Cloud City on Venus? Make it so!

December 26, 2014

venus sky base

(Photo credit: NASA Langley Research Center)

The fine folks at NASA are thinking it might be easier to go to Venus first, rather than Mars. After all, it’s nearer. But how, given the (to put it mildly) hostile conditions of the Venusian surface?

Simple: we build a colony above the clouds!

Called HAVOC – High Altitude Venus Operational Concept — engineers and scientists at the space agency have been studying ways in which a Venus mission would be possible.

“The atmosphere of Venus is an exciting destination for both further scientific study and future human exploration,” aerospace engineer Christopher A. Jones told CNN.

Venus is the closest planet to Earth, about 38 million kilometres, compared with 54.6 million km to Mars. However, it is also highly inhospitable with a mean temperature of 462 degrees Celsius, a cloud layer of sulphuric acid and atmospheric pressure that’s 92 times greater than Earth’s.

Scientists say, however, that just 50 kilometres above the cloud layer are conditions that mimic Earth – pressure is almost the same and so is the gravity and the temperature is about 75 C. With current technology, the astronauts could be outfitted in special suits to withstand the heat.

In previous years, probes have been sent to the surface of Venus, but could only last about two hours.

NASA has also provided a concept video (via):

There’s a fuller discussion at the IEEE Spectrum.

NASA projects the initial mission to last about 30 days, but, over time, the station itself could become permanent, with researchers coming and going. (And tourists? Why not?)

If you know me, you know I grew up watching and loving the space program. While I support private space efforts, I think a NASA-lead exploration program fits with our “Lewis and Clark” traditions. Add to that the possibility of a Star Wars-like “Cloud City” (1), and I’m all for it. Let’s start tomorrow!

We’ve walked on the Moon. No reason we can’t soar above Venus.

(1) Okay, okay. Not even close to Cloud City. But ya gotta start somewhere! smiley thumbs up


And so it ends not with a bang, but a whimper

July 21, 2011

Yesterday was the 42nd anniversary of America’s greatest triumph in space exploration, the first manned landing on the Moon. Here’s a video commemorating that moment:

(via GinTheGin)

And late last night, 42 years after Neil Armstrong first stepped on another world and 49 years after John Glenn became the first American to enter orbital space (1), our manned space program came to an end with the landing of the shuttle Atlantis.

In the dark, as if to spare us the embarrassment:

(via The Jawa Report)

And, yes, I know there are plenty of reasons why a private space exploration program is a good idea; I even agree with many of the arguments. But I don’t want to hear them just now.

I’m not in the mood.

(1) Of course, Alan Shepard went first in Freedom 7, but that was a suborbital flight. Impressive and heroic, but not quite slipping the “surly bonds of Earth.”

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

Saving our space program: the Free Frontier

February 9, 2011

I’m a child of the space program. As a kid in the 60s, I lived for those days when the rockets would take off from Cape Canaveral/Cape Kennedy and head for the stars. My parents would even let me stay from school on the day of a launch, figuring I’d learn more watching the lift-off than I would miss by playing hooky for one day. I had the whole launch sequence memorized and knew all the stages of the rockets and all the names of the men riding them. The voice of Mission Control was the Voice of the Future and the Age of Super-Science.

And when you add in movies like Forbidden Planet, The Thing, and The Day the Earth Stood Still, or TV shows like Star Trek, I was convinced back then that I’d one day be taking family vacations at Disneyland-Mars.

Boy, was I wrong.

Soon after that glorious moment when Man —Americans— first walked on an alien world, NASA became a space taxi-cab service and then decayed into a tool of the global-warming scam and a vehicle for bolstering Muslim self-esteem. Now, with the last shuttle flight, we can’t even take ourselves into space, anymore. We have to hitch a ride from… the Russians. How the mighty have fallen.

As you can imagine, that little boy still somewhere inside me was scuffing his toes and pouting.

In recent years, though, I’d become intrigued with the possibilities of space exploration as a private enterprise. The Wright brothers-like exploits of Burt Rutan showed the way, but I hadn’t realized until very recently just how big the private space-flight movement was and how far it had come along, and what hope it held for reviving an American space program.

All of which serves as a long-winded introduction to the following video from Bill Whittle, the Free Frontier:

That little boy is cheering again.

LINKS: More at Hot Air.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

At last, NASA has a real mission

July 5, 2010

Not to go where no one has gone before, or even back to where we once were (the Moon). Nah, that’s small potatoes. According to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, President Obama has given NASA a new mission: making the Muslim world feel good about itself.

When I became the NASA Administrator — before I became the NASA Administrator — [Obama] charged me with three things: One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.

“Inspiring children” I can understand; when I was a child I found our space program immensely inspiring, especially that wonderful moment when we actually walked on another world.

But inspiring Muslim nations? Why is it the job of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to give self-esteem therapy Islamic countries? How does that relate to space? And isn’t that the job of those countries’ governments? Shouldn’t they be the ones to educate their own people honestly about their achievements? Of course, that would require not only looking frankly at past Islamic glories (many of which were the work of Jews and Christians kept as dhimmi peoples in the Islamic Empire’s early days), but also the fact that the Islamic world has been intellectually moribund for at least 500 years.

But that wouldn’t be good for self-esteem, would it?

Granted, I’ve come round to the idea that the private sector has a large role to play in space exploration and (particularly) exploitation, and there are promising elements to Obama’s vision of the space program, but if this is what NASA is to be relegated to, life-coach to the Islamic world, then just do the old horse a favor and put it out of its misery.

(To clarify, I think NASA still has a large role to play in space exploration in conjunction with private efforts, but that’s another post for another day.)

Meanwhile, where does this nonsense come from? As Byron York observes in the quoted article, this new direction for NASA flows from  the President’s Cairo University speech of 2009, which was a model of fatuity. It’s the community organizer approach to international problems, in which “reaching out” and “respect” substitute for facing hard facts, and in which a mistaken assumption of common values misleads one to think that talking and extending an unclenched fist will bridge even the most fundamental, paradigmatic differences.

It’s also naive as hell, which leads to bizarre empty gestures such as this and which is why a once-great agency is reduced to playing international therapist.

LINKS: More at Hot Air, Ace’s, Sister Toldjah, and Power Line. More still from Big Peace.

UPDATE: Charles Krauthammer rips Bolden a new one. Via Newsbusters:

“This is a new height in fatuousness,” Krauthammer said. “NASA was established to get America into space and to keep is there. This idea to feel good about their past and to make achievements is the worst combination of group therapy, psychobabble, imperial condescension and adolescent diplomacy.

Follow the link to see the video.

More on the space program budget cuts

February 3, 2010

From the fair is fair department, I should point out that not everyone shares my gloomy, pouting perspective on the new NASA budget. Michael Belfiore sees some good in it (h/t Instapundit):

The new budget calls for a course correction—for putting money back into the kind of basic research NASA does best, keeping the space station going through at least 2020, and hiring private contractors for crew and cargo flights. It’s a boon to private space flight companies such as SpaceX but an anathema to politicians who want to keep riding a very lucrative gravy train building paper spaceships. As SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said today during a commercial space telecon organized in response to the budget request, “There are certain members of congress who cannot be swayed by any rational argument. They simply want the answer to be that funding continues in their district independent of any sound basis for it.”

I would argue that the new direction is not just the best option for NASA, but the only one. NASA already has no choice but to rely on the Russians for rides to the International Space Station after the shuttle retires this year. It’s an embarrassment. Obama’s budget will open the door to homegrown solutions for crew and cargo delivery to the space station, while providing much needed research funding for the development of next-gen technologies such as heavy-lift rockets and on-orbit refueling depots.

It’s a step that’s long overdue, though not one without peril. The private sector will have some very big shoes to fill, without the track record to prove that it’s up to the job. And can it succeed without succumbing to the kind of bloat that has eaten our defense budget alive? Working with the government tends to increase the amount of paperwork and oversight, along with the bureaucracy required to handle that extra workload, so it’s a legitimate concern. But, after all, the goal is to reduce the cost of reaching space. It has become clear to the right people, including many engineers and managers at NASA, that the traditional way of doing things hasn’t been working. NASA and the White House have every incentive to keep out of the way of the private contracts as much as possible.

A bigger danger is that NASA could become the only customer for the fledgling spaceflight companies, making them de facto arms of the government, with all the attendant problems, and keeping them at the mercy of changing political winds. That’s one reason Robert Bigelow, CEO of Bigelow Aerospace, which is developing commercial space stations, shuns government financing. “We don’t have NASA currently on our radar screen as a client,” he said during today’s telecon.

That last problem is more likely than I think Belfiore believes; if we’re in for an extended period of statism, then government may well become a “partner” to private space firms. Witness what happened to GM and Chrysler. And even if they take no federal money, the US is still the sovereign over our airspace: they’ll need to placate the government just to get “up there.”

Still, if NASA is being gutted and repurposed to pursue the White Whale of global warming, private enterprise may well offer our best chance to really get back to the future.

Once upon a time, we had a space program

February 1, 2010

And it’s going to seem like a fairy tale to future generations, with the Obama administration killing a return to the Moon:

NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the moon are dead. So are the rockets being designed to take them there — that is, if President Barack Obama gets his way.

When the White House releases his budget proposal Monday, there will be no money for the Constellation program that was supposed to return humans to the moon by 2020. The troubled and expensive Ares I rocket that was to replace the space shuttle to ferry humans to space will be gone, along with money for its bigger brother, the Ares V cargo rocket that was to launch the fuel and supplies needed to take humans back to the moon.

There will be no lunar landers, no moon bases, no Constellation program at all.

I’ll be frank, this makes me very sad.  Sad

I grew up with the space program, from Mercury through Apollo. On launch days, my parents would let me stay home from school, figuring I’d learn more watching TV that day than I’d miss in class. I ran outdoors with my father to look at the Moon the day Neil Armstrong took that first step, and I was glued to the news during the Herculean effort to rescue Apollo 13. I waited patiently (okay, not so patiently) as the program was allowed to wither in the 70s and continue halfheartedly with the Shuttle program. And I remember how jarring it sounded when, for the first time in my life, I heard the calm, confident voice of Mission Control crack when he announced the shuttle Challenger had been lost.

All that time, I believed in my heart we’d return to real space exploration one day, and I cheered when President Bush announced a return to the Moon.

“Forget it,” says President Obama.

Sure, as Allahpundit argues, a fiscal conservative should have no problem with saving money in a time of recession and amidst insane profligacy. And, taken on its own, I’d agree with him.

But the idea that we can achieve significant savings by dropping the Lunar program is, well, a crock of you-know-what. The NASA budget is roughly $18 billion. The bills so far, over several years of development for the Ares rocket and the Constellation program has been an additional $8 billion. Call it $24 billion, total.

The Obama budget proposal released today projects a deficit of $1.267 trillion. The cost of NASA plus the Constellation program to date is less than 1.9% of the federal deficit. It’s six-tenths of a percent of the proposed budget. To argue that canceling the return to the Moon represents any real savings is farcical at best, and an insult to the intelligence of the American people. It’s like a fat man ordering a double bacon-cheeseburger and fries, and then claiming it’s okay because he also got a diet soda.

As I wrote on another matter:

You [President Obama] were willing to blow nearly $800 billion on a stimulus bill that was a monument to waste. You want to take over one-sixth of the American economy, a move opposed by nearly two-thirds of the nation, at a cost of … what is it these days, a trillion dollars? You have flushed down the toilet tens of billions on auto and mortgage bailout programs that have netted the Republic nothing. And that’s only in your first year!

And what’s NASA supposed to be doing, since it’s no longer taking us to the stars? Navel-gazing. Monitoring climate-change on Earth. The irony is almost overwhelming. We’re going to save money by not going to the Moon, but we’re going to flush down the toilet what we do spend tracking a “problem” that’s been shown to be a gigantic fraud. Head, meet brick wall.

While I applaud the plans mentioned in the original article to bring in more private contractors and I agree there’s an important role for the commercial development of the inner Solar System, I still believe we need a American space program.  I’m somewhat of a national greatness conservative; while I support the idea of limited government, there are still some areas that are legitimate Federal projects, and space exploration is one of them. A nation descended of pioneers, we need explorers to challenge the boundaries and open up to us the possibilities of “out there.” We need the jolt of national pride that comes from doing what everyone else says is impossible, like walking on the Moon. We need heroes.

Sure, it’s a romantic notion. For all the practical arguments one can make about the benefits of high tech developed through the program or of jobs provided from Alabama to California, it’s all about a kid’s dreams that came to life one day in July, 1969.

Don’t tell me kicking those to the curb is worth six-tenths of a percent.

LINKS: LowDown Central, where Lance Thompson say the President has mooned the American spirit. Pamela Geller on trillions for a hoax. Rich Trzupek – To Boldly Go Nowhere.

UPDATE: Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 co-pilot and the second man on the Moon, likes the plan.