Back when nuclear power was cool (30's - 70's), mankind dreamed up all sorts of nuclear powered spacecraft to get us to the stars. An example above - the nuclear reactor is in the central core, sending out thrust via the two lower engines.

But then Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl, and Love Canal, and the rise of a shortsighted environmental movement that would block solar panels in the desert because they threaten a seasonal moss, and we come to today, with the widespread vilification of all nuclear energy. Thus:
SCARY ATOMS!!! This is a redshirt original Photoshop, by the way. One of only a handful. You can tell by the high quality. I should learn Photoshop.

Nuclear power can be incredibly safe - far more than a coal plant, for example. And for propulsion in space? Can't be beat! Look at the Voyagers, who are on the verge of leaving the solar system on the backs of tiny nuclear power plants.

But we can't have a reasonable discussion about nuclear power at all, thanks to forces both on the Right and the Left. At least in America, this truly is a "Both sides do it" issue.

Don't fear the atom, man!


Inflatable Future

The near future of human exploration or even colonization of space will be done via inflatable spacecraft. Like the Sundancer above (artist's representation). Don't be fooled by the apparent small size - inflatable craft will be much bigger than near term metallic spacecraft. Consider Bigelow's (the company behind inflatable spacecraft) BA 330 compared to the Destiny module on the ISS:
But wait, you say, how can inflatable craft survive the harsh climes of space? Check it:
Rather than balloon, think really thick tire, with multiple layers. Tough as hell, and superior to our current metal ships which are often no thicker than a heavy aluminum. The craft will launch in a folded arrangement which greatly saves space on the rocket, and then expands in space as compressed gas is used to inflate it. The resulting structure is stronger than our current metals and far better at shielding from radiation, while not weighing that much more. It's an ingenious solution to the constraints gravity places on what we can launch into space with our current rocket tech. And this inflatable future is close, as Bigelow is booked to launch aboard a SpaceX rocket in the near future for a big test to conclusively prove the technology to NASA and other space powers. Have a model!
The BA 330 is incredibly spacious as compared to even the relatively expansive ISS. But since these modules are also nodes that can link up into larger structures, perhaps now you see the full potential. A quick and cheap and large space station:
A mock up for muckety-mucks. Bigelow of course is a private company, and is poised to become the first real estate developer in space. The Space Hotel is nigh! Massive fortunes await. And of course this too is but a start. Witness the possibility of the EDE:
A realistic in the near term spacecraft that could comfortably transport people to Jupiter, Saturn, and if we're brave, beyond. It's huge and really not that complicated or expensive. The Bigelow modules make up the bulk of the craft, providing huge areas for storage and living - heck, one of the modules could be a farm with chickens and hydroponic vegetables and fish tanks. And enough space so a person can move about a bit - also note the centrifuge for 1G sessions. All it takes is a couple of hours a day of just riding in it and you have no worries about bone loss or muscle weakening - thus, all the conditions are right for people to travel long term in space.

Now, a bigger question is why you'd want to send folks to Jupiter and beyond, but I'll leave that for you to answer. Until then, let the inflatable future begin!


What's next in Rockets

Sadly, or not, it's private enterprise - IN SPACE! Above is SpaceX's Falcon, which is already supplying the ISS, using this nifty little ship:
The Dragon! The Dragon has made a few trips to the ISS (just splashed down a few days ago) to deliver supplies and take back trash/experiments. It's automated to date, but is entirely ready to deliver people to space as well.

SpaceX is frankly awesome. They're working on their next rocket, which could revolutionize human access to space (in terms of cost - but this is a major barrier):
Here's a test launch. Check out the legs:
This rocket is designed to blast off, reach space, deliver its cargo, then fly back to Earth and land vertically, on those legs. This is the revolutionary part - the reusable rocket. Long a goal, and the original idea behind the Space Shuttle - check out this prototype from the 60's that never had a chance thanks to Nixon and Vietnam:
The rocket itself was not reusable, but this design was far more efficient than the Shuttle design that we finally got.

Anyways, SpaceX's Grasshopper is a reusable rocket, which greatly reduces the cost of any individual mission. Additionally, it can handle more cargo. Here's the cargo module, which would sit on top of the Grasshopper:
This is huge, relative to other rockets delivering stuff to space today.

Again, SpaceX seems like a kick ass success story, and their success will lead to more success. Good luck Elon!

Oh, and Branson's "Virgin Galactic"? Tourist trap only. Cool, but for rich thrillseekers and not much else.


Floating in space

Some laughs on the ISS, floating above us right now some 230 miles straight up. There's almost always 6 people on board, who serve for several months before being replaced. Here's the current commander:
A Canadian! But then, that's really the main point of the ISS - international collaboration. And cool photos:

Here's an eclipse of the sun as viewed from the ISS:
Here comes the supply ship!
I'm not the biggest fan of the ISS in an analytical sense, since it consumed so much precious money and effort of the various world space agencies, and produces very little science. Besides cool pictures, there's not much going on there, and that will never change. We could have sent fleets of robots all over the solar system for the same money. But! I had my opinion modified slightly by this excellent tour of the station. If you have an hour to spare and are interested in the ISS, check this video out.

Also, if you want to see the ISS zooming overhead - and you should, it's wicked cool - go here and enter your location. There's a ton of cool things to track on that site, and I also highly recommend trying to see an Iridium flare.

If you do watch the video, the ISS seems like a pretty big place. But here it is to scale:
Big, but not really. Most of the size is solar panels too. Imagine living here for 3-6 months with 6 other people. Hope you passed your psych tests!

And ultimately, that's the main science being done on the ISS: Getting practice at staying in space. Let's hope we can use these lessons for worthier endeavors down the road. Until then, we float:
That's Italy's boot to the left, and Greece (SPARTA!) to the upper right.


To Date

 As always, click for big. This is, in the new, hip style, an infographic of every mission beyond Earth. You can see where we (humanity, meaning mostly the USA, USSR, and the EU) have collectively put our priorities, to date. My big takeaway is look how few missions to Saturn there have been, and yet one of them - Cassini - is incredible beyond belief. And still going!

Fret plenty, however, since as Russia has taken a nosedive, and America's looking to do the same, who knows how many future missions to space at all lie in our collective future. I fear perhaps we are on the edge of a rollback of human progress. Maybe China will save us all. Maybe not.

But, let us not worry about that now. Instead, behold, every single human rocket:
While impressive, collectively and each in their own way (think of the effort that went into every one), it's also mildly depressing. It takes so much effort to simply go the 60 or so miles (straight up) to get to the very edge of space. Alas! Such is the reality of living at the bottom of a gravity well.

And perhaps there's more hope for our future than I admit, at the moment. Private enterprise is blazing paths governments feared to tread. If the profit is there, and our infrastructure on Earth stays relatively stable, we might still have our space mining, asteroid living future. But then, it will be profit driven, and no doubt that asteroid will be owned by Yoyodyne or some such, and all the folks involved will be playing according to their dime. Which can be summarized in the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, and not in any kind of Utopian Trek "What's money, man?" Directive. And so we'll simply export our Dystopia to space.



Asteroid sweet home

IF - that's the BIG IF, by the way - we manage to actually start mining asteroids in space, a logical leap would be to use the asteroids themselves as bases. Consider Ida, below. You could use Ida as the base, and mine Dactyl. Why not? You're already digging, you've got raw materials, water, air, energy, and perhaps most importantly of all, the interior of an asteroid would provide perfect shielding against radiation - something we have little hope of stopping with our current or even near technology.

It would start small, of course, with the space miners themselves living in some burrowed out cave, but with time, and effort, and the fabulous gazillions of dollars space mining will create, things will get bigger.
And groovier.
Check out future space plow, and the old asteroid fishing hole. But bigger still - really, the scale would only be limited by available asteroids. And not just for habitats, but for space ships:
And why not? Once you're in space, mass doesn't matter so much, and there's no aerodynamics to worry about. Thus:
To the future!


Asteroid's got a Moon

Here's the asteroid "Ida" (31K diameter) with its very own moon, Dactyl (1.4K diameter). Coming at ya live!
That Ida has a cute little moon gives scientists reason to believe many/most larger asteroids have moons as well, since, as the idea goes, debris is scattered around the asteroids often enough, and it's more than likely some of this debris will form an orbit, at least for awhile.
Here's tiny Dactyl, cutest li'l baby moon of Sol's System!
Once again, just for perspective, there's more accessible metals and precious stuff like gold on rocks like Dactyl than ever dug up on Earth, for all of time. Just waiting for us out there. Or, conversely, on an eventual collision course. Either way, we're rich!


Our only hope

As I've said many times right here on this here blog, a large asteroid strike on Earth is inevitable, and when/if it hits, most life on Earth, including all human life, is done. It will be something like a 90-96% extinction rate of ALL life on the planet, including bugs and bacteria and slimy stuff swimming in the seas. Consider this danger deeply, for it's very real. Here's but a taste:
And these are just the ones very close, and none of them are very big, and we're missing many, many smaller ones - the 150 meter ones mentioned below, for example. Large enough to cause widespread chaos and death on Earth (though not an extinction event). Asteroids vary greatly in size:
Vesta is bigger than many moons of Jupiter and Saturn, but not the biggest asteroid (that's Ceres, where the Dawn spacecraft is heading as I type). However, asteroids the size of Steins and even smaller are our real threat. Look how tiny! But big enough to kill us all. All it would take is 5-10 mile wide asteroid to do us all in.

And what could we do about it today? Very little if on short notice. If with 20-30 years to prepare, we could probably save ourselves, starting from scratch. But why start from scratch THEN, when we all know the answer TODAY?!
Figuratively, of course. An armada of Asteroids fighters flying around space blasting rock is not very likely.
Sad, I know. Believe me! I'm the best Asteroids Ace you've ever seen. Go ahead and try your skills here.

But no, it won't be people in triangular spaceships that save us from the asteroids, but rather small robotic spacecraft that can attach to and then redirect these Earth impacting asteroids. Imagine 50 small bots flying to then landing on an asteroid on a direct impact course, each using its rocket to steer the asteroid in a different direction. It don't take much in space.

For your regular asteroids. If a Vesta like object were coming at us, better to move off planet. Here's a closeup from Dawn:
"The Snowman".

Once again, people of Earth! Rather than a'fuedin' and a'fightin' with each other, we should instead be building a space infrastructure that 1. Enriches all life on Earth, 2. Protects all life on Earth, and 3. Spreads life from Earth.

We're all Pro-Life, right? Let's get it together, humanity! As we're the only ones here who know better. We cannot count on the other monkeys.


Sky's not the Limit

Click for big - Asteroid mining as a maybe real thing by some rich dudes who've started a company. If you're super rich, why not? And if the crazy idea actually works, well, then you might become the richest men who've ever walked this precious metal barren planet. Richer than Crassus.

For you see, Earth differentiated - meaning, it melted. And most of the heavy stuff sank down deep into the planet. Far from our machines. And so we simply scrape around the surface - all the gold, silver, tin, iron, etc ever dug up but a pittance of what actually exists on Earth. But we'll never be able to get to it.

And so, space. Most of the time asteroids did not differentiate, and thus the precious metals are sitting in discrete chunks close to the surface. Some asteroids are almost entirely iron. More metal than mankind has ever know sits in just one or two 500M asteroid. Read this if you can:
I'll summarize the entire idea (which will eventually happen if we continue to advance as a technological species): 1. Find some good target asteroids. There are two general classes - water rich, and metal rich. 2. Get to them, and drag them to a Lagrange point. 3. There, mine them of water and metals. 4. Send some of the metal back to Earth for a very large price. Use the rest to build your space mining infrastructure to you can mine ever more asteroids.

Soon enough with this scheme and we'll have entered some post-scarcity wonder world of flying cars and giant space stations.
Also too: Underground cities in case some mad Gazillionaire decides to rain asteroids down upon the planet.


By the Shores of the Sahara

Many years ago I "came up with" the idea of a way to mitigate global warming and rising sea levels would be to divert the oceans into Earth's great deserts - the Sahara prime among them (Australian deserts too). Also, I would buy real estate along these new ocean shores and become rich as Crassus.

But then the Internet happened and I learned all kinds of people had this idea already. Above is some German's idea, with accompanying magazine shot:
And here's some French guy's idea:
A close up of the new Sea of Tunisia. And not just any French guy, but someone who worked on a little canal called Suez. They were serious!

As am I now. Flood the deserts! Save our coastal cities. And create all kinds of sweet new beachfront property!

But no, really, how can you ever be sure any idea you've ever had has not been had by someone else? Possibly even better? You got to check, right? But how can you ever really know? Never! There's too many people over too much time. In fact, a safer bet is whatever idea you ever have, it's already been had.

But then, who cares?


Surf's Up!

America, millions of years ago. Not only are the continents in perpetual motion (in 200 million years from now they'll be in much different places then today), but climate changes over geological periods. Thus, an inland ocean covering the plains and the south, with tropical creatures swimming around in the Arctic. Note that the very lands under the shallow inner America sea are now the most fertile farming areas on the continent. And in the case of the USA, this of course shaped the institution of slavery and thus our current political landscape.

Thanks, plate tectonics and global vulcanism! I blame Fox News on you.


I Pledge

For true, I am a citizen of the Planet Blue, Earth, and all life upon it. From the lowliest worm to highest falcon soaring in mountain crevasses, and all the heights and lives in between, we are all brother and sister in life. So rare in this cosmos of stars scattered light years apart, rejoice! We are alive - a privilege rarer than the rarest rarity that you could imagine. To be alive amidst this infinity! What an awesome opportunity! And here we are, Earthlings, alive on this planet. If we could all step together,  t'would be a paradise overnight. Till then - FSM help us.

I've longed believe the ONLY thing that will bring humanity together is an alien invasion. An external enemy would be just the trick to get humanity to stick together through thick and thin. Despite the loss of life. Otherwise, it will always be small gangs of douche bags ruining it for everyone else. No matter the disaster - nuclear war, asteroid, earthquake, tsunami, etc - douche bags will rule the ruins. Unless you fight back. Will you fight back against the douche bags of the future? Say it with me:

I Pledge allegiance...


Born too soon

Alas! Poor space frog, with dreams of voyages to the stars in his eyes. Not for you, sad frog. Maybe in a hundred or a couple hundred years. Maybe a thousand. Possibly never. Even though you can easily dream of it, even though we could make it happen if we collectively got together and went for it, even though it should have been your destiny from 1969, alas! Not to be for you.

Stuck with probes, hooray.

An example of an internet meme, by the by, in case you don't already know. Here's how to make an internet meme: 1. Find a picture. 2. Type something over it. 3. Spread hither and yon and hope the seed takes in the cybersoil.

But for true, we are limited by our technology, by our collective achievements, to a degree. Consider the so called Ionian School. From here circa 630BCE - 420BCE,
From the Wiki, also from whence I got the map, in Spanish, for some reason. I like it better this way - more exotic. But that's Turkey, y'all, and SCIENCE was basically born right here, during this time period. Mayhaps it was also invented elsewhere, but we have no records. Here, we have a record - the Scientific Inquiry well and truly got started here and continued through humanity, to today. Word up, Delos!

Anyways, they came up with the concept of the atom, yet had ZERO way of observing the atom, due to the general technological level of humanity. Even a supergenius savant could do nothing about it. And thus the mind, the person is limited by when he/she was born. You, me, today, we sit on the brink of a radical redefinition of humanity, and we'll probably miss it.

Born too soon, but aren't we all, always?


Technical Vacation

We seem to be on vacation, though that is certainly a relative concept in my case. Regardless, to my legions of fans - hark! The updates will be few this week as I luxuriate in the warm sun and surf of Southern Florida, land of everyone else.

Please amuse yourself in the meantime with your favorite Simpsons quotes. Ta!