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Friday, May 6, 2016

WHAT WE SHOULD BE DOING IN OUTER SPACE

We all dream.  Some of us are better able to synthesize the present and visionize the future.  But there is always the reality, for money, technology, politics and a range of other factors complicate the process.  In 1902 Georges Melies produced A Trip to the Moon.  Clearly, the technology was not quite there then, so it took 67 more years, spurred by the Cold War, for Neil Armstrong to walk on the Moon.

Some have suggested that the Soviet Union's attempts in space helped bankrupt the country, so our strategy to end the Cold War using outer space actually worked.  The Apollo Project, costing $20 billion then, but valued at around $160 billion today, was money well spent.

The next great opportunity appears to be a mission to Mars.  But do we have the technology, and more importantly, compelling need to get there today?  All signs scream that some transitory objective at this time makes a lot more sense.  Satellites, clearly, have changed our everyday life, and something similar might be worth attaining.

Yet, Americans seem to favor some Mars initiative by a 74% to 26% vote.  But that is because they go to films like The Martian, and think, heck, why not.  They're mostly delusional.

Maybe I'm missing some hidden agenda, as perhaps Elon Musk desiring to own Mars.  Well:

telegraph.co.uk
The Outer Space Treaty gives every country the responsibility for making sure its citizens abide by the treaty, and explicitly rules out ownership of celestial bodies, and requires the member states to supervise the activities of their citizens in space to make sure they comply with it.

Musk must have other reasons and is definitely committed.  He formed SpaceX in 2002, and now has 5,000 employees in a company said to be worth at least $12 billion.    He has said:

...that by 2035 at the latest, there will be thousands of rockets flying a million people to Mars, in order to enable a self-sustaining human colony.[70]



As Melies more than a century ago, we again are faced with a desire without capability:  simply, engineers have not yet perfected the technology to send humans safely to Mars and back, and won't for some time to come.  Second, there is no compelling reason to do so.  If, say, China and Russia suddenly form a coalition, and begin spending hundreds of billions annually to claim Mars because it has a strategic or resource value that would mean the end of the USA, sure, we will be forced to do the same.   While Musk will have millions going to Mars in less than 20 years, China and Russia could well have been as bullish, but the best they currently offer are similar plans that sometime between 2040 and 2060 they hope to send a crew to the Red Planet.  Good luck Elon.

Someday, perhaps, we will need to take outer space more seriously for habitation and/or resources.  But maybe a millennium or so from now, not today.  Here is a colorful vision by Brummbaer of life on Mars.

So to finish this discussion, let me say that we have already too much so invaded Mars:


You can read the details by clicking on it, but why.  Here are all the Mars missions since 1960, and more than half have FAILED.  When we actually robotically got there, no evidence of life was found.  Conditions are harsh.  Every so often, during budget influence cycles, NASA leaks to the media something about the potential for water or maybe a Happy Face.

For the present, we should limit our outer space exploits, tax money and billionaires' resources to better utilize space near or on Planet Earth.

However, the International Space Station has become a white elephant.  Already 18 years out there, after an expenditure of $150 million, it has yet to develop even one successful commercial operation.  Worse, the expectation is that the ISS will crash back to Earth within the decade.

So do we just abandon space and eliminate NASA?  Of course not.  There remains a whole host of topics worthy of pursuit.  From confirmation of Dark Energy/Matter to astrobiology to killer asteroids, the space landscape is dotted with priority interest areas awaiting funding support.   Here are NASA's historical expenditures.

But, typical for spending over time, there is great distortion, for the real value of that red  peak in 1967 of $17.5 billion, in 2016 dollars, is about $128 billion.  More recently, $7 billion/year can be afforded by our country (about one half of one percent of the U.S. budget) to continue cutting edge science, plus an expanded Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  

The James Webb Space Telescope will eventually cost $10 billion just by itself, but we have been jerking this project along for two decades and should have it in space hopefully in 2018, so send it out.  But that should be it for a while.  Major hardware expenditures should be kept to a bare minimum.  The problem with this policy, though, is that as aerospace companies do the heavy lobbying for NASA (for they get most of these funds), deleting this pork item will only convince Congress to further deplete the NASA budget.

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

A PHOTO TOUR OF MY FANTASTICAL LIFE

I thought, what should I do today, and ended up having a roast duck / ginger chicken bento with a bottle of beer on Magic Island:

I sat under the shade of a coconut tree right next to the Rip Curl surfing meet:


I was entertained by blaring horns and announcements of which surfer was up and his/her score.  It then occurred to me, how lucky I am, but that this fantasy of my present existence is something I've largely enjoyed my entire life.  Fantastical has negative connotations:  fanciful, imaginary, capricious and highly unrealistic.  But also could mean extraordinarily good and fabulously terrific.  Thus, when you combine both, you have my life.

Looking back towards Honolulu from Magic Island:


This is Ala Moana Beach, where I swan when very young, and in the background, Kakaako, where I spent my first 17 years.  In these environs are Queen's Hospital, where I was born, and the schools I attended:  Pohukaina Elementary (no longer here at 690 Pohukaina, but the tallest building in Hawaii, 650 feet, is being planned), Central Intermediate (now called middle school) and McKinley High School (yes, I was in the class of 1958).

My upbringing was merely okay.  Here, with my dog, Blackie:



I don't remember ever wanting to be a dentist.  Maybe the highlight of my fantasy life during this Honolulu phase was that during my senior year of high school the three girls I dated all were beauties:  Jane Kuroda (Farrington) and Karen Dobashi (Roosevelt) were in the Cherry Blossom Pageant, while Alice Ige (Kaimuki) became a Miss Teenage Hawaii.  I wonder what happened to them, although I long ago heard that Jane had triplets.  Maybe someone reading this posting will alert them.  So, anyway, at the age of 17, I had a choice of going to the California Institute of Technology or Stanford, and went to the latter (the ending summarizes my years here):


My older brother, Stan, who I later found out might have been the foremost marine structural engineer of his time, got me a job at the Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory in Port Hueneme, where he worked, and I stayed with his family for three summers.  His home in Oxnard had two orange, grapefruit and lemon trees that bore fruit continuously as long as he lived there for more than half a century.  Much more recently, to the left is my younger brother Dan picking a grapefruit.  The problem with places like Oxnard and San Francisco is that the cold currents pass close by and make the weather too chilly for me.  In 1958 when I first went to Oxnard it was a farming community of 40,000 known for lima beans and lemons.  Today, with more than 200,000, real estate there costs more than Hawaii.  People from Los Angeles build second homes here because during summer months, when it might be 115 F in Santa Paula, only 15 miles away, Oxnard could be 65 F.

President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps during my junior year, so many of my closest classmates chose to go to places like Ivory Coast, Philippines and the like for less than $100/month to improve the world.  Thus, I too had to suffer a bit and ended up at the southernmost community in the USA, Naalehu, working for the Hutchison Sugar Company for $500/month, to save the sugar industry.  Here is where I met Pearl, who was a nurse in the next town, Pahala.  We got married, were sent to the Kilauea Sugar Company on Kauai and lived in a trainee cottage next to which South Pacific was partially filmed.  Here Bloody Mary sung Happy Talk to France Nuyen (right) and John Kerr.  Pearl and Pepper at our backyard waterfall below.


How's this for fantasy?  Pearl and France looked like identical twins.  They were also born in July of 1939 and were the same height.  We were married for 47 years and I've now dropped her ashes at more than fifty sites around the world and planted perhaps a hundred Gold Trees in her memory.  This is part of the reason why I've now travelled around the world at least ten times.  My latest adventure was completed this past fall, and I have created a possible future fantasy, my 2018 Global Cruise.  Scarily, there seems to be some actual movement, as on Sunday I''m having dinner with a candidate (and maybe two) to enter Step 2 of the process.  

In the Epilogue of my SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth, I calculated that there was only one chance in 10 trillion that I could have lived the life I lived.  This was on top of the fact that there was only one chance in 10 with 34 zeros that I should have been born.  

I did not even include the odds on getting into Stanford, earning a PhD in biochemical engineering, still having an office at the University of Hawaii now for 44 years and having a professional life where I worked under Edward Teller, on laser fusion, helped Carl Sagan get his first real Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence funding from Congress, and draft the hydrogen legislation that became the Matsunaga Hydrogen Act.  But I continue these impossible quests, as for example, the Blue Revolution.

Life for Pearl and I in Louisiana was rewarding and experienceful.  We drove across the country a couple of times.  At LSU we had Peter Maravich and Tiger football, and all those festivals virtually every weekend.  Here we are in the bayous amidst Spanish Moss.  A PhD in biochemical engineering prepared me for the various environmental and energy crises to come.

My 44 years at the University of Hawaii, in particular, epitomized fantasia, for I was able to design my own courses to teach, from Technology & Society to Computer Graphics to Environmental Engineering.  At one time in the late '70's I had four offices:  Hawaii Hall in the Chancellor's Office, as Associate Dean of Engineering, faculty room in the Civil Engineering Department and new laboratory in Holmes Hall (left).  Today, in my 17th year of retirement, I'm in the Pacific Ocean Science and Technology building:


My room with books and assorted accomplishments:

There is something gratifying about spending 44 years focusing on the ocean, hydrogen, renewable energy and  research administration, and being recognized for doing a commendable job.

One of the benefits of being an engineering professor is being able to dabble in your fantasies, so I worked at places like the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, NASA's Ames Research Center on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the U.S. Senate, where I drafted original bills for ocean thermal energy conversion and hydrogen.  Three years in Washington, D.C. also meant Concerts on the Mall, link to decision-makers in government, being close by the Smithsonian and train rides to New York City, Philadelphia and Boston.

One book I am especially proud of was produced by one of my Technology and Society classes.  They got National Science Foundation funding to publish this text, which was picked up by the Hawaii State Department of Education to use in high schools.  Mind you, this was more than 40 years ago.


On the walls:


You will note a poster of the St. Andrews Old Course at the top, where I played a couple times:


While my scores here are not worthy of note, in the 1990's the course fee was only $40, plus $75 for a required caddie.  On the other wall I show my best game, at Ala Wai, a score of 74:


I have maintained a one handicap throughout my life...per hole. This scorecard is othewise balanced with more distinguished memorabilia, such as Congressional legislation for which I was responsible, as for example the Matsunaga Hydrogen Act:


Let me close with a few things from my Stanford Class of '62 50th Reunion Class Book:


As you can't really read the fine print:

WHAT I DO FOR A LIVING:  After a career of teaching and administration at the University of Hawaii, I am in active retirement to Save Planet Earth and Humanity.  I've written three books on the subject and have posted more than a hundred articles in THE HUFFINGTON POST.  Of particular interest to me is Blue Revolution Hawaii, an organization for which I am the Chief Visionary.

MOST VALUABLE THINGS I LEARNED AT STANFORD

Upon graduation, I observed that my high school classmates were better engineers from their education at the University of Hawaii.  However, I was able to communicate at a higher level--better appreciate music, art and culture in general--had a more worldly view of things--and most important of all, had the confidence to be innovative and enterprising.

I still can't quite believe that this fantastical life actually happened.  So I ask myself, what have I really accomplished?  Well, not much, but I tried.  Perhaps a few seeds were planted.  I think I here and there made a potential difference, and the world will thusly be a better place to live someday.  Above it all, I certainly enjoyed my life...and here I am now comfortably in Purgatory, also known as 15 Craigside.


More so, my fantasy continues, for in a few days I leave for six straight days of golfing in Napa (actually, Vacaville, which has become a rather nice boutiquish village), then on to San Francisco (where the Stanford Chemical Engineering Department is hosting something), Seoul, Tokyo and back home to Honolulu.  This particular Purgatory allows you to still enjoy Planet Earth.

Oh, tomorrow, part 2 of Humanity's Greatest Challenges:  Outer Space.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

THE WORLD'S LARGEST SOLAR POWER PLANT TO BE IN DUBAI

A few months ago when I was in Dubai I indicated that it:
  • Already had the tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa--830 meters or 2722 feet), and is constructing a taller one (right) as a gift to the city to open for their 2020 World Expo (Dubai hosts).  Height?  To be after announced after completion.
    • Changsha in China three years ago broke ground for a building ten meters taller than the Burj Khalifa, but bureaucracy got in the way, and the project appears to have been stopped.
    • Saudi Arabia will have a 1001 (3284 feet) meter high tower by 2020 in Jeddah, called, appropriately enough, Jeddah Tower.

    • Ah, but Dubai is planning for Dubai City Tower in 2025, also known as Dubai Vertical City, to be 2400 meters or 7900 feet tall.  
    • A mile is 5280 feet and the top of the spire of the Empire State Building in New York City is all of 443 meters or 1454 feet high.
  • Already had the largest shopping center in the world and is building a bigger one.  Dubai Mall, with 1200 stores, gets 75 million visitors--more that the Eiffel Tower, Niagara Falls and Disney World, combined.  The next one will be called Mall of the World:
  • Already is the busiest airport in the world (Heathrow is #2) with 70 million passengers, and will add concourse D this year to handle a total of 90 million passengers, then expand to 100 million by 2020.
Well, solar energy fans, Dubai will soon have the largest solar power plant in the world at 800 MW:


This facility will produce electricity at the lowest rate in the world:  3 cents/kWh.

Anyway, that was the announcement.  The reality is that the first module will only be a 200 MW. concentrated solar system, for an ultimate 3000 MW solar park.  The winning bid by Masdar (owned by the Abu Dhabi government) and a Spanish company FRV, which is now owned by Saudi Arabia.  You will note a general absence of Western countries in these competitions.  UAE / Saudi Arabia beat the Chinese bid (JinkoSolar) by 19%, but only because the government will be financing the system.

China has the biggest solar PV park at 850 MW, while the U.S.'s Ivanpah Solar (thermal) Power Facility is rated at 392 MW, and Morocco just turned on the first phase of its concentrated solar power plant, 160 MW towards 580 MW.  These solar maps show the highest solar potential sites are Africa and the Middle East.  They are finally beginning to wake up.

I will tomorrow report on my fantastical life, and on Friday continue my series on Humanity's Greatest Challenges by focusing on outer space.

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