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China’s Moon Landing: When an Oppressive Regime Does Something Amazing

It’s been an exciting few months for anyone who is enthusiastic about space exploration. On 26th November the NASA InSight lander arrived on Mars (those tense landing moments are always worth a watch). Then on 13th December Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo aircraft reached an altitude of 50 miles, the so-called ‘edge of space’. On 2 January, the New Horizons Probe flew past Ultima Thule, producing the clearest image yet of one of the most distant known objects in our solar system (its about 4 billion miles away).
And of course the Chinese Space Agency put a probe onto the far side of the moon. It’s part of a grand plan for Chinese space exploration, including a permanent lunar base which can itself facilitate exploration to Mars.

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Diary

I Have Literally No Idea What Title to Give to This Blog Post About the EU, Space Probes and Web Comics

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Congratulations to the rocket scientists from the European Space Agency who successfully landed a probe on the duck shaped comet 67P. It makes me proud to be European, a fine thought amid the relentless Euro-skepticism from UKIP and the Tories. As Nick Cohen said in the Spectator today, it’s worth remembering that support for the EU is at a 23 year high, with a plurality of British voters favouring membership. 56% of people favour staying in, while 36% of people would leave. Yes yes, the ESA is not an EU body, but apparently 20% of its funding originates from the EU. Let us just say that the success of this mission shows the value of international cooperation towards a shared vision, that could never be achieved by just one of the countries involved.

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Astronauts Do The Coolest Things

Is there any organisation out there leveraging the Internet as effectively as NASA? Despite the loss of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011, the agency seems to be winning hearts and minds through its confident and open use of social media.
Of course, NASA’s PR department is assisted by expensive, state funded machinery and the spectacular images it creates. But this does not tell the whole story. I think a large part of the organisation’s communications success is down to the creativity and personality of the astronauts themselves… and NASA’s comfort at letting their personnel broadcast to their earth-shackled audience directly.

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Does Star Wars Prove That The Universe is Finite?

Star Wars Poster
Star Wars Poster

I’ve been thinking about the way languages are portrayed in the Star Wars film franchise, and what this says about the universe in which the adventures take place.
Some films portray all languages as English. This often happens in war and action films, where you’ll have German World War II officers or Russian spies speaking in accented English.
However, many English language films and television series choose to portray the other languages realistically, which involves subtitles (at least, when the dialogue is crucial).
In the Star Trek franchise, the Starfleet heroes encounter alien races every week. The problem is cleverly explained by the use of a Universal Translator (apparently built in to the little space ship emblem on the officers’ jerseys) which uses sophisticated AI to simultaneously translate the aliens’ words. There is even an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Universal Translator unexpectedly kicks in, thereby alterting the Enterprise Crew to the presence of a bizarre life-form, where they had perceived only crystals. Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series solves the language problem in a similar way. Arthur Dent puts a Babel Fish in his ear, allowing him to understand all alien languages perfectly.
By contrast, Star Wars introduces no such trickery. Each alien race has its own language, and we often see subtitles when characters like Greedo or Jabba the Hut are speaking. R2D2 and Chewbacca speak languages that are unintelligible to the audience, but at least the main characters have learnt to converse with them. C3PO’s raison d’être is as a protocol droid, familiar in millions of languages.
What does this say about the English used in Star Wars? Well, since all the alien languages are rendered as one might hear them, with no concessions to the audience, then we can assume that the language we hear spoken by Luke Skywalker and Han Solo is also as we would hear them. The actors are not speaking English as a cheat for the audience. They are speaking English because that is the language that these characters actually speak.

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RIP Neil Armstrong


Like the death of many internationally famous people, the news and discussion of the death of Neil Armstrong was mediated through the 140 character stream of twitter. I wonder who would have predicted that in 1969?
I should write something thoughtful about the passing of this man, but time is short. For now, I will just repost a few tweets of images I had previously uploaded to Flickr, all Creative Commons. A considered piece will have to wait.
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