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In Their Own Words

Someone asked me the other day why I spend so much space here ragging on Bruce Gagnon and other anti-space nutters.

Here is one indication — a rare discussion thread reproduced in its entirety from GNAW-N-PIS’ globenet discussion group, kicked off by another apparently “nasty” email to Bruce…

(Emphasis and comments in italics mine.)

Date: Tue Jan 17, 2006 6:48 am
A sample of the many e-mails we have gotten in the last two days as the media began to focus on the launch of New Horizons. We are getting a huge number of hits on our web site. Bruce

Subject: You stand in the way of our children

I am a secular humanist who believes that it is our manifest destiny as a race to explore and utilize the resources of our solar system. Your group is blocking progress with spurious claims of nuclear irresponsibility. No one can put the genie back in the bottle, so why are you trying? This is one of the many steps on the way to colonizing the planets and then the stars. It is essential that our children and grandchildren have access to space-based resources. It is critical that we get all of our eggs out of the same basket. Thriving colonies at the Lagrange points, asteroids and orbiting habitats around the moons of Jupiter could be the saving grace of humanity. We know how deadly mining ore on this planet is to our environment and our miners themselves. Local asteroids could produce 10 times the amount of ore mined worldwide. Why not concentrate your efforts on educating people who are NOT trying to work for our posterity? You have a dedicated, life-long enemy in me, and many others who are realistic enough to realize that nuclear power is here to stay, and will be the driving force behind the next wave of interplanetary probes and vehicles. I refuse to let you remove our last hope for the future by returning us to a dark age of reason.

Kevin Yearwood

Notice that Bruce, in presenting this email, evidently thought no further comment was neccessary. Read through the prism of an anti-space, indeed anti-human worldview, it does indeed speak for itself — as one man’s sick confession of the most detestible urges: spreading human civilization as a form of “manifest destiny”, exploiting natural resources for human benefit, enthusiasm for nuclear power, and (though poorly expressed) a cherishing of reason.

Date: Tue Jan 17, 2006 7:45 am
Just heard a KCOY 12 of the California Central Coast on the plutonium protest issues. The reporter clearly acknowledged that plutonium is the most dangerous substance known to hmankind. Because of this, people will protest plutonium existence in any area. Thus, every human being has the right to be concerned about plutonium whether or not you or others agree.

It is time for this group to firmly establish that no space missions should proceed forward until another method of exploring space is found. No pro-space exploration/exploitation politician with deep NASA pockets should be supported; nor should treaties or space acts be signed or endorsed unless they explicitly state that exploration can only be done without harmful chemicals and molecules.

-Sheila Baker

While you wouldn’t want to give your child a chew toy made of plutonium, it is not “the most dangerous substance known to hmankind [sic]”. Arsenic, cyanide, and even caffeine are more chemically toxic than an equivalent mass of plutonium, according to this site, and being primarily an alpha emitter, proximity to plutonium is unlikely to cause any harmful radiological health effects…it is only a problem if it enters the body via inhalation, ingestion, or contamination of an open wound.

I don’t know if it’s possible (or neccessary) to lampoon that bit about “harmful chemicals and molecules”…all substances can be toxic under certain circumstances, even something as pure and natural as dihydrogen monoxide. At the risk of making the science equivalent of a “chickenhawk” argument here, why should anyone take seriously the demands, based on chemistry-related matters, of someone without even a high-school understanding of chemistry? While Sheila certainly has the right to be as “concerned” about plutonium as she wishes, whether or not that concern is based on a rational appreciation of the facts, she has no right to expect her demand for a halt to space exploration to be met when that demand is founded on guffaw-inducing ignorance.

Next, a globenet member takes issue with Sheila’s demand…but not, unfortunately, because it is drool-cup stupid:

Date: Tue Jan 17, 2006 8:43 am
I would object to any clause of the form: “this group to firmly establish that no space missions should proceed forward until another method of exploring space is found.”

While I conceed the danger of plutonium and the danger in the New Horizons’ launch. I can not personally evaluate that danger and don’t have the time to do a correct evaluation this day or even in the next two months. I am currently using my limited free time to research the Iran proliferation issue and feel that it requires my full attention.

I do consider myself a concerned memeber of this group for whatever that is worth. I also consider myself an advocate against nuclear proliforation and war. Further I consider myself an advocate for responsible use of nuclear materials. I do take exception to blanket statements.

If this “group” does not apply to me then I humbly withdraw my objection.

Jim Lupton, Ph.D.

This shocking break with groupthink prompts a kumbayaa from GNAW-N-PIS Director Loring Wirbel, patiently reassuring everyone (unneccessarily, one might have thought) that GN is opinion-diverse and groupthink isn’t in fact a requirement for membership…before explaining why advocacy of things like space settlement is unacceptable wrongthink, and blaming European settlers who shared similar ideas for a biological cataclysm of the like not seen since the Permian-Triassic Extinction:

Date: Tue Jan 17, 2006 9:41 am
Jim and group,

I think many of us within GN like to use the “big quilt” principle of inclusiveness whenever possible, and I for one like to hear from folks with many visions of space usage. I understand completely Sheila’s position from the perspective of rocket fuels and toxics, but here’s the problem: I feel the same way about cars and the internal combustion engine, but do not feel it possible to go completely without cars in my life. It’s all a matter of tradeoff. I do not feel it should be a litmus test of GN membership in any way, shape, or form to say that one should be opposed to all space launches until a way is found to achieve initial lift without the use of fuels that contribute to global warming. However, I think it behooves everyone within GN to practice an environmental consciousness whenever possible and realize that every single launch has a potential to be destructive, not just those carrying Pu payloads. This was on my mind a lot during the late-90s craze for the privatization of space launches and the drive for multiple LEO micro-satellite networks for communications, etc. –
I’m kind of glad that furor died down. But if the private-launch craze helps to develop various environmentally-friendly concepts of space elevators or other ways to achieve orbit without toxic fuels, I’m all for it.

But it’s the Kevin Yearwood style of thinking that disturbs me most of all. There used to be a lot of this in the post-hippie L5 Society crew, and it has never died out among a certain class of sci-fi-loving stargazers. In fact, it’s interesting and scary to see a guy like Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand become a big advocate of nuclear energy. Kevin and his ilk say the number one goal is the pioneer, colonize-the-stars-at-all-costs concept, because it represents our future. Bruce Gagnon makes a good point in his “bad seed” talks – that we really don’t have a right to go to other places and mess up other planets, realms, etc. unless and until we clean up our own act. Would that some of the Euro-colonizers thought of such things before they came barreling over to the Americas and wiped out 90 percent of the native flora, fauna, and humans on the continent. We may never be perfect as a species, but we need to get rid of some of our “exploit, acquire, and tool-use” first attitude that accompanies our explorations. My own personal view is that the people who advocate robotic deep-space exploration missions in favor of human missions to Mars, etc. reflect this philosophy in part: the important thing is to learn about other places in as cheap and safe a way as possible, using no humans if that makes sense, rather than sending humans along to simply poke a flag into a rock and claim it “for Christ and Spices,” as the Dutch East India Company used to say.

Loring Wirbel
Citizens for Peace in Space/GN

This is a step beyond the science über alles mentality that it would seem at first to reflect, from someone who has no interest in space beyond ensuring that humans don’t go there: humans are bad, so don’t send humans…send robots, but only if it can be done in some cheap and environmentally friendly way…and don’t ever plan on actually using any of the knowledge gained by this exploration for any constructive purpose (especially if making money is involved), until human nature has somehow changed to suit our socialist utopian tastes.

I abhor this kind of foolishness, and I don’t want to see it spread. That’s why I rag on them. Someone’s got to do it.

2 comments to In Their Own Words

  • RobW

    “we need to get rid of some of our “exploit, acquire, and tool-use””


    Those three things are what has given these people the modern world that they currently live in. I’m sorry, but their ancestors that figured out how to make fire, and decided to leave the Saharra would be in an uproar if they could see what their offspring have become.

  • “That’s why I rag on them. Someone’s got to do it.”

    Well gobless you and keep; I was subscribed to that mail list (curiosity) and could not stand the bile, nonsense and krep in my mailbox. Life is too short for foolishness and so on.

    I did raise a question about a particular bit of foolishness and for my trouble was branded a spy, told to shut my mouth because the group consensus was that nukes were e-vil 2+2=5 and how dare I work against the group-think.

    As I said, krep.