Where No Man Has Gone Before

I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek recently with my girlfriend. No, not the new action packed movies that star Chris Pine and Simon Pegg and some other actresses and actors I can’t remember off the top of my head. I’m not watching Enterprise, Voyager, or Deep Space Nine, I’m not even sure if I’ve actually watched a full episode of any of those knock offs. It’s not The Next Generation, which does kick major ass with Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard. My eyeballs are getting stuffed with the sweet old school, super colorful, groundbreaking original series created by Gene Roddenberry, featuring the all start cast of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and James Doohan.

The original Star Trek television serial is one of those shows I believe everyone should watch at least once. The acting is sometimes terrible, the special effects were amazing for it’s time and budget, it deals with themes that are still valid today, and the fight scenes are incredibly cheesy and poorly shot. This may not sound like much of a pitch, but I promise you, it’s definitely entertaining. The show has had such an influence on our culture that watching all 79 episodes is a history lesson on a number of television tropes that are still popular today.

Star Trek start airing in 1966, a time when the two most powerful countries on the planet were toying with the idea of mutual self destruction. The United States and the USSR were locked in a cold war, and both nations were stockpiling nuclear arms. The idea of Star Trek was to show a future where humanity has succeeded at achieving peace on Earth, and was now traveling the stars with other alien nations, with a crew made up of various ethnicity working together for a common goal. It was the first television series to feature a black woman, Nichelle Nichols, in a prominent role. It featured the first on-screen interracial kiss. On the bridge Walter Koenig played Chekov, a man with a heavy Russian accent.

Star Trek took the world as it was, when black people were fighting for civil liberties and two nations teetered on the brink of war, and showed us there was light at the end of the tunnel. That people were better, and could be better, if we worked together. Many of the episodes had plots that revolved around war, racism, tolerance and working towards peaceful resolutions. Asking questions came well before shooting.

The series was grounded in science. The researchers for the program were phenomenal, and many of the devices that were branded as futuristic are used today. The communicators are the best example, today we call them cellphones. The warp engines were based on the physics being studied at the time, the medical tricorder that was often used by Dr. McCoy are slowly becoming a reality, and Star Trek at it’s core is about space exploration. With government agencies like NASA and private enterprises like SpaceX, it looks like space exploration is becoming popular once again. Sure, the show featured time travel and parallel universes, but Star Trek still tended to focus on hard science fiction ideas.

William Shatner, as Captain James Tiberius Kirk, is a damn treat to watch. He’s not a particularly great actor by any stretch, but he’s a character unto himself. His speech pattern is strange, his presence is enormous, and he eats up the scene in every shot he’s in. Every time he’s in front of the camera, I’m pretty much glued to the screen. William Shatner is the best when he’s playing William Shatner (although apparently he’s a accomplished stage actor, which is a different beast all together).

The reason I’ve decided to talk about star Trek is, firstly, I’m watching a ton of it right now. That is something that is going on in Mr. Charlton’s life at the moment. Secondly, it was a vehicle used to talk about a lot of moral and social issues at the time, and it can still apply to the issues our society faces today. The coolest thing about Star Trek is Gene Roddenberry ideal future landscape, where humanity has overcome it’s differences to explore the stars. The show was about scientific discovery, locating and documenting new phenomenon, and how rationality and logic would prevail over ignorance and fear.

So, if you’re in the mood for low budget, cheesy, thought provoking science fiction, with weird choreographed fight scenes and bizarre acting, you can’t go wrong with Star Trek – The Original Series. Definitely one of my guiltier pleasures.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. My girlfriend actually will sit down and watch it with me, and I believe that’s a testament regarding the shows entertainment value.

p.s.s. Start with ‘The Arena’. Classic.

The SpaceX Race: Part Two

Five hundred dollars. That’s the price point Elon Musk has decided on to get a pound of material into space. To get the average human being into space, you’d be looking at somewhere in between $60,000 to $100,000 dollars. Although that might seem pricey, if the ticket was a one way to another celestial body, we’re looking at a future where passage to the moon or the planet mars is affordable for you or me. Space is the final frontier, and unlike the New World explorers of the 15th and 16th century, there’s no boundary to space and there probably isn’t anyone already living on most of those planets.

There’s one issue. Right now there is a gate to space. The gravitational field surrounding the Earth not only requires an extraordinary amount of energy to leave, but any debris left in this orbit makes every subsequent journey much more difficult. The orbit around Earth doesn’t need to just be tidy, it needs to be relatively spotless. Bits of dust become bullets, and nuts and bolts become missiles.

Although there’s already people working on a solution, most of the ideas are still theoretical. There’s lasers, laser brooms, small robots getting sent out as futuristic little garbage men. One of the most promising ideas being put into motion is a joint venture from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Nitto Seimo Co., a company that, believe it or knot, makes some of the world’s fishing nets. What they plan on doing is sending up a rocket with the net. Once in orbit, the rocket deploys this net, a wire trap that is roughly seven kilometers long. It will orbit the Earth, picking up rubbish along the way. As it picks up space waste, it will become magnetically charged, which will draw it back to Earth, burning the net and the refuse in the process.

The question remains. Do we want corporations to head the exploration of this uncharted territory? Do we want economic prosperity to drive the adventurers of the 21st century? Honesty, the drive to explore new places and travel uncharted waters was always for economic reasons. When the Old world sent ships to the Americas, it was to discover a new trading route to India. These souls who risked life and limb weren’t in it purely for the thrill of adventure and excitement, their reasons were grounded in the pursuit of financial gain. After the United States landed on the moon, people got bored with space exploration. There didn’t seem to be anything useful up there. The last lunar rover to land on the moon was the Chinese Yutu, and they’re looking to mine the lunar body for Helium-3, an energy source.

Even though Elon Musk’s plans for space exploration aren’t as altruistic as some people would have you think, there is something admirable about a man, outside of the regulatory bodies of international governments, who wants to go to Mars. He’s even expressed the desire to die on Mars. At the price point that he’s trying to achieve, there may come a time when many people end up leaving Earth for redder pastures.

I’m not against corporations putting the first foot forward. I remain caution, as the Earth’s orbit remains the only boundary between humanity as a star-faring people, and the humanity which would be doomed to face our extinction on the rock where we were born. If we don’t venture out to the stars, and venture soon, then we may unfortunately never grow outwards and realize a greater potential as a species. If a company makes a mistake, then we could be grounded on Earth.

Space exploration should be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. We all should be extremely excited to see people, from whatever nation or company they happen to be from, make the leap for mankind. For some reason, we’re not. I’d love to see people cheer on a mission to Mars, but I fear it could end up like the lunar missions. I’m hoping that one day, we not only land on our neighbor, the red planet of Mars. What I’m really hoping for though, is we find a reason to go back.

To wrap it up, I have a question for everyone. If you were presented with the opportunity to leave the planet, to leave your family and friends, knowing full well you may never return, for the chance to live on another world? Honestly, I’m not sure I actually could. But I’m hoping some of you would answer with a resounding ‘Yes’.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. Well, I’d be a lot more inclined to go up there if they’ve got a solid Wifi connection.

p.s.s. Did you notice the ‘knot’ pun when I was talking about fishing nets? Funny thing, Nitto Seimo was the pioneer when it came to ‘knotless’ nets. Go figure.

The SpaceX Race

Elon Musk is shooting for the moon. Not literally, mind you. He’s shooting for Mars. Elon Musk and his venture, SpaceX, represents the first of what will soon be many; a private industrialist’s foray into space exploration. Up until recently, the exploration of space has been limited to governments. While the funding for NASA was high during the cold war, it tapered off afterwards, as the two competing countries had little to prove. This has changed in recent years, as countries like China and India make their way into space. People are becoming interested in space again.

Normally, during the launch of a rocket, the primary booster is jettisoned and discarded. To lower the cost of sending things into space, SpaceX is trying to reuse these boosters by landing them of at sea. SpaceX has managed to successfully land three reusable rocket boosters back onto platforms out at sea.

You might be one of those people who are wondering why we’re even still bothering with space. Right now, you’re rolling your eyes, saying “Mr. Charlton, there is nothing out there in space.” Pardon me if I come across a little rude here, but I’ll tell you what is in space. The Goddamn rest of the Universe.

There’s energy to be harvested, heavy metals to extract, light metals for those who prefer a more classic sound, water, and maybe even the possibility of life. Not to mention there is one monstrous thing waiting out there for the first person who decides to get there first. Money. With all of these resources out there, completely untouched and untapped, the first person to get their hands on that treasure would be untouchable. There’s trillions of dollars worth of resources out there. Space mining may create the first trillionaires.

Wrapped up in mask of someone who has humanities best interest at heart, whether it’s with space exploration or electric cars, you have to remember that Elon Musk is a business man, first and foremost. He’s known for SpaceX and Tesla, but was the founder of PayPal, the giant online service that handles billions of dollars of web transactions. I’m not suggesting that what Elon Musk is doing is less than admirable or without merit to humanity. He’s changed the way we do business with PayPal, he’s changing the way we drive and commute with Tesla, and he’s changing the way we look at space with SpaceX.

The only thing concerning me is he want to get other companies up into space. Governments, minus the occasional ‘Star Wars’ idea of putting nuclear devices in space, have so far been respectful of space. Would corporations be as respectful of the stars as they are of my space down here?

The last thing I want to see in the sky is a massive space billboard, a digital projection across the ionosphere, saying ‘Today’s sunshine brought to you by Coca-Cola’. You can be absolutely certain some cretin in the Coca-Cola marketing department would read this and think to themselves “You, know what, if we could do that, that would be great. Wouldn’t you want to see that? A friendly reminder to our customers that, hey, if your feeling parched, there’s always the refreshing taste of Cola-Cola to quench your thirst.”

I kid. Realistically though, there is another issue, and it still has to do with corporations entering space. It’s the debris. As you read this, there are roughly 29,000 bits of trash larger than a cantaloupe, 670,000 pieces of trash bigger than a marble, and there’s 170 million pieces smaller than that. Even something like a fleck of paint can do damage when it’s traveling at kilometers per second. Should an error occur, and a commercial rocket ends up accidentally hitting a satellite, then the results could be catastrophic. The two object could break into thousands of pieces themselves. This debris could impact other satellites, causing them to get destroyed and become trash as well. It’s called the Kessler syndrome, a runaway of space collisions, rendering our ability as a species to leave the planet impossible. Simply put, if there’s too much junk in orbit, we as species will be unable to leave and be stuck on Earth.

Should we be worried about corporations leading the pack regarding space exploration? Will they be able to handle their own due diligence in our orbit? I’ll be talking about that tomorrow.

Sincerely,

The Illustrious Mr. Charlton

p.s. It’s a big enough topic for two posts, so I’m going to milk it when I can.

p.s.s. Although I’d be annoyed with a commercial, projecting a movie from space would be an interesting way to bring the world together.