Sci Station Canada

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Next space race - Next space race:
Private craft prepare to launch - Jul 27, 2004:

"Aerospace engineer, Burt Rutan, leader of Scaled Composites of Mojave, California, has formally announced a timetable for back-to-back flights of the firm's SpaceShipOne rocket plane. Rutan and his team have given its official 60-day notice, with the first X Prize attempt set for September 29 from the inland Mojave Spaceport in California. To win the $10 million, SpaceShipOne will need to make a second flight within two weeks, by October 13.

Hot on Rutan's heels is Brian Feeney, leader of the Canadian da Vinci Project. Feeney also reported today that his team is rolling out on August 5 their completed X Prize vehicle -- the balloon-lofted Wild Fire rocket. The public unveiling will take place at the team's Dowsview Airport hanger in Toronto. The da Vinci Project Team, widely heralded as a contender for the $10 million purse, will pursue its own Ansari X Prize space flight attempts this Fall."

Friday, July 23, 2004

Stand by for an important News Flash!

The suspense is killing me! Ansari X Prize, SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan and Brian Feeney, leader of the Da Vinci Project said they will make 'several key announcements' related to the competition on Tuesday. This is taken to mean that they will announce the first attempts to win its $10 million purse for privately developed spaceflight.

"X Prize officials have previously stated they would provide at least 60 days' notice of any upcoming attempts to win the prize."

SpaceShipOne and Wildfire in a neck and neck finish in the race to space!

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Arctic yields fresh evidence for Elizabethan gold swindle

Speaking of GeoSciences, the boundaries between disciplines is breaking down nowadays. A recent feature by EurekAlert shows how scientists are helping Archaeologists solve the mysteries of the past.

In 1578 British mariner Martin Frobisher found a strange black ore on what is now known was Kodlunarn Island, in Frobisher Bay. After having it tested by his own assayers he loaded 12 ships with tons of the black ore and sailed it back to London where it was hailed as an Arctic Eldorado. Was this a massive con job on Elizabeth I and her court, or did Frobisher's assayers mistakenly dupe themselves into believing they'd found gold?

Two Laval University scientists say there's solid evidence that Frobisher and his chemists were in on a massive fraud.

For more on this and other cases where Earth Scientists have aided archaology, see the June 2004, Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, which has a number of articles in that vein.

Unique fossils from a forgotten time

In an article from the BBC: "Rare fossil creatures from a mysterious time known as the Ediacaran are amongst the most exquisite examples of the earliest complex life, experts say. The 560-575-million-year-old specimens from Canada, of marine organisms called rangeomorphs, are preserved in three dimensions, Science magazine reports."

Dr. Guy Narbonne, of Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, found the new assemblage of fossils in an area called Spaniard's Bay in eastern Newfoundland and describes them as soft-bodied and plant-like, with 'frondlets' - leafy structures that branch from stems - that were probably free-floating, elevated above the sea floor by a stalk.

Their claim to fame? Dr Narbonne believes they are a single biological group, which can neither be classified as animals nor as plants. The period that they come from, the Ediacaran, was just before the 'Cambrian explosion', an evolutionary blossoming in which many important animal groups appeared for the first time.

They are also unusual in that they are a three dimensional fossil, even more amazing since they were a soft-bodied organism. They were probably buried in a mud-flow, which was then covered by ash from a nearby volcano. Talk about your bad luck days!

The Ediacaran was only accepted as a new geological time period this year - the first to be added in 120 years.

Just think of all those Geological wall charts in Science classrooms around the world that will have to be changed!

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Feeney: Inspired amateur on a shoestring

Good article on da Vinci on Wired News: Self-Taught Pilot Going to Space

"Feeney hinted that Wild Fire will be ready for a first ascent by the end of September.
'One of the things I've been telling the media in the last few weeks is that (Rutan) beat us to the starting line by about 90 days,' Feeney said in a telephone interview. 'But we're going to make it to the starting line, too.'
A launch 90 days after SpaceShipOne's maiden flight would come sometime around Sept. 20. Feeney says the da Vinci Project will unveil further details for Wild Fire in Toronto on July 21. But he didn't go beyond that in talking about the group's schedule and also declined to discuss plans for test flights before a prize attempt."

So try to arrange to be in Saskatchewan arround that time! I never realised how little industry experience Feeney had ...

Feeney describes himself as being an "entrepreneur and inventor all of my life" who spent "part of a year" at the University of Toronto but has no formal training as an engineer. Unlike Melvill, a veteran test pilot with 7,000 hours' flight time in 138 different aircraft, Feeney's a relative novice to flying. He said he's put in about 25 hours flying light planes.

But Feeney said experience in planes isn't as important as it might seem. He pointed out he's been doing intensive simulator training at the Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine in Toronto. He said the ground training is actually more relevant than conventional flight time.

"A ballistic rocket does not fly like an aircraft," he said. "The way that you fly is completely different."

That's because guiding the Wild Fire capsule will depend on continual use of the craft's RCS controls -- the reaction control system, an array of thrusters used to steer and orient the craft as it climbs out of the atmosphere. That's experience that can't be gained in a plane, said Feeney.

You've got to hand it to him - the man's got guts! The prime movers of the X-Prize teams seem to be split between long time AeroSpace industry warriors like Rutan and inspired amateurs like Feeney.

Another surprise from the article is the shoestring budget. I mean I knew that da Vinci was mainly volunteer effort but ...

[Feeney] estimates the entire effort, which dates back to 1996, has cost "$1 million Canadian in cash and $4 million Canadian in kind" -- the equivalent of $3.8 million in U.S. currency. That compares with the $20 million or more invested so far in SpaceShipOne by Allen.

"Burt Rutan said he developed his ship for the same money NASA would have spent on a study of the concept," Feeney said. "We did it for the price of the paper clips that would have held the study together."

Watch the skys.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

A little bit of Canada in Sydney

In honour of Canada Day, I thought I'd share with you some history about a little bit of Canada in the City of Sydney, Australia where I live. The following is from the website of "Canada Bay Local Government Area"

Canada Bay and the Canadian Exiles

In 1837 and 1838 there were revolts in Lower Canada (now known as Quebec) by French Canadian Patriotes who held a number of grievances against British government rule, most notably the need for greater participation in government and an increase in the legislative power of the lower house. Following the crushing of the revolts some of the rebels were executed while others were sentenced to transportation.

In 1840 the ship Buffalo transported 91 English speaking rebels to Tasmania and 58 French speaking Canadians to New South Wales. Originally the French Canadians were destined for Norfolk Island however due to representations to the Governor Sir George Gipps by the Roman Catholic Bishop, Dr John Bede Polding, they were sent to the Longbottom Stockade a less severe prison. Nevertheless conditions were still harsh for the convicts. At first there was no bedding while food and clothing was of poor quality. Work included breaking stones for the construction of Parramatta Road. Many of them collected oyster shells along the shores of Parramatta River to be be made into lime, a commodity then in high demand for building purposes. Most were Catholic and found some consolation in visits from Bishop Polding and his Secretary Fr John Brady, both of whom spoke French. Despite the harsh conditions the convicts found some time for relaxation and one prisoner fashioned a set of bowls, the first recorded instance of the game being played in the Canada Bay area.

In 1842 the good behaviour of the French Canadians led to their being granted a ticket-of-leave which allowed them to work outside the Stockade. They found work in the colony as clerks, gardeners, builders and in saw milling. Some worked in the construction of the Victoria Barracks in Paddington. Free pardons were granted to the French Canadians between November 1843 and February 1844. Eventually all but three of the Canadian Exiles returned to Canada: two died while one, Joseph Marceau, married a local women and settled at Dapto.

Following the disturbances Lord Durham (John George Lambton), Governor General and Lord High Commissioner to Canada, recommended that responsible self government should be granted to the Union of Upper and Lower Canada. This same principle of self government was later applied to the Australian colonies in the 1850s, thus establishing parliamentary democracy.

Longbottom Stockade was located in the vicinity of present day Concord Oval, St Luke's Park and Cintra Park. Remains of the Stockade were identified when foundations were laid for the new grand stand at Concord Oval in 1984. Several place names in the area reflect a link with the story of the French Canadian Exiles : Canada Bay, Exile Bay, France Bay, Durham Street, Marceau Drive, Polding Street and Gipps Street. A plaque was unveiled in Cabarita Park by Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1970 to honour the Exiles and their role in the political history of Canada. In 1984 the monument was relocated in Bayview Park as this was where the Canadian Exiles disembarked in 1840 on their way to the Longbottom Stockade.

Australia, although ostensibly established for criminal convicts, was used on many occassions by the British government of the day for political prisoners, most notably Irish seperatists and political & trade union activists from England & Wales, for example survivors of the Tolpuddle incident. In the case of the Canadian activists their ordeal had a comparatively "happy ending" - for most others Australia became their home. However by "adding their cultural uniqueness" to Australia we have gained by their assimilation.

A country that ignores it's past is a country without a future as my History teacher used to say. The next time you excercise your right to vote, or your trade union negotiates for your livelyhood, or you watch your child graduate from High School or, heaven forbid, you draw on social security in time of need, remember that none of these would be ours without the efforts of those who went before us. Civil Liberties are not civil rights, they are worth respecting and protecting because they can be taken from us, whittled away in the name of the common good.

The Roddenbury dream is based on equality and repect for what makes us different as well as what we have in common. It will not come about by apathy and complacency but by boldy grasping the technological and social advances made possible by the affluent society built by our ancestors.

REMEMBER - the opinions voiced are my own and do not necessarily represent the USS Magellan or SFI

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Commercial Future For Space Travel

"The bottom line at zero gravity" By ROBERT SAWYER

You really must read this upbeat, optimistic article by the Hugo winning author of "Hominids". Erudite, authoratative and backed by facts and figures - isn't that the formula for winning Science Fiction? - he reiterates what many have been saying recently about the commercialisation of space.

Now, yes, there will always be a role for government-funded manned space flight. Basic exploration should be done for reasons other than making a buck. I do believe governments should be working hard to establish permanent settlements off-Earth so that humanity will survive even the worst terrorist or environmental disaster.

In other areas, the government should butt out, and let the capitalists take their shot. Dan Goldin, former administrator of NASA, had a mantra: "Better, faster, cheaper." Of course, he was never able to make that work in the bloated bureaucracy he headed. But those same goals are routinely achieved by businesses. Where governments fail -- on Earth or out among the stars -- the private sector will succeed.


I am wary of capitalism as a philosophy. At it's best it has a sound basis for showing that ethics = profits but it can also be so wrong when corporations lose sight of the necessity of ethics & morals and drive for profits at any cost ... was that a tautology?

With intelligent, realistic government controls (neither too little nor too much) and public support it *WILL* happen.