Review: The Martian

The Martian
The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was lovingly written by an obvious space nerd. Weir explains large amounts of science and engineering in a very accessible format. As only a true space nerd would do, there are lots of jokes and puns. Not everyone will like them, but they enhanced the story for me.

The story works as a framework to describe the technical challenges to life on Mars. The Apollo missions were visits of a few short days and Whatney, our hero, was planned to have a few short weeks on Mars. Only it goes all wrong.

What I enjoyed most was
FEELING
the isolation. So many authors try but fall flat.

Given the fiction part of science-fiction, the problems arrive one after another to give Whatney something to solve without too much of a break to recover. A normal mortal would have broken under the stress. But, then, NASA would not send a normal mortal to Mars. ūüôā

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Missing Hydrocarbons

Cosmology, origin of life, and astronomy are topics about which I read quite a bit. Any NASA and JPL discovery makes me stop whatever to read more about it. This is not something new as one of my school science fair projects was on O-Rings and Challenger. Before that I even attended Space Camp. (This was all so I could post this cute photo.)

The Saturn Group

 

Carl Sagan discusses the presence of hydrocarbons other than Earth in¬†The Varieties of Scientific Experience. Materials vary in the distance from the Sun at which they condense. Water condenses at the distance of Earth.¬†Methane condenses¬†out at the distance of Saturn. This makes perfect sense for Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, who has lakes of methane. How hydrocarbons formed on Earth if they are not readily available is the problem.

Then I made the mistake of seeing this, Life Could Have Hitched a Ride to the Moons of Jupiter and Saturn, which discusses the idea that lithopanspermia, microbes catching a ride on meteoroids, could have helped life on Earth or Mars reach the outer planets or their moons. Perhaps it worked the other way around? I have heard similar ideas that comets or panspermia from Mars or planets outside the solar system could be the origin of life on Earth. The latter is an extraterrestrial.

If one finds Earth-style cellular life forms on Europa, then how does one determine whether it came from Earth to Europa or from Europa to Earth? Successful colonization on Earth usually means the colonies having larger populations than the parent. Look at how many people in the world speak English as their primary language compared to the population of England. Or French vs France. That analogy suggests Earth could be the colony of somewhere else in the solar system. I hope we do find life near the outer planets as the amount of speculation and journal articles will be very entertaining.

P.S. The Varieties of Scientific Experience was originally Glasgow University Gifford Lectures for the theme The Search for Who We Are in 1985.

Challenger

Challenger Explosion
NASA: Challenger Explosion

Twenty-five years ago today my teachers had us all gather in a classroom. A teacher was being sent into orbit. The intent was for us to see a historic event. Instead we got to see even bigger history being made as the Space Shuttle exploded 73 seconds after launch. The disintegration of the vehicle was blamed on failure of the o-rings to contain the hot gases. It grounded the shuttle program.

When I attended Space Camp over a year later, the program was still grounded. One of my hopes was to better understand the cause. The adults instead steered us towards the physics of space flight and mechanics. A black spot on the history seemed to be avoided.

Years later, my eighth grade science fair project was to show how freezing o-rings, especially with water involved, distorted their shape. Some o-rings even cracked. It earned me a second place overall for the school. It also got me to the regional science fair where it did not fare so well.

The Saturn Group

Closing In On an Earth-Sized Planet

Now Kepler has found the much-anticipated first rocky, Earth-sized exoplanet. It did it by staring for months on end at the same 150,000 stars in the constellation Cygnus. Kepler’s 1-meter-diameter telescope, hooked up to a sensitive light-measuring instrument, is capable of detecting the dimming of a star as a planet orbits in front of it‚ÄĒeven if the star dims by only 0.01%. That’s like detecting the dimming of 10,000 light bulbs when one burns out, noted Kepler deputy science team leader Natalie Batalha of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. (Source)

Maybe we need to find one sooner rather than later?

“As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not….¬†These days, we are constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another, not just with our actions, but also with our irresponsible words….¬†We’re better than this. We must do better.” Scott Kelly, Commander of the International Space Station and brother-in-law of of Gabrielle Gilfords

Little Changes

Flipping channels, I ran across Deep Impact during a speech given by the president (played by Morgan Freeman).

The black president didn’t amaze me. Hollywood figured out how to portray them a decade before the US figured out how to elect one.

What amazed me is that with all the really cool forward looking technology for the time, instructions for how to communicate the evacuation was sent by fax to news agencies. Yeah, it wasn’t emailed. The White House didn’t post it on a web site. No mention of Facebook. ūüėÄ

Is NASA powering landing craft with nuclear drives?

At least since this movie aired we have implemented programs to discover both the large and medium objects capable of regional to global catastrophes.

We still need a plan to do something about the ones we anticipate will hit us. Or how about a plan to save our legacies? (The children, art, history)

Safe From Falling Satellites?

A U.S. military spy satellite the size of a school bus is falling. Without power, the controllers on the ground no longer can ensure it comes down in a controlled manner into the ocean. It could hit the ground in a month. At present, its unknown when or where it might hit.

The largest uncontrolled re-entry by a NASA spacecraft was Skylab, the 78-ton abandoned space station that fell from orbit in 1979. Its debris dropped harmlessly into the Indian Ocean and across a remote section of western Australia.

This quote got me thinking… Assuming this object comes down anywhere on the surface of the Earth, what are the odds of it hitting 1) a major city, 2) a populated area, 3) anyone, or 4) harmless to any human life? It seems to me the highest odds are on #4. Consider: 71% of the surface of the Earth is covered by water. So the only risk is it hitting a ship. The odds of #4 would be at the lowest 65-70%. People tend to congregate in groups up to tens of millions. Even farmland makes up only 40% of the land. Probably populated areas would not even get us to 50% of the land surface area.

Probably since the odds are so low anyone will be hit is the reason for the lack of ‚ÄúOMG we‚Äôre going to die!‚ÄĚ

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Safe From Falling Satellites?

A U.S. military spy satellite the size of a school bus is falling. Without power, the controllers on the ground no longer can ensure it comes down in a controlled manner into the ocean. It could hit the ground in a month. At present, its unknown when or where it might hit.

The largest uncontrolled re-entry by a NASA spacecraft was Skylab, the 78-ton abandoned space station that fell from orbit in 1979. Its debris dropped harmlessly into the Indian Ocean and across a remote section of western Australia.

This quote got me thinking… Assuming this object comes down anywhere on the surface of the Earth, what are the odds of it hitting 1) a major city, 2) a populated area, 3) anyone, or 4) harmless to any human life? It seems to me the highest odds are on #4. Consider: 71% of the surface of the Earth is covered by water. So the only risk is it hitting a ship. The odds of #4 would be at the lowest 65-70%. People tend to congregate in groups up to tens of millions. Even farmland makes up only 40% of the land. Probably populated areas would not even get us to 50% of the land surface area.

Probably since the odds are so low anyone will be hit is the reason for the lack of “OMG we’re going to die!”

Evidence of Dark Matter

NASA – NASA Finds Direct Proof of Dark Matter:

Dark matter and normal matter have been wrenched apart by the tremendous collision of two large clusters of galaxies. The discovery, using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, gives direct evidence for the existence of dark matter.

These observations provide the strongest evidence yet that most of the matter in the universe is dark. Despite considerable evidence for dark matter, some scientists have proposed alternative theories for gravity where it is stronger on intergalactic scales than predicted by Newton and Einstein, removing the need for dark matter. However, such theories cannot explain the observed effects of this collision.

I find the word “proof” a little strong. Definitely its evidence.