Flash Fiction: a complete story
in one thousand or fewer words.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NASA's Ares I-X Launch Success


From NASA's blog: NASA's Ares I-X test rocket lifted off at 11:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a two-minute powered flight. The flight test lasted about six minutes from its launch from the newly modified Launch Pad 39B until splashdown of the rocket's booster stage nearly 150 miles downrange.



Now, Flash Fiction Online readers and writers are naturally skeptical, especially after a reader's anonymous tip led to the moon landing controversy, which NASA had to defend. However, Yours Truly personally viewed the launch from about 30 miles south of the Cape. I can attest that the Ares I-X flight had substantial vertical and eastward vectors. As a Fair Witness, I can say it left from somewhere (Titusville, Florida area), but I cannot confirm that it arrived anywhere, as that leg of the flight was beyond unenhanced human vision from my viewing location.

However, I haven't taken our meds in a while and we are very, very confused. Ohh, shiny!

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Astronauts: Houston, Commercial Spaceflight Is No Problem

A baker's dozen of astronauts have penned....no, these guys and gals are the ultimate earlier adopters. (Refueling.)

A baker's dozen of astronauts have texted an endorsement of commercial participation in spaceflight. This statement was aimed directly at NASA. These astronauts feel that NASA's strength is in exploration. Now that near-space access is slightly less than rocket science, the astronauts feel that the commercial sector is more suited to making it commonplace.

The paper cited Sally Ride's statement as capturing their thoughts concisely:

"We would like to be able to get NASA out of the business of getting people to low Earth orbit."

The astronauts participating in the statement were: Buzz Aldrin, Ken Bowersox, Jake Garn, Robert Gibson, Hank Hartsfield, John Herrington, Byron Lichtenberg, John Lounge, Rick Searfoss, Norman Thagard, Kathryn Thornton, Jim Voss and Charles Walker.

Here is The Wall Street Journal's article on the astronaut's endorsement of commercial spaceflight.



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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ray Bradbury: We are the Martians

This article in The Smart Set, a Drexel University online magazine, paints a political picture of the U.S. space program beginning with President Kennedy's Rice Stadium speech to when we landed colonists on Mars, according to Ray Bradbury's vision from The Martian Chronicles. Ray Bradbury's vision of space travel is the lens of the article. Bradbury feels that the romance of space travel is the ideal motivator, but which is quickly dashed by the realities. Will we find life on Mars? Bradbury was asked:

“We just don’t know. It doesn’t matter, because we’re going to become the Martians when we land there. When we explore and build communities, we become the Martians. That’s a wonderful destiny for all of us.”

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Space vs. Earth Chess Match

A great drama is nearing a conclusion: the Space vs. Earth chess match. The honor of Earth is on the line. A terrible day it would be if Earth--who invented the game somewhere during the imperial quakes of the early middle ages--should lose to spacemen. Here's the situation: the International Space Station was invaded by an expatriate Earthling chess player, Greg Chamitoff, who has wrangled a chess game of honor with Earthling elementary school children. Earth's honor rests on children's shoulders because of this diabolical match. The only saving grace is that the children may select four candidate moves and let all of Earth vote on which to use. I pray Earth is using all of her supercomputers, networked together, to select the best of the four children's moves. (I'm not certain, but I think the ISS has only a Commodore 64 at its disposal.)

The spaceman's goons at NASA and the U.S. Chess federation set up this match. Here is NASA's announcement of the Earth vs. Space chess match. Here is the U.S. Chess Federation's reporting of the current tactical situation in the game. Here are the moves of the game. Yours Truly has some hope for Earth. She is up two pawns and it seems that her queen rook pawn's threat of promotion to a queen will force the spaceman's king away from defending his pawns from an overwhelming force of Earth's pawns.

Arr!

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More Space News

There has been quite a bit of space news lately because of yesterday's 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. Here is an eclectic collection of related stories:

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Current and Near-Future Space Travel

This panorama of current and near-future space travel, provided by The Independent (UK), gives a view of the current upcoming endeavors and tensions of space travel, including lunar visits and to "infinity and beyond," to quote a certain cartoon character. The players are the U.S. and her partners, Russia and her partners, the Chinese, and commercial concerns such as Virgin Galactic. In some cases, such as the International Space Station, participants in the new space race are contestants and partners at the same time.

China is the new player, with an independent intention to land on the moon at about the same time that the U.S. intends to return there. Of course there are budget concerns.

However, space travel is not pretty. When did you ever see Captain Kirk excuse himself from the bridge for personal plumbing issues? "You have the bridge, Mr. Spock. I haffa go potty....Emergency! Scottie to the potty...Scottie to the potty...it's broken." In the now-crowded International Space Station, the poor near-spacemen and near-spacewomen are suffering such a catastrophe, with no convenience store or McD in a nearby orbit. (Were you aware that the ISS has a orbiting pay-potty?)

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

First Hi-Res LRO Photos of Lunar Landing Sites

NASA has released the first of the hi-resolution photos of the lunar landing sites, from the LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter), showing artifacts of Apollo missions there. On these first photos, evidence of the artifacts is mainly through bright objects with long shadows of lunar modules Eagle, Falcon, Orion, Challenger and Antares, and areas of human footpaths. The Flat Earth Society will not be impressed. Later photos will have three times the resolution, so details will be more apparent and The Flat Earth Society will be three times less unimpressed.

The primary LRO mission is to identify future landing sites.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hi-Res Moonwalk Video to Be Released

Do you remember NASA's embarrassing 2006 episode of the missing video tapes of the moonwalk? These were high-resolution video recordings. The images seen back home on television were reduced resolution (a standard TV camera recording off a hi-res monitor, BION). The cited Wiki article is a bit confusing because of serial editing, but in June of this year the tapes were found in a Perth, Australia storage site. One tricky bit is that the video recording format is so old that restoration was difficult.

:drum roll: NASA has announced it will hold a briefing on Thursday (July 16, 2009) to release the restored Apollo 11 moonwalk video.

Two interpretations:
--Our space enthusiasts: Yah!
--Our cynical curmudgeons: why'd it take Disney so long to produce these tapes?

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

International Space Station (ISS) Visible to Many

Starting yesterday (you're welcome), the International Space Station (ISS), will be quite visible all over the world for a while. It has a 90-minute orbit, so it may be visible several times per day. Because of its continuing construction over the years, it has become quite large...the largest spacecraft in existence*.

NASA has some general information on these ISS viewing events, here. That article refers to Space.com's satellite spotting guide, which gives some guidance on when and where to look in your area. You may also find local news coverage in your area on this topic.

*Except for certain alien craft in Area 51...we can't talk about it. Americans can see the alien craft by going to Nevada and presenting a valid public library card or Disney Pass and telling who won "the series" in 1951.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Buzz Aldrin's Starmap for NASA

Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin is not happy with NASA's present agenda. He thinks they're trying to repeat the past. He suggests focusing on more forward-thinking goals. Here are his immediate concerns:

...the five-year gap between the shuttle’s scheduled retirement next year and the debut of the Ares I rocket and the Orion spacecraft, which will take us no further than the moon—a place we’ve already been. Aldrin thinks NASA can do better. His plan is to scrap Ares I, stretch out the remaining six shuttle flights and fast-track the Orion to fly on a Delta IV or Atlas V. Then, set our sites on colonizing Mars.

In this many-faceted article in Popular Mechanics, Aldrin (now 80) speaks of a few regrets, mainly not speaking out against what he thought were bad decisions while an active astronaut. He speaks of the short-term issues created by the five-year gap between the shuttle program’s retirement and arrival of its Ares I and Orion replacements.

Medium-term issues that he addresses include
returning to the moon with an international consortium rather than a unilateral program; and developing an affordable runway lander craft based on something like the Air Force's robot X-37B spacecraft scheduled for orbital flight this year. He'd like to commercialize use of such a spacecraft.

Aldrin's more far-reaching plans include:

Develop [an] Exploration Module for manned flights of up to three years to comets, asteroids and Martian moon Phobos, where robots prep nearby Red Planet outpost for human settlement.

To see the details of these proposal, see Buzz Aldrin's article in Popular Mechanics.

Bonus!: Here is some unfortunate, related news that could retire one of the shuttles early, worsening the short-term issues that Buzz Aldrin addressed. In a bizarre mishap during Atlantis' last flight, a floating bolt was lodged between a windshield and a dash. It can't be easily removed and may take up to six months to disassemble that part of the craft to repair the situation. They may choose to retire the craft early, instead.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Flash Non-Fiction: Warpships

Do you have a guilty pleasure in reading or writing faster-than-light (FTL) SF stories? Here is something to take the edge off your guilt.

Dr. Richard Obousy, a physicist with M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics from Leicester and Baylor, has looked at some avenues for FTL travel and has made some buzz with a diversity of publications, such as Discovery Channel (online), EE Times (Electrical Engineering), Science Daily and, most importantly, FlashFictionOnline.com. Here is Obousy's warp drive summary from his web site, but I'll go with the Discovery Channel explanation because (this is a bit technical) they have pretty pictures.

In a nutshell, the idea is to harness the sizable dark energy in the universe to distort spacetime in the vicinity of your warp-drive ship.

...the extra dimensions as predicted by superstring theory could be shrunk and expanded by the warp drive through manipulation of local dark energy. At the front of the warpship spacetime would be compressed, and it would expand behind.

That's how I'd do it. Here is an interview that preceded the above-linked slide show article.

FFO Skeptic's Report: to be fair, I've found a completely unqualified skeptic (moi), to give balance to this article: dark matter and dark energy are the asterisks attending quantum mechanics that should scare the pants or skirt off theorists. Enough said.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Space-y News

Two items by way of SlashDot.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is not for sissies. You can win $30 million. That's good. But you have to land a robot craft on the lunar surface where it must travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth. Here's the not-for-sissies part: teams must be at least 90% privately funded. Ouch.

The slashdot article writer also pointed out concern that the artifacts of human landing on the moon (such as Neil Armstrong's footprints) should be preserved. There is another prize for photographs of human artifacts on the moon. [Is this NOT a hint that it was all a hoax. Sheesh.]

Zero Gravity Wedding: this will be a near-space event, but will be at zero-gravity. The link is a personal wedding blog, but is different. It even has a press kit. "The weightless experience" will be provided by Zero G Corp, via a parabolic flight.

You heard it here first! The Flash Fiction Online Faster-than-Light Wedding Prize: we offer a $5 (U.S., Canadian or Australian dollars, we don't care) for the first wedding to be performed in a spaceship going faster-than-light. I haven't approved this with Jake, the editor-in-chief, so I'll front the money in the meantime.

The small print for the FTL wedding prize: no zeros to the prize money are explicitly stated or implied. It is $5 (five dollars) in 2009 or future dollars, whichever has the least purchasing power. To save postage, the prize will be paid via PayPal. The prize may be collected ONLY ONE TIME! No going back in time through black holes or flying around the planet real fast to collect the prize multiple times. The total payout will be $5, tops. Once the time-certified 5$ is paid out, it is gone. No tricks, please.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Axis of Evil in Space?

This by way of SlashDot.org.

Okay, what is the axis of evil? A Ronald Reagan notion? Yes, but that's a different one. This one is a disturbing disturbance in what's supposed to be the even (isotropic) distribution of heat in the universe. Noted by Kate Land and João Magueijo of Imperial College London, they called it the axis of evil for what it meant to the beloved standard model of the universe. This summary is from an article in New Scientist "not long ago" in 2007.

Voyager 1 and 2 to the rescue.

Just last year, researchers viewed data from the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft when the craft passed through this area. The researchers noted that "far from being spherical as had been expected, the termination shock is asymmetric, distorted by some unknown forces." Now some think this apparent malign distribution is actually a phantom caused by a much closer sharp change in "pressure, temperature, density, magnetic and electric field properties of space," called the termination shock. The termination shock occurs where our solar system's outflowing supersonic solar winds are slowed to subsonic speeds by interstellar winds. This has a lens effect that distorts our view.

Don't you love Voyager 1 and 2? I think that since Voyager 1 became V*ger and gained self-consciousness, she is trying especially hard to please us back home. Voyager 2, a jealous lass, is trying very hard to keep up with her older sister.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Raspberry Way Galaxy?

What does the Milky Way Galaxy taste like? Not milk. Raspberries, perhaps. While looking for life-indicating organic compounds (amino acids) in space, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy found ethyl formate instead, the chemical "responsible for the flavour of raspberries."

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Heinlein Prize: Science Fiction to Science Fact

SF Scope has a story about the Heinlein Prize Trust's award in its microgravity research competition to the University of Texas Health Science Center's Division of Nanomedicine. They will be granted a slot for their experimentation on co-sponsor SpaceX's Dragon low-earth orbiting spacecraft in its micro-gravity environment. The research time will also receive a $25000 prize and a trip to NASA for the launch.


The winning project is focused on the development of the science and technology for controlled, long-term drug release. This research, conducted in space, could yield important cancer treatments here on Earth.

For more information about the SpaceX Dragon, go here. SpaceX has some nice renderings of the craft in its proposed mission.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Whew! Stratospheric Bugs (Might) Not (Be) Alien

There are some critters in Earth's stratosphere, according to Indian scientists. They live a harsh life, not quite Earthly and not quite space-borne. They definitely are not alien...if you ask the right person. Here is the concise story.

Here is sort of a related story. Influenza pandemics can be caused by space viruses in comet dust coincident with heavy sunspot cycles. The conclusion: definitely (not).

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book Your Flight Now: Space Tourism

It is not too early to book your Virgin Galactic flight into space. Although U.S. flights will begin in 2011, a premier venue will be Sweden with flights beginning in 2012. At $200,000 it is a bargain, although the article doesn't make it clear whether these are year 2009 or 2012 dollars. Around 300 tickets have been sold so far.

Even if you're not interested in the travel, there is an unrelated, very sweet art photo of two sisters on the same page as the space tourism article that makes a visit to the web site worthwhile.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

When Satellites Collide

I frequently see SF writers ask what-if questions on writing forums like Hatrack to check their science. What if an asteroid strikes the moon and moves it to a higher orbit? What would be the effect on Earth?

I've seen several questions about explosions in space. You've probably seen recent news about two large satellites colliding in space over Siberia. Follow-up stories about this incident might be an opportunity to get a general grounding, so to speak, on the terminology and physics of collisions in space. This one also gives insight on the scattering of debris in the presence of planetary gravity.

I don't want to leave out fantasy writers from this article. On the same writing forums, fantasy writers often ask about creatures, magic, weapons, medieval history and the like. These writers might want to follow the 111th Congress. (Just a joke, please.)

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

To the Moon, Alice! Which one Ralph?

You have plenty of time (until 2020) to get your anthology story up to speed for the joint NASA/ESA interplanetary mission to a moon. But which one? Saturn's Titan? or Jupiter's Europa? Both have tantalizing scientific prospects, and the Europa option could include a Russian lander (more intrigue for your story). On the other hand, those sirens of Titan....

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Near-Space Touring

So, you've got a half-dozen...no, a dozen Nebulas and Hugos under your belt and now you want to take a Russian ferry to the international space station to recharge your career. Sorry, it's not happening.

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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Transition of NASA to Obama

The NY Times has this article about the transition of NASA to Obama.

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