Meteorite-infused water is being used to create human-alien hybrids

Human-alien Hybrids

Human-alien hybrids have been a staple of space-faring science fiction for a long time now. Star Trek, the main pioneer of the genre, already talked a lot about it since the beginning, with its iconic character Spock being himself half-human and half-Vulcan. As the genre expanded, other kinds of half-aliens appeared, not only from human/alien parents, but also from infections, parasites, and genetic engineering.

Of course, right now we don’t have the technology to do any kind of large-scale genetic engineering to merge two wildly different DNAs, nor do we have access to any alien DNA to do this kind of modification and create hybrids. Still, a small village in Southern Italy claims to be creating them by using meteorite-infused water. How does this work? Check it out:

Meet Jonathon Keats

Jonathon Keats is an experimental philosopher. That means that not only he reflects about our world, but he also makes experiments that make us reflect about it too. And they tend to be pretty entertaining in their own right.

For example, in 2003 he copyrighted his own mind, arguing that it was a work of art he had created by the very act of thinking. That was his way of increasing his longevity, because a copyrighted work remains a property of the author up to 70 years after their death. So, if his mind was still being used after his death by a third party (by licensing the work), he’d outlive his own body, because “I think, therefore I am.”

In 2006, he took advantage of the possibility of the universe being composed of more than three dimensions (according to string theory) in order to sell real estate based on those other dimensions, even designing a four-dimensional “tesseract” vacation home. During the first day of sales he managed to sell 172 lots.

In 2010 he created his own space agency, the Local Air and Space Administration (LASA), in order to carry out his own space exploration, as NASA wasn’t doing that at the time. As he doesn’t have many resources available, he decided to do his own space exploration here on Earth, by simulating the lunar and martian soil using pulverized meteorites. His first astronauts were potatoes he grew on that soil, which explored the alien terrain “by osmosis”. And because they ingested alien minerals, that made them “alien hybrids”.

So, what are these human-alien hybrids?

The last paragraph of the previous sections may have given you a clue.

In partnership with the Italian village of Fontecchio, Keats has placed some meteorites on a hillside close to the village. When it rains, the water partially dissolves those meteorites and carries its minerals to the groundwater, which in turn goes into the village’s water supply and, especially, to a fountain in the village, dubbed now a Fountain of Tolerance.

By his reasoning, when drinking water that contains alien minerals, we become partially alien ourselves, hence “human-alien hybrids”. So, this isn’t exactly the kind of sci-fi stuff you’d expect. Far from it actually, it’s something metaphorical.

Going in line with Keats’s experimental philosophy, this is a way of making us reflect on what it means to be human and what it means to be non-human. The project invites people to have a drink and think about how easy it is to become “less human”, by having alien minerals replace earthly minerals, and how that doesn’t change who are in the slightest. It’s a “perspective shift”, as described by Keats himself, in order to makes us reflect about xenophobia and prejudice in general. Hence “Fountain of Tolerance”.

Still, as he himself also said, we also don’t really need to go to Italy in order to become human-alien hybrids. The planet absorbs around 5000 tons of alien dust each year, which everyday finds its way into our lungs, meaning we already have alien minerals in our veins, and consequently all of us already are human-alien hybrids.

Not exactly what we’d expect, but an interesting little thought experiment.

Augmented Reality NFTs and how Atari founder is behind it

NFTs have been one of the most successful blockchain-powered technologies of the last few years. While Bitcoin is still the main cryptocurrency and becoming a bit of a household name by now, Ethereum has solidified itself as the main environment for blockchain technology and innovation. NFTs are just the tip of the iceberg, and an important one at that, bringing more creative initiatives, from artworks to entire games, into the heart of the crypto world.

With this entirely new world to explore, it’s no surprise that more daring entrepreneurs would be willing to venture into it and find out with this new market has to offer. This time it’s Atari’s founder, Nolan Bushnell, who is developing innovative NFTs. Check it out.

Atari is delving into the blockchain

Bushnell is not alone in this. Recently, Atari, the company that created the first arcades and video games, has created a new company division, Atari Blockchain, dedicated to making blockchain content and technology, headed by Atari’s (now Atari Gaming) former CEO, Fred Chesnais.

When Chesnais had first become Atari’s CEO, he was given the arduous challenge of giving new life to a company which had long been outshined in the gaming world, was seen more as a relic of the past, and consequently had gotten into numerous debts. They were nearly bankrupt, and needed a miracle to take them out of it. Chesnais was that miracle. And crypto was a part of it.

Atari is going deep into the blockchain, creating games that take advantage of the blockchain’s inherent connection to cryptocurrency, such as Decentraland, a 3D environment made in partnership with Decentra Games, as well as Atari Casino, it’s own crypto-based online casino, which lives within Decentraland. And now they also have their own coin, Atari Token.

Bushnell’s project

While Bushnell is not ahead of Atari anymore, he never stopped working and innovating. He has been responsible for creating companies such as Modal VR, which creates large-scale VR environments, Anti-Aging Games, which creates games that help prevent brain aging (by training memory, concentration, among others), and BrainRush, a developer of educational games.

With his new project, however, he’s now looking back a bit, into the beginnings of Atari. The augmented reality NFTs he’s developing in partnership with VFX veteran Zai Ortiz bring to life the past successes of the company.

They consist of realistic 3D renderings of the old arcade consoles that Atari used to develop, remaining true to their style from those times, and bringing with them the old games they used to house. And they’ll be playable! Being AR, you can just put it on your phone and render it whenever you like, be it in your living room or in the middle of the street.

This collection, called “The Arcade OG Series”, consists of five different NFT collectibles, each of them featuring an unique arcade design, with the auctions beginning on 12 October in NFT platform Makerspace, some of them being unique, while others featuring multiple copies. And some of them also come with other, real life bonuses. One grants you a trip to Two Bit Circus in Los Angeles, along with Bushnell himself, and another will also get you an original Atari 2600, still in its unopened box, signed by Bushnell. This is the perfect collection for video-game enthusiasts and people that lived in those early days of gaming. It’s no wonder that one of the NFTs, a red Pong arcade, has as of writing a bid of 18 ETH (about 70 thousand dollars).

Of course, Bushnell doesn’t intend to stop there, and intends to bring about some more innovative NFTs soon. And so does Atari. Maybe we will see some other NFTs like those in the near future too, as Atari has a wide portfolio of classic games and hardware that still feed people’s nostalgia.

China is Creating a 1 km Long Spaceship

Biggest Spaceship In History

Yes, you read that right. A one kilometer long spaceship. If you’re more used to the American imperial units, that’s about 0.6 miles. For comparison, that is bigger than any of the Enterprise ships in Star Trek,  and more than half the size of the classic Star Destroyers from the original trilogy of Star Wars. This spaceship is pretty big even for science fiction standards.

China has been investing heavily in developing aerospace technology and technology in general for some time now, and this has already led to the creation of companies and products that manage to rival American, European, Japanese and Korean ones. In matters of space exploration, they have already put satellites into orbit and have been working on creating their own space station, the Tiangong, but the news about this huge spaceship has come as a surprise to everyone, considering that even the US wouldn’t dream of it nowadays.

Let’s see what this is all about.

The Spaceship is a Long-Term Project

Information on the spaceship came from a research outline released by the Chinese government, defining the construction of spaceships of that size as a future objective and beginning a feasibility study that should last about five years.

While with today’s technology building that spaceship would be pretty challenging, the Chinese government aims to direct research towards making them more feasible, such as by developing new kinds of materials and improving manufacturing process and engineering technology so they would be cheaper to build while also being more durable.

Still, the fact that this is actually being researched means that it is likely to become reality.

The possibilities

But, how would it be possible to build a spaceship that big?

To build it, the clear answer is of course to just build it here on Earth. It’s much easier to haul equipment from one place to another, you have a lot of workforce available and it’s much cheaper. The problem however would be to launch it: a spaceship that big would have to handle a lot of drag while leaving the atmosphere, which would not be feasible at all. It would require huge amounts of fuel just to do that, meaning room and materials that would likely be unused when in space.

The other option would then be to build it in space, Star Trek style. While we don’t have anything nearly as big as the franchise’s Utopia Planitia Mars shipyard, the spaceship could be built over the course of years by hauling equipment, materials and people back and forth, something which could be streamlined with the help of new technologies such as 3D printing.

China’s Tiangong could help with that, but something like a Moon base would make it much easier to store supplies and house more people, so that less trips would be needed. However, we’re still a bit far away from that right now.

Challenges to overcome

And, of course, even if it’s possible to build the ship, there are also many challenges involved in making it actually work.

First, there is radiation. While a 1 km long spaceship could house a lot of people, that won’t matter if they constantly have to deal with radiation poisoning. The farther away you are from Earth’s atmosphere, the greater the radiation is. That means a lot of materials spent just on radiation shielding.

Another problem is orbits. While Star Trek makes it look easy, keeping a spaceship or space station in orbit is pretty difficult, because the orbit is never perfect. Even the Moon is slowly moving away from us. You have to keep adjusting your speed in order to make sure you stay in orbit. And the more mass you have, the more fuel you need in order to change your speed. And a 1 km long spaceship is going to have a huge amount of mass.

With this length, even vibrations would be a pretty big problem. A thruster fired on the front of a spaceship that long could make it shake from side to side as if it were a piece of wire. This also means that it’s necessary to invest in new kinds of dampening techniques so that future spaceships don’t become a giant rattle with humans inside. Maybe Star Trek’s “inertia dampeners” aren’t too far off.

Still, this is thrilling news, as this kind of research is bound to bring us many new kinds of technology, even if not related to the aerospace field.

Is the Race to the Moon being turned into a legal battle between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos?

Internal Space Race

Not only is the US deep into another space race, competing against China for a stake in Mars and the Moon, but inside the US there is also a space race within the recently developed private sector of space exploration. This, of course, is to be expected: as multiple private companies are competing for investor money and looking into creating a market for space tourism and colonization, they’ll also be competing for milestones, such as being the first to reach the Moon, Mars, to land people on them, these kinds of things.

However, with the stakes being high and nerves to their limits, the  peaceful technological competition can sometimes escalate into other kinds of conflicts. This time, fortunately, it’s not a full-scale war, but an important legal battle between the two main competitors: Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Let’s see what’s going on.

NASA technology

If you’ve been following the news on the space race, you probably know where all their technology came from. Unlike the first space race, the current contenders from the American side didn’t start from the ground up. Instead, they got a huge kick start by getting a lot of their technology from NASA and other aerospace companies, in the form of patents that expired, became public domain or were licensed, collaborations, as well as former and current NASA engineers.

And the reason is obvious: no need to reinvent the wheel. The US government has been investing into private space exploration and this is one of the ways that they do that, even while NASA is doing its own space exploration and research.

The dispute

However, as there are multiple companies involved in the race, sometimes the US government has to choose only one among them.

This time, NASA had to pick a company to partner with in order to develop new Moon landers, to send people to the moon for the first time since 1972. SpaceX and Blue Origin were competing for this contract for months, and in the end NASA picked SpaceX. After the decision, Blue Origin contested it, and upon hearing a “no” again, they sued.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time that they got into this kind of dispute. Back in 2013 they already clashed publicly over the exclusive use of a NASA launch pad, in which NASA also opted for SpaceX. Not soon after they also clashed over rights to a patent for landing rockets on the ocean, in which SpaceX was once again favored, and Blue Origin contested and lost.

SpaceX started first, so it’s no surprise that they’d end up being favored in these contracts. Still, Blue Origin has also been striving to catch up, and their newly-unveiled space tourism initiative may bring them some new life and turn the tides for them.

Outcomes

Right now, the organizations involved are locked in the dispute. Because the decision is being contested and the case is currently being analyzed by the Court of Federal Claims, NASA has halted all work on the project, meaning SpaceX did too, from the day the legal action started (19 August) until 1 November. Not to mention that it led to some funny Twitter discussions, in classic Musk style.

Of course, this is merely a setback. After the matter ends, research and development will continue as usual, whatever results might be. If the previous battles are any indication, it’s likely that SpaceX will come out victorious once again, but we’ll have to wait and see, as details on the case are being kept private.

Hopefully this doesn’t become a habit. While legal action is important to maintain fair ground among the companies, it should not get in the way of technological development, nor be used as a way to halt competition. With any luck the decisions coming from this will be able to calm the nerves of the parties involved.

Quantum Computing Supremacy

Quantum supremacy and what it means

Chinese researchers were recently able to confirm Quantum Supremacy. Do you know what it is? Other than a really badass name, it is also the name given to the theory that quantum computing is incredibly more powerful than regular binary computing, such that it is able to complete in a reasonable time a task that even the most powerful computers we have would take millennia to do.

They took a new approach to quantum computing, manipulating photons (that is, particles of light), instead of relying on superconductors (as they need to be kept super frozen). The computer they created, the Jiuzhang, was able to complete in just a few minutes something which the Fugaku, which is currently the fastest supercomputer in the world, would take 600 million years to solve.

This beats Google’s previous record, which used superconductors to calculate in about 200 seconds what a million-core supercomputer would need 10,000 years to calculate. For comparison, the Fugaku has about 800,000 cores.

So, what does this mean?

Approaching quantum computing

Yes, it means we are getting closer to getting a full-blown quantum computer. Even though those results were amazing, they all came from prototypes. We still do not have anything completely usable, much less for domestic use.

Quantum computing will probably follow the evolution of its binary counterpart: it will start as a substitute for quantum computers, used by researchers and companies to do very complex calculations, such as astronomical and meteorological simulations, and will become progressively smaller, entering big companies, server farms, and finally small companies and people’s homes. Doing all that may take some time.

The main challenge is reaching high-fidelity computations. We still haven’t quite got the hang of quantum mechanics, much less the technology to handle it properly and precisely, so the algorithms that exploit the superposition of qubits (that is, quantum bits) can sometimes not generate the correct results. It is a very delicate and difficult process.

With increasing research on both technology (that is, creating better equipment) and theory (creating fault-tolerant algorithms), that will be overcome in the near future.

Solving very difficult problems

With breakthroughs like this one, it seems that the “P=NP” discussion may stop being relevant. This is a theory from computer science that problems that are very hard to solve (such as figuring out a path to place) may actually have a much more straightforward algorithm to solve them.

With quantum computing, a problem would need to be impossibly big for it to be impossible to solve within our lifetime. Algorithm optimization may well becoming a thing of the past, unless our computation needs become exponentially greater with time. But just the same, science and technology will advance at a exponentially faster pace thanks to it, so they may very well be able to keep up.

Cryptography

But, not all good news are entirely good. If you are putting your hopes on current cryptocurrencies, it is a good idea to keep an eye out for when quantum computers become a reality.

Even though quantum cryptography is theorized to be virtually unbreakable (thanks to quantum tricks such as superposition), all of the current cryptography technology relies on the fact that current computers would take centuries to break them. Meanwhile, for quantum computer they are a piece of cake. So, we may end up with a “crypto-bubble” as internet security technologies adapt to this new computing technology. Hopefully a transitioning strategy will be put in place to prevent people from exploiting it.

However, current cryptocurrencies will have a hard time. As they are independent initiatives, maintained by volunteers, and government agencies aren’t really interested in keeping them alive, they may face problems as people with access to quantum computing become able to break its cryptography and hashing, and mine thousands of coins in seconds.

Just the same, quantum cryptocurrencies will rise from their ashes, and early adopters of the technology will be the first ones to profit from it. And they will prove to be even safer than the current ones. Survival of the fittest, as always.

USA Space Policy

New Cold War, New Space Race

If you have been half following the news the last few years, you may have noticed the US’s growing attrition with China. What used to be a very profitable outsourcing partnership quickly developed into one of the US’s greatest fears, and Trump’s America First policy set out to try to stop it in its tracks, unsuccessfully.

What we didn’t really expect, however, was that this economic war would also develop into a space race, much like the Cold War’s. It is logical, though: China is growing into a technological power, as Huawei’s ever expanding 5G technology clearly shows, and the country is also aiming for the stars.

Paradigm shift

Of course, although this space race is similar to the last one, in that it is a technological race, it also has many very prominent differences.

The main one is that the government agencies aren’t the main players here. NASA is not at the forefront of technological development anymore but has been delegated to mostly astronomical research. That is, developing and launching probes and satellites and sending manned research missions into the ISS.

The main players in the US are now private companies, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, which receive a lot of private and public investment and have been very successful.

In China, however, the government is still on the forefront, mainly with the China National Space Agency (CNSA) and China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO), in partnership with many universities.

Although compared to the US, the Chinese space program is still in its infancy, the US has greater ambitions.

Command and conquer

During his term, Trump slowly increased his focus on space. While he initially just followed Obama’s last policies, at the end of his term he had created the United States Space Force increased focus on space research, and set the goals of creating a base of operations on the Moon, with a “permanent human presence”, and doing a manned mission to Mars.

While current international laws prohibit nations from considering celestial bodies or parts of them as their territory, this is something that may change by force, should the US actually develop a military presence in space. At least for now, it aims to do missions with commercial ends, such as extraction of raw materials, especially on the moon. But, of course, as the technology develops and the attrition goes on, priorities may change.

Cooperation

Another interesting aspect of the current space policy, and which gives even more “cold war” vibes, is that the US is aiming to create partnerships with similar-minded nations in order to strengthen their space program. The National Space Policy document explicitly states that such partnerships will be done with “like-minded international and private partners”. The world is slowly dividing into a “US-bloc” and a “China-bloc”, and space is the most likely battlefield for now.

This seems to be one of the ways the US has found to try to curb a bit China’s economic expansion, such as the partnerships with African countries, the Belt and Road Initiative (which has partners in all continents other than North America) and Huawei’s 5G expansion. These partnerships can be a way into getting access to advanced aerospace technology, and many nations may be interested in it, especially developed nations.

A new era for the US and the world

More than a new space race, for the US this new space policy is basically a reinterpretation of the old Manifest Destiny: America is putting its own territorial and economic interests ahead of everything else, and that means being the first to go into the final frontier and reap all of the benefits which that brings.

Meanwhile, here on Earth, we will be reaping all the benefits of that technological leap in the next few decades, just like before. The first space race gave us the internet, the GPS, and many other technological marvels that we use every day. Now, in the era of Industry 4.0, who knows what will happen.

Militarization of Space

US Space Force: what is the point?

It is no secret to anyone that our space exploration technology isn’t anywhere near “Star Trek” level. It is not even near “The Expanse” level. We still have a lot of trouble getting out of our atmosphere, it takes months or years to go from a planet to the other, and we don’t even have a  space station with ship-building capabilities.

But just the same, in 2019 Trump turned the Air Force’s Space Command into its own branch of the military, the United States Space Force. We humans certainly don’t have the technology to go around shooting lasers at space pirates, so what does it do? Do its officers just sit and wait for the technology to come? Is it even more “chair force” than the Air Force?

Well, let’s take a look.

Military intelligence and Counter-Intelligence

Do they sit around waiting for aliens to come by? No. At least not only that. While military spacecraft aren’t a reality yet, satellites are very real and can brings many problems.

Namely, it is important to keep track of satellites that are nearing their end of life or have stopped working, to find out if they may fall into American territory. Also, using satellites for espionage is also very possible, and considering the US’s recent conflicts with China, this is something to keep an eye on.

The Space Force also has to be ready in case someone launches an ICBM (that is, an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, notably the nuclear variety). These kinds of missiles are sent beyond the atmosphere, where they travel until they get near the desired target and then fall straight down. Monitoring its path may aid in evacuating locations and maybe even destroying it mid-flight. Of course, in this case they are keeping an eye on North Korea.

Research partnerships

Even though there are no military space crafts yet, that doesn’t mean they won’t exist. For 2021, two thirds of the Space Force budget (10 billion dollars) will be directed to research. Current research policy consists mostly of partnerships with private companies which invest in the aerospace and military fields, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and of course Lockheed Martin. NASA is also part of it, but they have more of a symbiotic relationship, similar to NASA’s relationship with those same companies, especially by providing space training, as NASA is mainly a scientific agency.

These partnerships with private companies seem to be mostly based on prospecting and buying suitable crafts and equipment from those companies which could further the Force’s objectives, in a similar way to the branches’ practice of having private contractors to supply them with equipment, vehicles and aircraft. It may seem weird for those of us which grew up hearing so much about NASA and its pioneering technologies to hear about private space exploration, but that seems to be the trend for the near future and the Military is going to take advantage of it if they can.

The future

We’re probably not going to hear very much from them in the near future. How the Space Force is going to shape itself will depend heavily on the advances from both NASA and private companies, and until then, their work will be mostly intelligence- and defense-based. Not really exciting stuff.

However, the results from such partnerships seem to be already taking shape in some way. Not long ago there were news that SpaceX had teamed with the US Military to develop a rocket capable of delivering weapons in less than an hour to any place in the world. Seems very sci-fi-esque, but considering SpaceX’s advances in the field, that is not unlikely.

For the short term, US Space Force’s action will mostly focus on our own planet, but there will come a time when they will be able to aim for the stars.

Space Exploration – Enter the Interplanetary Superhighway

I’m on a Highway to Rigel

The hardest part of going out into space to discover and explore other planets are the very planets themselves. You may have read about how fuel is always a problem for those kinds of missions: you need a lot of it just to get out of the atmosphere, and the some more to steer around in space and reach your destination. Which means a lot of weight, which means you need more fuel, and so on.

The careful reader may notice a problem: in space there is no gravity, and other non-gaseous planets barely have an atmosphere. Why would fuel be a problem? The thing is: space actually has lots of gravity. Because the sun, nearby planets and asteroids, and big planets like Jupiter have a pretty wide and strong gravity well. So you have to use fuel to counteract that.

But what if we could use regions of space where those forces cancel each other out?

Enter the Interplanetary Superhighway

These “space highways” are some things we know for some decades now. They are regions of space where gravitational forces cancel each other, so any object in them won’t need fuel to maintain their velocity.

Many asteroids and bits of space dust are found in some such regions, especially the ones called “Lagrange points”, special points created by the interaction of a star and a planet. Four each pair, there are five Lagrange points. When you mix in lots of other planets and celestial bodies, things get more complex, but also more useful, as that’s how the highway came to be.

Didn’t the Voyagers use something like that?

Unfortunately, no they didn’t. The Voyagers took advantage of the alignment of the planets beyond the asteroid belt in order to get “slingshotted” from our system. Whenever they passed near the orbit of one of those planets, they got a speed boost, but as soon as they left them they got slowed down by the gravitational effects, as you can see in the picture below. If they had entered the highway, they wouldn’t be slowed down at all.


Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_program

The first time one of our spacecrafts took advantage of the highway was in 1978, one year after the launch of the Voyagers, and mostly just to test the Lagrange points. By then we already had a rough way to figure out those highways, but they still aren’t being used a lot.

So what’s new?

The news is: we discovered an even better highway. The other one was pretty complicated and involved many twists and turns. This new one used the latest advances in this field and took advantage of the more powerful computers of today to figure out even better routes. The scientists involved estimate that they can be used to go from Jupiter to Neptune in less than decade.

Didn’t the Voyagers take about a decade to go through the same distance? Yes, they did, but they took advantage of the alignment of planets to do so, and that is something that won’t happen everyday. The thing about these space highways is that they are reliable, that is, no matter the position of the planets, there will always be a path of least resistance that the craft can use.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we are nearing the age of interstellar travel. Ten years is still a pretty long time. If you consider that the distance from Jupiter to Neptune is of about 0,04 light-years, and the distance to closest star system is about a hundred times that, then you know we still have a problem in that matter.

However, missions within our solar system will certainly benefit from that. Considering that the Voyager probes will reach the end of their lifespan in about 2025, this gives us the hope that crafts with similar missions may go beyond them in a much shorter time, and investigate many of the strange things that lie just beyond our solar system within our own lifespan. Who knows what we will find.