Tag Archives: space exploration

Imperfect Organism: Life, reviewed.

2219634 - LIFELife, the new anti-space-exploration space movie from Swedish director Daniel Espinosa and starring my beloved Rebecca “Ilsa Faust” Ferguson plus some other famous people, is no Gravity. Or Interstellar. Or The Martian. But it’s aight. I reviewed it for NPR, and then, having finished reviewing Life, I recalled The Onion‘s lovely backhanded obituary for Roger Ebert from 2013.

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Let the Children Lose It, Let the Children Use It: The Martian, reviewed.

Matt Damon portrays the titular hero in THE MARTIAN.

“There are a bunch of severe psychological effects that would happen to someone being isolated for almost two years. And also the anxiety and stress of being on the verge of death from various problems for so long—most people would not be able to handle that. The loneliness, the isolation, the anxiety, and stress—I mean, it would take an enormous psychological toll. And I didn’t deal with any of that. I just said like, ‘Nope, that’s not how Mark Watney rolls.’ So he has almost superhuman ability to deal with stress and solitude.

“And the reason I did that was because I didn’t want the book to be a deep character study of crippling loneliness and depression—that’s not what I wanted! So the biggest challenge were the psychological aspects, and I just didn’t address them and I hope the reader doesn’t notice.”

— Novelist Andy Weir, to Ars Technica’s Lee Hutchinson, last year.

“Let the children lose it

Let the children use it

Let all the children boogie.”

David Bowie, “Starman,” 1972.

My review of The Martian, screenwriter Drew Goddard and director Ridley Scott’s inspiring and so-good-I’m-mad-it’s-not-great adaptation of Andy Weir’s superb novel, is up at NPR now. Further Reading: My interview with Martian star Matt Damon for Air & Space / Smithsonian.

The Fault Is Not in Our Stars: Interstellar, reviewed.

Matthew McConaughey in "Interstellar"

My NPR review of Interstellar, a grand spacefaring epic I saw twice in three days and in which I am inclined to forgive many flaws. I Want to Believe, even if there’s a lot of it I just don’t.

Infrared Dawn: On the James Webb Space Telescope in the July 2014 issue of Air & Space / Smithsonian

An illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope. Courtesy of NASA.

And now for something completely different, and completely intimidating — at least initially. The current issue of Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine has my first-ever astronomy story, about the James Webb Space Telescope, the remarkable $8.8 billion dollar replacement for the aging Hubble Space Telescope.

As JWST orbits the Earth from a million miles away, its six-meter mirror of gold-coated beryllium will collect light that’s fainter, farther away, and billions of years older than we’ve ever been able to see, showing us some of the earliest objects that formed in the universe after the Big Bang. As with most of NASA’s flagship projects, JWST has taken longer and cost far more than NASA had said and Congress had hoped. It’s now set for launch in October 2018. Continue reading

Mars on Earth

So I lucked into an advance copy of Stiff author Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. Set for publication in August, the book shows us the cosmic lengths to which space agencies must go to replicate off-world conditions here on Earth for the purposes of testing their equipment — and more to the point, the puny, hungry, fragile humans who rely on it to survive in a place nature clearly never meant for us to reach.

I haven’t read any of Roach’s prior books, but it took her about a sentence and a half to seduce me with the humor and sense of wonder she brings to her uncluttered reportage of complex scientific stuff. One chapter talks about an experiment called Mars-500 wherein Moscow’s Institute for Medical and Biological Problems locked would-be astronauts in a mockup spacecraft together for 500 days, the span of time required, using current technology, for a manned ship to journey to the Red Planet and back.

The test subjects faced simulations of the various emergencies they might have to cope with on a real Mars mission, but the primary purpose of the experiment was examine the psychological effects of so long an isolation. An similar experiment the IMBP hosted in 1999-2000, using an eight-member, coed, multinational crew, ended early. There was unwanted French-kissing and, in a separate incident, writes Roach, “a fistfight that left the walls spattered with blood.” Continue reading