These days when it seems like humanity isn’t up to dealing with the problems of police shootings, politics, terrorism and numerous other challenges, remembering the big challenges we have overcome can be useful. The Abundance book has plenty of examples of the progress being made to raise the quality of life for more and more people, but that takesa good bit of time and thought and just doesn’t feel big enough. There’s a quick and easy way to be reminded of how people of all races, genders, political parties and countries can work together to tackle enormous problems successfully – look up in the sky. Tonight(7/7/2016) and for the next few nights, one can see Jupiter near the moon in the western sky where the sun has just set.
3 days ago, a basketball court sized spacecraft completed a 5 year journey and successfully entered orbit around Jupiter. This has been described as “the hardest thing NASA has done” – comparable to hitting a golf ball in New York into a hole in Los Angeles! Jupiter is 540 million miles away and as wide as 11 Earths! One could fit all of the planets in our solar system inside Jupiter.
Another benefit of looking up and seeing a place humans have sent equipment to is that it reminds us there is an abundance of material resource available to us. It’s awesome and anyone can choose to go outside, look up and be inspired.
Part 1 of this series began at the first quarter phase of the Moon on 01-16-2016. Today we’re at the last quarter which is as illustrated above, the visual and geometric opposite of the first quarter. These two positions of the Moon are also the second primary set of binary/polar relationships after the new and full Moon positions. Today, in part because few people farm we’re not as directly connected to the practical value of these polar relations. The full moon is hard to ignore but we’re generally not familiar with waxing, waning or gibbous(when’s the last time you heard someone say that word). Ironically, while science pays less attention, there are many people who are aware of at least the crescent moon phases for religious reasons. Still, our awareness doesn’t change the fact these relationships encode the same valuable knowledge as boolean math and logic gates which power computers. In Part 3, we’ll take an in-depth look at how digital logic drives the relationships which govern how the Moon’s orbit presents the Sun’s light to us.
Although this was definitely not my plan, it seems fitting that the first, last and only posts of this month have a Star Trek component. As the passing of Leonard Nimoy is being commented upon by people the world over including statements by President Obama and Charlie Bolden – leaders of the US space program, I am reflecting on the juxtaposition of art and science. On the one hand, in the modern mythology of Star Trek, Vulcans observing the “real” first manmade artificial satellite Sputnik in 1957, crash in a fictional town in Pennsylvania. In the “real” world town of Lakehurst, NJ a few years later, a ground station at the naval base relayed the first live two-way telephone call between heads of state via geosynchronous satellite Syncom II to President Kennedy. On the other end of the call, via the US Kingsport docked in Lagos Harbor was the Nigerian Prime MinisterAbubakar Balewa. In a brilliant essay entitled The Race for Space written sometime in late 1957 but unpublished until 1993, Duke Ellington articulates how racial issues were holding America back in the space race. Pointing out the lack of educational and employment opportunities in the fields needed to compete The Duke said
“Everybody has to get in the game if we are playing to win”
America won, but barely and then stumbled. In 1958 Ellington named his band The Spacemen one of the first in the lineage Big K.R.I.T recognizes in this Rolling Stones interview from Nov of 2014, African-American musicians were not only tuned into outer space, but saw themselves as intellectually and creatively capable of contributing to the US space effort. Now we’re in a new race for space with an African-American in charge of NASA but no companies like Space X or Virgin Galactic. Dr. Ellen Stofan, Chief Scientist at NASA puts it this way:
“When you have problems like trying to get humans down onto the surface of Mars, if you don’t have all the best minds in the world — not just white men — then you’re not utilizing humanity the way you should.”
Even though the benefits of the space program have been well documented, some people still don’t see why we should care(let alone spend money on) space. There’s one simple reason why every human should care about space. It’s home! Someone might say that our home is here on Earth, but Earth is a planet orbiting a star in space. Space is also a repository of vast material resources and has proven economic value. Contemporary astronauts speak about the transforming impact of seeing Earth from orbit – something called the Overview Effect. At least 6000 years ago on what is now the Nubian desert, ancient astronomers at Nabta Playa were charting the stars.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Nichelle Nichols had a very fortuitous encounter at an NAACP fund raising event in Beverly Hills after the first year of the Star Trek television show which changed not only her life but countless others. MLK was a very expansive thinker, well aware of the benefits of space exploration even at a time when African-Americans made up only a percent or two of U.S. engineering workforce. Earlier that week Nichelle had decided to leave the show and return to her roots in musical theatre. When she mentioned that to Dr. King, she says he insisted that she stay, that her role was of historical importance(see other accounts by Wall Street Journal and CNN). He convinced her to stay and millions of people of all ethnicities were exposed to the notion that a woman of color could be fourth in command of an intergalactic starship. He understood that it was more than a television show. I suppose we can speculate how clearly he envisioned from the mountain top that Nichelle would inspire people like former astronauts Mae Jemison and Charles Bolden, that Dr. Jemison would bring Star Trek into space:
A quarter of a century after Lt. Uhura boldly went where no African American had gone before, her protegee returned the favor. Before blasting into orbit aboard the Endeavour in 1992, Jemison, the first woman of color in space, called actress Nichelle Nichols to thank her for the inspiration. And then she made a promise: Despite NASA’s rigid protocol, Jemison would begin each shift with a salute that only a Trekkie could appreciate. “Hailing frequencies open,
that Charles Bolden would become the director of NASA. However, one thing we know for certain is that for just about two more years, the Director of NASA and his boss are African-American. During this time every historic accomplishment at NASA happens under their our watch. During Black History Month this year, I’ll be tracking those historical events along with other aspects of African-American historical endeavors in both physical and virtual space.
Transportation matters. Experts say finding smarter ways to travel will generate more business and improve more people’s quality of life.
More and more people are expected to live in cities in the coming decades. More people equals more traffic jams. More traffic equals more air pollution from vehicle exhaust.
These things are pushing experts to rethink how we use cars to get around town. In the near future, the “automobile will be more of a service than it is today,” says Maggie Hendrie of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. “The car can come pick you up. It will be customized to your preferences. The vehicle is interconnected to an ecosystem of digital devices.”
Fictional characters in Way In The Middle of the Air – a part of the 1950 sci-fi classic The Martian Chronicles saw the idea of black people going to Mars as Silly. Some people at that time and maybe even now might think the idea had more in common with the religious folk song Ezekiel Saw The Wheel whose lyrics it took its name from than any down to earth, practical “reality”. However NASA’s Orion spacecraft has completed it’s first test flight led by an African American so perhaps it’s time to take the idea seriously. People can follow NASA Director Charles Bolden’s blog, read up on President Barack Obama’s space policy and decide for themselves.