Tag Archives: space travel

Hello! Earth to Mars!

Mars-Rising-Documentary-film

I’ve signed up to be a candidate for a Martian colony.  Okay, I’m actually just on an email list, but I’m seriously considering this.  Mars One is a non-profit organization with a goal to establish a human settlement on the “Big Red Planet” by 2023.  So far, they have a goal and a web site – and not much else.  But hey, why not dream big?!  That’s what prompted our ancestors to move north out of Africa and sail across the vast oceans of this planet.  This falls in line with an essay I wrote last year, where I included the prospect of sending people to Mars.  With the current budget deficits and political wrangling here in the U.S., that won’t happen anytime soon.

Thus enters Mars One, a Dutch-based entity that has joined with the for-profit Interplanetary Media Group to raise money for the mission.  They don’t just want to launch a spacecraft to Mars for a brief visit; they actually establish a permanent settlement.  As of January, Mars One has secured funding from Trifork BV, another Dutch company that “is a leading full service supplier of high-quality custom-built applications for organizations primarily in” education, research and government non-profit.  That’s amazing.  A country known for its tulips and marijuana cafes actually has the temerity to create companies with such grand visions.

But, the first stage for Mars One is conceptual design.  They have to convene a gallery of talented engineers and architects to visualize what Martian structures would look like and how they would function.  They have to consider air, heating, cooling and insomnia.  Next is an astronaut selection program.  That will be the most challenging aspect of the project; finding people willing to give up so much of their lives for something so incredibly unknown.  They hope to start taking applications from prospective astronauts soon.  As with anything so extraordinary, hope is the first and most significant investment.  Yet, Mars One seems undeterred.

Their literature indicates that residency on the colony will be permanent.  I don’t know how that will work out for some people.  Personally, I’m a creature of habit and enjoy certain comforts here on Earth.  I believe, though, that Mars One will have to reconsider that aspect of the project, since plenty of people may get homesick; while others will be so incorrigible they need to be sent back to Earth.  Unless they can meet an untimely death and their bodies be used for fertilizer.

I still have to give this a lot of thought.  I’ll be 59 in a decade, but I already take better care of myself than most people.  Hell, I take better care of my dog than most people do themselves!  I figure the colony will need a technical / fiction writer anyway.  I could regale the group with frightening tales of being a Democrat in a state gone wildly Republican.  That surely would keep them on Mars!

But, I have plenty of questions.

  • Will I be able to have a dog or two with me?  I can’t imagine living the rest of my life without a canine at my side.  I don’t need another person in my life.  Most people are assholes, and dogs seem to understand me better anyway.
  • Will I be able to bring my gigantic collection of books and National Geographics?  Or, will every piece of literature have to be digital?  As a writer, I’m a natural bibliophile, so books are as much a part of my life as dogs and rum.
  • Speaking of rum, will I be able to imbibe in such spirits while on this colony?  Things may not be as stressful on Mars as here on Earth, which is probably the whole point of establishing a settlement.  But, knowing how quirky most people are – especially engineers and scientists – I’d need to have a drink or two after a day of installing air filters.
  • Will I be able to masturbate in seclusion?  I’m an introvert by nature, so teaming up with others in such a remote environment will be a real challenge.  Ultimately, though, I seek out others for basic human interaction.  But, I’d still need some hand time.
  • Will I be able to have steak and meat tacos?  Or, will everything be freeze-dried and MRE style foods?  I’ve lived off peanut butter sandwiches, canned meat and blueberry muffins before.  I’ve even had a full-fledged MRE.  They’re different now than from the spam-based crap my father ate when he served in the Korean War.  But, unless there’s a chance they improve dramatically in the next ten years, I can’t see living off them for a lifetime.  I mean, I already suffer from dry mouth syndrome.

A great deal of thought and planning has to go into establishing a colony on another celestial body.  Just the logistics of getting material to the place to build will be difficult enough, unless structures can be put together here on Earth and then shipped.  I don’t think FedEx goes that far.  There’s insufficient oxygen on Mars, so no one can take a walk around the terrain without dressing up like a beekeeper.  There probably won’t be much room to move around, which means the colonizers will have to live in close proximity to one another.  That alone could take a psychological and emotional toll.  The intrepid astronauts will have to get along with each other and learn to cooperate even under the most jaded of circumstances.  That would be difficult, considering you just wouldn’t be able to get in your car and go home.  I got pissed off at some people during a play party once many years ago, so I just packed up the wine coolers and sex toys.  They tried to stop me, but I wouldn’t relent.  On Mars, I wouldn’t be able to just grab the remaining MRE’s and canisters of air and head back to Dallas on a moment’s notice.  Knowing how easily people annoy me, I really have to think about this whole Martian colony enterprise.

Still, I feel it’s a worthwhile endeavor.  Humans are naturally curious.  Think about getting into a boat and sailing into an ocean without knowing how far away the next island or land mass is.  Imagine just getting up from a grassy plain and starting to walk – to anywhere.  That’s what our ancestors did.  Americans made it to the moon, as part of the “Cold Warspace race.  I’m certain we, as a global society, can make it to Mars within a generation.  In the meantime, I’ll imbibe in a Bacardi and Coke and begin stockpiling stories for those lonely Martian nights.

1 Comment

Filed under Essays

Dreams Bigger Than Ourselves

Watching the debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney the other night invoked a number of emotions in me; mainly nausea.  Obama looked half-asleep, while Romney displayed yet another side of his plastic persona.  Romney contradicted himself more times than someone with schizophrenia, and Obama simply didn’t show any backbone.  Considering that Romney announced he would take down “Sesame Street” and Obama expressed joy last week that the National Football League’s referee strike had ended peacefully, I haven’t been this disillusioned about politics since January 20, 2001, when George W. Bush first took office.

It’s come to this?  PBS and football referees are that utterly important in the overall scheme of America’s ongoing economic crisis?  Well, at least PBS serves a purpose.  But, even before the Obama – Romney debate, I pondered why America has let itself stoop to such lowly aspirations.  This is a country that built the world’s first transcontinental railroad system in the mid-1800’s and, less than a century later, constructed the world’s largest highway system.  Following World War II, this same nation created the strongest middle class the world has ever seen.  We were the first to take flight into the air and the first to place men on the moon.  We helped to develop automobiles, telephones, radio, televisions and computers.  Now, we’re talking about creationism in schools and gay marriage.  Are we serious?  How did the national dialogue become so pathetic?

A half century ago, President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to the nation; he wanted us “to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things; not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  And, we did just that!  Less than seven years later, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface.

I’m somewhat of a dreamer.  In fact, I’m a big dreamer.  My quiet, sometimes introverted personality conjures up the most fantastic of stories.  But, it also envisions the seemingly impossible of events.  Thus, while some people worry what Vice President Joe Biden might say in his debate with Congressman Paul Ryan next week and others sit on the edge of their seats, wondering who will take first place on “Dancing with the Stars,” I propose the following challenges to my fellow Americans.

Energy Independent – Every American president since Richard Nixon has called for the U.S. to be completely and totally energy independent.  The oil embargoes of the 1970’s first made us realize how badly our nation is beholden to the Saudi royal family who – just a few decades earlier – were still living a nomadic lifestyle.  Our technology helped them move into the 20th century almost overnight.  Currently, though, the U.S. obtains most of its oil from Latin America, mainly Venezuela.  We actually buy more oil from Canada than from OPEC nations.  But, we’re still reliant upon foreign nations for a good chunk of our fuel.  And, we’re still too dependent upon coal and natural gas.  The fact is that those resources are finite.  They’re also dirty and dangerous to extract from the Earth.  I’d like to see the U.S. develop cleaner and safer means of energy by 2030.  Yes, that’s less than 20 years from now, but I know we can do it.  And, we need to do it.  We can’t continue to pollute our environment and put our citizens at risk just to keep the lights on in the house.

Subterranean Power and Telecommunication Lines – In August of 1992, Hurricane Andrew plowed into Florida as a borderline category 5 storm, before marching across the Gulf of México and slamming into Louisiana.  It was the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history at the time; costing an estimated $26 billion.  For weeks afterward, residents in the impact zones lived without power.  Andrew had knocked down and / or destroyed thousands of yards of power and telecommunication lines.  In the richest, most powerful country on Earth, people found themselves struggling from day to day in a third world-style environment in the heat of summer.  Twenty years later Hurricane Isaac gently rolled over southeastern Louisiana and did virtually the same thing to all those power and telecommunication lines.  Tropical storm systems aren’t the only harbinger of disaster.  Almost every winter, people in the northeastern U.S. brace for mighty arctic hurricanes that send them back into those third world type living conditions.  The same happens after floods, tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes.  We can never control what the planet’s natural elements will do.  Every time humans have tried to fight nature, they almost always get smacked back into reality.  But, we can mitigate the impact of these calamities by burying as many of our power and telecommunication lines underground as possible.  This is not a new idea.  Many people – from energy analysts to, yes, politicians – have pushed for this to be done on a massive scale.  But, there have been plenty of detractors.  While we already have a large number of subterranean power and telecommunication lines, opponents claim they’re not necessarily more reliable than overhead lines.  While overhead lines experience more outages and are more vulnerable to every piece of aerial debris from disoriented birds to tree branches, subterranean lines are generally more difficult to access and repair when problems with them do arise.  Another obstacle, of course, is money.  There are greater costs associated with the installation of subterranean lines, and – as you might have guessed – those costs must be passed onto consumers, either in the form of higher utility rates or increased taxes.  But, I think it’s well worth the financial burden.  Ultimately, it costs people more to go without power; food is spoiled and lives can be endangered in extreme heat or cold.  The expenses incurred with the initial installations and ongoing maintenance will more than pay for themselves in the ensuing years.

Humans on Mars – For eons, our ancestors wondered what it was like on the surface of the moon.  When the U.S. finally made it there in July of 1969, our fanciful images of otherworldly beings gave way to the bland reality of rocks and dust.  But, we made it!  We’d successfully landed humans on the surface of another celestial body and brought them back to Earth.  Almost immediately, people began contemplating a trip to Mars.  The U.S. has come close; first with the Viking I and II voyages, and most recently, with the Curiosity mission.  These have been unstaffed journeys, but they’re important.  The U.S. space program of the 1960’s helped to advance technological developments; mainly with telecommunications, such as facsimile machines and cordless phones, but also with engineering and robotics.  As with any grand adventure, however, there are detractors who look primarily (or only) at the money factor.  The Viking missions alone cost $1 billion – in 1970’s-era figures – and, as of now, the Curiosity budget has exceeded $2.5 billion.  But so far, the U.S. has spent nearly $807 trillion in Iraq and almost $572 trillion in Afghanistan.  If we can afford that kind of cash to kill people and destroy entire towns and villages, we definitely can expend a fraction of that money on a staffed trip to Mars.  I don’t believe we’re alone in this universe.  And, it’s in our nature as humans to explore and discover.  I feel we should make a concerted effort to send a craft with humans to Mars by 2030.

100% Literacy Rate – This is the most ambitious of my goals.  Literacy and education are paramount to the success of any society.  But, they’re also the most personal and the most difficult.  As of 2012, the U.S. literacy rate stands at roughly 80%.  While this means that more than three-quarters of the U.S. population can read and write to some degree, we’re still far behind such countries as Denmark, Japan and Norway where literacy rates hover close to 100%.  Why is the U.S. at a dismal 80%?  I think much of it has to do with our elected officials and their reluctance to consider education as equally important as military prowess and individual financial wealth.  Moreover, the United States boasts the largest rate of incarceration than any other nation; some 1.8 million people are imprisoned here, or about 1 of every 100 adults.  Of those individuals, roughly 70% are illiterate.  While rates vary among states, it costs roughly $23,000 per year to house one person in a prison.  However, it costs about $1,000 to educate a child each year at the elementary level and about $3,000 per year at the high school level.  College educations also vary widely among states and differ between private and public universities.  But, the average cost per year is about $15,000.  Once someone graduates from college, or even a vocational training program, however, they can enter the work force and start paying back those costs in earnings and taxes, as well as consumer spending.  Somehow, though, our political elite thinks it’s more feasible to imprison someone than to educate them.  Every year across this nation, states balance their school budgets on the backs of its most vulnerable citizens: elderly, disabled and children.  Just like with the costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, it’s beyond me to understand why this nation always has enough money for war, but never enough for education.  I feel it’s the conservative mindset working against us.  Earlier this year former senator and Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum denounced President Obama as a “snob” for wanting everyone in the U.S. to have a college education.  Ignoring such stupidity, though, I think it’s plausible for the U.S. to have a 100% literacy rate by 2050, if not sooner.  It’s well worth the expense, as we’ll see our prison rates decrease, while consumer spending rates increase.  Educated people generally make better decisions and think first before they act.  It’s easier to give a child and book and deal with their barrage of questions once they finish reading it than to let a kid drop out of school and deal with their bad attitude once they’re in jail.

I know naysayers will read this and scoff at my lofty ambitions; perhaps accusing me of arrogance in imposing such goals upon others.  I’m not forcing anyone to believe as I do.  But, the wealthiest nation on Earth should have much greater objectives than ensuring tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of its citizens or constructing a wall along the southern border.  Our grand ethnic and cultural diversity will allow for it.  Our future depends on it.  It’s in our nature as humans to wonder and explore – and to dream big.

4 Comments

Filed under Essays

In Memoriam – Neil Armstrong, 1930 – 2012

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on Earth’s moon, has died.  Armstrong, who had turned 82 on August 5, passed away following complications from a cardiovascular procedure he had done earlier this month.

Born Neil Alden Armstrong in Wapakoneta, Ohio, Armstrong developed a passion for aviation as a child.  Upon graduating from high school, Armstrong earned a scholarship from the U.S. Navy.  He enrolled at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where he studied aeronautical engineering.  In 1949, he accepted a commission into the Navy.  He served as a Naval pilot during the Korean War; receiving the Air Medal and two Gold Stars for his service.  After his sting in the Navy, Armstrong resumed his studies as Purdue and earned a Bachelor of Science in aeronautical engineering.

In 1955, Armstrong joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA); later renamed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  He was eventually selected to join a small group of astronauts to train for a voyage to the moon.

Armstrong was a test pilot on the X-15 rocket plane and commander of Gemini 8 and Apollo 11 missions.  He and fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins piloted Apollo 11 to the moon; arriving on July 20, 1969 after a four-day flight.  Armstrong uttered two of the most famous statements made by well-known figures: “Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed,” when Apollo 11 landed, and “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” when he set foot on the moon’s surface about six and a half hours later.

After his historic mission to the moon, Armstrong worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), coordinating and managing the administration’s research and technology work.  In 1971, he resigned from NASA and taught engineering at the University of Cincinnati for nearly a decade.

Unlike many these days, Armstrong never tried to cash in on his fame.  When he learned that his autographs were being sold at auctions, he stopped singing things for people.  He was humble and relatively shy.

“Looking back,” Armstrong once said, “we were really very privileged to live in that thin slice of history where we changed how man looks at himself and what he might become and where he might go.”

Leave a comment

Filed under News