Thursday, November 20, 2014

Using Outer Space to Improve Life on Earth (Or Why Space Advocates and Environmentalists Should Work Together)

Today, instead of a new post, I'll refer you to my recent article on the Baen Books website in which I describe how we can use space technology to help solve the very real energy and environmental problems we face here on Earth.  The subtitle, "Why Space Advocates and Environmentalists Should Work Together" should be a wake up call to those who believe that high tech space development is somehow not compatible with being a good steward of planet Earth.  On the contrary - the two are not only synergistic, they are intertwined.  I firmly believe that in order to protect and preserve our home planet we have to embrace space development -- sooner, rather than later.

Read on...

Monday, May 26, 2014

I think Evelyn Beatrice Hall Would Approve (and Voltaire too!)

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" - Evelyn Beatrice Hall*

As I celebrate and contemplate this Memorial Day, I believe we seem to have forgotten what used to be this truism in American culture.  Personally, I value the opinions of those who have views on issues that differ from my own.  My wife and I host a monthly discussion group that embodies the spirit of Evelyn Hall; members of the group disagree more often than they agree on many issues yet we still manage to eat pizza together after many a spirited debate/disagreement.  Some members are liberal, some conservative.  We’ve had members who are Christian, atheist, and Hindu.  Views are expressed that some find offensive, and they say so – but they still come back each week to discuss issues and seek to understand the viewpoints of those with whom they vociferously disagree.   These are my friends and they define by example what it means to be tolerant -- I think Hall (and Voltaire) would approve.

*(this quote is often incorrectly attributed to Voltaire)  

Les Johnson

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Future Is In Good Hands

Last week, I had the privilege of providing a colloquium at The University of Kansas (the other UK, or as they write it, KU) in the Aerospace Engineering Department.  The topic of was solar sails and how they will not only benefit exploration and science within the solar system but also, potentially, take us to the stars. 

I was there because of the initiative of one young man – Brooks Pierson.  I met him at the Icarus Interstellar Congress last summer where he invited me to come to KU to talk about interstellar travel using solar sails.  Brooks single handedly made all the necessary arrangements for my travel and even had a gift bag containing chocolates and cookies waiting for my wife and me when we arrived.  The day went like clockwork and included a lecture to a graduate-level aerospace engineering class, lunch with students, meetings with the Dean and a former NASA astronaut now on faculty at the university, and concluded with my departmental colloquium.

The response was tremendous.  Unlike when I’ve spoken at some other universities, the room was packed; no one appeared to be sleeping, and afterward I was mobbed with students asking thoughtful, intelligent questions.  Carol and I then went to dinner with a select group of students where the discussion continued until much later in the evening.  It reminded me of being in college – back in the day.

Thank you, Brooks, for your interest and initiative.  You will go far.

Upon my return, I received this email:
Hello, Mr. Johnson.

My name is John Doe (yes, I changed his name – I don’t have his permission to reprint the letter), and I'm a junior in Aerospace at the University of Kansas, and an AFROTC cadet. I would just like to thank you for coming and speaking at the University of Kansas' aerospace colloquium. Your presentation was honestly the most engaging and interesting one that I've seen in my 3 years of taking the class. I wanted to say this in person, but you had a small army of fans in line and I had a meeting shortly after class.

I found your lecture so fascinating because the sole reason I am in aerospace is to contribute to furthering deep space exploration. As you highlighted in your lecture, not only would this reap an unfathomable scientific and exploratory benefit, but the economic and environmental prosperity would be massive.
Thank you very much for your time.
The passion for space and space exploration is alive and well at The University of Kansas and, I suspect, at colleges all across the USA and around the world.  The future is in good hands, indeed.