06 January 2008

The Survival Imperative

Finished William E. Burrows' The Survival Imperative: Using Space to Protect Earth

Burrows joins (and hopefully grows a few more) ranks of thinkers who want to see fundamental restructuring of our space organizations and a refocus on what he calls an overarching Planetary Protection Program. Burrows book starts strong (with an outstanding scenario), and ends strong, but wanders a bit internally, and would have benefitted by some additional structuring.
Burrows provides a journalists balanced approach to he discussions of various differing perspectives, but essentially says that NASA lacks an overarching vision and clear program to an end goal, and that it should be refocused on Planetary Protection, by which the author has several meanings, the clearest of which is against potential impactors, but which also seems to encompass other catastrophes including human use of WMD (and the use of space surveillance to track & curtail), energy (he does make a passing nod to Space Solar Power Satellites--Bravo!), monitoring the climate and environment. While not as clearly laid out as I'd have liked, it seems that Burrows basically agrees with key thinkers that the only path for evolution is to "Spread out or die," and that we need to go to the Moon a back-up archive of our irreplaceable culture and information in the event of a global catastrophe, and eventually an autonomous Lunar colony. He advocates for a restructuring, consolidation, and increase in emphasis on Earth imaging and monitoring, and he seems to support the conclusions of those who provided a letter with clear recommendations to congress (below), and the 2004 Planetary Defense Conference. Here are some notable quotes from the book:
"The steadily increasing number of imagng satellites themselves and their common technology, both for civilian and military intelligence, has put the whole planet under continuous surveillance. That being the case, it is time for NASA, the NRO, and NOAA--the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates the weather satellites--to combine into a single entity.

"Planetary Defense must, in other words, become as normative as the military. No government would consider abandoning its armed forces. Protecting Earth, as its constituent nations are protected, should become permanently institutionalized and financed accordingly." (p.247)

"The core of the Planetary Protection Program is the lunar base, to be expanded into a growing colony, and to provide a home for the archive." (p.245)

"But the core of the mission, in its totality, would send humans and robots to space for mutually supportive operations specifically designed to protect the planet. Thatis to say, NASA, and its collective foreign counterparts, and other cooperating U.S. agencies should assume the role of Earth's guardians." (p.240)

He also has a few gems from some thinkers:
"but unless the human race spreads into space, I doubt it will survive the next thousand years."--Stephen Hawking

"Even a few pioneering groups, living independenty of Earth, would offer a safeguard against the worst possible disaster--the foreclosure of intelligent life's future through the extinction of all humankind."--Sir Martin Rees

"With appologies to Thoreau and the Nature Conservancy (of which I am a member), humankind must wage a perpetual war with Nature, chock full of measures and countermeasures, just to survive. Nature thinks nothing of snuffing several thousand people out of existence with earthquakes, tidal waves, and volcanic eruptions annually...Slowly but surely it is dawning on our collective consciousness that space travel isn't just 'really neat'...it isn't just very practical...Rather, we have begun to realize that human spaceflight is absolutely essentail to our ultimate survival."--Ray Erikson (p.179)

"Is there any wonder that the public has lost interest in human spaceflight?...What is interesting about drifing in circles forever?"--Buzz Aldrin (p. 191)
And of course, he gives a well deserved nod to THE motherload of space vision and inspiration, Gerald O'Neill's The High Frontier (available at: http://www.space-frontier.org/HighFrontier/ ), which I highly recommend for reading, and the Space Studies Institute, http://ssi.org/ which is returning to life with an upcoming conference this year.

He also cites Dr. Lewis several times, but does not mention his latest book, Mining the Sky (available here: http://www.amazon.com/Mining-Helix-Book-John-Lewis/dp/0201328194 ), which shows the upside of the technologies for planetary defense--the riches of the sky. Further excellent discussion can be found here: http://www.permanent.com/

The book also contains the entire text of the (outstanding) Open Letter to the Congress, a part of which can be read here: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/neo_letter_030709.html unfortunately, it appears that the link, http://www.congressneoaction.org/ appears to be non-functional, which is a shame, since such a letter would be useful to send to key leaders in our space defense establishment as well, as they have the lattitude to take action.

And the 2004 Planetary Defense white paper: http://www.planetarydefense.info/resources/pdf/conference_white_paper.pdf (link the the 2007 is in an earlier listing)
Of signifcance also, and previously unknown to me, was the final report of the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry, which in Chapter 3, available here ( http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/library/report/2002/05Chapter03.pdf ) said:

"Planetary Defense. Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) pose a potentially serious threat for humankind. Scientists are now certain that a major asteroid or comet was responsible for the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) is currently conducting concept exploration studies for a constellation of satellites designed to detect and track man-made
satellites in Earth’s orbit. The Commission believes that these studies should be broadened to include detection of asteroids. U.S. Strategic Command officials are also reviewing a concept for a clearinghouse that gathers and analyzes data on potential Earth impacts from asteroids. In addition, the National Security Space Architect is currently, as part of the Space Situational Awareness Architecture, integrating the use of space and ground-based surveillance systems. Given these actions, planetary defense should be assigned to DoD in cooperation with NASA. The Commission believes that the nation needs a joint civil and military initiative to develop a core space infrastructure that will address emerging national needs for military use and planetary defense
The final paragraphs of the book are worth repeating as well: "The continuation of life transcends death, not only physically, but spiritually. The protection of Earth and th creatures on it, connecting the majestic and likely unique accomplishments that started and nurtured civilization, wit the unimaginably humanistic achievements of the distantly born is supremely enobling because it honors and dignifies the precious thing that is life. How unspeakably sad it would be if the cultural riches future generations could bring to the world of art, literature, science, politics, all manner of scholarship, and perhaps a philosophy that enables peace and mutual support to finally take hold were preempted with no hope of being realized. Using space to protect civilization, providing an environment in which it is able to collectively thrive and grow to its limitless potential, will transform humankind from its traditional role of the hapless victim of fate to one better able to control our destiny and fulfil our inhert, and perhaps unique, potential for greatness. Further, the unborn deserve to fulfill their potential for what is far less than great. Everyne who believes in the migration to space, for whatever reason, accepts that people will bring their baser instincts with them just as surel as they will bring the higher ones. There is no reason to suppose that evil, stupidity, and unenlightened self-interest will be left on the home planet. What transgresses the moraliy of any given moment is the sanctity of life itself and the overarching need to protect and enhance it. Being less than perfect, being tarnished, is infininately better than not being at all. Survival is therefore imperative. That is why the humans who inhabit this cradle of life in a vast, dark universe have ben given the means to protect it for themselves and for thos who will come after them."
Regarding the transformation from "hapless victim of fate..." These last points remind me to point out two additional discussions:

A favorite passage from George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman, act III (find it here: http://www.bigeye.com/donjuan.htm ):
THE DEVIL None, my friend. You think, because you have a purpose, Nature must have one. You might as well expect it to have fingers and toes because you have them.
DON JUAN But I should not have them if they served no purpose. And I, my friend am as much a part of Nature as my own finger is a part of me. If my finger is the organ by which I grasp the sword and the mandoline, my brain is the organ by which Nature strives to understand itself. My dog's brain serves only my dog's purposes; but my own brain labors at a knowledge which does nothing for me personally but make my body bitter to me and my decay and death a calamity. Were I not possessed with a purpose beyond my own I had better be a ploughman than a philosopher; for the ploughman lives as long as the philosopher, eats more, sleeps better, and rejoices in the wife of his bosom with less misgiving. This is because the philosopher is in the grip of the Life Force. This Life Force says to him "I have done a thousand wonderful things unconsciously by merely willing to live and following the line of least resistance: now I want to know myself and my destination, and choose my path; so I have made a special brain - a philosopher's brain - to grasp this knowledge for me as the husbandman's hand grasps the plough for me. And this" says the Life Force to the philosopher "must thou strive to do for me until thou diest, when I will make another brain and another philosopher to carry on the work."
THE DEVIL What is the use of knowing?
DON JUAN Why, to be able to choose the line of greatest advantage instead of yielding in the direction of the least resistance. Does a ship sail to its destination no better than a log drifts nowhither? The philosopher is Nature's pilot. And there you have our difference: to be in hell is to drift: to be in heaven is to steer.
Howard Bloom's outstanding essay, Screw Sustainability providing a ralleying call for expansive life:
Why screw sustainability? Because the word implies merely hanging in there, merely surviving, merely sustaining. It implies a penny-pinching earth, a miserly existence, a nature that punishes change, and a nature that prefers small tribes to large groups of human beings. This sort of attitude has traditionally led to ignorance and to self-inflicted poverty.
Sustainability implies a worldview of a kindly and caring nature, a nature that's easily raped by technology, industry, capitalism, and modernism. It implies a nature that will automatically protect rainforests, whales, and endangered species if we greedy modern humans rein in our consumerist lusts. If we get rid of our SUVs and of our industrial factories, this worldview tells us that nature will go back to the greenery and the reliability of some mythic good old days. But that view of nature isn't true. Nature is not the motherly protector. Nature is just the opposite. She tosses us curves and challenges our creativity. The challenge to create is what Mother Nature and her favorite game-evolution-are really all about. Which means we need a major worldview change. Mother Nature does not build everlasting Edens for the eco-conscious. Mother Nature is the mother of catastrophe. She's tossed her children a major die-off every 26 million years or so, a total of 148 major die-offs that we've been able to count. She's shocked this planet with six far bigger mass extinctions, six enormous holocausts of species. Those die-offs haven't come from smokestack factories, consumerism, and the depredations of capitalism. They've come from the natural evolution of the earth that gave us life. And their message has been simple. Ride the waves of change or die. Mother Nature challenges our ability to surf the waves of change when she slings us through a 66-million-year-long orbit around the center of our galaxy, an orbit that takes us through interstellar gas clusters called local fluff, interstellar clusters that strip our planet of its protective heliosphere, interstellar clusters that bombard the earth with cosmic radiation and interstellar clusters that trigger giant climate change. Just one of those changes could wipe our civilization...and even the human race...away.
"Nature challenges our creativity with an outer atmosphere that gathers nearly 30 million kilograms of space dust a year. She challenges us by sending us through a cloud of interplanetary powder that doubles or even triples this tonnage of cosmic dust every 100,000 years. The darkness and cold this dust produces could make the old nightmare of a nuclear winter look like a sunny day in spring."
"First of all, Mother Nature's catastrophes and the challenges they've tossed us made us what we are today. We were born as one of the most helpless and pathetic species this planet has ever seen... Yet we made it through 20 Ice Ages. And we did it living on the most challenging place of all — the very edge of the glaciers that were freezing nearly everything in sight... How the hell did we manage it? By taking disaster as a challenge, then mastering it. By defying Mother Nature and flinging her capriciousness back in her face. We made new fangs and new claws out of stone. We flaked axes, choppers, blades, scrapers, spear tips, and much later, arrowheads. We made our own fur coats out of the skins of the beasts we hunted down. Our fingers were too weak to dig dens, so we built tents out of mammoth tusks and mammoth ribs then covered them with mammoth skins. We did these things because we refused to shut down in the face of disaster. We did these things because we refused to adopt sustainability's implied strategy, the strategy of retreat. We took cataclysms as a challenge and as an opportunity. We invented new ways to make tools, new ways to make wealth, and new ways to celebrate...We did all of these things because we chose light over Nature's darkness. We chose enthusiasm over gloom. We chose to make an exuberant new future rather than to hide in a puritanical past. Thanks to our audacious acts of defiance, Mother Nature's cruelty and her disasters made us human! Every talk like this needs a take-home message. Before I go any further, let me sum up the most important take home message oozing from the facts I'm telling you. Mother Nature is a vicious bitch. Catastrophe is her stock in trade. And with our help or without it, Mother Nature will sooner or later yank everything we take for granted away...If we want to make nature proud, it's time to ride the whirlwind. It's time to tame the forces that twist tornadoes and that swirl hurricanes. It's time to harness their energies."

"Our trick is not the old sustainability. It's not to bow and grovel hoping Mother Nature will freeze in place. Our challenge is to outrun nature by inventing radically new ways to deal with change."
"It's a very strange lesson to absorb. Nature rewards those who oppose her most. Let me repeat that: nature rewards those who oppose her most. Nature rewards those who invent new ways to circumvent her, new ways to get around her old limitations, new ways to make something radically beyond the previous boundaries, and new ways to break her rules. In the end she punishes those who merely ride her periods of stability. She wipes them out utterly. She rewards those who are so inventive that they can surf the waves of unpredictability. Nature rewards those who extend her powers, something lithoautotrophs have done by finding new ways to defy the norms of yesterday and to transform the molecules of rock into molecules of life."

"We have to have a trick up our sleeve for every curve that nature throws us...because tossing us curves and challenging our creativity is what Mother Nature is all about."


"The Universe threatens us. We resist. What I want to address today is not merely the asteroid-deflection idea, which is certainly an extreme case, but the entire spectrum of deliberate human intervention in Earth's biosphere. We must as a society discover a strategy of responding to the many unintentional but global impacts of human industrial activity. An activist, interventionist approach to artificially repairing damage and threats to Earth's biosphere -- both accidentally man-made and randomly natural in origin -- is, I predict, going to be one of the most intense ideological and philosophical conflicts of the next century. And governments -- as well as their operational elements which would be tasked in carrying out these projects -- will be at the focus of this controversy."
"The second part is the activist, interventionist phase. Vaccinate against possible outside infections. Surgically intervene to overcome systemic weaknesses or to forestall localized failures. Provide mechanical augmentation of degraded senses and muscles. Respond to external trauma with appropriate levels of care and repair. This is how people stay healthy. And by analogy, it is how a planet should stay healthy. By adding in the second phase of this philosophy to the care of Earth, we can begin to see technological solutions to technological AND natural problems. We can begin to see effective, affordable defenses against threats. And in the more distant future -- the subject of a subsequent talk -- we can glimpse desired engineered improvements to this planet, and ultimately to others as well. Bluntly -- do we know enough now to take this kind of planetary responsibility? Can we guarantee that human meddling in climate won't have unintentional, deleterious effects? No, we don't know enough, and no, we can make no such guarantees. But that is no more reason to avoid the strategy than the sad history of centuries of medical blunderings toward knowledge is a reason not to make use of modern medical science. The initial ignorance and misconceptions of medical workers were often more of a threat to patients than were the original ailments. But to a statistically significant degree we've passed through that prologue into the dawn of the age of effective medical science. To refrain from taking actions in defense of Earth's biosphere, using the fear of our ignorance as an excuse, is -- I argue -- an abdication of our responsibility to our planet and to our nation and to our children...Many of the themes of 'asteroid defense' coincide with themes of intimate concern to the US Space Command. Perhaps the most pressing one is surveillance, the ability to know what is happening out there. Ideally, one should know what is happening soon enough to take effective countermeasures...The US Defense Department may still be discussing for decades whether or not it wants to get involved in this business -- and in the end, the assignment may be dropped in its lap whatever its own desires may be."

Ultimately, as poetically addressed by Science Fiction writer Bruce Sterling in Schizmatrix Plus, an epic and sweeping tour of a solar civilization encompassing space, genetic, and information technology where not just our environment but ourselves are modified, we must be on th side of life, the Lifesiders. ttp://www.amazon.com/Schismatrix-Plus-Complete-Shapers-Mechanists-Universe/dp/0441003702

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