Making Things Bigger, Badder, Better

One of my favorite books is James Burke’s The Day the Universe Changed, which looks at the effects that certain changes in prevailing thoughts, and a few inventions, had on society as a whole.  It is amazing what changes can be effected with small shifts in thought and deed.

science fiction
Jump Point by Oscar Cafaro

In a similar fashion, it can take some innovative thinking to take our mechanical monstrosities to their next level.  Lately I’ve been deriding Sci-Fi writers who take the “because I say so” approach to technology in their novels.  I admit to being something of a ‘wet blanket’, as Greta playfully put it.  At least, I hope she was being playful!

Now that I’ve examined a whole host of the challenges that will need to be met in order for humankind to go frolicking about in deep space, let’s take a look at what we will have to do to meet those challenges.  To attack this subject head-on regarding space travel, would involve a huge, stinking, pile of speculation about what we might know and what we might have at our disposal in another hundred years.

We do have some inklings of what might be possible through research channels.  But most of the cutting edge stuff is being done by the government in the form or weapons research or reverse engineering alien spacecraft; and governments, especially the American government, are notoriously tight lipped about such research.  It isn’t until new technologies show up in our consumer products that we are clued in that they exist.  And they will never admit that velcro was a Vulcan invention. Continue reading “Making Things Bigger, Badder, Better”

Inspired Writing

inspiration, writingLast Sunday morning I awoke early.  No, that’s not accurate; I was wrenched from slumber, early in the morning by a pair of conditions.  The second most attention getting condition was a burning sensation in my left shoulder.  Much later I would figure out that this was the spot where the shoulder strap of our brush cutter had pressed for several hours the day before.  As is often the case, it didn’t bother me at all the day of, but the day after is another story.  So I got up and took a BC Powder to deal with that.

The other, even more compelling condition was a string of words running through my mind as though printed on a ticker tape.  These words streamed through my mind and I was compelled to record them. Continue reading “Inspired Writing”

Science Fiction Fact & Fancy: Navigation

Have you ever gone to a carnival and tried out the shooting gallery: the ones where you use a BB gun to plink over metal duckies as they swim across a shelf in the back of the booth?  Even if the carney has not messed with the sights so the BB does not go where you think it will, you may have found hitting a moving target to be a challenge.

If the carnival shooting gallery isn’t challenging enough, try skeet shooting – with a rifle, not a shotgun – and you’ll get closer to the challenge of shooting a space ship from one planet to another, let alone from one star to another.

Galaxy M1
Galaxy M1 Courtesy NASA

I found a comment left on one of Greta van der Rol’s blog posts interesting: the discussion was of a space ship coasting to a stop in space because the engine failed.  This will not happen, but he asked, “Coast to a stop – relative to what?” And he made the point of my next post in an elegantly succinct manner. The biggest issue in flitting around space is that everything is in motion.

If we board an aircraft in New York and fly to London, noodle around for a week then fly back; New York is almost always right where we left it.  We can use landmarks, compass headings & distance and now GPS satellite signals to travel from one point on our globe to another with little risk of missing our mark – unless we’re using iMaps: then it’s hard to say where you will end up!  But in outer space – even interplanetary space – things are very different. Everything in our solar system orbits around our sun.  We can use the sun as one fixed point of reference, but everything else is in motion and moving from one place to another requires a lot of complicated mathematics to calculate a trajectory that will put us in the place our destination will be when we get there.  In marksmanship terms, we must “lead the target”: shoot for where it will be, not where it is now. Continue reading “Science Fiction Fact & Fancy: Navigation”

Space Is a Dangerous Place – Illustration of a Point

I recently post another of my Science Fiction Fact & Fancy posts that talked about the hazards of living and working in outer space – I mean, beyond the obvious, absolute vacuum thing.  Today I found this trailer for a new movie about to come out called Gravity, and I thought it was worth tossing it in here as a follow-up to that post.  See… told ya!

If it won’t play, watch it on YouTube:

Others in this Series:

Science Fiction Fact & Fancy: Space Travel
Science Fiction Fact & Fancy: Propulsion-Engines
Science Fiction Fact & Fancy: Propulsion-Exotic
Space: A Really Dangerous Place to Live
Science Fiction Fact & Fancy: Navigation

Immigrating to “The New World”: Mars

mars, settlement, colony, Mars One
Mars One settlement
Credit_Mars One-Bryan Versteeg

In the past, immigrating to “The New World” meant sailing across an ocean to the continent of North America.  And many people in many countries longed to do so… and did.  Today the term takes on new meaning as a Dutch firm plans to send settlers to another New World.  This time they’ll not be crossing an ocean, but an interplanetary void: heading for Mars.  Pipe dreams and science fiction? Apparently not. Continue reading “Immigrating to “The New World”: Mars”

Space: a Really Dangerous Place to Live

We often think of outer space as being a great big empty nothing littered with trillions of stars and their attendant planets.  All big enough to avoid and with lots and lots of empty void between them.  Other than having to traverse the vast distances, empty space offers few dangers, right?  Very wrong!  In this episode of my on-going series about the fact and fancy of science fiction we’re going to take a look at what life for human beings would be like in outer space.

Orbital Space Dangers

First, let’s look at the area of space with which we are most familiar: that shell of space immediately surrounding our own planet.  The most prominent problem here, or in any part of outer space, is the awesome destructive force of a near perfect vacuum.  Any craft sent into space must be built to resist the forces of the interior atmosphere wanting to rush out into the vacuum surrounding it.  Even a pinhole in the hull can turn into disaster if the material is not strong enough to resist the erosive, tearing forces of hydrodynamics as the air screams out the hole.

Orbital space has another main issue: space junk.  Human beings have become experts at trashing virtually every environment they can get to, including the space around our planet.  NASA says that currently there are approximately 6,300 tons of man-made debris orbiting the earth; some as small as a fleck of paint, some as large as the defunct Vanguard 1 satellite.

space junk damageWhat harm can a fleck of paint do?  When it’s traveling at 17,000 miles an hour, even a paint fleck can do serious damage.  Early in the space shuttle program, during the STS-7 mission, a tiny paint fleck hurtling through space hit a shuttle window, causing so much damage the entire window had to be replaced.  There are tens of thousands of junk bits in Earth orbit, some just flakes of paint, but some are nuts or bolts, tools lost by space walkers, discarded fuel tanks or rocket stages of previous space craft, even whole satellites. Continue reading “Space: a Really Dangerous Place to Live”

Destinaton Moon, Pizza and a Movie

Since I recently wound up my Adventures of Pizza Dude series, I could not resist sharing this headline and accompanying photos with you.

Japanese to Build Domino’s Pizza on the Moon
Yes, you read that right. The Japanese division of Domino’s Pizza has released plans to build a dome-shaped Domino’s on the moon, and would apparently support a drive-through suitable for space motorcycles (Lunazuki’s, no doubt). Of course, this thing isn’t going to get built THIS year.  The designers estimate it will cost U+00A51.67 trillion, (or about 21.74 billion US Bucks) to build and recovering such an investment will require a little more population than we have up there now.  But, when we set up the first moon colonies, Domino’s plans have the monopoly on pizza joints.

Continue reading “Destinaton Moon, Pizza and a Movie”

Science Fiction Fact and Fancy: Propulsion-Exotic

This week I will continue with my examination of space travel technology, focusing on propulsion; but this time looking at the less commonly discussed and written about technologies.  Again, I remind you, reader, that I want only to help understand current theory – perhaps open some doors – not quash your imagination.

Solar Sail Propulsion

solar sail, NanoSail-D, propulsion, space, exploration, travel

As a sailboat enthusiast from way back I know well the elegance and economies of using wind to power a craft.  But light?  Yes.

The idea of powering spacecraft with sails harnessing the “solar wind” was first proposed by Johannes Kepler who observed that comet tails point away from the Sun and suggested that the sun caused this effect. In a letter to Galileo in 1610, he wrote, “Provide ships or sails adapted to the heavenly breezes, and there will be some who will brave even that void.” [1]

The technical term is Solar Radiation Pressure and it is made up of photons (light) and elemental gasses.  The sails must be mirror-like reflective to utilize the photon energy.  Although the SRP or “Solar Wind” blows at (or near) the speed of light, its actual impetus is rather low.  It will take HUGE sails to pull a space craft of any size through the heavens.

Two launch conditions are being considered both assume that the craft itself will be either boosted into orbit on a rocket or built in orbit.

The first is to unfurl the sails (see video below) and allow the Solar Radiation Pressure to do a slow-but-steady push on the sails.  The craft will pick up speed as the SRP continues to “blow” against it.  But, high speeds would probably not develop before the craft is so far away from the sun that the push it gets is diminished.  Best speed with this is estimated to be 90 km per second (km/s).  A modification of this is to use microwave or laser emplacements to give the craft a “shove” at certain points to bring the speed up to 30,000  km/s (1/10 the speed of light) and bring interstellar travel into the realm of possibility. Continue reading “Science Fiction Fact and Fancy: Propulsion-Exotic”

Science Fiction Fact & Fancy: Space Propulsion-Engines

rocket engines, propulsion, space travel
Via Wikipedia commons

In my last post on this topic (Space Travel) I mentioned that many Sci-Fi authors borrow heavily from naval vessels and aircraft in depicting the behavior of space craft in their writing.  And while this sometimes irritates me too, I encouraged authors to write what they dream; don’t pay too much attention to us hard-SciFi’ers, because something is impossible only until someone does it.  And humankind has done the impossible many times already.

However, for those who would like to put a more factual edge into their Sci-Fi writings, I will continue to look at some of the specific areas that draw fire by being more science fantasy than science fiction and ways to lessen this by employing currently viable technologies as a starting point at least.  This week I want to look at propulsion systems: engines.  Because this is a blog post, not a treatise, I’ll need to keep it brief and select the most suitable topics – or serve espresso and cookies with each reading to keep you from wandering off. Continue reading “Science Fiction Fact & Fancy: Space Propulsion-Engines”

Science Fiction Fact & Fancy: Space Travel

sci-fi, science fiction, space, battle,  travel, shipsFor some weeks now I’ve been reading articles and blog posts offered up by experienced Sci-Fi authors, learned men of science and even a naval designer concerning the idea that when mankind finally sheds the shackles of planetary dependence and travels seriously in the ether, space travel, and space battles in particular, will have little resemblance to what we see on the big screen today. Sci-Fi novels tend to be less fanciful, but some still draw fire for being too “unrealistic”.

The learned men in particular site the laws of physics holding up such ideas as bodies in motion, vectors of thrust and the lack of resistance in the vacuum of space.  Others point out that aerial combat craft use air and wings to swoop, dive, roll and dodge during maneuvers.  But in space there is no air, so swooping will be all but impossible.  The designer also focuses on the vacuum and its terrible anti-pressure effects on structures that float through it. He claims that aircraft carrier sized ships traveling through space are highly unlikely just because of the structural logistics involved. Continue reading “Science Fiction Fact & Fancy: Space Travel”