Hang On! Trailer for “Gravity” Previews Spacewalk Disaster Film

Yikes! The trailer for an upcoming film “Gravity” is absolutely terrifying. This movie won’t hit theaters until October 4, 2013, so we can expect to see more trailers after this first ‘teaser.” We do know it is directed by Alfonso Cuarón and stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. But with an emergency spacewalk likely taking place tomorrow at the International Space Station, the timing of the release of this trailer is just a bit eerie.

Bullock plays a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) in command of his last flight before retiring. But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, the space station is damaged, leaving the two astronauts completely alone and tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness.

Watch the teaser below:

The word on the street is that NASA was not consulted at all for this film, so we can only hope for a hint of reality (i.e., let hope it’s not another “Armageddon.”) But from the trailer, it seems to follow the recipe for any space disaster film: go into space, have the mission go awry, bring in the heroes to save the day. Guesses on thumbs up or down?

Sci-Fi Book Review: “Pilot” by R.D. Drabble

Pilot,” a new sci-fi thriller, follows law enforcement officer Legitt Redd, as he finds himself in the middle of an extraordinary set of circumstances. It is set in a solar system where humans occupy 6 life-supporting planets. Each planet has a different role to the civilisation, one being an energy source, another a prison, another a holiday destination, for example. Legitt is a low ranking officer whom serves for the oppressive government, ‘The Ministry.’ He is introduced as a fairly ordinary, uninspired man whose main duty is to transport prisoners to and from the Prison planet Gorby for processing. He has a long standing friendship and affiliation with one such prisoner – Afyd Geller whom has a reputation as a leader in the underworld and has the respect of many amongst law enforcement. Once a free man, Afyd often invites Leggit for drinking sessions. It‘s on one of these ordinary drinking sessions that the out-of-the-ordinary sequence of events begins. After a few adventure and violent encounters, they travel to the Litton where the apparent real figure head of the underworld resides. Leggit find out that the mythical ‘boogie man’ of child stories of old, Murlon Furlong is in fact a real person, and the all-powerful ruler of criminals.

Murlon sets Leggit, Afyd and other members of this motley crew, on a task to kidnap a spiritual leader. There is a back story of the civilisation’s theology which, in short includes the beginning of time and the eventual coming of salvation.

When this goes horribly wrong Legitt realises his true potential, and attempts to conquer Murlon and avoid swift and violent punishment of The Ministry. This means a whole lot more than he realises and intends the reader to question what is good and what is evil.

This book has great potential. Author R.D. Drabble paints pictures with his words, as if he can see them all around him. Initially this was inspiring to read. You can really imagine the frames in which Drabble was describing. But this positive is also a negative and too much visual description means at times it reads like a script, rather than a novel. There is only the present tense and only one story line, which leaves the reader feeling a bit flat with this one dimensional presentation of an otherwise interesting plot. It would have been a lot more enjoyable if there was a sub-plot or scenes that did not include the main character. Even though Leggit was in every scene, I still felt I didn’t have much insight into him as a character.

Having said that, there are definitely great moments. The technological creations and concepts found in Pilot are really inspiring. They seem to mix the spiritual human elements with technological fantasy. And the Drabble paints an Orwell-esque picture of the Ministry ruled worlds, and there were some phrases that were so poignant and poetic, that is will make you read them twice. The book starts of in a very certain black and white view of the world but progresses a grey outlook, at the same time that character Legitt questions his own morality in certain situations.

But these great moments are sandwiched between cliché, yet lovable characters and the many un-foreshadowed random unnecessary scenarios. There is an appendix of illustrations to support the story lines and backstories, but these don’t really add value or are explored.

Having said that it is clear that Drabble has an amazing amount of imagination. The 6 worlds and their stories are quiet intricate and to be honest, could be explored further in future books. I hope Drabble can express this obvious talent of imagination in future stories, especially if they are in comic or graphic novel format.

Overall, it’s a great read with some cool concepts.

R.D. Drabble is an electrician and science fiction fanatic who has had a lifelong obsession with the strange and inexplicable. It was his love for the unusual that inspired him to write his debut novel Pilot.

Pilot is available on Amazon.com and Lulu.com

Spock Weighs in on President Obama’s ‘Meld-Gate’

On March 1st 2013, President Obama awoke hoards of Star Trek and Star Wars fans when during a press conference he (purposely?) fused a Jedi Mind Trick and Vulcan Mind Meld into a: Jedi Mind Meld.  According to White House transcripts, President Obama was responding to CNN’s Jessica Yellin’s remark that he should have the leadership to force Congress to accept a deal to avert the damaging sequester.  President Obama replied to her by first stating that he was not a dictator, and second that he would not use a Jedi Mind Meld to coerce Congress into accepting a deal.

For those who are unaware, a Vulcan Mind Meld and Jedi Mind Trick are indeed different. Two videos are posted below that shed light on that difference.  The first video features Spock performing a Vulcan Mind Meld (Star Trek), and the second involves Obi-Wan Kenobi inacting a Jedi Mind Trick (Star Wars).

Although the pundits initially believed that the President’s mixing of terms was a mistake, experts in some quarters now believe that by using a Jedi Mind Meld President Obama could simulatenously ascertain both his foes’ true intentions and coerce them into accepting a deal.  The President may have likewise been contemplating how Congress could be spurred into action, and perhaps thought as a last resort he’d recruit Star Trek and Star Wars fans worldwide to pressure Congress.  Toward that end the White House released the following image via their Twitter feed, and also launched the website http://www.wh.gov/jedimindmeld/:

The White House released this image to raise awarness of the sequester (http://www.wh.gov/jedimindmeld , image credit: Whitehouse).
The White House released this image and created the following website (http://www.wh.gov/jedimindmeld) to raise awareness of the damaging sequester (image credit: White House).

However, Leonard Nimoy (Spock) has weighed into ‘Meld-gate’, and advised President Obama to forget about Jedi Mind Tricks altogether since, “Only a Vulcan mind meld will help with this congress. Live Long and Prosper.

President Obama isn’t the only politician who happens to be an avid Star Trek fan. King Abdullah II of Jordan was lucky enough to make a cameo on Star Trek Voyager.  Will President Obama be making a cameo in the new Star Trek film “Into the Darkness” directed by J. J. Abrams?  Incidentally, Abrams will likewise be directing the new Star Wars: Episode VII movie.  Perhaps the President is on to something?


In Reality, Nebulae Offer No Place for Spaceships to Hide

In the Battlestar: Galactica universe, nebulas are a nifty spot to hide from the Cylons that are plotting to kill humanity. There’s just one problem with the hypothesis, though — these diffuse areas of gas in our universe are actually very faint, even if you get close up. Probably too faint for a hiding spot.

Prequel Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome (released on DVD this week) shows the young William Adama flying around the universe with pretty nebulas in the background. That’s not anywhere near the truth, Harvard astronomer Peter Williams told Universe Today.

In an e-mail, Williams explained that bright nebulas are a common misperception seen in Star Wars, Star Trek and a host of other sci-fi series.

The big issue is that nebulae are just too faint for the human eye to see. And while it’s tempting to think that they’d look brighter from up close, in fact this isn’t actually true — they actually look just as bright from any distance! This is a law of optics, known in the jargon as the “conservation of surface brightness”. The key is that there are two competing effects in play. Imagine that you can see a nebula that’s, say, the size of the full moon.

Yes, if you get closer, your eye will receive more total power from the nebula. But the nebula will also look bigger, so that energy will be spread out over a larger visual area (technically: “solid angle”). The physics tells you that the power per solid angle in fact stays exactly the same, and this quantity is precisely the “brightness” of an object. So if nebula are too faint for to see from Earth with the naked eye — and they are — getting up close and personal doesn’t help any.

Those bright colors surrounding Battlestar's ships are not actually what you would see if nestled in a nebula, according to  Harvard astronomer. Credit: Battlestar Galactica/SciFi (screencap)
The opening sequence in Battlestar: Galactica shows the ships hiding in a bright nebula. Credit: Battlestar Galactica/SciFi (screencap)

Further, Williams, explains, the bright colors we’re used to seeing in Hubble Space Telescope images are just an approximation of what a nebula actually looks like.

Reproduced images of nebulae don’t portray their colors accurately. As you may know, some astronomical images use “false color” to represent wavelengths of light that humans can’t even see. This does happen with images of nebulae, but nebulae really are colorful, and many nebula images try to reproduce those colors faithfully. No current reproduction, however, can be truly accurate.

The Crab Nebula. Image credit: Hubble
The Crab Nebula. Image credit: NASA/Hubble Space Telescope.

The problem is that the colorful nebular emission comes from reactions that produce light at a few, specific wavelengths; meanwhile, our inks and pixels emit over much broader wavelength ranges. We can mix these broad ranges in ways that approximate the narrow ones, but the results aren’t quite the same.

For an entertaining look at the science of nebulas, Williams recommends this entertaining video by astronomer Phil Plait, a long-time friend of Universe Today who is best known for his Bad Astronomy blog (now at Slate). “If you were inside [the nebula and looked down], you wouldn’t see it,” Plait says in this 2008 clip.

Guess it’s time to find another spot to hide.

The Cost of Exploring Space: Film vs. Reality

We all know that space exploration, while certainly not the largest expenditure of most countries, doesn’t come cheap. But neither do big-budget science fiction films, either. Special effects, sets, special effects, popular acting talent… special effects… those all come with hefty price tags that make sci-fi and fantasy films costly ventures — although bigger definitely isn’t always better. If you were to compare the price of real space exploration missions (which provide actual information) to the costs of movies about space exploration (which provide “only” entertainment) what would you expect to find?

This infographic does just that:

exploring-space-720

“Prometheus’ movie budget would be enough to keep the search for real aliens going for another 52 years.”

Wow. (Maybe they should have just written a check to SETI.)

Infographic provided by Neo Mammalian Studios and paydayloan.co.uk. U.S.S. Enterprise © CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

How a Good Narrator Can Mean Life or Death on Mars

Stranded on an alien planet, ejected from your burning ship and with only minutes of breathable air left, your chances of survival look slim indeed. And with — something — tearing holes in your suit, you’ll likely be dead before you know it.

That is, of course, unless you have a good narrator.

“Voice Over,” a short film directed by Martin Rosete, puts you in this and a couple other similarly precarious situations, each seemingly bleaker than the last. Through it all a narration by Feodor Atkine underscores the hopelessness (in French, with subtitles) until the final reveal, which… well, I won’t spoil it for you. All I’ll say is it’s well worth 9 minutes of your time.

Watch the video below.

(Quick warning: a couple of parts are slightly graphic.)

I must say, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a film version of a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

Voice Over
Starring Jonathan D. Mellor and Feodor Atkine
Directed by Martin Rosete
Produced by Koldo Zuazua, Sebastian Alvarez, Manuel Calvo, and The Rosete Brothers
Cinematography by Jose Martin Rosete
From Kamel Films

h/t to io9.com

Blast it Wedge, We’re Not Getting a Death Star

Well, it’s official. The Obama Administration has said no to a petition asking the US government to build a Death Star. On the “We the People” petition site, if a petition gets 25,000 people to sign, the Obama administration has promised to reply. There have been some really crazy petitions put forth – one person wanted to be named emperor, another wanted a statue built – but there have been some creative and meaningful petitions as well. Then there’s the petition to “Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.” Creative… yes. Meaningful? Probably not, but it certainly got a lot of attention.

And Paul Shawcross, the Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, who replied to this petition, did right by Star Wars and sci-fi fans, and in an imaginative and inspiring way.

Titled “This isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For,” Shawcross’s response said the real reasons we won’t get a Death Star is because:
1. The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
2. The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
3. Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

He outlined how we already have a space station, a laser-wielding robot on Mars, and are discovering hundreds of new planets orbiting other stars.

“We are living in the future! Enjoy it,” Shawcross wrote. “Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field…. If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”

There’s still time to sign the petition for looking into building a working version of the Starship Enterprise; right not that petition has just over 6,000 signatures.

Late addition:

Via StarWars.com comes the news that evil Empire has posted a response to the White House’s decision not to build a Death Star:

IMPERIAL CENTER, CORUSCANT – The overwhelming military superiority of the Galactic Empire has been confirmed once again by the recent announcement by the President of the United States that his nation would not attempt to build a Death Star, despite the bellicose demands of the people of his tiny, aggressive planet. “It is doubtless that such a technological terror in the hands of so primitive a world would be used to upset the peace and sanctity of the citizens of the Galactic Empire,” said Governor Wilhuff Tarkin of the Outer Rim Territories. “Such destructive power can only be wielded to protect and defend by so enlightened a leader as Emperor Palpatine.”
Representatives on behalf of the nation-state leader from the unimaginatively named planet refused to acknowledge the obvious cowardice of their choice, preferring instead to attribute the decision to fiscal responsibility. “The costs of construction they cited were ridiculously overestimated, though I suppose we must keep in mind that this miniscule planet does not have our massive means of production,” added Admiral Conan Motti of the Imperial Starfleet.

Emissaries of the Emperor also caution any seditious elements within the Galactic Senate not to believe Earth’s exaggerated claims of there being a weakness in the Death Star design. “Any attacks made upon such a station – should one ever be built – would be a useless gesture,” added Motti.

This article was updated on January 15, 2013.