Posts Tagged ‘space’

EP356: Three-Quarters Martian


By CR Hodges
Read by Mur Lafferty
Discuss on our forums.
Originally appeared in On the Premises (2011)
All stories by CR Hodges
All stories read by Mur Lafferty
Rated 15 and up for language

Three-Quarters Martian
C.R. Hodges

The first man to walk on the moon was a hero to five generations. The first woman to walk on Mars was forgotten even before her boots plunked into the red dust.

 

“Hey,” a husky voice said in the dark.

I ignored her: the Swedish hockey team was calling to me from the sauna.

“Anna-Jing.” Same voice. A large hand grasped my shoulder.

I was losing my battle to recapture the fading dream.

“Wake up,” commanded a new voice in a rich brogue, “now.”

I took a deep breath, tasting the dust in the cool air, then slowly opened my eyes. Pulling the threadbare blanket around me, I sat up in my hammock.

Kaiza, the first and likely last aboriginal Australian to teach planetary astrophysics at Stanford, gently removed her hand from my shoulder. “Trouble in Florida.”

“The launch isn’t today.” I said, still groggy. Our resupply rocket was scheduled to lift off from Cape Lee in a week. We needed this one—the last launch, from Kazakhstan, had crashed in West Korea.

“There won’t be a fecking launch,” said Mick, our mission commander. He gestured at the wall screen, which snapped to life. Grainy footage showed a giant rocket lying on its side like a beached whale, next to a familiar gantry. A dozen old pickups were parked beyond the shattered nosecone. Scores of horses and four oxen grazed nearby, a web of cables and ropes leading back to the rocket. A horde of men and women in shorts and tank tops, flip-flops and baseball caps, were prying metal panels from the side of the rocket. Hundreds more lay dead on the ground, interspersed with the bodies of gray vested soldiers.

“Where are the pitchforks and torches?” I asked. No reply.

A helicopter arrived, ten commandos zip lining to the ground just meters from the camera crew. Seventy looters went down in the first minute, but then flight after flight of arrows from unseen archers decimated the commandos.

“Goodbye freeze-dried steak and potatoes,” said Mick.

“Goodbye replacement mini reactor.” I pointed at the four oxen dragging a sledge with a brightly marked container the size of a large desk.

“Gotta crank the thermostat down again,” said Mick. He lumbered off to make it so.

The last image we witnessed before a sword crashed down on the camera lens was a line of children siphoning kerosene from the rocket’s fuel tank into buckets. Goodbye civilization. (Continue Reading…)

Science Future: Insuring Intelligence


Science fiction inspires the world around us. It inspires us to create our future. So we look to the future of science to find our next fiction. We look to Science Future. The Science Future series presents the bleeding edge of scientific discovery from the viewpoint of the science fiction reader, discussing the influences science and science fiction has upon each other.

Insuring Intelligence

The human race is the smartest life form on the plant Earth. To some that statement is simple fact and to others it sounds incredibly arrogant. Yet no one can deny the progress we’ve made scientifically in the last few centuries and with breakthrough technologies emerging quicker and quicker, very few claim to know where we are going.

However I claim to know where we should go and that place is outer space. So much of our science fiction draws upon the possibilities of what we could find beyond our own atmosphere. For example in Escape Pod 309: The Insurance Agent a significant portion of humanity had come to believe that intelligence beings come from somewhere other than Earth to embody the influential members of the human race such as Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Jean D’arc, Elvis, and Madonna.

Whatever you might personally believe about this theory the possibility of extraterrestrial life is not completely unprovable. For example, astronomers have discovered a quasar which is producing water which as we known is one of the major requirements for life as we know it. The quasar has in fact produced 140 trillion times more water than all that could be collected from the Earth. Of course this quasar is an estimated 12 billion light years away (about 30 billion trillion miles, not that means anything to the average person) so it is unlikely we will ever reach it without inventing or discovering some kind of faster than light travel, which is impossible according to our current understanding of physics. Or is it?

Scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research have released findings showing neutrinos, subatomic particles that make up an atom, that move faster than the speed of light. Their findings are now being rigorously studied for possible faults since it would begin a re-write of some of the fundamental theories of physics. Yet another example of how science slowly and methodically changes its view points in order to build a better understanding the universe. The human race, however, is not typically so methodic.

I can't speak to the paper's scientific merits, but it's really cool how on page 10 you can see that their reference GPS beacon is sensitive enough to pick up continential drift under the detector (interrupted halfway through by an earthquake).

In The Insurance Agent, it is explained that the Alien Theory of Spiritual Beings, as it is called, is a concept that goes in and out of vogue. This is understandable when you compare this to the conclusions found by scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Their studies show that if only ten percent of a population holds an unshakable belief, that said belief will end up being adopted by the majority of society. Even more interestingly, these beliefs, once they reach the critical ten percent threshold, tend to spread quickly. The best examples being the overthrowing of decade long dictatorships. Fundamentally most people don’t like to hold an unpopular opinion except, as a popular meme tells us, for haters, who have to hate.

Science fiction I think is an imperfect example of an unshakable belief. For years we have continued to write science fiction about space exploration and with each passing year, we understand and find more and more about the sky above us. The ideas put forth by our stories and their adoption by readers could be the ten percent needed to inspire the next young scientist to test if Lady Gaga is really an alien or not.

It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen. – Muhammad Ali

Science Future: Egregious Energy


Science fiction inspires the world around us. It inspires us to create our future. So we look to the future of science to find our next fiction. We look to Science Future. The Science Future series presents the bleeding edge of scientific discovery from the viewpoint of the science fiction reader, discussing the influences science and science fiction has upon each other.

Egregious Energy

Power. Electricity. Energy. It has fueled the technological evolution of humankind for years. We harness it, generate it, and distribute it in a multitude of ways. We use magnetic, photovoltaic and piezoelectric materials to harness generated power, chemicals and minerals to store and distribute, and technology to convert it back into useful force, like television and space travel.

© Copyright Keith Evans and licensed Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In Escape Pod 303 Leech Run by Scott W. Baker, we were presented with an idea of how humanity might further control energy: Leeching it directly into our own bodies. Obviously this is a fantastical idea. Or is it? A research paper at the University of Massachusetts Medical School released back in June talks about a protein found in human eye, that when implanted into fruit flies, allows them to sense the magnetic fields, similar to migrating birds. Humans produce these proteins, suggesting that, as a race, we may already have or will develop some sort of conscious magnetic sense. From there is it only a few genetic steps (admittedly long ones) to allowing us to directly control, or leech, energy from the environment around us. This could lead to problems.

After all technology is likely to continue to grow in fast spurts. Researchers at MIT have been analyzing ways to predict which technologies might grow quickly. Similar to how computer processing units have scaled over the last few decades, knowing how quickly some other type of technology might improve could have vast repercussions both for investors as well as society. Regardless of what technology is developed, it will need to be powered in some fashion.

That is why battery research is still ongoing. Researchers at Imperial College London, the Swedish Institute of Composites, and Volvo are developing materials that can both act as the lightweight structural frame for vehicles as well as act as batteries to help power those vehicles. The applications for this type of discovery would be near limitless. Spaceships whose electrical systems are the walls themselves come to mind. The lighter a space craft, the easier it is to get into (and more importantly out of) a gravity well like a planet.

The problem is, if humanity develops power leeching abilities like in Scott Baker’s story, it is easy to see why such people could be seen as threats. In environments where technology is the only thing keeping us alive, a person who could simply leech all the power away from that technology would have tremendous control. In Leech Run, the captain of the space craft is very careful to keep his leech passengers away from electronic parts of the ship, and fears for his life when one of them escapes.

Copyright ladyada, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)The answer, it would seem, would be some way to possible neutralize their leeching abilities. Perhaps the future version of this technology: vascular turbines. Vascular turbines are similar to hydroelectric generators being developed at the University of Bern and the Bern University of Applied Sciences except they are small enough to be implantable inside the human cardiovascular system. The intent is to power devices like pacemakers without batteries but instead use the flow of a person’s own blood to generate the power needed. An improved inject-able version might be given to human power leeches as a way to force them to make use of their powers on the turbines, rather than other technology around them.

Science fiction, of course, is not a perfect predictor. Humans may never become power leeches in the same sense of the ones we found in Leech Run but as a race we’ll continue to leech and use power to fuel our future technologies. Science fiction will, in turn, continue to think up uses for all this power that improving technologies are helping us to harvest.

The higher your energy level, the more efficient your body. The more efficient your body, the better you feel and the more you will use your talent to produce outstanding results. – Tony Robbins

EP299: Plus or Minus


By James Patrick Kelly
Read by: Christiana Ellis
Originally appearing in Asimov’s
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by James Patrick Kelly
All stories read by Christiana Ellis
Nominated for the Hugo Award for Novelette, 2011

Rated appropriate for older teens and up for sexual situations and violence.

Plus Or Minus

By James Patrick Kelly

Everything changed once Beep found out that Mariska’s mother was the famous Natalya Volochkova.   Mariska’s life aboard the Shining Legend went immediately from bad to awful.  Even before he singled her out, she had decided that there was no way she’d be spending the rest of her teen years crewing on an asteroid bucket.  Once Beep started persecuting her, she began counting down the remaining days of the run as if she were a prisoner.  She tried explaining that she had no use for Natalya Volochkova, who had never been much of a mother to her, but Beep wouldn’t hear it.  He didn’t care that Mariska had only signed on to the Shining Legend to get back at her mother for ruining her life.

Somehow that hadn’t worked out quite the way she had planned.

For example, there was crud duty.  With a twisting push Mariska sailed into the command module, caught herself on a handrail, and launched toward the starboard wall.  The racks of  instrument screens chirped and beeped and buzzed; command was one of the loudest mods on the ship.  She stuck her landing in front of navigation rack and her slippers caught on the deck burrs, anchoring her in the ship’s  .0006 gravity.   Sure enough, she could see new smears of mold growing from the crack where the nav screen fit into the wall.  This was Beep’s fault, although he would never admit it.  He kept the humidity jacked up in Command, said that dry air gave him nosebleeds.  Richard FiveFord claimed they came from all the drugs Beep sniffed but Mariska didn’t want to believe that.  Also Beep liked to sip his coffee from a cup instead sucking it out of a bag, even though he slopped all the time.  Fungi loved the sugary spatters.  She sniffed one particularly vile looking smear of mold.  It smelled faintly like the worms she used to grow back home on the Moon.  She wiped her nose with the sleeve of her jersey and reached to the holster on her belt for her sponge. As she scrubbed, the bitter vinegar tang of disinfectant gel filled the mod.  Not for the first time, she told herself that this job stunk.

She felt the tingle of Richard FiveFord offering a mindfeed and opened her head.  =What?=

His feed made a pleasant fizz behind her eyes, distracting her. =You done any time soon?=  Distraction was Richard’s specialty

=No.=

=Didit is making a dream for us.=

(Continue Reading…)

Science Future: Searching Space


Science fiction inspires the world around us. It inspires our future. To discover these influences, we look to the future of science, to Science Future. The Science Future series presents the bleeding edge of scientific discovery and links it back to science fiction in order to discuss these influences and speculate on the future of science fiction.

Searching Space

NASA (CC BY 2.0)Space. The future will grant us access to what is beyond that big blue sky we see surrounding that bright thing that hounds us out of bed every morning. Space and science fiction have become so intertwined that even the mention of it will sometimes push a fantasy novel into the science fiction genre. Science fiction even has sub-genres specifically devoted to space based stories: Space Opera and Space Westerns.

We, as a race, are still taking our first steps into space; sending people out into space and peering out into the sky. We know there is a universe out there full of stars, planets, nebulae, and maybe even something called dark mater or dark energy but really, those are all just names. Our actual knowledge about those celestial objects is still very small and the only way we’re going to really find out is to send something out there to get a really good look at it.

The bad news is, it may be getting harder to go out there to see them. The common theory, up until two years ago, was that the universe was expanding but that the expansion was slowing. That there was a big bang and everything was moving away from that bang but, eventually, the universe would slow, stop, and then begin to collapse in on itself, perhaps leading to another big bang. That has all been thrown into confusion thanks to two independent teams of researchers who measured the distances of nearby galaxies using the light from Cepheids and supernoevae. They determined that the universe is currently expanding at about the rate of the width of the United States of America per minute, which compared to our last accurate calculation is actually faster. The expansion of the universe isn’t slowing, it is speeding up.

NASA (CC BY-NC 2.0)That means if we, as a species, are going to go out there, we’re going to need to hit some pretty fast-moving targets but before we do that, we need to figure out where those targets are. That’s where the Kepler Spacecraft comes into play. The Kepler Spacecraft, named after the famous 17th Century astrologer Johannes Kepler, was shot into space two years ago with a simple mission, start surveying worlds and figure out how many possible habitable planets might be out there. Kepler has been sending back data and, based upon the first four months of Kepler’s searching, there appears to be about 2 billion “Earth Analog” planets out there. Earth Analogs are planted that are roughly similar to earth in size and position within their own part of the universe, giving them some of the best chances of holding life similar to our own. Sadly this is considerably less than what researchers were predicting but those same researchers are still hopeful because Kepler hasn’t completed its survey yet, which means more data to devour!

Hot White Dwarf Shines in Young Star Cluster NGC 1818 (Public Domain via Hubble)And there is plenty of data out there to find. A professor at University of Washington has proposed using ground and space based telescopes to search near white dwarf stars for habitable planets. White dwarf stars are small, dense, cool stars, in the final stage of their life and these aspects might make it easier to spot planets near them. Their relatively low brightness might allow ground telescopes to identify a planet moving between the dwarf star and our telescopes with more ease when compared to brighter stars like our Sol. Another theory put forth is that these cool stars will provide exactly the right heat to a close orbiting planet to allow the planet to have liquid water, which scientists feel provide a huge indication of the possibility of extraterrestrial life. There are about 20,000 “nearby” white dwarf stars that could be observed from ground telescopes quickly and efficiently. So plenty out there for us to look at.

Our first steps into space are slow and shaky but with each day, each probe, and each theory, we are learning more and more about the universe waiting for us. It may not be full of Klingons, Vorlons, or Sith, but with 2 billion possibly habitable planets  out there, stories about what new and interesting beings we will find among the stars will never be in short supply.

EP252: Billion-Dollar View


By Ray Tabler
Read by: John Cmar
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Ray Tabler
All stories read by John Cmar

“But my name is Simon.”

Molly shook her head and chuckled. “With a head of hair like that? Nope, from now on your name is Red.”

Simon felt his young face flushing with embarrassment, which would further cement his new nickname. “What if I don’t want to be called Red?”

“Too late, should have shaved your head before I bought your contract.” Molly winked at him, executed a back flip in mid-air and launched herself out of the Labor Mart. “Come on, Red. We ain’t got all day.”

Rated PG for peril and heartbreak and ballads.

Show Notes:

Next week… A very, very good dog.

EP245: The Moment


By Lawrence M. Schoen
Read by: Graeme Dunlop
Discuss on our forums.
Originally published in: Footprints
Guest Host: Norm Sherman of Drabblecast
All stories by Lawrence M. Schoen
All stories read by Graeme Dunlop

One of the first generation of Krenn had lived long enough to reach the site, though none had expected to. The very first Krenn had conceived of this journey in the distant past, dedicating his life and his posterity to the pilgrimage with an ever recycling population of clones. Like their clone-father, each was an optimized collection of smart matter no bigger than a speck. Hundreds of generations of Krenn had lived and died during the voyage, their remains enshrined into niches in the very walls of the vessel that now lay shattered at its destination.

The survivors flooded out upon the steppes of the heel, rejoicing despite the crushing weight that gravity forced upon them. They settled in, constructing mansions of haze and shadow, and waited for enlightenment to come. The mission and purpose of the first Krenn remained with each of them. This place had been the site of the greatest triumph of the greatest archaeocaster in all of history. Before the beginning of the quest, Krenn—the original Krenn—had felt drawn to it. He had cultivated the tales, sifted myth from coincidence, mastered the lost language of the interview-eschewing, spatial curmudgeons of the ancient dark times, and recreated the route through dimensional puzzles to this theoretical location. The odds of success had been so absurd not a single entelechy of Krenn’s crèche dared invest time or expense in the project. And yet, here they were, nearly three hundred unique individuals sharing the template of Krenn.

Rated PG: for Space Exploration and Looking into the Abyss

Show Notes:

  • Enter the Escape Pod Flash Contest! It runs June 1- July 4, stories must be under 500 words. More information at the link.
  • Editor’s note: Thanks so much to Dave Thompson and Peter Wood for taking on this project of securing all five Hugo stories during the hiatus of Escape Pod. Most of the work was done before I joined, and this wouldn’t have happened without them stepping up.

Next week… Another Hugo-nominated story!