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Selected articles from
VOL. 23  NO. 1  SUMMER 2010




Human Space Exploration:
Our History or Our Future?

By Terry A. Smiljanich

It has been almost 50 years since man first ventured into space (Yuri Gagarin, 1961). Forty years ago, the world was glued to TV sets watching the Apollo 13 crisis play out. Thirty-eight years ago, Gene Cernan became the last man on the moon. The entire history of manned spaceflight beyond low-earth orbit spanned three-and-a-half years.

Since then, we have seen lots of big space exploration plans. The current Space Shuttle and International Space Station owe much to Ronald Reagan's desire to see humans maintain a presence in space. George H.W. Bush announced the "Mission to Planet Earth," and put Vice President Quayle in charge of a panel to explore a mission to Mars. When the price tag came in, $500-billion spread out over two decades, the administration and Congress quickly lost interest.

President Clinton put the nail in the coffin of American manned space exploration when he opted for "faster, better, cheaper" as the way to go, hoping that the Shuttle program could become as ubiquitous as milk runs. In his turn at the helm, President Bush heralded a broad plan for a Mars mission by 2020. The Constellation program, announced in 2005, envisioned the development of new booster rockets to replace the Shuttle and get us to the moon, and new spacecraft (Orion and Altair) to take humans to the moon and Mars.

After five years of lackluster progress, hampered in large part by a combination of inadequate funding and cost overruns, President Obama recently announced that the Constellation program would be canceled and that America would rely on private industry rather than the federal government to keep the Space Station accessible to astronauts and to get us beyond low-earth orbit and on to the planets and stars.

There has been an outcry of protest since this was announced. The Senators from Florida and Texas (the two states most affected by lost federal jobs and money) have promised opposition to this plan (nothing like federal pork to get politicians from opposite parties together). Former astronauts have bemoaned the abandonment of space exploration. Gene Cernan called the plan "a blueprint for a mission to nowhere."

Not all have been opposed to the new plan, however. The commercial space industry is obviously delighted at the influx of funding that is soon coming its way. Planetary scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are hoping that some of the unspent human exploration funds will be diverted to their robotic missions. And the American taxpayers will not be asked to foot yet another spending bill in a heavily indebted economy.

In response to such opposition, however, President Obama has indicated that there might be some compromises, allowing development of some additional booster capabilities and a very long-range plan to go to Mars, maybe by 2030.

This history of space flight points to one obvious fact. Our willingness to support a full space program must rely on something beyond its economics. Forget all the talk about how the space program pays for itself in innovations that filter down into society. That is absolutely true, but taxpayers want something for their money right now, not down the road. "Why should I pay for a bunch of people to bounce around the moon when we have problems enough of our own right here on earth?"

The only reason we were able to move so quickly from the first man in space to the first man on the moon had to do with their respective nation-alities, Russian and American. As has been so well documented elsewhere, the sole impetus for the "Space Race" was the Cold War, not a love of science nor a "desire to explore." Lacking the military and international pressures to succeed in space, we are destined to a future of low-earth orbit.

There is one hope, however -- the Chinese. While we are winding down our ability to transport humans into space, the Chinese are embarked on their own visions of space exploration. Current Chinese plans call for a manned moon landing by 2020, followed by a mission to Mars. With the GDP of China growing at an aggressive rate, fueled in large part by America's desire to buy Chinese goods and borrow money from China to support our burgeoning federal debt, China is currently a better bet at beating us back to the moon. Once that reality starts to sink in, politicians will wring their hands at the "loss of American prestige," and voters will likely be more willing to support expensive and inefficient crash programs to try and catch up. There's nothing like a good international rivalry, a "death match to the finish," to stoke the fires.

Very little of this debate has to do with actual science. Oh sure, we all know that a human exploring the surface of Mars is much better than little can-do robots like the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. It goes without saying, however, that you can deploy an entire battalion of robots to cover the surface of Mars a lot more cheaply than sending fragile humans there. A broken robot can set back a program hardly at all. A dead human can set back a manned program by years.

But, alas, even our unmanned missions are suffering. In May, a review panel of scientists and engineers concluded that NASA is experiencing a decline in basic research, jeopardizing its ability to explore our solar system. NASA's ten research centers were found by the panel to be "marginally adequate." Most of the research centers are more than 40 years old and have been deferring needed maintenance for several years due to lack of funding. At the current rate of funding, said one panel member, "In five years the research community would not be able to support NASA's long-term goals."

And it is not only space research that is suffering. Aeronautics research has seen a 50% decrease since 2005. America may soon lose its edge in basic research. The impact of such a tendency is much like eating the "seed corn" necessary for next year's crop. There will always be a vigorous debate over the relative advantages and disadvantages of manned versus unmanned space missions. What would be unforgivable would be an abandonment of both. Other nations, like China or India, will take up the slack.

We will undoubtedly maintain our unbeatable lead in armaments, with America currently responsible for over 40% of the world's expenditures on defense (China is a distant second with 6%). In the last ten years, Pentagon spending, unrelated to the "War on Terror" or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has increased by 39%. Few there are complaining about a lack of funding.

We all "support the troops," but surely there's enough spare change somewhere to fund the space program. Until we voters demand more -- and it is unlikely we soon will -- Gene Cernan will be the last American on the moon. The next human on the moon will likely be carrying a Chinese flag.



Goodbye Ufology, Hello Truth

By James Carrion

Editor's note: Carrion was the International Director of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) for the past three years. This article, which we reprinted in our hard-copy newsletter, was the April 5 entry in his "Follow the Magic Thread" personal blog. Readers may be aware that in my youth I was a UFO believer/activist before the "truth" dawned on me.



Snippets

Cartoon

Avie Woodbury of Christchurch, New Zealand, can't be just making this up. If she says she caught the two ghosts that were haunting her house, and that they are now safely secured in glass vials, you can take that to the bank! Okay, maybe not the bank, but at least an online auction Website, where they fetched a cool $2,000. This nice lady says that she is donating the proceeds to an animal-welfare group.

(A.P. via St. Pete. Times, March 11)



Back in 1978, 10 years before founding TBS, I played a major role in exposing "psychic" stock broker Mark Stone in Baltimore (where I then lived) when he took his act to a local TV station's sportscasts to predict the outcomes of the World Series and Super Bowl. But although he had also tried (unsuccessfully) to perform "psychic" feats for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, he didn't have the audacity to refer to himself as "America's Prophet." That moniker was assumed by Sean David Morton, whose Delphi Associates Investment Group raked in over $6-million from more than 100 investors in 2006 and 2007. According to George Canellos, director of the SEC's New York Regional Office, "Morton's self-proclaimed psychic powers were nothing more than a scam to attract investors and steal their money."

(ABC News Website, March 4)



Locals Reveal the Truth About "Area 51"

Thanks to the Tampa Tribune's May 2 article, "Local men kept Area 51 secrets," the truth is now out there. The front-page story quotes three Tampa-area residents who spent time working in the super-secret Groom Lake area within Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base.

Reporter Howard Altman paints a picture quite different from what director Robert Altman might have portrayed in a movie about Area 51. In the portion of the article beneath the heading "Agent Mulder was wrong," comments from all three men make clear that none ever saw "a little green man, a flying saucer or anything from another planet."

Lewis Nelson, who lives in Hudson, was a welder working on classified aircraft at MacDill Air Force Base when, in 1957, he was reassigned to Area 51. He described what he saw there as "so top secret you didn't talk about it. This outfit … had more security than the Manhattan Project." But what he was referring to was not ET -- it was U-2, the uniquely designed high-altitude spy aircraft whose pilots wore astronaut-like suits. "The UFOs started to come to light from this U-2 outfit," says Nelson. "In my opinion, that's what these [witnesses] saw."

As Altman reports, in 1967, Largo resident James Janowski was "a young hotshot engineer with Honeywell" who "jumped at the chance" to work at Area 51. But, like Nelson, his UFOs, while looking other-worldly, were of this Earth. "When it would take off at night, it was the most awe-inspiring sight that humans had ever seen," he said of the A-12 Archangel, which replaced the U-2 after pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down by the Russians in 1960. "To see this aircraft take off and fly was just unreal," he added. "It was something out of the future."

Alva McMillion of Bradenton agrees that civilians who saw U-2s and A-12s in flight back then would have mistaken them for flying saucers. On daily base security patrol with his dog, he never once encountered an alien at Area 51, though the suits worn by U-2 and A-12 pilots were, as he recalls, "similar to the ones that travelers into space wore."

The article ends with Nelson urging Area 51 conspiracy theorists to "leave it alone. Let Uncle Sam do his thing under secrecy stuff because that's what keeps us out of trouble."



Letter to the Editor

Editor: I just had to write to thank you for posting your Summer 2006 article, "Close Encounter of the 2nd-Hand Kind," about a reading by supposed "psychic medium" George Anderson. I found it only this morning as I was perusing the Internet looking for anything to reaffirm my own gut reaction to hearing a tape of his, last evening, given to the parents of a 21-year-old boy who died accidentally in a swimming accident six months prior. It was "offered" to me to hear, like a sacred text of God himself, as "proof" from the Great Beyond of where we go after death (though nothing at all was said about what or where that is).

Losing a child has to be about the worst pain there is, granted -- I have two children myself -- but I was so shocked at how flimsy the information was, and in reading your piece, I saw (honest to God) the same verbiage as was on the tape I heard last night. There were in fact at least four or five parts of it that were exact. The rest was filled with anecdotal references and a whole lot of guesses (many of which were complete misses).

What particularly bothers me is that Anderson has provided these folks a false reality, causing them not only to avoid accepting their son's death and eventually moving on -- which is bad enough -- but to top it off, the parents are so convinced now of this rosy "hereafter" that they cannot wait to get there! They speak about looking forward to death, "being together" again, etc. This is such a tragedy, as it ultimately robs them of their lives here and now! And their 21-year-old daughter is being dragged down along with them.

I feel genuine anger at Anderson, preying on such vulnerability, and gullibility, in people's times of lowest resistance and sensibility. Experience, education, and just plain simple logic all flew right out the window in preference for the nonsense content of this tape. It blew me away to watch and listen.

--Melinda Cross
  Charlemont, MA
  melindasok@gmail.com



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