Ever since the Opportunity and Curiosity Rovers began their research stint on the red planet, evidence has been pouring in that indicates that the planet once supported life. And now, by examining the compositions of Martian meteorites found on Earth and data provided by the Mars rovers, Scientists from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford have determined that the planet once boasted an oxygen-rich atmosphere.
The key determinant was the fact that the Martian surface rocks were five times richer in nickel than the meteorites found on Earth, a find which cast doubt on whether the meteorites were typical volcanic products. Whilst it is possible that the geological composition of Mars varies immensely from region to region, the team believes that it is more likely that the differences arise through a process known as subduction – in which material is recycled into the interior.
The scientists suggest that the Martian surface was oxidized very early in the history of the planet and that, through subduction, this oxygen-rich material was drawn into the shallow interior and recycled back to the surface during eruptions 4 billion years ago. The meteorites, by contrast, are much younger volcanic rocks that emerged from deeper within the planet and so were less influenced by this process.
As Professor Bernard Wood, the senior author of a study that appeared in Nature magazine, put it:
What we have shown is that both meteorites and surface volcanic rocks are consistent with similar origins in the deep interior of Mars but that the surface rocks come from a more oxygen-rich environment, probably caused by recycling of oxygen-rich materials into the interior. This result is surprising because while the meteorites are geologically young, around 180 million to 1.4 billion years old, the Spirit rover was analyzing a very old part of Mars, more than 3.7 billion years old.
In addition to evidence that Mars once had a sizable amount of surface water, in the form of rivers and lakes, this latest study demonstrates that Mars was once very much like Earth. In all likelihood, it would have been home to countless forms of bacteria, single-celled organisms, and possibly larger creatures as well. But being at the edge of our Sun’s habitable zone, it was unable to maintain the conditions for life to thrive.
Sad news, but encouraging when it comes to the prospect of making Mars able to sustain life again. And in the coming years and decades, that’s precisely what a number of space agencies, private companies and citizens want to do. And if these plans are to succeed long term, the planet will have to be converted into something that can independently support life.
In short, the colonization of Mars requires that the planet become something akin to its old self.
Yesterday, at precisely 10:23 pm Greenwich Mean Time, NASA announced the successful landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover! After blazing through Mars’ atmosphere at over 21,000 km/h, Curiosity’s unique landing system deployed and brought the rover in for a nice, controlled landing.
Needless to say, pandemonium ensued at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, where the landing was being monitored. All those on hand began jumping, hooting, hollering and hugging each other, much as they used to do whenever a successful launch was made or men touched down on the moon. Times may have changed, but the basic goal remains the same: to conquer the unknown and take the next big leap. And when that happens, you can expect the people who work so hard to make that happen to get a little giddy 😉
In addition, the HiRISE team (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment), caught this beautiful and perfectly-timed photo from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The photo shows Curiosity at left deploying its chute and descending to the surface.
Immediately after touching down, Curiosity began sending photos back to NASA of Mars surface. The first two were of its landing zone in Mars’ Gale Crater, shown here:
To mark this momentous occasion, President Obama had this statement to make:
“Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history.
The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet – marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.
Tonight’s success, delivered by NASA, parallels our major steps forward towards a vision for a new partnership with American companies to send American astronauts into space on American spacecraft. That partnership will save taxpayer dollars while allowing NASA to do what it has always done best – push the very boundaries of human knowledge. And tonight’s success reminds us that our preeminence – not just in space, but here on Earth – depends on continuing to invest wisely in the innovation, technology, and basic research that has always made our economy the envy of the world.
I congratulate and thank all the men and women of NASA who made this remarkable accomplishment a reality – and I eagerly await what Curiosity has yet to discover.”
Yes, this is certainly is history in the making. Needless to say, Curiosity is expected send back some interesting finds as it wanders the Martian surface, takes soil samples, and scans them to determine what secrets and mysteries the surface holds. In time, all this information could become intrinsic to settlement and terraforming, the creation of human civilization on a planet other than Earth! Exciting times we live in!
In the meantime, check out this compilation video of the landing paired with footage take from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab:
A recent article on CBC tells us something interesting about the Red Planet. It seems that the good folks at NASA’s Advanced Food Technology Project are planning a menu that astronauts will be taking with them to Mars. It’s all part of a planned mission that will be taking place in 2030, involving six to eight astronauts with an expected duration of six months.
This is no easy feat, but it’s further complicated by the fact that once there, the astronauts will not be able to be resupplied at regular intervals. Yes, unlike the ISS, they can’t just send shuttled loaded with freeze dried food. Luckily, NASA knows that Mars low gravity means that once there, astronauts will be able to prepare their own food. Things things like chopping vegetables and boiling water with a pressure cooker are possible there, unlike in a zero-g environment.
So in addition to planning a travel menu, NASA is planning on equipping the mission with the means to create a “Martian greenhouse” upon their arrival. This would include a variety of fruits and vegetables — from carrots to bell peppers — kept in a hydroponic solution, meaning they would be planted in mineral-laced water instead of soil. The astronauts would care for their garden and then use those ingredients, combined with others, such as nuts and spices brought from Earth, to prepare their meals.
Not bad. And an improvement over a space menu for one simple reason. Zero-g has an effect on taste and smell. Yes, zero gravity seems to impair these things, making food taste bland. So a spicy red pepper sauce and a chili and oil sauce, when eaten in space, are pretty much paste. Not cool…
This research is an important step in ushering in the age of colonization. Much like the recent surveys which discovered of water on the moon, and tested its gravity and for minerals, it’s the sort of nuts and bolts planning that will one day go into real mission planning. First the Moon, then Mars, then Ganymede, Europa, Ceres, Titan and Oberon. All bodies with gravity that could be settled in the not-too-distant future, and that’s just within our solar system! Given the time, resources and technology, the universe really is the limit!
Here we see Bradbury seated in the NASA control center back in the 1960’s. Apparently, it was his contention, prior to the Moon Landing, that the United States was headed for spiritual ruin unless “dumb politicians” got out of the way and let Americans reach for the stars. Well, he certainly got his wish, didn’t he?
Unfortunately, this science fiction great did not live long enough to see the colonization of Mars, which was a recurring theme of his writing. But given the current state of the world economy and the space race, I wonder if any of us will.
But I didn’t start this post to be gloomy. Mainly I want to share an article which I came across today from Wired magazine. It contains Bradbury’s thoughts on a multiplicity of subjects, as expressed in his most famous quotes. It was a lucky coincidence that I found it, since my wife shared one of his oft-quoted lines with me once I told her the sad news.
Riding home in the car together, she turned to me and said: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Since she’s always encouraged my writing, I couldn’t help but feel that she thought I could draw some inspiration from this. Mission accomplished.
These and other quotes can be found in the article, just click on the link below. And remember, you got any cool thoughts, be sure to write them down. You never know, someday, somebody could be quoting you!
Yesterday, one of the greatest sci-fi minds of the 20th center, Ray Bradbury, died at the age of 91 after a lengthy illness. His publisher, HarperCollins, were apparently the ones to break the news to the world. Best known for his seminal dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury quickly joined the ranks of authors like Orwell, Huxley, Clarke, and Asimov, in that he was a speculative author who’s predictions rapidly came true.
Amongst such things were the emergence of ATMs, wall-sized televisions, interactive entertainment, and live broadcasts of fugitive car chases. In addition to Fahrenheit 451, he also penned the Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked this Way Comes, and over 600 other works of fiction, articles and essays. As such, his influence and legacy are truly immeasurable.
So, in honor of this sci-fi great, whom I waited a very long time to read, I shall delve into his best known works and try to explain exactly why they were so enduring and influential. Let’s start with the book that earned him his reputation in the first place:
Fahrenheit 451 (1953): This dystopian piece of speculative fiction takes place in the late 20th century, when American culture has degenerated into a form of brutal escapism. Nuclear war looms on the horizon, books have been banned, and for the majority of people, cocooning in their homes in front of their wall-sized monitors seems like the perfect distraction.
The story takes place from the point of view of a Fireman named Guy Montag, who’s job consists of located offenders and burning their books. This is the role of firemen in the future, who instead of fighting fires are responsible for starting them. Montag is unhappy with his life and suffering from a deep sense of disquiet.
Until one night when a young woman named Clarisse shakes up his worldview. Whereas most people in Montag’s world seemed numbed and dead, she is vital and alive, and questions just about everything. Shortly thereafter, she dies in a tragic accident, which shakes Montag’s world up even more.
He too begins questioning the rules, he steals books from jobs he is meant to pull, and begins reading them. Realizing he is now in violation of the law, he seeks out other offenders for answers. This brings him into contact with Faber, a former English professor that Montag knows can help. In time, Faber is convinced to bring him into this confidence and reveals that he is part of a circle that is dedicated to the preservation of written knowledge.
Eventually, Montag is found out and must flee. His boss, it seems, has known for quite for some time what he is up to but extended him some courtesy because he knows what he’s going through. More enlightened than the average person, Montag’s boss explains to him why books have been banned and why they must destroy them. Rather than the result of forced censorship, the process was entirely voluntary. People chose mindless entertainment, distraction and fast cars over reading, reflection and learning.
Montag’s escape from his house and the police becomes the subject of the evening news. He manages to elude the authorities and meets up with the reading circle down by the river. Interestingly enough, he flees the city just in time to witness being destroyed from a nuclear attack. It seems the build-up to Armageddon has finally ended and nuclear war has come. Montag leaves with the group, who’s mission now has become one of preserving civilization as well as literature.
What was enduringly brilliant about this book was not so much the predictions about technology or the emergence of book banning, but the reasons for it. Capturing the zeitgeist of his age, Bradbury essentially felt that a shocked and fearful society would seek escape by the most convenient means available to them. And whereas most dystopian novels involve ignorance and illiteracy being forced by a brutal regime, Bradbury believed that the process would be entirely voluntary. In this respect, he captured the same essence as Huxley, another dystopian critic who believed man’s appetite for distraction would be it’s undoing.
The Martian Chronicles (1950): Though written before Fahrenheit 451, the MC gained notoriety more slowly, but eventually became recognized as one of the great works of science fiction. A collection of loosely based stories rather than a single novel, the book follows the future history of colonization on Mars, dealing with all kinds of speculative, existential and scientific questions.
The overall structure of the book comes in three parts, punctuated by two catastrophes. The first is the near-extinction of the Martians, while the second is the parallel near-extinction of the human race. In first part of the book takes place at the end of the 20th century and details mankind’s efforts to reach Mars, and the various ways in which the Martian natives keep them from returning. However, towards the end (in the story “—And the Moon be Still as Bright”) it is revealed the majority of the Martians have died as a result of a plague brought from Earth.
This opens Act II, taking place in the early 21st century, where humans begin colonizing the Red Planet. On occasion, they have the opportunity to make contact with the surviving Martians, but mainly are concerned with building a second Earth. However, many settlers begin to pack up and leave as looming nuclear war on Earth causes them to want to get back and be with their families. The outbreak of this war signals the end of Act II and the opening of the third act.
In the third and final act of the book, all contact has been lost with Earth when the nuclear war takes place. As the war passes, those humans who have survived on Mars have began building a distinct civilization and having children who have only known life on the Red Planet, effectively becoming Martian themselves. This prospect allows the book to return to its beginning, as it is suggested that new waves of colonists will soon be coming and conflicts are likely to emerge as a result.
This book was not only brilliant in that it addressed a great deal of scientific and existential questions that are sure to come when actual colonization begins (if ever). It also managed to capture a sense of timeless truth and lessons which come from real history, or the “Age of Discovery” as its known. These included the destruction of native inhabitants, the push-pull factors which lead to colonization, severance from the homeland, and eventual adaptation as new people begin to embrace the new environment as their home.
Much like KSR’s Mars Series, this book should be required reading if ever any Ares missions get underway!
The Illustrated Man (1951): Much like the Martian Chronicles, this book is a collection of short stories linked by a common theme. Through its exploration of humankind, the recurring theme is one of conflict between cold mechanics and technology and the basic nature of human beings. Many of these stories have been adapted into film over the years and been used in schools as educational tools. Some examples include:
“The Veldt” – in this story, we see a family who’s children have become terribly attached to the houses’ high tech nursery. Like a holodeck from Star Trek, the children use this to create virtual environments – in this case, the predatory environment of the African veldt. When the parents threaten to take it away, the children lock them inside and they are apparently consumed by the lions. thought it is not outright said, it is implied that the children have reprogrammed the unit to become real and have been “feeding” people to it for some time.
“The Other Foot” – in this exercise in turnabout, we learn that Mars has been colonized solely by people of African descent. When they learn that a rocket is coming from Earth with white travelers, they decide to institute a system of racial segregation similar to that of the Jim Crow Laws of the American South, in retaliation for the wrongs of history. However, when the rocket lands the traveler tells them that most of the Earth has been destroyed in a nuclear war and the people realize that discrimination is harmful in all its forms. They rescind their discriminatory laws and welcome the new crew as equals.
“The Man” – A group of space explorers land on a planet to find the population living in a healthy state of bliss. Upon investigation, they discover that an enigmatic visitor came to them, who they eventually conclude was Jesus (or some other religious persona since He was never named). Some decide to spend the rest of their days rejoicing with the natives, while another decides to continue on in his spaceship in the hopes of catching up with this person. While he spends the rest of his days in hot pursuit, always one step behind and never quite catching up to him, the other learn that “he” is still on the planet with them. Hello metaphor!
“The Exiles” – taking a page (no pun!) from Fahrenheit 451, this story revolves around the concept of burning books and the immeasurable nature of knowledge being lost forever. It begins with stating that numerous works of literature have been banned and burned on Earth. The fictional characters of these books are portrayed as real-life entities who live in a refuge on Mars. These characters are vulnerable however since once all the books on a character are destroyed, that character vanishes permanently. When the group of characters learn that some people are coming for them, they stage a counterattack, but are foiled by the astronauts who burn the last remaining books from Earth, unknowingly annihilating the entire colony.
“Marionettes, Inc.” – A man attempts to escape his marriage by replacing himself with a robot to fool his wife into thinking he hasn’t left and tells a friend about it. The man comes back and tells the robot to go back into the box, and the robot disobeys him saying he has fallen in love with the wife. The robot then proceeds to put the man in the box and replaces him for real. Sound familiar?
“The Illustrated Man” – The namesake of the book, this story involves an overweight carnival worker is given a second chance as a Tattooed Man, and visits a strange woman who applies skin illustrations over his entire body. She covers two special areas, claiming they will show the future. When the first is revealed, it’s an illustration of the man strangling his wife. Shortly after this comes to pass, the carnival workers run the man down, beat him, and look at the second area, which shows an illustration of the same beating they are doing. Can you say self-fulfilling prophecy?
Most of these stories would probably sound familiar in one way or anther, but that’s because they’ve been adapted, copied and referenced by countless pop culture sources. I myself recall watching “The Veldt” in school and being chilled by its eerie and dystopian tone. “Marionettes Inc.” has been adapted into comedy format numerous times, and the theme of prophecy and fulfillment in “The Illustrated Man” has inspired countless stories, not the least of which are The Butterfly Effect and perhaps even PKD’s Minority Report.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962): A somewhat off-beat work for Bradbury, who’s works consist mainly of speculative sci-fi, this fantasy/horror novel has nevertheless become a household name for fans of the dark and weird. Set in modern a day Midwestern town, the story revolves around a visiting carnival and its mysterious director, Mr. Black.
Enter into this the story’s protagonists, two 13 year old boys, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway, who witness the arrival of the carnival and become immediately enthralled with it. They quickly realize that everyone who works there has been lured into Mr. Dark’s service through the promise of being able to live out their fantasies. For most people, these involve become younger, a gift he confers on several characters through his “magic” carousel.
In time, they come to realize that Mr. Dark holds these people under his sway and has a tatoo of each of them on his body, a symbol of his control. Charles Holloway, William’s father, looks into Mr. Dark’s past and realizes he can be defeated through love. It is unclear what this entails, but after the boy’s are kidnapped, he comes to the carnival and begins destroying it’s structures and Dark’s protectors by expressing laughter and joy. He and his son use the same tactic to eventually bring down Mr. Dark and bring Jim back from death, who was stuck on the carousel and rapidly aging.
Though different from most of his other works in terms of genre, this story did contain many elements which were present in his other stories. For example, the concept of the carnival and the tattooed man was the basis of “The Illustrated Man”. The nostalgic feel of the story was also to be found in his novel Dandelion Wine, and is often paired with this novel as presenting both the lighter and darker sides of childhood. And of course, the novels resolution, where good prevails through purity of heart, is to be found in many of Bradbury’s works.
Because of its focus on good versus evil, childhood, and coming of age, this story was to have a profound effect on several authors, the most notable of which is Stephen King. Citing Something Wicked as his inspiration, King attributed a debt to Bradbury for helping to write It and Dreamcatcher.
In the end, Bradbury was known for many things: originality, depth, vision and genius. But the thing that sticks with the most about him was his views on the preciousness of literature and knowledge. Basically, he expressed several times over how when something is lost, it’s lost forever. I can only assume then that he would take great comfort in knowing that he left the literary legacy that he did. Though he may no longer be with us, his works will live on and serve to inspire many generations to come.
I think this is a lesson we could all draw from. Though our time on this Earth may be short, we have the ability to leave our mark and ensure that some trace of us stays behind. So make those footprints people, write those manuscripts, and most importantly, tell the people you love how you feel. Do not leave things unsaid or undone, because someday, we will be gone…
So than you, Mr. Bradbury, for your many, many contributions. You did it right, and now you go on to join the other greats of your time. Rest In Peace.