For all its problems, one thing Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar did very well was inspire a sense of wonder at the possibilities of traveling beyond our cradle and into the larger universe beyond. For anyone who grew up as a space junkie or sci-fi fan, it powerfully tapped into that part of us that longs to step foot on alien worlds and look up at distant suns. Well, if Interstellar tapped into that longing and wanderlust, this short film, entitled Wanderers, may do so even more powerfully.
Manned space travel is in a strange place right now, with NASA’s funding getting slashed and private corporations talking a big game about commercial space flights and asteroid mining and even friggin’ Mars colonies. It will be fascinating to see whether these claims come to fruition over the next few decades, and if so, if that inspires our government to give NASA more support and loftier ambitions. But in the midst of all of this, there is one inevitable element of our culture that is keen to tag along on man’s tentative steps into the final frontier, whether we want it to or not. I’m talking, of course, about reality TV.
The act of firing bullets is usually a destructive endeavor, not one normally associated with a quest for knowledge. This perception could change somewhat if and when British scientists launch a 44-pound bullet at Jupiter’s moon Europa. The projectile, called the Penetrator—such an unfortunate name—was recently fired at ten ton brick of ice, and because all of its major internal organs and circuits remained intact, the European Space Agency (ESA) decided to move ahead with the project.
Though it looks like an awful lot like an offensive weapon, the Penetrator will really be home to a variety of scientific equipment, like seismographs, or a miniature chemistry lab that could be used to examine samples in search of any microbial life beneath the surface. Researchers hope that this approach could be a more cost effective way to explore the surface of other planets. Instead of spending a vast amount of resources on rovers and other exploratory probes, several devices like these could be deployed over as large an area as you please, and send back information about a wide region. They might not have the lifespan, or the ability to get into as much detail as their counterparts, but they could definitely fill a specific niche in space exploration.
2001 gets all the praise and retrospectives and spots on the “Best Movies of All Time” lists, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the 1984 sequel 2010, directed by Peter Hyams. I love Roy Scheider’s performance as Dr. Heywood Floyd. I love the pervasive sense of wonder, from the something mysterious lurking in a crater on the surface of Europa to the ghostly Dave Bowman’s cryptic promises that “something wonderful” was going to happen. And, almost more than all the rest of it, I love that ending. The monolith – scratch that, monoliths — collapse Jupiter into a new star and we get that closing shot of a single monolith standing vigil over a newly tropical Europa, starting the whole process of life all over again. It seems, however, that the folks at NASA are not fans of 2010, because they are going against the stern warnings of the monolith aliens and planning a landing on Jupiter’s moon of Europa.
According to Space, NASA plans to send two robotic landers to explore the surface of Europa, which is considered to be one of the most likely locations for discovering extraterrestrial life within our solar system. The mission is being developed by scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and would be targeted to launch in 2020. The mission will investigate whether life exists, or could ever have existed, on the moon. One of the primary exploration targets will be Europa’s liquid-water ocean beneath the moon’s sheets of ice.
For awhile it seemed like we were right on the cusp of a new era in human exploration of space. NASA has been putting together plans to go back to the moon and then to use that as a stepping stone to get to Mars. President Bush supported it. Obama is killing it.
CS Monitor says President Obama’s newly unveiled 2011 budget effectively scraps the space program. They’ve cut almost all of their funding, scrapping the planned replacement for the space shuttle, killing plans for a more powerful rocket, and an eventual moon base.
Any hope that Obama would put a new emphasis on science and exploration seems to be gone. It’s back to shortsighted stupidity. America is now out of the space race. Whoever ends up as the Captain of the Enterprise, odds are he won’t be from Iowa.