Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"People of Earth! Attention! People of Earth! Attention!"

"What? WHAT?"

"Oh..., nothing".

When I was in, oh, I don't know, I guess 4th grade, I saw a movie called "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers". In retrospect, it's embarrassing to watch, much like admitting to watching the Space Hippie Episode on Star Trek. And the screenwriters for the movie must have been the same Aspergian group that went on to write movies like "Kronos" or  "20 Million Miles to Earth". Which is to say a collection of writers in possession of an affable and earnest super-dorkiness which guarantees reception of an Atomic Wedgie, or at least a Purple Herbie.

The Future.. drawn...today!
Regardless, for several months afterwards, I would draw pictures of tanks vs. flying saucers. And they pretty much looked like this over on the right. It's not a very good picture, but I chalk that up to drawing with computer mouse, which is rather like drawing with a pencil up your butt.

Now, you will notice I have only the one tank against the one flying saucer, but in the original series, there was a whole Shakespearian cosmology of dramatic encounters, with both tanks and flying saucers exploding in jagged edged fulminations, and both aliens and men set aflame! And further note that the flying saucers require radar dish emitters to broadcast their lightning beams. Not being an expert on high energy collimating weapons, I had to rely on Hollywood's expertise. Interestingly, had this picture been done by a Name Artist, like Warhol, or Picasso, it would easily be worth a cool million at Sotheby's.

How fucked up is that?

Flash forward to the year 1976, and I am asked to join in a project to help produce a text-based adventure game played on a computer. The first I know of was called Colossal Cave, and it kind of went like:
"You are standing in the middle of a forest path. To your left is a small grass hut with an elf standing in the doorway.
Club Elf.
The elf had a small key which you now possess.
Club Elf.
The elf is dead. You have a small key."
You get the idea. No, I didn't play the game.

Okay, I played it. But I gave up pretty quickly as it was fucking boring. But here was the deal, and it was kind of interesting. Attending an Intro to Astronomy class and one of the students wanted to develop a text-based adventure game that was also science educational. The professor was enthusiastically on board, and was willing to accept the student's proposal as a grade-worthy project - should he develop it. The idea was it would present game puzzles that would also be lessons in physics and astronomy. After hashing various scenarios out in class, it was decided the game would be called Moon Base, and it would be a narrative on lunar colonization. I received the assignment of justification for the moon base from the professor, after I objected to the whole plausibility of a lunar colony being established the far-off future date of 1999.

So, here's what I come up with. (And, although this justification ended my participation in the game development, I still ended up with an 'A' for the assignment. Hurray for me!). In the year 1983, astronomers discover that a two mile wide asteroid is going to impact the earth sometime in 1995. It is a carbonaceous chondrite asteroid, which is seredipitous. Carbonaceous chondrite meteorites have been found to contain both water and carbon. In fact, the average one contains up to 10% water, and unusual contain organic compounds. These are substances which are common on Earth, but rare in space, just the kind valuable materials you would like to mine up in space.

Well, also, it turns out these types of asteroids are usually loose collections of boulders, never having become hot enough to melt together to form a solid object. So, the usual dipshit military procedure of zapping one of these guys with an H-bomb is out of the question. What to do with this sucker?

...a little bit to the left... no, my left... that's it!
But hey, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Since the space jockeys have a whole decade to plan something before Death From Above, they come up with idea of diverting the asteroid and "soft" landing it on the Moon. The deal is, they build a series of nuclear powered space tugs, go up and intercept the asteroid, use the mass of the tugs to gravitationally change its trajectory so that it impacts the Moon at a "relatively" slow speed, and you end up with a hundred mile long oval footprint of carbonaceous goodness on the surface of the Moon.

Not only does the scenario provide a good reason for a massive space effort, but it also provides a bonanza on the Moon, providing just the right materials for a successful Moon Base.

I thought it was pretty clever.

I am such a dork. 

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