Tag Archive for space travel

The Standard Model and the Big Bang

Universe

I am old enough to remember when the the Big Bang was not the accepted model of the universe. In the 1950’s there were two major theories: George Gamow’s Big Bang Universe and Fred Hoyle’s Steady State Universe. After evidence of the residual noise of the Big Bang discovered by Penzias and Wilson in 1964 appeared to confirm a single creation event, the Steady State Universe fell into disrepute. In the Big Bang Universe, everything that exists was created in the first few seconds of its 13.7 billion year history. On the other hand, the Steady State Universe is eternal. It has always existed and will always exist. As it expands, new matter is continuously created to keep the Universe in balance and in a “steady state.”

The Big Bang theory has much physical evidence to support it. The outward motion of the the galaxies seems to suggest an expanding universe, which would logically follow if everything originated at a single point. The idea that the four elemental forces, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force and the gravitational force were all created at the very beginning and thus were essential in defining the rules of the new universe fits nicely with some of the evidence produced by studies of subatomic particles (see previous blog). The Big Bang also has a psychological and social appeal: it is consistent with most of the creation myths posited by the religions of the world, and it is psychologically consistent with our own life cycle: birth, life, decay and eventual death. These appeals make it attractive to scientists, whether they choose to admit it or not, and probably explains their resistance to accepting data that seems to suggest flaws in the theory.

The measured rate of expansion of the universe, sometimes known as the Hubble constant, has been shown to be inconsistent with the estimated amount of matter and energy in the universe. Therefore, the proponents of the Big Bang have postulated that there is a large amount of matter and energy, known as dark matter, that exists, but is undetectable other than by inference from the prevailing theory. This explanation bears a close resemblance to those put forth by pre-Copernican scientists to explain retrograde motion and other measurements being made that seemed to suggest that an Earth centered, Ptolomeic universe was a flawed model. They postulated that the planets moved around the Earth and then also moved in mini-orbits called epicycles. Of course, within a few years this elaborate explanation came unraveled and a new version of the solar system emerged, along with a new way of looking at creation. Similarly, if the Big Bang was brand new and being suggested as a model with dark matter and energy built into that proposed model, I am certain it would be dismissed as ridiculous and overly elaborate. But because it is the conventional wisdom that the prevailing theory is the true model of creation and scientists are psychologically comfortable with this model, the postulated undetectable matter and energy is accepted.

Because the actors in history are people and people do not change, while scientific discoveries and fads may come and go, history cycles on repeating the same patterns. The Big Bang is getting long in the tooth as scientific theories go in the modern era and I suspect it will be coming unraveled soon. What replaces it will be interesting to see. Possibly some modified version of Hoyle’s eternal and infinite universe will re-emerge to explain the seemingly contradictory observations.

 

Conference Call 10-13-12

The object that came within 58,000 miles of Earth

Only two participants: Stargazer NZ and Doug Turnbull

We discussed the near Earth asteroid 2012 TC4. Discussed earlier detection as well as methods of deflection of dangerous objects. We only had 10 days warning for this one. It was about 56 feet across.

We discussed terraforming and its application to Mars and Venus. Venus seems extremely impractical as one couldn’t really settle there until the job was done, while Mars could be settled today. Inoculating Mars with methane producing bacteria might be one way to do it. I am not a particular fan of terraforming.

Stargazer believes Mars is natural place for manufacturing for the space faring culture we see developing off the Earth in the future.

We discussed the “face on Mars” and the willingness of people to believe fantastic things about Mars. This doesn’t seem to transfer to other celestial bodies. I pointed out that all the SF written about Mars may be contributing to it.

No others joined the conversation on this day. Next call: Saturday October 27th at 11 AM EDT (15:00 UT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Review of FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD by Robert A. Heinlein

Farnham’s Freehold was copyrighted in 1964 by Robert A. Heinlein and published that same year by G. P. Putnam’s Sons of New York. Initially set in the time in which it was written, at the height of the Cold War, in typical Heinlein fashion, this book starts off with a bang as the main character, Hugh Farnham and his family were blasted 2000 years into the future by a Russian atomic bomb. They survived the event because Hugh had the foresight to build a bomb shelter under his home. How the family adapted to this strange new world of the future constitutes the bulk of the novel.

Staying alive was their first priority and Hugh packed the shelter with everything he thought they would need to live after a nuclear war. But once in the event, it turned out that they needed to improvise-and some of their improvisations were quite ingenious. For example, Heinlein described how they constructed an irrigation canal using a homemade transit of the type employed by the ancient Egyptians to ensure the proper slope; and, how they lined it with clay tiles similar to what the Romans used in their aqueducts. Their 250 ton steel re-enforced concrete bomb shelter had been tilted on an angle by the bomb blast. Using tools and techniques first developed by the ancient Egyptians to erect their monuments, the Farnhams were able to re-level the heavy structure without any power equipment.

Compounding the practical problems, Hugh had to deal with conflicts within the family. In addition to his wife, Grace, Hugh had two children: Duke, his grown son and Karen his college age daughter. There were also two others who were not actually blood relatives: Barbara, a friend of Karen who happened to be staying with them at the time of the attack, and Joe, their African American hired man. Early on, Grace and Duke attempted to gang up on Hugh in a struggle for power. However, everyone else had confidence in Hugh’s leadership, sided with him, and Hugh prevailed. But the conflict remained barely beneath the surface for the rest of the story, erupting on several occasions.

After six months of carving out a homestead, planting and irrigating a garden and successfully working out a division of labor; despite their differences, the extended Farnham household seemed destined to prosper. Heinlein had a surprise for them, however. Unfortunately, their homestead was located in the private game preserve of a heretofore unseen landlord. This landlord was a member of The Chosen, the people who had inherited the Earth after the European and Asian races had all but wiped each other out in the nuclear war, and they were descendents of Black Africans. The Chosen now held the remaining light skinned people of North America in slavery. The landlord, whose nickname was Ponse, had the homestead destroyed and the Farnham clan was carried off into bondage. How this was resolved, I’ll allow readers to discover for themselves.

Heinlein uses irony with great skill in this story. The reversal of the relative status of the black and white races is only the most obvious. There are numerous subtle ironies within this over arching one. The Chosen, who in this story were Moslems, proved to be just as ruthless as the white Christian slave owners were in their time and equally hypocritical in their religious justifications. Joe, who in his own time was a second class citizen, suddenly found himself one of The Chosen, while Hugh, his former employer, became a slave. There are many more such ironies for the reader to discover: some are funny and some are not so funny.

As social commentary, this book is a Heinlein tour de force. He addresses racism, a dysfunctional family, sexual liberation, adultery, property rights, religion, intellectual freedom, methods of leadership in a crisis, the Cold War, and human rights in general. And, despite the doomsday backdrop of the story, he does all of this in a way that leaves the reader feeling optimistic about the future of the Farnhams and of the human race.

Star Trek, Star Wars, or Zardoz?

What is humanities’ future in space if any?

On another list, the question was raised about the future of humans in space and several movie versions were suggested. My thoughts on these follow. If anyone wants to argue, take offense or agree, please feel free to comment.

I think the Star Trek vision is still too Earth bound, too reflective of our own forms and biases. The aliens in Star Trek, Whatever Generation are simply reflections of ourselves. They are not aliens. The Vulcans are simply the logical and rational sides of ourselves; the Klingons are our greedy and rapacious side, while all of the other aliens are simply character actors in morality plays.  It is a great series, but it is not particularly visionary.

Star Wars tries to be big, but ends up being small. It is Shogun in space.  Jedi-Samurai, endless intrigues with double and triple crosses, good guys become bad guys become good guys and so on. It is great fun but visionary about human space flight it is not.

Zardoz is a total downer. This is science fiction at its worst. It is The Sun Also Rises without the happy ending.

I see human space flight, exploration and colonization as the dawn of a new age. Those who go will be optimists. The kind of people who looked at the New World as an opportunity to be grasped rather than a mystery to be feared. We will take all of our faults and foibles with us, of course, but the tip of the spear will be sharp and we will embark on a great adventure. Those new folks, the lunar and Mars colonists, the ones born and raised there, will see the universe through different eyes. Where we see limits, they will see opportunities. I am quite optimistic. The only movie I can think of that captures this spirit isn’t science fiction at all, it is Centennial, a mini-series about the settling of a town in Colorado that begins with the Native Americans who settled there first, to the trappers and mountain men, the cattlemen, farmers and follows through to the present day. That is our future in colonizing the solar system.

Review of The Star Beast

The Star Beast was copyrighted in 1954 by Robert A. Heinlein and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in that same year. This is the first of the juveniles to have no interior illustrations, but the cover art and title page were done by Clifford Geary. Because of the lack of illustrations, for the video montage portion of this review, I will use the some of the cover art of the many editions of this book that have been published. This is the eighth of the juveniles and as it was with all of the previous books, the plot and characters are unique. Set in the 22nd century, the book has two distinct story lines, lines that eventually intersect, and the point of view changes among the several characters that populate these story lines. This is an interesting plot device and allows Heinlein to build suspense as the reader tries to anticipate how and when the two plots lines will meet.

The first story line probably takes place in Colorado, although that is never stated, and has three principal characters. Lummox, the title character, is an alien brought to Earth by the great grandfather of the book’s ostensible main character, John Thomas Stuart XII. John Thomas is a teen aged boy who takes care of Lummox and tries with limited success to keep the beast out of trouble. Lummox, who was small enough to fit in a jump bag when brought to Earth, has grown to the size of a medium tank and is just about as tough. The close relationship of the two and their loyalty to each other is a crucial part of the story. John Thomas also has a friend, Betty Sorenson, who plays an important role in this book, even though the point of view is never centered on her. Like Lummox, Betty is loyal to John Thomas and tries to look out for him, and while John Thomas seems oblivious to the romantic implications of their relationship, Betty is not.

The second story line takes place in the Federation Capital, the location of which is not stated but in other Heinlein books is in Nassau. There are two main characters in this line and both have the point of view at various times. Henry Gladstone Kiku, OBE, Permanent Undersecretary for Spatial Affairs, is one of the most powerful men in the Federation. Sergei Greenberg is his go-to assistant and is assigned all the hard jobs, because he gets them done. As the story develops, the two men are involved in some tricky negotiations with a newly discovered alien race called the Hroshii. I’ll allow the reader to discover how this seemingly unrelated plotline eventually intersects with the one in Colorado, but it is through circumstances that only Heinlein could make believable. As a character, Kiku is especially noteworthy because he is from Kenya and is black. In 1954, one simply did not depict black men in such roles and if this had not been science fiction, I doubt if any editor from a major house would have approved it. Heinlein, always a step ahead, would cross the color line again in another of the juveniles.

The double plot lines make this an intricate novel, more so than the previous juveniles, but with well developed, believable and likeable characters as well as non-stop action, Heinlein carries it off.  The book is readable and never boring. As with his other works, Heinlein does not indulge in the poetic descriptions of scenery and characters that impresses critics and professors of literature. Rather, we learn about the characters by watching what they do. The Star Beast is another masterpiece by the original dean of science fiction.

Future of NASA

I support Mars and Lunar colonies now. But I feel that NASA run operations won’t work. NASA has become too blunt an instrument. We get way too little bang for our buck with NASA. They need to evolve into a much smaller granting and underwriting operation. But no self-perpetuating bureaucracy ever voluntarily shrinks. So it is most likely that it will lurch on into the future, doing fewer and fewer missions while consuming huge amounts of capital that would be better spent in private hands.
As an example of how the NASA of the future might function, suppose the current Mars “Curiosity” mission had been set up as an “X-Prize” type operation, with the proviso that the company or organization that completes the mission as described in the grant also has exclusive exploitation rights to any developments, media coverage, inventions, procedures and discoveries on Mars. If they find diamonds, they have first claim because the territory mapped out by the rover belongs to them. Possibly an generous land grant would be a part of the deal.
The advantages to this type of system are clear and have historical precedent. Charles Lindbergh flew NY to Paris to win a prize. He did it as economically and quickly as possible. If NASA had undertaken this challenge, they would spend five years planning a massive expedition and then after that, might actually begin development of an aircraft. The Parisians would still be waiting at Le Bourget Field for the plane to arrive.

Marooned On Mars

Marooned on Mars

Marooned On Mars was copyrighted in 1952 by Lester del Rey and published that same year by John C. Winston Company. In 1962, Holt, Rinehart and Winston published the edition shown in these pictures. The cover art was created by Paul Orban. Lester del Rey was a well known science fiction writer of the mid 20th century and a frequent contributor to the science fiction pulp magazines of the era, most notably Astounding Science Fiction. Later in his career he was also the editor of del Rey Books. As well as this book, he was the author of several of what came to be known as the Winston Juveniles, books written specifically for young people.

Chuck Svenson was a citizen of the moon, proud of it and because of his unique qualifications, was selected as one of six to go on the first mission to Mars. Cut from the mission at the last minute when it was discovered that he was a few days under the minimum age of 18, Chuck, who felt he was treated unfairly, stowed away on the ship and traveled to Mars anyway. Since he was already well prepared for the trip, Chuck turned out to be an asset to the crew.

During the transit to Mars, the ship’s controls were wrecked by a meteor impact with the result that their landing on Mars was actually a crash. The ship was seriously damaged, but not mortally so and the intrepid astronauts immediately began repairs, repairs that because of the positioning of the planets in their orbits, needed to be made within seventy days. Chuck worked hard and was an integral part of the repair effort. It was while performing his share of the tasks that he made a troubling discovery: certain items of ships stores and equipment had gone missing. How Chuck eventually solved the mystery of the disappearing items is the subject of the second half of the book and I will leave that solution for the reader to discover as well.

Written as it was, before Mariner and the subsequent exploratory missions to Mars, the Mars planetary science is dated. The canals, which del Rey postulates as vine like growths emanating from the polar caps and webbing the planet, we now know to be nonexistent: merely optical illusions. The atmosphere, though thin in del Rey’s story is thick enough to support plant life. We now know it to be whisper thin and probably incapable of supporting any life at all.

These facts notwithstanding, the story is solid and moves right along. Chuck is a likeable and believable character and being born off the earth, has a unique perspective. That perspective allows him to see things that his Earth-born shipmates overlook when addressing the mystery of the missing property. Since this book was written when the primary audience for juvenile science fiction was thought to be male, all of the important characters are male as well. But I think you can ignore the limitations I mentioned, sit back and enjoy a good story, written by one of the founding fathers of modern science fiction.

Planetary Comparisons

A comparison of planetary data as it is currently accepted:

Mean Distance from Sun

Mars: 206,640,000 km  Earth: 149,600,000 km

Length of sol and day

Mars sol: 24 hrs 39 min  Earth day: 24 hrs

Length of year

Mars: 669.6 Sols  Earth: 365.256 days

Calendar year

Mars: 669.6 Sols  Earth: 12 months

Axial Tilt

Mars: 25.19 degrees  Earth: 23.44 degrees

Orbital Eccentricity

Mars: 9.34%  Earth: 1.67%

Diameter Of planet

Mars: 6792.4 km  Earth: 12,756.3 km

Orbital speed

Mars: 24.13 km/sec  Earth: 29.79 km/sec

Surface gravity

Mars: .38 G  Earth: 1.00 G

Escape velocity

Mars: 5.02 km/sec  Earth: 11.18 km/sec

Average intensity of sunlight

Mars: .43 Earth  Earth: 1.00

Mean surface temperature

Mars: -55 degrees C  Earth 16 degrees C

Air Pressure

Mars: 6-10 kpascals  Earth: 1001.3 kpascals

Air Composition

Mars: 95% CO2, 3% N  Earth: 78% N, 21% O

Moons

Mars: 2  Earth: 1

Areological Epochs

Noachian epoch (named after Noachis Terra): Formation of the oldest extant surfaces of Mars, 3.8 billion years ago to 3.5 billion years ago.  Noachian-age surfaces are scarred by many large impact craters.  The Tharsis Bulge volcanic upland is thought to have formed during this period, with extensive flooding by liquid water late in the epoch.  Atmosphere formed and was stripped away, possibly several times.  Major volcanism occurred during this period as well as bombardment by asteroids, meteorites, and comets.

Hesperian epoch (named after Hesperia Planum): 3.5 billion years ago to 1.8 billion years ago.  The Hesperian epoch is marked by the formation of extensive lava plains indicating that volcanism continued during this period.

Amazonian epoch (named after Amazonis Planitia): 1.8 billion years ago to present.  Amazonian regions have few meteorite impact craters but are otherwise quite varied.  Olympus Mons formed during this period, along with lava flows elsewhere on Mars.  Northern Sea is flooded.  Mars colonized by humans.


Heinlein’s Juveniles

Heinlein’s Juveniles

In the period from 1947 through 1958, Robert A. Heinlein wrote 12 Science Fiction books that came to be known as his Juveniles.  In today’s parlance they would be considered books intended for young adults: junior high and high school readers.

These excellent books all have several characteristics in common.

  1. They are scientifically accurate according to the best information available at the time they were written.
  2. Both the primary and secondary characters in the stories are well drawn and recognizable as people with whom the reader can identify.
  3. They are all coming of age stories, where young people find themselves faced with adult challenges and must grow in order to meet those challenges.
  1. The novels all have fast moving plots that propel the reader through the stories and maintain a sense of forward motion.
  2. And finally, they all more or less follow Heinlein’s “History of the Future” timeline.

I intend to review each of these novels in the order in which they were written, in the hope that I can encourage today’s young readers to visit these fine books from the past.  Believe me, you will quickly forget that Venus is a scorching desert rather than the swampland that many suspected it was at the time Space Cadet was written; and it won’t matter to you that we now know that there are no canals on Mars like those depicted in Red Planet.  These engrossing stories will thrill, entertain and inform you and be well worth your time.  Those older readers, who can still remember what it was like to be young, will find them entertaining as well.

Starman Jones

Starman Jones

 

Starman Jones was copyrighted in 1953 by Robert A. Heinlein and published that same year by Charles Scribner’s Sons of New York. The sixth of the Heinlein Juveniles, it is the last one to be fully illustrated by Clifford Geary.

It is also the first of his juveniles to postulate interstellar travel. All of the earlier books confined travel within the solar system. The protagonist, Maximilian Jones, or Max as he is known, comes from unspecified hill country, possibly the Ozarks, where he is living with his widowed stepmother. When she remarries, Max leaves and through a series of misadventures, during which he meets and eventually teams up with a hobo named Sam, Max signs on as an ordinary crewman aboard the starship Asgard. Because he possesses a unique ability and through a series of unlikely events that only Heinlein could make believable, Max lands a job as a ship’s officer serving on the bridge. His adventures aboard the Asgard constitute the main body of the story and I’ll allow the reader to enjoy them.

As a novel, Starman Jones works on several levels. First it can be read as a simple adventure story and it works quite well as just that. The book can also be read as a coming of age story: Max starts out a boy and finishes as a man. And it can be read for the deeper human and sometimes political themes underlying the story. For example, the Asgard encounters an alien civilization organized along totalitarian lines. The ruthless brutality and exploitative character of the alien system is, I believe, an allegory for the communist and fascist societies of the 20th century during which Heinlein was writing.

This is the first of the juveniles to fully develop a strong female character. Eldreth Coburn is the well to do daughter of a planetary governor and a passenger aboard the Asgard. During the course of the voyage, Max and Ellie become good friends and there is a hint of romance, at least on her part. A very intelligent and strong willed young woman, she does a skillful job of concealing those traits in the male dominated society set forth in the story. For example, she allows Max to teach her how to play chess. He wins all of their matches until late in the book when he discovers that she is a master chess player and could take him anytime and every time if she chose to do so. When Max and Ellie are captured by hostile natives on a planet misnamed Charity, Ellie proves both courageous and resourceful. Nearly all of Heinlein’s later juveniles as well as his adult books have such strong and likeable female characters. Prescient as he was about future technological innovation, he also foresaw women taking a more equal role in future society.

Starman Jones is also the last book to be fully illustrated. As in the previous books, Clifford Geary’s cover art and white on black interior drawings appear deceptively simple. However, the illustrations have a hidden complexity that conveys very subtly the sense that we are visiting a world very different than our own. Geary was a great talent and a fine artist, but I know of only one other book, a children’s book, that he illustrated. About this time, young adult fiction followed the already established pattern of adult fiction: that of not being illustrated. No doubt the intellectual rationale was that by not having suggestive pictures the narrative would better stimulate young imaginations. But I also have no doubt that there was an economic motive: at that time, illustrations significantly increased the cost of producing books. Hence, there were no more pictures. This is a trend I would like to see reversed and I am doing just that with my own stories.

This is a great book and while longer than Heinlein’s previous juveniles, it is a page turner and a fast read. The action flows naturally and carries the reader along with it. Although the science is farther afield than that of his earlier books, the space-time anomalies that allow for interstellar travel are analogous to the wormholes that are currently postulated; and those are based on conjectures put forth by Albert Einstein. Written with scientific rigor as well as universal human themes such as love, envy, jealousy and self-sacrifice, this book is all Heinlein all the time.