Posts Tagged ‘space’

Pebble in the Sky

Saturday, December 12th, 2015 | Books

Pebble in the Sky is the third novel in Isaac Asimov’s galactic empire series. The empire of Trantor is now firmly established and spreading to every corner of the galaxy.

Earth on the other hand is not doing so well. The people of the galaxy have forgotten that it was the original home world of man, and Earth has fallen out with the rest of the galaxy. However, they gave a secret plan to destroy the empire.

Having read the Foundation series, it adds a different perspective. Spoilers start here by the way. This novel ends with a note of hope that Earth will rebuild. However, as those of us who have read Foundation and Earth will know, it doesn’t.

Foundation also benefits from originally having been short stories merged into novels. This means a lot happens and you see the story unfold over hundreds of years. The galactic empire series typically take place on one or two planets, and not much happens. They are still good, but it does not have quite the same effect of the first Asimov novels I read.

It does do an excellent job of constructing the amazing world that makes Asimov’s storytelling so enjoyable though. The far future, and the familiar, blended into one.


The Currents of Space

Thursday, December 10th, 2015 | Books

The Currents of Space is the second novel in Isaac Asimov’s galactic empire series. The first in the series, The Stars, Like Dust was not one of my favourite Asimov novels but this one is an improvement.

It still lacks that grander scale of lots of things happening, that the Foundation series has. However, it does open it up to the wider galaxy. It might all take place on two planets, but the empire of Trantor is there and on the rise.

The story follows the two planets of Sark and Florina. The former exploits the latter for it’s valuable kyrt plantations. But what length will they to go to protect it?


The Stars, Like Dust

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 | Books

The Stars, Like Dust is the first in Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire series of novels. I had grand visions when I started reading it. It would be the missing link between Robot series and the Foundation series, looking at the growing empire as it expanded and conquered the galaxy.

It was not like that. The empire never even comes into it. It talks about the fighting of a few kingdoms that control some planets. It is apparently set before the empire really arises and while it is okay as a standalone novel, it lacks the grip and brilliance of the better Asimov novels.

It is also a little predictable. Once you have read the Foundation series, you can pretty much guess where the rebellion world turns out to be. They came out at about the same time, so you could argue it the other way around of course.


The Martian

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 | Books

Imagine walking up on the surface of Mars, to find that the rest of your crew had left you for dead and set off back to Earth. You have few supplies and no way to contact anyone.

I know what I would do. Crawl up in a ball and die. That is possibly why ESA are unlikely to select me for a manned mission to Mars. This question is the one put to protagonist Mark Watney. When we walks up on the surface of Mars, to find that the rest of the crew have gone…

Oh, and there are some spoilers in this article.

It is told from two perspectives. First of which is the log entries of Mark, which sometimes moves into a 3rd person description. The second is a third person narrative of what is going on back on Earth.

This is a little odd to go between the different forms, and also gives the lot away to some point. If Dr Hassall had not already ruined the ending for me, I suspect the fact that there was a separate thread based on Earth would have lead me to guess the eventual outcome.

In some ways, certainly in the first half the book, it would have been better to solely tell the story from Watney’s log entries. If you had to have a strand based on Earth you could have put the entire thing as a part 2 at the end of the book. Joe Berlinger wanted to do something similar when filming Book of Shadows.

However, as time went on I settled down into the format.

I enjoyed it throughout. The humour was quite dark and very geeky in places. There was a lot of science, though nothing that a lay person such as myself would struggle to comprehend (I think). Plus, as Mark points out, in some ways it is a story about a space pirate. An actual space pirate. That’s pretty cool.

The Martian

The Physics of Star Trek

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 | Books

I saw Lawrence Krauss speaking at QED last year and decided he was definitely worth reading. When I looked up his books, I found he has one entitled “The Physics of Star Trek”. Win.

It is pretty much what you expect. He looks at various aspects of the technology featured in Star Trek and talks about how possible they would be in the real world. It turns out that Gene Roddenberry put quite a lot of thought into this, especially as Trekkers kept asking difficult questions.

It was written in 1995 and is now starting to show its age. It was, for example, written well before we successfully build a cloaking device. Krauss writes in an engaging style that is on my wavelength.

Maybe there will one day be a sequel. As the author himself suggests, he could do The Physics of Star Trek 2: Wrath of Krauss.


Professor Liane Benning at Leeds Skeptics

Friday, May 30th, 2014 | Foundation, Humanism

Earlier this month Professor Liane Benning presented a talk on life in extreme environments at Leeds Skeptics.

This collided with two unfortunate events. Firstly, due to the rare day of hot sunny weather, turn out was down. Second, due to time commitments I had not brought the video camera to record the talk as it takes a long time to process, edit and publish it. These were both big mistakes as Professor Benning presented one of the most interesting talks we have had.

It turns out that she has spent much of the last decade going to Svalbard and testing Mars rovers for NASA and ESA. Officially she is a biogeochemist and moved effortlessly between different scientific disciplines. By the end of the talk I was sitting there feeling like I had wasted my life while GabrielÄ— was trying to sign up to go on the next expedition.

I know Headingley Cafe Scientifique were trying to poach her to speak at their group too. if they do book her and you have not seen the talk, I highly recommend attending!

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Is there life out there?

Friday, March 21st, 2014 | Humanism

Dr John Baruch spoke at Leeds Skeptics a few years ago and I found the talk both enjoyable and fascinating. Therefore I asked him to give a similar talk at West Yorkshire Humanists and earlier this month he obliged. The evening saw double the turnout we had in February.

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All Alone in the Night

Monday, April 22nd, 2013 | Video

Time lapse video from the International Space Station. Thanks to David Peterson for posting this, you can find a commentary for it on the YouTube page.

End of an era

Sunday, July 31st, 2011 | Science, Thoughts

Last week, the Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth from it’s final mission. The Space Shuttle programme was over.

Arguably this is another step backwards in the exploration of space. We haven’t put a man on the Moon since 1972 (39 years ago now), and now we’re not evening flying Space Shuttles. Did we just get really lucky in 1969, when we first walked on the Moon, and now we can’t replicate that success?

Actually, according to Dr Jim Wild, it was a good job that they missed some of the solar activity around at the time, which between some of the Apollo missions, reached fatal radiation levels. But that isn’t really a problem for quote unquote simple Earth orbiting.

The problem with the Space Shuttle programme was it was just too big, complex and expensive to run. Each mission cost around half a billion dollars and required an army of over 6,000 people to prepare for it. They also weren’t the safest of things – of the 135 missions flown, two of them didn’t come back – Challenger and Columbia.

I would probably argue that such a record isn’t too bad – we are still pushing back the boundaries of scientific exploration when it comes to space travel and the unfortunate fact is people die in accidents in the common workplace from time to time, let alone when exploring new frontiers.

However, despite its huge cost and army of safety engineers, the Space Shuttle can’t live up to the standards of its rival – the Soyuz. Russia’s Soyoz spacecraft has been in service since 1966 and in the entire time has only suffered four fatalities in a combination of two accidents.

Indeed, the Soyuz is now the sole manned space shuttle which will continue to send people into space to allow crew rotation of the International Space Station. So it’s not hard to see why the Space Shuttle programme is being brought to an end so a cheaper, easier craft for putting man into space can be developed.

But the one thing that the Soyuz has failed to do (this could be entirely inaccurate, I’m writing from a Western perspective and maybe millions of people elsewhere have been inspired by Soyuz) in the same way is to become an icon of space travel that has inspired a generation during its 30 year service.

I remember watching a Space Shuttle take off from Kennedy Space Centre in 1998 and remember thinking it’s magical. Actually, I thought, “wow, we sat in the boiling heat all day to see a little spec in the distance,” but I’m sure you can appreciate that would be a far less dramatic ending to this blog post.

Weathering solar storms

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011 | Foundation, Humanism, Science

This month at Leeds Skeptics, Dr Jim Wild made the trip over to talk about weathering solar storms – how coronial mass ejection from The Sun has a significant impact on The Earth and given it has the power to knock out our electricity grid, is something we need to be taking seriously.

It was one of the best talks we have had a in recent times with great feedback coming from those who attended. Big thanks to Jim for making the trip over, you can find out more about him on his website.