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.





Russia announces new Nuclear Rockets for manned Mars trip

16 04 2011

1960s Aerojet General rendering of a nuclear rocket in flight configuration.

For the first time in possibly four decades, two electrifying space technology phrases have managed to show up in the same sentence in earnest.  Quietly nestled in the murky details of a somewhat thrilling AP news story about a potential new Russian spacecraft to be produced in the next few years are the words: “manned mission to Mars,” and, “new nuclear engines.”

This is fantastic, as “nuclear engines” can only mean a resurrection of the triumphant nuclear thermal rocket technology pioneered and successfully tested during the Cold War.

Why is this significant?  First, U.S. and Russian testing of nuclear rockets during the Cold War proved not only that the relatively simple technology worked, but that it was amazingly efficient.  So efficient, in fact, that the rockets tested under the NERVA Program are still twice as powerful as our best rockets today, (half-a-century later!).  Secondly, these rockets are of the weight and power necessary to significantly trim down travel times and make interplanetary manned missions feasible.

So, if the nuclear rocket technology is superior, why don’t we have this technology today?  Well, politics and paranoia led to the death of the nuclear rocket back in 1972, when:

  1. a new project called the Space Shuttle drew funding away from the NERVA Program and set our course in space exploration for Low Earth Orbit (LEO) instead of back to the Moon and Mars, and
  2. in the Cold War nuclear holocaust climate, the word “nuclear” became (understandably) a source of irrational fear.

Only a few experts remain alive who worked in the thick of original nuclear thermal rocket research and testing, and with NewSpace set to take over LEO cargo and crew transportation services, it is time to set our sights back on the more ambitious goals of lunar settlements and expanded human exploration of the solar system.  Nuclear thermal rockets will be the technology to take us there.  The Russians apparently realize that, and perhaps an international kick in the pants is what the U.S. research and industrial community needs to realize that it’s time to pick this research back up.

A nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Russia nearly ended the world.  It seems a fitting contrast that in the 21st Century, a nuclear space race between the U.S. and Russia could help humanity settle new ones.






Space Race Ads, Society, and a Book Alert

17 07 2010

Illustration of a manned nuclear exploration spacecraft and landing capsule in Mars orbit. Credit: Douglas/TIme Magazine, 1963

This one hits close to home for me.  I’ve been collecting space advertisements from the 1950s and 1960s for some time now, and I even have a few gems under glass hanging on my office walls.  Why?  Because they’re meant to inspire.  Truly inspire.  And not just through the now-dated imagery of flashy ships and alien worlds – just the text is intended to fire up the mind and spirit.  Let me give you an example, (sans-illustration for effect):

TOUCHDOWN ON THE MOON (1953)

  • “When the first space ship touches down on the moon, who will be its passengers?  Not the grownups of today, but our grandchildren or great-grandchildren.  In their imaginations may lie the final answer to man’s dream of conquering outer space.  Books for the young that stimulate the imagination are a specialty of Rand McNally …  textbooks and books of nature, science and adventure.  Who knows but that some youngster may find in a Rand McNally book the inspiration that will lead another step closer to travel in space?  And perhaps when that first space ship touches down on the moon, the pilot will check his bearings by Rand McNally maps.”

That’s it.  No pushing of products, no sales pitch for a new line of books or maps.  This is an entire ad funded by Rand McNally that is simply intended to inspire a reader about the amazing possibilities that await, and to let them know that Rand McNally is planning to be a part of it.

The effect is greatly magnified by the dominating illustration of a lunar lander that, for being a concept sketch, looks remarkably like what the real lunar lander would wind up looking like sixteen years later.

Apparently, the entire world was like this for a couple of decades.  Full of vision.  Sprinkler companies took out ads declaring with pride their involvement in nuclear rocket tests by providing fire suppressions systems.  O-ring companies for cars took out ads entitled, “WHEN WE MAN THE IRON MINES OF MARS,” proposing that when off-world resourcing takes off, they’ll work to be a part of it.  We were going to own the future and make it ours.

I don’t think we really realize today just how much of an effect our social marketing has on our outlook on life as a society.  At least, I can say that I didn’t realize it until I started finding and reading these advertisements.  Almost immediately, I found myself suddenly more optimistic about my own dreams of spaceflight.  And then it hit me – these things really do affect what we think about and how we view the world.

Take another example, again (I know, some may groan,) just the text:

HE OPENED THE DOOR TO SPACE…

“It was small compared with the giants men send up today.  And for all the racket it didn’t go much higher than the barn roof.

This didn’t matter to Robert Goddard.  The big thing was that it flew.

They’re all over the front pages now.  Rockets with names like Atlas and Explorer and Vanguard probe the heavens and stretch for the moon, chipping away at space… because a young physics professor from Worcester, Mass., taught them how.

But in those days only boys were supposed to take rockets seriously.  They discovered them in the books of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.  Bob Goddard did.  And he carefully noted in the margins whenever these friends violated scientific fact.

At college his first experiements filled the labs with smoke.  Later, with savings from his modest salary, he shopped hardware stores for “rocket parts.”  And in his workshop a dream began to have shape.

On a cold March morning in 1926, out on his Aunt Effie’s farm in Auburn, the dream took flight.  With the first successful launching of a liquid-fueled rocket, Bob Goddard turned science fiction into fact.

And he made us remember something, this stubborn Yankee professor … that America is a land where free men have made a habit of doing the impossible.  In such a climate no boy’s dreams are ever really out of reach.

John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company.”

That’s it!  See?  No pitch!  No promotion!  Just an ad, (a big ad, beautifully illustrated with a painting of Goddard shielding his eyes from the light of that first test on the farm,) making us all remember that we as Americans stare danger in the face and eat impossibility for breakfast.  Incredible!

In the web of day-to-day exposures, especially in the 21st century with digital media coming at us from all directions, our outlook is heavily influenced by what we unintentionally see or read.  Are we an instant gratification culture, or do we think about the future?  Or do we think at all, or just react?  Much may be told about our society at any given time through the eyes of our advertisements.

Not that it would ever happen, but I think modern corporations should take a nod from their fathers’ ad men.  They should take the time, (and, yes, money,) to help us see the world as it might be.  -Help us to remember our strengths and see how we might all participate in creating a better, more exciting future.  We did it before, and then we went to the moon.  I don’t think that’s coincidence.

So, if you’re interested, but you don’t want to go through the time and trouble of finding some of these ads for yourself, don’t worry.  This brings me to my second point – a new book has just been released from historian Megan Prelinger, entitled “Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962.”  In it, she visually documents through page after page of reproduced ads how the companies that would be the first to take us to space recruited the men and women who would be the ones to figure out how to actually do it.

A must-have for any serious, aspiring astronaut as well as the more casual space enthusiast.

-Or maybe for advertising executives that want to change the world for the better.  Again.





Reincarnation Exists! -Bigelow Aerospace and Von Braun’s Project Horizon

28 05 2010

History never fails to surprise and amaze me.  While there is serious talk today regarding the logistics of setting up a lunar base and whispers of Bigelow Aerospace pushing their inflatable habitats as the right modules to compose one, I was awed and humbled when I recently learned that we’ve done this research before.

Half a century ago, in fact.

 

Robert Bigelow explaining a model depicting a Bigelow Aerospace lunar outpost. (Credit: Bigelow Aerospace)

Many of us are familiar with the name Wernher von Braun as the father of the American space effort.  However, just how advanced his early efforts were is not common knowledge.  Take Project Horizon, for example.  Horizon is a little-known study conducted by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, led by Wernher von Braun in 1956, which detailed the specific logistics, processes and challenges of constructing and manning a US outpost on the Moon in shocking detail.  (Shocking to me, anyway, considering that this project was produced shortly after my father was born.)

Army Ballistic Missile Agency officials. Werner von Braun is second from right. (Credit: NASA)

In short, Project Horizon was nothing less than visionary.  (While it proposed the creation of a military base on the moon, we should be reminded that this was two years prior to the creation of NASA, and the military was the only place to find rockets of any sort.)  According to the project’s projections, a small logistical space station would be constructed in Earth orbit using spent rocket tanks, and the lunar base would have been constructed of simple, pressurized cylindrical metal tanks, with the program requiring approximately 140 SATURN rocket launches during the course of three years.  The project is exhaustive, defining with striking clarity the equipment and astronaut tool requirements to accomplish the work, space transportation systems and ideal orbits for them, lunar habitat design requirements, and even new launch sites from Earth to optimize the program.  Most impressive is the fact that it looks like they could have actually done it for the cost they proposed, which was just less than two percent of the annual US military defense budget of their time.

For an even more humbling window into the conceptual fortitude of Horizon, let’s take a look at their rationale for building a lunar base in the first place (NASA – take note):

  • Demonstrate US scientific leadership
  • Support scientific investigations and exploration
  • Extend space reconnaissance, surveillance, and control capabilities
  • Extend and improve communications and serve as a communications relay (4 years prior to the world’s first communications relay satellite was lauched!)
  • Provide a basic and supporting research laboratory for space research and development activities
  • Develop a stable, low-gravity outpost for use as a launch site for deep space exploration
  • Provide an opportunity for scientific exploration and development of a space mapping and survey system
  • Provide an emergency staging area, rescue capability, or navigation aid for other space activity.
  • Serve as the technical basis for more far-reaching actions, such as further interplanetary exploration.

With a short list like this, the project sounds to me even more worthwhile than the current International Space Station, (which, I should note, satisfies Horizon’s orbiting space station requirements…) But, the project gets better still.  Horizon went so far as to select potential locations for the outpost based on the most cost-effective orbital trajectories, (between +/- 20 degrees latitude/longitude from the optical center of the Moon,) and they even set up a detailed construction and personnel timeline, which to me reads like a novel:

October, 1963 – SATURN I rocket program is operational, and launches of Horizon orbital infrastructure material and equipment begin.  Construction begins on an austere space station with rendezvous, refueling, and launch capabilities only (no life support), which will allow larger payloads to be delivered to the moon.  Astronauts working on assembly at the space station will live in their earth-to-orbit vehicle during their stay.  A final lunar outpost candidate site is selected.

December, 1964 – SATURN II rocket program is operational, and a total of 40 launches have been conducted in support of Project Horizon so far.  Construction of a second refueling and assembly space station begins using additional spent rocket stages, which can accelerate orbital launch operations.  The first space station is enhanced with life support capability, allowing for longer astronaut stays (if desired/necessary).

January, 1965 – Cargo deliveries from the space station(s) to the lunar outpost site begin.

April, 1965 – The first two astronauts land at the lunar outpost site, where cargo and infrastructure buildup has already been taking place.  (Their lander, it is noted, has immediate return-to-Earth capability, but only in the case of an emergency.  These guys are intended to be pioneers until the advance construction party arrives.)  Living in the cabin of their lander, the initial two astronauts make use of extra supplies already delivered to the site, while they verify both that the environment is satisfactory for a future outpost as well as that all necessary cargo has been delivered successfully.  The length of this tour is at most 90 days.  Cargo and infrastructure deliveries continue.

July, 1965 – The first nine-astronaut advance construction party arrives.  After a hand-off and requisite celebratory send-off, the original two lunar astronauts depart for Earth and the new crew begins Horizon’s 18-month outpost construction phase.  Groundbreaking begins, as the crew uses previously-delivered lunar construction vehicles to move and assemble the previously-delivered habitation modules and manage future deliveries.  Habitation quarters are established, small nuclear reactor electricity generators are placed in protective pits and activated, and the station becomes operational within the first fifteen days.  Crews are kept on 9-month rotations, and cargo and infrastructure deliveries continue.

December, 1965 – After six months of construction activities, the Horizon outpost is composed of several buried (for radiation and thermal protection) cylindrical modules as living quarters for the initial crew as well as a parabolic antenna station for Earth communications.  The main quarters and supporting facilities are being assembled, which will also ultimately be covered with lunar regolith.  Empty cargo and propellant containers are being used for the storage of bulk supplies and life essentials.  The crew is brought up to a full twelve astronauts.

December 1966 – Construction activities are complete, Horizon outpost is fully operational with a twelve-astronaut crew on staggered nine-month rotations.  Capital expenditures have concluded, and funding is reduced to operations-only to allow secondary projects (Mars missions, etc.).

1968, TBD – Expansion construction activities begin on Horizon outpost…

Anyone else as jazzed as I am reading this stuff?  Project Horizon was dutifully methodical, practical even.  Horizon could have actually happened, knowing what we know now about von Braun, the future Apollo mission successes, and the success of the SATURN I and SATURN V rockets…

And yes, it appears that the soul of ol’ Horizon lives today in the heart of Bigelow Aerospace’s lunar ambitions.  Let’s hope they can carry von Braun’s torch all the way back to the Moon.








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