A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Paul Dolkas
Date: 2018 Feb 14, 11:44 -0800
My favorite quote when it comes to matters of scientific relevance comes from Benjamin Franklin. (yes, THE Benjamin Franklin) He was the diplomat to France at the time, and was in Paris when the Montgolfier brothers launched their hot air balloon. There was a large crown, and Franklin happened to be standing next to a Frenchman who wasn’t at all impressed with the time & effort it took to construct the balloon.
“Of what use will this be?” the man scoffed
“Of what use is a newborn baby?” Franklin replied.
Science is like that. It almost always seems like a useless extravagance at the start, with no hope for anything useful coming out of it. But almost everything that we now take for granted – down to the computers we are typing on – came about as a result of a useless investigation into some weird science by somebody who should have been spending his or her time doing something practical for a change. None of the science being conducted on the ISS is going to result in new products in the stores by Christmas. But it IS going to be useful at some point, and folks are eventually going to wonder how we ever got along without it.
Give you an example: somebody noticed that viruses and bacteria become more virulent in zero G. Not a very useful discovery, right? I mean, how many of us are going to spend a lot of time in orbit worrying about catching a cold? But the scientists who were researching it realized that there must a genetic switch that regulates how virulent viruses become. The ability to turn this switch on or off means you could come up with a vaccine or drug that could turn the disease off at its source. They just needed to find where on the DNA this switch resides, and studying the virus in zero G enabled them to find it. So now there is a vaccine for Salmonella that is making its way through clinical trials. Salmonella kills a lot of folks around the world, so this one discovery is eventually going to save a lot of lives. All because of a “useless” investigation in the arcane details of an astronaut’s immune response to zero gravity.
I could go on, but I’m sure you see my point. I worked on the design of the space station, and I’m sure it could have been done cheaper & faster than it was. It was, after all a government project. Hopefully the Elon Musks of the world will teach the government a lesson or two about how to do these things. But it would be a huge mistake to declare it all a waste of time & effort just because we cant see the immediate uses of the science it produces.
From: NavList@fer3.com [mailto:NavList@fer3.com] On Behalf Of Robert Eno
Sent: Saturday, February 10, 2018 11:34 PM
Subject: [NavList] Re: X-ray sextant
I take it you are not a big fan of the space program? Are you just dead set against it, or are you like me and miserably disappointed that after 1972, we never left earth orbit and just gave up on manned space travel? Space stations, the space shuttle, even Elon Musk’s latest stunt. As an aside, I won't entirely dismiss the recent Space X rocket, and I do not profess to have the brains to do better, but it is just a re-usable variation of what we have been employing since 1959. None of these things garnered as much excitement, enthusiasm and wonder in me as did the Apollo Lunar Program.
In 1969, I was certain that by the time I reached adulthood, we would have sent men to the outer reaches of the solar system and established bases on the moon and Mars. I figured for sure, that we would have developed atomic propulsion systems -- or something along those lines -- that would send manned spacecraft outward at near the speed of light. But here we are, 45 years later and seemingly no further ahead. We have not put a human being beyond Earth orbit in all of that time and we are still sending metallic tubes into orbit using dead dinosaurs for fuel. To me, one of the biggest disappointments in life is just how far the space program did NOT go.
In Walt Cunningham’s book, “The All American Boys” he relates a comment made in 1967 by then President Lyndon B. Johnson:
"It's unfortunate but the way the American people are, now that they have developed all of this capability, instead of taking advantage of it, they will probably just piss it away"
From: NavList@fer3.com [mailto:NavList@fer3.com] On Behalf Of Frank Reed
Sent: February-10-18 2:09 PM
Subject: [NavList] Re: X-ray sextant
The coverage in Ocean Navigator is late to the game. This has been discussed in NavList messages for many years. The recent attention probably follows a NASA press release last month: https://gameon.nasa.gov/category/deep-space-navigation-and-communication/.
Though we allow the word sextant to be used for a rather broad range of instruments, it should be added that this NASA experiment, which uses the nickname "SEXTANT", is nothing like a sextant. A better description for this would be something like "Nature's GPS". It operates in the time domain, like GPS, and not in the angle domain, like a sextant. By comparing the delays in the signals from pulsars, a position can ber determined in much the same way as by GPS.
Should we celebrate NASA's amazing achievement? Sure. Whoopee. So long as money does not exist in our glorious Tomorrowland world. This experiment is probably decades away from being fielded in any real navigation context. It's un-necessary "space cadet" game-play. Its presence as an experimental package on the International Space Station is a fine reminder of the simple fact that space stations encourage pointless, make-work projects. It's grotesquely wasteful government pork. The space station is a hole in space surrounded by aluminum, into which you pour money.