A scene from X3: Terran Conflict (©Egosoft)
When I said this on Twitter today, it struck up a lot of support. It actually came out as a throwaway comment in Wednesday’s Astroengine Live when I was having a rant about the misconception that space exploration is a luxury and not a necessity. If I was debating this now, I’d probably be somewhere between “necessity” and “luxury”. On the one hand it would be nice to have a very wealthy space agency, carrying out unimaginable science throughout the Solar System, colonies on the Moon and Mars, mining asteroids and setting up an interplanetary transportation system. On the other hand, none of these things will be possible unless there is huge (global) public support and political will…
Left: The 5-sense virtual reality system. Right: A scene from the NASA MMORPG (Mark Richards/NASA)
Computer technology is reaching new levels of sophistication, limited only by our imagination (and that pesky Moore’s Law). As we develop faster and more powerful processors, an exponential increase in the number of calculations can be done per second, providing advanced software with the capability to deliver complex applications to the user. In fact, some computer operations are becoming hard to distinguish from basic human interactions (neural networks hold particular promise).
Naturally, this continuing advance in technology has stimulated the Internet, allowing users worldwide to interact at great speed, where virtual worlds have been created, and people can project themselves as an avatar (a virtual ambassador for their real-world personalities). These virtual worlds have become so immense that millions of users can interact, and the boundary of the universe is only limited by how many networked computers you have running the show. These virtual universes are known as Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), and NASA hopes to release their universe (Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond) some time next year.
User interfaces are advancing too. Gone are the days of simple gaming feedback features (such as a rumbling joypad when your 3D animated cartoon character suffers a blow on your 2D TV screen), virtual reality is starting to live up to its name, where the virtual world is overlapping with our real world. Now a 5-sense virtual reality system is undergoing tests, and its implications for NASA’s MMORPG and future space exploration could be huge…
When does virtual reality become… reality?
You talk about synthetic life like it's a bad thing - Tricia Helfer in BSG
Say if you’re in space, searching for life, what do you look for? That’s simple. You look for something that resembles life on Earth; whether that be single-celled amoeba or a Star Trek-style humanoid with a lumpy head and webbed feet.
That’s life we know and understand (with some sci-fi comedy thrown in). What if there are some other unimaginable creatures that may not fit into our understanding of How Things Work™? This is a very real problem NASA has been faced with ever since the agency started sending probes to Mars and spacecraft beyond the Solar System itself. Deep space missions (like the Voyager and Pioneer probes) have intelligent life forms in mind (i.e. ones that can read, hear and interpret the Leonardo da Vinci Vitruvian Man; so it would be nice if ET also has an appreciation for fine art), but our intrepid Mars rovers and landers that have been pestering the Red Planet since the 1960s are looking for the basic building blocks of life, plus evidence of past or present life. So far, there’s been a lot of rocks turned over, yet no sign of extraterrestrial life.
Therefore, scientists at a very early stage defined “life” as a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution so we can focus on finding life we know and understand. To boost this understanding a little further, wouldn’t it be great if we could create our own evolving soup of chemicals?
Now, it seems, this has become a reality. Scientists in a Florida lab have created a beaker filled with synthetic life…
WALL-E, the best animated-sci-fi-robot-romantic-comedy-adventure of all time (yep, I even teared up at the end).
I couldn’t resist. As it is the day of romance, love and *pinging* cash registers, I thought I’d post a special Astroengine commentary of Valentines Day. Everyone is doing it; the Google logo is loved up, the news websites are buzzing about it, even the blogs seem to be obsessed with relating their craft with the desire for some romance (even this week’s Carnival of Space over at 21st Century Waves is “doing it”), so here’s some random Valentine’s Day paraphernalia for your reading pleasure…
A Death Star made from Lego. Still too expensive. (Gizmodo)
It’s been one of those bad blogging days. Usually, I’d start the day rifling through the day’s space news on the mainstream to work out what has been going on in the world. If some exciting stuff has been going on, my notebook will be filled with scribble, usually priming me for an afternoon of writing for the Universe Today or Astroengine. Usually. Today, although I got up bright and early, my writing ability took a U-turn much like the abysmal LA winter weather (grey and soggy). Writer’s block.
Bloggers writers block is especially frustrating as there is no end to the cool stuff going on in space (and even if there isn’t, I can usually unearth something not-so-cool and make it cool by doing a bit of research), but for some reason my brain wouldn’t budge. Not a bit. Plus I’m co-writing a book (but I’m not saying about what… yet), so it was a double-whammy bad writing day.
I gave up, had a bath, read a book and watched two episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Awesome…
I’m quickly realising that the Super Bowl ad break is as eagerly awaited as the match itself. I’ve lived in the US for 3 Super Bowls, and each time there’s the buzz, “I wonder what the [insert company here] ad will be this year?” It’s funny, I’ve only watched one Super Bowl (in my first year) and I was astonished that there were more ad breaks than (American) football. (Which is no bad thing, I’m not a huge fan of the sport, give me football–soccer–any day.)
All I do know is, some of the ads are funny, some are clever but most are crap (don’t get me started on the GoDaddy marketing campaign… what in the hell are they doing?). But today, as posted on Greg Fish’s World of Weird Things, there was a glimmer of Space Age hope from a tire manufacturer…
Theoretical gravitational waves generated after a black hole collision. Can we surf them?
Gravitational waves are a theoretical consequence of a propagating energy disturbance through space-time. They are predicted by Einstein’s general relativity equations, and astrophysicists are going to great pains to try to detect the faint signature from the passage of these waves through local space. Unfortunately, even though millions of dollars have been spent on international experiments, the gravitational wave remains in equation form; there is little (direct) evidence to support their existence.
However, this doesn’t stop the US military from worrying about them and commissioned a 40-page report into whether high frequency gravitational waves could be used by an enemy. Excuse me? Gravitational waves… as a weapon?
The cast of Star Trek stand next to Space Shuttle Enterprise in 1976 (NASA)
Space Shuttle Enterprise was the first ever shuttle to be constructed. It never made it into space, it was used purely for atmospheric test flights, but Enterprise was a significant craft. Originally NASA planned to designate the shuttle Constitution, but after a a sustained write-in campaign, NASA changed its name in honour of the Starship Enterprise from the original series of Star Trek. In 1976, the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) was being captained by Captain Kirk (played by William Shatner), and some of the original series actors were at the roll-out ceremony in Palmdale manufacturing facility in California.
Enterprise in Free Flight after separation from 747 in 1977 (NASA)
In the picture above, from left to right: Dr. James D. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, DeForest Kelley (Dr. “Bones” McCoy), George Takei (Mr. Sulu), James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), Gene Roddenberry (producer and creator of Star Trek), and Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).
A wonderful scene capturing the beginning of 32 years of shuttle operations. This is an especially poignant image as Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry and two of the original Star Trek cast, DeForest Kelley and James Doohan have since passed away.
The Lucifer Project: Using the Cassini probe to detonate like a nuclear weapon inside the atmosphere of Saturn... oh dear, here we go again... (NASA/US Dept. of Defence)
Here comes another doomsday scenario, this time from the friendly gas giant Saturn. The story goes like this: NASA is working with secret organizations (such as the Illuminati or the Freemasons) to fulfil their dreams of “playing God” and creating a second Sun in the Solar System. This plan has many aims, but primarily they want to use the Cassini probe to trigger a catastrophic chain reaction inside Saturn so nuclear fusion is possible, generating a mini-Sun. This has been tried before, when the Galileo probe was dropped into the atmosphere of Jupiter in 2003 (but it obviously failed at first attempt). Cassini is carrying about 33 kg of plutonium, making it the ultimate cruise missile aimed at Saturn, atmospheric pressures eventually kick-starting a nuclear explosion in two years time.
Whilst this makes for interesting reading, yet again, the science is deeply flawed. We can expect this doomsday scenario (and yes, it is predicting the end of the world) to gain some strength before the Cassini mission is terminated in 2010…. only this time the Devil (Lucifer) is involved…
The physics behind the warp drive (Richard Obousy and Gerald Cleaver)
In science fiction, the “warp drive” helps Captain Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Commander Janeway and Benjamin Sisko potter around space with ease. Without warp speed, TV episodes of Star Trek would stretch into months and seasons would last decades. Alas, even science fiction succumbs to the laws of relativity: Nothing, not even light (or a Klingon) can travel faster than the speed of light. As I researched for a recent Universe Today article, the space between the stars is prohibitively large, even the nearest star is over 4 light years away (Proxima Centauri), so how could it be possible for USS Enterprise to flit from one star system to the next without putting a dent in Einstein’s theory of relativity? The answer comes if we realise that although light speed is a physical limit on how fast things can travel through space-time, there is no limit on how fast space-time can travel if it is warped. Suddenly we have a theoretically possible means of travelling between the stars by altering the fabric of the Universe in a warp “bubble”…