Mars Rovers, Video Games, Cosplay, and Typewriters

Hey, another two weeks have gone by and we have another great issue of The Magazine!

Issue 26: September 26, 2013

Here's my full editor's note:


The space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 continue to function 36 years after their launch, long beyond the mission criterion. Voyager 1 entered interstellar space, bursting through the sun's magnetic bubble, in August 2012, although this was just confirmed days ago.

Humanity, in the form of NASA mostly, has sent rover after rover to Mars to roam about and send back information. The last three have been particularly successful. Spirit and Opportunity were budgeted for 90-day missions; Spirit traversed for 6 years, and Opportunity passed 10 and is still peripatetic.

Last year, right around when the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a NASA contractor, says its Voyager 1 went forth into true space, the group also landed a goddamn SUV full of scientific equipment and cameras on Mars: Curiosity. The world watched, more enthralled with the "seven minutes of terror" descent than with the Olympics.

I visited Spirit's and Opportunity's third sibling and Curiosity's twin — used for simulations and testing — at JPL in January for the Economist, and met with JPL scientists about their work in keeping missions alive. It's tricky performing repairs from millions or hundreds of millions of miles away, but they manage it.

One of the people I met was the extraordinary Scott Maxwell, profiled in this issue by Carren Jao in "Red Rover." Scott was a rover driver for several years on the Spirit/Opportunity mission and then on Curiosity in its first several months. Scott's sense of inquiry led him into rover driving and now beyond in a job at Google. But he's ready for future missions that stretch human achievement and endurance should they arise.

Also in this issue, we look backwards at video games. Simon Parkin — the author of one of the best stories about video games ever written, "Desert Bus" at the New Yorker — explains how a nearly hapless Dutch gem trader coded and released a blockbuster game in Japan in 1983 in "The Dragon Invasion."

Richard Moss suggests we "play it again" as he describes in "Impermanent Games" the efforts of archivists in Australia and New Zealand to track down the software code and personal memories of the early days of those nations' video games before the programs and people are gone.

Elliott Fitzgerald McCloud has no concerns about being "Typecast," as he tells of how important typewriters have become in his life, especially as a bond between him and his son. His initial draft came as a PDF; he'd typed the piece on one of his beloved Olivettis and scanned it to submit. (He later sent us text.) We know: we said, "No more typewriter stories!" But McCloud's tale is too sweet to miss, and it's not really about the typewriters, is it?

Finally, the world of cosplay can seem exotic or übergeeky to those not involved in it. Gabe Bullard looks beyond the fabric of the costumes to the people who make them in "Redshirts in the Coffee Shop." You'll remember the focal designer in the story, Leah D'Andrea, from an earlier piece about her husband, Chris Lee, who is building a "Full Scale" version of the Millennium Falcon. They're a pretty amazing couple, each with their own rich stories to tell.

Cover photo by Gabe Bullard. Design by Louie Mantia.