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14.8.13

Barking At The Moon

The thing about empires is that they are very expensive to maintain.  It requires the ability to project force to any part of the empire in a short time.

The Romans built a massive empire based almost entirely on their ability to install well-built roads to the far-flung reaches of the provinces.  The roads were so well-built that many are still in use 2,000 years later.  Rome was able to move large armies quickly and efficiently anywhere there were signs of unrest.  They also allowed for efficient messaging between power centers and the most remote areas.

The British empire was built on its dominant navy.  Its warships allowed it to project irresistible force almost anywhere in the world quickly and efficiently.  That same prowess at sea also gave the British empire fabulous wealth and the ability to transfer information with relative speed.  See Rothschilds and Waterloo.

The American empire was built on its dominance of the air.  The first to recognize both the military and commercial benefits of air travel, America was able to project overwhelming force with near impunity.  That same technology also gave it the ability to transfer wealth and information at blazing speeds.

In all three cases, though, the empires collapsed because of failing economies caused by their inability to expand beyond the technology that brought them to power.  The Romans invested so much into their roads that they were unable to exploit the rising sea powers.  The British invested so much in their sea power that they were unable to exploit the rising air superiority.  And the US is failing because it has invested so much in air superiority that it doesn't have the resources left to exploit the next frontier - space.

In what has to be one of the silliest moves on the part of an incomprehensibly silly US Congress, a couple of Congresscritters have decided to introduce a bill making the Apollo landing sites on the Moon "national parks" and further declaring the Apollo 11 site a world cultural site, apparently forgetting the the UN does that sort of thing.

What makes this so amusingly silly is that America has not been able to project power beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) for nearly 50 years.  The move to declare these "parks" on the Moon is nothing more than an exercise in expanding the empire, but as we have seen, empires require the ability to move forces quickly and efficiently to any part of the territories.  However, the US has squandered its space superiority in order to pay for the monstrously expensive command and control apparati at home.

Not only has the US completely dismantled its manned space program, reduced now to hitching rides with other countries while waiting for private corporations to do the R&D necessary to have viable LEO technology, it has not returned a single human being to the Moon in 50 years.  That's two generations.  In other words, any claim it might have had is now defunct, since it has not returned to squat on its claim.  It's called abandonment.

Suppose I were a gold prospector.  I find a rich lode and run into town to file a claim.  I get a little distracted and start to get back out to the claim a couple of times, but by the time I really start to get concerned about it, I'm already old and now my grandson has to carry on, but my grandson is a babbling idiot because I didn't want him to get smart enough to outsmart me.  Consequently, he is unable to re-establish my original claim.  Should I really expect that no one else will come along and take the gold after 50 years with no one around to say otherwise?

Not only that, but in the 50 years I've been dicking around in town, I helped pass a law that says no one can stake a claim on the very land where I've staked a claim.

Thus, I'm too old to go back to the old land claim, my progeny are too stupid and controlled to think creatively about the problem, and I helped to make it illegal to have a claim in the first place.  BUT, don't you dare go digging gold on my claim!  Or I'll huff, and I'll puff and I'll hyperventilate.

In addition to all the above absurdities, these lunar landing areas are to be preserved as heritage sites, yet no one would be able to fly over them, set foot on them, or send robotic probes into them.  Huh?!  You mean like declaring Yosemite a national park and them forbidding people (the ones who actually own it by definition) to go into the park and look around at all that heritage?  Much less forbid Google Earth to fly over and take photos for us all to appreciate from our desktop command centers.

OK, I can see putting ropes around the Apollo 11 site and not allowing folks to trample on the First Footprint and all, but that will require people to erect the ropes and a permanent staff to man the ropes and control the crowds.  Then, there'll have to be parking areas and concessions and toilet facilities and visitor centers and interpretive guided tours and preservation teams...  After all, there's little patches of dirt in Big Bend, West Texas, that you're not allowed to touch under pain of jail time, despite the fact there's no one around for hundreds of miles.  C'mon.

At this point, if I decided to start a crowd-funding project to build a rover to go the the Apollo 11 site, the best the US could do is put a pile of engineers to work designing a program to investigate the design of a program to send two-and-a-half billion dollars worth of technology to fly around in circles and document in glorious detail how my little rover is destroying all of Buzz Aldrin's footprints.  Hardly projecting force, in my book.

So, to sum up all this foolishness, you have an empire.  You decide to make a claim on a piece of dirt that you once set foot on 50 years ago, but haven't been back to in all that time.  Furthermore, you don't have the money or ability to go back and stake out guards on that dirt.  On top of all that, you were the first person to sign into effect a law that forbids any nation from claiming ownership on that piece of dirt.  And finally, under long-established rules, anything abandoned on the high seas (especially for 50 years) is fair game for salvage.  Am I reading that right?

In other words, the White Star line still owns the Titanic and all the effects salvaged from that wreck, including photos and story rights, though the company was unable to return to the wreck and had abandoned it on the sea floor well over 50 years ago?  Furthermore, White Star wants to declare the wreck a 'park' now and no ship would be allowed to sail over that spot ever again, much less dive down and take photos or souvenirs?

Just wanted to make sure I had all this straight.

And what about the Russians?  Can they claim 'park' status for the sites where their hardware landed?  And the Japanese?  Can they claim a chunk of the lunar South Pole, since one of their craft crashed there?  And since the Apollo sites form a rough oval, can the US claim everything inside it?  And can the Russians claim the back side of the Moon, since they were the first to image it?  And what about Mars and all the rubble Mankind has strewn across it?  And while we're at it, why not declare the Frau Mare highlands a 'park', since Apollo 13 was supposed to land there and it made a great movie.  And let's not forget the proposed sites for Apollos 18 and 19, even though they got cancelled.  After all, we should preserve those sites the way they were back when the US almost landed there.  And what about Venus?  Can the Russians claim the whole planet since they're the only country to have successfully landed there?  And can Europe claim Titan?  Or do they have to share with the US, since they piggy-backed on the Cassini craft?

The problem gets really absurd really fast once you start thinking about it.  It's compounded by the fact that Apollo artifacts would fetch a pretty penny on eBay if someone was able to get up there and bring back some trinkets.  I'm sure come collector would pay a fortune for Neil Armstrong's poop bag.  Makes you want to go back and watch Salvage with Andy Griffith, and Isaac Asimov as the science adviser.  The pilot was really good, as I remember.