Monday, March 27, 2023

A Space Junk Prize

 Some months ago, I wrote a post – A fun idea for a moon mission – about a robotic lunar program I would fund if I had billions to burn and wanted to help advance humans into becoming a spacefaring civilization.  The idea would be to 3D print bricks with actual lunar regolith to see how strong they would be.  I was thinking about this recently, and I wondered what other space missions I would fund – if I had billions to burn – to help humans in space.  What I came up with was the J-Prize, I guess, for space junk removal.

This would start with three small satellites, probably launched on an Electron rocket.  The first would be your basic cube sat, the second would be a larger cube sat, but with a solar panel sticking out so it would be odd shaped, and the third satellite would remain attached to the kick stage to help simulate a more massive satellite.  These would be put into slightly different orbits, but which are pretty much guaranteed to decay in the five-to-six-year range.  What exactly these satellites would do, I’d leave that to whoever builds them, probably schools or universities that I would give a free ride to orbit to.  There would be the understanding that these satellites would be given one year to function, but after that they would become targets for deorbiting tech demonstrations.  So they might function for the full five years, or get deorbited right after one year in orbit. 

The tech demonstrations would have three tiers.  The first tier would be to just inspect the satellites.  To that end, there would be symbols, or code phrases put on each.  Prelaunch photos of them would be blurred, and everyone who knows what they are would have to sign NDAs, so to get these codes you’d have to actually fly to these satellites.  And there might be two or three on each satellite, each worth X dollars.  For the third satellite, they might be big and easy to spot, but for the cube sat, they might just be a centimeter in size, so the imaging satellite would have to fly real close to be able to make it out.  So, unlike the other tiers which would pay out more for the larger satellites, for the first tier you’d make the most imaging the smallest.

The second tier would pay if you manage to deorbit the satellite early.  This could be accomplished by attaching some sort of drag, or attaching a small rocket to push it out of orbit, whatever.  The third tier would be if they manage to return the satellite intact to Earth. 

I have no idea what the exact prize amounts would be, but I’d say that the second tier would be more than enough to refund the cost of manufacturing the deorbiting satellite and launching it.  And, there would be bonus prizes.  Like, if a company successfully deorbits one of the test satellites, then for the next ten years they’d get $1 million for each piece of space junk they deorbit.  But if a company didn’t succeed with one of these test satellites, but they do succeed with some other junk within the next ten years, they’d get $500 thousand, or something.  Because the whole idea of this is to try to incentivize companies into finding ways to clean up space junk.  As such, I wondered if there should be a penalty if they damage a satellite and create space junk, but that would scare people off.  And that’s why these test satellites would be put into such short-lived orbits. 

So that’s my idea.  I’ll have to see what other ideas I can come up with to help humanity to become spacefaring, just in case I somehow become a billionaire and need some way to spend that money.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Short story – “Puppy Wuppy”

“Puppy Wuppy”

Jason ran into the kitchen and shouted, “This is it Sharon!  I’ve finally done it.”

Without looking up from her phone, Sharon asked, “What is it this time?”

“It’s a Human/Canine Translator.  Now dog owners will be able to have conversations with their dog.  We’ll make millions!”

Six months later

Sharon looked across the kitchen table at Jason and stated, “I want a divorce.”

Jason mumbled something in reply, barely lifting his head off the stack of legal documents. 

“‘We’ll make millions,’ you said,” she mocked.  “‘Every dog owner will want to have a conversation with their dog,’ you said.  ‘This is too big of a thing, if I took the time to do a full scale test one of the big tech companies would come in and steal my idea,’ you said.  Well maybe you should have let them steal the stupid idea.  Or better yet have done the full scale testing and discovered that half the dogs in America think their owners are idiots because they already talk to them like little babies.”

Her voice had steadily rose during her speech, but she paused for a moment to take a deep breath.  “You’re brilliant,” she said.  “You were able to imagine and then build a translator for people and dogs.  Yet you never took the time to think through how things work in the real world.  Yes, some dog owners bought the device to talk to their dog.  But then there were the paparazzi who bought them to get dirt on celebrities from their dogs.  Then police bought them because you don’t need a search warrant to talk to a dog about anything weird going on in a house.  And don’t get me started on the bestiality freaks.  And with countless people incensed at perceived invasions of privacy, the lawyers came out of the woodwork and they all figured out new and inventive ways to sue you.”

Sharon reached across the table and took Jason’s hand.  He didn’t lift his head.  “For eight years,” she said, “I’ve put up with your crazy schemes and inventions.  It took one of them to work for me to realize, I’ve had enough.”


I posted this years ago on a now defunct site.  I came across it while cleaning some folders and thought it needed to see the light of day again.  The idea came one time when I was trying to calm our old dog and wondered what he would have said if he could talk.  I realized how quickly any “puppy wuppy” stuff would become annoying.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Random Story – The teacher flipped us off

This is just an odd little story from my life.

Back in seventh or eighth grade, one day in – maybe history class – we had a substitute teacher.  To a seventh grader, she looked to be ninety, and she had a bit of a temper.  Older siblings had passed down the cruel nickname of Porkchop for her.  (I honestly can’t remember what her name was.)

Anyway, she’s teaching and she says something along the lines of there are five points to remember.  She raised her left hand with all her fingers held out.  With her right forefinger, she touched her pinky then folded it down while saying, “The first thing ….” We sat there and took notes.  For the second thing, she touched her ring finger and folded it, and we sat there taking notes.  But when it came time for the third thing, she touched her thumb.

So there she was, sitting in front of the class with her left hand held up with her fore and middle fingers up talking on about whatever.  And us students were all glancing at one another wondering which finger would she put down next.  And when she finally got the fourth thing, she touched her forefinger.

Now she’s in front of the class with her bony middle finger up to all of us, and we’re sitting there not believing it’s happening and trying not to laugh because we’d probably get sent to the office if we did.  And when the class ended like ten minutes later, we all rushed out and were laughing in the hall saying, “I can’t believe Porkchop flipped us off.”

At the time, I – and probably all of us – just figured she was old and didn’t know what she was doing.  But as an adult who knows some teachers, she probably just wanted to flip all of us asshole kids off.

Monday, February 27, 2023

An idea to explore lunar lava tubes

I’ve written before that Designing a practical lunar base is hard.  Having something easy to build while keeping astronauts safe from radiation and micrometeorites is a challenge.  One location for a base that is already safe from micrometeorites – and some radiation – would be in lunar lava tubes.  I was thinking about this one day, and I wondered how could we explore them?  They don’t seem to just open in the side of a cliff allowing us to just walk in.  The only way in seem to be these “skylights” where part of the roof has collapsed.  After some thought, I came up with this four-step plan on exploring a lunar lava tube.

Step 1

This would be a basic, solar powered rover, that would land a kilometer or so from a skylight.  It would then drive to within about twenty meters of the opening.  The last thing we want is to make the skylight bigger, so I want to be as careful as we can around these.  Attached to the rover would be a forty-meter cable with a set of lights and cameras on the end.  This would be fired into the skylight with a compressed gas canister.  The cameras would – hopefully – be able to give a view of the immediate area under the skylight.  There might even be LED “flares” that could be shot out to give a better illumination of the floor.  The main purposes of the mission would be to determine how thick the roof is, how deep it is to the floor, and if the floor is smoothish or just a jumble of rocks.

If the roof seems thick enough, and the cameras aren’t just hitting the wall, the rover could drive forward a meter or so at a time.  By taking more pictures, you could then build up a good 3D map of the area right under the skylight.

Hopefully, from the landing to the mapping could be done in less than two weeks.  That’s because as a solar powered rover, I don’t know if it would survive the lunar night.  I think some solar powered landers and rovers have, but if we don’t have to design for it to survive the night it would be cheaper. 

Step 2

This would use a bigger rover, powered by an RTG.  If the roof was thick enough, and you could pinpoint a landing, you could use just a lander, but a rover would make things easier.  It would again land a kilometer or so away, and drive to within ten or twenty meters of the edge.  It would then unroll a cable designed to reach the bottom of the lava tube, with some meters of slack.  At the end of the cable would be a base station.  This base station would use an airbag system like the Mars Pathfinder.  At the bottom of the skylight, the base station would deflate the airbags and unfold.  The communication and power would go up and down the cable, since you probably wouldn’t be able to communicate with Earth from the bottom.  And like Mars Pathfinder, this base station would have a rover, either wheeled if the bottom is smooth enough, or an insect like one if the floor is just a jumble of rocks.  The rover/walker would go out to explore, but would come back to plug back into the base station to recharge its batteries.  To do this, the base station may need a little robotic arm to reach out and plug the rover in.  

One option for this would be to have the base station with the cable land as a separate mission.  That way you’re not trying to fit it all on a rover that also has to fit on a rocket.  You could land the big RTG rover and have it spend a year or so doing various studies, and then you land the station and have the rover pick it up and take it to the skylight.

Step 3

Human exploration.  The main part of this step is an elevator.  I imagine you’d make some structure that would spread the weight out along the edge of the skylight, because you don’t want to make the skylight bigger.  This structure might even hang over the edge a few meters, depending on the walls and floor.  From the structure you could load astronauts and cargo into the elevator.  Set twenty or so meters back from the edge would be the power system to run the elevator’s winch.  I imagine you’d send two astronauts down while two remained to make sure the winch worked.  In case of an emergency, there would probably be a knotted rope type thing the astronauts could clip onto and climb out with. 

Assuming everything still works with the RTG rover from Step 2, that could be used as a communication system for the astronauts.  Or they could just bring larger, more capable rovers that could recharge off this RTG. 

Step 4

Building a base.  More missions would bring solar panels and battery packs, and maybe a small reactor.  These would be brought near the edge and the power cords lowered down.  The first outpost would be a prefab unit that would be lowered with the elevator and built.  The crew would spend most of their time down in the tube with as much work as possible on the surface down with robots. 

But to really build a colony would require better access to the tube.  This would be done either by finding an appropriate spot to tunnel out to the surface so you could just drive in, or by building a ramp at the skylight.  Both would probably require a lot of time and resources, but one future moon buggy will probably carry more people and cargo than can fit in the elevator.  And any burgeoning lunar base would have several.


We’re in the beginnings of a new era of lunar exploration.  Will something like this happen?  Only time will tell.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Short story – “You Can Do Better”

“You Can Do Better”

Heading back to her desk with a cup of tea, Carol stopped at Mike’s cubicle.  “What’s new?” she asked.

Mike typed for a few more seconds then saved his work.  Spinning his chair around to face her he replied, “Not much.  But as I drove in this morning I had an idea for a new holiday.”

Carol blew on her tea.  “Oh, for what?”

“Well, you know how annoying the lovey-dovey crap gets in the week before Valentine’s Day?”


“Well, maybe not for happy couples like you and Dave, but for most people the days leading up to Valentine’s Day are almost sickening.  So I was thinking of making a day for the opposite.  I figured February 21st could be, I don’t know, ‘You can do better’ Day.  Basically, after weeks of the lovey-dovey crap, there should be at least one week of commercials for divorce lawyers and stores could put out their ‘I no longer love you’ cards.”

Carol smiled.  “Are we a tad bitter about being single on Valentine’s Day?”

Mike shrugged.  “Hey, if all you happy couples can rub your joy in the faces of everyone else, why can’t we rub our misery back?”


Even when I was in a relationship I didn’t care for all the lovey-dovey crap around Valentine’s Day.  And I can’t be the only one who’d get a chuckle out of a “You can do better” Day. 

I first wrote this years ago on a now defunct website.  I came across it during some cleaning, and figured I should repost it.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Balloon thoughts

First off, I do not have special information on this matter.  I’m just a guy who overthinks things.  And these are just some of my thoughts on the whole BalloonGate, or whatever it’s being called.

I heard somewhere that the Pentagon reported that there was one such Chinese balloon during Obama’s time in office, three during Trump’s, and the one during Biden’s.  But if I had to bet, I’d say that for everything the Pentagon tells us, there’s a thousand things they don’t.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the military has detected dozens of these balloons or more in the past ten years or so.  They just never said anything because why alert the world to your stealth detection capabilities?  I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a long meeting where they went through each balloon detection and ranked the likelihood that China knew that we detected it.  Like, China probably knew we had detected three of the previous ones, but we said four just to cause them to go through their data wondering which was the other one.  I don’t know how this recent balloon story broke – if it really was first spotted by civilians – or if the story was leaked by the Pentagon just because it was becoming unrealistic that we weren’t talking about it.  If the later, it was probably chosen in advance because we probably already have the detection capability for whatever the next level of stealth China has. 

Another reason we haven’t said anything about these earlier, is because we were probably feeding these spy balloons bad intel.  If they knew that we knew the balloon was there, they might not believe some of the stuff they heard.  But if they’re pretty confident that we didn’t know it was there, then they’re more likely to believe what they learn.  Something to keep in mind is that spycraft makes three-dimensional chess look like checkers, and some of the loudest voices in BalloonGate probably can’t even play checkers.

Random Story – The power of a raised eyebrow

This is just an odd little story from my life.

I called this “The power of a raised eyebrow,” because I figured “That time I made a woman laugh hysterically for five minutes just by raising an eyebrow,” was a bit too long.

Back when I was in college, I was in a small club.  One time, we needed to make some money for some project, so we were going to have a bake sale.  A couple of our members had an apartment off campus, so a bunch of us showed up there one afternoon to bake four or five batches of cupcakes.  At one point during the evening, everyone else was in the living room looking at … something, and one woman and I were left in the kitchen.  I can’t remember what I was doing, but she was mixing up some batter by hand.  She did some furious mixing, and then stopped and panted a bit.  I gave her a confused look, and she replied, “You try beating something for five minutes.” That’s when I raised an eyebrow, and she laughed hysterically for five minutes, leaving the rest of the group wondering what we were doing.