by Jim Harris
Space is back in the news these days (albeit on page 35) as NASA’s “Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer” (LADEE) mission wends its way to the moon for a scheduled rendezvous next week.
Launched from the parking lot of the Staples store in Chestnut Hill (where most of its components were made on a 3-D printer), the flight will take 30 days, as opposed to the three days it took for the old gas-guzzling Saturn rockets. The mission’s goal is to drop a “Roomba®” robotic vacuum cleaner onto the moon’s surface, where it will dust, squeegee and wax the entire lunar landscape in just under two years.
As the rocket took off in a modest puff of smoke on Sept. 10, launch controller Grover Nerdquist solemnly intoned, “Godspeed, Roomba,” to which the plucky little vacuum cleaner (which responds to several verbal commands, including “turn left” and “our funding’s been cut”) replied, “Thank you.”
According to Nerdquist, “We hope to demonstrate to the world that we are ready to clean up after all of the other spacegoing nations who will be traveling to the moon and beyond in the years ahead. There’s no money to be made from space exploration, but we believe we can break even if we transition to a service-oriented enterprise. In addition to our housekeeping services, we plan to offer package deals for kids’ birthday parties in space. Imagine the fun of doing the moon-bounce on the actual moon!”
Almost 100 nations now have space agencies. Some, Like Russia, China and the European Union nations, have manned space flight capabilities, and some have rockets and satellites but no astronauts. Bulgaria has an astronaut but no rocket. Turkmenistan has some office furniture and a sign for the door. Mongolia has a photo of an astronaut. The one thing they all have in common, though, is that they are on the way up, while America is on the way down.
Of particular interest to the U.S. might be the fact that Iran, which first put a satellite into orbit in 2009, has already sent a rat, turtles and worms into space. They also claim to have successfully launched a live monkey and brought it safely back to Earth. This claim was disputed, however, when at an official press conference, a different monkey appeared to have been presented to the media.
Top Iranian space official Mohammad Ebrahimiadinajad Mohammad just announced that a Persian cat is the next candidate for a ride into space. Mohammad said the Persian cat was the favored candidate for the mission after tests had been conducted on a number of animals.
His announcement drew an angry response from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “Are they kidding? A cat? How could a cat be considered a good candidate? No cat has ever obeyed any human command,” said PETA spokesperson Wolf Spritzer. “And Persian cats are the worst of all. They’re so full of themselves, they don’t even acknowledge the existence of human beings!”
PETA has subsequently entered into negotiations with the Iranians, who seem surprisingly willing of late to enter into talks with the West. At the first meeting, Iran offered to change the payload from a cat to a baby giraffe, but PETA said that if Iran does commit such an outrage, PETA will have no choice but to bomb Syria.
Subsequent offers to send a goat, a parrot and finally, a clam, were likewise rejected. After days of round-the-clock bargaining, it was agreed that Iran would send a potato on its next flight along with butter and sour cream, and that the potato would be subject to perusal by an international team of potato inspectors upon its return.
It was further agreed that in return, when Iran has established safe, reliable shuttle trips to its bases on the moon (by 2020), it will then be allowed to send cats and that NASA would take full responsibility for changing the kitty litter.