The Very Spring and Root

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

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Now let’s build a ship to sail it.


Triton: The Outer Most Ocean in The Solar System

A new day dawns on Triton. It’s going to be a cold one, much like the last. And the one before that… and every day since the moon settled into its present orbit around Neptune. Even the volcanoes here spew out cold gases and liquid water rather than hot magma. But below the frigid surface, which registers a temperature of -235 °C, there’s something more clement: a liquid ocean.

At first glance, Triton seems to be just another icy moon – a featureless, barren world spinning around Neptune, the outermost planet of our solar system. But Triton is different.

For one thing, it orbits Neptune backwards, moving in the opposite direction to Neptune’s rotation. It’s the only large moon in the solar system to do so. Satellites can’t form in these “retrograde” orbits, so Triton must have begun life elsewhere before being captured by the gas giant. It looks a lot like Pluto, and probably came from the same place – the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt, close to Neptune.

The Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Triton in 1989, sending back images of the moon’s frozen surface. They revealed signs of cryovolcanism – the eruption of subsurface liquids which quickly freeze when exposed to the cold of the outer solar system. As such, Triton joins a short list of worlds in the solar system known to be geologically active.

Its surface ice is unique, too: largely composed of nitrogen, with some cantaloupe-textured terrain, and a polar cap of frozen methane.


Remember this day ladies and gentlemen. It may not seem like much now to most non-space-geeks… but despite everything else crazy going on in the world right now, this is what your grandchildren are going to ask you about someday. That flaming piece of machinery ascending into the sky is the dawn of humanity’s next era of exploring the stars. Congratulations SpaceX and your NASA partners on a historic milestone and a remarkable technical achievement.

Some friends and I were at dinner during the eclipse and we literally kept running out of the sushi restaurant every 10 minutes with solar glasses to take a look. Got some weird looks ourselves.

Oh hell yes.


An engineer for the space exploration company SpaceX has outlined an elaborate plan to build Star Trek’s USS Enterprise, which he says could be ready to fly within the next 20 years.

“We have the technological reach to build the first generation of the spaceship… so let’s do it,” writes BTE Dan on his website, (which has been loading intermittently because of heavy traffic). 

The website includes conceptual blueprints, budgeting proposals, a timeline for research and development, and almost every other conceivable detail.

Could they actually pull this off?

“The only thing that rises above the noise of the rhetoric… is the roar of a launch.”

Yeah baby. Crank your speakers to 11 and enjoy some applied rocket science.

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.

Ptolemy,c.150 AD (via ikenbot)

Wired: Tech Billionaires Plan Audacious Mission to Mine Asteroids

Link: Wired: Tech Billionaires Plan Audacious Mission to Mine Asteroids

A group of wealthy, adventurous entrepreneurs will announce on Apr. 24 a new venture called Planetary Resources, Inc., which plans to send swarms of robots to space to scout asteroids for precious metals and set up mines to bring resources back to Earth, in the process adding trillions of dollars to the global GDP, helping ensure humanity’s prosperity and paving the way for the human settlement of space.

“The resources of Earth pale in comparison to the wealth of the solar system,” said Eric Anderson, who founded the commercial space tourism company Space Adventures, and is co-founder of a new company along with Peter Diamandis, who started the X Prize foundation, which offers prize-based incentives for advanced technology development.

Nearly 9,000 asteroids larger than 150 feet in diameter orbit near the Earth. Some could contain as much platinum as is mined in an entire year on Earth, making them potentially worth several billion dollars each. The right kinds of investment could reap huge rewards for those willing to take the risk.

I think I need to push out one of the novel storylines I’m working on… that’s the trouble with science fiction, it keeps turning into science fact. 🙂



Great shot of the underside of a Saturn V (S-IC first-stage) rocket. For a sense of perspective, I once stood next to one of these laid out horizontally at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville… I estimated that I could not only easily stand inside the rim of one of the nozzles, but jump with my arms outstretched and not come close to touching the other edge of the rim.


Somebody is sooo going to mine asteroids…

An impending press release from some new “billionaire-backed space company” has me on edge for the next phase of space colonization and expansion. I doubt they will be going for it as a separate launch company though… maybe. Better bet: SpaceX is cracking their knuckles at the prospect of a new customer for their Falcon 9 Heavy

This adds to a pile of pre-existing excitement regarding asteroids for me. I am not only bouncing to see what gets discovered as NASA’s Dawn mission explores Vesta and (soon) Ceres, but I also recently read Marie Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, in which the protagonists travel to Alpha Centauri via a hollowed-out asteroid. 

AND I am actually poking around with the layout for a potential novel involving asteroid mining and transport. Whew.

Educated Populace –> More Relevant NASA

Excerpt from a debate on Yammer about the relevance of NASA. Credit: engineer K. Sanner.

Honestly, what you are asking for requires embracing a liberal education in America at an early age. America embraces a liberal education at the university level, but is perfectly comfortable with half the population being educated just well enough to be employed at a skilled trade. To then expect that half of the population to suddenly abondon their dogmatic approach to life and values, which ensure social stability, harmony and easy consensus is expecting too much of them. One brilliant lecture by Neil Tyson is not going to bring enlightenment to millions of Americans and make us realize we need to strive for understanding the universe around us. “Of course” we should be greater than we are, and we should constantly strive to learn more about who we are and the world around us. “Of course” the value in this is enormous, as it would make our civlization greater, and increase the level of humanity we could achieve and leave to all of humanity in the future. But, I say “Of course” because this is an obvious value system to me. To many millions of our voting public, the people we work for, their value system has an abrupt eclipse at the end of a traditional dogmatic doctrine they have accepted as a complete and final value system that needs no refinement, adjustment, updating, or change. How can we possibly convince that population in America that humanity needs to rise to a higher level and that there is value in exploration and discovery worth spending money on to do this versus more natinal security? I think it is a change that will require a generation of commitment to teaching a liberal education to children, and that is not the direction our political leaders want our public education system to take. This is beyond the scope of NASA. We can always preach to the choir, but I don’t expect any sudden enlightenment in the public to occur because of our publications and presentations that are so great they change our national priorities. The first great American accomplishments of the space age occurred because we appealed on a political level to beat the communist Russians. The next great level of accomplishments in human space flight will probably occur because we will appeal on on a political level to beat the communist Chinese. I wish it were otherwise. But, there is a minority of opinion in our country that learning for its own sake, understanding the world around us, accomplishing great engineering feats, developing new technologies and making scientific discoveries without obvious commercial application has great and significant value to us individually, culturally, nationally, and to all of our humanity that should be a gift to the whole world. Join your school board if you have time and fight for a liberal education in your school. Bring it up to your state legislators. Maybe, in a generation, there will be a significant shift in our value system as a country, and we will achieve these great things for their own sake, and for the sake of humanity in the future.