NASA is Hiring

I am soooo jealous.
I am soooo jealous.

NASA made an interesting announcement, they’re looking for new astronauts!

This came as a surprise to me as I’d thought NASA had discontinued all manned missions.

As far as I know the halt on manned missions happened for two reasons, funding is tight and NASA is an obvious thing to cut and we already did the man on the moon thing so why go again?

As to the funding, I’m not sure what’s going on there. Regardless, the missions NASA is planning are scheduled ten years out so the funding situation could be entirely different then.

But what are the new missions?

Not going to Mars like Mark Watney in The Martian, but almost as good!

NASA will be landing an astronaut on an asteroid.

There are a group of asteroids called “near-Earth asteroids” that have orbits around the sun pretty similar to Earth’s orbit.

A couple of the near-Earth asteroids are as big two kilometers across (about a mile).

Before landing a person on an asteroid, NASA plans to land a rover like what they did with the Rosetta space probe on a comet. Then a manned mission will commence in 2025.

I don’t know which asteroid NASA will be landing an astronaut on, there are a whole bunch to choose from. Regardless, this appears to be the next step in manned space exploration.

NASA hopes this will be a stepping stone to manned missions on Mars.

In addition to the work on the asteroids, astronauts are spending longer amounts of time on the ISS. They’re doing this so we can see what precautions need to be taken when someone is in space for years at a time.

A mission to Mars would take a year or two, so we need to be prepared for how someone’s mind and body reacts to being in space for that long.

So enough about why NASA is hiring astronauts, how do I get the job?

If you’re like me, upon hearing the news that NASA is hiring you immediately looked up the qualifications they’re looking for.

They want someone with at least a Master’s degree in science or engineering. I’m working on that, so good so far.

The next big qualification is 1,000 hours of logged jet plane fight time.

If you’re paying for lessons and rental time on a plane that amount of logged time would cost upwards of $50,000. So you either have to be really serious about flying jets recreationally, a commercial flyer, or a member of the airforce.

There are a few other qualifications, but nothing as big as those two.

Obviously I don’t meet that requirement, but maybe some kid is reading this and is thinking, “If I get a Master’s in physics and learn to fly a jet then I’d be ready to apply to be an astronaut by the time NASA starts doing missions to Mars.”

That’s the word from the space world!

If you want to read more about the process for hiring astronauts check out these two links: NASA’s Info Site, NASA’s Hiring Site

-GoCorral

Home Movie Review

A week after moving into our new home my wife and I had some of our friends over to celebrate my birthday.

We went out to eat and then saw the Dreamworks movie, Home.

The movie is about an alien race that invades Earth and takes over everything.

The trailer didn’t talk about this much, but the invading race, the Boov, are running away from another alien race, the Gorg.

The Boov move all the humans on Earth to Australia and deposit them in a prefabricated idyllic suburban complete with ice cream and amusement park rides for everyone (nevermind that most of the world wouldn’t consider this a paradise but a horrible alien environment).

The Boov overlook one human in the abduction process, Tip.

Tip and her cat, Pig, soon hookup with an outcast Boov, Oh. Oh is as socially awkward as someone can be and also accidentally sent an email to everyone in the galaxy, inviting them to a housewarming party on Earth. Everyone in the galaxy also includes the Gorg who will be coming soon to blow up the Earth.

The rest of the Boov are looking for Oh. Oh is running away from them with Tip, but to get her cooperation he has to help find her mother who was moved to Australia.

The trailer can probably tell you the rest of what you can expect from the movie. Oh doesn’t understand human culture and Tip teaches him about it.

I liked the movie a lot. It is a traditional kid’s movie where everyone gets a happy ending with no consequences, but that’s fine.

The acting is well done by Rihanna and Jim Parsons. They aren’t playing characters that are significantly different from what they’ve done before. A little typecasting never hurt anybody.

The movie has great coloration as well. I don’t often expect movies to be that visually pleasing.

The Boov have all sorts of colors for their technology, going all over Earth presents tons of different landscapes and colors, and most important of all the Boov themselves have tons of colors to represent their different emotions (blue for neutral, red for anger, yellow for scared, green for lying, etc.).

The movie had the ever present issue of “Why does everyone speak English in space?” but that’s something you get over after watching and reading tons of science fiction stuff.

It was the perfect movie for my loosely space themed birthday party! We had a cake with stars and a moon on it after the movie of course.

-GoCorral

Mars One

I read about this project the other day called Mars One.

The project involves setting up a colony on Mars for four people to live on by 2025.

Getting to the moon is hard enough. It takes like a day and a half of travel, landing is hard, getting off again is hard, and landing safely on Earth is even harder.

NASA and other government space programs have always avoided going to Mars for two reasons.

#1 With our current rockets it would take about two months to get there. Spend a week there and two months back, you need four months of oxygen. It’s not possible to transport that much so you need to recycle your air and that gets complicated. Plus there’s all the extra food, water, and fuel you’d have to bring.

#2 With that two month journey its even harder to get back. We can land drones on Mars, but we can’t bring them back.

Mars One plans to get around the first problem by establishing a minor space colony first, while also working with robots to establish a little base camp on Mars.

The second problem is tackled by… not bringing the humans that are sent there back to Earth.

That’s right, Mars One is a one way trip. That’s where the name came from (I think).

There’s a lot of logistical problems with that. I’ve casually mentioned a few (sustainable food, water, air, fuel). I’m sure there are more.

Another problem is who would want to go on a mission like this? It’s almost certainly going to have problems that could kill you. Even if it doesn’t kill you, you’re stuck on Mars for the rest of your life. Maybe more people will come later, but that’s doubtful.

Well, Mars One asked people to apply for their one way trip to Mars and got thousands of responses. Those responses have been whittled down to one hundred people.

The next step is to whittle that one hundred down to four via, get this, a reality TV show.

This was the point where I stopped taking Mars One seriously.

I looked into it a little more. Mars One is a non-profit. The project is supposedly only for the advancement of space travel. And it will help with that at least through gaining public attention if not by developing equipment for Mars colonies.

There’s also a for-profit company attached to Mars One called the Interplanetary Media Group. That company is the one releasing a bunch of press and making the reality TV show. They’ll probably make a ton of money off of that.

Is that money going to go towards funding the Mars trip? Maybe. Is it going to fund the construction of beach house real estate for the owners of these two companies? Maybe.

And the weirdest thing about all of this? Even though the reality TV show seems like an awful interview process, I’m still interested in watching it.

A previous experiment for this, Mars-500, simulated people going into a spacecraft to Mars for 500 days. Cut off from the outside world the people in the mission pretended to do all of the things necessary for going to Mars to see how they held up mentally when they were forced to be in the same “spacecraft” for a year and a half.

Mars-500 was a success, but possibly only because it was fake. As a psychological study you have to give people the option to opt out at any time. That wouldn’t be the case in a real space flight.

My point is that the training process for Mars One has to be similar to Mars-500 and I’m excited to watch that. Plus I might get to vote people out the airlock or something!

-GoCorral

PS. And here’s what Neil deGrasse Tyson has to say about it.

Liquid Nitrogen in the Lab

A thermos with some bubbling liquid nitrogen at the bottom.
A thermos with some bubbling liquid nitrogen at the bottom.

Liquid nitrogen is used pretty much everyday by someone in my lab.

Liquid nitrogen is an extremely cold liquid coming in at close to -200°C (-330°F).

Nitrogen’s natural phase is a gas. Its a fairly common gas to, making up 78% of the Earth’s air.

When it nitrogen is condensed as a liquid it is essentially always at boiling temperature.

I tried to capture the vapor coming off the bubbling liquid nitrogen in the picture above, but its difficult to convey what liquid nitrogen is like in a photo.

Liquid nitrogen looks exactly like boiling water. If you put liquid nitrogen into a pot it would look just like a boiling pot of water ready for spaghetti to be added.

But liquid nitrogen is not boiling water. It won’t scald your hand if you touch it.

Liquid nitrogen is the coldest thing you will ever touch and can instantly freeze burn your hand.

Even things that come out of liquid nitrogen are painful to touch with you hands. I can’t do it for more than a second.

Using gloves to handle liquid nitrogen has another problem attached to it.

When you wear gloves a natural layer of sweat and oil occurs between your hand and the inside of the glove.

If your gloved hand is in the liquid nitrogen for too long, the sweat freezes.

That’s just ice though. It’s happened to me plenty of times. I just yank my hand out of the nitrogen and my bodyheat melts the ice back into sweat right away.

So if its so dangerous, why do we use it in the lab?

Liquid nitrogen is useful because it stops all biological activity. That’s why its dangerous and why its useful at the same time.

When working with a dead specimen its best to prevent bacterial decay. Bacteria can’t survive at liquid nitrogen temperatures, so its used for that.

Liquid nitrogen is also used to isolate RNA from a specimen.

Every cell has RNA inside of it, but RNA is also what many viruses are made out of.

Cells quickly learn to distinguish RNA inside the cell as good and RNA outside of the cell as bad virus RNA.

Cells have defense mechanisms to destroy RNA called RNases.

RNases can’t work at liquid nitrogen temperatures though!

I was using liquid nitrogen for a third purpose today, just to quickly freeze some worms.

More on why I need to freeze worms another day!

-Mister Ed

An Overview of Gurutama Part 7

The elves of Gurutama live in the Lower Maw.
The elves of Gurutama live in the Lower Maw.

Previous: An Overview of Gurutama Part 6

Last time I mentioned that the elves allied with the dwarves against the human Najar Empire.

Elves are typically enemies of dwarves in high fantasy. Which is strange because they are both “good” races in D&D.

Tolkein started this trend by making dwarves and elves good, but having them disagree on nearly everything.

Tolkein’s dwarves and elves disagree on how to wage war, on how to act socially, on what professions are honorable, etc.

I controlled the elves and the dwarves in our Dawn of Worlds game, so I decided to change that rivalry into a partnership.

But first! Where did the elves come from?

Our first four races were based around the four elements. Water for Merfolk, Air for Avians, Fire for Humans, and Earth for Dwarves.

The second set of races only had three positions in it. One of my friends became too busy to keep playing the game and dropped out (resulting in his race, the Avians, becoming a subject population).

The new set of three was based off of the Hindu Trimurti, Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer.

The elves represent creation. Everytime I had the elves do something I always tried to tie it into creation.

The elves built many of the wonders of the world that exist in Gurutama.

This also allowed me to stay within normal elf stereotypes. They live in the forest, are good with magic and bows, and they make beautiful things.

In our Dawn of Worlds game, the elves showed up and began expanding through the Halusho Forest, seen above.

The elves joined the dwarves against the Najar humans because they also thought it was the right thing to do. Demons should be sent back to Hell after all!

The elves created the port city of Cyflenwi at the upper left of the posted image. This city supplied the dwarven invasion of Najar.

The city was subsequently taken over by the Merfolk and handed back to the Najar humans under some treaty or another. The details on it are a little hazy, just like everything else when you look too closely at the Dawn of Worlds game.

After Cyflenwi was taken over the elves became more independent from the dwarves. I’ll talk more about the rest of the elves history in my next blog post on Gurutama.

-Mister Ed

Next: An Overview of Gurutama Part 8

The Amazing Spiderman 2

I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2 this weekend with my wife.

She’d liked the first one even though she claimed it was scary.

That was pretty much her reaction to the sequel too. She only likes watching romantic comedy movies when we go out.

I liked it a lot because it stayed true to the comics in many ways that the last series of movies did not.

And for those who haven’t seen the movie, I will be talking about spoilers and stuff in this blog post so you should avoid it if you want to keep the movie as suspenseful as possible.

The Amazing Spiderman series has Gwen Stacy as the Peter Parker’s love interest. The original movie series had Mary-Jane Watson.

In the comics Mary-Jane goes to high school with Peter and Gwen does not. Peter never becomes involved with Mary-Jane until they are 23 or something.

Gwen is Peter’s college girlfriend in the comics. They shifted her to high school in the movies to advance the narrative faster.

In the comics, Peter has no girlfriend in high school.

This can get confusing because they rebooted the comics as well. I mean the original Amazing Spiderman comics.

So the new movies have kept Gwen as a first girlfriend and written their relationship to be realistic and charming.

The original movies made you wonder why Mary-Jane dated someone who didn’t seem to care about her emotions and physically endangered her (I started wondering less after I realized how that type of relationship matches Mary-Jane’s parents’ relationship in the original movie series).

Other parts of the movie called back to the comic as well.

The scene on the airplane is very close to how its described in the comic, Aunt May’s oblique references to Spiderman match the comic (she knows that Peter is Spiderman already), J. Jonah Jameson is still a dick even through email, Harry “goes away for awhile” and then comes back to “do drugs” before he becomes the Green Goblin (his voice is also perfect for the Goblin), Norman’s creepy green skin matches how he looks in the comic reboot (Ultimate Spiderman), etc.

The music in the movie was also amazing. I’ve been listening to it at work this week.

And now for the spoiler part!

Gwen Stacy is killed almost exactly how she is in the comic.

The Green Goblin drops her and Peter catches her with his webbing, but she dies regardless.

One of my friends posted on Facebook that this type of plot twist is too common in modern movies.

The female lead dies to make the hero feel sad, but it also sends the message that women are expendable.

I agree. They could’ve just as easily referenced the comic with her plunge to earth, but had Peter rescue her successfully in the movie.

I’d much prefer a sequel where Gwen Stacy was still Peter’s girlfriend instead of Mary-Jane. It’s hard to imagine Mary-Jane being anything but inferior to the relationship Gwen and Peter displayed in the first two movies.

But the little fanboy in me is happy that they stayed by the comics.

-Mister Ed

An Overview of Gurutama Part 4

A section of Gurutama that covers the human territories along the Upper and Eastern portions of the Maw.
A section of Gurutama that covers the human territories along the Upper and Eastern portions of the Maw.

Previous: An Overview of Gurutama Part 3

I’ve described the Merfolk and Avians in Gurutama in broad strokes. I’d like to talk about the humans next.

The humans in Gurutama are similar to humans in the real world.

Gurutama humans originated in one area and spread out from there, just like humans originated in Africa on Earth and spread out from there.

There are now several different human nations in Gurutama. Today, I’ll focus on Najar, the first nation and the origin point of the human race in Gurutama.

When we started the Dawn of Worlds game we had an idea for four different races each embodying one of the four elements.

Merfolk are water and Avians are air. Humans are fire and later I’ll talk about Dwarves which are the earth in the quartet.

Humans in their early stages were rather primitive. They had a tribal structure within the northern forests and had little if any development towards typical civilized culture. I’d compare early Gurutama humans to the people living in Germany and France before the Romans got involved.

The humans did not slowly develop civilization in Gurutama, but were gifted it rapidly when the Najar Volcano erupted.

The eruption of the volcano scorched the Najar Valley below it, but it also signaled a great and terrible event.

The demon prince, Navillus, came up out of hell through the volcano and began to influence the human people.

He named the Najar people as his mouthpiece and set them forth to rule all humans.

Most of the primitive humans converted willingly, but one tribe resisted.

Chieftan Bwolark Bwolo of the Bwarlor Skull-Dog Tribe fought against the demon worshipers.

The Skull-Dogs could not resist forever against the multitudes charged with the Black Prince’s power.

The Bwarlor people were forced to flee in boats for the islands in the Maw.

They set up colonies along the shore of the islands.

The Merfolk living by the islands saw the islands as theirs, even if they did not inhabit them.

Conflict between the Merfolk and the Bwarlor never escalated into war, but small skirmishes have taken place from the founding of the colonies on til today.

That’s probably enough information for one blog. There are still several more different human civilizations in Gurutama that I’ll describe in a later post.

-Mister Ed

Next: An Overview of Gurutama Part 5