Thursday, June 19, 2014

Features: The Return of Ask Doctor Hasslein

Dr. Otto Hasslein has served as science adviser to two Presidents.  He is perhaps best-known for his theoretical work in time-dilation physics, and for exposing the sinister agenda of “ape-o-nauts”  Zira and Cornelius, thereby prevented a terrifying dystopian future.

Now enjoying a well-earned retirement in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Dr. Hasslein has kindly consented to lend his considerable subject matter expertise to The Infinite Reach.  

Readers with questions for Dr. Hasslein may send them to The Infinite Reach
via the Hyperspace Com Uplink referenced on our home page.

Dear Dr. Hasslein,

You are a physicist who specializes in time travel, so maybe you can explain the 2004 movie Primer to me.  Basically the whole movie confuses the bejeezus out of me but I’ll just start with one question.  In the movie, the first time traveler (Abe) prepares to travel back six hours in time.  He goes to a hotel room and waits, knowing his future self will be running around in the same timeline.  But hasn’t he made a duplicate of himself?  Where does the duplicate go? Why aren’t there now two of them existing simultaneously forever?

  - Pierre O'Dox

Dr. Hasslein Replies:

You are not the first person to ask me about Sean Carruth’s Primer, Pierre O'Dox, a film which contains a number of intriguing  puzzles related to time travel.  The question of where the duplicates go is one I am often asked, though it is by far the easiest concept in the movie to explain.  It is important to remember that while the time travelers appear to have created duplicates of themselves, they have not. 

To illustrate this, let us consider Abe’s first journey through time.  Abe I activates the machine and leaves the storage facility.  Moments later, Abe II emerges from the machine. For six hours the two Abes exist simultaneously and during this time they may do whatever they wish. But after the six hours have passed the “original” Abe vanishes. He does this simply by entering  the box and emerging six hours earlier, having himself become Abe II,  now existing on a concurrent timeline with Abe I.  He cannot impulsively decide not to enter the box; we know for a fact that he will do so, because if the original Abe does not enter the box, the duplicate Abe cannot emerge from it.

Abe I is extremely careful not to encounter Abe II, not knowing what impact this might have on the timeline or on himself.  However, as we discover, Aaron is not so circumspect, to the point of his “duplicate” eventually assaulting, drugging and otherwise interfering with his own “original”.

Dear Dr. Hasslein,

In your last column you said that your favorite SF movie was This Island Earth. I watched it and thought it was pretty good, but what was the deal with the glass tubes everyone had to step into?  They are supposed to offer some kind of protection,  but it wasn’t clear to me how they are supposed to work. Do they change the body on the genetic level, or to they add some sort of mechanical reinforcement?

   - Skolvikings3

Dr. Hasslein Replies: 

I sense that you are someone who takes his science fiction rather seriously. T o be frank, you are somewhat over-thinking this, SkolVikings3, as we are offered no more than a bit of hand-waving in the direction of an actual scientific concept.  It wasn’t really necessary to the plot for Metaluna to have a hostile environment to which the humans must be adjusted: I suspect that the glass tubes were introduced so that we might catch a glimpse of Faith Domergue’s impressive  respiratory system. 

As Exeter explains it, the glass booths restructure the body on the cellular  level  in order to allow survival  under radically increased  (or radically decreased) atmospheric pressure.  Exeter describes the atmospheric pressure of Metaluna as similar to that of “earth’s greatest oceans”.  We must assume he actually means Earth’s deepest oceans, but it still is not clear just how deep.  We know that the deepest ocean trenches in the Pacific extend down to a depth of nearly 11,000 meters, but most oceans bottom out at 3,000 meters or less.  If we assume 3,000 meters as a baseline, and assume also an average seawater density of 1,025 kg/m, we find that Metaluna’s atmospheric pressure is 298 atmospheres, almost 3.5 times the atmospheric pressure of Venus.  This would be a hostile environment indeed.

While people can become acclimated to relatively mild changes in atmospheric pressure, 298 atmospheres is another matter entirely.  No amount of preparation would prevent you from being instantly crushed into a displeasing layer of pulp.  I would be reluctant to accept Exeter’s assurances that standing in a glass tube for 30 seconds would shield me from this unhappy fate. 

Dear Dr. Hasslein,

Many years ago I saw part of an intriguing movie on late night TV, but I never got the name and haven’t seen it since.  It was in black-and-white, and took place on a gigantic spaceship that is traveling across the galaxy.  The crew seems physically exhausted from traveling so long.  They happen upon another spaceship.  When two astronauts go on board, they find everyone dead.  But it turns out there’s a bomb on board the other ship and the astronauts are killed.  One of the crew says to his shipmate, “We should have sent the robot”.  Can you help identify this movie?


Dr. Hasslein Replies:

The movie you saw is called Ikarie XB-1, a Czech production from 1963.   The movie depicts the first voyage to Alpha Centauri. Due to relativistic effects the journey will take a little over a year ship’s time, but 15 years will pass on Earth; the strain caused by this temporal separation from home is one of the themes of the movie.  After many adventures the travelers arrive at the new planet but the film ends just before they discover who or what lives there. 
Ikarie XB-1 was released in the United States by Roger Corman and Samuel Z Arkoff’s American-International pictures as Voyage to the End of the Universe.  In addition to an English dub, a number of changes were made by AIP.  Most significantly, the scene on the derelict spacecraft was shortened (in the original, the derelict is an outer-space casino and the bodies are those of tuxedo-wearing capitalists whose decadent ways have finally caught up with them) and a twist ending was tacked on that reveals that the “green planet” the expedition was traveling to is actually Earth.  This ending, by the way, was later used in Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires. The Czech names in the credits were also anglicized to disguise the movie’s foreign pedigree – thus the distinguished director Jindrich Pollock was credited in the U.S. version as “Jack Pollock”.  Perhaps the greatest thing to come from the American version is the poster.  AIP’s movie posters were always better than the films they promoted, and this is no exception.

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