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September 13, 2005

Meanwhile, back in spaceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

earth from space.gifOne good thing about covering space is that it puts what's happening to this Big Blue Marble into proper perspective.

See if you don't agree:

  • Closer to the Big Bang -- Space is a time machine. When you detect light that has been traveling 13 billion years to reach Earth you're really reaching back that far in time. And now we have. The particular picture on offer is of a supernova that occurred 12.6 billion years ago, or 1.1 billion years after God likely said "let there be light."
  • The third "space tourist," Greg Olsen, is scheduled to go up on a Soviet rocket October 1. Olsen founded Sensors Unlimited, and is paying $20 million for the trip, which helps keep the Soyuz program going. American astronaut William McArthur says Olsen's engineering background makes him a real asset on the Space Station. (In more ways than one.)

    Continue reading "Meanwhile, back in space"

April 28, 2005

Stepping Toward a Space ElevatorEmail This EntryPrint This Article

richard smalley.jpgAmid all the recent stories about the U.S. abandoning basic science I offer a counter-example.

Rice University, my old school has an $11 million deal with NASA to develop carbon nanotubes that will, at first, be big enough to act as power cables and could, with time, produce the technique for a space elevator.

Last year a team under Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Richard Smalley (right) found that nanotubes assume the properties of metals in the presence of a magnetic field, Smalley has always been excited about tubes' superconducting properties. The problem has been manufacturing.

The contract emerged following a successful workshop in Boerne, outside San Antonio, co-sponsored by NASA and Rice. The Rice manufacturing technique is called HiPco, and originally involved growing tubes on catalytic iron in chambers of carbon monoxide, producing carbon dioxide and nanotubes at a rate of nearly a half-gram per hour.

The idea is to expand on on this by starting with "seed" tubes that "teach" the carbon around them how to grow into the required shape. The specific goal is to produce one yard of nanotube "wire" after four years. Dr. Smalley describes the final result as looking like a fishing line.

By starting the process with the desired shape in the chamber the scientists hope to avoid the problem of having to "sort" whatever tubes emerge from the HiPco process.

Continue reading "Stepping Toward a Space Elevator"

February 07, 2005

Let's Do LunchEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Now that Star Trek is officially dead (no new shows or movies, even in production) the time has come for a new idea.

Here's one.

Stardate.

It's an anthology series, built around various scientific "principles" that define the Star Trek franchise.

Think of it as Science made into Drama.

Yes, it's an excuse to make science exciting. (Just think of the educational spin-offs we can produce!) And the production costs are low enough to put this on the SciFi channel (where Enterprise should have been all along). Or might I suggest a pitch to Discovery Networks, which has got proven talent in making science fun with shows like Mythbusters?

For host, might I recommend Stephen Hawking? Playing the role Alistair Cooke made famous, he opens each show by describing the science (and the Star Trek technology) on which the show will be based. (I might recommend getting several scientists for this role, perhaps one for each specialty. But Hawking is a name. He'll do great for starters.) Or, with confidence this show will last for decades, Lance Armstrong, who's already under contract to Discovery, who knows how to read a cue card, and who owes his life to science?

More after the break.

Continue reading "Let's Do Lunch"

January 24, 2005

Space Truth Stranger Then FictionEmail This EntryPrint This Article

In all the great sci-fi written about Saturn's moon Titan, no one (to my knowledge) imagined a world where liquid methane carves the land as water does here. (The NASA image comes from Resa.Net.)

But that's just what Europe's Huygens probe has shown us.

It's a flammable world, but a beautiful one.

Here's the "money quote" from mission director Jean-Pierre Lebreton. "There are truly remarkable processes at work on Titan's surface and in the atmosphere of Titan which are very, very similar to those occurring on Earth."

Which leads to some nasty environmental speculation.

Continue reading "Space Truth Stranger Then Fiction"

December 12, 2004

Big Dangerous WasteEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The launch this week of a new Boeing Delta rocket (picture from the BBC story) , without a real payload, demonstrates everything that's wrong with the current U.S. space program.

The real problem in space is not addressed by this rocket. The real problem is the cost of spacelift per kilogram of mass. Until that goes down substantially space pays for no one.

If the taxpayer money being spent on this program were invested instead in a space elevator, we would all be a lot closer to getting off this rock than we are.

The likely motives for this, are truly frightening:

Continue reading "Big Dangerous Waste"

October 29, 2004

Science FridayEmail This EntryPrint This Article


It seems we have science every day here, but even so.

Let's talk Titan.

Titan has been a favorite of science fiction writers for many years now, ever since we got to the Moon (finding it empty) and got satellites next to Mars (finding it nearly empty). It was far, far away, there were hints of water.

Just for fun, I found this list of Titan-themed SF. Some hightlights:


  • The great Kurt Vonnegut's "Sirens of Titan."
  • "2001: A Space Odyssey" by Arthur C. Clarke.
  • "Game Players of Titan" by Philip K. Dick.
  • "Titan" by John Varley

To which I will also add "Kronos" by Allan Steele. And those are just the highlights. Lots more where they came from.

So what's the real story?


Continue reading "Science Friday"

The Age Of Private Spaceflight BeginsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

While you watch SpaceShipOne make its historic attempt to win the XPrize today, I'm sure what you're asking yourself if -- what comes next?

That's the question, after all, that eluded Apollo. What came next wasn't nearly as exciting as what had already come, thus interest in space waned.

While the publisher of Tubular Bells (you didn't know that was where Richard Branson's fortune started?) has licensed the craft for its designed use of space tourism, there's a new goal, and a new prize shaping up. (That's Branson, from the BBC story.)

Continue reading "The Age Of Private Spaceflight Begins"

September 27, 2004

The Winner: SpaceShipOneEmail This EntryPrint This Article

It's not just that they're on schedule while Canada's entry has been delayed.

Nope. The big news is they passed the audition with the market. Virgin's Richard Branson announced he will back their play to put people into space for money. (That's Branson, from TheAdvocates.Org.)

This is big news.

If space remains a preserve of governments then it has to compete with all other government functions, both swords and plowshares.

But if space can be made to pay then it merely has to compete against all the other possible uses of private capital. And the growth potential for space is unlimited.

Continue reading "The Winner: SpaceShipOne"

August 13, 2004

Heroes Of CapitalismEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Space Transport Corp. made its play for the Ansari XPrize yesterday, launching its Rubicon I at the edge of the Olympia peninsula in Washington state.

The launch was...a complete disaster. (Picture from eBay.)

But, no matter. John Anderson, whose property the boys were using as their Cape Canaveral, had a cunning plan. He reportedly suggested, "Hey, why not put it on eBay?"

Continue reading "Heroes Of Capitalism"

August 06, 2004

Meanwhile, in SaskatchewanEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The Canadian DaVinci Project has a launch date -- October 2. (Picture from the BBC.)

On that date, a balloon will lift off from Kindersley, Saskatchewan bearing, among other things, the logo of the GoldenPalace.Com Internet casino and a rocket called Wild Fire.

If all goes well, the rocket will be released at 80,000 feet, fire, go up an additional 230,000 feet (roughly), then re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and land, ready to do it again within two weeks.

Meanwhile, of course, the American favorite, SpaceShipOne, will have already launched on September 29 carrying the weight of three men. It will have landed, and it will be be sitting on the ground in California, waiting for the October 4 repeat launch that will secure it the X-Prize.

You can't make this kind of stuff up.

Continue reading "Meanwhile, in Saskatchewan"

July 30, 2004

In The Year 2025Email This EntryPrint This Article

Scientists predict that, by 2025, we'll know if there are any other species producing radio waves.

Estimates are currently that we're about 1,000 light years from any other species with such intelligence, but that's just an assumption. Hard evidence is needed, and by 2025, it's estimated, we should have it. One way or the other.

Now if someone could prove the existence of intelligent life on Earth...

July 29, 2004

Space Race II Final - U.S. vs. CanadaEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Or, if you prefer, David vs. Goliath. (That's David, alias Wild Fire, in a CNN image.)

In this corner, with a scheduled launch date of September 29, America's own SpaceShipOne, backed by the billions of Paul Allen and the star poewr of Burt Rutan.

In the other corner, preparing to unveil their craft Wild Fire on August 5, the underfunded Canadian da Vinci Project. Brian Feeney is still looking for the money to get his $337,000 project up. Allen has already pumped $200 million into Rutan's effort.

And the contrasts don't stop there.

Continue reading "Space Race II Final - U.S. vs. Canada"

June 22, 2004

Man Of SteeleEmail This EntryPrint This Article


In the previous item (below) I mentioned Allen Steele.

Steele is not just a great sci-fi writer, but a space expert and aficionado. He's important enough to have testified before Congress, and what he said in 2001 bears repeating.

The short form is we should transition from a NASA that runs all space operations and is devoted to exploration, to a Commercial Space Agency (CSA) that regulates like the FAA and is devoted to the permanent occupation of space.

Continue reading "Man Of Steele"

Space's Summer Of Fun Gains IntrigueEmail This EntryPrint This Article


I told you this summer would be fun. I just didn't know how much fun. (The picture is from Lone Star Space, Houston, Texas.)

In a development straight out of an Allen Steele novel (and why he's not on some network's color commentary team I'll never know), Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne team is going back to the garage after problems were found to have occurred in yesterday's historic flight.

Mike Melvill did make history, earning his astronaut wings at age 62. But there was an unexpected roll early in the flight, and the main flight control system went down at the flight's apogee. Melvill got down on his back-up (and spectacularly).

Continue reading "Space's Summer Of Fun Gains Intrigue"

June 21, 2004

GodSpeed Mike MelvillEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Charles Lindbergh, a 25-year old Minnesota native, braved the Atlantic Ocean in the Spirit of St. Louis, in 1927

Yuri Gagarin, a Russian, became the first man to orbit the Earth, at age 37, in 1961.

Mike Melvill, a native of South Africa (but now a naturalized American), today became the first private citizen in space, at the age of 62. (Picture from the San Diego Union-Tribune.)

I'm looking forward to my 80s. I hope to go to Mars. Who says the trend is against me?

June 19, 2004

Godspeed, Who Exactly?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Monday is the day.

Monday morning, SpaceShipOne will make its historic attempt to reach a height of 100 Km. (62 miles), with one pilot aboard. A second successful flight, within two weeks, would give Bert Rutan the X-Prize.

I was just a kid when the Mercury program happened, and remember the NASA announcer's voice, saying "Godspeed, John Glenn."

Who we wish Godspeed to this time remains a mystery. (Mike Melvill piloted the craft on the glide shown in this picture, from Space.Com.)

Continue reading "Godspeed, Who Exactly?"

June 18, 2004

Wild, Wild LifeEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Studies of the comet Wild 2 (pronounced Vild, after its Swiss discoverer) show it to be unlike anything else ever seen. (Image from Space.Com.)

Robert Roy Britt notes "towering protrusions and steep-walled craters that seem to defy gravity. More than a dozen jets of material shoot out from its insides. Dust swirls around the comet in unexpectedly dense pockets."

But then there's the punch line.


Continue reading "Wild, Wild Life"

June 03, 2004

Space Summer of FunEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Space's "Summer of Fun" opens decisively on June 21 with SpaceShipOne's attempt to get 100 kilometers above the Earth. (The illustration is from Xplane.org.)

The XPrize, modeled on the contest that resulted in Lindbergh's 1927 flight to Paris, will give $10 million to the first crew that gets a three-person craft into sub-orbital flight (100 kilometers up) and repeats the feat within two weeks.

Continue reading "Space Summer of Fun"

June 01, 2004

Beamjacks Won't Have UnionsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Allen Steele's books, like Sex and Violence in Zero-G (a great introduction to Steele, if you haven't met him) try to create a realistic future history of space, in which heroic, blue-collar "beamjacks" assemble space stations and satellites in orbit.

They drink hard, they work hard, they play hard, and they hate the bosses.

But their attempts to unionize are going to fail, because their replacements are already on the way.

Over at the University of Southern California, Wei-Min Shen and his team have created a robotic army that can build these huge stations themselves, configuring themselves to the task, even designing the thing themselves.

Continue reading "Beamjacks Won't Have Unions"

May 19, 2004

XPrize Race Going To WireEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Time for some good news.

The race for the XPrize is coming down to the wire.

Two craft -- Ky Michaelson's CSXT and Bert Rutan's SpaceShipOne -- have succeeded in escaping Earth's grip. (That's SpaceShipOne from creator Scaled Composites' Web site.)

To win the $10 million, however, a contestant must reach a height of 62.5 miles, in a craft capable of carrying three people, and do it again within two weeks of the first launch.

But wait...the clock is ticking.

Continue reading "XPrize Race Going To Wire"

March 10, 2004

Which Way To The Stars?Email This EntryPrint This Article

As we should know by now, George W. Bush has proposed cuts in science (let the Hubble die) in favor of missions to the Moon and Mars.

Former Astronaut (and Senator) John Glenn is among the critics. He said the plan breaks promises, to science, and to other countries. (The picture of Glenn, from his public introduction as one of the first seven Astronauts, is courtesy a brief bio of the man on Pambytes.Com.)

What the two men are arguing about are priorities within a limited budget. And that fact is more important than the substance of any Mars vs. Earth debate.

The fact is that, 42 years after Glenn's three-orbit flight, we have yet to find any way to make space pay. If I had a vote in this, that is where I would put my money.

Continue reading "Which Way To The Stars?"

February 25, 2004

Mir IIEmail This EntryPrint This Article

The International Space Station is putting the answering machine on.

The entire two-man crew of the Space Station is going outside tomorrow to make repairs, USA Today reports. Ironically both men, station commander Michael Foale and cosmonaut Alexander Kareli, are veterans of the Russian Mir space station. (The picture of Mir is from this page describing "third generation Soviet Space Systems.)

Continue reading "Mir II"

Speaking of ArmageddonEmail This EntryPrint This Article

In the 1998 movie "Armageddon," the mission is to get astronauts onto a comet which is on a collision course with Earth and somehow blow the thing up by drilling a bore hole and planting an A-bomb in it.

Today Europe launches Rosetta, an unmanned satellite that will slingshot around Mars and, 10 years from now, drop a lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

There are no plans to blow it up. (The picture of Rosetta is from CNN.)

Continue reading "Speaking of Armageddon"