Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Showing posts with label Mars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mars. Show all posts

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Martian Moment in 2018

Image Source: Strange Sounds.

It may sound odd, but the event that stands out in my mind as encapsulating the year of 2018 was astronomical. Mars was brightest in the night sky from 27-30 July 2018; it reached opposition with the sun, and then shortly afterwards came closest to Earth on 31 July 2018. Mars had not been so close to the Earth since 2003.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Space and Struggle to Become Responsible

Vice President Pence Unveils U.S. Space Force Plans (C-SPAN) (9 August 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

The news is full of space headlines. On 9 August, the American Vice President Mike Pence announced that the United States will build a sixth branch of its armed forces, a "space force" to "prepare for the next battlefield." The full statement is here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

NASA's Plan to Colonize Mars

Developing adequate supporting technology is a pre-existing requirement in NASA's plan to colonize Mars. Image Source: NASA via Daily Mail.

Interplanetary communications systems are being developed in plans to colonize Mars. I first covered Google's InterPlanetary Internet Protocols in 2011, here. Delay-tolerant network protocols must cope with huge distances between our planet and a future Martian settlement. On 9 October 2015, NASA released its plan for a manned journey to Mars, including a stated need for IPFS development:
"Currently, Mars robotic rovers have data rates around two million bits per second, using a relay, such as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The ISS data rate is 300 million bits per second, two orders of magnitude faster. Future human Mars missions may need up to a billion bits per second at 1,000 times greater range than ISS, requiring laser communications to reduce weight and power. In addition, disruption and error-tolerant interplanetary networking and improved navigation capabilities are required to ensure accurate trajectories and precision landing."
This networking requirement for space exploration will potentially establish a permanent Internet, which I have discussed - coming from other sectors - here. On 18 March 2016, The Daily Mail reported that NASA plans to develop nuclear-powered rockets to travel to Mars, following a similar statement from the Russians in January 2016. With a nuclear rocket, spacecraft could reach the Red Planet in six weeks. The only problem is finding the money.

Planet Mars, As Seen by the 100 Inch Telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory: "Before we sent any spacecraft to Mars, these were the best images we had of the Red Planet." Image Source: The Carnegie Institution for Science via Tech Insider.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

SpaceX: Of Course I Still Love You

Falcon 9 launches with the Thai THAICOM 8 satellite (27 May 2016).

The pride of Elon Musk's private SpaceX spacecraft stable is the Falcon 9. The Falcon 9, first launched on 4 June 2010, is a reusable heavy launch lift vehicle, so named because it is powered by nine SpaceX Merlin 1C rocket engines. It has a little free-flying spacecraft crew capsule, the Dragon, attached at the top.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Canals of Earth

A great cover for Martian Comics #5 (2016) with art by David A. Frizell is a homage to the classic film, A Voyage to the Moon (1902). Image Source: Martian Lit.

See images today from a Kickstarter campaign for a comic book about Martians' view of Earth, The Canals of Earth!
"Humans have long looked to the sky and wondered about Mars. What if someone was looking back? The Canals of Earth is the story of how Mars sees Earth, running from Martian prehistory to its space age. We begin in Martian prehistory, when Martians looked to the skies and imagined Earth as a goddess. We see some of the Martian mythology about Earth, tied to the invention of writing. We then see Martian science-fiction, in which they imagined aliens in their own image."
This comic, fifth in the series Martian Comics (2014-present; details here) is written by Julian Darius, with art by Mansjur Daman and colours by Diego Rodriguez. Darius has a doctorate in English Literature and founded the Sequart Organization, which promotes sequential artwork in graphic novels and comic books as a legitimate art form. You can still support the Canals of Earth project here until 27 April 2016.

While the imagery of the comic's cover is taken from the turn-of-the-century French film, A Voyage to the Moon (see it below), the book's title is taken from late 19th century studies that there were canals on Mars, based on observations of the Red Planet by astronomers Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910), Percival Lowell (1855-1916), and Charles E. Burton (1846-1882).

First page (click to enlarge). Image Source: Martian Lit.

Martian Comics #5. Image Source: Kickstarter.

Kickstarter promo video, Martian Comics #5, The Canals of Earth!

The iconic image of the Man in the Moon from Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902). Image Source: Wiki.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Triumphs and the Frauds

Orson Welles (1915-1985). Image Source: Indiewire.

Years ago, I concluded that changing one's name artificially is a hex sign. Someone has built a fake reality for themselves around a fake identity, an alter ego. Of course, that depends on the circumstances; and now, alter egos and icon names are everywhere on the Internet. The original question concerned what is fake and what is real when it comes to building reputation through a public persona. In those pre-Internet days, a fake name propelled a figure forward to become more real and credible than the original person, for all the wrong reasons.

In 1974, Orson Welles made a documentary - his last completed major work - about disinformation and the agency it gives to fake people. His film, F for Fake, concerns a notorious Hungarian art forger, Elmyr de Hory (1906-1976), who sold hundreds of fake copies of paintings by master artists, authenticated by art experts, to top galleries and museums. The film also focuses on the forger's biographer, Clifford Irving. Irving made his name by writing a fake biography of Howard Hughes, which was completely fabricated and for which Irving spent nearly two years in prison.

Peter Bogdanovich describes F for Fake. Video Source: Youtube.

Welles encountered these characters in Ibiza, Spain. As he tried to get to the bottom of this story, the director confirmed how impossible it was to unravel liars' lies. Over time, their fabrications gained credibility and authority, based on reputations, cultivated layer by layer, over decades in exclusive social settings. In another short from the same period, set inside a fake private gentlemen's club in London, he poked fun at class and wealth as sources of enduring historical and social authority. He thought it comical that those who acquire higher levels of class and wealth gain historical weight, no matter what their true value. And in F for Fake, he found that when liars move in these temporally-weighted circles, first to lie, then to 'come clean' and tell the 'truth' (even if they never really do), they gain even more false authenticity.

De Hory's art forgeries reflected that, because art masterpieces are part of wealthy settings. Great art is considered to be durable, a lasting testament; it has more temporal weight than wealth. Artworks are luxury items which allow collectors to augment their wealth and class status, to build identity through assertions of taste. With art ownership, collectors associate the constructed longevity of their identities with the longevity of the artwork. Today's art world has responded to this market by seeking new 'great master' prodigies, who must produce more 'great works' for a nouveau 'ageless canon.' New billionaires buy new 'masterwork' art pieces, and the billionaires and the art artificially inflate each other's perceived lasting value. In Welles's terms, they are all fakes. One painter in his film shrugged: "The fakes are as good as the real ones, and there is a market and there's a demand [for them]." Welles set out to resolve how money, fame, power and time were wrongly connected in people's minds.

F for Fake provoked introspection, since Welles was reminded of his own fake 1938 War of the Worlds radio drama performance about a Martian invasion, which people believed was real. F for Fake was further reminiscent of the film which made Welles's name at age 26, Citizen Kane, a fictional history of the character Charles Foster Kane, newspaper-magnate-turned-presidential-candidate. Kane was modeled on the real media tycoon, William Randolph Hearst. The last section of F for Fake includes some autobiographical asides, after which Welles deliberately transformed the documentary into a faux-documentary, starring his girlfriend at the time, Oja Kodar. He confessed in the last few minutes of the film that he had created a 'film forgery.' "Art," he said, "is a lie that makes us realize the truth." You can watch F for Fake here, while the link lasts.

To quote a reviewer: "So if you're keeping track, F for Fake is a fake documentary, about a fake artist, being described by a fake writer, and framed by a self-described fake super genius person." It is a difficult, scattered film, now dated, and was poorly received by critics. Others defend it, especially because the film hinged on a single scene of crystal clear truth. American media psychologist James Herndon deemed one clip (below) from F for Fake to be "the profoundest moment in all of cinema." In it, Welles suggested that every expression of genius, identity, or creativity is limited and fleeting. The director approached Chartres cathedral in France as the silent testimony of anonymous artists, whose greatness will transcend the mortal condition only for a few centuries or millennia. Any attempt at creativity, no matter how beautiful, masterful, or fraudulent, constitutes a futile effort to overcome death.

Top, from Citizen Kane, fictional Kane, running for president. The real man on whom Kane was based never ran for president, but was elected to the House of Representatives and made unsuccessful bids to become Mayor of New York City (1905 and 1909), Governor of New York (1906), and Lieutenant Governor of New York (1910). Hearst had to settle for manipulating politics through his newspapers. Images Source: Everything You Hate.

Welles as Kane in Xanadu, the fictional depiction of Hearst's San Simeon castle. Image Source: The Latest.

The real Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, USA, built 1919 to 1947, is a monument to a megalomaniac ego seeking permanence; it is stocked with exotic animals, priceless art objects, and imported historical buildings. It is a national and California historical landmark. Image Source: Wiki.

The Gothic study and library in Hearst Castle. Image Source: Inside Inside.

The outdoor swimming pool at Hearst Castle features an actual ancient Roman temple which Hearst bought in Europe and imported to California. Image Source: Wiki.

As a comment on the futile quest for immortality, F for Fake was anti-master, anti-author, anti-expert, anti-wealth, anti-fabrication, but pro-authenticity. This film, Welles's last, is filled with the wreckage of Citizen Kane, with Chartres standing in as the universal artist's palace, confronting the billionaire's estate Xanadu, based on the real Hearst estate San Simeon. This time, Welles played Charles Foster Kane again, only 'for real.' Now, Welles was the supposedly rich man, riding on his reputation, clinging to his baubles and pretty young girls, knowing it was all bullshit; he distrusted hangers-on and friends who had also arrived at the top by dubious means. In his heart, he was haunted by the possibility that not a single thing he had done was worth anything. He wondered if his own work, already a rip-off, would be ripped off; maybe people would only know and recognize derivative Wellesian products, made by other people. With nothing left but his battered art, Welles sought sanctuary in the palace of Chartres. Where Chartres was a house of triumph, San Simeon was a monument to fraud.

Chartres clip from F for Fake (1974). Video Source: Youtube.

Welles was sure of one thing. When it comes to lasting greatness, the ego must die and all its pathetic trappings must go. The ego, aware that it will die and that wealth, fame, and reasonable accomplishments are insufficient builders of immortality, makes one last ditch, explosive effort to leave its permanent mark. Welles wanted to find something irreducible and moral beneath that. Surrounded by frauds and liars, the only integrity he could imagine was a confessional, of stating the truth that he was a fraud too. But coming clean with the truth was also an act of trickery, and so Welles was left with another layer of subterfuge. He concluded that, of all the areas in life in which one built credibility and reputation, only a creative endeavour - no matter how embattled - might come close to liberating humans from this disastrous loop of projected myth, believable lies, and hierarchies of liars.

Although art immersed the artist in falsehoods with its fake depictions of reality, when artists produced something like Chartres cathedral, the result was a fleeting reflection of eternity. This became true only when the art object was stripped of any pretension toward ego, reputation, projected value, collectable wealth, authority, control, or greatness. And for those who tried to buy, or falsely create, fake ageless identities associated with that final truth, F for Fake asserted that no matter how wealthy you are, you cannot buy time, and you cannot buy your place in history.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Awaken the Amnesiacs 2: The Gnostics

The gnostic twin flame subculture (September 2015). Image Source: The Spirit Science.

In any society, there is no more powerful source of values than the relationship between the sexes. It precedes all other assumptions, so central is it to existence. In a previous post in this series, I observed a trend in the second half of 2015, in which online New Age communities declared an end to the war between the sexes. That redefinition has entered the western media through debates on gender dualism, gender neutrality, gender fluidity and transgenderism. As the trend reaches the mainstream, it marks a huge shift in western values.

The origins of this trend are at least as old as Christianity, if not older, and developed alongside it. For centuries, westerners have been toying with the feminine-oriented Christian heresy of gnosticism, which drew from neo-Platonism - and the masculine-dominated cult of hermeticism, derived from eastern mystery religions. The Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana must have whole collections devoted to these heresies' periodic resurgences, although they will not always confirm that. In the 2010s, Christian and post-Christian westerners began to combine these heresies. That is not difficult, since both belief systems involve a spiritual journey which culminates in a final merger of the sexes. Cross-pollination within western esotericism is not novel, and merely constitutes a third, enduring strand in the western tradition, opposite Judeo-Christian religion and Enlightenment rationalism.

What is new is how the dynamics of global connectivity create fertile beds for heretical cult behaviour around gender neutrality, expressed through technology and inside technological spaces. I will not summarize gnostic ideas here, because I have in other posts, particularly this one. Upcoming posts in this series address the hermetic 'practical' application of the gnostic vision and explain the possible real world impacts of this shift in values. But I will start here, inside the blind spot of 2015's technological gnostic worship. A caveat: This post reports on these trends as historical cultural phenomena and not as an indication of my personal opinions on these matters, which are private.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Dunes of Mars

Image Source: NASA via The Planetary Society.

NASA's Curiosity rover is now crossing the Bagnold Dunes on the northwestern edge of Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons), an 18,000 foot high mountain (a bit smaller than Mount Kilimanjaro, about the same size as Mount McKinley). Wiki on Curiosity's current status:
As of November 30, 2015, Curiosity has been on the planet Mars for 1179 sols (1211 days) since landing on August 6, 2012.
The mountain sits at the centre of the planet's Gale Crater and is named for geomorphologist Robert P. Sharp (1911-2004), an expert on the geological surfaces of Earth and Mars. Mount Sharp "is the 15000th named feature" in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, a list of all topographical features named in the solar system with the approval of the International Astronomical Union. Yes, the mountain's dune belt made me think of this opening film sequence.

NASA/JPL: "The dark band in the lower portion of this Martian scene is part of the 'Bagnold Dunes' dune field lining the northwestern edge of Mount Sharp, inside Gale Crater. The view combines multiple images taken with the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on Sept. 25, 2015, during the 1,115th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars. ... The view is toward south-southeast. Curiosity will visit examples of the Bagnold Dunes on the rover's route to higher layers of Mount Sharp. The informal name for the dune field is a tribute to British military engineer Ralph Bagnold (1896-1990), a pioneer in the study of how winds move sand particles of dunes on Earth." Images Source: NASA/JPL.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Planet Walkers

Press imagery for the BBC series, Voyage to the Planets (2004). Image Source: BBC.

For today, here are two fictional Youtube videos on what it would be like for astronauts to walk on the surfaces of Venus and Pluto. The clips are modified, taken from the 2004 BBC TV series, Space Odyssey: Voyage To The Planets. This award-winning, fake-umentary series speculated on what a manned exploration of the solar system would be like:
Five astronauts pilot the nuclear thermal rocket powered Pegasus spacecraft on a tour of the solar system. Their mission is a collaboration of the NASA, CSA, ESA and РКА space agencies and takes the crew to Venus, Mars, a close flyby of the Sun, Jupiter’s moon[s] Io and Europa, Saturn, Pluto, and the fictional Comet Yano-Moore. Most of the planetary destinations the crew reaches are followed by a manned landing there. Prior to the mission large tanks of hydrogen were deposited in stable orbits around the planets to allow the crew to refuel to have sufficient delta-v for the multi-year mission.

The crew encounter many hardships and disappointments along the way. A Venus EVA that almost ends in disaster when the lander Orpheus encounters launch delays, the near-loss of the shield during the aerobrake in Jupiter's upper atmosphere and the loss of samples from Jupiter's moon Io all test the crew's resolve. The most devastating blow comes when the ship's medical officer dies of solar radiation-induced lymphoma in Saturn orbit, forcing the crew to decide whether to continue the mission to Pluto, or abort and return to Earth. In the original British release, the crew decides to press on to Pluto, making history. The American version, broadcast on The Science Channel, was trimmed for length, the crew deciding to turn back at this stage rather than continue. The programme is narrated by David Suchet.
I don't know how long the links will last, but the series is up in parts on Youtube and another link is on Vimeo:

Voyage to the Planets still (2004). Image Source: BBC via The Space Review.

Voyage to the Planets (2004) concept art by Daren Horley. Image Source: The Rogue Verbumancer.

The Youtuber who posted the Venusian clip argues:
Theoretically , we can build VENUS SPACE SUIT. "Chief Navy Diver Daniel Jackson (US Navy) holds the depth record using an ADS. On August 1, 2006 he was submerged at 2,000 feet (610 m) deep off the coast of La Jolla, California." Venusian pressure is an equivalent to a 1-km-deep water ocean. Pressure isn't even the biggest problem , the biggest problem is temperature and acid in atmosphere. But if we landed on the highest mountain Maxwell Montes, conditions would be much more better: pressure - equivalent to a approx. 325 m(!) in ocean , temp. 650 F (+343 C). We can create suits made of titanium [melting point is more than 1,650 °C or 3,000 °F] and use basalt-based fiber technology with a thermal range of -260 C to +982 C (1800 F) and melt point of 1450 C . The biggest problem is to create corrosion resistant coating and effective cooling system. 

Atmospheric diving suit (2006), a potential precursor for a Venusian spacesuit.
Image Source: U.S. Navy photo / Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Chelsea Kennedy via Wiki.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Space Farming: Little Green Tendrils of Chaos

You can take it with you: Nigella damascena, a type of buttercup, germinated in a lab on the International Space Station. Image Source: Wiki.

When we depart for the Final Frontier, we will have to become very good at farming in zero gravity and on other worlds. Anyone who has tried the most basic seed planting and coaxed a plant to maturity under ideal earthly conditions may start to appreciate what a daunting task that is. Even in today's era of Frankenfoods, plants don't care what humans think they should be or do. If you try to force plants or their environment to run counter to the laws they expect to follow, they simply die. If scientists are able to force plants in the short term via genetic modification to satisfy artificial human fads and demands, there will always be a correction in the environment, somewhere, that will decimate the plan. Period. For thousands of years, people have tried to play god with plants. Even when they achieve some success, that never become god. Biology will never be fully instrumentalized by humans, and it's a good thing too. It is that scary unknown factor in agriculture which brings a host of problems to space colonization.

On 12 March 2015, NASA confirmed via Hubble's observations that Jupiter's moon Ganymede has a huge water ocean under an ice crust, which could mean that it harbours life. Image Souce: Sci Tech Daily.

Experts claim that the only way for humanity to survive over the long term is that we clear that hurdle in the future. According to Stephen Hawking, whatever problems we may have down here on earth, a bigger one trumps them all. Our future lies in the stars, he argues, and humanity must eventually abandon this planet or face extinction. Does God play dice he asks, paraphrasing Einstein? Yes, He does, Hawking argues, asserting that there is an underlying range of chaotic variability, an unpredictability, to everything. Hawking contradicts Einstein's insistence that there had to be an underlying order in everything which we could not yet grasp. Despite Hawking's faith that the future cannot be predicted, he is certain humankind must go through a cataclysmic bottleneck, a test of survival, a possible extinction event. Over the next thousand years, space exploration must be our inevitable future. There is no wiggle room on this, he concludes, due to global warming, nuclear annihilation, or a genetically-engineered virus.

Cultural expectations of transcendent Singularity (which include a faith in space colonization) continue the very mechanistic mentality, a 19th century positivism, which quantum physicists criticize. Humans-as-machines is a very popular idea now, and culturally speaking, it is big, but not that deep. Humans are now addicted to, and obsessed by, their species' new computing power. Pause to observe the stunning fact that 40 per cent of the world's population got a new heroin habit over the past 20 years that was socially acceptable, economically profitable (if also economically tumultuous), politically unstable, and governmentally dubious. Then imagine that the most hard core tech addicts insist that we must lose ourselves in the addiction, becoming more and more like the technological objects of our adoration.

In fact, successful space exploration might be achieved only by an antithetical stance, a renewal of the organic, in a move that counters the seductive, semi-sexual love affair with computer gadgetry. In this post, I noted how popular ideas in the 1920s and 1930s shaped scientists' early conceptions of dark matter. In cultural terms, today's Singularity and quantum aficionados are 1920s' and 1930s' revivalists.

That is the kind of point that confirms that culture and science are not contending opposites; instead, they make an unexpected pair of yoked oxen. How scientists interpret and conceptualize their findings is heavily influenced by their cultural values, about which they are rarely objective or intensively schooled. This is why science fiction author Charlie Stross argued that space colonization is not a story about extending technology, despite all the technical trappings of the exercise. It is a story, as Frank Herbert knew well, about our relationship with the environment. And that relationship, given our psychology, almost always is expressed mystically and philosophically through the expansion and transformation of religion; Stross pondered some of this:
I'm going to take it as read that the idea of space colonization isn't unfamiliar; domed cities on Mars, orbiting cylindrical space habitats a la J. D. Bernal or Gerard K. O'Neill, that sort of thing. Generation ships that take hundreds of years to ferry colonists out to other star systems where — as we are now discovering — there are profusions of planets to explore. And I don't want to spend much time talking about the unspoken ideological underpinnings of the urge to space colonization, other than to point out that they're there, that the case for space colonization isn't usually presented as an economic enterprise so much as a quasi-religious one. "We can't afford to keep all our eggs in one basket" isn't so much a justification as an appeal to sentimentality.
A response to that post, quoted at the Daily Galaxy, dismissed these culturally-derived warnings because transhumanists believe we will meld with machines and morph into something non-human, or superhuman, or post-human:
[Stross doesn't take] into account the possibility of post-Singularity, Drexlerian, Kardashev Type II civilizations. Essentially, we're talking about post-scarcity civilizations with access to molecular assembling nanotechnology, radically advanced materials, artificial superintelligence, and access to most of the energy available in the solar system. "Stross also too easily dismisses how machine intelligences, uploaded entities and AGI will impact on how space could be colonized. He speculates about biological humans being sent from solar system to solar system, and complains of the psychological and social hardships that could be inflicted on an individual or crew. He even speculates about the presence of extraterrestrial pathogens that undoubtedly awaits our daring explorers. This is a highly unlikely scenario. Biological humans will have no role to play in space. Instead, this work will be done by robots and quite possibly cyborgs.
That is such a 2000s' thing to say. Super-this, nano-that.  In 2005, Ray Kurzweil maintained in The Singularity is Near that we could interface with our technology, the way computers interface with each other, and in so doing we could transcend our biology. It was a fashionable, and now dated, thing to assume. The post-Singularity hypothesis tells you more about 2005 than it does about 2500.

Part of that hypothesis suggests that our addiction to computers is reaching blind adoration, and extends to the assumption that they are, or will be, smarter than we are. We love them so, such that we will either join with them (a typical, unreflective psycho-sexual assumption), and/or they will out-survive us. This is exactly the kind of thing an addict would say about his or her drug: it's stronger than I am; it's destroying me in the long term; but I love it anyway in the short term because it enhances my capabilities. The Daily Galaxy:
In a futuristic mode similar to Hawking, both Steven Dick, chief NASA historian and Carnegie-Mellon robotics pundit, Hans Moravec, believe that human biological evolution is but a passing phase: the future of mankind will be as vastly evolved sentient machines capable of self-replicating and exploring the farthest reaches of the Universe programmed with instructions on how to recreate earth life and humans to target stars. Dick believes that if there is a flaw in the logic of the Fermi Paradox, and extraterrestrials are a natural outcome of cosmic evolution, then cultural evolution may have resulted in a post-biological universe in which machines are the predominant intelligence.
There is so much blind confidence in the secular window dressing around science and technology, that there is no warning that Millennial technological prophets employ the language of cult leaders. They speak the high-priestly language of a sacred mentality with religious fervour, and remain unaware of what they are actually doing, because they are scientists. They predict the future, while in the same breath admit that science tells them that the future cannot be predicted.

Eco horror from John Wyndham: alien trees might be triffid-like on planets in binary, two-sun systems. Image Source: Passenger Films.

Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #1.

Image Source.
Will the techno-rapture break down over space farming, when the plants remind us about our bottom line dependence on the environment? That is the final cultural pre-condition. We breathe air. We drink water. And despite our love affair with our shiny tools, we need the other earthly organisms which have evolved alongside us. What will the galaxy gurus do when the plants refuse to grow, or start to die, or grow tendrils 12 feet long so that they can snag and eat the colonists?

What if, in the wilds of space, space colonies and spaceships, plants can survive better than we can, arise to occupy a superior evolutionary niche to do so, and eventually overthrow and destroy us? They are only tamed here on earth because terran conditions allow us to be dominant. Space colony die-hards forget that humans evolved to a dominant position out of, and within, this earthly ecosystem, and no other. Once humankind leaves this planet with other terran species, to interact in long-haul spacecraft and space colony ecosystems, there are no guarantees that humans will dominate those systems. Even with humans supported by the technology they developed, plants may not remain their silent slaves. And this is before animal husbandry comes into the mix.

In a related vein, Mars One - the plan to send colonists on a one way trip to Mars by 2027, aka the final apex of reality television - came under harsh criticism this week. Their candidate selection practices and media entertainment fund-raising took a bashing. Critics dismiss Mars One as a pyramid scheme, even though that is only symptomatic of a more pressing problem. The reason private companies are taking over space exploration is because of politics. For years in the United States, a bizarre scenario has unfolded in which global warming has been pitted politically against space explorationObama's government slashed NASA's budget and money for other Big Science projects, which meant that other countries are now challenging or outcompeting America in these fields. Under these conditions, private companies will merge commercial capitalism with space aspirations and exploration technology. This week, Mars One's technological feasibility critics came through the loudest because a 2014 MIT study declared that Mars One's colonists' first wheat crop would blow their life support systems.

An independent MIT study from October 2014 concluded that the maturation of Mars One colonists' wheat crops would blow their life support systems by creating an overabundance of oxygen. Image Source: Extreme Tech.

Agriculture adds an element of the universe's chaos into any plan for survival in space and space colonies. This is the chaos whose metrics physicists like Hawking constantly seek and which eludes them. This is the chaos which makes them admit that they cannot predict the future, right at the moment when technology dangles a future in front of them that they want to believe (rather than prove). This agricultural element of the unseen, of perceptual error, of the unknowable, confirms that space farming would constantly remind us of our essential humanity, right when space exploration threatened to dehumanize its technologists and engineers. It is organic chaos, culminating in our unpredictable relationship with the unwieldy environment and other organisms which may have the last laugh, which reminds us how fragile we are and that we must colonize the stars with humility. Luke, the hero of the original Star Wars trilogy, was raised as a farmer. It's no wonder why George Lucas did that. This is why, this week, the Mars One project came under fire around the question at the heart of all human civilizations: not media, not money, but agriculture.

An earlier post on HOTTC discussed the film, Silent Running (1972), in which the 1970s' back-to-the-land movement met the 1970s' space opera. You can hear Joan Baez's performance for the film's folksy soundtrack below the jump. Will the calls for space colonization overlap with the Millennial back-to-the land movement? So far, they haven't. Below the jump, see a selection of plants which have been planted on the International Space Station, and which plants are planned for future greenhouses on the moon and Mars. Several foods have been tested on the ISS, including the first bagels in space.

"Plant growth chambers, seeds and watering devices that made up part of an experiment flown to the space station during the STS-118 space shuttle mission [in 2007]. The seeds were later returned to Earth and grown within lunar growth chambers designed by students." Image Source: NASA via Phys.org.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mars Colonizers and the Secrets of the Universe

Image Source: BBC.

Space exploration will tell us the secrets of the universe. This is because space exploration is a synthetic act. It demands a united vision from, and intense cooperation among, diverse experts. It will require a Millennial convergence of many fields of research and knowledge, which have been divided and sequestered through overspecialization over the past two hundred years. No matter the focus - from cryptocurrencies to the relationship between anti-ageing and cancer - every area of human endeavour and study seems set for epiphany. We are coming from many different paths to a higher consensus of understanding which we cannot yet see.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Blue Sunsets in Crimson Skies

A blue Martian sunset in a red sky, photographed by Mars Pathfinder (August 1997). Image Source: NASA via Wiki.

Are you sick of the world's turmoil? Take a fresh perspective and go off world. What does the night sky look from the surface of Mars? Are the constellations different? Does astrology change? Below, see more Martian sunsets and the view of one of the Martian moons, Phobos, from the surface of the Red Planet. The sky on Mars, like the soil or regolith, is orange. At sunset, the sky turns crimson. Sunrises and sunsets are blue. Wiki:
Around sunset and sunrise the Martian sky is pinkish-red in color, but in the vicinity of the setting sun or rising sun it is blue. This is the exact opposite of the situation on Earth. However, during the day the sky is a yellow-brown "butterscotch" color. On Mars, Rayleigh scattering is usually a very small effect. It is believed that the color of the sky is caused by the presence of 1% by volume of magnetite in the dust particles. Twilight lasts a long time after the Sun has set and before it rises, because of all the dust in Mars's atmosphere. At times, the Martian sky takes on a violet color, due to scattering of light by very small water ice particles in clouds.
On Mars, the Earth appears as the 'morning star' and 'evening star,' just the way Venus appears to us before sunrise and sunset. Our planet is the second-brightest object in the Martian night sky. From Mars, you can also see the Terran moon:
An observer on Mars would be able to see the Moon orbiting around the Earth, and this would easily be visible to the naked eye. By contrast, observers on Earth cannot see any other planet's satellites with the naked eye.
The Martian sky at noon is yellow-brown, imaged by Mars Pathfinder (June 1999). Image Source: NASA via Wiki.

Martian sunset at Gusev Crater, photographed by Spirit rover (May 2005). Image Source: NASA via Wiki.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Interview: Heidi Hecht, Mars One Candidate

Panorama under a pink sky at the NASA Mars Pathfinder landing site, 12 October 1998. Image Source: Dr. Timothy Parker / JPL / NASA.

At some point between the moon landing and Survivor, space colonization became a media event about amateur astronauts. In the rush to have humans land on Mars, the first trip will likely be one way only (see here and here) - and fully televised.

A manned Mars mission is vastly expensive and technologically demanding. The list of manned missions which never materialized is long. Telepresence proposals involved astronauts reaching Mars and studying the planet only from orbit.  NASA has a manned Mars mission scheduled for around 2030. But Mars One, a Dutch non-profit co-founded by Gen Xers Bas Lansdorp and Arno Wielders, aims to beat them to the punch, sending its first four-person team by 2025, with five more four-colonist teams to follow by 2035.

Terraforming Mars is expected to take one thousand years. Image Source: ScienceBlogs.

Mars One sent out a global recruitment call from 22 April 2013 until 31 August 2013. Out of 200,000 applicants, 705 candidates remain in the Mars One selection pool. Final selection is expected by July 2015. By now, older applicants have already withdrawn. Most applicants are members of Generation Y: they are largely under the age of 36 and well educated. Of the 705 pre-interview candidates, 313 are from the Americas; 187 are from Europe; 136 hail from Asia; 41 come from Africa; and 28 are from Oceania.

Mars One organizers plan to fund the project by covering the candidates' Round 3 selection, training, preparation and departure in the biggest reality TV and Internet spectacle in the history of modern media. The show will have to raise USD $6 billion. Mars One takes its media model from the Olympics, which raised USD $8 billion between 2009 and 2011. Lionsgate was initially slated to produce the show. Those production rights have now passed to Darlow Smithson Productions, whose strengths lie in "factual storytelling to an international audience." Darlow Smithson is owned by the unfortunately homophonously-named company, Endemol (end 'em all). Wiki: "Endemol created and runs reality and talent game show franchises worldwide, including Big Brother, Deal or No Deal, Wipeout, The Money Drop, and Your Face Sounds Familiar."

Today, Histories of Things to Come is pleased to interview Mars One candidate, Heidi Hecht, about her application to travel to Mars. Heidi told me:
"My main attraction to Mars One is that it’s giving ordinary people a chance to prove they have what it takes to handle space work and especially the colonization of other worlds. If it works out, it’ll show that space travel doesn’t have to be just for rich people paying for rides or an elite few who do it professionally. Sure, it’s hazardous, but have you ever tried to cross the street in New York City? It’s about being willing to choose what I’m risking my life for."
Heidi studied computer networking and she is also a blogger. Her blog, Nothing in Particular, covers her Mars One experience here. She has a great post on time-keeping on Mars, which mentions the Mars watch crafted by master watchmaker, Garo Anserlian; she also discusses the Martian year, marked by the signs of the Zodiac, which was the basis of the Martian Darian calendar.

Mars One habitat. Image Source: NBC.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Plutonium at the Bay of Rainbows

The Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridum). Image Source: NASA via Space.com.

Next month, China will launch an unmanned lander mission to the moon, which, if successful, will be the first non-crash landing on the moon since Apollo 17's 1972-1973 manned mission and Russia's unmanned Luna missions from the mid-1970s. Although the International Space Station has contributed invaluably to our knowledge of how to live in outer space, there is a sense now (not least with mythical movies like Apollo 18 - see my posts on that film, here and here) America got sidetracked when she abandoned the moon. Of course that myopic view also excludes NASA's great accomplishments in the exploration of Mars over the past twenty years.
Apollo 17 mission insignia. Image Source: Wiki.

Nevertheless, it was an American flag that was first planted on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Apollo 17 was also the most recent, and sixth, manned mission to the moon. For all Russia's contributions, humans had walked on the moon, and the moon was American! For over a generation, that claim has rested on laurels which lay neglected and undisturbed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Of Moons and Hobbits

Still from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Image Source: Collider.

It may surprise some that space colonization is already in the planning stages. Earlier today, India launched its Mars orbiter, Mangalyaan ('Mars craft'), due to arrive at the Red Planet next year, as part of the new Asian space race. See coverage at Spaceports here.There is great interest in the vast resources of space (see my earlier posts here and here), especially Saturn's moon Titan (see bitcoin chatter here). Long before we possess the ability to reach and inhabit interplanetary destinations, the spacefaring countries of the world are mapping and naming them (the relevant UN document regarding space exploration and colonization, the Moon Treaty, is here). See comments on interplanetary territorial claims here and here.

Map of Titan (click to enlarge). Image Source: Europlanet.

According to Wiki, the "International Astronomical Union names all colles (small hills) on ... Titan after characters in J.R.R. Tolkien's work. In 2012, they named a hilly area 'Bilbo Colles' after Bilbo Baggins." You can see the Astronomical Union record for the hill here and current maps of the moon, here, here and here. Rarely have the frontiers of the old legends, modern imagination, and the future so clearly overlapped.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

One Way Ticket to Mars

The Mars One white coffee mug. Image Source: Mars One.

A One Way Ticket to Mars. Would You Like to Know More? The Mars One competition, in which the whole world was invited to apply for a one way ticket to Mars, ended on 31 August 2013 (see my earlier post here). Now the organizers are sifting through the applicants, whom you can see here. If all goes as planned, the winners will be sent off to the Red Planet in 2023. The project is crowd-funded. You are asked by the organizers to buy a coffee mug or other souvenirs to support the colonization effort.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Interplanetary and Interstellar Cultural Modeling

Painting the Future © by keppu. Image Source: deviantART via The Mars Society.

The Mars Society, which is dedicated to human colonization of the Red Planet, held its 16th annual symposium from 15-18 August 2013. NASA public outreach spokesperson Kent Nebergall discussed cultural models which he believes will be required for Mars colonization and interstellar space exploration. Nebergall imagines limited resources, a subsistence life combined with medieval guilds, and a strong focus on the humanities and arts so that space colonists will be able to absorb and survive extreme cultural shocks: "We have to unthink the whole globalism that we have been indoctrinated with ... since 1945 and start thinking about it in different terms that are a bit more ... hunter gatherer and less industrial. ... We've learned how to do technology, but we haven't learned how to think. And we haven't learned how to create ... [which is why] a lot of things have become more derivative of previous things." You can see his talk, Interplanetary and Interstellar Cultural Modeling on Youtube here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

PayPal Galactic: Building Better Worlds

"Once space colonies exist, PayPal Galactic might be useful, but until then the announcement of PayPal’s new initiative appeared to primarily confuse space commercialization with space exploration." Image Source: NASA/Ames via The Space Review.

The Space Review had some sharp words to respond to PayPal's recent announcement that the latter will make their online financial transaction service available from space with the help of the non-profit SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. Writer John Hickman expects that this is a sign of coming commercialization of space exploration. More specifically, he felt he detected a libertarian, anti-statist message in reporting on this story, which he did not like:
Where would we be without our shared delusions? Perhaps no longer trapped in low Earth orbit. Physical danger, lack of funding, and legal uncertainty are widely acknowledged as obstacles to human exploration and economic development beyond Earth orbit, but the constraint imposed by ideological belief goes largely unrecognized. Evidence for this proposition is found in the news coverage of the recent announcement that PayPal would sponsor an effort to figure out how to conduct financial transactions in space. ...

In a Fox News article, Michael Roppolo quotes PayPal executive Anuj Nayal as saying, “As we travel through space and explore new planets, we will still need to pay for life on Earth and out there…” There is no indication that he stopped Nayal to ask the obvious. Explore new planets? What new planets? ...

Although it is tempting to simply dismiss all of this as the product of an endemically sycophantic business press, that explanation would overlook the ideological message for the space news audience. What we are meant to believe is that private firms managed by brilliant entrepreneurs can and will take over responsibility for human space exploration from government agencies. We will soon be touring the solar system—or is it the galaxy?—all thanks to the magic of free enterprise. ...

The problem with this particular millennial vision is that private firms do not open new frontiers. States do. Private firms profit from frontiers after they have been opened by states. The reason for this division of institutional labor is that opening a new frontier involves accepting high risk and absorbing unrecoverable cost. Businesses hate both. That’s why they wait for governments to do the heavy lifting. Mind you, if the real space frontier that lies beyond low Earth orbit is ever reopened to human exploration and opened to economic development, private investment will have an important role to play. However when humans return to the Moon and if they land on Mars for the first time, count on a state to have paid the freight. The real question is not whether but which state will be writing the check.

The persistent anti-statist message in space news coverage is therefore a puzzle. Although it is tempting to think of the reporters as shills for corporate executives, they should be credited with exercising more agency than that. More probably, reporters and the executives they quote or misquote share the same libertarian convictions. That would be harmless if it had no effect on public opinion about space policy. Unfortunately, it leaves the naïve waiting for business to do what only government will.
This argument reflects the recession-driven tension between cash-strapped government-sponsored space programs and the big money of private space initiatives. Even our future empires are up for grabs in the Millennial political debate.