Tag Archives: space

191. All Aboard The British Rail Space Express!

In 1970, Charles Osmond Frederick was drafted in by British Rail to design a lifting platform. Mr Frederick took on the challenge but after some revisions and a few edits it seemed he had gone rather off track. In December 1970 British Rail filed a patent application for the affectionately named ‘space vehicle‘. The official British Rail Flying Saucer.

Instead of a lifting platform the result of the design work was a large interplanetary passenger spacecraft designed for the pan-planet traveller. It was a truly preposterous proposition and in March 1973, the patent was granted.

The design named nuclear fusion as the source of lift and thrust. To start the engines one or more high-powered pulse laser beams are required the material. The pulses of nuclear energy generated would occur 1000 times a second to prevent any chance of resonance which might damage the vessel. To provide extra comfort for those traversing the notoriously low gravity of space, the acceleration of the ship could simulate that wholesome gravity feeling, a weight off the minds of those unaccustomed to zero-g travel. As an added comfort the patent even goes to the trouble of including a thick layer of metal above the fusion reactor to shield passengers from the deadly levels of radiation.

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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Articles


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187. Space and Other Rubbish

The distribution of space debris

Rubbish, junk, debris and garbage are not words typically associated with space, we think of it as vast and clean, but space junk is making a big mess of it, and it is not that easy to clean up. Especially because there are 10 million pieces of rubbish, floating around out there.

Among the 10 million pieces of space junk are around 32 nuclear reactors, and the cheerfully round Vanguard I, America’s second satellite and the oldest space debris, dating back to 1958. Space has some normal rubbish as well, some 200 bags of rubbish currently are making their orbit. How did they get there? The answer is that during the first ten years of the Mir space station they decided to simply ‘throw out the trash,’ hoping they would fall to earth and burn up. This has yet to happen.

Difficulties also arise because of speed, the debris can start move rapidly without all of that annoying air slowing them down. During the first American space walk in 1965, Astronaut Edward White managed to ‘misplace’ his glove in empty space. The glove was soon lapping the Earth at speeds of 28,000 kilometres per hour, making it the most dangerous item of clothing in history. Other space debris travels at such speeds that they can pass straight through 50mm of steel. Luckily the glove can’t, after one month the glove burnt up in the atmosphere leaving no trace, which was rather handy.

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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Articles


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185. Up Up and Away

In 2009 a helicopter hovered 900m above the Mojave Desert, Andrew Petro was watching. Beneath the helicopter was a steel cable tethered to the ground, as he watched a small, square robotic device rose upwards, racing towards the helicopter along the cable, at 600m it slowed to a crawl and then stopped. At the base of the cable was a tripod-mounted laser pointing at the robotic device, no longer powering it upwards, the limits of its power had been met. On behalf of NASA, Andrew Petro handed the semi-successful team behind the robotic square a cheque for $900,000 – they had just won a competition for the future of space travel.

Getting to space is expensive, but it becomes a lot cheaper when you don’t use rocket fuel. How to do that though. The answer involves a powerful laser, a cable 8 times the diameter of the earth, a large steel ball and finally a very big metal box. It was first described in 1895 as a ‘celestial castle’ attached to earth by a tether on the top of something like the Eiffel tower. It was more accurately presented in 1979 by Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘The Fountains of Paradise.’ The way to reach space, is with a Space Elevator.

The competition was the 2009 Space Elevator Games, a NASA-run competition to encourage innovation that could lead to more advanced prototype space elevators. The reasons for the sudden interest and investment are two-fold. In 1990 the first carbon nanotubes were successfully manufactured; and high-strength lasers are rapidly increasing in power. The thing is becoming possible. So now, it seems, the space elevator concept could finally be getting off the ground.

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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Articles


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175. The Great Saharan Eye

In a remote section of the Sahara Desert, Mauritania specifically, there lies this most mysterious formation, the ‘Eye of the Sahara,’ also known as the Richat Structure. Those passing over the large flat dome on the ground do not notice anything particularly out of the ordinary, but when viewed from space it stands out.

The eye of the Sahara is 50km in diameter and when viewed from above it does bear a resemblance to the human eye. Especially when one considers that it is actually a low dome, like a large eyeball peering out of the desert and gazing up into the sky. Its bizarre appearance and considerable size have led to great speculation as to how it ever came to exist. It used to be that no-one understood its formation and even now it has been extensively studied few believe that we are in possession of the truth yet. I suppose we shall have to wait, and see.

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Posted by on July 22, 2011 in Articles


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174. Neptune’s One Year Anniversary

In 1846 the planet Neptune was discovered; since then one year has passed. Now we celebrate the one year anniversary of its discovery. As you may have gathered, that is one Neptune year, something much longer than the human year.

Neptune is the coldest and most remote planet in our solar system (pluto does not count). BEing so far away it has an orbit that is 30 times larger than earth. One year of  Neptune, one full orbit of the sun, lasts 164.79 earth years. Making 12th June 2011 the one year anniversary.

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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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173. The Great Rolling Hotel and the Sahara

Subsaharan Africa is an inhospitable place at best, life maintains a tenuous grasp on that hot and arid landscape. It has long presented a great challenge to travelers, expeditionaries and nomads alike. Crossing  the Sahara even today is quite an undertaking. In 1969 humanity first set its footprints into the lunar dust, in the Shara another frontier was being broken. Overshadowed by the moon landing but still deserving of its own plaudits. For in 1969, humanity also first crossed the Sahara, in a bus. Well I say bus, really it is more than that. Not so technically advanced as the space shuttle but something equally as novel. It was ROTEL.

ROTEL is a simple concept from Germany, a hotel on wheels. Check in, tour the world then check out. To this day ROTEL still runs, operating tens of buses visiting over 150 countries. Touring from Baghdad, Bali, Scandinavia, the Arctic circle to just about any other country. For over 40 years ROTEL has provided the lazy explorer with the world. All in relative comfort, not decadence but at least from a position most unique. Where else after all, does the room itself take you to your destination?

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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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161. Planet In a Bottle

Biosphere 2 was ambitious, and the first of its kind. The aim was to create a second, slightly more portable earth, a closed system you could put anywhere which would allow people to survive, growing their own food and living off of it even the oxygen was recycled. A totally closed experiment to test whether or not we could live on another planet.

The site is spread over 3 hermetically sealed acres with double airlocks for assured safety. Inside were replicated all the world’s necessary environments. A small ocean with a wave machine and beach,  grassland savannah, tropical rainforest, farm and an additional mangrove wetland. Plants were chosen to remove carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen.

All 14 before the final selection

A group of fourteen people initially held a practice run. Each sported a fetching red jumpsuit made by the former maker of Marilyn Monroe’s dresses. Out of the group, eight were chosen for the full thing. A two-year stint in a completely closed system, just themselves and the farm, in a giant glass structure in the Arizona Desert.

8:15 am, 26 September 1991 all eight of the red-clad ‘bionauts’ climbed through the airlock, leaving behind them their recently consumed breakfasts and waving crowds. Behind them the airlocks closed and so began the $150 million experiment. Over the next two years the groups would survive together and be self-sufficient, exit only came for the ill. It was a bizarre affair.

Initially it was a media frenzy, Biosphere 2 was the first of its kind and tourists came by the busload to serve their voyeuristic needs, staring through the glass walls at the toiling human specimens held within. This activity itself went on to inspire a small cultural revolution, leading directly to the creation of Big Brother, an extremely popular Reality Show which let viewers in on the lives of ‘housemates’ who were people chosen to live in a house together and perform tasks. It is easy to see the similarities.

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Posted by on June 30, 2011 in Articles, Trivia


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