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July 16, 2013

Kerbal Space Program

Filed under: Games,Space Exploration — Bob @ 7:35 pm

So back in May someone I know mentioned a game about launching rockets and getting into orbit. I asked for more details, he told me about the Kerbal Space Program. Its a simulation (more than a classic game) where you design and launch rockets into orbit, on to the planet’s moon, and beyond into the solar system. I’ve been really busy getting my Kerbals into space, with orbital rendezvous, space stations, and getting rovers onto the Mun.

Best $23 spent in a long time!

Rendezvous

Space Station

Mun Landing

September 15, 2007

Will anyone drive over Armstrong’s footprints?

Filed under: Commentary,Space Exploration — Bob @ 5:22 pm

Armstrong’s PrintsIn the last post I wrote about some practical issues that occurred to me as I fantasized about being involved in building the first private lunar rover. I still think about it in that way, but today a new thought occurred to me: will there be historical preservation of Moon landing sites?

Back in 1969 Neil Armstrong placed his footprints (bootprints, really) on the lunar soil, marking one of the greatest technical achievements NASA has ever made. The location of these prints is well documented. Google’s contest provides extra incentive for visits to historical sites, and what site is more spectacular than right on top of the Eagle lander?

Once your robot arrives, you are supposed to drive around capturing video and broadcasting back to Earth. Since one of the most significant views of this most significant site would be those very first footprints, will your robot drive over and snap a picture or two? Of course! But what if your robot doesn’t do exactly what its commanded, but instead drives over and literally erases those famous prints?

Opps.

Or, in a fit of absolute mania, you decided you were entitled to own the rights to the very last video footage of those prints, and purposefully ordered your robot to do the fatal damage? What if you decided to sell the right to do this damage? Would anyone buy it? Would it even be illegal?

September 13, 2007

To The Moon!

Filed under: Commentary,Robots,Space Exploration — Bob @ 7:45 pm

Today Google and the X Prize Foundation revealed their latest challenge: a potential $20 million (and up to $30 million including the bonus challenges) for landing a robot on the moon, roam around a little bit, and send back some video.

Hmmm. Sounds very interesting and is likely a very difficult problem. My first thoughts about the challenge:

  • Roaming around on the surface of the moon will be very dusty, thus any exposed gears or moving parts will be gunked up in about 10 seconds
  • I have no idea what vacuum does to gear motors, electronics, etc. but you gotta believe it will be different than roaming around in my living room
  • Landing on the moon is very challenging; many of the early Russian and US probes crashed
  • Soft-landing is hard because there isn’t any atmosphere for parachutes, but air bags might help (I don’t know if anyone has tried this though, I believe rockets are the conventional approach to control descent velocity)
  • Sending back good quality video probably isn’t terribly difficult but having a camera that operates after a rough landing and operating in vacuum might be; I have no idea how difficult the antenna aiming would be but I’d expect you could rent time on some serious radio telescopes here on Earth to receive the stream once it was directed in the right direction
  • I recall the Russians succeeded in landing a tele-operated rover Lunokhod 1 back in 1970 but likely cost way more than $30 million
  • The Lunokhod probes were very successful and not a bad model for this challenge
  • Lifting a robot to outer space and on to the moon is really difficult – just to get to orbit requires accelerating to greater than 8,000 meters per second – and I imagine efficient navigation to the moon is quite delicate too
  • There is a lot of information available about potential landing sites but to really maximize the prize money you’d have to land near something else (like a NASA Lunar Module or Lunokhod 1)
  • It is probably worthwhile to budget for multiple attempts, especially in terms of that soft landing

I’m am really excited about this contest. I doubt I have a chance to participate but you can believe I’m going to follow whomever does make the attempt.

What do you think about this contest? How would you solve some of these problems?

August 11, 2006

Apollo Appeal

Filed under: Books,Space Exploration — Bob @ 8:59 pm

moon.jpgOne of my earliest memories is watching a lunar landing on television. I don’t recall which mission it was, I just recall seeing the fuzzy black and white images on television one morning. My guess it was Apollo 14, although there is a possiblity it was the original Apollo 11 landing; I would have been three years old at the time, but I suppose its possible.

Ever since, I’ve been fascinated with human and robotic exploration of outer space, especially the Moon. Eileen found Destination Moon for me at the local library and its been a real treat to read. It’s a nice coffee table book with magnificant photography as well as snippets of the communications between astronauts and NASA controllers. Most of the words I already knew but others were new and often quite interesting, especially the earlier missions that aren’t as well known as those missions that actually landed on the Moon. The book also contains numerous biographical references for the crews of every Apollo mission in addition to the photography.

I’m also a fan of the video series From the Earth to the Moon. I think I’ve written about it before, it’s a brilliant record of the amazing story of the NASA program that successfully put a human onto the surface of the Moon in less than ten years. Reading this book makes me want to watch it again. If you aren’t familiar with this series then you should immediately rush out to the library or video store to get the first episode.

July 25, 2006

Mimas, Dione and the Rings

Filed under: Space Exploration — Bob @ 7:59 pm

cassini.jpgCassini continues to send back the most amazing pictures from the Saturn system. Every time I think I’ve seen the most stunning or most beautiful one, they post another one that grabs my attention. This picture shows Mimas (the small dark moon) moving in front of Dione with the rings shown below. You can just make out the curve of the rings at the far right end of the full image (click the image to follow its link to the full version).

The Cassini project also announced yesterday they have strong evidence showing large lakes of liquid hydrocarbons on Titan. I recall one of the more interesting challenges facing the designers of the Hyugens probe was the possbility of landing in a lake. So they made sure the probe could float if required. As it turned out floating wasn’t required, but its nice to think they didn’t waste their time or energy worrying about such a possiblity.

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