Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Messenger Passes One Billion Miles

Q: What’s going to happen in the early (EST) morning of March 18, 2011? Now think about it – this is important!
A: At that time, the Messenger Spacecraft will be captured by the planet Mercury’s gravity and one of the most interesting planetary studies in history will officially begin.

The last (and only) time we got a close up look at Mercury was the three Mariner 10 fly-bys in 1974-75. And those were quick looks with only a fraction of the planet mapped and sans sophisticated instruments.

On August 12, 2005, the Messenger spacecraft was launched from earth toward Mercury. Soon enough, Mercury will be under close scrutiny by the people of earth.

While Mercury is not that far away in Solar System distances, the mission design uses six planetary close approaches to adjust it’s speed and guide it into the desired orbit in the inner solar system. One earth flyby, two Venus and three Mercury before it reaches its final permanent orbit around the innermost planet in 2011. These close encounters bend, rotate and shrink the spacecraft’s orbit to match its ultimate target.

The Messenger mission is apparently so un-newsworthy that it has flown under the radar of nearly every news service on the planet. Almost no one, it seems, is aware of the mission or its incredible potential for discovery.

Because Mercury is so close to the sun, it is nearly impossible to study it form the earth, because Mercury literally gets lost in the glare of the sun. Further, it’s sunlit face almost never points toward us, so that all we ever get is a partial illuminated disk and mostly a dark face. But now with the Messenger spacecraft, we will have an orbiting scientific platform around Mercury and we will at last find out more about this very difficult to study, very difficult to get to and still very enigmatic planet.

Messenger passed the 1 billion mile mark on its long trek to Mercury in March.

For more information on the Mercury Messenger Mission, click here.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Everest's Pride

Dan Mazur
Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW
A few days ago we saw an act of human moral debasement. A British mountain climber, David Sharp, was left to die on the cold slopes of Mount Everest as as other climbers passed him by intent on reaching the summit. As Dennis has written the people involved should be ashamed of themselves. But let me tell you of another climber who acted with true honour.

On May 25 Australian Lincoln Hall was returning from the summit of Everest with two Sherpas when he lost energy and began to hallucinate. The Sherpas tried to help him but he collapsed and appeared to be dying. The Sherpas were running out of oxygen and beginning to suffer from snow blindness so were ordered down to save their own lives leaving the still alive Hall alone.

By some miracle Hall manages to survive a night at 8700 meters on the icy slopes and was found the following day by American Dan Mazur, a professional mountaineer. Mazur and his client abandoned their climb and stayed with Hall, giving him oxygen and tea. They radioed base camp and let him talk to the climb organisers. Perhaps shamed by the David Sharp incident, a major rescue was organised . Now remember, Mazur had a paying client with him. He could have come up with some excuse and continued with the climb after he radioed for rescue but instead he stayed with Mr Hall and then descended the mountain.

Lincoln Hall is now recovering from severe frost bite and brain edema but he is still alive. He can thank his good fortune on Mr Mazur who has restored some pride and honour to the 2006 Everest climbers. Let me say thanks to Mr Mazur for saving the life of a fellow countryman!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Everest's Shame

This is the time of year that the escalator running up the summit of Everest is boarded by 21st century “adventurers” in search of who knows what glory. That’s fine. Everybody gets to choose their trophy. But in recent years, the reports from the Everest parade have become increasingly unsavory. Finally, 2006 has topped them all with the reported death of 36 year old British mountaineer David Sharp. The fact that someone died on Everest this year is not surprising as much as are the circumstances surrounding his death.

It was reported that over 40 climbers passed David, obviously dying, on their way to the summit. There were a few people who paused to help, but even they kept on going to reach their goal. The fact is, on Everest, one gets only a single chance at glory on each annual expedition, which typically costs more then $100,000 per individual To stop and help an injured or dying explorer would certainly cost the prize. No one, it appears, was willing to give up their prize for the life of David Sharp.

The whole image of endless lines of dare devil, well-to-do armchair adventurers climbing the world’s highest peak just for personal glory is nauseating enough. But given the whole damn bunch of them would be willing to let a fellow explorer die so that they could each prove their grit actually proves beyond all shadow of a doubt one thing: there were no true explorers climbing Everest on that sad day.

Sir Edmund Hillary, who was on the team that first summited Everest in 1953, called it “horrifying” that climbers would leave a dying man. MSNBC called it as clearly as any other, stating, “The tale was shocking, an apparent display of preening callousness…”

But in the most eloquent statement yet, experienced mountaineer Juan ‘Juanito’ Oiarzabal said this in “That mountain turned into a circus years ago, and it's getting worse – I don’t have the slightest interest in going back there, ever. Moreover, I actually try to avoid reading on what’s going on there – I simply don’t care anymore.” But in fact, he has heard of David Sharp, left unattended by dozens of climbers when he lay agonizing above 8000m. “It’s a classic - someone is in trouble, and people pass by, not even taking a quick look at him,” Juan told They are not climbers.

“In my opinion, solidarity doesn’t exist on Everest. And the reason is, that most of the climbers attempting that mountain are not experienced Himalaya mountaineers," he said. "I wouldn’t even consider many of them climbers.”

“Too often people go to Everest without knowing what it is like above 8000m. They pay huge amounts of money – and they don’t pay for a climb, but for a summit. Thus, reaching the summit becomes their first and only priority. In order to get the summit, they will use all the resources they can afford: Sherpas, bottled O2, camps and ropes previously fixed, etc… Up there, everybody focus on their own progress only, selfishly pursuing their goal. They don’t care for the rest.”

As an explorer, I agree wholeheartedly with Oiarzabal. Personally, I cannot even express the true depth of my outrage and disgust that some areas of 21st century exploration have become arenas of personal aggrandizement to the point that even human life has taken second place to the prize.

Fortunately, the gavel of world opinion has come down solidly in the favor of what we all innately understand as true human achievement. And that achievement is all about the ultimate reason for exploration – human advancement, not personal glory. Humanity advances when one individual takes one step backward and gives of himself to save another. Such tales of heroism are rare, because such explorers have apparently become uncommon.

But in the end the true justice has already been meted out, even before most of the so called “adventurers” arrive back home. Mounting the prized photograph of anyone standing on the summit of Everest on 2006 will eternally have an unwritten line on its bottom: “I passed up a dying man so that I could hang this photograph of me, because, in the end, it was all about me.”

For the 2006 Everest teams, the summit game was all about shame.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

ALYETE Released!

After 38 years in the making, Alyete – Dogs of Eros Damned is finally released. Yep – I started on this book in High School. One would hope that after all that time, the writer would finally finish – and I finally did.

The book is quite unlike any of my other writing. Unfortunately, writers tend to get pigeon-holed. That’s too bad. It is actually a manufactured effect, done on purpose, to focus and funnel fan bases into the ultimate goal of many writers – income. And the more the writer is focused and pigeon-holed, the more money they make, it seems. Well, I’m not interested in making money nearly as much as I am interested in writing. You can prove me on that point. If you want a copy of ANY of my books, drop me an email and I will send you one at my cost plus shipping – really – I’m quite serious. It is way more important to me at this stage in the game to attract readers than even making a single penny. But, alas, I digress…

Unlike the sci-fi-action-adventure yarns of Aaron Seven (whom I love, by the way), Alyete is a totally different story. The Library of Congress has classed it as “historic fiction”. Other outlets have classified it as “fantasy” and a few “religious”. That’s good. I wanted it that way. I wanted a tale that was readable within broad classes and among widely diverse groups of people.

The book set in the year 1632. It is all about an orphaned boy from the Ottoman Empire that is transported to France by a band of Franciscan Monks. There he meets up with Ensignant Demian Constantine who takes him into his home to shield him from imminent abuse. But what Constantine and the boy do not know is that Alyete has an extraordinary destiny. From the spectacular Abbey of Mont St. Michel, they wander in to King Arthur’s Forest of Broceliande. Here they encounter unseen forces that have vowed to destroy them. But heaven itself is prepared to wage war to protect them.

Claudia and I even got on an airplane and spent a week in France walking where they walked and sleeping where they slept, just to be sure we had it right.

It is a sweet story and at the same time, a dangerous one. If you think you may be interested in reading it, click here to watch the video clip. Then, take me up on my offer to get it at my cost by dropping me an email! I’ll sign it for you and pop it in the mail.

Antipodean Exploration Updates

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW
A couple of quick updates on expeditions we have been following.

Brett Rapp and the Operation Desert Dive team are now at Cocklebiddy and only contactable by Iridium satellite phone. However Brett has informed me that everybody is safe and the team has reached Toad Hall. They have successfully secured the bat skeleton. I hope to have a full report next week when the expedition is completed. In the mean time readers may like to download this video (10 meg ) and see Brett Rapp and Chris Bath explore Iddlebiddy Cave at Mt Gambier South Australia.

The Kitesled team have returned to Australia from their Greenland adventure. They didn't cover as much ground as they had hoped due to lack of wind but they did prove the kitesleds. At one stage they covered 95km in 4 hours. The full report is here. Now, its onto Antarctica!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Long Cold Martian Winter

The Martin winter has commenced in the northern hemisphere. The remarkable thing about this winter is that we have two active weather stations on both sides of the planet for the second Martian winter in a row! The two rovers – Spirit and Opportunity – are about the engage the Red Planet in what we on earth would describe as a COLD winter indeed.

In my book, Abyss of Elysium – Mars Wars, I describe the winters on Mars as making Siberia look like Miami Beach in the summertime. The temperatures will drop anywhere from minus 200 to minus 225 degrees Fahrenheit. When the sun rises on Mars in the winter, the ground (as shown in this 1976 Viking lander photo) is typically covered in carbon dioxide frost that has settled out from the air during the long, bitterly frigid night.

But, having grown up on the Earth’s mid-latitudes, a Martian winter is actually quite boring in comparison. During the Martian winters, the atmospheric pressure actually drops (from its already LOW 1/100th of earth’s air pressure) because a significant portion of the carbon dioxide is frozen out of the air and deposited on the poles and around the planet here and there. And the amazingly active pattern of daily dust devils slows to a near stop as the energy is sucked out of the air.

But it is nothing like a winter on earth. The winter of earth is preceded by life’s colorful response during the autumn. Then, of course, the fall rains set in and as the air gets colder, the mighty, dense earth wind blows and the snows begin. It is nothing at all like a typical, slow, boorish Martin winter that will last an entire earth year. I’m happy to observe the Martian winter via the plucky little rovers from my warm study here on earth. Things are slow there and I’m fully content to observe and participate in our more rapid and lively seasons here on the home planet.

Friday, May 19, 2006

ABYSS OF SPACE Cover Released

The final cover version of the upcoming Aaron Seven Novel, ABYSS OF SPACE was released this week. It was done by SECTION SEVEN ARTWORK studios – the producer of all my other covers by the fantastically talented Christopher Chamberland (no prejudice intended).
Here’s the latest blurb on the upcoming book:
BACK COVER: The parallel novel to Abyss of Elysium tells the story of the fate of the Earth when the planet and her inhabitants are engulfed in a planetary nuclear war. Without notice, an insane military Commander of the Reunified Soviet Empire releases every nuclear weapon in his arsenal in an all-or-nothing gamble to achieve instant domination of the planet. What he does not know is that the automated nuclear systems of the west will retaliate and doom the planet to a nuclear winter far worse than anyone’s nightmare.
Aaron Seven takes on the task of saving a handful of humans trapped beneath the radioactive clouds and blizzards caused by the nuclear war. The earth is quickly becoming inhabitable and the closest haven of safety is on Mars. Aaron Seven must now command an antique rocket, somehow rendezvous with the United States space station then steal its interplanetary spacecraft and make it to Mars before time and supplies run out.
In this second Aaron Seven adventure, time and the vast distances of interplanetary space team up to fight against Seven and his tiny cluster of survivors. Whether he makes it to Mars or not will determine the fate of human survival.
INSIDE DUST JACKET: Aaron Seven® returns in the second adventure, ABYSS OF SPACE. His task is to snatch ten people from the fires of nuclear hell and somehow transport them to Mars before the clock of life ticks down to zero for everyone stranded on Earth. For most men, this would be laughingly impossible. But not, of course, for Aaron Seven.
Coaxing an antique rocket 300 miles into low earth orbit is only the beginning. Once there, he will have to steal an interplanetary spacecraft and maneuver it to the Red Planet. But making it into orbit with ten people and stealing a spacecraft still isn’t enough. He leaves for Mars with little hope that he and his passengers will actually make it over the 200 million miles of orbital space before their oxygen, food and water run out. They cannot return to Earth – it is Mars or death. Somehow, Aaron Seven will have to carve life out of empty space or they will all certainly die in route.
The entire Aaron Seven team returns: fantastically beautiful Serea, his mentor and professor, Raylond Desmond, the Commander and a host of new characters including 14 year old child prodigy, Darwyn Fairchild who has more than a few secrets of his own and Nikki Brinker, daughter of ABYSS OF ELYSIUM’s, Marine Sergeant Brinker.
DISCLAIMER: ABYSS OF SPACE is not written for the fainthearted. If you are on high blood pressure medications, have a heart condition, afraid of nuclear holocaust or slow death, consult your physician before reading.
ABYSS OF SPACE is still in writing and should be released late 2006 or early 2007.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Give 'em Hail!

Claudia and I were gone for a week and a half, hiding out at Stonebrooke – our deep woods estate in Tennessee. Shown here are some cold, hard samples of a surprise, late night hail storm that came in went in a merciful few minutes. We were sleeping next to a porch with a metal roof when it hit – and I can tell you it literally scared the living daylights out of both of us.
Meanwhile, back at the Quantum Editions Ranch, Ralph Buttigeg was giving blogspace a dose of some very interesting and captivating stories on real exploration. Thanks Ralph – my only fear is that one day you’ll start your own blog and I’ll be without a back-up!
Alyete – Dogs of Eros Damned is out! However, it has not been “officially released” by me until I can finish the video and call in a few reviews. I hope to be ready for the first shipments by next week.
Abyss of Space (the parallel novel to Abyss of Elysium – Mars Wars) got a lot of attention while I was at Stonebrooke. And while there, the cover art was finished – I’ll show that off tomorrow.
Again – MUCH thanks to Ralph who is one of my heroes in so many ways!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

More on Operation Desert Dive

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW

Last night I had the opportunity to interview Brett Rapp before he sets out on his expedition. Here's some more information on this exciting quest.

Brett will leave on Sunday 14 May and should reach Cocklebiddy by Tuesday It should be all over by June 3. The team will be composed of 7-8 divers including one woman. The group will be split into two teams of three divers with at least one person remaining above ground. Previous dives have come to an end because the passage narrows and becomes impassable. Brett hopes to find another tunnel leading further in. If so, this could be a world record dive for penetrating a single entrance cave.

The water is best described as brackish and is not very deep about 20 meters. However decompression is still an issue because of the length of time under water. The final push could take 18 hours and requires rebreathers.

His personal goal is to reach Toad Hall about 4 km into the cave. Brett will explore a bit further but two other divers will make the push to the end.

Another of Brett's goals is to give cave diving proper scientific exploration credentials rather the just the thrill seeker image it has. The retrieval of the bat fossils are an important part of this. It has already been established that the bats are from a different species then currently live in the area. As the remains are in Toad Hall they must have got there thousands of years ago when the passages were not flooded. The fossils will first be taken to the Western Australian Museum for preparation and then studied by Terry Reardon from the South Australia Museum.

Equipment include 16 scooters, 7 sets of backgas, 18 stage bottles, many sets of regulators and lights. The value of the equipment is close to $AU 250,000 and the expedition could not have undertaken without the support of its sponsors; Australian Geographic, Halcyon, Tusa Casio, Coleman Australia, Nikon ,Ikelite, Digital Diver.

Brett intends to take a satellite phone with him and I hope to provide updates on the expedition.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Cloak of Invisibility

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW
Invisibility is one of those great science fiction story devices and comic book super powers. H.G. Wells wrote the Invisible Man and every decade or so Hollywood does a TV show based on it. Star Trek had a “cloakng device” to hide starships. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings both had invisibility cloaks .
Believe or not, a cloaking device may be possible. Two British mathematicians Nicolae Nicorovici and Graeme Milton have recently published a paper in a Royal Society journal outlining how it can be done. Apparently you can place an object next to a superlens and due to a process called "anomalous localised resonance" it would disappear.

The phenomenon is analogous to a tuning fork (which rings with a single sound frequency) being placed next to a wine glass. The wine glass will start to ring with the same frequency; it resonates.

The cloaking effect would exploit a resonance with light waves rather than sound waves.

The concept is at such a primitive stage that scientists are talking only at the moment of being able to cloak particles of dust - not spaceships.

In this example, an illuminated speck of dust would scatter light at frequencies that induce a strong, finely tuned resonance in a cloaking material placed very close by.

The resonance effectively cancels out the light bouncing off the speck of dust, rendering the dust particle invisible.

Remember only the maths has been done, no one has built a cloaking device yet. For me, its a case of I'll believe it when I don't see it.

What about something more personal, like Harry Potter's invisibility cloak? Well, a couple of years ago Susumu Tachi, professor of engineering at the University of Tokyo developed a crude prototype. A camera behind the wearer projects computer processed images on a jacket with the results shown above. This effect is called optical camouflage but its very early days yet. The effect is lost in bright light or if seen from the back or edge on. There should be ways around this see a real invisibility cloak one day.

The big problem all these methods have is they can't hide waste heat. Thermal imaging systems are still going to pick up optically camouflaged soldiers and spacebourne sensors cloaked spaceships. Even with todays technology passive sensors could pick up the Shuttle's main engines firing at Pluto. Like it or not we will take our wars into space with us. Expect the problems of stealth in space to be a major headache for future military planners.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Operation Desert Dive

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW
Regular readers would know of Lloyd Godson and the Biosub Project. Lloyd won the $50,000 Australian Geographic Live Your Dream prize. The runner up was cave diver Brett Rapp whose Desert Dive expedition is no less exciting.

This month Brett will be begin Operation Desert Dive, an expedition to Cocklebiddy Cave. Cocklebiddy is in the Nullabour Plain in Western Australia. The Nullabour is s a vast, treeless, flat, limestone plain covering 270 000 square kilometers. Its the worlds largest single piece of limestone and extends for 2000 km across the southern parts of Western Australia and South Australia, south of the Great Victoria Desert, and adjacent to the Great Australian Bight. The karst features include many collapsed sink holes leading to deep cave systems such Cocklebiddy Cave. Its one of the worlds largest cave systems with over 4 kilometers of flooded passages. In 1983 French divers held the record by penetrating the cave to 6.4 kilometers. This record was only broken in 1995 by Australian Christopher Brown but only by 20 meters. The cave system has several limestone caverns, rockfalls and saline subterranean lakes.

Brett and his team will try to be the first to reach the end of the cave and to return high quality photographic records. Including the worlds first 360 degree panorama of an underwater cave. They will also collect water samples and retrieve a bat skeleton thats supposed to be 100,000 years old! (The remains are 5 kilometers in the system so how did the bat get there?)

This will be a tough, dangerous expedition but the team have the right stuff. One member has already become the first woman to reach Toad Hall, a cavern over 4km into the cave.

Good luck to Brett and the team!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Bigelow Aerospace
Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW

Space ships and space habitats have to be big. People need room to eat, sleep, work, exercise and to relax. The small Apollo capsule may have been good enough for a short Moon trip but you are going to need something larger for a Mars mission.

Bigger means more mass, which means a bigger more expensive rocket to launch it. Also rockets have limitations on the size of the payload they can launch which places an upper limit to the dimensions of the spacecraft. NASA is trying to address these issues by developing a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle for its Moon/Mars missions.

Inflatable spacecraft have long been proposed as a solution to these problems. German-American rocket pioneer Werner Von Braun outlined an inflatable space station in the 1950's. It would have been a rotating torus providing the astronauts with artificial gravity and would have been large enough to have crew of 80.

In the late 80's the scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories came up with a grandiose plan for interplanetary exploration based on inflatable modules. They wanted o Moon and Mars bases, orbiting Earth bases and Gas Stations all assembled from inflatables. At the time LLNL was also developing a missile defense system called Brilliant Pebbles so humorist dubbed the scheme “Brilliant Condoms”

LLNL contracted space suit manufacturer ILC Dover to design the modules. The advantages of inflatables can be seen from the study. The module was 5 meter in diameter and 17 meters long. The hull mass was only 1523 kg. Compare that with tradition designs such as the Zubrin Mars Direct 5 meter by 5 meter habitat which has a hull mass of 5000 kg.

NASA did real work on inflatables in the late 90's. Transhab was an inflatable module for the Space Station. It could have provided roomy multi-level living quarters for the ISS astronauts. Transhab was no thin walled balloon either. As the NASA report said:

TransHab's inflatable shell consists of multiple layers of blanket insulation, protection from orbital and meteoroid debris, optimized restraint layer and a redundant bladder with a protective layer.

With almost two dozen layers, TransHab’s foot-thick inflatable shell is a marvel of innovative design. The layers are fashioned to break up particles of space debris and tiny meteorites that may hit the shell with a speed seven times as fast as a bullet. The outer layers protect multiple inner bladders, made of a material that holds in the module’s air. The shell also provides insulation from temperatures in space that can range from plus 121 degrees Celsius (plus 250 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Sun to minus 128 degrees Celsius (minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade.

A test module was built and deployed bu NASA decided to go with a more traditional design.

Fortunately, the technology was rescued by the private sector. Hotelier Robert Bigelow brought exclusive development rights to the technology from NASA and access to former Transhab workers. His team has been developing the hardware and eventually plan to assemble a commercial space station. The module ,called Nautilus, will have 330 cubic meters of room. Before the Nautilus is launched a one third prototype will be orbited and tested. The test module, Genesis is due for launch this year. Bigelow Aerospace has already booked two flights on Russian Dnepr rockets.

The test flights are worth following. If he succeeds a revolutionary space technology would have been proved. Expect NASA to be very interested.

More information on Bigelow's plans here and here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Independent Thinkers

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW
Years ago British astronomer Patrick Moore wrote a delightful book “Can you speak Venusian?: A Guide to the Independent Thinkers” . Moore listed the various independent thinkers he had come across such as hollow and flat earthers, channelers, and the people in contact with Venusians. Hopefully the Venusian speaker is still around and can make his skills available to the Venus Express team.

One of the most well known independent thinkers today is Face on Mars promoter Richard C Hoagland. He has made a career of finding faces, pyramids, cities and other artifacts on other planets. Surprisingly, when scientists examine the same data they find only rubble. It must be a conspiracy of course. NASA surely knows the truth behind this mystery and has been told to cover it up. Perhaps NASA is behind other great mysteries such as; why is Buffy gone and Charmed is still on air ?

The Martian Face gigs may have to have began to dry up after NASA provided higher resolution images, but fortunately NASA has come to Hoagland's rescue by sending more spacecrafts to the planets. He has been busily examining the first Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images and discovered the Lost Cities of Barsoom. Below is on of his images compared to Earthly ruins. While there are squarish features in the crater is a bit of a jump to the city of Helium.

Mr Hoagland is convinced that “striking, rectilinear, geometries and obvious orthogonal alignments -- providing compelling new evidence of non-geological, artificial ruins”. However images taken from different angles can make much of any apparrant artificiality disappear. Also nature can do “rectilinear geometries”. Have a look at the picture below. Its the Giant's Causeway in Ireland. It was hewn by volcanic action not by Irish giants.

Mars is not the only planet Hoagland has turned his keen mind too. He has been studying Saturn and Cassini results. He has yet to find the Monolith but, beware! He's found the Deathstar!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Ring of Fire

Marina Arc Squat Lobsters. NOAA

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, NSW


Along the edges of the Pacific Ocean lies the long arc of volcanic and earthquake activity zones known as the Ring of Fire. It outlines the borders of the Pacific tectonic plate and holds over 75% of the Earth's volcanoes. In the North Pacific, not far from Guam and the Mariana Trench, theres the section known as the Mariana Arc.

The ocean floor is the great unexplored region on the Earth and for several years NOAA has been conducting expeditions to the Ring of Fire. The active volcanoes in the Arc are of great interest to biologists and geologists. Its a place of bizarre chemosynthetic sea life and gold spewing vents. From the NOAA website:

The Submarine Ring of Fire is an arc of active volcanoes that partially encircles the Pacific Ocean Basin and results from the motion of large pieces of the Earth’s crust known as tectonic plates. This volcanic activity is often associated with “hydrothermal systems” or seafloor hot springs, where heat and chemicals from the interior of volcanoes are vented into the ocean. This process supports unique biological communities. These communities are typically based on chemosynthetic food chains, and some are highly productive. Microbial organisms that are essential to these food chains have unusual adaptations that allow them to survive extreme chemical and physical conditions, including enzymes previously unknown to science. These enzymes are believed to have a high potential for developing new natural products of interest to industrial and medical research. Vent fluids typically have high concentrations of metals that quickly precipitate in cold ocean waters. This process may be directly linked to the formation of ores and concentrated deposits of gold and other precious and exotic metals.

At this moment they are leading an international team of researchers to explore the Mariana Arc. The current expedition is Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 (SRoF'06) The explorers left on 18th April on the research ship Melville owned by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They are using the ROV Jason to explore the sea floor.

So far the highlights include:

The Cauldron. A convecting liquid sulfur pool at 40 atmosphere pressure. The temperature is 187C but crabs flourish in the area.

The Brimstone Pit. A volcanic gas and ash vent. They witnessed lava extruding on the sea floor, something never seen before.

Seamount X. Because of the hydothermal vents the area is colonized by shrimp, crabs, scaleworms and thousands of squat lobsters. (wonder what they taste like?)

You can follow their further adventures here.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Kon Tiki Machine An Idea Built

Shown here is the 21st Century Kon Tiki shortly after the main frame was constructed in South America. Thor Heyerdhal’s grandson is one of the crewmembers and is shown third from the left.

This photo is particularly fascinating because it shows the link between the energy and fire of the explorer’s idea and how he makes it happen in the form of an engineered machine. Further, it depicts how this engineering marvel was made possible centuries ago with nothing more than stone tools and sweat.

If mankind could do all that with a stone exe and sweat, think what we can do today with all our marvelous tools!

Of course, that all leads me to mention one of my books. I am in the process of writing ABYSS OF SPACE. This book is the parallel novel to ABYSS OF ELYSIUM. In this book, there is an 11 year old child named Daryin who has built the ultimate idea machine. Like the men of Kon Tiki, all he had was his home computer and one ingenious idea. What was it? Well – you’ll have to read the book for yourself. But let us say that with his idea, he was able to fly to Mars – and all of my novels are based on reality. It should be out in late 2006!

PS. Claudia and I will be away from the Florida desk making our way up to Stonebrooke Tennessee to continue writing furiously on ABYSS OF SPACE. We should be back on May 17th. Until then, my dear Aussie friend, Ralph Buttigieg has been left in charge of Quantum Limit. So now we hereby officially switch blogging hemispheres. I really can't wait to see what he has written when I get back!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Kon Tiki Sails Again!

There are momentous things that shape our lives. Sometimes it is a person. Sometimes it is an event. Sometimes it is even a book. One such book in my life was Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki. His incredible adventure – crossing the south Pacific in a balsa wood raft – was so amazing and interesting to me as a young man, that it helped shape my attitudes and helped me formulate my opinions on life and adventure and the capacity of man to achieve even incredible dreams.

The great Heyerdhal adventure was a research expedition. It was designed to prove that such grand rafting exploits were, in fact, the settlement routes from South America to the Polynesian islands. Unfortunately, his success didn't much to support his theory, even at the end of his amazing adventure and many thought he would sail over the vast horizon and never be seen or heard from again. As for me, I'll side with Heyerdhal. At least he proved his point and all the argumentative anthropologists have to show for themselves are various colored lines on paper. Sorry guys - no guts, no glory.

This week, Thor Heyerdhal’s grandson Olav has set sail again – on a near-duplicate raft built in the same way as was his famous grandfather’s raft – setting out on an identical voyage. It will be of great interest to me to follow this expedition, and for many of the same reasons Olav is himself doing it. It will be for a tribute to one of modern man’s greatest adventures. It will be, once again, in memory and tribute to the original rafters who dared to venture out onto what to them was truly unknown voyages – for these people truly were never heard from again.

But the voyage’s purpose will also be to check out one rather intimidating data point. Of the original rafters, what was considered a success probability? One in two? One in five? One in ten? For modern man, there is only one data point – Thor Heyerdhal. Now we have two – Thor and his grandson Olav - and one is in progress. Let us sincerely hope these modern voyagers thought to bring a satellite beacon for rescue and a rubber raft, just to be sure. While the data point of success at the end of the voyage is desirable, the "missing at sea and presumed lost" does not help anyone's theory and would be a sad tribute indeed.

Shown above is Olav’s raft – a spitting image of his grandfather’s. And, be sure and check out their detailed story here.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Evil Sunrise

When the sun rises on a new day – most people think of that as a good thing. For eons of time, the rising sun has been a wonderful thing - heralding a new day with the promise of life and renewed opportunities. But lest we forget, our sun is actually a flaming, violent, gravitationally bound thermonuclear explosion that will continue on for billions of years and so large, you can drop in a million earths with room to spare.

What we actually count on without even thinking about it is the sun’s stability. We expect it to shine on as it has throughout everyone’s life without pause or alteration. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The sun, as all explosions are want to do – actually changes and sometimes, it gets angry.

Scientists have issued a warning recently, that the sun has the capacity to actually spew forth damaging radiation all over the earth. In fact, the last two years were of such unusually high activity, it set records for recorded solar storms. They are calling these unusual solar storms, Space Superstorms. The scientists are worried about GPS satellites. I’m worried about more than that!

In my book, QUANTUM STORMS I discuss this possibility of an angry sun – a very angry sun - the ultimate Space Superstorm! What would happen of the sun would change its character for, say, a century? A century in the life of the sun is less than a second compared to our life spans. To the sun, a mere century is less than a hiccup. But what would happen to human civilization if it did?

First, check out the latest scientific warnings. The check out QUANTUM STORMS. Then, go out and see if they sell a One-Million-Rated-Sunblock – we all may be needing it!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Changing Rockets in Mid-Flight

NASA is – once again – attempting a feat no other nation has ever tried – switching manned rockets in mid-flight. They are attempting nearly the impossible: designing and building a new manned space exploration system while operating another and they will be doing this with no net increase in their budget. This is a feat that is staggeringly complicated and so improbable that it literally boggles the mind.

But as improbable as it may sound, NASA is, after all, the same agency that has repeatedly accomplished the impossible and made it look so commonplace that it was nearly boring. Now they’ve ratcheted up the stakes. Not only are they continuing to launch the terribly expensive shuttle and building a massive space station, they are designing and about to build a new manned spacecraft with an interplanetary range at the same time (compare that to the shuttle with a 350 mile range!!). And to make that happen, they have to redesign the bureaucracy behind it all as well as the launch pads and all associated ground systems. Meanwhile, they have to keep the shuttle and station system going with no increase in manpower and no increase in dollars. At the same time, they are managing a fleet of unmanned interplanetary spacecraft from Mercury to Pluto - collecting information, images and mapping worlds for the first time in human history.

How does anybody actually do all that? It doesn't even sound possible.

Well, you have to put some world class brain power to work 24/7, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. NASA is churning and burning these days. While China and Japan and other manned space wannabees are busy making it work the first time, NASA is juggling two astonishingly complex experimental systems together and making the transition that will pave the way for permanent manned lunar and Mars bases. And they are doing all of it without even a single indication to anyone outside the agency of how historically amazing it all really is.