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!

Save Us John Williams!

     Ugh!  This is completely off topic but  I just watched the Rebecca Black video on YouTube, you know the one where some random teenage girl is singing like a car alarm about a day of the week, complete with explanations of the subsequent days that follow.  Christ!  If you’re not convinced our nations creative culture has hit rock bottom then just go take a peek at the video for “Friday.”  My wife summed it up best in saying that that production was the outcome of children being coddled and told that everything they do is “awesome” and “special.”  Sorry kids sometimes you just can’t sing, no matter how much you dial up the autotune.  We can’t all be star athletes either.  Hard work and perseverance are a major part of achieving what we want out of life, but sometimes a measure of talent is needed to actually make those dreams a reality.  Play to your strengths. 

     Ah but why waste my breath right?  I mean that music video is awful, but it already has over a million views.  Sure many, like myself, have watched it simply to see how bad it is but that notion is lost on our commercialized culture.  A million views means a lot of eyes have seen this train wreck and when there’s an inevitable follow up there will be an immediate viewership response which means there can be some profit to be made on this shit.  I really don’t hold anything against the young lady herself, at best she has been misguided, at worst she’s a bit delusional.  But I don’t see it as having much to do with her. Someone with some film equipment noticed her genuine desire to be a star (talent aside) and the dollar signs started floating down from the heavens as the plans were set into motion to make her the next Justin Beiber/Disney-esque pop star.  There is so little class left in our culture.  Sigh

     I could go on and on ranting, but that wasn’t actually what I wanted to write about today.  I came here with the intention of talking about my love for composer John Williams.  However after seeing that video this morning it just put me in a foul, pessimistic mood so I had to piss and moan a bit.  Anywho, on to John Williams.  Now there’s a classy dude.  I would not hesitate to place John Williams among the ranks of Mozart and Beethoven.  Traditional classical music scholars might scoff at the idea that a mere movie composer, who writes scores for films, would even be considered equal to the great symphonic masters of history.  But I say, really what’s the difference?  John Williams has written traditional symphonies, not many, but he has a few under his belt.  He is though of course most known for his memorable and moving film scores, which often complete the movies they are a part of.  Imagine Jaws without its soundtrack.  Not only the famous tensely menacing theme of the shark but also the incidental sections which highlight the adventure of the open water really add quite a bit to that movie.  Without that music Jaws would seem rather flat and somewhat dull.  It is impossible to separate the music from the action.  Now think about Mozart, Wagner, and Mendelssohn many of their best known works come from their operas and theatrical pieces.  The movies of their day.  I’ll grant you that in some cases these masters had a much larger role in the stories that were being portrayed on stage, but it was all about the music telling those stories, evoking the emotions and tensions that were being played out on stage.

Fact: I have seen John Williams in concert more times than any other band/musician.

     Let me just say that I do like to think of myself as having a rather eclectic taste in music, I don’t only listen to symphonic and classical music. I can appreciate pretty much all music and have it represented in some form or another on my ipod.  With the exception of modern country music, that shits awful.  Though even that has a few exceptions I suppose.  I realize that the only musical discussions on my blog currently are this, and a post about Handel.  I just think it’s important to understand the history of music, and appreciate the diversity of classical music that is out there.  There are some exciting and cool works to listen to, it’s not all chamber music and lullabies for your developing toddler.

     Now back to John Williams.  I have said for a long time that I believe the great film composers are the true legacy of classical music and the great composers of the past.  John Williams, Henry Mancini, Howard Shore, even Danny Elfman all draw on the past as well as adding something new to the sound of symphonic music.  I would love to hear more works from these and other modern movie composers played along with the Bizet and Verdi pieces that are played on NPR and elsewhere. 

     My fandom of John Williams and my overall appreciation of movie scores, began in 1993 at the tender age of twelve.  At that time I had very little knowledge of such subjects.  One weekend my dad told me he was taking me to a movie, we were going to see Jurassic Park.  As I sat in the theater watching the awesome scenery and effects of that movie one thing struck me which had never occurred to me about a movie before.  The music.  It was an “ah ha!” moment for me that has really effected my movie going experience to this day.  I remember exactly which scene it was that caught my attention, it was towards the beginning of the movie just before they reach the island, as the group is soaring over the ocean in a helicopter on their approach to Jurassic Park.  The music is perfectly timed with a cut, so that the music shoots up suddenly to sweep the viewer up and soar them along to this tropical location.  It is a memorable tune that had me paying attention to the rest of the music in the movie, but not distracting me at all from what was happening as people were getting chased and bitten in half by dinosaurs, in fact it enhanced that experience.  As the credits rolled I made sure to pay attention and see who had written that crazy awesome score.  John Williams, a name that would send me investigating all his other work.

Jurassic Park, both the movie and the book, changed my life.

     Back in modern times, the wife and I watched Jurassic Park again recently and I was reminded just how perfectly John Williams’ score weaves the action together as well as highlights the slower more emotional scenes.  I would argue that his work on Jurassic Park is his finest in terms of punctuating a movie, in doing the most heavy lifting to create suspense, and in establishing an overall sense of wonder.  As a kid I was obsessed with Jurassic Park and the soundtrack was actually the first CD I ever bought.  (Yeah I’m awesome.)  Through some searching I soon realized that John Williams was the man behind the music of my favorite movies of all time, Star Wars.  From there I discovered that John Williams was the sound of Jaws, Indiana Jones, and pretty much every Steven Spielberg movie ever.  I was hooked for life, and the rest is history.

Frequent collaborators, John Williams and Steven Spielberg.

     This blog has kind of gotten off track, I had a whole comparison ready to go between the Magic Flute and the ET soundtrack, but I’ve gone on too long at this point.  I have more or less just lectured about my love for John Williams.  I guess if I had to sum up this blog it would be to encourage any parents out there, or hip aunts and uncles, etc. to go out and purchase some John Williams music for some of the kids in your family.  Chances are they already like some of the movies he’s been a part of, so it is an easy in.  Start your kids off with something like the Star Wars soundtracks.  Their enjoyment of something familiar might encourage an interest in classical works, and the intricacies of large orchestral pieces.  That interest might than be translated into other music, be it classical or rock and roll or hip hop.  If kids have a good understanding of different sounds, and the building blocks of music they might be able to cultivate a genuine interest in music, instead of a desire for fame through music.  Maybe John Williams can even help our future generations avoid being bamboozled into making terrible musical decisions, like taking part in obnoxious music videos about random words.

That is all!

John Williams has been as equally important to these movies as the actors and directors.