Saturday, July 28, 2007

One Giant Leap for Man, or starving punch-drunk on the moon?

One giant leap for humankind, or starving punch-drunk on the moon?

Originally published in the Wood River Journal:

By Jim Banholzer
In the summer of ‘69, as my brother David and I pigged out on potato chips and sipped Tang, we watched Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong hypnotizingly bounce around on our Moon. Young David was five and I was nine. As our grainy black & white Zenith set flicked otherworldly phenomena, I offered a simple explanation that the reason for gaps in communication was that it took time for Mission Control's messages to reach the moon module and then a bit more for the astronauts radioed responses to rebound back here. Years later, David told me that he had clearly heard what I was explaining, but that it was too much then for his young mind to comprehend what it actually meant.

Since our last Apollo returned, the comprehension required to understand inner workings of mechanisms orbiting over our heads has increased exponentially. Nowadays, NASA has astronomical plans to establish a permanent colonization base near this Satellite's South Pole. From a positive engineering aspect, this extremity appears to be ice-capped and gathers abundant sunshine. For decades, there has been speculation that whoever holds power over this new Moon, will also rule supreme, lighting over Earth with military “defense” weaponry and more. Gearing up for this, our space agency is making sustained efforts to make Moon travel appealing and even promising for average Joe Spud's like David and I. Recently the NASA website, Apollo Chronicles featured an article “Jack Skis the Moon,” comparing the Moon's Mt. Hadley Delta to Sun Valley's Dollar Mountain. To read about this most skyrocketing ski run see:

A prime moon mover and dust shaker partially eclipsed in this piece is former astronaut Harrison Schmitt. Mr. Schmitt is geology engineer, who has started a corporation for extracting Helium -3 from the moon. In the well-crafted NASA article, readers get the playful feeling that any stuck in the mud that is not rooting for bouyant moon bounces must be flat out against fun. The accepted wisdom is that pish-poshing un-patriotics should be made to munch on moon dust.
Ironically, it could be this heavenly body that ceaselessly revolves around us, that winds up saving us savage beasts from ourselves. In one giant leap for humankind, fusion power fueled by the Moon's ethereal helium -3 could become the spark for transport methods of never-ending energy -an upholding solution to our self-wrought energy crisis. Scientific researchers at Princeton University Plasma Plastics Lab have speculated that over one millions tons of helium-3 could be scraped from the top of the Moon. At the going rate of $3 million dollars a ton, if divided equally this would put a half-million dollars in every earthling's back pocket.

It's nice to imagine such a bright future, but that is likely more obscure. NASA is renowned for exorbitant cost overruns and does not put spending skycaps on such undertakings. In 2002, NASA even deleted from its mission statement the words, “to understand and protect our home planet .” Can the gravity of the good outweigh the bad if we invest heavily in moon missions at a time when our country is facing $$ Mountains of debt? Here we are, potentially aiming with billions of bucks trying to turn a profitable shipping lane in the sky. Meanwhile in years of overabundance, while begging for money, most earthly food banks turn down fresh Idaho and Canadian potatoes, because they are considered too heavy for shipping.

Although the Moon is apparently currently barren of sustaining food, there will likely be expanded colonization efforts, including farming if this gold rush of the new millennium proves profitable. In fact, students from
Shoshone-Bannock High School, on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation conducted a successful experiment growing potatoes on Space Shuttle Atlantis. Average Joe-Spud's will again be asked to help launch the pioneering missions funded from our tax base. However, before the tide turns in a twilight seashell game to break our National Treasury for corporate profits, shouldn't we first be investing our mountainous dollars to help waterways run clean to oceans? And determining more seaworthy transport solutions, so that food belt farmers need not in years of overabundance, shamefully plough their potatoes back into earth, with millions starving in dark Africa and even gloomy pockets of Idaho

Though some aspects of our government have lost the public trust for good, I have explained to Brother David, that I hope we will again take time to conduct wide-spectrum feasibility studies, before we skip the potato pivots over the moon and land with astronomically priced pi's astronomically priced pi’s crunched on cash-vacuumed shores of tranquility in our fool-moon sky.

More reference links:

Does the space program have a future? - By Gregg Easterbrook and Nathan Myhrvold - Slate Magazine

Telegraph News

Did NASA accidentally kill life on Mars? -

Tom Waits - Rare Recordings - Drunk on the Moon


  1. Anonymous5:37 PM

    Duct-Tape, Tranquilizers Part Of NASA's Plan For Mentally Unstable Astronauts In Space

    POSTED: 2:06 pm EST February 23, 2007
    UPDATED: 2:18 pm EST February 23, 2007

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- What would happen if an astronaut came unglued in space and, say, destroyed the ship's oxygen system or tried to open the hatch and kill everyone aboard?

    That was the question on some minds after the apparent breakdown of Lisa Nowak, arrested in Orlando this month on charges she tried to kidnap and kill a woman she regarded as her rival for another astronaut's affections.

    It turns out NASA has a detailed set of written procedures for dealing with a suicidal or psychotic astronaut in space. The documents, obtained this week by The Associated Press, say the astronaut's crewmates should bind his wrists and ankles with duct tape, tie him down with a bungee cord and inject him with tranquilizers if necessary.

    "Talk with the patient while you are restraining him," the instructions say. "Explain what you are doing, and that you are using a restraint to ensure that he is safe."

    The instructions do not spell out what happens after that. But NASA spokesman James Hartsfield said the space agency, a flight surgeon on the ground and the commander in space would decide on a case-by-case basis whether to abort the flight, in the case of the shuttle, or send the unhinged astronaut home, if the episode took place on the international space station.

    The crew members might have to rely in large part on brute strength to subdue an out-of-control astronaut, since there are no weapons on the space station or the shuttle. A gun would be out of the question; a bullet could pierce a spaceship and could kill everyone. There are no stun guns on hand either.

    "NASA has determined that there is no need for weapons at the space station," Hartsfield said.

    NASA and its Russian counterpart drew up the checklist for the space station in 2001. Hartsfield said NASA has a nearly identical set of procedures for the shuttle, but he would not provide a copy Friday, saying its release had not yet been cleared by the space agency's lawyers.

    The space-station checklist is part of a 1,051-page document that contains instructions for dealing with every possible medical situation in space, including removing a tooth. Handling behavioral emergencies takes up five pages.

    The military has a similar protocol for restraining or confining violent, mentally unstable crew members who pose a threat to themselves or others in nuclear submarines or other dangerous settings.

    Although Nowak performed her duties with aplomb during a short visit to the space station via the shuttle last July, and was not scheduled to fly again, her arrest has led NASA to review its psychological screening process.

    A mentally unstable astronaut could cause all kinds of havoc that could endanger the three crew members aboard the space station or the six or seven who typically fly aboard the shuttle.

    Space station medical kits contain tranquilizers and anti-depression, anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medications. Shuttle medical kits have anti-psychotic medication but not antidepressants, since they take several weeks to be effective and shuttle flights last less than two weeks.

    The checklist says say astronauts who crack up can be restrained and then offered oral Haldol, an anti-psychotic drug used to treat agitation and mania, and Valium. If the astronaut won't cooperate, the drugs can be forcibly given with a shot to the arm. Crew members are instructed to stay with the tied-up astronaut to monitor vital signs.

    Space station astronauts talk weekly via long-distance hook-up to a flight surgeon and every two weeks to a psychologist, so any psychiatric disorder would probably be detected before it became so serious that the astronaut had to be brought home, Hartsfield said.

    No NASA astronaut at the space station has been treated in orbit with anti-psychotic or antidepressant medications, and no NASA shuttle crew member has required anti-psychotic medications, Hartsfield said.

    Depression, feelings of isolation and stress are not unheard of during long stays in space in tight quarters.

    A couple of Soviet crews in past decades are believed to have experienced psychological problems, and U.S. astronaut John Blaha admitted feeling depressed at the start of a four-month stay at the Soviets' Mir space station more than a decade ago. Antidepressants were not available.

    "I think you have to battle yourself and tell yourself, `Look, this is your new planet ... and you need to enjoy this environment,"' Blaha told the AP last week. "You sort of shift yourself mentally."

    During missions in 1985 and 1995, shuttle commanders put padlocks on the spaceships' hatches as a precaution since they didn't know the scientists aboard very well. Some crew members, called payload specialists, are picked to fly for specific scientific or commercial tasks and do not train as extensively with the other astronauts.

    Would-be astronauts are carefully tested and screened to eliminate those who are unstable. But unless they are bound for the space station for a monthslong stay in orbit, they are not put through any regular psychological tests after that.

    Astronauts selected for the space station get a psychiatric assessment six months and a month before launch.

    Dr. Patricia Santy, a former NASA psychiatrist and author of the book "Choosing the Right Stuff," said there are no good studies of astronauts' stress levels or how they adapt psychologically to space.

    U.S. astronauts at the space station keep a journal for a study by a Santa Barbara, Calif., researcher. But Santy said the diaries won't help detect mental illness.

    "What astronaut is going to tell you they're feeling homicidal?" she asked. "They're very conscious that if they say the wrong thing they could get grounded."

    Astronaut James Reilly, who is flying on space shuttle Atlantis next March, said it is unlikely a U.S. astronaut would lose it in space. Space tourists who pay the Russians $20 million to go to the space station are another matter, he said.

    "I think we stand a greater chance of someone getting a little nuts with the space tourists that fly occasionally because it's less rigorous," Reilly said.

  2. Anonymous9:30 PM

    Jim, I caught one of our lively talk programs on the way home from work, the one I usually listen to is on Real Radio 104.1, here in Central Florida, that always begins at 3:00 p.m., called the Phillips File.

    They sort of were tongue-and-cheeking the Astronaughty imbibing problem. Jim (Phillips) was thinking that the problem was probably blown out of proportion from maybe one incident that crossed the line and made it to press somehow. He saw no reason for the astronauts not to be able to have a little shot of something after all the years of stress and training.

    Even a little excess on the eve of flight would probably be not horrible, since during liftoff, he figured everything and all decisions were left to the computers and the launch controllers whilst "escaping the surely bonds of Earth" (as Reagan once put it). The astronauts were basically to have a good breakfast, kiss their families and show up on time, punch their time cards, strap in and be quiet during the liftoff. Decisions would come many hours later, and the task list would begin only with a trickle of things at first.

    Then the group chimed in that with all the screening and training, even if several were enduring a little dry mouth and a slight headache from a launch-eve gathering, they'd all, by reflex, be able to jump in and do the right thing instantaneously, (if the lights started flashing or a buzzer bleated out an intermittent malfunction tone). Basically the radio group were agreeing that we could still trust our astronauts.

    But then, what the "bleep" do we know ???


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