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Posts Tagged ‘NASA’

Massive Solar Plane Will Fly For Years on End

Posted by jase on June 26, 2009

From Popular Science:

Nine days: That’s the longest any airplane has stayed in the air. Burt and Dick Rutan’s Voyager set the record in 1986 by flying 24,986 miles around the world without refueling. But nine days of uninterrupted flight won’t cut it for Darpa, the Pentagon’s advanced-research organization. It’s challenged the aviation industry to come up with an unmanned surveillance and communications plane that can circle targets for half a decade — and do so on nothing but solar power.

The aircraft you see here, Odysseus, was the first entry in the Vulture program, the competition Darpa created to make its extreme-endurance dreams come true. If the plane’s designers at Aurora Flight Sciences beat rival entries by Boeing and Lockheed — Darpa could pick a winner as early as this year — it will have the opportunity to make this concept into the real thing: a 492-foot-wide folding aircraft that can cruise at 140 mph at 70,000 feet for five years straight, powered by the solar panels that cover the top of the plane.

In fact, Odysseus is three planes in one, a collection of 164-foot-long wing-shaped constituent aircraft that take off separately and dock in the stratosphere, where the air is calmer and less stressful on the massive structure. (Aurora CEO John Langford says the company hasn’t chosen a docking mechanism yet but that it’s considering something based on the system that connected NASA’s Apollo command and lunar modules.) Each piece is interchangeable and can be swapped out in midair for repairs or upgrades. The three-piece construction allows Odysseus to autonomously change shape throughout the day to trap as much solar energy as it can. It could pleat like an accordion into a “Z” to absorb sunlight at low angles — at dusk, for example — and flatten into a more aerodynamically efficient traditional wing at night.

Catching as much sun as possible is essential, because energy — specifically, energy storage — is one of the biggest obstacles to solar flight, particularly solar flight that must continue without fail for years on end. Langford says Aurora is exploring storage methods, including flywheels, fuel cells and an array of batteries embedded throughout the airframe. The plane also needs to be light, so Aurora’s design relies on featherweight carbon composites. The huge craft could weigh in at under 7,000 pounds — approximately 2,000 pounds less than a fully fueled Voyager, which was less than a quarter of Odysseus‘s size.

Although it’s designed to be a surveillance platform, the lanky Odysseus would probably appear to the naked eye as a starlike glint, so it could be used for less-covert missions, such as patrolling a border or watching over suspected nuclear-reactor sites. And it could have civilian applications: Langford imagines it as an atmospheric buoy, monitoring storm development, climate change or the health of the ozone layer. Either way, he says, it would demonstrate the potential of solar power and serve as a testbed for green aircraft technology. “If we can build an airplane that can stay up for five years with nothing but sunlight,” he says, “what else can we do?”

Posted in Flight, NASA, Science, Solar Energy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

BOOKS: Buzz Aldrin – Magnificent Desolation

Posted by jase on June 24, 2009

“Buzz Aldrin relives the Magnificent Desolation of space, and the soul-sucking depression that awaited back home.” –Vanity Fair

Forty years ago, Buzz Aldrin became the second human, minutes after Neil Armstrong, to set foot on a celestial body other than the Earth. The event remains one of mankind’s greatest achievements and was witnessed by the largest worldwide television audience in history. In the years since, millions more have had their Earth-centric perspective unalterably changed by the iconic photograph of Aldrin standing on the surface of the moon, the blackness of space behind him and his fellow explorer and the Eagle reflected in his visor. Describing the alien world he was walking upon, he uttered the words “magnificent desolation.” And as the astronauts later sat in the Eagle, waiting to begin their journey back home, knowing that they were doomed unless every system and part on board worked flawlessly, it was Aldrin who responded to Mission Control’s clearance to take off with the quip, “Roger. Understand. We’re number one on the runway.”

The flight of Apollo 11 made Aldrin one of the most famous persons on our planet, yet few people know the rest of this true American hero’s story. In Magnificent Desolation, Aldrin not only gives us a harrowing first-person account of the lunar landing that came within seconds of failure and the ultimate insider’s view of life as one of the superstars of America’s space program, he also opens up with remarkable candor about his more personal trials–and eventual triumphs–back on Earth. From the glory of being part of the mission that fulfilled President Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon before the decade was out, Aldrin returned home to an Air Force career stripped of purpose or direction, other than as a public relations tool that NASA put to relentless use in a seemingly nonstop world tour. The twin demons of depression and alcoholism emerged–the first of which Aldrin confronted early and publicly, and the second of which he met with denial until it nearly killed him. He burned through two marriages, his Air Force career came to an inglorious end, and he found himself selling cars for a living when he wasn’t drunkenly wrecking them. Redemption came when he finally embraced sobriety, gained the love of a woman, Lois, who would become the great joy of his life, and dedicated himself to being a tireless advocate for the future of space exploration–not only as a scientific endeavor but also as a thriving commercial enterprise.

These days Buzz Aldrin is enjoying life with an enthusiasm that reminds us how far it is possible for a person to travel, literally and figuratively. As an adventure story, a searing memoir of self-destruction and self-renewal, and as a visionary rallying cry to once again set our course for Mars and beyond, Magnificent Desolation is the thoroughly human story of a genuine hero.

Out now.

Posted in Books, Earth, Extraterrestrial Life, Historic Events, History, Inspiring Stories, Literature, Moon, NASA, Science, Space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »