Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Lake That Time Forgot

RADARSAT image of Lake Vostok

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, NSW , Australia

In a remote region of planet Earth there exists a huge freshwater lake that no human has ever seen. This is Lake Vostok in Antarctica. The lake is hidden from our eyes by a 4000 meter thick cover of solid ice that has isolated the water for a million years or more. Named after the nearby Russian base Vostok, its existence was confirmed in the 1990's through radar imagery and spaceborne radar altimetry. This is no small body of water either, with a surface area of 14000 square kilometers the lake is about as large a Lake Ontario. The water's depth varies from 200 to 800 meters and the total water volume is estimated to be 5,400 cubic kilometers. The reason it has not frozen over is because the Earth's internal heating warms the bottom and the ice acts like an insulator. Even so the water is a bitterly cold -3 deg C.

The water is unlike anything found in a surface lake. Over the centuries air bubbles from the ice above have been released into the water giving the water 50 times the normal oxygen level. If the ice was removed the water would bubble and fizz like a shaken coke bottle.

The great question is what, if any, form of life exists in that water? NASA is very interested as they see Lake Vostok as an analog for what may be in the oceans of the Solar System ice worlds such as Enceladus and Europa. NASA scientists claim to have already found microorganisms in the ice above the lake so are excited of what may be found in the cold water beneath. The big concern is contamination. There is already controversy of the microorganism findings some scientists claim the bugs are contaminants .

They claim the lake is too toxic for life to exist and is sterile. The American scientists respond that their decontamination procedures are effective and any life would evolve to adapt to high oxygen concentrations.

We will know the truth soon enough as the Russians are drilling through the ice to the lake water. They stopped in March this year, 130 meters from the water's surface and will resume in December, the beginning of summer. Environmentalists fear the pristine environment will be contaminated by the drilling but the Russians are determined to continue. They hope to crack through the ice by 2008.

This is another of those “lost worlds” that I have written about and the possibility of life down there is just fascinating. (“Lost World” defined as the still undiscovered environments on Earth with unique ecologies.) What could evolution have produced after a million years in such an extreme environment? There is minimal energy down there and the lake has been cut off from the rest of Earth's biosphere. Could there be more advanced life forms than microorganisms? As one researcher said:

If the lake does contain life, "it would not be an overstatement to say it could be one of the biological finds of the millennium," said USC Dean of Research Donal T. Manahan, a biologist who is chairman of the polar research board of the National Academy of Sciences

The opportunity to sample such an ancient, untouched habitat, Manahan said, "comes once in a million years."

I'm sure going to be watching developments.

For more information see here, here and here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Asteroid Mission Un-Cancelled

In the big fat middle of a global warming crisis here on Quantum Limit – there is a spark (no pun intended) of good news! The Space Agency announced that the Dawn Mission to the Asteroids Ceres and Vesta is back on! Check out the details here.
Whew – that was close. Expect a summer 2007 launch.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Fire of Genesis in Every Heart

A few weeks ago, I boarded a wide body jet and flew across the Atlantic ocean from Miami to Paris. During that nine hour flight, I and several hundred others were served two hot meals and watched two movies. While it is a commonplace event today, I recalled that the machine I was sitting in was designed by a couple of bicycle mechanics in their garage in Ohio less than a century before. Their single stroke of genius made more of an impact on mankind than any other in the last century.

We take their story of granted, but it is amazing one indeed. At the moment of their discovery, there was a fevered struggle all over the planet to do what they did. It involved whole nations and universities pouring out all mankind’s genius searching for that single discovery. The ones who found it were not only the least likely, but they worked with resources gleaned from their day-jobs as bicycle repairmen. While US Government sponsored Professor Langley was sputtering about in the Potomac, the Wrights were getting the job done.

In the end, discovery, invention and genius is not all about big money, big universities, big government or big bureaucracies. It is about big ideas carried about in the minds of everyday people. The fire of the individual heart when blended with the kernel of genius in every mind is a dangerous thing. When slammed together under just the right conditions, the very fires of genesis are released into the world, and no one, no established institution or no society will ever be the same.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Software for Space Explorers

Phobos and Mars with Celestia

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, NSW Australia

Like Dennis, spaceflight was a childhood dream of mine. I knew it would take some time to save for the ticket, so thought I would use the time to have a good look at whats up there. So started my lifelong interest in amateur astronomy. Over the years I have had a range of telescopes including 250mm Dobsonian reflectors and a 200 mm cassegrain. Currently I'm using a 80mm refractor and my trusty 7x50 binoculars. Modest equipment but perfectly adequate for a unit dweller.

Sadly many people purchase a telescope and are disappointed by what the see. No view from an amateurs telescope can match the image from a major observatory. Especially when that image is a time exposure photograph. However there is great beauty to be seen with even modest instruments. Remember the object will be subtle but the brain and eye will see more detail with constant viewing. If you are interested theres plenty of resources on the web so I won't be discussing amateur astronomy here but I want to go through a few astronomy software programs . They are all free ware and most should be of interest to all readers of this blog telescope or no telescope.

Celestia. probably the most spectacular freeware astronomy software available is Celestia. It produces beautiful high resolution realistic 3D images of planets and other celestial objects and allows you to take a space trip to the desired object. What to go to Mars? Then select Mars from the Menu and hit Goto. In a few seconds you will be zoomed through Space to your destination. I arrived 6 million km from the surface, far to distant. So I zoomed in to 7000km. Too close. Went out to 20000 km, much better, now the whole planet is viewable. Celestia can be used as a planetarium , to follow space missions, tour the galaxy etc. Theres lots of add ons and is well supported by its users. A must get.

Stellarium. Learning your way around the sky can be difficult. I found most star charts confusing, especially the ones that ask you to hold them above your head and look South. How are you supposed to read the thing in the dark and try to see the stars with the chart over your head? Fortunately we now have Stellarium. This program simulates the sky as it actually appears outside. It trys to to account for atmospheric haze and sky glow and produces a photo realistic image. You just select your location from a map and it reads computer time to produce the simulation. Then just compare the view on the screen with the outside view. It would be a cinch if you have a laptop to take outside but I had no problems with studying the simulation on a desktop PC then going outside to look at the night sky. Users can overlay constellations and select stars for identification. If you want to learn the sky get Stellarium. Wish I had it 20 years ago.

Home Planet . John Walker's Home Planet has been around since the mid 90's and I have been using it most of that time. If you want a comprehensive free astronomy program get this. On startup it produces a map of the Earth showing the day/night cycle and the position of the Moon. You can then produce a map of the full sky, your horizon or the view from a telescope. Home Planet can also be used to guide a computer controlled telescope. Want to know where a newly discovered asteroid or comet is? Well, go here and you can produce the new objects ephemerides in the Home Planet format. Run them in the Orrery and see where it is in relation to the planets. Then go to the star chart and see where it is in the sky. Theres even a satellite tracker, input two-line orbital elements and you can plot the ISS or any other satellite position in the sky. Home Planet may be getting a bit old but its still very useful.

Virtual Moon Atlas. If you want to explore the Moon download Virtual Moon Atlas. It will produce a high quality image showing the Lunar features. You can zoom down to any feature selected and a side bar provides detailed information. Selecting the full globe option provides a 3D image which can be rotated revealing the Farside. Users can input the type of telescope they have and it will generate the image they should see. Since the Moon can be explored with modest instruments, binoculars will do, the Moon Atlas is a useful program to have.

Cartes Du Ciel . If you have a telescope and want to to get the most out of it this program is for you. Cartes Du Ciel will produce detailed star charts for the amateur astronomer. It will show stars, deep sky objects, planets, asteroids comets etc. Information can be updated online. The night vision option allows you to use it on your computer at your observing site or produce printouts. You can do serious work with this.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Human Exploration - Who’s In Charge?

One thing I have noticed while observing the world of human exploration activities is that in the past, most major exploration initiatives have been carried out by individuals. While it is true that some of them (not all) of them relied on nations or wealthy benefactors for support, the real thrusts in exploration have mostly been personal. I could spend a lot of internet ink here by recounting the notable examples – but you already know them as well as I do: Columbus, the Wright Brothers, Cousteau, etc.

It is the notable exceptions that has ruined the modern mind: the various international space programs. However, that is a little problem that the Rutan-Branson team is about to solve. It’s back to the future, it seems.

The thing that excites me most about the private explorer is his energy. I wake up sometimes in the dead of night and feel the energy myself. I CAN do this – and I can do it myself! And what is that?

I was invited to speak at the Milwaukee branch of the old L-5 society in 1992. I was invited there as “A Doer” because my private organization had already taken a few first steps into the frontier. We unashamedly told anyone who wanted to listen that we were going to build the world’s first undersea colony and pattern it after a space colony as an analog. It still hasn’t happened yet – but than I’m not dead yet and the day ain’t over. We’re still working – hard – to make that happen. More on that tomorrow.

Meanwhile, look around you and see if you can figure out who’s really in charge of exploration and why…

Shown above is Christopher Columbus. He didn’t know where he was going when he left. He didn’t know where he was when he got there and didn’t know where he had been when he got back. But by this obstinate approach, he changed the world and everyone in it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Hard Core Action Adventure

What happens to two groups of colonists on Mars if they unexpectedly lose contact with the earth for reasons unknown? Could they survive if their re-supply ship was lost? How would they cope?

This is the premise of my book, ABYSS OF ELYSIUM. But even though that scenario may sound tense enough, mix in a volatile collection of egotists, world class scientists and powerful bureaucrats and the story gets really interesting. And if that doesn’t make for an exciting story – let’s go ahead and toss in another Mars colony more than a thousand kilometers distant bent on survival at any cost, even if they have to pay them an unexpected visit.

My goal in writing any book is to strive for as much actual-world realism as possible. I extensively research my plot before the first word is written. You won’t find any aliens in a Chamberland book, no warp drives and no strange science. My goal is to write a book that has the most exciting story possible and make it fun, non-stop and nail biting, peopled with characters who you will not want to say goodbye to at the end!

When I write a story, I write it in such a way that I can’t wait to pen the next chapter! And that’s the same excitement the story generates in my readers – or so they tell me. If you are not a reader, please consider joining in the family of the most hard-core action adventure stories on earth and beyond!

Check out all my books by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Getting Bent is No Fun

Getting the bends is no fun. I know. I have been bent twice in my diving career. And just in case you did not know, the bends is also a problem with astronauts.

When astronauts fly in space, they can change their atmosphere to whatever they wish – and change the pressure as well. When they do that, they risk getting the bends just like any diver. So NASA has developed with a series of procedures to keep their astronauts safe from the bends, even though one day, some astronaut will get hit – it’s only a matter of time and probability.

For us terrestrial explorers, we always have to worry about getting the bends while diving. As I found out, it is a risk on every dive – but generally speaking the deeper you dive or the longer you stay, the higher the risk. The Diver’s Alert Network has just published a series of papers on the wisdom of decompression stops for all divers, regardless of whether it is mandated by the sport dive tables or not. It can be found here. There is great wisdom to this – indeed, it follows NASA’s philosophy to be cautions and pay as much attention to the probability tables as much as the dive tables. Check it out, even if you’re not a diver because this information will be just as applicable to space travelers as divers in the earth’s oceans.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Whats Out There?

View from Sedna

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, NSW, Australia

Dennis has written about the recently discovered Kuiper Belt Object, UB313 now known to be larger then Pluto. The International Astronomical Union still can't decide what a planet is so it doesn't have a proper name. Its discovers have given it the temporary name of Xena and are calling its moon Gabrielle after the characters of the Xena TV show. Personally I think Xena is a perfectly good name for the new planet. After all everyone who watched the TV show knows Xena was a Greek demi-goddess who's father was properly Ares (Mars). However I doubt the astronomers of the IAU will be so open minded. As UB313 sounds like the name of one of the forms I processed while I worked in the public service, I'll call it Xena until the IAU come up with something better.

The mysterious depths of our solar system are like the unexplored regions of the 18th Century world. Navigators knew the Northern Hemisphere fairly well but much of the Southern Hemisphere was a mystery. Scientists of the time believed the Southern Hemisphere had to have a large super-continent similar to Eurasia. They thought the Earth was like a wheel and had to be kept in balance and a large Southern continent was required to keep the Earth spinning properly . That was one of the reasons Captain Cook was ordered to explore the South Pacific. He did not find the huge land mass but he did find the smallest continent, Australia.

Today I'm going to stick my neck out and make some WAGs on whats out there, Hopefully they will be more accurate then my Melbourne Cup racing tips but here goes.

Bodes Law and Planet X ,Y and Z

I have never been much of a mathematician but the mathematical progression known as Bodes Law has always fascinated me. Its a way of calculating the distances of the planets from the Sun and is very simple. Take these numbers 0, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96. As you can see after the first two we are just doubling the number.

Then add 4 to each number: 4, 7, 10, 16, 28, 52, 100.

Finally divide by 10: .4, .7, 1, 1.6, 2.8, 5.2, 10.

The numbers match up reasonable well with the actual distances of the visible planets in Astronomical Units. Theres a missing object at the 2.8 position but in 1801 the minor planet Ceres was discovered and that fits in the gap nicely. In the years that followed many other small objects were discovered at approximately 2.8 AU distance and we now call the region the Asteroid Belt. Astronomers expected to see a continuation of the progression for any new planets and were not disappointed when William Herschel found Uranus in 1781 at 19.9AU.

However Neptune was found in 1846 and it came in at 30.1 AU not the expected 38.8AU. The “Law” fell into disrepute after that and has never really recovered.

Amateur astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930 and interestingly it has average distance of 39.5 so does seem to fit. We now know that Pluto is a Kuiper Belt Object and like the Asteroid Belt there are other objects at roughly the Bodes Law distance.

Are there any more objects out there even further out? Well Xena at the moment is the most distant object known it has an elliptical orbit takes takes it back to the Kuiper Belt then out to 97AU. But a couple of years ago Sedna was discovered. This little world seems to be an Oort cloud object, the Oort Cloud being the hypothetical shell of icy proto-comets in very loose orbits around the sun. Sedna's orbit is highly elliptical but its perihelion is a 76.1 AU not far off the Bode Law expected 77.

So what is going on here? No one knows if the “Law” is just an oddity or there is some unexplained harmony in the Solar System. But its seems that while not all objects fit in the Bode Law distance points all such points have objects in them. So this is what I think. Just us we found other objects around the little planets Ceres and Pluto distances we will find more objects at the 77AU Sedna distance to make up the extra mass. Also expect to find substantial objects at the 154 and 307.6 AU distances the next two Bode Law numbers.

I think the next few years are going to be very interesting. As Captain Picard would say “Lets go and see whats out there”

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Dawn Not Dead Yet

Ralph reported here last week that NASA had killed the Dawn Mission to the largest asteroid CERES and asteroid VESTA. The Dawn folks were said to be over budget and plagued with technical issues.

But wait! Not so fast… Just when those of us who longed to see Ceres and Vesta with our own eyes thought it was all over, this week, NASA changed its mind. Now, Dawn is up for yet another review. Experts say it is serious, that Dawn is “on life support”, but the last rites have still not been given – the bold mission to the huge future outposts using ion propulsion is still alive for the moment.

Of course, this whole process is rife with politics. Like a iceberg, most of it is hidden below the public’s radar. There is a great deal of international anguish because the project was hinged to a number of partner agreements, not to mention a significant congressional interest in seeing a re-run of the death penalty phase of the hearings.

The Dawn mission is one of the most exciting and essential missions in the cue. I would hope that sanity would somehow prevail here. Instead of spending the $10 million it would take to shut it down, let us hope that the decision would be made to invest that $10 million into the program and let’s go! After all – we need to map these future outposts and get on about the business of planting our colonies out there.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Riding A Spaceship From Your Front Yard

When I was just a youngster, I wanted to launch a spaceship from my front yard to Mars. No kidding. I even developed this incredibly elaborate fantasy-dream where I actually did this in my imagination. One of the things I remember about my imagineered spacecraft was a large mirror outside my window, so that even though I was lying on my back, I could look out and see the world disappear beneath me until I was far, far away from the earth as I watched my front yard and the earth recede in the distance.

Well, I never actually got around to building that spaceship. Life and a few other ugly realities interposed themselves in front of my great plans. However, just the day before yesterday, I was able to actually see my fantasy happen, just like I planned! I’m not joking! And I’m about to tell you not only how I did it, but how you can too! And the best part about it – it’s absolutely FREE – not to mention absolutely real.

The first thing you need to do is to load the software called Google Earth. I provided a link to that at the bottom.

When GOOGLE EARTH loads, it springs up on your screen with a navigation console. With it you can go anywhere on earth you’d like, zooming in from space, and then taking back off for space after you’re done exploring. One of the coolest features is the tilt and pan feature on the navigation bar that allows you to fly over your chosen spot from any angle of attack! Check out the zoom bar too – you can navigate it at easy to use and gentle speeds – or roar away at warp speeds – you decide.

There is an empty box at the left top of the navigation screen. In there you can put a latitude – longitude or even a street address and the awesome almost magic Google Space Machine will take you there! It’s nothing less than absolutely amazing.

So what I’d like to do is to show you where I lived as a boy and my front yard, if you’d like to go to northeast Oklahoma in the country and look around with me. Just cut and paste this address in the empty navigation bar:

35 51 33.9 N 95 42 54.43 W

Now – press on the magnifying glass button to the right of the bar and wait for Google Earth to take you down gently and float. It will stop, hovering above my house at right about 4,000 feet. Go ahead now and press the zoom lever (+) in the center of the screen and zoom all the way on down to my former-front yard! Now back off on the zoom bar and fly into orbit at whatever speed you wish! I believe the zoom out feature will take you about 1/3 of the distance to the moon before it stops.

Now play with the easy to use controls and see if you can find your own home or ANY place on earth you wish to look at. You can then save these places for a quick return later (highly recommended because some places are sometimes difficult to find from space.) Again, Google also allows you to put in a street address in the event you have one (my old home does not have one except a rural route address which Google does not accept, of course!)

The address to download this free treasure is found by clicking here. Happy exploring – and don’t forget to visit the old homestead in Oklahoma!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Witnessing Creation

If you lined every human in the world up in a long line and then asked everyone who has witnessed the birth of a new ocean to raise their right hand, there would be about 50 souls lift their palms high. Of that 50, about half would probably be drunk or substance abusers, five of them will tell you they were with Elvis when they saw it, ten of them would be politicians and/or liars, five would tell you they were in command of or abducted by the UFO that made it happen - and five would be telling the truth.

Their story was published in the German online magazine, Spiegel, and it can be found by clicking here. It comes complete with a series of pictures for your review – don’t miss the slide show.

The event is taking place in Ethiopia and the creative act is going to break the horn of Africa off the continent and divide the land with a yet-unnamed new ocean, filled up by waters from the Red Sea. But before you go out and invest in potential beach front property in the Ethiopian desert, it is a useful investment fact to know that this process will take about another ten million years - give or take.

(Shown above is the Horn of Africa from orbit that is planning its break-away. From what I've seen in the headlines about the dark continent, I can't say that I blame it.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

150 Million Americans To Die?

Yesterday I talked about stockpiling tuna under the bed as a response to Cabinet Secretary of Health and Human Services - Michael Leavitt’s idea about beating avian flu. In that article, I pieced together the two bleakest projections for the possible human-to-human evolution of H5N1 which projected 1/4th of the US population would die – 74 million. What a difference one day makes. Last night on ABC News, the leading expert on the virus, Dr. Robert G. Webster, projected twice that – or some 150 million Americas in the viral crosshairs.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but that makes my skin crawl. As far as my history book goes, there has never ever been a greater threat to human kind. The Black Plague is rendered inconsequential to this horror.

In any event, I guess it is best that you read this article for yourself. And as far as stockpiling under his bed? Forget it. Dr. Webster has loaded up his basement! Click here for details.

Shown above is Dr. Robert G. Webster - ABC News

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Great Galactic Ghoul

When the ancient cartographers drew their maps, on large areas of the planet were unknown regions. The more educated map makers would sketch either “terra incognito” or “oceanus incognito” on the areas where there was no information. But the more superstitious ones would sketch the words, “here be dragons”.

Of course, we dismiss such notions and we know much more about our planet. But the vast regions of space give us a 21st century analog. We have lost many spacecraft trying to navigate between planets, and when they disappear, we label our space charts, “here be the Great Galactic Ghoul”.

But before I repeat an already excellent article by my favorite space reporter, Jim Oberg, just click here. It is a really fantastic read from one of Quantum Limit’s sponsors, MSNBC – don’t miss it!

Good Work Lads!

Antarctica Update
Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW Australia

The JRM Antarctic Expedition has crossed the Antarctic Circle and come to an end. They had hoped to paddle their Kayak further south but the ice prevented progress. You may ask why bother? Whats the use of paddling 800 km around Antarctica? I 'll let Andrew answer it.

It has been said that polar expeditions are a useless exercise that serve no purpose. Paddling to an unmarked spot on a featureless ocean certainly felt a little pointless.

However on the up side, expeditions are without doubt a celebration of human endeavour. There is something special about a small team of friends working towards a common goal, taking on carefully calculated risks in a hostile environment, and doing so safely. It's also a heck of a lot better than staying at home and watching TV.

In measuring the success of this expedition, we've had a short time to reflect on what's happened over the past weeks. We didn't get quite as far south as we had hoped. However, we paddled around 800km along the harshest and most inhospitable coastline in the world. We did so safely, without a resupply, and in the face of difficult conditions. We returned as friends. We had an awesome time in one of the most incredible places on the planet. Sounds like success to me.

Humans have curiosity and a need for new challenges . It would be a sad world indeed if such “useless” endeavours were banned. The trouble is that Earth is losing its physical frontiers. We need frontiers to challenge us to allow us to expand and allow liberty to flourish. Without a frontier expect wars and stagnation. That's the reason I'm a great believer in Space and Ocean exploration. We need real frontiers. In banning colonisation of Antarctica we closed the continent from its full potential.

Antarctic explorers like the JRM team should be opening frontiers for human development not just be having a great adventure. Hopefully we won't make the same mistake with Space and Oceans.


The JRM Expedition has come to a close but there are a couple of other interesting adventures starting in a few weeks. I'll let you know about them in good time.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Passion of The Mars Debate

Six years ago, I shared a suite of offices with the former NASA Manager for the Viking Mars probes, the late Dr. Richard S. Young. We had many hours of conversations about Mars and the Viking experiments. Dr. Young told me at the time that the thing they all most feared about the Viking mission was that the experiments onboard to detect life would send back ambiguous results that they could not clearly understand and not really tell them anything definitive. And that is exactly what happened. One experiment in particular, the Labeled Release experiment sent back results that could indicate the presence of living organisms in the Martian soil. But most scientists after carefully reviewing the data said the results were due to soil chemistry and nothing more.

But just to make life really exciting, the scientist in charge of that experiment disagreed. In fact, he has said that the experiment, in fact, detected life and faithfully reported it back to earth just as the instrument was designed to do! Unfortunately, his analysis is in the minority view and thus, in 2001, a story in CNN labels Dr. Gilbert Levin a “maverick scientist”.

But the controversy continues unabated with the current batch of probes, especially the two plucky, still functioning Mars rovers, far over their warranty. One photo shows a brightened streaking in the tracks of the rovers that Ralph reported here last week may have been due to the frosty remnants of water ice just below the surface condensing into frost on the surface after the weight of the water squished it out. But not so fast – that isn’t at all the official NASA story, as reported here, it is the result of subsurface salt deposits kicked up by the rover’s tracks.

Since everyone else on this planet gets an opinion on this, I get one too. First, let me say that labeling Dr. Levin (a brilliant scientist, by the way) a “maverick” is foul play and an unfortunate use of words. Dr. Levin is highly respected in the scientific community, was highly respected by Dr. Young and has been given a raw deal. Second, as Dr. Young so carefully pointed out, the results are, at best, ambiguous. That has a meaning. It means that NO ONE REALLY KNOWS, period, end of story! There is just not enough data to make a decision. So then, if no one really knows, then everyone needs to back off and hear everyone else out and stop the name calling. After all, is CNN a “maverick news network” just because Fox News has run away with their audience and they now hold the minority position? No – it means in America we all get to hear everyone else’s voice and make up our own minds without prejudice for some one else's opinion. Third, since the data is ambiguous on all counts, I believe there in only one way to solve the conundrum. Send astronauts to find out. That will settle this issue once and for all for everyone!

Even when astronauts get there, Mars will probably not release all its secrets easily, as I describe in my book, ABYSS OF ELYSIUM - check it out!

Shown above is Levin and the Viking onboard life detection biology suite.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Best and Brightest Thread the Needle

The finest space navigators in the world threaded the needle yesterday afternoon. They placed their two ton spacecraft - the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter - in a perfect, pre-planned highly elliptical orbit around Mars. After traveling more than three hundred million miles, the space navigators were able to place the spacecraft into a precise orbit while navigating her there from their earthbound desks. It was impressive and it has not been accomplished with such precision ever before.

Shown here is the picture from the MRO's navigation camera onboard the spacecraft the engineers and their computers used to thread the cosmic needle while traveling at a speed of more than 23,000 miles per hour. Note that they were using the tiny Martian Moon Deimos as a navigational aid as it spun about the planet, as well as the suite of navigational stars, also shown.

The $450-million MRO probe will become the fourth operational orbiter around Mars and the sixth overall spacecraft to study the planet simultaneously. NASA’s twin Mars rovers are rolling across the planet’s surface, while its Mars Odyssey, Mars Global Surveyor and Europe’s Mars Express scan the world from orbit.

The spacecraft now begins six months of another precarious maneuver called aerobraking – using the tin Martian atmosphere to slow it down into a circular orbit. This is yet another tricky navigational feat that our smart space navigators will be in charge of. And that’s a good thing! Can you imagine what would happen if we put the world’s best and brightest politicians in charge of that? (Sorry about the oxymoron…)


Ralph did a fantastic job of minding the store while Claudia and I were away in France. We accomplished all we set out to do - and more - in our research for my next book, ALYETE. And while sitting in a French train station in Rennes France, I learned a fascinating piece of information while trying to decipher a French computer magazine. They call a gigabyte a “gigaoctet” – because – of course, a byte consists of eight bits! Sorry – I guess it doesn’t take much to entertain a bored rocket scientist…

It's good to be home at last! Once again - thanks very much, Ralph! Our next feat will be a podcast recorded simultaneously from Florida USA and Sydney Australia. The Internet has given us a united planet and has virtually erased miles, distance and time - and we're going to prove it!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Chinese Spaceships

Ralph Buttigieg Sydney NSW Australia


The Chamberlands should be back home today so this will be my last posting. I hope you found my articles interesting. I'll might post the occasional article and update in the future but I'm sure Dennis has much to tell us about.


NASA is in the process of developing the CEV spaceship and the Russians the Kliper, meanwhile the Chinese have successfully launched the first new manned orbital vehicle in decades , the Shenzhou. A glance at the Shenzhou will instantly show its similarity with the Russian Soyuz. Like the Soyuz its based on a three module design with a return, propulsion and orbital module with the addition of a small separate instrument module. This should be no surprise, the Soyuz is the great work horse of Space exploration. In one form or another it has been in use since the sixties. The Soyuz has been a space taxi, a lifeboat , cargo ship and in its Zond variant, a moon ship. Rumors of the Chinese stealing Russian technology are wrong. They purchased much of the technology through agreements signed in 1990s.

The design philosophy behind Soyuz is to put the crew and anything that has to be returned to Earth in a separate re-entry module, everything else goes in one of the other two modules. This way the Russians minimized the need for heat shields, retro-rockets, parachutes and other equipment required for landing. For every gram removed from the return module they saved two grams overall. The Soyuz had approximately the same mass as the old Apollo, but had about a third extra internal volume. The other major advantage was that the orbital module could be used as an airlock. This was essential for the cosmonauts as the primitive Soviet era electronics could not withstand vacuum.

Although the Shenzhou is based on the same design principle as the Soyuz it is no copy. It is larger with more volume, has three time the electrical power and importantly the orbital module has its own propulsion system and can be left in space as a separate spacecraft.

After several unmanned flights Yang Liwei, became the first taikonaut to fly a Chinese spaceship. The mission in October 2003 lasted 21 hours and Liwei never left the return module but he did prove the Shenzhou was operational. The orbital module was left in space and operated for about six months on a military imaging mission.

The next mission, Shenzhou 6, was in October 2005 and had a two man crew. This time the taikonauts (can someone come up with a generic name for space travelers?) entered the orbital module and spent 5 days in Space. Again the orbital module was left behind with military experiments.

The next manned flight was planed for 2007 but has been delayed by six months until 2008 as the EVA spacesuit is taking longer to develop then expected. That mission will again be with a two man crew and involve a space walk. It should be noted that the last time the Russians did a EVA with a Soyuz was in 1968 and that was with a Soyuz docked to another Soyuz. All their EVA since have been from space stations. That they are attempting such a feat shows the confidence the Chinese have in the Shenzhou.

Once the space walk has ended all the tests possible with one spaceship would have been completed. The next mission won't be until 2010 which will allow time for the Chinese to complete a mini space station. The habitat will be based on an extended Shenzhou orbital module and mass about eight tonnes and have two docking ports. Once placed into orbit an unmanned Shenzhou will be sent to dock with it and deliver cargo. This will be followed with a manned Shenzhou which will dock at the second port. The astronauts will enter China's first space habitat and begin an extended stay.

No firm announcement has been made as what will follow. Speculation is that a larger, twenty tonne permanent station will be orbited . Theres indication the Chinese would like to join the ISS consortium, although how realistic that is I don't know. They have said their long range ambition is the Moon and Shenzhou hardware could be adapted for a moonshot but any firm plans are unknown.

For more information see here, here, and here.

Update from Enceladus

NASA have confirmed my previous post on Enceladus. From a report just released:

NASA's Cassini spacecraft may have found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in Yellowstone-like geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. The rare occurrence of liquid water so near the surface raises many new questions about the mysterious moon.

"We realize that this is a radical conclusion -- that we may have evidence for liquid water within a body so small and so cold," said Dr. Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leade

r at Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. "However, if we are right, we have significantly broadened the diversity of solar system environments where we might possibly have conditions suitable for living organisms."...

So there is liquid water there but they still are baffled as to why.

James Oberg has an excellent article as to what this means. I urge you to read it.

My take. It has long been thought that Europa has an internal liquid water sea, recent evidence also suggest other large Jovian moons have liquid water underneath their crust. The Kupier Belt Objects are mostly ice so they too may have underground oceans. We can now add Enceladus.

Quantum Limits has a focus on Undersea and Space exploration. In the outer Solar System they become one. For the warm internal oceans will be much more friendly then the cold surface above. The explorers and settlers of the outer planets will be aquanauts not just astronauts.

NASA / JPL / SSI An enhanced-color image of Enceladus, based on data from the Cassini spacecraft, highlights dark "tiger stripes" in the south polar region. Those stripes are actually fissures that appear to be the source of the Saturnian moon's geysers.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Islands of Space

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, NSW


While the Moon and Mars are NASA's goals for human exploration there are other destinations which are easier to reach then Mars and would be of great interest to private explorers. These are the asteroids, the islands of Space.

Most of the asteroids are found in the Asteroid Belt, between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter, however in 1898 the asteroid Eros was discovered and astronomers realised its orbit brought it close to Earth. Since then several hundred other close approachers have been found and are known as the Near Earth Asteroids (NEA). The NEAs are classified into three groups, the Atens which have average orbital diameters closer than one AU and are usually inside the Earth's orbit, the Apollos which have average orbital diameters greater than that of the Earth and cross Earth's orbit and the Amors which have average orbital diameters in between the orbits of Earth and Mars and never cross Earth's orbit. New NEA are discovered every year and its estimated only about 10% have been found so far.

They are of interest to scientists because of the real posibility of a collision with Earth and as a source of raw materials. Something like 25% of the NEAs appear to be former comets and could contain substantial amounts of water. As Dennis has written, water is the most important resource in Space so their significance can not be underestimated.

Various unmanned spacecraft have flown past asteroids and two have attempted landings. In 2002 NEAR Shoemaker touched down on Eros's surface. Last year the Japanese ion drive spacecraft Muses-C managed to land on Hayabusa and hopefully will return a sample to Earth.

Because of their closeness they are good targets for human explorers not just robots. One potential target is 1991 VG. This tiny world can be reached in as little as 15 days. With a 30 stay the mission takes 60 days and the Delta Vee cost is 6.1 km/s. Stretch the mission out to 90 days and Delta Vee goes down to 4.9 km/s. Another good candidate is KY26, this worldlet, only 30 meters in diameter, appears to be loaded with water and might serve as provisions stop for explorers.

Landing on an asteroid will be have unique problems. Any dust stirred up could take hours to settle because of the light gravity. It would be more like docking a spacecraft then a planetary landing. Astronaut Thomas D Jones describes working on an asteroid as follows:

What would the encounter phase of an NEA mission be like? The cruise vehicle would orbit from a safe distance while sending field explorers down to the surface. In the very low gravity field-measured in thousandths of a g - these EVA's would be much more like my delicate tiptoeing around the ISS than the hard-charging marathons of the Apollo moonwalks. Tethering and delicate control will be all-important, since an astronaut and his tools could easily drift away from the surface. More reminiscent of Apollo will be the dust problem. Stirred up by sampling work or thruster firings, the fine particles will take minutes to settle. Planetary scientist Dan Durda of Southwest Research Institute suggests that the astronaut experience will be analogous to cave diving: near-weightless, with the slightest wrong move stirring up a vision-obscuring cloud that will dissipate only slowly. Instead of trying to stand and walk on such a surface, an astronaut might be equipped with a portable scaffold. The strong, light framework could anchor him within arms' length of the work at hand, yet prevent an embarrassing facedown drift into the primordial dust. Imagine a souped-up MMU jetpack, with adjustable struts to prop an astronaut in any desired orientation. Each EVA would end at a central work platform, where each spacesuit would get a thorough - and welcome - dust-off.

You can expect the explorers of the 21st Century will use the asteroids as stepping stones Mars and beyond.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Time for True Space Explorers

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney New South Wales Australia

As I write this the next Shuttle launch date is due in May and the next Chinese flight has been delayed until 2008. The only regularly operating manned spacecraft is the Russian Soyuz which is keeping the International Space Station going. The good news is that you can buy a ticket to Space. It will cost you about $20 million and you will have to learn Russian and spend several months training, but you can hitch a ride to the ISS on Soyuz.

As Dennis has written the necessary breakthrough to open up space for more then just multi-millionaires may have been made. Burt Rutan's spaceships are only suborbital, reaching orbit is much more difficult but there is a clear evolutionary path to orbit. Remember Burt and the others are building high altitude hypersonic vehicles, theres going to be more uses for them then just tourism. Fast package delivery and military reconnaissance come to mind. The economic pressure on rocket companies to develop faster and higher flying vehicles will get commercial spaceships into orbit. Then let competition knock a zero or two off that 20 million and expect to see a considerable market. So where to go? How about a commercial Space Hotel. Las Vegas Hotel tycoon Robert T Bigelow has set up a company to do just that. Actual hardware has been built and should fly into space this year. Bigelow is even offering a $50 million America's Space Prize to the company that can loft 5 people to his inflatable habitat.

I don't think we can underestimate what even a factor of ten cost reduction would mean to Space exploration. All astronauts so far have been contract explorers, Tito and the other private astronauts were tourists not explorers. The high cost of Space travel has excluded people in the Mawson, Cousteau and Bill Stone mould. Dennis describes the true explorer this way:

......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 inseparably one....

Combine affordable spaceflight with an orbital station and private expeditions outside Earth orbit become possible. Remember we are at the bottom of a gravity well, to reach orbit a spaceship requires a Delta Vee (a measure of mission energy requirement) of about 9.7km/s, to get to the Lunar orbit from LEO , 3.9km/s and Mars orbit 4.7 km/s. Its a lot easier to get around the Solar System once out of the gravity well.

While private expeditions to Mars are decades in the future the Moon is a different matter. Space Adventures, the company selling Soyuz tickets, hopes to be sending explorers on around the Moon flybys by 2010.

The $100 million asking price is a deterrent but cheaper access to Space will bring the cost down. Don't be surprised if someone attempts a Moon landing. In the 60's NASA considered a cut down Moon shot with one man rocket chair lander. Although far too risky at the time its the type of mission a modern day adventurer would consider.

However, the real age of the Moon explorer will begin when theres regular transportation to a Lunar outpost. Like Antarctica is today the Moon will be the great magnet for the adventurer and explorer. Expect to see people trying to cross the Farside, circumnavigate the Moon, travel from Pole to Pole etc. They will be the pioneers who will develop ways to live of the land and survive the harsh Lunar environment for long periods.

The Moon is not the only destination for the early space explorers. There are other nearby worlds within reach and that will be the subject for tomorrow.

Antarctica Updates

The JRM Antarctic Kayak Expedition is still making progress as the paddle around the Antarctic Peninsula. Laurie Geoghegan has rejoined the team:

We had a nice surprise last night when Gages strolled into camp. He'd managed to hitch a lift to Prospect Point and then found our camp a few km away in the Fish Islands. After five days of rest he reckons his elbow is OK now so he will join us again for the paddle across the Antarctic Circle and beyond.

Now how does one hitch a lift in Antarctica? Anyway, the view is magnificent!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bungee jumpers and weightlessness

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, New South Wales
The problems of weightlessness are real and the solution as Dennis has told us, is to provide artificial gravity. Thats going to be essential for any orbiting colony or long space expedition. Living in zero gravity is difficult, dangerous to your health, and leaves you miserable. However none of that will stop people enjoying the weightlessness experience.
Across the Tasman our New Zealand cousins have the dubious honour of having invented bungee jumping (yes, I know South Pacific islanders had something similar but the Kiwis made it into a sport). I doubt jumping from a great height with a rubber band tied to your legs is good for your health but thousands have paid good money to experience the momentary terror of free fall.
We can duplicate weightlessness on Earth, our bungee jumper is accelerating downwards at 9.8 m/s/s and is in free fall until he comes to the end of the bungee cord. The only thing stopping him experiencing weightlessness is air resistance. Scientists have long used free fall to provide several seconds of micro-gravity (a more accurate term than weightlessness) for experiments by building drop towers.
Another way to provide micro-gravity is to fly an aircraft in parabolic curve, called a Kepler curve. For 30 seconds or so the aircraft is effectively in free fall and, as the passengers are protected from air resistance inside the craft, they can float around just as astronauts can do in space. NASA has been using this method to train astronauts for decades. Space sickness is an issue for the passengers , the NASA aircraft is called the “Vomit Comet”, but once thats out people generally enjoy the experience. At least thats what they tell me.
Now theres even companies offering weightlessness joyrides, such a Peter Diamandis's ZERO-G. Their latest venture is zero-gravity sport. Its apparently going to be a ball game to be called paraball. It will be shown on TV as a show called Space Champions, more information can be found here. These activities are to be expected , fun is part of being human, we will find new ways to enjoy the Space environment despite its very real dangers. Not doubt orbiting habitats will provide artificial gravity but you can bet they will also have micro-gravity sections for recreational purposes.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Gentlemen, start your rockets!

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, New South Wales,


Dennis named Steve Fossett, Richard Branson and Burt Rutan as three members of a 21st century power team.

I want to introduce you to another man who I think deserves to be included as one of the great movers of our time. Peter H. Diamandis the visionary organizer. Dr Diamandis was the man who organized the famous $10,000,000 Ansari X Prize. That competition started a world wide race to build a reusable suborbital vehicle for space tourism which was eventual won by Rutan with Spaceship One. Dennis has already described what a breakthrough that was.

But thats not enough for Diamandis. He wants to open up space for the ordinary person. Thats going to require people who can think out of the box. It requires innovation , public interest and passion. Importantly it requires money. How do we achieve this? How about rocket racing.

He has managed to assemble an eclectic team which includes NASCAR winners, businessmen, astronauts, film producers etc. to form the Rocket Racing League . Starting next year rocketplanes will blaze across the sky in an futuristic competition that's going to excite thousands and push the edge of rocketry. The RRL describes the races as follows:

Each vehicle will be capable of approximately 4 minutes of intermittent engine boost and 10 minutes of un-powered (glide) flight, allowing for 3-4 laps around the course between pit stops. Vehicles will launch in a staggered fashion to ensure that vehicles are always airborne. X-Racer drivers will be allowed to "bunch" vehicles under controlled environments throughout the race to enable a race environment and lessons learned. To offer the race fan a true feeling of speed and power, a variety of cameras will follow the race from balloons, chase planes and the cockpits of vehicles. A sense of danger and excitement will surround the high profile X-Racer pilots creating a hero status environment for race fans. The X- Racer pilots will be today's version of the "right stuff".

Now these races will only be subsonic and won't be flying into space, but they will help develop the rocket engines, avionics and ground operations commercial spaceflights flights will need. Just think about this. Each race will have up to 10 rocketplanes making four to eight pits stops in 90 minutes. That up to 80 separate launches a race. In a few race meets the rocketeers will have launched more manned reusable rockets then NASA has in its entire history.

Diamandis is still a young man, don't be surprised if he organizes the first sports Moon race.

Update. Dennis reported on the STARDUST mission here. Some very interesting results are coming in:

SCIENTISTS examining the first dust samples collected from a comet have found complex carbon molecules, supporting the theory that ingredients for life on Earth originated in space.

The organic material was found in early studies of samples from the comet Wild 2, brought back to Earth by the Stardust space probe seven weeks ago.

Stardust collected hundreds of grains of dust as it flew through the tail of the comet two years ago.

Analysis suggests a high concentration of complex molecules of the kind thought necessary for the evolution of life.

"About 10 per cent of this comet is made of organic materials. We don't know exactly what they all are but it is very exciting," said Don Brownlee, professor of astronomy at the University of Washington, who is NASA's principal investigator for the Stardust project. ...

. "We want to know ... how organic molecules actually form in comets and whether they helped deliver organic material to the Earth before life began," Professor Brownlee said.

The idea that comets delivered the basic components needed for life has growing support. The theory is that the sun and planets began to form from a vast disc of interstellar dust, gases and debris about five billion years ago. ....

Now if comets can deliver organic material to Earth the can do the same for Mars and the other planets. The Lunar biolab looks better every day.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Art work by Zazie

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, New South Wales

The confirmation of a “wet” Mars would be a dramatic discovery for it would greatly increase the chance of finding life on the Red Planet. Most have heard of the famous Mars meteorite which was discovered in 1996 and appeared to have fossils. That evidence is still being disputed but recently found meteorites are providing supporting evidence.

However what about Martian life today, not just in the past? In 1976 the Viking lander was sent to Mars to search for life but provided inclusive results. Gilbert Levin, the scientist who built Viking's Labeled Release experiment, is convinced that his experiment did discover Martian life. More recently, there has been other tantalizing evidence such as possible chlorophyll at the Pathfinder site, and Mars Express found methane, indicating the possible existence of methanogens. This researcher even makes a strong case that Spirit has photographed actual life.

More information is being sent from the various spacecraft at Mars, and I recommend this site for the latest news, but personally I find the sum of the evidence increasingly convincing. However space agencies are going to require more then photographs and gas traces before they announce the discovery of life. Such a discovery would be the most momentous scientific find of our time. They will therefore be very cautious in any announcement. The current rovers were not designed to search for life but the Mars Science Laboratory due for launch in 2009 will, so lets wait and see what that turns up.

The confirmation of life would have enormous consequences for human expeditions. There would be the real danger of contamination. Pathogens have evolved to attack specific hosts so its unlikely Mars bugs would endanger humans directly, but every Australian knows what damage an introduced species can do to a native ecology. The risks of some super tough Martian organism running wild in the much richer Earth environment should concern everybody. SETI astronomer Seth Shostak, explains the problem here.

On the other hand a Martian biosphere would be of huge interest not only to biologist, but to commercial biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Something like 25% of prescription drugs in the USA come from plants. A living Mars would be a fantastic opportunity for bio-prospectors. Dennis has written of the need to provide a clear reason to go to Mars this would be a very good one.

There is going to be a need to provide a way to protect Earth from any dangers of contamination yet still allow us to reap the benefits. Especially when long term human exploration takes place and large amount of material are returned. What is required is a quarantine station where Martian samples can be examined in safety, An excellent location would be the the Moon. It is distant from Earth and has no ecology to danger. There are other reasons for a Lunar outpost, but secure exobiology lab to examine returned samples will be required. The Moon is the perfect location.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Wet Mars?

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, New South Wales


Water is the most essential of resources, without water there will be no Martian colonies. However maybe theres ample water on Mars and some of it even in liquid form, not just ice. Consider the following.

In 2003 ESA sent the Mars Express probe to Mars and although its Beagle lander was a failure, the orbiter has provided important information. Like finding water ice at the poles, inside craters, (See the picture above)and in a frozen sea at the equator.

NASA's Mars Odyssey also detected large amounts of water. From the Odyssey report:

The new maps combine images from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) on the Mars Global Surveyor with Mars Odyssey spectrometer data through more than half a Martian year of 687 Earth days. From about 55 degrees latitude to the poles, Mars boasts extensive deposits of soils that are rich in water-ice, bearing an average of 50 percent water by mass. In other words, Feldman said, a typical pound of soil scooped up in those polar regions would yield an average of half a pound of water if it were heated in an oven.

The tell-tale traces of hydrogen, and therefore the presence of hydrated minerals, also are found in lower concentrations closer to Mars' equator, ranging from two to 10 percent water by mass. Surprisingly, two large areas, one within Arabia Terra, the 1,900-mile-wide Martian desert, and another on the opposite side of the planet, show indications of relatively large concentrations of sub-surface hydrogen.

Its commonly believed that the low Martian atmospheric pressure and low temperatures would not allow liquid water to exist. It would either quickly boil away or freeze solid. Well last year researchers put this to the test. They poured a brine solution on some Mars soil stimulant and put it into a Mars simulation chamber. The water didn't evaporate away, it soaked into the soil and formed mud. The atmospheric humidity is nearly 100% so its difficult for water to evaporate. According to the scientists:

"There's a huge decrease in the evaporation rate the colder it gets, more than anyone realized," Chittenden said. With the dissolved sodium and calcium in the water, the freezing point for the brine mixtures drops to 21 degrees below zero Celsius for salt water and 50 degrees below zero for water containing calcium chloride. Temperatures on Mars vary between 125 degrees below zero Celsius and 28 degrees above at different latitudes and different times of the day. Thus, there is a possibility that liquid water could exist on the planet's surface at different locations and times of day. "Brine formation could considerably increase the stability of water on Mars by both extending the temperature range over which liquid water is stable to negative-40 degrees Celsius and by decreasing the evaporation rates by two orders of magnitude," the researchers wrote.

The Mars Rover are also providing evidence for a wet Mars. Have a good look at the picture below This link shows other Rover images supporting a wet Mars.

Mars rover tracks within Gusev Crater show what may be water squeezed out of the soil by the weight of the wheeled Spirit robot. The water subsequently freezes into a whitish residue left in wheel marks.Credit NASA/JPL/Cornell (Could the white residue be salt? Ralph)

Dennis has already discussed what water on Mars means to Martian exploration, in my next post we'll take a look at this topic again but from a different angle. In the mean time I'll leave you with this thought, the Rovers have been on Mars for two years and have been unable to settle this question. An astronaut could have kicked the dirt and and discovered any water in minutes.

Update: The Dawn mission to Ceres and Vesta has been officially cancelled This is disappointing as recent Hubble information provide evidence of plentiful water on Ceres.

Snapshots of the asteroid 1 Ceres taken by the Hubble Space Telescope provide clues about the asteroid's interior make-up. The bright spot that appears in each image is a mystery. (Could the bright spot be ice?Ralph) Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute), P. Thomas (Cornell University), and L. McFadden (University of Maryland, College Park)

Antarctica: Laurie Geohegan from the JRM Antarctic Kayak team has injured his elbow in a small fall and has been left on the Argentine Islands for pickup by the yacht Spirit of Sydney. The remaining two kayakers are still paddling south.