Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The SLS and the Case for a Reusable Lunar Lander

NASA  OTV with  single stage reusable lunar lander (credit NASA)

by Marcel Williams

In 2009, President Obama inherited an annual  manned spaceflight related budget from the previous administration of approximately $8.4 billion. Approximately $3 billion was for operating the Space Shuttle. Another $2 billion was for the ISS program. And an additional $3.4 billion was for the future Constellation program with primary funding going towards the development of the Orion manned spacecraft and  the Ares I  launch vehicle. Further increases in  Orion and Ares I funding were set to occur after the end of the Shuttle program.  But significant funding for the core vehicle of the Ares V heavy lift vehicle,  its upper stage, and for the Altair lunar lander weren't set to occur until after Orion and Ares I development was completed  and the  ISS program had come to an end.     

A year later, of course, the Obama administration canceled the Constellation program and, surprisingly,  NASA's efforts to return to the Moon. Instead, the Obama administration  decided to extend the life of the ISS program at least until  2020 while also deciding to fund the private development of private commercial manned space vehicles  for accessing LEO and the ISS.  Long term beyond LEO goals were set by the administration for a manned spaceflight to a NEO asteroid in the mid 2020s and an orbital mission to Mars  in the 2030s. But no vehicles were to be immediately financed and developed for such ventures.  President Obama's decision still left NASA with a few billion dollars of unused manned spaceflight related funds which the President decided to utilize in research on future heavy lift vehicles and  for solving the problems of manned beyond LEO space travel.

Democrat and Republican advocates of NASA's manned space program, however,  were stunned by the President's decision to  terminate the Constellation program and to cancel NASA's efforts to return to the Moon.  And they defiantly passed legislation for the immediate funding of a heavy lift vehicle (SLS) and for the continued development of the Orion spacecraft (MPCV).

Space Launch System crew vehicle and cargo vehicle

The Orion (MPCV) program is now scheduled for an unmanned test of its Command Module  in 2014 aboard a Delta IV heavy. And the unmanned test of the  SLS heavy lift vehicle  plus the MPCV with its European developed  Service Module  is scheduled to occur  before the end of 2017.

But  how and when the SLS and MPCV will be used for manned beyond LEO missions is far more ambiguous. While some in Congress still argue for manned lunar missions and even a lunar base, the White House continues to argue for an-- anything but the Moon policy.

While the current administration is trying to keep Americans from returning to the Moon, other nations are focusing on the lunar surface's vast resources and even its strategic position around the Earth.  China, of course, has recently launched its first robotic attempt to explore the surface of the Moon and has repeatedly stated its long term intentions of sending people to the Moon and to establish a permanent Chinese presence on the lunar surface for the exploitation of lunar resources. Russia and a few other nations also appear to be focusing on sending humans to the surface of the Moon. 

The Obama administration has countered criticism of  its anti-lunar stance by arguing that manned lunar missions would inhibit NASA's ability to eventually send humans to Mars. However, many NASA scientist have argued that a fuel producing lunar outpost could be an essential  key to eventually getting humans to the surface of Mars. China appears to have a similar perspective.

But  can NASA realistically  establish a permanent human presence on the surface of the Moon and, eventually, on Mars under the political constraints of its current manned spaceflight budget?  Was the $8.4 billion a year manned spaceflight related budget that President Obama originally inherited from the previous administration enough to get the job done over then next 25 years?

The SLS/MPCV program is currently being funded at about $3 billion a year. However, the Service Module of the MPCV is now being funded and  developed by the European space agency. An additional $300 million dollars is being used for SLS ground systems development. So what is currently being spent by NASA on the SLS/MPCV program is close to what was being spent on the Constellation program when President Obama came into office. But now, of course,  there's no longer the financial burden of a $3 billion a year Space Shuttle program.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has estimated that the cost of developing the two stage Altair lunar lander at approximately $12 billion. But NASA director Charlie Bolden estimates the cost of developing a lunar landing vehicle at approximately $8 to $10 billion. It took six years for NASA and its private vendors to develop the lunar module that took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the lunar surface in 1969.  If we assume a 7 year development time for the next manned landing vehicle then the annual cost of funding such a vehicle  should range between $1.1 billion to 1.7 billion a year. That would raise the manned spaceflight related budget from a range of $4.4 billion to up to $5 billion annually.

However, the CSIS had estimated the development cost of a lunar outpost at approximately  $17 billion. Over a ten year period of development and deployment, that would mean an additional $1.7 billion in annual funding. That would raise the NASA manned spaceflight related budget to perhaps $6.1 yo $6.7 billion a year. However, once the lunar outpost is established, the CSIS estimated that the annual recurring cost would be $7.35 billion annual-- if lunar resources are not utilized. Of course, one of the principal reasons for returning to the Moon is to utilize and even export lunar resources for water, air, and rocket fuel in order to reduce the cost of space travel.

 So with an $8.4 billion a year manned spaceflight budget, it appears that NASA would have plenty of funds to return to the Moon even if they used the rather expensive Constellation architecture. 

But NASA is still running a very expensive LEO program in the form of the ISS and Commercial Crew development. Combined, these two programs cost nearly $3.4 billion a year. At less than $400 million a year, the Commercial Crew program is probably being seriously underfunded. But some in Congress are still talking about extending the life of the $3 billion a year ISS program beyond 2020-- all the way to 2028.

So its not a question as to whether NASA can afford a beyond LEO program. $8.4 billion appears to be more than enough funding. But its pretty obvious that  NASA  can't afford a big beyond LEO program plus a big LEO program-- unless it receives a nearly $2 billion increase in its annual manned spaceflight related budget? And Congress, of course, is in no mood to increase the NASA budget during a time of huge budget deficits-- especially as long as the direction of NASA's beyond LEO program remains in ambiguity.

President Obama only has a few more years left in office, however. And by the time the first SLS heavy lift vehicle is being tested for its first flight in 2017, a new president will be in  office.  So the next president will  inherit a manned space program with a new heavy lift vehicle cable of placing more than 70 to 105 tonnes into low Earth orbit when it is fully operational and will also be capable of placing at least 30 tonnes practically anywhere within cis-lunar space. But future astronauts will still be restricted to orbital space unless an extraterrestrial landing vehicle is developed.

The United States currently has a President at the lowest point in his national popularity who also   appears to have very little interest in manned space travel.  So the time may be right for Congress to take the lead again with bipartisan Democratic and Republican support in order to start seriously fund an extraterrestrial landing vehicle (ETLV) for the SLS  by 2015.

Funding could come from either an increase in the NASA budget in 2015 or a decrease in funding for other NASA projects. For instance, since a test launch of the MPCV Command Module will be launched into orbit in 2014 and NASA is no  longer required to fund the development of the MPCV Service Module which is being developed by the Europeans, perhaps substantial cuts in the Command Module development could occur after 2014. The ISS program is also an internationally funded program. If NASA cut ISS funding back to 2009 levels ($2 billion a year) in 2015,  a billion dollars could be placed into funding lunar lander development. 

NASA reusable lunar lander concept on the Moon (Credit NASA)

Lockheed-Martin recently concluded that lunar lander development  cost and recurring cost could be substantially reduced if a reusable single staged vehicle were developed instead of a two staged vehicle due to reduced vehicle mass, reductions in vehicle components, and reduced vehicle complexity. NASA reached a similar conclusion back in the late 1980s when JPL proposed its own single stage LOX/LH2 lunar landing vehicle.

Such an ETLV should be a reusable single staged vehicle capable of landing not only on the lunar surface but also on the surface of the Martian moons: Phobos and Deimos and maybe even on the surface of Mars if a ballute or hyper cone are added along with a heat shield. Such a vehicle should also be capable of utilizing extraterrestrial fuel resources on the Moon, the moons of Mars, and on the surface of Mars.

Here, I introduce a  lunar  vehicle concept  that I've toyed around with for the last couple of years that's  specifically designed to take advantage of the large  8.4 to 10 meter SLS cargo fairing. I call this notional crew vehicle, the ETLV-2. And I will elaborate upon the specifics of this vehicle concept, and its cargo, orbital transfer, and fuel depot vehicle variants, in future post.

NASA single stage reusable lander, Altair two stage expendable lunar lander, and the ETLV-2 single stage reusable lander 

But basically, the crew version of the ETLV-2 concept  utilizes just two common bulkhead cryotanks each capable of storing up to 14 tonnes of LOX/LH2 fuel. The crew cabin and the twin airlocks are both derived from fuel tank technology, having the same diameter as the fuel tanks  in order to further reduce vehicle development cost and recurring cost. So a standard cryotank  diameter somewhere between 2.5 to 3 meters would have to be firmly established before the vehicle went into development and eventual production.  

Four RL-10 derived CECE (Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine) engines would enhance vehicle safety with engine out capability and would be capable of up to 50 restarts. This should enable the vehicle to be used for at least 10 round trips from the Earth-Moon Lagrange points to the lunar surface which should further reduce recurring cost. Recurring cost could be reduced even  further if the engines could eventually be replaced as suggest by Spudis and Lavoie in their lunar architecture concept. A throttle capability ranging from 104% of thrust down to just 5.6%, should allow the  CECE engines to enable the ETLV-2 to take off and land on celestial worlds as large as Mars or as small as the moons of Mars.

Utilizing Integrated Vehicle Fluid (IVF) technology currently being developed by the ULA, some ullage gases could be used for attitude control. And with NASA emerging cryocooler technology,  ullage gases could be re-liquified, eliminating any significant  boil-off of hydrogen and oxygen. The cryotank derived crew habitat would have three floor levels and would be capable of accommodating at least six to eight  crew members plus the life support systems. The twin cryotank derived airlocks allows more room within the cabin while allowing astronauts to leave the vehicle without having to decompress and then re-pressurize the crew cabin.  

When fully manned and fueled, the ETLV-2 should weigh less than 37 tonnes and be capable of  departing from EML1 to land on the Moon and then return  EML1 on a single fueling, and vice versa, once the ETLV-2 can be refueled with cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen manufactured on the lunar surface. The addition of an ETLV-2 derived reusable OTV (Orbital Transfer Vehicles) with an aerobraker that could travel between LEO and L1, could also give private Commercial Crew vehicle passengers flown to LEO easy access-- all the way to the surface of the Moon. I will discuss this architectural possibility in a future post.

 Marcel F. Williams
© 2013 MuOmega Enterprises


Lunar Lander Conceptual Design (NASA Johnson Space Center & Eagle Engineering)


Lunar Lander Configurations Incorporating Accessibility, Mobility, and Centaur Cryogenic Propulsion Experience


SLS Dual Use Upper Stage (DUUS) Opportunities


The Space Launch System Capabilities with a New Large Upper Stage(The Boeing Company)


Mission and Implementation of an Affordable Lunar Return (Spudis and Lavoie )


CECE (Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine)


An Integrated Vehicle Propulsion and Power System for Long Duration Cryogenic Spaceflight (ULA)

Large-Scale Demonstration of Liquid Hydrogen Storage with Zero Boiloff for In-Space Applications (NASA) 2010


Conquering Cis-Lunar Space with Shuttle and ULA Derived Technologies


How Should Congress Respond to Obama's Manned Spaceflight Budget?


Friday, November 22, 2013

Kennedy's Legacy in Space

The Soviet Union was the  first government to place a satellite into orbit in 1957 which put enormous pressure on President Eisenhower and the United States to create a civilian space program to match Soviet efforts. The US military would have preferred to continue American's manned and unmanned space program themselves. And even America's famous rocket scientist,  Wernher von Braun, who helped place America's first satellite into orbit, was reluctant to abandon the Army's space program for the new civilian space program (NASA).

But President Eisenhower was afraid that a US military industrial complex that was already spending astronomical amounts of money on Earth-- would do the same in space. So creating a peaceful civilian space program was Eisenhower's attempt to curtail massive expenditures on space travel by the US military.

But people forget that during John  Kennedy's administration, the US was still well behind the Soviet Union in space achievements and in space technology. The Soviets placed the first human being in orbit soon after  Kennedy came into office, further demonstrating their growing technological and political superiority over the United States and the non-communist world. Afterwards, the Soviet Union paraded Yuri Gagarin around the world as an international super star, a political ambassador for the wonders of communism

Kennedy's reason for entertaining the idea of cooperating with the Soviet Union in space was because no one really knew what the manned Soviet goals in space really were. Would the Soviets claim the Moon and eventually the rest of the Solar System as part of the growing Soviet communist empire? And with the US so far behind in space technology, could the US even stop them from doing so!

Kennedy was told that America was so far behind the Soviet Union in space technology that they would have to spend massive amounts of  money on space if the US was to avoid Soviet domination of the new frontiers of space. So that's why he did it! That's why Kennedy used the Moon as a way of leaping ahead of Soviet efforts in space-- just a week after the Soviets humiliated the US again by placing the first human into orbit around the Earth.

International communism and Soviet influence at that time was threatening the United States in practically every region of the planet. We were still in the middle of the Cold War-- and it wasn't a joke!  Just a year after  Kennedy came into office, the Cuban missile crisis between the US and the Soviet Union almost started World War III and a possible thermonuclear war.

However, the race between the US and Soviet Union in space ended during the Johnson administration when both the US and the Soviet Union signed the Outer Space Treaty in 1967. The law forbid any country from placing weapons of mass destruction on the lunar surface or on any other celestial body and also made it illegal for any single country to own the Moon or any other celestial body in space. So the US fear of a militarized communist Moon was finally over and so were the reasons for a space race between the US and the Soviet Union.

But America's commitment and momentum to reach the Moon was still there even though America was consumed in its tragic military commitment in Vietnam. But US astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the lunar surface in July of 1969. The two lunar astronauts plus astronaut Michael Collins, who remained in lunar orbit during the lunar excursions,  returned safely to the Earth a few days later--  fulfilling Kennedy's goal and cementing his legacy as one of the most insightful and inspirational presidents in the history of our nation.

Marcel F. Williams

Monday, November 11, 2013

Was the Swamp Ape Bipedal?

by Marcel F. Williams 

Tuscany is renowned for its beautiful cities of Florence and Siena, and is  historically famous as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. But amongst the paleontological community, Tuscany is also known as the birthplace of an  extinct Late  Miocene ape-- that some paleontologist controversially believe may have been the earliest primate to walk predominantly on just two legs-- and possibly the earliest bipedal ancestor of humankind.

Oreopithecus bambolii first emerged on an ancient island bioprovince known as Tuscany-Sardinia (Tusco-Sardinia) sometime after 9 million years ago where it existed as the sole primate on the island until approximately  7 million years ago. Tuscany-Sardinia was  isolated from the rest of the Italian peninsula  and from  the rest of  continental Europe by the marine waters of the Late Miocene Mediterranean.
Skull of Oreopithecus bambolii
Between 11 to 9 million years ago, sea levels fell during a glacial period caused by the  deposition of  ice and snow on polar land masses. The lower sea levels allowed various mammals from  North Africa and Southern Europe  to enter the Tuscany region.   Small mammals from Europe apparently entered the isolated island region through rafting or swimming. But fauna from North Africa appears to have entered the region via ephemeral land bridges.

The mostly likely ancestor of Oreopithecus was a small African ape know as Mabokopithecus which  appears in the fossil record in Africa about 15 million years ago.  Oreopithecus and Mabokopithecus were both folivores (planet eaters) that shared a unique dental attribute in their upper molars: a well-defined hypocone-metaconule crest on the upper molars--  a unique characteristic that has never been found in any other monkey or ape  living or extinct.

Because  its fossil remains are strongly associated with the wetland freshwater environments that existed on Tuscany-Sardinia at that time, Oreopithecus  is frequently referred to as the 'swamp ape'. Dryer areas did exist on the island, but Oreopithecus was rare in those deposits while being abundantly represented in the swampy wetland coastal environments on the island.

It is interesting that the African oreopithecine ancestor, Mabokopithecus, existed in an ecological niche largely restricted to riparian woodland areas. This is a niche similar to that of the extant folivorous primate Colobus guereza (the Colobus monkey).  Although the Colobus monkey is  highly arboreal, it is known to come down from the trees in order to feed on aquatic plants in nearby swamps.

Oreopithecus bambolii has long  been at the center of controversy principally because of its remarkable cranio-dental and post cranial  similarity to African hominins (human ancestors) which was first fully noted by Johannes Hurzeler as far back as the 1950s.   Further adding to the controversy is  the argument that Oreopithecus may have also been the earliest obligatory bipedal primate and the first ape to walk exclusively on just two legs. 

Oreopithecine remains display a significant  number of post cranial characteristics that could be associated with either arboreal or  bipedal locomotion. However, there is one post cranial characteristic that is clearly related to bipedality and that's lumbar lordosis, a curvature of the spine that is unique to the hominins (humans and their bipedal ancestors).   However, a recent paper by Russo and Shapiro has question the existence of lumbar lordosis in Oreopithecus, arguing that  the supposed features  may be simply  be an artifact of the skeleton's distortion caused by  its compression during fossilization. Russo and Shapiro  also argue that the arboreal three toed sloth (Bradypus) would be a better convergent model for the skeletal anatomy and  locomotive behavior of the extinct oreopithecines rather than the bipedal hominins.

Three-toed sloth (Bradypus)

While slow climbing suspensory behavior has long been argued as an explanation for some of the anatomical attributes of Oreopithecus, such locomotive behavior appears to be contradicted by the exceptionally robust metatarsals of the oreopithecine foot along with the proportions of the foot's entocuneiform which was proximally-distally short and dorso-ventrally high. The length-height index of the oreopithecine  entocuneiform related to the mass placed on the hind limbs and is most similar to that of the gorilla. The gorilla's low entocuneiform length-height index is related to the large amount of mass placed on the hind limbs due to its large body size. Oreopithecus, however, was a very small ape, with males typically weighing about 32 kilograms and females approximately half that size. The average Gorilla male weighs 175 kg with average female gorillas weighing about 85 kilograms.    So in order to explain, the gorilla-like entocuneiform index, in Oreopithecus, the swamp ape must have been carrying its entire body weight on just its hind limbs.   Kohler and Moya- Sola also noted that the  power armload arm ratio strongly suggest that Oreopithecus carried its entire body weight on its hind limbs.

There's also strong evidence in the oreopithecine feet of a significantly reduced arboreal ability. The Oreopithecus foot had robust metatarsals plus a non helical ankle joint, characteristics typically associated with terrestrial catarrhines. Kohler and Moya-Sola have also noted that the mobility and grasping ability of the oreopithecine foot had been appreciably reduced relative to arboreal primates and even more so than in terrestrial baboons.

It would also be difficult to understand why Oreopithecus would expend the energy and the risk of  being a highly arboreal tree living primate on an island where there were no terrestrial predators. But even on the ground, why would  Oreopithecus abandon terrestrial quadrupedalism for bipedalism? The answer may come from its food source.

Chimpanzee wading bipedally with a stick

Orangutan wading bipedally

Gorilla wading bipedally

The coastal wetlands that Oreopithecus preferred were rich in aquatic plants. Harrison and Rook   have suggested that Oreopithecus may have specialized in feeding  on aquatic plants which were abundant in the wetland coastal areas of the island such as: sedges, water lilies, reeds, cattail, pond- weeds, horestails, and stoneworts which were abundantly represented in the fossil pollen spectrum.

Extant primates that feed on aquatic plants, usually wade bipedally in the shallow waters to access the food resource. Bipedal wading in primates has been observed in: baboons, macaques, the gorilla, orangutan, and in the chimpanzee. Such aquatic bipedalism in order to access aquatic plants  comprises as much as 27% of the feeding behavior of the Western Gorilla.

Additionally,  freshwater mollusk and turtles were also abundant in the wetland areas of Tuscany-Sardinia island-- along with predatory crocodiles. Turtle and crocodile eggs may have served as a good source of protein for Oreopithecus.

Marine biologist, Alister Hardy, hypothesized that the power precision grip in humans originally evolved as an adaptation for picking up benthic invertebrates. Wading bipedally in shallow water for food resources such as shellfish and aquatic plants is, of course, common behavior in many hunter-gatherer human populations. But such behavior has also been observed in non-human primates such as baboons, macaques,  guenons, and capuchin monkeys.

Curiously, Oreopithecus also had a hominin-like power precision grip. Such manual dexterity could have evolved in Oreopithecus as a feeding adaptation for picking up   the shelled invertebrates that existed in the wetland areas of Tuscany-Sardinia while it was also feeding on aquatic plants.

As the sole primate on the ancient island of Tuscany-Sardinia for nearly two million years, it seems unlikely that Oreopithecus would have avoided the exploitation of freshwater aquatic food resources   that were so rich in carbohydrates and proteins

Sea levels in the Mediterranean began to fall sometime after 7.4 million years ago and the island's isolation from Europe and Africa appears to have ended sometime between 6.9 to 7.2 million years ago. By 6.1 million years ago, global sea levels fell to such an extent that the Mediterranean Sea became completely isolated from in the inflow of marine waters from the Atlantic Ocean. During this period of lowering sea levels, land bridges were created between Europe and North Africa.

 The  earliest African hominin,  Sahelanthropus, appeared in the fossil record in North Africa sometime between 6.8 and 7.2 million years ago. While not much is known about the postcranial remains of Sahelanthropus, its craniodental morphology is remarkably similar to that of Oreopithecus bambolii.

Marcel F. Williams


Cranio-dental evidence of a hominin-like hyper-masticatory apparatus in Oreopithecus bambolii . Was the swamp ape a human ancestor?
Williams, Marcel Francis, Bioscience Hypotheses, 1 (3), p.127-137, Jan 2008


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Evolutionary History of Primates

Szalay and Delson 1979


Our Earliest African Ancestor
New Papyrus


 David Attenborough on the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis


 Desmond Morris on the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis


Was Man More Aquatic in the Past? Fifty Years After Alister Hardy - Waterside Hypotheses of Human Evolution

Mario Vaneechoutte, Algis Kuliukas, Marc Verhaegen
Bentham Science Publishers,

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Future of NASA and the Commercial Crew Program

The ruling oligarchy in China is currently using both capitalism and big government in order to economically dominate the world and the new frontiers of space. In the US, on the other hand,   many in Congress have purposely crippled the American economy with their  ideological war against a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Ironically, the Obama administration has used this right wing philosophy to cripple one the few government programs that the American right usually favors: NASA.

The US Federal debt is now approaching 17 trillion dollars. But the Federal government  has a titanic budget deficit not because the government is spending too much money on science and technology, but because of the  unnecessary war in Iraq and  unnecessary military bases in Europe while domestically running one of the most inefficient and inherently inflationary welfare states in the history of humankind in the form of: Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and unemployment insurance (the new welfare). Cutting unnecessary military expenditures overseas and dramatically  reforming the welfare state are the keys to substantially reducing the Federal deficit.

At one point, NASA expenditures represented nearly 5% of Federal expenditures. Now NASA represents less than  0.5% of Federal expenditures. So NASA's tiny budget is almost imperceptible when it comes to total Federal expenditures. And this is even truer for NASA's manned space program related expenditures which now represents less than half of NASA's annual expenditures.

 Of course, if you hate all government programs then every dollar spent on a government program, no matter how small,  is a waste of tax payer money!

But its easy to cripple a government program that has no direction. And Congress is obviously not going to increase the NASA budget when NASA doesn't know where its going!

The primary goal of NASA's manned space program over the next 25 years should be to set up permanently manned outpost first on the lunar surface and then on the surface of Mars. And once those goals are made clear to the Congress and to the public-- then NASA will be back on course with the appropriate amount of funding from Congress. A mere $3 billion increase in NASA's annual manned spaceflight budget should probably be enough to get this done. $1.5 billion a year alone should be more than enough to finance the development of a reusable single stage Extraterrestrial Landing Vehicle capable of placing humans on the Moon and even on Mars (with the addition of a ballute and heat shield).

While Commercial Crew Vehicles could be an important  part of this Federal space program in the long run, its doubtful that there would ever be enough demand for Commercial Crew flights for NASA purposes to sustain more than one company. The beauty of capitalism, of course, is that prices are kept low through competition amongst several companies.

It's clear that the  future of Commercial Crew flights will not be in big government programs but in private commercial programs such as space tourism for the super wealthy and for space lotto winners.
Boeing's CST-100
There are more than 50,000 individuals on our planet worth more than $100 million dollars: individuals who could easily afford a $25 million to $35 million dollar flight to a private space station. Even if private companies could only get less than  1% of those wealthy individuals every year  to fly into space aboard their private space craft to their private space stations, that could still mean nearly  100 private space launches per year. Of course, such a high flight rate would probably dramatically lower the cost of flying into space which should increase the annual volume of wealthy people wanting to fly into space.

Plus there are billions of average people around the world who would probably  be willing  to risk a dollar or two every year in a Space Lotto system for a chance to travel into space.

Private space companies need to stop whining about government contracts and development subsidies and focus on where-- the real demand-- in the future will be for their private manned space vehicles! And its not the government!

Marcel F. Williams

What Should NASA Priorities Be Over the Next 25 Years


End of a Model – and a Program

 When Darkness Falls:the future of the US crewed spaceflight program

End of WWII Model Shakes Up Aerospace Industry

Millionaires and Billionaires did great


 How a Real Public Option Could Reduce Deficits, Create Jobs, & Save the US Economy!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Evidence of Cerebral Reorganization in the Skull of a Seven Million Year Old Human Ancestor

Skull of Sahelanthropus tchadensis (credit  Didier Descouens)

During the  82nd annual meeting  of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists on April 2 of  2013, an international group of scientist presented strong evidence that the 7 million year old North African fossil hominoid (humans and apes), Sahelanthropus tchadensis,  possessed numerous cranial features in it's brainstem, occipital lobes, and prefrontal cortex that are characteristic of hominins (humans the bipedal fossil relatives of humans). The reconstructed endocast of Sahelanthropus  was compared with other fossil apes, modern apes, australopithecines, and modern humans. The results of the  volumetric, linear and angular measurements strongly suggest that Sahelanthropus was indeed the earliest African human ancestor.

Since its discovery, some researchers were bothered by the early date of Sahelanthropus. The oldest fossil sahelanthropines are dated somewhere between 6.8 million and 7.2 million years before the present. Such an early hominin is particularly troublesome to those who are strict advocates of the molecular clock hypothesis which typically dates the human-chimpanzee divergence at less than 6 million years ago. However, there has been strong evidence that the molecular clock runs faster  in small  animals and, correspondingly,  slower in larger ones. Evidence of slower running molecular clocks have also been found in apes relative to monkeys.  So no molecular clock dates for human and ape divergences can really  be taken seriously unless the slower rate of mutation in humans and apes is accounted for.

The argument by some researchers that Sahelanthropus is more ape-like than hominid-like can also be quickly dispelled. When the skull of Sahelanthropus is compared with modern humans, modern apes, and the fossil australopithecines: the bipedal australopithecines have 14 significant cranial-dental similarities with Sahelanthropus,  humans, 10, chimps and gorillas, only 5, the orangutan, only 4, and the gibbon only 3 cranial-dental similarities to Sahelanthropus.

Click above to see table

Curiously, a slightly earlier swamp ape, Oreopithecus bambolii of Italy, had 15 significant cranial-dental similarities with Sahelanthropus. Oreopithecus was also the earliest bipedal hominoid in the fossil record. This fossil Italian  ape lived in geographic isolation on the  Mediterranean island of Tuscany-Sardinia  for at least 2 million years. Sahelanthropus suddenly appears in the fossil record in North Africa just around the time when Tuscany became part of the Italian peninsula  which was also during a time when  Italy was  was geographically connected to North Africa after global sea levels began to fall between 7.2 and 7.1 million years ago. Global sea levels continued to fall, eventually isolating the Mediterranean basin from the Atlantic Ocean around 6.1 million years ago.


The endocast of Sahelanthropus tchadensis, the earliest known hominid (7 Ma, Chad)

Brain Shape Confirms Controversial Fossil as Oldest Human Ancestor

Confirmed: 7 Million Year Old Skull Belonged To Oldest Human Ancestor

Our Earliest African Ancestor

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Terror from the Sky

Meteorite crashes in Russia 2013
Meteorite crash in Russia: Video of meteorite explosion that stirred panic  
 Amateur Camera - Chelyabinsk meteorite impact in Russia 2013  
Russian Meteorite Explosion Chaos and Panic in School  
Russian Meteorite Chaos and Panic in School 2 - 15 Feb 2013  
 Russian Meteorite School Classroom Breaking Windows  
Russian Meteorite Chaos and Panic in the Street  
Dramatic CCTV Footage: Russian Meteorite Blast Blows out Doors and Window

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dream Chaser Uber Manned Launch Video

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Destination Moon

glennwsmith said... Very nice, Marcel. This is one of the most beautifully put together, forward-looking, and yet also understated videos which I've yet seen from a major space agency -- and it just goes to show that there's a lot of good material out there if you know where to find it.

G. W. (Glenn) Smith


Stena Line to Covert Passenger Ferry to a Methanol Fueled Sea Vessel

michael jordan said...

Stena Germanica RoPax ferry is the first commercial marine vessel to run on Methanol.It is the largest ferry in the Nordic region and second biggest Ro-Pax ferry in the world.For this overall project cost comes to nearly $25.5m.It measures 240m long and 29m wide and lane metres of 3,907m.It is going to accommodate 300 cars and 1,300 passengers and freight capacity of 46,353t.