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.