Thursday, May 18, 2006

Yet Another Flying Car

Another flying car is being promised for the masses. This one will get 40 mpg, cost around $150,000 and be a fully functional airplane that also drives like a car.
It's called Transition and its inventor is hailing it as the world's first "roadable aircraft."

It remains to be seen if the thing will even fly, much less sell. And it reminds me very much of some past flying cars, namely the Airphibian and the AeroCar, which both date back to the 1950's.

In fact, the latest Aerocar designs call for a detachable 'airplane assembly' that you simply back your car into, attach some bolts to, and then use to get airborne and land safely...

Japan Offers Rock Bottom Price On Commercial Space Launch: FREE

The Associated Press is reporting Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will offer free launch space aboard its H-2A rockets. Payloads of up to 50 kilograms can piggyback aboard already planned government launches. Hence the weight restrictions.

Anyway, applications are being accepted all year, but applicants are limited to Japanese companies, individuals or groups. And profit-making ventures will be excluded, so no get-rich-quick schemes....

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

APEX Series Spacecraft Closer to Reality

SPACEHAB has been crowing about the capability of its yet-to-be-built APEX spacecraft system for years now. But recently, a possible NASA contract has brought the project a little closer to seeing daylight.

SPACEHAB has certainly seen its share of successes. Their hardware has flown on past shuttle missions and is currently flying on the International Space Station. They have a working commercial space-business model that seems poised to explode in growth; maximizing profit potential through lucrative NASA contracts and by providing a reliable to-orbit payload delivery system.
Assuming they can get APEX off the ground...

Monday, May 15, 2006

Astrobiologist Dishes Dirt On NASA

Although a little wistful and melodramatic at times, Keith Cowing's four part essay on the deterioration of astrobiology-science at NASA under current Chief Mike Griffin is insightful. We're not often privy to the inner thoughts of scientists and researchers--usually relegated instead to just their discoveries.
Plus, since Cowing is an astrobiologist, scientist, researcher, writer and Web master--and has done work for the NASA Haughton-Mars Project--he knows of what he writes.
And he writes a lot.

While we at SBA have applauded Griffin in the past for his efforts at getting back to spaceship basics, trying to save the Hubble and keeping NASA under some-sort of budgetary constraint, we would be disheartened to hear he had turned his back on the very spark that ignites the curiosity of everyone who dreams of heading for the stars...Life.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Researchers Trip the Light Fantastic and Send It Speeding Backwards

Scientists at the University of Rochester in New York have done things Einstein said were impossible: They have slowed light down and somehow managed to speed it up to the point it actually travels backward.

It's little more than a trick really. The speed of light has not changed. It remains constant at approximately 186,000 miles-per-second. However, the dynamics of the way the light beam travels does change. Instead of flowing in a constant line along an optical cable, the beam skips to the end of the line and travels back to the beginning.
Making light travel faster than usual is nothing new. They've been doing that for years now. But this is something completely new and unexpected.

For full details, you're probably much better off reading the complete press release, but suffice to say, the more we think we know about the laws of the Universe, the more we realize we have left to learn...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Planned US Commercial Spaceports

AP Science Writer, Alicia Chang, tells a tale of US spaceports from coast to coast.

The New Mexico port is gaining the most attention, simply due to its affiliation with the Rocket Racing League and SpaceShip One. But my eye is on Jeff Bezos' planned venture in Oklahoma, Blue Origin.
Bezos has made it clear he is not interested in the commercialization of space. He wants to colonize the Solar System...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Discovery Heads To Assembly Building

Space Shuttle Discovery, still on schedule for a July launch, headed to the vehicle assembly building today. The trip only took about an hour-and-a-half. Once inside workers will begin the week long task of attaching to the (newly re-designed) external fuel tank and the twin solid rocket boosters.

After that, it will begin the long, slow crawl to the launch platform where it will be launched and then later docked with the International Space Station. It is delivering a German astronaut to ISS along with some supplies. It will also test an assortment of in-flight safety features such as tile damage detection and repair.

Although July 1st is the tentative launch date, NASA is keeping the entire month open as a launch window, just in case...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

H-Prize is Da Bomb

In an effort to spur the imagination of countless American youth, not to mention finding a cheap way to produce clean-burning hydrogen, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed legislation creating the "H-Prize."
The first person (or team) to develop this new "breakthrough technology" (within the next 10 years) will receive the grand prize of $10 million. Assorted other smaller prizes are also available through the same program. In all, about $35 million is up for grabs.

I don't know about America's Youth, but surely somebody will consider that incentive enough to change the world...

Texas Turns Its Back On Oil, Embraces Wind Power

Texas, known as much for its oil rig dotted landscape as it is for cowboys and cattle, is turning more and more to an alternative power source. Wind turbines are popping-up all over the Lone Star State like prairie dogs in the desert.
This latest project would slap 500 wind turbines in the Gulf of Mexico off Padre Island. With the exception of some complaints about dangers to migratory birds, the project seems sound.
But there have been other projects, large and small, that promised the wonders of wind power.
According to, Texas has a number of sites suitable for the development of wind turbine power parks. It also has a list of a half dozen wind turbine farms and assorted solar energy projects currently in use.

Overcoming our energy deficit is part of moving forward as a species. Getting into space requires massive amounts of energy. Traveling between the planets, much less the stars, requires even more massive amounts of energy.
Many people are saying it's time we turn to alternative energy sources.

At least, they are in Texas...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Enceladus Erupting Water; Could Harbor Life

That Saturn's tiny, icy moon called Enceladus was spouting water vapor is old news. That this water vapor comes from geyser-like vents of barely subsurface water pools heated to above freezing is shockingly new.

Not only does this make Enceladus ( just 498 km in diameter) one of only three places in the Solar System where active volcanism can be found--Jupiter's moon Io and Earth are the other two. (Neptune's moon Triton is also a possibility, but that's still unconfirmed.) It's also one of only four locations where liquid water is found--Earth, Mars and Europa being the other three. And these two facts make it one of a growing number of places which scientists believe may harbor life.
Check out this cool NASA video for more info. Or if you're feeling nostalgic, check out this old Voyager flyby movie from a couple decades back.

Life. The possibilities are seemingly endless...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

NASA Finds Yet Another Way To Extract Oxygen From Lunar Soil

It's great that NASA scientists, and researchers around the world for that matter, are discovering new and improved ways of extracting breathable oxygen--among other useful things-- from lunar soil.

If you didn't know, lunar soil is rich in oxides--molecules fused with oxygen. Break these molecules apart and the oxygen is released.
Some use carbon monoxide, others use a focused lens, but they all achieve the same spectacular results: Oxygen lunar citizens can breathe!

Now, if only NASA could just figure out how to get people to the Moon, they could put all this wonderful research to good use...

Old News Is Good News For Ansari

This story actually broke a month ago, but in case you missed it, it's worth noting.

Anousheh Ansari, a wealthy telecom entrepreneur and one of the key sponsors of the X-Prize, is undergoing training right now to be the next space tourist.

At around $20 million a trip, Ansari can afford it, and given her support of private space exploration it's sure she has the grit to get through the training.

Plus, she's a great role model for impressionable young girls everywhere....

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Leonard David Warns of 'Space Katrina'

Venerable Space Writer, Leonard David, warns of the dangers of (and apparent lack of governmental planning for) an asteroid strike.

This danger is nothing new. In fact, it's been with us throughout our evolution. Only chance has kept us relatively unscathed. Unless you count the time the human race was reduced to fewer than 10,000 souls (most likely caused by the Toba catastrophe.)

Anyway, David presents a good argument for public involvement. Petition your Congressman, Magistrate, Lord or whatever you have that passes for 'government' to learn more and force legislation to work on an international project to protect the Earth.
After all, it's the only one we have...

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Shuttle Team Infighting Continues is reporting that engineers within NASA are in disagreement over the best re-fit of the shuttle's external fuel tank.
It's widely believed gangway-type ramps on the exterior of the tanks are causing the breakaway foam issue. There are various options to solving the problem--including flying the ship 'as-is.'
They have yet to decide which system will be the best for the fleet.
Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-115) in the meantime, is still tentatively scheduled for a July launch.
As is...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Build a Lunar Lander, Win $2.5 Million

NASA and the X-Prize Foundation have teamed up to spearhead a new Lunar Lander centennial Challenge worth $2.5 million to the first team to design, build and demonstrate a lunar Lander.
There will be two stages to the challenge, each designed to test different capabilities of the craft. Each Lander must hover, land and reach low-Moon-orbit.

It's hoped the partnership will procure a new and better craft faster than the traditional method, which hasn't worked well for quite some time.
Other centennial Challenges include re-designing the astronaut glove; building a space-elevator-type tether; extracting Oxygen from moon dirt; and systems to beam power from point-to-point.

Watch the Huygens Film

NASA has released a five-minute-movie, time-elapsed film of the descent of the Huygens Probe onto Titan.
Saturn's tiny moon has been getting a lot of attention lately from both Huygens and the Cassini craft that got it there.
And actually watching film of the craft viewing the red atmosphere, focusing on the ever-closing landscape, and then thudding to a stop on the surface, seems worth every bit the cost...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

DARPA Ups the Ante With Latest Challenge

Fresh from the stunning success of their first Challenge, DARPA(Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-essentially the US government military gear lab) is now pushing for a robot vehicle that can dodge other drivers, obey traffic laws and find its way through twisty-turning city streets.
This latest Challenge is set for 2007, but word has been spreading around the 'Net for months. Ever since DARPA essentially "self-leaked" it in a survey e-mail sent to earlier contestants.

When DARPA set their first challenge, it was incredible that teams even finished. But they learned from their mistakes; they were driven and aggressive. They enjoyed the challenge of achieving success, just for the spirit of it.

It seems likely the next set of challengers--everyone from Cal-tech to MIT to Stanford (last year's winner) to anybody with the brains and guts to give it a try--will amaze us as well.

Monday, May 01, 2006

A Great One Goes Away: Eileen Collins Bids NASA Adieu

CNN has been reporting, astronaut, pilot, scientist and adventurer, Eileen Collins, 49, announced today she was resigning her position with NASA in order to spend more time with her family.

She can be commended for her loyalty to her family as she was loyal to this country, through its space program by being the first woman to pilot a shuttle, first pilot to link with Mir, first female commander in the 1999 Columbia mission to launch the Chandra X-Ray Telescope and for being(according to STS-93 Mission Specialist Michel Tognini and others) a pretty nice person to hang around with.

Eileen Collins, we salute you! But, at least now there's room for the next record-breaking female astronaut...(Damaris, I'm looking at you...)