My First Video with One Million Views

Early last week I considered traveling south from Cairns, Australia to Canberra, Australia to attend a big party for the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars.

The rover had been en route to Mars for more than 8 months and was scheduled to land on Monday, August 6th. The party was to take place at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Canberra, Australia, the first place on Earth that was to receive the signal from Mars (the data was then transmitted to NASA’s JPL in California).

However, when I learned that no Internet access or even mobile phones were going to be allowed inside (they didn’t want to risk interference with the transmission from Mars), I decided to stay home and watch the event on my laptop using NASA TV and Eyes on the Solar System (a browser-based simulator that allows you to fly around the solar system and track real spacecraft using live telemetry data).

The last time I planned to watch an event this way, I ended up accidentally missing it by a few minutes. I immediately searched YouTube afterward hoping that someone had recorded and uploaded a screen capture for replay but unfortunately it was days before I found anything.

This time I decided that I would record the event myself as I watched it on my laptop and then upload it to YouTube for others to watch. 

The ScreenFlow app was already installed (an app that allows you to record videos of your desktop), but I didn’t realize that the app needed to install special drivers to capture audio coming from the computer. 

With less than 10 minutes before touchdown, I rushed to install the drivers, finishing with only 6 minutes until landing.  I pressed record, sat back, and tried not to fiddle with anything (in the video you can see me start moving my mouse and then suddenly stop when I realize I should leave it alone).

My biggest worry was that the NASA TV stream would freeze up because the only Internet connection that I had available was the 3G connection on my iPhone, which I was sharing to my laptop via Bluetooth. 

It was slow at first, but once it started streaming, everything worked beautifully.

I felt like I was right there in the mission control room as they received confirmation of the landing, and then a few minutes later images from the surface of Mars. (If I had the microphone on, you would’ve heard me cheering with the engineers when the rover touched down; I still get goose bumps watching them receive the first images.)

A few minutes later, I stopped recording, processed the video, and then uploaded it to YouTube. I’m using a pre-paid Internet connection, which costs me $1 for every 100mb, so I’m very careful about what I upload and download. However, I had a feeling that uploading this video was going to be worth it. (It ended up costing me abut $2 to upload and test the video.)

Within a few hours, the video already had 17,000 views and as of writing this—only a few days after Curiosity landed on Mars—the video is at 975,000 views. By the time you read this, it will likely be over 1 million.

I take absolutely no credit for those one million views; all the credit goes to the NASA engineers and everyone else who made this landing on Mars possible. I’m incredibly happy that I was able to play a tiny part in helping one million people relive such an incredible experience 

As I said in my previous essay, this isn’t just another robot going to Mars. This is a machine, built by fellow human beings, sent out toward the stars in search of answers to questions that our species has been asking for thousands of years.

If you haven’t already watched the video, I highly recommend taking 15 minutes and watching it. I’m embedding the video below, but you can also watch it on YouTube.

Toward the Stars in Search of Answers

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk around on another planet?

Imagine building a machine, placing it on top of 600,000 lbs of liquid oxygen and explosive rocket fuel propellents, then launching it into outer space and guiding it for more than 8 months and 350,000,000 miles.

Well, that's exactly what NASA has done and their little robot, Curiosity, will be landing on Mars today.

This isn't just another robot going to Mars. This is a machine, built by fellow human beings of this generation, sent out toward the stars in search of answers to questions that our species have been asking for thousands of years.

And you can watch it all for free, from wherever you are (thanks to another wonderful invention by our species), using nothing more than what you're using to read this. Tune into NASA TV online today, August 5th, at 11pm EST / 8pm PST / 3am UTC. The rover has successfully landed! In case you missed it, I recorded the whole thing. You can watch it on YouTube or see the embedded video below.

Travel Update: Leaving Florida, Planning for Australia

After electronically obtaining a six-month Australian tourist visa over the weekend, I purchased my one-way ticket to Australia. I leave May 9th from Boston, MA and, after a layover in Los Angeles and then in Auckland, New Zealand, I arrive at the Gold Coast Airport just south of Brisbane, Australia (for you travel geeks the precise route is BOS-LAX-AKL-OOL).

Initially I'll be staying with a friend near Brisbane, but I intend to explore the rest of the country by train (Australia is nearly as big as the continental United States). I hope to visit Cairns and Darwin in the north, Sydney and Melbourne in the south, Alice Springs in the middle, and finally Perth in the west.

I also intend to maintain a travel budget of $500-$800 USD per month while I'm there. I've heard this will be quite difficult with Australia's relatively high cost of living, but that makes the challenge even more enticing.

I'll also need to have relatively consistent internet access to continue working. Both internet access availability and my budget will play a part in determining how much of Australia I actually see.

Tomorrow morning I will be watching the Space Shuttle Discovery, mounted to the top of a Boeing 747, do a low flyby over the ocean en route to the Smithsonian Air & Space museum in Washington, DC where it will retire. (The first shuttle launch I attended was space shuttle Discovery on STS-133 last year.)

After watching the shuttle fly out from Florida, I will begin my week-long drive up the eastern coast of the United States, driving north to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where I will meet up with a friend for the evening.

On Wednesday I will continue driving and visit two more friends in North Carolina and Virginia, arriving in Washington, DC on Thursday where I will stay for a few days, participating in a special event for the unveiling of the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Smithsonian (the same shuttle I saw leave from Florida).

My goal is to arrive back in New Hampshire on Monday, one week from today, where my sister is due with her baby girl. I will immediately list my car for sale on CraigsList and hopefully sell it before my trip to Australia in May.

If you happen to live somewhere along my route from Florida to New Hampshire, or anywhere in Australia, please let me know; I'd love to meet up!

Dreaming big or just big enough?

If you always felt you were born to do something big, something really, really big -- something so big that your existence would end up shifting human history and leaving a dent in the fabric of time -- what would you do? 

Would you think about what your best career options were, what things you were good at, and go from there?

Would you stress out over money or financial concerns or hunker down and save your money?

Would you focus on doing things that made you comfortable or ensured that people would like you?

Would you limit your focus to things that you could achieve this lifetime?

Would you be realistic?

Or would you think about the biggest, most crazy thing you could imagine? Something that seemed so unlikely for a single human being to achieve but that, when you thought about it or talked about it, filled you with spine-tingling, eye-watering, goosebump-making surges of energy that seemed to emanate from some unknown source deep inside?

That thing that despite being so unrealistic and crazy lingered on your mind, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

If you ever asked me in person to share my biggest dream, I'd probably tell you that I would like to reach the end of my life and see humanity more connected and forward-looking, to have an end to poverty, hunger, and inequality at least somewhere in sight, and to know that my actions played at least a small role in making that movement happen.

But if you asked me again, what's my biggest, craziest, most wild dream, I'd likely change my answer.

I'd tell you that I'd like to see humanity not only more connected and in tune with nature, but also exploring and stretching off planet Earth. I'd want to stand on planet Mars before I die and feel that humanity as a whole finally recognizes its precious potential. 

I'd like to witness the beginnings of humanity-level cooperation taking place, pushing the human species forward together to eliminate silly things like poverty, hunger, and inequality so that we, as a species, can move on to bigger and more important things like exploring the universe, not just the universe around us, but also within us.

This is Star Trek type stuff, yes, but if you really asked me what my biggest, craziest dream was, that's what I'd honestly tell you. I'd like to know that I played a part in moving the human race forward, towards something that my intuition tells me we'll eventually arrive at anyway.

But you'd never guess any of that reading my writing or even communicating with me online. In fact, very few of my actions in life really reflect that level of thinking.


Because I gave up on that dream long ago. It was too unrealistic, too "out there". If I was going to use my potential for something great, why would I throw it at something so preposterous?

Following that thinking was always a series of justifications, a train of logical reasoning to back up the impossibility of that thinking:

"I'd need to become heavily involved in entrepreneurship and business and investing and money... I just don't like any of those enough to do something big with them."

"I'd probably need an engineering degree and that would be too much of a time commitment... I'm too old and my time is running out fast."

"If I failed to achieve my dream, I will have wasted my time and energy."

"If I fail, all my potential, my whole life, will have been for nothing."

"Nobody else is doing this kind of stuff -- or even attempting it -- so it must be unachievable and silly to even consider."

I've gone through this process more times than I can count -- throughout my whole life -- often justifying the process itself by telling myself that some dreams really are just too big, but that it's healthy to think about them anyway. 

However something changed in the past year. Before I returned home from India last year, I won a chance to see one of the last Space Shuttle launches in Florida. 

That experience led me to connect with a whole new circle of friends who were passionate about space and who lived with those futuristic dreams on their minds every single day. 

Those events led to my learning about Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal who, with a real passion not focused on being entrepreneurial and making money but for making humanity a multi-planetary species, went on to found SpaceX, now the leading private space company in the world.

Yes! That's exactly what I should be doing! But (and here's where the fear and self-doubt steps in)...

"That's just not me..."

"Space exploration is so disconnected from the immediate humanitarian needs here on Earth that I really care about..."

"I can't possibly focus on addressing world poverty if I'm focused on getting people into space..."

"Elon Musk was rich and had tons of money to start with... I'd be starting with nothing and that would make it impossible..."

But Elon is moving the human race forward.

He's chasing his seemingly impossible dream because that's what he believes he should be doing. He's running his business the way he believes it should be run, telling employees and investors face-to-face that he and his business are not in it for the money but for the legacy of humanity.

In the past year I've connected with so many people who are fascinated with space and I've learned about people like Elon who are taking their dreams and pushing them forward. 

All of this has rekindled within me the "impossible" dreams that I've held inside for so long. It's made me reconsider them and start asking myself questions about what I'm doing and why I'm here on Earth.

Why can't I become someone who builds businesses that determine their success not based on monetary profit but rather on the welfare of the human species as a whole? 

A space company that addresses humanitarian needs? Why not? So what if nobody else has done it or if nobody thinks it would work.

Steve Jobs said, "stay hungry, stay foolish". Perhaps to really stay hungry we need to chase dreams that are unrealistic and seemingly impossible; perhaps to stay foolish we need to believe in dreams that seem a little crazy but that call to us, like a whisper from the future, asking us to do the impossible.

Notes: Creating a new civilization on Mars

Elon Musk is one of my role models when it comes to thinking big and combining business with vision. This article talks about where his company SpaceX is going and explains a bit about Elon's philosophy and vision:

“I was trying to understand why rockets were so expensive. Obviously the lowest cost you can make anything for is the spot value of the material constituents. And that’s if you had a magic wand and could rearrange the atoms. So there’s just a question of how efficient you can be about getting the atoms from raw material state to rocket shape.” That year, enlisting a handful of veteran space engineers, Musk formed Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, with two staggeringly ambitious goals: To make spaceflight routine and affordable, and to make humans a multi-planet species.


Musk makes no secret of the end goal: Create a new civilization on Mars. Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in September, he outlined the business plan -- if that’s the right term for something that looks decades into the future. “If you can reduce the cost of moving to Mars to around the cost of a middle class home in California—maybe to around half a million dollars—then I think enough people would buy a ticket and move to Mars,” he said. “You obviously have to have quite an appetite for risk and adventure. But there are seven billion people on Earth now, and there’ll be probably eight billion by the midpoint of the century. So even if one in a million people decided to do that, that’s still eight thousand people. And I think probably more than one in a million people will decide to do that.”

Reaching for freedom

It was on this day 50 years ago that the human species managed to escape the confines of the place it had called home for hundreds of thousands of years. For millions of generations, we looked up at the night sky and wondered what was up there. It took a long, long time, but we took the first step. It's human to reach for great heights, but it's even more human to reach for freedom.

Beyond Imagination

I traveled 1,300 miles by foot, car, subway, and two airplanes to watch a spaceship blast off into space. Was it fun? Absolutely. But was my decision to spend time, money, and resources to watch a machine carry humans into space really just another small vote for poverty?

A child is painfully aware, if only subconsciously, that it knows very little. The young brain does not see the world and say, "I know everything; I don't need to learn that." It doesn't make assumptions. A young brain is infinitely curious. Always exploring, always learning, always expanding its horizons and converting the unknown into something that makes sense.

Scientists call this brain plasticity, our brains' ability to evolve, change, and grow based on the experiences and the environments we're exposed to. As we age, our brain becomes less plastic and begins to harden as we convince ourselves that we know. We know how language works. We know how people work. We know how the world works.

But when we expose our brain to something new -- a different set of people, an awkward social situation, a reality that was previously deemed science fiction -- our brain is forced to cope with this new truth. It's forced to grow. It's forced to return to its plasticity and expand. Continue reading

Love is Enough

Love is Enough, seen in a remote Himalayan village in Nepal

"Who's that Buzz guy?"

"Buzz Aldrin? He was one of the first people to walk on the moon."

She was surrounded by space geeks, asking questions about space history that must have seemed trivial and obvious to everyone around her. But she wasn't judged. She wasn't laughed at, criticized, or looked down upon. Instead, her curiosity was enthusiastically embraced and nurtured.

Five people stood around the kitchen and took turns answering question after question. Five people who only a few days earlier were total strangers. This, I realized, is why love and passion are so important to humanity.

Their voices began to blur and their outlines became fuzzy as I began daydreaming of a world where every person was just as compassionate and caring. A world where strangers would regularly come together to share knowledge and exchange ideas. A world where what mattered wasn't power or prestige, but pure, simple, love.

But let me back up a little and explain how this group of strangers, including myself, came to be living together under the same roof. Continue reading