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Showing posts from June, 2010

Choosing A New Home For Humanity

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There five important factors for long term human space colonization:

Resources - humans need certain kinds of resources to survive and continue a technological civilization: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, silicon, metals. We also need energy: solar, nuclear, or geothermal.

Accessibility - this is what people often mean when you say "gravity well". How much energy does it cost to get there or leave there? Imagine you live on your own personal island. Sure, it's quiet and there's no neighbors to annoy you, but if you don't have fuel for your helicopter or a nice speedboat your economic sphere of influence will be significantly constrained.. much as we are down here on Earth.

Radiation Protection - also, down here on Earth, we have an atmosphere that protects us from the harsh solar and galactic cosmic radiation, but just about everywhere else in the solar system we're going to have to make do with a more substantial physical barrier - either thick metal p…

Lifeboat Politics

There's another approaching train wreck with the Orion Crew Rescue Vehicle, or "lifeboat" as it is starting to be called. For a start, Lockheed Martin is saying it will cost $4.5 billion to develop.. others are saying more like $6 billion and it won't be ready until 2013.. others are saying 2015. For comparison, that's 9 to 12 times as much as SpaceX has spent on everything that they have done. There's no word yet on how much each Orion Lifeboat will actually cost or what it will be launched on.

Orbital Sciences has smelled the blood in the water and is attacking. They think they can do it for cheaper.. no word on faster. Back in 2009, Elon Musk stood in front of the Augustine committee and suggested that his company SpaceX could deliver a lifeboat capability shortly after the first few cargo flights were completed.. that would most likely be early 2012. No price was given but it would most certainly be funded under COTS-D and that's only $300 milli…

Another Kind Of Shuttle Extension

To many advocates of extending the Space Shuttle, the most important thing is jobs. They'll tell you about how the crew at the United Space Alliance are doing such a fantastic job and it would be a shame to lose this national asset. Which is funny because, back in 2004 when the Shuttle retirement decision was made, we were told that the workforce is aging, retiring, and unable to get new blood.

However, a rare few who advocate Shuttle extension do so because they strongly appreciate the capability of the Shuttle, and cite Hubble servicing missions as the greatest demonstration of these. I, for one, think this capability can be better served by more cost effective means: building satellites so they are roboticly serviceable to begin with, or the robotic/manned options for Dragon presented by Max Vozoff in March.

But it is interesting to think about how one might utilize the orbiters once they retire. The current plans are to ship them to museums and stare at them in wonder.. th…

And Now Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin has been interviewed on his Space Czar commandments and found to support the myth of The Gap.

"Meanwhile, I also very strongly suggest that instead of retiring the shuttles [in late 2010] and buying rides with the Russians for five, six, or seven years to get to our $100 billion space station, a highly undesirable situation, we stretch out the flights of the five remaining shuttle orbiters to 2015."

Five remaining shuttle orbiters? Really?

I simply don't get why people are so set on framing the debate of Shuttle extension as an alternative to buying seats on the Soyuz. As has been said before: the problem isn't boldly going, it is boldly staying. The Shuttle can't do that with its 14 day on-orbit endurance. So even if you keep flying the Shuttle you're still going to have to buy a couple of Soyuz every 6 months to use as lifeboats.. or wait for Orion CRV to be ready.. should be around 2015.

I thought Buzz got this and he was only advocating for…

The Gap Myth

Clara Moskowitz has published an article that tries to dispel a half dozen myths about the new space policy. Rand Simberg published an article back in May which tried to do the same. Whenever I read these articles I tend to see more myth usage than busting. As I've tried to articulate before, there's a lot of misunderstanding of the so-called "Gap" which neither of these articles bust.

No discussion of Shuttle retirement makes sense if you don't mention two important things:

The Soyuz has always been the vehicle used to rotate crews to the ISS as it has to act as a lifeboat - something the Shuttle can't do with it's 14 day on-orbit endurance.
Ares I/Orion was supposed to be ready when the expedition crew size went from 2 to 6. It was clear it wasn't going to be, so NASA bought more seats on Soyuz which upped the required production of Soyuz, which increased the average price per seat.
It should be clear, the myth here is that The Gap has much to do w…

Russian Failure

Sen John Glenn (ret) recently made a very well written, very in-depth statement about space policy. Compared to what other retired astronauts have been saying or suggesting, Glenn sounds outright prescient. I would like to address just one part of Glenn's statement.

Russian Failure: And what happens if there is a failure of the usually reliable Soyuz? Just a couple of years ago, they had two reentry mishaps that took them over normal G limits and some 400 miles from their intended landing point. A grounded Soyuz would leave us with no access to the ISS. I presume the crew on board would have to come down by the so-called "lifeboat" Soyuz currently docked at the ISS. With no access, could the station even be abandoned, eventually to reenter the atmosphere in uncontrolled pieces, landing wherever?

I find this very poor thought out and, compared to the rest of the statement, that is strange. As Glenn says earlier "The Shuttle first flew in late 1981 with its greatly …

Artificial General Intelligence

For a period in 2008 I was working on the OpenCog project. I left the project due to the lack of engineering competency and leadership displayed by the group (not to mention a few personality clashes), but I still think the work of Dr Ben Goertzel, that we were trying to implement, is fundamentally sound. I do, however, wonder how many people actually get what it is all about. There's so many buzzwords and excessive focus on statistics and logic and all those messy details that I think the underlying simplicity of the mechanism isn't being communicated. So here's my attempt.

The primary distinction between AGI and more "specialized" AI is the idea that the system should be able to solve problems which are not necessarily formally specified. And this is so important that I'm going to give an example.

You are a farmer taking his dog, a chicken and a sack of grain to market and you come across a river. The only way across the river is by a small boat, which …

Why Human Spaceflight?

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If you're a space geek like me you've probably had people ask you why we're "wasting money in space", and typically just like that, in the most impolite way possible.The JustificationsSpinoffsMost people who ask this question are not talking about unmanned spaceflight. It seems that "science" is more than enough justification for just about any planetary probe, earth monitoring satellite or Mars rover, but human spaceflight is astronauts playing around on the taxpayer's dime. Because of this, I often hear NASA trying to link human spaceflight to science. We're told astronauts on the International Space Station are doing important scientific work, in particular biological study into zero-g protein crystal growth that will lead to cures for fatal diseases, or something. We're supposed to imagine astronauts with (space) test tubes and (space) microscopes floating around doing Important Work which makes the billions and billions of dollars, …

ISDC Tweets

This year I attended ISDC in Chicago. I suffered with the US food and the jetlag, but overall it was an enjoyable experience. My tweets of the event can be broken up into a few categories, note that the times are not Chicago timezone :)

Airports / Jetlag

@jeff_foust I got put on the standby list for the first time ever yesterday. #unitedairlines 10:02 PM May 27th via web

I actually managed to get about 8 hours sleep tonight.. yah jetlag! #isdc 11:03 PM May 29th via web

@dmasten this trip was my first experience of standby. less painful than I would have thought. 12:06 AM Jun 1st via mobile web

@n3ckf who are these mythical people who dont show up to their flight requiring the airline to overbook? 12:58 AM Jun 1st via mobile web

I am on the last leg of my epic voyage home. seems kinda fitting to watch Ulysses 31 eps all the way. 10:10 AM Jun 3rd via mobile web

Dennys / WiFi

Woohoo.. at Dennys. Bless free wifi. ISDC registration in an hour or so. 9:38 PM May 27th via web

@bencredible @c…

SpaceX to vertical land the Dragon

I had heard on various blogs that Elon Musk mentioned the integration
of the launch escape system into the Dragon capsule again on the
teleconference. I had heard that he even mentioned that using those
same engines the Dragon could one day land like Soyuz does... on land.

But only today did I actually hear what he said myself, and I think
he said a lot more than was reported.

The Falcon 9 flight 1 teleconference [some weird echo at the beginning]

36m34s in:

"Really the significant development item is the launch escape system. I think we've got a very exciting architecture, a new architecture, that hasn't been done before for a launch escape system - which is to build the launch escape engines into the side wall of the capsule. So instead of having sort of this tractor tower that gets discarded about half way through launch, you have these built-in escape engines that are always with you all the way through orbit. And so you have launch escape for a much longer period of…