Monday, December 31, 2007

Space Odyssey: A Voyage to the Planets

Envision if you will a voyage to the ends of the solar system aboard a spaceship that still exists within the realm of imagination. A spacecraft named Pegasus. It will embark on a six year voyage that will take an international crew of five astronauts to Venus, Mars, a harrowing close flyby of our nearest star- the Sun, and then on to the outer reaches of the Solar system to the Giant Planets Jupiter and Saturn and on to the dwarf planet Pluto. And, on the return journey home imagine a close encounter with that most ancient of relics of our solar system’s formation - a comet. This voyage is nothing less than a 21st Century grand tour of the awe inspiring wonders of our solar system. Accompany the intrepid crew of the spaceship Pegasus as they undertake take a Space Odyssey to the ends of the Solar System and beyond. The technology to commence such a voyage does not quite exist yet. But, perhaps it will one day.

The broadcast of Space Odyssey on the United States' The Science Channel differed from the full version with the cut of the arrival at Pluto and simply proceeded with the crew heading to the comet. This is because the U.S. version had the crew decide to turn back to Earth rather than press on to Pluto. The encounter with the comet is inferred to take place somewhere between Saturn and Jupiter. The British version with the astronauts going on to Pluto is more awe inspiring.

I think the show inadvertently undermined the role humans could play in future planetary exploration. Especially, when one sees missions to Venus and Io ending in near disaster.

The most devastating blow comes when John Pearson dies of solar radiation-induced cancer in Saturn orbit, the point where the crew must decide whether to continue the mission to Pluto, or abort and return to Earth. The crew decides to press on to Pluto, making history. There were just too many near disasters in one mission.

On the whole the special effects, planetary landscapes and music were very inspirational and set the heart stirring. The Pegasus spacecraft and landers were very plausible engineering marvels and created a highly realistic 21st century depiction of just how such a Grand Tour Odyssey could feasibly be undertaken. I highly recommend that you buy this series which is currently available on DVD home video.

Here are some video highlights of this fantastic documentary.

Space Odyssey Introduction

Space Odyssey: Venus Encounter Part 1

Space Odyssey: Venus Encounter Part 2

Space Odyssey: Mission to Mars Part 1

Space Odyssey: Mission To Mars Part 2

Space Odyssey Aerobraking at Jupiter

Space Odyssey Mission to Jupiter's Volcanic Moon Io

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cosmic Visions: A Blog Site Dedicated to Carl Sagan

I have established a blog site entitled ‘Cosmic Visions’ This Blog Site was established as an Internet Monument to one of the greatest astronomers and popularizers of science of the twentieth century - Dr. Carl Sagan. Cosmos was the landmark documentary for which he will be long remembered. This Internet Project is dedicated to his life, work and memory. Herein we will discuss many of the issues that occupied Sagan throughout his life (Astronomy, SETI, the future of humanity, space exploration, science and education). I look forward to seeing you there.

This website is still under development and contains many of the articles and material I posted on this site and elsewhere. So, please bear with me until I gather more material for this new site.

Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot -Episode 1: "Wanderers"

As I mentioned earlier this week, December 20th, 2007 marked the eleventh anniversary of the untimely passing of the American astronomer and popularizer of science Dr. Carl Sagan. Cosmos was the landmark documentary for which he will be long remembered.

Had he lived I am sure he would have gone on to produced and host several more documentaries. Back in July I mentioned a video project entitled ‘Pale Blue Dot -Episode 1: Wanderers’ which provides us with a glimpse of one such production.

Please allow me to reiterate what I said back in July: "it is a fantastic documentary worthy of PBS and a moving and fitting tribute to Carl Sagan. PALE BLUE DOT episode 1 was just as good as any PBS production I have seen thus far." This production is the brainchild of Lang Kasranov. Lang, you are an inspiration to us all.

Well here it is for all to see. Over the coming weeks I plan to post several such videos as part of an Internet wide tribute to the greatest science popularizers of all time: Carl Edward Sagan.

A higher resolution version video of this wonderful production can be seen in its entirety at Pale Blue Dot website.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Man Conquers Space

Here is a mock documentary very much to my heart that has been in production for quite some time. This production comes from Australia. It is entitled ‘Man Conquers Space’. It presents an alternate history of our space program and brings to life Collier Magazine’s vision of Man’s future in space in living colour. I am really looking forward to its theatrical release.

Things to Come (1936)

Things to Come is one of my most favourite motion pictures of all time. It is a Wellsian future history based on Wells' 1933 novel ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ . The full text of the novel can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg in Australia.

Things to Come is a 1936 British science fiction film, produced by Alexander Korda and directed by William Cameron Menzies. The screenplay was written by H. G. Wells and is a loose adaptation of his own 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come and his 1931 non-fiction work, The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind. The film stars Raymond Massey.

Christopher Frayling of the British Film Institute calls Things to Come "a landmark in cinematic design." You can download this motion picture via Internet Archive for free because it has entered the public domain,

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Disney in Space: Mars and Beyond

I have always been fascinated by intellectual history and the history and philosophy of science in particular. As the great science writer Jacob Bronowski pointed out in his landmark book and television documentary series ‘The Ascent of Man’ it is very tempting to believe that the scientific and technological achievements of the past sixty years or so have no equal precedent. “Yet to admire only our own successes as if they had no past (and were sure of the future) is to make a caricature of knowledge. For human achievement, and science in particular, is not a museum of finished constructions. It is a progress….”

All the great scientific and technological ideas of our age have had their antecedents. This is particularly true of space exploration and the search for life beyond the Earth. Over the coming months I will outline some of earliest ideas and dreams of space travel and communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. Our fascination with the planet Mars is no exception. The human species has had a long love affair with this captivating world. The following video segment from ‘Mars and Beyond’ provides a very nice capsule history of some of these ideas. I will have more to say about Walt Disney's partnership with Wernher von Braun in helping to sell Americans on Space in a later article. In the meantime I give you "Mars and Beyond" (Part 6). The earlier segments of this wonderful Disney program can be found here at this page from You Tube.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage through Time and Space

Cosmos, the very word evokes the entirety of all existence and a sense of wonder. “The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be”. These opening lines of Carl Sagan’s book and landmark television series introduced us to the concept of science as a spiritual enterprise - the quest to understand who we are and where we stand in the vast scheme of the universe.

We live between two great gulfs within the very fabric of the cosmos- the immensity of space and an eternity of time. Yet, through the miracle of special effects and a starship of the imagination, Carl Sagan went boldly forth where few had gone before and took us with him on a personal voyage of discovery through those very gulfs. It was a voyage that traversed the galaxies and the vast ocean of time and space. This epic voyage began from the very shores of our planet out into the cosmic ocean. It was a journey that was also a homecoming to lay claim to our cosmic inheritance into the very realm from which we can trace our beginnings.

The science of our age has revealed to us a universe some fifteen billion years old, where the very matter of the cosmos came to life on our island Earth four billion years ago, and star stuff started contemplating the stars with the emergence of intelligence and civilization fifty thousand years ago. With civilization came science and through much trial and error we finally live in an epoch where the tools and methods of science allow us to make it a spiritual quest where we can, more than any previous generation, hope to answer the seven mystical questions of our age:

    1. How did the Cosmos come into being and how will it end?

    2. What is space?

    3. What is time?

    4. What is gravity?

    5. What are the fundamental nature of matter and energy?

    6. How did matter emerge into life and consciousness?

    7. Do we share the cosmos with other creatures that seek to
      answer these questions and others that our imagination and intelligence have not even begun to contemplate?

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos was for many of us the first epic voyage of exploration where we sort answers to these questions outside the realm of comic books, science fiction, or Star Trek.

Cosmos presented the whole of the scientific enterprise as a very human pursuit. For a very long time we have looked at science as something outside the realm of everyday human concern. We glorify art, literature, and music. But, look at science as a separate endeavor outside the human norm. In fact we should expand the definition of the humanities to encompass science. Science can trace its origins to its metaphysical beginnings in ancient Ionia. The wellsprings of some of our deepest questions were once the chief concerns of religion and philosophy. Yet, science, with a capital “S” is a human endeavor that resonates with our deepest yearnings to understand the reason and purpose of our existence. To quote Carl Sagan “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality”. Science has its own poetry and psalms that glorify the wonders of the cosmos. Science uses its own language to write sonatas of praise to the numinous, the language of discovery known as mathematics.

Cosmos was also a major source of inspiration for many teenagers to pursue a career in science, and for me personally, a career as a science teacher. Often as I prepare my lesson plans or a public presentation, I can hear Sagan whispering to me “can’t you make it more interesting”? or “where is the poetry to evoke awe and wonder”? We need to inject that sense of wonder and awe back into our teaching. The discoveries of science and the language of discovery mathematics should be presented with the same spirit as Cosmos presented the wonders of creation to the general public. Our classrooms must become the starships of the imagination that transcend space and time to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers to take us on new voyages of discovery.

The following video clip shows the opening introduction of the first episode of Cosmos: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean.

The Gift of 'Cosmos'

Hello One and All,
In keeping with this Festive and Holiday Season and in commemoration of the 11th Anniversary of Carl Sagan's untimely passing I would like to give each and everyone of you the Gift of 'Cosmos'. This landmark Television Series is available Online from GUBA Free Video to view and enjoy once again for free. Background information concerning this landmark television series can be found on wikipedia.

The following video clip shows Carl Sagan's introduction of the Cosmic Calendar in the first episode of Cosmos: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean.

Apollo 8's Christmas Message From Lunar Orbit

Seasons Greetings December 24th, 2007

To Our Dear Readers,

Today Marks the
Thirty-ninth anniversary of the crew of Apollo 8’s Christmas Message from the orbit of the Moon. So on behalf of my fellow writers Dennis Chamberland and Ralph Buttigieg I would like to wish you all:

Warm Wishes To You And Your Loved Ones This Holiday Season And Best Wishes For A Prosperous New Year! May We All Find Prosperity and Peace in Our Planetary Home The Good Earth and Amongst The Stars!

On Christmas Eve, 1968, during the Apollo-8 mission, Astronauts Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders, beamed home this holiday message as they orbited the moon (appoximately 240,000 miles above the earth).

William A. Anders:
We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you.

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. "

James A. Lovell, Jr.:
"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Frank Borman:
"And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close, with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Space Age: The Next Giant Leap

Today marks the golden anniversary of the Space Age. And, like all anniversaries it will be a time to commemorate past achievements, a time to honour the great pioneers of the past, and mourn the brave men and women who lost their lives during our initial forays into a vast new ocean. It will also be a time to map out future paths and dream of voyages to distant worlds and new exotic ports of call. This golden anniversary also coincides with the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the Russian space visionary Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and the one hundred and twenty–fifth anniversary of the birth of American space pioneer Robert H. Goddard.

In the early morning hours of October 4th, 1957 the world awoke to the birth cry of a new historic age. The Soviet Union had launched the world’s first artificial satellite Sputnik one. Its chirping electronic signal heralded in the beginning of a whole new historical epoch: The Age of Space. That cry was the harbinger of a new age of adventure, exploration and discovery. In this new age humanity has garnered much insight regarding its place in the Universe. We have much to celebrate.

In this last half century we have travelled far and wide. A dozen men have left their footprints on the surface of the Moon. Our robotic explorers have explored the five planets known to the ancients and while at the same time rediscovering and finding scores of others. We have also found hundreds of distant worlds orbiting distant suns. We have sifted the sands of Mars in search of life. We have sieved the very sands of time and brought back a few grains of dust from very the dawn of the creation of our own solar system to learn about our origins, heard the very cry of cosmic birth and seen our world from afar dancing like a pale blue dust mote in a sunbeam. Four of our spacecraft have even left our solar system and are bound for the stars.

The next half century promises even greater and more exciting voyages of discovery.

So on this day October 4th, 2007 we have every reason to make merry, much to remember, many to honour, and now must take time to pause and reflect on what lies ahead over the next fifty years. The past is prologue and we must know where we were in order to know where we are and only then can we hope to gain some insight into where our voyages of discovery may lead us.

The Cosmos beckons and we must answer its call and truly become a spacefaring civilization.

In space lies humankind’s legacy and destiny. We must claim our birthright. Only by embracing our inheritance can we hope to survive and grow.

Past lessons yet to be truly learned

We must explore and colonize space. Our long term survival as a species depends on this. Humankind faces an Extraterrestrial Imperative which is just as much a survival imperative – Colonize space or die. And, with our passing the light of human reason and thought will have been extinguished from the Cosmos forever. We can argue about cost and engineering until we are all blue in the face. We may be as cynical about the goals and motivations behind our current plans to return to the Moon and forge ahead to Mars all we wish. But, the fact remains that space exploration- both robotic and manned is vital to our long term survival as a species.

This is not a religious conviction but, a fact of nature revealed by the science of our age. Our entire solar system bears testament to its violent legacy. All the planets and moons bare the scars of a tumultuous history. None of them have gone through their lengthy existence unscathed by the violent impact of asteroids and comets.

Uranus was toppled off its axis by a giant planetoid the size of our own world and its moon Miranda was torn apart and reassembled in the process. Mars is a world that was murdered in its early infancy before it had any chance of completely fulfilling its promise of becoming an abode of life. Most of its crust and atmosphere were flayed and ejected into space by impacts with giant asteroids and comets.

Towards the late nineteenth and throughout the twentieth centuries some one hundred and fifty impact craters have been discovered on our own planetary abode. In the twentieth century two impacts occurred in Eastern Russia. On June 30th, 1908, Moscow escaped destruction by three hours and four thousand kilometres—when an object some 70 meters in diameter impacted the Siberian region of Tunguska with the explosive yield of 1000 Hiroshima bombs. On February 12th, 1947, another Russian city had a still narrower escape, when the second great meteorite of the last century detonated less than four hundred kilometres from Vladivostok in a rain of rock and iron. On August 10th, 1972 the Earth survived a near direct hit and escaped with a mere flesh wound when a meteorite zoomed over the state of Wyoming and grazed the upper atmosphere and bounced back into space before thousands of eyewitnesses. Its blazing trail was even captured on film.

In the early 1980s evidence slowly accumulated that sixty-five million years ago the reign of the dinosaurs ended with a huge bang and ensuing fire storm. Before that violent mass extinctions occurred like clockwork throughout the evolutionary history of life on Earth.

The Moon, a world of on our very doorstep, provides a clear warning for all to see that our world is living on borrowed time. In the chronicle of Gervase an eyewitness account was given of a massive impact on the eastern limb of the Moon that occurred on June 25th, 1178. Evidence is also coming to light that June, despite our fondness for this month because of weddings and the promise of summer holidays to come, holds potential dangers for humanity. The Taurid beta meteor shower is one we must study in detail. It is the progenitor of both the Tunguska fireball and the object that created the blast recorded by Gervase, and lurking in its wake are more potential disasters to come.

In the late 20th century archaeological evidence has come to light that many late Bronze Age civilizations may have met their demise in a rain of fire from the sky. Back in July, 1994 during the week of the 25th anniversary marking man's first steps on the Moon the heavens provided a massive fireworks display of their own to mark the occasion. The planet Jupiter sustained twenty individual impacts from the fragments left over from the disintegration of the comet Shoemaker–Levy 9. Any one of these impacts would have been sufficient in themselves to wipe life off the face of our globe in a real Extinction Level Event (E.L.E).

Yet despite all this accumulated evidence we continue to go about our humdrum worldly concerns, abandoning any attention to the heavens and the dangers that lurk in the local celestial neighbourhood. We face the celestial equivalent of a 9/11. Humanity can no longer ignore the objective reality that its long term existence is imperilled. We either become a spacefaring civilization or face the fate of the dinosaurs.

Neither are the existential threats we face as a species limited to the perils from outer space. We also face the hazards of Super-volcanism, catastrophic climate change (both natural and anthropogenic), resource depletion and the products of our own technological folly: total nuclear warfare, biological terrorism and nanotechnology gone amok.

Plotting Our Future Course

Our ventures into space are not just the mere dare devil stunts of military test pilots nor are they a flags and footprints exercise in nationalistic chauvinism. And, neither are they the exclusive province of arcane scientific interest “just to bring back some rocks.”

Exploration has always been vital to the survival of human species and an integral component of our evolutional heritage and survival imperative. The lure and call of distant lands and new horizons is rooted in our very genes.

In 1978, paleontogist Mary Leaky and her team discovered the earliest hominid footprints (dated to be Three and a half Million years old) preserved in volcanic ash at Laetoli, forty-five kilometres south of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. They belong to one of our proto human ancestors - Australopithecus afarensis. From Olduvai Gorge to the Sea of Tranquility, we humans have travelled very far. The picture below shows one of the fossil footprints preserved at Laetoli, next to the boot print left by an Apollo astronaut on the Moon.

It is very symbolic of the giant leap forward we have taken as a species. The time has now come to venture further out on this vast new ocean of space. We must return to the Moon, this time to stay, and become a multi-planetary species. We must learn to utilize the vast untapped energy and mineral resources of the Moon and the Near Earth Asteroids and take the next giant leap forward to transform our species, Homo Sapiens, into Homo Stellaris. October 4th, 1957 marks our first baby step towards that goal.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Undersea Colonies: A Book Review by Alex Michael Bonnici

The sea and oceans of our planet have since time immemorial been a familiar but mysterious and alien territory for much of human history. This is about to change.

Dennis Chamberland’s book “Undersea Colonies” will do for undersea settlement what Gerard K. O’Neill’s “The High Frontier” did for space colonization. This book will prove to be one of the most important works of the new millennium. It is a book of truly breathtaking and awesome scope and will go very far in preparing the human consciousness for the eventual permanent settlement and colonization of the undersea realm and in creating a new race of humans that can truly call themselves Aquaticans - the permanent dwellers of the new undersea continent of Aquatica. This book will make Aquaticans of us all.

“...breathtaking and awesome... a new renaissance of wonder and exploration.”Alex Michael Bonnici - European Union Liaison – Atlantica Expeditions

Mr. Chamberland is a space systems engineer who has designed life support systems for space stations and undersea habitats. In his capable hands his wide ranging vision will become a reality.

After a hiatus of nearly forty years we can start talking seriously about undersea settlements again. In the words of E. Merrill Root “"We need a renaissance of wonder. We need to renew, in our hearts and in our souls, the deathless dream, the eternal poetry, the perennial sense that life is miracle and magic". Undersea Colonies is a book that will prove to be on the vanguard of that new renaissance of wonder and exploration. It shows us that despite a misguided false start that the dream of colonizing the undersea world is still alive and well in the very capable hands of Dennis Chamberland.

The Web site describing the Undersea Colony project is up and running. Also make it a point to see the promotional video hosted by Dennis Chamberland.

Also check the Discovery-Enterprise blog page which I contribute to with Dennis Chamberland and a Maltese-Australian friend of mine named Ralph Buttigieg.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Far Future Beckons

Welcome One and All, Far Future Calling is dedicated to the future of the human species. Our discussions will concern our immediate future and the far future measured on geological and cosmological timescales. Here we will also focus science, exploration and science fiction.

The name of this blog spot is derived from the radio play "Far Future Calling" written by Olaf Stapledon in 1931

This play was written shortly after Last and First Men's publication in 1930, and takes on the unenviable task of dramatizing that book (although it is more a summary of Last and First Men in dramatic form). It was clearly meant for broadcast on the BBC (the studio in Savoy Hill was the BBC's home at that point) but was never produced or broadcast.

Who was Olaf Stapledon you may ask?

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Olaf Stapledon (May 10, 1886 – September 6, 1950) was a British philosopher and author of several influential works of science fiction.

His work directly influenced Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, Stanis³aw Lem, C.S. Lewis and John Maynard Smith and indirectly influenced countless others, contributing so many ideas to the world of science-fiction (most of them inspired by his readings in philosophy) that they are too numerous to list. Although his work predated the appearance of the word "transhuman" in 1966, both the transhuman condition and the supermind (composed of many individual consciousnesses) form recurring themes in his work. Star Maker also contained the first known description of Dyson spheres. Freeman Dyson credits this novel with giving him the idea. Last and First Men also featured early descriptions of genetic engineering and terraforming.

The scope and sweep of his work covered vast spans of geological and cosmological time.

This blog spot isn't just about his work or science fiction of a similar vein even though at times we may and will discuss such works of fiction.
Our main concern here is the triumph of the Mind and Human Intelligence in a cold dark universe.