Thursday, September 26, 2019

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the possibility of permanent settlements on Mars

On February 11, 2018, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson delivered a presentation at the World Government Summit held annually in Dubai, UAE. His presentation was entitled, "The Future of Colonizing Space." The session included a discussion about the recent first launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

He opened by observing that predicting the future is hard and made his point by juxtaposing past predictions (from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but also from the 1950s or so) with what has actually happened. At about 15:50 to 19:45 he tells that, in researching an article on exploration, he found "three drivers that enable a nation to commit large sums of money"– the examples are his:
  1. War/Defense, e.g. Apollo, Manhattan Project, Great Wall of China, Interstate Highway System...
  2. Praise of deity or royalty, e.g. Pyramids, Versailles, Cathedrals...
  3. Promise of economic return, e.g. Columbus, Magellan, Lewis & Clark...
On 1, he noted that regardless of the rhetoric that accompanied the Apollo program, it was actually motivated by fear that the Russians would beat America in space. The Manhattan Project and the Great Wall of China are obvious. And it was Germany's Autobahn that inspired Eisenhower to create the Interstate Highway System; he was impressed with its utility for military transport.

He goes on the assert that 2 is out of the question in the current world, and goes on to explore 1 and 3 as drivers for space exploration. Thus at about 49:58 he throws up a slide asserting that the first trillionaires will be from these businesses:
  • Mining Asteroids
  • Deflecting Asteroids
  • Harvesting Water from Comets
  • Vacation: Moon, Mars, & Beyond
That's all well and good.

But I've got my doubts about his dismissal of 2, "Praise of deity or royalty." That's basically about the sacred. And the sacred is still alive within us in various ways. All this tech Singularity nonsense is about the sacred, albeit in a somewhat confused way. And much of the inspiring rhetoric cloaking the Apollo was sacred in character. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was about the sacred as, I believe, was Chazelle's First Man. Who knows where we'll be when we've come through the current rank shift and reconsider our place in the universe. Perhaps we'll evolve a sense of the sacred that will take us deeper into space, even to Mars.

One never knows.

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