Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Greatest Astronaut

One of my true heroes in my life is the late Neil Armstrong. Even though hundreds of astronauts and dozens of space missions have come and gone since the epic first manned landing on the moon in 1969, Neil has never been replaced as my favorite astronaut. While working at NASA over all of these years I've had the opportunity to meet many astronauts on many different levels, and although I never met Neil, he still holds the top slot in my heart and mind. There are many things that I really appreciated about Neil, for instance, he had more reason than anyone to cash in on his fame. The Neil resisted that to the end, unlike some of his other astronaut buddies who did anything and everything to get more recognition and money. Also appreciated his coolness as he landed his lander on the moon with alarms going off and running out of fuel, Neil showed us all that he had the right stuff as he floated about the lunar landscape picking just the right place to land. But my favorite memory of Neil Armstrong is the fact that in the end he was really an Explorer. He was not an actor in any way, he was just an Explorer doing his job on behalf of all the rest of us watching him on planet Earth. And because Neil was just an Explorer and not an actor, I love the fact that as he took his first step on the lunar surface, Neil actually blew his only line! He said, it is recorded for all of history to always hear, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Of course Neil left out the little word "a", which made all the difference in the meaning of what he said. What he said made no sense at all grammatically, even though we all knew what he was trying to say, "That's one small step for 'a' man, one giant leap for mankind." But you know what that's pretty small stuff in the life of a truly great man that, as for me I will certainly miss. Neil, thank you for what you did, but more than that thank you for the life that you lived when you came home! (Side note: the picture that you see here was the first picture ever taken of a human being in a habitat on the surface of another world.)

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Monday, August 06, 2012

Curiosity Landing Photographed From Mars Orbit

Shown here is a picture of the Curiosity Rover taken from the NASA satellite Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in Martian orbit about one minute before the rover landed in Gale crater. Just after the shot was taken, the parachute holding the rover aloft was released along with the back shell as the rover's rocket sprang into life and finally this sky crane lowered it down gently onto the surface of the red planet. The parachute that you can see in this frame was designed to open at supersonic velocity and is the largest parachute ever flown to another planet.

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Curiosity's Scientific Gear APXS

I was privileged to spend three hours with Curiosity last fall as I assisted the Kennedy Space Center team installing the Curiosity Rover’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).  The sensor head for the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer is installed during testing. The head is 7.8 centimeters or about 3 inches tall.   APXS, which sits at the end of Curiosity's arm, will measure the abundances of various chemical elements in Martian rocks and dirt.  Curiosity will place the instrument in contact with samples of interest, and APXS will shoot out X-rays and helium nuclei. This barrage will knock electrons in the sample out of their orbits, causing a release of X-rays. Scientists will be able to identify elements based on the characteristic energies of these emitted X-rays.  It is shown in its position in this picture.

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Gale Crater - Scientific Motherlode

Curiosity now sits inside the 96 mile in diameter Gale Crater, named for an Australian Astronomer, Walter F. Gale who died in 1945.  Inside the crater is a mountain rising some 18,000 off the bottom of Gale crater is Mt. Sharp, named for the NASA Geologist  Robert P. Sharp (1911-2004) – just slightly lower than the highest peak in North America (Mt. McKinley).  As you can see by this graphic, Curiosity has its work cut out for it.  During its two year (and probably much longer) exploration of this part of Mars, the rover is slated to scale the slope of Mt. Sharp along the suggested path on this graphic that depicts the first part of its journey up the slopes.   Gale crater is located about 4 degrees south of the Martian equator and also just south of the Elysium Plains which was the setting of my book, ABYSS OF ELYSIUM.  Gale crater is by far the most interesting site ever chosen for a rover mission and one laden with scientific opportunities.  NASA has played it cautiously with previous Mars rovers, dropping them in flood plains and driving slowly to targets of interest. This time it's different - Curiosity has successfully landed next to the scientific motherlode: a mountain that displays billions of years of Martian history.

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Curiosity on Mars!

In the single most astonishing, daring and nail biting spaceflight since Apollo 11, NASA successfully landed its SUV sized Mars Rover, Curiosity after a 345 million mile, 8.5 month mission through interplanetary space.  The amazing spacecraft dropped into the Martian atmosphere at over 13,000 miles per hour.  The rover then shed its heat shield after pulling 13 Gs, released the largest parachute ever deployed off planet at supersonic velocity, fired up its rockets to slow down then lowered the huge rover to the surface with cables using a completely novel and untried rocket powered sky-crane.  After the successful landing, the Rover Curiosity sent back this image of the flat, pebble strewn ground around it.  Whew!  Lots of tears were shed at the moment of successful landing including my own at 1:32 AM EDT this morning!

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Friday, August 03, 2012

Concepts of a New Space in Aquatica

As a land dwellers we have been accustomed to wide-open skies and open spaces to which we had very little restriction of access. But undersea dwellers will be living in very small enclosed spaces and the only access they will have to outside is when they are dressed in their aquatic year and breathing their life support gases from specially designed equipment. Therefore the new citizens of Aquatica will become accustomed to a different kind of place. Their immediate world will be much smaller and much more restricted even though they live in the largest contiguous region of the world, which is the great single undersea global ocean. They will also be living in a three-dimensional world where the land dwellers are accustomed to living in a two-dimensional world restricted by gravity with their feet and wheels stuck permanently to the ground. Dwellers of Aquatica will become accustomed to this different concept of space gradually over time. And yet by ingenious engineering design we will be able to open up the aquatic dwellers new and majestic view of their vast and beautiful domain. Thus in the end, as three-dimensional dwellers of this new region of the earth opened for permanent human habitation, they will come to know their own unique and powerful view of a whole new world that the land dwellers will never know.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Drown-Proofing An Undersea Colony - PART I

Living permanently undersea is considered by many as the purest kind of unabridged madness on the planet. The chief worry is, of course, catastrophic flooding. Dennis Chamberland addresses this concern in a video out-take from a chapter in the upcoming book, UNDERSEA COLONIES II in this video titled, "DROWN-PROOFING AN UNDERSEA COLONY - PART I"

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