Posted tagged ‘Space exploration’

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

WANTED: A New Band of Brothers

October 28, 2011

Original photo of Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic Explorer Team.

Yes, wars create bands of brothers who often act as one and who always have each others “back.” The new band of brothers would grow together not from war, but from the incredible bond created by exploratory expeditions.  We know this too because our global history testifies to those many challenging, exciting, and sometimes deadly human probes into the unknown. In the majority of cases, it was a “band of brothers” involved in those explorations. To this very day, we continue to remember and honor their heroic efforts to explore, discover and then explain to us all the many wonders of our Earth and all that surrounds it.

Right now, we have a clear and active example of the band of brothers we are envisioning here. That example is the International Space Station. Participation in the ISS program has included astronauts from 5 countries and also includes shared launch support of both spacecraft and launch facilities. In the new band of brothers concept this shared support would increase in both the number of participating nations and in the services provided. China would be one of the new member nations along with Brazil, the ESA space familyIndia, Japan,  SouthAfrica, Russia, and the UK .

Successfully achieving this impressive band of space brothers will require some significant shifts in national policies regarding space exploration. The old competitive spirit that existed in the earliest days of space exploration would need to mellow out and instead redirect that zest in support of this new international alliance. In fact we can easily envision a formal organization known as the International Alliance for Space Exploration (IASE). We also envision the first joint space program of the IASE to be the establishment of a Lunar Research Base; more realistically known as the IASE SpaceStation. This exploration concept would enable many of the IASE members to participate in Lunar research that would otherwise be beyond their overall financial and sci-tech capabilities. This is exactly as it should be and as such insures the widest possible global dispersal of Lunar research results and benefits. At last, human space exploration is no longer reserved for just a few, but actually is the  international sharing of  space exploration goals and accomplishments.

Luna as the next International Space Station: Yes, returning to the Moon has been and remains a heavily debated mission. Many space enthusiasts see returning to the Moon as a step backwards or a kind of side step. Others, including the first human to stand on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, call for a return to the Moon as both a continuation of a mission that was never allowed to finish and as a vital preparatory step for future explorations. Supporters of a return to the Moon, that include both Russia and China, envision not just another set of short visits, but instead the establishment of a long term, perhaps permanent,  Lunar Research Base. We need to avoid a politically motivated space race, which as we have learned collapses as the politicians and public lose interest. The only way this is avoided is if we truly create the IASE. When this happens, we eliminate some of the political frenzy and on again off again publicity that controlled our earlier efforts.  Yes, it can become boring for many, but they awaken again each time there are new discoveries and accomplishments. IASE needs to be driven by program goals not political and public cheers or yawns.

Who will be the leader of the band? Russia and the United States have the greatest human spaceflight experience, and should definitely hold key positions, but as we have done with the ISS, leadership of the IASE should rotate and this again keeps involvement interest high and makes sure that many good ideas from smaller or less prominent members are presented, considered and implemented. One of the most important aspects of IASE is it lays the groundwork for commercial activities on Luna after there have been successful investigations by the IASE teams. This insures that we have exploration without desecration.

The video below clearly illustrates the unique values and public support of the ISS astro-brotherhood and its significant “first step” toward the IASE concept. As you watch please look at all images including the people who are reaching out to the astronauts right up to the launch site. We had this here for awhile in America, but  are losing it again as the shuttle program fades from our memories. IASE will not fade, because as boring as some of it may be, it moves forward and produces an array of new discoveries that will benefit us all. Can we do it? Will we do it? United we can and will with an enduring new band of international brothers.


LUNAR LUNACY or LUNAR SMARTS

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.

SPACE EXPLORATION MOMENTUM: About Focus and Vitality

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 (http://tinyurl.com/3hjtd5w), 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:  http://www.nap.edu/catalog/13048.html

The inseparable and critical relationship between science and government: http://tinyurl.com/427x5go

Returning to the Moon and a Lunar Research Facility: http://tinyurl.com/3mpc2xz

The Lunar Research Institute: http://tinyurl.com/4y2u9pf

Bill introduced in House of Representatives for a 2022 Lunar Mission and Base.Link: http://tinyurl.com/3mktwez

BACK TO THE MOON – Together

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.