Saturday Morning Sci-Fi Open Thread: Mars Needs Believers!

Even as a very young hardcore sf reader, I knew I would never be part of a one-way space mission, because I can barely stand to spend a long weekend trapped in the house with a handful of people I love, much less a bunch of random strangers. (And, yes, I did not rate my chances of appealing to a quorum of those strangers, either.) But Murphy the Trickster God bless the… idealists… who are willing to share their dreams of Martian colonization with all the world and the Boston Globe:

When the initial tingle had passed and the idea had been given time to marinate and settle, Peter Degen-Portnoy said his family split into camps regarding his decision to commit to a one-way trip to Mars.

His sons think it’s cool.

His two oldest daughters stopped speaking with him.

And his wife left him.

Three years ago, Degen-Portnoy, a 54-year-old father of five from Stoneham, was one of 100 semifinalists chosen for Mars One, a wildly ambitious Dutch-led project that ultimately seeks to colonize Mars, beginning in 2032, with 20 permanent, never-to-return-to-Earth settlers. The plan has been controversial from the moment it was announced in 2012, with serious questions about the technological feasibility, as well as the plan to fund much of the mission.

Mars One organizers say the project can be accomplished for roughly $6 billion; critics say that is preposterous, as is the plan to raise much of that through corporate sponsorship and the sale of television rights.

The mission is currently far, far away from becoming a reality — millions of miles and millions of questions remain about how they will get there, how they will survive on Mars and build a self-sustaining colony, and of course how they will survive the trip. The current plan involves sending supplies ahead, then sending crews of four crammed into spaceships the size of a tour bus for the 18-month journey. When solar flares erupt, they will retreat into a bathroom-sized pod, surrounded by water for protection, for several claustrophobic days at a time.

While space experts and keyboard cowboys continue their debate, Degen-Portnoy and the three other semifinalists from Massachusetts have been dealing with the very real impact on their personal lives that comes when you make a commitment to a one-way trip to outer space.

For whether they go to Mars or not, “the 100,” as they call themselves, are the first humans to actually experience the terrestrial repercussions of making such an extravagant extraterrestrial commitment…

But there’s also a love story! Much more at the link — along with a full-sized version of the video clip at the top.



Another SpaceX Launch

About 3:47 Eastern, SpaceX is launching another rocket. This is an already-used-once Block 4 version, so it will not return to land. They are, though, going to try to recover 1/2 of the payload fairing, hoping to catch it with a small boat in the Pacific. Should be fun, if slow.

 

They are launching some satellites, two scientific and five Iridium satellites for the NEXT constellation.

 

 








East Coast Launch: Early Morning Viewing!

Folks,

There’s an Orbital ATK Antares rocket launch at 4:39 AM Eastern, in just a bit. It’s launching from the Wallops Island Facility in Southeast Virginia.

Since the rain has gone, it looks like a lot of folks may see something, should they look the appropriate direction (and up!).

Link to more info: https://www.space.com/40644-watch-orbital-atk-rocket-launch-oa9-webcast.html

 

You can watch the launch live on space.com

 








SpaceX Block5 Launch

Ok folks, this afternoon SpaceX will launch a satellite using its Block5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket. This version is planned to be reused 10 times whereas the current version only is reused once. They learn a lot from measuring the crap out of each launch, flight, and landing or crash. Each rocket is pretty much unique as they improve small things, try new things out, etc. This is a risky approach, so there’s always the chance of a spectacular failure, but for this launch, I expect things to be pretty nailed-down. They are landing on the fun-named “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship in the Atlantic, and those landings can sometimes be…exciting!

Launch is supposed to be 4:14 Eastern, but may be delayed or postponed. I may not be around to edit this post once it’s live, so others are free to edit or update, as appropriate.

 

Enjoy the launch,  folks!

 

 








Another Launch! – Delayed until 11:15

Folks,

Some time around 11:15 or later Eastern, Blue Origin is doing a test launch of New Shepard, one of their rockets. This company is owned by Jeff Bezos, who gives 1 billion dollars a year to support it. Wowzers, that’s a lot of scratch!

 

Anyway, I’m very busy this morning, but wanted to put this here for interested folks.  If any other front pagers find a better link, feel free to edit.

 

 



On the Road and In Your Backyard

Good Morning All,

This weekday feature is for Juicers who are are on the road, traveling, or just want to share a little bit of their world via stories and pictures. So many of us rise each morning, eager for something beautiful, inspiring, amazing, subtle, of note, and our community delivers – a view into their world, whether they’re far away or close to home – pictures with a story, with context, with meaning, sometimes just beauty. By concentrating travel updates and tips here, it’s easier for all of us to keep up or find them later.

So please, speak up and share some of your adventures and travel news here, and submit your pictures using our speedy, secure form. You can submit up to 7 pictures at a time, with an overall description and one for each picture.

You can, of course, send an email with pictures if the form gives you trouble, or if you are trying to submit something special, like a zipped archive or a movie. If your pictures are already hosted online, then please email the links with your descriptions.

For each picture, it’s best to provide your commenter screenname, description, where it was taken, and date. It’s tough to keep everyone’s email address and screenname straight, so don’t assume that I remember it “from last time”. More and more, the first photo before the fold will be from a commenter, so making it easy to locate the screenname when I’ve found a compelling photo is crucial.

Have a wonderful day, and enjoy the pictures!

So, that SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch was something else. Can you imagine – it all worked, and this electric car, space suit, and David Bowie music, will be speeding around the Sun, intersecting Mars’s orbit, and otherwise being around for millions-to-billions of years. It beggars the mind.

This is real, folks – this really did happen, and this is a real picture from space. Just…wow – a piece of our current reality is now practically timeless, for our descendants or aliens to discover. Tears streamed down from my face as I watched the launch, separation, return, and payload, all with my wife on the phone as she watched on her work computer. We cheered and gasped and ooh’d and ah’d.

Mid-event, I remembered that when the Moon landing happened (before I was conceived), my dad was working on the North Slope in Alaska, and had planned months ahead to have the time off. He was in a hotel in Anchorage, and my mom was visiting her folks in Oklahoma and they spent many hours over the days and, mostly, nights: on the phone, each watching those amazing events on their small screens in low-res, flickering, rounded-screen B&W television. It was nice to experience my own take on that, though a bit less exciting because people weren’t involved, but it was amazing in HD and available through Wi-Fi or mobile data. I hope we get more footage from the Tesla and Starman as they travel.

Charlie Pierce was right, it is magic that we can hold something in our hand, at home or office or out and about, on top of a mountain or on the water or waiting for someone, and see live video and images from space or elsewhere on this planet. We truly live in amazing times.

I remember first feeling that way while I watched the Hong Kong turnover on a handheld portable TV my mom bought me in Japan earlier that year. It wasn’t awesome, but I sat outside for my planned lunch break in Arlington, Virginia, smoking my Dunhills and watching history unfold, live, while I was outdoors and with birds wandering around the grounds near me and with the sun shining bright. Seeing the Falcon Heavy launch was like that – on my tablet. It really was exciting, nice to see something I’ve been getting excited about for months succeed. It feels like things are different now in the “space game”, some trajectories have been changed, and that’s exciting!

No matter who succeeds, I hope we soon see a day when we again point up at the another planetary body in the sky with people on it, even if they’re just visiting.  It looks like that might be sorta soon – China’s exciting efforts to the Moon, our renewed national program looking at the Moon and Mars, Europe, Russia, India, and numerous private initiatives – there’s a bunch of neat, exciting things happening. There’s even a space mining syndicate – no joke – that’s planning on sending robotic mining ships to nearby asteroids to mine huge amounts of high-grade ores. That kind of resource creation – outside of Earth’s gravity – would mean other planets could be colonized much easier than if we had to lift all that metal and stuff off the planet!

And don’t get me started with Elon Musk with his space launch, solar power, power storage, electric tech, electric vehicles, crewed space tech, mining/tunnel boring tech, etc. companies and initiatives, it’s not like they all go together to make for making an off-world colony in a decade or two or anything.

Really, it’s been too long and we need to renew our optimistic vision of the future to get through this nastiness and inspire us to grow through our new challenges of climate change, resource depletion, and falling into terrible, comfortable tribalism.

I will post more on Space as so many exciting and interesting things are happening, and good news is in need. I’m thankful Adam was here to post Tuesday’s landmark event. If you get a chance, do watch the Falcon Heavy launch and separations and returning to launch pad of the twin rockets (their synchronized landing was amaze-balls). It sounds like the central rocket ran out of fuel and so missed the autonomous drone ship and pancaked into the water 100m away. It showered the ship with shrapnel, so we’ll find out more details about what happened and if there’s footage of the whole event, as soon as they can share that information.

SpaceX is well known for embracing failure and learning what went wrong, and then improving, so this is actually good, not bad. Their footage of explosions and other failures are amusing, and encouraging – failure is part of the plan and they measure everything so well that they almost learn more from failure than from success. They are not afraid to show failure because it improves them.

My theory is that they’ll figure out that it was a fuel issue – as in, Falcon-9/Heavy engines get their extra oomph from super-cold fuel, and the longer the fuel sits in the rocket before takeoff, the warmer it gets and the less dense it is. I think some is even vented, so there’s less in the tanks the longer they sit before takeoff. Since the launch was near the end of the launch window, the fuel was comparatively warm, and the center core had an extra minute or so of burn after the first two disengaged. Ergo, not enough fuel for the last 5-10 seconds of landing and so it missed the drone ship and hit the water HARD.

It seemed to me that, after landing, the two successful cores vented fuel/fuel vapor once they were settled and so, since they had enough fuel to power just a small puff, it’s quite possible that the central core didn’t have quite enough fuel to stick the landing. I’m thankful they use drone ships for these landings and nothing manned, let me tell you!

In light of this amazing progress, something fun and celebratory is in need. Again, apologies for running this so late, but it always errored out previously. Majorx4’s fix works well, so many thanks to him.

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Falcon Heavy Live Stream

Space X’s Falcon Heavy rocket is now scheduled to test launch at 3:45 PM EST. The Falcon Heavy is three Falcon 9 rockets bundled together in a new configuration from the regular Falcon 9s. The main rocket has a payload attached with two Falcon 9s as boosters. The Falcon heavy has 27 engines and generates more than 5 million pounds of thrust at lift off.

Musk has given it just a 50% chance of actually lifting off for its test flight without blowing up.

Here’s a live feed to watch it.

Open thread!