Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Meet Ralph Buttigieg

Ralph Buttigieg is Quantum Limit’s chief back-up blogger from Australia. Ralph is one of those “behind-the-scenes” explorers that keeps things moving by his intellect and keen capacity of persuasion. If you have cruised the various space and exploration discussion groups, you’ve doubtless read his material before. Just so that you regular readers can get to know him better, we interviewed him here for your satisfaction.

QL: Ralph, tell us a little about your interest in space exploration and what activities you've been involved in over the years.

RB: I have been interested in exploration. space and elsewhere, ever since I can remember. My mother tells me that as a young kid I used to cry at the end of every Sea Hunt episode.

QL: I sincerely apologize for breaking into this interview at this point – but – holy cow, Ralph! Holy Cow! You actually cried at the end of every Sea Hunt episode? I can’t believe it – so did I! But that sentiment was only eclipsed by my weeping at the end of each and every Star Trek episode. I confessed that to Gene Roddenberry’s son Rod on the telephone the other day and I think he considered me off-scale nuts. But – I digress- go on, by all means!

RB: I clearly remember the excitement of the Apollo years. Have you seen the Australian movie the Dish? I was like one of those school kids absolutely glued to the TV set, watching the adventure.

As an adult I became heavily involved in astronomy especially after Comet Halley.I joined a local astronomy club, acquired various telescopes , and had a program of regular backyard observations such as sunspot counting and lunar ocultations Around the same time I joined a National Space Society of Australia and became involved in their activities. I was able to help organise a couple of space conferences.

In the 90's I joined Dennis’ League of The New Worlds , I was excited to learn about the Astronaut course so decided to do it. I had read many books on space exploration and thought I was pretty knowledgeable on the topic, but the League's course was very different. It’s a "how to" course on the practicalities of living and exploring the space frontier. I had not done any formal study for years so it was a challenge but managed to finish it.

QL: I understand you made the transition to the early days of computer bulletin boards to blogging. How do you compare the good old days with today?

RB: Goodness me. What a difference! It must have been 20 years ago when I first joined the online community. Back then I didn't even have a computer. A friend gave me an old bank terminal which he managed to connect to his BBS with a 300 baud modem. That was way before web was developed, instead there was lots of hobbyist with stand alone computers who shared e-mail and files through store and forward systems like Fidonet. Eventually I brought my first computer, an IBM XT clone with 640kb memory and a huge 20 megabyte hard drive. I think my mobile phone would have more power now. A few years latter I had my own BBS, called Vulcan's World, which specialised in astronomy, space exploration and science fiction. For a while there I had sponsorship from the British Astronomical Association (Sydney Branch), the National Space Society of Australia and a Star Trek club. But the growth of the Internet made what I was doing obsolete .

Back in the BBS days we had to have a reasonable technical knowledge. We called ourselves sysops, system operators. Blogs are designed to be as simple as possible so a much wider range of people can use them. But I miss the sysop camaraderie, those Fidonet BBQs were great fun!

I became interested in blogs after 9/11. They gave me access to a far wider range of analysis then the traditional media. I thought about starting my own blog but I doubted I could consistently write original or interesting material. The good thing about posting on Quantum Limits is that I get to post on topics I'm interested in without having any pressure to produce material. I expect a lot of popular blogs will become group blogs over the years, to prevent blogger burn out.

QL: You have also integrated underwater exploration into your activities. What made you get started in that venture?

RB: You did Dennis! When I joined the League I became determined to do two things. To complete the Astronaut course and to become an aquanaut. I decided I would get off my butt, become a SCUBA diver and become an aquanaut in the Jules Underwater Lodge. But the first problem was - I couldn't swim. Being able to swim is helpful if you want to be a diver (lol). So I signed up at the local swimming classes and spent most afternoons training. When I was able to swim 100 meters I signed up for the PADI open water course. It took me two attempts but I finally received my certification. Becoming a SCUBA diver opened a whole new world to me. I have dived throughout the Sydney area, dived the Barrier Reef and Vanuatu. In 1998 I went to the USA and spent a day in the amazing Jules Underwater Lodge and achieved my PADI aquanaut certificate. It was a great adventure.

QL: How would you feel abut leaving the earth behind today and living in space?

RB: Would love to. We only make progress as individuals or a society if we do something that has not been tried before. If we stick to the safe and known there is only stagnation. Opening up a frontier beyond our planet would be the ultimate adventure.

QL: On that note, where would you prefer to live - in earth orbit, in solar orbit, on the Moon, Mars or somewhere else? Why?

RB: Well, I think a interplanetary village would be great. Think of a space colony with a few thousand people. Attach a rocket motor, it doesn't have to be very fast, a nuclear rocket would be fine. After 5-10 years it could reach one of the outer planets, maybe Saturn. Orbit one of the ice moons and use its resources to refuel and restock the habitat. Spend a few years there exploring, no rush. Maybe leave behind a small colony or base. Then off to the next target, perhaps one of the Kupier belt planets. Over a period of centuries you could hop from one object to another until another star is reached. There’s supposed to be lots of minor planets in the Oort Cloud . Residents may reach 4-5 major targets in their lifetimes. You get to explore the galaxy and stay at home at the same time.

QL: How did you meet up with Dennis Chamberland?

RB: Through the Internet. Dennis posted a message in one of the newsgroup and I replied. Through that I joined the League of New Worlds and completed the Astronaut course. Later I visited the USA and meet Dennis and his family.

QL: Have you any plans to live in an undersea colony one day?

RB: If Dennis or someone else gets one going - you betcha!

QL: Dennis has invited you to be an Aquanaut Crew member on the Atlantica I Expeditions in 2009 - have you agreed to spend five days down under with him in Florida?

RB: Crikey! Sure do! I told my wife Tessy about it and although she can't swim she wants to come along too. She wants to go to Disney World!

QL: Tell us about your other exploration interests. What are you interested in besides space and ocean exploration?

RB: I'm interested in all exploration at some level. I often blog on Antarctica because it still has unexplored regions and major discoveries waiting to be made in places like Lake Vostok. Near Space is the invisible frontier, its above our heads but most people don't realise how little we know about the upper atmosphere.

QL: What are your thoughts about space exploration? If you were the Grand Overlord of the Universe, could you make things better in this area?

RB: Properly to abolish the position of Grand Overlord! I'm not sure they way we have been conducting space exploration for the last 50 years has really been the best way. When you look at the exploration of the Polar Regions or Australia, you will see a far more decentralized history. It was a mixture of government and private ventures. Sometimes governments sent military expeditions, sometimes they awarded cash prizes, other times explorers raised money anyway they could and just went. Some of those expeditions failed other succeeded but explorers generally learn t from previous mistakes. I don't think that ”failure is not an option" is really a good idea. If you are too cautious then nothing will be ventured. Now governments have to be cautious, they only risk people lives in rare situations such as war. But to the adventure-explorer risk is a different matter, they will access the risk, take counter measures and bring it down to a level which they, not some government official, find acceptable. I doubt any government would have sponsored the Kon-tiki expedition or one of Andrew McAuleys adventures.

If I could do anything it would to bring down the cost of access to space. I'm convinced that if we can reduce cost we will see adventurer-astronauts undertake amazing missions.

QL: One last question Ralph, where do you think mankind is headed?

RB: To the stars or to oblivion. I don't think this century is going to be very pleasant. Much of Europe seems to have forgotten how to have babies and their population is in decline. I expect Islamic cultures to replace the aging Western European civilizations. I doubt the resettlement will be peaceful. The Chinese are having 118 baby boys for every 100 girls. So you are going to have a communist dictatorship trying to control lots of single men.

There’s nothing like a good war to get rid of lots of men. In previous times the human race has had new territories, a physical frontier where people could escape too. Those frontiers expired last century. Travel in any direction and sooner or latter you will need a passport. No frontier means someone owns the land, which means they can control you and me, those who live on the land. The last thing the establishment wants is change so we see attempts made to bring progress under control such a Kyoto and "sustainable development". Others don't like progress at all and have another system of control, Sharia law.

The only way out of this that I can see is to find a new frontier and quickly. If we don't get off the land into Ocean and Space we face war and the civilization's new long night.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Research Vessel Kou Walter


The Atlantica Expeditions is preparing to release details on the Kou Walter Research Vessel which will be used to explore potential undersea sites for the 2009 world record underwater mission. The 24 foot craft was donated to the expeditions by Helme Vega Walter, daughter of Kou Walter, an Estonian born ocean explorer, Merchant Marine Captain and American patriot.

The Kou Walter was named by Atlantica Expeditions leader, Dennis Chamberland, in honor of Captain Walter because of his personal courage and example as well as his extraordinary commitment to world ocean exploration and education of young people in the exploration of the oceans.

“Captain Walter’s life is a challenging model for all of us who explore the oceans of the world,” said Chamberland. “He exemplified the ocean faring hero in every conceivable way. He was a courageous man who stood up against the Nazis after they imprisoned him and the Soviets burned his ship, the Vega. He later saved his family and others in a perilous trip to freedom. His life is an example to us all in courage, perseverance and unqualified commitment to freedom. We are more than honored to christen a very important part of our mission after Captain Walter’s legacy.”

After World War II, Captain Walter continued sailing professionally until late in his life. He also purchased this craft to stay close to the ocean, and then asked specifically that it be given to a non profit group that would use it for ocean education. His daughter, Helme, said that this gift to the League was exactly what he would have wanted. She also noted that through television and newspaper accounts he had followed the undersea work in the missions of the Scott Carpenter Undersea Station in Key Largo. Captain Kou Walter passed away at his Merritt Island, Florida, home on December 7, 2004 and is survived by his daughters Aloha, Maia and Helme.

The Kou Walter’s first exploration task will be a trek to survey in detail the underwater site designated as “Polaris One” now considered as one of the prime possible locations for the 2009 mission.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

21st Century Spaceships

We are going to be making radical changes in our manned transportation systems to space. New spaceships are now being designed and this year, the contracts will be established to build them. The first of the new space vehicles – the Ares I - will be launched in 2009. Here is NASA’s press release:

NASA is already at work developing hardware and systems for the Ares I rocket that will send future astronauts into orbit. Built on cutting-edge launch technologies, evolved powerful Apollo and space shuttle propulsion elements, and decades of NASA spaceflight experience, Ares I is the essential core of a safe, reliable, cost-effective space transportation system -- one that will carry crewed missions back to the moon, on to Mars and out into the solar system.

Ares I is an in-line, two-stage rocket configuration topped by the Orion crew vehicle and its launch abort system. In addition to the vehicle's primary mission -- carrying crews of four to six astronauts to Earth orbit -- Ares I may also use its 25-ton payload capacity to deliver resources and supplies to the International Space Station, or to "park" payloads in orbit for retrieval by other spacecraft bound for the moon or other destinations.

NASA has also published a detailed PDF fact sheet that you can download by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New Comet!

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW
Theres a new comet in the sky and its the brightest in decades! Discovered by an Australian, Comet McNaught should be visible to Northern Hemisphere observers now. Over here we should get a good view after the 15th. I'm getting my binoculars and telescope ready, this one promises to be even more exciting then Halley. See reports here , here and here.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Update: Australia to New Zealand by Kayak.

Taking the Kayak for a spin around Sydney Harbour
Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW

The Crossing the Ditch team had the official start of their expedition today and I was able to attend. James Castrission and Justin Jones and are attempting the first crossing of the Tasman by kayak. They were hoping to depart for New Zealand today but preparing the boat took longer then expected so actual voyage will occur latter this month. This will give them adequate time to test the vessel. They will need to cover over 2500 kms and expect to take about six weeks to complete the trip. It will be an enormous challenge but I'm impressed by the level of preparation and planning.

Andrew McAuley began his first Trans-Tasman attempt before Christmas but he had to turn around as he couldn't cope with the cold nights . Now he thinks he has solved the problem and is waiting for the weather to clear before his second attempt.

Here are a few more pictures from todays festivities.

The kayak has a cabin allowing the adventurers to rest in rotation The kayak will be using solar power to operate equipment including the water maker

James and Justin at the launch They will each consume the calorie equivalent of 18 burgers daily. The team at the naming and blessing ceremony. The boat has been named Lot 41

Friday, January 05, 2007

Atlantica Project Releases Mission Patch

The Atlantica Undersea Colony Project has released its mission patch, shown above. The Patch represents the Atlantica Project Expeditions I and II, leading to the establishment of the first permanent human presence undersea. The patch depicts a porthole looking out into the sea, which represents the human habitats that will make up the colony. Out of the porthole is shown a man as a new permanent resident in the sea beside another permanent ocean mammal, the dolphin. This represents the stewardship of man in the undersea environment. As a permanent resident, he assumes responsibility for his own presence and the preservation and protection of the environment and its other many residents in which he becomes a new citizen.

This four inch embroidered patch will be available in the Undersea Colony Store, opening on the website in February 2007.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Astonishing Vision

Happy New Year! And special thanks to Ralph for blogging while I was away from the Quantum Editions Desk!

I have seen hundreds of artist concepts of futuristic space colonies, but the one posted here was accomplished by German Artist Alexander Preuss. This work makes all the previous art on space colonies instantly obsolete. It is so astonishingly detailed it looks like a photograph. It is just an amazing piece of architectural vision! It is this kind of work that leads to reality. If you want to know what future space settlements will look like in the new empires to come – Mr. Preuss give us all that glimpse into tomorrow.

Looking ahead to 2007 I hope to finish three book projects before mid-year: Undersea Colonies, Pulling the Plug and Abyss of Space. I would also like to feature a Quantum Limit Podcast every month with a scientist, explorer or adventurer. And I would like to organize a quarterly online web chat with Quantum Limit regulars, if there is enough interest among readers.

Meanwhile – have a great and prosperous New Year and blessings to everyone all around!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

From Sea to Sky

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW

An Australian team lead by Duncan Chessell, has just reached the 4897m summit of Mt Vinson in Antarctica. The four explorers Chessell, Rob North, Peter Weeks and Rob Jackson became the first people to climb the Antarctic peak from a sea level start. After trekking through 400 km of unexplored territory the team reached the peak at 4.30pm 1 Jan 2007. From the reports:

"We are all exhausted but exhilarated," Chessell said by satellite phone after the climb.

"The view, standing alone on the tallest part of the Antarctic, was incredible - you could see almost to the South Pole. To stand there and see the hundreds of kilometres we had trekked from the sea, across land never before crossed by people, was humbling," AAP quoted him as saying.

The summit push involved a 1200m vertical climb and about eight kilometres of climbing in total, mainly up a very long glacial slope.

The team was roped together for protection and took seven hours to reach the peak after leaving the high base camp.

According to the report, temperatures at the summit fell to minus 35 celsius.

The trek was also unique in the sense that the Australian team carried all their own supplies, pulling 60kg sleds across the ice.

They stored most of their gear at the base of Mt Vinson and after descending the mountain intend to fly out to South America and then Australia.

Though other climbers, including Australians, have summited Mt Vinson, they have not done it after a trek from the sea level.

Congratulations to the Centacare Antarctic Challenge team!

Their website has more information.