July 20, 2008
If we could send people to the moon 39 years ago you'd think that today we could....well...you know.
April 23, 2008
Despite the harrowing entry, the capsule somehow did not incinerate on reentry (w00t!) but landed hundreds of miles off course with no working radios and had a very rough landing.
Fortunately, all three crewmembers, American Peggy Whitson, Korean Yi So-yeon, and Russian Yuri Malenchenko were safe.
But then there is this... (HT Rand Simberg)
The Russians chastised the crew for not radioing...(I refer you to the 'melted off antennas' bit) and....as a precaution to ensure that this sort of thing never happens again...
" "You know in Russia, there are certain bad omens about this sort of thing, but thank God that everything worked out successfully,'' he said. "Of course in the future, we will work somehow to ensure that the number of women will not surpass'the number of men. "
So the problems have been identified as Peggy Whitson, who was the first female commander of the ISS and currently has the American record for number of cumulative hours in space and Yi So-yeon who is the first Korean in Space.
Oh good....I was worried they'd waste money on something silly like the attitude control system or GPS...but that was no doubt my cynical nature talking.
An accurate representation of what female astronauts reentering the atmosphere do not look like.
April 12, 2008
47 years ago a human being first entered Earth orbit.
In 8 years the human race went from one low furtive orbit to landing on another celestial body. The difference between the low orbits of Vostok and Mercury and what was required to get to the moon was vast. The difference in energy between getting to the Moon and getting to Mars, Ceres, or any of the other worlds this side of Jupiter is actually quite small. The solar system was open planets and moons beckoned and the future seemed to have arrived!
Now, 47 years after one man wen where no one had ever gone before we have, instead of SIX FLAGS ON THE MOON...six flags...on the moon. surrounded by the footprints of the only twelve to walk on its surface.
47 years later we do send several people a year into space. They are confined to low earth orbit just as Gagarin was. there are plans to return, but it is pointed out that it will take more than a decade more to do what was done in 8 years from scratch 39 years ago.
In 1968, Hollywood imagined the year 2001 to be one of casual space travel with huge moon cities, massive Space stations and the ability to send people as far afield as Jupiter. Given the rate of progress to that point this was seen as utterly reasonable. And yet....
The reason often given is that we have too many problems here.
That was the reason given by the bureaucrats of the Ming Dynasty when they decommissioned Zheng Hu's treasure fleet which had massively stimulated trade commerce and cultural exchange. The results of that unenlightened decision were rather unfortunate for the nation whose bureaucrats made it but it consolidated their power in the short span of their petty, venal lives so they no doubt thought it was a wise move.
A rather more eloquent set of refutations for this sad attempt at an argument can be found here.
With that in mind, tonight we reject these visionless Mandarins as people all over the world celebrate the first instance of a human leaving out atmosphere and entering orbit.
As an added bonus, he future has been long in coming, but its finally getting here.
March 29, 2008
Now, one of the Brickmuppets crack team of science babes points out that, somewhat surprisingly, the numbers have already been run on this idea and it is quite doable.
The study, in pdf form here, is quite interesting and relevant to human exploration in ways that the ISS simply is not.
Designed as an exercise by a team of students from the University of Maryland (at College Park) the proposed Clarke Station is a manned, variable gravity research facility intended to determine exactly what gravity level is needed to sustain long term human health.
Given that all of the planets and moons with resources that make human settlement possible have substantially less gravity than Earth, this is a nontrivial question. Lunar Gravity can, of course, be tested on an off the shelf satellite...the moon...but it seems prudent to test physiological effects of other gravities at a location no farther than the moon where the bail and scramble back to earth time is measured in days not months (or years in the case of Titan). A variable gravity facility can of course be used for training in say, Martian gravity to learn any tricks and unwelcome surprises of a particular gravity level. It bears remembering that the 1/6th gravity of the moon required some considerable adaptation by the Apollo Astronauts to simply get around.
(boingy boingy boingy..)
We need to find out some very basic things....
Does gravity in the ballpark of the moon have the same long term effects as 0 gravity? If so, what is the lower limit of tolerable gravity? Can we have permanent settlements on the 1/4 g environment of Mars for instance? Can low gravity effects be mitigated by exercise or drugs in ways that actual free-fall cannot? (this seems likely....to a point....but we have no reference for where that point might be). What are the actual maximum rotation rates that a crew can reasonably adapt to? This has a big effect on how wide and therefore big and heavy the centrifuge habitat in a spacecraft needs to be I've see reports that suggest a 30 foot diameter is adequate (Zubrin referring to his Gaiashield mission) and some that say 100 feet or more is necessary....we need to KNOW this stuff.
None of this can be found out on the ISS or current spacecraft because they are in free fall. A proposed gravity deck on the ISS was omited for budgetary reasons (and I'm not sure it would have been useable by people). Manned space exploration is going to require these sorts of questions answered
The station is interesting for another reason. Its choice of radiation protection.
The station is positioned at a Lagrange point (L1) which leaves the crew without the protection of the Van-Allen belts. This is compensated for by filling the walls of the inflatable modules with water. A few trips will pump the water into the walls to give superb protection. The original NASA inflatable concepts (going back to the 80's) had this as a feature so it is well within the design parameters of the materials involved. Water is heavy, but it is easy to handle and is well tested as a radiation shield. Given the existence of an inflatable module, pumping in water is just one more thing that needs to be pumped, simplifying assembly. Outside cislunar space on a mission to another planet or an asteroid, this sort of rad shielding will be a real asset. This is not a new concept at all, and it is elegant in its simplicity but it has never actually been done.
The position of this station at a liberation point is of more significance now than it was when this plan was developed, as we now have as a national goal a return to the moon. As John Goff points out, orbital propellant depots at a Lagrange point have the double advantage of enabling greater payloads to be carried to the moon and learning important, practical hands on lessons about one of the primary technologies for spacefaring....transfering fuel and other fluids between spacecraft. More on this architecture here and here is Boeing's proposal, focusing not just on the nuts and bolts but its commercial viability...in this case of a low earth orbit facility. Things break, so if an orbital propellant depot is built having one of these nearby allows the crew to do double duty as gas station attendants!
It should be noted that the Bigelow-type inflatables are a fairly mature technology,for instance, here is a paper on inflatables from 1988.
Within the limits imposed by my stock disclaimer, this station seems to be a conservative and robust in design with a good fudge factor regards strength (it can sustain 1.2G) and the inflatable modules should simplify construction. It is a modest near term proposal using off the shelf technology that can bring in huge benefits There are certainly some issues not covered by these engineering students but in order to tweak those would only require NASA to send it to Langley or Glenn. All that would require would be for NASA to be looking seriously at this line of research.
And therein lies the rub.....
March 04, 2008
Popular Mechanics provides these pictures of two massive Martian avalanches, taken from orbit.
March 02, 2008
It seems that the next step in the Virgin Galactic/ Scaled Composites spacecraft evolution is thought to be a point to point hypersonic trans- atmospheric vehicle for super-quick intercontinental passenger service!
Although SS3 has also been referred to by Whitehorn as an orbital vehicle, and a SpaceShip Four as a possible name for a two-stage micro satellite launching rocket, at the New York SS2 and its carrier aircraft White Knight II unveil Whitehorn told me that SS3 would actually be a point-to-point vehicle travelling outside the atmosphere.
Such a point-to-point vehicle could be a stepping stone to solving the technical challenges for a manned orbital vehicle but for now, Whitehorn, tells me, he expects work to begin on SS3 soon after Virgin Galactic's commercial operations are underway.
Interesting if true and it certainly makes sense. This sort of 2 or 2.5 stage point to point rocket liner has been proposed since the before the beginning of the space age and some serious consideration was given to it in the mid to late '50s in the case of the civilian version of the BOMI vehicle. This is both logical and potentially useful IMHO, it has rather lower stresses and heating issues than a full orbital vehicle and it has more destinations (the whole freaking world). It would provide an insanely fast passenger service.
Somewhat related is this Chairforce Engineer post (via Rand Simberg) on what the real Space Race is all about.
[ quote ]Imagine for a second that you're a Congress-critter. You can't get past the giggle-factor associated with landing a man on the moon, but you don't want to look like the Luddite who kept American astronauts grounded. So you've got to pick a system for sending your astronauts to the space station. Do you pick the privately-developed system which carries more astronauts, costs less to operate, and gets America back into orbit faster? Or do you keep shoveling money at the government-run program? The only thing NASA has going for itself right now, aside from the fading lunar dream, is the political implications of laying off the thousands of people whose jobs rely on NASA's manned spaceflight program.
Brickmuppet Blog has mentioned this before. I firmly believe there is a place for government in space exploration but it needs to work with rather than against the private sector...
Which brings us to Bob Bigelow whose Bigelow Aerospace has finalized a deal with LockMart for 50 (!!) launches for stations, their crews and supplies over the next 5 years. These are incredible numbers and it is an indication of how serious and advanced heir plans are. w00t1! (Via Colony Worlds)
One of the more elegant solutions for interplanetary travel is the solar sail, which uses the pressure of sunlight to move it about the solar system. In THEORY they can attain tremendous velocities. With a very close pass to the sun speeds of up to 4% the speed of light are possible (that'd get you to Alpha Centauri in a Century and Pluto in 4 years) of course this requires unobtanium...I mean you'd need to be able to make sheets of carbon nanotubes and thats just science fictiony silly talk....oh wait....
Over at Centauri Dreams is this fascinating post on efforts to find extrasolar planets...in the Alpha Centauri system, the closest stars really similar to our own sun. 17 pages of exposition by the scientists involved are here.
Sails and peering through telescopes aren't actually rocket science, so to get us back on track here is George Dyson giving a talk about the most awe inspiring actual rocket ever seriously considered. Every bodies favorite Atomic Pogo stick....project Orion.
...And here is a 3 and a half minute BBC video on the same subject.
February 16, 2008
I'm drilling this weekend and have scads of homework to boot. As promised, regular blogging will resume in a couple of days.
In the meantime, thanks to Ryu, here is a white haired, green eyed girl in a bikini with two M-1911A1's ....which should punch enough tickets to almost compensate for the recent Patalirro link.
February 13, 2008
February 03, 2008
February 02, 2008
January 26, 2008
..... The satellite, which no longer can be controlled, could contain hazardous materials, and it is unknown where on the planet it might come down, they said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is classified as secret. "Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation,"
Great....we can't control it...its chock full of secrets and might contain hazmats...like the Pueblo and Luv Canal...but from space. depending on how it comes down, the Luddites could have a field day with this....yeesh.
"Oh CHINA!? Have you any of those nasty ASATs lying about that we could ...ummm....borrow...for just a few minutes?"
Oh...Mutant Super Cockroaches from Space...thanks for that clarification...
Actually, aside from these B-Movie aberations, there is still a lot of non- scary space news right now....
Inspired by the recent pictures from the Messenger probe The Planetary Society does some back of the envelope calculations regards the need for sunglasses on Mercury and comes up with some surprising answers. As I am a geek, this inspired me to look up this silly article...which is nevertheless interesting in that it points out that humans might indeed oneday walk even in that inhospitable place. (the odds are better than for Venus anyway).
Out of the Cradle reviews a new book The Moon: Resources, Future Development, and Settlement and finds it quite worthy.
There should be no partisanship in a space post but as this is primary season and everything is hysterically political Rand Simberg dreams of what he wants to hear from a presidential candidate. Last Friday, Gulliani came closer to Rand's ideal than most (though he was even closer to Dr. Strangeglove...which, I suppose, is fitting). Over at The Nutroot Cafe' Ferris Valen continues with his excellent space related dairy, despite the dispiriting Space Policy outlined by Obama. Also, at the same Webnode, his fellow Kossak Bill White promises to explain what a "progressive" would do regards space...but instead makes some very good observations and suggestions...(I'm bad...I know...I'm sorry...)
Partisan snarking aside, both are good posts and Ferris's diary is generally a must read go there and scroll.
Of course the BIG news lately has been the unveiling of White Night 2 and Spaceship 2 designs.
More here, where one is directed to this Flight Global piece which points out that the system is fully capable of launching a one man capsule into orbit (and presumably satellites as well). While there is no indication that this is being pursued by Virgin galactic, Jon Goff recently had related (and detailed) thoughts along those lines here.
UPDATE: There is much more space linkage at the 37th and 38th installments of the Carnival of Space.
December 29, 2007
December 03, 2007
Over at Encyclopedia Astronautica, Mark Wade has compiled a story that has almost everything.
The US Coast Guard
The Cold War
...and Ramming Speed!
November 05, 2007
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
'Twas his intent.
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below.
Poor old England to overthrow.
By God's providence he was catch'd,
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holloa boys, Holloa boys, let the bells ring
Holloa boys, Holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip Hoorah !
Happy Guy Fawkes Day to any and all British Brickmuppeteers!
Art from Wikipedia (uncredited)
October 07, 2007
There is certainly a sense that despite everything, we may finally be on the cusp of restarting the adventure that was so foolishly allowed to end after the above picture was taken by the Apollo 17 landing party.
We often hear about parallels between Space and the American Frontier, but we aren't the only pioneering culture with aspirations to space. This Aussie article looks at the similarities that may come out between the colonization of their continent and the settlement of the heavens. (HT: Clarke Lindsey)
Finally, the new Carnival of Space is up!
October 03, 2007
An excellent overview of the events leading from WW2 to Sputnik1's launch can be found here in a recently added page at Encyclopedia Astronautica.
Also, is a good overview of several official PRE(!) Sputnik designs from the US and Germany, going back to 1947 which were quite technically feasible for the day and would have worked too if not for a lack of vion in the USAF...and interservice rivalry which inspired the USAF to kill a navy program they didn't want to do themselves.
Nor was their a cornucopia of foresight on the USSR's end, for despite official propaganda to the contrary, the Soviet leadership was very unenthusiastic about the whole endeavor. The only thing that caused it to happen was the persistence of several visionary engineers and the fact that they convinced the leadership that the size of the R4 launcher would enable them to throw a small satellite into orbit with no additional development cost....and right it off as an extreme range test. Almost as an afterthought a scientific satellite was designed but it was not completed in time (that was Sputnik 3) Indeed the Sputnik 1 itself contained no scientific instruments, it just beeped....(HT Lileks )
But it beeped from space, where no manmade thing had ever been and it caught the imagination of the world....and scared the Bejeezus out of the US, as the ability to reach orbit implied global reach...with atomic weapons.
The US began a crash program to catch up to the Soviets....that program was Vanguard.
A bit later the US decided to embark on a program with rather less "crash" and Explorer 1 (which the Army could have launched in 1956 if not forbidden to) finally made a tardy appearance in orbit. It even managed to discover the Van Allen Belts (as it did more than beep).
The launch of the Sputniks incited a frenzied fit of federal meddling in education from which the US educational system has never recovered, but it also showed that the surly bonds of earth can be broken and opened the way to the stars. 12 years later, inspired in part by this 185 pound beep machine, Americans landed on the moon!
Now 50 years on, we don't seem to have made as much progress as many of us would have hoped, indeed we've made negative progress since 1972, but the point of today is to remind us that space was conquered ...
50 freaking years ago!!
So it's not that hard.
The heavens still beckon. It's time to answer their invitation.
There's a great roundup of Sputnik Day posts at Rand Simberg's place.
Some additional perspective below the fold:
September 27, 2007
Hat Tip: A Babe in the Unuverse
September 23, 2007
Clarke Lindsay does a nice sum up of critical infrastructure technologies that are under development and seem likely to come to fruition to fruition in the short term.
The lists big missing technology bit of course, is any real push for space nuclear power. There is some work being done for the Prometheus Project but that is now a fairly low key program.
For what it's worth, I strongly agree with the sentiments of John Goff and others regarding the importance of developing orbital-propellant transfer technologies. This is absolutely vital to moving forward in space.
Via Colony Worlds comes this link to an article on NASA's current Moon buggy plans. It provides the below picture of a proposed NASA lunar buggy, which is really a mini mobile base.
The external mounted suits are interesting. They seem to be designed towards minimizing the astronauts exposure to lunar dust. This is a problem that has been getting some attention of late. The suits would "dock" with the habitat and the astronauts would enter and exit through a rear torso hatch minimizing dust entry.
In the long term given extensive infrastructure a vastly superior Bio-Suit might be worn under coveralls but this affords very good dust protection.
One idea for shielding early explorers from cosmic rays and solar flares is to put shelters in caves. NASA has now discovered some on Mars (or at least rrrreelly deep holes).
Regards safety, space ships need space lifeboats, but given that spacecraft today are rather minimalist affairs, an escape system carried by them will tend to be more so....HERE is a selection of wacky, but possibly workable ideas from the '60s regarding how to get to Earth from space in a pinch...If any of the non capsule ideas work, I predict thrill junkies will be doing them voluntarily in 20 years
Regards current explorations, the Babe in the Universe posts on the recent flyby of Iapetus and links to Sir Arthur C. Clarke's video presentation commemorating it. Sir Arthur is one of the true greats of both science fiction and science fact.( I'm ashamed to say that I'd not realized until this that he'd been stricken with polio.)
Here is a .gif of film taken the little moon during the flyby.
Finally, the latest Carnival of the Space Geeks is up with lots more links to space related stuff.
July 31, 2007
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