News from Mars: Beam Me to Mars

marsIn the latest ambitious plan to make space exploration accessible to the general public, Uwingu has unveiled a new campaign where people can send messages and pictures to the Red Planet. It’s called “Beam Me to Mars”, and the company is inviting people to contribute, for a fee, to a “digital shout-out” that will send messages from Earth to Mars on Nov. 28 — the 50th anniversary of Mars exploration.

The first successful Mars mission, NASA’s Mariner 4 – launched on Nov. 28, 1964 – performed the first flyby of the Red Planet and returned the first pictures of the Martian surface. This was the first time that images were captured of another planet and returned from deep space. and their depiction of a cratered, seemingly dead world largely changed the view of the scientific community on life on Mars.

beam-me-to-mars-uwinguAccording to representative from Uwingu, “Beam Me to Mars” celebrates that landmark effort in a new and original way by inspiring people to get on board with Martian exploration. Other goals include raising lots of money to fund space science, exploration and education (Uwingu’s stated chief purpose) and letting policymakers know how important space exploration is to their constituents.

As CEO Alan Sterm, a planetary scientist and former NASA science chief, said in an interview with Space.com:

We want it to inspire people. There has never been an opportunity before for people of Earth to shout out across the solar system their hopes and wishes for space exploration, for the future of mankind — for any of that… We want to make an impression on leaders. The more messages, the bigger impression it makes. If this thing goes viral, and it becomes the thing to do, then it’ll make a huge impression.

ESO2For $4.95, people can beam their name (or someone else’s) to Mars, whereas $9.95 gets people a chance to beam a name and a 100-character message. $19.95 gets a 1,000-character note instead of the shorter one, and for those willing to spend $99 will be able to send their name, a long message and an image of their choosing. All messages submitted for “Beam Me to Mars” will also be hand-delivered to Congress, NASA and the United Nations.

Submissions must be made via uwingu.com by Nov. 5. And the company – whose name means “sky” in Swahili – and its transmission partner, communications provider Universal Space Network, will use radio telescopes to beam the messages at Mars on Nov. 28 at the rate of 1 million bits per second. The transmission, traveling at the speed of light, will reach the Red Planet on that day in just 15 minutes.

mariner-4-poster-art.enFor comparison, it took Mariner 4 more than seven months to get to Mars a half-century ago. The probe didn’t touch down, but its historic flyby in July 1965 provided the first up-close look at the surface of another planet from deep space. Mariner 4’s observations revealed that Mars is a dry and mostly desolate world, dashing the hopes of those who had viewed it as a world crisscrossed by canals and populated by little green men.

Already, several celebrities have signed on to the campaign, including actors Seth Green and wife Clare Grant, George (“Sulu”) Takei of Star Trek fame and his husband Brad, Bill Nye “The Science Guy”, astronaut and former ISS commander Chris Hadfield, commercial astronaut Richard Garriott, former NASA senior executive Lori Garver, Pulitzer winning author and playwright Dava Sobel, and Author and screenwriter Homer Hickam.

Uwingu-CelebritiesThis is not the first Mars effort for Uwingu, which was founded in 2012. In February, the company launched its “People’s Map of Mars,” asking the public to name Red Planet landmarks for a small fee. To date, people have named more than 12,000 Mars craters, and Uwingu has set aside more than $100,000 for grants. And when it comes to getting the general public involved with space science and travel, they are merely one amongst many. The age of public space exploration is near, people!

Sources: space.com, uwingu.com, (2)

George Takei’s Proposal for the 2014 Winter Olympics

Sochi-2014-Olympic-StadiumThe build-up towards the Sochi Winter Games has been fraught with controversy, thanks to Russia’s recent passage of numerous laws which amount to persecution of its resident gay population. As a result of this, numerous pro-GLBT groups from around the world have proposed various boycotts. Like most issues involving human rights and sanctions, it is a sticky one without much in the way of clear solutions.

But first, some background on the issue seems needed. Though homosexuality was decriminalized after the fall of the Soviet Union in1991, more recent laws passed by numerous states, and now being advocated federally by Vladimir Putin, have led to concerns and criticisms that the country is slouching towards extreme social conservatism again.

russia-gay-law-olympics.siThese include the recent ban on “homosexual propaganda” that has been passed in numerous regions and is being proposed by Putin’s allies in the country’s federal Parliament. This law would effectively make it illegal for gay people to express themselves publicly, which would include admitting to being gay, or demanding equality or reform for same-sex couples at home or abroad. In effect, it would criminalize the act of being openly gay.

To make matters worse, this legislative ban has been linked to an upsurge in homophobia that led to a dozen murders and an unspecified number of assaults last year. Though obtaining accurate numbers is difficult, since victims are afraid to come forward, next of kin are reluctant to admit homophobia was a cause, and enforcement of hate crime laws remains tentative.

russia-gay-law-crackdownThis has led many people worldwide to propose boycotts against Russia, ranging from Russian vodka, to the Sochi Olympics themselves. However, there are those who are quick to point out that such a boycott would only punish the athletes who have worked very hard to get to the Olympics, and really won’t help the Russian gay community at all.

What’s more, if human rights issues are a reason to boycott the Olympics, what are we to think of Beijing hosting the 2008 Summer Games? In addition to its ongoing occupation of Tibet, China maintains a human rights record that is deplorable by most standards, and actively deprives its citizens of numerous human rights on a daily basis. But no boycotts were mounted there, leading some to conclude that one here would be unfair.

Luckily, George Takei has offered a possible way out of this dilemma: let Vancouver host the 2014 Winter Games. At the website for Allegiance: A New American Musical, which stars the openly gay actor and activist, he posted an appeal to people all over the world to not boycott the games, but instead to demand that they be moved to another venue.

George TakeiTitled “It’s Time to Move the Olympics”, Takei cites Russia’s Sports Minister recent confirmation that the country intends to enforce these new laws against visiting LGBT athletes, trainers and fans. This means that anyone attending the Olympics could be arrested, fined and deported for the simple act of waving a rainbow flag. Because of this, he says that it’s time for the IOC to reconsider Sochi as a location.

Instead, Takei and others believe that the games should be moved to Vancouver since “all of the facilities are still in good condition, so this would likely be the easiest of possible alternatives.” In addition to sending a clear message about human rights, the games could proceed and the athletes would not be penalized. People who are interested in signing the petition can do so by clicking here.

And as someone who witnessed the 2010 games firsthand, thought they were awesome, and saw how we came away from it all with plenty of debt, I can certainly see the value in this. We already have the structures, and would love another infusion of tourist dollars and international attention. Despite whatever logistical and financial considerations that will need to be ironed out in the meantime, I’d say it’s a win-win situation.

sochi-2014-takeiSidenote: According to Reuters, Russia has since denied that the “homosexual propaganda laws” will be enforced during the games. In a statement made by Igor Ananskikh, the head of the Russian Duma Committee on physical training, sports and youth, he claimed that:

The Olympics is a major international event. Our task is to be as politically correct and tolerant as we can be. That’s why we made the decision not to raise this issue during the Games.

This contradicts a statement made by Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who said previously that no concessions would be made to foreign athletes and visitors to the Sochi Olympics:

No one is forbidding an athlete with non-traditional sexual orientation from coming to Sochi, but if he goes onto the street and starts propagandizing it, then of course he will be held accountable.

So the official story at this point is that Russia will NOT be enforcing its anti-GLBT laws to visiting athetes. No doubt, this overruling was the result of political pressure, as the Duma does not want to see Russia deprived of hosting a major international event for any reason. As years of languishing in obscurity Russia, much like China, can be counted on to jealously guard its newfound sense of status and grab any opportunity it can to advance it.

vancouver-2010-olympics-opening-ceremonyNo telling how this will work out. But in the meantime, I’m hoping Vancouver gets to host the Winter Games twice in a row! That would be some kind of record, and considering all the golds Canada took home last time, I imagine we’d be in good spirits!

Sources: allegiancemusical.com, rt.com, amnesty.org

Star Wars News!

star-wars-episode-7You’re not going to believe this. But just 15 minutes ago, on his Facebook feed, George Takei announced that he will be starring in the upcoming Star Wars remake. Not only that, but he had a few newsworthy items to share about the upcoming sequel that the studio has not been sharing just yet. These include the name of the new film and when filming will begin.

Friends, I am thrilled to announce that I’ll be starring in the Star Wars reboot directed by JJ Abrams. I’ll be playing Master Ceti Maru, a member of the Jedi High Council. The new film, entitled “Star Wars: Galactic Empire,” is greenlit and will begin filming sometime early next year. It is truly a moment for The Star Alliance. Thanks to all my fans for their decades of support.

You may not think it, but even a little hint like the name of the film can tell you volumes. In this case, it would seem to confirm what Hamil has been saying, that the movie would be set in a time when the children of Han and Leia were growing up, a time where the Republic had been resurrected and was fighting the remnants of the Empire to take control of the Galaxy.

In addition, since he will be playing a Jedi Master, its clear that in this time period, the Jedi Order has been restored. So Luke won’t be the only one anymore. Perhaps he’ll just be the head honcho, which is a bit of a change-up ever since Yoda passed away. What’s more, Takei was sure to provided a little mockup photo to get fans in mind of what he would like sporting a Jedi robe and a lightsaber (I see he went with the Windu model). Excited yet? I know I am.

Addendum: It’s officially midnight, so Happy April Fool’s Day! George, you’re one mean SOB!

georgetakei_jedi