Our A.I. love/fright affair

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UltronEver stop to think about humans’ state of affairs with artificial intelligence (A.I.)?  It’s a lot like a girl who’s fallen in love with a charming, attractive man who is also a serial killer: She is aware that he is dangerous, maybe even lethal; but she forces herself to love him anyway, trusting that her faith in his inner goodness will win out in the end and not leave her in a shallow grave in little, hacked-up pieces.

Or, rather, that’s how our relationship with A.I. could be; in actual fact, we stay with A.I. because we need its help, but we expect it’s going to turn and hack us up any second now. Continue reading

Robert McCall, inspirational master of the space painting

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Gizmodo has posted a fantastic series of 27 works from the master of space painting, Robert McCall.  McCall’s realistic, documentary-style paintings have been seen on everything from Hollywood posters (most notably for 2001: A Space Odyssey) to promotional materials by NASA.  And this set doesn’t include my personal favorite, Apollo On The Moon, depicting a lunar lander and astronaut standing on the Moon, with Earth in the background.

For those young’uns of you: These are among the most inspirational visual works depicting space and space exploration of the 1960s and 70s, the paintings that turned many a child’s eye inexorably skyward… including my own.

Robert McCall

A solution for long-term living on low-gravity planets

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We are now very familiar with the fact that living in less than the 1-gee gravity humans were born in, has proven to be hazardous to our long-term health: Muscles weaken; bones thin out; stress is placed on blood vessels; and it can take serious effort to recover from the stays in orbit or on the Moon that put us in a low- or no-gravity situation.

Mars colony

Might be practical… but under low gravity, a long-term stay will make it difficult-to-hazardous to go back home to Earth.

And yet, we are actively talking about returning to the Moon for long-term settlement, and doing the same on Mars… knowing that prolonged exposure on either low-gravity world could make it tough-to-impossible to return to the full gravity of Earth.  Are we doomed to extended rehabilitation after every such stay, a “recompression” regimen that could take days, weeks… months?

Maybe not.  There is another way to simulate a full Earth gravity on a low-gravity world; a real solution that doesn’t require the invention of gravity-generators or any such hand-wavium.  It’s based on two very familiar concepts, one of which has been applied in science fiction regularly, while the other is applied on a regular basis… in amusement parks and on aircraft. Continue reading

Could the moon fuel Earth for 10,000 years?

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mining Helium 3 from the MoonThis is the bold title of a Daily Mail article, in which the Chief Scientist of China’s Lunar Exploration Program, Professor Ouyang Ziyuan, describes an audacious plan to return to the Moon that will provide a direct benefit to Earth.

Lunar samples brought back by Apollo astronauts indicated a significant amount of Helium 3, a non-radioactive form of helium that scientists say could fuel clean fusion power plants.  Ouyang proposed a plan to place a mining facility on the Moon to extract helium 3 from the rock; then fly the helium to Earth in storage tanks and use it to provide power for the world, much as the movie Moon depicted the process.  He estimates that 40 tonnes of helium, when used in clean fusion plants, could power the United States for a year at the current rate of energy consumption.

Sounds great, right?

Oh, wait… “clean fusion plants”? Continue reading