Bleh is the word with which I describe today. It is grey outside, and I’ve contracted some condition which makes the rear wall of my throat feel like an antelope’s inflamed anus. And worse, some technical fault in my Printrbot – the details of which I’ll spare you all – is delaying the loosing of my latest project onto this unsuspecting world. It delayed this blog, as well – hence its breivity.
I note that most things that have been happening in the world have been similarly disagreeable. But in the last few weeks a number of events have given me cause for good cheer. The approach of Christmas is – spoiler alert – not one of them.
There was the Rosetta mission, which captured everyone’s imagination – albeit for different reasons. There was the release of Interstellar. A splendid film, made all the more splendid for its political message – which I happen to wholly agree with. Human beings should be exploring space. I feel this strongly enough that I feel compelled to now write about it.
I’m not sure I possess the necessary eloquence to put across how excellent all this stuff is – nor how ceaselessly irritated I am by how little there is of it. Why are we not doing this shit every week?
Because money. Space exploration, and science in general, was grossly underfunded even before this never-ending age of tightened purse-strings. Now any mention of blasting a rocket toward some distant rock and poking our noses around is met with indignation. Aren’t there better things we should be spending our money on?
Some like-minded eggheads have gotten together and come up with a plan so obvious it’s a wonder it wasn’t thought of sooner. The government not spending enough on space exploration? Well, we’ll just fund our own!
Ah, crowd-funding. Is there anything it can’t do? Maybe in the future it will replace taxation; instead of giving over money in exchange for roads, laws and errr – police and crime commissioners, we’ll simply crowd-fund the stuff we want. If the roundabout near your flat suffers from congestion, then crowd-fund a bigger one. If the local constabulary is implicated in a decade-spanning child-abuse scandal, then crowd-fund an independent inquiry.
It seems very bizarre that we should go to the moon and then not return for fifty years. In ‘69, one might reasonably have projected that the year 2014 would see space exploration concerned with colonising Alpha Centauri, and the moon accessible via EasyJet. I can’t help but wonder how this lack of progress might look to a disinterested observer. A historian in the distant future, say, or some alien with a lot of time on its tentacles.
There is a limited pool of money which will be given to charity, for which this project is competing with cancer research and Shelter and Water Aid and whatever – charities which have a direct impact on human lives. In that context, this seems like an indulgence – almost offensively so, in fact.
Of course, it’s not a matter of choosing between different causes – you have to do everything at once. Space exploration benefits everyone. What this mission really needs is a viral stunt: something akin to the ALS ice bucket challenge would do nicely.
Fortunately, public interest in science is enjoying something of a resurgence. We have popular Facebook pages like IFLS, and million-selling authors who write exclusively about all things scientific. One can only hope that this will translate into more space exploration.
Lunar Mission One has presented exactly that – though the rewards seem as tokenistic as they always are with this sort of thing.
You can now put your name into a time capsule on the moon. I’ve always considered the idea of a ‘time capsule’ to be somewhat twee – and a little conceited. I can imagine, on Christmas Day of the year 3014, some life-form opening their time capsule, and throwing their arms aloft. Rejoice! Presumably this will occur after everything of historical interest on Earth has been pored over to the extent that everyone’s bored with it. Another reward is that your name be ‘inscribed’ on the website’s wall of thanks. Well, I don’t want to condescend a group of elite scientists, but nothing’s getting ‘inscribed’ on shit. Why not just write our names on a piece of metal and leave it on the goddam moon? I’d much prefer that.
It seems sad that any reward be offered. No, the reason to fund a mission to the moon is that you think there should be a mission to the moon. It should ideally be a manned (or womanned, since you’re asking) mission to the moon, but whatever. Maybe in another decade’s time, we can crowd-fund that. The name given to this mission – Lunar Mission One – implies a hope for a sequel or two. Maybe then Mars and the rest. Then beyond!
That’s not to say, by the way, that I wouldn’t enjoy a visit to mission control, if anyone wants to put that under my Christmas tree. If I bother buying one.
Until next week.