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My Answers to the Tierney Quiz

Space Exploration Quiz – TierneyLab – Science – New York Times Blog

(1) 77,593 years — more or less. Neglecting the radial velocity partial, errors in the distance, the inaccuracy in my number of days per year, and the cosmological constant. 77,593.3421 is what Google Calc says but that’s more digits than I believe.

(2) Define “interesting”. The movie title, “October Sky” is one. On the other hand, I’m fond of “Cob Trek Soy” for its image of James T Kirk during his Iowa childhood.

(3) Yes.

Oh, you wanted argument. Okay, here are several. First, simply from the scientific standpoint, using remote-sensing robots to do science is a little like trying to eat with yard-long chopsticks and oven mitts. Every time we’ve sent a robotic sensor that survived the trip, we’ve learned of things (like the hematite “blueberries”, or the recent silica deposits) that we not only never imagined, but might have seen only by the wildest chance. The silica deposits, for example, only showed up because the rover has a busted wheel. If a new question comes up, it takes ten years, conservatively, before an experiment can be delivered in place to explore it. A human on site could try new things immediately, consider the answers, and try the next thing.

Second, from the standpoint of human nature, we simply don’t get as interested in something until there’s a person doing it. As much fun as it is to see pictures from the rovers, we need a person on the ground to make it real. Preferably a poet, like Ray Bradbury, or a writer like Hemingway or John McPhee.

And third, from a Heinleinist sort of viewpoint, the most moral thing a human can do is to take steps that increase the chances that the human species will survive and prosper. We need humans on other planets, and eventually in other solar systems; people need to aspire to the stars.

— Posted by Charlie (Colorado)

Update: I won!

The judges decided to award the grand prize of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Astronomy” to Charlie Martin of Boulder, Colorado, a computer scientist with Sun Microsystems as well as a blogger. In addition to getting the first two questions correct, he got extra extra credit for coming up with not just “October Sky” but also an anagram linked to a Star Trek icon. As Mr. Martin explained, “I’m fond of ‘Cob Trek Soy’ for its image of James T. Kirk during his Iowa childhood.” Mainly, though, the judges were impressed by the cogency and prose in his answer to the question on whether humans need to explore space:….

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