Meet Fl4k, the non-binary robot

Gearbox announced the release of Borderlands 3 for September and ever since I’m a passenger on the hype train. I love the entire franchise, it’s a first person shooter looter, for its incredible story, its wit, its sarcasm, its humor, its surroundings, its characters… Basically I love it a lot. And when the four vault hunters were introduced, I called dibs on Fl4k. I knew nothing about the character, only that they seemed to be a robot and has animals with them, according to the nickname Beastmaster. The siren, soldier and not sure yet character are cool too, but I’m going to start with Fl4k.

Diversity in the game

It’s not really a surprise. With Borderlands 2 I was instantly drawn to Zer0, still my favourite. He’s a 4 fingered assassin, probably an alien. Nobody knows for sure. With the pre-sequel I played Claptrap, the annoying one wheeled robot. Don’t be fooled by his reputation, he’s ace. I also love Wilhelm. Sure he’s a baddy but he’s addicted to metal augmentation, which turns him into half human, half machine. Choosing a character in the original game was a lot harder. They’re all human after all. So of course for Borderlands 3 it had to be Fl4k. But what I didn’t know, Fl4k has an additional bonus. A huge bonus.

The franchise introduced Fl4k as non-binary and use the pronouns they and them. Fl4k is an AI roaming the planets (and looting and killing wherever they go) searching for themselves and their only companions are three beasts which they care dearly for. So, they aren’t just metal and unsocial, they’re also non-binary (and unsocial) like I am! Of course this is a match made in heaven, them being a hunter class is even an bonus to the bonus!

Sexual innuendos

Borderlands has a great history of not giving a shit about gender roles and sexuality. Characters such as the soldier Axton are openly bisexual. Moxxi is as well, as she discusses her girlfriends and husbands alike. Sir Hammerlock is gay, as is professor Nakayama who has a major crush on the main villain Jack (and is rejected as well). Zer0 is also rumoured to be non-binary after all, even though he’s always been assigned to the he/him pronouns. The creators of the game have spoken of Zer0 as they/them recently. The thing is, even though Zer0 sounds male, we don’t know whether he/they/she is.

With all the innuendos flying out and about, the characters sexual preferences are not an issue anywhere in the game. Janey openly flirts with vault hunter Athena but not with the other characters (spoiler, they’ll end up together, not in the game perse but in canon). It’s all treated normally, just like it should be. As long as the media represents the LGBT+ community as something to emphasise on, it’s never going to be treated as natural. But Borderlands is doing this. And so is Star Trek Discovery by the way. It’s refreshing and it is needed as well. Normalisation is one thing, representation is everything.

The critics

One may argue why they made the robot non-binary and not a human being. It’s also something some people complain about and I do get it. It would of course be nicer to have a human representation of non-binary people in the game (Zer0 isn’t human either but unassumingly he/they/she is flesh and bones). But I have to compliment the people of Gearbox. To have an AI as your non-binary character is the kind of humor you expect from the franchise. And they speak normal about it, use they/them, treat them as an equal to the other vault hunters. I think it’s great.

This is the gaming community of course. And gamers come in all shapes and sizes. Even in an open-minded franchise such as Borderlands, bigotry lives there too. Of course people (probably white males living with mammy) are complaining that the gender agenda has now shoved into their faces in the gaming world as well. Why oh why do they need to deal with this shit in there as well. Well, because you little shit, and I quote Mr Torgue, Reasons! The world isn’t all white and the world isn’t all male and the world isn’t all straight.

Representation matters

This is what Borderlands does a really good job at: representation. And that doesn’t please everyone. For the first two Borderlands games, you could choose between three males and one female character (if you count Zer0 male). The pre-sequel vault hunters were 2 women, a (male assigned) robot and a man. And with Borderlands 3 the choice is two women, a man and a non-binary robot. The baddies are twins (brother and sister) and what is new in the game is that they enemies are male and female. Before that the enemies that were giving you XP were all male and I get that because it’s easier to program and design that way. But now you have male and female enemies and it just is a whole lot more realistic that way.

Borderlands remains an absurd world of shooting looting, with crazy guns (guns on legs everyone?), absurd humor, funny dialogues, and amazing design. I would have started with Fl4k regardless of their gender. But just the fact that they are non-binary makes me love the franchise just a little bit more. Everyone is welcome in Borderlands. Well done you people at Gearbox, you are amazing and never change that.

UFOs exist and this is what you should know

Of course UFOs exist. They always have been and probably always will be. If you can’t identify a flying object, then it simply is an unidentified flying object. It’s that plain simple. But what is an unidentified flying object? Well, it’s unidentified so we don’t know. It could be a secret military object, with or without alien technology hailed from the 1947 Roswell incident, it could be an extraterrestrial object, with or without aliens inside or something completely different after all. We. Don’t. Know.

More and more “mainstream media” are now reporting that military people have been seeing these objects and are now coming forward that they’ve seen them. Or rather, it’s made public. Some newspapers and news sites have picked up this story. Some don’t. It’s not the first time reports are coming out that unidentified objects have been seen by military people and pilots. What is different this time? The outcry from the UFO community. And it is not helping one bit.

In your face!

“Booyah, in your face I told you so!” is never a good look and this rings true in this case as well. It looks like people within the UFO community are celebrating that finally they have mainstream coverage. And that disclosure is now happening. And that’s a good thing of course. But they are also harassing news outlets that haven’t covered the story (for reasons, I suppose) and are harassing the science world with “Hey, why aren’t you saying anything now, you twats?”.

It is not pretty.

I know the UFO community has worked hard on making ufology acceptable, to be accepted for their belief that UFOs are out there. In cases of mainstream exposure like this time (it has happened before mind you), you hear them say that it’s always been about the unidentified notion, not aliens persé. I’m afraid that this last thing isn’t necessarily true. If ufology was only about the notion of unidentified and willing to unravel secret military on-goings, aliens would never ever even been mentioned.

Hassle the cattle

Okay, here’s the thing. UFO has a nasty name. It’s been ridiculed for decennia. It stands for believing in little green men from outer space with funny antennas on their heads. It stands for greys only here to hassle the cattle and anal probing humans. UFO stands for crazy people. This is a problem. It is a real problem. Because believing in extraterrestrial intelligent life, believing that it might be possible that they know about us and have been here already, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re crazy.

I believe it’s possible. I believe UFOs have been seen by military people, pilots and other people. It may be secret objects, it might be extraterrestrial. I don’t know. I think it’s good that media is writing about these things without making fun of the subject. It’s highly refreshing. It’s good that people who would never look for these stories, can read about this. And if it’s highly secret stuff, we may want to know about it at some point, right? It is however not a good idea to harass other people that they’ve been stupid. Just because you’ve been labeled stupid doesn’t give you that same right. No one has that right.

Story of the century

The news item that people from the Navy have seen UFOs is not the story of the century. The story of the century is either that the UFOs are indeed 100% confirmed military flight planes capable of destroying half the Earth with one single shot being kept a secret for over half a century, or exotic life forms stepping out of these UFOs. If not, it’s a news story, an exciting one that possibly leads to more information about these objects, but by no means it’s “the story of the century”.

The news items are normalising UFO sightings and that is a positive thing and an incredible step forward in what may indeed lead towards a possible story of the century. The behaviour by groups of UFO people harassing people and shouting Booyah I told you so is damaging this leap forward. Am I saying that ufology is currently damaging their own progress? Yes I do.

Hard work is paying off

Credit where credit is due because the UFO community has been working hard at being taken seriously. And they have succeeded in some aspects actually. News outlets have been reporting more about UFO related stories in a normal and matter of fact way. Documentaries on the subjects have been exposed to an incredible large audience by for instance Netflix and bookstores are more and more stocking books on the subject. New books will even be reviewed in newspaper without completely slamming the subject down. It’s more that we (yes we, because in a way I’m UFO people too) could have ever hoped and dreamed of. Don’t ruin this with the first sign of success.

What also bothers me, and has always bothered me, is the slamming down of ‘these science people’. ‘These people’ apparently are the enemy. I won’t deny that science can be quite degrading towards the subjects of UFOs and aliens. At the same time science, and astrobiology in particular, is more than ever working on definite proof that we’re not alone in the universe. No, they’re not looking for evidence of UFOs. They’re looking for life forms. Which also could be the news of the century.

Stay classy!

Is that it though? Does the UFO community want to be the ultimate truth as the news of the century and is science search for alien life threatening this? It’s a ridiculous question. But so is the harassing of ‘these science people’ only because they’re not investigating or acknowledging UFOs. Investigating UFOs is the work of ufologists, doing science is the work of scientists. These two can coexist and essentially help each other. I’m looking in both directions in this case.

Even though I’m incredibly annoyed by the behaviour of ufology these days, I will continue to follow. Because it’s not just about slamming down science, newspapers and each other for that matter. It’s the continuous quest for recognition. The serious (and less serious) investigations that are still being made. It’s the reporting of sightings and the research of these sightings, sometimes saying it’s just been a satellite (or 60) and sometimes saying it really can’t be explained.

Keep at it UFO people! But, for everything that we stand for, stay classy. Just stay classy and be polite and point people to the new findings, not harass them for not paying attention at this time. That will get us another big step forward. The current state of ufology, I’m afraid not. Don’t ruin what you build up so passionately is what I’m saying. I know you’re just passionate but you also know I’m right. Stay classy guys!

Join the starlink express

Ever since Elon Musk’s Space X has launched 60 starlink satellites, people have been talking about it. Some think it’s amazing and others think it’s the beginning of the end. Whatever your opinion is, it’s got you talking. It has everyone talking and that is priceless publicity. For free. 

What is starlink exactly?

What is this starlink business anyway? What is it good for? Musk’s goal is to supply everyone on the world with internet. He wants global coverage and with global coverage he means global coverage. From Time Square in New York to the local fata morgana in the Sahara Desert, you will be able to get online. Granted you have a operating phone or other device with internet access available. In 2015 numbers showed that 56,1% of the human population have access to the internet. That’s little over half the people. If you only look at the developed world, 81% of the population has access to the internet, this means, 1 in 5 people doesn’t. With these Space X satellites everyone should be able to log on.

In time that is because 60 satellites alone won’t do it. In total an impressive 12,000 starlink communication satellites are needed to reach that goal. Their operational orbit is 550 km, these first 60 started their climb into this orbit at 440 km since being launched with a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on May 23. It takes about 90 minutes for them to make one orbit. And despite the company’s initial claim that they won’t be that visible, the train of satellites have since been visible even to the naked eye, giving away an impressive show.

Satellite overload

Impressive or not, one may wonder if these satellites aren’t polluting the skies. Stars are hardly visible at some places in Europe due to light pollution, but the starlink train is a clear trail in the skies right now. They will get fainter once they reach their final orbit, but long exposure astronomy photographers have already complained about the trails the satellites make in their photo’s. Many worry that ground astronomy will get increasingly harder with these satellites up in the sky.

Hang on, aren’t their already many satellites orbiting the Earth? Indeed they are. Around 5,000 satellites are currently orbiting our world serving various purposes. Will these 60 really make a difference? You may think they won’t. But these 60 were already more visible than others, also because they are lines up like a train. They will scatter with time and be less visible that way as well. But these 60 are the first of 12,000. That’s more satellites than already are up there!

It is getting crowded

And Space X isn’t the only one launching high numbers of satellites. Cubesats or minisats are the future. Small satellites which are lighter and therefore cheaper not just to produce but also to launch. Which means more people and companies are able to launch their own satellites and Space X is by no means the only company who wants to provide World Wide Internet Access. Smaller companies like for instance Hiber have the same ambition and are already working on it, having launched several satellites already with for instance Space X.

It’s already crowded up there, it will get a whole lot more crowded really soon. For instance, ISRO (India Space Research Organisation) successfully launched 104 satellites by a single rocket on 15 February 2017. Only 3 of them were of Indian origine. And they weren’t all claiming to start an global internet revolution. This is also potential trouble for the International Space Station, orbiting the earth with an altitude between 330 km and 435 km . All these satellites in itself have to make sure they don’t collide with each other, one doesn’t want to think about what happens when they bump into the ISS.

What will the future hold?

Satellites do a lot of good things for us, they tell us where we are, give us access to the internet and they monitor the Earth. It’s all good data. But we may have to think about the price we are going to pay for that. Are we ruining the night skies? Are we making ground astronomy impossible? Do we really need all these things up there? Isn’t it possible to lower the amount of satellites and collect the data just a little bit slower? The starlink train didn’t just give free publicity to Elon Musk’s latest idea, it also gave us something to think about. We love technology. But maybe, there is a limit? Or do we want to pay the price and create a visible satellite ring around our planet?

I’m afraid there is no way back now and only time will tell how far we will really go. And if we indeed will be a better species because of it or become the polluters of the universe.

I’m a content writer

For all my life there was one thing I’ve always wanted: being a writer. I wrote a lot of things. Short stories, long stories, music reviews, music reviews of music that didn’t even exist. I wrote so many blog posts in my life and I wrote even more letters. I come from a time where letter writing was still a thing. With those letters from people from all over the world, you sent some FB’s (short for Friendship Booklet), in which you penned down your name, address, your interests and decorated it with stickers and anything you could think of. That’s how you were able to meet your new penpal. That’s before social media and GIF images indeed.

Where I am

Move forward 30 years. I don’t write letters anymore but keep in touch with people I would never have known over Twitter. I have at least three unfinished books on my drive. A dozen unfinished stories. I have many more stories in my head. I have this blog which I really should update a whole lot more than I do. Professionally I have an office job, something my younger me would never have approved. But the mortgage (younger me: ‘You have a what??’) needs to be paid. In this job, I’m known for my on point emails. My emails have turned down many costs. It’s all good and well. But I still want to be a writer.

How do you become a writer? It’s two things and one is easier than the other. First up: you write. If you write something down, you’re a writer. It’s really as simple as that. And how come I don’t feel like a writer? That’s when the second thing comes rolling in: finish what you start. And I’ve never been good at that. What if when I finish something it’s actually good? For twenty years I’ve held myself back by the fact that I’m scared to make my dream come true.

A new human

Well, no more. I’m a new human. I’ve decided to live like the person that I am, a non binary being disapproving many things that seem normal to a lot of people. I’ve taken a new name (online) and a new look. So why not a new profession? I’m going to be a (content) writer! This is what I want and this is what I’m going to do.

In order to be a (content) writer, I need to write. I need to show what I’m capable of. I need to be bold and offer my services. But most of all, I need to write. I’m dedicating three days of my commute to writing again. Without connecting my chromebook to the internet. So yeah, I need to edit all my writing errors later at home. But who cares. Going back and correcting every red line is just distracting. I want to write write write!

Blogs, space and agendas

I’ll be updating this blog a whole lot more, and as it’s a space blog, it will be about that. It’s about content right? Soon I’ll be launching my agender agenda blog as well. This will be a Dutch blog about being non binary in the Netherlands. I’m on that journey as well and there’s a lot of things that need more attention. But that’s for that blog. This is space!

So hello, here’s to new beginnings. It’s time to be what I want to be. A writer. It’s never too late to throw your career and life around. I hope to look back at this entry in ten years time sitting on my green balcony in Gotenburg, Sweden, with a smile on my face. That I’m a successful content writer and possibly an author. And that my partner and I moved to our beloved Sweden. Dare to dream. I’m finally going to live it.

This was quite a week and theme update

This was quite a week! A lot has happened and it all ends in finally stepping up my space game again without losing sight of all other things that matter to me. I changed the look and the theme of both my blog and twitter and finally feel that it fits. Previously I thought it was good but there was always something that didn’t feel right. As a result I just struggled on. Story of my life really. But I start to believe that when people say Life starts at 40, I think they’re on to something.

Shepard

Despite of the amazing black hole picture, Beresheet crashing on the moon and SpaceX doing another successful launch, this past week was all about my cat Shepard. She was acting all strangely, like something was stuck in her throat. So when we brought her to the vet on Monday, the vet couldn’t find anything but stated that she needed dental care again. And while they were cleaning her teeth under anesthesia, they could have a better look at her throat.

I’m not the biggest fan of anesthesia but when her situation worsened of Wednesday we called again and on Thursday we heard they suggested doing the teeth cleaning so they could take a better look and she was able to come the very same day. This was not just unexpected but it was also on her birthday! The last cleaning of teeth was in my wedding anniversary so somehow our cat always ends up under anesthetics of a special day, this was only her second time.

All ends well

I’m really glad we did this. She had a vicious throat infection. Now she has clean teeth again, she has meds against the infection and we know her kidney values have improved. I mean, she was there already, so we had that checked as well. When she got home she was still high on morphine. That was the weirdest thing. But now she’s feeling better and is even more pampered than she generally is. Shepard is our baby. She only deserves the best and no pain at all.

Also this week I intensified my search for a ‘look’. Not quite sure what made me do this this week exactly but it was fruitful. Now the week is almost done I found the time for finally updating this blog, updating the look and the theme. It was a stressful week but it all turned out for the better. Now to keep it all up. But for once I’m comfortable that I will.  I case you missed me, I will be joining the space conversation again as well. 

Yes, this is about climate change

Scientists have again determined with a near 100% certainty that our current climate change is caused by humans. One online Dutch news site had this news item not only prominent on their front page, but also made the statement that all comments on their news items that would indicate that climate change is fake or anything in that nature, will be removed. They don’t tolerate fake facts. I really applaud this. Of course there were the people who claimed their “freedom of speech”. But freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can say the sky is green, because that’s your opinion. The same applies for climate change. It’s not an opinion.

 

We should really worry about our climate. It’s February and I’m taking my midday walk in a t-shirt without a jacket. It’s 17C but at the same time that doesn’t keep people from wearing their winter jackets out in the afternoon. I guess we all need to get used to it in our own terms. The weather hits a new extreme record week after week. The seasons are shifting. This will have consequences on life. Safe the planet! The inconvenient truth in this is, the planet will be fine. Sure, they’re might be a possibility it ends up as either Mars or Venus eventually, but the planet will adapt. The question is, can we?

Origins

Over the course of history the Earth has endured many shifts in climates, from being colder to being warmer. This shaped the world as we know it today. To have an extended rundown on this interesting development I highly recommend reading “Origins. How the Earth made us.” By Lewis Dartnell. He will be able to tell you this much better than I can. How we live today is dictated by climate. If the climate changes, we need to adapt. But are we capable of doing so? Everything we know is built on this. New situations require new insights and solutions. But, the good news is, humans are creating this change. Therefore, it’s up to humans to do something about it.

If we don’t, climate will run us over and forces us to make decisions that will not be pretty. I live in the Netherlands for instance, so a rise in sea levels is not exactly something I’m looking forward to. Of course, the Dutch are masters in defeating water. Kim Stanley Robinson makes good use of this in his books that handle the world after climate change. But there’s a limit to this. We can’t defend land by building a ten meters high wall along the beaches of north-west Europe. Or anywhere else for any matter.

After the flood

There will be mass migration. Not just because of rising sea levels, but our land will not be suitable for the things it was suitable before. It may be too dry or too wet. It may be too cold or it may be to warm. So like the previous mass migration of our ancestors who left Africa for that very reason, we will encounter other people who already live there. I don’t think I need to tell anyone what that will result in. I trust that anyone reading this blog has a decent knowledge of history as well.

Where humans and domesticated animals will suffer, eventually when all has sunken in and we probably have reduced our numbers radically through war, famine and diseases, the earth will restore itself and adapt. Maybe the surviving humans live under domes. Life outside that dome will flourish again. It will find its way in the new environment and eventually will tear down the abandoned cities and make it their own again. Animals will get extinct but new ones will stand up and thrive in the new environment. If Earth ends up like Mars or Venus, things still will end up grim for everyone, but those planets have not turned the way they are overnight. It’s also not said that they’re completely lifeless either.

Change

The survival of humans on Earth is in our own hands. And it’s our duty to our planet to help her prevent a faith like Mars or Venus. And every little change is one. Shop with conscience. Try to reduce plastic. Eat less meat and if you do make sure it’s bio. Push your government to act accordingly upon the Paris Agreement. I’m confident that we can do this together. In time. In time everyone will be able to adapt to the changes that have to be made, even though they’re really not that hard. It’s. In. Our. Own. Hands.

Rosalind Franklin is going to Mars

The Rover scheduled for launch in July 2020 as part of the ExoMars mission has a name! With a competition, ESA asked to name the rover designed to search for life on Mars. Former and perhaps even current life. The name they picked is beautiful: Rosalind Franklin. She was a London chemist (1920 – 1958) who would make a crucial contribution to DNA, the footprint of life. However she is a forgotten figure, like so many women in science history. 

Photo 51

While temporarily working in Paris, she perfected her skills in X-ray crystallography, which would eventually become her life’s work. During that time she made “Photo 51”, which showed the double helix structure of our DNA. Back in London she started working with Maurice Wilkins at King’s College. They didn’t get along very well. She was hired while Wilkins was on a holiday and put on the DNA project which he has neglected for some months. She also wasn’t able to mingle well with her male colleagues in general because the lunch rooms at college were men only. This made it harder to discus her work with others and probably contributed to the act that she hardly shared her work at all. 

Unknown to Franklin, Wilkins showed her photo to two other researchers, James Watson and Francis Crick. They worked at the university of Cambridge and were also working on the structure of DNA. They would end up writing the paper of the double helix, with an introductory paper by Franklin, that would lead to the Nobel prize for Watson and Crick in 1962. Not a word about Franklin was said, not even during the acceptance speech. As Franklin had died in 1958, she wouldn’t have been given the Nobel prize. A mention to her crucial work would at least have been decent. They however admitted this after accepting the Nobel prize.

A last name is important

That the ExoMars rover is named after her is fantastic. However people are starting to name the Rosalind Franklin Rover Rosalind. This may sound cute but is wrong on many levels. If you were to shorten the name of the Rover, please resort to her last name, Franklin. As you would with any other male name.

Men among each other often call each other by their last name, even or perhaps especially in friendly matters. This commonly happens in work space as well. Women are always called by their first name, and if a cuter version of the name is possible, this is used as well. Just take a look at the last American election. This was between Trump and Hillary. This has always stricken me as weird and even sexist. Why wasn’t it Trump against Clinton? It may seem unimportant, after all it’s about the people running for president and not their names. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the campaign would have focused on the name Clinton instead of Hillary, she may have won the election. 

And this is just one example, albeit a recent and painful example. We should make sure that women are recognised not by their pretty names and faces, but by their last name and accomplishments. Don’t call the Rover that is named after an important figure and may very well be the first to discover life on Mars just Rosalind or even worse, Rosy (the nickname Franklin hated). After all wee owe the beautiful pictures of our universe to Hubble and not to Edwin. Or Eddy.

Searching for life

Granted, the Rover is named Rosalind Franklin. Why wasn’t Franklin sufficient? It would have been, if women throughout history would have been given the credits they deserved at the time it happened and not years later. Movies such as ‘Hidden Figures’ show how men dominate the field (as life in general for that matter), where women have played an equally important role. I’d like to think that the scientific world differs in this with the real world but unfortunately this isn’t the case. It is getting better. And there are plenty of awesome scientists (female, male and non-binary) who couldn’t care less which sex is getting the credits, as long as the person who gets them truly deserves them.

There’s still a long way to go in equality and the Rover Rosalind Franklin is another great step towards it. After all, it could be that Rover that will tell us that we’re indeed not alone in the universe. And when that happens, we can be sure that no one will ever forget the name Rosalind Franklin. And that is exactly what this chemist deserves.

Important information about my name change. Hi, I’m Mel!

This blog post may prove my most challenging yet. And while it won’t change this blog and my space communicating ambitions, there is something else that is changing. The name of this blog from Martine’s Rymd to Mel’s Space. And that alone may require a small explanation.

Last week I’ve been to the hospital to start an important change in my life. I’m not female but I don’t want to be male either. I’m neither. I’m agender. After discovering this years ago, talking about this for years with the person who pointed this out to me in the first place (eventually I married her), I went to the family doctor and explained my situation. This is how my hospital appointment came about and while this was just a talk and a test, for me this day marks the day that I will be open about it.

Is that scary? You bet it is! Years ago I didn’t even know what agender was and I’m one myself! People see me as female and address me as such. I can’t even blame anyone but it really starts to bug me. I know other women find it annoying when getting thrown ‘women stuff’ at them. But I don’t identify as one. I want that to change and I realise that it’s going to be an interesting journey. But I can’t continue to not say anything just because I don’t want to confuse anyone. Right now, I’m confusing and frustrating myself and that’s not a good thing.

This blog is still about space, aliens, the universe, Star Trek and my personal space musings. That’s not going to change. I might however will start using it to write about the journey from woman to agender as well. You may find that under ‘personal’. It’s scary but I feel good about it and in the end it’s that what matters. Feeling good in your body and doing the things you love. And that thing is still writing about space and aliens. But you can call me Mel now. And this is my space. Mel’s Space.

Thank you for reading this.

My week hosting People of Space

In a spurt of not giving a fuck (and I hadn’t even read the book yet), I decided to give it a go. I asked the keeper of the twitter account @people_of_space if a person like me, a starting scicommer with little followers, would qualify for hosting the account for a day. And I was. This week would turn out to be a week where I learned more than I could have imagined. And I even found some confidence.

Space is for everyone

Tara created people_of_space so people from all walks of life could talk about their passion to a larger audience. Space is for everyone. So one week, it’s people who work in the space industry sharing what they do. The other it may be an enthusiastic amateur astro-photographer sharing their pictures. I think it’s an amazing concept and it really shows that people from all walks of life and from anywhere in the world have something to say about space. And anything that comes with it. Last week I hosted the account and I admit the closer the moment came, the more nervous I became. I had plans on what I wanted to talk about, but what if people didn’t want to hear about that?

In the week ahead I had some encouraging words over twitter, telling me that I could do anything, it was my week. Also, in a conversation a German astrophysicist mused whether #SpaceComm could be a thing, working nicely with the already known and used hashtag #scicomm. “Now, here’s something I can talk about!” I answered. I also stuck close to my twitter bio: Space, Cats, Aliens and Star Trek. Also, science writer. What does that even mean? Where do I write? I can do this! I can actually find good topics that are space and that also reflect on who I am. Just stick to that, I said, and it’ll be fine. There’s no plottwist here. I was fine. More than fine.

Aliens, Star Trek and Space Cats

Not all subjects I talked about gained an equal responds. My thread about the Netherlands Space Society didn’t seem to be doing much. Which may be okay of course. I ran two polls and was massively surprised that the poll about Aliens had much more responds than the one about Star Trek. It gave me the confidence boost to talk more about Aliens on my own account as well. People do believe in Extraterrestrial Intelligence. And some space people are too open to alien abduction stories, it’s not just me. I created #AlienFriday. I will keep using that. Who cares that I’m the only one using it? It now belongs to my space communication. And so does Star Trek, space people like Star Trek and their references.

Space Cats on Thursday was amazing. I have thought long and hard whether to talk about Felicette, the first cat that went into space. She’s not that well known. The cats were used for research and that’s what I find hard to talk about. I can’t look at pictures of animal neglect and abuse. Her story is a tad different but still. She was the first (and only) real space cat. I had to mention it. And I found it hard. But the responds was overwhelming! So much love and sympathy. I’m glad I mentioned her. My wife later added that it was also good, because using animals (against their will) is part of the space program and it’s important to talk about it, even when it’s more comfortable to just ignore that part. (I have skipped the part about the mice in Scott Kelly’s book for instance.)

Interaction and information

I was quite lucky with a relative quiet week at work. I could write most threads under office hours. So a small thank you for my colleague who didn’t mind doing a bit more that week is in order. Though I won’t tell him directly. I was also able to interact with people and that turned out to be easier than i thought. Someone asked me about blogging. It was nice to give some advice. Also people asked about CHEOPS, which was really cool as well.

What I learned was that I really enjoy talking about Space and sharing information. What I learned was that you can use a Star Trek gif or reference when applicable. I learned to talk about aliens when I wanted to, despite what others might think. I also learned that it actually didn’t bother me that some threads did better than others. It was interesting to see this development. And it’s good to know that you never know what will spark a discussion. It is also  timing after all. The most important thing I learned was, well, that I have been downright lazy before.

SpaceComm learning experience

Here I am, science writer, scicommer. Granted, I can’t do this full time as I have a office job. But I shouldn’t just wait until subjects present themselves to me, that’s not how it works. I knew that. But it’s how I often did my social media (to my followers: I’m deeply sorry for that). This past week made me think about contents, made me make a strategy. Exactly what my social media course had taught me but I hadn’t put in practice yet. And you know what, I really enjoyed that. This week has given me more confidence and more insight. Maybe it was because, no matter how you look at it, you are representing the account People of Space and you want to do it justice. And that helped.

I wil take all that back to my own account. I want to do it justice as well. I’ve added #SpaceComm to my twitter bio, because that’s exactly what I’ll continue to do. I’ll see about how #SpaceCatsonThursday will develop but I definitely will keep #AlienFriday if only that it will force me to keep talking aliens. And I want to keep talking about aliens. I’ve already been asked if I’d like to host again in the future. Ask me again after a couple of months and I’ll talk Space Comm. This is just getting started. And then I might tell about what I learned, how cool would that be? People of Space, you are amazing.

A new Space Race is what space exploration needs

NASA. Mighty, mighty NASA. The winner of the Space Race. Or rather, America claims that title as the US government instructed NASA to put a man on the moon first. They already lost putting a human being in orbit first to Russia. This was important. So, 50 years ago the entire world held its breath and watched a man called Neil and a man called Buzz make the first steps on the moon. America is the only country that put people on the moon. NASA has been the leading space administration for years. But since the retirement of the Space Shuttle it became clear to Houston and the rest of the world that NASA has a problem. And this problem might be solved with another space race.

NASA’s budget

This is not NASA’s fault. Since putting men on the moon, the funding has plumped and right now the budget is barely 0,4% of America’s entire budget. Compare it to the Department of Defense if you want, which gets 13%. But then know that every dollar spend on NASA makes ten. I’d say that’s a good investment. But I’m a writer, not an economic. NASA relied on Roscosmos for years to send Americans to space.

This month Space X will test its crewed dragon module and take it to the ISS, albeit without people. Boeing is also working and quite far in bringing humans (Americans) to space. These private companies weren’t restricted by government funding. Even though NASA will continue to work with Roscosmos, it’s a good thing for the Americans to not just be dependent on Russia.

Working with ESA

NASA has a long history of working together with ESA as well. The European Space Agency was founded in May 1975. They don’t have a program to bring people into space themselves and currently rely on Roscosmos as well. Previously NASA has brought Europeans into space. Most notably from a Dutch perspective they launched Wubbo Ockels into space with the Space Shuttle in 1985. But ESA isn’t just working on sending astronauts to space, nor does NASA for that matter. In the case to explore space, they have done amazing things already. Both agencies will continue to do so and work together as well.

ESA has access to technical NASA files which potentially saves ESA a lot of time and money while developing a new satellite or rover. But NASA doesn’t share all their secrets. And nor does ESA. There’s still competition between the agencies which keeps everyone on their toes. It also brings new ideas and progress. And sometimes tension when NASA (rightly) proudly announces they discovered and explored a first contact binary, while ESA (rightly) clears its throat and points out that they landed on such an object a few years ago already. It’s a space race in its own way.

China’s space explorations

Despite the cooperation between the space agencies, you might say the Space Race is still on. This is a good thing. Just look at how far the Space Race between America and Russia has brought humanity. To the moon indeed. But it’s not just America, Europe and Russia that are at play. China has already a few rovers on the moon but started 2019 by putting Chang’E-4 on the Far Side of the Moon. No agency has ever done this and this is a major mile stone for space exploration and for CNSA in particular. The Chinese National Space Administration isn’t new in space. The general public may not know too much about them, though the landing of Chang’E-4 on the moon may have changed that.

China is actually only the third country that put a probe on the moon which is remarkable if you think about it. It looks like that after the Apollo program proved successful, the interest in the moon declined. The focus was put on experiments in space that benefits life on Earth and also exploring the rest of the universe with ultimately colonizing the universe. It seems after extensive exploration of Mars, the interest in the moon returned.

Interest in the moon

The moon could very well be used as our gateway to space. America has proposed to put people back on the Moon and to build a station there. The question is, will they be the first? China is on a rise. They have skilled taikonauts with space experience. Yang Liwei was the first Chinese person in space, he also became the first none American / Russian to orbit the Earth solo. And did so in an Chinese rocket, the Shenzhou 5.

China’s neighbour isn’t unfamiliar in space either. JAXA was only formed in 2003 (by merging three independent space industries), but the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency has already done amazing things. It is an expert in asteroid exploration and has currently reached Ryugu. Not only will they explore the asteroid but they will take pieces of the object back to earth. That hasn’t been done with an orbiter ever before. Japan is also fond of the moon and after having launched an orbiter successfully, they have planned to launch a rover to the surface of the moon and has joined America and China in the pursuit of putting people on the moon again. JAXA has also collaborated with ESA and has BepiColombo currently on its way to under-explored Mercury.

Other space agencies in the race

Last year we welcomed Australia in the world of space exploration by opening their own space program called the Australian Space Agency. I haven’t seen anyone use ASA, not even in the agency’s logo. This is probably is a good thing. As they only exist for half a year I can’t really list what they have done just yet but they are extremely ambitious and a welcome, more than welcome, addition to the space family. One rightfully may ask themselves why there hasn’t been a space agency in Australia prior to July 2018. Even Canada, the CSA ASC, has one. Notorious for going viral with their astronaut Chris Hadfield play Space Oddity in space and recording an entire music album (mostly) in space. But the Canadarm2 on the ISS is from their hands. As the name indeed suggests. It also suggests that this mechanical space arm isn’t the first.

America has reached Mars with their rovers and orbiters. So has Russia and Europa. But who is the fourth player at Mars? The ISRO Mangaluyaan is orbiting Mars since 2014 and is India’s first interplanetary mission. The ISRO was founded in 1969 and hasn’t exactly sat quietly since. When first relying on other agencies for their satellite launches, in January 2017 they launched 104 satellites with one rocket, of which 96 of American origin. India wants to expand their lunar exploration and is also aiming to go to the sun in 2019/2020. Also planned for 2020 is a mission to Venus, a planet currently ignored by other agencies. India might not be the first country people think of when they think about space. But not paying attention to them is not just a waste, it’s an insult.

Interesting space organisations

There is plenty to look forward to. Space Exploration is on a definite growth and with so many players it may lead to even greater things. Competition can be a good thing. None of the agencies want to risk failure though failure will happen from time to time which all agencies benefit from. There are two other space programs I want to put my focus on and apologise to all space agencies I haven’t mentioned here. This is already my longest post to date, know that I salute all of you.

In Andy Weir’s book Artemis, Kenya is the important player on the lunar city. An African country? Why not. Kenya has been the first country launching a satellite into space so Weir got that right. We may know Africa best from safaris and starvation (thank you, USA for Africa) and where this a part of Africa, it’s important to know that Africa has a lot more to offer. Several countries have their own space agencies and are working hard on becoming part of space exploration in the future. Not so long ago, Mauritius held an important space seminar, Launching Africa. It showed that we should not underestimate Africa. It’s a movement that want to engage people and raise space awareness on that continent. It looks very successful and I for one would welcome them in Space Exploration.

In Denmark a group of amateurs are working voluntarily and in their free time on an amateur manned space program. You read this right. The non profit organisation entirely relies on donations and people’s knowledge they give for free. They have already successfully launched rockets (unmanned) and aren’t resting until they can safely send an amateur astronaut into space. Finding that volunteer might prove more difficult than one might expect. But the Copenhagen Suborbital is one to watch, I’m positive they will accomplish something astonishing in the next few years.

To boldly go

And all this is just a fraction of what humans are up to in order to explore space further. We still have a long way to go until we can build the Enterprise and boldly go where no human has gone before. But even the Enterprise wasn’t build in one day. What we’re doing right now are the first small steps towards it. And if we would set aside our worldly differences, a Federation might only speed up the progress. The launch by American Space X of the private Israeli moon probe from SpaceIL is an example of great cooperation. Keep exploring wherever you are, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t. It’s only then we will make a real gigantic leap again.