Atom Wave: June 2008

Atom Wave

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Repeat Failures of Spaceflight

Everything that has happened before will happen again. Take the Space Shuttle, Americas poster child of technical skill; and a bomb of a spacecraft built by committee. It all began back in 1969 at the end of the Apollo Program, when NASA proposed building a fully reusable spacecraft to replace the Saturn 5. It never did happen, but in the following years NASA, Congress, the Pentagon, and the Nixon Administration built a far inferior spacecraft than they could of. Consider one of the early proposals that used a Saturn 5 rocket first stage in place of the External Tank and Solid Rocket Boosters that brought the Challenger and Columbia to grief.

Something like this could have stopped the Challenger from exploding in the first place, given as liquid rockets seldom fail catastrophically and can be shut down. Likewise, top mounted payloads are not susceptible to foam loss from boosters damaging thermal insulation.

Now NASA is building the Ares 1, essentially a shuttle solid rocket booster with a top mounted crew capsule and upper stage, potentially repeating all of the earlier mistakes and adding one new one. Early results show that the ride will be truly jaw breaking, maybe more than an astronaut can survive. Good job!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The World Without Humans

Someday in the near or distant future, the day will come when our species goes the way of the dinosaurs. Assuming that our passing wasn’t due to a catastrophic war or natural event, something must be done with our past monuments when our fossils are descending into the molten core.

Not that any of us will be around to care anymore, but Alan Weisman with his groundbreaking thought-experiment, The World Without Us, has answered the question.

Naturally, the story begins at your home. Don’t worry about redecorating, once the windows break and the roof fails; the action of moisture and mold will rot the structure from the inside out within 100 years. Should you live in a desert climate, the rot will take much longer but any plastic or metal will be destroyed quickly by the heat and salty soils. Moving on to New York City, it will be reclaimed by rivers once the electricity fails and the subways flood. With the subways and basements flooded, only a few decades will be needed before the streets and mighty skyscrapers begin to fall. In the meantime the world will transform into a radioactive toxic landscape once our nuclear power plants meltdown in neglect and our oil refineries detonate should no one shut them down. That would only take a few days, but our legacy will endure for hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of years. It will take nature at least that amount of time to erase the vast amounts of plastic, carbon dioxide, and radioactivity from our past adventures.

Which finally brings me to our lasting legacy, the radio signals and space probes that humans have launched which will continue to roam space for billions of years to come until they are the only ones to have ever known that we existed. 

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Comedy of Evolution

Evolution often gets a bad rap these days, by the unbelievers; and the people who think that they are better than their animal ancestors. Now I know that some of you have terrible scorn towards Charles Darwin, but the truth of the matter is that he is right. Now I don’t need to get into all the scientific analysis, science can actually be quite funny.

Seattle: When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find an ill man curled up next to a motor home near spilled sewage. A police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline and plugged his hose into the motor home's sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to press charges, saying that it was the best laugh he'd ever had.

Excerpt from Darwin Awards

This man survived, but many have not in their service to humanity.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Life Advice

In this reality drama we call life, tragedies and fiascos abound. Sometimes they are of our own choices; alright they are mostly of our own choices. Now I know that life is hard, and people often get down over it. I have some advice for you from a very credible source, live with it! This may at first seem harsh, but it can be liberating. Once you give up the burdens of past mistakes, you will enjoy your life more.

You can thank me later.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Ease of Artificial Earthquakes

Are you a disgruntled teenager? Maybe a political leader in need of attention or distraction from scandal? Do you need insurance money to upgrade that decrepit place you call a home? Have you considered earthquakes?

It turns out that artificial earthquakes aren’t just the realms of science fiction. These days any small country or corporation can get into the earthquake business, and it is easier than you might think.

Earthquakes occur due to stress within the earth’s crust. Over years or decades, stress accumulates within a fault until its slips. It is this slip that releases vast quantities of potential energy, transforming it into mechanical energy and acoustic vibrations. Actually most of the energy is lost to heat and the fracturing of the earth.

Returning to man made earthquakes; you can manufacture California shattering quakes from nothing more than construction machinery moving about massive amounts of mass. It’s simple really. Transferring large amounts of mass about shifts stress on faults, changing their dynamics and ultimately destabilizing them. They crack and you have an earthquake.

The best way is to build a dam. Back during the construction of the Hoover Dam, hundreds of quakes were recorded during the filling of Lake Mead. The quakes reached their peak in 1939 when the dam reached its peak, and they have flucturated ever since with water level. The area was not seismically active before construction began. It is speculated that the recent earthquake in China is the consequence of the filling of the Three Gorges Dam.

You could also inject liquids or gases underground. Back in 1961 the Army came up with a bright idea to dispose of toxic sludge from Napalm production. They injected it deep underground, of the order of 165 million gallons into a hole in Rocky Mountains Colorado. The army discontinued the program after a number of earthquakes were likely triggered. This problem will only be compounded in the coming decades as companies begin disposing of carbon dioxide deep within the earth.

Are you feeling greedy? You could profit of your endeavor by mining coal. In 2006 alone, 6,195 million metric tones of coal were extracted from the earth, and that was just the start. Coal mining operations also have to extract water, which can come out to many times the mass of coal. It is estimated that up to 50% of earthquakes could come from this source.

These last two are more speculation, but not totally unreasonable. You could assemble a skyscraper. The new Taepei 101 weighs in more than 700,000 tons. Back in 2005, a geologist claimed that this new structure was stressing a long dormant fault in Taiwan. You could also drill an oil well dry. It is alleged that three large earthquakes were triggered in Uzbekistan from natural gas extraction, quakes of the order of 7.3. There is certainly a correlation between drilling and earthquakes, but it is still debated over how much.
Are you still unsatisfied? You can still always resort to the deep underground detonation of a large explosive device. At least a few earthquakes have been set off over the years from underground nuclear testing. The Sedan detonation in 1962 set off an earthquake of the order of 4.75 on the Richter scale while researching the peaceful use of nuclear weapons.