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Nightime Musings - zestycrustacean
Nightime Musings

Thankfully my prelab took far less time than I thought it would, so I have a few minutes to type up my first real entry.  Tomorrow's lab (for which the prelab was written) has as it's star participant the humble drosophila (fruit fly), focus of countless genetics experiments over the past century.  I would be cheering for this exercise were it not for the amount of paperwork that goes along with it.  When else do you get the chance to mash up a vial full of carefully plucked fly heads?  I should explain that statement.  The lab specifically involves the chemicals in the fly's body which cause it to have a certain eye color (wild mix, brown, scarlet, or white).  The head mushing exercise is to get said chemicals into a solution so we can analyze their relative proportions, and thus come to conclusions about the flies' genotypes.  
     In case you were wondering, that delightful being which graces this page is a giant isopod, a huge seafloor-dwelling bug that can grow to in excess of six inches.  The diversity, tenacity, and utter beauty of the life which has evolved over countless millennia upon the surface of this insignificant dust mote which we arrogantly term the world has always been a source of awe and inspiration to me.  Equally awesome is the great likelihood that the same slow, painstaking process has occurred on, in all probability, billions of other worlds scattered through the immensity of the Cosmos.  It is all out there waiting for us, if we are only willing to show the necessary courage.  The courage to look up from the mire of death and pain and filth that surrounds us and grow, expand; become more than we were.  
     We have been sadly lax in this enterprise over the past thirty or so years (after all, funding Vietnam was so much more important than the space program).  Perhaps I am just being bitter;  I don't believe NASA could (or probably should) have continued to recieve the amount of funding it did in the sixties and seventies, but we retreated far farther than we had too, or should have.  Today, though, we have a chance to pick up where we left off, to continue the manned exploration and settlement of our solar system.  The new plans, plans which are recieving millions of dollars and serious attention, aim for a lunar base by 2025, and expansion from that point on.  If political support continues, we can look forward to a renewed and permanent manned presence on the lunar surface, the jumping-off point to the rest of the Solar System and an important destination in its own right.  
     We often hear of the billions of dollars poured into the space program, but few stop to think about what that means to them. The current plans estimate a thirty billion dollar budget per annum once the program gets into full swing.  You might be interested to learn that that amounts to $99.60 for each U.S. citizen.  Isn't the survival and expansion of the human species worth a hundred bucks a year?  Consider that we are currently spending about $9 billion a week in Iraq.  Whether you support the war or not is besides the point.  The point is the fact that an agressive, healthy space program requires each year the amount of money we spend in one month of fighting the current war.  I have to believe that anyone capable of rational thought and in posession of all the facts would agree that this expenditure is worth the effort.       
     A revitalized space program can act as the source of thousands of jobs, and can provide the draw necessary to get American kids  into science and engineering careers again, not to mention the ultimate effect of establishing footholds for our species beyond the Earth.  Once we have self-sufficient human enclaves spread through the solar system, our species becomes essentially indestructable.  No matter what happens to Earth, be it nuclear war, pandemic or asteroid strike, there is almost nothing that would be able to drive us all the way to extinction.  This is not a near term goal, but that does not mean that we should vacillate now, leave it up to another generation to deal with.  We have a chance to lay the foundations for one of the greatest events in human history, as important as fire, the wheel, writing, or even the neolithic revolution: the expansion of significant portions of the human species to environments beyond our homeworld.  
     If we fail to have the necessary resolve, I feel that future generations will judge us far more harshly than we could ever judge ourselves. 

Oh, and if you're interested, a lot of this info comes from an excellent article written by Carolyn Porco, for the New York Times:

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