Ronald Brak

Because not everyone can be normal.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Great Space Con: Part I

So how can you convince your citizens that your ego-tripping space missions aren’t a waste of money when hundreds of millions of them live in rural poverty? Simple! You tell them that as a direct result of the space program they can grow giant space cucumbers! The following quote is from the China Daily article – Space-age technology seeps into everyday life:

Space breeding: Under the influence of space rays, the genes of crop seeds carried by spacecraft were changed. As a result, some new crops with high yields will be bred.
Incomplete statistics show that more than 800 kinds of seeds have undergone in-space breeding experiments by retrievable satellites since 1987 in China.
Experiments show that these crops have made remarkable progress in producing bigger fruit containing more nutrients and with a higher ability to resist pests.

Now this is just bizarre. They believe space rays have some sort of beneficial effect, on seeds as opposed to say, exposing them to radiation on earth? (Well it worked for the Fantastic Four, didn’t it?) This is comic book stuff. Not that there is anything wrong with comic books… No, wait; there are lots of things wrong with comic books. They treat the laws of physics as if they were a sort of bureaucratic red tape that can be safely ignored when convenient. Let me restate myself. There is nothing wrong with enjoying comic books as fantasy, but when you start thinking they are accurate reflections of real life, and start shooting seeds into space, then you are wasting your time and your country's money. There is no reason I’m aware of to think that exposing seeds to space rays will cause more beneficial mutations than exposing them to radiation on earth. Now I have to admit that I have no evidence that it won’t, but then I have no evidence that exposing my car to space rays won’t improve its fuel economy. Perhaps we should shoot it into space as well? Perhaps exposing lemon juice to space rays will convert it into a magic potion! Perhaps if I pat my head while rubbing my nose and spinning my chair counter clockwise my laptop will turn into an alligator? Hmmm… apparently not. Perhaps the Chinese space program and I would waste less time if we tried to do things that evidence suggests will work.

If I am wrong about this I will expect the Chinese space seed agricultural business to boom and make huge sums of money selling seeds all over the world and start putting Monsanto and others who don’t use space rays to develop crops out of business. Then I will stand corrected. Let me know when that happens.

In the same article we have a paragraph that says:

New materials: The special conditions of living in outer space, characterized by microgravity, a need for cleanliness and being in a vacuum, provide an ideal place for producing new materials.

Name one. Name one new material that has been developed in space. We have been shooting probes and people into space for nearly fifty years now. Earth is now onto its eighth space station. You would think that by now that someone would have come up with a new material made in space by now if it was easy, wouldn’t you? While large crystals have been gown in zero gee, large crystals aren’t exactly new or very helpful. My watch wouldn’t operate any better if its quartz crystal were larger.

Outlook Weekly quoted Professor Han Liyan of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics as saying that every 10 yuan (US$1.23) invested in the aerospace industry has generated 80-140 yuan (US$9.87-17.30) worth of benefits.

Investing in scientific research can pay great dividends to all humanity. Even non-human life often benefits. But what I disagree with is the suggestion that spending money on sending humans into space will somehow magically have benefits that investing money in other areas of research won’t. If you want to develop cleaner energy, or a cure for malaria, then you’d probably be better off spending your money on research that specifically deals with those problems rather than hope that by some chance you’ll find a malaria cure as a by product of your crewed moon expedition program.

Now on one hand it may not seem fair to pick on Chinese space propaganda when American space propaganda has said much the same thing, but the average Chinese citizen is a lot poorer than the average American and so the waste is less excusable. I would also hate to think they can’t learn from other people’s mistakes. As the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… We can’t get fooled again!”


Post a Comment

<< Home