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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

MAUNA KEA: The Future of Space and Telescopes

My attitude about NASA, space and telescopes has shifted over the past third of a century from strongly supportive to, today, something totally different.  In the mid-seventies, I spent some time at the Ames Research Center on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  I focused on devising a system for the detection of extrasolar planets.  

Space was a crucially important political card to play in those days, and Neil Armstrong's walk on the Moon helped to eventually bankrupt the Soviet Union, ending the Cold War.  Humanity might never again be faced with destroying ourselves.  NASA was important then.

Today, we have no Soviet Union, the Space Shuttle is pau, the International Space Station was a useful lesson in international cooperation, but did nothing, and Federal funds should now only be utilized for certain long-term research programs.  There is no reason today to send humans anywhere in space.

Frankly, NASA is obsolete.  We can resurrect something similar a century from now...unless China shows some creativity and scares the USA into, really, unneeded action.

For example, Juno (right) was just shot towards Jupiter.  This project will cost $1 billion.  Unnecessary!   The Mars Rover has already cost taxpayers $2.5 billion.  We don't need to go back to do the same thing.

I toured the top of Mauna Kea today and went up to an elevation of just under 13,800 feet.  This was a major test for me, as I'm scheduled for Cuzco and Machu Picchu this fall and was worried if my lungs could take it.  Thankfully, it was a breeze.  To the left are Pat, Melissa, Karen and Craig Kanalley.  What a coincidence, for they are a composite and Pearl and me:  Paul is a chemist, Melissa a math teacher, Karen a nurse and Craig a senior editor for the Huffington  Post.

The twelve observatories cost $2 billion.  The final addition will probably be the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT, right), itself to cost more than a billion dollars, if built.  You just can't do anything in Hawaii anymore, but the planners of this observatory have been pretty akamai (smart) and just might pull it off...maybe in 2020, symbolically appropriate.  The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation contributed $200 million, with the remainder expected from various governments.  Good luck with that!  Anyway, the TMT is being constructed in a hollow, so should largely be invisible to people in Hilo.  I wish them well, for these kinds of partnerships should be encouraged.

Above is the Mauna Kea Observatory at sunrise, or was it a sunset?  Don't know, as I took a photo of a photo or painting at the Keck Observatories, which reminds me of a story.  The last time I was up here was nearly two decades ago, when I drove one of the Keck sons up there during a blinding blizzard just before the dedication.

I found the tour exhilarating.  Astronomy and astrophysics can continue to provide exciting careers.  We just can't afford to keep sending people and hardware into space at this time.

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The Dow Jones Industrials shot up 430 to 11,240, and the world also largely went up.  Shucks, I'm waiting for something below 10,000 so I can enter the market again.  Have you heard this before?  Gold set another all time high, jumping $29/toz to $1752, while oil remained relatively stable at $82/barrel for the NYMEX and $104 for the Brent Spot.

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