Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The SpaceX Dragon in Orbit

Courtesy NASA via Twitter. That was an amazing launch! No delays or upsets. Very uneventful. I caught the broadcast from Spacex.com (broadcast from their Hawthorn, California facility) starting at about T minus 8 minutes (somewhere around 12:30AM PST/3:30AM EST). As the clock counted down to zero, the Falcon 9 lifted effortlessly off the launch pad in Florida and zoomed up into the night. What followed was about 11 minutes of holding my breath as Dragon climbed up into orbit. There was decent video footage from the rocket most of the way through the flight. Highlights for me were the main engine cutoff and stage jettison (which was sooner than I expected), the second stage burn in the dark, and finally the deployment of the Dragon's solar panels which occured as Dragon reached orbit. It's impressive how much acceleration the second stage provides in the short amount of time the second stage is operating. It accelerated the Dragon from about 2 or 3 km/sec to 7.4 km/sec. at burnout, and it's engine glowed such a cheery shade of orange too (intentionally, and very nice since the engine provided the only light for the camera to see anything)! As Dragon reached orbit, and as the broadcast showed the solar panels deploying into the sunlight, a thunderous roar erupted from the apparently huge crowd at SpaceX's Hawthorn California plant. It's really cool when the company turns out to watch a launch in the middle of the night! Congratulations SpaceX!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Big Bang Theory 2012 Finale

If you're a space buff and haven't been watching the Big Bang Theory, I only have one thing to ask you.. "What the hell is wrong with you?!" The final episode for the 2012 season included Howard Wolowitz being launched to the International Space Station on a Soyuz capsule along with Pasha Lychnikoff and Mike Massimino. I was hoping Pasha was a real-life cosmonaut (he is an actor), I had to settle for the real-life NASA astronaut Make Massimino (who is rapidly becoming an actor). Both were brilliant and conveyed the spirit of flying up on a Soyuz capsule quite well. One thing I didn't see was the instrument poking stick that seems to be part of every Soyuz flight. That and the dangly bit/fuzzy dice hanging off of the instrument panel. Believe it or not the stick and the dangly bit are functional. The stick is used to manipulate panel switches during the early stages of the flight while the cosmonauts are anchored into their acceleration couch. The dangly bit lets the cosmonauts know when the engine burn is complete. To be honest, I'm not sure the dangly bit is more for the cosmonauts or for the TV audience.

Trim-Tabbing a new Space Race, or a None-To-Subtle Method of Engaging the Public

It has been a busy and hectic few years of work. As a consequence, I haven't touched this blog in some time. But after a recent weekend well spent reading irreverent comics, I came up with a whimsical way of focusing national pride and energies toward space colonization. Most of the time, space advocates attempt to either appeal to humanity's better natures or to appeal to humanity's sense of self-preservation. Both of these methods have their limitations, especially when huge swaths of the population don't care and other huge swaths of the population are actually happier when things are getting worse, because it feeds their delusions of the 'end of days'. I have chosen an entirely different approach -- an approach that is relatively inexpensive and one that appeals to the population's collective sense of indignation and anger.

Anger has propelled humanity further technologically than any other human emotion. One need not look very far to see that a large number of inventions got their start in the world's weapons factories. The internet, for instance, was developed by DARPA to create a way for machines to communicate after a nuclear war. Integrated circuits -- those very useful and tiny number crunchers were first incorporated into ICBMs before they became ubiquitous in phones and toasters. The entire NASA 60's space program used vehicles from world war 2, in the case of the Mercury/Redstone (the V-2 rocket bomb), and from the Cold War, in the case of Mercury/Atlas (the Atlas ICBM) and Gemini (the Titan ICBM). Meanwhile over in Russia things were not so different. The old Soviet workhorse has been and will likely stay around for several more decades, the old reliable R-7 ICBM heavy lift vehicle. The R-7's original purpose was to send inordinately large thermonuclear warheads on their way to the U.S., now it is the basis for all Soyuz and Progress launchers.

So here is my plan to raise humanity's ire. First off, I need to borrow about 100 million to 1 billion dollars, preferably under the table. I need it to build a large number of independently targetted high power lasers to incorporate into a very large laser array (VLLA). The purpose of this array of lasers is to generate enough heat in a 100 meter diameter spot on the surface of the moon to melt the local regolith. I have had experience with Lunar Soil simulants and I know that when it is melted by an extreme heat source, it turns jet black, which creates a heck of a contrast between the melted regolith and the non-melted grey-white regolith dust. The good news is this only effects the surface of the regolith, the ground about one quarter of an inch below the surface essentially remains unscathed. The bad news is that unless someone goes up there to clean it off, it remains part of the lunar surface for centuries.

So my plan is simple. With the VLLA in place, I plan to write a series of obscenities across the lunar surface. Obscenities that would be plainly visible from earth with a modest telescope or binoculars. Obscenities designed to offend the maximum number of people on the planet. Once complete, even if the project is scrapped earthside, even if I and the project backers are captured and strung up by our thumbs til dead, the obscenities will remain until somebody goes up there to clean them off. It's the cleaning the obscenities off that I'm trying to encourage.

Is this really a good idea? Probably not. But as a space exploration buff I yearn to make some kind of contribution to mankind's birth from planet earth. And as a middle aged man, I realize that my window of opportunity to make that difference, which was tiny to begin with, is shrinking with the passage of the years. So is anybody else interested in making a big mark on the universe? Please let me know.