A New Space Age

United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs

Space, and our place in it, is a big topic of discussion right now.

We have private companies vying for a place beyond our atmosphere, alongside governments attempting to position themselves for the future as our world continues to struggle with mounting population, resource and climate issues.

We even, apparently, have the United States’ Congress contemplating a ‘space army’… because… um… the Covenant are coming?  Could be the Cylons.  We’d probably want to stop the Cylons.  Probably the Covenant too.  But I digress.

Space is a hot topic and it’s only going to get hotter.

In previous articles, we’ve reported on the body whose job it is to encourage the nations of the world to cooperate on all things “outer space” – the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.  It’s also this body’s job to keep a register of all objects launched into orbit.  And there are a lot.

All of that is a hefty responsibility, particularly for what is, essentially, a very small group of people operating from what is, nowadays, outdated legislation.

Governing all things Outer Space for Earth is the ‘Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.’  Yes.  That’s something of a mouthful!

The Treaty, in brief, provides a basic framework on international space law, and includes the following:

  • the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
  • outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
  • outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
  • the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
  • astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
  • States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by government or non-governmental entities;
  • States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects, and;
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

Obviously, they need to update the language to say “humanity”, instead of “mankind”, but they also need to review the whole thing because unless I’m mistaken we’ve launched quite a few harmful objects into orbit that threaten the safety of any mission that carries humans into space, as well as the lives of every astronaut on the International Space Station (and if a satellite goes rogue and smashes into the ISS, I don’t know if any nation could afford to repair it), plus, things fall to Earth and if they survive re-entry, some of those things are very radioactive.

I’m also pretty sure some businesses, and perhaps even governments, want to lay claim to certain celestial bodies for mining rights.

The International Space Station

The Treaty was signed in January 1967, by the Russian Federation, the United States of America and the United Kingdom.  Over time, others have become signatories or ‘party’ to the Treaty, though not all nations on Earth have bothered – mostly because they don’t have space programs.

The Treaty has been amended over the years, but could still do with a rework as we face that once final frontier, right now.

Treaty Declaration - UN

50 years ago, when the Treaty came into being, years before most of us were born, all of this was the stuff of science fiction.  Now it is science fact.

Elon Musk intends to die on Mars, Australian Scientists have just worked out a way to make astronauts safer in space (thank you Australian National University) thanks to a new nano-material they’ve created that can reflect light on demand and has a temperature control, and can, it is believed, be developed further to protect our brave space pioneers from harmful interstellar radiation.

As each year passes, we grow closer and closer to making those things that inspired my generation – and possibly yours – a reality: China and Europe are exploring the idea of building a human outpost on the moon (hello Space: 1999), multiple agencies and governments and businesses are gearing up to travel to Mars (hopefully not is any sort of a disastrous way – we’re looking at you, Mission to Mars and Red Planet), and multiple space-mining companies are springing up (Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries, and Kepler Energy and Space Engineering bringing with them visions of The Expanse and the dynamics that exist between Earth, Luna, Mars and the asteroid belts in our solar system) looking at ways to help Earth and humanity.

What’s going to happen as industry and government vie for control of the incredible resources that exist beyond the atmosphere of our small but beautiful blue-green planet?

What happens if greed overrides the common good?

News.com.au and other outlets around the world, recently reported that one particular asteroid’s precious metal deposits could crash the world’s economy.

How long will idealism stand against the level of wealth available to us beyond Earth?

The ideal would be that we could all come together, like Space: 1999 and Star Trek propose, but the reality of human nature is that greed is here and it’s been around for a long time, and, sadly, a lot of people are motivated by that.  As a result, we’ve justified wars for resources on this world for centuries and chances are we will find ways to justify wars for resources off world too.  Is it possible our next big conflict won’t be a World War, but a resource war fought over the Asteroid Belt or the Kuiper Belt?

One thing is certain, we as a species are finally heading into space.  We got there, at least as far as our moon, then sort of retreated, built an international space station, and dreamed while waiting for someone with courage to propel us forward again.  Now it looks like we’re finally returning to space and planning to go further than we’ve ever gone before.  Hopefully we’ll be able to do it in a way that is measured and sensible, and that benefits all of humanity and not just the rich, and hopefully the United Nations will help us do that and do it with wisdom.

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be alive, and an incredibly frightening one as well.  Some of our greatest minds don’t believe we, as a species, can survive on Earth much longer because of our growing population and disappearing resources, and as a result have to go out into space.  They’re probably right.

The decisions we make right now, the precedents we set, and the way we go about establishing this foundation of exploration, is so vitally important.

What can you do about it?

Get involved.  Whether through aspiring to be one of those space pioneers one day, or by holding your elected representatives accountable, you can, in some small way, have a say on whether or not our future as a species takes these next steps wisely, or selfishly.

We’ve kind of screwed up Mother Earth.  It would be nice if we at least learned from the mistakes we’ve made.

As much as I love some of the almost dystopic science fiction out there, I don’t want our future generations living any of those possible realities.

Do you?

As all of this starts to ‘nut’ itself out, we’ll report on it here. The future is being built right now, and hopefully it will be built on strong and lasting foundations.

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It’s Time for a New Look at Space: 1999

we-need-space-1999-banner

It’s obvious I’m a fan of Space: 1999, so I’ll happily declare there is a bias present in this article.  To me, the show had a lot going for it – compelling characters, amazing sets, decent (for the time) special effects, and a tone of mystery and hope set against a subtle backdrop of disillusionment and mistrust (two feelings that permeated the 1970s, and coincidentally the twenty-teens).

The series was cancelled before its time despite its popularity, with the sad reality being it kind of killed itself with a lot of retooling between seasons that didn’t sit well with its fans.  Space: 1999 is probably the best example of how not to “fix” a television show if you want that show to survive.  Though season two gave us Maya and Tony, it took from us compelling storylines and a handful of fan favourite characters like Paul and Victor.

Space: 1999 wouldn’t work today as an exact and completely faithful reboot, because we’re 17 years past the titular date of 1999, and we also know more about our moon, our solar system and the near galaxy than we did then.  Not to mention the fact scientists are pretty certain that the moon being ripped from Earth orbit would destroy it and our own planet!  But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss this show and it’s underlying premise.  The characters, the (then) future forward but still focused in reality design aesthetic, the message of hope and exploration, and the crew of Alpha’s fight to survive against overwhelming odds (like we are today with climate change, global terrorism, changing political sensibilities, growing poverty, rising unemployment etc) are as relevant to today’s world as they were 40 plus years ago – and perhaps resonate with more potency now than they did back in the 70s.

With the renewed focus on exploring our solar system and the recent focus on space tourism, asteroid mining and setting up colonies on both the moon and Mars, Space: 1999 is more relevant today than it was in the 1970s when it was first released.

No other science fiction property can so eloquently show us the near future as authentically – if the series is retooled effectively and respectfully.

To clarify that point, shows like The Expanse and the new Star Trek: Discovery (due for release in May next year) do and will focus on the issues I mentioned above, but neither do (or will do) it from a timeframe close to right now.  Though Space: 1999 got a lot wrong (we don’t have a moonbase, we’re not dumping nuclear waste on the moon, and we haven’t received mysterious signals from nearby exoplanets), it did do its best to predict what the near future would look like 24 years into the future (and a lot of people still think the set design and ship designs stack up today, with the Eagle Transporter still spoken of as one of the most realistic space ships ever designed).

For a show like Space: 1999 that has maintained a strong and loyal fan base for 40 years, there are dangers in rebirthing or rebooting it.  There can also be benefits – a lot of them.  No one can forget the trepidation and then remarkable love many of us felt for the Battlestar Galactica reboot.  Ronald D. Moore kept the premise intact, giving more thought and background to the Cylons than the legendary Glen A. Larson had back in the late ’70s, and he kept many of the characters the same – controversially changing some (Starbuck becomes a woman, as does Boomer, and Athena is no longer Adama’s daughter, but a Cylon) and adding in new characters to flesh out that ‘world’.

Someone seeking to bring Space: 1999 back could go that route, but there are other approaches that would be equally as successful.

One alternate is the one I ascribe to here on this site, with the budding fan script I’ve been writing.

Space 2049‘s premise attempts to remain completely loyal to the original idea of Space: 1999, but instead of destructively blasting our moon out of Earth’s orbit, which, as mentioned above would be pretty apocalyptic for all of us down on the planet as well as the people on Alpha, it blasts a second moon – an asteroid that was captured by Earth’s gravity – out of Earth’s orbit and sends that second moon on a trip through our solar system toward an anomaly transmitting radio signals toward Earth from Jupiter orbit.

Most of the characters are the same, with one or two added in to reflect the role business will play in space colonisation, and with one or two secondary characters having their races and genders changed to better reflect a diverse settlement.  Overall the premise is identical and follows the thematic tone of the first season of Space: 1999.

As a devoted fan, that to me, makes sense.

While there is only the remotest of chances our homeworld will capture an asteroid and make it a second moon, it is entirely possible according to the research I’ve done.  It’s certainly more possible and less catastrophic than our moon getting ejected from orbit.

For the record, I looked at a space station being blasted out of orbit, but after two weeks of exhaustive research discovered there was NO WAY an artificial construct could survive that sort of catastrophe intact.

A few years back, Jace Hall of V (the reboot) fame attempted to bring Space: 1999 back as Space 2099, but that very quietly fell apart about two years ago.

From what I can find online, Space 2099 was going to honour the original in theme, but not necessarily in any other way.

I was a fan of this attempt at a reboot, but admit I would have been disappointed if too much had changed, and would have been really upset if Koenig, Russell and Maya hadn’t featured in it.

The pre-production efforts of the team behind Space 2099 didn’t reveal much to the wider public, though they did actively communicate with us all for a while at the forum on their website, but despite inviting the fans in we don’t know a lot about the show.  What we do know is that the reboot is no more.

Looking at the very few promo images that made it into the public domain, all I – all any of us – can do is guess.  My guess is we would have had a Moonbase Alpha, but there would have been no object blasted out of Earth’s orbit.  I believe they would have used Alpha as a jump point for a ship tasked with exploring beyond our solar system.

Regardless of what anyone might do with a reboot, it really is time for another look at Space: 1999.  Despite the rubbish monster of the week show it turned into in its second season, it was originally an intelligent, philosophical, meaningful show that would be successful right now in the current television landscape.

Even with a controversial new President due to take power in the United States in January, and a very unstable global community with issues like Brexit and ISIL featuring in world headlines on a daily basis, it seems clear that NASA and other interests will continue to push toward the moon and Mars.

As our climate continues to change, as our planet’s population continues to exceed our homeworlds’ ability to support humanity, and as our earthly resources continue to diminish, we’ll be forced more and more to focus on space as a solution to our growing global problems.

Has there ever been a better time for a show like Space: 1999 to shine?

A show that looks ahead a few years and poses realistic solutions to growing world problems could be really important, and that postulation could all still happen against an allegorical background of space adventure and fun.

Hopefully someone in TV production land is thinking the same thing.

It’s time for a new look at this old gem.

I wish I knew what derailed Jace’s vision, but more than that I hope someone sees value in a show of this kind and gives Space: 1999 a new life that the fans can love and a new TV audience can celebrate.

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Humans on Mars by 2025

Elon Musk Wants to Take Humanity to Mars

Elon Musk is an ambitious and inspirational human being, and he’s never minced words when it comes to his aspirations for SpaceX, the company he founded and is CEO of.

In recent days, Elon has elaborated on his aspirations to send a crew to Mars, and his timeline for making it happen – with, or without NASA‘s help.

He plans to start sending unmanned craft to the red planet starting in 2018, to be followed by the launch of a much larger craft in 2024 that will hopefully be crewed by the first human beings to ever step foot on the surface of our nearest neighbouring planet.

In-between the first unmanned flights and the eventual flight that will take human beings to Mars, he hopes to send regular spacecraft, approximately every two years, to essentially establish a “cargo route” that will set up the supplies a potential outpost or colony will need.

Is NASA involved with this ambitious project?

It doesn’t seem so.

NASA‘s earliest estimates for a manned Mars mission have them landing a craft sometime in 2035.

How can Musk’s SpaceX do this a decade before NASA?  Maybe because it’s privately funded and therefore doesn’t have the same restrictions that are often applied to government supported projects.

When you look into SpaceX there are some impressive private companies supporting them, including Google (who pretty much want to own a slice of everything).  Thanks to the diverse investors and their quality as companies, SpaceX was recently valued at 12 billion dollars – which is impressive, particularly for a company that’s only been around since 2002.

SpaceX has enjoyed a number of successes, but has also survived it’s fair share of failures.  Elon’s tenancity and vision has kept the company going and literally reaching for the stars.

Is SpaceX just about launching an eventual manned mission to Mars?

No.

Among its goals, it lists creating a string (or constellation) of satellites that will circle the Earth and ‘beam’ the internet into every part of our globe so that anyone anywhere can have access to the web.

They have also been instrumental in advancing rocket technology (as a side note for science fiction fans, SpaceX‘s first rocket, the Falcon, was named for the  Millennium Falcon from Star Wars – he is a child of the 70s after all).

That, and their ambition to lower the cost and improve the reliability of space travel make them a company to watch.

When you read about Elon and think about Richard Branson you can’t help but wish they would get together.  Imagine what could happen if both men pooled their considerable resources?

Back in the early 1970s, when Space: 1999 was developed, I don’t think anyone imagined that private companies would lead the way when it comes to colonising our solar system, but it seems that may be the case.  With companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX pushing the envelope and establishing audacious goals, the first Moonbase, and the first Mars Colony might be owned by private firms that rent space to governments rather than the other way around!

That does actually concern some people and it’s only wise to wonder and ask why private companies want to get to the Moon and Mars?

I think, for men like Richard and Elon, it’s a mix of things.  Vision.  Altruism.  Potential financial benefit.  For many of their investors, I have little doubt it’s about one thing.  Resources.

There’s potentially a lot of money in the form of mineral resources on Luna, Mars and in the asteroid belt, and as Earth’s resources continue to diminish but humanities need for them continues to grow, it’s only logical to look elsewhere and to invest in new opportunities.

If you want to read more about Elon’s ambitions for Mars, visit Blastr here.  To learn more about SpaceX, check out the collection of information on Wikipedia here.

The emergence of companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic creates an interesting future for all of us.  Whether NASA and other government linked space agencies are going slow because of safety concerns or lack of funding, it seems clear that the future of space travel will be the purview of private companies.

That’s certainly a factor I’ll be weaving into my fantasy fan reboot of Space: 1999.

Half of me is deeply concerned by the privatisation of space (can you say Weyland-Yutani?) and the other half is excited.  Thankfully, I think both Elon Musk and Richard Branson are men to be admired, and so maybe, hopefully, the future of space travel is safe in their hands.

These days, we can probably trust them more than we can our governments!

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Astronaut Scott Kelly Takes His Next Step

Scott Kelly Resigns from NASA

Astronaut Scott Kelly has done amazing things, and is most definitely a hero everyone can be proud of.  His contributions to science will continue to be felt for many years to come, and may even take us closer to our dream of colonising our solar system.

In total, Scott has spent 520 days in space, and he recently returned from 340 consecutive days aboard the International Space Station where he took part in NASA‘s One-Year Mission, an experiment aimed at discovering how long-term spaceflight and how living in space affects the human body.

Scott set the record for the longest number of consecutive days a United States astronaut has spent in space, though that record will soon be beaten when NASA astronaut Jeff Williams launches on the 18th of March for a planned 534 days in space.

Despite being a world record holder (for now), it’s not what he’s best known for.  Scott rose to the attention of the general public thanks to his use of social media, and in particular the incredible, amazingly beautiful photos he posted from the International Space Station.  You can see them here or follow him on Instagram @stationcdrkelly.

Scott posted over 700 images to Instagram and shared all the different ways he kept himself amused while in lower Earth orbit.

Scott has been celebrated for his natural ability to both entertain and educate the general public while in space, and he certainly single handedly brought a lot of attention to the often ignored space program with his cheeky sense of humour and humble, child-like sense of wonder.

Scott recently decided to retire from NASA, and will leave that institution on the 1st of April.  He will continue to be tested after he leaves NASA, so that scientists can keep examining the effects of long term space travel and habitation on the human body.

As we get ready to send a mission to Mars, and as we continue to contemplate putting a base on both the Moon and Mars, experiments of the type Scott undertook on behalf of scientific research, are essential.

Scott hasn’t really given a reason for why he is leaving NASA, but at 52 years of age and after spending 20 years as an astronaut, he probably wants to spend a little time Earth side – at least for a while.

Scott hasn’t ruled out a return to space, but it seems clear he’d like to stay around his family and friends for now.

Scott joined NASA in 1996 and spent time in the Space Shuttle program and of course, as part of the International Space Station crew.

Brian Kelly, the director of Flight Operations at NASA‘s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, said “In his year aboard the space station, he (Scott) took part in experiments that will have far-reaching effects, helping us pave the way to putting humans on Mars and benefiting life on Earth.  His passion for this work has helped give hundreds of thousands of people a better understanding of what NASA does, thanks in part to the numerous photos and updates he shared from space.  We appreciate his years of service and anticipate many benefits to come from them, thanks to the research he’s supporting.”

To read NASA‘s media release, visit their official site here.

Thank you, Scott, for sharing your journey into space with us and for helping push the limits of science, and an enormous thank you for helping us take one step closer to the future we saw in Space: 1999.

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