Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Americans Are As Clueless As Ever On NASA's Purpose (As Revealed In New Bloomberg Poll)

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The Space Shuttle - one of the achievements of NASA in its heyday. The disasters that occurred (Challenger, Columbia)  were largely owing to spreading resources too thin and unreasonable demands

A recent, wide ranging Bloomberg poll on Americans' views of  space showed once again why we shouldn't take a survey's responses seriously unless the respondents have  a proper educational background. That includes - or should have,  in the Bloomberg case - at least one semester of Earth or Space Science  and a year of general physics. Otherwise what you get is "garbage in, garbage out."

In this case, "the poll was conducted for Bloomberg Business Week  by research firm Morning Consult which surveyed 2,202 U.S. adults in July." 

Fair enough, so what did this illustrious poll find?

The poll, predicated on querying the ignorant, delivered the following dubious insights in regard to NASA's primary reason(s) for being:

.-  "Observing the climate" should be the top priority according to 43 percent

-  25 percent insisted the agency should "monitor asteroids and other space objects"

-  8 percent indicated that sending humans to Mars or other planets should be the agency's main goal

-  Only 3 percent said that sending astronauts to the Moon ought to be a main priority

According to a Bloomberg  news report by Riley Griffin and Justin Bachman:

"The findings point to a stark contrast with NASA's current focus on human spaceflight and deep space exploration as the agency works on a lunar orbital platform for the early 2020s and a mission to Mars n the 2030s. "

Adding to this insight compliments of Casey Dreier, director of Space Policy at the Planetary Society:

"Most people view space issues through a prism of relevance to one's daily life. What's relevant to people? Well, climate change. Going to the Moon and Mars, presented without context, probably doesn't sound very important to people."

And he has a point - again - because too few are exposed to Space Science and its relevance, e.g. such as the recent launch of the Parker probe to the Sun - which will inform us much better on how our star really works, and be especially relevant to the theme of space weather. As I wrote in a post on the probe from last June,

"Space weather phenomena include: solar flares and especially coronal mass ejections, e.g.

As we know these violent events can affect everything from electrical grids and GPS systems to the navigation controls of aircraft.  If a monster flare triggered a "central meridian"  CME we could expect adverse effects on all GPS positioning satellites. Bear in mind that GPS, besides providing directions for road users, allows synchronized cell phone conversations, as well as orchestrates air traffic not to mention 'date stamping' most financial transactions and guiding the dynamic positioning of the majority of deep sea oil drilling and gas operations. "

I don't see how any normal person, with even an average IQ and a modicum of insight, could fail to be impressed at the relevance. But let's go back to the survey results and try to ferret out some of the fundamental misconceptions reflected.

In the case of the 43 percent who insist "observing climate" ought to be NASA's main priority there ae some huge issues. First, one does not "observe climate" - one observes sequences of climate manifestations occurring at different times (e.g. extraordinary 'thousand year' floods, monster hurricanes,  hail storms etc.), in addition to geophysical records  - e.g. ice cores - to piece together a climate picture.  I still recall the words of Prof. Gunter Weller, e.g.

who I first met at the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks, AK in 1985, who said: "We never observe climate as a static phenomenon  as if frozen in a photo- but we instead  piece together climatic events over geological time to obtain a dynamical insight into the operational climate factors and their impacts"

Perhaps  no where has this been more clearly demonstrated than in the excess of radiocarbon C14 over C12 over a 2,000 year period, e.g.

2000-year record of C14:C12 deviations has been compiled by P.E. Damon ('The Solar Output and Its Variations')

As pointed out by solar physicist John Eddy (in his monograph, 'The New Solar Physics'):

"The sharp upward spike at the modern end of the curve, representing a marked drop in relative radiocarbon, is generally attributed to anthropogenic causes—the mark of increased population and the Industrial Age. The burning of low radiocarbon fossil fuels- coal and oil- and the systematic burning off of the world’s forests for agriculture can be expected to dilute the natural C14/C12 ratio in the troposphere to produce an effect like the one shown..."

Meticulously obtained evidence such as this, expose the caterwauling of lamo WSJ letter writers, i.e. of one "Rob Shipley" three weeks go,

"Are we certain our planet wasn't warmer a thousand years ago?"

As simply recycled, misdirected  codswallop, given the  differential D or excess was much less 1,000 years (.eg. 1,000 A.D.)  relative to the current spike upwards.

These 43 percent of respondents also seem not to know that climate monitoring is the task of a network of facilities, e.g. Scripps  Oceanographic Institution, Geophysical Institute etc. -  many based at universities. The general oversight for the U.S. lies with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Again, the ignorance of the respondents leads to their simplistic - even childish - inputs.  Thanks to these coordinated efforts we now know just how serious the current climatic manifestations are, e.g.

How climate change is supercharging a hot and dangerous summer

"Gone are the days when scientists drew a bright line dividing weather and climate. Now researchers can examine a weather event and estimate how much climate change had to do with causing or exacerbating it."

Thanks to climate networks and diverse inputs from multiple disciplines (e.g. paleo-oceanography) we are now also aware of:

- the increasingly rapid release of an even more powerful greenhouse gas - methane, e.g.

More Rapid Permafrost Melting Triggers Emergency …

-  The soil itself is now releasing more carbon e.g.
- The increasing  acidity of Earth's oceans -  the greatest not only since the dawn of the Industrial revolution, but in the past 300 million years. The particular chemical reaction is:
H2O + CO2 -> H2 CO3

The lower the pH level in the seas ('7' is neutral pH), the more acidic they are.  Much of the work on this aspect of climate change has been done at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, e.g.
Ocean Acidification | Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Another deficit of respondents'  knowledge: Too few appear to know that the Moon cannot be excluded from exploration and settlement (lunar base) if we are to get to the more distant worlds, including Mars. The reason is that a lunar base can provide the initial "off ramp" to provide critical resources including fuel,  to get to the more distant places.

NASA does have a role in monitoring climate change, such as to provide ongoing satellite imagery, for example, on the receding Arctic ice, e.g.
Arctic Sea Ice Minimum - NASA Climate Change
But to halt NASA doing any space research including for manned space missions, is a fool's errand. It would render our already myopic species - in terms of the purview of its interests - even more at risk than it is, e.g. from potential small asteroid impacts such as the Chelyabinsk event, e.g.

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