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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.


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.


The Search for Life in the Universe

April 8, 2013
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In order to find life on other worlds, we first must be sure of what it is–that is, what constitutes life as separate from non-life?  To do this, according to scientists, we must go back to life’s possible origins. 

Astronomers, who first thought that only separate atoms could exist in space,  discovered some time ago  that the universe is teeming with organic molecules.  By organic they mean that these molecules are present in large quantity in living organisms.  But these same molecules are present in other materials too that we wouldn’t identify as living. There is a bridge that must be crossed between living and non-living, and so far scientists admit, they don’t have evidence of how that bridge is crossed. But  life on Earth is carbon-based, meaning its essential molecules depend on carbon for their structure.  In the movie Alien an extraterrestrial creature is encountered whose molecular make-up is silicon-based, producing an especially hard outer shell.  The make-up of the universe seems to aruge against this possibility, however.

If you boil off the hydrogen and helium in a typical star, (not an easy task in reality), you’ll see that life has almost the same amounts of carbon, oxygen, and calcium as the star possesses.  Since other bodies in and around solar systems are made up of the remnants of dead stars and since the same rough proportions of parts of those  remnants appear in us, we can posit that life everywhere has certain “common cosmic traits” as Jacob Berkowitz puts it in his recent book The Stardust Revolution.   So other life is likely to be carbon-based just like us.  If we are star stuff, then so must they be.

To separate rocks from tadpoles, metallic ore from trees, Mexican evolutionary biologist Antonio Lazcano defines life as “self-sustaining, replicative chemical systems capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution.”  Presumably, since the same chemicals are involved, roughly the same kind of evolutionary processes would exist on any planet other than Earth on which organic chemicals somehow managed to arrange themselves in self-replicating ways.  These processes would involve the production of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and methane.  Scientists know of no other way that oxygen could be produced in the quantities present in Earth’s atmosphere other than through biological processes.

This is not to say that alien life would look pretty much like us.  Look at the diversity of structures present in the biosphere of our native planet.  But, for intelligent life,  there are obvious evolutionary advantages to standing upright, having our brains encased in a hard shell on top, possessing long fingers with opposable thumbs, and having complex voice boxes.  Had dinosaurs not been wiped out by a chance comet or asteroid, however, they might have been the ones to have evolved intelligence instead of mammals.  They might have done it sooner too, since they already had a head start.

Based on this knowledge and these fair assumptions, the search for other life in the universe will become a search for planets with easily detectable oxygen in their atmospheres.  However, Dr, Berkowitz points out that we shouldn’t be too in love with oxygen.  For most of Earth’s history, millions of species of bacteria were and are anaerobic–they breathe gases other than oxygen.  One possibility would be dimethyl sulfide, which smells sort of like cooked cabbage, or dead fish.  So the abundance of certain other gases in atmospheres might hint at the presence of some form of  life too.

Getting spectroscopic signatures of gases in exoplanet atmospheres will take a whole new generation of space-based telescopes, according to most scientists.  The Spitzer telescope or Hubble just aren’t designed for that.  Europe’s Darwin and Gaia telescope missions have been cancelled along with NASA’s terrestrial planet finder. The culture wars over evolution still go on stifling progress in these areas.   “The stardust revolution has changed our view of the cosmos, but perhaps we stand unwilling to change, and to embrace, a new view of ourselves,” says Berkowitz.

 

 


Possible 5 Planets Found Around Tau Ceti

December 20, 2012
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Discovered but yet to be confirmed, five planets may be orditing the nearby star Tau Ceti.  The sun-like star is only 12 light years from Earth.  The smallest of these planets appears to be about twice the size of Earth, so a 150 pound man would weigh 300 lbs. here.  Not a good place to go if you are dieting.  The planet in the habitable zone (by our definition) unfortunately, has a mass of 5 times Earth.  Don’t even think about what you would weight there.  But its mass makes it the lightest planet yet found in the habitable zone of a sun-like star.

Present planet detection techniques make it much easier to find planets that are large and orbiting close in, often too close in to be in the star’s habitable zone, unless they are red dwarfs, which Tau Ceti isn’t.  The fact that five planets have been discovered around a particular star does not negate the possibility that other smaller worlds may exist in favorable orbits for life though.  We just can’t find them yet.


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.


Human Future Needs to be In Space

November 23, 2012
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Humans have always been a species not satisfied with the way things are.  At least certain members of the species want to move on, move up, make a name for themselves doing things that nobody else has done.  But we have reached the point where individuals can no longer conquer the greatest challenges we face.  Now it takes groups–whole governments in fact.

The question is up in the air whether the United States will continue its intellectual spiritual, and financial domination of the world.  We seem at this point to be a country too self-satisfied and comfortable with our two car garages, and extreme shopping trips on Black Friday.  We worry more about whether our kids will have the latest power ranger than about where we are headed as a nation.  In order to avoid laziness and stagnation as a people, we need new fields to conquer.  Space exploration provides that field, and it is the ultimate field, offering a literally infinite series of new worlds to conquer (literally).

But it is an area that will take more ongoing systematic, carefully planned effort than anything man has ever attempted.  It will take the combined resources of both government and private industry, perhaps of several nations to get very far with this undertaking.  It would be foolish to devote so many resources to this effort than other areas of need–military, health care, education, welfare were seriously neglected.  Yet, a reasonable part of our GNP could be devoted to space without endangering any of these programs.  We did it in the 1960’s to put men on the moon and nobody starved as a result.

What has seemed to be lacking in the last 25 years or so is the will.  There is a mistaken notion that putting people in space is really expensive, yet NASA is run on only one-half of one per cent of the government’s total budget.  Increasing that to one penny as Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson and others are advocating would allow NASA to begin an effective manned program with goals that could be reached in a reasonable future.  NASA should be out in front, doing the hard research and development in space exploration with private enterprise following up taking over projects that stand a reasonable chance of eventually producing a profit–like mining asteroids for the precious metals that are used more and more in our electronic devices or taking tourists to the moon.

Columbus had no idea of the eventual riches that would come from exploring and colonizing North and South America, and neither do we have much of an inkling of what riches will be made available for this world through the exploration of the solar system, and eventually, the stars.  Just the industry and skills needed to carry out the job would put thousands of people to work in all kinds of industries.  And the new items that would  be invented would further enhance our lives.


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.

Universe is Stranger Than We Can Imagine

October 24, 2012
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We are part of a reality that is stranger than we can imagine.  In it are incredible extremes of heat, cold, velocity, gravitational attraction, mass, density, sound, size, and time, all measurable through the wonders of scientific research.

First, temperatures inside the Boomerang Nebula, a region of leftover star remnants, get down to -458 degrees F. just a shade above the coldest temperature possible or 459.67 degrees F. (otherwise known as absolute zero).  At the other extreme, temperatures in a supernova explosion can reach 9 billion degrees F., hot enough to fry eggs on a sidewalk–and also the sidewalk, and anything the sidewalk is attached to.

The earth revolves around the sun at a velocity of 66,000 mph.  Mercury, the fastest planet, travels through the solar system at 105,000 mph.  At that speed you could circle the earth more than 4 times in an hour.  The speed at which particles of light (photons) travel is 670,616,629.13 mph.  That speed would enable you to circle the earth over 7 times in ONE SECOND! But you’ll never go faster! You would probably be too dizzy.

Gravitational attraction determines weight and, as you probably know, weight varies with the mass of the object you are near. If you can high jump 3 feet on Earth, then on Mars you would be able to soar 9 feet into the air and on the moon, 18 feet, assuming you’re not wearing anything to weight you down–like a space suit, and if you’re not, you wouldn’t be jumping anywhere–you’d be flopping around like a fish.   But if you’re inside a dome with plenty of air…

On or near Earth, gravity will cause you to accelerate 22 mph for every second that you fall.  On the sun, you would accelerate 615 mph for every second you are falling.  Near the surface of a neutron star, your acceleration would become 3 TRILLION mph greater for every second that you fell (of course, you would run afoul of the cosmic speed limit here which says that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. Check the numbers above.).

The earth masses (weighs) 6.6 billion trillion tons.  The sun weighs 2200 trillion trillion tons.  The entire observable universe weighs in at about 400 billion trillion times the mass of our 2200 trillion trillion ton sun.  These numbers are, of course, impossible for our tiny little minds to comprehend.  But it is a tribute to these same minds that we can figure out these statistics at all.

Iron has a density of 0.28 ounces per cubic centimeter.  The earth’s core has a density of about a half ounce per cublic centimeter.  The sun’s core weighs in at a full 5 ounces per c.c.  A neutron star masses about 375 million TONS per cubic centimeter.  How can this be, you say?  Well, it seems that individual atoms are mostly empty space and when gravity compresses the atoms in a neutron star so severely that all of the space is gone and electrons and protons have squished themselves together to form nothing but neutrons and even the neutrons are flattened into elongated shapes so close together they can’t even breathe, you get a lot of mass, and the name–neutron star.

So what about size?  Well, out there, we have asteroids as small as two or three feet in diameter, the sun which is 865,000 miles in diameter, and the giant red star Betelgeuse up at the tip of Orion’s sword in the night sky.  It balloons out to about a billion miles in diameter.  And finally a gigantic collection of galaxies called the Sloan Great Wall, which measures 1.4 billion light years in length.

When it comes to time, radiometric dating has proven that the earth was formed about 4.6 billion years ago, while the universe erupted from its Big Bang beginnings approximately 13.7 billion years in the past. On the other hand, I was born 70 years ago.  Seems like only yesterday.

Oh, and the galaxy cluster Abell 426 makes a sound in F sharp, 35 octaves below middle C at 170 decibels in case you needed to know.

Kind of makes your head swim, doesn’t it?

–Much of this information was taken from the book  Extreme Cosmos by Bryan Gaensler, an internationally recognized astronomer, NASA Hubble fellow, and Harvard Professor.  Much more is available in this book.  Statistics regarding my age come courtesy of my birth certificate.

 


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