Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Stephen Colbert: First American Comedian in Space?

With enough “political clout” to affect the outcome of a recent NASA survey on what to name a new ISS module, does Stephen Colbert has a chance to be the first American comedian in space?

By: Ringo Bones

When it comes to underwriting worthy causes that he believes in, Stephen Colbert did recently manage to sponsor the US speed-skating team after their Dutch backer got broke. Although the most audacious show of how much political clout that he has happened much earlier back in April 2009 when his very popular voting campaign on his show –The Colbert Report – almost made NASA’s campaign to name a new International Space Station swing to his favor. And given his “power over NASA”, does Stephen Colbert have that proverbial “right stuff” to be the first American comedian in space?

Although after dubbing himself as the “first clown in space”, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy LaLiberté managed to make himself the first Canadian space tourist to have a “working vacation” in the International Space Station. After raising the 35 million US dollars or so space-fare for the Soyuz Launch Vehicle in the Baikonor Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. By planning it as a platform to raise awareness of the difficulty of having reliable safe drinking water by the world’s poor with the One Drop Foundation – all for water, water for all - Guy LaLiberté doesn’t want his first space vacation to be just a mere “ego trip”. LaLiberté also trains rigorously months before his launch so that he won’t be a burden to his fellow astronauts. He even managed to perform his signature Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics while weightless in the ISS. Luckily, someone of Guy LaLiberté’s stature was deemed too high brow to dub himself as the first comedian in space, so Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report still has a chance at the title.

Speaking of his powers over NASA, Stephen Colbert did manage to have certain vital equipment on the International Space Station named after him. Called the COLBERT which stands for Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, a namesake of The Colbert Report presenter Stephen Colbert. As everyone knows, exercise equipment such as the COLBERT is very important on the ISS because in weightless conditions, astronauts could easily suffer from osteoporosis due to calcium leaching out from their bones in an accelerated manner due to the weightless conditions of low-Earth-orbit.

But Mr. Colbert should decide soon if he wants to be the first American comedian in space because by 2010, the planned NASA space shuttle retirement will have NASA astronauts hogging the Baikonor Cosmodrome launch facilities to get to the International Space Station. So there will be no more space tourist even if they have their 35 million dollars until the time NASA finds a replacement for their about to be retired space shuttle fleet. This could be doubly bad for the space tourism industry and it might give Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld a chance to beat Stephen Colbert as the first American comedian in space.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Moon Landing Hoax: Still Crazy After All These Years?

Forty years has gone by since man first landed on the Moon, but why isn’t anyone asking why the “Moon Landing Hoax” rumor got started in the first place?

By: Ringo Bones

Given that I’ve always been fascinated by our yet still fledgling efforts to explore outer space. I was hoping that this year Americans will going to be celebrating in a big way about one of their nation’s greatest achievement – if not the greatest achievement – of landing men on the Moon and bringing them safely back to Earth. Like it’s been 40 years. Will we be celebrating this year on July 20, 2009 about the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing? Or will America be saving for the “Big 5-0” – i.e. 50th Anniversary (July 20, 2019?) celebration 10 years from now on the Moon Landing. But for better or for worse, there’s one topic that’s rarely been discussed that it has even raised suspicions that there has been a conspiracy of a cover-up on efforts in trying to prove that the NASA Moon landings were a hoax. Although rational methods have proven that the Moon Landings were real, the bad news is that proofs supporting the contrary are easy to “create” yet hard to disprove that ideas like these even attract the attention of the finest minds in the scientific community around the world.

I’ve seen that episode on Mythbusters were they set-up experiments proving that the Moon landings were real and I even watched the reruns. Though I’m convinced, it is very, very easy to cast doubt about the authenticity of Neil Armstrong and company’s heroic accomplishments through criminal trial lawyer-style logic and reasoning. I mean those quartz retro-reflectors could easily have been placed by a robotic spacecraft. Although if America’s robotic spacecraft technology were that advanced in 1969, the air war over Vietnam would have been fought by unmanned aerial vehicles like those currently in use in Afghanistan. Sadly America’s robotic spacecraft technology wasn’t that well developed back in 1969. Just ask any retired aerospace engineer. Even though if you put yourself in the criminal trial lawyers shoes, you’ll be able to easily figure out the nuts and bolts – i.e. what and how behind the Moon Landing Hoax. But the question now is why did this Moon Landing Hoax idea have gained so much credibility after all these years.

First here’s something that’s trapped between the “how” and the “why” the Moon Landing Hoax got started in the first place. Back in the late 1960s – or around July 20, 1969 - people like today’s Rush Limbaugh, Bill “Papa Bear” O’Reilly, Glen Beck, and the rest of Fox News Network ruled America. These “salt-of-the-earth” people could utter their personal opinions and beliefs, though it was mostly their low opinion of African-Americans and Jews (remember Billy Graham’s accidentally captured on TV “stranglehold of the Jews” speech?). Sadly, these are the kind of people who vehemently claimed the achievement’s of NASA’s manned space program even though this feat is supposedly dedicated to all mankind. Add to that the conservative Right Wing’s belittlement of other cultural revolutions in America that’s happening together with the Moon landings. Like the 1969 Woodstock concert, Or the Peace and Love revolution in Haight Ashbury.

Though I’ve heard rumors that there was a movie made in the 1970s about the faking of the Moon landings but to tell you the truth, the earliest that I’ve even heard about the Moon Landing Hoax topic was in the movie Sneakers back in 1992. And to think that R.E.M. ‘s song Man on the Moon makes them appear as Moon Landing Hoax believers’ apologists. Maybe the Discovery Channel should rerun that Mythbusters Moon Landing Hoax episode to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s landing on the Moon.

But is it possible that the popularity of this Moon Landing Hoax movement is what’s holding back America’s space exploration program? I mean NASA is probably very busy working on a special camera so that viewers will never doubt whether their next Moon landing TV (or Internet Web version whatever) broadcasts in the 2020s will never be accused of being staged in a Burbank soundstage.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Space Debris: A Threat to Space Commerce?

Will space commerce become more costly due to the high-profile collision of an American telecommunications satellite with an inactive Russian Cosmos military satellite back in February 10, 2009?

By: Vanessa Uy

Given that the recent on-going conversion of a former RAF airbase in Moray into the world’s first commercial spaceport means that humanity is now poised for a large-scale commercialization of space. Especially when it comes to space tourism. But after that recent high-profile collision of an American commercial telecommunications satellite with an inactive Russian Cosmos military satellite when both apparently tried to cross the same orbit window at the same time created an additional 600 or so pieces of space debris. Will this make future commercial civilian space ventures more costly, given that insurance premiums for satellites and other space-based assets need to be restructured (usually more expensive) due to the increased risks?

At orbital speeds of 17,380 miles per hour, every piece of space debris will be hitting spacecraft and satellites with the force comparable to that of an exploding fragmentation grenade. During the Reagan Administration, NASA policymakers proposed to prospective commercial satellite owners to harden – i.e. use armor plating – to their satellites as a protection against space debris. Though the proposal was swiftly abandoned when the weight burden incurred by the armor plating necessitates a more powerful rocket – hence a more expensive rocket - to launch them. Given at the time that the Russian Energia rocket – which became the world’s most powerful rocket / launch system in the 1990’s - was probably still in the planning stage.

As space tourism will probably become space commerce leading “cash cow” in a few years time, the threat posed by orbital debris cannot be easily overlooked. Especially if you want repeat customers who are willing to pay serious money just to experience a few minutes of weightlessness. Errant space debris breaching a hole in your space-bound tour bus can really give your clients a very bad day. Using Victor Szebehely’s celestial mechanics calculations to predict orbital debris path is no walk in the park either. While NORAD ’s RADAR system can only “see” certain sized objects. Smaller ones can still hit a space-bound tour bus with a force of a hand grenade.

While research studies modeling the behavior of space debris and their associated risk had been very helpful in providing data to make insurance products especially tailored for space commerce. After reading Space Debris: Models and Risk Analysis by Heiner Klinkrad, academic research such as these can be very helpful to those who want to know how insurance providers use risk assessment data in crating equitable insurance clauses intended for multi-million dollar space-based assets.

The resulting orbital debris produced by the recent satellite collision already endanger the long-term future of the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station whose structural hardware are not design to cope with debris packing energies similar to that of an exploding hand grenade. Even though future space-based assets are certainly insured, the monetary compensations are more often than not after-the-fact Band-Aids, rather than pro-active evasive procedures. Like the warnings / advisories provided by NORAD on incoming debris “seen” by their RADAR.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Moray: World’s First Commercial Spaceport?

If Virgin CEO Richard Branson already has the first purpose-built spacecraft for space tourism in the works, will Moray be it’s first spaceport?

By: Vanessa Uy

If the Scottish National Party and Virgin CEO Richard Branson gets their way, every potential space tourist with enough money will be soon going into space via the former RAF airbase in Moray. Towards the end of December 2008, the Scottish National Party or SNP has been very busy calling for the development of the former Royal Air Force base in Moray to be developed as the world’s first commercial spaceport. The world’s first designed exclusively for space tourist to access space at a cost a fraction of that currently provided by existing launch systems. Like the 20 million-dollar per person price tag of the Soyuz spacecraft of the Baikanour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The SNP ‘s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, wants Virgin Galactic to use RAF Lossiemouth in his constituency as an airbase exclusively for use in space tourism. Virgin has already identified the base as a possible location for commercial space enterprise. “The prospect of space flight from Scotland is a serious and exciting one.” Says Mr. Robinson. Will Whitehorn of Virgin Galactic had already checked out the RAF Lossiemouth site as far back as 2007. If they succeed, will this make the UK the world’s first regular space faring society - never mind the future leader when it comes to space commerce?

Everyone’s optimism when it comes to space tourism enterprise being run by a private corporation harks back to the golden age of “barnstorming” a few years after World War I. Back then, everyone who can afford – especially rich civilians – were busy building and flying “homemade aircraft”. Some of which flew much faster compared to planes then in regular service of most government-run air corps. There are even those philanthropic types who picked disadvantaged citizens the rare fortune of experiencing flight first-hand.

Today, even though space tourists who can afford the proposed 10,000 US dollars or so price tag of rocketing 60miles or 100kilometers into space just to experience the sensation of weightlessness first hand for more than a few seconds are growing. Most of us can hardly afford a low-cost airfare to visit those Seven Wonders of the World sites – let alone a near-space joyride. But given that technology is already in the works to slash the cost of space tourism even further, who knows that there would be some of us who will actually have their regular jobs in space, rather than just “mere tourists”.