Sunday, October 31, 2010

The future of US manned space program

If this is true, moon base won't happen: the article says that Ares launch vehicle is "off the table".  It is the Ares launch vehicle that is supposed to go to the moon.  I think the Ares I program got terminated, not necessarily the Ares V.  Without a capability to return to space, the manned space program would be grounded indefinitely.  As it stands now, I think there will be a hiatus, but at most it will be for seven years.  Unless of course something goes wrong.  The ideas that I have presented in earlier posts will probably not be implemented.  Something else may be, but not as I have written here.

I spent most of today reading the Review of  US Human Spaceflight Plans Committee that was set up by the Obama Administration shortly after he took office.  It is an extensive PDF file which I have read only the executive summary as of now.  It is pretty unclear to me right now, but it looks like there won't be landings anywhere, only flybys.  Maybe asteroids, the Moon, and Mars.  If I am right, it will be mostly a show program.  A dog and pony show for the people.

Update:  Yes, this site is the one that I needed in order to learn what is going on with the space program.  The word is that they are going to go to an asteroid.  But what do you do when you get there?  Take pictures?

Here's a good idea, assuming that it works.  The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.  It will resupply the ISS.  Cheaper, but unmanned.  Crews on the ISS will have to hitch a ride with the Russians.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thoughts on a would be Moon base

I got an idea for this post this morning.   I was wondering if there's a way to quickly build a moon shelter and permanent base on the moon.  Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I started to search for what was already out there on the web.  I came across this:  a pdf file on some proposed designs of a moon base.  It has occurred to me that NASA must have plans like these out the wazoo.   So, why haven't these plans ever been implemented?

A further search brought me to this a link about Gregg Easterbrook, who is a critic of manned space flight.  It would be wrong to blame him for the plans not being implemented.  I don't want to slam Easterbrook here.  Only to point out that the criticisms are too harsh.   It has to be balanced by something.  The manned space program needs a champion, like in the early days.   These days, the critics, like Easterbrook, have the upper hand.  To offset the critics, a there must be a champion of manned space flight.

Here's the article he wrote about the shuttle in 1980 ; it is fairly critical article and its tone turns out to be wrong in most respects, but it proved him to be prophetic in predicting failure as two shuttles were lost.  With the loss of two shuttles, his point of view gained ground.  But why did the Shuttles fail?  Was it design failure, or did some other explanation account for this?  To answer this question, it would take an extensive study the reports that came out of each disaster.  Basing it solely on memory, I suspect that a change in specifications led to both disasters.  If these specs weren't changed, perhaps both Shuttles could have survived.  The Shuttle wasn't an inherently unsafe design, if that is true.  To confirm that opinion would be out of the scope of this post.

In Easterbrook's 1980 article, he mentions that a permanent moon base was considered before deciding upon the shuttle program.  He says that a base would have been useless.  But the moon base would not be useless if it can solve the launch problem.  If men and materials can be launch into space at a reasonable cost and be done relatively safely, we can open up the solar system for business.  At one sixth the gravitational field of the Earth, getting to the near Earth asteroids would entail much less energy and consequently, much reduced cost for fuel.   Having a moon base that is self sufficient in terms of life support could mean multiple missions from the moon, before having to return to Earth- giving further savings.  And mining asteroids for fuel and metal ores could defray the costs of manned space flight.  They may even be able to turn a profit.

A Moon base needs a champion.  If the critics win, it may never be done.  At least, not by the USA.  Someone else could and probably will.  If that happens, American leadership in this field will go by the wayside.  Like many other things.  Isn't it time that this trend be turned around?

Update:  So, how much M type asteroid worth?  This question is answered in Mining the Sky:

"As an example of the magnitude and economic value of space resources, we shall assay
the smallest known M asteroid and account for its market value.  That distinction
belongs to the NEA known as 3554 Amun.  Amun is only 2 kilometers in diameter, the
size of a typical open-pit mine on Earth, with a mass of ... thirty billion tons.
... the total market value of Amun ... $20.000. billion" -John S. Lewis
Mining the Sky, pp. 111-112

more info here
According to this: the feasibility of mining asteroids is close with present day technology.
Here is a site that I just found with plenty of info.  It is called

Those are late nineties numbers, as the book was written then.  Prices have gone up.
I ran the numbers and each ton of the asteroid would be worth $667 at that time.
This would not seem worth the time orthe expense to bring all back.  I suppose you
would need to pre-process the ore before you brought it back.  Platinum at todays
prices would be about fifty million per ton.  The Altair lunar lander which was to
land men on the moon was supposed to be able to handle (in unmanned versions)
up to 15 tons of cargo.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Constellation Program

This isn't exactly news, but I'll start off this new post by mentioning it anyway.  Obama cancelled it and now it is official since early this month.  I didn't know this until I googled it and came up with the link above.  This pretty much renders most of the space stuff here pretty speculative as far as I can tell.  Unless a new launch solution is found, it is not likely that the private sector will do it.  Go to the moon, that is.  I will segue into that discussion below.

What I am getting from reading the Wikipedia article on it is that the government is betting that a better launch platform will be developed.  Perhaps that is the case, but in the meantime, there is no launch platform.  In the event that no significant improvement to the launch problem can be found, we could be left with no manned launch capability for quite some time.  There would still be unmanned capability with the current technology.

It is a bit ironic that Obama cancelled the program because of budget concerns.  This coming from an administration that passed the huge boondoggle which was called a stimulus.  If you consider the Constellation  Program as a boondoggle, then perhaps it was just one boondoggle for another.  As I have attempted to draw attention to however, the potential in space is far more than just raking leaves.  Obama may be right in betting on a better launch platform, but if he is wrong, this is a bad bet.  That is, we will lose out on the benefits of manned space exploration, as well as having to reinvent the wheel in case, for some reason, it becomes necessary to restart a manned space program.  In that scenario, the decision to cut the program in order to save money will turn out to be a failure.  It will cost more.

Wouldn't it have been better to just go to the Moon again and set up a permanent base there?  It seems pointless just to go to Mars.  If you are on the Moon permanently, you can start to do things there, instead of doing them here.  It takes a lot more to launch from Earth than from the Moon.  A permanent base on the Moon can help with the launch problem.  It costs 10,000 dollars per kg. to put a payload into Earth orbit.  A single launch to the Moon which can be leveraged into several launches from the Moon ought to help lower these costs.   Waiting for a better launch system could take a long time.  With the technology we already have, we could be building a base on the Moon now.

Update:  I didn't read this at the time, but from what I heard of Buzz Aldrin's criticisms of  former President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, I would have agreed with Aldrin.  But now, I think a trip to Mars may be a bridge too far.  It is much more sensible to follow Bush's original plan than to go to Mars "someday".
That someday may be never.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Grow your own food without the farm

How is that possible?  Take a look at this.

Update:  The part that got my attention was that so much could be grown in so little area.  On the basis of this, I began reading some stuff on hydroponics and aeroponics.  I suppose if I look long enough I may find something like "Hydoponics for Dummies".  Haven't gotten to that yet.  Here's a YouTube video on aeroponics.  Here's another video showing how to build your own (as opposed to buying one).

Update 2: This is funny.  People use this to grow weed.  Very funny.

Update 3: Not exactly on topic with this post, but here is how to promote your "whatever".  It could be a blog, or videos on YouTube.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Waiting for the Great Pumpkin

Nuclear Power costs for different countries from an IEA and OECD study.  Check out the comments for some interesting info.

Costs for nuclear power generation in USA is substantially higher than in S. Korea and China. This is because of excessive red tape supposedly for reasons of safety.

High tech is supposed to be developed to deal with the so called problem of Climate Change, but technology already exists.  It is called nuclear energy and it has been around for decades.  But it is being blocked because fear has been stirred up so much that it is much more difficult and expensive to use the technology than what it should be.  We are being scammed into waiting for the new technology that will save us.  Kind of like Linus talking Sally into staying all night in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear.   My point is that the technology may never appear and even if it did, it may get blocked.

More info on The Capacity Factor Blog.  Check out this post too.

The Ergosphere: Why the Integral Fast Reactor had to die

There's no energy shortage. The only shortages are the ones that are contrived.  Learn it.  Love it.  Live it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Using nanotechnology to recycle a greenhouse gas for high-energy fuel

At the risk of contradicting myself, I will include a link to an interesting idea that I got from a Google search.  It is over a year old though.  The shelf life of this stuff may be rather short.

This reminded me of a lot of web searching that I did on the topic several years ago.  I scrounged up a few copies of pdf files for ideas that supported fuel cells for automobiles.  The topic interested me because I knew that prices for fuel were going to go up and they sure did.  At 150 bucks a barrel, the price of oil was ruinous.  As far as the environmental part of this is concerned, it doesn't interest me much.  But the economic and national security aspect of this problem certainly does.

Here's what I wrote about it in 2004:

My web searching back in 2004 yielded some ideas that could lead to a fuel delivery system for hydrogen fuel cells.  It would involved recycling carbon dioxide by producing hydrogen from electrolyzing methanol.  This would solve logistical problems with moving and storing hydrogen.  However, it would require advances in fuel cell technology and/or a cheap and plentiful source of rare or expensive catalysts.  Obtaining the expensive catalysts could come from mining asteroids.

A side product of this was a bit of research that I did on Al Gore.  Of course, Al Gore is big time on these issues.  One thing I thought about is why he didn't become president.  No, not because Bush "stole" the election, but what was it about the man that frustrated his ambitions?  I think that my posts on arrogance can explain it as well as anything.  I think you could write a book on the subject.  Really.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Advanced Propulsion Design for Space Exploration

Here's another one I got via Instapundit and Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence blogs.  I read the abstract and thought it interesting, so I downloaded the pdf file and spent the last few hours perusing this thing.

Not that I know anything about the subject matter, just as a matter of curiosity.  A few items of interest, to wit:
1) it is not necessarily feasible for putting humans in orbit because of high g forces  2) it may have the potential to transport very large objects into space at low cost per kilogram 3) the technology required is not unreasonably demanding.   Now I am taking the guy (Parkin) at his word that thing will do what he says it can do.  If he is right, then this concept has a chance.

How does it work?  It uses microwave energy to heat hydrogen and uses that as thrust to lift the rocket into space.  For a more detailed explanation, see the abstract and pdf file if you are interested.

Update:  It uses hydrogen as a propellant, but this would seem to be a problem when the hot
hydrogen meets the oxygen in the atmosphere.  Maybe it would go boom instead of going up.
This idea was a doctoral thesis, so I don't how that turned out.

Update 2:  I skimmed over the document again and found no discussion of this hydrogen issue.  Perhaps it isn't an issue and I am mistaken.  Or it could be an oversight by Parkin.  At any rate, I'll still say this looks like an interesting proposition.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Quantum Leap?

You know, space is a pretty interesting topic.  I think I will stay on that
topic, but not be a totally exclusive topic on this blog.  I'm interested in
other topics to be sure, but I think I will always return to this subject
because I think it is important.

Having said that, I will move on a bit and discuss something else that has
caught my attention from time to time.  And, yes, it can bear upon the subject
of space.  This would be the subject of quantum computers.  But even more than
that, the subject of quantum mechanics.

Let me start with the disclaimer that I am not at all well versed in the subject.
Not on quantum mechanics in general, nor in quantum computers in particular.

Another thing about this blog.  People may scoff at what I write because I am not
an expert.  And that is ok.  I'm not an expert, nor do I want to pretend to be.
Just an casual observer with my own twist to a subject.  You can take it as
you please.

While I was reading about quantum mechanics this morning, an idea came to me that
just blew my mind.  What idea is that?  The ability to communicate at great
distances using the concept of entanglement.  I know that there are those who
say it can't be done.  Just asking the question, "what if it could?".

What I read was this, you can't transmit information that way because it violates
relativity.  But I thought, not necessarily.  Let's look at how we all communicate
using the internet.  In order to send a message from one side of the world to the
other, we use the electromagnetic spectrum.  You don't attach a message to an
electron and send it across the world.  You merely manipulate the electromagnetic
spectrum in predictable ways.  By doing so, you can encode messages this way,
and decode them at the receiving end.  Nothing gets sent, only a representation
of it by a preestablished set of rules all established in advance.

Couldn't you do the same with the concept of entanglement?  According to what I
read, that answer is no.  But being a bit stubborn, I continued thinking about it.
I came across these experiments with teleportation.  Supposedly this has been done.
That is, the teleportation of quantum states, if I am not mistaken.  Also, if this
is true, then you should be able to construct a communication device.  It wouldn't
violate relativity, it would just manipulate the states in predictable ways as
in the example I gave above.

If teleportation of quantum states is real, then you know how to get a quantum
state from one location to another.  According to what I read, this can only be
done for short distances.  But what if it could be done at great distances?  There
is one estimate that this entanglement can take place at 10,000 times the speed
of light.  Now, I don't know if I got that right, nor do I know if that is true
or not.  I can't evaluate it one way or another.  But if it is true, then could
you have the basis for a communication device that can be used to communicate
in interplanetary distances and maybe even interstellar distances?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Requiem to the dinosaurs

Today is Columbus Day, sort of.  It is October 11th and a Monday,
so it is more convenient to have a 3 day weekend, and set the
"holiday" on the wrong day.  Columbus Day is the 12th of October.
In case anyone bothered to notice.  Note that I used scare quotes
on the word holiday because Columbus Day is not exactly a holiday
in some quarters these days.

Tomorrow is the real Columbus Day, but does anyone remember what
happened 10 years ago?  The USS Cole was attacked and nearly sunk
on that day by terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda.  It was probably
no accident that the terrorists chose this date.  In their worldview, that
day was the day that Western Civilization was on the ropes and managed
to get off the ropes.  Not only that, Columbus Day was the day that
Western Civilization began its ascent to dominance.  And their world
began its own descent into near irrelevance.

Columbus Day amongst our multiculturalist liberals is also a dark day,
a day that the noble savages had their paradise taken away from them.
To them, it is an ignoble celebration of American triumphalism.  It
was the beginning of the destruction of the environment.  It meant
slavery, colononialism, and world subjection to Western Civilization.
To them celebrating Columbus Day is approval of racism, bigotry, and

But that almost didn't happen.  The Vikings were in the New World.
Some Polynesians got pretty close.  In Mining the Sky, John S. Lewis points
out a that not long before Columbus set sail in 1492, the Chinese explorers
were on the move.  But the Chinese suddenly stopped their explorations, and
Columbus got his chance.  But Columbus was a failure.  He wasn't trying
to find the New World, he was just looking for a shortcut to China.  If
you look at it that way, Columbus just got lucky.  What's so triumphant
about that?

Was there anything good about the discovery of the New World?  Or is it
bad because of who did it?  Or is it bad because of why it was done?

If you honestly look at it at all angles, you have to believe it is more
good in it than bad.  And therefore, it is worth celebrating.  The New World
wasn't a Paradise.  The Chinese are more triumphalist than Western Europe
ever thought about being.  Finally, if Columbus didn't discover the New
World, Islam would have conquered Western Europe.  Does anyone believe
that Western Civilization is really worse than the rest?  Only those who
are just as triumphalist themselves would have such a notion.

Rather than being triumphalist, why not celebrate the progress that was
achieved?  But there are those who don't believe that there has been any
progress.  Those would be the radical environmentalists amongst others.
They would have us living like the horse cultures of the American plains.
In harmony with nature.  Except the horses didn't arrive until the Spanish
arrived.  And the noble savages weren't so noble as we are led to believe.

Even if you don't think it is progress, then what about just staying alive?
If we try to go back to the past, a lot of people would have to die.  The
world just won't support this many people unless we have the technology.
If the technology is bad, and is rejected, the world will sink into a new
dark age.  But would there be a new Renaisance?  We may not get the chance.
This is a theme of Tsiolkovsky's Imperative.  We must go forward with space
exploration.  The alternative that awaits us could be the fate of the
dinosaurs.  An asteroidal collision wouldn't just be the end of Western
Civilization, it could be the end of life on this planet.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Don't reinvent the wheel

Why does the government keep reinventing the wheel for
new spacecraft?  Why not use what we already have?

I got this idea to put the Bussard device on a space
shuttle and use the shuttle to travel to trips in the
solar system. Perhaps even to bring back samples and
ores from the asteroids.

How would a working Bussard device help do this?  Why
would you want to keep the external tank and reuse
the shuttle?  The shuttle would be used for life
support, tranport of certain materials, and getting
a crew back home.  The external tank could be used
to store large quantities of useful stuff like ores
and ore processing equipment.  The Bussard device can
provide the power you need to get back and forth in
deep space and any other power you need to do useful

The shuttle can keep the fuel tank on as opposed to
releasing it. This puts the fuel tank in orbit.  This
is feasible.  Nothing new needed to do this part.  The
part that gives trouble is what to do with it when it
up there.  This idea about using the external fuel tank
has already been debated.

The Bussard device might fit into the cargo bay.  Attach
it to the external fuel tank, and you may have a craft
that can be sent into deep space and bring stuff back.
The cargo tank has more internal space than the space
station now in orbit.  You can put a lot of stuff in

How do you attach the Bussard device to the external
fuel tank?  I am sure there is a way.  According to
my conception of the thing, I would put it back away
from the crew and the shuttle.  This would be on the
bottom of the tank while it is on the launch pad.  You
wouldn't do it on the ground, but while it is in orbit.

The device would be attached to the bottom with the
shuttle also still attached.

Just keep the shuttle attached to the tank and use
the shuttle for life support in transit.  There is
a lot of cargo space on the shuttle.  You might fit
the Bussard device as well as a significant amount
of other stuff.  Once you get home, land the
shuttle in the usual way.  Keep the tank and Bussard
propulsion device in earth orbit.

Additional shuttle missions may be need to turn it into
a mining ship for the trips to mine asteroids.  You can
put a lot of stuff in there to process the ore while at
the asteroid.  Then you can store the processed stuff for
the trip home.  You can put an awful lot of stuff in
there.  The launch weight of the space shuttle is
mostly fuel which is inside the tank.  The ore and
finished products can be stored in the massive tank.

Heavy metals would make the thing much heavier (while
in space) but while in space, it would be weightless
of course.  Getting off an asteroid wouldn't take a
lot of power and the Bussard device would generate
plenty anyway.

The Bussard propulsion device could get all that material
back home.  Then it would be a matter of getting it
on Earth.  The shuttle could take some of it, or perhaps
all of the finished products.  This would assume processing
of ore on the trip home.

On subsequent trips, just take along the additional
stuff you might need to make this work even better.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Louisiana Purchase

From our history books, we learned how the USA effectively doubled its size through
the Louisiana Purchase.  From the vantage point of history, the Louisiana Purchase
was a great bargain.  Out of it arose a great nation that now leads the world.

Was the Louisiana Purchase a one time type event that can never happen again?
What if you could get a great bargain like this even today?  What if you can obtain
a means by which the people could benefit from it in ways that are hard to even

Louisiana in those times was the frontier.  The new frontier these days is space.
It is being explored today as the Old West was being explored shortly after Columbus.
The Columbus analogy is perhaps not fitting.  Columbus didn't know America was here,
he was just looking for a shortcut to China.  But we knew that space has been there
all along.  Our problem is accessing it.

Perhaps we need the modern day equivalent of the invention of the steam engine.
The steam engine enabled the Old West to be settled and developed.  If all they
had was horses, the Old West might not have been settled at all.  Or if it did get
settled, it would have taken much longer to do it.

What will be the modern day equivalent of the invention of the steam engine?  What
will enable us to settle the new frontier of space?  There are many ideas out there
and I have written about a few of them on this blog.  The future is a tricky thing
though, hard to tell what might happen.

The future is a topic of great interest to me.  Over the years, I have attempted
to predict the future of events- from the outcome of football games, elections, and
the financial markets.  Naturally, I would love to get it right for once!  If only.
I know a little about computers.  Yet I didn't see the potential of investing in
Microsoft when it went public in 1986.  Just a small investment in Microsoft then
could have made me a millionaire.   Alas, I made no such investment and I am not
a millionaire.  The same sad story repeats itself with the invention of the world
wide web.

You get older- maybe if you are lucky- you get a little wiser.  Maybe my ability
to see the future is too weak.  But if I am right about the Bussard Fusion device,
then it will lead to the next big thing.  I'd like to be on the ground floor of
that development, wouldn't you?

It wouldn't take much to get this idea off the ground so to speak.  In the era of
trillion dollar deficits, the cost of building a prototype fusion device is trivial.
I don't have the figure available, but it is around 200 million dollars.  For an
individual or someone in the private sector, this is a lot of money.  But to the
government, it is close to nothing.

So if the government refuses funding for this work, what's next?  Will the private
sector step up to the plate?  Or will it take a lot of individuals willing to join
together in a common purpose to bring this into reality?  Either way, if you willing
to do just a little to help out, it could make the difference.

I guess the old 64k dollar question is this: what will it take?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mining the Sky, Part III

Well, I bought the book and have read it.  It is a bit out of date
having been written in 1996.  Since that date, water has been
detected on the moon.  This makes mining the moon's resources
all that more attractive.

The book doesn't give a specific enough plan that could be followed.
But it does give you enough to go on and allow your own imagination
to fill in the blanks.

The space program as it stands now is very uncertain about its
mission, in my opinion.  The only thing that is certain is that there
will be no really big projects in the future, like another Apollo project.
In order to sell a program, it will have to be self supporting.  Future
missions in the spirit of how we are doing things now should focus
on the preliminaries toward a large scale mission in the future.  This
large scale mission could set up a permanent presence on the moon
in which its resources could be used to support itself.

From there, the moon could be used to expand the concept to the
exploitation of space for economic gain.  But that may sound too
capitalistic for some people these days.

10/8/2010 Update: Here's a post about the conference in which the author of the
book "Mining the Sky" will participate. It is on Al Fin's Check it out.