2006 Editorial Index
Jan 06 An Eye on Space
Feb 06 Reaching New Horizons
Mar 06 A Life to Remember
Apr 06 Water, Water, Everywhere
May 06 The Role of Exploration
Jun 06 Venturing Onward
July 06 Stephen Hawking and Our Future Settlement of Space
Aug 06 A Patriotic Success
Sep 06 The Inflationary Universe
Oct 06 Asteroid 134340
Nov 06 First Look at the Future
Dec 06 A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow
"An Eye on Space" January 2006
by Michelle Evans
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, has recently released the news that they have contracted with the State of New Mexico to construct the world’s first private spaceport. Plans are to be operational by around 2010 or 2011.
In some ways, this is a great disappointment to those of us in California who hoped that the Mojave Spaceport would get the contract and we would have a launch facility literally in our backyard.
But all is not lost. Virgin Galactic still plans to start launching their suborbital space tourism flights in 2008. Notice that the New Mexico spaceport cannot support those early flights. They have stated that Mojave will serve as the base for the first few years of operation, until New Mexico comes on line. So, at least for the short term, we will still be able to watch space tourism take off without having to travel too far. Later on, traveling to New Mexico should be a nice diversion. Now if we could just be going there to take a flight!
Why new Mexico? “New Mexico has worked hard to bring us to their exciting new spaceport facility,” stated Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic. “The State has several factors that make it an ideal operations base: climate, free airspace, low population density, high altitude, and stunning scenery. Our team was highly impressed by the professionalism and the competitive pitch the state and its advisors developed. We look forward to working together to make the ‘Final Frontier’ a reality for tens of thousands of pioneering space tourists. Our activities will prove the commercial viability and excellent safety technology behind private personal spaceflight and give birth to a new industry in New Mexico.”
The great news out of all this is that plans are definitely moving forward and the timetable seems firm (so far!). Unlike NASA programs that come and go, or get delayed for years or even decades, the impetus for profit in spaceflight will hopefully keep this project on track.
There is also excellent news from our friends in Canada that they are continuing to move forward with both their suborbital and orbital plans. Competition is great.
One of the other amazing things that came out during the Virgin Galactic announcement is that they released the fact that 33,000 people have registered applications for suborbital flights, along with receiving over $10 million in actual deposits toward those flights. Whoever said that no one would pay for the experience of going into space in large enough numbers to make it profitable? And this is for flights that will cost $200,000. Think of what will happen when the first round is completed and the price starts to drop.
The future is starting to look pretty amazing. SpaceShipTwo is deep in engineering development. I can’t wait for the roll out in the next few years. I’m sure many OCSS people will be joining me at that historic event.
Virgin Galactic also took this opportunity to reveal their new logo they believe truly shows the idea behind what they are trying to do. Designer Philippe Starck created this new identity for Virgin Galactic to reflect the vision of the project.
“The curiosity and adventure of the human spirit exists in the vision of a human eye, from today, through millions of years of evolution, right back to the beginning of mankind,” explained Starck. “The nebulous iris represents the infinite possibilities of this endeavour and signifies our opportunity to look back at Earth from space with our own eyes for the first time. The eye’s pupil incorporates an eclipse, the dawning of something new, something unique but accessible. Something far, but near.”
I find this an amazing logo, because it truly achieves the synthesis of the human mind and sight into our future in space. Without that, we have nothing.
"Reaching New Horizons" February 2006
by Michelle Evans
Back in the 1970s there was a mission on the drawing board called “The Grand Tour.” The idea behind this proposal was to build a pair of twin spacecraft that would explore all the planets in the outer solar system. As the name implied, it was a grand scheme, and unfortunately, like so many other ideas at NASA, it was scaled back because of budget limitations.
What emerged from the original concept were the two Voyager space-craft. Arguably a couple of the most successful explorers in human history. During their mission we discovered so much about Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, along with their retinue of moons, that we are still re-writing the astronomy textbooks.
When launched in 1977, the scaled-back mission called for each spacecraft to only explore Jupiter and Saturn. Funding for the long duration power supplies, and instruments that could last for 15 years and more, was curtailed so the guarantee was only for four years and two planets each.
As we all know, things turned out differently. The Voyager probes were a huge success and made it to four of the five planets originally envisioned for the Grand Tour program.
Two of those planets, Uranus and Neptune, were visited by Voyager 2. Voyager 1 only completed the first two planets as the flight plan originally envisioned. After leaving Saturn, Voyager 1 was then on a trajectory out of the solar system that would bypass any additional planets.
There was some talk that Voyager 1 might be able to complete the Grand Tour, making it all the way to Pluto. The plan would be that entry into the Saturnian system had to be at the right angle to get a slingshot from the ringed world that would hurtle it onward to Pluto. Of course, because of budget cuts, there was no guarantee it would be alive by the time it finally got there.
As it turns out, both Voyager spacecraft are still operating, nearly 30 years after launch! So much for something breaking after the warranty runs out.
So what happened to the plan to go to Pluto? Well, since the Grand Tour was officially cancelled, Pluto was no longer a priority target. Instead, a much higher priority was Saturn’s moon, Titan. Voyager 1’s flight path directed it to close in on Titan and send back images of the only known moon with a substantial atmosphere. One small problem, the moon’s atmosphere was opaque to the wavelengths for which Voyager’s camera was designed. All we got from that close flyby was a larger enigma about what really lay at the surface. So the targeting opportunity for Pluto was lost and Voyager 1 headed for interstellar space.
It took until the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan to finally unveil the cloud cover and show us the weird terrain beneath.
What of Pluto? Missions tried and tried again to get built and launched. Every single one was cancelled. Until now. Just an hour ago, as I write this, the New Horizons spacecraft launched aboard an Atlas 5 and successfully started a ten year voyage to not only Pluto, but to other objects in the Kuiper Belt at the edge of our solar system.
The launch was flawless, coming within the timeframe necessary to meet up with Jupiter for a gravity assist in February 2007. Waiting just another two weeks would have been within the allowable launch window, but the meeting with Jupiter would have been impossible and the journey to Pluto would have taken years longer than the current plan.
As it is, this option is thankfully off the table. New Horizons launched from Earth as planned and all is well so far on this three billion mile journey. It will still take nearly ten years to cross the void, but the outer solar system may final give up its primordial secrets.
Where will you be on July 14, 2015? Life will change, children grow, people retire, but our journey over the next new horizon is only beginning.
"A Life to Remember" March 2006
by Michelle Evans
He was a full-fledged member of “The Greatest Generation,” not to mention a long-time member of OCSS. He fought in World War II as a copilot on Gooney Birds (the C-47 Skytrain for those in the civilian world — a derivative of the commercial DC-3 Dakota transport). On D-Day, June 6, 1944, he flew two missions into enemy territory as the tow plane for a glider full of ground troops and then once again across the German-held coastline of France to deliver a plane-load of paratroopers behind the lines.
This was just a small part of the life of Tom Baker, my step-father. He passed away on February 20 at the age of 84.
Tom lived through those tumultuous years of the war in the Army Air Corps. I knew Tom for over 30 years, and he would often regale us with stories of those days. Each time, though, they were stories of humor, the funny things that happened. Not once do I recall him talking about the fear that he and his crewmates must have had to live with each time they flew a mission.
Can anyone not in that situation ever fully appreciate what these men and women endured? How would we react in those circumstances? Could we do what Tom did? Possibly, but not more. Could we survive and then be able to joke about it years later?
One of his favorite stories was about the only person ever to sustain injury on his plane. It was a muddy day in England when they attempted to lift the Gooney Bird off the soggy ground (not that it ever rains in England!). They bounced along for a long time, trying to extricate themselves from the ooze that had become their runway. The ride smoothed out and it appeared they had been successful. Tom brought up the landing gear, but the mud still clung to them, pulling their plane back to the sodden earth.
The mud was so thick the C-47 just plowed into the ground like molasses, the gear disappearing into the crud, then the fuselage getting caught with the nose coming to an immediate stop, thus forcing the rear of the plane to try to flip over forward. The mud was deep and the nose wouldn’t budge, so the plane ended up like a spike stuck in the ground, tail high in the air! Everyone on the plane was fine except for a passenger in the far rear who fell forward, slamming through bulkhead hatches that crashed shut in front of his interior flight. The man came to rest between Tom and the plane’s pilot, with only a few cuts and bruises to show for it. No one else in the crew had a scratch!
Almost hard to believe if Tom didn’t then pull out a photo to show his plane in exactly that ignominious position.
Tom loved to fly. In another life, maybe he would have become an astronaut. He always denied he would, but I’ll bet you that deep down he might have done it.
Ad astra, Tom.
"Water, Water, Everywhere" April 2006
by Michelle Evans
Titan, Europa, Enceladus, oh my!
Once thought to be the domain of just dead ice and rock, the moons of the outer solar system are becoming a lot more lively. It seems that every-where we go we are finding water. This is not frozen solid, but liquid in the form of underground oceans and geysers spewing forth into the celestial night sky.
When the idea was first proposed by scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, after the Voyager flybys of the Jupiter system a quarter century ago, it seemed like the realm of science fiction. In fact, it became just that when Arthur C. Clarke used the notion of an ocean under the ice of Europa as the basis not only for his sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, (2010: Odyssey Two), but as the setting for the climax for his Venus Prime series that he created with Paul Preuss.
One of the primary mission objectives of Galileo in the 1990s was to hunt for evidence of this Europan ocean. Galileo not only found what it was looking for, but also possible evidence that several other large Jovian moons, such as Ganymede, may also possess these unique planetary seas.
These oceans, and possible breeding grounds for extraterrestrial life, won’t be easy to get to; we won’t be able to just send our robotic emissaries to stick their metallic toes into the surf. These oceans could be miles below the frozen outer surface, requiring drilling and really good cell service to call home with their findings.
A bit closer to home, there is some evidence that even in the rarified atmosphere of Mars, where it has always been believed liquid water could not exist, there is evidence of possibly vast underground deposits. These may even be close enough to the surface that leaks occur now and again, as shown in Mars Global Surveyor images of rivulets running down the side of steep canyon walls. There are other possible explanations for this phenomenon, but liquid water is on top of that tantalizing list.
Our own Moon may have vast reservoirs of water, but these would be frozen in the polar regions where there is perpetual dark. Not as easy to extract as liquid water, but having it frozen on the surface could still make the idea of a permanent self-sustaining lunar colony a truly viable idea.
Now let’s turn our eyes back to the outer solar system. Cassini is deep into its mission to explore the ringed giant, Saturn. Besides delving into the mysteries of the planet and its rings, a primary target has been Titan. With the aid of the European-built lander Huygens, they now feel there may be water present here, too.
However, in the tradition of all good science, the most interesting discoveries are always the ones least expected. In this case the scientists looked at some anomalies in the temperatures at the moon Enceladus. They found that the polar region was actually warmer than at the equator! Not what you would normally expect, to be sure.
Looking further, an experiment was run where they decided to shoot photos of the south pole being back-lit from the Sun. The images returned were startling, with huge geysers of water shooting into the void of space. Even on supposedly wet Europa, this type of activity has never been seen.
So water, once thought to be hard to come by off the Earth, has now been found to be a lot more prevalent than we believed. This makes our dream of settling the solar system a much easier proposition. If water is already present where we travel, we don’t have to take it all with us. Suddenly our celestial neighborhood got a lot more friendly and inviting.
"The Role of Exploration" May 2006
by Michelle Evans
Editor’s Note: This month I want to pass along some comments made by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin at the recent National Space Symposium.
* * * * *
When I became NASA’s Administrator a year ago, I had several goals that I wanted to accomplish by the end of my term of service. Thanks to the hard work and technical excellence demonstrated by [NASA and the aerospace industry], we are well on the way to meeting these objectives.
We’ve established an architecture for lunar return. We have a solid plan for completing ISS. We’ve received proposals from contractors in response to our request for proposals for the new Crew Exploration Vehicle. And with such achievements as Cassini’s discovery of icy geysers on Enceladus, the successful orbital insertion of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the launch of our 13th expeditionary crew to the ISS, 2006 is shaping up to be an eventful year. Why are we doing all this? How does space exploration serve the nation’s essential interests?
I believe the benefits to be derived from [our] program will extend well beyond our current imagination; that the benefits of exploration are an emergent property of our inquisitive human behavior.
We can study the great explorations of the past, and can conclude that such ventures did benefit the societies which sponsored them. But no society can reasonably predict that a given venture will prove to be worth its cost.
Sponsorship of such a quest is always an act of faith, not an act of science. In this regard I enjoy recalling that, as expressed in his instructions to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, President Jefferson’s primary goals for that venture concerned the expedition’s diplomatic mission to the Indian nations, the establishment of the United States as the sovereign power in the region, and the enhancement of the fur trade. Particularly important to the latter was the effort to find a route between the headwaters of the eastward-flowing Missouri River and the westward-flowing Columbia, thus (it was hoped) enabling a water-borne route for the fur trade between the east and west coasts. Who, today, believes that these purposes constitute the most significant results to have come from the Lewis and Clark expedition? I believe that the exploration and exploitation of the solar system will bring about similar unforeseen benefits to America’s scientific, economic, and national security interests.
The Vision for Space Exploration re-establishes NASA as an exploration driven, science enabling agency. I have been frustrated for a very long time by the way that we in the larger space community have treated two of our major disciplines, science and human spaceflight. We act as if they were two circles that never intersect.
We’ve learned from history that when cultures interact, sometimes one destroys the other. But many examples are to be found in which such interactions serve to enrich each culture. The latter example should be our model. Human spaceflight and space science at NASA should be thought of as intersecting circles. There will always be science at NASA that is unrelated to exploration. And the nation will always have certain objectives for human spaceflight that are unrelated to science. Yet there is a large area of potential overlap between these “two cultures”, and we’ve not been very [successful] in taking advantage of that synergy.
It is useful to recall that one of the greatest science-enabling endeavors of all time, the voyage 175 years ago of HMS Beagle, was in reality an exploration mission to chart the coast of South America. The 22-year-old amateur naturalist Charles Darwin was recruited as a passenger for the voyage at the last moment, mainly to provide company for Beagle’s aloof and moody captain. I hope and believe that we’ve learned since then to include scientists as integral members of such ventures, not as an after-thought. Yet it has been obvious to me, and I am sure to others, that many in the space science community consider a renewal of manned exploration beyond Earth orbit to be a threat to science. I view it as a huge opportunity for science.
"Venturing Onward" June 2006
by Michelle Evans
So much universe, so many places to go. If you could go anywhere or do anything at all, where would you go or what would you do? Remember, I’m not
talking about just your home town, home state, home country, or even home planet. The whole universe is open to you.
Okay, so it might not be that easy. Yet. Someday it might, but that day is a long way off. Of course we are all working toward making that day a reality. Heck, the human race has been working toward that goal since the first time two neurons started to connect the dots and homo sapiens became home sapiens.
Day dreaming is a good start. Without the dream, there is no reality. Without Jules Verne, there would have been no H.G. Wells, and so on. The dreamers all have their heads in the clouds, or even further out in space. They are there to lead the way for the , t. The engineers and others needed to make those ideas a reality. In most cases, there is a significant lag time between the dream and reality, but the lineage has to start somewhere.
So many people think that if we can’t have it right now—today, tomorrow, or next week at the latest—what’s the point. Those of us in OCSS know better. We understand innately that we have to take our time to create the future that we want. We are willing to do this even though there is a good chance we may not even be around to see the outcome ourselves.
On a personal level, the human species wants to procreate. We want a next generation to carry forward with what we have built for them. We step onto the shoulders of giants and peer over the hedge to the next horizon in wonder and awe.
What a legacy to leave for humanity, to actually move the species as a whole forward—we don’t all have to be rocket scientists to do that. Sometimes all we need to be is human.
In other words, we have to act like real live human beings, ones who understand what it is like to be good and decent and just. Ones who know that even if they are unable to benefit from the fruits of their own labors, that others in generations to come will get that benefit.
Fire, the wheel, ox carts, sailing ships, steam engines, internal combustion, nuclear power, rocket propulsion, warp drive—all have built on those that came before.
Nothing is too outlandish to contemplate. Science is there to be discovered and used. If something doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean it won’t work, just that we haven’t discovered the right way to go about it yet. Life and invention are an ongoing process that will only die when the universe does. Hopefully, that day is a long, long way away (can anyone even think in the terms of trillions of years?!)
Of course, humanity may not be here quite that long, but then that may be our conscious choice. Either we will move forward or stagnate and die off, to be replaced by someone better that continues to see and shape the future.
I’d love to know that some millennium down the road, humanity will still be plugging away. I hope we are not a dead end with no real vision. Has there ever been anything else quite like us in this universe? Anyone or anything else that could even formulate the questions that must be asked for us to lift ourselves from the mud and the murk?
Actually, there may be many more species out there amongst the stars who also ask these questions and dream these dreams. Of course there is only one way to find out for sure—we must get out there and find out for ourselves. Sitting on our hands or expecting others to do all the dirty work, will get all of us nowhere fast.
So don’t just sit there, start to dream again. Dream any dream you want. Look at the universe in the night sky and wonder what and who is out there. Don’t hold back because you think you can’t make a difference. You do make a difference with every thought you have.
Even when things are not going exactly as we want them, it is still time to dream. Without dreams we are nothing. Without dreams we will leave nothing behind for others to venture onward into the universe.
"Stephen Hawking and Our Future Settlement of Space" July 2006
by Michelle Evans
Most of us feel lucky to get out of bed each morning. There’s always the little aches and pains that bother us and the thought of getting that one extra hour of sleep that never happens. But we get up just the same and face the day anew. Whatever problems we think we have are nothing compared to someone who suffers from some major debilitating disease that robs us of our very lives.
A perfect example of this would be the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. It is a neurological disorder that, as explained by the encyclopedia, “is a progressive wasting away of certain nerve cells of the brain and spinal column called motor neurons. The motor neurons control the voluntary muscles, which are the muscles that allow movement. ALS is a progressive, disabling, usually fatal disease. Walking, speaking, eating, swallowing, breathing, and other basic functions become more difficult with time.”
Can any one of us even imagine what having something like ALS would do to our psyche? Once the disease was fully onset, we would probably resign ourselves to a life wasting away until the end finally took us.
Then there are people like Stephen Hawking. Arguably one of the most agile minds in science since Einstein, he came down with this disease at an early age and yet has fought it and conquered it to the extent that his mind is still sharp and able to make fundamental discoveries about our universe that we mere mortals could never imagine.
Recently, Hawking turned his thoughts away from the theoretical universe of black holes, superstring theory, and quantum mechanics, to give us his insight about the future of the human race in space exploration.
“It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species,” Hawking told a Hong Kong audience. “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers we have not yet thought of.
“We won't find anywhere as nice as Earth unless we go to another star system,” Hawking explained.
His ideas that we must find places to settle away from our home planet may seem familiar to members of OCSS, however, this is not the case with most other people around the globe. It is a wonderful thing to see when someone of his stature and renown can get human beings pumped up about our future reality, versus just talking about the theoretical universe.
His comments stated that the very survival of our species rests on our ability to move outward and find new places to call home besides Earth. We understand that intrinsically, but we are definitely in the minority. Even within the scientific community, is is amazing to see how Hawking’s statements can be dismissed.
Joshua Winn, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said of Hawking: “[his] work has been highly theoretical physics, not in astrophysics or global politics or anything like that. He is certainly stepping outside his research domain.”
Winn went on to add, “The prospect of colonizing other planets is very far off, you must realize.”
I think it is a sad statement that scientists would try to limit what others of better minds might have to say that could affect the entire human population. Is it irresponsible to discuss these things now as some have suggested, or to embrace the ideas of someone such as Hawking on a global scale to understand where we should point our resources?
Hawking believes we should focus on a permanent base on the Moon within 20 years and Mars in 40 years. These would be just stepping stones to understanding how we would live off-planet as a species forever, eventually leaving our solar system and settling in other star systems.
But first we have to at least talk about it. Then, he believes, if we learn to survive without killing ourselves for the next century or so, we should have the colonies in place to move outward without further help from Earth.
Seems like a great goal to me.
"A Patriotic Success" August 2006
by Michelle Evans
“I can’t think of a place I would rather be on the 4th of July. We’re looking forward to getting all the people out there up close and personal with the rockets red glare.”
Steven Lindsey, Commander, STS-121, Space Shuttle Discovery
* * * * *
These words were spoken just minutes prior to liftoff of Discovery on the second Return to Flight mission following the Columbia accident. This occurred at 14:38 EDT on July 4, 2006.
For the first time ever in the American space program, a human space launch was set to liftoff the pad on the nation’s birthday. The launch window had opened several days earlier on July 1, however bad weather forced a scrub two days in a row. After two attempts, mission rules dictate a 48-hour turnaround before trying again. In this case, that happened to put the launch smack dab in the middle of America’s 230th birthday!
There are those that believe it was not happenstance, but careful planning by NASA that led to this fortuitous timing. I think it was pure luck of the draw in that NASA would not willingly hold a shuttle on the pad if everything was ready to fly, the weather was good, and the window was open. Not to mention that they had no guarantee that the weather would be any more acceptable on July 4th than it had been on the 1st or 2nd.
The point is that NASA simply did their jobs right and this ended up giving us a great national fireworks display that will be remembered for a long, long time.
There were similar comments on January 28, 1986. That was the day we lost the Challenger just 73 seconds after liftoff with all hands aboard. That also happened to be the day that President Reagan was scheduled to give his State of the Union Address to the American people. Rumors persist to this day that he wanted to not only acknowledge the first Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe, during his address, but to possibly even have a live broadcast from Challenger by Christa during the telecast of his speech. If correct, it would have provided great political advantage to Reagan.
Even if Reagan had not made the request himself, there is the possibility NASA wanted the launch to occur that day for their own political reasons, and thus the managers overrode the engineers’ decision to launch in cold weather. With that horrible history behind a possible decision to launch on a specific day for other than technical reasons, I cannot believe anyone at NASA made any attempt to get Discovery off Pad 39-B at anything other than the optimum time.
The fact that it occurred on our nation’s birthday, a day associated with “rocket’s red glare,” is simply serendipitous and will serve as a memory for the future about what happens when hard work and technical competence pay off at just the right moment.
Godspeed to the crew of STS-121.
"The Inflationary Universe" September 2006
by Michelle Evans
Scientists have been discussing a controversial model of the universe’s early evolution which involves a process called Inflation. In this theory, the universe underwent a rapid expansion in order to become what we see around us today.
This inflationary model can now be expanded to include the burgeoning private space tourism industry.
Burt Rutan, of Scaled Composites, and Richard Branson, of Virgin Galactic, have teamed up to create a rocketship to take tourists beyond our atmosphere starting as early as 2008. These will be suborbital hops, but are nonetheless a positive beginning to building privately-funded spacecraft. Several tourists have already taken to orbital space, but only using Russian-built boosters to get to the International Space Station.
We have talked about Burt and his dreams many times in the pages of O.C.Space. His actual results in building hardware to take non-government astronauts into space is well worth the coverage. Talking about things other than rockets is usually not as sexy. Rockets can be big and loud, and definitely a draw to your attention. Anyone who has attended a real space launch such as the Space Shuttle or the X Prize flights can certainly attest to that!
However, the question for space tourist entrepreneurs must be that getting into space is all fine and good, but once we get there, where will we go? In the answer of Virgin Galactic, the space tourist will go nowhere except right back down to Earth. If you want to stay in space, you have to orbit the planet, and that takes a lot more energy and resources, so still remains a dream.
A large part of that dream came a huge step closer to reality recently with Bigelow Aerospace’s launch of Genesis-1. Robert Bigelow made his millions founding a hotel chain called Budget Suites of America. He is now taking that expertise with accommodations into orbit by designing that destination the rocket makers must have for space tourism to truly become the multi-billion dollar industry we all know it will eventually achieve. His goal is to build an orbital hotel, consisting of inflatable modules, by possibly as early at 2010.
Genesis-1 was launched aboard a Russian Dnepr rocket on July 17. This is a spacecraft designed to test the idea of a long-term inflated module that will maintain its integrity and pressure. As of this writing, Genesis-1 has achieved six weeks of perfection in orbit, pointing the way to the future.
No tourists are aboard this test module, but there are many artifacts placed there by employees, including toys, photographs, and many other objects that are simply floating through the module, having a great time, just like any tourist would.
The age of the inflationary universe of space tourism has now dawned. Hopefully, it will prove that rapid expansion will become the norm, and we all may yet have the chance to experience the wonders of space travel first hand within our lifetimes. Thanks to Bob Bigelow and his expanded sense of humanity.
"Asteroid 134340" October 2006
by Michelle Evans
Doesn’t seem like a lot after so much controversy over so many years, but Pluto has finally officially been relegated to a new status as a dwarf planet. Officially, it has now been assigned a number as an asteroid.
Scientists and astronomers have fought hard on both sides of the issue of Pluto’s planethood for over 3/4 of a century, since it was first discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930.
Clyde spent many cold and lonely nights taking long exposure photographs at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Then he completed his meticulous work by comparatively blinking identical star field shots, taken on different days, to discover one small fleck of light that moved against the background stars. Pluto had been found.
It’s discovery was a fluke, since Tombaugh’s search was instigated by scientists that theorized a ninth planet would be found in the outer solar system because of irregularities in the orbital predictions for Uranus and Neptune. In the end, the math was found to be off, and the predictions for these orbits were correct, no longer requiring an unseen gravitational boost from beyond.
Even at the beginning, no one thought Pluto was responsible anyway since it was extremely small—smaller still once it was found that part of its mass was actually a moon, Charon.
Debate raged at the time of discovery on if Pluto was a planet or not, but in the end it gained enough in the minds of everyone to achieve the status by decree. Of course, that didn’t stop the controversy which raged until this past month, and Pluto’s final demotion to asteroid.
Many of us will always view Pluto as a planet. We grew up “knowing” it was a planet. Hard to just chuck that out the window because some eggheaded scientists say otherwise. I have always sided with Pluto’s planetary status myself, but have to admit that, under the circumstances, this is probably the best move. Our knowledge of the solar system is expanding way beyond what we knew 76 years ago, and we must adapt our reality to that of the rest of the universe. So if Pluto just doesn’t fit the status previously accorded to it, we will have to learn to adjust—somehow.
We also have to get used to the loss of Xena and Gabrielle. Officially know as just 2003 UB313 and its moon, from the beginning these nicknames caught the imagination. Now the nicknames are gone, to be replaced by the real official names of Eris and Dysnomia. Since the mythological Eris originally sparked the Trojan War, I guess it sort of fits with the heated modern controversy.
Of course just because the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of its planetary status, and then the Minor Planet Center assigned number 134340, doesn’t mean we will ever think less of our dark and immensely distant Kuiper Belt object. In fact, this opens a whole new realm for us, and our emissary is already on its way.
If Pluto had been demoted before the current spacecraft was financed, built, and launched, is it possible the lobbying effort to get there would not have been so successful? Now we already have a spacecraft on its way to view the very first of a whole new class of objects in our outer solar system. As the last of the original nine planets yet to be explored, we got off our butts and did something about it, and now we get to start afresh with the first close-up look at a Kuiper Belt object.
Pluto, you’ve been there for us as a planet, an asteroid, or whatever else we might require, and not complained one bit. We couldn’t have done it without you. See you in eight years!
"First Look at the Future" November 2006
by Michelle Evans
For so many years, whenever there was talk of space tourism, it was always preceded by a smile or even a laugh. Everyone knew that something as far out as paying for a ride into space, taking a vacation in Earth orbit, even traveling to the Moon, were nothing but flights of fancy.
Of course, this was not the initial reaction once the Apollo program was underway. In the mid- to late-1960s, most people assumed that space tourism would not be that far down the road. It was a logical extension of the Moon landing program that soon anyone who wanted to go would be able to do so, just like buying an airline ticket to exotic locales.
Then Apollo went into extinction, along with most of the hopes and dreams of the average person who were riding the coattails of Kennedy’s vision into space. Once Apollo 17 splashed down, no one ever envisioned that we would have to wait nearly 50 years for the next bootprint to be left on the lunar surface, let alone that no one would even be on the horizon for setting foot on Mars.
Over the ensuing several decades, it appeared that the dream of spaceflight for you and me was getting farther and farther away, not closer. But dogged attempts by many have kept the vision alive, and with enough people pulling for it, space tourism was bound to appear once again. Of course, the current vision is of millionaires and their wives taking trips into space, cameras in hand. However, it is those people that will create the next generation market to appear for those less wealthy.
We have already started to see this happen. SpaceShipOne opened the frontier of space tourism for sub-orbital space. No one would ever ride this test rocket past Earth’s atmosphere, but it proved the concept, and also showed the enthusiasm and market for the second generation.
Along comes Sir Richard Branson, working directly with Scaled Composites and Burt Rutan, to create the first true spacecraft built for the sole purpose of tourism, SpaceShipTwo.
If it were just about anyone else, we would have thought that Branson’s pie-in-the-sky idea of paying customers for spaceflight would die just like so many others, but Sir Richard is different. He actually makes things happen, and SpaceShipTwo is no exception.
Designs and engineering are fairly advanced now, and recently, Virgin Galactic Spaceways opened the doors to show us all what awaits us. Included here are a couple photos showing the unveiling ceremony for the interior of SpaceShipTwo. As you can see by the full-scale model of SpaceShipOne hanging behind Branson, SS2 is going to be a lot larger than the prototype that flew to space in 2004. Included are lots of large windows and reclining seats, so once in weightlessness the passengers will have free rein to explore their new three-dimensional territory, as well as to fix their gaze on their home planet, so recently left behind.
SS2 will not get tourists to orbit, and it will not be cheap, but this is the first real step on that road, soon to be paved to orbiting facilities like Bigelow’s space hotel. Onward and upward!
"A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" December 2006
by Michelle Evans
Recently, my wife and I went to Disneyland. Not an uncommon occurrence for many people, especially when you happen to live just a few miles away from “The Happiest Place on Earth.” However, for us this was the first time in over two decades we had gone there to have a good time.
Disneyland opened its gates to the public just 20 days before I entered this world, so as a kid growing up in Southern California, my adolescence was heavily intertwined with going to the park several times each year, checking out the new rides and innovations that opened all the time in those early days.
I would have to say that part of my outlook for the future was formed by Disneyland. To me, the coolest place on the planet was Tomorrowland. There was a flight to the Moon, a house of the future, rocket jets and flying saucers, a carousel of progress, and even an adventure through inner space!
The operative words throughout much of Tomorrowland were that the future was going to be great and that that greatness would come about through understanding and using science for the betterment of all humankind. After all, we were on our way to the Moon with Apollo, and Disney was right there, saying that someday soon we would all be able to go there ourselves. Any kid would be an idiot to not jump on that bandwagon and understand that the future would become the ultimate E-ticket ride.
All that has changed in the decades since Walt passed away, leaving corporate minds in his stead.
Walt Disney understood that you could entertain and educate at the same time, and this was built into everything you did in Tomorrowland. Today, the Disney Corporation thinks the public is too dumb to understand science and must be given the lowest common denominator of thrills.
The two best examples are the Carousel of Progress and the Adventure Through Inner Space.
In the first you rode around inside a giant spinning building that showed you how progress had changed our lives for the better and where we might be headed in the future. At the end of the ride, you exited past a beautiful City of Tomorrow. This was the type of place where personal jetpacks and tourist rides to the Moon would not be uncommon. What a vision for a young child.
In the second, Monsanto sponsored a ride through the Mighty Microscope. You were shrunk down like the crew of the Proteus in Fantastic Voyage, so you could see the inner workings of the universe at a molecular, and even atomic level, while traveling through a frozen snowflake. At the end, the snowflake started to melt (maybe from global warming) and your guide wasn’t sure if you could make it back to the macro world or not. I’ll never forget the moment the little car entered into the atom itself and flipped about to see the beating heart at the nucleus.
There used to be huge lines for these things and still could be today with updated versions of rides that actually incorporate science. They don’t have to be the same because science changes all the time, but are we all so dumb as to never expect more? I miss those days of science and fun. Disneyland is still great, but it has certainly lost some of the magic that made it that way in the first place.
Let me leave you with the words from the music played for millions of people who visited, and were inspired by, those two attractions over the years.
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Adventure Through Inner Space
Miracles from molecules surround us everywhere. There are miracles from molecules in the earth, the sea, the air. Now men with dreams are furthering what nature first began, making modern miracles from molecules for man. Every atom is a world—an infinity unfurled—the world of inner space without an end. The world of mystery—of endless energy—with treasures more than man can ever stand. Miracles from molecules are dawning every day —discoveries for happiness—a fabulous array. A never-ending search is on by men who dare and plan, making modern miracles from molecules for man.
Carousel of Progress
There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day. There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, and tomorrow’s just a dream away. Man has a dream, and that’s the start. He follows that dream with mind and heart. and when that dream becomes a reality, it’s a dream come true for you and me. So there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day. There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, just a dream away.