Creators Brian Haberlin and David Hine take "Jules Verne's Lighthouse" into the depths of deep space piracy starting this April. (Image credit: Image Comics)
Topics: History, Science Fiction, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
Widely considered to be the "Father of Science Fiction," the famed French poet, novelist, and playwright [known] as Jules Verne celebrates what would have been his 193rd birthday this year.
Born Feb. 8, 1828, Verne ushered in the grand era of speculative fiction with his classic novels, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "From the Earth to the Moon," "Around the World in 80 Days," and "Journey to the Center of the Earth."
Now one of Verne’s lesser-known works from 1905, "The Lighthouse At The End Of The World," is being adapted for the first time into a five-issue comic book miniseries at Image Comics premiering in April. Orchestrated by the veteran creative team of Brian Haberlin and David Hine ("The Marked,'" "Sonata"), "Jules Verne's: Lighthouse" gets a sci-fi twist and casts readers into the high seas of outer space for a swashbuckling cyberpunk saga.
Here's the official synopsis:
"Jules Verne's: Lighthouse" is set at the edge of the galaxy, where there is a giant supercomputer known as the Lighthouse. The only brain powerful enough to navigate ships through a Sargasso of naturally occurring wormholes, potentially cutting months or even years of a spaceship's journey. Three humans, one alien, and a nanny bot have manned the remote station for years in relative peace until the arrival of Captain Kongre and his band of cutthroat pirates threatens the future of civilization and reveals that each of the Lighthouse crew has been hiding a shocking secret. He who controls the Lighthouse controls this part of the galaxy."
The first mission of the Space Shuttle Program, STS-1, blasts off from launch pad 39A on April 12, 1981, attempting to kick off a new era of rapid access to space.
Topics: History, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Space Shuttle
In April 1981, John Young — America’s premier astronaut and one of only 12 people to ever walk on the Moon — was training with co-pilot Bob Crippen for STS-1, the maiden voyage of the space shuttle Columbia. Though eager, Young harbored no illusions that he might never return from this first mission of the Space Shuttle Program.
After rocketing into space, Columbia aimed to circle our planet 36 times over two days. But then, unlike the previous spacecraft, it would glide back to Earth, landing on a runway like an airplane. NASA hoped its reusable fleet of four shuttles — Atlantis, Challenger, Discovery, and Columbia — would launch weekly with crews of up to seven, allowing more rapid access to space than ever before. The Space Shuttle Program promised to both revolutionize and routinize spaceflight.
But, as with all cutting-edge technologies, the risks were severe. A month before STS-1, as Columbia sat on Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, several technicians were asphyxiated by nitrogen fumes while working in the shuttle’s aft fuselage. Two of them later succumbed to their injuries. The accident served as a deadly reminder that spaceflight is a dangerous business, even when still on Earth.
Combining two images, this mosaic shows a close-up view of the rock target named “Yeehgo” from the SuperCam instrument on NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. The component images were taken by SuperCam’s Remote Micro-Imager (RMI). To be compatible with the rover’s software, “Yeehgo” is an alternative spelling of “Yéigo,” the Navajo word for diligent.
Topics: Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
Data from the powerful science tool includes sounds of its laser zapping a rock in order to test what it’s made of.
The first readings from the SuperCam instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover have arrived on Earth. SuperCam was developed jointly by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico and a consortium of French research laboratories under the auspices of the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES). The instrument delivered data to the French Space Agency’s operations center in Toulouse that includes the first audio of laser zaps on another planet.
“It is amazing to see SuperCam working so well on Mars,” said Roger Wiens, the principal investigator for Perseverance’s SuperCam instrument from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “When we first dreamed up this instrument eight years ago, we worried that we were being way too ambitious. Now it is up there working like a charm.”
Perched atop the rover’s mast, SuperCam’s 12-pound (5.6-kilogram) sensor head can perform five types of analyses to study Mars’ geology and help scientists choose which rocks the rover should sample in its search for signs of ancient microbial life. Since the rover’s Feb. 18 touchdown, the mission has been performing health checks on all of its systems and subsystems. Early data from SuperCam tests – including sounds from the Red Planet – have been intriguing.
“The sounds acquired are remarkable quality says Naomi Murdoch, a research scientist, and lecturer at the ISAE-SUPAERO aerospace engineering school in Toulouse. “It’s incredible to think that we’re going to do science with the first sounds ever recorded on the surface of Mars!”
Topics: Mars, NASA, Perseverance, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
Editor's Note: This release was updated on Feb. 22 to correct the metric unit for the speed at which the rover's wheels made contact with the surface to kph.
A new video from NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover chronicles major milestones during the final minutes of its entry, descent, and landing (EDL) on the Red Planet on Feb. 18 as the spacecraft plummeted, parachuted, and rocketed toward the surface of Mars. A microphone on the rover also has provided the first audio recording of sounds from Mars.
The 18 members of NASA's Artemis Team, from top left to bottom right: Joe Acaba, Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, Matthew Dominick, Victor Glover, Woody Hoburg, Jonny Kim, Christina Koch, Kjell Lindgren, Nicole Mann, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir, Jasmin Moghbeli, Kate Rubins, Frank Rubio, Scott Tingle, Jessica Watkins and Stephanie Wilson. (Image credit: NASA via collectSPACE.com)
Topics: Diversity in Science, Moonbase, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
Artemis, in Greek religion, the goddess of wild animals, the hunt, and vegetation, and of chastity and childbirth; she was identified by the Romans with Diana. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of Apollo. Source: Britannica
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday (Feb. 4) that President Joe Biden will carry on the Artemis program to land humans on the moon in the coming years. Artemis began under Biden's predecessor, then-President Donald Trump.
"Through the Artemis program, the United States government will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the surface of the moon — another man and a woman to the moon," Psaki told reporters in a White House press briefing Thursday.
"Certainly, we support this effort and endeavor," she added.
One of the main differences between Ebrahimi's new rocket thruster concept and other space-proven ones is that hers uses magnetic fields to boost particles of plasma out of the back of the rocket. So far, space-proven ones use electric fields to boost plasma.
Plasma is one of the four fundamental states of matter and made of gas ions and free electrons. Our Sun is a burning ball of plasma that uses a fusion reaction, for instance.
When NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, it will be carrying a small but mighty passenger: Ingenuity, the Mars Helicopter.
The helicopter, which weighs about 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) on Earth and has a fuselage about the size of a tissue box, started out six years ago as an implausible prospect. Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California knew it was theoretically possible to fly in Mars’ thin atmosphere, but no one was sure whether they could build a vehicle powerful enough to fly, communicate, and survive autonomously with the extreme restrictions on its mass.
Then the team had to prove in Earthbound tests that it could fly in a Mars-like environment. Now that they’ve checked off those objectives, the team is preparing to test Ingenuity in the actual environment of Mars.
“Our Mars Helicopter team has been doing things that have never been done before – that no one at the outset could be sure could even be done,” said MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager at JPL “We faced many challenges along the way that could have stopped us in our tracks. We are thrilled that we are now so close to demonstrating – on Mars – what Ingenuity can really do.”
Ingenuity survived the intense vibrations of launch on July 30, 2020, and has passed its health checks as it waits to plunge with Perseverance through the Martian atmosphere. But the helicopter won’t attempt its first flight for more than a month after landing: Engineers for the rover and helicopter need time to make sure both robots are ready.
Illustration of the main elements of the lattice confinement fusion process observed. In Part (A), a lattice of erbium is loaded with deuterium atoms (i.e., erbium deuteride), which exist here as deuterons. Upon irradiation with a photon beam, a deuteron dissociates, and the neutron and proton are ejected. The ejected neutron collides with another deuteron, accelerating it as an energetic “d*” as seen in (B) and (D). The “d*” induces either screened fusion (C) or screened Oppenheimer-Phillips (O-P) stripping reactions (E). In (C), the energetic “d*” collides with a static deuteron “d” in the lattice, and they fuse together. This fusion reaction releases either a neutron and helium-3 (shown) or a proton and tritium. These fusion products may also react in subsequent nuclear reactions, releasing more energy. In (E), a proton is stripped from an energetic “d*” and is captured by an erbium (Er) atom, which is then converted to a different element, thulium (Tm). If the neutron instead is captured by Er, a new isotope of Er is formed (not shown).
Topics: Astrophysics, NASA, Nuclear Fusion, Propulsion, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
A team of NASA researchers seeking a new energy source for deep-space exploration missions recently revealed a method for triggering nuclear fusion in the space between the atoms of a metal solid.
Nuclear fusion is a process that produces energy when two nuclei join to form a heavier nucleus. “Scientists are interested in fusion because it could generate enormous amounts of energy without creating long-lasting radioactive byproducts,” said Theresa Benyo, Ph.D., of NASA’s Glenn Research Center. “However, conventional fusion reactions are difficult to achieve and sustain because they rely on temperatures so extreme to overcome the strong electrostatic repulsion between positively charged nuclei that the process has been impractical.
Called Lattice Confinement Fusion, the method NASA revealed accomplishes fusion reactions with the fuel (deuterium, a widely available non-radioactive hydrogen isotope composed of a proton, neutron, and electron, and denoted “D”) confined in the space between the atoms of a metal solid. In previous fusion research such as inertial confinement fusion, fuel (such as deuterium/tritium) is compressed to extremely high levels but for only a short, nano-second period of time, when fusion can occur. In magnetic confinement fusion, the fuel is heated in a plasma to temperatures much higher than those at the center of the Sun. In the new method, conditions sufficient for fusion are created in the confines of the metal lattice that is held at ambient temperature. While the metal lattice, loaded with deuterium fuel, may initially appear to be at room temperature, the new method creates an energetic environment inside the lattice where individual atoms achieve equivalent fusion-level kinetic energies.
Expedition 1 and Crew-1. These historic International Space Station missions lifting off 20 years apart share the same goals: advancing humanity by using the space station to learn how to explore farther than ever before, while also conducting research and technology demonstrations benefiting life back on Earth.
Crew-1 made up of NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, continues the legacy of two decades of living and working in low-Earth orbit by becoming space scientists for the next six months.
Not only will the Crew-1 astronauts and fellow Expedition 64 NASA astronaut Kate Rubins conduct hundreds of microgravity studies during their mission, but they also deliver new science hardware and experiments carried to space with them inside Crew Dragon.
Check out some of the research flying to the space station alongside Crew-1, and scientific investigations the astronauts will work on during their stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Topics: Moonbase, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight, Star Trek
Cultural references: Neil Armstrong's quote: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," and the title of a Star Trek Voyager episode, season 6, episode 8.
On August 4, 1972, the sun unleashed an incandescent whip of energy from its surface and flung it toward the planets. It was accompanied by a seething cloud of plasma called a coronal mass ejection, which traversed the nearly 150 million kilometers between sun and Earth in just more than half a day—still the fastest-known arrival time for such outbursts—to briefly bathe our planet in a cosmic fire.
Earth’s shielding magnetosphere crumpled and shrunk by two thirds, sending powerful geomagnetic currents rippling through the planet. Dazzling displays of “northern lights” stretched down to Spain, and overloaded power lines strained as far south as Texas. Off the southern coast of Haiphong, North Vietnam, the seas churned as the celestial disturbance prematurely detonated some two dozen U.S. Navy sea mines. The geomagnetic storm is one of the most violent solar events in recorded history, certainly the most violent of the space age.
The astronauts of Apollo 16 had been home about three months from their lunar foray, and those of Apollo 17 were still preparing for their December launch. The fact that the solar outburst happened between the penultimate and final crewed moon missions was simply a matter of chance. If the members of either crew had been in space during the solar storm, especially if they had been traversing the portion of the “cislunar” region between Earth and the moon that lies outside the magnetosphere, they would have been exposed to a potentially deadly dose of radiation.
We got lucky in 1972. And in terms of space-based hazards, that luck has largely held throughout humanity’s off-world excursions. To date, the only humans to actually die in space were the three cosmonauts of Soyuz 11, who asphyxiated because of faulty hardware as their spacecraft began its descent to Earth. Yet despite what most estimates would seem to consider a near-sterling safety record, today the prospect of venturing back beyond low-Earth orbit somehow seems more daunting—more dangerous—than it did when the Apollo program ended. Equipped with more knowledge than ever about the environs beyond our home, we now seem more reluctant to leave it. Maybe we know too much.
Topics: Aerodynamics, ESA, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
The pursuit, exploration, and utilization of the space environment can be misinterpreted as a luxury. History portrays space as an exclusive domain for global powers looking to demonstrate their prowess through technological marvels, or the stage for far-off exploration and scientific endeavor with little impact on daily life. However, the benefits of space are already woven into our everyday routines and provide utilities and resources on which society has grown dependent. If these were suddenly to disappear and the world was to experience just “a day without space”, the consequences would be evident to all.
The utilization of space is set to become more important still. A new vision for the future is starting to emerge that will feature even more innovative uses of space, ranging from space-based manufacturing and energy production to global Internet connectivity. Space-debris management is also receiving greater focus alongside lunar and Martian exploration, and even space tourism.
While some of these new innovations may sound like they are confined to the realm of science fiction, there are already companies furthering the technology to turn them into reality.
Conventional rocket vehicles are propelled by a fuel (liquid hydrogen, kerosene, or methane) and an oxidizer (liquid oxygen) carried within the vehicle body. When the fuel and oxidizer combust, mass is projected out of the back of the rocket, creating thrust. However, this approach – and especially the use of heavy onboard liquid oxygen – is constrained by Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation. It basically tells us that everything carried onboard a vehicle has a penalty in the form of the additional propellant, and structural mass of the vehicle needed to get it off the ground. In other words, this approach hampers mission performance, mission payload, and mission time.
A concept image of the Reaction Engine’s Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE).
SABRE, on the other hand, is a hybrid air-breathing rocket engine. During the atmospheric segment of its ascent, it will use oxygen from the atmosphere instead of carrying it inside the vehicle, before switching to onboard oxygen upon leaving the atmosphere. A SABRE-powered launch vehicle will therefore have a lower mass for a given payload than a conventional rocket vehicle. This mass benefit can be traded for systems that will enable reusability and aircraft-like traits, such as wings, undercarriage, and thermal-protection systems – all the features needed to fly the same vehicle over and over again, achieving hundreds of launches.
Personal note: I've been offline prepping for my preliminary exam presentation, and grieving the loss of a friend I had known for 40 years since our freshman year at NC A&T. I was his best man. He did not die of COVID, but a heart attack. As such, my remarks were read at the funeral in Indiana, as the pandemic and social distancing concerns did not allow me to give my eulogy in-person. I hope you will forgive my absence.
This past autumn, a professor at Wuhan University named Jau Tang was hard at work piecing together a thruster prototype that, at first, sounds too good to be true.
The basic idea, he said in an interview, is that his device turns electricity directly into thrust — no fossil fuels required — by using microwaves to energize compressed air into a plasma state and shooting it out like a jet. Tang suggested, without a hint of self-aggrandizement, that it could likely be scaled up enough to fly large commercial passenger planes. Eventually, he says, it might even power spaceships.
Needless to say, these are grandiose claims. A thruster that doesn’t require tanks of fuel sounds suspiciously like science fiction — like the jets on Iron Man’s suit in the Marvel movies, for instance, or the thrusters that allow Doc Brown’s DeLorean to fly in “Back to the Future.”
But in Tang’s telling, his invention — let’s just call it a Tang Jet, which he worked on with Wuhan University collaborators Dan Ye and Jun Li — could have civilization-shifting potential here in the non-fictional world.
A 3D illustration of the interstellar object known as ‘Oumuamua. Credit: Getty Images
Topics: Astrophysics, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
‘Oumuamua—a mysterious, interstellar object that crashed through our solar system two years ago—might, in fact, be alien technology. That’s because an alternative, non-alien explanation might be fatally flawed, as a new study argues.
But most scientists think the idea that we spotted alien technology in our solar system is a long shot.
In 2018, our solar system ran into an object lost in interstellar space. The object, dubbed ‘Oumuamua, seemed to be long and thin—cigar-shaped—and tumbling end over end. Then, close observations showed it was accelerating as if something were pushing on it. Scientists still aren’t sure why.
One explanation? The object was propelled by an alien machine, such as a lightsail—a wide, millimeter-thin machine that accelerates as it’s pushed by solar radiation. The main proponent of this argument was Avi Loeb, a Harvard University astrophysicist.
Now, in a new paper published Monday (Aug. 17) in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Loeb and Thiem Hoang, an astrophysicist at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, argue that the hydrogen hypothesis couldn’t work in the real world—which would mean that there is still hope that our neck of space was once visited by advanced aliens—and that we actually spotted their presence at the time.
Here’s the problem with ‘Oumuamua: It moved like a comet, but didn’t have the classic coma, or tail, of a comet, said astrophysicist Darryl Seligman, an author of the solid hydrogen hypothesis, who is starting a postdoctoral fellowship in astrophysics at the University of Chicago.
The CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to be flown on Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) is viewed Nov. 2, 2019, while undergoing launch preparations inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credits: Boeing
Topics: NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
NASA and Boeing continue to make progress toward the company’s second uncrewed flight test of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft prior to flying astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
The Commercial Crew Program currently is targeting no earlier than December 2020 for launch of the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) pending hardware readiness, flight software qualification, and launch vehicle and space station manifest priorities.
Over the summer, Boeing’s Starliner team focused on readying the next spacecraft for its upcoming flight tests as well as making improvements identified during various review processes throughout the beginning of the year. NASA also announced an additional crew assignment for its first operational mission, NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1, with astronauts to the space station. Here’s more on the recent progress:
Teams from Boeing are well into final assembly of the crew and service modules that will fly OFT-2 to the space station inside of the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. OFT-2 will fly a new, reusable Starliner crew module providing additional on-orbit experience for the operational teams prior to flying missions with astronauts. For Boeing’s Commercial Crew missions, the Starliner spacecraft will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
With the majority of assembly complete, recent progress is focused on the NASA docking system re-entry cover, which was added to the design for additional protection of the system. The team also has completed the installation of the Starliner propellant heater, thermal protection system tiles and the air bags that will be used when the spacecraft touches down for landing. As final production activities continue to progress, the crew module recently entered acceptance testing, which will prove out the systems on the spacecraft before it’s mated with its service module.
Occator Crater and Ahuna Mons appear together in this view of the dwarf planet Ceres obtained by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on February 11, 2017. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Handout via REUTERS.
Topics: Asteroids, Exoplanets, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
"Ceres was the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain, and the love a mother bears for her child. She was the daughter of Saturn and Ops, the sister of Jupiter, and the mother of Proserpine. Ceres was a kind and benevolent goddess to the Romans and they had a common expression, "fit for Ceres," which meant splendid." Source: Ceresva.org
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is an “ocean world” with a big reservoir of salty water under its frigid surface, scientists said in findings that raise interest in this dwarf planet as a possible outpost for life.
Research published on Monday based on data obtained by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which flew as close as 22 miles (35 km) from the surface in 2018, provides a new understanding of Ceres, including evidence indicating it remains geologically active with cryovolcanism - volcanoes oozing icy material.
The findings confirm the presence of a subsurface reservoir of brine - salt-enriched water - remnants of a vast subsurface ocean that has been gradually freezing.
“This elevates Ceres to ‘ocean world’ status, noting that this category does not require the ocean to be global,” said planetary scientist and Dawn principal investigator Carol Raymond. “In the case of Ceres, we know the liquid reservoir is regional scale but we cannot tell for sure that it is global. However, what matters most is that there is liquid on a large scale.”
Topics: Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
After years of anticipation, NASA hopes to launch its latest robotic explorer, Perseverance, to Mars on Thursday, July 30, at 7:50 A.M. EDT. Set to depart Earth atop an Atlas V-541 rocket from historic Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the ambitious rover is the latest in a long lineage of rolling robotic explorers that NASA has sent to the Red Planet.
If Mars 2020 is not able to blast off during its two-hour launch window tomorrow morning — due to hazardous weather or unforeseen technical issues — the space agency will have just two more weeks to get it done. That’s because after August 15, Mars and Earth will no longer be aligned in a way that allows for quick interplanetary travel, meaning NASA would have to store the rover for two years until the next favorable alignment.
“We have four objectives,” Ken Williford, Deputy Project Scientist for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, told Astronomy earlier this year. “The first three are really our core science objectives. And the fourth is … preparing for human exploration.”
Perseverance’s science objects are: seeking out sites that were potentially habitable in the past, looking for signs of ancient microbes within rocks known to preserve life, and collecting and storing promising rock samples for a future return mission.
Mrs. Flynt played "telephone" with us, simply lining up the entire fifth grade class in one line, arranged with chairs to accent the exercise. She showed a note to the student at the beginning of the line. She then whispered the contents of the note to the student to her right. I heard it from my neighbor, and whispered it in kind. It followed down line until it got to the last: the note's contents had completely changed from the first student to the twentieth.
I do not recall the original contents of the note, but the exercise has been repeated here on Earth without the need for fusion reactors, rotating habitats to induce artificial gravity, space lasers or Klingons. Culture on a generation starship would change from its origin planet. A society would emerge diametrically different than its original, hopefully far better than our current one, inculcating survival principles that would allow it to finish the journey to its destination, and thrive once there.
In science fiction, there’s something called a generation ship: a spacecraft that ferries humankind on a multiple-generation-long journey to brand new star systems or even galaxies.
The idea has also been touted here in the real world by those hell-bent on traversing the stars. But there’s a major problem with the concept, and we’re not talking about the countless generations doomed to be born and die for the sake of a mission they never agreed to — that’s a whole other thing. Rather, Universe Today points out that, if past is prelude, the language spoken on the ship would eventually evolve to the point that it seems incoherent back on Earth.
Topics: Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
The roads of human spaceflight all seem to lead to Mars. For decades now, it's been the logical next step after the moon.
But if you're an astronaut or a cosmonaut on your way to or from Mars, you might make a surprising pit stop along the way: Venus.
A flight to (or from) Mars can happen more quickly and cheaply if it "involves a Venus flyby on the way to or on the way home from Mars," Noam Izenberg, a planetary geologist at Johns Hopkins University, told Space.com.
Izenberg is one of a number of scientists and engineers advocating that a crewed mission to Mars also visit Venus. This group of researchers has drafted a white paper on the subject, to be submitted for peer review at Acta Astronautica. According to that paper, using Venus as a stepping stone to Mars isn't just one option — it's an essential part of a crewed Mars mission.
Topics: African Americans, Diaspora, International Space Station, Octavia Butler, Science Fiction, Spaceflight
A casual search on this blog, it's not the first time I've invoked Octavia Butler as an observer of our times, and it likely won't be the last.
Octavia Butler’s tenth novel, “Parable of the Sower,” which was published in 1993, opens in Los Angeles in 2024. Global warming has brought drought and rising seawater. The middle class and working poor live in gated neighborhoods, where they fend off the homeless with guns and walls. Fresh water is scarce, as valuable as money. Pharmaceutical companies have created “smart drugs,” which boost mental performance, and “pyro,” a pill that gives those who take it sexual pleasure from arson. Fires are common. Police services are expensive, though few people trust the police. Public schools are being privatized, as are whole towns. In this atmosphere, a Presidential candidate named Christopher Donner is elected based on his promises to dismantle government programs and bring back jobs.
“Parable of the Sower” unfolds through the journal entries of its protagonist, a fifteen-year-old black girl named Lauren Oya Olamina, who lives with her family in one of the walled neighborhoods. “People have changed the climate of the world,” she observes. “Now they’re waiting for the old days to come back.” She places no hope in Donner, whom she views as “a symbol of the past to hold onto as we’re pushed into the future.” Instead, she equips herself to survive in that future. She practices her aim with BB guns. She collects maps and books on how Native Americans used plants. She develops a belief system of her own, a Darwinian religion she names Earthseed.
The sequel, “Parable of the Talents,” published in 1998, begins in 2032. By then, various forms of indentured servitude and slavery are common, facilitated by high-tech slave collars. The oppression of women has become extreme; those who express their opinion, “nags,” might have their tongues cut out. People are addicted not only to designer drugs but also to “dream masks,” which generate virtual fantasies as guided dreams, allowing wearers to submerge themselves in simpler, happier lives. News comes in the form of disks or “news bullets,” which “purport to tell us all we need to know in flashy pictures and quick, witty, verbal one-two punches. Twenty-five or thirty words are supposed to be enough in a news bullet to explain either a war or an unusual set of Christmas lights.” The Donner Administration has written off science, but a more immediate threat lurks: a violent movement is being whipped up by a new Presidential candidate, Andrew Steele Jarret, a Texas senator and religious zealot who is running on a platform to “make American great again.”
In "Sower," one of the distinct things I recall is the juxtaposition between advancement and debasement; triumph and depravity. While civilization on Earth was practically going to shit in the novel, I remember from the novel, we discover microbial life on Mars, which is predicted to be the extraterrestrial life we'll likely discover on the red planet. The Moon Landing - that conspiracy theorists don't think happened, and likely won't think the next one led by commercial space vehicles isn't a forgery - occurred in 1969: it was the year after the Fair Housing Act and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, followed by the presidential candidate that announced the sad news, Robert F. Kennedy. It was the year the Original Star Trek was cancelled, "boldly going" into syndication, convention and science fiction mythology; a vison of us surviving to be our better angels. We were still in the Civil Rights Era, and fighting for the rights to be human. On that year, mankind walked on the moon, but specifically European men, as African American astronauts only appeared as extras along William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, or in prosthetic makeup so you couldn't tell what culture they were from. Guy Bluford, Ron McNair and others had yet to appear on the scene, then and now a small selected group of explorers.
I watched the launch of SpaceX, marveling at its sleekness, benefiting from transistors and the march of Moore's law to the nanoscale. It was a day after riots for the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaund Aubrey. The scientists and technicians in Mission Control were wearing masks acknowledging the pandemic; the president* and vice president* were playing their "macho-tough-guy" shtick.
We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says:
Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word (unquote).
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
Poets in many spaces have earned the quaint acronym: "prophets of eternal truths." As prophets, Gaye, Heron and King made the same observation of their time, that it was obscene to attain such technological triumphs while letting income inequality, rampant militarism, racial unrest and societal disparity go as unchallenged as established on Plymouth Rock. Prophecy isn't prediction as much as it is warning: it is usually written as suggested course-correction, not inevitable conclusion.
A global empire was gotten initially with sugar cane and cotton, on land looted from First Nation peoples, the same who helped the colonists survive their first winter - they were repaid with near extinction. The land was looted from Mexicans, the theft memorialized in jingoism and sloganeering: "remember the Alamo." The land was cultivated by kidnapped peoples from the African continent. The looters wrote us all off as savages, uncivilized, unintelligent, rapists, drug dealers, animals, and took their sexual pleasures - heterosexually, homosexually and depraved pedophilia - with their captive property. Mulatto children typically worked in the master's house, but acknowledged their fathers like they acknowledged his white children: sir and ma'am, so ingrained Floyd used "I can't breath, sir" to the assassin sitting on his neck. Science moved forward during these years, a proof that it can advance even in the midst of a nation's depravity.
Sleek, Dragon SpaceX craft can dock with International Space Stations, while below cities burn in dystopia and a madman mean-girl tweets from the loo. As "comforter-in-chief," he is consistently missing in action, befitting a five-deferment draft dodger.