Space Architecture

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

PowerPoint Upload 3

Here it is.

Here is an excerpt:

No metal is more malleable or ductile than gold. It can also retain its shape and maintain its appearance longer than many other metals, which helps to explain in historical value.

Gold has one outer shell electron. It will only bond to one other atom under most conditions. Gold is like hydrogen in this respect. However, gold is not as reactive as hydrogen.

Gold exists naturally in an unadulterated state, and can be sorted from sands and gravel through a process known as panning. Its pure state is so soft that to add strength, gold is alloyed with other elements.

Gold can be plated onto particles, and can covert light into heat. This has proven useful as a cancer treatment in tests conducted at Rice University. Gold's biological inertness contributed to its usefulness.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"The Universe" on the History Channel

What I did instead of working on my grad thesis: watch an episode of "The Universe" on the History Channel.

I've never seen "Cosmos", though I did read the book, by Carl Sagan. The book presented the basic science of life and universe, star births and deaths, evolution, the history of astronomy, and so on. It's a good narrative, appropriate for most high schoolers, motivated middle-schoolers, and exceptional elementary school students. Few science books seem to offer an easy intro, and inspire readers to learn more.

The "Cosmos" TV series, of which I've only seen clips of, suggests typical PBS-style pacing and delivery. Measured and consistent are the words I'd use. Since the series was produced during 1979-1980, it has the spacey (mellow) music and computer-generated imagery of time. Good for information flow for TV, not necessarily a ratings hit if it were to air on network TV, against "The Sopranos".

So, here comes "The Universe". I've seen three episodes, though in fairness, I've been distracted by the computer (attempts to write thesis, and blog). The show does deliver a lot of information in its one-hour segment (with commercial interruptions). The first episode, regarding the sun, was quite good. The images, taken from sun-observing satellites, were used to communicate points well. The Mars episode was also good, talking about how the planet's lack of a magnetic field, like the Earth's, ultimately means that it has trouble keeping much of an atmosphere.

Then, tonight's episode was about Universe vs Mankind. Or, How the Cosmos Tries to Kill You! Mildly interesting. Everything you need to know can be seen in Neil Tyson's excellent five minute thirty-eight second lecture on not only how the Universe is out to get you, but also that it is amazing that anyone is alive at all.

The pacing and delivery are typical for modern-day TV. Fast, lots of CGI, and sound bites from the people interviewed. Everything seems more dramatic and important than it might otherwise be. It's certainly nothing like videos of police car chases, but I don't need a CGI of an asteroid (or a gamma-ray burst) wiping out London.

The CGI of the Universe stripping the Earth layer by layer was cool, but I thought the Universe was supposed to end in some sort of Big Chill. Maybe.

The lessons in the shows have important reminders for those of us interested in space architecture. Asteroids and radiation (and humans) are threat to this planet (and each other), and this planet is huge compared to the individual human. The amount of damage that a micro-meteorite or a solar flare (or an astronaut taking inspiration from The Shining) could do to the habitat (and everyone else who decided to watch Ordinary People) are just as bad because the initial habitat is likely the size of a trailer. Virtually no one expects Mars to be fully-terraformed and Earth-like in anyone's time scale, so there's no backup. Earth is it. The habitat is it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

PowerPoint Upload 2

Now with pictures!

Nader Khalili

Back in 2000, interviewed Nader Khalili. He thinks that Lunar outposts should be built using non-toxic, environmentally friendly materials. I think that this is a good idea, given that there are enough health hazards of living on the Moon. Space travel is wrought with plenty of ways to cause human biological damage (read: make you very sick or kill you).

His idea, though, of using current, in-orbit space junk to create space habitats is more complicated. Spacecraft are high-tech, precise machinery. Not sure how one could assemble new air-tight and structurally sound spacecraft with debris as your starting point. That would depend on the nature of the debris, and the tools available.

He does advocate the use of in-situ materials. SICSA has studied this in the past [pdf]. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but one of the biggest obstacles to moving lunar regolith around is the regolith's very small size. The stuff is not friendly to your lungs, nor to equipment. All the joints and servos would have to be sealed up. No exposed moving parts.

There are many technical challenges facing habitation off-world. One of them is the vagaries of local planetary soil conditions. The other is, of course, escaping Earth's gravity well.