Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

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Travel by asteroid

November 15, 2012

David Hardy painting of an asteroid-based spaceship

For a long time scientists and science fiction writers have postulated using an asteroid as either an orbital base or a non-FTL starship. Books like Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow use spacefaring asteroid ships because it appears to be a monumental problem to lift enough material out of Earth’s gravity well to build a starship from scratch. John Ringo’s Troy Rising series uses an asteroid, melted and inflated, as a fortress to defend Earth from aliens entering through a hyperspace gate.

SPOILER AHEAD! In fact, Ringo goes farther and, using an Orion-style nuclear bomb drive, turns his fortress into a mobile battle platform, taking it through the gate and to the battle.

I just finished Dr. Travis Taylor’s new book, A New American Space Plan, and I was struck by something that I never really considered much before. Maybe we can get to Mars using current, or near-future technology. NASA is now setting its sights on a mission to a Near-Earth Asteroid. (Or it was last I looked. NASA plans change every day.) Beyond that – let’s say we want to go to Jupiter – it’s going to be orders of magnitude more difficult. When the AE-35 antenna pointing unit failed in “2001” – OK, Hal did it, but still – they happened to have the parts or whatever to fix it. They didn’t have to, but were prepared to.

So let’s say we’ve got a Discovery-class ship, three crew in suspended animation, two minding the store on the Long Trip Out. Something breaks, or the classic Dramatic Meteor Impact happens and breaks something – something that is not available on the ship. We’re basically screwed. Don’t tell me 3D printing technology will save us. It won’t build a microchip for a really, really, long time. And a whole antenna, say 20 feet in diameter? Probably not. We don’t have Ringo’s fabbers, and if we have to wait for those, we won’t go to Jupiter for a long while.

We could do it by what Robert Zubrin, author of the “Mars Direct” concepts, derisively called the “Battlestar Galactica” approach: a gigantic fleet of ships, traveling together for mutual aid and protection. But if lifting one ship’s parts out of the gravity well is hard, lifting 20 is a lot harder.

So let’s see…maybe we can grab a Near-Earth Asteroid, bolt a bunch of stuff on it, drill it out or blow it out with nukes, and build a habitat inside. Maybe not for hundreds of people – let’s say, 50 or so. That’s a lot of lifting but not as much as the other alternatives. Ion drive, solar sail, Orion or Orion-derived nuclear pulse drive – any of them would probably work. It would just take a while to go someplace.

Look at it as if you are driving your motor home cross country and have to take your machine shop along because nobody stocks parts for your vehicle. The bigger the vehicle, and the more people, the more likely it is you can fabricate what you need. And most of the mass is nickel-iron asteroid, which is also providing a lot of radiation shielding. Instead of thinking of a trip to Jupiter as taking a few years, maybe you’ll take decades. Running a closed environmental system like that isn’t easy, but it’s easier than a lot of the alternatives. Eventually we’ll have some better drives, and we can get around the system faster.

Has anyone ever calculated how much toilet paper is needed for a five-year trip?

I don’t see this happening in the next 10 years, but it could be done a lot sooner than most every other idea I’ve heard for deep space interplanetary travel as long as we lack a superdrive. Those are based mostly on magic and good intentions right now.

Once we know how to do that, we can build bigger ones and send people to the stars. By then we should have a pretty good idea which ones have planets we could live on.

I wasn’t a fan of the NASA asteroid mission scenario until now. Now I hope we can get there. We won’t just be learning how the solar system is put together, but how to build a better spaceship.

A pity, though. I kind of like the Blake’s 7 Liberator as a spaceship design. Of course, it was built by aliens…

Blake’s 7 “Liberator” – lots cooler than flying a hunk of rock!

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Fox News and Libya

October 29, 2012

I just did a piece on Fox News being the only news outlet to really cover what happened in Benghazi over on Keep Americans Free! I invite you to check it out.

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The Apollo 11 lunar landing, in real time

August 27, 2012

Buzz Aldrin on the ladder

Paolo Attivissimo and a team of volunteers have taken the imagery from the 16mm film camera attached at the window of the lunar module Eagle, merged it with CGI of the LM’s orientation and intercuts of the Mission Control team, and synchronized the whole works so to show the last 16 minutes of Eagle’s descent, with all the radio exchanges by the crew and mission control, occurring in real time. They also subtitled it because some of the transmissions were not very clear.

Then went on to do the same with all the work on the surface, digitally restoring the camera work. The whole documentary may be found at moonscape.info and is broken into parts that are streamable through vimeo in 720p. It is stunning work.

The landing, which is all I have had a chance to watch all the way through, is a nail-biter even though you know they land successfully. From exchanges with Mission Control and Mike Collins in orbit about antenna problems to inquiries about warning lights, there is a drama here I never expected. Through it all Armstrong and Aldrin are amazing, as are the Mission Control folks. Steely-eyed missile men, indeed!

Through the window camera you can plainly see the craters Armstrong had to avoid in the last seconds before landing. It is pretty well-known that he landed almost bingo fuel, but he calmly maneuvered the LM around obstacles and put it down gently among the craters. Since all we had at the time was a very limited amount of data from the Surveyor unmanned probes, we didn’t even know if the surface would hold the Eagle. They could have landed in several feet of lunar dust…there were so many unknowns!

Whenever we go back to the Moon, we will of course have far more advanced communications links and automated landing systems. No one need ever land on the Moon manually again…but Neil Armstrong did it, with Buzz Aldrin handling most of the communications chores as well as a host of other things necessary by the state of the art of the time. Truly a triumph not just of American techology, but of Americans.

It has taken Mr. Attivissimo, an Italian, to remind us of this. Thank you sir, and thank you to all who assisted you!

This is the perfect time to watch this. And please, donate if you can.

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Your argument is invalid!

August 8, 2012

I think it should be “Edinburgh” Castle, but you get it…

 

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Happy Moon Day!

July 20, 2012

I almost forgot! Here’s some of the restored video of the Apollo 11 flight that put Neil and Buzz on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

I watched Armstrong’s first steps on a little black and white TV (not that it mattered), outside, at Farragut State Park in northern Idaho. I was a participant in the Boy Scout Jamboree that week. The whole thing was kind of surreal, somehow…knowing I was far from home, but these guys were…as alone as you could be. No, Mike Collins, in orbit, was as alone as could be. There has been a lot of talk about the close thing the landing actually was, before the LEM ran out of fuel, but what was it like to be in orbit in Columbia?

At the time I thought we were living in the future. Looking back, I am amazed at what was accomplished without all the high-tech enhancements we have today. Mini mp3 players have more computing power today than Apollo had!

Here’s to you, Neil, Buzz and Mike; and to everyone who was a part of that national dream given form.

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First Orion arrives at KSC

July 2, 2012

Last Thursday, when you were either deifying or damning Chief Justice John “The Dread Pirate” Roberts, Lockheed-Martin delivered the first flyable Orion to the Kennedy Space Center.

No, it’s not this Orion:

Fantastic Plastic’s kit of the Orion Nuclear-Powered Battleship, patterned by Scott Lowther (Up-Ship.com) and built by Allen Ury (see note below)

And it’s certainly not this Orion:

The original Robert McCall art for the posters for “2001: A Space Odyssey”

No, it’s this one:

Yeah. Kind of anticlimactic, isn’t it?

Of course, it’s not done. The plan at the moment is to launch it a year or so from now on a Delta, do two elliptical orbits to an apogee of 3600 miles, then drive it back into the atmosphere at about 20,000 mph to simulate the stress an Orion would take coming straight back from the Moon, Apollo-style. It would be unmanned. Then a year or two later the next one would be launched on the planned heavy lifter to do an Apollo 8-style circumlunar trip (I don’t know about lunar orbit, maybe more like Apollo 13, just swingin’ around and a free return) as an unmanned vehicle as well. Then finally, a year or so later, launch one with people on a lunar mission. That should make it about 2019 or so, I reckon, allowing for Congress to screw up the budget a couple more times.

Of course, when they get there they will have to decide if they are going to land near the Chinese colony or the privately-owned SpaceX lunar base.

Credits: Robert McCall, dean of the space artists; Fantastic Plastic; and Scott Lowther.

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Jake Tapper has seen Aaron Sorkin’s new show, and he didn’t like it…

June 22, 2012

Jake Tapper is the ABC News Senior White House Correspondent. He has been one of the few in the While House press corps to ask serious questions instead of sucking up to the press secretary as he spoons out the disinformation week after week. So, I have more than a little respect for him.

I have a weird love-hate relationship with Aaron Sorkin’s work. I’ve not seen his Facebook movie, but I watched all of “The West Wing” and “Sports Night” and even the few episodes of “Studio 60” that made it to air. I liked “A Few Good Men” and I liked a lot about “An American President,” even if I didn’t like the politics (and as I got older the whole plot about the President’s girlfriend sleeping over at the White House made me more uncomfortable).

I felt Sorkin’s handling of liberal and conservative sides of issues in “The West Wing” was more even-handed than I ever expected. Sometimes he actually wrote something that got me to think. And his writing style was captivating. Not so much the walk-and-talk dialogs that became his trademark, but the rapid-fire exchanges between characters that always left me wishing I could be that clever that fast. (Of course, the characters only are because Sorkin and his writers spent hours and hours writing that kind of dialog, but you know what I mean.) Once Sorkin had fallen out of favor with NBC and he was taken off the show, I felt the dialog lost its sparkle and the show lurched harder left.

Anyway, when I saw HBO had a new Sorkin show coming out, another of his “behind the scenes” ideas, I sort of looked forward to it. I didn’t like the promo I saw of it…but I couldn’t separate if I really didn’t like the promo or just Jeff Daniels, who has never been one of my favorite actors.

Jake Tapper just posted a review on the website for The New Republic and it makes me sad. I was hoping it would be a good show, at least somewhat even-handed politically. But from the way Tapper tells it, we’re going to get more conservative-bashing instead. If I want that I can look for Nancy Pelosi speeches on YouTube.

I may still watch it, just to see if I perceive it differently. But if Tapper thinks it’s partisan, I tend to believe him. Oh, well. Back to reruns of “NCIS” for me, I guess.