As microblogged live on my (other) Twitter account, @mmorabito67 on May 25, 2011:

  1. At the BIS British Interplanetary Society in London for Alan Lawrie’s SaturnV presentation. live microblogging 6pm GMT
  2. Title is “Saturn V Manufacturing and testing” – room packed
  3. Special anniversary of Kennedy’s announcement of the Moon attempt in 1961
  4. Lawrie has 30 years of space technology experience
  5. Kennedy spoke at around 1.09pm EDT – Also 45th of first full rocket
  6. Mastermind was Von Braun – developed in record time, new materials invented
  7. Huntsville Al. was a small city when Von Braun went there in the 1950s -
  8. Picture of Von Braun team member meeting Korolev’s daughter -
  9. Saturn was a military concept for testing rockets at the start -
  10. Pictures of Marshall Spaceflight Center test facilities -
  11. RL10 h2 / o2 rocket test facility. Neosho rocket production facility in Missouri near Joplin -
  12. Details of rocket. First stage S-1C by Boeing and MSF.
  13. Welded tanks but bolted intertanks. Manufacturing details. Fairings around external engines blown after separation
  14. Pictures of retrorockets firing –
  15. S-1C firing test at MSF. Walt Disney visiting Huntsville
  16. Picture of Saturn V in test stand
  17. People measuring rocket’s vibrational modes by pushing it – same happened for Ares -
  18. Stage built vertically but engines inserted horizontally -
  19. First stage of Apollo 16 caught fire during tests. Engineers forced to look at the failed parts.
  20. S-II second stage by NAA in California. Not kerosene but hydrogen. One tank with one bulkhead within
  21. Testing at same Mississippi facility still used
  22. Story of mistaken loading to explosion due to incorrect procedures
  23. First stage o2 not insulated but second h2 had to be. Several attempts up to Apollo 13.
  24. Third stage S-IV B similar to second stage but one engine.
  25. Tanks hemispherical in 3rd ellipsoidal in 1st and 2nd
  26. 2nd stage external insulation strong metal inside. 3rd stage insulation inside by tiles that didn’t fall off.
  27. Picture of Skylab being built out of 3rd stage
  28. Explosion in Jan 1967 of S-IVB-503 3rd stage one week before Apollo 1.- problem with Helium tanks
  29. Problem with welding of He tanks.
  30. Pictures comparing sites in 1967 and 2006 -
  31. F-1 rocket engines – tested at Edwards
  32. J-2 tested near Hollywood
  33. Overview of Saturn V flights. Second flight not so well (Apollo 6) with 2 lost engines then Apollo 8
  34. Apollo 8 – a major structural failuree in California a day earlier but launched anyway
  35. Pictures of test firings of Apollo 11. Lightning striking Apollo 12. Apollo 17 3rd stage never test fired.
  36. How did they make it so perfect? Leadership, mindset. Von Braun and other German managers
  37. Many things worked by dodging bullets
  38. Personally I would not be surprised the programme was stopped before a major accident would kill it and spaceflight

The lecture followed the publication of “Saturn” by Alan Lawrie with Robert Godwin.

Do You Think You’re Important?

(as my contribution to the Total Perspective Vortex, this is the transcript of my Apr 4th, 2011 10-min podcast for, titled “A Copernican Gallop“)

Today we are going to have a Copernican Gallop. We are going to see how Astronomy has made us absolutely irrelevant. What have Astronomers done to us, in fact? Some say that Astronomy must be the important of all Sciences. Perhaps we wouldn’t even have Modern Science without Astronomy. But think also that…were it not for the extraordinary progress of 400 hundred years of astronomy, we would still believe to be the center of the cosmos…instead. we’re now sure we’re not. Not at all. Not by a long shot. And nothing we do is any special (physically speaking), and we actually are in a nondescript part of the Universe. Worse, the Universe itself might be just one of many.

Less than zilch, that’s what we are. And thanks to whom? Well, thanks to the..Astronomers!! None of the major philosophers and religious leaders in the history of humanity has remotely approached the ruthless efficiency with which the scholars of the cosmos have demonstrated again, and again and again what little piece of nothingness we actually are. Only to be replaced by another generation of astronomers, busying themselves in demonstrating that the previous notion of us being nothing, was actually a gross overstatement.

Who started this descent, or maybe you can call it ascent, an ascent to humility? Why, somebody called Niclas Koppernigk, known to us as Nicolaus Copernicus.

Imagine yourself then at his times. It’s around 1500, it’s the Renaissance, and Man is the center of everything. People are defining themselves as the middle point, like the Earth, the center between the perfection of Heaven and the imperfection of Hell. Everything is theirs for the taking, and now that the ancient philosophers of Greece are being rediscovered, it surely won’t take much before the whole world is understood. There comes Nicolaus, instead, no Santa Claus, him…he toppled Earth from the center, in his posthumous book “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres”. And if the center is not here, we’re not the center either. Bye bye Renaissance men!

Worse, Copernicus played like the first ever giant Angry Birds game. He managed to start an incredible chain reaction that might (or might not) have just ended. First stop in the chain reaction, of course, Galileo Galilei with his observations of Venus in the year 1610 demonstrating that planets orbit the Sun, not the Earth. Then Newton, extraordinarily linking in 1687 the force that pushes us down with the force that keeps planets and satellites in their orbit.

Can you imagine? By this time, the revolutionary idea was taking hold, that Earth and the heavens obey the same laws. Let’s continue: Herschel’s map of the Galaxy in 1785, with the Sun located not exactly at the center. Kirchhoff and Bunsen developing spectroscopy in 1859, thereby helping us understand what the stars are made of, the same stuff as the Sun: in other words, determining that the Sun is just another ordinary star, made of more or less the same elements as any other and with billions of almost identical twins out there.

Move now to Harlow Shapley working on Globular Clusters, clusters of stars that is, showing in 1921 how they are distributed around a point some 15kpc from us, the center of the Galaxy therefore being quite away from our Solar System. Even our modern value of 8kpc between us and the galactic center still means we’re somewhere at the periphery.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant in 1755 and then the scientist Alexander von Humboldt in 1845 already made the point that as the Sun is in no special place in the Galaxy, our Galaxy is itself just one of many. And that’s exactly what a guy called Edwin Hubble demonstrated, in 1924.

But wait…isn’t that the same Hubble that came up with the idea of an expanding universe? Is that not supporting a birth for everything in what we call the “Big Bang”? Doesn’t that make us special, as we’re only 13 billion years away from it, that is next to nothing compared to quadrillions of quadrillions of years until the last photon is emitted?

Not so fast. One of the most popular ideas in contemporary cosmology is in fact the existence of a multiverse, a collection of universes just like ours, a concept that elucidates several issues including why our universe exists at all. Some say the number of universes is in the region of 10 to the 500, a number that is totally alien from all our levels of comprehension. Obviously, even if a minute fraction of that number is the true value for a count of all existing universes, our own universe is just, simply, merely one of several many. End of the story?

No. This humility extravaganza doesn’t only work at giant scales. Consider the consequence of finding as many extrasolar planets as we’ve actually discovered as yet…our own doesn’t appear to be either the strangest, or the most interesting (more or less the only thing keeping Earth apart is the existence of liquid water on its surface:
but I would expect a dramatic announcement about that too, sometimes in the near future).

Everywhere we look, at all times we look, we’re one of many.

Let me speak for the rest – we live on just another planet orbiting just another star in just another orbit around just another galaxy weakly attracted to just another supercluster that is anywhere and nowhere really in one universe out of quadrillions of pentillions of them.

And this is the end of the Copernican Gallop. Or is it? An atom in the whole Jupiter is relatively more important than us in the whole of the Cosmos. To what level of nothingness will next generation of astronomers elevate us?

One final word…please. Don’t feel depressed. It doesn’t count, anyway. And this is just another podcast by Omnologos. Thank you for listening.

Our Past Is In The Sky

Far-fetched as it might seem (and be!), we might be literally surrounded by information about the Earth’s, Sun’s, Galaxy’s past. By looking in the right direction with the right instruments, we could even be able to see how things were at different times, even billions of years ago.

By looking where? This idea is based on a little-known characteristics of black holes, namely the large amount of incoming light that is back-scattered, i.e. sent back more or less in the direction it came from. This phenomenon is visible as a halo around the black hole (see picture to the left).

Think then: by looking at a black hole 20 million light years away, we will be getting some light first emitted by our galaxy 40 million years ago, as the photons will have had to travel to the black hole and back. Correcting for the optical properties of the region around the black hole that we see as a halo, we would even be able to get a picture of our galactic surroundings.

Analogously for black holes nearer to us, eg 20,000 light years away, the halo will literally contain pictures of our neighborhood as of 40,000 years ago.

All of the above is unlikely to be easy, still any information in the back-scattered photons will be extremely valuable.

Space Sociology: 10 Out Of 10 For Courage, Minus 1million For Pessimism

The events at the British Interplanetary Society headquarters in London are often very interesting, at times packed and seldom soporous: but I cannot recall of any, where the speakers would more or less consciously risk to stir a hostile crowd.

That’s what happened on the evening of Sep 8, when sociologists Peter Dickens and James Ormrod’s presentationHow Should we Humanise Outer Space?” turned into an open confrontation with shall I say quite sceptical people in attendance (one of them, myself). It might have been the unwise choice of mixing descriptive (“how things are”) and applied (“how things ought to be”) sociology, in front of an audience unfamiliar with that science. Or it might have been their obvious and declared socialistic worldview, with everything seen as a zero-sum game based on exploitation (opportunity gains? not even remotely considered; asteroid mining? no, thanks, otherwise people will not stop consuming; and don’t even think of going to orbit, your moment of fun will be based on the work of thousands of people none of whom will ever get the chance of going to orbit).

Or it might have been the speakers’ unrelenting pessimism about technology advances, associating for example plutonium for space-based RTGs to lung cancers on Earth and in general declaring that science and technology create more problems than they solve.

Another hypothesis: underlying it all, we have just witnessed that supreme act of courage, people in a BIS room speaking of manned spaceflight as “escapism”.

At the end it was like hearing the Pope tell teenagers that sex is the problem so let’s have less of it for a change. Is capitalism bad, and should social equality be our objective? Shall we try make that happen in space, and through the use of space-based resources? Those questions sound, and are, much more political than scientific. Perhaps the real questions should be, is sociology victim of its own hubris…is it creating more problems than it solves?

Unimpressed By Ares 1-X

What about the Ares 1-X launch? What we have seen is the 480M$ demonstration that a Space Shuttle’s Solid Rocket Booster can fly on its own. A step towards a Moon mission dream? Methinks not.

It’d be vastly cheaper to develop just a capsule to launch on top of the Ariane-5. Or better yet, order 200+ Soyuz flights from Russia.

What is missing is a really heavy launcher, not yet another reinventing of the manned rocket.

The Tragedy Of The Anti-Space Travel Space Scientist

One can only feel sad upon reading Giovanni F Bignami’s op-ed piece about the race to the Moon and what choices to take for the future (“Once in a Blue Moon “, IHT, 18-19 July 2009). Prof Bignami’s argument appears to be about treating space-faring as a purely novelty product, like a fairly curious but ultimately useless item on a late-night TV shopping channel. Something you may be convinced to buy, but just the once.

And even if we have spent less than a week in total time exploring a few square miles of a place as big as the former Soviet Union, Prof Bignami tries to seriously argue that there is no “compelling reason” to go back to the Moon. And that we should embark on the enormous effort to reach Mars instead, presumably for a couple of trips before getting bored with travelling millions of kilometers too.

Here’s a “compelling reason” then: as it is well known, one needs a lot less fuel to travel to Mars from the Moon, than from Earth. Most of the launch cost lies in getting from our planet to low Earth orbit: beyond that, the whole planetary system is within relatively easy reach.

Prof Bignami remarks also that “the notion of mining on the moon would also [be] environmentally offensive“. I for one do not understand how will humans ever be able to “environmentally offend” a surface pummeled for billions of years by asteroids of all sizes, by a perfectly unhindered solar wind, and by cosmic radiations of all sorts. That is the Lunar surface, made of a type that likely covers several billion square kilometers on hundreds of natural satellites in our Solar System alone.

Paradoxically, the astronomical/astronautical community has been unable to support its own cause since the launch of the Sputnik. Nobody has gone anywhere because of effective lobbying by planetary geologists or solar scientists.

Bignami’s op-ed appears to be yet another example of how bizarrely brainy arguments about going to Mars vs returning to the Moon have succeeded so far only in keeping the human race in low Earth orbit, literally going around in circles instead of literally reaching for the stars.

The Large Hadron Collider Can Destroy Our World Indeed

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) currently awaiting to be turned on at CERN in Geneva will not destroy the Earth. But it can destroy our world: by detecting definitive evidence for so-called “dark matter”.

Current cosmology indicates that the total amount of “dark matter” may be five times the amount of “normal” matter. As reported by Freeman Dyson on the New York Review of Books, the LHC is expected to find that “dark matter” is composed of the “supersymmetrical” equivalents of ordinary matter.

If the above is confirmed, it may be the first step towards making the world we experience as vanishing and irrelevant as a ghost in the desert at midday.

For all we know, there is a wholly separate “universe”, a “material world” coexisting with everything we can touch and see, with a lot more mass than ours, and getting by without much interaction with our “material world”, apart from gravity perhaps.

Imagine a “dark matter telescope” showing a completely different sky. Like Nicole Kidman’s character in “The Others”, it will be the revelation that the ghosts, it’s us.

And Plato would be very proud of himself.

Principles For A Mars Transport System

The following text, by Stephen Ashworth FBIS, has been presented at the British Interplanetary Society’s “Ways to Mars” symposium, held on 19 November 2008 at the Society’s London headquarters. Its main points:

Most of the mass needed for an Earth-Mars transport system consists of propellants and life support materials, and that is already in space, and already in orbits very close to the ones which we need;

– But this near-Earth asteroidal resource is completely invisible to the space agency paradigm of space exploration, because [the paradigm] excludes the construction of permanent human activity in space.

The text is published here with the consent of the author. More from Mr. Ashworth at his website.


Transport for Areopolis Or: “Implications of the Choice of Economic Paradigm for Strategies of Manned Access to the Moon and Mars”
by Stephen Ashworth

When considering human access to Mars, it seems to me that there are two key points which need to be taken into account, but which are often ignored. I shall offer you these two points very shortly.

Designs for manned missions to Mars typically involve assembling in low Earth orbit a spaceship weighing several hundred to over a thousand tonnes.

For example, each Troy spacecraft, which we shall be hearing more about this afternoon, weighs nearly 800 tonnes to carry 6 astronauts. The “space lego” nuclear powered Mars mission uses two ships of 240 tonnes each, thus a total of 480 tonnes in low Earth orbit. [I was wrong -- this turns out to come to a total of 955 tonnes.] The “magic” Mars mission requires five Energiya launches, thus probably weighs 4 to 500 tonnes when ready to go.

Meanwhile the official European Space Agency design study for a Mars mission proposed a ship, again for 6 astronauts, which required 20 Energiya launches for every single Mars departure. These launches would build up a ship weighing 1357 tonnes at departure.

The Mars ship in low Earth orbit thus weighs between about 50 tonnes and about 200 tonnes per astronaut on board. Launching such large masses into orbit for the benefit of so few people is one reason why manned Mars exploration is hopelessly uneconomic.

At present-day cargo rates to low Earth orbit of $10 million per tonne, this is a billion dollars per astronaut, plus the cost of the Mars hardware itself. Even at spaceplane rates, which may fall to as low as $10 thousand per tonne, this is still a million dollars per astronaut, plus the cost of the hardware.

At these rates, there will not be many people going to Mars.

Let me show you an Earth-Mars transfer orbit.

Orbit of Earth, orbit of Mars, and an elliptical orbit which intersects both of them

Orbit of Earth, orbit of Mars, and an elliptical orbit which intersects both of them

Here is an orbit which reaches out from Earth to pass the orbit of Mars. It has about the same size and shape as the orbit of an Earth-Mars cycler, such as the ones being studied by Buzz Aldrin and his collaborators.

It might therefore be the orbit of a future manned Mars vehicle. But that’s not what I drew. What I’m showing you here is the orbit of minor planet 4660 Nereus.

The concept of an interplanetary cycler, which repeatedly encounters Earth and Mars, goes back to the early 1980s. Alan Friedlander and John Niehoff first proposed setting up long-lived space habitats which remain permanently in interplanetary space. These would periodically be used for transporting people between Earth and Mars. Relatively small ferry spacecraft would complete the transport chain between the cycler and a local parking orbit or planetary surface.

In 1985 Buzz Aldrin added the concept of a gravity assist at each planetary flyby. This technique allows a cycler to stay in phase with the relative motion of Earth and Mars. It enables it to offer passage between these planets once every 2.14 years, the Earth-Mars synodic period.

A great number of near-Earth asteroids, such as 4660 Nereus, resemble natural Earth-Mars cyclers. A proportion of them are believed to be carbonaceous chondrites, containing water and other volatiles. Water in space is of incalculable value as a feedstock for propellant manufacture, as a near ideal substance for radiation shielding, and for other life support functions.

I have checked the online listings of near-Earth asteroids published by the Minor Planet Center. Applying quite stringent orbital criteria, I found a total of 56 Amor and Apollo asteroids which behave like natural Earth-Mars cyclers. New ones are being discovered all the time — for example, of those 56, ten were only identified this year.

Now to my two key points.

Firstly: most of the mass needed for an Earth-Mars transport system consists of propellants and life support materials. That mass is already in space, and already in orbits very close to the ones which we will need to reach and return from Mars. It does not need to be launched from Earth. It can be mined in situ.

So why is hardly anybody getting excited about this? Why does it not form the basis of the Constellation programme, or of the recent ESA or Russian design studies, or even the magic, the trojan or the space lego Mars missions?

Because of my second point: the asteroidal resource is completely invisible to the space agency paradigm of space exploration. That mode of planning excludes the possibility of systematic use of natural in-space materials, and it excludes the construction of permanent infrastructure on Earth-Mars cycler orbits. It will not contemplate anything that suggests permanent human activity in space.

I think we can identify two broadly contrasting attitudes to transport infrastructure.

The heroic paradigm is only interested in special missions of heroic exploration. This is the space agency mode of thinking. Its prime goal is national presige, under a fig-leaf of science, spinoff and educational inspiration. Think of the Apollo programme. Further back in history, think of Zheng He’s epic voyage of exploration around 1421, from a China which was about to close in on itself.

In contrast with the heroic paradigm, we can identify the systemic paradigm of transport infrastructure. The prime goals here are permanence, growth, and economic profitability. Think of the Cunard and White Star steamers which connected Britain with the Americas and the Empire from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.

Now obviously, since there is currently nobody on the Moon or Mars, the next people to travel there will of necessity be heroic government explorers. But the question we need to address is this: will their transport system be designed for cancellation, like Apollo, or will it be designed for growth, like Cunard?

What would a systemic manned space transport system look like?

I have identified four key features.

Firstly, it will employ reusable spacecraft — an obvious enough point.

Secondly, it will not be content with a single route — say, between Kennedy spaceport on Earth and a single base at Utopia Planitia on Mars. It will rather seek to foster a network of different routes among a number of different transport nodes. Those nodes may include an increasing number of space hotels, factories and laboratories, and lunar and martian bases.

Note particularly that the use of transport nodes allows in-space refuelling. This capability was regarded by early spaceflight theorists such as Hermann Oberth and Guido von Pirquet as essential if lunar and martian flights were to become achievable using chemical fuels.

Thirdly, a systemic space transport system will diversity its sources of propellants and life support materials, exploiting the transport nodes for in-space refuelling.

Fourthly, it will not be content with a pillar architecture, but will develop a pyramidal one. In a pillar architecture, one unique space station is succeeded by one unique Moon base, and that in turn by one unique Mars base. In a pyramid architecture, by contrast, it is growth in the use of space stations that supports the first Moon base, and growth in the use of Moon bases that supports the first Mars base.

Thus in impressionistic figures, if there are ten people on Mars, then we should expect to see at the same time at least a hundred people on the Moon, and at least a thousand on board stations in Earth orbit at any one time.

So we can now design a Mars transport system along the following principles:

– The long-haul journey is accomplished on modular interplanetary cycler stations, which are upgrades of stations in regular use as Earth-Moon cyclers, which are themselves upgrades of stations in regular use in low Earth orbit as hotels, factories and so on;

– The transport chain between Earth and the interplanetary cyclers is closed by short-range ferries, which are upgrades of ferries in regular use to connect with the Earth-Moon cyclers, which are themselves upgrades of ferries in regular use between Earth’s surface and low Earth orbit;

– The bulk of the development work that goes into the first Mars mission is carried out by commercial companies in pursuit of profitable business in space tourism, manufacturing and energy;

– As a result of growth in traffic in the Earth-Moon system, an in-space refuelling system based on near-Earth asteroidal water will become economically viable, vastly decreasing launch costs from Earth.

There may still be a heroic attempt to get to Mars in isolation from the development of such a space economy. If we are lucky, it will be like Apollo, and will be cancelled after the first few landings. If we are unlucky, it will be like the X-33 or Hermès spaceplanes, or like the Soviet Moon-landing programme, and be cancelled before its first landing.

Either way, it will not produce much progress towards sustainable human access to Mars. That can only be achieved by a systemic transport system, not a heroic one.

To conclude, I would remind you of my two key points:

– Most of the mass needed for an Earth-Mars transport system consists of propellants and life support materials, and that is already in space, and already in orbits very close to the ones which we need;

– But this near-Earth asteroidal resource is completely invisible to the space agency paradigm of space exploration, because it excludes the construction of permanent human activity in space.

Thank you.

Snoopy, the Apollo Lunar Module Awaiting Collection

There’s the curious story of “Snoopy”, the (upper half, ascent stage) Lunar Module from the Apollo 10 mission.

Launched in a solar orbit on May 23, 1969, “Snoopy”, aka “LM-4″, has not been officially tracked but a Diane Neisus has computed its most likely orbit, that apparently takes it as far from Earth as 300 million km:

Apollo 10′s Lunar Module, called “LM 4″ or “Snoopy”, is quite remarkable but nearly always forgotten against the much more glamourous Apollo 11 “Eagle”. Despite of that, “Snoopy” is quite fascinating in its own way:
(1) it is the only one of the real flown Apollo LM’s which still is somewhere out in space. All other LM’s burned up in earth’s atmosphere (Apollo 6, 9, 13) or were crashed into the moon, whether intended (Apollo 12, 14-17) or not (Apollo 11).
(2) LM 4 “Snoopy” up to now is the only spacecraft ever launched from moon orbit towards a sun orbit.
(3) “Snoopy” up to now is farthest out in space of all (former) manned spacecraft. In its heliocentric orbit it is as far as 2 AU from earth (during earth opposition)
(4) Apollo 10 and Apollo 12 share the record of the biggest number of real flight hardware objects left over by any of the Apollo missions (three major objects). Apollo 10′s are LM “Snoopy”, CM “Charlie Brown” and S-IVB 505. (As with most of the LM’s, the S-IVB’s of Apollo 13-17 were crashed into the moon; the S-IVB’s of Apollo 8-12 are the only ones sent to solar orbit. BTW, Apollo 12′s S-IVB came back in 2002 as object “J002E3″).
So, Snoopy really is a quite lonesome record-holder.

It is really fascinating to think there is a piece of late-1960′s Apollo hardware flying around the solar system, awaiting for the day when we’ll finally go out and return it home.

In Space, Nobody Can Hear You Explode…

In a recent op-ed, James Carroll expressed his worries about a space arms race, comparing it to previous military build-ups into strategies such as aerial bombings (“Preventing a race in space“, IHT, May 14).

But the actual issue is the potential deployment of weapons not in outer space, rather here on the ground.

Nobody has the technology to build a spaceship Enterprise or a Battlestar Galactica. All we can do is send satellites into fixed orbits, and any change in height or inclination is very expensive.

An orbiting satellite is bound to follow a particular path eveybody can calculate in advance (and shoot at with arbitrary precision): more a sitting (or shall I say, circling) duck than the potential location for any kind of weaponry.

Women Miss Destination By 295 Miles

Third episode in what is surely the most tired running-joke in this blog 8-))

Notably, the crew has almost certainly spent some time getting crushed at several times the Earth’s sea-level gravity. As somebody has already commented “It can’t be much fun to spend a few minutes at 10G following six months in microgravity“. 

Stop NASA’s Life Fixation

There is so much still to explore in the Solar System, and an untold number of astonishing discoveries just out of sheer serendipity…and yet, the only thing that matters for NASA is the possibility of life???

Whatever the source of Enceladus’s fountains, it is obviously very well worth the effort to find something about it.

By the Beach in Florida, in 1957

Dec 6, 1957: Vanguard-TV3, three feet up, still 656,165 to go before reaching orbit…

Ponderously it lifted itself off the pad—one foot, two feet, three feet. For one blink of an eye it seemed to stand still. A tongue of orange flame shot out from beneath the rocket, darted downwind, then billowed up the right side of TV3 into a fireball 150 feet high. “There it goes! There is an explosion!” an observation pilot cried into his radio

News of the failure of TV3 was flashed out around the nation and the world. Impact: shock, scorn, derision. Almost instantly the U.S.’s tiny, grounded satellite got rechristened stallnik, flopnik, dudnik, puffnik, phutnik, oopsnik, goofnik, kaputnik and—closer to the Soviet original—sputternik. At the U.N., Soviet diplomats laughingly suggested that the U.S. ought to try for Soviet technical assistance to backward nations. An office worker in Washington burst into tears; a calypso singer on the BBC in London strummed a ditty about Oh, from America comes the significant thought/Their own little Sputnik won’t go off. Said a university professor in Pittsburgh: “It’s our worst humiliation since Custer’s last stand.” Said Dr. John P. Hagen, director of Project Vanguard, as he got ready to face a doleful press conference in Washington: “Nuts.

Venus Forecast

In a few years, the old ideas of Fred Singer will come back into fashion.

Venus’ retrograde rotation, incredibly massive atmosphere and relatively young (<500 million years) surface will be elegantly explained by the crash of a massive satellite half a billion years ago (with subsequent melting of much if not the whole crust, and humongous outgassing).

Current lead-melting surface temperatures will be just as beautifully explained by simple adiabatic processes.

The role of CO2 in the heating of the atmosphere via some “greenhouse effect” will be seriously reconsidered and almost completely dismissed.


Some quick computations:

Ratio of available solar energy Venus/Earth: 190%

Earth, surface pressure: 1000 mbar; temperature: 288K
Venus, 50km altitude pressure: 1000 mbar; temperature: 330K
330K/288K = 114% < 190%

Venus, surface pressure: 90,000 mbar; temperature: 735K
Temperature of terrestrial air compressed from 288K/1,000mbar to 90,000mbar: 887K
735K/887K = 82.9% < 190%

Far from showing any CO2-induced global warming, Venus is much cooler than expected, likely because of the high-altitude clouds that prevent us from looking at the surface.

The Death of Climate Change

G-8 leaders are preparing to go through the motions about “doing something against Climate Change” (presumably, with similar successes as their wars on poverty and drugs). Countless pacts, accords, international conferences have not meant much as yet, and in all likelihood they won’t make any perceivable difference in the future either.

In the meanwhile, the “science” of Climate Change is as clay-footed as ever. A leading IPCC reviewer publicly states “We should respond prudently to the threats from climate change“. The NASA top honcho Michael Griffin commits the cardinal sin of saying the obvious against all “consensus”:

I’m not sure it’s fair to say that [global warming] is a problem we must wrestle with [...]

I would ask which human beings—where and when—are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we might have right here today, right now, is the best climate for all other human beings.

In a further sign that something is amiss, there is not even the suggestion of designing a satellite capable of collecting global data and possibly evidence of global warming / climate change.

GoreSat itself is not mentioned anywhere, despite sitting ready to fly for the past 7 years.


The above clearly indicates that “Climate Change” as a real issue has died already, or is at a terminal stage.

At best, it has revealed itself as a proxy for something different, at worst a smokescreen, ancillary issue.


Let’s give everybody involved the benefit of the doubt. What is the real problem they are concerned about, then, if “Climate Change” is just a proxy?

Possible candidates include: (1) the will to counteract the power of global companies by establishing some kind of (toothed) global government; (2) a general feeling tha Humanity must be cleansed of its sins, especially of greed and of disrespect for the Environment; (3) a way of keeping the development of places such as China and India in check, by making their lives difficult with newly-fangled emission caps.


But the one trouble I am presently more inclined to consider, it’s (4) the worry that there simply are too many humans alive at the same time, and their numbers keep on increasing: at the same time, we have the attitude but not the tools nor the will to provide them all with a decent life.

That’s a much more interesting topic than silly measures of atmospheric carbon dioxide and unreliable, patched-up, secretive historical temperature recordings.

The Average Brit Flying to Work at 18,000mph

So what is my local car rental manager doing, parading in NASA coveralls in London’s Queen Mary University Theatre in late November 2006?

No, wait: it must be Gary Lineker, guest speaker of the British Interplanetary Society, with a 8’-by-5’ poster of Saturn and the secret aim of taking chips and sweets from the noisy local student contingent.

Or…is that a bird? Is that a plane? No, it’s Piers J. Sellers, Ph.D., former Global Warming researcher and now Space Shuttle crew member and quasi-UK Astronaut Extraordinaire (“quasi” as UK persons need opt for a different citizenship to work in Earth orbit).

Sellers, born in Sussex in 1955 but now an American citizen, is following up his July STS-121 mission with a UK trip that has generated good-natured interest in the press, and even some air time on BBC Radio4’s Today.

Luckily (for Sellers) and blissfully (for all of us), Sellers’ Shuttle trip companion astronaut Lisa M. Nowak hasn’t yet destroyed her career by wearing nappies for a 1,000-mile drive to pepper-spray a love rival in February 2007.

And so instead of a sex scandal, the talk is about the less risky enterprise called space travel, as told by a bloke so average in appearance and so relaxed about himself to make taciturn Neil Armstrong a veritable space alien.

Aliens won’t invade us, because [on streets like Mile End Road] they can’t find where to park”: Sellers is definitely no warplane pilot turned moonwalker spiritualist. He’s “simply” a space walker, slightly “disoriented” only by the first sight of the white-and-blue jewel called Earth.

His description of the piling up of task upon task may sound familiar to office workers the world over. Still, very few of those usually validate if their cubicles will destroy during atmospheric re-entry, as Sellers and the rest of the STS-121 crew did after the Columbia tragedy of February 2003 and the half-botched first “return-to-flight” mission of STS-114 in July 2005.

A NASA video hints at the peculiarities of working in space. First of all there is nobody within a 3-mile radius of a ready-to-start Space Shuttle: and for good reason, as the bunch of aviation and navy pilots, space commanders and Ph.D’s collectively called “astronauts” are literally sitting on top of a giant bomb hoping it will explode in a controlled manner, pushing them upwards and forwards rather than into smithereens..

There is lots of sound and bouncing at lift-off. Somebody touches a control button, but Sellers reassures “We were just pretending to work. The launch [really] blew me away.” Orbital life is a piece of cake in comparison, with a couple of days of procedures to proceed and checklists to check, before approaching the International Space Station at the snail-like pace of 1m/sec (a little more than 2 miles an hour).

The video recording moves on to Lisa Nowak working with a large boom, at the time not to threaten a love rival but to move cargo to the Station with fellow astronaut-ess Stephanie Wilson, and then finally on mission day five maneuvering Sellers and colleague Michael Fossum locked on top of a 100-foot pole.

Sellers recounts a few funny details. For example, even in the most comfortable spacesuit one better gets used to spending up to ten hours without luxuries such as toilet breaks and nose scratching. And so a big deal of one’s resting time is spent cleaning up bodily odours and outpours from the spacesuit (no mention of any solution to the nose itching problem).

Furthermore, gloves for orbital work are more apt for a The Thing impersonation from the Fantastic Four, and so one handles multi-million-dollar wrenches knowing some will drop on their own sidereal orbit. Last but not least, one gets occasionally stuck in a phone-boot-like airlock for more than one hour.

Back inside the spaceship, in-between risky zero-g adventures with M&M’s of all things, one can look forward to a “shower” of damp cloths, a dinner of bland food and a night chained to a bed (kinky orbital fun, anybody?). Ah, and the toilet has a noisy fan and too thin a door really.

After some four days of that, it’s time to pull the jet brakes on the Shuttle (“feeling like on a truck slowing down”, Sellers remembers) to start the “unforgiving landing sequence”, after gulping in a disgusting salty drink designed to help the body readjust to Earthly life.

Outside the vehicle, “cherry-red windows” show the same tongues of fire that consumed the unfortunate Columbia astronauts a mere three-and-a-half years earlier. Falling almost helplessly, the Space Shuttle is somehow guided without engines to a hard touchdown, at the end of which gravity is felt like having “brick on the shoulders”.

Still Sellers opines, “The real dangerous bit is the lift-off.” No need to remind anybody of the crew of six that died on the 1986 Challenger accident, during the ascent phase.

Has Sellers got any chance of going back to the Space Station? “Sure. There is plenty of work available,” he answers. “Perhaps there will be 15 missions with 7 astronauts each between now and 2010.” Such chances are presumably slightly larger now than Ms. Nowak has been removed from NASA’s roster.

Before a strange, nostalgically catchy set of photographs of Seller’s mission is shown to the tune of Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound”, the evening fades away in a torrent of questions about medical facilities (“We can’t do heart transplants in space as yet”); rubbish management (“Thrown overboard”); launch delays (“Frustrating”); the justification for space budgets (“The money is spent on Earth”); and Orion, the Space Shuttle replacement (“Safer and cheaper and brings us back to the Moon”).

There! Has anybody else caught the tiny sparkle in Sellers’ voice when mentioning future manned Lunar exploration? Who knows, by 2025 the UK government may have found the negligible additional resources to fund a trip to the Moon for a couple of lucky British passport holders.

For the time being, I better check if my local car rental manager has moved to Houston.

Oldies to the Moon!

Larry Kellogg has more details on the issue of protecting people when working on the Moon (see my previous blog “Where to Build Inflatable Lunar Structures“).

In my paper on the topic I reported the recommendation of a protection for astronauts of a minimum 4 meters of regolith (lunar soil).

As correctly pointed out by Larry, the issue is that thinner shielding with aluminum-reach lunar regolith could actually be more harmful than beneficial. Fast-moving energetic particles raining from space and hitting too thin a layer of regolith would generate slower but not stop “secondary emissions” that would then interact more with human tissues such as the blood.

As plastics or water stop the radiation particles with considerably fewer “secondary emissions”, they may provide more protection with considerably less thickness.


How much protection is actually needed? On Earth, the general public should receive less than 0.5 rem/year. For those who work with radiation, the maximum is 5 rem/year.

It turns out that space projects allow for Astronauts to be cooked with a maximum of 50 rem/year. Somehow, this 100-fold increase on what our bodies were evolved to tolerate is not expected to cause much harm.

Perhaps, the very people that suggest that, they should be volunteered for experiments as human guinea pigs.

Sometimes in 2008, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter probe will provide some more information. There is lots to investigate indeed.


For the time being however, we can play it safe.

It is well known that people above a certain age can more reasonably run the risk of exposure to higher radiation doses, if only because they have a higher chance than younger persons of dying of other causes before developing any kind of radiation-induced tumor.

How about selecting “oldies” as Lunar Astronauts then? Given expected life spans, anybody above 70 would do.

For a candidate for a lunar trip in 2037 and beyond, look no further than to the author of this fantastic blog.

Moon: a Faraway Place for Female Astronauts

It took the whole of 19 years between the 1963 space flight of  Valentina Tereshkova and that of another woman (Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982).

That gap was due no doubt to compounding of a male chauvinist Soviet society on top of all the issues encountered during her Vostok 6 flight, clearly only few of them even remotely attributable to her own fault: wrong orbit, problems in handling the equipment, Space Adaptation Syndrome including vomiting, unbearable pain, low food consumption, radio silence, etc etc.

It could have easily been predicted that those issues would become the excuse to ground female astronauts for decades, and that’s exactly what has happened.

Move forward now to 2007 and to the abysmal tragedy of Lisa Nowak, the NASA astronaut with more experience in maneuvering the Space Shuttle’s robotic arm than her own emotions.

Perhaps there is less chauvinism now than in the mid-1960′s…but only time will tell if the Nowak Affair will not become the excuse to prevent women to fly to the Moon until much, much later this century. 

Where to Build Inflatable Lunar Structures

CosmicLog (read through Larry Kellogg’s “Lunar Update” mailing list) has an interview about innovative lunar structures with Robert Bigelow of “Inflatable Space Station” fame.

Bigelow does mention of an idea on how to bury the structure (but only with a couple of feet of soil, not the 12 or more required).

In fact the thought of spending more than a couple of days virtually unprotected on the Lunar surface should not enthuse anybody. It has been computed (*) that on average a maximum 20% of time should be spent by humans outside the protection of a minimum 4 meters of regolith.

(*) R Silberberg et al, ‘Radiation Transport of Cosmic Ray Nuclei in Lunar Material and Radiation Doses’, in W W Mendell, ed, ‘Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century‘, Lunar and Planetary Institute, 1985, p668

Bigelow is right and wrong at the same time. If we seriously consider going back to the Moon, resources should be spent investigating how easy it will be to bury those Habitats (inflatable or otherwise).

But excavated regolith is only one option and not the most practical one given the amounts of soil that will have to be moved to make comfortable living out of a stay on the Moon.

Other ideas involve lava tubes, of which there should be aplenty, and artificial giant caves. Especially the caves should be easy to create with explosives, if there is no water in the lunar rocks.

God’s Many Dices (I) – The Science of Parallel Universes

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is
(Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”)

By considering the implications of contemporary Science and in particular of the Cosmology of Parallel Universes, it is now possible to build an all-encompassing Model of Reality

From solid scientific bases, such a Model may be able to move Science itself beyond the “Realm of the Whats” and into the “Region of the Whys”: providing clues not only for what is out there, but also for the reasons why things are the way they are

Not only can we say that All-There-Is (let’s call it the Cosmos) is far larger and more diverse than we have ever fathomed. We can even work out elegant explanations on scientific conundrums like:

  1. Why our Universe is so very well “tuned” for life, and especially for intelligent life to exist
  2. Why is Mathematics such a powerful tool in our scientific investigations
  3. And why against a microscopic world driven by probabilistic quantum mechanics, there is the macroscopic deterministic-like tangible reality of our day-to-day experience


Parallel Universes” is the title of a thought-provoking Scientific American article (now a Special Report) written by Max Tegmark, currently working at the Dept. of Physics at the MIT in Cambridge, MATegmark’s Parallel Universes are not meant to be fifth-dimensional ghosts lying next to us, metaphysical threats that can be visited by opening the wrong door as in overdone horror sci-fi movies

In fact, Tegmark writes that the most logical deduction from all known cosmological observations is that Parallel Universes are just “out there”, albeit exceptionally far

In this respect, the Cosmos becomes the set of all Parallel Universes, plus the empty space in-between

Some of those “Parallel Universes” are identical copies of ours. Some are more or less similar to what we experience. Others are barely alike our Universe, others still less and less so

Present-day theories and observations “predict” 3 or 4 types of mutually compatible “Multiverses” (i.e., collections of “Parallel Universes”):

  • Level I – Universes with different initial conditions
  • Level II – Universes with different physical constants and particles
  • Level III – The Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum physics
  • Level IV – Universes with different physical laws

In some Universe, a copy of me has never completed writing this article (for great joy of the readers, no doubt). In other Parallel Universes, neither I nor you exist, and there are completely different subatomic particles, physical laws, even mathematical structures

Tegmark defines “Level I Multiverse” as the collection of “Hubble Volumes” similar to the one we inhabit, composed of the same stuff and following the same laws of physics

Only, as the initial conditions were different, the history of each Universe differs. Still, the “simplest and most popular cosmological model predicts that you have a twin in a galaxy about (10 to the power of 28, or 10^28) meters away”

Such a number, the result of a straightforward computation based on the size and composition of the known Universe, means that there is a massive 10 billions of billions of billions of meters between each of us and a doppelganger sharing the same history (at least so far)

On the other hand, that’s “just” 25 times as far as the radius of our own Universe (the so-called “Hubble Volume”)

Much farther away: another solar system and, say, a 100-light-year radius of space completely identical to ours (10^92 meters); and an entire Universe practically indistinguishable from ours, with all the galaxies and stars and planets and people, all in the same position (10^118 meters)

Remarkably, the “currently popular theory of chaotic eternal inflation” predicts also the existence of a “Level II Multiverse”, a collection of Level I’s (like “gas pockets in a rising loaf of bread”) each with its own set of “nature fundamentals

Within Level II, some Level I Multiverses will have extra spacetime dimensions, some will be made of different elementary particles, some will be built around different physics constants

Perhaps somewhere out there, there really is the Liquid Space of Species 8472, from the TV series Star Trek Voyager. But that’s still not all in this fascinatingly game towards increasingly weirder levels of Multiverses

Tegmark describes as out there, on the edge of anybody’s wildest imagination, “all mathematical structures exist as well

This is the “Level IV Multiverse“: and its existence may help us clarify the so-called Miracle of Mathematics

In the 1960’s paper “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” Nobel Prize E. P. Wigner has extensively written about such a “miracle”, describing the unease of the scientist when realizing how “the mathematical formulation of the physicist’s often crude experience leads in an uncanny number of cases to an amazingly accurate description of a large class of phenomena

A clear example is in the theory of gravitation, extremely simple in its formulae and yet capable to account for the behavior of an enormous number and variety of planets, stars and galaxies

In a large Level IV Multiverse, if there are enough Level II Multiverses each with its own mathematics, then one or more of them will be bound to possess a coincidence between mathematics and physics as strong as the one we experience

At the same time, in some place far, far away, there is a completely different mathematics at play. And so if our Earth’s orbit is an graceful, regular ellipse, the path followed by another Earth in another Universe will resemble the work of a madman


The Level III Multiverse deserves particular attention

Prof. Tegmark describes Level III as the standard “Many-Worlds” interpretation of Quantum Physics

“Many-Worlds” is an attempt at reconciling the probabilistic behavior predicted by Quantum Physics for microscopic particles with the deterministic working of the day-to-day macroscopic environment

In the famous example of Schroedinger’s Cat, a (macroscopic) feline is locked in an opaque box next to a weapon triggered by the nuclear decay of a (microscopic) atom

(Disclaimer: No animal has been harmed during the writing of this article)

In the box, the cat is somehow alive and dead. The atom’s decay is described statistically as a quantum phenomenon. The so-called “wave function” of the cat-weapon-atom system, provides a measure of the probability for either event (“cat alive” and “cat dead”), will have to “collapse” to a single outcome when the box is opened, and the cat can be seen alive or dead, not a collection of probabilities

In the Many-Worlds interpretation, that is explained by postulating that our Universe is “branching” into a Universe (A) where the cat is alive, and another (B) where the cat is dead. By hearing the meowing, we observe that we have somehow landed in A (an identical copy of us will of course mourn the unfortunate mammal in B)

Now, this is ridicule even more than most Models of the Cosmos. With a “branching” for anything happening to each atom and subatomic particle, the number of copies will have to increase exponentially trillions of trillions times a second (perhaps made by some Humongous Celestial Photocopier forever replicating Universes?)


Thankfully, we can get out of that physical cul-de-sac by considering that all possible Universes already exist at Levels I and II Level, rather than having them perpetually xeroxed at Level III

Tegmark reports indeed equivalence between the Level III Multiverse (the probabilistic cosmos of quantum physics) and the Level I/II Multiverse (Parallel Universes with different initial conditions, physical constants and particles)

Tegmark goes on to say that Level III “adds nothing new

That is not strictly true: it adds a lot:. It means that the number of Parallel Universes is gargantuan: because for the Level I/II-Level III equivalence to work, all the possible “wave function collapses” of every particle of our Universe have to be happening somewhere, sometime in the Level I/II Multiverse

And so the Multiverse is extraordinarily big and contains a huge number and a very large variety of Universes. And the Cosmos is not deterministic: it only appears as such to our limited experience, lacking the ability to “see” what happens in other Universes.

Paraphrasing Albert Einstein (once scorning Quantum Mechanics by saying that “God does not play dice with the Universe”): God (if one exists) does indeed play with the Universe(s), but with a very large lot of dices, making sure that all possible results do happen


In this respect my only negative comment about Prof. Tegmark’s text’s is the cavalier usage of the term “infinite”The number of Level I/II Parallel Universe is giant, enormous, hard-to-describe, colossal, etc. etc. But needs not be “infinite

Tegmark himself acknowledges as much, when he writes “The estimate [that we have twins in galaxies on average 10^28) meters away] merely [assumes] that space is infinite (or at least sufficiently large)” (my emphasis)

For example, to us puny human beings, measuring in the region of 2 meters / 6 feet a finite space with a radius of, say, 10^(one million) meters would behave as infinite for all intents and purposes without possessing any of the logical impossibilities of the “infinite

Infinite” carries a baggage of apparent impossibilities: for example, “infinite” is as large as “two infinites” and “half a infinite”. An infinite space cannot expand as it always occupies by definition its own maximum volume. Etc etc

French authors Luminet and Lachieze-Rey appear to make a big fuss about precisely the same point in “L’Univers Chiffonné” (Fayard, 2001)

As “infinite” has historically been a dangerous word for discussions, and arguments about its nature risk overshadowing the actual gist of an article or book, we should refrain from using that word at all cost apart from the exceptional circumstances when it is strictly necessary


The existence of a very large number of Parallel Universe has several interesting upshots

As Tegmark writes, when seen through the Quantum Physics’s lenses of “Many-Worlds” the Levels I Multiverse may explain Time, as “a never ending slide from one already-existing state to another”: like an unending jumping from one Universe to another, and so on and so forth

In other words, if there are enough Universes out there, there will be a Universe “T+1” with a copy of you, one second in your future: so instead of imagining yourself traveling forward in time one second per second, “the passage of Time” could just mean yourself “in Universe T+1

Tegmark explains also how a very large number of Parallel Universes can help us confine the (in)famous Anthropic Principle to the annals of irrelevant philosophy

Our Universe is “fine tuned”: even tiny changes to one physical constant or another would make our very existence next to impossible

This is called the “Goldilocks Enigma”, after the fairy tale about a girl entering the house of the three bears. Why are the Universe’s characteristics not too warm, not too cold, and just about right?

Past answers included the self-referential “Anthropic Principle”, stating more or less that the Universe is like it is because otherwise we wouldn’t have been here to talk about it: a bit like analyzing a defeat by stating “you’re a loser

Tegmark elegantly prefers taking a different route

Within a Level II Multiverse, inside our particular Level I Multiverse our particular Hubble Volume does harbour life because there’s lots (really lots) of other Hubble Volumes out there, in many Level I Multiverses: and one (or more) of them is bound to be just about right for life as we know it

This is a bit like analyzing a defeat by stating that “not all participants to a competition can be winners

Goldilocks may have just had to taste three soups before finding one not too warm, and not too cold. In our case, the Cosmos may need to have 3 trillion Universes, or many more, before getting it “right” for humans to exist: but the underlying principle is the same


What is there to prevent all that from happening? Is all of the above just too large, too complex, too un-necessary, or even not elegant enough?(a) Are all those Parallel Universes an ugly waste of space and time?Years ago people argued against there being a galaxy of stars, as the absolutely vast majority of them do not provide heat or illumination to any human whatsoever

Tegmark also asks, “What precisely would nature be wasting?

In fact, if there are huge quantities of Hubble Volumes (“Universes”) at Level I and II, there is no reason why there would not be huge quantities of universes at Level IV

Furthermore, the Level IV Multiverse is truly an esthetically pleasing Cosmos, even from a strictly philosophical point of view

We have learned that our planet is not the Center of the Universe. Apart from being able to harbor life, Earth is a run-of-the-mill planet in an average star in a not-so-special galaxy, belonging to an ordinary Local Group gravitationally linked to a Supergroup like many others, in a corner of the Universe that is not extraordinary at all

Let’s call that the “Banality Principle”, with us since at least since the times of Copernicus (banality “with life”, obviously)

And in the Cosmos of the Levels I, II and IV, isn’t our own very Universe just one of many, sporting one of many possible sets of initial conditions, elementary particles, physical laws, mathematical structures, in a virtually unbound escalation of the very same “Banality (with life) Principle”?

(Is there anything then beyond Level IV? I bet there is. But our imagination is silent about it, at least for now)

(b) Would a Cosmos made of all those Parallel Universes be just too complex to comprehend?

Tegmark replies that more often than not there is far less complexity in defining a set with a general overarching rule, rather than a particular item of that set with a precise description: “complexity increases when we restrict our attention to one particular element in an ensemble

Consider in fact a description of the Cosmos, “All-There-Is” as the Level IV Multiverse: there are many sets of physical laws and mathematics, each at work in its own Level II Multiverse, all expressed following a large variety of different initial conditions in a large number of Hubble Volumes (Level I Multiverse)

That’s 38 words

A description of our own Hubble Volume, with all its physical constants having particular values, and all the galaxies and stars and human beings placed in a particular position, etc etc would be definitely much, much longer than 38 words

And a Cosmos made up of a single Hubble Volume is complicated indeed

The simplest and arguably the most elegant theory involves Parallel Universes by default” – writes Tegmark. “To deny the existence of those universes, one needs to complicate the theory by adding experimentally unsupported processes and ad hoc postulates” (like finite space)

And finally, “Our judgement therefore comes down to which we find more wasteful and inelegant: many worlds or many words” (my emphasis)

(c) Is all the above just too weird?

Illuminatingly, Tegmark responds “[…] what did we expect? When we ask a profound question about the nature of reality, do we not expect an answer that sounds strange?

(d) Are all those Universes just too far away to care?

I am not sure that remains a relevant question against a Model that provides new insights into the nature of Mathematics and Time, the Goldilocks Enigma, the Many-Worlds interpretation of Quantum Physics and Einstein’s dice-playing Divinity

Anyway, it is true that spatial distances even to the nearest Parallel Universe are too large to comprehend, let alone traverse or even use to communicate anything.

Or are they? There is a phenomenon called “Quantum Entanglement” or (by Einstein) “action at a distance”. If you get two particles A and B to share the same quantum state, by observing A it is possible to know the state of B: actually, the state of B is “instantaneously” determined by the observation of the state of A, no matter how far separated they are

Now, if we only could demonstrate entanglement between two or more Parallel Universes…


Anyway, we need now not limit ourselves to pure science…what are the philosophical consequences of a Cosmos made of a humongous number of Parallel Universes?

Mars, the OAP Planet

MARS, the International Journal of  Mars Science and Exploration, has just published two articles by Donald Rapp about the hurdles still to be clarified before sending astronauts to the Fourth Planet: ”Mars life support systems” and “Radiation effects and shielding requirements in human missions to the moon and Mars

The latter article contains sobering statements about the current status of space-travel technology (my emphasis):

For Mars missions, we conjecture a 400-day round trip transit to and from Mars, and about 560 days on the surface. The [Galactic Cosmic Radiation] dose equivalent with 15 g/cm2 of aluminum shielding during Solar Minimum is about double the allowable annual dose for each leg of the trip to and from Mars. If a major [Solar Particles Event] occurred during a transit, the crew would receive a sufficient dose to reduce their life expectancy by more than the 3% limit. [...]

On the surface of Mars, the accumulated [Galactic Cosmic Radiation] exceeds the annual allowable [amount]. For a 560-day stay on Mars [it] would exceed the career allowable dose for most females and younger males.

May Richard Branson live looooooooong then (and prosper)!

What Trouble with Pluto?

There is one thing I can’t understand in the ongoing “what’s a planet” saga (now set to demote Pluto, Ceres and anything else apart from the 8 pre-1930 classical planets)

Say, if the previous proposal had been accepted and we were presented with 12 planets: what was wrong with that?

The New York Times went as far as to define it an “abomination

Let me rephrase that: in-between bombings, volcanic eruptions and Dick Cheney’s declarations about anti-Iraq-war campaigners being al-Qaeda complicits, the NYT editors have found the space&time to say that to expand the definition of “planet” is an “abomination culturally

Edwin Hubble discovered in 1923-24 that unfathomable numbers of Galaxies populate the Universe. Did he ever have to think that having more than a handful of Galaxies would have been any kind of “abomination“?


On the other hand there is something we are going to miss if there are only 8 planets in our System. Simply, there will be fewer targets to reach.


As for the current proposal, it is way too elaborate and so it defeats itself.

For example if a planet is “by far the largest body in its local population“, and “the local population is the collection of the objects that cross or close approach the orbit of the body in consideration“, I can imagine plenty of objects beyond Neptune whose orbit does not cross or close approach much of anything else (what is in fact the meaning of “close“?)

Also, what is wrong with Ceres, that is way larger than any other asteroid, and moves in an orbit with little inclination and eccentricity?


Finally, that proposal depends on the current theories on the formation of the Solar System. Do we really have to change the definition of “planet” every time we improve our science?

How to run a successful political campaign

Recommendations For How to Run a Successful Political Campaign

As extracted from a lecture given at the British Interplanetary Society in London on June 29 by UK parliamentarian Lembit Oepik:

The main gist appeared to be (a) get yourself prepared, (b) learn how to communicate, and most important of all (c) do not act like a True Believer, treating with disdain anybody not yet married to the cause

  • Be an expert
  • Describe a danger or issue that people understand
  • Do it with a smile
  • Don’t involve yourself in other issues
  • Keep in mind the ultimate goal: be ready for when the danger materializes
  • Clarify from the start your assumptions, the barriers on the path to success, and what organization you are going to need
  • Politically, the main goal is establishing a Task Force to get the Government to take ownership of the problem.
  • Facts and responsibilities must be clearly established. “Take it to the top”, i.e. the Government itself
  • Prepare the Parliamentary debate beforehand
  • Question yourself: why would a Government care?
  • Write to your MP asking for something to be done
  • Understand the letter will be passed to a “researcher”. Write it so as to help the researcher find the necessary information
  • For the Media, prepare a handful of established pictures and stick to those, so you won’t have to describe the basics of your problem again and again
  • Get ready for a long wait for “next big push”, when the campaign runs out of steam


Lembit Oepik has been the LibDem MP for Montgomeryshire in Wales since 1997

Officially, his lecture at the British Interplanetary Society in London on June 29 was on the cheerful topic of “We are all going to die

Self-styled profile provided at the lecture included age, Estonian parents escapees from Stalin, a birth in Northern Ireland (admittedly, not the wisest choice for emigrating a place to), a degree, a long-standing passion for Astronomy, and being a risk taker.

His grandfather was Ernst Julius Oepik, who did NEOs NEOs (Near Earth Objects, i.e. asteroids and comets flying close to our planet)work in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was particularly unfashionable.

Lembit Oepik wanted to get the UK government interested in NEOs.

He started by asking himself why would a Government care, so that they’d take seriously the threat of an asteroid smashing against our planet

Cynically, Governments won’t be interested in “extinction level events” wiping out most of humanity: if that were to be announced, all the Government would think of is that they will not lose next election.

It’s all different with relatively small impacts: a 300m-diameter asteroid could cause catastrophic effects on the economy or social cohesion, without killing billions of people. The Government would be left with the job of patching things up together again.

How to establish then a Campaign to defend ourselves against NEOs? Oepik and his team defined their Assumptions (date is early 1999)

1. A future impact is a certainty
2. It can definitely destroy civilization without wiping out humanity
3. We are taking care of lower risks already, incidents and disaster with far easier consequences
4. The threat from NEOs is not taken seriously
5. There is no sign of any Government working on this.

(Three interesting facts as an aside:
(i) If the Tunguska asteroid or comet of 1908 had hit a few hours later, say, just on top of Westminster Abbey (similar latitude), most of London would have been wiped out
(ii) A 15-km asteroid would be enough to kill up to 90% of humanity. That would leave alive a still sizable 600 millions of us)
(iii) Whatever solution we come up about the threat of NEOs, it may still not be enough. An asteroid zipping on the other side of the solar system that gets aimed at us as if straight from the Sun, would be invisible in the glare of the stellar light, and detected (if at all) when it’s way too late)

Then Oepik listed the Barriers:

1. Governments follow “fashion”
2. Governments think about elections, voters’ fears and anything that can hurt them
3. On a human timescale, hugely-disastrous NEO collisions against our planet are rare an event. If we would be living for 100,000 years, we would witness a couple of terrible impacts. We can only expect a Tunguska event every 100 years.
4. Space is not as fashionable nowadays as in 1969

The Campaign was then organized around:

a) Goal
b) Core Proposition
c) Timetable
d) Team
e) Political Strategy
f) Media Strategy

Goal: Create a NEO task force to investigate the threat and publish a Government report with recommendations for actions

Core proposition: Present the effort for tracking NEOs as an insurance policy (comes down to around 10€ per citizen). Computations were based on actuarial risks: insurance experts can calculate the short- and long-term costs of action and inaction, for countries and insurance companies. This is easy then to compare with impact devastation, and with other risks

Timetable: Relevant Ministerial Department contacted in March 99; Parliamentary debate in April 99; Task Force established in December 99; Report published in December 2000; Actions from 2001 onwards

(Actually, finding the right department has been a challenge in itself. Oepik run into a bit of luck as the long-standing Minister for DTI (Lord Sainsbury) was personally interested)

Political strategy: Make NEO threats a public talking point. Establish facts and responsibilities. And “Take it to the top”, i.e. the Government itself

It is also important to prepare the Parliamentary debate beforehand, making sure the Government spokesman on the floor is aware of what request is going to be submitted.

Media strategy: Elicit press interest. Scare tactics are Ok in this case as the upcoming disaster is a certainty. “Near misses” by NEOs must be publicized, along with the effects they would have had had they stricken our planet.

The aim is to balance the politicians’ neglect and the media’s sensationalism, sometimes destructive irony and sarcasm.

(Oepik saw himself described alternatively as the Savior, or the Destroyer of Planet Earth, when the asteroid sporting his grandfather’s name was mistakenly thought approaching our planet)

A handful of established pictures are very helpful, as after they are distributed through the popular press, they can easily be used in the future to recall the whole issue in the minds of the readers without having to explain the whole problem all over again.

(In another case of hard luck, a “miracle” happened in the midst of Oepik’s efforts, and 2 movies came out of Hollywood on the topic of NEO threats: “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon”, the latter with Bruce Willis. It became much easier to get the media interested)

Situation now: The Task Force was established without much of a problem, and included topmost scientists. As a positive sign of strength, Oepik himself did not have to be a member of it.

After a year, the Task Force came out with 14 recommendations. Only one of them has been implemented: the Government has pushed for NEO threats to be considered as facts, with regular coverage by the media.

Oepik is now waiting for the opportunity for “next big push”, something to get the remaining 13 recommendations back on top of the Government’s priorities.

He is also asking everybody interested in the issue to write to their own MP asking for all recommendations to be implemented asap

The evening ended with a Q&A session. Oepik re-asserted his conviction that scare tactics are in this case justified, as chances of dying because of an asteroid impact are superior to those winning the UK lottery. He wasn’t clear however on how he planned to differentiate his campaign from others also using scare tactics.

Finally, Oepik strongly recommended not getting oneself embroiled in other, even similar campaigns, so as not to lose focus

Climate change in the Solar System: Earth, Mars…and now Jupiter!

(first published on May 5, 2006)

After doomed Earth, populated by evil sinners driving devilish gas guzzlers, and Mars, where "deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near the south pole have shrunk for three summers in a row", here comes more evidence for Climate Change

This time's Jupiter!

Possible explanations:

1. Ghoulish oil companies have been making a larger mess of the Solar System then previously thought

2. There's lots of SUVs around, and I mean LOTS

3. Hot air from major scientific and political institutions talking about upcoming disasters, has been contaminating ever larger portions of the interplanetary space

4. There is a climate change clique with mental health problems, and they see evidence of global warming everywhere, including pictures of Jupiter and crop circles

5. All those NASA probes to the planets were launched mainly to carry millions of tons of CO2 and give Martians and Jupiters a good heath haze


6. Current warming trends on planet Earth are related not much if at all to human activity

Feel free to pick the one you find more likely