Archive for February 1st, 2010

Out With NASA Decadence, In With Better Union

February 1, 2010

 

OUT WITH THE PAST, IN WITH THE NEW, SAME AS THE OLD PAST

Let me add my spice to the excellent decision of Obama to change the strategy of NASA back to what it used to be, and what it ought to be: shaping the sharp edge of science and technology, where the profit motive does not provide enough lift.

Obama proposes to drop Bush’s going-back-to-the-moon-because-it-is-there-and-we-can-do-it-with-wheelbarrow "Constellation" program. "Constellation" is a nice French word, that was the best to be said about it, before burying it in shame.

"Constellation" was only going to use old technologies for a backbone, with a varnish of new gimmicks. When I say old, I mean really old. Example: the Ares I idea came from China, a millennium ago (the inventor died in the process).

Instead of using obsolete technologies that ought to, and could have been, deployed 30 years ago, Obama proposes to push for new technologies, an unusually bold, courageous and clever plan (for an administration known for its Summers of our discontent).

Inventing really new technologies was what NASA used to do in the 1950s (with the glorious X program). At the time the idea was to push for new technology, and new science. Going to orbit, and then the moon, qualified as such, back then. But we have been to the moon, and we do not have the technologies to stay to the moon sustainably (which would be the only way to progress scientifically, technologically and economically there).

True, sending explorers to Mars would bring a huge scientific progress, but we simply do not have the means to do this reasonably yet… Considering that robots can do plenty there (pushing robot tech in the process, no doubt most profitably in the most down to earth manner.) in particular, a French-American robotic Mars sample return mission that was scrapped (too expensive, said the USA), could be revived.

Obama is thus entirely correct to go back to the way it used to be.

If worse come to worse, and private USA companies cannot go to space safely and effectively, the USA does not have to use Soyuz forever. Indeed the French led European rocket, Ariane V, and its Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle, modulo a bit of tinkering, would be a perfect replacement for the Ares program: whereas Ares I promised to be an even stupider vehicle than the Shuttle, Ariane V, with its hydrogen propulsion, and safety and effectiveness record, is perfectly state of the art. Besides the French have embarked on the future Ariane VI program, and, knowing them, they will not quit.

Indeed, remembering 1940, the French view is that superiority in aerospace is of the strategic essence. The USA can afford to be more relaxed, considering it is better defended by demography, geography, and history.

After Japan attacked at Pearl Harbor, it got quickly defeated because the USA was more mass technological. What do I mean by this? The USA had much more pilots, for example, including thousands of women pilots, who helped crucially the military effort in the Pacific, by flying very dangerous cargo missions. After Midway, when the competent Japanese fliers ended in the drink, or as combustible on the flaming Japanese carriers, Japan did not have enough competent pilots to train others and fly missions. Equivalent losses would not have stopped the American juggernaut.

The USA also had much more technologically competent individuals and private companies than Japan (or Germany) did.

As a result, the USA was a republic of engineers, and had much more advanced technologies than Japan, that it was able to deploy quickly. American carriers with armored decks and steam catapults, the imperial Navy did not have. So quickly the Americans were flying much better, well armored planes into battle, and turning their radars on. Superb Japanese binoculars came short during the night battles the Americans relished. Besides the USA had cracked the Jap codes, and USA submarines were superior, preventing the great rising sun imperial contraption to ship anything much between the dozens of thousands of islands on which it had cleverly spread countless garrisons (sometimes discreetly reduced to cannibalism).

It will be good, this time, for the core of the West, the European Union and the USA, to operate more as a unit, in a timely manner. Things got messy in the Second World War (and also the First world War) precisely because Europe and America did not operate as a unit to start with (instead some rogue American plutocrats went to operate as a unit with… Hitler!).

The USA waited malignantly until France and Britain won the war for them (WWI), or nearly lost it (WWII). It was great for the so called "American Century", but that did not last too long… And the 75 million or so who died in WWII, among others, sure did not find the strategy most profitable (differently from Wall Street, which laughed all the way to its associated banks!)

It is not well known that the "Manhattan Project" truly started with the French "War Ministry" in January 1938 (you will probably not find this information on Wikipedia, and I will not bother putting it there). The French removed all the nuclear patents deposited by French scientists, and insured the cooperation of Norway in a determined nuclear bomb effort, extended later to the UK, and then the USA, which ended by hastening the end of WWII with as little blood and roasted flesh as possible(as everyone does not know yet).

My point? Because of a tradition of technological, scientific, and generally mental supremacy in the West, there is much more to be gained in cooperating, than by having everyone sulking in its corner.

The Eurofighter, and the F35 Lightning, are examples of contemporary major multinational military programs (on these superiority fighters and the Franco-French Rafale does, and will, the air supremacy of the West depends).

Less well known, France used the USA to mass produce the 75mm gun in the First World War, helping to save France (the "75" was perhaps France’s main weapon in WWI).

But not just that: USA private companies learned to mass produce the “75” with higher precision than they could initially muster (the Ford Model T would come out of that new technological tradition of massive precision, a decade later).

So welcome to the future! One of the reasons the European Union was created was to make economies of scale, and synergies of mental efforts. For example, although all Airbus models are assembled in Toulouse, France, all Airbus’ wings are conceived and constructed in Wales (UK).

There is no reason why the same economies of scale could not be extended systematically to the USA, as a collaborator of the EU (the Saturn robot, Huyghens-Cassini, is a splendid example of this; Boeing’s 787 another, with Japan thrown into the mix, as Mitsubishi now traditionally makes Boeing’s wings, which is more crafty than fighting Boeing’s planes; by the way, Airbus is now more of an American company than Boeing itself…)

In other words, nothing prevents its errant colony to come back ever closer to its parent, Europe, in order to achieve a better union… And others should, and ought to join in, which means, democratize (and the eye was on Beijing.)

PA


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