Contact Victor Williamson with your questions about simulator based experiential education programs for your school.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Voyager's New Summer Story, And Other Things.

 Todd Wilps was on a Memorial Day trip to the beach when he got the news 
that he was too late to sign up for a Space Center Summer Camp.
Don't Let This Be You!  
Register Today

Hello Troops,
While many enjoy a three day weekend, the Space Center staff and volunteers will have two days off.  These rare occasions give us a chance to recharge, rebuild, reenergize and prepare ourselves for the two busiest months of the year - June and July.

June and July are summer camps months.  Each week you'll find us hosting a three day camp, an overnight camp and a few dozen or so private missions.  It is the time of year when the Space Center makes much of its budget for the upcoming year.  If you haven't registered for a summer camp I urge you to do so quickly.  They are filing quickly. Soon, you may find yourself like the boy above, shocked to his very core at the discovery that there is no place for him at the Space Center this summer.  He'd waited too long to register.  Now, he faces a bleak summer without an infusion of pure, unadulterated imagination and creativity.  Rare, natural brain enhancing drugs dispensed at very few places - the Space Center being one of them.

Our simulators are preparing their new summer missions.  The Phoenix's mission has been told several times.  Each telling was received warmly by the crews who flew them.  The Odyssey's mission is ready.  The Galileo's had its first telling last week.  The crew responded favorably.  The Magellan's new summer story is waiting on its tactical screens and visual track.  The Voyager's new summer story will be told for the first time this weekend.

The Voyager's New Mission

The great space faring nations are struggling to rebuild after the long night of terror unleashed on them by the Borg.  The Federation, Romulan, Klingon and Cardassian nations are mere shadows of their former selves.  Their home worlds devastated, their fleets all but demolished and their citizens scattered to the four corners of this galactic quadrant.  Each nation struggles to regain what it once had.  Each nation rebuilds, sending their tattered fleets back to the stars to reclaim the worlds which once flew their flags and proclaimed their greatness.

In the midst of this devastation, the Paklids remain - untouched by the Borg.  Their home world left as it was before, their identity and national purpose unmarred.  The Borg Cubes flew by the Paklids on their way to Earth, Kronos, Romulas and Cardassian Prime.  The Borg scanned Paklidia and found the Paklid people undeserving of assimilation into the collective.  They believed the Paklids had nothing to offer.  To some extent, the Borg were correct.  The Paklids appear to be a very simple people, yet buried deep in what most think to be simpleness, lies the strength, culture and national purpose that has kept the Paklids an independent people for thousands of years.

In their hurry to subdue the great nations, the Borg overlooked something else about Paklidia.  The Paklid home world is rich in dilithium ore.  Dilithium is the controlling agent which allows massive warp drive engines to harness the power of antimatter and channel it is such that a doorway can be opened into the realm of hyperspace.  Hyperspace allows warp travel and warp travel opens the galaxy to exploration and colonization.

The Voyager's new summer story introduces us to Horace, the crown prince of Paklidia and his bodyguard Dweeb.  Horace and Dweeb are on Earth with the Paklid Minister of Commerce.  Starfleet Command is wanting to sign a multiyear contract with Paklidia.  This contract will, once again, give Earth access to Paklid dilithium crystals.  Horace and Dweeb used their time on Earth to tour, meet humans, and study the finest Federation technology offered to the Paklids in exchange for their dilithium.

Now it is time for Horace and Dweeb to return to Paklidia.  The Paklid government has arranged for an escort ship to accompany the Royal Starbug (Starbug - the name given to Paklid starships) back to Paklidia.  The USS Voyager has been given that task.  The journey to Paklids is fraught with danger.  Remember, the Federation has lost control of much of its territory.  There are whole sections of space once held by the Federation that are now in the control of lawless gangs of space pirates and mercenaries.

The Orion Pirates, led by the infamous Mad Dog, control the several light years of space separating the last functioning Federation Starbase and Paklid space.  Ths area, called 'The West', is named after the American Wild West of the 1800's.    The Voyager will rendezvous with the Royal Spacebug at Starbase 101.  Prince Horace has expressed an interest in touring the Voyager and meeting her crew.

Horace is an avid admirer of Space ships.  His favorite is the Romulan Warbird.  "A fine ship," Horace says.  Horace's love for the Romulan Warbird led him into an admiration of the Romulan people and their former Empire.  His admiration has made Horace a vocal supporter of the Romulans. He has urged his father to give the Romulan Empire the dilitium contract instead of the Federation.  Horace's father,  not taken in by the clever design of the Warbird and false Romulan promises of eternal peace and friendship,  refused his son's request.  He knows Romulan history and their preoccupation of colonizing worlds with resources they deem of strategic value to their Empire.  Over Horace's objections,  the King sent his Commerce Minister to sign the trade agreement with the Federation.  To placate his son, the Paklid King agreed to sell limited amounts of crystals to the Romulans.  The Romulans are not happy they lost the contract, but are powerless to force a Paklid change of mind.  The Paklids are the current power in the galaxy, having been ignored by the Borg.  Of course, with the death of the Paklid King, Horace will take the throne.  A scenario the Romulans hope will come sooner, rather than later.

How Do Astronomer's Know the Distances to Far Away Objects in Space?

This post ends with a short video explaining how astronomers tell the distances to far away stars and galaxies.  Please take a minute and learn something about astronomy.  I promise you'll find it fascinating.

Mr. W.        

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Midnight Thoughts at the Space Center

Hello Troops,
I'm sitting here befuddled.  Before me is a blank white screen waiting for words to form in my tired brain and find their way down my arms, through my fingers and onto this electronic void.  What could I possibly write at 11:56 P.M. on a Friday night that you would find interesting?

I feel a few thoughts taking shape but nothing is congealing.  They are just vague ideas popping back and forth between the rational and irrational parts of my consciousness like electrons transitioning between dimensions of space time.

Wait, something is taking shape......I'm thinking of the awesome campers we're hosting from Ridgeline Elementary.  Great kids with positive attitudes and intelligence beyond their years......

... and there the thought goes - disappearing into the Aether like a vapor from a boiling pot.

I'm seeing something else through the fog of a midnight's delirium.   It's a young volunteer stretched out on one of our ancient cots procured from the War Department after the Spanish American War (well, not really but you'd think so if you ever tried to find a comfortable sleeping position on one of them).  He's giving me a thumbs up.  Yes, perhaps I could write about the new job I've created for our young Connor J.  He is our newly appointed Chief of Cot Quality and Comfort (CCQC).  The CCQC was created in a response to years of complaints from our campers regarding the Overnight Camp's sleeping cots.  Connor tolerably completed his assignment this evening.  He stretched out on each of our older cots, rolled about a bit to simulate a night's unconscious motion, and sat up, putting all his weight on the center of the cot where the unforgiving support bar is found.

"These cots pass," he said with a pride only found in someone who knows he has put in a days work for a day's pay.  "The campers should have no problem with them.  They aren't comfortable in the classical sense of the word but not so uncomfortable a camper couldn't find at least a few hours sleep."

I told him his job rested entirely on the comments made by the campers on the post camp survey.  If the cots aren't mentioned at all, then he keeps his title and position.  If there are complaints, then its back to where I found him in the Center's boiler room shoveling coal into the massive boilers which provide the power to drive our ship's powerful Warp Drive Engines.  Connor gulped down a powerful urge to sob uncontrollably while nervously rubbing his calloused hands together.

I could write about Connor and the cots, but the thought is disappearing as quickly as it appeared.  Besides, I doubt anyone out there would find our troubles with cots an interesting read when compared with the problems Greece is having with the Euro.

Wait, there is something else in the mist.  And its gone before I could make out a shape.

I think I'll put up the white flag and call this post a complete failure.  I'm relieved to a certain extent.  I can stop typing.  I can turn off the light and try to get some sleep on the pad in front of my desk.  I'll tell the staff to stop talking in the Odyssey before going to bed .  I'll also have to ignore the sleeping dock's creaking in the Voyager's Captain's Quarter's .  Every time the boys turn or move, the boards in the sleeping dock squeak.  I'll talk to our builder about fixing that when he comes in next.

It's 12:23 A.M.  Time for bed.

Goodnight from the Space Center.

Mr. W.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

50 Years Ago: Aurora 7 in Space!

Mercury-Atlas 7 blasts off!

Fifty years ago, on May 24, 1962, NASA launched mission MA-7 with astronaut Scott Carpenter from Launch Complex LC-14 at Cape Canaveral. The capsule, named "Aurora 7" by the astronaut, entered Earth orbit five and a half minutes later. Like John Glenn's MA-6 flight, the mission lasted for 3 orbits and completed its primary mission objectives.
Mercury Mission Control.

Some of the mission objectives were scientific. One objective was to observe liquid in a weightless environment. Another involved investigating things that John Glenn had reported during his flight, such as the airglow in the atmosphere layer, and identification of the "fireflies" Glenn had reported, which turned out to be frozen ice particles from the spacecraft exterior. Photographs were taken of the Earth and the colors in the atmospheric layer.
Photo taken from Aurora 7.

Most importantly, the spacecraft was checked out for engineering tolerances, and deemed ready for continued missions with longer orbits. Unfortunately, the Automated Control System suffered a malfunction. Astronaut Carpenter was able to manually take control and operate the spacecraft so that no mission objectives were affected, except one.
Carpenter inside the Mercury spacecraft before launch.

After a flight time of 4 hours 30 minutes, Carpenter began re-entry operations. The retro rockets fired, slowing the spacecraft so that it began to lower its altitude. Carpenter lowered and secured the periscopic viewer used for outside observations, and a minute and a half after firing the retros, the retro pack was jettisoned, exposing the heatshield for re-entry. During re-entry and the blazing fire of heated plasma around the craft, Carpenter used the spacecraft controls to orient the spacecraft position. At some point during the process, enough error entered the flightpath to cause it to go slightly off course. The main parachutes were deployed perfectly, and splashdown occurred at mission time T+4 hours, 57 minutes, 10 seconds. The only problem was, there was no one there to fetch him!
Aurora 7 in the water, with Navy frogmen assisting.

The spacecraft had overshot the expected landing area, and Carpenter found himself 402 kilometers away from where they were looking. Eventually though, he was found and Navy divers were dispatched to place a flotation collar around the capsule to prevent it sinking like what happened to Gus Grissom's capsule. Carpenter egressed from the upper hatch and entered one of the liferafts provided. The rescue ship, carrier Intrepid, arrived and the capsule was recovered and Carpenter brought on board for a successful end to the MA-7 mission.
Carpenter on the deck of USS Intrepid.
By Mark Daymont
Space Center Educator

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dragon Blasts Off to ISS!

Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with Dragon spacecraft from pad LC-40.

In a remarkable first for space exploration, a private corporation has sent a spacecraft carrying supplies to the International Space Station. After the launch abort on May 19th, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) engineers replaced a faulty check valve on engine number 5 (dubbed "Merlin") and prepared for a new countdown. Early this morning at 3:44 am EDT, the engines ignited perfectly and the Falcon 9 rocket made a smooth and flawless flight into space. The Dragon capsule separated without error and entered low Earth orbit. On schedule, the Dragon deployed its twin solar panels, a first for SpaceX and the Dragon design. The next step was to "open the pod bay door"(a reference to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, if you haven't seen it, you're not a space fan...). The navigation bay pod door has to open in order to deploy several experiments and reveal the docking latch, that will be used by the ISS robotic arm to grapple the Dragon prior to docking. Engineers breathed a sigh of relief as the door successfully opened (SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that it was a better result than that on 2001).
Dragon is on course to pass by the ISS on DAY 4 of its mission, should all orbital tests be completed. After that, the Dragon will approach the station again for a rendezvous with the CanadArm for docking. A lot of hope rides on this mission, and should it be completed successfully, it will end the test phase of the COTS2 program for SpaceX and the company will begin regular supply missions to the ISS, a great leap for commercial space applications.

SpaceX, NASA prepare for Dragon launch

Liftoff! No- Wait- Guess not...

Wonderful thing, that technology. I have this amazing device called an alarm clock that woke me a half hour before SpaceX's expected flight of the Dragon spacecraft in the wee hours of May 19. I switched to NASA TV, and there it was, SpaceX's Falcon rocket with Dragon spacecraft ready to launch. Everything seemed ready to go, until the actual launch. Then as the engine began ignition, the system automatically shut down (as it was designed to do) at T- 0.5 seconds. The cause: higher pressures than allowed in the center engine of the Falcon rocket.
Well, better an abort than a mission failure! There is an awful lot of space business riding on this mission. It will be the first commercial cargo delivery to the ISS and the start of a new way of doing space business for our country. Unfortunately, there are some people in congress who do not want space business out of the hands of the government.  For my part, I'm hoping this mission will be a tremendous success. Within seconds, SpaceX engineers were working to resolve the problem and set the mission back on the timetable. And they have done so. A faulty check valve on the "Merlin" engine - no. 5- on the first stage is the guilty party, and currently engineers are switching out the valve. SpaceX and NASA will try agian on Tuesday, May 22, at 1:44 a.m. MDT. Time to set that alarm again.
Soyuz TMA-04M docked at ISS. Part of ISS blocks the front module of the Soyuz capsule.

Meanwhile, up in space... The second part of the Expedition 31 crew arrived at the ISS on Thursday, May 17 bringing the crew to its full complement of six space explorers.  The Soyuz TMA-04M docked to the Russian Poisk Module. Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Sergei Revin, and astronaut Joe Acaba joined Expedition 31 Commander Oleg Kononenko (Russian), Andre Kuipers (From the Eurpean Space Agency) and flight engineer Donald Petite (NASA). 
Astronauts Petite and Kuipers will be operating the CanadArm robotic arm should the Dragon spacecraft reach the ISS. The arm will grapple the spacecraft, and maneuver it to dock at the ISS. The docking will be at the US Harmony module.
By Mark Daymont
Space Center Educator

Monday, May 21, 2012

Things to Know and Things to Consider at the Start of the Week.

Hello Troops,
Yikes, do I dare leave the "those who can teach" pin at the top of this post?  Some might declare it questionable and order its immediate removal on pain of death.  Others may see if offensive to our illustrious law makers who gather yearly to find ways to make teaching more difficult than it was the year before.  I wonder if there isn't a secret office somewhere in Salt Lake City and Washington staffed by people who have one purpose in life - to find ways to burden overworked and underpaid teachers with more curriculum than there are days to teach, more students than they can reach, and more parental responsibilities they shouldn't be burdened with.

The fact that the photo is still crowning this post means I made the right decision.

Moving along.....

We have something to celebrate today (a good excuse for a post, wouldn't you say?).

This is James Smith.  James is pictured above receiving his navy blue Flight Director's shirt from Her Graciousness, Odyssey Set Director, Christine.  This honor makes James the Odyssey's newest ordained Flight Director.

Her Graciousness, Christine, The First of Her Name, proclaimed last Saturday James Smith day here in Wonderland.  Everyone at the Space Center had to bow as he passed and, upon pain of banishment, refer to him as Sir James.   

Sir James is shown in the photograph above receiving enthusiastic praise and applause from collared nobles and black shirted peasants.  I'm standing in the background surveying the staff and volunteers, looking for anyone showing disrespect.  Occasionally we have a volunteer unaware of the reverence required toward a newly collared Knight of the Realm.  These poor unfortunates are taken from the room, flogged and returned very repentant - never to make such a mistake again.

I found one, his name was Jordan, the younger brother of revered James.  He was in the back snickering at the accolades showered upon his older brother.  I snapped my fingers and pointed him out.  Two Collared Knights responded, pushing chairs and tables out of their way to apprehend him.  The solemn assembly was briefly interrupted by his weeping and wailing for forgiveness.  I was moved by his sincerity and called for silence and his temporary release.

I turned to Sir James.  "Sir James, this kinsman of yours has shown you disrespect.  I leave his fate to you.  Shall he go free and return to his chair yonder or shall he be taken at once to the tower for flogging?

James thought for a moment, then spoke slowly and deliberately.
"Off with his head!" 
The room went deathly quiet.  Jordan fainted.  Even I was astonished at the severity of the sentence.  A moment or two passed before James spoke again.
"Just kidding.  Flog him and leave him in the cell.  I'll pick him up on my way home."

The room erupted in cheers at Jordan's reprieve.  Jordan regained consciousness.

"Your brother has saved your neck from a fatal meeting with the executioner's blade. 'Tis a flogging only!" someone shouted from the crowd.

"A flogging only?" Jordan whimpered toward his brother. Sir James nodded.

"Thank you Sir.  Oh, Thank you for the flogging I'm about to receive."  Jordan's face brightened and continued to beam as he was escorted from the room.  James held out his arms signalling his desire for another round of applause.

It was another wonderful day here at the Space Center.     

And now, The Troubadour is pleased to present the following pictures demonstrating your indebtedness to the Engineers of this world (told in picture form for many of our younger volunteers who suffer from a condition that makes them fearful of too many words and letters on a printed page or screen).   

And Now,
What the World would be like without Engineers

And how about another reason to take the extra time to master math.....

Don't know exactly how to describe this, but I'll have a go....
The picture below is the alter at the Cathedral of Gaming.  Services held daily after school and all weekend long.

I know this is how Emily feels when she locks horns with Kyle and Casey :)

The world's most accurate watch

Memorize this so you can use it then next time your parents get all over you for doing something ridiculously stupid.

Once again, I give this sign respect for creativity and imagination.
I'd buy my gas here to encourage this kind of thinking (up to a point, as long as its price was within two cents of its local competitors and its fountain drink section had pebble ice and a dizzying assortment of flavors).

Have a Great Week!
Mr. W.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Space Center by Flight Director, Bracken Funk

Hello Troops,  
Bracken gave me permission to repost this essay on the Space Center written for his personal blog.  I enjoyed the read, except for the disparaging remarks about my state of mind and the extremely unflattering photo of me taken during one of my restorative sessions at my desk - necessary to maintain my calm and unflustered demeanor ; 
Mr. W.

And Now Bracken's Post

Last night, and into this morning, I worked an overnighter at the Space Center. These are my favorite of camps. I like the ability to establish the feel of being in an actual vessel, and crewing it. There is character development, and there is time to strike fear into the hearts of the crew. These overnighters are the best of our product, and I enjoy them so.

Crew of the Voyager during an Overnight Mission

The Space Center has given me tons of opportunities that I would never have had otherwise. I love to work with the kids, and watch them grow over the course of one of our missions. Just by way of information, here at the space center we do simulations in the universe of Star Trek. What you're looking at here is the bridge of the starship Voyager. She was built in 1990 by Victor Williamson, and if you want to hear me tell you why he's awesome, click here. He wanted to incorporate simulation into educational experiences. He was and is an educator, and he started doing this "simulational education" idea with his 6th grade class using paper and poster board controls. He would sit behind his desk on the floor, and play the voices of the computer, his engineer, and the alien characters the crew would encounter. His class loved it, and he wanted to evolve the idea to an actual starship set. Voyager was born, and since 1990, the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center has grown through 7 simulators, thousands of campers, and bulls forward today.

Today, the Center has 5 simulators, each with their own set of stories, controls, and ideas. We host nearly 1,200 kids a week, and teach them different problem solving, situational skills and social studies. It really is a joy to work with them, and even learn from them.

I found the Space Center in Elementary School. I had done missions in 5th grade, and came back multiple times with my friends. I was already in love with the place. When I was in 6th grade we came to do an overnighter, and I realized that I wanted to be here a lot. Back in those days, the volunteer pool wasn't overfilled, so I applied to volunteer a couple of weeks later. I remember that day well. It was a Saturday morning, about 11. My sister had a soccer game. I was in my cleats, and shorts and a t-shirt. Her game was at Central Elementary's field. I had a soccer ball, and I was kicking it around. I accidentally kicked it down the hill in the back, and when I looked over as I chased it, I saw Mr. Williamson outside taking out the trash. I ran over to my mother, and begged her to let me go talk to him (she had to give me permission to breathe as a child, which I appreciated then. It kept me from being kidnapped, or worse). She was against it at first, but I continued to beg. She allowed me to go, and I sprinted over to the door. Out of breath, I begged this powerful looking man to let me work at the center.

I can only imagine what it looked like from Mr. Williamson's point of view. This lanky kid runs up to you, in soccer gear, cleats, and panting asks "hey, Mr. Williamson, can I volunteer, here?" Knowing what I know of him now, I would say that his hesitation was annoyance, but he doesn't have it in him to say "no" to kids that have a desire to work here. He just doesn't have the heart for it. 

Victor Williamson in his natural habitat. Looking Distinguished

He stared at me blankly for a moment. I said, "please!". He said, "I'm sure we could find a place for you." And we entered through the door in which the brig is located, and came into the office to receive his schpeel on becoming a volunteer.

Once again, knowing what I know now, I doubt that he thought I would actually return these documents. Who could blame him- I was dressed in soccer gear, and didn't look all that responsible. However, within 4 days, it was back in his hands at the very same desk you see above.

Me, today, holding my original volunteer submission from 10 years ago.

I thought it would be fun to retype my original submission so that you can see how much evolution has occurred in my head:
Dear Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center,
My name is Bracken Funk, I love the Space Center; a very creative idea!!!
I love Star Trek, Star Trek The Next Generation and Star Trek Voyager, I know a great deal about each which helps because that is what you based the Space Center on!! I want to work at the Space Center because I enjoy learning about different things about space!!
I also am a great leader, for example, any time we play German Spy Dodgeball; my team always asms ME who the spy is going to be. I accomplish my work and get good grades!
I have also worked in the Student Council at Barratt!! (I wish I were at Central!!!)
I really want to work at the Space Center!

Bracken Funk

I laugh when I read this now. That describes me pretty well. I'm a little less in your face with everything, and I feel a little more mellow, but there you go. That was me. 
I asked Vic what he thought about this particular day in Space Center history, these were his words about it: 
I had no thoughts. You were just a kid, and you just asked to be a volunteer. 
What do you want from me?
So apparently he doesn't care about such things. However, that isn't the most concerning of things to me, he's become senile over the last few years, and his memory is failing him. That's ok. He has earned such rights.

Yes. Senility.

At least he doesn't show up for work late. Anyways, I have now worked here for about 10 years. I have enjoyed every minute of it. There have been rough spots, and tough people, but even that has been a learning and growing experience. There is no better place to work than the Space Center.

So here is to 10 years of volunteering/working/playing at the space center. Thanks to all of those who have stood behind me when I was obnoxious, worked with me when I was bossy, and helped me when I was beaten.

Bracken Funk

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Midnight Post From my Desk. It is Good to Be Back.

Hello Troops,
The disturbance in the Force has been corrected.  After several weeks of sleeping in the gym, the boys on tonight's Overnight Camp are sleeping in the ship.  There are more boys than girls, and everyone knows that the larger of the two groups always sleeps in the Voyager.

I have access to my desk and a fairly quiet room surrounding me.  The gym is louder with every noise amplified by the volume of the room.  I still have to content with what I think are the brightest EXIT signs in in the free world and air conditioners made for rooms twice the size of my classroom (I think the District purchased them used from NASA's wind tunnels at Moffit Field, California).  The best thing is knowing that I won't be woken up in the middle of the night by a collapsing cot caused by a careless boy who wasn't listening to my 'How To Get Into a Space Center Cot' demonstration given before lights out. 

"Attention, Attention.  Stand by for a demonstration on the proper procedure for entering and exiting a Space Center Cot."  The boys give me that 'are you serious' look.  I continue.  "To enter a cot one first finds the exact center of the cot.  I suggest you look for the center set of legs.  Once the exact center is found, one sits down carefully, not wanting to rock the cot too much.  Think of getting in and out of an unstable row boat. Once seated, you may then turn 90 degrees and stretch out.  Use the same procedure when exiting a cot.  Your cot will not collapse in these procedures are followed exactly."

When I'm sleeping in front of my desk the only thing I listen for are sleepwalking boys who open one of the emergency exits in a bid for freedom from whatever haunts their sleep.  Oh, there is also the thing I listen for, a boy tumbling from the top tier of our 3 level bunk beds.  The fall can be nasty and painful if one measures true pain by the amount of weeping and wailing produced by the injured camper. 

Jon Parker just disturbed my solitude and wistful enjoyment of sitting at my desk as the clock struck midnight.

"This broke off the Voyager Right Wing desk," he said while holding up a long section of the blue trim surrounding the Voyager's desk top.  I wondered if this was his calculated attempt at ruining my night.  I'm tired, its late and I've much to write and even more to do.  I wanted to take the long blue shard and play out a scene I affectionately call 'Victor, the Vampire Slayer' where killing the messenger is common fare.

My brain went into work mode.  I thought of the time it would take to have the District's wood shop make a new desk top.  My calculations indicated there was at least a 90% chance I wouldn't live long enough to see the repair completed to my satisfaction.  I handed Jon a roll of clear plastic packing tape and a pair of scissors.

"Do the best you can," I ordered. I asked him to document the midnight repair for a special PBS documentary on 'The Insane and How They Hide Among Us."

 The Damaged Desk.  You can see the large shard missing from the bottom of the blue trim.

Jon is holding the shard into place while he peels off a section of packing tape and applies it using an elbow as a brace. 

Jon's adds a few finishing touches before calling the repair compete.

I'll have all our inquisitive Troubadour readers know how proud we are of the fact that many sections of our simulators are held together with tape, wire and generous amounts of prayer fussed over by our more religiously inclined staff and volunteers.  You'll never know where the repairs are unless you look long and hard.  We have a policy to counter snoops like that.  We go to red alert, switch to red lights and release the dreaded Slime Devil.  Moments later, the snooping child is showered with Slime Devil venom from our Enola Gay Atomic Action Water Blaster.  Down to Sick Bay he goes for a lengthy recovery.  A recovery not even a generous amount of M&M's can shorten. 

Well, its time for bed.  I'm tired and ready for some down time with my pad, pillows and blankets waiting for me on the floor in front of my desk!  

Mr. W.   

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Could the Enterprise Be Built Today?

Universe Today

In Star Trek lore, the first Starship Enterprise will be built by the year 2245. But today, an engineer has proposed — and outlined in meticulous detail — building a full-sized, ion-powered version of the Enterprise complete with 1G of gravity on board, and says it could be done with current technology, within 20 years.
"We have the technological reach to build the first generation of the spaceship known as the USS Enterprise — so let's do it," writes the curator of the Build The Enterprise website, who goes by the name of BTE Dan.

This "Gen1" Enterprise could get to Mars in 90 days, to the moon in three, and "could hop from planet to planet dropping off robotic probes of all sorts en masse — rovers, special-built planes and satellites,” BTE Dan says.

Complete with conceptual designs, ship specs, a funding schedule and almost every other imaginable detail, the BTE website was launched just this week and covers almost every aspect of how the project could be done. This Enterprise would be built entirely in space, have a rotating gravity section inside of the saucer, and be similar in size with the same look as the USS Enterprise that we know from classic "Star Trek."

“It ends up that this ship configuration is quite functional,” writes BTE Dan, even though his design moves a few parts around for better performance with today’s technology. This version of the Enterprise would be three things in one: a spaceship, a space station and a spaceport. A thousand people can be on board at once — either as crew members or as adventurous visitors.

While the ship will not travel at warp speed, with an ion propulsion engine powered by a 1.5GW nuclear reactor, it can travel at a constant acceleration so that the ship can easily get to key points of interest in our solar system. Three additional nuclear reactors would create all of the electricity needed for operation of the ship.

The saucer section would be a 0.3-mile-diameter (536-meter-diameter) rotating, magnetically suspended gravity wheel that would create 1G of gravity.
The first assignments for the Enterprise would have the ship serving as a space station and spaceport, but then go on to missions to the moon, Mars, Venus, various asteroids and even Europa, where the ship's laser would be used not for combat but for cutting through the moon's icy crust to enable a probe to descend to the ocean below.

Of course, like all spaceships today, the big "if" for such an effort would be getting Congress to provide NASA the funding to do a huge 20-year project. But BTE Dan has that all worked out, and between tax increases and spreading out budget cuts to areas like defense, health and human services, housing and urban development, education and energy, the cuts to areas of discretionary spending are not large, and the tax increases could be small.

"These changes to spending and taxes will not sink the republic," says the website. "In fact, these will barely be noticed. It’s amazing that a program as fantastic as the building a fleet of USS Enterprise spaceships can be done with so little impact."

BTE Dan adds that "the only obstacles to us doing it are the limitations we place on our collective imagination." His proposal says that NASA could still receive funding for the science, astronomy and robotic missions it currently undertakes.
But he proposes not just one Enterprise-class ship, but multiple ships, one of which can be built every 33 years — once per generation — giving three new ships per century. "Each will be more advanced than the prior one. Older ships can be continually upgraded over several generations until they are eventually decommissioned."

BTE Dan, who did not respond to emails, lists himself as a systems engineer and electrical engineer who has worked at a Fortune 500 company for the past 30 years.

The website includes a blog, a forum and a Q&A section, where BTE Dan answers the question, "What if someone can prove that building the Gen1 Enterprise is beyond our technological reach?"
Answer: "If someone can convince me that it is not technically possible (ignoring political and funding issues), then I will state on the BuildTheEnterprise site that I have been found to be wrong. In that case, building the first Enterprise will have to wait for, say, another half century. But I don’t think that anyone will be able to convince me it can’t be done. My position is that we can — and should — immediately start working on it.”

For the complete space nerd experience, check out Build The Enterprise.

And for another great sci fi readWhat's Wrong with Today's Sci Fi

Space, in the News

Going Back to Space: ATK 's Liberty rocket

ATK's Liberty rocket and capsule program.

With the end of the shuttle and the Space Transportation System (STS), it seemed to some outsiders that ATK would no longer have a market for those large 4-segment Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB's) that propelled the shuttle orbiters into space. Also not boding well for the company was the cancellation of the Constellation program and the Ares rocket system after only one test of the Ares 1-X. But you can't keep a good team down. ATK has bounced back as a major competitor in the CCD race to space.
Comparing the commercial rockets under development or already available. "A" is the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, still under development. "B" is the Liberty rocket.

ATK has joined forces with key companies to put together the Liberty commercial crew transportation system. With ATK providing a 5-segment SRB first stage, the makers of the Arianne rocket, Astrium, providing the liquid-fueled second stage, and now Lockheed Martin providing support for ATK's Liberty capsule, all the components are together.
Computer illustration of Liberty on crawler/tower moving to the pad. The Liberty is almost as tall as a Saturn rocket, but a great deal less expensive!

Because much of the hardware of the rocket is already tested and flown, it remains to ATK to assemble the package and flight test it and attain a human-rated approval. The toughest part of the process will be quickly developing a crew capsule. And ATK has that in hand, as well. Between 2007 and 2010, ATK had built a composite-structure capsule for a NASA program to reduce risk in transporting humans to space. Now ATK will modify the capsule to fully comply with safety and engineering requirements.
Component-ready Liberty. SRB's from the shuttle, liquid-fuel stage from the Arianne. Capsule by ATK with Lockheed support.

ATK also has the most ambitious schedule of the companies racing to provide commercial crew service. According to their plans, the first unmanned mission will launch in 2014, with the first crewed spaceflight in 2015. This would place ATK a year ahead of SpaceX Dragonrider, and several years ahead of NASA's SLS/Orion system.
5-segment SRB first stage testing in Utah.

ATK is finishing testing of the SRB first stage in the Utah test facility. They are also working on the launch abort system that could save the crew capsule in an emergency on the pad or during launch. As you can see from the picture below, progress is moving at a rapid pace on the Liberty capsule.
Engineers preparing the composite-structure spacecraft.

Barring any unforeseen difficulties in testing, my money would be on ATK to be fairly close to its schedule projections. The project is led by former astronaut Kent Rominger and the ATK team is experienced in building space technology systems. Keep an eye out for more news from ATK as their systems get ready for launch.

All images for this blog post are credited to ATK.

Going Back to Space: SpaceX Makes History

The Falcon 9 rocket with Dragon cargo spacecraft.

Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, builds the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon cargo spacecraft. They are the first among the private companies to build and launch an orbiting spacecraft. It could be said that Boeing, Lockheed, and other companies were first to build the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttles but those who totally government operations. On December 9, 2010, SpaceX became the first privately funded company to launch, orbit, and recover their spacecraft.
SpaceX launch facility at Cape Canaveral.

Launched from LC-40 (from which NASA had launched all the Titan-3 and Titan-4 rockets from 1965 to 2005), the Falcon 9 rocket successfully placed the Dragon test spacecraft into an orbit 179 miles high. The Dragon made two successful orbits and then re-entered the atmosphere for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, being recovered within 20 minutes of touchdown.
COTS Demo Flight 1 blasts off.

The flight fulfilled many of the milestones required by the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract (COTS). Additionally, after the Dragon spacecraft separated, the second stage was reignited and moved to a higher orbit of 6,800 miles, proving the system could reach higher orbits. SpaceX now prepares for further milestones in the contract with NASA.
Dragon perched on the Flacon 9, on pad LC-40 right now.

SpaceX plans to accomplish a major feat this weekend. In the early hours of Saturday morning, another Falcon-9 rocket will lift off with another Dragon capsule. This time, the capsule is full of supplies for the International Space Station. This mission is expected to fulfil the COTS demo fllights 2 and 3 together. The Dragon spacecraft will be guided to make a near pass of the ISS, and on a subsequent orbit, to approach the ISS within reach of the station's robotic arms. Astronauts of Expedition 30 will use the arms to grapple the Dragon and dock it to one of the hatches. 
Computer graphic of Dragon about to be grappled by ISS.

We're all fingers crossed hoping the best for this mission. Should everything go well, SpaceX will be well on its way to providing regular cargo servicing of the ISS. There's an additional bonus for NASA to use the Dragon: It is the only cargo spacecraft capable of returning items from the ISS to the Earth. Both the ATV of Europe and the Progress of Russia routinely burn up in a re-entry.
Falcon-Heavy at the pad. Computer image.

SpaceX is not stopping with cargo delivery. They are well on their way to launching humans to space. Company founder Elon Musk has a vision to take his rockets all the way to Mars, eventually. To get moving on that path, the company's engineers are designing the Falcon-Heavy, which will be capable of lifting much larger payloads into orbit and beyond. More significantly, SpaceX is building a human-rated version of the Dragon capsule.
Inside DragonRider.

The crewed variant of the Dragon capsule will be called the DragonRider. As you can see in the picture above, it can hold up to 7 astronauts or a combination of personnel and cargo. SpaceX is currently building the first test capsules under the CCD program, which we talked about in an earlier blog. The company is also testing a launch abort system, and expects to fly the DragonRider by 2016.

All photos for this blog post are credited to SpaceX.

Going Back to Space: Riding with Russians

Russian Soyuz TMA-04M mission blasts off.

On Monday night the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome reverberated with the roar of the Soyuz rocket blasting off to the ISS. On board mission TMA-04M was the second part of the Expedition 31 crew: Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, with NASA astronaut Joe Acaba. The liftoff was performed successfully and the Soyuz capsule is now in orbit on course for docking with the International Space Station on Thursday.
Flying with Joe Acaba is a Smokey the Bear stuffed toy. Credit: U.S. Forest Service.

With the end of the Space Transportation System (STS) or Shuttle program, NASA relies on the Russian space agency to transport our astronauts back and forth from the ISS. With America's further reliance on the venerable Soyuz rocket system, the Russian government and space agency are seeking greater control over the ISS and the activities there. In addition, the Russians did not fail to grasp at a business opportunity: the cost of a seat on the Soyuz for the Americans jumped by at least 40%.
Astronaut Joe Acaba rides the Soyuz to low Earth orbit.
The Soyuz rocket has been a staple of the Russian space program for several decades. With its first unmanned flight in 1966, both the Soyuz spacecraft and the Soyuz rocket have become an icon of the Russian space effort. Like the shuttle, it has not been without its failures. The first cosmonaut on Soyuz 1, and the three-man crew of Soyuz 11, died during re-entry accidents. However, with the vast number of Soyuz flights succeeding, the Soyuz has become the safest space transportation system. It is also one of the most cost-effective. Because it has been built so many times, the cost has been managed to low levels, an achievement admired by many Americans.
Soyuz TMA-06 in orbit.
Russia currently flies a three-person crew on the Soyuz, and astronauts and other nation cosmonauts must train at the Russian space agency and learn the Russian language to participate in flights. An additional Soyuz spacecraft is kept at the ISS as an emergency escape craft. Russia has also built a cargo version of the capsule. The unmanned cargo version is called the Progress, the manned versions are the current TMA designation. This current manned version was revised from the earlier TM version when it was realized that taller astronauts would need extra room on the Soyuz. The TMA version has been flying since 2003.
Progress M-52, unmanned cargo version. Once supplies are emptied from the Progress aboard the ISS, space station garbage and unwanted equipment is stored aboard. When it undocks, ground controllers guide it to a fiery re-entry, burning it up over an ocean.

Over the last couple of years there have been some anxious moments between NASA and Russia as there have been some glitches and landing difficulties with the Soyuz spacecraft and other Russian rockets. While those problems are fixed, many Americans feel the Soyuz system is old. Even the Russians must be feeling the age of the design, as they have proposed a new design called the Prospective Piloted Transport System, which will carry up to six occupants.
Overall though, NASA is resigned to carry on our human space program at present by using whatever ride the Russians can provide. Right now there is no alternative. And perhaps that's what bugs Americans the most. With proper planning, we should have had a replacement by now.
by Mark Daymont
Space Center Educator