Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The NASA Equation

NASA gives a lot more than it gets. After working at Johnson Space Center for 13 years, I saw first hand the great engineering and technological advances developed there and then sent out to the business section. It is part of the NASA charter.

In fact, a recent NASA Agency report explains, "NASA generated more than $64.3 billion in total economic output during fiscal year 2019, supported more than 312,000 jobs nationwide, and generated an estimated $7 billion in federal, state, and local taxes throughout the United States."  This was all gained from NASA's budget of 1/2 of 1% of the federal budget. Awesome return on investment.

NASA has 10 centers operating across the U.S. and its economic impact is not just limited to states with NASA facilities. All 50 states receive economic gain from NASA’s research and space exploration missions.

It is one of the high points of this wildfire burning, Midwest flooding, hurricane spawning, 2020 pandemic "new normal." So, let's look to the stars for some positive relief and hope that next year we have a science data and aerospace driven outlook with less worries, better health, and a trustworthy COVID-19 vaccine that works. 

Stay healthy and remember to vote. Go science!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Microbial Life Deep within Mines

Researchers have discovered micro-organisms in a 3 km deep copper/zinc mine (Kidd Creek Mine) in Ontario, Canada according to July 18, 2019 article in Geomicrobiology Journal. The find confirms previous thinking that ancient, sulfate-rich water in the region could support “deep microbial life.” 

Using a full complement of geochemical tests to compare the ancient fracture water with surface water made it possible for contamination between the sources to be eliminated.

This and other evidence suggests that a unique global biosphere thrives in the Earth’s crust with little or no surface interaction. The world’s oldest groundwaters (mean residence times of millions to billions of years) are located in fractures in Precambrian host rock at this depth.

Further genetic studies on deep well water microorganisms will shed light on all the diversity of previously unknown life deep within the Earth's crust. Go Science!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Meet George Jetson's - Flying Car

I have to admit, my favorite cartoon series on kid's TV is The Jetsons - family, space, advanced technology, flying car, lively robots, and a big goofy dog. What's not to love?

Its super interesting then that an new environmental sustainability study on the impacts of flying cars, (i.e., electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft or VTOLs), combine helicopter pluses like vertical takeoff/landing with the efficient aerodynamic flight of an airplane. In fact, flying cars might have a strong role in longer trips, according to work done at the University of Michigan

Apparently, a key efficiency component involves distributed electric propulsion (DEP), which uses small, electrically driven propulsors (i.e., propeller-like and makes it fly).

When researchers looked at energy use and greenhouse gas emissions during takeoff hover, climb, cruise, descent and landing hover, they found that VTOLS  use lots of energy during takeoff/climb but are fairly efficient when cruising at 150 mph. 

VTOLs can finish a 100 kilometers trip much faster than ground-based vehicles. Just as a point-to-point flight "as the crow flies" path is shorter, VTOL flights and higher speeds, offer an 80% time savings compared to ground-based vehicles.

Companies such as Airbus, Boeing, Joby Aviation and Lilium are currently  developing flying car prototypes. I can hear The Jetson's music in my head now... Go Science!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Curiosity and The First Day of School

Most of the time, people are resistant to change. We like the comfortable, "I have this down" feeling that comes with time and repeated experiences. 

I was thinking about this aversion to change while sitting in the slowed traffic that comes with the start back to school. I drive past 2 schools on my way to work, so I get to see eager students in their new clothes saying good-bye to caring, committed, and/or harried parents trying to get to work on time.

Well, okay maybe the older students are not so eager. But mostly, the young ones are excited to see friends they missed over the summer months. 

Why aren't they all equally excited?

I believe young children are still mostly information sponges. They ask why a million times a day (or so it seems). Change is their watchword, their motto, their way of life. It isn't until much later - after a few failures or someone older said an idea was impossible - that curiosity dims and change becomes something to be avoided. 

So the next time you talk with friends, parents, and colleagues, think about that. Curiosity is important! We need to nurture and celebrate it not just on the first day of school, but every day. Curiosity and asking why are the foundation of the scientific method. Go Science!