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.

Traveling Light

3-D printing may be more advanced than I had thought:

I am a little bit skeptical.  For example, how does the optical scanner determine the dimensions and configuration of individual internal parts, for which there is no line of sight?  That is not explained in the video, though perhaps it’s a simplification for the casual viewer.

Nonetheless, what a great technology for off-world travel. No need for spare parts.  Of course, you need a feed stock for the process that will meet the specifications for the end product, and it helps if that feedstock can be manufactured at your destination.  We already know that we can make breathing air and rocket propellant from elements readily available on Mars, so why not other compounds?

The End, or a New Beginning?

NASA has posted the following image of the return of the Space Shuttle Atlantis to Earth earlier this week:

Taken from the International Space Station, it’s a unique view of the craft’s fiery re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere.  Soon thereafter, Texas Governor (and likely presidential candidate) Rick Perry issued a strong statement that included the following:

Unfortunately, with the final landing of the Shuttle Atlantis and no indication of plans for future missions, this administration has set a significantly different milestone by shutting down our nation’s legacy of leadership in human spaceflight and exploration, leaving American astronauts with no alternative but to hitchhike into space.

Though it’s not just the Obama Administration.  There has been a lack of leadership in space policy since the end of the Apollo era.  The next few years will reveal the success (or failure) of efforts to shift the emphasis to the private sector.  While I do see the merits of such a move, I don’t foresee the economic incentives necessary for the private sector to reach Mars in my lifetime.  That’s profoundly disappointing.

On the other hand, I don’t trust NASA to manage such an effort within the austere limits the US Government will have to abide by for the foreseeable future.  So is there an alternative?  How about financial incentives for (American) private companies to meet milestones that get us progressively closer to the red planet?  Think a scaled-up version of the Ansari X Prize.  It’s not a new idea, but maybe one whose time has come.  Lots of private money going to work, with much lower risk and cost to the taxpayer.  What’s not to like?

A Look Back at Themes

I was dusting off some files from the early development of In the Shadow of Ares, and in a way it was like flipping through baby pictures.  Included was a summary of themes we were aiming to include in the book, classified as “General” and “Exploration”, and I think we achieved our goals:

General:

  • Positive future
  • Technology is good
  • Capitalism is good
  • Realism
  • Reason wins
  • We need a frontier

Exploration:

  • Exploration is not without risk
  • Simpler is better
  • Live off the land
  • Exploration and settlement go together
  • Settlement and the role of property rights

We’ve been asked if the sequels will share the “pioneer” theme of the first book, which I suppose is included in the above.  The sequel picks up two years later, and will include more cosmopolitan settings than the first book, but it’ll still be a new, untamed world.  Several of the other familiar themes will be present (though perhaps de-emphasized because they are less critical to the story), plus a few yet-to-be-revealed.

Mars Needs…More Movies

I took the family to see Mars Needs Moms Friday, and for the most part the trepidation I expressed in an earlier post was unwarranted.

Despite some flat/cheesy dialogue I felt the screenplay did a nice job of extending a 700-word book to feature film length.  The movie was reasonably consistent with the book, while the new characters and subplots added depth to the original narrative.  Even the obligatory kid elements (gadgets, colors, slides, etc.) were generally plot-relevant and less annoying than other adaptations I have had to sit through.

Visually, Mars Needs Moms was impressive, though the human characters still suffer from the “dead-eye” that afflicts so much computer animation.  Among the humans, the character Gribble was well animated, but Milo and his Mom left something to be desired.  The Martians were interesting enough, though I have to say I found their lower bodies a bit disturbing to look at.

As for technical accuracy, the movie fared quite well.  Keeping in mind that it was based on a short, illustrated story, I was OK with the filmmakers keeping the imagery in the climactic scene where the characters are wearing helmets and ordinary clothing on the Martian surface.  I felt there was an effort to compensate for that by making the rest of the film more scientifically accurate, including using a wormhole to shorten the months-long Earth-Mars transit, and showing the lower Martian gravity (though as portrayed it looked closer to lunar gravity to me).

The most important critics, my 5, 8 and 10-year-old daughters, loved Mars Needs Moms, as did my wife.  I’d recommend it to anyone with children.  As for me, I enjoyed it though I’m still looking forward to a Mars movie that is simultaneously entertaining and realistic.

Are We Alone?

Dr. Richard B. Hoover of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center claims to have found proof of alien life.  In a study published Friday in the Journal of Cosmology, Hoover says that fossils found in a very rare CI1 carbonaceous chondrite meteorite are conclusive evidence of alien bacterial life.

This is hardly the first such claim, and echoes studies involving the Allan Hills 84001 Martian meteorite that have prompted debate that has been ongoing since 1996.  This time NASA came out quickly and indicated that there was no support from other researchers for Hoover’s claims.

Hoover’s study was previously made available for peer review, and those comments are supposed to be published soon, so I’ll withhold judgement for now.  Of course, if you’re interested in how the discovery of living alien microbial life might play out, check out In the Shadow of Ares.

UPDATE:  NASA Watch questions several aspects of Richard Hoover and his paper, including whether or not he is a doctor of anything.  Oops.

Mars Needs Moms…and Dads and Kids

March 11 will see the release of Mars Needs Moms, a computer-animated Disney movie based on the children’s book by Berkeley Breathed.  I’ve read the book to my children, and look forward to taking them to see the adaptation.  It will be interesting to see if a film based on a 700-odd word story can stand on its own, or if it will be an afternoon wasted, a la The Polar Express.

Of course, I’m hoping for the former.  Even if realism is out the window, anything that gets the next generation interested in Mars is a good thing.  What I’d really like to see, however, is some realistic Hollywood fare to get kids excited about Mars.  In the Shadow of Ares would be a great place to start.

After all, Mars really needs humans.

Roadkill

Bookseller Borders filed for bankruptcy yesterday.  That was hardly a surprise, and neither was the following:

Its inability to garner significant online business and its near absence from the growing digital book market have made it difficult for Borders to keep up with Barnes & Noble and online retailer Amazon.com Inc.  [emphasis added]

Really?  We’ve had requests to make In the Shadow of Ares available on Borders’ KoBo reader, but decided not to.  In addition to having a platform that was significantly more difficult to use than those of Amazon or B&N, Borders had higher set-up fees and lower royalties.

Looks like the future is here already, and you can get on board or get run over.

Coming Soon: Smaller Nukes?

Does the forecast nuclear renaissance include smaller nukes?  The folks at NuScale Power in Oregon seem to think so:  Small Nuclear Ready for Big Splash.  I’m a strong supporter of nuclear power, but disagree that small nukes will be practical for electric generation anytime in the foreseeable future.  At least on Earth…

In the Shadow of Ares includes what we consider technically achievable near-term Mars settlements, meaning ones heavily dependent on nuclear power.  Solar will play a role, but most other terrestrial power sources will have no relevance.  What too many humans today irrationally fear on Earth will be indispensable as we open up a new world.