News from Space: Space Elevator by 2035!

space_elevator2Imagine if you will a long tether made of super-tensile materials, running 100,000 km from the Earth and reaching into geostationary orbit. Now imagine that this tether is a means of shipping people and supplies into orbit, forever removing the need for rockets and shuttles going into space. For decades, scientists and futurists have been dreaming about the day when a “Space Elevator” would be possible; and according to a recent study, it could become a reality by 2035.

The report was launched by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), a 350-page report that lays out a detailed case for a space elevator. At the center of it that will reach beyond geostationary orbit and held taught by an anchor weighing roughly two million kilograms (2204 tons). Sending payloads up this backbone could fundamentally change the human relationship with space, with the equivalent of a space launch happening almost daily.

space_elevatorThe central argument of the paper — that we should build a space elevator as soon as possible — is supported by a detailed accounting of the challenges associated with doing so. The possible pay-off is as simple: a space elevator could bring the cost-per-kilogram of launch to geostationary orbit from $20,000 to as little as $500. Not only would be it useful for deploying satellites, it would also be far enough up Earth’s gravity well to be able to use it for long-range missions.

This could include the long-awaited mission to Mars, where a shuttle would push off from the top and then making multiple loops around the Earth before setting off for the Red Planet. This would cut huge fractions off the fuel budget, and would also make setting up a base on the Moon (or Mars) a relatively trivial affair. Currently, governments and corporations spend billions putting satellites into space, but a space elevator could pay for itself and ensure cheaper access down the line.

terraforming-mars2The report lays out a number of technological impediments to a space elevator, but by far the most important is the tether itself. Current materials science has yet to provide a material with the strength, flexibility, and density needed for its construction. Tethers from the EU and Japan are beginning to push the 100-kilometer mark, are still a long way off orbital altitude, and the materials for existing tethers will not allow much additional length.

Projecting current research in carbon nanotubes and similar technologies, the IAA estimates that a pilot project could plausibly deliver packages to an altitude of 1000 kilometers (621 miles) as soon as 2025. With continued research and the help of a successful LEO (low Earth orbit, i.e. between 100 and 1200 miles) elevator, they predict a 100,000-kilometer (62,137-mile) successor will stretch well past geosynchronous orbit just a decade after that.

carbon-nanotubeThe proposed design is really quite simple, with a sea platform (or super-ship) anchoring the tether to the Earth while a counterweight sits at the other end, keeping the system taught through centripetal force. For that anchor, the report argues that a nascent space elevator should be stabilized first with a big ball of garbage – one composed of retired satellites, space debris, and the cast-off machinery used to build the elevator’s own earliest stages.

To keep weight down for the climbers (the elevator cars), this report imagines them as metal skeletons strung with meshes of carbon nanotubes. Each car would use a two-stage power structure to ascend, likely beginning with power from ground- or satellite-based lasers, and then the climber’s own solar array. The IAA hopes for a seven-day climb from the base to GEO — slow, but still superior and far cheaper than the rockets that are used today.

Space Elevator by gryphart-d42c7sp
Space Elevator by gryphart-d42c7sp

One thing that is an absolute must, according to the report, is international cooperation. This is crucial not only for the sake of financing the elevator’s construction, but maintaining its neutrality. In terms of placement, IAA staunchly maintains that a space elevator would be too precious a resource to be built within the territory of any particular nation-state. Though every government would certainly love a space elevator of their very own, cost considerations will likely make that impossible in the near-term.

By virtue of its physical size, a space elevator will stretch through multiple conflicting legal zones, from the high seas to the “territorial sky” to the “international sky” to outer space itself, presenting numerous legal and political challenges. Attacks by terrorists or enemies in war are also a major concern, requiring that it be defended and monitored at all levels. And despite being a stateless project, it would require a state’s assets to maintain, likely by the UN or some new autonomous body.

space_elevator1In 2003, Arthur C. Clarke famously said that we will build a space elevator 10 years after they stop laughing. Though his timeline may have been off, as if often the case – for example, we didn’t have deep space missions or AIs by 2001 – sentiments were bang on. The concept of a space elevator is taken seriously at NASA these days, as it eyes the concept as a potential solution for both shrinking budgets and growing public expectations.

Space is quickly becoming a bottleneck in the timeline of human technological advancement. From mega-telescopes and surveillance nets to space mining operations and global high-speed internet coverage, most of our biggest upcoming projects will require better access to space than our current methods can provide for. And in addition to providing for that support, this plans highlights exactly how much further progress in space depends on global cooperation.


New Trailer: Elysium!

elysium_posterLast weekend, while the wife, our friend and I were all watching the new Star Trek movie, a number of trailers came on that made us antsy for other “coming attractions”! One of them was one I instantly recognized and began saying the title of long before they flashed it across the screen. Months back, when this movie was first announced, I posted the trailer here because it looked to have all the things I love in sci-fi story. And they have since come out with a longer, more detailed trailer which I share now…

Elysium tells the story of a dystopian future, set in 2154, where the wealthy and privileged live in an orbital colony that is peaceful, serene, idyllic, and sees to all their needs (and looks a lot like the station from Space Odyssey). Meanwhile, the remaining 99% of humanity live planetside, where pollution, environmental collapse and economic ruin have made Earth into a veritable hellhole.

elysium_stationEnter into this Max De Costa (played by a cueballed Matt Damon), a man who is near death who comes to learn of a secret that could topple the whole system and achieve a degree of social justice. In order to do this, he has to break into Elysium, a facility that is heavily guarded and run by Secretary Rhodes (Jodie Foster), and undergoes a radical surgery to get an exoskeleton and some powerful weaponry permanently attached.

Directed by Neil Blomkamp – the South-African director who brought us District 9 and provided visual effects for such shows as Star Gate: SG-1, Smallville and Dark Angel – this movie clearly boasts the same kind of gritty, realistic texture he has come to be known for. And after the 2008 Financial Crisis and the subsequent Occupy Movement, it’s message is pretty timely and likely to be well-received.

elysium-1As for me? You can keep your social commentary and comparisons to other movie franchises, I wanna see me some exoskeleton battles! Enjoy the trailer:


fractal_dyson_sphere_by_eburacum45-d2yum16The size and shape of the deep space field resolved itself into a million piercing points of light. From a mottled mass of brilliance, it slowly transitioned into the blue spectrum, then white, keeping pace with the Relativistic Engines that powered their vessel. As soon as they finished powering down, the instruments starting humming, beeping, and generally carrying out their functions. And all hands aboard her bridge began to listen very carefully for the desired sounds of contact.

For several minutes, sensor returns came back negative. The far-flung planet in the system, its many moons, and the thin trail of asteroids that constituted all stellar mass this far out were about the only things they were picking up. In time, the Captain began to wonder if they were even in the right place.

“We’re sure about these coordinates?” said Mikka, addressing Thoreau at the nav terminal. His hands waved above his touchscreen, absorbing information through contact and assimilating it at near-instantaneous speed. His eyes cleared as he looked up to see her, momentarily breaking from his sensory link.

“The shippers said they found it at the edge of the space lanes. They said it interfered with their nav console, but they made a note of it after they returned to port.”

“I read the report,” Mikka said. “Not very encouraging stuff.”

A few heads turned towards her. Not every member of her crew was privy to the details and she was sure not to say anything more. Hearing about a strange, floating shape in space, one which had given a hauler some serious lumps and its crew nightmares was not something that would go over well with them.

Taking her seat, the Captain accessed the memory file and ran the briefing notes through her mind again. The particulars were a bore, but the holographic representation, reconstructed from what scanner data could be retrieved from the haulers records, were quite interesting. And naturally, the Chairman’s voice droned on in the background, providing the relevant details…

[“…from the basic outline, it appears that what the ship detected has structure to it. It’s roughly spherical in shape… and though it’s dimensions are unclear, our technicians believe that it should measure the size of a small meteoroid.]

Structure, Mikka thought. A buzzword the xeno-types loved to use, employed whenever they found something they thought conformed to their expectations. Chairman Bukhari continued…

[“what is less mysterious is the effect it had on the commercial ship that made the approach. As soon as they got within a single AU of the object, they detected some high-energy gravimetric field. But instead of being pulled in, the ship was essentially pushed away. The crew tried to engage their engines to fight against the force of it, but that only made things worse. By the time they stopped spinning backwards and regained control of their vessel, they hightailed it back to Lagos station and filed a report.”]

And Explorations decided to send us out, the good old guinea pigs, she thought.

[“Luckily, our astrophysicists have a theory. We believe an approach will be possible if done by a ship that does not have significant mass and is simultaneously running in on minimal power. I don’t pretend to understand the physics, but I’m counting on you and your crew to get it done. Getting within close proximity is key, since we plan…]

“Captain,” said Thoreau, interrupting her Recall. “Sensor returns are coming back and it looks like we have something.”

“Something,” said Mikka. “Care to elaborate?”

Thoreau chuckled, his eyes staring at something far off that on one else could see. “It’s got a gravimetric signature, which is why its coming up at all. But from the looks of it, its not much bigger that a commsat.”

“Helmsman,” she said, calling out to the man in the pilot’s chair. “Plot an intercept course and bring us to within five AUs.”

“Yes, Captain,” said Joshan, relaying the coordinates provided by Thoreau and bringing the sublights on line. The ship slowly began to move forward, her hull shuttering slightly as the engines fired off a burst of ionic propulsion.

The sensors pinged loudly, each chime getting more pronounced the closer they got. Outside the bridge window, the starfield shifted as the ship tilted and groaned as Joshan altered their course periodically. Every course change brought them closer, dodging between major stellar objects and avoiding their gravitational influences.

The chimes reached a crescendo. Thoreau looked up with a start when something new entered into his augmented perceptions.

“Captain, I’ve got the object on my screens. Shall I bring up a visual?”

“Yes,” she replied. “And turn off that damn noise, we all know we’re in the ballpark.”

In the center of the bridge, an image formed as billions of targeted photons came together to form the shape of a red sphere. The surface was mottled and opaque, indicating that they were too far out to get an accurate reading on its features. It appeared the reports had been semi-accurate. At this distance, their sensors should have been able to map out every nook and cranny on its surfaces. Only a powerful gravity well, concentrated in such a small object.

However, they had been off in one respect. Bukhari had said in his briefing that it was “roughly spherical” in shape. But even through an incomplete visual construct, Mikka could tell its shape was anything but rough. In fact, she was willing to bet good money, perhaps even her entire commission from this find, that it was a perfect sphere, right down to its microscopic dimensions.

One had to assume there was something especially significant about that. Perhaps the xeno-freaks would finally have something to pour over after all…

“Coming up on five astronomical units, Captain. Firing reverse-thrusters now.”

There was a quick burst of white light as the stopping thrusters fired, the ionic trails showing up just outside the bridge window. When they came to a total stop, the ship issued one last groan as the structure flexed to absorb the change in inertia. 

“We’ve reached pre-specified distance, Captain. Retro thrusters firing to maintain position and attitude.”

“Very good, pilot,” she said. “Maintain our position and prep a shuttle. We’re going in for a retrieval.”

Joshan and everyone else on the bridge turned to look at her. Everyone except Thoreau, who’s senses were too inundated with sensor data to look at her directly. However, he still leered over his shoulder.

“Captain, are you sure about this?”

“Company order,” she said, standing up from her chair. “Whatever this thing is, its need to be brought back.”

“But Captain…” said Thoreau. “How are we going to get close to this thing? The last people who tried we sent back home with their tails tucked between their legs.”

“A theory,” she said. “One which we’re forced to carry out.”


The bay doors slid open to admit the man himself. For those watching, the techs and security personnel called in to guard the object, the sudden presence of the boss was the perfect reason to straighten up and either look busy or vigilant. Of course, none of them could fail to notice the presence of the woman walking beside him. Not exactly prim or proper, and from her flight jacket and slacks to the small protrusions on her face that indicated sub-dermal implants, she looked every bit the spacer.

No one could say why the boss would have a grunt in tow with him, but then again, the day staff didn’t ask questions. They simply tended to “the artifact” – the spherical object that sat within a series of restraints in the center of the room – and kept their speculations to themselves.

Only those who had entered together really knew what was going on and who stood to benefit. And only they were talking on this particular morning as they stepped into the containment area.

“I imagine this is not quite as exciting as seeing it for the first time, no?” said Bukhari to Mikka.

“Well… it’s hard to recreate the thrill of first contact. But this was still very kind of you.”

“Nonsense,” said Bhukari with a wave of the hand. “We all owe its capture to you, so I thought it only fitting you get another look at it before its shipped off to an undisclosed facility, to be poured over by legions of specialists and xenologists.”

She chuckled. “Yeah, we did suspect it would disappear the moment we brought it back to port. Good to see it didn’t.”

“And yet, I imagine when it does move on, we won’t learn a thing. Even I can expect the findings to be classified beyond my level of clearance. Pity.”

She knew exactly what he meant. Seeing it again, she could recall with perfect clarity just how awestruck she was when she first saw it. Hell, she didn’t even need to go through Recall to experience it again, playing the memory back courtesy of the digital backup she had archived. It had been that memorable that she only needed to see it again to remember exactly how small and insignificant it made her feel.

Considering the that sphere was less than a meter across, that was no small feet. But the size was not the issue. It was the intricate patterns it had all over the surface. These consisted of winding lines that seemed to delineate grid spaces, each of which was etched with symbols and grooves off different sizes, lengths, and depths. And at what had been designated the center of the thing, three circles were placed, tiny indentations in a small triangle formation. Nobody in Explorations had been able to make heads or tails of it all. She wondered if anybody back in the Colonies would fare any better…

It was strange, but she felt the oddest feeling again, looking at it. Somehow, the spacing and placement of those three indentations made her think about an interface terminal. Could it be that the species that had created this, whoever they were, possessed this idiosyncrasy as well? Simply place your hand to a touchscreen or finger sized portal, and be able to transmit or receive information?

Looking to her right, she noticed that Bukhari was busy speaking to the head of the security detail. She couldn’t hear what they were saying at the moment, and really didn’t care much. The technicians appeared to be on the other side of the sphere, and the remaining security guards all seemed blissfully unaware of what was going on. No doubt, they were deliberately attempting to not notice the presence of the Chairman and the strange woman he had arrived with.

It was a standard underling thing, she knew. Standing still and doing nothing when the boss was around reduced the chance of making a mistake, and hence being reprimanded.

Looking to the sphere again, she carefully stepped towards it, obsessively checking over her shoulder to make sure no one was looking. She eyed the three holes, once again appraising them to be perfectly spaced apart for her purpose. Three holes, three fingers, making direct contact, achieving a union that would –

“Captain!” The shout rang out just as her fingers landed. Not in time to stop her. She felt a curious sensation, like a big thump or some kind of tremor. No pain, but the sensation of a force strong enough to break her contact with the waking world…


The sounds of hands clapping and a bright light were what she remembered next. She couldn’t tell how long she had been under, whether it had been seconds or days. But she was aware of the fact that she was lying on the deck, and Bukhari and the rest were all standing over her.

“Captain… are you alright?” he asked.

She let out a loud utterance, then drew a deep breath. She could faintly recall something dark and terrible, hanging on her mind and pushing her downward. That darkness seemed to last for some time, stretching on from the last moment she had had before. She looked up again and saw the sphere… and remembered.

Yes, she had reached out to it. Everything after that point was shrouded and black, but she could feel something terrible lurking beneath. And that point in her mind stretched onwards for some time. And now she was back in the light. It was piercing and the sounds around her quite intense, but she could feel her body and mind adjusting. Something was demanding she come back and do something… say something…

After taking several breaths, Bukhari and one of the guards sat her up.

“Why did you do that? Why did you touch the artifact?”

“Artifact?” she said. The word didn’t seem to fit somehow. “What are you talking about?”

“The artifact. You touched it,” he said, pointing. “Why did you do that? No one has touched it since it was procured without protection. You know that!”

She could feel something else rising up from the depths. Slowly, the sense of purpose she had felt a moment ago was taking shape. The word artifact made even less sense to her now, and she was even beginning to understand why…

“Captain, are you sure you’re alright? We have a med tech coming, but I need you tell me, why would you expose yourself like that to the artifact like that?”

“It’s not an artifact!” she said finally. “It’s a message…”

There was a moment of silence. Those around her looked at each other incredulously. “What do you mean, a message?”

“That’s what it contains,” she added, placing her fingers to her temples. The dark space in her mind was becoming perfectly clear now. The transmission, the way it had overwhelmed her when it passed into her body. Never before had anything been so clear, even through Recall.

Slowly, she found the strength to get to her feet and share with the rest of them the terrible knowledge that had come into possession of.

“This thing is some kind of emissary. It contains a message in it, and I made contact when I touched it.”

Bukhari drew a deep breath and stepped closer to her, his eyes now fixed on the sphere with a sudden, reverential fear. “What was the message?”

“The people that built this,” she said, with a slight pause. “They just demanded our unconditional surrender. It says they have an armada heading towards us as we speak, and asks that we lay down our weapons and welcome them.”

“And if we don’t?” asked Bukhari, though unnecessarily. For the tremble in his voice, it was clear he knew the answer.

“Or else, we all die.” Mikka nodded, her face grim and white. “We just made contact with an extra-terrestrial intelligence, sir. And they saw fit to give us an ultimatum…”

“An ultimatum,” Bukhari echoed, his voice barely more than a whisper.

And for what felt like an eternity, every face in the room remained fixed on the sphere that hung before them. Whatever trace of awe and wonder they had once felt for it were now gone, replaced instead with a horrid understanding, and plenty of dread!

Movie Trailer Monday: Elysium

ElysiumHello people and welcome back to another installment of MTM! Today, its a full-length trailer for the upcoming movie Elysium, a dystopian tale that takes place in the year 2159, where the class divide between rich and poor extends into orbit. The very wealthy live on a man-made space station (named Elysium) while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth.

Into this, a cybernetically-enhanced man from Earth takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds. Written and directed by Neil Blomkamp, who wrote District 9, and starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley (who played the protagonist of District 9), the sci-fi makes use of a lot of classic dystopian themes and showcases some very impressive looking sets.

I for one shall bookmark this movie as a must-see/must rent/catch on Netflix/worst-case-scenario must download. Stuff happens, what can I say?

New Anthology Sample!

gliese 581Hey folks! In the past few weeks, I’ve been working diligently to get my “works in progress” pile under control. This included getting Data Miners off my computer and onto the shelves, but also to get this anthology known as Yuva moving again. I’ve done my best to get more writings on the project, and actually managed to get some writing done myself.

As a result “The Torch”, the first chapter in the story which acts as the prologue, is coming long and is almost complete. After some months of letting it accumulate dust, I finally managed to get the third section finished and plotted out how I wanted it to end. The following sample is the next half-section, which is the just shy of the final chapter. I hope you like it, and enjoy the not-too-subtle tech references which I have been researching of late and knew I had to incorporate. This is, after all, taking place in the near future…

For the sake of preserving some element of surprise and mystery, I won’t say exactly what they are or where to find them. Suffice it to say, I think that flexible, transparent computer tablets and commercial space flight will be a reality in the near future. Based on discussions that took place between myself and Khaalidah, this story’s co-author and a major anthology contributor, we also figured that orbital satellites would be island estates of the future.

In addition to orbital banking replacing “offshore banking” – a la Cayman Islands, Isle of Man, Cyprus, etc – there would also be private estates in orbit where laws were laxer and people with money could do whatever the heck they wanted! It’s like international waters, but with the added benefit of low gravity and high-tech medical treatments which would never be legal planetside.

Anyway, no more spoilers! Enjoy!

*                    *                    *

From the spacious backseat, Muktari got quite the view of the Frankfurt skyline. The window’s active display matrix was sure to keep him apprised of what he was seeing as they passed along the Schaumainkai. The patterned lights – yellow, orange, white and opal – achieved a beautiful, glittering balance, drawing the eye and appeasing the senses all at once.

In truth, it wasn’t much different from the skylines of Dubai, Mumbai or Shanghai, or even London or New York for that matter. They all were a testament to the grandeur and excesses of humanity, how people could always be expected to build higher and higher when they had run out of room to expand sideways. Or, in other cases, to avoid pillaging the lands occupied by more traditional buildings and boroughs.

But this was always the challenge of such metropolitan centers. The inflow of capital, investment, new people and technological change; one always had to find places to put the new things. And places to put the things needed to dispose of. And every new age seemed to trigger a new wave of this process: redevelopment, rezoning, and redistribution.

The car veered left and began joining the highway. For many minutes, the skyline disappeared in the distance, replaced by the developments that ran south of the river. The window had a hard time keeping up, as there weren’t many heritage sites in this area, but plenty of modern buildings of note. He turned away finally, and began paying attention to his fellow passenger. She had shown up the airport to escort him, and he was beginning to sense this would become a pattern.

“You didn’t have to meet me,” he had said as soon as he reached the front doors.

“Escorts can be so impersonal,” she said. “Besides, my father doesn’t trust specialized talent to just anyone.”

“So I can expect you to be a noose around my neck then?” he said. He had been in a bad mood after the flight, admittedly. A restless sleep and an early morning flight was known to do that to people. And changing time zones and shuttling from one part of the Earth to the next was something he had been doing far too much of lately.

Now, seated across from her, he thought some polite conversation might be in order.

“So where is Mr. Harding flying me to?”

She looked up from her Tab and smiled. “To him,” she replied simply.

“To him? You mean to his private estate somewhere, or corporate HQ?”

She chuckled mildly and continued typing and stroking at her device. Muktari sighed heavily. He was hoping to be pleasant, but the way she was preserving the surprise was beginning to annoy him. Was it too much to ask that she help him plan his evening? If he were to be taken to yet another time zone and have to face the prospect of even more lag, he would like to know about it now.

“You know, I heard that Harding was not in the best of health lately.” He let the words hang, hoping to gauge her reaction. “I might suspect we were heading for the Swiss Alps, or perhaps some clinic in Brazil.”

She made a sideways gesture with her head, like a half shake. A denial perhaps, or an indication that she could not say either way.

“It would seem ill-advised for a man who was in the twilight of his days to still be chained to his desk.”

She appeared to be finishing up with her work and put the Tab aside. She looked at him furtively and said nothing.

“No?” he said, and nodded. “Very well, keep your secrets. But know that all this running around and pretense isn’t making me any more interested in what he has to say.”

She continued to stare at him, smiling in her usual way. It too was becoming very annoying.

“What?” he said at last.

“We’re here,” she replied, motioning to the window. Muktari looked out and spotted the strip that they were now parked upon. Less than a hundred meters to their right, a small Atmo was parked.

“We’re flying in that?” he said, gesturing to the craft.

She smiled.

“Where are we going?”

“To the stars,” she replied. “Have you been topside before?”

Muktari blanched. It was one thing he had assiduously avoided, and hoped to continue not to do in his lifetime.

“Well then,” she said, taking his expression to mean he had not, “you’re in for quite the treat.”

New Anthology Sample: The Torch!

Hello all and welcome back for another Anthology Update. As I said a few days ago, there is still plenty of news to be had vis a vis my groups ongoing efforts to create our our Magnum Opus about colonization and space travel, aka. Yuva. And the latest is that I’ve finally begun writing the prologue for the entire series.

Entitled “The Torch”, this first installment in the anthology shows the origins of the story’s central character (Magid Muktari) and his lifelong mission to see humanity colonize a distant world. Thanks to Khaalidah Muhammed-Ali who coauthored this with me and once again provided the characters and impetus for it’s creation! Hope you all enjoy!

“A man of cold, hard science, most assume that Magid Muktari was not a man of faith. At the press conference following the acceptance of his final proposal for the creation and international funding of the Yuva Colonization Project, Muktari was questioned thus by one young reporter: “Sir, can you please explain to us why this project is so important?” Muktari said in cryptic form, “Our Earth is alive.” When asked to elaborate Muktari said: “Has not Allah promised us in that every soul shall taste of death?”

-Magid Muktari, 2108

Masdar City, UAE, 2048

Magid Muktari took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. Oh how he hated waiting! Even after all the years he had spent on the front lines of his industry, waiting for meetings, trips to end, and plans to reach fruition, he still couldn’t stand the time it took to wait for a presentation. But that was the way of it, he knew. Anticipation was the thousand little deaths that preceded the actual execution. One could only surmise from this that humans weren’t designed to wait on others. Either that or the Universe had a very poor sense of humor.

To pass the time, Muktari began to punch up his presentation info. Adjusting his compad to a convex shape and resting it on his knees, he placed his contacts to display mode and waited for the computer to warm up. A command prompt appeared in his field of vision and asked for his password. He typed it in promptly.


His eyes filled with a cerulean blue sky, small clouds and a series of desktop icons dotted the projected heavens. Accessing the proper folder, he accessed the presentation and waited a moment. The opening display image, five planets arranged from left to right, appeared in his visual field shortly thereafter.

The Future of Off-World Settlement, ran the title. A title bar appeared beneath the five planets, their names scrolling out as the marble-sized pictures became animated.

Gliese 581 g, Gliese 667C c, Kepler 22 b, HD 85512 b, Gliese 581 d

Placing his hands above the compad again, Muktari brought up the first of the five. The brown marble moved to the center of his visual field, displacing the rest and growing exponentially in size. A soft contralto began to speak in the background.

“Planet Gliese 581 g, fourth planet of the Gliese 581 star system. Discovered in 2000 by Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, led by principal investigator Steven S. Vogt, who named the planet Zarmina after his wife – ”

Muktari terminated the audio and began interfacing with the image. Zooming in on the planetary mass, he began to assess the features that had been observed from the most recent astronomical surveys. Being a tidally-locked body, only so much was visible, and most of that was only clear when the space telescope and the exoplanet’s rotations were in perfect sync. He moved back and forth, noting the outlines of a large continent facing towards the sun.

No, not a lot happening there, he thought gravely.

Putting it back in its place, he called forth the second in the list. Here too, the disc look particularly brown and mottled. However, its size and relevant characteristics set it apart from the previous entry, and here too Muktari began to worry. Super-Earth’s were not exactly a popular destination for colonists, not when they could expect a serious and potentially punitive adjustment period.

Muktari shut the display down and took a deep breath. Moments away from the greatest presentation he would ever make, that perhaps anyone would ever make, and he was already beginning to write himself off. Not a good sign, not if he wanted to have any chance at convincing Zimmerman of his sincerity.

There were those who said that the great Magid Muktari could sell ice to the Eskimos. Other’s said he could sell sand to the Arabs. He never cared for either assessment; both seemed to be both inaccurate and quite bigoted in his estimation. But the sentiment he understood.

But then again, the sheer scope of what he was proposing might have had something to do with that. Were this just another pitch, a proposal for more allocations, more surveys or more satellite deployments, he probably wouldn’t be giving it a second thought. And after years of bending the ears of government and industry officials who did business with them, he had earned himself enough capital to make a few pitches of his own.

If he screwed this up, all that capital would burn up and be gone. What’s more, he would be humiliated in front of the man he had come to respect more than any other…

Across from him, seated at her desk, the assistant seemed to stir. In her eye piece, the image of a face appeared and she began conversing with it. Muktari was only privy to one half of the conversation, which was mainly her agreeing.

 “Yes… yes… yes, sir. I will pass that along.”

The image faded and she looked over to Muktari.

“Mr. Zimmerman’s plane has just landed. He will be here in five minutes.”

Muktari nodded. Another thing that hadn’t changed over the years. Regardless of how much time transit really took, it was an administrative habit to say that it would take five. And he knew from experience that a pod ride from the aerospace port to the office building would take at least ten. And then he would no doubt be mobbed by half a dozen assistants and corporate middle-men who needed to advise him and brief him on his way in. In truth, he would be lucky if he spoke to him before the hour was out.

He checked his chrono just to get a sense of the time. His watch was still set to orbital time. He shook his head when he realized that that was the last time he had slept, in a room near the tip of the axis looking out at the southern tip of Chile. Ever since, he had been running on a non-stop diet of aerospace lag, adrenaline and EBME.

At last, the woman at her desk looked up again and got that distant look in her eyes. She repeated the familiar string of secretary talk.

“Yes… Hello. Yes, sir, he is. Right away, sir.” Her call ended and her eyes focused on him. “Mr. Zimmerman will see you now.”

Muktari smiled and placed his compad back in the satchel. Getting to his feet, he ran a hand through his hair and straightened his blazer. His clothes were fresh, but his skin still felt like it was carrying a few days’ worth of residue. He discreetly checked for any telltale signs of body odor as well, and was reasonably confident the natural musk he was carrying wouldn’t kill his boss. After many minutes in the same room as him, the secretary seemed undisturbed.

Here we go, he thought, and set off for the door.

The door slid open, revealing Zimmerman in the middle of freshening up. This consisted of him shedding his blazer and replacing it with one of the many he kept hanging in his side closet. He looked up with mild amusement at Muktari’s entrance.

“Magid,” he said, throwing on a fresh top. “You’ve travelled some distant to and come see me.”

“Yes I have, but only a fraction of your own, from what I hear.”

“Yes,” he said with a sigh. “The Jovian tour was quite extensive. One has to wonder why we can’t just teleconference the entire process.”

 Muktari smiled. Though he tended to complain upon his returns, everyone knew that Zimmerman remained an engineer at heart. Whenever new facilities went in and processing began, he insisted on conducting spot checks in person. Somehow, the virtual variety did not inspire much in the way of confidence from people like him, men who openly bragged about being educated in a simpler time.

“So…” he said, taking his seat. “What’s so important you had to see me as soon as I got back?”

“Well sir, I wanted to see you while the trip was still fresh in your mind.”

“Oh?” Zimmerman said with a nod. “Then this ought to be good.”

Muktari chuckled and placed his satchel down beside the seat in front of him. He removed his compad again and placed it directly on top of Zimmerman’s desk. He keyed up the 3D display and sat back.

“As it stands, this company is responsible for almost half of the development taking place in the outer Solar System. Unlike many other firms that see little promise in anything beyond the Belt, we’re renowned for taking the long view. That’s what I’m hoping to tap into.”

Zimmerman grumbled. “Why do I have the sinking feeling you’re winding up for a very slow pitch?”

Muktari chuckled. “Shall I cut to the chase?”

“Please do. Formal presentations are for board rooms and junior execs.”

Muktari terminated the display on his compad and stood. He walked to the room’s window and looked outside. The glittering spires of Abu Dhabi shined in the distance, visible just beyond the cities limits. He took a deep breath and started from the beginning.

“How long have I been in your employ, sir?  Ten years, the last six of which I’ve spent as the head of our eco-engineering division. Much of the technology that was borne here and is now being adapted by other cities worldwide originated in our labs. And yet, everywhere I go, I hear the same basic reports, the same alarming assessments.”

Zimmerman looked on and pursed his lips. He was still waiting for the point to emerge. His recent travel had clearly taxed his patience to its very limit. He decided to expedite things.

“As it stands, eco-engineering accounts for over twenty percent of our government’s annual global spending.  Investment and development have been moving more and more to off world locations. And it’s estimated that by the end of this century, the majority of our planet’s heavy industry will be relocated to Luna, Mars, and the Asteroid Belt. All this points towards a singular trend.”

“Extra-terrestrial development,” Zimmerman said obviously. “What of it?”

“But what drives it?” Muktari asked, turning to look him in the eye. “What knowledge prompted us to create orbital facilities, off-world mining and agricultural settlements, and to spend so much, year after year, trying to keep global mean temperatures down?”

Zimmerman nodded. The inclusion of that last detail was indication enough of what he was getting at. Naturally, he let him continue.

“The Earth is still cycling towards death, its oceans are still rising, its coastal areas are still plagued by floods and storms, drought and famine are still causing untold damage and death in the most densely populated regions, and humanitarian crises abound. What’s more, off-world settlement was hoped to be a means of relieving population pressures here at home; but you are certainly aware, the Solar Colonies maintain some of the highest birth rates, compared to Earth. Soon enough, there won’t be enough room and expansion will just shift the burden, but not by enough to make a difference here at home. When it comes right down to it, the scientific consensus on Earth’s longevity is clear.”

Zimmerman nodded, quoting from the latest findings. “Barring some major technological developments, such as the development of full-spectrum nanotechnology and/or a full-spectrum development of the Earth’s equatorial regions, and we can expect that most of the planet will be only partially habitable by 2100.”

Muktari extended his hand, palm facing up. The point was laid bare. He went back to his seat and lowered himself into it, careful not to strain any of his tired muscles.

“We proceed on track as if our current measurements will be enough to stay the torrent, but the problem continues to grow unabated. And just about everywhere I go, I am asked how we will save the planet.”

Zimmerman allowed for a brief pause and then raised his hands. “I’m on the edge of my seat, Muktari. What are you proposing?”

Muktari sighed and held his hands in front of him. This was where things would truly be tested. It was do or die time, he could hesitate no longer.

“Not too long ago, a colleague of mine, Adamcik, you’ve met him.” Zimmerman hummed affirmatively. “He hit me with a rejoinder not too long ago which truly vexed me. I asked him how we would go about addressing this planet’s needs. He retorted by asking me, ‘what if this planet is the problem?’”

Zimmerman frowned. Muktari had done much the same when he first Serge say it.

“When it comes right down to it, our homeworld is plagued by three separate problems – overpopulation, environmental degradation, and economic underdevelopment.” He raised his fingers, counting them off. “All of these are interrelated and compounded by one another. What’s more, attempts to remedy any one of them inevitably meets with failure due to the presence of the other two. We address the planet at the expense of the economy, we promote economic development at the expense of the environment, and all attempts at addressing the population fails as long as the economic divide remains. And our Extra-Terrestrial colonies aren’t going to solve this problem any time soon, and simply are not big enough to host our civilization should Earth fall.” He paused for the last time and took a deep breath. “So what if we looked farther abroad?”

Zimmerman raised an eyebrow. He was intrigued, Muktari was thankful for that much.

“Within this arm of the Galaxy, we’ve already confirmed the existence of several dozen Earth-like planets. Of the top five contenders, four are within 35 light-years from us; which, given the current state of technology and a hefty investment, can be traversed in just over a century.”

“Wait a minute!” Zimmerman raised his hand. “You’re talking about actual exoplanet colonization?” Muktari nodded. Zimmer waited for a moment, seemingly waiting for the punch line, and then scoffed. “Magid, you know as well as I do that research and development for deep space travel is a mere fraction of what we dedicate to aerospace development. For anyone to even begin contemplating an interstellar expedition, billions in investment capital would have to be poured into research and development.”

“I know,” replied Muktari. “Which is precisely what I suggest we do. If we create an exoplanet division, right away, we could produce a worthy vessel within a quarter of a century. Of all the viable candidates, two exist within the same star system and happen to be closest. Give them one-hundred years to reach –”

“How much?” Zimmerman said intrusively.

“All told, roughly fifteen percent of our annual gross. However, we’d need to outsource some of concerns, which would mean partnering with other corporations worldwide. We might also be able to convince a number of NGO’s and government bodies to –”

“Magid!” Zimmerman raised his hand again and kept it raised. When a few seconds of silence passed, he lowered it and sighed before talking again. Not that he needed to, Muktari had known for some time that he had lost him. He sighed and resigned himself for what was coming.

“You’ve compiled all this into a presentation, yes?”

“Yes,” Muktari said with a  resigned nod.

“Good. Let me look over it and present it at the next board meeting. I’m sure they will find it all… very illuminating.”

Muktari fetched his compad and keyed up the transfer sequence. Within seconds, a copy of his full presentation was transferred to Zimmerman’s personal files and the system acknowledged the receipt. Standing, he extended his hand and shook Zimmerman’s. He didn’t bother to get up.

He turned to leave, knowing there was little more that could be said. Unfortunately, something was holding him back once he reached the door. Some small shred still needed to be shared, a final push before he abandoned the office and trusted in his boss’ judgment to make the right decision. He knew that if he left without saying it, his idea would fall on deaf ears. With that degree of certainty, what else did he have to lose?

“Sir, if I may say one final thing…?” He turned to face his boss again, received a nod of approval. “Since time immemorial, civilizations have used the symbol of the torch to symbolize the life of their civilizations. I think the reason for this is obvious. Flames banish the darkness of confusion, death and despair. They light the way to the future. But most importantly, they are temporal. A flame, like a culture, or any other living thing, is impermanent. It requires care and commitment to keep it alight. When the flame begins to falter, or the bearer of it loses their footing, they must pass it onward. They throw the torch, as it were, to keep it aflame. If we are facing the death of our civilization here at home, then we must contemplate passing it onward, and to a suitable place. Before it’s too late.”

Zimmerman took a few slow, heavy breaths. When he was finished, all he could do was shook his head and offer the same tired reassurances.

“I admire your passion, Magid. However, I think your sights are focused just a little too far. In time, what you’re proposing might be feasible, but as it stands, no one is going to jump on this, not when the payoff is so immensely distant and the risks so high. I’d set your sights closer, focus on the work and development which needs to be done here. Then we’ll talk about looking to the stars.”

He smiled, a warm little gesture to let Muktari know he still held him in esteem. Muktari smiled back, thankful for that much, and showed himself out.

New Movie: Elysium!

Yet another cool aspect of the recent Comic Con was the trailers for new movies previews that fans were treated to. One such movie was Neil Blomkamp’s (director of District 9) new film, entitled Elysium. According to IO9 magazine, the movie stars Matt Damon in the lead role and is scheduled for release in 2013.

Based on the video reel Blomkamp offered, the movie is still very much in development. Rough place holders had to stand in for many of the visual effects, which are as of yet incomplete. However, the fans were given a precis of the storyline, which is decidedly dystopian and cyberpunk in nature.

Set in 2159, the plot revolves around the eponymously named space station of Elysium, an apparently utopian retreat where the ultra-rich and beautiful live and have access to the most advanced medical technology. The rest of humanity lives planet-side, where overcrowding, disease and radiation have resulted from overpopulation and pollution. Enter into this Max (Matt Damon), a criminal who’s suffering from radiation sickness and must make it to Elysium’s medical facilities at all costs.

In time, Max’s mission becomes complicated as he comes into information which could shut down Elysium and usher in an age of equality for the human race, or at least a less polarized division of wealth. Additional concept art was also released, like an interior shot of the station featured below. Given the layout, Elysium appears to be based on an Island Three design, a circular space station and rotates to provide gravity. Echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey there. Good for Blomkamp, referencing a classic!

Additional cast members will include Jodie Foster, District 9‘s Sharlto Copley, and Alice Braga (of City of God, Predators, Repo Men and I Am Legend fame). Think I might catch this one!