Space Sunday: China, Mars and the Drake Equation revisited

A colour close-up captured by China’s Zhurong rover via its high-resolution cameras as they look over the rear deck, showing the main communications relay and one of the unfolded solar arrays. This image was captured before the rover deployed from its lander. Credit: CNSA

China’s Zhurong rover has commenced operations on the surface of Mars. The rover, which is slightly larger and heavier than NASA’s MER rovers Spirit and Curiosity, arrived on the surface of the planet on May 16th atop its lander vehicle (see: Space Sunday: China on Mars, JWST and a space tourist).

Since that time, the rover has been put through its first battery charging cycle after unfolding its solar panels, and then entered an initial telemetry-based check-out and commissioning phase that saw some of its core systems powered-up in readiness to commence operations, with similar checks being carried out on the lander.

An infographic on China’s Zhurong rover via AFP, with original material via CNSA and Chinese state media

This meant that it was not until May 19th that the China National Space Administration (CNSA) released the first images taken by the rover’s camera systems.

The first images to be released were those captured by Zhurong’s hazard avoidance cameras, which – and like their American counterparts – operate primarily in black and white. In particular, these images showed that the lander vehicle had successfully deployed the ramp Zhurong needed to descend onto the planet’s surface from the back of the lander.

The black-and-white images were followed by colour pictures captured by both the rover’s hazcam system and its high-resolution imaging system which is, again like US designs (and the upcoming EuroMars rover, Rosalind Franklin, mounted on a mast located on the rover’s forward section and capable of taken images of all of the rover’s surroundings.

China’s Zhurong (l) and America’s Perseverance (r) in a comparison image by CNSA

China has been fairly close-lipped about the lander and rover – although the entire Tiawen-1 mission is seen as an “international” mission by Chinese authorities -,  only releasing images via social media, etc., after the fact, with little or no fanfare beforehand. This meant it was Twitter snoops who first spotted the rover had actually deployed from this lander vehicle some time in the early hours of Saturday, May 22nd, UTC.

Andrew Jones was one of the first to spot CNSA images that showed the rover had rolled off the lander. However, CNSA quickly followed-up with more images captured by the rover, some of which were colour, and others were put together to form a “video” of the deployment process.

Andrew Jones was one of the first to spot China had announced Zhurong had driven off of its lander.

Now it is on the surface of Mars, Zhurong is expected to operate for a primary mission period of 90 sols (93 days) – which is likely to be extended if the rover completes that mission successfully. It will explore the area around its lander, using both it and the Tianwen-1 orbiter as communications relays, while carrying out research into the Martian weather and climate, and surface and sub-surface conditions.

The return of the first images from the rover sparked an appeal to the US Congress from NASA’s new Administrator, Bill Nelsen, who asked for a boost to the agency’s funding so that it might better manage deep space research and the planned return to the Moon in the face of the growing competition from China.

A colour picture from Zhurong’s hazcams as it roles down the ramp from the lander on May 22nd. Credit: CNSA

It has not all been smiles and roses for China, however. As  I previously reported, the country can in for international criticism for failing to handle the uncontrolled return to Earth of the 23-tonne core stage of the long March 5B core stage used to lift the Tianhe primary module of the country’s new Tiangong space station. Following up from that mission, China had planned to launch its first mission to Tianhe on May 19th.

This was to be the Tianzhou-2 automated resupply vehicle. A fully automated, 13-tonne vehicle, Tianzhou-2 was supposed to make an automatic rendezvous  and docking with Tinahe in advanced of the first crewed mission to the fledgling space station, which is due to occur in June, 2021; however, the launch was scrubbed as a result of “technical issues”. Initially re-scheduled for lift-off on Thursday, May 20th, the launch was again postponed, and has now been pushed back until Friday, May 29th.

A Chinese Long March 7 rocket carrying the Tianzhou-2 cargo ship rolls out to a launch pad at the country’s Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre on Hainan Island. Credit: CASC.

When Tianzhou-2 does eventually lift-off atop its Long March 7 booster, it will be carrying 6.5 tonnes of equipment and supplies for the first crew to visit Tianhe, and consumables for the station itself, and will remain docked through the 3-month period of the Shenzhou-12 crewed mission. During the crew’s visit, Tianzhou-2  will perform a set of automated undocking, free flight and rendezvous / docking manoeuvres as rehearsals in readiness for when the station’s science modules are launched.

Tianzhou-2 will depart Tianhe ahead of the Shenzhua-12 crew. The station will then be visited by a further automated res-supply vehicle and the Shenzhou-13 crew, over late 2021 / early 2022, for the Chinese are calling the “Critical Technology Validation Phase” of the station’s commissioning, verifying it is ready for the launch of the two science modules. These will take place in 2022, paving the way for full operations to commence from 2023.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: China, Mars and the Drake Equation revisited”

Finding a Hidden Bottle in Second Life

Hidden Bottle, May 2021 – click any image for full size

Num Bing-Howlett (Num Bing) and her SL partner, Clifton Howlett, sent me a personal invitation to visit their latest region design, Hidden Bottle, which recently opened.

I’ve previously written about Numb and Cliff’s designs in these pages, and have always enjoyed exploring them, so I took the first opportunity I could to hop over and “have a pike” as people are prone to say in the part of the world I was born in.

Hidden Bottle, May 2021

For this build, Numb and Cliff have created a little tropical corner of the world given over to pirate legend, as the About Land description notes:

Welcome to Hidden Bottle @ Gin!
Pirates discovered the Gin islands long ago & used it’s hidden location to distil their bootleg Gin. Now we continue on using their same recipe for happiness…sunshine, smiles, & a great gin!
Be careful for the overhead gondola & enjoy your time here at Hidden Bottle…& don’t forget the tonic!
Hidden Bottle, May 2021

I’m a little surprised the tipple being made wasn’t rum given it’s pirates we’re talking about; perhaps the story is simply something made up by the local to encourage tourists – or maybe the pirates in question had a more refined taste 😉 – and of course, “gin” is entirely in keeping with the region’s designated name – and there is a still awaiting discovery, if you can find it!

The setting primarily comprises a ruggedly handsome pair of islands that rise from the sea, and which if viewed from above look like a hook extending outwards from a blocky wrist.

Hidden Bottle, May 2021

It might be that, once upon a time the two were joined as one, but time and nature have worn a watery channel between them, a channel now spanned thanks to the hands of Man, a broad wooden platform crossing over the water and that serves as both a home to a small bar and also as a boarding point for the cable car system that runs around and through the islands.

The latter is an impressive ride, rising from the the water-spanning deck to follow the square cliffs of the “wrist” island, its cables supported by tall pylons that lay at first embedded in the rock of the island to lift cable cars up over a corner of the island’s flat head, before dropping their cables back down towards the sea and a neat line of their brethren that march single file out over the shallows of the sea and around the north side of the “hook” island, where they loop the highest peak and then descent by way of gorge and rocky arch to once more join the low-lying deck.

Hidden Bottle, May 2021

The cars that run along this cableway offer an ideal means to see much of the beauty of the setting, while platforms periodically placed along the route – some of them quite precipitously – offer places to both board and leave the cars and continue exploring on foot.

Mirroring the path of the cable cars, as is oft the way with such systems, are paths that wind up the cliffs and hills of the island, allowing people the means to explore on foot – and as the cars do not reach all the places waiting to be discovered, following them upwards (and back down!) is recommended.

Hidden Bottle, May 2021

For those who prefer, the southern and eastern curve of the islands cup within them calm waters where swimming or lazing on an outrigger boat might be enjoyed together with resting on the sands. Beneath the waves, for those who care to look / dive, fish and turtles swim whilst above, extending from the cliffs, an events stage offers another lookout point. And for those who fancy exploring more, a grassy route passes under a great arch of rock to reach the north side beach and its own hideaways.

With winding paths meandering over the hilltops, boardwalks and stairways climbing the cliffs to platforms and palm-crowned heights rich with the song of exotic birds as they fly around and through the trees, Hidden Bottle is a delight to explore. Throughout all of this are numerous places to sit and relax and just appreciate the setting and its promise of distant escape and freedom. and, needless to say, present photographers with a wealth of opportunities to exercise their shutters. In fact, you might say, Hidden Bottle / Gin are a perfect tonic if you need a getaway!

Hidden Bottle, May 2021

My  thanks to Numb for the invite!

SLurl Details

American fairy tales, Russian myths, fishing & furry aliens

Seanchai Library

It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home in Nowhereville, unless otherwise indicated. Note that the schedule below may be subject to change during the week, please refer to the Seanchai Library website for the latest information through the week.

Sunday, May 21st: 13:30 Tea-Time with L. Frank Baum

Lyman Frank Baum (May 15th, 1856 – May 6th, 1919) was an American author best known for his children’s books, particularly The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels (14 novels in all). His prolific output included 55 novels, 83 short stories,  over 200 poems and at least 42 scripts.

In 1901, twelve of his stories were published in anthology form by the George M. Hill Company under the title American Fairy Tales, the move designed by Baum and his publisher to capitalise on the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The 12 stories comprise The Box of Robbers, The Glass Dog, The Queen of Quok, The Girl Who Owned a Bear, The Enchanted Types, The Laughing Hippopotamus, The Magic Bon Bons, The Capture of Father Time, The Wonderful Pump, The Dummy That Lived, The King of the Polar Bears. and The Mandarin and the Butterfly.

All 12 are noted for the ironic or nonsensical morals attached to their ends and their satirical, glib, and tongue-in-cheek  tones that gives them an appeal to adult readers. They are also the subject of Tea-Time with L. Frank Baum, with Kayden OConnell, Corwyn Allen, Glori, and Caledeonia.

Monday, May 24th: 19:00 Saturn Rukh

In an unspecified time in the future, a team of astronauts is sent to Saturn on what could be a one-way mission. Financed by a multi-national consortium, their mission is to establish a factory in to upper reaches of the planet’s atmosphere where it can “mine” Saturn’s abundant helium to produce “meta” (nitro-stabilised metastable helium), a powerful propellant.

If they are successful, each of the astronauts stands to earn a billion dollars on their return to Earth. The catch? They only have sufficient fuel to reach Saturn – they must use the factory to produce the fuel needed to make their return to Earth.

However, things go awry when the mission enters the Saturnian atmosphere – and crash-lands on the back of an enormous creature that “swims” through the atmosphere. Another of the creatures – which appear to be semi-intelligent and which the astronaut dub “Rukh” – swallows some of the mission’s equipment, leaving the team with no choice but to attempt to establish communications with the creatures and attempt to recover their equipment.

Join Gyro Muggins as he reads the last full-length novel by physicist and author Robert L. Forward.

Tuesday, May 25th

12:00 Noon: Russell Eponym, Live in the Glen

Music, poetry, and stories.

19:00: Old Peter’s Russian Tales

Journalist Arthur Ransome – who would later gain fame for Swallows and Amazons, – travelled between England and Russia either side of the 1917 revolution. His initial reason for doing so was to escape his marriage. However, he became fascinated by the Russian language and life, particularly old folk tales.

In 1912 he came across a collection of translations of tales into English, but found the language and style exceptionally poor. However, he was captivated by the richness of the material, noting it differed from both Scandinavia, Brittany, Wales and Scotland.

So in 1914, he set about collecting tales and translating them for himself whilst in Russia, with a volume of stories published under the title Old Peter’s Russian Tales in 1916, when he was staying in Vergezha, on the River Volkhov.

Now Willow Moonfire brings these tales to Seanchai Library.

Wednesday, May 26th, 19:00: Carl Hiaasen’s Skink

A native Floridian, Carl Hiaasen  is an American journalist who focused on political issues (notably corruption, environmental issues and other wrong-doings) within his home state. Starting his career in the 1970s , he became renowned for being exceptionally outspoken – even against his own employers.

Carl Hiaasen. Credit: Joe Rimkus Jr.

During the 1980s, he started writing fiction in his spare time, achieving initial success with three co-authored novels published between 1981 and 1984, as well as writing several non-fiction titles.

In 1987, his second novel, Double Whammy introduced the “trailer park star tenant” and private eye, C.J. Decker, which Hiaasen fondly refers to as “the first (and possibly only) novel ever written about sex, murder and corruption on the professional bass-fishing tour.” Among the cast of characters mixed into Double Whammy is one Clinton Tyree, the one-time governor of Florida, who abandoned his office and now lives as a outdoorsman (and partaker of roadkill cuisine) in the Everglades and the Florida Keys, using the pseudonym Skink.

Skink went on to become a recurring character in a further seven of Hiaasen’s novels to date, with all the books in which he features being gathered together under the general title of SKINK, with several of them being been among the 20+ works of fiction and non-fiction by Hiaasen to appear on the New York Times best-seller list.

Join Kayden Oconnell as he introduces Hiaasen ‘s writing and the tales in which Clinton “Skink” Tyree moves to a Second Life audience.

Thursday, May 27th 19:00: Little Fuzzy

Ktadhn Vesuvino reads the book by H. Beam Piper that spawned a series by him and other science fiction authors about a small, furry species dubbed Fuzzies.

Little Fuzzy charts the discovery of small furry species on the planet Zarathustra and the attempts by humans to determine whether or not they are sentient. If they are, then their planet will be declared a protect aboriginal  world. However, The Company has desires to control the planet and its resources.