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Posts Tagged ‘NASA’

I’ve been getting emails about these “structures” on the moon.

 Google_Earth_20140118_124736

As you can see, the image is courtesy of NASA and Google Earth software. It comes from the second link noted below.

Sorry, folks, these are not artificial structures. There is no alien moon base.

This discussion from the Discover Magazine blog goes through what they are and why, with lots of illustrations. They digital imaging artifacts (i.e., the objects are created are residual effects from the camera, light, imaging process, etc.).

As good as that link is, this one is even better (it’s referenced within the first one). It takes you step-by-step as to how these images happened. It even has motion gifs illustrating how the are recreated and manipulated. Really cool stuff.

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It’s been nearly two weeks since I attended the annual scholarly society meetings for scholars in my field of study and interest: the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), the Near East Archaeological Society (NEAS), the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the American Academy of Religion (AAR). All these societies (and more) meet annually the week before Thanksgiving. This year we met in Baltimore.

I’ll be blogging about a couple things that happened during that week that will interest readers. In this post, my focus will be the AAR session (a whole afternoon) on astrobiology – the search for biological evidence for ET life – and its intersection with religion. The session was part of the program for the Science, Technology, and Religion Group of AAR. The session theme was entitled, “Cosmic Quest, Cosmic Contact: Astrobiology, Astrotheology, Astroethics.” The speakers went in a slightly different order than the program book had them listed. The presenters and their topics were:

Margaret Race, SETI Institute, Mountain View, CA
Astrobiology, Ethics and Policy: The Need for Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Albert Harrison, University of California, Davis
Space Exploration: Carrying God’s Banner or Questioning God’s Work? (“Prophecy, Transcendence and Salvation on the High Frontier”)

Chris Crews, The New School (New York city)
What if Gliese 581 d Had Life? Christian Fundamentalism and the Politics of Astrobiology

Ted Peters, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary
Astrotheology and Extraterrestrial Life

Connie Bertka, Potomac, MD (affiliations with the American Association for Advancement Science and the Smithsonian)
Christianity and the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life: Insights from Science and Religion, and the Sociology of Religion

John Hart, Boston University
Cosmic Contact: Hawking, Hynek, and Cosmoethics

I enjoyed the session. All of the lectures were interesting, even when I was familiar with the material. I promised on Twitter to share some of the content and thoughts. I’ll take them in order.

Margaret Race is a biologist associated with SETI. Her talk was really aimed at newbies to the subject of astrobiology – it seemed a necessary concession to anyone who may have wandered into the session just out of curiosity. She focused on what SETI does and the issues of the use and stewardship of space. She insisted that theologians be involved to frame an ethical and theological framework for what SETI might someday discover. She mentioned the UN Outer Space Treaty which (in part) advocates for de-militarization of space (especially no nukes – someone might want to tell China and DARPA) and rejects the idea of human ownership of space.

Albert Harrison, a psychologist, was up next. He started out by talking about how certain modern “prophets” (read: visionaries) had written about how humans would one day inhabit space. Among them he listed

  • Roger Launias’
  • Tsiolkovski and Cosmists
  • Herman Oberth
  • Willy Ley
  • Kraft Arnold Ehricke
  • Wernher von Braun

Harrison related the desire for human life in space to utopian visions, the experience of and need for the transcendent (he mentioned Edgar Mitchell here) and the desire for human immortality. In regard to this last item, he noted three different perspectives of thought:

  • Cosmists – want to resurrect everyone who ever lived out of cosmic dust via technological method “to live in solidarity with the stars”
  • Pragmatists – disperse humans in solar system in case of or in response to global catastrophe
  • Memorialists – use space time capsules to tell other civilizations about the human race

Lastly, Harrison talked about Christian acts in space and blessing of space exploration. For example, he mentioned that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong took communion in space, the creation of an Apollo prayer league to pray for astronauts, and “Exomissiology” (astronaut chaplains, leaving a Bible on moon, Russian priests blessing cosmonaut crews).

Chris Crews was next, a political science doctoral student. (He narrates his slides here). He focused on young earth creationist (YEC) responses (or not) to the idea of ET life. In so doing he equated the YEC view with fundamentalism (though he was aware of the Old Earth Creationist position – a distinction he ignored in his presentation, by his own admission). The two aren’t actually synonymous (many YEC folks would not take positions on certain things integral to fundamentalism — but it’s largely a parochial squabble there). He also equated global warming denial with creationism, a greater blunder on his part in my view.

Crews’ session was filled with interesting statistics drawn from a range of studies (a bit dated). A sampling:

  • 317 million people in the USA; 247 million of those classify themselves as Christians; of those, 84 million take the label “evangelical”
  • a Gallup poll revealed that 46% of the US population agree with YEC, making the YEC position cross-denominational
  • There has been a slight rise in YEC belief since 2010

Crews went through the standard “fundamentalist” denials of the SETI enterprise, something that those who have ever heard me lecture (“Can Christianity Accommodate an Extraterrestrial Reality?“) would recognize. In the process, Crews again was a but slipshod with the ecclesiastical and theological nuances of the movements he was talking about. He lumped the “fundamentalist” rejections of SETI together into creationism. Of interest to Christian UFO enthusiasts, Crews mentioned Gary Bates (a YEC apologist – one wonders why Crews didn’t mention Hugh Ross here – I presume because Hugh didn’t fit the YEC=fundamentalist narrative Crews was articulating). Crews also mentioned the work of CE-4 on stopping repeated “alien abduction” experiences through appeal to Jesus (without citing CE-4 specifically). Crews’ conclusions were:

1. The more YEC people there are out there, the more hostile the thought toward alien life, which then makes it harder to rationalize and fund SETI. (He didn’t advocate hunting them down for removal). I think Crews is correct in the first part of that sentence, even though his language throughout was un-nuanced. I don’t think it matters, though, for funding SETI. The scientific community and those that support it now ignore the YEC crowd even now, so he’s creating a straw man.

2. There needs to be an “astrobiology apologetics” effort – a respectful one. He said pretty bluntly that ignoring creationists isn’t wise. I’d agree (let’s try and get along like adults), but I still think his YEC threat is a caricature.

Ted Peters followed. His was easily the most entertaining talk of the session. Dr. Peters has a long history of involvement with SETI and NASA and the ET life question from the perspective of a theologian. (He is not evangelical for those wondering). I regularly cite Peters’ material in my own lecture (“Can Christianity Accommodate an Extraterrestrial Reality?“). It was nice to finally meet him between sessions. A couple of the highlights of Peters’ session:

Peters playfully chided Paul Davies’ comments on religion, showing they were pretty ignorant. He asked (out loud) for Davies to censor himself on religion and stick to physics and astrobiology. Thank you, Ted. I’ve said the same thing here. God only knows where Davies gets his theological ideas. Out of the ether I suppose.

Peters also whimsically criticized the coherence of the Drake Equation. Peters said forcefully (but with a smile) that there is no empirical evidence for ET life. All people (like Drake) offer is, to quote him, “big numbers.” Thank you again, Ted. The Drake Equation is vacuous.

More seriously, Peters argued that Christian theologians have four tasks as their work relates to SETI and astrobiology:

1. Reflect on the scope of creation and settle geocentrism and anthopocentrism. He argued that both impede taking the question of ET life seriusly.

2. Set the parameters within which the ongoing debates over the relationship between Christology, soteriology, and ET life. Here Peters brought up the notorious Thomas Paine argument (which I also discuss in my own lecture) – that Christianity can’t be correct *because* there are other worlds — world on which Jesus would have to die an rise again multiple times. Peters’ point was simple: we ought not let discussion over Christology and soteriology be framed by Paine’s silly argument. There’s more than one way to think about the relationship. This was nice to hear since uninformed science media people bring this up all the time, as though the discovery of ET life would overturn the core of Christianity. It’s just lame thinking.

3. Analyze and critique astrobiology from within exposing extra-scientific assumptions. I loved this one. It was about how unbelieving scientists make theological claims all the time (usually through careless language). Atheist scientists do this all the time when criticizing intelligent design. It happens whenever they say things like “If there was a God he’d never create X this or that way since it can be improved on.” Pardon, but that’s a theological statement. Mr. scientist, stick to science. Peters then went on to discuss another SETI science myth (like the Drake Equation) that has long annoyed me. It goes like this:

Other space travelers we’d encounter are far more scientifically and technologically advanced. They must have evolved earlier and therefore have evolved longer, which of course means they are more ethically advanced than we are.

So, in other words, more time spent doing science and technology will increase human virtue. Really? Have you looked at what’s going on in the industrialized, high-tech world we live in?

4. Cooperate with leaders of multiple traditions and address ethical issues of space exploration and ET contact. This last task dealt with issues of both planetary protection and our own ethical preparation for contact.

The fifth speaker was Connie Bertka, a sociologist who has a seminary degree and special interest in religion. Some highlights of her talk included:

  • By 1916, there were 140 books on ET life that also dealt with its religious implications — most of them saw no threat.
  • She agreed with Crews that Christian acceptance of ET life had a lot to do with Christian acceptance (or not) of evolution. She cited a survey that showed that 1/3 of people in mainline denoms that (as a whole) accept evolution said humans existed in present form only. That number was 70% for evangelicals.
  • She was the only speaker that talked about Christians outside US. Christianity is growing rapidly worldwide, and 27% of that growth is represented by Pentecostals and charismatics, most of those are biblical literalists.

The last speaker, John Hart, who teaches Christian Ethics at Boston University, was very intriguing. He was obviously conversant with what most readers of this blog would think of as “UFO literature” and “UFO conspiracy.” Hart talked about “cosmic displacements” in human history — events and turning points that re-orient our perception of ourselves and the world we know. Quite obviously, ET contact would be such a displacement.

Hart then went on to confess his own displacement — a UFO sighting. He talked about how it drew him in to study of the issue. He used that to branch out into why certain people are convinced that alien life exists — they’ve experienced it in the form of such sightings. He justified that explanation by appealing to the famous Malmstrom Air Force Base incident (the one where UFOs hovering over the base took the nuclear missiles inside the base off-line). This case and similar ones involving nuclear weapons has been the research focus of Robert Hastings. This case is, in my view, one of the most credible UFO cases there is, though it can’t prove the source of the craft was extraterrestrial. Nevertheless, it doesn’t get much more real than this one.

Hart has obviously thought a lot about the UFO issue. He recently authored a book entitled, Cosmic Commons: Spirit, Science, and Space. The Amazon description contains this note:

Cosmic Commons explores the ecological, economic, ethical, and ecclesial implications of terrestrial-extraterrestrial intelligent life Contact. It includes data from the author’s interview with Col. Jesse Marcel, Jr., MD, whose father, Maj. Jesse Marcel, Sr. showed Roswell debris to his wife and ten year old son. It suggests an innovative cosmo-socioecological ethics to guide human conduct in space.

I’ll certainly get the book at some point and read it, but this short statement leaves me wondering if Hart has embraced the ET explanation for Roswell much too uncritically. All UFO cases are not created equally.

 

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I had to say something about this recent article from DeZeen: “NASA Develops 3-D Printing Factory in Space.” I just finished the draft for The Portent, and there’s a scene in it that involves the marriage of nanotechnology (and/or synthetic biology) and 3-D printing. I hinted at that scene during my interview with Art Bell a week ago.

But NASA and the military industrial complex would never contemplate anything like that.

Here’s the Rebecca-from-Sunnybrook-Farm spin from NASA about the venture:

“This radically different approach to building space systems will enable us to create antennas and arrays that are tens-to-hundreds of  times larger than are possible now, providing higher power, higher bandwidth, higher resolution, and higher sensitivity for a wide range of space missions.”

Sure. It’ll do that. It’s a great idea to make hardware in space. Why not?

The problem is that it doesn’t take too much imagination to speculate on what sort of other kinds of recipes and ingredients NASA could put into a technology like 3-D printing (“What would you like to make today . . . with organic materials?”).  Garbage in, garbage out. Organic material in …

The unpopular reality is that, if and when NASA or anyone else is able to wield synthetic biology (that’s writing new, unique DNA from the atomic and molecular level up), it would be painfully easy to fabricate non-terrestrial DNA and claim it’s alien life. That’s not debunking. It’s a frank admission that those who don’t wield such technology would have no hope of critically evaluating such a claim in a world where some people did wield that technology. And once someone achieves the ability to manufacture non-terrestrial DNA right here on earth (again, think about that one), then what’s to stop any tethering of it to 3-D technology?

In other words, in such a world, how would we tell truth from falsehood with respect to a claim that ET life had been discovered? Granted, I’m with you if you’re thinking most scientists could be trusted with such a research claim (i.e., they’d be doing honest science). But I hope no one is so gullible to think that science is never politicized, and that this particular science would never be politicized.

It’s a shame that this sort of technology has the potential to take something that’s true and undermine it with skepticism, and to take something false and celebrate it as truth. But it might not be that way had those in power in these areas for so many years been more ethical and high-minded. We reap what we sow.

 

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I recently received this URL from someone asking me to take a look – it’s a site about the NASA cover-up of alien bases on the moon. Familiar conspiracy silliness, new source (for me anyway).

The URL gives me the opportunity to direct readers to a blog that I follow called “The Emoluments of Mars,” written by someone (Expat) who has a deep knowledge of spaceflight, NASA photographs, and photographic analysis.

Basically, “Expat” is the “anti-Hoagland”. He’s intimately familiar with all of what Richard Hoagland, Mike Bara, and Ken Johnston have written and said to prop up the idea of alien base / artificial structures on the moon and Mars. News flash: there are piles of problems with their use/abuse of images, analysis, and thought processes. Since I have no knowledge of such things, Expat’s blog is a wonderful resource to get critical evaluation of these claims. It’s great knowing there are experts in such fields that bother to get involved (akin to my geneticist friend to whom I regularly send “alien DNA” hokum for expert opinion).

I decided to send the URL I received to Expat to see if he’d comment (I did so in the comments to one of his posts). He replied:

No, I hadn’t seen that page before, but I face-palmed as soon as I read this:

“photos revealing artifacts and structures are routinely modified by NASA higher-ups.”

DarkGovernment.com [the source of the photos at the aforementioned URL - MSH] doesn’t know what it’s writing about. As I’ve often mentioned on this blog, all data processing for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is done at the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State Univ. “NASA high-ups” don’t even get to see it until the processing is done.

Use Google advanced search to pull out everything I’ve written about Ken Johnston, and you’ll read my opinion of him. Someone who claims expertise in NASA photography, and says the blue flare in AS14-66-9301 is a spaceship, IS NOT a reliable source.

So there you go, alien conspiracy fans – take Expat up on the search for a taste of what he does. Better yet, follow his blog!

 

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Popular Science recently published an article of interest to fans of UFO inquiry (and of course, The Facade). Although it’s dated April 1, it’s an article about a real event and real project. Here’s the opening paragraph of the PopSci piece:

Last September, a few hundred scientists, engineers and space enthusiasts gathered at the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Houston for the second public meeting of 100 Year Starship. The group is run by former astronaut Mae Jemison and funded by DARPA. Its mission is to “make the capability of human travel beyond our solar system to another star a reality within the next 100 years.”

The article notes that the program goals follow in the footsteps of physicist Miguel Alcubierre, the scientist credited with developing a mathematical model for warp drive. Another paragraph notes:

Alcubierre envisioned a bubble in space. At the front of the bubble, space-time would contract, while behind the bubble, space-time would expand (somewhat like in the big bang). The deformations would push the craft along smoothly, as if it were surfing on a wave, despite the tumult around it. In principle, a warp bubble could move along arbitrarily quickly; the speed-of-light limitation of Einstein’s theory applies only within space-time, not to distortions of space-time itself. Within the bubble, Alcubierre predicted that space-time would not change, leaving space travelers unharmed.

Not surprisingly, there are problems to be overcome in the model. NASA engineer Harold “Sonny” White says he’s solved them (in theory). You can read the whole piece and find out how physicists and engineers are now using words like “plausible” for warp drive.

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