Changing Space
By R. D. Flavin

8-22-2014

     From the near-metaphysical of quantum mechanics to the difficulty of cross cultural agreements on weights and measurements, and especially with the ingenious work of NASA (and other “outer space” interested agencies, both nationalistic and private) we 'change' space on and away from Earth.  Sometimes through brilliant and bold engineering, but at other times simply by looking at it.  Our planet's population is constantly changing with births and deaths, as does space and spaces.  We shape stone, wood, sand, clay, and materials unknown to our ancestors.  We change space as much (euphemistically) as space changes us.

x
NASA's LDSD and the Canadian hovercraft, "Avrocar."

     NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) was tested over Hawaii on June 28th, 2014, looking like an alien flying saucer, had a minor glitch with with a rip in its landing parachute, but otherwise seemed to handle itself quite well.  The LDSD is designed for a future mission to Mars where it is expected to maneuver over obstacles that the current rovers can not.  There's every confidence it will function better than the failed 1958/1959 Canadian hovercraft built for the U.S. Military, the Avrocar (VZ-9AV).


NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2

     Despite threatened budget cuts from Congress, NASA is still doing amazing work.  The recent launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) which is designed to study carbon dioxide and what it does and where it goes.  Yeah, so-called “Greenhouse Gases” and the ongoing news-bites of “Climate Change,” for those know squat about Nature's cooling and warming periods, will continue with Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis (if I owned red slippers I'd click then together to make it true), but realistically, we're in an interglacial period of the Holocene epoch and not sure if bovine flatulence and the burning of fossil fuels are really bad for the environment (probably) or if Nature's carbon sinks (storage reservoirs) play a much more significant role than previously thought.  Some things we can change, while others we can't.

     Continuing with NASA (and some tremendous help from the European Space Agency, who actually started the project), the Rosetta space probe has finally reached its destination after a ten-year trip and is currently orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko which is about 252 million miles from Earth.  After investigation (and a roll or two of the dice) a planned launching of the Philae comet-labder is scheduled for this November and it's hoped all sorts of nifty images and data will be transmitted back to Earth.  BTW, several countries contributed various components to this mission, so it's really not solely a NASA-thing, but truly an international effort.

     Regarding OTHER international efforts, the International Space Station has been drawn into terrestrial concerns because of economic sanctions by the U.S. and the E.U. prompted by Russia's take-over of Crimea and its involvement in the Eastern Ukraine rebellion.   It's looking like the U.S. is going to have to convince Elon Musk to build a hyperloop from Houston to LEO (low Earth orbit).  Or, something like that...

     However, usually cooperation is common in many scientific endeavors among various nations.  Medicines and procedures are often freely shared between countries.  Archaeology attracts attention and participation from universities in different countries and subsequent testing is routinely jobbed to an 'outside' source who may be better equipped, qualified, and (most importantly) impartial.  The 'exact' sciences (math and its related study, astronomy) are almost always shared as they extend beyond any mundane human endeavor and represent truth in its finest and purest form.  At least until some 12 year old kid comes along and proves an accepted theory or 'fact' incorrect. But, with humility, science maintains that it is self-correcting...  It's just a matter of what and when that is worrisome.

     The study of physics (from the Greek φύσις phúsis "nature" and the classical Latin physica “natural science”) has now changed from the study of ALL aspects of nature to, thanks to the contributions of Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, and others, into some really hardcore mathematics.  Some say the last person to be conversant (i.e. understand) all of the then-current state and theories of mathematics was Charles Émile Picard (1856-1941), others offer John von Neumann (1903-1957).  I'd put a buck or three on Max Plank (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918).

     While the definitions of such terms as 'elements' (Gk stoicheia) and 'atom' (Gk atomos meaning indivisible) have changed over the years, so too has our study of the exact sciences.  The study of sub-atomic particles gave rise to electrons revolving around a nucleus filled with protons and neutrons, and then we got into quarks and gluons, where matters went most sticky.   And, then we have the photon (Gk phôs meaning light), which has no mass, moves at the speed of light, and has a dual wave–particle nature.


     A recent paper has received much attention as it has shown that the current binary state of computers (0s and 1s) could someday soon be quantum based and ridiculously faster.  In “Ultrafast optical control of orbital and spin dynamics in a solid-state defect.” by Lee C. Bassett, F. Joseph Hereman, David J. Chrisle, Christopher G. Yale, Guido Burkard, Bob B. Buckley, and David D. Awschalom.  Science.  2014 Aug 14. pii: 1255541. [Epub ahead of print], the researchers hope to change the standard computer bit to a quantum “qubit.”  'Tis a strange new world, indeed...

     Whether infinitesimal or unimaginably immense, space is inherently bound to change itself and those inhabitants able to appreciate the wonder of existence.  Maybe someday we'll have tires that can change themselves...

Time may change me,
Rick

Return to