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Wednesday, December 24, 2014


This is HAVOC, NASA's new proposal for utilizing lighter than air craft to explore and colonize Venus. This is an enormous paradigm shift for them. For years the common wisdom has been that Venus was utterly uninhabitable, with surface atmospheric pressures 92 times that of earth (about the equivalent of one kilometer under water on earth), and surface temperatures above 500° C. But of course, if we were to explore an earth-analog planet with oceans like ours, we would probably not begin exploring that at one kilometer down, either. By the simple physics of adiabatic lapse rate (the higher you go in the atmosphere, the colder and less dense it becomes), at some altitude above the surface of Venus the atmosphere is of terrestrial densities and temperatures. There are issues; sulfuric acid, for example, falls as rain there. But life support in this environment would be trivial compared to the Martian surface.

The transit times for a mission to the atmosphere of Venus and back to earth are much, much less than for trip to and from the surface of Mars. The Delta V budget to the Venusian atmosphere is higher than a landing on Mars (25 km/sec vs 19 km/sec), but this penalty may well be outweighed by the smaller amount of hardware needed to survive above Venus. This has very, very serious potential to be the first human exploration and colonization of another planet.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Orion Rising

Flawless launch, flight, re-entry and splash down. Nicely done, NASA. Welcome home. We've missed you.

And, a huge shout-out to United Launch Alliance as well. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Day late and a dollar short

Last week the ESA's Rosetta mission successfully landed the Philae probe onto the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Philae bounced several times before finally landing on the side of a cliff. A gentle reminder that for more critical missions which require landing, there is real virtue in having an actual human pilot at the controls.

The total number of bodies in the solar system we have successfully landed anything on intact now stands at seven; the Moon, Venus, Mars, Titan, the asteroids Eros and Itokawa, and comet Chury-Gery. We have returned samples only from the Moon, and asteroid Itokawa.

The next big robotic exploration destination will be when the Dawn spacecraft reaches Ceres next spring. I'm inclined to think that the Dawn Ceres data will be a game-changer in how we prioritize our upcoming human space exploration missions. As such, we'll be following it closely, here.

Friday, November 14, 2014


45 years ago today, this happened. Apollo 12, 37 seconds after liftoff, was struck by lightning, which wiped out all of its onboard electronics. The day was saved, the mission went on successfully. And "SCE to AUX" became t-shirt code for "I am the biggest geek in the room."

Ice Castles

Apparently this is still so classified that it cannot be read by a blogspot embed code, but the URL here is good.

This is a previously classified video about the US Army's nuclear powered under-ice facility in Greenland, called Camp Century. It didn't work very well, because the Greenland ice sheets were far more mobile than had been previously understood. But the techniques used here could be adapted to Ceres, Europa, or Enceladus. Note however the enormous logistics that were required to make this happen.