Today (November 14) is the forty-sixth anniversary of Mariner 9 achieving orbit around Mars, the first time a human-made object orbited another planet. Though a worldwide dust storm obscured the planet for a month, the probe eventually took 7,329 pictures and imaged over eighty percent of the surface.
More than sixty-seven years later, an expedition led by Conn Garrow became the first to land humans successfully on the surface of the Red Planet. To celebrate Mariner 9’s historic anniversary, you can read all about that expedition in Girl on Mars for only 99 cents in the Kindle Store, today only!
Some of my readers might consider this a better deal than they’re getting down here lately.
Last year, Russian scientist Igor Ashurbeyli announced the formation of Asgardia — a new virtual nation that will ultimately exist entirely in space. Since its debut, Asgardia has attracted over 300,000 registrants, created a constitution and, as of this Sunday, launched itself — all 0.5 TB of it — into space.
A small satellite called Asgardia-1 was loaded on board the Cygnus spacecraft and launched by the Orbital ATK Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility Sunday morning. The satellite contains Asgardia’s constitution, its national symbols and personally selected data from each of the nation’s citizens. “Asgardia-1 may look like many other satellites orbiting Earth, but it is the only one in the whole world which represents a new territory,” Ashurbeyli said in a statement. “Asgardia-1 took all of the nation’s essence to space: its Constitution, its national symbols, and all of the Asgardian citizens – virtually.”
At the Kingdom’s website you can apply for citizenship, and even (once successful) nominate yourself for the virtual nation’s parliament. As I type there are 114,746 citizens of Asgardia, which the Kingdom says makes it the 174th most-populous human nation.
The executive secretary of the National Space Council, Scott Pace, has some interesting, even troubling, ideas about who owns commercial space vehicles.
“Heavy-lift rockets are strategic national assets, like aircraft carriers,” Pace said. “There are some people who have talked about buying heavy-lift as a service as opposed to owning and operating, in which case the government would, of course, have to continue to own the intellectual properties so it wasn’t hostage to any one contractor. One could imagine this but, in general, building a heavy-lift rocket is no more ‘commercial’ than building an aircraft carrier with private contractors would be.”
You don’t have to wade too far into the comments before someone hits on why heavy-lift rockets are not aircraft carriers: aircraft carriers are custom-built to the specifications of one “customer,” and there are no commercial applications for them. But that sets to the side the issue that Pace is arguing that the government either owns the “assets” or else must own the “intellectual properties” [sic] and, I don’t know, license it/them to private contractors under its essentially unilateral terms and conditions. It doesn’t work that way.
I got my Girl on Mars paperbacks! I proofed them online, so this was the first time I’d been able to hold one in my hands. It’s a good feeling. The book is 301 pages and it complements Girl on the Moon well. Print-on-demand paperbacks can be purchased on Amazon and directly from Createspace. If you do buy from Amazon you’ll get a free Kindle copy with your purchase.
I guest-posted at SFFWorld today with a suggested canon of the most important and influential science fiction and science fantasy about Mars and Martians. Excerpt:
It’s not Mars that changes, but rather us, in Frederick Pohl’s seminal Man Plus (1976). To survive on Mars we have to “upgrade” and become monsters, something barely recognizable as human, because as Mariner 4 and its progeny established, Mars is utterly inhospitable to life as we know it. The big and obvious question: how Martian can we get and still be human?
D.G. Compton appreciated the inhospitable nature of Mars early, in Farewell, Earth’s Bliss (1966). Convicts are exiled to a penal colony on the red planet, where they have essentially been sentenced to life in utter isolation. Character-rich and light on action, Compton’s novel is among the first to really look inward from the vantage point of an utterly alien fourth planet.
Graphic by Les Edwards
From 1988-1993, Melissa Etheridge put out four LPs, three of which were masterpieces. Her self-titled debut is the kind of album you’d come up with if you were Melissa Etheridge and you had 20 years of unreleased songs to choose from. Every track is solid and rocks hard. Her fourth album, Yes I Am, has a maturity you’d only realize was lacking in Melissa Etheridge once you heard Yes I Am. It includes three great songs: “I’m the Only One,” “Come to My Window,” and probably her best track, “I Will Never Be the Same,” four if you’re generous and include “Yes I Am,” but it also includes some duds.
Her sophomore album, Brave and Crazy, is one of my favorite records ever. There’s not a drop in song quality from the “Hello, hello” of “No Souvenirs” to the raucous harmonica that plays out “Royal Station 4/16.” It’s cohesive in a way that Melissa Etheridge isn’t–the latter feels more like a greatest hits album than Brave and Crazy does, because that’s really what Melissa Etheridge was, probably, a twenty-year (I’m making the number up) retrospective on the artist’s pre-record-deal career. Brave and Crazy has an energy borne of confidence and buoyed by success but isn’t weighed down by years and years as a Major Recording Artist spoiled and made cynical by the hitmaking grind. A great rock and roll record turns you on, makes you joyful and angry and contemplative and excited and lets it all pour out of you like water from a faucet. That’s what Brave and Crazy does.
Fifteen years ago tonight, as I write this (on October 30), Warren Zevon made his last appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. It was a valedictory, as Zevon had been diagnosed with fatal peritoneal mesothelioma. He died in September, 2003 after conceiving, writing, and recording his final album, The Wind.
The Letterman show was devoted entirely to Zevon, who played “Mutineer,” “Genius,” and Dave’s favorite, “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” with plenty of banter, memories, jokes, and poignant moments in-between.
Then came the kicker. Letterman asked Zevon how the diagnosis had shaped his life over the past several months. “You put more value in every minute,” he noted. “It’s more valuable now. You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich.”
Enjoy every sandwich.