June 17, 2015
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Where Space Meets Popular Culture

Our vice chairman, Dr. Joe Pelton, will be a panelist next week at the International Space University’s Space Studies Program 2015. Specifically, the inaugural Arthur C. Clarke Event at Ohio University in Athens, OH.

The event is open to the public and will be held in the Baker Center Ballroom on Wednesday, 24 June 2015, from 8:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Eastern time, and broadcast live here.

Moderators: Harry Kloor (Jupiter 9 Productions, SSP88)
and Michael Potter (SSP88)

Ohio University is to host the inaugural Where Space Meets Popular Culture in conjunction with the International Space University Space Summer Program at the University.The event, organized by the International Space University (ISU) will focus on the intersection of Hollywood and science, where STEM meets STEAM (Science,Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics). Continue Reading →

June 12, 2015
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With the requisite “today’s the day Marty McFly went forward in time” popping up throughout 2015, we’re reminded of the hovering skateboard or hoverboard featured in the film Back to the Future Part II.

What a treat it was to see the work being done on the Hendo Hover, which people got to try at Smithsonian’s “The Future is Here 2015″ festival last month. We were only happy to host a luncheon during the event.

We love to watch real science play catch-up to science fiction.

June 9, 2015
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LightSail — Recalling “Sunjammer” Story

LightSail captured this image of its deployed solar sails in Earth orbit on June 8, 2015. (Credit: The Planetary Society)

LightSail captured this image of its deployed solar sails in Earth orbit on June 8, 2015. (Credit: The Planetary Society)

With the LightSail’s successful deployment yesterday, it brings to mind Sir Arthur’s 1964 short story “Sunjammer” (NASA’s Solar Sail Demonstrator was given that name, but was later cancelled). The Planetary Society mission is entitled LightSail-A.

Reprinted below is Sir Arthur’s “Sunjammer,” which appeared in Boy’s Life in 1964.



The Sunjammer

By Arthur C. Clarke


“T minus two minutes,” said the cabin radio. “Please confirm your readiness.”

One by one, the other skippers answered. Merton recognized all the voices—some tense, some calm—for they were the voices of his friends and rivals. On the four inhabited worlds, there were scarcely twenty men who could sail a sun yacht; and they were all here, on the starting line or aboard the escort vessels, orbiting twenty-two thousand miles above the equator.

“Number One, Gossamer—ready to go.”

“Number Two, Santa Maria—all O.K.”

“Number Three, Sunbeam—O.K.”

“Number Four, Woomera—all systems go.”

Merton smiled at that last echo from the early, primitive days of astronautics. But it had become part of the tradition of space; and there were times when a man needed to evoke the shades of those who had gone before him to the stars.

“Number Five, Lebedev—we’re ready.”

“Number Six, Arachne—O.K.”

Now it was his turn, at the end of the line; strange to think that the words he was speaking in this tiny cabin were being heard by at least five billion people.

“Number Seven, Diana—ready to start.”

“One through Seven acknowledged.” The voice from the judge’s launch was impersonal. “Now T minus one minute.”

Merton scarcely heard it; for the last time, he was checking the tension in the rigging. The needles of all the dynamometers were steady; the immense sail was taut, its mirror surface sparkling and glittering gloriously in the sun.

To Merton, floating weightless at the periscope, it seemed to fill the sky. As it well might—for out there were fifty million square feet of sail, linked to his capsule by almost a hundred miles of rigging. All the canvas of all the tea-clippers that had once raced like clouds across the China seas, sewn into one gigantic sheet, could not match the single sail that Diana had spread beneath the sun. Yet it was little more substantial than a soap bubble; that two square miles of aluminized plastic was only a few millionths of an inch thick.

“T minus ten seconds. All recording cameras on.”

Something so huge, yet so frail, was hard for the mind to grasp. And it was harder still to realize that this fragile mirror could tow them free of Earth, merely by the power of the sunlight it would trap.

“. . . five, four, three, two, one, cut!”

Seven knife blades sliced through the seven thin lines tethering the yachts to the mother ships that had assembled and serviced them.

Until this moment, all had been circling Earth together in a rigidly held formation, but now the yachts would begin to disperse, like dandelion seeds drifting before the breeze. And the winner would be the one that first drifted past the moon.

# # #

Aboard Diana, nothing seemed to be happening. But Merton knew better; though his body would feel no thrust, the instrument board told him he was now accelerating at almost one-thousandth of a gravity. For a rocket, that figure would have been ludicrous—but this was the first time any solar yacht had attained it. Diana’s design was sound; the vast sail was living up to his calculations. At this rate, two circuits of Earth would build up his speed to escape velocity—then he would head out for the moon, with the full force of the sun behind him. Continue Reading →

June 9, 2015
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Journal of the British Interplanetary Society

Our friends at the BIS published a new issue of their Journal and they’re encouraging others to help review papers, according to editor Kelvin Long:

jbis_67I will start this off with some comments on the progress of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS). I would like to apologise to all subscribers that the journal has not been as frequent as you deserve. We have now put in place new measures which will ensure the journal gets back on track. The good news is that we do have a huge number of papers in the system, and anybody volunteering to help review some of these would be welcome. Thank you for staying with us.

In this issue we have a mixed collection of papers. This is different to the previous issue which was a specialist issue focussed on space architecture. I think it is good to do both, to have focussed papers occasionally, but also to have mixed collections, so that there is something of interest for everyone. And the current issue certainly covers a wide range of interests.

“Photogrammetry of Apollo 11 Surface Imagery” by Vladislav-Veniamin Pustynski and Eric M. Jones, is one paper that brings us to recall Sir Arthur’s television appearances with Walter Cronkite during the CBS network’s coverage of the Apollo 11 mission. The paper examines more than 100 images in composing more accurate surface maps. Photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs, especially for recovering the exact positions of surface points, and is as old as modern photography, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. Continue Reading →

June 5, 2015
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Childhood’s End

We’re more than a little excited to see Childhood’s End, Sir Arthur’s 1953 novel, being produced by Syfy for a serialized presentation in December, 2015.

It was Sir Arthur’s first successful novel and even today is considered one of his best. It was also his personal favorite. We’d like to recall one of the reviews from 1953 (by William Du Bois of The New York Times)…

A fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and chairman of the British Interplanetary Society since 1949, he is the author of “The Exploration of Space,” a stimulating examination of the possibilities of space travel. He is equally at home in the outer galaxies and the troubled psyche of modern man. And, if he seems to agree with Norman Cousins that modern man is rather obsolete, his pity for that same homo sapiens never wavers. When he rings his curtain down, man as we know him today is as dead as all man’s pathetic schemes for self-destruction. But no one can escape the conviction that the phoenix just risen from the ashes is destined for higher things.

Mr. Clarke’s point of departure is a day late in the twentieth century when the United States and the Soviet ChildhoodsEnd_1953Union, each racing feverishly against time, are preparing to launch rival rockets on the first voyage to the moon. Each great power, spying shamelessly on the other, is certain of success, since scientific efficiency has made war a meaningless waste of energy, the only possible triumphs now lie in the conquest of space. At this precise moment, the Overlords appear—mystic beings in gigantic space-ships, anchored fifty kilometers above each of the world’s capitals, enforcing their will with devices that will never be revealed in this review.

Man is forbidden to explore the universe, and ordered to mend his ways on earth. National rivalries are abolished, trade barriers dissolved. One World is made a reality under the jurisdiction of a truly powerful United Nations. Racial discrimination is outlawed with the same patient efficiency—in South Africa, for example, the black majority on the point of exterminating the white minority in payment for past outrages, is stopped just in time. Even the ancient, all-too-human sport of cruelty to animals is universally outlawed. Utopia and the twenty-first century dawn together. Mankind, thanks to the constant, always-benign presence of the Overlords, has achieved perfection at last. Yet mankind, in its secret heart, is just as uneasy as before. What could be more unsettling than perfection in a world that can no longer be improved?

We hope you’ll join us in welcoming this new television production in December!