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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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Thursday, August 31, 2006

And the Builder of the new Apollo Capsule is...
Lockheed Martin! Based on some last-minute rumors, they looked like a dark horse, but LockMart pulled it out. Of course, given the design envelope, the only difference Rand Simberg pointed out between designs (he worked on the other team) was that the LM version had round solar panels.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press rides in and reports through CNN that the last time NASA gave a manned spacecraft contract to Lockheed Martin (the X-33), almost $1B was spent and nothing flew. A little fact checking would have pointed out to the newsmakers (I'm sorry, reporters) that the X-33 was supposed to be an unmanned suborbital demonstrator.
8:41 pm est

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A New Mars
As this summer blew by, I kinda missed the 30th anniversary of the Viking landing. MarsDaily has a good summary of a speech by Gentry Lee in celebration of the anniversary. The article is here, and apparently a podcast version of it is here. I saw him speak at the 25th anniversary. He seems like a good guy. I like the part where he touches on other activites he tried for a while after Galileo was ready to fly:
I had a long list of things that I wanted to try to do. So I wrote a few novels, I designed a few computer games, I did a few other things that I'm not going to tell you about because they were so terribly unsuccessful.

At least the anniversaries of the Mars exploration events are taking place while exploration continues there. Until we return to the moon, the lunar anniversaries are growing increasingly bitter while decreasingly sweet for me.
8:08 pm est

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Elon Musk Profile
I like to see what a non-space magazine has to say about Elon Musk, head of SpaceX. This article is pretty even-handed. The picture of Elon wearing a James T. Kirk tunic is a little over-the-top, but the text shows that the author took the time to learn what was going on. Two complaints: too many pages to click through, and an inconsistent use of British Pounds and US $.
6:44 pm est

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Flyby Anomaly
In doing some other research, I came across this article in Wikipedia. According to it, several probes that passed Earth for gravitational assists gained additional velocity compared to the predicted values. At first, I thought it might be related to the Pioneer Anomaly, but there the craft are moving slower than expected. Anyway, I have some doubts about this effect, even though it's google-able, and was covered in a Space.comarticle. My doubts arise from the fact that only Earth-based flybys are mentioned, yet there have been flybys of other planets through the years. It's possible that only Earth flybys allow the precision to measure such an anomaly, but I know some orbit guys who'd take umbrage at such a statement. Besides, over the course of years and/or millions of miles, a difference in speed measured in milimeters/second add up. Some theories in the article talk about spacecraft charging and interaction with Earth's magnetic field, yet Jupiter, another common flyby planet, has a magnetic field as well.
6:01 am est

Pluto "Goofy-ness"
As Pluto's fate changes seemingly daily, in my opinion, the only thing it does is make astronomers look silly. I realize they're a group of people like any other group but I guess, deep down, I expected more out of them than we've been getting. Changing definitions of planet, differing numbers of planets in the solar best theory is that they (the astronomers) are not used to intense media attention, so they don't know how to produce a unified message. Since they're not used to the media attention, and they're currently ensconced in their meeting, they may not realize that their daily indecisions are making front-page news. At least the meeting isn't as boring as it usually is.
5:17 am est

Friday, August 25, 2006

Speaking of Spacefaring Technologies...
Apparently, NASA hasn't ignored aerocapture as a technology. This media release describes a demonstration of heat shield technology for an aerocapture capsule. While it's good to see this sort of thing being worked on, and the outdoor solar facility ought to provide some great visuals for the media, I think an arcjet test or some other method of testing would work better. Oh, and by the way, materials that work for aerocapture are very likely to also work for reentry to Earth's atmosphere.
8:03 pm est

Mystery Potentially Solved and Big Discussion
According to Marsdaily, someone has a theory of what caused Mariner 4's meteorite damage. The theory is that a dead comet left a big debris field, though the evidence is shaky at best. I'd never heard of the incident until reading the article.

Jonathan Goff set off a lot of discussion (whenever I type something like that, I'm reminded of Monty Python's Life of Brian when the leader of the terrorist cell is told that one of their members is kidnapped and his response is "Right, this calls for immediate discussion!") on technologies and abilities we will have once we're "Spacefaring." I've glanced through it and it seems to make a lot of sense overall. Initial post here, clarification here, discussion (including links to further discussion) can be found here.
1:03 pm est

Futron Space Tourism Addendum
I got an email from Futron. They've updated their 2002 Space Tourism Study to reflect changes in expected costs and fitness requirements. The report doesn't deal in changing public perception of the activity. Link is here, and Adobe Acrobat is required.
8:02 am est

Thursday, August 24, 2006

No More Major Tom...
I don't talk about this much on the website, but if you look here, under "Position Vacancy Select List" you may recognize a name.
8:35 pm est

Through an unfortunate mix of technology SNAFUs (the house we were staying in had wall sockets for phones, but the owner decided that she had no need for a phone line, while I still use dialup at home for my internet access) I had no access to the internet during my week at the beach with my family. I'm back online now. Looks like some pretty cool discussion took place while I was gone.
8:32 pm est

Sunday, August 20, 2006

RAND Says...
In a press release the RAND corporation (one of the think tanks that played a big part in early space development) says that the current stock of launch vehicles serving the government (mainly the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, the Delta IV and Atlas V) will serve the security needs of the country through 2020. The report is focused on military launch vehicles. I'm downloading the report, and therefore haven't read it. If you'd like some more in-depth analysis (though the comments wander into COTS territory, probably due to the announcement on Friday), check with Jeff Foust.
4:33 pm est

Thursday, August 17, 2006

New Mnemonic?
Given the (unofficial, as of yet) new list of planets, the question comes: "How will children remember their planets?" Here are some suggestions for the old list. Send me (tom(at) suggestions for the new list.
  • Mercury
  • Venus
  • Earth
  • Mars
  • Ceres
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Uranus
  • Neptune
  • Pluto
  • Charon(these two can be switched in order)
  • 2003 UB313/Xena (use whichever letter/number works for your acronym)
I'll post any that I find particularly good.

Update 20 Aug: Readers over at spontaneously started this contest on their own after a science/somantics rant by Phil Plait.
6:17 am est

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Supply Depots Again!
An article points out that the upper stage of the Ares V heavy-lift launch vehcile uses half of its fuel to get to low Earth orbit. If the stage were refueled in orbit, it would have the "legs" to send a decent package to Mars (say, a crewed vehicle). In my earlier article, I looked at the idea of sending probes to the outer planets on much smaller rockets than are currently used (Cassini flying to Saturn using an Atlas instead of a Titan IV like it flew on), but I don't really care how they're used (except for the usual disclaimers of ill-use for humankind). Mike Griffin discussed something similar here. Acrobat required.

Since I can't do comments on this blog, I recommend Rand Simberg's entry for discussion. He focused on the target (Mars) specified in the article, saying we could go elsewhere, which firmly falls into my "don't care" entry above.
8:20 pm est

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Space Review Review is in
Jeff Foust of The Space Review has taken a look at I Want to go to Mars, and he likes what he read. In the spirit of full disclosure, I've written a few articles for TSR.
8:03 pm est

This will Likely be big
A lot of posturing and Powerpoint slidemaking is about to come to a head. NASA will announce the winner of the COTS contract on Friday.

If done properly, it may finally provide some data on what commercial space people can do in comparison to government types.
3:12 pm est

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Contacts from the Mars Society
As tiring as the conference was this past weekend, I wouldn't have traded it for the world. To me, it feels as though The Mars Society is starting to hit its stride, with a lot of people doing a lot of work in areas that interest them, then coming together at conferences to meet each other and coordinate efforts. In the past, I've felt that a lot of people weren't sure what to do,then came together at conferences to complain about that fact. Another sign of progress is the fact that there were more media outlets recording this year's event than there have been in the past. Some of this increase is due to the headliner speakers, to be sure, but there were other people present making documentary videos and such activities. Here's a sample of some of the groups I met and/or got caught up with current events:
  • Todd Burke's Batoka Station is a website devoted to a series of T-shirts and other products from businesses already on Mars. The name comes from a crater near Valles Marinaris. He figures that such items will exist in the future, so why not invest a little imagination into the process and get them released now?
  • Aretè Design is a company run by Charles Leatherwood and Lee Hill. They've had a concept for a couple years now of creating a traveling display devoted to the exploration of Mars for museums.
  • Jeroen Laprè was back discussing his interactive DVD project based on Athur C. Clarke's short story Maelstrom II as well as his Mars Rover Visualizer (MERalizer) software.
  • The Mars Direct Project is a group of guys working with the Orbiter spaceflight simulator (the software is free!), trying to build a package that allows users to carry out their own mission to Mars. I think their efforts will dovetail well into some of the activities I have planned.
  • The MarsDrive Consortium and 4 Frontiers are two relatively new groups that have different approaches to pushing for the exploration of space. Although I'm in various stages of involvement with both organizations, my old concerns about fracturing space groups remain.
12:44 pm est

Big Tech Report List
Futzing around the internet for a project I'm working on, I came across this website which lists a whole bunch of NASA tech reports. I've only downloaded a couple, but they seem quite impressive. Here are some sample names:
  • Space Radiation Protection
  • Space Tethers: Design Criteria
  • Space Vehicle Gyroscope Sensor Applications
  • Spacecraft Aerodynamic Torques
  • Spacecraft Attitude Control during Thrusting Maneuvers
  • Spacecraft Earth Horizon Sensors
  • Spacecraft Gravitational Torques
  • Spacecraft Magnetic Torques
  • Spacecraft Mass Expulsion Torques
  • Spacecraft Radiation Torques
  • Spacecraft Solar Cell Arrays
  • Spacecraft Star Trackers
  • Spacecraft Sun Sensors
  • Spacecraft System Failures and Anomalies Attributed to the Natural Space Environment
  • Spacecraft Thermal Control
  • Structural Vibration Prediction
12:04 pm est

Peroxides in the soil!
One of the technical notes in I Want to go to Mars has our heroine's hair turning blonde as she imagines herself on Mars. The reason is the peroxides in the soil as discovered by Viking 1. Some theories have been proposed for what maintains the peroxide, but our thought was that anyone spending time on Mars would eventually turn blonde (or blond, in the case of a male) due to exposure to the soil. I don't claim to be the originator of the idea, but I may be the first to put it in a children's book.
6:07 am est

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Musing About the Sky Scout
I posted about the Sky Scout earlier, and how it's a pretty amazing piece of equipment, assuming it works as advertised. I've been thinking about some "cheats" that would actually make it much simpler.

On first glance, you might think that the unit has to match patterns of all the stars visible in the sky in order to orient itself, and describe what it's being pointed at, but here are some helpful things that it probably does:
  1. The GPS siting gives location and time. This automatically limits the search to less than half of the sky. I'd be curious to know what happens if you turn it on in the daylight, and this device would be able to calculate that, too.
  2. An inclinometer narrows the space down to a band of sky. Once you know how the Sky Scout is tilted, you can narrow the search down to a ring around the sky that would be made by pointing your finger up at an angle and spinning around.
  3. A compass for rough direction. This one just occurred to me, and while the readings would be different depending on your latitude and longitude, that could be corrected based on your GPS coordinates.
I'm guessing that those three measurements would narrow down an area of sky just a few degrees in diameter. From that point, matching the patterns should be pretty easy. One issue might be the number of stars they're counting on (if they're close enough, they may not rely on any stars). A city viewer would have quite a different scene.

No matter how they did it, it's one cool device.
8:35 pm est

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

First Requested Blog Post
Wow, that week went fast. Still dazed after late-night security shifts (we had NASA models on display in the hotel during the Mars Society Conference, and didn't feel like spending a whole bunch of money on guards) and a bit too much fun at the Yuri's night reception, I'm back among the living. I got an email (thanks Dave!) asking me to get back to blogging, so here goes.

I enjoyed the conference this year. I didn't attend as many talks as I have in the past, due to helping organize it, selling books, and assisting as Around Space got some interviews, but this is a good summary of the event as TMS saw it.

The highlights for me:
  • Mike Griffin's talk. It was really cool to see how someone can state his job matter-of-factly while at the same time saying he wishes he could do more.
  • TMS' plans for the 4-month long stay at the arctic research station. It's a big risk, but the payoff is potentially huge.
  • The Mars blitz (I was a team leader) looks like it convinced a lot of people that talking to Congress can be fun.
  • Branching out into some new areas. I'm looking forward to "Running to Mars, 5K at a time" races around the country.
Looks like the conference will come back here eventually, so I guess that's the best endorsement overall.
8:47 pm est

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

According to this article, orbital debris have reached a point where the problem is self-sustaining. Even if all launch activity stopped now, old stages would break up and hold the overall number of pieces steady for up to 50 years.

This has been one concern which space elevator proponents haven't answered to my satisfaction.
1:45 pm est

Off to Mars for a While
Starting tomorrow, most of my time will be taken up putting on/attending the 2006 Mars Society Conference. Hope to see some of you there.
11:43 am est

Stardust at Home Online Today!
Thank goodness for email reminders! Apparently, sometime in the past I registered with stardustathome to comb through some microscope views of the material from the Stardust spacecraft. The purpose is to find very fine pieces of stellar dust that were picked up. The website goes online at 11AM Pacific Time today. By the by, the higher your internet connection speed, the better.
10:59 am est

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