November 29, 2006

Apocalypse Soon: The Trouble With Space

The feat of knocking a golf ball into orbit got me reminiscing about a joke I tried out a few months ago. Nobody thought it was funny, and because I couldn't figure out why, I decided to provide a detailed explanation to go along with it. Here's what I came up with-

JOKE: now with ion-propulsion!

The first European lunar mission, SMART-1, ended today in a dazzling success when it crashed into the moon’s surface after a three-year journey.

Leading European space scientists hope to crash men into the moon in a future mission. 


Forty years ago the US landed Surveyor 1 on the moon and it didn't crash. It made a soft landing and sent back data, and that, justifiably, was considered to be a success. Could it be that the European Space Agency set their sites a bit low?  Was a crash landing the only successful outcome they could guarantee? Has some cabalistic recalibration brought about a situation where zero is the new +1? Maybe they are so SMART they will crash spacemen into the moon next. Keep in mind this is supposed to be a joke.


The billion-dollar "International Space Station", which seems primarily to have served as a research platform for determining the best ways to ferry garbage back to Mother Earth, has now become the ultimate 18th hole. Slice it to Venus or hook it to Mars. If you've got the twenty million, you've got your tee time. A new crop of space-golf tourists is certain to pump up the flagging space exploration coffers.

Think of the payoff to Mankind. Maybe we'll find a cheaper way to  produce Polonium-210. Who knows when the possibilities are endless?

Perhaps the notion of "technology transfer", which had previously found its most perfect expression in the form of Tang, the powdered orange breakfast drink, could now be applied to the thorny problem of, say, trash removal in New York City, which has vexed mayors from Thomas Willett to Michael Bloomberg.

 This latest development comes on the heels of a giant copper spheroid hurled at a comet, the meanest beebee ever, the high aspiration of the pocket-protector set: the World-Crushing BeeBee. I know there is a compelling need to study the ensuing dust plumes, but the resemblance to conceptual art is hard to efface.

The Fading Rubric of Mankind's Curiosity

Meanwhile back on Earth, ideologies grate on one another, producing conflict with no apparent end.  Among the greater community of faith, the transcendent belief that God has divinely authorized the destruction of non-believers has served to perpetuate war, even as the means for nuclear devastation proliferate.

Here all paths cross. The scientific method perfects ever-deadlier weapons of war faster than blind Nature can raise a pond full of amoebas. From brilliant pebbles to smart bombs, proof of innovative prowess is proudly stenciled on ordinance to be lobbed amongst the seamy nests of the enemy.

Neo-apoclayptists are lapping it up. Milleniallists transform themselves effortlessly into peri-milleniallsts and wait fretting for the next significant date. Could it be 2012, the end of the Mayan calendar? What about the Doomsday Clock, which stands at 17 minutes before midnight and keeps on ticking, hastening forward and falling back ever more infrequently?

Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believe he can hasten the coming of God's dominion on Earth by obliterating Israel with a freshly-minted Islamic bomb? Does President Bush study the Book of Revelations? We shall see.

Recall that science too has its myth of an end time, expressed in the avatar of the Doomsday Asteroid, aloof now and roaming the Kuiper belt with impunity, but always on the look-out for that one perfect trajectory which leads imperturbably to Earth and the subsequent annihilation of all of its living inhabitants. Anyone doubting this proposition need only examine the fossil record.

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