Stuck On Earth, Earth Stuck With Us

Two Pluto sized planets have been found beyond Pluto, Eris and Sedna (Note 1). They have highly eccentric orbits. That means they don’t go around in circles. Now, in the fullness of time, one expects all orbits to become round (See Note 2).

Thus if said orbits are not round, it’s that something disturbs them. And it’s not Neptune, because Pluto, which is disturbed by Neptune, and closer to it, is disturbed less.

Conclusion: there is apparently at least one large planet out there, beyond the known Solar System. Morality? Little do we know.

Even More Was Found In That Zoo Out There Since 2012

Even More Was Found In That Zoo Out There Since 2012

All human beings going to Earth orbit are awed in the same way. As a twice Space Shuttle commander Rominger puts it: “The most incredible thing I’ve ever seen is the color looking out into space—and that color is black—a black so dark, so stark, so vast, I’d never seen anything like it before,” he recalls.

“And then it dawned on me, well, it is not the color, it is not the black that is so captivating. What I was really appreciating was the vastness of space. Without the atmosphere, I could tell I was looking trillions and trillions of miles into the depths of space, and it really struck me.”

That’s one important fact: there is absolutely nothing out there. Another, more prosaic fact: The last human space launch—Expedition 40 to the ISS—used the same Baikonur launch complex that sent Yuri Gagarin on the first human spaceflight on April 12, 1961. And it was basically the same rocket, of which the Russians have launched around 2,000, using the same old technology.

Morality? We did not progress much in propulsion technology in 70 years, ever since the Nazis invented reliable fuel powered rockets. We are not using a Space Elevator, the civilized way to go to space. In fact we are going to space just as the first human who tried to use rockets to fly. This bold Chinese inventor, nine centuries ago, fixed lots of chemical rockets to a large kite, and became the first flier to go with a bang.

Speaking of bang, for a bigger bang, we have to go nuclear:

Nerva Nuclear Engine: The Future Was In The 1950s

Nerva Nuclear Engine: The Future Was In The 1950s

[Larger Nuclear Engines were made, and are, by far the most powerful engines ever made, except now for French made (Thales) lasers; the largest nuclear engine was deliberately exploded, to see if that was a problem! Answer: no!]

ISS expedition 40, launched an American, a Russian and a German from that same Gagarin pad in Kazakhstan for the International Space Station. So, clearly, space exploration is a factor of peace: Kazakhstan, USA, Germany and Russia united. Maxim Suraev, Alexander Gerst and Reid Wiseman reached the ISS 6 hours later. At about an altitude of 400 kilometers, the ISS is zooming around the planet. Periodically a Russian or European Space Agency spaceship pushes the ISS back up, because it orbits so low, that the atmosphere dissipates, through friction, its potential energy, and it loses altitude, while gaining speed. Basically the ISS streaks through the very high atmosphere.

400 kms up is as deep into space as humans have ventured (except for visiting thrice the Hubble Space Telescope,) ever since Apollo 17 returned from the Moon on Dec. 14, 1972.

There is no nice oasis to go to out there in space. It’s not the Sahara. It’s a hard vacuum, whatever pointed head physicists believe Quantum Field Theory is telling them, in their colossal naivety. The ISS is refining our collective skill at operating in vacuum, in zero gravity. Zero gravity presents problems: bones and muscles lose substance, the heart thickens, and shrinks. The world’s space agencies do not agree on what we should do next. The Europeans, long determined explorers, have given up. The Americans have preferred to spend 6 trillion dollars enriching their plutocrats under the pretext of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. While spending only 8 billion a year on human space exploration (so basically the USA spent 100 times a year on bombing Iraq than gaining space expertise).

So we still use Nazi technology.

Mars, is as far as humankind can practicably expect to go. That’s too bad: there are bodies, such as Enceladus, and various satellites of Jupiter, with considerable quantities of water.

“Based on limitations to human physiology, based on reasonable technical limitations to the ability to shield humans during long voyages in interplanetary space, the horizon goal for human space exploration is Mars,” says Jonathan Lunine, a top planetary scientist at Cornell University, who co-chaired the recent U.S. National Research Council (NRC) human-spaceflight study. “Now, horizon in this case essentially means the farthest goal. It is not the only goal.”

A problem is radiation. Space is full of radiation. Some, the solar wind, consists of protons zooming by at 400kms/second. So fast they are, that they rob planets of their atmosphere’s water. This happened to Venus and Mars.

Earth is protected by her magnetic shield (the energy of which, I claim is nuclear fission generated).

Another type of radiation is of the cosmic type, galactic or not. Some of these rays have much higher energy, by many orders of magnitude, than the Large Hadron Collider in France-Switzerland. That’s why smart cookies such as yours truly, knew that the LHC was not going to create Black Holes that would swallow the Earth (as some lunatics thought, in their chaotic misunderstanding).

When astronauts are in orbit, they see stars. With their eyes closed, deep inside their spaceships. Why? Because there, even protected by the Earth Magnetic Shield, cosmic rays scream through astronauts’ brains like tiny meteors.

Earth, we have a problem. Our brains are streaked with fireworks.

Going to Mars, with foreseeable technology, will not be cheap. Ultimately, the NRC panel said, a human reconnaissance to Mars will take “decades” of work, and cost “hundreds of billions” of dollars.

No one has a motivation to spend that kind of money, considering there is no dramatic reason to go to Mars. Or so many in the Commons believe, erroneously.

“I would not want to indulge in specious precision to say whether it was $300 billion or $500 billion, but it is a lot of money,” says John C. Sommerer, a retired Applied Physics Laboratory engineer who headed the subcommittee that drafted the technical portion of the NRC report. “Given that we currently spend on the order of $8 billion [annually in the U.S.] on human spaceflight, you immediately understand why it is a long-term program.”

NASA administrator Charles Bolden says it will take only “a modest increase” in funding to land humans on Mars in 20 years or so, since the Obama administration ordered a different course five years ago.

Ironically, that has since been amended to funding “consistent with economic growth.” But Bolden—who commanded the shuttle mission that put the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit says Congress will not give the space program 4% of the federal budget, as it did for the race to the Moon.

What did that bring, aside from Moon rocks? Well, magnificent pictures of humanity’s loneliness, and Earth as the most object in the universe. A warning from heavens.

That warning, by itself, was worth it. The race to the Moon also brought a tremendous technological push. Not just Teflon. Not just personal computer power. Even Velcro (Vel(ours) Cro(chet)) was helped, as it got free advertising from NASA.

Earlier on the race to develop rockets was military. The Mongols got it started, and the weapon became ubiquitous, as its efficiency was spectacular. The next step up was during World War Two as the Panzerfaust, and all sorts of Nazi rocket tech (some ballistic, some cruise, some anti-aircraft) played a spectacular role. (It was not a decisive role, as it happened a tad too late!)

But now we have a tremendous civilian fall-out: weather satellites, GPS, etc. Even greater was the indirect fall-out of the technologies that had to be developed to make rocketry work.

To make space into an affordable new habitat, we need completely new technologies. For LEO, right away, only air breathing rockets will do, to make launches economical enough.

Further on, only space elevators will allow to go to space cheaply. The great fall-out of a space elevator, before it allows us to conquer the Solar System, though, will be the technology itself. It will allow to produce materials ten times lighter than steel, and stronger.

To ferry people and large loads between spatial real estate, only nuclear energy will do. Either fission, or fusion.  Developing those, in turn, will have tremendous fall-out (no pun intended). Why? Nuclear energy has a million times, per mass, more energy than any other energy that we can tap (although I proposed a vacuum energy machine, on this site, that’s still in the sci-fi future.)

The requirement of developing completely new technology is actually, at this point, not an impediment, but the best argument for going to space.

Indeed, only drastically new tech will save the biosphere as we know it.

Patrice Aymé

Note1: I call planet anything that’s big enough to become round under its own gravity.  That has the merit of clarity. Pluto is round, has five satellites and an atmosphere, so it’s a (“dwarf“) planet.

Note 2: Now, in the fullness of time, one expects all orbits to become round. Why? Because when a planet goes far from a sun, it’s climbing, converting kinetic energy into potential energy. Under a gravitational perturbation, it’s easier to lose the latter, because at that point speeds are lower, so the influence has more time to be felt (who said we need equations all the time?)



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8 Responses to “Stuck On Earth, Earth Stuck With Us”

  1. Ian Miller Says:

    Patrice, I am very suspicious of this space elevator.In theory it works, but in practice, I am not convinced that correcting for the various loads will be that easy. But even bigger problems include how exactly do you get the thing up there in the first place, and worse, what happens if something goes wrong, and the “cable” comes down, winding its way around and doing enormous damage?

    My scifi guess (mentioned in one of my novels) is to have a fusion plant in space to project energy down. At launch accelerate the load with a mass driver then from space, form a plasma right in front of the vehicle and accelerate upwards using the magnetohydrodynamic effect. You have to get enough speed before the atmosphere thins entirely, and some chemical thrusters would be needed for docking. No fuel required coming down – the same magnetohydrodynamic forces can slow you in a controlled fashion, although the final landing would need some additional control, or you could land like a shuttle. (You would not need to do this close to a city!) Speculative? Sure. But no more difficult than a space elevator, in my view.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Ian: At least, that’s imaginative! I don’t understand how it works, though. All space energy beamed down to Earth stuff has a potential as a terrible weapon, so I doubt it would be allowed.

      The Space Elevator… Well, using cables in space will become natural in the future (it was already tried, with enormous e-m generated). Lowering a counterbalanced spike from geostationary orbit is, on paper, feasible. Given sci-fi materials in the carbon nanotube style.

  2. Paul Handover Says:

    Fascinating! Must also offer my apologies for not participating in this place for a while. A variety of demands have been responsible.

  3. gmax Says:

    People don’t get that nukes are one million times more powerful per mass. What do you think about the MARS ONE project in Europe? T’Hooft is on it…

  4. Dominique Deux Says:

    I’d like to insert a significant event between the Mongols’ invention of military rockets and the Germans’ refined use of the same.

    The Indians (from India) used them and thus the British inherited the technology. In 1807 shipborne Congreve rockets were used to burn down Copenhagen, without so much as a declaration of war. A pattern was born.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thanks for that interesting fact that I was unaware of, Dominique. The birth of new patterns is indeed crucial. I believe rocket bombardment was used much earlier in the Netherlands (with paper rockets). Maybe by the French…

      Iron rockets were invented in India by a Sultan, for years, successfully, against the British (who finally killed him). Congreve rockets were imitation of Mysorean rocket tech, apparently:

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