What Will Things be Like in 2312?–A Review

June 28, 2012
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Creating from scratch an entire detailed and convincing  future covering human expansion into  the  solar system, global warming, the effects of longevity treatments, and the creation of artificial life forms would not be an easy task for a science fiction writer, but Kim Stanley Robinson pulls it off better than most could.  Already accomplished for his Martian trilogy, Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, along with a dozen or so other books,  Robinson presents a believable view of life in the year 2312 in his latest novel entitled, strangely enough, 2312.

Three hundred years from now, Mars has been terraformed.  Venus and Titan are in the process of being made surface livable for humans, and thousands of asteroids have been hollowed out to create comfortable living environments.  Earth is suffering from the effects of overpopulation and global warming.  New York City has become the new Venice, Italy, as rising sea levels inundate its streets.  Travel between planets is as common and as quick as travel between continents by ship is today thanks to propulsion system advances which are being worked on even in the present. 

Mr. Robinson introduces two main characters, who are eerily reminiscent of certain individuals introduced in his Mars trilogy, through whose eyes we are treated to his grand view of the future.  Swan Er Hong, 137 years old, (remember the longevity treatments), and Fitz Wahram who was born on Titan.  They embark on a quest to find out who has destroyed Terminator, a city on Mercury and Swan’s home.  Their travels take them all over the solar system and back to Earth several times, and, of course, they manage to eventually fall in love along the way, during which we are treated to extended musings on what love really is, and whether a marriage could really be sustained for hundreds of years.

The strengths of this novel are not so much in the plot as in the strong and lengthy character development, and the hopeful and detailed view of the future, along with the main characters’ inner struggles to answer age-old questions about the nature of humanity, the role of self-awareness, and what purpose can be generated within an individual existence that might last for a thousand years.

If you are looking for space opera with plenty of action centering around evil aliens, this book is not for you.  None of Robinson’s books are.  But if you’re interested in intellectual stimulation, and reasonably extrapolated and detailed looks at the future, then definitely read 2312.


Humans on Mars by 2023?

June 28, 2012
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A Dutch company plans to put a human settlement on the red planet by 2023.  Using spacecraft and habitat components built strictly by private companies from around the world, Mars will become Earth’s first extra-planetary colony without the use of any taxpayer money, according to scientist, Gerard ‘t Hooft, the project’s chosen spokesman.

“This appears to be the only way man will ever set foot on Mars,” he says.

A series of launches, planned for 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2023 will end with 4 astronauts landing on Earth’s second closest neighbor.  The astronauts will live the rest of their lives there.  Each year or so, additional people will join the colony.

All the components are there to accomplish this task, according to ‘t Hooft, buildable by different corporations worldwide.  The whole project will be funded by a step-by-step reality show broadcast worldwide.    For more information  check out the video below.

Z-Pinch Engine–Mars in 6 Weeks, Not 7 Months

June 27, 2012
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Researchers working for NASA are putting together plans for an entirely new type of propulsion system that promises to cut travel time to Mars, for example, from 7 months to about 6 to 8 weeks.  Accomplishing this would make getting humans to Mars much more feasible because of the savings in life support supplies like food and oxygen, among other items.

By using 2-inch wide pellets of lithium deuteride, fusing the lithium and hydrogen atoms inside, which produces a high-velocity plasma energy. Enough force would be released to propel a spacecraft to very high speeds.  The effect is called “Z-pinch.”  since the energy released would be controlled via an electromagnetic field nozzle.

This kind of powerplant could not be used to get the rocket off the surface of Earth, but would be very efficient once high orbit was achieved.  Conventional rockets in earlier stages would do this. Essentially, the system works just like a conventional rocket only much better.

Asteroid Towing Feasible

June 27, 2012
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President Obama’s notion that NASA should concentrate on deep space missions  got a boost from scientists at the AIAA Global Space Conference in Washington recently when a team proposed an asteroid capture and return mission that would put one into orbit around the moon.  An ideal size of about 7 meters across  would provide researchers with a rock created during the beginning of the solar system which could also be mined for valuable metals and water. A rock like this, about the size of a two-car garage, might contain about 100 tons of water which would be worth $2 billion at today’s launch prices.

The asteroid would be small enough that an electric propulsion system could nudge it away from its current location toward the earth-moon system.  Scientists estimate that there must be several hundred million bodies of this size existing in and around the asteroid belt.

The research team spent 6 months studying methods for capturing and moving an asteroid.

We are Made of Star Stuff

June 25, 2012
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Science Must Inform Religion

June 24, 2012

Science and religion get along well until science makes a discovery that seems to contradict something said in the ancient texts that are the basis for the religion.  A need to be literal and consistent seems to drive these disagreements, along with a belief that congregations in general will experience a lessening of faith if the scientific finding is accepted.  That is the fundamentalist view.

Nowhere is this more evident than in some religious denominations’ reactions to Darwin.  Well over 150 years ago, Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution which was based on research he had done while sailing around the Galapagos Islands and work at home.  No concrete and acceptable scientific evidence has been produced since that would throw his theory in doubt, although there have been modifications.   In fact evidence of confirmation can be found in scientific fields developed since such as paleontology, cosmology, genetics, and other biological subfields.

It seems a bit disingenuous to accept scientific findings in every area that doesn’t contradict accepted theology, yet disallow them when they disagree with ideas created thousands of years ago.  Those who disagree usually start with an assertion that “faith” requires them to stick to the Bible or the Koran.  But their faith is based on little more than what they’ve heard over and over again since childhood taught by people who have heard the same things over and over again.  One can have “faith”, but in the end that faith ought to be backed up with something that points to truth.  One can have faith in the scientific method, for example, because the positive results of applying it have been evident in the 400 years of progress we’ve achieved, and the lack of any progress before scientific methodology was delineated and consistently applied- the period of the dark ages.

Organizations exist which pretend to have gathered convincing evidence that Noah’s flood can explain the geological and archeological observations made today, but these organizations are not using science to arrive at their conclusions.  They start with an assumption that hasn’t been proven-that the ancients were right- then search high and low for evidence to support that assumption, rejecting any evidence that doesn’t support it.  Churches then use the media produced by these organizations to convince scientifically uneducated parishoners that the earth is only 6000 years old, that dinosaurs lived in Biblical times, or that the eye is much too complex an organ to have evolved (it isn’t if you just consider that plants began with light-sensitive areas on their leaves, and then look at the increasing complexities of eyes on increasingly complex creatures from sea dwellers to reptiles to land mammals).

This confuses young people who are learning one version of reality in high school biology classes and another in Sunday school.  As a college instructor I wasted some time with students who wanted to argue about commonly accepted scientific facts that didn’t agree with their church’s theology.  According to Steven Pratt, a melecular biologist, and others, One can’t engage in a biological field today without understanding evolution thoroughly.

Accepting scientific truisms like evolution, the 13.7 million year age of the earth, and the fact that dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago (no matter what they show you at the Creation Museum) doesn’t necessarily make one less religious.  Biblical statements that seem literal can be taken as poetic metaphor, and there is plenty to contemplate in recent cosmological discoveries that can lead one to suppose that heaven really does exist somewhere, and quantum mechanics contains facts so weird and otherworldly that one can easily suppose a vast intelligence totally beyond our comprehension is at work in the multi-verse.  The Earth-centered God of current fundamentalist thought is a tiny god compared to the one that may really exist.

The Future is With Youth

June 18, 2012
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If we are ever to get into space in any serious way and stay there, it will be up to young people to carry forward the vision.  Graduation speeches at high school and college commencements run the gamut of warmed over rah-rah philosophy.  But two speeches–one by David McCullough jr., an English teacher at Wellesley High in Massachusetts, and one by Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust stand out, and point us toward a generation that will accomplish higher goals.

McCollough  is quoted in a David Shribman newspaper column as saying, “Contrary to what your soccor trophy suggests…despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mr. Rogers, and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you…you’re nothing special… so…Be worthy of your advantages.  And read…read all the time…read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect.  Read as a nourishing staple of life.  Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it.”  Being worthy of your advantages could, at least partly, mean paying society back by contributing to the future.

President Faust’s words: “No matter how hard we have worked or how many obstacles we have overcome, we are all here in some measure through no cause of our own.  It started for most of us by being born into…that small fraction of the earth’s population that receives benefits from fossil fuels.  After we passed through that lucky portal, there were others.  Our parents, our schools,our friends, our health, financial aid, a Maurice Sendak book.  Predeecessors who fought for access to education.  Someone who plucked us out of nowhere and guided us, or a random event that turned our head or moved our hearts.”  In our hearts, Shribman says, we know many of us were propelled to college or to lofty positions and ennobled job titles mostly by luck–perhaps the luck of birth, probably the luck of mentors, almost certainly the luck of being born into a century that needed our skills and in a country that rewarded them.

“But the problem is, Faust goes on, that over time, opportunity can come to seem like an entitlement, ours because we deserve it.  We cease to recognize the role of serendipity, and we risk forgetting the sense of obligation that derives from understanding that things might have been otherwise.”

So life gives us special opportunities, but along with it, special responsibilities.  One of those responsibilities is to see that the human race continues to survive and progress, even if it means sacrificing an extra half cent of every tax dollar to insure a healthy space program.

Posted in Space, Uncategorized

America is Broke?

June 8, 2012
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The article below suggests one of the reasons why the government carries so much debt and, therefore must cut scientific research funding:

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What’s Your Dream Space Vacation?

June 8, 2012
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The intergalactic travel Bureau is asking New York visitors to “imagine their dream space vacation” as part of an art festival on governor’s Island.

Actors and space scientists will be on hand to talk about ways to make travel dreams come true in this solar system and possibly others.  The exhibition takes place on June 9 and 10.  Want to see towering Mount Olympus on Mars? Travel through Titan’s thick atmosphere?  Get closer to the sun?  Let’em know.

Posted in Space