Tag Archives: Carl Sagan

Humans Explore: We Are Capable of Greatness, a new short by Space City Films

1 Jan

A new short film by Space City Films beautifully combines images from EFT-1 – the fist test flight of NASA’s Orion capsule on December 5, 2014 – with Carl Sagan’s passage We Humans Are Capable of Greatness.

Turn on the HD and watch:

These are Carl’s words:

We were hunters and foragers, the frontier was everywhere. We were bounded only by the earth and the ocean and the sky. The open road still softly calls. Our little tarraquest globe is the madhouse of those hundred, thousand, millions of worlds.

We who cannot even put our own planetary home in order, riven with rivalries and hatreds; are we to venture out into space?

By the time we are ready to settle even the nearest other planetary systems, we will have changed. The simple passage of so many generations will have changed us. Necessity will have changed us.

We’re an adaptable species. It will not be we who reach Alpha Centauri and the other nearby stars, it will be a species very like us, but with more of our strengths and fewer of our weaknesses. More confident, far seeing, capable, and prudent.

For all our failings, despite our limitations and fallabilities, we humans are capable of greatness.

What new wonders undreamt of in our time will we have wrought in another generation and another? How far will our nomadic species have wandered by the end of the next century and the next millennium?

Our remote descendants safely arrayed on many worlds through the solar system and beyond, will be unified. By their common heritage, by their regard for their home planet, and by the knowledge that whatever other life may be, the only humans in all the universe, come from Earth.

They will gaze up and strain to find the Blue Dot in their skies. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was.

How perilous our infancy. How humble our beginnings. How many rivers we had to cross before we found our way.

– Carl Sagan

It is always remarkable how well Carl captures the contrast between our problems here on the Pale Blue Dot and the potential for what we can accomplish.

The filmmaker, Marc Havican, tweeted that this film is the first in a series he and Space City Films are creating called Humans Explore.

Can’t wait to see the next one!

Daydreaming about exploration wearing Mars-coloured glasses

29 Dec

The frontiers of exploration have had many faces throughout history. In ages past, what is today London, England would have been a striking, though desolate, find. Today it’s a central hub of the Western world.

Ditto my hometown of Toronto, Ontario. Just 300 years ago it was wilderness. And you don’t have to venture very far from the city limits to return to that untamed world.

And there are many places around the world that are still, in the truest sense of the word, frontiers of exploration.

Antarctica, the Amazon rainforest, the ocean floor (a massive ‘new world’ right here on Earth), Madagascar, the high Arctic – all places that most human will never venture and no doubt hold secrets that could both amaze and bewilder our understanding of the world and perhaps life itself.

Overlooking the frozen shores of Lake Nipissing in North Bay, Ontario

Overlooking the frozen shores of Lake Nipissing in North Bay, Ontario

Consider for example the extremophiles (life that exists in extreme environments) that live inside rocks many kilometers beneath the surface – far from any sunlight – that use the rock itself as an energy source.

Or the life that persists on volcanos.

Or the life that flourishes in Lake Vostok – an underground Antarctic lake that has been cut-off from the outside world for perhaps 15 million years beneath 4km of snow and ice.

These discoveries have changed how we think about life, and rightly so. We have learned that life can persist – and proliferate – in places that only a few years ago were considered too harsh.

The goldilocks zone right here on Earth has ballooned.

Places that were once thought of as too extreme in some way – too hot, too cold, too dry, too little sun – are now all environments where there is life.

And significantly, they’re not just places where life is theorized. It’s not just that someone says there ‘could be’ life there.

There really is life there. We have seen it. Measured it. Tested it. Compared it.

Our exploration has taught us an important lesson for Planet Earth: life finds a way.

And as I sit in my chair explore the ice world I see out the window of the house Ashley grew up in, those four words stick with me.

Life finds a way.

I know gazing out the window that my view is teeming with life.

In the sky, under the ice, in the snow.

Everywhere there is life, and it’s abundant. Our exploration of Earth has proven this to be true.

Then I put on my Mars-coloured glasses, and start to think…

When the first people arrive on Mars in the next decades, the view they’ll be faced with may be remarkably similar to what I see here, sitting in North Bay on the shore of Lake Nipissing.

A landscape shaped by the cold, by wind, by water – by weather.

It’s a landscape that is utterly beautiful, but also incredibly harsh.

Lake Nipissing or Mars?

Lake Nipissing or Mars?

The one I see is a present day lake and the one on Mars will be an ancient lake – one that has long since dried up. But I’d be willing to bet that the first people to visit Mars will touchdown at a place where we’re confident there used to be water (and maybe still is, just trapped under the surface in permafrost).

Our Martian explorers will lift the veil on some of the secrets of the Red Planet. They will walk and rove. They’ll set up camps and hunker down when dust storms approach. They will keep warm on the cold Martian nights.

And as I think about the incredibleness of discovery that awaits our pioneers, it occurs to me that we’ve been here before. This has already happened.





Earth used to be the undiscovered country (and in a meaningful way, we’ve only scratched the surface of it).

We are born to explore, and now there is a new frontier that tugs at our souls – and our emissaries are already there. But they are only wetting our appetite.

Missions to Mars have been flying for five decades. They have answered some fundamental questions – about water, about canals (or lack thereof), about volcanos, about the atmosphere and ancient environment.

They have also raised poignant questions, the latest of which – the origin of methane spikes detected by MSL – often circle around the question of life.

Was it ever there? What was its nature? When did it emerge? How long did it survive? Is it still there today? Are we related?

The answers to these questions – significant in their own right as they help us to understand the history of Mars – are also fundamental in determining our place in the cosmos.

Are we alone? Does life jump from planet to planet on asteroids? Is the chemistry of life common?

Answering these questions – in either the affirmative or the negative – will have profound impacts.

Exploration in the 21st century will take us to new frontiers, but it will similarly be true to our history. Humans yearn to explore, and this is as true today as it was hundreds of years ago.

The names of the explorers may be different, the frontier’s further afield, and our ships different in appearance, but these are only superficial transformations.

The essence is the same.

We want to explore new challenges, new destinations, new landscapes, new people – new worlds.

What do those places feel like? How do they smell? Is there life? Are there resources that will help people survive and travel on further?

Mars, like Earth, is a place that offers endless possibilities of exploration.

I wonder what we’ll find.

North Bay, Ontario or Nipissing Landing, Mars?

North Bay, Ontario or Nipissing Landing, Mars?

Sights waiting to be seen by human eyes: Epic short film ‘Wanderers’

2 Dec

Wanderers, a short film by a Swedish man named Erik Wernquist shows a possible future for humanity.

It’s epic, and the best part? It’s inspired by reality.

Many of the images in the film likely appear familiar to space-watchers. The Sunset on Mars, for example, is based on a famous picture taken by the Spirit Rover in May 2005.

But it doesn’t stop there.

According to Wernquist:

– The image of a large spacecraft flying over Earth’s atmosphere is based on a famous image taken from the International Space Station in July 2003 during Expedition 7.

– The textures on Jupiter are based on Voyager 1 data from the 1979 fly-by.

– The geysers from Enceladus were discovered in 2005 by Cassini, and imaged since then – including identifying 101 individual geysers.

– The blimp arriving at an airport on Mars scene is inspired from a photo taken by Opportunity 2006.

– A colony on the Saturnian moon Iapetus features a great ridge only discovered (again by Cassini) in 2004.

– Hikers (or perhaps cross-country skiers?) moving across the surface of Europa was inspired by this image taken in 2001 and this one of Europa.

– The view of people gliding around the sky of Titan is inspired by the landing of the Huygens probe on the surface of the Solar System’s largest moon in January 2005.

– BASE jumping on Miranda, the largest moon of Uranus, is inspired by an image taken by Voyager 2 in January 1986.

And of course using words by the one-and-only Carl Sagan provides a nice touch. His words, part science and part poetry, stir the soul.

Wernquist also says the film doesn’t have any story of his own, rather he prefers that views insert their own meaning to it.

I choose to think of it as an example of what the future might hold, and the sights waiting to be seen by human eyes.

Floating among the clouds of Saturn, looking up at the Ringshine

Floating among the clouds of Saturn, looking up at the Ringshine

COSMOS: it’s time to get going again

9 Mar

“The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. Our contemplations of the Cosmos stir us. We know we are approaching the grandest of mysteries.”

– Carl Sagan, in COSMOS

Those words are how the legendary Carl Sagan began the first episode of the first COSMOS series back in 1980. It was a time when humans were proud of their scientific accomplishments, dreamed of what else might be discovered, and were excited by the unknown.

Now, it’s 2014.

Carl has long since passed.

Science is (in some corners anyway) considered an ‘opinion’.

And in spite of living in a world that is very much driven by technology, and scientific discovery, we have in some ways slipped backwards. The significance of science has been forgotten. The passion for discovery has taken a backseat – particularly amongst political leaders. The notion that we as a species can improve our lives here on Earth by looking to the Cosmos has been forgotten.

“It’s time to get going again.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Tonight on FOX (and National Geographic Channel) the rebooted version of COSMOS begins. It’s a 13-part series, written in large part by Carl Sagan’s compadre Ann Druyan.

The 2014 COSMOS revival is hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. He, like Carl before him, not only is an utterly brilliant man, but he also has a way with words. Tyson can turn potentially dry science talk into poetry.

He can excite the imagination.

And that is perhaps what I hope to see most from COSMOS tonight, and in the days, months, and years to come. I want to live in a time where people are excited by their imaginations, and the possibilities of what might be.

Whether we’re talking (now seriously) about potential human flights to Mars within the next decade, voyaging to asteroids, finding an Earth 2.0, or perhaps ultimately discovering life elsewhere in the Cosmos (either nearby or distant) – the exploration of space excites and unites humanity in a way unparalleled by other endeavours.

A show like COSMOS has the potential to sew the cultural seeds in a new generation that are necessary for all this to happen.


No pressure though, Neil.

It’s also going to be interesting to explore how full-circle the new series will come, with the original:

I expect veterans of the original series will enjoy those sorts of nods, and it will add a pleasant undertone to the reboot.

It’s also worth mentioning a kudos to an unlikely man in all this: Seth MacFarlane.

The man behind such shows as Family Guy and American Dad.

By all accounts, a reboot to COSMOS was already in the works for PBS by Tyson and Druyan. Then MacFarlane got wind of this, called Tyson, had a chat about becoming involved, and then took it to FOX.

With MacFarlane’s involvement brought a different, and I would argue valuable, perspective to the project. He thought COSMOS should be a spectacle, to such an extent that even non-science minded folks will tune in.

This is important, since ultimately those are the folks that need to be ‘won over’ by the significance and potential of science.

Related: Intuition gives way to data in exploration of the Cosmos

MacFarlane and Fox’ involvement also likely upped the production budget handsomely, and so the new series will be able to deliver visually and experientially in a way that a PBS series wouldn’t have been able to.

“There has never been a more important time for COSMOS to re-emerge than right now because of the fact that we have, in too many ways, roundly ignored and rejected science when it used to be a source of pride for the country and the species.”

– Seth MacFarlane

It goes without saying that I plan on spending my next 13 Sunday evenings in front of my television, and I expect others will also be parked in front of the TVs.

More significantly though, I hope people will wake up Monday morning re-energized about science and the potential for humanity’s real-life exploration of the Cosmos.

“The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore, we’ve learned most of what we know. Recently, we’ve waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

– Carl Sagan, in COSMOS

I look forward to continuing the journey.