In support of good story – AXANAR

My Children will be the first to tell you that I am a full on Trekie. I watch it, I read about it, I know it’s history. I have read things about how the scripts were made and know things about the production of different episodes. I breed it into my kids. All of them know, for example, the proper response to, “Live Long and Prosper.” Most of them can even do the famous Vulcan hand sign by the time they are two or three.

With that in mind, you might understand why it is that I got upset about the most recent Star Trek Movie. I am not going to go into all of that here, if you want to read about it, you can see it here. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS – A REVIEW and IT IS NOT THAT I HATE REBOOTS, I JUST WANT A NEW STORY However, the long and the short of it is that the Star Trek Universe is so huge, that there is no excuse for retelling an old story for one of the movies.

And before you get all up in arms and point to Trouble with Tribbles and Trials and Tribulations, that was a very special case where they were celebrating and anniversary, and it was a single episode in a series that ran for seven seasons.

But enough about that. What I really want to talk about is the future of the Star Trek Universe. I know there are rumors about giving Worf (Michael Dorn) his own series and I am excited to see where that goes. However right now there are a number of fan based projects going.

This one AXANAR is one of the most promising. Axanar_Logo_ret-small

The great part of this is that it takes a story that was only hinted at in the original series, and fills in the gaps, instead of retelling a story that is already out there. This story fills in the gaps, and that expands the Star Trek Universe making it a far richer place.

What Follows is the Prelude to Axanar. Think of it as a 21 minute episode that gives you the background so you understand what is happening in the feature length movie that is coming out at the end of this year. (2015)

This is a fan based film. This is a “for the love” production. They can’t ever make any money on this. That means that they do need your support to make this happen. Before you role your eyes and say, “Oh a fan film,” They have hired professional actors, set designers, CGI production and script writers. This thing is top notch and could easily stand next to any of the official regular episodes. So please consider donating to this so that they can make this film and hopefully more after it. I think after you watch it, you will agree with me that it is completely worth your time and maybe a little of your money.

So Grab your phaser and your tricorder and prepare for a little old school Trek, with some incredible story telling.

Now that you have watched it, again please consider giving in some way. If you can’t afford anything right now, just share it with other people who you know will like it, so that they can see and maybe donate. This is what Star Trek should be. http://www.startrekaxanar.com/

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What’s in a Name? The Power that a Name can Hold

297755main_GPN-2001-000009_fullRecently my wife and I have started watching Bones. I missed this when it first came out. Ok, I miss most things when they first come out. Truth is I don’t watch much broadcast TV, at least not as broadcast TV. But that is not what I want to talk about.

As I said, we were watching Bones the other night, and they found someone dead. Surprise! This person worked for “The Agency.” It was said that the Agency, would protect its own. That the agency would protect their interests. It was even hinted that the agency might have killed this person to protect their image and keep certain secrets. At one point, FBI agent Booth says, “… I don’t care what you say, our government does not kill people,” to which Bones replies “You were a sniper…” This suggested two things, first that yes, our government does kill people, and second that it would not be such a stretch to believe that, “The Agency” would also kill people to keep their secrets.

Probably none of this is surprising. It should also not surprise you that a show about how wonderful science is, and that routinely takes jabs at religion and belief systems, government agencies, and what a lot of people feel is pretty normal stuff, would take a jab at another government agency. What is surprising about this is what “Agency” they were talking about, NASA!

I don’t think that any one would be really surprised, in this day and age, that every government agency has a bit of a dark side. But, NASA is one of those that is held up as a shining beacon of progress, of hope for the future of not only our government, but of the human race in the form of colonization of other worlds. NASA is one that we, well at least I, hope has not been touched by this.

Let me make it very clear. This was a fiction. I believe it to be a fiction, and I am only talking about it because I want to show the power of names.

Throughout the episode, they called it “The Agency,” only occasionally referring to it as NASA. Only hinting at the work that they do obliquely. By calling it the agency, and focusing on the actions of a few, they were able to cast it in a dark light. They were able to make it look like any other part of what is routinely portrayed on this show and others as a completely corrupt government that was capable of doing incredibly bad things. That is the power of a name. That is the power of suggestion that a name has. I think that if they had called it NASA all the way through the episode no one would have taken the episode seriously. It would have been laughed at. If they had shown even one rocket lifting off, or some pictures of space, it would have completely ruined the mood they were going for. As it was, the closest they got was one very cropped shot of two people in space suits and a few seconds aboard the “vomit comet.” Even the picking of that and using that name likely was intended to give a negative feel to it. No one likes to vomit.

I want to be clear about this. I don’t think NASA or really any part of the government is bad intrinsically. In fact, I think that most government agencies really try to do good, even the ones that we typically think of as being “bad.” I think NASA really is a beacon of hope for scientific progress, and the future of man kind. But, I do think, that there is incredible power in names.

As a fiction writer, I think this is important to keep in mind as we name our organizations, and groups, locations and star ships. Those names will determine how our readers perceive them. And how are works will be seen by others.

The Question of a New Species From Space

Cheapastro-logo
I have touched on this topic before but I really think I need to revisit it again as I recently heard the reason for it again.

Cheap Astronomy (a really great podcast and website) has a frequent section called Ask Cheap Astronomy, where you can ask a question and they will answer it. In their Ask Cheap Astronomy # 9 they were asked a question about humans traveling in space.

Dear Cheap Astronomy – If a human crew left Earth to explore the galaxy and their
descendants returned to Earth 100,000 years later, could they still be considered human?
(Rene).

I am going to provide a link to their answer rather than the whole thing since I don’t technically have permission to post it, but I can point you to their website so you can read it. So here is their answer and here is the answer in the original audio format.

I want to make 2 things perfectly clear before I go forward.

      1. Their answer is technically correct.
      2. I really like most everything cheap astronomy does and so this is not meant to detract from that but rather to add to it.

Cheap Astronomy (In short) suggests that while genetic drift would likely not be enough after only 100,000 years that we would have a new species but that maybe after floating around for 100,000 years the “human” beanbags with arms that came back would likely not want to mate with the bi-pedal monstrosities here on Earth and vise versa.

They seem to have been couching their response in such a way that the answer they gave Rene would be, “yes.” They did touch on things like genetic drift and selective evolution through “survival of the fittest,” but also mentioned that in human communities those things tend to not be a factor. See their answer for more details on why that is true. They also assumed that during this 100,000 year journey the occupants of the space ship would experience little or no gravity and so would “evolve” to adapt to that environment.

As I said, their answer is technically correct. What I think it lacks is a dose of reality.

Let’s Tackle Gravity First

Gravity is a force acting equally on two masses that lessens with distance but never really stops.

Thanks to Wiki for this explanation

Every point mass attracts every single other point mass by a force pointing along the line intersecting both points. The force is proportional to the product of the two masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them:
F = G \frac{m_1 m_2}{r^2}\ ,

where:
F is the force between the masses,
G is the gravitational constant,
m1 is the first mass,
m2 is the second mass, and
r is the distance between the centers of the masses.

Understanding that the micro gravity that Astronauts encounter while orbiting the Earth is do to free fall. They are technically falling toward Earth. The same is true of people moving around in space. They are more or less falling toward something.

So as they moved away from the Earth, and the Sun and Jupiter and eventually everything in our solar system the gravity they would feel would keep getting less. But there are some other things to think about.

We have to assume (again injecting some reality into the situation) that our voyagers are going somewhere, even if that is just a grand tour of all the local interstellar space around us. (100,000 years is a pretty long time, just not genetically speaking.) if they ever hoped to make “landfall” on a planet or other body with gravity they would have to made some provisions. Even if they were just planning on such a journey and planned to come back and wanted to be able to mix with the human race again or even land on Earth, they would have had to make some plans to make that possible if for no other reason than they listened to this cautionary tale on w w w dot Cheap Astro dot com.

While things like Star Trek style gravity plating and inertial dampers have not yet been invented there are some pretty easy ways to have a space traveler experience forces that mimic gravity. Building a round space ship that spins as it travels through space. Getting the most out of your fuel and causing the least amount of stress on what would necessarily be a large ship (more on that later) by constant acceleration, also would provide for some force to be exerted on the inhabitants of this ship.

There are reasons for wanting this other than just being able to mate with humans when you get back. Without gravity, or some force that mimics it, there are no showers. Things like free flowing water would have to be severely limited if allowed at all. Foods that produce crumbs of any kind. Cooking, and baking, things that would have to happen, would have to be completely modified without gravity otherwise, everything made on this space ship would have to be microwaved. Even people who profusely sweat when they work out would cause problems with floating blobs of sweat. There are so many processes that we take for granted here in a gravity well on Earth and problems that the inhabitants of the ISS just have to deal with, because they are only there for a short time that it would be impossible to do without on such a long journey. So gravity, or a force like gravity, would be necessary to make living on such a ship for such a long time possible. Not to mention that we don’t even know if human reproduction is possible in micro gravity. There are things that millions of years of evolution have prepared our bodies for, that might not work in micro gravity, and it would be a terrible shame to have a ship go out for 100,000 years only to come back with the dusty remains of the first generation who were never able to reproduce properly.

Even if they had gravity, it would likely not be full Earth gravity so likely if nothing else the people might be very tall when they come back.

Speaking of reproduction

This is going to have to be a large ship, I mean huge. Not world sized or even moon sized but it is going to have to be big. But likely not big enough that it’s gravity would have any appreciable effect on the inhabitants. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first has to do with reproduction.

What does it have to do with reproduction you ask? Well, there are some factors that the folks who plan this trip are going to need to think about. If you are going to start a colony, any colony be that a space faring one or one on a tropical island you are going to need to make sure that your future generations don’t suffer from things like founders effect.

Founders effect is – the reduced genetic diversity that results when a population is descended from a small number of colonizing ancestors.

What this means is that if the planners of the expedition to the stars are not trying to become another species through genetic shift, and want the best chance that in 5 or 10 generations odd mutations won’t start showing up, they will need to have a large enough population to have the genetic depth to prevent that from happening.

What about disease or mutation? We have been talking up to this point about natural genetic drift, but what if the people on the colony ship got involved with genetics. While it might be the case that they carefully screen everyone on the ship for genetic diseases and are very careful about making sure no one was sick before they got on board, there is always a chance that something got on board. Legionaries disease for example. Or what if there was some accident on the ship that wiped out a large portion of the population so that they no longer had the genetic depth to make normal breeding practices a viable option. Or there might be any number of reasons why on a colony ship that social and societal morays on genetic engineering on the human species would become acceptable. They would not even have to go as far as the gene splicing mad scientist, and simply encourage mating among individuals that had certain characteristics in order to make humans better suited to their environment.

Ship Size

As I said this would have to be a large ship to accommodate all those people, their food supply, their waste recycling systems, power systems and drive systems. Remember that solar power is not going to be an option for more than the first couple of years, until they are out beyond Jupiter, at which point the solar panels would have to be so big to collect the power needed that they would likely be bigger than the ship. A ship this size is going to require a large power system and an even larger drive system to keep it powered up and moving along. All things that would contribute to over all size of the ship, and make large typical rocket looking designs impractical. Another thing to consider this ship is going to need to be able to accommodate two to three times as many people as they started out with. The first generation is going to need to have offspring and then there is going to be the general ebb and flow of population growth that will naturally occur, unless strict rules are in place and followed.

Future Improvements or the Question of Communicating with Earth

There is the question that if a ship was going to travel out for 100,000 years would they want to keep in contact with Earth. There are a couple of reasons why they might not want to, like maybe they are fugitives or maybe they are trying to escape from all the problems of Earth and so don’t want anything to do with them for the next 100,000 years. However, I think that the benefits of staying in contact with the home world would out weight any reason for not staying in contact.

This is another topic that Cheap Astronomy has already touched on but I want to add my two cents in here but I highly encourage you to go check out their episodes. There was a discussion about if you had two species flying toward each other. One stayed static (very long lives) and didn’t contact their home world, and one that was short lived (like us) and stayed in contact despite the difficulties. (longer and longer time lag.) When they met which one would be better prepared? The answer in short is the one that stayed in contact. The reason is that even if you grouped the greatest minds on the planet on the ship in hopes that they would come up with brilliant ideas on the way, they are still only a few hundred or even a thousand people, verses a few billion here on Earth. While they might be the most brilliant minds of their time eventually they will die. While it is true that likely their offspring will be bright, there will be billions of people on Earth who will also have bright children who also come up with great ideas that they can share with the people on the ship, and there are just some things that you can’t do while traveling through space, because you don’t have the “space.” (Think the large Hadron Collider.)

Then there is technological shift. Look around you. Find all of the things that are 100 years old, 500 years old, now 1000 years old. I am willing to bet that you don’t find that many. While 100,000 years is not a long time genetically speaking it is a long time technologically and linguistically speaking. Just to give some perspective, The computers on the Apollo landers could have all been replaced (probably pretty easily) with my iPod. The computer that I am writing this on would have been considered magic only 100 years ago. Less than 500 years ago Christopher Columbus sailed across the ocean from Spain to find India. 1000 years ago was still considered the middle ages in Europe. 2000 years ago Cesar and his legions were conquering the “world.” 5000 years ago Egypt was just starting to develop as a kingdom and men were learning to use bronze instead of stone for tools. Imagine the technological progress that will be made in 100,000 years. A small colony would not have a hope of being able to keep up with what we did here on Earth. And even if they were able to keep up with it, without communication, they would very quickly diverge from what we have done and their technology would end up being extremely different than ours.

Back to the subject of looking around you. How many objects around you do you see that are more than 10 years old, how about 100? Not too many. It is very likely that within a few generations the colony ship would have to be replaced or at least modified to keep it from falling apart. They would need to update their ship. The technological updates from Earth on how to make better power supplies, stronger ships, faster engines would be invaluable. It is not too hard to imagine that in two or three generations that someone hear on Earth would come up with something like Star Trek style gravity plating or inertial dampers. Sharing those with the colony ship would allow them to build different style ships, and maybe even smaller and less power consuming ships.

Linguistically there are only a few people in the world that can understand languages from a few thousand years ago, and none of them that would be able to speak them in a way that people who used them would be able to understand. For this reason, keeping a line of communication open between Earth and our travelers would be of vast importance. Imagine them coming back to Earth and having to spend another generation trying to figure out how to speak to us. Or worse they come back to Earth. The People of Earth have forgotten about them. They can’t communicate with us and so we blow them out of the sky instead of taking the risk that they are someone here to conquer us. (This is the stuff Scifi is made of.)

Before 5000 years ago we have few records because while we believe languages abounded, written languages were just being developed, and the medium they were recorded on has not lasted all that long. Imagine the jumps in language and culture that will happen over the next 100,000 years. Even if they kept records so that they could try to communicate with Earth do you really think the floppy disk that the colonists loaded all their data on will still be around and working 100,000 years from now?

How ’bout Those Fast Engines or How Long Have They Been Gone Again?

Again while we have not developed warp engines and there is some doubt that they could ever be developed there is no doubt fast engines would give them the best chance of being able to see some of the other stars and get back in the next 100,000 years. But the nearer they traveled to light speed the more they (or we depending on your point of view) would suffer from relativistic effects. So the question becomes who is counting the 100,000 years. If they are traveling at some large fraction of the speed of light, and they are counting to 100,000 it might be very much longer for us here on Earth. If we are counting then it might be much shorter for them. It could be possible that they only travel for 1000 years in their measurement and come back what would seem to us like 100,000 years.

Summing it all up

While Rene’s question was about them being a different species there are a lot of other questions to consider when answering this one question. I have only scratched the surface. Would they be a different species? Well given a perfect environment maybe not. Would we recognize them when they came back? That is a different question entirely. And how would things have changed while they were gone? I think an even better question would be would they want to come back, or would there be an Earth for them to come back to. But those are the subject of Sci/Fi and not Cheap Astronomy.

Thank you to Cheap Astronomy for giving me such a wonderful mind stretching concept to talk about.

Torn about the Moon – On Private Companies in Space

apollo_11_celebration

I am all over the map this week, but once again I find that I am torn on an issue. This one might not be quite as deep as the issue I was talking about yesterday, but in my mind it is still pretty important.

Earlier this week I saw posted in several locations this post about privates companies going to the Moon. Here is a YouTube video talking about one such company called Moon Express. 755241main_Sun-fullMoon_full_full

First, I want to say that it is great that private companies are getting involved in space exploration. I personally think that the worlds space administrations have stagnated. They have gotten to a point where they are not doing anything that is going to capture the imagination of the future engineers and scientist they will need to keep their programs running. They, NASA especially, has become a bureaucracy, and no one grows up with the plan to go to work for a bureaucracy. They are not the agile nimble group that send men to the moon nearly 60 years ago.

752983main_8905722051_3b553cf223_o-full_full
If they ever want to be like that again, they will need one of two things to happen. Either there could be another space race type of event. Something that evoked enough national pride, that they get the budget they needed to make it happen, and by sheer force of will they moved the giant forward. Or the Space agency would need to break apart in such a way that the the manned mission portion of NASA was seen as a separate agency and could once again be nimble enough to make a mission to the moon or elsewhere possible.

But since neither of those are likely to happen, it is more likely that private companies will be the ones to make it back to the Moon and beyond. As the video says, small groups are now able to do what only super powers could do before, and I think that is great. It is wonderful that the technology has advanced enough that this can happen. image08012013_250m

That leads me to my first point.

Technology

The technology to go to space, to the moon and to the planets was pioneered by NASA and the other space administrations of the world. I am going to talk about NASA here because that is the one I know the most about. One of the great things about a Government of the people, running a space administration is that everything that they collect, all of the accomplishments that they make, all the technologies they develop, belong to the people whom the govern, and by extension to the whole world.

bqcc7yvceamhgpd-fullI recently had a chance to see a presentation by and Astronaut who had spent a good amount of time on the ISS. After she was done with her presentation and she had answered all the standard questions about the bathroom on the space station, she was asked this question. “You are only allowed to take a very few things with you, didn’t you wish that you could have taken your camera?”

The answer to this question was, “No. One of the great things about working with NASA on the international space station is that everything you do up there is available to the public. All those pictures I showed you, all the videos, all the work that we did up there, you can go on NASA.gov right now and look at any of it.” I am paraphrasing here a bit, but that was the gist of what she said.754349main_butterfly_nebula_full_full

Everything they do is available to the public at large. That includes all the images and work from the telescopes and the research stations around the world, the ISS, the landers on Mars and even things like the Voyager spacecraft that are breaching the edge of our Solar System. To Prove my point here, ALL of the images that I am using in this post are from NASA’s website. (The one next to the Technology Paragraph is new on their site today. NASA Image of the Day: Unsettled Weather Across Central Australia.)

755801main_iss_view_cropped_100-75As I said, I am not sure that NASA Can be the ones to send a manned mission to the Moon again or even Mars. I am not sure. I do think that private companies can. I even think they probably will.

Here is where the problems could come in. Private companies have to make a profit. There has to be something in it for them. The diner my wife and I go to on the weekends has a sign near the register,

“Running a business without making a profit is like eating soup with a fork. A lot of work but you are still hungry.”

297755main_GPN-2001-000009_fullI don’t begrudge them that. No matter how altruistic they are, they do need to make a profit in order to stay in business, otherwise they are a government agency like NASA. keeping that in mind, guess how much data, resources, how many pictures of the moon they have to share with the public?

ZERO.

They don’t have to share any of it with us. Up until now, they have been pretty good about that. SpaceX, who launched the Dragon spacecraft, as far as I know, shared what they learned. Some of that might have been a show of how awesome they are, and some of that might have been the deal they forged with NASA. But what happens with they surpass NASA? What happens when they don’t need the out dated ISS, or the space administration in general?

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Let me make it perfectly clear, I don’t see these companies as big bad corporations, I see them as needing to make a profit, so that they can further space exploration. Space is big really really big, and the dollars that is takes to get there is mind numbing. So they will need to sell the information / services / technology so that they can keep doing what they are doing.

That brings me to my next point.

Why are they going to the Moon?

image Credit: European Space Agency/NASA/Hubble
image Credit: European Space Agency/NASA/Hubble

These are for profit businesses, what profit is there in going to the moon? I am in the camp with Buzz Aldrin on this one. We have been to the Moon, we really need to take the next step and put people on Mars. Not just put people there, but put a colony there.

What we discovered from our trips to the moon is that there is really very little there. There might be some water there, but not much, certainly not enough to sustain large colonies. Considering the current theories on the moons formation, what we will find there is what we will find on Earth as far as mineral deposits. To quote Spock from The Wrath of Khan(see the warning in the side bar) “Regula (or in this case the moon) is class ‘D’. It consists of various unremarkable ores. Essentially, a great rock in space.”

So what are the possibilities of going to the moon.

Image Credit: NASA/J. Eggers
Image Credit: NASA/J. Eggers
Space Tourism – Obviously there is a draw there. If companies could some how overcome the enormous cost of launching a person into space, and get them past the mind Numbing 4 day trip out there, and the 4 day trip back, the moon would most likely be a very desirable place for space tours to go. It is not the multi-year commitment that it would take to go to Mars. That might itself be a selling point for the “Rich and Famous” who want to say they have been in space but don’t want to disappear from the public eye for a couple of years. But in the end when you add up what it costs to get them there and back again, and the costs of having someone there, eating the food, drinking the water, breathing the air would they be able to make enough of a profit to make it worth it?

729223main_728322main_messenger_orbit_image20130218_2_full_full_full1[1]Scientific research – There are things that you can do on the moon that you can’t do on Earth. Being on the far side of the Moon blocks all radio noise and light from the Earth (and because I quoted Spock I have to quote Kirk here) “Reliant (or in this case a research station) could be hiding behind that rock.” That would give them the ability to look at space without all the interference from Earth. I am also sure there are experiments that would benifit for the hard vacuum of space or the super cold temperatures or even the low gravity of the moon. But The scientists at research stations would be under enormous amounts of pressure to produce, due to the incredibly high costs of getting them there, and maintaining the facility.

Image Credit: NASA
Image Credit: NASA
A “Midway point” or Launching point – While it is true that in relative distances the moon is no closer to Mars or the outer planets than the Earth is, it does have a much lower gravity. That means that lunching things off the moon (heavier things that might be manufactured on the the moon) would be cheaper. Is this enough of a reason to have a mission to Mars or the outer planets start on the moon? I am not sure. Would the benefit of launching from the moon out weight the benefit of using the Earth’s gravity to “sling shot” a spacecraft further into space? Is there enough of a gravity well to make using the moon like that a solution? Again things that I don’t know the answer to.

Dragon Captured by ISSMining – This one to me is questionable. Yes, there are things on the Moon that could be mined. However, as I said before they are essentially the same things that are on Earth only 384,400 km (238,900 mi) away. There might not be some of the environmental issues on the moon that there are on Earth. It might be easier, due to the low gravity to mine on the moon. But the high price tag of getting people there, and maintaining them there, not to mention getting the mined ore or what ever back to Earth might not make it a commercial viability. Then again at the rate we are using our resources this might indeed be one.

Spacex_HQI am sure there are other reasons, but I am unsure that, like these they have a commercial viability. That of course brings be back to both points. NASA was able to send people to the Moon because it was publicly funded. Because it was publicly funded, the public also benefited everything they did. There is no real need for NASA to go back to the Moon so getting the public funding to do so it highly unlikely. Getting the funding and therefore the support of going to Mars or eventually some of the outer planets and their moons on the other hand might very well be possible because we have never been there. Because we know there are things to explore and learn there, and because we do need to start looking at not being stuck in the “cradle of civilization” in case something terrible should happen.

05pd0362-mSo yes, I am torn about going to the moon again. I am torn about private companies doing it. But I don’t really know if there is a better solution.

And because I am just that much of a space nut, and I am so happy that all these images are available for public use. Here is a slideshow of all of the pictures I used, in bigger formats so that you can see them better.

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