Technological Frontiers of Space: This year’s MIT Club of Washington seminar series is about space, so I felt semi-obliged to register for it. The first talk was a week ago Tuesday and was by John Logsdon, the former director of GWU’s Space Policy Institute. Unfortunately, he focused almost entirely on human spaceflight. I understand the interest in that, but the emphasis on human spaceflight gives an entirely misleading perspective on where we are, from both the technology and policy perspectives. For one thing, human spaceflight is less than half of NASA’s budget. Using the FY16 budget request, NASA’s overall budget is $18.5 billion and the human spaceflight part is $8.5 billion. It’s not so simple to get at what the National Security Space budget is (both because of classified programs, but also because things are tracked in ways that don’t necessarily break out space), but 30 seconds of google suggests it was about $27 billion in 2011.
Logsdon’s point is that we haven’t had a strong space policy since the Apollo days. But I think NASA has been pretty clear all along about aiming for Mars (again, from the human spaceflight perspective). In the meantime, the growth of unmanned space is huge. GPS is, of course, the killer app for space, but one can’t neglect the impact of communications satellites and weather satellites.
I’m hoping that the future talks in the series will have a broader view. I am not, however, optimistic since most of the speakers are either from NASA or the emerging commercial world.
Trip to Los Angeles: I made a quick trip to Los Angeles to go to lunch with people I worked with 25+ years ago. It also functioned as a semi-mileage run, of course. We were at PF Chang’s in Torrance, so the food was not exciting, but the company was good, including our department head from way back (who has long since retired) and a guy who was a summer intern and later abandoned our world to go to medical school. The latter was the other non-local attendee, as he lives in Minnesota. Anyway, there was lots of good conversation, so it was worth the effort.
I also got together with another friend for dinner. In between, I walked a bit on the Strand, but it was too bloody hot to do much of that. The car thermometer had claimed that it was 102 in Torrance. Sheesh.
The travel was not too annoying, though it was tiring. Also, I watched a particularly bad movie on the way home. (I knew it would be bad, but I can’t resist a vampire musical. And it was included in Amazon Prime.)
Speaking of Amazon Prime: I binge watched Better Off Ted and I really wish it had lasted more than two seasons. The Veridian Dynamics commercials (especially in season 1) are brilliant. And I have been looking for opportunities to use the line "more brains than a zombie Thanksgiving."
Grapevine: Last night was The Grapevine, a storytelling series at Busboys and Poets in Takoma. Last night was Jason Nkwain, a performance poet, and Laura Simms, an internationally known storyteller. Jason’s material was a mixed bag. Some of it wasn’t my sort of thing, but I was very favorably impressed by a piece called "Have You Ever Seen an African Dance?" Laura had an interesting and very entertaining blend of personal material and parts of a Romanian folktale. For what it’s worth, I told "Lyle and the Ghost" at the open mike part of the evening, because it’s the only really short ghost story I know. That is, if you can call it a ghost story instead of just an excuse for a really awful pun.