Salvation Episode Two: Another Trip Around the Sun

Well, here we go again.

There was very little recognizable science, some political intrigue (almost unrecognizable too), and a crap-ton of relationship building (and well, this would only be recognizable if I was still in my twenties).

Let’s start with the goofy science and get it out-of-the-way: This was early in the show so unfortunately set the tone for my opinion of the rest of the episode.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Björn Jónsson/Seán Doran

Introducing Ugly Plan B:  A fallback plan after the failure of the government’s “Goliath-II” rocket booster.

The government/military proposes taking the “Io Probe” and ramming it into the asteroid to deflect it. (Uhm, yeah, sure).

An interplanetary probe that could have gotten out to Jupiter, would be fairly small.  There is one steadfast truth in spacecraft design: the farther you’re going to send it from home, the smaller it has to be. Heavy lift rockets can send a small probe fast enough to get there, or they can get heavy satellites or ISS components into a MUCH lower place in the solar system.  That’s all there is to it (loosely speaking).

Given that limiting principle, the Io Probe would be no more than ten-thousand pounds, and that would be generously huge for a probe that far out.

Now let’s look at the size of the asteroid.  Based on the calculations for a 560 meter asteroid known as 1999 RQ36, (which isn’t really a planet killer, more of a continent mangler), scientists estimate its weight at 66 million tons. So it’s VERY safe to assume that any chunk of space rock big enough to be a planet killer (whatever we imagine that to be) would be in the range of several hundred million tons (probably more…lots more).

Just imagine hurling this Io Probe against the side of the asteroid … even if we skip the math, this is like a piss ant crawling up an elephant’s leg with lascivious intent.

Then to make it worse they start discussing whether this minuscule fleck of space hardware hitting the side of a flying mountain, is going to SHATTER IT?

Their own dialog on this goes like this:

Darius Tanz: “Throwing rocks at an oncoming train, a bold strategy. I’ll stand right behind you …” (wonderful sarcasm, but he is right, that idea is farking hopeless)

Then in the very next sentence Tanz goes on with: “… a high velocity kinetic impact could just as easily smash our asteroid friend into several pieces …”

WHAT?!? 

Is it a train or an egg?  Make up your mind people!

(My brain started melting at that point.)

After that moment of complete absurdity, they go back to the gravity tractor (remember that from the previous post?).  But this time it will be so much better because they plan to get it out there with (wait for the handwavium) … the EM DriveThe Em Drive is the miraculous not-yet-invented technology that someday may revolutionize space travel by putting “the moon within hours and Mars within days.”

Of course there is no EM Drive in their world (or ours).  It hasn’t REALLY been invented yet. (Yes, at one G continuous acceleration the moon is only three hours or so from Earth, but with the current state of the art for the EM Drive development, we’d need an improvement of MANY orders of magnitude to get that to happen.)

Though if you just give Mr. Tanz two-billion dollars and 100 kilograms of weapons grade uranium, he will invent it by next Tuesday.

I literally fell out of my chair.

Grace: Are you crazy?

Darius: Why does everyone keep asking that?

Liam: Because you kinda are…

Yeah, that’s what I said!

But here’s the kicker: Even assuming this story is set in the future and so maybe there’s been some progress made, to get the gravity tractor out there sooner is still not going to help, when it’s already YEARS too late for that approach to do any good.

Give it up PEOPLE, a gravity tractor would have been off the table even before they started.

As to Plot:

Beyond this one HUGELY horrific scientific blunder, the rest of episode leaned heavily on the conspiracy angle.  Rather than turning the story all dark and sinister with the pursuit of whatever secret ATLAS is, I think they’d be better served focusing on the challenge of trying to defeat the real antagonist at hand. The Asteroid.  Obviously they’ve decided to make this whole series more about shady characters double-crossing each other.

The moral problems that come from clashing viewpoints on how to handle a global crisis are far more believable than this very cliche and phony feeling conspiracy.

There were also some heavy-handed tropes in other areas (LOTS of them in fact)

One of the biggest of these was when Darius Tanz sleeps with a female investor to close a deal and get this woman’s money into his company (so he can develop that EM Drive by Tuesday).

Over my many years running a private lab, I’ve worked with investor types in the real world (real venture capitalists).  There is this thing they ALL do called “Due Diligence.”  It doesn’t matter if they plan to invest $10,000 or $10,000,000, they’re going to check out the facts and figures before they climb into bed (in a business sense).

It doesn’t work the other way around, no matter how hot and sexy Darius is, he’s not going to seduce a female billionaire into schlepping him a gigabuck investment for a good … uhm … proposition. Rich people DON’T make billion dollar deals based on pillow talk.

And finally, the death of the last straw of credibility for this episode:

Remember that weapons grade uranium Tanz needed?  Well, he got Grace to steal it for him (without unveiling his apparent billion dollar penis to do it). She lifted the access codes needed to get the uranium from her lover’s biometrically locked briefcase by using a very cool laser scanner to get his fingerprint off a wineglass, and then beam it back onto the lock. I’d forgive her for this betrayal of Harris, because he’s the lying dickhead from the first episode. He deserves to get screwed, even if she doesn’t realize it yet.

Ok, so stealing the codes that easily might be a bit far-fetched, but then when she goes to use them, she bluffs her way past a gate guard at the facility, and with a Humvee (and a driver and a couple of guys to load the barrels of uranium) she gets the goods and gets out (barely … courtesy of more way cool, but improbable, tech).  What this does leave unanswered to me though, is how she explains to these soldiers she has with her, that they’re delivering this uranium to a TANZ INDUSTRIES loading dock.  What the hell did she have to do to get these grunts to NOT tell anyone. I mean she isn’t cutthroat enough to have killed them and hidden the bodies, so that leaves me wondering … (can you say PLOT HOLE???)

Even more troubling to me here is that we’re talking nuclear ordinance. The best protected possession of the entire United States.

Seriously???  If our country’s nuclear stockpile is that easily hacked, I think I’m moving to Mars.

So after Episode Two is all said and done, that 4/5 star rating is slipping.  The cast is holding its own and delivering fairly believable performances, but the story is rapidly dissolving into a level of implausibility that’s destined to doom them all. The science is still hanging at a 3/5 star but that’s entirely because in that Ugly Plan B scene, they manage to mention some things in a briefly tossed-off bit of technobabble that do sorta relate to the science behind the EM Drive (Pilot Wave Theory and Quantum Vacuum Fluctuation for those that want to go deeper).

Of course, tying either of these concepts to the EM Drive is not really accurate, but hell, I didn’t expect them to get that shit right anyway.

Still hoping, and still an optimist for future episodes, but starting to waver.

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