Archive for the ‘Commercial Space Programs’ category

WHAT!?! Abandon the ISS?

August 31, 2011

AN EDITORIAL: The opinions are exclusively the author’s.

In answer to the question about the current astronaut crew on the ISS and the future staffing and support of that vital space research system, the obvious answer should NOT be ABANDON SHIP!

It is so patently obvious that it is US politics not international decisions that is driving this possible outcome. Regardless of the anticipated duration of abandonment, it sets the stage for a complete cancellation of the future of this spacecraft and the research it supports.

The accidental failure of a ROSCOSMOS rocket system should have been anticipated and backup plans in existence. Our view is that ROSCOSMOS has such a plan and is making sure that the next human launching is both safe and successful. Space politicians running up and down the hallways muttering to the media about abandoning the ISS is another knife in the back of space exploration. It has nothing, in our opinion, to do with safety or progress, but is one more slice at science and especially space science by the growing popularity of the political assassination of all science.

Yes, the cancellation of the shuttle program certainly put a large crimp in the support plans for the ISS. Equally challenged is the commercial efforts to provide that support. The time-frame was greater than what faces them now. We are pushing them to step in, and heroically they are responding. Our worry is that they may not be quite ready.  Any failure, including ‘nogo’ launches sets them back, and that should not be their future.

Yes, positive, aggressive action on an international basis is needed. Defeatist, ‘give-up’ chatter is not wanted and is totally damaging. Meanwhile, get off the “sell news at any price” kick, media, and come out instead with loud supportive urging for us to succeed in sustaining the ISS.

We can do it, and we will do it, if we affirm the entire philosophy of space exploration – WE WILL GO THERE.  Spock, Yoda, ObiWan, Captain Piccard, Apollo Astronauts, speak up, shout, stomp your feet and drive us forward. Don’t let them drive us into the closet.



June 7, 2011

Well lunacy got its first use as a way to describe the suspected effects of our Moon (lovely Luna) on human behavior.  Luna, of course is the Roman Moon Goddess and it did not take long for early philosophers to assign strange human mental behaviors to the work of Lady Luna and lunatic has been with us ever since.

There is no denying the many influences Luna has had on human history. One could fill an entire library with all the scientific studies, novels, plays, movies and music that talk about or talk to our Moon. For most of us, all the above represent deep expressions of endearment we all feel for Luna. In fact the Moon affects most of life. Wolves and dogs howl at Luna, owls hoot hello, bats dance in her light, some exotic flowers wait to bloom at her bidding, and legions of tiny creatures break into boisterous song upon her appearance. So, should we Earthlings be satisfied with just one, brief visit with Luna? Can we really be satisfied with that fleeting assignation and go galloping off to Mars and beyond?

Now some serious space exploration advocates believe a return to the Moon at this point would be a bit loony when there is Mars out there waiting for us. Well, we will go to Mars, the important thing is how we go, and how well we stay there. The establishment of a fully active and fully international Lunar Research Base will offer a host of scientific knowledge that will directly affect all of our future space explorations. There are cosmic messages waiting to be discovered and read on Luna that relate to the evolution of our solar system, and most likely to the development of exo-systems like the newly discovered GL581 system. So, returning to Luna with an international team would be what we see as Lunar Smarts. Nothing loony and filled with both scientific and promising commercial discoveries that will hold promises for both research and private development.

There will be obstacles, even life threatening ones, as well as revelations about humans existing functionally in the rather unfriendly environments of Luna and certainly Mars. What is learned in working on Luna will better ensure a safe and highly productive exploration of Mars and beyond. All of these lessons will be provided at a lower cost, than a gallop to Mars that is fueled more by “guts and glory” than by careful and concentrated scientific investigations. Of equal importance, is that while we are learning on Luna, when serious things happen that need rescue, it will come quickly whereas on Mars, it most likely will not come at all.  This development will not deter our exploration of Mars, but when we do make the trip we will go with extensive Lunar foreknowledge and an established rescue protocol based on time and distance from Earth.

Lastly, if we bypass Luna, others will not, and we will immediately lose any leverage about what should happen both scientifically and commercially on our only Moon. Those kinds of assessments and decisions should be derived and followed internationally. We can assure that only if we, this nation, take the initiative to bring it about in an orderly manner. If we wait and in a startled and rushed response seek to resolve that problem. it most likely will fail.

Brave men, dedicated support staff, tons of money were spent to visit Luna. Let us not waste all of that great achievement by casting aside those first, magnificent steps across the wide, wide river of space. Luna awaits with open arms, a greater supply of water than we initially thought, and as stated above a glorious and important history lesson about how we all came to be. So lets be Lunar Smart and set sail, soon, for lovely, lovely Luna.

IMAGE CREDIT: Image of Orion spacecraft approaching Luna courtesy of Lockheed Martin Corporation.


May 26, 2011

Alone and blurred by the elements and time, Pad 39A longs for its shuttles.

“You can actually feel it” That comment refers, with sadness, to the decline of momentum in NASA’s space exploration programs. The approaching last launch of the space shuttle snaps shut NASA’s only current human space exploration activity. Most importantly it is entirely unrealistic and unfair to assume this decline  is NASA’s doing.

Throughout its fifty year history, NASA has been fiscally underprivileged and yet has managed to accomplish astounding missions. Its relations with its main funding source, the U. S. Congress, is similar to an orphaned child in a foster home limbo. Despite segments of support within that foster care setting, there is little assurance of sustained fiscal and policy support for America‘s space program.  At best, there are bushels of lip service and thimbles-full of dollars all tied together in a discouraging package.

We are past the glorious experiment and global supremacy stage. Space exploration, both robotic and human, is now a vital and integral part of our national profile. Additionally it is also a growing profile element around the globe. The esteemed Space Studies Board of the National Academies of Science defines this as an aggressive scientific and engineering effort to address a wide range of factors related to space exploration. In this regard, the SSB envisions a lunar base as the successor to the ISS after 2020 (see “Recapturing A Future For Space Exploration” NAS Space Studies Board, Document  13048.pdf  page 432). The SSB supports this recommendation with a long and detailed list of research projects all related to improving and extending the success of human space exploration. Please see the reference list at the end of this article for links to the referenced documents.

What, no Mars exploration? This is not what the study means, in fact it fully acknowledges human exploration of Mars, but first there are a host of questions that need complete answers before we put humans on the surface of Mars. The referenced report details those research objectives.

Establishing a Lunar Research Facility will enable us to fully address many of those objectives in the ideal mico-gravity and essentially hostile environment. Most  importantly that lunar environment is in close proximity to Earth and as such it can be serviced and supported with lower costs, and with the necessary reaction speeds to reduce or eliminate loss of human life. A Lunar Express shuttle would be the ideal transport vehicle connecting Earth and its new Lunar Research Facility. Yes, there would also have to be a recoverable lunar lander to complete the transportation process.  Most importantly, the research environment is no longer a low Earth orbit setting.

About Focus and Vitality: Following the range of research objectives and goals outlined in the SSB study would restore NASA’s and its host of private-sector partners’ space exploration focus and vitality by targeting a Lunar Research Facility. All the envisioned development and research activities either underway or planned now have focus and specificity. Linking all of this to an expanded research facility that duplicates but enhances the ideals of the ISS imparts renewed momentum to this nation’s space science and technology activities. Most importantly all that NASA is undertaking now in the aftermath of its shuttle program gain new direction and impetus because they become linked to the next stage of our space exploration goals. We have revived space research with the elixir of “purpose.” Return to the moon and a Lunar Research Base before others opt us out of it.

The vitality of partnerships with the attendant array of various scientific and engineering expertise fills the project with both eagerness and the cross fertilization of ideas that will grow new breakthroughs in the entire process of exploring space. Believe it,  returning to the Moon in this kind of joint effort from both government and industry will establish the operating style that will move us forward from lovely Luna to Mars and onward. Yes, politicos ramble around muttering about “common ground, shared objetives”, etc, but do little more than jiggle and talk. A cooperative, joint and global exploration program to Luna with the establishment of a true research base IS that sought after common ground.

The new international lead is this united space exploration effort. Instead of remaining a pleading, plaintive for support, a global space society lays the foundation for an entirely new focus on life here on this planet and beyond. We stop shriveling (especially psychologically) and once again, and together, stand tall. Yes, tall all across the Cosmos.

Are you coming?

IMAGE CREDIT: The image of a shuttle launch pad is courtesy of Phil Konstantin (, the modifications of that image for the purpose of this blog article is by the author.

REFERENCES: National Academies of Science Space Studies Board: Recapturing A Future For Space Exploration:

The inseparable and critical relationship between science and government:

Returning to the Moon and a Lunar Research Facility:

The Lunar Research Institute:

Bill introduced in House of Representatives for a 2022 Lunar Mission and Base.Link:

THE MEET-UP: A Ceres Encounter

April 19, 2011

The following is an imaginary voyage to the dwarf planet Ceres by an astronaut and his robonaut partner. The meet-up described may, in the future, be a real event, and one which we should expect with both curiosity and delight. We hope you will follow along here and enjoy the meet-up.

At a sustained speed of 75km/s (167,770.2 mph), it had taken my partner and I 35.4 Earth days (See Note 1) to reach the dwarf planet Ceres. Well before we descended onto the planet we knew someone else had already been there. At the time of that discovery, we did not yet know if they were still there. We also did not know if they were live or robotic or both. Since my partner was a robonaut named Carl, he was especially interested in who or what may still be on Ceres. We knew this much because we had detected both an orbiting spacecraft as well as  a lander-craft on the surface of Ceres. We also knew this planetary body could support a visit by a lander based upon an earlier flyby survey of Ceres by  the NASA spacecraft Dawn in 2015.

Our spacecraft was a brilliant blend of the Apollo and Orion concepts that included an exploratory lander and rover. It also was designed to work independently of our presence so that both Carl and I could descend to Cere’s surface and conduct our exploration. The spacecraft’s VASIMR style propulsion system is what enabled us to sustain that 75km/s speed. This was the first human spaceflight mission of this distance that used a new spacecraft design with a new and powerful propulsion system.

We set up our spacecraft into its automatic parking orbit and boarded the lander for our trip to Ceres. We also had our rover along. The approach and landing were uneventful and Ceres’ surface was moon-like but less battered than the Moon or Mars.  At its warmest, Ceres boasts a temperature of -35 degrees Centigrade. There was a hint of an atmosphere and gravity, but neither were such that we could abandon our protective space suits. Similarly travel in the rover had to be very slow and cautious else we could probably bounce right off Ceres’ surface.

Before and during our landing approach we got a fix on the other lander. We picked a landing site that put us in close rover distance to that craft. After carefully anchoring our lander and assembling and testing the rover, we set out to visit the other nearby lander. My versatile robonaut partner managed a quick snapshot of the lander, which looked very similar to our earlier Viking landers.  It took us well over an hour to carefully drive the rover to the foreign lander. As we approached, we saw movement near the other lander and we stopped. We were unsure just what we were coming upon.

It appeared to be a robot of some sort. It approached us from the rear of its lander in a slow, almost staggering movement. It was articulated, but was not humanoid in form. Again, Carl, my robonaut partner, was able to snap a quick picture as it approached us. Because of its leggy design we, at first, were not sure if this was ET in some sort of spacesuit or a robot, as we suspected. It continued toward us and appeared to not be hostile. We dismounted from our rover and moved towards it. We continued towards each other until we were about 5 feet apart. As we observed it, it was obvious we were being observed; actually scanned. There was no communication between us, just a weird, silent mutual assessment.

Carl, very humanoid in design and capabilities, reached across and tapped my arm. Since he could speak, he informed me in his hum-like, echo-voice that ET or the ET robot was trying to communicate digitally. Excitedly I urged Carl to try to decipher and respond. As I watched both Carl and ETBot, I sensed a steady stream of data exchanges going on. Very quickly it we confirmed that ET was a robot who we named ETBot. Everything coming from ETBot was both digital and in binary numbers. Fortunately, Carl and his impressive onboard computer was able to quickly decipher the long, continuous string of data coming from ETBot. Carl, rapidly learned how ETBot was using binary and begin to directly communicate. Information exchange was now two-way.

For the next three days, Carl and I continued to converse with ETBot. Carl served as the translator for both of us. In summary here is what we learned and what we were able to do to help ETBot:

ETBot was from planet 57266 within the cluster G1 (MayallII) located in the Andromeda galaxy(See Note 2). His parent star was identified as 57 and his home was 266 with the full designation above, all expressed in binary form. ETBot transmitted a picture of his G1 home cluster, shown here.  I was overwhelmed. Here was contact with an extra-terrestrial robot from our neighbor galaxy some 2.5 million light years away.

ETBot arrived on Ceres by accident. Apparently a series of system problems forced him to find some place in our solar system to land and make repairs. His original target for exploration was Mars!. He had been sent here as part of a widespread exploration of our Milky Way galaxy. When we asked ETbot who sent him, he indicated he did not know. The entire population of his home, planet 266, was populated by robots. They all took commands from another distant planet. He had no idea what existed on that other planet. So we had no real idea what kind of life-form existed on another planet in the G1 cluster in the Andromeda galaxy. We wondered if we would be believed when we got home. At least we had Carl’s pictures and the picture ETBot shared with us.

ETBot’s lander was trashed. He was stuck on Ceres unless we could come up with some way to help him get back to his orbiting spacecraft. Carl made some calculations and suggested we abandon our rover and uses its storage space as temporary housing for ETBot. Carl also advised that if we were very careful we had enough fuel to allow us to rendezvous with ETBot’s spacecraft and then still get back to our own. ETBot declined to explain to us how he would be able to travel that immense distance back to his G1 home. He was receptive to our offer and indicated he could compact himself to easily fit in our lander’s storage space. We set about loading ETBot on our rover and begin the slow, tedious journey back to our lander.

The loading of ETBot into our lander’s storage space worked. We were also successful in our launch and rendezvous with ETBot’s spacecraft. It looked quite small in comparison to ours and we realized that somewhere out there, ETBot would link up with a larger, faster spacecraft that would take him home. Again, ETBot declined to give us any information about that other spacecraft. As far as we knew, ETBot was named a binary number, from a distant planet in our sister galaxy. We learned absolutely nothing about ETBot’s masters. In summary, an exciting, but disappointing encounter. When we finally got back to our spacecraft, ETBot and his spacecraft were gone. Had they ever existed? Were Carl and I in an altered state? Had we simply imagined all of this? Fortunately the pictures and Carl’s detailed recording of our digital communications with ETBot assured us that we were not crazy. We hoped our superiors back on Earth would arrive at the same conclusion. We terminated our full exploration of Ceres and proceeded home to present the results of our strange meet up with ETBot.

Disappointed in this outcome? So were we, but when you consider what we just experienced and all that we DID learn from ETBot it is not a total disappointment. We now know there is some form of intelligent life in a system in another galaxy. We now know we are not alone. Yes, so far, all we have done is exchange digital data with a robot supposedly from another planet that we cannot even see. Conspiracy buffs and other doubters will probably label this as some wild, make-believe story to pump up our lagging space exploration efforts. Well, we will just have to tough it out and begin to plan on our own deep space exploration  across to Andromeda and her G1 globular cluster. Will ETbot be there to greet us and be our guide?

What do you think?


  1. At its ideal distance from Earth, Ceres is 229,321,881km away. The spacecraft at its sustained speed of 75km/s will take the indicated number of days to reach Ceres. Actually, that time factor is a general estimate and is not adjusted for necessary speed changes and course changes to make an orbital intersect with Ceres. Ceres’ distance from Earth is an optimal distance based upon the difference between Earth’s greatest orbital distance (Aphelion) from the Sun and Ceres’ closest orbital distance  (Perihelion) from the Sun. Earth Days=24hours
  2. The G! (Mayall II) globular cluster (GC) as shown in the image above is one of thousands of GCs within the Andromeda galaxy. The image above is from an excellent blog article on G1. Click here to see that discussion. Additionally you may click here to read more detailed information about the G1 cluster. As stated in the link references, it is possible to see G1 with a 10″ or greater reflector telescope. You may also use Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope to visually learn more about G1. If you have the WWT use the coordinates cited in the link references to search for G1.


In addition to the credits mentioned in the above text the following are:

Header Image: NASA image of shuttle ATLANTIS on its way to LEO.

Orbital Diagram of Solar System and Ceres: Courtesy of AstroBob

Image of ETBot landercraft, courtesy of SciencePhoto Library

Image of ETBot: Artist concept NASA


April 15, 2011

The multi-lingual calls to return to the Moon shown in the above image are just a few samples of the many other national languages all calling for a revisit to lovely Luna. Well Russia is gearing up for it, China too and one must ask, why this nationalistic attitude when we could all work together? We could be combining scientific and technological brilliance with shared costs to create the second greatest International Space Station: The Moon.

Yes, everyone wants to go to Mars too, but a second International Space Station located on the Moon would be a significant step forward in the bolstering of an already international climate for joint space exploration programs. The diplomatic breakthroughs in putting this joint effort into being would also be an incredible leap forward toward global peace. It would also be a definite enhancement of humankind‘s continuation on this planet and beyond. In other words we learn to live and work together, thereby living longer and reaching further into space. Seems like an awfully good idea.

This big event would most likely be a joint activity of both governmental and commercial programs all joined together for a common goal. The sharing of technological expertises as well as the sharing of the ongoing costs for such programs mandates a global consortium. There is no question that we can do it. The only question is will we even try?

It is natural for humankind to be competitive, but it is also natural for us to come together and succeed jointly. History certifies this fact. So, lets make history again. There are already solid, cooperative links between many of the space-faring nations. We should use those as the  foundation upon which to build the WILR – the World Institute for Lunar Research. The biggest step is for each space-faring nation to give up the desire to be “first” and instead accept a joint “first place” for all humankind.  In other words a world full of heroes, with an international flag implanted on the Moon’s surface. When we accomplish this we will ensure that not one single astronaut/cosmonaut that has visited space ever did so for naught.

Now is the time, while all space-faring nations are scrambling to keep some level of space exploration alive. Sub-dividing that effort nation by nation is a starvation diet. If we come together our joint efforts will both survive and prosper.

Let’s do it! Давайте сделаем это! Faisons-le! चलो यह करते हैं! Hebu kufanya hivyo!

HEADER IMAGE: NASA image of astronaut Bruce McCandless II who performed the first independent space walk.

DRIVE OUT THE “HO HUMS”:Send In The Explorers

November 26, 2010

Right now, for so many of us, the future has the look of a scattered picture puzzle with lots of missing pieces. Oh yeah, we have been here before and have survived. One of the keys of our past survivals was the abundant view of a promising new future. We were able to dream and hope and thus our struggles, though painful, held promise and actually moved us forward. Well, we need such a set of views now. Most importantly, we need to send in more than clowns. We need to send in explorers to give us realistic dreams and hopes for our future. This has always worked for all humankind and it can work now.

Lo and behold, there is just such an exploratory rescue on the horizon! The aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin Corporation has announced its plans to launch an exploratory mission to the dark side of the Moon. Now as a space exploration venture by a leading member of the private sector, this is spectacular. In our opinion to make it even more spectacular and scientifically promising we would like to see this project become a joint effort by Lockheed-Martin and NASA.

Oh yes, we hear the grind, buzz and rattle of the government budget hackers as they get ready to launch another warning rant about the high cost of space exploration. We also hear the doors slam of the White House science advisory staff who have already exhausted their limited imagination. These reactions ignore the truly realistic economic stimulus for both the private sector and the legion of space exploration specialists stuck hopelessly on idle. On top of this is the incredible benefit of an awesome, exciting and stimulating space exploration effort. It reawakens both public and media interest and support. “Ho Hums” begin running out the door.

The working relationship between NASA and Lockheed-Martin is time-tested in the cauldron of our historically successful shuttle and International Space Station missions. Adding NASA into the new Moon project adds an immense and hungry public interest as well as shared funding and technology support. For Lockheed-Martin, as the prime, this is a significant boost to an already ambitious and inspiring plan. For NASA it is a new experience as second fiddle, but within a famous symphony orchestra with a  global performance ahead. Everybody can be winners. Everybody in this case are the key players, as well as a global population of space exploration enthusiasts.

“Make It So!” This classic order from the realm of the Star Trek series is most fitting for our joint venture recommendation. This phrase should become the motto for the launch of this joint space program. It should also be the shout that echoes throughout the halls of Congress and the White House. In making it so, our politicians stand to rise in eminence by boosting our economy, by boosting opportunities for the jobless and by projecting a glimmering view of humankind’s future in space exploration.

Dare we not “Make It So?”


Broken puzzle image courtesy of  “smh” on Great House Fliggerty at:

Header image courtesy of Lockheed-Martin, and  POPSCI 


October 9, 2010

This is a reprise of and earlier editorial blog which seems very relevant to today’s times.

Yes, we have celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of the science of modern astronomy and the telescope, but we are also celebrating our bold steps across the threshold of the space sciences. We have stopped crawling and are now considering our next real steps into the space environment. We should reflect and rejoice.

As spectacular as our accomplishments have been they are furtive when compared to where we shall be going. Like youngsters taking their first steps, we need to be mindful of that parental warning: “Don’t Rush It.

What’s Ahead? In the “mid-distant” future, manned space exploration will be limited to this solar system.  Now, that is not a bad thing.  Not only are we going to find important answers to how life develops on planets, but we are also going to learn about the entire process of planet and solar system formation.  Yes, man will land on Mars, and probably one or more of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.  We will also explore the asteroid belt and actually develop mining operations on some of them.  None of these activities are overnight events.  We are talking trilllions of dollars and millions of hours for the design and development of efficient and safe space exploration systems. All of this is incredibly healthy for we Earthlings both financially and intellectually.

Going Deep Into Space: Well, what about deep space?  Is the Kepler Mission a waste of time and money? The answer should be obvious, it certainly is not.  Our exploration of deep space is going to not just blossom it is going to explode when we finally find life bearing exoplanetary systems.  There will be that dreamed of and prized “first contact.” It will be entirely and uniquely robotic, and will remain that way for a long, long time. Don’t despair, the kind of contact I am talking about will represent almost unimaginable breakthroughs in robot design. It is time to use the science-fiction concept of cyborgs to understand this process.

A New Improved HAL: With apologies to that legion of science fiction writers, I predict we completely discard those ideas of a “pasted” together man and machine cyborg.  In reality we will develop totally safe and sane “Hal-like” robots that are directly, intimately linked to a specially selected and trained astronaut team. The team are astronauts because they are in space, but not deep space.  They reside in a satellite complex located in, for example, the L1 or L2 orbital points around the Sun. These astronauts are the command, control and communication unit for the robot team in deep space.  This is necessary to escape the communication and control barrier of the Earths atmosphere. It also allows the full usage of an expanded Deep Space Network (the key space communications network).

To listen to what the robot team in the image above are playing, you may click here.

How that program will work is the topic for another My Celestia article.  The image on the left above is simply an example of a real robot team that was developed by Toyota as a demonstration.  Are they playing music?  Yes they are.  Are they playing in a coordinated manner?  Yes they are.  So, in this respect it is a very limited example of the kind of robotics we will develop for our deep space visits.  We can venture this. The robot team will operate on the most advancedneural network artificial intelligence that, like HAL, is very human and beyond in its capabilities and response to the ET environment they are visiting.

The Bottom Line: There is always a bottom line and in this case to bring this multiple space exploration program into reality there needs to be some big, big changes.  First the NASA team needs to become a full-fledged NASA-Industrial Complex.  Don’t let that frighten you.  This coordinated activity is the only way we are going to really get out there properly, safely and soon. For this to happen, NASA needs to get its act together.  Please, they have done marvelous, amazing and courageous things in their history, but now they have stepped into a much bigger role that needs an entirely new program and fiscal management paradigm

The above is not going to be an easy process, and there are many out there who rather shoot NASA down than realize that NASA and its industrial/scientific partners are one of the key elements of both our growth and future stability.  Space is the next (not the last) frontier and we are a nation that has built itself on our exploring past frontiers.  It has worked well, and this time we stand to move humankind far more forward and beneficially than has ever been done before. Most importantly, the new partnership is an international one that is far more comprehensive than the ones NASA has now.  This extends the growth and stability factor around the world.  In short, it spells FUTURE.

Now, who among us wants to deny the future?  Come aboard and let’s go sailing. The universe awaits us.

IMAGE CREDITS:  Robots: Toyota Corporation and REUTERS May 4, 2008

Astrophoto: Waddell Robey/ 2008