Now: DRONES ON MARS!

If there’s one thing that everyone on Earth can clearly agree on, it’s that there can never be such a thing as too many drones.

And it seems that NASA are now planning to start the drone craze on Mars as well with a new helicopter device:

The US space agency said Friday it plans to launch the first-ever helicopter to Mars in 2020, a miniature, unmanned drone-like chopper that could boost our understanding of the Red Planet.

I’m not sure how they plan to get a GPS lock, given that there are no S’s around Mars, but this is NASA, and if they faked the moon landings, well, then they can do most anything. And that likely includes coming up with a superb name for this craft, just like they did with ApolloChallengerDiscovery and Titan.

And that name is… [drum roll]…

The Mars Helicopter

[sad trombone] Oh.

And they’re starting small:

Its first flight calls for a brief vertical climb of 10 feet (three meters), followed by hovering for a half minute.

Wow. 10 feet. 30 seconds. Hold the front pages.
Don’t push yourselves, NASA.

I clearly need to get my Mavic out there, stat. I’d be buzzing Olympus Mons, shooting high quality 4K video and doing dronies on Curiosity while NASA’s rookies were still putting the paperwork and requisition forms together, wondering if they could maybe risk trying a gentle turn to the right.

If you’re reading this, NASA, I am available for this kind of thing (in between my lab antics with TB). I’ve flown over the Northern Cape: I know what desolation looks like.

But I don’t think I need to be in Texas or Florida or California or wherever you’re running your circus from at the moment. If you can control a drone on a planet 55 million kilometres away, I really don’t think it matters if I’m across a bit of sea from your place.

And I’m certainly not going to Mars.

Have drone, won’t travel.

Dam Mischief

I was a bit naughty yesterday, but I’m not sorry. Everyone should be a bit naughty every now and again. I’m not advocating murder or anything. Nothing illegal. Just a bit of mischief, which harms no-one and which keeps your heart young.

As ever with a big news story in the modern era, everyone wants to be the first to share the latest developments and fresh angles. There’s a certain gratification to be found in being the one to tell your friends about the breaking news you have just read. They didn’t know. You informed them. You’re the man (or woman). Noddy badge of honour time.

The water crisis is dominating the news here at the moment, as it has monotonously for several months now. There are no new angles anymore. Even Helen Zille’s tweets are only generating transient, short-lived outrage.

Still, when I put out this tweet yesterday, I was rather surprised when people quickly shared it.

Several people remarked on it and shared it, often with a sad emoji, because it clearly doesn’t look like a major reservoir feeding a city of 4 million people should.

Of course, that’s because it’s actually a picture of Mars.

This composite image looking toward the higher regions of Mount Sharp was taken on September 9, 2015, by NASA’s Curiosity rover. In the foreground — about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the rover — is a long ridge teeming with hematite, an iron oxide. Just beyond is an undulating plain rich in clay minerals. And just beyond that are a multitude of rounded buttes, all high in sulfate minerals.

So, no. This isn’t Theewaterskloof dam “from the Villiersdorp road”. It’s another planet about 55 million kilometres away.

Still, there are some similarities:

The changing mineralogy in these layers of Mount Sharp suggests a changing environment in early Mars, though all involve exposure to water billions of years ago. Further back in the image are striking, light-toned cliffs in rock that may have formed in drier times and now is heavily eroded by winds.

This was never meant to be a social experiment. I lobbed it up there as a bit of a joke. Perhaps naively, I expected everyone to see it exactly for what it was. Instead, there were only a couple of engagements which suggested that*. The remainder simply clicked the Retweet button apparently without even thinking.

I’ve learned something from this, but I suspect I might be just about alone in that.

 

* One of them was from Jonathan Meyer**
** He’s very anxious for me to point that out to you

Pack your trunk – we’re off to Mars

Vital space exploration news greeted me this morning in the shape of this headline from The Times:

Right. Obviously, besides the single benefit stated above, there are also drawbacks with sending elephants into space. For starters, their somewhat larger mass means that you’re going to need a lot more thrust to get you up to escape velocity and out of the Earth’s gravitational pull. They’re also pretty big in terms of volume, meaning that you’re going to need to increase the size of your spaceship to house them. They eat more, they drink more, they poo more, but perhaps our major concern here should be that we’re clearly ignoring the most important factor to consider in this whole plan: they are elephants.

Yes, elephants are ever so intelligent, but they are still elephants. We’ve all seen how clever and caring they can be on those nature documentaries, but elephants are let down by their inability to communicate in basic human language, let alone carrying out computer programming and complex scientific experimentation. In fact, aside from their alleged cancer-resisting traits (and perhaps their reputation for having really good memories), there’s not an awful lot that supports this frankly very dodgy idea to send elephants to colonise Mars.

And then, what if we were to actually follow through on this and colonise Mars with these pachyderms? It sets a worrying precedent for the future colonisation of other planets with somewhat implausible animals. So what next? Sending ornamental ducks to Jupiter? Hammerhead sharks to Saturn? An anteater to Venus? Presumably we’d have to send some ants as well for that last one. See how complicated it becomes?

No, this is a silly idea and we should stop right now. The elephants won’t mind – they’re very thick-skinned – and it might just save us from the inevitable onset of any immature Richard Gere “gerbils in Uranus” jokes.

An idea

I was just looking at the news headline this morning and I saw this:

BEAGLE FOUND INTACT ON MARS

It turns out that they were talking about a space probe, but it has given me an idea as to how to stop my garden getting repeatedly dug up.

Now, I just need to find some rockets.