Space Exploration is the Human Legacy

Yesterday NPR had a story about the possible next generation of spacecraft that might make deliveries and carry astronauts for NASA now that the shuttle program is being done away with.  The new spacecraft will be made by the private aeronautics company known as SpaceX (yes it sounds like “Space Sex”) and will have twice the cargo weight capacity of the current shuttles.  The new rocket is being called Falcon Heavy and could be making its first launch as soon as 2013.  You can read the whole article HERE.

The possible design of the Falcon Heavy by SpaceX

In other space news, a fascinating article by Steven Kotler in this month’s Playboy deals with the very real and very near future industry of asteroid mining.  Yes that long running staple of the sci-fi genre, asteroid mining could become a reality and change everything.  One expert in the article states that he believes the first trillionaires on Earth will be the individuals who take the risks and invest in off world resource gathering.  NASA has flown probes up to, and kept pace with, various asteroids collecting particles and dust in their wake.  The Japanese on the other hand have gone one step further, not only sending probes to match the speed of an asteroid, but have actually landed on the asteroid’s surface, scraped it for samples, and then flew back to Earth with the samples intact.  That is essentially what the industry of asteroid mining would look like, only on a bigger scale.  Since asteroids are not within our Earthly atmosphere they aren’t processed and diffused, they are highly concentrated chunks of ore which wouldn’t require extensive digging to cull.  Whatever materials you can scrape off the surface, is pretty much what the entire asteroid is made of.  Those materials include iron, nickel, gold, platinum, and water, along with hundreds of other minerals that can be in short supply here on Earth.  This work with asteroid interception and remote resource gathering is a perfect stepping stone for a manned Mars mission, and eventual off world colonization.  If we can obtain resources like water and iron from asteroids and send them to, say, a Mars colony without having to ship them from Earth, that would drastically lower the costs of such missions.

Artists rendering of remote asteroid mining

 

As far as I’m concerned space exploration is one of the most important endeavors humans can hope to undertake.  It is a topic I have felt strongly about for many years and I will continue to uselessly argue for it with anyone who can hear me until I’m dead.  My opinions on the matter are not new, or based in astute scientific research that I’ve conducted, or even all that original.  The reason I feel I must repeat my feelings though are because people seem to forget, and lose sight.  So few people think about the big picture of the world, the future of humanity.  How we live on a razor thin edge which could be toppled at any moment from any number of sources beyond our control and unless we look out toward space now, everything we are currently doing becomes excruciatingly meaningless.

Some time in the future, countless days from now, our sun will die.  It will grow colder, dimmer, and expand enveloping our planet and evaporating away our histories and cultures.  Of course I suppose even that is wishful thinking, expecting the human race to make it that long considering we will more likely kill each other off through violence, pollution, and war.  Though even if we were to survive our own very human struggles there is still the regular threat from any number of extinction events that have swept the world previously.  What I’m getting at is one way or another, our world is doomed, humanity is doomed, and unless we take to the stars and move beyond where we are now everything we know and will ever know will simply cease to exist as if none of it ever existed.  A brief flash of light in the darkness of the universe, that no one saw.

Of course it all sounds very nostalgic, perhaps naively optimistic.  What’s to stop Earth colonies on Mars or elsewhere from turning out exactly the same as Earth, with war, pollution, and poverty?  Nothing, most likely those ventures will start out as purely financial stakes, some sort of corporate interests that want to make a buck.  Whenever we do set up bases on off-world landscapes (and I firmly believe we will) I have no real expectation that it will be done with the human races best interests in mind, it will most likely be much more small minded and profit driven.  However such a venture will allow people like me to look beyond those two dimensional motivations and have some small hope, some reassurance that the human race is indeed stepping out and establishing itself with at least a larger scope in mind.  We all know the old saying, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  I honestly look forward to news of longer space voyages and established bases on other worlds because until that time there is always the dark pall hanging over us that perhaps the space programs will be completely done away with one day, and we will be stuck on this planet isolated, simply waiting to become extinct.  Until I see images of humans on other planets, there will be a slight sadness and sense of longing when looking up at the night sky.

Destination: Mars

Others out there are doubtlessly reading this and deriding these comments and my thoughts on the future and space exploration.  That’s fine, that’s understandable.  But when people say they are tired of seeing money spent on rockets into space when there are plenty of people here on Earth that need it, my only response to them would be “I guess you missed my point.”  Inflated military budgets and our war industry work more for the spread of conflict and loss of life then they work against it.  Our medical industry is working hard to make us immortal which will be nice when the shattering of Earth does eventually roll around, at least we’ll still be around to see it.  Our entertainment culture, which is important to the identity of the human race, should blindly keep shoveling millions upon millions of dollars into the movie, sports, television, and video game industries so that we can be thoroughly distracted from the realities of war and poverty, and so we don’t have to think about difficult and deep thoughts such as the future of the human race.  Why would we want to spend money on space exploration?  To perhaps actually preserve the legacy of the human race?  Preposterous!

I don’t have any real answers to anything and I’m certainly not really doing much in my life to change the situation or rally support for the space program or anything like that.  I suppose my main point in writing this post is simply to share my thoughts and perhaps invoke some others out there to think about the future, the planet, and the big picture as a whole.  If I’ve done that at all that’s great, and I hope you continue to think big and encourage others to do so.  If you’ve gotten nothing out of reading this, if you think I’m an idiot and you want that five minutes of your life back I say that’s what you get for reading a blog entitled “Mindless Philosophy!”

To the future!

That is all!

My B5 Mission

So here it is, another Babylon 5 blog post from me.  I’m sure you might be getting sick of hearing me go on and on about this defunct sci-fi franchise and I promise I will try and make this my last B5 post for awhile, but I just have a few more things to say about this series.

As I mentioned before I was overjoyed to hear that all five seasons of Babylon 5 are available to watch on Netflix now.  Unfortunately the show only saw a brief life in reruns due to some sort of distribution rights dispute that effectively shut down syndication of the series.  For years I relied on VHS tapes that I recorded from television with the commercials edited out in order to spread the word on the show.  Even that approach, or showing the series on DVD, requires finding time to meet up and watch all five seasons, episode by episode.  It’s often difficult to find a time when that works for both parties.  You of course can lend out your copies to friends and family, but as I grow older I more and more take the position of “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”  I know I still have movies and games floating around the house that I’ve borrowed from friends years ago, and there’s always a slight pang of displeasure when I am without a lent item for extended periods.

The Babylon 5 station

Now however, thanks to modern technology, all of that is a thing of the past at least when it comes to spreading the word on Babylon 5.  Ironically I myself do not use Netflix, the wife and I are currently crunching numbers in an attempt to save money, and though it isn’t that expensive, it does all add up.  It’s on our list however and I’m sure we will catch up to the rest of the world shortly.  This development though does mean that I can finally conveniently and efficiently urge my friends and anyone else I know with Netflix to watch the show.

I am taking up a personal crusade to prosthelytize Babylon 5.  I really believe there has not been a show to equal its scope and level of storytelling.  I love the franchise and the Babylon 5 universe, and unlike other major sci-fi franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek, Babylon 5 needs a bit of a fanbase boost because it seems to be slipping further and further away from the pop culture spotlight (doubtlessly due to the aforementioned lack of syndication.)  BUT I also do not want to overhype it.  I hate when that happens, when you get all pumped up for something listening to others talk about, and you go in with enormous expectations that can’t be met.  If you have never seen the show I don’t want you to take a look at the first season and think “What the fuck?  He was praising this?”  So here are a few things to keep in mind:

1-The effects, for the most part, are bad.  At the start of season 1, the special effects can be blocky, slow and a bit awkward.  You have to keep in mind though that this was an upstart low budget series.  This isn’t part of a big franchise like Star Trek where they can use the legacy of the show, and established fanbase for larger budgets for graphics and effects.  Like Babylon 5 itself in season 1, the effects department was just getting off the ground and starting from scratch.  Thankfully as time goes on the overall look of the show improves tremendously.

2- The show is dorky.  In case you weren’t aware the show is a sci-fi series which, on occasion, conforms to the stereotypes of the genre and has a few dorky moments.  A couple of bad puns here, an alien penis joke there, you know, those old chestnuts.  Though actually as the series goes on those lighthearted “dorky” moments really help reflect the heavier, darker, and more epically mature moments in later seasons.

The show does have a lot of genuinely funny moments

3- The show is thick with continuity.  Babylon 5 isn’t a show you can pick and choose episodes with, in fact I often compare it to LOST in that respect when talking with people about the show.  Sure you’ll get the idea if you just jump right into season three, but there will be plenty of moments where you find yourself completely out of the loop, asking yourself “Now who the hell is that guy, and why is everyone so pissed?”  Without following the continuity of the show you really lose a great deal in regard to the development of the characters which is crucial to the show, and which I’d say is the best part of Babylon 5.  Which brings me to the good things about Babylon 5.

This show is unlike anything else in television, as far as I’ve seen.  The characters in the show grow and evolve with each episode and through every season.  No character is static, or two dimensional.  They are given quite a bit to deal with on screen and there are a plethora of rich personal histories that are alluded to, and referenced which help flesh out the characters.  When I say “the characters” I don’t mean just the main characters, the stars, the heroes, I mean every character on the show.  The side characters, the recurring characters, the comic relief characters, they all evolve as the show goes on.  You find as you watch Babylon 5 that your opinions of characters drastically shifts, and are often completely turned upside down.  The entire Babylon 5 cast is made up of cast of complex individuals working through their issues during the intrigues and immense storylines of the series.

Aside from the characters, the setting for the show, the B5 universe itself, is also deep and well crafted.  There is a sense of history in the universe that is seen through the characters and the plot.  There are political tensions and feuds between various interstellar governments tracing back through these fictional histories.  There is a strong sense of realism, emotional honesty, mingled in through the high tech unreal world of Babylon 5.  In a way the political tones and issues portrayed in Babylon 5 were ahead of their time, I would go so far as to say that J. Michael Straczynski was the first television writer to capture the feel of the post 9/11 United States, before 9/11.  Which is a huge credit to the political savvy of the show.  Thinking about it now, with its themes of corrupted media, distrust of outside cultures, misuse of military power, government conspiracy, and so much more Babylon 5 is more timely now then when it was originally aired.

My last bit of praise for Babylon 5 simply goes to the writing.  The only word I can think of for the writing is epic.  The best description of the show I’ve read was that Babylon 5 was a novel on television.  That is exactly it.  A novel with a huge story arc, dozens of tangents, and varied and complex themes.  The show changed my expectations of television and of the sci-fi genre.  In a way the show changed how I viewed politics and science, encouraging a better understanding of both.  The best thing I’ve taken away from the show however are dozens of memorable chunks of dialogue.  From sharp tongued one liners to eloquent dramatic soliloquies, Babylon 5 has them all.

The character of Michael Garibaldi is one of the best examples of the series writing

So overall my mission now is to create more Babylon 5 fans out there.  Why am I doing this you might ask.  Because I believe in the show?  Because I respect the creators and actors?  Because I hope to share the series message of realism mixed with hope?  The answer is yes to all of those I suppose, but I believe it is all pretty simple, and much more selfish than that.  I’m looking for more folks to talk about the show with who enjoy it as much as I do.  Perhaps I hope to prove to myself that I have been correct in devoting my fandom to the series.  If others out there like it, then maybe that means I have been right to spend so much time following the adventures of a band of fictional warriors and politicians in space.

Isn’t that why fans of any ilk band together?  Whether it’s TV, movies, sports, don’t we all get together not simply to enjoy the subject of our fandom, but perhaps to reinforce to ourselves that we are not alone?

That is all!