I wasn’t always obsessed with the Olympics as I am today. You see I wasn’t much of an athlete as a kid (hard to tell, I know) with the pinnacle of my sporting achievement being allowed to go to the regional sporting carnival for long jump where I was firmly beaten by nearly every other competitor. Predictably this made me somewhat sour on the whole idea and I found my pursuit of computers and games much more rewarding. Whilst my attendance at the Sydney Olympic Games might not have changed my opinion something strange happened when the next games rolled around: I started to love them.
This was way back in 2004 where I was just starting into my second year of university and working several different odd jobs in order to make some extra cash. I was still working at Dick Smith Electronics back then and of course we set up one of the television sets right in front of the entrance with the Olympics coverage playing non-stop. People would come in and just stop, mesmerized by the athletes competing. Us well trained salespeople would then stand along side them, first and foremost to see if they needed any help, but inevitably we’d just stand there with them and the conversation would always drift towards Australia’s latest achievements. I think it was that sense of universal comradery that made me so fond of the Athen’s games of 2004 and that feeling stayed with me for 4 years.
Then in 2008 the Beijing Olympics came around and I started to feel that same fervour again, a kind of buzz from the entire world focusing on this one event that only occurs once every 4 years. I was hooked and I stayed up until late with my housemate beside me, eagerly soaking up every second of the opening ceremony. I followed Australia’s exploits closely, sharing in the revelry and feeling extremely proud to be part of a country that could excel so much in crafting elite athletes. I stared toying with the lofty idea that I too could one day find myself there (whether via physical eliteness or some other means was not yet clear) and knew that that feeling I had 4 years prior would not be one that would fade in the coming 4.
Indeed whilst I might not have made the 5am starting time for the opening ceremony this year (something I know will haunt me for a while) I did get as much Olympics in as I could whilst it has been going on during the past 2 weeks. Whilst our performance might not have been as expected I still can’t deny just how great our team has been and what a great joy it has been to watch them all this time. As I was stepping out the door this morning I managed to catch a few brief moments of the closing ceremony and it took all my willpower to not shove off work for the day in order just to watch the rest of it and then curl up on the couch, contended.
There’s another thing that every Olympics invokes within me: a deep sense of reflection. Back when the Beijing Olympics was on I wasn’t a blogger, starting this little online repository of my in December of the same year. I was only just engaged to my now wife, I was earning about a third of what I am today and I was still yet to take the longest trip overseas of my life of which I’d document everything right here on this very blog. Going back even further just makes the transitions seem even more incredible and is a testament to why I never plan more than 6 months ahead any more as there is no way I could’ve guessed I’d end up where I am today.
So you might be wondering then what my plans for the next 4 years might be in the lead up to the 2016 games at Rio de Janeiro. To be honest with you I’m not 100% sure as whilst that idea that I could compete at the games hasn’t died (although that might be a symptom of the realisation that anything is achievable with enough hard work, but that’s a post for another day) my recent rediscovery of one of my passions has led me to think there might be another, more viable way to get myself involved in some way. In all honesty it probably won’t be any less work, indeed my level of knowledge about physical fitness and photography are arguably at similar levels, but suffice to say that I’ll be working on both of them seriously and I wouldn’t be surprised if my path turns towards the Olympiads.
Sure it’s still a dream (and a lofty one at that) but what are dreams if we don’t at least try to realise them? I’ve always said to people that once one of your dreams comes true you start to look at your others more seriously and I’ll be damned if this isn’t one I feel is worth pursuing.
As humanity stands right now we’re only dipping our toes into the vast and wondrous universe that we live in. Our current endeavors to survive outside of the world that gave us life have been limited to short frolics to our closest celestial neighbor as well as extended trips at high speeds through our upper atmosphere. However our attempts to establish ourselves beyond the comfort of our own home have, for the past 40 years, remained firmly in the realm of dreams. Today we bear witness to such magnificent events that are set to rekindle that adventurer spirit that has been long dormant in mankind, paving the way for us to once again brave the unknown.
Whilst my ambition to see humans turn into a true space faring race my stem from a selfish desire to have one of my most desired dreams realized I also truly believe that if humanity is to survive long into the future we must journey to other worlds. As it stands right now the human race is vulnerable to extinction events which, whilst extremely unlikely, would see the end of the human race as we know it. Establishing ourselves away from our home world would not only teach us how to live more sustainably, it would also ensure that even in the most tragic of circumstances we as humans would continue on.
So where would we go to satisfy such an ambition? There really is only one answer:
Realistically however, the answer is more complicated than that.
Officially there are 8 planets that make up our solar system with multiple other bodies that don’t quite fit our current classifications of heavenly bodies. Of these half of them are what we call giants having sizes and masses ranging from 15 to 317 times that of earth. Humans would have no chance of ever surviving on these beasts as the gravity and radiation that these planets emit are extremely deadly to us organic beings. Of the 4 remaining planets we’re already inhabiting one of them, another a scorching ball of rock, one a warning sign to how devastating green house gases can be and finally a lone ball of red dust. You’d be forgiving for thinking that all of them bar our current home wouldn’t be worth trying to settle on but as it turns out our red cousin might just have what it takes to make ourselves at home.
It’s been known for quite some time that there are reserves of water ice on Mars. In what quantities and purities isn’t so definite, but there are significant amounts tied up in permafrosts, minerals and in ice sheets under the Martian surface. Using current day technology we would be easily able to extract enough to support a permanent colony on our red sister, even without the help of earth for resupply. Granted the best locations for water are not the best locations for people (it’s rather cold at the poles) but the fact remains that one of life’s most essential ingredients is in plentiful supply. Couple that with Mars’ soil having the unusual characteristic of being good for growing asparagus and you have the potential for the beginnings of a real ecosystem, something that Mars has lacked for millions of years.
Many will tell you that before we can even think of establishing ourselves on Mars we have to first conquer the challenge of living on our closest neighbor, the Moon. It’s an interesting proposition as many of the technologies that need to be developed to colonize another planet like Mars would also be applicable. The Moon as it stands is far more inhospitable to life which means that if we could prove that we could colonize it then basically any other reasonable heavenly body is possible as well. Still if Mars and the Moon were both equal in distance and travel time I highly doubt there would be any discussion over where we would be going next, as Mars is infinitely more valuable to us than the Moon. Still the fact remains that the furthest any human has ever gone away from home is no where near the time required to get to our sister planet, and that is insurmountable task that we face.
Honestly I would be all for a Moon colony as it would make future deep space missions much more feasible and would open up all sorts of opportunities such as a 100m telescope that would be almost 2000 times more sensitive than the Hubble Space Telescope. However most current plans to return to our celestial twin are often little more than flag planting exercises with no intention of setting up a permanent base of operations there. That is why I don’t support many of the proposals as their vision falls short of what is required to truly push humanity beyond our current comfort zone. Japan is probably the most forward thinking in this regard with their plans to build a robot base there by 2020.
I am by no means saying that this would be an easy endeavor. Cost estimates for a return mission start at a modest $55 billion which for comparison is just under half of what the International Space Station has cost. Most likely setting up a permanent colony on Mars would require dozens of such missions easily tipping the cost towards the trillions. Still we know that attempting such things spurs on many economic benefits that are many times greater than their cost to society. This would be the least of all the benefits that colonizing Mars would bring to the human race.
If that doesn’t convince you, maybe this will:
The brain is a wonderfully complicated piece of organic matter and we’re still in the early stages in our understanding of how it all functions. For the most part the basic components are well understood, like neurons and synapses, however when the whole thing comes together we get some extrodinary emergent behaviour. One of the most interesting behaviours that we all experience is that of dreaming, and it was this behaviour that caused me to analyse the last year of my life whilst I was on Turtle Island.
Among the many theories about why we dream there are a couple that really stand out. The first being that dreams are in fact your brain’s way of training you for certain situations (Coutt’s theory). Whilst this might not make sense when you have a lot of fantastical dreams such as flying I can remember many dreams that mirrored real experiences later in life. Whilst I can’t truly estimate how helpful these dreams where some of them did get me thinking about certain ideals and beliefs I had held, sometimes resulting in me discarding them completely. It definitely feels like dreams do serve some form of cognitive evolution to strengthen yourself against the world.
The second, and I believe most important, is for the brain to process, link and organise your memories (R. Stickgold et al. “Sleep, Learning, and Dreams: Off-line Memory Reprocessing”). It goes hand in hand with studies done that show a prolonged lack of sleep affects memory. This also makes quite a bit of sense to me since, for the most part, my dreams usually have some theme from the day woven into them. You can then imagine my surprise then when on the second night on the island I had, and can distinctly remember, around 15 separate dreams with themes that I could trace back to events that happened well over a year ago. It didn’t take me long to formulate a theory on what happened based on the 2 dream theories I’ve described.
Now I don’t usually think I’m a stressed person, in fact I usually thrive in stressful situations. The last 6 months of my life could easily have been described as some of the most stressful in my life, what with the wedding, investment purchases going awry and almost being unemployed. As far as I could tell I can physically cope with stress pretty well, but this series of dreams and the mental clarity I had afterwards lends me to believe that there’s a possibility that my mind was somehow pent up processing my daily life and was in essence backed up on down time processing. With everything being provided for me and the stress of the last 6 months far behind me my brain when into over-drive catching up on processing and linking up those memories. It seems to line up nicely with the fact that I had been waking up tired for about the past 4 months no matter how much sleep I got, which would seem to indicate that my brain wanted more time to catch up on memory processing.
The next few days saw my thoughts become a lot more free flowing and the conversations at the dinner table all that more interesting. I’ve never really gone on a holiday where everything was provided for me so I guess the combination of relaxation and not having to think about anything allowed my mind to unravel itself from the tangled mess I had gotten it into over the past year. I guess the moral of the story is that we all need some downtime to let our brains relax and recover from the daily grind and mine just so happened to be the honeymoon.
Or maybe it was the Kava… 🙂
I’ve noticed that whenever I start a project or define one of my dreams there’s always a couple stages I go through. Initially I’ll get an idea about something (this blog is a good example) and I’ll muse over it for a while. During this time I’ll do some research on it, discuss it with friends which gives me a really good grounding from which to work on. Then comes what I believe is the hardest part, which is actually getting off my ass and working on bringing this idea into reality. After working on it for a while something interesting usually happens, and this is what I refer to as “The Transition” whereby I’m no longer driving myself to achieve this goal, it’s driving me to completion.
More recently this came to me whilst doing my daily CrossFit work out. I’d completed the routine for the day and this is when I’d usually just pack up and leave. After thinking about leaving for all of 10 seconds I immediately thought I could easily do another 10 minutes and the best thing was I wanted to. Now up until this stage I’d been making myself do the workout of the day and not really adding to it, as per usual I was doing the minimum work required. That day marked a change in my attitude towards doing these daily workouts and the transition from me driving myself towards the goal and the goal motivating me.
What usually triggers the transition for me is when I start to see measurable results from the effort I put in. I find it hard to start anything that I can see immediate or short term results which is why I always split most of my long term goals up into smaller ones so that I don’t lose motivation. Some of the time though I’m lucky enough to discover something that doesn’t require small short term goals to keep me motivated, like my dream of becoming a pilot and eventually an astronaut. Although I’d class dreams as separate entities from goals, as they pose their own set of challenges.
But that’s a post for another day! 🙂
I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer when it comes to things that I want. I remember when I was young I would always ask for Lego kits that were way out of my league and would often get halfway through building something before getting frustrated and tearing it apart to make something of my own creation. This strange desire of mine hasn’t stopped as I’ve grown older and I constantly find myself attracted to things that are either hoaxes or will probably never see the light of day. It’s probably a good thing to, since most of these things would cost an arm and a leg usually.
This became ever more apparent yesterday when my mother sent me some pictures of what could prove to be an amazing contraption (it’s an April fools joke) the Hotelicopter. Forgetting for a second that all the pictures are renders and the airframe has problems all over it (those whopping great big jet engines will do you a fat lot of good without a proper aerofoil on that thing) it’s an incredible idea, basically a flying fortress which is renovated for your pleasure. Nothing would make me more giddy then taking a ride in one of these things and given the chance to pilot one I don’t think I could say no. Sadly such an endeavour is a little too rich even for those wealthy enough to afford it, and I don’t think we’ll see anything like that for quite a long time. The new Airbus A380 does get very close however, with some of their suites coming with shower and spa access.
Up until recently I was still hopeful to play the next instalment of Duke Nukem, one of my first forays into first person shooters. Despite all the rumours and jokes about it never coming out I still remained hopefully that one day something would be released, whether it be through an anonymous leak of alpha code or a quickly slapped together game pushed out the door to recoup the losses. With the death of 3D Realms this dream almost died along with it, until Take Two engaged the lawyers and demanded all the assets of the game. Maybe one day I’ll be able to work into the store and order a copy of it, but it’s still up there with the Hotelicopter for now.
I think it’s that little part of me that won’t let go of boyish curiosity that gets me into these kinds of things. Whilst I’m usually able to discern the hoaxes (although sometimes I refuse to believe things are fake, because I want them anyway) I still love to get lost in the illusion for a while. You never know what might turn out to be real sometimes and there’s always going to be that small part of myself that wishes all those wild and wacky ideas come to fruition.
It seems more and more we’re discovering planets outside our solar system and now we’ve even managed to find one that has some very interesting properties:
Exoplanet researchers have discovered the lightest exoplanet found so far. The planet, “e”, in the famous system Gliese 581, is only about twice the mass of our Earth. The team also refined the orbit of the planet Gliese 581 d, first discovered in 2007, placing it well within the habitable zone, where liquid water oceans could exist.
“Gliese 581 d is probably too massive to be made only of rocky material, but we can speculate that it is an icy planet that has migrated closer to the star,” says team member Stephane Udry. The new observations have revealed that this planet is in the habitable zone, where liquid water could exist. “‘d’ could even be covered by a large and deep ocean — it is the first serious ‘water world’ candidate,” continued Udry.
A bit more information on the system here.
It would seem like this planet system would be a great place to investigate. It’s close, about 20 light years or so away, has several known planets with one being a veritable haven for extraterestial lifeforms and of course would be a great boon to science as a whole. Problem is, 20 years at light speed is still 20 years needed to be self sufficient and enclosed in what could be a very small space ship.
Or would it?
Enter our good old friend Albert Einstein and his Special Theory of Relativity. Among his various predictions using this theory the important one (for this discussion) is that of time dilation. In essence Einstein postulated that as you approached the speed of light the passage of time would slow down for you, but not for an observer. So whilst us sitting back here on earth would perceive a light speed ship taking 20 years to reach the Gliese system for them it would be a mere 6 years (assuming a light acceleration of 1g, with 2g it drops to 3.5!), something which would seem a lot more palatable to those people who dared to brave the final frontier.
The great thing about this is that it’s not a linear scale, larger trips of up to 400 light years or so only take the time up to about 11 years or so and even cross galaxy trips of millions of light years don’t add much extra time. Sure, for the people aboard the ships it might not be the greatest thing to arrive at their destination and find that we invented faster the light travel and got there before them (and that whole “everyone you ever knew is dead” thing) it still brings a small sense of joy to me that, no matter what, humans would be able to explore the universe in its entirity with just a normal lifetime. Sure our space technology isn’t up to light speed travel yet but we’re getting very close.
No matter how small a step this might be, it does bring my dream of visiting other worlds one step closer.
For a good part of my adult life I always thought my future would lie in the realms of IT and computer hardware. I’ve been a gamer for as long as I can remember and a hardware enthusiast ever since I was able to earn enough money to buy my own computer. About 2 years ago though I discovered my passion for aeronautics, which after a very short time led me to find my love for space and all things aeronautical. At first I was surprised by this path that I followed, until I delved into the realms of space further.
Back in the hay days of space everything was uncharted territory. The first artificial satellite of earth, Sputnik 1, was launched upon what basically amounted to a retrofitted ICBM and most of the early days hardware for NASA’s missions were also re-purposed military hardware. It was only during the Apollo era that NASA started developing rockets purely for space, although they did continue to source other things directly from the military.
Pilots and mission specialists alike have been chosen mostly from the Air Forces. Initially this was due to the pilots’ skill with experimental craft, which is what all of the space craft were classified as at the time (with good reason!). More recently however we’ve seen more and more crew of current space missions being picked from the ranks of civilian staff, such as the crew of the last space shuttle mission which included only 3 military/ex-military personnel with the rest being picked from either the Educator in Space program or from NASA’s direct recruiting schemes.
Unfortunately for someone like me the ranks of NASA are probably a little far off. My technical expertise doesn’t really lend itself to the skill set required to make it as a mission specialist (unless they start hosting Windows servers up there!), although if they ever want to get an Australian into the educator program I’d definitely be the first in line. There are other opportunities for me to become an astronaut however.
Private space flight companies are begining to pop up all over the place with the most advanced out of the lot being Virgin Galactic. The pilots of the first craft, SpaceShipOne, are primarily from civilian ranks with one exception, Brian Binnie who happens to share a similar heritage to that of the first astronauts in military test piloting. It is within these ranks that I intend to find my way into space. Whilst the market only barely exists at this point in time for people who wish to fly others into space I believe that by the time I’m ready to undergo training in piloting such an aircraft there will be a healthy niche market established, allowing me to fulfill my dreams of flying myself and others into space.
But what will I do with myself until then? Of course there is only one answer, follow in the footsteps of those who came before me. Over the next couple years I will be undergoing certification for my Commercial Pilot’s License, which in turn will lead me to piloting all sorts of aircraft. By the time I’m done with this I’m hoping Virgin Galactic will be looking to be recruiting, and there I’ll be.
It is that thought alone that will keep me going through any challenge that I may face.
I’d love to say that ever since I was a little boy I would lie awake at night staring at the stars and wanting to go up there, but I would be wrong. As a kid I barely knew about the wonders of space and the kinds of technology that have taken us up there. It was only after I turned 21 did I start getting interested in space, only just on a year ago that I decided I would be visiting outer space in my lifetime, by any means possible.
Anyone who knows me will tell you how passionate I am about space and how humanity must become a spacefaring civilisation. As a child born many years after our glory days of landing on the moon I’ve only been able to witness humanities various robotic accomplishments (which are great and many) and the wonder that is the International Space Station. For the next 10 years though I will be on tenterhooks as we, hopefully, plan to make our glorious return to the moon and beyond. That gives me something to look forward to, no matter what else happens along the way.
The reason I’m so passionate about space is that whenever I start talking about it most people will only know about the Apollo missions, the Shuttle and possibly the Mars rovers. Few know about the bravery of the Mercury and Gemini Astronauts, or the amazing inginuity of the Mir space station. It seems that ever since the end of the Apollo missions, humanity has found space to be boring and kids don’t grow up wanting to be Astronauts anymore.
I’ve come into the world of Aeronautics late in life, and I sometimes lie awake at night wondering what kind of life I would be leading now if I realised that my passion lied in outer space. Who knows, I might be living in the United States right now eagerly awaiting my first shuttle flight (although, history has shown youngsters like myself aren’t usually considered for another few years). What I do appreciate though is that the world in its current state is on the verge of a critical mass in terms of space for the masses. Soon we will have sub-orbital flights (a la the Mercury Program) and when that all goes well, we’ll be seeing orbital flights not too long afterwards.
I guess I just long for the days when you asked kids what they wanted to be when they grow up many of them would say Astronaut. The reason I miss those days so much is because it meant that Space exploration was so mainstream that even the children knew about it and were excited to participate in it. We’re really still in the infancy of Space flight (regular flight has really only become mainstream in the past decade) so it is with our children that the future of humanity in Space will lie.
To get you a little inspired, here are some pictures from the recent shuttle mission STS-126, which upgraded the International Space Station in order for it to handle double the crew starting next year.