Two Reads

Sorry not to have been posting more, but life has been keeping me on my toes. Lots I do want to talk about, from the invasions here and in Europe to the full-on assault on the Constitution. Need to get back to posting more regularly on preparedness as well.

But, I do have two good reads to recommend to you this morning. The first is from VodkaPundit on the “failed” Ukrainian counteroffensive. Quick question to ponder as you read: can you remember a single time our military and intelligence leadership, as well as corporate media, have been right in any regard to Ukraine? The second is a book review, said book I now want to read as it takes a different look at slavery in the U.S. and how we may be on a very wrong path in regards our future in space.

Whole big discussion needs to be had on that, and on the idiocy being pushed that colonizing space will be as bad or worse than colonization here on Earth and will destroy the beauty in the skies. There is a reason for the attacks on farmers and on any effort to build a better future. More soon, I do hope.

Getting hit by lightning is not fun! If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, which include moving once we have medical issues cleared up, feel free to hit the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo, use the options in the Tip Jar in the upper right, or drop me a line to discuss other methods. It is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.

Coulda Woulda Bonesa

When it comes to joint repair and replacement, there are two different issues that have to be addressed. One is the replacement itself, the construct that replaces the bone involved. The other is the material that normally fills and cushions the joint. I’ve actually had exposure to two different efforts to address those issues, and one of the reasons I’ve held out this long is the hope that advances in both areas would be more readily available.

Let’s start with the replacements. Currently, these are often metal and solid metal, which is very unlike the structure of normal bone. Bone itself is very porous on the inside, with the outside being solid and relatively smooth. This can and does create problems when trying to mate two very dissimilar structures. The differences in mass and other factors can create fractures and other issues.

Many years back, a company was doing work through the Center for Commercial Applications of Combustion in Space (CCACS) at the Colorado School of Mines, on a advanced bone replacement materials. The immediate goal was to get the data needed to create foaming metallic-ceramic replacements that would have the porosity of normal bone as well as the hard surfaces needed for the ball or socket. The idea was to be able to custom make these in the OR, as since the reaction was exothermic they would be sterile at manufacture. The long-range goal was to create a material that would do the same, but as bone and marrow grew into it, the material would dissolve so that at the end of a given time you would have all new and healthy bone and the replacement, having completed its duties as a scaffold, would have passed from the body.

I do wish either or both were available today! Unfortunately, I seem to recall that the research ended with the loss of Columbia and have not been able to find out much since I started trying to research it.

Now, the tissue that fills the gap in the joint is somewhat the ‘Holy Grail’ as my surgeon and I discussed yesterday. Yes, we did discuss the advanced materials and the state of current research. When I was at Purdue, I had the honor of working with the legendary Leslie A. Geddes. Short version is that he and his team not only developed early astronaut physiological monitoring systems (portions of which are still in use today), but also pioneered the implantable medical device field and regenerative medicine. There’s a reason he was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 2006 and it’s well worth reading even a short biographical sketch on him.

I’ve been following regenerative medicine and wish it was just a little further along (and covered by insurance). Part of the problem for me is that the osteoarthritis has done a lot of damage, and there is very little “pad” left in the joint. The majority of the area has none, and I’m pretty much bone-on-bone movement now. There are a couple of different prospects for having the body generate new filler, but neither appear to be quite where I need them to be. Five years from now may be a different story. In fact, I tried volunteering for some studies both to buy time/get some relief and help advance that research. Still wish that would have worked out.

If anyone hears of related research efforts, let me know as I would like to know more about them.

Next, Er, Steps

I want to follow up on last week’s posts a bit and also look ahead to a few other things. Meantime, if anyone does know of research being done that I’ve missed, please sing out!

The immediate first step is do some fairly straight-forward research. The thing to do is both replicate and expand the FEE experiment from Spacelab J so that several generations of frogs are raised in five different gravitational environments: microgravity, lunar gravity, Mars gravity, something between Mars and full, and full gravity. Harvest samples at various stages for detailed study on the ground, to make sure there are not subtle chemical or other changes taking place. That will provide a lot of good data, including on what level of gravity is needed for proper reproductive development. Multi-generational gives us a look at the long-term.

It may be that Lunar- or Mars-level gravity is sufficient. If not, some type of centrifuge arrangement should work. Follow-on research as to intervals of gravitational exposure should provide the data on if constant gravity is needed or not.

I would also recommend expanding the research to include fish and shrimp. Self-sustaining aquaculture would be a good way to ensure protein and other nutrients for planetary or asteroid colonies. We just need to be sure that it can be done in other than full gravity. Again, let me plug the Act of God/Island Worlds series as they touch on this a bit.

If there is interest, I can try to do a longer post on how aquaculture could be used as part of the life support system. The short version is that the “waste” from the fish and fish processing can be converted to fertilizer and/or feed, and there are ways to possibly use plankton and/or algae for photosynthesis on top of that. The fertilizer could be used to support growing rice and/or other crops.

BTW, “Eric Kotani” was the pen name of astrophysicist Yoji Kondo, who not only wrote entertaining fiction, but used it to explore concepts and possibilities. Full disclosure: Both he and John Maddox Roberts showed me great kindness over the years, and talking with either was always a pleasure.

As noted in the books, the growth of rice developed for low-gravity and confined conditions would not only provide a much needed grain, but the stalks could be used for weaving tatami-style mats to help soften what is likely to be a rather austere environment at first. Again, plant growth could be a very useful part of the environmental systems. Not to replace, but to augment and provide redundancy. The fact that plants actually need a very narrow range of light for growth, which can be provided with low-energy/low heat (heat and heat dissipation being an issue for orbital operations) LEDs, makes it feasible.

As an aside, lots of science fiction has including using grass as a carpet, particularly in space habitats. The idea is intriguing but is going to take more than just creating soil or such to lay down and grow the grass. Given problems with water, humidity, and the fact that microbes love microgravity, my suspicion is that a rather technologically advanced flooring system will be needed. Something that can provide a base for growth, the ability to provide water and other nutrients as needed, the ability to remove excess moisture, and monitor growth and other factors.

Now, as for the act of reproduction itself, no need for formal research. If informal research has not already begun, it will soon and humans are an inventive and adaptive species. Especially when it comes to sex.

Let’s just be sure that when the inevitable happens, we know what is needed for a healthy pregnancy for humans, and healthy development for food sources and pets.


Space-ing Is Hard

Sex In Space!

Sex In Space!

I was going to go with a different title, but what the hey! It’ll get attention, even if most of today is going to get into reproductive biology and some other physiological issues.

There have been rumors of sex in space almost as long as we’ve been going up into space. The Shuttle and Spacelab were particularly rife with them, and I presume it remains so for ISS. Can’t speak to ISS, but on the Shuttle given all the cameras and monitoring of the crew (and experiments, microaccelerometers are snitches), it would have been difficult to pull off completely undetected. Still love the rumors about alien orgies to breed a new hybrid race or save a dying alien race. Yep, those rumors are still floating around out there.

Given that Newton will claim his own, you are going to need either a confined space or other assistance staying together. Especially since most spacecraft are full of knobs, handles, and other things that can and will bruise when you go bouncing around the place. Yes, remember the whole “equal and opposite reaction” thing applies. Hence the confined space or other assistance. I seem to recall that doing some basic experimentation on the act itself almost got done in the form of a porn producer trying to rent a civilian version of the Vomit Comet to do a film.

As I noted in yesterday’s post, humans are going to be humans and if there hasn’t already been such, there soon will be sex in space. This could be problematic for some reasons, but to get to them, let’s do a quick review.

When you enter orbit and microgravity, which is freefall, lots of things happen. First up, given that it is freefall and you have that feeling of an elevator dropping out from under you, the inner ear can do some interesting things. Usually you adapt in a day or three, but I have heard that some never do. Note to self, this is why some form of short-term flight is a good thing, help sort.

Second, the fluids normally held in your lower body by gravity are no longer constrained. Sensors in your neck detect large amounts of fluid, and the kidneys kick in to overdrive. First few days I’m told you pee a lot. This puts the body on a good footing for microgravity, not so good for going back to gravity. Probably a discussion for another day.

Third, there are changes to your muscles and to your skeleton. It’s not just that the muscles atrophy and the bones get less dense. There are other changes, some of which are discussed in this article in Nature (wish it were in a more reputable journal, but…). The results are interesting, especially in regards planetary ventures and counteracting some of the changes.

There are a host of other things that happen, though one stands out to my mind for true long-term ventures. Essentially, astronauts tastes in food change the longer they are in microgravity. Short version is that they started to crave spicy (flavorful) and even hot foods. Lots of things they normally enjoyed apparently lost their flavor. Yet another issue to be considered for long-term efforts.

Which brings us back to sex and reproductive biology. The fact is, gravity plays a role in everything, including reproductive biology and development. There have been some studies done using frogs, since the development cycle is fairly fast. The most recent one with which I am familiar was the Frog Embryology Experiment on Spacelab J. Here’s a link to a PDF of the mission brochure which gives an overview of the experiments and why they were being done.

When sperm enters an egg, that spot actually rotates down in response to gravity, and becomes a marking point (start?) of bilateral symmetry and the spine. In most cases, things proceed normally and a you get a tadpole that becomes a normal frog. Same with a child in terms of human reproduction. The question is, what happens without gravity?

My memories of the mission are sketchy (stupid lightning), but I remember that the experimental group were funky. As in bent and crooked. Once they returned to gravity, however, they quickly became normal looking and grew up into normal frogs if I remember the mission report correctly.

Which still leaves the question: what happens when they, or any other developing organism, don’t return to gravity? I’m really hoping someone has been looking into this on ISS, but given how gun-shy NASA was about any discussion of (or investigations touching on) reproduction of any type…

There are many challenges to long-term space operations, and creating a permanent human presence off Earth (something much needed as soon as possible). One of the largest remains humans (including psych and social issues) and the human body.

Thank you Glenn for the Instalanche! Hope to post more later after the server hamsters catch up with things. 🙂

UPDATE: Some suggestions for follow-on research and some related topics for future outposts is here.

Congratulations SpaceX

The question is already being asked on social media: Was today’s launch a success? The short answer is YES! The longer answer is the subject of today’s post. Before I dive into that, some quick background given that the internet (particularly social media) is full of bots.

I covered aviation, space, science, and related topics for several years. Under Dave Dooling’s administration, I served as Correspondent-at-Large for SpaceWorld (article about as it is long gone) magazine for a few years, and worked a bit in radio. Hit the Readers’s Guide to Periodic Literature (hope it’s still around) for the byline C. Blake Powers. I later worked at the USAF Arnold Engineering Development Center (now Complex) and was there for the J5 incident. Said complex was/is the Free World’s most comprehensive testing site and could test at simulated altitude in a variety of the test chambers. After getting my Master’s, I went to work for Essex Corporation, where we were a subcontractor providing support to Spacelab through TBE. Among other things helped write a number of mission brochures, reports, and got to do a LOT of neat things. Left for a while, got asked to go to work for a company called CST working as a contractor for the Space Product Development Program (Commercial Space) where I was Director of Outreach and Education. Even was on a panel with Elon as I’ve noted a time or two before. As also noted previously, my thesis was The Soviet Watchers: A Directory of Western Observers of Soviet Space Efforts and it should still be available at the UTK library. Also, earned a pilot’s license, got to go through altitude training (and ejection training) and certification, and a few other things. So, not just an anonymous internet rando and things can be checked out fairly easily.

So, today was a success. The people at SpaceX really weren’t joking when they said if it cleared the tower it was a success. Given the number of rockets and rocket systems over the years that have taken out the launch pad on their first test, it really is a good thing. The first time you stack it all together and light the candle, anything can happen.

They got it off the pad. They got it up to a pretty good altitude. Then it went south. Happens. In fact, it’s a good thing when it happens during testing.

SpaceX is doing what should have been done by many others: they test. They test to destruction. The Starships that exploded in ground testing? Good thing. Lots and lots of data. They were not failures, each one enabled the next to be improved. Certain agencies and many companies don’t want to test to that extent, as they are convinced the public sees such as a failure when it is not so. Yes, I know there are idiots that do feel that way, but they have no clue about reality as a general rule.

Today, they got more data on the assembled vehicle and how it performed both on the pad and in use. They got reams of data on fueling and related issues. They got reams of data on each engine and how they performed together. They got reams and reams of data on major and minor systems. Data on the micro and the macro that you really can’t get except in flight. Ground-based testing can test individual components or systems. You can’t test something that large except in flight.

So, you do all the ground testing you can. You make each part as good as you can with that data. Then you integrate and launch to test. You do so knowing you are probably going to lose some of the test vehicles. As I said before, it is a good thing.

Had today’s launch gone perfectly and everything worked exactly as predicted, I would have been amazed, delighted, and concerned. On something this complex, if you have a perfect flight on your first test flight, smart people tend to ask if you really got everything perfect; or, if you just got lucky and missed something that is going to bite you in the ass later as the odds change? The latter is the safe bet, by the way.

Just a guess, but it looks like they had several issues. Several of the engines failed early. The complex separation maneuver did not go to plan. Obviously the stage separation systems did not work to plan. We will learn more in the days ahead, as it takes time to go through the massive trove of data from a test like this.

And that’s the point. That’s what makes today a success. The data gathered today is worth the cost of losing five Starships. With that data, good analysis, and good engineering, you redesign, refine, retool, and relaunch. Then you take the data from that launch and do the dance over and over again. It is an iterative process and if you think they aren’t doing it Falcon and other things, I’ve got a bridge for sale, cheap. It is the smart way to do it, and Elon is a pretty smart guy who also hires a lot of smart people to work for him.

So, unlike this morning’s memory, no rye today as there was no scrub, just a good test. If it had gone perfectly, I do have some Sazerac standing by but while I wish they gotten just a bit further, I’m delighted they got as far as they did and even more delighted at the data they got. It will allow them to get further ahead faster, and we need to head for the stars.

UPDATE: Go read this excellent guest post by Thomas Kendall over at Sarah’s place.

Getting hit by lightning is not fun! If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, which include moving, feel free to hit the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo, use the options in the Tip Jar in the upper right, or drop me a line to discuss other methods. It is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.

A Launch Memory

Already tuned in to watch the first integrated test flight of Starship. I hope. As in I hope it launches and I hope it is a complete success. No matter what, a lot will be learned and it will allow SpaceX to improve and move forward. As Elon himself has noted, success is not guaranteed, but it is guaranteed to be exciting.

This has brought back a memory from one of the early shuttle launches, or at least the attempt to launch. I can’t remember which mission precisely (stupid lightning), but in those early days there were lots and lots of scrubs. Understandable, but disappointing.

Those flights attracted a lot if interesting people to the press area. James “Scotty” Doohan, who had encouraged my attempt to become an aerospace engineer, joined me and my broadcasts several times. I may not have made engineer, but he was happy at the work I did end up doing. There were “VIPs” who had the stand next to the press area, and who did often mingle when they could get away with it.

On this attempt, there was a strong literary presence in both if I remember correctly. One of them being writer Karen Anderson, the wife of Poul Anderson. I think we all had a great time talking space, science, writing, and more. Seem to recall some cheerful arguments over tech, and the common goal that we needed to get off this mudball and Shuttle was a step towards that. What next and how was a frequent topic.

I seem to recall that this scrub was one with a long delay, as in a week or more I think, and we were all a bit down. Since Karen is no longer with us, and any statute of limitations is surely past, I will admit we broke the rules.

Keep in mind NASA was (and still is I suspect) the puritanical agency. This is an agency that doesn’t even really like to admit that its astronauts have to use the bathroom (for all that they did finally embrace PR about the shuttle toilet trainers). No sex, no smoking, no drinking, no nuthin going on with them or anywhere according to NASA, and nothing fun was allowed at the press or other areas. To the point K9s were used to do random checks for pot and other delights, especially after a film crew apparently enjoyed some herb rather openly.

I remember Karen herding the group out to where her car was parked, away from the press area and all the security and snitches. Hidden (in the trunk?) was a bottle of Old Overholt rye whiskey. Put hair on your teeth and make your chest white stuff. Funny thing was, after we each took a slug, our spirits improved. We went back to things with a bit of optimism.

There are a lot of good ryes and bourbons out there, but to this day Old Overholt has a special place in my heart. Seeing a bottle often makes me smile, and makes me think of space, launches, and the people who help make it happen.

Ad Astra.


Getting hit by lightning is not fun! If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, which include moving to the SW, feel free to hit the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo, use the options in the Tip Jar in the upper right, or drop me a line to discuss other methods. It is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.

DISCLAIMER: I have worked twice as a contractor for NASA, once during the Spacelab era and then with commercial space development activities. My views are my own, and do not reflect anyone or anything else. See full disclaimer for more

My thoughts on Artemis and the new Space Launch System (SLS) are mixed. I am glad it finally got off the ground, as it is the first “new” system NASA has developed and launched since the mid-70s. Yep, that’s right, it was then that the Shuttle/original SLS was developed. Until now, nothing made it through to launch. Of course, Artemis/SLS are Shuttle-derived technology, so it’s hard to call it truly new.

As I noted yesterday, I agree with Stephen Green that I really don’t expect to see this system really used for cargo or much of anything else. At its current rate of development and flights, I fully expect a much better and reusable commercial system (hopefully several) to be available well before it completes development.

I’m really glad to see it launch because of the secondary payloads onboard. One of those cubesats will be using a solar sail to go explore Near Earth Asteroids and rendezvous with one, which is something I think will be useful on several levels. This is a great test of solar sails and we need all the info we can get on NEAs and linking up with them for potential commercial activities. Disclaimer: I know, like, and respect the Principal Investigator, Les Johnson.

I do hope all of the mission is successful. I just don’t see the system as a viable means forward.

I need to do a post one day soon looking at some of the reasons why NASA went from being the “can do” agency to a bureaucracy that when they considered a new logo a former supervisor suggested ‘a hiney sitting on a laurel wreath.’ I also need to do a post on the elephant in the room for long-term missions in orbit or to planets: human reproduction.

More soon.

Ave Bezos

For those coming in from Instapundit, thank you for your patience! Yes, I’m as tired of this as you are, probably more. If people hit the tip jar in the upper right, will switch ASAP. Right now, just need the funds (app. $150) and I will get a new host. Cheerfully even.

This morning, I come not to bury Bezos and Blue Origin, nor to praise them. For that matter, I am not here to dance on the inevitable launch failure. Instead, I come here to tell them, and Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, a simple yet profound message: You are not fucking up enough.

In the process, you are not just hurting commercial launch development, you are deliberately ceding ground to those who want to see commercial launch hampered or eliminated. You are playing into those who are going to cite any form of launch or operational failure as a sign that commercial isn’t safe and we need to go back to the comfortable jobs in specific districts way of life that was/is NASA, who hasn’t developed and successfully launched a new system since the mid-70s (and what exactly do you think Artemis is in tech terms???).

There are days I wonder if the old concept of the Greeks that the seeds of downfall are planted in the great to keep them from becoming a threat to the gods isn’t a thing, and Elon’s ability to needlessly make enemies of those who should be his allies isn’t a manifestation of that. That aside, Elon stood things on their head in ways long needed, and pushed.

He tested to failure, then beyond failure, and out of that have come systems that have absolutely amazing reliability and safety records. Compare SpaceX not just to the early days of rocketry, but the early days of aviation. The net result in some ways makes the early days of aviation seem like a turtle’s pace rather than the blinding journey that took us from first flight, to the jet, and to the moon in well under a century.

Push/refine, push/refine, push-harder/refine-even-more is the mantra of people who want not just to get things done, but reach new levels of achievement as fast as possible. Today, as Glenn frequently notes at Instapundit, the real story oft buried is how routine the launch business has become.

Which is a danger on two different levels.

First, for all intents and purposes, commercial launch is SpaceX and Elon. ULA, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, any others out there are not up to the task. Yet.

ULA is the old crony space program of defense contractors, contracts that put jobs in the right districts, etc. It can’t match the frequency, reliability, and — most of all — the reusability of SpaceX which translates into lower cost per pound to orbit. It is a best a niche market at this point.

Blue Origin comes across as Bezos having innovated once but now looking to take part in a more business-as-usual approach with government contracts and eventually getting around to real production and maybe doing something beyond sub-orbital eventually. If he and his team were as good at producing schematics, parts, and engines contracted for since 2016 instead of lawsuits to try to slow Elon and others down, we’d have a real space race on our hands.

Branson and Virgin Galactic come across as him treating this as another airline venture. Airlines let others innovate and develop aircraft, then buy them for use. Having bought the aircraft maker, Branson finds himself in the unfamiliar position of needing to be an engineering, not business, innovator. Again, no real push to do anything yet beyond suborbital, let’s see what Bezos or someone else does first then add it to the destination/itinerary list.

Sadly, there are no other truly viable launch operations — yet. I do wish XCOR and some of the others had made it. Aleta, you are missed. There are rumors of some up-and-comers, and I hope they blow the doors off the original three just because.

Second, it is a danger because there are those who hate commercial launch with a passion. First, it means there is no longer a governmental monopoly on launch and operations in space. Second, it means that a number of carefully tilled and filled pots have been knocked over. Just as there is a core group that waits to jump on any aviation accident or tragedy to call for more regulation and control (despite the massive amounts already in place), there are those salivating over the prospect of something going wrong on a commercial launch.

Some are already “noting with alarm” what happened yesterday with Blue Origin. The perfect safety crowd is all over anything that gives them more control and lets them rake some off for themselves. Fact is, from what I can see, Blue Origin did well. The emergency systems not only engaged, but got the capsule away and safely back to ground. Yeah, it’s an oops but guess what: it’s early days yet and we still have a lot to learn. Hopefully, Blue Origin got enough data (hint, quality and quantity of data is a big reason to test extensively on the ground, say to failure) to figure out the issue and improve the system.

Because just like aviation, the idea is to continuously improve. The early days of aviation were nasty in terms of crashes and tragedies. Thing is, we learned, we innovated, and today aviation has a safety record to be envied. My hope is that we can and will avoid some of the worst of the early days of aviation, and jump-start things on a much, much higher level.

In short, there are going to be accidents and there are going to be special interests that try to exploit them. The thing we need to stress is that we need to learn from those and use that to make things even better and safer. Right now, on some levels, the public has an unrealistic idea of the reliability and safety of commercial spaceflight. Elon and the amazing team at SpaceX are, in some ways, making it look way too easy when it’s not.

That’s why Bezos and Branson need to get it together and fail a bit more in ground-based testing and development. They need to push and push hard, as success in space doesn’t come from being comfortable. It comes from leaving all comfort zones, from failures (even spectacular ones a la SpaceX), and yet more failures that eventually take you to real innovation, reliability, and smooth operations.

The choice is there. The one thing I will guarantee however, is that if you don’t do it, one day soon some upstart that is willing to fail is going to come blowing past you and give Elon a good run for his money. That’s what we need, as it will open the doors to space, and help send us to the stars.


If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, feel free to hit the tip jar in the upper right or the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo. Getting hit by lightning is not fun, and it is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.

Artemis1 Scrub

Well, bleep. Part of me really hoped Artemis would launch, especially as a friend has a payload onboard. Having worked twice for NASA as a contractor (Spacelab & Commercial), unsurprised. If the launch does take place and is successful, it will be the first time NASA has designed and built a successful major launch system since the mid-1970s. That’s an awful long stretch of nothing.

Meantime, SpaceX is plugging along and if Blue Origin ever generates parts and engines as contracted, rather than lawsuits, we might have a real space race for a change. Wish Virgin Galactic would get into the launch business instead of just the tourist business. What we need is a four- or five-way competition to spur innovation, cost reduction, reusability, and reliability.

Yes, there will be failures, and just as with aviation we learn, adapt, improve, and press on. Thing is, for every failure, there will be hundreds of successes. Potentially thousands even. The news today is that Space X has made it so routine that any hiccup in any system is the news rather than the amazing successes of the routine.


If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, feel free to hit the tip jar in the upper right or the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo. Getting hit by lightning is not fun, and it is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.

Re-Imagining Space Stations, Pt. 3

A few more background thoughts for our thought experiment. To build the future, we must know the past and understand why some of it was done the way it was done.

NASA has hated the idea of building anything in orbit. One of the things I heard mentioned about any of the ideas on using the Shuttle external fuel tanks was that it was too dangerous. To say that NASA was risk averse is an understatement of several orders of magnitude. If something didn’t work/didn’t work right, you most likely never saw it again. I think the only reason the Tethered Satellite System got a second flight was because the first flight didn’t work because of an idiotic (and unnecessary) change by NASA safety to the mechanism, and the blow back to not giving it a flight would have been huge. As it is, losing the satellite on the second mission guaranteed that NASA won’t touch tethers/tethered satellite again for a century or three. That will be up to industry (and I suspect NASA may try to block such).

Doing things like space walks are inherently dangerous. You are in a vacuum, with radiation, changing lighting (plus a freeze/thaw cycle) as you get a sunrise/sunset about every 90 minutes as you orbit, and require stability to get anything done. The first time I did work for NASA, I worked for a company that helped develop the “SX” wrench, which was actually a ratchet that could be used in microgravity. Add to it the fact that the spacesuits NASA uses for “extra-vehicular activities” aka EVAs, aka space walks, have issues. If you’ve been following recent news from the ISS, the last two or three EVAs had problems with water building up in the helmets to the point it was a real issue for the astronauts in question. They are actually not doing any EVAs right now while they try to figure things out.

There’s also the little matter of not wanting anyone to go Dutchman. Without tethers or some form of thruster pack, it would not be hard for someone to take a one way impromptu tour of low-Earth orbit. Dutchman is bad, okay? We don’t want anyone to go Dutchman.

So, no surprise that for the most part NASA has gone for the big module system, with as much automation as possible. Never mind the big contracts for the defense companies that build them, or the companies that spend thousands if not millions designing suits, etc. Leaving that aside, NASA has avoided doing anything that would require large amounts of EVA. EVAs are risk, and NASA wants no risk, zero defects, etc. They’ve worked hard to keep the need for EVAs on ISS to a minimum.

But, developing new structures, systems, and related infrastructure in orbit is going to require EVAs. Lots of them, and probably long ones. That means as the thought experiment progresses, we need to be thinking about new and improved spacesuits, new or novel means of safety to augment or potentially replace current tether systems, and even means of rescuing that person who goes Dutchman because you know someone will. Sooner rather than later most likely. Space is even more unforgiving that the ocean, so keep that in mind as the thought experiment unfolds.

Now, a few thoughts on what types of structures or facilities are going to be needed. We are going to need human habitation, and as we start to build orbital facilities or put together missions to the Moon and Mars, we might find ourselves actually needing something like bunkhouses. Specialized research facilities? You bet, all types including platforms for astronomy, space exposure, and remote sensing. Slips for assembling those missions elsewhere, from LEO to the Moon or Mars? Yep.

The only limits to this thought experiment are your imagination and that at first everything will have to come up from Earth. So, keep in mind current launch capabilities and near-term capabilities. All the more reason for creating industry in orbit ASAP.

So, let’s look at getting this underway. If you want, reply in the comments. If you come up with something larger than a comment, we can look at guest posts. If you want to take just one part of something, go for it. The idea is to get lots of ideas and innovations so that we can refine, expand, tweak, and otherwise help plot the next generation of orbital facilities.

Previous Articles In This Series:

Space Memories And The Future

Re-Imagining Space Stations, Pt. 1

Re-Imagining Space Stations, Pt. 2


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