Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

You call that a laser..This is a laser!

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW


(Credit: Air Force photo by Bobby Jones



You may be able to purchase powerful small lasers but if you want a genuine, fair dinkum, death ray its hard to go past the USAF Airborne Laser. Just the thing to zap missiles and invading UFOs.

The Pentagon's premier "directed energy" weapons system is a missile-zapping laser that could someday soon be tooling around in a modified 747, if all goes right for a program valued at $3.8 billion. This week, the Airborne Laser aircraft paid a visit to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland--well known, of course, as a commuter airport of sorts for the president--as the destination of what the Pentagon says was the plane's first-ever cross-country flight.

Washington area residents need not worry about a misfire. The plane isn't yet equipped with the "megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser beam" weapons system; that work is slated for sometime later this year. The Pentagon says the chemical laser has had 70 successful firings (on the ground, that is) over the past three years, and it is preparing for what it hopes will be the first takedown of a ballistic missile target in mid-2009. Eventually, the battle-ready chemical load would be sufficient to destroy an unspecified "many" missiles.

"We are going to put that big laser in the back...and then we're ready to shoot a missile down," Air Force Col. John Daniels, program director, said in a statement. "The biggest challenge we have right now is integration. The optics system is working. The battle management system works well. We even tracked an (intercontinental ballistic missile) with the sensors on the airplane."

I wonder how long it will be before it turns up in a movie.

Mars Alpine Style.

I have longed believed that the great age of human space exploration will come when true explorers, independent adventures, are able to get involved. They will reduce costs by taking an ultralight approach and accepting greater risks. Well, the founders ExplorersWeb, Tom and Tina Sjogren have announced their intention to mount a Mars expedition:

This is exactly the approach that has been missing in space exploration. We threw out rockets that took us to the moon; because we wanted to build something smarter. The shuttle fleet a result of that: An engineering marvel taking us nowhere.

It's clear that human space exploration is at a standstill. Nations and governments engage only tentative visions for human Mars missions. Vague talks concern mostly our return to the moon - and plans span timeframes 20-30 years from now.

It's clear that if we want to go - we'll have to do it the Amundsen way. So how would he have approached the task? The way we still do today. We ask where, when and how.

The target is set: We want to go to Mars. We know that the expedition will take around 1000 days. We know that trajectories show 2014 as a good expedition starting date. Now, we need to find means to get there and back. And start packing our sleds.

Now I think a private expedition to Mars by 2014 is a bit of a stretch. The astronauts and systems are going to need lots of testing before attempting such a long mission. Then there's issues such as micro-gravity and radiation. However the Moon though is another matter. Anyway I'll watch the project with interest.

No Ice Puddles on Mars?

It seems the story we posted here that held the implication that there might be frozen puddles as icy sheens on Mars has been so soundly criticized that it has been withdrawn by the researchers themselves!

I would apologize to you, dear readers for even posting it – but as Ralph says, this is, after all, a blog not a learned journal. We will try and be as accurate as we can be, but sometimes the exciting news is just exciting news and turns out to be just wrong.

We were notified of this situation by a reader, Ms. Charlotte Wolter and we appreciate not only her notice of the situation but also her tolerance of our initial defense of science and those who courageously theorize sometimes off the wall theories (like relativity). But, Ms. Wolter caught us speculating a little too freely even after the article was rescinded. To her, we tip our hats and sit in sack cloth and ashes. Charlotte - you were correct and we admit it.

In any case – no ice puddles on Mars. Really? Is that entirely accurate? The United States and the Europeans are spending an awful lot of money to actually find water ice on Mars – and I have recently seen the Mars bound Phoenix (just 37 days from launch) ready to fly to the poles and do just that! But alas, it probably won’t be found and ice sheens… or will it? Wait a minute! Do we count the polar caps as ice sheens, many meters thick? Water or carbon dioxide or both? NASA is hoping for both. Hmmm – we’ll examine this idea of ice on Mars after Phoenix lands and digs into the white stuff to see exactly what it is made of.

Ice sheens on Mars – imagine it. Impossible? Or is the fantastic idea worth the tens of millions it will take Phoenix to go find it? We shall see.

Until then – thank you Ms. Wolter for keeping us honest and straight!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Undersea Getaway

It has always been a goal of mine to develop and launch an undersea habitat that can be used as a weekend getaway. Fortunately, the Atlantica Expeditions has given us that opportunity! In a few weeks, the Atlantica Expeditions will be releasing the first drawings of the New Worlds Explorer – a two man habitat rated for 48 hour visits to the undersea world. It can, of course, also be used in a lake environment.

It was my first goal to build it for myself as a personal habitat that can be towed behind a regular automobile on a standard boat trailer. It can be launched like a boat, towed to the site, submerged, used, resurfaced and towed back home, all during a weekend outing. Or, it can remain on the bottom for a season of use. Those were the parameters of the design process.

Having had much experience with this entire process, I was able to make some design adjustments to the habitat to mitigate the worst and most difficult parts of the experience (such as submergence and hauling around many tons of mass) and make the process somewhat painless.

The habitat itself weighs in at about the same weight as an average recreational boat and can be towed behind a single axel trailer. The ballast mass for the habitat is launched separately. That was the only way this habitat could be handled with an ordinary boat trailer and could be launched from most boat ramps. Therefore, this experience is unlike a boat experience, even though it is designed to use boating infrastructures.

The aquanauts using this habitat are required to be proficient at SCUBA. The ballast block placement requires the bottom site to be surveyed for suitability prior to placing it there. The ballast block is also launched by a boat trailer, towed to the site and submerged, sitting on the bottom and waiting for the habitat to dock. Obviously this has all happened before the planned weekend outing.

It would have been possible to integrate the ballast block into the habitat, but it would have doubled the size, caused its weight to increase many times and required a crane lift into the water, since it could not have been launched by an ordinary vehicle at an ordinary ramp. Separating the ballast block from the habitat enables the use of ordinary infrastructure.

When the New Worlds Explorer arrives on site, the aquanauts descend to the bottom, hook up a spare SCUBA bottle to the ballast block and raise it to the surface. It is then connected to the habitat. Valves are cycled on the ballast block and it pulls it down to the bottom where the weekend undersea begins! The aquanauts simply reverse this process to raise it back up again when the weekend is over.

If the aquanauts wish to move to another place, it is a relatively simple matter to raise the ballast block and tow it to the new site.

The Atlantica Expeditions will be proving this concept out not only for use as an Expeditions asset undersea, but also for potential commercial development of this habitat sometime in the future. It will give us the opportunity to test all the ideas and design characteristics for integrating into a habitat that will allow just about anyone who wishes to live undersea on a regular basis access to Aquatica in their own personal habitat. We are estimating that these habitat systems will cost about the same as a mid-range recreational boat – and that was also another goal – making it affordable.

For more information, you can review it here in more detail at the Atlantica site in mid-July.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Undersea Colonies - Rejected Ideas

The book, Undersea Colonies is in the final proof stage and the real copies should start rolling off the publisher’s presses next week, I hope.

However, until that time I wanted to share with you some of the ideas we rejected from the book about permanent undersea colonization and the development of “off the shelf” technologies” to make it happen.

The first rejected idea is this one that could have played a part in the “Undersea Communications” chapter. It just seemed a little too connected to the surface interface to meet our standards. I do hope the guy actually made his call before the water rose any higher.

This is yet another rejected proposal that would have fit nicely in the “Commuting” chapter. However, we were not convinced that the mode of transport in question had any reliable miles left for its undersea responsibilities. This idea was rejected in the chapter on “Commuting” as well. While it is definitely a clear illustration of an undersea landing strip, again, we were concerned about the reliability of the transport mode after the “one shot” philosophy of use.

Finally, we rejected this poor man’s proposal of permanent undersea living, even though he was clearly demonstrating how to live undersea without the benefit of a habitat. If he actually made it 24 hours in this rig, we were concerned that he was in danger of permanent trench-foot, and this we could not tolerate in the colonies.

While none of these examples made it into the book, we hope you'll pick up a copy to read about all those ideas that did make it!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Water puddles on Mars?

Ralph Buttigieg

Ralph Buttigieg

Ralph Buttigieg

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, NSW

courtesy Ron Levin

courtesy Ron Levin

courtesy Ron Levin

Regular readers would know of my interest the search for liquid water on Mars. Perhaps its just my desire to find new dive sites. However, two scientists Ron Levin and Daniel Lyddy, think they have found liquid water puddles on Mars. Ron Levin's father is Mars Viking Lander investigator Gilbert Levin of whom Dennis has already written about.

Mars rover finds "puddles" on the planet's surface 15:33 08 June 2007 news service David Chandler

A new analysis of pictures taken by the exploration rover Opportunity reveals what appear to be small ponds of liquid water on the surface of Mars.

The report identifies specific spots that appear to have contained liquid water two years ago, when Opportunity was exploring a crater called Endurance. It is a highly controversial claim, as many scientists believe that liquid water cannot exist on the surface of Mars today because of the planet’s thin atmosphere.

If confirmed, the existence of such ponds would significantly boost the odds that living organisms could survive on or near the surface of Mars, says physicist Ron Levin, the report's lead author, who works in advanced image processing at the aerospace company Lockheed Martin in Arizona.

Along with fellow Lockheed engineer Daniel Lyddy, Levin used images from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's website. The resulting stereoscopic reconstructions, made from paired images from the Opportunity rover's twin cameras, show bluish features that look perfectly flat. The surfaces are so smooth that the computer could not find any surface details within those areas to match up between the two images.

The imaging shows that the areas occupy the lowest parts of the terrain. They also appear transparent: some features, which Levin says may be submerged rocks or pebbles, can be seen below the plane of the smooth surface.

The smoothness and transparency of the features could suggest either water or very clear ice, Levin says.

"The surface is incredibly smooth, and the edges are in a plane and all at the same altitude," he says. "If they were ice or some other material, they'd show wear and tear over the surface, there would be rubble or sand or something."

His report was presented at a conference of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and will be published later this year in the institute's proceedings.

No signs of liquid water have been observed directly from cameras on the surface before. Reports last year pointed to the existence of gullies on crater walls where water appears to have flowed in the last few years, as shown in images taken from orbit, but those are short-lived flows, which are thought to have frozen over almost immediately.

Levin and other researchers, including JPL's Michael Hecht, have published calculations showing the possibility of "micro-environments" where water could linger, but the idea remains controversial.

“The temperatures get plenty warm enough, but the Mars atmosphere is essentially a vacuum," says Phil Christensen of Arizona State University, developer of the Mars rovers' mini-Thermal Emission Spectrometers. That means any water or ice exposed on the surface evaporates or sublimes away almost instantly, he says.

But, he adds, "it is theoretically possible to get liquid water within soil, or under other very special conditions". The question is just how special those conditions need to be, and whether they ever really are found on Mars today.

If there were absolutely no wind, says Christensen, you might build up a stagnant layer of vapour above a liquid surface, preventing it from evaporating too fast. “The problem is, there are winds on Mars… In the real world, I think it's virtually impossible," he told New Scientist....

Now all the scientific debate in the world won't settle the matter. Science is based on observation and experimentation not debate or consensus so the researchers have proposed an experiment. Lets hope they get to put it to the test.

Although the rover is now miles away from this site, Levin proposes a simple test that would prove the presence of liquid if similar features are found: use the rover's drill on the surface of the flat area. If it is ice, or any solid material, the drill will leave unmistakable markings, but if it is liquid there should be no trace of the drill's activity.....

Update. No Puddles On Mars. 26/6/2007 Looks like the Martian water puddles I mention turned out to be a false lead. The scientists have withdrawn their paper.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Undersea Colonies Finalized

(Click on the cover to see a larger view)

The Book, Undersea Colonies is now substantially complete including the final edition of the cover, shown. The book will be sent to the publisher a week from today and should be available for shipment in mid-June. Here is the text on the back of the book:

“Of all one hundred billion humans who have ever lived, not a single one has gone to live permanently undersea. While we have had the technology to settle this vast, three dimensional domain for over half a century, it remains empty of outposts, colonies or cities – or even of a single settler. While its immense territory covers nearly three quarters of the globe, no one has ever gone there to stay. In this book, Dennis Chamberland traces the history of the aquanaut from the first tentative 24 hour experiment in 1962 until today. Surprisingly, a careful reading of the record of humankind’s penetration of the oceans reveals misdirected starts, misunderstandings of the human’s capacity to adapt and, eventually, a great abandonment of the quest. But now, Chamberland unveils a visionary strategy and a fresh, new look at previous challenges that will soon open up the expansive undersea regions called Aquatica. Here will arrive 21st century pioneers, colonists and families who will become the first Aquaticans in what may yet prove to be the greatest human adventure in all of history.”

Thanks to Astronaut Duane Graveline and Alex Michael Bonnici for the kind advance reviews!

If you would like to order the book in advance, let me know by clicking here. The cover price is $17.99 but for my friends and readers, you can have it for cost plus shipping!

Loch Ness Monster filmed?

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, NSW

As we have reported the League's new submarine was originally built by Loch Ness Monster researcher Dan Scott Taylor. Well today we have a report of someone claiming to have filmed the beast:

“I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this jet black thing, about 45-feet long, moving fairly fast in the water,'' said Gordon Holmes, the 55-year-old a lab technician from Shipley, Yorkshire, who took the video this past Saturday.

He said it moved at about 6 mph and kept a fairly straight course.

“My initial thought is it could be a very big eel, they have serpent-like features and they may explain all the sightings in Loch Ness over the years.''

Loch Ness is surrounded by myth and mystery, as it is the largest and deepest inland expanse of water in Britain. About 750 feet to the bottom, it's even deeper than the North Sea.

Nessie watcher and marine biologist Adrian Shine of the Loch Ness 2000 center in Drumnadrochit, on the shores of the lake, viewed the video and hopes to properly analyze it in the coming months.

“I see myself as a skeptical interpreter of what happens in the loch, but I do keep an open mind about these things and there is no doubt this is some of the best footage I have seen,'' Shine said.

He said the video is particularly useful because Holmes panned back to get the background shore into the shot. That means it was less likely to be a fake and provided geographical bearings allowing one to calculate how big the creature was and how fast it was traveling.

While many sightings can be attributed to a drop of the local whisky, legends of Scottish monsters date back to one of the founders of the Christian church in Scotland, St. Columba, who wrote of them in about 565 A.D.

More recently, there have been more than 4,000 purported Nessie sightings since she was first caught on camera by a surgeon on vacation in the 1930s.

Since then, the faithful have speculated whether it is a completely unknown species, a sturgeon -- even though they have not been native to Scotland's waters for many years -- or even a last surviving dinosaur.

Shine doubts that last explanation.

“There are a number of possible explanations to the sightings in the loch. It could be some biological creature, it could just be the waves of the loch or it could some psychological phenomenon in as much as we see what we want to see,'' he said. ...

The movie clip can be seen here. I suppose it could be the monster... or an old log. Anyway the tourist industry should be pleased.