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Happy #SputnikDay!

Oct. 04, 2017, under events, history, space t/e/d

Today is the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1, the first satellite humanity put into orbit, launched 4 October 1957 from Baikonur at 10:28pm Moscow time.

It’s a national holiday for those of us who are citizens of the #L5Nation, celebrate it appropriately!

This is picture of the day # 4727 on

Happy Sputnik Day! Picture of the day for 4 October 2017 on


From the Space History Newsletter:

Sputnik 1 was the first artificial satellite successfully placed in orbit around the Earth.  (The Russian word “Sputnik” means “companion,” “satellite” in the astronomical sense.)  In 1885, in his book “Dreams of Earth and Sky,” Konstantin Tsiolkovsky had first described how such a satellite could be launched into a low altitude orbit.  Coming at the height of the Cold War, the launch caught the West by surprise, and began the space race by galvanizing interest and action on the part of the American public to support an active role in space research, technology, and exploration.

Sputnik 1 was launched on an R-7 (ICBM) booster from Baikonur Cosmodrome at Tyuratam (370 km southwest of the small town of Baikonur) in Kazakhstan, then part of the former Soviet Union, on 4 October 1957 at 10:28:04 pm, Moscow time.  It was the first in a series of four satellites in the Soviet Sputnik program, a contribution to the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958).  Three of these satellites (Sputnik 1, 2, and 3) reached Earth orbit.

The Sputnik 1 satellite was a 58.0 cm (14.7 inches) diameter aluminum sphere that weighed 84 kg (184.3 lb) with four whip-like antennas that were 2.4-2.9 meters long.  The antennas looked like long “whiskers” pointing to one side.  The spacecraft obtained data pertaining to the density of the upper layers of the atmosphere and the propagation of radio signals in the ionosphere.  The instruments and electric power sources were housed in a sealed capsule and included transmitters operated at 20.005 and 40.002 MHz (about 15 and 7.5 meters wavelength), the emissions taking place in alternating groups of 0.3 seconds duration.  The downlink telemetry included data on temperatures inside and on the surface of the sphere.

Since the sphere was filled with nitrogen under pressure, Sputnik 1 provided the first opportunity for meteoroid detection (no such events were reported), since losses in internal pressure due to meteoroid penetration of the outer surface would have been evident in the temperature data.  The satellite transmitters operated for three weeks, until the on-board chemical batteries failed on 26 October 1957, and were monitored with intense interest around the world.

The orbit of the then inactive satellite was later observed optically to decay 92 days after launch (4 January 1958), after having completed about 1400 orbits of the Earth over a cumulative distance traveled of 70 million kilometers.  The orbital apogee declined from 947 km after launch to 600 km by 9 December.

The Sputnik 1 booster rocket also reached Earth orbit and was visible from the ground at night as a first magnitude object, while the small but highly polished sphere, barely visible at sixth magnitude, was more difficult to follow optically.  Several replicas of the Sputnik 1 satellite can be seen at museums in Russia and another is on display in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.


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NASA’s plans, Sept. 11, 1969, and what they mean today

Sep. 11, 2014, under call to action, history, opinions, space t/e/d

In today’s Space History Newsletter, you will find this information:

Program information, NASA manned space flight after 1969

Two major directions were identified for NASA’s manned space flight in the next decade on 11 September 1969. These were further exploration of the Moon, with possibly the establishment of a permanent Lunar surface base, and the continued development of manned flight in Earth orbit, leading to a permanent manned space station supported by a low-cost shuttle system. To maintain direction, the following key milestones were proposed:

  • 1972 AAP operations using a Saturn V launched Workshop
  • 1973 Start of post-Apollo lunar exploration
  • 1974 Start of suborbital flight tests of Earth to orbit shuttle
  •   Launch of a second Saturn V Workshop
  • 1975 Initial space station operations
  •   Orbital shuttle flights
  • 1976 Lunar orbit station
  •   Full shuttle operations
  • 1977 Nuclear stage flight test
  • 1978 Nuclear shuttle operations-orbit to orbit
  • 1979 Space station in synchronous orbit

By 1990

  •   Earth orbit space base
  •   Lunar surface base
  •   Possible Mars landing

(The acronym “AAP” stands for the “Apollo Applications Program” established by NASA headquarters in 1968 to develop science-based manned space missions using surplus material from the Apollo program.)

Harvest Moon, 98% Illuminated, September 7, 2014, by Fred Koschara

Obviously, things didn’t work that way – in effect none of those objectives were achieved:

  • the Saturn V Workshop was downgraded to Skylab, with only one workshop launched, and which was later abandoned (see 11 July 1979 Skylab fell – and the American public was robbed)
  • Lunar exploration stopped after Apollo 17, never mind putting up a Lunar orbit station or surface base, foisting on Gene Cernan the dubious title of being the Last Man on the Moon
  • the “low-cost shuttle” turned into the “Space Transportation System” which proved to be one of the most expensive launch options whose first flight didn’t occur until 1982 and never achieved the number of flights per year that was predicted when the project was proposed, and now discontinued, leaving America without a way to send humans to orbit on our own
  • the space station in synchronous orbit never happened, and the Earth orbit space base that was supposed to be in place by 1990 devolved into the International Space Station now with a “permanent” crew of 3-6 occupants
  • NASA’s initial space station operations didn’t begin until the first ISS resident crew consisting of one American (commander) and two Russians arrived in November 2000 in the Russian Soyuz TM-31 capsule
  • the nuclear stage and nuclear shuttle for orbit to orbit operations have been completely abandoned
  • the first human Mars landing hadn’t occurred by 1990, current predictions are that the earliest it will happen is in the 2030’s

So, what went wrong? Essentially, it boils down to politics – President Richard Nixon decided that the American public wasn’t interested in space travel, and cut NASA’s budget drastically, putting the money into the military and social welfare programs. Rather than continuing the peaceful development of space exploration and travel which was driving innovation and economic growth at an amazing pace, America was turned to a weapons manufacturer where “need” is given higher precedence than ability or reason. Among other things, that led to the September 11, 2001 attacks which destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and the subsequent “war on terror” that has stripped American citizens of so many of their fundamental rights, and to an economy on the brink of collapse due to uncontrolled expansion of the “entitlement” mentality.

Can this be fixed?

I believe it can – but not if space travel and the economy are left in the hands of the government.

Historically, two things have led to growth of the American economy – expansion into new frontiers, and innovation – creation of new industries, and new methods for existing ones. Since there are no longer any frontiers available on the Earth, there’s only one option left: Innovation is what has to drive economic growth. While there have been bursts of development such as introduction of personal computers and the whole set of industries that grew out of that innovation, and there are many fields where incremental innovation can be seen today, the whole-economy blast of innovation painted in broad strokes that led to six pairs of astronauts landing on the Moon hasn’t been seen since the government-funded space program was castrated in the early 1970’s. Developing a strong space exploration and development program, one that can and will achieve the kind of plans laid out in NASA’s 1969 outline, will require a lot of innovation, in nearly every field of endeavor. That is how to solve the economic woes the country now finds itself mired under.

Does that mean the only way we can get back on track is through another expansion of the government-run space program, by pouring more dollars into NASA? No! For example, America’s transcontinental railroad system wasn’t built as a government project – it was built by investors who recognized a tremendous market opportunity and put their money into it. The “advantage” of using tax dollars to put money into space programs is everybody participates – whether they want to or not. Wouldn’t you rather make your own choices about how your money is being invested, and where future growth will come from? I know I would – which is why I think the government needs to get out of the space “business” and let private enterprise take over.

In order for a healthy space exploration and development business to come to reality, funding has to come from everywhere – from kids bagging groceries, from multinational corporations, and everywhere in between. People and institutions that want to invest into the project need to have a mechanism for doing so, with an understandable and believable way to get a return on their investment. The L5 National Bank bonds briefly outlined on the Space Power Now Development Plan page are a system I am trying to build to make that possible: The objective is to provide investors, large and small, with a good way to invest in the future, to build a space program that will open new frontiers, solve the world’s energy problems, and boost the American economy back into high gear. Building the space business will make the military-industrial complex obsolete, creating jobs that will reduce dependency on social welfare programs, the only realistic solution to their cancerous growth.

It’s going to take political action to stop the “war on terror” and its cohorts – unconstitutional domestic surveillance, militarization of police departments, etc., and people will find it a lot easier to focus on those issues if they don’t have a failing economy about to bury them.

Space – the next frontier – the cure for what ails you!

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The face on Mars – and other questions

Aug. 07, 2014, under history, opinions, philosophy, puzzling, space t/e/d

As it circled Mars on the 25th of July 1976, NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter photographed the Cydonia region of Mars. One of the frames included an image of a 2 km (1.2 miles) long mesa, situated at 40.75 degrees north latitude and 9.46 degrees west longitude, with the appearance of a humanoid face.

The 'Face on Mars' photo captured by NASA's Viking 1 orbiter on 25 July 1976
The “Face on Mars” photo captured by NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter on 25 July 1976

When the image was originally acquired, Viking chief scientist Gerry Soffen dismissed the “Face on Mars” in image 035A72 as a “trick of light and shadow.” In a press release issued on 31 July 1976, NASA provided a caption for the picture stating “The picture shows eroded mesa-like landforms. The huge rock formation in the center, which resembles a human head, is formed by shadows giving the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth. …”

Since it was originally first imaged, the “face” has been nearly universally accepted as an optical illusion. On 8 April 2001 the Mars Global Surveyor turned so it was looking at the “face” 165 km to the side from a distance of about 450 km. The resulting image has a resolution of about 2 meters (6.6 feet) per pixel in its full-resolution (2400 x 2400 pixels) version. As noted on the Malin Space Science Systems page, “If present on Mars, objects the size of typical passenger jet airplanes would be distinguishable in an image of this scale.”

MGS view of the 'Face on Mars' mesa, MOC image E03-00824, 8 April 2001
MGS view of the “Face on Mars” mesa, MOC image E03-00824, 8 April 2001
Click the image to see the full-resolution frame (2400 x 2400 pixels)

The region was also studied by ESA’s Mars Express orbiter. Combining the MGS and Mars Express data, a three dimensional model of the “Face” was constructed.

3D computer-generated model of the 'Face on Mars' mesa
3D computer-generated model of the “Face on Mars” mesa

After examining the higher resolution Mars Express and Mars Global Surveyor data NASA stated that “a detailed analysis of multiple images of this feature reveals a natural looking Martian hill whose illusory face-like appearance depends on the viewing angle and angle of illumination.” That certainly seems a plausible conclusion, especially in a universe where humans are the only intelligent species in a solar system which has never been visited by extraterrestrials, and civilization spontaneously appeared in Mesopotamia around 4,000 B.C.

In the high Andes mountains in South America, the Nazca plateau is covered with drawings that are best seen from the air. Popular belief is that they can only be seen from the air, but “more reasoned” analysis asserts they can be seen from the surrounding hills.

Monkey image, part of the Nazca plateau lines, Peru
Monkey image, part of the Nazca plateau lines, Peru

The designs are shallow lines made by removing reddish pebbles from the surface to uncover the whitish/grayish ground beneath. Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes; more than seventy are zoomorphic designs of animals, or human figures. Other designs include phytomorphic shapes such as trees and flowers. The largest figures are over 200 metres (660 ft) across. Who made them, and why? Theories abound, but every one of them is just that – a theory. No one really knows.

How were Egypt’s pyramids built? I don’t know, I wasn’t there at the time. Opinions differ, but I have a hard time swallowing some of the “scientifically acceptable” ones. Those stones are just too big and there are too many of them for the technology level that was supposed to have built the pyramids. There are also assertions that the Sphynx was thousands of years old when the pyramids were built. If that is true, who made the Sphynx? While we’re on it, where did the technology come from that was used to build Machu Picchu, nearly 8000 feet above sea level? A lot of those stones are so big we’d have a hard time moving them today, let alone placing them well enough that you can’t fit a piece of paper between them – yet there they are, built up for us to look at. How did that happen? Again, I wasn’t there at the time, so I can’t express anything more than an opinion on the matter – and my opinion is that we don’t have all of the answers.

If humanity and its civilization were to disappear (e.g., through nuclear war at the end of the oil supply, a disaster I’m trying to avert through Space Power Now), the pyramids would most likely still be there on the Cairo plain, even though effectively all of the other signs of our existence would be gone. The pyramids would probably be eroded, but their form would be easily distinguishable from space if the lighting and viewing angle were right, even in a low resolution image. If, for some reason, Earth’s atmosphere leaked away in the mean time, as has apparently happened to Mars, the recognizable life expectency of the pyramids would grow rapidly.

When a bullet hits a ball, different outcomes will occur, depending on the speed and size of the bullet, and the composition of the ball. A high speed bullet hitting a solid, brittle ball will cause the ball to shatter, for example. A slower projectile, such as a BB, will make a crater and embed itself in a softer ball. Somewhere between those extremes there’s a class of collisions with bizarre results: If a bullet going just the right speed, fast enough to tear through but slow enough to not completely explode it, hits a ball with a relatively soft center and a tough skin (think of an orange), a “mountain” will form at the entry point, and the skin on the opposite site will be torn off. The center of mass will change, conceivably to the point where the now-rough side that lost its skin is farther from the center of mass – at a “higher elevation” even though it just had its face blown off. The surface of Mars is remarkably close to this description: Olympus Mons, the tallest known mountain in the solar system, is in the smooth northern hemisphere, nearly diametrically opposite the giant Hellas crater situated in the southern highlands that have some of the roughest terrain on any planet in orbit around the Sun. I haven’t done an extensive analysis, but I have to wonder – was Mars hit by a cosmic bullet some time in the past that almost destroyed it?

Let’s consider for a moment a situation where our astronomers found a comet whose orbit was going to intersect the Earth’s in, say, ten years, and that the nucleus of the comet was big enough so there’d be no way to divert it: The Earth was going to die in ten years, and there’s nothing we could do about it. What would we do, in that case? I, for one, would be pushing real hard to build spaceships to carry at least some people to another planet. When they got to their destination, it could be thousands of years before the refugees would be able to start exploring out into the universe again: Chances are that something critical would be missing at their new home, and although humanity would survive, civilization would collapse. Recognizing that, what would be the best thing for the rest of us to do, so that once the survivors did get back on their feet, they could find their way home to see if anything was left of the world they came from? Put up a sign they could recognize from a long ways away, something to say “Hey you – come look here!” A face looking out into space would do the trick, I think. If there was uncertainty about which direction the comet was going to hit from, I’d even go as far as building four faces at the apexes of a regular tetrahedron, 120 degrees from each other in any direction, to improve the chances at least one would survive the impact.

It would probably be tens or hundreds of thousands of years, millions even, before the expatriats might come back, looking for something they couldn’t define. Over that time, anything smaller than the great pyramid of Cheops would probably erode away – it would take carving a mountain into the shape of a face to have any real hope of keeping the sign up long enough for it to be found. Before actually landing on the planet, our distant relatives, while initially startled by finding the Face, would probably get a closer look then dismiss it as “a natural looking … hill whose illusory face-like appearance depends on the viewing angle and angle of illumination.”

Wait a minute. What was that the NASA analysis decided?

Maybe it’s time we went and took a closer look – time for humans to go and look, not just our robots.

An interesting coincidence is that in 1958, almost two decades prior to the first images of the Face from the Viking probes, comic book artist Jack Kirby wrote a story entitled “The Face on Mars” for Harvey Comics (Race for the Moon Number 2, September 1958), in which a large face served as a monument to an extinct humanoid race from Mars. While Mr. Kirby’s face was standing vertically, and much smaller than the one found by Viking 1, his tale is eerily prescient of the discovery – something to make you go “hmm…”

We are going to run out of oil. Before that happens, we MUST have a replacement source of energy and feed stock for our civilization that has become so dependent on plastic. The time to act is NOW!! Please visit to help build a solution.

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Nuclear vs. solar power for deep space probes

Aug. 05, 2014, under history, opinions, space t/e/d

While checking to see if Space Power Now has started appearing in search engines, I came across an article in which the author implied that nuclear power supplies for satellites are inherently evil and dangerous. I have to disagree.

The ESA’s Rosetta comet explorer is scheduled to arrive at its target (comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) Wednesday, 6 August, 10:45-11:45 CEST – about 27-28 hours from now as I’m writing this. (See the rosetta blog for current information.) Among other things, Rosetta has two solar panels, with a combined area of 64 m², each 14 m in length. The total span from tip to tip is 32 m. The solar panels power a suite of 11 science instrument packages, guidance computers, and the radio system for transmitting data back to Earth. They were only generating about 395 W when Rosetta was 5.25 AU (Astronomical Unit, roughly the distance from Earth to the Sun) from the Sun. Power output is now up to 850 W at 3.4 AU as the probe is encountering the comet and comet operations begin. According to the ESA, “The solar cells in Rosetta’s solar panels are based on a completely new technology, so-called Low-intensity Low Temperature Cells. Thanks to them, Rosetta is the first space mission to journey beyond the main asteroid belt relying solely on solar cells for power generation. Previous deep-space missions used nuclear RTGs, radioisotope thermal generators. The new solar cells allow Rosetta to operate over 800 million kilometres from the Sun, where levels of sunlight are only 4% those on Earth.”

Rosetta is a fine example of using advanced technology solar cells to operate at a greater distance from the Sun than was previously possible. However, somewhere beyond the orbit of Jupiter, collecting enough solar energy to run a reasonable set of instruments and a radio transmitter will become “difficult” in addition to using an inordinate percentage of the weight of a probe.

Nuclear power has been invented, the only way it could be “disinvented” would be to destroy civilization and any memory of it being used. Personally, I’d rather keep the nuclear power, and use it like a hammer, screwdriver, or other tool for productive purposes: I enjoy civilized life, which is why I’m as anxious as I am to make Space Power Now work.

Since Henri Becquerel discovered uranium salts emitted rays that resembled X-rays in their penetrating power in 1896, our understanding – and fear – of radioactive materials and radiation has grown. Radioactive materials, and equipment that utilize the radiation they produce, are potentially very dangerous if they are not properly handled. With due caution, they can be utilized to achieve objectives that would otherwise be impossible – like sending probes to the outer planets with enough instrumentation and radio power to return useful scientific data.

Tools are not evil, and should not be condemned as such: It is only when they are wielded by evil-minded people that tools cause evil results.

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Remember the Moon – and Mars!

Jul. 21, 2014, under call to action, history, space t/e/d

It’s been forty five years since the Apollo 11 mission first landed humans on another planetary body – the Moon: At 20:17:40 UT (4:17:40 pm EDT) on 20 July 1969, astronauts Neil A. Armstrong (Apollo 11 Commander) and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. (“Eagle” Lunar Module (LM) pilot) landed the LM in Mare Tranquilitatis (the Sea of Tranquility). Meanwhile, the “Columbia” Command and Service Module (CSM) continued in Lunar orbit with CM pilot Michael Collins aboard. During their stay on the Moon, the astronauts set up scientific experiments, took photographs, and collected Lunar samples. The LM took off from the Moon on 21 July for the astronauts’ return to Earth.

NASA photo ID S69-42583, picture taken by the Apollo Lunar surface camera as Neil Armstrong took humanity's first step onto another planetary body, the Moonn, 'One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.'
NASA photo ID S69-42583, taken by the Apollo Lunar surface camera as Neil Armstrong took humanity’s first step onto another planetary body, the Moon
“One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Apollo 11 Lunar Module on the Moon, NASA photo by Neil Armstrong
Apollo 11 Lunar Module on the Moon, NASA photo by Neil Armstrong

NASA’s Viking 1 lander was originally planned to land on Mars coinciding with the US Bicentennial on 4 July 1976, but was delayed until a suitable landing site was located. As it worked out, the landing took place at Chryse Planitia at 11:56:06 UT on 20 July, roughly eight and a third hours less than exactly seven years after Apollo 11 had landed on the Moon. The robotic probe returned the first ever close-up pictures of the Martian surface, collected the first-ever samples taken from the surface Mars, and continued to communicate with ground controllers on Earth until 13 November 1982.

The first image taken by Viking 1 on the surface of Mars, minutes after it touched down. NASA photo
The first photograph ever taken on the surface of the planet Mars, obtained by Viking 1 just minutes after the spacecraft landed

The Apollo missions continued through 14 December 1972 when Apollo 17 Mission Commander Gene Cernan returned to the LM “Challenger” ending the last Extravehicular Activity (EVA) of what would prove to be the final expedition of the program. As yet, No other humans have returned to set foot on the Lunar surface, foisting on Captain Cernan the dubious honor and title of being “The Last Man on the Moon.” As illustrated by the L5 Development GroupLast Man on the Moon” T-shirt, I think it’s (well past) time for us to go back: During the Apollo years, technology and science were advancing rapidly, the economy was booming, and it seemed as though anything was possible. We thought that within a few years there would be people living in space, and by the turn of the century, there would be hundreds, or even thousands, living on the Moon, with human exploration of Mars well under way.

“Somehow” the dreams got lost: President Nixon cut NASA’s budget because space exploration “wasn’t popular,” just as NBC had canceled Star Trek because of its “poor ratings.” Star Trek went on to become the most widely re-broadcast program in the history of television, and the general public still gets excited about space travel – when the news media lets them know something is going on. Look, for example, at the excitement that was stirred when NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed on Mars, and the on-going popularity of the intrepid rover Opportunity as it continues to explore more than ten years later.

Since the six Apollo missions that landed men on the Moon, no one has gone anywhere beyond low Earth orbit. NASA’s Shuttle was supposed to be a “space truck” that would fly hundreds of times each year and drive the cost of access to space down. Instead, only 130 flights were made over the entire life of the program by the five spacecraft that went to orbit, two of which were destroyed in flight. Once they got done building the Shuttle, NASA had to find something to do with it, so they started working on a space station. Initially it was going to be a multi-disciplinary facility with a price tag of just a couple of billion dollars. By the time it was built, the International Space Station had lost most of the capabilities first envisioned. It had also ballooned into a hole in space that will have sucked in between $150 and $200 billion by the time it’s currently planned to be retired in 2028. The ISS is “permanently occupied” by a (constantly changing) crew of 6, but the U.S. doesn’t have a way of its own to get astronauts there now that the Shuttle has been taken out of service. In many ways, the question of “what is it there for?” is still unanswered.

The thing that’s missing from this picture is commercial development. Space programs have been the playthings of governments, subject to the whims of whoever is in power at the moment and their perception of what their subjects (the public) want. Until there’s a profit to be made, nothing else is going to happen. Witness the development of airplanes in the early twentieth century: The first ones were fragile machines cobbled together by experimenters trying out new gadgets, but they weren’t widely available until enterprising types found they could charge passengers for fast travel between distant points and the airline industry evolved. True, the U.S. government helped make those initial airlines more profitable by taking contracts for delivery of mail, but airplanes became ubiquitous by selling something valuable – fast transportation – to private individuals at a relatively low cost.

It’s true there are space business market segments that are already well established and profitable: Satellites in geostationary orbit provide television programming and communication around the globe. The U.S. GPS constellation enables drivers who would otherwise be lost to get to their destinations. Weather satellites let us plan picnics and find out when schools will be closed by snow, and Earth resource data from space is used in a broad range of industries. Robotic satallites have permanently changed the way we live, and the companies behind them are making solid profits, even though their entire staff is still on the ground.

The human space flight industry, however, basically doesn’t exist. There are companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences making “commercial” cargo flights to the ISS, and SpaceX is well along toward developing their Dragon capsule for carrying crews there. Lockheed Martin and Astrium are building the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for NASA and the ESA, assuming public funding continues throughout the program’s development. Bigelow Aerospace, while still proposing their own network of low-cost space habitats, is now building an inflatable module to be attached to the International Space Station. These are all government projects, though, technology looking for a market, not businesses selling something valuable to private individuals.

This is where Space Power Now fits in – the immediate commercial project of The L5 Development Group space program. Space Power Now is promulgating a constellation of solar power satellites in geostationary orbit. Those satellites will collect solar power in space where the Sun is always shining and cheaply beam it to the ground for consumption by everybody on the planet in lieu of fossil fuels that are both in limited supply and damaging the environment. Simply building those satellites is going to create millions of jobs; operating and maintaining them once they are installed will require a significant permanent human presence in space.

Visionaries in the space travel, exploration and development (space T/E/D) field know there are unimagineable benefits that will come from opening space and the resources “out there” to make them available for the benefit of humanity. We know there’s energy from the Sun that can eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels. There are more resources just within our Solar System than we could use in thousands of years. From the research that’s been done on the International Space Station, we know protein crystals can be grown in microgravity to help cure diseases that would otherwise be intractible. What we don’t – and can’t – know is how much more we’re going to find after we have actually started getting out and exploring a lot beyond Earth.

Once we get to where there’s a critical mass of infrastructure in space, it will be a lot easier for smaller businesses to get a piece of the space pie: Rather than having to figure out how to get to space in the first place, entrepreneurs will be able to focus on what they’re going to do once they are there. That’s another reason why Space Power Now is such an important project: By undertaking a project requiring thousands of launches, it will enable launch companies to develop capabilities that bring costs down, and make travel to space almost as mundane as a flight across the ocean.

Please visit the Space Power Now site, and become part of the project. I really believe our future depends on it!

BTW, I feel sorry for the “22% of Americans in 2009” who don’t believe we ever went to the Moon. I know better – and I am anxious to get us back there…

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11 July 1979 Skylab fell – and the American public was robbed

Jul. 11, 2014, under call to action, opinions, space t/e/d

NASA’s Skylab, launched 14 May 1973, was an orbiting space station manned by crews arriving via separate launches. The orbital workshop (OWS) section was a refitted S-IVB second stage of a Saturn IB booster, a leftover from the Apollo program originally intended for one of the canceled Earth orbital missions, modified for long duration manned habitation in orbit. It contained provisions and crew quarters necessary to support three-person crews for periods of up to 84 days each.

Severe damage was sustained during launch, and the station underwent extensive repair during a spacewalk by the first crew; repairs by crews throughout the manned stays led to virtually all mission objectives being met.

The first Skylab crew was aboard from 25 May to 22 June 1973, the crew of the SL-2 mission (73-032A). Next, it was manned during the period 28 July to 25 September 1973, by the crew of the SL-3 mission (73-050A). The final manned period was from 16 November 1973 to 8 February 1974, when it was inhabited by the SL-4 mission (73-090A) crew.

Skylab orbited Earth 2,476 times during the 171 days and 13 hours of its occupation during the three manned missions; astronauts performed ten spacewalks totalling 42 hours 16 minutes. Skylab logged approximately 2,000 hours of scientific and medical experiments, including eight solar experiments (e.g., the Sun’s coronal holes were discovered); many medical experiments related to astronauts’ adaptation to extended periods of microgravity. Each successive Skylab mission set a duration record for the time the astronauts spent in space.

Following the final manned Skylab mission, ground controllers performed some engineering tests that ground personnel were reluctant to do while astronauts were aboard. Upon completion of those tests, Skylab was positioned into a stable attitude and systems were shut down. It was expected Skylab would remain in orbit an additional eight to ten years. It was to have been visited by an early shuttle mission, reboosted to a higher orbit, and used by space shuttle crews, but delays of the first shuttle flight made this impossible. At the same time, increased solar activity heating the outer layers of the Earth’s atmosphere caused more drag on the station, which led to an early reentry on 11 July 1979. Skylab disintegrated over the Indian Ocean and Western Australia after a worldwide scare over its pending crash, casting large pieces of debris in populated areas.

Of the premature reentry it has been said “Fortunately, the only casualty was a single Australian cow.” However, that quip doesn’t really express the real damage that was incurred by the loss of Skylab: How much further ahead would we have been when the shuttle started flying if there was still a space station in place to go visit?

The total budget for Skylab was approximately $2,147,100,000 in 1970’s dollars (NASA’s figures). The cost in today’s dollars would have been much higher. Skylab fell out of orbit because “an early shuttle mission” failed to get there to reboost it into a higher orbit. How much would it have cost to build an automated expendable launcher and send it to Skylab to take it into a higher orbit when it became obvious that the shuttle wouldn’t get there in time? 300 million dollars? Half a billion, maybe? Certainly a lot less than the US$ 2.15 billion loss NASA imposed on the American public by failing to protect the assets it had been entrusted with.

Skylab was not the first space station – the Soviet Union launched the first one, Salyut 1, in 1971 – but Skylab was one of the first, and the largest at the time. It hosted three crews before it was abandoned in 1974. Russia continued to focus on long-duration space missions and in 1986 launched the first modules of the Mir space station – which grew to be ultimately only 25% larger than Skylab. Meanwhile, NASA poured nearly all of its human space flight budget into the shuttle program.

In his State of the Union address on 25 January 1984, President Ronald Reagan directed NASA to build a space station within the next ten years. The Freedom design was predicted to have a total development cost (including construction in orbit) of US$ 1.5-2 billion dollars in early projections. Partly due to changing political winds, costs escalated, target dates were pushed back, and in 1993, the Clinton administration announced the transformation of Space Station Freedom into the International Space Station (ISS), bringing in Russia as a partner. In 1998, the first two modules were launched and joined together in orbit. Today, the ISS is approximately the size of a football field, a 460-ton platform orbiting fifteen and a half times a day between 205 and 270 miles above Earth. It is about four times as large as Mir and five times as large as Skylab. The ISS is “funded until 2024,” and may operate until 2028. By then the investment will have grown well into the US$ 150-200 billion range – and plans are to “deorbit” the station when funding runs out.

NASA has already set a precedent by letting a US$ 2.15 billion investment fall out of the sky when Skylab came crashing down. The Russians did much the same thing when they took the Mir space station out of orbit, throwing away an estimated US$ 4 billion in 2001 dollars when the project ended. It wouldn’t be any different, philosophically, for NASA and its partners to toss another $175 billion (+/- $25 billion) down the toilet by burning the ISS up in the atmosphere, so why not?

The reason “why not” is because doing so would be robbing taxpayers – now, all over the world – of their investment – AGAIN! It costs a LOT of money to put things into orbit. It’s far cheaper to keep things in orbit that are already there than to send up replacements. If the international partners and NASA want to abandon the ISS when “funding runs out” they should sell it in place for salvage – so that an industrious private enterprise can boost it into a higher, stable orbit for storage until they can get to it economically to recover the investment – even if that “recovery” is nothing more than tearing the thing down to use it for raw materials.

Governments, in general, and space agencies, in particular, need to stop acting like they’ve been given a blank check, and trying to spend every last penny of it.

We are going to run out of oil. Before that happens, we MUST have a replacement source of energy and feed stock for our civilization that has become so dependent on plastic. The time to act is NOW!! Please visit to help build a solution.

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Reaching for my dreams

Feb. 28, 2013, under call to action, goals, opinions, philosophy, space t/e/d

When I was five years old, I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. That’s still a core part of my objectives, but in the intervening years additional layers and other things have gotten added. Now when people ask me what I want to do with my life, I say “I want to build a privately funded space exploration and development company, move off-planet as a free and sovereign individual, and make [a lot of] money in the process.” (In this context, the meaning of sovereign being used is “independent of outside authority” rather than “supreme in rank, power or authority” – i.e., the way citizens of the United States of America are supposed to be “sovereign citizens.”)

My ambition is to build space colonies at L5, and manufacture solar power satellites for installation in geostationary orbit.  Accomplishing those objectives will be a bigger undertaking than anything that has ever been done before.  In spite of the daunting size of the project, it’s something that has to be done before we run out of oil or civilization will implode, and humanity itself may not survive.  Once the system is built, however, we can look forward to a reliable and effectively eternal supply of energy that’s cheaper than what we have now, with practically no pollution, and the whole investment could be repaid in 30 years at an extremely reasonable rate of ten cents per kilowatt/hour.

Humanity needs a frontier where misfits and malcontents can go to live their different lives without disturbing or being disturbed by the mainstream community.  There is no longer anywhere on Earth that can truly be called a frontier.  Life on a frontier also spurs people into a creative resourcefulness that yields innovation in often totally unexpected ways.  The Earth’s population is over seven billion people, most of whom live in or near poverty.  If everyone had the affluent lifestyle of the comfortably well-to-do of the industrialized societies, there wouldn’t be enough resources to go around.  The only way to fix that problem is to get more resources – which can only be done from beyond Earth’s boundaries – in space.  We have to go to space to survive!

I’m an extremely creative person – which is both a boon and a bane.  On one hand, it allows me to figure out a solution for nearly every problem that’s thrown at me – but not necessarily where to find the time or resources needed to implement the solution.  On the other hand, quite often in the process of solving one problem, I end up working on another one – often because the new problem is part of the solution for the first one.  “They” say that before you do anything, you have to do something else.  What “they” don’t tell you is it’s a recursive problem.  Some years ago I guesstimated that I had seventeen lifetimes worth of work that I need to get back to – stuff that got pushed to the back burner by something else having to be done first.  Sometimes it seems like I need to turn my creativity off to be able to get anything done.  That thought, however, falls smack in the middle of “be careful what you wish for” – it’s not something I would really want to have happen.  What has happened is that I’ve ended up with countless projects and ideas that I’m going to get to “one of these days” – when I have nothing to do, and a staff to do it with!

I don’t come from a wealthy background:  My parents made enough of their fortune to be comfortable in their retirement years, in spite of having five somewhat problematic children.  Without their pensions feeding the kitty, though, I don’t expect what they leave behind will last long.  I’ve “joked” for most of my life that my inheritance has fourteen zeros and a minus sign – but it looks like I might have underestimated the number of zeros.  I wish it were a joke, but the US national debt is so large that it’s approaching the point where it could never be paid back.  I dread the day when that happens – especially since most of the rest of the world is in the same boat, or even worse off.

The net result of all of this is I’m trying to figure out how to get from where I am, with effectively nothing, to being able to borrow trillions of dollars so that I can solve some of the biggest problems that have ever faced humanity.  This is probably the most important puzzle that’s ever been presented to my creativity, and I’m embarrassed to say that, even after all this time, I still haven’t figured it out.

I would like to be spending my time on finishing the redesign of the L5 Development Group Web site, getting the L5 National Bank set up, building public awareness through Space Power Now, starting real development of the LunaRobots project, establishing as a vibrant community of like-minded people who actually want to move off-planet with me – so many things to do, and I know I can’t do them all myself.  Financial reality, however, is preventing me from making significant progress on any of those goals:  I’m so busy trying to figure out how to cover this month’s bills that I can’t even begin to think about where to raise the first million dollars, let alone where to find the trillions that will be needed to bring this dream to fruition.

Now I find myself once again looking for projects I can use to fill my coffers, identifiable and (fairly) well defined tasks where I can come in, bring my diverse range of experience to bear to solve a problem, then move on once the job is done and I’ve been paid for my work.  I’m not looking for a “safe” career of spending a long time building an empire in someone else’s organization, doing their work:  I have enough (too many?) projects and prospects of my own that I want and need to be working on: My career is in my company.  In order to continue getting paying projects, though, I know that when I do a job, I have to do it well:  A reputation for shoddy workmanship is one I wouldn’t want to try to work past.

Instead of me working for an employer, I need to have other people working for me – hundreds of thousands of them, millions even.  If anybody has any solid, actionable suggestions about how I can get from where I am to where I need to be, I want to hear them – and sooner is much better than later.  Filling time covering nothing more than the current bills isn’t going to allow me to progress to the next level, and beyond.  I really do want to fix the world, and before we run out of time.  Your feedback, comments and suggestions will be sincerely appreciated.

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It’s time *now* to avert the oil and energy crisis!

Feb. 25, 2013, under call to action, opinions, space t/e/d

We are going to run out of oil.  Before that happens, we are going to run out of cheap energy.  When that happens, there’s going to be starvation, civil unrest, warfare and the collapse of civilization – maybe even the end of humanity if the wars get too far out of hand.

This isn’t a disaster that’s just going to fall on America, or only on the industrialized parts of the world:  This is going to affect every human being on the planet, except perhaps jungle dwellers and aborigines who are largely independent of civilization.  If the downfall of civilization results in nuclear warfare, however, even those hapless tribes will not be unscathed.

When is this horrible disaster going to befall us?  That’s hard to say because the estimates of how much oil is left are just that – estimates – and the numbers being touted by various groups vary wildly.  The most optimistic predictions tell us there are reserves for 150 years, pessimists predict a tenth of that time.  In any case, as we get closer to the bottom of the barrel, the cost of retrieving the oil is going to skyrocket which will signal the beginning of the end.  Many of the projections assume that oil consumption is going to level out, or even decline.  Neither of those conditions is going to occur:  More people are using more oil every day, and as long as there is oil available, that’s not going to change.

Modern civilization is totally dependent on oil:  Huge amounts are burned up every day in our transportation systems, to provide heat, and to generate electricity.  In addition, nearly everything made out of plastic started out as oil.  Plastic is being used for everything – containers, plumbing, vinyl siding, cell phones, car bodies, etc., etc.  I would be very surprised to meet anyone living in the civilized world who didn’t own anything made of plastic – and most of us have lots of things that are.  As we raise the standard of living for everyone on the planet, the demand for more plastic – and more oil for fuel – is just going to go up.

Eventually the current demand for oil and oil products is going to exceed the total production capacity.  When that happens, civilization will start to collapse.

There is a way to avert this disaster – but the window of opportunity is rapidly passing by.  The death of civilization can be avoided, but only by developing a replacement energy supply.  Doing so is going to take a tremendous investment of effort, and will require a substantial amount of time – and energy.  If we wait too long, there won’t be enough time left to build a replacement energy source.

Fossil fuels – oil, coal, gas – have stored the Sun’s energy that fell on the Earth in the past.  Over the course of the last one hundred fifty years we have burned through a large portion of the stored solar energy from millions of years gone by.

The only feasible energy source that can serve as a replacement for oil is direct collection of solar power.  Trying to collect solar power at the Earth’s surface to run all of our modern civilization, however, is not practical:  The Sun is overhead only part of a day, and may be obscured by clouds in the air or snow on the ground.  Solar collectors take up a lot of space, and the power consumed by a city far exceeds the amount of solar power falling directly on it.

Because of the problems with trying to collect it on the ground, solar power is generally ruled out as a viable replacement for oil power.  It is those very problems that make it imperative for us to build a network of solar power satellites in orbit, where the Sun is always shining, and beam the power to the ground.  Only then can we hope to have enough area in the collectors to be able to gather all of the energy needed to support a power-hungry civilization and make it cheaply available.

Building a constellation of solar power satellites is going to require a tremendous investment, and it’s not going to happen overnight.  We must get started NOW, however, or the end of civilization predicted above will befall us.

I’ve started Space Power Now! as a vehicle for raising public awareness of the critical nature of the energy crisis looming in the near future, and how solar power delivered from satellites in Earth orbit is the only reasonable long-term solution.  Please, visit the site, participate, and let’s make it happen! The future of humanity depends on it!

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