Cassini’s last flight

If you’ve ever looked at pictures of Saturn in awe, you have the Cassini space craft to thank for that.

The Cassini probe reached Saturn in 2004 and ever since then has been providing us with stunning images and fantastic science.

Cassini is how we know Titan has rivers  and lakes of methane.

Cassini is how we know Enceladous has an ocean core and ejects water into space.

The enormous wealth of information that this probe has provided is now taken for granted. But good things can’t last forever, and the ageing spacecraft is running out of fuel. NASA has planed and programmed is final mission that will result in the destruction of the probe. even during it’s last moments, it will be transmission information that will unravel the mysteries of our solar system.

 

It’s an end of an era. There will be no new pictures coming from the Saturn system for quite some time. Cassini has done amazing work for us and has been invaluable in planning future missions. I have no doubt it’s final transmission will be just as valuable as it’s first.

God speed little guy; god speed.

TRAPPIST-1 and its planets

In 1992 scientists confirmed for the first time that there were planets around other stars.

Think about that for a second. During all human history, it wasn’t until 25 years ago that we knew that there were other plants then our own. 25 years ago, we got confirmation that the galaxy contains billions of possible worlds. The idea that there are extra solar worlds to visit moved from science fiction to fact just 25 years ago.

Since then, with the launch of new instruments, we’ve been finding thousands of new plants. Some of them are in the Goldilocks zone, (Not too hot, not too cold) where water could exist on the surface. That mean that life as we know it could exits on these plants.  It also means that if the atmosphere is correct, humans could walk around without a space suit. The implications of that alone, is amazing. There could be millions of Earth like planets out there, all with the possibility of life.

PT_KeplerThat brings us to this week’s announcement about Trappist-1. It’s a a tiny dwarf star with 7 rocky planets. Three of those planets are inside the habitable zone. Our solar system only has 4 rocky plants, so right away this system has more surface, more minerals and resources than we do. It also has three plants that could potentially harbor life, or be habitable for humans.

Trappist-1

This sort of stuff blows my mind. Look at Earth compared to these planets, and imagine all the war that goes on over land and resources on its surface. I think getting to Mars would be amazing, but just imagine what it would be like to travel to and live in this solar system. It has magnitudes more than we have, just waiting for us.

Alberta’s Natural Gas – 100 years left

When talking about renewable energy, it’s often said that natural gas, especially in Alberta, is a fantastic transition fuel from coal. Being that Alberta uses a lot of both, it’s an inviting proposition. Natural gas is cleaner, and Alberta has a lot of it. Or so we think.

There are varying estimates on how much methane we have in our province, but it’s in the trillions of cubic feet. That’s a lot.  We extract a billions of cubic feet a day. That’s also a lot. I did the math to try and find out how long our reserves will last. I converted everything to metric, and gave the extraction rate an increase of 1% year over year to account for GDP growth.

test

Alberta runs dry in 2104. That’s less than 100 years of reserves. If we assume that infrastructure has a 50 year lifespan, we only have two more generations of Natural Gas infrastructure until we have to import all that energy. With this in mind, doesn’t it make more sense to transition as soon as possible and try to extend our natural resources?
So far, we seem content to race towards a cliff.

 

You can buy a self-driving car – today

On October 19th, Tesla announced that every car it makes will now have the hardware to be able to drive it’s self. If you order a car today, that car has all the hardware needed to pick you up, drop you off, and drive it’s self home, with you in the back seat.  If you watch the video below, the proof of this is around the 2:30 mark, where the car parks all on it’s own.

This is really amazing tech, but it will have a profound impact on our society. An impact that grows in scope the more you think about it.

Parking Lots

They become obsolete.

Why do you need a large parking garage next to every office if every car is driving it’s self home after it drops you off at work? You get up in the morning, shower and get dressed. You take your morning coffee with you and get in your car. On the ride you start answering emails, because you aren’t driving. The car drops you off at work, then goes back home to pick up the kids and drops them off at school. Then it comes back because you have a 10am appointment you need to get to.

The idea that your car will stay where you left it no longer applies. Sure, there will be parking garages, but they won’t have to be close, they could be 5 mins away. No need to drive around looking for a spot at the mall, just get out and your car will drive down the road to an open space, then come back and get you when you are done. All that space can be re-used.

Car Dealers

The car dealership is dead.

Why do you need to keep a stock of cars on a lot, if the cars can drive from the factory to your door? What purpose do the serve? The whole idea is absurd when you think about it. The dealerships know it to, and they’ve been fighting to make it illegal to direct sell a Tesla. Walk by a Tesla store and ask yourself why all manufactures aren’t doing it that way.

Taxi

The Taxi industry will be destroyed in the next 25 years.

If you can summon a car from a ride share company like Uber or Car to Go, and have that car drive it’s self around, costs fall to the floor. Being that the major cost of any taxi service is paying the person, without a person driving, the cost is much less. That alone will change the entire experience of calling a cab, as there will be flocks of autonomous vehicles lining up near busy locations, all taking to each other in an orderly fashion.

Long Haul Truckers

No longer a human profession.

Speaking of industries that are on their way out, if you don’t have to pay someone to sit in a truck, why would you? Autonomous trucks never fall asleep, don’t need food, they can drive at any hour, and don’t need to be paid. Manufactures are already thinking about this and developing trucks with these capabilities.

The list goes on and on. The world is about to change rapidly, and these cars are on the road now. We just need the laws to catch up so the software can be turned on.

SpaceX is going to Mars

This last Tuesday at the 67th IAC conference being held this year in Guadalajara, Elon Musk announced his plans to send people to Mars. Musk’s intent on going to Mars is no surprise, he created SpaceX to do just that. But the “how” wasn’t disclosed until this week. Below is the computer rendition of the trip to Mars he is currently designing.

This is very exciting for a number of reasons.

  1. It’s a plan owned by SpaceX. There are many plans our there, and have been for 60 years. They all have their pros and cons, but the most important thing you could do is choose one, and run with it. This is the plan they have chosen.
  2. There were signs of engineering being done. There wasn’t too much new presented for those who know the field. But, Musk did say the rendering were build from CAD drawings and the engineering issues are being worked on. There is an effort being made to build the hardware.
  3. The size. This was the most amazing part by far. The rocket he is planing to build is HUGE! It will be the most powerful vehicle ever built. It will have 100 people per launch, with 42 main engines on it’s first stage.

05-szdamgm

Here is a side by side comparison to the Saturn 5 rocket. It is over three times heavier with three times the power. Amazing is the only word for it. It’s so powerful that SpaceX changed it’s name from Mars Colonial Transporter to the Interplanetary Transport System, because they plan to fly it to Jupiter’s moons, asteroids and other planets in addition to Mars. This is the rail road for our solar system.

When this craft takes of for the first time, it will be like nothing humans have ever seen before.

I can’t wait.

Mining the Sky

When I’m involved in conversations about resources, there is a phrase that I love to use.

The Earth has a resource problem, but humans don’t

The theory behind this statement is that the universe is unimaginably abundant, yet we restrict our views to the ground. If we wanted, we could collect any resource we needed in infinite amounts from the solar system. Mining the sky isn’t a new idea, but it has yet to penetrate into venture capital thinking and investment. Individuals who want to exploit this resource have long lobbied for laws that allow a company to exploit resources from space.  These individuals have often put their own money and effort into companies to commercialize space mining, creating companies like Shackleton, Moon Express, Planetary Resources, and Deep Space Industries.

There are major hurdles before this becomes a reality. The perception is that technology may be the largest barrier, but in reality it is law holding back the commercial exploration our solar system. The Outer Space Treaty, brought into law in 1967, guides most if not all space activities today. This treaty was drafted before humans steeped on the moon and long before UAVs were children’s toys. We’ve come along way, but the principles of this treaty are still in effect. A few of those principals are:

  • the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
  • outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
  • outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

Here’s the catch, the treaty says that object in space are the province of all mankind and cannot be owned by anyone. For example, under UN law, no one may own the moon. This has been interpreted that entities can’t mine these resources, since how can you mine something you don’t own? Also, how can you sell these metals once you mine them, if you can’t own them? If I have a mining machine in space, I can land on an asteroid. I can perform experiments, I can take samples and I can even bring these samples back to Earth. The samples remain the “province of all mankind” so I can’t sell them, I can only study them.

The Apollo missions is the only example we have of this behavior so far. The NASA astronauts returned with 842 pounds of moon rocks between 1969 and 1972. Many of these samples have gone missing over the years, and some have turned up for sale in black markets. You can’t legally own the moon rocks as a private citizen, because the Outer Space Treaty doesn’t allow for it. However, you don’t have to look far to get into grey territory. For example, if you find a meteorite on the ground on Earth, that originated from the moon, then you can keep it.

This grey area was recently given some contrast when the US government passed a law expanding what US companies are allowed to do. The law now says:

‘‘A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.’’.

The problem is that the applicable law forbids this action. Some agree, others don’t.

 

It’s true, that a company doesn’t own international waters, but can still use them to fish. In that way, space is an analogy for international waters. However, fish will grow back if responsible methods are used, not so much with rocks. The same boats can also fish in the same waters, different equipment can’t mine the same ore.

However, I also said that the resources exist in near infinite quantities. In that respect, there is room for everyone.

There was a Google Hangout on this very subject. I got a version of my question asked at the 13:50 mark.

The people involved are clearly passionate, and spent a lot of time working on this. This law is a fantastic step, don’t get me wrong. However, I don’t think it’s the slam dunk some are making it out to be. Many of our terrestrial notions of how we operate will need to be adapted for space, and the laws will change to suit this. The change will take time, and this is the ever important first step.

The next steps are going to be even more interesting, and I for one, can’t wait.

Blue Origin to Space! Sort of.

On November 23rd, Blue Origin launched a rocket to an altitude of 100 km (where space begins) and landed it. It’s the landing part that’s amazing. Rockets, historically have been built on missile technology. And missiles are not built to be retrieved after. That means 99% of all rockets are one use only. Imagine if every plane was one use only, how expensive flying would be. Well, that’s why getting to space is expensive. This is great news.

However, Blue Origin is only traveling at sub orbital speeds. Their craft, New Shepard, reached a speed of Mach 3.72, or 1.2 km/s. To get into LEO, you need to be going about 8 km/s. The ISS travels at 7.66 km/s, so you need to be going at least that fast to dock with it. Blue Origin isn’t going into space with the ability to stay there, it’s just going really really high.

So, articles with titles such as “Jeff Bezos 1-0 Elon Musk: Blue Origin New Shepard lands successfully” piss me off. These are two different things. SpaceX is going after the ISS and Mars, where Blue Origin is not leaving Earth. The propagation of misinformation  in the media is.. staggering. We should know this. People should understand what an orbit is. Elon thinks so as well.

So, this is a great step for space flight, no doubt about it. But it isn’t what the media is making it out to be.

Exploration Mindset

Talk of Mars is getting more and more media attention. Because of that, reporters have been calling astronauts, agencies, schools and government officials to get their take on a mission to Mars. Much of the conversation has been centered around Mars One, a newcomer to the Mars race. Being the newcomer, the established players are rightly skeptical. However, I’ve found that skepticism has turned into negativity. It’s very easy to find criticism of the mission and difficult to find optimism. I find this troubling.

I find it especially troubling coming from Canadian astronauts. As a Canadian, I want my country’s astronauts to be the embodiment of the “can do” attitude. Their responses to the Mars One mission, a company up against formidable odds, shows me the Canadian Space Agency is becoming more and more risk averse. More than that, a general unwillingness to entertain new ideas seems prevalent in their culture.  to A sad state of affairs for the third nation in space.

Compare these two statements: It can’t be done vs How can it be done.

The knee jerk reaction I’m seeing is that a mission to Mars can’t be done. Everyone hopes it will, but they aren’t making a personal effort to get it done. They are more than willing to offer excuses as to why it won’t work, instead of solutions to get it to work. There is a big difference in thinking between the two mindsets.

Chris Hadfield

Hadfield is a household name around Canada. I’ve never met him, but I’ve watched his talks online and read his book. As the ISS commander, he no doubt understands leadership and determination. That makes it all the more confusing to me when a bold plan is announced, he’s against it.

“There’s a great, I don’t know, self-defeating optimism in the way that this project has been set up, I fear that it’s going to be a little disillusioning for people, because it’s presented as if for sure it’s going to happen.”

But that’s exactly how you set goals. You set an objective, a time line then start working the details. You don’t set a goal to “maybe”. You set a goal to “we are doing this”. As ISS commander I’m sure he did this over and over again. There were goals in place, and he had to make them happen. You set your goals and adjust your strategy as time goes on to ensure they happen. You may not know all the details when you start towards a goal; the most important thing is that you start.

“I want to know: How does a space suit on Mars work? Show me how it is pressurized, and how it is cooled. What’s the glove design? None of that stuff can be bought off the rack. It does not exist. You can’t just go to SpaceMart and buy those things.”

Hadfield is talking about the details. The short answer is they haven’t been worked out yet. However, MIT and NASA are both working on new suits for Mars. The details are being worked on. Why didn’t he say “I’m anxious to see how the new prototypes work” rather than tell the media they don’t exist. I’m sure he’s aware of the efforts being made. He choose to talk in the negative; implying that it’s better not to even try. As for Space Mart, it’s looking like the aerospace business is going in the direction.

Why isn’t he using his public clout to get people excited and engaged with new space ventures?

Robert Thirsk

Bob is a fantastic man. I’ve personally been to his lectures, chatted with him and shared a few beers. I’ve even spoken to students about Mars at the high school named after him. He’s very knowledgeable, calculated and detail oriented. He’s also said an effort to colonize Mars would be a suicide mission.

“I don’t think we’re ready … we don’t yet have the reliable technology to support a one-way trip to Mars … It’s naive to think we’re ready to colonize Mars — it’d be a suicide mission.”

He doesn’t say “let’s get ready” or “here are the steps” or even “I would rather see…”. He said it’s naive to think we are ready, and trying is the same thing as suicide. That to me is uncompromisingly defeatist. I will agree, we do not have reliable technology. My solution would be to get reliable technology, not to call it adempted suicide. When confronted with an obstacle, the winner starts to think how they will overcome it; the loser goes home. It’s a frame of mind that seems to be missing from the Canadian astronaut alumni.

Bob is the current University of Calgary Chancellor, a position that carries academic visibility. The UofC has a department of space research and an observatory. So why the negative comments about a new space venture? Why wouldn’t he use his position to encourage students to critically examine the mission? Instead honest effort is causally dismissed.

Julie Payette

Julie is one of the few women who’ve made it into space. When I heard her talk in Montreal, she spoke about overcoming the male dominated aerospace industry during her journey to becoming an astronaut. She spoke about the uphill battle against the preconceived notions of the day. That makes her harsh words for the mission all the more baffling.

“So, if you meet any of those people, don’t tell them they’re courageous because the only courage they had was to sign up on a website.”

I wonder if any of her male colleges told her the same sort of thing as she was trying to prove herself. I wonder if they said things like, “Don’t pay attention to Julie, she’s a woman”. Yes, the Mars One mission looks completely different than what’s been done in the past. It goes against conventional mission planning. So did women in aerospace and engineering at one point. How she doesn’t see that parallel is baffling to me. Her reaction is to say it can’t be done, instead of asking how it can be done.

“We don’t have the technology to go to Mars, with everything we know today, so I don’t think that a marketing company and a TV-type of selection, is sending anybody anywhere,”

She goes on to say:

“We are going to go to space on a commercial basis and it’s at our doors, It’s a reality that will become the norm in the next decades.”

She’s saying it both ways. A marketing company can’t get into the space business, but space will become commercial in the next decades. This is the positive talking that I’m referring to. Looking to what’s possible and what’s on the horizon. Commercial space will become a reality and space travel will become monetized. Why then, such negativity when a company attempts to do just that? She displays outright hostility to those who want to follow her footsteps and reach for something bigger than themselves. She believes that taking steps to Mars, small as they may be, are worthless.

This attitude is coming from the Chief Operating Officer of the Montreal Science Centre. A centre whose mission is to “… to help visitors of all ages acquire an understanding of science and technology for use in building their future” Why is she lashing out at people who are trying to do just that?

 

 

I ask my questions with the hope of an answer. Why are Canadian astronauts so negative towards new ventures?

Mars One Round 3

Today the Mars One Round 3 candidates were selected, and I was not among them.

It was nearly 14 months ago when I was first chosen to be a Mars One candidate; part of the 1058 in Round 1. Since that time my life has changed quite a bit. I’m a much more capable person now, I’ve had experiences that I otherwise would have not done. The past 14 months has been an adventure for me and I’m going to take what I’ve learned and continue that adventure.

Since learning that I was a candidate for the Mars One mission, I’ve spoken to hundreds of adults and thousands of kids about Mars and space exploration. I spent 9 weeks at the International Space University increasing my knowledge about everything space. I’ve gained new skills I’m not about to stop now. While the decision is disappointing, it’s reassuring to have an answer. Now I can fully commit to other endeavours that I was unsure about.

I’ve signed up with the Alberta Science Network and I will continue to talk to people about Mars and space exploration. I have a new job and I will be honing my project engineering skills. I will continue to physically train myself and set ever higher goals.  I will continue to support Mars One and any mission that brings people closer to the surface of Mars and exploring our solar system. 2015 is going to be a busy year and I’m absolutely looking forward to it.

Life on Mars won’t be awful

Is life a disgusting toil of never ending disappointment to you?

Myself, I believed my life, and life in general is rather fantastic. There are those who walk among us who disagree. Gerry Flynn wrote a blog titled “Life On Earth Is Shit, Life On Mars Will Be Just As Awful“. It’s just as full of adolescent name calling and unrealistic hyperbole as one would expect from the title. The first sentence completely sets the tone: It says a lot about our life on Earth that when Mars One announced in April 2013 nearly 200,000 meat-sacks decided that their futile existence of toil, eczema and club-points would be infinitely improved if blasted millions of miles away from the rest of society and into space. The post is a complete fabrication  from the author’s opinions, however I feel it important to tackle the text. Misconception is never a good thing. I realize it’s been posted under comedy, but I don’t find this angry text fun or beneficial to the wider understanding of exploration.

Life On Earth Is Shit, Life On Mars Will Be Just As Awful

Let’s start with the title. We have it good on Earth, despite what the news will tell you. We live in the most peaceful time in human history. We have an ever increasing life expectancy across the world. We are constantly creating an increasing amount of data that tells us more and more who we are. Things are good, and they are getting better.

I absolutely reject that life on Earth is shit. It’s never been better. Life on Mars will be difficult, just as any exploration is. Because something is challenging doesn’t make it awful and extending falsehoods about Earth to future exploration in the solar system is damaging to those explorations.

Firstly, my suspicion was aroused by the involvement of Lockheed Martin – a company who having long since perfected the art of decimating mankind with the ruthlessly efficient innovation of high powered death machines and are now taking time out from their regular schedule of being a real-life version of ACME from Looney Tunes to assist Big Brother in Space (as I’m sure it’ll be renamed before liftoff) in propelling the next generation of humanity into another fruitless existence on an even more barren and inhospitable planet than Staines could ever aspire to.

If your suspicions are aroused by the involvement of Lockheed Martin in a space mission, that tells me you know nothing about space. Lockheed build the Hubble, the spacecraft that gives us all those fantastic background pictures for our computers. They’ve been involved with half a dozen other space telescopes, not to mention being the prime contractor for several Mars missions including the Phoenix lander. This is of particular importance, because the Mars One lander is based off the Phoenix architecture due to the similarities in water extraction for both missions. This is a perfectly reasonable course of action and is no cause for alarm.

What with the Mars One mission statement consisting of barely a single paragraph, namely extolling the virtues of “inspiring future generations,” but chiefly aiming to establish a human settlement on Mars, it’s hard to see what the point of all this interstellar butt-fuckery is.

A mission statement should be clear, easily understood sentence. It reads It is Mars One’s goal to establish a human settlement on Mars. That seems pretty clear to me. The point, as was eloquently put, is to establish a permanent settlement on a celestial body other than Earth. There are many reasons to study Mars, and many more to settling the planet. It’s a big idea, with lots of complex parts. I get that it’s not easy to grasp. It is not, however, butt-fuckery. Nor is it interstellar; that’s something completely different.

Considering what an awful, money-grubbing, bastard society of shit-gobs we’ve crafted down here on Earth, what little hope can be reserved for our colonising cousins – especially when the Mars One website compares its batch of space-monkeys to “Vikings and famed explorers of Old World Europe.” So in essence they’re going to go and introduce credit-lending financial systems to whatever resides out there in the black and crush any resistance they meet with an iron fist, presumably before subjugating any extraterrestrial existence under a brutal regime of rape and murder all in the name of televised entertainment.

I consider the people of Earth to be much more than that. Composers, artists, engineers, dreamers, athletes and comedians. It’s easier than ever to pursue what your passion is, and it’s up to each person to put the effort in. There are those that don’t, true, and it could be argued that the barrier to entry is a bit short in places. The world is full of good, and exploration helps us become better at being us. Without explorers we would all be living in caves, with very little technology to aid us. Getting to Mars is a stretch goal that will aid humanity into becoming even more amazing.

Also, there’s no reason to get mad at the Vikings, they were rather normal people for their time. Almost all the stories that are told about them are exaggerated. They were great explorers and skillful traders. Their culture has a lot to be admired, and I do admire their exploration spirit. I was given a copy of the Viking laws by a Scandinavian man I met at ISU and I keep in on my fridge. I run into a lot of negativity about missions to Mars and it usually dissipates once I get a chance to share some of the facts.