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Pluto, 1930 Yearbook Photo — Plus Space Program Grumbles

Pluto 1930 Tombaugh

This is how Pluto looked when Clyde Tombaugh discovered it in 1930. A bright mote, an apparent star that moved in a way that betrayed its planetary nature — for someone who was looking carefully enough.

Things have gotten a bit better with New Horizons; you can see the latest images on NASA’s NH page. Here’s one that’s new as of this post date:

pluto-annotated-JUL2015

Edit: new image below, 14 JUL:

Pluto Icecap

Quite the improvement, no?

Well, yes. But it has been a long wait, hasn’t it? 85 years. Granted, we could hardly have dispatched an airplane to take a closer look in 1930. Modern rocketry as in its infancy, as was broadcasting. Even if a 1930s era rocket could have been launched at Pluto, we’d hardly have gotten word back of success reaching it, much less a picture.

I do worry that these are the best images I’ll see in my lifetime, and I’m only 45. But NASA’s funding has been either waning or just holding on against inflation these last three decades, not growing, and the bulk of the current crop of Presidential candidates seem to be mostly unenthused by NASA. ‘What’s the point of spending a whole penny on the federal budget dollar on all this sciency stuff? We’ve got people to feed, bomb, feed bombs to, bomb with food, and so forth, right here on Earth.’

Hostility to and/or disinterest in space, NASA, science, and scholarly investigation in general is nothing new. In the 1970s and 80s, Senator William Proxmire (D) of Wisconsin is a ‘fine’ recent example, with his ‘Golden Fleece’ awards that, as often as not, lambasted space and science funding as wasted effort and wasted money. Plenty of commentators, regular folks, and politicians jump on that anti-intellectual, short-view bandwagon from time to time.

Frankly, it’s a nasty and dangerous habit, this idea that exploring the cosmos around us, exploring our own planet further, and learning in general is a waste of money and effort. There’s a lot to be gained by exploration, here and up there. Aren’t you reading this on a computer? Possibly a computer that also telephones people and locates itself by GPS? Thank scientists, scholars, inquisitive types, the space program, all those ‘wastes of money’ that pay off in knowledge and in the things that knowledge makes possible, if you spend the money learning now and have the patience to wait a decade or two for the payoff.

I know, we’re not that great at long-term thinking, most of us. But seriously. Yes, we’re just looking at Pluto, which is hardly going to be useful real estate or mining grounds next week, year, or decade. But every time we do something like this, we don’t just learn more about how our planetary neighbors work. We learn more about communications, propulsion, efficient generation and use of power sources, miniaturization, navigation, and so on, and so forth, and likely things that you and I haven’t thought of yet that will pay off come 2045.

Not to mention, as big as this earth is, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the solar system. Planets and asteroids and comets, oh my, swimming in a constant rain of free-to-gather energy that is sunlight (or maybe magnetic if you want to venture to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter and do some tinkering). Sometimes people talk about this ‘high frontier’ as if it could be a relief valve for overpopulation, but no, it’s not that. No more than opening California to colonization relieved crowding in New York City. But a wide frontier is a relief valve for people who are gravely dissatisfied with current affairs at home, and we as a planetary society haven’t really had one of those in quite a few decades now. Yes, there’s a certain lack of open air and flowing water up there among the various possible destinations. So what?

The big ‘so what’ is that we’re doing little practicing of how to keep people alive in places like that. There’s a space station, and 40+ years after people walked on the moon it’s still an itty-bitty one with a few people, entirely supplied from earth. It’s useful, and we learn from it, and we’ve no apparent interest in pushing the boundaries meaningfully as a species. Well, China has done a little talking in that direction, Maybe in response to US talk about sending people to Mars, maybe, one day, well maybe not, or maybe we’ll just push back the ‘maybe’ date… you get the idea. We like talking about it a bit, but few are serious about it, especially among those who would have to speak the loudest to fund such a nutty idea as putting a bunch of people on the moon or Mars to live long term, the politicians. They’re not that interested, and the public isn’t that interested. And that’s a shame. We won’t spread off this rock unless there’s an interest in doing so. Maybe the interest will come too late, after climate change gets nasty enough to cause even middle-class folks serious problems at home. Such a wait-till-the-crisis scenario would be a shame, too. Because, like in the ‘reduce population pressure’ scenario, colonizing the moon or Mars of anything else out there would not be a way to evacuate millions or billions of people in troubles.

But it would be a great way to spread the human race out a bit so that it’s not in danger of croaking en masse if a massive disaster of some sort were to loom. And it would, if no disaster comes to call, be a great way to expand the knowledge, both practical and abstract, of the human race as a whole — and that expansion would all be fuel for the next round of life-improving gadgets just as food preservation, improved transportation, construction and maintenance of internets, and so forth have been for us.

Don’t be selfish. Help the people of 2100 surpass us as much as we’ve surpassed the people of 1930.

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SciFi News Network: The New 2165 Babies Are Here!

SABaby2013

SFNN FASHION & TRENDS

NORTH AMERICA

STAFF

Ever since the United Nations guaranteed the freedom of parents to tailor their authorized offspring in 2132, the unveiling of the new model year’s babies has been a rolling gala affair sweeping the world’s capitals every March the first. Hopeful parents the world around observe the ritual of choosing their favorites before the UN issues denials or –joy!– acceptances of parenthood on the fifteenth.

Between the first and the fifteenth, everyone dreams. And I mean everyone, not just parents. With projected lifespans due to medical advances outstripping the very passage of time (over the last decade, projected average age of death worldwide was pushed back eighteen years), the rare sight of a real, living child is a thrill for the most jaded among us.

For the 2165 model year, the top audience-voted choice for male babies is based on pop star Idris Van Styrx. Age progressions show the basic Van Styrx for 2065 will grow a bit taller and huskier than the star himself, with additional musculature especially in the thighs, shoulders, and chest further accentuating the topheavy look that was so popular in last year’s male babies. A full range of options are available and vary by manufacturer. Red-Gold Rice Basket of Beijing, top baby vendor for the East Asia and Pacifica regions, made a particular splash with a controversial option for prehensile thumbed feet pitched to the microgravity living market.

The most popular female model is a sharp departure from last year’s choice of popular political figure Isbel Fleischer of the South America region after her late-2064 embroilment in a scandal related to labor contract awards for the region’s second space elevator. This year, Fleischer’s namesake baby model did not make the charts at all, replaced by historical stage actor Akiko Nakamura of Pacifica. The actor is physically diminutive and the baby modeled after her preserves those basic dimensions, though a taller model with her proportions is expected to outsell the original.

The Intersex/Genderqueer model favored by viewers, unlike last year’s beefy, male-trait-weighted choice of military reenactor Chadforth Farthington of the Western Europe region, is markedly androgynous and sleek. Olympic swimmer Gloria Gary Beers of Mobile, Alabama, North America Region is the basis for this model baby, promising long arms, broad chest, and hips with both a surprising flare and muscular strength. Popular modifications, predictably with an athlete model, focus on physicality. A newly revealed, highly flexible cartilaginous spine developed by MicroGene in Beers’ home region seems particularly promising in the market.

April’s Patreon-Exclusive Flash Story For April Is Live — FLOWERS IN THE DARK

Patron exclusive flash fiction for April

Flowers In The Dark runs close to 900 words — considerably longer than March’s story. It’s also moodier and more serious than March’s story, all about cults and choice and the growth of the surveillance state, and a few other things, some of which I’m aware of.

I think you’ll enjoy it.