Thomas Keith Glennan, is a name you have probably never heard before, which is understandable. Dr. Glennan was an electrical engineer who dabbled in the new technology of sound motion pictures at Paramount and Samuel Goldwyn Studios, briefly worked for Vega Aircraft, and finally joined the Division of War Research at Columbia University in 1942… yeah that war. Yet, the real reason you should know the name is that in 1958 he was chosen by President Eisenhower as the first administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA for short. Since Dr. Glennan’s tenure the NASA Administrator position has been filled by scientists, engineers, and former astronauts. Last year, the Donald broke that mold and chose a politician for the position, Representative Jim Bridenstine, but he was never confirmed.

It has been over a year now and NASA is still without a permanent administrator -a post President Obama filled in less than six months- but this month, confirmation hearings are being held again in the Senate to fill the position. So, we ask, who is Jim Bridenstine, and is he a terrible person?

One Small Step…
Now, if you know anything about us here at The NYRD, you will know we are pretty big NASA buffs. We are in love with all things space, and rocketry, and hope for a bright future of mankind… yadda yadda. That is why we have been so closely following the news coming out of NASA and the Presidential administration. Earlier this month, after eight months of being in office, Trump finally nominated the man who would take the reigns of the world’s premiere space agency, and who would replace Charles Bolden, a US Marine Corp Major General, an accomplished astronaut, and the first African American to ever hold the position. So who did he choose? A Congressman from Oklahoma, who denies the existence of man made climate change… sigh…

Now, our initial knee-jerk reaction is to immediately hate Congressman Bridenstine, in much the same we initially hate any new flunky of the Orangeman-in-Chief. Both of Florida’s senators have already come out against the nomination, as well as a slew of other people, both inside and outside the NASA community. After all, Bridenstine has regularly criticized how much NASA and the previous Obama Administration spent on climate change research, and even sponsored a bill to cut climate change funding.

A Giant Leap…
Don’t get us wrong. The fact that he is a known climate denier is worrisome and a definite strike against Congressman Bridenstine. One of NASA’s biggest departments is the division of Earth Sciences which studies everything from weather patterns to ocean temperatures, and it roughly spends about 2 billion annually on the task of aiming satellites back at us, instead of into deep space. Trump has already dedicated himself to cutting that funding and minimizing that division, regardless of who the new administrator will be, and here is the kicker… Maybe… just maybe… he’s not completely wrong.

Now, let us be clear… climate change research is vital and important to the survival of our nation and humanity. We think the US government should be spending more than just 2 billion dollars on it annually, but maybe not NASA. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -who also been waiting on a confirmation for their new administrator– may be a more suitable agency to handle that research, and as a bonus it would help increase funding to the woefully underfunded NOAA. It would also free NASA to really start looking toward deep space exploration and how to finally get us that summer home on Olympus Mons. We know that this may not be a popular opinion, just as we also know it is unlikely to happen under the leadership of a President who often fails to have even the most basic grasp on science. As such, if given the option between NASA continuing to be our main climate science researchers and having no government climate science researchers, we will pick the former over the latter every time.

But what does this all have to do with Representative Big Jim Bridenstine?

A New Direction
Taking out the climate denying aspect of the man, you are left with someone who was a Navy combat pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also worked as the executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium… yes, The Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium. His is also a big space advocate, with a real focus on commercial space enterprises, and like it or not, that is the direction of space enterprise in the 21st century. Private space companies, like Boeing and Space X, are taking over the near-Earth orbit market, and NASA needs to work hand-in-hand with them going forward.

NASA has already committed to the creation of a NEO commercial space industry, but now it also looks like the private sector is looking to get involved with deeper space projects, as well, such as designing a new lunar lander, capturing an asteroid for mining purposes, and even going to Mars, if Elon Musk has his way. Bridenstine certainly seems to have the enthusiasm for the task. He created the American Space Renaissance Act, which has its heart in the right place. He’s spoke out against space junk and its determent to our continued space endeavors. He is also a big advocate for the Moon – a priority target for Trump– for both commercial and civil purposes, even going so far as claiming that the discovery of water ice means we should look into permanent rover and machine outposts. So, maybe in this new era of space exploration, it is not such a bad thing that the new Administrator of NASA is not a scientist or an engineer, but an enthusiast committed to the cause who knows how to navigate the political spectrum of things…

All of this would be very encouraging, if it was not for his climate denial. Climate change is not a theory or a political opinion. It has been established by solid scientific fact, and if Bridenstine denies those basic truths, that is worrying on a lot of levels. Still, maybe it is not for the head of NASA to worry about climate change. Congressman “Damnit” Jim Bridenstine is not perfect. There are some glimmers of hope on his resume, but -let’s be clear- he is not the person we would have selected to be the head of NASA. He is not James Webb, or Charles Bolden, or even Bill Nye, but maybe in this era of Donald Trump, “good enough,” is the best we can hope for… sigh…


Today, September 15, 2017, at 7:57 am, Eastern Standard time, the Cassini–Huygens spacecraft, known to friends as “Cassini,” slipped quietly into the atmosphere of Saturn and died a violent and beautiful death as it burned up in the gaseous layers of the sixth planet from our sun.

Cassini is survived by cousin Juno, currently orbiting Jupiter, and much more distant cousin New Horizons who is currently at a distance of 39.04 AU and is headed out past Pluto toward the edged of the solar system. Cassini is preceded in death by such great relatives as Galileo, Magellan, and V’ger.

Cassini was launched on October 15, 1997 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, by both proud parents, NASA and the European Space Agency. It was a simpler time of Presidential scandals and space travel. Cassini graduated from two Venus gravitational assists in 1999 and an additional Earth gravitational assist in 1999 with a degree of trajectory that pushed it past the Asteroid belt and a Jupiter fly-by. Cassini married itself to the gravitational pull of Saturn, the second largest planet in our solar system -and a heck of a violin player- on July 1, 2004, exchanging both F and G Rings.

After moving to a stationary orbit, Cassini began working its initial four-year mission to explore the Saturnian System, which included examining not just the planet and its weather patterns, but its multiple moons system, and of course, its breathtaking rings. Cassini even helped test aspects of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Its mission was extended twice, due in no small part to its plutonium powered engine, and healthy lifestyle. During its thirteen year mission it has taken thousands of breathtaking shots of the gas planet, its moons, its rings, and even Earth.

Cassini soon welcomed its only child to the Saturnian System, the Huygens probe, which landed on the moon Titan. Huygens relayed hundreds of images of Titan’s icy surface, but an unfortunate data error meant that the young probe only transmitted half the amount of data it was meant to. Yet, its memory still lives on as the first spacecraft to ever land on Titan, and as the first spacecraft to complete the furthest landing from Earth ever made.

Cassini was an accomplished explorer and an amateur photographer. It was a dedicated and hard working probe who loved its work and was passionate about educating us on the wonders of Saturn and its mysterious moons. Cassini was an active and dedicated member of NASA’s  Planetary Science Division, and often volunteered at the local Rotary Club.

A memorial service was held today at the NASA JPL Live Stream, with a small reception to follow at wherever people typically eat lunch every day. All were welcome to attend and celebrate the life of the Cassini–Huygens spacecraft. In lieu of flowers, please send letters to your local congressional representatives and senators to tell them why the mission of NASA is so important, and why it deserves more funding than it currently receives. Condolences and congratulations can be sent to www.nasa. gov. The family would like to thank all those who have been watching and enjoying the data and pictures of Cassini, and for all their years of support and wonder.

So long, Cassini, and thanks for all the memories. Rest in peace.


courtesy of NPR and Skunk Bear


We do an awful lot of talking about Mars, and sometimes it seems like we forget about Earth’s closest neighbor, Venus. That needs to change, because it is just as interesting as the Red Planet. They call Venus the Morning Star, because it can still be seen with the rising morning sun. Oddly, enough the Morning Star in Latin is Lucifer, and some Christian traditions have linked the word with the Devil. Maybe that is appropriate, as Venus’ surface it is comprised of sulfuric acid clouds, and temperatures that can reach 462 degrees Celsius or 864 degrees Fahrenheit. So basically it’s hell, but recent studies have found that the planet may not have always been like that. In fact, in the ancient past it may been something better suited for a goddess of love than the representation of evil incarnate. Either way, maybe its time we get a closer look.

Venus de Melting Pot
Venus takes 224 days to orbit the Sun. On average the planet is 40 million kilometers or 25 million miles away from Earth, making its closest approach every 584 days. Compare that to Mars, which when at its closest to Earth is still 54.6 million kilometers or 33.9 million miles away from us. The planet Venus is also roughly the same size as ours, about 12,104 kilometers or 7,521 miles in diameter, which is 0.95 times that of the Earth. It’s mass is also 0.81 times that of our home. Both planets seem to be relatively young -cosmological speaking- but our closest neighbor rotates slower than Earth and in the opposite direction as we do. It takes about 117 Earth days for the planet to complete one rotation.

However, what most people talk about when they talk about Venus is its thick greenhouse atmosphere. The planet has several kilometers of deep layers of clouds, mostly comprised of sulfuric acid. It contains about 0.1 to 0.4 percent water vapor, and 60 parts per million free oxygen. The atmosphere is made up of mostly carbon dioxide, and according to findings by two Russian Venera probes lightning is extremely common. Massive electrical strikes happen about 10 times per second in the Venusian atmosphere. The surface -if you can reach it- is mostly of rolling hills and active volcanoes. The highest peak is 11 kilometers or 6.8 miles, and is located in the Maxwell Mountains. It is also worth noting that these mountains -named after astronomer James Clerk Maxwell- are the only features of the planet named after a man. The majority of features on the planet are named after women, as per the rules set down by the International Astronomical Union. Most scientists believe that the Venus has tectonic plates, like those on Earth, and the core of the planet is iron surrounded by a molten rock mantle. However, unlike Earth Venus doesn’t have a magnetosphere, which means it is more exposed to cosmic radiation and solar activity.

Venus not Venice
However, our neighbor wasn’t always the hellish landscape of heat, volcanoes, and death that it is today. A recent report suggests that for 2 billions years of its early history Venus may have been a heck of a lot like Earth. Shallow oceans, puffy white clouds, and possibly even sufficiently temperate climates to create life. The trace amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere always hinted that the planet could have once had oceans, but most scientists believed that Venus was too close to the sun to sustain liquid water for long, believing that constant evaporation would have proved too large a problem. However, recent computer modeling seems to confirm that it would have been possible even with the planet’s slow rotation.

This also hints that 2 to 3 billion years ago the sun may have been 30% dimmer, thus easing the evaporation effects for the young planet. Even so Venus was still receiving about 40% more sunlight than Earth does today, but according to some scientists those conditions would have still resulted in a stable, warm, and wet climate that would have created thin a cloud cover that blocked UV radiation and kept the surface a few degrees cooler than modern Earth. Venus’ current state is theorized to be a result of several factors. First the increasing brightness of the sun would have certainly sped up the evaporation cycle. The ultra-violet radiation breaks down the water vapor and releases hydrogen into space, which has led to a carbon dioxide build up over billions of years. Also, intense volcanic activity in the lowland regions was very likely a big contributing factor. This all would have resulted in a feedback loop that sped up the process even further. Thus, the greenhouse gases grew out of control and resulted in the thick and acidic atmosphere of today.

Home Sweet Venus
Of all the planets Venus is the first planet humans ever sent probes to, starting in 1961, but penetrating the clouds has always proven to be difficult. There have more than 20 missions to Venus, and a lot of unsuccessful ones. The most interesting missions tend to be the Soviet Venera missions between 1961 and 1983. They included orbiters, landers, and even balloons to study the atmosphere. Most probes could not survive more than an hour inside the planet’s atmosphere, even those designed for intense heat and pressure quickly succumb to the hellish conditions. That means we do not have anything on Venus comparable to Curiosity or the other Mar’s rovers, but we do actually have some pictures of the surface… Yes, we know what the surface of Venus looks like and you can Google it.

venus-2Yet, despite the incredibly hostile conditions there is a growing contingent of NASA scientists that believe the planet might be ripe for manned missions, and even colonization. In a now famous report by Geoffrey Landis, it is suggest that humans don’t colonize the surface but the skies of our sister world. At about 50 kilometers or 30 miles above the surface the planet’s atmosphere is the most Earth-like place found in the solar system- outside of… you know… Earth. Floating zeppelins would allow scientists to conduct research, live, and work, on a planet that has similiar gravity, atmospheric pressure, and even enough protection from solar and cosmic radiation to provide for relative safety for the people living and working there. Additionally, since oxygen is lighter than the Venusian atmosphere, the balloons could float and be breathable for the colonists at the same time. The entire area of the blimps could be habitable for explorers.

Venus’ relative proximity to Earth compared to Mars, also means that travel times would be decidedly less. The missions would be cheaper and have less transit time through space for humans. That is a good thing, as one of the biggest technological challenges we are having with a Mars mission is the amount of cosmic radiation that astronauts will be exposed to during the 6 to 8 month transit period. Going to Venus would only takes 3 months using today’s technology. That is still not ideal but it does mean that humans are left exposed for less than half the time. Also -and we’re just going to throw this out there- we could have Cloud City.

All in all whether you think Venus is a love goddess or a living hell, you have to admit that it’s a pretty interesting place. Who knows maybe we might even live there someday. Just call us Lando Calrissian.

Image Courtesy:

It is 2016, a shiny new year in the 21st century. There is no denying that we are in the future, a time when our sock hopping ancestors believed we would have things like jet packs and underwater cities. Instead all we have are underwater pollution and -criminally mislabeled- “hoverboards.” Still, our modern era is not all bad, and we here at The NYRD are optimistic about what is yet to come. 2016 holds a lot of promise and we thought it would be best to start the year off right and talk about all the good possibilities, trends, and breakthroughs for the coming year, because we all know there will inevitably be bad enough ones too.

Virtually All Reality
2016 will mark the beginning of consumer virtual reality. VR headsets are set to become the next big “thing” in the technology and gaming world. This year will see the release of the Oculus Rift as well as several other devices. These new VR sets will range from premium high end models to cardboard boxes that can be fit around your smart phone, but rest assured our reality will never look the same again. Whether it will be playing games, watching movies, or even experiencing news stories first hand, the world is going to start to look  a lot different in ways even we cannot imagine.

Franchise, Franchise, Franchise
We would be remiss if we did not use this opportunity to bring up some of the most anticipated video games, movies, and TV shows coming out in 2016. This new year will most assuredly be the year of the shared universe, with movies like Batman V. Superman, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse, Ghostbusters and of course, Star Wars: Rogue One. Disney will be certainly looking to shove even more Star Wars and Marvel down our collective gullets, and -truth be told- we are sort of okay with that. On the small screen side there will be plenty of old and new shows to look forward to, including the return of Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Sherlock. However, we are also looking forward to new Agent Carter and Daredevil, not to mention a possible Luke Cage show near the end of the year. Meanwhile, other shows like Preacher and the new X-Files have our interest piqued, and, of course, we would hate to leave out that 2016 will mark the last season of Mythbusters.

In the literary world, everyone is talking about a possible 2016 release date for The Winds of Winter, George R. R. Martin’s next installment in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Unfortunately, we would advise that you don’t hold your breath, unless you want to be just another causality in the long list of deaths attributed to the blood soaked career of Martin. JK Rowling is also getting back into the Harry Potter game with her newest movie Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them, and a new stage-play following the adult Harry Potter titled, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

On the video game side, there is only one title we here at The NYRD want to talk about, No Man’s Sky. This self-creating infinite galaxy MMO has the possibility to blow the lid off the immersive video game genre, and has the potential to pave the way for all new gaming experiences. Last year, NMS “stole the show” at every conference and convention where it was previewed. This could mark the next leap forward in video game experiences and we fully expect that we will have to shut down our office for a week just to get a grip on it.

Juno, the Dragon, and Beyond
This year in space exploration will see the Juno probe visit Jupiter in hopes of unlocking more of the gas giant’s secrets, including the moisture content of its atmosphere and how it was originally formed. There is still a lot we don’t know about the largest planetary body in our solar system and Juno is going to help us figure it out. We should also see the first manned launch of SpaceX’s Dragon V2.  SpaceX just ended 2015 with the successful landing of reusable rocket boosters that have the potential to dramatically cut costs of space launches. If everything remains on schedule American astronauts will no longer have to be dependent on Russia to reach the International Space Station. Instead NASA will buy them tickets on the Dragon, much like one might buy a bus ticket, except with more explosions and more leg room. Lastly, the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) will be completed this September in Guizhou Province of China. The largest single-aperture telescope in the world it will be able to gaze three-times further into space than its predecessor, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Weathering the New Year
We ended 2015 on a high note, the Paris Climate Summit was an unmitigated success, but in 2016 the real work begins. There is a lot of reason to be hopeful. In June all the states of the USA need to submit their plans to reduce emissions from power plants. The US Energy Commission is predicting an impressive increase in all renewable energy sources, and a steadying of CO2 based emissions in comparison with the past four years. This includes a 14% growth for solar and wind energy. With hybrids and electric cars becoming more affordable and commonplace, and with increasing EPA emissions standards even car manufacturers and other big businesses are starting to think green.

Around the world places like India and China are starting to slow their pollution. China has even suspended new mining endeavours, which gives real hope that we can stay under the 1.5 degree mark for global warming. One could even say the winds are starting to change, at least as long as that person doesn’t mind using terrible cliched puns. We at the NYRD are completely above all that, of course.

The End of the Rainbow Discrimination
With both Hilary Clinton and Barry Sanders -who co-sponsored the amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964– have expressed deep concern for the fact that 31 states have no explicit law  against firing members of the LGBTQ community for their gender or sexual identity. This is despite the fact that it is now legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry in all 50 states. There is a strong hope that 2016 will see an end to this type of discrimination. With the two front-running democrats both claiming they will push for a more protection for LGBTQ people we have high hopes that something will get done this year on this issue. At the very least it should become a topic of major debate both for Presidential nominees and members of Congress.

50 Shades of Gun Metal Gray
President Obama recently announced that he will be enacting an executive order to tighten existing gun laws in the country. This comes after a 2015 filled with mass shooting and nonsensical rhetoric. In fact, 27 Americans were killed by guns on Christmas. We will not go into the specifics of the President’s plan -as he still has yet to announce the majority of it- but hopefully more regulated gun control can make 2016 a much less violent year. Unfortunately we are already off to a rocky start. With any luck things can only improve.

Another hope for less violence comes in the form of an announcement that the Justice Department will begin keeping track of how many individuals are killed by law enforcement officials. In the past, the data collection on either purposeful or accidental deaths caused by police and other law enforcement were voluntary. In other words, it was near impossible to get clear statistics, data, and accountability on the rise and decline of police violence in certain areas. This is only one small piece that has led to more mistrust of law enforcement by citizens, especially by black Americans, in a year already riddled by alleged brutality and possible police misconduct. Having greater statistical accountability is only a small step, but it is one in the right direction. With any luck, in 2016 we will heal the wounds of the previous year and help us move forward not as black or white but as citizens and neighbors.

No Country for Old Politics
Currently, the American political landscape is a mess. The Republican primaries are more bloated than Jabba the Hutt after a large meal, and the front-runners are more extreme and perverse than even some of Jabba’s tastes. On the Democratic side a David and Goliath battle is being waged between the party establishment-hopeful, Clinton, and the social media darling, Sanders. Even worse everybody on your Facebook seems to have an opinion and none of them are completely satisfying, but there is a possible silver lining to this darkening and maddening cloud.

The popularity of Sanders, Trump, and Carson -despite what anyone may think of their politics- is actually a hopeful sign. The Democratic and Republican parties have been controlled for too long by party elders and big donors, all of which seem out of touch with what the common American wants. The fact that any of the “fringe candidates” are still polling competitively at this point in the race shows that things are starting to change. Trump and Carson are especially interesting, because even though they couuld never win a general election, they are exposing cracks in the normal GOP/Tea Party rhetoric. There has been speculation that this could even lead to the dissolution of the party or at the very least to a radical changing of the Republican party in America. That may be an extreme example, but either way nothing is ever going to be the same again for the conservatives.

Bear in mind, that we have made our opinions on Trump and his hate-mongering known before, but he does prove that the power of the people can outweigh the power of the corporations and the lobbyists. Bernie Sanders, too, has practically financed his entire campaign from donors giving $200 or less. Whenever anyone talks about the political system these days it is always in tones of how much worse things have gotten, but for once, let’s take a step back and see the positives of what is going on.

All the Rest
Finally, we cannot forget that 2016 marks the Summer Olympics in Rio, where -surprisingly- the USA Rugby team has a decent chance at winning the gold. -We bet you didn’t even know that the US had a rugby team- Of course, there is also San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and all the other great conventions and annual events look forward to as well. As it stands the coming year offers a lot of promise for a better, stronger, and nerdier America and the world. However, these things are never easy and the path is almost never clear. That is why it takes people like you and us to forge it.

So, if you are looking for a resolution, let us offer this suggestion. Do everything you can to read and educate yourself on the important changes, topics, and events going on around you this year. Use your knowledge to take an active role and not sit on the sidelines. Get out and vote, or volunteer, or even just offer a helping hand to a friend in distress. 2016 can be a truly amazing year, but only with your help. As for us, we here at The NYRD promise to do our part to try and keep you informed and entertained this new year. So stay tuned, because the best is yet to come.

Have a Happy and Hopeful New Year.

The holy grail of any science fiction story, and truly any hope of extended manned spaceflight is -without a doubt- the ability to go faster than light. An FTL engine is a piece of technology that has been depicted countless times in literature, movies, television, and the sugarplum dreams of children for nerds. Whether you want to call it a hyperdrive, a warp drive, jump drive, mass drive, improbable drive, or whatever we have seen it over and over again and for good reason.

The Milky Way Galaxy is about 100,000 light years across, and it is more than 4 light years to our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri. We can never travel at the speed of light because that would be impossible, thanks to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and not just because of all the weird time dilatation stuff. Traveling the speed of light would require infinite energy to accomplish, and infinite is kind of a hard number to come up with in practical terms, even with today’s cheaper gas prices. Yet, even if we were to figure out how to travel that fast it would still mean that it would take 4 years to reach Alpha Centauri, and that just won’t do when you are trying to keep a dramatic pace in your science fiction Disney-owned blockbuster. That is why the entertainment industry has given us to following:

It Ain’t Like Dusting Crops, Boy
Hyperdrive is the engine of the Star Wars universe. It allow ships like the Millennium Falcon and others to enter what is called “hyperspace,” Though Star Wars is not the only science fiction property to theorize such a dimension, they are the best known for it. According to Star Wars canon -at least we think it’s still canon but who can tell anymore- hyperspace is “a dimension of space-time that could only be reached by traveling at lightspeed or faster.” In essence it’s like a higher dimension or a pocket dimension that exists next to the Star Wars universe. Somebody took the time to do the math, but what is the most interesting aspect of this superluminal space is that it is still affected by the gravity of the normal dimension. Thus, hyperspace calculations are incredibly difficult because objects with enough mass can pull ships out of hyperspace, sometimes fatally. There are only certain routes that people use to navigate the galaxy, much like highways and back roads through hyperspace that avoid most major gravity wells. This also is used to explain Han Solo’s boast, “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” The mining world of Kessel is situated next to the Maw, a cluster of black-holes, so getting to it is more about daring the shortest and most suicidal route rather than the fastest time -yes, by the way, we’re those kind of geeks.

We have talked about the science of Star Wars before, but it is worth covering this part more in depth. To begin, the rapid acceleration that we see in the movies would leave Han and Chewie as a fine paste on the back of their seats. Human beings -and possibly Wookiees- can withstand about a max of 5 g’s for about 2 minutes. Accelerating to lightspeed, even at 9 g’s would take about 19 days, though our favorite smuggling duo would be dead long before they reached it. We know the crew experiences at least some of the force of movement, because in The Empire Strikes Back R2-Ds falls backward when they jump to hyperspace. So we can only assume that the Falcon has some amazing inertial dampeners.

As for the dimension of hyperspace itself, it is a very cool storytelling element, but for the most part it is fictitious. The closest we have come to even discussing it on Earth is in terms of the Heim Theory which tried to purport a unifying theory between quantum physics and general relativity. It allows for the existence of such higher dimensions that could theoretically be accessed and used like hyperspace. Burkhard Heim even speculated that a rotating magnetic field could reduce the influence of gravity on a spacecraft enough for it to take off, and -for a while- these theories actually made him something of a celebrity in the 1950’s. Unfortunately, they also never quite passed peer review and Heim is no longer studied as part of mainstream scientific research.

Spinning Up
The jump drive is another fantastical engine that is best portrayed in Battlestar Galactica where ships are instantaneously transported from one point in space to another, light years away, but is also appears in other science fiction media. Unfortunately, shows like Battlestar Galactica seemed to be too preoccupied with high impact drama and suggestive PG-13 sex scenes to really go into the mechanics of how their FTL drives worked. So we are left with only speculation.

It is possible that a jump drive would be related to a phenomenon known as quantum tunneling. In its purest form, tunneling is the process by which a particle passes through a barrier that it would not normally have passed through. It has a very low probability of happening at all, which increases as the target barrier’s thickness decreases. Also, as rare as this phenomenon is, it happens quite frequently inside the core of our own sun, mostly because the unfathomable number of particles in the sun means that statistically even low probable actions still take place on a regular occurrence. Scientists like Günter Nimtz, claim that when a particle tunnels through an object it does so instantly making its movement faster than light, though that has been heavily debated. Still, if that were to be true, this could be the basis for what you would call a jump drive.

Unfortunately, quantum tunneling has several major set backs. First of all, it has only ever been observed at the particle level, and would be incredibly hard to scale up to more complex forms of matter like you, or Starbuck, or Edward James Olmos. Even if we could scale it, quantum tunneling happens an improbably low amount of the time. An FTL drive that only allows you to jump 1 out of every 1,000 times is not going to be great when you’re fleeing from cylons. Even then, it is only possible over short distances, and we’re not talking four or five light years. We’re talking about minuscule distances, centimeters and multiple planck lengths. Lastly, scientists cannot even seem to agree if the particle even is traveling faster than light, as it would be inconsistent with Einstein’s Special Relativity. So we’re thinking a jump drive is probably fracked.

Chevrons Locked
Wormholes could offer a better solution. They have been portrayed in various science fiction properties, most notably in the Stargate franchise and the Mass Effect series. The best part about wormholes is that they are scientifically plausible. It has become almost cliche at this point to make the old analogy of space-time being like a piece of paper. You may not be able to go faster than light from the top of the page to the bottom of it, but if you fold the paper over and create a bridge through it than you could travel there almost instantly and still stay on Einstein’s good side. -We are also aware that we called the example cliche and then proceeded to use it as our example, but if it works it works- General relativity even predicted their existence, though we have yet to observe one.

Size is the first issue. If naturally occuring wormholes exist, they happen on a microscopic scale. Another issue is stability. As of right now we have very few ideas on how we could open a wormhole and even less on how to keep it open. It would require some sort of exotic negative mass or negative energy to do so. Both of which are theoretically sound, but we have yet to reliably observe them, let alone harness them for our purposes. Another tiny problem is the fact that, even if we could create or find one big enough, and even if we could keep it open and stable, we have no guarantee that inserting a foreign object or a human body would not cause it to immediately destabilize and collapse. Then even if does remain stable the affects of gravity inside the wormhole would unevenly affect anyone entering it, turning them into spaghetti, which would be very bad for MacGyver or whoever else was inside at the time.

We come now to the warp drive. It is one of the most talked about and plausible science fiction faster than light engines ever dreamed up, though we at the NYRD personally believe that is because most NASA scientists are also Trekkies. Star Trek has laid out the details of the warp drive pretty extensively. So we know it is powered by a mater/anti-matter reaction which is mediated through a non-reactive substance held in check by an electromagnetic field. This creates warp plasma which is channeled through warp coils that ultimately distort space around the ship. Now most of that is sci-fi technobable, but it has a foot in actual theoretical science, we mean at least as much as any show about Tribbles and green women can.

The Alcubierre Drive is a theoretical warp drive worked out by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, and essentially it works just like a Star Trek warp drive -again because Alcubierre is a Trekkie. According to Einstein, nothing can go faster than light, except -and its a big exception– space itself. At the moment of the Big Bang the fabric of space expanded faster than the speed of light, and space is still expanding to this day. The Alcubierre drive would essentially warp the space itself around a starship, causing the space in front to contract and the space behind the ship to expand. All the while, the USS Patrick Stewart is contained safely in a bubble of normal space time. Thus, a ship can achieve speeds faster than than light and the crew inside the ship would not even feel the inertia of acceleration.

Unfortunately, Alcubierre himself stated that this would take an amount of energy on par with the mass of the observable universe, though some scientists at the Johnson Space Center, believe they have gotten that down to about the mass of Voyager 1, which is better but still not ideal. Even more problematic, maintaining the stability of the warp bubble around the ship would again require negative or exotic matter, same as it would for the wormhole solution. However, and despite all its flaws, this theory is the current front-runner for the most plausible superluminal engine we have yet to come up with.

So, sorry Star Wars fans. You may have cool things like lightsabers, the Force, and a deep seated hatred of Jar Jar Binks, but Star Trek has the most plausible fictional way of traveling across the galaxy. Still, it is worth mentioning that Star Wars has always been more about myth and fantasy than science, and that is okay. The Jedi are samurai, Han Solo is a cowboy, and originally no one ever put much thought into how things work, just that they looked cool while doing it, but even impossible science fantasy is as a vital part of the human imagination and science. Ultimately, if you remove either science or imagination from the human experience, the remaining one would not be as strong as they it is today. The fantastical worlds of writers and artists inspire scientists and vice versa. Unfortunately, in the realm of interstellar flight our collective imagination is still outpacing our scientific achievement, at least until that day we all get a visit from a British man in a police box.

The science fiction novel, The Martian, by Andy Weir is a love letter to NASA and the human desire for space exploration. It is also one of the most plausible and scientifically accurate sci-fi novels in recent memory. Now, this weekend, the movie adaption comes to theaters and we here at the NYRD couldn’t be more excited, but then again we have always been big fans of journeying to the red planet. So to celebrate the opening of a movie that has its foundation in real science, we thought we would take you through some of the technology and aspects that you will be sure to see if you venture to the theaters to watch two-hours of Matt Damon trapped alone, without even a volleyball for company.

Hab Sweet Home
In the book and movie the story’s hero, Mark Watney, is stranded on Mars, but at least he has some things going for him. First of all, he has the habitation module or Hab for short. This is good because we all need a roof overhead, whether it be a one room studio walk up in downtown Manhattan or a multi-room state of the art module on the surface of Mars. Even if development of a real Hab is still a few years off, NASA has been testing crews in the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA). This analog helps crews learn to work and live together in a simulated deep-space mission. The two-story habitat is complete with living quarters, work spaces, a hygiene module, and a simulated airlock. Currently NASA is running just 14-day duration missions with crews but that will soon be increased to 60-days.

While on Mars, Watney is also forced to grow food in the inhospitable soil of Mars. He accomplishes this by mixing the Martian soil with nutrients and samples from Earth soil, along with his own special brand of compost… eww… Eventually he even yields a full crop of potatoes, but he is not the first person to grow plants beyond the limits of our little blue orb. Vegetables are grown everyday on the International Space Station, but lettuce is the staple of choice for our real-life astronauts. In fact, last year aboard the ISS they even grew Romain lettuce and ate it. That sounds unremarkable, but it is a big step in sustained space living. The vegetables are grown under red, yellow, and green lights in bags of soil mixed with fertilizer, which harvested by the astronauts… eww.

Of course now that Watney has all those potatoes to eat he needs something to wash it down with, and that is where the water recycling system would come in. The one used in the book is a bit more sophisticated than what we have today but still entirely plausible. The Environmental Control and Life Support System aboard the ISS recovers water from sweat, hand washing, tooth brushing, and even urine… eww… However, current methods of water reclamation return only about 85% of pre-used water. The WRS runs water through a series of filters and a centrifuge, since micro-gravity makes separation of gasses and liquids tricky in zero-G. Even better, the technology is being put to use here on Earth, to help developing countries and communities have safe and reusable drinking water.

One Small Breath for Man
Things like water, food, and a roof are only the creature comforts of a Martian stay. In the book and movie Watney needs to work and sweat for every accomplishment he makes, and one of his biggest problems is getting more oxygen. He uses a method of electrolysis to create more for himself, by splitting carbon dioxide to release the oxygen. On the ISS astronauts use a very similar process, except with water but where Watney was the air around him, the ISS just uses water. The excess hydrogen is then bled out into space or pumped back to the Sabatier System which uses it to create more water.

In 2020, the organization will sending a rover to Mars that will test taking in Martian atmosphere and applying electrolysis to produce oxygen right from the air itself. Also, NASA is now looking to get a leg up on their fictional counterparts. Since the writing of the book it has been discovered that water may be more prevalent in the red planet’s soil than originally thought. That would mean they could actually create oxygen straight from the ground.

A Walk on the Martian Side
However, if astronauts want to go outside they will still need to carry the majority of their oxygen with them. The atmosphere of Mars is cold and inhospitable. Mark Watney’s space suit, though it is still bulky and obnoxious is years ahead of the suits employed by astronauts today. Watney spends hours in his suit doing strenuous work and making long journeys. Current suits have too limited of a life span and are way too heavy to allow much work to get accomplished. Yet, NASA is currently testing the Z-2 suit prototype. This is by no means the final design, but the tests being conducted with it will help in the creation of the Z-3 suit, which will then help with the creation of the real suit that astronauts will wear on the surface of Mars.

Our future Martians are going to need a set of banging wheels, though, if they want to get anywhere worth going. We’re talking chrome rims, cherry red chassis, and maybe even a moon roof -considering Mars has two moons. Watney has two rovers in The Martian, which he cannibalizes and alters quite extensively to suit his purposes. NASA is currently testing the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). With a top speed of a blazing 6 miles per hour (10 kph), the vehicle has six wheels for stability and is being developed not just for use on Mars, but also on asteroids and moons. Some of the technologies are still begin perfected, such as lighter weight and more powerful batteries, but the MMSEV seems to be pretty close to what Watney uses on his little adventure.

However, one of the biggest problems with going outside on Mars is the dust. The soil in places can be very fine and it gets everywhere. Think, glitter except more annoying. The Martian dust can do everything from muck up sensitive equipment to cover energy-giving solar panels. Dust storms can last for weeks at a time and be as large as countries on Earth. They can even change the face of the planet in a matter of days. Currently the probes we have on Mars can wait out any dust storms before resuming there mission, but humans may not have that luxury. Going weeks without power in the middle of dust cloud that blocks out your solar panels is a death sentence. Watney encounter this situation later in the book, and currently NASA uses Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG), which doesn’t rely on solar power, and instead uses the decay of plutonium-238 to generate electricity for Curiosity and the upcoming 2020 rover, but we may not be too keen on having a radiation battery so close to our men and women on Mars.

Getting There
In The Martian, Watney and his crew are brought to Mars by the Hermes, a reusable ion-drive ship that was created expressly for making the round trip from Earth to Mars and back again. Ion thrusters are a very real thing. They use beams of ions -electrically charged atoms or molecules- to create thrust in accordance with momentum conservation, and though NASA has yet to develop a wing of TIE fighters -TIE stands for twin ion engines– it does present a very reliable source of thrust for spacecraft, albeit a very slow one. Relative to chemical engines the ion engine is lumbering, but way more efficient. NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) has a fuel efficiency of 10 to 12 times great than that of chemical rockets. Unfortunately, it needs to operate in excess of 10,000 hours to accelerate any space-bound object fast enough to reach even the asteroid belt.

Any ion engine will never be enough to get rockets off the ground, but once in space you can turn them on and leave them on, generating acceleration over time. In fact, we already have probes that use ion thrusters, including Deep Space 1, a project so named because I can only assume the geeks at NASA had hoped we could make at least 8 more of them. The Hermes follows the same principal, a small amount of applying a constant thrust to speed the craft up, but it takes the same amount of reverse thrust to slow the ship down, thus braking takes as long as acceleration. It becomes a factor in the movie, but we won’t spoil anymore of it for you.

Our recommendation is that yuo go see the movie, and if anything sparks your interest NASA has a whole lot of information about everything that is going on with our current plans or Mars. They are hoping to have a human on the red planet by the 2030’s, but that is going to take a massive investment of time, money, and passion by the American people, and the people of the world at large. With any luck movies like, The Martian, can help lay the ground work for the enthusiasm we need to get there. All the technological problems and challenges can be overcome, but without a willingness to go, we may never get off the ground.

Humanity needs to be able to fly or we will fall.

Do you have a hankering for domination? Is one world not enough? Do you fear incursions by hostile alien forces? Do you enjoy building your own star-ships or doomsday super-lasers? Then you might want to see a therapist because you may have had a psychotic break after that 12 hour Firefly marathon. However, if you are not currently being treated for wearing a tinfoil hat maybe you are just the right type of person who might be thinking of checking out StarDrive 2, a turn-based strategy game currently for sale on Steam.

This successor to the original StarDrive is all about using your economy, military, diplomacy, intelligence, or science to try and dominate the galaxy at large. Being a turn-based strategy game, we already know that StarDrive 2 will not be for everybody. It takes a lot of hours and a lot of micro-managing to really get the full enjoyment out of the game and that’s not everyone’s bag, but that’s cool. Some people play video games turn off their brain, however, we here at The NYRD -well except for Todd- are avid fans of clunky customization TBS games, and if there is one you can say about StarDrive 2, it can be clunky.

There is a lot going on and a lot to oversee, which as we said, is a plus or minus based upon your gaming desires. However, it also seems as if StarDrive 2 sometimes has an unfinished quality. The galactic map is beautiful, if not a little annoying to navigate, especially when your empire really begins to expand. Even the star-ship battles, despite the fact that they take place on a 2D plain -we guess someone hasn’t seen Wrath of Khan– are still very fun and engaging. The land battles however are pretty straightforward and their graphics are far below those of the rest of the game. Also load times seem longer than they should be, and the game has a tendency to lag, especially in ground combat. When you are given a mission the text display is often painstakingly slow, but for some of the instances you can at least click to get the full paragraph without having to watch as each word gets spelled out in front of you. However, the studio, Zero Sum Games, has been working hard to fix all those bugs and we applaud their efforts. More importantly, for all the flaws there are a lot of upsides.

What we enjoyed the most was that StarDrive 2 is almost as customizable as you want. You can rearrange the traits of starting races, you can rename planets and ships, and you can even redesign the specifications of those ships. This allows any-would-Admiral-Ackbar to create new roles and strategies, based upon how you build your fighters, corvettes, battleships, etc. Our biggest complaint is the fact that you cannot rename any of the star systems, which is a minor flaw, but when you are making the galactic civilization equivalent of the Seven Kingdoms, it would really help to keep you in the moment if you could be allowed to rename an entire star system to “Dorn,” or “The North,” but we are digressing… Seriously though, All we’re saying is that Emperor Robert Baratheon ruling from the planet of King’s Landing, should be situated in the star system of The Crownlands, not Sol… Okay, we’re done.

Another thing we enjoyed about playing this game was some of the tongue-in-cheek jokes that you find along the way. Admittedly, the stupid robot anchorman for the Galactic News Network got old fast as it kept popping up to interrupt our game-play. However, the parody references to Star Trek, Futurama, Mad Max, Rambo, and others of our favorite properties did not go unmissed or unappreciated. Even better, each anomaly, hired hero, or random event comes with a story line you can choose to pursue. Doing so not only gives the universe a real personality, but often results in some sort of scientific, economical, or military boon to your civilization. Unfortunately, those events do not randomize from game to game, so once you complete them once, you always know what to expect.

Lastly, the AI of other galactic civilizations is a mixed bag. Each civilization has its own personality and interacts with you in different ways by using different strategies, however they are not really that different. Besides a few minor things, each AI player still follows the same path of making demands, and -no matter how unreasonable those demands are- if you do not meet them, they hate you almost immediately. Even the friendlier races follow this same basic principal so most of galactic diplomacy comes to debating which unreasonable demands you can accept and which you can ignore to hold off an opposing player long enough for you to build up your space fleet and preemptively strike at their bases before they do the same to yours. During replays this can make the game follow similar rhythms, regardless of your race or build strategy, and ultimately it feels limiting to the replay value of the game.

Overall, we would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys and is well versed in turn-based strategy gaming. For casual gamers this may not be for you, especially at a price tag of $30.00. Our advice is to wait for the next Steam sale before you pick it up. It will give the developers more time to iron out some of the glitches and you can save a few bucks in the process… or BC’s as they say in the universe of StarDrive. Regardless, remember to hold onto your tinfoils hats, because we promise its going to be a crazy drive.

Image courtesy:

One of our great modern adventurers once said, “It’s a dangerous business going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The name of that explorer was none other than Bilbo Baggins, and he is someone who knows a thing or two about dangerous and far-off expeditions. In fact, to a hobbit who is standing at the door of his comfortable and well furnished hole in the ground, a journey to the Lonely Mountain must seem as impossible as a trip to another planet.

2015 marks 50 years since humans have been exploring the red planet, Mars. Mariner 4 was the first human made craft to successfully approach the planet on July 15, 1965, giving humans our first real view of the Martian surface. Since that day we have been sending probes, satellites, and rovers, but we have yet to set our big hairy feet on the planet’s surface. This is the dream of space exploration, the golden ring that NASA and others are reaching for. Our precious. However, to achieve it we need to embark on a journey unlike we have ever undertaken. We will face goblins and spiders, there will be peril and discovery. Yet we cannot turn away, because the riches we will find will be greater than any dragon treasure or magic ring.

Riddles in the Dark
There are many questions we must answer if we hope to get humans to Mars, and not the least of them has to do with the distance. Any communication between Earth and Mars could face a delay of up to 40 minutes and that means if our astronauts run into trouble anywhere between home and that far off land there will be no eagles there to catch them. Self-sufficiency and training is going to be key. Right now the plans for sending humans to Mars calls for a six person mission. Each crew member will not only need to have a specialty, such as mechanical engineering, flight training, Elven archery, or medical training, but also a good amount of cross training as well, because if you only have one doctor and he/she falls to the Balrog what do you do then? Additionally, the distance means that the crew does not have the ability to resupply. Any journey between Earth and the red planet could take anywhere between 150 to 300 days, depending on how the orbits of Mars and Earth line up. Astronauts will need to take all the water, air, and food they need to survive with them. It is true that we can recycle water from human waste and oxygen from the air we exhale, but the return is not 100%.

Of course, bringing all this extra oxygen, water, and food adds extra weight, and we’re not even talking about hobbit-meals with the option for second breakfast. At the bare minimum, NASA estimates that a crewed mission to Mars would need to lift twice the mass of the International Space Station, about 1.76 million pounds (800 metric tons.) Even worse a need for back ups and secondary expendables like air filters and spare parts also adds more weight. These are the types of things that, if broken, the astronauts would not be able to repair on their own, and are mission – if not survival- critical.

Then of course there are the more intangible dangers, the subtle Sauron-esque black magics of the universe. Environmental hazards, isolation-based psychological issues, and possible long-term health problems. Mars is a lot like Mordor except instead of orcs and the Dead Marshes, you would probably be more worried about things like freezing to death or getting microwaved. In fact, the planet has an average temperature of about -75 degree Fahrenheit (-60 degree Centigrade) which is colder than the average temperatures in northern Russia. There is also very little protection offered from solar activity. Mars does not have a magnetic field like Earth and the atmosphere is too thin to breathe, let alone absorb UV radiation. Even the gravity can be a problem, being only 38% of Earth normal. When humans are exposed to weak gravity for too long our muscles and bones degenerate, growing weaker and atrophied. Astronauts on the space station exercise constantly to combat the effects, and even then they still come back and go through months of physical rehabilitation, so you can imagine what an extended trip to and stay on the red planet might do to the humans who undertake it. Combine all that with the isolation, possibly claustrophobic travel/living conditions, and constant danger and our astronauts are going to be have to made of mental mithril just to make it through one mission, which could last up to two years.

Barrels Out of Bonds
The good news is that, much like Biblo, we can handle the journey, even if we don’t realize it yet. Any adventure starts with putting one foot in front of the other and we have already been doing that for more than fifty years. Everything we have learned from the Apollo missions, the Mars probes, the International Space Station, and more are being applied to vanquishing these trolls. New technologies are being developed every day, nano-tech materials that are harder and lighter than anything we currently have, new power and engine solutions, and even renewable food sources. Some of our best and brightest are already close to making breakthroughs in several of these fields, and most top thinkers believe that we will have the solutions by the time we are ready to finally face down the dragon that is the red planet.

That is not to say we have been sitting around and waiting. We already have a lot of the answers we are looking for. First of all, no Mars mission will happen in one blast-off, which means that the weight can be distributed over several rocket launches and trips to Mars. Equipment will be sent ahead of the manned crew capsule and will be waiting for the astronauts upon their arrival. We even have techniques for possibly extracting air and rocket fuel from the Martian environment for the return journey. That means we can send a return rocket to the Martian surface and let it collect fuel and confirm remotely that it is working and safe before we ever even send any humans into space.

Secondly, NASA has also been testing the Orion capsule and the SLS rocket, both of which are on track to get humans to Mars by the 2030’s. The Orion capsule will hold a crew of six people but will need to work in conjunction with a larger trans-planetary vessel. The Orion is little more than a modern version of the Apollo capsule and it will be too cramped for six people to spend four or five months making the journey to Mars. After all, even Bilbo had more personal space with thirteen dwarves and Ian McKellen always hanging around on his journey. So a larger ship with room to move about and some personal space could go a long way to helping our brave adventures keep fit both physically and menatally. That vessel is still begin designed.

Over the Hill Under the Hill
Human beings have been obsessed with the red planet for as long as we have had the capability to look up into the sky. Mars has always held a special place in our legends and stories, and that is odd when you think about it. Mars is not the closest planet to our own, that is Venus. It is not particularly large either, at least as planetary bodies go. Yet, we have had an obsession with it for at least 120 years, when Percival Lowell first believed that he discovered the canals of an extraterrestrial civilization. Much like Thorin Oakenshield and his Lonely Mountain there is something compelling us to go, as if it was our destiny all along, but we still need to find the will to undertake this incredible endeavor.

Gandalf pushed Biblo Baggins into his journey because he knew he was ready. The hobbit was more than comfortable to stay at home and live out a peaceful, if uninteresting life, among the creature comforts of the Shire. Like Bilbo we too could stay on Earth, biding out time with iPhones and blackberry tarts with slabs of butter, or we can accept the calling that has been set before us. Gandalf recognized something special in the small hobbit, and though we may not have a wandering gray wizard to give us a kick in the right direction, this is an adventure we know we must undertake. We can feel its pull as keenly as Bilbo did.

Chalk it up to curiosity, stupidity, or the human need to explore, but Mars is the next logical step, and not just for NASA but all of us. We went to the moon with Apollo, to prove that one country was better than another. Now we need to go to Mars to prove that humanity is better than what we once were. The goal of any journey is the destination, but the experiences along the way are what change us. There will be challenges and hardships, triumphs and cheers, but if we choose not to take the road laid out before us we will regret it. The Bilbo Baggins that returned to the Shire was not the same one who left it. Like the hobbit, humanity will emerge from this great endeavor bolder, wiser, and with a new understanding about what we are capable of accomplishing. Watching members of our own species set foot on an alien world and shift the red sands of Mars will remind us of how small we really are and the amazing things we can achieve together.

On the Doorstep
We are going to Mars. NASA has the plans laid out, and have been underway with preparations for years. In our lifetimes we will see a human being touch the surface of another planet. There are still a lot of questions about budget and technology, but those can be resolved. Our science, our understanding of the universe, and even our drive have never been higher. The journey will not be an easy one, but the best ones never are. We do not yet have all the answers to escape the goblins and slay the dragons that lay ahead, but we will learn. Whether it be a magic glowing sword, or an answer for artificial gravity we will discover new solutions for whatever stands in our way, and we will be better for it.

We are not saying that humanity will change all at once, but it will happen. We have already come so far from the world that once sent three men to the moon, that one small step for man. It would be easy to rest there, to not push on. We have already reached Rivendale, a milestone in our greater journey, a place we could stop and say look what we have already done. Yet, we must once again set out into a cold world full of danger and possibility. Mars is the destination, and even that is just another step in some greater journey. Humanity will expand our reach to another planet and beyond, because that is where the road is leading and it is one we must follow:

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And [we all] must follow, if [we] can.

“Oxygen levels, seven percent,” said the tinny emotionless voice.

Two days since the accident. Two days, since the death of the crew. Sometimes I can almost see a face, soft and warm with red lips, like roses, and the greenest eyes of spring lawn. A man could lie in them for hours and forget the world. A man could almost feel the grass blades between bare toes, and the cool nighttime breeze across goose-pimpled skin, like when I was a kid, left to lay for hours gazing at the stars.

The stars, I could never get enough of them, sitting outside till I was dragged to bed. The irony has not escaped even my oxygen starved brain. I suppose the universe does have a sense of humor. Those stars will be the last thing I ever see. Still, they are beautiful.

The sky outside rotates slowly, an endless cycle of glittering diamonds. The explosion that kicked me clear must have sent me into a spin, slow enough to not be dizzying, but fast enough that I can trace the movements of constellations across my viewplate. I have become a world unto myself, small and alone, floating through the void and surrounded by billions of tiny reminders of light and possibility. Some are known to me and others still deeply unfamiliar. If only I had an eternity to unlock their secrets, but I am down to mere hours.

Hair as soft as silk and as dark as the endless void, it smelled of lunch meat, but that was only in the morning. The kids used to laugh as we played rocketship, while she made their lunch. I can almost see her face. James, I love you, come home to me. It floats before me, obscured and distorted, like a figure trapped under the ice, kicking and screaming for air, but it’s gone. Now, I am alone.

The only thing real is the groan of my stomach, louder than before. The only image I can hold is the tube of paste I ate for breakfast so many days ago. I think it was banana. It tasted like metal. They always tasted like metal. I’m thirsty, but not “I just ran five-miles thirsty,” just “I could use a drink” thirsty. A beer would be nice. The saline indicator on my helmet is below zero. The emergency supply ran out hours ago, or days ago. There is no difference anymore.

Saturn rises across my field of vision. Its rings are back-lit by the sun and the powdery blue dust that surrounds the god-planet’s rings are shining like a thin wire of razor, beautiful and bright. It gives the whole planet the illusion of a motion faster than any purported by science. The great orb is like a spinning top on a whirling axis. It was my obsession, my only religion for so many years. All I wanted to do was see it with my own eyes, and now my eyes turn beyond it. In the distance, sits a bright blue dot.

Home is not a place, it’s a feeling, it’s family. Whenever you think of us, you’ll be home. The words come distant and half-remembered. My father spoke them on the day I left for college or was it the academy. He is dead now, and when I think of his face I see nothing. I feel only the cold in my fingertips. I never made it home for the funeral, a six month mission made it an impossibility. Everyone said they understood, of course they did. Maybe I never could.

“I’m sorry, Dad.”

Never say you’re sorry for that which is beyond your control. I am proud of you, son. Was it in my head? Was it my imagination? Did the suit’s communication system just come to life? It’s not possible. There is no one within a billion kilometers. I am the only human, the only thing alive out here. I am truly alone, and I am delusional.

“Oxygen levels, five percent.”

The flames, the rush of air, the silence. I come awake with a start from the half remembered dream, or was it a half-dreamt memory. Saturn is in full view. Even at this distance it dwarfs everything. Distantly, I hope I get to see it one more time, before I finally let go.

Hold on, son. Hold on to life. As long as you draw breath there is hope. I remember when he first said that me. His voice echoed from below, through the winter trees. We were camping and I had slipped from a tree limb. I had climbed too high. The limbs were too weak to support me. I have been trying to reach something, but the goal itself is beyond memory. Only the climb remains.

Hope is everything. Never lose it. This time the comm indicator sprang to life. The words weren’t imagined. They were real, spoken over the short distance channel.

“Dad?” my voice is raw and cracked. It hurts to speak, but it is maddening to stay silent. “Dad, is that you? Where are you?”

The only reply is my own breathing. I am beginning to slip. The isolation has taken its toll. Hypothermia is beginning to set in. The suit’s internal life support is slowly shutting down, like a deer succumbing to snow and frost, stumbling ignorantly towards its cold lonely end.

“Oxygen level, three percent.”

I wake. “Dad.” I don’t know if I screamed it. It’s hard to gauge how loud something is inside a helmet of plastic and metal. I struggle to get control of my flailing limbs. They no longer feel like part of my body. They no longer feel like flesh, just wood, nothing more than useless branches attached to a dying and forgotten tree.

I remember his eyes. They were bluer than the sky, bluer than the icicles that used to form on our garage.

I’m here, son. The LED indicators on my helmet are dead. There is no way of verifying the transmission source, but I am certain it is a transmission all the same. Saturn is gone now, replaced again with the endless ocean of stars.

“How is this possible?”

Moments fade, even memories die away, but love remains. Suddenly, there is light and color and I can see his face. It is a distant memory. I must have been very young. He still had his hair and that stupid mustache, but it was the same toothy grin.

“You’re not here. You’re dead. Gone.” I close my eyes and the light fades. Only the stars remain, eternal and fixed.

Everything must end. Even the stars are not forever. Their light is older than we can imagine. Most are dead even as they shine down on us. He is older now. His face shaded beneath the nighttime sky, only half facing me. His eyes sit transfixed on something above us.

“Dead.” I let the word hang there. Maybe for the first time I truly begin to question its meaning. Death, the concept seems almost beyond the scope of imagining, if not understanding. How can one word hold so much meaning and so much abstraction?

“Oxygen level, two percent,” says the computer as if in rebuttal to my musings, but even its voice of certainty is beginning to grow slow with the frost. I never considered what might happen to that voice. It will die with me, without ever having been alive. For some reason the thought saddens me. Man and machine will meet their end together.

But just because something ends, doesn’t mean it goes away. Look at the stars. Even after they have disappeared from the universe their light continues to shine. They continue to inspire and drive us. They are still beautiful. So why does death need to be any different? I could almost feel his hand on my shoulder as we stood before the casket of my mother. His face is blurry, but only because I watch him through tears.

“You’re not here. There is no life after death. No heaven or hell.” Such fantasies were sweet lies told to children to give comfort in times of grief. I know that. I’m a scientist and I know what happens to a person after death. Neural pathways shut down, the body stops pumping blood, cells starve for oxygen. They die, nothing less and nothing more. There is no light. Their isn’t even a tunnel.

My son, the scientist. You know so much. What do you know? Nothing. Quantum mechanics, string theory, dark energy? His face is angry, distorted somewhere between rage and pity. Fancy words to mean that for as much as you think you know, you still know nothing. Maybe God isn’t in the sky. Maybe he’s in us, tangled in the places between quarks, or unseen in the fifth, or sixth, or even thirteenth dimension? What if he is speaking to us now through the vibrations of a quantum string or calling to us through cosmic radiation?

“There is no God. We live. We die.” My mouth moves mechanically, rehashing the old argument, but the words just feel cold in my mouth, as if they too have been frozen by the void around me.

What good is your science if it only dashes hope? Hope is everything.

“We’re dead particles, brought to life for a brief second through a freak accident of nature. Dust to dust and ash to ash.”

Stardust and cosmic ash, perhaps. Those particles were forged in stars, created at the beginning of time itself. We are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out. There is a spark of the cosmos in us and that is no accident. We are part of something greater. How can that mean nothing?

“I miss you, Dad.”

“Oxygen level, one percent.” The hum of the air filters quiets. I had grown so accustomed to them I didn’t even realize they were still on. Now there is no sound. All the suit’s systems are dead. I am not far behind. My eyes feel heavy. I close them to rest, if only for a moment

Death is nothing to fear. Take it from a dead man.

“I want to believe you. I wish you were here.”

I am always with you. If space and time are one, then do any of us truly ever exist, ever truly stop existing? Maybe we never really go away. Maybe we are always here, like faint echoes bouncing around the great vastness.

“Even after you’re dead you’re still lecturing me.” I try to put the joke to my voice, but it comes out flat especially in the lonely dome of my helmet.

Only trying to show you the way. Like a light from a long-gone star.

Could the voice be right? Time is an illusion tethered by gravity, and if there is one thing I am lacking, it’s gravity. Then why am I so short on time? I open my eyes. Saturn has returned and I can almost feel it smiling down on me, like an eternal deity. In that moment, I remember my mythology. My father would have laughed. Saturn is the god of time.

I wait, but the voice says no more. Real or imagined, it’s gone. The only sound is my shallow breathing. I know am breathing in my own CO2. Each slow gasp seems more unsatisfactory than the last, but those are distant sensations. My body seems suddenly unimportant, because my eyes are growing heavy and before they close the last thing I see is my god.

Who among us has not gazed out into the night sky and envisioned the possibilities. Science fictions are all about possibilities. Our graphic artists have taken some of NASA best images and used their skill to insert some of our favorite stories, because space is a vast and incredible place, and there is no telling what is really up there.

Who knows, we may even be up there ourselves someday. Until then, we can only dream.

It’s been a good week for NASA. We got our first look at Pluto and now the scientists on the Kepler Project have just announced their discovery of a new Earth like planet found in the habitable zone of a distant star system. The imaginatively names Kepler 452 is a G type yellow dwarf, just like our own, and it is about 1,400 light years from Earth. In other words, we won’t be stopping by anytime soon to drop off a quiche and meet the new neighbors. The planet in question, Kepler 452b, is estimated to be 5 times larger than Earth, which means it would have twice our gravity… So we are thinking planet of the Dwarves?

Interestingly, the size seems to be the main difference between our small blue orb and the world of the distant bearded warrior race that is surely living in their mountain palaces on Kepler 452b. The planet is in an almost near identical orbit as Earth, only about 5 percent further from its host star. That means the length of a Dwarven year on the planet is almost the same as our own, about 386 days. We at The NYRD like to believe they have a longer summer break. Additionally, the amount of energy that the planet receives is only slightly higher than what Earth gets, only about 10% more energy, which might explain why the space Dwarves have to live underground in their mountain homes. They don’t tan well.

What is really awesome about this discovery is that Kepler 452b is older than Earth. It has been circling its star in the habitable zone for about 6 billions years, and that is plenty of time for not just life, but advanced life to form. For right now there is no way to confirm if the planet is actually habitable or not. Remember Mars is also in our sun’s “goldilocks” zone, and it is a rocky barren world, but this is an amazing step forward in exo-planetary science.

All this was discovered using the Kepler Space Telescope. Our new favorite floating planet hound was launched in 2009. With sophisticated and very sensitive equipment it measures the light coming from distant stars and makes note of fractional decreases in that light as a world orbits in front of that star. Finding possible Earth-like planets is the trickiest as their size and relatively close orbits make them the hardest to observe. It then uses a very complicated set of computers and computations -which we of course understand but feel it best not to go into right now- to determine the size and distance of the planet to the star. By measuring both the mass and size of any planet, NASA can then try to calculate its density and from that try to estimate what it is made out of, of rock, water, or gas. Scientists have a pretty good feeling that Kepler 452b is rocky.

NASA also announced 11 more Earth-like candidates that have yet to be confirmed. So far the number of confirmed exo-planets is 1,030. There are still a lot more worlds to map and a lot more questions to be answered. Like will our new Dwarven neighbors be friendly? Could we communicate with them? Are they already dead, annihilated by some sort of dragon-super-weapon of their own making? Is there a also a nearby planet of Elves that they have a grudge with? What is up with the beards, is it biological or simple a hipster fashion?

Then again, maybe the planet is not full or dwarves, but Ewoks, or Tellarites? And most importantly, what should we name Kepler 452? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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LAST UPDATED: 12/15/15

Captain’s log, stardate 147.15

After a nine year mission we have finally reached our destination, the dwarf planet Pluto. We are more than 3 billion miles from Earth and moving more than 30,000 miles per hour, which means we only have a very brief window which to study the icy ball which has taken so long for us to reach. We are also finding that we must be alert, as even the smallest of debris could severely impair our mission and destroy our craft. However, the crew is in good spirits. My first officer has even grown a beard for the occasion. Personally, I think it looks a bit hipster, but he says that it’s “in” now with the kids.

These Are the Voyages
After almost ten years the NASA probe New Horizons reached Pluto early in the morning on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. At its closest point the probe came within 7,750 miles of the dwarf planet’s surface. That is the distance from New York to Mumbai. The New Horizon is the first ever craft to explore Pluto, and it makes Pluto the most distant object to ever be explored thoroughly by humans. This mission is the capstone to NASA’s exploration of our solar system. Humans have now studied all of the major nine bodies that orbit our son, as well as a few other bodies, such as the dwarf planets Ceres and Vesta in the Asteroid Belt.

Due to the immense technical requirements of studying and sending data back to Earth from 3 billion miles away, New Horizons can only take pictures or conduct scientific research, but not do both simultaneously. Even once the probe has collected the data it will take 16 months to send the full cache of data back to NASA, ten years worth of information.

The pictures that New Horizons has sent back so far are simply stunning, but the data that it has collected will be invaluable, and not just for furthering our understanding of Pluto, proto-planets, and the Kupier Belt, but for advancing NASA’s mission to put humans on Mars. Every new piece of information we learn brings us closer to the stars, both figuratively and literally. New Horizons has so far given us the most clear pictures of Pluto we have ever seen. Previous to these photos all we ever had were blurry, splotched images taken by Hubble.

A Class P World
Pluto, the former ninth planet of the solar system, is made up of rock, water ice, and frozen nitrogen. So far the New Horizons probe has discovered that the dwarf is bigger than expected, confirming that it is the largest object in the Kupier Belt, even if Eris is denser. However, don’t get your hopes up, it is still classified as a dwarf planet. If you don’t like it, you can always send more angry tweets to Neil deGrasse Tyson. It won’t change anything, but maybe it will make you feel better. What is amazing is that preliminary data may show that there is geological activity going on through some process on the dwarf planet, which is billions of miles from the Sun. That would have some amazing implications for exo-geology. We have also confirmed that Pluto has a thin atmosphere which is capable of bending light. Not that it matters as much on the farthest reaches of the solar system where our own sun looks like nothing more than another distant star in the sky. We have also found that the planet is leaking nitrogen into space, at a faster rate than scientists predicted. This also seems to imply that Pluto might have a geological way of replenishing the nitrogen from within its own crust.

Pluto has five moons that we know of, and two of those moons were only discovered after New Horizons launched in January 2006. There could be more, which we have yet to discover, but that is both exciting and scary. If New Horizons were to impact with an unknown Plutonian moon, we would have no idea what happened to it.

Set Course…
On a more sentimental note, New Horizons is also carrying the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh aboard. He was the man who discovered Pluto in 193o, and put to rest theories about a mysterious Planet X orbiting out beyond Neptune. His children were also in attendance on Tuesday for the eventful moment when New Horizons made its flyby of the dwarf planet.

This probe is just another in a recent string of accomplishments for NASA, from the Curiosity rover to the Messenger probe. The space organization will look to use this to help springboard its success to even greater heights, the ultimate goal being a manned mission to Mars.

The New Horizons is going too fast to make orbit around Pluto, but it will have a few days to collect data and incredible pictures. It will also give us our first glimpse of the dark side of Pluto, let’s hope there are no alien civilizations hiding on the other side biding their time until they can invade, not that we’re saying that is a possibility… but you never know.

Afterwards the New Horizons will be off into the Kupier Belt following in the footsteps of the Voyager probes. Some estimates say that this most current probe could last for another twenty years, taking readings of our farthest asteroid belt before maybe even making it into interstellar space. I guess we will just have to wait and see what new exciting findings the New Horizons will have in store as it boldly goes where no man has gone before, literally.

End Captain’s Log