The U.S. space sector has been dominated by NASA and the Air Force with some responsibility recently going to the FAA. NASA in particular encompasses an unusually broad range of missions. In a New Atlantis article, James Bennett has proposed a Coast Guard for Space to provide better balance for the space sector. He suggests that the maritime sector, while not a perfect analog, provides a good model for restructuring the space sector. This idea deserves additional development.
I recently came across this piece on NanoRacks at Forbes. By providing a standardized interface for the ISS, they’re lowering the barriers to entry for research in space. This platform should be less expensive in most cases that a custom designed one, and NanoRacks knows the ropes for getting approval to run experiments on ISS. One of the early commercial experiments being run on NanoRacks is one by the Ardberg distillery to better understand the processes which give a scotch it’s flavor. In addition to their agreement with NASA, they’re working on similar platforms for XCOR and Virgin Galactic.
Capt. Alfred S. McLaren, Ph.D. gave a very interesting talk this morning on his experiences as a submariner, explorer, and research scientist at the monthly AABC MOAA meeting. The core of the talk was about the mission he led to chart the Siberian continental shelf as skipper of the USS Queenfish in 1970, but he also touched on his career leading up to that and his current activities. He’s published a book documenting this mission in Unknown Waters: A First-Hand Account of the Historic Under-ice Survey of the Siberian Continental Shelf by USS Queenfish (SSN-651).
At nearly 80 he’s still actively the exploring Earth’s polar and other oceans as pilot and director for Sub Aviator Systems. Where other submersibles mostly just go down and back up with limited mobility at depth, Sub Aviator builds one that flies like a fixed wing aircraft allowing exploration of a larger subsea area. He hopes to use the improved capability of their next generation craft to explore Black Sea and the deep volcanic vents in the North Atlantic. If he can figure out how to live long enough, he would also like to explore the oceans of Europa in about 30 years.
While my Miata is nicer in many ways than my old S2000 was, it’s a little on the tame side for my taste. Flyin Miata has some goodies that just might fix that.
Planetary scientist John S. Lewis is one of the foremost experts in extraterrestrial resources. His Mining the Sky is an approachable survey of those resources and how they could be utilized to extend human civilization beyond Earth. He begins each chapter with a short fictional passage illustrating the human impact that space resource utilization could have. He describes technologies that could be used without going into great detail.
If you want that you’ll need to research the technical liturature for now. There is no textbook for mining extra-terrestrial resources yet, but Dr. Lewis has recently joined Deep Space Industries as their Chief Scientist. He’ll be able to put his ideas to work there, and maybe write that book for the next generation of space miners.
The Science of Liberty explores the co-evolution of scientific thought and liberal democracy from the Enlightenment to the dawn of the 21st century. He tells of the influence of scientific thought on the American and French revolutions and both democracy and science threatened by totalitarian ideologies.
In addition to the expected close pass of 2012 DA14 by Earth today we had a wakeup call in the form of smaller asteroids that exploded over Russia and Cuba upon entering the atmosphere. These smaller asteroids were on very different trajectories at Earth approach so the may not be related to 2012 DA14, though the timing is suggestive.
While we don’t yet have an effective Spaceguard to deal with such events, some efforts toward one are under way. The B612 Foundation is a non-profit corporation founded a group of scientists including two astronauts with the objective to find and track Earth approaching asteroids to provide early warning of possible impacts, and develop means to deflect them if necessary. A donation to B612 seems to be in order. In developing technologies for prospecting and mining asteroids, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are also developing the means to counter the threat that asteroids and comets pose to our planet.
Joe Armstrong’s Programming Erlang makes a good case for the need for strong language support for concurrent programming and what Erlang is a good choice for developing concurrent systems. The CSP or Communicating Sequential Processes methodology cooked into Erlang provides an effective way to take advantage of increasingly ubiquitous multi-core hardware and write reliable, efficient distributed applications.
Armstrong provides a good introduction to programming significant applications in the language and the accompanying Open Telecom Platform (OTP). OTP is not just for telecommunications, but all types of network related programming, essentially providing a network operating system. It provides fault tolerance, scalability, dynamic code upgrades, and so on for industrial strength distributed applications that can run for years non-stop.
This is an excellent book for learning Erlang and concurrent programming. Unfortunately, I don’t like Erlang itself very much. I don’t like it’s syntax or single assignment variables, though one could get used to the first and there are good theoretical reasons for the latter. I’ve been spoiled by Python’s clean, readable syntax so I’ll keep looking for a better concurrent programming solution.
With Unilever’s buy of 22 Lynx flights, ordinary people will get the opportunity to experience space flight even if they can’t afford the $95,000 for a ticket. If this is a successful promotion, other companies are likely to follow in Unilever’s wake and we could see many more private space flight participants riding advertisements to space.
Nate Silver earned a reputation for predictions in baseball and politics. He shares his views on the art and science of prediction in The Signal and the Noise. Prediction is hard and he does a good job illustrating the pitfalls with case histories of prediction failures as well as successes. Prediction may become harder despite more data being available because the noise seems to be increasing faster than the signal.