Monday, April 28, 2008

How to Colonize the Solar System, Part I

In this article, we'll be looking at potential spots for human colonization in our solar system. This article will be split into several posts, so stay tuned if your favorite potential extraterrestrial spot is not listed. We'll be discussing the advantages, disadvantages, risks, challenges, potential rewards, and other topics related to colonizing various celestial bodies .

The first, and nearest, neighbor is of course the moon. Lunar colonization has been a frequent topic of discussion among science fiction writers for decades (and perhaps even tens of years). When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, his famous words were, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." You can listen to the recording at the Wikipedia article, but we will not reproduce the recording here since we have not been authorized by Neil (he is very protective of the rights to the recording of his voice; according to the article, Hallmark Cards used the recording without permission in a Christmas ornament, and they were sued, with the undisclosed settlement amount being donated to Purdue; while we are not currently making any profit from this publication, we do not want to become entangled in a legal battle with one of the most famous and finest of all great astronauts).

Lesser known were his following words*: "Hey, this is kind of nice. I could put a lunar rock garden over there, the kids wouldn't need a trampoline, and you never have to worry about air polution!" But there weren't any real estate agencies around, and he was unable to locate any earth-bound realtors with property available on the moon. However, modern lunar real-estate agencies abound, including these obviously reputable firms**:
These organizations will gladly take your money, and in return you'll get some paper that declares your rights to lunar property. However, note that, in most cases, air is not included. (Did you hear about the restaurant on the moon? Great food, no atmosphere.)

Lunar colonization isn't as far off as you might think, though. The Artemis Project has as its goal a fully functional, self-sustaining lunar community. The basis for their colonization is self-sustenance through the mechanism of tourism. The bulk of the funding, at least initially, is through tourism and entertainment. You can find their anticipated long-term revenue streams outlined here.

There are obvious technical challenges to supporting a lunar colony. For one, humans breath air, and there isn't any significant atmosphere on the moon. Thus, any colonies would require air scrubbers (for purifying the air) and a periodic renewal of oxygen (this is not much different from the requirements of a space station, however). Meteors would be a potential hazard, since there are obvious signs of meteor impact on the moon's surface (you know, those crater things you see that remind you of a man's face, or a rabbit, or giant holes in a huge rock orbiting the earth). Radiation is another hazard, since there is virtually no atmosphere to block the exorbitant amounts of solar radiation unleashed by the uncontrolled, giant fusion reactor at the core of our solar system (this is commonly referred to as "the sun," although it is also occasionally referred to as "that giant yellow orb in the sky," "Ra," "night deterrent," and "my eyes, my eyes! why did I look at that?"). Power sources remain another challenge due to the long periods of darkness, although this could be overcome by placing solar power grids at the poles of the moon (in places where the sunlight is nearly continual), although that would lead to potential power transmission issues (it's difficult enough to have a reliable power grid on earth, where we can get out and inspect the transmission lines and equipment on a regular basis; who would you call if your power went out on the moon?).

However, there are definite advantages to having a lunar colony. One, it would not take very long to send supplies (the trip to the moon, back in the late 60s, took only a few days; modern technology should only have added a few more days to the trip, mainly due to additional paperwork involved, newly imposed intrasolar speed limits, and the EPA requirement of low vehicle emissions on all outbound rocket propulsion systems, which have caused power to decrease while the cost of fuels and engines have increased; however, some might attempt to rebuild some old Saturn V rockets which, due to their original year of manufacture, are not required to meet the modern emission regulations, similar to my 1967 Mustang which is not required to have catalytic converters; of course the fuel available may not be as suitable to the old Saturn V engines, but at the cost of a moon trip, rebuilding the engines after a round trip probably isn't all that out of the question). And if you get homesick, it's only a few days' journey back to your mom's house. Radio communications don't lag as much as would be the case with other bodies in our solar system (e.g., Venus or Mars, which will be covered in later installations of the "How to Colonize the Solar System" series of articles, or more distant bodies, such as Britney Spears, whom recent attempts at communication have still failed to reach).

The lunar colonies would be good places to perform research, such as the effects of long-term low-g (low-gravity) on humans and other species (such as cats and dogs, which could be extrapolated to determine the effects on animals such as cows and goats, which might be used in colonization missions to other worlds, since cows and goats are good sources of milk and steaks). Lunar based colonies would also provide ideal locations for jump-off points for missions to other bodies in the solar system due to the decreased gravity (thus requiring less fuel to reach escape velocity). And the moon might be an ideal place to mine specific elements, such as Helium-3 (He-3), a variant of Helium that is very rare on earth, but found in abundant quantities on the moon. He-3 is a possible candidate for a sustainable fusion reactor, which would create clean nuclear power. Swiss cheese is, of course, another potential lunar export, although it has not been confirmed that 84% of the moon's surface is made of this material.

A lunar observatory would be a very good investment as well, as the lunar sky is free of most of the problems associated with earth-based observatories. The Hubble Space Telescope has demonstrated the positive aspects of an extraterrestrial observatory (one that is free from earth's atmospheric interference), but its maintenance costs are very high since it requires visits from a spacecraft for typical maintenance. A lunar-based observatory would allow the maintenance personnel and materials to be maintained on-site, allowing near-constant maintenance to keep the observatory in top functional condition. Having this financed by tourists with lots of money and a sense of adventure would offset the cost of the scientific investment significantly.

A final advantage of a lunar colony would be simply the "cool factor" - who wouldn't like to say, "My dad works on the moon?" Of course, you'd probably be part of the lunar colony at that point, as the colonists would likely be in teams of family participants, so pretty much every other kid in your school would have parents with the same type of occupation. Still, that's pretty cool.

For additional material related to lunar colonization, we will direct the reader to these two articles:
Please visit our future articles on Solar System Colonization, where we will tackle other bodies such as Venus (which may provide a good place to test anti-global-warming tactics), Mars, and even more remote bodies such as Saturn's moon Titan (question: why was the Saturn V rocket used to go to the moon instead of Saturn? We're not really sure, but maybe after only a few trips they realized they'd named the rocket after the wrong solar system sphere and terminated the project, hoping no one would notice the blunder).

* Obviously we made up these words; they are not really the words of Neil Armstrong. Neil Armstrong is one of our heroes, a pioneer of the astronaut genre; his dedication to his work, his post-astronautic ethics (such as no longer signing autographs because they are being used for undeserved profit), and his sticking to his ideals are testimonies of his unwavering conscience. We apologize if we have offended anyone, Neil Armstrong in particular.

** Obviously it is silly to send money to any firm that will "sell you a deed to property on the moon." We humbly request that, if you are planning to send money to these outfits, you kindly consider sending your money to the editors of not-tional geographic instead - we promise we'll put it to at least as good a use as those other bozos, and we'll even send you a piece of paper indicating you own some portion of the moon if that's what you really want, too! And for a limited time, for a donation of $100 or more, we'll even throw in a thermos full of breathable air you can take with you on your first trip to your new property!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Honda releases global warming vehicle

Our editors have recently become aware of a new Honda vehicle apparently designed to destroy the earth* [please visit the footnote, especially if you are offended by any content in this article], the FCX Clarity. This is a new breed of automobile, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. The way this works is that hydrogen is combined with oxygen inside the fuel cell, resulting in the production of electric power (the desired product) and by-production of water vapor and heat. These two components, water vapor and heat, are hazardous to our environment.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of human-induced global warming, the basic idea is that human impact on the environment is causing an excess of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (that is, either creation of gases in higher quantities than the earth's ecosystem would have before human influence, or reduction of the greenhouse gas sinks that would otherwise balance out the increased production of greenhouse gases). It should be noted that water vapor (and not carbon dioxide) is the largest contributor to greenhouse heating of the earth, causing between 36 and 70% of the greenhouse effect our planet experiences. If fuel cell vehicles become a major component of our transportation system, water vapor emissions will cause the amount of water vapor in the earth's atmosphere to increase. In addition, the heating of the atmosphere (heat is another byproduct of the fuel cell reaction) will allow the atmosphere to retain a higher level of water vapor, resulting in a positive-feedback effect on the potential runaway greenhouse effect (that is, it will amplify the greenhouse effect being caused by other human induced greenhouse gas increases, to the point that the change will become irreversible).

It should be noted that Honda's initial commercial test run is being performed in a limited number of cities in southern California. Presumably this will allow additional environmental testing in the area to ascertain the effectiveness of the fuel cell powered vehicles on increasing both local temperature and atmospheric water vapor levels before a world-wide release that would be designed to further impact the environment and increase global warming. Apparently the Japanese need more inhabitable land area due to their population and, having failed to increase their land area during WWII, have decided that defrosting the northern island by increasing its average temperature through global warming will allow more people to comfortably inhabit the area (the increased temperatures of the southern islands will be combatted by increased air conditioning usage - including the use of old-fashioned R-12 freon, which will help with the scheme of increased global warming - and the installation of giant fans to provide a continual breeze across the whole land area).

* Yes, this is absurd. It is meant to be. But is it really any more absurd than the idea that humans really have the potential to cause earth-climate-changing effects? Stay tuned for more articles on the "hot" topic of global warming (pun intended).

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Global Warming Contributors Revealed

Recent studies* have revealed additional contributors to the human-induced global warming issue. Two unlikely culprits, Taco Bell (and other Mexican-style food restaurants) and sodas, are huge contributing factors to man's impact on the environment. One scientist (an anonymous imaginary friend of the author) said, "This has gone unnoticed far, far too long; why didn't anyone else take this into account?"

Yes, increased intake of Mexican-style food (particularly "refried beans" which are a staple of a large number of Taco Bell's offerings) is causing the earth's temperature to rise. Everyone knows that Methane, CH4, is one of the greenhouse gases that is causing the recent surge in the earth's temperature (which obviously is human-induced, not at all related to the earth's cycle of coming out of an ice age). When you eat food like beans, you get gas, and you fart. And farts contain methane. Increased farting leads to increased levels of methane in the atmosphere, which leads to the earth's temperature increasing, of course (the earth, having been around for however long it's been here, couldn't possibly regulate itself in these amounts of greenhouse gases). In addition to beans, it is surmised that fried foods and onions also lead to flatulence; for some suggestions on eating habits that would help curb flatulence, see the wikiPedia article here.

Another leading contributor that has heretofore gone unnoticed is the invention of the soda. Sodas make use of carbonated water, which is water into which carbon dioxide (CO2) has been added (by dissolving under pressure or other means). Carbon dioxide is another greenhouse gas. The increasing consumption of carbonated beverages (in the US and in the world in general) lead to increased amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere (both from carbonated water "losing" its fizz to the atmosphere and through ingestion in humans, where it can cause carbon dioxide related flatulence), which in turn leads to increased global warming.

Since humans breath in oxygen (O2) and breath out carbon dioxide (CO2), the increasing population of the world must have some effect on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, too.

Thus, there are three things that we can all do to help mitigate our impact on our giant earth and its atmosphere (all 5.1361×10e18 kg of it):
  • eat less Mexican-style food
  • drink less carbonated beverages
  • die (of course, this also would entail decomposition after death, which would produce gases, including methane and carbon dioxide; further study is needed to ascertain whether the decomposition process would be more or less destructive to the environment, but of course since everything's going to eventually decompose anyway, not-dying may just be a stalling course of action, and the alive-breathing contribution to the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide will be allowed to continue for a longer period of time)
While I'm sure you'll be less than pleased with the last suggestion, the first two may actually make you healthier as well. (They would for the author.)

*Note: no actual studies were conducted; instead, this is a summarization of the author's thoughts and research based on readily available resources, and it sounds better to say "recent studies show." The reader is suggested to conduct his own research into the publicized topic of "human-induced global warming" - for example, consider this article, these news stories, and this site's information.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Brief History of Turquoise

The Turquoise were a little-known Indian tribe offsprung from the more well-known Iroquois Confederacy. Back in prehistoric American times (i.e., before recorded history in America), a group of Turks (info on Turkey, the nation), fed up with the constant invasions and power struggles due to their strategic location ("Who picked this land, anyway?" one was quoted as saying, but in the original Turkish, of course), decided to migrate east ('cause everyone knew what upstarts and snobs those westerners were!). Not finding suitable places to inhabit (this land's too hot! This land's too cold! This land doesn't have enough fast-food joints!), they kept going. Eventually reaching the Pacific ocean, this group of Turks decided they didn't want to inhabit the land where Communism would thrive, and kept going. It's unclear whether they made their way across land or ice bridges over the Bering strait, or simply sailed on makeshift rafts crafted from empty Tupperware containers that had long since been emptied of food and were simply being carted around because 1) Ralph the Turk was a packrat; and 2) they couldn't find a suitable recycling center and didn't want to strew the non-biodegradable Tupperware all over the Asian continent (primarily it was #1 that kept them around; if/when they found usefulness as makeshift rafts, Ralph the Turk's wife begrudgingly agreed that it was in fact fortunate that he'd kept them all this time as they traipsed all over Asia, but since we don't know for sure whether they were used as rafts or whether the group crossed the Bering strait on a land or ice bridge, I guess we'll never know whether Ralph the Turk was justified over his pack-rattiness).

Anyway, they eventually made their way across to Alaska, but it was too cold. And in Canada they were a bit confused as to their national language, and it was too cold. Eventually, they decided they wanted to settle in a little place called Illinois, but since there were no people there, it hadn't been called Illinois yet, so they kept going.

Upon reaching New York, they found a group of several Indian tribes known as the Iroquois Confederacy. The Turks were welcomed by the Indians, partly because of the jovial nature of the Indians, but mostly because the Turks still had some Tupperware containers which proved excellent in keeping the buffalo meat from spoiling when it wasn't used immediately. (Remember, at this time, Buffalo were widespread across America, and in fact had their headquarters in a little place now known as Buffalo, NY, also settled by one of the Iroquois Confederacy tribes. It is unfortunate that the Buffalo were subsequently hunted nearly out of existence, to the point that only 9 remained in North America. Due to the conservationist group's swift and decisive activities, though, the Buffalo now number in the thousands, although, with all the inbreeding, those are some seriously retarded buffalo, and they no longer have the wits to organize themselves and attempt to retake Buffalo, NY as their HQ.) Primarily, it would be assumed that the Tupperware was the main reason for their acceptance (and not the jovial nature of the Iroquois Indians), since the name "Iroquois" is believed to have been derived from a Basque-based pidgin word, "Hilokoa," meaning "murderers."

So it was that the Turks intermarried with the various Iroquois Indians (apparently some of the Indians understandably take offense to the term "Iroquois," so be careful when retelling this tale). And thus were born the Turquoise Indians, who subsequently resettled in the land known as Illinois (which they, now being of sufficient number, were capable of naming themselves and not requiring any additional population to assist them). However, after relocating to Illinois, the Iroquois got rather perturbed with their neighbors, and subsequently began attacking them (presumably because the former Turks took all their Tupperware with them, and had unfortunately left the secret to creating Tupperware back in Turkey, where it was lost because of all the fighting and political upheaval until it reappeared in America in 1945, brought back by man named Earl Silas Tupper. It is unclear how Mr. Tupper came across the magical secret of Tupperware, or if he managed to have an original idea that someone else already had, but he made a bunch of money off the product and eventually bought an island in Central America, giving up his US Citizenship to avoid taxes. Anyway, the Turquoise Indians kept renaming themselves (refer to the link about Illinois and its history to see the various assumed names of the Turquoise Indians) to try to avoid the continual bullying by the Iroquois Confederacy, although it rarely worked. They looked the same, after all, and maybe the Iroquois just decided to beat up anyone living in the area.

The Turquoise Indians supported the "new" America during the Revolutionary War, as well as supporting Abe Lincoln during the Civil War (refer to the link about Illinois for more info), because they wanted to be free and to have rules saying the Iroquois couldn't beat them up anymore. Or something like that. As it stands, the single greatest contribution of the Turquoise Indians to society was probably a light-bluish-green color, which was originally a botched royal blue when someone ran the garment washing machines (they always provided pre-washed garments to avoid shrinkage after purchase) with chlorinated water siphoned from the neighbor's swimming pool to avoid the large water bill associated with pre-washing their garments. The chlorine, of course, bleached the royal blue color, leaving it the faded turquoise color, which the Turquoise Indians quickly named, patented, and sold worldwide. However, it was determined that the patent was invalid, since the color seemed to match a similarly named stone, and the Turquoise Indians went bankrupt. Most of them committed suicide upon learning the news that they were broke after having made it all the way across the world and starting a new race of people, but a few were a bit more strong willed and decided to not give up. Unfortunately, those few were killed in an industrial accident at the turquoise coloring plant back in the 1920s, and the Turquoise Indians subsequently dropped from the minds of people everywhere, and are rarely even mentioned in any historical texts today (although their assumed names, as resident Indians of Illinois, strangely live on).

And there you have it - a brief history of the Turquoise Indians. Have a great day!

Note: any accounts, personalities, and references in this document are primarily fictitious, the wild imaginings of the author, and are not really meant to represent any factual or historical events, people, nations, tribes, companies, products, or anything else even remotely resembling reality. If you want reality, look elsewhere (such as the links provided in the narrative). Some semblance of truth probably was used in the rambling, but the reader is left to his/her own discretion as to which parts to believe, and it is highly recommended that you research the info yourself (such as at the links provided, history books, encyclopedias, your neighborhood library, the history channel, your elementary school teachers, etc.).