Space Architecture

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"The Universe" on the History Channel

What I did instead of working on my grad thesis: watch an episode of "The Universe" on the History Channel.

I've never seen "Cosmos", though I did read the book, by Carl Sagan. The book presented the basic science of life and universe, star births and deaths, evolution, the history of astronomy, and so on. It's a good narrative, appropriate for most high schoolers, motivated middle-schoolers, and exceptional elementary school students. Few science books seem to offer an easy intro, and inspire readers to learn more.

The "Cosmos" TV series, of which I've only seen clips of, suggests typical PBS-style pacing and delivery. Measured and consistent are the words I'd use. Since the series was produced during 1979-1980, it has the spacey (mellow) music and computer-generated imagery of time. Good for information flow for TV, not necessarily a ratings hit if it were to air on network TV, against "The Sopranos".

So, here comes "The Universe". I've seen three episodes, though in fairness, I've been distracted by the computer (attempts to write thesis, and blog). The show does deliver a lot of information in its one-hour segment (with commercial interruptions). The first episode, regarding the sun, was quite good. The images, taken from sun-observing satellites, were used to communicate points well. The Mars episode was also good, talking about how the planet's lack of a magnetic field, like the Earth's, ultimately means that it has trouble keeping much of an atmosphere.

Then, tonight's episode was about Universe vs Mankind. Or, How the Cosmos Tries to Kill You! Mildly interesting. Everything you need to know can be seen in Neil Tyson's excellent five minute thirty-eight second lecture on not only how the Universe is out to get you, but also that it is amazing that anyone is alive at all.

The pacing and delivery are typical for modern-day TV. Fast, lots of CGI, and sound bites from the people interviewed. Everything seems more dramatic and important than it might otherwise be. It's certainly nothing like videos of police car chases, but I don't need a CGI of an asteroid (or a gamma-ray burst) wiping out London.

The CGI of the Universe stripping the Earth layer by layer was cool, but I thought the Universe was supposed to end in some sort of Big Chill. Maybe.

The lessons in the shows have important reminders for those of us interested in space architecture. Asteroids and radiation (and humans) are threat to this planet (and each other), and this planet is huge compared to the individual human. The amount of damage that a micro-meteorite or a solar flare (or an astronaut taking inspiration from The Shining) could do to the habitat (and everyone else who decided to watch Ordinary People) are just as bad because the initial habitat is likely the size of a trailer. Virtually no one expects Mars to be fully-terraformed and Earth-like in anyone's time scale, so there's no backup. Earth is it. The habitat is it.


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