Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The New Moon Race

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW

A new Moon race has began. On September 13 2007 two Americans, Xprize founder Peter H. Diamandis and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, announced The Google Lunar Xprize is a $30 Million prize to send private a rover to the moon. This will be a challenge to teams from around the world. If successful world attention will be focused on the Moon like nothing since Apollo. ( current US plans call for a human return to the Moon after the Xprize completion date). The competition has been designed to inspire current generations:

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is an unprecedented international competition that will challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. The X PRIZE Foundation, best known for the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for private suborbital spaceflight, is an educational nonprofit prize organization whose goal is to bring about radical breakthroughs to solve some of the greatest challenges facing the world today.

“The Google Lunar X PRIZE calls on entrepreneurs, engineers and visionaries from around the world to return us to the lunar surface and explore this environment for the benefit of all humanity,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation. “We are confident that teams from around the world will help develop new robotic and virtual presence technology, which will dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration.”

“Having Google fund the purse and title the competition punctuates our desire for breakthrough approaches and global participation,” continued Diamandis. “By working with the Google team, we look forward to bringing this historic private space race into every home and classroom. We hope to ignite the imagination of children around the world.”

As expected the GoogleLunarXprize has also generated plenty of controversy. Some are dismissing the whole thing as a PR stunt by Google. Others are complaining because their pet projects are not the goal. Lets have a deeper look.

David Nolan at Popular Mechanics gives five reasons why the prize won't be won. Clark Lindsey responds to the criticisms but I like to make a few points. The contest does not require the team to build the rocket, they can hire a commercial vehicle. Back in 1998 a Chinese communication satellite, Asiasat 3 failed to reach a stable orbit, so engineers rescued the craft by sending it on two lunar flybys making it the first commercial spacecraft to reach the Moon. Perhaps a team could send their rover piggyback with a geostationary satellite. Or perhaps they can use the Interplanetary Super Highway as Brian Wang suggests.

The Xprize people know the prize is winnable from previous experience. Remember this is not a new idea.. Lunacorp tried for several years to develop a commercial lunar rover using Russian technology but didn't get anywhere. More relevant was a company called Blastoff!. It was a started by several entrepreneurs in 2000 and managed to raise several million dollars before the bust killed it. One of those entrepreneurs was Peter Diamandis of Xprize fame. Diamandis explained how the project came about:

It turns out that Bill Gross (and Larry) were both space fans. One day Bill was talking to his son about the space program and decided he wanted to buy him a moon rock... so he naturally looked on eBay to see if one was available for purchase (of course there are no moon rocks in the public sector). This exercise got him thinking about space... after a few other chance meetings, and a reflection on the tremendous success of the July 1997 Mars Pathfinder internet outreach (run by Kirk Goodall), Bill got the idea that he would fund the first private mission to the moon... a robotic mission that would make its money through internet advertising and media rights.... a company he called BlastOff! Bill and Larry viewed Pixar as the model for a company that could create entertainment and garner a multi-billion valuation. Their objective was to only build business models that could reach the billion dollar category... after all they had done it many times already!

Blastoff! eventually folded but they made enough progress for to show the Xprize people a private moon mission is possible.

The New Space critics are completely missing the point. They seem to think that the only worthwhile space research should be about reducing the cost of space access. I may be stating the obvious , but the purpose of a transport system is to transport something. If some team manages to pull this off despite the high cost of transport, fantastic! This will be a world wide event. Millions of people will be following it on the Internet. It will certainly create world wide interest in space exploration something Paul Breed's reusable micro-launcher idea will never do.

Theres already one serious entry I'm sure there will be more. I'm hope some Australian group has a go.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sailing the North West Passage

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, NSW

1906 saw the completion of one of the greatest feats of exploration in history, the crossing of the North West Passage by Roald Amundsen. The North West Passage was the great goal of polar exploration and had defeated explorers was centuries. Even the British navy, the most powerful naval force of the era failed. They would get so far, then get stuck in the ice. With luck they got out before their rations expired.

Then the Master Explorer Amundsen came along. He spent time learning how to live of the land from the Eskimos. He knew the water could be shallow so only used a small 47 ton fishing boat. The crew totaled just seven. But he took dogs sleds, and rifles, when they got stuck in the ice they went hunting for caribou. Instead of starving they got fat. Because they had mobility they were able to locate the North magnetic pole. A major scientific achievement of the time. It took them three years but finally they reached the Pacific.

Now Sebastien Roubinet has become the first person sail a boat across the passage in one season:

It took Sebastien Roubinet one year to build Babouche - a 7,5 m ice catamaran designed to sail on water and slide over ice. Sunday, the vessel made Sebastien's dream come true.

The adventurer and his friends connected the Pacific to the Atlantic by the north of Canada; claiming the first Northwest Passage made without engine in one season.

Gamble won!

"Hundred years ago, Amundsen crossed the North-American archipelago from the East to the West and became thus the first person to carry out the passage of this way. Now, Sébastien will try become the first person to carry out this passage only by sail," read the expedition project description.

Sunday - the triumphant dispatch: "GAMBLE WON, CHALLENGE SUCCEDED, DREAM REALIZED... for Babouche, Sebastien, Anne-Lise, Eric and Boris!!!! Babouche reached Greenland!"

Hard wind and sea

The passage took 3 months and 21 days, and spanned 4500 miles. As the ice melts (partially) only two months of the year, August and September, Babouche was in a hurry to get through.

The crew took turns, with Seb and Boris nailing the long, final leg. The team lost the mast at one point, had no heat - and used only sun and wind power for progress.

Soaked and tired, they fought hard conditions during the crossing of the Baffin Sea. North-east winds prevented a direct route to Greenland and leaving Devon Island, the guys battled 20 knot winds and a very hard sea......

Their website is here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Undersea habitats in the news

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW
The Toronto Star recently published a very a very good story on current undersea habitat plans. Atlantica Expedition members Dennis Chamberland and Lloyd Godson get a mention.
Photo Tom Wilson
Somewhere . . . beyond the lake
Overseer of undersea hotel in Fiji thinks people might live below Lake Ontario within three decades
September 08, 2007
Special to the Star

Within three decades the most sought after view in Toronto could be the wreck of the Sligo.

Seen through the pressurized window of an underwater condo, the stark wooden ribs of the 19th-century schooner might be seen reaching up toward the surface of Lake Ontario. To highlight the historic remains, the condo's board could place lights around the bones of the Sligo so residents could watch salmon schooling at night around the underwater landmark off the western waterfront.

The Sligo is one of three visually dramatic wrecks on the bottom of Lake Ontario, close to Toronto's shoreline. Now visited only by scuba divers, breakthroughs in both building and air cleansing technologies mean multiple dwelling habitats – such as submerged condos – could one day be built within sight of the lake-bottom attractions.

Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise called space the final frontier, but that distinction may actually belong to those parts of the planet covered by water.

Michael Schutte, the vice-president of engineering at U.S. Submarines, doesn't believe it will take as long as 30 years before people are living on the bottom of Lake Ontario. The Toronto-born-and-raised mega-yacht designer is now based in Oregon overseeing the construction of an underwater five-star hotel to open on the edge of a coral cliff in the South Pacific by 2009.

Schutte, 45, is overseeing the above-water construction of the Poseidon Undersea Resort , which will be taken to Fiji and placed on the bottom of a deep lagoon. There will be 24 undersea hotel suites and apartments covering 51 square metres, anchored on the ocean floor 12 metres beneath the surface..................

"Why does everyone live on land anyway?" asks Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. "Three-quarters of our planet is water and yet mankind is clustered haphazardly on the land. From space you can easily see where people are congregated. You just look for the 'Big Smear,' the bands of pollution that permanently surround our large cities."

"It is said that if we could handle the density of Manhattan, the whole population of North America could be placed in a state the size of Connecticut," Hadfield tells visitors at the Ontario Science Centre. "On land we have randomly chosen where we live. But in the water, there would have to be more order. Living underwater, like living in space, has some challenges – breathable air, potable water, construction constraints and temperature – but there are advantages, too.

"It would take housing pressures off agricultural land and allow (the city) to access underwater resources for cooling, insulation, electricity and, of course, water."........

"People live under the water today for very short periods of time – usually a week or less, but sometimes for extended periods of up to two to three weeks," says Florida-based author, explorer and former mission commander for seven NASA underwater missions, Dennis Chamberland (see

"But no one has ever lived undersea permanently – not one person in all of history. My group is planning to establish the first permanent civilian colony off central Florida in 2012 and for the first time, mankind will have a permanent address undersea. So it will happen in the next few years, not 30!"

Chamberland's Atlantica project will be using a donated submarine (originally built to hunt for the Loch Ness monster) to establish three manned undersea habitats over the next five years. If the construction of the underwater station goes as planned, people will begin living on the bottom beginning in 2012, Chamberland says.

"Humankind is attracted to the beautiful and exotic places of our solar system. Just as man will be attracted to one day living on the cliff sides of the Valley of the Mariners on Mars, mankind will be attracted to live in the beauty of the underwater regions of our own planet," he says.

Blame much of the current interest in underwater projects on Lloyd Godson, a young Australian scientist. Earlier this year Godson, with the backing of the Australian Geographic magazine, spent 12 days living in a yellow steel capsule submerged in a flooded gravel pit. He built and sank "the world's first self-sufficient, self-sustaining underwater habitat."......

Using solar power sensors on the surface and riding a stationary bicycle to produce additional electricity to keep his lights and computers working, Godson lived independent of terra firma. The air that he breathed was purified and recycled by algae soaked in his own urine. His algae garden absorbed the carbon dioxide he exhaled, and released oxygen for breathing (he did have to supplement his air supply with air from scuba tanks).

"The demand for information from the media took me by surprise when I was underwater," Godson says. "We were front page from England to Taiwan."

After emerging Godson was besieged with offers from the media to fund and film future extreme adventures. He was in Toronto earlier this summer to shoot a pilot TV show for Canada's Cineflix Productions, which wants to make a 13-part series following Godson's future projects.

"My quarry project was done on a shoestring, but it shows that soon people can live underwater and it can be done cheaply," Godson says.

"My habitat wasn't luxurious and there would have to be a lot of improvements to be usable again. I had a bed, a computer, a phone, email, plants and a fishing rod. I was doing all right, but mate, it was a bit boring.

"There is no noise underwater. If you are a people person, an underwater home is not for you.
Read the complete article here.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Journey to the center of the Earth ... and beyond

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW
Alex Michael Bonnici's recent post on Europa reminded me of the incredible work of explorer-inventor Bill Stone. Stone, one of the leading explorers today, has explored deep underground caves, built autonomous robots that could one day search for life in Europa's oceans and developed his own plan for exploring the moon. I have previously written about his extraordinary achievements. However below is a video of a talk given by the man himself. Very much worth seeing even if you only have dial up like I do.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Italian Undersea Colony Experiment Underway!

An Italian team has launched a 14 day undersea study “to prove concepts of undersea colonization”. The team is called as it is translated by Google: “Plan Abysses the 2007 house in bottom to the sea 2 Comincia the colonization.”

I sent them an email of congratulations from the Atlantica Expeditions this morning and have suggested a telephone link for a Podcast. Here is the letter sent on behalf of our team:

“From the undersea team of the Atlantica Expeditions, we wish to congratulate your superb underwater expedition! As official Aquaticans, we are with you in spirit and our prayers are with you for a successful venture.”

An English video is found by clicking here.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Rendezvous with Rama

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW

The film 2001 a Space Odyssey was based on a short story by Arthur C Clarke The Sentinel. He latter converted the movie script into a novel but perhaps his best book was Rendezvous with Rama. Filled with a glorious sense of wonder, Rama tells the story of the arrival in our solar system of a huge alien artifact . Its a 30 mile long O'Neill habitat and we follow a group of astronauts as they try to unravel its mysteries. The novel won both the Nebula and Hugo awards and in my days as a book shop proprietor was a book I could recommend to anyone who wanted a good hard SF space adventure.

Rendezvous with Rama is just waiting to be made into a movie. Morgan Freeman has been working on a film for some time. Latest news is that the project is back on again. However tired of waiting for the Hollywood version, film student Aaron Ross made his own short. Just have a look at the impressive results.