To Reach for the Stars

“White Castle” by Yuri Shwedoff. Caption at bottom was added by someone else.

​I pray this picture will not foreshadow the embers of space exploration and colonization, slowly fading until we lose interest and forget we once had the opportunity to walk on other worlds.
Once upon a time, we listened to the sky’s siren call, and answered it. As it was with the sirens of myth, so it is with the heavens. They are unforgiving, more so than anywhere on Earth.
But that very danger is part of what beckons us. It is improper to overtly romanticize exploration, but exploration does carry more than a touch of the romantic, an urgency and necessity we cannot quite put into words. Some deep and fundamental part of us knows it is worth the risk, when we look up and drink in the sight of countless stars.
To stand any decent chance of surviving such a journey, your body and mind and spirit must be of the highest durability. They have to be tempered by demanding tests and adverse circumstances, not to mention incredible persistence and strength of character. Many of us need an enemy, as well. Whether it’s a competing empire, or an authority figure who said you’d never amount to anything, or even our own selves, we often wait until a voice tells us “You’ll never do that,” before we say “Yes I will.”
A famous passage in the Bible says that the heavens declare God’s glory, night after night pouring forth speech and displaying knowledge. And what knowledge! What rewards we have gathered from taking risks and pushing ourselves.
May we reach while we still can.
[Previously posted on Facebook]

Advertisements

Mars Curiosity Rover: A Great Victory for NASA

Just got the word from the live web broadcast: The Curiosity rover has safely touched down on Mars. Way to go, NASA! This is a historic moment indeed. The most sophisticated, versatile, and largest rover in space exploration history has begun its mission in earnest, and I couldn’t be happier.

The Shadow of Curiosity. Reminds me of the Monolith from “2001.” Cue the theme music! Photo courtesy of NASA.

God be with the team overseeing this probe’s incredible mission. Curiosity, may you go find and do wondrous things. This is our first step toward larger and better things. May humans join you in person before long.

“John Carter” Review, Part 1

Many people love to gripe, bemoan, scoff, whine, and otherwise complain about the state of Hollywood. And they have good reason. Superfluous reboots and unneeded sequels give the movie industry the vibe of a broken record, special effects and marketing campaigns repeatedly supplant great storytelling, and audiences are increasingly jaded and cynical.

Then there is the rare film that obliterates your pessimism. A diamond among the veins of common rock. A film that effortlessly draws you in and shows that all is not lost, a film that “gets it right” — you feel that the movie lived up to its full potential and deserves to be treasured. You sense that it will be a part of you until the day you die.

As far as I’m concerned, John Carter has accomplished that. I cannot remember the last time a movie captured my imagination so completely, or tugged so hard on my emotions, or left me with such an overpowering sense of triumph and optimism. True, it wasn’t very successful when it came out earlier this year. But neither were Firefly and Serenity. That Disney bungled the marketing and critics sneered at “another silly adventure film” shouldn’t matter. This film deserves to be given a chance.

You might know the story by now, but just in case: the movie is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter of Mars novels, works of pulp science fiction that have ignited the imaginations of just about everyone from Steven Spielberg and Frank Frazetta to Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan. The film revolves around a Civil War veteran who avoids human contact and prospects for gold, to try and forget a heartbreaking tragedy in his past. When he encounters an otherworldly being inside a cave, he is accidentally transported to the planet Mars, finding other humans, tall aliens, and all manner of high-stakes adventures.

This is not only the Mars of Burroughs, but of Percival Lowell and H.G. Wells and Ray Bradbury, the romanticized Mars everyone wishes we discovered in the space age, with elegant civilizations that cling to life on a dying planet. John Carter arrives as a fish out of water who becomes a hero to these people, in the process regaining his humanity and a cause to fight for.

When I finally got a chance to watch this film, I knew that it was something special. This isn’t just two hours of entertainment; it’s a blessing. Unpretentious, charming, full of genuine thrills and sympathetic characters, and timeless in the best way possible. Only Jurassic Park and The Lord of the Rings have had a similar effect on me. Having only read partway through Burroughs’s first novel (A Princess of Mars), I can’t yet say how it stacks up against the source material, but this is one movie I know will stick with me for the rest of my life.

I have to give my most vigorous agreement to this blogger’s main point. NASA needs to reach Mars, and push back against the politicians that bully it and slice away its funding for their own ambition. NASA has to swing a few fists, at least long enough to get a manned rocket off the ground and on its way to Mars.

Cumbrian Sky

Right. I’m going to start this post with a warning. I’m usually a very tolerant kind of person, I much prefer negotiation to conflict and hate arguments. I always try to see both sides of an issue, and my posts here on CUMBRIAN SKY have always, I hoped, been fair and respectful to others’ opinions. But this isn’t going to be one of those posts. This one is going to be angry, and biased, and probably very unfair to some people, and will contain swearing. Why? Because I am just mad as hell about the latest NASA budget – which you must have read about, or heard about, unless you’re trekking to the pole or gliding down the Amazon in a canoe – and what it means for science, exploration, and the future. So, if anything in this post upsets you, or offends you, that’s fine, this is just…

View original post 4,633 more words

NASA in Decline

After the firestorm of creativity, innovation, and boundless optimism that was the Space Age, we have fallen far indeed. If we had taken the suggestions of people like Robert Zubrin and Bill Nye a mere ten or twelve years ago, we could have astronauts treading the surface of Mars right now, expanding our presence in the Solar System while pushing the limits of our technological prowess, and all the while feeding the basic human need for exploration.

Instead we have been puttering around low Earth orbit for a few decades, overlaid with the cacophony of talk about going to Mars without actually committing to it. And here’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson, everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, telling it like it is:

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Interview

We have to remind ourselves that exploring other planets is the next logical step of feeding mankind’s collective need to go, to find, to learn. And if our government doesn’t remember NASA’s role and presence in space exploration, and forgets that America has the most experience and expertise, then stepping on another world is going to be so much more difficult than it needs to be.

If you lose the drive to explore and discover, life is barely worth living anymore. If you don’t feed it, your aspirations start feeding on themselves, like an Ouroboros serpent swallowing its own tail. Now is not the time to give up our lofty goals and designs for the conquest of space, just because politicians with stunted imaginations have such a hard time envisioning the need or value of what NASA has given us.