Thursday, January 5, 2012

Space is the Place (continued)

I pride myself on my ability to recognize when I am acting like a childishly selfish asshole.

Note that I said acting rather than am. I feel I am introspective enough to question even that. For example, recently the press has been covering the subject of corporate psychopaths. ( I think we all already know about psychopaths in government, e.g the current flavor, Newt Gingrich). Reading through the article, I started to wonder if I'm a psychopath. But, sadly, no. I care about other people. Too bad, too. Life would be so, so much simpler without this unfortunate characteristic.

In any case, back in 1980, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. Again, after a semester of graduate school, with a stint of student teaching, I was introspective enough to recognize that I would have be a terrible teacher. I was just too much of a selfish asshole, too much of a child, too immature, too close in age to those I was to teach. In short, I wanted to act out in class and get away with it. Ironic, then, some forty years later that a not insubstantial part of my earnings comes from being a college instructor.

It wasn't all a waste of time. I took a speech class. Unlike most people, I am not afraid of public speaking. In fact, I got a B in the class because I enjoyed the attention so much that I consistently went over my time limit.

Anyway, another point of pride was that I totally called the Star Wars boondoggle. That asshole Reagan had just got elected, the Air Force had a hand in the Space Shuttle funding and was gearing up, along with the rest of the military, for war in space. I told my audience, rest assured, before that useless old cocksucker is out of office, hundreds of billions of dollars will be wasted on some kind of space-based missile defense or offensive warfare. I can prove my prediction.  I got a copy of the speech stashed someplace.

Another speech topic was on the nuclear powered airplane, the Convair NB-36H "Peacemaker", which was considered back in the 1950s. The program was eventually scrapped because, well, planes crash. Good thing they didn't think about nuclear powered trains and cars, because, you know, they crash too. Not to mention nuclear powered vacuum cleaners. Yes, dearies. Alex Lewyt of Lewyt Vacuum Company called it back in 1955.

But that speech got me into full circus geek mode about nuclear powered rocket engines, so I did a speech on NERVA and stuff like that. I was so enamored with the idea of Atomic Rocketships I'm surprised I didn't sound like Sylvester the Cat with all the spittle I was producing at the corners of my mouth through anticipatory salivation.

Atomic Rocket by Ed Valigursky
But goddamnit, why not have nuclear rockets?  Okay, okay rockets crash.

Still, who really wants to spend three fucking years going to and from Mars? That's what they are talking about right now. That's fucking insane. Why a nuclear rocket, thrusting at one Earth gravity for half the trip, then braking at 1g for the other half, gets you to Mars in 2 days, the rest of the Solar System in about a week. Plus you can sit in a big concrete and lead vault with wall-to-wall carpeting and comfy overstuffed sofas and chairs and drink brandy and smoke cigars while you are doing it.

Besides, it turns out that, not only is zero-G terrible for you, but artificial gravity produced in a spinning centrifuge is not much better. True, your bones don't turn to mush, but most people do spend most of their time in a centrifuge puking. I say most, but, you know even astronauts experience motion sickness, which is what happens.

But still and all, the cost of getting mass from the Earth's surface to low Earth orbit is the easy part. The energy required for any serious space exploration is several times that, and something that can never be done with chemical rockets.

8 comments:

  1. Why a nuclear rocket, thrusting at one Earth gravity for half the trip, then braking at 1g for the other half, gets you to Mars in 2 days, the rest of the Solar System in about a week.

    I remember that valigursky ion-drive rocket.

    But where you get these figures from on greatly abbreviated trip duration?

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  2. Yeah, it's a great painting.

    You want me to show my work? Sheesh!

    I used Mars at closest approach, distance D is some 36 million miles, or 780 million meters, with a constant acceleration of g= 9.8 meters/sec squared, using the formula to accelerate to midpoint:

    t= sqrt( D /.5g)
    = sqrt((7.8x10^10 / 2) / (0.5 * 9.8))
    = 89,214s, divided by 86,400 seconds = 1.03 days

    Multiply by two for total trip time and truncate gives you two days.

    And If I'm doing the math right, a constant acceleration over a week gets you out to 1200 AU, at a final velocity of almost 2% the speed of light!

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  3. Whoops, screwed that up. Closest approach is 57.6 million kilometers, or 5760 million meters. Even less time! But hey, I was a math major, not an arithmetic major.

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  4. lol,

    I had no recollection that the proposed ion drives provided that kind of constant acceleration.

    Funny how the design of Kubrick's interplanetary's were clearly based on that concept - i.e., with the engines at a very far remove from the vehicle.

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  5. Thanks for reminding me of yet another vast and inexplicable living-memory signpost of precisely how far off the mark our governing elites are wrt wanting to maximize species potential rather than maximizing their own control of and domination of the species.

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  6. all-a-that exacerbated by the fact that I watched Apollo 18 with my children yesterday.,..,

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  7. I think I've told this story before, but... back in 2003, when Mars was at its closest approach, the event was announced on the news, and the newscaster, something of a wag said at the end "Well, at least we there was no invasion".

    I laughed, but then later, outside, looking at all that big deep empty sky, I got a wonderful thrill of fear. It's all really really big, and you know, we really don't what the hell is out there.

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  8. One of my friends and mentors is a retired colonel who spent the last decade or so of his career at White Sands during the height of the star wars spendstravaganza.

    He led hands-on software development for Patriot and sundry other tangible SDI food-powered make-work congressional pork deliverable programs.

    Brah'man always reminds me to remember that the DoD has operational technology that is on average 30 years ahead of the bleeding edge of consumer technology - what he jokingly refers to as military "green gas".

    I laughed, but then later, outside, looking at all that big deep empty sky, I got a wonderful thrill of fear. It's all really really big, and you know, we really don't what the hell is out there.

    You ever wonder whether these humans in uniform are out there - and been out there - on a much more expansive basis than we're privvy to?

    sheeeeiiiittt....,

    ain't no accident that the Federation is a clearly and indisputably military operation.

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