This month I went to NY for the International Space Development Conference sponsored by the National Space Society (merged a decade ago from the L-5 society and National Space Institute). I had never been to such a conference before and decided to give it a try. It ran five days from Thursday, May 23, to noon, Monday the 27, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
I have always had a strong emotional commitment to space. See my review of the filk cassette "Minus Ten And Counting" in NIEKAS a few years ago. As government programs got stretched out, re-defined, and cancelled over the years I became more and more depressed about the chances of our eventual exploration and colonization of the solar system. I came out of this conference feeling much better about our prospects though I could still hope for much more.
This was a working convention for society members and there were tracks on starting new chapters, recruiting members, fund raising, educating the public, etc., which didn't interest me. Unfortunately the program book was very cryptic. wTwo hole tracks were simply labeled "Many Roads to Space" or "The Foundry." The first had no breakdown and the second no explanation whatsoever as to what it was. Finally, one whole track was not even in the program book and I did not find out about it until Saturday afternoon! Other programs were simply given a very broad title like "large projects" and the last name of the speaker. Some of my problems were due to my lack of knowledge of the speakers involved, or the issues under discussion in the organization. It would be like a non-fan SF reader going to a "Corflu" faan convention and seeing a program item "Fifth Fandon by Hoffman." A faan would need to hear no more, but a neophyte would be lost. I wish the NSS had been more open to non-members who heard of the con and decided to give it a try. They DID advertise in LOCUS and SF CHRONICLE so they were expecting outsiders. Also, the "lost track" was intended for the general public who could attend that track alone for the special rate of $10. Advance membership was $60, $90 at the door. Anyhow, this public track had several items of interest to me but I didn't learn of it until the con was almost over.
The con did bring in a large number of interesting speakers from JPL, NASA, Boeing, McDonnel-Douglas, Rockwell, etc. I was very glad to hear about what is actually happening, far more than I had expected.
I stayed with John and Perdita Boardman and commuted to the con, so I tended to miss the 9 AM panels. Thursday morning I went to the symposium on interstellar travel, coming in in the middle of the second presentation.
Both discussions I heard were on using prototypes of interstellar drives in the solar system to perfect them and enhance our work within the system. One spoke of using solar powered lasers to help push solar sails as in Forward's novel ROCHE WORLD. The other spoke of using timy amounts of CT matter to enhance nuclear reactions. I didn't follow the physics, much of which was presented on slides, but one antiproton hitting a uranium atom would produce 17 neutrons, driving reactions much closer to completion. This would boil off lead which would be the propellant.
Most promising was news of the unmanned exploration of the solar system. The final two major projects are progressing. Galileo had its problems but is producing good data at Jupiter. We have all heard about the high gain antenna problems. It was supposed to open like an umbrella but three of its ribs stuck. They are compressing data and storing it on tape, then slowly transmitting it on the non-directional antenna. They got good data from the Jupiter atmospheric probe before high pressure and temperature destroyed it. Unfortunately a kink developed in the tape and no data could be preserved from the Io flyby. It is now fixed and after the data from the other moons is gathered they will try to get additional funds to return to Io. Everything is ready for the Oct 97 launch of Cassini to Saturn. It is so far from the sun that nuclear power must be used to provide electricity. There is a bit of concern about the Luddites who think all atoms are evil and who are threatening to storm the fences at Cape Caneveral and smash the rocket. Makes me think of the conclusion of the movie THINGS TO COME. Cassini will orbit Saturn, visit most of the moons, and drop a probe into Titan's atmosphere.
All is not lost on Mars despite the recent destruction of the billion dollar spacecraft. . Cassini is the last BIG planetary probe. NASA is now using small missions, and they will send two vehicles, an orbiter and a lander, at every opposition, or about two years apart. Each will advance the knowledge of Mars a bit and represent an improvement in technology. In 2005 they will be ready to try bringing a sample back to earth for detailed study.
A mission to Pluto, the "Pluto Express," has not been funded but Congress and the White House are encouraging development work. The total cost of the mission would be 200M$. Twofly-by missions would be launched in 2001 and, thanks to close-encounter boosts, take only twelve years to get there. Its stringent budget would not permit it to gather data on the other planetary passes and it would shoot past Pluto at 45 km/sec. A deal is in the works for it to carry two small Russian impact probes, and the Russians would launch it on one of their rockets. The idea is that the US is better at building spacecraft that endure, and they are better at launching. Should their rocket not materialize it could be launched on a Delta, but that is not in the tentative budget. An orbiter mission was considered but it would require a Titan-4 launcher, which alone costs 400M$, would need four upper stages, and only deliver a single 35 kg craft to orbit.
NASA has two low budget programs in operation, Discovery and New Millinium. Discovery calls for low budget probes to various places in the solar system, selected by competitive proposals. The next one will be the "Lunar Prospector" which would go into polar orbit and map the moon to greater detail than before and by neutron emission prospect for minerals. There are some deep craters at the south pole, and if fossil water is to be found anywhere on the moon it is there. Prospector was designed and built by university students for only 68M$.
New Millenium is to test and validate new technology. NASA did not dare use ion propulsion on Galileo or Cassini. It is better but unproven. A spacecraft will be launched soon to test on a realistic mission this technology. A probe will visit a comet and an asteroid, but even if no scientific information is gathered the mission will be considered a success if the solar powered ion engine works. Any scientific data will be a bonus!
The next Mars mission will carry two microprobes. These are small heavy metal objects about the size and shape of a 12 oz beer bottle! It has six square fins at the back, each about 2 cm square. It has no ablation shield, retrocket, or parachute. It will be released near Mars and free-fall to the surface. It will hit the ground and penetrate between .5 m and 2 m, depending on soil conditions. The back 2 cm will detatch and remain on the surface. The main part will contain a radioactive source and detector, and will test soil composition, including for water, by stimulated radiation, relay the data to the detached section which will relay it to the orbiter for transmission to earth. I got to hold a probe in my hands, which aroused my sence-of-wonder. I would say it massed about 4 kg.
Japan is sending its own mission to Mars in 1997.
Sunday I came into the middle of a presentation on chaos theory and transfer orbits. If you consider the sun, earth, moon, and probe as a four-body problem, you can use solar perturbations to initiate a very low energy transfer from earth orbit to lunar orbit. You have to place the spacecraftin just the right earth orbit and the sun will perturb it into a transfer orbit and then a lunar orbit with NO expenditure of energy. Then a small burn would be needed to make the lunar orbit permanent so that the sun wouldn't pull the spacecraft out again. This would not work for manned missions as the transfer takes about 60 days, but it could be used to establish a supply pipeline for a lunar base. This is not just theory, but was used to save a failed Japanese mission to the moon. The rocket had two parts, one to stay in earth orbit and the other to explore the moon. The probe was destroyed but this technique was used to send the mother ship which was able to make useful measurements.
Boeing is getting into the launch business in competition with the French Ariene, the Chinese Long March, etc. They are building no vehicles themselves but are coordinating parts from several sources and marketing the service. The launch will take place from a mobile oil-drilling platform which can be moved to an equatorial location for maximum efficiency, or elsewhere for a polar or inclined orbit. They have contracted with the Norwegian firm which builds the oil platforms for the very stormyNorth Sea. The platform will be the second largest in the world. Two rockets can be stored in a shed and set up and launched one at a time. Before launch all personnel will transfer to a service ship now being built in Glasgow, Scotland. The rocket will consist of the first two stages purchased from The Ukraine and the third from Russia. Boeing will put these all together and operate out of Long Beach, near the liner Queen Elizabeth. They have a firm contract to launch a satellite for Hughes next year, and will start paying penalties for every day's delay past July 1, so they are very confident of bringing this off. They say it will have the same capacity as the Ariene-4, less than that of the Ariene-5. This is a popular size for commercial satellites in the "photon moving business." They hope to do well for their prices will be competitive, as they have no develop-ment costs to amortize. The pressure on US firms to "buy American" will help.
I am running out of time and have to get the zine into Boardman for APA-Q. I will continue this discussion next month with the X33, maybe the X34 if I can get a clearer picture of it, the Space Station, and manned commercial efforts. Later I will revise these comments for publication in my genzine NIEKAS and I would appreciate any corrections or suggestions to make it better, especially spelling of names.
I had a good visit to NY and had a lot of fun talking with John and Perdita, going book-hunting, having dinner at Polish, Mexican, and Indian restaurants, and lunch at a brew-pub. I went to the Lithuanian church on the Holland Tunnel toll plaza in Manhattan, seeing old friends there, but as a result missing the whole discussion of solar power satellites.
DAGON: I see two aspects to the Scottish Rising of 1745. One is the use by Bonnie Twit Charlie of the Scotts to further his ambitions and take over the rule of the entire British Isles. The other, better one, is the struggle of an ethnically different people to retain their heritage. The British did everything possible to suppress local culture including the banning of the local language, dress, and music. This is like when the English rounded up every Irish bard they could find, and hanged them in a mass execution with their harps burned at their feet. It is only recently that England permitted radio broadcasts in Scotts Gallic, but still forbid its use in schools.
Was it 1958 that was called "The Year of the Jackpot" because so many SF personalities died? We seem to be headed for another.
When I first became aware of Ed Wood he was living in Idaho. Then I visited his home on the San Francisco peninsula in 1968 just before the Worldcon, and watched on TV the riots at the Democratic convention. I remember his crammed library-stack style shelves full of SF prozines & books. Then he moved to Mass. and was active in NESFA and Boskones. He traded me some books for a VERY long term sub to NIEKAS.
Redd Boggs I remember from Minneapolis, I think, where he published a short frequent fanzine called RETROGRADE. Because it had the same abbreviation as John Berry's RETRIBUTION he changed its name, but I forgot to what. I remember excellent mimeography with justified margins. The hot topic was Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPER. James Blish contributed and wrote STAR DWELLERS in response.
I am eager to see the conclusion of the Norman interview, and your comments on it.
I read the whole disty, thanks to John, my son Stanley, and my reader Brian. Unfortunately I have no more comments.
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