I wonder if there’s a generation of scientists, artists and technocrats ready to succeed Freeman Dyson, Arthur C Clarke and all those other admirable, enlightened, imaginative old men who came of age before the bomb. Clarke dreams of a time when a majority of humankind can’t quite remember which way to point when asked where planet Earth is. Dyson of extending the range of life, infinitely adaptable, to the the furthest edges of the universe and of rearranging the Solar System.
They, I’m sure, would have no patience with the narrow-minded campaign to retreat from manned space flight. BBC 4 has an excellent documentary about Dyson’s Orion project. He planned to send people across inter-stellar distances by exploding hundreds of Hydrogen bombs behind their space ships. The programme will probably repeat half a dozen times so you have time to catch it and you can hear Dyson speaking at the programme’s web site.
I think this may be the most heartbreaking reporting to come out of the Columbia disaster:
“The communication checks continue. So does the silence. A radar station near the Kennedy center then says it is putting its radar in a “search mode.”
“We do not have any valid data at this time,” said Jones. He said there was a “blip” but it was bad data.
Then a long pause, a silence of despair. Then Cain says the final words, the phrase that marked the lack of hope: “Lock the doors.””
Space.com has this useful FAQ
NASA’s official page on the disaster investigation.
The extraordinary image of Columbia, taken when she was still over 200,000 feet up, was taken using a hobbyist’s telescope and an 11 year-old Mac.
Freeman Dyson quotes Bacon in his NYRB review of a book about the importance of amateur astronomers:
“All depends on keeping the eye steadily fixed on the facts of nature, and so receiving their images as they are. For God forbid that we should give out a dream of our own imagination for a pattern of the world.”
He contrasts the Baconian amateurs focused on systematic exploration and minute observation with the Cartesian professionals always with their eye on the grand theory and the cosmic problem. By the way, did you know that Patrick Moore discovered Mare Orientale, “the biggest and most beautiful impact crater on the moon”?