Tag Archives: space

Thoughts on Alberta

I haven’t lived in Alberta for a long time so that now when I go back I notice the difference. I am just a tourist in the place of my birth. Calgary is an immensely spread out city. In the middle of the prairies there is room to grow like a slowly encroaching disease. Alberta itself is known as Big Sky Country. When you compare it to BC, which is mountainous all the way to the coast (we are part of the Rockies), there is a huge difference.

Edmonton to Calgary (canola fields)

Edmonton to Calgary (canola fields)

Calgary is in the foothills, on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. You come out of Banff, if you’re driving from BC and the sky just opens up. It is rolling hills and flat patches. There is nothing but sky and fields. I can see how someone growing up in the mountains or heavily wooded areas could find that great blue expanse disconcerting. I find it noticeably different in comparison to Vancouver.

Calgary, years ago, built their downtown core fairly compacted with buildings set close together. It made the downtown darker and colder than the outlying areas. The city center is also in a dip or a bowl and the city rises up out of the bowl on all sides. Keeping the downtown in that dip served to concentrate the center but the rest went its own way. There are major thoroughfares that crisscross the city north to south and east to west. They have such names as Sarcee Trail, Crowchild Trail, Deerfoot Trail, John Laurie Boulevard, Shaganapi Trail, Edmonton Trail, McKnight Boulevard, etc. Many, as you can see are reminiscent of the First Nations bands that originally occupied that area.

These roads are two to three lanes (there are others I haven’t named) and though they have lights at intersections, those lights are spaced very widely apart. Many of these freeway style roads are bordered by giant boulevards. It would be better to call them small inclines rather than boulevards because they often slope up (or down) and are 20 to 30 feet wide. Many of these roads are also bordered by large walls, used to keep sound out of the residential areas.

I grew up in the northwest (Calgary works on a quadrant system of street names and numbers split into NW, SW, SE, and NE) and at one time it was bordered by Spy Hill, or Nose Hill. I believe there are still houses on the other side of the area but it is protected land. Once I believe it was ranchland and may still have be partially privately owned but it is the only true hilly region (small part of the foothills) in Calgary. We used to go up there and do bow and arrow shooting at targets or just explore.

Just these major “trails” alone in Calgary take up a lot of space. Without them it would take far longer to go from one side of the city to the other. The last time I was there it took two hours one day to go from NW to SE, and I’m not sure we even hit the farthest reaches of the city. I cannot fathom how I managed to live on one side of the city and used to take the bus to work on the other side, before they had rapid transit.

One place to go for hikes is Bragg Creek. I went with my friend for a hike. Some uphill and some flat Picture 141spaces and a very nice view from other parts. Bragg Creek has a meandering creek that has never been particularly high from what I remember. Farther away is Elbow Falls. We didn’t go that route but did a three-hour hike (or a bit less) which gave us good cardio but was not hard. Runners are all you need but watch out for the bugs. Something bit my arm while we were walking though it neither itched nor swelled up.

Back in Calgary, one thing I did notice was the very high price of food, comparable to what I’ve seen in Seattle. Onions here are between .69 and .79/lb. In Calgary, $1.49/lb. Other fruits and vegetables were similarly expensive. Ouch.

The weather was hot, pulling in a short and fierce windstorm that killed two people and injured about 100 others and yet we missed it going from building to house. It lasted no more than a half hour. It poured one night, growing toward thunderstorm, but that never happened. Thunderstorms are common in Alberta and tornadoes are not uncommon in the southern parts of the province.

After so many years, I saw the differences in weather and land and city structure. I still prefer my home in Vancouver where usually the summers aren’t as hot, nor the winters as cold.

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Mars Needs Children!

Everyone’s seeing Red for the next millennium. Will our children be living on the red planet? (First published on Technocopia in 1999. Remember it’s partly future history now.)

Events are heating up in the space race and our nearest planetary neighbor is the target. Mars has been of interest to scientists and writers for decades. Now, more than ever, exploration is taking place, as well as educational programs and developmental projects in the hopes of colonizing Mars in the near future.

NASA, the Planetary Society, the Mars Society, as well as individual groups and organizations, are encouraging interest in colonizing Mars. The children learning about it today could be manning those first missions planned for 2020-2030. That’s only twenty years! (Or ten, now.)

The big questions being asked are:

  • Does Mars still have water (frozen beneath its crust)?
  • Is there any life form from microbe to bigger evident on the planet?
  • Can we afford to economically, ethically and physically send manned missions to Mars?
  • Can Mars sustain an artificially generated environment?
  • Can it be colonized in the future?

On December 3, NASA’s Polar Lander will land on Mars. This is the just the beginning of Mars exploration. The Planetary Society’s microphone, as well as the Deep Space 2 microprobes, on the exploratory vessel will record any sounds. These recordings will be available several days after the landing on Mars and broadcast through the society’s Planetfest ’99 program so that people can listen to the first sounds ever heard from the Red Planet.

At least two soil/info-gathering missions will be launched from 2001 on; the Mars Surveyor 2001 Orbiter and Lander. It will land on Mars in 2002 with the first soil samples returning in 2003. More samples will come in four-year intervals afterward. The analyses on these will tell if there is past or present life and what minerals make up Martian soil. Scientists now believe that all the planet’s water is still there, but buried as permafrost and beneath that a liquid water table kilometers deep.

Will We Destroy Before We Create?

There are probably not many planetary environmentalists yet but the possibility of Martian soil samples containing microbes that could contaminate and wreak worldwide havoc on Earth is already being considered. As well, there is some concern that Earth vehicles landing on other planets might carry microbes that could contaminate and destroy alien life before we have a chance to study it. It’s less than five years until Martian soil arrives on Earth.

It’s argued that Earth microbes couldn’t contaminate Mars because:

  • Atmospheric pressure is so low that any liquid would boil away to vapor
  • Atmosphere is so thin that solar ultraviolet light has sterilized Mars’s surface
  • Most of the planet’s surface is below freezing

Most probes and launchers starting with the Viking landers were baked for 40 hours at 112 degrees C, but considering the strong anti-oxidants in the Martian surface, it was decided that only on “life-detection” landers will sterilization be necessary. This leaves less possibility of contaminating a sample with possible “chemical fossil” or microbes from Earth left on a lander. However, any manned mission would complicate the possibility of contaminants. Germs would escape from an airlock opening; likewise any waste produced by a mission would have the same problem. The first manned missions would most likely have astronauts in orbit around the planet while sterilized machines gathered data and transported it back to the space stations or ships. Testing in underwater volcanic regions and beneath Antarctica’s ice is already underway to simulate possible situations on Mars.

Optimists like Robert Zubrin, former Lockheed Martin engineer and now president of the Mars Society, say that the first manned mission could be in ten years. NASA takes a more conservative approach and believes manned missions will begin around 2014-2020, with the first manned team launching in 2018. They hope to have the Mars team stay on the planet for a year and a half. That’s at least a five-year mission for any astronaut.

Looking to the Future

The U.S. Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley, launched the Mars Millennium Project in August. Partially sponsored by the Planetary Society, it involves “artists, scientists, and astronauts,” as well as school age children. Over 40,000 schools and youth organizations have already signed up to participate in designing a possible community and its needs for 100 colonizers to live on Mars in 2030. That’s a great way to get tomorrow’s citizens participating in missions to Mars and other planets.

Buzz Aldrin, the second person to set foot on the moon thirty years ago, is highly supportive of the Mars projects and hopes to be on one of the manned missions in 2012. He has a patent for a space station that will orbit Earth and Mars. He believes future funding will come from many areas including the “liberal arts community” and sees Mars as viable not only for exploration but as a tourist resource.

BBC and China Online report that China is also getting into the race for the Red Planet. Reports say that China is looking at manned missions to the moon and Mars by 2005, but with China’s secrecy about their space program it is difficult to find supporting documentation.

MIT graduates and students entered a Mars contest this summer with a business plan for Mars exploration. NASA definitely is planning for the future and priming people from school children to graduates into thinking of ways to generate funding and consider habitation solutions. According to CNN writer Robin Lloyd the Think Mars group, organized by Boston graduate students, first entered a NASA contest with a “goal to complete a business plan for human exploration of Mars in accordance with NASA’s objectives.”

Today’s children will be tomorrow’s Mars pioneers. Mars exploration opens up so many new fields of technology from making oxygen to how a life form alien to an environment can thrive many light years from home. Move over, Star Wars. Mars is real and getting closer every day.

The problems facing Mars colonization:

  • Requiring anywhere from $40 billion to $450 billion in funding
  • Psychological effects on astronauts so far from Earth physically and emotionally
  • Physical effects on astronauts in a sustained low-gravity environment
  • How to generate enough fuel, food and oxygen for the trip, which could take up to 26 months
  • Contamination of the planet by Earth microbes that could kill any existing organisms and the ethical consequences of destroying a new life form
  • Microbes, bacteria or radiation detrimental to plants or humans that are native to Mars
  • Not able to make a sustainable oxygen rich environment

The solutions and benefits to colonizing Mars:

  • Discovering other life and a better understanding of the universe
  • Building a space station to manufacture and process samples and equipment
  • Exploration landers are being sent up beginning in 2001 to carry out tests on the environment and to bring back soil samples
  • A MIPPP (Mars In-Situ Propellant Production Precursor) is already being tested that can generate oxygen out of a simulated Mars-thin atmosphere.
  • Space Station MIR has already given valuable information on prolonged space dwelling and its affects on the human body
  • Support of government, scientific, educational and commercial/corporate bodies in funding space exploration
  • Continued technology and ethical concerns for any preexisting life on both Mars and Earth

 Some sites:

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India in Space: Bang, Zoom, to the Moon

What did Jackie Gleason know when he said, “To the moon, Alice. To the moon”? That one day without the aid of his hollow threats to Alice, that people would go to the moon. India has now joined the US, USSR, China and Japan in sending a ship to the moon. This is an unmanned, information gathering, two-year trip. NASA has also tossed a bunch of bucks toward it and India signed an agreement with NASA.

Back when the US was putting a man on the moon the USSR had to do so too in the Cold War era. Was it just  a need to explore, for humankind’s reach to go further into the mystery of the stars or was it a race of paranoia so that one superpower could have supremacy over the other? Later there was the Star Wars program and other scary propositions on just what would happen if one country got the big guns into space before the other.

When I heard India was punting a ship to the moon I first thought, “What, another country that has to prove it can do it?” But after reading a bit more, it wasn’t another case of one upmanship but an effort in working together to further research and for India to be included in the future. Space travel has always been phenomenally expensive and the only way, and the most logical way, is to pool resources, both financial and research.

There is already a group of countries (Insternational Space Agencry) that are working together for future space flights and plans for Mars. But there are countries that continue to do their work in secret, not sharing and suspicious of any questions. China comes to mind. Perhaps as time and modernization progress China won’t see the US as running dog lackeys and the US won’t see China as the yellow menace.

Between India and China they hold one-third of the world’s population, and Asia has about 61% of the population according to a United Nations report. As time progresses more and more races will mix and eventually everyone may have the same creamy brown skin. White people are the minority as population goes. It will be a good thing when everyone looks like everyone else and racial fear will be lessened.

World population is expected to increase from the current 6.1 billion (2000) to 8.9 billion in 2050. That’s a 47% increase in 50 years. Natural resources will be depleted even further and pollution will accelerate, perhaps beyond repair. Truth to tell, work on pollution should have begun thirty years ago when Lovelace put forth his Gaia hypothesis. So let’s say that people keep multiplying like roaches. That’s why there is Mars and moon exploration. Sooner or later the infestation will have to spread or the human race will die down. Personally, global birth control wouldn’t be a bad thing. Limit how many children everyone can have, but that could be ugly to enforce unless people chose to do so to help keep the planet sustainable. Go forth and multiply is no longer needed. We’ve succeeded to the point of implosion.

You could say China and India have the most to gain with getting some of their two billion plus people into space. But what if religious, geographic or philisophical conflicts persist? What if people don’t share? Then it’s a race not just to see who can get to Mars or the moon or some other place first. It’s a race to see who can colonize first.

The chance of shooting people from Earth to space is still a pretty slim and expensive possibility though there is the capacity to do so now. The chance of taking over all of the moon or Mars is also slim and a long way in the future. Like the world’s mosaic, I hope that when we get to peopling the moon and Mars that it will be considered an extension of Earth and all races will have equal ownership. That does mean that there could be religious colonies or ethnic colonies and that we could bring our grievances and hatred into the stars. There is the fear of course of some fanatical group getting a stranglehold first but the moon and Mars are still pretty big places and trying to enforce sole ownership will be nigh to impossible for a long time .

I’m going to hope that we slow down our population growth, work together in space exploration and maybe by the time we’re colonizing, the world will be one big happy place. I can dream, can’t I?

 News article on India’s moon flight http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/world/6073509.html

United Nations report on world population http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/longrange2/WorldPop2300final.pdf

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