First Week of February — Second half of winter

First Week of February

Second half of winter

February 7th, 2021

There’s going to be a traffic jam at Mars this week, which is a bit disconcerting. Three craft are expected to arrive in the next ten days. The first one, tomorrow, is the United Arab Emirates’ first attempt at Mars exploration. It’s going to drop into orbit around Mars tomorrow, and spend the next few years analyzing the Martian atmosphere, looking for signs of any biological activity (methane, for instance) and perhaps determining what became of 99% of the atmosphere which Mars lost.

The following day, the Chinese effort weighs in. Dubbed Tianwen-1, or “Quest for Heavenly Truth”, it’s perhaps the most lyrically named of all the Martian craft, especially after the flat invocations of Horatio Alger wet dreams that adorn most American craft, or the English effort named after a cute but annoying breed of dog. (And yes, I know it was Darwin’s ship—don’t write). For a first effort, it’s ambitious in ways only the Chinese can manage these days. It will orbit Mars for three months, remotely surveying the surface before launching a small rover to the surface.

The US effort is another Horatio Alger invocation, Perseverance. It’s a full one ton rover, by far the largest yet, and will have the most dramatic landing, especially since it will be a full seven minutes before anyone knows its fate. Among other things, it will collect rock samples to be picked up by a player to be named later.

The reason for the log jam is that the shortest and most effective transit between the two planets occurred last summer, something that happens every 22 months, and nobody wanted to wait that long for holiday rates.

So if you want to visualize what Mars looks like right now, just turn on an old computer running Windows 3. Wait for the screen saver to pop up. All those flying toasters?

Yup, that’s about what Mars looks like right now. Hopefully all three will settle into their various assigned niches and be making delicious toast by the twentieth or so.

On an even stranger and more alien planet, the trial of Donald John Trump in the US Senate begins. The single charge is insurrection. Trump won’t testify, which is a pity; America sort of misses the ongoing circus/zoo that was life under Trump now that he no longer has the power to get us all killed. We can all have fun watching the Republicans huff in moral outrage as they jettison any final shreds of actual morality.

I’m fairly sure that there’s no life on Mars other than what rode along on the various craft that have landed there. We may find viruses on Mars, and if one of the happens to be COVID-19, we’ll know that we infected the planet. Now, admittedly I would like to be wrong about native life on Mars—I am old enough to remember the old John Carter stories and the notion that Mars had canals. If there is life, and assuming all three craft arrive successfully, we might actually know in the next year or so. That would definitely make up for the Canadian Football league season being canceled last year.

I wonder if we could send Trump to Mars? Tell him the whole damn planet is unclaimed, there’s no zoning regulations, and he can build whatever he wants. If he encounters other difficulties, such as lack of oxygen, temperatures colder than Antarctica, bone-melting radiation, or a dusting of perchlorates all over the planet, well, he should have done the reading. It was in the intelligence reports. I mean, if we’re going to contaminate the planet anyway…

The future isn’t as grim as it appeared scant weeks ago. Biden promised 100 million doses in the first hundred days, and after 16 days, 34.5 million had been administered. Biden caught flak from both sides on that promise, with one side saying it was a ridiculously optimistic forecast, and the other noting that it would be almost two full years to get everyone both their innoculations. However, COVID is fighting back, as expected. The new South African strain is somewhat unaffected by the shots. The good news is that it is affected enough that the mortality rate will be very low. But you know, that’s evolution. Build a better mousetrap, and eventually you get better mice. COVID is going to become part of our lives, the way Influenza has. Since we, too, are creatures of evolution, we’ll adapt, too.

Climate change is a far more serious challenge, and we’re pretty much out of time. The damage that has been done has yet to arrive, and there’s no turning back. No matter what changes or advancements we make, costs will be in the trillions of dollars and millions of lives over the next decade, and may worsen after that. But we are making advances in non-carbon energy and energy storage, and in the wake of Biden’s pledge to have an all-electric federal fleet, GM voted to be all electric by 2035.

Our grandchildren won’t be grateful that we screwed around for so long, but maybe we wised up soon enough that some of us will have grandchildren to sneer at us. The alternative is worse.

Oh, and this is America’s highest and most solemn religious holiday today, and my fearless forecast is that one team will win and the other will lose. That sounds boring as hell, so I’m not paying attention.

The landing of Perseverance is going to be much more interesting.

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