The Lost Apollo 11 Engines?

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 launched from Kennedy Space Center, sending Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on a date with destiny. In the process, two massive F-1 engines were jettisoned into the ocean, seemingly lost for all time. Now, after a year-long expedition, billionaire Jeff Bezos has salvaged this history-making technology.

Salvaging the Apollo 11 Engines?

We first reported on this story in March 2012, calling it one of the most incredible salvage efforts of all time, ranking up there with Robert E. Peary’s search for “The Tent.” The cost of the recovery and restoration remains unknown but according to NASA, the engines will be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum as well as Seattle’s Museum of Flight, respectively.

Who owns the Apollo 11 Engines?

The exact ownership of the engines remains unclear to me. I’m sure the U.S. government claims ownership. However, this would appear to fall under the Homesteading Principle. In essence, governments cannot legitimately own private property, since everything they have (including tax dollars) has been, in effect, taken with force. Even if you disagree with that assessment, NASA abandoned the engines, making no plans to ever recover them. Thus, I would argue no one owned the engines prior to discovery. Bezos Expeditions, on the other hand, is the rightful owner of its own labor. By salvaging the engines, it added its labor to the engines and thus, became the rightful owner.

Here’s more on the discovery of the lost Apollo 11 engines from Jeff Bezos at Bezos Expeditions:

What an incredible adventure. We are right now onboard the Seabed Worker headed back to Cape Canaveral after finishing three weeks at sea, working almost 3 miles below the surface. We found so much. We’ve seen an underwater wonderland – an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program. We photographed many beautiful objects in situ and have now recovered many prime pieces. Each piece we bring on deck conjures for me the thousands of engineers who worked together back then to do what for all time had been thought surely impossible.

Many of the original serial numbers are missing or partially missing, which is going to make mission identification difficult. We might see more during restoration. The objects themselves are gorgeous…

(See the rest at Bezos Expeditions)

The Supermoon is Coming!

Today isn’t just Cinco de Mayo. At 11:34 pm EST, the full moon will reach perigee, the closest it passes to Earth along its elliptical orbit. One minute later, it’ll line up with the Earth and the Sun. This phenomenon is called a supermoon. Astronomers expect it to be 14% bigger and 30% brighter than any other full moon this year.

What is a Supermoon?

Supermoons are often associated with rising tides, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions in popular folklore. And indeed, the gigantic 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami occurred on March 11, just eight days before last year’s supermoon. However, most scholars disagree with that notion. Although there might be a weak correlation between lunar activity and very small earthquakes, there’s no evidence for a correlation with larger ones.

So, don’t worry too much and enjoy the moonlight tonight…it should be spectacular!

Asteroid Mining & Space Invaders?

We’re fond of space exploration here at Guerrilla Explorer. From where we stand, NASA’s space ventures have proved exceedingly disappointing in the four decades since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. The overall focus has shifted from manned missions and space colonization to unmanned missions and hyper-specialized research projects. But now, something new appears to be on the horizon. Are we nearing the dawn of asteroid mining?

The Asteroid Mining Industry?

On Tuesday, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page of Google fame are expected to announce a new partnership with director James Cameron to create Planetary Resources, a company devoted to “space exploration and natural resources.”

“The company will overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources — to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.” ~ Planetary Resources Press Release

Space exploration? Natural resources? I don’t know about you, but that sounds like asteroid mining to me. An additional clue in that regard is that Tuesday’s presentation will be hosted in part by Peter Diamandis, a vocal proponent of private space flight as well as asteroid mining. Which makes Cameron’s presence especially intriguing, given that his movie Avatar wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for space-based resource extraction.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, how would this work? Well, it’s long been known that asteroids contain high concentrations of minerals such as nickel and titanium. However, mining it was always considered unfeasible, due to heavy costs and lack of suitable technology. But this was largely because space mining was usually viewed through a government-only prism. As commercial interest picks up, this could change rapidly.

“However, if people were allowed to own space-based property and enjoy commercial benefits from it, whether they be tourism, mining, or something else, there would be far greater interest in colonization. Markets would form, inventors would create new technologies. The cost of space colonization would decline.” ~ David Meyer, Buying Real Estate…on Another Planet?

As for the mining itself, there are several different possibilities. Perhaps the most interesting one is known as in-situ resource utilization. In other words, astronauts would land on the asteroid and uses its resources to sustain themselves. Metals and minerals could be used to construct facilities. Mined quantities of hydrogen and oxygen could be used for fuel. The miners could extract water to drink and oxygen to breathe.

We’ll find out more details on Tuesday. However, if Planetary Resources announces what I think it will announce, April 24 could go down as one of the most important days in the history of space exploration…the day mankind sets forth to conquer the universe.

Life…on Mars?

In 1976, two American space probes, Viking 1 and Viking 2, landed on Mars. After collecting data and performing experiments, scientists decided the planet was lifeless. But now, several scholars are beginning to question that conclusion. Is there life on Mars?

Is there Life on Mars?

“To paraphrase an old saying, if it looks like a microbe and acts like a microbe, then it probably is a microbe. The presence of circadian rhythmicity and a high degree of mathematical complexity or order in the LR data most likely means Viking discovered microbial life on Mars over 35 years ago.” ~ Joseph Miller, Biologist, University of Southern California

The controversy over the possibility of life on Mars deals with a set of experiments known as Labeled Release (LR). Essentially, nutrients as well as radioactive carbon were added to Martian soil samples. Then researchers monitored the air for radioactive carbon dioxide and methane, which would indicate possible metabolization of the nutrients. Although carbon dioxide initially appeared, subsequent tests were unable to duplicate the results.

But new experiments as well as a statistical reexamination of the original data indicates “considerable support for the conclusion that the Viking LR experiments did, indeed, detect extant microbial life on Mars.” Here’s more on the possibility of finding life on Mars from ScienceBlog:

In 1976, the National Aeronautical Space Agency (NASA) launched the Viking program, sending space probes to Mars to determine whether there was life on the red planet. Thirty-six years later the debate about life on Mars is not over, but research conducted in part at the University of Southern California (USC) offers more proof that life may exist on this neighboring world…

In the experiments, the Viking landers dropped on Mars about 4,000 miles apart, scooped up soil samples and applied a radiolabeled nutrient cocktail to the soil…The active experiments did indicate metabolism…But due to lack of support from two other Viking experiments that did not find any organic molecules in the soil, most scientists believed the LR data had been compromised by a non-biological oxidizing property of Mars soil.

Miller and colleagues did not accept this interpretation, and over the last six years applied measures of mathematical complexity to the data from active and control Viking data, as well as terrestrial biological and non-biological data sets. Not only did the active Viking LR experiments exhibit higher complexity than the control experiments, but the active experiments clearly sorted with terrestrial biological data series whereas the Viking LR control data sorted with known terrestrial non-biological data…

(See ScienceBlog for more on the possibility of Life on Mars)

Buying Real Estate…on another Planet?

Over four decades have passed since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. But since then, NASA’s space ventures have proved disappointing. No one has walked on the moon since 1971. And the overall focus has shifted from manned missions and space colonization to unmanned missions and hyper-specialized research projects. So, when will mankind begin space colonization?

When will Mankind begin Space Colonization?

A few days ago, Rand Simberg from the Competitive Enterprise Institute issued an interesting white paper on the matter, entitled Homesteading the Final Frontier. In it, he suggests there is a rather simple way to encourage space exploration and ultimately, settlement…property rights.

“At the heart of the prosperity of the West lie clear and recognized freely transferrable property rights, protected under the rule of law. Absent legally recognized rights to buy, own, and sell titled property, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get a loan to purchase said property, improve it, mine it, drill for minerals on it, or sell the proceeds from any of those activities. Property rights are a sine qua non of wealth creation and a reason why America and other Western nations are rich and others are poor. Moreover, they lie at the heart of liberty. Their current absence off planet partially explains why we have not developed the next and, in a sense, last frontier—space.” ~ Rand Simberg

Simberg has a point. Space colonization would be ultra-expensive. And without property rights, there’s no benefit to doing so. However, if people were allowed to own space-based property and enjoy commercial benefits from it, whether they be tourism, mining, or something else, there would be far greater interest in space colonization. Markets would form, inventors would create new technologies. The cost of space colonization would decline.

The Current Status of Space Colonization?

Currently, the 1979 Moon Treaty outlaws private property claims in space. The U.S. never signed that treaty. However, it is a signatory to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. That particular treaty, while it appears to outlaw space-based private property, is open to interpretation. According to Simberg, the U.S. government could use it to auction off land in space.

That’s the legal argument. There’s also a preservation vs. development argument that needs to be made. One of the most common arguments against space colonization is that space should be completely preserved from human interference.

“Some of the problem arises from a false conception of space as scientific preserve, rather than as a new venue for human expansion. Under the former view, the universe is a fragile jewel to be observed and studied, but minimally explored, if at all, by humans.” ~ Rand Simberg

It’s similar to “preservation” arguments made in other fields of study. Some climate scientists and ecologists wish to preserve nature in situ (sometimes ignoring the fact that nature changes itself, often quite drastically). Social scientists want to preserve current population levels by managing growth. Malthusianists want to reduce resource consumption. Archaeologists are increasingly turning to remote sensing, ground penetrating radar, and other tools in order to completely avoid excavations. They want valuable and interesting artifacts left untouched and underground, presumably forever. These are strange, almost anti-human developments led by technocrats and guided by the odd hope that nothing ever changes.

“We have all the physical tools we need to build a better future. But the vision of the future itself is missing. We have returned to the mental condition of the Roman Empire; there is no future, only an unchanging, infinite Present. Hitler had the same static viewpoint; he called it the “Eternal Return” and symbolized it by the Swastika.” ~ Bill Walker, Take Back the Future

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

We here at Guerrilla Explorer love the idea of space colonization. It’s way past time humanity expanded its reach past this little rock we call Earth. But while Simberg’s proposal is interesting, it depends heavily on the whims of politicians and bureaucrats. And that’s problematic. After all, these same people bear much of the responsibility for the rather disappointing state of space exploration. As long as existing governments are perceived to own the rights to everything outside Earth’s atmosphere…indeed, the entire universe…space colonization will likely remain a slow, painful process.

On the other hand, a pure market approach, based on the Homestead Principle, could bear fruit. In other words, no one owns anything in space. However, each of us owns our own labor. So, if a person (or corporation) ventures to the moon or to part of another planet and mixes his or her labor with the land, well, that’s ownership.

The Hunt for the Lost Space Engines?

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. A short while later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin emerged, becoming the first humans to ever walk on that rock. Now, billionaire Jeff Bezos is after the original engines from that flight. He’s already located them. But recovering them won’t be easy.

The Hunt for the Lost Apollo 11 Engines?

Bezos’ team will have to descend 14,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean, confirm they’ve actually got the right engines, and then raise the multi-ton hulks to the surface. No date has been set for the expedition but it promises to be one of the most incredible salvage efforts of all time, ranking up there with Robert E. Peary’s search for “The Tent.” Here’s more on the hunt for the lost Apollo 11 engines from Bezos Expeditions:

The F-1 rocket engine is still a modern wonder — one and a half million pounds of thrust, 32 million horsepower, and burning 6,000 pounds of rocket grade kerosene and liquid oxygen every second. On July 16, 1969, the world watched as five particular F-1 engines fired in concert, beginning the historic Apollo 11 mission. Those five F-1s burned for just a few minutes, and then plunged back to Earth into the Atlantic Ocean, just as NASA planned. A few days later, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon.

…I’m excited to report that, using state-of-the-art deep sea sonar, the team has found the Apollo 11 engines lying 14,000 feet below the surface, and we’re making plans to attempt to raise one or more of them from the ocean floor. We don’t know yet what condition these engines might be in – they hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in salt water for more than 40 years. On the other hand, they’re made of tough stuff, so we’ll see…

(See “F-1 Engine Recovery” for more on the hunt for the lost Apollo 11 Space Engines)

A Map of…Everything?

You’ve probably seen all sorts of maps. Maps of a city or a state. Maps of a country or a continent. Maps of Earth, the moon, and even other planets. But have you ever seen a sky map … that shows everything?

Sky Map – A Map of…Everything?

This map of the sky comes courtesy of NASA’s infrared space telescope and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). It contains 560 million stars, galaxies, and plenty of other interesting things.

“In the mosaic, the Milky Way Galaxy runs horizontally across this map. The Milky Way is shaped like a disk and our solar system is located in that disk about two-thirds of the way out from the center. So we see the Milky Way as a band running through the sky. As we look toward the center of the galaxy, we are looking through more of the disk than when we are looking at large angles away from the center, and you can see a noticeable increase in stars (colored blue-green) toward the center of the image.” ~ Mapping the Infrared Universe – The Entire WISE Sky

Here’s more on NASA’s sky map from New Scientist:

The Milky Way’s disk and central bulge are traced out in blue, representing infrared light with a wavelength of 3.4 micrometres, which mainly comes from stars.

The bluish blobs to the bottom right are our two largest satellite galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic clouds, more than 150,000 light years away. Andromeda forms a small blue streak to the lower left, and the image is dotted with more distant galaxies…

(See New Scientist for more on NASA’s sky map)