Thursday, March 23, 2006

An Army of...Venus explorers!

Glenn Reynold's chapter on space exploration ("Space: It's Not Just for Governments Anymore") in his excellent An Army of Davids made me remember what it was like in 1969, to sit in my parents bedroom and watch that steaming Apollo rocket on the launching pad over Cronkite's shoulder and the delightful impatience I had waiting for it to lift off. Of course Star Trek was actually on the network in those days, and of course it just seemed a matter of time before we were on our way to other planets and even stars.

Somewhere between now and then we lost that. And Glenn's explanation for the reasons--NASA's bureaucratic inertia and bookkeeping among many--are sobering. I always knew we lost the dream of space growing up, but I forgot how much space exploration really meant to my imagination until reading this chapter, worth the price of the book in my opinion. It's all excellent.

Now, with regards to going back to the moon and Mars, I'm all for it. But if I could register a mild complaint: why does Venus always get short shrift? For example, if we're talking about the kind of materials-based improvements that nanotech can offer, in terms of strength durability etc, is terraforming Venus--replacing it's currently poisonous high-pressure atmosphere with a transparent one--as far fetched as building an atmosphere for Mars?

Much as I like Mars, Venus is closer to the the sun (a big plus in my view), it's .9 the mass of the Earth which means more familiar gravity, more familiar atmospheric pressure, etc., and it's just got more land to spread out in than Mars. I know, I know, Venus probably doesn't support the magnetic field we'd need, and the humans-as-cancer freaks would go ballistic about 'replacing' the atmosphere. (In fact, we'd probably have to start by just nuking its atmosphere, which would really drive them nuts. Heh.)

But I can't helping being more drawn to the potential of our sister planet than good old Mars.

For what it's worth.

Complaints about the book? None really. Okay, I wish it was longer. I wish he'd devoted an individual chapter to us rogue DV filmmakers and one to print-on-demand authors.

I was struck by a very interesting comment in the Singularity chapter by Ray Kurzweil whom Glenn interviewed for the book. But that's a later post.

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