Whitey’s on the Moon

A few months ago Governor Gavin Newsom visited Alameda Point –our decommissioned Naval Air Station, renamed with real-estate development in mind– to hold a press conference at the HQ of a company called Astra Space, Inc.  Astra, with 330 employees, helped make the rocket for NASA’s first “Artemis Mission” (now twice-delayed). Newsom sounded like an Empty Suit: “California has always been, and will continue to be, the home of companies on the cutting edge, and we are excited to support and partner with the next stars of the space industry.”

If the governor really recognized global warming as an EMERGENCY, he wouldn’t brag about spending money and brainpower on “initiatives to support the commercial space industry in California” such as:

+ Partnering with the Air Force Research Lab at Edwards Airforce Base for private space companies to share and utilize legacy testing infrastructure

+ Supporting the development of additional sites for commercial space launch

+ Devising workforce training partnerships and funding with California Community Colleges through multiple employer contracts for the industry under the Employment Training Panel

+ Supporting regional economic development initiatives across the state that are community-led and with a focus on space

+ Identifying supply chain solutions that align with federal goals, such as building out a critical mineral supply chain in California for technologies for commercial space.

Those hollow, wasteful goals were listed on the media advisory that Newsom issued from Alameda.

A Sensible Astronomer

According to a cover story in the New Scientist – The US wants to build a long-term human outpost on the moon by around 2030–  NASA’s grandiose lunar program “isn’t just about going back to the moon. It is the first glimmerings of what many hope will be a sustained campaign of human space exploration.” The series of launches, called “the Artemis missions” was projected to cost US taxpayers $93 billion, but that estimate has already been overrun.

The NASA website says, “Artemis is the mythological Greek goddess of the Moon and twin sister of Apollo. The link with the mission which first launched humans to the Moon 50 years ago therefore is clear.” If you say so, Houston.

The astronomer Don Goldsmith has been on a Cassandra mission. (Cassandra was the mythological Trojan princess doomed to make truthful predictions that would go unheeded.) His new book, “The End of Astronauts,” co-authored by Britain’s Astronomer Royal (sic), Martin Wiers, explains why robots, not men and women, should do the exploring. I asked him to comment on Alameda’s support of the space industry.

“There are countries and there are companies,” said Dr. Goldsmith to the lame-man (me), “and all of them have designs on doing something in space. The basic question is what and why. There are things you do with people and things you do without people. To my mind, there’s an enormous distinction because of cost and difficulty. It’s not just a question of whether people can do a few things better than robots, it’s a question of one costs a hundred times more than the other.

“NASA devotes huge amounts of web space to the Artemis Program, but things you’re looking for, like costs, are never there. To get to the moon there will be this big rocket that’s going to put a separate little space station into orbit around the moon, and then from this little space station they’ll transfer astronauts to the moon. Astronauts are people. With a robot you send it there, it’s just as complicated, but if it crashes, it’s too bad.

“Going to the moon is very different than going around the earth at lower orbits –a few hundred miles up in a rocket like the astronauts have been doing for the last few years.  It costs some money, but it’s pretty accessible up there. Elon Musk can do it… But going to the moon is a quarter of a million miles. It takes days. You’ve got to take care of everybody while they’re out there. It’s a very important distinction.”

I said it was outrageous that Musk and Bezos can spend all that money on their egomaniac space flights.

 “My co-author was inclined to say ‘What the hell. It’s their money,’ said Goldsmith. “I’m more inclined to say ‘Why go to the moon, let alone Mars?’ What are they going to do when they get there? Rip it up? Their whole theory is: ‘If it’s out there, grab it.’

Goldsmith allowed that

“In the lower orbits there are useful things that could be done. None of them require astronauts except ‘We have to learn how astronauts can survive in space.’ Which is a circular argument.

“They say there’s an advantage to manufacturing some things in the absence of gravity. Weightlessness will provide an advantage –I’m not sure exactly for what, but it conveys the message ‘the space station will help us do science.’  I suppose it’s vaguely true. But it’s the tail on the dog.

“On that press release you sent me from Astra they say they intend to ‘access the space economy.’ But what is the space economy? (After a brief search on his computer)  The head of the Morgan Stanley Research Space team says ‘If I had to pick just three words to capture my conversations in this arena, it would be “space is existential.”‘  This is the justification for going into space!

“The only legitimate reason they list is ‘we can better understand climate change.’ It’s true, the most valuable thing they do in space is monitor the earth in various ways. We’ve got better weather maps.”

After our conversation I found Morgan Stanley’s webpage with its list of selling points for the commercial space industry that Goldsmith dismissed as jive.

 + “Increased capital formation. Investors are rethinking ‘old space’ versus ‘new space.’ There’s enough room for the exquisite legacy capabilities of aerospace outfits and the more affordable new commercial players.”  Step right up, folks…

+ “Mitigating orbital debris.”  They’re going to start collecting their garbage someday –and charge us for it.

+ “Space and Security… Space has become an increasingly contested domain among countries, underscoring the need for ‘space domain awareness’ by private and governmental players.” The prospect of Pentagon funding has got them drooling.

+ “Telecoms.” Just what the dying planet needs – faster internet, better cell phone service.

Last year US investors put some $15 billion into the space industry. And as Gavin’s ex-wife. Kimberly Guilfoyle says, “The best is yet to come!”

Whitey’s on the Moon
by Gil Scott-Heron

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)

I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon)

The man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)

I wonder why he’s uppin’ me?
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon?)
I was already payin’ ‘im fifty a week.
(with Whitey on the moon)

Taxes takin’ my whole damn check,
Junkies makin’ me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin’ up,
An’ as if all that shit wasn’t enough

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face an’ arm began to swell.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)

Was all that money I made las’ year
(for Whitey on the moon?)
How come there ain’t no money here?
(Hm! Whitey’s on the moon)
Y’know I jus’ ’bout had my fill
(of Whitey on the moon)
I think I’ll sen’ these doctor bills,
Airmail special
(to Whitey on the moon)

Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com