Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Puzzle Pieces

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reason the interior of the Dragon V2 capsule looks so spare is that all the old gyros, gauges, switches and so on have been replaced by smaller and lighter units; e.g. the 300+ switches of an Apollo command module are now largely on a touch-screen, aside from the most essential items.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.

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