Planetary Resources To Change How We Explore The Cosmos

Planetary Resources is a group of world leaders that are building the ground floor opportunities for a space travel industry. Not long ago, in “One Good Reason Why Space Travel Will Happen In Your Lifetime,” we told of their idea to mine near-Earth asteroids for raw materials, basically making space travel profitable. Now, the forward-thinking team at Planetary Resources has tapped a diverse group of supporters to make access to space widely available for exploration and research.

Planetary Resources already includes Google’s CEO Larry Page, filmmaker James Cameron and others who are known for turning exploration into profit.

Recently added to the roster are Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson, actor Seth Green, Star Trek’s Brent Spiner (Data) and Rob Picardo (The Doctor), Bill Nye the Science Guy, futurist Jason Silva and MIT astrophysicist Dr. Sara Seager.

Coming up on Wednesday, May 29 at 10:00 a.m. PDT in Seattle at the Great Gallery at The Museum of Flight (also streaming live), Planetary Resources’ Peter Diamandis, Eric Anderson and Chris Lewicki, along with vlogger Hank Green, will announce an unprecedented project that proposes to change the way humans explore the cosmos.While exact details are being kept secret for now, the plan is to give students, teachers and the public access to “the most innovative space observation technology ever built,” said Planetary Resources in a Reddit post. Also to be covered at the live event, an offer for the public to directly participate in cutting-edge citizen science and discovery.

Doubtful? Check this video with Chief Asteroid Miner Chris Lewicki. Looks legit to me. What do you think?

Help Name Pluto’s Newly Discovered Moons

Pluto is one of the little mysteries of our solar system. An icy dwarf planet far from Earth, it’s never been studied up close. The best scientists have been able to do is to examine it with the Hubble Space Telescope, one of the coolest scientific instruments ever invented.

In 2011 and 2012, they discovered two new moons around Pluto, bringing the total number of its satellites to five. Right now they’re known by the boring scientific designations S/2011 (134340) 1 and S/2012 (134340) 1. Most astronomers call them by the shorter yet equally boring nicknames P4 and P5. Now an online poll on the website Pluto Rocks!, run by Dr. Mark Showalter of the P4/P5 Discovery Team, is letting YOU help decide what to name them.

All the choices come from Greek and Roman mythology but one has a special significance for science fiction fans – Vulcan. None other than William Shatner has gotten behind the push to name one of the moons after Mr. Spock’s home world. He’s urging fans via his twitter feed to vote for Vulcan. On his own twitter feed, Leonard Nimoy said, “‘Vulcan’ is the logical choice. LLAP.” LLAP stands for “Live long and prosper,” of course.

According to the current tally, Vulcan is way ahead, with Cerberus and Styx neck-and-neck for second place. I decided to release my inner Trekkie and voted for Vulcan. Since there are two moons to be named, you get to go back and vote again. I’ll be voting for Thanatos. It’s way behind but it’s the coolest name on there after Vulcan.

P4 is Pluto’s smallest moon, measuring an estimated 8-21 miles across and orbits Pluto in about 31 days. P5 is 6-16 miles across and orbits Pluto in 20 days. Little is known about their physical makeup although it is thought they are a combination of water ice, other frozen elements and molecules, and small bits of rock.

While astronauts and space tourists won’t be getting to these destinations anytime soon, it’s nice to know that you had a part in naming them. Voting ends at noon EST on Monday, February 25.

[Photo courtesy NASA via the Hubble Space Telescope]

Christmas in Minnesota

Minnesota, in the icy northern central USA
Temp: 23°F in Minneapolis as I write, and the 25th has a projected low of 19°F
Snow: Lots of it!
Percentage of population who celebrates Christmas: 64.2 percent here are Christian “adherents
Are you there right now: Yes.

All’s quiet on the northern front. What I love about Minneapolis at Christmastime is that we almost always have fluffy blankets of falling snow, which creates a sound barrier and makes the whole city seem blissfully peaceful. Still, there’s lots to do, from munching on doughy, cinnamon and sugar frosted puppy dog tails at Isles Bun & Coffee (trust me) to watching Dickens performed in Star Trek-speak.Even if all the crazy Scandinavian and German foods and traditions are Greek to you, you’ll love the way homes all over the city and suburbs really get into the fantastical holiday light decor. Like in other states, driving through the residential areas of the city to look at the dazzling holiday light displays is a common family ritual. Minneapolitans even take it a step further and throw a yearly, nightly Holidazzle Parade, which locals and children watch from the warm skyways (enclosed bridges which connect a large number of buildings in the downtown area; they’re like all-window hallways) and a heated tent, supplied with hot cider and cocoa, every Thursday through Sunday (this year’s parades ended December 20).

Families line up for hours at the Minneapolis Macy’s on Nicollet Mall to see the yearly SantaLand, a tradition which is almost 50 years old. Once you enter, you wind through animatronic elves and North Pole-esque wonders and eventually arrive at Santa himself for that “will my kid cry or ask for a present” confrontation (through December 30). A newer yearly tradition at the trendy bowling-alley-restaurant-theater, Bryant Lake Bowl, is a performance of David Sedaris’ SantaLand Diaries by Theater Limina (final performance December 21), a merciless account of working as a Macy’s elf, strangely heartwarming in its cynicism, and perfect for the dark-humored Nords of Minnesota. It typically sells out.

If you’re into holiday theater, a show which every Minnesotan must see once is The Guthrie Theater’s annual A Christmas Carol. It changes a little every year with new adaptations and actors, so there’s always something new to see. What is constant is the beauty and authority with which the classic tale is presented, with enough Dickens for true fans and enough wonder for the whole family (through December 31). Folks travel from far and wide to catch it — and now, many are traveling over the rivers and through the snow for a newer tradition: A Klingon Christmas Carol, presented almost entirely in Klingon by the translation-focused company Commedia Beauregard, with a single English-speaking Vulcan narrator (who happened to be my best friend this year through December 13, clip here). Over in St. Paul, Ballet Minnesota’s annual Nutcracker Ballet plays through December 20 at the O’Shaughnessy. Minnesotans never want for live performances. They say it’s because it’s so cold in the winter; all the indoor entertainment industries thrive.

For Scandinavians, the place to be is The Swedish Institute of America, where they have A Nordic Christmas (through January 10). Insider tip: The SIA’s gift shop always stocked with hard-to-find imported gifts and candies. It’s a Minnesota Christmas goldmine.

Lastly, if you’d prefer liquor over lutefisk and lefse, head to The Chambers Hotel, where they have an Ice Bar (that’s me there with my friend Tim in 2007 — it’s not glass, it’s all ice!). It won’t be open on Christmas Day, so if you’re looking for some literal holiday drinking, head to Gameworks for beer, cocktails and gaming, The Saloon, which is one of the Twin Cities’ most fabulous gay bars, Market BBQ for raucous karaoke or Park Tavern for bowling.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you!