1.30.2013

Deep Space Industries


There’s another asteroid mining company out there, trying to make things happen. Their schedule of progress over the next several years is fairly ambitious, but their premise makes a lot of sense. Deep Space Industries, looking to become the second big name in asteroid mining (or maybe the first if Planetary Resources doesn’t pick up the pace), announced last Tuesday that they plan to join in the race for off-Earth mining. And it’s a little different from how Planetary Resources plans on doing it, with a riskier but sensible goal.

The hardest part of space travel, once you’ve made sure that the gear is capable of keeping organisms alive and technology intact, is getting off the surface and beyond the atmosphere. Gravity can cause a ridiculous number of problems with this, and any extra weight sent into space costs thousands of extra dollars per pound. Things like fuel, water, and oxygen have to be replenished during any lengthy trip in space, and that, especially in regards to fuel, adds up. It’s bulky, expensive, wasteful, and completely inefficient to send all that up from Earth; the only reason we do it that way is because Earth happens to be the only current source of any of it.

But Deep Space Industries plans on mining in space for in-space purposes. Gravity is much less of a problem on an asteroid, and once you get away from the expense of getting heavy and large volumes of necessities off of Earth, replenishing space missions becomes relatively cheap. Not outstandingly cheap, of course, because it’s still space and there are start-up costs to consider, but a definite improvement down the line.

DSI also has plans of mining metals from asteroids in order to make replacement parts for technology already in space, which is incredibly awesome. If something breaks in space, it’s defunct until the part is sent from Earth and replaced. This means people have to decide if the value of whatever broke down is worth the cost of repair and the cost of pushing up against Earth’s gravity. This sort of dilemma occurred when the Hubble kept having problems in the 1990s, and people nearly decided no – it wasn’t worth the cost. (Which it completely was, and would have been less of an issue if something like DSI had been up and running back then.)

In the long-term, provided DSI has a long term, it can even self-generate mining stations for other, further out asteroids. You really can’t beat a business plan where you can use free resources to create extensions of your mining equipment that can go, find new asteroids, and begin making new extensions with new free resources. The only things standing in the way is the as-yet fairly limited evolution of artificial intelligence and the coming wave of space laws (we all know that it’s coming, and that it’s going to hit hard).

And this sort of thing – mining in space for in-space uses – makes a whole lot of sense, definitely more than off-Earth mining for on-Earth uses. Just as it’s expensive to get things up into space, it’s troublesome to get things down to Earth safely and without damage. It’s also not terribly cost efficient. We’re nowhere near the point of desperately needing metals, oxygen, or water from space – and by the time we are, it’s probably going to be too late to start this kind of thing. Space mining and terrestrial mining, at least for a while, are going to be on different scales of expense, and terrestrial demand doesn’t yet justify that kind of cost.

With any luck, outer space demand will, and that’s why DSI’s premise is risky. NASA, ESA, JAXA, and countries like Iran and India plan on getting heavy into space travel. Iran just successfully brought back a monkey from sub-space orbit and has plans of sending someone to the moon; the United States is planning for long-term exploratory missions and maybe even a moon base. But all of these are plans rather than a steady stream of reality, and a business with huge start-up costs needs more than that. So while their ideas about supplying parts for space technology, fuel, water, and oxygen are cool and logical, and will hopefully stay successful once it really gets going, it has to really get going first.

As it stands, Deep Space Industries has a pretty ambitious list of things to achieve in the next few years. As of 2015, the company will send out unmanned Fireflies (and wasn’t that a wise choice in name to garner sci-fi fans everywhere?) to assess the material resources of nearby asteroids. Then Dragonflies will bring samples back to Earth for more rigorous analysis.

In 2020, just seven years from now, DSI hopes to be able to start sending out their Harvestors, which will actually begin the mining work. That’s ridiculously soon, but I really hope they make that deadline – not only will getting started sooner mean awesome things will continue to increase in number during my lifetime, but 2020 is the date for several other aerospace plans and DSI needs that market to stay afloat.

But right now, Deep Space Industries is at the 'announcing they exist and generating computer models' stage. The likelihood of the company’s success is a complete unknown, but their hypothetical success would be an integral part of future space travel.

If you found this interesting, please recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is a click! 

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

1.29.2013

January 28, 2013: This Week's Alien and Space News


NASA Starts Trying to Make New Technology Off of Technology 40
Years Old
:
Engineers at NASA have started looking at the F-1 rocket engine that the Saturn V used. It’s the most powerful engine, so that’s something, but it’s about forty years old and it’s a bit pitiful that we haven’t gotten beyond this point in our space technology yet. Any time technological progress at NASA is described with the word ‘resurrected,’ is a pretty sad day. But they seemed to be just looking at it to create something much better, which they will hopefully be able to do. In the article, Director of the Propulsion Systems Department in Marshall Engineering Directorate Tom Williams says that they’re looking into liquid oxygen and kerosene – which hasn’t been used in a while – and that, "These tests are only the beginning.” They better be only the beginning; technology four decades old shouldn’t be the end of it.

Beetles Using Stars to Navigate: This news isn’t exactly Earth-shattering or as intellectually significant as it is kind of being played up to be, but it’s interesting.  Just as some insects revolve around local bits of light, dung beetles also use light to pick what direction they’re going in. During the day, they use the sun. At night, they can use the moon. But the moon isn’t always reliable, and scientists discovered that the beetles use the stable glow of the Milky Way to navigate.

Getting Closer to Long-Term Space Exploration: In NASA’s Advanced Explorations Systems Program, there is a standing objective of developing deep space habitats for people to live in and explore space beyond Earth’s orbit. And we might get closer to that starting in 2015, when SpaceX will ship up an expandable habitat to attach to the ISS. Called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), this expanding habitat will be tested for two years to see if it can withstand space conditions and not kill potential people inside of it. If it works, not only will Bigelow Aerospace become a bigger name in the space industry, we’ll be that much closer to having people on Mars and exploring actual space.

It’s Not Just Asteroids and Our Sun That We Have to Worry About: The Universe just became a bit scarier of a place. Scientists have figured out a likely explanation for a strong burst of gamma radiation that hit Earth in 775. They’ve ruled out supernovas and solar flares, but think that it might have been two objects in far off space colliding and merging. Space objects like black holes, neutron stars, or white dwarfs anywhere from 3,000 to 12,000 light years away from us. This is kind of horrifying, not least because the scientists expect that any similar event today would play havoc with our electronics. No, the article is concluded by one of the scientists noting that, had the source of the radiation been any closer, some terrestrial species might have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Monkeys in Space: Iran is also making its way into space. Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi reports that their launch of a live monkey into suborbital space was a success as the Pishgam space capsule returned the monkey alive. The United States is protesting this, as the same technology that makes good space travel possible makes a good missile system possible, but Iran still has plans to send a human into space by 2020 and a human to the moon by 2025. I guess that explains why the U.S. is picking up the pace a little with our space tech.

Want to share all the good news? Please be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is a click! 

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

1.26.2013

Video: How to Pronounce Uranus



So here's an interesting video on how to pronounce, the seventh planet in our solar system, Uranus from the fantastic CGPGrey.

I've been a fan of Grey for a while now but I was recently re-watching some of his videos when I saw this. There's not really a whole relating to aliens in this, but that doesn't stop it from being both entertaining and informative. Definitively worth a watch.

Rusty is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans planning for any and all kinds of apocalypse when he's not busy reading, writing, or yo-yoing. Keep up with him and Rachel on Facebook and Twitter to get cool, space related news or click here to read more of his thoughts on the terror of alien invasion novels.

1.08.2013

Review: Out Around Rigel


Out Around Rigel, Robert H. Wilson. Short Story.

“The Comet had attained an average velocity of perhaps 175,000 miles per second, and the voyage that seemed to me six months had taken a thousand years. A thousand years! The words went ringing through my brain. Kelvar had been dead for a thousand years. I was alone in a world uninhabited for centuries.” 

 I read this short story as part of Rusty’s and my 2013 Book Reading Challenge. The goal is to read as much sci-fi as possible, especially anything to do with aliens, and this short story had quite a few elements that are worth thinking about. It’s not necessarily a great story on its own – though it would probably make a pretty standard action adventure movie; it’s the history and ramifications of the story that are interesting. 

The Background: 

It’s 1931, and Einsteinian science hasn’t fully saturated into everybody’s consciousness. Also, most of the science fiction of that time was martial (though not yet Cold War-style ‘aliens are communists, destroy them all’), about how people would react to aliens or how aliens would react to us, or shamelessly centered on really bad science. This story by Robert H. Wilson, however, tried to incorporate relativity in a way that made sense at the time but is kind of cheesy now.

Time dilation is a problem, but it’s certainly not a surprise for us in the twenty-first century. It was a surprise in the 1930’s, though, and that makes the story a good bridge to understanding science if you lived before WWII but not a story for the ages.

The Premise:

There are two best friends and a girl – and we all know where this is going to go. Third-wheel Garth dares Dunal, the friend who got the girl, to test out his speed-of-light-barrier-breaking space ship with him. Dunal agrees and they fly away from their terraformed moon, leaving the girl behind. This is a sinister trap, however, as Garth sets the ship down on a planet in the guise of exploring and then suddenly challenges Dunal to a duel. Things don’t go as expected: aliens appear and are demonstrably displeased by their shenanigans. This leads to a surprising not-quite ending, which in turn leads to the ending everyone expects when there’s someone traveling faster than light and they leave someone they love to wait for them.

Who Should Read This Story? 

Anyone who has 15 or 20 minutes should read this story. For all of its scientific gaffs and clichés, it’s entertaining. And the aliens are kind of a nice touch. But, really, this story is most enjoyable to someone curious about the evolution of science fiction and looking at how it’s changed alongside scientific discoveries. This story is also good for anyone planning to travel faster than the speed of light any time soon. It will remind them about a really valuable tip: don’t leave the people you like behind – they won’t be there when you get back, and it’s not because they’ve moved on.

Final Verdict:

The story is fun in a dark kind of way. It’s not spectacularly wonderful, but it doesn’t have to be. The book is a short story removed from the era when it would have had the most impact. It provides a quick look at how much science has changed while still showing how people’s interest in space hasn’t changed that much. Out Around Rigel is also free – and really short – so you can’t go wrong with it. The audio is available here, along with quite a few other short stories, and the text is available at Project Gutenberg.

How did you like the book -- or did this review even make you interested? If you have any opinions, suggestions, or reflections yourself, feel free to comment below! (Or you could keep us going on StumbleUpon)

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

1.05.2013

Review: The Door Through Space


The Door Through Space. Marion Zimmer Bradley. Novel. 116 pages.
 
“The Terran Empire has one small blind spot in otherwise sane policy, ignoring that nonhuman and human have lived placidly here for millennia: they placidly assumed that humans were everywhere the dominant race, as on Earth itself.”

There are books that are good because they ask interesting philosophical questions, use entertaining but realistic facets of human behavior to create subplots, and have a really good protagonist creating a quality point of view throughout the whole text. And then there are books that are bad because they have really bad romance scenes for no good reason and a tendency to not fully explain realizations that characters have that shift their entire perspective.

These categorizations are easy to organize and read accordingly, but books are at their most frustrating when they’re both. And The Door Through Space by Marion Zimmer Bradley is both.

The Background:

Marion Zimmer Bradley is famous for her Darkover book series. This isn’t one of that series, but it takes place within the same, not to be (punny), universe. Many things from the Darkover books are in this one, and it helps flesh out and add side stories to her central series. Quite a few concepts are pre-established in this story: there is a Terran government that is Earth-based and powerful over several dozen worlds; humans have traveled through space for quite a while and have become integrated with terrestrial nonhuman civilizations, even to the point of siding with nonhumans and autonomy over Terran loyalty.

The Premise:

There’s a Terran intelligence officer named Race Cargill who works a desk job on a planet called Wolf. This guy used to be a really big deal in covert operations, but he and his brother-in-law slashed up each other’s faces in a fight six years ago, and distinctive physical characteristics kind of inhibit someone’s ability to sneak around and blend in. But then he hears how his brother-in-law, Rakhal, is now involved in a plot to forcefully remove Terran influence on Wolf.

Race Cargill decides he now has two good reasons to kill Rakhal – ruining his ability to do his job and trying to supplant the government – and resolves to do just that. Shenanigans ensue.

These shenanigans finally coalesce into a plot through another character’s use of intraplanetary portals and toys that make children hate their parents. I can’t say much more than that, because anything else will give away the ending and the majority of the book is spent world-building more than it deals with the actual plot, anyway. 

Final Verdict:

This book is best read after her Darkover series or if you’re willing to read a few more of her books. The writing style is great, as is her universe and characterization of the protagonist, but it feels incomplete. It can stand alone, but it probably shouldn’t. The good news is, if you read this, there’s enough quality stuff going on to make you want to read her other books. Oh, and that’s another noteworthy point: the author is a woman, and so readers don’t have to deal with the typical female character stupidity that happens far too often in science fiction.

This book is just over 100 pages long, and since it’s free – both in text and audio format – I can’t think of a good reason not to read it. That’s probably not the most enthusiastic verdict, but the really cool questions it poses about our future and potential interaction with extraterrestrials are probably in another, better book.

Maybe even in her Darkover series, which will find its way onto this site eventually. 

How did you like the book -- or did this review even make you interested? If you have any opinions, suggestions, or reflections yourself, feel free to comment below! (Or you could keep us going on StumbleUpon)

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

1.02.2013

Review: The Aliens


The Aliens. Murray Leinster, 1960. Short story. 40 pages.

“‘And I think, sir,” said Baird, “that until they detected us they thought they were the only intelligent race in the galaxy. They were upset to discover suddenly that they were not, and at first they’d no idea what we’d be like. But I’m guessing now, sir, that they’re figuring on what chemicals and ores to start swapping with us.’” 

The Background:

Murray Leinster has a ridiculous amount of published science fiction. He is best known, if you can be well known for one specific thing out of over 1,500, for his story First Contact, and the majority of his stuff is surprisingly original. This particular story also gets bonus points for not being anti-communist propaganda, which alien science fiction generally is when it’s from that era.

Instead, this book focuses on a lot of interesting problems that come with the first discovery of aliens, even though Leinster kind of skates over a few of the major ones (to be fair, trying to include all the issues would lead to there not being any kind of book). There’s the potential risk that comes with confronting any species on our level, especially if they also have our sort of hostility. Communication is also a problem, since we wouldn’t even have the universal facial expressions humans have here. The only thing that can be easily(-ish) done is demonstrate our intelligence, seeing as how we’d find each other by technological sensors.

Probably. 

The Premise:

An exploratory spaceship is going through the galaxy, trying to find out about an extraterrestrial species of Plumies, which had only been studied before through artifacts. The ship quickly comes across a Plumie ship, and suspicious panic ensues when they don’t respond to the humans’ attempts to communicate. So, rather than considering the huge technological, perceptual, and linguistic barriers, the humans open fire. The Plumies, presumably irked at this point, reflect the missiles back and then careen towards the humans to instigate a giant game of space chicken.

Both sides lose, and somehow become welded together in the process. It gets even better: the ship combo then starts drifting towards the nearest star. To survive, the two species have to not only get along, but communicate with enough skill to help each other repair the ships.

This entire misadventure is made worse by the guy in charge of defensive maneuvers. This xenophobic soldier spends the story screaming in the background about the inferiority of everything that isn’t human, how the Plumies should be shot, and so on. He even tries to blow up their ship in a fit of supremacist hysteria, which causes obvious logistical difficulties when the two ships are connected.

Final Verdict:

This is a really good sixties-style short story about how humans and aliens might first interact. It’s hopelessly naïve – aliens would hardly be welcoming when a raging idiot keeps almost managing to slaughter them – but has several interesting ideas about science and future interstellar trade.

The story also manages to mix in a bit of realism in the beginning paranoia, the ‘shoot first’ philosophy of everyone (not just the xenophobe), the bad attempts to communicate over long distances, and the uncertainty in the first part of the book when the humans know essentially nothing. The only irritating thing in the book is the sappy romance that pops out of nowhere, but it’s fairly easy to ignore – or at least to laugh at.

Since the book is only forty pages, and the audiobook is only eighty minutes, it’s definitely worth your time. Especially when it’s free in both formats here.

How did you like the book -- or did this review even make you interested? If you have any opinions, suggestions, or reflections yourself, feel free to comment below! (Or you could keep us going on StumbleUpon)

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.