ISS Research on Dark Energy to Wean U.S. from Foreign Oil?

Global Space Agenda: Sen. Hutchison on "Exploration and the Future of U.S. Leadership in Space.

"This event will feature Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for a discussion on "Exploration and the Future of U.S. Leadership in Space."

Editor's note: According to a source who was at today's event "Senator Hutchison said that the ISS should be used as a site for developing "dark energy" into a usable energy source for US security. She credited Sam Ting (MIT) with selling her on this. And I thought ISS was going to cure cancer and AIDS."

In: dark energy. Out: cosmic rays, Space Politics

Verbatim Transcript: "Dr. Ting believes, that if we could improve the understanding of that dark energy, that matter, that that would help us find a new source of power, perhaps, if we could harness that energy, maybe a new source of energy that we could use on Earth. That is one of the things that he wants to do if we could get the space station finished with the equipment that he needs. Well, at a time when we're desperate for new sources of energy, while China and India are exploding as industrialized nations and we see the price of energy going up all over the world, this is something that we should explore."

Editor's note: According to another person who was also present (and who works on the Hill): "Keith, Please feel free to use this entire response on your website. I know you weren't at the CSIS event today, but I was, and I KNOW what Senator Hutchison said, and whoever your source is for the comments about dark energy was apparently not listening very carefully. But, as you have chosen to repeat an inaccurate second-hand portrayal on your website, permit me to offer a first-hand report from someone who, as you might imagine, pays very close attention to what the Senator has to say.

Near the beginning of her remarks, Senator Hutchison was stressing the need to ensure that the space station is completed and is available for a broad range of research objectives, and not simply for those experiments needed by NASA to prepare themselves for missions called for in the Vision for Space Exploration. Something, by the way, I believe you would agree with. She mentioned, by way of an example of the kind of basic, fundamental research that is made possible by the space station, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer experiment, proposed by Dr. Sam Ting, of MIT. Like any research project worthy of the name, no one knows what will be discovered by the AMS experiment until it is deployed. It is designed to use the unique opportunity of being mounted aboard an orbiting outpost to try to capture and measure cosmic energy particles in their natural environment. It is possible that among findings of that experiment will be evidence of what is called dark matter, or dark energy. If so, it is also possible that such trace evidence or actual identification could lead to an eventual understanding of its nature and behavior. No one knows. But at least some scientists believe dark matter or dark energy to be the force that is pushing galaxies outward in an expanding universe. If so, it would be a potent force, I think you would have to agree.

When one initiates an experiment into the unknown, it is not "scientific" to do much more than to imagine what the possible results might be, at least until you actually put the experiment or device to work. That's what Senator Hutchison was doing when she said.

"Imagine the potential if an improved understanding of dark matter and dark energy helps us find ways to harness some of that power and turn it into a new source of energy for use on earth."

I don't hear in that remark any suggestion that the purpose of the space station is to develop a dark energy source...or even that such a potential actually exists. Do you? Not with words like "imagine the potential if...." as a lead-in. What I DO hear is someone who is excited about the prospects of research at the leading edge, and who is engaged in promoting and preserving the opportunity to do that on a research platform we have invested a great deal as a nation to develop. To repeat, we don't know the outcome of the AMS or any other basic research activity until it is undertaken. That's why it's called research. It's a process of looking at things in new ways to find new information; a search for new facts.

I frankly don't understand why or how anyone could find fault with an expression of a desire to try to understand a currently unknown or little-known phenomenon, or to speculate about any range of possibilities that might result from that investigation. But I am reminded of a great statement by Herbert Spencer that seems fitting to recall:

"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt prior to investigation."

Let's keep an open mind on the possibilities of science. It's what will inspire the next generation of scientists...and we need them badly.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on May 23, 2006 5:44 PM.

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