The Moon, via big balloon.

As a small child, I read quite a few books. Some of them were from the childhood of either parent – the Bobsey twins, the five little Peppers, Johnny Tremain, and Tarzan. One I remember in particular was called Flight to the Mushroom Planet. In this book, two boys build a rocket in their back yard with the help of a little old alien man, and blast with him beyond the moon to his home planet. Fanciful as the pseudo-science of this book might seem (where the weight of gravity can be much more easily overcome by kids, since they are lighter, and a rocket can be built from junk and spare parts), it does have some realistic basis. That’s why Google is starting a race to see what private group can get to the moon first, without putting kids lives at stake.

The idea is something like this – we all love space. It’s the frontier we haven’t conquered. And if people put out big bucks to get their ashes launched out into the ether, just think what they will pay to have remains interred on the Moon. There are a variety of more long-term commercial uses of such transport, as well as more long-term opportunities to tap the natural resources available there. And by encouraging this kind of private development, Google gets a bunch of good press as well as expanding its finance base. The more people live, work, and think about the further reaches of the galaxy, the more basic content there is driving traffic all over the web.

Personally I am highly attracted to the idea of ‘garage band’ groups coming together to build these Moon traveler prototypes. it makes me want to go home and start building something in my own garage. Of course, I would have to learn quite a bit more about the way things work to build a successful prototype. What’s the best wavelength for broadcasting video from the Moon, for instance? What are the best materials to withstand the extreme temperatures of space and re-entry without corruption? What sort of recording equipment is even able to withstand such extremes and still deliver a quality picture? But when Google admits that the costs will be prohibitive, I say balderdash. I’ve got it all worked out – I’ll carry the whole thing via balloon.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – don’t balloons explode in space? Yes, they do. I checked – here’s a nice little video to illustrate:

However, I am not deterred. I just have to find the right totally inexpensive material that will retain its elasticity under extreme pressure. I’m thinking of something like Mythbusters lead balloon, but that would be way too fragile. Even though it’s really cool:

No, what I really need is something like bubble gum. But less tacky when cold? Corn starch? The possibilities are endless. Hey, if two little boys can get all the way to a mushroom planet, a turn of the century science nut can get around the world in 80 days, and a lead balloon can fly (even outside of fiction), then I can certainly win the race to the Moon. I’m smart. I’ve got the passion. What force is strong enough to stop me, other than gravity?


It Belongs in a Museum!

The UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage is designed to help protect shipwrecks and other underwater sites from looting.  The wording of the convention is largely disposed towards maintaining such heritage in situ at best or at least using the means available to preserve the disturbed and removed artifacts, usually in a museum.

At times however, competing interests don’t allow for any sort of preservation.  Salvage rights, the freedom of international waters, and varying degrees of legal freedom between countries can blur the lines between what is right, what is valuable, and what is reasonable.  Take the ‘Black Swan’ project by Odyssey Marine Exploration.  While it remains unclear which wreck (or if multiple wrecks) boasted the uncovered treasure, Spain is pursuing litigation against the company for infringement of their rights and the destruction of underwater war graves.  While OME contends that there were no human remains at the coin’s site, it remains unclear how thorough the site inspection was if they have no idea which sunken ship they were actually exploring.  Peru’s potential claim on the coins also confuses the issue further.  If the treasure was taken forcibly from teh New World, who really has claim to it now, both for history or wealth, and who should?

There are inevitable moral questions tied up with death.  Is it moral to perform an autopsy on someone who was the victim of a violent death, in hopes of catching a criminal, even when such a visceral activity disturbs the faith and belief of living relatives?  Is it moral to uncover the grave sites of those who can no longer speak for themselves in the hopes of discovering some profound truth about our past?  Is it moral to support the claims of rightful bounty by invading conquerors, despite the elapse of hundreds of years?

Ultimately, Odyssey Marine Exploration is a for-profit company aimed at turning a profit with the best possible salvage available.  They do care about the provenance of the artifacts they uncover, but largely as a piece of the final worth of those objects.  However, it is doubtful to my mind that they can afford to be as meticulous as a non-profit or public company working archaeologically in the same area would be.  At the same time, I don’t think that the Spanish claim to the uncovered artifacts is necessarily any better at this point.  Since the coins have already been removed and cannot be displayed the option of preservation in situ is gone.  Spain can only hope to preserve the coins, possibly displaying a choice few out of thousands at museums.  And despite Indiana Jones’ archaeological plea, artifacts (especially those from grave sites) do not belong in museums.  They belong where they were originally placed for spiritual significance, or if the result of accident or violence, belong with their descendants.

TEAL at last!

I was perusing Facebook today (as I do when bored at work and I have nothing to write on my blog) when I became aware of a most fabulous occurrence – TEAL is now online!  I am officially calling this a ‘Wonder of the Web’.  Soon there will be the early stories, the early travails of typo eradication, but I am expecting only a happy ending.  Jeff, do not disappoint me.

For those of you who do not know, a teal is a type of duck.  Hence, a teal is the mascot of the group.  I’m excited, but as of yet, there’s not much to report…