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Enduring Quests and Daring Visions: NASA Lays Out a Roadmap for Astrophysics

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The amount of growth over the past three decades has been dramatic. To better access what the next three decades will bring, NASA has laid out a roadmap — a long-term vision for future missions — necessary to advance our understanding of the Universe.

In March 2013, the NASA Advisory Council/Science Committee assembled a group of astronomers who would determine the goals and aims of NASA for the next 30 years. The final product is this so-called roadmap officially titled “Enduring Quests Daring Visions — NASA Astrophysics in the Next Three Decades.”

The roadmap first notes three defining questions NASA should continue to pursue:— Are we alone?— How did we get here?— How does the Universe work?

Wow, those are much bigger questions than, "Can humans colonize Mars?"

Actually, wouldn't a Moon colony make sense before Mars?

If we're looking for habitation, Mars makes more sense.  

Among extraterrestrial bodies in our solar system, Mars is singular in that it possesses all the raw materials required to support not only life, but a new branch of human civilization. This uniqueness is illustrated most clearly if we contrast Mars with the Earth's Moon, the most frequently cited alternative location for extraterrestrial human colonization.

In contrast to the Moon, Mars is rich in carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen, all in biologically readily accessible forms such as carbon dioxide gas, nitrogen gas, and water ice and permafrost. Carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen are only present on the Moon in parts per million quantities, much like gold in seawater. Oxygen is abundant on the Moon, but only in tightly bound oxides such as silicon dioxide (SiO2), ferrous oxide (Fe2O3), magnesium oxide (MgO), and aluminum oxide (Al2O3), which require very high energy processes to reduce. Current knowledge indicates that if Mars were smooth and all its ice and permafrost melted into liquid water, the entire planet would be covered with an ocean over 100 meters deep. This contrasts strongly with the Moon, which is so dry that if concrete were found there, Lunar colonists would mine it to get the water out. Thus, if plants could be grown in greenhouses on the Moon (an unlikely proposition, as we've seen) most of their biomass material would have to be imported.

The Moon is also deficient in about half the metals of interest to industrial society (copper, for example), as well as many other elements of interest such as sulfur and phosphorus. Mars has every required element in abundance. Moreover, on Mars, as on Earth, hydrologic and volcanic processes have occurred that are likely to have consolidated various elements into local concentrations of high-grade mineral ore. Indeed, the geologic history of Mars has been compared to that of Africa, with very optimistic inferences as to its mineral wealth implied as a corollary. In contrast, the Moon has had virtually no history of water or volcanic action, with the result that it is basically composed of trash rocks with very little differentiation into ores that represent useful concentrations of anything interesting.

Wow, I never knew.

I just figured with the moon it's easier to transport back and forth -- it would be like living in Hawaii, where everything is just a plane hop away.

Mars being much further, even communication cannot happen quickly. It's truly detached.

The other reason that we're going to colonize Mars first is Elon Musk, who repeatedly says his lifelong dream is to "...die on Mars, just not on impact."

And we should not only give him credit for increasing the probabilities of that happening, but also watch what he is doing to accelerate the technologies needed for living there--every new technology Elon is making is applicable towards establishing a colony on Mars, and he's making a buck doing it:

Tesla Motors--electric motors

Solar City--solar energy

Space X--space transportation

And his public projects, though seeming made for our terrestrial needs, are shaped of what would work better on Mars from the get go, e.g. his Hyperloop transportation system.

Truly amazing guy who is probably going to have the single biggest positive impact on human civilization in his own lifetime...maybe longer.

I have been wondering why he is able to do so many things, when most of us struggle to do just one thing. Is he wired differently than the rest of us? Do he have overwhelming charisma?

He has the most intense concentration I've ever seen and an amazing ability to partition his awareness, being an ability to fully focus on the task at hand and shift immediately to fully focusing on the next task.  

He basically disproves the science on multi-tasking as being less efficient: somehow he makes it work at levels of competency the average person can't come close to achieving even with a singular focus.

And charisma has nothing to do with it--he's simply brilliant and perhaps tilts more towards expressing an efficient disposition... 

and that means some people might judge him a dick.

Edison was a jerk and so was Steve Jobs.

And yet, they pushed the world into new eras.

Yes, all progress depends upon unreasonable men, or so the trope by Shaw goes.

I think that often when we experience capable people with a clear vision their uncompromising behavior has a lot to do with bringing that vision into reality.  And sometimes that means ignoring and not giving equal time or explicit value to other people's realities.

And some people simply can't handle being ignored, undervalued for their opinions or unrecognized for their contributions along the way...but I think that's one thing that Elon does very well--assemble great people around him.  And so far that seems to be working at each of his companies.

And he certainly has a mature perspective on valuing talent, even going so far as to say in public at his SXSW keynote last year that his biggest mistake was hiring people solely for their expertise and that "...hiring people with good heart matters."

It's interesting that he looks for good heart yet behaves in a way that is curt and ruthless.

I haven't read, heard or seen anything about Elon as ruthless, but have experienced his curtness firsthand, yes. And it was well deserved.

And I'm even more of a fan because of it.

Would it be possible to be curt without being ruthless?

Certain days of the month, no.

Geege: I can't decide whether that was a futh (funny truth), or just trunny (true and funny)...

Adam: certainly and absolutely yes and on multiple levels...




1. rudely brief.

"his reply was curt"




1. having or showing no pity or compassion for others.

"a ruthless manipulator"

Ruthless people might, or might not, choose to be curt, depending upon how well it serves their self-interest of getting what they want from someone.  The word implies guile and malicious intent over others.

Curt people might, or might not, achieve their self-interest with others because being curt is immediately exposed and often alienates people.  The word implies habitual character, rather than a do anything necessary to achieve ones intent.

Okay, what you're saying makes sense.

It's possible to be rudely brief but also still have compassion for others.

The rudeness presumably stems from time being short, not lack of compassion.

Regarding the three big questions...

Are we alone?

How did we get here?

How does the Universe work?

...I add one more: What is the Meaning of Life?

But that seems to be a combination and consequence of the other three.

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