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.

Universe is Stranger Than We Can Imagine

October 24, 2012

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.


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.

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.


Scientist Notes Several Proofs for the ‘Big Bang’

August 1, 2012
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“Only in the first seconds of a hot Big Bang, …would nuclear reactions occur that could produce precisely the abundance of light elements, hydrogen and deuterium, helium and lithium, that we infer to have comprised the basic building blocks of the stars that now fill the night sky.”
It seems that, “..only a malicious…God would have conspired to have created a universe that so unambiguously points to a Big Bang origin without its having occurred.”
At present , only about 15% of all the observed helium in the universe could have been produced by stars since the Big Bang. The rest was produced in that original primordial explosion which began the expansion of reality.
–Taken from Lawerance M. Krauss’s latest book, A Universe from Nothing.

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.

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.

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