Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hailing a Space Taxi

How were you planning on getting over to the International Space Station next time out?  You know that the space shuttle program has ended, right?  You know what... why don't you just go ahead and hail yourself a taxi.  What's that?  You think I'm being ridiculous?  Not at all.  With NASA stepping away, multiple private companies are competing to be the new space taxi.  They're even getting funding from NASA as well.

Personally, I'm hoping that all three of them wind up successful.  Boeing is planning space taxis for 2016 which, considering what we're discussing, isn't all that far away.  No complaints with Boeing, since I've flown aboard so many of their airplanes.  Certainly trust them more than a government designed ship.  Sierra Nevada is working on their Dream Chaser with the $1.1 Billion from NASA.

We're all pretty familiar with SpaceX by now.  The commercial enterprise already docked its Dragon Capsule with the International Space Station.  NASA was particularly pleased with how that venture went (after a little trouble in the beginning).  That was in May.  Now they're looking to create a ferry to the Moon.

So, here's my question: why should that be it?  Why just the three?  Granted, let's get them started, and get rolling.  After they prove it's worthwhile, maybe we should get grants in place for Lockheed Martin.  With a hand in space, telecommunications, electronics, aeronautics and energy, they might be the perfect answer to my thoughts about orbital launch and construction platforms.  UTC already works on fuel cell systems.  Who else might be out there, outside the top ten, that could be on the next wave?  The car industry has shown us that competition forces improvement.  So has the computer industry, and various other commercial industries.  So here's the deal.  What if we give out a couple of grants, and then let these companies hire plenty of new people, and drive our efforts farther?

What might just happen is that we wind up with companies competing to take humanity farther and father from Earth.  We might just find orbiting prisons and manufacturing and food facilities and even deep launch platforms.  What we also might find is an extensive new network of jobs.  Putting America back to work and jumping to the next frontier... now, isn't that a stimulus package worth doling out?

Friday, December 28, 2012

We can assume that Craig Venter missed Jurassic Park

Craig Venter is an interesting guy.  He's one of the first people to sequence the human genome.  If that isn't interesting (and, as an aside, incredibly cool), you might need to reevaluate your definition of the word.  Mapping is only part of the deal, however; as if that isn't good enough, Venter moved from cartography to construction.  He started Synthetic Genomics which has a pretty great concept.  The company is "creating genomic-driven commercial solutions" which is pretty great, if you think about it.  New methods to establish energy, but take us away from our dependence on foreign oil, and even fabricate vaccines that can be spread with more ease.  I might need to start mentioning the guy in the Olympus Union series for all he's doing.  Venter even has a plan to email vaccines around the world using biological printers.  This is absolutely the stuff of science fiction... except that, it's turned into reality by a man with an incredibly interesting past.  How'd he map the genome, by the way?  He used his own DNA. Oh, and started creating new life (a "synthetic cell") by using homemade genes.  Read that again and let it sink in a bit.  Pretty amazing, right?

So, what could I possibly have issue with?  This guy is nothing short of incredible!  He could be responsible for curing blindness, growing new organs for cancer victims (or soldiers, or anyone else), and extending human life past the century mark.  What in the world might my subject be talking about?  Could I have an issue with printable life forms?  Well, it's not really that.

Venter wants to rebuild Martian DNA here on Earth.  Now, listen, I'm fine with him sending machines to Mars.  The man wants to get into the practice of sending things to Mars, I'm on board.  More private industry heading into space, and heading out to actually do something of value, can only help the efforts for man's jump to the next level.  We can improve from competition, learn from mistakes, and create new jobs.  This is something I've been talking about continuously.  That part I'm on board with, but the fact that he wants to take that DNA, and then try to rebuild Martians here on Earth... I'm sorry, but that's where I draw the line.

Did you see the movie Jurassic Park?  I sure did.  Now, apparently, scientists said it isn't possible to bring that to reality.  Their supposition is based on the fact that the samples wouldn't survive to the point that DNA would be usable.  Fair enough.  Venter isn't using existing DNA; he's creating brand new material from scratch.  Not expired milk, but freshly squeezed.  This, my friends, is a problem.  You ever seen a Martian?  Me neither.  Any idea what a creature that lived on Mars would act like?  Again, me neither.  Any clue on how our body chemistry would react to them?  Anything excreted that might be a problem for humans?  How the breeding would work?  Assurances that it wouldn't kill off necessary plants or animals to introduce something of that nature? Nah, I have no idea.  You know who else doesn't?  Mr. Venter.  Listen, I'm all about science for science's sake, but I'm not so certain about this idea.  Maybe I've seen too many movies... or maybe I just have witnessed the reality of our lives.  Let's just say that I'm in no hurry to see this particular project succeed.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


When you read the books in the Olympus Union series, you'll find that it's really all about matters of contention and defiance.  The latest book in the series, "The Future Reborn" makes good on what was started all the way at the beginning.  People are making choices, defying odds, and doing what they can to identify with what they feel is most important.  It started from the beginning with "The Past Repeated" and was a theme that "Drawing Battle Lines" carried forth.  Now that the original trilogy is completed (and, yes, as promised, I'm already working on the stand alone Jeremy Hunter novella, which will come out in 2013, and be free), I've been exploring the deeds of some of your favorite characters.

Keeping with the theme of defiance, I've been browsing around this little universe that I've created (or, more appropriately, the solar system).  At the moment, I'm working on a 12-20 page story that will visit Hera's Clutch and then wanders off to Mercury.  A few other shorts in the Olympus Union short story section deal with defiance as well.  The most notable, however, is the most recently placed story in the stocks.

"McGee and Maguin" is all about the Alpha Station Minister coming to a hard fought decision.  In "The Past Repeated" we know him as Derek McGee, but in the second and third books, he appears as Derek Maguin.  Where did the change come from, and why?  This story enlightens you, and raises some interesting questions.  What kind of statements do seemingly small gestures make?  What can we do to identify ourselves differently, and truly identify with another group... and how can we do it in a way that won't cause problems for the people that we care about?  These are the questions that Derek wrestles with.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Discovering a Habitable Planet

I trust that you've heard the exciting news by now.  Writing this blog posting previously, and setting it to show on Friday (you know, just in case the world comes to an end and I'm not able to type it up), word should have certainly made it to your ears by now.  Just in case it didn't, it looks like we've got a potentially habitable planet.  The discovery shows up orbitingTau Ceti which is just a mere 12 light years from Earth!  Aren't you remarkably excited about this discovery?  Wait, you're asking yourself how we could ever get there, or hope to colonize it since we haven't done anything like that yet, even on our closest neighbor?  Oh come on now, don't spoil it - why trouble yourself with little details like reality.

Alright, that last bit might have been dripping a little too much with sarcasm.  I've spoken in this space before about the need to take comparatively little steps before we try hurtling out to other stars.  It's incredibly cool that Tau Ceti has five planets orbiting it, and that one of them is in what they refer to as the habitable zone.  This is great news for the long term plan, but we really need to take a look around these planets that we already have, and the possibilities that they present us much nearer.  Twelve light years is a long, long way away.  Our moon, Luna, is 238,900 miles (or 384,400 km) away from the Earth.  A light year is about 58,784,998,100,000 miles.  So, you can see why I'd like us to look a little closer first, huh?

When I wrote "The Past Repeated" I talked about orbital prisons (which we'll certainly delve more into in a later post), as well alluding to cities under the surface of the water and colonies on other planets and moons.  The short stories that I'm producing on will be delving deeper into those habitats in the coming months.  Space stations might be our first way to go, however, which I've mentioned before.  Much more focus on these orbital habitats comes across in "Drawing Battle Lines" and the trilogy's soon to be released final book, "The Future Reborn".

We've already got an International Space Station that has been up and working fairly well for years.  How sustainable is it, though?  Perhaps that's the first thing that we need to do.  It's time to work hard, expanding this station so that it can support dozens, and perhaps hundreds of people at a time.  We need to start somewhere, after all; what good will it be to only have space born stations that can only hold a handful of people at a time?  Not much at all.  So, first we expand to handle dozens, then hundreds, and we work towards making this station self-sustaining.  Once it can feed and fuel itself, repair itself, maintain itself without any true need from Earth, we can work towards building towards further launches: the moon and Mars.  If, when you think about it, you don't need all of the power to escape Earth's orbit just to get to space, you need a lot less power and packaging to make it to one of these destinations.  Firing off to the Moon from a space station increases our chances.

So, I've already discussed factories in space and brought up the use of robots for colonizing other venues.  Well, let's consider it.  If we use our nearest neighbor to figure out how we might make landfall and develop long lasting habitats much further from Earth's reach, how would this not help make Tau Ceti more of a reality?  Before we reached the moon the first time, none of this equipment existed.  We came up with it.  We employed people, we figured it out, and there it was: jobs, technology, brilliance and breakthroughs.  Why wouldn't we have similar breakthroughs once again?  Doesn't it seem to follow?  Before considering a next step, it takes a first step.  Looking towards building and assembling in space, farming in space, and living in space... we need to stop shooting off probe after probe, and start looking at moving people skyward.  Time to make science fiction into reality, don't you think?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Magical Mayans

There was a great quote that I read the other day.  It stated that, "If the Mayans were that great at predicting the future, there'd still be Mayans."  I only wish I could remember where I'd seen it so that I could offer proper attribution.  Still, the sentiment is an interesting one, because we're all hung up on the world ending on the 21st.  Yet again.

Never mind that scientists apparently found another calendar which shows that the world won't end on December 21st, 2012.  Lets ignore the concept that the Mayans didn't have a zero, so their number structure isn't the same as ours.  Or even that their calendar had fewer days than ours.  Keep an eye on the Jewish Lunar Calendar that is so skewed right now, I'll have to finish my Hanukkah shopping by Thanksgiving next year.  Oh, yes, the beauty of the moving calendar.  Our Mayan friends, it appears, actually had multiple calendars.  Sure, no chance that you could get mixed up there, could you?  Ah, but maybe you could.

Human history is filled with ancient myths fabricated to explain things that we didn't understand.  Do you remember, for instance, what your parents told you was happening when thunder and lightning came?  Certainly we've got a number of different childhood memories.  Consider people who, no matter how advanced, no matter how adult, still didn't understand what was going on around them.  Never forget that astronomers thought that the Sun revolved around the Earth.  The Geocentric model was as well accepted as the pure fact that the Earth is flat.

So what am I saying?  Am I just hoping that humanity survives 2012, so that everything I'm writing on isn't completely and utterly invalidated?  Well, maybe just a little - I put a lot of time into writing those books and short stories!  Still, I expect to be in New York City, at the Museum of Natural History on the 22nd, just as I'd originally planned.  Don't clear out your bank accounts or make foolish decisions just yet, alright folks?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Eyeing Europa

NASA is talking about a mission to Europa, to gather information.  What do they want to know?  If the moon (Jupiter's fourth largest) is capable of supporting life.  It's an interesting departure from their obsession with Mars.  After all, there is already a plan for yet another Mars Rover in 2020.

I need to digress for a moment.  Could someone please explain to me why we're sending another rover to Mars, out of curiosity?  Listen, I love Mars as much as the next guy.  In "The Past Repeated" I take you there with Kro and Duncan.  We start to get a sense of a partially terraformed planet, with existing wilderness, but major city placements.  Think of the old west in America; no reason not to treat the new frontier like the last frontier.

That's just it, though - I don't get why we're not planning to send people there... or, at the very least robotic machines that can do more than scout around on treads.  You know, maybe build some structures for people to come and exist in?  We could employ ASIMOV Robotics for the job!  Alright, maybe we'll discuss those pitfalls a little later, but there is still something there.  Sure, I'm a science fiction author, so I love to make these things up... but we made it to the moon, didn't we?  I don't subscribe to the conspiracy theories, so, yes, we made it to the moon. Someone had to dream that up.  We'll get to it later though.  Back to Europa.

So, in "Drawing Battle Lines" Europa actually fits in quite prominently.  I'm not ruining the book for you by mentioning a secure bunker that Duncan operates out of.  It's worth the read, if I can give the biased opinion of the author, if only to see what I've already decided on.  Oh yes, based on the raw information that I already have (and it's decades old, you realize): Europa could be quite useful to humans.  How do I know?  Well, something had to put Europa in the minds of our scientific friends at NASA.  This is only the fourth largest moon in the Jovian System, after all.  Most people tend to concentrate on Ganymede.  Don't think so?  Head on over to Amazon and do a search for Ganymede in their books section.  Actually, you know what?  Here, I just did it for you: Ganymede on Amazon brings up a lot.  Europa... a bit less (and even less than that if you're only talking fiction).  Come to think of it, I actually focused quite a bit on Ganymede in my books as well... and have planned a few short stories to delve deeper into the "Greenamede" project.  Check out if you're not sure what the heck I'm talking about... the aforementioned two books will enlighten you.

So, the simple fact is this: I'm actually quite pleased that we're considering Europa.  It's great that we're looking at Mars.  It's great that we're looking anywhere else, in fact.  No, I don't think that the world is going to end, or that we need to find a way off this rock for any other reasons that... why not?  Columbus sailed in the wrong direction and was thought to be a fool... and it worked out alright.  So why not see if we can get a little explorers luck going on the ocean of vacuum this time?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mercury's Inspirational Ice

You may or may not have seen this image already.  For those who don't recognize it, this is the most basic photo of the planet Mercury with an overlay indicating water-based ice.  It's important to say that it's water-based ice, and not something else.  Simple comparison - most of us have seen dry ice puffing off to smoke (a scientific process called sublimation; solid straight to gas)... so we know that more than just good old H2O can turn into ice in this galaxy.  Why bother showing you this image?  Well, again, for those who haven't read it, NASA announced that they've found ice on the surface of Mercury.  Closest to the sun, capable of surface temperatures around 800 degrees Fahrenheit, and we've got more than enough ice to mix up cocktails.

Mercury has at least 100 billion metric tons of water ice, and possibly much more.  Now, the Earth is about 70% water, so we aren't talking about oceans (the image itself makes that pretty clear).  What we are talking about is usable water, and potential for life.  No, I'm not talking about alien life.  Anyone who has read my Olympus Union books probably knows that I'm not overly concerned with finding non-human life.  Certainly, I like Star Wars and the Frank Compton series, and have no problems with aliens... it's just not a focus for me.  What is, however, is how we can put our life on other planets.

There hasn't been a great deal of interest, on my part, in Mercury.  Go ahead, check out, or read "The Past Repeated" and see just how much I put into Mercury.  Not a lot, I know.  I've got some ideas, and there is a short story actually sketched out to do some work on Mercury, but again, not a whole lot.  This discovery changed things for me, though.  In the upcoming "The Future Reborn" I've got Jones Oden talking about stronger expansion inside the asteroid belt.  So much has been done with Mars.  One of my biggest tasks, lately, has been to sketch out a number of stories to take place across the nearly two dozen cities that I've laid out in my initial world building.  Now, however, I'm aiming for Venus and Mercury.

There is already a story prepped for Venus.  I outlined it earlier this week, and it will probably wind up around 10-15 pages long.  There will be a few more to accompany it, with ideas already swirling.  At one point, I'd outlined something of a detective story on Mercury, as well.  Frustratingly, I lost it... but I'm going to try and recreate parts of it.  A flurry or Mercury ideas are on the way, and you can bet I'm going to have some fun, and hope to entertain you in the process.  Onward to Mercury!!