Category Archives: Space Travel

Remember When We Didn’t Need A Planetary Protection Officer?

When I saw NASA’s advertisement for “Planetary Protection Officer,” I knew that it was the job for me.  I have always been concerned about interplanetary missions accidentally bringing alien germs back to Earth.  Although I did not have the required degree in physical science or math, I hated being around sick people, especially people who are sniffling or coughing, and I knew that this trait would make me the most qualified candidate.

My first task upon being hired was to install hand sanitizer dispensers on all spacecraft, with a sign stating that all personnel were required to use it on their hands before entering the spacecraft.  It seemed easy, until I realized that the alien life forms would probably not be able to read English.

So instead I drew several diagrams of aliens placing their hands underneath the dispenser, their hands filling with foam, and then the aliens rubbing their hands together.  But then I realized that the aliens might not have hands.  So I added a few more diagrams that were exactly the same, except in each one the hands were replaced with a different extremity: tentacles, claws, wings, hooves, fins.  I thought I’d covered every possible combination, until some staffer asked, “What if the alien is a gelatinous blob?”  I replied that gelatinous blobs would obviously be far too weird-looking to be allowed on Earth.  I then arranged to have the staffer transferred to a less challenging department.

Next, I drew diagrams demonstrating how aliens should cover their mouths if they coughed or sneezed.  This was a much larger project, since not only did I have to cover a wide range of potential types of hands, but also types of mouths.  Then it dawned on me that some aliens might have more mouths than extremities capable of covering them all.

This problem really had me stumped, until I realized that the thing to do was draw several diagrams, one showing the cough coming from one mouth, then another showing a sneeze coming from another mouth, and so on, with each drawing showing the hand or fin or tentacle covering just the mouth that was coughing or sneezing.  It came out very clear, and I marveled at my success in communicating with extraterrestrial life.

My third task was the most challenging.  I have always considered it my mission, and a difficult one at that, to convince people who have runny noses to grab a tissue and blow their noses, rather than sit there sniffling all day.  We all know what it sounds like when someone with a runny or stuffed up nose chooses to sniffle it back rather than expel it into a tissue.  And then makes that same choice again, and again, and…again, all day long, day in and day out, when there are plenty of tissues right there for the taking, especially when a well-meaning co-worker is holding the tissues out and offering them for free.

With it being so difficult to get humans to use tissues, I knew it would be even harder to convince lifeforms from other planets to blow their noses rather than sniffle?

I struggled with the problem, until I realized the truth was staring me right in the face: sound doesn’t travel in space.  The aliens could sniffle all they want, for no one would ever hear them.  I patted myself on the back for solving a problem with no cost to the taxpayers, and thought about tackling my next big project: extraterrestrials abusing cough syrup.

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Remember When You Could Go to Mars for Only $75 Million?

So I’m sure you’ve heard by now of the orbiter that India sent to Mars for only $75 million, and seen it compared to the U.S. Mars orbiter that cost $672 million. Whatever the reasons for the difference in price, my main concern is that the two orbiters will start orbiting the planet in the same path at the same time, and they’ll be fighting over the armrest, and we’ll have to turn the spaceship around.mission to mars

The more I think about it, even $75 million starts to sound like a lot. Maybe the first space trip would cost a lot.  But that was decades ago, back when there was an evening paper and people had milk delivered to them in a glass bottle.  There should have been more cost-effective innovation by now, like what they’ve done with coffee.

There are plenty of places where money can be saved on the Mars orbiter. I hope they didn’t bother installing air conditioning.  I’ve found that a good fan well-positioned can cool as quickly, if not more quickly, than central air conditioning, albeit with a plug that can be a trip hazard, especially when one is using a plate with a turkey sandwich on it to balance a large glass of soda.

We shouldn’t be paying for ice either. Space is very cold.  All the spaceship has to do is hold a pitcher of water outside the cabin for a few seconds, and poof!  Instant ice cubes.  The ice cubes would, of course, be in those annoying half-moon shapes that come out of refrigerators.  You can’t have everything in life.

The biggest cost-saver would have to be cable and internet. The price that NASA pays to have cable and internet on every one of its spaceships was probably, in the beginning, quite modest.  And after a few months, NASA got accustomed to the price, and the astronauts were too tired from walking in slo-mo in those bulky suits to read the monthly cable bill very closely anymore.

In fact, I’m sure that NASA at this point feels rather powerless to do anything against the cable company. But the company is expecting you to do nothing! I wish I could say.  Just call up, and say that you heard that other large and inefficient agencies are paying less for cable and internet, and that you as a loyal customer demand the same low price.  The cable company will grant your wish.  And do you know why?  Because they don’t want to lose you as a customer.

Friends, it has been over two days since I shamelessly plugged The Issue Box on this blog, and I suspect that many of you have not had the opportunity to check it out. I know, I know.  They’ve been showing episodes of Roseanne. I get it.  TV marathons happen.  But still there are commercials.  So feel free to stop by during a commercial break.  Unless it is one of those commercials that is better than the program you were watching.  It’s fun when that happens.

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