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Comment Lander is all they need. They have the other parts (Score 3, Informative) 89

Honestly, Russia is in the enviable position of already having the critical parts needed for a crewed lunar mission.

They have Soyuz for crewed launches, Proton for heavy uncrewed, plus Angara coming on line to replace the troublesome Proton. Soyuz was originally designed for lunar missions, and could be fairly simply modified for lunar return. Russia also regularly does propellant transfer and autonomous docking and have a large array of storable-propellant upper stages to use, so they could launch the lander partially filled using Proton into a distant lunar orbit and refuel and/or reposition using a Progress vehicle (perhaps tweaked to allow bigger propellant tanks).

Soyuz could dock with a couple of full Briz-M stages in LEO, push out a lunar orbit and meet with the pre-place lander. ...I suspect Russia will not build a mega-rocket like SLS. They don't need to, since they're very good at docking and propellant transfer (something they do regularly on ISS). Which is good because they don't exactly have a lot of money right now.

Comment Re:Cars (Score 1) 496

I have good news! We already have the capabilities you mention!

We're talking a 200+ mile electric car as a starting point for pure electric. I.e., you're talking a Tesla or Chevy's Bolt (not Volt, which is a great vehicle by the way). 200+ miles is much more than just enough for commuting, and you can top up every night. You need no more power than a clothes dryer, but even the power of a hairdryer is sufficient.

I'm from Minnesota, and it is common there for parking lots to have outlets for block heaters for warming engine blocks in the winter, even apartments. The cost is pretty trivial, and in this case, already exists. There's no reason apartment owners across the country can't do the same thing.

Hotels often have an RV hook up, which enables fairly quick charging.

And you keep talking about fast charging stations as if they don't already exist. But they do!!! Tesla has installed a network that reaches across the US and across much of Europe. About 15 minutes of charging (bathroom break) will get you about 100 miles of range, and they're working to improve it to be even faster. Tesla also has a couple battery swapping locations, but they're phasing it out because the cheap/free supercharging is already preferred by their customers and is fast enough.

We already have the technology to do this. I happen to have a Volt (which has a gasoline backup when the battery is drained), and I fill up my gas tank as often as a car owner changes their oil... 3000-5000 miles, and that's only with a 35-40 mile battery range. If I had a 200+ mile range, even that wouldn't have been required.

If you have an electric car, you leave your garage each morning with a full "tank," and you can charge up between errands (I do all the other things you mention including groceries, going out, taking kids to the park... and I only have a dryer outlet for my charger, yet I burn no gas except on long trips, even though I only have a 35-40 mile range.). If you have a Tesla, the rapid charging infrastructure is already in place, so on the very rare occasion where you're driving for hours and hours, you can charge up during a bathroom or meal break.

You don't need aluminum batteries. Battery swap could work, but isn't actually needed. Fuel cell cars are a huge waste of money. Supercapacitors for the most part are as well. Really, all we need is to ramp up production of the technology we already have and that Tesla has already demonstrated. But for some reason, lots of people refuse to realize we've actually proven EVERYTHING we need to fully electrify our cars.

Comment Re:Cars (Score 1) 496

Every house and apartment has electric service, and a charger for your electric car is almost always included in the purchase (and is only like $200-400 besides). Superchargers would be nice and are already built-out across the country, and they require much less infrastructure than running overhead catenary wires for trains.

Anyway, we can do both: electric trains and electric road vehicles. But the nice thing about electric cars is that they'll build out the battery manufacturing infrastructure we'll need to go to an efficient, renewables-heavy, carbon-free grid, while also allowing electrification of ships and even aircraft.

And heck, you'd probably want battery-electric trains so you would only have to run overhead lines at train stops.

Comment Re:Cars (Score 1) 496

... That energy isn't created out of thin air. ...

It pretty much is, thanks to the Sun filling that thin air with 1000Watts per square meter of light. That's why solar power is awesome.

Yes, we need to solve the energy /storage/ problem, but electric cars directly and indirectly solve that problem through battery technology and demand-based charging (and even vehicle-to-grid technology). When affordable electric cars (of 200+ mile range) are manufactured at scale, we'd effectively have solved the energy storage problem (by utilizing old batteries and excess production capacity for grid storage along with demand-response and possibly vehicle-to-grid), and we literally can power our civilization with the energy that flows through thin air.

(Although I'm a big fan of a diversified grid, including lots of nuclear power and hydro, etc.)

Comment Re:This is so ridiculous (Score 1) 414

The trip to Mars takes around 6 months. We regularly send people to the International Space Station for 6 months. We are also doing a year-long mission with astronaut Kelly, and the Russians have done several year-long missions (and some even longer), and no big problems with radiation have showed up. ISS has about half the radiation dose as deep space (yes, galactic cosmic rays reach ISS, they're not purely a deep space phenomenon), so these year-long missions simulate the 6-month trip for radiation dose. And after the longest trip, 437 days in orbit, cosmonaut Polyakov actually walked from his capsule (feebly, sure, but still did it) even in full Earth gravity after the fairly rough Soyuz landing because he exercised on orbit. We've made improvements in exercise routines, so I have no doubt that after a much shorter trip and much reduced Mars gravity that astronauts will arrive in fine condition at Mars.

And on the surface of Mars, the dose rate on the surface (assuming you land at low altitude, which is the easiest place to land) is actually lower than ISS, not even counting adding regolith shielding to your habitat.

So there's no doubt in my mind that we can send astronauts to Mars, have them arrive in good shape, and return them back to Earth alive. This will no doubt be fairly risky, but so was Apollo. (And the biggest risks I would be most concerned about as an astronaut wouldn't be radiation or boneloss or whatever else the paranoia du jour is, but the launch, entry/landing at Mars, launch off of Mars, and reentry/landing again at Earth... These very dynamic events, and the procedures surrounding them, are responsible for all in-flight astronaut deaths.)

Comment Re:This is so ridiculous (Score 2) 414

Except 100+ years ago heavier than air flight was occurring already every day, by birds. You don't see anything flying to Mars. The complexity in question is very different.

Several of our machines are operating on or around Mars right now. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Express, Mars Odyssey, MAVEN, India's Mars orbiter, Mars exploration rover Opportunity, and the Curiosity rover.

In a pinch, we could send people to Mars using a similar architecture to some of these robotic vehicles (a scaled up Curiosity entry and descent system and a typical lander type landing would work, though inefficiently... supersonic retropropulsion is much better and much more scalable). We've proven that we can handle the complexity.

Self-sufficiency will take the rest of this century to establish, but there's absolutely no question that sending people to Mars (and back) is possible, and we've proven that we have the technology to do so (and we could've done it in the 1970s, though I'm not sure it would've been a good idea to do an unsustainable Apollo-on-Mars then... reusable vehicles are critically important for scalability and long-term viability... if you develop a reusable architecture, your upfront costs aren't THAT much different than an expendable Mars architecture, but instead of just a handful of individuals, you can send thousands or even tens of thousands and, over the long-term, build the infrastructure necessary for a self-sufficient Mars colony).

So unlike your bird example, we've established this is possible with our technology and that we could've probably done it 40 years ago if we had really wanted to.

Comment 6 launches isn't complex (Score 5, Informative) 242

6 launches isn't complex. We do twice that many flights to ISS every year. In total, we've done over 160 flights to ISS, with Russia doing over half of those.

Anyway, I bet they can do it in 4 Angara launches. Russia is super experienced with in-space rendezvous, autonomous docking, and even more advanced things like propellant transfer (which they do regularly at ISS). 4 or even 6 launches would be no problem.

They'll save a ridiculous amount of money by not building a megarocket like we insist on.

But I agree with the skeptical posters here. Russia always talks about these sorts of things and never does them (not that we're much better). I think it's code-word for "if oil gets over $150/barrel and stays there, then we can do this."

Comment NASA likes this movie because nerds work there (Score 4, Insightful) 131

Have you seen the usual Mars movie from Hollywood? This movie is FAR more realistic than almost any other ones out there. And for true space geeks (of which NASA is full of), the book is fantastic.

The movie isn't some ultra-clever attempt to kickstart public support, although that doesn't hurt. NASA's funding has shrunk as a portion of GDP, as a portion of government spending, and even when just adjusted for inflation even while NASA now is tasked with a far more ambitious mission (to send people to Mars), such that NASA makes up less one half of one percent of the federal budget (this while the public either think NASA has a much larger portion of the federal budget or has been utterly shut down). A little public support wouldn't hurt, though what NASA really needs is the political freedom to rationalize some of their programs (like being freed by Congress to use existing launch vehicles for exploration, like from ULA or SpaceX, instead of spending so much of their budget on SLS) so they can afford to build things like landers and the like instead of things the private/military sectors already have built (like launch vehicles).

Comment Re:Physics versus MBA (Score 1) 343

You know, technically they /don't/ hand out Nobel Prizes in Economics... It's just a Nobel /Memorial/ Prize.... ;)

But seriously, if you completed 4 years of a theoretical physics Ph.D. but think your MBA was just as challenging... is there a reason why you were able to complete the MBA is less time (presumably)? It's because PhDs in Physics are harder (and possibly not as well compensated as a similar amount of non-Physics-PhD effort for someone intelligent enough to attempt a Physic PhD). Which isn't to say you chose wrong... PhDs in Physics take FOREVER.

But an MBA hardly gets you a PhD in economics...

In all reality, I agree with Musk, here. Being a physicist (even if just undergrad) gives you a much better leg up on spotting fundamental opportunities for improvement in technology than an MBA does. It really does teach you how to spot fundamental relationships and what really matters in a system, while giving you a broad toolset for general problem-solving.

I doubt you would have had as much of a fruitful time pursuing your MBA if you hadn't been trained extensively in Physics beforehand.

Comment Re:Helium hard drive technology limitations... (Score 2) 297

"portends an end to the incredibly fast reduction in storage costs over the last three decades."

Disagree, it's just taking a turn you're not looking at. Solid state has just really started to take off in the mainstream. As the years go on, it will continue to get faster, cheaper, and more reliable. In a couple short years, we've already broken the $1/gig barrier.

After that... Well, it's hard to tell. Many consumers are already running out of things to store on their computers. Heck, I'm in basically the same boat. Even corporations are getting comfortable "big data" setups for reasonable prices. I wonder how much longer until our storage systems get "big enough" for all but the most intense scientific and global data-mining applications...

For a while in the 1990s and 2000s, disk capacity was getting cheaper and denser faster than transistors were. Going to solid-state would mean a slowing of the rate of storage cost reduction (though there was already a slow-down exacerbated partially by that huge Thailand flood), not an increase. Besides, there are some big problems with scaling down the cell size in NAND flash while keeping the same error rate. If a significantly new technology doesn't rescue flash, we could be looking at an end to rapid cost reduction in data storage, or at least it would be slower than Moore's law.

Which isn't to say I'm arguing that spinning disks will out-compete SSD. I expect solid-state to continue to eat away into spinning disk from here on out. Spinning disks have the big disadvantage of basically being up against pretty hard mechanical limits on latency and seek-time while SSD can improve continually in that regard.

Comment Re:Helium hard drive technology limitations... (Score 1) 297

I'm going to bet that these aren't stand alone drives that you can buy and use off the shelf, but units that are installed as part of a system that has a helium supply.

No hard drive is sealed. Not a single one you own or have ever seen. If they were then big changes in elevation would make them break due to ruptured seals and deformed geometry.

Thus, these drives probably have a port for helium inlet so the internal atmosphere can be maintaned. (It would not take much. I'd imagine)

This is concept is actually not new. I've seen old hard drives that were used in commercial storage systems that had an inlet for an inert gas (Argon I think) The storage system had a supply of gas to maintain the atmosphere inside the hardrive, presumably to control moisture and prevent corrosion.

No drives I've ever owned have ever been back-filled with helium, either. Or have ever had 6TB a pop.

Of course I know drives aren't usually sealed. But I find the idea of an external helium supply completely untenable. No one would buy it except maybe a few people who care nothing about cost and all about looking high-tech. It would increase maintenance and upfront costs while adding another single point of failure to the whole system. Way too expensive for dubious gain.

No, there are two approaches that seem reasonable:
1), there's a diaphram or piston which moves (passively) to maintain ambient pressure inside the device while maintaining a helium-tight seal.
2) the drives are built mechanically to withstand whatever pressure differentials are necessary. The easiest way to do this (for the least mass) would be to slightly pressurize the drive above 1 atm.

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