reflections of a pragmatic optimist, lover of freedom

Month: August 2015

How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars

Occasional insomnia is a nemesis I’d rather not have to deal with. But once in a while it yields worthwhile fruits. Had I not been suddenly awake for no good reason and restlessly browsing my incoming Twitter timeline a couple of nights ago, I have to wonder whether I’d ever have stumbled upon this fantastic, extraordinary series by Tim Urban at “Wait But Why”, courtesy of @spacecom.

Start with Part 1: The Story of Humans and Space — which, if you have any inkling of wonder in you, will pull you in like a sci-fi tractor beam, the way it did me. It’s preceded in the series by a two-part, in-depth background about SpaceX’s Elon Musk, who is rightly cited as a major driving force in the quest to bring space travel costs down and pave the way to human colonization of other planets. I’ve spoken of the urgent need for a new frontier — for a way out to another place where humanity’s pioneer spirit can again thrive. This series is about exactly what it will take for us to achieve a future in space — as an even more fundamental matter of long-term survival as a species.

Of the psychological difference between manned and unmanned space exploration, Tim writes:

The human spirit of discovery is alive and well, having thrived in space in the years since Apollo.

But as fascinated as we are by discovery—as much as we yearn to know all the secrets hidden in the pages of Where Are We?—when it comes to filling us with true excitement and inspiration and getting our adrenaline pumping, discovery doesn’t hold a candle to adventure. Probes and telescopes may fill us with wonder and light up our curiosity, but nothing gets us in our animal core like watching our species go where no man has gone before.And in that arena, the last four decades have left us feeling empty.

There’s a familiar bit of disappointment or despair in that. But Tim isn’t remotely convinced that our recent spacefaring lull is the end of the human story in space. Much to the contrary:

I’ve spent the last couple months reading, talking, and thinking almost non-stop about what the coming chapters of this story will look like—and my assumptions about the future have now changed dramatically.

I think we’re all in for a big surprise.

By all means, read the whole, magnificent series. It’s well worth it.

Finding My Bearings

I’ve been nose-to-the-grindstone focused on the all-important day job for a while now. (What’s new?)

Setting aside projects like this one to facilitate evening overtime on that is easy enough to do in the short term … until the weight of thinking about all the other important stuff I’m not doing becomes too great to bear.

Writing here has been a tremendously helpful and valuable outlet for me, and in times of stress I too easily forget that. Articulating and posting these thoughts decreases my stress levels greatly, and seems to do an even better job of that when I can keep at it regularly. The gloom is hardest to endure when you’re doing nothing about it. Stress is the mind’s little way of saying: Get up, man! We’ve got work to do!

Occasionally in writing here, I even manage to come up with stuff that, when I read it later in moments of despair or uncertainty, lifts my spirits. The posts I’ve written so far in my “The Way Out” series have been a prime example of that. I’ve come back to them several times lately (especially the inaugural post), finding some needed comfort in the thoughts and perspective I’d put to the page, while at the same time contemplating what’s next in this line of exploration.

Feeling better is all well and good, but of course the main goal is to figure things out. I’ve had hope that my thinking on this might be of help to others who find themselves facing the same cultural dilemma, and that in the course of working through the details verbally I might find some new answers. Take a look while you’re here, and see if where I’m going with this doesn’t have some relevance for you. There are key practical mechanics to work out, and I welcome ideas as to how to tackle them.

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