The Dead Planet

Ethan Siegel calls Mars “the obvious first step in our journey to the stars” and “part of our dreams for reaching out into the Universe.” Last year thousands of people applied to join Mars One, a proposed colonization effort slash reality show that plans to put humans on the red planet in 2023. But unless Mars One wants to achieve ratings by broadcasting the death of its crew, it may want to cool its jets. Ethan says that without some heretofore unknown, top secret-technology, there’s no hope for safely landing a capsule-full of “sensitive meatbags” (aka bachelors 1 through 3) on the surface. Launching from Earth is not likely to be a problem, nor traveling for nine months to the second-nearest planet in the solar system. But since Mars lacks a robust atmosphere, there’s very little drag to help decelerate a landing craft in a survivable manner. If humanity is serious about maximizing its reach in time and space, we might focus on sustaining our life on Earth first, and stranding photogenic pilgrims on a dead planet later.

Meanwhile, NASA continues to investigate the mysterious lump that turned up under Opportunity’s nose on January 8th.  Many commentators likened the object to a jelly doughnut, while Stephen Colbert dealt a blow to interplanetary peace by taking a bite out of an irresistible Martian ambassador.  Although NASA explains that it’s a rock, most likely kicked up by the rover’s maneuvering, PZ Myers reports that a chronic discoverer of life on Mars has declared it to be a fungus and legally impelled NASA to investigate further.  But NASA already knows there’s a lot of science to be done; they say we could be seeing the underside of a rock that hasn’t been exposed to the atmosphere for billions of years.  Opportunity also made headlines last week with evidence of flowing water and hospitable conditions in Mars’ distant past.  So although Mars may be dead, and a dead-end for human settlers, there’s still a strong possibility that it was once alive.


John Oliver Flays TV Idiocy

In his role pinch-hitting as The Daily Show anchor while Jon Stewart directs a feature film called Rosewater, John Oliver has demonstrated a candid, hilarious fury that is unmatched in its impact by Stewart’s usual well-meant silliness.  People have called Stephen Colbert the heir to 1950’s primetime BS-caller Edward R. Murrow, and Colbert is certainly unmatched in his own way, but after seeing Oliver in the limelight, it’s hard to imagine a more urgent rebuttal to the media and political hypocrisy of our day.

Last night Oliver didn’t have to work hard to demonstrate the ridiculousness of television news coverage, which like the rest of the mediasphere was agog over a simple sketch by admittedly gifted businessperson Elon Musk.  First NBC called Musk “the inspiration for the Iron Man’s Tony Stark character,” but while Musk was indeed studied by director Jon Favreau for his depiction of Stark in the first two Iron Man movies, the comic book hero predates the birth of the South African entrepreneur by eight years.  CNN then demonstrated the relative speeds of trains, planes, space shuttles, and Musk’s Hyperloop concept by playing with toys and making childlike wooshing sounds.  Meanhwile an earnest co-anchor on a FOX affiliate repeatedly insisted to his colleague that Elon’s name was “Elton.”  As John Oliver says, “Clearly, no one in the media is able to understand this story.”  Maybe that’s because beyond the pipe dream, there’s very little to understand.  Musk made a drawing, but he’s expecting someone else to build it.  Oliver concludes, “That’s like saying, hey you know what we should do?  Find a vaccine for cancer.  Someone get on that, I’m just the ideas man.”