Down to Earth Facts – Planetary Platitudes

Leave a comment

Amazing Facts

About

Planet Earth

Planet Earth is an amazing place, to say the least. And even though we’ve been living on its surface our entire life, there are still a lot of things we don’t know about it. Many things that we do know are awe-inspiring. What’s even more interesting about some of these is the fact that they have wide-scale implications on everything around them. But why try to be so mysterious, if we can give you 10 such examples, right?

 10. Planet Earth and a Cue Ball

We all know the Earth is big, there’s no denying it. But when it really comes down to it, we have a hard time coming to grips with its actual dimensions. So, in order to make things more relatable, let’s take a look at mountains. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to see or even climb Mount Everest can attest to the fact that it’s incredibly huge and incredibly humbling. But most people don’t even need to see any of the tallest mountains in the world to know that mountains are big. Now, let’s take our mental image of mountains as points of reference when we talk about the dimensions of the Earth. We know that the average diameter of the planet is of about 7,900 miles. It’s important to note here that Earth is not a perfect sphere, but rather  an oblate spheroid. This means that, because it’s spinning on its axis, the diameter at the equator is bigger than the distance between the poles by about 27 miles. And beside these differences, the planet also has some bumps and dents, but they’re much smaller than 27 miles.

With this information in mind, if we were to scale the planet down to the size of an average cue ball, we would come to an incredible realization. According to the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) Tournament Table and Equipment Specifications, every new ball should measure 2.25 inches in diameter and only have imperfections that cannot exceed 0.005 inches. By making the proper calculations here, it turns out that the biggest “imperfection” on Earth can be 17 miles and fall within WPA standards. While Mount Everest is almost 5.5 miles tall, and the Mariana trench is 6.8 miles deep, if they were taken together, side by side, the sum is still below the 17 mile margin. The same thing applies to the difference in diameter between the poles and the equator. Each half of the planet is responsible for its 13.5 mile share out of the total 27, which again is below 17 miles. So, anyone who has ever held a brand new cue ball in their hand and is not amazed by the fact that the Earth is even smoother than that? Well, he or she seriously needs to revise their sense of wonder about the world.

9. The Earth’s Crust

If you liked the previous example, you’ll like this one too. The planet’s crust is the only place in the whole seemingly infinite universe that we call home; at least for the time being. And it’s not even the whole crust, per se, just the surface. The deepest humans have ever managed to go was to a depth of 7.5 miles with the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia. Temperatures reached well above 356 °F, so it was only the drilling equipment and measuring apparatus that made it down there, while the scientists stayed safely on the surface. The actual thickness of the crust, like its temperature, varies from one place to the other. While the average thickness is of about 9.3 miles, it can reach a maximum of 55 miles under the Himalayas and just about 3.7 miles under the oceans.

Now, by knowing the planet’s diameter to be 7,900 miles, if we were to scale it down again, but this time to the size of a basketball, the Earth’s crust would be the thickness of a postage stamp; a postage stamp floating on a ball of molten rock and metal. Yes, this is true. So, the next time you hear someone comparing the planet’s crust to that of a chicken egg shell, know that information to be false. The planet’s crust is far thinner than that. If Earth was the size of an actual egg, the crust would probably be even thinner than the thickness of human skin that peels off after a sunburn. Yuck! And since the crust is also broken up into pieces that we call tectonic plates, it’s now easier to understand how and why continents move around so much. So, now that you know these two pieces of information about the crust and the actual size of the Earth, how do you think we fare in size here on Earth by comparison to bacteria on an actual billiard ball?

8. Earth’s “Heartbeat”

With the previous two entries on this list, would it really come as a surprise to anyone that Earth might just have an actual heartbeat? Well, yeah, it would, and this isn’t actually true, but the planet does have something closely resembling one. Every moment of every day, Earth is going through roughly 2,000 thunderstorms everywhere on its surface. And these thunderstorms produce roughly 50 lightning strikes every second. And in turn, each of these lightning strikes produces a series of electromagnetic waves that are captured and then bounce between the planet’s surface and the lower ionosphere, some 60 miles up. If the wavelength is just right, then some of these waves combine and increase in strength, creating a repeating atmospheric “heartbeat”, a phenomenon known in science as the Schumann resonance. This phenomenon has been known for a while now, but in 2011 researchers came to realize that this resonance isn’t just confined to the planet’s atmosphere, since some of the waves actually extend more than 500 miles into space.

On a somewhat similar note, a Dutch artist by the name of Lotte Geeven, in collaboration with geoscientists from the German Research Centre for Geosciences, have recorded the sounds made by the planet, deep inside its crust. The recording was done in Germany, in a hole similar to the one in Russia mentioned before. The German Continental Deep Drilling Program, or more commonly known as the KTB borehole, goes to a depth of six miles inside the Earth’s crust and here, scientists were able to capture the sounds made by the planet. Some have described these sounds as a “melancholic howl” or “a bell-like alarm denoting histories in the making.”

7. The Amazing Story about Oxygen

It’s no real mystery that Earth hasn’t always looked like it does today. In fact, our planet is in constant change even at the current moment, and for the better part of its existence, the conditions on the surface have almost always been different than they are now. So, with this in mind, let’s talk about oxygen and how it got here. Oxygen only became predominant in the atmosphere roughly 2.3 billion years ago, during an incident called the Great Oxygenation Event. Before this time, oxygen levels were marginal at best, making up just around 0.02% of all the gases in the air. But during the GOE, it reached levels of above 21%. This big rise is thanks to a tiny organism that is still alive today – Cyanobacteria, or more commonly known as the blue-green algae. These organisms are not algae, as their common name might suggest, but unicellular bacteria that can manufacture their own food. They live in water, form huge colonies, and use photosynthesis to turn the sun’s rays directly into energy. A byproduct of photosynthesis, as some of us know, is oxygen.

Over billions of years , these tiny creatures inhabited the world’s oceans, releasing more and more oxygen as they multiplied and spread. It’s safe to say that we owe thanks to these Cyanobacteria for our very existence and the world we live in today. It is, however, important to note that this new change in the planet’s chemistry did not go as smoothly as some might think. For starters, oxygen was toxic for all other living creatures on the planet at that time and nearly drove all previous anaerobic life into extinction. Secondly, the growing amount of oxygen in the air reacted with the already existing methane, which was in abundance at the time, creating CO2. And since methane is 25 to 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, Earth went through a severe cold spell that lasted for 300 million years and almost drove even the “mighty” Cyanobacteria into extinction.

Lastly, the higher levels of oxygen triggered an explosion, so to speak, in the number of minerals on the surface of the planet – minerals that otherwise would not have existed if it weren’t for the blue-green algae. More than 2,500 of the total 4,500 minerals now common on Earth appeared during the Great Oxygenation Event. So, the next time you think of humans as being the only species capable of changing the planet beyond recognition and having the capacity to drive life, including itself, into extinction… think again.

6. The Origins of Life

For all the credit we can give our men and women of science when it comes to all the discoveries they’ve made over the years, we still have to take into account the fact that we know surprisingly little when it comes to life and how it came into being

in the first place. Up until fairly recently, we believed we knew with a relatively high degree of certainty when life first appeared on Earth, and we had our presumptions on how it happened. But it seems that this theory has now changed. According to a recent study, we can now move the appearance of life back by another 300 million years, bringing it quite close to the moment when the planet actually formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

 If the research is confirmed, then it would seem that life formed 4.1 billion years ago, from a primordial disk of dust and gas surrounding the Sun just before the Earth started forming. The researchers came to this conclusion after observing tiny specks of graphite trapped inside zircon crystals. This graphite is usually associated with signs of life. Another theory that can account for its existence in the crystals is a massive meteor impact. But given the amount needed to explain these findings, it makes the meteor theory highly unlikely, though not entirely dismissible. If proven true, however, and life is as old as this new evidence suggests, then it would seem it’s even older than the Moon itself. “With the right ingredients, life seems to form very quickly,” said Mark Harrison, a professor of geochemistry at UCLA and member in this study.

5. Two Planets Become One

Ever thought about how the Moon was formed? Probably because it’s visible up in the sky almost every other night, people have grown accustomed to seeing it and don’t give it a second thought. But the Moon’s history, and especially its birth, are amazing and terrifying, to say the least. Back in the early days of the solar system, and soon after our planet began to take shape, fate would place young Earth on a direct collision course with another planet we now call Theia. Now, even though it’s hard to know for certain if this actually happened, there are strong indications that it did. According to the calculations, this sister planet of ours was roughly the size of Mars (or slightly smaller), and because of the still unpredictable and chaotic nature of the solar system at the time, it was flung in the direction of Earth.

In the aftermath of the collision, two things happened. The two planets merged to form this one we are all standing on right now. And secondly, much of the debris that was flung into space came together and formed the Moon. Now, as we said before, this collision theory is not certain. But the relatively large size of the Moon as compared to the Earth points to this hypostasis. So do the rocks brought back during the Apollo missions, which are virtually indistinguishable from those here on Earth when it comes to their oxygen isotopes. This theory can also explain our planet’s unusually large core as compared to all the other rocky worlds in the solar system.

4. Shifting Poles

No, this has nothing to do with any voting or elections – it’s about the Earth’s magnetic field. Thanks in part to our planet’s larger-than-usual molten core and its relatively fast spin on its axis, both of which may be the result of the previously mentioned collision between Earth and Theia, our planet has a very strong magnetic field relative to its size. In fact, only Mercury, of all the other rocky planets, has a magnetic field, but it’s far weaker than our own. Venus doesn’t have one, even though we’re fairly certain it has a molten metal core. Scientists believe the reason behind this is because Venus has a slow rotation around its axis and the temperatures inside are more evenly distributed. Mars, on the other hand, did have a magnetic field once, but its metallic core has since cooled and solidified. In any case, our strong magnetic field protects us from the sun’s deadly solar radiation, it keeps our atmosphere from being blown away into space, and it gives us the beautiful aurora borealis around the poles.

But over the past century and a half, scientists have come to realize that this magnetic field is weakening. As it turns out, the magnetic poles of our planet are shifting. This means that someday in the future, north will be south and vice-versa, and the process has already begun. While in the early 20th century the poles were moving at a rate of about 10 miles per year, today that speed has increased to 40. There’s no real need to panic, though, since this phenomenon has happened hundreds of times before. In fact, over the past 20 million years, the poles have shifted every 200 to 300 thousand years or so. The last time it happened, however, was more than 780,000 years ago, so, we’re due for another one. And according to the fossil record from previous pole reversals, it seems that there were no major changes in plant or animal life.

What we would expect to see in this several-century-process would be an increased vulnerability to solar flares that could knock out entire power grids. Holes could be made in the ozone layer, exposing us and the environment to higher degrees of radiation. There would be more than two magnetic poles at a time, scattered all across the face of the planet, leading compasses to spin uncontrollably. Some animals could become disoriented, and we would see the northern lights in unusual places. The actual timeframe here is nowhere near to being exact. Scientists are still having a hard time understanding all the inner workings of our planet, but estimates say that this shouldn’t take more than 1,000 years or so. Probably even less. And before you say anything, it is important to note that from our planet’s perspective, a millennium is a literal geological instant.

3. Mother Nature is an Expert at Recycling

Over the many millions of years, Earth has become an expert at recycling. If given enough time, our planet has and will continue to reshape itself in a continuous cycle of renewal and rebirth. Every natural system on Earth is involved in this process in one degree or another, and the whole thing could take hours to explain properly. But because we know your time is valuable, we’ll keep it short. Let’s start with life. As time marches on, organisms grow, develop, and multiply, and then they eventually die. Their remains fall to the ground and become the very soil they once drew their nourishment from. Layer upon layer of this soil is produced, one on top of the other, slowly but surely turning into stone. This bottom layer of stone moves along with the tectonic plates they’re sitting on, eventually sliding underneath one another, or becoming a mountain if it ends up on top.

If this rock layer turns into a mountain, as two plate tectonics bump into each other, over time, rain, wind, the many rivers, as well as other natural phenomena, grind away at that rock, eroding it and washing it out to sea where it sinks at the bottom and turns into sedimentary rock on the ocean floor. Once here, it again transforms into metamorphic rock due to very high heat and pressure, and eventually ends up in the upper mantle of the Earth in a process known as subduction. Here, this rock is turned into magma which eventually finds its way back to the surface via an oceanic ridge system, or through the many volcanoes that dot the Earth – and the cycle repeats itself. Now, this whole process has been overly simplified here, but this cycle the crustal rock goes through, not only recycles carbon across the globe, but it also provides the nutrients necessary for life to thrive in abundance. If it weren’t for this process, life’s chances on the planet would be severely compromised.

2. The Earth is Growing

There is a theory circulating out there that states the planet has been in a continuous process of expansion and contraction throughout its entire lifetime. Known as theExpanding Earth theory, it says that at some point in the past, Earth was 80% smaller than it is today, at which point the continents formed its entire surface. Then it began expanding, forming the ocean floor. While the theory does seem to have some intriguing concepts, it does have a lot of scientific inconsistencies and is extremely unlikely. What we are really talking about here, when we say the Earth is growing, is the fact that our planet takes in roughly 60 to 100 tons of cosmic dust every single day. This can’t really come as a surprise to anyone since this is the exact same process through which all other heavenly bodies in the universe have been created since the dawn of time, including Earth itself. But we don’t really think about it still happening, right? Well, even though it has toned down a bit since the early days of the solar system, the process is still pretty much alive.

Even if space seems to be empty, it’s really littered with fine particles of dust, and these particles get swept up by our planet and, in a sense, become part of Earth. Only a small fraction of this material actually leaves a visible trail in the sky, since most of it is too tiny for that to happen. Now, even though scientists have been aware of this phenomenon happening for a while, only with the advent of more sophisticated technology did they come to comprehend its actual scale. Researchers are now looking at what effects these particles have on our environment. For starters, it was observed that these particles are incremental in the formation of the highest clouds in our atmosphere. It also acts as fertilizer for phytoplankton, and can even affect the ozone layer’s chemistry. But these effects can be just the tip of the iceberg, and scientists are trying to figure out cosmic dust’s many other implications.

1. But it’s Actually Getting Lighter

How can this be? We’ve just concluded that Earth takes in around 30,000 tons of space dust every year, so… how is this possible? It’s not like we’re throwing stuff into outer space – not that much, at least – and it’s not like we’re using any of the weight to build stuff, since that mass still adds to the overall load of the planet. Well, as it turns out, Earth is losing mass via two major ways. One is through its core, as it consumes energy in the form of heat. But this loss accounts for just 16 tons a year. The real mass loss comes in the form of hydrogen and helium. These two gases are the lightest in the universe and oftentimes they just simply float away from Earth. They do so at a rate of 95,000 tons of hydrogen and 1,600 tons of helium each year. So, even though we get roughly 30,000 tons of dust, we lose almost 97,000 tons of gas.

Now, when it comes to hydrogen, there’s nothing to really be afraid of. Even at this current rate, it would take it trillions of years before all of it could be depleted from the atmosphere and by that time, the sun will have died out, and there will be no Earth to speak of. (Um, yay?) But helium is another matter. Even though it’s the second most abundant element in the universe, it’s disappearing here on Earth. We’re now using it for a great deal of things, on an unprecedented scale, and there’s only so much to go around.


Down to Earth Facts

– Planetary Platitudes

Man On Mars – Press to Start

Leave a comment

10 Reasons We

Will Colonize Mars

We’ve got some awesome news for you. Right now, you are standing on the edge of history. Yeah, you. Sometime soon, something’s gonna happen that will send you tumbling over into a whole new era of human evolution. We’re gonna colonize Mars.

 You read that right. That big, cold, lonely lump of rock spinning through the endless void 54.6 million kilometers away? We’re gonna land there. And we’re gonna build. Small bases. Biodomes. Research labs. Houses. And, eventually, even cities.
We can guess what you’re thinking: Yeah, right. Sure, Mars seems a long way away right now. Colonizing it sounds like the stuff of a science-fiction film, one that probably stars Matt Damon freaking out about a bunch of space potatoes. But it’s much, much closer than you think. At some point, in your lifetime, there’s gonna be a functioning civilization on the red planet. How can we be so sure? We’re glad you asked.

10. Risk Insurance

 Imagine you’re out and about, strolling along the beach or whatnot, when you stumble across a nest of dinosaur eggs. Like, real-life dino eggs, the kind that haven’t been seen for millions of years. As far as you know, they’re the only ones in existence.

They seem to be doing OK, but you can’t help but wonder whether they’re as safe as they seem. What if some predator comes along and eats them? What if some kid stomps on them? Isn’t it kinda your responsibility to move a few of those eggs, to make sure they survive?

In a nutshell, that’s the problem facing humanity today. Like the eggs, we’re doing fine right now, safe and sound on planet Earth. But, like with the eggs, our safety could be an illusion. There’s a chance that a meteor could come along at any moment and wipe us out. It’s slim, sure, but not impossible. And here the worry starts to creep in. As far as we know, we humans are the only intelligent life in the universe. Like the dino eggs, we could be invaluable. Isn’t it our responsibility to spread out, in case some meteor metaphorically stomps on us?

That’s the argument guys like Elon Musk are putting forward for why we need to colonize Mars: as a form of interplanetary risk insurance. And it’s proving pretty powerful. Already SpaceX are gearing up to send a manned craft to Mars by 2022, for this very reason.

9. It’s a Challenge

Make no mistake, getting to Mars is probably the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. Most of us probably can’t even grasp the technical leaps required to colonize a whole other celestial body. But you know what else once seemed an impossible challenge? Establishing a permanent base on Antarctica. Heck, even getting to Antarctica in the first place. Or climbing Everest. Or navigating the Northwest passage. Or colonizing the New World. Or…

Well, you get the idea. If humans were a sensible species that erred on the side of caution, we’d probably still be living in caves, congratulating ourselves on not being dumb enough to venture out into the sabretooth tiger-infested woods around us. But sensible is exactly what humans aren’t. We do dumb things, like climbing a mountain we know could easily kill us, just to say we reached the top. We even build civilizations in horrifically hostile places like Greenland and the Sahara, for Pete’s sakes.

What we’re trying to say is that humans rise to challenges, especially crazy ones like setting up a base on Mars. And especially when there’s the added incentive of competition…

8. Competition Between Nations (and companies)

Landing on the Moon was, arguably, one of the biggest wastes of money in US history. The entire Apollo program cost the equivalent of $110 billion in today’s dollars, a sum that doesn’t include the earlier Mercury and Gemini programs necessary to prepare NASA for Apollo. And what did America get out of it?

Well, there are two answers to that question. The utilitarian one would go something like “a dude, standing on a lump of rock.” But the other one would ring much truer. The US got something intangible from Neil Armstrong stepping on the lunar surface: a sense of prestige, of national pride.

The last part is the key here. The only reason man ever set foot on the Moon was because the Americans were terrified Russia would get there first. During

the Space Race, it was calculated that spending insane amounts of money was preferable to losing the propaganda war. Fast forward to 2017, and we may be witnessing the dawn of Space Race II.

Like all sequels, SRII is gonna be bigger, crazier, and chock full of extra characters. China has already declared it wants to get to Mars in the next decade. NASA wants a man on Mars by 2030. India is sending satellites and probes. Then there are the private actors. SpaceX is already facing competition from Blue Origin and, to a lesser extent, Mars One. With everyone fighting for that sweet Martian prestige, expect SRII to start hotting-up like crazy.

7. We Already Have the Technology to Get There Safely

One of the big stumbling blocks for a Mars mission – let alone a colony – has long been getting there. Mars is 182 times the distance from Earth as the Moon. Getting there will require flying for over six months. There are cosmic rays to deal with. The problem of landing on a planet with gravity and atmosphere conditions very different to Earth’s. Many have called the idea “impossible” (at least, without killing all the astronauts).

Yet all this overlooks one key fact. We already have the technology to get there.

For years now, SpaceX have been flying payloads for NASA to the ISS. As part of each mission, they’ve casually tested some of their Mars-landing tech on the side. Importantly, they’ve been doing it at a distance of 40 kilometers to 70 kilometers above Earth’s surface, where our atmosphere perfectly mimics conditions on Mars. And they’ve succeeded. Repeatedly. The ingredients for a successful Mars landing are essentially already there.

What about those pesky cosmic rays? NASA already has the tech to eliminate around 33% of the risk they pose, and engineers are confident that number is only gonna increase.

6. We Already Have the Technology to Make Mars Habitable

Here’s a quote to blow your mind. It comes from aerospace experts Chistopher McKay and Robert Zubrin, and we’re gonna reproduce it exactly as they said it, just to let the full weight of its craziness sink in. In a paper, the two wrote: “a drastic modification of Martian conditions can be achieved using 21st century technology.”

We’ve highlighted that last bit, because it’s the important one. What McKay and Zubrin are saying is that it’s totally possible for humanity to start terraforming Mars, using technology we have at our disposal right now. That’s right, 2017 man is so advanced he can literally change the surface of an entire alien world (though for some reason he still chooses to wear sweatpants in public. Weird, huh?).

If you don’t read Sci-Fi, terraforming means changing a planet so it becomes more Earth-like, and thus more-livable for humans. On Mars, that means we could trigger a deliberate greenhouse gas effect that would melt the ice at the poles, release a load of CO2, make the atmosphere denser, and trap more heat and energy from the sun. Then we’d have liquid water and could start planting; little mosses at first, but then plants, flowers, and even trees.

The end result would be a planet that looked like Earth, was warm enough to not kill us and with a bearable pressure. The air wouldn’t be breathable, but even that could change. A few centuries after terraforming, Mars could have an atmosphere as breathable as that on Earth.

5. We Already Know There’s Water There

Water is the main ingredient we humans need to live. No water, and the deal is off. Luckily, Mars has something that very, very few other places in our solar system do: ice. Lots and lots of ice. Frozen H20, just waiting to be thawed, filtered and used to keep a human colony alive.

We’re not exaggerating. Beneath just one stretch of the Martian plains, NASA have discovered a single ice deposit containing as much water as the whole of Lake Superior. It exists in an area known as Utopia, because it would be easy to land a craft there and then drill down to and extract the water. And that’s just on the plains. Go to the poles, and you’ll be sitting on enough water to keep a civilization running more or less eternally. If you melted all the ice on Mars, you’d wind up with enough liquid to drown the entire planet beneath an ocean some 30 feet deep.

This means you wouldn’t need to transport your own water from Earth, something so hideously impractical as to make it effectively impossible. It also means you could sustain not just an expedition, but an entire colony. Even if we reach the point where there are a million or so people living on Mars, we could rest safe in the knowledge that the water supply was unlikely to ever run out.

4. Mars Probably Has the Minerals We Need, Too

Of course, building a habitable city on another planet takes a lot more than water. It requires an insane amount of construction materials, which would cost eye-watering sums of money to send from Earth. At least, it would if we had no alternative. But we probably do. There’s a relatively good chance that Mars has the minerals we need to start building our space utopia.

We should stress the ‘relatively’ part of that sentence. We don’t have a huge amount of geological data on Mars, and NASA have been unable to identify any large ore deposits. However, they have identified areas where the probability of mineral deposits is quite high. Nickle, copper, platinum, titanium, iron and silicone dioxide are all likely to exist on Mars, along with clay for making porcelain and pottery. Put it all together, and you have the fundamentals for building some pretty complex stuff.

As for the technology to extract it… well, the basics are already there. We could use bacteria to mine from ore, or we could just develop robots to do some old-fashioned digging.

3. The Idea Has Big Backing

Every grand scheme needs its visionary backers. Without Columbus, you don’t have the new world. Without Genghis Khan, you don’t have the Mongol Empire. Without JFK, you don’t have Neil Armstrong standing on the Moon. Lucky for humanity’s interplanetary prospects, we already have our Mars visionary. In fact, we’ve got more than one.

The most-famous is a guy we’ve already namechecked a few times in this article. Eccentric billionaire/possible supervillain Elon Musk has been key to pushing private space exploration from a dystopian dream to a benign reality. Through his company SpaceX, he’s made huge technological leaps toward making Mars colonization a Thing We Could Actually Do. But he’s not the only one. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos isalso determined to get millions of humans into space and living on other planets. Like Musk, he has the money and the technology – via his private space company Blue Origin – to potentially make it happen.

Then there’s the signals coming from the current administration. In March 2017, President Trump signed a bill adding manned exploration of Mars to NASA’s official mission statement. The last time humanity looked this serious about space exploration, it resulted in Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon.

2. It Will Drive Technological Change on Earth

One objection that often gets raised when talking about Mars is that we should focus on solving problems here on Earth first. Well, what if we told you that the two aren’t mutually exclusive? That by going to Mars, we will improve life for billions of people on Earth?

Intrigued? You should be. Technological advances in one area often bleed through into others, in hugely unpredictable ways. When Hubble was first launched, it had a fault in its lens that meant images came back all blurry. For 3 years, NASA scientists were stuck trying to decipher space photos that looked like a dog’s regurgitated dinner. So they developed an algorithm to detect images in the mess. A really good algorithm. So good, in fact, that it turned out to be excellent at detecting early-stage breast cancer from X-ray images. There are thousands of people alive today because NASA messed up Hubble.

Need some more examples? OK. NASA tech has given us everything from portable vacuum cleaners, to freeze-drying, to modern firefighting gear, to grooved tires and roads that lower the number of car crashes. Artificial limbs have improved drastically due to Nasa tech, as have insulin pumps. That’s just from trundling around in our planet’s orbit. Imagine what totally unexpected stuff could result from the process of landing on and terraforming Mars?

1. Destiny

Stop and think about the future for a minute. No, we don’t mean five years from now. We don’t even mean fifty years from now. We mean hundreds, if not thousands, of years from now. We mean a span of time as great as that separating you from Jesus or Julius Caesar. What do you see happening to our species when all that time has passed? Where are we?

One cynical answer might be: “dead. Wiped out by war or disease or a marauding AI.” But move away from the worst case scenario, and a clearer picture likely emerges. Of humanity, spread out among the stars. Of colonies on Titan and Ganymede. Of cities in space. Of exploration beyond the edges of the Oort Cloud, out into the depths of our galaxy. Imagine: a future where we have the space and minerals for everyone. You could even call it our destiny.

Now, terms like “manifest destiny” come with a lot of historical baggage. It was ‘destiny’ that led European settlers to kill a whole lotta Native Americans. But Mars doesn’t have any native population at all (unless they’re really, really good at hiding). Nor does the rest of our solar system. Humanity can expand without prejudice or violence, or anything but a Star Trek-style desire to learn and explore. And when you put it like that, we come to maybe the simplest, best reason we have for colonizing Mars: why on Earth would we choose not to?


Man On Mars

– Press to Start

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 175

Leave a comment

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 175

… Roy Crippen risks losing the mounting momentum his campaign has mustered, all for the sake of his endless passion for space…

Endless Passion by AJ LaGasse

Francine knows there is more to Roy Crippen than folksy anecdotes, or those handsome chiseled features that have made him the fantasy idol for millions of women over the age of puberty, yes puberty. Roy can cheerfully count the 18 and over female voter in his column, while resolutely content to persuade the rest of the electorate with sound policies and square dealing.

Tonight, the third largest city in the nation, in the heart of the American Midwest {Chicago}, is the sight of one such major policy statement. At the feeding trough of inspiration, the meat & potatoes presidential candidate who is seeking office for no other reason than lead his country into the uncertain future; His topic is titled: “The Economic Feasibility of Exploring Outer Space”.

Ever since NASA was forced from the workaday business, a.k.a. good-sense curiosity, through budget cutting and the lure of privatization, its desire to leap ahead in the important work of space has been in limbo. The American people, as well as its partners in Space Colony 1 suddenly have trouble looking past the moon. The political capital to forge ahead with “another try at it” just isn’t there, even though that the same global insurance consortium that is funding the 3rd Panama Canal, has agreed to pay off on the Colony policy; 2 trillion dollars that most countries are being urged to spend on domestic needs instead.

Momentum

Roy Crippen risks losing the mounting momentum his campaign has mustered, all for the sake of his passion for space. He is willing to show his hand, brutal honesty aimed at a prospective constituency that needs convincing, for better or for worse.

Sometimes it is a curse to have a clear view of the future, knowing precisely where the planet is heading, if it chooses to remain isolated from the rest of the galaxy. How shortsighted,” he would say. Earth has already squandered most of its non-renewable resources that it started with when modern man took over management some 8000 years ago. 8 x 1000 is a long time, but it is in the last 150 that 99.9% of it has been stripped away.


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 175


page 210

Contents TRT

Man On Mars – WIF Into Space

Leave a comment

10 Reasons We

Will Colonize Mars

We’ve got some awesome news for you. Right now, you are standing on the edge of history. Yeah, you. Sometime soon, something’s gonna happen that will send you tumbling over into a whole new era of human evolution. We’re gonna colonize Mars.

 You read that right. That big, cold, lonely lump of rock spinning through the endless void 54.6 million kilometers away? We’re gonna land there. And we’re gonna build. Small bases. Biodomes. Research labs. Houses. And, eventually, even cities.
We can guess what you’re thinking: Yeah, right. Sure, Mars seems a long way away right now. Colonizing it sounds like the stuff of a science-fiction film, one that probably stars Matt Damon freaking out about a bunch of space potatoes. But it’s much, much closer than you think. At some point, in your lifetime, there’s gonna be a functioning civilization on the red planet. How can we be so sure? We’re glad you asked.

10. Risk Insurance

 Imagine you’re out and about, strolling along the beach or whatnot, when you stumble across a nest of dinosaur eggs. Like, real-life dino eggs, the kind that haven’t been seen for millions of years. As far as you know, they’re the only ones in existence.

They seem to be doing OK, but you can’t help but wonder whether they’re as safe as they seem. What if some predator comes along and eats them? What if some kid stomps on them? Isn’t it kinda your responsibility to move a few of those eggs, to make sure they survive?

In a nutshell, that’s the problem facing humanity today. Like the eggs, we’re doing fine right now, safe and sound on planet Earth. But, like with the eggs, our safety could be an illusion. There’s a chance that a meteor could come along at any moment and wipe us out. It’s slim, sure, but not impossible. And here the worry starts to creep in. As far as we know, we humans are the only intelligent life in the universe. Like the dino eggs, we could be invaluable. Isn’t it our responsibility to spread out, in case some meteor metaphorically stomps on us?

That’s the argument guys like Elon Musk are putting forward for why we need to colonize Mars: as a form of interplanetary risk insurance. And it’s proving pretty powerful. Already SpaceX are gearing up to send a manned craft to Mars by 2022, for this very reason.

9. It’s a Challenge

Make no mistake, getting to Mars is probably the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. Most of us probably can’t even grasp the technical leaps required to colonize a whole other celestial body. But you know what else once seemed an impossible challenge? Establishing a permanent base on Antarctica. Heck, even getting to Antarctica in the first place. Or climbing Everest. Or navigating the Northwest passage. Or colonizing the New World. Or…

Well, you get the idea. If humans were a sensible species that erred on the side of caution, we’d probably still be living in caves, congratulating ourselves on not being dumb enough to venture out into the sabretooth tiger-infested woods around us. But sensible is exactly what humans aren’t. We do dumb things, like climbing a mountain we know could easily kill us, just to say we reached the top. We even build civilizations in horrifically hostile places like Greenland and the Sahara, for Pete’s sakes.

What we’re trying to say is that humans rise to challenges, especially crazy ones like setting up a base on Mars. And especially when there’s the added incentive of competition…

8. Competition Between Nations (and companies)

Landing on the Moon was, arguably, one of the biggest wastes of money in US history. The entire Apollo program cost the equivalent of $110 billion in today’s dollars, a sum that doesn’t include the earlier Mercury and Gemini programs necessary to prepare NASA for Apollo. And what did America get out of it?

Well, there are two answers to that question. The utilitarian one would go something like “a dude, standing on a lump of rock.” But the other one would ring much truer. The US got something intangible from Neil Armstrong stepping on the lunar surface: a sense of prestige, of national pride.

The last part is the key here. The only reason man ever set foot on the Moon was because the Americans were terrified Russia would get there first. During

the Space Race, it was calculated that spending insane amounts of money was preferable to losing the propaganda war. Fast forward to 2017, and we may be witnessing the dawn of Space Race II.

Like all sequels, SRII is gonna be bigger, crazier, and chock full of extra characters. China has already declared it wants to get to Mars in the next decade. NASA wants a man on Mars by 2030. India is sending satellites and probes. Then there are the private actors. SpaceX is already facing competition from Blue Origin and, to a lesser extent, Mars One. With everyone fighting for that sweet Martian prestige, expect SRII to start hotting-up like crazy.

7. We Already Have the Technology to Get There Safely

One of the big stumbling blocks for a Mars mission – let alone a colony – has long been getting there. Mars is 182 times the distance from Earth as the Moon. Getting there will require flying for over six months. There are cosmic rays to deal with. The problem of landing on a planet with gravity and atmosphere conditions very different to Earth’s. Many have called the idea “impossible” (at least, without killing all the astronauts).

Yet all this overlooks one key fact. We already have the technology to get there.

For years now, SpaceX have been flying payloads for NASA to the ISS. As part of each mission, they’ve casually tested some of their Mars-landing tech on the side. Importantly, they’ve been doing it at a distance of 40 kilometers to 70 kilometers above Earth’s surface, where our atmosphere perfectly mimics conditions on Mars. And they’ve succeeded. Repeatedly. The ingredients for a successful Mars landing are essentially already there.

What about those pesky cosmic rays? NASA already has the tech to eliminate around 33% of the risk they pose, and engineers are confident that number is only gonna increase.

6. We Already Have the Technology to Make Mars Habitable

Here’s a quote to blow your mind. It comes from aerospace experts Chistopher McKay and Robert Zubrin, and we’re gonna reproduce it exactly as they said it, just to let the full weight of its craziness sink in. In a paper, the two wrote: “a drastic modification of Martian conditions can be achieved using 21st century technology.”

We’ve highlighted that last bit, because it’s the important one. What McKay and Zubrin are saying is that it’s totally possible for humanity to start terraforming Mars, using technology we have at our disposal right now. That’s right, 2017 man is so advanced he can literally change the surface of an entire alien world (though for some reason he still chooses to wear sweatpants in public. Weird, huh?).

If you don’t read Sci-Fi, terraforming means changing a planet so it becomes more Earth-like, and thus more-livable for humans. On Mars, that means we could trigger a deliberate greenhouse gas effect that would melt the ice at the poles, release a load of CO2, make the atmosphere denser, and trap more heat and energy from the sun. Then we’d have liquid water and could start planting; little mosses at first, but then plants, flowers, and even trees.

The end result would be a planet that looked like Earth, was warm enough to not kill us and with a bearable pressure. The air wouldn’t be breathable, but even that could change. A few centuries after terraforming, Mars could have an atmosphere as breathable as that on Earth.

5. We Already Know There’s Water There

Water is the main ingredient we humans need to live. No water, and the deal is off. Luckily, Mars has something that very, very few other places in our solar system do: ice. Lots and lots of ice. Frozen H20, just waiting to be thawed, filtered and used to keep a human colony alive.

We’re not exaggerating. Beneath just one stretch of the Martian plains, NASA have discovered a single ice deposit containing as much water as the whole of Lake Superior. It exists in an area known as Utopia, because it would be easy to land a craft there and then drill down to and extract the water. And that’s just on the plains. Go to the poles, and you’ll be sitting on enough water to keep a civilization running more or less eternally. If you melted all the ice on Mars, you’d wind up with enough liquid to drown the entire planet beneath an ocean some 30 feet deep.

This means you wouldn’t need to transport your own water from Earth, something so hideously impractical as to make it effectively impossible. It also means you could sustain not just an expedition, but an entire colony. Even if we reach the point where there are a million or so people living on Mars, we could rest safe in the knowledge that the water supply was unlikely to ever run out.

4. Mars Probably Has the Minerals We Need, Too

Of course, building a habitable city on another planet takes a lot more than water. It requires an insane amount of construction materials, which would cost eye-watering sums of money to send from Earth. At least, it would if we had no alternative. But we probably do. There’s a relatively good chance that Mars has the minerals we need to start building our space utopia.

We should stress the ‘relatively’ part of that sentence. We don’t have a huge amount of geological data on Mars, and NASA have been unable to identify any large ore deposits. However, they have identified areas where the probability of mineral deposits is quite high. Nickle, copper, platinum, titanium, iron and silicone dioxide are all likely to exist on Mars, along with clay for making porcelain and pottery. Put it all together, and you have the fundamentals for building some pretty complex stuff.

As for the technology to extract it… well, the basics are already there. We could use bacteria to mine from ore, or we could just develop robots to do some old-fashioned digging.

3. The Idea Has Big Backing

Every grand scheme needs its visionary backers. Without Columbus, you don’t have the new world. Without Genghis Khan, you don’t have the Mongol Empire. Without JFK, you don’t have Neil Armstrong standing on the Moon. Lucky for humanity’s interplanetary prospects, we already have our Mars visionary. In fact, we’ve got more than one.

The most-famous is a guy we’ve already namechecked a few times in this article. Eccentric billionaire/possible supervillain Elon Musk has been key to pushing private space exploration from a dystopian dream to a benign reality. Through his company SpaceX, he’s made huge technological leaps toward making Mars colonization a Thing We Could Actually Do. But he’s not the only one. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos isalso determined to get millions of humans into space and living on other planets. Like Musk, he has the money and the technology – via his private space company Blue Origin – to potentially make it happen.

Then there’s the signals coming from the current administration. In March 2017, President Trump signed a bill adding manned exploration of Mars to NASA’s official mission statement. The last time humanity looked this serious about space exploration, it resulted in Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon.

2. It Will Drive Technological Change on Earth

One objection that often gets raised when talking about Mars is that we should focus on solving problems here on Earth first. Well, what if we told you that the two aren’t mutually exclusive? That by going to Mars, we will improve life for billions of people on Earth?

Intrigued? You should be. Technological advances in one area often bleed through into others, in hugely unpredictable ways. When Hubble was first launched, it had a fault in its lens that meant images came back all blurry. For 3 years, NASA scientists were stuck trying to decipher space photos that looked like a dog’s regurgitated dinner. So they developed an algorithm to detect images in the mess. A really good algorithm. So good, in fact, that it turned out to be excellent at detecting early-stage breast cancer from X-ray images. There are thousands of people alive today because NASA messed up Hubble.

Need some more examples? OK. NASA tech has given us everything from portable vacuum cleaners, to freeze-drying, to modern firefighting gear, to grooved tires and roads that lower the number of car crashes. Artificial limbs have improved drastically due to Nasa tech, as have insulin pumps. That’s just from trundling around in our planet’s orbit. Imagine what totally unexpected stuff could result from the process of landing on and terraforming Mars?

1. Destiny

Stop and think about the future for a minute. No, we don’t mean five years from now. We don’t even mean fifty years from now. We mean hundreds, if not thousands, of years from now. We mean a span of time as great as that separating you from Jesus or Julius Caesar. What do you see happening to our species when all that time has passed? Where are we?

One cynical answer might be: “dead. Wiped out by war or disease or a marauding AI.” But move away from the worst case scenario, and a clearer picture likely emerges. Of humanity, spread out among the stars. Of colonies on Titan and Ganymede. Of cities in space. Of exploration beyond the edges of the Oort Cloud, out into the depths of our galaxy. Imagine: a future where we have the space and minerals for everyone. You could even call it our destiny.

Now, terms like “manifest destiny” come with a lot of historical baggage. It was ‘destiny’ that led European settlers to kill a whole lotta Native Americans. But Mars doesn’t have any native population at all (unless they’re really, really good at hiding). Nor does the rest of our solar system. Humanity can expand without prejudice or violence, or anything but a Star Trek-style desire to learn and explore. And when you put it like that, we come to maybe the simplest, best reason we have for colonizing Mars: why on Earth would we choose not to?


Man On Mars

 

– WIF Into Space

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 93

Leave a comment

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 93

…the insurance carriers for Space Colony 1 are not in the mood to pay off — there will be no second Space Colony until Sammy Mac and Cel are back on Earth…

insurance-001

“Two of your biggest fans got their 2 hours sleep and have been glued to KHST ever since. I don’t know if you know it, but live coverage of the launch went black about the10-1 time that you were guys were outnumbered 10 to 1. What a fright to see everything you do go down,” Braden King relates.

“How did she get the digital feed… never mind,” Francine likely made off with the footage like she walked away from Roy’s kiss.

“In fact, here is Deke McKinney with something to ask you.”

Vertical-001“That was some spicy tacos Uncle Roy; you saved the day for Mom & Dad!”

“Yeah,” Gus beaks in, “and we want to have you at our birthday party on Wednesday, maybe you can bring that hot TV reporter with you?”

“I’d love to boys, but I’ll see what I can do. I will need to get Space Colony II construction going as soon as I can fire up the production line.

For the first time in 10 minutes Braden goes silent, his end of the 1-to-1 video betraying his concern. “What’s up King? Do not be holding back on me.”

“I hate to throw cold water on your morning, but the insurance carriers for Space Colony 1 are not in the mood to pay off, at least until there is a complete investigation to what caused the accident; a meteor strike falls into the category of the “Acts of God” exemption.”

“We’ll see about that bullcrap! If they can finance the second and third Panama Canal, they can cough up the dough for us.”

“That may be so Roy, but even with the funding, Congress is convening an emergency session, called by Senator Jomayra Jiménez from Puerto Rico and you know where she thinks the money should be spent instead?”

“Sure, flush it down into a crumbling tourist-trap!”

“President Sanchez is going along with her and word has it that there will be no second Space Colony until Sammy Mac and Cel are back on Earth.”


THE RETURN TRIP

space-birthday-001

Episode 93


page 115

episode-catalog-trtrip-001

trt-characters-001

Contents TRT

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 72

Leave a comment

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 72

…the man he is watching is as cool as a comet in between stars and manning his post like he belonged there…

comet

Jim Scotti’s Comet Artwork

There is somebody in this complex from Nepal, that strange little tech named Gherkin who replaced Phil Jansky. I wonder if there is a connection.”

“And you don’t dare question someone’s qualifications. Political correctness has been the ruin of this world,” Francine adds her opinion about questioning anything about anybody… and the fallout.

Without hesitation Roy brings the room consuming monitor to life. Francine can see that it is not an ordinary one, seeming to follow Roy’s slightest gesture, the picture races through various angles of Colony Control.

A Happy Gherkin

It does come to rest, Roy’s steely blues focused on a shot of Gurkhas {not Gherkin} Shah Dhangotma. Of all the Hindi/Arab/Buddhist, Middle and Far East cultures in of this selective space community, this particular man has left him with an uneasy no-peaceful feeling; replacing a previously healthy and indispensable man in Phil Jansky. And what is worse and more telling, is that he doesn’t even know who is doing the hiring since the death of Fred Cabell. It’s enough to put his spinning head on a swivel.

But if he were the informant or the mole or the mastermind, any of the three, the man he is watching is as cool as a comet in between stars and manning his post like he belonged there. But Roy cannot clear his mind’s ear of the man’s clumsy English in the moment before Space Colony 1’s ruin.

“Keep an eye on that guy,” Francine is told, “if he makes any sudden moves, give a holler.”

She obliges and can actually be helpful after getting a few quick tips about controlling that section of the screen… with a blink of an eye.

2018 Map Before the formation of Talibanistan

Roy turns to text searches that may support his flimsy suspicion, or not. Dhangotma’s personnel file is bland and incomplete, though the Baikonur Cosmodrome is listed as experience. Even his file picture has mug shot written all over it, but it is not viewed by someone who knows a hoot about the man.

In alternating between the files and the live video, comparing it to their meeting earlier in the day, his eyes tell him ‘not the same guy’; his memory screams ‘he had jet-black hair, not dark brown’. He knows that you don’t change Spatial Debris techs like you change passwords.

“What’s he been up to?”

“He raised his hand, got up and came back a minute or two
later. My guess it was a quick pee.”

“Then why has his hair color changed?” On a thin whim he says, “Let’s pay Gherkin a visit.” With time dwindling, hunches played trump hunches ignored.


 THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 72


 

page 89

episode-catalog-trtrip-001

trt-characters-001

You are here

 

Contents TRT

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 57

Leave a comment

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 57

…“You’re just a speck of moon dust to her, like she would be interested in a kid like you,”…

 CHAPTER FOUR

  Space Family Confidential

Image result for pebble beach artwork

Pebble Beach by Emily James

  “As we prepare to bid adieu from the scenic and historic Pebble Beach Golf Links, you are looking at rare ground, one of only 500 pieces of real estate around the world that has the capability to host a professional golf tournament, none more treasured than this.

 

“And how appropriate it is that the man holding the Bing Crosby Trophy is none other than Evan pebble-beach-trophySamuel Michelson, whose father has joined him on the 18th green. Let’s go down to Bubba Watson for the presentation…”

Gus McKinney is wearing the headset for the televiewer and he has set it in motion to search for other sporting activities. They have violated rule #1 in the McKinney brood: Never put a VoIP block on the televiewer. They have been incommunicado for the balance of this January day. Braden King, their Earthly guardian is currently on his way back to the ranch, to ward off “you know what” from reaching the kiddos before they can be properly {co}parented.

Related image“AW, COME ON GUS, if we have to watch Four-man Power-Curling or Male Ice Dancing I am going to throw up,” brother Deke is already tiring of the 2030 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway. The mindbogglingly 1000 choices arbitrarily comes to rest on the low number 13, the lower the number, the more local it is; 1000 being JEOPARDY!, hosted by Watson the IBM brainiac.

“Good Evening, my name is Francine Bouchette and this is a KHST 13 Special Report, your news authority for the last 10 years.” An assortment of Space Colony footage scrolls on the screen.gif pretty art indie moon Grunge space stars dark Alternative moon gif phases craters

“Isn’t she a fox?” raves Gus.

“You’re just a speck of moon dust to her, like she would be interested in a kid like you,” which isn’t completely true, given her afternoon’s crash course in McKinney Family history.

breaking-news-1

The ever-fetching Francine reappears on camera; now joined by her junior co-anchor {piece-of-crap} Steven Sharkey who doesn’t have a clue on what he may be reading in a few seconds.

“In a KHST 13 News Authority Exclusive, I just got off the phone with Space Colony 1 Coordinator Roy Crippen, a friend to Channel 13 News, having confirmed a story that I have been tracking down all afternoon. He has confirmed the horrible news that Space Colony 1 appears to have been destroyed, which verifies my confidential alternate source.

“Nnnooooooo,” screams Deke…


THE RETURN TRIP

newsroom-001

Episode 57


 

page 72

trt-characters-001

episode-catalog-trtrip-001

Contents TRT