Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Digital people - my review of Incandescence

My review of Greg Egan's Incandescence is out this month in the Australian Book Review. Here is the opening paragraph:

What do you do when you can live for thousands of years, travel nearly everywhere you wish in the galaxy, and customise your environment and your body to be exactly the way you like? When there is no risk of starvation, injury or disease? When your back-up simply takes over when, for some reason, you die? What do you do when the whole universe is your playground and you’re just plain bored?

Greg, if you're out there, I think I am nearly brave enough to want to know your reactions .......

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Mixing" natural and cultural values in space

I love the occasional synergies between teaching and research .... this morning I'm revising a lecture on international heritage charters and conventions. This reminds me that I have been intending for some time to make a charter for space heritage, and also that in untangling natural and cultural heritage values in space, I should keep in mind the World Heritage concept of "mixed" properties - those inscribed for outstanding natural and cultural values, Kakadu National Park being the exemplar. I'm not saying that the idea of "mixed" values is the ideal solution, merely that this is how it is currently thought of at the international level, so I should explore it a bit further. All sorts of cultural landscape issues here, needless to say, and I should also pursue an old idea, that outstanding universal value presupposes an external observer.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Fiji in space and boy scout rockets

I'm procrastinating again .... but thought I would do some preliminary investigations on Polynesian space activities. I started with Fiji, a random choice, and found little available. A couple of interesting leads to follow though: Mir debris collected from the beaches, satellite television developments and rocket mail. In the early 1900s, rockets were used to deliver mail from the ship to the shore on one of the Fijian islands. The main reference for this seems to be:

Kronstein, Max 1986 Rocket Mail Flights of the World to 1986 The American Air Mail Society

I'm not especially interested in rocket mail, but it was a theme that continued after WW II, with a popular children's author writing a book on rocket postal services from Woomera.

Also in my investigations this morning I came across a reference to boy scout rocket launches. This is in direct line with my interest in amateur/public space programmes, so must definitely follow it up.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sweden's Kronogard launch site and the noctilucent clouds

I would write about this even if it were not significant, just because noctilucent or "night-shining" is such a gorgeous word.

Looking (as I often am these days) for places or objects that satisfy the somewhat loose set of criteria I have established for my space heritage list. I currently have graduate students working on Nigeria, and places registered on national heritage lists, but this still leaves much for me to do.

Sweden is as yet unrepresented, and I discovered the existence of the Kronogard launch site, near Kabdalis in the far north. The Stockholm Institute of Meteorology, with assistance from NASA and the US Air Force, launched Nike-Cajuns from 1962 to conduct upper atmosphere experiments by releasing large quantities of talcum powder at altitude - artificial "noctilucent" clouds - and studying the effects. Experiments of this kind were also very common at Woomera, but my impression was that they were done during the daytime rather than night.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Testing and designing lunar modules: a talk by Kerrie Dougherty

Illustrated talk: Apollo 9How do you land on the moon?

Curator, Space Technology, Powerhouse Museum
Sunday 8 March 2009
2.00–3.00pm, Level 2

On March 7, 1969, the first flight tests of the Lunar Module, the vehicle that would enable astronauts to land on the Moon, were carried out during the Apollo 9 mission. This lecture will explore the development of a Moon landing craft for the Apollo program, from the early designs to the first test flight in space of the selected Lunar Module design. It will also look at how the astronauts trained to fly a spacecraft that could not be tested on Earth. This presentation is part of a series of lectures that will culminate in July 2009 with the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

Free with Museum admission.
Part of the Powerhouse Museum 2009 Adult Learning Program.

For more information go to http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/whatson

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Duncan Steel on orbital debris

Last week I attended a seminar on orbital debris by Duncan Steel from QinetiQ. Of course we talked about the recent collision between the Iridium and the Kosmos .... Duncan showed some very interesting simulations of how debris disperses over time, and also said that the data from the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF), which was launched in 1984 and retrieved in 1990 so that the impacts on its materials could be assessed, had never been really systematically analysed taking into account all factors of the space environment. He was also very skeptical about the various proposals to remove debris actually happening any time soon. Which is kind of good for me!