What the world thinks spacecraft scientists/engineers do…

18 11 2014

Well, ramping up to the birth of our second child, (daughter Sloane on 08/05/14!), I’ve been completely absorbed by family by night and the incredible clip at work at Bigelow Aerospace by day.  -And amidst it all, I’ll admit that there is a visceral seduction in the elbow-grease-saturated chaos.

So, with this in mind, during one of my recent sleepless expanses I had the midnight inspiration to create a “What the World Thinks” meme.  It targets (with a little wry self-awareness) the increasing number of us toiling to break open spaceflight in the 21st Century the way pioneers did so for aviation in the early 20th:

WhatSocietyThinksIDo

Feel free to use/forward freely, and Semper Exploro!

Cheers,
Ben





What does space sound like to you?

20 05 2010

In space, no one can hear… well, anything.  And this raises an interesting question to me: What does space sound like to you?  -Because for a place physically incapable of transmitting sound, there are an awful lot of sounds that come to mind when we think toward the stars.

Laser cannons?  Phasers?  Lightsabers?  The roar of fictional fighter spacecraft or the whoosh-crack as starships rocket to hyperspace or warp speed?  Or how about the musical themes that accompany them?

For instance, anyone who’s seen the movie 2001 has had their association of Strauss’s The Blue Danube permanently altered:

Waltzing (docking) with the Space Station. Credit: MGM

I come from a very musical family.  My parents are both professional musicians and music professors, my dad is also a conductor and composer, and my brother is a good musician and composer in his own right.  Even I, (the black sheep scientist of the family,) managed to gig my way through college with a jazz quintet to give the geology side of my brain a rest… so for me, space has some very specific musical attachments.  -And frankly, I think our journey towards the stars is better for the associations.

Like Aaron Copland established for many what would come to epitomize an “American” sound, so too have John Williams, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, and a bevy of other composers established the anthems for our progress toward the stars.  To top them off for me specifically is a single moment where the U.S.S. Enterprise is revealed for the very first time on the “big screen” in the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture:

Starship Enterprise in spacedock, one of my favorite space musical moments. Credit: Paramount

Composer Jerry Goldsmith made an interesting choice here in scoring the music for this scene.  There are more than a few ways he could have played it.  However, instead of using what may have been the more obvious awe-inspiring low tones or flighty strings, he decided to cater to an even more inspiring emotion we can attach to space:  Triumph.

The music here is a broad, brassy rendition of the movie’s main theme, which invokes feelings of an arrival (of sorts) and a fanfare for the beginning of an adventure.  For me, this is absolutely what space is supposed to sound like.  It’s about rising to our destiny and becoming something greater than we were.

So, that’s me.  What does space sound like to you?





Give it a rest, people: Voyager 2 spacecraft not hijacked by aliens

13 05 2010

NASA is having a hard time talking to the Voyager 2 probe.  It started in late April and has only gotten worse, with the latest transmission being quite garbled.  Now, I can understand a bit of fun, tounge-in-cheek speculation, but this “Aliens have hijacked Voyager 2!” thing has gotten way out of hand.  It’s as though someone has been subliminally beaming the plot of Star Trek: The Motion Picture into everyone’s minds…

Voyager 6 spacecraft after being hijacked by aliens as seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Credit: Paramount

…and for the unwashed, the movie centers around a mysterious cloud of energy headed for Earth destroying everything in its path.  It is revealed in the final act of the film that the cloud is actually the probe Voyager 6, which according to future history was lost, and Kirk and crew learn that it was hijacked, reprogrammed, and empowered by aliens before being sent back.  Sound familiar?

No one (or should I say, nothing?) has “done” anything to the blasted spacecraft, people.  It’s getting old.  How many other 30-year-old computers do you know of that are still running perfectly? 

Yes, Hartwig Hausdorf (who first made the alien hijacking crack) is allowed his opinion.  Is it realistic?  Nope.  Let’s just hope this probe can be recovered… It’d be a pity to lose one of only two “eyes” we have moving out of the solar system for the first time.

Sheesh, I just wish real science got this much press.





Proposing an Antimatter Hazard Symbol

6 05 2010

Proposed Antimatter Hazard Symbol. Credit: Me

As the most potent potential fuel we are familiar with at this stage in our development as a civilization, I think it’s time we talk about getting serious about Antimatter.

For those unfamiliar, Antimatter is atomically identical to normal matter, but electrically (and subatomically) backward.  Electrons become positrons, and protons become anti-protons, particles with opposite electrical charges.  (Think of flipping over the batteries in your remote control, so the “plus” side is now the “minus.”)  Anyway, when matter and antimatter interact, they are both completely anihillated and converted to pure energy in a release that makes nuclear warheads quake in their boots.  (Gene Roddenberry had it right 40 years ago when he powered his fictional interstellar craft with it.)

To this day, Antimatter is the only thing we know of that could power inter-star-system or galactic space transportation technology, real or imagined, and get the job done in a practical amount of time, (read: a single human lifetime).

This brings us to the present, where I currently find myself buried in 10 CFR 835 federal regulations for work.  They’re the regulations our government has put into place to protect workers and the public from sources of radiation and properly warn them of areas of radiation and radioactive contamination.  These rules relate heavily to symbology and the implementation of the familiar yellow-and-black radiation symbol.

You can see where this is going.  Should we decide to seriously consider Antimatter as the fuel (read: energy storage) source that it has the potential to be, we are going to need to seriously consider warning people about it.  The first step is creating a hazard identity.

There have been a couple of attempts at an Antimatter Hazard Symbol floating around the web, but I haven’t found that they adequately address the risks nor do they necessarily coincide with accepted symbology.  Why not start with something familiar?  I think the radiation tre-foil is panic-inducing enough to serve as an acceptable starting point…

So, the thought evolution of my proposed antimatter symbol is simple:

  • The trefoil already represents radiative energy from a point, so why not start there?  It’s already internationally recognizable.
  • Instead of one point in the symbol center, use two overlapping inverted-color circles, representing the interaction of matter and antimatter.
  • Instead of solid trefoil blades, bisect them to provide the visual appearance of even more energy released than radioactive matter.
  • Instead of yellow, a warning color, use red, a color associated with grave danger or death.  The background color doesn’t matter so much, as long as it provides a high contrast with the red.  I like navy, violet, or black.

And there you go.  People will get it, even if they aren’t specifically familiar.  It immediately looks like a radiation symbol, only worse.  Stay away.  Find someone who has proper instrumentation and knowhow before you start messing with whatever you’ve got in your hands with this symbol on it.

UPDATE 04/2012: For more info and subsequent uses of the symbol, click here!

Thoughts, anyone?

Better in black? (reader-suggested)

Second, modified example: (feel free to use any of these in your own projects/work!)

Credit: Ben McGee








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