Category Archives: Space

Low Pressure Hothouse

Dan DeLong has a suggestion for the NASA Centennial Prize:

1. first edible tomato over .1 kg grown at 5 kPa total atmospheric pressure
2. first edible potato over .1 kg ” ” ” “
3. first kg of edible corn kernels ” ” ” “
4. first kg of edible peas ” ” ” ” “
5. first kg of edible beans

Where 5 kPa is Martian atmospheric pressure and also a reasonable-to-build lunar greenhouse. If you make the winner of each ineligible for the others there will be a large number of contestants.

Each contestant gets to choose atmospheric constituents from oxygen, nitrogen, and CO2 in any combination.

Then, another series of prizes would be for food crops grown with 2 weeks daylight and not more than X% duty cycle and Y illumination intensity for 2 weeks, repeat cycle as necessary. Then, X and Y decrease to lower and lower values for higher dollar prizes.

I hesitate to extend the idea to animals because I wouldn’t want the issue to get confused by animal rights activists.

Unfortunately, things that are literally edible (they won’t kill you, and might even prove nutritious) don’t necessarily taste all that great. As I pointed out to Dan in email, there are a lot of items in the produce department of my local grocery (including tomatoes) that I consider inedible, at least relative to the home-grown variety. Maybe you could come up with a panel of judges to make a determination as to whether it was sufficiently edible to be useful to space colonists.

Vegas In July

If you’re interested in returning to the moon, you might want to think about attending the Return to the Moon Conference, sponsored by the Space Frontier Foundation, in Las Vegas this July (around the time of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the first manned moon landing on July 20th). Film director James Cameron (Terminator, Titanic) is scheduled as one of the speakers. Considering that the president has made this part of the new space policy, it should be a very interesting meeting.


These guys spammed me this morning. Looks like an interesting site, though I haven’t looked around much. They have launch footage and a movie about Goddard (the man, not the NASA center), along with all the NASA SP-8000 documents, among other things. Anyone know who’s behind the site? I dug around a little, but didn’t find anything.

Incidentally, this illustrates the basic rule of unsolicited commercial email – it’s only spam if you don’t want what they’re selling.

Music To My Ears

The Aldridge Commission is at least singing the right tune:

In many cases, the experts found the modern space agency too wedded to the agency founded at the height of the Cold War to overtake the former Soviet Union’s technical prowess…

…The changes envisioned by the panel would transform NASA into an agency working alongside an industrial partner, academia and parts of other Cabinet-level agencies to expand the nation’s economy into space as a means of creating new wealth and strengthening national security as well as advancing science.

“Creating new wealth.” What a concept.

Let’s hope that they can stay on key. I’ll be looking forward to hearing their recommendations. I do wonder at the use of the singular, though. Why not “alongside industrial partners”? Here’s hoping it’s a misstatement–I hope they’re not intending to set up a monopoly of some kind.

[Via Mark Whittington, from his home-town paper]

[Update at 9 AM PDT]

The administrator agrees.

“Business as usual, if we simply try to overlay this [vision] on top of an existing structure, isn’t going to work,” O’Keefe said. “There is no way that the present organizational structure, and how we do business today, will be the most appropriate way to go about doing this.”

I don’t agree with him on this, though.

O’Keefe also told commissioners that the space infrastructure required to push the new space effort forward is already in place, and stressed that international cooperation will play a vital role in missions to come. The cooperation needed for the International Space Station (ISS), for example, has led to the necessary political relationships, communication networks and engineering teams – among others – to take on such a project, he added.

As I wrote yesterday, international cooperation may be useful, but it shouldn’t be a goal, and it’s certainly not essential, except perhaps from a political standpoint. But more importantly, I disagree that the “space infrastructure required to push the new space effort forward is already in place.”

It remains much too costly to get to orbit, on far too unreliable launchers. The tragedy is that the agency has given up on the goal of improving this situation (not that it was really capable of doing so–it wasted billions over the past couple decades proving that it wasn’t). But the government should be doing more in terms of policy to achieve this goal, even if NASA can’t.

Who Wrote That Headline?

Neither the headline or the lead paragraphs are justified by this article at

Hed: “Space Experts Say International Cooperation is Key for NASA’s Space Vision.”

Lead grafs:

NASA should not limit itself to merely seeking support from the American public to push forward its vision of the human exploration of space, according to the foreign space agency directors, scientists and space enthusiasts addressing a presidential commission Monday.

While support from the American people, and the politicians who represent them, is a critical component of the space vision, so to is international cooperation, panelists said during the final meeting of the Commission on the Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy.

Now one would think from such an introduction that there was unanimity, or at least some kind of consensus, among the “foreign space agency directors, scientists and space enthusiasts” on this point, but there’s no evidence of it in the article. If anyone other than the “foreign space agency directors” mentioned the need for international cooperation, it went unreported. And of course, pleas of foreign space agency directors for international cooperation on space are the space reporting equivalent of dog bites man.

And of course, they whined, politely:

The lack of a concrete plan, one with specific goals that are more detailed than the broad statement “to the Moon, to Mars and Beyond,” has made it difficult for some of NASA’s international partners to gauge whether they could be an asset in the vision.

“We’d like to see the details of the plan,” said JAXA executive director Kiyoshi Higuchi, adding that the lack of specifics in Bush’s vision are partly responsible for JAXA’s hesitation to formally commit its resources to assisting NASA. “It makes it difficult for us to single out what technology we can bring to the effort.”

Because a bureaucrat, particularly a space bureaucrat, is lost without a, you know, twenty-year plan.

I don’t believe that international cooperation is necessary for this initiative, at least in the sense that it’s normally used, though I have no problem with purchasing technologies from overseas if they’re useful. The space station experience should be cautionary, and when international cooperation becomes an end, rather than a means, it can rapidly lead to disaster. I wrote a Fox column about this a couple years ago.

In fact, I think that Mr Malik buried the actual lead. Here’s what I found of more interest in the article, which I think would have been as valid a theme:

During its hurly-burly days in the race with Russia to put humans in space, NASA’s most attractive quality was in the imaginations of the American people, who hoped they would soon join the astronauts on spacewalks, panelists said.

“What NASA seemed to forget was that then, we all wanted to go,” Tether told commissioners. “We were forgotten about.”

But if NASA can find a way for American citizens to take the baby steps that would eventually allow them to reach the moon – or even just space – themselves, it would do wonders for the space agency’s support, he added.

“If you can do that, you will have a constituency that you don’t have today,” Tether said.

That’s Tony Tether, head of DARPA. He gets it, even if NASA doesn’t. I hope that the commission was listening.