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24 September 2007

Send us! We're never drunk! We don't get jealous! We don't want to come back!


I suppose I don't have to explain the Standard Model to the List, and that's a Very Good Thing, because I couldn't. But you can buy it on a big wall chart, and just about every itty-bitty thing that GCE members claim to detect with their nifty gizmos, and how they all relate to each other, is on the wall chart. (Raise your hand if you own the wall chart.)

Well ... I keep waiting, but nobody here has claimed his/her gizmo detects Higgs Bosons. At the moment, best hope for that rests on the Large Hadron Collider which CERN in Switzerland expects to turn ON this May. Two protons will smash into one another at 14 TeV (terra electron volts), and that ought to furp out a Higgs Boson or two if they're there.

Interestingly enough, we don't have to be left out in the cold in CERN's hunt for the Higgs. The LHC will produce 400,000,000 proton collisions per second, producing 40,000 gigabytes of data per second. You can donate your PC's idle CPU time to help analyze this massive data set in a distributed computing project (like SETI_at_Home or Folding_at_Home). Here's a very friendly overview.

Anyway, Steven Weinberg and his colleagues Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow shared the 1979 Nobel Physics Prize for developing the Standard Model. When you have a hard-science Nobel, you can say pretty much anything you want, and pretty much everybody listens. Last week at the Space Telescope Science Institute (the Hubble folks), Weinberg savagely lashed out at every aspect of manned spaceflight. A sample:

"The International Space Station is an orbital turkey ... No important science has come out of it. I could almost say no science has come out of it. And I would go beyond that and say that the whole manned spaceflight program, which is so enormously expensive, has produced nothing of scientific value."

He's hardly the first. James Van Allen (died 2006) was a lifelong critic of manned space programs, saying that robotic space probes "have delivered on their promises and have gone far beyond them." In 1985 he called President Reagan's endorsement of a manned space station "so speculative and so poorly founded that no one of lesser stature would have dared mention it to an informed audience."

In 2004 Van Allen was just as hostile to President Bush's manned space projects to the Moon and Mars. "I'm one of the most durable and fervent advocates of space exploration, but my take is that we could do it robotically at far less cost and far greater quantity and quality of results."

Here's an MSNBC pickup of 's story about Weinberg's remarks.

I particularly like

"Human beings don't serve any useful function in space. They radiate heat, they're very expensive to keep alive and unlike robotic missions, they have a natural desire to come back, so that anything involving human beings is enormously expensive."


Jim Olson said...

The only problem, is that it is hard-wired into our human DNA to wonder what is on the other side of the next hill. We do now have the technology to send a robot to look for us and send us back good high-resolution pictures. The Mars explorers have exceeded their design and mission further than anyone's wildest imaginations...but there is nothing like going yourself.

Sign me up, I'll go.

Sharon Secor said...

Can an old cyper pal as a favor of you -- an e-mail -- that will take just a couple of minutes?

As have many students, my son has been officially blacklisted by his school because his father and I have refused to allow his personal information to be given to military recruiters. Here are excerpts from the offical letter announcing his punishment:

"Dear Parents/Guardians of Juniors and Seniors:

Congress has passed two major pieces of legislation that require local education agencies (high schools) receiving assistance under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to give military recruiters the same access to secondary school students as they provide to post secondary institutions or to prospective employers. Local education agencies are also required to provide students' names, addresses, and telephone listings to military recruiters, and higher education learning when requested.

Under FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act), this letter provides notice to you of the types of student information that it releases publicly. This type of student information, commonly referred to as "directory information," includes the students' names, the names of the student's parents/guardians, the student's address, the student's date of birth and telephone numbers and is information generally not considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. If you chose not to participate, your child's name will also not be able to appear in anything associated with this school such as the graduation program, honor roll list, sports programs and the annual yearbook."

My son, like many others, is a frequent honor roll student, will not be able to be listed. Like many other students, if he does something noteworthy, the school newspaper cannot mention him. He may not be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies. This is wrong on many levels.

I am hoping that if you (and anyone else happening upon this request) are against military recruitment in highschools and against this war, that you will take a few minutes to e-mail his principal and school superintendent and express your opinion on this matter.

Principal, Ms. Blowers

Superintendent, Ms. Rojek

Thank you in advance to you and anyone else that chooses to take the time to e-mail. I really do appreciate it.
Sharon Secor, Freelance Writer