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Next step for Human Colinization. Build a shelter

There are a lot of ways to build shelters for colonies.  Bob Zubrin's idea was to create Mars landers that left part of themselves behind to serve as shelters for the next crew, gradually adding until you get a small colony.  NASA has also done some work on cylindrical shelters, although lava tubes (Yes, LAVA tubes) in the moon could also be the foundation for underground shelters.  There's research being done on inflatable structures as well.

And now, we have a machine that may someday fabricate a building just like we print a document.

3-D printers have been around for awhile, but the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies, or CRAFT, at the University of Southern California, has found a way to take it up to a larger scale.



How awesome is that?  The machine breaks down into parts for shipping and reassembly, making it portable.  The first hoped-for use is to create sturdy emergency shelters quickly and to provide low-cost shelters for the poor, especially in underdeveloped countries.  However, if there's a way to make the building material out of native elements, this has some great applications for space.  Instead of hauling the buildings to space, we send a few machines up and manufacture buildings from the sands of Mars or the Moon.

Cool pic, eh?  You can see the full article about this device at http://www.txchnologist.com/2012/printing-a-home-the-case-for-contour-crafting.

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Watching the Space Race: Going Ape


by Walt Staples


The monkey glared down at me with the sort of naked hatred one primate can only feel for another. Were I him, I'd have felt pretty much the same. Torn from his nice toasty jungle at an early age, he now found himself constantly chilly and confronted by a troop of primates so outsized that even the smallest outweighed him by a factor of seven. Basically, Ivan Denisovich in Brobdingnag. But, he held his own; whenever one of them came near, he bared his teeth. If that didn't stop them, he'd set forth a scream that guaranteed that all the dogs and cats would immediately evacuate the house and yards. His final line of defense was to attempt to find an appendage on one of the brutes small enough to get in his mouth. The only thing he wanted was to be gone. By the second month after my usually level-headed uncle had picked up the prisoner at the Sears and Roebuck catalog store in Staunton and brought him to the dairy farm as a Christmas present for his six-year-old daughter, he was sorely in agreement with that ambition. Among my uncle's brothers, the betting was equal money between the escape involving a firearm or a loosened chain followed by some lucky predator. As it turned out, winter in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley ended the tragedy.

All of which explained my shock at the photo in the Washington Star of a chimpanzee apparently cordially shaking the hand of a sea captain. The captain displayed no tooth marks or bandages, and the ape looked pretty relaxed. Of course, shaking a captain's hand was probably a relief after what he'd just been through.

Chimpanzee Ham is greeted by recovery ship Commander after his flight on the Mercury Redstone rocket.                        Photo from Wikipedia.
                                                                                

Throughout most of history, lesser beings have generally been tasked with being the first to try something new, whether it was seeing if the dinner at the Borgia's was up to standards or if there really were Zulus hiding around the spring. The space program was no different. As enlisted men could no longer be pilots, other primates went into space first.

The first tests involving animal payloads began with the U.S. Army's launch of domesticated V2s (read: captured from the Third Reich and demilitarized) in the late 1940s. One of the things learned from these flights was that mammals could survive spaceflight. Another thing learned was that mice are a lot more resistant to a sudden stop at the end of the flight than primates. All of the primates on these missions were named “Albert” (probably for the same reason animals raised for the table tend to be anonymous—you don't name your breakfast).

Over on the other side of the hill, the Soviets preferred dogs as passengers. Not having opposable thumbs, the feeling was that they tended to be less trouble to deal with. There is the story that one of the dogs went AWOL* a day before its scheduled launch. A stray found near the base's canteen was grabbed and substituted (lending a whole new meaning to “dog robber”**). One of the puppies from a dog the Soviets had orbited was given to President John F. Kennedy's daughter, Caroline, during a brief warm spot in the Cold War.

The subject of the photo op with the captain of the recovery ship USS Donner, Ham, was born and captured in Cameroon in 1956 and purchased in Florida by the Air Force. Like Patrick McGoohan in the TV show, “The Prisoner,” Ham's official name was a number, 65, though the staff referred to him as, “Chop Chop Chang.” It was felt that losing a named chimp on a flight would be bad publicity.

He trained for his mission at Holloman Air Force Base. Training involved learning to push a lever within five seconds of seeing a blue light. If he preformed correctly, he received a banana pellet; if he didn't, what's described as a “mild” shock was administered to the soles of his feet. He would be the first biological payload that would be required to preform a function while in flight.

Ham became “Ham” with his successful suborbital flight aboard Mercury-Redstone 2 on 31 January 1961. His new name was an acronym for Holloman Aerospace Medical Center. During the flight, his vital signs and lever pushing were monitored with the result that his functioning was only slowed by a fraction of a second. This suggested that humans could also readily preform tasks during spaceflight. The only untoward happening while in flight was a partial cabin depressurization, which was successfully handled by his space suit. After 16 and a half minutes, the Mercury capsule splashed down in the Atlantic and was recovered by the Donner. On examination, Ham's only injury was found to be a bruised nose. The handshake and photo with the skipper followed.

After the flight, Ham lived at the National Zoo in DC for 17 years before ending his days at age 26 at the North Carolina Zoo at Asheboro. His remains, minus his skeleton, are buried beneath a memorial plaque at the New Mexico Museum of Space History at Alamogordo. His skeleton is in the collection at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology's National Museum of Heath and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The next Mercury capsule would carry Alan Shepard on the first American manned suborbital flight.

* AWOL—Absent WithOut Leave

** ”dog robber”--military slang for an officer's servant, normally called an orderly or batman depending on the army.

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Virgin Galactic profile: Spaceship Two

Virgin Galactic has an unusual idea for a spaceship.  While theirs is plane shaped and lands like the Shuttle, it attaches to a larger plane which lifts it up to 50 or 60 thousand feet and drops it, after which it uses its own rocket motors to leave the atmosphere.  Virgin Galactic says it's cheaper, easier and more environmentally friendly.

The technology was proven in the X Prize, with Spaceship One, carried by White Knight One.  Since then, they've improved it with passengers in mind.  Spaceship Two can carry six passengers and two pilots.  It has large circular windows so you will have good views of the Earth as you play in zero G (and they advertise lots of room in the cabin to do summersalts and flips.

The ship itself is made of carbon composite materials.  Carbon composites are lighter weight, tolerate extreme heat better, and have less propensity to warp or fracture. 

Here's a video showing the ship itself.




Another interesting feature are the wings on Spaceship Two, which change position.  This helps the craft orient itself naturally in the atmosphere for landing, reducing the chance of catastrophe during re-entry.  They call it "feathered flight."  Here's a  full explanation from a Virgin Galactic press release of April 5, 2011.

Perhaps the most innovative safety feature employed by SpaceshipOne and now SpaceShipTwo is the unique way it returns into the dense atmosphere from the vacuum of space. This part of space flight has always been considered as one of the most technically challenging and dangerous and Burt Rutan was determined to find a failsafe solution which remained true to Scaled Composite’s philosophy of safety through simplicity. His inspiration for what is known as the feathered re-entry was the humble shuttlecock, which like SpaceShipTwo relies on aerodynamic design and laws of physics to control speed and attitude.

Once out of the atmosphere the entire tail structure of the spaceship can be rotated upwards to about 65ยบ. The feathered configuration allows an automatic control of attitude with the fuselage parallel to the horizon. This creates very high drag as the spacecraft descends through the upper regions of the atmosphere. The feather configuration is also highly stable, effectively giving the pilot a hands-free re-entry capability, something that has not been possible on spacecraft before, without resorting to computer controlled fly-by-wire systems. The combination of high drag and low weight (due to the very light materials used to construct the vehicle) mean that the skin temperature during re-entry stays very low compared to previous manned spacecraft and thermal protection systems such as heat shields or tiles are not needed. During a full sub-orbital spaceflight, at around 70,000ft following re-entry, the feather lowers to its original configuration and the spaceship becomes a glider for the flight back to the spaceport runway.



And here's a video of the test flight.  (It was also the third flight in 12 days--talk about turnaround!):

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Dragon Launch Delayed

Anticipation...anticipa-a-tion.  It's making me wait.

SpaceX announced this week that it wants to delay the planned Feb 7 launch of its Dragon capsule in order to conduct more tests.  It will work with NASA to determine the next best launch date.

This will be a big launch for the Dragon.  Consider:

*  It will make history as the first commercial capsule in space.
*  It will determine if SpaceX continues to get NASA funding to further its development.
*  It's the next step to making the Dragon ready for manned flights.
*  If the Dragon succeeds, we will once again have US ability to resupply the space station.

In addition, they are combining two test flight missions into one, which increases the difficulty--and the pressure. The Dragon must pass several objectives before it's allowed to approach the International Space Station.  Before docking with the station, it will do a fly-by to test sensors and control.  Then, if it passes all that, it will dock.

A written statement, quoted in several news sources, says that SpaceX believes the capsule will benefit from the further work, which will increase safety.  That should go without saying.  SpaceX has had good record of success, overall, but they have had some problems even in successful test launches before.  (From Forbes, May 2011:  "Both launches of the much bigger Falcon 9 vehicle last year were successful, they point out — which is crucially important, since that is the rocket that SpaceX plans to use for supplying the space station. However, two launches isn’t much of a track record, and those launches were far from flawless. For instance, the trade press reported after the initial Falcon 9 launch in June of last year that “roll torque” from the first stage engines had produced a “twisting motion” on lift-off, that an overheated actuator had caused “dramatic spin” in the second stage, and that restart of the second-stage engines did not occur as planned.")

It's not known (at least to any sources I could find) whether the delays are for testing of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle or the Dragon itself.   However, it's not unusual to slip a launch to be sure the equipment is ready.

I'm disappointed--I was looking forward to the flight, and now we have to wait some more!  However, if it's the difference between success and catastrophe, We'll wait a little longer.

For more, check out http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2012/01/dragon-slips-spacex-determined-return-us-crewed-access-leo/.

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Watching the Space Race: High Expectations and Low Comedy

By Walt Staples





The lights of Deerfield twinkled below as I sat watching the fire. It was the week of deer season west of Blue Ridge and I was counting the days until Thanksgiving that November of 1960. In just three more days, I'd be ten. On the other side of the campfire, Junior glanced at his watch. “Hey, it's about six. Let's go see how the launch went.”

His father, slouched in a lawn chair, said, “You boys go ahead. I'm comfortable.” My father nodded his agreement.

Four of us were in the party that year; me, my father, a friend of his who worked for the government, and the friend's teenaged son, Junior. It had snowed the night after we'd made camp at the spring atop Virginia's Elliott Knob. On the way up to the Knob after seeing my grandmother and uncles, my father had decided that he smelled snow, so we stopped in Craigsville and picked enough groceries to keep us the week.

This deer season was special for me. It was the first in which I was allowed to carry a gun. I carried my father's old Stevens .30-30 bolt-action whose butt stock he'd cut down to fit me. At four foot tall and and about 80 pounds, the Stevens knocked the dust off me every time I fired it, but I figured it'd be worse on the deer's end of the equation. There were a couple of strings attached, though. One of the adults had to be with me and he had to give me the “go” signal before I could take the shot. In preparation before we came down from Northern Virginia, I had had to hit in the target's 10 ring seven out of eight shots. Also, I had to keep all the rifles and shotguns clean.

Inside the tent, Junior pulled the radio from under his cot. It was a special one as it could pick up FM broadcasts in addition to the normal AM, which explained why this small (for its time) radio was slightly larger and much heavier than a boombox. As he snapped it on and we waited for its tubes to warm up, I pulled out the gun cleaning kits, made sure the guns were indeed unloaded, and set to work. After sound began to come out of the speaker, he tuned the radio back and forth until a rich voice said, “...Evening, this is Douglas Edwards with the news. At Cape Canaveral today”--he had our whole attention--”the Mercury-Redstone test did not launch due to technical difficulties. The capsule's escape tower did, however, successfully attain an altitude of some 4000 feet. NASA reports technicians are examining the Redstone booster as we speak. It is expected that this will move the suborbital test launch of the unmanned Mercury capsule into December. In other news, UN troops clashed with Congolese government forces in Leopoldville...” Junior and I looked at each other—huh? The rocket didn't launch but the escape tower worked?

                                                                                    *

The technicians at Canaveral were indeed examining the Mercury-Redstone, MR-1, but from a very long distance. A very long, safe distance. The reason for their standoffishness was that they had a fully fueled booster rocket sitting on the pad with live batteries and live explosive devices just waiting to make a very spectacular fireworks display.

Until 7 November 1960, MR-1 had been fully two days ahead of schedule. This alone should have had people rubbing rabbits' feet and watching for incoming asteroids. It is an old engineering truism that if things are moving smoothly, you're probably missing something. What the folks at Huntsville and the Cape were missing was that the MR-1 Redstone with its increased tankage and the capsule weighed  more than a normal Redstone. Possibly, they were lulled when things seemed to return to normal with the scrubbing of the 7 November launch because of a drop in helium pressure within the capsule control system. After removing and tearing down the capsule to replace a helium relief valve and hydrogen peroxide tank, and to redo some wiring, the bird was reassembled and readied for launch on 21 November.

Well, it launched...sort of. When ignition occurred, the MR-1 rose majestically to an altitude of approximately 4 inches (10 cm) and the engine cut off. The bird settled back on the pad, no doubt with a thud (with all the racket of the Rocketdyne A-7 engine's initial firing, this, mercifully, was drowned out). The escape tower's engines fired next and the tower, leaving the capsule--that it was supposed to lift to safety--firmly in place atop the booster, rose to 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) and traveled 400 yards (366 meters) downrange—the epitome of “suborbital.” A few seconds later, the cover of the capsule's parachute compartment flew off and the drogue chute deployed, followed by the main chute and, then, the reserve chute; the three of which draped fashionably down over the side of the capsule and booster. Potentially, the entertainment wasn't over yet, as sitting atop 20 tons (18,160 kg) of liquid oxygen, ethyl alcohol—aka: ethanol—and hydrogen peroxide (a unfriendly mix at the best of times) were live retro rockets, explosive bolts, and a number of other pyrotechnic devices outlawed for 4th of July festivities, in addition to fully charged batteries in the ungrounded booster. Piling on yet more joy, the innocent parachute trio hanging over the side, if caught by the wind would topple the booster-capsule combination with unpleasant results. Happily, for Wernher von Braun and the NASA crew, Flatus, German god of winds, apparently relented and the airs stayed calm.

 The next morning, when the batteries hopefully were exhausted, an extremely brave team led by Walter Burke of McDonnell Aircraft Corporation—builder of the capsule—disarmed the pyrotechnics and removed the hanging umbilical cord from the ungrounded rocket.

So, what caused NASA's shortest flight? When the Redstone's engine fired and the rocket began to lift, it moved slower than the original Redstone missile because it was heavier. A modified, too-long ground  (another account says “control”) cable pulled out before the umbilical was pulled away. This caused a relay to trip as the ground plug came out more slowly than on the earlier missile, shutting down the engine. At shutdown, the escape tower thinking that the rocket had reached its normal engine shutoff altitude, blew its explosive bolts and jettisoned itself as no longer needed. The capsule getting an abort message below 10,000 feet (472 meters) began its proper parachute deployment sequence. So, for want of a nail—or in this case, a proper-lengthed cable--NASA ended up with a wrinkled rocket, an altitude record it really didn't want, and egg on its face.

The next effort, MR-1A, involved a Frankenstein's monster made up of parts cannibalized from future missions. As the capsule was undamaged, it was mated with the escape tower from spacecraft number 8, and the antenna fairing from number 10, and seated atop a new booster, MR-3. The MR-1 booster was shipped back to the Huntsville shop and now receives visitors at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

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Company Profile: Virgin Galactic



Virgin Galactic has made some great strides in it's own goal to making a suborbital space trip a reality for "average" people, so I thought we'd learn a little about this enterprising company.  The video is, of course, an infomercial, but an inspiring one, so take a look and then read on about the company history.

Founder Sir Richard Burton was first inspired by the moon landings of 1969, when he was 19.  In 1995, he spoke with Buzz Aldrin about the cheapest and safest way to get people into space.  They came to the conclusion that a system where the spaceship is first lifted into the atmosphere, then launched--like the X15 project--was the best bet, and Burton kept an eye out for the technologies to make it work.
Meanwhile Dr. Peter Diamandis started a project called the X Prize to promote innovation.  He offered $10 million to the first non-government organization to launch a reusable spacecraft twice in a two-week period.  Burt Rutan, owner of Scaled Composites, decided to enter.  When a Virgin Galactic team touring his company heard about it, they spoke to Sir Richard Burton, who decided to back him in his efforts.  (An interesting side note: Rutan was also being financed by Paul Allen, who co-founded Miscrosoft.  Guess I can't growl too badly at my computer now.)

In 2004, just two days before the X Prize launch, Virgin Galactic had a launch of its own, publically announcing its intent to start up space tourism and setting up a website.  The website promptly crashed because it attracted so many visitors.  The offered advanced booking on a flight into space for the amazing price of $200,000.  (To date, they have over 400 people lined up.)  On September 29 and October 4, SpaceShipOne completed its flights and won the X Prize.  Virgin Galactic was on the way!

Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites formed "the Spaceship Company" in 2005 in order to make its fleet.  These ships, called SpaceShipTwo, were bigger to hold six passengers, and had a new design to make re-entry easier.  In 2009, the first of the new ships was unveiled--and dubbed "Enterprise."  (What else could it be?)  Its test flight didn't take place until 2010, but went flawlessly, as did its test of the feathered flight system in 2011.

Construction on Spaceport America began in New Mexico in 2007, and was completed in 2011.  They named it "Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space."

Sometime in 2012, they will have their first flights. 



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Watching the Space Race: The Ley of Space


by Walt Staples


The old green fan slowly oscillated with a barely discernible electric whirl. The only other sound in the Williamson Road Branch of the Roanoke City Library was the soft thump as the Librarian stamped the book of the occasional patron. Like church and funeral parlors, this cool, quiet refuge from the heat of a 1957 July afternoon was one of those places one did not talk. At the very most, a kid could whisper to the august personage who ruled the vault of the written word. I now approached that tall, thin lady with her cat's-eye glasses hanging by a chain and a pencil thrust through the hair bun on the back of her head. Being one of the ones she didn't have to shush, she smiled at me as she leaned down and whispered, “May I help you, sonny?”

I whispered back, “Yes, ma'am. I'm looking for a book about rockets and outer space, please.” When you're from the South, you talk like that.

She sized me up, then stepped around the counter and hooked a finger for me to follow her. Librarians wore rubber-soled nurses' shoes back then, so she cat-footed ahead as she led me to the 600s. She looked down at me again, came to a decision, and unerringly plucked a yellow dust-jacketed book from the shelf. On the front was a breathtaking picture of a pair of spaceships, one all cylinders and spheres and the other sporting huge wings in addition. In large black letters, the title above the picture read, Rockets, Missiles, & Space Travel. At the bottom in red letters of a size, was the author's name, Willy Ley. After the Librarian softly stamped the book, making it mine for the next two weeks, I sat at a table, opened the book, and was never quite the same afterward.

Dr. Wernher von Braun (center), then Chief of the Guided Missile Development Division at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, discusses a "bottle suit" model with Dr. Heinz Haber (left), an expert on aviation medicine, and Willy Ley, a science writer on rocketry and space exploration. Photo found in Wikipedia.
  
Willy Ley, as far as I know, never actually launched a spaceship. Rather, he did something perhaps more important; he helped launch the idea of the spaceship. Rather than a designer or a technician, he was what's known as a “popularizer,” and a darn fine one. A popularizer is one who takes an arcane subject and makes it and its implications clear to the nonspecialist. To do this, the author has to know the ins and outs of the discipline and be able to explain it clearly and entertainingly. Very few technical types have this, what I consider, innate ability to communicate to the population at large while avoiding producing either drivel or dryness reminiscent of Death Valley.

Willy Ley was born in Berlin during the reign of the emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, in1906. At Berlin's university, he studied physics, astronomy, zoology, and vertebrate paleontology (considering his course of study, one is left with an impression like that of Buckaroo Banzai, who reputedly was born going in several directions at once). He moved to the University of Koenigsberg in East Prussia (now Kaliningrad in Russia) where he took a degree in journalism. After reading Hermann Oberth's By Rocket into Planetary Space (bear with me here—I haven't the foggiest notion how to get umlauts using Open Office, so all titles will be translated into English...probably badly), Ley became taken with the idea of spaceflight. In 1926, he was one of the founding members of “Spaceflight Society,” Wiemar Germany's amateur rocket club and edited the club's journal, “The Rocket.” Among other members were Wernher von Braun, Hermann Oberth, and many of the men who would design and build the V2 ballistic missile used against London, Paris, and Antwerp in 1944 and, after 1945, America's launch systems.

In 1935, Ley, sensing which way the wind was blowing after the Hitler's Nazis were voted into office in 1933, left for the United States by way of England. Arriving in the U.S., Ley joined the American Rocket Society and participated in experiments with mail carrying rocket planes in New York's Orange County (home of screaming chopper builders).

A fan of science fiction, Ley was dismayed at the general American opinion that rockets and space travel were something for the next century, if then. He set out to change this this by authoring nonfiction articles on rockets and spaceflight that ran in the popular press. Among the magazines to which he contributed factual articles was Astounding, a science fiction magazine skippered by a very no nonsense editor by the name of John Campbell. Ley also wrote a regular science column for Galaxy Magazine for 19 years, beginning with its premiere issue and ending only on his death (I only got to enjoy his columns for the last seven or eight years of their run).

Besides, his columns and articles, Willy Ley produced a stream of books (approximately 28 different titles). The one I held in my hands that summer afternoon started life as Rockets in 1944 (three printings), went on to become Rockets and Space Travel in 1947 (two printings), Rockets, Missiles, and Space Travel in 1951 (six printings), Rockets, Missiles, and Space Travel: Revised Edition 1957 (two printings)--the edition I was reading, and Rockets, Missiles, and Space Travel with Sputnik Data 1957—the copy lying on my lap as I type this. The final incarnation was entitled Rockets, Missiles, and Men in Space (first printing in 1968, and Lord only knows how many times that and its predecessor were reprinted—for the purposes of this column, I'm counting this book and all its ancestors as only one title). He also teamed with the first great planetary painter Chesley Bonestell to produce The Conguest of Space (on order from Amazon.com at the moment), The Conquest of the Moon with Wernher von Braun and Fred Whipple (maybe next month?), and a number of others dealing with space and Earth sciences.

Besides his writing, Ley acted as a technical advisor for several movies and TV shows (including Fritz Lang's movie, “The Woman in the Moon” in 1931, “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” 1950-1955—which I vaguely remember watching in a 34 foot Spartan house trailer somewhere in the wilds of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley-- and the animated serials,“The Space Explorers” and “The New Adventures of the Space Explorers,” in the late 50s—which I watched religiously on WTOP-Washington's “Ranger Hal” each morning before launching for school—yeah, I'm proud to say I've been a “space case” most of my life).

Another advisory gig in which I ran into Willy Ley was when Monogram Models hired him to design  several spaceship kits and write a informative booklet to go in the box of each. Ley was the kind of writer who caused kids pull the booklet out first and read it a couple of times before turning to build the kit.

As hard as Willy Ley worked toward the realization of spaceflight to other worlds, he just barely missed the denouement of his career. Willy Ley, age 62, died 26 days before Neil Armstrong set his foot on the lunar surface.

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Movie Review: MARS





I had a really bad weekend for reasons I don't need to get into, and you don't want to know about as they have nothing to do with space.  However, after crying with a sappy movie, I decided I needed a laugh and found this little gem that has a lot to do with space.  Here's the Netflix write-up.


Using the bold, bright colors of a graphic novel, this animated romantic comedy follows three astronauts as they race against a robot-manned spaceship to become the first crew to land on Mars. Along the way, they endure boredom, stress and love. As Charlie (Mark Duplass), Casey (Zoe Simpson) and Hank (Paul Gordon) travel ever closer to the Red Planet, the nature of exploration -- and why we are so drawn to the heavens -- is compellingly examined.
Disregard the hyperbole at the end--they did not "compellingly examine" anything.  This is a dry humor look at space exploration--good, bad, and ugly. 

The Good:  I laughed from the very introduction, which starts with this grand ideal of going back into space...except that we're not so good at building stuff anymore.  It only got funnier when the joint Russian/ESA Mars probe failed.  How timely is that joke?  I chuckled all the way to the end, where the probe displays a message from the President to the intelligent aliens...except that the intelligent aliens had already lost interest and wandered off.  I guess I'm not the only one who wondered if Voyager's golden record, which includes a welcome from Jimmy Carter and the song, "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" was really going to make an impact on intelligent life anywhere.  I also fell apart when contamination from Russian snot created life on Mars; in particular because at WorldCon, Brother Guy Consolmagno said in a panel that he was against manned missions to Mars because of the concern of contaminating the environment, so that we would not know what was truly native. 

I will say that you need to be in a mood to laugh and to appreciate dry wit, or this movie might fall flat, but I loved it.

Other things I loved:  The animation style was different--live actors cartoonified.  The dialogue was in keeping with a comic book, as were some of the transitions.  I thought it was clever and a fun change from the slick stuff we're used to.  The hairstyles were a riot, as were the Russian janitors.

The Bad:  This is tough, because I loved this movie.  However, it has a lot of rotten reviews on Netflix, mostly because of the dialogue and very dry humor.  I think you need to be up on some space news and events to appreciate some of the jokes.  If you read this blog, you should get them.  (If not, comment or e-mail me.)  There were a few times when I thought they were being stupid for no good reason, like not having a line on Carlie when he goes EVA.  Surely, they could have fashioned a rope.  I also thought the piddle scene was unnecessary, and not in character for Casey.  Charlie should have instigated is all I can say without spoilers.

The Ugly:  Some folks may find the animation ugly.  You get used to it.  The hairstyles are deliberately ugly.  Russian snot--waaaay ugly! 


Overall, I gave the movie 4 of 5 stars.  I seldom give 5 stars.  I definitely recommend it when you want an evening of popcorn and light viewing.

See it on Netflix:  http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Mars/70134659?trkid=2361637

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Some good news in Earth Security

Looks like we may not be in as much danger as we thought.

NEOWISE observations indicate that there are at least 40 percent fewer near-Earth asteroids in total that are larger than 330 feet, or 100 meters. Our solar system's four inner planets are shown in green, and our sun is in the center. Each red dot represents one asteroid. Object sizes are not to scale. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In 1998, Congress asked NASA to map the skies and determine just how many asteroids that could wreck havoc--from Armageddon to "Downtown is now a crater--news at 11."  This means asteroids roughly 330 meters in size and spanning as far as the asteroid belt.  the result id good news for the Earth...and not-so good news for Hollywood or Armageddon alarmists.  The estimate of asteroids that could destroy our home has been cut significantly:  from 35,000 to about 19,500.

The main reason:  we can judge sizes better in infrared, which is what NASA is using in its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.  Using infrafre rather than visible light, we can get a better idea of the size of an object because it doesn't depend on how well the object reflects light.  A material's ability to reflect light is it's albedo.  As you can see from this image, a small object with a high albedo looks as bright as a big object with a low albedo.  In infrared, however, the size is more apparent.
So the number of wreck-your-world asteroids is cut.  Does that help us?  Perhaps, in that we can more easily track them.  Of the large asteroids, 981 have been found, and we're tracking 911 already, for example.

Of course, the real question is, should we see one heading our way, what can we do?  At least we know the chances of that happening are smaller.  None of the large planet-killers should be heading our way for a few centuries, according to NASA, so we have some breathing time.


Full article here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/WISE/news/wise20110929.html

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