Who MADE That?


(Originally posted 3/14/17 on Read With The Gringa)


If the dear reader is anything like the gringa, you often take for granted amazing things, never wondering how they came about in the first place. Take lasers, for example. Most of us use lasers every day. There are laser toys for cats, laser printers and lasers used to heal people and to kill people. Although lasers are used for many purposes, they are all, essentially, the same thing: a focused beam of light or electromagnetic radiation. This beam is created by stimulating photon emissions from excited atoms. Next time you check out at the grocery store, just remember that bar code scanner is a very “excited” device!


Many years ago one of the gringa’s loved ones had eye surgery. It was a laser that sliced and diced those very dear orbs. It never occurred to the gringa at the time to even wonder who should be thanked for this amazing technology that saved and improved my mother-in-law’s vision. Well, now I know and I’m going to share this incredible woman’s story.


Dr. Patricia Bath has a lot of “firsts” on her resume. She was the first African American to complete an opthalmology residency. She was also the first female, African American doctor to have a medical patent. She got this for her invention that changed Mama’s eyes forever, the Laserphaco Probe. This device removed cataracts from the eyes of my caveman’s precious mother, enabling her to continue to see her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and do what she loves to do, sew, sew, sew.


What is most amazing about Dr. Bath’s achievements is when she did them. She was born in Harlem, New York in 1942. That means she grew up and received her primary education more than 20 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed in the U.S. In an environment like that, what might have occurred to capture the attention of a little girl from Harlem and inspire her to become a doctor? Dr. Bath credits Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s service to lepers in the Congo along with the powerful influence of loving parents who fueled her own, personal empowerment engine.


What kind of parents does it take to do this incredible service for their child? Were they superhuman? Educators? They were parents, period. Rupert Bath, Dr. Bath’s father, was a well-educated immigrant from Trinidad. He had a “first” to list in his own biography. He became the first black motorman employed by New York City’s subway system. He has an interesting background that includes writing newspaper columns and working as a merchant seaman which gave him the opportunity to travel all over the world. These experiences enabled a father to craft a legacy for his child that lasted a lifetime, the legacy of a broad mind.


Dr. Bath’s mother, Gladys, encouraged her daughter to read, read, read. Books were a priority as well as a gift that soon became a favorite, a chemistry set. Gladys was an American of African slave and Cherokee ancestry and she was determined that her children (Dr. Bath had a brother) would have the best education possible. She scrubbed the floors of affluent New Yorkers to fund her children’s college dreams.

Dr. Bath’s neighborhood was well-known for its poverty. However, for Bath, riches didn’t come in nickels and dimes, but in values, the love of family and the opportunity to grow through learning. And eventually, the medical world would become this little girl’s oyster through determination, belief in herself, and hours upon hours of dedication and hard work.


As a young teenager, she showed such promise at a summer science program that two medical professionals doing cancer research took her under their wings, becoming her mentors. Her own research earned her an invitation to present her research at an international nutrition conference in Washington DC. This earned her a 1960 Merit Award and a bit of celebrity status, her achievement being reported in magazine and newspaper articles.


It wouldn’t be until 1964 that Dr. Bath experienced studying under a black professor for the first time. It was a thrilling experience. She soon received a government fellowship which enabled her to participate in pediatrics medicine research in Yugoslavia. This was her first experience outside the U.S. and sparked a new interest in the medical needs of people throughout the world, especially the underprivileged. True to her principles, in 1968 she became coordinator for the Poor People’s Campaign that marched for economic rights in the nation’ capital. She would eventually shoulder the responsibility of the health and sanitary needs for the thousands who lived in the shantytown known as Resurrection City. 


Eventually, recognizing the vast differences in quality and accessibility of care between the “haves” and “have nots”, Dr. Bath convinced her professors to perform eye surgery on blind patients for free, she volunteering as assistant surgeon. Dr. Bath would continue her growth as a surgeon doing post-graduate work in cornea transplants. 


This would lead to the  1974 “first” previously mentioned, becoming the first female faculty member at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. Despite this illustrious achievement, the office she was offered, in the basement with the lab animals, was seen as a slight. Dr. Bath stood up for herself and the institute quickly responded by giving her new office space more appropriate for her prestigious position.


Nearly a decade later, 1983, Dr. Bath achieved another “first”. She became chair of UCLA’s Opthalmology Residency Training Program. As an American woman, she was the first to hold this position.


Through Dr. Bath’s American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, Americans everywhere can receive basic eye care regardless of how poor they may be. Throughout the world newborns have their eyesight protected with medication provided by the institute that prevents common infections. Malnourished children in every country have access to vitamin A supplements to protect their eyes from damage caused by lack of proper nutrition. Vaccinations for infectious diseases known to cause blindness are also made available to vulnerable populations around the world. 


When Dr. Bath sought to create a device to make cataract removal surgery less invasive and more precise, her colleagues told her it couldn’t be done. But she showed them, didn’t she! Her scope was not just patented in the US, but also in Japan, Canada and five European countries. 


Even after Dr. Bath retired, she was still achieving historical “firsts”. In 1993 she became the first woman to be elected to UCLA Medical Center’s honorary medical staff. And throughout her retirement, her passion to prevent blindness has never ceased. Perhaps it is a fire that will never die, fueled by the amazing experience of restoring sight to a North African woman who had been blind for 30 years. 


Dr. Bath overcame amazing odds and obstacles. Although she was certainly ambitious, the gringa is most impressed with her motives and philosophy which drove her ambitions. She is quoted as saying:

“Eyesight is a basic human right.”

This was the philosophy behind her creation of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in 1976. Ten years later she revealed to the world the goods on her philosophy, the Laserphaco Probe. Officially patented in 1988, Dr. Bath became the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent. 


No matter what you think may stand in your way, Dr. Bath is proof positive that, with the right motives and inspiration behind your ambition, work hard and you can move mountains and achieve great things. Take to heart the words of encouraging wisdom from Dr. Bath:

“Believe in the power of the truth. Do not allow your mind to be imprisoned by majority thinking. Remember that the limits of science are not the limits of imagination.”

The world needs so many scientists to solve the problems facing the world today. Compassion driven science can change the world for the better, making every day a better day than the one before. The gringa says, “Thank you” to all the Dr. Bath’s in the world. We need more of you!



Sources: Biography

Invention


Image Credit: Biography


Video Credit: LemelsonCenter

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The Truth About Tabby


UFO and alien conspiracy theory buffs are going to enjoy this post by the gringa, or not. I guess it depends on if you enjoy a healthy dose of conspiracy debunking or truth. You see, dear readers, there has been a bit of hubbub about an interesting space object that is orbiting a nearby star and was detected by the Kepler telescope late last year.

The SETI Institute (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) calls KIC 8462852 “mysterious”. NASA believes the mystery is resolved with the theory that the strange signals are the result of cosmic dust, probably from multiple impacts of a comet swarm, and causes the star’s light to flicker erratically. Vanderbilt University researchers, who affectionately call the star Tabby, debunk theories by those who believe it to be home of aliens who are very, very busy. The astrophysicist contributors to the respectable Astrophysical Journal agree with Vanderbilt’s point of view while at the same time agreeing with theories from other scientists who propose an extraterrestrial origin theory. So, who’s got it right? Who’s got it wrong? Just what the heck is the truth about Tabby?

Who Is Tabby

Tabby is officially designated star KIC 8462852 and shines brighter than our own Sun about 1400 light years from Earth in the Cygnus constellation. It is a subject of study by NASA’s Kepler space telescope which reveals that from time to time it dims about twenty percent in brightness.

SETI’s Conclusion

The cause of the dimming light could possibly be because of material or objects orbiting the star. SETI researchers believe they have evidence to determine that these objects are not planets. SETI considers the possibility that Tabby could be home to a technologically sophisticated society that has constructed a swarm of solar panels that orbit the star which would account for the light fluctuations.

SETI uses its own Allen Telescope Array to study radio signals that originate from that part of outer space. They attest that these radio signals are of artificial origin, calling them “non-natural”. They search for narrow-band signals and broadband that might possibly be produced by a large and powerful spacecraft. They also search for evidence of laser pulses. SETI’s Panamanian partner, Boquete Optical SETI Observatory, performs the laser pulse research.

Research such as this takes a long time so the gringa will have to practice patience for SETI to conclude their studies and publish their final results. They admit that, historically, cases like this usually result in finding a natural cause for the anomalies but they still must investigate the possibility of it originating from extraterrestrial intelligence. That is, after all, their mission.

NASA’s Conclusion

During four years of observation, the Kepler mission recorded strange happenings in 2011 and 2013 when interesting and dramatic light fluctuations occurred. To help determine what happened, NASA also trained the eye of the Spitzer Space Telescope in Tabby’s direction. Kepler observed the visible light. Spitzer could delve deeper into the invisible infrared light signals and patterns. In November of last year Spitzer paid off with a recording of another light fluctuation.

Although NASA’s theory is that clouds of space dust were formed from a swarm of comets that orbit the star in erratic patterns, Spitzer did not discover evidence to support this theory. This caused NASA to switch to a cold comet theory. One lead comet would be followed by a swarm of smaller comets. If this is true, even if the comets were already out of the telescope’s view as they traveled around Tabby, they should still leave behind a detectable infrared signature. However, this was not the case.

Researchers admit that more observations need to be recorded to determine just exactly what is going on. NASA admits that Tabby is strange, indeed. However, they believe that a natural cause is more likely than “little green men”.

Vanderbilt University’s Conclusion

Vanderbilt studies focused on the 100 day period when the most significant light fluctuations occurred. The manner in which they occurred suggested that a large number of “irregularly shaped objects” passed in front of the star causing its light to be blocked temporarily. Working off a report from an astronomer at Louisiana State University who concluded that the star had diminished in brightness by 20 percent over the past century, Vanderbilt finds a natural cause unlikely as an explanation for this. This has become fodder for the theory that a megastructure has been constructed that is absorbing the star’s energy, the solar panel array theory. This is a theory that was reviewed, accepted and published by the Astrophysical Journal.

Vanderbilt, however, did not stop there. They soldiered on. Partnering with amateur German astronomer, Michael Hippke and NASA scientist Daniel Angerhausen, the team began comparing the 20 percent drop in intensity to other stars. They discovered that this is not an unusual phenomenon. In fact, it’s not a star phenomenon at all. It is simply the result of technological changes and advances of human manufactured instrumentation for observance.

The Gringa’s Conclusion

These are all interesting theories but not yet solid answers. So, the gringa will wait and see if, ten or twenty years down the road, we all find out what the actual, final answer is:

  • Comet Swarms

or

  • Extraterrestrial Solar Array

Until then, Tabby will be the most interesting and mysterious star in our night sky.

Sources:

www.seti.org

www.nasa.gov

vanderbilt.edu

Image Credit:  www.centauri-dreams.org

 

Cosmic Spas & Outer Space Mineral Mines


Are NASA and other international space agencies interested in creating colonies on the Moon and various other exotic, cosmic locales? Most certainly. However, not for the nefarious purposes of whisking away the highly educated and financial elite in order to preserve the human race from extinction. What they really want to do is exploit the natural resources of these places.

Humans are a hungry species and their appetites include all sorts of stuff from fruits and vegetables to minerals and ores. Many minerals and ores are not only rare, with few deposits in sundry places around the world, but are also finite in their supply. Once diminished, humans will have to find another source. That’s where asteroids and the Moon come into play.

Asteroids are like one of those grab bags you get as a party favor. You never know what’s inside. Although primarily chunks of ice, tar and dust, they also contain scare minerals and metals. For astronaut mining crews, outer space is full of opportunity, kind of like a mechanic entering an auto junkyard the size of Earth. Best estimates to date believe there are hundreds of thousands of asteroids, some nearly five billion years old, of assorted sizes and shapes from the size of a coffee table to hundreds of miles in diameter (Earth, in comparison, is about 8,000 miles in diameter). With such abundance, if humans can overcome the technological and economical obstacles, we may have a seemingly limitless supply of raw materials available.

The gringa wonders what will happen when that occurs? Will space become filled with flag waving asteroids? Considering even a small asteroid could be valued at many millions of dollars in potential minerals, will countries be zipping about space, hither and yon, planting flags on as many asteroids as possible in a territory game of, “Mine! I found it first!”? The gringa is hoping it will be much more civilized than that.

For mining purposes, asteroid’s are classified according to three groups based on light reflection (spectral) analysis. Since mankind cannot yet land on an asteroid and physically take a geological sample or do so with a robotic satellite, scientists evaluate how light reflects off the surface of an asteroid to determine its primary mineral component.

C-type asteroids are dark and carbon based. They are comprised of clay based minerals that have lots of water trapped within the clay. The gringa thinks these could, perhaps become cosmic spas if we could find a way to generate some kind of thermal reaction within the asteroid. Think of it, “Come visit asteroid XP-247 for its relaxing steam baths and mineralized clay body and facial wraps. Just don’t forget your oxygen mask.”

But what about the carbon and other stuff in the clay? Is that any good for anything? Yep. It makes a garden grow lush, thick and plentiful. C-type asteroids rich in carbon, phosphorous and other elements in the fertilizer spectrum could be very valuable as future garden spots. The gringa can now see the cosmic version of the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” where visitors can also get a soak in the hot springs and a beautifying and detoxifying mineral rich clay body wrap.

I mean, really, we have plenty of clay and carbon and water here on Earth but surely there will be an eager entrepreneur who will see the same potential. Or do we really have plenty of clay, minerals and water on Earth?

The water reserves could very well come in handy. The gringa can see it now – a gravity beam lassos a water rich C-type asteroid and hauls it near Earth’s atmosphere. It then uses transporter technology that has finally been perfected to zap it through the atmosphere, avoiding a friction filled entry that would evaporate up all that precious water. Then, as it approaches fatefully close to a desert region, just before impact a precision laser beam goes, “ZIP, ZAP, ZOOM!” and a lovely shower of water rains down upon the desert with all the pulverized clay and carbon providing rich fertilizer. The desert is soon a fertile oasis. Hey, it could happen. Stranger things already have.

But NASA thinks the real value of water rich asteroids is in using the resource in outer space. By finding a way to mine the water in flight, crews could save billions of dollars by not having to pack this life-support necessity. Interestingly enough, the very thing that humans need to survive, consisting of two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen, are the very elements of rocket fuel. (Wow, humans are 60% rocket fuel, or, water, depending on your perspective!). So, astronauts dock their spaceship at a galactic version of Exxon to fill up the tank and top off the water reserves. And while the service station is checking the engine’s oil level and cabin’s air pressure, the crew is freshening up at the nearby spa. Interesting.

So, C-type asteroids can either be Desert-to-Eden conversion sources, hot spring spas, water wells, or rocket fuel depots. Or all three at the same time.Take your pick.

S-type asteroids shine a little brighter than dark, carbon based C-types. That’s because they are rich in reflective metals like cobalt, iron and nickel. If a mining crew is really lucky they could find one with deposits of rhodium, platinum or gold. Scientists estimate that an asteroid about the size of an average bedroom could be packed with well over one million pounds of metals, a tiny fraction being the exceedingly valuable rare ones. Even if mining crews could extract just one hundred pounds of platinum, at about $1000 an ounce, a $100,000 load of platinum would just be the gravy on top of the wealth accumulated from the remaining predominant minerals.

But it may be the M-class asteroids that wars end up being fought over. The wars for oil that we have raging now could very well become wars for M-class asteroids in the future. These asteroids are expected to contain at least ten times the mineral content of S-types.

To make space mining a reality, the mission has to be profitable. With current missions costing in the hundreds of millions, some even billions, an asteroid would have to be massively rich in raw materials. The other option is to develop technologies that are more economical.

Before any of that even matters, current asteroid knowledge needs to be vastly broadened and fine-tuned. We need cosmic cartographers to accurately map the hundreds of thousands of asteroids in outer space. The world needs space geologists that have the technology and knowledge to analyze what minerals each asteroid actually contains. Young students now, who have an interest in a cosmic career, could really have a geology or cartography degree pay off by landing them their dream job.

NASA’s first effort to test their scientific mettle for determining present mineral resources within an asteroid lie with their OSIRIS-REx mission. The goal of “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security and Regolith Explorer” is to return with a geological sample from asteroid Bennu. It is set to launch in September and arrive at the asteroid almost two years later. If all goes according to plan, Earthlings can expect an authentic piece of Bennu to arrive on planet Earth around 2020. (Of course, the gringa is reminded of her favorite piece of motherly advice given regularly to her children in efforts to cultivate a more relaxed approach to life, “The plan is that nothing goes according to plan.”)

In addition to geological studies of Bennu’s raw materials, asteroid re-direction technologies will also be studied. The spacecraft is scheduled to perform an interesting experiment. It is going to give Bennu a gentle, solar nudge. Scientists want to know if sunlight can be used to affect the path of travel of asteroids. I guess the reasoning is that asteroids are too valuable to simply blast into oblivion if Earth happens to be in the way. They would rather nudge them aside then attempt to exploit the wealth they contain.

The most important goals of the mission, however, are to further the development of space mining technologies. They plan to scrape together a two ounce and 4.4 pound geological sample. The spacecraft will then use its state-of-the-art instruments to map the surface of Bennu and analyze its composition. These are the on-board technologies and their purposes:

  • OVIRS (OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer) – analyzes visible and near-infrared light to detect minerals, compounds and chemicals within the asteroid.
  • OTES (OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer) – analyzes infrared light to detect surface minerals of Bennu, determine surface temperature and map the location of water-rich clay mineral deposits.
  • REx (Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer) – analyzes X-ray aura of Bennu’s surface in sunlight to calculate amounts and locations of elements like: iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur.

To find out if sunlight can be used as an asteroid diversion technique OVIRS and OTES will combine their abilities to study what is known as the “Yarkovsky effect”. When an asteroid absorbs sunlight much of the heat radiates outward and provides a propelling effect. Observations will be made to see if a “man-made” solar heat saturation could result in changing an asteroid’s trajectory.

Most of what will be recorded by the different spectrometers will only reflect what is on Bennu’s surface and within a shallow depth (about half a millimeter). They are not capable of reaching deep within the asteroid’s core. To get a deeper look the spacecraft has a tool that blows nitrogen gas onto the surface that will force minerals up from a depth of about two inches. Even so, it’s pretty obvious that much about Bennu will remain unknown even if the mission is successful in achieving all of its goals.

But, a successful mission will at least tell the world one thing: can mining asteroid’s work? The gringa believes if great wealth is at stake there will be movers and shakers in this world who will make it work one way or another while pocketing a healthy profit in the process.

Source & Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

 

 

Calling All Young People! Physics Is Phun!


If kids are finding science studies boring and exhibit no interest in pursuing a career in something like physics, they just haven’t made the right connections! Look, the future of our planet’s survival depends on every generation producing fantastic scientific minds with a passion for discovery. And, trust the gringa, science, especially physics, is anything BUT boring! I mean, just check out this amazing GIF and video that illustrate physics in action. One looks like dots traveling in a straight line but they are actually traveling on curves. The other looks like the dots are traveling in a circular pattern but they are actually traveling in a straight line:

tumblr_o17qz1y1Rf1r2geqjo1_540

Now that the gringa’s got your attention, what exactly can a person do as a physicist? Well, you can create really cool art like this or you could work for other people. If you work for NASA you can follow their astrophysics goal:  “Discover how the universe works, explore how it began and evolved and search for life on planets and other stars.” To do that involves all sorts of interesting work like:

  • Stargazing through incredible observatories like: Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope
  • Work with teams from all over the world: European Space Agency and Japan’s JAXA space agency
  • Perform all sorts of wacky experiments to test theories about things like: black holes, the Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy, existence of extra-terrestrial life, suitability of distant planets to support life
  • Design any manner of dangerous stuff mom and dad won’t let you build in the garage: rockets, lasers, rocket fuel, robots, super colliders that annihilate atoms

So kids, get excited about science! If it’s boring in the classroom, search for inspiration. There are folks like physicist Derek Muller who makes science loads of fun. On his blog and YouTube channel, “Veritasium”, you can learn about science in a way that is interesting and also relevant to what the world needs to day. Check out one of the gringa’s favorite videos of Muller’s (grapes + microwave = plasma):

Look, kids, the truth is agencies like NASA needs you. Your mom and dad need you. The entire world needs you. Let’s face it, the world is in need of some major repair. The days of Batman and Flash Gordon are over. The heroes the world needs now are scientists. So, put on your goggles (and a cape if it inspires you) and get crackin’.

 

Sources: www.nasa.govhttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHnyfMqiRRG1u-2MsSQLbXA, Tumblr_o17qz1y1Rf1r2geqjo1_540, www.facebook.com/physicsastrophysics

Image Source:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel To Mars & Manic Cats


When the caveman and I head south for an Amazon jungle escape in his homeland of Peru, we first have to endure a six hour flight from Houston. Since we are not made of money, we do not fly first class. And so far, I have yet to find an airline with a cuddle section in coach. Also, because of the horrible pollution in Peru’s capital, Lima, it’s location along the Pacific coastline and it’s coastal desert climate, there are only certain times of day that are suitable for flights because of smog and fog. The airport is active at night. So, getting there is not so bad. We can leave at a decent hour in the afternoon and arrive sometime after dinner. However, I have never been able to find any other flight back to the states that is not scheduled in the red-eye hours. This makes homeward air travel a grouch inducing event.

The gringa’s return trip experience usually goes something like this:

  • 10pm – Arrive at the airport
  • 12am – Settle into my airplane seat
  • 12:30am – Take off and read until I’m sleepy
  • 1:30am – Attempt to go to sleep which involves my travel neck pillow hanging in front to avoid the forward head bob which usually never really works so eventually I dig out a scarf and tie my head to the headrest
  • 2am – After tying my head to the headrest, I now have to pee after all the bending and twisting has tortured my bladder.
  • 2:15am – Re-tie my head to the headrest after returning from the bathroom. Discover I am wide awake. Untie my head and begin to read.
  • 3am – Tie my head to the headrest and try to sleep which involves fits and spurts of dozing off then those little jumps a body makes as you merge into deep REMs, wake up frightfully scared then embarrassed, need to pee again, blah, blah, blah.
  • 5am – Flight attendants come around with breakfast and I give up completely on sleep since now there is food involved.
  • 6am – Arrive in Houston where I am an absolute grouch until I collapse in my bed when I get home.

And that’s a “good” trip. One time we went and the air conditioner vent, those little circular doo-hickies up where the reading lights are that can pivot around? Well, the passenger in front of me had his on full blast and every now and then it would start spitting ice out and the angle was perfect for me getting shot in the eye about every thirty minutes or so. Just long enough for me to let my guard down, thinking that the other time it happened was just a fluke, then, “BAM”, right in the eye again. Oh, boy, I tell ya the gringa was spitting mad.

Then there was the time these three brothers were traveling together and they were all drunk as skunks. They wouldn’t stay in their seats. They would stand up, arms around each other, sing songs in Spanish, sometimes Portuguese, then hug and cry. I don’t know what they were singing about, maybe about their women that left them because they were loud and obnoxious drunks, but, eventually, one of them got sick right in front of the poor lady that was seated by the emergency exit. You how those seats that have all that extra space in front of them in the middle of the cabin? Yeah, he walked right over there and heaved. Then the lady screamed, jumped up, stepped in it, got so upset, tried to yell, gagged, then she puked. The flight attendant’s solution? Scatter a bucket of coffee grounds over it. Yeah, good times.

Which brings the gringa to the hopeful news out of NASA. I’m talking about their groundbreaking laser propulsion system. They are claiming that if the technology works, eventually crews could reach Mars in a matter of days. I’m guessing if that technology was put to use to get me to Peru a trip would be about as fast as Star Trek’s transporter technology. That sounds sensational to the gringa. No more dodging ice pellets or dealing with drunks or tying my head to the headrest and arriving home grumpy as a mad, wet cat.

So how does this laser propulsion business work? Scientists have known for some time how to propel objects at light speed. The reason this is not done with current spacecraft is because they are too heavy. Their weight creates all kinds of complications. Laser propulsion takes liquid fuel cargo out of the picture which drastically reduces the weight making light speed, then, a possibility, or at least a quarter of light speed a possibility. At that rate, a spacecraft could reach Alpha Centauri within 15 years. That’s a star about four light years away.

With that in mind, then, a spacecraft that weighs about 100 kilograms/220 pounds could reach Mars in about six months, give or take a couple of months either way. So, to get serious about space travel, we’ve got to speed up transit time.

The laser propulsion system is called “photonic” propulsion, but laser just seems a word most people immediately can visualize. When I think of laser propulsion, I envision spacecraft zipping through the skies like a flash of light and all the cats on Earth will end up with manic disorders. Many will injure themselves attempting to launch through windows at the laser light displays crisscrossing the skies. There may be troubling and dangerous times ahead for cats and cat lovers. But, heads up to the gringa’s more innovative readers. This could lead to a niche market in cat care products for kitties that are suffering from spacecraft laser related mania.

But, I digress, to get back to how it all works… rather than one giant laser shooting a spacecraft off into the heavens, multiple lasers would propel an aircraft. Multiple amplifiers would then combine the power of the individual laser to create a singular beam powerful enough to propel the craft. And, guess what… the technology already exists! Scientists and researchers only need to develop and test the technology with actual aircraft and spaceships.

Scientists and engineers are very excited because they know this idea will work. They have small amplifiers that are about the size of a school book. What they really want is an array of amplifiers floating in orbit around Earth in a six-square-mile configuration. That’s what it would take to shoot a black-eyed pea to Alpha Centauri. Um, the gringa’s going to need a little more room than that on a trip to Mars. I’m just sayin’, ya know.

Although the necessary scope of how large an array really needs to be sounds absolutely outrageous, like, perhaps an array covering hundreds of square miles and orbiting the earth, scientists still believe it is do-able. And yet, with all of this good news, there is one little problem the scientists save to the last to mention.

That would be the sticky issue of how to put on the brakes. I mean, what good is it to send a satellite or probe blazing a light speed path through space if it can only pass through, never being able to slow down and click a couple of snapshots or collect some atmospheric gas samples or drop off a few passengers? It ends up just being a real expensive slingshot with old, highly educated kids playing around with it.

And, if a craft can’t slow down, how in the heck could it maneuver around space debris? That pea shaped probe will get obliterated the first time it comes up against a chunk of space ice the size of a nickel. So, the gringa says, “Well, scientists, sounds like you folks need to get back to the drawing board. At first I was very excited and now I’m just aggravated that you got me all excited for nothing. I am not interested in a light year speed fly-by to Mars or a light year speed crash landing suicide mission.”

That’s when the scientists remind us of another option. We could use the array for protection. Yes, we can zap asteroids and space debris that threaten Earthlings. See, I told you Earth cats are in for it.

 

Source: http://www.nasa.gov

image source:   http://www.spoki.tvnet.lv

 

 

 

Please Hold… What Was That You Said?


Can you imagine being off in an isolated, deserted area exploring. You have some sort of “incident” and realize you’ve been poisoned. Within two minutes you have located your phone and the 1-800 number for the Poison Control Center which you promptly call. They talk to you for two minutes to find out all the details of what exactly has poisoned you. It takes them another sixty seconds to discover the antidote and determine the proper course of action. It takes another sixty seconds for them to communicate this information. The last words the Poison Control operator says is, “The antidote must be delivered within five minutes to prevent death.” One minute too late. You’re dead. And THAT, dear readers, is exactly why NASA is developing a laser named OPALS. To avoid critical time delay effects on communications and astronauts who are in deep space.

NASA’s Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) uses a laser beam to transmit data from the International Space Station to Earth. We Earthlings enjoy modern technology where we get instant gratification at the touch of a button (or voice command) when we need to communicate with anyone anywhere at any time about anything. The gringa is so spoiled, I get all aggravated when I get put on hold and have to listen to what is ALWAYS the most horrible music ever created by man. Well, avoiding time delayed transmissions is not about lowering aggravations levels of impatient astronauts. It’s about having technical support for the crew 24/7 to help them survive any possible crisis.

If astronauts relied on ancient radio wave technology, crew members could expect a lag time of over half an hour round trip. Yep, plenty of time for an astronaut to stub a cosmic toe and die. This just won’t do. And what if a crisis is happening back home? How awful for an astronaut to have an Earth-bound loved one who really needs a comforting or encouraging word and has to sit twiddling their thumbs for half an hour as the “I love you’s” and “You can DO IT” make the rounds between here and there. The gringa thinks, “Surely, in this day and age, we can do so much better!”

NASA conducted telecommunication research with the Comm Delay Assessment to see just what would happen to astronauts emotionally if they were cut off from contact completely and/or had pesky time-delay issues to deal with in communications. The performance of astronauts was analyzed as they completed six tasks with no time delayed communication and four where they experienced a 50-second time delay in communication. The no-brainer result was that the astronauts delivered a higher performance with a better mood when the communication was uninterrupted. With each delay, their mood got worse and more worse.

Yes, the gringa understands this. A memory of a cellphone flying out the front door in frustration and summarily receiving a well-aimed petite heel on the view screen comes to mind. I refuse to name names or give any further details. We’ve all been there. No need to judge the gringa. (I also once delivered a hammer blow to an alarm clock but that is fodder for another story).

Of course it was only normal for the crew to get frustrated when they needed to communicate quickly and had to sit around and wait. This only aggravates the already existing syndrome of “space brain”. This condition astronauts experience makes it harder to remember and comprehend things. The gringa is reminded again of a particular back and forth between my teenage son and I regarding help with my computer. I, too, have “space brain” and have never even had the privilege to “catch” this disease on a galactic mission. I call my son because I have done something to my laptop’s “home network”, didn’t have a clue what that meant, and couldn’t get on the Internet. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: “Son, I can’t get on the Internet.”

Son: “What does it say?”

Me: “Something about the home network.”

Son: “Okay, click on blah-blah-blah, then click on who-whatsit, and click OK.”

Me: “Got it. Piece of cake. Thanks. Love you.”

I hang up. I then realize I have no idea how to open the “home network” window. I call back (mind you he is at a party). He answers (thank God). I tell him my problem and he tells me what to do. I open the “home network” window then realize I forgot all the previous instructions. I call back. HE DOESN’T ANSWER! I call again. NO ANSWER! AAAAHHHHH! Time delay in a crisis! The gringa needs HELP!!! NOW!!! Yes. I know EXACTLY why the astronauts got a little moody.

And, what about having CLEAR communication? The astronauts also expressed that even more important than having instant communication was being able to understand what the heck was being said. This, too, the gringa totally understands. Every day the caveman and I talk on the phone while I walk the dog. At his job there is always a deafening din in the background not to mention his accent. On top of those issues is the fact that, by nature, he is a very soft spoken person. Mumblypeg is another affectionate I sometimes call the caveman. I cannot count how many times throughout the conversation I say the following words: “I can’t hear you.” “That made absolutely no sense.” “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” “I SAID I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” It is only the immense, unfathomable love I have for the caveman that preserves the life of my cellphone and it doesn’t end up under a certain petite heel of a person whom we all know and love yet shall remain nameless.

Unfortunately for these communications with the mumblypeg caveman the gringa will not get to enjoy the benefit of OPALS.  The astronauts, however, will. They will get to enhance the safety of their deep-space mission with laser enhanced telecommunications technology. The time delay will be the same, but, at least, when the message finally does arrive the astronauts won’t be saying, “What the HECK did they SAY?!” Or, as they open their special delivery package from home they smack their foreheads and shout, “We said we needed more NAILS! Not SNAILS!” And then the bag  is tossed out the spacelock in disgust and left to its fate on the inhospitable surface of Mars only to mutate and become gigantic Martian snails who exact their revenge on the astronauts who rejected them by sliming their exploration vehicle. Laser transmission will allow for clear as a bell communication of much more information that can be transmitted at one time as well as save us all from a future Martian snail slime war.

While Earthlings will be having the Neanderthal experience of watching television at about twenty megabits per second, the astronauts will be laser streaming videos at about 50 megabits per second and, without that pesky buffering. One day, one Martian will say to another Martian“Let’s “beam home” and see how grandma and grandpa are doing back in Texas!” The gringa will answer and say, “Having a beer on the beach, how ‘bout you?”

 

Source & Photo Credit:  http://www.nasa.gov