Space 2012!

…and we’re still here

Though Psy did reach 1,000,000,000 views on YouTube. Perhaps that’s what the Mayan calendar signified.

Oh well, back to the same old crap…

21 December - The End Date Cometh (no, not really)

The Mayan end date of Dec 21 2012 is stimulating a lot of carry on in the media, or so it seems to me. This time of the year is a bit dead, news wise, so the end of the 13th bak’tun is certainly an ample way of padding out newspapers and news bulletins.

I can’t remember exactly when I first learned about the Mayan countdown, but I do remember that I had a webpage in 2000 that had a javascript counter that counted down to December 21st. The date seemed unfeasibly far off; it isn’t now. I’m not sure what I was expecting 2012 to be like. If you’d said it would be like this I’d probably have taken it, at least personally, though the world seems to be in much greater disrepair than it was in 2000. Our handheld information devices are much better quality though…

The end of the world has been presaged rather a lot lately. I remember the first Iraq war was supposed to have brought about the end times. Then Comet Hale-Bopp, then the Millenium, then Harold Camping’s amateurish efforts last year. This one, I feel, though, is the big one. When this one passes without incident people will be hard-pressed to say the end is nigh ever again. Right? But they will.

The most amusing thing I’ve read about this is the notion that if Psy’s Gangnam Style reaches 1 billion views this will trigger the end times. Well, what could be more fitting, surely? The horse dance of the apocalypse…

The Space 2012 album contains two reference to Psy’s phenomenal song. When I decided to include them, in August this year, the song was still a cult thing, and I thought the reference would be funny. 950 million views later and the inclusion now seems a bit obvious and unimaginative, but oh well.

With reference to Space 2012 and the end times, here yet again is the Space 2012 track 2012, as well as Terence McKenna, Timewave Zero, and the Internet, where Psy gets the (brief) last laugh.

Eschatologically yours,

The Space 2012 Team.

Dec 7

Side B of the album is at SoundCloud - as is Side A, funnily enough.

Side A of the album is at SoundCloud - as is Side B, funnily enough.

Dec 1

Introduction

2012 has been a remarkable year for space endeavours, both inside and out of the atmosphere. We witnessed the last transit of Venus for over a century, the audacious (and thankfully successful) landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, SpaceX’s first commercial flights to the International Space Station, and a new chapter in China’s space exploration with the docking of Shenzhou 9 with Tiangong 1. The year also culminates - at the solstice of December 21 - with the end of the Mayan calendar, a date which many predict will bring great disaster to the earth.

Space 2012! is a mix of spoken word recordings and music in a style that could be described as ‘scrapbook ambient’. There are quiet moments and loud moments, and one or two strange moments, but the sound and music is always compelling.

On the off chance that the prophecies do come true, the album is being released on December 1, so that people may have a chance to listen to it before The End… Enjoy!

First Stage Burn (Falcon 9)

On 22 May 2012 SpaceX launched the COTS2 mission to the International Space Station. This marked the first time a private company docked a capsule with a space station. As SpaceX was contracted to do this work by NASA, with the the successful completion of the mission, commercial space transportation came of age.

First Stage Burn features audio from the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which transported the Dragon capsule to the ISS. The accompanying music is an attempt to describe the strange serenity of a (successful) rocket launch.

A further Dragon mission to the ISS was completed in October 2012. SpaceX hopes to have the Dragon capsule ready to take astronauts to the ISS in 2015, and is one of several private companies developing technologies to transport humans into low earth orbit.

Dragon

This track describes the first visit of Dragon to the ISS, using commentary from NASA TV of the docking, as well as an ITN report of the successful return of the capsule.

The track features a loop of an exhilirating chord sequence by Bernard Hermann from the score to Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

Interlude from 2011: Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy was discovered in November 2011 hurtling towards the sun. It made its closest approach to the sun on 16 December. Being so small and coming to within 100,000 kilometres of the surface of the sun, the comet was not expected to survive, but it re-emerged largely intact from behind the sun, and in the southern hemisphere it could be seen with the naked eye over the Christmas period.

The astronauts on the ISS were some of the first people to see the comet as it re-emerged from the sun, and the Comet Lovejoy track features a lovely description by astronaut Dan Burbank of seeing the comet for the first time, and despite being a 2011 event (albeit late 2011)  his words merited inclusion in this compilation.

Interlude from UC0079: Lalah and Amuro

The 1979 Japanese animation saga Mobile Suit Gundam features, amongst the melodrama of teens flying gigantic warrior robots, and considerable amount of hard (if speculative) science around the possible colonization of space. In the ‘Universal Century’ world much of the human population is living in space in colonies of stations positioned at various Earth-Moon Lagrange points (stable orbital points where the gravity of the Earth and the Moon cancel each other out).

Much work on the colonization of space, including design of possible stations was formulated by NASA researcher Gerard K. O’Neill in the 1970s. The makers of Mobile Suit Gundam took O’Neill’s work (especially O’Neill’s space station design: so-called O’Neill cylinders) and used it as a backdrop for their world.

The 1960s and 1970s was a time of feverish speculation about possible space technologies, which fuelled the imaginations of a generation of young minds. Since then the excitement has dimmed somewhat, in the face of the demands and constraints of affairs on Earth, but in the last decade technologies have matured and interest has reignited (especially in the area of commercial space exploration), and the next decade holds much more promise than (in this author’s view) any time in the past three.

While the background world was rooted in serious scientific speculation, other elements of the story are more mystical, examining how living in space might change humanity and alter the course of its evolution. The conversation in this track (in Japanese) discusses this metaphysics.

It has been said that it would be of benefit to human kind to send artists and poets into space to report back to the rest of us what it’s like. Perhaps soon we will be able to find out for ourselves; for now we have to rely on science fiction writers to imagine it for us.

Transit of Venus

June 5/6 2012 marked a transit of Venus, where the planet passes across the surface of sun, as viewed  from Earth. The last transit was in 2004, but the 2012 transit was the last for this century.

Historically the transit of Venus was of great importance to astronomers and navigators, as a way to calculate the distance from the sun to the earth, as well as a means of refining navigational techniques on the earth. Captain Cook's expedition to the south pacific to observe the 1769 transit opened up the exploration and eventual colonisation of that region.

The Transit of Venus track on Space 2012! primarily features a BBC News report by science correspondent Pallab Ghosh. While documenting the transit across the world, there’s a wry lament that the transit was not observable from the UK because of the weather. The track also features a message from University of Virginia Associate Professor of Astronomy Edward Murphy explaining how to view the transit. Never look directly at the sun!

Cappadocia Sky

For most of humanity’s history, astronomy was what you did when you looked up at night (providing the sky was clear). ‘Cappadocia Sky’ features a recording of an astronomer describing some of the stars of the northern hemisphere to a tour group.

ELON MUSK

This track features Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, the maker of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule. Here Musk discusses SpaceX’s long term goals - to create a fully reusable rocket that will enable cheap human spaceflight and potentially extend humanity’s presence in space to a much greater degree.

Musk’s musings are bold, but reflect a continuation of the serious speculations of Gerard O’Neill in the 1970s regarding humanity’s future in space (see the entry for Lalah and Amuro). In November 2012 Musk released a plan to build a human colony on Mars. While it remains to be seen whether anything like this plan ever eventuates, there’s certainly nothing wrong with having big ideas.

Shenzhou 9 (feat. 徐小鳳)

In June 2012 China launched its Shenzhou 9 spacecraft to rendezvous with the Tiangong 1 space station launched in 2011. The docking mission was a first for the Chinese space programme.

The mission featured the first female Chinese astronaut, Liu Yang. The mission, part of China’s plan to eventually operate a permanently manned space station, was completely successful.

Creating the Shenzhou 9 track was problematic as the album already contained two tracks about spacecraft launches and dockings. Something different was required, so some research was done to determine if there was any Chinese science fiction films or music that might be utilised. Research conducted with Google found relatively little, so I settled on using a song sung by Paula Tsui Siu Fong, a cantonese pop singer. The song, a cover of a Japanese original called 思い出通り雨, is named 漫漫前路 in Chinese (which means something like ‘slow walk on the road’), and was originally released in 1979. Containing lyrics about journeys, and the singer lamenting that she does not know when she will meet someone again, seemed vaguely apposite to the subject, and in any event it’s a great rollicking song, so it was pulled into service for the track.

The track also features BBC and CCTV news reports about the mission. Also featured is some of Louis and Bebe Barron's seminal electronic music soundtrack to the classic science fiction film Forbidden Planet.

Commencing and concluding the track is a rendition of the ‘second Chinese national anthem’, Ode to the Motherland. The Chinese space programme is a considerable source of pride to the nation, heralding its status as a developed power.

Entry Descent Landing

On August 6 2012 the Mars Science Laboratory landed on Mars. The Entry, Descent, and Landing of the Curiosity rover was dubbed ‘seven minutes of terror’ by NASA. Landing on Mars is a difficult process, with numerous failures over the years, and MSL’s ambitious skycrane system seemed (in simulation) very unlikely to work.

But it did. The Entry Descent Landing track begins with some descriptions of the mission taken from a NASA press briefing by Doug McGuiston and the BBC’s Sky at Night TV programme. The interlude features a (very low fidelity) recording of science fiction author Ray Bradbury (who died in 2012) speaking fancifully about how he got to Mars (via Edgar Rice Burroughs). Finally there’s a brief appearance by the great William Shatner and then audio recording of the landing in the mission control.

This track was the most difficult to place with music. The excitement of mission control suggested similarly exciting music, but in the end no music seemed quite exciting enough. Instead the music is quietly triumphal and the main drama of the piece is left to the mission controllers themselves, which is probably more appropriate.

While on Mars Curiosity has already made some impressive discoveries, one of which is set to be made in early December, after this collection is released. If the discovery is sufficiently momentous, this track will be altered as a sort of musical erratum.

Square Kilometre Array

The Square Kilometre Array is a scientific project to build a giant collection of radio telescopes spanning several southern hemisphere continents. Originally proposals for two sites - one mainly in South Africa and one mainly in Australia were competing for funding, but in mid 2012 it was decided that the array would be hosted across both sites.

Construction of the massive project will begin in 2016 and the project will be completed in 2024.

The track features a description of the project by a journalist for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.