The Cost of Speed

Traveling over 15 miles per hour takes a pair of cross trainers for $50.

Traveling over 150 miles per hour takes a Corvette for $50,000.

Traveling over 1500 miles per hour takes an F15 Eagle for $50,000,000.

Traveling over 15,000 miles per hour takes a space shuttle program at $150 billion for three operating shuttles or $50,000,000,000 each.

To go 10 times faster you have to spend 1000 times as much money.

Microgravity Induced Bone Loss

The two critical problems faced by manned deep space exploration are radiation (discussed in a later post) and microgravity induced bone loss.  NASA has been studying bone loss in astronauts for 50 years and has learned enough about the biological mechanism to develop the successful ARED exercise device and nutrition protocols for the ISS.  These work well for motivated, fit astronauts, but compliance might be problematic for the larger and varied crew of a very long duration deep space mission.  The traditional hard science fiction solution is to use spin to generate centrifugal gravity.  One question is how much spin?  When (hopefully) we have Lunar, 1/6 G, and Martian, 3/8 G, permanent bases we will be able to do comparative bone loss studies.  A rat centrifuge on the ISS could produce additional data.  It is inconvenient to spin an entire spacecraft because of issues with navigation, antenna orientation, maneuvering, and frame stress.  Spinning part of a craft creates problems with seal integrity between the sections.  The internal wheel of the 2001: A Space Odyssey spacecraft was a rather elegant solution to these problems but still represents an unlikely level of technology for the foreseeable future.  It is likely any long duration manned space mission in the next 50 years will need to deal with the problem of microgravity.

The research that resulted in the ARED and also related rat research have shown that it is the lack of resistance to movement or lack of force supporting body weight stressing the long skeletal bones, rather than lack of the internal force of gravity on the bone matrix, that causes bone density loss.

Fully aquatic mammals such as whales, dolphins, and manatees spend their entire lives in a neutral buoyancy environment, effectively weightless.  While the deep dives of whales and the hunting acrobatics of dolphins may or may not give their skeletons astronaut levels of stress, manatees are the original couch potatoes.  In any case, all are fully adapted to their environment.  While none of these animals are remotely suitable for research, it is almost certain that we have DNA samples for all of them which could be sequenced.  We also have DNA for their land based relatives – hippopotami, elephants, and hyraxes – for comparison.

As NASA’s and others’ research into microgravity induced bone loss proceeds, the signaling and metabolic pathways involved along with their associated proteins will be identified.  It would be useful to compare these proteins to the aquatic equivalents to try to identify any adaptive changes.  This might suggest new paths for the pharmaceutical research already underway in rat studies.

Looking homeward

For 13 years the Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn and its moons, sending back thousands of spectacular pictures.  Now nearing the end of its mission, it will be exploring the ring system and ultimately entering Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15th, 2017.  Once in a while when the geometry is suitable, Cassini pauses to take a picture of the Earth while moving between science targets.  These homeward looks from 900 million miles away evoke a haunting loneliness.

.454 Casull

If you are considering buying your first .454 Casull and are looking at a Ruger Super Redhawk with the older grip panels, you will probably want to get a Hogue Tamer Monogrip for it.  These make the .454 much more pleasant to shoot and are standard on new Super Redhawks.  Pleasant is relative here.  Shooting one is kind of like being in a car wreck.  There’s a loud crash, you get knocked around, and there’s pain.  It’s not so bad when you get used to it, but you should practice sighting and double action trigger control with .45 Long Colt and not shoot more than one cylinder of .454 on any given day.  One cylinder periodically is enough to adapt to the recoil, avoid flinch, and give your capillaries time to recover.  Several full power cylinders in succession will injure your hand.  Also, don’t try impact absorbing gloves made for use with impact tools.  They compress your hand to a higher density, hold in the recoil shock pressure wave, and, with a .454, sting a lot more than no glove.

White skunk

Last night my wife and I saw a white skunk in an urban residential area of Bloomington.  It walked across a street in our headlights, padded across a yard, and ducked under a garden shed.  I had never even heard of a white skunk.  This one had black on the sides of its head so it wasn’t an albino.  As it turns out there are four genera of skunks, each of which consists of several species, including some with spots or bizarre circular stripe patterns.  Who knew?

Irrelevant Tech

When my great-grandfather needed to warm his farmhouse, he would cut down a tree, chop it into firewood, and carry a portion back to put in the fireplace. If he ever wondered about future generations automating that chore, he might have imagined a mechanical man performing a similar task, much like the Tin Woodsman from The Wizard of Oz. He could not have imagined that his grandchildren would warm and cool their homes with the turn of a dial, taking advantage of technology and infrastructure that are inevitable only in hindsight.

The Tin Woodsman is irrelevant tech.