Archive for the 'Wave Guide 7: NASA Programs' Category

Mar 19 2012

Kepler Update: Earth-like Planets are “Extremely Rare”

Recently the Kepler Science Team released the results of the first 16 months of searching for Earth-like planets around nearby Sunlike stars. A statistical analysis by Space Daily (John Rehling, March 8,2012) suggests that Earth-like planets are likely to be “extremely rare” in the Galaxy.

According to Space Daily, “the pessmistic characteristic of these results suggest that to find earth-like worlds elsewhere, we should prepare to look hard – and quite possibily very hard for decades if not centuries.”

This is important because, to the public, the two most enticing drivers of human expansion into the Cosmos during the approaching new International Space Age are: 1) the discovery and exploration of Earth-like worlds, and 2) the prospects for extraterrestrial life, especially with intelligence.

The new Kepler data is consistent with analysis by JPL scientists Joseph Catanzarite and Michael Shao, that I discussed here, based on 4 months of Kepler data, but not with other more optimistic estimates.

Catanzarite and Shao — whose paper was accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal in 2011 — adopted an Earth Analog region characterized by a planet radius of 0.8 to 2 (Earth radii). The lower value corresponds to a mass of about 50% of Earth’s, the lower limit for retention of an oxygen atmosphere. The upper value is adopted by the Kepler scientists and, assuming Earth-like parameters, implies a planet with twice the surface heat flow of Earth and half Earth’s lithospheric thickness. Active plate tectonics and volcanism would be expected..

Catanzarite and Shao fit the Kepler transit data to power laws for both the planet radius and the scaled planet distance; they judge that the power laws are excellent fits to the data for distances from 0.2 AU to 0.5 AU (inside the HZ limits) and planetary radii from 2 to 4 (just larger than the EA range).

Using the power laws, the Kepler data set is then extrapolated into the Earth analog region defined above to obtain their estimate — based on the first 4 months of Kepler data — of the fraction of Sun-like stars likely to have Earth-analog planets: 2% +1.6%/-1.1%.

The addition of 12 more months of new Kepler data is summarizied in this table from Space Daily:

Bins of planet radius versus bins of planet period, out to the habitable zone (Earth is 365 days) are shown here; planet frequency estimates are the product of actual observed numbers of planets times their de-bias factor. This compensates for Kepler bias towards close-in and larger planets in the data.

The Kepler data show that planets with nearly exactly one Earth mass (0.9-1.1) are most likely at periods of 4-8 days, well inside a Mercury-like orbit (88 days), and also 6 bins inside the habitable zone. These are hot planets.

We can make this data more comparable to the radius limits of Catanzarite and Shao by summing appropriate bins and extrapolating them to the right (to the habitable zone) using Rehling’s median factor (0.72) relating a bin’s frequency to that of the bin to its left.

The new value — based on 16 months of Kepler data — for the fraction of Sun-like stars with Earth-analog planets is about 3.6%. This is very close to Catanzarite and Shao’s previous result, and suggests strongly again that Earth-like planets are rare.

This latest Kepler analysis reinforces:

1) An updated, anthropic Drake Equation, suggesting that high intelligence is rare in our Galaxy.
Click: Kepler, Watson, and Gott Point to the Rare Earth Hypothesis,


2) The proposition that — in defense of high intelligence — space colonization should be a high priority for humanity.
Click: Is Earth Unique? What this “Benchmark Moment” Means for ETs and Our Future

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Mar 12 2012

State of the Wave: The Geopolitics of a Moon Base

Ex-NASA executive Charles Miller’s recent (Wall Street Journal, 2/3/12) op-ed on returing to the Moon was particularly interesting for its explicit linkage to commercial space and national security.

In the short term — As I commented last year in Space News (6/29/11) — such front-burner aspects of a Moon program will be trumped by the slow economic recovery.

President Obama’s cancellation of Constellation — the U.S. program to return to the Moon by 2020 — was not a big surprise. It appears to be merely a speed bump on the road to near-term international commercial and scientific development of Earth-Moon space and even humans to Mars.

For more perspective on a Moon base, Click: Is the Moon a “Golden Oldie” or a “One Hit Wonder”?

In 1990, Lawrence Livermore scientists proposed an inflatable base on the Moon within a decade that would become self-sufficient, require only 60 tons of hardware transported to the Moon, and cost only ~ $ 11 B.

Miller makes the Moon base cost-effective by reducing Earth launch costs by a factor of 10+ to $ 500 per pound and achieves this by focusing on development of a totally reusable spaceplane. The technology requirements remind Miller of the X-37, an unmanned Mach 25 resuable spacecraft that launches like a rocket and lands like an airplane similar to the Space Shuttle.

According to Miller, reusable spaceplanes are the key to commercial space.

The nation that builds the first true reusable spaceplane will be in a position to dominate the much broader commercial space industry … such as satellite servicing, tourism, and medical breakthroughs from zero-gravity research.

The X-37 began as a NASA project in 1999 but was transferred to DARPA in 2004 where it became a secret program. Recently the X-37B spaceplane celebrated one year in orbit although its mission is classfied as is its return date.

In 2010 Tom Burghardt (Space Daily; May 11) asserted that the X-37 will help achieve Air Force Space Command’s stated goal of “space dominance” that includes,

a johnny-on-the-spot weapons platform to take out the satellite assets of an enemy, or as a launch vehicle that can deliver bombs, missiles or kinetic weapons anywhere on earth in less than two hours.

Miller confirms that our critical strategic assets in space (e.g. comsats, surveillance satellites) are currently vulnerable to potential anti-satellite weapons being developed by China (successfully tested in 2007) and even North Korea and Iran, but that spaceplanes “will transform national security” by their ability to rapidly replace such orbiting assets, and thus reduce the incentive to attack them in the first place.

Traditionally, the Moon has been viewed as the most secure location for Earth surveillance, as expressed in 1984 by the famous physicist Edward Teller at the Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century Conference. (I also spoke at this event on importing water from the moons of Mars for use in the Earth-Moon system.)

Teller stated he would like to see an outpost on the Moon (~12 people) as soon as possible. As a “special proposal” he recommended that,

Surveillance of the Earth — permanent continuous surveillance that is hard to interfere with — is an extremely important question, important to us, important to the international community, important for peace-keeping … It is in everyone’s best interest to have observation stations that are not easy to interfere with.

Teller also suggested that in the name of global peace, Earth surveillance images obtained from Moon orbit should be made “universally available.”

More recently (1/6/12), Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt — the first scientist on the Moon — sees the current status of civilian space as a geopolitical crisis for America.

America’s eroding geopolitical stature, highlighted by the July 21, 2011, end to flights of the United States Space Shuttle, has reached crisis proportions. Obama Administration officials now spin the nebulous thought of Astronauts flying many months to an undetermined asteroid in 2025 as an actual “National Space Policy”. On the other hand, Republican candidates for President have not yet recognized the importance of international civil space competition in the federal government’s constitutional function to provide for the nation’s “common defence”. Candidates appear to be uninterested in having the United States lead deep space exploration, including establishing American settlements on the Moon …

Meanwhile, China is building a major new deep space launch facility in Hainan and developing new rockets and spacecraft to take over the exploration of the Moon from the United States and the free world.

Given the geopolitical significance of the Moon in the coming mid-decade Maslow Window, I have surveyed several friends in the military and NASA communities, and none claims knowledge of any studies of potential national security applications of a Moon base done over the last 10-15 years.

The closest I could come was a chilling Moon-related military scenario in George Friedman’s ( book The Next Hundred Years (2009); he agrees with Teller’s opinion of the value of Earth surveillance from the Moon and suggests that, “Sustaining and defending a base on the Moon will actually be easier than doing the same for orbital systems.”

Although no specific references are provided, Friedman insists that:

These forecasts are based on real technology, reasonable extrapolations about future technology, and reasonable war planning.

In Friedman’s mid-21st century scenario, both Japan and Turkey — two key space powers by then — become understandably threatened by powerful U.S. command and control “battlestars” in Geostationary orbits that can very rapidly direct a variety of weapons — advanced versions of the X-37, lasers, hypersonic missiles — at any point on Earth or in space.

By this time many nations will have bases on the Moon, however Japan and Turkey build an underground base on the Moon’s farside where they secretly use lunar materials to develop, build, and launch missiles to attack the Battlestars in Earth orbit.

I won’t give away how the story ends here. However, it is unlikely that “secret” military activities could go unnoticed for long on the anti-Earth side of the Moon. For example, many astronomers have already chosen the Moon’s farside as the best location for a radio observatory in this part of the solar system.

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Mar 10 2012

Bruce’s Article, “A New Apollo-Level Space Age” Appears in Ad Astra

Hope you enjoy my new article — “A New Apollo-Level Space Age” — which just appeared in Ad Astra, The Magazine of the National Space Society for Spring, 2012 (Volme 24, Number 1).

Coming Soon: A Window of Opportunity for the Next Space Age; Pictured is Wernher Von Braun, the great German rocket scientist and visionary who was the driving force in the post-W. W. II American space program.

Thanks to Pat Silver, Managing Editor of Ad Astra for producing such an excellent magazine and for this introduction:

Dear Ad Astra reader,

Are we on the verge of a new space age? Bruce Cordell thinks we are. Based on historical trends and the Maslow Window model, he sees that a resurgence of public interest in space exploration is coming soon! And that’s great news for space enthusiasts like us. In this issue, we look at the many preparations needed to send mankind back to the Moon and beyond, and how they’ll fourish there.

But when will we actually see these things happen? According to Cordell, a Maslow Window, or a period of high interest in space, is due by mid-decade. The last Maslow Window opened during Kennedy’s presidency in the early 60s, the period when Wernher von Braun fathered the American space program …

Thanks especially to Katherine Brick, Associate Editor of Ad Astra, for her many suggestions to improve the article; For the text, CLICK “A New Apollo-Level Space Age.”

For more information on Maslow Windows and the new, international Apollo-level Space Age expected by mid-decade, CLICK HERE.

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Feb 27 2012

Foreign Affairs Features The Case for Space

The current issue of Foreign Affairs (March/April, 2012) featues “The Case for Space” by astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. In 2004 he was appointed by President Bush to the “Moon, Mars, and Beyond” Commission, so he is familiar with the range of arguments relevant to U.S. space exploration policy.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D. believes we should spend more time and money reaching for the stars.

How Much is a New Planet Worth?
Tyson initially grabs our attention by asserting that a manned mission to Mars would “surely cost hundreds of billions of dollars — maybe even $ 1 trillion.” This is a surprising number since the whole 1960s Apollo Moon program cost ~$ 150 B in today’s dollars. To approach $ 1 T you would have to look at a multi-decade program of manned Mars missions, which is not currently in the cards. Zubrin has recently shown how we can fly to Mars by 2016 for far less than the Apollo program.

On the other hand, in 2009 I estimated — based on cost ratios of pre-Maslow MEPs to the major Maslow MEPs over the last 200 years — that the coming Maslow Window (expected by mid-decade) will feature a total MEP expenditure of between $ 1 and 3 T (current USD). But this could include a variety of projects such as manned Mars, lunar bases, and space-based solar power infrastructures.

Because of their large costs, importance to national prestige, and use of high technology, major space programs become political issues, and Tyson highlights what he sees as the end of “immunity to partisanship” of the space program after 2004 when the Shuttle Columbia was lost. It got worse when President Obama took office in 2009. Partly due to his space policies and other controversial issues, Obama is the most polarizing president on record according to Gallup; his rating of 68 (the difference between the percent of Democrats and Republicans who approve of his job performance) is the highest on record for a president’s 3rd year, as were his partisan gaps for his first and second years (65 and 68).

Tyson notes that in the end, Obama’s suggestions for manned Mars missions in the 2030s have not been taken seriously because

When a president promises something beyond his years in office, he is fundamentally unaccountable … The only thing guaranteed to happen on his (Obama’s) watch is the interruption of the United States’ access to space.

While Tyson’s focus on politics is understandable, it misses the real point: Economics is the fundamental problem.

Doesn’t anyone watch Animal Planet anymore?
The last time I checked, when the main waterhole is drying up, disputes become common and everyone tends to be edgy about everything.

The same is naturally happening with the economy today. Negative animal spirits call into question positive visions of the future like space.

Tyson naturally believes — and he is right — that a visionary U.S. space program is the solution to motivating youth and revitalizing the American education system, as well as stimulating innovation and the economy. And most importantly:

The United States will once again witness how space ambitions can shape the destiny of nations.

But he does not emphasize that the fundamental reason we have been trapped in Earth orbit for 40 years (since Apollo) is because of the lack of a JFK-style economic boom that created exuberance by increasing prosperity to virtually every group in society and dropping unemployment to nearly zero.

Two hundred years of macroeconomic and political patterns as well as current global trends suggest we’re on trajectory for the next 1960s-style golden age of prosperity, exploration, and technology… to begin by mid-decade.

The political realignment that began in 2008 is continuing and will determine its exact timing.

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Feb 21 2012

Glenn’s 1962 Flight Points to a New International Space Age

Yesterday we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first American to orbit the Earth. On February 20, 1962, John Glenn carried the hopes of Americans with him as he did 3 revs, inspired the Australians in Perth to turn their lights on as he passed over them, survived a faulty sensor indicating his heat shield might be loose, and became a national hero at the level of Charles Lindbergh.

John Glenn and JFK (right) admire the Mercury capsule which Glenn rode into orbit in 1962.

Earlier as a Marine pilot, Glenn completed the first transcontinental supersonic flight from California to New York in 3 hours 23 minutes. And in 1959 he became one of the original 7 NASA astronauts.

Glenn’s orbital flight in 1962 got the U.S. back ino the Space Race, but it came after 2 Soviet cosmonauts had already orbited in 1961. This international competition had been noted by Missiles and Rockets, The Missile/Space Weekly in their year-end editorial for December, 1961:

With still a long way to go, we now are back in the race with the Russians with the avowed intent of catching and passing them.

Eventually the U.S. did reach the Moon first (in 1969), but the irony of the current situation, where the U.S. must hitch a ride with the Russians to send its astronauts to the International Space Station, is not lost on Glenn:

Back in those days, one of the major driving forces in support of the program was the fact that we were in competition with the Soviets.

And yet here we are these 50 years later, (paying) 60-some million dollars per astronaut to go up there and back. And this is supposed to be the world’s greatest space-faring nation.

That part of how we’ve developed I don’t agree with at all. I don’t think the shuttle should have been canceled until we had a replacement for it.

The 1961-2 geopolitical chronology is amazing for its intensity and juxtaposition of several powerful wildcards and soon-to-be tipping points:
Click Geopolitical.Chron.1961.62

For example, the founding of the Peace Corps, the first human in space, and the Bay of Pigs invasion all occurred within about 6 weeks of each other. Within only 3 months of establishment of the Peace Corps the first American had gone into space, and JFK committed the U.S. to send men to the Moon and had offered to cooperate with the Soviets in a joint Moon program.

Six months after Glenn’s flight the Russians were building secret missile bases in Cuba which triggered the Cuban Mission Crisis in October, 1962. During this event Khruschev threatened a “world nuclear missile war.”

This type of rapid-fire, potentially threatening action is to be expected from a “critical state” after decades of self-organization of the international economic system. Something analogous to the early 1960s critical state — involving the Middle East, North Korea, and others — is apparently rippling through the world today.

Just as the 1960s Cold War led to the first Space Age, 200+ years of macroeconomic and technology development patterns suggest it’s likely the currently approaching “critical state” will trigger the new international Space Age.
CLICK: Are Stratfor’s “Generational Shifts” like “Falling Grains of Sand”?

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Jan 05 2012

Is Earth Unique? What this “Benchmark Moment” Means for ETs and Our Future

Astronomer John Gribbin (Alone in the Universe; 2011) uses the latest astrophysics to make an impressive scientific case that we are alone in our Galaxy.

This is despite several hundred planets currently known to exist around nearby stars, and despite NASA’s recent discovery of Earth-size planets orbiting Sun-like stars, as well as the potential for billions of such worlds in our Galaxy of almost one trillion stars.

Even Gort and Klaatu (from “The Day the Earth Stood Still“; 1951) could learn a trick or two from the ultra-ETs — suggested by current astrophysics and physics — that might be visiting us today.

Despite this “benchmark moment in the history of science” according to Berkeley astronomer Geoffrey Marcy (Wall Street Journal, 12/21/11), Gribbin traces the origin of human intelligence and civilization from the Big Bang to today, and shows that the odds of our development are so small that we are most likely the first high civilization to arise in the Milky Way.

For example, Gribbin points to the origin of the Moon by an impact with a Mars-size body over 4 billion years ago as a pivotal and yet very dicey event. The impact itself had to avoid destroying Earth’s spin (as apparently happened at Venus) and yet excavate and launch into space enough material to form an unusually large Moon that could gravitationally anchor Earth’s axial tilt. Without such a Moon our rotation axis would wobble chaotically due to tugs by Jupiter, Venus and other bodies, and undermine the long-term climate stability conducive to the development of high intelligence and civilization.

Last summer Howard A. Smith of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics also independently found ETs to be scarce in the Galaxy — in American Scientist (July-August, 2011) — as did I last March: Click HERE. I used an updated, anthropic version of the Drake Equation to show that unless a high-tech civilization lives for at least millions of years (highly unlikely) we are probably alone in the Galaxy.

However, other scientists hold contrary views. For example, as I noted in October, 2010:

Following scientific meetings in 2009 at the Vatican on Extraterrestrials, the prestigious UK Royal Society has had not just one, but 2 scientific meetings in 2010 (in January and just last week) to consider if exterrestrials are here on Earth and how to properly greet them.

This current growth of interest in ETs and Earth-like planets is part of a multi-century trend recognized by It extends back to at least the 19th century and has presaged and figured prominently in each transformative Maslow Window since that time.

For example, just after the financial Panic of 1893 that ultimately led to “Panama fever” and “pole mania” of the early 20th century Maslow Window, it featured the founding of Lowell Observatory in Arizona to study evidence for a highly intelligent canal-building civilization on Mars. Early in the Apollo Maslow Window, Frank Drake began the radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) almost a decade before humans first landed on the Moon in 1969.
For more see: “State of the Wave: ETs Surge to Center Stage.”

If we take Gribbin’s conclusion seriously for a moment, it has a number of intriguing implications for the cosmos, ETs, and our future:

1. If we are the first lofty civilization to develop in our Galaxy then radio SETI should not expect success, and we will never see interstellar Von Neumann machines in our vicinity. But the good news was envisioned by Marshall Savage in The Millennial Project (1992):

The stars are our destiny…Strewn like diamonds…All these treasures are free for the taking. There is no guardian genie. There are no alien owners to be bargained with, no evil empires to be vanquished…The galaxy is free and open now in a way it never will be again.

2. If there are no native ETs in our Galaxy, then UFOs may come from very far away — other galaxies or even other universes — and will require exotic transportation concepts (e.g., wormholes) to arrive here. This is a future that could begin tomorrow or may already be in progress, and was imagined — both the good and bad news — by Deardorff et al. in JBIS (2005):

While the ‘We are alone’ solution to Fermi’s paradox was once a seemingly valid one, this answer is now incompatible with the infinite universe and random self-sampling assumption consistent with inflation theory. We thus find ourselves in the curious position that current cosmological theory predicts that we should be experiencing extraterrestrial visitation…

The huge technological head start of the presumed ETs would still come as a great shock to many … The implication that we would be powerless relative to their presumed capabilities and evolutionary advantage may be most unwelcome … science would have difficulty coming to terms with the situation.

3. If there are no ETs from anywhere, then UFOs may originate from covert, terrestrial sources (e.g., secret military aircraft) and we have arrived in Jacques Vallee’s intriguing world of Messenger’s of Deception (1979):

UFOs may be a control system…there is a genuine technology at work here, causing the effects witnesses are describing. But I am not ready to jump to the conclusion that it is … some kind of “spacemen.”

The social, political, and religious consequences of the (UFO) experience are enormous … over the timespan of a generation… Is the public being deceived and led to false conclusions by someone who is using UFO witnesses to propagate … social conditioning?


4. Gribbin’s conclusion scientifically elevates human civilization to the pinnacle of the Galaxy which has important implications for both space colonization and theology:

My view is that while life itself may be common, the kind of intelligent, technological civilization that has emerged on Earth may be unique, at least in our Milky Way Galaxy…

Whether or not you see the hand of God in any of this, it would mean that we are the most technnologically advanced civilization in the Universe, and the only witnesses with an understanding of the origin and nature of the Universe itself.

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Nov 07 2011

State of the Wave: The Economy is Down but Space is Up

As we approach the next transformative Maslow Window featuring a new international Space Age — expected mid-decade — it’s revealing to compare public perceptions of the economy, on which the space program depends, and the space program itself. In the midst of a painfully slow recovery that’s only a few years downstream from the Panic of 2008, and the great recession of 2008-10+, we might expect these circumstances to dampen people’s spirits regarding human expansion into the cosmos.

Are Americans still interested in human expansion into the cosmos…JFK-style?

The Economy is Down
For example, official unemployment continues at 9% or above, and the outlook is not good because only 80,000 jobs were added in October which is far short of the number needed to substantially reduce unemployment (>150,000 per month). And Fed Chair Ben Bernanke recently lowered its jobs forecast to 8.6% in late 2012 (Wall Street Journal, 11/3/11), assuming the European debt crisis stabilizes and there is no double-dip (nearly 40% of participants think one will occur).

On Halloween the Wall Street Journal noted that the “Slow recovery feels like a recession,” partly because median household income in the U.S. fell 6.7% from June, 2009 to June, 2011, and also that:

No recession since the Great Depression was deeper or longer than the most recent.

And in June, CNBC reported that the U.S. housing crisis, which already entered a double-dip, “is now worse than the Great Depression.”

In his most recent poll of likely voters in the U.S., Rasmussen reports that only 17% of the country feels things are going in the right direction, while a 76% think we’re on the wrong track. According to Peggy Noonan (Wall Street Journal, 10/8/11),

We are in a remarkable moment and I’m not sure we’re noticing it in the day-to-day of politics and media … I wrote of the new patriotism that I see taking hold of the American establishment …

What’s behind it is fear. The economy is tanking and can take a whole world with it … They all agree—no one really argues about this anymore—the government is going bankrupt.

But Space is Up
The U.S. manned space program — which in 1969 delivered the first humans to the Moon — continues to be directionless. For example, it has no specific goal (Moon, Mars, asteroids), although an expensive Shuttle-derived heavy launch vehicle (the Space Launch System, SLS) is planned by NASA for first human flights in 2019. Others have suggested a propellant depot would be more viable economically and politically. To add to this disarray, the Mars Society reports today that OMB has zeroed out future Mars exploration programs after the MAVEN orbiter in 2013; e.g., the joint Mars missions with Europe in 2016 and 2018 would be canceled.

In this time of economic and program distress, it’s interesting to see how the public is thinking about our future in space.

The Shuttle
Last month 52% of American adults surveyed said the Space Shuttle has been worth the expense to taxpayers (, 10/5/11). This is particularly interesting when compared to public support of Apollo. According to Roger Launius, 1960s opinion polls reveal only one year between 1962 and 1972 when more than 50% of people surveyed felt Apollo was worth the cost: 1969 (53%); indeed only two other years were above 40% (1965 and 1970).

Considering that the recent Shuttle poll comes during a time of economic distress while the Apollo polls (especially during the early 1960s) were during the major JFK economic boom, it suggests that Americans remain proud of and committed to manned space.

U.S. Leadership in Space
In july, 2011 a CNN/ORC International Poll asked, “How important do you think it is for the United States to be ahead of Russia and other countries in space exploration?” The replies were: Very important: 38%; Fairly important: 26%; Not too important: 36%; No Opinion: 1 %.

The fact that 64% of Americans currently believe that U.S. leadership in space is either fairly or very important — even during this economic distress — suggests that there will be significant support for space during the upcoming 2015 Maslow Window.

JFK vs. Obama
In July, 2011 a Fox News poll asked, “Who do you think had the right idea on the importance of space exploration–President (John F.) Kennedy or President (Barack) Obama? The replies were: JFK: 63%; Obama: 13%; Undecided: 24%.

This suggests that Americans are still interested in bold human space adventures and will be stimulated by the upcoming intrernational Space Age.

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Jul 15 2011

Does Obama Have an Anti-Mars Policy?

Bob Zubrin of the Mars Society is also a nuclear engineer. In a recent Space News op-ed (“The VASIMR Hoax”; 7/11/11), he reports that the Obama administration insists that NASA needs a technology “breakthrough” (e.g., Space News, 7/11/11, P. 8 ) before astronauts can travel safely to Mars. VASIMR is it and “We can’t go to Mars until we have the revolutionary VASIMR, … and once it arrives, all things will be possible.”

Should Columbus have waited for the 747 to be invented before he went to America?

Back when I began to hear this need-new-propulsion talking point, I was surprised because it clearly isn’t true. As I mentioned in my decade space forecast in March, 2010:

4. We are the Beneficiaries of 60+ Years of Space Technology Development, and Are Capable of going to Mars, Developing the Moon, and/or Utilizing Space Resources in the Next Decade

We already have the basic technology to go to Mars and ISS can help resolve issues related to long duration human spaceflight before 2020. While advanced propulsion is always preferred on Mars missions, it is not required. Split mission concepts — where return propellants, consumables, and other cargo — are sent first to Mars orbit before the crew leaves Earth improve performance and safety for the crew vehicles. In situ resource utilization is an important technology that is needed to process propellants from water (or other substances) on Phobos and/or Mars. It needs to be developed but is hardly a showstopper.

Great explorations always involve significant risk. The risk must be identified, quantified, managed, and then accepted. In essence, you are ready to go exploring when you think you are.

Columbus and his descendants could have waited until the 747 was invented to make the trip to America — it would have been a lot safer and more comfortable — but they chose to go in 1492. There were many unknowns (a pre-mission cost/benefit analysis was difficult) and the crew suffered casualties, but the mission of exploration was a success and the world was changed.

In their 1963 EMPIRE study for NASA, German rocket scientist Krafft Ehricke and his staff at General Dynamics concluded that “Preliminary schedule analysis strongly indicates that a 1975 (manned) mission…to Mars is in the realm of realistic technological planning…” It was 6 years before the Moon landing, and Krafft Ehricke, Bill Strobl, and the other authors of the document calculated we were nearly ready to go to Mars. …

Zubrin concludes that VASIMR doesn’t hold water in the context of attempted mitigations of either cosmic radiation or zero-g effects en route to Mars. He concludes that the real cost of VASIMR goes beyond its R&D program,

its real cost … is the tens of billions that will be wasted as the human spaceflight program is kept mired in Earth orbit for the indefinite future, accomplishing nothing while waiting for the false vision to materialize …

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Jun 16 2011

Business and Environmental Cycles: A New Cosmic Connection?

For thousands of years, spectacular planetary alignments in the sky have been used to foretell disasters on Earth. After all, the Latin roots for “dis” and “aster”, mean literally “bad star”. Although today’s astronomers dismiss cosmic calamities due to alignments and emphasize their beauty, new science suggests the planets may indeed be influencing human affairs.

Years ago some claimed that the famous alignment of May 5, 2000 was a harbinger of cataclysms on Earth.

Recently, it’s become clear that there is a major, multi-decade climate cycle on Earth about 60 years long with a temperature variation of 0.25 degrees C. Power spectra also identify weaker climate cycles of about 30, 20, 15, and 10 years.

In addition to direct T measurements, this is evidenced by climate data from ice cores, sea sediments, and a large variety of other records that extend back from decades to centuries. Even the traditional Chinese and Tibetan calendars are structured in 60 year cycles.

What’s equally intriguing is that ~60 is the magic number for the Kondratieff Wave (55-60 yr), the Stewart Energy Wave (56 yr), the Gaus Anxiety Wave (55-60 yr), and the time between transformative Maslow Windows (55-60 yr) that are well-documented and associated with long economic and business cycles since the 19th century.

Long business cycles have traditionally been linked with “creative destruction” caused by innovations in technology (e.g., railroads, electricity) that cluster in time, according to Harvard economist Joseph Schumpter (1942).

Others have suggested long waves are closely linked with — and possibly triggered by — generational cycles of Strauss and Howe (1991), major wars (Goldstein, 1988), and even sunspots (Modis, 1992).

After noting that the numbers of sunspots occur in relative peaks every ~55 years and that this rhythm is mirrored in tree rings, Modis makes the intriguing suggestion:

If the environment is modulated by such a pulsation, it is not unreasonable to suppose that human affairs follow suit.

In his recent game-changing article in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, Duke University physicist Nicola Scafetta notes that the ~60-year climate cycle, and several others, are apparently

synchronized to the natural oscillations of the solar system, which are driven by the movement of the planets around the Sun.

For example, Jupiter and Saturn take about 12 and 30 years, respectively, to go around the Sun. Plus the time needed for Jupiter and Saturn to line up relative to the Sun is 20 years, while 60 years are required for the combined orbits of Jupiter and Saturn to repeat. All are factors of 60 and contribute to that super-cycle.

Based on his model, Scafetta confidently estimates that “at least 60% of the observed (global) warming since 1970 has been naturally induced” by the 60-year planetary cycle; i.e., not due to human-related emissions of CO2.

You may be aware of the National Solar Observatory’s stunning forecast this week. Based on “highly unusual and unexpected” behavior of the Sun, “the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation.”

According to the National Solar Observatory’s Associate Director, Frank Hill,

This could be the last solar maximum we’ll see for a few decades. That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth’s climate.

Today via email Dr. Scafetta confirmed to me that his independent model is consistent with the NSO forecast. Indeed, his model

predicts reduced solar activity because of a 60-year cycle that was in its maximum in 2000-2002 and now is going down.

He also wisely cautioned us to wait for publication of his new results.

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May 21 2011

Exploring Space Futures & Images at ISDC 2011 in the Rocket City

It was a real pleasure being part of the International Space Development Conference (ISDC 2011) Space Business Track chaired by Clifford McMurray.

My presentation (not quite stand alone) is available here:
CLICK Cordell.EconomicBooms.ISDC.2011

Thanks to Cliff for making it a smooth event.

The symbol of the 1960s Apollo Moon program — the magnificent 363 foot tall Saturn V launch vehicle, designed by Wernher von Braun and his team at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville — is on display at Huntsville’s impressive U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

Just a few comments on my presentation:Economic Booms and Apollo-style Exploration.”

1) This approach — long-term, empirical, global — is really different and leads to new ideas about the future of near-term large-scale space initiatives.

2) Standard Chartered Bank’s “Super-Cycles” chart (showing GDP growth per year: 1820 to present) is remarkable in the way it highlights that the growth Super-Cycles ending in 1913 and 1973 both ended abruptly. Both Super-Cycles also culminated in spectacular Maslow Windows (explained below) — that abruptly ended — including the 1960s Apollo Moon program. The new growth Super-Cycle apparently began in 2000 and is consistent with the next Maslow Window opening near 2015. The long business cycle discovered in 1989 is consistent with the timing of Maslow Windows, as are K-Waves and the generational cycles of Strauss and Howe.

3) The Maslow Window economic model connects to human psychology through the Maslow hierarchy: as the economic boom results in widespread affluence, many become ebullient and are catapulted to higher Maslow states where their expanded worldviews make great explorations and MEPs seem not only intriguing, but almost irresistible. As ebullience decays — due to a war and/or the slowing boom — the Maslow Window collapses (e.g., during the late 1960s).

4) Maslow Windows can also be thought of as “critical states” attained through self-organization of the complex international economic/technology/geopolitical system. The fact that — over the last 200+ years — great explorations and MEPs display punctuated equilibria is strong prima facie evidence for their being Self Organized Criticality (SOC) phenomena. The size-frequency distribution of wars already points to their being SOC phenomena; a similar study of NASA programs and MEPs is ongoing and is expected to show the same result.

5) Although Maslow Windows appear to be critical states, they do have observable near-critical signatures. For example, 3 of 4 Maslow Windows (over the last 200 years) have financial panics (e.g., Panic of 2008), great recessions, and major economic booms (e.g., the 1960s JFK Boom) in sequence during the decade prior to the opening of the Maslow Window. Non-economic early signatures include dangerous conflicts like the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962).

6) To be viable, space exploration programs during the next 15-20 years must be “Great Explorations” possibly involving Mars, and they must culminate before 2025. In particular, their viability will be enhanced by early self-sufficiency in deep space. Several recently proposed programs have these characteristics…

Here are a few great space-related Huntsville locations I encountered on this trip. (All images by B. Cordell.)

At the U.S. Space and Rocket Center:
Here’s a Lockheed A-12, the precursor of the SR-71 Blackbird. It’s max speed was 2,210 mph (Mach 2.25) at 75,000 feet. It was retired in 1968.

The Rocket Garden at the USS&RC is spectacular and includes an X-15, V-2, and many others.

At the Von Braun Astronomical Society Observing Site.
Here’s the entry to VBAS in Monte Sano State Park near Huntsville at about 1600 feet above SL. They have 21″ and 16″ telescopes and the Von Braun planetarium.

i just returned from the Saturday evening VBAS planetarium show and observing session with the 16″ and 8″ telescopes. It’s a wonderful, inspirational, historic place. Melissa (VBAS Board Member), Megan (UAH engineering student), and Gert (member of original German rocket team) did a super job. I highly recommend the experience.

At the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).
The Von Braun Research Hall is the highlight of the UAH engineering complex.

Inside the VBRH are 2 historic and inspirational murals. The first is of Von Braun (just left of center) receiving a 1960s-style hero’s welcome.

And the other is of the whole German rocket team that moved to Huntsville in 1949, and proceeded to change the world.

SPECIAL THANKS to the UAH Campus Police who were kind enough to give me access to the interior of the VBRH today, so I could obtain the last 2 images.

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