Oxygen is for losers!

There’s been much discussion about the possibility of the origin of life on Earth being outside our solar system lately, and that’s one of the goals of the New Horizons mission.

Aside from being the first probe to actually visit Pluto (50 days till the half way point; 1780 days to go!) its secondary mission is to scout out, and hopefully flyby some Kuiper belt objects. (The Kuiper belt is the area where Pluto and other dwarf planets are found. It is believed that there are many thousand objects in that area, totaling around the mass of Earth.) It is from here that some of the local comets could come from (recent research points to the much further out and sparser Scattered disc being the source of most), and some believe that on these are ancient microbes. (It’s possible that Pluto could too; this is to be tested.)

These ideas have been given some strong support recently; on the ISS there was a recent experiment where some microbe samples were placed outside the station and given no protection. (The Van Allen belt would have offered some protection, but I digress.) 553 days later they were brought in…

…and some were still alive! It does make me wonder; if life can continue in space then why not Mars or Jupiter? Maybe the spacecraft hunting worm from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back isn’t so implausible afterall!

Rolling stones ability to gather moss is underrated

Even ignoring the lack of moss on non-rolling stones (see below), I have serious doubts about the accuracy of the old saying “A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss”. How long will a stone roll for anyway? All things considered, it would be hard for a stone to roll for more than a few hours. Furthermore, when the average life of a rock is considered, this would be a rather small percentage of a stones life. Even given a short life of 10,000 years, and a rolling time of a week, this would be only a mere 0.000001916% of it’s life. I feel that the saying was just some made up to discourage people living a nomadic lifestyle, or perhaps to discourage change. Obviously too little effort was put into its creation, and no thought was given to the image of stones in general.

Stone A
Stone A was given to my daughter who rolled the stone around for a week. No moss gathered.

Stone B
Stone B has been in my garden for a few years and in that time no moss has been detected.

Stone C
Stone C was left next to a pond for a month to attract moss. No moss has been noticed but there might be some under the frog. Further tests will be conducted.

Lighter than air argument gaining weight?

It’s probably just a coincidence, but soon after my post on airships this story covering the World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment turned up. Among other things, they were discussing the future of airships, and that they could be used for some transport in under 10 years.

Also, the US Army has recently selected a winner in the LEMV (Long-Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle) program for a recon airship with an endurance 3 weeks. Northrop Grumman’s design is a hybrid design (like HMS Indefatigable!) as this approach give the craft far better control. The contract is for 3 at the moment and they could be in service as early as next year.

Buoyant Power!

When I was younger a TV show called Beyond 2000 ran a story about the Helistat Piasecki PA-97 prior to it’s testing. I never saw the episode, but I do have the book! For years I looked at this interesting concept, wondering if it was successful or not.

This was obviously before the internet and this was one of the first bits of research that I did once I had access. To my disappointment it was a failure, and a rather complete one at that. After only a few trials there was a ground handling mishap due to a gust of wind, and everything was destroyed. Sadly even the test pilot died.

This seemed to have the had the effect of killing the concept for some time, even though the fault was mostly attributable to the rough nature of the prototype; the frame was inadequate and all other parts were re-cycled. Even the name “helistat” has become a dirty word. But the concept of the hybrid airship is too appealing to resist. By combining the neutral buoyancy of a blimp/zeppelin with the lifting power of a helicopter allows you to cancel out most of the vehicle weight leaving you with a long range craft with the vast aerial lifting capabilities. Many industries need this; especially logging. But the advantages don’t stop there. The PA-97 disaster aside, “hybrid airships” would be much easier to handle on the ground due to reduced buoyancy, which also means that the ballast issues that make zeppelins and blimps impractical become a non issue. Also, unlike ships and aircraft, all they need is an roughly-prepared open area to load and unload.

Thus it’s hardly surprising that the idea has been revived. This is the SkyHook JHL-40, a joint Boeing – SkyHook International project that is aiming to achieve a 40 ton lift over 320 km (200 miles). No prototype is ready as yet; in fact nothing is likely to even be in the air until 2014. Hopefully it’s the first of many. I must confess that it’s a dream of mine that zeppelins have a revival in my lifetime; I think they have a potential to replace some aspects of sea and air transport, especially with odd shaped cargo.

DARPA are actually researching this right now, with a project referred to as Walrus HULA, but details are scarce on the project. (It may even be canceled.)

But for now it seems that the concept will just have to live on as a favourite Sci-Fi / Steampunk concept!

Tesla: Spark of Genius

I ran into this book summary of Nikola Tesla, and it’s so interesting I want to buy the book! Tesla has always intrigued me; for example I had little interest in the move The Prestige until I heard it had David Bowie playing Tesla! (It’s a good movie too.)

David Bowie as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige

Anyway, I could summarise the summary, but that would be silly, so go to neatorama.com and read it yourself. I’m off to look for the book by Margaret Cheney and Robert Uth.

NB: Amazon code in there is for neatorama.com; I’m not trying to steal anyones deserved money!

Fusion in my lifetime?

The 4th last Shuttle Mission (and the second last for Discovery) is in orbit leaving me feeling rather down about the future of the US space program. But today I read about a bright new possibility; fusion! I’ve been feeling down about that that too; all of the science seems to be pointing towards it not being possible due to the world supply of tritium being insufficient.

Count Gregory, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne

But this method is different. Instead of a deuterium–tritium reaction, this method uses hydrogen (not a rare isotope!) and boron-11 ignited by a laser. The end result is far more controllable than fission or deuterium–tritium fusion and produces virtually no radiation. The best thing is that the researchers feel that this could be “close at hand”. At this stage they only have computer models, but maybe in 5 years they’ll be able to demonstrate this; the lasers needed are being built right now.

(I’ll be using this as the “official” fusion method for De-Classic-Space from now on! It’s a far more practical method than what I envisioned and better still the research is being led from Australia!)

Ed Roberts, PC Pioneer

The creator of the Altair 8800 died on this day. There’s a nice post by Bill Gates and Paul Allen paying respect to his legacy. As they say, he wasn’t as well known or respected as he should have been, but he was the one who proved that a home PC was possible, and I suspect his efforts gave us all the computers we (for the most part) enjoy 5 years earlier. Certainly without him there’s a good chance that Microsoft would have never existed.

His history is quite interesting; his starting point was a his model rocket hobby. He formed the company MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems) initially making guidance systems, then calculators when they sold badly. These were a vast success until TI (Texas Instruments) started muscling in forcing him to think of a new product. The Altair was it. Such small beginnings resulted in such a important creation.

Thus it should be hardly surprising, yet still interesting, to note that when MITS was at probably it’s most successful he grew tired of it all, sold up and after a few years he retrained (at 41) and became a doctor in a small town.