To Boldly Go…

The same organization that brought you the Internet (contrary to popular belief, it was not Al Gore), DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) put forth a request for proposals for a 100 year starship program. The person or organization that puts forth the most viable proposal, will win $500,000 in seed money to get their program off the ground. Proposals were due July 8th, and a winner will be declared during the conference to be held in early September.

The goal of the 100 year starship plan is to reach the closest star within a hundred years. Some of the things DARPA is looking for in the proposals, and the conference will be focusing on, are the following:

  • Time-Distance Solutions [propulsion, time/space manipulation and/or dilation, near speed of light navigation, faster than light navigation, observations and sensing at near speed of light or faster than light]
  • Education, Social, Economic and Legal Considerations [education as a mission, who goes, who stays, to profit or not, economies in space, communications back to earth, political ramifications, round-trip legacy investments and assets left behind]
  • Philosophical, and Religious Considerations [why go to the stars, moral and ethical issues, implications of finding habitable worlds, implications of finding life elsewhere, implications of being left behind]
  • Biology and Space Medicine  [physiology in space, psychology in space, human life suspension (e.g., cryogenic), medical facilities and capabilities in space, on-scene (end of journey) spawning from genetic material]
  • Habitats and Environmental Science [to have gravity or not, space and radiation effects, environmental toxins, energy collection and use, agriculture, self-supporting environments, optimal habitat sizing]
  • Destinations [criteria for destination selection, what do you take, how many destinations and missions, probes versus journeys of faith]
  • Communication of the Vision [storytelling as a means of inspiration, linkage between incentives, payback and investment, use of movies, television and books to popularize long term research and long term journeys] (DARPA, 2011)

It’s kind of exciting to think that we are on our way to developing a program much like Starfleet. To create an organization that will bring people of all races and cultures together to work toward a common goal. Human beings in general are a species with innate curiosity and the need for exploration. We want to figure out the unknown.

This program could bring together an interdisciplinary team of astronomers, astrophysicists, engineers, biologists, etc to work toward this goal. In a way, by bringing people together with the common intrest of exploring the unknown, we could be creating our very own Starfleet, about a hundred years before it’s time. It will definately be interesting to see which proposal is deemed the best, and if were actually able to pull this off. By traveling to the next star, maybe we can put aside our international differences of race, religion, economics, all of the problems we deal with on a daily basis, because of our shared passion for discovering the unknown.

References

DARPA. 2011. DARPA Encourages Individuals and Organizations to Look to the Stars.  Issues Call for Papers for 100 Year Starship Study Public Symposium. Accessed from http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2011/2011/06/15_DARPA_Encourages_Individuals_and_Organizations_to_Look_to_the_Stars.aspx

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“The Captains” — Possibly the best documentary ever!

In case you haven’t heard there will be a full length documentary that highlights the actors who have played the Star Trek Captains… called… you guessed it “The Captains”. William Shatner, the first Captain will be traveling around the country asking other Star Trek captains how they have felt about being captains, and what not.

Epix, a premier cable channel will premier this full length documentary this week. If you are as excited about this as a I am, check out the preview below to get a little taste!

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Harry Potter- The End of an Era, the End of a Childhood

Now before I get started, I understand that this is not a Star Trek related blog, but I felt the need to tell my Potter story.

Just like the last four movies, my husband and I went to the midnight showing of Harry Potter last night. It was just like any other midnight showing.  We got there at around 10, stood in line for a while, found our seats, were entertained by the costumes and eccentricities that are always brought out when you fill an entire theatre with Potter fans.  You could almost taste the excitement in the air.

Instead of being in our favorite theatre back home in Virginia, we were in an unfamiliar place in Connecticut.  Instead of being surrounded by people our own age (at this point the post college crowd) we were surrounded by those who barely met the driving age.  But the excitement, the impatience, the inability to sit still those last ten minutes before the movie started were still very much the same, yet very different at the same time. This time the premier we’ve been waiting for was bittersweet in a way. It was the end to the Potter era, the end to my childhood.

After viewing the last Harry Potter movie, I realized that I could remember where I was for every major Harry Potter event. I grew up with these characters. They were my best friends for quite some time. Every time there was a lull between book releases, it felt like I was waiting to see a long lost pal who moved away and would be visiting soon. I would drop absolutely everything just to quickly devour the words of JK Rowling, to meet my friends once again, to relish in the adventure, the quest, the honor of the characters and events of the Harry Potter world.

When the Harry Potter books were first released, and there was a big to-do about them, I absolutely refused to read them. Even though I was and still am an avid reader, I was one of those people that didn’t believe in getting caught up in fads and trends. It was actually my younger brother who asked my mother to buy the first two Harry Potter books for him. My mother figured, hey, if the kid is going to read, I’ll buy him whatever books he wants. Of course, even though he promised to read them, they sat on the bookshelf in the hallway collecting dust, until one fateful day, in the summer of 1999.

I was the kind of kid that read everything she could get her hands on. In the fourth grade I read the Odyssey, (quite a feat I might add), and every summer I would enter into the summer reading programs at my local public library. I was so ambitious that one summer I signed up to read 50 books. I remember these very fondly because they gave me something to do over the summer. Yes, I admit, I was that nerdy girl who enjoyed going to school and counted down the days of the summer until she was back in a classroom. This particular summer, however, I found myself bored. Looking for something to do, I decided to peruse the bookshelf in the hallway.  I found myself picking up the Harry Potter books because, let’s face it, I probably read everything else on that shelf. They were my last resort.

I picked up the first book, sat on my bed with my back propped up against the wall, and opened to the first chapter, “The Boy Who Lived.” Within seconds, I was hooked. It couldn’t be helped. I read page after page. Moved positions probably a dozen times so my back or arms or legs wouldn’t get stiff. I moved from the bed to the floor. Tried lying on my stomach or sitting with my back up against the wall. I had to get comfortable somehow, because if I wasn’t comfortable, how was I supposed to continue.

Within probably a day I was done, and moved on to the next book. Then school started. Seventh grade.  I had to have the third book. I was so obessesed with reading that I even took the book on a field trip, so I could read on the bus. A friend of mine, a guy who would probably become one of my closest friends, who would never be caught reading a book, decided to pick it up and start browsing. He was hooked. He couldn’t get enough. Soon enough he read the first and the second, and then couldn’t wait for the next to come out.

Barely a year later, after I started reading the series, the fourth book was released. My family had a camping trip planned, but I wasn’t about to miss it. Of course, the gang came with me. I read in the car, in the tent, before bed, before we would go to the amusement park, every chance I got I was reading.

It was three years later, the summer yet again, and I was awaiting the arrival of the next book. This time I pre-ordered the book on Amazon so it would be delivered the day it was released. I was sixteen years old. The summer of 2003 was a great summer. I met my future husband, we fell head over heels for each other immediately, and my mother won a trip to Disney World off of our local radio station. One full week of staying in the resort, going to the parks, have a great time, but what was I concerned about? Would I be able to have enough time to read my book?!? Luckily the next installment arrived literally the day before we left. Which was perfect timing if you asked me. Why might you ask… well, it definitely gave me something to do on the airplane ride from Virginia to Florida. Plus, I sure wasn’t going to wait an additional week to start reading. The great thing was, was that I wasn’t the only crazy person on this flight with this wonderful treasure. There were people all around me, children and adults alike, that were engrossed in the story.

Again, I read every chance I could get. I had to know how the book ended. Of course my brothers, who weren’t in to book, couldn’t appreciate what I was going through. I was made fun of for bringing the book to the pool, so I could read and spend time with my family. One of my brothers even went as far as to hide the book from me, as a sort of cruel joke, when I was so close to the end. Needless to say, he got a little taste of sisterly love for that one.

2005, the year I graduated high school, and the release of the sixth installment. I was working all summer, trying to put some money back for college. I was waiting tables at a small family owned restaurant in my home town. I ordered my book from Amazon the day it was available for pre-order, so it would be waiting for me at home. But guess what I did differently this time. This time there were no family functions planned. This time, as soon as I knew when to expect Harry and friends in my mailbox, I asked for the next day off from work. Why you may ask… Because I had to read it entirely in one night, and if I were to do that, I would need to sleep the next day. And that is exactly what I did.

2007, my second year of college. I was taking summer courses so I could graduate early: French and Art History. My roomate and I were huge Potter fans. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on the next books. We planned to go to the midnight release party for the book. My first. My last. The excitement continually increased as the night wore on. As each minute and second edged closer to midnight it was difficult to contain it. I remember going with my then fiance, now husband. It was quite convenient that he was there, that way he could drive on our way home as I tried to read the first few words of the story in the dark of the car. We went back to the apartment, and I immediately started reading. My roomate and I took the next day off from classes. You should know why by now… We both had French together. Looking back on it, I wonder how many people actually showed up that day.

I remember opening that book for the first time. I remember the way it felt as the spine so gently broke. Of how heavy the book felt in my hands as I tried to once again get into a comfortable position in order to hold that wonderful tome. How I felt as I realized that this was the end. Wondering where the story was going to go, how the issues would get resolved, if I was going to be happy or sad as it ended. And the truth is I was all of the above. I was happy because everything worked out. There was a reason for Snape’s madness, for Harry’s sacrifices over the years, and being able to see how each of the characters ended up. I was sad for the friends that I lost both in death and because the quest, the adventure, the story, were all over.

As I closed the book for the first time, tears rolling down my eyes, I couldn’t believe it. It was over.

Luckily I had four years left of movie releases that would prolong having to face the facts: The story, the characters, the friends that I had made during my youth in those ink printed, bound pages were gone. Until last night, I was able to prolong the inevitable. Again, as the movie closed, as the credits scrolled across the screen, as tears rolled down my face, the inevitable happened. A finality. The closing of a chapter of my life. The realization that I am a 24 year old adult, and not a child anymore. I grew up with the students of Hogwarts. I watched them grow, become honorable, fight for was they believed in, and was proud of each of them. In many ways I like to believe that I grew up with them. JK Rowling and the Harry Potter crew defined a generation. They defined my generation. I just hope both of us will continue to have a lasting impact on the world around us.

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Dr. Pulaski As a Relic of the Past

During season two of The Next Generation we get we receive a bit of a surprise. Dr. Crusher is no longer on board the Enterprise and is replaced by Dr. Pulaski, an “experienced” Starfleet doctor who hasn’t quite caught up with the times.

For some reason Dr. Pulaski just rubs me the wrong why. I think it’s because of the way she treats Data. She treats him like he’s a machine, instead of like he’s a person. Now yes, Data is made of mechanical parts. He has wires instead of veins, a posatronic brain instead of an organic one, but he has personality: he can learn, he can grow and adapt to various situations, and he can even care for somebody in his own special way (his neural net can become accustomed to one’s presence as he likes to put it). She is the only person on the Enterprise that can’t seem to get passed his inorganic “skin color” if you will.

She makes comments that completely demean Data. Even though he doesn’t feel insulted, she is being disrespectful to him in front of the other crew members. Here’s some examples:

  • When Counselor Troi gives birth Data volunteers to help her through it. Dr. Pulaski then says “Counselor Troi is going to need the comfort of a human touch, not the cold hand of technology”.
  • She constantly mispronounces Data’s name, and Data points it out.
    Pulaski states, “What is the difference?”
    Data retorts, “One is my name, the other is not”.
    Pulaski “Is this possible”? With all your neural nets, algorythms, and heuristics, is there some combination that makes up a circuit for bruised feelings?”
  • In episode 2 a situation arises that Data is trying to fix, and Dr. Pulaski becomes frustrated with the situation
    Pulaski: “It does now how to do these things, doesn’t it?”
    Picard: “Commander Data knows precisely what he is doing”
    Pulaski: “Forgive me MR. Data, I am not accustomed to working with non-living devices that… Forgive me again. Your service record says you are alive.”

If you are not familiar with the ins and outs of Star Trek characters and actors, Dr. Pulaski is played by Diana Muldaur, who also played in The Original Series, so she’s a throwback, if you will, to that show.

Now, here’s what I think Roddenberry was trying to accomplish. The Original Series aired in the 1960s, during the Civil Rights movement. Roddenberry often covered topics during the series such as interracial relationships and portraying a world where there was no racism or sexism (well, as much as he was able to for the time). In 1989, when Dr. Pulaski makes her appearance, many members of the older generations, who were adults during the 1960s, still had problems adjusting to treating African Americans and females as equals. So, in a world where African Americans and females have fought and won their rights, there is still prejudice in the world, because people can’t quite get over themselves.

I think Roddenberry was trying to convey this sociological aspect of our own world in Star Trek. On a ship where everyone is treated with respect and equality, and nobody cares that Data is an android, there is this one person, who is from a different generation, who can’t quite see past his differences. She’s O.K. with Klingons, Andorians, Vulcans, etc, because they have been around longer, and have a humanoid physiology, but when faced with something/someone who at first glance appears to be somewhat different, she doesn’t know how to treat the situation.

Even though I am not the president of the Dr. Pulaski fan club, I think she is a necessary component to the show. During the second season, Data is put on trial to determine whether or not he is a living being, or simply property of Starfleet who can be told what to do, where to go, who to serve under, or being told he will be used as research without his consent. She is a foil to the situation, showing how truly alive and human Data really is.

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Dr. Michu Kaku Attempts to Make the Holodeck a Reality

Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicists tackles the impossible in his show Sci Fi Science. In season 2, Kaku takes on the Holodeck. He takes on a group of trekkies to try to convince them that this technology is possible, and that his particular design will work (See a preview of the show here).

As you remember from my post on “Hollow Pursuits,” Reginald Barclay becomes addicted

One of the many times Picard goes on a Holodeck adventure

to the fantasy world that the holodeck is capable of creating. The holodeck, is an interactive room, that creates images that not only can you see, but you can touch, taste, spell, and interact with. Dr. Kaku takes it upon himself in this episode to design a holodeck that lives up to those expectations and that is capable of convincing die hard fans of its reality. Does he accomplish his goal? You’ll have to watch to find out!

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Thunderstorms May One Day Power Warp Drive

According to this video, lightening bolts that are responsible for creating thunderstorms, are also responsible for creating anti-matter. Anti-matter was once thought of as the most expensive substance on the earth because of the time, energy, and cost that goes into creating it in a lab. During the time of the great bang, this potential energy source was scattered throughout the universe, and today is hard to come by in our environment, except in one place… Thunderstorms.

If we can somehow manage to capture, contain, and harness the power of the antimatter

Warp Core from Enterprise NX-01. Retrieved from http://www.memory-alpha.org

that is created during thunderstorms, then our very own Zefram Cochrane may just invent the antimatter warp drive that is later used to power starships such as the Enterprise. According to Star Trek lore, Dr. Cochrane created the warp drive engine and sucessfully brought the Phoenix to warp speed in 2063. Who knows, maybe we will actually see the advent of this new technology in our life time, if the physical theories of Star Trek uphold.

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Star Trek Inspired Challenger Astronaut to Reach for the Stars

I was on my way to work on Friday, listening to NPR like I always do. Since it was Friday, NPR debuts one of their StoryCorp oral histories. Since it was the 25th anniversary of the  Challenger explosion they highlighted one man’s journey to become an astronaut. And not just any astronaut, but one of the first African American astronauts to go to space.

Ronald McNair was an African American who grew up in the south before the civil rights movement. He seemed to be a curious boy. His brother tells the story of how Ronald went down to the public library to check out some books on astronomy. Mind you this was an all-white library, where African Americans were forbidden to even think about stepping foot in.

His brother then goes on to say that in the 1960s this incredible show came on the air where whites and blacks were able to work and live together without conflict, Star Trek. That they were seen as equals. Ronald’s brother saw this as “science fiction” as he stated in the oral history and Ronald saw this TV show as “science possibility”. This dream and hope of a better future, of exploration, and reaching for the stars inspired Ronald to graduate from college, earn his PhD in Physics from MIT, and join the space program, where he was chosen as one of the crew members for the Challenger flight.

Unfortunately Ronald did not live through the flight.  Star Trek once again showed a just and equal future for all races, and inspired Ronald to work toward a better tomorrow, and for him to reach for the stars. The social reality of Star Trek seemed to be so far away, that even Ronald’s brother never thought it would happen. Thankfully Ronald lived to see the day where he could board a shuttle, and travel to the stars.

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