Sunday, June 04, 2006

Oh, Canada!

Excellent post by James over at the Chicago Boyz blog, about the recent arrest of 17 suspected terrorists in Canada. These guys had amassed 3 tons of ammonium nitrate; according to a Toronto Star article quoted by James:
"If I can put this in context for you," [said RCMP assistant commissioner Mike McDonell.] "The 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people was completed with only one tonne of ammonium nitrate."
Check it out.

Not just for Cheese Anymore

I remember James telling me about an television ad created by the National Cheese Council (we're very big on food product councils here in the US). It showed a picture of the moon, and said something like: "in 1969, man went to the moon and discovered it was not made of cheese." [pause] "We haven't been back since." I remember seeing it. It depressed James, he said -- he remembered, as a kid, watching the first moon landing and keeping fascinated track of the landings until they ended in 1972, and like many people wishes he could go up there. Like many people, too, I think he was hoping that by this year, there'd be commercial flights to the moon, and it's depressing to think that we haven't even been able to go up there vicariously through someone else, since no one's gone.

Well, check out this news item from Yahoo News:
NASA's outlook for the future calls for humans to dig in their heels on the Moon as early as 2015 and no later than 2020.
Proposed NASA SpaceshipYes! The article talks about a lot of new technology that will have to be developed. One of the things that has always blown my mind is the level of tech we had when we went there in the first place - someone told me that the computers were the equivalent of a TRS-80. My Dad had one of those in the office. He decided not to spend the extra expense for the floppy-disk drive and had a tape (as in, "cassette") drive. To save data, you had to press "play" and "record" at the same time. Yes. Really. I remember the scenes in "Apollo 13", where the scientists on the ground are furiously working their slide rules in order to recalculate information for the astronauts in trouble up in space. Slide rules. And it worked.

Bob Park, a scientist who writes a really good (and very scathing) weekly summary of science-related news, doesn't like the idea of manned missions to Mars and I gather he probably won't like this one either. He does have a point in that it's far more cost-effective, and safer, to send robots. But I still think there should be people going, as much as that adds to the already incredible expense: 1) because I think that we should, as a species, leave the solar system and explore (I'm a hopeless Star Trek fan) and 2) because often there's a great benefit by having a human there. We're capable of an intuitive type of inspiration that I think could make for some amazing discoveries if not limited by the narrow field-of-view and range of a robot. We just need to go there and look around. Perhaps I'm hopeless.

I think we'll make it there in about 2022, adjusting for the usual governmental bloat & delay. If we were in a race with another country, we could do it in 2015. (Hello, China, wanna race?)

Anyway: to you folks, of whatever nationality, who'll spring off of the ISS and go to the moon: excelsior!