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Oct 21, 2006

Vewy Vewy Quiet

(click pic for near-Space Program size)

by Chris Maynard

On a recent weekend in the Nevada desert, amateur rocket scientists, mostly male of course, gathered to show off, then shoot off, their latest work.  The sky offered its usual 360 degree field of the American West. People pitched in to help each other, no one was injured, and no major laws seem to have been broken.

Scenes like this are the modern version of a Norman Rockwell painting; it's the grand and intensely American vision of space exploration scaled to what can be hauled down the interstate. Set it up, send it off in a cloud of flames and smoke, then put it back together and push the button again.

It's less charming when the rockets get bigger. Last week, late on the Friday afternoon of Columbus Day weekend, President Bush announced a National Space Policy which, among other things, claims the right to shut the door to space to anyone "hostile to U.S. interests."

The policy notes that "space has become an even more important component of U.S. economic, national and homeland security." Apparently this mandates the presence of an American doorman; after all, somebody has to be cool enough to decide who's let in.

As usual, the Bush administration refuses to contemplate negotiations of any kind about the policy. The vote in the UN was 160 to 1 last year when the idea of space weapon negotiations was brought up, the U.S. being the sole objector. In the past, when the Administration has considered the possibilities of space, there have been allusions to tactics such as "deception, disruption, denial, degradation and destruction."

One official said "This policy is not about developing or deploying weapons in space." Right, and toads won't give you warts and the moon isn't made of blue cheese. Rumsfeld has long been enamored of the robotic battlefield, sanitizing death and eliminating the messy wounded as if war was a Pac Man game. Drones don't have to be shipped home in coffins, and there are no widows eligible for pensions.

Which brings us back to the desert, with guys in funny t-shirts and odd trousers putting their toys together and pushing the start button. One can almost imagine Bugs Bunny in that conga line, ready to set off another explosion for the fun of it.

The vision would not be complete, however, without Elmer Fudd, off in the distance, checking the sights of his shotgun, whispering: "Be vewy vewy quiet."

(Link to amateur rocketeer article with slideshow.)

(image: Jim Wilson/The New York Times.  Gerlach, Nevada. October 14, 2006.


Weighting in on this pic:
New statistics reveal that a startling 64.5% of American adults, or more than 120 million people, are overweight or obese. By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY

God forbid any of these rocket scientists are registered Democrats. No doubt they'll find themselves on the terrorist watch list and considered a threat to "national security."

Looney tunes indeed. Rocket fetishism by a bunch of fat guys. Thanks NYT.

What weight might Jon Stewart on Comedy Central give to this NYT rocket article quote;
"A lot of guys close their eyes and see women. I close my eyes and see rockets," said Ky Michaelson, 68, a junior high school drop-out from Bloomington, Minn., who has been called "the sultan of thrust" by Outside Magazine.

impotentia coeundi : obese American men, trying to get it up.

in the homeometric regularity of their near two-dimensional silhouettes: “the bearers is evocative of ancient Egyptian art, classical bas relief.

perhaps the most poignant contrast of this image is the now iconic the standard bearers Raising the American Flag on Mount Suribachi photographed by Joe Rosenthal during the Battle of Iwo Jima, half a century ago. In it, the male figures are fully-formed, fit; they are differentiated yet dedicated to succeed co-operatively in noble endeavour.

But here it is the lack of symbols (for example, The Flag or Rocket Club insignia, or even defiant/hopeful graffiti, "Space or Bust!") which clouds their purpose...

...leading us to conclude that their challenge is not to go where no man has gone before, but to struggle with the earthly burden of being men: bearing their own burden.

" limitless & free." terminus est

space is an ocean with currents and weather. People will go out to explore it and sail the cosmos, like merchants and privateers long ago. Knowing the human species, space probably will become a battlefield. Policies and talk like this will extend an imperialist attitude towards space, and empires will try taking territory, no doubt, unless we can all agree that the ocean the Earth exists in is too big to own. Alas, men often think of themselves as bigger than the planet. Maybe our future is in the stars, but it is also here on the ground as of this moment. We should realize we owe our existence to this planet and treat it nicer before we abandon it forever.

These guys could be out killing something. Or someone. Would that be better? Science is cool. You have to love it to understand.

I love rockets and all things science and science fiction. Fat they may be, but they are not stupid (regardless of whether or not they graduated from HS).

And although I agree with you,Victor F, you also have to admit that going to space and looking back toward the Earth has shaped humanity view of itself in fantastic ways.

You can make fun of their bodies, if you must, but these guys are doing something they love. I don't know them, but I bet they've been working on the rocket for half a year, and they think about it all the time, and they talk to each other about how to make it better and they work on it as a team.

They drove hours to be wherever they are, and they got up at dawn, because today is the day that they are gonna see whether it worked, and they are with the few people on earth who care as much as they do, so they can have the conversations they have waited all year to have, about tiny, tiny changes in gear.

These men are working together, completely absorbed in their goal and in building something. You may not care about model rockets, but they are not detached observers and they aren't snarking on anyone. And on that weekend, no matter what you were doing, they had a better time than you did. Respect.

Megan, there's a lot going on with these men and their toys, as for obesity and "completely absorbed" maybe borderline OCD in some cases, I consided both as mental lionesses and not a joking matter by the way.
As to health and money, science and values, personal or political motivations these were some of my thoughts;

The annual cost of overweight and obesity in the U.S. is $122.9 billion. (120 million unhealthy people many without health care)

"..recalled his boyhood rocketry experiments with black powder and other dangerous substances. Mr. Mullane said he was "reborn" the day Sputnik was launched in 1957. "It was the 9/11 of my childhood,* a blow to the American ego*," he said. - quoted from amateur rocketeer article.

"Science does not have a moral dimension. It is like a knife. If you give it to a surgeon or a murderer, each will use it differently." -Wernher von Braun.(from the Nazi SS to the USA's Sturmbannführer Saviour in Space.)

"I made one great mistake in my life-when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atomic bombs be made," Einstein told chemist Linus Pauling in 1954

Which gets us back to: "President Bush has signed a new National Space Policy that rejects future arms-control agreements that might limit U.S. flexibility in space and asserts a right to deny access to space to anyone "hostile to U.S. interests."

And finally: "I believe America may totally succumb to the fearful militarisation which engulfed Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. There is real danger that political power and the power to influence the minds of people will pass increasingly into the hands of the military, which is used to approaching all political problems from the point of view of military expediency. Because of America's supremacy, the military point of view is forced upon the world" - Einstein .

Rafael, I agree that "looking back toward the Earth has shaped humanity view of itself in fantastic ways." but whats to be said about this ongoing environmental destruction ?

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