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

 

 

 

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“Spacespresso” Please


The gringa is most definitely a “Trekkie”. No big surprise there, eh? I just love all the gadgets they have on those shows. One of my favorites is the “tri-corder” (which, forever and a day I thought was actually “tri-quarter”). This little doo-dad scanned, analyzed and recorded data. It could detect life forms through a rock wall or diagnose a disease or injury. Well, guess what? NASA may very well be getting some! They’re not called “tri-corder” but, the concept is the same.

This fascinating invention is the brain child of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that’s located in Pasadena, California. It’s small, portable and called a “chemical laptop”. Personally, I think that name has absolutely no imagination and wish they could have come up with something more akin to “tri-corder”, but no one asked me.  If they had I would have called it something like “hand lab” or “Doal” (Detector of alien life) or maybe “Cie” (Coolest invention ever) or, as you will read later and understand, “Spacespresso” (my personal favorite). But, like I said, no one asked me.

This chemical “laptop” is actually not a laptop at all. It’s really a miniature laboratory, about the size of a regular laptop and thicker. The above picture shows the chemical laptop sitting beside a regular laptop, both on top of a rover. The chemical laptop analyzes material samples for signs of life. If it ever makes the grade for an off-world mission it will be an historic moment as being the most sensitive technological device to ever leave planet Earth.

NASA has big dreams of sending it to Mars or Europa. If they get their big chance, instead of using the “laptop” to scan a bit of this or that, it will, gulp, swallow the sample. (The gringa envisions memories of the “Hungry, Hungry, Hippo” game I played as a child.) Once consumed, the laptop can be programmed through various “apps” (we all know what those are!) to test for all sorts of things like amino acids or fatty acids, which are the basic building blocks of life as we know it.

Now, at this turn in the story the gringa gets totally sidetracked with the amino acid thing. As I peruse my research material I scratch my little head and think, “Really? I had no idea!” Taking the risk that my dear reader may already know interesting tidbits about amino acids, I will share what fascinated me so.

Apparently, amino acids are either right-handed or left-handed. In other words, there are two types that are mirror images of each other. The left-handed booger is the standard for life as we know it on Earth. As NASA studies samples, they are looking for samples that are predominantly one or the other. A 50/50 mix is not considered to be a biological form.

The challenge for NASA has been developing a way to look for both types in a single sample. And, VOILA!  The chemical laptop! Now, this little lab needs liquid samples which are not easily found on other planets that are usually colossal frozen rocks in orbit. Now, for you folks that love your espresso machines, you will totally get the technology involved to mix a sample with a bit of water then heat the mix until some of the sample’s organic molecules mix with the water.

When “Spacespresso” then receives the liquid sample it injects a fluorescent dye into it. The sample flows over a microchip that detects which is a leftie or which is a rightie. These pass by a laser and are separated according to leftie or rightie status. Once separated, the lefties and righties are mixed with a chemical that interacts specifically with one or the other. Finally, they emerge into a channel and the scientists can then determine how many lefties and how many righties there are.

Field tests began in 2014, which is the first step to reaching the ultimate goal of getting “Spacespresso” to Mars. The next field test is going to be in the Atacama Desert in Chile. NASA, true to its mission of helping all mankind with its work, is considering how this technology can also be of benefit in the world of medicine and not just their own Mars mission dreams. The gringa waits with bated breath.

Source and Photo credit: http://www.nasa.gov