Monday, June 15, 2015

Weightless Porn


Anyone buying this? The 200-Mile High Club. Space agencies everywhere want you to believe it doesn't exist. And of course, as soon as I start blathering smugly that I don't court controversy or scandal, the concept of space porn hits the news.

 So let's talk about it. Seems the Pornhub team of Los Angeles has created an Indiegogo campaign for "Sexploration," whereby they hope to fund the first sex tape in space, and give away swag for those who contribute. You don't want details. I didn't even want details. Careful how you go about Googling it if you're curious.
Because space scientists are so enthused about Apollo
being associated with pornography

Despite the epic eye-roll my extraocular muscles conducted involuntarily, sex in space is a hugely overlooked area of research. So much so that if we truly want to discuss the concept of "colonization" on any other celestial body, one can actually call it a "research GAP" now.

While I don't think sensationalized pornography will be instrumental in addressing said gap, I'll reluctantly resign myself to acceptance if this gets some conversations started. Perhaps the problem is that the subject makes news so infrequently, and tax-payers are so squeaky about admitting sexuality in varying levels of gravity is a reality. Sex is a basic biological drive, and we're absolutely going to take it with us wherever we go.

My quibble comes with the immaturity with which any such efforts are accompanied (and this was edited just to show the cleanest stuff):

Look at all the potential Nobel Prize winners!

A few years back, the London Telegraph, NY Daily News, and even TIME journalists made unfunny quips about Shuttle Discovery Commander Alan Poindexter's statement that "We [astronauts] are a group of professionals. Personal relationships are not an issue."

I groaned when I saw this, knowing it would be crammed down every available throat if any two astronauts were so much as photographed hugging. Seems like this subject comes up every few years, the worst episode being the Document 12-571-3570 hoax, I repeat, HOAX... where the 1996 STS-75 mission allegedly completed assignments for testing various carnal positions in weightlessness.

Really? Pretty nifty accomplishment for the all-male crew of STS-75, being that there were no women and certainly no married couples aboard the orbiter (that only happened once, and they were married after the flight assignment had been set) -- but hey, don't let any pesky facts interfere with our all-too-human tendency to be humorously immature about intimate relations.

For the reality-challenged: This didn't actually happen in space.

I have two overall thoughts on this matter rearing it's head again:

1. People need to grow up. Stephen Hawking famously commented that successful off-world exploration and perhaps even the long-term survival of humankind will depend on learning to live and reproduce in space. Many science fiction novels have also examined the possible physics or developmental challenges in practical terms. This area of science is not an American Pie sequel and will be addressed in time.

2. Sexual intercourse has indeed occurred in micro-gravity, just not among humans or large mammals. Reproductive studies upon other taxa, such as fish, birds, insects, fish, and amphibians are evident in the literature for anyone who actually cares to examine scientific documentation, as opposed to the puerile ramblings of tabloids and pornographers who trivialize:

Ijiri, K: Fish Mating Experiment on STS-65
Freshwater Oryzias latipes mated, laid eggs in space, and these eggs developed normally to hatching in microgravity.

Ronca, April: Effects of Prenatal Spaceflight in Neonatal Rats
Ten pregnant rats flown for 11 days on board the NASA space shuttle from gestational day 9 (launch) until gestational day 20 (landing) of the rats' 22-day

Fritzsch, Bruce: Foetal Rats / Birds Raised in Micro Gravity on STS-66
Deficits in behavioral orientation have been observed in chicks and rats reared in microgravity, suggesting that microgravity may induce the growth of anomalous neuronal connections between the vestibular and motor systems.

Wakayama S: Effects of Microgravity on Mouse Development on STS-80
Sustaining life beyond Earth will require clear understanding of how the space environment affects key phases of mammalian fertilization and reproduction.

The question isn't whether or not we can figure out a way to "do it" in weightlessness. We are animals. We will always find a way. The crucial question is can females safely become pregnant, and give birth to normal, healthy progeny on other worlds?

For more information, and differing opinions, see Motherboard's interesting 3 part series on Sex and Gender Issues In Space.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Laws of the Space Jungle


My last post wished the Hubble a happy 25th birthday and one of my pals joked over Facebook that hey, Hubble can finally get a rental car!  I had a funny flashback to Hubble turning 21, and quipping that it could finally have a beer.  Why do we project human milestones onto hardware missions? Beats me. Perhaps it's just our simplest measure of the passage of time, serving as easy comparison.

My buddy Mike C. in Austin quipped back on the same string, "Well if astronauts went up to repair it again and share a beer, since it is technically in space, would the age laws from the US apply on missions?"

Would you believe the answer is yes?! Technically, astronauts who imbibe in space would have to be 18 years old on Russian or Chinese rockets, 20 in the Japanese ISS module, and 21 on any various American crafts.

So says Article 8 of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (excerpt): "A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body."

Space Treaty
Mostly so this doesn't happen...

The HST is a shared project between NASA and the ESA, but the Hubble is on the American Registry of Space Objects, and also listed by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs as US territory. The same would apply to any of our orbiters or landers.

International Space Station laws apply similar "Location"-based principles. The broad agreement says "...each partner state in this visionary cooperation adventure registers its own part of the station, and consequently can apply its own laws to events therein."

The drinking age would only be a single example. Even patent law applies; if something is invented in the Kibo module, Japan owns the rights.

Legally speaking, we now have a piece of the US annexed to a piece of Europe annexed to a piece of Russia annexed to a piece of Japan in low earth Orbit.

Space Law
Cool, huh? And it's just the tip of the iceberg. Space Law is developing into such a robust field, all the major Space Treaties, Declarations and Principles are too numerous and labyrinthine to cover effectively here… but consider this:
The UN's master list of all agreements between space-faring nations is now 55 pages long... and those are just the titles! In addition, space exploration is subject to international law, not just the dictates of those with the resources to get there. In other words, all nations have a say in how space is used, even if they do not have launch capabilities.

Those who are curious can visit the UNOOSA site to browse traffic regulations, liability for floating debris and collisions, [lack of] moon ownership and, believe it or not, extra-terrestrial alien rights.

That's not a typo. ALIEN RIGHTS.

Interested in pursuing it as a career? As space tourism becomes a reality, this field will only grow. They even list the many schools offering degrees in space law. Because that's what we need. More lawyers ;)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Happy 25th Anniversary Hubble!


Wow, it seems like just yesterday, we were celebrating Hubble's 21st birthday, back when the intrepid eye-in-the-sky was old enough for a beer!

On April 24, 1990, STS-31 Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off on its mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) into orbit. This amazing astronomical observatory, a joint NASA-ESA project, has now been orbiting above Earth's atmosphere and observing celestial bodies for more than two solid decades!
Full-size Hubble Space Telescope mockup in the Smithsonian
(The "Structural Dynamic Test Vehicle")

Named after astronomer Edwin P. Hubble (1889-1953), the HST is capable of taking extremely sharp images in ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared wavelengths, and many of its captures have led to incredible astrophysical breakthroughs, not the least of which is accurately determining the rate of expansion of the universe. In our own neighborhood, HST taught us a great deal about TNOs, dwarf planets and KBOs; and the very farthest objects seen, in Hubble Ultra Deep Field, or HUDF, are galaxies 13 billion light years away!!

To date, Hubble has observed more than a million celestial targets and amassed more than 100 terabytes of data in multiple archives!

Not too shabby for a telescope with a rather... inauspiciously blurry beginning!
Click to embiggen

Plaque reads: "Inside Hubble is one large, round, curved mirror and other smaller mirrors that focus light into cameras and other scientific equipment. When Hubble was launched and scientists first turned it on, they had a problem: the pictures were blurry! It's large, round mirror accidentally had the wrong curved shape, so the telescope couldn't focus. Luckily, the problem could be fixed by adding more small mirrors to the telescope, and in 1993, a crew of astronauts flew up and carefully slid them into place.  It was like putting on a pair of eyeglasses. Suddenly, Hubble could see stars, galaxies, and gas clouds much fainter and farther than anyone had ever seen before."
Before and After
Click to embiggen again

In May 2009, the fifth and final service mission, STS-125 Atlantis, captured Hubble to replace gyroscopes, computers, and scientific instruments over a whopping 37 hours of space walks! With that marathon upgrade, they made the telescope 100 times more powerful than when it launched. Human hands (or rather spacesuit gloves) won't touch it again, but hopefully it will last at least another decade.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Artoo in Love


So today I get to hit you with the best three minutes and thirty seconds you have ever seen on YouTube. And if you're a fan of Star Wars, you will of course consider this an R2-D2 "spinoff" film -- hopefully the first of many??

The aerial shots and special effects alone are worth the cinematic interest, the sound effects are a crack-up, and to anyone who has grown up watching Star Wars (and that's all of us), it's stunning the degree to which this little droid can still draw adoration from our hearts.
"I don't know. Fly casual."

Who hasn't fallen head-over-wheels in love this way, fallen into depression after being chase off by a Sithy-bot, but then prevailed by finding an even better electrical match? Aww, don't cry over stolen mailboxes, R2. (Because C-3PO totally would have called her "Yoko," anyway.)

You're nodding. See, I knew it.

We've all been there:

See YouTube Page for full Film Credits

The short-and-sweet film was written and directed by engineer Evan Atherton, who together with the star's R2-D2 builder and film producer Grant McKinney, used Autodesk's Pier 9 workshop in San Francisco to 3D print parts for R2-KT (the pink robot love interest).

STAR WARS meets 3-D PRINTERS. It's all too magical.

"Artoo in Love" premiered at the Sonoma Film Festival, drawing attention, articles, and reviews from the likes of Esquire, Boing Boing, the New York Daily News, the Dork Side, Huffington Post, and my personal favorite, San Francisco Travel. Wow! Not too shabby for a debut short!

It even crossed the pond to appear in the UK's Mirror. As it spreads around the world, one wonders if there is no Tinder equivalent for hardware?

R2-D2 builder Grant McKinney (left) with pals at Yuri's Night
(Space Shuttle Endeavour Pavilion - CA Sciences Center)
Photo Credit: Gerard Fajardo

Be sure you watch "Artoo In Love" a few times -- appreciating the amazing original score! Laughter, tears, lightning bolts! This has it all.

And I'm not just saying that because it was filmed in San Francisco, my home city, and, in my not even remotely humble opinion, the absolute BEST skyline in the world. But that part didn't hurt.   

Robot romance in the future site of Starfleet Headquarters?? That's the stuff.