Archive for July, 2009

Bob Brown and Labor not fair dinkum

This morning we read that Rio Tino has publicly come out in support of nuclear power:

MINING giant Rio Tinto has urged Kevin Rudd to immediately begin work on a regulatory regime allowing use of nuclear energy in Australia, arguing the viability of energy alternatives has been dramatically overstated.

The company has advised the government to consider “every option” for power generation because its pledges on reducing carbon emissions and using renewable energy will expose industry and consumers to huge increases in their power bills.

And it says that overly optimistic assumptions on the viability of alternatives such as wind and geothermal power, as well as so-called clean coal technologies, have created a “false optimism” which the government must challenge by commissioning new research.

As to be expected the Rudd government wants to have nothing to do with nukes:

Earlier yesterday Mr Ferguson dismissed any need for an examination of Labor’s prohibition of nuclear reactors at next week’s national conference in Sydney.

“Australia is an energy-rich nation possessing abundant sources of low-cost conventional fuels such as coal and gas, as well as many renewable options, such as wind, solar, geothermal and wave energy,” Mr Ferguson said through a spokesman.

Unfortunately solar and wind can’t provide base load power, and Labor’s ETS will make coal and gas more expensive. Nuclear will increasingly become competitive.

My view has always been if you want to reduce carbon emissions and don’t support nuclear energy you are just not fair dinkum.

Which brings us to Green leader Bob Brown, who had this to say:

“Australians hate the idea of nuclear power stations,” he said.

“Coal and nuclear are both last century. This is a century of renewables“.

No they don’t senator, public support for nuclear energy is increasing.


From Olduvai Gorge to the Sea of Tranquility

By far the two most remarkable photographs of the twentieth century are the ones shown above. For they encapsulate the whole evolutionary and cultural history of humanity and its possible destiny.

In 1978, paleontogist Mary Leaky and her team discovered the earliest hominid footprints (dated to be three and a half million years old) preserved in the volcanic ash at Laetoli, forty-five kilometres south of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. They belong to one of our proto human ancestors – Australopithecus afarensis. The picture above shows one of these fossil footprints next to the boot print left by Neil Armstrong in the volcanic soil of Mare Tranquilitatis (the Sea of Tranquillity).
It is very symbolic of the giant evolutionary leap forward we have taken as a species. From Olduvai Gorge to the Sea of Tranquillity, we humans have travelled very far.
Exploration has always been vital to the survival of our species and an integral component of our evolutional heritage and survival imperative. The lure and call of distant lands and new horizons is rooted in our very genes.
The descendents of Australopithecus afarensis – Homo Erectus eventually migrated out of Africa some two million years ago and were to disperse throughout the old World. This was the first of four major waves of human migration from Africa culminating in the last major migration some sixty thousand years ago of fully modern humans (Homo sapiens, sapiens).
Since April 2005 through the efforts of Dr. Spencer Welles and the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project we have begun to map out the migratory story of the human Diaspora out of Africa out onto a wider global stage. This evolutionary step and the migrations that preceded it were vital to humanity’s long term survival in the face of the vicissitudes of a changing global climate.
Eventually the descendents of this last major migration would spread out from the Old Worlds of Europe and Asia into the New Worlds of the Americas and Australia.

It was during this phase of the human story that we became a planetary species. Eventually we discovered agriculture, built the first cities, developed culture and writing and became the pioneers of a totally new domain of evolution.

We are the pioneers of a whole new form of evolution which is distinctly non-biological. This new realm of evolution is Cultural Evolution. It is this new dominion of evolution that has made us the most dominant life form on this planet and has set us on a trajectory that will one day take us out amongst the stars.
In this epoch of human history we face many dangers both old and new. The past has shown us that many species have been wiped off the evolutionary stage because of catastrophic climatic shifts, super-volcanism and asteroidal bombardment. Our species is no different. Some seventy-five thousand years ago our species barely survived a long volcanic winter triggered by the supereruption of Lake Toba on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. And, at least one ancient culture – the Clovis people of North America, may have met their demise as a result of the celestial equivalent of a 9/11 event. Some thirteen thousand years ago a comet exploded over North America, wiping out the mega fauna of that continent, and the people who hunted them, off the face of the Earth.
Today we still face the threats of climate change (both natural and anthropogenic), resource depletion and the products of our own technological folly: environmental degradation, resource depletion, total nuclear warfare, and biological terrorism. Our intelligence and the fact that we were disperse globally helped ensure our survival as a species.
Yet, our species is curious, brave and shows much promise. We are graced with a towering intellect that stands poised on its next evolutionary leap that may one day take us beyond the Sea of Tranquillity and ensure our long term survival.
Neil Armstrong’s one small step for [a] man was the culmination of the greatest scientific, technological and cultural advance in human history. It was indeed a giant leap for mankind. It proved, beyond any question of doubt, that humankind had taken the first evolutionary stride in becoming a multi-planetary species. The time has now come to venture further out on this vast new ocean of space and to chart humanity’s Diaspora out amongst the stars.
We must return to the Moon, this time to stay. We must learn to utilize the vast untapped energy and mineral treasures of the Moon and the Near Earth Asteroids. We must eventually settle the entire solar system from the planet Mars and out to the edge of the solar system. One day our species will continue its migration out into the Milky Way Galaxy. But, this is very far from being our assured manifest destiny. The choice is entirely ours to make. Humans have labelled their species “Homo sapiens, sapiens” – wise, wise man. The time has now come to use our double measure of wisdom to climb out of planetary cradle and take our evolutionary destiny into our own hands and transform ourselves from Homo sapiens, into Homo Stellaris and find our home among the stars.

Only then can we ensure the long term survival and immortality of humanity.

Island One – Settlements in Space

A friend of mine posted this wonderful video on FaceBook. It is a short introductory film about the Island One space settlement concept. This conceptual space colony is also referred to as a Bernal Sphere, after the space visionary James Desmond Bernal, who first proposed it back in 1929 in his book “The World, the Flesh and the Devil”.

This ideal was later championed by Gerard K. O’Neil in his book “The High Frontier.” This presentation is a concise, yet very informative look at O’Neil’s central ideas relating to the settlement and colonization of space and what that might mean for humanity.

Gerard K. O’Neil’s vision has long suffered years of neglected and deserves to be reexamined by a new generation of space policy makers.

There is much in O’Neil’s High Frontier vision that can help us take the first crucial steps towards creating a space program which is both economical sustainable and politically justifiable in the short term and that will facilitate the long term goal of creating a spacefaring civilization.

O’Neil provided a unifying vision in the 1970s that demonstrated convincingly and clearly, that the resources of the solar system can indeed be incorporated into the economic sphere of human existence. And, that any serious discussion concerning humanity’s long term sustainable future here on Earth must look towards a future where people made a home for themselves amongst the stars.

Island One – Settlements in Space

Video Credits:
Presented by Max Emerson
Written by Adam Manning
With thanks to Aron Sora

Daniel Hannan in the USA

British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan become known to the blogosphere a few months ago when he criticized PM Gordon Brown. Below is a speech he gave in Denver Colorado. He compares the American and European ideas of democracy. Well worth watching. I wish we had politicians here who were strong supporters of direct democracy.

Goodbye Walter Cronkite

Earlier today I was elated with the news that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter provided us with photographic proof that humans landed on the Moon. Now all of a sudden I feel a profound sadness on reading the news of Walter Cronkite’s death. Walter Cronkite was an important fixture of my childhood. I remember distinctly his CBS news broadcast of our first fleeting steps, as it happened, on another world. Now, just three days before the fortieth anniversary, he has left us. And that’s the way it is today, Friday July 17th, 2009. Good bye Mr. Cronkite, the world will never be quite the same without you.

Then and now

Forty years ago this month the human race left the planet of its birth and humans strode the moon.

Today we lock six people in a tube and call it a Mars mission:

Six European volunteers have emerged from a simulated space capsule in Moscow after spending more than three months locked inside.

They were part of an experiment into how astronauts might deal with the very cramped conditions and prolonged isolation of a journey to Mars.

As to the Space Station, NASA is preparing to dump it into the ocean:

Despite nearing completion after more than a decade of construction, and recently announcing some upcoming improvements to accompany its full crew of six astronauts, NASA plans to de-orbit the International Space Station in 2016. Meaning the station will have spent more time under construction than completed.

However there is some hope, the private sector is making progress:

After three years just as many failed launches, and a couple of lost satellites, private rocket company SpaceX successfully delivered its first payload into orbit yesterday using their Falcon 1 rocket.

The rocket launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and reached space after a ten minute flight. The payload consisted of a Malaysian satellite named RazakSAT, which will take high resolution pictures of Malaysia (think Google Earth).


Author’s Note:

It gives me great pleasure to present a guest article on Discovery Enterprise by two members, Mr. Leonard Ellul-Mercer and Dr. Gordon Caruana Dingli, of Malta’s Organising Committee for the International Year of Astronomy concerning the activities being organised in Malta to commemorate the International Year of Astronomy and the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The Malta Moon

The moon is our closest celestial body and by far the brightest object in the night sky. It has fascinated man since antiquity.

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 celebrates the four hundred year anniversary since Galileo Galilei turned his telescope towards the night sky. He was the first to observe our moon in detail and some of the maps have been preserved.

The year 2009 is also the fiftieth anniversary of the first unmanned lunar landing and also the fortieth anniversary of the first manned landing.

Malta is an archipelago of small islands in the Mediterranean with a population of just over four hundred thousand people. It has a rich history and is home to the oldest free standing stone structures in the world. It is claimed that these temples, which are thousands of years old, were aligned to the solstice and so there has been a strong astronomical tradition in Malta since antiquity.

The IYA 2009 Malta committee has been very busy organising several astronomy events and it has also put an emphasis on the moon and its exploration by robotic and manned spacecraft. This included the issue of a stamp set commemorating Galileo, Apollo 11 and Lassell’s famous telescope in Malta. A highlight of the activities was a very successful visit to Malta by the Apollo 17 lunar module pilot, the geologist Senator Harrison Schmitt. There have been several talks, seminars, exhibitions and observing sessions.
During the early meetings of the committee the chairman Dr Gordon Caruana Dingli proposed that Malta should co-ordinate an international project for the IYA 2009. Mr. Leonard Ellul Mercer, who is a keen astrophotographer, had long wished to produce an astronomy image involving various countries and after discussions with Dr Alex Gatt, Gordon proposed forming an image of the moon composed of images taken by countries all over the world. Leonard then divided an image of the moon into numbered segments and all IYA 2009 single points of contact with an email address were invited to take part. The response was overwhelming with 40 countries submitting images from all five continents, one country for every year that has passed since Apollo 11 landed on the moon! We have also included an image from the European Union’s Smart-1 spacecraft. Most of the images were taken during the May or June full moons of 2009 but some were older and Italy’s was a four hundred year old sketch by Galileo Galilei. These images were painstakingly processed and pasted as a collage on the background of an image of a full moon imaged by Leonard. This took up many hours of Leonard’s time especially after he decided to produce an audiovisual production of the project. The music of the animated feature is specifically composed and played for the project by Lynn Faure.
The project commemorates the Russian Luna 2 which was the first unmanned spacecraft to land on the moon. We also commemorate the Apollo project which reached Kennedy’s goal with the first manned lunar landing on 20th July 1969 followed by another five landings. Other countries that have launched spacecraft to the moon are Japan, Europe, China and India. These probes are also featured in the image.
The font used in the project is Futura which was used on the plaque that was fixed to the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle, this read:


This was the inspiration for our project “THE MOON FOR ALL MANKIND”
Leonard Ellul-Mercer
Gordon Caruana Dingli
International Year of Astronomy 2009 Malta Committee