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Space Is the Place

For centuries, nerds have looked up at the night sky and dreamed of leaving this world, with all its wars, hatred, and "internet celebrities," and traveling to distant stars.
June 20, 2011, 3:00am

Illustrations by Lala Albert For centuries, nerds have looked up at the night sky and dreamed of leaving this world, with all its wars, hatred, and “internet celebrities,” and traveling to distant stars. There, I—I mean they—could build a utopia where there is no such thing as money, energy is clean and plentiful, and green-skinned women who have human tits and vaginas want to have sex with them. Over time, nerdmanity has scaled back its galaxy-conquering ambitions, and now we use our most advanced technology to launch animals, human cremains, and pictures of naked people into space because, hey, we’ve got all these rockets lying around, so why not? Here’s a run-down of some of the latest crap we’ve been using explosions to fling into the horrifyingly colossal void we cutely call “outer space.”

ASIAN PEOPLE AND ASIAN ROBOTS As the US dismantles its space-shuttle program, China is picking up the slack. They’re planning to build a 60-ton space station by 2020 and launched a dozen military satellites into orbit last year. China has already sent some people into space and some unmanned thingers to the moon, making theirs the most successful space program in Asia. India has the idea that they’re going to build a permanent moon base inside a giant cave they just found, but Indian rockets have a bad habit of exploding in midair. Japan’s space program, meanwhile, is focused on sending a humanoid robot to the International Space Station that can communicate via Twitter, which frankly makes me question whether the Japanese are actually taking the exploration of the universe and humanity’s ultimate goal of colonizing the galaxy seriously. SUPER-SECRET SATELLITES THAT COULD BE LASER DEATH RAYS Last year the Air Force sent the charmingly named X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle on an unmanned test mission to circle Earth. The X-37B looks like a space shuttle crossed with a missile, and the Air Force refused to tell anyone what it was. So people asked things like, “Are you testing robot-controlled space weapons?” and the Air Force replied, “Space weapons?! What?! Wherever did you get that idea?” Whatever they were testing appears to have been successful, unlike another Air Force plaything called the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle. The HTV was conceptualized as a glider that would lurk in the upper atmosphere and have the ability to hit anything on Earth with a missile, but the dart-shaped test plane malfunctioned and crashed into the ocean. Don’t worry, it only cost about $43 million.

IRANIAN ANIMALS Iran joined the space race in February of last year, when they launched a capsule containing a mouse, two turtles, and a bunch of worms into space for 15 minutes, after which its payload parachuted to the ground. In President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-less fantasy world, this counted as a major victory for the country. According to him, “The scientific arena is where we could defeat the West’s domination.” Iran’s got a long game of catch-up ahead of them—their next step is to send a monkey into space, and the US was sending truckloads of simians into orbit way back in the 50s and 60s. I think some of them even came back alive.

GOLDEN PICTURES OF NAKED PEOPLE Back in the 70s, NASA launched a couple of space probes called Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 that cruised through the solar system, sending back data, and then drifting off into space. Carl “Get Hazed” Sagan and his scientist buddies, probably while high, wondered about the chance that the probes would encounter aliens and decided to put an illustrated golden plaque inside to communicate with them. The plaque included a map of our solar system, a picture of a hydrogen atom, and a drawing of a naked couple in an attempt to say, “Here’s where we are, here’s our hydrogen and sex organs, let’s party!” (The prudes at NASA decided not to include a line indicating the woman’s vulva, so it looks like she’s a Ken doll with tits.) THE WORST ALBUM ON EARTH A few years later, when the Voyager probes were being launched, NASA and Sagan stashed a gold-plated record on board that contained a bunch of images, music, and sounds from Earth, including “Johnny B. Goode,” on the off-chance that aliens enjoy stolen guitar riffs. The record opens with greetings in 55 languages, then continues with nonverbal sounds like a cart being pulled by a horse and a dog howling, which raises the question, YOU ASSHOLE SCIENTISTS, HOW ARE THE ALIENS SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHAT PARTS ARE LANGUAGE AND WHAT PARTS ARE ANIMAL NOISES? PERFORMANCE ARTISTS

What do you call sending one performance artist into space? A good start! Ha-ha! Get it? But seriously, this group of people called Inbred Hybrid Collective are raising money to send one of their members into space aboard the Virgin Galactic, which is a private spacecraft that caters to scientists and ultra-rich “space tourists.” I talked to someone from Inbred and asked specifically what the performance artist was going to do in space. They told me the piece was in development, adding, “It is intended to be one small step for art, and one giant wet dream for geek-kind.” So… sex with a green-skinned woman in zero gravity, I presume. At the time of writing, Inbred had $100 of the $300,000 needed to execute the project. Good luck, guys!  HUMAN CREMAINS Burying dead bodies and marking gravesites with fancy rocks is so fucking boring. You know what’s not boring? Shooting the ashes of dead people into fucking space! Zooooooosh! Yeah! A company called Celestis has been launching dead people into orbit for 14 years now, and they offer a bunch of different “services.” You can send a combined 14 grams of you and a loved one into orbit for $7,485 or you can shoot one gram of yourself to the moon for $9,995 or seven grams of yourself into the infinite reaches of deep space for $25,000. If you’re a real cheapskate, you can launch a single gram of your ashes into space for eight minutes for $695. I’d pick the deep-space option, because if your ashes are found by aliens, maybe they’ll be able to resurrect you, and perhaps they’ll even say, “Oh, you’re from that planet with the hydrogen, right? Hell yes! Here, let me introduce you to some of our sexy green-skinned women! We checked against that golden picture, and our sex organs should be 100 percent compatible.”