In June 2022, a rocket will launch carrying the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, a spacecraft made by the European Space Agency and Airbus. And as it hurtles through the cosmos on its mission to study Jupiter’s moons, it will carry with it the blessing of…Sonic the Hedgehog.
One of the instruments onboard was developed in Japan by Tohoku University, who wanted Sonic as the mascot for one of the mission’s principal tests—a Radio & Plasma Wave Investigation, or RPWI—and got Sega’s blessing.
I’m going to assume that this test involves some kind of probe that wiggles, otherwise that logo is going to take some explaining.
The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or JUICE, is scheduled to arrive at Jupiter in 2029, where it will perform tests on three of the planet’s moons—Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa—to see if any of them are habitable, since they’re believed to each contain large bodies of water.
Once JUICE is out of fuel, it’s designed to “deorbit” and crash into the surface of Ganymede in 2034.
On Monday evening SpaceX will attempt the Falcon Heavy’s “most difficult launch ever,” its first nighttime launch for the vessel which will be ferrying multiple satellites into orbit.
Also on board will be the Lightsail 2, a crowd-funded solar-sail test mission that’s currently been promoted by Bill Nye. The spacecraft will be the first to be propelled solely by sunlight. The Japanese spacecraft Ikaros previously used a solar sail, but Lightsail will be the first to run exclusively on solar technology. I’ll let Bill explain it:
Additionally, the Falcon Heavy will also be bringing a Deep Space Atomic Clock into the orbit which can potentially be used to help future spacecraft navigate to destinations far away.
If you want to watch all the action, you’ll need to stay up late. The Falcon Heavy’s launch is expected to take place at 11:30pm ET/8:30pm PT. A livestream of the event will be on NASA’s website as well as it’s You Tube channel (embedded below).
If you miss it, you’ll also be able to catch a recording of the event on NASA’s YouTube channel later in the week.
Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.
July marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission which successfully landed two astronauts on the moon, and Lego is one of countless companies hoping to cash in on the accomplishment with a new 1,087-piece set that recreates the Lunar Lander with an impressive amount of detailing. But I’m a little disappointed the included Lego minifigures look like astronauts transplanted from a futuristic sci-fi movie.
Officially available starting June 1 for $100, the set includes the Apollo 11 Eagle lunar module with detachable ascent and descent stages so you can recreate the historic mission again and again. But for those times when you’re not procrastinating at work, the set also serves as a desk-friendly collectible allowing you to perch and display the lunar lander on an included replica of the moon’s surface—complete with craters, footprints, and a US flag.
There’s a respectable level of detail here for what is technically a children’s building toy, and Lego has even gone to the trouble of creating special gold versions of several parts so that the Lunar Lander set looks as accurate as possible. You won’t be fooling anyone if you try to use the model to snap fake moon landing photos, but for $100 it also doesn’t require you to break out the hobby knives, glue, or paint.
What’s disappointing, however, are the tiny spacesuits worn by the set’s astronaut minifigures. They’re the same spacesuit helmets used in other Lego sets, including a series of futuristic Mars-based playsets also released today. The included Apollo 11 minifigures are slightly different, but the set would have felt even more authentic had Lego gone the extra mile and created custom minifigure astronauts with spacesuits that more closely resembled what the real Apollo-era astronauts wore. The company churns out hundreds of new minifigures every year across its various sets and collectible series, so a retro spacesuit doesn’t seem like too egregious a request.
What space is not, and will never be, is the key to saving our species.
And yet that assertion—that we need to venture boldly into the final frontier to save humanity and perhaps Earth itself—has become prevailing dogma among a certain cohort of cosmically minded tech bros. In 2016, Elon Musk unveiled his vision to establish a permanent human presence on Mars, describing the project of making humanity a “multi-planetary species” as the best and only way to hedge our bets against extinction. Last night, Jeff Bezos took that line of thinking even further in a 50-minute speech ostensibly intended to announce Blue Origin’s new lunar lander. In reality, the speech was a sweeping overview of Bezos’ vision to liberate humanity from the shackles of the Blue Marble’s finite resources.
“For all of human history the Earth has felt big to us,” Bezos tells the assembled audience. “That’s not true anymore. The Earth is no longer big. Humanity is big. It seems big to us, but it’s finite.”
After quickly dispensing of poverty, hunger, homelessness, pollution, and overfishing as “urgent immediate problems” Bezos lets the crowd in on the real crisis facing humanity.
“A very fundamental long-range problem is that we will run out of energy on Earth,” Bezos said. “We don’t want to stop using energy, but it is unsustainable.” According to Bezos, the only way to prevent us from eventually having to cover “the entire surface of the Earth in solar cells” is to strike out beyond our home world.
“If we move out into the solar system, for all practical purposes we have unlimited resources,” Bezos said, explaining that we could have “a trillion humans” including “a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins.” As if boosting the human population two orders of magnitude wasn’t ambitious enough, Bezos then proceeded to suggest we do so by stuffing people by the millions into spinning void cities—also known as O’Neill cylinders—in which we’ll have cities, crops, and recreated national parks. Presumably, a benevolent corporation will ensure a continuous supply of air.
Earth, the Amazon man says, will end up zoned “residential and light industry” while all the damaging industries will move beyond our planet’s blue sheen.
“We get to have both,” Bezos said. Earth will be preserved for future generations, but humanity won’t have to give up “a future of dynamism and growth.”
Look, I get it. This all sounds very exciting, and there’s nothing a Silicon Valley billionaire likes more than bloviating a little techno-optimism. But aren’t we maybe getting ahead of ourselves, just a little bit here? Shouldn’t we try to, you know, figure out how to live sustainably on the one and only planet that supports human life before thinking about how to recreate a million pocket-sized versions in a cold, dark void?
Bezos hand-waves a lot of 21st-century problems away, but these are real crises facing real humans right now. If we don’t get runaway climate change under control and figure out how to prevent a million species from going extinct there is a very real chance we’ll never come close to maxing out Earth’s “finite resources,” because, you know, we’ll all be dead.
And frankly, we are nowhere close to using up Earth’s resources. Bezos acknowledges as much in his speech when he casually observes that we could transform all of Nevada into a solar farm and power the entire human enterprise off of it. The U.S. Department of Energy has calculated there’s enough energy blowing in the wind off American coastlines to more than power every U.S. home. The rare earth metals we’re mining to support the energy transition are abundant in Earth’s crust, and while we can currently only access small pockets of them, developing new sources on Earth or engineering our technology to use them more efficiently are both far more reasonable solutions than harvesting the same metals from Saturn’s rings. We could put a fraction of the resources needed to develop O’Neill cylinders into a robust fusion energy program, and in a century or so we might be powering entire cities off seawater.
And lest we forget, the most critical and finite resource of all is found here on Earth and nowhere else: biodiversity. We cannot exist without the intricate and delicate web of life our species is part and parcel of—the trillions of microorganisms that sustain and cycle nutrients through the soil and sea, the plants that produce our oxygen and nourish us, the countless species from which we’ve developed new pharmaceuticals or drawn inspiration for new technologies. We have not figured out how to prevent a sizable fraction of that utterly irreplaceable biodiversity from slipping away right here on Earth, and we want to try and re-engineer it from the ground up in a vacuum?
Our species is currently playing God on easy mode, and we are failing. Untethering ourselves from a planet with abundant water and oxygen that sits right in the Goldilocks zone of our solar system does not make things easier—it makes them way fucking harder.
One thing Jeff Bezos and I have in common is that we both love the The Expanse, a science-fiction series set a few centuries into the future in which humans have spread across the solar system. Millions live on Mars, which is in the process of an intergeneration terraforming project, and countless small colonies are scattered throughout the asteroid belt. The show is great, but I suspect we have somewhat different takes on its core message. I imagine that, in the show, Bezos sees a template for humanity freeing itself by permanently escaping Earth’s gravity well. I see humans struggling to survive on a hostile frontier, their bodies changing in unpredictable and dangerous ways, just a steel hull and a few square feet of air away from a painful death in a cold, dark vacuum.
We might expand beyond Earth one day, and that would be incredibly exciting. But this planet will always be our home. And we need to figure out how to keep it habitable before we think about venturing elsewhere.
Monday night the Lyrid’s meteor shower is going to light up the night’s sky. The meteor shower actually runs for 10 days from April 16-26th, but its peak is April 22-23rd.
Lyrid meteors are pieces of the Comet Thatcher, which is a comet that orbits the sun once every 415 years. The shower won’t be as bright as the Persid meteor shower last year, but should still be quite a show.
The shower’s stand out feature is the bright trails that are left behind by each shooting star. Around 20 are expected each hour Monday night, although in some cases you might be able to see up to 100 during a 60-minute period.
As for when you can catch them, while they’ll be going on all night long the best time is around 11pm ET on Monday evening. You’ll also stand a good chance of being able to see some on the evenings of the 23rd and 24th as well.
The best way to catch the show, like with most space-related events, is to try and find a place away from city lights where you can get a good unobstructed view of the night sky without lights or anything else in your way.
Imagine looking into the calm night sky and, in the foreground of a galaxy of shimmering stars, seeing a confrontational space advertisement demanding justice for gamers. Last weekend, the website Futurism reported that PepsiCo recently considered launching an “orbital billboard” in space to promote its campaign “against stereotypes and unjustified prejudices against gamers.”
The Russian company StartRocket, which claims it can launch “orbital displays” into space at a 250-mile altitude, is behind this bizarre and invasive foray into space capitalism. Apparently, it will use 30-foot satellite sails as “pixels.” It is unclear how StartRocket gets funding or whether it is regurgitated science fiction goop wrapped up in an investor flypaper. (StartRocket did not return Kotaku’s request for comment by press time.)
PepsiCo reportedly would use StartRocket’s tech to launch an ad for Adrenaline Rush, an energy drink aimed at the Russian gamer market. A recent YouTube “manifesto”—PepsiCo’s words, not ours—about the product combats the idea that video games are for children, calling that “the most unfair stereotype of the century.” A press release for Adrenaline Rush explains that “the time has come for change: It’s time to say ‘Stop’ to the disrespect and misunderstanding of gaming culture, to get rid of unfair stereotypes.” The stereotypes in question, apparently, are that gamers are toxic, unemployed children.
Curious and a little (read: extremely) skeptical of the prospect of space billboards existing outside of the anime Cowboy Bebop, Kotaku reached out to PepsiCo to confirm that this is real. It is, the company explained, but their so-called “exploratory test” was a “one-time event.”