Monday 13 January 2014

Europa Report and National Space Centre

Bit of a space filled weekend. Watched Europa Report on Friday night, which I really enjoyed and went to the National Space Centre

Europa Report

My sort of film and I thought it was a pretty good portrayal of how a trip to some place far away might pan out in the early days. Briefly, its about a space mission to Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, which is a top candidate at the moment for being a potential host to life. It is a moon completely covered in ice with a suspected ocean underneath all the ice. This liquid water environment could be a host to life and has led to Europa being one of the Solar System's most interesting body in terms of the search for extra-terrestrial life. Here is a great infographic about the structure of Europa from

This movie is about a mission to Europa to search for life. I think, sending people rather than just robotic missions was justified by the need to boost human space put something (or someone) out there and just do it! Just doing it would pave the way and encourage others to do it (compete?). Plus having people on site is always going to be more productive in terms of science accomplished, as humans can change the plan, make on the spot decisions which robots may not be able to do.

So there was the psychological aspect of sending a small crew (6) on a long distance voyage, in obviously cramped, claustrophobic conditions. This is one of the main aspects of long distance space travel that may be a concern. Can you successfully choose a group of humans to send of into space where they simply cannot get away from each other for months if not years, without them ending up wanting to kill each other? Or just simply, even if they all get on, can they as a group put up with the isolation?

This is something we have started to try and tackle, with projects such as Mars-500, where 6 volunteer crew members were shut into a simulated space craft (on Earth) for 520 consecutive days, to simulate the isolation of a trip to Mars.

I liked that they (in the movie) said it was the most watched thing in TV history. I think that is exactly how it will be if and when it happens. Well, at least at first. I myself would be glued to it non-stop. It would be the biggest reality show ever (or at least it should be, although, sadly, most people don't see the unbelieveably, amazingly mind-blowingly, complicated and greatest achievement of humankind ever - spaceflight, as that interesting)! But I do think the general public would loose interest after a while...which to be fair, it would probably end up being a bit tedious, as it would just be a reality show about a crew of people sitting in a very cramped place just doing very little on a very long journey.

I suppose it could get 'interesting' if they started falling out and having controversy, but being a scientific expedition, not a cash cow for TV stations, I am sure they would censor all that out. It would certainly be the biggest psychological experiment ever. But unfortunately, one that you couldn't step into and halt if things go sour.

Actually, how bad would it be if a divide occurred amongst the crew and there was bullying or fighting or worse. We (well the people on the project), back on Earth, would have to watch helplessly (again, the general public would probably not see the full truth of what was going on).

Or what if a problem developed with the space craft leading to a long, drawn out, slow death for the crew? Again, helpless back on Earth, we would just have to say good bye and watch...or not watch maybe. Maybe, morally, we would break communications. I wonder if they would give them some suicide pills for such eventualities? Makes me wonder if they already do this to current astronauts. I wonder if the astronauts on the ISS have a means to commit suicide?

That would be a hard one to discuss...I think suicide is actually illegal, so to provide someone with the means to commit suicide would be illegal, but in these circumstances, would it not be inhumane NOT to give them the means? I mean dying from air running out or carbon monoxide poisoning or freezing to death if heaters fail...I don't know. Maybe not on the ISS, as I think there is always a lifeboat available. But on a long distance mission with zero option to escape...?

Anyway, I look forward to the day when I can witness space flight beyond Low Earth Orbit. I am too young to have witnessed Man going to the Moon in the Apollo era. My hope currently lie with the likes of Elon Musk founder of SpaceX and the Mars-One project.

I like the thinking of Mars-One, in that we _have_ to just get on with it and accept that it is easier and cheaper to go one way. Just DO IT! Otherwise we will procrastinate forever. If there are willing volunteers to go one way (and there have been an astounding number of volunteers: >200,000 so far) then just do it! If we can prove we can do it, even if we can't bring them back, then it opens the doors to others trying. I really think it will. Humans are adventurous but also competitive.

Mars-One hope to send humans to Mars by 2023. Less than 10 years from now, well within (hopefully!) my lifetime. I really, really hope I see this.

This is the problem though, I feel like even though I am lucky enough to have been born into a technological age, I realise that technology and knowledge is growing exponentially, constantly and that whatever is amazing today will be old news in a few generations time. What will the state of technology be like in 50 years time? Look how far we have come since the 1960s to today in terms of science and engineering? Medicine, space travel, engineering, computing (big one), so much has happened in a small space of time. That is why I am worried that I am going to miss even bigger and better things after I die...the next chapter...So, I hope I see some good, new cool stuff in mine.

National Space Centre

What a cool place. Go see it! I love it. A whole centre dedicated to space and space exploration. The kids loved it, although, only being 3 and 5, they just loved running around and seeing the rockets and stuff. I could spend all day in that place reading everything, but that's tricky when keeping an eye on kids.

When you first walk in, there is an awesome Soyuz Capsule hanging from the ceiling, apparently the only one in western Europe on display! They have lots of displays about astronomy and the planets and history of spaceflight (not just human). Some British space faring history too: The Blue Streak rocket (missile).

But I think the best attraction there is the Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium It is just amazing, I love it! Its enormous and the spherical screen above almost completely surrounds you! The quality is amazing and the quality of the videos they play are excellent too! We sat in on two different shows mainly because I wanted to. Plus I thought the kids would love it, which they did...They'll appreciate it more when they are older too.

All in all a good weekend. There was a party for the boys to go to on Saturday afternoon too. Lisa did pirate cakes for them (Ralph and Henry) which went down very well.

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