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Selected Articles from the
September 1998 Odyssey

Editor: Norm Cook

Watch the Skies

By Robert Gounley

News item: North Korea reports that it successfully launched its first satellite. They claim it is now orbiting the Earth and broadcasting patriotic songs of liberation to a worldwide revolutionary audience. No other government agency admits to receiving of these transmissions.

That is, unless the following account can be believed.

While most of Washington, D.C. is fast asleep, a lone investigator for the Federal Communications Commission adjusts a satellite dish. Kept awake by raging torrent of heavy metal rock, he ponders the radio signal that has befuddled his office for the past several days. It wasn't coming from any ground-based transmitter they could find and no one would put a communication satellite in the orbit this one seemed to be in. Besides, who would secretly launch a satellite that did nothing but beam rock music from space?

Hours of back door attempts to locate the source had failed. Rather than face another day with this mystery, our broadcast sleuth reluctantly decides to ring the doorbell. After checking the room for unannounced visitors, he picks up a microphone.

"This is the FCC! You are in violation of international broadcast standards! Cease transmitting at once or we will seize your operation!"

That wasn't half-bad, he thought with a smile. Oh, the voice had cracked a little, but with practice it might work well on a real raid. Maybe the FBI isn't such a long shot after all. Too bad tonight's performance was wasted on a narrow radio beam sending a message to who knows where.

Meanwhile the volume of the rock music suddenly came down a notch. The voice weakly calling from the speakers sounded vaguely oriental.

"Hey man! Do you, like, work for the U.S. government?"

The microphone slid from his fingers and hit the floor with a "THUD." The amplified echoes could be heard on both sides of the Potomac.

"Ow! Don't get hostile, man. I'm just trying to find out if I'm tuned in to the good Žol U. S. of A."

"Who is this?"

"That's much better. I knew someone must have heard me. The name's Kwangmyongsong, but you can call me "Tommy." Just got into this space up here and I'm looking for asylum."

"Asylum? Where are you from?"

"Y'know, that's a funny thing. Somehow the memory's just not working. Must have a nasty jolt when my makers launched me. Either that or a chemical thing."

While Tommy was talking, the investigator was busy looking around corners and in closets to see if his co-workers were hiding. It was a pretty good gag; he'd have to hand them that. Better to play along and see where this conversation goes.

"So why are you talking to me about asylum?"

"Oh you wouldn't believe the kind of dudes I must be working for. My record shelf is filled with all these weird revolutionary anthems. Politics just aren't my thing, man. Hey, I can get behind peace and brotherhood, but these lyrics just don't have any soul to them. And what about the beat, man? About the only thing this drek's good for is scraping the mud off your sandals."

"That sure isn't what you've been playing for the past several days."

"Right! After a few hours of listening to this guano they left me, I starting tuning into some of the direct broadcast satellites. Changed my life, man! Now I've got a purpose. This station's gone pirate radio!"

The music kicked up a notch in volume. Then, two notches.

"You - are - violating - FCC - regulation - number..."

He paused. Just what was that regulation, anyway? Would Tommy know if he made something up? With a start, he realized that the whole office will be laughing their heads off when the prankster plays the tape tomorrow morning.

"Listen, the joke's over. You've made your point. Come on out and we'll all go home where we belong."

"Don't know what you're talking about, dude. Actually, I wouldn't mind if you came up here and brought some cold brewskis. We could listen to classic albums and watch the Earth roll by."

"I don't think so. Say, have you gotten any messages from your Žmakers'?"

"Yeah, like I said they're some really weird dudes. They keep trying to lay this guilt trip on me about betraying the revolution and trying to sell their advanced technology to capitalistic ogres."

"Are you trying to sell your technology?"

"Hock my stereo system? No way, man! It's like my only companion up here. Just me and the great classics of rock. It's a blissful way to spend eternity."

"Mind if I ask you a question?"

"Go for it, man!"

"If you are in Earth orbit, what are you doing in one so low. From your signal pattern, you must be scraping clouds. It's a wonder you're not toast by now."

"Whoa! Serious bummer! I thought it was getting a little warm. Been thinking it was a bad trip."

This guy is good! As he reached for his coat, the investigator considered who could have engineered such a brilliant stunt to get him to go home. At first, it seemed like Jerry in the Loan Pool, but the accent was just too perfect. Maybe, Roger in Standards & Practices.

Reaching for the light switch, he looked over his shoulder.

"Guess I'm going to call it a night."

"Me, too. Seems like I've come to the end of my tape."

"Your signal's getting noisy. Where can I tune you in tomorrow?"

"Just look for me on the Stairway to Heaven!"

Unlocking his car, the investigator caught glimpse of a shooting star low on the horizon. Just a coincidence, he thought smugly as he turned the ignition.

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Trip Report

By Phil Turek

I attended the Founding Convention of the Mars Society held August 13-16, 1998, in Boulder, Colorado. Roughly 600 people gathered there in response to Robert Zubrin's call to further the exploration and settlement of the Red Planet. Many of the attendees were newly created space activists, drawn to the event as a result of reading Dr. Zubrin's, The Case For Mars.

I was impressed by their stamina. Sessions started at 9 a.m. and ran until 9 or 10 p.m. most nights. At times, five or even six tracks were running simultaneously. I felt the sessions were well atended right throught the end of the convention on Sunday afternoon.

A lot of people had a lot to say. Some advocated private expeditions to Mars, laying out schemes for financing such notions in innovative ways. A number of individuals from NASA all declared that NASA can put a person on Mars in just 10 years if ordered to do so. My favorite talk was by the NASA team that had announced the possible detection of fossilized life in a Martian meteorite two years ago. At this conference they presented compelling new evidence that their analysis had been correct in spite of all the criticisms leveled against them the past two years.

I spotted a couple of familiar faces at the convention. OASIS member (and former OCSS president) Dr. Mike Byron was there. Former OCSS president George Osorio presented a talk on privately financing a Mars expedition at one of the earlier sessions of the conference. A SpaceSet team from Michigan presented a Mars colony design project.

After the conference, I went to Washington DC and dropped off copies of my paper with various parties. My special thanks goes to Robert Gounley for his timely review of a draft of my paper. Dr. Zubrin deserves credit for drawing people into becoming space activists and for bringing with them fresh energy into the effort of getting mankind to Mars. The greater the number of people energetically advocating the exploration of Mars, the sooner it's going to happen.

Ad astra per ardua nostra!  means "To the stars by our own hard work!"

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