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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Space is the place: A starry trek through the news

As I read through today's aggregation of Science & Technology headlines at Google News, I was star struck by the number of stories dealing with space travel. It seems folks all over the globe are publicly and privately looking for ways to flee this wayward world of ours. Not that I'm critical of such escapism; I quite often get carried away by a similar desire to seek more friendly climes.

Maybe the state of the climate or our perpetual warring has gotten some folks skittish, but there are 4 separate nations racing to get to the sheltering sky of our orbiting rock. It seems that Japan has taken the early lead:
Japan's lunar "princess" shoots for the moon (Reuters)
Japan launched its first lunar probe on Friday, nicknamed Kaguya after a fairy-tale princess, in the latest move in a new race with China, India and the United States to explore the moon.
Of course that's just the competition in the public sphere; Google in its latest megalomaniacal frenzy has thrown a prized hat in the lunar exploration ring as well. Believing that the private sector can do things bigger, better and cheaper than NASA, the masters of the search universe are putting a $20 million purse where their mouth is:
Google's moon mission (Guardian UK)
Google has launched a $20m competition to send a robotic mission to the moon. To claim the prize, a team of researchers will need to send a rover to the moon, make it roam for a minimum of 500 metres and send video, images and data back to Earth, all before December 31 2012.
NASA may be beleaguered but that doesn't mean they're not busy. Recognizing the allure of life imitating art, the space agency has pointed the cameras of its Cassini probe at the Saturnian moon that figured prominently in a masterpiece of science fiction. The images have revealed some interesting topography, but as of yet no psychedelic freak outs induced by floating black slabs:
Cassini in Safe Mode After Saturn Flight (Associated Press)
The international Cassini spacecraft went into safe mode this week after successfully passing over a Saturn moon that was the mysterious destination of a deep-space faring astronaut in Arthur C. Clarke's novel "2001: A Space Odyssey."
The Google boys don't find NASA completely useless, however. It turns out they're paying the bureaucracy of rocket scientists a pretty penny for a different kind of space place — a strip for parking their jet. Maybe they want to beat the agency back to the moon so they can lock up landing rights on some prime lunar real estate:
Google Founders Pay NASA for Jet Access (Associated Press)
Google Inc. co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are reportedly paying $1.3 million a year so their Boeing 767 plane can take off, land and park at a NASA-managed airport located just a few minutes away from the Internet search leader's Silicon Valley headquarters.
As the various players jockey to be the next first on the moon, I'll content myself with my idle moon age daydreams. The ever insightful Casey Kasem used to say, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars." Good advice, and worthy of pondering during this musical interlude.

Man on the Moon
by Sugar

It's the Man on the Moon
Saying goodnight to you
Oh how it shines
He's a good friend of mine
He's a good friend of yours
Even many miles away
I hope he comes soon
It's the Man on the Moon

In a night of despair
Only one light is there
It's the Man on the Moon
Saying goodnight to you
If you're holding my hand
As the Earth turns to sand

I see your face
I see that look on your face
Don't you know that
Space is the place

If you look to the sky
Look him straight in the eye
And as strange as it seems
If you wish all your dreams
Will come true after all
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