek series on the air, for the first time in over a decade. What’s in store? Here’s what I’m looking forward to!