Space tourism - from lofty dreams to commercial reality

July 01 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: General   Rating: 14 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Space tourism has come a long way in a short time. The idea was just a dream in the 1990s, but recently, tourists have shelled out mega-bucks for a glimpse of the wild blue yonder.

Though only the rich can afford space travel today, experts predict prices will drop with new systems under development. Later this year, Virgin Galactic’s returnable Space-Ship-Two hopes to provide orbital round-trips for $200,000, and one-day, take vacationers to the moon.

By 2030, the Space Elevator, a revolutionary system under development now would climb up a nanotech-ribbon extending 62,000 miles from Earth to space and could transport passengers into the wild blue yonder for as low as $20,000 initially, then prices could drop to the $2,000-per-person range when multiple elevators become available.

As more people become space travelers, they will need a place to stay. Budget Suites of America owner Robert Bigelow has launched the first phase of a human-rated habitat module dubbed Sundancer, to an altitude of 250 nautical miles at an orbital inclination of 40 degrees. Once Sundancer is in position and verified safe, Bigelow will add more sections creating a full-scale lodging/industrial complex as early as the middle of next decade.

Satellite Industry Association President Richard Dalbello says, “Once hotel companies start to build and operate orbital accommodations, they will be endlessly improving them and competing to build more exotic facilities”. We will see hotels that provide normal gravity for rooms, bars, and restaurants; and gravity-free areas for recreation and sports activities. (cont.)

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New hyperspace engine could roundtrip Mars in 5 hours

August 29 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: General   Rating: 10 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the Mars Inter-Dimensional Express. In a few moments, our spacecraft will transfer into a parallel dimension where we will achieve greater than light-speed travel. As we get underway, be sure to glance out your window and watch the solar system flash by at dizzying speeds, truly, the most breathtaking views you will ever observe. Our expected arrival at Branson Colony is noon Martian time.”

This scenario may sound like fantasy, but physicists, encouraged by recent interest in the work of German scientist Burkhard Heim, believe his hyperspace propulsion idea could become a proven concept over the next two decades. Heim’s theory adds two forces to Einstein’s four-dimensional space-time: one, a repulsive anti-gravity force similar to dark energy that appears to expand the universe; the other force would accelerate spacecraft without using any fuel.

If the Heim idea works, it will radically change space travel. Forget spending six months or more crammed in a rocket on the way to Mars, a round trip on the hyperdrive could take as little as five hours. Worries about astronauts’ muscles wasting away will disappear. What’s more, the device will put travel to the stars within reach for the first time.

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics awards prizes for the best papers presented each year. Last year’s winner went to a paper authored by physicist Jochem Hauser, calling for experimental tests of Heim’s theory. “This hyperdrive motor,” Hauser said, “would propel a craft through another dimension at enormous speeds. It could reach a star eleven light years away in just eighty days.”

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Space elevator: audacious idea will open space to entrepreneurs

April 30 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: General   Rating: 9 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the Space Elevator. Your first stop will be ‘Hotel Row’ where we will enjoy a 2-hour dinner under the stars; then we continue on to the Geosynchronous Way Station where most of you will transfer to an L-5 Colony shuttlecraft. This entire ride takes 8 days, so sit back and enjoy the trip from your luxury sleeping quarters”.

This scene may sound like science fiction, but it is not. According to visionaries, the Space Elevator, a revolutionary means of transport from Earth to space could become reality by as early as 2030 or before.

Here is how it will work: A special rocket-launched satellite in geo-synchronous orbit would drop a ribbon made from nano-materials to a platform in the sea near the equator. The stationary ribbon will eventually extend to 62,000 miles high and allow 20-ton elevator cars to climb into space at 120 mph using electricity generated from solar-power and lasers.

Two Seattle startups, Michael Laine’s Liftport Group, and Brad Edwards’ Sedco are competing to build this risky project. Both believe they can do it over the next couple of decades at a cost of about $20 billion. This radical new system is expected to lower costs of hauling stuff into space from $10,000 per pound to $100 and eventually to $10 per pound. A 200 lb person could travel to space for $2,000.

This enterprising endeavor promises affordable orbital access, which will attract entrepreneurs from around the world seeking a piece of the lucrative space market. PayPal founder Elon Musk, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos are among the more recognizable names investing in this and other space-related activities.(cont.)

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Space Elevator Concept Takes Some Damage

March 31 2008 / by Accel Rose / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: Beyond   Rating: 8

It’s time to recalibrate those space elevator predictions. A new study published in the journal Acto Astronautica claims that the potential for catastrophic wobble is much higher than previously predicted.

Even if a space elevator could be built, it will need thrusters attached to it to prevent potentially dangerous amounts of wobbling, says Lubos Perek of the Czech Academy of Sciences’ Astronomical Institute in Prague. The addition would increase the difficulty and cost of building and maintaining the elevator. – New Scientist

Check out this video to see what might befall a space elevator not supported by thrusters:

Now that’s one extreme, world-class case of whip-lash.

(via New Scientist)

Google Sky Beats Microsoft To The Punch

March 14 2008 / by Venessa Posavec / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: 2008   Rating: 7

It was big news when Microsoft demonstrated their WorldWide Telescope software at the TED conference last month. The software, set to go live this spring, allows users to explore the wonders of space via a map of digital images taken by the greatest telescopes around the world.

Then, without much fanfare, Google went ahead and launched Google Sky yesterday, an application that, uh, allows users to explore the wonders of space. Previously only available through Google Earth, it’s now a freestanding application that can be viewed on its own Web browser. It’s got some pretty cool features, like viewing various regions of our universe at different wavelengths (infrared, microwave, ultraviolet, x-ray), viewing with constellation overlays, and listening to podcasts about celestial bodies and upcoming astronomical events.

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Astronauts to land on speeding asteroid by late 2020s

May 28 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

A lump of rock more than 40 meters in diameter speeding through space at 28,000 mph, once considered the most dangerous object in the universe, is about to become the site for humanity’s next “giant leap for mankind.”

NASA engineers have selected asteroid 2000SG344 – which in 2000 was given a significant chance of slamming into Earth with the explosive power of 750 Hiroshimas – as the perfect space object to study. The operation would take place before the 2030 Mars journey, a speculative trip bandied about ever since the first President Bush mentioned in 1989 that America should send men to the red planet.

The asteroid mission represents a crucial step for America’s space program. A report to be published next month in the journal Acta Astronautica describes plans to use the soon-to-be-developed Orion space ship for a three-to-six month round-trip to the asteroid, with two explorers spending up to two weeks on the rock’s surface.

As well as providing experience for longer Mars trips, samples taken from the rock could help scientists convert sub-surface ice into drinking water and breathable oxygen, understand more about the birth of the solar system, and how best to defend Earth against dangerous asteroid collisions. (cont.)

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The Future of Space Travel is Yucky

July 14 2008 / by jcchan / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: Beyond   Rating: 7 Hot

Ah, space tourism. You ditched Paris or Tokyo to the dismay of your spouse and now sit some 600 miles above Earth with an ice-cold Mojito in hand. “See, honey? This isn’t so bad.” As you take a sip the pilot speaks over the intercom about some turbulence. That’s fine you think, it can’t be bad as the bumpy airplane trips to Los Angeles back when you were a kid.

Just then, you see gold specks scream pass the window at 17,500 miles an hour, followed by the loud thud of a space helmet that leaves a considerable dent in your window outside. The entire space-plane trembles violently as red lights flood on. The pilot reassures that it was just space turbulence and to strap on seat belts. “This wasn’t mentioned in the catalogue” you thought, your spouse giving you a look that you know all too well.

This may not be the common vision of space tourism but the reality is that since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik back in 1958 there is an estimated one million pieces of junk floating in orbit. Of those, 9,000 objects are bigger than a tennis ball, large enough to cause catastrophic damage to moving space shuttles, satellites, and space stations. Most are pieces from old satellites and garbage left behind by previous missions. Adding to this mess are nuts, bolts, and screwdrivers that have errantly drifted into space from missions, and an expensive Hasselblad camera with exposed pictures still inside.

According to the European Space Agency, of the 5,500 tons of material in orbit, 93% is junk that includes parts of old spacecraft, depleted rocket boosters, garbage bags ,and even nuclear coolant. Each piece can and are dividing into more pieces. Only 7% of the material in orbit is operational spacecraft in use.

Besides posing an ethical problem of using our orbit as a landfill, the junk pose a big problem to current and future missions because of their ultra-high velocities in orbit. At 17,500 miles per hour, a millimeter speck of paint has the same amount of energy as a .22 caliber long rifle bullet, a pea sized piece has the lethal potential of a 400-lb safe traveling at 60 mph, and a tennis ball sized piece of metal is essentially 25 sticks of floating dynamite.

So what can we do about this junk? Is there a way to get it out of orbit? Perhaps zap it? Or give it a nudge? (cont.)

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Future Centers: Prototyping the Office of Tomorrow?

August 22 2008 / by Mielle Sullivan / In association with Future
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

If the Future Centers of Europe—open, comfortable and collaborative hubs were established to encourage groups of people problem-solve, brainstorm and generally think creatively about the future of their companies or organizations. Are they an indicator of changing work attitudes and styles? See for yourself:

It is tempting, at first glance, to think of Future Centers a conference facilities or even classrooms and there is some similarity. However, Future Centers are designed not for people to merely absorb information, but rather to exchange it. They are, as the video above says mind friendly spaces for our new knowledge economy. The philosophy behind future centers is that how people think about problems and how they exchange information is essential to innovation. Future Centers seek to break down barriers of hierarchy and formality to encourage connections and the free exchange of ideas. Sound familiar? It’s the same basic philosophy inherent in the world wide web.

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Fearless Futurist Mac Tonnies Goes Off On Mars

February 29 2008 / by Venessa Posavec / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: 2008   Rating: 6

“A futurist is someone who can take a look at a strip-mall and experience instinctual fear.”

Exemplifying that role is Mac Tonnies, a futurist and sci-fi author who enjoys exploring everything from post-humanity to the paranormal. Armed with zingers like the quote at top and a keen sense of wit, Mac enjoys walking the line between reality and science fiction, much like contemporary Vernor Vinge (who also happens to be featured on the site today).

“A futurist’s job is to live in the future, to experience it,” points out Mac, “That can sometimes make the present a lonely place, but it can also make it exhilarating.”

Tonnies’ imagination stretches far indeed, frequently frolicking into the realm of outer space:

“We’re already seeing some exciting new thinking about democratized space travel,” say Tonnies, “for example: this could lead to a large-scale colonization of space and, ultimately, the effective end of the nation-state. As William Burroughs said, ‘we’re here to go.’ I’d personally like to see humanity become a space-faring species.”

Tonnies’ most recent book, After the Martian Apocalypse , focuses on intelligence on Mars. So, I asked him, “Where are all the extra terrestrials?”

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McCain on Mars, Future of Flying & First Space Vacation Booked

June 13 2008 / by Marisa Vitols / In association with Future
Category: Other   Year: 2008   Rating: 6 Hot

The Future Scanner Daily Top 5 serves to highlight 5 of the best scans submitted to the Future Scanner during the last 24 hours.

Innovation will make living out of this world a reality

July 17 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

The immense popularity of Star Trek suggests that “to boldly go where no man has gone before” could become humanity’s mandate for the future.

Satellite Industry Association President Richard Dalbello sees the space industry as the jewel of our economy. It drives innovation, creates jobs, and positions us to begin mankind’s greatest dream – to explore other worlds.

But many believe our progress is too slow. Past explorations produced huge benefits much faster. 25 years after the Lewis & Clark exploration, wagons rolled west to Oregon and clipper ships landed pioneers in California. 25 years after the Wright Brothers, citizens could fly around the country. By contrast, landing on the moon – our “giant step for mankind” – has only produced 40 to 50+ years of earth orbits and a few unmanned flights.

Space enthusiasts say this slow progress shows we are misdirected. They would like to see faster development of moon and Mars settlements and strong incentives created for private businesses to design and build space colonies and other facilities in space.

Space flights are expensive today, but once travel to and from orbit become cheap; profit-driven entrepreneurs will head for the high frontier to build hotels, permanent housing, and entertainment and sports facilities.

Exploring space will also push genetic research. Better Humans author Simon Smith claims environments such as Mars extreme cold temperatures and toxic atmosphere will require biological changes. Sending humans into space without genetic modification would be impractical. (cont.)

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Astrophysicist Believes We'll Locate "Hundreds of Earth-Like Planets" by 2013

March 24 2009 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Information   Year: 2013   Rating: 5 Hot

Astrophysicist Alan Boss believes Nasa's Kepler Mission will turn up "hundreds of Earth-like planets", many of which will probably be "inhabited with something."

Considered a leader in the search for planets outside our solar system, Alan Boss says we are at a turning point in our search for extraterrestrial life.  He expects we are on the verge of finding many different Earth-like planets across the universe, and he expects it will be common to find life on those planets. He shares his ideas for how the United States can be on the forefront of the next great discovery: life on another planet.

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