Comic-Con 2014 is only a week away. Thousands of fans and professionals will descend on San Diego and bury it in a thick coating of nerd several feet deep. There’s really nothing else like it, but the more years pass, the more overwhelming the Con becomes. There’s so much going on, it’s a monumental task just to figure out which of the countless panels and events you want to try and see. Well, we’re here to make your life just a little bit easier. Over the next couple of days, we’ll run down all the panels that should be at the top of your to-do list. Today we’ll start off with the events for Wednesday — “Preview Night” — and Thursday.
Voyager 1 already had the distinction of being the man-made object that has travelled further from Earth than anything else we, as a species, have ever flung out into space, but that isn’t going to stop it from travelling deeper and deeper into the unknown. NASA confirms that the probe is indeed now travelling through interstellar space.
Back in August of 2012, Voyager made international headlines when it was announced that it had actually left the heliosphere. This is essentially a giant bubble of magnetic fields and charged particles that surround our sun and extends far past Pluto. Plasma from the sun, so-called solar wind, pushes against the pressure of the interstellar medium, which is the hydrogen and helium mixture that makes up much of our galaxy. Interstellar space begins where the heliosphere ends.
While debating climate change with a denier can be like delving into a circular debate about religion or abortion, scientists will continue to amass evidence that yes, humans are drastically altering the Earth’s ecosystem in frightening ways. This is part of the reason that NASA has developed the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2), which measures carbon dioxide emissions from space. The satellite is the agency’s first dedicated to studying atmospheric C02, providing scientists with global measurements of CO2 levels and cycles. It’s a great idea, although its launch, which was scheduled for 2:56 AM today, was delayed due to equipment failure.
— NASA OCO-2 (@IamOCO2) July 1, 2014
The race to Mars is on. And by race I mean “painfully slow planning and plodding.” Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Putting people on Mars is no small feat — the journey itself is 7-8 months long (please tell me the astronauts will have Netflix!) and the astronauts will be subject to radiation the whole way. And then there’s everything that has to happen once we land, although I think a smart mission would involve sending robots ahead of time to set up some infrastructure. But more than anything, there’s the funding. It’s true that the House recently passed a reauthorization bill that supports manned Mars missions, but it’s unclear how much that will help, and to say that the price tag of such a mission is prohibitive would be an understatement. Still, despite all these obstacles, we humans are committed to spreading our species to another planet. The question is, who will be the first to do it? Will it be Mars One, the Dutch non-profit that’s currently whittling down a field of over 200,000 candidates for a Mars landing in 2025? Will it be NASA, with or without the help of other countries? Or will it be SpaceX, the renegades of the private space technology sector? Elon Musk is betting on the latter.
Perhaps the recent National Research Council report lambasting NASA’s plan to get humans to Mars was the wake-up call the government needed. That report (which somewhat ironically cost upwards of $3 million to assemble) couldn’t have been clearer in stating that, under current circumstances, NASA’s manned Mars missions were nothing but a pipe dream, and an invitation to “failure, disillusionment, and the loss of the longstanding international perception that human spaceflight is something the United States does best.” Yikes. But sometimes, a kick (or ten) in the ass is what the government needs, and when the House passed a new NASA reauthorization bill last week, it took the step in providing a more feasible budget for putting people on Mars.
Just before the bill passed the House, Steven Palazzo, Chairman of the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said, “We are committed to once more launching American astronauts, on American rockets, from American soil,” and argued that the bill would “serve as a pathway to Mars.” The bill also reinforces Obama’s previous commitment to developing a cutting-edge heavy-lift rocket launcher, as well as the new generation of Orion spacecraft, which is currently undergoing testing.
I’m guessing any fan of GFR dreams of living long enough to see our species actually spread out beyond our own solar system. If that’s going to happen, we really need some sort of game-changing technology that can overcome the ridiculous distances between the stars without requiring us to resort to generation ships and centuries-long voyages. Well, imagine our surprise — and childish, unrestrained glee — when the story broke a few years back that NASA was working on an actual, honest-to-gosh warp drive. Sadly, this was a “purely theoretical for the moment” kind of situation, which means we can’t book passage to the Uncharted Territories just yet. Well, that reality is even more frustrating right now, because the latest designs for NASA’s warp ship look like they were pulled directly from my eight-year-old brain after a particularly aggressive Star Trek marathon.