Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Space Pollution

For millennia, mankind has used Earth’s resources however it wanted, and when we were done with something, we simply abandoned it. Most of this stuff will - eventually - return to its component parts, thanks to weather and other natural events.

But there is no weather in space, so what happens to stuff that gets abandoned there?

Mostly, it stays where we left it, usually in some kind of orbit around Earth. Lose contact with an old satellite? That’s okay, we need a new one anyway; we’ll just put the new one in a new orbit. Somebody lost their wrench while working outside? I think the job can still be done with this other wrench and a little ingenuity. The lost wrench? Oh, just move the station another kilometer higher, and you should be fine.

Yes, we’ve been cavalier about the junk we’ve left out there. Some gets sent into a ‘graveyard orbit’ at the end of its usefulness. Other stuff eventually is pulled toward the Earth and (hopefully) burns up before it hits the ground. Remember Skylab? That was scary, to know this big thing was coming down, that it would not burn up completely, but not know exactly where it would hit. Then it broke into pieces, some of which still made it to the surface, and even more uncertainty where they would hit.

Some satellites had a nuclear reactor to power their equipment. At the end of their ‘life’, many were sent to a graveyard orbit, but others fell to Earth, where they became a problem. Even those in the graveyard could be punctured by a micro-meteor and leak coolant from the reactor. The coolant would solidify and become droplets of more junk.

So, let’s see, we have dead satellites, booster stages, fragments of booster stages that have exploded, fragments caused by collisions, and lost equipment, just to name a few categories of space pollution. Now, the movies always depict (these days) a tool as having a tether to connect it to the astronaut, but it apparently took time to think of doing that. The ‘lost equipment’ category includes: a glove, 2 cameras, a thermal blanket, bags of garbage, a wrench and a toothbrush. Okay, those bulky space suit gloves can make it difficult to maintain a grip, but how does an astronaut lose one of his gloves?

People try to keep track of all this stuff, try to avoid collisions with equipment still in use. I don’t know who supplied these numbers, but there are over 170,000,000 pieces of debris smaller than 1 cm, as of July 2013. Additionally, there are 670,000 pieces between 1 and 10 cm (3.9 inches), and 29,000 pieces larger than 10 cm.

So, who cares? Most of it’s tiny, and if it’s big enough to do damage, you just move your ship or satellite out of the way. Yes, most of it is tiny, but at the speeds they travel, even the tiny ones pack quite a punch. And the equipment can’t always move out of the way.

The Kessler syndrome theorizes that once space debris reaches a particular density, there will be a chain reaction of collisions, each breaking its components into smaller pieces, which go on to have more collisions... It’s uncertain whether the Earth has already reached that point, but it’s not something we want to happen. The Earth could become completely swaddled in debris to the point that we could no longer launch ourselves into space. There goes our glorious dreams of a Space Empire! Or even of just getting off this rock to colonize... any place else.

Would such a debris cloud cut the amount of sunlight that reaches us? That might help mitigate global warming! If not, then I guess we’ll just bake ourselves on the ground as we kick ourselves for making it impossible to move away.

There have been many suggestions on how to remove space debris. At least one country has built their idea and sent it up for testing, but couldn’t get it to work. Most don’t see it as ‘cost effective’.

So, here’s my idea. If you have a big problem, you need to think big. Build a space station. I know, we have one, but that’s not big enough. We need a big one, with manufacturing capabilities and housing/entertainment for the workers. Use a small space tug to go out, grab debris and bring it back as ‘raw material’ for building interplanetary space ships.

Or maybe you prefer to sit back and wait for ‘nature to take its course’?

By the way, have you seen the movie Gravity? That was the Kessler syndrome in action.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Swords - Fantasy or Fact?

A Guest Entry by Ta’Yant bilora vi Grrrck (of Floya 4 - There are other Ta’Yant bilora vi Grrrcks, but they aren’t from Floya 4!)

A common occurrence in the genre ‘high fantasy’ or ‘epic fantasy’ is the use of swords, some of which had or are said to have had magical powers. Since many of these stories appear to be set on Old Earth and include other items that also appear in ancient Earth myths and legends - such as elves, dwarves, dragons, magic and the like, I decided to search the ancient texts from the Home Planet to determine how much of the legend of ‘swords’ might be purely imaginary.

First, let me say that it is very difficult to discern whether a particular text is truly factual. So many texts either gave no references or referred to texts that are no longer part of what records we still have, so cannot be verified. Since the chances of finding additional texts seems impossible, with Earth (and indeed, that entire system) in their current inhospitable state, I can only present what I found as a series of supposed truths, with the understanding that it might be completely contaminated with ‘facts’ that are nothing more than ‘beliefs’ of the time.

One source text came to be a wealth of knowledge to me, or would have, if the links to its sources had been intact, or if I had been able to verify anything it said from some other source. Even the title of this reference text was incomplete, consisting of “”. Ancient historians (meaning those who study ancient history, who or may or may not be ancient in their own right) believe this title places it in the ‘wikipedia’ reference source of the 22nd century, which is either famous for being so large and all-inclusive, or infamous for having no basis in fact, depending on which historian is speaking. This article stated that a spatha was a long, straight sword, originally used by the ‘germanic’ people against the ‘romans’, who started with swords that were shorter. The ‘romans’, however, adopted the longer version so that they could stab opponents from a longer distance.

So, if this information is correct, swords were real, and came in different lengths. In my efforts to double-check everything, I could not find ‘germanic’ or ‘romans’ on any maps within the available wikipedia texts. I did find a map (circa 2100) that showed an area called Germany, and somewhat south of that, a city called Rome. If these are the areas of the peoples referenced, further study of even more texts indicate that Germany was a source of many huge wars involving the entire planet, and that the highly religious Rome people were led by a Grand Priest, alternately referred to as ‘The Pope’ and ‘Ceasar’. I personally have trouble with the thought of a ‘deeply religious’ people who carried and used weapons, but I am not versed in all types of religion. Perhaps their religion called on them to dominate others. In that case, I can not be surprised that they eventually came to blows with the war-faring germanics.

I ran across 2 ‘news articles’ from 2015 and 2016. As ‘news stories’, they had no links to any reference materials, but I include them here because I found them so interesting. In 2015, a ‘hiker’(?) found an ‘ancient viking’ sword on the side of the road in Norway, and a specialist from a local museum (?) stated the sword was from 750 AD, approximately 1200 years before it was found. (I can’t make any sense of their calendar! I thought these dates were in the same calendar era, but 750 plus 1200 equals 1950, not 2015!) The specialist went on to say that if given a new handle, the sword could be used ‘today’ (meaning 2015). 

In 2016, a local ‘couple’ found an ‘amazingly preserved’ sword in a ‘field’ near their home in Denmark. This sword, a museum representative stated, was 3,000 years old. Apparently, swords were in use for more than 3000 years, since one of these was that old, and the other only needed some minor repairs before it could be used again! And yes, Norway and Denmark were both on that map, Norway north of Denmark, with a strip of water between them. But research indicated that Norway was colonized by Denmark, so why would they be at war with each other?

My head is spinning, just trying to keep all these ‘facts’ straight and get them presented in a logical sequence. And I’ve just barely begun telling you all that I found in those old replicas! My time for this entry is up, but as soon as I can pick up two thoughts and put them together, I’ll see about writing another entry.