Richard Feynman: Physicist, Widower

I’m never really sure how many people have heard of Richard Feynman. Pretty much anyone involved in science has heard of him, but he doesn’t seem very famous outside those circles anymore. I did want to talk about him on the blog eventually. The inspiration for me to write this post, though, came from a letter Dr. Feynman wrote to his first wife, who died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. He wrote her the letter about a year and a half after she died. You can find the entirety of the letter at Letters of Note – a blog that I highly recommend. Continue reading

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Parallel Stories, the Second

As I mentioned before, I am putting out three related stories that I wrote (mostly) a couple years ago and only just recently finished. The first can be found here and it represents the universe we all know and love. This second story represents the next type of parallel universe: one within our own universe, but beyond the horizon of the observable universe.

And, without further ado, on to the second story. Continue reading

Parallel Stories, the First

A few years ago, I started attempting to write stories. I came up with a few ideas, but most were abandoned along the way. One story, really a set of three stories, I wrote almost to completion, but just didn’t get around to finishing until recently.

This particular set of stories was an attempt to illustrate the idea of parallel universes and how similar, while still being different, they can be. Also, as may be obvious, I had gone through a particularly bad breakup prior to writing these stories. I think that writing these was one of the many ways that I processed what happened and began to move on.

Like I said, there are three stories and I will post them over the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy.

Continue reading

JPL: Defenders against Near Earth Objects

I’m writing up our first reader request!  Among several questions I received was who is watching out for asteroids/meteors/meteorites?  As you all are aware from the Russian meteorite in March of 2013, these things still come flying at us and pose a legitimate threat (just ask the dinosaurs).

So what kind of programs do we have to watch out for these objects seeking to slam into our home? Continue reading

The Future of Spaceflight: Part 5: Militarization of Space

We are, I hope, entering into a new era of space travel and exploration: private, commercial spaceflight. Space travel was always the domain of governments: mainly the United States and the Russians, but others are now joining the club. For this series of articles, I thought we would take a look at where we’ve beenwhere we are, and where we are going, both near-term and a little bit longer out.  Here, we discuss the potential for the militarization of space. Continue reading

The Future of Spaceflight: Part Four

We are, I hope, entering into a new era of space travel and exploration: private, commercial spaceflight. Space travel was always the domain of governments: mainly the United States and the Russians, but others are now joining the club. For this series of articles, I thought we would take a look at where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going, both near-term and a little bit longer out.  Now, we’ll take a look at some of the longer term possibilities, at least 20 to 30 years from now. Continue reading

Stable Islands in a Sea of Radioactive Decay

You want to know a super cool thing about humanity?  We have found ninety-eight naturally occurring elements in the world.  That starts with hydrogen with one proton and ends with californium with ninety-eight protons (we really synthesized californium before we discovered it in nature, but that’s besides the point).  Here’s the badass part: in the 1950’s, we decided that ninety-eight was not enough and started making our own elements.  We are now up to element 118, with the wonderfully temporary name of ununoctium.  Most of these elements fall apart quickly, but a theorized island of stability may just be over the horizon. Continue reading

The Future of Spaceflight: Part Three

We are, I hope, entering into a new era of space travel and exploration: private, commercial spaceflight. Space travel was always the domain of governments: mainly the United States and the Russians, but others are now joining the club. For this series of articles, I thought we would take a look at where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going, both near-term and a little bit longer out. Continue reading

The Future of Spaceflight: Part Two

We are, I hope, entering into a new era of space travel and exploration: private, commercial spaceflight. Space travel was always the domain of governments: mainly the United States and the Russians, but others are now joining the club. For this series of articles, I thought we would take a look at where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going, both near-term and a little bit longer out.

The Now: Third Party Vendors

NASA currently has no means of its own to launch astronauts to space or resupply missions to the International Space Station.  It is working on the space shuttle replacement, Orion, but it will not be ready for manned flight until after 2020.  In the meantime, we need a way to get to space.  So NASA has turned to third parties to meet this need.

The only method we currently have for launching astronauts is the Russian Soyuz capsule.  NASA has a contract with Russia’s Federal Space Agency, for crew launches from 2013 to 2016 at about $63 million per seat. That’s pretty freakin’ expensive, even for normally expensive space launches.  For comparison, an average shuttle launch cost about $450 million and could carry 8 passengers, for a cost of about $56 million a seat.  Right now, this is our only option for getting to space.
However, NASA had anticipated this service gap.  In order to help fill the vacuum, government policy has shifted towards encouraging private, commercial spaceflight.  Under the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, PL 85-568, which is the act that created NASA, NASA has the power to enter into agreements with any entity in order to carry out its mission.  51 USC § 20113(e).  Under this provision, NASA created the Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program, which is designed to coordinate private companies delivering first cargo and eventually crews to the International Space Station.

NASA has two contracts under this program: one with SpaceX and another with Orbital Sciences Corporation.  Both of these companies are using money from the program to develop spacecraft that are capable of delivering crew and cargo to space.  These companies have also signed separate agreements with NASA to do the actual deliveries of cargo, called Commercial Resupply Services.  You’ve probably heard of SpaceX before: they’ve already completed three dockings with the International Space Station, two of which were full resupply missions.  The first one was pretty big news.  Here’s a video of the launch:

SpaceX’s contract is for 12 total resupply missions at a total contract price of $1.6 billion, with options to add missions.  Orbital Sciences Corp. has a contract for 8 resupply missions starting in 2013 for a total contract price of $1.9 billion.

So, already NASA has regained the ability to resupply the International Space Station.  The next step is to launch our own astronauts again.