Monday, 17 November 2014

Voyage to the Stars Blogathon: Hitchcock's Entry

So far people seem to be very excited about my new Voyage to the Stars Blogathon. If you haven't read about it yet, you should get on that right away and start on your entry because this one is possibly one of the most ambitious projects I've done on this blog, possibly even one of the most ambitious blogathons in the whole blogging community. Basically, at its core it works similarly to a typical cast-a-thon in that it involves having to assemble a group of characters from different movies to fill pre-determined slots. The difference is that I've modified the structure to make the gameplay more competetive, and I've also added a few new layers.

It can be fun to put together a list of movie characters to fill out a class or to battle Eldritch otherworldly horrors, but underneath those are still just lists in the long run. This time around, once you have your cast, you get to actually do something with them. You can see the blogathon page for a full rundown of the instructions as well the specific rules and regulations I've enforced. The big thing to remember is that regardless of who you pick there must be gender and/or racial diversity. Putting together an all-white, all-male crew means an automatic disqualification.

I will also confess that this may have been a lot harder than I anticipated. My intention was to create a challenge but wow did I go above and beyond on this one? I made the blogathon and even I had trouble writing my own entry. The whole idea of the status report and plan of action seemed so much easier in theory. Now I see why most cast-a-thons don't normally go beyond the initial list. Still, this was a chance to try and work with my imagination and it was certainly a good writing exercise even if the final product wasn't exactly an Arthur C. Clarke novel.

Now that my introduction is out of the way, it's time to assemble my crew and begin the adventure.

The Crew

David Bowman (2001: A Space Odyssey)- Mission Commander

To take command of a mission as daring as this, we'll need somebody who can handle the pressure. I'm talking an extended period of time trapped in a ship that is not only confined but also isolated. This brave crew is going to be travelling lightyears from Earth, and that is not something to be taken lightly. Who better to take on the job than a man who knows just how to do that? Dave Bowman is a man who can take the heat and come out on top.

After all this was the man who was able to keep pressing forward even after his entire crew had been murdered and there was no obvious hope of returning to Earth. He was betrayed by his own artificially intelligent computer (who was, in a way, a very close friend) and watched his own partner asphyxiate  yet still managed to keep himself composed enough to deal with the situation rationally. If there is anyone who can both handle the psychological strain of prolonged isolation in deep space and keep the mission going, it is him.

Elizabeth Shaw (Prometheus)- Medic

Elizabeth Shaw is certainly an expert who knows what she's doing, even if her reasoning is at times somewhat questionable. She has a detailed working knowledge of human anatomy that could inevitably be useful in the event of a medical emergency, but the best part was that one time when, without any outside help, she successfully performed a c-section... on herself. If she could handle having an alien fetus inside of her while surrounded by double-crossing colleagues, I think she can take on any medical situation affecting another person when surrounded by crew members she can trust.

In the event that she is wounded, she should be able to take care of the problem herself (or at the very least talk one of the other crew members through the treatment) and she will get up and keep moving no matter how much pain she might be in. In addition to all this, Shaw is also an experienced archaeologist, which could come in handy if we manage to find an extraterrestrial civilization.

Eleanor Arroway (Contact)- Navigator

For a mission with the ultimate aim of venturing drastically further than humanity has ever dared to travel before, we're going to need someone who knows where we're going. We need someone who knows the night sky well. That's where Eleanor Arroway comes in. As a professional astronomer working for SETI, she knows the stars better than anyone else. She has every one labelled carefully and even has markers indicating whether any particular star could have a life-supporting planet in its orbit, and when up close who better than to navigate than someone who can observe and take the time to create a new map? She is therefore the perfect guide for a job like this one, and if by chance we do make contact with any form of extra-terrestrial life, this is the one who should do the talking.

Rosa Dasque (Europa Report)- Pilot

Meet the brave woman who will take us out into space. The thing about Rosa Dasque is that she is dedicated to the mission, and will do everything she can to contribute to its success. If something goes wrong she is willing to die if it means allowing the mission to continue. On top of all that, she's  a really good person and the kind of individual who the crew can get along with, easily.

Imoto (Conquest of Space)- Science Officer

In addition to adding a little diversity both in terms of race and being from an older film, we'll be needing someone with scientific knowledge. Dr. Arroway's astronomical skills will definitely come in handy but what if we don't find any life at our destination? We may still find things worth studying and this man is a professional. Even if we don't find life, perhaps he can at least determine if a planet is capable of supporting it, information which could be invaluable to future expeditions and even colonists.

Matt Kowalski (Gravity)- Engineer

Matt might not be the most enjoyable person to be around; his personal anecdotes can be infuriating to some people for sure. Where he excels is in being a veteran astronaut with a lifetime of experience as well as a knowledge of space travel inside and out. This guy can operate the machinery, he can fix it, and he can think outside the box when that doesn't work. When our crew is out in the middle of deep space and no other help can reach them, we're going to need someone who knows what he's doing to keep the ship running. Well, this is the guy who can do that, and even as annoyed as people sometimes get with him, he is really a nice guy underneath who genuinely cares for the safety of his partners.

Gene Kranz (Apollo 13)- Mission Controller 

Putting it quite simply, he may not be going on the mission, but he is every bit as committed to ensuring its success as the astronauts who are and seeing them brought back alive. It doesn't matter what trouble they face, he will do everything he can to help them get back. He weighs every option, considers all the facts, and never gives up no matter what the odds. He saved the three men of the Apollo 13 mission this way when their ship was damaged. If he could do that going to the moon imagine what he could do for an interstellar voyage. After all, it's hard to predict precisely what's going to happen and we'll need someone who can improvise when faced with unforeseen circumstances.

Plan of Action

I've got a plan to get my crew into space through a wormhole. Eleanor Arroway made the great discovery and she's been spending the past few weeks observing it non-stop. We've therefore been able to make the calculations for the precise launch window by which to enter the wormhole. Even better is the fact that because we've done such careful observation, we should be able to determine approximately when it will open and close, giving us a rough schedule for the crew's expedition. This also takes care of the radio transmissions. What we believe is that we can determine when the wormhole is open will be able to transmit radio waves through it to return to mission control on Earth. It won't allow for real-time conversations, and it may be hours in between messages, but it should save us the trouble of having to send communications across light years.

While my team is on the other end of the wormhole, they also plan to look for traces of similar passages leading to other systems that could aid future explorers.

Here is a real-looking diagram so you know this is authentic.

Status Report

The mission started off as scheduled. The spaceship launched without any serious difficulty and successfully entered the wormhole. Commander Bowman kept us posted as the ship went through. He described it as an unnerving process that left a sickening feeling in some of the crew, one that could easily induce seizures. He took some photos of the bright lights seen inside the wormhole.

It took about four hours to get through the whole wormhole, though that was drastically cutting down the amount of time it would have taken to travel normally, even at the speed of light. They arrived in Alpha Centuri, the closest system to our own, which allowed Dr. Arroway a chance to observe it as no human being had before. She confirmed the theory that Alpha Centurai was indeed a triple star system, with literally three suns, two of which orbit each other with a third, much smaller star orbiting both. The wormhole brought the ship towards one particular planet, made of ice, that was in between the two binary stars and the outer smaller star.

Unfortunately, much to the disappointment of both her and Shaw, none of the three planets showed immediate signs that they would be habitable. Of the two that circled the central stars, one of them Dr. Arroway described as having "A greenhouse effect that makes Venus look like Mars", and the other a rocky planet with no atmosphere. The wormhole had brought the team closer to Proxima Centurai, the outermost and smallest star, and into the orbit of an ice planet that moved around it. Due to restrictions of fuel, it was determined this was the most practical of the different worlds to explore. They were to stay here until their launch window to return to Earth.

After landing on the planet, the team began collecting information, finding that it also lacked an atmosphere. Imoto began taking trips outside, collecting samples from the surface and finding evidence of liquid water further down, though he was disappointed to report that there was no evidence of any kind of life being present under the surface. Research otherwise went on as scheduled.

Unfortunately, some of the crew did start to get restless as a result of little to be doing. Commander Bowman tried to keep everyone organized but even he came dangerously close to cracking at least once.  Dr. Arroway began occupying herself by spending a lot of time observing the sky and creating a star map. Through a series of excursions in which she sat on the observation deck and drew the stars as she saw them, she managed to create the first astronomical charts to be shown from a point other than Earth.

Rosa and Matt worked together to try and keep each other busy through maintenance on the ship. It was mostly small jobs, nothing too fancy, but the two of them got along rather nicely. At the same time, Imoto had made a remarkable discovery. After several months of collecting samples from the ice, he managed to find traces of a single-celled organism under the surface. Though he was never able to observe this species alive, it was considered a remarkable discovery that managed to excite Dr. Arroway. Dr. Shaw went on to deliver a report of her own about the discovery:

"We have found evidence of single-cellular life under the surface. I came out here hoping to find an intelligent civilization, but we have proof now that of life on other planets. We may not have found intelligence, but it gives me hope that some day we might."

Gene Kranz made a public announcement within hours of receiving Shaw's transmission. Before long news stations everywhere were detailing the discovery of extra-terrestrial life, though some were blowing it out of proportion in hilariously bizarre ways. A few days later Commander Bowman transmitted Imoto's data to Kranz at mission control, allowing scientists on Earth to being studying the new field of alien microbiology.

The launch window approached and in most respects everything went pretty smoothly. They emerged safely on our side of the wormhole. Landing was of course a whole other matter as their ship had to separate into smaller components to get through Earth's atmosphere, but they made it. Six brave men and women emerged as heroes, making a grand technological leap for humanity and paving the way for future expeditions beyond the boundaries of the Solar System.


  1. Wow! This is a feat and it would make a great movie. Allot of thought went into this and I love the crew members. I have no idea why, but I wish Anna May Wong could have been part of this...How??? Not sure.

    1. Well, if she ever starred in a science fiction film in which her character was on a spaceship than you could could get her in that way.

    2. I think she was on a flying carpet once-would that work?:)

  2. Very interesting read, lots of which was over my head. I still plan on taking part, but I'm not sure how good my entry will be. Great work, John.

    1. That's okay. I'm not sure I fully understood it either. I set out to make a challenge for everyone and maybe I was it went a little too well. Still looking forward to seeing your entry and I do have some comparatively simpler blogathons planned for December.