See Hidden Figures the Movie for Entertainment, Read the Book for History

The film Hidden Figures, while high in entertainment value, takes some liberties with history.  That’s not unusual for the movie industry.  For starters, the book the movie is based on is 270 pages.  Taking the rule of thumb that a screenplay requires one page for one minute, meaning the screenplay for the movie clocks in around 120 pages, right there is a lot of cutting to do.  The first 172 pages of the book covers ground before NASA was founded.  I suspect the movie pushed these events into the NASA era as the public is familiar with NASA, but not its predecessor NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics).  Consequently, the movie misses out on World War II being a key trigger of the Civil Rights movement in and beyond NASA.

NACA existed from 1915 until 1958 when it was folded into NASA.  NACA wind tunnels and research facilities played a crucial role in advancing aviation from propeller to jet engines and towards the birth of the space age.  As the threat of war became imminent in 1939, NACA’s Langley facilities received publicity from Life Magazine as America needed to upgrade its aviation research.  The war would also change the American economy from one that endured double-digit unemployment from the start of the Great Depression in 1930 to a high pressure economy with severe labor shortages.  This shortage caused wartime employers to think out of the box when it came to traditional hiring practices.

The unemployment rate dropped from 14.6% in 1940 to a record low 1.2% in 1944.  Below are the number of jobs created each month during the war.  In 1942, 3.8 million new jobs were created.  To put this in perspective, with a much larger workforce, 2 million jobs were created in 2016.

New jobs created by month in thousands. Credit: BLS

The story of Rosie the Riveter is well-known as millions of new job opportunities opened up for women in war production.  What is not as well-known are the opportunities this opened up for African-Americans who beforehand were routinely discriminated in all but a narrow range of jobs.  In the case of the women in Hidden Figures, they typically would have taken teaching jobs in a segregated black school.  With the war ramping up the need for aviation research at Langley, opportunity came knocking for those who ordinarily would not have gotten it.

Located in Virginia, Langley was segregated during World War II.  Women were employed as computers to handle what was considered the drudgery of mathematical calculations.  Prior to World War II, America would demobilize after a war and Langley would have laid off many of its employees.  However, with the upcoming Cold War, much of the workforce stayed on.  And once women and African-Americans got the taste of opportunity, they were hungry for more.  One can trace a direct line between the massive labor shortages of World War II, the beginnings of integration during the 1950’s, and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.

The effort to integrate Langley occurred during the 1950’s before it became part of NASA.  Integration at the base tended to go more smoothly than the surrounding region.  While the computers were assigned to engineering groups, effectively ending the white and black computing departments, the state of Virginia was fiercely fighting school integration.  Some school districts opted to shut down entirely while other towns opened all-white private academies to preserve segregation.  At the university level, Virginia offered out-of-state scholarships to black students to keep the state university all white.   These attempts to maintain segregation still lingered in the South when I moved to Texas in 1978.  Some schools chose to classify each white student as gifted to enforce segregation with all-white advanced classes.

The book delves into this matter more so than the movie.  When Mary Jackson wins court approval to attend an all-white school, the book notes her disappointment at the run down appearance of the building.  The cost of needlessly operating duel school systems to maintain segregation was inefficient and lowered the educational experience for both white and black students.  This is not restricted to the Deep South.  I experienced integration in the Buffalo school system from 1976-77.  It was no big deal for myself and my classmates but the same cannot be said for many of the parents.  Over the next few decades, the schools re-segregated as whites moved out of the city into all white suburbs.

Metro areas which lack diversity tend to be economically stagnant.  Young talent in fast growing industries favor diversity as that reduces the odds their talent will be left on the table.  The longer Buffalo attempts to maintain segregation, the more difficulty it will have adapting to the new high-tech economy.  The ability to adapt is a key feature in Hidden Figures and on an personal level, the main characters adaptation skills kept them gainfully employed at Langley for several decades.

Drag test of North American P-51B Mustang in NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s Full-Scale Tunnel, September 23, 1943. Credit: NASA/Langley Research Center

The three decades from 1940-69 encompassed three distinct eras in aviation.  First was the propeller planes of World War II, then the jet age of the Korean War, and finally rocket propulsion of the space age.  As the book notes, America was slower than Europe to embrace rocket technology.  Going back to when Robert Goddard was ridiculed by the New York Times for his proposals to use rockets for space exploration, America viewed this type of work as science fiction.  The Jet Propulsion Laboratory was named as such to disguise its rocket research program.  While the German V-2 brought rockets into reality, at Langley, up until Sputnik, the engineers were discouraged from working on space research.

Langley’s Hypersonic Complex (under NACA was the Gas Dynamics Laboratory) housed wind tunnels to test faster than sound conditions where Mary Jackson worked. Credit: NASA

When America was hurled into the space age in 1957, those at Langley who could not adapt were let go and missed out on the Apollo era.  Those who did adapt, as demonstrated in both the book and the movie, stayed on until their retirements in the 1970’s and ’80’s.  The retirement parties given were reflective of a different era in employee relations.

When I started working in the early 80’s, retirement parties were a common event.  At Exxon, the Graphic Arts Department would put together a poster representing the retiree’s career.  The last retirement party I’ve been to was in the early 90’s.  In the private sector at least, very few people make it to voluntary retirement, usually getting let go before then.  And the process is as impersonal as it can possibly be.  The idea being that’s how Ayn Rand would have wanted it, or something.  The current lack of social structure and churning of employees in the corporate world reduces productivity as job knowledge is chronically allowed to walk out the door.

First page of Fortran manual – the same used by Dorothy Vaughan. The full manual can be accessed here. Credit: IBM.

The engineers at Langley were not prone to let talent lie fallow.  The professional crew came from all parts of the country and had varying attitudes towards women and blacks in the workplace.  It was one such engineer who allowed Mary Jackson to work in the air tunnel and eventually move up as an engineer.  Another engineer convinced his superior to allow Katherine Johnson’s name as co-author on a research paper as “she was doing most of the work anyway.”  The women at Langley were numerous enough to build an extensive support network which helped them advance.  The African-American men not so  much.  They dealt with segregation via avoidance such as eating lunch in a black owned restaurant off the Langley premises to elude the segregated cafeteria.  Unlike as depicted in the movie, the most egregious episodes of discrimination came from the locals who were mostly employed as technicians.  One such example was a tech sabotaging a wind tunnel experiment run by a black engineer.  The engineer’s manager chewed out the tech publicly to prevent another occurence.

What lessons can we take from this history?  On an individual/company level, look at your employees talent and use it to the fullest for optimal performance.  That means allowing for diversity in the workplace.  To use an analogy, would major league baseball been better off without the talents of Henry Aaron and Willie Mays?  We know the answer as teams like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, who were slow to integrate, suffered long stretches of losing seasons in the 1960’s as a result.  Also, adaptability is key for survival.  The instinct to stand pat should be avoided.   On a macro level, a policy of pushing for a high pressure economy can induce societal and economic change as employers are forced to innovate in their hiring practices.  While we can’t restore the past to bring about positive results, we can at least take home the proper lessons of history.

*Image above is from Katherine Johnson’s first author credit.  The full research paper can be found here.  Another notable effort from Johnson is on the navigation for Solar System exploration which can be found here.

Equality and Space Exploration

As Apollo 11 sat on the launch pad, ready to complete what is arguably the most impressive technical achievement in history, a group of protesters marched towards Cape Kennedy.  Had he not been assassinated a year earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. would have led the march.  In his place was his best friend, Ralph Abernathy, who took over King’s role as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  As Abernathy put it, the protest was not against the Apollo program per se, but to “protest America’s inability to choose human priorities.” As we live in a democracy, proponents of space exploration should be prepared to answer the question, how does the space program benefit the poor and the general public?

Ralph Abernathy (far left) along with Martin Luther King, Jr lead Selma March for the Right to Vote, Abernathy’s children are front and center, 1965. Credit: Abernathy Family Photos/Wiki Commons

These thoughts came back to me while watching I Am Not Your Negro, the documentary on James Baldwin.  There is a tendency to think of the 1950’s and 60’s as when America was great.  Certainly, the economy was booming and middle class wages were rising, but as the documentary detailed, America was suffering from terrible social strife.  Progress was made legislatively on civil rights, but there were race riots in the cities claiming scores of lives along with a general spike in violent crime.  It was against this backdrop that the Apollo program existed.

Aftermath of 1968 Washington, DC riot. Warren K. Leffler/Library of Congress

There is the standard argument that the funds spent on the space program are minuscule compared to the overall federal budget.  And that is true, NASA’s spending is about 0.5% of the budget and peaked during the Apollo era at 5%.  Current spending on NASA comes out to $60 per person per year.  So is NASA just a highly publicized target for protest?  I think we have to look at the problem in a different light.  That being a policy of resource/education deprivation certain portions of the American population have endured in our history.

Resource deprivation is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.  If people are struggling to survive on a day-to-day basis, it makes it more difficult to sustain political resistance.  The history of African-Americans is certainly one of life under authoritarianism, from slavery to Jim Crow era lynchings and segregation.  And while significant improvements on that front have been made the past few decades, African-Americans continue to experience the impact of historical resource deprivation in terms of household wealth.

A key historical component of segregation was job discrimination.  During its early years, NASA ranked at the bottom of all federal agencies when it came to minority hiring.  While the book and subsequent movie, aptly named Hidden Figures, reveals crucial contributions to the Apollo program by African-Americans, the public face of NASA, the astronauts and mission control, were all white.  It was this facade that led Gil Scott-Heron to record Whitey on the Moon.  

Kennedy Space Center Launch Control, July 16, 1969. Credit: NASA.

So where do we go with this?  NASA has improved the diversity of its workforce greatly.  Kennedy Space Center employees are currently 27% minority.  While that helps those employed by NASA, what about Americans who live in poverty?  If one is segregated from the space program, you have no reason to support it, but that is true of any endeavor.  It’s no different than building a shopping mall without access to public transit, or a museum, or schools that are inaccessible to minorities.  The key to long-term sustainability is to integrate the benefits of the space program to all corners of society.

ISS Flight Control Team, Credit: NASA

The Apollo program lacked this sustainability.  Once the political aim of beating the Soviet Union to the Moon was achieved, the Apollo program was cancelled during the recession of the early 1970’s.  Lost was the science phase of the program – Apollo missions 18-20.  In fact, support for the Apollo program among the American public was tepid.  The only time more than half the public approved expenditures on Apollo was briefly in 1969 during the first Moon landing.  And even then, approval was only 53 percent.  The key to changing this is to turn space exploration from a “spectator sport” to one the public can actively participate in.

One obvious way of achieving this is integrating NASA research in K-12 education.  The amounts of data pouring in from NASA missions often require the efforts of citizen science to sort through it all.  Such an effort also requires educator training since many teachers, especially in high-need districts, teach outside their specialty.  And this effort should seek to aggressively reach out to the districts highest in need.  If successful, a public actively engaged in space exploration will tend to be more supportive of it.  Is exploring space worth this time and effort?

Perhaps the most important aspect of space exploration is understanding how the Earth fits in the universe.  Right now, there are no other planets where humanity can commence a mass migration.  Colonizing Mars, while feasible, is much more difficult than living in Antarctica, where only a few dozen scientists live at any given time.  We may discover Earth-like planets around other stars, but traveling to them as seen in Star Trek or Star Wars will not occur in our lifetimes, if at all.  Understanding this, and the fragile protections Earth offers humanity from a universe largely hostile to life, underscores the urgency in solving key environmental issues such as climate change.

Astronomy is among the most ubiquitous of the sciences.  Across all the continents and spanning throughout history, civilizations have sought out answers to what lies in the sky above them.  Nations that have been economically and socially healthy have been ones who have made the greatest advancements in astronomy.  Recently, the Trump administration has floated ambitious plans to return to the Moon by 2020.  By nature, space enthusiasts have jumped on the bandwagon.  However, as history has shown, if the United States also embarks on a program of resource deprivation such as repealing ACA, cutting Medicare, and turning education over to for-profit interests, public support for space exploration spending will not only be weak, but hostile.  The protest led by Ralph Abernathy in 1968 will look like a Sunday picnic by comparison.

During the Apollo program, it was often suggested that the management methods of the space program could be transferred towards solving poverty.  The space program cannot solve poverty, nor should it claim to be capable of that.  However, the space program can play a partnership role with the rest of the government and private entities toward that goal.  If we really want a sustained effort to go to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, it will have to be within an overall framework of a civilization that values inclusiveness and equality.  As Ralph Abernathy stated after watching the launch of Apollo 11:

“This is really holy ground.  And it will be more holy once we feed the hungry, care for the sick, and provide for those who do not have houses.”

*Image atop post is Apollo 11 on the launchpad during the early morning hours of July 16, 1969.  Credit:  NASA.

Why Go to Jupiter?

At 11:53 P.M. EDT on July 4th, as the last of the fireworks begin to fade, NASA will be eagerly awaiting a signal from the Juno spacecraft that it has entered orbit around Jupiter.  This will commence twenty months of exploration of Jupiter’s polar regions which is the epicenter of the giant planet’s massive magnetic and auroral activity.  It will also signify the beginning of the end of NASA’s second wave of space missions to the gas giants that began in 1989 with the launch of the Jovian Galileo probe.  In September 2017, Cassini will cease operations with a decent into Saturn.  Five months later, Juno will meet the same fate as it plunges into Jupiter.  NASA’s exploration of the outer planets will go dark until the 2020’s.

Juno, named after the Roman goddess wife of Jupiter, was launched in 2011 and embarked on a 1.8 billion mile odyssey to the giant planet that included a flyby past Earth.  Why flyby Earth?  The pull of Earth’s gravity whipped Juno into sufficient velocity to reach Jupiter.  This maneuver, while more time-consuming, saves fuel and cost.  Not an insignificant consideration as Juno was hatched during an era of flatline budgets for NASA.  In all, the Juno mission will cost $1.1 billion or roughly the same as a NFL stadium.  Below is a video of Juno’s trajectory to Jupiter.

Normally, we associate planetary missions with spectacular imagery.  Juno does have a camera on board but that will be used for outreach purposes.  The science of Juno involves magnetometers and particle detectors.  Jupiter has a massive magnetic field that produces aurora activity several times the size of Earth and radio emissions as well.  Juno intends to use its measurements to study the interior of Jupiter which in turn will reveal the processes that drive its magnetic activity and origins.

Jupiter’s aurora was discovered in 1979 by Voyager I.  On Earth, the aurora is created by ionized particles embedded in the solar wind spiraling down Earth’s magnetic field lines towards the poles (charged particles will follow the path of magnetic fields).  Here, in the upper atmosphere, the ionized particles slam into oxygen and nitrogen atoms exciting their electrons to a higher energy level.  As the electrons subside back to a lower energy level, the kinetic energy of these particles are converted to electromagnetic energy in the form of green and red light.

Juno’s elliptical orbits will avoid zones of high radiation surrounding Jupiter. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics

On Jupiter, the process is a bit different.  The solar wind contributes to the aurora, but there is another major source of ions from the moon Io.  The most volcanic active body in the Solar System, Io spews out oxygen and sulfur ions that travel along Jupiter’s magnetic field to the poles.  The aurora has been viewed by the Hubble which recently released this image.

Credit: NASA/ESA

When electrons are accelerated, radio waves are transmitted.  This is the principal that radio towers work on.  Electrons are accelerated up and down the transmission tower producing the broadcast received by your radio and converted to sound waves by its speakers.  Around Jupiter, electrons are accelerated as they spiral down the magnetic field lines.  Io also acts to accelerate electrons as its presence distorts Jupiter’s magnetic field. A change in a magnetic field induces an electric field pushing the electrons.  This action creates radio transmissions from Jupiter that are received on Earth in the 8-38 MHz range, the same range shortwave radio is transmitted.

Ham radio operators have received these transmissions from Jupiter and NASA’s Radio Jove project allows schools to purchase receivers for a few hundred dollars to detect Jupiter’s radio waves.    Samples of these radio observations can be heard here.

One might ask, why should we care about Jupiter’s magnetic field and how does it relate to Earth?  The answer lies in the fact that while we can map Earth’s magnetic field as it extends into space, we are unable to map the dynamo process generating the field in Earth’s interior.  Jupiter, being a gaseous planet, will allow Juno to map the magnetic field down to the interior where the dynamo lies.  Jupiter formed before the solar wind blasted away the primordial material of the solar nebula.  The more we learn about Jupiter’s interior, the more we’ll know how the Solar System originated.  The video below describes how Juno will explore Jupiter’s magnetic field.

Juno’s instrument package includes a radio transmitter to detect variations in Juno’s velocity as it orbits Jupiter.  Doppler shifts in the radio waves will allow for measurements of variations in Jupiter’s gravity field providing hints to the make up of its interior.  The Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) and Jupiter Energetic Particle Detector Instrument (JEDI-video below) will measure the ions and electrons traveling along the magnetic field lines that eventually produce Jupiter’s aurora.

The Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) will provide images of Jupiter’s aurora.  Juno’s magnetometer will construct a 3-D map of Jupiter’s magnetic field, both the field lines and their magnitude.  The Microwave Radiometer’s (MWR) function is to detect thermal radio emissions from six layers beneath the clouds of Jupiter.  This will provide a 3-D map of the Jovian atmosphere.  The Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer’s (UVS) mission is to examine the aurora in ultraviolet allowing for measurements on both the day and night sides of Jupiter.  The aptly named Waves instrument will measure radio waves produced by the magnetic field.  Last, but not least, is the JunoCam which will take the first pictures of Jupiter’s poles and allow for the public to participate on deciding other targets to image.

Image of Antarctica taken by JunoCam during Earth flyby. Credit: NASA.

On February 21, 2018, after completing 37 elliptical orbits of Jupiter, Juno will crash into Jupiter ending its adventure.  The next mission to the outer Solar System is not scheduled until the 2020’s with NASA’s planned Europa mission.  This gap was caused by funding curtailments created by the Great Recession.  This is similar to the gap between the Pioneer and Voyager missions launched in the 1970’s and the Galileo mission launched in 1989.  That first gap was caused by budget cuts during the Reagan administration in the 1981-82 recession. In fact, that gap almost became catastrophic as the administration proposed to terminate Voyager funding before the mission reached Uranus and Neptune.  Fortunately, Voyager was kept alive and is still returning data today.  So, what can we hope for in the meantime?

The Hubble Space Telescope will still take high quality images of the outer planets, and will be joined by the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018.  Of course, both have other mission objectives and are not dedicated to viewing the Solar System.  The next generation of ground telescopes featuring mirrors in the 30-40 meter range will be able to peer deeper with more detail into the Solar System, possibly mapping surface characteristics of Kuiper Belt objects.  New Horizons just received funding approval to visit the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 beyond Pluto on New Year’s Day in 2019.  Despite the upcoming lull in deep space exploration, the future still looks interesting for planetary science.

*Image on top is workers testing the solar panel for Juno prior to launch.  Credit:  NASA.

Science and Authoritarianism

With authoritarianism making headway in both Europe and America, it might be instructive to take a look back at what has historically happened to scientists and their supporting institutions when democracy wanes.  Here, I’ll take a look at Nazi Germany.  This might tempt some to invoke Godwin’s law as this is the extreme case study.  However, the Freedom Party of Austria has its roots in the Nazi party while Greece’s Golden Dawn party employs an altered swastika for its emblem inviting the comparison.  In America, the rise of Donald Trump trends more towards the celebrity cult/buffoonery of Gabriele d’Annunzio/Benito Mussolini, but the same can not be said of his most strident Twitter followers.  We’ll focus on the three most prominent German scientists of the era, Albert Einstein, Max Planck, and Wernher von Braun.

The Refugee

Over a decade before Hitler rose to power, Albert Einstein became the most famous scientist in the world during 1919 when the Eddington expedition provided experimental confirmation of general relativity.  Einstein’s troubles in Germany started only a couple of years later as Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark, Nobel Prize winners in their own right, began to wage an anti-Semitic campaign against Einstein.  Lenard was a fine experimental physicist, but had been left behind in the modern physics revolution.  Stark also had difficulty comprehending the mathematics of the new physics.  Unable to critique relativity on its merits, both referred to modern theoretical physics as “Jewish science” and eventually espoused what was referred to as Deutsche Physik or Aryan Physics.  This politicization of science discarded modern physics and was intended to ride the wave of Nazi power.

Events in Germany came to a head as Hitler became Chancellor in January of 1933.  Shortly afterwards, Jews were forbidden to hold university or research positions.  Einstein had been in Belgium during early 1933 with the intention of returning to Germany.  However, as the situation deteriorated (Einstein’s house had been raided and sailboat confiscated), Einstein appeared at the German consulate and renounced his German citizenship (Einstein was still a Swiss citizen) and resigned his position at the Prussian Academy of Sciences, the same academy where he announced his final general relativity theory in 1916.  During the summer of 1933, while still in Belgium, word was put out that a $5,000 bounty had been placed on Einstein’s life.

On October 3rd, four days before he left Europe never to return, Einstein gave a speech at the Royal Albert Hall.

During the speech, Einstein asked, “How can we save mankind and its spiritual acquisitions of which we are the heirs? How can we save Europe from a new disaster?”  The eventual answer, of course, was at a cost of millions of lives.

After arriving in America, Einstein took up a job offer at Princeton where he had remained until his death in 1955.  Einstein worked to get other unemployed German Jewish physicists jobs in America.  In all, over a thousand Jewish scientists relocated to America including  several Nobel prize winners.  This represented a significant shift in intellectual and innovative resources from Europe to America.  In 1939, Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt warning about the potential for Nazi Germany to produce an atomic bomb.  Many top refugee scientists worked on the Manhattan Project, whose final result would have been used against Germany had it not surrendered a couple months before the first atomic test.

The essential lesson here is that Einstein’s enormous talent did not spare him from Nazi persecution.  Purging or banning an ethnic group, besides the obvious ethical considerations, results in an intellectual drain.  Segregating an ethnic group from educational resources presents a loss of potential economic growth, which is why ideologues need to resort to ethnic stereotyping to deflect attention from the negative by-products of their policies.  Einstein, to his last days, spoke out for civil rights, lectured at black colleges, and was rewarded for his efforts with an 1,800 page FBI file.

As a pacifist, Einstein deeply regretted the letter that started the Manhattan Project.  As a scientist, to this day, his work has held up to every rigorous test experimental physicists have thrown up against it.  Relativity theory has provided us with the Big Bang, black holes, time dilation, and gravitational waves.  Einstein will be long remembered while those who chose the expedient path of supporting Nazism have had their scientific legacy tarnished greatly.  Not everyone in the German scientific establishment jumped aboard the Nazi bandwagon, some tried to mitigate the effects of Nazism by working within the system.

The Statesman

When Hitler ascended to power, Max Planck was president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society.  Planck had revolutionized physics in 1900 by discovering energy was emitted in discrete packages dubbed quanta.  This would kick-start the quantum mechanics breakthroughs in the decades to follow.  Planck was among the first to recognize the significance of Einstein’s work in 1905 on special relativity, and as editor of the journal Annalen der Physik, published Einstein’s work.  It was Planck, as dean of Berlin University, who opened up a professorship for Einstein in 1913.  It was here that Einstein finished up his work on general relativity.

Max Planck. Credit: Bain News Service/Library of Congress

Max Planck was born in 1858 and his life arced with Germany’s rise from a patchwork of unorganized states to unification as a single nation in 1871, eventually to  rival the British Empire as a European power.  Conservative in temperament, Planck was inclined to be apolitical publicly.  However, Planck was a firm believer in advancing German science and loyalty to the German state.  In May 1933, as Einstein was severing his ties to Germany, Planck announced at the Kaiser Wilhelm Society annual meeting that:

“The Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of the Sciences begs leaves to the tender reverential greetings to the Chancellor and its solemn pledge that German science is also ready to cooperate joyously in the reconstruction of the new national state.” 

In reality, Planck thought the Nazi party would moderate its views once in power (sound familiar?) and personally endeavored to continue the high standard of German research.  That did not happen, of course.  Planck met with Hitler personally in 1933 hoping to moderate his policy to stem the exodus of Jewish scientists from Germany.  The meeting ended with a Hitler rant that science would have to suffer.  Not surprising, as that is how discussions with hopeless ideologues tend to go.  At the annual Kaiser Wilhelm Society meeting in 1934, Planck noted while the society was devoted to science in service of the fatherland, pure research was suffering as a result of Nazi policies.  By 1935, Planck openly defied Hitler and attended the funeral service for Fritz Haber, who had been in exile from Germany.

It is difficult to maintain a functional operation when the overall organization is dysfunctional.  Eventually the dam breaks, and the dysfunctionalty takes control.  Planck in 1933 was also playing the role of the extreme centrist, blaming both Nazi and Jewish cultures equally for the situation in Germany.  In this one can see the danger in not recognizing an asymmetric authoritarian movement.  By 1936, Planck had openly stated that intelligence counts more in science than race.  But despite Planck’s efforts, the purging of highly talented Jewish scientists had been complete.  In 1937, Planck retired as president of the society, but not without offering the parting shot that scientific work required opposition to prove its merit, something Nazi supported science would not permit.

Planck’s experience offers the cautionary tale that an authoritative movement must be defeated before it obtains the keys to governance.  There was no reasoning to be had with Hitler in 1933 and access to power offered no motivation for Nazis to moderate their policies towards Jews.  By the end of World War II, Planck’s Berlin house had been destroyed in an Allied air raid, and he lost his son who was put to death for his participation in the plot to kill Hitler.  Planck had previously lost another son in World War I during the battle of Verdun.

Eight days after the surrender of Germany in 1945, at the age of 87, Planck resumed his role as president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society.  After Planck had passed away in 1947, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society was renamed the Max Planck Institute.  Under a democratic Germany, the institute has produced 18 Nobel prize winners and over 13,000 scientific publications annually.  ESA’s Planck mission measured the cosmic microwave background radiation – the remnants of the Big Bang.  The spectrum of this radiation is that of a blackbody, the same type Planck studied to determine that energy is emitted in packages.  Blackbody spectra are emitted by objects in a hot, dense state, meaning that was the state of the universe when it was 380,000 years old.  Planck’s legacy has enabled us to understand the nature of the electron and the origins of the universe.

In 2007, the Max Planck Institute completed a ten-year study on the history of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society during Hitler’s reign.  The report acknowledged, especially after Planck’s departure in 1937, unethical scientific research during that period.  It was not just party hacks involved in this behavior, some of the most talented scientists engaged in projects that degraded their reputations.

The Opportunist

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the lunar surface.  It was the culmination of a decade’s worth of work and $150 billion (2016 dollars) to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon.  At the head of the Saturn V design team was Wernher von Braun, who was director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  During the post World War II era, von Braun was the leading public advocate of space exploration.  In many ways, von Braun was the Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson of his era.  Unlike Sagan or deGrasse Tyson, von Braun’s reputation originated on the backs of slave labor.

In some regards, von Braun was similar to Planck in that he was not a Nazi ideologue.  He was loyal to Germany as a nation, but his main focus, obsession really, was space exploration and rocketry.  His childhood dream was to go to Mars, but as Hitler rose to power, only military rocket research was permitted.  During the early 1930’s, von Braun received a government research grant that permitted him to complete his PhD ahead of schedule.  Unlike Planck, he joined the Nazi party in 1937 to advance his career.

Wernher von Braun (in civilian cloths) at the Peenemünde Army Research Center where the V-2 was developed. March 21, 1941. Credit: Wiki Commons/German Federal Archives.

During World War II, von Braun headed up the German V-2 program.  While the V-2 killed 9,000 in its attacks, some 12,000 slave laborers were killed in the V-2 Mittelwerk production plant.  The facility was adjacent to the Dora-Nordhausen concentration camp which supplied the labor.  While von Braun was not stationed near the plant, he did visit it and was aware of the deaths at the plant.  The V-2 program was not enough to stave off the eventual defeat of Germany in 1945.  Von Braun planned to escape to America as he felt that would provide him the best opportunity to advance his career.  Along with about 1,600 other scientists and engineers, von Braun was shepherded to America as valuable assets for the upcoming Cold War against the Soviet Union in a program code named Operation Paperclip.

Von Braun became famous to the American public during the 1950’s.  In 1952, von Braun played a key role in a influential series of articles in Collier’s magazine.  These articles presented to the public a peek at how future space missions to the Moon and Mars as well as a space station might look like.  In 1955, von Braun started work on a series of television programs for Disney promoting space exploration.  A sample of which is below:

Von Braun was a true visionary of space exploration.  It is difficult to reconcile a man who worked for both Adolf Hitler and Walt Disney.  My first lesson on space exploration was an article written by von Braun for the 1969 World Book Encyclopedia.  When NASA was founded in 1958, it got to choose the pick of the litter from the existing military rocket programs, and that was von Braun’s army team.  The rest is history and cemented von Braun as the face of America’s space program.

Von Braun passed away in 1977, about a decade before Operation Paperclip was investigated by the Justice Department.  While von Braun’s work on the V-2 project was common knowledge, his membership in the SS was not well known to the public until 1985.  Arthur Rudolph, whose contributions were crucial to the development of the Saturn V, was also the operations manager at Mittelwerk.  Rudolph was deported in 1984.  Kurt Debus, the first director of the Kennedy Space Center and an ideological Nazi during the war, avoided the investigation by passing away in 1983.  How would have von Braun fared if probed by the Justice Department?

Wherner von Braun and Kurt Debus, roll out of Saturn V, May 26, 1966. Credit: NASA

Von Braun’s supporters point out that he would have been executed had he opposed the working conditions at Mittelwerk.  No doubt, that is the case.  In fact, von Braun was arrested by the SS in 1944 for carelessly opining that the war was a lost cause and the future of rocketry would be space exploration.  However, this is a variation of the I was following orders routine, and von Braun was too high up in the food chain to use that as a passable defense.  Clearly, von Braun had charted his own course in the Nazi apparatus.  It is difficult to imagine a rigorous investigation ending well for von Braun.

What can we take from all this?  Under an oppressive authoritarian regime, you can leave the country, try to maintain institutional integrity within the system, or advance your career regardless of personal debasement.  If you want to leave, you’ll have more difficulty than Einstein securing a visa and a job.  If Max Planck could not preserve the integrity of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, what are the chances you’ll be able to where you are situated?  As for careerism, if landing a man on the Moon is not enough to cleanse questionable past associations, do you really think you could pull that off?

The easiest solution is simply to reject authoritarianism before it takes power.  Democracy is far easier to sustain by pushing for needed reforms than it is to re-institute it after it falls.  Authoritarianism typically ends in chaos, war in the case of Germany and Japan in 1945 and Syria today, economic in the case of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s or Venezuela today.  Regardless how you navigate your path through it, don’t think you will get out unscathed one way or another.

*Photo at top of post:  Nazi Germany’s loss is America’s gain. Albert Einstein receives from Judge Phillip Forman his certificate of American citizenship.  October 1, 1940.  Credit:  Al Aumuller/Library of Congress.

The End of the World as We Know It

Centuries ago, Polynesian explorers settled on dozens of Pacific islands spanning from New Guinea to Hawaii to Easter Island.  Living on several islands provided the Polynesian culture a better chance for survival.  If disaster struck one island, the culture could still thrive on the other islands.  This is often, as recently expressed by Stephen Hawking, used as a rationalization for space colonization.  Is this a realistic model for human survival?  The best way to answer that is to understand how Earth protects life, what could endanger life on Earth, and how difficult it would be to migrate into space.

The Sun resides in a relatively quiet area of the galaxy referred to as the Local Bubble.  This bubble was created by a series of nearby supernovae events some 10-20 million years ago.  Even so, the Solar System is bathed with galactic cosmic rays and ionized solar winds which are harmful to life.  The Earth offers protective layers that insulates life from the harsh realities of space.  The magnetic field guides ionized particles towards the polar regions.  The harmful kinetic energies of these particles are absorbed by oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the upper atmosphere and converted to harmless light radiation in the form of the aurora.  The ozone layer blocks harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from reaching the surface.  In fact, the upper atmosphere heats up at the ozone layer where the high energy UV radiation is absorbed.

Stratospheric heating (red) caused by ozone layer absorbing UV rays. Credit: ESA

The Earth’s atmosphere also absorbs high energy x-rays and gamma rays.  This is a key point as our first attempt to colonize space will most likely be on Mars.  And Mars does not offer the protective layers that Earth does from the harmful radiation of space.  Any attempt to colonize the red planet will need to invent technologies to provide protection from space radiation.  Also, Mars has only 1/3 the gravity of Earth which can deteriorate body muscle throughout a long duration stay.  We cannot change Mars’ gravity and for this reason, some propose to make future Mars missions a one way colonization effort* as returning to Earth’s gravity may be problematic.

How feasible is it to colonize Mars?  To put it in perspective, it is much easier to colonize Antarctica.  Currently, there are a few dozen scientists who occupy the South Pole station in any given year.  Going to Mars is possible, but during the next few decades only a handful, at best, will occupy our nearest neighbor.  When evaluating possible disaster scenarios on Earth, what type of timeline are we looking at?

For now, I want to focus on natural, rather than human induced, disasters.  First on deck are supervolcanoes.  A supervolcano is an eruption that releases at least 500 cubic km of magma.  By comparison, this is 500 times larger than the Mt. St. Helen’s eruption in 1980.  These events are pretty rare, about once every 100,000 years.  To put that in perspective, the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt were built 5,000 years ago.  The last supervolcano eruption was Lake Toba 74,000 years ago in Indonesia.  These events can lower global temperatures 10 degrees Celsius over a period of ten years.  Once believed to have reduced the human population to 11,000, new evidence suggests that Lake Toba was not as catastrophic to humanity as originally thought.

While that is good news, a supervolcano would certainly be disruptive to human civilization.  And while the chances are such an eruption in the near future are remote, at some point in time there will be one.  One such mantle hotspot resides in Yellowstone.  Recently, the Yellowstone magma chamber was mapped.

Credit: Hsin-Hua Huang, University of Utah.

The newly found lower chamber contains about 11,000 cubic km of magma.  The last Yellowstone eruption occurred 640,000 years.  The chances of an eruption in the near future is very slim.  As destructive as these events can be, it appears that the next such event could be 10,000 or more years in the future.  At this point, there seems little that could be done to thwart the threat of a supervolcano.  That is not the case with the danger of an asteroid/comet strike.

Impact events are not uncommon.  Small meteors collide with Earth everyday, usually burning up in the atmosphere.  When they are large enough to survive the frictional forces of the atmosphere, they strike the ground and are then called meteorites.  These objects are collector items but also valuable for scientific research.  Unlike the Moon, erosion typically wipes away evidence of past large impact events.  One exception is in Arizona where the dry climate has kept intact a 1,300 meter wide crater for 50,000 years from a 30-meter meteor impact event.

Arizona Meteor Crater and Visitor Center.  Credit: Shane Torgerson/Wiki Commons

If a impact is large enough, sizable amounts of material can be ejected into the atmosphere causing global cooling and potential danger to life.  Most famously, an impact near the Yucatan Peninsula 65.5 million years ago killed off the dinosaurs.  This was one of the largest impacts in the inner Solar System since the heavy bombardment formation stage some four billion years ago.  The cause of this was an object 10 km wide.  How often does such an event take place?

Fortunately, extinction type impacts are very rare.  In fact, the impact causing the dinosaur extinction is the last known event of this magnitude.  More common are smaller, but still damaging impacts such as the 1908 Tunguska event in Siberia.  In this case, a 120 foot object vaporized some 5 miles above the ground and the concussion was felt dozens of miles away.    While potentially devastating on a local scale, these impacts would not present a threat to humanity on a global basis.  Impacts of this scale occur around once every 300 years.

Trees knocked over by Tunguska impact. Credit: Leonid Kulik

Unlike supervolcanoes, it is feasible to mount a defense against a possible asteroid or comet impact.  NASA now has Planetary Defense Coordination Office whose mission is to locate, track, and devise efforts to defend against collisions with Near Earth Objects (NEO).  NASA has discovered over 13,000 NEO’s and detects an additional 1,500 NEO’s per year.  The program’s budget is $50 million annually.  That is 25% the cost to make the most recent Star Wars movie.  NASA’s goal is to have a test mission to redirect an asteroid during the 2020’s.  While we can plan to defend against impact events, the stellar evolution of the Sun is much more problematic.

The Sun is an average sized main sequence star halfway through its expected lifespan of 10 billion years.  Main sequence stars like the Sun fuse hydrogen into helium in their cores.  Over the next billion years, the Sun will become hotter and more luminous.  As a star ages, the rate of fusion in its core rises.  Some 3.5 billion years from now, the Sun will emit enough energy to vaporize the oceans and propel Earth’s remaining water vapor into space.  And it doesn’t stop there.  About 5 billion years from now, the Sun’s core will run out of hydrogen and begin fusing helium into carbon.  The core will become hotter causing the Sun to expand into a red giant.  At this point, the Sun will consume the inner planets including Earth.  Here, humankind will need to develop interstellar travel or cease to exist.

Would interstellar travel guarantee our survival as a species?  Not quite.  The universe itself is evolving and has a life span.  Currently, the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.  If this trend were to continue, 22 billion years from now some models predict the Big Rip will occur.  In this state, all matter down to sub-atomic particles will have been shredded apart, making life in our universe impossible.  Unlike stellar evolution, the eventual outcome of the universe is not completely known.  While we can observe other sun-like stars to see how they live and die, we do not have the ability to observe other universes to do the same.  And in fact, we do not even know what 95% of our own universe is made of.  Nonetheless, physicists, such as Michio Kaku, have floated proposals for life to escape to a parallel universe when ours becomes uninhabitable.

So, how should we plan for the future of humanity and where do we place our priorities?  Lets take a look at a potential timeline of possible threats.

Climate change:               0-100 years

Nuclear proliferation:    0-100 years

Supervolcanoes:              0-30,000 years

Impact:                              0-tens of millions of years

Sun:                                    3.5 billion years

Universe:                          Tens of billions of years

The most imminent threats are human made, rather than natural.  It is technically feasible to defend against meteor/comet strikes while not the case with supervolcanoes.  More than likely, that leaves us with a few thousand years to figure out how to establish a permanent human presence on Mars.  Certainly, going to Mars is doable if the incentive is there to devote resources and funding.  It will not be possible to defend Earth against the Sun’s stellar evolution.  If interstellar travel is possible, and that’s a big if, we have on the order of a billion years to find a way to do that.  Like a lot of space enthusiasts, I’d like to see that happen in the 23rd century just as in Star Trek.  However, unlike exploring the Solar System, the distances involved with interstellar travel will require a far-reaching advancement of physics and engineering that is not guaranteed to happen.  So what do we do now?

Hollywood blockbusters notwithstanding, the major priority should be getting a handle on human induced dangers such as climate change and nuclear proliferation.  Concurrently, we can continue our efforts to begin human exploration of Mars.  All this can take place in the next century but it must be stressed a human settlement on Mars is not a substitute for cleaning up our act on our home planet.  During this time, we will begin to discover Earth-like planets, and possibly, life beyond our Solar System.

Efforts to begin interstellar exploration are in a very, very prototype stage.  Relativity places a limit on velocity at the speed of light.  Concepts to bypass this limit are speculative at best and are why, as mentioned earlier, will require a deeper understanding of physics to accomplish.  This advancement will have to be on the order of what Issac Newton achieved in the late 1600’s and modern (both Einstein and the quantum physicists) physics in the 20th century.  When and if this happens, we can plan for humanity’s migration to the stars to escape the Sun’s vaporization of Earth.  If we are fortunate enough to accomplish that, we can owe it to the same spirit that carried the Polynesians in their wooden canoes across the vast expanse of the Pacific.

*To be clear on this point, the Mars One initiative is not realistic in its timeline or funding.  However, other proposals, such as offered by Buzz Aldrin, may be more realistic.  

**Image on top of post is the famous Earthrise photograph from Apollo 8, the first space mission to carry humans to another celestial object.  Taken on Christmas Eve, 1968.  Credit:  NASA.

War of the Worlds, Buffalo Style

Above is the Halloween radio adaptation of the War of the Worlds by WKBW in Buffalo.  WKBW originally broadcasted War of the Worlds in 1968 and updated versions throughout the 1970’s.  For myself, it was a Halloween tradition to sit on the front steps, chow down some Halloween candy, and listen to the broadcast.  Although the program would start at 11 PM, I had no worries, as going to a Catholic school, the following morning was All Saints Day and that meant an off day.  It wasn’t only Western New Yorkers who listened to the dramatization of their city being destroyed by Martians, WKBW’s 50,000 watt transmitter would reach as far into the Carolinas once the Sun set.

The 1968 broadcast was an homage to Orson Wells legendary 1938 radio version.  The events were transplanted to the Buffalo region.  In 1968, KB DJ Danny Neaverth opens up the proceedings with a brief introduction.  If you lived in Buffalo during that era, Neaverth’s presence around town seemed ubiquitous.  I can remember watching Neaverth’s noon weather report on WKBW-TV, hearing him at an evening’s Braves game handling the PA duties (two for McAdoo!), then being woken up by Neaverth’s morning show at 6 AM so I could deliver the Courier-Express.

The 1971 version has an updated introduction by Jeff Kaye.  That intro describes various events caused by the 1968 program.  Much like the myth of the 1938 panic, there is some hyperbole involved.  The local newspapers did not report anything unusual the following day except for a few calls made into the station. After the intro,  the broadcast commences with the real newscast from that day.   The first sign of something different is when the news ends with a report from Mt. Palomar Observatory that nuclear sized explosions had been observed on Mars.

The real director of the Mt. Palomar Observatory at the time was Horace Babcock (the broadcast used the name Benjamin Spencer).  In 1953, Babcock first proposed the use of adaptive optics to reduce atmospheric interference for astronomical imaging.  This technique, which utilizes a laser created guide star and deformable mirrors in a telescope’s instrument package, is standard on all modern observatories.  From 1947-93, Mt. Palomar was the largest telescope in the world.

The 200-inch Hale Telescope at Mt. Palomar. Photo: Gregory Pijanowski.

Were the nuclear sized explosions on Mars a realistic plot point?  At first glance that might not seem to be the case.  However, keep in mind the Martians made it to Earth in a 24-48 hour period.  Standard chemical rockets take about 8-10 months to complete a voyage to Mars.  What could have propelled the Martians so fast to Earth?  One possibility is nuclear pulse propulsion.  The concept is targeted nuclear explosions are used to provide impulse to spacecraft.  From 1958-63, Project Orion worked on such a propulsion method.  Eventually, the project was shut down by the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which, obviously, would not apply to invading Martians.

To be fair, the folks at WKBW were concerned with providing programming that had a Halloween ambiance rather than scientific rigor.  And they accomplished this by letting the invasion gradually slide into the program.  It is 20 minutes in until the invasion occupies the show completely.  During that first 20 minutes, listeners are treated to a time capsule of 1968 radio.  The news of the day opens with the Vietnam War and ongoing peace talks (the 1971 version also would open with news from Vietnam, which gives you an idea how well those talks went), Governor Rockefellar breaking ground on the new UB Amherst campus, and various local police busts.  The video removed the music interludes for copyright purposes.  Ads include an 8-track stereo player for $49.95 ($345 today) and shoes for $13.00 ($90 today).  The broadcast takes a dramatic turn with the announcement of a meteor strike on Grand Island.

When that announcement was made, it could be heard throughout the East Coast.  WKBW transmitted with a 50,000 watt tower, the maximum allowed for AM stations.  At night, the range of AM stations expand greatly.  I can remember listening to Sabre-Bruins hockey games and switching back and forth between the Buffalo and Boston broadcasts.  Also, I have tuned into St. Louis’ KMOX in both Buffalo and Houston during the late 70’s when Bob Costas worked there.  While FM has advantages in sound quality over AM, it cannot match the range of AM radio.  And that is due to the nature of the Earth’s ionosphere.

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA

During the day, ultraviolet and x-ray radiation strike atoms in the upper atmosphere.  This energy ejects electrons, which carry a negative electric charge and forms the various ionosphere layers.  During the day, the lower D and E layers absorb AM radio waves.  Here, the atmosphere is still thick enough so electrons that absorb radio waves collide into air molecules dampening the radio signal.  At night, these lower layers dissipate as there is no sunlight to continue the ionization process.  This leaves radio waves free to reflect off the higher F ionosphere layer.  Here, the atmosphere is tenuous enough so collisions with air molecules are rare.  As a result, AM radio waves are reflected back to the ground enhancing the station’s range.  FM stations do not enjoy this effect as their transmissions are at shorter wavelengths, reducing the collision rate with free ions in the F layer.

For those who heard the original broadcast outside of the Buffalo area, and those listening to it now, here is a map to give you a framework of the events:

WOWmapNominally a sleepy rural area outside of Buffalo, Grand Island has had an interesting history.  Navy Island, adjacent to NW Grand Island, was once considered a potential site for the United Nations.   In 1825, a city on the island called Ararat was proposed as a site for Jewish refugees which never came to fruition.  The Niagara River current, as mentioned in the broadcast, is swift at 3 feet per second and would pull anyone trying to swim across away and over the Falls eventually.  That, of course, happens when the Grand Island bridges are blown in a vain attempt to trap the Martians on the island.

In the Middle
Grand Island Bridges. Credit: amandabanana87

The invading Martians make their way downtown to Niagara Square where Irv Weinstein is stationed atop City Hall.  Weinstein started on the radio side of WKBW in the late 50’s, moving over to television in the mid 60’s.  For the next next three decades, Weinstein was the most prominent news figure in the Buffalo area.  Weinstein did refrain from using his trademark “pistol packing punks” (heat ray packing punks?) in the War of the Worlds.  I do not know if there was actually a communications center on top of City Hall back then, but there is an observation platform.  You can see Niagara Falls from up there, and on the clearest of clear days, the CN Tower in Toronto.

On top of City Hall. Credit: Gregory Pijanowski

The dramatization concludes where it began, at the WKBW radio station which was at 1430 Main St. a block north of Utica St.  The voice of the last surviving news reporter belongs to Jeff Kaye.  You may find that voice familiar.  During the 1980’s, Jeff Kaye did an admirable job filling the large shoes of John Facenda at NFL Films.  Kaye also produced the War of the Worlds broadcast.  After the Martian’s poison gas takes out the last of the WKBW team, Dan Neaverth returns to  conclude the broadcast noting that H.G. Wells ended the War of the Worlds with the Martians dying off, unable to resist Earth’s microbes.  Wrote Wells:

“But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow.  Already when I watched them (the Martians) they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro.”

And more than likely, Wells was right about the lack of microbes on Mars, at least on the surface anyway.  Unlike Earth, Mars does not have an ozone layer to block out ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.  Also, Mars lacks a magnetic field.  The Earth’s magnetic field shields life from harmful cosmic rays  Unabated, this radiation is highly harmful to any life on the Martian surface, whether it be microbes or astronauts in the future.  However, the subsurface of Mars may be another story.

One of the key discoveries on Mars the past few decades has been the existence of water below the surface.  On the surface, the lack of atmospheric pressure reduces the boiling point of water so that if it does not freeze it will evaporate quickly.  However, the subsurface of Mars has been found to have significant amounts of water.  Planning for future human exploration of Mars entails utilizing this water for long duration stays on the red planet.  Moreover, where there is water, there may be life.  And this leads to the issue of planetary protection.

NASA has an Office of Planetary Protection.  The goal is to prevent Earth microbes from contaminating Mars and vise versa.  This will become a growing concern for the space program when attempts are made to land humans on Mars or if a Mars sample return mission is sent.  Drilling for water on Mars may expose an ancient subsurface biosphere, and certainly humans could carry Earth microbes to Mars.  While the risks involved are still a matter of scientific debate, Wells was very prescient to include this factor in the War of the Worlds.

Regardless of what we discover about Mars in the next few decades, there was a deeper lesson in the original novel that tends to get lost in modern versions.  The WKBW broadcast capped a night of Halloween themed programming and the primary goal was, as Orson Wells said to conclude his 1938 version, “Dressing up in a sheet, jumping out of a bush and saying, ‘Boo!”.  H.G Wells had intended War of the Worlds as a critique of colonialism.  Wells makes this clear on page three of the novel:

And before we judge of them (Martians) too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races.  The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years.  Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?”

At the close of WKBW’s The War of the Worlds, Dan Neaverth asks the audience to think about what they would have done if the invasion was real.  An equally important question to ask is what you would do if you were on the invading side.  Would you join the invasion as the social forces of war coalesced around you, or would you resist the tide, as Bertrand Russell did in World War I:

“I knew it was my business to protest, however futile that protest might be.  I felt that for the honour of human nature those who were not swept off their feet should show that they stood firm.”

Think about it.