Wednesday, August 17, 2005


From the BBC

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

The design of all things has changed radically since people began to use computer design programs more and more extensively. It shows up in car, aircraft, architecture, all over the place. The ability to configure physical materials has been greatly extended thanks to the increase in mental powers via computer programs. Bending, twisting, aerodynamism all have made giant leaps thanks to computers. Before, one had to imagine what effects wind or water would have on an object, build a model and then test it in wind tunnels or water tanks.

You still have to do this but the process before this stage has altered greatly. The latest candidate in this mind/computer fusion is the windowless hyper wing craft created by researchers at Cambridge University, England. From the BBC News:
Plans for the world's first completely silent aircraft have been unveiled by Cambridge University engineers.
Environmental campaigners and people living on flight paths have already welcomed the campaign to build the jet.

Now it could become a reality some time in the next decade and Luton Airport is be a partner in the venture.

The main development is a new shape for the aircraft after engineers identified traditional designs caused much of the noise at landing and take-off.The new aircraft is basically a flying wing and would be silent once it left the airport.
Of course, silent planes would be a blessing at busy airports in the middle of great cities. The military already has something like this, the spy jets we use that are designed to appear silently in the sky. These don't carry many or sometimes any humans. The Cambridge design is for ferrying many humans at once.

One time when I flew, years ago, the front of the passenger cabin had a screen which channeled the view the pilots had of take off and landing so we could see it frontally rather than from the side. I really liked that. I don't know if this has been replicated what with airliners turning into cattle cars these days. The recent tragedy of the airliner that froze the passengers to death before crashing shows us the windows that let in the cold aren't such a hot idea in the first place. Using monitors to the outside could digitally make the windows open, each seat can have a screen that allows one to go from camera to camera to see the outside, from below or above or frontally or in the rear. This means no window seats but everyone gets a view, and the best views aren't from the windows, anyway, they are frontally or directly below!

Once, I flew cross country when an eclipse was happening and I could photograph the shadow of the moon as it slid across the land only the photos weren't very good, I would have much rather gotten a digital record from a remote on the bottom of the plane!

If the data could be retained by the passengers on a disk or direct downloads onto a laptop, this could make travel much more interesting for one can review it at home, it would be like being on the Space Shuttle, a great view of the earth from high up. I know, I would do this every trip, absolutely.
Cambridge's engineering department has gone even further to dampen noise and the solution is to mount the engines on top of the aircraft so all the noise would be generated upwards.

The concept design should be finished within six months and it is hoped production might start within the next decade.
I am looking forwards to this one.

To return to homepage click here


By Elaine Meinel Supkis

When the space shuttle was created it was viewed as a temporary compromise, a space truck that would trundle back and forth until we build better technology. This was all part of a future L-5 colony system that would be used to tap into the resources of the asteroids and the moon to build interstellar arks and to watch for asteroids and distant objects which might hit the earth.

With the present construction, now suspended, of the space station, the shuttle was used mindlessly, it seems. It is as if, locked into a schedule, they simply filled the hold. As this news service pointed out, the last trip which the media made out to be some sort of heroic journey, was really to be a garbage scow for the space station.

Here is another take on this from one of our readers, the always interesting Earl Bockenfeld. From Radio Weblogs:
NASA pisses away millions hauling H2O into orbit. But there's a better way - recycle astronaut urine. Just one question: How does it taste?
By Tom McNichol

People head to Reno for all sorts of reasons. Some want to gamble. Others are looking for a hasty wedding or quickie divorce. I've come to the Biggest Little City in the World to drink my own pee. Not straight up, of course. First, I'll run it through a new NASA water purification system that collects astronaut sweat, moisture from respiration, drain water, and urine - and turns it all into drinking water.

NASA desperately needs this technology. Water makes for a heavy - and expensive - payload. Over the past five years, the agency has spent $60 million delivering potable water to the International Space Station on the space shuttle (6 tons at a cost of about $40,000 per gallon). Deploying the Water Recovery System on the ISS will cut the volume of water hauled into space by two-thirds and free up enough room on the shuttle for four more astronauts.

I'm in Reno because this is the home of Water Security, a new company that is finding ways to use the NASA technology in extreme environments here on Earth. Company president Ray Doane can't wait to show me his magic box. "This is whiz-bang technology," he boasts, with an emphasis on the whiz.

Water Security has added a special filter to the NASA unit, creating a system that can scrub away 99.9 percent of all waterborne viruses, which could prove particularly useful in the developing world. The United Nations estimates that more than 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and that 10 million die each year as a result of contaminated water supplies and inadequate sanitation.
This brings up a pet issue of mine: toilets. Toilets were re-invented by the British in London. Unlike the toilets people used back then, holes in the ground or compost heaps or in buckets collected by farmers who used it to fertilize fields, the new, "sanitary" method was to use water, which was cheap and plentiful in London at the time, and flush it directly into the Thames which became hideously polluted. All the old streams that flowed through London to the Thames were roofed over and turned into sewers. Now the polluted water is side tracked to great fields to be reprocessed but this isn't working because the modern medicines we piss now pollute the landscape and via water, is now destroying the ability to reproduce in all water creatures. One test last week in Italy found that traces of cocaine lingered in the water in huge amounts, quadruple the amount expected. Tests have found Prozac and birth control medicines in great quantities in water that fish and other animals struggle to live in.

There is no reason for this. If we all used compost toilets, we would have a fine time of it, more rich soils and no pollution. I have a garden that is boxed, namely, all the plants grow in long boxes above the ground to keep down weeds and to hold the rich soil in so it won't flow down the mountain and pollute the rivers in the valley.
The water filtration system allows NASA to solve two problems at once. It eliminates the gray water disposal issue and recycles urine into drinking water for the astronauts. The agency is testing the system at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama - where employees run on treadmills as their sweat, respiratory moisture, and urine are collected, cleansed and consumed.

Water Security has already begun putting the technology to work in areas where freshwater is in short supply. This summer, global relief agency Concern for Kids deployed a foot-powered purification unit in northern Iraq. Robert and Roni Anderson, Concern's founders, loaded it onto the back of a Toyota pickup and drove to dozens of villages to purify their groundwater. The unit pumps out 5 gallons per minute, and a single day of purification can sustain a village of 5,000 people for a month. The cost is about 3 cents a gallon. Iraqi water companies, by comparison, charge $4 a gallon.

It's not just war-torn regions that are short on potable water. After the tsunami hit Indonesia last December, much of the freshwater supply became contaminated with salt water and toxic street runoff. Kearney says the Water Security system is perfectly capable of working in such natural-disaster scenarios. After all, the technology was originally tested on an open sewage ditch in Jakarta and produced water that met Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Space ships are merely microcosms of our planet. As humans proliferate, we impact on the environment. Probably the most irritating thing on earth is the modern toilet spreading deep into desert lands. Much of America spends billions pumping water from far away only to flush it after polluting it, into the ground or downstream again. This extravegance, like our abuse of fossil fuels, is dangerous as well as plain stupid.

In my own home, I wanted to not use flush toilets and install compost toilets and at the time, it was illegal in NY to do this. Now we have changed the laws...but only somewhat. They still insist on the primacy of the water polluting methods!

Well, back to the space shuttle...right now, it goes up as a water bufallo and goes down a garbage scow and NASA is now considering shutting it down...before fixing the Hubble Space Telescope, which is, in my mind, the main reason for keeping this thing going in the first place. And as I predicted here months ago, yes, they are considering abandoning the space station for good! A multi-billion hole in the bucket.

This is dwarfed by the gaping hole in the bucket caused by our stupid wars. But that is another story.

To return to homepage click here