April 24, 2012

The Beginning of an Evil Scheme

Who wants space platinum? Well, I do. And I'm sure that there's a number of people who would like to have access to space resources like gold, water, and iridium for far more practical purposes. I just want a hunk of metal from space. Not a bit of metal launched into space, I want metal from space. Technically, all metal is from space and indeed is still in space, but dammit it's not the same!

Sorry. I just loves me some space. But happily, there are a passel of people getting together to make it easier for people to have access to rare materials not found on Earth that are necessary for our current and future technology, shiny things, and water (which can also be air and rocket fuel). Which is pretty sweet, and may well pay off in the end. A small asteroid could potentially contain billions of dollars worth of material, not even counting the water. Or the popplers!*

But how feasible, really, is such a crazy thing as mining an asteroid? Well, maybe not that crazy. First, did I mention the popplers? I mean billions? Second, it's not impossible. Now, in general, when someone says something like that you can start planning your shopping list in your head while helpfully nodding along. But in this case, there is no particular reason why we can't mine asteroids. It's just that we haven't done it yet. True, the technology isn't created yet that can do such a thing. Neither has transportation technology like on Star Trek. But for the latter, that's more a problem of basic physics and our lack of understanding of physics. But space mining? Well, we went to the Moon, Mars, and Venus. We've been to asteroids and other moons. So we already have pre-existing rocket technology that can get us to the destination. We've had telescopes for like what, a hundred years or something. And we can strip mine like anything.

Sounds nice and easy. But it ain't. First off, the tech doesn't exist. Even counting what I just said in the previous paragraph, it is going to take a lot of new hardware, a lot of new ways of thinking, in order to get a functioning space mining business off the ground. That's not to say it can't be done, especially seeing who's involved. But it will be difficult. Also, it will be expensive. Like, ridiculously expensive. Like, buy an island, blow it up, replace it with larger island, type of expensive. The people involved are billionaires, so they have that sort of cash. But they also ain't stupid. They are expecting this to work.

But what is going to work? Truthfully, I doubt that this particular venture will ever truly see fruition as envisioned. I don't doubt that we will one day see a congressional hearing on the appropriate way to levy space stuff. But that day is not today. However, I am quite excited by some of the other potential things going on with this. First off, they have to find the rocks. Which will require cheap and durable space telescopes, riding on the wings of dragons breath, or some similar poetic way to describe a rocket**. They will also have to actually go to and scout potential targets in order to determine their composition and suitability for mining. In other words, they will do what our collective governments should be doing: Identifying, studying and mitigating potentially life threatening asteroids.

This is my ultimate hope for the project. I want this to be the catalyst that not only raises awareness of such threats, but to also spur on governments to deal with them. Frankly, we are in an era when we can prevent our own demise, so long as we take the actions necessary to do so.

Oh, and here's some other stuff about this topic:
Bad Astronomy
Alan Boyle
Other Alan Boyle

* You didn't think chicken nuggets grew on trees did you?
** No, 'Giant Dong' is not poetic. This is a giant dong, and this is a rocket. Know the difference.

April 13, 2012

Space Beer Adventure - In Space!

I have always wanted to go to space. Not only would it be awe inspiring, but you could also pull off some fun pranks. Like spinning your buddy around while they're in the middle of the room. Without gravity, and if you don't spin them towards a wall, they just whirl like a space dervish* until you're able to create a new viral video - "Vomit Spiral". It'll be hilarious.

Or it would be, if you didn't choose a friend who knew about the conservation of momentum and so flings their limbs out as soon as you spin them. Granted, this will still strand your friend and be mildly amusing. But you want that viral video, dammit, and that's never going to happen until your friend hurls! So you decide to jump towards your dizzy friend, momentarily forgetting that you won't come arcing gently down again, like on Earth. No, the only result of your foolhardy leap is to push your friend towards the space couch, where he will watch with much glee as you bounce of the walls like some screaming ping pong ball.

I think I may have an active imagination.

But I never imagined alcohol in space. I mean, I think you could have some nifty fountains in a space hotels space restaurant. I mean sure, it would help out with that spinning prank either way, you or your friend making the viral video. But as a general thing I wouldn't want people to have any more reason to have a queasy stomach than that already provided by being in microgravity.

Luckily, the recent news of 'space Scotch' is mostly about studying the effects of microgravity on maturation (of alcoholic ingredients such as malt and charred oak) and how certain chemicals and their aromas may be effected. So no space stills and space frat parties.

blizhe k malatsu sadyis!
Except this one.
Now some of you may be wondering what the hell NASA is doing wasting money on stuff like this. Which would be perfectly reasonable if it weren't for the fact that this is not a NASA study. It's a private distillery named Ardbeg that contracted Houston based Nanoracks to get their experiment onto the ISS.

Ok, so there are these people who build racks and modules for experiments to go into space. They also team up with CASIS to get those experiments onto the ISS. This means that any given company (like a Scottish distillery) can send their in-company research up into space. And that, my friends, is a prime example of commercial utilization of space.

But wait, I can imagine some of you saying. The ISS is a governmental venture, not private. Doesn't that invalidate the idea that this is a commercial venture? That argument could be valid, but only if this was the pinnacle and extent of commercial enterprise in space. But it's not! There are a number of people that are making all sorts of stuff to facilitate private individuals and business getting into space.

There's Xcor and Masten for launches, a ton of cubesat makers such as Boeing as well as a site that sells all the stuff you need to build one at home! Heck, there's even a website devoted to the freaking hobby of space exploration. Admittedly, it's a somewhat expensive hobby that consists mostly of weather balloons and sounding rockets. But still! Youtube has tons of stuff all about what can be done with a weather balloon.

'O Canada! Our home and native land...'

So no, the commercial argument is not invalidated. The ISS is a way point to a grander future. NASA is mostly serving as a facilitator and encourager more than a permanent resource (Of course NASA will in all likelihood continue to play host to commercial experiments in the future, but more as one choice amongst a plethora of others) NASA is mostly providing the scaffolding for a burgeoning market, plus some seed money to get things started.

Space alcohol sounds kind of silly, not unlike some of my space daydreams. But a story like that is really just one more sign of what's to come. We are fast approaching, and in some ways are already at, the day when going to space is cheap, easy, and you don't have to be a government employee to catch a ride on a rocket.

*That's the worst kind of dervish!

Also, here's some links to other stuff:

The Space Review

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