Monday, April 26, 2021

Some ideas for space missions

I am a big supporter of space exploration.  And as a scifi writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to explore the solar system and how they could be worked into stories.  Along the way I’ve come up with some ideas for space missions which I think would be cool or would help in making humanity a spacefaring civilization.  Over a year ago I wrote up Some ideas for small lunar landers, and I guess you could say this is an extension of that, although these are big missions that go everywhere else but the moon.  I’m not an engineer, so these are more back of an envelope ideas, but if you are a space engineer and you’re looking for something to do, maybe one of these will spark something.

Deep space antenna

We have dozens of spacecraft across the solar system, and they all need to communicate with Earth.  Most do so through the Deep Space Network, which is a series of radio telescopes placed across the world.  So far, so good, but as we start sending out more and more probes, there could easily be a bottleneck in communications.  My idea is to put a big ass antenna out in space.  Part of the idea is that if we can make the antenna really big – say 100 meters in diameter – it would make it easier to get the weak signals from extremely distant spacecraft, such as New Horizons. 

Where would you put such an antenna?  I’m thinking maybe twice geostationary orbit, so the antenna would take two days to orbit the Earth.  The reason you’d want to put it out so far, is that in lower Earth orbit a 100 meter antenna would be damaged by debris and the faintest traces of atmosphere would work to deorbit the craft.  Also, it would probably be rather bright.  Geostationary orbit is full of communication satellites, and just outside of geostationary orbit is a graveyard orbit of dead communication satellites, so I’m thinking that at twice geostationary orbit there would be plenty of open space with little interference.

How would you get something that big out there?  I’m thinking you build and launch it in three parts.  The first part would be the main antenna which would be as big as can be origamied into a rocket fairing.  The second part would have the solar panels, all the electronic stuff, and the antennas to talk to the ground.  The final part would be the engine to get it into the proper orbit, and would handle all the station keeping aspects of the mission.  The best part of this idea, is that when the fuel starts running low, you could launch a new station keeping module to replace the old one, so that this antenna would stay functional for decades. 

Could you fold up a 100 meter antenna to fit on a rocket?  Those might already exist, I just don’t have the security clearance to know.  But if you could only fit, say, an 80 meter antenna on a rocket, that’s not bad.  But I had a crazy idea how to a measly 80 meter into a 100 meter.  What if on the outside of the second or third module there were preformed panels that a small robotic arm could attach to the folded up antenna to get it up to 100 meters?  A bit complicated, I admit, but is it really that far beyond our capability, especially if we get a really kick ass antenna out of it?  Of course, there’s no reason why we couldn’t build several of these antennas.  Well, other than getting the funding for them. 

Innersystem relays

As the author of The Moon Before Mars: Why returning to the moon makes more sense than rushing off to Mars, you can probably tell that I’m not one of these “We have to go to Mars, now!” people.  I fully support the scientific exploration of Mars – as well as all other solar system bodies – but my vision of human exploration of Mars is more akin to the International Space Station than Las Vegas.  And while I think we are probably twenty years away from humans on Mars, we do have several robots there.  That’s great, but sometimes in their orbits, Earth and Mars will end up on opposite sides of the Sun.  This means we can’t really send or receive signals for about two weeks.  During that time, our rovers just park and probably just take some photos and wait for us to be in contact again.

Just for safety reasons, I don’t think we should allow this for when humans eventually go to Mars.  My solution is to put a couple of relay satellites into orbit, probably between Venus and Earth.  So whenever the Sun blocks our view of Mars, they could just relay the messages and we wouldn’t have to worry if the crew is dead. 

But this only happens for two weeks every two years or so.  Building and launching a satellite just for that seems overkill.  So the main point of these satellites would be to observe the Sun.  And if you have two, three, or four of these spacecraft spread out, you can have a full view of the Sun. 

Multiple asteroid flybys

I see the real future of humanity in the Asteroid Belt.  As I’ve said before, “If we go to Mars, we get a planet.  If we go to the Asteroid Belt, we get the galaxy.” Because we can grind the asteroids up into their component elements, and build spacecraft that we can then send to other star systems.  Before we start colonizing the galaxy, we can use the resources from the Asteroid Belt for … just about anything.  We could mine the materials to build the factories that would build giant solar power stations, which could then be flown to Earth using asteroid manufactured fuel to supply all of our power needs.  For example.

But before we can start mining the asteroids, we need to learn as much about them as we can.  We’ve already flown-by or orbited a dozen or so asteroids, but I’d like to dramatically increase those numbers.  So this mission would be designed to take a looping orbit through the Asteroid Belt that would let it flyby … say at least ten asteroids.  Maybe even more.  But the interesting idea is that instead of just one, there would be three spacecraft.

I know that the Asteroid Belt isn’t like what you see in movies where there are thousands of rocks just rapidly flying around each other.  In reality, if you were standing on an asteroid and you were really, really, really, really lucky, you might see one other asteroid as a dim point of light at the very edge of vision.  I also know that orbital mechanics means flying between objects in space isn’t the same as flying between points on Earth, but I hope this idea could work.  Basically, you have three spacecraft that are mostly identical.  You launch the first one, wait a week or so, then launch the second, and wait maybe two weeks for the third.  The goal, is that the A craft flies by and gets detailed images of half the asteroid.  Then when B flies by, you adjust its path so it can image the other half.  And C fills in any gaps, or takes a closer look at something interesting the first two found.  As things stand now, if we flyby an asteroid and see some strange surface feature, it may be decades, or centuries, before another craft visits it to get a closer look.  With this setup, it may just be a few weeks.

The way you’d do this would be using ion engines, which don’t have much thrust because they go through their fuel so slowly, but since they go through their fuel so slowly you can run them for years.  Spacecraft A would have cameras and a bunch of other instruments as well as a small ion engine for course corrections.  Spacecraft B would have cameras and two-thirds of the instruments of A, to make room for a bigger fuel tank because it will need to make more course corrections than A.  And Spacecraft C would have cameras, the other one-third of instruments, and an even bigger fuel tank because it will need to make even more course corrections. 

A possibility is that if these craft are mostly identical, you could mass produce them and you could have four or five of these tri-spacecraft missions flying, sending back data on dozens and dozens of asteroids.  Or you might find another use for them.

Jovian moon explorer

Jupiter has about eighty satellites, that we know of.  Four of them are big and get almost all the news, while the rest are just small captured asteroids.  We do have a few grainy images of some of them, but the vast majority are just points of light in telescopes.  This mission would aim to flyby as many of them as possible, because every object in the solar system has a story but it is very unlikely there will ever be a mission to … Pandia. 

Jupiter is much farther from the Sun than the asteroids, so you couldn’t just send a set of the asteroid flyby craft to Jupiter.  You’d need to put on larger solar panels, for example.  But it’s possible the Jupiter craft could be a version of the asteroid craft, making the development a bit cheaper.  Saturn also has some eighty known satellites, but right now we don’t have the technology to power a spacecraft at Saturn with solar power, we only recently got that capability at Jupiter.

One thing both the asteroid and Jupiter missions would do is look for new asteroids and moons.  It’s likely there would be months, even years between flybys, and one idea is that the A and B crafts would have telescopes that could be used to search for small, dim objects in their vicinity.  If possible, there could be unplanned distant flybys of these newly discovered objects, which would be fantastic. 

The One Light Day Mission

Voyager 1 is the most distant human object.  Launched in 1977, it is now over 22 billion kilometers from Earth, meaning it takes over twenty hours for its radio signals to come back to us.  Meaning, even after flying for almost forty-four years, it’s not even one light day from us.  This mission is to get that far away from us in, say twenty years.  The way it does this is to launch the craft on one rocket, and then launch two more with booster engines.  The first one to attach, would be as big an ion engine as can fit in a rocket.  The second to attach would just be as big a conventional rocket as can fit.  This booster fires, gets it going as fast as it can in a few minutes, then detaches.  Then the ion engine fires for a decade, or more, slowly ramping up the speed.  Probably throw in a Jupiter flyby to pick up even more.  I know it would be a challenge, but what space mission hasn’t been?

The probe would have dust counters and magnetometers and other such instruments to study the interstellar medium, but it would also have a telescope.  Hopefully, the craft would be put on a course to flyby a known object in the Kuiper Belt, but the telescope would be used to look for objects too small and dim to be seen from Earth.  Also, once it got out to one light day, it would take a picture of the Sun.  In such a picture, would the Earth even be a pale, blue dot?

Monday, April 12, 2021

Random Story – My near alien abduction

This is just an odd little story from my life.

I’ve had a long interest in space, so when I was a kid my parents got me a small telescope.  It had a tripod, but fully extended it was only about three feet tall and somewhat wobbly.  So I built a desk out of some old 2X4s and boards that I could set the telescope on.  And I put this and an old lawn chair in my observatory.  One of the best places to see the southern half of the sky was also a direct line of sight to a nearby road.  I live in the middle of nowhere, so there isn’t much traffic, but still I didn’t want to be blinded by someone driving home late at night.  Not to mention the outside lights our neighbors had.  So my observatory was just some sheets of tin nailed to more 2X4s to act as a light block.

On clear nights, I’d go out and sit in the dark listening to my Walkman letting my eyes adjust to the darkness.  I’d then make observations, trying my hand at drawing star clusters, lunar craters, or marking the positions of the Galilean moons. 

One night, I had been looking through the telescope for some time, and I sat back to stretch.  During this I had closed my eyes, but with my face pointing straight up I opened them, and was almost blinded by this bright flash right in my face.

I’ve always had an overactive imagination, so my knee-jerk reaction was ALIENS!  But after about twenty heartbeats – so maybe two seconds – I realized what had happened and started laughing.  Some random firefly was just flying along, looking for a mate, and decided to light up maybe a foot in front of my just opening, strained, dark adapted eyes. 

That only happened once, but there were several times where I was looking at something through my telescope when suddenly the field would be filled with this overly bright, greenish yellow blob.  Some people love the image of fireflies on an evening.  I think of them as blinding bastards who make me think of aliens.

Monday, March 22, 2021

First city to go full autonomous taxi

I am a big supporter of autonomous vehicles.  Not only are they an aspect of “The Future” that we’ve been waiting so long for, but they will make life better for so many people.  I live – I like to say – a short drive from the middle of nowhere and if I need to go to work or a store, it takes half-an-hour to get there.  But if my car just drove itself, I’d have that extra time to read, watch YouTube, or write. 

Unfortunately, we’re not at the point of fully self-driving cars on country roads.  They’ll start in cities, which got me wondering which will be the first city with a self-driving taxi service.  I don’t mean when some tech billionaire gifts ten self-driving cars to their small hometown so it now has a self-driving taxi service, but some city – like New York or London – that currently has a taxi service switches over entirely to a self-driving service.  My top picks are some city in Japan, China, or Germany.  Japan because they like robots and have a population issue, and China and Germany to show off their technological might. 

Whatever city goes first, it will be closely watched by the rest of the world, and as long as there is no major issue there will be a rapid – maybe ten years – transition to self-driving taxis in other cities.  Mainly because they’ll be cheaper to operate because they don’t have to pay drivers.  They may even cut fares to knock the people protesting the “dehumanization” off-balance.  Still, there will be a few hold outs like New York and London which are known for their human taxis.

So millions of taxi customers may save money, but what about all the taxi drivers?  What will happen to them?  They’ll just have to find new jobs.  Before you start yelling that that’s a cold view to take, realize, that’s capitalism.  How many horse farms were put out of business when people started buying horseless carriages?  If you don’t complain about that, why complain now about drivers being put out of business by driverless cars?

Some of these taxi drivers could make a new career as … I guess tour guides.  If you just need to go to work, or the airport, or whatever, when you order your taxi you could specify a fully autonomous one.  But if you’re on vacation, you could get one with a tour guide.  These could take you around, tell you the history of the places you go by, maybe recommend some restaurants, stuff like that.  Those that aren’t that interesting, wouldn’t be rated that highly, and would have to look for yet another job. 

Before cars, a lot of people knew how to ride a horse, but now that’s rarely a necessary skill.  Now, most people know how to drive a car, but that will become an unnecessary skill in the coming decades.  It’s possible that in some future amusement park there might be a place where you could drive a car.  Perhaps these aging, out of work cabbies could give those whippersnappers a … crash course on how to drive.  Although a virtual reality setup might be better.  Of course, that could lead to a Virtual Virtual Skeeball scenario.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Random Story – My Yoko Ono story

This is just an odd little story from my life.

Several years ago, I dated a painter.  In the town where she went to college, was an art gallery run by this couple.  My girlfriend often said that if she could have chosen her parents, this was the couple she would have chosen.  Well, after we’d been dating for a couple of months – and I had met her real parents – she invited this couple to diner to meet me.

I forget what she made for dinner that night, but I wanted to help her out.  Instead, she gave me an art textbook with several things bookmarked to study.  This wasn’t because she expected them to show up and show me a painting and ask who did it.  “Ah, Monet?” “You uncouth fool, it’s clearly a Rembrandt.” She had … issues.  Things were either all or nothing.  I think she feared that if I didn’t come off as the perfect boyfriend, they would think less of her and question why she was wasting her time with someone like me.  In reality, they were probably just happy that she found someone who seemed okay.

Anyway, while I skimmed through overviews of various art movements, she was telling me the couple’s backstory, stuff about their gallery, and all sorts of odds and ends.  In the middle of all of this, she said, “Whatever you do, don’t say anything negative about Yoko Ono.” This made me pause my rushed, art research.  We had been dating for a few months and we knew each other for a few months before we starting dating, and in all of that time Yoko Ono had never come up. 

After a few seconds, I asked, “Why?” Well, it turns out that sometime in the 90’s, there was a mural project somewhere with dozens of artists from around the country working together.  And it just so happened that – I think it was just the husband – worked with Yoko Ono.  They’re not best friends or anything, but they still get a Christmas card from her every year. 

So that’s my Yoko Ono story, and I’ll leave you wondering what kind of Christmas cards she sends out.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Register to vote, check your voting status

I’m sure that after the last few months, you are sick and tired of hearing about politics.  But things are not fixed.  In fact, there is no end goal in politics because there will always be new problems that need solutions.  And while the 2020 Elections were the most important American Elections this century – so far – we can’t really say they are over.  With the fate of the Senate and the House up for grabs next year, you could call the 2022 Elections the 2020 Election Part B.  And then there’s the 2024 Election. 

Normally, I’d say that we deserve a break from politics, especially after the totality of 2020.  But there is a tyrannical element that thinks that they lost in 2020, not because the voters rejected their ideas, but because there were too many voters.  They will use every legal – and even illegal – trick in the book to make it harder for people to vote in the upcoming elections. 

Right now, one of the best ways for you to counter this is to register to vote if you’ve just turned eighteen, or if you’ve never bothered to register before.  To have any say in what the government does you have to vote, and before you can vote you have to register.  Information for this should be on your state’s website. 

Even if you are registered, you should still periodically check your status.  Some states have a place on their websites to let you check, but other states make it a little harder.  The reason you need to check, is that while voter rolls need to be updated because people move or die, too often actual voters are “accidentally” removed.  The sooner these “mistakes” can be found, the sooner they can be fixed.

I know we all need a break from politics, but right now there are people working to muffle the voice of the people in favor of certain interests.  And they won’t rest.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Biden Inauguration Sale!

Just before the 2012 Election, I self-published Political Pies, a collection of forty of my stories with a political element.  I tried to make the stories as neutral or equally condemning of the parties as I could because I wasn’t trying to force an agenda, I just wanted people to start thinking about issues.  Since then, to try to get it into as many hands as I could, I usually have a free sale of it for the Fourth of July, elections, and inaugurations.  Usually I just have it by itself, but last year I started doing sales with multiple books, so that’s what I’m doing here. 

So, between Sunday January 17th and Thursday January 21st, you can grab the following five Kindle ebooks for free. 

Political Pies

Everybody complains about politics, but does anyone do anything about it? My attempt to do something about it is to collect forty of my short stories with a political element into my Political Pies anthology. My stories are either politically neutral or equally condemning of the national parties. Instead of trying to sway you to one ideology or another, my goal is to just get people thinking about politics in the hopes a rose might grow out of all the political manure.

The Future is Coming

As a science fiction writer, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how technology will change the way we live. I’ve come up with these ten short essays about science fictional elements that will – almost certainly – one day become science fact as a way for people to start coming to terms with them. Because I’ve spent time thinking about clones and AIs, I feel that I’ll be okay when they do finally show up whereas most people will probably freak out. I hope these essays will get people to start thinking about the future because, no matter what we do, the future is coming.

Brain for Rent and other stories

Brain for Rent and other stories is a collection of five of my short scifi stories to give a sampling of my writing. The collection includes: “Brain for Rent” about a ne’re-do-well failed writer with a conceptual implant who discusses his work with a young woman thinking of getting an implant herself. “The Demonstration” is about a different young woman wanting to show off her latest body modification. “Self Imprisonment” offers one solution of safe keeping the backup copy of yourself. “The Best Job Ever” is about a necessary – yet unpleasant – human/alien interaction. And the collection ends with “Why Stay?” which explains why, after years of fighting the humans, the robots just deactivate.

An Ounce of Prevention

Like most people, Jason Fisher wanted to make the world a better place, but he doubted he would ever have the chance to make much of a mark. Then a “woman” came to him, asking his help to save humanity by threatening it.

Lonely Phoenix

Partway to a new colony world, board member Geoffrey Ames is woken from hibernation by the caretaking crew of the Lucian. They require him to look into the matter of their fellow crewman Morgan Heller. Morgan’s claims – such as being over 1500 years old – would normally land him in the psychiatric ward, except he can back up some of his other claims.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Random Story – Y’all Need Jesus

This is just an odd little story from my life.

So I have a crappy, essential, retail job.  We have several signs in the store saying that customers need to wear masks, but it is a rural, middle of nowhere place, and only about half the customers do.  And I think corporate sees it as if we piss off the rednecks, we’ll lose half our business, so we don’t say anything.

This story happened a month or so ago.  The first character was a little, older lady of maybe sixty, who was wearing a mask.  The second character was a guy in his thirties with what I assume was his ten year old son.  Neither of them wore a mask.  The lady said something to the man, I didn’t hear exactly what, but I think it was along the lines of wearing a mask would help protect his son.  The guy didn’t yell, he just spoke at a notch or two above normal speaking voice so his son standing five feet away could easily hear him, but he said, “Why don’t you go out to the parking lot and get hit by a fucking truck.” Then he muttered a notch or two below his normal speaking voice, “Cunt.” The lady didn’t reply, she just walked away. 

The last piece of information for this story, is that the guy was wearing a shirt that read – with large letters – “Y’all Need Jesus.”