Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thinking Outside The "Bubble"

Future spacecraft will soon be powered by new advanced engines that use plasma as a propellant that also wraps around the outside of a ship. THE OUTSIDE. The details still need to be worked out, but the basic idea is an external fusion powered engine.

Space agencies along with universities on both sides of the pond have been working on a system where power would be channeled through a superconducting web arranged around the surface of a spacecraft. Once a field is established using this web plasma would be introduced into it creating an artificial magnetosphere.

The ingenious notion to use miniature magnetospheres as a form of advanced propulsion was first suggested in 2001 by a scientist named Robert Winglee at the University of Washington.  What might happen, he asked, if we created a magnetic bubble around something much smaller than the Earth -- like a spacecraft? Could it ride the solar wind from planet to planet? 

Injecting ionized gases (called plasma) to create a magnetic bubble is what gave his project the name: Mini-Magnetospheric Plasma Propulsion or M2P2 for short. The system would use a plasma chamber, about the size of a large pickle jar, attached to a spacecraft. Solar cells and solenoid coils would power the creation of a dense magnetized plasma, or ionized gas, that would inflate an electromagnetic field 10 to 12 miles in radius around the spacecraft. The field will interact with and be dragged by the solar wind. Creating the field would be akin to raising a giant sail and harnessing the solar wind, which moves at 780,000 to 1.8 million miles an hour--or "here to Washington, D.C., in 10 seconds," says Winglee. 

There is enough power in the solar wind to move a 300-pound spacecraft at speeds of up to 4.3 million miles a day. At such speeds, an M2P2-equipped spacecraft launched today could overtake Voyager I within eight years, despite Voyager's 22-year headstart. A 15 km-wide miniature magnetosphere one astronomical unit from the Sun would feel 1 to 3 Newtons of force from the solar wind," says Gallagher one Winglee's associates, "That's enough to accelerate a 200 kg spacecraft from a dead stop to 80 km/s (180,000 mph) in only 3 months. 

For human travelers the greatest advantage of M2P2 might not be steady acceleration or fuel efficiency, but rather its impressive safety features. Just as the Earth's magnetosphere protects us from solar radiation, an M2P2 bubble could shield spacefarers from cosmic rays and solar flares – the Achilles heel of manned space travel. 

Later an offshoot of the M2P2 engine called The VASIMR, was created and successfully tested in 2009 on the ISS. VASIMR's inventor is former long-time NASA astronaut Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz president and CEO of The Ad Astra Rocket Company in Texas. Although the two ideas are not identical they both use a plasma propulsion approach.

Dr. Chang Diaz has been actively propagandizing an argument combining three claims. First, that cosmic radiation hazards dictate that current day propulsion, which enables six month transits from Earth to Mars, is too slow to enablehuman mission to Mars. Second, that therefore much faster forms of interplanetary propulsion are necessary before we dare undertake human Mars exploration missions. Third, that his VASIMR propulsion system would uniquely enable such quick trips.

Mars here we come. 

Monday, December 8, 2014


A few years ago when we all got chips and pickles on the side for free, and we were only charged for outgoing calls we also got to bring free luggage for flights but it looks like the good old days are over. On a positive note we do still have free refills on drinks in certain restaurants and if you’re short of sweeteners or napkins you are free to take as many of those as you want. No one seems to mind. I suppose you could also collect ketchup and mustard packets and a few extra salt and peppers as the airline attendant rolls by your seat.
From 2007 to 2010, baggage fees grew at a compounding rate of 94.11 percent each year. Although its more on us now, ancillary fees, such as baggage fees, have represented a golden turnaround opportunity for airlines plagued by heavy losses. In any case, airline fees are here to stay which calls for action and a few people have tried. How can we forget when in 2012 a passenger heading to Kenya tried to save a few yuan by making his way through security at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport while wearing every article of clothing he brought along for the trip. All told, security agents counted some 70 pieces of clothing, which included as many as 60 shirts and nine pairs of jeans. Though the unidentified man aroused suspicion before entering the checkpoint due to his "sumo wrestler"-like appearance, what ultimately foiled his foolproof scheme were the batteries, flash drives, and miscellaneous toys in his pockets that triggered the metal detector and prompted a full-body search. Asked why he didn't just put all his clothes in a suitcase, the man reportedly said he was hoping to avoid paying the extra fee for checked baggage.
It actually wasn't a bad idea except he had too much to wear. And speaking of fees, if you want to save money don’t fly Spirit Airlines or Allegiant Air. Allegiant charges $35 per bag and Spirit is worse at $50 per bag. It’s important to remember they don’t charge for a personal bag though. A personal bag is still free. It’s no wonder all men haven’t started using man purses or backpacks to save on these baggage fees. Why not? Just stuff a weekends worth of clothing in there and jump on the plane to save the fees. Either that or go shopping once you get there. Before you leave just put in your new man bag.
I don't mean to "carry-on" but the reality is every time I’ve flown in the last couple years the number of carry-ons just doesn’t seem to change and I watch with increasing impatience as the airline attendants struggle to shove them all in the overhead compartments. I have to ask myself why so much extra packing is still going on? If I had an airline I would forbid the carry-ons. Before you entered the plane in big red letters a sign would say. WARNING. ONE PERSONAL BAG ONLY. NO OVERHEAD COMPARTMENTS. WE SAVED YOU THE FEES AND EXPANDED THE SEAT SIZES. REST ASSURED IF THE PLANE GOES DOWN YOU WON'T GET HIT BY FLYING CARRY-ONS. Have a nice day.
I guess it all depends on who you are but as for me, I bring a small back pack and check the rest in. If not for fees just speed and convenience. I still have the impulse to scream while thinking about it all, especially when take offs are clearly delayed for all the carry-ons still being shoved in the overheads. And don’t forget all those bags falling on top of your head as people grab them out to leave once you arrive. Half the time all those passengers who overpacked, caused delays, and paid all those fees, can’t even pull them down safely so your husband is doing it for them or you are. Maybe I can charge my own fee for that. Sigh. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Transportation Is Not Included

If the costs of getting to space lessen making it possible to get into space and colonize other planets, could it be such a bad thing? And who’s going to regulate that? It’s a long way from home and lets not forget history when England tried to control 13 little American colonies just a few thousand miles away, much less a few million. The Outer Space Treaty from 1967 that was signed by 100 countries that bars anyone from laying claim to the moon and other planets has no mention of personal ownership. This is only a loophole that might as well be a black hole.            
            Space X and other commercial space flight companies like Virgin Galactic are already challenging the idea that only governments will be solely responsible for outer space settlements. According to Elon Musk of Space X it’s only the matter of when not who before government and private enterprise join forces to get a space colony started. Although the cost would be high in the beginning he says if private companies have the freedom to participate it would drive prices down and start regular flights to Mars. Space X has already contracted with the government to supply the cargo to and from the International Space Station and it’s not long before private companies like his will handle the cargo portion of the job and will someday carry the astronauts too. If we took this one step further, where individual and private companies owned property on other planets like Mars what would happen? According to the experts like Elon Musk, the money and the technology would still come from private individuals or companies like Space X.
            In 2012 a journalist named Teresa Anjou wrote an article for the Miami Herald called, “Can You Own Land in Outer Space?” Her conclusion thoroughly supports Elon Musk’s idea that if private companies financed permanent settlements on the Moon and Mars it would drive down the cost of space flight and space tourism could grow into a money making venture. For instance, there is a blog by Red Planet reality claiming they can sell you a one square mile parcel of land on Mars for $29.99 but the transportation is not included. This is obviously just a scam but it does present a real possibility. Take for instance an advertisement called “Everybody’s Going To Be A Space Pioneer.” In the ad, we see an astronaut floating in space and it asks for five easy payments of $99,999.99 to get to a pioneer city on Mars, which is the sum Elon Musk is already seriously talking about charging someday.
            Seems as if everything is pointing to individual resources and risk taking entrepreneurs, and the opposing claim that only nations can control, buy or participate for outer planets or other heavenly bodies is already lost in Moon dust. Commercial companies are paving our way to the planets, not owned by governments. Even Nasa considers itself a commercial entity now. Since 2011 when the space shuttle fleet was retired, NASA had to rely on other countries namely Russia to send cargo and astronauts to the space station and back.
            A long as there’s people who are willing to pay, and people like Elon Musk waiting to sell, it seems there is no other answer than individual involvement along with government that fits into space from now on, but fasten your seatbelt, it’s going to be a rough ride.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Muscle Of Intuition And The Leap Of Consciousness

Many people have experienced a gut feeling -- that unconscious reasoning that propels us to do something without telling us why or how. But the nature of intuition has long eluded us, and has inspired centuries' worth of research and inquiry in the fields of philosophy and psychology. According to some, intuition is one of the great mysteries of the universe because science doesn't have a theory that explains or predicts the characteristics of intuition, yet many great scientists claim to have relied heavily on intuitive insights. Maybe this is what Einstein meant when he said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." 

It's intriguing that Einstein had something to say about it, and many other great scientists like Isaac Newton who supposedly watched an apple fall from a tree, suddenly connecting its motion as being caused by the same universal force that governs the moon's attraction to the earth. John Maynard Keynes, a famous economist once said, "Newton owed his success to his muscles of intuition. Newton's powers of intuition were the strongest and most enduring with which a man has ever been gifted."

One of the most well documented cases about intuition is a story concerning Frederick Kekule (1829-1896) a scientist who discovered the structure of benzene. Immersed in the problem of how atoms combine to form molecules Kekule fell asleep and saw the answer in his dream of a snake biting it's own tail. In an intuitive flash, he realized that the molecular structure was characterized by a ring of carbon atoms, like the image in his dream of the snake biting its tail. 

Later he wrote about his dream in his diary. "I was sitting writing on my textbook, but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere.  I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were jumbling before my eyes.  This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation; long rows sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake-like motion.  But look! What was that?  One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes.  As if by a flash of lightning I awoke...". 

His discovery opened the way to modern theories of organic chemistry and in this case Kekule had a strong emotional focus and intention to solve a specific issue. Was this the leap in consciousness? The solution without the how or why? The gut feeling. The unconscious reasoning? 

It seems as if the idea is still catching up to us but the real definition continues to be studied even today. Ivy Estabrook, a program manager at the Office of naval research told the New York Times in 2012 "There is a growing body of evidence, combine with solid research efforts, that suggests intuition is a critical aspect of how we humans interact with our environment and how, ultimately, we make many of our decisions. 

The mystery of intuition may never be defined however we do know the ten things that intuitive people do: They listen to their inner voice. They take time for solitude. They create. Practice mindfulness. Observe everything. They listen to their bodies and connect deeply with others. They listen to their dreams and enjoy plenty of downtime. And oh yes. Number ten. The one that is always hardest for me as well - mindfully letting go of negative emotions. 

Perhaps we should study dreams, or the dreams within dreams. Not everything can be explained, but intuition seems like a powerful connection that ranges from scientific breakthroughs to saving someone's life, even your own. Something tells me we should listen.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Purpose Of Science Fiction

Future Shock

Did you know Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus is considered the first work of science fiction? In the story it explores the notion of synthetic life or the chemical breakdown that occurs after death to animate nonliving matter. 

The science that inspired Mary Shelley to write "Frankenstein" is nearly as strange as the novel itself. Written in 1818, the book was influenced by a scientific feud that ushered in the first battery and our modern understanding of electricity.

All of this was imagined by Shelley nearly 41 years before Darwin published The Origin of Species and 135 years before Crick and Watson figured out the structure of DNA. Is it no wonder a futurist named Alvin Toffler called science fiction the only preventive medicine for future shock. I also like Isaac Asimov's take on the issue when he said, 
"Science fiction is the branch of literature that deals with the responses of human beings to changes in science."

Robert J. Sawyer, an award winning writer with a science and technology background explains it well when he says science-fiction writers get to talk about the real meaning of research. We're not beholden to skittish funding bodies and so are free to speculate about the full range of impacts that new technologies might have—not just the upsides but the downsides, too. And we always look at the human impact rather than couching research in vague, nonthreatening terms.

He also goes on to say at the core of science fiction is the notion of extrapolation, of asking, "If this goes on, where will it lead?" And, unlike most scientists who think in relatively short time frames—getting to the next funding deadline, or readying a product to bring to market—we think on much longer scales: not just months and years, but decades and centuries.

It seems as if one of our jobs is to predict the future, and suggest all the possible futures. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Where Is Our Space Elevator? 

If Space-X built a space bridge instead of making re-usable rockets they would spend less money and advance man’s next stage of exploration to Mars and other planets.

Early space exploration began with a Soviet satellite, and later the Apollo missions. The most famous Apollo Mission was number 11, when we landed on the moon.  In the next twenty years the focus shifted to renewable ships and permanent space stations, but every time we go into space we fight gravity which is still the most expensive and difficult process of space flight. Consider the space shuttles of the eighties, which used large solid rockets or (SRBs) which used propellants and weighed 200,000 lbs each. Only the casings were recovered and reusable. The cost of these boosters is high and each mission cost 4.5 million. The shuttles themselves cost 1.7 billion.

The first person to make this idea more aware the public was Arthur C. Clark who knew of this concept and put it under our noses. The space elevator, that he called the orbital tower would stay fixed in the sky and orbit around earth but have a long dangling cord on which equipment or people could be moved into space. According to the Obayashi Corp. in Japan they will build one soon reducing the cost from $22,000 every .62 mile (1km) to the same distance for just $200. Obayashi claims they will build this in the next 35 years or so.

The possible pay-off by this geostationary orbiter or space bridge would be useful for satellites but it’s also a cheaper and more effective way to launch missions. A mission to Mars might begin with pushing off near the top of the elevator which would look like and act the ISS station or similar with a long tether which dangles to the earth. The tether can be made with a new substance called Graphene invented by two British scientists. These inventors won the Nobel Peace Prize for physics in 2010. This is the strongest material on Earth, made of carbon although only one atom thick. Graphene could be used to build the cable part of spacebridge being 200 times stronger than steel and a tensile strength of 130 GPa or (19,000,000 psi).

But back to the future, lets consider the costs and effort involved with the Curiosity Rover which landed on Mars August 6, 2012. Curiosity was the fourth rover mission to Mars and the car sized robot launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011. The cost of this mission was $2.5 billion, including $1.8 billion for spacecraft development launch and operations. Not to mention the cost of launching a satellite. Just one launch for a satellite costs $50 million to $400 million, although one mission can carry more than one satellite into orbit. The main portion or this amount has to do with the rockets and fuel.

Space is not a cheap business which is a main obstacle for space flight and further discoveries into space. Just imagine what would happen simple elevator system could safely move people or equipment? Not only that but people could pay to stay inside the orbiter much like a hotel. Even Mars could get easy.

A space bridge should be considered more seriously by U.S. companies like Space-X and Virgin Galactic, instead of making more reusable rockets like the Dragon. $6.8 billion has been contracted to bring shuttle cargo and astronauts to the ISS using rockets, and $70 million per seat on the Soyuz spacecraft. What if we spent this amount on a space elevator reducing the cost to $3,000 or $5,000 per trip? It’s obvious we should build a space bridge which could make things cheaper and easier. A space bridge could be one of the most important advancements of space exploration. Lets do this before Japan does. After all this idea was first started in 1895 by Konstantin Tsiolkovky.