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Two Past Visions of the Future

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Two things this week made me think about the how people in the past looked at the future, particularly regarding space exploration. The first was a movie, and the second was an article on Brickset.com’s site about certain space LEGO kits from the past.

The movie, Forbidden Planet, is one of my favorite movies. It was my favorite movie when I first watched it at the age of 12, and has been since. My appreciation of this movie is so high and obvious, my wife gifted me with the DVD anniversary edition of the movie many years ago. We watched it again last night.

It had been a long time since I last watched the show, and I must admit before watching it last night, I was afraid I wouldn’t like it as much as I had before. Thankfully, my appreciation of the story and special effects in the movie have not diminished, but grown. There are some issues, such as the men’s treatment of the female character, Altaira, but on the whole, it’s story still holds up.

I won’t get into the story itself, which is fun and thought-provoking. I just don’t think my description actually will ever be able to do Forbidden Planet’s storyline any kind of justice. I will say the story involves a ship’s captain (any “Airplane!” and “Naked Gun” aficionados might appreciate him), a mysterious professor, an awesome robot, an alien planet, a beautiful woman, and a deadly monster. You could read summaries about the movie on various sites, but most won’t give readers an accurate “feel” of the story either.

I do urge you to watch it–the movie’s special effects, art, costumes, and models come together as an interesting snapshot of the future of space and technology in the 1950’s.

While the special effects are “quaint” by the standards of today’s blockbusters, they were probably top of the line back in the 1950’s (I don’t know for sure, I wasn’t there). The panoramas of the planet, the blaster fire, and the ship, are, instead of mind-blowing, now quite “pretty” per my wife. There is an art involved in the effects, because there were artists involved with the effects back then–apparently drawing them on the celluloid world frame by frame.

But what I like most of all, aside from the story, are the structures. The professor’s home and office are an homage to “mid-century modern” in the architecture, the furnishings, and the decorations. That was what the future would be like, according to certain folks in the 1950’s, and you can seem some glimpses of this future in certain neighborhoods in built during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s in the United States.

The captain’s ship and appearances of technology are all part of a recipe to make a child excited about exploring the galaxy. The saucer-shape of the starship, stasis beams used during hyperdrive activity, blasters, and glass globes and equipment whose purpose aren’t quite defined, but just look “futurey” are part of the inspiration. Then there are passenger cars able to go hundreds of miles an hour and the ability for building whatever is required, using molecular technology. The future was exciting story of possibility to kids, and a few adults.

 

I think Walt Disney and his architects agreed with this and maybe took some elements in the movie as their inspiration for their parks. For anyone who has ever wandered Disneyland’s and Disney World’s old “Tomorrowland”(before significant teardowns and restructuring), and EPCOT Center, there were elements used in the parks that are quite similar to the structures and technology used in Forbidden Planet. I don’t think it was a case of ripping off the movie, but more of a consensus of what the future in 1950’s America was going to be.

Because I am a fan of the design and architecture of “mid-century modern,” it’s a future I certainly wouldn’t hesitate moving towards.

The other vision involves all the fun ways LEGO tried to bring their vision of space, particularly NASA’s space vehicles, to children. Brickset.com does a great job in this post going through the different kits LEGO brought out. Again, as a child, I would have been ecstatic to build my own Saturn rocket on a launch pad, not matter how janky it looked. The imagination filled in whatever shortcomings reality had.

The beauty about the LEGO kits are that kids could deviate and build slightly different versions of space vehicles and probes. It didn’t matter, so long as the child remained inspired and excited enough to continue their exploration of our history and possible future for going out in the Universe.

Whether from LEGO or from MGM, each different vision served different markets and came from different companies. But b0th contain very optimistic messages about man’s place in the galaxy. Sure, these are toys and science fiction movies we’re talking about. However, they both encompass visions that fascinate and maybe motivate a few of us. It’s definitely fun just to go back, even if only for a few hours, and explore the universe according to the 1950’s.

If you have access to Amazon, Forbidden Planet is there for you, if you’re interested. I search Netflix with no success. Or go to one of your local DVD dumping grounds–they will likely have a copy available.

 

The Soft Landing?!

Soyuz TMA. Image from RSC Energia.

Below is just a fun little clip one of the people I work with shared. As much fun as the gentleman narrating the clip is having at the expense of Soyuz (it’s all tongue in cheek), we really need to remember one thing: it’s the only way we can get people up to the ISS and back safely right now. An artifact with direct ancestry from the Space Race and Cold War is now helping ferry US astronauts to and from the ISS…

Everything else, the Dragon, the CST-100, is pretty much fiction–until they aren’t any longer. That’s not a knock on SpaceX or Boeing–it’s just the priority the United States government put on a way to transport astronauts to and from the ISS with a US-based system–which is to say none. I am a bit thankful that NASA is trying to get things moving on the commercial side, though.

How long have we known that particular problem would happen, by the way? For me, at least as early as 2004, when instructors noted during one of my classes the retirement of the shuttle with no replacement in sight. Which might have been plenty of time to have done something, but of course history shows just how well the US used that time.

At least there’s always humor to fall back on–enjoy the clip!

Private Space: SCIMming Mars Mission

SCIM model. Picture hosted on Space.com.

This is a really cool idea:  instead of landing on Mars, why not just have a spacecraft skim the Red Planet’s atmosphere for dust, and return home with those samples?  That way mission designers don’t have to worry about landing complexities and the added weight of a lander.  And if a lander collected samples of Mars’ soil, then people have to design a way to get the samples home (or study them remotely).

That’s the whole idea behind the SCIM (Sample Collection to Investigate Mars) mission:  get samples from Mars, but do it simply.  This Space.com post has a great overview of SCIM.  You could also go to BoldlyGo Institute’s website to see more detail in what they wish to do.

SCIM won’t orbit Mars, but quickly pass through Mars’ atmosphere at an altitude of 37-40 km above Mars’ surface.  BoldlyGo calls this an “aeropass.”  And they’re trying to time that pass with Mar’s seasonal dust storms, so there should be a lot of particles in Mar’s atmosphere for SCIM to collect.  If you look at the picture above, the pointy end of SCIM will lead the spacecraft through the atmosphere, while vents or openings near the rear of the spacecraft collect the samples.

The samples will embed themselves into an aerogel-based collection grid within SCIM.  After that one pass, BoldlyGo seems confident they will have collected quite a few samples and SCIM starts on its route to return to Earth.

BoldlyGo seem to thing that if they can launch SCIM as soon as 2018, that the spacecraft will be back with the goods by 2020.  This would be a fairly short mission, considering.  But if it works, it will hopefully yield some interesting results.  There is a video below (all music, no voice narrative) showing the whole mission profile.

Real Space Coffee From ISSpresso

coffee in space

This is definitely a culinary switch from yesterday’s post regarding the Chinese attempts at making mealworms palatable.  There’s only one nation that produces brutally beautiful machines such as the Ducati Diavel and the Ferrari Berlinetta F12.  One nation with fashion from the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, and Versace.  One nation that gave us delicious and wonderful sounding foods like gelato and Chianti.  Yup–just leave it to the Italians to go to space in style, this time with coffee (at least according to this CollectSpace.com article).  The video below explains it all:

Italian companies Lavazza and Argotec put their heads, and more importantly their passions, together to figure out how to build an espresso machine for use in space.  You see, a lot of coffee brewing processes, even pressurized espresso machines, rely on gravity to get the job done.  But in space there’s very little gravity, so instead of having a nice, dark stream of coffee goodness arcing into a shot glass, astronauts would be dodging pressurized coffee streams shooting at odd angles from a regular espresso machine.

And while every sane person loves coffee, no one loves +180 degree shots of coffee in the face.  So the Italians have come up with the ISSpresso machine to ensure the astronauts within the International Space Station (ISS–get it?) won’t ever have to go without.  Of course, those special coffee packages will likely be costly.  Then there’s always the cheap shot, which is mandatory when talking about Italian technology, about taking bets as to when the ISSpresso won’t work any more.  And when some astronaut might think the Italian paperweight might serve better in some sort of re-entry experiment.

In the meantime, hopefully the ISSpresso will keep producing great tasting espresso and the astronauts will marvel at the technology while being thankful there are no mealworms in their diet.  I just wonder if people have thought this whole espresso in space idea through?  After all, the bathrooms will probably need some beefing up, too.

Do you want to make your own “space coffee?”  I posted a cold-brew recipe here, if you wish to try your hand at it.

 

DIY Space: More NASA Space Kits

DIY Space Station

NASA and the website Littlebits.cc are working together to get an actual working “space kit” out to the public.  The kit, which costs $189, can be used to build all sorts of projects (at least 10, according to the website).

Do you want to build an International Space Station replica?  This kit will help you do that.  What about a “grappler?”  Yup, there’s an actual video (below) showing the kit in action as a grappling arm.

Or maybe a Mars rover?  This kit is for that.

Not only are there quite a few projects, there are also lessons for learning about Low Earth Orbiting satellites, satellite dishes, inverse square, and a few other topics.  I wouldn’t say the lessons are for fourth graders and below, but maybe just really curious people above those ages generally.

There are more videos, lessons, and, of course, the kit on Littlebits website.