Monday, January 30, 2006

Correction: For Want Of An Ejector Seat

We linked to a British newspaper's article last week that claimed to quote former astronaut Mike Mullane's very critical comments on the Space Shuttle. (Here, here.) Mullane says he was misquoted. (Here.) He goes even further to praise the Space Shuttle, NASA, and Michael Griffin.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Naming NASA's New Spaceships

There's a contest on to name NASA's proposed new space vehicles: the crew launch vehicle, the crew exploration vehicle, and the lunar lander. (Here.) In keeping with NASA's tradition of using names from Roman or Greek mythology here are some suggestions.

Launch vehicle: Jupiter. The new launch vehicle is intended to send humans back to the moon and then on to Mars. The Saturn launch vehicle was the big daddy of all launch vehicles and the first to send humans to another world. In Roman mythology Saturn is the father of Jupiter, and Jupiter is the lord of the skies.

Crew Exploration Vehicle: Odysseus or Ulysses. He is the hero of the Greeks in the Trojan War and the greatest traveler in ancient mythology. The CEV is intended to take humans on missions of exploration into the Solar System, perhaps the greatest travel story in modern history. The Roman version of the name, Ulysses, sounds better to this American ear and also has roots in American history with President U. S. Grant. Unfortunately, NASA has already wasted the name on an unmanned satellite. (Here.) Maybe it'll be dead by the time the CEV is ready to fly and the name will become available.

The Lunar Lander: Artemis. She is the Greek goddess of the crescent new moon. Selene is the goddess of the full moon and Hecate is the goddess of the waning moon. Artemis sounds better and Selene sounds a bit too much like the name of a certain Canadian pop singer. "Houston, we have touchdown. The Selene Dion is on the moon."



Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Week Of Remembrance.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire. (Here.) Today is the anniversary of the Challenger disaster. (Here.) Wednesday is the anniversary of Columbia's destruction. (Here.)

Others have written about the lessons to be learned from these accidents. (Here, here, here, for example.)

On this space we remember the 17 people who died helping to open the space frontier. Here are their names:

Apollo 1:

Virgil "Gus" Ivan Grissom, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF
Edward Higgins White, II, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF
Roger Bruce Chaffee, Lieutenant Commander, USN


Francis R. Scobee, Commander
Michael J. Smith, Pilot
Judith A. Resnik, Mission Specialist 1
Ellison S. Onizuka, Mission Specialist 2
Ronald E. McNair, Mission Specialist 3
Gregory B. Jarvis, Payload Specialist 1
Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist 2


Rick D. Husband, Commander
William C. McCool, Pilot
Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander
Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist
David M. Brown, Mission Specialist
Laurel B. Clark, Mission Specialist
Ilan Ramon, (ISA) Payload Specialist

May they rest in peace. And may their sacrifices not be in vain.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

You've Gotta Love The Russians

The Russians can't be accused of negative thinking and you've got to love them for their optimism. They seem to have a real can-do spirit. The latest example is found in this story. (Here)

Russia plans to have a permanent base on the Moon by 2015 and to be mining Helium 3 to run fusion reactors by 2020. Not just mining by 2020 but "industrial-scale delivery" of Helium 3.

We certainly hope there's at least one fusion reactor online by then.

If not, well there's always Dennis Wingo's suggestion that we look for the remains of asteroid impacts on Luna and mine them for their platinum group metals to fuel the hydrogen fuel-cell economy. (Here.)

There might not be gold in them thar hills but there's energy in them thar craters.


ADDENDUM: This article (here) reveals that Russia's "plans" are much more tentative than the article linked above.

People Are People Even In The Internet Age

Back when email and the internet were just starting to penetrate general society some commenters sounded an alarm. Their concerns were that internet users would withdraw into themselves and into a virtual reality world without personal contact with other people.

A new study puts those fears to rest and suggests that internet users are even more connected to others than non-internet users. (Story here.)

This should not surprise.

The internet's design compels its users to interact with the rest of the world. The internet connects people to websites and people all around the world. With the mere click of a mouse a person in San Diego can read a news website published in the Persian Gulf, for example. (Here.) Email enables people to communicate easily with other people in their neighborhood, around the country, and around the world. List-serves bring people together who share common interests and enable them to arrange meetings in the real world with people they might never have met before the advent of the internet.

In fact, what the internet has done is not to drive people inward and away from other people, it has enabled users to have contact with more people and to learn more about the outside world easier than ever before. The internet is driving the world towards a future where the entire planet is our neighborhood.

The experts who worried about the internet leading to personal alienation did not understand people or the technology. They were also subjects of the "tyranny of either-or thinking." (Other examples here and here.) To either-or thinkers the internet presented a stark choice between technology and people. To both-and people the internet did not present that choice. They could both have the new technology and interact with people. Turns out that more people think "both-and" than "either-or."


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Update: For Want Of An Ejector Seat?

We linked to astronaut Michael Mullane's criticisms of the shuttle as a "death trap" the other day. (Here.) Mullane's criticism about the shuttle's failure to include an ejection seat drew a rebuttal from an engineer, who makes the reasonable point that an ejection system would not have saved the Columbia astronauts because of the speed the shuttle was traveling when its catastrophic failure occurred and the extreme temperatures during re-entry. (Here.)

In Mullane's defense, his point was not so much that an ejection system would have saved the Columbia astronauts. His argument was that NASA failed to learn the lesson of Challenger when it launched Columbia. In his view, NASA's failure was to permit continued launches of the shuttle with a known and dangerous design flaw. As he said, "Columbia was a repeat of Challenger, where people had a known design problem and launched anyway." (Here.)


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Please, Sir, Don't You Want Some More?

An Iowa University's six-year program to develop food for space travel has been closed. (Story here.) There'll never be corn-flavored Tang now.


For Want Of An Ejector Seat....

A British newspaper reports that Astronaut Mike Mullane described the space shuttle as a "deathtrap." (Story here.)
"'It's the most dangerous manned spacecraft ever flown,' said Mullane, who took part on three shuttle missions before retiring in 1990. 'It has no powered-flight escape system... Basically the bail-out system we have on the shuttle is the same bail-out system a B-17 bomber pilot had in World War II.' It was this lack of ejector seats that ensured the deaths of Challenger's astronauts. Such a powered escape system could have blasted them from their stricken ship and saved them."
Mullane also says that
"'Columbia was a repeat of Challenger, where people had a known design problem and launched anyway.' Mullane added that astronauts deserved some share of responsibility for not pursuing safety issues more doggedly."


Saturday, January 21, 2006

More Biomimetics For Space

Last year we wrote about biomimetics (here) and its possible application to space travel. Biomimetics looks to nature as an inspiration for creating materials that match what natural materials can do.

There's been a spate of stories recently about the threat to spaceships from orbital debris. (Here for example.) Perhaps part of the solution is to make spaceships that repair themselves much like organisms heal themselves. (Here.)



Friday, January 20, 2006

Space Tourism Takes One Step Closer To Reality.

Rocketplane Limited of Oklahoma, which is building a suborbital spaceship modeled on a Lear Jet has signed marketing agreements for its planned passenger flights. See the announcement here.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Following Through On Commercial Space Flight Opportunities.

Back in July 2005, at the Space Frontier Foundation's Return to the Moon Conference, NASA's Chris Shank said the obvious about the Vision for Space Exploration: that it can't be done without contributions from commercial space flight companies. Specifically, Shank announced that the private sector will be asked to fill the role of transporting cargo and crew from Earth to Low Earth Orbit that is currently filled by the shuttle. (See coverage here.)

Following up on that, NASA's Commercial/Crew Project Office recently solicited "proposals for the initial development and demonstration phase of the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project. Under this project, NASA intends to enter into agreements with private industry to develop and demonstrate the vehicles, systems, and operations needed to resupply, return cargo from, and transport crew to and from a human space facility, with the International Space Station providing the representative requirements for such a facility." (Announcement here in Word format.)

NASA isn't the only entity looking for ships to ferry crew and cargo to an orbital space station. Bigelow Aerospace is offering $50 million to anybody who flies five passengers in a spaceship to dock with a Bigelow inflatable space station twice in 60 days before January 10, 2010. (Competition rules here.)

It will be interesting to see which offer shows results first.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Human Space Flight And Human Space Exploration.

An anonymous comment argues that the Republican Study Committee's opposition to funding the Moon-Mars Initiative does not signify opposition to human space exploration, and that Shadegg's vote in favor of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 means he is not opposed to human space exploration. (Here.)

The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 was not about human space exploration. It was about enabling a private suborbital space industry to develop in the United States. There's a difference between exploring space, which is what the Moon-Mars Initiative is about, and opening suborbit and near Earth orbit to the commercial space industry.

For the last 30 years NASA's human space program has been about space flight not space exploration. America's astronauts have spent the last 30 years going in small circles around the Earth. Flying to LEO is a good thing. So is continously occupying the ISS. By maintaining the ISS and flying into lower Earth orbit humanity is making that region part of our home. The fledgling commercial space industry's plans for suborbit and lower Earth orbit will help to do the same. But none of it is exploration. The President's Moon-Mars Initiative is about changing NASA's focus from simply flying into space to exploring it. To oppose funding it is to oppose human space exploration.

The conservative RSC's opposition to funding the Moon-Mars Initiative in order to pay for Hurricane Katrina recovery is as bad as the classic liberal opposition to human space exploration. Liberals typically oppose it on the ground that it diverts money from social programs. Both positions sacrifice human space exploration to pay for some problem here on Earth. Both positions view human space exploration as a low-priority luxury. Both positions are short-sighted and wrong.


House Republican Politics Update.

We were directed to the website for a summary of John Shadegg's politics by a member of the Mars Society of Washington D.C. (Here.) One positive space policy vote in Shadegg's record is his support of the commercial space launch legislation in 2004. (See the Technology category on the issues webpage linked above.)

In our view, that is insufficient. The private commercial launch industry is in its bare infancy. Its immediate goals are to break in to the suborbital and then lower orbital market. The industry is far away from being able to support human exploration of Luna or Mars. A government space program is needed for exploration and to push back the frontiers of space.



Saturday, January 14, 2006

Why House Republican Politics Imperils Human Space Exploration.

As we mentioned the other day the demise of Tom DeLay as House majority leader removes a powerful space advocate from political leadership. The race for his replacement, until now between John Boehner and Roy Blunt, has become more complicated with the candidacy of Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona.

Why does this matter to space exploration?

Of the three candidates only Shadegg is a member of the Republican Study Committee. (Here.) The RSC is a conservative group of an estimated 103 Congressmembers concerned about high federal government spending. After Hurricane Katrina, the RSC recommended saving money on a wide range of federal programs to pay for hurricane recovery.

Operation Offset, as it was called, resulted in a report that recommended cutting money from the space program by eliminating President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration initiative. Page 8 of the report reads:
"Cancel NASA’s New Moon/Mars Initiative

In 2004, the President announced a new initiative to explore the Moon and Mars with the goal of returning humans to the Moon by 2020. NASA currently intends to use the savings from phasing out the space shuttle in 2012 to fund this program. Savings: $44 billion over ten years ($11.5 billion over five years)"
(See full report here.)

It cannot be understated how rebellious conservatives are feeling over federal spending under Republican government. RSC membership gives Shadegg credibility among conservative Republicans, both rank and file and opinion makers. (See Lawrence Kudlow on NRO here for the latter.) His membership also gives him a large base of support in the Republican Caucus. If the full RSC membership gives their support to Shadegg for leader he will be all but assured of reaching the 116 votes he needs to win. If that happens, the House will be led by a Representative who owes his victory to a group that is on record as being opposed to human exploration of space.

That's gonna hurt.


Update: Turns out that the editors of National Review Online have endorsed Shadegg. (Here.)


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Engage The Hyperdrive: To Mars And Back In Six Hours?

A smarter man than this writer once said that human flights to Mars will happen when we have a really good reason to justify the expense of getting there, or we have a propulsion system that lets us go there for no reason at all. If this story (here) in the New Scientist is accurate we may one day have something just as good: a hyperspace drive that could take humans to Mars in three hours. Even if such a drive were very expensive to operate, the extremely short travel time would more than justify the cost. The Heliosphere from the Sun to Jupiter would become as small as the Earth is today at airplane speeds.

The article makes it clear that such a drive is not close to being tested much less built. The physics that suggests such a drive is possible is not yet accepted or understood. But there are aspects to this story that give hope. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics has taken notice of the theory.
"What's more, the US military has begun to cast its eyes over the hyperdrive concept, and a space propulsion researcher at the US Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories has said he would be interested in putting the idea to the test. And despite the bafflement of most physicists at the theory that supposedly underpins it, Pavlos Mikellides, an aerospace engineer at the Arizona State University in Tempe who reviewed the winning paper, stands by the committee's choice. 'Even though such features have been explored before, this particular approach is quite unique,' he says."

And then there's this.
"At the moment, the main reason for taking the proposal seriously must be Heim theory's uncannily successful prediction of particle masses. Maybe, just maybe, Heim theory really does have something to contribute to modern physics. 'As far as I understand it, Heim theory is ingenious,' says Hans Theodor Auerbach, a theoretical physicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich who worked with Heim. 'I think that physics will take this direction in the future.'

It may be a long while before we find out if he's right. In its present design, Dröscher and Häuser's experiment requires a magnetic coil several metres in diameter capable of sustaining an enormous current density. Most engineers say that this is not feasible with existing materials and technology, but Roger Lenard, a space propulsion researcher at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico thinks it might just be possible. Sandia runs an X-ray generator known as the Z machine which 'could probably generate the necessary field intensities and gradients.'

For now, though, Lenard considers the theory too shaky to justify the use of the Z machine. 'I would be very interested in getting Sandia interested if we could get a more perspicacious introduction to the mathematics behind the proposed experiment,' he says. 'Even if the results are negative, that, in my mind, is a successful experiment.'"
As the egghead captain of the Enterprise, Jean Luc Picard, would say: "Make it so!"



NASA Budget On The Chopping Block?

Our aspirations for the space program are based on the dream that one day humans will travel to the far reaches of The Heliosphere. It's frustrating therefore when domestic politics threatens those dreams.

This Bloomberg News story (here) says that NASA's human space program might be cut to help bring America's fiscal house in order.
"The budget office also aims to reduce spending on the Space Shuttle program, slicing as much as $6 billion from the projected cost of almost $70 billion in the next four years.

Illustrating the resistance to budget cuts, members of Congress from Texas and Florida, where two of NASA's largest facilities are located, are seeking to head off trims. Republicans including former Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson have written to Bush or spoken with Bolten in the past few weeks. DeLay also has lobbied Vice President Dick Cheney, according to DeLay spokesman Ben Porritt.

A reduction of as much $6 billion ``would mean the immediate retirement of the Shuttle Atlantis and a cut of the needed 19 Shuttle missions to between eight and 11 through fiscal 2010,'' a letter signed by 36 lawmakers said."

Parochial politics will play a part in how NASA's manned space program fares. Tom DeLay (The Hammer) is fast losing power in the House and he has been a powerful advocate of human space exploration. Readers of conservative commentators and websites know that Republicans in Congress and especially conservatives have reached the limit of their tolerance for big spending and big government and a move is afoot among them to return to their small-government roots. The President's Vision for Space Exploration was targeted for cuts late last year by a fiscally conservative group of Congressmembers. That effort failed. It helped to have The Hammer on NASA's side.

But that was then.

Now it is very much up in the air who will lead the House Republicans after February 2d, when the caucus is scheduled to vote. What is clear is that a revolt against big spending and big government is brewing again among the majority party in Congress. So long as the human space program is viewed as non-essential government spending its budget will be vulnerable when pennywise budgeteers start looking for places to save money.



Home Grown Radiation Protection On Mars?

Back on March 31, 2005, in a post on biomimetics called "Shellfish in Space" (here) we speculated that the large radiation bands on Mars could provide natural protection for human colonists.

Now the author of the space-oriented website Beyond Earth has suggested the same thing based on the new evidence that the magnetic fields we wrote about last year are strong enough to cause auroras on Mars. (Here.) Beyond Earth's post includes detailed information on the radiation environment found on Mars and methods for mitigating the danger.

Now if only we could get somebody to speed up the timeline for human exploration of the Red Planet.



Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Letting Ivan Do The Flying.

NASA's ongoing problems with space shuttle safety has forced it to contract with Russia for taxi service to the ISS. (Here.) Russia is charging NASA $43.6 million per round trip flight until 2012. Having to rely on a foreign government for human flights puts the US in a bind. It's also embarrassing for the country who once put people on Luna to have to admit they can't reliably send humans to LEO by themselves.

Yet from a cost perspective contracting with the Russians is not such a bad thing. According to this NASA FAQ page (here), the average shuttle flight is about $450 million.

The private launch industry in the US is not mature enough yet to compete with Russia for the job of taking astronauts to orbit. But once it is, it would certainly be in the US government's interest to pay a domestic company to do the job they are willing to pay the Russians to do. We should do more to hasten that day.


Monday, January 09, 2006

SpaceX To Try Again February 8, 2006.

SpaceX will try to launch their Falcon 1 vehicle again on February 8, 2006, according to this update on the company's website. (Here.) Bottom line on the delay last month was the failure of an electronic component in the first stage. SpaceX decided to swap out the entire first stage, which is expected to be delivered to the launch site within a week. SpaceX will do testing during January before launching in February. Check the update for all the details and a nice picture of Falcon on the launch pad.

We're rooting for them to succeed.


Cool New Website

Here's a new website dedicated to Mars exploration and settlement, Check it out.



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