Opinion Column

NASA the common link in this week's news

By Steve Burgess

Cassini science team members Nora Alonge (R), Scott Edgington (C) and Jo Pitesky (L) hug as the final loss of signal from the Cassini spacecraft is confirmed, indicating Cassini's destruction in Saturn's atmosphere and the end of Cassini's 20-year mission to gain a better understanding of the ringed planet and its icy moons, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on September 15, 2017 . Within moments of loss of signal the spacecraft will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere where it will burn up and disappear in what NASA is calling The Grand Finale (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Cassini science team members Nora Alonge (R), Scott Edgington (C) and Jo Pitesky (L) hug as the final loss of signal from the Cassini spacecraft is confirmed, indicating Cassini's destruction in Saturn's atmosphere and the end of Cassini's 20-year mission to gain a better understanding of the ringed planet and its icy moons, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on September 15, 2017 . Within moments of loss of signal the spacecraft will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere where it will burn up and disappear in what NASA is calling The Grand Finale (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

There's plenty of news from NASA this week.

The Cassini spacecraft, evidently despondent over news reports from back home, committed suicide on Saturn last weekend. “Tell Voyager I love her,” it transmitted before plunging to its death.

No doubt Cassini was depressed about how Donald Trump has turned the phrase “Rocket Man” into an insult. With the U.S. president now threatening North Korea with total destruction perhaps Cassini was afraid NASA would try to bring it back to Earth, where it might get drafted. Better to end it all in space.

Meanwhile in Hawaii, a Mars mission simulation crew emerged from isolation on Sunday. The experiment, known as the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS), was intended to simulate psychological stresses crews might encounter on Mars.

For the past eight months, four men and two women — none of whom was Matt Damon — have been living in a small shelter on a remote volcanic plain. Participants have been cooped up since January.

Re-entry into society will surely be difficult. Who is going to explain to these people who Anthony Scaramucci is? How will they react to the news that the Best Picture Oscar was given to La La Land and then cruelly snatched away?  Counsellors will be on standby.

The crew emerged wearing identical red polo shirts, the same colour as those “Make America Great Again” hats. This suggests that putting people into an isolated bubble and denying them any contact with outside reality might be enough to make them into Trump supporters, although further debriefing will be necessary.

Their shelter was about the size of a small two-bedroom home, containing sleeping quarters for each crew member plus a kitchen, laboratory, and bathroom. The six-member team shared a single shower  

and two composting toilets.

NASA could have saved some money by studying living conditions in Vancouver, possibly among local restaurant workers and baristas who are splitting rent in Kitsilano.  Future Mars crews might be heavily staffed by Vancouver residents who will be perfectly comfortable with the cramped quarters, although NASA will have to make sure they're not heading to Mars just to get the sweet deal on rent.

At any rate anybody who wants to go into space had better sign up fast — competition should be fierce. A few more Trump speeches like the one he just gave to the United Nations and a one-way ticket to Mars will start looking better and better.