Astronauts, Cosmonauts, Taikonauts and the Naughty Noughties

So Google have released Google Earth Sky, in partnership with NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute. A wonderful application. It has all the Exoplanets in there and the ability to add markers. What it doesn’t have is the ability to make your own layers, or a proper scale bar, and all sorts of other things, but this is coming.

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What better indicator could there be of the age we live in ? The ultimate search engine. Search the Universe ! “We must search the Universe. The purpose….” as the sample in my Black Dog “Heart of Balil” track goes.

Google Earth Sky is actually the commercial version of an idea that I’m trying to develop in my own project. SpaceDataWiki has it’s first file release, a MediaWiki extension. The next goal is to write an add on for NASA World Wind that allows the adding of markers and areas that link to a Wiki page. Eventually these Wiki pages will be read and edited in-line in a style that could be compared to Google Earth Sky. Some might say that Google have made my idea redundant, but I’d disagree. Google is a commercial operation. They provide a very good service, but that’s exactly what it is … a commercial service, although of course it’s a very good one that we know and love. On the other hand we have things like NASA WorldWind that might appear a little dry to the casual Google affectionardo, but that’s because it’s set up for Scientific research rather than casual browsing. There will always be room for an Open Source, free alternative. You might say “Well, Google is free…”, and basically you’d be right, but I’m talking free in terms of being able to alter the code, or allow that code to be included in other projects.

The Google application is an amazing victory for public participation in Space Exploration. In fact this is the whole aim of my Source Forge project … to facilitate participation in exploration for Scientists and non Scientists alike. Although it’s wise not to let the untrained run rampant across your Science project, I would like to see more participation by “lay people” in these projects. It’s from this kind of casual participation that the discoveries of Science are propogated and new generations of Scientists are made.

Our Astronauts, Cosmonauts, Taikonauts and robotic explorers are starting to amass an ocean of new exploration data ( telemetry, images, radio, spectral, and much more). Our information systems need to catch up. The Google Applications are very powerful devices, easily able to overwhelm the unwary digital traveller, but at least they are put together in a way that minimises this risk. It’s something that any traveller should know anyway … if you drive too fast, you might crash. This new problem is no coincidence.

As we come out of the post Cold War era there is much work to do. There are still seemingly intractable problems to deal with like Terrorism, or some situations in Africa, as well as Global Warming and threats to the environement. But I think a new awareness is dawning that the job can be faced realistically and also that it won’t be easy … there are no magic bullets or magic wands. But progress can be made. This comes at a time when the reality of the Space Age is really starting to happen. Predicted since the days when our ancestors first looked up at the skies, now those centuries, if not millennia of work, are coming to fruition.

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Frankly we are probably overloaded with Science Fiction and commentary about this event. Maybe I should read more of the classics. But now we need the Sociologists, the Psychologists, the Artists and Musicians to guide us through this huge evolutionary event. I don’t think this can be overestimated. An event that maybe happens only once in a Planets history, never to be repeated again. The last thing I want to see is unnecessary problems because we underestimate the profundity of the situation. Maybe the Naughty nineties will be replaced with the realistic, responsible Elevenses ?

DJ Barney

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