Flight

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“Man must rise above the Earth — to the top of the atmosphere and beyond — for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.” -Socrates

“Within all of us is a varying amount of space lint and star dust, the residue from our creation. Most are too busy to notice it, and it is stronger in some than others. It is strongest in those of us who fly and is responsible for an unconscious, subtle desire to slip into some wings and try for the elusive boundaries of our origin.” -K.O. Eckland

“I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things…” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“To put your life in danger from time to time… breeds a saneness in dealing with day-to-day trivialities.” -Nevil Shute

“That this tiny two-seater box of metal managed to rise into the air at all felt unbelievable. Once we broke ground, it seemed as if I were floating on a magic carpet… When I took over the controls, I felt as if I were at the center of my universe instead of orbiting someone else’s. I felt then, and still believe now, that piloting a small aircraft is about as good as it gets.” -Barbara Rowell

“The engine is the heart of an aeroplane, but the pilot is its soul.” -Walter Alexander Raleigh

“When I’m up in the air, it’s like I’m closer to heaven; I can’t explain the feeling.” -First Officer Jeffrey Gagliano

If I had felt the ability to handle an aircraft on my own before doing astrophysics, I might have opted out on the pursuit of multiple degrees in science and theology… But I suppose it is good that that did not happen, because it is relatively clear to me now that there is not a good career as a pilot (unless, maybe you are a test pilot).

Flying is definitely the most empowering and liberating day-to-day experience. To be a good pilot, you must completely forget about yourself and lose yourself to become a “useful part” of the airplane. For me, I was so terrified of flying a small plane for awhile that I could not accomplish the goal of losing myself, I just kept thinking about my fear and about how I was incapable and how ridiculous FAA Part 141 standards are. But when you do feel comfortable with the airplane and comfortable flying it alone, there is a feeling of the airplane needing you, and you needing it back- to escape the earth, to escape yourself, to escape into the sky.

When I did my cross country solo flights, afterward I felt that I could accomplish anything- that if I could fly a piece of technology across hundreds of miles alone, away from the bounds of gravity that have kept human beings on the ground for hundreds of thousands of years, that I could go anywhere, that I could do anything. It was the first time that I felt that flying to space is probably not even that big of a deal at all.

I see flying as a merger of religion and science in some allusive way. It is a religion because you have to lose yourself to become a part of something bigger -the airplane- and in doing so, you create a technological extension of yourself in a truly miraculous way. And it is a science of course because you need to have some understanding of how the technology and mechanics and physics of it works and you need to treat all of your actions in a very procedural, rigorous, scientific way. Part 141 flight is very useful for a scientist because it reiterates the scientific critical mindset in a very demanding way. You need to be very critical of every action you take in flight – in every situation in the air you must ask yourself- am I 100% certain that this action is the correct action to take? If not, you could be risking your life or someone else’s. And that’s what’s glorious about it- it’s probably the only time you can feel truly alive because at any moment, there is the possibility of a horrible death that splinters your flesh with metal. And of course, being amongst the clouds and seeing the earth and ocean from thousands of feet in the sky is truly heavenly.

But despite these thrills and allures and the spiritual uplift of flight, a career as a pilot seems to be very rough on the mind and body. I had entertained the idea of a career as a pilot a few times on and off because I love to travel and I love to fly and I love to see the stars and earth from the plane. Seeing the buildings and roads and houses and cars and people become specks is very comforting to me- to leave all the frustrations of the earth in the dust like they never mattered is so satisfying and so addicting. But now that I know about half a dozen people who spent several years pursuing flight ratings and their dream of being a pilot just to immediately quit their job as an airline pilot because of how horrible it turned out to be, I don’t think it would be smart to pursue it other than for fun and for entertaining the joke of astronaut candidacy as a woman (only 60 women in human history have ever been to space!) I’ve talked to people in the private jet industry – get paid to fly a beautiful private jet to exotic places where the millionaire jet owner pays for your luxury hotels? Um, yes! – but it seems that typically said millionaire will treat you like a servant and demand demeaning assistant tasks of you despite your years and years of flight training. And as a woman, forget it. “Don’t you ever let a woman fly my multi-million dollar jet” is just one private-jet industry complaint I’ve heard.

I kind of have an inside perspective on aviation. I now work at a flight testbed at an airport and my understanding from the pilots and test pilots there is that commercial aircraft are already perfectly automated. There is no need for a pilot whatsoever- the pilot is the aircraft babysitter in a commercial aircraft. In fact, if you fly regularly in commercial aircraft, some of the landings were probably automated. But in a small plane, nothing is automated, you do all the work or “hand flying” and I think that’s the only way it can be satisfying and exciting and fun. But people will never get in a commercial aircraft without a human pilot and so there will always be someone forced to sit there and be shipped off to some random location. In our lifetimes it might be reduced to one pilot per commercial aircraft instead of two. But just from what my body is telling me from the draining exhaustion of several hours of consecutive flight training and the draining exhaustion of cabin pressure in a commercial plane- I don’t think it is healthy to be in an airplane for extremely extensive periods. (Weightlessness is probably better). And some research backs this by claiming that airline pilots tend to die as soon as they retire. So I don’t think we should make people who love to fly because it is spiritually uplifting die in commercial aircraft. We should embrace automated aircraft.

However, there is no dispute in my mind that owning an aircraft is more important than buying a house or a car or a baby (yes, that is a purchase) or a marriage. The airplane I want – the Lisa Akoya – is about the cost of a U.S. baby (350K), so it will be my baby, imaged here.

The Post-Fact Era

“Oh, tell me who was it first announced, who was it first proclaimed, that man only does nasty things because he does not know his own interests; and that if he were enlightened, if his eyes were opened to his real normal interests, man would at once cease to do nasty things, would at once become good and noble because, being enlightened and understanding his real advantage, he would see his own advantage in the good and nothing else?” -Fyodor Dostoevsky

“The best way to escape from a problem is to solve it.” -Brendan Francis

I wrote a post in outrage about the state of the nation and it mysteriously got deleted from my account, so while the initial fury of that will not be encapsulated here, I feel a need to re-write something on the era of irrationalism that we now face. As a public educator, I knew that there were a lot of people that were generally not rational- countless religious rebuttals against my scientific explanation of the universe and constant questions about rumors circulating on the internet like that of an asteroid about to hit earth were common when I educated the public. But I liked to think that most people were not irrational and that with an increasingly technological and google-able world of infinite knowledge at our fingertips, that I didn’t have to worry about the rationalism of the world. But optimism had wronged me, and I full-heartedly yield it to the black hole our society is becoming.

I thought that teaching science was teaching individuals how to be rational-thinking citizens. Now I know that you can’t truly teach an individual anything- especially not rationalism. I cannot teach a student not to believe the rumors on the internet or to not blindly accept their parent’s religious beliefs or any belief or claim for that matter. And that is why there are still fundamentalist Christian astrophysicists. Rationalism can only come from within. How we can foster that I truly do not know.

In my limited political understanding, the electoral college system was put in place to prevent Americans from electing 50 Cent as president (or worse, a Cheeto-dusted blobfish with real name Drumpf- actually 50 Cent as president would be way better), in other words, to save us from a fundamentally irrationally governed society. Likewise, government exists because the mass populace “mob” cannot be trusted to know what is the right thing to do, so we need educated, wise, informed, elected officials to make decisions for us. Now the people governing the nation are less educated and less informed and less wise than a large percentage of it’s citizens. Whoops. It’s like a reversal of government! We now live in an era where democracy and politics do not exist, and instead, chaos, confusion, and non-fact, irrational discussion abound. Horrifyingly, we have a large chunk of the populace that is ok with being racist, anti-environment, and anti-woman. We see now that America is fundamentally irrational- middle class people, fighting against elitism, thought that a billionaire elitist (with no experience in government or in helping people) would help them. And so now, the unhinged leader of the western world can say or tweet anything and call it a fact. Welcome to the Post-Fact Era.

The problem for me is that it was already so hard interviewing for all-male companies and being the only female in the room and constantly facing being ignored, discredited, humiliated, and treated with inferiority. And now it is harder and will continue to be harder. It is clear that the “white walkers” voted so that they would have permission to treat people with the cruelty of racism and sexism. Now people have permission to treat women with as much sexism as they want because the president, the role-model of the country, thinks that his daughter is “a piece of ass.”

A great discussion of this election with mostly non-bias is on The Partially Examined Life: http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2017/01/16/ep156-1-philosophy-politics/

Many people voted for Trump because they think doing so supports the idea that anyone can be anything in America. Anyone can rise to the top. Anyone can be president. You don’t have to work hard in a particular field or go to Harvard. But it’s not true. Anyone cannot be anything. Rising to the top of anything has a lot to do with timing, with luck, with connections, and of course with money. And thus, while many individuals are skilled and talented and hard working, luck, timing, connections, and money aren’t going to align for all of those individuals. However, it seems clear now that money is all that’s needed to rise to the top. “The ideals of modern democracy – the equality of social conditions and individual empowerment – have never been more popular. But they have become more and more difficult, if not impossible, to actually realise in the grotesquely unequal societies created by our brand of globalised capitalism” (Pankaj Mishra). We don’t just live in a capitalist society, we live in a market society- everything is for sale. (And if you don’t think so, well, if you spend your free time on social media, social media sold your free time for billions of dollars and you didn’t even get paid). And if everything is for sale, then there will never be equality. There are too many people and too few opportunities and too much of society driven by dollar and only dollar for equality to exist. We want liberty, equality, and prosperity, but we cannot because we are imprisoned by money and government and leaders and political motives. Capitalism can only give a delusion of an equality just out of grasp. And so now the ideals of modern democracy are shattered because democracy is shattered- millions of votes truly didn’t count. But what is truly disheartening is that a woman who spent 70 years working towards her dream, who not only had the experience and skill but also had the connections, luck, timing, and money, somehow fell short of realizing her dream. In the wake of that, how can any of us possibly believe in working hard to achieve our own dreams? And so, the “American dream” -work hard and you can achieve anything (if it ever truly existed)- is gone.

Moreover, Americans voted for Trump because they see him as an ideal version of the successful American- go to school for as short as possible and get a job making as much money as possible. Or else cheat “the system” as much as possible so you can make as much money as possible. Trump cheated the system by saying the most obnoxious, inconsiderate, and stupid things you could possibly say so that he could get as much attention as possible. Now all of us know how to “get ahead” – say or do the dumbest thing you can possibly think of and everyone will talk about you and suddenly you’re the ruler of the world. And that is indeed how many people get ahead, by doing stupid things and getting attention and consequently a lot of money for doing said stupidities. And ta-da, a market society half built on sheer stupidity. American values revolve solely around dollar signs and Trump epitomizes those values. We can only hope that maybe, maybe, this state of the nation and this leader will make people re-consider their values and see that someone who has lived solely for materialism is not an ideal person. If so, maybe it could be a turning point for America and we will realize that we need to change our values. But probably not. Like I said, my optimism is down the black hole.

Alas, the “search for rational political explanations for the current disorder is doomed” and “we cannot understand this crisis because our dominant intellectual concepts and categories seem unable to process an explosion of uncontrolled forces.” And of course,  “enlightenment humanism and rationalism can no longer adequately explain the world we’re living in.” The world is far too complex and too bureaucratic for the average, half-educated person to know what he wants or what is good for him or his world. The individual, especially a wild card like Trump, “is a deeply unstable entity, constantly shaped and reshaped in its interplay with shifting social and cultural conditions.” As is discussed in the following article: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/08/welcome-age-anger-brexit-trump

We have now earned our name “Homo Sapiens.” Homo -one- and sapient -attempting to appear wise; we are one- isolated individuals who are fighting ignorantly for equality, liberty, and prosperity- who have attempted to appear wise and failed. We have failed because we have not sought enlightenment as Fyodor Dostoevsky said. If we haven’t sought wisdom, then we cannot possibly begin to understand what is good for us or our world. America, a nation symbolized by fast-food, Hollywood, and consumerism, certainly has not sought wisdom. And that is why I believe we are now here in the Post-Fact Era. We are so confused by the world -and by what choices we need to make and what presidents we should elect- because we haven’t ever attempted to understand it. If we could somehow create a society based more on wisdom than capitalism or governance, then I think that would be a movement towards true equality and prosperity.

Of course, I want to leave the United States, but I really want to leave the planet. (And going to space for me is becoming less about continuing/spreading/improving life and humanity and more and more about a desperate urgency to get away from this planet- more and more about an absolute personal need). As I always say, the solution for all of our global crises is space- is starting anew on another planet. Clearly, the government -NASA- will be incapable of doing that for us. Clearly, democracy didn’t work, capitalism didn’t work, bureaucracy didn’t work, religion didn’t work, a world of divided nations didn’t work, and a world of divided individuals pitted against each other didn’t work. A new planet initially colonized by a few deeply educated scientists and thinkers to restart society (based on wisdom?) is what is needed. Because clearly, Trump isn’t going to work either. Even if someone tells Drumpf that there is gold on Mars to amp up NASA funding, shiny things can only keep his attention for a second. (Or perhaps he will amp up deep space funding at the expense of the protection and research of the earth…)

Silence the Violence

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“As you pass from sunlight into darkness and back again every hour and a half, you become startlingly aware how artificial are thousands of boundaries we’ve created to separate and define. And for the first time in your life you feel in your gut the precious unity of the Earth and all the living things it supports.”

-Russell Schweikart, Apollo 9

We always think, “Horrific things happen in the world, but they’re never going to happen here, where I am.” Even though that is an extremely irrational thought, it is how I’ve always felt at some sheltered, naive core of mine. And yet, yesterday the worst mass shooting in modern US history happened in the nearest city to me, at a bar that I would consider going to if I was in Orlando.

I would never think terrorism would happen in central Florida. But maybe the pro-gun philosophy here was asking for it. Coming from a widespread LGBT community in the Bay Area, I am deeply upset that an act of love between two people inspired a terrorist to kill. If terrorism does not allow us to love or live or have fun, our species is being pushed off the edge of vitality.

Violence is a disease of our species and it will not be cured with more violence. As long as guns exist in easy access, these things will continue to happen over and over again. Only peace and love in the face of violence can eventually begin to alleviate violence, (even if that means your individual death). But the death of an individual that showed love in the face of violence would ripple throughout the world. Even if the (happily inebriated) people in the Orlando nightclub had guns on them, it would have done little to stop someone with such lethal skill. People in Florida think they need to have a gun in their home (my roommates do, to my horror) in case some militant threat shows up- but honestly, if ISIS showed up at your door, there’s nothing your one gun and limited skill are going to do to mitigate the threat. It is a primitive species that kills each other in sheer brutality. Apparently we have not evolved beyond our primitive animal nature.

The earth and our species seem to be at a stage of immense danger. I am more convinced than ever that we must colonize another planet- Mars or the Moon with an artificial atmosphere- in order for our species to continue. Violence, overpopulation, and pollution threaten the entire earth. Guns must not be allowed on the new planet we colonize. We need a peaceful leader for Mars, a leader that does not condone war, separation by nation, religion, gender, race or sexual orientation, or violence in any facet. If I have anything to do with it, the first space colony will not have guns, will not have weapons, will not differentiate between prior nationality or race or gender, and there would be no development of Martian nations. We would all be planetary citizens only and there would be agreement that every individual is entitled to their own personal and spiritual beliefs about life with freedom from indoctrination from others. No astronaut in the colony will be categorized as “American” or “Japanese” or “Black” or “Hispanic” or “Female” or “Male.” And no person should ever be forced to check boxes identifying these artificial boundaries. And if you didn’t agree with these means of the pursuit of planetary peace, then you can stay on earth. And frankly, that would not worry me at all, because only individuals that cooperate peacefully and intelligently can pursue complex space endeavors at all. Violent people like ISIS terrorists would simply not be able to make it to the moon or Mars on their own. I see the far-future earth as possibly becoming a place for the ignorant and violent, for the people left behind that are not able to make it to space either due to lack of peaceful cooperation or lack of intelligence.

If and only if we can get to another planet standing on a firm tenet of nonviolence, will we be able to progress and persist as a species. As long as guns and extremism and disregard for our planet exist on earth, the conquest of space will be the only venture that can provide the solution. I no longer, in any minute sense, see the pursuit of space travel as merely something “fun and cool” and extraneous, but absolutely the single most serious and important endeavor of humanity, for our safety and survival.

All of us, regardless of nationality, race, gender, etc., face the same human condition. To impart hatred or violence on another is to threaten your own human condition because that hatred will propel outward and hurt us all. It is hard enough that together, everyday, we must face the void and confusion of the mystery of the universe, but to live on a planet without any security of safety is more terrifying than the void behind the human condition itself.

Caught Midway Between Atoms and Galaxies

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“In our short century or less, we generally aim to create a comfortable existence within the tiny rooms of our lives. We eat, we sleep, we get jobs, we pay the bills, we have lovers and children. Some of us build cities or make art. But if we have the luxury of true mental freedom, there are larger concerns to be found. Look at the sky. Does space go on forever, to infinity? Or is it finite but without boundary or edge, like the surface of a sphere? Either answer is disturbing, and unfathomable. Where did we come from? We can follow the lives of our parents and grandparents and their parents backward in time, back and back through the generations, until we come to some ancestor ten thousand years in the past whose DNA remains in our body. We can follow the chain of being even further back in time to the first humans, and the first primates, and the one-celled amoebas swimming about in the primordial seas, and the formation of the atmosphere, and the slow condensation of gases to create Earth. It all happened, whether we think about it or not. We quickly realize how limited we are in our experience of the world. What we see and feel with our bodies, caught midway between atoms and galaxies, is but a small swath of the spectrum, a sliver of reality.” -Alan Lightman 

Caught midway between atoms and galaxies we are. The universe is so confusing for most of us that we don’t even want to bother with the big existential questions – we have enough problems. So how can we really believe that anyone who is caught midway between atoms and galaxies can somehow put themselves above all of existence and explain it in totality? Astrophysics rests on that uncertain tenet. And despite Alan Lightman’s momentary glimpse into this shaky scientific grounding, the rest of his essay, “What Came Before the Big Bang?” speaks of the cosmologists who think they are on the verge of explaining it all – all of space and time and reality – who poise themselves like gods of knowledge for the rest of us to marvel at. And somehow all of us believe that these beings caught between atoms and galaxies just like us are actually able to sit in a throne of creation and know all of the cosmos.

Astrophysics made me an anti-realist. The equations of astrophysics hardly describe the truth of the universe, they merely describe what the universe looks like for a being “caught midway between atoms and galaxies.” Equipped with telescopes and equations and calculators, we look out into the cosmos and think that we are able to catch some objective truth of reality. But our animal brains were never intended to decipher photons with strict astrophysical accuracy. Our animal brains didn’t evolve to decipher galactic and atomic realms at all. Our animal brains evolved for us to be keen at survival. But keen enough to understand the workings of all of existence? No – understanding the objective truth of the whole universe has nothing to do with biological survival and thus has nothing to do with brains molded for survival. There is a limit to our science. There is only so much an animal caught in the confusing, mucky middle of existence can really say about what the universe is. Untruth is the condition of our life. Astrophysics is our story of untruth about the cosmos. It is a description more of humanity’s relative, limited, sensory perspective of existence than of the totality of a possibly infinite cosmos. We know we were born from a star in a spiral galaxy and it is amazing that we know that. But for us to say that we know something about the pico second the universe began or the nature of all of an almost undefinable cosmos of a proportion so much bigger than us we can barely fathom it lies on the brink of insanity. But of course I understand the push to dissect the first second of the universe- we want to know our existential narrative and that is why I chose to study astrophysics. But we’re just not smart enough to realize that an ape’s pencil scribblings of equations is not going to unlock all the mysteries of the cosmos. And we’re not going to stop because we’re too proud- we think our intellects are superior enough to know everything. We simply cannot know everything because we are “caught midway between atoms and galaxies”- we do not have an impartial, outside, god-like view of the universe, but alas, we will always think we do (well, at least until the Galactic Empire of aliens enlightens us, of course). 

Indeed, to say any thing about the totality of existence—of space, of time, of all the cosmos—is sheer madness. It’s sheer madness simply because a being caught in the middle of it all—stuck in a shrouded alley of reality—cannot possibly ever have the insight to say something about the everything of existence. Humans trying to say something about the all of the cosmos is like an amoeba trying to say something about the all of the earth. And as firm of an atheist as I am, that is probably the strongest argument of all for some kind of god. Because if none of us can know what is going on in terms of the totality of reality, then any belief about how we are here is, perhaps, on equal footing. There is no knowledge of the whole of reality- so how can we claim that one person’s idea about the whole of reality is more right than another’s? None of us know if our experience of reality is representative of the whole of the universe. Our carpet of gazillions of galaxies that we call the cosmos could be one little odd, unrepresentative pocket of a much wider, weirder universe. The universe could be much stranger and much more complicated than an animal caught between atoms and galaxies could possibly understand.

But it is a beautiful thing that we are all caught in the middle of a mystery. What if each of us was born with a scientific manual telling us exactly how we got here and where the universe came from? What if that manual charted and mapped out every second of the cosmos that led to your birth? If we had all the answers, it would make us indolent, proud, dull. It would prevent the great quest for space, for knowledge, for understanding, for creative vision. Indeed, what value would our lives have at all if we all knew everything? The unknown pushes us further, it drives our lives. Truth of the whole wide universe is not something a human being can have, untruth is our ingenious human condition. 

While there is a limit to what we may know about the universe, there is no limit to our technology, there is no limit to what we can make, what we can build. There is no limit to how far into space we could go. Engineering will ultimately lead us to more knowledge than theoretical science ever will. Moreover, space engineering has the power to make us a space-faring species, which will ultimately determine our survival. And that is why I believe that space engineering is a wiser endeavor than cosmology and theoretical astrophysics. 

Why Astronauts Matter (Sort of)

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“It’s nice to know that if we ever have a nuclear war, there will be three guys in space going, ‘What was that noise?'” -Robin Williams

Astronauts are not intellectuals. Quite the opposite- they are guinea pigs. No scientific, spiritual, or political revolution ever came from an astronaut, that’s for sure. Most of them are macho old white guys from the military and I think that says plenty about their lacking cranial activity.

But I digress… There’s something we are not taking seriously about the astronauts. And that is, if there is a worldwide nuclear war, the handful of astronauts currently on board the International Space Station will be the only survivors of planet earth. That means that the astronauts are potentially responsible for continuing the rest of humanity if nuclear war should occur. After nuclear war has settled and the toxins left over have cleared, the astronauts could return to earth via the Soyuz capsule and attempt to begin the earth and humanity anew. (Some people would argue that some individuals from the military would survive nuclear war by going into underground tunnels, but the debris and fumes left over after a nuclear war could be toxic for months or years- for instance the lethal debris/dust of the WTC buildings have killed more people than the actual terrorist attacks. So only astronauts equipped to stay on ISS for long periods -and hopefully with some farming capabilities on board or else a very large supply of Soylent- would be able to wait off the clearance of the nuclear war debris to return to earth, while the military people in tunnels would probably suffocate from toxic fumes).

If this is a possibility -the astronauts being the only ones to survive nuclear war- then we definitely should not be putting old, ugly, white, boneheaded men up there. We need to be putting younger, more fertile, and attractive people up there because they could possibly be responsible for continuing all of our species. Fertility, youth, attractiveness, intelligence should be a requirement for astronauts. Perfect genetic test results should absolutely be a requirement. Do you want an ugly, old, boneheaded man being the individual from which all of the rest of future humanity comes? Point made. Moreover, we need to stop all the white people from going up there. Seriously. Put some frickin diversity up there, or else all other ethnicities are risking possible extinction. And there should be an equal number of men and women on board ISS at any time- if there are only men up there, obviously there will be no hope for the continuance of humanity in the event of nuclear war. Or else, at least allow some children to become astronauts.

So, do I want to be an astronaut? Well, knowing that the ISS is literally the only place that guarantees my safety and survival, all of us who are qualified should be fighting to the death for access to a spot on the ISS. Being younger, more fertile, and more attractive than most aging, bald military men, I would be a better option for potentially continuing the species. Having traveled to some horrid parts of the world enough -India, Africa, Asia, Florida- I know that the levels of chaos, ignorance, destruction, and religious intolerance are so high worldwide that nuclear war would not be particularly surprising should it happen. But I would rather be a commercial astronaut, so that I can fly by my own space rules… So at the onset of nuclear war, I would load up my personal spaceship (designed to float in space indefinitely and designed specifically for nuclear war survival) with Soylent, water, a urea bioelectrochemical system, a few outfits that beat NASA jumpsuits in swag levels (because you’ve gotta be fashionable while saving humanity), and blast off right before nuclear war erupts. And after we begin the renewal of earth and humanity, I would write a book entitled “The Blonde that Survived Nuclear War” so that my descendants could do as I did in case of further catastrophe. Take that blonde jokes.

How to Build A Spaceship

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If you wanted to go to space 15 years ago, your only option would be to miraculously win (with all odds against you) the support and endorsement of an entire bureaucratic organization in which thousands of people would work to get you into space (aka “NASA”). But in the early 2000s, there was a small team that got people into space, led by Burt Rutan. Their spacecraft, “SpaceShipOne,” was the first commercial spacecraft to go into space and take people with it. So we went from huge institutions getting us to space to small teams doing it. What’s next? You, baby, all you! Technological advancement means that we go from huge institutions doing things to the common individual doing those same things years later. So sometime in the future, any (wealthy) individual who wants to go into space can buy a spaceplane kit, build it, and go to space- just like any wealthy individual today can buy an airplane kit, build it, and fly. You might have to get some kind of space pilot license before you buy your spaceplane kit… I’m not sure exactly how that’s going to work. So, before those spaceplane kits are available, we have some extra work to do. So are you ready to build your spaceship? Let’s do it! I’ve been working on the design of spaceplanes this year, so I’m going to break down 10 easy baby steps on how to get your spaceplane engines roaring.

And just so we’re clear- by “spaceship” (or rocket plane or spaceplane)-I mean a manned aircraft that is rocket powered and at least able to reach the Karman line- the edge of space. If you’re wanting to build an unmanned droneship (how lame) you are probably setting space exploration backward, so look elsewhere, you sham of a space cadet.

10 Steps to Build a Spaceship:

1. Decide whether you want a suborbital or orbital spaceship. These are two very different aerodynamical problems. If you build a suborbital spaceship like SpaceShipOne, you will be enjoying the weightlessness of space and the black sky, but you won’t be flying circles around the earth. A suborbital spaceplane must have a maneuver that maximizes drag so that your spaceship can dive back to earth at a safe speed (no drag maximization means kaput for your plane). An orbital plane, while it will be slowed down by the earth’s atmosphere automatically on it’s dive down, will have over-heating issues, so you will have to have some fancy insulation figured out to prevent spaceship fireworks. Also, if you are building a suborbital spaceship, depending on your design, you may need a mothership, which is an airplane that will drop off your spaceplane at the right height for it’s rocket motor to ignite into space. So basically you might need to build a mothership and a spaceplane.

2. Decide on how much stuff you’re bringing to space (your payload). If your grandma is coming with you on your trip to space or you just have to bring your entire collection of star wars figurines, that might dramatically change your spaceship. To get started on the specifics of your spaceship, you start out with your delta v (the velocity needed for the impulse required to get your spaceplane to the height you want) and your payload weight, which are your starting points or mission requirements. For instance, to reach 100 kilometers (the edge of space) with a 500 kg payload, SpaceShipOne needed a delta v of 1700 m/s. From your delta-v, you calculate your specific impulse, and then from there you can figure out a slew of structural coefficients and mass ratios that determine how massive your plane has to be and how much propellant you need to bring along each and every one of those nerd dolls.

3. Glue together a paper/styrofoam model of your spaceship and throw it around. If it doesn’t fly in paper form, it definitely won’t be flying in epoxy/metal form. After you’ve got a paper thing that’s flying and have maybe run some simulations on your wing design (most all wings fly, and in this case it’s the rocket that’s doing all the work), you’ll wanna get your paws on a mold machine and mold out each part of your spaceship. Then screw the parts together. (SpaceShipOne was essentially a “kit-plane” that was screwed together, so yeah, it is that simple). You’ll also want to calculate the wing loading (the total weight of the spacecraft divided by the area of the wings) of your spaceship and the maximum coefficient of lift (which is usually correlated with a particular type of wing). With these values, you can use equations that allow you to estimate your landing speed, which will you tell if your spaceship is going to land back to earth safely. If the landing speed is high, you might want to work on your piloting skills.

4. Don’t copy Burt Rutan or Virgin Galactic. Yeah, yeah they did this stuff first. But they didn’t really do it very well. I mean, for Christ’s sake, the pilot that Burt Rutan chose to fly SpaceShipOne didn’t even go to high school. How disturbing is that?! That means that someone who probably doesn’t know his multiplication times tables was flying thousands of kilograms of rocket explosives above our heads… and that has to be the most terrifying thing ever. Sure, he was the dumb guinea pig- they figured he’d instantly die. But still- you don’t hand the reigns of space exploration over to someone who can’t multiply. If you’re reading this blog, I’m sure you at least went to high school, so I’m not too worried about you. But also don’t copy Virgin Galactic. Their first spaceship exploded in mid-air and that’s definitely not a procedure you want to replicate.

5. Pay someone else to build your avionics. But definitely test that shit out.

6. Pay someone else to build your booster. But definitely test that shit out. Please don’t barbecue hotdogs with your booster tests like Burt Rutan did. Ew, gross.

7. Make sure your rocket isn’t going to explode. If you’re using solid rocket propellant, which is the cheapest, (you can use solid, liquid, or hybrid in which you use some solid and some liquid), the most common rocket failure is due to the solid propellant cracking or becoming un-bonded from the motor rocket casing, which doesn’t allow the propellant to burn correctly, causing an explosion. So don’t be lazy, you gotta calculate out the exact amount of propellant necessary. Also, to make sure the rocket isn’t going to explode, you need to incorporate a factor of safety into your motor casing. The motor casing should be able to uphold so many factors of safety times the chamber pressure. Meaning, the motor casing better be a hell of a lot stronger than the pressure of the combustion chamber of the rocket, or else bye-bye spaceship. Also, make sure your rocket fits in your spaceship, that’d be good.

8. Before starting test flights, you probably should take some flight lessons. But since this is an experimental homebuilt aircraft, I don’t think you need a private pilot license. But I’m not sure on this one- if any one knows about licensing requirements for experimental aircraft let me know, I couldn’t find anything online that seemed legit. I’m getting some super elitist flight training right now, so I’m good. But yeah, probably get your private before you blast off three times the speed of sound.

9. Use a checklist, use a checklist, use a checklist. I know you think you’re badass flying spaceships and all, and you probably think that since you’re rockin the frontiers of space exploration, you definitely don’t need instructions. But when your body is attached to a rocket flying in circles at Mach 3, you’re gonna forget stuff. If you’re not following a checklist on what flight procedures to follow, I’m sorry, but you’ll end up in a million pieces in the desert like SpaceShipTwo (which is the sister plane of SpaceShipOne- SpaceShipOne flew three times to space and is now chillin in the Smithsonian in D.C.).

10. Oh shoot, forgot to mention something kinda important. You’re gonna need at least 10 million dollars to get this whole homemade spaceship thing rolling. So hopefully you have that tucked away somewhere, under your mattress or something. Or hopefully you’re a sexy blonde who can canoodle a billionaire into investing in you (ah-hem).

Goodluck, space cadets! And if your flight makes it to space, giddy-up on those spaceplane kits! Or else start the first commercial space liner that puts all the airlines out of biz. (Oh yeah you didn’t know that? Spaceships travel faster than airplanes, baby. Trip to the Taj Mahal from NYC in just two hours anyone?).

P.S. Make sure you’re space bound in vogue while you fly your homemade spaceship, because after all, you might die doing this and you’ll wanna go out in style.

Meditation and Intelligence

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What makes someone intelligent? Is it genes, experience, practice, or education? Certainly those all play a part, but meditation may be an even larger contender than those to true intelligence. The geniuses of humanity are notorious for their tendency towards solitary self-reflection and that is primarily what meditation is. You don’t have to sit cross-legged on a hand-woven rug you bought in Asia with a piece of selenite in your hand and ocean waves roaring outside your open balcony (like I do) to meditate. Meditation is the art of reflecting on your existence and your mind without engaging yourself in any form of activity. If we constantly engage with the world, if we are constantly in action, it tends to imply that a minimal amount of self-reflection is occurring and if you are not self-reflecting or meditating on existence or the world, then it is impossible that much intelligence stirs in that bony cavity.

The idea of sitting and doing absolutely nothing as a way to contribute to greater intelligence may seem contradictory. But the truth is, we don’t know that much about our brains and what they need. And it seems only reasonable that we should set aside waking time for our most important organ to re-boot, to be still, to self-organize, self-analyze, and self-reflect. And then there’s the countless array of scientific studies that seem to be proving that meditation is a key to intelligence. Some studies are even reporting that meditation may increase the size of your brain’s gray matter. One study from Harvard reports the greater intelligence of those who have meditated throughout their life: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnagi.2014.00076/abstract and another article lists some of the intelligence boosters of meditation: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/16/eight-meditation-brain-benefits_n_3903855.html

I usually have a pretty busy schedule; right now I’m a science educator, I’m doing flight training, I have a full load of graduate engineering classes, I’m writing a book, and I’m a bartender. When you have a lot going on in your life, it’s tempting to frantically go around occupying your mind with (a) the next thing that you need to be doing, (b) what you don’t like about your current life and how to change what you don’t like, or (c) when your next break is and what you’re going to do with it. If your mind is swirling with all of those things, you certainly aren’t maximizing your intelligence, nor your happiness or success. To be happy and successful and intelligent, we must occupy our mind with the present moment, analyze that present moment, and be grateful for what the present moment has to offer- and meditation is the way to get to that mindset. It’s only when we sit still can we take a step back from all the things in our life and see the big picture of the things happening in our life. And seeing the big picture of our lives is crucial for us to make the most intelligent choices. And it’s only when I sit and meditate do I realize how special my life is now- I have an entire fleet of airplanes at my disposal, I have a two million dollar planetarium I can use whenever I want, I’m designing spaceplanes, and I have an ocean front apartment. But because I have so much on my to-do list, it’s not until I meditate that I stop being caught up in whatever I have to do and let my mind wander to where it wants to go and then I realize that I may be the first person in human history to have all of those things at once (likewise for you and whatever you have and are doing). And when I realize how special my life is, I make myself more grateful and happy and hence make more room in my mind for intelligence rather than filling it with my dislikes, lists, and potential vacations. If we meditate, we are more likely to analyze and question our existence and our world because we are giving our brains more conscious time to figure life out rather than piling things on it.

Your life is rushing away from you as mine is from me. If we don’t stop regularly to truly contemplate our existence or to at least completely stop and take a step back from the flying screen of consciousness, it is less likely that we will live our lives intelligently. So, if you’re not meditating, you cannot possibly be maximizing your intelligence.

Space Temple

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Being a multi-planet species might be nice… but do we really need a planet? Aren’t we creative and innovative enough to make the voids of space into human homes? Aren’t we smart enough to realize that building around an empty, neutral environment is better than building on top of a harsh environment (Mars, the moon)? So come on people, let’s not waste billions of dollars hauling crap to Mars, let’s just start making space rooms- rooms in space! Later on we can figure out how to hook those up into a world ship that can take us to another planetary system (minor details). Mr. Elon Musk, are ya listening? I know, I know gravity might be an issue here. But when have enough space rooms to make a world ship, if the world ship is big enough, it will create its own gravity. In the mean time, being weightless all the time might be kinda rad.

All I know is that I want a space temple and it ain’t gonna look so good on Mars. It’d look better floating in space. (The space temple would be the first place where a meditator could actually levitate- duh!).  The space temple would be where a spiritual seeker can truly achieve enlightenment through visions of ultimate reality (the cosmos and the earth from afar). We already know how to live in space (ISS), we just need to try to make that a permanent thing, which I don’t think is too much of a stretch.  We’re already growing things on ISS, so it shouldn’t be too long until we can farm in space.

All I know is that I want to leave the earth and all of the ignorant, war-monging, petty people on it behind. I want the serenity and beauty of the cosmic reality and I want it without disruption, without distraction, and without the contamination of other peoples’ denseness, goddamnit. And my space temple is the perfect place for that! May the earth be the place where the ignorance of our species perishes, because only the intelligent will have the insight to leave and those that do will be challenged by space to become even more intelligent. Space is our intellectual liberation- it is the challenge that will make our species evolve into geniuses. If we stay on the earth, I doubt much evolutionary progress for us.

I’m outtie, earth! Space is the ultimate wilderness and like any hippie-astrodynamicist, I long for the wilderness. May a future blog post be from my space temple! (And you’re not invited).

Death by Spaceship

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Death by spaceship… it’s the only dignified way to go. And it’s the only death I’m content with accepting, thank you very much. And obviously, it’s the most badass way to go. Many deaths have occurred in the name of space exploration and many more deaths are inevitable as humanity enters the era in which we leave the earth and inhabit space.

It’s happening… At this rate of the commercialization and popularization of space exploration, my generation will be the one to get humans off earth and onto other places in space. My generation will be the one to remove humanity’s dependence on earth. My generation could be the one to ensure that we will no longer be a species that is confined to a particular environment. It’s NASA’s goal to have people living on the moon by 2020. Whether or not that happens that fast, it will happen- soon. NASA has announced their commercial space operations (CSO) partners- SpaceX and Boeing- which will suck in gargantuan governmental billions (news flash- SpaceX isn’t exactly a “private” company- it’s more of a baby NASA than an independent space-faring nomad). But this arrangement and promotion of CSO will guarantee that spaceships shall abound.

Our planes, not to mention our spaceplanes, need help, though. We need to fly like the birds, not like cars in air. The design of planes hasn’t changed much since 1960s and that ain’t gonna cut for our roadmap to the stars. SpaceX subconsciously knows that we need a bird, not a car to get us to space- they keep calling their stiff static vehicles things like “falcon” and “dragon”- and that’s what we need- a dragon. What I mean is that I think we need planes with a more flexible design- a design that is in better harmony with the air. There isn’t a flying animal that I can think of that has static wings- it’s not natural and it causes all kinds of problems- birds certainly don’t stall like planes do. Scratch metal- we need a dynamic, flexible plane that flies like a bird or bat and can adjust to it’s environment instead of losing harmony with the airspace. Cars will be somewhat “conscious” shortly- they will be aware of their environment enough to prevent an accident. Why shouldn’t planes follow with incorporating that technology? We need a robotic, conscious, flexible design for a spaceplane. The technology pretty much already exists for such a thing, we just need someone with billions of dollars lying around to build it… Ah-hem, SpaceX (you’re welcome for the game-changing idea- I guess I’ll collect my trillion dollar paycheck in another universe). So. SpaceX. Are you going to give us a real dragon with your newfound billions or just more stagnant contraptions of metal?

The death and destruction that has happened in our spaceflight timeline is horrifying. For instance, a Chinese Long March rocket immediately deviated from it’s launch path in 1996 and destroyed an entire village (killing hundreds, if not thousands of people). And the Russians accidentally killed some villages with their rockets too. Before we were aware of the dangers of lightning that can occur if a rocket is in the vicinity of thick clouds, some rockets exploded due to the creation of their own lightning. And Columbia exploded in part due to the fact that NASA decided they should cut the safety department because of the necessary funneling of funds to the International Space Station. It really seems like we are monkeys playing with fire and we have no idea what we are doing. Hence it seems that many deaths by spaceship are pending.

But it’s the only solution. Space is the only solution to all of our problems. Space is our true home, it’s where we come from and we need to return to space for the survival of our species. Space can space out the guns, war, violence, pollution and population to tolerable amounts until they will eventually dissipate. The earth can’t.

I’m the space cheerleader and I’m only dying by spaceship.

GO C S O! The stars- they aren’t that far!

 

Peace Out for Space

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Space exploration and astronomy are the keys to world peace. Why? Because they can unite us for a cause that transcends nationality, political ideology, or religion. Because they compel us to see our shared connectedness with earth and all humans. Because they are necessary for the survival of humanity (we must work to extend our species beyond the tiny planet that can destroy itself). From down here on earth it seems like we have a lot to fight over. But from space, it’s clear that we shouldn’t be at war- we should be preserving and nourishing the delicate pale blue dot on which all humans exist. Looking back on earth from space, our national affiliations and ideologies are deeply challenged because one can then only see oneself as a citizen of earth. It is only when we are all able to leave the earth and see the view like the one above for ourselves that we can truly understand that the earth is our shared island paradise in a vast sea of darkness. It is only then that we can truly see how fragile and precious we are. It is only then that we can truly see that we are all together in this experience of life. It is only then that we can truly see that all humanity is one.

When all humans are able to look back on our beautiful blue marble floating in space, perhaps the Cosmic Religion that Einstein once spoke of can become a reality. Einstein said, “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It will have to transcend a personal god and avoid dogma and theology. Encompassing both the natural and the spiritual, it will have to be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, considered as a meaningful unity.” Space exploration and astronomy will move us into this “meaningful unity” because the view of earth from space will allow us to imagine ourselves and all people as a part of the “experience of all things” that is the phenomenon of the one tiny earth that we all share. Thus the Cosmic Religion that Einstein envisioned (and my Cosmic Meaning of this site) will ignite. Einstein’s Cosmic Religion will allow us to loosen our grip on our human differences and instead focus on our cosmic similarities. Once the Cosmic Religion ignites, all of humanity will orient itself towards space. Human endeavors already seem to be converging towards space- the majority of music, art, film, and media today mention space, supernovae, “starships,” “moonwalkin,” etc just because it’s trendy. But the seriousness of it is that human culture is emergently pointing towards the cosmos. Humanity will converge toward the cosmic religion and it must for world peace. While directly traveling into space may be necessary for the cosmic religion to stir in most people, astronomy can do the same for those who can imagine and study our smallness and interconnectedness with the universe.

The colonization of other planets, commercial space flights, the building of apartments in space, space elevators, worldships, etc., will deflect humans from international conflicts and direct us toward the great common mission of space. This is in part because space programs allow nations to collaborate, generating international work that yields greater understanding, respect, and peace between governments and peoples. Furthermore, the colonization of space will make war unnecessary. When we are no longer stranded on a weapon-ridden planet and are free to travel and extend into the depths of space, the human species will become unkillable and immortal. With endless planets or worldships to populate, the extinction of humans via nuclear warfare would become impossible. Simply having wider distances between human colonies in space would make terrorist attacks and war more difficult and thus less likely to occur. With endless territories and resources in space, there will be little left for us to fight over and peace will be triumphant on earth and our colonies. However, if the cosmic religion does not take hold, perhaps colonies would first cohere based on traditional religion or ideologies and thus create hatred towards each other, but when we eventually encounter another intelligent species and encounter their religions, may we finally see our beliefs and theologies as mere human constructs and not universal laws. If war and overpopulation suffocate earth prior to a worldwide interest in space, space colonization may become our shared struggle for human survival, and while that is the unfortunate scenario, the struggle for survival via space colonization will most definitely unite us, spark the cosmic religion, and bring peace to all worlds. In our ladder towards peace, we will move from citizens of nations, to citizens of earth, to citizens of the cosmos- the cosmopolites.

Ronald Reagan said, “Mankind’s journey into space, like every great voyage of discovery, will become part of our unending journey of liberation. In the limitless reaches of space, we will find liberation from tyranny, from scarcity, from ignorance and from war. We will find the means to protect this Earth and to nurture every human life, and to explore the universe. . .  This is our mission, this is our destiny.” Space is our intellectual and physical liberation. The weightlessness of space will lead us to the weightlessness of enlightenment. The vast peace of outer space will lead us to vast peace for humanity.