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Archive for November, 2007

Top 20 Space Visionaries

Sunday, November 25th, 2007
Apollo 17 Astronaut Harrison Schmitt with Jim Plaxco
Apollo 17 Astronaut Harrison Schmitt (right) and Jim Plaxco at the 2007 International Space Development Conference

The Winter 2007 issue of Ad Astra, the magazine of the National Space Society, features an article on the Top 20 Space Visionaries. The goal: to identify those 20 individuals alive today who are having the greatest impact on humanity’s future in space.

The twenty people listed are:

  1. Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites and SpaceShipOne fame.
  2. Peter Diamandis – founder of SEDS, cofounder of International Space University and XPRIZE founder.
  3. Eric Anderson – cofounder of Space Adventures.
  4. Robert Bigelow – founder of Bigelow Aerospace which aims to provide inflatable habitats to low earth orbit.
  5. Dr. Stephen Hawking – noted physicist and supporter of human space exploration.
  6. Elon Musk – founder of SpaceX, which is working to create a family of low cost ELVs.
  7. Mike Griffin – the current NASA Administrator.
  8. Dr. Sally Ride – the first U.S. female astronaut to go into space.
  9. Dr. Martin Sweeting – designer and promoter of small satellites and CEO of Surrey Satellite Technology Limited.
  10. Buzz Aldrin – most noted for the Apollo 11 mission but also an active advocate of human space exploration.
  11. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt – Apollo 17 astronaut, geologist, and champion of mining the Moon for Helium-3 as a fuel for fusion reactors.
  12. Franklin Chang-Diaz – former director of the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory at Johnson Space Center and creator of VASIMIR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket). He created Ad Astra Rocket in 2005 to pursue VASIMIR development.
  13. Russell “Rusty” Schweickart – Apollo 9 , cofounder of the Association of Space Explorers and chairman of the Board of Directors for the B612 Foundation, an organization whose goal is to significantly alter the orbit of an asteroid in a controlled manner by 2015.
  14. Dr. Laurie Leshin – Director of Science and Exploration at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
  15. Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam – former President of India and aeronautical engineer. Worked on development of India’s first launch vehicle: SLV-III.
  16. Anoushen Ansari – of Ansari XPRIZE fame and first female space tourist via a 2004 Soyuz trip to ISS.
  17. Simon “Pete” Worden – doctorate in astronomy, brigadier general in the USAF who was involved in the DC-X and Clementine programs. Currently director of NASA Ames Research Center.
  18. Neil Degrasse Tyson – Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York.
  19. Bradley Edwards – a leader in the field of space elevators.
  20. Robert Zubrin – author, co-developer of the Mars Direct concept, founder of the Mars Society.

You can post your comments about this list to the NSS Members Write blog. My comment on the list of visionaries was to wonder why Dr. Stephen Hawking was on the list but Sir Richard Branson was not. After all, it is Richard Branson who founded Virgin Galactic to take Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne to the next level and to actually open the door to real private enterprise based space tourism – as opposed to tourism sponsored by the Russian government. I would drop Hawking and substitute Branson.

And what about Dr. Peter Glaser, the father of the Solar Power Satellite concept and member of the Space Technology Hall of Fame? His idea of creating a system of Earth orbiting solar power satellites to supply electric power to Earth could have a profound positive impact on our future. Also there is Dr. David Criswell, creator of the Lunar Solar Power concept and Director of the Institute of Space Systems Operations at the University of Houston. The Lunar Solar Power concept relocates those Earth orbiting solar power satellites to the surface of the Moon.

As to who to drop from the list to make room for these two additions: I would remove two of the following – take your pick: Dr. Laurie Leshin or Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam or Dr. Martin Sweeting or Neil Degrasse Tyson.

What do you think? You can comment here or at the NSS Members Write blog.

Ad Astra, Jim

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The 2007 Windycon Science Fiction Convention

Thursday, November 8th, 2007
Astronaut with Windycon sign
It’s time for Windycon

How quickly a year can pass. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was posting my schedule for the 2006 Windycon Science Fiction convention. Once again I’ll be a participant in Windycon which opens Friday Nov 9 and continues through Sunday Nov 11. Following is what’s in store for me this year.

The Lunar Barrier Grand Ballroom North, Saturday 11:00:
From 1968 to 1972, eight manned missions reached the Moon. In the past 35 years, man has never risen above low Earth orbit. Will this be the state of manned space exploration for the rest of our lifetimes or will we actually once again rise above Earth’s gravity well? Will we be able to say “To Lunar orbit and beyond!” Panelists: T. Buckell, B. Higgins, J. Plaxco, F. Ruiz, H. Spencer

This should be an interesting panel especially since we have an election coming up in a year. Given that the return to the Moon program is a product of the Bush administration and widely derided by Democrats, I fear that plans for a return to the Moon may be short lived. I find it strange and disappointing that the party that gave us the Apollo missions to the Moon should be so non-supportive of a return visit.

The Vision for Space Exploration Grand Ballroom North, Saturday Noon:
Is NASA’s new preoccupation with a return to the Moon a massive mistake, a wonderful idea, or of no real importance? Where should we be going in space, and how? Panelists: B. Higgins, J. Liss, J. Plaxco, H. Spencer

Another excellent topic of discussion. The Vision for Space Exploration is the most strategic mission that NASA has been given since Apollo. What’s even more amazing is that this program has survived for three years in the current political environment. If the American voters want to see this project last beyond the end of George Bush’s term as President, then we had better do everything humanly possible to make sure that the next president continues to support this vision. One thing you can do to help is to join the National Space Society.

Prints and Originals Orly, Sunday Noon:
You look at the originals and crave them, but the prices seem so high. When should you consider buying a print rather than an original? What exactly does it mean to be a print (and how are they created)? Panelists: P. Charlifu, S.V. Johnson, J. Lee, J. Plaxco, D. Waltz

Looking around my office, I count 8 prints and 4 originals hanging on my walls. Interestingly, I bought three of the originals at a couple of different Windycon art auctions many years ago and they actually cost less than most of the prints I have.

The whole issue of originals vs prints has been further complicated by the advent of digital art and the giclee or giclée. Digital prints represent an entirely new arena. But there is precedent provided by the world of photography. For example, the film negative is analogous to the digital file in that both are the source of the final printed image.

The Windycon art show can be a great place to acquire art at a bargain price. I’ll have several of my own pieces in the show (haven’t decided which yet) so if you’re at the convention, take the time to look for my art in the show.

Politics in the Future Orly, Sunday 2:00:
No, we aren’t interested if you think Dennis Kucinich should run against John Cox in the general election (well, we might be interested, but not for the purposes of this panel). We’re more interested in thoughts of politics in the long term. Will democracy survive? What sort of political systems will exist after mankind colonizes the planets? D. Bingle, J. Lilly, J. Plaxco, W. Thomasson, L. Zeldes

Definitely the most open ended panel I’ll be on. Who knows where this one will go. Interplanetary Fascism in the 23rd century? Technological advances, smallish physically isolated communities, the nature of trade between different settlements, the legal regime of ownership – these will all be ingredients thrown into the mix. And of course the plight of the individual will be a factor as well. To quote Robert LeFevre: “To live is good. To live well is better. To live in abundance, security, and joy is the acme of living.

See you at Windycon. Jim

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Imaging Mars for Naperville Astronomical Association

Monday, November 5th, 2007
Star Map of Mars at Opposition
Star Map: Mars at 2:23am CST 11/06/2007

Tomorrow night (Tuesday Nov. 6) I’ll be giving a presentation to the Naperville Astronomical Association. Titled Imaging Mars, the lecture will focus on the processing of raw PDS (Planetary Data System) IMG files in order to create attractive pictures of Mars. For the most part I’ll be using images from the Viking orbiters and Mars Global Surveyor. The work flow for transforming these IMG raw data files into finished images is rather straight forward. Things are a little trickier with the Mars Exploration Rover and Mars Odyssey images. As this is an introductory level presentation, I strive to keep it simple.

This is actually a good time to be talking about Mars as an opposition of Mars is fast approaching. On December 18, Mars will make it’s closest approach to Earth this opposition. At that time, Mars will appear 15.9″ arcseconds in diameter as seen from Earth. Not nearly as good as the opposition of 2003 when its diameter was 25.1″ arcseconds but the best we’ll be treated to until 2016. Thus this is an excellent opportunity to check out your local observatory or astronomy club for the opportunity to get a good look at the red planet.

As to my presentation: the Naperville Astronomical Association meeting begins at 7:00pm and is held in downstairs rooms A-B-C of the Naperville Municipal Center at Aurora Ave. and Eagle St. in downtown Naperville IL.

Ad Astra, Jim

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