"I remember when it was just 3 of us in a monthly meeting" recalled Maroof Mian, Senior Vice President of LAST, reminiscing on the old days when LAST's monthly meetings would be held in whatever cafe/restaurant was available and a fixed participant number was never guaranteed. Maroof Mian has been one of the, if not the most, consistent member of the group and has been a strong supporter of the idea of a monthly meetup.
"It is vital to a group's longevity." says Umair Asim, the President of Lahore Astronomical Society, in reference to the importance of monthly meetings.
As a lot of our members know already, the monthly meetings of LAST take place on the first Friday of a month at 7 pm. "These events are always free of charge and anyone can attend." emphasizes Aamna Saleem, the Event Manager of LAST, in every text message/email that she sends to registered members whenever a monthly meeting nears. Of course, this month was no different.
A lecturer for the Architecture Department of University Of The Punjab during the day and Marketing & Advertising Manager of LAST at night, Mr. Usman Maqsood Mirza, chose to deliver a lecture on the topic 'Colonizing Space' to a record audience of 53 people in a meeting room that can fit up to 40-45 people at max capacity. On-the-spot arrangements had to be made to accommodate such numbers, which was nothing but a very, very pleasant surprise. We at LAST are always delighted to see familiar faces show up at our meetings but without exception, new faces are an even better thing to see! We were, therefore, very happy to see that almost half of the audience members were new faces, new people from different backgrounds that we had never met before. They simply came to know about the event through social media and their friends.
Our monthly meetings are centered on an interesting or a pressing/relevant Astronomy topic and is delivered in a very friendly, casual and a highly interactive way. The audience is repeatedly reminded of their freedom to ask any question or comment on whatever section of the presentation they have just seen.
The monthly meeting was scheduled to begin at 7 pm but in order to accommodate the constant influx of audience members, the start time was pushed forward to 7:20 pm. An introduction of the Lahore Astronomical Society and Zeds Astronomical Observatory was given by the President of LAST, Mr. Umair Asim. He recapped all the important news and events that had happened in the past month, relevant to Astronomy, at Zeds Astronomical Observatory. We found out that a very special set of data had been taken a few days prior to the monthly meeting. Something that had never been done in Pakistan before. Umair Asim took the audience through a very important concept in Astronomy called the H-R diagram (Hertzprung-Russel diagram). He briefed the audience about what the H-R diagram means and why is it important. In a nutshell, the H-R diagram is one of the fundamental concepts in Astronomy. It is a graphical representation of the categorization of stars on basis of their luminosity (the actual output of a star irrelevant of how bright/dim it appears from Earth) and temperature. Umair Asim proceeded to surprise the audience when he showed that recently he had been observing the open cluster, M67, from his observatory using the huge 14" SCT telescope (Celestron C14) and his newly acquired array of photometric BVI filters (without which such data cannot be taken) and showed how he had himself plotted the H-R diagram of some 38 stars in the M67 open cluster, right here from the light polluted skies of Lahore! This stuff had never been done from Pakistan before! True science being done through a private observatory in Lahore. Such data sets can be sent to foreign researchers and can be used productively! The audience appreciated the effort by a big round of applause and Umair Asim then proceeded to introduce the speaker of the day.
A few minutes passed during changing of the laptop connection with the projector in order to start the presentation. This encouraged some chatter in the room which was immediately gone as soon as the presentation's first slide was up on the screen, 3 dots. Everybody expected a title slide or a pretty picture of some future-sci-fi graphic showing a humanly figure, silhouetted against the surface of Mars or the Moon looking at the distant Earth, from the backyard of their new space colony or something! But all that there was were 3 white dots on the otherwise black screen and then this appeared...
You saw that right. "Lahore Astrological Society" with the topic of "Horoscopes". Now, this might make a few people excited but I can assure you that Astronomers are not one of them! Everybody immediately recognized the whole deal with this slide as the next slide was shown which had a big "APRIL FOOL's DAY" on it. This made for a very interesting start to the presentation and no one really saw this coming. The laughter was audible and this helped get the audience comfortable with the presenter and the topic, something that is valued greatly in a LAST monthly meeting presentation.
The presentation proceeded to first show classical ideas that popular sci-fi novels and comics had portrayed regarding human exploration of the space around Earth and specifically the establishment of human settlements on the lunar surface. The whole idea of humans colonizing another heavenly body, and that too the Moon which is the closest celestial body to Earth, had shown to be around for a long time and was no stranger to the world of science fiction.
The presentation revolved around the content of Usman's thesis work which had been done on designing and sustaining a lunar settlement for humans, set roughly 100 years in the future. NASA's budget was shown around the years that had the space race hit it's peak and the exponential increase in the NASA budget during the early and mid 1960s was correlated with an increase in the number of MPhil and PhD students turnover in the USA. These two data sets were clearly related to each other.
A highly detailed insight to the location, structure and operations within the lunar settlement were shown. In what was one of the most remarkable visuals in the presentation, a crater on the southern pole of the Moon called Shackleton was shown in a time lapse 'video' made by taking actual satellite images from lunar orbit, showing the changes in shadow on the crater and its rim during 1 lunar day (which is equal to 1 month on Earth). Due to its location (near the south pole), the floor of this crater (bottom of the bowl) remains in constant darkness as the Sun never goes high enough at the south pole of the Moon to shine it's light directly overhead into the floors of such craters. The animation was hauntingly beautiful and gave the audience a very easy-to-understand perspective of why this crater region was chosen for a future human settlement on the Moon. Usman grabbed the conveniently placed lunar globe to demonstrate the location of his proposed settlement.
Usman gave many reasons for this site selection.
1) Presence of water (in the form of ice) in the permanently shadowed crater floor, nearby.
2) View of Earth from this site; which would appear very close to the horizon and will always be there no matter what time of the day/month/year it is (yes, that is true!).
3) The length of a day on the site at which this settlement will be made (on the rim of the Shackleton crater) is much longer than, say, the equator of the Moon. This would make sure the power derived from solar panels is maintained for longer periods of time.
The audience actively asked questions, a lot of questions during the progress of the presentation which were expertly handled by Usman. He had certainly done his homework on the topic and left no questioner unsatisfied.
Usman then showed the ways in which life can be sustained within the settlements i.e. crop growth, basic life support, 'crew quarters' and living apartments. One of the most interesting things that I'm sure everyone learned was the complete uselessness of stairs in the lunar gravity. It turns out that in 1/6th the gravity of Earth, every time you would take a step on a stair step you would jump higher into the air for a lot longer than you would on Earth. This would make stairs rather a nuisance than a benefit. Therefore, no stairs shall be used and they shall be replaced by gently inclined ramps. Questions like meteor impact protection and communication with Earth were asked by the audience. The role of clear glass windows was emphasized by the speaker on grounds of keeping the crew/settlement members help stay away from things like depression and the feeling of loneliness.
This lunar settlement would house 150 people, each given their own area to grow their own food. It was shown that the bioregenerative 96000 square feet crop CELLS would be divided into sections of area 500 square feet each, in order to protect the remaining crops in case a fire breaks out in the crop field. The settlement was shown to be made on the slope of the crater wall in order to protect the settlement dwellers from the harmful radiation of the Sun. Plants would be grown preferentially in hydroponic solutions to save the cost it would take to bring an equal amount of soil from Earth on a rocket.
Usman showed how he had taken help from some people within NASA. People working specifically in the NASA Ames Research Center who replied to Usman's mail and sent 2 very helpful books to him for his thesis work which would ultimately make this presentation possible.
The presentation was concluded shortly afterwards. A Q&A session followed which lasted around 15 minutes. All members in the meeting room were directed to a group photo outside the room, near the lawn. This was the only time when the group photo was taken in 'panorama mode' of the camera simply because of the sheer number of the people that were present! Refreshments were served to the participants and a lot of post-presentation chatter filled the meeting room with some people leaving the premise for their homes and others staying a little longer, indulged in discussions on topics both inside and outside of Astronomy.
We thank everyone who participated in the event. Special shoutout to the President of LAST, Mr. Umair Asim and Event Manager of LAST, Ms. Aamna Saleem for organizing and managing the event superbly and of course to the speaker himself, Mr. Usman Maqsood Mirza for delivering a wonderful presentation on a different and difficult topic.