Copenhagen Suborbitals

Late this month, Mars One announced that Kristian von Bengtson has joined the company to help build hardware for the mission. This is fantastic news, I can’t think of anyone better for the job. He’s an ISU alumni, spent time in a Mars Analogue and makes rockets in his garage. I’m not talking about model rockets, I’m talking about “get you to space” rockets.

 

Copenhagen Suborbitals is one of those companies that you can’t ignore once you hear about them. They embody everything about the pioneering and adventurous spirit. Their goal is a familiar one, to put people into space. The thing is they are amateurs doing it in their spare time. During the height of the Apollo missions, NASA spent about 5% of the US budget. These guys are doing the same research on donations and they are just as successful. That’s a hard fact to wrap your mind around; with hard work, smart people and determination anyone can get into space.

Amateur rocket engineers at work.

I can’t find the words to properly explain how awesome this is. Not only to they make their own rockets to carry humans, but they have their own submarine and ocean launch faculty. All this hardware was build on volunteer time by enthusiasts who don’t listen when people say it’s impossible.

The folks at Copenhagen Suborbitals are space travel pioneers. It common for people to think that anything that happens in space is because of NASA. That may have been true in the 60’s, but no longer. The work these guys are doing is creating a future where anyone can buy a rocket to space as easily as we buy cars today. That’s a future I want to live in. Now that Kristian is working with Mars One, I’m ever more confidant the project is attracting the right people.

 

 

Grade 6 Science fail

I’ve been going into classrooms talking to elementary students about Mars One, space and engineering. Grade 6 classes in Alberta study Sky Science, so my talk fits well with their curriculum. I thought it would be a good idea to read up on the curriculum so I could better tailor my talk. When I printed off a study guide, I found it was riddled with errors.

Science!Why are we lacking STEM talent in Canada? Could be that the facts we teach our children aren’t correct. The document was written in 1996, but even then we knew about more than 1011 stars, and where we parked the Hubble. Click the picture for full resolution and read it for yourself. It’s embarrassing at best.

There is one very troubling sentence that appears in the official curriculum. I don’t know what to make of it.

Describe the location and movement of individual stars and groups of stars(constellations) as they move through the night sky

This seems to say that individual stars and the constellations move at different rates. Technically, that’s true, but for a 11 year old observer, all the stars in the sky keep the same orientation. The constellations are not grouped by nature, they are grouped by our imagination. That’s how we discovered the planets, they moved and the stars didn’t. It’s this sort of ambiguous teaching that will confuse students and turn them away from STEM.

Remember the taste map we learned in school? There are places on the tongue for sweet, sour, bitter and salt? That’s not true either. Turns out that hypothesis from 1901 was disproved in 1974 when someone checked the data. No one updated the teaching material; thanks for nothing.

How can we avoid teaching myths as facts?

We have a whole body of academics and professionals in this country. They oversee all sorts of regulatory issues across Canada. Why don’t we get the experts in their respected fields to proof read the material we are teaching children? It’s just so simple, it might work.

Mars One in the eyes of Islam

Obviously, I pay attention to news about Mars. It’s usually about missions, funding cuts and new discoveries. This past week I learned that the UAE Islamic watchdog has declared that Muslims must not take part in Mars One, as it is against Islam. According to their site, they issues 337,000 Fatwas last year, so it’s a very common practice. At more than 100 a day, it seems they are a very busy agency. According to Wikipedia, a Fatwa is a legal judgment or learned interpretation based on the the teachings of Islam. As I understand it, when something new in the world shows up, it is judged against Islamic Law and then decided upon if it is a sin or not. Traveling to Mars is apparently a sin in Islamic Law.

That doesn’t make me happy. I’m not a Muslim or a member of any organised religion. I do strongly believe that space exploration is very important, so a decry by anyone that it’s morally wrong doesn’t sit right with me. In this case, the voyage has been likened to suicide, and suicide is a Sin, therefore the voyage is against Islam.

I’m not going to argue against Islam, but exploration is not suicide. Suicide is intentionally killing oneself; there argument is that the trip is so dangerous that death is a certain outcome. Two things about that:

  1. Death is a certain outcome of life
  2. The trip does not mean certain death

Life and death are part of the package. Every living thing will die. The risks we take in life can increase the likelihood of dying sooner, but risks also let us live more richly. Everything we do has a risk. Life itself is a risk. So how do we die on Earth? A good portion of it is from cancer, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases. Suicide and accidents are higher in the USA, but cancer and heart are still fantastic killers. Motor vehicle accidents are up there as well, 1 in 84 chance in 2006, but driving isn’t a sin.

The NASA study on radiation says there is about a 5% increase in fatal cancers for every three years you are on Mars. On the flip-side there is no risk of a traffic accident or accidental firearm discharge on Mars. You will be on a strict diet so your chances of heart disease goes down. You can’t drown in the bathtub either on Mars. (1 in 818,015, about the same risk as electrocution.) People die all the time. It’s cliché but not everyone lives a full life. Exploring, pushing boundaries, growing and making new frontiers is how we live our lives to the fullest.

Lets get back to what was said:

Professor Dr. Farooq Hamada, who presides over the fatwa committee, shared the motivation for issuing the fatwa: “Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse 4/29 of the Holy Quran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever merciful.”

Do not kill yourself or one another, that’s the verse. This year, the UAE is creating a law for mandatory military service. The UAE has a standing military force of 70,000 souls; over 5% of it’s GDP used for it’s upkeep. That’s the 5th highest in the world for 2011. If you have control over a standing army, you are preparing to take lives. FULL STOP. Any one of those 70,000 people can be called in to combat and is expected to fight another human to the death. That’s what war is, that’s what armies do.

Mars One is sending 4 people on a settlement mission. Permanent settlement requires people to be alive. No one on the mission is intentionally dying, therefor no one is committing suicide. The fact that you could die an accidental death during the trip is no more suicide than dying accidentally on Earth. Taking risks to live a better life is how we make tomorrow better.

A peaceful path to a brighter future is not a sin.

Space Studies Program

I’ve been accepted into the International Space University Space Studies Program! I am incredibly excited about it. It’s a 9 week crash course into everything space related. The program aims to solve the ever present problem of “you don’t know what you don’t know”

I get all smiles just thinking about it. The concentration of space geek is going to be amazing! I just have to come up with the funding… space school is not cheap.

Victory Dance

I was reminded last night with in conversation at a restaurant about my Victory Dance. Not that I ever forgot about it, but I was reminded that not many people know about it. I want to work in the Space Sector in some capacity, that’s my dream. For a dream to become a reality, it needs a plan, goals and rewards. A year ago, I bought a bottle of scotch as my victory dance. It’s a bottle of Blue Label.

Blue Lable

The plan is, once I feel that I’m where I want to be, I open this puppy up and share it with those around me. Victory doesn’t happen solo, it takes support from those around you to get where you want to go. It’s a constant reminder that I am not an island, I am capable of great things and my friends and family can help me do great things.

The inscription says “MOVE ZIG!” a reference to the video below. Watch it, FOR GREAT JUSTICE!

Doughnut Rock

No, it’s not a new type of fast food, it’s a rock that mysteriously appeared on the Martian surface right in front of Opportunity. Lucky for me, I have a team of people looking our for me. The folks on the X92.9 morning show left me this voice mail.


This is what the rock looks like.

Mystery Rock

 

No one knows what it is, or what’s it’s doing there. The current theory is that it was kicked up, and we are seeing the side that’s not been exposed to the Martian atmosphere. That tells me that Mars it much more interesting that what the pictures show us. We won’t know for sure unless we go there and check. Even if it is deadly alien bacteria, it’s still really cool.

Mars Interviews Part 2

The interviews keep coming, and I’m more then happy to keep answering questions. I think I’m getting better. Hopefully there are people out there that hear what I have to say and become interested in science, engineering and planetary exploration.

Here’s a link to my x92.9 interview. It was recorded at 6AM and played back during people’s normal commute time.

Here’s the CBC interview I did in the studio! It was the first time I went somewhere to do the interview. I was in the booth, with the microphones and traffic lady and program directors and all sorts of things. It was a lot of fun, but very nerve racking. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it by the time I make it to Mars.

After the interview, Doug gave away two copies of Mission:Mars that I brought in; hopefully two future Mars colonists are reading up on it now.

Baby it’s cold outside

About once a week, I like to have lunch at the sandwich shop by my work. They make fantastic potato soup and their sandwiches always hit the spot. They have a few newspapers around the shop that I’ll flip though while I wait for my food to be prepared. That’s how I found the editorial article in the Calgary Sun. The Edmonton Sun also ran a similar editorial. This level of scientific literacy published in the Sun is a public health risk.

Here are some examples of what I mean by science illiteracy being a public health risk

  • I know a guy who lived to be 80 and smoked his whole life. Cigarettes are harmless.
  • I heard a story where someone was uninjured in a car crash and wasn’t wearing their seat belt. No one should wear them.
  • There was a study that said my kid could get autism from vaccines. It’s not safe to vaccinate.
  • It’s cold outside today, global warming isn’t real.

These blanket statements use point data and extraordinary circumstances to describe an average. Climate change is an average. That doesn’t mean that every day will be hotter than the next. In fact, some places may get colder. It’s a global average. Mixing opinion and fact is dangerous and irresponsible.

So we hear from the environmentalists (loudly and frequently) when a hurricane blows across the Jersey shore or a typhoon roars through the Philippines, but not when thousands of communities across North America, Asia and Europe set record cold temperatures. How come one sort of weather is an indicator of impending climate disaster while mentioning the other is a sign of simple-mindedness?

That’s the sort of intellectual hypocrisy and arrogance Chu is up against

The problem here, is that science can explain the current weather. No simple-mindedness, no hypocrisy. Here’s a video from last year, explaining what’s going on.

From this source, we find out that some places will be warmer, and others colder. Climate Change. (Imagine me doing jazz hands)

NOAA scientist James Overland explains: “When the Polar Vortex — a ring of winds circling the Arctic — breaks down, this allows cold air to spill south, affecting the eastern United States and other regions.”

“This can result in a warmer-than-average Arctic region and colder temperatures that may include severe winter weather events on the North American and European continents.”

The Sun editorial continues it’s opinionated rampage.

There is no evidence severe weather is increasing in frequency. Indeed that past eight years since Hurricane Katrina has seen the lowest level of tropical storms in 70 years. But, as Chu correctly pointed out, you don’t hear much of that; just as there was very little reporting on the fact that this summer Arctic sea ice melted less than at any time in the past decade – perhaps the past five decades.

No evidence? This year Alberta saw the worse flooding in memory. That’s after we set new records in 2005. Do you have a short memory, or are you willfully ignorant? As for sea ice, your comment is misleading and outright false. You can do that, because it’s written in an editorial column. You endanger the public with popular lies.

I’ve met Sean Chu, he’s a nice guy. I’m glad he’s on the City Council and I think he’s got some really good ideas. Sean, please look at the science before you speak. You have an important position; pandering to the scientific illiterate is dangerous and does not serve the public. Please stop.

 

 

Mars Interviews Part 1

I spent a lovely weekend in Banff to celebrate my good friend Meghan‘s birthday. We had some laughs, some drinks and some skull pancakes. Everything you would want in a birthday. I was pretty tired on the drive home, and I had to work on Monday. I was looking forward to some serious downtime before I buttoned up my shirt for work. While I was bringing bags into my place, I got a call from CBC. They wanted to talk about Mars.

I love talking about Mars! Perfect! We had a chat, and he said he would call me back. I jumped in the shower because I was ski bum dirty. We spoke some more, and he said he was going to send a TV crew over to do an interview. I told him that I would put some pants on and clean my dished. My place really was a disaster; Christmas presents, dirty dishes, chocolates and laundry were everywhere. They gave in 30 mins to tidy up.

They were of course professionals. My mess was politely ignored and they cut the footage to make my stammering and wandering conversation less noticeable.

The news report went on TV well after my bed time. The website was up in the AM, and my office was quite excited find out they worked with a celebrity. Well, I emailed them all telling them how lucky they were to work with a celebrity. Same thing. Then I got a tweet from Global News, and they wanted to get some footage as well. The more coverage Mars gets, the better!

The really fun part was bringing the film crew into my office. Had to play it cool, of course. As if I get film crews all the time.

The crazy part, is that I’m news. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s not to me. I mean, I’m aware of all of this, it’s not news to me. I know what’s going on with Mars. When my name came up on my Google news feed, that was a strange feeling. I’m even a searchable tag on the Huffington Post now… all very surreal.

Little Brother

I’ve had Little Brother by Cory Doctorow on my shelf for quite some time. I’ve shied away from it because it was written for younger audiences and I’m a big strong literary genius. I’m obviously not a literary genius and Little Brother is an amazing novel. It’s 1984 light, set in a parallel, almost present day San Francisco. The Amazon description is as follows:

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

The terrorist attack is there only to set the stage and isn’t really talked about. It’s for the best really, as the attack isn’t the scary part, it’s our reaction. I say “our” reaction because the real world has followed many of the steps that takes place in the book. The goal of terrorism is to push an agenda with the use of terror. In Little Brother, fear come from Homeland Security, not foreign attacks. Those who where sent to protect San Francisco cause more terror than the initial attack. So it is in real life; there is so much security in today’s world, yet you only have a 1.28% chance of dying in violence and war. Diarrhea is at 3.15. The worlds population is twice as likely to die shitting themselves than being killed in violence. It’s not about what’s dangerous, but what’s perceived to be dangerous. We focus on the wrong things.

Little Brother is a world where we see what happens when the protection of people is the most important thing. More important than privacy, due process, the law and common sense. The argument used in the book is, if you are innocent, you have nothing to hide. Of course, that’s the same argument governments are making right now.

Maybe we don’t have anything to hide, but there are things we wish people didn’t know. Losing privacy means losing the ability to make a mistake and move on. If everything is on record there are no second chances. If every step is watched, no one will ever step out of line again. That’s a world in fear.

Little Brother was published in 2008. Before anyone heard of Bradly Manning or Edward Snowden and where people who claimed the government was listening to your phones were called crazy. That is no longer the case. Our lives are already no longer our own. It’s easy to find examples where unrelated events are dug up and used against us. (onetwothreefourfive) The government knows where you are, who your friends with, what you buy and what you are going to buy in the future. Little Brother is a quick look into what our world looks like when it’s used against you.