Tag Archives: NASA

Meanwhile, In Space

stormI’m online, watching images of a hurricane the size of two Earths on the surface of Saturn, and I’m listening to a literal rocket scientists explain to me all of the things that are weird about it. Being on Saturn is already weird, but he doesn’t sound like he expected any hurricanes there at all.

Most hurricanes are over water, he reminds me, and yes that seems true. I kind of have the vague feeling that it’s not just because we call them something else if they’re over land, but that the water is functional. It feeds the storm system, cooling air, evaporating, affecting air pressure.

Yes, says the rocket scientist, but he doesn’t elaborate, I’m still guessing as to why. But yes, hurricanes are normally over water, and there’s no water on Saturn. Also, this storm is locked at the north pole. We’re used to storms that lumber around and then break up and are gone. This is a really weird kind of hurricane, says the rocket scientist.

Okay, and I believe him. In fact, it sounds to me like Saturn is about to implode into a new star, but the rocket scientist doesn’t seem to be worried about that, and starts talking about something else.

The whole time he sock puppets me through the information, they’re showing me images and sometimes video of Saturn, shot from the Cassini spacecraft, which has been hanging around Saturn for a while now. I was the kind of kid who could tell you all the planets and how many moons they had, sat around in my room staring at pictures of them. Now we’ve sent a robot to Saturn, and I’m watching what it saw on my lap.

solar flareThe hurricane’s been rolling for years, locked at the north pole of Saturn, the wind blasting along at three hundred miles per hour. They’re going to keep an eye on it, while they watch meteorites break up into streams, possibly forming Saturn’s rings. While they map the seasonal plasma changes in Saturn’s magnetosphere. And while they study the ancient hydrocarbon lakes on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

Yes, and then I’m watching a commercial for some kind of car, thinking about how we’re sitting here in the future, poking around Saturn, and then another video shows up.

This one is a three-year time-lapse of our own Sun, complete with solar eruptions and a vast solar wave. They even play nice, New Age music that makes bloggers feel all introspectively New Agey when they watch it.

Pretty soon I’m thinking about the world we live in, the rabid, barking gun control debate, the bitter, grueling election. People blowing up in Boston, Syria, London, Iraq, you name it. A strike team killing bin Laden. Little flying robots killing civilians. An arch-villain corporation poisoning our food supply while we march in the streets, or don’t.

Here we have evidence that the Universe doesn’t care that much. If we want something in the Universe to care about this stuff, we’re going to have to care about it ourselves.

DrifterI find myself feeling weirdly better about everything, looking into an improbable alien storm. Watching the Sun keep spinning along, barfing plasma, burping solar wind. You got a choice, humans, says the Sun in the only way it knows how to speak. You folks figure out how to get along and work together, move from world to world, or I’ll eat you. I’ll explode one day, and I’ll eat you all, even in a billion years while you kill each other with lasers or sticks. You work it out or don’t, squares.

Some pretty effective New Age music in that three-year Sun montage. Got my philosophical panties in a bunch, yessir. I think I’m going to go and grab a beer, take that edge off. You stay here, blogosphere, and think about how much we matter. I’ll be back in the morning.


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Well Look Who Wants Some Help From NASA

One thing Newt Gingrich, NASA, and I all agree on is that we need to get some guys up to the Moon and build a little city, and then we need to get some guys to Mars, get their pictures taken, and then build a little city there, too.

Yes, that’s a lot to take in, and if it makes you feel any better, that is an exhaustive list of the things Newt Gingrich and I agree upon.  But bear with me here.  I’m about one-third serious.

Sure – I know we don’t have any money to throw around turning the little pictures in my head into reality.  I do admit, that’s a giant chunk of it, for me – nothing intellectual, I just want people on Mars driving around in little bubble cars with ray guns on them, preferably fighting monsters (and preferably winning).

So don’t start lecturing me about the budget.  I’m a screaming liberal – you can jam that budget right up your ass, we’ll buy whatever I say we’re buying.  Now get out there and create some jobs you lazy millionaires, I’m running up quite a tab here for crying out loud.

Maybe there’s some indigenous Martians we can steamroll over – something for the both of us, right?

I do agree though – NASA could do a better job marketing itself.  To be blunt, they don’t blow stuff up very often, but when they do it’s big, crazy expensive stuff, there are sometimes people in the stuff, and it’s always right on camera.  They don’t get a lot of air time when they do it right, you get about five seconds of footage – There go those crazy astronauts!  Look they took a panda bear and a treadmill with ’em this time!

Sure but right when they blow something – good lord, it’s awful.  They usually have to spend most of their effort trying to sockpuppet their way through an explanation of how any of this is even possible in the first place.  Then we pick out words that stick out because we understand them, but which don’t make sense.

Tiles?  What the hell are you taking about, tiles?  Spaceship tiles?  Why does the sky burn spaceships?  It doesn’t burn me.  It doesn’t even burn the horizontal kind of airplane.  Shit, it doesn’t even burn the tiles!

So we get all mad at them, like we do at regular tech guys on Earth.  Just Old-Fashioned, Language Barrier At The Drive Thru Window frustrated and mad.  Except we need our computers, we use them every day and we realize it pretty quickly, so we tolerate the terrestrial Tech Guy.

But do we really need these smug Super Tech Guys talking crazy to us while they blow stuff up?  It’s hard not to run through it in your head – would I even notice if you guys weren’t in space, screwing around? 

Then sometimes they hold dramatic press conferences and make everybody think they’ve discovered life on some other planet or a freaking time warp or something, but instead it’s something else, something you don’t even know what the hell, and they have to explain to you why you should be so excited about it. 

Or other times one of them puts on a diaper, drives across state lines, shoots somebody.  They end up explaining that yes, they sort of wear diapers sometimes in space, and yes, you can go Space Crazy.  “We used to really keep that shit under our hat til the Internet showed up,” they tell us.

Yes, and nobody likes the price tag and nobody ever taught them how to fudge the price tag.  They just come out and tell us, yeah, we’re going to crash this robot into Venus, see what happens.  Be around eighty million dollars but it’s going to be sweet, get some whiskey.

They should just price everything they do in terms of countries.  The Moon Base, for example, will probably cost us a couple of annualized Canadas.  I mean, I know where we can get one of them, sure – but where the hell are we going to get another?

I don’t know, Republicans – that’s your problem.  Just get out your checkbooks, there’s a killer asteroid coming and I’ve been busy blogging, so I’ll have to get you back on the next one. 

You heard me.  See for yourself – here’s the article, right from one of your notorious neo-conservative websites:  Asteroid 2011 AG5 May Pose Threat To Earth In 2040.

Now, put down your hookers and your Monopoly hats and focus.  I need you to understand a few things.  1) Asteroids have hit the Earth in the past  2) Asteroids have wiped out entire species on Earth in the past and 3) There are still asteroids all over the place out there, a whole bunch of them that keep right on moving because there is so rarely anything Earth-like in their way.

But did you catch that?  Rarely.  We’ve always known a killer asteroid was a possibility, but it has always seemed so remote.  Somewhere south of lightning strike odds.  I think the last big one to hit the Earth was about seventy million years ago (and no, I’m not going to google it).  So if the odds are one in seventy million, then we are about due aren’t we?

What if the odds are 1 in 625?  Cause that’s what they are currently calculating as the odds that this 460 foot chunk of iron will strike the Earth.  Right from the article:

“Talk about the asteroid was on the agenda during the 49th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), held earlier this month in Vienna.”

Did you even know there were peaceful uses for outer space?  I didn’t either.  Death Stars, Star Destroyers, X-Wing Fighters.  Plus don’t even get me started on the enormous hand-shaped Teeth Monsters that live inside the asteroids.  Just absolutely infested with Mynoks. 

Anywho, this is literally a Rocket Scientist Meeting in Vienna we’re talking about – a big one – and they were taking this as seriously as anything else. 

Guess what they agreed?  They said, well, we haven’t been watching it that long, so we can’t be sure yet.  We’d put that odds at oh, 1 in 625, we’ll keep an eye on it.  And anyway, we’d have until 2023 to get a deflection mission going if it’s really headed our way.

But here’s what I think.  I think they’re watching the rest of us.  I think they’re hearing us talk about how dumb it is to send people into space and how we need to keep our feet on the ground and gee, it would be nice to play Space Man but we have enough problems right here. I think they’re hearing the whole thing – who needs NASA?

And I think that if they determine the asteroid is headed our way, they’re going to smirk and turn around with their hands on their hips and go, “Wellllllll, welllllll, welllllllll – look who needs a space mission from NASA to save eeeeevvvverrrrryboddy’s assss.”

Come on NASA, just deflect the meteor.  Ohhhh, I don’t know, fellas – that’d be reeeaaaaalll expensive and there’s nooooooo money.  We have enough problems right here on the ground!

Maybe turn out their pockets and shrug theatrically at us.  Member, fellas?  We don’t have enough money to goof around in space with our space toys, so you kept cutting our funding and second-guessing every single thing we wanted to crash into something else.  Every single hundred million dollar thing we want to fly to Mars and drive around.  Sure, maybe we could help you  – if we’d HAD MORE PRACTICE!

Anyway, that’s why I think we need the Moon Base.  It’s not why Gingrich thinks that, he was just running his mouth and something true flew out of it – the sun even shines on a dog’s ass some days, yessir.  But he’s right and it’s actually very simple. 

This is what the rocket scientists want to do, and we don’t want to offend the rocket scientists cause we’re going to need them when the asteroid finally shows up, whether it’s this one or another one.  The math is done – it’s coming, it’s just a matter of whether it’s now or fifty years or ten million, but oh yes, it’s coming.  I mean, they just now started looking in the last fifty years, and there’s one!  THERE’S ONE RIGHT THERE, GONNA BE CLOSE!

Are you betting on the fifty million?  Okay, well you do that.  I’m going to stand over here with the scientists, maybe shake ’em up a few martinis, take that edge off.

And speaking of which, we’re talking about NASA, so regardless of whatever plan they’re hammering together in Vienna, there’s a good chance they’re not deflecting it.  They’ll just spend four Spains and a Portugal trying to, and then go, “Aw shit.  Now it’s on fire and it’s going faster.” 

You see, we can’t be sure it’s going to miss us, and we definitely can’t be sure this crew is going to deflect it – God bless ’em but it’s not like they never screw anything up.  The only thing we can be sure of is that the asteroid is not going to hit two places, whenever it arrives.  So therefore we have to make sure we’re not all sitting around in one place – like the President and Vice President, yes?  Human race?  Carrying on?  Into the future? How many eggs do we keep in our basket again? 

Also, do you know how to check and see if there’s already a Moon Base?  Me either – if you asked me yesterday, I’d call NASA and ask them, but do you think they’re going to tell us about it now?  Good God, man – wake up.  It’s like, if you don’t let your kid on Facebook they’ll just get on there anyway and block you, so instead you let them and friend them and then do a standard Lurk And Watch. 

So building a Moon Base and getting actual, live people over to Mars is not just about ensuring humanity’s survival, it’s about keeping an eye on NASA’s otherwise-secret Moon Base and so on.  It’s about being paranoid and creepy.  And yes, it’s about spending money we don’t have on shit, just because I think it’s cool.

But mostly it’s about us, sitting here living in the toilet we just turned the world into and we’re flipping off the only people who can get us off of it.  I can’t shake my face hard enough for that to make sense. Everybody’s moving to freaking Idaho, like that’s going to help. First we decide the Nobel Prize sucks and now we’re all like, Shut Up Rocket Scientists We’re Trying To Eat Our Chicken Wings!

Like they’re not going to have chicken wings on the Moon.  Pull your head out of your ass, America.  Look down just a little and ask yourself:  Is this the future I want for my children?  And let’s be honest, we’ll be lucky to build one Blurry Triangle Asteroid Shooty Unit by 2040.  These two are fully operational, and they have their hands full.  We need to get busy, and we need to get busy NOW.



Earlier:  2010: The Year We Find Weird Microbes In A Lake

And:  I’m Sorry Did You Just Say Supermoon?

And:  The Startling Mind Of God Coincidence

And:  Welcome To The Harmless Ice Monster Project


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Friday Feedback Roundup

Did you know that Darth Vader never said, “Luke, I am your father?”

I’ll bet you knew it, but then you forgot over the years as people like me kept misquoting him as saying that, but actually what he said was, “No, I am your father.”  Alert reader Rachel S. sent me a very nice email saying, you know Tom I didn’t want to stink up your lovely Leslie Nielson tribute, but you did misquote Darth Vader in it, FYI.

And she is of course correct.  Kind of like how Shatner never said “Beam me up, Scotty,” it’s just the kind of thing that gets repeated enough and that’s that.  I think in the Darth Vader case, you have to quote him as saying “Luke” or nobody will know what movie you’re talking about – there are lots of movies where somebody is somebody’s father.  So that’s my excuse.

But I went ahead and went back and fixed it as if it never happened.  Probably nobody except Rachel and I would know about it right now, if I weren’t for some reason putting up a post about it.  I need an agent or an editor or whatever you call a person who hangs around and makes sure you don’t post anything silly, though that sounds like a frustrating job in my case and I’ll bet the turnover would be pretty high.

Also, after shooting my mouth off about naked airport scanners and how it’s not your airplane and you don’t have to ride it, and also after telling several thousand people who were fired up about it that they were being dramatic, I went ahead and checked with a couple of attorneys, who informed me that there’s strong possibility that’s really an illegal search going on there.

Huh.  Research legal stuff with attorneys before cracking wise about it – I’m making a note about that.  It doesn’t change the fact that I think those folks are being dramatic – I do think that – but if it really is a Constitutional violation, then have at it, I guess. 

But you know, when I accuse you of being dramatic and your response is something like, “I’m not being dramatic I just don’t want my children to be molested by pedophiles AT THE AIRPORT!”, and to then drag out an actual soap box and get up on it solemnly reciting Thomas Jefferson quotes with ominous drums in the background, well, let’s just say that’s not a very convincing argument against your own melodrama.

All I was saying was, search everybody equally.  It really seems to me like it’s okay with average white mommy if you drag anybody brown out of line and frisk them like they’re being arrested, but right when you do it to them, suddenly it’s time to break out the Jefferson quotes. 

And yes, it’s still okay with me if you want to search me for bombs or even look at naked pictures of me as I’m walking through the airport scanner.  You can even print off a copy and take it home with you – knock yourself out, nut.  What am I worried about, that it’s going to find its way to the Internet and catch on like wildfire?

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get something to catch on, Internet-wise?  If I thought a naked picture of my bombless body would do the trick, you can bet your ass you’d be looking at one right now.

But the attorneys I spoke to are pretty surprised no one has filed a lawsuit yet.  Pretty soon, someone will, and we can all put this behind us.  But I’ve seen the patdowns on the news and spoken to dozens of people who experienced them firsthand, and I can tell you this:  comparing them to child molestation or rape is a very definitely dramatic, and it’s also an insult to anyone who has actually endured such a horrific crime.

But just because you’re being dramatic doesn’t mean you don’t have a point – I’m sorry, Patriotic, Civic-Minded Air Travelers.  You were right and I was being antagonistic for no reason. 

Onward to my pal Shawn, who wants me to reiterate that the microbes found in the California lake I spoke of yesterday are definitely a big deal, which yes, I know they are.  I just think the next time NASA says they have a big announcement, they need to say “AND IT’S NOT ALIENS!”

Of course, I guess then, no one will ever find out what they’re talking about, except a bunch of smart people like Shawn.  But Shawn’s a decent guy – he’ll summarize it for me, if something like that  happens, and then I’ll summarize his gargantuan words here, in Translated Smaller Word Blog Form. 

The system works!

And alert overseas reader Ecossie Possie (probably not his real name, just a guess) wanted to point out that, regarding my racially charged Hobbit post, most albinos are from Africa, and therefore there may have been Zulu warriors who were white.  A good point, but I’m not an albino either, I’m a regular old caucasion dude from Ohio.

It’s like, hey man, what do all white people look the same to you?  That’s racially charged, man – you’re reading the right post!

But anyway, African albinos aside, I’m still not a good extra Zulu warrior for your Zulu movie – and I’m absosmurfly positive that there weren’t any albino Mongolians. 

All right then, that’s a post right there.  A post about previous posts, like the clip episodes of sitcoms, where Laverne and Shirley get locked in a bank vault or something and spend the time remembering hilarity from past episodes.  Contractually, I think I can do that about twice a month, and if you’re as alert as Shawn and Rachel S. and Ecossie Possie, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when I do.


UPDATE:  Within one half hour of this post, Shawn texted me to let me know that there’s a really well known albino kind of tribe in Mongolia.  He knows their name – it’s in my phone, but my phone’s way over there – and they are a real bunch of albino Monogolian human beings, and so yeah.  Sorry about that, too.  I’m still not an albino so it doesn’t matter, and anyway absosmurfly doesn’t mean anything.


Posted by on December 3, 2010 in Future Tom Grab Bag, Writing/blogging


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2010: The Year We Find Weird Microbes In A Lake

You see, NASA, I just don’t think you’re really understanding the rest of us non-rocket scientists, or what we would naturally expect out of you when you announce a press conference and say that it’s so you can “discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”

You see, NASA, all we heard was “extraterrestrial life.” 

That’s it.  You’re NASA, and you said “extraterrestrial life.”  You folks are lucky we didn’t go full-blown, end-of-the-world bonkers on you, burn every city on Earth to the ground before your 2pm press conference even got started. 

We were thinking, all right now, you’ve been finding planets with atmospheres right and left, suddenly everywhere you can point a camera you’re finding water, so we figured this was coming. 

You got aliens, don’t you, NASA?  That’s what we were thinking, you know.  You either got aliens and you’re going to bring them out in little sparkly unitards at the press conference, or you’ve got some of them on the phone or on Skype maybe, from some other planet. 

No.  That’s not it, you said.  It’s even better.  We found some tiny little microscopic organisms and get this – they thrive on arsenic!

Well, that’s definitely pretty bitchin’, I had to agree.  Where’d you find those crazy critters, NASA?  Mars?  You found them with your little Martian car, didn’t you?  Or were they on that one moon of Jupiter that was in 2010: The Year We Make Contact? 

Which planet did you find ’em on, fellas?  It wasn’t Uranus was it?  When are you guys going to get around to changing that name, anyway? 

Then you seemed sort of defensive, didn’t you, NASA? 

You said, no, we found them in a lake, in California.  But it was a crazy poison lake, just like some other weeeeeiiiirrrrddd planet might be like.  And the fact that there were microscopic organisms in it, eating arsenic sandwiches, means that we can now…

Hold on, NASA, I’m just going to stop you there.  You said that you found a weird bacteria in California?  Okay, so how weird? 

Ah, I know.  They must be alien bacteria, right?  I’ll bet they crashed here a thousand years ago, and altered the whole lake to be like their own homeworld, and slowly climbed the evolutionary ladder ever since, and probably there are some cows and chickens missing, from the local farms around the mysterious lake, and only a clever teenager and his faithful, plucky dog have a chance to save us from…

No.  No, Tom, NASA tells me, that’s not it either.  They’re not alien – it’s just that they kind of like, could be

Wait a minute, what?

Well, you know.  We found a sort of organism that we didn’t know was possible.  So now, the areas where we can look for life have been expanded to –

To what, NASA?  Poisonous arsenic lakes on other planets?  Is that what we can now momentously expand our search to?



You see, NASA goes on, we were always looking for a specific type of environment, in terms of searching for extraterrestrial life.  We had to work with the type of life which we knew for sure was possible, and this, well this just blows that whole notion out of the water!


It’s very exciting, Tom.

Are you freaking kidding me, NASA?

No, seriously, Tom, it’s really cool.

I have no doubt that the microscopic life form you found in California is super cool, NASA.  It’s just that you’re NASA.   Usually when someone tells me about a new bacteria or a tasty new lizard or whatever, that they found right here on Earth, that person is a biologist or a zoologist.  Maybe a microbiologist, in this case.

We have those kinds of guys at NASA.

For crying out loud.  I’m going to be really honest with you, dude.  I’ve been spending a lot of time the last few years getting excited about your trillion dollar remote control dune buggy on Mars – the second one, that is, not the first trillion dollar dune buggy, which if I’m not mistaken you lost, yes?

Yeah, but that was totally not our fault.

I know, NASA.  Mars is far away.  But lots of people are talking about how maybe since the global economy is in tatters, maybe we could trim several trillion dollars off our domestic budget by concentrating on matters that are right here-

Yeah, NASA says, but these are right here!

Right here, yes, NASA, I know.  But they were microbes, not trillion dollar bills, correct?


You don’t need to pout, you’re the one made your bed, when you built up your press conference like it was from 2010 or something.  Something’s about to happen – something wonderful!  Well, wonderful in microbiological terms.

You know what we call that in layman’s terms?  We don’t call it anything, we just stand there blinking at it like a rock or a turd or something.  Did you guys notice how when you were in Rocket Science School all that time, the rest of us weren’t with you?

Don’t get me wrong, now – I’m all for you.  I love it when you crash things into the Moon just to see what kind of crap flies into space, or when you land little cameras on comets, or of course when you drive little dune buggies around on Mars.  I think you’re cool, and I even think your microbes are cool.

It’s just that nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about, NASA.  I mean, the first thing you had to explain to us was that this microbe was unheard of, and then you told us it’s heard of now.  It’s hard to get shocked by something which someone had to explain to you was shocking.

You know what would have been more shocking?  Well, practically anything. 

You’re not doing yourself any favors with the melodrama.  People don’t like it when they’re expecting giant, shapeshifting robots or something, and they get weird, California microbes.  It’s not a Trillion Dollar Budget kind of thing to triumphantly wave around, you know?  People start thinking, maybe these guys have too much money to screw around with, too much time. 

Get some perspective.  It’s hard enough to continually justify your budget to my skeptical fellow citizens when you got astronauts driving around in diapers and trillion dollar dune buggies stuck in the sand on Mars.  Screwing with our heads in this manner doesn’t help, and from now on, I’d like you to please cut it out.

The next time all of your rocket scientist buddies get all excited about something, try running down to the nearest bar or White Castle or bowling alley, and tell the first ten people you see what you’re excited about.  If any of them know what you are talking about and get just as excited, then go ahead and call the press conference.

If they all just blink at you, then there’s a good chance we’re not going to care.  Save yourself some time and energy and embarassment – knock out a nice scientific paper about it and call it a day.


Posted by on December 2, 2010 in Future Tom Grab Bag, News/Commentary


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