Yet another space vacation

by guest blogger Ken

This time around I took a few days off to head down to Houston for the 15th annual International Space Settlement Design Competition (ISSDC), not to be confused with the ISDC. This was the final event, gathering together all of the best teams from around the world for a design challenge weekend. It certainly was international, with students from Romania, India, Australia, Uruguay and more. In many respects it reminded me of team projects I’ve done in previous space adventures, particularly at ISU. The working with no sleep for extended periods, or minimal amounts if any is obtained, to meet the deadline. The trying to make sure we’ve covered all aspects of the Request for Proposal (RFP). And the final, nervous, but triumphant presentation of the results to a panel of critical judges.

This year’s competition represented a foundation underwriting the development of a Lunar base meeting a set of prerequisites that advance the foundations goal and should prove profitable overall within a reasonable timeframe. The teams receive an extensive amount of support material, get lectures from scientists working in the different areas addressed by the RFP, and access to an extensive library of reference books. Peeking through their list ahead of time, I culled a number of titles in the Lunar Library that might help support the cause. The two titles that the students showed particular interest in were New Views of the Moon, published in 2006 by the Mineralogical Society of America and the Geochemical Society, and which contains a thorough set of mineral maps taken from Lunar Prospector and Clementine data, and the classic Resources of Near Earth Space by Lewis et al in 1993, which text is now available online thanks to the good folks over at the University of Arizona. It’s a huge service to the space research community, as the book is typically quite hard to find, and expensive when it is found.

My purpose for being there was two-fold:
1) Collect information on the methodology of the conference. Back at the 2007 ISDC, Danish space adventurer Per Wimmer was quite impressed with our efforts, and donated $1000 to NSS of North Texas to send a kid to Space Camp, with the person chosen being the winner of some kind of space settlement contest. Sending the kid to Space Camp is easy, it’s the competition that is hard. Our chapter President recently sent an e-mail describing the competition to a list of science teachers in the metroplex, and got zero response – not a very encouraging start.
2) Sell NSS 2009 Space Settlement calendars to the students and chaperons. Not yet available to the general public, these beautiful calendars are intended in part to help with the ‘envisioning of our space future’ process that helps build public support for space programs. Sales were a bit less than hoped for.
3) I also talked about space with many of the students and provided a large amount of free materials such as Ad Astra magazines focused on the Moon, Moon posters from the Artemis Society, brochures, flyers, bookmarks, and so on. I also had all of my props, such as genuine fake Moon rocks, meteorite samples, display boards, et al. They seemed most smitten with the sample of aerogel, and the accompanying flyers from JPL quickly disappeared. Next thing you know they’re trying to figure out all sorts of clever ways to work it into their designs.

I stuck around through the presentations, and I have to say I was quite impressed with the results, and kept having flashbacks to NASA Academy and ISU and SGF. There was one absolutely genius idea for the Moonbase that could be applied right away here on Earth. Just brilliant, and exactly the kind of thing that these exercises help to uncover. Here’s the scoop. All of the projects touched on the ideas of recycling energy as much as possible, and one idea involved the high speed transport cars passing through the tunnels between the modules. Anyone who has ridden the NYC subways knows what happens when you push something through a tunnel – the air gets displaced. The idea is to use small windturbines lining the tunnels to recapture the energy of the air displacement. This could be immediately implemented here on Earth by lining interstate highways with small ground-level windturbines that capture the displacement of air by traffic. Anyone who’s watched the grass being flattened by the wake of a passing 18-wheeler knows exactly what I’m talking about.

I did get to talk to some of the youngsters from JSC who were volunteering their time as specialists to give information and advice to the students as they worked through their designs. One young lady in structural mechanics asked me what I thought of Constellation, and I told her that she probably wasn’t going to like what I had to say about it. I told her what I saw as the transport needs in cislunar space, how those needs could be addressed, and why I don’t think ESAS addresses any of those needs, and is therefore not something that I can support. I may not have a choice with my tax dollars, but I do with my opinion and my expression of it.

I’d actually like to go back next year and help out in a more involved fashion with Moonbase II. The two years after that are Mars Base I & II, which I wouldn’t be of much help with. (I’m not one of the folks who see mars as ‘The Goal’) Maybe they’ll do a Ceres station after that.

If there’s one recommendation I would make it would be that some corporate organization step forward and underwrite the conference a bit more, primarily with regards to the arranging and printing of support reference materials for the students, as well as miscellaneous goodies (like providing Space Settlement calendars for the students, hint, hint).

It was a well-organized and run event, evidence of the many years that Anita and Dick have put into the event. It was a comprehensive systems exercise, and all of the teams pulled it off. The grilling was gentle but thorough, making sure that the students had put effort into coming up with their particular results. I didn’t stick around to hear who the winner was, but I sure am glad that I didn’t have to judge the thing. There was no obvious winner to me, meaning that it would have been fought out in the details. All of the students presented well regardless of their level of competency in English, which was generally at a high level. Kudos to all of the participants.

I did of course make a pilgrimage to the Half-Price Books on NASA Rd 1 and picked up a few new titles for the Lunar Library, including the last volumes that I was missing from the 1970s US/USSR scientific collaboration Foundations of Space Biology and Medicine.

No space adventure is complete without the element of danger factor. In this case it was on the way out of north Houston on 45. Traffic was thinning out, and I was trying to follow the high velocity flow given that I had a trek ahead of me back to Dallas. Up ahead I espied a large blue pickup, one of the ones with the double wheels on each side in the back, slowing up the fast lane. And part of the shoulder. And part of the middle lane. Either drunk or having medical issues. I gave him some headlight flashes and he straightened out for a brief time, but soon returned to wandering. I decided to put as much space between him and me as possible, so zipped by on the right (which I despise doing. I think passing on the right should be forbidden as it is incredibly dangerous) and forged ahead at modestly over the flow at 80 mph to gain some distance on him. Soon though, I found myself in a situation where the flow was moving to the right through a gap left by a sporty SUV. By the time my turn came around the SUV had moved up to block the pass, and so I was stuck behind someone parked in the left lane doing beneath the speed of at least two lanes while the SUV moved up and gave me space to fall behind. I check the rearview and what should I see roaring up behind me at a significant velocity differential but the grill of Mr. Blue Pickup with lane issues. I flash the gold car ahead of me while trying to figure out whether I was going to need to move over to the shoulder to get out of the situation since I couldn’t move right thanks to the SUV. The brake lights finally got his attention as the space between his large vehicle and my small Bug grew terrifyingly short in a terrifyingly short period of time. I managed to finally squeeze right and pass the car in the fast lane and wouldn’t you know it it was some idjit playing chatty Cathy on her cell phone. Fine, I’m out of there, sounds like the two were perfect for each other. Drunken driver in enormous vehicle meets cell phone idjit in the fast lane of the highway. I have a low level of tolerance for either kind of vehicular stupidity and have no problem exceeding the speed limit to put my vehicle at a safe distance from that stupidity. I rode that adrenaline rush for a while.

Lady luck, though, seems to have blessed this poor Irish soul, and I made it back alive. Luckily, I took today off as well, to give me some time to recover, and write my next in a series of articles on Juvenile Space Fiction. This week is New High Frontier fiction. I.e. from the last twenty years or so. Next week is all of the old stuff from the 40s through 60s like Tom Swift and Tom Corbett, and then I’ve got a surprise for the fifth week. I should have covered close to 100 youth and juvenile space titles by the time I’m done. And I just remembered that I promised Marianne Dyson a review of the old TV space soap opera Jupiter Moon for the NSS Reading Space. Maybe I can piggyback on the one I do for Out of the Cradle.

And so goes yet another vacation…

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1 Response to Yet another space vacation

  1. amanda h says:

    aha! i knew someone else had to have thought of this! i have had the same turbine idea for years, i feel that this would be a great solution to our current energy situation. great minds think alike eh?

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