Tag Archives: NASA

From Near to Far…Amazing Things are Everywhere

What a year! So far, we’ve had a landing on a comet, great results from Mars, many more exoplanets zeroing in on “goldilocks” zones… and now, across the next few months, NASA spacecraft close in on the two most wondrous and fabled dwarf planets…

pia19056_mainFirst up — Ceres: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft – after probing the giant asteroid Vesta – is getting super close to its planned orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres — due to arrive March 6. The “white dot” mystery grows. But I am especially interested in whether our probe finds evidence of a liquid sea under the thick, icy crust. If so, it will prove the “roofed water worlds” don’t need the tug of a nearby planet, in order to heat and melt subsurface water. It will change our notions of the abundance of liquid water in the universe.

new-horizons-plutoAnd…the New Horizon spacecraft is closing in on Pluto. Nine years after its launch, New Horizons will achieve closest approach on July 14, 2015, collecting data on the surface and atmosphere of the dwarf planet, its large moon Charon and four smaller moons, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx.

Want your name and message to go onto the New Horizons probe? Uploaded into memory after it finishes its main mission and heads out of the Solar System? See (and join!) the New Horizons Message Initiative, headed by my friend the great space artist Jon Lomberg and his wife Sharona.

Want more wonders? Could there be life in the seas of Saturn’s moons? Cornell researchers have modeled methane-based lifeforms that could live in the liquid methane seas of Titan. Many have I got a great story on the back burner!

Meanwhile, we’re still receiving wonderful views of Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko from the Rosetta orbiter, and these should get even better, during coming weeks. A dream come true for this comet guy!

(Alas, they hope that the little Philae lander, which should have been nuclear, not solar powered) will get enough power in a few months, as 67/P streaks sunward. But that’s the same point when the rising push of escaping-subliming gas from below will likely shove the little guy out into space.)

== Visualizing Andromeda ==

andromedaFor stunning new imagery of our neighboring galaxy, see the high-definition Gigapixels of Andromeda, assembled by Cory Poole.

If there are a trillion stars in the Andromeda Galaxy, that means there are 100 stars for every Human Being! Manifest destiny! Let’s go get em!

Ooops, that just went out over the web… so the natives know we’re coming…

… in peace! Yeah, that’s the ticket. We come in peace. ūüėČ

Seriously, read Phil Plait‚Äôs lyrical essay about how fortunate we are to witness such splendor. He writes of “the awe of the raw Universe laid out right in front of me.” Now revealed. By our own hands.

== Peering downward…and outward ==

Four newly launched Earth-observing satellites are now collecting data on global atmospheric conditions, carbon dioxide levels and aerosols, allowing us to better understand our own planet.

A Kepler-discovered solar system with rocky planets is 11.2 billion years old and was born near the dawn of the galaxy. An amazing discovery with profound impact on our “Drake Equation” calculations of when both worlds and life might have first emerged. At a distance of 117 light-years from Earth, Kepler-444 is two and a half times older than our solar system, which is 4.5 billion years old. “Which could provide scope for the existence of ancient life in the galaxy.”

A proposed space telescope, the Aragoscope, could potentially image at a far higher resolution than Hubble. See an interesting write-up on one of the exciting projects we’ve been seed-funding at NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) program, designed to turn science fiction into reality through pioneering technology development. This one is a spectacular space telescope that might also be very cheap to build… and closely related to one I described in Existence.

In fact, see my earlier posting about a wide range of skyward wonders that are astronomically-good…

== And more! ==

Black-hole-swirlAstronomers have discovered the largest and most luminous black hole ever seen ‚ÄĒ an ancient monster with a mass about 12 billion times that of the sun ‚ÄĒ that dates back to when the universe was less than 1 billion years old. This monster quasar shines (or shone 429 trillion times brighter than the sun.

Closest known flyby: An international group of astronomers has determined that 70,000 years ago a dim star is likely to have passed within our solar systems Oort Cloud ‚ÄĒ 52,000 astronomical units (AU) or 0.8 light years from the Earth. That is five times closer than Proxima Centauri.

To answer your next question: ‚Äú98% of the simulations showed Scholz‚Äôs star passing through the Oort cloud, only one brought the star within the inner Oort cloud which would have triggered ‚Äúcomet showers‚ÄĚ. Still, one is tempted to look for impact fluxes having gone up, 60-70,000 years ago.

An interesting thought that came up, at the AAAS discussions. That a top-ranked motion picture like Avatar can now cost about the same as an astronomical mission to discover thousands of real-life planets, like Kepler. Not suggesting a zero-sum tradeoff.

We need both. Now if only one could help the other….

== Mister Spock — the final farewell ==

Yes, it was good to have Leonard Nimoy among us. I won’t say Rest in Peace, because frankly, although I am a scientific dubious agnostic, I do hope he is not “resting,” but off on his next cool adventure. Maybe even where no one has been, before.

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Looking to Space…and Beyond

No roundup abouit space would be complete without mentioning the disastrous crash of the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two… and the explosion of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket. Are we under attack by UFOs? (Yes, silvery guys… I’m lookin’ at you.) Seriously, our sympathy to both teams and best wishes for recovery and future success.

== Space News ==

niac-videoIs suspended animation possible? Can we 3D print whole structures on the moon? How about swimming the ocean of Europa? Our leader at NASA NIAC РJay Falker Рexplains the mission, to explore highly speculative ideas with small, seed grants. Watch this short video about NASA’s Innovative and Advanced Concepts group. I am proud to be on the board of advisors. YOU should be proud to be a member of a civilization that does stuff like this.

Art often interfaces with science, but not quite like this. As reported by Adam Rogers (my former ArchiTECHS co-star) in WIRED — The Warped Astrophysics of Interstellar — it seems that the special effects team for Christopher Nolan‚Äôs upcoming (and much-awaited) film Interstellar¬†consulted with another friend of mine ‚ÄĒ Caltech‚Äôs brilliant Kip Thorne, who supplied equations that Nolan‚Äôs team crunched and crunched‚Ķ in order to show us what (according to Thorne) a Black Hole ‚Äúwill actually look like.‚ÄĚ

This isn’t the first time that art rendered a best-image for science! One small, personal example: my doctoral dissertation, predicting how dust layers on comets would affect their activity, has been proved yet again with recent missions. But it was the novel Heart of the Comet that nailed the size and shape of Halley’s Comet, just before Europe’s Giotto mission confirmed both within 20%.

But this is just plain terrific. If you are like me, you are bouncing against walls with eagerness to see Interstellar! Both as fans and for what it may do to shatter the stunning cowardice toward new ideas that dominates today’s studio-Hollywood.

== More Comet News ==

Rosetta-probe-ESA-space1200Eau de comet? The Rosetta Probe sniffs Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko — and detects odors resembling “rotten eggs and horse pee” — also known as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and formaldehyde.

Thousands of comets observed flickering in and out near the new solar system of Beta Pictoris.

Bizarre Pyramid on Comet 67P? “It looks almost as if loose dust covering the surface of the comet has settled in the boulder’s cracks. But, of course, it is much too early to be sure,” comments researcher Holger Sierks.”¬† Um again,¬†this is exactly as my thesis forecast, way back in 1980. (Hey, you’d preen about that too ūüėČ

==Space Updates==

NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, ending U.S. dependence on the Russian Soyuz for transportation of humans. It’s about time! It also makes clear the advantages of competition, which Elon’s company has restored.

B6-12The Sentinel program – developing satellites that can warn in advance of medium/small asteroids on collision course – reveals in vivid detail what the U.S. Defense Department had heretofore (for unfathomable reasons) deemed secret ‚ÄĒ that from 2000 to 2013 there were twenty-six ‚Äúnuke-level‚ÄĚ incidents, when meteors of asteroidal scale exploded in the atmosphere, delivering from one to six-hundred kilotons of energy. A ‚Äúcity killer‚ÄĚ strikes Earth once per century, though the greatest danger is if one of these events ever took place in a touchy region, possibly sending itchy trigger fingers racing for buttons.

Watch the video… then consider participating.

Want another worry?¬†Earth’s magnetic north pole has been speeding up in its movement and this year passed its closest to true north. Interesting… and sci fi worrisome.

How cool is this? ‚ÄúAstronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have located at least one and possibly three Kuiper Belt objects that NASA‚Äôs New Horizons spacecraft can reach after its flyby Pluto next year.‚ÄĚ

Meanwhile, I am helping my friend Jon Lomberg (creator of Hawaii’s famous “Galaxy Garden” and co-creator of Carl Sagan’s Voyager Record) in his effort to get a similar trove of human wisdom and art stored aboard the New Horizons probe after it finishes doing science, screaming past Pluto next year.

== And yet more inspiring science! ==

Scientific American asks: ‚ÄúConspiracy theorists may wonder, why does NASA‚Äôs next major telescope director need top secret clearance?‚ÄĚ Interesting indeed. ‚ÄúThe Webb telescope is being planned as a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and will peer at some of the farthest reaches of space and time. The $8.8-billion observatory is due to launch in 2018.‚ÄĚ Past Space Telescope directors did not need clearance. But in fact, I believe that this event has little to do with the Webb Telescope. Remember that NASA just took delivery of two Hubble class Keyhole space telescopes, no longer needed by the National Reconnaissance Office or NRO. I guess they want to be sure that, in converting those scopes for scientific work, sensitive tech does not leak . On the other hand, what if the Webb is being used as a civilian cover operation for next generation spook craft, just as the Hubble had been? Maybe an even bigger reason.

gamma-ray-burstsGamma Ray Bursters as cullers of life:¬†‚ÄúOnly at the outskirts of the Milky Way, at more than 10 kpc from the galactic center, this probability drops below 50%. When considering the Universe as a whole, the safest environments for life (similar to the one on Earth) are the lowest density regions in the outskirts of large galaxies and life can exist in only ~ 10% of galaxies.” Interesting hypothesis.¬†On the role of GRBs on life extinction in the Universe, by Tsvi Piran, Raul Jimenez.

Tiny diamond nano threads could someday support a space elevator?

Ten horrifying technologies that should never exist, by George Dvorsky, citing weaponized nanotechnology, brain hacking devices, weaponized pathogens…and more terrors.

Will ‚Äútorpor‚ÄĚ let us put astronauts into suspension (as in 2001, saving resources for deep space missions? As I mentioned earlier, this work is funded by us at NIAC… actually, one of the less plausible grants, in the next decade or two. ¬†But good press!

7m9evHeh cute visualization to put things in perspective; How close is our closest neighbor, our¬†moon “It‚Äôs tempting to think it‚Äôs much closer to Earth than it really is. The Moon has an average distance from Earth of 384,399 kilometers (or 238,854 miles if you prefer)….It turns out it‚Äôs far enough to fit every other planet in the solar system with room to spare, ” notes astronomer Christian Ready.¬†

Here’s one rule of thumb. ¬†The distance from Earth to moon is ten times Earth’s circumference. ¬†So wind a measuring tape ten times round the equator. ¬†That should do it. ¬† In fact… now that I put it that way, I am starting to suspect….

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Exciting possibilities in (and about) space!

First some exciting news about space-flight. ¬†Then I’ll finish with a followup (and speculative) reflection on our recent multiple encounters with space rocks.
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== NASA’s NIAC: New and Innovative Advance Concepts ==

Soon I will be off to participate as an advisor in the Spring meeting of NASA-NIAC in Chicago.¬† NIAC is a far-out, little research program at NASA, trying to enable big things. NIAC stands for NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts. Its budget last year was $5.5M, or about 3/100ths of 1% of the $18 billion NASA budget. Its charter is to Change the Possible in aerospace. NIAC studies exciting, unexplored missions that won’t be “ready for prime time” for a decade or more. Here are a few projects they funded last year, chosen at random:

681397main_lunar_construction_astronauts_226¬†¬† ‚ÄĘ ¬† ¬†A ¬†researcher at USC is trying to “3-d print” whole buildings with quick drying concrete. Behrokh Khoshnevis is working with NIAC to see if it’s possible to do this on the Moon or on Mars, using local soil, to build infrastructure in preparation for a future NASA mission.

‚Äʬ†¬†¬† NIAC has a researcher at Draper Labs, Kevin Duda, who is¬†working on a space suit that would help astronauts feel a sense of “down” while in space for a long time. It might also help them exercise just by doing their regular movements. The suit has gyros on it that resist motion intelligently for that sense of “down”.

‚Äʬ†¬†¬† Kendra Short at JPL is trying to print small spacecraft.¬†Not¬†3-D printing, but rather flexible printed electronics, batteries, sensors, everything on a sheet of mylar or even paper. This could be used anywhere in the solar system to rapidly design and print useful electronics.

SuperBallBot‚Äʬ†¬†¬† An interesting robotic rover is being designed with Mars in mind. Adrian Agogino is adapting tensegrity¬†structures to make an inexpensive and durable rover, the Super Ball Bot, that you could simply drop down to Mars ‚ÄĒ no a parachute or airbags needed.

‚Äʬ†¬†¬† Here’s an example of something NIAC is funding on life support systems: Michael Flynn is developing Water Walls, Redundant Life Support Architecture,¬†a concept to put the waste water processing into the walls of a spacecraft so that the water and waste would protect against radiation, too.

RAP‚Äʬ†¬†¬† NIAC is funding a small asteroid mining study. With the Robotic Asteroid Explorer, Mark M. Cohen is trying to figure out if mining an asteroid could ever make real business sense. If so, what might be valuable to mine in space, and how could it be accomplished?

One of the coolest parts of NIAC is how open it is: info about all their studies is freely available at http://www.nasa.gov/niac. Also, they have their projects report out to the program office at public meetings, the NIAC Symposiums. The next is in Chicago from March 12-14th. See their website for details on the Spring Symposium.

== More Exciting space news == 

The next three years will feature truly astounding announcements regarding human spaceflight: half a dozen new commercial and potentially human-crewed space vehicles, including:

lynx

–XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx suborbital space plane
–Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo
–Armadillo Aerospace’s Vertical Lander
–Stratolaunch’s Air-Launched Rocket
–Blue Origin’s Space Vehicle
–Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser Space Plane

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HedgehogA way cool concept that emerged from MIT, JPL and NASA NIAC… a Phobos mission (to replace the doomed Russian one) would start with an orbiter that then deploys several small “hedgehog” landers that fling themselves across the microgravity surface by sudden tilts driven by gyros and flywheels. I have long pushed for Phobos as a target.¬† It could very well be one of the most valuable sites in the solar system.

An electric sail produces propulsion power for a spacecraft by utilizing the solar wind (charged particles) instead of light. The sail features electrically charged long and thin metal tethers that interact with the solar wind. As illustrated in EXISTENCE. Now see plans for the real thing.

EmDrive, China’s radical new space drive using microwaves that seems to violate Newton’s laws by requiring no propellant mass?Professor William Napier and Dr. Janaki Wickramasinghe have completed computer simulations of our sun‚Äôs movements in its outer spiral location in the Milky Way, and determined that we are now entering a danger zone where molecular clouds might perturb the solar system¬†— the odds of asteroid impact on Earth go up by a factor of ten.

Watch a great (and personal) tour of the International Space Station given by Sunny Williams just immediately prior to her departure from the ISS a month or so ago.  She literally gave it the day of her return to Earth… after commanding the ISS for the prior 3 months.

Not to be missed! Google has created a visualization of the 100,000 stars nearest to the solar system, based on actual astronomical data. You can zoom in all the way to the solar system to see how small Neptune’s orbit is relative to the Oort Cloud, or zoom right out to see how puny 100,000 stars is in just our quarter of the Milky Way galaxy.

600px_messenger_orbit_image20130218_1_4by3_946-710Scientists spin carbon nanotube threads on an industrial scale. This is huge – not just for a Space Elevator¬† but for construction in general.¬†There’s a cool video showing how they do it – they’re not keeping it all secret…

And finally, a gorgeous false-color image of Mercury. NASA’s Messenger space probe has been mapping the surface, and has detected evidence of water ice and volatiles at the permanently shaded poles of Mercury.

== Finally: space rocks redux ==

To recap: one asteroid – about 50 meters across – zipped by Earth from the south, closer than our communication satellites, just hours after another – perhaps 15 meters across – plummeted in from the north and gave up more energy than a hydrogen bomb as it broke apart high over over Chelyabinsk, in the Russian Urals, briefly outshining the sun and shattering hundreds of windows.¬† Soon reports came in of lesser bollides over Cuba and San Francisco, leading one of you to write in that February 16 began featuring regular meteor showers a few years ago.¬† (The “Febrids”?)¬† So mark your calendars for next year, you northern hemisphere folks.
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All this ruckus led to my serving another stint as astronomy pundit on BBC. My job on-air was to reassure that there would be no radiation… that in fact, bollides like this one seem to strike our planet once a decade or so, but always till now over open ocean or deserts or countryside. (In the 1970s one such event, off Japan, almost triggered a rise in DEFCON alert level at the US NORAD!)  This was the first ever to perturb a city.

Anyway, we still aren’t “safe.” ¬†Comets (my area of scientific expertise) could swoop down from almost any direction, almost any time.¬† So let’s become more capable of living and working out there in space! ¬†Our proper path is vigorously forward.

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The near future of manned spaceflight

MannedFor a recent interview I was asked:

Where is manned spaceflight headed in the near term?

GOLDENSPIKEThere certainly is a lot of buzz about big changes in manned spaceflight in the news. From space hero-pioneer Elon Musk ruminating about self-sustaining colonies of 80,000 people on Mars… to a startup called Golden Spike ¬†that seeks to purchase government and commercial vehicles to offer flights – and even landings – on the Moon (two tickets to the moon, yours for $1.5 billion). Then there’s¬†Mars One, a Dutch company that hopes to launch a series of robotic missions to Mars that will construct outposts on the surface. Humans will follow by 2023. Part of the funding may come from reality media ¬†— filming the astronaut training and interactions. Big Brother on Mars?

Okay — let me say that I see two drivers and two paths ahead for human spaceflight, one slow and plodding, the other quick and exciting. ¬†Both will be needed. Each will benefit from the other.

Ever since Challenger blew up, NASA’s meticulous approach to manned spaceflight has been to redouble caution. To fill in each missing step, then the sub-phases between each step. After Columbia, this fill-en_0805_blackstone_480x360in-every-gap method has led to such flawless undertakings as the recent Curiosity lander’s spectacular (and spectacularly complicated) landing on Mars.

But that was just a robot.¬† When human lives are at stake, the process becomes so carefully mature that – in effect – nothing gets flown at all. At minimum, human-rating every component multiplies costs by as much as two orders of magnitude, in some cases. Let’s be plain. If this were humanity’s only path to human spaceflight, countless thorny problems and sub-problems would be vanquished!¬† But nothing would ever actually fly with people aboard.

Fortunately, through this process NASA keeps developing new technologies.  So do the civilian world, foreign governments and the military.  These improvements trickle Рor gush Рand spread. New thresholds have been reached in computers and sensors, in equipment capability and reliability. And in plummeting hardware prices.

One result? We are ready for the dawn of a new era, one of private space ventures. And, fortunately, the politicians seem perfectly ready to welcome non-state activity.  Instead of raising obstacles, the present administration seems bent on clearing a path.

694662main_logo425From the Rutan/Branson Spaceship to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, there are dozens of private manned and unmanned missions being planned. Some of them leverage upon the desire of the rising caste of super-rich for unusual experience, starting with sub-orbital jaunts.¬† Plans are in motion to extend this market, leading downstream to space hotels and – eventually – private moon landings. The new Planetary Resources company plans to access the vast wealth of asteroids.

All of these things can be done now because technological thresholds are falling… and also because they can allow higher risk ratios, because private ventures aren’t answerable to the same levels of enforced care as public ones.¬† The cost effects of allowing part failure rates in the one-millionth probability – instead of on-billionth – is nothing short of astronomical.

== A New Barnstorming Age? ==

We may, at last be ready to embark on the equivalent of the the great age of barnstorming aircraft development, that our grandparents saw in the 1920s, when risk – and even some loss – was considered part and parcel of courage and exploration. When the new frontier was legitimate territory for tinkerers (albeit, today they would be billionaire tinkerers).

FrontierIf so, it will have come about from a mix of government investment in meticulous process and checklisting a myriad details… meshing well with the unleashing of private ambition.¬†No example so perfectly disproves the idiotic canard that everything must be all-government… or else that government is evil and wholly uncreative.¬† We are a complex people in a complex age.¬† But we can rise above comforting nostrums to realize, a careful mix was how we got everything we see around us. A mix that is negotiated by goal-driven grownups – that is how we’ll get farther ahead.

== What are pros/cons of each approach? ==

SpaceShipONeThe Branson/Rutan “Spaceship One” approach, and others like it, have the advantage of paying for themselves incrementally, improving their methods and capabilities in the same way. Those offering suborbital jaunts won’t have to answer to taxpayers or budget committees. If Branson and Rutan and the others deliver a safe and peerless experience, the wealthy will thrust money at them, hand-over-fist doing us all a favor by recycling some of it into something useful and cool. (Like oxygen, water, food… too much accumulated anything becomes toxic.)

Some of us will also go too, through prizes and lotteries (and gifts to favorite authors?) Calling Fantasy Island!

And their next products will emerge in a matter of due course. ¬†Orbital hotels and – quicker than you now might expect – private moon landings. These missions will be of very little scientific value. ¬†But they will leverage technologies developed by NASA and others, transforming them into off-the-shelf tools and something that today’s NASA is ill-equipped AME_0003to do — actual, risk-taking human crewed expeditions. (All of it perhaps presaged by the Robert Heinlein novel¬†The Man Who Sold The Moon.)

In time, this will transform into own-your-own sub-orbital rocket kits, as I portray in an early chapter of EXISTENCE.  (See this portrayed via some cool images in the vivid preview-trailer.)

SpaceX and others are counting on winning contracts to deliver commercial and government payloads into orbit, predictably and reliably. This will soon include human crews for the Space Station. ¬†The Dragon capsule will not be optimized for paying private customers seeking a “yeehaw” experience. ¬†But I expect there will be some such, as well.

Way back in 1982 I headed a team at the California Space Institute that outlined an alternative space station design, using Space Shuttle External Tanks, that would have been soooooo sweet.¬† Just five launches would have led to a station larger than the present one and far more capable.¬† Ah,well.¬† The tanks are gone.¬† (But sample the wondrous possobilities with my short story: “Tank Farm Dynamo“!)

Still, some of the new inflatable structures and composites being developed at L’Garde as well as UCSD’s new Structural and Materials Engineering building may lead to new, commercial stations that offer hotel experiences in the sky.¬† And even though the moon is sterile scientifically and for physical wealth (and offers almost no benefits as a “way station”), it may (as said earlier) be enough of a tourist allure to propel us back to that sere, but romantic (if largely useless) destination.

== What about the Old Dream? Missions to Mars? ==

SpaceXOh, we will poke away at the big stuff.  Certainly the shift away from a return-to-the-moon boondoggle, which almost no scientist on Earth supported, was a step in the right direction.  And with private capitalists salivating over asteroids, it does look as if the choice to look that was was a correct one.

NASA will keep developing the technologies we’ll need for missions to asteroids, to Phobos (potentially one of the most valuable rocks in the Solar system), and eventually Mars.¬† We could afford to spend twice what we do and pick up the pace.¬† The payoffs – just for remembering we’re a scientific civilization – would be overwhelming.

screen_shot_2012-03-09_at_9_25_48_am-4f5a10c-intro-1Oh, and of course other nations than the self-centered US will be part of this mix, in ever-greater force.  In EXISTENCE I portray manned spaceflight getting a nationalist impetus when the Chinese start flexing their competence and muscle out there It could help propel interesting times.

Still I was asked about just human spaceflight in the near term.¬† And the near term to me looks commercial, private, bold, close-to-home, rather lavishly exclusive…

…but fun.

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A Sudden Burgeoning Into Space? Especially Amateur SETI!

The Exoplanet next door: Astronomers have discovered the lowest-mass planet yet orbiting a Sun-like star. But the even-more exciting news is that it orbits őĪ¬†Centauri¬†B, a member of the stellar system that is our Solar System‚Äôs nearest neighbour. Although nearly identical to Earth in mass, the planet is much closer to its star than Mercury is to the Sun, meaning that it is likely a scorched and barren rock. Nevertheless, its astronomical proximity to Earth will undoubtedly stir dreams of interstellar exploration, particularly as astronomers search őĪ¬†Centauri for more hospitable worlds.

A brown dwarf or a failed star? Astronomers find a truly lonely planet: a “homeless” wandering exoplanet without a star. ¬†The free-floating planet CFBDSIR J214947.2-040308.9 was discovered by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Array.

BepiColumbo: The European Space Agency’s new ‘flying fridge‘ mission to Mercury will require a refrigerator and huge radiator on a van-sized spacecraft orbiting the mysterious planet closest to the sun.. (Recall the “refrigerator laser” in my novel Sundiver? The hardest of hard sci fi.) The mission is named after the great Italian space expert Bepi Columbo whom I met a couple of times.

Contemplating a¬†New Date for the End of the Universe...Hank Campbell takes a fascinating look at the weird speedup/slowdown/speedup of (the current model of) the Universe. Consider this: Today’s model has our Big Bang cosmos first (1) expanding superluminally hyperfast in so-called “inflation”… then (2) slowing down because of intense gravity (when things were closer together… then (3) speeding up again because of dark energy. ¬† Will there come a point in “time” when we turn toward the fourth wall, give a cold stare at the audience of this funhouse simulation, and say to them: “You’re kidding, right? Who writes¬†this stuff?”

==SETI & the Fermi Paradox==

The asteroid belt in our solar system, located between Mars and Jupiter, is a region of millions of space rocks that sits near the ‚Äúsnow line,‚ÄĚ which marks the border of a cold region where volatile material such as water ice is far enough from the sun to remain condensed and not a gas. When Jupiter formed just beyond the snow line, its powerful gravity prevented nearby material inside its orbit from coalescing and building planets.¬† Instead, Jupiter‚Äôs influence caused the material to collide and break apart. These fragmented rocks settled into an asteroid belt around the sun, but not a belt so huge that it would relentlessly bombard small, inner worlds. This combination is calculated to be rare, in perhaps just 4% of solar systems. ¬†That rarity offers yet one more new, rather daunting candidate for the Fermi Paradox.¬†¬†

An excellent and rather cogent overview article in Astrobiology Magazine summarized the current status of thinking about a difficult problem – how to detect “leakage” radio from nearby advanced civilizations.

A core focus of the article is progress that is slowing being made in designing and planning the billion dollar “Square Kilometer Array” — a vast assortment of interferometry-linked dishes that will be set up primarily in South Africa, with other support arrays and Australia and South America.¬† It’s worth reading on that basis, alone.¬† But the added implications for SETI (the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) also get a fairly detailed appraisal.

I find it fascinating that the entire baseline assumption is attempting to eavesdrop on leakage. ¬†No talk of beacons or intentional attempts at communication. ¬†(SETI zealots have given up on finding vast, blaring-eager “tutorial beacons” of the sort once optimistically promised by Sagan and Drake, it is happenstance leakage that they now speak of searching for.) The article does mention – in passing – the possibility of “wow”-type pings, but without going into detail — e.g. that such pings might be deliberate, as advanced ETIS catalogue all the nearby worlds that have oxygen atmospheres and traces of life, then poke at them every century or so, as if to ask: “Is there anybody there yet? ¬†How about now?”

(Demonstrating the staggering economic advantages of that scenario for deliberate contact was a key point of the Benford-cubed paper.   

It would have been nice if the article had mentioned the amateur alternative that satisfies most of these new ways of viewing the sky search. The SETI League’s almost dormant Argus Project aimed to foster 5000 backyard-networked amateur ratio telescopes, allowing full-sky coverage to catch any future wow-pings. ¬†Alas, Argus has faded away till there is just one fully functional ¬†backyard station left.

In my opinion, a billionaire who wanted to trump Paul Allen would spend 10% as much as he did on the Allen Array, by funding the design and subsidized sale of a turn-key backyard Argus telescope kit. A couple of thousand of these, and we’d catch most transient major rafio phenomena, a tremendous boon to science… and a blow to all #$#! sneaky UFOs everywhere!

And now the amazing synchronicity-news. ¬†While I was signing my new novel at Comicon — a novel that includes mention of amateur sky searches — a fellow stepped up to show me pictures of his baby… the only SETI-League Argus backyard radio telescope still functioning. ¬†Retired engineer James Brown of Del Mar, CA, also known by his amateur radio call sign W6KYP.

How cool it would be if we got thousands of such dishes operating.  Networked so anything they spotted was instantly checked, then reported to the professionals with the big dishes.  That the way this show ought to go.

=== A sudden burgeoning into space? ===

The spaceflight firm Excalibur Almaz estimates that it can sell about 30 seats between 2015 and 2025, for $150 million each, aboard moon-bound missions on a Salyut-class space station driven by electric hall-effect thrusters. CEO Art Dula (who also runs the Heinlein Trust) estimates it will take 24 to 30 months to refurbish the ex-Soviet spacecraft and space stations the company already owns.

Interesting and hopeful.¬† Stack this news alongside the recent achievements of Elon Musk‚Äôs SpaceX and Burt Rutan‚Äôs work with Virgin Galactic on suborbital tourisms, plus glimmers of excitement from tech-eager billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Paul Allen, who have projects of their own. Is all of this happening because the technologies are finally ripening? ¬†Or because society is ready (at last) to shake off the doldrums of the Naughty Oughts?¬† Or… ¬† should we notice the common denominator here?¬† The clue in this news article… $150 million a ticket?

Gee wiz.  It’s not for nothing that, in my new novel, I portray spaceflight as a playground for the uber rich.

But, we may at last be ready to embark on the equivalent of the great age of barnstorming aircraft development in the 1920s.¬†If so, it will come about from a mix of government investment in meticulous process and detail‚ÄĒand the unleashing of private ambition.

==Space Snippets==

National Geographic online features a photo tour of coming manned space ventures, accompanied by commentary by NASA consultant David Brin.

A space elevator on the moon? LiftPort is pursuing initial steps of tethered towers and tether-climbing robots, with the long-term goal of placing an elevator on the moon by 2020.

Impressed with Curiosity?¬†¬† ¬†Well let’s recall that Spirit and Opportunity weren’t shabby either. ¬†Watch this cool video on how they got there. ¬†(I was on the committee that chose their names from submissions from school kids. ¬†very cool.)

Comet collisions every six seconds explains a long-standing stellar mystery.

Heh. Nifty. Yo-yos in space.

==Visualizing the Universe==

Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, by Michael Benson, is a stunning collection of interplanetary images.

Google has created a visualization of the 100,000 stars nearest to the solar system, based on actual astronomical data. You can zoom in all the way to the solar system to see how small Neptune’s orbit is relative to the Oort Cloud, or zoom right out to see how puny 100,000 stars is in just our quarter of the Milky Way galaxy. Intended for Chrome.

Watching a particularly beautiful movie of the sun helps show how the lines between science and art can sometimes blur. This NASA Goddard movie of solar photosphere gradients might as well have been signed by Vincent Van God.

The latest of many “powers of ten” online graphics … this one is way-cool.

Another source of gorgeous images: National Geographic’s Space Atlas: Mapping the Universe and Beyond.¬†¬†Okay then… signs of optimism and hope. ¬†Now let’s build a civilization that’s confident and science-friendly and eager and agile and ready to go out there!

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The Near Future of Manned Spaceflight

I’ve been feeling a bit inspired about our prospects in space, lately. ¬†Foremost (of course) by the incredible competence displayed by the makers of the Curiosity probe that landed on Mars, last week, and the JPL controllers and the citizenry that backed such a wonderful venture. ¬†If we must preen about “american exceptionalism” then let it be about Curiosity – and other admirable traits – that truly are exceptional. ¬†Also recently, I met one of the great astronauts of our time, Story Musgrave, at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, where another topic was the greatness displayed during pioneering days in space – in light of the passing of Neil Armstrong.

For a recent interview I was asked — Where is manned spaceflight headed in the near term?

First off, these responses are not given in my role as a member of the board of external experts for NASA’s NIAC program that grants seed funding for new and innovative advanced concepts. The comments that follow are off-the-cuff speculations about the longer range, in an area NIAC scarcely covers.

Having said that, let me add that I see two drivers and two paths ahead for human spaceflight, one slow and plodding, the other quick and exciting.  Both will be needed. Each will benefit from the other.

Ever since Challenger blew up, NASA’s meticulous approach to manned spaceflight has been to redouble caution. To fill in each missing step, then the sub-phases between each step. After Columbia, this fill-in-every-gap method has led to such flawless undertakings as the recent Curiosity lander’s spectacular (and spectacularly complicated) landing on Mars…

… but that was a robot.¬† When human lives are at stake, the process becomes so carefully mature that – in effect – nothing gets flown at all. At minimum, human-rating every component multiplies costs by as much as two orders of magnitude, in some cases. Let’s be plain. If today’s NASA constituted our only path to human spaceflight, countless thorny problems and sub-problems would be vanquished!¬† But nothing would ever actually fly with people aboard.

Fortunately, through this process NASA keeps developing new technologies.  So do the civilian world, foreign governments and the military.  These improvements trickle Рor gush Рand spread. New thresholds have been reached in computers and sensors, in equipment capability and reliability. And in plummeting hardware prices.

One result? We are ready for the dawn of a new era, one of private space ventures. And, fortunately, the politicians Рthose in power at-present Рseem perfectly ready to welcome non-state activity.  Instead of raising obstacles, they seem bent on clearing a path.

From the Rutan/Branson Spaceship to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, there are dozens of private manned and unmanned missions being planned. Some of them leverage upon the desire of the rising caste of super-rich for unusual experiences, starting with sub-orbital jaunts.¬† Plans are in motion to extend this market, leading downstream to space hotels and – eventually – private moon landings. Even more boldly entrepreneurial, the new Planetary Resources company plans to access the vast wealth of asteroids.

All of these things can be done now because technological thresholds are falling… and also because they can allow higher risk ratios, because private ventures aren’t answerable to the same levels of enforced care as public ones.¬† The cost effects of allowing lethal failure rates in the one-millionth probability – instead of one-billionth – is nothing short of astronomical.

== A New Barnstorming Age? ==

We may, at last be ready to embark on the equivalent of the the great age of barnstorming aircraft development, that our grandparents saw in the 1920s, when risk – and even some loss – was considered part and parcel of courage and exploration. When the new frontier was legitimate territory for tinkerers (albeit, today they would be billionaire tinkerers).

If so, it will have come about from a mix of government investment in meticulous process and checklisting a myriad details… meshing well with the unleashing of private ambition.

No example so perfectly disproves the idiotic canard that everything must be all-government… or else that all government action is evil and wholly uncreative.¬† We are a complex people in a complex age.¬† But we can rise above comforting nostrums to realize, a careful mix was how we got everything we see around us. A mix that is negotiated by goal-driven grownups — that is how we’ll get farther ahead.

== What are pros/cons of each approach? ==

The Branson/Rutan “Spaceship One” approach, and others like it, have the advantage of paying for themselves incrementally, improving their methods and capabilities in the same way. Those offering suborbital jaunts won’t have to answer to taxpayers or budget committees. If Branson and Rutan and the others deliver a safe and peerless experience, the new lords will thrust money at them, hand-over-fist (doing us all a favor by recycling some of it into useful and cool things.)

Some of us will also go, through prizes and lotteries (and gifts to favorite authors?) Calling Fantasy Island!

And their next products will emerge in a matter of due course. ¬†Orbital hotels and – quicker than you now might expect – private moon landings. These missions will be of very little scientific value. ¬†(The moon’s only likely use for a generation will be as a tourist attraction. ¬†There are no other near-term features of any value.)¬†But they will leverage technologies developed by NASA and others, transforming them into off-the-shelf tools and something that today’s NASA is ill-equipped to do — actual, risk-taking human crewed expeditions.

In time, this will transform into own-your-own sub-orbital rocket kits, as I depict Рwith pulse-pounding action! Р in an early chapter of Existence.  (See this portrayed in some early images in the vivid preview-trailer. )

SpaceX and others are counting on winning contracts to deliver commercial and government payloads into orbit, predictably and reliably. This will soon include human crews for the Space Station. ¬†The Dragon capsule will not be optimized for paying private customers seeking a “yeehaw” experience. ¬†But I expect there will be some such, as well.

Way back in 1982 I headed a team at the California Space Institute that outlined an alternative space station design, using Space Shuttle External Tanks, that would have been soooooo sweet.¬† Just five launches would have led to a station larger than the present one and far more capable.¬† Ah,well.¬† The tanks are gone.¬† (But sample it with my short story: “Tank Farm Dynamo“!)

Still, some of the new inflatable structures… and composites being developed at UCSD’s new Structural and Materials Engineering Building… may lead to new, commercial stations that offer hotel experiences in the sky.¬† And even though the moon is sterile scientifically and for physical wealth, it may (as said earlier) be enough of a tourist allure to propel us back to that sere (but romantic) destination.

== What about the Old Dream? Missions to Mars? ==

Oh, we will poke away at the big stuff.  Certainly the shift away from a return-to-the-moon boondoggle, which almost no scientist on Earth supported, was a step in the right direction.  And with private capitalists salivating over asteroids, it does look as if the choice was was a correct one.

NASA will keep developing the technologies we’ll need for missions to asteroids, to Phobos (potentially one of the most valuable rocks in the Solar system), and eventually Mars.¬† We could afford to spend twice what we do and pick up the pace.¬† The payoffs – just for remembering we’re a scientific civilization – would be overwhelming.

Oh, and of course other nations will be joining this mix, in ever-greater force.  In Existence, I portray manned spaceflight getting a nationalist impetus when the Chinese start flexing their competence and muscle out there. It could help propel interesting times.

Still I was asked about just human spaceflight in the near term.¬† And the near term to me looks commercial, private, bold, close-to-home, rather lavishly exclusive…

…but fun.

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Longevity and Life Extension

I was interviewed about the likelihood that human lifespan can be extended indefinitely, any time soon. ‚ÄúWhen Will Life Expectancy Reach 200 Years? Aubrey de Grey and David Brin Disagree in Inteview‚ÄĚ 

This is a topic I‚Äôve covered in my article,¬†Do We Really Want Immortality? Funny thing about these immortalist fellows.¬† Their calculations always seem to portray it happening in time to save them!¬† But in fact, the news from science seems to keep getting worse for them, not better… e.g. in recent insights into the vastly complex¬†inner computation abilities of human neurons.¬† It is a case where I‚Äôll be pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong.¬† But I feel grownups should focus on the guaranteed right bet… investing in our posterity.

To see how far back the fantasy goes, read about Gilgamesh and the Chinese First Emperor, who drank mercury in order to live forever… and died in his forties.¬† Or read the creepily familiar reasonings of very similar fanatics in Huxley‚Äôs brilliant (if slow) After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, a book that you find out on the very last page was actually a sci fi novel, all along!
This quasi-debate provoked a firestorm of controversy over on my Facebook page. One of my responses: I appreciate the enthusiasm of those urging me to BELIEVE(!) that tech-delivered eternal life is just around the bend. Indeed, I am told that BELIEVING(!) is essential to get there and that NOT believing might prevent it from happening. One fellow wrote:
“The power of your expectations is crucial. “

Um right. I get the same pitch from SETI zealots, who proclaim that detection of advanced alien civilizations will result in scientific leaps that may solve all our problems.

Now bear in mind that I am a scientist and sci fi author and I have explored concepts of both future and alien with far more eagerness, breadth and relentlessness that any hundred others you will ever meet. I want us funding ten times as much scientific research as now. I support SETI and have served on some of the commissions, and my name is on the first contact rolladexes. I know all the singularity guys and have listened to them for hours.

So why do I — and Vernor Vinge, the coiner of the term “tech singularity” react with sighs and eye-rolls to all this fervent “hossanah” shouting over salvation from above or an imminent Day of Transcendence, when Death shalt be no more and ye true believers will all be rewarded…

…because we’ve heard it all before. The terminology may be different, but the PSYCHOLOGY is still the same as in every tent show revival meeting across 6,000 years. It’s not just the substitution of anecdotes for actual capabilities. (Lots of stem cell papers, but not one regrown nervous system, yet.) Nor the coincidence that Salvation Day always calculates out to be just in time for YOU!

None of that offends me. Heckfire, I hope you guys turn out to be right. It might happen. I think simplistic notions are stymied by recent results showing how vastly complicated the internal processes of a neuron are — that the intracellular automata interactions and computations going on in there are FAR more complex than just unrolling an charting the incredibly simple and easy human genome……but sure. Let’s all hope. In fact, lots of stuff discovered along the way might be Earth-saving. Like cheap tissue culture meat. That’d be great

But no, I’ll tell you what bugs me. It’s the psychology. The incredibly self-centered, solipsistic, self-serving, “I-am Soooooo-darned-important!” narcissism of the fantasy is what bugs me. The hand-rubbing, chortling I-am-So-gonna-live-forever! zealotry that seems never to entail ANY of the virtues that we’ve long associated with adulthood.

Dig it, find me the extropian who understands how we stand on the shoulders of every generation of parents who tried to raise better kids than themselves, or who ever speaks about the beauty of that chain of pay-forward generosity, the most tragic-poetic tale ever told. Or the noble honor we’ll all have, even if we die, if we can only be one of the most important of the pay-forward generations. ALL I hear is paeans to how grand it will be to receive the end result. Never anything about the OBLIGATION that falls upon us, from that great chain.

I see the quest for individual immortality as kinda cool, tempting… and fundamentally *irrelevant* to the Great Project that I have inherited — that WE have inherited. To build and improve the Enlightenment Civilization of Ben Franklin and the others. To ensure we never slump back into darkness. To build something like Star Trek that deserves to move outward. To make kids who are better than us…

…so much better that THEY will have ideas about what’s wise and good and proper — wisdom that’s far beyond ours. (BTW, this is happening.) Building that posterity is a far greater challenge, yet one our ancestors were up to. It is a project that is far more noble, precedented and plausible than some grand leap to transcendent immortal suppersmart godhood. It is the project that should have YOUR loyalty. And if we happen to get some of the goodies while doing all that, well then fine.

=== Would Extended Life Bring Cowardice? ===

In a related¬†article, Seth Shostak, of the SETI Institute (and my frequent nemesis on the issue of METI), speculates that¬†living forever may be a bad idea: “Here’s the problem in a nutshell: if we extend human lifetimes a lot — to millennia, rather than centuries — all the small risks you heedlessly take every day will have a devastating cumulative impact. Most jobs will become unattractive, because just about any occupation becomes, eventually, a deadly occupation. We’ll automate nearly everything we can, and stay at home immersed in a virtual world.”¬†¬†

Sigh.¬† Seth is a smart fellow who often has interesting insights. Alas, he also keeps making broadly absurd declarations about what will automatically happen… Advanced aliens WILL do this&such!¬† They can only beam messages THIS way! If discussions about METI (sending messages to space) are opened up to a broad spectrum of sages and the public, the result will be a clamp of silence on Earth that will last… Forever!!!¬† Whatever just-so story enters his head — that is the way the universe operates, without exception.

In this case, the counter-examples are blatant.¬† Rich, healthy, long-lived folk are the principal source of participants in extreme sports, in thrill seeking hobbies and attempts to break world records. Will dynamic immortals, plagued by ennui, really sit and twiddle their thumbs, just because Seth Shostak decides ‚Äúlogically‚ÄĚ that they ought to?¬† Feh.

=== and Related Science Matters ===

A team from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow has developed a ‘pioneering’ lighting system that can¬†kill hospital superbugs such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile. The technology decontaminates the air and exposes surfaces by bathing them in a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths, known as HINS-light. It works by exciting molecules within the bacteria, which in turn produces ‘highly reactive’ chemical species that are lethal to it.¬†¬†(Hey, didn‚Äôt I predict something like this in EARTH?)

Forty years after federal laws criminalized the use of psychedelics for non-medical purposes in FDA-regulated psychological and drug research, the¬†study of these drugs is picking up again, and their use in treating certain patients shows promise. Researchers are finding that the drugs may help improve functioning and lift the spirits of those with cancer and other terminal diseases, as well help treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result, the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration have eased regulations and also given approval to researchers at Johns Hopkins University and New York University’s Langone Medical Center to study the use of psilocybin to treat death anxiety among cancer patients.

In the first comprehensive global survey of temperature trends in major lakes, NASA researchers determined Earth’s largest lakes have warmed during the past 25 years in response to climate change.¬†¬†ALSO‚Ķ The past 12 months have been the warmest ever recorded by NASA. Until now, the hottest year on record has been 1998, when temperatures were pushed up by a strong El Nino – a warming event in the Pacific. This year saw a weaker El Nino, and that fizzled out to be replaced by a La Nina cooling event. So scientists might have expected this year’s temperatures to be substantially lower than 1998 – but they are not. Within the bounds of statistical error, the two years are likely to be the same.

On April 8, the networking hardware that routes traffic on the Internet got new marching orders: Requests for data from 15% of Internet addresses-includingDell.com, Yahoo.com, Microsoft.com, and U.S. government sites-were directed to go through China.

Recently NASA quietly¬†moved its two long-grounded X-34 space planesfrom open storage at the space agency’s Dryden center – located on Edwards Air Force Base in California – to a test pilot school in the Mojave Desert. At the desert facility, the mid-’90s-vintage, robotic X-34s would be inspected to determine if they were capable of flying again. Provided they’re in flyable shape, it’s far more likely the space agency will make the X-34s available to private industry.

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What Will NASA Announce? And Other Wonders

The internet is abuzz about NASA’s coming¬†Big Announcement on Bioastronomy. (Thursday Dec.2 at 2pm EST.) Speculation abounds, much of it suggesting that there will be news aboutsigns of life on one of the 500+ exoplanets that have been discovered, outside our solar system.¬† 

Speaking as both an astronomer and a science fiction author… and as one who has long participated in these fields, having served on some of the relevant committees… I am most definitely interested and will be tuning in!¬† Still, I have to say that were this a matter for wagering, I would lean away from the trendy consensus.

For one thing, you can learn a lot just from the composition of Thursday’s panel:

Planned participants are:
–¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program, NASA HQ
–¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Felisa Wolfe-Simon, NASA astrobio research fellow, U.S. Geol. Survey
–¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Pamela Conrad, astrobiologist, Goddard Space Flight Center
–¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Steven Benner, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution
–¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†James Elser, professor, Arizona State University

Pause and consider. There are no exoplanetary astronomers. None. If there were new spectroscopic data about — say — exoplanetary atmosphere composition, wouldn’t there be an expert in that field?

Hence — and judging from the types of expertise represented — I would hazard to guess it may have to do with fresh discoveries in prebiotic and biotic chemistry. (One of the panel members has forecast imminent shortages of easily-mined free phosphorus on Earth. Will that be our next¬† resource crisis? See it described in my next novel — EXISTENCE.)

Of course, I could be out there, chivvying and pillorying my own contacts in the field.¬† I have plenty and would probably get the real deal, within hours.¬† But why spoil the suspense? Anyway, I want to stay on the “First Contact rolladex.”¬† That means not abusing privileges. So I’ll just tune in, like everybody else, and see!

Other Space News

One way to reduce launch costs:¬†manufacture parts in space. A new company, Made in Space, proposes launching 3-D printers into orbit and using them to manufacture parts for spacecraft (satellites or the space station) ‚Äď which would then be assembled in zero gravity. This would reduce the need to bring spare (plastic) parts. Broken pieces would be recycled as ‚Äėfeedstock‚Äô for rapid prototyping.¬† (I led the VERY FIRST pre-study of this general concept that was ever funded by NASA and the California Space Institute, back around 1984.)

Will we be able to grow crops on other planets to sustain human colonies? Scientists analyze soils on the Moon, Mars and Venus for potential agriculture.  Aeroonics is another possibility for soil-less agriculture.

Project Icarus
is a Tau Zero Foundation (TZF) initiative in collaboration with The British Interplanetary Society (BIS). Daedalus was a BIS project in the late 1970’s conducted over several years, to design an interstellar probe for a flyby mission to Barnards Star. Over three decades has now passed and it is an opportunity to revisit this unique design study.

Earlier this week my son and I stood in our backyard and observed the International Space Station crossing through the night sky¬† — an inspiring sight. If you want to know when and where to look, check Heavens Above for your geographic position. It tabulates the location of the ISS, and satellites, as well as any visible comets.

And  Science Fiction!

The 100 best movie spaceships.

How does Serenity compare to a TIE Interceptor, or Babylon 5 Station to a Klingon Transport vessel?  Starship Dimensions, an online museum of vessels inspired by science fiction, puts it all to scale, contrasting dimensions of starships to real-life vessels.

And Miscellaneous Cool Stuff

The idea that we are entitled a life of happiness is a relatively new one. Past generations were more likely to accept their lot in life ‚Äď with happiness a function of birth, bestowed by the fates or the gods, the reward for a virtuous life ‚Äď or even delayed til a glorious afterlife. We who are less patient, believe it is our due, and yet, in the bustle of modern life, few seem to attain it‚ĶSee¬†A History of Happiness.

Seems time for some inspiring songs!  Starting off, we went and saw Steve Martin and his bluegrass group perform this one in person, last month.  Second time it was done on their tour. Heh.

Daniel Radcliffe sings one of my old favorites, Tom Lehrer’s The Elements live on television. Now THAT is the way Harry Potter oughta be! A nerd who uses his brains as much a he does his ubermesch-demigod innate magical power!
In fact, if you’d like to see that fantasy (a brainy-nerdy Harry Potter, who fights for the Enlightenment and for the rest of us (!) see¬†“Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.” It’s an ongoing, web-published, not-for-profit (for obvious reasons) re-imagining of Dr. Rowling’s famed mythos… and it really is very, very very good.
Oh. Need anti-gravity or antimatter? How about immortality at $11 a gallon?

Fun abounds.

Only, next time… “Mr. Transparency” weighs in about¬†Wikileaks!

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