Internet and Apollo

Today is being celebrated as the 40th birthday of the internet.  Forty years ago today an intrepid team of researchers at UCLA succeeded in getting one of their computers to “talk” to a distant computer — which promptly crashed after the first two letters of a three-letter word were transmitted.  Obviously, the internet has come a long way in 40 years, to the point where pointless blather like the Webnerhouse blog can be easily prepared and made available to any bored internet traveller, anywhere in the world, who might be inclined to visit and see what we have to say.

Coincidentally, this year also is the 40th year of the first Apollo program lunar landing.  Although the internet has progressed tremendously during that 40-year period — going from a clumsy method that crashed before even a single word was transmitted to a communications medium that is found in millions of households and allows for instantaneous access to undreamed off amounts of information — the same cannot be said for the space program.  Indeed, one could argue that manned space exploration has regressed as far and as quickly as the internet has progressed during that same 40-year span.

Since the Apollo program has ended, there has been no serious manned space exploration, and none is on the horizon for the foreseeable future.  Imagine for a moment, however, what might be the reality if manned space exploration had progressed to the same extent as the internet has progressed in the 40 years since 1969.  Where would humans find themselves?  Living in Martian colonies?  Conducting mining operations on Titan?  Aboard spacecraft visiting Alpha Centauri, or the nearest solar system with planets deemed capable of supporting life?

The mind reels at our missed opportunity.

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When The Universe Was Very Young

Scientists have detected gamma rays that they attribute to a massive stellar explosion 13.1 billion years ago — “only” about 660 million years after the “Big Bang.”  Their theory is that a huge star collapsed into a black hole and emitted gamma rays as a result.

This news is fascinating on two levels.  First, it is amazing that our technology has developed to the point where we can detect actions that occurred so extraordinarily long ago, when the universe was in its infancy.  Second, it is surprising that, only 660 million years after the Big Bang, a star could have coalesced out of the exploded remnants of the Big Bang, ignited into fiery life, and then collapsed into a black hole.  660 million years seems like a long time, but Wikipedia, for example, estimates that the age of our Sun is almost 4.6 billion years.  Obviously, it could blow at any minute!  I don’t want to think that tomorrow afternoon I might see a bright flash and then observe the sun’s photosphere hurtling my way at close to the speed of light.