First up: Life in the Universe:
On February 22, 2016 Discover Magazine reported that Earth May Be a 1-in-700-Quintillion Kind of Place. They describe an study [pdf] done by astrophysicist Erik Zackrisson from Uppsala University in Sweden. Zackrisson's computer model suggests that there is a chance that Earth is the only life-supporting planet in the Universe.
I told you so. Back in April of 2014, I posted The Anti-Life Equation, in which I discussed the Drake Equation, the Fermi Paradox, the Great Filter. I also describe my long-held suspicion that Earth may be the very first planet in the observable Universe to develop sentient life. I've never based this on hard math, as it's a pointless exercise. My estimation is based on some internal modeling more akin to geometry of sculpting with clay than math. In other words, my estimations are no more rigorous than the Drake Equation itself. I've been arguing this counterpoint since I first heard of the Drake Equation described in Cosmos: A Personal Voyage back in 1980, and had the good fortune to have actually written it down. Thirty-six years of smiles and nods gives me the right to shake a fist.
OK. I'm done crowing.
Zachrisson's model isn't perfect. For one thing, it models according to criteria gleaned from the exoplanets that we've actually discovered, and that's a pretty miniscule sample. But it is enough to tell us that truly Earthlike planets aren't nearly as common as Drake supposed. This study does not prove anything. It most certainly doesn't prove that the Earth is unique in the Universe. But it does demonstrate that it's not the raving of a crackpot to posit that it may be.
Next up: NASA vs The Moon
On February 25, 2016 Ars Technica reported that former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin had harsh words for the space agency. In a congressional hearing, Griffin took the agency to task for their diaphanous plan for a direct manned mission to Mars which we can neither afford nor sustain. Not to mention the fact that we don't even have the tech. The article points out that he's joining a growing number of critics.
It's wonderful that in 2016 criticism about this ridiculous "plan" of President Obama's has mainstream support. You can look at me all you like for putting the blame on his desk, but it flatly belongs nowhere else. It's exactly what you get when you give an ignorant politician the reins of an engineering challenge. I've moaned about that before as well, in 2006. In 2015 I offered the opinion that we were better off without NASA's political friction at all, and doubled down when called on it. In So What's the Moon, Chopped Liver? I quoted Obama's vapid statement in 2010 and specifically called him on his lack of vision. In that article I pointed out the obvious utility of the Moon as a staging platform for future missions.
I don't mention this to claim that I have great vision and foresight. I bring it up because I'm seriously curious as to how monumentally stupid you can be and still have a job as a NASA chief under this Administration. You don't have to be a bloody genius to figure this stuff out. It may even get in the way. I didn't see Neil Degrasse Tyson or Buzz Aldrin speaking sense to the White House. They'd rather appease the dumb ass who's got the money and appoints the administrators than do some actual science.
So I repeat my previous statements of last year. We're better off without NASA, at least in its present form. We need to take the politics out of NASA... or better yet, take NASA out of politics. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) is at least on the right track when he says, “We need to ensure that we take the politics out of science and provide NASA with clear direction and guidance that outlasts the political whims of any one presidential administration—and the political whims of Congress.” But he's still a politician with a political mind, and he and would have them going back to Congress for budget. I hope that's a compromise position based on what he thinks people would accept, because a far better choice is to spin it off from the government entirely. Make it a privatized corporation, and make the Government put out requests for bid when the Government wants to fund a project. And then take off some regulatory shackles so that we can have commercial flights to the Moon and beyond. Make them engage in competition and co-opetition with the likes of Space-X, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and others. We would have our permanent Moon base, with smaller, more efficient transport in the time it takes government-run projects to decide what color desks to buy.
That's all for today. It may be the only two times that this stopped clock is right today, but I'm still pointing them out.