Friday, April 17, 2015

Interstellar...and Ultrarunning

[Editorial update: going with a slightly modified design for the blog]

The bride and I watched the film Interstellar last evening.

A great site that a close friend and movie buff constantly mentions is IMDb, a treasure trove of all things film.  Here's the summary story line on Interstellar:

In the near future, Earth has been devastated by drought and famine, causing a scarcity in food and extreme changes in climate. When humanity is facing extinction, a mysterious rip in the space-time continuum is discovered, giving mankind the opportunity to widen its lifespan. A group of explorers must travel beyond our solar system in search of a planet that can sustain life. The crew of the Endurance are required to think bigger and go further than any human in history as they embark on an interstellar voyage into the unknown. Coop, the pilot of the Endurance, must decide between seeing his children again and the future of the human race.

All in all, I liked the movie, although it dragged a bit at times, and the science was sometimes tough to follow (probably why the bride was lukewarm about it).  But the main theme about the film that really resonated with me was the need for humankind to explore, to get off the earth, to ensure the survival of the species (plus there was a good love story component).

But the reason I even mention the film today is that coincidentally I was just reading a post of Phil Plait's over at Bad Astronomy--which you really should read at least weekly--a post about the SpaceX company proposed mission to Mars.  Phil took a tour of the SpaceX plant at the invitation of the founder and owner, Elon Musk, and came away very impressed about Musk's answer as to why explore beyond the Earth:

Musk didn’t hesitate. “Humans need to be a multiplanet species,” he replied.
And pretty much at that moment my thinking reorganized itself. He didn’t need to explain his reasoning; I agree with that statement, and I’ve written about it many times. Exploration has its own varied rewards ... and a single global catastrophe could wipe us out. Space travel is a means to mitigate that, and setting up colonies elsewhere is a good bet. As Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (the father of modern rocketry) said, “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in the cradle forever.”
The overall atmosphere in the factory was one of working at a progressive company on an exciting project. Of course: They build rockets. But the feeling I couldn’t put my finger on before suddenly came into focus. The attitude of the people I saw wasn’t just a general pride, as strong as it was, in doing something cool. It was that they were doing something important. And again, not just important in some vague, general way, but critical and quite specific in its endgame: making humans citizens of more than one world. A multiplanet species.
It’s easy to dismiss this statement, think of some snark as a way to minimize it and marginalize it as the thinking of a true believer. But—skeptic that I am—I’ve come to realize this is not minimal. It is not marginal. This is a real, tangible goal, one that is achievable. And SpaceX is making great strides toward achieving it.
That’s when I also realized that the initial question itself was ill-posed. It’s not why Elon Musk wants to get to Mars. It’s why he wants humanity to get there.
I think that's a pretty good idea.

And since the U.S. government is not prioritizing NASA, it seems that it may be up private individuals, such as Elon Musk, to get us off the planet.

Oh, and I'd better bring in the mandatory Ultrarunning reference.  It's not hard, actually: seems to me that the same compulsion that propels us to run vast distances in the backcountry is the same compulsion that will lift us off this planet.

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