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.


New Private Mars Venture Announced

February 23, 2013
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In 2001, millionaire Dennis Tito became the first private person to fly into space.  Now he wants to become the first person responsible for flying to Mars and back.

His project, called “Mission for America” is scheduled to launch in January, 2018 and is a product of the Inspiration Mars Foundation.

“It is intended to encourage all Americans to believe again, in doing hard things that make our nation great, while inspiring youth through science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and motivation,” his announcement reads.

The planned trip to Mars and back would take 501 days.  All the details of the mission will be announced at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on Feb. 27.

Every two years or so the orbital alignments of Earth and Mars are such that a spaceship would use less fuel to make the 350 million mile journey.  January, 2018 will see the two planets in that situation.

The mission is actually only a fly-by of the red planet apparently using a modified SpaceX Dragon capsule, which is a bit disappointing, but at least it is far more ambitious than anything NASA can plan given its budgetary restraints.  The main challenge faced by the two astronauts who will make the trip, aside from spending almost two and a half years in confined quarters, will be cosmic and solar radiation. How their bodies will respond to experiencing zero gravity for that length of time will also be a consideration.

A fly-by of Mars is much less complicated and doable than landing on the planet.  It was a major feat of engineering skill just to get the big Curiosity rover to the Martian surface. Astronauts would require a much larger capsule.  Mars’ thin atmosphere makes aerobraking  more hazardous and might require a technique not yet invented.

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):
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.

Path to Space Diagrammed

September 25, 2012
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Make magazine has tracked down a flow chart created by Rockwell International in the 1980’s which details in highly specific form, how humans can establish a permanent and progressive presence in space.  The 1980’s was a time before the Soviet Union ceased to become a major player in space exploration so some of the chart has to be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s interesting nevertheless.  The address below takes you to a website sponsored by io9.

Getting Robots to Mars

September 2, 2012
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Above is a Youtube video depicting the flights of Spirit and Opportunity, two earlier Mars rovers which have landed on the red planet and sent back oceans of data.  One of these little devils is still operating almost 9 years later.  Curiosity, the latest craft to be sent to Mars, used a slightly more sophisticated (and complicated) landing technique since it is quite a bit larger than the other two (about the size of a small car).  The only problem with the video is that it depicts the boosters making noise in space.  But, of course, sound doesn’t propagate where there is no atmosphere.

Curiosity To Mars Touchdown Aug. 6

August 4, 2012
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NASA’s latest Mars rover, nicknamed Curiosity, and about the size of a compact car, is scheduled to touchdown on the red planet this Monday, August 6.  The landing will be the most complicated ever attempted, using a combination of aero-braking, parachute, and retro-rocket firing.  Everything has to work perfectly or Curiosity will end up being a useless pile of expensive rubble.  Curiosity is equipped to find out whether life might have once existed on Mars.  A full-sized replica of Curiosity is on display at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  Visit for more information.


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.

‘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.


Humans on Mars by 2023?

June 28, 2012
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A Dutch company plans to put a human settlement on the red planet by 2023.  Using spacecraft and habitat components built strictly by private companies from around the world, Mars will become Earth’s first extra-planetary colony without the use of any taxpayer money, according to scientist, Gerard ‘t Hooft, the project’s chosen spokesman.

“This appears to be the only way man will ever set foot on Mars,” he says.

A series of launches, planned for 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2023 will end with 4 astronauts landing on Earth’s second closest neighbor.  The astronauts will live the rest of their lives there.  Each year or so, additional people will join the colony.

All the components are there to accomplish this task, according to ‘t Hooft, buildable by different corporations worldwide.  The whole project will be funded by a step-by-step reality show broadcast worldwide.    For more information  check out the video below.