KSP Friday #3

Kerbal Space Program has a steep learning curve compared to some other games. It incorporates orbital mechanics and Delta V calculations  and other physical models into the game and that can be very overwhelming. I was a bit overwhelmed myself the first time I played the game and barely got off of the launchpad. Even with my background as an engineer, I found it difficult to figure everything out, so I went searching for answers that could explain some of the concepts in the game. And that’s how I found Scott Manley’s Youtube Channel. He made a long series of videos that lay out many key concepts and best practices for the complete beginner. So, if you play KSP, too and are looking for some answers to your questions, there’s no better place to start than here:

Multiplanetary Species

Recently, at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, Elon Musk announced his vision to turn mankind into a multi-planetary species. Like most of his visions, it’s a big, hairy, audacious dream: To build reusable spacecraft that can carry a 100,000 kg to Mars. That’s an earth-shatteringly big dream; which is typical for Mr. Musk.

In the video above, you can see the major pieces of the Interplanetary Transport System. It relies on two major orbital vehicles: a crew transporter and fuel transporter. The two vehicles will rendezvous in Earth orbit much like the Agena and Gemini spacecraft, then the crew transporter will tank in orbit, and then fly to Mars. The heavy lifter rocket and fuel transporter will both then return to the launch pad for recovery, repair, and return to service.

When they pull it off, it has the potential to reduce the overall costs of space travel as well as pushing mankind forward. And I think SpaceX is in the perfect niche to do that. My only criticism is I wish they had more competition. While Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is working towards a similar goal, they are farther behind than SpaceX. We are sitting on the precipice of the next major step in man’s technological progression, much like we were at the turn of the 20th Century when multiple different companies and individuals were competing to make the first airplane. I firmly believe that only through cutthroat competition can we truly push to make interplanetary travel a reality. And I think NASA and all of the other government space agencies are not the right answer. To make the next leap, we will need to have the complete monetization of Space and that’s something only Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and the wild-eyed, audacious dreamers of the future are capable of doing.


Saying Farewell To A Hero

The Flag is folded over the cremains of Neil Armstrong
The Flag is folded over the cremains of Neil Armstrong

I’ve written about the US Space Program before on this blog, and having worked in support of it, I’m very passionate about our exploration of the final frontier. Therefore it should come as no surprise that one of my personal heroes was Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on an alien world. Armstrong was an outstanding leader, an amazingly-talented pilot, and a humble man who accomplished extraordinary feats. He also valued his privacy and kept his professional and personal life separated.

As for me, I’ve admired Neil Armstrong since I was a young boy and learned that man had landed on the moon. I  was instantly captivated by his feats and those of his colleagues. I wanted to be like him, and had it not been for Neil Armstrong, I would never have slogged through the four years of toil that it took to earn my engineering degree. Had it not been for him, I would not have chosen to join the Navy, instead following in the footsteps of my Uncle and Grandfather into the United States Air Force. But by my logic, if the Navy produced talented aviators like Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Gene Cernan, then by God that’s where I wanted to learn how to fly.

And so the news a few months ago that Armstrong had passed away struck me terribly hard. But I felt an unusual sense of kinship when I learned of his request to be buried at sea. While a Naval Aviator serving in Korea, he had developed a love of the ocean, something I can certainly sympathize with. I too have come to love the sea with all of her mystery and her tempestuous nature. It was his final wish for his earthly remains to be committed to the deep and so a ship was chosen for the solemn duty of carrying him to sea one last time.

In a strange bit of kismet, the ship chosen happened to be the USS Philippine Sea stationed in the same place as I. The Norns didn’t stop there, weaving our paths to cross one final time. As I was participating in our morning physical training, I suddenly heard the whistle blasts  calling all hands topside to attention on all of the ships throughout the basin. Scant minutes later, I spied the Phil Sea, as she made her way towards to the breakers, her crew manning the rails dressed in their whites. I instantly realized what was happening and I stopped mid-stride. I came to the position of attention and stood stock-still as I watched my hero make way towards his final resting place. The cruiser soon passed and the whistle signal to carry on with assigned duties was blown and I returned to my run a bit older than I had been before.

One Small Step For Man. . .

A young Neil Armstrong sits on a panel upon the announcement of his selection into the Astronaut Corps.

Neil Armstrong died yesterday. When I learned of his passing, I  was near tears. Professor Armstrong served as an inspiration for me, alongside his peers Gene Cernan, Jim Lovell, and John Young. His skill as an aviator and expertise as an engineer were exceptional. He was also a man of unfathomable humility, who upon retiring from the space program, returned to his homestate of Ohio and began teaching engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He was never one to publicize himself and he valued his privacy highly. He was one-of-a-kind, and the world is truly a lesser place with his presence gone.

A few years before he passed, he testified before Congress along with Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. In it, he made the case for a push by the government to support NASA and to create a coherent and bold strategy for the manned spaceflight program.

And this is Neil Armstrong’s legacy, as it should be. His actions on July 20, 1969 serve as inspiration to millions and have served as the motivation for countless millions, myself included, to act boldly and do what we can to make the world a better place and push humanity forward. And if there is anything we should do to honor his memory, it is to take bold action and take the next step in expanding the boundaries of human knowledge and discovery.

Visions of the Moon‬‏

YouTube – ‪JFK – We choose to go to the Moon, full length‬‏.

JFK was many things, but above all he was a visionary who could see the amazing things that America was capable of and inspire his fellow Americans to reach out and earn them. As I watched the final shuttle launch in our systems engineering lab at NASA GSFC today, I could feel the sorrow well up inside me as I watched the end of an era. The only question now is: Who will be our next JFK? Who will guide us into the new, glorious tomorrow where only the scope and breadth of our imaginations will limit the heights of our achievements.

We’re Losing The Space Race Again


via xkcd: 65 Years.

The alternate text for the image:

The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there’s no good reason to go into space–each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.

As I’ve said before, we must continue our exploration of space. All of our accomplishments here on earth come to naught if we don’t reach out and expand the grasp of the human race. One day, a few billion years hence, our sun will engulf our terrestrial orb and life will cease. When that day comes, we cannot allow Homo sapiens sapiens to go quietly into that dark night, we must have solidified a beachhead on multiple other worlds. But sadly, it seems we’re stuck in our short-sighted, “rational,” political game. If only we could achieve world peace and learn to work together.

Also, for those with technical inclinations in need of a good chuckle, XKCD always delivers.

Man’s Next Small Step

With NASA’s space shuttle program drawing to a close and the planned moon missions cancelled, the future of manned space flight is unclear. The space program has long been one of America’s most cherished projects; but we’ve long lacked the will to use the program properly. Which is quite ironic, given the fact that our country was founded by explorers and radical thinkers.

Over forty years ago, a humble man from Ohio set his boot onto the moon. It was a culmination of a decade of hard work that had been fraught with danger and had used every resource our country could provide. In the process some of the most brilliant minds in the world used all of the technology available to them — more often than not, inventing what they needed as they went — to accomplish the goals that had been laid out by a young, visionary president, who embodied all of the hope of a generation. Those goals were to go where no man had gone before, and then to return safely to tell the tale. So, after a decade of design errors, exploding rockets, near-catastrophic disasters, and the loss of three astronauts, two men from the United States became the first humans to tread upon extraterrestrial soil.

But almost as soon as the celebrations had ended, the American public lost interest. Their focus turned to a conflict in Southeast Asia that had taken a turn for the worst, spilling much American blood with little to show for it. Their concerns about economic uncertainty due to stagnation and recession. When tragedy struck in April of 1970, the public’s eyes were again focused on the space program, but this time they were more concerned for the fate of their heroes risking all in the heavens above. It was Apollo 13, and later the Challenger and Columbia disasters, which would bring home the dangers inherent in exploring uncharted territory. And these would prove trying to America at large. When the only time they were reminded of the existence of the space program was when lives were lost or costly mistakes were made, the general public began to question just how practical the expenditure of money was on spaceflight. And so NASA’s budget was slowly eroded, and it’s future plans cancelled one by one.

So now we’re left with the prospect of once again being trapped earthbound, with the only countries capable of sending a man into space being Russia or China. But how do we get ourselves out of this mess? At risk of over-simplifying the issue, the best way to return to space is to commercialize low-earth orbit and then letting NASA reclaim it’s rightful position as the organization dedicated to the exploration of outer space, instead of letting it languish in its current state. By providing incentives, the government can help the private sector find an inexpensive, reliable, and hassle-free route into space. And let us not kid ourselves, private industry is the only group capable of reaching that particular end state, as their necessity to turn a profit requires that that they keep costs low and not kill customers. Also, with NASA freed to pour all of it’s resources into exploration and not commercial interests (i.e. putting communications satellites into orbit), it can once again focus on flying to the moon and then onto mars.

That exploration won’t be easy, though. There will be risks, and lives will be lost, but that is just the nature of the beast. It will also require visionaries and brilliant minds to sort out the problems inherent in space travel. But most of all, it will require the political will and determination of the American people to accept the loss of life and expense of capital in order to venture into the far depths of space. The only way to do that is to inspire them to turn their gaze skyward and to dream like their forefathers did.