Censored Space?

Pioneer10-plaque_1200-1024x811When we talk about travelling to the stars, we often talk in terms of technological development and pushing past the current limits bounding the horizons of space science. However, one thing a space-bound race will always have a hard time hurdling are the strictures on their own understanding of themselves and their culture.

Terrestrial earthlings and space travelers must be categorically different entities even if they’re part of the same species. The courage to traverse the stars must mirror the boundlessness of space itself — how can one cross that void without becoming a void and emptying oneself of earthbound prejudices, expectations, superstitions and beliefs? It’s the only way.

When people ask why we’ve never gone back to the Moon or why we’ve never put a man on Mars, tell them to look at the small mindedness that surrounded the Pioneer plaque and then look no further. It turns out that there is more than gravity keeping humanity’s feet on the ground: self-loathing, prudishness, war paranoia and the fear of sex. Damn Interesting explains:

During it’s long journey through the universe, should any intelligent beings come across Pioneer 10 (or Pioneer 11, which carries a copy of the same plaque), they’ll be greeted with a pictorial engraving from humanity in the form of a 6 by 9-inch gold anodized plaque bolted to the spacecraft’s frame. The plaque design attempts to convey as much data about humans and the Earth as possible using simple line diagrams, in the hope that whatever beings may find it can learn whence and from where the probe originated.

Among other things, it depicts a naked man and woman, with the right hand of the man raised as a sign of good will. It also indicates the layout of our solar system, as well as our sun’s position relative to a number of pulsars, so that our location can be triangulated from fixed points in space.

When the plaque’s design was revealed to the general public, a number of people were upset about it for various reasons. Because it depicts nudity, there was a huge uproar about NASA “wasting” taxpayer money to send “obscenities” into space. Clearly, the people voicing such pseudo-moral objections were “morons.” Or rather, they had the unfortunate character flaw of being unable to separate an obscene image from a benign, scientifically useful drawing.

There were also many who criticized the complexity of the message, indicating that it would not be immediately understandable to a completely alien civilization. This is certainly true, but the plaque’s designers did not intend for the message to be instantly detectable, only for it to be precise and informative. If found, its discoverers can spend as much time as necessary to decode its message, even if it takes generations.

Still other critics warned that showing a map to the probe’s planet of origin may invite a hostile race to find and attack the Earth. This risk does exist, but even in the extremely unlikely event that the first star a Pioneer probe encounters (two million years from now) is home to a hostile race bent on our destruction, they must first A) detect the fast-moving piece of space debris, B) capture it, C) decode the plaque’s message, D) locate our planet, and E) traverse the distance. This means that at the soonest, such aggressors would be arriving in about three million years.

I have little doubt that space is ready and waiting for the human race to become an interplanetary species. The nagging question that still remains is when will human beings be ready for space?

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  • emperorreagan

    I think an entire generation decided they would rather hide under their desks for their entire lives rather than celebrate life. And once they got into power, they want to make sure everyone else is crammed under a desk everywhere, too. (I really fucking hate the baby boomers, so I may be a bit unfair).

    It seems progress stalled out and humanity started moving backwards most of the time.

    • InfvoCuernos

      I always think about the “crying indian” commercials of the 70’s and how the very hippies that screamed about how the “Man” was destroying Mother Earth turned into the biggest trash producers the planet has ever known. Let’s not forget that the baby boomers were the first generation of babies to use disposable diapers. I agree they are exactly the reason the space race stalled out before humanity could truly use space to start solving our problems of population. They really did just leave everything a mess for the next generations to clean up.

      • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

        I wasn’t even breastfed because it was considered “unhealthy” in that day. Why do you think I’m some freakshow posting on Disinfo?!?!?!

        • Anarchy Pony

          Shit, these days it is unhealthy what with bpa and shit turning up in breast milk.

          • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

            Come on, @Anarchy Pony you’re killing me! Or is that the bpa…???

          • Anarchy Pony

            That or the flame retardants.

          • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

            Haha. You’re a good sport. Thanks for the comments and the criticisms :)

          • Anarchy Pony

            Sure, most other posters aren’t as responsive.

          • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

            Most commenters aren’t so eloquent!

    • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

      Come on, @Emperor_Reagan:disqus. How do you really feel?!?!?!?!? ;)

    • Anarchy Pony

      All progress ever really was was for finding more creative and effective ways of killing those that may or may not be planning on killing us, or making it harder for them to do so. That and finding ways of cementing one’s class position and privilege.

      • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

        You’re such a bummer @anarchypony I never knew ponies were so negative. Unfortunately, I can’t argue your points :/

      • emperorreagan

        I agree to some extent: many technological advances have stemmed from obsession with war.

        It’s certainly not the best way to advance the human condition, though. And if the US was going to shift away from it, the timing seemed right in the late 80s/early 90s. The dominant voting force and the people sitting in office had grown up seeing a man walk on the moon. They’d seen the Vietnam War laid bare in the Pentagon papers. The cold war was ending and there was an opportunity for something else other than perpetual war.

        But the country doubled down on war and pursued a strategy of creating conflict where none needed to exist.
        And where the boomers really went off the rails, in my opinion, is that they failed to protect even their own class privilege. Union membership has declined since the late 70s, an already porous social safety net was dismantled, pensions were abandoned for get rich quick on the stock market fantasies, etc. A century of hard fought gains was pissed away in something like 10-20 years.

        • Anarchy Pony

          Like I said the other day, they all became button down yuppies, and like John Carpenter said about the yuppies in regards to They Live, “All they cared about was money.”

      • Kane VonDoom

        Progress is neutral, hand in hand with science, technology, knowledge ,etc… People who have more direct access and ability to use these developments happened to be people who are in position and privilege due to the system they found position and privilege in so they want to maintain it. Many of those people strive to find more creative and effective ways of killing.

  • jasonpaulhayes

    If the question is “are humans ready for space?” then the answer is a 2 part answer for me.

    Yes, humans are ready to contemplate and plan for interplanetary exploration (within our own solar system) as we already have a foot in the water. The fact that capturing asteroids, comets and mining our own moon as a resource is a prevalent idea (in the face of ever decreasing resources on earth itself), is promising. Indeed they do hold the secondary resource to fuel such a venture, yet harvesting said recources does require the preservation of earth based primary resources to even get to that point.

    No, human beings are not ready to explore space because nuclear non-proliferation hasn’t taken place since The Cold War (supposedly) ended. If for some reason there were to be a nuclear war and a “reset”, it’s arguable if there exists the remaining necessary resources to even begin to rebuild society… let alone make an exit strategy for humanity and undertake such a venture.

    • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

      Reminds me of Bradbury’s MARTIAN CHRONICLES where the Earth destroys itself while the pioneers are on the Red Planet. Sorry for the spoiler. If you want to get lost in space pioneering romanticism – who doesn’t? – check out that read. One of my all time faves.

    • The Well Dressed Man

      An offworld population itself could be that exit strategy for our species in that scenario.

      • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

        Exactly. Bradbury smiles in his grave.

  • Rob Lai

    Doesn’t matter if *We’re* ready. We’re not going.
    It will be our robots.

    Whether or not it offends our sci-fi tinged sense of romance (I know it does mine!), the simple fact is that there’s no percentage in sending expensive, delicate things like humans into space when every ounce into orbit is a small fortune in and of itself when we can send smaller, lighter machines to do our dirty work.

    • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

      You’re offending my sci-fi tinged sense of romance!

      • Rob Lai

        I know, right! Breaks my heart that the numbers don’t favor manned space travel. I can’t remember not dreaming about space. But the numbers, as always, are against me on this.

        • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

          Damnit, man – snap out of it! Our dreams must exceed our realities!

          • Rob Lai

            Why? Reality cares nothing for our dreams. We must match our desires to realities or they amount to no more than ramblings on a message board…

          • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

            Dreams beget reality!

          • Rob Lai

            So people keep saying. However, I’m not sure where people keep getting the whole “Out thoughts/dreams make our reality” business. In my own personal observations, the reverse is usually true, that what people think and dream is usually quite at odds with what actually IS.

          • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

            It seems to flow both ways. Perhaps its a cliche, but it seems that reality is a dance that we’re occasionally allowed to lead. Beyond the metaphysical, though, can’t we agree that our possible realities are limited by what we could conceive them to be? If no one really thought humans could build flying machines how could we ever build them? I guess I’m positing a chicken/egg puzzle. How can we realize any change or growth as individuals or groups without first imagining what may lie beyond the barriers to growth and change?

          • Rob Lai

            Interesting way to look at it. That we have to risk the possibility of being wrong to get the whole of being right. Like not panning for gold because 99.99999…% percent of the gravel is just gravel. Avoiding the metaphysics (always a good idea for keeping conversations civil) again, you’re proposing that its a more useful way of thinking than reductionist realism, regardless of its objective truth or accuracy? That sound about right?

          • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

            Sure. More or less. I also there is actually a dash of humility in there as well although it might seem counter-intuitive. To dream of possibilities beyond current constraints and limits assumes one doesn’t know or understand everything and that new discoveries my supply novel solutions to stubborn obstacles. Reductionist realists tend to fall into the trap of thinking they actually have everything already figured out.

    • The Well Dressed Man

      When the terraforming has matured things will be different. At least a few more generations to go.

      • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

        Bless you. #patience

      • Rob Lai

        Terraforming would change the equation, sure. Insofar as it would give us a more self-sustaining destination once we got there. However, until we find a better way to break out of the gravity well, it will still be most cost-effective to send specialized machines, and without the civilization-breaking cost of terraforming a destination for them either. And in the end, the accountants are the ones who make the decisions… the depressing, soul-crushing, decisions.

        • The Well Dressed Man

          Engineers too. The soul crushing happens in undergrad math and physics. If we survive that, gravity wells and economies of scale are par for the course. I’m with you with the bots. Then: 1: Extract exoresources and prep life supporting environments with bots. 2: Send in the clones, proles, tired, hungry, unwashed masses and visionary pioneers. Gene pool spread across greater surface area across vast spaces (less chance of net extinction) . We might even see physical evolutionary adaptions over relatively brief intervals of time in new conditions.

  • atlanticus

    “Or rather, they had the unfortunate character flaw of being unable to separate an obscene image from a benign, scientifically useful drawing.”

    Scientifically useful? I’ve always thought it’s hilarious that she doesn’t have a vag…not even a line…even just a little hair would have been too risqué?

    • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

      Give a girl some hair down there!

    • Anarchy Pony

      They also look very white. Did the designers think that honkies would be the only race left by the time the aliens stopped by?

      • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

        NO DOUBT!

      • Rob Lai

        Wait? There’s races other than us White Folk ™? Preposterous! Outrageous!

        Heh. I wouldn’t worry about it, likely our Future Benevolent Lizard Overlords will be all “All you bipeds look the same to us…”

        • wcarver

          Personally, I welcome our benevolent lizard overlords. I don’t care if they think we all look the same – as long as we don’t look like lunch

    • Rhoid Rager

      How about the fact that it’s only the male that’s greeting….as if he speaks for both.

      • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

        She’ll have the salad…

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