Saturday, August 22, 2015

Things About Space

So ... I've been thinking a lot about space lately.

It started (realistically) in January when I visited the Kennedy Space Center. What that mostly managed to do was reawaken a quiet fascination I'd had as a kid. Nothing earth-shattering [... there may be a terrible stealth pun there] but a reminder that yes, space is intriguing and the people that have gone are some of the most interesting that have existed.

Then one of my very favorite bloggers was approached by Elon Musk and his new adventure became my new obsession. And it's been ... well.

For those who aren't familiar (or who ignore my usual re-post posts), Elon Musk is the man that will get us to Mars.

Er, Elon Musk is the man who has created an electric car that I would willingly buy.

Er ... Elon Musk is most likely insane. And a genius. And possibly very, very hard to like. But fascinating.

Okay, fine. Elon Musk is the man behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX. Not the only man, mind you, but he's certainly the most recognizable face behind both. (Also, he was one of the founders of PayPal. Quite the resume.) Now, the important thing to remember here is that SpaceX is one of the only American companies actually sending anything to space right at the moment. While I'd certainly heard of them, I didn't know much of anything about them until said trip to the space center, where the company was a regular topic as they were using the launchpads there.

Then ... his biography was released.
I had to remove the dust jacket because
I couldn't deal with Musk watching me
while I read.
Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance is a fantastic view into the life of the single most exhausting human on the planet. (Seriously. If you read it, be prepared to feel incredibly lazy.) Moreover, it gives a wide-eyed glimpse into the companies he is responsible for and, maybe more importantly, the ensemble cast that pushes them onward.

Of particular interest to me this week was the entire section about how SpaceX has shaken up the space travel industry behemoth. There hasn't been a new company that actually challenged any of the stalwarts in the business and ... look, thinking about this mostly just makes me angry. There's been virtually no major changes in 50 years while every other form of technology has gotten impossibly more advanced. What the hey?!

But there are other people who have already talked about this in clearer and more detailed ways than I ever could, which is what brings me back to that blog I mentioned earlier.

I have re-posted from Wait But Why multiple times here, and now I have to send you over that direction again. Tim Urban is working on a series on Musk's various companies and projects. The SpaceX post turned up on Monday and ... well, I've already read through it twice because I clearly need a new hobby.

This is not a normal post written by a normal person. This is a 5-part novel about SpaceX as a company ... and how we could end up going to Mars. While the biography walks through all of the things Musk has his hands on, this post has laser focus and is mind-boggling in the possibilities it raises.

And it's thorough. The whole process is laid out, from what has already been accomplished (changing the way rockets and spacecraft are built) to what still needs to happen before we can even attempt a trip to Mars.

I'm not saying everything is possible. I am saying it will have you looking at the future a little differently. When I finished reading it the first time (at 2AM because I just plain couldn't stop), I found myself sitting outside, staring at the stars and wondering what might happen next.

It was worth all of the missed sleep.

[Side note: There was also a countdown to the post being released that led to a bunch of other discoveries, including Urban's old blog. In related news, I now have an awkward crush on a blogger. Again. I need to stop that.]

Finally, with the release of that post, I was introduced to The Martian.

Somehow or another I missed out on the existence of The Martian for the first year and a half it was in print (well, according to Amazon's release date). And that makes me sad, because I could have read it through multiple times by now if I hadn't first learned of it on Monday on Wait But Why.

Summary: This book is about an astronaut who ends up stranded on Mars.

Okay, a bit more detail: This is a remarkably funny, well-researched and structured book about an astronaut who, after a series of unfortunate events, is thought dead and left on Mars when the rest of his crew is forced to abort their mission and evacuate.

And when I say remarkably funny, I mean it in a way that made me giggle while eating dinner the other night ... and then try to awkwardly explain myself to the stranger sitting next to me. (I need to reconsider my reading material in bars.)

[Additional note: There's a film version of the book set for release later this year. I will probably go see it, even though Matt Damon plays the lead, which ... bugs me, for some reason. Watney is a botanist. A funny one. More of a ... I don't know. Mark Ruffalo? Not Jason Bourne, in any case. Feels wrong.]

So for the first time ever, I get to say this:

Go. Go read all three of these things. Now.

Okay, admittedly they're not for everyone. If you don't care about space ... eh. But if you have even a small inkling of curiosity, give 'em a shot. They're all incredibly readable.

Actually, they're all written in a tone that I can only describe as "sounds like a buddy from college." Granted, I went to a pretty nerdy college, but they all manage to be technical in a way that doesn't make me feel useless and clumsy. (Also, as a word of warning, there is a fair bit of cursing in all of them. As I write this, I'm starting to think that maybe that's a prerequisite for being into this whole Mars travel thing.)

When you're done, you may very well find yourself thinking a little differently about humanity's future ... and perhaps be thankful that someone out there has the guts to chase new possibilities.

I couldn't resist.

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