Showing posts from January, 2011

Space Colonization As The Savior Of Progress

The idea of Progress, as defined by J. B. Bury, proclaims that "civilization has moved, is moving, and will move in a desirable direction". Ever since the 1960s the belief in Progress has been waning and some would say that it has been completely lost to the current generation. Going beyond Bury's definition, Taylor E. Dark III provides three mutually reinforcing and interlocking premises:

1. NO LIMITS. There are no fundamental limits – nor should there be – on the collective human capacity to grow, no matter how growth is defined (which may be in terms of knowledge, wealth, power, population, or morality). Progress is endless (or at least indefinite for all practical purposes).

2. ALL GOOD THINGS GO TOGETHER. Advancements in science and technology, and the resulting mastery over nature, expand our knowledge, wealth, and power, and, in so doing, bring improvements in the moral, political, and spiritual character of the human race. The elements of progress are linked …

The Easy Way To The Moon

I recently described how to fly to the Moon solo using SpaceX hardware. Someone asked me why I worked out an Apollo 8 style flight and didn't just do a simple free return trajectory.. after all, it's a lot easier - and that's actually the reason - it's too dog gone easy. In order to make this interesting I decided to try to think of the easiest way to do a free return trajectory. Preferably, we'd like to use an unmodified spacecraft and launch vehicle and not have to develop any other hardware.

For a start, let's forget this whole idea of an Earth Departure Stage - we'll just throw the Dragon spacecraft to lunar orbit. This sure is simple, but it only gives us 2585 kg to work with. This prompts the question, exactly what is the mass of an unladen Dragon.. yeah, yeah, I know - African or European?

Looking at the Falcon 9 Users Guide we find that it can throw 9358 kg to 51.6ยบ with an altitude of 400 km. SpaceX will happily tell you that the Dragon can …

Two Game Changing Technologies

The Gravity Loading Countermeasure Skinsuit (yes, that's Richard Garriott) and Mini-Magnetosphere Radiation Shielding are two technologies which, if successful, will change the way you think about space exploration and eventually even colonization. They address the two fundamental stumbling blocks of long term missions in space: the negative health affects of zero-g and radiation exposure.

Zero-G Skinsuits exert a force on the wearer's body which duplicates the loading on the skeleton that gravity usually provides. The expectation is that Skinsuits will reduce or eliminate the deleterious bone loss that astronauts currently experience in zero-g. So far, the prototypes have only been tested on parabolic flights, although they are similar to the Russian penguin suits which were used by cosmonauts on MIR (unfortunately with little to no reported results - as is typical of Russian space medicine).

Should Skinsuits turn out to be effective at eliminating bone loss, and possibly…

UFO Evidence (or the lack thereof)

"I was on the beach, at the water's edge and looked to the west to see a beautiful, bright moon. Except it wasn't the moon! It was a bright light moving slowly east, towards me and surrounded by a swirling mist. The mist rotated clockwise around the bright, white light and followed it perfectly."

Harry saw something strange in the sky, so he grabbed his video camera and put it up on youtube. It's a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and plenty of other people do the same. You could say it's a defining feature of the society we now live in. Most of us walk around with a camera in our pocket. Many of us whip out our camera phones to take a picture of anything interesting, funny, or even just to later post on Facebook to show that we're out having a fun time.

As it turns out, this particular UFO was quickly identified as the second stage of the first Falcon 9 flight, spinning uncontrolled despite valiant efforts by the thrusters to correct the spin. It…

How The Politicians Think

If you have one of these, turn it off now

It's almost funny whenever a member of Congress opens their mouth and says something about NASA. Thankfully I don't pull my hair out or I'd be bald by now, it's just that funny. Here's a quick list of things I have to remember to make sense of US space policy.

"Heavy Lift" means super heavy lift. Whenever a politician says "heavy lift", or just about anyone talking about space policy, they mean a vehicle that can lift more than 50 tons to LEO. Actually, they almost always mean a Saturn class vehicle.. and in many cases they actually just mean the Saturn V. When someone who actually works in the space industry says "heavy lift" they mean heavy lift - a vehicle that can lift more than 20 tons to LEO but less than 50 tons. And they almost always are talking about actual vehicles that you can place an order for right now.

The workforce is precious, and capable and vital, except for when they're a…

Mars Direct Without Super Heavy Lift

For a decade or two now the proponents of Bob Zubrin's Mars Direct have been bemoaning the lack of super heavy lift (any vehicle that can lift more than 50 ton to LEO). While few advocates claim a heavy lift launch vehicle is the only component of the Mars Direct plan which is missing, most consider it a necessary prerequisite.

Before I tell you why I think that's simply wrong, let's just make a quick list of all the other things we still need: decent life support, space suits for Mars, rovers that run on methane/LOX, the ISRU propellant production system, bigger entry/descent/landing systems than have ever been flown, portable field equipment for the science mission, artificial gravity generation, and the habitat itself. Oh yeah, and a space rated nuclear reactor.

The beautiful innovation of the Mars Direct plan was the use of the Mars atmosphere to produce the return propellant so it doesn't need to be carried all the way from Earth. Without this simple idea the si…