A lot of fun building yesterday, late into last night and today -- a lot of the plumbing in for gasses and fluids, but waiting for Alexander Knapton to put in our wiring. I have a lot of fun envisioning the flights as I build, and of course since the main flight will be something on the order of an hour or two, it's important to enjoy everything leading up to that little window of time. This is the third cockpit / life support system build since 2011 and I think it's very close to how the 2015 airship will look RE the interior. Fun visit from Bruce today, he gave the thumbs up, sounds good considering he designs and builds race car cockpits and he has no worries about the wild flight pattern, or the unconventional balloon I want to build, rather he joins in on the fun about how unlikely a lot of these ideas are. Bruce, a retired engineering technician, flew planes "back in the 70's when everything was less complicated...it was a big deal when we started using altimeters!".
Friday, September 19, 2014
Friday, September 12, 2014
One of my favorite pieces of modern music, "The Departure", by M. Nyman at ORF Radio Symphonic Orchestra at the film music festival "Hollywood in Vienna.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
First, wrapping up work on something lingering since 2004, when I realized that what I'd learned of hauling a sledge in Iceland could be of use on Mars. Nobody is going to Mars to sit in a can all day, the whole point will be to be out and about, exploring the terrain. There are good reasons to do this sometimes afoot, rather than by mechanized vehicle, so what we know from similar such sledge- or cart-hauling here on Earth will be of use. Figure draft for an article for Journal of the British Interplanetary Society or Acta Astronautica. Deals with such a nonmechanized cart and such issues as wheel size, axle height, trace length and so on. Will be coauthored with my buddy Louis-Philippe Loncke, who has plenty of manhauling experience himself! Draft figure below.
And some concepts, beginning with a quote from primatologist Alison Jolly;
"in each [major transition in evolution], living organisms have gained internal information and control...the original genes, coalescing to live like modern viruses within the prebiotic soup did just that...[later assembling] a cell...after another billion years, these cells [built] multicellular bodies that supported their gametes and fed them, protected them, and carried them about. Each [major transition in evolution] has required greater input of energy. Each has required construction or coordination of a vast external sphere, a new environment, to clothe the naked reproducing creature within...In this light, current human technology lies in the same tradition of other biological innovations [with a] quantum leap in knowledge of how to control our environment...It would be hubris to claim that no other organism has so transformed the Earth's environment. After all, plants and their offspring created our oxygenated atmosphere. We are...approaching the same power. We have tilled the land, felled the forests and polluted..the oceans. We have suspended a nuclear sword of Damocles over the head of the biosphere...We do not know yet if our technological venture will succeed or fail." -- p. 459-460 of Jolly, A. 1985. The Evolution of Primate Behavior. New York, MacMillan.
Well there is another possibility -- our technology might fail (actually, be completely abused) on Earth and be responsibly used beyond Earth if we can manage to live beyond Earth. Some people do learn, and mature; we have recycling today in many countries whereas a generation ago it was an alien idea. Slavery, in name anyway, is largely eliminated. The incidence of total warfare has actually decreased since the 19th century. But it might be too late on Earth, the structures of power and influence too fossilized to change in time before a general disintegration of civilization elements and a return to a Dark Age of local warlords. Last time we did that it was a thousand years before we got out. So I support space exploration, at very little federal cost (heck, I don't WANT the federal government to 'lead'!) and at the same time as our efforts to improve Earth life. But we have to spread out. That means reinvention of space technologies from the ground up. Or at least, re-evaluation.
I have four steps in mind:
1. Review existing designs. If they're good and of reasonable cost, keep them. If they're bloated old federal or military projects, consign them to history. This might sound easy but requires a considerable 'turning of the back' to a generation of being told that the federal way is the ony way, that only NASA or the ESA or ROSKOSMOS can do it. This is why completely private groups--unattached to the federal supply-line and all that it implies--like Copenhagen Suborbitals, the Sweden Rocket Research Group, Peter Madsen's Raketmadsens Rumlaboratorium and my own Pacific Spaceflight are important. We may make innovations and redesign with no worry of loss of federal contracts. We're free to explore design and drive technological revolutions--if we turn out to be smart enough! Of course,it might not just be smarts that are required. A lot of the deep dark secrets of pressure suit design, I've learned, for instance, are a lot of mumbo-jumbo and deliberate obfuscation and concealment by various contractors to the federal contract-granting vault. Sometimes the revolutions in technology will simply be in realizing that what you have been told about space technologies is simply false.
2. Begin rebuilding systems and subsystems, e.g. rocket boosters, at lower cost and with many tests to arrive at best designs by selection on slight variation. This is the principle of evolution (a good track record of 3.5 billion years of field testing billions of processes and designs!) and evolutionary computing on this principle is used in commonly in aricraft engineering today.
3. Begin testing these new systems. We must be safe, but only safe enough. NASA recently proudly announced that after four years, its new manned spaceflight capsule is 'set to be ready to test in several years'. That endless approach is too cautious and has kept us in low Earth orbit since 1973. From Mercury to moon landing was just over a decade. To test we must rediscover our cojones and get to work. NASA is today a timid, navelgazing bureaucracy. Until they get their act back together as regards an aggressive schedule for development and testing, others will have to do it. And, others should; space exploration is for the many, not the few. There will be dangers, but, as SR-71 Test Pilot Bob Gilliland said of his first 'Blackbird' flight; "
When we got going...for the actual first flight [of the SR71]...it had 383 'open items'. These are things that are supposed to be working that aren't working. So it was a bare-bones type of operation for the first flight. And you might say these kind of things could be dangerous, but there were plenty of people who wanted to be in my position, I assure you of that.
4. Bypass the legalities of flying to and beyond Earth orbit and begin living in space. All manner of regulations will be used by federal governments to control space access. This must be overcome, and early, to prevent federal manipulation of human space activities. The universe does not belong to any government but to all humanity. This will largely be a legal battle.
(c) 2014 Cameron M. Smith
Monday, September 8, 2014
Designing most of these systems now, start building in a few weeks. Plenty to do and not a minute to lose! Not sure whether we'll build the conventional 'upside down onion' or cylindrical balloon (each has its pros and cons), but one way or another, we fly again in '15, and this time as high as we can in the Mark III Plasma pressure suit!
PDF available via the Pacific Spaceflight 'Documents' page.
Friday, September 5, 2014
While in LA I went diving with my old buddy John Haslett, with whom I have voyaged twice on the Pacific (up the coast of Central America and from Oakland to Ventura) and had many other fine adventures. There was a storm swell up and S-facing beaches were being pounded, the sand being drawn off them leaving shifting cobbles underfoot. We each took a beating getting in and out -- but once past the breakers it was great diving in swirling, sometimes very sandy waters.
Four dives in the kelp off Palos Verdes and Leo Carillo. Sea urchins a foot across and big black sea snails! The feeling of being helplessly swept forward 30 feet at a time was Ok once you knew that in a few seconds the surge would draw you right back to where you were a few moments ago. It was a glorious feeling of submission to the elements, while maintaining some control over my breathing, bouyancy and so on. I sketched these impressions while waiting for a plane.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
It's thrilling to be involved, even in the smallest way, in reducing the cost of access to space, in my project to build simpler and cheaper space suits.
Ten thousand small puzzle-pieces, old space hardware items, will have to be reinvented to be lighter and longer-lasting than their equivalents from the First Space Age. Much of that has already been done -- one reason the interior of the Dragon V2 capsule looks so spare is that all the old gyros, gauges, switches and so on have been replaced by smaller and lighter units; e.g. the 300+ switches of an Apollo command module are now largely on a touch-screen, aside from the most essential items. A lot of automation is a scary thought...until you think. If you fly in an Airbus 330 your air crew control about 3 minutes of takeoff and 3 minutes of landing, the rest being largely automated (six minutes of flying time for a cross-Atlantic flight!). Russian spacecraft have been highly automated for a long time, with few errors resulting. A big part of spacecraft weight (mass) reduction is in this shift to the 'glass cockpit'.
Reducing the weigh and complexity of space suits is also important, but only one small puzzle piece in the thoroughgoing overhaul of space hardware that will be required to make it significantly cheaper to get to space. And that is an important thing to do, as I describe in this talk for NASA--humanity has a past, but also a long-distance future, and that must be beyond Earth.