Saturday, November 6, 2010

The last on the Augustine Commission

This is in reference to the Constellation mission, which the Augustine Commission was reviewing.  I began with a series of posts in which I used the report as a guide.  It was loosely following the guide, with a smattering of my own comments and speculations.  After finishing reading of the document, I am still of the same opinion that a trip to Mars is too ambitious for the technology involved.  However, it should be pointed out that this commission was composed of minds far more knowledgeable on this subject than my own.  Not to be too critical though, I am just not convinced of the Mars part of this proposition.

The commission did a good job, in my opinion, of putting forth the options for policy makers need in order to make the best possible choice.   They had to consider the new technologies needed and the budget constraints that would be relevant in making those choices.  Here are a couple charts which shows what the committee was reviewing.  They didn't recommend any particular one of the options, but what they did say was that Mars was not the best first option, but it was the ultimate option.

As can be seen from the charts, one of the more significant items (in my opinion) addressed was in flight refueling.

 In flight refueling would make the shuttle derived system- which is now operational with the shuttle- capable of  Mars missions.  That is actually quite impressive.
Refueling the external tank?
Titan/Delta hybrid "Heritage" Launcher can be refueled?

In summary, I would prefer a flexible path (Option 5c) with a deferred schedule to Mars.  Before going to Mars, a better launch system than these should be developed.   A two year mission is too long.  The procedure required is too complex, which invites critical errors in my opinion.  With a mission like this, there is no margin for error.  That makes the mission too vulnerable to failure, which would be too great of a risk.

Update:  I think I should add one more speculation on this proposition.  Can the SDS (shuttle derived system) be refueled?  If it could be reused again and again, that would be better than discarded it the way they do now.  That big external tank can hold a lot of stuff and could come in handy in space.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Gold vs USD, is the dollar useful for predicting gold?

Look at the top chart.  This chart shows no trend.  This chart is of a dollar proxy which is being traded as an ETF or exchange traded fund.  This is a weekly chart that goes back two years as of this writing.  Now look at the bottom chart.  This chart is for gold since 1985.  It shows no trend until 2004, and afterwards, a very strong upwards trend which continues today.  I have isolated the last two years of this monthly chart with a small slice of it to the right.  This shows the chart going straight up.  I take it to mean that the price of gold has nothing to do with dollar strength or weakness for the last two years.  The reason I don't have a longer range comparison is that this ETF doesn't go back all that far.  But a little thought will convince you that the price of gold has little to do with the dollar.  Anybody who tells you to buy gold because of weak dollar needs to look at this chart.

I don't have a chart for oil, but I suspect that the same is true.   One may conclude that commodities tell you nothing about inflation.  But that wouldn't be right.  If you go back far enough, you will see that the dollar is in the range that it has always been in.  The dollar tells you nothing about inflation.  This goes for gold and oil and for everything else.  The prices for things go up, but the dollar is about the same as always.

Back in 2008, when the price of oil spiked up to 150 dollars a barrel, some people were blaming the high prices on the weak dollar.  The dollar isn't much different now, but the price is about half of what it was then.

ISS waystation to the cosmos

In my post,

What could done about the ISS, I began:

The ISS then would be saved for a long as possible, and integrated into a series of space infrastructure improvements that would facilitate the development of space resources.

With this post, I suggest that the ISS could be sent to a Earth Moon Lagrangian point (L4, L5) and used to as a way station for deeper space missions.  It would be costly to de orbit the ISS and even costlier still to put up more infrastructure that will be necessary to undertake missions to the Moon, asteroids, Mars, and beyond.  Why not save that expense by recycling the ISS and using it a way station?

A Lagrangian point has many virtues that could be quite useful for deep space missions.  The first virtue is that any deep space launch from this point would not require an escape from a deep gravity well.  A second virtue is that it would require very little station keeping, or perhaps none at all.  A third virtue is that when these virtues combine, it then would be useful as a space bank in that it could collect and redistribute assets ( fuel, rockets etc.) when needed.

Getting the ISS to a Lagrangian point could be done by a combination of ion engines and conventional chemical rocket engines.  It may not require any new heavy lift rocket because it is already in low Earth orbit. Getting it higher to a Lagrange point would take a boost.  I am guessing that this is feasible.

Any future missions would be to the way station and then beyond.  The way station could be supplied from the Earth.  Its capabilities can also be expanded.  Much more mass can be deposited there, which in turn, can enable mass to redeposited in useful places elsewhere, such as the Moon.  It could serve as a collection point from the Moon as well.  The Moon itself is a much easier gravity well to escape from, since it requires only about 5% of what Earth launches require.  Ultimately, it can be a collection point from the NEOs (Near Earth Objects) which can be mined for useful materials.  These useful materials can be used for future rocket launches and life support.  In this way, capabilities are enhanced for future deeper space missions, such as a mission to Mars.

Update:  I thought about this a little more and came up with these thoughts.  1) in space, there is almost no matter, but lots of energy of various kinds  2) on the ground, there is much matter, but it takes a lot of energy to get out of the gravity well.  The trick to travelling in space is to not use matter, but to use energy instead.  Energy is plentiful, but matter is not.  You want to get the matter up there only once, not time and time again.  Each time takes great amounts of energy to get out of the gravity well.  Then you get back down the well and have to do it all over again.  If you launch what you need only once, then you leave the well behind.

Subsequent launches take less energy, where it is plentiful.  If you have the matter you need, then all you have to do is to exploit the energy available so you can go somewhere.  You need reaction mass, but you can get it from asteroids.  Gravity wells for asteroids hardly exist.   So, you can collect all the fuel you need in order to go somewhere from asteroids.  This compares to having to lift the fuel off the ground out of that deep gravity well called Earth.  So, the solution for the problem is to move mass where you need it and the easiest way to do that is to use energy from the sun and mass from asteroids and collect them in a place that is convenient to Earth so people can get to and from it without much trouble.  That's the idea here.

You need various kinds of matter, but it boils down to 2 purposes.  The first purpose is for life support.  The second purpose is for propulsion.  Water would work just fine.  Mine asteroids for water.  Use the water for life support and propulsion.  Break down the water into oxygen and hydrogen.  You can use the hydrogen as reaction mass and breathe the oxygen.  You can use the water to support animal life and plant life.  Grow you own food in space with asteroidal water.  If you need more carbon, you can mine that too off the asteroids.  You can get all the matter you need for life support and propulsion from the asteroids.

If you need more, the Earth is nearby.

For complex structures and matter not easily found on asteroids, you can use the Earth as a supply point.  You would still need to launch from the Earth, but the matter needed would be much reduced.  And that would make it cheaper.  For complex machines, the Earth would be the best source of supply.  Their high value would be a justifiable reason to launch from the deep gravity well.   Launch the complex machinery from
the Earth and the low value stuff can come from asteroids and the Moon.

Therefore, solution to the launch problem may not require more powerful rockets.
The launch problem exists because it costs so much to launch.  Reduce the number
of launches that will accomplish the same thing and you solve the problem.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

About farts (Forced Artificial Scarcity)

Last month, I came across an article on on that I would like to comment upon here.  It was called 5 Reasons The Future Will Be Ruled By B.S.  which was written by David Wong.  Well, I am not familiar with his work, so I looked up a short bio on  I didn't read anything else besides this article.  What got my attention was his concept of FARTS.  Forced ARTificial Scarcity.  He writes it with a sense of humor, but there is a serious side to this.

I got to thinking about this in connection to the Bussard Polywell device.  The question arose in my mind, what if this is just another example of FARTS?  Not just a brain fart, but a real conspiracy to keep this away from the world that really needs it.  If Bussard was right, and this thing will work, it will be a rather curious thing to me.  The reason why is that it took this long.  The technology and science isn't that radically new.  It is based on findings made close to sixty years ago.  

Bussard didn't claim a conspiracy.  He avoided using that talk like a plague.  No doubt, he would be rolling over in his grave at the thought that anyone would attribute that to him.  So, let me make this clear.  I am not saying that Bussard was saying it.  I am saying it.  Or, I am putting the idea forth as a prime example of FARTS.  There is no energy scarcity.  If we had this, energy would be abundant. There is no need to control greenhouse gases.  Because if we had this, we wouldn't be using fossil fuels.  It wouldn't even be an issue.  Thus, "controlling greenhouse gases" is just another example of FARTS.  Which wouldn't be an issue except for the other example of FARTS.  The energy scarcity is being forced upon us in order for someone to be able to make a profit off of energy, which if there were no FARTS, it would be hard to make money otherwise.  We have enough energy to last centuries or even millenia.

If I would really want to get paranoid, I would say that Bussard's Polywell device for fusion will not be allowed to work.  It must not be allowed to work.  There are too many who have a vested interest in it not working.  So, it must not be allowed to work.  Nor will any other attempt to control greenhouse gases.  Nor will any attempt to make energy prices more affordable.  There will be just more and more FARTS.  Another excuse to charge you money for something you can get for almost nothing.

Maybe it was just an honest mistake.  A genuine misunderstanding.  Somebody, or a lot of somebodies just overlooked a promising technology.  The same technology that has been described as the holy grail of physics.  But I am suspicious.  I smell a rat.


Wow.  Gold is up 2% today. That wouldn't be a sign of inflation, would it?  Nah, Krugman says no, and he's always right.

Just got a letter

A political letter that discusses what will happen next.  The champagne hasn't even been drunk yet and people are already talking about what's next.  Give it a rest.   There's a time for this stuff and that time is not now.  Just chill out for awhile.  Enjoy the victory.  We'll get em later. wink

Odds and Ends on the subject of space

Space humor: sometimes the joke is on you, catch the one about VOIR pronounced voyeur.

Here is an interesting youtube video of colonizing space, also ditto for the moon.
And a discussion about colonizing space.

Here is an excerpt from the book The Colonization of Space, by Gerard K. O'Neil.

One of the proposed destinations for the manned space program is Lagrangian points.
I like the idea.  What could be even more interesting is if you can put a Parkin device
in a L4 or L5 Lagrangian point.  That is, if the Parkin device is a viable propulsion
concept.  You could even launch the hardware for this by using a Parkin device on
the ground.  Put it into low Earth orbit, then use a conventional space rocket to take
it to a Lagrangian point.  I am not sure, but from what I read about Parkin's device, it
could be a powerful way to send cargo and possibly crew on long range missions.  It
would not require large amounts of fuel.  The fuel could be mined from the Moon or
from Asteroids.  Or perhaps sent from the ground.

While I am at it, my opinion about US space policy -with respect to a mission to Mars-
is that it is too ambitious.   The actual mission to Mars would require upward to ten
separate launches just to get the mission set up.  If any of these go wrong, the entire
mission is in jeopardy.  It would be far simpler and less risky to keep policy on a
more modest level until such time that a better propulsion system is invented.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

If you can get it up into space

it will be a good thing.  Let's see a plan to do just that.

Who's on first?

This Spaceballs gag reminds me of Abbot and Costello's gag "Who's on First"?

I could use a laugh after all this political stuff.

By the way, what do you see in this picture?  It is not as obvious as you might think.  It is an illusion.

I got it off the wikipedia article about paradigm shifts.

While I was at it, I read up on the phenomenon known as Groupthink.  I was wondering if the two terms were connected in some way.  Maybe a paradigm shift can occur if groupthink leads to a major screw up.

This could be interesting

Another geeky post about Space Exploration.  Another in a series of posts on this subject.

Back in August, the New Scientist had a story about brainstorming sessions in which NASA wanted to find ways to use parts of the ISS to visit an asteroid, as opposed to launching the infrastructure from Earth.
On Tuesday, Brian Wilcox of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, presented (pdf) some of the ideas generated by the agency's engineers during brainstorming sessions in January and June. 
NASA hosted a conference on these ideas back in August.  Here's a page from a pdf with a couple of ideas.
It shows what you can do with the ISS, but it might be better to do this in lunar orbit
instead.  Then you can use the moon as launch base using ideas like this:

It is a circular track concept which the Air Force was studying back in 2006.  On Earth,
a mass driver would encounter friction from the air, which would cause overheating.
But on the Moon, there is no atmosphere and so there is no friction.  It has the virtue
of not requiring fuel in order to launch.  Also, on the Moon, the velocities needed for
orbit would be much lower.  This means less power needed to get off the surface than
the Earth.  You could mine the Moon for fuel for rockets that could be catapulted into
orbit around the Moon.

From the Moon, you would refuel the rockets for trips to the solar system or back to
Earth or even back to the surface of the moon.  You may want to do this to get crew
back and forth.

So, what's the verdict?

Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  According to one poll, a large majority wanted to replace all of Congress.  But, as of this writing, there will be something a little north or south of 60 seats in the House and 6 or 7 in the Senate.  Barney Frank, Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer amongst many others will return.  With a lot of newcomers, the old gang is still around, and in charge.  Down, but not out for the count.  Pretty much of a stalemate.

There will be a lot of chest thumping, but in the end, its the same old story.  This sounds pretty negative, and perhaps it is.  I think something has to give, but not enough people want that, so it isn't going to be possible to make some real changes that can make a difference.  America must be just spinning its wheels after all.

Update:  I thought I might add a little something to this post with respect to gridlock or stalemate.  Those who think that this is a good thing, take a look at the history of the Clinton years which brought the repeal of
Glass Steagal.   If repealing Glass Steagal was a bad idea, then take note that this happened in a Democrat administration and a Republican Congress.  Not only that, instead of bringing about some compromises that would make it a better bill, the very opposite occurred.  The bill that was passed back then made it easier for sub prime mortgages to take place as well as the repeal itself.  This was a one two punch that decked the financial system and brought on our current mess.  This is a result of a corrupt system conspiring amongst themselves which produced an outcome that was disastrous for us all.  All this thanks to "divided" government.

Not all compromises are good.  In fact, some may be really, really bad.  Take the Kansas Nebraska Act.  This act was a compromise between factions that resulted in a very bad bill that brought on the Civil War.

There may be other examples, but I think the Kansas Nebraska Act should dispel the notion that very sharply divided factions can work together to bring about a good outcome.

Another example:  Hitler and Stalin signed a Non Aggression Treaty which guaranteed WWII.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Christine O'Donnell, the "Un-Candidate?"

I got this idea from a post from Yahoo, which say the O'Donnell got more coverage than any other candidate in this election.  This reminded me of what was once quoted of Terry Knight, the producer of the rock group Grand Funk Railroad.  Knight said that there was no such thing as bad publicity.  Somehow, Knight was able to leverage all the bad publicity from critics of Grand Funk into great commercial success for the band.  Not only this, it reminded me of the old Seven Up commercials, with Seven Up as the "Un-Cola".  Thus it is cool to be unconventional.  If the critics turn out to be discredited in some way, then someone different can be made to seem appealing.  In the 70's, the Vietnam war made the older generation less appealing.  This led to phenomenons like Grand Funk, who the critics (of the uncool generation) made more appealing by trying to do the very opposite.  Attempts to beat down O'Donnell could have backfired, just as it may have done in the case of Grand Funk.  So, is Christine O'Donnell the Un-Candidate?  Can she parlay her bad publicity into success?

Can she become cool to be uncool with the authorities who are causing all the troubles we see today?

Update:  O'Donnell loses.

Thoughts on future space policy continued

This is another speculative post about the future of the US Manned Space Program.

With this post, I will cover what the policy is now and speculate on what its
future course may go.  This post won't be too long, because it the latter is
about the future which is too hard to see.  But it is the most interesting, no

To illustrate current policy in the most succinct manner, let's look at the following
chart from Obama's commission that reviewed US manned space program.  There are
eight options listed that would give the most realistic scenarios going forward-
these are based upon the interplay between budgetary constraints and national goals.
I made a screen shot and edited it into this form for display here.  Then, I added
my own comments in column to the far right.  Let's go over each of these rows of
options.  The first column is an option, the second column is budgetary assumptions,
and the remaining columns are goals and means to goals.  I added the column in which
I think the likely outcome of the option may be.  This includes my opinion, based
upon the projected likelihood of a Republican victory in the midterm elections
being held as of this writing.

The first option is already dead as far as I can tell.  It won't be picked up again
by the new Congress.

The second option might have a chance if the ISS is cancelled early.  This would
free up some money.

These first two options are consistent with Bush's Constellation program of record
as of the time the report was issued.  Obama has already decided to not to do it
that way.  Congress will have to change directions in order to go back to this.
Not likely.

The next three options are also not favored by Obama (as far as I know).  These
are not likely either.  The Republicans will want to cut spending, not increase it.
The best the Republicans can do is to look for areas to cut.  Looking at option 3,
the Ares program could become a target for replacement.  This is already happening
anyway and could accelerate.  Ares V is probably in trouble here and will at least
be replaced by Ares light configuration.  This cuts out the Ares I configuration.
This means instead of two rocket systems- Ares I to launch crew; Ares V to launch
cargo- there will be one Ares light system to launch cargo and crew separately.
Option 4 will extend the ISS to 2020 which could become a target of budget cuts.
Option 5 will scrap the Ares program altogether and use a shuttle derived crew
and cargo option, while keeping the ISS to 2020.  I consider this least likely
because Obama's opposition.  The Republicans might consider this though, because
using the Shuttle derived system can get you back to the Moon and would not require
a substantially new launch system to be developed- such as Ares.  The cheapest
option would be Option 5 modified to include a de orbit of ISS.  Won't happen.

The next options are more likely to favored by Obama (again as far as I know).  As
a matter of fact, Option 5A would keep the Ares light configuration and the ISS.
But the Republicans may want to de orbit the ISS.  This is likely not to happen
because of Obama's opposition.  The next option is most intriguing, but would
require a new launch system based upon the Delta system being currently used for
unmanned missions.  It would create the most upheaval at NASA, but would result
in lower costs over the long run.  The last option is to use the Shuttle system,
but with in flight refueling.  This one is also a possibilty, but is the least
capable system considered.  It would also have higher life cycle costs.  The
cheapest possible system would be this one combined with the early end of ISS (not
listed here as an option).  But it would be the least appealing scientifically and
technically.  It's virtue would be in the least disruptive configuration to NASA
and low up front costs.  Life cycle costs would be higher in the long run.

If the Republicans are bold, they will take the Delta option with refueling.  If
they are timid, they will follow Obama's current pathway with Ares light flexible
path.  They might try to cut ISS, but won't likely be successful.  The most likely
path will be these two in my opinion.  The last option is possible if the political
scenario favors it.  At this point, I wouldn't hazard a guess.

The last option, a shuttle derived system, is the one I would favor.  I would forego
a trip to Mars and a manned trips to asteroids in favor of developing the most capable
moon base possible.  From the moon base, it could be possible to build a new launch
system directly from the moon, which would ( I hope ) solve the launch problem.  In
such as system, the moon would serve as a way station to the rest of the solar

Election Day

This day has been talked about for months, and now it is finally here.  It's time to do one's civic duty and go vote.  Todays weather is light rain, not bad conditions really.  The forecast says there's a chance of isolated thundershowers.  Weather isn't an excuse for failure to vote.  For me, it would take something like a tornado to keep me away.  I went in the first thing and cast my ballot- straight Republican.  Funny though. I was the only one there.  Another man came in while I was voting, but that was it.  Nothing like 2008, the Presidential election year.  That was busiest I ever saw it.  Not this time.  It was the very opposite.  Dead as a doornail.  Light turnout favors Republicans, but this is a Republican district anyway.  If this turnout is any indication, it will be light today.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Speculist Survey

Over at the Speculist blog, there's a poll which asks which technology will see the biggest single technological leap in the next 20 years.   I voted, but left no comment.  I voted energy because I think it will have the greatest impact over events.  If the energy problem isn't solved, then a lot of things are going to get bogged down.  Biotech (genetic research) may give answers to the energy problem, that could be my second choice.

Space gets the fewest votes.  Nanotech leads.  Genetic research is next.  Energy is in third.

What happens in the space field depends a lot of what government does.  If government doesn't support it, it won't amount to much.  If the Republicans win the midterms as expected, government cuts could bring some big changes to NASA.

Nanotech is fashionable, but I don't don't follow it closely.  I want to look into that area, though.

Artificial intelligence gets some votes.  The comment there was pretty interesting.  If you can make smarter people by using machines, then you just may speed up progress.  Yet, it doesn't seem to be happening.  If it is, I must be missing it.

Couldn't resist this

Looks like somebody is building 1966 Batmobile replicas.  Cool.  Hat tip Coyote Blog.

I remember the TV show.  Yeah, I'm that old.  The movies were better though.

Update:  The Batmobile reminds me of the TBird I used to drive.  The Batmobile may
have been based upon the same kind of design.

Flip This

Politicians, good ones, bad ones even mediocre ones, all share one trait. They are thick-skinned and never seem phased by criticism ( a few notable exceptions like Nixon and Truman). This makes it easy for them to change a position 180 degrees without a twitch. Some flip-flops are awesome, like John Kerry's "I voted for it before I voted against it" or was it vise versa? Doesn't matter, he was covered either way. Now, if the unthinkable happens and they lose their cushy gig and have to go to work for a living, where do most of the old politicos go? They become lobbyists. Still trying to shape peoples lives and tell them how to live, but doing it vicariously through their patrons billfold. So if Pelosi and Reid lose their seat at the big boys table, you'll find them handing out the bribes in D.C. as hired guns, see Tom Dashle (sic?).

What could done about the ISS

This is speculative at this time, and could become a series of posts.

The basic idea is as follows
The ISS then would be saved for a long as possible, and integrated into a series of space infrastructure improvements that would facilitate the development of space resources.

This is the bare outline which is being fleshed out here over a series of posts.  Some of these posts have already been written, others have not.

I) Based upon what I understand it to be as of now, here is what the policy according to these links:
 Obama's policy, the pdf report I mentioned here.

II) This is what the policy could become based upon these links: (not yet written)
    A) what could be feasible technically, financially, and politically
III) my own opinion of what it could become according to these links:
    A) heavy lift rocket could continue to be developed which could lift the following:
    B) a reusable space tug could be developed; a modified service module like Apollo (not written about)
    C) with a heavy lift rocket and space tug you could be able to:
          a) build a lunar orbital station (not written about)
          b) the orbital station could interface with the ISS which in turn, interfaces with Earth
          c) return crew from space with a return capsule
    D) continue with the Altair lander, but make it reusable also (not written about)
          a) land on the Moon
          b) land on Mars
          c) possibly visit near Earth asteroids
    E) with the Altair, it could be possible to deliver tons of cargo to the Moon's surface and, in addition,  return crew and material from the surface
          a) this could enable you to build a permanent lunar space outpost
    F) with tons of material and crews deployed on Moon, after building a lunar outpost that could
    G) mine the moon for fuels and useful materials that could be used to further
expand the reach into space that could take you to the rest of the solar system
and beyond.

Kitco Interview with Newt Gingrich

Daniela Cambone did an interview with Newt Gingrich and its posted on  Gingrich is said to be hinting at a possible 2012 presidential run.  A quote from the article: "Under this “socialist, big government redistributionist model,” it’s very hard to create economic growth".

Gingrich is also critical of Bernanke.  He says he lacks understanding of the velocity of money.  Therefore, the recession is not about a lack of money.  It is about a lack of velocity of money.  Gingrich says "in a period of really deep economic recession people don’t turn it over very fast. 

I would conclude that increasing the amount of money as Bernanke has done and increasing the velocity of money (which will occur in a real recovery) will eventually lead to inflation.

In my opinion, Gingrich is on the right track.  Read it all here.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The future of US manned space program

If this is true, moon base won't happen: the article says that Ares launch vehicle is "off the table".  It is the Ares launch vehicle that is supposed to go to the moon.  I think the Ares I program got terminated, not necessarily the Ares V.  Without a capability to return to space, the manned space program would be grounded indefinitely.  As it stands now, I think there will be a hiatus, but at most it will be for seven years.  Unless of course something goes wrong.  The ideas that I have presented in earlier posts will probably not be implemented.  Something else may be, but not as I have written here.

I spent most of today reading the Review of  US Human Spaceflight Plans Committee that was set up by the Obama Administration shortly after he took office.  It is an extensive PDF file which I have read only the executive summary as of now.  It is pretty unclear to me right now, but it looks like there won't be landings anywhere, only flybys.  Maybe asteroids, the Moon, and Mars.  If I am right, it will be mostly a show program.  A dog and pony show for the people.

Update:  Yes, this site is the one that I needed in order to learn what is going on with the space program.  The word is that they are going to go to an asteroid.  But what do you do when you get there?  Take pictures?

Here's a good idea, assuming that it works.  The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.  It will resupply the ISS.  Cheaper, but unmanned.  Crews on the ISS will have to hitch a ride with the Russians.