The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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Applications open for Mars One, the first human space colony | Ars Technica

Artists conception of the Block II Space Launch System (SLS). By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Want to travel to space and live on Mars? Are you willing to make that ticket one-way only? Ars Technica is reporting that  applications are open for Mars One, the first human space colony:

Mars One—the private space project that plans to be the first to send humans to Mars and leave them there—officially opened its virtual doors to would-be Mars residents, per a press release and press conference Monday. Today is the first day anyone who has ever thought it might be neat to put on a helmet and see Earth from outside its atmosphere can submit an application to be considered for the first permanent human colony on Mars. The Mars One foundation reports it has received 10,000 messages of interest about the program prior to this point. We’ll soon see how many of those translate to applications.

The Mars One project was started by Bas Lansdorp, a Dutch entrepreneur, with the goal of setting up a small human-inhabited outpost on Mars. The tentative schedule has supplies landing on the red planet in 2016 and the settlers in 2023.

Whoa. If you need a sign that commercial spaceflight is on the verge of a huge new era, look no further than this ambitious declaration.

The major hurdle is getting the mass up there. Climbing out of Earth’s gravity well takes up lots of energy, and that translates to high costs per kilogram of payload. Moreover, currently available launch systems simply do not have the capacity to launch enough at one time for large-scale missions to be practical. However,  With NASA’s Space Launch System (70 MT to LEO) and private heavy-lift launch vehicles like Space X’s Falcon Heavy (53 MT to LEO) coming online soon, long-range / long-duration missions (as well as space settlement) get much closer to being reality.

Ideally, we would want to reduce the material we launch from Earth as much as possible. Taking advantage of in-space resources, such as commercial asteroid mining, will be the key to establishing a long term space economy. That will require essential infrastructure, such as energy generation and orbital processing and construction facilities, to be put into place first. The Mars One project clearly doesn’t plan to wait around for such infrastructure though. In this case, the mission seems focused on a proof-of-concept to inspire blaze the trail.

With all of these private plans to forge ahead out into the black, it worries me that the policy side of the discourse seems to be severely lacking. Mired and gridlocked even with the basic problems of today, it does not seem as though our Congress is prepared, knowledgeable, or open-minded enough to even consider the basic questions at stake. As of now, there are few if any laws or legal precedents governing human and corporate conduct in space. Even more basic, no one seems to know who even has the right or authority to make such laws. It would be a shame, even dangerous for the future of the species, to allow unregulated expansion into the solar system.

  • Who has authority and jurisdiction over space?
  • How does one claim property in space? Can a private corporation simply land and claim a whole moon for example?
  • How will laws be enforced, assuming they exist?
  • Do international rules and identities apply in space?
  • How will the immense resources of space and the solar system be distributed, taxed, and/or appropriated?
  • Do people, especially workers, have rights in space?
  • Can corporations and private citizens declare war on each other for resources?

Space could be the next Wild West, only orders of magnitude more lawless and destructive to natural systems. If we are not careful, the bold dreams of colonizing the solar system and expanding humanity into the stars could quickly become tainted by exploitation, corruption, and greed. The action is happening already, whether we are ready for it or not — and we must engage with the issue now, at the outset.



Creative Engineering

“We believe that technology plus creativity equals art and innovation.”

– Adam Sadowsky.

Neat talk by Sadowsky at Google ZeitGeist on some of the crazily creative engineering projects that they have put together recently. Who says science and engineering folks don’t have an artistic side?

And I actually have an indirect connection to the work these guys do… A few of my former colleagues at NASA Dryden competed as Team Aerospace on the show Unchained Reactions: Fire and Ice. I was actually originally on the team as well, but couldn’t make the filming dates due to the fact that a play I was acting in was opening that weekend!

Anyway, their innovative ideas got noticed by others, and they’ve been working with Brett Doar (the guy doing the demonstration at the end of this video) on some upcoming big-budget ads (which they can’t tell us about yet).



Stop Building Bombs and Start Building Starships

ikenbot:

Stop Building Bombs and Start Building Starships

Side Note: To go where no human has gone before.. this may come off as a lengthy read but I would definitely recommend it to any follower who is either into futurism or at least has an interest in where our future ought to head. Scientific American guest blogger Steven P. discusses how science and our ever developing technologies can really take us into an age of space exploration. So give it a read or save it on the blog for later, I definitely enjoyed it myself. But then again I’m always up for some interstellar space travel.

Illustration: ‘The Fleet Advances’ by newcmd001

by Steven Ross Pomeroy

In 1969, a great shadow was cast over the United States. That shadow, however, was not one of gloom. Instead of evoking the absence of light, this shadow caused us to look up in wonder at the brightness that created it. When the Saturn V Rocket propelling Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins dashed across the blue, cloud-splotched sky, we did not see a dark present. We glimpsed a bright future.

Elsewhere, however, truly ominous shadows were cast by rockets which never saw the sun. Nestled in silos and buried beneath barren landscapes, “Minuteman” missiles meant not to uplift man, but to deliver the end of man, shrouded much of our world in trepidation.

These two rockets, with two very distinct purposes, bring into focus a problem that has long plagued our nation. We spend far too much money on war, and not enough on science.

Considering that we are nearing the ominously titled “fiscal cliff” — a series of government spending cuts and tax increases that will automatically take effect if Congress and the President do not act to stop it — we have a unique opportunity to review Federal spending and ensure that we are investing our time and wealth to their most productive ends.

I argue that such a review – if guided by reason – would reveal that defense spending should be reduced in order to make way for a world-changing commitment to science and technology, a bold move that will put both the United States and the world on a path to a bright future.

As it stands today, the United States is clearly over militarized. Defense spending in 2011 was estimated at $711 Billion. That’s equal to the combined budgets of the next fourteen top-spending countries, over half of whom are strong U.S. allies. Moreover, a 2011 Government Accountability Office audit of defense spending found that a combined $70 billion was wasted in 2010 and 2009.

This over-the-top spending is indicative of a military-industrial-complex run amok, precisely the scenario that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, perhaps the most revered military commander of the 20th century, warned against in his farewell address. “Together, we must learn how to compose differences not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose,” he avowed.

I can think of no better way to fulfill Eisenhower’s vision than through the pursuit of science.

By intelligently, purposefully, and gradually drawing down the defense budget from 4.7% to 3.0% of GDP (from $709 to $453 billion), and diverting some of those funds to meaningful science projects of both national and global significance, the United States can accomplish the essential goal of protecting its citizens, while simultaneously making the world a safer, healthier place and reinvigorating our economy.

We can begin the funding transition at home by re-committing ourselves to NASA. If we double the space agency’s budget (currently at $17.8 billion), our space accomplishments in ten years will dwarf even the monumental success of this summer, when the Curiosity rover landed on Mars.

We can complete the James Webb Space Telescope, allowing us to peer farther into the Universe than ever before. We can go to Mars by the end of the decade, a mission which astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson insists “would reboot America’s capacity to innovate as no other force in society can.” And with the recent news that warp drive may be more feasible than originally thought, we can focus on researching and eventually engineering interstellar starships that could one day take humans to Gliese 581 g — a potentially habitable Earth-like planet — in a mere two years. Along the way we could solve a myriad of other problems, writes Space.com’s Clara Moskowitz:

“…if human beings can solve the challenges of interstellar spaceflight, in the process they will have solved many of the problems plaguing Earth today, experts said. For example, building a starship will require figuring out how to conserve and recycle resources, how to structure societies for the common well-being, and how to harness and use energy sustainably.”

In addition to funding NASA, we can make fusion energy research a top national priority. Fusion power – an unparalleled energy source that generates electricity by effectively creating a miniature star – has eluded scientists for decades, but researchers now believe that successful fusion is within mankind’s grasp. Before the year is out, scientists at the National Ignition Facility in California hope to fire the world’s most powerful laser into a small test chamber with pea-sized fuel pellets of deuterium and tritium inside. The two isotopes of hydrogen will fuse together and potentially create up to one hundred times more energy than was used to ignite the fuel.

This breakthrough could serve as our “Sputnik Moment” for energy production. If we can put a man on the Moon a mere eight years after deciding to do so, then surely we can master “star power” if we pledge ourselves to the task. Fusion produces no carbon emissions, could provide power for thousands of years, is estimated to be cost-competitive with coal, and is unquestionably the energy source of the future. Yet despite the impressive resumé, fusion energy research is only allotted a relatively paltry $474.6 million.

Why wait for the future to happen later? With additional spending freedom by making cuts in defense, we can fund fusion and make that future happen now.

Continue over at SciAm



Uwingu and Funding for Science/Exploration

I caught the word from Dr. Pamela Gay (on whom I have a giant nerdcrush) about a new start-up that is trying to change the way science and exploration are funded. Uwingu is in the middle of a fundraiser on Indiegogo right now. Details are sparse, but the generally idea seems to be that it is a for-profit company that will use a combination of donor contributions and revenue-generating projects to maintain a fund for supporting exploration and education ideas related to space and science. Their stated motivation is that government funding for R&D seems to be getting slashed all the time, and they want to take matters into their own hands:

Tired of seeing space research and education always the victim of governmental budget cuts? Want to see a change in space funding and increased funds for space exploration, science, and space education? Uwingu LLC wants to effect these kinds of changes in a new way.

I’m actually really curious to see how this turns out, and I wish them all the best; any new venture in science and exploration based on peaceful discovery certainly deserves support. However, I’m a bit skeptical that this is a solution to where we are with R&D as a country.

Private space exploration and private R&D is an important and growing sector of the space industry, and it should be. I’m really proud to have friends working for Space X and similar companies that are pushing forward on opening up space and the associated economic frontier to more people. But there is something very unique about government research and exploration that is, almost by definition, lacking in the private sector: a focus on the public good. When I was a NASA research engineer, all of my research was, by law, made as widely available as possible. My papers were not even subject to copyright protection.

The research that is performed and funded daily by agencies such as NASA, the Departments of Energy and Defense, the NIH, NOAA, EPA, and many others is disseminated broadly. These new ideas and technologies are, by and large, are made freely available to and inform the activities and decisions of academia, private industry, other government agencies, and even other governments. With the exception of classified or ITAR information withheld for national security reasons, the general public receives the benefits and the world improves as a whole.

The crew of Apollo 11 (rest in peace Neil Armstrong), though Americans landing on the moon in an American spacecraft, did not claim the moon on behalf of the US Government, patent the landing method, or copyright their scientific findings. In fact, they didn’t even mention their country of origin on the plaque they set in the surface of the first other-wordly body our species has visited:

HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON

JULY 1969, A.D.

WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND

Would we be able to say the same if the first explorers on the moon had been from BP or Lockheed Martin or Big Pharma?

Mad props to the founders of Uwingu for getting such a project off the ground; I think we are going to see some really innovative things come out of this endeavor. But we should be cautious about throwing all of our eggs in the privately-funded science basket. No matter how well-intentioned and responsible, a private for-profit company is not the same thing as a national science or exploration program.

Efforts like Uwingu are necessary and welcome, but they are no replacement for a robust, publicly-funded, diverse, and national vision for science and exploration.

A scientific landscape controlled solely by a patchwork of for-profit interests and private agendas could make for a dangerous, or at least more fragmented and segregated, human society.



Color for Dollars

NASA JPL

From Karagiozis et al 2011

NASA MRO

I didn’t work on this specifically, but this was the nature of my previous job. A humorous aspect was the fluid nature of the acronym CFD… formally it stands for Computational Fluid Dynamics, but others that captured the often tricky business of interpreting the results included Colorful Fluid Dynamics, Color For Dollars, Contours For Debate, and my personal favorite, Can’t Fucking Decide.

fuckyeahfluiddynamics:

A little over a week ago, NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars, the culmination of years of engineering. The mission’s landing, in particular, was the subject of intense scrutiny as Curiosity’s size necessitated some new techniques in the final segments of the landing sequence. As it hit the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph, the compression of the carbon dioxide behind the capsule’s shock wave slowed the descent.  At roughly 1,000 mph—speeds still large enough to be supersonic—Curiosity deployed its parachute. Shown above are the parachute in numerical simulation (from Karagiozis et al. 2011), wind tunnel testing at NASA Ames, and during descent thanks to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The simulation shows contours of streamwise velocity at different configurations; note the bow shock off the capsule and the additional shocks off the parachute. These help generate the drag needed to slow the capsule. For an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the wind tunnel testing for Curiosity’s parachute check out JPL’s fourpart video series. Congratulations to all the scientists and engineers who’ve made the rover a success. We look forward to your discoveries! (Photo credits: K. Karagiozis et al., NASA JPL, NASA MRO)



Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, has died of cancer at age 61



Our neighborhood is so cool.

ikenbot:

Daytime Lightning on Saturn Spotted by Cassini Spacecraft

A NASA spacecraft orbiting Saturn has captured an amazing view of lightning in broad daylight on the ringed planet.

The Cassini orbiter captured the daytime lightning on Saturn as bright blue spots inside a giant storm that raged on the planet last year. NASA unveiled the new Saturn lightning photos Wednesday (July 18), adding that the images came as a big surprise.

“We didn’t think we’d see lighting on Saturn’s day side —only its night side,” said Ulyana Dyudina, a Cassini imaging team associate at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, in a statement. “The fact that Cassini was able to detect the lightning means that it was very intense.”



We live in a great neighborhood.

ikenbot:

Parts of Mars Interior as Wet as Earth’s

The interior of Mars holds vast reservoirs of water, with some spots apparently as wet as Earth’s innards, scientists say.

The finding upends previous studies, which had estimated that the Red Planet’s internal water stores were scanty at best — something of a surprise, given that liquid water apparently flowed on the Martian surface long ago.

“It’s been puzzling why previous estimates for the planet’s interior have been so dry,” co-author Erik Hauri, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, said in a statement. “This new research makes sense and suggests that volcanoes may have been the primary vehicle for getting water to the surface.”



In just 44 days, NASA most advanced Mars rover ever, Curiosity, will land on the surface of the red planet on August 5th. This bad boy is massive for a rover… about 10 feet long, and about 4 times as heavy as the space agency’s two previous (and astoundingly successful) rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

One of the coolest things about Curiosity is its Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) sequence. This video depicts and describes it better than I could ever do, so I’ll jlet them do that.

(I will add, however, that I think it’s cool that much like the Apollo lunar lander and other landers since, they test these things in the Mojave.)



Titan has seasonal weather, landforms, stable liquid lakes and rivers (probably of light hydrocarbon alkanes), a dense atmosphere that is primarily nitrogen, and a ton of water ice. Not surprisingly then, it is a prime candidate for extraterrestrial microbial life, or perhaps in a “pre-life” stage, and right here in our own neighborhood.

Um, yeah, so… why are we not outfitting our manned explorer vessel again? Or at least, oh, a few dozen unmanned probes? 

ikenbot:

Rhea Before Titan




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