Starting a conversation – June 17,2008

Starting a conversation is hard.  Geting off on the wrong foot can happen so quickly and then any chance of a meaningful encounter is lost.   I am really interested in starting a conversation.  Not a conversation on any subject, but a conversation about space exploration and why that effort is meaningful.  Perhaps you agree, perhaps you disagree, but you certainly know some things I don’t.  And I am really interested in finding out what I don’t know (which is a lot!)

So I’ll try to hammer out some thoughts every day or so –  maybe with pictures if I figure that out –  and you can write me back and tell me how its going..

So for the first post, I’ll start with the reason I came to work late — my grandkids (oh, no, you didn’t want to hear that kind of story did you?!)

Not that my two grandchildren are the smartest and brightest kids ever born (they are),  but what having grandchildren – or children – can mean.  Children make me thoughtful.  (After they are in bed, anyway).  Little children make me think about the future.  What will the world be like when these wee ones inherit what we have done? Will the world be a better or a worse place than it is today?  And the hardest question of all: what can I do to make it better?

 I hold a stubborn and passionate belief that space exploration is important for that future.  Just one example for today: understanding our own planet.  Without satellites to monitor the weather, climate, pollution, crop growth patterns, and many other things we would be blind and deaf to what is happening.  The earth monitoring satellites built by many countries and many US agencies are giving us vital information about our world every day. And that is information that cannot be gained anywhere else but from earth orbit.

Beyond all that, studying other planets have helped understand our own.  In particular, how our complex atmosphere works.  Our weather and climate are influenced by the interaction of air and water, sometimes too complex to understand directly.  Venus and Mars don’t have oceans but they have weather. Studying those planets helps us understand what happens without oceans.   Jupiter and Saturn have planet circling oceans (not water, certainly!) underneath their atmosphere.  By studying them we understand better how gas and liquid interact to affect climate and weather.  The payoff is better weather forecasts, better understanding of climate change, and more impetus to change our own future.  Don’t stop there.  The Sun drives all our weather and climate, everything else is just a tweak around the edges by comparison.  The Ulysses probe is going silent after 17 years of service.  Ulysses, launched on the shuttle Discovery, studied the sun.  Ulysses and the other solar satellites are helping us to understand how changes in our unstable star occur.  Better understanding of the sun is mandatory to understand our future.

All of that to make sure that our children and grandchildren have a better future.  Or, at least better than what would occur if we didn’t know what was going on and therefore couldn’t do anything about it.

So, a first example and discussion topic.  I’ll have more in days to come. 

Let me know what you think!