Friday, September 28, 2012
I get high from teaching. After a lecture, my mind is racing, I feel light--almost rising out of my sneakers--and that thrill comes from having seen, in even just one student, the face of a person learning something new, something that perhaps they never imagined. I walk faster, I feel happier and my mind, after a lecture, is at its most active, linking previously-unlinked ideas. The few minutes o f walking from the lecture hall back to my office is a critical time! A lot happens then. This high can last for a few hours. This is my 11th year of teaching, and I am realizing that the only way I can keep up engaging my students is to keep myself engaged, with new overheads and new evidence--some of which knocks out old ideas, other of which supports older ideas. I am a lucky, lucky man to have found employment doing precisely what I love to do...but to keep it up, I must always incorporate new material, new evidence that keeps me laughing and gasping at its implications...so that I can keep my students laughing, and occasionally gasping, with the joy of unexpected knowledge :)
posted a few more photos from the WIRED shoot at his blog -- Thanks Jose!
Monday, September 17, 2012
Recently, WIRED ran a story and a video on the project. Link is here: the still photos are at the top of the page, the video at the bottom. Tonight, a leak rate test! The system is very close to ready for testing in a pressure chamber!
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Headed home from the 100 Year Starship Study conference in Houston, Texas. My paper was on some genetic and cultural issues implicated in a 100-year (say, 3-human-generation) interstellar starship voyage. I'll dive much more deeply into this matter in a paper and a book chapter that will derive from this talk, looking at a number of population genetics and demographics issues. At the conference, plenty of interesting discussion points came up! At the social--after two days of papers on such a range of topics as antimatter propulsion, quantum radar, and advanced textiles--the actor LaVar Burton (among others of a panel of celebs) was clear, funny and eloquent on the reasons to put into action this project to, by 100 years from now, have the capacity to build and propel a starship with a colony of humans aboard, to another star. Humans, individually, buy insurance to avert disaster in the future. Our species should do the same. Plenty of projects and organizations in our history have persisted for a century, and of course in Europe, cathedrals often took more than a century to build. At low expense, spread over this time (which also prevents us rushing into things), this project seems reasonable. Of course, we have plenty of issues to address on Earth -- but it is possible to do more than one thing at once, and you have to keep an eye on the future, and plan for it, lest it come up and smite thee :)
In the photo, retired astronaut and 100 Year Starship Study director Dr. Mae Jamison (left), National Museum of African Art Director Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole (center) and actor LaVar Burton (right) have a laugh during a wide-ranging, informal discussion of many aspects of space colonization. Who would have believed, 40 years ago, that the 100YSS Director would be a female, African-American astronaut???
Lower photo shows a new book in the early gastrulation stage!
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Neil Armstrong, back in the lunar module in 1969, after a quick walk on the moon. He is exhausted and thrilled. He is also breathing 100% oxygen (which he's been breathing for several days at 5psi, a third of what we breathe here on Earth), at 1/6 Earth gravity, so he has a different character of face than any of us has ever seen. This is the countenance of a man who, in his youth, dreamt of leviation.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
"As I pored upon my map of Treasure Island, the future characters of the book began to appear there visibly among imaginary woods; and their brown faces and bright weapons peeped out upon me from unexpected quarters, as they passed to and fro, fighting and hunting treasure, on these few square inches of a flat projection. The next thing I knew, I had some paper before me and was writing out a list of chapters." -- Robert Louis Stevenson
Back when I was an undergrad in England, a good buddy of mine was a crack programmer who taught me some things about computer programming. Now I've used that knowledge to write a simple program simulating my balloon flights. The program runs on an ancient Mac that I pulled out of a closet. Using a simple formula that takes into account many variables that result in buoyancy force of the balloon (the essence of balloon aviation) it simulates ALT = altitude, FPM = feet per minute ascending or descending, FUEL = fuel consumption (not being monitored just yet), OAT = outside air temp in F, BET = balloon envelope temperature, OXY = oxygen supply (not monitored either just yet), APSI = ambient atmospheric pressure in PSI and some other variables. This sim will be run many times, and refined, with me in the suit / cockpit mockup, communicating with my buddy Chuck Sullivan, who will run the sim and coordinate things like running the burner and bailout scenarios while I'm in the pressurized suit, communicating by radio. By running sims we can get a handle on things like how we communicate, power and gas consumption rates, how long it takes to do certain things, and so on. Another piece of the puzzle in place :)
Complete rewiring today, getting the system set for fully-pressurized simulations coordinated with the flight simulation program. This will give me concrete information about flight times and consumption rates for e.g. battery power (though I don't have the solar panels I'll use to keep a 'trickle charge' into the 12v DC system), suit pressurization gas and breathing gas. It will also ensure that I can reach all the switches and other actuators with the suit pressurized, as well as totally disconnect from the system to stand up and bail out in the event of emergency.