Posted tagged ‘solar system’

SEND IN THE ‘BOTS: An Editorial

January 16, 2012

Yes, NASA is sending in some robotic type exploratory craft. Certainly Curiosity, on its way to Mars, is a magnificent application of robotic technology for space exploration. In fact, our entire Mars exploration program is a glorious history of robotic successes. Good beginnings, and now it is time for more advanced humanoid-style robots to be developed for the next step in our exploration of our solar system.

Yes, I hear your shouts about human spaceflight and the long history of human exploration. I acknowledge all of that including a great but furtive human exploration of Luna, but in my opinion, right now and for a considerable length of time human spaceflight, except maybe back to Luna, is beyond our future budget picture. By future, I mean the next two decades. You betcha, I hear those shouts too about how stingy the White House and Congress have been in funding space exploration programs, but right now we are nearly broke in a bad way.

By broke in a bad way, I mean we have let our industrial prowess become gravely anemic. We, this nation, have been reduced to a bunch of greedy investment types who play games with our money for their enrichment. The net effect is a starvation diet for innovation and industrial growth. In fact, we have shipped lots of it overseas. Well, that has got to change and soon, if we are going to get back up off the floor and begin to design, develop and produce in a competitive manner with the rest of the world. Eventually we should strive to capture the lead again. This will take time and an intense investment in both dollars and sense. To inspire this, we must also cut off the flow of lobby-largess that influences boundless political stupidity.  To do all this in just two decades will take a concentrated effort by the innovators and their public support. Of course, this assumes we are willing to make that kind of commitment for our future.

Space-bots of a humanoid type are a good and necessary next step. Costs for this type of exploration program are less both in launch costs and the reduced costs from not having to design in human support systems. Robots eat less and breath less, in fact they do not need either food or air to perform in an efficient and productive manner. Yes, some of the drama associated with human spaceflight is lost for now, but inside those space-bots is the incredible brilliance of our space scientists and engineers. In other words the human element is very much there and absolutely vital. The Bots Are Us in an important and innovative way.

There is no doubt we can do this. The energy, the imagination, the drive are in the wings right now vibrating with eagerness and extreme impatience. We must release this powerful and progressive force to begin to both return us back into real space exploration and also begin pulling America back up off the dirty, dingy, stingy floor.

I can cheer, even weep a bit, as I watch the launch of our first space-bot team. The thrill and the throb of that powerful launch renews my hope and my courage. How about it, will you join me?

In the meantime lets remember our first and only real human space exploration of our solar system and take inspiration from that. We will honor them by starting again with space-bots because those bots will emulate those great beginnings and successes.

IMAGE CREDIT:

Space_bot – Courtesy of Wallpaper Box – http://tinyurl.com/8ylskf7

A RHEALIFE: An Explorer’s Journal – Part III

February 28, 2011

An Apology: I sincerely apologize for the lateness of this update to my journal. A series of intervening events kept me very busy and the best I could manage was to jot down some notes to remind me of ideas and events I wanted to include in this last part of my journal. I hope all of you will forgive this transgression.

The icy, fractured and chaotic surface of Rhea

Core Anyone?: As the above image of Rhea’s tumultuous surface shows, I had a very limited range of exploration; all of it considerably hazardous. The “dirty snowball” concept would seem a fitting description if my personal experience and research had not proved a different assessment of Rhea. Deep beneath Rhea’s crusty skin, there is evidence of a base core.

Tasty Green Plants: Even though there had been earlier research on the effects of both microgravity and hypergravity upon plant growth, I neglected to consider the changes in the tastes of the vegetable plants I grew in my hydroponic garden. The taste was not unpleasant; just different. I acquired a new taste for all of my green food.

Oxygen’s here: I continue to both assess and utilize the thin flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide in Rhea’s atmosphere. Researchers are still investigating the possibility that similar thin but oxygen rich atmospheres may exist on other icy planets in our solar system and even possibly on some exoplanets in other star systems.

Something other than rings: Years back there was real excitement that Rhea may have rings. Well, I do not see any here, and I am right. It turns out that Cassini‘s detection system MIMI spotted something that behaved (one time) like there may be rings, but subsequent flyby’s showed no repeat of those indications. There is still something unusual that occurred that was either peculiar to Rhea or was an event between Rhea and Saturn or Rhea and another one of her sister moons.  There is a lot of action our here, but most of it is physics of the understood kind.

Well, its wrap up time: Yes, I am happy and proud that I was selected to be here, and I think my observations and reports have helped us to better understand the very intricate process of planet formation (including most moons). This same knowledge is helping and will continue to help us eventually understand what we finally, physically see in our neighboring exoplanets.

How am I doing? I am tired. I am weak, and I am ready to return to Earth. Despite my regular exercises, the microgravity of Rhea is physically debilitating. In this regard, long-term visits on planetary bodies like Rhea should be done by robots. Additionally, although all of my food, both grown and supplied was very nutritious, I remained constantly hungry. Why? In any given meal my chew-time was very short.  Don’t laugh, really. By chew time I mean just that, the process of chewing food is a neuro-physiological need that is directly related to hunger satiation. No chew or low chew often fails to produce our bodies hunger satiation response.

Ahh, but being here, in the eyes of Saturn will remain unforgettable. The imposing, gorgeous, and powerful giantess with her accompanying gaggle of moons is a constant panoply of celestial dynamics. Waking up to Saturn, or Titan or Dione or Mimas knocking on my window, so-to-speak, is difficult to describe. Lets just say I lived most days in complete awe.

Can humans exist in this kind environment for long periods of time? I would say, barely. It is cold, almost airless, with little or no gravity and depending upon the specific orbit of the planetary body, your days can be very short or terribly long.  Earth-style sunlight is not present and so a human’s life-cycle can get pretty confused.  It certainly was for me in the beginning. I adjusted, but I can’t wait for a good old sunrise on Earth. In this regard, I am, as far as my research revealed, the only living being on Rhea. We need to remember this when we continue our search for life on exoplanets.  Yes, we will find life out there, but most likely it will occur in a very Earth-like environment. Need I point out then, what a precious treasure our home planet is? Be kind to Mom Earth,  it is, at the moment,  our only safe and supportive home.

CREDITS:

Header Image:  Courtesy of Maestro Cassini and NASA – Rhea blue streaks.

Site Close-up:  Courtesty of Maestro Cassini and NASA – A crusty, fractured, icy Rhea.

A RHEALIFE: An Explorer’s Journal – PartII

January 7, 2011

FOOTPRINTS ON RHEA: Getting Here

This blog-post is from my dream/wish series. I acknowledge there is more imagination here than science and technology, but then dreams have always inspired the sciences haven’t they?

Cassini Spacecraft Orbiting Saturn - Credit NASA

The Cassini legacy: I cannot begin to tell you how many years I have dreamed of an opportunity like this. I also cannot begin to tell you how excited, actually ecstatic, I was when I finally knew I would get to come to Rhea. The incredible research, development and preparation that went into this program humbles me, because right now I am the only one here. All research and reporting depends upon me. I often wonder if I am as good as the great spacecraft Cassini was. Actually, I am here because of what Cassini helped all of us discover.

This part of my journal is pretty techie, but I give you the option of deciding how much detail you want by providing links to those details. Additionally many of those links will contain links to even more details; a data drill-down opportunity.

Super Shuttle Despite a dreadful period of poor financial support for space exploration programs in the early (2010-2015) years of this century, concept designs for space exploration vehicles progressed. Out of this came, what I have always referred to as the “super-shuttle”. This is a virtual space-truck that successfully transports astronauts and various equipment to the Moon, some asteroids, Mars and finally Saturn and its moons. In this regard, back in 2010, I made an early prediction of what the super-shuttle would be like. You may click here to review that article.

This super shuttle is a totally committed space vehicle, by this I mean it has never touched land on any planetary body. It is fully assembled and tested in a low earth orbit or L2-L4 space environment and plies the solar system as the main service support spacecraft for an international consortium of space-faring nations. You may visit here to get more details about this spacecraft.

To place me here on Rhea it took two shuttles to carry all the equipment and supplies needed for my extended stay. You will see why when you read about setting up the research station.  The consortium officially named the station, StationRhea.

Setting up StationRhea:Because no one has been on Rhea before, there are many unknowns as well as the known environmental challenges of this moon. With a gravity factor that is approximately 1/3 that of Earth’s Luna poses major operational and atmospheric problems. For all practical purposes Rhea has no atmosphere despite Cassini’s discovery of the presence of both oxygen and carbon dioxide. If you wish, you may go here to check, again, the comparison between Rhea and Luna.

As I mention above, it took two visits to Rhea to establish StationRhea. This is made clear when you select the preceding StationRhea link . I did it this way to keep this narrative (journal) manageable in size. Additionally the StationRhea document also has links to supportive data. You will need to exit each window to safely return here to this document.  Additionally, about the time I finish up Part III of this journal, a new Cassini II will have made a fly by and photographed StationRhea. I will post a copy of that image in Part III.

Experiencing the Saturn System: At this point I would like for you to get to know more about Saturn and her moons, and especially Rhea. The following link will take you to an interactive media display that will let you get the feel for where I am.  This display was created by NASA/JPL when Cassini was still continuing its visit to the Saturn system. When you open the link, please select the Launch Cassie button to start the interactive display.  When Cassie starts, I suggest that you first just observe the orbits of Saturn’s inner moons and see Rhea’s and how it relates to the others and her relative distance from Saturn. I urge you to continue watching the orbits until you get to see both Titan and Iapetus’s orbits. Lastly, if you watch long enough, you will see Cassini make one of its passes. Here is the link to get started.

Conclusion Part II: I know navigating this part of my journal has probably been tedious, I apologize, but I hope you did visit all or most of the links. Getting here has been an enormous effort by so many people and so much creative breakthroughs. Please take your time visiting all the links to begin to see the extent of those efforts.  Yes, this , as I said in Part I, is an imaginary journey, but it is intended to imply the possible future. We will make these types of explorations and with each one we will learn more about who we are and how we got here. In achieving that knowledge we will take giant steps in our evolution, and in evolving we move closer to who we are meant to be.

In A RHEALIFE Part III I will present many of the research results about Rhea. I will also discuss the mental and emotional effects of being the only astro-researcher on a remote planetary body, and how that may bear upon the accuracy and completeness of my observations and reports.

CREDITS:

Image of Cassini and Saturn: Artist concept courtesy of NASA/JPL

New Header Image: An artistic manipulation of an astrophotograph of the Crab Nebula. Original and artwork by Waddell Robey (c) 2010


FLIPPING THE FLOP

September 21, 2010

What an incredible achievement Homo sapiens are. At the moment, what an incredible flop, Homo sapiens are. What? How dare I say that. Look at all the great discoveries, scientific advances, medical breakthroughs, and great artistic contributions humankind has made. Yes, and look at all the wars, all the destructiveness, and all the ongoing disrespect for the life around us that we humans have also accomplished.

Oh no, this is going to be one of THOSE blog articles! The answer is both yes and no. Please, don’t run away, stick with us and see where we are going.

It is just a theory, but when all those myriad interactions were occurring that brought about life on this planet, there had to be considerable aggressiveness present to press the evolutionary process forward. Certainly that aggressiveness was essential to ensure the eventual development of we humans. The theory is that this aggressiveness has remained a distinct element within our genetic makeup that leads us to consider that we, and only we are the eminent life-form on this planet and possibly within the universe. This is an incorrect and dangerous conceit that stands to march us right into extinction.

Okay that is the bad news. The good news is that as we grow increasingly conscious of our celestial surrounds, and particularly the possibility of life all over the universe, we have become intensely interested in how life began. It is this exploratory process that stands to flip us out of our flop state and into an amazing joint, compatriot status with all of life. We still do not have the real answers on how life began, but our search is producing many new discoveries that tease and challenge our intellect while shaking out the smugness of our original conceit.

Oh yes, we are quite powerful, but we are also quivering weaklings before the powers of cancer and many deadly viruses. We are beginning to sense the existence of a partnership of life in which we aren’t in charge, but just a more complex, more versatile, and a more terrifying life-form. Most significantly we now know that each of us carries around with us an entire universe of life on and within us. At last we are beginning to respect that reality rather than seeking to escape or banish it. The flip is beginning!

So, according to this theory, should humankind become, tepid, non-aggressive creatures that mellow out in the shadows? Absolutely not! We, hopefully, are moving toward the process in which we redirect our aggressiveness to foster and protect all life and to devise ways to co-exist productively.  Yep, part of our evolutionary pattern is our entrepreneurial behaviors. There is nothing wrong with this. Where it has gone wrong is how we manage that urge within the life around us. Believe it or not, if we manage our eagerness to encompass and enrich our living environment we will enjoy greater achievement and wealth. Most importantly we will make sure our future existence and the safety of our home planet for millions of years to come. This is sensible and sound investing.

Meanwhile, the explorations of the life-forms around us and throughout the solar system certify that our pro-life strategy becomes not just a global strategy but one that we will apply throughout our solar system and beyond. Do not be surprised that as we make these positive changes that suddenly visitations from ET and friends will begin to occur.  Oh, oh, the fear mongers are arming up, and if they do we need to squelch it at once. The fact that ET exists at all is a clear sign that life preservation and enhancement is a success elsewhere in the universe.

No, don’t shake your head and shout out “dream on sucker!” This is not a dream,  this is a statement of the reality we must both accept and enhance in order to keep the evolution engine well oiled and on track. All that life around us, acknowledges our superior existence and depends upon us to move the entire universe of life safely forward. So we have not lost our importance, and we stand at the threshold to gather all life around us and set sail across the celestial sea. We search and explore and in doing so we sustain and enrich life wherever we find it. Homo sapiens are now the guardians of life. The flip is done, well done.

CREDITS:

Backlight Dance by Jack Wolsky: From the Life Class Exhibit. Courtesy of the Rochester City Newspaper  http://bit.ly/cp4TvD

NO FAIL EXPLORATIONS

September 4, 2010

In general, throughout humankind’s history the only explorations that have drawn and kept our attention are those that are great successes. Certainly, there have been many of them, and each has moved humankind forward in our evolution. Some of the failed expeditions did grab our attention because we came to closely identify with the explorers. This is certainly the case in all of NASA’s many expeditions, of which, thankfully, there have only been  limited failures.

Most exploration programs and the people who are involved are bold and very courageous. This basic ethic should not change. Now that we are nearing the challenges and opportunities to explore more of our solar system, missions that involve astronauts need to concentrate on factors that enhance success of each mission. That is right, “we emphasize the positive”..[to]..” eliminate the negative.”

Part of the emphasis process is to design missions that allow the exploration team to assess their new environments and to progress in an orderly, highly scientific manner. Let’s take everyone’s favorite expedition; putting humans on Mars. Well we will do that, but to do it successfully and with a high degree of new discoveries we should consider a step by step approach. No, these would not be baby steps. Each sub-mission, if you wish, would be directly related to the key mission of landing astronauts on Mars.

In two related blogs, we present ideas and viewpoints that directly deal with both spacecraft and astronaut well-being such as the effects of weightlessness.  The concept of a “built-in-LEO” spacecraft/space-station we have proven with the ISS, and to expand upon that would be one of those sub-mission steps. This would be particularly true if the new spacecraft/space-station was a blend of the ISS and the super shuttle we previously discussed in the “spacecraft” link above.

Another and related sub-mission step would be the inclusion in the spacecraft design provisions of an antigravity module that would address the need to protect the crew from exposure to long duration weightlessness. This same design challenge should and would be expected to address the issue of strong cosmic radiation on both crew and equipment.

Considering just the sub-missions above, we can easily envision the creation of a true spaceship that, in essence, becomes an exploration vessel in the same tradition as its centuries earlier seagoing exploration vessels. In this concept, the combo super-shuttle and spaceship design becomes our operations base whether the target is Mars, the Moon, or one of the other planetary bodies.  This concept was presented earlier is a related blog series (Parts 1-5) OF ASTEROIDS AND ASTROBOTS.

We accomplish in these primary sub-mission the creation of both the concept of a spaceship exploration vessel and the development of an exploration strategy that uses our super-shuttle space-station as the base of all our exploratory operations.  No longer does each mission have to be launched, expensively, from Earth. Only crews and supplies are launched in regular scheduled supply missions by commercial space contractors. Additionally, our exploratory vessel becomes a temporary space-station that orbits a target planetary body during a long-term and extensive robotic and human study of the planet. Mission durations will be extensive because crews will spend more time within the spaceship than on the planetary body thus reducing exposure to hazardous conditions.

Spacecraft Docking At Space-station

Successive sub-mission steps are performed, as required, to set up the temporary, orbiting space-station base at a selected solar system site. Additionally, excursions by both robots and astronauts onto the planetary body include more sub-mission steps. Importantly no efforts are made to establish a permanent base on a planet until the first full-length exploration mission has been completed and data and research results fully evaluated. One expected exception will be the creation of a permanent International Lunar Research Park as envisioned by The Moon Society.

So, is this concept really an assurance of a no-fail exploration policy? What it does is represent a planned best effort to emphasize the positive and to reduce the known impact of hazardous conditions. The aim is safe, extended exploratory missions that are highly productive. In all cases, failures can occur, but the concept is to anticipate them and to significantly reduce their impact when they do happen.  This is not a new concept. This very anticipatory operations plan dates all the way back to history’s earliest exploration missions. We, today, are just modernizing that policy and making it more effective and productive.  We want all of our exploration projects to be beneficial to and remembered by all humankind.

CREDITS:

Jupiter and two moons:  Astrophotograph by the author.

Image of spacecraft docking with space-station. Courtesy cohga.net, Flickr, http://bit.ly/ck9S63

I COSMOS – Exploring Life

August 27, 2010

Cosmos (def): An ordered, harmonious whole.  Homo sapiens: An ordered, harmonious whole when in homeostasis. Homeostasis (def): The ability or tendency of an organism or cell to support internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological processes.

Philosophers, psychologists, medical researchers, theologists, evolutionary biologists, astrobiologists and an array of other sciences continually seek to explain life. They seek to explain it from its lowest form to its highest known form; Homo sapiens. In all cases the prevailing constant is the uniformity of structure or harmonious whole. From the lowest unicellular life form to human life forms each are a cosmos.  In the case of humans we are a cosmic array of many cosmos. Our brains, alone, are networks of interconnected cosmos. The fractal image we have included above, in our opinion, represents the cosmos networks we present here. It is not intended as an exact mapping, but only as a depiction of those interconnected systems within systems. Each system is a cosmos and may also host more cosmos within itself; almost ad infinitum.

Sonogram of 26wk human fetus.

In human reproduction, the male sperm is a cosmos (an ordered harmonious whole) and the female egg is also a cosmos (an ordered harmonious whole). When fertilization occurs there is a massive replication of cosmos that would be similar to the fractal image above. As the process continues a human life form is created, and it is a cosmos of systems upon systems of cosmos. This human-to-be is an awesome, majestic linkage of harmonious wholeness. Scientists continue to search for all the links that show how life progressed on this planet, and most probably on other habitable planets throughout this universe. Understanding the evolution of life on this planet is absolutely necessary for us to decide if and at what level life may exist on other planetary bodies here in our solar system and beyond.

The following is a direct quote from the National Academies of Science report, “The Astrophysical Context of Life”:

The past decade has seen a remarkable revolution in genomic research, the discoveries of extreme environments in which organisms can live and even flourish on Earth, the identification of past and possibly present liquid-water environments in our solar system, and the detection of planets around other stars. Together these accomplishments bring us much closer to understanding the origin of life, its evolution and diversification on Earth, and its occurrence and distribution in the cosmos.

By relating life to the cosmos concept we seek to promote the growing awareness of the total interconnectedness of all energy forms within the universe.  Yes there are many distinctions, all glorious, but there is also a common thread that we can best define as COSMOS.  So perhaps a more complex and larger fractal system actually defines the universe and all that is within it.  Calling it Cosmos means that all within it meet the definition of being an ordered and harmonious whole.

We have not yet achieved that realization scientifically, and there is much to uncover and relate before we do. Our confidence is that we will arrive at that

The Coma Supercluster of Galaxies

realization which will expand human awareness of our beginnings, our presence and our future.  It will also, hopefully, instill an awed appreciation for all that surrounds us and the challenges and responsibilities that this awareness places upon us.  We are Cosmos within a greater Cosmos, and it is highly probable it is part of an even greater Cosmos. The fractal concept in this vision implies infinite connectivity. Intensely humbling while at the same time insuring the viability of Cosmos at all levels.

CREDIT:(1) The fractal image above is from the website The Code Project and from an article on fractal generation by Peter Kankowski. You may visit the website and the article by selecting this link (2) The image of a 26 week human fetus is a sonogram image from the website that presents an “Overview of Fetal Development.” You may visit this site by selecting this link.  (3) The astrophotograph of the Coma Supercluster is by this author, and in his opinion clearly illustrates the interconnectedness of COSMOS.

INTERACTIVE EXPLORING: A Virtual Experience

August 25, 2010

Sailing Bark Europa

I have always regretted my decision to not stay on extended active duty to take part in a Department of Defense research project to Antarctica. It was an immense opportunity that is still sadly missed. Whereas most of us never have the opportunity to participate in a major exploration project, I was lucky and instead turned it away. Just forget about it, right? No, there can soon be ways to become an active explorer; right in your own home or in school.

Additionally, it will be a good many generations before the majority of humankind travels out into space. This, too, can be an exploration that we can initially experience here on our home planet; in fact in our own homes or schools.  This can be accomplished by expanding the already impressive virtual reality (VR) systems and programs such as Nintendo Wii, Second Life, ActiveWorlds, and others.

Right now each of the above entertainment VR systems offer direct interactive involvement in a virtual world that includes some zones devoted to the exploring of our natural environment and space.  Each, clearly shows that we can use this technology to allow us to personally experience key moments in history, or great exploratory expeditions of the past, or to take part in new explorations into the sciences and outer space.

Using the “Second Life” virtual world concept, imagine creating your own astro-avatar that joins with other astro-avatars as they board their spacecraft for an initial visit to Mars. You would not be alone.  In the social media concept of  “Second Life” you would share your experience with other astro-avatars like yourself. This is an exploratory learning experience that an entire family could participate in with the right computer systems setup.

In another example, we insert a VR history module into our system. We create an avatar for ourselves that blends in with the historical era. Lets say we want to be part of Admiral Richard Byrd’s expeditions to the North Pole and South Pole.  The module integrates us into a dramatic historical series that allows us to experience and not simply read about these great expeditions. We, as avatars, are members of the exploration party, not just bystanders.

In the vast realm and challenges of education, the use of VR systems holds great promise for enabling students to enrich their regular learning by directly experiencing specific historical and/or scientific material.  It is like adding a whole new dimension to a youngster’s grasp of a topic, or procedure, or historical event.  To read a more detailed discussion of VR education systems please consider visiting The Virtual Educator.

There is a much design and system development challenge to bring this kind of VR experience into being.  We are partly there, but ideally we need to bring the public to the point where there is enough demand to warrant the intense and expensive development process needed to produce these products. As we know part of that demand already exists when we consider the sales of Wii systems and memberships in virtual worlds such as either Active Worlds or Second Life. The fact that movie producer, James Cameron, is now taking his Avatar experience to work for NASA indicates that the odds of realizing the VR concepts mentioned above are reasonable and attainable.

The design and development of these systems is not as demanding as those that establish what is known as immersive virtual reality. These are systems where the participants don special helmets and other devices to literally enter a VR world.  They are not in a pseudo-participant mode looking through their computer screens. They are entirely present and on scene.  There are some gaming centers that use immersive VR, and it would be stunning to develop a space exploration system using this model, but it would not be suitable for home or school use. Regardless, this concept could also blossom into a full-fledged public adventure in interactive exploring.

The most common element in all of this is creativity, and that in itself is a vital stimulus that can move humankind both onward and upward. The engineering, programming, and graphic innovations these VR systems demand enriches the entire technology realm. Solutions that are originally designed for a VR system can and will be extended right into real world projects.  Again, James Cameron and his movie, Avatar, bear witness to this eventuality.

The opportunity to carry humankind into the space exploration era through VR experiences is more than exciting, it is an obligation. It is an obligation because we of this century and this generation must begin the process of preparing future generations to go well beyond where humankind has never gone before. With VR it is not a chore, it is a delightful endeavor that lights up all our lives.

See you on Pandora.

CREDIT:

Image of the sailing Bark Europa from IAATO Antarctic Expeditions.