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Is space the final frontier ... or the distance between a certain presidentís ears?

01/02/2004. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

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One of the joys of writing editorials here is I can either get something off my chest or occasionally I can be very topical to show how up-to-date I am and hope the facts that Iím picking up on arenít suddenly going to become dated or altered by a different revelation, fact or opinion.

Hello everyone

One of the joys of writing editorials here is I can either get something off my chest or occasionally I can be very topical to show how up-to-date I am and hope the facts that Iím picking up on arenít suddenly going to become dated or altered by a different revelation, fact or opinion. A double-edged sword not starved by a 6 week delay as in the monthly media paper publications and hey, I like to live life dangerously.

Point of interest is US President George W Bushís proclamation a couple weeks back that he wants to get man, albeit American man, back on the Moon and a Mars Colony in the next decade by promising to finance NASA to the sum of some 300 billion dollars.

In an election year that probably doesnít mean very much. Even if Bush serves a second term and orchestrates this, he wonít be in office when it comes to fruition although it could end up looking like an albatross around any future US Presidentís neck when they want to save the American tax-payer some money and find it impractical to cut the funding off without due reason. If they do find due reason, then itíll be wasted dollars. If Bush fails to win a second term in office, then his replacement doesnít have to carry on this proposal and the fate of the American space programme will be up in the air. Neither way looks particular promising to this writer.

Now this editorial isnít going to debate American politics. I doubt somehow that even the most ardent American SF fan would change his or her vote purely based on such an announcement. What amazes me the most though is Bushís declaration that the USA will be doing these activities alone and already forcing Russia to declare that they can get to the Moon cheaper. The real question is do we really need another Space Race when proper co-ordination between countries would be better?

As the two space shuttle tragedies have indicated, travelling even in Earth orbit isnít without its life-threatening dangers. Going further afield is always going to intensify the problem as Apollo 13 indicated. When President John Kennedy proposed getting a man on the Moon in the early 60s there wasnít much consideration at first for bringing the astronaut back. Fortunately, that attitude changed largely cos the spin doctors of that period realised the US public wouldnít like to see one of their own on a televised suicide mission just to lay a flag on the Moon.

These days with so much international co-operation, it seems a rather pointless exercise to just have one nation want to establish a moonbase let alone develop a colony. If ever there was a need for a unifying of nations, itís the indication that space and our nearest moon and planets belongs to us all. A combined effort would not only spread the overall costs but ensure that the best minds would be involved. It would also prevent any territorial disputes that still plague Earth today.

Thatís not to say Moon or indeed Mars colonists might one day see themselves of these places but unlike some SF stories, might still think the home planet was the place that allowed them to develop under a combined value system. What works up there would bound to have some influence on the rest of us still on terrestrial soil.

Of course, such talks or developments are still likely to be up in the air to some extent while this extensive terrorist action is still taking place. Not in terms of possible actions that they might take against any countryís space programme but in terms of the need to protect each countriesí citizens first. To some extent, this is probably correct although should only be seen as a hopefully short term problem.

Considering how much of space technology has entered out lives from computers to flimsy insulation sheets, a solid determination to advance Man further into space can only speed up and change things again. Indeed, outside of war, itís only been the advances into space where weíve seen such rapid changes in our developing technology. With companies wanting a faster return for their research these days, changes on Earth will no doubt be as fast as anything that is deemed suitable for use in space.

The other discussion point concerns the people of various nations starving through drought and other problems and why more isnít done to resolve their plight before such ventures. Oddly enough, they might well benefit from such research. Although there is still some fear over genetically modified crop plants, it will be such things that will be used on such trips. As such, high-yield grain crops that can grow in harsh conditions would also be of benefit in those parts of the world. Some environmentalists might be rolling their eyes in horror at such a proposition but it would also be seen as an immediate side-benefit that would probably solve the problem in a single sweep.

Weíve been genetically engineering crops ever since Mendel discovered the process. Unlike his day to a couple decades ago, it was pretty much hit and miss blending of seed. These days, it can be done as an exact science of gene modification and knowing what the result should be with some greater accuracy.

Resolving pollution issues might also turn out to be a benefit as well. Such colonies would depend on recycling any waste products. What would work off planet would have to be practiced on Earth first. Hopefully, America wonít have to be dragged into the Kyoto Accords any more but be involved in its own clean-up operation to show what would work on a long term space trip.

With the current investigations and discovery of water on Mars, itís hardly surprising that interest in whatís out there has opened for people in much the same way when the USA and USSR were rushing to the Moon the 60s. With knowledge of the success and pitfalls of leaving Earth orbit, not to mention the need to capitalise on the benefits to the home planet, this time around needs to be a better organised task if it's going to have a lasting effect. I mean, a Mars trip is going to be a 3 year mission not to mention all the preparation before hand. Compared to that, the Moon is the equivalent of a weekend trip. Maintaining public interest over a couple decades is not going to be an easy task. Itís going to require a lot of commitment from all concerned.

My comments on food resources and recycling amongst others would be one way to show there are immediate side benefits from such a programme. It would also ensure a lot of countries maintaining an interest in such a trip.

All of the above should indicate that Iím not against setting up colonies on the Moon and Mars. I doubt if thereís an SF fan out there who doesnít believe it to be a tad stupid just to confine the one known sentient species in this ward of space to a single planet. The real problem is ensuring that this isnít a pipe dream by father and son presidents who probably think that the we should have a Starfleet out there like their favourite TV programme. It needs firm commitment from all political parties involved and as a means to draw in all nations to make such a desire to be successful.

NASA and even Russiaís RKA/VKS has been vastly under-funded for the past decade or so. Not through lack of getting satellites or the space station up there but in technological development to improve the means to getting above the atmosphere in the first place.

Every aircraft has its day, including the recently decommissioned Concorde so itís inevitable that even such as the space shuttle should be superseded by the next vehicle to replace it. Havenít seen much on the drawing board for this largely cos of lack of funding. Even Russia is still using their old and tried rocket system. When China put their first astronaut in orbit they were using an old Russian rocket. Getting the next generation of launch vehicles sorted out quickly and properly has to be the indication that things are getting back into gear.

If weíre going to made a serious attempt to get out into space then we really need to stop messing around and make a concentrated and concerned effort to ensure we have the kind of orbital vehicles that can be used to get up there to prepare some spacecraft for longer trips.

All such work can only be done in stages. With the American over-runs budget, 300 billion is going to appear to be the tip of the iceberg. Me? Iíd rather see the money spent in stages per each step rather than one bad rush to get a country name or flag off world. The benefits for space travel can be for us all and hopefully at a cheap rate individually but sufficient for any company to make a reasonable return. The investment might have been slow over the past couple decades but it needs a measured tactic rather than just chucking money into such advancement. Maybe that will ensure the correct and right reasons for investing in space travel.

Be happy. Be safe. Enjoy the rest of the website.

Thank you and good night

Geoff Willmetts

editor: SFCrowsnest.com

PS For those keeping up with my health, all Iíve currently got currently is the odd sniffle cold. My Mumís recovery has been slow but on the bonus side, Iíve made a big hole in my slush pile. Today, Friday 30th, sheís going to be in hospital for a week getting it sorted out. Humble apologies if Iím late with any email replies.

(Less Serious) Thought For The Month # 1: Rack Parade. With the recent company press photographs released showing Joylene Ballock playing the Vulcan science officer TíPol in ĎStar Trek: Enterpriseí other main assets, it came as a but of a surprise to see similar coverage of Amanda Tapping aka Samantha Carter from ĎStargateí. Címon, folks. Sex appeal is one thing but that are other ways of pleasing such fantasies especially when both actresses can really act and donít need such exploitation.

PS If youíve survived this far in the editorial, let me reiterate something from the website newsletter and the above editorial. As you can see from the main page, we have one of the biggest SF/fantasy/horror monthly reviews columns on the Net. Our success has increased the number of books that comes in and our policy is to read everything before giving a review. We roadtest books so you have some idea of what youíre letting yourself in for when all youíve got to go by is the cover and promotional blurb. That means actually reading the product and telling others what you think.

If you like reading books in the genre, think and can show you can write a decent review and, most importantly, live in the British Isles (sorry, expense, time and distance travelled prohibits elsewhere), contact me below for my ĎReviews Flyerí - put this in the subject ebox and weíll see if youíve got what it takes. We canít pay you but a review for the price of a book has to be a good incentive. We have one of the most popular SF review columns on the Net. Think youíre up to writing a review or do you think it's a hard thankless task??

PPS: For those keeping track, Iím still about 20 months (early April 2003 - see, I have been busy) behind with going through the ebook samples. Thank you for your patience but let me know if youíve sold elsewhere so I can reduce my pile or if youíve changed address, especially e-mail address. I canít give you my comments unless thatís up to date.

This isnít much of a repeat, just to show youíre not forgotten. Those sending in samples, be prepared for a long wait and read the Guidelines elsewhere on this website. They are there to help you do some of the right things and reduce the number of times Iím repeating myself over silly grammatical errors. It makes editing a lot easier if any editor has less work correcting poor English which should have been sorted out in the first place. Thereís an old editorial adage, if you canít aim for perfection why should an editor nurse-maid you to that state? If youíre a writer, then you should understand the words and grammar of the job youíre supposed to be writing or are you considering it as mundane and boring as any other job to get right? Fall in love with making every sentence the best youíre ever letting anyone else read it.

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