Nihilism and Importance.

At the start, we humans thought we were the center of the universe. How naive. We thought this lie to be a universal truth that granted us special status in the universe, we were at the center of God’s creation, and thus the most prized of his inventions. Then, the heliocentric model placed the Sun at the center of the universe. In what was a huge blow to human pride, we came out as self-appointed winners on the basis of us still being God’s cherished inventions. We then learned that the Sun wasn’t the center of the universe, but instead the center of one of trillions of Solar Systems in constant revolution around the Milky Way center. Then, we found out that we were just another planet around another star in another galaxy that was one of trillions upon trillions. Now, there is a fair chance that we may just be one of quadrillions of universes.

While our insignificance in the cosmic scheme of things has nought but grown, we’ve still found ways to make ourselves feel unnecessarily special. The first of these is the proclamation that we’re the only known form of intelligent life in the known universe. Now that might hold true what of what importance is being intelligent when regardless of its existence, the horsehead nebula still remains untraveled, the TRAPPIST system remains unexplored, and the flat earth theory still remains believable to an absurd number of people. We’re intelligent relative to the natural life on Earth (although maybe not, octopuses display far more intelligent behavior than us). On a cosmic scale, the human species is to the universe what the the flutter of a butterfly’s wing is to storms on Jupiter, irrelevant. In fact, the argument that being intelligent is being special is in itself flawed; an intelligent species wouldn’t knowingly harm its ecosystem and put politics above science.

So, one may ask, what does make us significant? Is it love? friendship? Science? The former two make individual lives important, but not an entire civilization. Love isn’t a metric for progress, scientific progress is, and its measured by the Kardashev scale. The Kardashev scale measures a species’s technological progress. I denotes optimal utilization of all planetary resources. II denotes optimal utilization of host star’s energy output. III denotes optimal utliization of your entire galaxy’s energy resources. We haven’t even reached point I yet, and there’s no saying we ever will given the way we’ve used our planet’s resources is destroying it. The only way to become significant in a cosmic sense is to expand our barriers and become a space-faring civilization. Our solar system provides a variety of environments, everything from the hellish landscape of Venus to the subsurface oceans of Europa, populating them is both an engineering challenge and a stepping stone to going beyond.

Having a measurable impact requires scientific progress, but humans would rather continue playing tic-tac-toe rather than switch to Minecraft. Rather than adopt incredible challenges in the form of navigating the harsh environment of space and settling humans on other bodies, our politicians choose to fight and debate and argue endlessly. That’s because the entire concept of modern politics is somewhat flawed. Politicians can’t make decisions that balance on the scale of decades, even centuries. They cannot comprehend the importance of science, because anyone who is mildly scientific would never go into politics, and fixate themselves on which country did what and their endless agendas rather than the one big agenda that should occupy their mind: what is our place in the universe?

And it goes without saying that space offers more economic potential than anything else, so the entire notion of immense space exploration budgets drawing money away from the economy and facets like healthcare and education is founded in quicksand. Asteroid mining offers returns on the level of trillions of dollars, if not more. Lunar colonization offers dramatic reductions in the cost of space exploration and a gateway to other bodies in the Solar System. Europa and offer the chance to find life beyond Earth, or at least understand how modern Earth came to be. Space offers a dizzying array of possibilities, but we ignore them all.

As the Ancient one put it, we’re a “momentary speck within an indifferent universe,” having an impact requires understanding of just how important technology and science are.

But then again, do people really get that any longer? Ancient humans had access to the universe via a tool that is ironically useless today, the naked eye. Looking up offered a window into a larger world, unlike today where the night sky is pitch black like in all of Enid Blyton’s stories. This sparked curiosity, it led to the development of calendars and timekeeping and birthed the concept of studying, which has historically been awesome. Even astrology came into being, one of our first attempts to explain how the universe impacts us. We’ve lost sight of that burning curiosity now. People think they have access to a whole new world through their smartphones, but no one realises what we’ve lost along the way. We’ve lost the reason why we began being intelligent: the night sky.

Using Python to email NASA APOD API data to a custom recipient [#1 NASA APOD Series]

I’m doing a mini-project as a learning experience. The first step here involved two sepearate functionalities that I’ve now combined and will explain here. Firstly, I had to write a few lines of code to actually use the API and save the image it returns to the current directory. This was really easy. I then had to learn how to use smtplib to send emails in python. I used this article on Real Python to do so. This post on Stack Overflow was also helpful in instructing me about attaching image files to an email. You can find the entire code in here, on my GitHub. I’ve been having some issues with WordPress plugins, so I’ve just attached screenshots of my code for this post.

right, so the first thing we’ll be looking at is accessing the NASA APOD API and storing the latest NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day Image in the current directory.

I firstly import the necessary modules. After that, we’ll access the API with our key. The url contains the link given in the offficial documentation for accessing latest image. The API returns a json object with keys pointing to a description of the image, a hd url, and a nominal quality url. I’ve used the urllib module to fetch and store the image to our current repo (stores to which repo we are in or we have changed to with os). Now comes the hard part.

You can take a look at all the modules I’ve imported in the GitHub link i’ve posted above.

Above, we start our smtp_server and initialize our port. I’ve used 587 because I’m using the TLS method, I think you’ll need to use 465 if you use the other method. I’ll be using to send this email. This is a throwaway account I created with all security features turned off. I’m mailing it to, which is one of the emails I use. We then input the password for the email we will be sending it from. Then, we’ll our message will be set to an instance of the MIMEMultipart objective with “alternative” as our input parameter. We then key in some values, like the email to use, the email to mail it to, and the Subject of our email. I’ve then specified html and plaintext messages for the email to contain.

I’ve attached both html and plaintext messages to our email. The procedure for attaching a .png file as an email attachmetn is very simple. Using the inbuilt open subroutine in python, we read the image. Then, we create an instance of the MIMEImage object where we key in the img_data we just read and input the path of our image file. os.path.basename returns your current path, kinda like the pythonic way of writing pwd.

A SSL context is created after that. Check out this Stack Overflow post to learn more about what an SSL context is. We then move into a try except condition, so that we can catch any errors that come our way. A server is established, and server.ehlo() is basically the equivalent of waving hi to your friend across the room. We then start tls, which is a method of encryption for safe and secure communication across the internet. Finally, as a method of the server instance, I send the email to the recipient. The finally block quits the server regardless of whether or not the email was sent and whether or not an error was thrown.

I’ll now create a webpage where you can input your email, and a python script sends the current NASA APOD image to your email. So stay hooked for #2!

Also, FYI, here’s what the email looks like:

Competition Creates Efficiency

‘Competition everywhere, but it seems that now, it has escalated onto an unimaginable scale, yes, there now exists competition between private firms for reaching Mars, something that would’ve been deemed fantasy a decade ago.

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First, let’s talk about SpaceX, a private venture by revolutionist Elon Musk, it was deemed a sure-to-be failure sixteen years ago by investors and economists alike but it is now the biggest non-state contractor for delivering satellites and machinery to space along with cargo shipments to the International Space Station. SpaceX, for nominal society, was a huge step in the ‘impossible’ direction, people around the world asked the same question, “How can someone just start a space company, I mean, A SPACE COMPANY?” The answer is pretty simple, the Elon Musk way, he is not just a pioneer in space, but in the entire private sector, he has already redefined what ‘impossible’ is and seems like he will continue to do so. The single factor that makes SpaceX so appealing is rocket reusability, which has already saved tons of resources, money and assets. Rocket Reusability too was a much-criticised idea, it was considered impractical and too complex, today, rocket reusability IS space exploration.

“If Humanity doesn’t land on Mars during my lifetime, I would be very dissapointed” – SpaceX and Tesla Founder, Elon Musk

SpaceX perhaps, may be the best bet for reaching Mars, it was founded for the purpose of ‘enabling people to live on other planets’ and Elon Musk has also stated that on the scale of evolution, mankind becoming an inter-planetary species may yet be the biggest step we have to take. Reaching Mars isn’t just a scientific and historical achievement, it is the first step to becoming a type II civilization on the kardishev scale.

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lets come to the company responsible for the title of this post and Elon Musk’s sudden increase in working hours, Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos, who, unlike Elon Musk, established his spacecraft manufacturing company with prior experience in the business world, in fact, he’s the founder of Amazon as well. Jeff Bezos clearly invites more social power than Musk, he is already running a business that has become the leading face in worldwide shopping and global delivery. Blue Origin too is a campaigner of rocket reusability, and its getting attention too, its rockets have been termed as having the better structural design.

“I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t regret that but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying” – Amazon and Blue Origin Founder, Jeff Bezos

NASA too plays a huge role in this, just moments ago, it launched the InSight lander which will aim to uncover details about earthquakes on Mars or marsquakes. The lander will provide crucial information about the red planet and may even help to assist us in understanding how it formed and how its structure evolved over the years to become the harsh, rocky terrain it is now. The rover will also uncover the composition of the mantle and core through recording the waves that pass through them, which will answer a great mystery, does Mars have a liquid or solid core? NASA is certainly the face of space exploration in the modern world, but it will be interesting to see how it works under a new administrator who has previously stated that Global Warming is a hoax (Doesn’t he know about Venus?).

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Now, it is also mandatory to bring up companies such as Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic too, till a certain extent, is a competitor in the aerospace industry but it has other aims, while Blue Origin and SpaceX ultimately aim at reaching Mars (Hopefully, for now!), Virgin Galactic only aims at conducting sub-orbital flights.

“Mars is there, waiting to be reached” – former NASA Astronaut and second man to step on the moon, Buzz Aldrin

These companies have already evolved into giants, and are marked to be the first ones to carry humans into the depths of our solar system. The first frontier they must conquer is reaching Mars, the red planet. Musk, Bezos and NASA agree upon colonizing Mars, but that is far away, what makes Mars so inhospitable and forbidding? First of all, Mars is really far away and with distance, unpredictability and chaos increase, that is, the number of things that can go wrong increase. Then, it is also about the limitations of spacecraft, current Mars spacecraft carry less than one-tenth the minimum weight of a human voyage. Also, a spacecraft to Mars must also have the potential to get to Mars, land on the surface (after travelling through an atmosphere 10 times rougher than Earth’s), take off from the surface and get back to Earth and throughout this whole journey, must keep its inhabitants alive in space, sounds like a challenge? Then, Mars, as a terrestrial planet also poses a huge challenge, its covered in storms and craters and valleys and no part of it is safe, water can only be found in the deepest and darkest of places and the temperature there fluctuates a lot, from enough to boil you to enough to freeze you. Even in a single thing goes wrong, the whole mission is compromised (As ‘The Martian’ clearly indicated). Then, don’t forget the fact that going to Mars is a ten-year process, seven years of building, preparation, planning and analysing and three years for the mission and the journey combined. Mankind is bound to reach new frontiers in another decade, and by the time we step foot on Mars, NASA may have Jupiter’s moons in its sights (Europa looks beautiful right now, trust me).