Tuesday, October 10, 2006


The American Astronomical Society High Energy Astrophysics Division (AAS HEAD) Meeting coincided with a visit by the Navy's Blue Angels. Their low-level maneuvers are spectacular to behold. I managed to photograph four F-18's at rooftop level. Few thrills match that of scientific discovery, but flying comes close.

Events are happening faster than one person can write about them. The Cassini spacecraft made a flyby of Titan on October 9, and will visit Titan again on October 25. On September 25 at Kennedy Space Center, the huge door to the Operations and Checkout building was opened for the first time in 20 years. This building was where the Apollo spacecraft were assembled. The photo from April 1, 1969 shows the Apollo 11 Command and Service Modules in the foreground.

On October 6 the US released a new National Space Policy supporting visits to the Moon, Mars and Beyond. This report describes both military and civilian Space programs. The illustration from Space.com shows an unmanned aerial vehicle similiar to the Predator and a two-stage launch system for military payloads. What is that in the lower right? It looks like a Long-Range Strike Aircraft (LRSA) capable of reaching anywhere in the world from bases in the US. Is the public supposed to know about that? Hello?


Blogger nige said...

Hi Louise,

I think that photo of the Saturn V and Apollo capsule in April 1969 is very sad. The whole space thing is really surreal for someone of my age group. I think the 1960s to 1970s were probably the high point of civilization, and things have gone downhill badly.

Of course, the immense funding of Apollo was 99.999% political - beat the commies to the Moon or Western civilization will be shown to be inferior to communism.

In a perverted way, having enemies around is not a bad thing. I know I worked much harder when I fear failure than when I'm financially or educationally secure. I used to say up all night preparing for exams. In the same way, countries and civilizations (freedom vs. communism) struggle harder when they fear disaster.

That's what put America on the Moon between 1969-74(?). Was it President Nixon, Ford or Carter who cancelled Apollo?

That was a really s*** decision, whoever it was. They should have kept it going even if it was just one trip annually or once every few years, instead of shutting it completely. This is a really bad time in history since technology is going backwards. Forget quantum computing that's a hyped gimmick. Chip speed increases have been marginal for the last few years, it is flattening out. A hundred years from now, technology won't be that far different because there isn't any mechanism in place for continued improvements (extrapolation yields false expectations, since if you increase computer clock rates much more, they'd crash due to glitches).

All the talk of getting back to the Moon and so on - I've been hearing that most of my life and I believe it when I see the evidence, not before. It is hype like string theory. I remember in the 80s hype that people would be back to the Moon before the year 2000. It's a very depressing memory.

After the Greeks developed early sciences like geometry, there was slump when the dark ages occurred, and the medieval period when people looked to the past for where the progress was: worshipping ancient texts, searching for Greek authors and copying the manuscripts to ensure they survived. Those people didn't believe progress was in the future, they searched for it in the distant past.

I don't want to be too downbeat, but that's what the future is going to be like. There won't be faster computers or space exploration or anything exciting at all, just wars and democracies (like the ancient Greek democracies) being invaded by barbarians, and wars, and they will look back to the Apollo enteprise with the awe that Victorians had when they surveyed the Eygptian Pyramids.

The whole idea that the future is going to get better is just an illusion caused by the rapid progress in some areas like computers. But that's running out. Space technology has reverted to disaster with shuttles exploding. Wars are just going to get more unpredictable and bitter because the population gets bigger and people get more bigoted because of those that have less space, less money, due to overpopulation.

Best wishes,

10:35 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Hi Nigel. It can be discouraging, but I hope that our generation can reach the Moon too. 6 crews made it in a relatively short time, ending with Apollo 17 in December 1972. Even as Armstrong and Aldrin were walking the Moon, the program was being cut back.

"NASA Director Tom Paine cancelled Apollo 20 in 1969 and Apollo 18-19 in 1971 to please the Nixon White House, which wanted an end to the program identified with the Democrat Kennedy. If Nixon was going to support anything in space exploration, he wanted something distinctive that could be his own mark on history: His legacy would be the space shuttle." (David West Reynolds, APOLLO)

Now that there is a vision to continue exploring, let us hope that we stay on course. I also have reason to believe that unproductive areas of science will whither, to be replaced by better ideas. I've been to two conferences of space entepreneurs this year, and the enthusiasm is palpable.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Rae Ann said...

Louise, are you a pilot? If so, wow!

11:59 AM  
Blogger nige said...

Hi Louise,

Thanks for that! So it was Nixon who commissioned the Shuttle and closed Apollo. That was a bad decision, seeing the problems with the boosters and the large area of ceramic tiles the Shuttle has. The Saturn V was more simple, better tested technology that stretched back a long time.

My understanding of the situation is that the Shuttle could not be used for anything beyond earth orbit even if there was the political will. The fuel capacity it has can't send it anywhere near the Moon. The amount of energy you need, once you are beyond the atmosphere (100 km up) is simple to calculate.

The gravitational work you have to do is: energy, E = mMG/r where m is the rocket mass, M is earth's mass and r is distance from centre of the earth.

The Moon is at a quarter of a million miles.

So the gravitational work energy needed to take 1 kg from the earth and put it on the Moon is

E = mMG[(1/r) - (1/R)]

where R is distance to Moon, 400,000,000 m, and earth's radius r = 6,400,000 m

Hence, you need 52 MJ to take 1 kg from the earth and place it on the moon, just from the gravitational work standpoint. You also have losses due to air drag for the first 100 km and then you have continued losses due to the heat wasted by the rocket exhaust.

You need something like a Saturn V to do that. Shuttle technology is only useful for putting satellites into orbit and suchlike.

Unless they are just going to strap extra booster rockets on to the shuttle's main tank? There must be some law about the staging, because the shuttle is way heavier than an Apollo command module, it would probably need an even bigger rocket than Saturn V to send a shuttle to the moon. It is absurd to expect NASA to do this.

When I see evidence that NASA is building new Saturn V rockets or something bigger, then I'll know they are serious. When they issue hot air and hype, then I'll no they are no more likely to get to the moon than Witten is likely to win the Nobel prize for M-theory!

Best wishes,

5:29 AM  

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