Showing posts with label space. Show all posts
Showing posts with label space. Show all posts

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Patents 'sound less NASA and more Starfleet,' attorney says; is sci-fi's 'anti-gravity' already in the works?

Artist conception of Gravity Probe B and space-time.
NASA Universe via Flickr CC BY 2.0
A number of U.S. patent filings over the last decade point to the development of "anti-gravity" and might evidence the reverse engineering of alien technology in government possession, L.A. attorney Puya Partow-Navid wrote for Seyfarth late last month.

British astronomer Chris Impey cataloged for PBS News Hour the "flurry of activity over the past few years" fueling speculation about "unidentified anomalous phenomena" (UAP), also known as unidentified flying objects (UFOs), including congressional hearings in July. NASA released a report Thursday concluding that "we do not presently have the body of data needed to make definitive, scientific conclusions about UAP," but calling for more and better study.

In his article for Seyfarth, Partow-Navid listed four patent applications from 2016 to 2022 that suggest the inevitable invention of a gravitational propulsion system. Such a system could counterpose gravitational waves and the vacuum of space to move a spacecraft without propellant. A couple of the inventions "sound less NASA and more Starfleet," Partow-Navid wrote, thus evoking the connection to aliens. 

Mastery of gravity is a device of science fiction as old as the genre itself. Artificial gravity is essential to make human life in space plausible. Arthur C. Clarke in 2001 described ships that rotated around an axis to simulate gravity with centrifugal force. That's a scientifically sound method, if we can engineer and build the thing. When science fiction came to film and television in the 20th century, the zero-gravity special effects of Interstellar were either impossible or impossibly expensive, so artificial-gravity technology usually was just assumed.

"I was progressing in great leaps and bounds."
Illustration from H.G. Wells,
First Men on the Moon (1901)

Public domain via Internet Archive
If we can create gravity, we can cancel it out, futurists figure. H.G. Wells imagined a shield that would negate gravity as early as his 1901 First Men on the Moon. In the 1960s, Star Trek imagined anti-gravity to move heavy objects with minimal effort and even build cloud cities (a few years before (or "a long time" after) Lando Calrissian called one home). (See generally the Lawrence M. Krauss classic, The Physics of Star Trek (1995).) Gravity cancellation, though, was a solid venture into the hypothetical; there is no shortcut such as centrifugal force to get there. Fortunately for science fiction film and TV, anti-gravity is the easier deception.

Nevertheless, and the possible infusion of alien know-how notwithstanding, anti-gravity has been a subject of serious science and concerted military investigation on and off since World War II. Einstein's theory of general relativity was key, because if gravity is a force relative to mass and motion, then we might be able to manipulate it similarly. The door would be open not only to gravitational propulsion; even "warp drive" would be on the table: travel to a distant destination without actually crossing the space in between.

The patent applications that Partow-Navid cites are really not so far off the leading edge of human science. Claims of gravity manipulation have been floating around the scientific peer review space for three decades now. Even if no effort has come to verifiable fruition, the experiments are striking out in a direction promising enough to be credible and tantalizing.

That's not to discount that alien tech could offer a welcome assist. Pessimists, or realists?, who pooh-pooh warp drive point out that if it were so readily achievable that we would get there in the cosmically brief era of human scientific development, then some of the statistically probable prevalence of alien civilizations in the universe should be already in orbit around our planet.

Maybe they are.

The article is Puya Partow-Navid, Unraveling the UAP Enigma: Are Patents the Gateway to Alien Tech?, Seyfarth (Aug. 29, 2023).

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Chag Pesach sameach, happy First Contact Day

Mosaic in Netherlands, reading, "בשמאלה עשר וכבוד"
("in her left hand riches and honor") (Proverbs 3:16),
showing "Kohanim hands."
(Kleuske via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Passover periodically coincides with First Contact Day, as it does this year, on April 5, 2023.

Passover is a major Jewish holiday, thus moves with the lunisolar Hebrew calendar. The cause for celebration is not exclusive to Judaism, as the holiday marks the Israelite escape from slavery in Egypt. Passover was on April 5 most recently in 1985, 1993, and 2004, but it won't happen again until 2069.

April 5 is also First Contact Day, a delightful celebration from the fictional Star Trek universe marking the day that earthbound humans first learn they are not alone in the universe. Vulcans revealed, or will reveal, themselves to humans on April 5, 2063, so the holiday often is identified with the Vulcan hand gesture of fingers paired and separated in a "V."

There's more connection between the two holidays than an occasional overlap on the calendar. In 1967, Leonard Nimoy, the actor who first played Mr. Spock, the famous Vulcan of Star Trek lore, borrowed the hand gesture from his Jewish heritage.  The Take explained the origin:

[Nimoy] drew upon childhood memories of Jewish synagogue services he attended with his Yiddish-speaking grandfather. The V-shaped position is the shape of the Hebrew letter "shin," which is the representative letter of the word "Shaddai," a term for God, and is a gesture traditionally used by the Kohanim (Hebrew "priests"), Jews of priestly descent, during a blessing ceremony. It’s also the first letter of "Shalom," the Jewish word for hello, goodbye, and peace.

The "Vulcan salute" (🖖) earned emoji status in 2014. Usually accompanied by the utterance, "Live long and prosper," it's not so distant a cousin of shalom.

Thanks to attorney, and my long-ago TA, Kevin Hart for being the first to wish me a happy First Contact Day, and to my friend Professor Robert Steinbuch for reminding me of the Vulcan salute's Jewish heritage.

Chag Pesach sameach, and happy First Contact Day.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Star Trek's latest voyage to 'strange new worlds' charts a 'final frontier' evocatively close to home

"In Defense of Episodic TV," read the headline on a story by Associated Press journalist Ted Anthony last week about Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Paramount's serialized prequel to Star Trek's 1960s Original Series.

Author of Chasing the Rising Sun (2007), the intriguing biography of a classic American song, Anthony lauded Strange New Worlds for what might seem like its mundanity (e.g., Miami Herald):

Members of the Enterprise crew on “Strange New Worlds” are living their lives. They’re doing their jobs, even when their jobs really suck—like when they lose one of their own or are under attack. Like us, they find themselves in different moods from episode to episode, from scene to scene. They’re silly one moment, crisp and efficient the next, emotional the next and then, maybe, silly all over again. It all feels more like the cadence of actual life than one of these deep dives into a single, relentless story arc.

I second Anthony's paean. Strange New Worlds is a peculiar joy. In its return to the episodic formula of the 20th century Original Series and Next Generation, and, indeed, a classic television formula that has given way to the predominance of the season arc in the streaming era, showrunners Akiva Goldsman and Henry Alonso Myers have reinvigorated the incomparable capacity of science fiction to comment critically on the real world through a veil of analogical fantasticism. Such was the original vision of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (on this blog).

Strange New Worlds episode 5, "Spock Amock" (released June 2, 2022), beautifully exemplifies the episodic approach. (Plot details, but no story-end spoilers, follow.)

Paramount invested lavishly in Strange New Worlds, and it shows in elaborate sets and stunning special effects with epic space battles. "Spock Amock" subtly exhibits this investment, but action and suspense are not at the heart of the episode. Rather, "Spock Amock" is a deceptively low-key human interest story unfolding as the Enterprise crew go on shore leave. Frankly, such stories usually turn me off because, in the streaming era, they are the product of lesser writers seeking to fill time in unnecessarily multi-episode productions. That's not what's happening here.

This story by Myers and Robin Wasserman comprises three discrete lines. In one, Spock (Ethan Peck) and his fiancée T'Pring (Gia Sandhu) wrestle with a sometimes mildly comical Freaky Friday flip of consciousness; Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and Lt. Noonien-Singh (yes, she's related) (Christina Chong) investigate a ship disciplinary matter; and Captain Pike (Anson Mount) and Spock/T'Pring negotiate a treaty with frustratingly obstinate alien leaders. Without giving too much away, the striking theme that unifies all three story lines, in the end, is, simply, empathy. By interacting with the unknowable ways of other beings, every character is compelled to look inside her or his own mind, own character, and thereby to grow in the capacity to see the world from a different perspective.

The Enterprise never leaves space dock in "Spock Amock." Yet perhaps better than any other, the episode exemplifies her mission, to explore the strange new worlds of the final frontier. For it always has been true of Star Trek since its opening sequence first aired in 1966:

The final frontier is us.