Friday, November 28, 2014

Who are the stupid terrorists?

Warning: Not about Mars at all. If you like Mars stuff and hate politics move on to something else. Most of my other posts will be more to your liking. For the brave few, read on.


An acquaintance of mine referred to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri as "stupid terrorists" last night. As anyone who knows me on twitter knows, I've been following the events there closely and I see the police force and government officials involved in the events as the stupid ones who are acting like terrorists. Twitter is a challenge for me because I like to be more verbose than 140 characters allows - I wouldn't even be able to use the word "verbose" on twitter - so I decided that I must come to a place where I can be a bit more permissive of my own verbiage. Although it is my tendency to do so, I will refrain from painting all police with the brush which applies to those involved in this mess.

To begin, it is clear from all reports available that police and the majority of citizens of Ferguson have serious problems with each other and have had for a long time. Just one of the many sources for this observation: in which the US Attorney General cites "numerous concerns from people in the St. Louis suburb about police practices, a history of mistrust and a lack of diversity on the police force." It is also clear to me that there is rarely a damaged or broken relationship - between individuals, groups, or whatever - in which one party is completely innocent. In this case specifically, there have been wrongs done by both sides. Also in my experience, relationships don't get healed until people admit their mistakes and take action to correct them. The Ferguson police, St. Louis County prosecutor, Missouri governor, et al have not yet admitted to any wrongdoing, or if they have admitted it they certainly haven't tried to change their behavior - which is the only way to show that you realize that you've made a mistake. Until they realize and admit their mistakes and try to change their behavior and repair the damage that they've done these protests should go on. They probably won't, the bad guys will probably win because they are still getting paid while they're out there and the protesters aren't, but in a better world this would continue until some real change came to Missouri, and all of these United States.

There is no possible way to subcategorize me into any group which has been bought and sold, systemically marginalized for centuries, hunted for sport, or been a victim of attempted genocide. Therefore I will not be talking about issues of race. I'm fortunate that I can be appalled and outraged over this, but I don't have to be frightened. I'm not saying that race is not an issue here, I'm saying that I'm not qualified to talk about it, so I won't.

What I can say is that if you, as a police department, treat the citizens of your community with so little respect that you would leave one of their dead bodies lying in full view in the street for four hours, you should not be that community's police department. When the citizens see one of their own treated that way they see themselves and despair of ever getting good treatment. Theoretically a police department is in business to serve the people of the community by protecting their lives, rights, and property. Preferably in that order. The Ferguson police department has clearly shown that they are not there for those reasons. They are there to enforce their will upon the citizens, they are there for the power and control. They don't care about those people's rights as is shown by their violations of the Constitution. They don't care about the people's lives as is evidenced by the incident which brought this all to our attention. They care about control and they should never regain it until they learn a few basic things like how to apologize, how to respect people, and how to do the right thing. These things can be done. Even by law enforcement officers. Here's an article which cites actual instances of them doing so and reports the results:

I'll make it simple for anyone who doesn't want to read the whole thing. What that article essentially shows is that if police departments treat protesters as human beings and show a little respect things don't turn violent. While Ferguson, Missouri shows what happens when police come to protests and act aggressively. I haven't been there for the protests, but I've watched the livestream on more than two occasions, watched the twitter feed of some good journalists constantly, and read more analysis than anyone should, and the picture that comes across clearly is that the police have started the violence. The protesters remain angry (rightly so) and tense but basically peaceful until police start firing smoke and tear gas grenades. On Tuesday night this week there was a protest in Shaw, a neighborhood of St. Louis, south of Ferguson by a little bit. There were riot police present. A funny thing happened there. As tensions rose, the police backed away and left the area. Protesters remained and yet there was no violence, no looting, no burning. The Police in Shaw allowed the citizens to express their outrage and the situation ended well. This could be a lesson for other groups of Police in the area, if they were willing to learn.

Before I move on past the police culpability in this let me address officer darren wilson's testimony about his killing of Michael Brown. I bring it up because one of the biggest issues, in my opinion, with the American law enforcement system is that violence inflicted by police officers needs to be addressed better. The law is incredibly lax toward police and that needs to change. The best summary of the law of the land in regard to police shootings, oddly, comes from the television show South Park. In the episode Volcano the boys go hunting with Stan's uncle Jimbo and the following exchange takes place (from the script which can be found here: ):

A cute, fuzzy little black bear sits in a nearby clearing,
licking its paws.

That there's a Rocky Mountain Black Bear.
One of the few remaining of its kind.
Isn't it beautiful?

The bear just sits there and blinks.

My God it's coming right for us!!!

Jimbo whips out his huge rifle and shoots the bear dead.Stan can't believe his eyes.

Hey! It wasn't coming right for us! It
was just sitting there!

SHHH! Not so loud!! Now that there's just
a technicality.

What d'ya mean?

You see boys, the Democrats have passed a
lot of laws trying to stop us from

Democrats piss me off!

They say we can't shoot certain animals
anymore unless they're posing an
immediate threat. Therefore, before we
shoot something, we have to say; "It's
coming right for us!"

Wow, you're smart, Uncle Jimbo!

That really really is how the law works in regard to police shootings. If a police officer says that he thinks there was a danger to himself or an innocent bystander he can literally get away with anything. Reading darren wilson's testimony (It begins on page 196 here: ) was like watching South Park over again. It's ridiculous. Sadly, if his testimony is never refuted - which it can't be with no trial - then it will stand and people will salve their conscience by believing the nonsense. This is a job that our lawmakers and court systems need to address badly.

Enough about the ferguson police and St. Louis county sheriff's office. Let's move on to the St. Louis county prosecutor. In the very beginning of this entire mess the prosecutor was asked to step aside from the case. He works with the ferguson police every day. He should be able to clearly see the potential conflict-of-interest, everyone else did. Judges recuse themselves from cases all of the time because the know a party to a case. There's a good reason for it. Why did the St. Louis county prosecutor not step aside? There are only two possible reasons. Either he intended to use his power to get a person who he knew cleared of all charges or he is too proud to step aside, pridefully thinking that he could do his job impartially. Given the amount of time he spent trying to justify the grand jury's decision on television I'd say that it appears it was the former. Either way it was pure stupidity. Avoid the appearance of abuse of power (which is the complaint the citizens have about the ferguson pd after all) and step aside.

Why do I say that what the prosecutor did is abuse of power? For those of you who don't understand a Grand Jury, here's how it works: A Grand Jury does not decide whether a defendant is guilty or innocent, it's not their job. Their job is to decide whether there is enough evidence to hold a trial. They are deciding whether there is a question of guilt or a question of law to be answered. If there is any question to be answered the Grand Jury has the job of arranging for a trial so the questions can be answered. This grand jury clearly didn't understand that, and that is because a Grand Jury goes where a Prosecutor leads it and this prosecutor led this grand jury to a position of no indictments. This defense attorney explains it better than I: Hells bells folks, even the National Bar Association has spoken on this: They don't understand how the grand jury returned no indictments and are asking for federal authorities to pursue charges against officer darren wilson. The National Bar Association. If there's a shred of intelligence in St. Louis County this joke of a prosecutor is out at the next election.

How about the governor of Missouri, jay nixon? Well, when the prosecutor wouldn't step aside as requested the request was passed along to the governor who was disinclined to acquiesce to the request. What he could have been thinking I cannot fathom. He was obviously not thinking of having an appearance of fairness to the grand jury proceedings. He wasn't thinking of the citizens of Ferguson. At his press conference on Tuesday, 25 November announcing sending more national guard troops to Ferguson, governor nixon's body language, tone of voice, and words indicated that he, like the police, was interested in control and not the citizens. He was obviously very angry and agitated and should have calmed down a little before holding a press conference. Even being so obviously of the same frame of mind as the police doesn't explain why he wouldn't have the prosecutor step aside. It was clear to everyone (except himself and the prosecutor it seems) what would happen if the prosecutor didn't step aside, so if he wants the citizens to remain under police control as much as he obviously does why would he leave the prosecutor in there. I am seriously mystified by this. It is, to me, the single most inexplicable thing about the whole mess. In fact it's downright stupidity. Who is that short-sighted? He couldn't see what would happen? People of Missouri you seriously need to elect someone else Governor at the very next opportunity. Your leader is a moron.

Here's the bottom line folks:

When the system is THIS stacked against the citizens, when everyone with any authority acts toward the citizenry the way the entire governance over Ferguson has acted, eventually violence becomes justified, in my opinion. It's the entire justification for the American Revolution: the colonies felt that their rulers were not listening and responding to their concerns. What's different here?

The primary difference is that law enforcement in America has far more arms and armor than the general populace so we the people can't effectively fight against them. This being the case, the frustration, sadly, boils out onto anything in the vicinity.

Can rioting, burning, and looting be fairly characterized as "stupid"? Certainly. Is it understandable in a situation like this one? Absolutely! Is it more stupid than the way the overlords of Ferguson have acted since this began in August? Not even close! Is there a way to get the message across to the police, sheriffs, prosecutors, governors, and all other leaders involved here other than violent upheaval? I wish there were, but the evidence suggests not. Change MUST come in this country to the attitudes that our elected officials and police departments hold and the behaviour they display toward we the people and that change must come from those "leaders". They've clearly mishandled things and need to show some humility and grace and do what they can to make things right. If they establish a little trust they might just be able to make this better if not right.

Monday, October 27, 2014

How well did MIT students grade Mars One?

*** I just realized why scientific papers have an abstract. This post is really long and likely to be boring unless you're really interested. So I'm going to write a brief abstract for those of you who don't want to plow through it all.

An MIT team analyzed the Mars One mission plan recently so I've analyzed their analysis. They aren't trying to wreck Mars One, but they generated some sensational headlines and thus need to be answered. Their analysis is built on a lot of guesswork because there is not a lot of detail to the Mars One plan because those detailed studies haven't been done. The MIT paper has a few mistakes, but actually suffers more from the biases of the researchers than from the coincidental mistakes they made.

That was the short version. If you want the details, read on.


Much has been made in recent days of the paper that an MIT team presented to the International Astronautical Congress a couple of weeks ago. Sydney Do, Koki Ho, Samuel Schreiner, Andrew Owens, and Olivier de Weck did an analysis of the Mars One mission plan as well as they could with the little data that Mars One has released about their plan. You can, and should, read their paper here: to draw your own conclusions. I have examined the paper and drawn my conclusions which I will present to you now.

My first observation regards the intent of the authors. Contrary to what many news outlets have said, I think that it's clear that the authors didn't go into this to stop Mars One nor to say that Mars One's plan won't work. What these students are trying to do is be a part of the conversation about Mars One - and Mars colonization in general - in order to give humanity the best possible chance at making Mars colonization happen. That's a great thing, and I applaud it. It's going to take a lot of people doing a lot of work to make a Mars colony a reality and I'm glad that there are people out there trying to help in whatever way they can.

I believe that these people did the best they could with what Mars One has given them to work with. The trouble is that there is not a lot of detail out there about the Mars One roadmap. I will try to explain why that is, but first a disclaimer: I know nothing about Mars One except what is publicly available. I have applied for a job with them and am waiting for an interview and that gives me exactly zero inside information. On the other hand, as I am an applicant, I have studied the information that is publicly available more than most people out there and I've been around long enough to make some connections between different pieces of the information. So what I have to say here and 79 cents (plus tax) will get you a crappy cup of coffee from the corner store.

I think that there are a few factors that contribute to the relative lack of info on Mars One's plan. It should come as a shock to absolutely no one that the most difficult part of Mars One's plan is the financing. This is going to cost a lot of money for a long time before any returns are seen. While everyone knows they are out trying to raise the needed funds, you may or may not have noticed that the other action they are taking is keeping costs as low as possible. For this reason I think that they are running this endeavor with the minimum possible staff and as such they really don't have time to do things like answer questions about the details of the mission. Between fund raising, television negotiations, upkeep of the website, fund raising, meetings with contractors, fund raising, logistics of interviews, awareness raising, and fund raising there is not a lot of time left for the staff.

Possibly the biggest reason that there aren't a lot of details out is that there aren't a lot of details to put out there. Although started by two engineers, Mars One is NOT a space technology company. These two engineers wanted to go to Mars but they realized that if they wanted to do so they would have to do it themselves because the government agencies weren't going to.  They worked out a plan, went to space technology companies and asked "Hey, can you build this in the next ten years? and how much will it cost?", and they tweaked the plan as needed and started to put it into action. What they and the space tech companies they went to did not do is detailed design studies. They have a concept and they have designs but they haven't yet gotten every nut, bolt, and strip of wire figured out. That will come with time (and money). They have designs for the first (uncrewed? inhuman? personless?) mission because they hired Lockheed-Martin to make said designs. So I think that those of you clamoring for more details are going to have to wait. We've got ten years still. Likewise, MIT's analysis is going to have to remain a very rough analysis because those engineering details have not yet all been worked out.

On to the paper!

On the whole MIT's analysis is an interesting read and has some useful information but I noticed a mistake or so and I noticed the team's preconceptions creeping into the paper here and there.

The first thing that is amiss is what could be a simple oversight, not checking as thoroughly as one should. In Appendix A Habitation Module Assumptions (which is referenced in Section III.I Habitation Module subsection 1 Mars One Habitat Model Set Up and Assumptions) they state that Mars One has "not explicitly specified" the frequency of EVAs from the habitat. The writers therefore assume 5 two-person EVAs of 8 hours duration per week. Just a tiny bit more research on the part of the MIT team would have shown them that Mars One has spelled out in explicit detail the EVA schedule. gives a specified EVA frequency of 3 hours every 3 days per settler on average. This is just over 1/3 of the MIT students' assumption. In the interest of getting things closer to right I'd suggest they plug the correct EVA number into their simulation and see what happens, we may need more or less consumables than they thought. I'll grant that this could be a simple oversight. They may not have made the connection of tying EVA frequency to radiation and therefore not known where to look. I, for one, am glad that Mars One did make that connection.

The next issue that I have with this paper is the way they distorted the information Mars One gave about the size of the food growth area. I don't see how well-intentioned individuals can be comparing Mars One's stated 50 m^2 to their 200m^2 in the way that they do. They have completely left the context out of what Mars One stated and thus distorted the results of this paper to make Mars One look worse. I think that if you read the entire statement from Mars One it's pretty clear that they are talking about having 50m^2 of floor space with multiple layers of plants. Which is almost exactly what this study came up with. They suggest stacking the plants into multiple layers in exactly the fashion that Mars One has talked about all along. The MIT team doesn't say how much actual floor space their 200m^2 translates into when stacked up, but the diagram they supplied shows a central four tray stack flanked by two three tray stacks so I'm just going to guesstimate that their stacking method puts their 200m^2 of plants into about 60 - 65m^2 of floor space. I don't know, they obscure that a little by constantly trying to compare their figure of 200 to Mars One's figure of 50. I also don't know if their trying to make such an obviously false comparison is deliberate or simply an anti-Mars One bias coming out, but I can't imagine that it could possibly be a mistake.

What is certainly the most alarming of the findings in the paper is their idea that because of plant respiration the Oxygen level in the habitat would be out of control and result in certain death for the colonists in just 68 days. This issue has been addressed by Mars One so I'll mention it only briefly as a way of pointing out how the MIT team - and, presumably, any group of engineers - thinks. The removal of Oxygen (or Nitrogen, or pretty much any other gas) from air is a widely used technology. In fact, on page 16 of their report they mention a "pressure swing system" so the MIT team is familiar with it. They don't consider it's use to control the Oxygen level in the habitat because it hasn't been rated for use in space. They simply refuse to consider such a device in their plans because it's never been used in space before. There is absolutely no reason to presume for a moment that a pressure swing adsorption unit wouldn't work in an enclosed Earthlike atmosphere in a Martian habitat. There are also ten years between now and the launch of Mars One colonists in which the equipment can be tested. Why didn't the MIT team run their simulation with such tech included? They made plenty of assumptions anyway, why not just for one simulation assume that pressure swing equipment works and see what the simulator says?

From a few of the things that I read in the report it became obvious that this team came into their simulation with a preconception that permanent colonization should not be done until several return missions have been done first. It's clear from their position on growing our own food and from their position on sparing that they have adopted the timid mindset of the bureaucrats at NASA that there is not an acceptable element of risk. I think you can see how far that has gotten us in the last 40 years.

It is a part of Mars One's mission plan that we grow our own food because one of the primary goals of this colony, right after surviving and growing, is self-sufficiency. It doesn't matter if humanity is spread to two planets if we can't survive on the other one. The MIT team has completely missed this point. This is why the idea of shipping all of our food from Earth is not an idea that we want to have to fall back on. In my opinion, bearing self-sufficiency and survival in mind, a prudent mission plan would include all of the food production equipment as is currently planned while carrying along enough food for two years. This gives us a reasonable safety net and allows us to show the bureaucrats exactly how well Oxygen removal equipment works on Mars. It also allows us to test more crops so we won't have only the nine for which there is available data. We can try everything from avocado to zucchini if we want. Furthermore, with an entire year (Martian) before the next landing there will be time to inform the team back on Earth so the next group can bring the right types and amounts of supplies.

As far as sparing goes, the MIT team fails to think in terms of self-sufficiency. They use the standard NASA mindset of setting a time limit for each component and replacing it at said time whether the component needs to be replaced or not. For a very few items - filters come to mind - this is necessary, but in my experience most components will long outlive their "life limit." When it comes to being self-sufficient the phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is an important one to live by.

Their sparing strategy is also flawed by their failure to take into account the fact that redundant system needs will likely have a limit. Consider this: Each set of equipment is being sent with another complete working set for redundancy purposes. When the second crew arrives there will be two sets of equipment in use and two redundant sets. When crew three arrives there will be three sets in use and three redundant. Granted that eventually the first crew's equipment becomes irreparable, still there comes a point when redundancies are overdone and each new crew will not necessarily have to have two sets. Maybe it's only every other crew or every third crew. Again the feedback loop from the colony will inform the mission architecture of following missions. The MIT team's analysis in terms of spares is at best a worst case scenario.

While I'm on the subject of spare parts and repairs let me also point out that the MIT team's mission architecture only implements spares at "the lowest level for which data were found ... in general this consists of subassembly-level...". Again this is stuck in the bureaucratic NASA mindset where you pull and replace entire assemblies (even if lack of data has forced that mindset this time) rather than repair things the right way which is this: There's a redundant set of everything. Don't repair a problem by changing out a whole subassembly. Live on your backup, tear down the faulty unit and replace the actual part that has gone bad - the diode, resistor, motor brushes, or whatever gets replaced, not an entire component. It would also be helpful to make all of the equipment with as many common parts as possible. For example if all bolts throughout the habitat were 1/4-20-1" then we only need to have those bolts in stock rather than having 42 different types of bolt. Mars One has mentioned, and I heartily agree, that equipment should also be as low-tech as possible. Keeping the habitat in good repair is going to be crucial to life on Mars and lower tech is generally easier to keep in good repair. I go back to my days repairing sewing machines for a bit of anecdotal evidence here - The actual mechanical mechanism of a sewing machine never needed repair. Oil it once every decade or so and it would run forever. The only parts that ever went out were the motor (rarely, but sometimes) and the electronics (all of the time). An absolutely critical key to a Mars colony staying alive and becoming self-sufficient will be simplicity, always simplicity! Aim for uniformity and lowest technology level as much as is possible.

I will add that there is another piece of equipment that would greatly reduce the mass of sparing. It is not yet commercially available, but at some point in the next ten years someone should design and build it (I would if I had the money). I'm assuming that the colony will have a 3D printer for plastic parts at the least. In the interest of simplicity I'd suggest that all plastic parts be made of the same plastic if it's at all possible. Sparing of plastic parts is then simply a matter of having plastic feedstock for the printer. (here's the piece of equipment I mentioned earlier) If, then, the colony had a device that would grind up/melt down the old parts and return the plastic to feedstock then plastic sparing becomes much much lighter. There will be losses to be replaced, of course, but a Plastic Recycler would be a huge step toward sustainability! You've got ten years people, get on it.

The bottom line here is that MIT's analysis should be taken for what it is: well-intentioned but not really very accurate because of a lack of relevant data and it's coloration by pre-made assumptions. As the next ten years go by and Mars One designs and sends missions we will see what the real data show. I, for one, believe that it will be difficult but it can be done and I remain happy to be among the people who have a chance to be the ones to do it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A few lessons for the people of Earth from a Martian colonist

Just to be clear here: you are correct, there are no colonies on Mars yet. Therefore I am not yet a Martian colonist. Not only have I not been to an as yet nonexistent Martian colony, I have not even been to one of the fabulous Martian colony simulators which we have here on Earth. So I am not (yet) a Martian colonist. What I AM is an applicant to Mars One, a candidate for the job of Martian colonist. I am also a thinker. I think, I ponder, I muse, and I ruminate on a wide variety of things. For the last year most of my contemplation has been about Mars and most specifically what my life will be like should I get to live there. What you are about to read are just a couple of lessons which every Martian colonist will know and which I wish very strongly that every human being on this planet knew.

I have had to make a couple of changes to my life in order to remain in the hiring process with Mars One. For example, I had to quit smoking. I should have quit long before and at many times over the years I had said that I was going to, but being a Mars One applicant moved that from the simply important category to important and urgent. I don't think it came as a big surprise to anyone who applied with Mars One that smoking would not be allowed. People don't smoke in space. There's no smoking on the ISS, there was no smoking on the Space Shuttle, and there won't be smoking in a Mars Transit Habitat. While the blame often goes to the dangers of open flame on a space ship, I believe that there is a much more important reason behind the no smoking rule and that is this:

Lesson One - Everything you do affects everyone around you. When you enclose the entire world of a group of people, all of the air, all of the water, all of everything locked up in a small space it becomes obvious that what you do affects everyone else. If I exhale smoke into the enclosed environment of a space habitat the other people living there will be breathing it soon. Best case scenario it gets filtered out in the atmospheric system and we have to change the filters sooner because of my clogging them with all of that nastiness. Because our planet is so big we seem to think that this rule doesn't apply here but we need to realize that this place we call Earth is simply a really big spaceship. Earth is an enclosed system and nothing goes away. When our factories put out large amounts of smoke it doesn't just hang in a cloud around that factory and leave everyone else alone, it spreads through the atmosphere and affects everyone who lives on the planet.

Part of planning for a Mars colony is listing all of the things that the people living there will need and getting them shipped there so that your colonists can live when they get there. The mission designers have to know how much water the colony will need and find a way to either ship it or produce it there. The same with food, clothing, medicine, shelter and so on. it is rather expensive to ship things to Mars. You can't just UPS it there, you have to have a rocket with enough power to get it off of Earth and then push it toward Mars and then land it on Mars when it gets there. It is a very complicated - and therefore very costly - operation. Because of this supplies will be somewhat limited. When we only have one ounce of chocolate sauce left we can't just pop down to the corner store to get another bottle. When it's gone it's gone, and when it's gone we are going to have to learn to live on what we can produce ourselves. Guess what people of Earth:

Lesson Two: Resources are finite. Earth is a really big place and it seems like there is a lot of stuff here, but it just isn't so. Right now a tremendous proportion of our energy needs are met by the use of fossil fuels and we continue to use them as though there were no end in sight. The trouble is that there is an end in sight. You can probably name half of the reasons why using fossil fuels is a less than ideal way to do things, but let's go over a few of them quickly: Air pollution from burning these things, Water pollution from mining, Wars over control of the limited supply, and may I harp on the inefficient and roundabout way of doing things this is. If you follow the trail back, all of this energy ultimately comes from The Sun. Plants ate the sunlight, animals ate the plants, the ground ate the animals and turned them into oil and coal and now we are using those things to get the energy back. Guess what folks, The Sun is still there putting all of that energy out, and we have the technology to use it much more directly so why don't we cut out this loop of middlemen? The sad fact is that we are going to run out of fossil fuels anyway and then we will HAVE to learn to use something else, so why wait until there's a crisis?

Just a side note on this issue of finite resources: I suspect that when there are only four or eight people living alone on a planet and the issue of finite resources comes up you will find that the options of sharing and saving are the choices that people make. When there are only a few of you, nobody will want to be the douche who used the last of the chocolate sauce. Why is it that when there are a few billion of us we don't do things that way?

Mars One is very deliberately and intentionally setting up this mission as an international mission. They have put together standards which will ensure that this is not an American colony or a Russian colony or any other subdivisional colony. This will be a HUMAN colony full stop. Mars One recognizes the one simple lesson that all the Earth needs to figure out:

Folks, we are in this together. At the end of the day, when you strip away prejudice and ideology and divisional concepts like race, religion, and nationality what we all are is human beings. What I do affects you, what you do affects me, what we do affects every one of the other seven billion inhabitants of this habitat called Earth. Why don't we start acting like it?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Journal entry - "Why go to Mars?"

I have a journal I'm keeping, an actual ink on paper with a leather cover journal that I write in from time to time to keep track of my thoughts and feelings on this journey toward Mars. What got into my head was that when I married my beautiful bride I implied that I would be here to take care of her for as long as I am able and I am basically opting out of that implied promise for what seems to her to be dubious reasons. Well, it hasn't escaped my notice that the first people to live on Mars will be huge historic figures and their memorabilia - especially that connected to Mars One - will be very valuable. I thought that if I could document my journey in writing, maybe those journals would be a means to contribute to her financial livelihood when I go.

I think that one of the first things that we the applicants found out (and I, for one, was surprised by) was that some people didn't understand how we could accept leaving Earth forever. The first mistake I find that I have to correct is that I want to leave. We don't hate Earth, we don't hate our lives, we just see the prospect of life on another planet as sufficient recompense for what we're giving up here. After that I have to explain how I could leave my family (my wife actually, the kids are good with it) behind. I still can't get that across to people.

So one day I wrote an entry in my journal to try to explain it. I've realized that this explanation needs to be gotten across before, not after, the mission so I'm going to reproduce it here with a note: the "But - Mars" comment refers to an earlier entry in the journal. It will be available for purchase sometime after I leave for Mars if my wife needs the money. If she's independently wealthy maybe she'll donate it to a museum.


20 June 2013

I thought that I might try to put into words the reasons that I want to go to Mars. I was telling Katie the other day that I've always said that there are two things – God and Love – that you can't quite explain in words. You could write  a library full of books and if someone understands they'll get what you're saying in the first line but if they don't understand they'll never get it. So it is with this. So I will try to put it into words, but I can only hope that you already know what I mean.
Let me begin by explaining my understanding of the term calling. It is used most often in churches, but I believe that it applies in all sorts of cases. In church one can often hear about people who feel called by God to be preachers or missionaries or such. I've always said that the term also applies to certain jobs outside of the church such as teachers and nurses particularly.
This opportunity to fly off to Mars feels almost like a calling to me. From when I first heard about it I've wanted nothing else. For as long as I can recall I've wanted to be an astronaut. I watched every takeoff and landing of the old Space Shuttle that I could find on tv. I remember where I was and what I was doing when the Shuttle exploded during takeoff better than I remember the events of 11 September 2001. It just touched me more. When I was sixteen and headed off to college I decided to go into a course of study that might allow me to eventually be a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle. Life got in the way, obviously, but that dream has never left.
And now … I can picture in my mind the sight of our beautiful mother Earth from space. She sits there wearing her blues and greens and browns while wrapped about with a cloak of misty white which shifts and spins while she turns majestically beneath me. Many of us have seen such sights in our mind's eye as we turned the pages of Heinlein, Asimov, or Clarke, nearly everyone has seen such visions as laid before us by movie makers, but can you imagine being one of the very few dozens who have seen it with their own eyes? The very thought makes me shiver with anticipation. Now imagine being one of only four human beings in all of history to see the ruddy globe of a new homeworld spinning below. Seeing the rusty surface overlaid with the soft pillowy dust of a storm blowing fiercely by. Gazing in rapture at the glittering ice fields of the polar caps. Admiring the grandeur of the largest volcano in the solar system, now long dormant but no less awe-inspiring as it rises far above the rocky plains below. Picture your feelings as you step out of your lander onto the rock strewn surface of your new home prepared to face the challenges of taming a foreign, inhospitable, passively hostile world.
I cannot conceive of a better feeling in this life than this. That is what I see when something in my head says “But – Mars,” it's an overwhelming desire that justifies any expense. To me, at least.
Beyond that, the expense is justified by the gains that mankind will receive. Every venture into the unknown has paid back into the common fund of humanity with considerable interest. The advances in technology will help millions of people here on Earth in ways that we can't even imagine now. The hope that will be felt in many a breast on seeing men and women venturing into the unknown will carry many forward through life encouraging them to follow their dreams. Consider also the future of mankind. Should any disaster befall our mother planet we will continue on in another place and what we learn here can help us to spread further into our universe. The farther we spread out, the more secure the future of our species becomes.
Perhaps I won't get to hold my grandchildren, but I look forward to getting the messages they will record and send to me and maybe I can be there to greet one of them as they land to join our colony, or maybe because of what I've done I'll hear about one of them going out as a scouting party for the first settlers of Titan. Or I could be the inspiration for one of them developing the first interstellar engine to take us out of this system and on into the galaxy. This is only a small second step, but as we take inspiration from Armstrong and Aldrin, future generations will take their inspiration from us.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Exceptional people

Others among the now less than 1,000 people left in Mars One's first colonist application procedure have been spending a great deal of time in the public eye. They have been featured in print and online news articles, on television, and giving presentations to schools among other things. I've had a local magazine feature done on me and a couple of online news articles have used me, but that is about it. One of the things that I would really love to do, though, is go to local schools and speak to young people. I'd like to teach about space exploration and Mars in particular, but mostly I'd like to tell the following to every child I could.

note: An odd thing that I do (I think it's odd anyway, maybe everyone does it) is think about things that are unlikely but possible. I spend an inordinate amount of time planning what I might say in this or that circumstance just in case. I thought of the following when planning what I would say to school children if I spoke to them as a Mars One colonist in training seven or eight years from now but I realized that it is just as applicable now.


These days people seem to think that I am someone exceptional. I am one of a very few who managed - through a combination of coincidence, unmitigated gall, and some quality of psychology of which I remain unaware - to be one of the first of Mars One's colonist candidates. There is no guarantee that any of we, the 1058, will ever get to go to Mars, much less be among the first four, and yet we are deemed exceptional anyway. I don't want to downplay the situation, I know that of some seven billion people in the world I am in a group of a thousand who have been set apart, but I feel less that I am exceptional and more that I have an exceptional burden to live up to. For the millions who did not hear about Mars One in time, for the thousands who didn't have the audacity to apply, and for the hundreds who were not of the right psychological makeup I must be exceptional. I feel a need to be as great as all of those people think I should be. I will never be, but I will never stop trying either.

The question, then, is how do I become exceptional? This question is not for me alone either. I believe that every human being who lives - me, you, the guy down the street, everybody - can be exceptional and should strive to be exceptional. And the first step to becoming exceptional is choosing to do so. Whatever you do in life, choose to do it exceptionally. You only have a short time available to you and so whatever you spend that time on should be worthy of the cost. If you're going to spend your time being a nurse or an engineer or a physicist or a teacher or mechanic or raising children or digging ditches, get up in the morning and look in the mirror and tell yourself that you're going to do it spectacularly. Your time is short, don't waste it being half-assed.

The next (and most important) step to being an exceptional person is the thing that Mars One colonist candidates spend the majority of their time doing. By far we spend more time learning than in any other activity. In fact, even when we're doing other activities we are usually learning even as we do them. Mars One colonists are learning how to use new unfamiliar equipment, and how to repair said equipment, and how to repair each other, and how to grow food, and how to have good relationships with other people, and conflict management, and too many other things to list. We are constantly learning and studying and trying to grow. There was a point in time when a single human brain could hold all of the knowledge in the world. That time is long past, but exceptional people are people who continuously try to do exactly that - learn all that there is to know.

I hadn't mentioned this before, but being an exceptional person is only a three step process. Step One: choose to be exceptional, Step Two: learn everything you can, and Step Three: never think that you've gotten there. There's an old saying "You learn something new every day." It's usually used by someone who has just learned something when they didn't expect to. I prefer to think of it as a challenge to not be complacent. "You! Learn something new! Every day." You may be the best writer or cook or mathematician who ever walked the Earth but you don't know all that you can know and you never will, so keep learning and growing and striving until the day you die.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Martian politicians

For a long time now I've believed that a desire to hold a particular public office should automatically disqualify a person from running for said office. I don't know what it is, but I have never ever, ever never met, seen from afar, or even heard rumor of a politician who faithfully did the very best that they could for the people who they are theoretically in office to serve. Most politicians are lawyers and in my experience lawyers don't believe in an objective "right" and "wrong". They seem to think that what is right or wrong depends on one's point-of-view. I think this viewpoint is either symptomatic of or a cause of their belief that truth or falsehood is all subjective as well. Sadly our politicians behaving this way seems to have poisoned the minds of many (if not most) average people into believing the same.

By way of example - and to set up those who I believe to be counter to the politician's way of thinking, scientists - let's talk about global warming, shall we. Scientific data is absolutely undeniable in showing that our life support system in the universe (this planet) is getting hotter very quickly. The NWS keeps track of global temperature data, NASA has satellites in orbit whose job is to measure the size of the polar ice caps (smaller for at least three years in a row now) and the data is open for anyone to see. NASA posts this stuff on twitter, for Pete's sake. Scientific debate on the issue is about whether it is man-made or a natural cycle (evidence suggests man-made, but it's still debatable) and about whether the system can regulate itself quickly enough to remain habitable by humans. Politicians and those who have been poisoned by them, on the other hand, still argue that global warming is not happening at all. Really!? Did I mention that the data is open for all to see?

Another example of this difference between the way politicians think and the way scientists think is reaction to the political events revolving around the Crimean peninsula. To be perfectly honest I don't know the story behind the whole Russia, Ukraine, Crimea tug-of-war. I know what American news services have said, but I'm sharp enough to realize that their information is biased in favor of American political agendas. I don't know anyone from that part of the world who can tell me the real history as lived there, so I am massively uninformed on the topic. I also know that it has nothing to do with international cooperation in space exploration, although American politicians are trying to make the two things overlap: because of America's governmental officials' stance on the Crimea issue NASA has been ordered to stop cooperation with Russia.

Oh, wait ... except in relation to the ISS. NASA is allowed to cooperate there. Because how would Americans get onto or off of the ISS without Russia? So that's okay, just not anywhere else.

Honestly guys, if Russia is going to be painted as the big bad bully here then they're bad all the way around. You can't have them be the bad guy but still use them for transport to the ISS. That's just ridiculous.

Reaction to this American foreign policy directive from astronauts and scientists pretty much worldwide has been uniformly incredulous and I believe that this reaction is a good indication of the sort of "foreign policy" that humanity should take to Mars with us. Science and technology already has many answers to global problems and the beginnings of many more answers. If governments worldwide cooperated like scientists worldwide do mankind would be much closer to solving issues like global warming, renewable energy, pollution, yada yada yada.

In my opinion, Mars should be kept politician free. Let's populate our next planet with only people who have useful contributions to make to society and see what happens. This is an opportunity to begin human society all over from scratch, let's make the most of it.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


I've tried to live my life being mindful of how fortunate I am to live, and to live in such a beautiful place, and to live among such amazing people. Sometimes the troubles and stresses of life make it hard to pay attention to the wonder of it all so it's nice to have a reminder every now and again. The movie About Time was just such a reminder. I got to watch it - appropriately - with my family, and I recommend that all of you go do the same. It's brilliant.

If you know me very well at all you'll know - and if you don't you'll learn - that I believe that the key to practically everything in life is balance. Moderation. The middle path. This particular blog post is another example of said principle. The issue for today is happiness and how to achieve it.

I've lived with people from various economic backgrounds during the course of my life. When I was growing up my family was of a relatively low economic class, although that got higher over the course of time until we were a solidly lower-middle to middle class family. I've been intimately involved with a lady who, when she was growing up, was from a solidly upper class family. And I've been on very close terms with people pretty much from every part of the spectrum. I've found that there are different things that people of different economic classes tend to teach their children and in many cases those things are both helpful and harmful. For example, the poorer people are, the more they seem to emphasize to their children the importance of non-material things. While everyone mentions to their kids that interpersonal relationships, etc are important, the poor seem to get it better. This is a blessing for them because if you are hung up on material wealth as a key to happiness you'll be miserable as a poor person. On the other hand, if you learn the lesson too well it takes away a lot of motivation to improve your circumstances. There is a very fine line that we, as human beings, need to walk. A balance between being happy where we are and being motivated to change our circumstances to make life better. If we are too content with our place in life then we don't improve it, but if we're too focused on where we are headed we miss out on the beauty of right here right now.

This working for the future mindset is just one of the reasons that we miss out on happiness. Another reason is the today sucks mindset. This is that time that we spend focused on what is wrong with life to the extent that we fail to see the beauty that we are constantly surrounded by. Very young children are always a good cure for this part of the spectrum. When my daughter was very small - two or three years old - she loved to pick flowers and bring them to me. She was amazed and entranced by how beautiful flowers were in all of their gorgeous variety.

One of the ways that I can tell that Spring is on its way is from a particular weed that sprouts up. Driving through the suburbs in the winter you'll see everyone's perfectly manicured perfectly brown lawns. Toward Spring they start to get patches of green, but after a short while you'll notice that those patches of green are tinted with purple. Once those weeds (I've since learned that it is called purple deadnettle) start sprouting I know that Spring is not far off and everyone's perfectly manicured lawns will be perfectly green again soon. Well, the reason that children are a good reminder of the beauty that surrounds us constantly (and incidentally what I think Jesus was talking about when he said that we must be like children to enter the Kingdom of God [or, may I say, see that we're already in it?]) is because they haven't learned all of the things that we adults will teach them eventually. My daughter didn't know that the first bunches of  "pretty flowers I brought for you daddy" were just weeds.

I hate that we adults take their innocence and "ignorance" away from them, but that is a rant for another day.

So where is the balance between working for the future and today sucks? How do we maintain a childlike eye for the beauty that surrounds us while still maintaining a drive to improve our life? In my case it's not even that today sucks. It's more that tomorrow could be so powerfully awesome that it draws my vision away from the here and now. It is awesome to see pictures that Curiosity is sending back from Mars every day. It is incredible to read about the Mars Society's simulation missions. It's great fun to think about what we might do or see or eat or build or learn or whatever when we go to Mars. I realized after the movie tonight that I've had my head so far into that very very remotely possible (let's face it, even as one of the1058 I still have less than a 1 in 50 chance of being hired by Mars One, much less going) future that I have not been paying enough attention to how lucky I am.

Going to Mars will be monumental. Whoever goes - I and three friends, or someone else - will experience amazing things that no one else will experience in quite the same way. Just don't forget in the interim that today you will experience amazing things that no one else will experience in quite the same way. Tomorrow you will experience amazing things that no one else will experience in quite the same way. Every day of your life you will experience amazing things that no one else will experience in quite the same way if only you will be mindful and see what's around you.