Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Opportunity of Victoria on Mars

After over 900 days of roaming the Martian deserts and traveling four and a half miles of desiccated wasteland, the Martian Robot Vehicle, Opportunity has finally arrived at the rim of giant Victoria Crater. Victoria crater is half a mile wide and 230 feet deep. The create features steep walls and a sandy, dune lined bottom. Photos taken from orbit show very thick layers of rock were exposed by the cosmic impact that created the feature eons ago. To planetary scientists it is like looking into Mars’s distant past, exposed layer by layer down over 200 feet into the Martian crust.

The temptation is, of course, to drive the rover safely down into the crater and find a convenient escarpment to study with the robot traveler’s many instruments. But in April 2005, this same rover got stuck in soft sand and stayed stuck for five weeks while engineers millions of miles away tried every trick in their manual and them some to get it unstuck from Purgatory Dune. Obviously, after that lesson learned, they will certainly pick the track into the crater with care.

But you have got to love this whole grand adventure taking place for real at about 230 million miles from earth. Driving into a crater as deep as a skyscraper will be fantastic enough. But if we can coax the aged robot down to the floor and turn around and look back up, it should prove to be an astonishing view of the crater walls.

For continuous updates on Opportunity as she begins her Victoria Crater adventure and Spirit, still hibernating half a planet away in the gathering Martin spring, click here.

(The image above shows the crater as seen from orbit and the crater wall as seen by Opportunity a few days ago.)

Thursday, September 28, 2006 Extreme Makeover Edition

In case you haven’t noticed, this is the Quantum extreme makeover edition. Why? Lot’s of reasons, actually!

We needed to have Apple Store – iTunes visibility and the old blogger template failed to give us that. So we changed to a new version that allows us that XML template capability. THAT geekster stuff means we will start featuring Podcasts hot and heavy here – starting next week. (It’s a surprise...) In any case, warm up the iPod… the good news is the subscription is FREE!

We got tired of the old look. Kind of like moving the furniture about. Nothing actually changes but everything looks fresh and different.

We’ll keep tweaking the new edition of course until we’re satisfied – which probably means it’ll change a lot. Hope you like it!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Truth or Consequences of Rocket Science

UP Aerospace of New Mexico bills itself as “…the world's premier supplier of low-cost space access.” To prove it, it has designed and built the SpaceLoft XL rocket whose job it is to loft 100 plus pounds of whatever-can-fit to suborbital space. On the schedule for future payloads include the creamated remains of Star Trek Chief Engineer Scotty and NASA Astronaut Gordo Cooper which are scheduled to fly out of the New Mexico Spaceport next month – maybe. But now there may be a slight change in schedule.

On the virgin flight of SpaceLoft XL yesterday, there was a malfunction and the rocket crashed after only reaching the cruising altitude of most jetliners. So now it’s back to the drawing board, it seems, for our friends over at Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

We truly wish you guys well. We need more space minded folks who spend more time building than worrying about 'what if'. The simple Truth is, if we don’t get cheap access to space then the sad Consequences are: none of us can afford to go. Don’t you dare get discouraged. Get back to work and we will be cheering the next flight on during your next try.

Nobody ever said rocket science was easy.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hot Geysers At The Edge of the Solar System

Where in the solar system would one NOT expect to find a hot geyser? Well – certainly not 900 million miles – 10 astronomical units – from earth! The temperatures on these bodies hovers way, way, way below the freeing point of water – at hundreds of degrees below the freezing point of water! And yet - there they were - caught in the act on Saturn’s moon Encladus! Cassini caught them spewing water ices into space on three fly-bys. This is so important, that Encladus has immediately become the focus of interest for future exploration. It appears there may be oceans of liquid water just below her surface.
This photo shows the ice jets of Enceladus send particles streaming into space hundreds of kilometers above the south pole of this spectacularly active moon. Some of the particles escape to form the diffuse E ring around Saturn.
This color-coded image was processed to enhance faint signals, making the contours and extent of the fainter, larger-scale component of the plume easier to see. The bright strip behind and above Enceladus (505 kilometers, 314 miles across) is the E ring, in which this intriguing body resides. The small round object at far left is a background star.
To watch an interesting NASA video, click on the link below. When you get there, look for the Enceladus video on her ice jets. Click here - Cold Faithful.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

More from the “Lost World”

Newly discovered walking shark Hemiscyillum freycineti
Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW

My very first article was on the discovery of new species of plants and animals in the unexplored jungles of Indonesia. Well, marine biologists have been exploring nearby Bird's Head Seascape and have found a treasure trove of new undersea species including walking sharks:

More than 50 new species have been discovered off the coast of Indonesia, including small, slender-bodied sharks that "walk" with their fins along coral reefs, researchers announced today.

In addition to the two types of walking epaulette sharks, the researchers discovered 22 species of other fish, 20 species of hard corals, and 8 kinds of shrimp all believed new to science. The new species were found during two recent expeditions to the Bird's Head Seascape, a distinctive peninsula on the northwestern end of Indonesia's Papua province that is already renowned for its marine biodiversity

"It's an incredible place in both the number of species and the abundance of marine wildlife," said Roger McManus, senior director for global marine conservation at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Conservation International, which led the expeditions.

The Missouri-size region is home to more than 1,200 types of reef fishes and nearly 600 species of hard corals. Whales, sea turtles, crocodiles, giant clams, manta rays, and dugongs also ply the peninsula's waters.

"We knew this was an area important for marine diversity," said Sebastian Troeng, director of regional marine programs for Conservation International.

"We hadn't expected that over 50 new species would be found in those two surveys. It is quite amazing."

Remember all this is not far away from Java, one of the most densely populated islands in the world. Its vitally important we explore other planets, but crikey, theres still a lot to discover on Earth.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Exploration then and now

Colson in the Simpson

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney NSW

Most Australians live in the coastal regions, and for good reason, the interior is dry and hostile to settlement. Central Australia is often called Australia's dead heart and was not properly explored until well into the 20th century. Perhaps the most daunting region is the Simpson Desert.

The Simpson is a 170,000 sq km sea of red parallel sand dunes. The mean annual rainfall is only 130 millimetres and summer temperatures can exceed 50° C. The Aborigines ventured in during a good season but they would have had no reason to cross the wasteland. The first European to see it was explorer Charles Sturt in 1845 but it was not until the 1930's that it was fully recognised by explorer Cecil Thomas Madigan who named it after his sponsor Allen Simpson.

Seventy ago Ted Colson made history by being the first European to cross the theSimpson. Colson was an experienced bushman and explorer. He had been a cameleer and guide on other expeditions and understood several Aboriginal dialects. Colson and his wife were sheep farmers at Blood Creek, near the desert's border. 1936 was exceptional wet and and Colson saw good rain the East. He knew this was a rare opportunity to attempt a crossing. So on May 26th he set off with his young Aboriginal companion Peter Ains and five camels. They climbed a thousand sand hills with only a compass for navigation, but thanks to the rare rain the desert had become “one vast field of herbage, grass and shrubs”. Finally on 11th June 1936 the two men walked in the Birdsville pub.

After three days re hydrating, they set off to cross the desert again to return home. . This time they tried a more southern route. On the way they stopped at Poeppel's Corner, the point where the Queensland, Northern Territory and South Australian borders meet and Colson nailed a tin plate bearing his initials and date to a peg. They arrived back on 29th June.

In 1939 Cecil Madigan organised a major expedition to explore the Simpson. Madigan was a geologist and had been to Antarctica with Mawson. This time the party had nine men including a biologist, botanist, photographer and a radio operator. Transportation was by 19 camels. They took a radio transmitter and made regular broadcast on public radio. The expedition had much publicity and overshadowed Colson's expedition. To this day some sources still begrudge Colson's achievement. I doubt the establishment were very pleased to be trumped by an amateur.

The Simpson Desert was first crossed by motorised vehicle in 1962 by geologist Reg Sprigg and his family but has since become a destination for adventurous tourists. Theres no real roads so travelers need a well prepared 4X4 vehicle. Its a good idea to travel in a team as a breakdown can be fatal. Thats what sensible desert explorers do but there are alternatives. See the picture below.

In June 2006 Lucas Trihey completed the first solo and unassisted foot crossing of the Simpson Desert . It took him 17 days and he had to trudge his cart for over 400km through sand dunes and scrub, sleeping in the freezing desert air at night. Such a journey would have astonished Colson and Madigan, but it was possible due to modern technological developments such as lightweight materials, GPS and a better understanding of nutrition and food preservation. The technology allowed the mass to be dramatically reduced, making the journey possible. Today modern explorers use similar technology to achieve remarkable results in the polar regions and on long sea voyages.

Now the big hurdle to space exploration is cost. The Elon Musks and Burt Rutans of the world are trying to reduce cost by developing cheaper launch vehicles. But another way to reduce costs is to reduce the total mass that the mission requires. When the two converge I expect human space exploration will really take off.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

On the way to Victoria Crater

image courtesy NASA
Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW
In a couple of weeks the Mars rover Opportunity will arrive at Victoria Crater. Victoria is large, 70 meters deep and 230 meters across and has been Opportunity's goal for months. It should provide us with a fabulous Martian panorama as well as important science. As the scientists said:
"Victoria has been our destination for more than half the mission," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University, St. Louis. Arvidson is deputy principal investigator for Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit. "Examination of the rocks exposed in the walls of the crater will greatly increase our understanding of past conditions on Mars and the role of water. In particular, we are very interested in whether the rocks continue to show evidence for having been formed in shallow lakes."
Opportunity and its sister robot Spirit , have been exploring Mars for over two years, they survived the months long space journey, the bouncy landing and the bitterly cold Martian winters. They are an incredible achievement for the American space program.
Update: French Near Space explorer Michel Fournier has had to delay his super jump attempt until 2007. He was unable to raise the necessary funds in time. The high altitude sky dive record has stood far too long. Lets hope he can successfully achieve his goal next time.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Alien Encounters Big Blue Marble

Have you ever wondered what earth would look like to an alien with a technology that would allow them to look though the haze down at our planet?

This link will take you to an astounding tour of some of the most amazing photos of earth I have ever seen.

This tour is definitely worth your time! It is definitely a don’t-miss encounter – earthling…

Monday, September 04, 2006

Farewell Steve

One of the 21st Century’s great explorers has died. Steve Irwin of Australia died yesterday on the Great Barrier Reef when he was stung in the heart by a giant stingray.
Steve Irwin was anything but conventional, and for that he took more than his share of grief. But that was precisely why he was indeed great. He was dynamically creative. His style of exploration was so unconventionally imaginative that he captured our spirits and our hearts. He was so good at exploring, that all of us wanted to go with him on each and every outing.
He did this, of course, by his fearlessness. He was so fearless than many interpreted it as foolhardy. But that is the essence of the explorer – the willingness to take chances that others would never dare.
The first time I saw Steve Irwin was on a television show titled, “The Worlds Most Dangerous Snakes”. All 10 of them it seems are in Steve’s backyard – Australia. There Steve visited each of their habitats and in the final sequence, in the wild, Steve kissed the world’s most dangerous snake on its slimy head. Foolhardy? Perhaps. Interesting? Compelling? Forever memorable? Absolutely.
Steve, we will miss you greatly.

Friday, September 01, 2006

In The Eye

I promised to tell you what it was like to be in the eye of Ernesto. I snapped this online Intellicast Radar image when it hovered directly over my home. Then I went running outside to see what it looked like – and it was raining! Ernesto was a big bore from the time it arrived until the time it left. If the media had not gone totally nuts before in advance and whipped all of us up into a last-day-on-earth freaking worry fest, there would not have been any way to know whether it was just a slow steady drizzle on a dreary day from any other dreary day. Sighhh. At least I did not board up my windows this time. Ernesto is living proof that the National Hurricane Center is now starting to name big clouds.
Remember that article I had on global cooling? Well… go read that again…