Tag Archives: things that remind me of the Core

Space, Science, and the Gender of Perfection

{Courting Critique is a post series that takes an analytic and intersectional feminist look at romance texts — not so much to prove that romance is feminist or anti-feminist, but because good criticism can be as fun and escapist as a love story. Spoilers abound!}

Engineer Eugene Parsons demands perfection. It’s the first thing, possibly the only thing, people know about him.

The problem: perfection is unattainable, like a limit in calculus that is never quite reached. The other, less obvious problem: the definition of perfection keeps shifting, especially where gender is involved.

Cover image for Earth Bound. Starry background behind two light-skinned people in a tense embrace. The woman has dark hair, artful makeup, a black dress, and full-length black gloves. The man has a grey suit, intense expression, and his hands on the woman's bare skin.

First, a capsule review: Earth Bound,  the latest entry in Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner’s stellar Fly Me to the Moon series, is an absolute gut-punch of a romance between two difficult, critical, closed-off engineers who put their ambitions and the mission above everything else. Oh, and seedy ’60s motel sex. I could not have possibly loved it more. Full spoilers from here on out.

The most basic definition of perfection is free from factual or mathematical error. Parsons has good reason to pursue this kind of perfection, as the lives of real people depend on the machines and mathematics used by the American Space Department to send men and machines into orbit: “If the capsule wasn’t traveling fast enough, wasn’t flying straight up, the massive hand of gravity would catch it and pull it straight back down. It could crash right into a place filled with houses and families” (Kindle location 63). Not to mention that whole Cold War business, which Parsons at times seems to be fighting as though he’s out to win it single-handed. The urgency of this mission leads him to look for the very best — which is how he meets our heroine, computer and programmer Charlie Eason.

Charlie is a perfect hire for ASD — except that she’s a woman.

Continue reading Space, Science, and the Gender of Perfection

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Less Terrifying And Equally Accurate Asteroid Headlines You Can Use

You may have heard that something really big and made of rock and metal is going to fly really close to earth in just a few days. I learned this from this Huffington Post article, whose lead-in was the following Tweet:

Jesus H. Jones, that sounds terrifying, right? And then you learn that it’s going to be closer than the moon and you feel the onset of pants-wetting catastrophe—mass extinctions! Global winter! The possibility of another terrible action movie starring Ben Affleck!

What steps are being taken? You wonder.

Scientists are prepared: they’re totally going to give this behemoth the side-eye.

No, really—we plan on looking at it:

So astronomers are taking the rare opportunity to study a hefty asteroid without having to send a craft into deep space.

Good for them. So convenient, having massive pieces of rock just come right up to us like friendly and destructive puppies so you can train your telescopes on them.

And then you learn this exact kind of thing happened in 1976, and will happen again in less than ten years. And as far as I know the Earth was not destroyed in 1976 (though Bohemian Rhapsody was released that year).

So … maybe not as much need to panic as that initial tweet implied?

Please, science writers and others, don’t take the cheap and easy headline just for the page traffic. Here are a few suggestions you can use instead:

  • It’s Totally Going to Miss Us, So Don’t Worry About the Size
  • Scientists Plan on Learning Something New (By Looking at a Humongous Asteroid as it Flies By)
  • It Sounds Scary but People Who Know About These Things are Not Concerned
  • It Will Be Less Painful Than Your Grandma’s Latest Kidney Stone—We Promise
  • Giant Asteroids: The Space Version of Darwin’s Finches?

You’re welcome, journalists.

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Pekka Janhunen’s Electric Solar Sail

We here at Olivia Waite may have spent our academic life wading through the humanities, but we’ve got a soft spot for science as well. Even—especially!—the sciences we don’t understand. Just ask our college physics professor, poor man.

One of our favorite subjects is space—NASA, moon landings, science fiction, anti-gravity, constellations, all that good stuff. We even watched a few episodes of Ancient Aliens before we had to stop because we were yelling at the tv hard enough to break something. (The entire show can be boiled down to that moment in The Core when Aaron Eckhart says the entire premise of this movie couldn’t even happen, and megadouche Stanley Tucci cocks an eyebrow and says, despite all logic and reason: “But what if we could?”)

And today, idly doing research along the interlinked pages of Wikipedia, we found out about the beautiful, simple, mind-boggling genius of Pekka Janhunen’s electric solar sail.

A simple black-and-white line diagram of how the electronic solar sail is designed to work.A primer: the sun is constantly throwing off a stream of positively charged ions in a stream we call solar wind. Regular solar sails are very thin metal or mirrors; because there is no atmosphere in space, the ions push against the thin material of the sail and create force, propelling the spacecraft forward.

So basically: you’re sailing on light instead of on wind as Earthbound sailboats do.

As if this were not awesome enough, Pekka Janhunen (hän on suomalainen!) has taken it one step further: his electric solar sail is not a large sheet of material—instead, his design uses a number of long, thin wires tethered to the spacecraft and flowering outward. Electrons are pulled from the wires and fired away using an electron gun, which means the wires themselves are positively charged, which in turn means they repel the ions in the solar wind. Because of the electrical field around the wires, the ions react as if there were an entire sail there instead of just a thin wire outline.

And this is not only elegant and simple and damn brilliant—it is lovely.

A view of space, black and starry, with golden gusts of solar wind in the lower and left side of frame. A tiny spacecraft sits at the center of a starburst of glowing green electric wires, with arrows indicating the direction of ion movement and the pressure of the electron gun.

So beautiful! So poetic an idea! Sailing with invisible sails, on the light from a star, through the vastness of space …

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