"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Praise for NASA's NanoSail-D

The Energy Debate

A big debate is taking place over the future of cars. What will power our personal and family vehicles in the future? Will the most efficient cars run on traditional gas, a gas/electric combination, or pure electricity? This is a good debate. We need to have it. And it is generating exciting research and development.

A similar debate is occurring in the space industry. What is the best way to power spacecraft? Will the best and most efficient spacecraft run on traditional rocket power, electrically charged engines, or solar sails? As with cars, the answer is almost certainly that each type of propulsion has a role to play. This is a good debate. We need to have it. And it is generating exciting research and development.

The Solar Sail Cometh

Image Credit: NASA
"Solar sails use sunlight to propel vehicles through space much like sailboats rely on wind to push through the water."
So says a NASA fact sheet I will soon link you to. Above is a great artist rendering of a solar sail driven by light from the sun, quite like clipper ships driven by wind in the 19th Century--a primitive era when using renewable energy was an act of common sense.

Congratulations to NASA and NanoSail-D

A big development happened this month with regard to solar sails. For the first time in orbit above the earth, NASA successfully deployed a solar sail, named NanoSail-D. It is now circling the earth. And in a development that I find even more impressive, NASA has marshaled amateur radio operators around the world to track this 100-square-foot sail over the course of its short life. To reach NanoSail-D's homepage, complete with photos, a fact sheet and a time line, click this link.

I also recommend the following NASA video. Watching this sail unfurl reminds me of the strange exhilaration got by watching a Jiffy Pop container expand. Sounds silly, I know. But watching something tightly compacted suddenly balloon to a formidable size is a treat.

Taking Out the Cosmic Garbage

NanoSail-D is now intentionally submitting itself to the friction of the atmosphere. As I said above, its life is short. What's the point? Just that, to have a short life and a fiery death. NanoSail-D is demonstrating that we can efficiently deorbit dangerous space junk by rigging it with a deployable sail. Oh that I could have had this technology back when my grandma in rural Utah would ask me to stop watching satellite TV and go burn the trash. (And now you really know why I support NASA.)

Lastly, this post is the latest in a series I am doing dedicated to solar sailing. Most recently, I discussed The Educational Incentive Behind Solar Sails.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Read My Testimony on 'Wheat and Tares'

First, a Quick Update on 'Memories are Everything'

For the most up-to-date coverage of climbing and Alan's support of Alzheimer's research, visit www.alanarnette.com

Logo from climb4ad.com
Accomplished mountain climber Alan Arnette is now ascending Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America. Arnette is climbing the highest summit on each continent this year to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's research. Cool photos, video, and audio updates are available on his blog site.


My Testimony of Life and Mind

Image from NASA/Cosmos Studios
I was invited to do a guest post at a Mormon-themed blog site called Wheat and Tares. Since it was my first official post there, I felt it appropriate to offer a statement of personal belief. The post is My Testimony of Life and Mind. I hope you will give it a read, as it is a great way to get to know me and some of my influences. My thanks to the authors of Wheat and Tares for the opportunity to participate in their rich and ongoing discussions.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Anatomy of a Safe Slumber

Things you will need:

-A Bed


-Socks (preferably thick)


-A nightstand (for band-aid storage)

Ever since writing Anatomy of a Snuggle, I’ve been musing about what self-help issue to address next. Not many nights ago, the right topic presented itself. Take note, good reader. The following instructional post is based on personal experience.

I would like to offer my specialized knowledge on an activity that is required for human survival: sleep. I’ll say it again. We humans require sleep. Not just quantity sleep, mind you. We need quality sleep.

Now I put this question to you: how can it be quality sleep if it is not safe sleep?

When I say “safe sleep”, I’m not talking about checking under the bed for monsters. Nor am I going to debate the pros and cons of owning a guard dog, firearms, or a home alarm system. These instructions assume that your bed is located in a reasonably safe, monster-free environment. Instead, I will focus on how to prepare one’s mind and body for safe sleeping. How can we ensure ourselves sleep that is relaxing, recuperative, and above all else, non-hazardous? Follow these steps:

1) In the hour before bedtime, avoid watching action programs, especially thrillers or sports. Also refrain from consuming caffeinated beverages. Instead, meditate on concepts like calmness and stillness.

2) Place band-aids in your nightstand.

3) Secure your sheets with well-tucked hospital corners. Ideally, also sleep under a thick comforter. Doing so informs your body that tossing and turning are undesirable.

4) Put on a pair of thick woolen socks.

5) For maximum wellbeing, I recommend sleeping on your back. Why not on your side? Remember, this isn’t just about the body. It’s about the soul. Sleeping on your back is an optimistic choice--what the sages call sanguine. You end your day looking upward.

6) Resist the urge to kick out your blankets as you drift off.

7) Don’t dream about playing soccer, especially if you are sleeping on your side and have failed to don thick socks.

8) If you are unable to avoid a dream about soccer, at least try to dream that the ball doesn’t come to you.

9) In the event that you have skipped one or all of the above steps--the result being that you are sleeping on your side, barefoot, with your feet sticking out of the sheets, all the while having an elaborate dream about playing in the World Cup--whatever happens, don’t dream that you kick the ball.

10) The sound of your foot impacting the nightstand with full force will probably awaken you. If the crashing sound doesn’t wake you up, the sharp pain in your foot certainly will. In any case, waking up is the next step.

11) Assess the wound or wounds your foot sustained while kicking the ball--that is to say the nightstand--into the opposing team’s goal.

12) Apply direct pressure to stop any bleeding.

13) Resume sleeping.

The above instructions, though not foolproof, increase the chances that you will sleep safely--even if you find yourself dreaming about a sport you haven't played since you were seven.

Lastly, I am including the below photo of a properly bandaged kicking foot. Safe sleeping, folks!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunshine State Without the Sunshine: An ISS Image

Those with a keen eye for detail will notice the below photo is actually upside down. I intentionally flipped it before posting. You can see it with the dizzying space-based orientation at NASA’s photo gallery.

This image was taken from the International Space Station during the recent holiday season. As should be obvious, this is Florida at night. Clearly visible cities include Miami, Tampa and Orlando. And you can easily make out Cape Canaveral peeling away from the mainland at middle right. Also note how the veiny sprawl of freeway culture is evident.

For fun, I suggest opening a second browser window and comparing this photo to the satellite version in Google Maps. That's why I flipped it 180 degrees. Use the search term "Florida" and zoom as needed. It's the most cartographic fun I've had since 8th Grade Geography Class!

Florida as seen from the ISS, Image Credit: NASA