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Red Pills of the Week — December 8th

Greetings, fellow Coppertops! This week’s exploration will show us both the brightest hopes and the darkest fears of what the future has in store for us. We’ll encounter bloody secrets and filthy projects, organic signals on the planet Mars and 3d-printed habitats on the moon. And as our robotic emissaries begin to peer through the flimsy bubble of our solar system, a golden spike will attempt to peer through the exclusivity of government-sanctioned extra-orbital voyages. Before we begin there’s a small matter of a fee I’m forced to collect from each of you to cover for the expenses of the Nebuchadnezzar’s maintenance –this old lady doesn’t run just on good intentions, ya know…

(10) The calendar keeps running thinner & thinner, and unless you’re a British agent who was being kept frozen since the 60’s —smashin’ baby! Yeah!— you are fully aware that everybody’s waiting to see what happens on Dec. 21st. While I’m sure most disregard the infamous date as just another wacky prophecy which will fail to be fulfilled, that hasn’t stopped the concerns of some people all around the world: In Russia, for example, so many people are concerned about the possibility that the world is experiencing its last 2 weeks before the 4 horsemen of Apocalypse begin their dreaded ride, that the government was forced to address the situation & assure their citizens they are more likely to find themselves imprisoned in some Siberian cell than  having their souls consumed by the fiery tongue of Kukulcán.

In France, the government has cordoned off mount Bugarach, believed by New Agers to be a bona-fide UFOport where the ships of the Space Brothers will land and deliver those nearby from whatever horrors unfold to the poor bastards left behind –sorry, no French version of Roy Neary will be allowed to leave behind his mortgage & estranged family…

But in Australia, a land of tough survivors used to dealing with all kinds of deadly hazards just by getting out of the house to retrieve the morning newspaper, their PM has courageously admitted that Yes, the proverbial fecal matter is going to hit the fan on Dec. 21st –meaning Aussies should just carry on with life as usual, since surely their criminal ancestry will come in handy when the time comes to fend off zombies & repopulate the planet.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/ebtj3gDaE64[/youtube]

Personally what bothers me the most about all the 2012 hoopla is not whether something truly catastrophic occurs on the infamous date. No, what bothers me the most is that after so many years of commenting on this topic on countless articles and blogs, with rivers of inks and clouds of electrons wasted either backing up or refuting the subject, one still finds that the world hasn’t bothered to learn the difference between the Mayas & the Aztecs, hence 99% of ‘Mayan Apocalypse’ articles are still illustrated with the god-damn Aztec calendar!!!

So here’s a little image that my Grailer brother Rick MG provided me with. Pass it around because it’s never too late to learn some basic Mesoameric Studies 101:

(9) Back when I first heard of the Melba Ketchum’s controversial results on her Bigfoot DNA analysis, ‘thanks’ to Igor Burtzev’s indiscretion, I wanted to be hopeful. I said to myself “well, maybe finding conclusive proof of the existence of Sasquatch just in time for the Dec. 21st prediction will be such a paradigm change, it might be looked in retrospect as the dawn of a new world.”

Alas, that won’t be the case: Ketchum’s paper has been officially rejected for peer-review –gee, I wonder why– so their next step is submitting it to a Russian publication.

The problem is that some people absolutize the science. Unfortunately science now is too conservative. One third of the population of the USA believes in BFs existing, but academic science even does not want to recognize the problem of their existing or not, just rejecting to dicuss (sic) this question. In such a condition this subject is under discussion of the broad public. We can’t wait decades when scientists start to study this problem, forest people need to be protect now, not after half a sentury (sic), when science wakes up. ~Igor Burtzev

While it’s difficult not to sympathize with some of Burtzev’s observations, and with his & Ketchum’s goal in general, IMO it’s the particulars of how their conduct themselves which should serve as a lesson for the cryptozoology community. Science by press release is never a good idea –and neither is substituting peer-reviewed journals with Facebook.

We need a body. Pure & simple –preferably one dead by natural causes, since I don’t subscribe to the idea of killing Bigfoot just to prove its existence.

(8) The fact that Ketchum decided to embark in her study goes to show, if anything, the level of maturity DNA analysis has attained in the past few years. 10 or 15 years ago such a venture would have simply been too cost-prohibitive for an independent researcher not backed up by a powerful corporation or a university.

Another study whose time has come according to their developers, is one named the American Gut Project, which seeks to study one of the most important & yet least understood ecosystems in the world: the human body, populated by countless bacteria living in the skin, mouth & intestines of each living person on the planet.

Here ‘gut’ seems to work as a double entendre, since the researchers will be needing plenty of them in order to face the scatological challenge of examining all the skin, saliva & even stool samples (Ew!) they hope to receive from patriotic volunteers willing to fork-in 100 bucks to buy a kit designed to help them gather the samples, which will then be sent to the project via snail mail.

So next time you see your neighborhood mail man, that burly dude with a lousy attitude who loves to say how he doesn’t take any $#!t from anybody, just tell him he’s about to take yours —for Science!

(7) Of course there are far worse scientific studies you could find yourself involved in: like taking an acid trip without your consent. That’s exactly what happened to biochemist Frank Olson, who was involved with the infamous MK-Ultra mind control program conducted by the CIA in the 50’s & 60’s. The story goes that someone laced Olson’s Cointreau with a large dose of LSD, and as a result of it Olson eventually jumped to his death from a 10th-floor hotel room.

Now his surviving family is suing (again) the CIA, claiming that the agency killed Olson after he developed misgivings after he witnessed how the warfare drugs he was helping produce, were being used in extreme interrogation techniques in which some prisoners were even killed. The new lawsuit also points out that Olson didn’t jump, but was rather thrown out of the window.

The family doesn’t seem interested in a mere economic compensation. What they are after is the disclosing of information they insist the CIA has been withholding from them concerning the death of Olson. Hopefully their efforts will help shed some light in one of the darkest episodes of the Cold War.

(6) The next pill also involves a lawsuit, and in a way is somewhat connected to the mind-control program –at least cinematically speaking: Dr. Jaime Awe, director of the Institute of Archeology of Belize, is suing on behalf of the nation of Belize on account of the famous Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull, which served as an inspiration for the latest installment in the Indiana Jones saga.

So what exactly does Belize want? Well, turns out that not only they demand the retrieval of the famous object, which allegedly was found by Mitchell-Hedges’s daughter when she accompanied his father during one of his expeditionary trips to Central America –although the debate about the skull’s age & origin is still on-going– but they are also suing Lucasfilm and therefore Walt Disney co. by proxy for using a replica “likeness” of the crystal skull (!). One wonders if they have actually bothered to watching the movie in the 1st place, since the elongated shape of the skull found by Indy & his son in the movie (Oops! spoiler alert) looks more like something out of Riddley Scott’s Alien than the human-shaped characteristics of the Mitche-Hedges skull, which was in fact mentioned briefly in the movie –Hmmm… maybe they are planning on suing Scott as well?

“Lucasfilm never sought, nor was given permission to utilize the Mitchell-Hedges Skull or its likeness in the Film,” says the complaint. “To date, Belize has not participated in any of the profits derived from the sale of the Film or the rights thereto.”

Tsk tsk tsk… Belize, if you’re so desperate to cash into the 2012 hype, there are less shameful ways to do it –granted, all are somewhat dubious in the end. Having said that, I must admit I can relate to the outrage of a nation when foreigners feel entitled to rob them of their ancestral heritage. Those who joined us during the Paradigm Symposium might have heard already of my little prank during Dr. John DeSalvo’s presentation, when he nonchalantly was commenting on the smuggling of the ‘Mayan crystal skull’ as if it had been a wonderful joke –for those of you who weren’t present, during the Q&A I stood up as tall as my 6′-4″ frame permitted, and asked him to repeat the story once again loud and clear, making as if I was wearing a hidden microphone. To my delight, he did make a small double-take >:)

The point is, if the people in possession of the crystal skull are in one interesting conundrum: either they admit the piece is fake, making Belize’s claim inadmissible, or they keep maintaining its authenticity, forcing them to retrieve it. Shouldn’t they ask the skull WHERE it wants to stay, though?

(5) One object we’re fairly certain that it will never end up inside a museum –at least, not a human one– is the Voyager 1 space probe. For months the JPL team in charge of monitoring the aging vessel have expected the moment when it finally reached the edge of the heliosphere –the ‘bubble’ where the particles charged by the sun are slowed down by the pressure of deep-space particles. And now it seems that it’s finally official: Voyager has entered a sort of ‘magnetic highway’ which scientists feel is the final layer before it enters which would technically constitute deep space.

“Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun’s environment, we now can taste what it’s like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway,” said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. “We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it’s likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn’t what we expected, but we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Voyager.”

Farewell, Voyager. We’ll be awaiting your return as the mighty V’ger –just try not to be too much of a douche when you reach sentience, k?

(4) If we’re already sending our mechanical emissaries to the farthest reaches of space, what’s stopping other civilizations which would presumably be far more advance than us? More than 60 years after Kenneth Armold watched those 9 Chevron-like objects skipping about near Mount Rainier, the UFO phenomenon is still considered tabloid fodder by a large part of the world. What can make UFOlogy a more respectable intellectual endeavor in the XXIst century?

Richard Dolan offers a tantalizing solution: the 1st online course on UFOlogy, which explained in the latest episode of Spacing Out with out friends Jason McClellan & Maureen Elsberry:

[youtube]http://youtu.be/Dk9a2CpDILU?t=13m33s[/youtube]

I have a lot of respect for Richard, so I’m sure what he’s got in mind for the course will be worthwhile. Will it help make UFOlogy more respectable? who knows, and frankly WHO CARES! UFOlogy is a great topic to be involved in if you know how to use it as a tool for personal growth.

(3) Would UFOlogy be taken more seriously by the mainstream if life was found outside Earth? This hopefully will be a question that will be answered within our lifetimes, regardless of the snail-pace approach NASA is taking with Mars. If you’re a regular of the Pills then you know my feelings regarding the last PR Fubar, and how NASA did a bit of back-pedaling to lower the expectations of the public –after all, we don’t want people to get too excited about the possibility of extraterrestrial life during the holidays do we?

With that in mind, NASA announced the discovery of chlorine along with organic compounds. They’re pretty sure the chlorine is indigenous of Mars, but NASA is understandably over-cautious with the carbon-based compounds, since (in light of their past blunders) they want to make sure those are not the result of contamination while Curiosity was being prepped for its mission here on Earth.

In the meantime, NASA also made the announcement this week of their plans to send Curiosity’s twin to the Red Planet by 2020. I fear that by then they might be forced to name this new rover Indifference…

(2) Am I being too harsh on poor ole NASA? Maybe. My main beef on their near-future plans is that they are not thinking outside the box. They are sending yet another rover to Mars using the same tried-out configuration, meanwhile the idea of sending actual human beings seems to be farther away on their horizon.

If you want to know the type of ‘outside the box’ thinking that gets me excited consider this: Using the revolutionary technology of 3d printers to build human habitats on the Moon using regolith –the egg-head term for lunar dust– as the base material. The kind of concept so brilliant only a madman could come up with it.

Bringing this concept into a reality is the challenge set forth to researchers at the Washington State University –Ok Ok I admit it: they were approached by NASA officials– who concocted a synthetic material that simulates the characteristics of regolith in order to study ways to build a usable scaffolding with it.

For the new study, the researchers fed the raw simulant powder into a 3D printer, heating the material to high temperatures and printing it out in smooth half-millimeter (0.02 inches) layers to form small cylindrical shapes with no visible cracks. The structures that came out of the printer were about as hard as typical soda lime glass, the researchers explain in a study detailing the recent experiments in the Rapid Prototyping Journal.

“It doesn’t look fantastic, but you can make something out of it,” [one of the researchers] said in a statement.

3d-printing has also the potential of minimizing costs at the ISS, by avoiding the need of spending tenths of thousands for each pound of equipment needed to be sent whenever a piece of equipment needs replacing.

Who knows? maybe in the future our space probes will be self-replicating machines capable of creating new tools using whatever materials are available –something not unlike the iconic black monolith portrayed in 2001 A Space Odyssey & 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

Which makes me wonder: is a self-replicating machine still a machine, or should it be considered a living thing?

(1) NASA might be studying the potential of 3D printing for future lunar colonies, but we know they don’t have the funds or the will to be planning a manned mission to the moon anytime soon. Fortunately for the world, NASA is not longer the only human institution holding all the cards on space exploration; and the private sector could finally rise to lead us into the final frontier.

This is what we can infer from the big announcement made this week by Golden Spike, a private company whose name is derived from the ceremonial final spike used to join the rails of the 1st transcontinental railroad across the United States in the XIXth century, which evokes an appropriate vibe of a new frontier. Golden Spike is backed by space veterans with impressive credentials, like former NASA executive Alan Stern –along with investors with impressive deep pockets– and is seeking to offer would-be passengers a chance to fly to the Moon… for the price of $1.4 billion dollars. Do they have ‘economic’ seats in mind?

“We’re not just about America going back to the moon; we’re about American industry and American entrepreneurial spirit leading the rest of the world to an exciting era of human lunar exploration,” Stern said in the venture’s first news release. “It’s the 21st century, we’re here to help countries, companies, and individuals extend their reach in space, and we think we’ll see an enthusiastic customer manifest developing.”

This is an incredibly exciting development, and a possible game-changer in ways we can barely fathom right now. For example, what happens if the Golden Spike crew & passengers are followed by Santa Claus? No, I don’t mean the jolly fat guy in the red suit, but the codename allegedly used during Apollo missions whenever they were tailed by UFOs.

Granted, right now maybe a dozen people in the whole world have enough moolah to buy a Golden Spike ticket. But let’s keep in mind that as of yet only twice that many individuals have traveled to the moon, and only 12 actually set foot on its surface –and that was 40 freaking years ago.

Governments are too busy fighting wars here on Earth. Maybe it’s time to seek for plan B.

Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out. Ok, maybe I was a bit harsh with my request for contributions for the Nebuchadnezzar… how ’bout some spare change, huh? PLEASE, I don’t wanna eat Dozer’s damn gruel for Xmas!!!

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Miguel Romero a.k.a. Red Pill Junkie is a cartoonist and fortean blogger who writes at Mysterious Universe
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