Great Scott! Christopher Lloyd Turns 75: Today In Science & Science Fiction

LloydChristopher Lloyd (October 22, 1938)
This is heavy! Christopher Lloyd has had a long and esteemed career over the past 40 years: playing Reverend Jim on Taxi; giving us a perfect Uncle Fester in the Addams Family movies; and even putting in a hilarious turn as Professor Plum in one of my very favorite films, Clue. But of all those projects over the years, there’s no question that his performance as Dr. Emmett Brown in the Back to the Future movies is his most beloved role of all. Just try to picture anybody else playing the brilliant, floppy-haired eccentric — it can’t be done. In less talented hands, the character could have just been a one-note cliché, but Lloyd makes Doc Brown the true heart of the trilogy, the sort of friend and mentor you’d happily travel through time to save. GFR wishes him a spectacular birthday!


President Jimmy Carter’s Voyager Letter To Any Theoretical Extraterrestrials Out There

VoyagerThe Voyager 1 probe made history last month when scientists agreed that it had finally, officially ventured beyond our solar system and entered interstellar space. Even if Voyager’s distance traveled is not even a gnat’s eyelash when considered against the unfathomable scale of our universe, it was still an exciting landmark, one that reminds us that our species is capable of great accomplishments when we’re not so facedown in the mud that we lose sight of the stars.

You’ve all probably heard of the so-called “Golden Records” that were included on the Voyager craft. They contain tons of images, sounds, and information about our species and our world, designed to serve as a sort of time capsule of who and what we were at the time we sent Voyager 1 and 2 off into the void. They also contained copies of a letter from then-President Jimmy Carter, a greeting to any extraterrestrial explorers who might someday cross paths with Voyager. (Admittedly, a very unlikely scenario given the sheer size of our galaxy, and the comparative tininess of Voyager. But you never know.) While the aliens obviously wouldn’t speak English, the many different languages included on the Records would theoretically serve as a sort of Rosetta Stone to help them interpret our messages.


Remote-Controlled Space Robots Will Work Better When They Can See The Future

While remote-controlled robots are awesome and can do loads of tasks that are too difficult and dangerous for humans, there’s still the problem of time delay. The further away the robot, the longer the lag, which means that space rovers are affected most of all. By the time a warning message travels through space, one of our precious rovers could conceivably be at the bottom of a crater or a probe might be nestled in the arms of an alien (okay, that would be pretty cool). To address these concerns, the good folks at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been working on a predictive system that will make robot space exploration faster and safer.


Lego Masters Create Amazing Space Sets

Lego SpaceForget Gravity — the only way to truly express the awesomeness of space is through Legos.

I remember when I was a little kid and my older brother had an extensive collection of Legos, including space Legos. Turned out those were first manufactured the year I was born, so I take that to be a sign. That’s when Legos turned gray. Playing Legos when I was little was the first time I ever contemplated what it would be like to land on the moon. If only we’d been more ambitious (and had a lot more Legos), we could have contemplated a whole lot more than that.


Lonely Planet Floats Around Space Without A Star

PSO J318.5-22If you’ve seen Gravity then you know that when an open water scenario is set in space, it’s far more beautiful, and far more terrifying. When the two characters, played by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, become separated, I could barely breathe. The loneliness of that situation was almost too much to handle, even in the fictitious realm of cinema. There isn’t anything lonelier than floating around space, powerless to control your own movements, unable to talk to anyone, without hope of rescue. So I’m feeling for PSO J318.5-22, the planet recently discovered floating around the depths of space without a host star, with no ISS or Tiangong in sight.

Hell, the planet’s name is PSO J318.5-22. I mean, it’s already alone, so I guess no one really has had occasion to call it by name (until now), but come on—can’t we help it out a little by giving it a snappier moniker? I’m going to refer to it as “Hermie,” so as to make it cute and familiar while reinforcing its loner status. Hermie lives about 80 light years from Earth, so unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely to become friends with our home planet. It’s six times larger than Jupiter, our biggest neighbor, and at only 12 million years old, is something of an infant, planetarily speaking.


An 11-Year-Old Made A Brewery For Use Aboard The ISS

michal-bodzianowski-astronaut-breweryThey say kids are growing up faster these days. There may be no better example of that than 11-year-old Michal Bodzianowski, who created a micro-microbrewery for a project at the Highland Ranch, Colorado STEM School and Academy. The project was so impressive that the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education’s Student Spaceflight Experiments Program has awarded it the green light to blast into space in December for use aboard the ISS.

Bodzianowski says that while many people think of beer as a party drink, it also has medicinal properties—I think he’s been reading a few “Guinness is good for you” posters, or maybe he read the GFR post about hydrating beer. Whatever his motivations, Bodzianowski developed a brewery that can fit into a 6-inch test tube and contains the individual ingredients one would use to make beer, including yeast, water, and malted barley. Hey kid—you forgot the moon dust!