Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bigelow Interviewed by MSNBC--Lunar Habitat in the Works!

It is a little late right now but here is a link to the awesome interview. Look for comments and analysis from me soon! In the meantime feel free to ask any questions about the article or mention anything that you feel should be addressed in my commentary.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Top 10 Things to Experience in A Space Hotel

A lot of excitement and talk has been about since the advent of Robert Bigelow's plans for launching hotels into space--and for good reason. An opportunity to stay overnight in space orbiting around the Earth and experiencing micro-gravity is definitely reason enough to be excited. What a lot of people don't know though is what you can do with this kind of setup. That is why I have decided to write this fun list:

The Top 10 Things to Experience in A Space Hotel

View from the Hubble Telescope. SpaceTelescope.org
# 10. Viewing the Northern & Southern Skies with hotel observatories.

With no light pollution and no atmosphere to interfere the view would be amazing. Stars would lose their distinctive "twinkle" without the atmosphere but different colors would become apparent. Those amazing images provided by Hubble could now be accessed by guests at any time.

# 9. Views of the Moon.

Simply put, a new perspective of that object in the sky that has been a fixture for eons. Again, without an atmosphere the view would be much clearer and telescopes would allow for very close views. Maps of the Moon could also be made available and you could point out different craters and and cracks.

# 8. Star... err... Earth Gazing.
Spectacular view of the Aurora Australis. Courtesy NASA.gov
Sitting in a space hotel that is at an altitude of approximately two to three hundred miles the Earth would almost entirely fill your view. Many of the fortunate few that have viewed the Earth from orbit have said it is impossible to be unaffected by the site. Other than being able to spot landmarks and geographical features there are many amazing things to see--even on the dark side of the Earth. Lightning flashes roughly 100 times a second and the aurorae (another awesome image taken from the ISS) near the magnetic poles dance brightly across as colorful rippling cones of light. Other amazing views include watching dusk and dawn outline the edges of the Earth with multicolored bands of light and the formation of different weather patterns.

# 7. Checking In.


Check in is a whole new experience in itself. You start by unbuckling yourself from your seat and gathering your luggage. After picking up your belongings you simply Velcro them to your body and float through the corridor! Guided by a railing you make your way towards the main entrance, gradually increasing in gravity until you can walk normally. The artificial gravity is produced by the slow rotations of the hotel container.

# 6. Checking Out.
Sunrise in orbit. Courtesy ESA.int
Checkout is more than the sad departure from this dream holiday; it has its own amazing experience attached too. After boarding the departing spacecraft you feel the sudden jerk of the ship separating from the docking bay and then the momentary surge of the thrusters as it moves away from the s
hip and towards the Earth for reentry. As you come back hurtling towards Earth at faster and faster speeds you start to see the air glow as it flies past the windows. Then the sky starts to change from a black into a dark blue until you hit the upper atmosphere. The sky is now a magnificent blue color. The sound of rushing air penetrates the cabin as clouds come closer and closer. The excitement soon comes to a close and you make a routine landing at the spaceport just like a plane does at the airport.

# 5. Weight Watching.

A space station presents an unique opportunity for experiencing different strengths of gravity. With multiple containers on the space hotel variable spinning speeds can be done. Set your containers speed to virtually zero and you can experience the weightlessness that astronauts of today encounter or if you're wanting to feel more at home you can set the revolutions per minute (rpm's) of your cabin to the equivalent of one G. Experimenting in between could also be quite fun. Simply adjust the rpm's so that you experience a weight of 100 lbs or even 20 lbs. Or, if you're wanting to build a little more muscle, you could even increase the relative gravity.
(see the physics behind this concept)

# 4. The Trampoline Room.


Not much to describe here, the title pretty much sa
ys it all. Micro-gravity + trampolines on the floor and ceiling = endless possibilities.

# 3. Space-Sports.
A Zero-G Arena. Courtesy Space.com
Variable artificial gravity opens up a whole new dimension for sports--literally. Games can now be played in 3-dimensions. A large, open container could be the new playing field for 3D tag or 3D dodge ball. Just imagining the more Earthly games such as soccer, basketball, and football in micro-gravity can make your mind swirl with excitement. Now, take wrestling and picture it in micro-gravity. Then, picture it in G-forces stronger than what we experience now. Are you starting to get the picture of all the possibilities? These are just different versions of already made games. New games are sure to be created. Anyone's guess is as good as mine when it comes to speculating the future of space sports but, just to get the ball rolling, I'll throw out a few ideas...
Once hotels are established in space bigger, newer inflatable stadiums could be launched into orbit or even constructed in space. Try to picture giant, inflated spheres with seating all around and the playing field, for whatever game/sport, right in the middle. Tweaking the relative G-force of the playing field could let humans fly like birds on Earth too. Strap on carbon-fiber (or some other lightweight material) wings and little stabilizers on the end of your feet, begin flapping, and away you can fly! After some practice you could eventually master diving and completing barrel rolls.
New (or old) contact sports could become a lot fiercer and at the same time a lot safer. With
lowered gravity falling becomes less of a hazard. Couple that with padded walls all the way around and the risk for injury is almost gone! You could try all the stunts that you could ever imagine and remain almost worry free!

Here's a cool article from Space.com that gives an early look at space sports going on now in a modified Boeing 727-200 aircraft that takes you for a free fall. They also speculate on the future of space sports.


# 2. Sleeping Arrangements.


The room! The setup would be similar to any Earthly hotel but the experience would be far from it. First, you have your window. Take a look outside at the Earth and the rest of space or get a fantastic view of the rest of the space hotel. With the room spinning to maintain artificial gravity your view will also be constantly changing.
Asleep in Space. Source: NASA.gov
The artificial gravity presents an unique aspect in itself too. Low-gravity could allow for perhaps the most comfortable sleeping conditions conceivable. When resting on the mattress in only a fraction of normal gravity your body is less compressed. That means your spine will straighten out and your body can completely relax. Blood circulation would also be at a maximum so you wouldn't have to worry about arms or legs falling asleep. Don't worry about falling off either; Velcro sheets could fasten you in. Evidence has supported this claim of better sleep in space too. Space.com wrote:
During a study of two 1998 space flights, five astronauts stopped snoring almost completely. The astronauts also experienced a significant decrease in sleep-disturbing periods of breathing cessation, called sleep apnea, as well as periods of slow and shallow breathing called hypopnea. more...


Oh, and with news of the plan for the first first ever honeymoon in space, I'm sure couples could**ahem** try various 'rendezvousing and docking' methods in partial or zero gravity.

and......


# 1. Low-G Swimming
Artist's rendition of a spinning, low-g swimming pool. Courtesy SpaceFuture.com
Artificial gravity has yet another fantastic exploit--a swimming pool! Water's properties combined with variable gravity make for an amazing combination. If the giant container is spinning the water will adhere to the inner walls. Imagine jumping out of the water, completing some acrobatics, and then flying back into the water on the ceiling above you! Large enough containers can allow for very high diving boards too. The typical 'daredevil' could make Olympic divers look like amateurs. Splashing games amongst friends will also suddenly have a whole new meaning with the addition of low G-forces. Swimmers can pick up large armfuls of water and hurl them in a wobbly mess across the pool--tidal-waving their friends rather than merely "splashing" them.

Take the water to a zero-G room and a slew of new forms of entertainment arise. You could literally grab blobs of water and throw them like snowballs across the room and watch them explode into pieces as they hit the wall. Jumping inside larger blobs of water is now possible too. Swim around like a goldfish in a fishbowl or simply blow bubbles on the inside of your blob. Next you exit the blob and mold it into various shapes. Pull the water out in strings or transform your blob into a donut by blowing a large bubble in the center and bursting it. Or you could try spinning it and watch it take all sorts of shapes.

...

Hopefully this list has piqued your imagination or at least given you some new information on the capabilities of space. If anyone has any other ideas for possible experiences in a space hotel let me know by adding a comment and I will add a "Bonus Section" for submitted ideas! I will also be sure to list your name (and website if applicable) next to the idea! I'm looking forward to your ideas so please add them!

Lastly I want to thank (and recommend) the book Your Spaceflight Manual for providing me inspiration for this piece and for providing me great information.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Summer Williams:The best cheerleader for space--Literally

Summer Williams, NASA Engineer and Texan Cheerleader. Courtesy SI.com
OK, so this doesn't have much to do with furthering humankind's place in outer space but who cares? Summer Williams is an engineer for NASA; you know, a rocket scientist? Oh yeah, did I also mention that she is an NFL CHEERLEADER for the Houston Texans?! No joke. Check it out:

"Well," Williams said, "I don't actually use the term 'rocket scientist.' "

That's what she is, though. Williams is a 25-year old aerospace engineer for the Jacobs Engineering Group, which is NASA's main scientific support contractor. Williams, a small-town Kansan, is an assistant project manager on the group that figures out how to keep the international space station habitable.

[...]

"I just always wanted to be smart," Williams said. She definitely was that. Her dad's a mortician, and her first dream job was to be a forensic pathologist. Then her ninth grade science teacher had her class watch Apollo 13 and she became "very, very curious about the brains on the ground."

Every math and science elective her high school offered, Williams took. Her senior year, she wrote gobs of essays, underwent a two-day observation at problem-solving and group work, and won a $10,000 scholarship from Cessna. She went to Wichita State, got that aerospace engineering degree and didn't watch much football. "I studied a lot," she said.

see full article...

So not only is she gorgeous, intelligent, and a cheerleader but she also has my dream job! Oh, and if that's not enough, she also became a VFR rated private pilot in 2002 and she enjoys riding motorcycles. (see the official site of the Houston Texans)

Pictured: Typical NASA Engineer/ Texan Cheerleader. Courtesy SI.com

After a little research, I found out that she is actually Miss Hawaiian Tropic Kansas too (see page). I can't exactly remember but I think she might also be the ruler of some small country and maybe a superhero.

Pictured: Typical Rocket Scientist/ Beauty Pageant Winner Courtesy BreakTV.com

Overall I think I'll have to give NASA the thumbs up on this one. I must say, she is a decent step up from that crazy diaper-wearing/kidnapping women they hired.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Money Backing the Private Space Industry... Part 3--Robert Bigelow

Continued from part 1 and part 2...
Robert Bigelow has expressed his disappointment in the development of manned space exploration. Growing up captivated by the Apollo 11 moon landing Bigelow has said, "It's been 30 years since the last beginning and we don't have anything to show for it but memories. People are tired of memories." This time he is doing something about it. After acquiring his fortune through his Las Vegas hotel chain Budget Suites of America, he pledged to spend up to $500 million by 2015 to give manned space exploration a much needed boost.

Bigelow envisions a whole new breed of hotels: Space Hotels. He has plans of offering a 330-cubic-meter space station (about the size of a 3 bedroom house) for a paltry $1 million a night. Guests will fly around the Earth every 90 minutes traveling 17,500 miles/hour and absorb spectacular views of the Earth and the surrounding galaxy. Learning weightless acrobatics will also become a common pastime for guests.

Already built, inflatable Nautilus modules.
These incredible ambitions are not from idle words either. His pledge to front $500 million for the project and the successful launch of Genesis I, the 1/3 scale model Transhab, have already been mentioned (see article) but what else has brought this project closer to reality than most would have ever thought possible? Well, for one, a deal has already been made between Bigelow Aerospace and Elon Musk's SpaceX to have the Falcon 9 launch an expandable space-station in the first quarter of 2008. A $50 million "America's Space Prize" has also been presented by Bigelow for the group who can create a spacecraft that can take 5 or more people to an altitude of 400 km, demonstrate the ability to dock with a Bigelow Aerospace inflatable space habitat, and repeat the trip within 60 days. The deadline is Jan. 10, 2010. The real prize though, is the potential $200 million purchase agreement for six flights of a selected vehicle. This can be awarded to a company after the deadline if it is preferred over the winner's design. In addition to the $200 million deal there is another $800 million available in options contracts for 24 flights over a span of about 4 to 4.5 years!

Like Jeff Bezos (see part 1), Bigelow displays sincere ambitions too. His life's dream is very similar to mine (see site purpose). He was only 15 years old when he vowed to devote his life to establishing a permanent human presence in space. Already aware of the difficulties it would take he knew he would need money--lots of it. Soon after his vow, he aggressively began laying the foundation for accumulating his wealth. He followed in his father's footsteps by studying real estate and banking at Arizona State University. Upon graduation, he immediately put his real estate education into practice by buying small rental properties. Three years later, in 1970, he constructed his first apartment house, a 40-unit building. For the next two decades he continued expanding by building dozens of apartment buildings and motels in the Las Vegas area. In 1988 he founded his lucrative Budget Suites of America.

Concept design of a completed space hotel.
All throughout this time, Bigelow kept space in the back of his head and only in the back of his head. The motivation for his ambitious expansion of his company was kept entirely secret. I didn’t even tell my wife,” he says. “She never knew. Because it’s possible that that kind of dream would never happen.” Serendipity struck in 1999 when Bigelow stumbled upon a NASA project for a radical new space station concept. The radical concept was called the Transhab project. In 2000 NASA canceled it for no apparent reason and so Bigelow bought the exclusive development rights. Bigelow believes he can accomplish what NASA couldn't because of his business expertise. "I’ve put together many, many projects involving a lot of money and a lot of people,” he says, and unlike NASA, “I’m used to doing things pretty darn well on budget and pretty darn well on time.

Thus ends my 3 part series on the money behind the dream. I hope you learned something new about the private space industry or perhaps became inspired yourself to join the industry!

To read more about the Transhab technology NASA provides a great article that covers the basics.

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Monday, February 5, 2007

Money Backing the Private Space Industry... Part 2

Continued from part 1...
This next group of backers may not qualify for the billionaire category but they have been huge patrons of the private space industry. Jim Benson started the trend of tech entrepreneurs moving into the commercial space market in 1997 with the founding of SpaceDev. SpaceDev provided the unique hybrid rocket motors used on the now famous SpaceShipOne. Benson recently stepped down as CEO/CTO of SpaceDev and announced his intentions of creating a new space venture appropriately named Benson Space Company. Named one of the "50 People to Watch in 2005" by San Diego magazine it is difficult to disagree.

One of the most influential figures has been Anousheh Ansari. Making her fortune through a Telecom company, Anousheh is most famous for helping fund the Ansari X-prize. The $10 million X-prize can be largely accredited for the jump start of the commercial space race. It lead to Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, backed by Paul Allen and winner of the X-prive, deal with Richard Branson and the founding of Virgin Galactic.

The prize has also pushed other non-winning companies such as John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace. Most famous for his co-founding of id Software and for making games such as Doom and Quake, Carmack recently taught himself rocket engineering and is the lead engineer of his company. Armadillo Aerospace has ambitious plans of building orbital spacecrafts.

Elon Musk, another internet mogul other than Jeff Bezos, has also shown some serious interest in space. Using his fortune (estimated at $328 million) earned from his creation of PayPal, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). SpaceX currently has one rocket, the Falcon 1, that was launched unsuccessfully this year but is scheduled for a relaunch this month. Elon has said he is willing to fund up to three unsuccessful launches before he decides to scrap the company. With success of upcoming launches there looks to be a lot of promise. SpaceX has already sold 11 contracts for flights on the various Falcon rockets. The company was recently awarded the Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract for Responsive Small Spacelift (RSS) launch services from the US Air Force that could be worth up to $100 million worth of launches.

Space Adventures founder Eric Anderson has taken unique steps to gleaning his wealth and power in the commercial space industry. He is unique because he has been the only one to start his entrepreneurial ventures in the actual private space industry and his company has thus far been the only company in the world to have sent private citizens to space. Joining several visionaries in the aerospace industry, Anderson's company has sold more than $120M in space tourist flights.

He has also currently developed and financed over $500 million in new projects, including a deal with the Ansari family's company, Prodea, and the Russian space agency (FSA) to develop a suborbital space transportation system called Explorer, a project for two global spaceports and another one for the first private voyage to the moon, set to launch in 2009. The Explorer will be able to transport up to five people to space and is designed to maximize the customer's experience of space travel. The two commercial spaceports have been announced for development in the United Arab Emirates and in Singapore. Most exciting, however, is the project for the first private voyage to the moon. The project is titled the Deep Space Expedition Alpha (DSE-Alpha) and has plans for sending tourists on a trip around the moon. Space Adventures has partnered with the FSA to use modified Soyuz capsules for the trip. Seats for the trip come at a hefty price though. Two commercial seats are available for an incredible $100 million. But, with another customer of theirs, Dennis Tito, paying $20 million for a trip to the ISS, a $100 million ticket price for a trip around the dark side of the moon might be the right price for a wealthy enthusiast.

The last figure in my series of money backers is Robert Bigelow. Bigelow is at the forefront of the private space industry and looks so promising that all the information about him cannot fit in this article alone. Continue coming back and looking for an updated article exclusively about his contributions to commercial space, including a deal for a launch with Elon Musk and SpaceX.

And... as always, feel free to comment on or ask about anything you please! I feed off of your input and always look forward to it. Thanks for everyone's contributions so far!

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