Life on Mars won’t be awful

Is life a disgusting toil of never ending disappointment to you?

Myself, I believed my life, and life in general is rather fantastic. There are those who walk among us who disagree. Gerry Flynn wrote a blog titled “Life On Earth Is Shit, Life On Mars Will Be Just As Awful“. It’s just as full of adolescent name calling and unrealistic hyperbole as one would expect from the title. The first sentence completely sets the tone: It says a lot about our life on Earth that when Mars One announced in April 2013 nearly 200,000 meat-sacks decided that their futile existence of toil, eczema and club-points would be infinitely improved if blasted millions of miles away from the rest of society and into space. The post is a complete fabrication  from the author’s opinions, however I feel it important to tackle the text. Misconception is never a good thing. I realize it’s been posted under comedy, but I don’t find this angry text fun or beneficial to the wider understanding of exploration.

Life On Earth Is Shit, Life On Mars Will Be Just As Awful

Let’s start with the title. We have it good on Earth, despite what the news will tell you. We live in the most peaceful time in human history. We have an ever increasing life expectancy across the world. We are constantly creating an increasing amount of data that tells us more and more who we are. Things are good, and they are getting better.

I absolutely reject that life on Earth is shit. It’s never been better. Life on Mars will be difficult, just as any exploration is. Because something is challenging doesn’t make it awful and extending falsehoods about Earth to future exploration in the solar system is damaging to those explorations.

Firstly, my suspicion was aroused by the involvement of Lockheed Martin – a company who having long since perfected the art of decimating mankind with the ruthlessly efficient innovation of high powered death machines and are now taking time out from their regular schedule of being a real-life version of ACME from Looney Tunes to assist Big Brother in Space (as I’m sure it’ll be renamed before liftoff) in propelling the next generation of humanity into another fruitless existence on an even more barren and inhospitable planet than Staines could ever aspire to.

If your suspicions are aroused by the involvement of Lockheed Martin in a space mission, that tells me you know nothing about space. Lockheed build the Hubble, the spacecraft that gives us all those fantastic background pictures for our computers. They’ve been involved with half a dozen other space telescopes, not to mention being the prime contractor for several Mars missions including the Phoenix lander. This is of particular importance, because the Mars One lander is based off the Phoenix architecture due to the similarities in water extraction for both missions. This is a perfectly reasonable course of action and is no cause for alarm.

What with the Mars One mission statement consisting of barely a single paragraph, namely extolling the virtues of “inspiring future generations,” but chiefly aiming to establish a human settlement on Mars, it’s hard to see what the point of all this interstellar butt-fuckery is.

A mission statement should be clear, easily understood sentence. It reads It is Mars One’s goal to establish a human settlement on Mars. That seems pretty clear to me. The point, as was eloquently put, is to establish a permanent settlement on a celestial body other than Earth. There are many reasons to study Mars, and many more to settling the planet. It’s a big idea, with lots of complex parts. I get that it’s not easy to grasp. It is not, however, butt-fuckery. Nor is it interstellar; that’s something completely different.

Considering what an awful, money-grubbing, bastard society of shit-gobs we’ve crafted down here on Earth, what little hope can be reserved for our colonising cousins – especially when the Mars One website compares its batch of space-monkeys to “Vikings and famed explorers of Old World Europe.” So in essence they’re going to go and introduce credit-lending financial systems to whatever resides out there in the black and crush any resistance they meet with an iron fist, presumably before subjugating any extraterrestrial existence under a brutal regime of rape and murder all in the name of televised entertainment.

I consider the people of Earth to be much more than that. Composers, artists, engineers, dreamers, athletes and comedians. It’s easier than ever to pursue what your passion is, and it’s up to each person to put the effort in. There are those that don’t, true, and it could be argued that the barrier to entry is a bit short in places. The world is full of good, and exploration helps us become better at being us. Without explorers we would all be living in caves, with very little technology to aid us. Getting to Mars is a stretch goal that will aid humanity into becoming even more amazing.

Also, there’s no reason to get mad at the Vikings, they were rather normal people for their time. Almost all the stories that are told about them are exaggerated. They were great explorers and skillful traders. Their culture has a lot to be admired, and I do admire their exploration spirit. I was given a copy of the Viking laws by a Scandinavian man I met at ISU and I keep in on my fridge. I run into a lot of negativity about missions to Mars and it usually dissipates once I get a chance to share some of the facts.

Don’t Stay in School

The sentence “Don’t Stay in School” is jarring to those of us who grew up with the words “stay in school” being thrown at us from every direction. The campaign isn’t about people leaving school, but questioning school subjects. When was the last time you sat down and thought, why do we learn what we learn in school? I recently watched the video below and asked myself that very question.

Public school, in it’s k-12 format is supposed to teach people how to be citizens in the society they live in. The skills they need to survive as adults should be learned before they become adults. Is that the case in Alberta? From what I remember of my public education, I don’t think it is.

As the video mentions, I don’t remember being taught how to do my taxes. Money and trade is the foundation of our modern economy, and it’s not in the core classes. Lots of people have their lives ruined by predatory lending every year because these people don’t understand compound interest. Essential financial skills for an adult in Canada are:

  • Paying taxes
  • Understanding lending rates
  • How to manage a budget

So lets teach these skills. Lets make sure kids have mastered these skills, not spend an afternoon looking at some slides.

We should be teaching kids skills that they will used everyday, along side the skills that they can use to better their lives.

People are becoming adults today and they believe that vaccines are bad. This shows a tremendous lack of understanding when it comes to scientific literacy and statistics. These people may have memorized facts, but they have no idea what the data behind those facts mean. It an increasingly data driven world, we need people to understand what the data means. For examples of misunderstanding data, google climate change.

What about something as simple as driving? Why isn’t defensive driving taught in school? Even if you are never going to get behind the wheel of a car in your life, you will walk on a sidewalk. Knowing how to drive would keep you safe while interacting with vehicles. There were over 120,000 injuries from motor vehicle accidents in Canada in 2012. There are cars everywhere in our cities, why aren’t we teaching kids how to change a tire and check the oil? Shouldn’t all of our citizens know if the vehicle they drive everyday is safe to do so?

We need to get everyone to a base line where they can interact with the world we live in. We are not doing that. We owe it to our future to teach our children skills they can use to navigate their lives. You can always take advanced courses later in life, but it becomes very difficult to do so with massive debt due to the misunderstanding of how credit cards work.

 

Eating Crickets

I’m a fussy eater. I’ve heard about humans consuming crickets, and I imagine the bug scene from Indiana Jones.. ew… bugs….

But they are really nutritious, high in protein, and have a low ecological footprint. Bugs have also been suggested as a source of protein for space settlements, because getting a cow into a rocketship would be hard.  But the idea of biting into a bug creeps me out. Then I heard about cricket flour, a substitute for flour in regular recipes and I was curious. I’m always looking for ways to get more nutrition into my body, and making my cookies better for me sounds like a fantastic plan. I got a bag of flour as a gift, and I tried it out in a recipe.

IMG_20150118_150032

Nutrition info on cricket flour

My usual recipe calls for 2 cups of flour, so I did one cup crickets, one cup whole wheat flour. Everything went just like making normal cookies.

They turned out really well!

They turned out really well!

They are really good. This first experiment went well, and I’m looking forward to trying more. Getting the most nutrition into each bite is important when you have limited space, like on Mars. I might as well get use to it here on Earth. Getting healthy on the way doesn’t hurt either.

Mars One – Thoughts from Twitter

I monitor twitter and other news sources for information and discussion about Mars One, and Mars exploration in general. I find it interesting to see what conversations are going on, to see what people are saying about it, and just listen. Every once and a while I make a comment or try and answer a question. Sometimes I need to write a longer answer than Twitter will allow. This is one of those times. Below is the tweet that started off a conversation.

I understand George’s reluctance to endorse the Mars One project. It looks very, very different from a government program, or business in general. The premise sounded flimsy when I first heard it as well, gathering the funds for a Mars mission through a media event, viewership and sponsors. But it started to make sense the more I thought about it. Entertainment is big money. Globally, we spend $35 billion dollars on movie tickets in 2013. The film Gravity made $270 million on a $100 million dollar investment. India sent a robotic mission to Mars for less that that.

The game is changing. This isn’t your father’s Space Race (Apollo)

Myself, Melissa and George had a few tweets back and forth. Then George tweeted this, between many tweets

Even if I think of #MarsOne as an experiment and not as a colonization project, it’s still ahead of its time. Several other experiments should take place beforehand in order to develop the necessary protocols that would govern the interaction with Mars. For instance, a disaster on the surface would result in a possible uncontrolled “contamination” of the area with microorganisms with unpredictable results, which would be impossible to undo or contain Developing such guidelines and protocols is not the job of an entertainment company, but of an international organization of experts.

This is a point that comes up now and again, that humans will contaminate Mars somehow. If this is true, we already have. We have landed several craft on Mars that would have carried with them bacteria and Earth bits with them. The Viking landers were the only ones that were completely cleaned before launch. There are strict guidelines for sending craft to other plants. There are international people working on this. There are entire schools for Space Law! Many people around the world are thinking about this, protocols are being developed.

On the other side of the coin, biological interaction between Earth life and Mars life is very, very unlikely. Here on Earth, organisms don’t usually interact on a biological level. I can’t get a tree pregnant, fish don’t get the flu, and spider legs can’t be transplanted to a dog. There are some examples where biology does match, and those are very rare. Life on Earth has evolved side by side, and is very different from each other. Life between Earth and Mars has billions of years of separation. Contamination is not likely. And we won’t know for certain until we go.

 

There are plenty of experiments planned for Mars, Mars One is not the only show in town. Mars One is planning on visiting Mars with robots in 2018 and 2020. There is lots of work to do before people set foot on the planet.

ISECG_MissionScenario

 

George, I understand your reaction to Mars One, it looks very strange. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted. There is lots of science going on around Mars and we learn something every day. It’s time to start preparing a crew for the mission. We’ve had the technology to get to Mars since the 1980s, we just haven’t implemented it. Mars One has a plan to get the funds needed to implement this technology and I support them.

Gamer Gate

Full disclosure; I consider myself to be, and tell others that I am a gamer.

I’ve been playing games for as long as I can remember. I played games on my father’s commodore 128. I had my mother read to me from my gameboy game manuals. I remember when the family got a 486DX processor and I could play Doom at it’s full resolution. Now I game on a three monitor setup that I put together myself, with over 500 games in my Steam library. I like games.

It was a huge surprise to me when at the end of August news outlets everywhere were calling an end to the “gamer”. Site after site after site after site claiming that the term gamer is no longer being used and the culture is dead. Because of the sexists and violent tenancy of the male gamer,  the identity is forever destroyed, and good riddance. I didn’t notice any of this, because in true gamer fashion, I was playing games.

Below is a review of what this #GamerGate is all about. (click to enlarge)

Gamer GateAs a gamer, I’ve run into all sorts of people that play games. Men, women, kids, misogynists and asexual xenophobes.  The framing of this issue as a barbaric male VS oppressed female doesn’t fit with my experience. I know plenty of female gamers. During a ski trip a friend of mine brought her XBox so she could keep playing Skyrim. I know a woman who can speed run the first world in Mario 3 in under 10 minutes. I’ve bought video games for girlfriends before and talked about Final Fantasy at bars in a mixed gender crowd. In the UK, it turns out female gamers out number male.

This death of the gamer mantra is bullshit. Gamers love their games and will continue to do so. Yes, there are dicks out there that will say awful things; that’s true everywhere. Yes, people will say very mean things on the internet; they also do that in politics in plain view of everyone and keep getting elected.

There is a simple formula that you need to follow on the internet.

 

And ways to fix it.

So, game on my fellow gamers, and game proud.

Where We Should Build Our First Off-World Colonies

This post is in response to an article posted on the Discover website. The author claims we should forget Mars as a destination, and that of course gained my attention. He made some assumptions that I don’t agree with, and I’m going to go through the post and point out a few things. This is in the spirit of open discussion of course, and I welcome feedback on my own ideas.

First, lets stop calling it colonization. That world has too much negativity associated with it. I much prefer to talk about human settlements on other planets.

I don’t agree with the authors premise for off-world settlements.

It’s not because it would be cool to have people on multiple worlds (although it would). It’s not because Earth is becoming overpopulated with humans (although it is). It’s because off-world colonies would improve the chances of human civilization surviving in the event of a planetary disaster on Earth.

The fear based reasoning doesn’t work for me. Of course we want to have humans survive a disaster on Earth, but that speaks to our base instincts. We are better than that. We have a whole solar system to explore and live in. I would love to see humanity fly among the stars, but we must first master living in our own backyard, our solar system. We have mastered living on Earth, but we chose to use that power negatively, causing famine, climate change and pollution. These are the consequences of the choices we’ve made. To me, going to Mars is a hopeful journey, not one that should be done in fear. Fear will only lead to more negative outcomes.

Creating a Mars Colony

David jumps right to the conclusion that a settlement would be terraforming from day one. His information is sound, but the conclusion is off on the wrong direction. Neither Mars One, SapceX or NASA has terraforming in any of their plans. It’s so far off that it doesn’t make any sense to talk about. By the time we are in a position to terraform anything positively (Climate change is accidental terraforming) our technology will be vastly different than today. The first settlers will be busy with staying alive, not planetary engineering. The cart is fully in front of the horse here.

The Problem of Distance

He gets ahead of himself here again. He’s using a study of an interstellar generation ship to generalize a Martian settlement. The two are very different. It could take 10,000 – 40,000 people to maintain genetic diversity, I don’t know. I do know that the main driver for population increase of these settlements would be immigration. The population would grow from people leaving Earth as more room became available. He then goes on to see how long SpaceX would need to hit 40,000 people using the immigration model, not realizing you don’t need to hit 40,000 people if they keep immigrating; that’s only for a closed system where no new people are added.

Distance is something you have to deal with when working in deep space. It’s a frontier that humans just don’t understand. The vast distances between objects don’t make sense to what we see and interact with everyday. It will take a new sort of thinking to deal with it. Anyone making the trip to the Moon, Mars or beyond knows it’s dangerous. We’ve gotten quite use to flying anywhere in the world and being able to rent a hotel and buy a lunch. The universe isn’t setup like that and we won’t have these luxuries as we travel beyond Earth. Accepting that is much easier than trying to bring all the comforts of Earth with us.

Close to Home

I don’t think anyone in the space exploration community is suggesting that we pick one spot over the other. If you want to go to the Moon, go for it! Making a space station, have at it! Private companies can do what they like, and I encourage us to go after all the targets. Governments have to chose specific targets, due to budgets and politics. But governments aren’t going to set up a settlement either, NASA has said it will bring all of their astronauts back. At the moment, it’s only private companies talking about settling on Mars. There could be MoonCorp that shows up tomorrow wanting to set up a spa on the Moon, and they are free to do that. The location is a trade off however, and if we want to get to the stars, Mars is the best place to start that journey.

The Problem of Gravity

Here’s a common misconception; that the adaptations of astronauts to micro gravity is negative. There is bone loss and muscle atrophy, yes, and that’s part of the adaptation process. If they never left micro gravity environment, it wouldn’t be a problem. The loss of body mass is a problem if they return to Earth. If future settlers don’t plan on returning to Earth, the adaptation to their new environment is just that, and adaptation. There will be changes that we can’t foresee, but for those of us who want to live on Mars, it’s all part of the process.

A New Home in the Solar System

There are plans for Moon bases and space stations. The great thing about space is that there is room for everyone. Let’s get out there, and let everyone create what they want. There are no limits in space.

De-Orbiting from Space Camp

It’s been a month since I finished the 9 week course in Montreal with the ISU. Since then it has been a bit of a struggle getting back to my “normal” life. The school calls it de-orbiting and is a common occurrence with participants. Because the schedule, pace and tone of your life for those 9 weeks is so different than what you are use to, coming back to your life can feel very alien. That’s been true for me.

My summer was amazing. I spent it with some of the most amazing and positive people I’ve ever met. Everywhere you turned there was a group of people discussing interesting things, having a drink, laughing and making plans to change the world. We would be up at all hours, trading stories from our countries, comparing experiences, asking questions and literally doing rocket science on napkins. It was immensely inspiring.

Back home in Calgary, things are much the same as when I left. My task now is to take the enthusiasm that I’ve gain over the summer and apply it in my everyday. Take the momentum of the summer and use that to, well, change the world.

Solar Roadways

I’ve made the casual comment on social media that solar roadways are a bad idea. It’s a terrible idea, and I wanted explain a few reasons why. It’s a really cool idea and I understand why people are excited. That’s all well and good, but when you start to look at the problem objectively without the hype, it starts to fall apart. This of course, coming from a guy who is planning to live on Mars.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, there is a mom and pop company that is looking to replace the current road system with solar panels. The idea being that the roads are empty space, and we could have them doing work for us. To get yourself into full hype mode, read 7 REASONS WHY SOLAR ROADWAYS ARE F!#%ING AWESOME and watch the video below.

I want to call bullshit on a few of their features.

  • LED LIGHTS! If you were to make road lines with lights, it would be hard to see in the day and way too bright at night. Try looking at your cellphone in direct sunlight, how well does that work? We don’t change road configurations often enough to make this even remotely useful. One of the only times that lanes change is for traffic control or construction. We can use signs for traffic control like we do now and the panels wouldn’t be hooked up during construction. “But they are solar! They could run on their own during construction!” Live power and construction is a big no-no. That’s not a good idea.
  • NO MORE SNOW! So much bullshit on this one. There is no way, and I mean absolutely no way that the solar panel make enough power to melt ice. Solar panels are taking the energy from the sun, converting it to electricity, then converting it back to heat. The sun is the original source. If the sun can’t melt the ice, there is no way that power from the sun will melt the ice.  Black roads absorb heat more efficiently than a solar panel and a heating element can make it, therefor blacktop should be able to melt ice more efficiently than the Solar Roadway. Sure, you can melt ice with heaters, people do it all the time, but it will take power, the road cannot generate the power needed to melt ice with solar power.
  • UNDERGROUND CABLES! Putting rainwater a runoff channel right next to a power cable channel is a bad, bad idea. We put our high voltage lines in the air for a very good reason; the Earth is the other conductor, and if power cables touch the ground, they short out and things blow up. Solar power is DC, and all our power lines are AC. To convert we need to install step up transformers all along the trench.  They put these behind fences for a reason, they are fucking dangerous.
  • THEY ARE MADE WITH RECYCLED MATERIAL! Asphalt roads are 99% recycled. This is a buzzword argument.

Lets take a rational look at this. For these roads to be worth exchanging for our current system, they will have to perform better or cheaper. To make the solar panels worth the cost of installation they will have to make more energy than it takes to make, install and maintain them. I want these panels to meet these two criteria:

  1. The surface they are planning to use must be better than the surface we are currently using.
  2. We have to be able to use the power these panels produce.

I want to know, why replace our roads with glass that have solar panels under them, instead of just making more solar power plants?

Here is the claim made by Solar Roadways:

Everyone naturally pictures sliding out of control on a smooth piece of wet glass! Actually, one of our many technical specs is that it be textured to the point that it provides at least the traction that current asphalt roads offer – even in the rain. We hesitate to even call it glass, as it is far from a traditional window pane, but glass is what it is, so glass is what we must call it.

We sent samples of textured glass to a university civil engineering lab for traction testing. We started off being able to stop a car going 40 mph on a wet surface in the required distance. We designed a more and more aggressive surface pattern until we got a call form the lab one day: we’d torn the boot off of the British Pendulum Testing apparatus! We backed off a little and ended up with a texture that can stop a vehicle going 80 mph in the required distance.

I’m calling sacks of bullshit on this. If the material was so great, Solar Roadways should be trying to sell the road surface on it’s own merits without solar. Road construction is a complicated engineering effort and a few lab tests does not warrant the replacement of the entire roadway system. The US roadway system cost $425 billion (2006 dollars) and you can bet Solar Roadways will cost a lot more than asphalt.

For that kind of money, why don’t we build an orbital elevator, fusion power plant or travel to another star. Or, why not spend billions of dollars and build solar farms to make electricity?

And that brings me to the second point, We are putting solar panels in the road, at a 0 degree tilt, under dirt, grime and vehicles that block the sun. I can’t think of a worst place to put them. Before we start that, why don’t we put solar power on every roof? For panels to be effective they need to be angled at the sun, clean and have an unobstructed view of the sun. For best results they should track the sun. None of these things are possible if they are flat on the ground with things on top of them. The idea sounds cool, but the benefits of the Solar Roadway can all be met cheaper and better by just building solar power plants where they can be at their most efficient.

The kids are alright

Last week I spoke at the Tanbridge Academy about going to Mars and my personal reasons for doing so. I’ve done this talk close to 20 times and I still love doing it every time. I love doing it because I get to see the faces of kids who are hearing it for the first time. There are always a few whose faces light up with excitement, or frown with questions. It’s very rare that they will run out of questions before I run out of time. When I’m coordinating the talks with teachers and other adults, I tell them that I usually talk for 10-15 mins and then answer questions for another 20. It’s the adults that can’t fill 20 minutes of questions, kids want to know it all. The youth of today gives me hope for tomorrow.

At the beginning of the month I was asked to be the closing speaker for a space camp being put on by Connect Charter School and Millarville Community School. The topic I chose was life in the solar system. It was the first time I had talked about this topic, and I was excited to do so. When people ask me if there is life outside of earth, I tell them yes. I spent time explaining myself to these kids, and the reaction was similar; they wanted to know more. It’s the best feeling in the world being able to talk to someone about what you are passionate about, and they always want to hear more. Not only that, but their questions and conversations are usually much better than with adults.

Kids have an amazing ability to learn that we lose as we grow older. We believe there is a “real world” out there and we have to fall in line. Kids live in the same universe that we do, but they see it so much differently. They see possibility and they want to do amazing things. The grown up world should spend more time with kids. Not to teach them how to be grown up, but for the kids to teach us adults how to imagine. If we want a better world, we should encourage our youth to follow their own path instead of telling them what to do. We need creativity, passion and drive more than ever and you find this in elementary school, not graduate school.  We should help them, not tell them. They already have the skills they need, it’s our job to make sure they don’t lose them when the join the “real world”.

Talking about Mars – Coast to Coast

My 32ed year on the planet earth has been very eventful to say the least. On my birthday, Dec 30th, I found out that I had been shortlisted for the Mars One mission to colonize Mars. Since then, I’ve been very busy assimilating that into my day to day on top of everything else that goes on during a normal life. Very early on, I started talking to people about Mars. Mars has been an interest of mine for many years so it wasn’t that difficult. I would much rather tell a story than recite facts and figures and for the first time I got to tell my story about Mars.

I was on twitter talking about going to schools and talking about Mars when the Engineers of New Brunswick invited me to their AGM. Their keynote speaker was talking about Life on Mars and they were kind enough to extend an invitation so I could hear him speak. Being the lead scientist for the Curiosity mission, he had some great information to provide. As well as all the normal questions I had for him, Dr Meyer and myself closed the hospitality bar the last night talking about Mars, science and other stories. It was amazing. I was also able to talk to other engineers about the mission. There were two other Mars One candidates in attendance, so there were many questions between sessions. It was great speaking to my peers about the mission and really solidified my resolve that this was the right course of action. It’s a real litmus test to be able to convey your ideas and convictions to experts and I had a very warm reception on the east coast.

A few weeks later, I was on a plane flying to Vancouver to do a mini speaking tour there. I have some friends there that were able to set up talks at a half dozen elementary schools and two universities. I usually talk for 20 minutes and answer questions for another 20. One day I did this 8 times, and by the end I was exhausted. At the same time I was truly amazed at the enthusiasm for exploration that kids have. Their questions are always more fun to answer. An adult question are usually framed around “what if something goes wrong?” where kids ask questions that sound more like “is it possible?”

In addition to speaking to some 300 people about Mars I was able to catch up with some friends, have a fantastic few nights out and get on a west coast radio station. Being able to spend your day talking about the things you love is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

The week after that I was off to Manitoba to present to a university audience. I had my own timeslot and everything. The Dream Big week had a wide talent of speakers of Professors, students, professionals and myself. Other attendees included the current and past president of the Canadian Space Association, CEOs of aerospace companies and of course the keynote speaker, Neil deGrasse Tyson. This experience was surreal. For the first time I wasn’t going to a place to talk to people, they were coming to me. I had people in the audience with decades more experience and a collection of PhDs asking me about Mars. You can listen to the audio below.

I could not have imagined in 2012 this is what I would be doing in 2014. I love talking about Mars and space exploration. It’s been exhausting and stressful on my mind, body and wallet to travel and organize these events. It’s also been rewarding in ways that makes it all worth it. I can only hope my 33ed turn around the sun will be filled with as much excitement.