Archive for the ‘space exploitation’ Category

Units. Of measure


Meters and liters, inches and feet.  Ounces, quarts, gallons.  Kilometers per second.  Light second, light minute, light hour, light year.  Terabyte, barrel, kilowatt, hands, stone, the things we measure have changed along with the way we measure things.  Learning the metric system is only a start, because our immediate neighborhood is only a few light hours across.

Mars averages about 12 light minutes from Earth, while the Earth is only about 8 light minutes from the Sun.  Light travels about 300,000 kilometers per second, so, unlike the Sun, Mars can be anywhere from 3 something light minutes away to about 22 light minutes.  Sometimes, a radio beep would take nearly an hour to go to Jupiter.

On Earth, everything is only a fraction of a light second away, but even the Moon is nearly a light second away.  To get into space, we have to get going about 7 kilometers per second, after we get above most of the atmosphere.  Space is only a about 100 kilometers from wherever you are right now, but the atmosphere gets very thin only a few kilometers up.  And space is big.  Really, really big.


Strength through knowledge, not arms


President Trump has been talking about spending a bunch more money on the military, supposedly to make the U.S. safer.  But the military cannot make us safer, they only can provide the means to retaliate for any acts of terrorism.  What can make us safer is technology, technology to detect threats and identify the people behind them.

A big part of the justification for increasing military spending is to insure that the high-tech companies that are essential to the military are kept in business.  But these companies are also the ones which make possible our exploration of space.  By spending money on space technology instead of on the military, we can support the development of new technologies as well as keeping the industrial side of the military-industrial complex healthy.  Many of the military’s weapon systems have been impacted by developments resulting from space exploration.

Aircraft carriers, tanks, and airplanes will not protect us against acts of terror.  Spending more on the military will not make us safer.  Spending on space exploration promotes the development of new technologies, while at the same time providing business to companies involved in defense.  The microprocessor was a spin-off from the space program which has affected every aspect of our lives.  Spending on space is a far better investment than spending on the military.

Keeping the sky from falling


Most people seem to have little interest in space.  They perhaps believe that nothing that goes on off-planet will affect them.  Yet, it has been shown that rocks falling on Earth can affect us.  Most recently, a city in Russia, Chelyabinsk Oblast, was nearly hit by a meteor large enough to destroy a building, and the shock waves damaged hundreds of buildings.  There are geological remains of impact craters kilometers across, and photographs of the results of a meteor blast which leveled trees for kilometers around.

Detecting these rocks from here on Earth can be very difficult, because they are dark and do not reflect very much light.  Also, some of them spend most of their time between the Earth and the Sun, so they are nearly impossible to see.  Back in the early 1990’s, a rock over a kilometer across passed between the Earth and  the Moon, and no one knew it was there until it was between the Earth and the Moon.  A rock that size would destroy an entire region, and could potentially cause extreme weather which would make life on Earth very difficult.  An impact of a similar size 65 million years ago is almost certainly what ended the long reign of the dinosaurs.

From outer space, rocks are much easier to detect, because they reflect some of the thermal energy of the Sun.  A satellite close to the orbit of Venus would be able to detect any large rocks with orbits near the Earth’s, and could also detect any intruders from the outer Solar System.  A few hundred million dollars for such a satellite does not seem too expensive to insure that we do not get blind-sided by a big rock.


Making America great again


Alright, Mr. Trump, let us make America great again, but without breaking agreements, or shutting people out, let us do it by investing in ourselves.  Help us find a way to get the people you know so well to put money back into the system.  There is more than enough wealth to make things good again, if we can spend it right.  One way proven to pay off is to invest in high technology.

Give us something that we can be proud of again.  Give us a goal to strive for, something to lift our eyes from the daily tedium.  Give our children dreams by making wonderful things happen today.  Put the incredible potential of this country to work accomplishing something that will benefit the entire human race.  The cost will be insignificant compared to what must be spent to fix our roads and bridges.

The manned space program has been the most inspirational effort any nation has ever undertaken.  We need to be inspired again, to believe in the future again.  There is a better way to get into space, and we should develop it.  We already have proven that a spacecraft can fly back to Earth and land like an airplane.  Now we have to learn how to leave for space like an airplane; horizontally.  A small fraction of our national budget devoted to creating access to space that is safe, reliable, and affordable would be an investment that would begin paying off immediately.

Not A Space Administration


The United States does not have an agency whose sole purpose is to oversee the exploration of space.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is primarily an Earth-sciences agency, providing data on the planet from satellites.  Space exploration makes up only a fraction of its budget, contrary to what some critics have maintained.

The Earth exists in space, orbiting a small star we call the Sun, receiving most of its energy from that star, and protected from disaster by a thin film of atmosphere.  Objects come out of the sky, as we have seen, and we cannot see everything that is out there from where we are.  Currently, the U.S. is relying on our close friends, the Russians, to let us hitch rides to the nice space station that we helped them build.  There is no firm date on when this state of affairs is going to change, but something tells me that it will change.

We are relying on private industry to invest in a still very dangerous, expensive, and challenging enterprise, and to spend enough that we can maintain our access to space.  Launching satellites is a potentially profitable venture, and money has been made in sending up small payloads.  Beyond that, there is only uncertainty, as rockets large enough to put people in space are still not in production, and the reliability of rockets that have only flown a few times is largely a gamble.

The United States is investing less than a billion dollars a year on space exploration development; the design of new launch vehicles, the testing of new Thermal Protection Systems, the advancement of the flying-to-a-landing kind of return, and ways to improve the safety and reliability of putting people into space are all competing with  each other for the few dollars available.  And probes to other planets are coming out of that same budget, which reduces the funds that can be used on developing new launch systems.  Ones that don’t rely on the remaining shuttle engines, or Russian engines, ones that don’t take off straight up, instead using a launching rail to help get the aircraft carrying the spacecraft off the ground.

We need a space agency where the leaders listen to the engineers, instead of ignoring them, as they did during the Challenger disaster and the loss of the Columbia.  Both of those shameful incidents could have been prevented, and neither was a result of any failure of the shuttle vehicle design.  Manned space exploration is still too big of a project to expect private industry to be able to properly pursue.  Development of reusable, safe, economical space transportation to and from earth orbit is the biggest obstacle to the next industrial revolution.  We need an agency focused on space flight, on putting people where the frontier is.  We need something better than ‘Not A Space Agency’.

Some other way


The explosion of the Space X rocket on the pad in Florida brings back to the fore the question of how to put humans into space.  The rocket that blew up during a pre-flight procedure was a proven launcher, having a number of successful launches.  Yet, the concentration of energy required for vertical launching makes the machines extremely sensitive to flaws or errors.

This is of little consequence when dealing with cargo, but for human payloads, the risks are considerable.  Launch vehicle failure can occur without notice, and any kind of an abort after lift-off will result in the complete loss of the vehicle.  Conditions must be as close to perfect as possible before a launch will be attempted, and the slightest discrepancy can bring about a scrub.

Taking off like an aircraft allows for many abort points without losing the whole vehicle, all the way through the launch. Takeoff can be refused, and the orbiter can separate from the carrier wing and return to the launch site, or abort to orbit.  Avoiding the performance requirements that vertical launching puts on launch vehicles should be first and foremost in designing a manned launch system.

By lifting the launch pad to 50,000 feet, we can allow our spaceship to use all of the energy stored aboard for gaining speed, instead of wasting much of it fighting gravity’s pull while deep in the atmosphere.  At no point do we have to use all-or-nothing strategies: losing an engine on the way to orbit should not mean catastrophe, just a longer climb.  We want reliability, not ultimate performance, when we are putting people into space.

Will we be forgotten?


Sometimes, I think that we have gone overboard with protecting the individual at the detriment of the country.  And by individual, I am referring to the landed gentry, the .01 percent of the population, who hold nearly all of the wealth.  We subsidize their enterprises, and guard them with our military.  We refrain from taxing them the portion of their income which they cannot spend in a year, claiming that such action will prevent ‘job creation’.  By withholding their wealth from being spent on goods and services, they weigh down the economy, destroying jobs by keeping so much capital out of the market.

The group, the community, society, everybody is hurt by these individuals behavior.  They create wealth only to take it away from those who do the actual work of creation.  They claim they must make a profit on their investments, but they take every single penny.  Wages should have risen until the average wage was about $17.00 an hour.  Not the minimum wage, but the average wage.  If wages had been allowed to grow naturally, minimum wage would still be about $2.50 an hour, but no one would be working for that wage.  Labor would be valued as part of the capital of the firm, not a resource to be exploited.

Placing the individual above the community invites abuse by those who believe that they are superior to others, while threatening the long-term survival of the community.  The individual will die, but the community might survive.  If everyone contributes to that survival, instead of trying to enrich themselves at others expense.  Taking more than sustainable profit is the reason a number of major corporations have suddenly disappeared.  We have to share, or everything anyone has done is going to be forgotten, lost, gradually worn away.


Corporate welfare


How do you keep vital defense contractors healthy without spending billions and billions on weapons systems?  One way, at least for the majority of advanced technology companies, would be to spend money on space exploration.  That is about the only field where high tech outfits can actually use their engineers, technicians, and tool makers.  Spending ten or fifteen billion dollars a year on aerospace, deep sea, and electronics research and development would go a long way toward keeping Boeing, General Dynamics, and a bunch of other companies you have never heard of working, paying employees, and ready to build things.

Instead of building a new jet fighter to replace totally adequate aircraft, we could spend some of those billions in the ocean, mapping the sea floor, seeing what most of the planet looks like, and creating new industries.  What has been spent on the F-35 so far would have built a permanent base on the Earth’s moon, with some left over.  Not all defense spending is wasted, though.  A long, dangerous, but eventually successful program developed a totally new kind of aircraft, the tilt-rotor, which has tremendous potential for search and rescue work, relief operations, and recreation.  The United States has never spent money on space exploration in large amounts, except for the few years in the 1960’s when we were getting ready to go to the Moon.  The need for corporate welfare is difficult to deny, but at least we could use projects which benefit our culture,  and advance our knowledge.

Why I hate Richard Nixon


There are many reasons to dislike Richard Melhouse Nixon.  But I don’t hate him for stealing Social Security funds to pay for the police action in Vietnam, even though that inspired presidents following him to do the same, causing the problems with the program we now face.  And I don’t hate Nixon for ramping up the involvement by the U.S. in a backwater nation like Vietnam, leading to the deaths of over 50,000 Americans.  And I don’t hate Nixon for the Watergate fiasco, and the damage to the presidency it caused.

No, the reason that I hate Nixon is because he destroyed the United States manned space exploration program.  As early as 1967, engineers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration were contemplating building a reusable spacecraft.  They had come up with a vehicle which would be completely reusable, much safer to fly than the rockets being used by the Apollo program, and capable of landing on a runway.  It was fairly small, meant only for taking people into space and bringing them back.  But it would totally transform manned space exploration, by eliminating the vertical take-offs that were so dangerous.

Instead of using a rocket to lift the spacecraft, the engineers wanted to use a wing, which would be piloted, and which would fly back to the launch site and land.  The wing would carry the spacecraft to an altitude of about 40,000 feet, where the spacecraft would light up its rockets and fly off the back of the wing.  The spacecraft would fly up to about 180 miles above the Earth, and then meet a cargo ship that had been launched previously.  Only cargo would be launched straight up on rockets, people would fly into space on wings.

Then Richard M. Nixon decided that the space program was too expensive, and he told NASA that it could only have one type of launch vehicle.  Public sentiment had become very negative about throwing away a big rocket every mission, so NASA decided to use the concept that the engineers had been developing, but increase its size.  Then, NASA found out that the National Reconnaissance Office wanted to put satellites the size of boxcars in orbit, which meant that the spacecraft would have to be much bigger.  Using a wing to launch such a large spacecraft was impossible, so they would have to continue using rockets taking off straight up.

This is how the strange looking space shuttle came about, and why it was so expensive to use.  Even though the engineers made the shuttle work, it was still very fragile.  Management refusing to listen to the engineers resulted in two space shuttles, and their crews, being lost.  If Nixon had not been so obsessed with winning in Vietnam, we might have had a space vehicle which would have been inexpensive to use, and which would have been ready early enough to capitalize on the Moon landings.

Tricky Dick WAS a crook, and the biggest thing that he stole was the future of the American manned space program.  Thanks to him, we got stuck in Low Earth Orbit.   Thanks to Nixon, we lost our sense of direction in space, which has led to the complete inability to launch people into orbit.  Tricky Dick set us back at least 50, and maybe as much as 100 years.  That is why I hate Richard M. Nixon.

Waterworld we is


Seeing as we are land animals, it is no surprise that our planet got christened “Earth” or “Terra”.  But, considering that 3/4’s of the surface of our planet is covered in water,  “Ocean” might be a better name.  And we still know very little of what is under all that water.  When we lose things in the ocean, they often are very difficult to find.  A good case in point is the wreckage of Flight 370, the airliner that was apparently hijacked, and then left on autopilot to fly until it ran out of fuel.  Merely by coincidence, a satellite system was communicating with the aircraft, and the records of that conversation proved that the plane flew out into the vastness of the southern Indian Ocean.

Finding pieces of an aircraft that broke up when it hit the water is an extremely difficult task, and this search is made harder by the lack of precise tracking data.  Adding to the problem is the depth of the water in the search area; 2 or more kilometers at the least, so deep that light does not penetrate.  Only with remote sensors can we examine the ocean floor, and we have no maps of the ocean bottom to work with.  Mapping the ocean floor all over the world would tell us a great deal about the planet we live on, and would not require a lot of resources.  The search is generating high-precision sonar maps of the area the plane is believed to have crashed in, but we are still examining hundreds of square kilometers.

The loss of Flight 370 has renewed calls for a world-wide satellite system to monitor the paths of aircraft and ships.  In an era when hijacking and piracy are not unknown, we could benefit immensely by insuring that we keep track of what is traveling over or on the oceans.  A satellite beacon allowed a young woman to be rescued from an area in the southern Indian Ocean as remote as the area Flight 370 is believed to have crashed in.  Similar technology would have pinpointed the location of crash, as well as informing Air Traffic Control where the aircraft actually was when it disappeared off of radar.