Welcome to the Spring 2015 edition of Scifi Horizons! In this issue we continue The Universe Today series of articles. My apologies for the rather abrupt ending of the previous issue. Life intervened, as it so often does. That series of articles will be completed and posted by no later than early September of this year. In this issue we’ll discuss some of the major hurdles the space program will be facing during the twenty-first century, and also some possible solutions to those problems.
Special Update! Pluto!


  It seems like only a few days ago (and as of this writing it was) that the New Horizons spacecraft flashed by tiny Pluto and sent humankind the first views of this cold and distant world. Less than a century after its discovery, the last popularly acknowledged planet in the solar system has not only been reached but also has been photographed in spectacular detail. (Not bad for Humankind, eh?)
  The world waited breathlessly for the signal that the New Horizons spacecraft had completed its main mission, and acquired all that precious data, the reams of pictures that would show us the previously veiled face of this faraway planet. And when those pictures finally started to come in science stood aghast, because what they saw was nothing like what they had expected. Now, keep in mind that, as the spacecraft approached Pluto it was already sending back a steady stream of pictures which grew more detailed with each passing day. One of the first surprises the astrophysicists got was that Pluto didn’t have just the one known moon, Charon, but also four additional smaller companions. The next surprise was that the blurred smudge which the Hubble telescope had shown us when we pointed it at Pluto was really quite accurate; it was simply lacking in detail. But then, as the spacecraft drew closer, well, that was when things really got strange.
  Scientists expected to see a heavily cratered world, much like our Moon, or the planet Mercury. This would have supported their “Grand Bombardment” theory, which says the inner and outer portions of the solar system were a stellar bowling alley during the latter stages of the formation of this system. But that was not what they got. Instead, they saw a surface not unlike the coldest and most remote places on Earth. An icy surface that wouldn’t have appeared out of place on Titan, or Europa, or even the polar caps of Mars. And only a very few craters-not nearly enough to support the “Grand Bombardment” theory.
  There was consternation, of course, and confusion. There were even mutterings that perhaps science might have to change the concept of planetary formation. There was intellectual chaos. And once again the world waited, just as breathlessly, to see what the outcome would be. Astrophysicists, as well as the entire scientific community, walked to the edge of the abyss and gazed outward, and for a moment it seemed as if anything might be possible. But then they blinked, and, suddenly overwhelmed by the prospect of all that they didn’t know, all those accomplished scientists turned as one, and ran for their intellectual safehouse, the proverbial, and totally undentable, model.
  So now, tiny Pluto, the most beloved, and most distant planet in the solar system, that precious little round world, is being beaten down into the square peg that the scientific community already had carved for it. Because nothing, and I repeat nothing, will threaten the sanctity of the model. Here is what they would have us believe:
  Pluto lacks significant cratering because it has an active environment, just like the Earth, and Titan, and Io, which means that the craters which they were looking for were all there, originally, but have been eroded away or covered up over time. That was the conclusion which astrophysicists came to, and it’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.
  Now, I could point out that Mars has, in the past, had a much more active atmosphere than Pluto could have ever dreamed of, and yet, craters on Mars (of which there are quite a few) are all easily discernible. Weather and crustal shifts have not erased any signs of this activity. But why journey so far back into the inner solar system when we can find the answer floating right next to Pluto itself? Remember Charon? The companion moon we already knew about? The one we expected to find there? Well, it doesn’t have quite the same makeup as Pluto. In fact, it’s more like what we’d think of as a true moon. But, unlike our own Moon, Charon’s craters are not only few and widely spaced, there is an almost eerie symmetry in their placement. There are no big splash marks to be seen on Charon. Nor any groupings of craters. No really large craters, no really small ones, and evidence of only one massive super volcano, large enough to create a mare, or sea. Which wasn’t anything like what the model predicted. Not at all. Instead, there were just those weird, evenly spaced craters, most of which appear rather fresh. That last bit is kind of odd because if Charon is as old as our Moon, then there should have been some more pronounced geologic erosion showing up over this amount of time. But there is nothing like that to be seen in these first pictures.
  What this means is that the “Great Bombardment” did not occur, or, at least not in the way science says it did.
  And then there are the moons-the moons of Pluto. Three of them, including Charon, are the normal round objects that we could consider to be moons; although one of them is very, very small, but still round. However, two of them are elongated cylinders, which become broader, almost, but not quite, circular, towards the center. As those of you playing along on the home version already know, this fits with the planetary formation model posited by this site. It does not fit with the accepted model of planetary formation, the “accretion” model that the scientific community is currently pushing.
  What we seem to be seeing here is a set of moons stopped in mid formation. More on that in the next issue of Scifi Horizon’s The Universe Today.
  So far, distant Pluto, that tiny, frozen world that lies at the far reaches of the acknowledged planetary portion of our solar system, has been a Pandora’s box of surprises. And that’s only for now, for today. In the weeks and months to come, as all the additional data reaches us, Pluto will offer new mysteries to confound science, and frustrate “the model.” Will these conundrums have any real and lasting effect on the way Humankind, as well as Science, views the Universe? Only time will tell.


  Good news and bad news. Since I don’t know your predilection in such matters (and since it fits the structure of this article) I’ll tell you the bad news first. (And this comes straight from NASA, kids. So these are the facts as we currently know them.)
  Remember the rotating space station in 2001? And the rotating cylinder inside the Discovery spaceship seen later on in the same movie? Those rotating bodies were supposed to provide gravity, and were the model for ‘artificial gravity’ in many movies and television shows made in the interim, also including the sequel to 2001, the equally superb 2010.
  Turns out these rotating cylinders don’t work.
  NASA has modelled this, and what they find is that you can rotate the objects and keep them stable without any problems at all-until something inside them moves-like a person, getting up and walking across the room. At that point these rotating objects lose stability, and then-well-bad things start to happen.
  Bottom line is, the concept, which looks very nice on paper, doesn’t play out in the real world. It is not, at this point, a viable option.
  That’s the bad news. Here (potentially) is the good news.
  As those of you playing along on the home version know, I’m fascinated by things that we, as a species, seem to know instinctively. I sometimes wonder if we may know much more than we think we know.
  Case in point-from the earliest days of science fiction, we see spaceships rocketing through the void, propelled forward by a roaring pillar of flame issuing from the aft section of the ship. This engine is always running, the tail of flame is constant. Then, in the late 1940’s and well into the 1960’s this view changes, and we see craft motivated by unseen forces, with no mode of propulsion readily apparent. These craft slip and slide across the sky or through space with equal ease, the only clue to their power source being a strange and otherworldly hum. And yet, by the mid 1970’s Hollywood and television both have returned to ships sporting giant rocket engines. This new generation of spaceships is powered by some mysterious blue energy that can be seen tamely glowing in the gigantic rocket nozzles located at the stern of these massive craft. These ships can move with stately grace, or can travel faster than the speed of light, and they do so with (heavily) modified rocket engines. (Neat trick, that.) This ‘modern’ view of space travel has remained essentially the same right up until present day.
  Audiences never questioned this retro approach, and, during this period, allowed it to stand side by side with a previous generation television spacecraft that had made the jump to movies, and which was using a much more advanced form of propulsion. (The fact that the audience never questioned this is a tribute to the producers, directors, and effects people associated with these films.) But there was no outcry from the public, and this retro approach has become the Hollywood standard for most recent science fiction films.
  Once again I must ask, why?
  Is there more to this than just spectacular eye candy? Does this widely accepted view of futuristic space travel have some basis in reality?
  We need to create gravity, or, at least a reasonable facsimile thereof, right? Not for short hops from here to the Moon, of course. The Moon is only three days away (with Apollo era technology), and that’s not really long enough for our astronauts to begin to physically react to a weightless environment. No, it is the longer voyages we’re concerned with here-trips to Mars, Venus, the Belt, or even beyond the orbit of Jupiter, deep into the furthest reaches of the outer solar system. Over such an extensive period of time (It takes years to get to the outer solar system, and then years to get back again, and that’s with our latest propulsion systems) the effects of prolonged weightlessness could prove catastrophic to those first explorers. Even nine months spent in a spacecraft, the time currently allotted to reach Mars, could prove physically debilitating. (NASA is actually testing this hypothesis right now. They have sent an astronaut into orbit and are going to keep him on the space station for nine months, just to see how he responds physiologically at the end of this period. This is a wise precaution. We’d hate to have our intrepid explorers land on Mars, and find themselves so weak and helpless they’d be unable to perform any of the vital tasks required to ensure their survival.) Trips of a longer duration could prove even more hazardous to an astronaut’s health. So, when it comes to trips beyond the Earth/Moon system, we really need at least a simulation of gravity, to help maintain the physical and mental health of our astronauts.
  And here is where all those splashy science fiction movies and TV shows may be of assistance.
  What if we could keep the engines on our spacecraft running all the time? And use this to induce a sense of gravity? And if we could, how would that work? Obviously we can’t load up a rocket here on Earth with enough fuel to run continuously, just from here to the Moon, much less from here to Mars. The chemical reactions initiated to blast our spacecraft into orbit use far too much fuel, far too quickly, to be of any help in this instance. So, what this means is, we won’t be roaring out into the solar system on pillars of fire. However, there may be something to be said for that mysterious blue glow stuff.
  Since the 1960’s NASA has been using inert gas in virtually all of their spacecraft’s thruster packages. You don’t need reactive fuel for thrusting maneuvers in space, just a burst of something, of anything, that is sufficiently strong enough to move the ship will work. So, NASA uses highly compressed, inert gas. (Keep in mind that inert gas in not as volatile as the chemically reactive stuff used to launch the rocket, therefore not as dangerous.) There are certain hazards associated with this system. If even the tiniest meteoroid or piece of debris punctures the tank in which the inert gas is stored, there could be an explosive release, or if the gas becomes heated, either quickly or over an extended period of time, so much so that the tank that it is stored in could no longer contain it, yes, then there could also be an explosive event. But the chances of such accidents are relatively slim, as the previous decades have shown, which is why NASA has used this system successfully for over half a century now. It is a system that has been proven time and time again, because it works.
  So, we start with a proven system, and simply re-task it. Here’s the concept:
  You have your standard spacecraft, complete with one or more large chemical rocket nozzles attached to the stern of the ship, and each of these nozzles are surrounded by banks of thrusters. Each bank of thrusters has multiple thrusters, but all face to the aft of the ship, rather than in the multi-directional way that most thruster packages are oriented. Each bank of thrusters fires only one thruster, perhaps per second or seconds, or perhaps multiple times per second. (The determining factor here is how often the thrusters need to be fired to create an appreciable sensation of gravity.) The ship would have an onboard program that kept track of movements of the astronauts inside the craft, or any shifting of the load within the craft, and, based on this, would choose which thrusters to fire for each burst. No one thruster would be firing a strong enough burst to move the ship, and some thruster banks might not be putting out as much thrust as others (remember the balancing act the computer is doing), but their combined strength would be enough to edge the ship forward incrementally faster, thereby (hopefully) inducing a sense of gravity. (If this works, of course, then the rear bulkhead becomes the floor.) You could even increase or decrease the feeling of gravity, simply by shortening or lengthening the time between thruster bursts.
  And there you have it! A way to introduce artificial gravity! But it’s more than just that. You see, with each burst, you’re also slightly increasing the speed of your spacecraft, which could cut down quite a bit on your travel time between Earth and point B, no matter where in the solar system point B is located.
  In the next article, we’ll discuss how to bring this all together and make it work.
Dashing through the Cosmos

  As was mentioned in the previous article, NASA is testing the feasibility of an astronaut being able to survive a nine months in a condition of weightlessness, and then land on Mars (which has only one third the gravity of Earth) and still be physically capable of performing the tasks necessary to their survival. After all, nine months in space can be very physically debilitating to the human body, even with regular workouts. We need to be certain before we send anyone to Mars that they will be able to survive and function once they get to the surface. This is especially important since NASA plans to leave these first true Martians on Mars for a year and a half before bringing them back.
  Now, I’m a fan of NASA, and have been since childhood. I have more faith in them than most people do. But even with that level of trust, to me the aforementioned plan seems to be nothing more than a recipe for disaster. There are simply too many unknown variables to contend with in this scenario, most of which we will not be aware of until we actually confront them. And, if the solution to any of these potentially life threatening conundrums is not readily at hand, the astronauts can’t just run out to the store and pick up whatever they need. If they didn’t bring it with them, and they can’t create it from the materials at hand, then they’re just out of luck. Even ‘Space’ mail delivery (via NASA) would take many, many months, especially if the Earth and Mars were on the opposite sides of the Sun when the problem occurred. And that is why yours truly, despite my dedication to the space program, just can’t get behind this flightplan.
  I’ve been searching for an alternative since I first heard of this scenario. A ‘fast’ way to get to Mars, and get back again, and make the round trip in no more than nine months. This would mean only a few days on the surface of Mars, of course. Maybe a week or two at the most. The astronauts don’t need to worry about surviving on the surface because they’re just visiting, and they’ve brought everything they’ll need for their short stay with them. Like the Moon missions of the 1960’s and ‘70’s, our astronauts will only be tourists, not settlers.
  In the previous article we discussed the possibility of using nearly continuous thrust (with inert gases) to simulate gravity onboard a spaceship. And we also noted that one of the unavoidable consequences of such a process would be a gradual increase in the craft’s speed. Sounds like it might work, but I can guarantee you that there are engineers all over the world pulling out their hair right now because of certain facts I’ve not yet addressed. Allow me to calm their fears by explaining how this all might play out in the real world.
  First, we need to build a sled. I mean, a booster. (Whenever I say sled, NASA types get confused.) We launch this booster with one of the new, heavy duty Atlas Rocket packages. The topmost stage of this rocket (and we might need only a one stage rocket to get it into orbit) holds the booster we’re going to use for our flight to Mars, plus it has its own booster stage to get it out of Earth’s orbit, and gravity well, and start it off on the journey to Mars. Very simple setup here. The sled, errr, booster we’re sending up has two main components. The enormous tanks of inert gas that make up roughly ninety-nine percent of its mass, and the onboard computer whose job is to navigate the booster during the earlier portion of the trip and, later, to interface with the command module. We blast the booster out of Earth orbit, and send it on its way to Venus. (Yes, Venus!) We send the booster towards Venus at a very specific angle that will allow it to slingshot around that planet and then return to the Earth/Moon system going much faster than it was when it first left. (We have been using this slingshot technique since the 1960’s, primarily to move objects from the inner solar system to the outer solar system. So much fuel is expended getting satellites, probes, and spaceships into orbit that there is very little fuel left over to maneuver with once you get them there. Which means that any time scientists can get a gravity assist from any convenient celestial body, they do.) As the booster approaches the Earth/Moon system we launch a second spacecraft. Quite possibly, it will have the same basic setup as the first rocket (trying to stay cost effective here) with the main difference being that this craft will contain the ‘command’ and ‘service’ modules, although in this instance the ‘service module’ section of the craft will mostly contain air, water, food, and additional tools and equipment needed for the mission. This second spacecraft will also carry the astronauts, as well. We blast this ship off, burn out of Earth orbit, and head for the Moon. (Yes, the Moon!)
  The reason that we’re heading for the Moon is the same reason we sent the booster to Venus. We’re looking for a gravity assist to speed us up, rather than the wasteful alternative of burning enormous amounts of fuel just to try and get going fast enough to catch the booster. So, we race off to the Moon, slingshot through its gravity well, and then come out on the other side going much, much faster than we were before. But we still may not be fast enough. So I’ve come up with a technique I call directed thrust, which we may be able to use to overcome this dilemma.
  In space, the normal aerodynamics we deal with here on Earth go out the window. While the load must be balanced, you don’t need an aerodynamic shape in the airless void. It goes even further than this! In space, once you’ve got going, you’ll continue on at that same speed, and in that same direction, until you, or some outside force, acts to change it. What this means is that, once you start moving, you can reorient the spacecraft to any angle you please, without changing the direction or speed of your flight. So, want to fly facing backwards for a while? Go ahead! You can do it. Like the side view better? Well then, whip the craft around so that it is pointed to that instead. Maybe you’d like to fly through space with the ship standing on its nose? Not a problem. You can even do that, if you like. And this is where directed thrust comes into the picture. While we’re doing the slingshot around the Moon bit, we might be able to angle the nose of our craft towards the Moon, somewhere in an arc between one and ninety degrees. In other words, we’d be tilting the nose of the spacecraft slightly towards the Moon. And that’s when we hit the thrusters. (Not the thrusters on the booster package, of course. We’re talking about the thrusters, or the main engines, attached to the service module.) The idea here is to tighten the angle of the curve that is being created as we slingshot around the Moon, while at the same time increasing our speed to a rate that is much faster than we could have achieved by natural means.
  There are added benefits here, too. By tightening the curve enough, we might be able to loop right back around the Earth, and, making us go even faster.
  After we slingshot around the Earth, we catch up to the booster between the Earth and the Moon. The reason for doing things this way is quite simple, really. Our spacecraft will be going very fast by this point and we want to make sure we have an abort window if, for some reason, we are unable to dock with the booster. This would mean going around the Moon a second time, but instead of speeding up, using the Moon and the propulsion package on our ship to perform a braking maneuver, to get us slow enough to make a safe return to the Earth.
  However, if all goes well, then the ship will dock with the booster, at which point we could possibly use the Moon one last time to get us going even faster as we race out of the Earth/Moon system and start our journey to Mars.
  Once a year, roughly, the Earth passes close to Mars. This is simply a consequence of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Of course, Mars, due to the fact that it too is racing around the Sun just like we are, can lengthen this period somewhat. (That is why NASA is envisioning a year and a half on the surface before the ship’s crew can return to Earth.)
  NASA’s plan is to wait until we’re about to pass close to Mars, then, using conventional means, to send our astronauts up to rendezvous with the Red Planet. After which they intend to wait over a year, until Mars and the Earth are passing very close again, before bringing them home again.
  My flightplan envisages us launching well before we reach that close pass phase, arriving at Mars still well before the close pass, and then leaving before we reach the close pass phase of our orbit. So that means our astronauts will be returning to Earth at the point where it passes closest to Mars. In other words, the trip out would be longer than the trip back. What I’m describing would be impossible if we were launching a conventional rocket into space. But, don’t forget that we have an enormous booster filled with inert gases attached to our spacecraft, and if we used the constant thrust concept introduced in the previous article, not only would we have ‘artificial gravity,’ but we would also be ramping up our speed (albeit incrementally) every second. If it works, this WILL get us to Mars and back, and a great deal faster than is currently planned.
  In fact, the biggest problem we’d be faced with during the trip might just be going too fast. We don’t want to overshoot Mars and go sailing off into the outer solar system. So, somewhere along the way we’d have to turn around and use all that constant thrust to start slowing us down, so we could safely insert our spacecraft into Mars’ orbit. It should be acknowledged that, as soon as we turn around and start using constant thrust to brake our ship, that rear bulkhead that we had been using as the ‘floor’ for the first part of the flight, would now become the ceiling. (Obviously, accommodations would have to be made in the craft to reflect such necessities.) But, if we devise our flightplan carefully enough, and start braking a lot sooner, then it is possible that we can even simulate Mars’ gravity while on the way out there and so get our astronauts accustomed to working in reduced gravity conditions long before they ever reach Mars.
  And there you have it. A way to go to Mars and come back again without having to become settlers in the process.
  Mars, the fast way!
  (There’s a lot more too this, of course. There is still quite a bit that could be said about the shape and basic construction of booster, the ship, docking procedures, planetary alignments-and the list goes on and on. This article could be three times as long as it is, and we still couldn’t cover all of it. What I’ve tried to do here is to lay out one potential way of getting there and coming back again, without taking up a considerable portion of a lifetime to do it. Only building and testing of models, in both the real and cyber worlds, can tell us the truth. I have neither the staff nor the resources to create such models, so I’m doing the next best thing. Giving this to NASA and the rest of the Astronomical community, in the hopes that they can turn what is currently science fiction, into science fact.)

Shields Up

  Once we start to travel outside the Earth/Moon system, we will immediately find ourselves face to face with a potentially deadly foe, one which we are currently ill-equipped to fight. That sinister opponent is our own Sun, the star that resides at the center of our solar system and is the nurturing element of most life on Earth.
  How can the Sun be dangerous, you ask?
  Well, here is the simple answer. Massive, violent magnetic quakes occur with some frequency on the surface of the Sun. These quakes, and various resulting phenomena that both precede and follow them, throw plumes and sheets of plasma up and away from the Sun, some of which ends up jetting towards the Earth. Fortunately for us, our magnetic field absorbs these blasts, and, when it becomes saturated, then the outer magnetic field starts to bleed the excess energy off into the Earth’s core. Some of this energy is then converted into heat, helping to maintain the Earth’s magnetic field, and any remaining energy is then redistributed from the Earth’s core to the outer layers of the field via the process of lightning/sprites and other associated phenomena.
  Lucky us, right?
  But what about the astronauts who, by delving into deep space, suddenly find themselves far beyond the protection of the Earth’s magnetic field? What about them? How can they protect themselves?
  When it comes to the solution to such a conundrum, I think that perhaps we can draw some inspiration from the Earth’s magnetic field. If it works here, then why can’t it work out there, too? Ideally, we could put a magnetic field around the entire spacecraft, so that no matter where the astronaut was, as long as that location was somewhere within the confines of the ship, they would be safe. Granted, something as elaborate as a protective magnetic field that encompasses the entire ship may prove impractical, but even so, there should still be one compartment in the spacecraft that is large enough to hold every member of the crew, and also well shielded enough that it can provide at least a modicum of protection against solar blasts. (We already have some idea of how to do this, using only the materials currently at hand.) This could be accomplished by placing as much mass as possible around this compartment, and then complimenting that with the added benefits of a smaller magnetic field which has been designed to encompass the outermost surfaces of this one compartment. Ideally, of course, we’d like to surround this compartment with an intense magnetic field (don’t worry too much about physiological effects-we live inside a much stronger magnetic field than any other that we could currently generate artificially for our spacecraft). You see, the more intense the field, the more protection for the astronauts inside it.
  So, wow! We’ve got a force field! Kewl, right?
  Yes and no. Yes, because if it works it could prove a real boon to stellar space travel. No because there are one or two issues that we’re going to have to deal with first before we can get everything to gel.
  Remember how the Earth’s magnetic field works? The outer layers of the magnetic field absorb as much energy as they can, and when they are saturated, they start bleeding the excess off into the core of the Earth? Well, there’s problem number one. When the field becomes saturated, how do we bleed off the excess energy? Do we build field lines to conduct that excess energy from outside the ship to the machine inside the ship that is generating the field? And if we do, then what do we do with all that energy when it gets there? Channel it right back out again? Divert it into the ships power grid? Where does it go? And what about the strength of the field? Keep in mind that no matter how powerful the field is, it will be required to handle blasts of heat and radiation that could potentially be far stronger than the field itself. Our field will have to absorb and bleed off this energy, possibly for extended periods of time. Then there are also more practical considerations. How large would the machine that generates the field have to be and how much power would be needed to operate it?
  These issues must to be overcome before we can safely venture beyond the narrow confines of the Earth/Moon system. We have to find some way to protect our astronauts from the vagaries of our Sun while they travel through vast gaps of space that lie between the planets. And, if it does, then our future astronauts, no matter how far away from home they might find themselves, could go to sleep each night comforted by the knowledge that their genetic material (as well as their lives) was safe from harm.
  And that’s what it’s really all about, right?

Up! Up! And Awaaaayyyy!

  Gather around, ladies and gents, boys and girls! I’ve got a secret I’m gonna’ share with each and every one of you! You see those stars, glittering in the night sky overhead? Well, my friends, there’s gold in them thar’ hills. Enough to make a person fabulously wealthy for the rest of their days! Go up, young man, go up!
  As a recent flyby of the asteroid Vespa proved, there really is gold in them thar hills, errr, asteroids. The estimate I heard placed the value of Vespa at roughly ninety-six trillion dollars. And that is just one of four major asteroids we know of floating around out there in the belt. Truly a fortune waiting for the first person who can get out there and claim it. (And I think it would have to be a person. Simply landing a probe on an asteroid and then saying it’s yours might not hold up in International Courts. If that were the case then the United States could lay claim to half the planetary type bodies in the solar system. Because of this, I think you’d have to physically occupy the spot before being able to legally lay claim to it.) There’s just one problem, of course, when it comes to getting out there to lay claim to all those riches. No friendly space port that you can walk down to and, from there, board a ship that’s heading for the frontier. And all the people who would have gone are instead stuck here. Which leaves the ball in the hands of the mining concerns, who not only have the money, but the impetus ($96 trillion dollars’ worth of it) to go. Even if they were to spend five to ten billion designing, building, and then putting into space a viable mining spacecraft, the amount of return that they could expect from just that one craft would dwarf their initial investment.
  So, the next question obviously is, where do they go?
  Vespa is one of four major asteroids in the Asteroid Belt. That puts it out beyond the orbit of Mars. Not exactly a hop, skip, and jump away from Earth, right? To even attempt to mine such objects at that distance would require a lot of highly technical, fully automated machinery, and a human presence on hand to deal with any problems that arose. And, of course, there are other problems, natural to that particular environment, to take into account. Wouldn’t it be nicer if there was somewhere else we could go? Somewhere a bit closer to home?
  Well, maybe there is.
  Both the Apollo and Trojan Asteroids, are only three million miles out. The Apollo Asteroids precede the Earth, and the Trojans follow it. Technically, they are part of the Earth/Moon system. They’re so close, cosmologically speaking, that they are actually in our front and back yards.
  As those of you who are playing along on the home version already know, I’ve been advocating a visit to both sets of these asteroids for some time now. I think it would provide a real world background to test out our deep space capability before committing everything on a very, very long journey to Mars. And, it would also give us a chance to examine what could be some of the primal building blocks of the very Earth itself.
  So, NASA has a reason to go. And now the mining concerns have a reason for NASA to go, as well.
  While both sets of asteroids may be nothing more than ancient rocks tumbling along in space, if one, just one of them is made up of valuable ores, even if it’s only a trillion dollars’ worth, then this will more than justify investing in celestial ore extraction. And the nice thing about it is, with both sets of asteroids only about three million miles out, then it is quite possible that this closer setting will not require onsite maintenance as would a more distant site like Vespa. By using telepresence technology a mine could be run for the most part from right here on the Earth, without having to maintain a human presence onsite. There would be a transmission delay, of course. It takes light one and a half seconds to travel from the Earth to the Moon and the same amount of time for it to return here. That’s three seconds, round trip. With the Moon being roughly two hundred and forty miles away, we can round up to two hundred and fifty. This gives us a rough figure of six light seconds per every million miles (remember, though, we rounded up). Three million miles to get there means roughly eighteen to twenty seconds for the transmissions to reach those asteroids, and eighteen to twenty seconds to receive a response. While this may seem to some to be an intolerably long interval, keep in mind that the first gamers that went online to play games were doing so at a screaming 2400 baud, and were constantly plagued by delays in response time that could be as long as ten seconds. And yet, despite this they were able to play games and socialize with one another without any noticeable problems. While the delay between Earth and the Apollo and Trojans asteroids would be over three times as large, it is still safe to assume that human operators could adapt to such delays between action and reaction without much difficulty. Besides, the most plausible scenarios have autonomous machines, rather than humans, doing most of the work. Human presence, or telepresence, would probably be needed only when something broke down, or when the work was simply too delicate to leave to the current generation of machines.
  Okay, so we’ve found the ore, mined it, now, how do we get it back to the Earth?
  Well, we could attach a booster to ore, light it, and let the booster fly the ore back into Earth orbit. It would require some very precise calculations but it could be done. Having a catapult in the form of a magnetic railgun would be nice, but, without anything to brace it against, there could be complications. (You know, Newton’s laws and such.) Or, a special craft could be built that would transport a load from the site to Earth orbit, disgorge the load there, then return to the site for another load. This transport could also be fully automated.
  At this point, there’s only one thing left to do.
  Now that we have all that sweet, sweet money floating around up there in orbit, ready to be smelted, we only have one remaining question-how do we get it from there to here?

Getting From There to Here

  A few years ago I saw something rather extraordinary, and it set me to thinking about certain and very surprising possibilities. You see, I’m beginning to believe that we can move solid objects from orbit to the ground without any special equipment. Hard land them with little or no degradation of mass. Allow me to elaborate.
  The incident that aroused my curiosity was associated with a spacecraft that had been launched from Earth and sent into the path of a comet. The spacecraft had special panels mounted on it that, when opened, exposed layers of the new wonder element, aerogel, to the debris in the comet’s tail. The idea was to have all the various sized particles impact and be caught in the aerogel, then brought back to Earth and parachuted down, where the spacecraft, as it drifted back to the ground, would then be caught by a specially equipped helicopter and brought safely back to earth. Unfortunately, in practice it did not work out this way.
  The parachute failed to open, and so the spacecraft plummeted back to earth. Well, not exactly plummeted, more like fell. You see, the spacecraft had been constructed using a ‘lifting body’ design, which, while important for re-entry, also functioned to stabilize the craft before the parachute opened. This lifting body design kept stabilizing the object, sometimes for a few hundred feet at a time, as it fell. Inevitably, the craft would begin to wobble again, and then tumble, only to right itself once more. This process continued during the entire descent, right up until the spacecraft struck the ground.
  Within minutes of the crash, the recovery team arrived, and to their amazement found that the lifting body was dented, and that one section had cracked open, but otherwise, the spacecraft appeared to be intact. So much so that a lot of the data (cometary particles and such), while slightly contaminated, was recoverable.
  And that was what intrigued me. I tend to believe that if the load had been more evenly distributed, the spacecraft might have made it back down in even better shape than it did. The implications of such a feat are rather fantastic.
  While it would be impractical to attempt to drop people or scientific packages using this procedure, when it comes to other larger and more solid objects, such as minerals mined from asteroids, or even entire meteoroids, the possibilities are endless. It could be as simple as jockeying the object into the right point in orbit to allow for a slow descent, then giving it a little push. You might have to make some alterations first, at the foremost section of the object, to give it more of a lifting body shape, which should lead to a smoother re-entry. You might even need to add an ablative heat shield. Or, you may have to go as far as to encase the mined ores in a lifting body shaped container prior to re-entry. Either way, we’re talking about moving things from orbit to the ground without bringing them down in some sort of expensive transport craft, which, once down, has to be sent back into orbit again. As to the earthbound mining concerns that are just beginning to realize the amount of wealth that is so close at hand in our solar system, well, for them this approach could provide a cost effective manner to deliver their raw materials earthside.
  As to where to drop them, well, that’s another issue. My first thought is anywhere in the Sahara desert which is far enough away from any established human habitation to be considered safe, and yet not so remote as to make it inaccessible. The advantage here is that you have the Med, the Atlantic, and the Indian Oceans close at hand, and there are one or more major rivers leading to them. However, political concerns may not make this a viable alternative. Which leaves us with at least three other candidates to consider. Russia, anywhere east of the Ural Mountains and sufficiently remote is one, and the deserts of western China is another. However, the lack of ready and reliable access to an ocean would be the main problem here, of course. Antarctica would be another spot open for consideration, being so centrally located at the bottom of the world, except that tides and weather would probably make this impractical, as well as the howl that would arise from well-meaning conservationists when mining concerns starting “bombing” the pristine ice fields of the land that’s really down under.
  No matter how we choose to do bring these minerals down, or where we choose to drop them, if the failed spacecraft is any indication of reality, then it is possible to bring solid objects down from orbit with very little degradation of mass, and little or no damage at all. And if this can be done, and we were to suddenly find ourselves in possession of large amounts of both common and precious metals, then the benefits to Humankind in the decades that lay just ahead of us (as well as profits to the various mining concerns) will be substantial.

Just Sayin

  As a man, I sometimes feel the need to climb up on a rock and beat my chest. It’s a man thing. After you read the following bit, I think you’ll see why I currently feel justified in doing so…
  Recently, it was acknowledged that heat plays a key role in creating and maintaining the Earth’s magnetic field. If you aren’t sure what I’m going on about, then thumb back a few issues and you’ll see why I’m so excited.
  But that’s not all…
  Just a few days ago I was watching a new bit on one of the science channels-an informative show that was purportedly describing the ultimate fate of the earth. As I watched, our friendly white star, Sol, started to turn orange. Then, it slowly began to grow, and as it did, it became redder, and more diffuse. As it continued to swell first Mercury, then Venus, were engulfed, but when it reached the Earth, a funny thing happened. As the burnt out Earth grazed along the outer surface of red giant Sol, the narrator said something along the lines of “whether the Earth is destroyed, or merely displaced…”
  For those of you playing along on the home version, well, you know why I’m feeling a little hyped!
  And we won’t even mention the guys who stole my model of the formation of the solar system and ran it, along with a word for word quote from an article in the same issue. (According to my friends ‘on the coast’ you know you’re getting somewhere when they start stealing from you.)
  Pardon me now while I go climb up on that rock and beat my chest. I may even yodel like Tarzan! This time I think I’ve earned it.

That Said-

  With that said, there’s something else that needs to be addressed now. I get the impression that, when it comes to this series of articles, that the scientific community thinks I’m trying to somehow or other discredit them. Let me state here and now, that is not my intention. What I’m actually trying to do here is to point out to the scientific community that the same smoothing codes that our brains use to accommodate our day to day existence can (and do) extend into the mental landscape, as well. (These “smoothing codes” allow us to see only as much as we need to see to accomplish our day to day tasks. In other words, much of what is going on around us is filtered out, so that the brain can focus on the job at hand. Remember how many times you’ve become so engrossed in what you were doing that the rest of the world just faded away. Well, that’s an extreme example of how these “smoothing codes” work. But, even in much less extreme circumstance, where you are driving down the street, say, or walking through a store, even here, the brain is actively editing out material objects and people, so as to keep from overloading you with too much information. This can lead to some interesting consequences. Because of these “smoothing codes” multiple witnesses can see the same incident, and each one come away with their own unique interpretation of what has just occurred. They saw only what their brain’s smoothing codes allowed them to see.) The way these smoothing codes function in the case of science in general (based solely upon my own personal observations of their interpretations of the available data) is to either blind them to the inconsistencies exhibited in the reams of photographs that they themselves have commissioned, or else to press them to find ways to make these noted inconsistencies fit within their sacrosanct model. (Both interesting and ominous that, with the continued passage of time, these people become more and more a reflection of those that they sought to supplant.) The holy model is their explanation for the creation, existence, and ultimate fate of all that was, is, or ever will be, and so it is therefore immutable.
  Because the model is so all powerful that it cannot be questioned, meaningful exploration of alternate theories, even entirely new modes of thinking, is not only discouraged, it can be career threatening. Oh, there are those who buck the trend, and these lone wolves are acknowledged by the general community as mavericks, or even crackpots. Other scientists will point to them and say, “Look, they’re working on a competing theory!” (And then try to hide their indulgent smiles.) Nothing to worry about here though, folks, because no matter what these rebels might discover, the scientific community is certain that this new data can (and will) be folded into the existing model. What this means is, quite literally, that no matter what theory you may gamble on, the house will always win. Which makes it much easier not to gamble at all, and instead spend your entire professional career accumulating reams of dry data to support the holy model. So, despite their protests to the contrary, the scientific community does not entertain or encourage (or fund) competing lines of thought. Therefore, (and this also despite their protests to the contrary) the model is sacrosanct.
  What this means to the rest of us is that, even now, some of the most highly respected scientists in the world are following just one lone train of thought, to the exclusion of all else. And, as far as they are concerned, there are no inconsistencies in this line of thought, only hidden facets of the holy model that haven’t been glimpsed yet. However, their own data reveals the model has serious flaws. These flaws (often glaring) leave their conclusions open to question. Yet, despite this, the community literally cannot see them, (even with those aforementioned reams of photographs) because the smoothing codes that handle every other facet of their lives are at work here, too.
  The only way to break this endless cycle is to encourage and endorse competing theories, and new and unique lines of thought. This should force those selfsame “smoothing codes” to adapt by opening up their users minds to new possibilities, new lines of inquiry, thereby breaking the monotonous cycle they are currently trapped within. (Remember, we can’t eliminate these “smoothing codes.” They literally help us to manage our day to day existence and we need them. All that we can hope to do is to modify their behavior.) Sadly, the scientific community has shown no signs of embracing anything resembling such a broader outlook, and it appears it will be some time before they do.
  And that is why it is left to me to tweak their noses, or slap them on the wrists-not to be mean to them, just to get their attention. They’ve been daydreaming. Time to wake up.
Why This Matters

  Why, you may ask, do I keep harping on this subject? Well, the answer is actually quite simple. We have over seven and a half billion minds currently in existence, and it is impossible to say what they might discover if unleashed, but, instead, they are chained. Mired in a miasma of “you can’t do this” and “that can’t be done.” And the sad thing is, most people tend to trust implicitly such statements, never questioning their validity. After all, Science says it can’t be done.
  Let’s consider two recent examples that contradict such programming.
  A few decades ago a farmer in one of the drier parts of Africa began to plant trees and bushes around his plot of land, and to use part of his precious water supply to keep them healthy. His neighbors called him a fool. He was acknowledged as the village idiot. Why waste good water on what could at best be described as ornamentation? And yet he persevered.
  After a few decades had passed, his trees and bushes had grown. Now, they not only provided shade, and some measure of protection from the dry desert winds, their presence was also helping to fix water into the ground.
  Suddenly, the village idiot had farming concerns and conservationists from all around the world coming to see what he had done, and to learn from him. And he found himself one of the most honored men in the village.
  This is a man who was determined to fly in the face of adversity, no matter what it cost him. He had a vision and he was going to see it through. Very few people in this world have that kind of courage, which makes him quite unique.
  The second example is the more common one, in that this is usually the way such things happen.
  A few years ago, shortly after the turn of the century, a man retired from the work force and came home. After spending only a few days around the house he realized just how boring home can be if you don’t have something to occupy yourself with at least part of every day. So, he decided he was going to invent a fireproof substance. He took certain chemicals, minerals, and such, and started mixing them together. No scientists were there to tell him that you couldn’t mix those ingredients together like that, because that was impossible, they just didn’t mix. Not knowing this salient fact, he kept tinkering around with the mix, and in roughly six months he had developed a new and very effective, fireproof substance. And he did this simply because he was unaware that it couldn’t be done.
  And that, sadly, is how many discoveries which fly in the face of scientific fact are made. By people who literally didn’t know that such things were impossible.
  Who can say how much we might accomplish, with access to the largest mind bank in the history of our species, if we weren’t constantly being told that so many things are “impossible?”
  It is one thing to have ‘the prevailing theory,’ and some viable alternatives to compete with or at least at some points contradict it, but it is another thing entirely to say that this is what is possible and this is what is impossible. We simply don’t have a broad enough pool of data to make such statements. All we really know about is here, on the Earth, and, despite protests to the contrary, there is still a lot we don’t know about here, much less what lies beyond this planet. Once we have travelled not only through this solar system, but to all the nearest stars, then, even then, we will only be beginning to learn about this vast and wondrous universe that surrounds us. So why anyone would go and chain so many minds, and thereby inhibit their innate creativity and problem solving abilities, is quite beyond my comprehension.
  That is why this matters.

  Well, that’s for this issue! Check back with us in late August or early September for the next installment! Until then!!!!

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