Monthly Archives: August 2011

Still a Jerk

Over the last couple of weeks a video of a marriage proposal at the Chicago Comic Con got a lot of hits.  That’s because the couple was blessed by none other than Patrick Stewart, the actor who made quite a career out of playing USS Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard.  A cute (if nerdy) moment, and good for them:

However, for me the video brought to mind something less pleasant.  Back in 2004 the same actor took the time to poo-poo human space exploration in a BBC Interview:

I would like to see us get this place right first before we have the arrogance to put significantly flawed civilisations out on to other planets.

Stewart repeats one of the oldest and most flawed arguments against human spaceflight.  Exploration, and especially exploration that challenges us as a trip to the Moon did (or as a trip to Mars would), provides tremendous benefits here at home.  At the same time, it is ridiculous to expect a time when there won’t be problems on Earth.  Who will be the judge as to when we are good enough that we can go out and play?

Seven years later I’m still irritated when I see him.  Maybe I need to get over it, but in this case it’s not just what was said, but who said it.

Before There Was Oxygen

Scientists examining ancient rocks from Western Australia have announced the discovery of fossils of sulfur-loving bacteria from nearly 3.5 billion years ago.  The significance is that there was not much oxygen on Earth back then, and this type of life could have flourished elsewhere in the solar system in the past, or even today.

Tubular microfossils. CREDIT: David Wacey

Readers of In the Shadow of Ares will recognize a clear parallel to an important discovery in the novel.  This is precisely what we had in mind.

Awfully convenient to have human scientists on the ground to know what rocks to examine.   I look forward to the day when we have boots on Mars and can answer some truly provocative questions.

Still, there are plenty of fantastic reasons for going that have nothing to do with science.

Islands in the sky?

Billionaire Pay Pal co-founder Peter Thiel has apparently donated $1.25 million to the Seasteading Institute, an organization seeking to build floating nation-states that would be able to experiment with innovative political and social systems.  Specifically libertarian political systems.

Floating City

Of course, that’s part of the rationale for going to Mars.  Not specifically to set up a libertarian society, although there’s certainly an element of that in the independent settlements depicted in In the Shadow of Ares.  The basic idea is to start from scratch, choosing from what you know works best and leaving behind what doesn’t.