Friday, January 8, 2016

Barsoom Development Ltd.

The Curiosity Mars Rover sent a 'postcard,' a 360-degree view of dunes and a mountain in Gale Crater.
  1. Postcard from Mars
  2. Postcard from Mars: 360° View
As usual, I'll ramble on about science, technology, and being human, before getting to the interesting stuff: assuming that you think a robotic selfie from Mars is interesting.

Not-entirely-as-usual, I wasn't finished rambling when I started the 'postcard' stuff, so this post has an afterword. I've done that before. (August 28, 2015; July 31, 2015)

This time it was about life, death, and Mars:

Mars and Humanity's Long Journey

(From NASA, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(From the cover of "Human Exploration of Mars Design Reference Architecture 5.0," Bret G. Drake, Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (January 15, 2009))

I don't think it's a question of 'will we travel to Mars.' It's 'will we travel to Mars in a few decades, centuries, or millennia?'

If it's during the next several decades, the odds are pretty good that at least one team will be with NASA. If we decide to put it off for a few centuries or more: it's likely that folks in another part of the world will have the resources and interest needed.

But I would be astonished if this is the moment in our long story when we stop acting like humans.

Starting at least 1,900,000 years back, we began leaving east Africa.

My ancestors include the lot who left humanity's homeland somewhere between 60,000 and 125,000 years ago. We followed receding glaciers into northwestern Europe, eventually crossing the northern Atlantic.

We headed inland, ending up a few day's walk short of the continent's geographic center.

I'm related by marriage to folks who arrived earlier, and that's another topic. Topics. (September 18, 2015; October 31, 2014: July 11, 2014; March 17, 2013)

Minnesota, Hawaii, and Radiation Burns

Outside the window, just over an arm's length to my right, water is a mineral: and won't melt for several months.

But technology ranging from several layers of cloth to polymer sheets made of stuff that didn't exist in my youth, keep the environment next to my skin pretty much like equatorial Africa.

I'd probably get the radiation burns we call sunburn if I went back. We've been away from home for a long time. Yet more topics. (November 20, 2015; October 16, 2015)

Over the last few million years, quite a few of us stayed home: wherever that was at the moment. But quite a few got fed up, were forced out, or simply wondered what was over the next hill: and went over the horizon.

I don't see that as a problem: but I'm descended partly from folks who ended up a tad north of Germania, and moved to a place that's even colder; so I'm arguably not at the 50th percentile.

As for settling Mars, we've done something like it before.

Somewhere between one and two millennia back, Polynesians stocked colony ships with everything they'd need to set up the ecosystem they preferred — and headed across Earth's largest ocean. Arriving in Hawaii, they may or may not have met folks whose ancestors made the trip earlier.

More about Hawaii and all that:
Living in Hawaii doesn't require the sort of tech we need to live on Mars: or Minnesota, for that matter. It's one of the few places on this planet that's actually comfortable for us.

A Vine, a Fig Tree, a Cistern, a Habitat Module - - -

(From "Human Exploration of Mars Design Reference Architecture 5.0," NASA, used w/o permission.)
(NASA's 'Mars and return' vehicle; 2015. Details will almost certainly change.)

Early outposts on Mars probably won't look exactly like the modules shown in "Mars Exploration Zones." (NASA, YouTube (December 22, 2015)

But I think the design won't be all that different, either. Requirements for living and working haven't changed all that much in the two dozen or so centuries since 2 Kings 18:31 was written.

What's different on Mars is that we'll need to set up a recycling system for air, water, and food. Here on Earth, that's mostly an automatic process that was working long before we showed up.

By now you may be wondering why I called this blog A Catholic Citizen in America. Probably not, though, if you've read these 'science' posts before.

If you know why I'm not offended by technology, truth, and the universe; skip ahead to Postcard from Mars: or get a cup of coffee, take a walk, sort your socks, or whatever. Or check out a short link list of resources.1

Psalms, Wisdom, and Getting a Grip

(From NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); ESA/Hubble Collaboration; used w/o permission.)

The universe is big and old. We've known this for a long time.
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft."
(Psalms 19:2)

"3 Terrible and awesome are you, stronger than the ancient mountains."
(Psalms 76:5)

"Yours are the heavens, yours the earth; you founded the world and everything in it."
(Psalms 89:12)

"Your throne stands firm from of old; you are from everlasting, LORD."
(Psalms 93:2)

"4 Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.

"But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent.

"For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.

"And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? "
(Wisdom 11:22-25)
Over the last few centuries, we've started getting a notion of just how big and old it is — which bothers some folks no end.

Then, around the middle of the 19th century, some folks said that because we can use the brains God gave us to understand this vast and orderly cosmos — God doesn't exist.

I'm over-simplifying the situation, but this post won't be ready by Friday morning if I start discussing why I think insisting that God agrees with some long-dead Dublin-born Englishman makes no sense. (January 9, 2015; July 15, 2014)

I've also talked about Copernicus, Galileo, newfangled ideas, and getting poetry and science confused, before. Also the possibility that we're not alone in the universe. (August 2, 2015; July 31, 2015; July 18, 2014)

Using Our Brains

I'm a Catholic, so I must believe that God made the universe and the things of faith. I must also believe that honest research cannot contradict faith. We're supposed to study this wonder-filled creation. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159, 2293)
"...God can not deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth...."
(Dei Filius, Vatican Council I, 248 (1870) (quoted in Catechism, 159))
Faith and reason, religion and science, get along fine: or should. (Catechism, 39, 159, 286)

Scientific discoveries are invitations " even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator...." (Catechism, 283, 341)

The Catholic Church's view of science shouldn't be surprising — We're told that truth is very important. (Catechism, Prologue, 27, 74, more under Truth in the index)

Faith, in the Catholic sense, is not reason: but it's not unreasonable.

Since I believe that the things of faith come from God, that God created the world, and is Truth2 — fearing knowledge of God's world would be illogical.

Then there's the notion using our brains offends God. I've said this before, a lot —

Thinking is not a sin. We're expected to use our brains: wisely. Science and technology, learning about the universe and using that knowledge to develop new tools, is part of being human. (Wisdom 7:17; Catechism, 3071730, 2292-2295, 2415-2418)

1. Postcard from Mars

(From NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, via, used w/o permission.)
("This Dec. 18, 2015, view of the downwind face of 'Namib Dune'" on Mars covers 360 degrees, including a portion of Mount Sharp on the horizon."
"Curiosity Rover Eyes Towering Sand Dunes on Mars (Photos)"
Mike Wall, (January 6, 2015)

"NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has captured some spectacular new photos of big, active sand dunes on the Red Planet.

"The new images depict the dark Bagnold Dunes, which Curiosity has been studying for about 6 weeks in history's first up-close investigation of extraterrestrial sand dunes.

" 'The mission's dune-investigation campaign is designed to increase understanding about how wind moves and sorts grains of sand, in an environment with less gravity and much less atmosphere than well-studied dune fields on Earth,' NASA officials wrote Monday (Jan. 4) in a description of the new photos, which Curiosity took between Dec. 17 and Dec. 21...."
Mount Sharp's official name is Aeolis Mons. It's in Gale Crater, a few degrees south of the Martian equator. Layers visible on Mount Sharp/Aeolis Mons may be old lake bed deposits, exposed by a few billion years of wind and sand: or something else. (May 10, 2013)

Whatever processes shaped Mount Sharp, it looks like lakes and streams flowed in Gale Crater — billions of years ago. (NASA (October 8, 2015))

2. Postcard from Mars: 360° View

(From NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS; via Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology; used w/o permission.)
(Curiosity Rover in the Bagnold Dunes near Mount Sharp, Mars: a 360 degree view.)
"Full-Circle Panorama Beside 'Namib Dune' on Mars"
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (January 4, 2016)

"This view of the downwind face of 'Namib Dune' on Mars covers 360 degrees, including a portion of Mount Sharp on the horizon. The site is part of the dark-sand 'Bagnold Dunes' field along the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. Images taken from orbit indicate that dunes in the Bagnold field move as much as about 3 feet (1 meter) per Earth year.

"The component images of this scene were taken on Dec. 18, 2015, by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover during the 1,197th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars.

"The bottom of the dune nearest the rover is about 23 feet (7 meters) from the camera. This downwind face of the dune rises at an inclination of about 28 degrees to a height of about 16 feet (5 meters) above the base. The center of the scene is toward the east; both ends are toward the west...."
That's probably not quite what we'd see if we were standing by Curiosity. The image was 'white balanced,' so the rocks and sand appear roughly as they would under Earth's sunlit sky. We're closer to the sun, so the light is more intense here.

Another adjustment "accommodates including rover hardware in the scene," as JPL put it.

More about that:
Now, a brief harangue about life, death, Mars, and being human.

Interestingly, harangue comes from Middle English arang, French harangue, Old Italian aringa — which came from from aringare ‎which means "speak in public." and aringo, "public assembly;" which probably has nothing to do with Ringo Starr.

Curiosity, Robonaut2, and being Human

That's a photo of Robonaut2, R2 for short, a NASA/General Motors robot, taken July 28, 2009. The pose reminds me of something from Shakespeare:
"...The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve...."
(Shakespeare's "The Tempest," Prospero; Act 4, Scene 1)
Wrenching myself back on-topic — Nth-generation robonauts may land on Mars before we do, setting up ground facilities before the comparatively fragile humans arrive.

I suppose we could keep sending robots like Curiosity, stay here on Earth, and settle for a second-hand experience. I don't think that's going to happen. Certainly not unless we develop AI that's as good at dealing with the unexpected as we are.

AI, artificial intelligence, has come a long way in the last few decades. But this old quip still seems like a pretty good description of what robots and computers are good for, and one of our strengths —
Computers solve problems involving vast amounts of data, all of which is precisely correct. Humans solve problems involving very little data, most of which is wrong.
As I've said before, humans travel: a lot. (December 12, 2014; July 11, 2014)

Living and Dying on Mars

(From NASA, used w/o permission.)

I had an online conversation with someone who expressed the idea that going to Mars and dying there was a bad idea. My guess is that he was thinking of Mars One, a Netherlands-based outfit that plans to send folks on a one-way trip by 2027.

It's not as bad as it sounds. The idea is that they'll set up a permanent colony on Mars. My guess, and hope, is that Mars One folks are wildly optimistic about how long it will take to develop the necessary technology.

I won't go as far as authorities in United Arab Emirates who issued a fatwa against Muslims taking the trip: because it would be a form of suicide.3

What NASA and other outfits are planning for the immediate future are round trips: traveling to Mars, exploring part of the place, then returning to Earth. I'm pretty sure that we won't have the technical know-how to live there permanently for decades, maybe generations.

The biggest obstacle to settling Mars may be legal, not practical.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1966 says that space exploration should be "for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind."

I very strongly suspect that a few folks will have conniptions when space exploration leads to someone making practical use of Earth's Moon, or Mars, or any place they don't control. Or maybe it'll be because Barsoon Development Ltd is [shudder] making a profit.

I've been over that before. (October 3, 2014)

Getting back to Mars and staying alive: I think taking reasonable precautions to avoid accidental death while exploring, and later settling, other worlds makes sense.

But staying on Earth because eventually someone will die on Mars, or Earth's moon, or someplace else? That does not make sense, not to me. Folks have been living, and dying, on Earth for millions of years. That doesn't mean that we should stop living: on Earth, or elsewhere.

Bear in mind that I'm descended from folks who wound up in central North America: dying very far from humanity's home in eastern Africa.

I wouldn't be surprised if someone like me will eventually have a conversation with someone who thinks leaving the Solar System to die is a bad idea: because folks should live where God intended, in places like Winnipeg, Athabasca, or Gusev City.

And that's yet again another topic. (August 1, 2014)

(Detail of "city night," by molybdenumgp03, used w/o permission.)

Looking back, around, and ahead:

1 Background:
2 2 Samuel 7:28; Psalms 119:90; John 14:6; Catechism, 215-217)

3 Suicide is a bad idea and we shouldn't do it — no, Catholics are not supposed to believe that folks who kill themselves automatically go to Hell. (Catechism, 2280-2283)

Suicide is a very personal topic for me, in part because I've experienced the impulse. (December 14, 2014)

More about suicide and dealing with depression:


Brigid said...

Missing a word or two: "so the rocks and sand roughly as they would under Earth's sunlit sky."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

P.S. R2? Really?

Brian H. Gill said...

Oops. What I meant, not what I wrote. Fixed!

And yes: R2. Really. Star Wars was, I am pretty sure, in someone's mind when that label was made.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.