Showing posts with label space. Show all posts
Showing posts with label space. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Reading the Martian, and book experiments


I’ve been travelling in Sydney trains for a few months now. I spend about 40 mins travelling one way, so its more than an hour of commute each day. Though the distances covered is larger than those I covered in Bangalore in the same time, or any Indian city, I would venture. And good thing about my commute, there are always seats ! Even during the rush hour, you could find seats to slid into. So I figured the best way to spend time on these commutes would be to listen to podcasts, or just read a plain old book when the batteries die down.

I’ve been also running a crazy experiment of sorts. After I finish reading a book, I leave it on the seat. There. Abandoned. For the next commuter on that seat. You see, the building I live in has a library of abandoned books. Books which their owners throw out when its too much cargo when they move out. So its a free library ! I’ve read and left about four books on the trains so far. Just finished reading Andy Weir’s The Martian. This novel was turned into the hit 2015 movie by Ridley Scott. The movie was Ridley’s best work in this decade, in between all those Alien duds.

I could see why the book was a hit, its a story of survival in the harshest conditions. Its a fight against nature, and the cosmos itself. Its a story of the whole earth uniting to save one man stranded on a distant planet. But I also could not see why the book was such a hit. Its nerdy. Its full of long jargon, longer, meticulus calculations, and technological exposition. Engineers and scientists would love this kind of thing, but anybody else would find it..hmm…boring. Repititive.

I didn’t !

I loved it. Most of it. But then even I got bored of all those calculations, error variance, and best estimates. There is a lot more of the story happening in the book, which got cut out of the movie. And that was good, because there is no way a 2 hour movie could capture this much techno-babble.

We all know what happened to the stranded fictional astronaut Mark Watney. He is eventually rescured after 500 days alone on planet Mars. But the book goes into great detail to explain all the problems he and the NASA team faced along the way. There is a journal entry for most of the 561 sols he spend on the planet. There are other subplots not discussed in the movie.

Like the incident during the drilling of the second rover’s rood. Mark accidently shorts out the electronics on the pathfinder, and loses his ability to communicate with earth.  This is not shown in the movie. But in the book, Mark has no choice but communicate one way using stones arranged in morse code on the route he follows across Mars.

Or when the rover tumbles into the crater.

But I still had questions, which I hoped would be answere in the books, but was left disspointed.

For starters, Mark is extermely optimistic. Like, he is the most optimistic literary character I have read till date. He beats Robinson Crusoe hands down. Its unnatural , the guy simply does not give up. He does talk to himself a lot, but he voices his optimism clearly. I wanted to know the why he was so. Wanted to know about his childhood, his college days. Was he in the forces ? Does he belive in a god ? What pulls him to earth ? Was it his family ? Speaking of family, neither the book nor the movie tries to shed light, what kind of family did he grow up in ? Does he have siblings ? A girlfriend ? His best friend ?

Another question, this is more of a tease. The story mentions that Mark travels more than 3oo days travelling across Mars in rovers. He was carrying all the equipment to keep him alive, but he was not carryin a porta-toilet or something. So, where did he poop ? How ? And how did he cook the food he brought along ?

But what I find most astonishing is the passage of time. 500 days is almost 2 years. He spends a lof of that time travelling, and completing all sorts of tasks. Its easy to say 100 days of travel. But Mars has a barren crust, its the same shade of red everywhere. 100 days of travelling through it is not at all easy, with no one to talk to, and having to be alert all the time. At some point, one will at least think of giving it all up. But not Mark.

Anyway, despite all of this, the book is still a good read. The epilogue in the movie is missing in the book. It ends with Mark’s rescue from the planet. Science, technology, humany ingenuity and persistence, this is what the story is about.

Now that I finished reading it, I am going to leave it on the train tomorrow. For someone else to enjoy.











Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Theres now a car in space !!


Nowadays there is a crazy amount of non-sensical news out there, that sometimes the really awesome stuff gets skipped over.  Somebody might have dared Elon Musk way back in high school, and I think he did this just to get back. SpaceX, his private aerospace company, this week launched their heaviest rocket yet, in what is any company’s coolest PR stunt , ever. They actually launched a Tesla Roadster car in space ! Complete with a dummy driver, named Starman. How cool is that ?

But the real accomplishment of this event was how the two boosters of the rocket returned, and landed back on earth. Two of the boosters were recycled and programmed to return for a simultaneous touchdown at Cape Canaveral, while the third, brand new, set its sights on an ocean platform almost 500 kilometres offshore. This is the technology they are trying to advertise, the cost savings when re-usable engines are used. Its sticker price is $US90 million, less than one-tenth the estimated cost of NASA's Space Launch System megarocket in development for Moon and Mars expeditions.


The car could be traveling between Earth and Mars' neighbourhoods for a billion years, because it did miss its target of going to Mars.

Thank you, Mr Musk. This video of starman in space is ultimate food for Nerds !

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The universe moves on , like clockwork


The much hyped celestial event, the super blue blood moon, occurred precisely at the time astronomers predicted. The moon was cutoff a little, then glowed an eerie orangish-red. It was weird watching it personally, this is only the first time in my life I have seen this kind of a lunar eclipse. And perhaps the last time too.

It was nice reading about the enthusiasm with which people looked forward to viewing this spectacle, inspite of superstitions around the world.Of course there are superstitious idiots in even the most advanced of places. And last year there was a similar hype for the solar eclipse. Today we understand the movement of the stars with precision, imagine what the earliest humans would have thought when they saw the moon turn red. In ancient Amazon , they would have sacrificed a few dudes to the event. Or some 'homam's and 'puja's would be conducted with large amounts of ghee burn for nothing. We need a scientific approach to universal phenomenon. Questions need to be asked, and answered. Even after all the data, nobody could predict who would win the  2016 election accurately. But eclipses can. We seem to understand more about our universe than about our own minds.

And it is events like these which remind me that despite all the chaos on earth, the universe moves on without unchallenged. Its as if nobody up there cares about the stupid things we do down here. And rightly so. Events like these re-reinforce my belief in science, nature; and the truth that ultimately ,we humans are powerless against the forces of nature.

Reminds of that great quote by Carl Sagan.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Pluto Is Still A Planet….


…in New Mexico !

As far as most of the world is concerned, poor Pluto got downgraded from planet to dwarf planet (or planetoid) back in 2006 when the International Astronomical Union revised their definition of what constitutes a planet. For the curious, Pluto was downgraded because it lacks enough gravitational pull to distinguish itself from other dwarf planets in similar nearby orbits.

Whatever the reason was for the change in Pluto’s classification, New Mexico’s House of Representatives was having none of it. For you see, the man who discovered Pluto back in the 1930s, Clyde Tombaugh, was a long-time resident and a former professor of astronomy at New Mexico State University. Regardless of what the international astronomy community had to say about the matter, the people of New Mexico had a very strong opinion about the matter. Kandilley, karimeen puttaakee ?

In 2007, the House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring that March 13, 2007 would be observed as Pluto Planet Day and that whenever Pluto is in such a position that it can be observed in New Mexico’s night skies it is, in fact, still a full-fledged planet.

Bonus Trivia: Because Clyde Tombaugh was born in Illinois, the Illinois State Senate passed a resolution in 2009 that asserted Pluto was “unfairly downgraded to a dwarf planet” by the IAU.