[Update: These pics of Juno’s approach from NASA really are dazzling, mysterious and beautiful.]
On some blogazine called Observer, we encounter the breathless and predictable headline:
Well, not *everyone* exactly. I, for one, have learned from a lifetime of experience that just about every time some space probe gets a close look at anything in the solar system, it finds that What We Thought Was Wrong! This has a lot to do with planets and moons and comets and stuff being really, really far away. When you’re looking at something from a couple hundred million miles away, it’s pretty likely you’ll miss some important details that will be evident once you get, say, “only” a million miles away. The probe that produced the picture was 52,000 kilometers away at the time – practically spittin’ distance – so I’d be shocked if it didn’t find cool new stuff. I would bet heavily that if, somehow, we got a look from inside Jupiter’s atmosphere or its solid surface, wherever and whatever that might be, we’d find out, again, the Much Of What We Thought Was Wrong! And act all surprised.
This is a tiny and relatively harmless example of Science! in action. NASA, whose political/public relations tail is always trying to wag its scientific dog, is going to try to drum up enthusiasm and gee-wiz us every chance it gets. For example:
“We are excited to share these early discoveries, which help us better understand what makes Jupiter so fascinating,” said Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It was a long trip to get to Jupiter, but these first results already demonstrate it was well worth the journey.”
One can hardly blame the program executive for pointing out her project was a success. That would be an essential part of the job. But that last sentence is telling: the probe has “already demonstrate it was well worth the journey.” A journey, it must be remembered that cost 1.1 billion taxpayer dollars. By NASA standards, that a bargain, and, again, it is part of an executive’s job description to make the case that the project was worth the money. It’s also part of the job of us taxpayers to wonder about that.
Me? I’m cool. Love me some Hubble pictures, I get very excited about the Webb, no matter how over budget it is. Space probes are cool, and comparatively cheap. I start getting concerned with manned missions that are projected to cost planetary-level investments, such as a trillion dollars or some such astronomical (heh) sum. That kind of money will attract the worst kind of attention from the most lamprey-like political players, and, being too big for any one country to swallow, will attract world-wide parasitic attention. It could easily end up as logically coherent and focused as the U.N.
And nobody wants that.
Frankly, I’d like to see a real space station where significant numbers of people live for years at a time, or a moon base, before we just throw people at Mars or whatever. Proof of concept. Ya know?
So, glad we’ve discovered all this interesting new stuff about Jupiter, just like we discover new stuff about anything we get a good long close look at for the first time. But keep your pants on.