Friday, September 15, 2006

Space Junk: Fact and Fiction

The STS-115 shuttle astronauts have efficiently and successfully installed a new 17 ton section of the International Space Station and deployed its solar panels. They have one more EVA this morning to complete a few miscellaneous tasks. Great stuff - but the big news in the popular media seems to be the two bolts that were accidentally lost on two earlier EVA's, slightly increasing the amount of "space junk" in Earth orbit.

Of course space junk is a real problem, something we will have to deal with more in the future as space commerce increases the level of activity in Earth orbit. Someday there might even be specialists in space junk removal, maybe something like the characters in the Japanese anime Planetes, which I learned about from a recent article at the Space Review.

I was intrigued enough to order a copy of the first DVD in the series (used through Amazon), and I watched a couple of episodes the other night. Although I studied and used Japanese for some 20 years (roughly from 1981 to 2001) and visited Japan many times, I never really got much into Japanese manga (comics) and anime (animated cartoons). In fact this was the first anime DVD I ever bought.

Planetes takes place around 2075 when extensive commerce is taking place in space. It concerns the exploits of a space station-based "space debris removal team," and seems to focus most (in the first two episodes) on the frustrations and interpersonal problems of the crew members in this under-appreciated and under-funded "half section." The space setting is pretty much taken for granted, which is the case in much of the space-based SF that I like, and the spacecraft and operations are interesting and somewhat realistic and plausible. The characters and situations are OK, although the main female character is frankly annoying in most of her scenes (I'm watching the English dubbed version, though it would probably make sense for me to listen to the Japanese with English subtitles as a way to get a little Japanese refresher).

I plan to watch the rest of the five episodes on this volume and also view some of the bonus materials (e.g., interviews with real space debris experts at NASA). I don't see myself getting hooked and buying the other five volumes, but it's an intriguing medium for showing what near-future space operations could be like in a fairly realistic (though dramatized) fashion.


Jolt327 said...

Shucks, I'm disapointed. I've seen a lot of anime in my life but Planetes ranks up at #1 or #2 of my favorites in anime or ANY media.

I feel the series is underappreciated as evidenced by the fact that even anime fans have never heard of it, let alone space development enthusiasts. And of course, the DVDs are marked down drastically at my local Best Buy.

I encourage you to watch the entire series if you can. In my opinion it starts off slow and some of the first episodes even suck if you ask me. But the series that you start with is very different from the series that you end with. You'll begin to see the focus on philosophy and humanity in addition to space.

Interesting that you find the main female protagonist annoying. If you listen to the audio commentary (go to scene select) the director states that he finds most people divided in their opinion of her. Although I believe it for the opposite reason than him, in America at least. I love Tanabe because she's so idealistic. Although she can be totally impractical in her reasoning, I admire those that actually care to change the world.

One more thing, I recommend watching it in Japanese with subs. In my opinion the English dub was terrible. Although in the Planetes universe they are all actually speaking English...

Anyway, sorry for the rant. But because I like this series so much and because I know its so unpopular-I really feel like I need to get the word out.

FlyingSinger said...

Thanks for your comment - I just happened to be looking back through some posts and saw it (there must be a way to be notified of comments but I don't know it - I don't get too many comments so I don't look too hard for them).

I will get back to Planetes soon (maybe on my next business trip) and watch in Japanese with English subs. I'll also check BestBuy and see if the other editions are there for cheap.


michael jordan said...

Space debris getting dust from solid rocket motors, surface degradation products such as paint flakes.Impacts of these particles cause erosive damage, similar to the sandblasting.One of the major defense country Japan has started to thinking seriously about a militarized program focusing on space.Now, it's creating an entire militarized force to monitor and control the debris field from the ground.In this process US and Japanese Governments agreed in May to work together on debris monitoring force.Let see how it works and the results are going to be.