prattrich

When is Someday?

June 4, 2015
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I wonder how many people’s interest in science fiction is being lessened by the fact that no nation seems to be doing anything romantic in space any more.  All we can point to are vague promises like “Someday we’ll go to Mars” –if congress ever lets us.thZ3UEUR18

  My original interest was boosted by the belief that it wouldn’t be long before the fantastic promise of humans traveling to other planets would become reality.  It was fun to imagine and to be told how that might play out.  If Neil DeGrasse Tyson is right when he says that science fiction tales led about two-thirds of the world’s scientists to become scientists, then we may be in trouble.  If real exploration is necessary to light up the imaginations of kids so they’ll read science fiction which in turn motivates them to become scientists, then we’re missing something important for the future by being so lackadaisical about sending people into deep space.

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SLS is the Way to Deep Space

May 24, 2015
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Destination: MarsI have been discouraged lately by what seems like almost no movement in our ability to send humans further into space than the moon, and the last visit to there was in the early 70’s. But an article in the June, 2015 Scientific American gives me renewed hope.
When President Barack Obama cancelled the Constellation program, which was supposed to get astronauts to Mars eventually, it looked like the NASA space program had lost all direction, and the Space Launch System (SLS) program which is designed to take its place was criticized as welfare for states and corporations that are home to large NASA contractors.
But the SLS will be able to carry out the President’s asteroid missions as well as giving us Mars capability, and the means to get to Europa in 2.5 years instead of the six it took smaller robot rockets to do it. And it is on time and on budget so far.
I am convinced we need a heavy lifter, not only because using smaller rockets to assemble an interplanetary vehicle in orbit would be awkward, expensive, and highly dangerous. but also because cutting transit time to any planet will allow astronauts to avoid some radiation exposure.
Anyhow, the article in SA lays out other convincing reasons for producing the SLS, not the least of which is that it will be less expensive than the Constellation program would have been, relying as it does on some off-the-shelf hardware (like shuttle main engines), with built-in improvements as they are developed. I can only add to the article that increasing NASA’s budget by a measly one-half per cent of GDP could kick the program into high gear and get us to Mars quicker than the 2030’s. Then I might even live to see it happen.


Space Program As Important As Any Poverty Programs

October 9, 2014
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Destination: Mars

The problems of poverty and disease may take care of themselves sooner or later, according to SpaceX founder Elon Musk.  But that will be because of nature’s “carelessly terrifying violence”, not for anything we do.

He says we have all our eggs in one basket–we live on only one planet and that’s not a good thing.  It’s a terrible risk management strategy. That makes space exploration as important as any poverty program because it will get some of us off Earth where we can survive if anything happens to the home planet.

Nature can be extremely violent.  We haven’t experienced its full violence yet because we’ve only existed for a very short time in cosmic history.  In that sense, an extinction level event would solve all our problems, but there wouldn’t be any of us left to celebrate.

Musk thinks there may be a whole lot of dead, one planet civilizations in our galaxy alone which ought to be teeming with life. He offers this as one explanation for why we haven’t discovered any intelligent life so far.  Violent cosmic events such as gamma ray bursts, asteroid strikes, extreme volcanism, or species suicide events may keep civilizations from developing much beyond the stages we are at now.

Musk says he doesn’t intend to stop with just developing vehicles to get people to the international space station.   His intention is to found a colony on Mars.  His Mars One plan will send the first humans to Mars.  Over 200,000 people have applied for the one way tickets so far.

Before we can live even semi-comfortable lives on other planets or moons, more advances in science and technology will need to take place.  We will need the ability  to terra-form Mars, to hollow out asteroids, to protect space farers from dangerous radiation, and to provide unlimited 100 per cent reliable power supplies for electricity, heating, and oxygenating whatever environment we choose to live in.  There is water on Mars, which can be used for providing  fuel as well as drinking, but it may be difficult to get at in any easy abundance.


The Martian by Andy Weir–Read it

March 21, 2014
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So you are a member of the third and biggest expedition to Mars, but something goes wrong.  There is a massive sandstorm and, as you try to get to the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) before it tilts too far to take-off, the main communications antenna comes loose from the Hab and punctures your suit.  Air leaks out and your vital signs plunge.

The other crew members think you are dead and leave the planet in their MAV.  You are left behind with no hope of rescue for over 4 years.  How do you survive?  Andy Weir shows in exquisite detail how that might be possible, assuming you have dual degrees in mechanical engineering and botany, in a fascinating novel called The Martian. 

Mark Watney doesn’t die as his companions thought because the piece of antenna that punctured his garment,combined with frozen blood from the wound seals his pressure  suit until he regains consiousness and can apply a more permanent seal.  But by that time the MAV is gone and Mark is left to figure out how to survive in the real-life hostile environment of the planet Mars.  The things he does are realistic, ingenious and point to ways that lots of people could survive indefinitely on the red planet.  This book is available from Amazon and well worth the read if you are at all interested in space exploration or colonizing Mars.


Olympic Money Could Be Spent Better

February 10, 2014
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One source says $51 billion will be spent on the Winter Olympic games in Sochi. If NASA were given an infusion of $51 billion, we would have a viable space program again. We could probably go to Mars several times for that amount–maybe even establish a permanent colony there. The long term advances in science and technology that this would provide would far outweigh any good that comes from Olympic competition.
Actually, we’re a rich enough world to have both, but neither Russia nor the United States seems to have the vision to do the more important thing.


Concentrate Funds on Deep Space

November 21, 2013
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It’s time for NASA to quit funding its series of small robot missions which are obviously being put together based on what’s affordable in the near-term.  The latest Mars atmosphere explorer is an example.  How much more do we need to know about the Martian atmosphere that we haven’t found out already from previous missions?

NASA should be concentrating all its funding on big missions–manned space travel.  That’s where the future is, and doing an unending series of robot explorations is just spinning the wheels of the program.  Put more money into developing heavy lift capabilities, advanced propulsion,  crew protection, fuel stations in space, long term survival in hostile environments etc.  Its overarching goal should be to establish a permanent human presence on other solar system bodies.  From there we can do all the science we need to–and develop new resources for Earth.


Music Parody illuminates NASA Accomplishments

December 20, 2012
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Nothing makes it more obvious that we need to keep supporting NASA than a record of its past accomplishments.  No government agency (exept possibly social security) has been more effective at doing good for people.  At present NASA is at sea, uncertain of what ports it should be sailing toward.  It needs leadership from the people who supply its funding, and that leadership should be considering what’s the long-term best for this country and the rest of humanity.

Being given a vague mandate to develop more heavy lift rockets is not enough.  Heavy lift for what?  To where?  With what cargo?  The President should be setting a vision for future development, not just giving vague pronouncements not backed up by adequate funding.  Write to the White House.  Tell President Obama to create a vision for NASA equivalent to or better that John F. Kennedy’s vision that led to astronauts exploring  the moon.   We and our children and their children will reap the benefits.  Meeanwhile enjoy the video below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Sar5WT76kE


Survival May Depend on Exploration

December 9, 2012
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As I’ve stated before on this blog, our purpose here is to communicate to the world the importance of exploring more than just our tiny planet–large as it seems to some.  The universe is a big place–too big to ignore forever.  Ignoring what surrounds our world may ultimately be fatal to the human race.  Many members of our species have been imbued with a curiosity that drives them to find out as much as they can about the nature of reality, as the Star Trek series suggests: “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”  That applies not only in terms of exploration, but in terms of seeking all they can find about how natural processes work on this planet.

Others are happy to live their lives in a tiny shell, not caring about anything that doesn’t directly and immediately affect them.  The former are responsible for the majority of scientific and technological progress that has produced such comfortable lives for us all and that the latter enjoy, often not caring or even thinking about the source.

So we urge our readers to reject all forms of thinking or believing that don’t yield productive results, that is, results that don’t further the knowledge and/or well-being of humankind. We urge them to support research and education in the hard and soft sciences.  And, most of all, we try to point out the good that will come from humans moving out into what we loosely refer to as “space.”

In this endeavor, our governments, private industry, and ourselves all have important roles.  National governments (not just the U.S.) can pay for cutting edge research, the kind that doesn’t lead directly to profit that would sustain a private enterprise.  Business entrepreneurs can follow with investments in transportation and mining, tourism, or colonization when the possibility of sustainable profit becomes real.  And the rest of us can support such efforts by demanding that a reasonable part of our taxes be invested in government research as well as by supporting science education and companies that invest in space.

Right now, the primary goal should be research stations on and eventual colonization of Mars.  In 1492, it took Columbus 3 months to sail from Europe to the new world.  A journey to Mars today will take about 6 months.  That’s not so much extra time, especially when you consider how much improvement there has been in crew  survivability since then.  Both public and private funds should be being devoted to engines that can cut that 6 month time to 3 months and less, just as clipper ships and then steam power shortened the time to cross the ocean.

We can’t know today all the benefits in terms of new jobs and heightened spirits that will come from exploring Mars, the asteroids, the moons of Jupiter, any more than Columbus could have predicted all the benefits that accrued from exploring North and South America.

Currently, NASA’s funding is being cut.  It is floundering without any purpose that will fire people’s imaginations.   NASA spends about one half of one cent of every tax dollar Americans pay in.  As Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson has pointed out over and over, increasing that amount to just one penny per dollar would give this organization enough money to revitalize it and set goals it might actually be able to reach in less than half a lifetime. So write your congressman and senator and demand that space research be taken off the back burner and used to revitalize America.  The eventual fate of the human race may depend on it.


Elon Musk Clears up Misunderstanding about Mars Proposal

November 28, 2012
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Founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, recently proposed a Martian colony which eventually would contain 80,000 people brought there from Earth on the reusable rockets he intends to develop.  Musk cleared up misunderstandings about his proposal by stating on Twitter that he meant to send 80,000 people a year to the red planet once colonization begins.  His goal is for a total of millions of settlers to make permanent residence on our second nearest neighbor.

Reusable rockets would create “massive reductions in cost”, he says, using his Falcon 9 as an example.  If it could be reused 1000 times then the cost of sending a human to Mars would plummet from $60 million a flight to just $60,000.  He envisions spacecraft much bigger than the Falcon 9 for the job and it would need to be even bigger than his Falcon Heavy (two Falcon 9’s combined) now being developed.  With bigger rockets, the cost would approach $500.000 per person.

Massive amounts of cargo, along with the people, would be needed to establish permanent colonies.  For anybody interested in a realistic view of what living on Mars might be like, I recommend reading any or all of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series novels:  Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars.


New Direction for Society Needed–Guest Article

October 26, 2012
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Still, I would, were I running for President, encourage the industry of a (deep) space economy. Heeding the warning of Eisenhower on the Military-Industrial  Complex, and wary of Newt Gingrich’s Sci-fi colonization schema, I would revise the 1989 Rockwell Integrated Space systems flow chart for manned space travel (see below), and pursue areas of manned and unmanned research. We are prime for it. Our technology needs a new direction and new context to grow or construct new meaning, our workforce needs a new “cathedral industry” to build. We need new and appropriate benchmarks and goals. Space should become our new development of math/science/cultural growth, our new pyramids to build, our new castles that require generations to finish, our new mystery to send explorers into, our new transcontinental railroad, our new interstate system, our new race to put a man into space. We have an unexplored Louisiana Purchase before us. We are Jefferson and we need to hire Lewis and have him hire Clark and commission research.

As we found in the 1960’s with racing to put a man in space and then on the moon, this would reframe our education priorities and our industrial priorities and initiate new culture and new heroes and help us manage the transition into the 21 century. We have been doing international research for more than a decade. In this realm, nations are partners, research is community.
Lately by reading, revisiting Marshall McLuhan I have come to realize that medium is the message. Media is the discovery and medium in the new environment. We need to develop new media to catapult us forward: new language, new metaphors, and yes new frontiers. So we need to embrace artists, innovators, visionaries, serious “poets” like Steve Jobs (NASA has revised STEM into STEAM–adding the arts into the formula)…this will wake us up and re-energize us, our lives, our economies, our existence. This will establish new areas of accomplishment. This will dwarf and embrace the auto industry, the aerospace industry, the telecommunications industry, the energy industry, the medical/healthcare industry, the education industry, the agriculture industry, the real estate industry, Wall Street, Main Street, Government, International cooperation, retail…it will stimulate all economies.
Think about this: it addresses poverty, it creates jobs, it gives us a common purpose, it embraces diversity, it grows technology, it provides a utilitarian argument for education and training, it supports progress, it transcends Biblical (think Noah, think Moses, think the Israelites) and sectarian myth (think Alexander, Marco Polo, Genghis Khan, Roman Empire, British Empire, evolution, scientific development …Am I wrong here?
–from Dr. Joseph McBrayer, former educator and current visionary
See also (from a prattrich previous blog):  http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/1803ryrqz9ej8jpg/original.jpg
Select and magnify this integrated chart. We need to revise for what we now know and add unmanned space development.
Note: you will notice that we are about 20 years behind this projection.