Saturday, October 30, 2010

Guest Blog -- Amy Sterling Casil

Welcome to our guest blogger, Amy Sterling Casil. Amy's short fiction has appeared in a number of magazines and venues ranging from The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy to Zoetrope. You can find her longer fiction works, as well as her non-fiction books, here. For more information about Amy, you can visit her blog here. -- Amanda

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Space Travel!

So where does space travel stand? Is Richard Branson the only person making travel to space a reality now, other than the Space Elevator student-scientist teams?

NASA's approved budget for FY 2010/11 (the current government fiscal year) includes $1.6 billion for development of commercial space opportunities - i.e. similar to Virgin Galactic.

Virgin_enterprise Just about three weeks ago, the Virgin team completed the first piloted flight of SpaceShipTwo, also known as Virgin Enterprise - the planned spaceflight vehicle, for which 340 tickets have already been sold!

This is out at the "international Spaceport" in Mojave, California - which believe it or not is in Los Angeles County. This is the high desert north of Palmdale and Lancaster, which are the towns near Edwards AFB, the west coast landing site for the Space Shuttle. I think this picture shows how gorgeous the "high desert," also known as the Mojave desert, can be. At its pretty times, it's big sky country, and spectacular.

I have a charming neighbor who works for a major aerospace contractor (Northrop Grumman) and a while back, he shared with me a few of the amazing technologies just this one, admittedly important, company is working on. Just one among the technologies is a lab-version of "beam me up, Scotty." That's right - a matter transporter. One of Northrop's teams working in Redondo Beach also just received Popular Mechanics' 2010 "Breakthrough Award" for its work in developing the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) that was successfully launched last year. The award was given because the team developed commercial, affordable components that wouldn't just be used for the LCROSS, but could also be used in numerous other space operations. Total cost to build and launch the LCROSS? $57 million. As a point of comparison, the Space Shuttle Endeavor cost $1.7 billion to build, and $450 million per launch.

I'm hardly the expert, but I think space science and technology has undergone a genuine revolution in the past two decades. My impression of the former programs is that they were almost 100% government-sponsored, very hierarchical, and once begun, very difficult to adjust or alter in light of changing world- and technology conditions. Now, the diversity of those working on space-related science and technology is staggering. It isn't just different countries becoming fully-involved and engaged (Europe and Asia), it's nearly every university around the world with at least a few projects in experimental fields - including community colleges! NASA just selected community college students to begin to work in space/technology centers to work - for real - on many different forms of space technology.

So, the answer is "no, it's not just Richard Branson." Check out the agenda for the Space Manufacturing Conference taking place this weekend! This conference deals with real work currently being performed leading to asteroid mining and space settlement - moon or orbiting stations.

Why am I learning all about this? Book, of course . . .

Now, as to why many people don't hear more about these exciting technological developments occurring worldwide, is it that members of the media don't understand, or don't care? Or both?

7 comments:

MataPam said...

It would be marvelous to "mainstream" spaceflight to the point that it started behaving like the computer industry. A new generation every year and a half, and cheaper as well.

I suspect, that much like computers, we'll find ourselves taken by surprise, and end up using methods we haven't even considered to date.

Anonymous said...

The media recognize that the public is generally more concerned in what benefits them at that moment. I was a journalism major and the first rule of journalism is that you report on what people care about, that sort of thing.

Now, if we discovered that we had twenty years to make space travel happen and find a new planet before Earth exploded, you can bet that there'd be plenty of interest. It would turn into a planetary priority. It would receive all the publicity, the money and the effort.

Linda Davis

Kate said...

Matapam,

So long as space flight a) doesn't use Microsoft software, and b) doesn't use the airline model of transportation.

MataPam said...

But Kate! Where would be the adventure? The danger? The leg cramps?

Rita de Heer said...

Just to be totally negative for a minute, if we keep going with space flight using present forms of fuel, and commercialism of anything usually takes the lowest common denominator to be able to make a profit, the Earth might well become uninhabitable even faster ... due to the effect of increasing soot affecting the atmosphere.

MataPam said...

Well, the point of the fast evolution of space travel is that we'll develop something different.

The current method, simply because of the cost will be self limiting.

This isn't how the Earth will become uninhabitable. For that I'm betting on a combination of over fishing and fertilizer runoff/urban discharge leading to algae blooms and anoxic conditions in rivers and off their deltas.

Dave Freer said...

Hmm. Well I don't think the public (or at the least this monkey and most of his friends) is jaded with space, or space travel. To judge by the sell-volume of Branson's lot, neither are a lot of people I don't know. Assuming people wealthy enough to afford tickets are 1:100 000, and assuming that being wealthy is not vastly more likely to make you wish to do this, that puts the pool of interested people at 34 million. That's about 100-10 000 times more readership than most print media get, and dwarfs, for example, Harry Potter and Twilight... so one may assume that someone/s, somewhere missed the boat, and assumed that because they don't get it and it doesn't interest them, there is no market(could it possibly NY? No, surely not. After all, they have carefully research and have highly trained teams to statistically analyze and mathematically model reader interest and future trends, don't they?)

Sarcasm aside: I think there has been -- call it a fashion -- to be rather negative about science. There has also been a severe dearth of writers who are competent scientists (or understand it well) who can also write well, clearly and accessibly. It's NOT something scientists are taught to do, or receive any encouragement to learn. This comes under my heading of 'an extremely bad thing' as we need schoolkids and, yes, the general public, excited about and supportive of science.

On the other hand, a little bird told me that a publisher (beside Baen) was finally getting in touch with the zeitgeist outside their envelope, and being very enthusiastic about some near future and non-distopian sf. So maybe the times are changing,and you're just on crest of the wave, Amy. Which will be cool :-)