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August 7, 2017 | by  | in Super Science Trends |
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Space! What’s It Up To?

I’ve been wanting to do a SPAAAAAAAAAACE column since I started writing Super Science Trends. The only issue is “everything outside of Earth” is a pretty broad category to cover, so here’s a smattering, a constellation if you will, of news stories about the final frontier.

SpaceX’s reusable rocket, the Falcon 9, achieved a successful repeat launch in March, after first launching the previous April. Being able to recover and reuse a booster rocket is the next big hurdle to leap if Elon Musk wants to achieve his dream of putting people on Mars cheaply and quickly. After all, it’s a lot to pay for a rocket out of pocket. According to Jim Cantrell, founder and CEO of Vector Space Systems and the Steve Jobs to Elon Musk’s Bill Gates, it takes about five to ten reusable rocket flights before you make money back on your investment, and most current generation SpaceX rockets will likely only be used for three trips at most. The next stage is to make the rockets reusable within 24 hours of a previous launch by 2018. Looks like Team Elon is blasting off again.

US Congress voted 60 to 1 on a bill to approve a new branch of the military, the United States Space Corps. Don’t go expecting the Guardians of the Galaxy though (even if they will answer to a ego the size of a planet, heyooooooo), as they’re being assembled as a division of the Air Force in order to protect America’s ever-growing phalanx of communication satellites, not future alien attacks. In 2007, China showed they have the capability to take out America’s “eyes and ears”, and as Cold War II starts to heat up, the Trump administration is antsy to send either soldiers or weapons into orbit as early as 2019 to protect them. The Air Force isn’t so keen on the idea, but space travel optimists hope a military budget will be the kick in the pants the space program needs, even if it is in anticipation of a War in Our Stars.

This July marked the 20th anniversary of the landing of Pathfinder, the first ever Mars rover mission. One interesting tidbit is that it, and other rovers like it, have to undergo an intense sterilisation process to avoid contaminating our neighbour with Earth cooties. However, a recent re-examination of Martian soil found that the combination of sun exposure and the presence of perchlorates, the same salts that allow for liquid water, might make the planet too salty to keep any germs alive. The flipside is that it also means it is unlikely that we could grow anything there if we colonised it. Yes, even potatoes. All these sweet robots and you’re still salty? Man, I was looking forward to some Martian vodka.

Oh, I also recently finished Guardian cartoonist Tom Gauld’s graphic novel Mooncop, which tells the story of the only police officer on a colonised moon, who has the job of protecting a community with zero crime. The retro-futurist frontier town where he lives is slowly undergoing a process of decolonisation after the appeal of living on Earth’s premiere natural satellite starts to lose its luster. It’s a subtle critique of colonisation and futurism, asking the question of why there was ever an appeal in living on the moon in the first place, while also telling a touching story about finding true human connection in a rapidly automating future. Comes highly recommended.

Right, I’m off to watch the new Rick and Morty. Live long (assuming the depreciating air quality and temperature rise doesn’t make Earth inhospitable) and prosper (as sustainably and ethically as you can under late capitalism).

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