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Posts tagged ‘space’

Houston, We Have A Problem …

(C’mon … you knew I had to use that one …)

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Greetings from Deep in the Heart of Texas – specifically, Webster, a little town alongside I-45 about halfway between Houston and Galveston. Webster is one of several towns that surround the region’s most famous resident, the Johnson Space Center – home of America’s manned space flight program.

These are dog days for the astronaut corps. The shuttle program has ended, and the remaining orbiters are being decommissioned as we speak in preparation for their new lives as museum pieces. The International Space Station still orbiting overhead, a huge and impressive piece of machinery that’s controlled from the Chris Kraft Mission Control Center over at JSC.

Unfortunately, it’s also a station that America currently has no way to visit or resupply. There are European and Russian and Japanese cargo ships, but none from the US (although the good folks at SpaceX are hoping to change that soon). And of course, the Russians are more than happy to sell our crewmembers a seat on one of their Soyuz workhorses – a set that doubled in price the moment the wheels stopped on the last shuttle mission.

Barring some unforeseen challenge from the stars (cue Bruce Willis’ asteroid here), we may have seen the end of America’s dominance in space. Born out of the chill of the Cold War and fueled by a desire to fulfill the dream of a dead president, NASA saw a similar doldrums in the mid-70s after budget concerns and dwindling interest led to cancellation of the last Apollo missions. Skylab and the Apollo Soyuz Test Program were done on the cheap by using excess moon flight hardware, but we didn’t really move forward again until the shuttle arrived.

While the results were spectscular, and we couldn’t have assembled the ISS without it, the cost of the shuttle in blood and treasure ultimately proved its downfall. Now we find ourselves once again becalmed, adrift in space awaiting the return of solar winds and political will. It’s a sad state for the proud men and women of NASA, but sitting as I am only a few blocks from the entrance of JSC, I can tell you this – I’m proud just to breath the same air they do.

Onward and upward …

Via iPad …

Need To Send The Mother-In-Law Back To Her Home Planet?

Then have I got just the thing for you. Courtesy of Craigslist comes a little peace of mind – not to mention silence – in the form of your own personal spaceship!

This space ship is in excellent condition! Only 300 million Intergalactic miles, 4 passenger, no meteor dents, possibly needs reactor seals and recharged flux capacitor, 1 owner. Still have the original owners manual.

OK, so maybe the listing was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but for $3500 it’s still a cool little find. Just imagine this baby in the back yard as a playset for the kids, or with a kegerator as a mini-man cave, or wired as the ultimate personal office. The possibilities are as vast as the galaxy itself.

Act now, before this one hyperdrive’s out of here … ūüėÄ

Enjoy It While You Can, Fellas

Earlier this morning, the first flight of what is touted as the future of the American space program took place with the launch of an Ares 1-X rocket from Cape Canaveral.¬† The rocket, part of NASA’s “back to the future” plan to return to the moon in an Apollo-like capsule, uses a combination of shuttle parts and new components.

The good news is that the suborbital flight,  scheduled to last only two minutes, appears to have been a success.  The booster section Рsimilar to the solid rocket boosters in use by the current Space Shuttle Рparachuted into the Atlantic where it will be recovered.  The upper section, which was a mockup, simply plunged into the water somewhere downrange.

Unfortunately, just as the program can look at this success, it faces its greatest challenge.¬† Many were disappointed with President Bush’s decision to retire the shuttle in favor of what is at best an underwhelming effort to retrace steps taken generations ago.¬† The current administration is reviewing the program, and is under significant pressure to cancel it.

I’m an unabashed fan of space exploration.¬† I was one of those kids who sat cross-legged on the living room floor watching the black and white pictures of early launches back in the ’60s, and I remain a fan today.¬† Part of the reason I built satellites for Boeing was to be part of the space program in some little way.

There is a significant value to space exploration, even as the price tag reaches staggering levels.  Many of the technological conveniences we enjoy today were initially developed for our space program.  More than that, though, we are a species of explorers Рit is our destiny to push forward, even if that means pushing into space.

But space for space’s sake isn’t enough.¬† You can’t just build and fire rockets and call it good – hell, the Chinese did that a thousand years ago.¬† You have to have a purpose, and a passion, and a vision – and the Constellation program doesn have any of that.¬† Yes, we need to get people to and from the space station, but we can use the Russian hardware for that.¬† Yes, there are probably resources to be exploited on the moon, but that’s what commercial ventures are for – let the boys at Space-X show the way.¬† NASA needs to lead the race for space, but it needs to be the right space – and right now, we’re on the wrong path.

Who Needs NASA?

There’s a lot of talk these days about NASA’s plan to retire the space shuttle fleet in the next year or so. ¬†Despite throwing bundles of cash at the problem, the program that is scheduled to replace the shuttle – Constellation – is still years away, meaning we’re going to have to depend on the Russians to get supplies and crew up and down from the International Space Station in the interim. ¬†You know that’s making teeth grind somewhere.

I wonder if perhaps they’re taking the wrong approach to the problem. ¬†Maybe they need to step back from the challenge and get a fresh perspective – and perhaps a simpler one. ¬†It can be done if you want to – just ask Oliver Yeh. ¬†The MIT student had seen the beautiful pictures taken from high above the earth and decided he’d like to give it a shot himself. ¬†So, along with a couple of fellow students, he developed his own space program – using a weather balloon, a cell phone, a hand warmer and a cooler – and did it for under $150.

The result?  A balloon that rose seventeen miles to the edge of space and took pictures of the curvature of the earth.

“For me, it was just about not being afraid to do what I love to do,” said Yeh, a 20-year-old MIT senior studying computer science and electrical engineering. “Before, people were just kind of like, ‘That’s a crazy idea; there he goes all over again.'”

Now, I’m not advocating treating a man-rated space program in this fashion, but it’s important some times to recognize where true innovation comes from. ¬†It’s not from that week-long design review the boys in Houston have to attend; it’s from fresh minds like Yeh who have the dream and the wherewithall to make it happen.

Once upon a time, two brothers spent their spare time tinkering on a series of contraptions in their bicycle shop.  Imagine the world today if the Wright Brothers had not followed through with their dream of flight.

Congratulations, Oliver – I can’t wait to see what comes next!