Friday, February 27, 2015

Spock: End of an Era 2015

My son called me with the saddest news this morning. Leonard Nimoy, directory, artist, and actor indelibly linked to the character Spock, from Star Trek the original series, has died. He was 83 and suffering from end-stage Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (emphysema) when he was taken to the hospital on the 19th of February with chest pains. On the 23rd, he tweeted, "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP" Leonard was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1931 to Russian Jewish parents. He started acting at the age of 8 in children's and neighborhood theater. His parents encouraged him to take up a more stable career than acting. His father even encouraged him to learn to play the accordian, rather than act. Fortunately, his grandfather intervened at that point and steered young Leonard towards the acting life. Thus the world owes Leonard's grandfather a huge debt of gratitude on at least two counts.

Leonard served in the Army from 1953 to 1955. He took on various parts in TV shows and movies starting in 1951, often in westerns, police dramas, and similar action roles. In 1964, Leonard acted in a pilot for a futuristic, space-age action/drama TV show that was to become Star Trek in 1966. Although the original Star Trek series only lasted for three seasons, it left an indelible mark on the American psyche, as well as on the careers of all of the actors who were involved with it, most especially for Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. Leonard wasn't entirely keen on being type-cast and had somewhat of a love/hate relationship with Spock over the years. It should be noted that some of his other works, such as this, this, and this, were mercifully overshadowed by the character Spock.

He was a great man though, and will be greatly missed. For more insight into Leonard Nimoy, here are links to an interview he did back in 2012..

Hero Complex Part 1
Hero Complex Part 2


Thursday, January 08, 2015

SpaceX Redux on Saturday One Dark Thirty

"What?!?" you exclaim, as SpaceX scrubs the launch at 3AM PST last Tuesday, "can't Space-X get anything right?"

Why yes, they can. This would've been the 13th Falcon 9 launch, had everything gone off without a hitch, but hitches happen, especially when the vehicle in question has only flown only a hand full of times. To me it's far better to abort a launch and delay the next launch attempt for a few days rather than go ahead and launch and have Dragon not make it to orbit, thus delaying the arrival of the CRS delivery to the space station by several months.

The launch has now been rescheduled for early Saturday morning at 4:45AM EST/1:45AM PST, with livecast beginning at 4:30AM EST/1:30AM PST. You can find more info here with the webcast being covered here. Enjoy!

And Now on a more Somber Subject

By now, most everyone has heard of the news of the attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo". This event has hit me especially hard. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was both a tragic loss of life and a global attack on free speech and a free press, and therefore an attack on every blogger, video maker, writer, commenter, and any person who expresses an opinion out loud, in short, all of us.

We built our country (the United States) with the expressed safety of our rights being paramount, and we expressed that in the Bill of Rights, which is a list of the first ten ammendments to the U.S. constitution, and which established the rights of the citizens. The first ammendment and one might conclude the most important ammendment of that document guarantees every citizen freedom of religion (and freedom from a particular religion), freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. So that is why I have changed my avatar to "Je Suis Charlie" in honor of the lives lost in Paris, and as a reminder that today, we are all Charlie.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Space-X CRS-5 to Barge Its Way into History

Space-X plans to launch it's 6th visit to the ISS tomorrow morning starting at 6AM EST/3AM PST. The launch can be viewed live on If all goes well, this launch will be followed shortly by an attempt to land the first stage of the Falcon-9 onto a ocean-going barge parked out in the Atlantic Ocean. Space-X has been incrementally gearing up for this goal over the course of a number of Falcon 9 launches and experimental flights using their Grasshopper test vehicle. The purpose of this test is to reduce the cost of spaceflight by re-using the major components of the rocket vehicle.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Nifty Video of Orion Re-entry from Inside Orion

Not much news today related to space, but this video of the Orion spacecraft re-entering was pretty cool. In other news, Sony corporation demonstrated a complete lack of spine in their decision to forego release of "The Interview". I am profoundly bummed. "The Interview" and "The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies" were my two must-see holiday movies.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Congratulations to NASA on Orion EFT-1 Mission Success

I'd like to congratulate NASA for a successful flight of the Orion capsule. The Delta IV Heavy launched from Cape Kennedy at 12:05 UTC on December 5th (4:05 Pacific Time/7:05 Eastern), did two orbits around the Earth, and then splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off of the coast of Baja California. On the second orbit, the capsule was boosted to 3700 miles above the Earth prior to re-entry to simulate a return from deep space. The Orion capsule's re-entry velocity was about 20,000 mph/32,000 kph. This is a bit higher than capsules returning from the ISS (with typical re-entry speeds in the 17,500 mph/28,000 kph range), and less than the speed of the Apollo spacecraft returning from the moon (24,750 mph/39,600 kph). The spacecraft splashed down about four hours after launch, and has since been recovered by the US Navy.

While this was a great demonstration flight, I don't agree with some NASA people who say this is our future spacecraft to Mars. If all goes well, and there are doubts that all will go well, Orion won't be flying again for at least the next two years. The next flight is scheduled for 2017, when it and the SpaceX crewed Dragon vehicle will hopefully start sending crews to ISS under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract. SpaceX, meanwhile, will be flying at least 10 more Dragon missions to ISS and space in general. So SpaceX will have quite a bit more experience with their craft before Orion flies again.

Also, it's important to keep in mind that Elon Musk himself is fixated or perhaps obsessed with going to Mars, and he is not dogged by temperamental congresses and their hot/cold space program funding cycles. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the astronauts on the first NASA Mars mission are welcomed to Mars by Elon and members of the SpaceX staff when they get arrive their.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Securing Our Future Water Needs

Last night, CBS 60 minutes had a story about the loss of water the Western US is experiencing due to a drought we've experienced over the last 9 years or thereabouts. The story centered around a study that came about in part thanks to the NASA GRACE Satellite Mission. GRACE stands for Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment, and has used the Earth's local gravitational pull on the satellite to determine such things as the loss of water mass in the ground below the satellite. The researchers have determined that 75% of the water lost over the last 9 years in the Colorado River Basin has been from underground water sources. In other words, the aquifers are being pumped dry to compensate for the lack of surface water due to the drought, and there is some concern that we may run out of underground water and thus water in general to grow crops out in the West. If you were thinking that losing the west's crops would be no big deal, you would be very wrong. California alone produces a surprising amount of the US's fruits and vegetables. The list is extensive.

There is some research which suggests that the California drought is linked to climate change. In particular, due to the formation of a permanent high-pressure system next to California which is diverting rain away from the state. So this drought condition may be with us for the long term. If so, we need to start coming up with alternative fresh water sources to keep ourselves afloat.

I want to suggest areas of research that may help with the water supply problem. They may not solve the problem, so much as alleviate the symptoms. My interest is in desalinization of sea-water using minimal energy techniques, and with minimal cost. It isn't entirely obvious that both of these techniques would be low-energy or low-cost, but the thought experiment is at least worthwhile. Here they are, at any rate:

Dig a Well in the middle of the Ocean

This idea may have no validity at all. It's so simple, I have no idea why it hasn't already been tried. The most likely reason is because it wouldn't work, but here goes anyway... Reverse Osmosis (RO) works by driving Sea Water through a membrane that separates the salt in the sea-water from the fresh water. If you put Sea Water at 400 PSI on one side of the membrane, fresh water will leak out the other side. Generally sea water is pumped across one side of the membrane, becoming more saline as it passes along, and fresh water is yielded on the other side. You need at least 391 PSI of water pressure to overcome the "osmotic pressure" of the salt in sea water. Anything less than that won't yield fresh water. With these bits of data in mind, here's the first solution: A submersible well pump is placed in the middle of a membrane wrapped container that is dropped into 1000 foot deep water off the California coast (we have water that deep, close to the shore all along the Monterey Bay).

Most well pumps can't move water that far up a pipe in one go, so likely there will be a need for several pumps along the total length of the pipe. One of these units might produce 1500 gallons per day (this is a REALLY rough guess, based on the data for one reverse osmosis filter specification), so you'd need several of these units to supply a community, and there is the consideration of maintaining the RO membranes, which might kill the overall efficiency of the system. Still, I find there is a certain attraction to the idea of drilling a hole in the middle of the ocean and pulling fresh water out of it.

Wave Powered Water Distiller

The second notion honestly came to me when considering how a country could extract fresh water from the Red Sea. In that case, I was thinking about Jordan. Later on, I adapted the idea as a method of supplying water to the people of the Gaza Strip, such that they could supply themselves with an uninterruptible supply of water, preferably using a low maintenance, low cost device. Essentially the idea is simply to create a heated chamber for near-vacuum distillation of sea water. A tallish-chamber is located on a pier. It is heated by the sun. The bottom of the chamber is open and is stuck in the sea water below the pier. A wave powered pump sucks air out of the chamber, causing the sea water to be sucked in through the chamber's bottom opening. If the chamber is a bit over 32 feet tall, the water will never be able to reach the top of the chamber, due to there being a total vacuum above the water. The water in the top of the chamber will just about be boiling due to the vacuum.

As the pump continues to maintain the vacuum in the chamber, the pump outlet will be driven into a pipe, which drops into a cooling tank, located below the surface of the sea water, below the pier. With the increase in pressure and the drop in temperature, the steam collected from the boiling water of the evacuated chamber will condense into water. While this solution might have efficiency problems, at least it wins for using free energy for driving the process.


These are two ideas that I think would be worthwhile checking out. One of my concerns for traditional desalinization plants is they are energy intensive and destructive to any creatures which get sucked into them. Supplying loads of energy to a desalinization plant seems counter-productive, as you use a fair amount of fossil fuels and potentially water, to supply that energy. The thought with both of my solutions is that they are relatively economical, energy-wise and have low impact on the surrounding marine environment. Even the distillation unit, with it's open ocean access, gives creatures the option of swimming back out of chamber rather than facing vacuum and higher salinity, and even a simple screen would prevent most aquatic tragedies. It is my hope that people figure out how to get their water without further straining our environment. These ideas are my attempt to facilitate that hope.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Philae takes P67 Surface Pic

So here's a picture from the surface. What science we'll be able to collect is somewhat problematic as the probe landed in a place where sunlight only gets to the solar panels for about one and a half hours a day. This is a bit too little to maintain battery life, so there is a limited window to collect data before the 30 hours of battery life in the probe come to an end. Hopefully some good chemical data can be gathered prior to that time.