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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.


February 1, 2015
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Taking a gander at one of the outlying objects in the solar system.
https://www.nytsyn.com/images/graphics/1853407

Interstellar Travel Answer to failing Earth?

January 24, 2015
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Interesting article below.  The only thing it doesn’t account for is that scientific discoveries occur exponentially and build on each other.  What looks difficult or impossible now might be easy in 20 or 30 years because of some breakthrough that affects many things.  The invention of the computer would be one example of a breakthrough.

 

http://io9.com/after-earth-falls-will-interstellar-space-travel-be-ou-1681374745


Christmas eve, 1968

December 5, 2014
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Nothing was more amazing to me than when we actually launched a rocket that made it all the way to the moon with a human payload.  It was even more thrilling than when we landed on the moon because it was the first time humans had really ventured away from their earthly cocoon.

Sound on – watch on full screen

 


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.


Travel to Extra-solar Planets Possible? Well, Not Now But…

April 20, 2013
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So the Kepler telescope has discovered two new planets, not too much bigger than Earth, and located in the “goldilocks zone” of their stars, meaning that liquid water, and presumably life, might exist there.  The nearer planet is “only” 1200 light years from us.  The farthest, 2800 light years.

To put that into perspective, it takes light about 8 minutes and 20 seconds to travel the 93 million miles separating us from the sun.  Traveling at the speed of light, it would take a ship 1200 years to get to the nearest of these planets.  That doesn’t take into account speeding up and slowing down.  We could make 50,478,400 round trips to the sun in the time it would take to get to the farthest of the two planets. And these two planets are relatively close in terms of just galactic distances.  So why bother even thinking about the possibility of life on these two worlds, or of some day visiting them?

Well,  back in Columbus’s time nobody had conceived of steam power or the internal combustion engine either–or of being able to plot a course with a computer.  On Star Trek, the Enterprise is powered by anti-matter conversion–right now the concept that would produce the most energy per unit of fuel.  We don’t have anti-matter conversion yet.  We don’t even know how to make enough anti-matter to give it a try. But  the best “scientists” in Columbus’s time didn’t know how to produce gasoline either.  Even if anti-matter engines became real they would produce only enough energy to make travel in this solar system an everyday occurrence.  It would still take hundreds of years to get much of anywhere else in the galaxy.  So Star Trek goes one step further.  The Enterprise uses dilithium crystals powered by the anti-matter to warp space.  Its engines shorten the fabric of space ahead of it and lengthen the fabric behind it.  That shortens the actual distance the ship has to travel.  Sounds fantastic but some parts of cutting edge physics suggest that space actually has a “fabric” that might be malleable.  For example, we know that the universe is expanding.  And when cosmologists say that, they don’t mean that galaxies are rushing away from each other.  They mean the actual fabric of space is expanding in all directions.    Still pretty far out.  But so would a passenger jet be to Alexander the Great.

Each generation prefers to believe that it has discovered most of what is important about reality, and all researchers have to do is fill in some of the details. We are in that mode now.  But sooner or later, a discovery or invention occurs that changes the world and the whole way scientists look at things. Einstein’s theories would be one example.  The invention of gunpowder might be another.  Computers and the internet a third.  I would prefer to believe that there is much we still don’t know and that one of those discoveries in the future will put us on a path to the stars.  Limitations are always challenges to human beings, and the accumulation of knowledge is proceeding at a much faster pace today than it was in Columbus’s time.


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