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What would the first human on Mars say?  The words chosen will echo through history in the same way that Neil Armstrong’s famous line has.  That’s a lot of pressure for whomever is chosen to be the first person on the planet.  They’d better pick something profound!

The BBC has been asking people to contribute on Twitter, using the hashtag #BBCMARS, and in the comments of this article.  Here are some of the best (serious and otherwise):

hum “Mars, the Bringer of War” by Gustav Holst (@oz_penguin)

It was once said ‘a small step for man’ but today we make that giant leap 4 mankind (@welsh_steve25)

once again my dear friends we take a step into the unknown (@SirPhil1983)

‘Well, for this night we will repose us here: /To-morrow toward London back again’ Shakespeare 2H6 II.i. (@Shakes_Today)

Where’s the Mars bar? (@JohnnyReaction)

‘we step beyond the capability of man kind, yet again.’ (@caitlin_ent)

“It’s land, Jim, but not as we know it.” (@eridanus)

Here are my suggestions.  Bonus points for people who recognise the source of inspiration for the first few.

“Quick!  Get the Easy Listening music!”

“Dark is the suede that mows like the harvest.”

“Yesterday, the moon.  Today, Mars.  Tomorrow, the universe!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha-haaaa!”

“Hey, what are all these dead cats doing here?”

And, more seriously,

“That’s just one more step in mankind’s journey to the stars.”

What would you like the first person on Mars to say?  What would you say if it were you?

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Researchers at the University of California have been working with a woman who was born with only three fingers on one hand.  At age 18, the hand was amputated following an accident, and she developed a phantom limb.  Most people have heard of phantom limbs, where amputated limbs can still be felt by their owners.

This woman’s phantom hand had all five fingers.

The researchers say this is a sign that the brain knows what the body should look like, even when it doesn’t actually look that way.

There’s a message here for anyone writing about shape-shifters.  From werewolves to alien possession, the brain would rebel against the new shape, and that should be either mentioned and explained as part of the story, or explained away with “magic”.

I’ve seen this done, actually – I read Stephanie Meyer’s “The Host” not so long ago, and when the alien bug takes over her new human host, there is a certain amount of disorientation which actually contributes to the plot.  It’s very well done.

Sainsbury’s have laid over 69,500 solar panels on 169 stores – making them the biggest solar array in Europe.  The CEO, Justin King, said that supermarkets have roof space equivalent to entire football pitches, and it’s time it was put to good use.

I agree.

I would go further.  The country has thousands of miles of roads and motorways – when are we going to get solar panels which are durable enough to cope with traffic pounding over them?  We have hundreds of bridges, we could hang solar panels off the sides of them.  We have the space between train tracks, which doesn’t need to support weight.  And then there are the office buildings, car roofs, and so on.

What other under-utilised spaces can you think of that would be useful as power generators?  Bonus points if the space is currently ugly enough that it would be improved by adding solar panels!

Curiosity is the name of the Mars Rover which touched down on the surface of the red planet early on Monday morning.  I’ve known this for a while, and I suspect that most of you science-fiction fans will have known too (unless you’ve been on another planet, and even then you might have noticed if the planet in question was Mars).

What I didn’t realise until today was how cute it is.  Like a cross between WALL-E and Number Five from Short Circuit, only slighly more macho.

I also didn’t realise that the mission is no puny little 30-day thing.  No, they’re funded for two years (Earth years, that is), but the batteries could last for ten or more.  Will it still be operational when we eventually land people on Mars?

I see a story developing in which we land people on Mars, and they have some problem with their technology and need spare parts.  Curiosity has the parts they need, but it’s not responding to their attempts at remote control – the radio receiver is broken so it’s just trundling about sampling rocks and sending the data to Earth, but can’t be controlled.  The astronauts have to go on a desperate hunt through the Martian landscape to capture the rover before it’s too late!

Scientists at University College London are developing a way of spraying heart cells onto damaged hearts to help them beat.  The cells will, in the future, be taken from a patient, cultured in a lab, and then sprayed back into the heart.  They can already create a patch in the lab that beats just like regular heart muscle.

The catch?  Well, apart from the fact they haven’t even tested it on mice yet, let alone something more human-like, it involves 10,000 volts of electricity.  Not much room for error there!

What will we be eating in 20 years time?  That is the question answered by this BBC article.  Rising food prices, environmental concerns, the growing population – these are all things which are making governments think about the subject.

Some experts think that UK meat prices will double in the next five to seven years.  Will meat become a luxury item?  Some of them are suggesting that insects like crickets and grasshoppers will be ground down and added to burgers and sausages.  I think the squeamish westerners will take a while to get used to that one.  But there are advantages – they are just as nutritious as meat, a good source of protein, and they are easier to raise, with a lower carbon footprint.  There might even be fewer animal rights protesters around farms, depending on the proportion of them who are only doing it because animals are cute!

Growing meat in a lab might be another way to go.  Like insects, it would reduce environmental impact and require less space.  Unlike insects, it’s not currently possible, although scientists at Maastricht University are hoping to produce the first “test-tube burger” by the end of the year.

Algae farms were also given a mention, with seaweed being snuck into our diets without us noticing.

Slightly more on the whacky end of the spectrum, it turns out that food tastes different depending on what you listen to while eating it.  So it’s possible that we could remove most of the sugar from something and then listen to sweetening music while eating it.

One solution that wasn’t mentioned by the BBC is the Soylent Green solution.  On that I shall say no more.

We’re well on our way, it seems, to using UAVs to help co-ordinate disaster responses.  The UAVs, designed by Professor Nick Jennings as part of the Orchid research project, are semi-intelligent and can co-ordinate as a team to help the humans better.

I’d like to see a story from the point of view of one of the drones.  If they’re semi-intelligent, it can’t be that long before they’ll have a point of view, can it?

Alternatively, we build a huge fleet of them to help with disasters, but they get fed up and take over the world.  Not original, I know, but there’s a reason it’s been done so often!

A while back, I mentioned the make up of the solar system, specifically the outer planets. Now, I don’t want to confuse you, but it turns out I may have been wrong about Pluto.

The debate over what Pluto actually is has been re-ignited recently by the discovery of a fifth moon.  It has more moons than all of the inner planets combined.

Mind you, having a moon is not the definition of a planet, so all it’s done is make people start talking about it.  In case you were wondering, to be a planet an object needs to be spherical, orbit the sun, and have a gravity strong enough to clear its orbit of smaller objects.  It’s on that last point that Pluto fails.

Some people think that Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, should be classified as a binary planet system (the IAU doesn’t agree).  I wonder, what would it be like to live on a binary planet?  Would it even be possible or would there be gravitational problems and such like that prevented an atmosphere forming?

Is there anyone out there with a better grasp of astrophysics than I who could comment on the possibility?

And has this been done already?  I could definitely be interested in reading a novel featuring this idea.

Artemis Junior is the name of the latest “small step” in the direction of a permanent lunar base.  It’s a new lunar rover designed by scientists at NASA and currently being tested in a Hawaiian volcano.

The rover is designed to prospect for water, ice, and other fun and useful things.  Water is one of the things that would make a lunar base possible – we need it to drink, to split apart to make oxygen, to make hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel, and more.   And on the moon, there isn’t much hope of a quick resupply when stocks get low.

Previous lunar missions have shown that there is probably water around the poles, so that is where Artemis will probably be sent once the design is perfected.

I for one am interested in the volume of stories that you could come up with for a lunar base – there’s sabotage, of course, and aliens, but also psychological dramas about low numbers of people trapped in a confined space together for long periods of time, and the possibility of some disaster befalling Earth or the team’s contact with it, leaving them stranded and the last hope for all mankind.

What other ideas can you think of?

I knew it!  They’re clearly more intelligent than humans!

It turns out that dolphins use maths and physics to detect sardines in water that has lots of bubbles in it.  They use sonar clicks of varying amplitudes, amplify the responses differently, and do some maths to figure out where the fish are.

Clearly, it won’t be long before their mathematical ability surpasses that of most of the human race.  I have only one thing to say to that.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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