Olympics Opening Lacked Something

July 28, 2012
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One glaring omission from the Olympics Opening Ceremonies last night in London was any mention, during a program that featured milestones in British history, of Britain’s role in space exploration.  Much was made of the UK’s contributions to the music and entertainment world during the 70’s and 80’s, but space accomplishments were left out. 

This despite the fact that Britain is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the launching of its first artificial satellite, Ariel One, in 1962 The Olympics program began with Britain’s transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy, and continued through its accomplishments in two World Wars, then seemed to skip to a very creative and lengthy portrayal of its entertainment contributions, as if these were as important as its technical achievements.  Ending with a tribute to the new electronics age, the presentation, which was entertaining and massive in scope left the impression that Great Britain has had nothing to do with man’s expansion beyond Earth.  The British, by the way, have been leaders in the development of large communications satellites and have contributed to the International Space Station.

“UK busineses and institutions are currently involved in some of the most advanced and innovative space projects,” said Dr. David Williams , chief executive of the UK Space Agency recently in celebration of the anniversary of Ariel One.  This is not to minimize Britain’s contributions to the world’s imagination, literature and music, but it would have been nice if the Olympics Opening Ceremonies people had recognized space exploration too.


Heavy lift Rocket Passes Reviews

July 26, 2012
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NASA’s design for a heavy lift launch vehicle to replace the shuttle has passed a series of design and overall cost reviews paving the way for its first launch, scheduled for 2017.

The reviews occurred only 10 months after government okays for the project.  The rocket will be able to lift 130 metric tons into deep space, and will be used for future asteroid and possibly Mars missions.  The three stage rocket is bigger than the massive Saturn five which carried astronauts to the moon on six different occasions.

The lessurely pace at which this project is being carried out could be speeded up with additional government funding.  Increasing NASA’s funding from one-half cent of every tax dollar to one cent would be easily affordable. It is unfortunate that budget cutting has to extend to so important a program.

Austrian Freefalls from 96,640 ft.

July 25, 2012
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Felix Baumgartner jumped from his specially designed capsule yesterday and spent 3 minutes, 48 seconds freefalling from 96,640 feet before his parachute opened and dropped him more slowly to Earth.  The stunt, called the Red Bull Stratos Mission by its sponsors, is the second step in a move to establish a new altitude record currently held by USAF Captain Joe Kittinger, who jumped from 102,800 feet.  Both daredevils wore pressure suits.  Baumgartner previously jumped from 71,000 feet.

These high altitude experimental jumps may make it possible someday for astronauts to safely escape from failing rockets, or plunge from satellites, although the hazards of atmospheric friction would have to be overcome at much higher altitudes.  Space is considered to begin at an altitude of 322,000 feet.  Future armies might find it effective to drop squads or platoons of soldiers from extremely high altitudes into the enemy’s back yard.  They would be literally undetectable at night until they landed.

Baseball Needs Science

July 18, 2012
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Baseball statistics are as scientifically and mathematically precise as they can be given the inexact nature of the game.  But baseball may have become too tradition bound, and should change in some precise ways in order to assure its survival in an age of instant gratification.

It has already lost focus to football as our national pasttime and that’s because football is a semi-continuous, action-oriented sport.  Football is warlike.  It involves being rewarded for capturing enemy territory.  Humans have not evolved beyond their fascination with war yet, and baseball shouldn’t be content with its appeal only to statistics nerds, and tradition-bound adults.

In other words, the game needs to be speeded up with shorter intervals between actions.  But to make a real difference in this area, radical changes will have to be made.  First and foremost, the hitter needs to be limited to two strikes and three balls, and the third foul ball struck by the batter needs to be called an out.  I played on a softball team that followed these rules and the average seven inning game lasted about 65 minutes.

Since the average fan might feel cheated paying for an event that was this short, an official game could be lengthened to 11 innings.  Assuring each hitter 5 or 6 at-bats would somewhat make up for the shortened pitch counts as well as lengthening the game to something approaching two hours.  This might occasion the return of the double-header which would give players more days off, which might result in fewer injuries.  Further, batters would not be allowed to step more than a foot outside the batters’ box, and time between deliveries for pitchers would be limited to 12 seconds after receiving the ball back from the catcher.  The two ball, three strike count for batters would cause pitchers to change their strategies completely.  Fewer “waste” pitche would be thrown.  There would be more pressure to put each pitch over the plate, which would result in more contact with the ball.   Of course, batting averages would go down and pitchers’ walk statistics would go up somewhat, but adjustments could be made to the distance between pitching rubber and home plate to equalize whatever advantages became apparent to pitcher or batter.

The overall results, I think, would be more people on base, more swings of the bat, more contact with the ball, less time spent shuffling around to no effect–a faster paced game.

In true scientific fashion, baseball could start this experiment in the lower minor leagues, see how it plays out, what adjustments have to be made, and then bring it to the majors as players move up from the minors and get used to it.

Solution to Worldwide Recession Obvious

July 7, 2012
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I have been reading columnists who are urging President Obama to do this or that to get the U.S. out of the remains of the recession with its anemic job market.  Europe suffers even more from static unemployment figures. The solution seems obvious to me, but it will take politicians with an unusual amount of forward-thinking vision (note the subtle bragging there).  A huge additional government and private investment in the space program could create thousands, eventually millions of new jobs around the world, and send national economies “rocketing” skyward.  Or should I say spaceward. 

NASA and other countries’ actions have already proven there is huge spin-off, not only in job creation but in useful products and scientific advancements from minor investment in space exploration (like the contoured mattress I sleep on).  A few more billion now invested by each industrialized country could spell economic nirvana for the world in the near future.   This does not even include the safety net it would provide from asteroid collision and the national/international pride inherent in being able to say that we haved landed astronauts on Mars or flown them around the rings of Saturn.  It’s time for the U.S. and European countries to stop thinking strictly in terms of cutting spending and lowering taxes to improve economies and adopt greater and more far-reaching programs.  It’s time to regain the precognitive visions of men like Columbus and the British explorer, James Cook.

‘Curiosity’ to Look for Life on Mars

July 1, 2012
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Following up on the incredible long-lived success of Spirit and Opportunity, Curiosity will land on the red planet August 6 of this year and begin looking for signs of life.

Curiosity, about the size of a small car,  is the biggest robotic explorer NASA has ever sent into space. Because of its size, it will land using both a heat shield, parachute and retro rockets to slow its descent from about 13,000 mph as it enters the Martian atmosphere to less than two mph at touchdown.  This is the most complicated method of landing  used to date, and everything will have to perform flawlessly for the landing to be successful.

Among 10 different cameras on board, Curiosity will have a “mascam mounted on a stalk which can capture HD quality photos and movies.  Geologic tools are included, along with three minitiarized lab instruments called SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) which will search for organic molecules.

It appears that once Curiosity has performed its function, not much more robotic exploration might be necessary before humans are sent to Mars.  Several problems with sending people to the red planet need to be overcome yet, such as how to slow even bigger, heavier payloads down enough to land safely, and that’s where future funding ought to be directed.