Sunday, April 21, 2013

First Draft Finished, Random Ramblings

The first draft of The Winds of Heaven and Earth is in the bag and weighs in at 160,000 words.  I'm spending the next few days going through and just reading it as a linear story (and correcting obvious typos and errors) before I start on the second draft.  It's an incredibly good feeling to reach this point, because I *love* editing and re-writing; in my mind the hard part is done, even though there is a lot to fix and work on.

And now for something completely different.

As a science fiction fan, a child of the space age, a fan of and a huge promoter of science and science education (my daughter is a PhD marine scientist), I noticed a trend coalesce last week with several announcements in the aerospace industry.

The move to space privatization is picking up steam, and NASA's role is becoming increasingly . . . not marginalized, but rather evolving into a supporting role in the manned flight and space industry.  Their primary role, now and in the future, is clearly in the slot of robotic science research and exploration, rather than cutting-edge trailblazing of human frontiers.

Private industry now launches satellites, supplies the International Space Station, will take the lead from Russia in the near future on shuttling humans back and forth to the Station, and will likely accomplish not only a human flyby of Mars first, but establish a colony there and on the Moon decades before any government agency on earth does, with deep-pockets former space tourist Denis Tito announcing a 2018 two-person flyby attempt, and Dutch startup Mars One planning a 2023 colonization initiative funded by reality TV income.

In addition, there are several corporations taking the lead in the potentially lucrative asteroid-mining business, with multiple startups announcing their future plans over the past few months.

NASA's role will--and should--be in the arena for scientific research, with continued programs like robotic probes of the outer solar system and space telescope programs to search for exoplanets around other stars and potential identification of life-bearing worlds around those distant suns.  Private, commercial companies will continue to transition to the human exploration and resource exploration roles, similar to the pattern from centuries ago as the New World and Asian spheres were opened up by private industry after the initial exploratory expeditions were launched and funded by European governments.

In other words, the government functions as scout and target-setter, and private initiatives follow through.  This is a model that has deep historical precedent, and it's encouraging that space exploration has reached this point.

As a member of the generation that watched Neil Armstrong's first steps onto the surface of the moon as a child, I'm am continually amazed that over forty years have passed (and Neil's death) without any forward progress; in my opinion, and the opinion of many, we've regressed.  It a sad fact that it was political willpower in the context of the Cold War with the Soviet Union that launched the Space Age and propelled man to the moon; once that goal was achieved and the war ended, that will flagged and the public and government lost interest.

Now, commercial interests have picked up the baton.  Is that the ideal?  Not really, but it has precedent and moves things forward; and although some of us may not see human footprints on Mars in our lifetimes, at least we're moving forward to the long-term need of getting humankind out of this fragile cradle we're living in, and dispersed among the stars.  That is the only way to ensure the long-term survival of our species.  If the world's governments and political leaders--and even the general public--don't have the will and the interest, at least, hopefully, we'll get there someday, somehow.

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