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Wednesday, 15 May 2013


One could argue that the '60s NASA was a monoculture, but it did pretty well getting us to the moon. Do you think it was because the scope was pretty narrow?


Whatever happened to Joe?

Great observation on the value of diversity and hard to overstate. My wife slugged her way through med school as a Native American who grew up in a trailer park, and we saw again and again just how "high value" minority recruits were to the system. Not all become leaders like Joe Rhodes, but as you suggest, the whole decision tree is affected. Good to hear this about the 100YSS project.

Dear KeithB,

That's exactly it: the race to the moon was very narrowly constrained in both its scope and range.

Some of the proposals made to DARPA–– Project Daedalus and the fast photon sail I've mentioned in the comments in the two previous columns would be similarly constrained and they were, in fact, essentially monocultural proposals. Both of those are uncrewed probes and relatively cheap. I would guess that one reason DARPA but didn't fund one of those was that "relative" thing; they are “only” about the cost of a Mideast war or three. Not the kind of money that gets tossed out on a whim. So I'm guessing that DARPA decided that a much bigger look at the question, hence a much more unconstrained one, would be a better way of deciding which of the many alternatives was most desirable. Or, as a fellow in government I used to know once said about a project he was being asked to consider, “Yes, I know it's a “viable alternative,” but is it a good idea?"


Dear Peter,

I don't know what happened to Joe. I fell out of touch with him towards the end of the seventies, which, peculiarly enough, is within a few years of when his Wikipedia chronology ends. There's no mention of him being dead; I imagine word would've gotten around about that.

I used to joke with a friend from the ARP days that he and Steve Pomeroy were probably off somewhere secretly running the world, but that's not really so funny anymore. I mean, if this is the very best they can do, we're in much worse trouble than I imagined.

Hell, for all I know he's on the 100YSS Board of Directors. Stranger things have happened.…

Surely, someone among the millions upon millions of TOP readers knows where Joe Rhodes is. If you do, give him a Hi for me, and point him at this column? Thanks!

pax \ Ctein
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Thank you for this excellent, informative and yes, pointy-eared "fascinating" article. While OT, it's one of the reasons I love TOP.

A good example of interdisciplinary work on air pollution is here.

This stuff makes me just want to weep. Immense resources allocated to space exploration, particularly manned space exploration, whilst the planet we live on is inexorably - and I'd guess inevitably - doomed to destruction. The most valuable material on the planet is DNA; every technical problem humanity faces has probably been solved by evolution and we've barely started to be able to read the code. Despite this species are vanishing by the hour.

Meanwhile mankind proliferates like an epidemic disease. The ruling "economic philosophy" (to so dignify economics: a bogus discipline developed to serve the interests of an oligarchy) requires ever increasing numbers of consumers to maintain the target of unceasing "economic growth". It's pretty obvious where this process is taking us.

Our planet will be a veritable hell within 100 years - assuming that resource wars and/or species-jumping rotoviruses haven't wiped out a substantial proportion of our number. It might be ultimately beneficial if they do. Perhaps a global disaster will impress a salutary memory into our species' collective consciousness.

There's clearly a justification for allocation of some of our limited technological and manpower resources to space research. The "spam in a can" component (which is insanely expensive) principally serves vested military industrial interests.

The best analysis of humanity's situation I've ever seen has been presented by James Lovelock. But of course there's no short-term monetary profit in facing up to the reality of our situation.

Me too: this series is most interesting. Please do keep us informed.

@Jim Hart: I don't know anything about Joe Rhodes except what I've read here and at the link you provided, but it seems clear to me that they are one and the same.

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