Monday, September 26, 2005

Space Elevator

Arthur C. Clarke has always been my favorite Sci-Fi author. I think it is because his stories are based on technically sound ideas using realistic concepts and he also tends to stick with relatively near-term stories that could well come to fruition. One of his stories is even one of my favorite Sci-Fi movies - 2001: A Space Odyssey. Given a slightly different political and economic environment, much of what he wrote about in that story could well have come to pass. Stories such as "Earthlight", "Prelude to Space", "A Fall of Moondust", or "Imperial Earth" gave me lots of ideas about what life might soon be like as we continued our expansion into space. One classic was "Rendezvous with Rama" which I remember reading as we traveled across country in 1976. One story I had trouble getting started on was "Fountains of Paradise". It started out slowly and the first time I started it, I put it down and couldn't get back into it. About a year later, I finally decided I was going to finish reading that book no matter what. It was the story of the building of the first Space Elevator. A Space Elevator is just that - a tall tower of sorts which allows one to use mechanical means rather than rockets to get out into space. But the materials needed to build such a contraption, at least in 1978 when he published that book, were only available in our imagination. Today, however, it might just be possible. If we could build a Space Elevator, we could climb into space for penny's on the dollar compared to using traditional rockets & we could use them to slingshot us to the planets as well. Arthur C. Clarke recently wrote a short article on Space Elevators. It's well worth a read.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Vandenberg Launch

I was able to watch the Minotaur rocket launch out of Vandenberg which carried the military satellite called "Streak". From Tucson Arizona, we can see the rocket rise into the evening twilight sky despite it's being some 570 miles away. Murphy was definitely working against me tonight. First, I got a late start, then a schoolbus stopped me, then a traffic accident and finally, as I was pulling into an area far from where I wanted to end up, I saw the rocket rising into the sky behind some trees and bushes. I stopped at the end of the road and pulled my camera and tripod out and proceeded to take two pictures with my lens cap on - D'Oh! I didn't have time to carefully focus, so my first few images were not focused well and then when I put the zoom on and took a few more shots of the distorted lower plume, I discovered that there were some telephone wires in the way..... Sheesh, that Murphy is a devious character. Anyway, I put the images in my photoblog. Here are some thumbnails of them:

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Global Warming - On Mars!

New images from the Mars Global Surveyor, which has been orbiting Mars for the last 8+ years, have been collected showing the retreat of polar ice caps on Mars. That sounds like Global Warming to me, but humans are certainly not the cause in this case - it happens naturally on Mars. I know some congresscritter will claim it is George Bush's fault and some conspiracy kook will claim it's all NASA's fault for littering Mars with all those rovers and landers and orbiters....

Anyway, science at work again and there are lots of neat images on the web showing a fresh impact crater, fresh boulder tracks and fresh gullies on Mars - all of them were not there at some point in the recent past (when Viking orbited in the case of the crater and earlier in the MGS mission in the case of the other new features). Mars is obviously a very dynamic place as witnessed by these new images as well as by the images of dust devils we've seen from the Spirit rover on the summit of Husband Hill in Gusev crater. It will indeed be a very interesting place to explore for the first humans we land there. I can't wait to see what they find and what the other planned and flying robotic missions find.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Apollo Mk II

NASA has announced details of its plans to land humans on the Moon by the end of the next decade. I think they have put together a very achievable plan and a good plan too. Unfortunately, I see a lot of the articles in the last day regarding the announcement making claims like "It's an Apollo retread" or one comment said: "It looks to me like the Alzheimer's program…for those that don't remember Apollo". The question I have for them is: What is so bad about how Apollo did things? Apollo was an excellent program which found one of the better ways to get men to the Moon. The new plans are an improvement on Apollo, not just a "retread". The lander is several times larger. The vehicle appears to have more margins for error and is much more robust towards future expansion and future exploration such as the planned Mars missions. NASA drew up these plans in light of what we learned from Apollo. Way to go!

Friday, September 02, 2005

At the summit

While our attention has been diverted to more Earthly subjects like hurricanes, the Mars Exploration Rovers have continued to crawl around the Martian surface, revealing the geology, weather and history of that distant world. Here is one of the latest images from the Spirit rover which sits at the summit of a hill named after the commander of the ill fated Columbia STS-107 shuttle mission, Rick Husband. For more information on the latest from Spirit, check out the latest press release from JPL. At the summit of Husband Hill, they can see the entire region and have a great vantage point to watch dust devils (small mini-tornadoes) pass across the plains below. They can also see the rims of distant craters, and even the rim of Gusev, the large crater they landed in. The summit is covered with boulders and rock outcrops as well as small dunes of blown dust. It's almost like being there ourselves!