1997 Editorial Index
Jan 97 Challenge and Achievement
Feb 97 Leading the Way – to Retirement
Mar 97 Faster, Better, Cheaper
Apr 97 The Moon – A Visible Goal
May 97 Over the Horizon
Jun 97 NASA’s Secret Space Program
Jul 97 Who Belongs in Space?
Aug 97 Abandon Ship!
Sep 97 Clash of the Egos
Oct 97 I Fear for Morons
Nov 97 Two Inches Closer to Space
Dec 97 Frustrated Explorers
"Challenge and Achievement" January 1997
by Michelle Evans
With a new year upon us (and the new millennium fast approaching) I feel this would be the proper time to review the state of the Orange County Space Society and our role as an activist group.
It has been an exciting year for OCSS. This was expected to some extent when the new officers took on the job of rebuilding the chapter a year ago. The foundation that had been laid six years previously was exceptional, but it appeared we had entered a long period of stagnation. We started a bottoms-up review of everything about the chapter, from member participation in chapter functions, to the bylaws, and even the location of our meetings.
Some things happened very quickly such as finding a new place to meet. We now have a large room to ourselves on a monthly basis at a very accommodating restaurant. It is not the ideal place, but it is a far cry from sitting at a table in a leaky bar, as we had done just one year ago. The bylaws took a little longer (seven months to be exact), but now they too are in place.
Part of this reinvention of OCSS entailed changing the newsletter. Last spring saw OCSS NEWS change to O.C.SPACE along with a brief expansion from eight to twelve pages. Unfortunately our budget could not sustain an expansion at that time so we have had to revert to our previous size. We did however complete a full face-lift of the newsletter, which I think you will all agree has given us an even more professional look than we had before. During this time O.C.SPACE also gained a very aggressive and responsive editor-in-chief who makes sure we all keep our focus and get our articles in on time.
Once all the policy discussions and reviews had taken place it was as if a logjam had broken. The next months saw the implementation of our meeting program series, expanded cooperation with our sister chapters, new and exciting contacts for future events, and the attendance at our meetings is steadily increasing.
The most positive thing that has happened this year is that we now have many active members who are willing to take on responsibilities. In fact, we now have so much participation that we had to expand our Board to nine. We have also established a base of support with the Discovery Science Center, and our program activity is picking up.
Even better is the fact that our general membership is now participating in the running of the chapter. A great example of this was that the 1997 Elections were the first in our history where all members had the ability to have their voice heard through absentee ballots. A large number of our members took advantage of that opportunity.
With all this activity, where exactly are we headed?
My goal for the role of OCSS is to see us become more active in putting the space program out there for the general public to see. Without their support, nothing will ever get off the ground. Ask just about anyone on the streets about our space program and they may be vaguely aware that a space shuttle flies missions a few times each year, but rarely of anything else. We have had many events during 1996 that worked toward this goal of public education: A booth at the El Toro airshow, public lectures from JPL, a large space display for a third grade birthday party, and working with astronauts at Planet Kids and Space Camp California.
Another major achievement this year is that we are now looked on as the local authority when it comes to space. OCSS had over a dozen mentions in the Orange County Register as the people to contact about space. Several letters were published defending the space program and our local pro-space congressmen. We even had a full blown Sunday editorial!
1997 looks even better: New expanded and exciting speaker programs, work on Planetfest next July (when Pathfinder is scheduled to land on Mars), working more closely with area schools, the Discovery Science Center, and Planet Kids. With more input from our members, this could just be the tip of the asteroid!
Even with all of these positive changes, some members have actually said that we are no expanding fast enough. This is all contingent on OCSS member participation. The more people who attend meetings and other functions, the better we are at getting our message out to the public. When you consider that we are a volunteer organization, I am amazed at the pace and especially the quality of our achievements.
Make 1997 the year that you become more involved with the Orange County Space Society. Help us to create that spacefaring civilization we all hope to be a part of. This chapter is nothing without the input of our members. I look forward to hearing from you.
"Leading the Way – to Retirement" February 1997
by Michelle Evans
Throughout history there have been groups of people that lead the way to the future. Ancient Greece unleashed scientific thought that would not become common knowledge for a thousand years or more. The Chinese, Egyptians, and Mayans all developed astronomical knowledge that was the envy of modern astronomers. Spain financed voyages of exploration to open what they thought of as a whole new world. America and Russia started a space race that literally would open those new worlds.
The amazing thing is that all of these apparently far-reaching and far-thinking countries have each squandered their lead, falling by the wayside, to be passed up by a new generation, from a different part of the world, who took their vision and ran with it.
It appears that every civilization seems to reach a certain plateau and then abruptly comes to a screeching halt. This phenomenon is very similar to a person who works hard all their life until they reach retirement age. Then they simply stop achieving in an attempt to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labors. Isn’t that what most of us say that we are living for? We all want to eventually just kick back and enjoy The Good Life.
Unfortunately individuals, countries, or even a whole world, will quickly die off when this goal is achieved. Let me give you an example from personal experience. I served in the Air Force a while back. At one time I seriously contemplated making a career of it. (Getting paid to play with airplanes and missiles did have a certain appeal to me!) There was also that wonderful goal of being able to retire after just 20 years of service. For most servicemen, this meant retiring at the ripe young age of between 38 and 42 years old. It sure is hard to beat that.
One day my plans changed abruptly when I read about a sickening statistic. What this study found was that the average life expectancy of a military retiree was only ten years! During my time in service I looked around me at the people retiring and found that there was truth in that horrible figure. (My first boss in the Air Force died less than two years after retiring, barely 40 years old.)
Determined not to become one of those statistics, I doffed my uniform and reentered the world of civilians. What that military study had failed to mention was that this death-after-retirement problem was inherent in all professions. It was just more noticeable in the military since you finish your career so much younger than most.
It was also obvious what the culprit was: stagnation and boredom.
When all your goals have been reached, what is there that is left to survive for?This is the question that nations, as well as individuals, must ask themselves if they are to survive their retirement years. Instead of lying back and reliving old glories, we must all strive to make new glories.
The Arab culture was once one of the most scientifically advanced in the world. They traveled widely, gaining knowledge in one place and passing it on to another, adding their own thoughts in the process. In our country we have the Amish community that one day said, “This is the date where all progress stops.” At least with them, they made a conscious decision to come to a halt. If you are a part of their culture, you know exactly where you stand.
Sometimes this decision is made unconsciously. We are never even aware it has taken place. Centuries later someone finally asks the question, “Why did Greece stagnate?” or “Whatever happened to Spain?” I doubt if the citizens of Rome sat there in their homes and in one moment realized, “Today is the day our Empire fell. We will never be great again.”
That day may have already happened here in America. Will July 20, 1969 be the footnote in the history books of the next millennium, marking the retirement of our nation? Will we ever reach those heights again and strive to go beyond? Must we sit on our laurels and worry more about the comfort of our citizens than about expanding our horizons to make the next generation even better?
I know that I’m not ready to retire, how about you?
"Faster, Better, Cheaper" March 1997
by Michelle Evans
This has been the catch phrase of the civilian space program in the years since Dan Goldin took over as the head of NASA. Has there been a turn-around in the way things are being done to get us into space? Is this Politically Correct mantra doing what it was meant to do? Well, to be specific: Yes and No.
It used to be said that with Faster, Better, Cheaper you had to choose only two out of three. There was no way to take it all. If you decided to build a spacecraft a little faster, while keeping the cost down, you probably wouldn’t be making it any better than what had already come before. In fact, there was a real good chance that it would be worse.
Certainly the most famous example of this was the Space Shuttle program. NASA told congress they could develop and build this system for $10 billion and be ready to fly in just five years. It would be a great vehicle, with safe and reliable liquid boosters to augment the Space Shuttle Main Engines. Congress balked at the price tag and said “We’ll give you half that amount to make it all work.”
With little choice in the matter, NASA changed the design to incorporate solid boosters in place of liquids. Though not as safe, they would be much cheaper to develop. They were right on both counts!
Let’s recap shall we? If memory properly serves, since 1986 we have lost one space shuttle, two Titans, two Deltas, and one Atlas. Every one of these failures, except the Atlas, was due to malfunctions in the solid motors of those boosters. In this instance I believe we can safely say that Cheaper was not the way to go. As for Faster: how quick can a program be when it has to be shut down for several months, or even years, to make a redesign work?
Please don’t get me wrong here. The idea of doing all three things at once is an ideal that should be strived for if we are ever going to make space a viable (and profitable) enterprise. We just must take the time to think through the long term ramifications before we jump in with both feet and eyes closed tight.
Let’s continue our example. One of the first planetary probes to try and incorporate the FBC philosophy was the Mars Observer. Yes, it was definitely still a child of the giant space probe days when it came to initial cost and complexity, but in the end they tried to shave off too many corners to jump on the FBC bandwagon. Now Mars Observer is as lost in space as the Jupiter 2.
Nearly all my examples tend to the Cheaper side of the equation. Skylab fell to Earth due to the fact that a small propulsion system that would have maintained its orbital altitude was deleted from construction funding. The Hubble Space Telescope initially was considered the laughing stock of the scientific community because of a flawed primary mirror. A proposed test, designed to find that exact type of flaw was deleted from the budget. If you must delete one of the three legs of the tripod, Better should never be one of those in consideration.
But now we are supposedly in a new era. One where all three parts of the FBC equation can be made real. There is no longer any need to sacrifice quality for price and time. Or is there? I believe that there is still a major problem that must be considered.
First, the positive: This new phase of Faster, Better, Cheaper is definitely working wonders in the area of planetary exploration. It has been nearly three decades since we have had this many probes to the planets either on their way to their destinations, or under construction for future launches. Mars alone will see two spacecraft launched ever time a window opens through 2005. This has been accomplished because the new mindset says to make things smaller, which means quicker construction with a major reduction in program cost.
This leads us to the negative aspect. Smaller meets the FBC criteria, but smaller also precludes anything from making these journeys except robot explorers. Their small size also leads to less launch capability. Why do we need a Saturn-class booster when the payload is a microsatellite? Sure, new cheap boosters that could be rated to carry people into space are under development, but will they be enough to carry us anywhere except low earth orbit?
We had this same problem in the early days of the space race when our payloads were so well engineered that we didn’t require the bigger boosters like the Soviets were building. In the end, we needed a major crash program to play catch up. We did that just long enough to go to the moon and then threw it all away when the incentive had disappeared. I’m certainly all for FBC, but let’s not forgot that we want to send more than just robots beyond earth orbit.
"The Moon – A Visible Goal" April 1997
by Michelle Evans
While gazing at the moon recently it occurred to me that actually seeing the moon is the exact reason why we must return there, learning to live and thrive there, before moving on outward in the cosmos.
There is a great debate currently raging among scientists and space activists, as to whether we should focus our efforts on a lunar colony, or skip our closest celestial neighbor to head directly to Mars. As much as I would like to personally set foot on the Red Planet, I also believe we must set our sights on the moon first.
If our moon had not been in orbit about Earth, I believe there would have been little impetus to go into space in the first place. It was the close proximity of Luna which first gave rise to the idea that the we were not living on a flat plane, balanced on the back of a giant turtle and suspended in the void. During a lunar eclipse, the curved shadow of our planet could easily be seen racing across the moon. Maybe our planet was also round? If the moon orbits us, could we be in orbit about the sun? One question leads to another, until a human being finally placed the first bootprint in that gray dust.
If we had not wanted to have a more detailed look at the lunar surface, would the telescope have been invented to show us the other planets in our solar system? Until seen through an eyepiece, the planets were thought to just be wandering stars, not worlds unto themselves. In this way, the moon has been a guide to opening the rest of the universe. Without that bright beacon arcing overhead, waxing and waning each month, would our imaginations ever have been sparked enough to look outward?
This is where we are now in space exploration. We need a signpost in the sky. We need something out there that anyone can look up to and see with their unaided eyes. Something that everyone can see and realize that other humans, possibly even people they know, are living and working there.
We see news reports from Bosnia or Albania, but the average person has little real connection to those images. If we looked out our window and personally saw fighting in the streets, how much more immediate would our perception be about events unfolding there?
Let’s also look at the history of successful exploration and colonization. In North America this trend started in the east coast and worked westward. Granted, there were successful colonies on the west coast before the rest of the country was settled. Remember though that these colonies actually started with landings in Mexico and then worked their way northward along the coast.
Massive amounts of support are needed for human colonization of space. How much support can be generated by the average person when all they see in the sky is an orange dot? Worse yet, through the murky haze of our brightly lit cities, and the general lack of celestial knowledge, very few people are even aware when Mars is visible. The moon pierces this haze and pollution.
I remember vividly going outside on a clear night during the Apollo landings and foregoing the grainy images of bunny-hopping astronauts on television to simply stare, live and direct, at the moon. I looked at that pockmarked globe, realizing that people were actually walking on another world!
What would your perceptions be if you could look up at night and know that hundreds, or even thousands, of people were exploring a new world right in front of your sight? Wouldn’t you yearn to be with them? Think of those nights when the moon is new, or just a mere crescent. What if you could see the lights of our outposts shining from that dark surface? Consider your thoughts at looking through a telescope and seeing signs of life where nothing has lived for billions of years!
Another proposal that skips the moon and jumps straight to Mars has us going there to give us a better understanding of Earth. Mars is certainly much more earth-like than the moon. So the concept is to explore our own world, then travel to Mars, study that planet, then return to Earth so we can see our home planet through the eyes of a Martian. While an interesting idea, this does nothing to further the exploration of the cosmos if our goal is simply to return to our home planet. After the exploration of Mars is transferred back to Earth, there is no longer any reason to stay on Mars. We severe our own exploratory lifeline!
The Moon will be our beacon that all can see. A beacon that will lead us to the next great goal — Mars.
"Over the Horizon" May 1997
by Michelle Evans
As early as March 1967 plans were already being drawn up to send the first spacecraft to probe the giant of our solar system: Jupiter. This first proposal made the startling observation that any flyby of Jupiter should gain sufficient velocity from the encounter to fling the probe completely out of the gravitational influence of our solar system. In essence, when we launched a Jupiter-bound spacecraft, we would also be sending out our first message to the galaxy.
Just two years later approval for twin probes, Pioneer 10 and 11, was given, and construction was started. And on March 2, 1972 the Atlas-Centaur rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral with Pioneer 10, outward bound to Jupiter and Beyond. Pioneer 11 followed on April 5, 1973.
Their missions went flawlessly. Pioneer 10 became the first human-made object to traverse the asteroid belt between July 1972 and February 1973. It then encountered Jupiter on December 3, 1973. From that point its primary mission was completed.
Pioneer 11 swung by Jupiter a year after its older sibling, then went on to become the first spacecraft to have a close up view of Saturn on September 5, 1979. By that time Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were already on their way into the outer solar system to capitalize on what the Pioneers had already seen.
When it was realized that the Pioneer probes would not stop at the gas giants, but continue on into infinity the opportunity was seized to truly make them our messengers by affixing a simple plaque to their trusswork.
The idea originated with Eric Burgess, Richard Hoagland, and Don Bane who then took their thoughts to Carl Sagan at Cornell University. Carl spearheaded the effort to have NASA put the plaque on the spacecraft while his wife did the actual artwork that would eventually be used. It is a message that simply states “This is who we are. This is where we come from.”
The mission of the two Pioneer spacecraft were far-reaching and far-thinking. Unfortunately this forward looking ability is not always consistent within our species. Pioneer 10 showed us this on March 31st of this year when funding was halted to listen for the signal still being sent to us by that tiny probe. It is now nearly twice as far away from us as the outermost planet in our solar system. Its signal takes nine hours to reach home at the speed of light. Granted that the scientific value from that signal may be trivial at this point, but there is still a possibility that we can learn something new while life and power is left.
The heliopause (the point at which our own sun’s influence is overpowered by that of other stars) has yet to be discovered. Evidence suggests we have a long way to go to find this point, but in the time left to Pioneer, it may have yet been found. Along with its sister craft Pioneer 11, and its cousins Voyager 1 and 2, we now have spacecraft heading in four different directions into interstellar space. Every time we make assumptions about what we’ll find, we have been surprised. Let Pioneer tell us what it can.
But even though we are no longer actually listening to that faint signal, from a point in space where our own sun is barely even distinguishable from the surrounding stars, Pioneer 10 still has a message for us.
That spacecraft has now become what was originally envisioned 30 years ago. It is our first interstellar torch bearer. The first proof that we are truly a spacefaring race. One day we will follow Pioneer 10 into the void. One day we will pass by with a message of thanks to the little spacecraft that first proved it could really be done.
"NASA’s Secret Space Program" June 1997
by Michelle Evans
When the Soviet Union was preparing to launch the first man into orbit, they kept it a very closely guarded secret. Records were actually destroyed and photographs altered to insure that no one had a clear idea of what was about to be up.
When Gagarin finally made his one and only orbit in 1961, the world knew nothing of the fact until well after the hazardous launch was completed and he was half way around the world, success all but assured. It was then that the trumpets started to sound and the propaganda machinery went into overdrive.
This policy stayed in place for many years. Their best kept secret being the fact that their manned lunar program did not end for a long time after our Apollo 11 successfully completed that task. When Armstrong and Aldrin finally kicked up some lunar dust, the Soviets officially stated that they had never been in the race to the moon in the first place and were (and always had been) concentrating their efforts in Earth orbit.
Our government knew their statements for the sham that they were. Spy satellite photos revealed the explosive tests of the giant N-1 booster that would have taken Soviets to the lunar surface. So our own leaders helped to perpetuate that communist myth. It was handy for them to do this because it helped to justify the end of the Apollo program. What need was there to go back to the moon to stay when the high ground had already been ceded to us?
In stark contrast, the decision was made very early in our space program that all would be visible to the world. There were times when this caused great embarrassment. The most famous of these gaffs was when we cut corners and tried to play catch up to the Soviet Sputnik with our own Vanguard. What should have been our first orbiting satellite, turned into a worldwide televised fiasco as the first stage exploded and the tiny space probe fell to the ground, merrily beeping away in the Florida sun as the rocket was consumed around it.
But the television networks stuck with it. The biggest show ever telecast was in fuzzy, slow-scan, black & white, with men in bulky suits kangaroo-hopping through the void. Billions watched.
Soon after, that all changed dramatically. By Apollo 13 even the controllers in Houston did not always watch the broadcasts beaming through space. Of course when a minor electrical problem literally blew out the side of their spacecraft and nearly killed three men, everyone took notice. But they got back safely and Apollo quickly faded again from our collective consciousness, disappearing in the early 70’s with hardly anyone asking where it went.
Nearly a decade after the demise of Apollo, the space shuttle program took flight. We watched in awe as a spacecraft with wings jumped off the same launch pad that had seen the Saturn V take us to the moon. This was to be the workhorse vehicle that would lead to permanent settlements in orbit, on the moon, and even on to Mars. The shuttle was to be the vehicle for all of us. Modules were envisioned for the payload bay that could loft dozens of paying passengers at a time. Orbiting Hiltons, Marriotts, and Howard Johnsons were to be our destination; our beautiful home world gliding by below.
Now we all know that we have a very lackluster space program that doesn’t really take us anywhere. In one breath Dan Goldin states that the shuttle is the safest vehicle to fly into space, yet when reminded of the Presidential mandate to fly teachers and journalists, and other noncareer astronauts into space, he quickly backpedals and says that the shuttle is still just “experimental.” The rest of us will have to wait.
My job with the Space Expo constantly brings me into contact with people who ask if we are even still flying in space. Is everything in our expo just a reminder of what once was? I tell them that the shuttle flies regularly and with the Russian Mir space station (and hopefully soon, with our own station) we have a permanent presence in space.
“But why is it such a big secret?” they ask incredulously.
Without any connection to that space program, without any real hope of ever going into space ourselves, there appears to be little need to report on the deeds of those who do go. Who would have cared what happened to Lewis and Clark if everyone then alive knew that it meant nothing to them. The west coast of the continent was to be kept under lock and key: Government Use Only. Research expeditions would be all that were allowed. Someday – maybe – settlers could go. Until then it was to be left to the experts.
We must tell NASA and our government that we are tired of the closed-door policy. We are all waiting for the line to drop and for the rush to the new frontier to begin.
"Who Belongs in Space?" July 1997
by Michelle Evans
It was recently revealed that America’s first man to orbit the Earth, John Glenn, has been holding discussions with NASA management about the possibility of his return to space. It has been 35 years since Mr. Glenn spent just four and a half hours in a cramped Mercury capsule. At the age of 75, what could he possibly offer and how could anyone justify the cost? Well, maybe he has a point . . .
I can tell you right now that NASA will turn him down flat. As I’ve mentioned before in this column, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin has said many times that the space shuttle is an experimental vehicle. It is not safe, nor is it properly suited to take private citizens such as Mr. Glenn on an orbital junket. People have died on the shuttle so we must no longer take chances.
When the shuttle flew into space, the first four flights were definitely considered experimental. When STS-5 rolled around in November 1982 the Space Transportation System was then officially dubbed “Operational.”
For twenty flights the shuttle routinely carried non-career astronauts to and from space to drop off satellites, do scientific experiments, or even give a lift to a Senator or Congressman. A national competition mandated by President Reagan found our first Teacher in Space. A journalist would soon follow. What better way to properly describe the experience of spaceflight to the rest of us then by having a professional teacher and journalist go there in person.
Following the Challenger accident things obviously changed. But some of the restrictions placed on the shuttle were only meant to be temporary. Reagan again came down with a mandate that demanded the shuttle offload all commercial satellite payloads to unmanned launchers. Only fly people into space when they were required to be there. One thing that he believed definitely still needed a human presence was that of his Civilian In Space program. The day of the accident he clearly stated that we would again fly teachers in space.
Why has this Presidential Mandate been ignored? Because NASA management won’t take a chance on someone outside their own agency getting hurt in space. It’s okay to kill their own astronauts, but never a civilian! It is further explained to us that a teacher, a journalist, or anyone else not directly on the NASA payroll could never fully understand the hazards of spaceflight, so they must be kept at bay.
Someone please explain to Dan Goldin that no one in this world can be more cognizant of the risk of launch than Barbara Morgan, Christa McAuliffe’s backup. She was at the Cape when STS-51L lifted off. She watched as her friend and six others had their lives extinguished. Yet she still wants to fly. She wants to carry on a legacy, now denied.
Goldin says that he wants everyone to fly who wants to fly. But it must wait for a safer vehicle. As was recently pointed out to me, if after 84 flights, the shuttle is still considered experimental, how long will we have to wait for a safe and reliable follow-on vehicle? He also insists that it be a commercial entity that does the work, such as one of our current airlines. This is fine, but it’s still a long way off. Why wait when the means are already at our disposal?
Case in point: Several years ago Goldin was at the forefront of the proposition that we must work with the Russians on our Space Station program. One of the things he really wanted to do (and has done) was to instigate a series of flights where our shuttle docked with their Mir space station. The reasoning was very sound for this decision: Here is a station already in orbit. Let’s use it to gain experience before our own comes on line.
What’s wrong with this same idea pertaining to who flies in space? If we want commercial entities to fly Joe and Jane Average back and forth to orbit, why not get some experience now?
“NASA is in the business of taking risks.” This is a direct quote from Dan Goldin. I want to see him take some of those risks. Don’t turn down John Glenn just because he’s a civilian. And certainly don’t turn him down because he’s too old. At the same time NASA shouldn’t bar their own astronauts from flying just because they’ve reached a certain age. Story Musgrave is one of the most accomplished astronauts, and probably one of the fittest, yet he’s been told that he is now retired from spaceflight. If a man of his health and intelligence can’t go into space, what hope is there for the rest of us?
John Glenn wants to use his position as a national hero to prove that spaceflight is not just a young person’s sport. He wants to break a few barriers and I think he should be allowed to fly again. What better way to tell the rest of the world that we can eventually go too?
"Abandon Ship!" August 1997
by Michelle Evans
Scenario 1: It’s the third manned attempt to land on the moon. In sight of their goal, something goes drastically wrong. A minor glitch during assembly of their spacecraft at the factory has now caused their oxygen tank to explode, tossing the crew about, draining their electrical power, dumping precious air into the void. What do they do?
Well, obviously there’s not too much choice. The men aboard must ride it out no matter what. In this case enough heads got together, figuring out a way to keep them alive long enough to loop around the moon and limp home. The astronauts of Apollo 13 were certainly worse for wear upon splashdown, but at least they were still alive.
Luckily there was a lifeboat, called the Lunar Module, attached. In fact the Apollo lunar missions were the first to carry their own lifeboat with them. The problem was that it had not been designed for that option, not to mention that after the planned landing, the lifeboat no longer existed. Lovell, Swigert, and Haise got very, very lucky.
Scenario 2: It’s the year 2015 and the first expedition to Mars has passed the halfway point. This time we have a crew of ten — women and men from several countries — all exploring together. Earth is a bright blue dot, long behind them, seen only occasionally when the spacecraft rolls the right direction during a star sighting. Most of the time they are looking ahead toward their goal, an empty point in space with a dusty orange planet moving to fill the void.
Suddenly alarms are going off. This particular pitch means that pressure is dropping — fast! A meteor? A chunk of cometary snow traveling at 30,000 miles an hour? Another glitch destined not to show up until it’s too late? When that alarm goes off no one cares about the cause, only what can be done so that they will still be alive in an hour to do something to correct it.
Like the Apollo crew from nearly a half century before, this crew also has a lifeboat. Attached are two landers that will drop three astronauts each to different spots on the Martian surface to explore and sample, while four others remain in orbit cataloging and observing. But at this moment none of that matters. Before all pressure is lost, suits must be donned and safe haven reached. This completed, where do they go from here?
The lifeboats here were meant for a short hop back and forth from the surface. All ten can not be supported for a trip back to their home planet. Food might last, but oxygen would quickly deplete. Even if they had the fuel to burn, it would take months to cancel their outward energy and fall back toward Earth.
In reality, this crew isn’t even close to thinking about an abort. Why? They know how to deal with emergencies. Planning and training gave them the confidence to know that they can repair their craft and continue their journey.
Scenario 3: We are now aboard an earth orbiting space station. It is no longer the past or future. An exercise to hone docking techniques goes horribly wrong. Contact is lost as an automated craft is making an approach to the station where you live, work, and breathe. No commands are acknowledged. It moves in quickly and you shudder as it slides by the intended docking port. Maybe it will glide harmlessly past. No, it is too close!
A smashing sound is heard rumbling through the entire structure as it barrels into one of the experiment modules. Through the window you can see the myriad solar arrays dance as if caught in a rippling breeze. A second and third crunch is felt, then silence. The station starts a slow tumble and, still looking out the window, you see the cause of the calamity drift silently away into the black.
The hole caused by the impact is slowly releasing air. The module is sealed. Power is cut off. Everyone is safe, but badly shaken. There is a lifeboat attached. It would be easy to slide into its cramped but comforting cabin, seal the hatch, then make a retro fire for the safety of the atmosphere below. It is certainly the easiest and safest way to do things. But is it the right way, especially when viewed from the perspective of that future crew headed toward Mars in a decade or two?
Back on Earth many people clamor for you to get out while you can. The station is old, beyond its useful life. Problems have plagued it for some time now and we’ve learned enough. Who knows what will give out next. Jump!
But let us not abandon ship just yet. If we can not make repairs like this in orbit now, we have no business making plans to go to Mars. Our crew heading toward the red planet will not have the easy option of just firing a rocket and being back in friendly hands within a few hours. We must learn to deal with emergencies in space. They will happen.
In the case of the Mir space station, repairs had to be made while the crew remains, or the station would have been lost. Economic necessities force us to not throw something away just because it is broken. We are lucky to have learned some valuable lessons, even if we may not yet know exactly what they are. Future space travelers will thank us for our foresight.
"Clash of the Egos" September 1997
by Michelle Evans
Instead of flying through the galaxies, this month I want to discuss something more prosaic: the role of the space activist in reaching our goals and how personal egos can come to destroy what we have worked so hard to accomplish.
As a chapter of the National Space Society, we at OCSS deal with our headquarters in Washington, D.C. quite a bit. In particular we have worked extensively with the Executive Director, David Brandt. David has always been very helpful and supportive of our chapter and I believe he operates the same way with everyone within NSS. I know he is deeply committed to space and our future in it.
For those who are not yet aware, last month David was removed from his position by Robert Zubrin, the head of the NSS Executive Committee. His reasoning was that David was not completing the tasks given to him to perform, specifically with regards to a major space conference to be held this fall.
When I first heard of David’s ouster by Zubrin, I felt that something was terribly wrong. The memo put out by Dr. Zubrin did not ring true. It was apparent that he was not telling the whole story. When David’s version of events came out it started to make a lot more sense. The underlying problem appeared to be ego. A conference had been called for and funds were being gathered. This is a major event and requires major planning. Zubrin felt that David was stonewalling him and not getting anything done. In reality, it appears that David was, in fact, working very diligently to accomplish the task, but Zubrin was putting impossible burdens on David, mainly trying to ensure that Zubrin’s own agenda came before that of the National Space Society.
Unfortunately, this problem has reared its head many times in space activism. A good example is the group known as the Space Frontier Foundation. Many of the people within that organization originally came from NSS. They left and formed SFF because they felt that NSS wasn’t accomplishing enough. They have since been able to do quite a bit, especially on the political front. I believe there is definitely a place for this group out there.
What I don’t like is that some within SFF always look with disdain on NSS and other space activist groups, because we may not move as fast as they would want. Worse yet, they sometimes look at a group like NSS as a bunch of “space cases.” The thing that those in SFF fail to realize is that NSS is a large organization and moves differently than the much smaller SFF. We need them to do their work on Capitol Hill, but without the grass roots support generated by NSS, the political support they generate will quickly disappear beyond the event horizon of political reality.
Another excellent example of this problem strikes much closer to home. I recently worked for a company putting on what it called Space Expo. We travelled around the country with a large group of displays, simulators, videos, rovers, and even a portable planetarium. The goal was to get people excited about space. We showed them everything from historical artifacts to what the future might hold for them. It was an exciting opportunity for space activism.
Of course, like any business it had to show a profit or it couldn’t continue. I certainly supported that idea. What better way to help give space a boost than to show that something like this could actually make money. Then, when management decided it had to make too much profit at the expense of the idea and the people in the field supporting that idea, I knew it was time to get out. It was a rough time and an even rougher decision to leave, but when management must lie to its customers and even its employees to protect their own egos, then something is obviously wrong with the setup.
We all have our personal reasons for getting into space: to explore, to look for new life, to understand the universe, or just to get your kicks in zero-g. The reason is not important. The goal is. We must not let our egos get in the way of where we are trying to go or we will never get there.
We need robot explorers and human explorers. We need science in space and we need tourism. We need activities in low earth orbit and we need deep space probes. It’s time to chuck your egos out the airlock and do what we can to work together. What’s good for your goal will be good for someone else’s if we can all work together to open the frontier.
"I Fear for Morons" October 1997
by Michelle Evans
Let’s set our Wayback machine for the year 1989. It was then that I had the great pleasure to attend the launch of the Galileo spacecraft on board the space shuttle Atlantis. A couple years ago Galileo finally arrived in Jupiter space after a circuitous route through the inner and outer solar system.
Galileo dropped a probe deep into the turbulent Jovian atmosphere then settled into orbit where new discoveries are being made with each pass by one of the Galilean satellites. Europa with its planetary ocean, Io and its volcanoes, Callisto and Ganymede with their icy and rocky surfaces that might even support permanent bases sometime in the future.
If we back up in time even further from the launch of Galileo, we next set our sights on the Voyager missions from 1977. All went very well indeed for these two magnificent machines that opened the entire realm of the outer planets to our wandering eyes. Now they join the even earlier Pioneer spacecraft as our emissaries to the stars.
Quickly sliding forward in time, we see coming up this month the launch of Cassini. This has been described as the last of our large deep space probes for the foreseeable future. It will do for the ringed beauty of Saturn what Galileo has done for Jupiter: follow up the fast Voyager flybys with detailed and prolonged in situ analysis. Tagging along is the Huygens probe that will drop onto the surface of Titan, hopefully to give us a peek under the veil of smog that surrounds that giant moon.
This is all very exciting stuff. I haven’t heard many people complain about the wonders that all of these outer planet spacecraft have shown us. Unfortunately this is all after the fact. Before the fact, we have to worry about simply getting Cassini off the launch pad and on its way. Why is this such a worry? Because there is a growing sentiment to cancel the launch and keep Cassini on this world forever. What could cause this shortsightedness? A small part of the spacecraft called an RTG, or Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, is the cause. What is an RTG? Simply a nuclear power source to run Cassini once it is spaceborne.
Elementary math shows that every time you double the distance from the sun, you receive only one quarter of the power. By the time you reach Jupiter or Saturn solar panels would have to be acres across to run the instruments.
Nuclear fuel is the only option currently available. These nuclear sources have been used on many occasions, including the manned Apollo missions to the moon. They have been tested beyond the limits to insure that they are safe even during a horrible launch mishap. Nuclear material will not be a hazard even in the worst case scenario. The Lunar Module from Apollo 13 carried one such source and it plunged into the Earth’s atmosphere at 25,000 miles an hour, breaking up, burning up, then plunging into the Pacific Ocean. Not one extra rad of radiation has ever been detected.
Most of you reading this are probably aware of these things, but unfortunately not everyone is. Even some who are aware have chosen to dismiss the claims and to pronounce doom on millions of us if by some fatal flaw Cassini were never able to make it safely beyond Earth’s influence.
At that launch of Galileo, my wife and I personally ran into some of these fanatics trying to crash the launch pad to stop the shuttle. Even at our hotel we got to talking with one young women who insisted that Galileo would blow up and scatter its radiation on our heads. “I fear for Florida!” she bemoaned at the poolside where we were hastily trying to break away and return to the sanity of the real world.
This woman is now eight years older and has surely survived Galileo to see Cassini finally take to the sky. I wonder if her views have changed or if she still believes that we are all under a cloud of radioactive doom?
Yes, there is always a chance that something could go terribly wrong when Cassini leaves the pad. There is even an infinitesimal chance that Cassini might slam into the Earth on its return trip to gather speed before heading outward to Saturn. There is even a chance that the Sun could explode tomorrow and the entire universe could implode. There are chances about so many things that in the case of Cassini, all we can do is build it to the best of our ability and knowledge, and then to believe in ourselves to have done the job right.
An old saying states that “Life without chance is useless.” As a corollary, I believe it would also be very boring.
"Two Inches Closer to Space" November 1997
by Michelle Evans
How much are we willing to give to go into space? We each probably have a pretty good idea of what our answer might be to that question. But when it comes right down to it, do we really know until the time actually comes for us to ante up.
Think about it. We have our lives, our jobs, our families. If I walked up to you and said it was actually possible for you to go right now, would you do it? Could you do it?
Think about those who have already stepped beyond the earth. How many years of hard work and dedication did it take for them to reach their goal? Then, of course, you might have to think beyond that. What could possibly follow something as spectacular as floating weightless in Earth orbit? Walking on another planet? Seeing the rings of Saturn up close? What’s next?
Let’s get back to the basic question. When the Space Age began forty years ago what did it take? Well, for starters you had to be a dog or a monkey! Four years later a new group was allowed to go. These first “star voyagers” had backgrounds as macho test pilots that very few could equal. And except for a one-time stunt, if you were a woman you might as well hang up your spacesuit.
Now we have entered the age of supposedly routine travel beyond the atmosphere. To a certain extent this has happened. Instead of just a dozen or two people rocketing into space, we now have a couple of hundred who have accomplished that task. This group has now expanded to include both genders and nearly every race on this planet. But is it truly routine?
Routine brings to mind a bustling airport with passengers grabbing just about any convenient flight. Cargo being whisked anywhere at anytime. This is hardly the case with space travel yet. It still takes a long and expensive education. It takes becoming one of the best in whatever your chosen field happens to be. It also takes having a need for your specific expertise to go into space. No matter how smart you are there is still no guarantee of a ride.
We have talked about this problem of routine access to space in this column before. It has been a constant source of discussion at our meetings. Our e-mail files are full of rantings about what we have to do to go. How many of us have sat down for a nice quiet dinner and ended up in an hours-long debate on why we can’t go?
Sometime in the not too distant future there will come a time when our access to orbit will truly be possible. A new company has just started taking reservations (with a $5,000 down payment toward a $98,000 ticket) to give people a three hour tour into the blackness. At the top of your Mach 10 arc you’ll achieve weightlessness for a brief two or three minutes. We’ve heard of these type of excursions before and they have never reached fruition, but maybe this time will be it. (Anyone remember the Pan Am moonflights being sold in the 60s?) Keep your fingers crossed because if these short hop flights do become possible, complete circuits of the Earth will not be far behind. And once orbits are achieved, the rest of space is open to us.
For years we’ve been whining about not having the opportunity to go. Now we may be close to making it real. Are we ready to take those last steps? There must be a major base of support from the general public or passenger service of the type that will fit in most of our budgets will never happen. Education about the wonders that await can build that enthusiasm. That is what we are doing in OCSS. People in this chapter have made a difference, even if they can not yet see it, let alone reap the benefits of it. It is an ongoing effort. It can not stop short.
In a recent movie of the not too distant future, a man has dreams of reaching other planets all of his life. Society does not allow him to go because he doesn’t fit the profile of the type of person who should be smart enough to be useful in space. This is not enough to deter him and he must overcome a lifetime of barriers to fulfill his goal. In the end he must even take on the identity of someone else to make that final leap. His physical characteristics leave him two inches short of assuming the man’s identity which necessitates a painful operation to overcome that difficulty.
At first he is aghast at the idea of what must be done, but in the end he justifies it because, even if he loses the slot on the spaceship, he says to himself that “I will at least be two inches closer to space.” Obviously this person and this society are extreme cases, but ask yourself how much closer to space are we because of your actions?
"Frustrated Explorers" December 1997
by Michelle Evans
We are all explorers. We can’t help it. It is part of our genetic heritage. Without that innate need to push the boundaries our species would never have evolved sentience, let alone become a spacefaring civilization. Every one of us has this need to see beyond the next horizon; to know what is out there and ask the next question.
Nearly every generation has supported exploration into the unknown. If the obsession with seeing new things became too much to just sit home and wait for reports from the field, there was almost always some opportunity to take part yourself. This is what sets us apart from our ancestors. We no longer have that ability to just pick up and go see something new.
Certainly there are still things to be learned on this planet, but try and jump onto a ship of exploration leaving harbor with just the promise of new sights in exchange for a few years of grueling work. Today it takes much more than that and space is the ultimate example.
How many people reading this column would like to go to Mars and see Olympus Mons or Vallis Marineras firsthand? Do you feel the pull of wanting to see the rings of Saturn gliding below or to experience the quiet blackness of space from the farside of the moon? What about the new horizons that an entire new star system would afford?
These feelings of being a frustrated explorer in the space age is what has drawn us all together in the Orange County Space Society. We now have the ability to open up the final frontier to all of our imaginations, yet we must sit with our fingers locked beneath us, waiting and waiting to be able to participate at all. Luckily most of us have chosen to get off our hands and do what we can to speed up the process that will allow us all to see for ourselves the wonders of space.
This then brings me to what I want to say about the current state of our chapter and our membership.
During my tenure as president I have seen a major turnaround within OCSS. The monthly meetings were almost nonexistent, membership was apathetic and falling rapidly, and whatever activities were being accomplished were done simply because they had already been done before. Now our membership has doubled, the meetings and programs are exciting, and we are always looking for new ways to take space to the public.
I’d like to think that I had a part in this resurgence of OCSS, but if it was just me alone none of this would ever have been accomplished. We now have such a dynamic group of members that nothing can stop us. We all want to go into space and with all of us working together it will happen.
These last two years as your president has been a heck of a ride, but it is by no means over. The new year will open up new opportunities for us and with the new team of officers to lead the way the ride should get even more exciting.
I want to take this opportunity to personally congratulate and welcome our incoming leaders: President Mike Cutler, Secretary Jeff Howe, and Treasurer Judi Treble.
Mike has been a friend of mine for 15 years and his integrity is beyond reproach. The ideas our new president is bringing to our chapter are exciting and will ensure that we will move to the forefront of space education in Orange County. Jeff has been with us for a couple of years and his enthusiasm since joining is amazing. Look at the quality of the newsletter in your hand to see what kind of work our new secretary can do. Then there is Judi Treble, our treasurer. Just one year ago Cherie and I met her and her son Chris on a train to the Grand Canyon. None of us knew at that moment where we would be by this time, but she has stuck with us and proved to be a valuable addition to OCSS and also as a great friend.
Then there is our new Board members: John Smith and his daughter Margie. John has more excitement toward space than just about anyone I know and he has infected that excitement into the rest of his family. Margie has taken his example and will show us all how it is done in a few years. As our first teenage board member I can’t wait to see what she has in mind for OCSS.
James Porth and I are the only holdovers to the board from the last year. This alone shows how diversified and dedicated our current membership has become. I can’t thank everyone enough for the support I’ve received as your president and I’m looking forward with great anticipation to see where the future will lead us all. I have a gut feeling that our frustration as armchair explorers may soon be ending.