To Infinity… And Beyond!

“It calls back a time when there were flowers all over the Earth… and there were valleys. And there were plains of tall green grass that you could lie down in – you could go to sleep in. And there were blue skies, and there was fresh air… and there were things growing all over the place, not just in some domed enclosures blasted some millions of miles out in to space.” Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) Silent Running 1972

In a previous post, Message In A Bottle, I blogged about Voyager I on the cusp of leaving the solar system, and that it was inconclusive whether or not it had actually left yet. Unlike smaller things that we can see and touch, the boundaries of some things are very hard to determine. Probably one of the most difficult constituents of determining the boundary of something like our solar system, is actually defining what that boundary really is. Fortunately there are a lot of very smart people who have made all the technical decisions for us. And now it’s just the waiting game.

Well, the wait is over! According to this article, Voyager craft exits the Solar System, by Jonathan Amos, our baby is all grown up and has left the nest.

Confirmation of the probe’s exit from the heliosphere – the bubble of gas and magnetic fields originating from the Sun – was confirmed on Tuesday in a release by the American Geophysical Union

These are exciting times for space exploration, and in NASA‘s case, we accomplish so much with so very little. I am amazed by how much bang NASA can get for the half a penny per tax dollar. These women and men are doing wonderful things. Add to that the incredible accomplishments made by other folks such as SpaceX and we catch a glimmer of what our human minds are capable of. Me, I’d like to up that spending a bit, I would love to watch the first human walk on Mars.

However, hearkening back to Voyager I, I can’t help be feel a little melancholy at the thought of the solitude where she is at. It reminds me of the movie Silent Running, where a craft is sent off into the unknown. An unknown future with an unknown outcome. Voyager I could suffer from an incalculable number of deaths, yet for every second she lives on she is sending a message for us, “We are here, and we come in peace.” I hope we can live up to that. Now back to our regularly scheduled carnage at seemingly every location on the globe.

Peace and love.

Marv

To Be Or Not To Be

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

“On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

“[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

“There’s no greater sign of the failure of the American educational system than the extent to which Americans are distracted by the possibility that Earth might end on December 21, 2012. It’s a profound absence of awareness of the laws of physics and how nature works. So they’re missing some science classes in their training in high school or in college that would empower [them] to understand and to judge when someone else is basically just full of it. Science is like an inoculation against charlatans who would have you believe whatever it is they tell you.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

We must explore.

It’s more than simple fear mongering; evolutionarily speaking, we are a wondering, and wandering species. But not without a reason it seems. Changing weather patterns, changing food supplies, just two of the many factors that would make our ancestors consider what was over that next ridge. They were ignorant. Ignorant of so many of the things that we take for granted today, the whys and hows of the things they faced were as foreign to them as exactly what is at the center of our galaxy is to us. They may have had in inkling of their situation, as we have an idea of that black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, but in no way did they know what to do. But things happened to make them realize they had to do something. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not wait until that planet-ending asteroid is hurtling towards our dear sweet mother earth to think, “well huh. Maybe we should have funded NASA a bit more.”

Sadly there is no reason to not spend money on extra-terrestrial exploration. So many of the detractors will cry foul that we should spend the money on different things. It’s like during the 2012 presidential when one of the candidates mentioned, as a talking point, that public television should be cut. This point raised during the debate of budget problems. Perhaps public television broadcasting isn’t something to fund with public money, that’s up for debate, no the problem is that as a talking point it was absurd. It was absurd because the amount of money, as compared to the budge deficit, let alone the budget en toto, is so minuscule. It is short-sighted thinkers who decide on government spending on space exploration; short-sighted, and not hind-sighted as so many advancements have come out of NASA research and development. Advancements that continually to affect the health and well-being of all of us.

Why spend the money on research? Well, there is a universe of reasons for space exploration. (Pun definitely intended.) Every problem we encounter in our endeavors in space can be translated into a useful something, or somethings, here in our every day life. And maybe, just maybe one day we can have a life raft that will take us off the planet before a catastrophe. Our one and only means of preserving and continuing our species. And if evolution has taught us anything, it’s that the driving force is the continuation of our species. Makes us really want to see what’s on the other side of the hill. I’d just rather not be driven by fear, but be compelled by wonder.

 

Peace and Love

Marv

Message In A Bottle

 “…Take me out to the black.
Tell ’em I ain’t comin’ back.
Burn the land And boil the sea.
You can’t take the sky from me.” – Theme song from Firefly

“The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in.” – Robert Heinlein

“In my own view, the important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited.” – Neil Armstrong

Voyager 1 is having a hard time letting go. Launched in 1977, the NASA space probe’s mission was to study the outer solar system. Yet that mission was complete by 1980, and has since been on extended mission. Currently Voyager 1 is 123 AU from earth; an AU is an Astronomical Unit, and is an approximate average distance from the earth to the sun. Which makes Voyager 1 the furthest manmade object in space, and the reason I’m writing this blog entry is that, even as I type, it may officially be outside our solar system. I suppose at the outset this may not seem like much, or depending on the reader, nothing at all. But for me, and I would hope most folks, with a little reflection and thought this is pretty amazing. I enjoy hiking, and when I set out for a good exercise hike, I’m looking at five miles, maybe six if I’m feeling up to it. Voyager 1 is eleven billion miles from earth. Not only this, but Voyager 1 is traveling at 10.5 miles per second; pretty staggering really. That is almost too much to wrap your head around. Actually it is too much; I can’t even begin to honestly realize just how far away, and how fast that really is. I think the technical term is “a long damn way, and pretty damn fast”. But here’s where all the space opera movies, and TV shows start kicking in for me… I like to imagine how it would feel to be out there. Our sun would just be a really bright star, and I would, of course, be frozen instantly. Imagine the cold and desolation of being that separated from all that you’ve ever known. Imagine that one day our descendants will most likely be journeying along that trek.

Currently Voyager 1 is still operating, and recently completed a complicated maneuver. We are still able to communicate with Voyager 1, though a one-way message takes sixteen hours to travel between her and earth. When Voyager 1 was launched, the three radioisotope thermocouple generators (RTGs), powered by Plutonium-238, were producing 470 watts of power. That’s very little power to do all the amazing things Voyager 1 has done; like sending us the “pale blue dot” photograph that Carl Sagan spoke of. But this power won’t last, as the radioactive elements comprising the RTGs drops by half about every eighty-eight years. By the year 2025, the power will have dropped to the point that most of the systems will have to be turned off. At this point Voyager 1, our workhorse of a space probe, our stalwart gatherer of scientific data in our solar neighborhood will become a “message in a bottle” from us to whomever may scoop it out of the cosmic tidal froth. Who knows who may listen to the “golden record”, if anyone. But I can sure imagine it.

“Captain, we have something on our scanners.”

“Put it on the screen Spock.”

“Scanners have detected etchings of a certain pattern that appear to be able to be translated to audio. It appears to be a message from a ‘Johnny B. Goode’. Fascinating.”