Thursday, November 8, 2018

Carl Sagan Day 2018

Happy 10th Annual Carl Sagan Day!

As of tomorrow, it's been a full decade of HAIL, SAGAN! Once again, colleges and museums have planned awesome planetarium shows, educator workshops, family activities, telescope classes, and star-gazing. From Carl Sagan book readings in SC to Florida Meetups for Carl Sagan Day to MIT lectures Sagan Day 2018, celebrations honor what would have been Sagan's 84th birthday.

Carl Sagan and the Voyager Golden Records

Best known from the original COSMOS series of the 1980s (the most widely watched program in PBS history!), Carl Sagan is known for his part in the Voyager Golden Records aboard spacecrafts Voyager I and II, and their longevity; his many fiction and non-fiction books packed with highly-quotable written material, and his tireless advocacy for science and astronomy.

He is immortalized in a science museum near his Ithaca, NY home, which includes the Carl Sagan Planet Walk scale solar system, complete with stampable passport at every planet, and narrated by Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Sagan taught at Cornell and Harvard universities, and worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Other titles included technology officer of the Icarus planetary research journal, Planetary Science Chair at the Astronomical Society, Astronomy Chairman at the Advancement of Science Association, and Co-Founder of the Planetary Society, the Earth's largest space-interest group.

Carl Sagan passed away in December 1996 at the age of 62, and was buried in New York (Lakeview Cemetery, Ithaca) right beside his parents.

An astronomer, philosopher, professor and NASA consultant, Carl Sagan won 30 public awards, published over 600 scientific articles and authored or co-authored 20 books. I’ll never weary of recommending Pale Blue Dot to anyone who will listen!  The unmanned Mars Pathfinder spacecraft was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station in 1997. Asteroid 2709 Sagan is also named in his honor.

Sagan was instrumental in the early Mariner missions to Venus, determined landing sites on Mars for the Viking Lander probes, and also assembled the first physical messages sent into space.  He was instrumental in establishing the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), urging the use of radio telescopes to detect signals from other intelligent life. Along with Frank Drake, he also composed the Arecibo message, beamed once into space in 1974.

Carl Sagan with the VLA

He's one of those people who makes you scratch your head and think, "What the heck have I been DOING with my time?!"

Carl had the ability to make space "knowable" to audiences of all ages. He was known for popularizing  science in a way that inspired people to understand both our insignificance in the larger universe, but also, paradoxically, the absolutely precious nature of our enormously unlikely existence.

Follow me on Twitter today for #TriviaThursday, all day today, which is all about Carl Sagan's life, works, activism, and scientific accomplisments! Speaking for space geeks everywhere... thanks a billion, Carl.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Space Travel Still Sucks

Even back when "" was all the rage with their irreverent lists, I wasn't always a fan of basic "Internet Top 10" lists. However, once in awhile -- and when my space blog was the hot new thing in the fledgling "Spacetweep" community -- something grabbed me that was worth commentary.

One particular article has remained on my mind through the years, and if you missed it, click graphic to read the:

6 Reasons Space Travel Will Always Suck

They weren't wrong. Space travel sucks. Space travel has always sucked. No matter what Elon Musk tries to spin, space travel will indeed continue to suck. Amazingly, most people still say they want to experience it... but upon speaking to them, it's clear that's because even people who truly support space agencies don't always know what it takes to survive off-Earth, and how sick you can become without the comforting gravity in which you evolved.

The saddest-but-truest statement starts out the article with a big bang: "We love movies about space, but are continually bored by actual space travel."

This is not what space travel will look like. Ever.
Yeah, we wish.

They drive home the point that even for far-off future generations, space travel may not meet our expectations, because...
6. There is No Sex in Space
5. It'll Be More Like a Submarine Than Star Trek
4. Life in Zero-Gravity is Horrible
3. There's Nothing to See
2. Getting Anywhere Interesting Means Never Going Home
1. In Space, On-Star Won't Do Shit For You

I read the entire article, desperately hoping I could disagree with it. Nope. They nailed it on every count.

Space Travel Will Make You Sick
Spacebarf: actually the least of your worries.

There is no way to reproduce, so we aren't going anywhere as a group. Cramped quarters, not a cruise ship. Weightlessness messes with your head, your balance, your blood, your muscles (including your heart) and your bones. I know all this first-hand from my spaceflight simulations, which I performed for Johnson Space Center between 2008-2010. At one point while adjusting to micro-gravity, even the fillings in my teeth hurt.

All that just to travel through 99.99% of blackness – perhaps to reach something that will be the last thing you ever see. That's if you make it at all, considering the massive dangers… because you're dead if even the slightest thing goes wrong.

Guys like Bas Lansdorp, Dennis Tito, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Peter Diamandis, and especially Elon Musk just make me roll my eyes. It's all well and good to be rich and visionary about hardware, but they are selling a fantasy.  

I would give anything if even just one of them repeated my spaceflight simulations so that they actually understood what space flight can do to the human body.

They talk like we are leaving for Mars in a year or ten. We aren't. 

Space Travel Isn't All It's CRACKED Up To Be
Hey, suppose we go to all that trouble... and THIS
is the only thing on the other end of the journey?

Key concept: "Your life depends on your time aboard the starship being skull-crushingly boring."

So apparently, that's the funny part. The unfunny part? Underneath all the hyperbole, the message is clear: We all want the "future" of space travel to get here, but few truly understand the reality of what it takes to get us there. We have to go through many, many downers before we get to the payoff.

Why is all of this on my mind? Once upon a time, I put my body and brain on the line for science. As an astronaut analog, I spent more time in contraptions simulating micro-gravity than most astronauts have spent in actual orbit. The longest any astronauts spent on the Moon was on the Apollo 17 mission, where Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt were on the lunar surface for 4 days. My lunar study hardware put me in 6% gravity for 7 days. 

I have a 10-year bone density DEXA scan coming up. I'll see if there were any lasting effects from my participation in the study of how leaving Earth gravity affects humans long term.