Lacuna Passage: Video Game Brings Mars To Earth

What is Lacuna Passage
A recent crowdfunding campaign aims to let you explore Mars from the comfort of your own home. The project, Lacuna Passage, is a video game that provides a true-to-life representation of the Martian environment for players to explore.

According to the Kickstarter campaign page, “Lacuna Passage is a story-driven exploration and survival game set on Mars, drawing inspiration from titles like Dear Esther, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even Pokemon Snap. You play as Jessica Rainer, the only survivor of the crashed Heracles mission, investigating the disappearance of the first ever manned mission to Mars. You have several tools at your disposal, but most important are your skills of observation. You will need to uncover mission logs, recorded audio files, and other physical clues left behind at critical mission locations in order to uncover the story. An interplanetary trail of breadcrumbs is waiting for you.”

Lacuna Passage
Check out that view.

Lacuna Passage is a grassroots video game project created by Random Seed Games. While not seasoned veterans of the game industry, it’s clear that every member of this volunteer team has a passion for this project and an abundance of talent.

Inspired by the successful landing of the Curiosity Rover on the Red Planet and it’s subsequent transmission of pictures from the planet’s surface, the Lacuna Passage team has been hard at work for nearly a year trying to bring this game to life.

The best part?

According to the developers, “All the terrain in the game is generated from actual Mars satellite elevation data. The Mars High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) provides us with a true-to-life game environment that allows for a space exploration experience unlike any other.”

The game uses real data to simulate being on Mars. It also includes real-life astronaut perspective and more accurate “medical monitoring” than is featured in most games, showing just how hard these creators have worked on making this a true first-person human experience.

Lacuna Passage 2
Lacuna Passage is being developed as a complete commercial game. It has a plot, main character, rich artwork, a soundtrack, and play availability for all of PC, Mac, and Linux. The team is also trying to remain an independent entity, which will allow them to have full creative control over this project and any future endeavors.

There are 14 days left to help Random Seed Games reach their Kickstarter goal for Lacuna Passage. If you dream of visiting Mars one day, consider contributing to this project and get a feel for the Red Planet without leaving the Blue Marble.


Poll: Americans Overwhelmingly Support Doubling NASA’s Budget, Mission To Mars

The American public overwhelmingly support a doubling of NASA’s budget in order to fund a mission to Mars, according to a recent survey. The poll, commissioned by Explore Mars, a nonprofit organization, and aerospace contractor Boeing, also demonstrated a high degree of enthusiasm about human exploration of Mars.

Americans overwhelmingly support doubling NASA's budget

Support for doubling NASA’s budget

The survey found that 76 percent of Americans agree that NASA’s budget should be increased to 1 percent of the total federal budget to fund initiatives, including a mission to Mars. Currently NASA’s budget represents less than 0.5 percent of overall federal spending.

Poll respondents said they think a manned mission to Mars should be the country’s top priority in space exploration. The poll also showed that, in spite of the current budgetary climate, Americans remain very optimistic about the prospect of putting humans on Mars within the next two decades, with 71 percent saying they expect it will happen by 2033.

And while NASA does have a goal for a manned mission to Mars by 2033, a recent report by the National Research Council found that NASA lacks the funding and strategic direction needed to achieve their goals. The committee behind the report laid blame on both the executive and legislative branches for failing to establish a clear vision for the future of American space exploration.

NASA has repeatedly argued that they lack the funding necessary to accomplish their many goals and have called on Congress to increase their budget. As NASA Administrator Charles Bolden recently explained to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, the reason the agency is favoring a manned mission to an asteroid over the moon is because “going to the moon is a factor of three (times) more expensive.” Bolden told the committee bluntly that Congress has not given NASA enough money to return humans to the moon.

With both missions viewed as natural precursors to a manned mission to Mars, many in Congress remain skeptical of the Obama administration’s goal of sending astronauts to an asteroid, instead wanting the drama of manned missions to the moon. Between the politics surrounding NASA’s budget and each presidential administration changing the course of American space exploration, NASA is stuck trying to accomplish both goals on an ever diminishing budget.

This corresponds with what poll respondents reported, saying the biggest barriers to a manned mission to Mars are politics and affordability. Chris Carberry, executive director of Explore Mars, agrees that the greatest obstacle to the goal of putting humans on Mars is the lack of political leadership on the issue, saying, “We hope that this poll can serve a catalyst to reinforce what Americans already support and encourage our nation’s leaders that this is not the time to retreat.”

The poll was conducted by global communications firm Phillips & Company between Feb. 4 and Feb. 6, 2013 surveying a random sample of 1,101 respondents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Read the full report here:

The Destiny of a Species

We are living in an intensely important time period, as a species. It is probably the most important time period in all of human history.

Let me expand on that for a minute: right now, so many important revolutions are occurring – in engineering, technology, politics, biology, democracy and virtually every category of human thought on the planet. Humanity as we know it is changing right before our collective eyes. The reach and power that our minds enjoy has never seen such staggering potential before. Anything we dream is increasingly in the realm of possibility. This is happening as a result of many thousands of years of innovations building on one another and centuries of successful efforts to understand and conquer the world around us. New ideas are infusing old processes, previously crazy ideas are given consideration and this self-enriching ride is accelerating exponentially as time goes on. Our abilities to peer into the nature of the universe is also increasing in step, and such an unprecedented view of the structure of the physical universe allows us untold powers and opportunities. It is as if we are heading toward a world of abundance, as Peter Diamandis indicated not too long ago.

If you sit and think about it for a few minutes, you may start to feel euphoric. It is amazing to be on this ride at this time and this place. However, this process we are undergoing is not without its growing pains. We are radically changing our planet in some not-so-kind ways, which is perhaps a sign that we have more wisdom to attain yet. Also, we don’t really know if this explosion of progress will last any particular span of time. The universe is mighty indifferent to our concerns just as it failed to consider the long-term planning of the dinosaurs. So, this ride…it might not last forever. It can end. Indeed, many civilizations of humans have risen to prominence and then faded away to unequal measures of obscurity, and lost many of the contributions they toiled to create. As our ideas slowly collect together, through trial and error, and enrich the whole of humanity, we would be fools to think this will last forever without careful forethought and long-term planning.

That’s where NASA comes in. Careful forethought and long-term planning is what NASA represents. For the first time in our history, we are aware of the dangers of our own sun, the potentially fatal meeting of heavenly bodies that occasionally resets Earth’s progression of life back millions of years, and the short-sighted outbursts of violence and exploitation we humans periodically engage in. NASA has helped us to realize for the first time that we are not trapped on Earth, that we do not have to be victims of ourselves or an indifferent universe. We can do something. Indeed, we should do something.

But, “what can I do?” you might ask; “I am small. The universe is immense.” As I mentioned above, we aren’t so helpless now. Many of the things we work to do in our lives touch many others in ways we can scarcely imagine. And this affects not just contemporary humans, but humans that will exist in the future, as well. In this way, we are all connected. Know that each of us are caught up in an intense epic. It is a story of such immensity and antiquity that, at times, it is bewildering to grasp. We are part of a human lineage of which each individual is an integrated part. Our roles in this here and now may seem boring, or complacent, or mundane, or insignificant. This is not the case. This is FAR from the case. We belong to a great span of human creatures, and a rich, unique web of life – something that exists nowhere else. We are part of a genetic tradition that has overcome every single obstacle that has ever threatened it and explored realms other organisms still cannot fathom. You are a participant to a reality that has never happened before.

Creatures like you hunted down massive ice age monsters, using intelligence and teamwork to beat the odds. Creatures like you forged the first cities, created the first roads and monumental architecture, wrote the first books, blazed those first trails and laid the groundwork for future human civilization. Creatures like you have created a global, instantaneous computer network. Creatures just like you have walked on the surface of the moon.

Importantly, we contribute to the endeavor of human civilization and the long-term survival of life whether we realize the scope of our involvement or not. Even though Neil Armstrong was the first human to plant a 9 1/2 size boot print on the moon, hundreds of thousands of humans worked to put him there. It was a collective effort. And the same will be said of our effort to establish a permanent presence off of our home world. Returning to the moon, visiting our first asteroid, building cities on Mars…it begins with you, with us working together to enrich future generations of humans and guaranteeing the existence of life in an indifferent universe. It begins with a penny for NASA.

First Results from Curiosity’s SAM Instrument

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory held a press conference today where they announced the first results of MSL Curiosity’s Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM) instrument. Organic compounds have been detected by the SAM instrument, they reported, but the science team are yet to determine whether or not the compounds are native to Mars or if they hitched a ride on Curiosity from Earth. The famed rover is currently resting at a place scientists are calling Rocknest, which is a few hundred meters from Bradbury Landing, where Curiosity landed on August 6, 2012.

Curiosity’s SAM instrument – an oven that cooks tiny samples and studies the gases that result – has indicated the presence of a small percentage of water and lesser amounts of carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulfur dioxide found in some “garden variety” Martian soil samples at Rocknest. Also involved in the detections was the presence of perchlorate, which was detected by a previous mission (NASA’s Phoenix lander). Of the water, the science team has found that the presence of a deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio that is five times greater than that of Earth – meaning water released from the Rocknest samples is “heavier” than the water in Earth’s oceans. This deuterium ratio will be helpful in determining how Mars wound up with such a thin atmosphere and perhaps whether or not standing water existed at Curiosity’s landing site.

Considering the organic compound detections, the science team has determined that the SAM instrument, one of the more important instruments at Curiosity’s disposal, is working perfectly fine.  In fact, they tested SAM several times in order to put to rest the fear that something might have been wrong with it. Curiosity’s project scientist, John Grotzinger, told reporters:

“The instrument, SAM, is working perfectly well. It has made this detection of organic compounds, simple organic compounds…we just simply don’t know if they’re indigenous to Mars or not. And so, it’s going to take us some time to work through that.”

When pressed for details on how to determine if the detected organic compounds were Martian or not, several team members said they were going to take it one step at a time. Several protocols were yet to be followed that would help rule out the uncertaintly surrounding the origin of the supposed organic compounds.

The scientists went on to say that they were proud of Curiosity’s development and that the “3 months of terror or tension,” where the team slowly and carefully tests each of Curiosity’s components for the first time, is almost over. Grotzinger and fellow scientists hope to test out the drill, one of the last mechanisms to be checked, sometime before the holidays. After that, Curiosity will be ready to head to Mount Sharp at the center of Gale Crater.