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Category Archives: Terraforming Mars
Posted: July 21, 2020 at 12:15 pm
Just a little over a week separates us from the moment when the Perseverance rover is scheduled to take off on its mission to Mars. The American space agency is targeting a 7:50 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 30 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, but that may change depending on a variety of factors.
To get the hype up, NASA launched in the previous years a naming competition for the rover (Perseverance won) asked people to digitally write their names on chips that would travel to the Red Planet (about 11 million names were entered) and even had a live feed of the rovers bay up and running the whole time the machine was being assembled.
It only makes sense for the launch to be a very in-your-face event. NASA will kick off pre-launch festivities on Monday, July 27, with a pre-launch news conference and science briefing, On Tuesday, some more briefings will follow, this time related to the sample return part of the mission, and another news conference is scheduled for Wednesday, July 29.
On the day of the launch, NASA will air live the start of the mission on the NASA Television Youtube channel (video attached below) and the agencys website. By 11:30 a.m. EDT, the launch should all be done with, and a post-launch briefing is scheduled.
If you still have mixed feelings about Perseverance, you should know this: the rover is the single most important machine humans have sent to another planet. Not only is it tasked with all the chores described above, but it is also the first piece of hardware to be sent to Mars as part of the countrys Moon to Mars exploration approach that will culminate, some hope by the end of the current decade, with the first humans setting foot on another planet.
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Posted: July 8, 2020 at 3:55 am
Tim Overkamp shows the game "The Settlers of Catan." Britta Pedersen/dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images hide caption
Tim Overkamp shows the game "The Settlers of Catan."
Long before the coronavirus pandemic, tabletop board games were having something of a renaissance, with popular games like The Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride becoming mainstream additions to family game nights.
Then, COVID-19 hit and, as Quartz reported, it changed how many hobbyist board game creators approached the industry. But for many people who suddenly found themselves stuck at home under lockdown, the pandemic also spurred newfound interest in strategy games that require creativity and concentration. Board game hobbyists had more time to spend learning about new games coming out, while newbies to the scene were discovering a world beyond classics like Monopoly and Clue.
Then, on March 30, the board game Frosthaven the dungeon crawling, highly-anticipated sequel to the hit game Gloomhaven surpassed its funding goal of $500,000 on Kickstarter in mere hours. Today, it is the most-funded board game on the site ever, with nearly $13 million pledged toward funding the game's development. Only two projects have ever crowdsourced more funding on the site.
Frosthaven's success seemed to exemplify a shift that has been happening in the tabletop gaming community for years: toward games that are not only focused on strategy and adventure, but also a new type of funding model where fans have more say than ever in which games move from the idea stage to their living rooms. And hobbyist tabletop games are a different breed of entertainment altogether.
"You have mass market games, which are Monopoly and everything that you find at Target or Toys "R" Us, and you have hobbyist games, which you typically find at your FLGS your friendly local gaming store," said Cree Wilson, the programming and tabletop gaming manager for Comicpalooza. "Then there's this blurry line of stuff in between, which I've heard sometimes called entertainment gaming, and it's games selling tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of copies, but isn't selling millions yet."
For many of these smaller games, funding from fans has proved essential. Hasbro, the company that makes games like Monopoly and Connect 4, earns hundreds of millions each year through everything from game sales and licensing deals to its TV and film business. But funding models are far different for newer or smaller game makers. These makers have become part of one of the country's most popular quarantine hobbies, but they've done so through a mini-economy that relies on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.
It makes for a unique experience that can line creators up for success and it isn't specific to Frosthaven. Games like Dark Souls, Ankh: Gods of Egypt, Cthulhu: Death May Die and Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon are among those that earned multiple millions through crowdfunding.
Creators use Kickstarter like a social media site, an advertisement and a fundraising tool all in one, and they use it more successfully than nearly any other game creators on the site. In 2019, fans pledged more than $176 million toward tabletop games up 6.8% over the previous year, according to Kickstarter data gathered by the entertainment site Polygon. In all, more than 1 million people pledged to games on the site last year.
For fans, the benefits of pledging can go beyond the games themselves. Fans can earn special gifts from game makers in exchange for their support. And often, pledging toward a game can end up costing less than waiting to buy it in a store.
Another factor motivating fans, Wilson says, is fear of missing out.
"The FOMO on Kickstarter is real," Wilson said, adding that often people will pledge because they don't want to miss out on a game their friends will be getting.
It's a feeling that Ash Mehra can identify with. Mehra, a 27-year-old board game fan and medical resident in Miami, said she checks Kickstarter every day, and has spent about $1,200 on the site, pledging to games like the Terraforming Mars Big Box and The Age of Atlantis. She said there "definitely is a visceral thrill, an endorphin rush" to watching games she has pledged money to not only reach early fundraising targets, but then stretch them due to momentum on the site.
Fans like Mehra are already on Kickstarter either awaiting their favorite game-makers next move or looking for new games to try out so connecting with them and pulling in funding pledges is almost inevitable.
"For the board game community, there's a culture of looking on Kickstarter ... and being more willing to fund things," said Isaac Childres, the CEO of Cephalofair Games and creator of Forge War, Gloomhaven and Frosthaven. "It's like a larger avenue for board game creators to use that automatically picks up a following."
This is what makes Kickstarter so attractive to individual makers and less attractive to other gaming industries like video game makers. It takes a lot of startup value to create your own video game, for instance, but for board games, you only need a good enough idea and a well-placed Kickstarter page to gauge public interest.
Once a maker has proven success, it's easier to build on that success. Raising millions from fans "is a pretty strong sign of there's demand," said Ethan Mollick, an associate professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who has studied crowdfunding, entrepreneurship and games. "And I can go to investors. And that also means that if I deliver a good game, I can go back and do, [for example] Fire Haven."
It's not a perfect system. Childres says he devotes much of his success to Kickstarter, but adds that there are "upper limits" to the size of the community on the site. While their engagement is deep, he said, it can only carry a game so far.
"When GloomHaven was published and all those people on Kickstarter got their copy [and started] raving about it, that's when it sort of was able to reach a wider audience outside of Kickstarter."
And there are drawbacks to the funding technique, too. Creators are responsible for everything if their goals are reached. They have to print the games and send them to their customers on their own a process that can be grueling, time-consuming and even detrimental. One board game creator miscalculated the amount of money it would cost to ship games and lost his house due to the unexpected financial burden.
But, for many creators, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Childres said it's hard to imagine where he might be without crowdfunding. Offering his game Forge War as an example, he said had he "somehow found the money to publish it on my own and get it into stores, I don't think anyone would have paid attention to it."
Now, he's one of the most successful hobbyist tabletop board game creators in the country.
Posted: at 3:55 am
Adventure Times: Distant Lands "BMO" - Courtesy of HBO Max
Despite all evidence of the world around them falling apart, most characters in Adventure Time: Distant Lands maintain a contagious enthusiasm. Perhaps more than any does BMO.
The first episode of the four-part HBO Max limited series Adventure Time: Distant Lands centers on the brave little robot. BMOs adventure begins with him on a ship destined to terraforming Mars. And it isnt long before BMO laughs in the face of danger, happily fixing the hole in his ship by welding a Band-Aid over it.
Soon after, he meets another robot in space, one that looks like Plankton from SpongeBob SquarePants condensed into a little ball. BMO names his new friend Olive. Olive, much to BMOs chagrin, zips the ship past its original destination and takes BMO through trippy space travel akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Eventually, BMO crashes on a troubled planet. And even though he loses an arm, he is ecstatic to meet a young rabbit scientist, whom he encourages to think up her own name. She settles on Y5.
Much like Finn the Humans parents in the original series, Y5s parents are dismissive and demeaning. They look down on Y5, and tell her to scrap BMO for parts. But BMOs contagious heroicness leads Y5 to her own coming-of-age story.
Its too simple to characterize BMO as childlike. Throughout Adventure Time, and especially in Adventure Time: Distant Lands, BMO is sanguine in the trials and tribulations of his maturity.
But BMO always makes the adult decision to heed the cry of dangers. So often does he rush into action that it takes the sound of an alarm for Y5 to realize she misses BMO.
With the help of his new friends Y5 and Olive, who plays the Jake the Dog role to BMOs Finn, BMO helps save the planet on numerous occasions. He also has incredible one-liners that make him a 21st century Adam West Batman.
He died as he lived, sucking big time, BMO says, as a villain is sucked into outer space.
And even when BMO is at the depths of despair, with his systems shut off and his hardware scattered and littered in the dangerous jungle pod, he calmly and patiently awaits the good he knows will arrive.
Adventure Times: Distant Lands BMO Courtesy of HBO Max
After helping Y5 stand up to her parents, BMO is saved by his new rabbit friend. They save the day together, and BMO only leaves the planet after the young scientist decrees that all the citizens have to learn how to get along and share the limited remaining resources after the villains took most for themselves.
BMO ponders on his ship how Y5 will probably become Mayor of the planet.
BMO ends the episode on a new, strange planet. He looks to the horizon and finds a young Finn and Jake playing outside their treehouse. Ever the optimist, BMO is excited about this new adventure.
Theres much to admire about Adventure Time: Distant Lands. Obviously, having new Adventure Time content is great. Each episode is an hour-long, even better. But retaining the story, humor, and humanity of the characters is the best.
Which Adventure Time character do you wish had their own special as part of Adventure Time: Distant Lands? Let us know in the comments below!
Adventure Time: Distant Lands Episode 1 is available now on HBO MAX.
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Posted: at 3:55 am
Starting in July the window opens when missions to Mars can be easily sent across the interplanetary gulf. If all goes well, three such missions, mounted by NASA, China and the United Arab Emirates, will depart Earth for the Red Planet. The number of missions, who is launching them and their complexity illustrate the importance Mars has for purveyors of space exploration policy.
NASA Perseverance is currently scheduled to launch somewhere between July 30 and August 15. It will land in the Jezero Crater on Mars on February 18, 2021. Perseverance will roll about the Martian landscape looking for signs of life past and present and collecting rock and soil samples for later pickup and delivery to Earth. The rover will also carry a helicopter drone that is envisioned as the first aircraft to fly in the skies of another world.
Chinas Tianwen-1 is the most complex, consisting of an orbiter, a lander and a rover. The name translates roughly to the quest for heavenly truth. The rover is much smaller than Perseverance and contains six scientific instruments. While the rover spends 90 Martian days rolling about studying Mars at close range, the orbiter will examine it from a wider perspective for about a Martian year, serving as a communication relay.
The United Arab Emirates mission is a small orbiter called Hope. Hope is scheduled to launch on a Japanese rocket and will spend 200 days cruising to Mars. The probe will enter an elliptical orbit around the Red Planet. Hope will spend at least two years studying aspects of the Martian atmosphere.
Why are so many missions being sent to Mars in a single month? The answer is different for each player.
NASAs primary mandate since its beginning has been to explore space. The space agency has been sending robot probes to Mars since the Mariner 4 in the mid-1960s. NASA also has a renewed mandate to send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit to Mars as well as other destinations. Each robotic probe that flies by, orbits or lands on Mars is a prelude to the day when Americans step out of the Mars lander and tread the face of a second alien world. The human expedition to Mars, which will stop by the moon to top off rocket fuel created by lunar water, will be a singular, historic event of this century, dwarfing the Apollo moon landing.
China is mounting an expedition to Mars to enhance its status as a major space power. Beijing envisions its space program, which includes a planned crewed space station and several robotic expeditions to the moon leading to a crewed landing, as a means to define itself as a superpower, first as a peer of the United States, but in the long term to supplant America.
The UAE, conscious that oil and gas are beginning to lose their appeal, has embarked on creating a high-tech economy. The Hope mission, the first of its kind by any Arab nation, is part of that strategy.
Every iota of data gleaned by these missions, as well as everyone past and future, will support the grandest Mars vision of all. SpaceXs Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskNASA, China and the UAE are scheduled to send missions to Mars in July Kanye tweets he's running for president How competition will make the new space race flourish MORE has made no secret of his desire to found a city on the Red Planet, thus establishing, as the space visionary Robert Zubrin has advocated, a second branch of human civilization. The idea is to spark the pioneering spirit on Earth by opening a human frontier on the fourth planet from the sun, enabling innovation and optimism that has been sorely lacking in recent years. Coincidentally, Mars would become an insurance policy for the human race, ensuring that it does not become extinct due to some calamity, such as the object that crashed into the Earth, killing the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
The ultimate dream is to use terraforming techniques to transform Mars into a habitable world, one of oceans and forests and an atmosphere that humans can breathe. Terraforming the Red Planet into a blue world would be the work of centuries. The process would restore Mars to what it once was billions of years ago, before a slow-motion calamity created the arid, chilly planet that we know today.
Musks dream, should it be fulfilled, would be as consequential as the emergence of life from the ocean to the land. It would constitute the evolution of humanity into a multi-planet species.
Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times, and the Washington Post, among other venues.