Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Friday, January 27, 2006

Asteroid Mining - The Movie

Do you have about seven or eight minutes to spare? Check out this link and watch a short movie about mining asteroids. The video tells the whole story about mining asteroids for minerals, metals and water and explains that mining asteroids is very, very energy efficient, since one does not have to dip into and escape a gravity well to do it! (Be a little patient while it loads.)

It is also very surprising what asteroids hold. Some of them may be burnt out comet cores – so they may be loaded with water – the single most valuable thing for any colonist or community in space.

Take a few minutes and watch this vid – I’ll bet you’ll be happy you did!

POSTCRIPT: Claudia and I are taking off in a few moments to go to Stonebrooke and write. Stonebrooke is hidden deep in the Appalachians and there is no computer access there. So the next update may not be until Wednesday, February 1st. There may be a couple of windows on Saturday and Monday – we’ll see. While there I will be concentrating on ABYSS OF SPACE, the parallel novel to ABYSS OF ELYSIUM. Meanwhile, Claudia will be focusing on the edits for ALYETE – due out in April.

Stonebrooke is the prefect place to write. It is quiet, isolated, beautiful and there is no distractions (ie – no Internet, no television or even a telephone). Lots of words go down on the page easy under those conditions! And it’s a good thing -Aaron Seven is in a BIG fix and I can’t wait to see how he gets out of this one!

Picture Copyright (c) by Robert McCall.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Innerspace Explorer

Bill Stone is probably the preeminent cave explorer in the world. He does things that require more courage than ten men can muster on a good day. Unlike contract explorers, Bill Stone does it all by himself from the funding to the expedition, to picking his team and planning the expedition - everybody knows Bill’s in charge.

Over the past 33 years, he has spent 353 days exploring various world cave systems – and all below 1,500 feet. Stone is also an inventor, having pieced together several types of cave diving systems. One re-breather can keep a caver alive for 48 continuous hours. Bill tested it himself by strapping it to his back and staying underwater with it for 24 hours.

Here are two articles to check out about this explorer’s adventures:

A National Geographic piece about his expedition to the Cheve cave in Mexico (1,484 explored meters depth. The jury is still out whether it will surpass the Voronya cave.)

Another article from Wired Magazine about his work is also a fantastic read.

Bill stone is shown in this photo "relaxing" in his natural domain and doing what he does best - documenting his explorations.

And in the photo at the top, his team is taking a break at a camp established in the Cheve cavern at 2,900 feet below the surface. (Photo (c) National Geographic)

The world’s deepest cave is the Voronya Cave system in the country of Abkhazia. (Hu? Well – it’s the renamed old Soviet state of Georgia.) The Voronya Cave is 2,140 meters (7,021 feet) deep.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mission to Map Future Outposts Uncertian

The administrative procedure that will determine the fate of whether all of us are able to see the solar system’s two largest asteroids begins day after tomorrow. In what should have been an awesome historic first launch scheduled for this June was put on “administrative hold” last summer for technical issues and cost overruns. The space agency’s Dawn Mission to Vesta and Ceres has been shelved for review – and the big meeting is to be held on Friday.

The mission would have taken us all on a nine year voyage out between the orbit of Mars and Saturn into the enigmatic asteroid belt. The incredible mission was to have the spacecraft orbit both Ceres and Vesta for months sending back unprecedented images and essential data on the two large mini-planets, themselves larger than most planetary moons.

Ceres is nearly a perfectly formed sphere, some 600 miles in diameter. The Hubble photo of Ceres is shown here - the best view we can get over these millions of miles. Vesta is more irregularly shaped – and it is half the size of Ceres at 320 miles in diameter. I have posted a picture page so that you can see some images and comparisons from previous missions and direct views from Hubble. Click here to check it out.

Exploring these small planetary bodies is a vital step in the human exploration of the solar system. One day, both Ceres and Vesta will be prime real estate and will occupy essential stop-over outposts between the inner and outer planets. It is way past time that we launched our survey craft out there to take a look and to photograph and map in detail our new territories.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Power on Mars

On Mars power is everything. The ability to have uninterrupted access to power means the very difference between life and death. With power, there is life. When the power stops flowing, everybody dies. That is and will be the story of humans and Mars exploration.

When our plucky pair of Mars Rovers landed on the red planet, they were given each a life span of 90 days. The chief limitation on their robot lifetimes was determined by one thing: power. The theory went that because of the nature of the Martian environment – very cold – and because of the dust flying about in the air – the batteries could only be reliably changed over a 90 day cycle. After that, the engineers had no idea what would happen. But the rovers are still alive today – more than two years after the expected date of death. Why? Power.

The rovers solar panels have been periodically dusted off by “wind events”, allowing the batteries to charge and charge and charge. The lithium-ion batteries (think - 'my cell phone...') have been kept healthy by eight small plutonium canisters slid into their hearts to keep them warm during the colder-than-hell Mars nights. And finally, the engineers at JPL know how to cycle and charge the batteries and share power between roving, picture taking and scientific data collection. But in the end – it is all power and power alone that has kept them alive. On any given human Mars exploration mission – it will be the same story. Stop the power and the humans will die just as certainly as any robot.

In my book, Abyss of Elysium – this plays a very central role to the story, just as it will on any real Mars colony. The humans will have to keep their habitats warm inside. The atmosphere outside is more then just bitterly cold – dropping to as low as -175 degrees Fahrenheit on any given winter night. The colonist will also have to circulate air and scrub the carbon dioxide and power their lights, communications, computers, systems and even provide entertainment. They will also need to process their own rocket fuel and clean their water. It all comes down to a single fact – to them power is life. Power is everything. Without power, they will not be able to stay. And if there is no way home, without power they will die. Check out Abyss of Elysium – I tell the whole story between its covers – it is an exciting read!

(Illustation from ABYSS OF ELYSIUM - MARS WARS by Brett English)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Fusion Rules

If all goes as announced, by the end of the summer, the Chicoms will have built and tested the first commercial grade fusion reactor in Hefei, capital city of east China`s Anhui Province. The work will be done by the Institute of Plasma Physics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The design of the Tokamak fusion reactor is of a western birthright, originating at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

Relatively recent was the announcement by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that they intend to build a larger Tokamak reactor in Europe with the help of the European Union, China, Switzerland, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and the United States. It will be called the ITER – a Latin word for “the way”. It is expected to fire up in 2016 (pardon the pun).

The Chicoms call their machine "EAST", or experimental advanced superconducting Tokamak (and I am certain no political intimation was intended). They are not waiting around for the IAEA, the progress of the ITER, the West or anyone and they have said that they are not only going to build the Tokamak but that they intend to light it off this year, 2006, in July or August! If the experiments prove successful, China will become the first country in the world to build a full superconducting experimental Tokamak fusion device.

Hmmm – is it just me or why is it that I am wondering about the obvious inconsistency here? What happened to the international cooperation under the ITER project? If the Chicoms know so much about fusion, then why are they not sharing their advanced knowledge under the IAEA and ITER framework of which they are equal members?

Well, oh well. The Chicoms have proven themselves to be brash, they are pushy, they are unafraid of the West or our opinions and they just can’t wait until 2016 to turn on their own artificial sun. Bully for them. Ten years BEFORE the ITER switch goes on and all of China will be alight with Fusion power! Good plan. Scary plan. It is the very embodiment of geopolitical power in gross imbalance.

Now Congress needs to take notice of this, make a formal apology to Jimmy Carter and one of the only things he did right in office, and that’s to declare our war on energy to be real and serious. Then we need to get down to business and put the American know-how onto the most important tasks of all history – making fusion a reality.

The nation that discovers the secrets to operational fusion power first will wake up on that morning as the most powerful nation in the planetary system by fiat. On that day, there will be no doubt who then rules the solar system.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

One Day In The Life Of An Aquanaut

Living the life of an aquanaut is terribly exciting and unique. There are no land-side analogs that I know of. The aquanaut lives in a fixed structure beneath the surface of the ocean. He is not connected by a tunnel or an elevator. He is independent of the land and air above. He is a creature of the undersea region that is much more vast and expansive than those who are confined to the land areas. The undersea world covers not only four times more area squared but it is also measured in three dimensions, the aquanaut is not limited by the restrictive two dimensions of the land dweller. When the aquanaut leaves his dwelling, he can literally “fly” about his world as the land dwellers can only dream about.

Each weekend (unless Claudia and I are traveling), QuantumLimit features an in depth article on the science and exploration issue du jour.

In QuantumLimit today I am going to begin a multi-part discussion on what it is like to spend one day as an aquanaut. It is accessible by clicking here or on the button to the right.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


An astronaut is legally defined as anyone who ascends to an altitude greater than 50 nautical miles for a period greater than one second. The first astronaut was Yuri Gargin in April, 1961.
An aquanaut is defined as anyone who remains submerged in a fixed habitat in the ocean for a period not less than 24 hours. The first human aquanaut was Robert Stenuit who lived onboard a tiny one man cylinder at 200 feet for 24 hours in September 1962 off Villefranche on the French Riviera.
Claudia and I were certified as an aquanauts together on October 13,1993. Eventually, we would spend more than 30 days living and working underwater in three underwater habitats, one of which I designed and built (with the able assistance of LNW Chief Engineer - the incredibly talented Joseph Bishop), the Scott Carpenter Space Analog Station. (This site is still being filled in.)
Living and working in an underwater habitat is a remarkable experience. To sit and stare out the windows of a submerged human dwelling is an amazing and soothing experience. To sleep in a dwelling whose life support system sounds lull one to sleep each night is an experience that I not only will never forget but one that I will always desire!
To read about this in depth, tomorrow on I will be posting an in-depth article about what it is like to live the life of an aquanaut under the sea.
On behalf of Claudia, myself and the League of the New Worlds, together we would like to take this opportunity to make the first of several key announcements that will be upcoming in the next week or so.
The first is that the League is designing a new habitat called the Leviathan. This habitat is designed to travel easily on a standard boat trailer and launch from just about any boat ramp. The Leviathan is designed to house two aquanauts for a weekend outing at the undersea or underwater-anywhere location of the operator’s choice. Inside, the habitat is designed for luxury, adventure and fun. It is the nearest thing to owning one's own space colony that I know of on earth.
The picture shown above is from the TEKTITE Underwater Mission in the late 1960's. One of the NASA managers for the TEKTITE project is Dr. Jim Miller - a long time League advisor and one whose profile we hope to feature here soon. The program was conducted off the U.S Virgin Islands.
More about aquanauts, the League, its current activities and much more on the Leviathan will follow in later web logs.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Very Deep and Very Fast

Just after noon yesterday, the air around the space center was thick with tension. Most of those standing around had seen hundreds of launches. But this one was different in many ways. It was the first spacecraft outbound to the outer regions of the solar system. It was the be the fastest vehicle ever launched by human kind. It was to be our one chance in our lifetimes to go deep – way deep.

While we waited, I reflected on the Cassini spacecraft – the city bus sized satellite now orbiting the Saturnian system. It was also very far away – but it was only a mere 900,000,000 miles out. The satellite that sat so near to us out on launch complex 41 was about to sail outward to its objective nearly four times further.

Adding to the dense fog of tension, the window was short to make this launch and get the data back in our lifetimes. If anything major went wrong, it is possible that we could miss out on this treasure of information that many of us would never see.

Then there was the weather. We had already scrubbed on Tuesday for winds and on Wednesday to a power glitch. And on Thursday – the cloud deck was marginal and clouds were toying with the controller's limits. They kept slipping the count five minutes, then twenty, then half an hour. But then at 2:00 the moment finally came.

I stood outside in a crowded parking lot as the Atlas V and its precious cargo streaked up over the palm tree tops. I was talking to my wife on the cell phone with my left hand and operating my camera with my right. The picture show in yesterday's blog was the result. Less than an hour later, the craft had departed its parking orbit and was speeding away from the sun and the inner planets as the fastest human built craft ever flown. In just over a year it will, God willing, round Jupiter on its way far beyond even the gas giants.

I turned on the evening national news to watch the launch re-runs. During the entire broadcast, not a single word was spoken about one of the most astonishing accomplishments of mankind. The disgust I felt nearly overshadowed the jubilation I had stored up about the mission. Then I remembered: the so called “national news” is actually in flat-line mode and has been for years - as was proven by their choice of "the most essentially important news" they selected for the people on January 19th. As the major news outlets die their brain-dead tawdry deaths, there is now the freedom of the Internet - the only real source of news now available. Then I had to ask myself why I even bothered to waste my time in the first place?

But as I laid my head down to sleep last night, I had to smile despite everything else. The little human-made craft had just streaked away past the moon and it was sailing away very, very fast. There were at least a few of us left who knew and really cared. After that, I slept like a baby.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pluto or Bust!

The New Horizons Mission to the far reaches of our solar system is on its way!

The spacecraft has successfully separated from its third stage booster and is now speeding away from the earth at more than 36,000 miles per hour - the fastest object ever built by man. It will pass the orbit of the moon by 11:00PM tonight EST. More details to follow tomorrow.

Photo taken by the author at launch site at 2:00PM EST today.

Cousteau: True Explorer

Jacques Cousteau was a rare breed. He was a true, honest explorer of the Columbus or Cortez mold. It is important that we and our children are able to distinguish between the contracted explorer of the 21st century and the true explorer – just in case we want to grow another crop. Here is the difference:

The contracted explorer is selected by a company or a government agency to fulfill their vision.

The true explorer has a personal vision of exploration and he finds a way to fund it – but it is his expedition and his alone. No one gets into an argument over what he does or how he does it. It is exclusively his.

A great example of this was told in a book written by a modern true explorer - Clive Cussler. Although a well known writer, Cussler funds his own expeditions. On one expedition, as related in his book Sea Hunters I, Cussler found at one point that he was fending for himself in the elements when everyone else had retreated to shelter. Cussler finally joined the group and raised his hand before them. "See this hand?" he asked them. "Well, you'd do well to take better care of it next time, because this is the hand that writes the checks."

The contracted explorer is safely paid a salary and he has few if any personal resources wrapped up in the expedition.

The true explorer risks his personal worth on his vision.

The contracted explorer is not afraid to die in his quest, but his death honors the larger objective.

The true explorer is also not afraid to die to achieve his goal, but his death and his goal are both indelibly the same. The true explorer defines himself by the expedition that came about by his own reasoning and his own dogged determination and he was able to achieve his goals from the energy and creativity he found only within himself. In the end, the expedition is his life and his life is his expedition - they are inseperably one.

Thus was Jacques Cousteau. He moved every man into the frontier of the sea - an expansive region that is much larger than the nearly inconsequential land masses onto which we all now find ourselves fearfully crowded and huddled together. Soon mankind will take the first permanent steps to fill that great void that lies empty before us, and it will be by his clear vision that we proceed. Long live the memory of this great, true explorer.

Jacques Cousteau died on June 25, 1997, and is buried in the Cousteau family plot at Saint-André-de-Cubzac Cemetery, Saint-André-de-Cubzac, France.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The New Space Race

Denial is not a river in Africa - but it is, nonetheless, an ugly thing. Yet that is precisely what the world’s superpowers are all engaged in – ugly denial. All of them: the United States, Russia, China, Japan and the European Union all together telling the world a big, fat, ugly lie. They all are saying- almost in a ridiculous unison – that they are NOT in competition with one another and have NOT enjoined in another space race. Rubbish! Because – they ARE!
Why would they race and why would they lie about it?
As you might expect, the reasons for the lie is complicated. But the reasons for the race are not.
Shown in this picture is the lunar lander that lost the 1960's space race - the Russian LK, or 'Lunniy korabl' . It never flew.
To read more, click here for QUANTUM LIMIT's detailed review.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Now A Part of Forbes Book Club

My books are now carried by all the major online book outlets and are available from their retail stores: Amazon, Books a Million, Barnes and Noble, Borders etc. But the books have also recently been picked up by Forbes Book Club! It is the first “book club” arrangement – so we’ll see what happens.

All the books are also available on many Internet eBook outlets: Fictionwise, eBook Ad, Diesel, Know Better, Elibron and Powell, for example. And, OBTW, if you haven’t had the eBook experience, allow me to highly recommend it. Grab a good eBook reader and download your books for not only a very enjoyable reading experience but also at a much lower cost! And – the books can normally be downloaded in far less time than it takes to wait on it in the mail. Just remember the timeless quote from Dr. Egon Spengler, to wit, "Print is Dead". Now - can anyone remember just who Dr. Egon Spengler was and where he mouthed this now infamous phrase?

But, far better than picking my books up from any of these locations is by being a member of my reader’s mailing list. Every reader on my mailing list receives a discount far and away greater than any of these outlets.

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet decided on a name for that “book club”. Perhaps we should start a contest to see what we should name it. Any suggestions, readers?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Finding the Devil in Paradise

Tree Huggers earned their name for good reason. Indeed, they got their name precisely because they chained themselves to trees on occasion to keep them from being cut down. Why? Because; as the “conventional and scientific wisdom” went, the trees were, in fact, the saviors of the planet. They changed carbon dioxide into oxygen through a biochemical sleight-of-hand and thereby kept the whole planetary schlemiel balanced between good and evil. This was a good thing, because carbon dioxide and methane were the great evil-doers working hand in hand to destroy the Eden called earth and everyone along with it. And now inside this potential paradise we find greedy and vile man working his little heart out cutting down the trees, who through their inner Gaia, saved the planet from self destruction by changing evil carbon dioxide into peace loving oxygen. Good story. Sound science. …at least until the announcement by the Max Plank Institute for Nuclear Physics last week.

Without any warning, the scientists at Max Plank dropped a virtual biochemical bomb on the tree hugging community and just about everyone else when they reported that the rainforests were not the solution to pollution – but were, in fact, one of the primary causes of methane “pollution” by cranking out as much as 20-30% of the e-vile gas – and not from the forest floor either – but straight from the leaves of the trees.

Instead of doing the right thing – like firing every biology teacher in America who all taught this was strictly an anaerobic process and otherwise not even possible – the tree huggers are all pretty much standing around with their mouths wide open in rather uncharacteristic silence. How can this be? Here the Angel of Eden has been caught with its pants down and hand in the cookie jar all at the same time. It seems the nuclear scientists (not biologists) have discovered that plants are producing as much as 10-1000 times as much methane living as when dead, instead of at the proper postmortem time when they are actually supposed to be doing this.

Now everybody is embarrassed, especially the nations that have signed onto the Kyoto Protocol and are starving and freezing their people to death and telling them it was all the lumberjack’s fault. Now it seems that they are –in fact – going to have to hire an army of axe toting tree slayers and step up razing the pristine rainforests to actually meet its suggested planetary emission standards. Now, I realize this is not supposed to be funny…even though it is actually the most amusing thing I have heard in a very long time. So I just have to laugh and laugh hard. Herein is the ultimate result of politicizing science: stupid fairy tales, stupid believers and in the end an entire planet of dim-witted followers who cannot now just relax and accept the new finding for what it is - unemotional data.

Imagine it... If they now go ahead and chain themselves to the tree – what will the excuse be this time? A personal relationship? Now that’s kinky…

Sunday, January 15, 2006


The STARDUST spacecraft made a successful landing on Utah’s Test and Training Range this morning just after 5:00AM EST carrying what scientists hope to be the first pieces of a comet and pristine dust from the cosmos. The 100 pound spacecraft has traveled nearly 3 billion miles in space in a seven year jaunt around the solar system. It accomplished several first on its mission – including the capture of cometary materials, the clearest photo of a comet’s surface and this morning became the fastest ever manmade object when it reentered the earth’s atmosphere at more then 28,860 miles per hour.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Go Ahead and Zap Me Please

In the 1950’s a graduate student at what is now Carnegie Mellon University conducted an experiment to determine what relatively low levels of ionizing radiation would do to a mixed cohort of hooded laboratory rats. He found that the closer the rat colonies were to the source of the low level radiation, the better they did on maze and learning tests. The finding was directly opposite of his hypothesis, of course, so he repeated it two more times. Each of the times he repeated it, the result was the same - consistently recorded enhanced performance for those animals nearest the low level radiation source.

This phenomenon has since been called “Hormesis”. The hormetic response suggests the opposite of “conventional wisdom” is true (“Conventional wisdom” being a pervasive oxymoron, of course.) At low levels, perhaps a chronic dose of radiation can actually benefit you. As if to underscore that theory, statistics also show that – of all people – professional workers at nuclear power plants actually have a lower incidence of on the job illness and a higher post retirement longevity of any other class of worker in America.

If that isn’t surprising enough, check this statement out by Dr. S. M. Javad Mortazavi of the University of Koyoto, Japan: “Low-level ionizing radiation may be an essential trace energy for life, analogous to essential trace elements. It has been even suggested that about one third of all cancer deaths are preventable by increasing our low dose radiation.”

Hmmm… would someone please pass the plutonium…

Friday, January 13, 2006

Death Zone Genius

Exploring anywhere anytime teaches we humans our limits. Standing on the highest place on earth, for example, teaches us many things about out realistic limitations. The region on and just under the summit of Mount Everest is called the “death zone”. It is called that because the atmospheric pressure is right around 300 millibars - less than 1/3 that of sea level. If one could magically transport oneself to the summit from the comfort of home - nearly all would die from systemic shock - pulmonary edema and heart failure. Yet, dozens of climbers strike out into the death zone each year and survive. They do so because they spend weeks acclimating their bodies to the death zone, and many of them acclimate enough to make the demanding climb to the top - testing few real mountaineering skills but maximum personal endurance skills.

The same lesson is learned in the sea and in spacecraft - when man pushes past his sea level - comfort zone and ventures into the death zone - endurance and purpose take over for human physiology. Not everyone makes it. Some do back down. Some die on the slopes of uncertainty.

What lesson do we take home from all this? I believe we need to stop trying to test our limits and start actually planning better expeditions and designing better equipment. The macho-macho-explorer-man days are gone. Everyone dies whether in a rocking chair or on a mountain - every human proves that sooner or later. But not every human can forge a victory over whatever limits by intelligent design of his equipment so that his final take home victory is something more than “Look mom – I’m still alive!”. Running with the bulls is fine for fulfillment of adolescent fantasies - but hardly fitting for any meaningful accomplishment beyond one's ego.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Wild Comet Comes to Earth

If all goes according to plan, in a few days hence, at 3:57 AM EST this Sunday morning, a space capsule will return to earth from its seven year, three billion mile mission, landing by parachute in a Utah desert. During its long journey, the craft STARDUST has been collecting stardust and cometary ejecta from the comet WILD 2, pronounced "Vilt 2" after the name of its Swiss discoverer.

The craft was equipped with a special gel called “aerogel” and its purpose was to trap microscopic particles and larger in its jellylike maw. It left part of its collection panels open during the entire seven year flight to capture these tiny grains of matter floating about in space, hence the name, STARDUST. Scientists hope to retrieve the matter from the gel and examine it.

YOU can help them do that on your home computer. Check out this link and you can become a STARDUST investigator (for real), much like the incredibly successful SETI AT HOME program.

The hardy little craft also rendezvoused with the comet WILD 2 on January 2004, passing the comet at more than 13,000 miles per hour (see video clip), but in the passage scooping up some cometary particles in its aerogel trap. By Monday morning, earthlings should finally possess many tiny pieces of a comet and who knows how much pristine stardust as well.

If you wish to follow the action this weekend, click here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cave Exploration Today

A lot of folks spend a lot of time looking up at the sky. But, there’s an incredible amount of exploration right under our feet that gets no press (except when someone has been stupid and killed themselves or someone else). I’m talking about caving – or – cave exploration – or -spelunking. There are some amazingly exciting expeditions going on in the cave exploration world year after year. And some of these adventurers are finding some wild and unbelievable things way-down-under.

I will attempt to given them fair space here in QUANTUMLIMIT.COM. But, if you’d like to go exploring yourself from the comfort of your own computer, let me supply you with some interesting links:

First, there is the mandatory first stop – the NSS, or the National Speological Society.

Then there is the group that is focused on the remarkable caves of the Yucatan.

Or you can get a wonderful look at cave animals and plants here.

If you have a scientific bent, you can check into the archeology of cave exploration here.

And if you are very adventurous, try this site for the wetter side of cave exploration - cave diving. (And please – take ALL their advice on dive safety seriously!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The New Russian Kliper Spaceship

The Russians have released their plans for a new manned spacecraft with a range from low earth orbit to Lunar and even Mars. Called the “Kliper” or “Clipper” (depending on your linguistic orientation), the spacecraft will have a crew capacity of up to six people. It is specifically designed to mate in the rear with any number of propulsion modules which accounts for its amazing versatility.

It is designed to take over for the antique Soyuz and is a one-on-one competitor to the United States’ Crew Exploration Vehicle with one exception: the Russians say their Kliper will cost ten times less and do much more.

For a detailed review of its capabilities, click here.

Next week in QUANTUM LIMIT we will discuss this whole idea of international competition in space in some detail.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

One Step Ahead of The 21st Century Plague

H5N1 is scaring the pants off everybody, it seems. And for good reason. That is the scientific code name for the biggest potential killer since the black plague of 14th Century Europe – also known as ‘Avian Flu”. Okay, I know it would be easy to pin the label of “extremist” on me, but remember, THIS particular offering is just a repeat of a statement from the United States Government released two days ago from the Department of Homeland Security in Washington DC. Here is how Fox New summarized it, quote:

“The HHS on Friday issued a checklist that calls on individuals to plan for transportation disruptions as well as work and school closings. It also calls on households to store supplies of nonperishable food, water, and medicines for use in the event of an outbreak.”

You can download the entire government document from the Whitehouse on PDF by clicking here.

Now the short story. What are they talking about? The theory of survival in a global pandemic is surprisingly easy to understand – but surprisingly difficult to actually implement. It is a simple strategy called, “distancing”. It means, get out of the stream of humanity. Stay at home with your doors closed and locked and do not leave the house or answer the door for anyone at any time until the pandemic subsides. How long would a decent “distancing” strategy take? From the first announcement of the outbreak till the all clear – from two to three months on the first wave, and from two to three months on the second wave (global pandemics in the past have always come in two or even three waves). The good news is that the theory of survival is incredibly easy to understand - stay home. The bad news is that you have to have already stockpiled your food and water and medicines before it actually begins. Further, there could be interruptions in power and heating fuels, so you may need to stockpile those too. Also, most bosses are not so happy about six months or so of called in sick-days. Yes, you can definitely stay alive when Super Chicken flies in – but it won’t be easy to implement.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Meet Quaor, Sedna and 2004DW

Yeah, I know. You, me and the rest of our fellow earthlings were taught there were nine planets. Well, now that it’s 2006, that data set is incomplete. In the past few years we have discovered three more: Quaor, Sedna and 2004DW. Poor 2004DW has no name yet – but may be assigned one by the International Astronomical Union if they can collectively decide whether it is a real planet or just a poor, lower class “trans-Neptunian object'.

And that’s the rub, as there always is. How small do objects have to get before they’re not planets anymore? Does size matter or does composition also matter? The IAU is now struggling with these issues. And when they’re done, Pluto herself could be declassified as a planet or perhaps, grandfathered in.

In terms of distance from the sun (if 1 Astronomical Unit (AU) is 93 million miles), Earth is 1 AU, Pluto is 39.5 AU, Quaor is 43.6 AU, 2004DW is 45 AU and Sedna is a whopping 89 AU, nearly twice as far as Pluto!

Stay tuned. There are a growing number of planet hunters armed with some awesome new tools looking for more. You can definitely expect to see the lost grow. It is time that the IAU get off the dime and settle the question of planetary definitions as well.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Martian Devils

The plucky NASA Mars Rovers have long outlived their projected lifetimes of 90 days by more than eight times the engineer’s warranty. One of the reasons for that is what the engineers are calling “wind effects”. In other words, the wind on Mars has unexpectedly dusted off the rover’s solar panels and allowed them to soak up more energy form the sun longer than anyone ever dreamed.

The atmospheric pressure is tenuously low. It is around 10 mb – which is around 1/100th that as sea level on earth - at best. Compare that to Mt. Everest where the atmospheric pressure is at 300 mb. But there is enough complexity even at that low pressure and a surprising thermal activity that generates not just a few dust devils but hundreds per day within small regions – such as those clearly visible to our rovers.

I have developed a movie page where I have set up the seven best NASA released mini-movies of the dust devils as photographed from the rovers themselves on Mars.

In my Book – Abyss of Elysium – there is a detailed discussion of these events in a fictional setting and how these winds could possibly affect future Mars explorers.

Be sure and click on this link to take a tour of the Mars Dust Devil Movie Page!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Who Said Outposts Have to Be Rugged?

According to the most recent posts on the Poseidon Underwater Resort Website, construction is about to begin on an “underwater resort” off the Bahamas. The multi-billion dollar enterprise is going to construct a hotel on the seafloor at 60 feet in depth and is scheduled to open in December of 2006. The 22 room hotel will be connected to the surface via a tunnel, which begs the question as to whether it even qualifies as an independent “habitat” or not. The entire facility will be pressurized at one atmosphere because of the open tunnel to the surface.

But, the really interesting thing about this resort is its luxury. Each room will rent for $1500 per night. Check out their website and look at the spectacular views!

As a true ocean colony activist , I am somewhat disappointed that it was not totally isolated and accessible by submarine. Now that would have made it truly qualified as a seafloor resort instead of an underwater tank (as luxurious as it is) connected to the shore by a BORING (yawn) tunnel.

But before I am too critical, they are also installing what they call “Poseidon’s Lair” located at an astonishing 1000 feet in depth and accessible only by submarine. And YOU can have this little deep water excursion for only $20,000 per night complete with submarine captain and butler. (Let’s hope these guys disappear somewhere around bedtime.)

OBTW – QuantumLimit readers can definitely look forward to a review of the place by this humble author in ’07. Tunnel? What tunnel? I’m goin’ down anyway!

PS. If readers wish a review of Poseidon’s Lair, well, you guys are going to have to buy more books…

And, speaking of books… I am in the early stages of writing a book titled: UNDERSEA COLONIES that deals with this very issue of man’s permanent expansion into the oceans. It has a tentative street date of 2007.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Very Fast - Very Light - Very Far

In less than two weeks, the launch window will open for the United States Pluto Probe, called New Horizons. The relatively small, piano sized space craft, weighing only about half a ton will streak away from the earth at an amazing 8 miles per second (about 28,800 miles per hour). When the Apollo astronauts left earth, it took them four days to reach the orbit of the moon. New Horizons will reach the limit of the moon’s orbit in only eight hours, traveling an average of 100 times faster than a commercial airliner.

How does it achieve this speed? By strapping a small mass to a large and powerful set of rocket engines: The spacecraft is bolted to a STAR 48B solid propellant third stage and that is bolted to a powerful Centaur second stage and all that is lifted into orbit by the new Atlas V. In other words, it is the lowest payload mass to the largest thrust power ever launched.

The reason for all that power is simple: the Pluto system is a very long way away: about 4 light hours, to be exact. That adds up to somewhere about 3 billion miles at the time of rendezvous. That is a well over three times the distance from earth than the orbit of Saturn. If we want to hear the results of the mission in our lifetimes, it has to be fast.

The nuclear powered spacecraft should arrive at the Pluto system on or about 2015 after picking up a gravitational boost from relatively nearby Jupiter in 2007.

The Pluto system has become more interesting in just the past year. Astronomers have discovered two more small moons(yet unnamed) in orbit around the cold and distant body in addition to the larger companion Charon. And there is also some indication that the icy world - whose surface temperatures may hover 10-20 or so degrees above absolute zero - may also have a set of rings.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

YOU Can Book Passage to the Moon

In an ironic twist of good old fashioned, entrepreneurial capitalism, the Russians have announced open seats for '...anyone with the wherewithal...' (their words – not mine) to strap into a cramped, antiquish Soyuz capsule for a fling about the moon. The Russians don’t really care if you’re sick, lame or lazy, they just want the cash – all $100 million of it in cold, hard currency. The mission will be flown by a Russian cosmonaut and will carry two commercial passengers. Living conditions on the spacecraft will be tight, as the interior will have a volume of approximately 350 cubic feet, about as large as the inside of a large SUV. Under the plan, a cosmonaut and the tourists, after spending a week at the ISS, would fly a Soyuz spacecraft around the Moon and return to Earth. Now that’s what America is – or was - all about!

Of course - a lot of folks will never actually believe that anyone would really cough up a hundred million for such a trip. Well - hang on to your hats. One man has already stepped forward, American (aren't they all?) Greg Olsen - currently scheduled to fly on a Russian ship to the ISS in '06. And if that isn't good enough, the Russians have actually conducted a marketing study and discovered their market: 1000 other wealthy potential ticket holders with their eyes cast skyward.

Now, you logically ask, why isn’t America involved in anything like this? I mean, it was we, after all, who invented capitalism in the first place and actually made it work. Well, sadly, the list is long indeed. We can start off with astronaut hero worship, follow it up with half a million lawyers lining up to sue everybody involved and their grandmother in case of an unplanned hang-nail – or, God forbid, some unplanned nausea on orbit. And that doesn’t even begin to discuss OSHA and at least a million other laws designed to protect you, me and the endangered snail. Yeah, YOU can book passage to the moon today, but you will be flying under a communist flag. Hey – don’t get mad at me – I just report it as it actually comes down.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Revenge of the Taikonauts

"Taikong" is the Mandarin Chinese word for outer space. And you can pretty much figure out the rest. Obviously, the Taikonauts are Chinese astronauts who’s bosses at the Chinese Space Agency make any just about NASA public relations event look like (excuse the reverse pun) a Chinese funeral. Well, the Chicoms are actually serious about this whole space race deal and are planning a permanent Chinese base on the moon by 2020 with the first lunar orbiter demonstration set for 2007. Shown in this picture is the official Chinese government’s celebration of a pair of returning hero Taikonauts at a Super Bowl-like gala complete with scantily clad Chinese cheerleaders. If our first impulse is a stuffy western guffaw – we’d better laugh now and get it over with. If we look back at the skimpy US records accomplished with the truncated Apollo program, it won’t require many of these gaudy celebrations until Taikonauts leave US Astronauts and their yawning taxpayer base in a cloud of antique 1960’s lunar dust. So when it is time for the United States to really get serious about this? How about yesterday.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Zeta Welcomes in 2006

Here it is January first 2006 (OBTW - Happy New Year) and we all wake up and witness Tropical Storm Zeta churning its way across the North Atlantic. After a record setting year of hurricanes in nearly every category, the average person will, of course, want to ask: “What’s up?” Every bony finger ends up pointing to everyone’s favorite kicking boy, ‘Global Warming’. And it just seems like the guilty looking global warming suspect does, after all, really have pie all over his face. It just sounds so reasonable to assume that if the planet’s surface is warming from greenhouse gasses or a plethora of Humvees, burning down the rainforests or exhaust from Barbara Streisand’s fleet of luxury jets, that all that energy has to go somewhere, sometime. However, many scientists are responding with a “Not so fast.” Politicizing meteorology has gone too far, they say. For example, after an exhaustive study of the peer reviewed scientific literature, here is a statement from Colorado State University: “The state of the peer-reviewed knowledge today is such that there are good reasons to expect that any conclusive connection between global warming and hurricanes or their impacts will not be made in the near term.” Oh well, another beautiful theory slain by the ugly facts.