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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Escape Trajectory Artifacts at WAC-7

7 01 2013

Artist depiction of Pioneer 10. (Credit: Don Davis for NASA)

Just a quick update today on something I’ve been excited to talk about for some time:

I’ve been working during the past year with Dr. Colleen Beck of the Desert Research Institute on long-term planetary science/space archaeology crossover research, the first fruit of which has just hit the cyberverse.

In short, in an upcoming presentation at the Seventh World Archaeology Congress in Jordan on the 18th entitled, “The Bottle as the Message: Solar System Escape Trajectory Artifacts,” Dr. Beck and I are assessing what our escape trajectory spacecraft are really saying about us…  and how the famed Sagan/Drake engraved plaques and records intended as tools for extraterrestrial intelligence under a distant future recovery scenario may actually be serving as a scientific red herring in our own minds when compared to the extraordinary informational value of the spacecraft itself.

More to follow (and a slew of lingering posts on other topics)!





Calling the Space Privateers

6 09 2012

Closeup of pioneering planetary geologist Jack Schmitt at the LRV (Lunar Rover) with Earth overhead during Apollo 17 Lunar EVA #3. (Credit: NASA)

Today, I’d like to offer a rejoinder to Michael Hanlon’s article from The Telegraph a couple of weeks back, entitled, “There’s only one question for NASA: Is anybody out there?

In it, Hanlon offers an argument against regular human space exploration in favor of dedicated robotic missions devoted exclusively to astrobiology research.  Whether via orbiters, landers, rovers, or telescopes, he argues that working to answer the question of whether or not we are alone in the universe has the advantages of  “being scientifically valid, being relatively cheap and connecting with the public imagination.”

Some concessions about the efficiency of human explorers aside, Hanlon makes it perfectly clear how he feels about all research that isn’t astrobiology-related, deriding the Space Shuttle program as “pointless” and the International Space Station as an “orbiting white elephant.”  He lauds the recent spectacular landing of the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, as a model mission, while dismissing the broad appeal of human exploration to the public as “nebulous” and merely “vicarious excitement.” 

Well, despite Hanlon’s opnion, there are good and valid reasons to support human space exploration.   Because the manned-versus-unmanned space program argument has been done to death, I won’t rehash the whole diatribe here except to offer three quotes:

  • “Robots are important also. If I don my pure-scientist hat, I would say just send robots; I’ll stay down here and get the data. But nobody’s ever given a parade for a robot. Nobody’s ever named a high school after a robot. So when I don my public-educator hat, I have to recognize the elements of exploration that excite people. It’s not only the discoveries and the beautiful photos that come down from the heavens; it’s the vicarious participation in discovery itself.”  — Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • “The greatest gain from [human] space travel consists in the extension of our knowledge. In a hundred years this newly won knowledge will pay huge and unexpected dividends.” — Werner von Braun
  • “The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don’t have a space program, it’ll serve us right!” — Arthur C. Clarke/Larry Niven

However, there is a much more intriguing aspect to Hanlon’s article, one that likely went largely unnoticed; A particular line in Hanlon’s article caught my eye, where he supercedes the tired, man vs. machine debate and instead advises that NASA should “leave the flag-planting, for now, to the privateers and to other nations.”

The privateers!

To my knowledge, this is amongst the first times the word has been used in a human space exploration context.  Let’s take a closer look.

The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is pictured just prior to being released by the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm on May 31, 2012 for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. (Credit: NASA)

In its 16th-to-19th-century context, “privateer” referred to a private individual or seafaring ship authorized by a government during war to attack foreign trade shipments.  These charges weren’t the equivalent of a charter, as the privateering ships went unpaid by the government.  Instead, they relied on investors who were willing to gamble on lucrative captured goods and enemy ships. 

This made the privateer fundamentally different from a mercenary.  In my mind, they became something more akin to Adventure Capitalists.

While not a direct parallel, the usage of this term in the modern space exploration context invokes tantalizing suggestions.  Might the government issue a non-binding license to claim unused space resources (satellites, junk) by their own or other nations, or perhaps to operate in proximity to national assets, (such as the ISS), in the act of attempting a rescue?

In this case, would private industry underwrite the cost of a spacecraft launch for tens of millions of dollars if the case for a suitable potential reward be made?  Might such a reward be measured in terms of salvaged materials or serviced satellites?  Perhaps purchasing a rocket and a spacecraft to have on standby in the event of an on-orbit astronaut emergency (medical, technical) would be lucrative if a successful rescue mission were independently launched and the crew recovered?  (Is a modest 100-200% return-on-investment too much to ask for the value of averted disaster and the possible loss of highly-trained human lives?)  In this context, venturing to fund a privateer is no more risky than drilling an exploratory oil well – the trick is nailing the reward. 

“Space Privateering,” then, suggests a new form of orbital venture capitalism that exists irrespective of government charters.  It means having a ship, a launch capability, and the foresight to use them when and where it might matter most to planetside governments and/or corporations.

So, how about it?  Are any corporations willing to bet against the house and fund privateers as international rescue, salvage or repair ships?  Would the FAA consider rapid privateer launch licensing?

I say we work to find out.  Calling all space privateers!





A shotgun blast of suborbital science

15 03 2012

I’m pleased to report that I recently had the fortune to represent my spaceflight consulting firm Astrowright as a sponsor of, as well as present research at, the Next-Generation Suborbital Researcher’s Conference this past February 26-29 in Palo Alto, CA.  

Ashley presenting our voluntary "Flight Readiness" certification service at NSRC 2012!

Specifically, after nearly a year of research and client-training-data-mining together with my friend/ballet-dancer/anthropologist/excercise-scientist/astronaut-trainer/partner-in-crime Ashley Boron, our presentations centered this year on our frontier fitness services – Astrowright’s custom preflight fitness training program for space passengers-to-be and a “flight readiness” benchmark testing and certification program intended to help aspiring spaceflight pros demonstrate that they’ve got the Right Stuff

The three-day event was intense – with a flurry of presentations covering everything from spacecraft development and mental stress training to planetary science and research payload design.  If that weren’t enough, beyond the research presented at the conference, (for the interested, the program is available here,) the meeting was an explosion of exciting commercial spaceflight activity, from keynote speaker Neil Armstrong’s comparison of early X-15 flights to the current activity in civilian spacecraft testing to XCOR’s giveaway of a trip to space!

Unfortunately, I had only a single day to fly out there and fly back – one of the pitfalls of too many irons in the fire – but the experience in even that short amount of time, like the last one, was thrilling.  The conference smashed both attendance and support records, as well – Further evidence that the suborbital science community is nothing shy of a force of nature blasting the doors off the hinges of civilian spaceflight.

Like many of us have been championing for a while now, a paradigm shift truly feels in-progress.  Many networking and potential research and business opportunities arose as a result of NSRC 2012… and I can’t wait to tell everyone about them at NSRC 2013!

For more details on the conference and/or our presentations, visit the Astrowright company blog here.

Semper exploro!





T-minus 1 week: Aiming for NASTAR

2 05 2011

The NASTAR Center. (Credit: NASTAR)

I’m coming up on a positively Everest-ian milestone in my ongoing quest to become a commercial astronaut, and it’s been a long time coming:  Astronaut training.

Supported by my spaceflight consulting firm, Astrowright Spaceflight Consulting LLC, I’m heading out in a week to attend highly specialized training offered by the only FAA-certified civilian spaceflight training outfit around.

The location?  Philadelphia, PA, at the National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center.

NASTAR simulator-centrifuge. (Credit: NASTAR)

Among the NASTAR Center’s many aerospace services, not only do they provide generalized spaceflight training for the many civilian tourist “spaceflight participants” who are planning sub-orbital jaunts in the next couple of years, (e.g., on Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft,) but they also offer specific sub-orbital scientist training designed to prepare researchers to withstand the forces and avoid the distractions of spaceflight so that they can do what they’ve been wanting to do for (at least in my case) an entire career:

Perform quality science off-world.

For a taste of what the training is like, (which was developed in part by SwRI and NSRC civilian scientist-astronaut forerunner Dr. Alan Stern,) check out this excellent article written by Space.com contributor Clara Moskowitz, where she chronicles her experiences attending the program last October.

In addition to more traditional classroom instruction, the program involves thrilling (to me, anyway) “right stuff” rigors, such as oxygen deprivation training, high g-force (centrifuge) simulations of spacecraft launch and re-entry, and an array of supplemental components.

Needless to say, this training will help to round out our firm’s technical expertise so that we can begin offering expanded service beyond our current pre-flight fitness training and radiation dosimetry services into full-fledged (atmospheric) microgravity and sub-orbital payload specialist territory.

Many thanks to the family and friends that have helped me to get to this point, and it goes without saying that I’ll be blogging like a maniac as I head through the program.  Expect more on this in about a week.

T-minus 168 hours and counting…





Jazz in Space

27 04 2011

In space, as they say, no one can hear you.  And that may be a problem. 

While many astronauts experience what is called the “overview effect,” that is, a sense of euphoric connectedness to the Earth and all of its inhabitants brought on by the vantage of seeing the planet in a truly native context… astronauts experience  ups and downs.

Space is a stressful environment – a roller-coaster of physical and mental human experience.

So, what can we do about it?  As the increased incidence of civilian spaceflight continues to rise, bringing with it people who have not spent a lifetime training to keep their anxieties and emotions under lock-and-key on command, perhaps it’s time to introduce traditional, cultural forms of self-expression to our newest frontier… and make sure we prioritize them.

Music as a creation is unique in that it is a way to simultaneously, dynamically express and capture the influences of a time, place, and culture.  It can evoke feelings and senses of home, alter moods, and give the analytical side of the brain a chance to recouperate.

If you asked me, (coming from an American perspective,) what we’re going to need is a little jazz blues in space. 

As arguably the paramount uniquely American cultural form of music, I think we should contribute it to, and exercise it in, the new environment… and I think all cultures who venture off-world should do the same with their cultural music.

Who knows?  Like has been the case in all other new environments before it, perhaps the interaction of different musical cultures in space will lead future astronauts to create something new.  Something that seems to… fit. 

I say getting an orbital combo together is a great place to start.





Update: Astrowright LLC’s blog now online

19 03 2011

Just a quick note – Astrowright Spaceflight Consulting LLC’s (Astrowright’s) official company blog is now online at:  blog.astrowright.com

Check it out for up-to-date news and the latest information on Astrowright’s services, including pre-flight fitness consulting, in-flight dosimetry and dose analyses, spacecraft habitability assessments, microgravity product/instrumentation testing and development, and charter payload specialists.

Oh, and more to come on the Japanese reactor situation soon.








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