Enrique Zafra

Time is fundamental, it is much of what ‘being’ is about. It is central to reality. It is central to our lived experience, it is central to our hopes and dreams. But as central as it is, it is still an enigma.

Time is a knotty problem for physics, metaphysics, philosophy, religion, something fundamental to our existence and experience but for thousands of years and billions of person hours of contemplation and analysis it escapes understanding. Like others down the centuries I find that the more I think about it the harder to grasp it becomes.

Pragmatically there is only the local now, a few moments from the past and a glance into the future. Practically there is the Past and the Future, now is just a transition from one to the other.

What is time? It seems like it is about change, and times arrow is provided by entropy, the slow winding down of the universe.

Existence, the now, is only the Plank Time instant. What stitches the universe together are memory(enabled by change) and imagination (enabled by memory.)

One option of quantum physics says that it is the conscious mind that ‘collapses’ the probability function to one reality. In that view it is our mind-memory that provides a crashing rock against which universal potentiality breaks into reality. Is it us, stitching together the universe?

Why do we talk about timespace? Because time has no meaning without space and space no meaning without time. Imagine an infinite cube of arbitrary complexity. Without time nothing about it has any meaning. You cannot travel from one point to another, there is no energy, because no movement, nothing can move, because movement is about change of location and that has no meaning with no time. Equally, without space, time has no meaning, there is nothing to change, one could say something can endure or wind down but without space for that to occur it has no meaning.

So we ‘live’ in timespace that we instantiate and make objective. It is still real in that the physics of it are fixed (probably) but is it possible that it is our (or other consciousnesses) that take possibility and harden it to reality and inflate the universe around us, out to the limits of our questing minds?


Aliens? The Science Says no….but does it?

Artist’s concept of interstellar object1I/2017 U1 (‘Oumuamua) as it passed through the solar system after its discovery in October 2017. The aspect ratio of up to 10:1 is unlike that of any object seen in our own solar system. Image Credit: European Southern Observatory / M. Kornmesser
From NASA Article

The first known interstellar object to visit our solar system, 1I/2017 U1 ‘Oumuamua, was discovered Oct. 19, 2017 by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope, funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations (NEOO) Program, which finds and tracks asteroids and comets in Earth’s neighborhood. While originally classified as a comet, observations revealed no signs of cometary activity after it slingshotted past the Sun on Sept. 9, 2017 at a blistering speed of 196,000 miles per hour (87.3 kilometers per second). It was briefly classified as an asteroid until new measurements found it was accelerating slightly, a sign it behaves more like a comet.

This very deep combined image shows the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua at the center of the image. It is surrounded by the trails of faint stars that are smeared as the telescopes tracked the moving comet. Credit: ESO/K. Meech et al.
From NASA Article

The second image is to make you think. Given one of our very powerful telescopes that faint dot circled in the center is all we ever saw of Oumuamua. With our computational tools we could detect that it was accelerating and get an idea of the surface composition but the data we collected was negligible (though also amazing given the distance and velocity of this objectively tiny object.)

Image credit: Kris Snibbe/Harvard file photo.
From Extraterrestrial, Oumamua as Artifiact

Extraterrestrial: On ‘Oumuamua as Artifact


The reaction to Avi Loeb’s new book Extraterrestrial (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021) has been quick in coming and dual in nature. I’m seeing a certain animus being directed at the author in social media venues frequented by scientists, not so much for suggesting the possibility that ‘Oumuamua is an extraterrestrial technological artifact, but for triggering a wave of misleading articles in the press. The latter, that second half of the dual reaction, has certainly been widespread and, I have to agree with the critics, often uninformed.

The article in CentauriDreams, as always excellent, discusses the reaction to the book which is very much in line with the arguments of the book itself.

The author of the Book a Harvard Astronomer of high repute, says that the data actually points to Oumuamua being an artifact and that since that theory best fits the data…then it is/was an extraterrestrial visitor. He then goes on review other theories and the way that the science community came together to present a ‘consensus’ that was more about PR and making the life of the average person in the broad community of sky explorers easier rather than doing the hard work of explaining multiple theories and sets of data that left the question very open and leaving a starkly amazing option in play.

Essentially this is about the science and the science community but also about Journalism in its debauched epoch. Many of us grew up with science being pushed as a noble, maybe the last noble, adventure. With heroes and a few villains. Heroes of the mind and of letters and video who didn’t get shot at or mugged or even have to live rough. Carl Sagan, Attenborough, many other names come to mind.

The problem is that these men and women were scientists, academics, with deep knowledge, if often deeply attached to one trope, and great communicators. Far too many of those who followed were/are attached to a trope and its alignment with their desired outcome. Without the background/willingness to understand that even the most beautiful theory may be utterly wrong and always HAS to be able to stand up to any counter evidence presented.

Also the scientific community, once quite a small community is now huge, with all the pressures of a large bureaucratic endeavor to go along to get along; careerism; group think; cliques; etc. And especially in ‘charismatic’ endeavors like space the pressure is to be ‘in the consensus’ and ‘never be caught wrong footed in the lime light.’


Let space bring us together

One of the things that stabilizes a civilization (IMO) is the ability to expand. Like an imaginary pressure vessel with a self replicating gas one can see that at the beginning the gas molecules bouncing around have plenty of space, the ‘pressure’ on the cylinder is negligible and the molecules don’t collide that often. As the molecules become more abundant the pressure and the collisions build. If there is some external source of ‘heat’ say the energy of invention etc, the pressure builds even more and the ‘collisions’ are more violent. Eventually the pressure vessel gives way along fracture lines and explodes releasing the gas into the void….

Carry that image a bit longer, this almost mimics what happened to a lot of the early civilizations. They blew up and dissipated into the wilds leaving almost nothing behind except wreckage.

America (and other civilizational islands let’s call them) had an immense (to them) hinterland. The pressure vessel had something like a sealed bellows (or say a metal balloon) that was stiff, wouldn’t expand easily but could expand. The particles would ‘explore’ this even early on. The cold walls ‘cooled / calmed’ the average energy and allowed the particles to rub along with each other better. As the particles multiply the bellows/balloon expands releasing the pressure on the parent pressure vessel, and providing more wall to absorb energy at the same time.

The human ‘particles’ in our pressure vessel continue to multiply, thankfully, hopefully, at an increasingly slower rate. But the ‘energy’ of invention and desire for ‘happiness’ continues to flow and be amplified by those people/particles. Rearranging the particles…partially solidifying them?…in urban masses lowers the pressure in some ways but does not eliminate it. It provides pseudo new space for the really energetic particles say. But in reality do what we can on this world the pressure will grow too great unless we expand into, we need newSpace.

Even the space (volume) of our solar system is almost infinite from the perspective of the human particles today. And the boundaries of ‘our system’ are only imaginary. The universe is here there and everywhere and there is no reason not to make it ours except fear, mostly fear of ourselves.

We need frontiers, we need places where we can be with ourselves, we need challenge but also calm centers. While the homes we create away from our birthplace will be nothing like what we see today, our descendants will love and hold them just as close to their heart as we hold our home and our memories.

CommercialSpaceStation in sight

From this article in ParabolicArc
Axiom space image of their commercial space station.

Axiom is not as famous as SpaceX or BlueOrigin, even Boeing or NG but it is setting up to be a big noise in commercial space. “Axiom Space, Inc., which is developing the world’s first commercial space station, has raised $130M in Series B funding

Early Axiom module attached to the current ISS.
from this article in SpaceNews

In January 2020, NASA selected Axiom to begin attaching its own space station modules to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as 2024, marking the company as a primary driver of NASA’s broad strategy to commercialize LEO. While in its assembly phase, Axiom Station will increase the current usable and habitable volume on ISS and provide expanded research opportunities. By late 2028, Axiom Station will be ready to detach when the ISS is decommissioned and operate independently as its privately owned successor.

From the above ParabolicArc article.

But they are already in the ride share business, setting up launches of multiple smaller missions on one booster, Axiom buying the ride then working with the launch customers to integrate their satellites on the mission bus. Another recent milestone:

The four people who will fly to the International Space Station on Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission include (from left) commander Michael López-Alegría and passengers Mark Pathy, Larry Connor and Eytan Stibbe. Credit: Axiom Space. From this article in SpaceNews

Lots of cSpace development, keep it coming…

To explore you need Access

Photo of a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system from the Rover/NERVA programs (left) and a cutaway schematic with labels (right). SOURCE: M. Houts et. al., NASA’s Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Project, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, August 2018, ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/20180006514.
Space Nuclear Propulsion for Human Mars Exploration
National Academics of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
National Academies Press
[ParabolicArc Executive Summary, Findings & Recommendations from National Academies Report on Space Nuclear Propulsion
February 13, 2021 Doug Messier

While a chemically powered trip to Mars is feasible given the ability to lift a lot of mass so orbit, See SpaceX-Elon Musk, this is probably not the solution you would go for first. I think it makes sense as part of the Vision Setting that Musk does but the preference has always been for nuclear propulsion it enables faster (safer) trips and makes reusability even more effective since the ‘shuttles’ are not spending many months in transit each way.

Posit a Freighter something like the illustration below. Departing Mars having dropped of say 2, 3, 4 starships’ worth of cargo. MarsStarships shuttle up and down and provide point to point transport on Mars. EarthStarships shuttle cargo up to earth orbit. Maybe LunarStarships shuttle fuel from production stations on the Moon to reduce the cost of fuel for the starships and the Freighter.

Illustration of a Mars transit habitat and nuclear propulsion system that could one day take astronauts to Mars. (Credits: NASA) [ParabolicArc: Executive Summary, Findings & Recommendations from National Academies Report on Space Nuclear Propulsion February 13, 2021 Doug Messier]

Now you have a system that provides Access to the solar system with significant cargos and the ability to establish and support exploration stations wherever you go.

Space news this week

Articles at Space.Com, SpaceNews, etc.

NASA Has decided to launch one of its astrophysics craft on Falcon Heavy as well as the first parts of Lunar GateWay. These had putatively been ‘assigned’ by congress to the Senate Launch System also known as the Space Launch System (SLS) or what I call the Big Boeing Boondoggle (B3). Hopefully this is a sign of NASA and congressional common sense (I known! Who’d’a thought?) The B3 made some sense until Falcon Heavy was proven now it’s a vast resource ($ and brains) sink that we could do without.

So Boeing is also screwing us because NASA once more has to go to Russia to buy seats to the space station. The notes all imply SpaceX Dragon could cause this…but the reality it is only because Boeing Starliner is late and still in question.

On other Boeing Space Crap, why is it that we have paid billions for the Orion spacecraft for ‘ ‘ Deep SPACE Exploration’ ‘ and that looks a lot like the StarLiner which we paid some towards as well? OK Boeing put up something towards StarLiner…but look I work(ed) in this sector for a long time. Companies in it rarely really put much if anything up in reality. They game money and work are fungible. The contractors make the money coming in for one program cover work that they use on others, calling it ‘in kind contribution.’ And it is, in a green eye-shady way but not in any sense like work coming from the real cSpace sector.

Looking at SLS and new push into space, and the SLS and Orion craft, Boeing and NASA have evolved into a ‘married couple.’ Congressional parsimony and special interest driven oversight cause this all the time. NASA cannot really compete anything in the system because once Boeing got the main contract they could make it far too expensive for anyone else to get the work. Boeing then pulls in subs from all over the country (with political weight as important as technical or cost) to make sure that congress stays satiated. This is a negative way of looking at it and you can spin it positive with some ‘necessary’ downsides. The reality is that for large government programs (due to regulation, oversight and parsimony) you get very very little choice once the program is past early concept. Costs are baked in and out of control almost as soon as metal starts getting bent.

It’s cold and I’m cranky…nuff said…cheers