Monthly Archives: June 2012

Falling in Love With Mars: A Tribute to Ray Bradbury

“Falling in Love With Mars: A Tribute to Ray Bradbury,” by Joi Weaver

I remember when I fell in love with the Red Planet. It wasn’t seeing pictures from Sojourner or the MER rovers. It wasn’t from any scientific data at all.

I fell in love with Mars when Spender quoted Byron in a dead Martian city at at night, in the first chapters of The Martian Chronicles.

“So we’ll go no more a-roving,
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright. 

For the sword outwears the sheath,
And the heart outwears the breast,
And the soul must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest. 

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
We’ll go no more a-roving,
By the light of the moon.”

At that moment, it didn’t matter to me whether or not Mars had ever known life. It didn’t matter if Mars was a dead world. Mars was cold, dry, open, and I loved it.

I devoured the rest of The Martian Chronicles, watching the sudden growth of trees planted by an early colonist, cheering as Mars became a home for the homeless and disenfranchised of Earth. Ray Bradbury wove an intricate narrative, bringing Mars to life through the stories of people of every conceivable background. As I read, Mars became more than a red dot in the night sky, more than a cold dead world. Mars became home.

At the end of The Martian Chronicles, Earth becomes embroiled in yet another war, one that threatens to wipe out all life on the planet. Most of the Mars dwellers return, even though they know it means leaving Mars behind forever. But a few stay. In the final scene of the book, a single family sets out on an adventure to “find the Martians.” At the end of their trip, they look down into a pool of water and see their own faces looking back. “The Martians were there–in the canal– reflected in the water. Timothy and Michael and Robert and Mom and Dad. The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water…”

Bradbury often stated that he did not write science fiction stories; instead, he insisted, he wrote people stories. The people in his stories might live on Earth in the future, or on a spaceship, or on Mars, but they were still people: fallible, but always familiar. A reader might not identify with a robotic explorer or a technological genius; but a young woman, boarding a ship to travel to Mars and begin life on the new frontier with her husband, is a character any reader can connect with.

Bradbury didn’t just feed the imagination or paint a picture of a world to be explored. He flung wide the doors to the universe, and filled it with little bits of Earth: people, places, books, art, music. He showed us the cosmos and made it feel like home. He reminded us that it is not enough to survive on a new world through technological prowess, we must bring all of the best of humanity with us, or our new worlds will remain nothing but outposts.

Farewell, Ray Bradbury. And thank you.

SpaceX’s Founder Elon Musk’s Caltech Commencement Address

“A rapidly reusable transport system to Mars. It’s something right on the borderline of impossible. But, that’s the sort of the thing that we’re trying to achieve with SpaceX.”

From Elon Musk’s 2012 commencement address at Caltech: “What are some of the other problems that are likely to most affect the future of humanity? Not from the perspective, ‘what’s the best way to make money,’ which is okay, but, it was really ‘what do I think is going to most affect the future of humanity.’ The biggest terrestrial problem is sustainable energy. Production and consumption of energy in a sustainable manner. If we don’t solve that in this century, we’re in deep trouble. And the other thing I thought might affect humanity is the idea of making life multi-planetary.

“The latter is the basis for SpaceX and the former is the basis for Tesla and SolarCity. When I started SpaceX, initially, I thought that well, there’s no way one could start a rocket company. I wasn’t that crazy. But, then, I thought, well, what is a way to increase NASA’s budget? That was actually my initial goal. If we could do a low cost mission to Mars, Oasis, which would land with seeds in dehydrated nutrient gel, then hydrate them upon landing. We’d have a great photo of green plants with a red background [Laughter]. The public tends to respond to precedence and superlatives. This would be the first life on Mars and the furthest life had ever traveled.

“That would get people excited and increase NASA’s budget. But the financial outcome would be zero. Anything better would on the upside. So, I went to Russia three times to look at buying a refurbished ICBM… [Laughter] …because that was the best deal. [Laughter] And I can tell you it was very weird going late 2001-2002 to Russia and saying ‘I want to buy two of your biggest rockets, but you can keep the nukes.’ [Laughter] The nukes are a lot more. That was 10 years ago.

“They thought I was crazy, but, I did have money. [Laughter] So, that was okay. [Laughter] After making several trips to Russia, I came to the conclusion that, my initial impression was wrong about not enough will to explore and expand beyond earth and have a Mars base. That was wrong. There’s plenty of will, particularly in the United States. Because United States is the nation of explorers, people came here from other parts of the world. The United States is a distillation of the spirit of human exploration. If people think it’s impossible and it’s going to break the budget, they’re not going to do it.

“So, after my third trip, I said, okay, what we need to do already is try to solve the space transport problem and started SpaceX. This was against the advice of pretty much everyone I talked to. [Laughter]. One friend made me watch videos of rockets blowing up. [Laughter] He wasn’t far wrong. It was tough going there in the beginning. I never built anything physical. I never had a company that built something physical. So, I had to bring together the right team of people. We did all that, then, failed three times. It was tough, tough going.

There’s more to happen for humanity to become a multi-planet species. It’s vitally important. And I hope that some you have will participate in that at SpaceX or other companies. It’s really one of the most important things for the preservation and extension of consciousness. It’s worth noting that Earth has been around for 4 billion years, but civilization in terms of having writing is only about 10,000 years, and that’s being generous.”

"The Most Astounding Fact" Neil deGrasse Tyson

What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?

Neil deGrasse Tyson:
The most astounding fact is the knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on Earth the atoms that make up the human body are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars, the high mass ones among them went unstable in their later years they collapsed and then exploded scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. 

These ingredients become part of gas cloud that condense, collapse, form the next generation of solar systems stars with orbiting planets, and those planets now have the ingredients for life itself. So that when I look up at the night sky and I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up – many people feel small because they’re small and the Universe is big – but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. 

There’s a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant you want to feel like a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive…

Neil deGrasse Tyson: "Audacious Visions"

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
Antoine St. Exupery

Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Audacious Visions”:

Currently, NASA’s Mars science exploration budget is being decimated, we are not going back to the Moon, and plans for astronauts to visit Mars are delayed until the 2030s—on funding not yet allocated, overseen by a congress and president to be named later.

During the late 1950s through the early 1970s, every few weeks an article, cover story, or headline would extol the “city of tomorrow,” the “home of tomorrow,” the “transportation of tomorrow.” Despite such optimism, that period was one of the gloomiest in U.S. history, with a level of unrest not seen since the Civil War. The Cold War threatened total annihilation, a hot war killed a hundred servicemen each week, the civil rights movement played out in daily confrontations, and multiple assassinations and urban riots poisoned the landscape.

The only people doing much dreaming back then were scientists, engineers, and technologists. Their visions of tomorrow derive from their formal training as discoverers. And what inspired them was America’s bold and visible investment on the space frontier.

Exploration of the unknown might not strike everyone as a priority. Yet audacious visions have the power to alter mind-states—to change assumptions of what is possible. When a nation permits itself to dream big, those dreams pervade its citizens’ ambitions. They energize the electorate. During the Apollo era, you didn’t need government programs to convince people that doing science and engineering was good for the country. It was self-evident. And even those not formally trained in technical fields embraced what those fields meant for the collective national future.

For a while there, the United States led the world in nearly every metric of economic strength that mattered. Scientific and technological innovation is the engine of economic growth—a pattern that has been especially true since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.  That’s the climate out of which the New York World’s Fair emerged, with its iconic Unisphere—displaying three rings—evoking the three orbits of John Glenn in his Friendship 7 capsule.

During this age of space exploration, any jobs that went overseas were the kind nobody wanted anyway.  Those that stayed in this country were the consequence of persistent streams of innovation that could not be outsourced, because other nations could not compete at our level. In fact, most of the world’s nations stood awestruck by our accomplishments.

Let’s be honest with one anther.  We went to the Moon because we were at war with the Soviet Union. To think otherwise is delusion, leading some to suppose the only reason we’re not on Mars already is the absence of visionary leaders, or of political will, or of money. No. When you perceive your security to be at risk, money flows like rivers to protect us.

But there exists another driver of great ambitions, almost as potent as war. That’s the promise of wealth. Fully funded missions to Mars and beyond, commanded by astronauts who, today, are in middle school, would reboot America’s capacity to innovate as no other force in society can. What matters here are not spin-offs (although I could list a few: Accurate affordable Lasik surgery, Scratch resistant lenses, Cordless power tools, Tempurfoam, Cochlear implants, the drive to miniaturize of electronics…) but cultural shifts in how the electorate views the role of science and technology in our daily lives.

As the 1970s drew to a close, we stopped advancing a space frontier. The “tomorrow” articles faded. And we spent the next several decades coasting on the innovations conceived by earlier dreamers. They knew that seemingly impossible things were possible—the older among them had enabled, and the younger among them had witnessed the Apollo voyages to the Moon—the greatest adventure there ever was. If all you do is coast, eventually you slow down, while others catch up and pass you by.

All these piecemeal symptoms that we see and feel—the nation is going broke, it’s mired in debt, we don’t have as many scientists, jobs are going overseas—are not isolated problems. They’re part of the absence of ambition that consumes you when you stop having dreams. Space is a multidimensional enterprise that taps the frontiers of many disciplines: biology, chemistry, physics, astrophysics, geology, atmospherics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering. These classic subjects are the foundation of the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—and they are all represented in the NASA portfolio.

Epic space adventures plant seeds of economic growth, because doing what’s never been done before is intellectually seductive (whether deemed practical or not), and innovation follows, just as day follows night. When you innovate, you lead the world, you keep your jobs, and concerns over tariffs and trade imbalances evaporate. The call for this adventure would echo loudly across society and down the educational pipeline.

At what cost? The spending portfolio of the United States currently allocates fifty times as much money to social programs and education than it does to NASA. The 2008 bank bailout of $750 billion was greater than all the money NASA had received in its half-century history; two years’ U.S. military spending exceeds it as well. Right now, NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice that—a penny on a dollar—we can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow.

How much would you pay to “launch” our economy?

How much would you pay for the universe?

#Penny4NASA Petition and Facebook Page

#Penny4NASA’s purpose is to organize Americans to the increase NASA’s annual budget to a vast, yet comparably minuscule, penny on the taxpayer dollar. 1% of the total. In just one year, the U.S.’s military budget is equivalent to the entire 50-year running budget of NASA combined. (And we’d win more battles with assbackwards ideologies by sending Americans to Mars rather than Afghanistan.)

Oh hell yeah. Mars to Stay! Traitors Return to Earth!!

“Traitors Return to Earth formed in July of 2010 for one reason and one reason only, that is to play the heaviest music possible at the most unreasonable volumes. The band is influenced heavily by Sleep, Electric Wizard, High on Fire, YOB, Sons of Otis, Weedeater and many more.”

Bandcamp page:

Mars to Stay cover art

“This UK duo Mars to Stay slowly takes importance as a new slowcore band to follow attentively. There is something moving, desperate and melancholic which reminds me of a more restrained version of The Pine, as both singers put heart and soul in their interpretation without using a too emotional layout, letting you imagine all the darkness behind their vocals instead of pouring it out. Both tracks are memorable and captivating, leaning once again towards Low, Duster or even Empress, Movietone, Bluetile lounge or Songs of Green Pheasant. Superb.”

Bandcamp page: