Apr 212016
 
Dream Big, Build Small to Reach the Stars

Well, that didn’t take as long we thought. A concept I first heard introduced at the 100-Year Starship symposium last fall proposed a stream of postage stamp-sized probes with light sails propelled by a 10-minute burst of laser beams that accelerates the probes to 20 percent light speed. At that speed, the probes could reach more »

Dec 292015
 
Rocket Scientists Follow Science Fiction’s Lead

I don’t recall many science fiction stories that had manned spacecraft landing on Earth by parachuting into water.  There might have been a few SF stories based on the Apollo program, but parachutes? No. So last week’s powered landing of Space X’s Falcon 9 first stage was a step backward in time to when SF more »

Dec 292015
 
Science Fiction Trends Back to Hard Science

NPR broadcast a report Dec. 13 on the recent rise in “hard” science fiction stories, taking special note of the book and film The Martian “that taps into an intriguing trend toward realism.” It’s a trend that many readers and viewers of science fiction have noticed since Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy in the 1990s, more »

Nov 192015
 
Finding Creative Paths to the Stars

From Epic World-Ship Journeys to Spamming Our Galactic Neighbors In Science Fiction, there are three ways to reach the stars: fly fast, fly slow, or fly tricky, or so an old saying goes. In science, mostly there are the same three ways, but none of the options can be reached through a creative, technobabble paragraph. Some more »

Oct 072015
 
Who’s in that Martian Water?

NASA’s announcement last week of clinching evidence that liquid water exists on Mars may doom any chance of building a colony on the Red Planet. It’s not the liquid water that hides in Martian sublayers and at times  escapes to the surface or near surface of the planet that’s the problem. It’s what may be in more »

Feb 272015
 
Living in California, Working on Mars

It’s not everyday I get to talk with someone who works on Mars. So when I scored an assignment for The Atlantic magazine’s website (Jet Lag is Worse on Mars) on how Martian explorers will adjust to a longer Martian day, my first call was to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I was able to get more »

Jun 152014
 
"That is how a 21st century spaceship should land"

SpaceX has been making great strides in proving its launch capabilities and competing for acceptance from NASA to carry astronauts back into space on an American rocket. But in the neck-and-neck competition to have a private enterprise spacecraft crew rated, it struck me that SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft was lagging behind Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser when more »

Aug 272013
 
One-Way to Mars: Is it the only way?

No, but maybe sending colonists first is the better way If you want to go to Mars, you only have a few days left to apply. But if you want a round trip ticket, you’re going to have to wait a while longer. The plan of the Mars One Foundation to send would-be colonists to more »

Aug 262012
 
Reflections from a July morning on a Florida beach, 1969

We didn’t sleep much that night on the beach, my brother, my cousin and I – and several thousand other people. We kept staring across Indian River at that gleaming needle of white on the Atlantic shoreline of the Kennedy Space Center, a rocket bathed in the brilliant glare of searchlights that surrounded the launch more »

Aug 172012
 
If we find life on Mars, is Mars off limits?

When Curiosity shakes off all the dust from landing and completes all its system checks, it will begin its one-year trek (by the Martian calendar) up Mount Sharp, with one of its aims to discover if Mars was ever habitable for primitive life. What if it was? Wow! Great, what a find! What if the more »