Timestream Post: A note from 07.19.2011

19 07 2013

Greetings from the past!

In this case, the date is July 19, 2011, and I’ve just returned from the first of a two-day assessment of a radiological laboratory outside of Charleston, South Carolina.  While I’m supposed to be knee-deep in schoolwork, I’ve found a little extra time to continue this a-chronistic endeavor.

When shall I send this?  When, oh when indeed?  I’ve written enough of these trans-temporal notes that picking an appropriate delivery time is starting to seem a little… difficult.  (-Is is chronistically gouche to deliver messages from two separate points in time to the same or similar destination dates?  Is that the time-equivalent of double-booking an evening date?  Hmm…)

I think I’ll send this a cool two years forward.  There are a number of things in play that I believe should be resolved – or at the very least resolved – by that point.  With a limping truck, a start-up company in play and my (somewhat obscured) face in Newsweek, a kid in the works, a potential brewing TV show, and a looming foreclosure of my ill-timed and financially ruinous townhouse…  I truly have no idea what the future holds.

So, future, how about it?

On this business trip, I'm cheating on my truck with this dashing machine...

Let’s go down the list.

Do I have a new vehicle in the future, or have I continued to resurrect my trusty 2000 Ford Ranger, “Wolfsburg?”  I must admit that I am quite taken with my rental car this trip, a fortuitously neglected Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport, which I received instead of a compact car from the rental agency.  It handles as well as a sturdy truck, has decent visibility, and one can even remove the top!

I’m smitten.  Does the burgeoning romance lead anywhere?

(After all, there’s not much room for a car seat in the truck…)

Spaceflight Fitness!

Second, what’s happening or has happened with Astrowright?  (Will that link even still work?)

Right now, I’m desperately trying to find time to iron out remaining services and organizational literature, promotional material, and I’m working to scrape up initial clients.  Truthfully, I’m having a hard time before having a child in my midst…

Is it folly to think I can do it all – work, school, side business, be a father – and be successful while maintaining my sanity?

What does 2013 have to say?

Though, I should also admit that the current spaceflight developments aren’t all stressful.  I was pleasantly surprised on my way out to South Carolina a couple of days ago to find myself in Newsweek Magazine article entitled “The Next Space Race!”

Yep. That's me on the left! (Credit: Newsweek)

As it would turn out, the Newsweek writer embedded with us while in scientist-astronaut training at the NASTAR Center had his story picked up to coincide with the final Space Shuttle launch – and so there it was, on page 59 of the July 18th issue, staring at me as I wandered through the airport!

So, yes, my face is covered by a respirator mask, but there I am, flightsuit sleeves rolled up and ready to go.

Also, by this time in the year 2013, we should be approaching the second birthday of my first kid!  I’m banking on it being Grayson James McGee that we’ll be meeting here in a bit, and he’ll likely be clipping through the milestones on his way to the “terrible twos.” =)

Will he want to be an astronaut like his dad?  (If so, will that freak his dad out?)

Also, while not spaceflight per se, I’ve got a meeting tomorrow afternoon with representatives from Ping Pong Productions – a television production house that filmed a demo for a UFO-crash-site archaeology TV show they’re interested in doing with me, if a network picks it up.  Apparently, they have news.

Honestly, I’m a little terrified.  I’m not a TV personality, and getting involved with a popular “UFO-hunter”-styled show will likely stretch my scientific credibility.  -But, it will likely be an adventure, to be sure.  It borders on too bizarre to feel real, but in just a day I’m going to be on the phone to find out…

What they heck are they going to tell me?  TV show?  If so, do I take the gig?  If so, was it a good idea?

8408 Majestic View Ave. Still in my tenuous possession in 2013?

Rounding out the things on my mind is, unsurprisingly, my townhouse.  As it stands, my cousin and her boyfriend are renting it from me, though prices have dropped so dramatically that I’m taking an incredible loss every month.

What am I doing?  It’s sufficiently destroyed my savings, and I feel like the last one to not ditch the now incomprehensibly underwater investment.

I ask again – what am I doing?  I’m not sure I’ll be able to afford it at all after having another mouth to feed in a few months.

Does 2013 show that I’ve hit the lottery and was able to hang onto the thing?

Like the Man says – there are no problems, only solution.  All times are good ones if we but know what to do with them, right?

Here’s to pretending I know what to do with this one.  =)

Cheers,

Ben

July 19, 2011.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011. 2:30pm.

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Chinese satellite makes a move

11 11 2010

According to a story reported yesterday by the Associated Press, China has demonstrated nimble maneuvering of its satellites in orbit, a feat few other nations have been able to achieve.

The rendezvous between two of its orbiting craft, which occurred on August 19 and was not declared by China but was instead observed by international tracking stations, has set off alarm in some circles.  This capability must be employed by China in order to successfully launch and dock with their future proposed space laboratories, yet it may also double as the ability to intercept and sabotage enemy satellites and spacecraft.

Regardless of the potential military applications, the certain reality is that China’s space program is moving ahead at a determined pace.  This demonstration of their growing space capabilities is another reinforcement of just how serious they are about becoming a player in the future utilization of space.





China’s space lab rising

5 11 2010

Chinese National Space Administration. (Credit: CNSA)

As arguably the third most powerful space agency in the world, the China National Space Administration, which already has successful manned launches and a confirmed spacewalk under its belt, continues its determined drive starward.  In early October, the CNSA signed a cooperative space plan with Russia for the 2010-2012 timeframe, the contents of which are being held close to the vest but no doubt include the joint Russian-Chinese exploration and sample-return mission (Fobos-Grunt) to the Martian moon Phobos next year.

Now, as reported last week, China recently announced (confirmed) plans for a series of orbital space stations, beginning with the launch of an unmanned test module within the next five years and a fully-crewed, Mir-style station by the year 2020.

This places proposed CNSA activities right in the thick of NewSpace (e.g., U.S., U.K., Russian,) commercial space station and launch vehicle flight tests.  Now, it’s no secret that advanced space technology has dual military applications, and China’s military made everyone nervous with their anti-satellite (ASAT) test in 2007.  So, what are their intentions?  I’d like to believe the olive branches on CNSA’s logo are sincere.

-And, I should mention, if U.S.-Soviet space relations during the height of the Cold War are any precedent (Apollo-Soyuz), China’s space laboratory ambitions are sincerely peaceful.  Some of the most meaningful international olive branches have been traded in space.  Take the International Space Station, for example, which is the largest international cooperative effort in human history.  So, in that light, Godspeed CNSA.  The more permanent presences we have in orbit, the better it is for our space infrastructure in general.

And perhaps, working shoulder-to-shoulder off-world, the most effective Far-East/West bridges yet may be built in orbit.

Plaque commemmorating international coorperation assembled in orbit by astronauts and cosmonauts in 1975 as part of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Apollo Soyuz Test Project. (Credit: NASA)





A love of teaching

24 10 2010

Entry sign outside of CSN's Cheyenne Campus.

-Just a post on a personal note this morning.  I’ve been filling in as a part-time geology lab instructor at the College of Southern Nevada for the past two years.  Now, with a few semesters behind me, I find myself pleasantly surprised by what I (admittedly) was interested in as more of a resume-booster than as a potential career.

While I love the stimulation of technical work and the satisfaction of fieldwork, (hence my day job,) I have to admit that I’m finding that teaching provides something unique: a sense of deep fulfillment.

You never get to see an expression of understanding wash over an inoperative computer program’s face when you explain something to it in a new way.  You don’t receive a sense of genuine appreciation from data when you fully invest yourself in taking scientific measurements.  In contrast, the interaction between students and an instructor (at least in my experience so far) is very, very rewarding.

Lab practical midterm setup before the students arrived.

Quite frankly, despite the fact that I currently work 10-hour days out of town, and it’s an hour drive (dash) before the three-hour lab after work, I always feel better after teaching a class than I did before I arrived.  Sure, it’s made for a 16-hour workday, but I actually feel more energized and calmer.  More at peace.

That has to mean something.

Teaching, at least at the college level, is much different than anything else I do.  I genuinely love the material, and with very few exceptions (maybe I’ve just been lucky so far) all of my students respond to that enthusiasm and engage in the class.  And there’s the lingering sense that you’re making a difference in a very visceral way.

Sure, things you do at work change the way things work, affect the course of companies and employees, and maybe it even reaches farther than that.  But with teaching, the effect is immediate.  You know you’re affecting lives.  You can see it.  In class, something you say has at least the possibility of sparking a lifelong interest or changing (via degree/major/etc.,)  the course of a person’s life.  -Inspiring the next generation.

Plus, me being me, I always try and weave in a little planetary/space science to keep the students interested.  (Perhaps in the future I’ll be able to bring some practical space exploration experience back to the classroom…)

Well, I think that’s it.  While I’m not ready to leave my fieldwork and industry work behind just yet, I love teaching.

-I think it’s a feeling that will only grow with time.





Suiting up for radiation

7 09 2010

Common radiation detection instruments. (Credit: Nevada Technical Associates, Inc.)

So, I’m heading out this week for radiological instrumentation training.  And while I’m studying the latest in handheld “duck-and-cover” devices, I thought I’d take a second to talk about radiation protection.

Actually, everyone is used to doing it.  The dental chair.  The strangely-shaped things in your mouth.  The lead apron.  -Or how about gooping up before hitting the beach or the hotel pool?  X-Ray Machines and UV rays.  -Not quite scary as they are inconvenient.

Well, what are x-rays and ultraviolet rays other than electromagnetic radiation?  -That’s right, they’re the same as the “radiation” that serves as the terror-inducing, little-understood plot point in a zillion bad sci-fi flicks.  X-rays are simply a stronger variant of the ultraviolet-rays that can fry your skin and a weaker variant of the gamma-rays that beam out of radioactive cesium and can fry your DNA.

The apron you wear at the dentist and the sunblock you slather on are common radiation shields.  And, for that matter, so is your skin.

Radiation is a way of life – it beams down from the sun and up from the Earth’s rocks.  Plants soak up naturally-radioactive potassium and beam radiation at you from all sides, 24-hours-a-day.  We’re built to handle it down here.  Life has adapted.  -And while politicians count on the scary sci-fi-effect the word “RADIATION” has on people, it’s nothing to worry about compared to the chemicals we deal with and transport in day-to-day life.  (Try breathing chlorine bleach for more than a couple of seconds and you’ll see what I mean.  But seriously, don’t do that.)

1999 solar eclipse, highlighting the sun's corona. (Credit: Luc Viatour)

In space, however, it’s a different story.  Without the Earth’s atmosphere to act as a natural shield, we’re unprotected from the sun and distant stars’ powerful cosmic radiation.

To make matters worse, most radiation shields (e.g., lead,) are heavy.  The cost of launching heavy materials up to space is enormous, not to mention that lead is a toxic metal, poisonous to astronauts with long exposure times.

It’s times like these that companies like Radiation Shield Technologies catch my eye.  While they’re not necessarily working on NASA-spirited technologies, (they’re more looking at the emergency responders,) the product they’re offering definitely has out-of-this-world merit.

Namely, they’ve developed a fabric called Demron, which according to a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory study possesses many of the radiation-shielding properties of lead while being lightweight, flexible, and potentially layer-able with a bullet-proof fabric like Kevlar.

To me, products like this are where we need to start looking to develop the practical tools of next-generation astronauts and space workers (astrowrights).  While Demron currently doesn’t shield well against the most extreme high-energy rays and particles, it is definitely a start, and it’s much more user-friendly and cost-effective (lighter) than lead.

Considering what an effective combination Demron would be with the micrometeorite protection that a ballistic fabric like Kevlar would offer, I would challenge clothing designers to start putting their heads together to incorporate them into comfortable, practical space-wear for our men and women in orbit.

Like on Earth, radiation is a way of life in space, too.  We should start thinking that way, and Demron seems a good place to start.








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