Posts tagged space

Tribute to Apollo IV

The year was 1967. Earlier that year a fire had killed three astronauts. There was a degree of uncertainty perhaps and a degree of even more fierce determination. On November 9, 1967, NASA and the American people would get a win.

The Saturn V would fly for the first time. Even when it was all assembled and everything was checked and double checked, no one was still 100% sure what was going to happen when then engines ignited and the clock hit 0:00.

I’ve read accounts of people being in absolute shock and amazement from the power of this rocket. It dwarfed everything before and after it. No loss of crew or payload ever came at the hands of this machine. It was and still is the mightiest rocket to have ever been put into service. This is just a little tribute I put together.

The song is on my SoundCloud page and may beprone to changes because I honestly still want to tweak a couple of things with the audio. Getting all the voices to come through the pounding audio was hard enough. Thank goodness for modern day music editing!

NOTE: Some of the video clips are from Apollo 8. Not a whole lot of  high quality footage from this first flight exists that I could find.

Spot The Station

I was recently asked by a local magazine The Kitchen Draw to write an article about science and/or space. I wrote two articles and the space one won out. It’s about how to spot the International Space Station.  I couldn’t find it on the site as it was print only but I figured I’d post what I wrote here because why not eh? So, without further ado.

Did you know that you can see the International Space Station with the unaided eye? In fact you might have seen it and not even realized it. Let’s start off with what we’re looking at in the first place.

What is the International Space Station?

The ISS is the largest man made structure ever built in space. If you were to lay it on a football field it would extend beyond the boundary lines. It measures some 350ft long and weighs in at over 100 tons. There are currently 6 crew on board but when shuttle was flying, there were as many as 13 on board. Construction on the station was completed in 2011 as the space shuttle went into retirement and it took 12 years to complete.
The purpose of the space station is multifaceted in that we want to know how to build things in space, live in space and conduct science in space. The effects of micro-gravity on the human body aren’t entirely understood and zero-g experiments on Earth are nearly impossible to conduct.

ISS

Ok, so, where is it?

It’s in space! OK, more specifically it’s in low earth orbit at an altitude of around 350km (220mi). The average speed of station is around 28000kmh (17,500mph). If that sounds fast, that’s because it is fast. Any slower and it would fall right back to Earth!
The first thing you need to know is when to look. Here’s a site I use which allows you to set up email notifications: spotthestation.nasa.gov.

The trick with looking for the ISS is that you can only see it with the naked eye in the morning or in the evening. The reason is that during the height of the day it’s just too bright to see the station. In the middle of the night the station will be in Earth’s shadow. Morning and evening is when you’re catching it in between these two extremes.

Now that you know when too look, you need to know where. Personally, I prefer evening viewing as I’m just not a morning person. The site will give you the option for either or both times of day. When you get a notification it might look confusing but it’s really quite easy once you get the hang of it. The diagram on this page will help to get you oriented but at the very least so long as you which direction to look (i.e. Northwest at 6:52pm) then you’re in pretty good shape.

A view of ISS from my hometown.

A view of ISS from my hometown.

So what are you looking for anyway?

It will initially appear as a slow moving dot and might even look like a plane. This is why you might have seen it and not realized what it was. The thing is, you won’t hear any sound and you won’t see any blinking lights.

What’s in it for me?

As much as I’d like to say it’ll be this massive object with solar panels bulging out and astronauts hanging off of it; it isn’t.

Wait, there is more! Despite it not appearing as more than a bright, fast moving dot, you have to remind yourself there are people inside that dot. They’re passing nearly directly over your head at many times the speed of a bullet. They’re studying everything from material science to medicine to planetary science.

To me that’s awesome enough but there’s one more thing station will do if viewed in the evening; it will pass into Earth’s shadow. It’s quite a sight to see as the white dot slowly takes on a yellow tint, then orange, and finally a deep red before being eclipsed by our home planet.

The take away, for me, is a deeper understanding of our place in the Universe. The ISS is a sort of beacon of humanity and what we can accomplish when we work together. As it is now, the International Space Station is our single outpost in space and will be for some time. Why not take a few minutes of a warm summer evening and gaze upward? It’s a subtle event but it’s worth your time. I’ll never forget the first time I said “Wow… There it is!”

Keep this in mind; This is what you’re seeing

Please watch this video. Set screen to full. Set to the highest resolution your internet can handle and turn it up. You won’t regret it.

Aliens are not here; not proven at least

Ok, this one is kind of fun.  Aliens. Where are they?  I mean they’re here right? Not so fast.  Lets get this science lesson out of the way right here and now.

Science!

This is the Milky Way:

Here you are and most of everything you can see in the night sky

Here you are and most of everything you can see in the night sky

So there you have it. That’s us tucked away in a tiny corner of that galaxy.  What is a galaxy? Ok, more science so strap in.  Here goes…

We live on Earth, which orbits a star we call the Sun.  Our entire solar system is a few billion miles across.  Pretty damn big but paltry compared to the big stuff.  So our solar system is what is orbiting the center of the milky way.  Now, Earth goes around the Sun once every 365 days.  Our Sun orbits the galactic center once every 250,000,000 years (give or take. I mean really, what’s million years here or there).  So in comparison, our solar system is a spec of dust.  The galaxy we live in is some 100,000 light years across.  That’s the distance light travels in ONE Earth calendar year.  It’s around 10,000,000,000,000km.  So to get the distance across the galaxy, add six more 0s to that number for a whopping 10,000,000,000,000,000,000km across.  Ten quadrillion kilometers (or 6 quadrillion miles).  Yes.  It’s a very very big place.  Even so it’s tiny compared to the Universe.  We’re done with that stuff for now.  We’ll focus on the local area around Earth.

Tinfoil hats at the ready!

Aliens, right?  They’re here, right?  Ok, like I said before – hold the phone.  Think about this.  The nearest star to us is 25 TRILLION miles away.  Traversing interstellar space would be a mind boggling feat.  We can’t even begin to comprehend the technologies that would have to be employed for such a journey.  The space craft would be massive, supporting generations of their species perhaps.  It’d also move very fast I imagine.  So that’s why the stories of bizarre lights and little zippy dots caught on camera really make me roll my eyes.  Think about it.

A vastly superior species shows up and they flit around in the sky at break neck speeds then disappear.  Uh, no.  Hell no.  I’ve traveled trillions of miles at the very least – I’m going to land and get shit done.  It doesn’t make any sense at all.  Ok, people that are abducted right, that’s a good one.  They recollect the entire story and what one thing is missing? The evidence is missing.  The actual physical evidence isn’t there.  NDT (Neil deGrasse Tyson) said it best “take an ash tray!”.  His point was that ANYTHING on a ship capable of interstellar travel would be worth looking at.  Where is this stuff? Oh it doesn’t exist.  Just like the aliens that took them in the first place.  Moving along to my final peeve.  Aliens were here long ago and vanished.

We’re awesome, screw this place and screw YOU!

Whoaaaaaa

Whoaaaaaa

So, yeah, they were here a long time ago and left.  In the process of leaving they also took every single bit of their technology with them.  Oh but they were nice enough to leave us stone carvings the vaguely depict that technology.  Gee, thanks, asses.  By the way, thanks for scaring the shit out of everyone with your damned outdated calendar.  Looking at you, Mayans.

Get on with it…

So that leaves me with this final note: I believe life exists elsewhere.  Mathematically speaking it just has to be true.  Hydrogen, Helium, Carbon and Oxygen are extremely abundant in the Universe.  We just happen to be made of those elements (minus the helium because that’s just for silly voices, duh).

Nope, nope, nope!

LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU

So in a Universe chock full o’ ingredients with hundreds of billions of stars JUST in our galaxy, we’d be fools to assume we’re special enough to be alone.  We are special as I think everything is special in its own way.  We’re amazing because we actually CAN understand the Universe if we open our minds to it.  That’s the real trick though.  Some people refuse to let that knowledge in or deny it.

I’m not saying you can’t have faith and all.  Sure, have it and let it better your life and those around you.  Just don’t suppress information.  Don’t feel you’re better or above someone else because your belief is better.  Just be a nice person, ok? Also, don’t deny that the study of the natural world is a good thing.  Of course it can be a double edged sword as can anything but most scientists have one common goal: to know.

Aliens might one day show up.  I can’t know that and no one can but I have a feeling we’ll HEAR them before we see them.  Even then, they won’t be talking to US but to themselves.  The profound thing is that if we listen in on a civilization that’s even 100 years more advanced than we are, imagine the implications of that.  Us + 100 years of advancement.  It’s exciting and a little scary to think about.  I’m optimistic that we’ll hear or observe something that indicates life elsewhere in the Universe but I think you can feel safe that the men in black won’t show up to zap your brain and make you forget the whole thing.

Countdown to MSL

I made this video a few months back. I love the energy of the song coupled with the outstanding CGI and a bit of real footage. We’re only hours away from landing. Saying I’m excited is a gross understatement!

Space Shuttle: A Personal Journey

Space Shuttle Night Launch

The Space Shuttle lifts off at night. The same photo that is on my shirt.

I knew this day was rapidly approaching; the day the shuttle program would come to a close.  This journey began almost exactly 5 years ago.  I’m going to do a number of posts to chronicle the journey because one just isn’t enough.  That or one would be way too long.  So, here’s how it all started.

From the beginning

I was doing some laundry one day and I picked up a shirt my mother had given me as a gift.  It was a black t-shirt with a screen print of a night launch on it.  The words NASA were faded in the background.  I looked at the shirt for a minute and it hit me: I want to see this.  In an instant, my infatuation was born.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a fan of space exploration and science.  This was different, like a light-bulb lit up.

I stopped everything (sorry, laundry!) and went straight to my computer.  I did a search for anything to do with launches and to my utter amazement, Discovery (STS-121) was set to go up in only a few days.  I had no idea what I was in store for!  I told my wife we were going to Florida to see a launch with about 3 days notice.  She never turned down the idea of a spontaneous road trip.  Though she was surprised I suggested it since that’s usually not my style.  On top of that,  I had no idea where I was going, when to get there, where to look or anything.

The day, Saturday, July 2nd, arrives and the launch is slated for mid afternoon, I think a bit before 4pm.  I figured we’d leave at 8am and 8 hours of driving would be plenty fine.  Wrong!  The drive was uneventful until we reached Orlando and then it all hit the fan.  I kept wondering why the hell all of these people were in the road, on the road, on overpasses.  What were they all looking for?  It was the ultimate “duh!” moment.  They were all here for the launch.  Even from this far out people had begun to line up for it.  I had no idea it was that popular!

We listened in on the local radio station and with minutes to spare, the launch was scrubbed due to the weather.  Not a bad thing because we were still stuck in traffic, 25 miles out and with overcast skies.  I doubt we’d have seen anything and certainly wouldn’t have heard it.  The drive down was long but the drive back was longer.  We had left around 8am and after nonstop driving we arrived home shortly after 1AM on Sunday morning.  I had been defeated but I chalked it up to learning and a little road trip never hurt.

The Rocket’s Red Glare

The following Monday, July 4th, I called my mom up and told her they were about to launch Discovery.  We chatted on the phone through a good chunk of the countdown.  The entire time I’m getting more and more nervous.  Why was I getting nervous?  It was the most bizarre thing.  As the countdown passed into 9 minutes and counting I started pacing.  You’d have thought I had personal stock in this thing going up.  It’s understandable though when you think about it.  You’re watching humans go into space.  They’re sitting atop a machine thats filled to the brim with explosive propellants.  Margin for error: close to 0.  Anything goes wrong and it’s likely that you bought the farm.  Ok, so maybe our nerves were justified.  Also this was only the second flight post Columbia.

As the minutes passed I settled down a little and I remember going into the final 60 seconds.  This tunnel vision came over me.  I was just staring at the screen watching intently.  The whole time I’m still jabbering with my mom.  We were making jokes because we both seemed to be jittery.

T-31 and GLS (ground launch sequencer) was go for auto sequence start.  This is the point where the shuttle takes over and everything runs internally.  Seconds seemed to stretch out and yet they flew by in a blur.  Before I knew it the engines roared to life.  Seconds later the solid rockets lit and it was off the pad.  All I could think was “GO!”.  I didn’t speak a word for several seconds until the throttle up call, to which we always held our breath (It was after throttle up that Challenger exploded).  I think our conversation consisted of a few “wow”s and “go”s.  It was a picture perfect launch.  I knew the next big event was solid rocket jettison and once it occurred I started to breathe again.

I contently watched the entire ascent.  It was beautiful.  To see man and machine working together so harmoniously was poetry in motion.  I’ll also note that seeing a launch on the 4th of July made it that much better.  How could any other fireworks compare to the greatest show on Earth?

The next thing I thought was “I really gotta see this!”

In the next post I’ll talk about just how hard it is to see a launch in person.

Billions and billions…of miles away (and still going)

Voyager 1 is one amazing spacecraft.  It was launched at a time when the planets were aligned in such a way that would be ideal to take a “grand tour” of the outer solar system.  A second craft Voyager II was also launched two weeks earlier.  What makes Voyager 1 so special?  Well it was put on a faster track for one.  That means it went farther and faster than its sister spacecraft.   Currently it’s the farthest spacecraft from Earth than man has built.  Even New Horizons, which is speeding towards Pluto, won’t overtake it.  So far, nothing we’ve launched will ever overtake it.

Voyager 1 is our messenger to the stars beyond our own.  In a few years it will officially reach interstellar space.  At that point, our Sun will be nothing more than a point of light in the sky.  The Sun will likely have no influence on the spacecraft at that point.  She’ll keep forging ahead until she collides with another celestial body.  Given the expanse of space, that could take eons.  Imagine how far it will have traveled by then.  Here is a writeup from JPL that I’m going to copy/paste because, seriously, why re-invent the wheel eh?

NASA Probe Sees Solar Wind Decline
12.13.10

PASADENA, Calif. – The 33-year odyssey of NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has reached a distant point at the edge of our solar system where there is no outward motion of solar wind.

Now hurtling toward interstellar space some 17.4 billion kilometers (10.8 billion miles) from the sun, Voyager 1 has crossed into an area where the velocity of the hot ionized gas, or plasma, emanating directly outward from the sun has slowed to zero. Scientists suspect the solar wind has been turned sideways by the pressure from the interstellar wind in the region between stars.

The event is a major milestone in Voyager 1’s passage through the heliosheath, the turbulent outer shell of the sun’s sphere of influence, and the spacecraft’s upcoming departure from our solar system.

“The solar wind has turned the corner,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. “Voyager 1 is getting close to interstellar space.”

Our sun gives off a stream of charged particles that form a bubble known as the heliosphere around our solar system. The solar wind travels at supersonic speed until it crosses a shockwave called the termination shock. At this point, the solar wind dramatically slows down and heats up in the heliosheath.

Launched on Sept. 5, 1977, Voyager 1 crossed the termination shock in December 2004 into the heliosheath. Scientists have used data from Voyager 1’s Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument to deduce the solar wind’s velocity. When the speed of the charged particles hitting the outward face of Voyager 1 matched the spacecraft’s speed, researchers knew that the net outward speed of the solar wind was zero. This occurred in June, when Voyager 1 was about 17 billion kilometers (10.6 billion miles) from the sun.

Because the velocities can fluctuate, scientists watched four more monthly readings before they were convinced the solar wind’s outward speed actually had slowed to zero. Analysis of the data shows the velocity of the solar wind has steadily slowed at a rate of about 20 kilometers per second each year (45,000 mph each year) since August 2007, when the solar wind was speeding outward at about 60 kilometers per second (130,000 mph). The outward speed has remained at zero since June.

The results were presented today at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

“When I realized that we were getting solid zeroes, I was amazed,” said Rob Decker, a Voyager Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument co-investigator and senior staff scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. “Here was Voyager, a spacecraft that has been a workhorse for 33 years, showing us something completely new again.”

Scientists believe Voyager 1 has not crossed the heliosheath into interstellar space. Crossing into interstellar space would mean a sudden drop in the density of hot particles and an increase in the density of cold particles. Scientists are putting the data into their models of the heliosphere’s structure and should be able to better estimate when Voyager 1 will reach interstellar space. Researchers currently estimate Voyager 1 will cross that frontier in about four years.

“In science, there is nothing like a reality check to shake things up, and Voyager 1 provided that with hard facts,” said Tom Krimigis, principal investigator on the Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument, who is based at the Applied Physics Laboratory and the Academy of Athens, Greece. “Once again, we face the predicament of redoing our models.”

A sister spacecraft, Voyager 2, was launched in Aug. 20, 1977 and has reached a position 14.2 billion kilometers (8.8 billion miles) from the sun. Both spacecraft have been traveling along different trajectories and at different speeds. Voyager 1 is traveling faster, at a speed of about 17 kilometers per second (38,000 mph), compared to Voyager 2’s velocity of 15 kilometers per second (35,000 mph). In the next few years, scientists expect Voyager 2 to encounter the same kind of phenomenon as Voyager 1.

The Voyagers were built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which continues to operate both spacecraft. For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/voyager . JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Here is the link to the original article.

It was Carl Sagan who suggested Voyager 1 take one last photo of Earth before it diminished into the void of space.  Voyager 1 gave us the Pale Blue Dot;  A tiny portrait of everything that every Earth-bound creature has ever known and will know, for some time.

Profound?  Yes.  Yes, it is.

Keep carrying the torch for space exploration, Voyager 1.  Thanks to all the men and women involved in such a great mission.

Scienthusiast

What is that word?  I made it up.  It’s a mix of science + enthusiast.  I have to be careful though.  I’m NOT a scientist.  I’m enthusiastic about science.  So it’s what I’m going to start calling myself.

Yes, I’m a scienthusiast.

I guess it could be hyphenated  sci-enthusiast?  Maybe scien-thusiast?  Either way, I looked around Google briefly and it’s possible I thought of this before billions of other people?  Maybe it’s some horrible word that I shouldn’t use?  Nah, it’s great!  It describes me quite fittingly, I think.

So there, it’s my word.  It’s OK, you can borrow it.  I expect royalties though!

What to do with it?  Well, I think the world needs more enthusiasm for science.  Not to solve every lurking problem in our lives but to better understand how the world around us works.  Some mysteries shall remain so.  There are some exceedingly complex things in the Universe that aren’t really practical for everyone to know.  Unless it’s your job to know them, that is.

So, perhaps one of my goals in life is to help spread the word of science; Turn people on to how it all works, at a fundamental level.  It always goes back to a quote from Carl Sagan.  Roughly, we live in a world filled with technology.  So few people understand how it all works.  You don’t have to be a scientist to understand.  You simply have to open your mind to it.  When people learn how things actually work, it’s usually one of those “wow…” moments.

In saying that, remember, we can’t let go of reason for madness.  There was a time when people who studied the heavens feared retribution.  Good people were arrested, exiled or even killed for observing something knowable versus believing in something we couldn’t know.  It might seem insane to think that could happen again, but remember as a species, we’re very young.  There are a lot of good and honest people out there that speak for science.

Science is interesting because it changes based on observation.  In that sense, our view of the world has evolved, as our methods and tools have evolved.  The next few decades should prove to be very exciting in the realm of understanding.  How the forefathers of great thinkers should like to be alive today to have a glimpse at what we know.  How the great thinkers of our future might look back and realize how primitive our thinking was.  Each new generation stands on the shoulders of giants from the previous.

Life; space; time; the Cosmos; all encompassing and all waiting to be discovered and understood.  We are, in a way, how the Universe understands itself.

We, as the human race, must keep it going.  If we’re not to be scientists, we should at least be enthusiastic about science.

Enter: The Scienthusiast.

Space: The Final Frontier

No truer words can ever be spoken. The depths of the mind are indeed complex but not tangible. Our oceans floors hold many secrets about life and the history of our planet. Space is, for all intensive purposes, infinite. This isn’t technically true, to our knowledge. We estimate the true size of the Universe to be 93 Billion Light Years. So vast, in fact, that light from one side will never reach the other. This is why it is the pinnacle of exploration.

Eventually, one day, our destiny will lie somewhere in space. Perhaps another planetary body in this solar system or even another star system. That is, if we don’t blow ourselves up or suffer a cataclysmic set back.

The recent White House budget leaves me both concerned and yet I see an opportunity to be optimistic. I’ve been reading forums to get people’s takes on this. Mind you this is coming from people who work in the industry to plain people like myself. It is inevitable that politics gets head-firsted into the mix. I made that slang up. Nice eh? I guess there is no way around it but the degree of “This was Bush’s fault!”; “This was Griffin’s fault”; “Obama sux!” is just a little much.

I try my damnedest to take a middle road approach. I want science. I want exploration. I want a manned flight program (also termed HSF for Human Space Flight). At the moment we have it with Shuttle. In a few short months, it will be done and gone. What happens after that? We’re grounded, at least humans are.

Private companies are really getting into the mix of things which does excite me. Thing is, they’re a ways off from manned flight. It will happen, just not quite soon as we’d like.

Constellation is dead. I’m sad and yet I can understand this move. Some claim to have had the insight or ESP enough to know it was doomed from day one. I think having a pessimistic attitude isn’t very healthy. I don’t work in the industry, I follow it from a few rows back. I can say that my interest is important, not as a single entity but gathered with the combined interest of persons just like myself. Lack of public interest will kill a program deader than dead. Apollo anyone?

So, I thought about the cancellation of that program and realized, ok, maybe this isn’t as bad as it seems. I’m still icky feeling about not having the ability to put humans up but lets think this out. The downfall of Constellation was reaching back to the past to sort of re-use older technologies or at least model from them. What we need are newer technologies that are laced with our learnings of the past.

I think the biggest technological advance we need is in propulsion. Chemical rockets are dandy at getting heavy vehicles off the ground and into space but once in space you need something else. Something that’s less cumbersome, less prone to failure and has some oomph! These technologies should be researched to make Moon and Mars missions faster. Transit time to Mars is MONTHS. With new propulsion you could get it down to weeks; or so I’ve heard.

So, new technologies and private companies. I think I actually like the sound of that. Will they deliver? The talk is there, the walk is yet to come.

More notes on the budget are promised robotics and planetary missions. This is very exciting to me. Rovers are great tools for science! Just look at Spirit and Opportunity; they vastly outlived their planned mission time. If we had a mission going up every other month, I’d be stoked.

A final note about canceling the Moon program. Listen, we’ve been there before. Yes, actual people walked on the actual Moon. That program was initially a race; a race we would win. After that, you had a group of giddy scientists drooling over the prospect of getting some precious samples back. That came later and Apollo XVII was the final Moon-shot. We never spent more than a couple of days there. When we go back, we need to plan on STAYING for a length of time. Weeks, not days.

China wants to go there. Let them go, plant their flag and then come back. It’s a great thing for a country. I’d applaud them for it. As the saying goes “been there, done that”. It’s time we went a step ahead. That way when countries are landing and planting their flags, we can wave at them from our cozy Moon habitats. From that point we can build on and then eyeball Mars or even asteroids.

So, finally, it’s bittersweet for me. I wanted to see Constellation work but ultimately I want to see anything work. I’ll hold on the promise of some serious R&D and science missions. I’ll hold on to private companies keeping us in orbit too. It’s a big time shake up of things. Perhaps it was needed.

Obama says we need to get young people into science and math. I couldn’t agree more. If he truly means this then he needs to deliver on this budget. NASA has inspired generations of people. Let’s keep it that way.

If this flops as a dud and our space program is left floundering for years, I’ll be one mad space cadet. >:o

Shuttle ‘go’ for April 5th launch

STS-131Seems there were some technical issues that threatened a delay of the launch.  Normally I’m all over the news on this stuff but I’ve slacked a bit.  I am happy though that we’ll get to see a launch in less than a week.

Here are several articles on STS-131

From NASA’s website:

Discovery will carry a multi-purpose logistics module filled with science racks for the laboratories aboard the station. The mission has three planned spacewalks, with work to include replacing an ammonia tank assembly, retrieving a Japanese experiment from the station’s exterior, and switching out a rate gyro assembly on the S0 segment of the station’s truss structure.

STS-131 will be the 33rd shuttle mission to the station.

We’re behind you Discovery!

Space: The Final Frontier

No truer words can ever be spoken.  The depths of the mind are indeed complex but not tangible.  Our oceans floors hold many secrets about life and the history of our planet.  Space is, for all intensive purposes, infinite.  This isn’t technically true, to our knowledge.  We estimate the true size of the Universe to be 93 Billion Light Years.   So vast, in fact, that light from one side will never reach the other.  This is why it is the pinnacle of exploration.

Eventually, one day, our destiny will lie somewhere in space.  Perhaps another planetary body in this solar system or even another star system.  That is, if we don’t blow ourselves up or suffer a cataclysmic set back.

The recent White House budget leaves me both concerned and yet I see an opportunity to be optimistic.  I’ve been reading forums to get people’s takes on this.  Mind you this is coming from people who work in the industry to plain people like myself.  It is inevitable that politics gets head-firsted into the mix.  I made that slang up.  Nice eh?  I guess there is no way around it but the degree of  “This was Bush’s fault!”; “This was Griffin’s fault”; “Obama sux!” is just a little much.

I try my damnedest to take a middle road approach.  I want science.  I want exploration.  I want a manned flight program (also termed HSF for Human Space Flight).  At the moment we have it with Shuttle.  In a few short months, it will be done and gone.  What happens after that?  We’re grounded, at least humans are.

Private companies are really getting into the mix of things which does excite me.  Thing is, they’re a ways off from manned flight.  It will happen, just not quite soon as we’d like.

Constellation is dead.  I’m sad and yet I can understand this move.  Some claim to have had the insight or ESP enough to know it was doomed from day one.  I think having a pessimistic attitude isn’t very healthy.  I don’t work in the industry, I follow it from a few rows back.  I can say that my interest is important, not as a single entity but gathered with the combined interest of persons just like myself.  Lack of public interest will kill a program deader than dead.  Apollo anyone?

So, I thought about the cancellation of that program and realized, ok, maybe this isn’t as bad as it seems.  I’m still icky feeling about not having the ability to put humans up but lets think this out.  The downfall of Constellation was reaching back to the past to sort of re-use older technologies or at least model from them.  What we need are newer technologies that are laced with our learnings of the past.

I think the biggest technological advance we need is in propulsion.  Chemical rockets are dandy at getting heavy vehicles off the ground and into space but once in space you need something else.  Something that’s less cumbersome, less prone to failure and has some oomph!  These technologies should be researched to make Moon and Mars missions faster.  Transit time to Mars is MONTHS.  With new propulsion you could get it down to weeks; or so I’ve heard.

So, new technologies and private companies.  I think I actually like the sound of that.  Will they deliver? The talk is there, the walk is yet to come.

More notes on the budget are promised robotics and planetary missions.  This is very exciting to me.  Rovers are great tools for science!  Just look at Spirit and Opportunity; they vastly outlived their planned mission time.  If we had a mission going up every other month, I’d be stoked.

A final note about canceling the Moon program.  Listen, we’ve been there before.  Yes, actual people walked on the actual Moon.  That program was initially a race; a race we would win.  After that, you had a group of giddy scientists drooling over the prospect of getting some precious samples back.  That came later and Apollo XVII was the final Moon-shot.  We never spent more than a couple of days there.  When we go back, we need to plan on STAYING for a length of time.  Weeks, not days.

China wants to go there.  Let them go, plant their flag and then come back.  It’s a great thing for a country.  I’d applaud them for it.  As the saying goes “been there, done that”.  It’s time we went a step ahead.  That way when countries are landing and planting their flags, we can wave at them from our cozy Moon habitats.  From that point we can build on and then eyeball Mars or even astreriods.

So, finally, it’s bittersweet for me.  I wanted to see Constellation work but ultimately I want to see anything work.  I’ll hold on the promise of some serious R&D and science missions.  I’ll hold on to private companies keeping us in orbit too.  It’s a big time shake up of things.  Perhaps it was needed.

Obama says we need to get young people into science and math.  I couldn’t agree more.  If he truly means this then he needs to deliver on this budget.  NASA has inspired generations of people.  Let’s keep it that way.

If this flops as a dud and our space program is left floundering for years, I’ll be one mad space cadet. >:o

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