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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: September 1, 2007


ARE WE GOING BACK to the moon? Yes, says former astronaut Thomas D. Jones, and this time on a permanent basis, although not until a decade from now. This time, however “their goal will be to live off the land, extend scientific exploration and practice for an eventual lap to Mars.” Jones is the lead writer in a special issue of Popular Mechanics which seeks to celebrate 50 years of spaceflight (Sputnik was launched Oct 4, 1957) together with looking ahead to the next 50.

At the moon’s south pole, it seems, almost constant sunshine could provide steady power and charge storage batteries, and millions of ice buried in the canyon’s depths could be harvested, melted, and provide water for drinking and agriculture. Oxygen, too, could be pried from volcanic rock and combined with hydrogen — brought from earth — to produce water. (Why can’t this be done in deserts on earth?)

“Both spacesuits and machines,” the mag explains, “will have to cope with lunar dust: gritty, sharp-edged and murder on seals and bearings. Engineers hope to use electromagnetic filters and shielding systems to prevent dust from working into critical components.”

Living quarters at the start will be inflatable, easy-to-ship modules, coupled with a fabric that hardens in ultraviolet light and the pioneers will venture out to strip regolith from the moon’s surface from which to extract nitrogen for farming, calcium for cement, and silicon from which to make glass and ceramics.

Spaceship designer Burt Rutan predicts that the next 15 years will see thousands of people leave the atmosphere on suborbital flights, 100,000 on his company’s SS2 system, and thousands will be traveling to the moon by 2050.

SINCE GENE RODENBERRY, Star Trek’s creator, was ‘buried’ in space a decade ago, more than 300 people have had a tiny portion of their ashes crammed into a lipstick-sized tube and — for $995 — rocketed 72 miles into the cosmos. But according to Discover magazine most of the capsules have since crashed back to earth. And even when Space Services, a Houston company, begins sending them into orbit later this year, they’ll still eventually burn up and disappear, often within months. “Cremation memorials are becoming more trendy around the world,” reports the company’s CEO, Charles Chafer, who estimates that within five years there’ll be 10,000 of them taking place each year. And for those who seek a permanent resting place, a burial on the moon is available for $44,995.

ONE MONTH BEFORE the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth in May next year, the Imperial War Museum will open an exhibition devoted to celebrating the James Bond phenomenon and the life of its creator. Goldfinger’s golf equipment, flick knife shoes and Halle Berry’s bikini will be among the items featured. Curator of the show, James Taylor, comments that among the similarities between the author and Bond were their love of luxury. “It was said of Churchill that he was easily satisfied with the best of everything and I think you could say the same about Fleming”.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY IS STILL such a big deal in Cuba reports the late author’s former secretary, that “the Cuban Hemingway has become an export like rum, cigars, music, and art”. Once married to Ernest’s youngest son Gregory (who died in 2001), Valerie Hemingway paid a recent visit to Havana and met British impresario Toby Gough who is adding a dance revue, Hemingway in Havana, to the pre-Castro type productions with which he tours the world. “Cuba sells the image of Cuba in the ‘50s the whole time while rejecting its values,” Gough told Valerie, whose lengthy tale can be found in the August Smithsonian.

“We see ourselves as selfless, as adopting positions that represent only a higher good,”  writes Dennis Ross in Statecraft: And How to Restore America’s Standing in the World (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007). “We’ll have to step down from the moral high ground to reality. We’ll need to work with others, listen to their ideas, and sometimes follow their lead.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Scheduled to operate between Dusseldorf and Japan, Germany’s Smokers International Airways (SIA) has powerful air conditioning, a cocktail bar serving oysters, caviar and champagne, and business return fares beginning at $8,500… “Nothing tasteful has ever come out of a stretch limo” wrote Ariel Leve in the Sunday Times…. Brightly-colored individual newsstand boxes are due to disappear from downtown Dallas after the city council decreed that all papers must in future share space in “modular black news racks holding up to eight papers apiece…. It is not necessary to change, wisely opined Lord Falkland, it is necessarynot to change…. Aspirin was first synthesized 110 years ago this week…. Is this the longest palindrome in the English language? Madame, not one man is selfless; I am not one Madam…. “Diaper sniper” is a prison term for a child molester, and “jump the broom” describes when one prisoner ‘marries’ another…. Skeptical Inquirer editor Kendrick Frazier wrote that among the “furious” letters the mag had received after running its piece on global warming, were two from subscribers who had cancelled. “Science is a methodology not an ideology” he emphasized…. Slightly more than half of U.S. households are now headed by a single person…. About Paul McCartney, once said Michael Jackson: “Okay writer, not much of an entertainer. I do better box office than he does….” A new Japanese device can assess stress levels of a dog or cat by measuring the amount of sweat secreted on the animal’s paw…. Technology is the knack of organizing the world so that we don’t have to experience it. — Max Frisch (1911-91)