Tag Archives: engineering

Ares I first stage test firing

An evening pause: One week ago today the rocket company ATK test fired the first stage solid rocket motor of the Ares I rocket. At the moment, no one knows if this rocket will even be built, as the Obama administration opposes it while Congress argues a variety of options. Regardless, watch this video of the test and you will understand why it is fun ito build rockets.

Engineering in the Columbia River Gorge

Because yesterday’s hike up Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls (see picture below) was particularly long, 12.5 miles, I took a break from posting when I got home. Today (Monday), however, was a more easy-going day, as we did more ordinary tourist stuff, driving from place to place with only short strolls at each stop.

Tunnel Falls

The most fascinating tourist stop of the day was by far Bonneville Dam. Just as the security guard at the gate let the car in front of us through, her phone rang. When she was finished and came up to our car, she explained that we would have to wait about a half hour before going to the visitor center, as they needed to open the swing bridge so that a barge could go through the locks. At first I thought this was very unfortunate timing. In the end, it turned out to be fortuitous indeed. We parked at the viewing area above the locks and watched five barges, tied tightly together as a unit and pushed upstream by a tug, slide gently into the lock with barely inches on either side. Neither Diane or I could believe how little spare room the tugboat captain had to pilot this massive object. The gigantic downstream doors then closed (while I quipped that music from Star Wars should be playing) and the lock was quickly filled with water, raising the barges/tugboat up almost a hundred feet. The upstream doors than opened and the barge headed out. All told, the whole operation took less than 45 minutes.

The barges enter the lock

The barges with the lock filled

We then took a tour of the dam’s first power station, with its ten turbines all in a row. Unfortunately, none were operating at the moment. Nonetheless, whenever I see places like this (such as when I visited Hoover Dam back in 2005), I can’t help but be reminded of the scene from the science fiction movie Forbidden Planet, when Walter Pigeon gives us a tour of the Krell underground machine. Unlike the Krell, however, it didn’t take millions of years for us to learn how to build such breath-taking big dams and power stations. We did it less than 150 years after the discovery of electricity!

Bonneville Dam power station

Paper extolling the benefits from interstellar spaceflight

This guy is thinking ahead: a paper extolling the scientific benefits of interstellar space travel (published in a 2009 issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society) was made available today on the Los Alamos astro-ph website. Fun quote from the abstract:

Significant benefits are identified in the fields of interstellar medium studies, stellar astrophysics, planetary science and astrobiology. In the latter three areas the benefits would be considerably enhanced if the interstellar vehicle is able to decelerate from its interstellar cruise velocity to rest relative to the target system. Although this will greatly complicate the mission architecture, and extend the overall travel time, the scientific benefits are such that this option should be considered seriously in future studies.

Why SpaceX is winning the race

An unidentified administrator of the University of Michigan space engineering program has some interesting thoughts on why SpaceX has been so successful. Key quote:

I recently performed an analysis of the very best students in my space engineering programs over the past decade, based on their scholarly, leadership and entrepreneurial performance at Michigan. To my amazement, I found that of my top 10 students, five work at SpaceX. No other company or lab has attracted more than two of these top students.

I also noticed that SpaceX recruited only two of them directly from the university. The others were drawn to the company after some years of experience elsewhere—joining SpaceX despite lower salaries and longer work hours. Why do they leave successful jobs in big companies to join a risky space startup? A former student told me, “This is a place where I am the limiting factor, not my work environment.” At SpaceX, he considers himself to be in an entrepreneurial environment in which great young people collaborate to do amazing things. He never felt like this in his previous job with an aerospace company.

1 285 286 287 288 289