Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing to the Future

Octavia Butler Landing

From the desk of Dave Almandsmith

Percy (Perseverance Rover) has been feeling its oats, doing calisthenics, and moving about at its landing spot dubbed “Octavia Butler Landing.” ((Butler’s 1998 book, Parable of the Talents, tells of the election of the populist, misogynistic, xenophobic Andrew Steele Jarret to the White House, whose rallying cry is “Make America Great Again.” During President Jarret’s administration, white supremacist groups grow powerful.)) Jump forward a few decades and there may be a plaque placed at Octavia Butler Landing. Jump forward a few centuries and it might be a tourist site.

((I keep falling into the error of imagining that the surface of Mars is rather small – it’s about 30% that of Earth. But 70% of Earth is covered with water — therefore the land area of the two planets is nearly equal: Earth with 149 million km2  and Mars with 141 million km2.))

Scientists trained Percy to look for life, but who trained the scientists? Other scientists, of course. And what happens if Percy does find life on Mars? Even if Percy finds evidence of life on Mars, we won’t know whether it is similar to Earth life with DNA and all. To learn the answer to that question will require we get samples back to Earth. Percy is going to help by ‘pooping’ sealed tubes of samples out onto the Martian landscape. A future mission will: (1) go into orbit around Mars; (2) send down a rover and a ‘return rocket’; (3) the rover will scuttle about collecting Percy poops and load them onto the return rocket; (4) the rocket will blast back up into space and rendezvous with the orbiter; (5) the samples will be loaded into another rocket which will return to Earth and parachute down into some desert. (Rube Goldberg, we love you!) And if we find Martian life similar to Earth life, we won’t know if it developed autonomously or was seeded from Mars to Earth or from Earth to Mars or came to both planets from outside the Solar System. Fodder for future scientists.

The future of human space travel is taking shape. You may have heard that – on the third try – SpaceX landed a Starship without it immediately exploding. It blew up after sitting around for a while possibly because of a failure to vent away LOX (liquid oxygen) as it warmed up and tried to expand.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been insanely busy for over a year now. But that does not keep them from preparations for the future zombie apocalypse

Here are my livestream picks for the week:
Michael Mann: Moving Forward Together on Climate Change – Tuesday 7pm – $30 series (includes Erin Brokovich!) benefits the Peninsula Open Space Trust.
Wonderfest: Carl Zimmer – Life’s Edge – Wednesday Noon – 1pm (The book “Life’s Edge” will be released Tuesday.) This talk is a collaboration of Wonderfest and The Commonwealth Club.
Haunted Humanity: The Fringe Is Not the Fringe – Thursday 7:30pm

Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate is not looking too good for our near-term and long-term future. This is “Carbon Sequestration Week” with a great lineup of online talks; and curiously that brings to the issue of concrete, as well as carbon capture, oil wells, and Coca-Cola. There’s even a website where you can donate to capture carbon.

The future of the COVID-19 pandemic could an entire SciSchmooze all to itself. Already one out of every five people in the U.S. have received at least one shot and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is now going into people’s arms, speeding up the rate of vaccinations. But this is a ‘pandemic’ and the world-wide rate of vaccinations is quite low. If you have questions, there are sites with answers. Public Health professionals are making educated guesses for COVID-19’s future.

Stay smart, stay safe, and stay well, damn it
Dave Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics board member

“The only effect I ardently long to produce in my writings, is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from themselves in everything but the broad fact of being struggling erring human creatures.”
-George Eliot (1819 – 1880) English novelist, poet, journalist

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