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Here's the latest on space, and my opinions on it...
This is the legacy site, with blog entries from November, 2004 through June, 2011.
Updates after June 9, 2011 can be found at

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Friday, October 28, 2005

If I had $300M...
...I'd spend $100M on one of these trips. A swing around the moon, with a potential stop at the ISS for a total of up to 14 days in space!? Oooooh yeeeaaahhhh.

I'm sure there's a reason, but they talk about launching the spacecraft with their people first, and then flying the upper stage that takes them to the moon. That strikes me as strange, because it's possible that the people would only get to fly to orbit. Maybe there's some partial refund if the boost stage doesn't make it to do the lunar portion of the job. Also, the intro video shows the Soyuz rotating in a "barbeque" mode on its way to the moon. That's the way Apollo went, to be sure, but the way they have the Russian craft spinning, it puts the solar arrays in darkness for half the rotation. Is this artistic license gone horribly wrong, like the early image showing a crater on the lunar surface under a lunar module, which serves as one of the arguments for the fact that we didn't go to the moon?
9:04 pm est

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Blogging Pause
Been a while since I've posted, even though there's plenty to talk about. I have some local family stuff (Halloween costume prep), and some more distant family health issues I'm dealing with right now, along with the upcoming NYU talk. I'll be back to it soon.
6:26 am est

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Attention NY Fans of SWN!
I'm headed to New York on 29 October to speak at a combined Mars Society/NSS meeting at NYU. The title of the talk is "NASA’s Return to Flight: First Step to Mars, or Last Gasp of the Shuttle Program?" Refreshments open at 3:30, and the talk will take place from 4-6pm at 32 Waverly Place, Room 408. If you need more details, shoot me a comment. Hope to see you there.
7:15 pm est

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Plate Tectonics on Mars!
Here's an article describing continuing research done by Mars Global Surveyor. In it, they're refining the model of Mars' residual magnetic fields. Nowhere near as strong as Earth's, the magnetic fields do not point to an active interior, but they do indicate plate tectonics in the past. Plate tectonics have the ability to concentrate precious metals and other materials into useful groups. Earth's many mines are the result of earlier tectonics, and such mines on Mars would be great sites for landing a crewed mission.
6:46 pm est

I was pleasantly surprised last year when a group of space advocacy organizations formed the Space Exploration Alliance (SEA) [there's no link for the organization, just links to its component organizations] It turns out that the Space Frontier Foundation(SFF) has departed. Apparently others have as well. I believe that the SFF was interested mainly because of the commercial opportunities mentioned in the original Vision for Space Exploration. When NASA announced the ESAS, there was very little commercial activity mentioned.
3:52 am est

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Last of the Titans...
The last Titan IV flew from Vandenberg Air Force Base today. Here are some pictures of today's flight, but nothing beats a night launch. The pictures were taken from Vandenberg's South Gate, which I have some great stories about that go well with beer.

In the past, I've worked with Titans in a number of capacities, both Titan IIs (launch list) and Titan IVs (launch list). The Titan II was G-12, which launched on May 13th, 1998. My duties there prevented me attending my brother's college graduation. On the Titan IV side, I worked with the payload of the December, 1994 flight and the booster of the May, 1999 flight. They were old, and they were loud, and they had their share of bad times, (there's a good overall history here), but I met a lot of great people through the program, and will always remember TITAN!
8:35 pm est

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

New Saturn Picture, and its parts
Saw a lovely new picture of Saturn and one of its moons, Dione, today on the Cassini website. Searching through the raw images, I found the blue, red, and green components to the image. So, this image is almost what you'd see if you were riding on Cassini. Unfortunately for public relations, spacecraft don't carry a camera that takes pictures like your standard digital does today. Such images aren't that useful for scientific study, anyway, so most images we see are combinations of pictures taken through different filters.

Ooooh. Here's another cool shot in black and white.
7:47 pm est

Shuttle Swan Song?
According to this announcement from The Mars Society (TMS), NASA chief Mike Griffin is discussing the end of the space shuttle program with the White House. According to the announcement, by shutting the shuttle down after one flight to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope the agency will have the funding to accelerate CEV development and move humans closer to the moon and Mars. The dates mentioned in the announcement are moon in 2012, Mars in 2016.

The shutdown plan sounds feasible, although I'll be curious to hear the tone TMS takes if it actually happens. Some of the Mars mission payload numbers mentioned as part of the Exploration Systems Architecture Study sound a little large, and it's likely that TMS will have something to say about that.
7:27 pm est

Monday, October 17, 2005

If all Stories were Written like Scifi Stories
Found this today. In the snippet, two people need to travel from San Francisco to Chicago. (spoiler coming) They go by plane, but the story is told as though it's science fiction.

It made me smile, and has a ring of truth, but in my opinion this points out an advantage that many fiction writers have that scifi writers do not. If you tell a story in a world that people know, you don't need to go into details how things happen. If an author created the world for the story, however, they need to explain what's going on or they'll be accused of glossing over important details.

I guess the answer is somewhere in between.
6:55 pm est

New (to me) Moon Hoax Site
I just heard about a new website selling videos that supposedly prove that we didn't land on the moon (or your money back!). I'm grudgingly including a link, though I ask that people don't go to it, so you don't contribute to their success ("40 trillion website hits! We must be on to something!"). I haven't taken on any moon conspiracist (that is, someone who creates this drivel) directly, but seek out any chance to try and talk sense to someone who's read some of the drivel and thinks it may have validity.

The intro to the website has a short movie where an attractive young lady stands on a tennis court and brings up some of their incorrect logic. They use one line of reasoning that I haven't seen answered before, and I'll talk about the other for completeness. If you want to see other typical conspiracist theories and their responses, I recommend The Bad Astronomer. Anyone with the slightest interest in space needs to be ready to refute a couple of the reasons cited in claiming we didn't go to the moon. Their two claims are:
  1. Werner von Braun wrote in a 1953 book that the rocket required to take people directly to the moon would be 200 times bigger than the Saturn V used, and that such a huge rocket would be economically impossible to build.
  2. If we traveled the distance to the moon in 1969-72, why don't we go any higher above the surface of Earth than 400 miles now?

First things first, I'm going to assume that von Braun actually wrote that phrase in 1953. I don't remember the book (Conquest of the moon?) and won't go back to the website to validate it. There are a number of reasons that von Braun probably presented this argument:
  1. His preferred methodology for traveling to the moon was for assembling pieces of a moonship in Earth orbit, using smaller rockets to lift the pieces. He felt that this method allowed the greatest flexibility for future missions beyond. Another method under consideration at the time was direct ascent, and he may have been arguing against that method and in favor of his own ideas. (The method eventually chosen for traveling to the moon, called lunar orbit rendezvous, allowed the use of smaller (Saturn V) rockets than direct ascent, and von Braun did not come up with it. He later agreed that it was the best idea. Launch mass was a major reason for its choice, because smaller rockets could be built quicker.)
  2. Von Braun was thinking largely in terms of low-energy propellants like kerosene (it is called RP-1 in the preview, which is a valid technical term, but use of the term doesn't mean that they know what they're talking about). Liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen propellants didn't come into mainstream use until 1959, and many thought they would be impossible to handle until someone did it. Kerosene and oxygen were used in the first stage of the Saturn V, but using hydrogen and oxygen in the 2nd and 3rd stage allowed a much smaller rocket.
  3. Von Braun may have been thinking of building rockets the way he'd done it in the past, with tanks built inside the rocket (as opposed to being part of the skin). This method of construction is very heavy, and leads to rockets many times heavier than possible.
A small misunderstanding of basic prinicples of rocketry can cause the kind of confusion that could make someone think that we didn't land on the moon. Of course, selling DVDs for >$50 is another reason to trumpet the idea that we didn't land on the moon.

Next, why haven't we been back to the moon? Well, the answer is pretty simple: no one has tried to send people to the moon since 1972. In the late 1960's, NASA asked the Nixon administration for approval for a space shuttle, a space station, and a mission to Mars. Nixon approved part 1 of the plan, and it's been America's only way to send people into space since 1981. The shuttle was designed to fly into orbit, and doesn't have the fuel capacity to go any further.
6:48 pm est

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Commercial Zero-G Flights from KSC and Zero-G have opened the genie bottle.

Here is some discussion about why this is important.
8:10 pm est

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Amazing, Changing CEV
The Crew Exploration Vehicle was mentioned as part of President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration. A number of companies have worked on designs, which are shown here. Then, NASA went and announced its exploration architecture, which doesn't look much like either design. I commented on the fact that neither answered the mail here. Anyway, given a chance to regroup, one of the (groups of) companies has re-thought their proposal and given us this. Amazingly (note sarcasm), their design now looks a lot like the architecture NASA proposed. I've heard it said that one doesn't win contracts by telling the government where they (the government) got their concepts wrong. The other contractor has a lot more changes to make to have their design look like the new NASA idea.
8:16 pm est

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Latest News from SpaceX
Elon Musk at SpaceX sent out a new email update yesterday. It's available online (with a sign-up form as well) here. In the update, he talks a lot about Falcon 9, and gives insight into some of the reasons the design approach of taking the Falcon 5 body and adding four engines was taken. To me, the most important line is at the end:
The objective with the Falcon 9 avionics is triple redundancy with voting for the flight computer and inertial/GPS navigation system, and dual redundancy for the power system and telemetry, where voting isn't meaningful. Unlike Falcon 1, Falcon 9 is intended for manned flight one day and all critical systems have to function perfectly for potentially several days of occupied time.
It was fairly obvious to me that manned flight was the goal of Falcon 9, but it's good to see it in writing. Also, this seems to hint at the idea of an integrated 2nd stage/capsule design, which has some great possibilities for re-use of the 2nd stage.
5:30 am est

Saturday, October 8, 2005

This has Potential
Just got an email press release from NASA (at first posting, the link will take you to their archive page, which should eventually have the release, which hadn't been added yet. I'll post an update to permalink the release itself when I find it). Turns out that ZeroG, the commercial provider of zero-gravity flights on aircraft, is going to test use of the shuttle runway at KSC, as well as some of the flight space near the center. For now, they're sending some teachers up, but there are prospects here for a much wider application, and if I know Peter Diamandis, CEO of ZeroG, he's thinking along those lines. The company keeps their overhead down by using cargo planes that aren't active on the weekend. Currently, that means a few flights a year (schedule here) costing $3750 each. Now, what if a "g-force 1" plane were parked on the strip at KSC, set to go up several times a day as part of the bus tour for Kennedy? The cost could go down significantly. I'd love to be able to take my kids on a flight...
5:52 am est

Friday, October 7, 2005

Allen Array - Excellent Model
The Allen Array is a Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project that combines the power of a bunch of small antennas to make the power of one large one. Enough of it has been built to allow some early operations. It's also an excellent example of how a group of people could combine their efforts in a space project. An initial core group could provide initial functionality, with others adding capability (by adding additional antennas) piecemeal. Here is a similar type of project, on the moon, though I have some doubts about how viable it is.
6:41 am est

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Ways to use Heavy-Lift
There's an op-ed over at SpaceDaily talking about how to properly use the heavy-lift launch vehicles. In a nutshell, the author, John K. Strickland, proposes using one heavy-lift vehicle to launch unfueled depots and departure stages and then other flights to fuel the vehicle. While I've proposed similar ideas, I believe my plan has a serious deviation from Mr. Strikland's that make it a much better building block for a viable spacefaring society.

The Supply Depot plan I propose launches the depot and the unfueled stages using large, perhaps government-supplied boosters, but the fuelstuffs themselves are carried using a smaller commercial craft that will require unheard of flight rates (1/week or even 1/day would work) and drive the per flight cost way down to levels many would find hard to imagine. In the 'nit' category, I propose that the whole operation (except, perhaps, initial setup) be uncrewed.
6:57 pm est

Another Mass-Extinction Type Natural Disaster?
A nearby supernova is being listed as a possible cause of the extinction event which took out the woolly mammoth.
6:47 pm est

Monday, October 3, 2005

To the Races, Anyone?
Peter Diamandis is at it again. Today, he announced the Rocket Racing League as part of the X-Prize Cup. In it, a group of up to 10 stock rocket planes will fly through a 3D course 5,000 feet up. It sounds crazy, but when The X-Prize was announced, private spaceflight sounded crazy.
7:59 pm est

News of Tagish Lake
In January, 2000, Canada played host to a very unique meteor event. Called the Tagish Lake Meteor, it's was an extremely rare confluence of location (the cold, especially) and knowledgable searchers. Now, it looks like the meteor could give clues to star formation.
7:30 pm est

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Saw it, Liked it
Met some friends at Air and Space today and saw Magnificent Desolation. Overall, I thought it was really cool, though I agree with Jeff Foust when he said they should have skipped the "what if?" lunar rover crash scene. I believe it will cause some confusion, and have first-hand experience with this confusion as my son kept asking "Are they going to be OK?"

To me, the most incredible scene took place when two guys appeared to be standing near a 3-foot rise. As the camera panned closer, it suddenly became very obvious that the "rise" was actually the OTHER SIDE of the Hadley Rille. The effect was breathtaking. Seeing young kids try to remember astronaut's names was pretty cute, too, and the final pans were awesome.
5:58 pm est

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