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Mo' holding pattern

On Tuesday I am heading out the door to Dortmund, for DORT.con. Between now and then I am embarked on a death march to the end of the edits on "The Rhesus Chart". If your guess is that this means I'm going to be scarce around here for a week or so, your guess would be right.

In other news, we're closing in on the deadline for Hugo award nominations—it closes on March 10th. If you're eligible to nominate works for the awards, I urge you to do so; all too often the Hugo shortlist hinges on a lamentably small number of ballots. (In case you were wondering, I have three eligible works this year: the short story A Tall Tail (on Tor.com), The Rapture of the Nerds (novel, Tor, co-written with Cory Doctorow—free download via that link), and The Apocalypse Codex (novel, published by Ace)).

Finally, back in the real world, it looks like the second Dragon ISS resupply mission has docked with the space station, and Denis Tito's team has devised an innovative solution to the cosmic radiation shielding problem...

84 Comments

1:

When I first read about this I thought that there had to be a good story - you know the sort of thing where the ship returns to Earth and the occupants have been taken over by mutant fecal bacteria.

Then I realised I was rewriting the Quatermass Experiment.

2:

The shielding idea simply makes sense--you gotta do something with whatever can't be recycled. Though how much will that end up being?

But I haven't heard an explanation for sending a married couple (apparently a hetero one. What's with that?). I hope Tito isn't under the impression that a couple will be better able to get along for the years it'll take.

3:

It would actually be better to toss the solid ahem, "residues" as that would reduce the mass of the ship when it comes to deceleration or acceleration which would mean less fuel burned. The perfect solution (so to speak) would be an ion drive that could use the solid material as reaction mass.

The Vasimr engine being flown on the ISS in a couple of years time can use excess hydrogen from the air filtration plant as reaction mass for stationkeeping and orbit boosting.

4:

But I haven't heard an explanation for sending a married couple (apparently a hetero one. What's with that?)

Bioscience research. They want to examine the effects of long-term microgravity and vacuum exposure on both sexes. The capsule is way too small to provide privacy; a long-married couple are presumably expected to be long past having hang-ups over close physical proximity.

(I'd also argue the case that it's possible to select a pair who are not only comfortable around one another, but who have worked out dispute-resolution processes. Loud screaming matches may well be fine if it clears the air; venomous sulking and refusal to cooperate would be much worse.)

5:

This reminds me of one of the super-intelligent mutant characters who lived on an oxygen-filled Moon in a distant future, in the novel Hothouse (also known as The Long Afternoon of Earth) by Brian Aldiss.

The super-intelligent Moon mutants were also somewhat grotesque in their shapes, and they lived within small transparent spheres. This particular mutant found itself so grotesque that it covered the inner wall of his bubble with his own shit.

I wonder how thick a coating of shit you need to lessen the radiation?

6:

Thanks for the reminder - because I'm going to London 2014, apparently I'm an eligible voter for this year ....
"Apocalypse Codex" for me!
( I was curiously disappointed in "Rapture", not sure why ... )

7:

The Dragon flight had some initial problems with the thruster packs, which could have led to mission failure. What I heard, the NASA people were quite impressed by how the Dragon team tackled the problem. They have, it would seem, the right stuff.

8:

Definitely wouldn't toss out any of this waste because there's not much point landing at your destination if the human cargo is dead from a water/food shortage.

Instead, find plants and animals that would thrive in this environment and recycle feces/urine. Mushrooms and brassica are the usual candidates for crappy growing conditions ... wonder if ice worms could help.

9:

be better to toss the solid ahem, "residues" as that would reduce the mass of the ship when it comes to deceleration or acceleration

Except this is a free return trajectory fly-by so once it's left Earth that's it on the big velocity changes. And at the leaving Earth point you've got all that mass with you anyway, just in slightly different form...

10:

Tito's idea is a good one. You want to have a few inches to feet around a small part of your spaceship serving as the "storm shelter" in case of a solar flare, and you can use just about any fluids and waste you have. Robert Zubrin has talked about this for Mars Direct for years.

11:

I read a really good article few years ago about how thick a covering you'd need. I think it was Scientific American; whatever the periodical a good portion of the issue was devoted to the topic of Cosmic Radiation and Space Travel. That article said 5 meters of ice would be enough to replace the function of Earth's atmosphere as Cosmic Ray shielding. An equal mass of metal would be less bulky but also less effective because the spalling would be counterproductive. The article said light elements were better, and that dense polymers were being developed that might be optimal (most shielding for least bulk and weight and strong enough to double as the structural hull). There was also stuff about plans to use electrical fields, but the article didn't seem optimistic about that due to the effects of the fields on crew and equipment and the sheer energy cost.

So, since fecal matter is mostly water, as well as other light elements like carbon, it would take about 5 meters thickness, though every little bit helps.

12:

Stopping the Cosmic Rays is probably impossible due to the sheer mass of material required, but they don't usually kill you. They just give you a slightly heightened risk of cancer, depending on how long you are in space.

The solar flares/storms are the bigger problem, because those can kill you. But I think they only need a few feet at most for shielding, if that.

13:

I forgot to add-

If you've ever wondered why the computers aboard space probes and the ISS are relatively old stuff (supplemented by laptops in the latter's case), it's because of those cosmic rays. They tend to cause annoying "bit flip" issues with your computers, and shielding them too much is impractical. So you're stuck hardening them.

14:

It seems rather limiting to impose mundane, middle class Western cultural standards on a mission of this magnitude. Being in close quarters for 500 days doesn't require a married couple; in fact that sounds like a bad idea. Why not enlist ascetics trained in controlling their minds and bodies for a mission like this? People used to meditating for many hours a day with minimal oxygen and food intake would seem like ideal candidates. Maybe space agencies should start recruiting and training "space monks"?

15:

Bioscience research. They want to examine the effects of long-term microgravity and vacuum exposure on both sexes. The capsule is way too small to provide privacy; a long-married couple are presumably expected to be long past having hang-ups over close physical proximity.


Too many thoughts & questions.
Just a few (no answers expected or required):
Assuming that a long married couple doesn't have to be an older one--wouldn't want someone to have a heart attack on the way.
So, play Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide who gets the surgical birth-control, or do both just in case? I doubt they want to be that experimental.
They want qualified people, seems the candidate pool is a bit limited.

Let's just say that I'm doubtful this is happeining in five years, for a lot of reasons.

16:

Not strictly true. It is mainly because the design cycle for major space projects is so long that the gear they use is effectively obsolete before launch. IBM kept a production line for ferrite core memory open for many years for NASA because it would have been too difficult to upgrade the shuttle onboard computers ... then they started taking laptops with them.

Companies like SST (who are a leader in small cheap satellites) use modern off-the-shelf components because they are cheaper and lighter than their predecessors.

17:

My educated guess is that the candidate pool (of very serious candidates) is at least a hundred times bigger than that list. For a long time now space agencies have privileged individuals (only men, at first) who are married. The theory is that married persons will have a lower tendency to be daredevils or to "go rogue" at one point.

They want astronauts/cosmonauts who are wiling to take risks but they don't want them to go into it with the idea of making a sacrifice of their lives. This sort of led to marriage for a lot of "space cadets" or simply persons who have had a lifelong dream of going into space.

Note that all this did not prevent the crew of Skylab to go rogue and get into a mutiny.

18:

Presuming they want to actually stop once they get back to Earth they will have to run the engine(s) to decelerate into orbit even if they don't do any trajectory modification burns at Mars to line everything up for the return. It's possible they may discard the "shielding" before they fire the motors for this insertion burn.

19:

This idea that you are going to go to other planets without risking your lives or sacrificing other modern comforts and safety standards is absurd. Monks with a stoic worldview and a low sense of attachment to their own lives would seem less likely to "go rogue" or have problems with the conditions. Again, I suggest that space monks rather than space cowboys or space Ozzie and Harriet is the way to go for manned spaceflight. The real question is whether our modern Western culture, with its total aversion to discomfort, risk and death, has the right stuff to even attmempt something like this.

20:
So, play Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide who gets the surgical birth-control, or do both just in case?

Since there is some change of the whatever-tomy going wrong, I guess doing both is the fail-safe approach.

For children after the expedition, well, since we're already talking about radiation protection and like, I guess best practice'd be to get quite a few egg cells and sperm at the side and on ice.

21:

You don't need to be a monk to be ready to accept discomfort and risk. The current ISS has an incredibly high amount of discomfort that most people don't notice when they look at the broadcasts.

For one thing it is a nightmare for persons who have even a slight amount of claustrophobia. You don't catch this little fact at a glance or even after a few hours of viewing.

Despite this you already have very serious candidates lined up around the equivalent of several city blocks, all of them physically fit, armed with PhD.s in relevant sciences and ready to undergo the long, arduous training necessary to go in space.

In a sense these people are already monks for they have experienced (doing serious mountain climbing , survival expeditions, etc.) such conditions and are ready to undergo again deprivation, boredom, low caloric intake and other things that were typical of the life of monks in the past.

22:
Monks with a stoic worldview and a low sense of attachment to their own lives would seem less likely to "go rogue" or have problems with the conditions.

Depends somewhat on your definition of "monks". As for the classical "vow of silence" guys, you'd have to do some screening.

First off we want a stoic worldview and a not too low sense of attachment, oitherwise there is a nice failure mode. As for social behaviour, there are some other factors coming into play, since it might be the "loner" types might have more problems with staying in close quarters than the extroverts. While people too high on extrovertism would face other problems.

Also note that quite a few of the monks might have originally chosen this lifestyle after some crisis, which would mean they already had some psychological problems. Where those have this nasty habit of popping up again, especially in stress situations.

That being said, imagine Eco's "The Name of the Rose". In space.

As for current isolation experiments, well, there have been some "cultural misunderstandings" in a training mission:

"Less than a month into her run, Lapierre suddenly encountered serious problems. She was twice forcibly French-kissed by the Russian team commander, and soon afterwards witnessed a 10-minute-long fight between two Russians that left blood spattered on the walls."

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/6955149/#.UTPr5zLzaO8

Interpretation is left to the reader.

23:

Yes, I suppose PhD students and mountain climbers are like Western monks. What I'm trying to get at is that our culture doesn't seem to value or support such activities very much, especially when there's a high risk of death, so I'm skeptical that governments or corporations will want to support them. Science fiction has done immeasurable damage in promoting fantasies about space travel that real spaceflight has no hope of measuring up to.

The way I see it, space exploration is an ersatz religion for many people (see Carl Sagan), which is another reason why space monks would make sense if our culture was a bit different.

24:

It would actually be better to toss the solid ahem, "residues" as that would reduce the mass of the ship when it comes to deceleration or acceleration which would mean less fuel burned.

They aren't planning to burn much fuel at all once they leave Earth orbit --- Tito's plan is to put the spacecraft on a ballistic free-return trajectory, using Mars for gravitational assist to slingshot back to Earth, which means that the only burns once en route would be small course corrections. (It also means that the time for the astronauts to observe Mars close-up would be hours at most, with a lot of that on the night side.) This is why Tito's mission must go off in 2018, if it does at all; this trajectory requires a pretty specific planetary alignment, and if he misses the 2018 launch window, the next opportunity to run this kind of slingshot would be 2031.

Dragging along enough propellant to enter (and leave) Mars orbit would obviously make for a much more interesting mission scientifically, but a spacecraft with the propellant (and engines) to do that would be a lot heavier than what a single Falcon Heavy could launch toward Mars --- and that's one of the things that Tito's counting on to make this doable by 2018, using only hardware (Falcon Heavy, Dragon, and maybe a Bigelow hab module) which is already far along in development.

25:

With those constraints, there's going to have to be food storage arranged as a radiation shield, and replaced by shit storage.

You'd better be vary careful about marking up the re-used packaging.

26:

"What I'm trying to get at is that our culture doesn't seem to value or support such activities very much, especially when there's a high risk of death, so I'm skeptical that governments or corporations will want to support them.": Well, Red Bull did support the Space Jump, so corporation support is possible. As for government, I think the whole reason Tito is doing this is because he realized he probably won't be able to see a government sponsored Mars expedition in his life time.


"Science fiction has done immeasurable damage in promoting fantasies about space travel that real spaceflight has no hope of measuring up to.": Stephen Baxter did write some quite realistic space SF, you should read those. But no, I don't think SF is doing damage to spaceflight. We as a species gave up spaceflight first, this is why space SF looks like fantasy. If Human spaceflight is funded at Apollo level until now, 2001: A Space Odyssey would become a reality and space SF would be predictive instead of a fantasy.

27:

@Memomancer

Science fiction has done immeasurable damage in promoting fantasies about space travel that real spaceflight has no hope of measuring up to.

It's more that they tended to be too optimistic about the time frame. All manned space activities are colored by the triumph and anti-climax of the Apollo Program - if that hadn't happened, we might have had steadier progress and not felt any sense of disappointment over not being farther along with it than we are now.

If we don't have people on Mars until 2040, or it ends up that we just send smarter and smarter robots, I'd only be mildly disappointed. I would like to see some of it in my life-time, but I'm okay if it doesn't happen.

28:

Well, maybe with the PhD students work ethic, though quite a few of those are in a serious long-term relationship.

As for mountain climbers. you should differentiate between "informed risk takers" and daredevils. It's the first you want, not the latter, else there be pain and failure mode.

BTW, do you have any numbers to back up the idea Western culture is especially risk-aware? IIRC the WEIRD paper, there is some indication USians react more strongly to confrontation with death, OTOH it's Western individualists who do the mountain climbing in the Himalaya, with the Sherpas just in for the money. I could talk about economical decisions etc.

In general, this might get confounded by the problem of individualism vs. collectivism; quite a few cultures might be willing to take greater individual risks if it serves the family etc. Yeah, I have no numbers for that, but it's an idea.

29:

Presuming they want to actually stop once they get back to Earth they will have to run the engine(s) to decelerate into orbit

Nope, they'll do exactly the same as Apollo did coming back from the moon and let the atmosphere do all the work. There's no need to go into Earth orbit first, just line it up and come straight in.

30:

For children after the expedition, well, since we're already talking about radiation protection and like, I guess best practice'd be to get quite a few egg cells and sperm at the side and on ice.

If you'd been following the Titov plan, they're looking for a couple who are past childbearing age. Middle-aged, in other words. They're going to spend 18 months in free fall; physical strength is not required, and there are plenty of experienced middle-aged astronauts, some of whom are married to one-another.

31:

I suspect some of the screening techniques developed by the British Antarctic Survey would come in useful -- BAS operates much smaller establishments than the USA, and over the decades has honed their technique for identifying people who can cope with isolation in cramped, hostile conditions with small numbers of other people for long periods of time.

(My understanding is that the US McMurdo Base is a bit of a zoo -- so large it's almost like a small town in summer, and still relatively populous even in the depths of the Antarctic winter. So lessons drawn from that operation won't be as useful.)

32:

IIRC the WEIRD paper, there is some indication USians react more strongly to confrontation with death, OTOH it's Western individualists who do the mountain climbing in the Himalaya,

I don't think it's about individualism vs. collectivism. Rather, westerners come from societies that have undergone the stage 4 demographic transition to a low birth rate/low death rate -- some time ago (a couple of generations at minimum). Consequently we don't experience death and mortality in the same way as people who are exposed to it every day (or at least every year or so).

I'm 48 and I have never seen a human corpse. And I've attended only single-digit funerals. That's extremely WEIRD, if you ask me ...

33:

If it's like Apollo there'll still be mid-course corrections both on the way out and on the way back - anything which makes the "service module" and/or RCS propellants go a little further must surely still be a good thing, if for no other reason because they can reduce the amount of propellant they need to carry and either gain a little extra payload, get better performance from the initial trajectory insertion burn, or both...

34:

I too have never seen a corpse. But there are cultures which go for the open coffin, and I suspect that that may hold on for quite a while if only because it gives the grievers something else to spend money on - dressing and embalming and in general making the departed look as though they've just dozed off in a chair.

(When Mum does go, which we expect to be fairly soon, it'll be an inexpensive box. We are under instruction about that. No embalming even if the undertakers would like to up-sell and so on.)

35:

But what's the point in dumping stuff that makes perfectly good radiation shielding to "gain a little extra payload" if that means you have to install multiple times that mass of dedicated shielding? You'll land up using considerably more manoeuvering fuel.

36:

As for mountain climbers. you should differentiate between "informed risk takers" and daredevils. It's the first you want, not the latter, else there be pain and failure mode.

The British Army apparently runs a fairly careful psychological assessment as the first step for selecting Ammunition Technical Officers (the bomb disposal types); they refined it over several decades, and it seems to work (tomorrow night sees BBC 3's attempt to turn the life of a High Threat team into a sitcom; early trailers look rather promising). I actually know one; they keep sending him out to Afghanistan, even though he's past normal retirement age. Love

Apparently, it took them a while to get a similar profile working for the Army's covert surveillance types (we're talking "plain clothes, in an hostile environment where you will die after torture if identified"); allegedly, until they got the profiling right, nearly 50% of those doing such a tour would require psychiatric treatment afterwards.

...I'm going to resist the temptation to mention the use of Heuristic Algorithmic computers in long-duration space flight...

37:

Curse that submit button - first paragraph of reply should read:

I actually know one; he's TA, they keep sending him out to Afghanistan, even though he's past the Army's normal retirement age. Lovely bloke, comes across as terribly sensible. His son is a regular ATO...

38:

There are certain professions where the basic requirements include fanatical attention to detail, inability to get flustered when doing time-critical things where people will die if you get them wrong (possibly including yourself), and no imagination (to keep you awake at night worrying about how close you came to killing someone/yourself).

(Ask me again some time why I was a really lousy pharmacist. Too much imagination: not a job requirement. Attention to detail: not my strong point ...)

39:

The horror story mode of failure, to my mind, would be one of the two people dying part way through the trip. How would that affect the mental state of the survivor? A loss of spouse is already the canonical example of "most stressful event of a lifetime", having it happen in a claustrophobic tin can like that? I would give very slim odds of the other person surviving the trip either.

40:

So wait, the mars mission they have planned is to slingshot around the planet and immediately come back? No landing? No orbit?

That seems singularly pointless...

41:

Hmmm. I know you were a retail pharmacist, but I know a bunch of pharmacists too. If I may protest, Charlie, you're pretty detail oriented--when it comes to things like words and worldbuilding.

In contrast, I've seen a lot of pharmacists who aren't as detail oriented about certain things as I am. My favorite example is sterile technique. I was a little nervous to find out I was more knowledgeable about it than the people making chemo, due simply to a stint doing fungal culturing.

That said, the pharmacists are much more process oriented than I am. When they're cooking something new, they prefer recipes over techniques. In a hospital setting, being process-oriented is a good thing, because that's how the system as a whole catches errors. If you follow the protocols, everyone is safer, and the pharmacists perform a major role in catching and correcting mistakes.

If you're doing something creative or experimental, you need to be very detail oriented but also imaginative. After all, the mistakes are going to be unpredictable problems that often need to be solved in novel ways. Process thinking is a lot less useful in this context.

42:

We're aware of different risks, I think, and I'm not sure Americans are any more risk-aware in a real sense than others are.

To pick one example: gun violence vs. cars. A lot of people recently have been looking for excuses to buy guns, either because they're afraid said guns will be banned, or they're afraid of zombie apocalypses, or they're afraid of mass shooters. All of these risks are miniscule and likely to remain so. In contrast, most people are at relatively high risk of being hospitalized or dying in a car wreck, but that doesn't stop most people around here from talking on a cell phone while driving at 75 MPH. It's something they do every day, and how could that be risky? Everyone else is doing it, and it would be risky to drive the speed limit in such an environment.

Risks are learned, either from the media (which is why everyone's afraid of 1-in-a-million mass shooters) or through talking to others (as in the Third World). We WEIRDos are weird in that we get our risk information primarily from the news media, so we're afraid of whatever is new, spectacular, and making a great story. Because our families are fractured and our friends are often online, we don't get as much exposure to more common, less spectacular threats like car wrecks, lack of exercise, bad diet, or crappy hygiene. As a result, we don't see these as the problems they are.

43:

Well, since I brought it up...

If you'd been following the Titov plan, they're looking for a couple who are past childbearing age. Middle-aged, in other words. They're going to spend 18 months in free fall; physical strength is not required, and there are plenty of experienced middle-aged astronauts, some of whom are married to one-another

I admit I merely skimmed the article I saw about the proposal (linked from the article you linked to), and didn't notice anything about age. I was looking for the reasoning for sending a couple. Didnt find it.
Now for me stating the obvious,
One thing, men are never really past childbearing age, sperm count may lessen, but that's no guarantee. And there are the rare examples of supposedly post-menopausal women getting pregnant. Precautions should be taken.
Physical strength not required? As you know, weightless isn't massless, it can take some strength to move large items around. They're going to be doing your own maintenance, sometimes things get jammed up and you have to force it.
And since they'll be coming home, they're going to want to keep muscles from atrophying, so exercise will be required. Medical training too, that's a bit too long distance for an emergency call.

I was going to suggest aerobraking for the return, transitioning into LEO. Perhaps docking with ISS to check on their condition after being weightless all that time. Though I suppose that's not necessary if you can get to them quickly after touch/splashdown.

I was trying not to call him Titiov. Better to think of a Cosmonaut than a dictator?
I'm also wondering how long he's been working on this plan. If it's been a while, perhaps it could be pulled off?

It's early here. I've had coffee, now for breakfast.

44:

You know I was flipping through the comments on my little phone and came across:

'When Mum does go, which we expect to be fairly soon, it'll be an inexpensive box.'

And was momentarily confused.:-)

Seriously, my mother died young and there was a viewing. Awful. Awful, awful, awful.

45:

"But their greatest health risk comes from exposure to the radiation from cosmic rays. The solution? Line the spacecraft's walls with water, food and their own faeces."

This gives a whole new meaning to Capt. Kirk ordering the Enterprise to "raise shields".

46:

Agreed. The "yech factor" aside, I've always heard that water made the best radiation shielding for astronauts on their way to Mars.

The plan is usually have the crew quarters surrounded by a thick toroid/can shaped mass of water (which they need anyways).

To generate artifical gravity, suspend the crew quarters from the main engine with a long cable, with an additional counter weigth for stability. Start both masses spinning like a gaucho's bolo. The cable just has to be long enough to avoid inducing nausea in the astronaut from too small a rotational radius.

Now if only we can figure out how to land a human safely on Mars...

47:

Why stop with only one couple. Have a whole group of people like the TV show "Big Brother", turn the mission into a reality TV show and pay for Mars exploration with advertising revenues.

48:

If you crew the ship with typical artificiality Tv contestants or "cast", the issue will be that no-one will want to get them back! ;-)

49:

Besides, it's been done already, at least in fiction. Go back and read the beginning of Stranger in a Strange Land.

Given the Biosphere 2 debacle, I think bigger crews aren't necessarily a good way to go. They multiply the failure modes, rather than decreasing them.

50:
Agreed. The "yech factor" aside, I've always heard that water made the best radiation shielding for astronauts on their way to Mars.

I looked up one of Robert Zubrin's old talks on Mars, and he said it was five inches of water/water equivalent if you want to keep your crew safe from solar flares. You can't do anything about cosmic rays, unfortunately - you need too much shielding.

To generate artifical gravity, suspend the crew quarters from the main engine with a long cable, with an additional counter weigth for stability. Start both masses spinning like a gaucho's bolo. The cable just has to be long enough to avoid inducing nausea in the astronaut from too small a rotational radius.

We probably can't test that before 2018, unfortunately. That said, I'd love to see them do some experiments in orbit with that, using one or more of those Bigelow inflatables.

Now if only we can figure out how to land a human safely on Mars...

Good point. Curiosity had to use the sky-crane and other stuff to land a 0.9 metric ton rover on the surface. What would it be like to land a 40-ton spacecraft on the surface?

51:

I disagree it was a debacle, or rather, it was a very interesting one. Maybe that project would've benefited from the reality TV approach.

But really, isn't it arrogant to assume our first attempt at a self contained biosphere just HAD to go right, and that the subsequent failure was so bad that it must not be considered again or indeed spoken of?

This kind of risk aversion is one of the things that has hobbled our space exploration.

52:

Bellingham @35 & GoCaptain @44:
Just one thing that makes me glad I'm a Jew; we don't do viewings, and burial within 24 hours whenever possible. I've only been to a couple funerals, for an elderly couple (non-Jewish) several years apart. They had open caskets, seeing them from a distance was bad enough. Much better to remember them as you knew them.


daniel.duffy20 @47:
Big Brother: Mission to Mars.
When they vote a contestant out, they're really out, and become part of the shielding. Nasty, but think of the ratings!

53:

I'm not Jewish, and though none of the funerals I've been to have been Jewish (I have been to a wedding, holding one of the poles for the chuppah), I've also never encountered the viewing either. My impression is that that's more of a Mediterranean+RC tradition, but I'm open to education on the subject.

54:

I believe that viewings tended to be commoner a century or more ago in the UK and USA, and other developed nations; pinning down whether someone is dead or not is non-trivial if you don't have ECG/EEG kit (and even then it's not automatically obvious). See the 18th-19th century horror sub-genre concerning premature burial if you want to know where that leads .... So the idea was to keep the corpse around until it began to smell, at which point everybody could agree it was dead (and not just in a coma/pining for the fjords). Add the rise of the mortuary profession, combined with chronic over-crowding in newly industrialized cities, and you get the preconditions for the dead vanishing from their place of pride in the parlour.

55:

The couple I mentioned were African-American Baptists. I don't know if it's a normal part of their funerals to have open caskets, or if it was the family's choice.

In Judaism bodies are traditionally attended to for the day leading up to burial. Partly that's to prepare the body, but also to watch over them. I assume if they are paying attention they'd notice any sign of life. Also there are no flowers, since they were usually used to cover up the smell, their presence might be taken to imply that the body has been unburied for more than 24 hours.

if anyone's interested:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bereavement_in_Judaism

Okay, where were we?

56:

Open coffin viewings before the funeral proper werent all that unusual here in the North East of England even as late as the 1970s. When my Grandfather died late in the '70s he was laid out complete with his World War 1 medels on his chest in an open coffin in his bedroom.I'm pretty sure that he died of of hypothermia given that his bedroom was freezing cold even in Spring time, and this was more than a little ironic given that he and my Grandmother were due to move into a centaly heated flat the following week ..a flat that was to be provided not by a Gratful Country but rather by his Old Comrades Association of the Durham Light Infantry.

Anyway a little while ago I got an e mail from my brother on Funerial Oddities that he thought might interest me.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2270169/Post-mortem-photography-Morbid-gallery-reveals-Victorians-took-photos-DEAD-relatives-posing-couches-beds-coffins.html?ICO=most_read_module

Hereafter my reply vebateum, and a bit sloppy ...and no doubt the links will get this post into Link Limbo but I'm due to be collected at any moment and so in the interests of haste ...


"You will have noticed that these are photos of pretty well off people? And they would probably have been people who belived in the literal reserection of the dead after the return of Christ; quite a few Victorian tombs have had to be resited and when they are uncovered they are often found to have a suit of cloths next to the coffin so that the deceased would be properly dressed when the redeemer turned up.


There are still some pretty creepy funereal customs even in the modern western world.


Open Casket funerals are still fairly commonplace in the U.S.A. and weren't all that unusual even up until the 1970s in the UK. Funeral directors do take photos to advertise their expertise so you could almost call their post mortum family pics a traditional art form or craft.


The corpse photos were fairly usual by the standards of the day in the Victorian era: the well to do had just about everything photographed by this miraculous new process. Of course there were also lots of post mortum photos of crime victims ..and not just from police files as in the Jack The Ripper files.

See .." Send for Mr. Walsh! "


http://lizziebordenwarpsandwefts.com/2012/07/10/send-for-mr-walsh/


The Victorians had a morbid fear of being buried alive and it was not unknown for the sufficiently well off to require that a bell push or some such be installed in their coffin. That was the real reason for embalment way back then of course ...that and a faint lingering desire to avoid the attentions of the body snatchers and the wish to avoid burying alive some poor sod who was suffering from ... " The terminology minimally conscious state was introduced6 in 1997 to replace the less accurate term minimally responsive state, and most of the clinical research literature has been published since 2002.The Aspen Work Group defines minimally conscious state as "a condition of severely altered consciousness in which minimal, but definite, behavioral evidence of self or environmental awareness is demonstrated."The condition is believed to be 5-8 times as common as persistent vegetative state. "

If you embalm someone then you can be reasonably certain that they are dead by the time that the embalment process in finished. Its expensive though and so the poor just had someone sit by the body until they were sure that it was quite dead ...I doubt whether anyone inquired as to just how the sitter ensured that the deceased was, really and truly, DEAD.


And Open Casket funerals are apparently not just commonplace in the USA.


http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=150890


Many years ago I was once asked to do multiple video tape cassete copies of the film of a Nigerian Funeral so that the event might be commemorated in the various family albums ..this by the husband of the deceased! I've had some creepy experiences but that one took some beating I can tell you; the gentle quiet, dignified and controlled husband of the deceased handing me a recording of his dead wifes funeral and asking for copies. At least I've never had to photograph the dead. I was trained in wedding photography but no one ever mentioned funerals.

Almost as creepy to modern eyes is ...


http://www.bioe.co.uk/

Not to worry for they are an, er, professional body and have a National President who has a Chain Of Office.... and who himself is fairly creepy in appearance ; I'd want to be armed and have my back up against a fairly solid wall before I permitted that bloke to be anywhere near me.

"

57:

Opinions will differ, I suspect. There were some serious, preventable issues at setup on Biosphere 2, and there were some serious issues with running it. As a publicity stunt and potential cautionary tale it worked okay. As rigorous science, it didn't work all that well, and as a demonstration of why personalities matter, it serves as a good, cautionary tale.

Incidentally, it also serves as a warning for those who think shipping miniature biospheres into space is easy, that long space voyages can be mounted solely with consumables, and that small biospheres never suffer shortages due to nutrient cycling making critical elements (like oxygen) available for human consumption when they are needed. None of these are true, and, to put it bluntly, if they'd run their strict mission profile without adding oxygen, the people inside the experiment would have died. That's my frame for calling it a debacle. It's still an interesting one.

58:

Well, my impression is that viewings are more common in the Yousay than in Europe these days.

59:

Another reason to view the corpse is to demonstrate that they are really dead. Remember that accurate colour photos, lists of distinguishing marks and suchlike are a modern thing (although no doubt they were pioneered in ancient China or something like that).
E.g. Agatha Christie wrote several stories where people impersonated others, and it was made possible because long distance communication was limited to letters with the occaisional telegraph. I'm sure it happened for real, although obviously never as much as thriller writers make it.

So how do you know that Joe Bloggs is really dead and hasn't run away or something? By viewing his corpse. And then they close the coffin up and carry it to the churchyard, so you can be sure he's buried too.


60:

What would it be like to land a 40-ton spacecraft on the surface?

"Interesting"?

One way involves three landings in all. First you send a Curiosity type rover carrying 3 or 4 radio beacons. It surveys the landing area, makes sure there are no big rocks in the way or inconvenient craters hidden under dust, and puts the beacons in place around the surveyed area. Secondly an unmanned cargo carrier uses the atmosphere to shed what velocity it can, deploys a honking great parachute to take it most of the way down and then at the last minute it sheds the chute and fires rockets for a soft landing using the beacons to navigate by. Finally the manned lander does the atmosphere, HGP and rocket dance to set down near the cargo carrier.

Landing near the cargo carrier is regarded as A Good Thing (TM) as in most plans it's where the ascent stage is kept, often with In Situ Resources Utilisation to generate the fuel for it from the Martian atmosphere. The three landings are also usually on successive windows, two years apart, so the rover will have been working on the landing area for over a year before the cargo carrier gets launched, and the cargo carrier generating fuel for over a year before the manned expedition leaves. If you've got the money then in the second window you launch another rover along with the cargo vessel and in the third you send another rover and cargo carrier with the manned ship. If something goes wrong with any part of the process you divert the next component to the previous site and the manned ship has enough supplies to hold out for the next cargo run.

61:

The landing of Curiosity required a necessary 10g maneuver.

10g will kill a man.

So I say, screw Mars and the rest of the planets and colonies Ceres, Phobos and Deimos (maybe a Moon base as well). Then the rest of the Asteroid Belt. Then the Kuiper Belt. Then the Oort Cloud.

Just don't land anywhere with a deep gravity well.

62:

10g will kill a man.

Not even close. Colonel Stapp took 30 gees, if I remember correctly, in deceleration -- detached both retinas and was in hospital for weeks, but he survived it. More regularly, Soyuz capsules take 6 gees routinely on re-entry and in the ballistic re-entry profile (when something goes wrong) they may peak at 16 gees. Cosmonauts really don't like it, but they've survived it several times (lying on their backs helps). And the F-16 Falcon maneuvers at up to 9 gees, and the F-22 at up to 12 gees.

If you want to kill a man you need either 30+ gees for more than a second, or whole-body jolts of over 100 gees.

63:

I wonder if the greater size of the lander would help. You would need some truly enormous parachutes, but you'd also get more air resistance coming down.

Mars' atmosphere is rather annoying for anything except making methane rocket fuel. It's too thin to sustain life and offer really good aero-braking, but thick enough to be annoying for landers.

64:

I wonder if the greater size of the lander would help. You would need some truly enormous parachutes, but you'd also get more air resistance coming down.

One reason the latest Mars vehicle did the crazy rocket thing was that it wasn't practical (or possible) to do a parachute landing do to the atmosphere being way too thin. And you're talking about much larger landers than this one.

65:

Hmm. Thoughts on funerals. I grew up in far western KY, USA. Mostly a southern US culture but on the edge of it.

Open caskets were the norm unless disfigurement was an issue. This was a mostly Protestant culture. And I've had people from other areas who attended funerals of close family members who died when they were not around that in the back of their mind they wondered just a bit what if anything was really in the box.

Personally I'm not for embalming. Put me in a cheap box and bury it. But there's a lot of places where you just can't do that. Tradition and the funeral industry is big on concrete "tombs" over the caskets so the ground doesn't sag over time. And you can get "sealed" caskets now so "nothing will intrude on your loved one". Give me a break.

It is my understanding that in the US embalming took off during the civil war to allow soldiers kill to be returned "home" for burial.

In many places in the south there's a custom that you don't leave the dead alone till they are in the ground. Some relatives stay with the body at the funeral home until the funeral.

Rarely are people laid out in the parlor then buried in the small plot out back anymore.

Personally I think it's good for kids to see the body. Just like it's good that most people should see a working slaughter house if they are a meat eater. But some think I'm morbid.

66:

Two things. Re-entry would be at about the same speed as the Apollo moon shots. There is not much extra acceleration needed to reach Mars - it simply takes longer. So this would not need any technological breakthroughs.

Second, a Married couple runs the risk that if one dies the other may become useless. Not to mention the torture of being trapped in a coffin with your dead loved one for up to a year.

I think two people from disciplines that train especially for detachment and patience as well as isolation would be far better. I do not think any variety of the Christian monastical traditions would provide sufficiently trained people. Nor, for that matter, anyone from one of the "religions of the book".

I would suggest advanced pupils from the Tibetan Buddhist schools. Their meditative technologies are quite advanced for this purpose even compared to other current Buddhist, Hindu, or Taoist schools. The Tibetan traditions also take care to train their followers in Western sciences.

I am not suggesting that there is anything more "right" or "wrong" about Tibetan Buddhism than other schools or religions. Merely that as a result of isolation (until recently) and strong environmental pressures, this tradition has developed some pretty advanced mental technologies.

Of course even better would be someone trained using truly scientific psychological techniques but, frankly, we don't have those yet and the Tibetans may well be the best available choice under the circumstances.

67:

The Mars Science Laboratory (aka Curiosity rover) used a combination of heat-shielding, a parachute and retrorockets to land on Mars. Anything bigger would use the same combination due to density and cross-sectional area -- larger means heavier but the frontal area for the heatshield doesn't scale up as fast as the mass so it would lose less energy than a smaller "snowflake" lander package like the Beagle II which was intended to use a balloon cushion system to touch down with.

The weird skycrane system used with Curiosity was used to prevent or at least reduce the amount of dust and rocks blown up from the retrorockets covering the lander, contaminating and possibly damaging instruments on board. A manned lander or similar wouldn't have that problem so it would also land on retrorockets. By the time the rockets cut in any lander would be descending towards the surface at a couple of hundred km/hr at most.

68:

The density is the most important factor, or more accurately the mass per unit area of heatshield. Curiosity and the sky crane were inside a big aerodynamic shell to get a lower mass/area value because neither had much empty space inside, a manned lander by comparison will have a lot of empty space for crew living quarters and work space. The outer pressure shell will also be the heatshield, and picking something like a biconic shape can help in shedding velocity.

Several of the original Space Shuttle designs had the hydrogen and oxygen tanks incorporated in the fuselage with smaller and stubbier wings. This meant a lot more velocity could be shed higher in the atmosphere on re-entry, greatly reducing the heat loading which would have allowed for a lighter heat shield. The USAF insisted on a large cross-range capacity though (which was never used) and the wings needed for that ate most of the payload capability hence yet another redesign to use an external tank and the tiles to handle the greater heat load.

69:

The difference is between short sharp shocks (like that experienced by Col Stapp) and sustained g forces.

Highly trained fighter pilots can sustain 9gs and still function. Depending on duration, 10 g results in tunnel vision, black out and eventually death. 10g appears to be the cut off between safety and risk of death under sustained g forces.

Mars' gravity is too great to allow rocket-only landings like on the Moon and its atmosphere is too thin to allow parachute-only landings like on Earth. Hence the Rube Golberg-ish Curiosity landing sequence.

That's nothing I would want to put a human through.

70:

As has been pointed out upthread, the real Rube-Goldbergness of the Curiosity landing - the Skycrane - was to prevent the landing thrusters' exhaust polluting the landing site. Any manned landing could descend right to the surface without that step, as ExoMars is apparently slated to do.

71:

A minor technicality: the food will become very slightly radioactive due to irradiation by higher energy cosmic rays (some of the cosmic rays are high energy enough to cause transmutation), but almost all of that decays quickly. It's a bigger problem on surface of the moon where the rock is somewhat radioactive due to billions years of cosmic ray bombardment.

72:

This reminds me of a short story by Ted White and Larry McCombs: "The Peacock King". It was first published in 1965 in the Magazine of Fantasy and SF.

The "astronauts" went away to the stars meditating. They were give a long training based on Eastern disciplines. And they went up, up, and away always two by two, male and female, as unmarried couples (they were paired by the space agency) with a rigorous training in tantric sex. Also, they made a lot of use of psychedelic drugs.

Not surprisingly the story was rejected by Campbell at Analog, before finding a home in the Magazine of Fantasy and SF.

73:

I looked it up, and some places say Curiosity reached 10g or even one place said 15g maximum decceleration, I see no mention of that being sustained for a long period of time.
I also see no reason that a human carrying lander should be unable to modify it's flight path to avoid such peaks. It is obvious that a 10g or even a bit more shock or series of shocks would be well worth taking to actually land on Mars, although if a regular passenger run was set up we'd probably want a beanstalk.

74:

If I read the various sources I noticed right, it decelerated from about 5km/s (edge of atmosphere) to about 0.5 km/s (when it popped the parachute) in about 4 minutes.

That's 4500 m/s in 240 seconds, or an average of ~2g over that period. It may be able to peak at 5 or more times that value, but if so not for very long.

75:

The Curiosity lander went straight into the Martian atmosphere without achieving orbit around Mars with all of the residual velocity of its original injection into its Earth-Mars trajectory. A manned mission would go into orbit around Mars to allow the lander to separate from the main ship in a similar fashion to the Apollo Lunar missions. There's no need or desire to land the main ship and they're going to need it to get back home after using the ascent stage to take off from the Martian surface.

From orbit they will still have to shed about 3 or 4 km/s but that can be done over a longer timescale than four minutes. They will have to carry fuel etc. to achieve orbit of course.

76:

Are you telling me that the 10g deceleration and the entire "7 minutes of terror" thing was done just to save a few bucks on fuel?

I'm no rocket scientist but fuel savings don't seem to justify putting the entire mission layload at risk.

77:

The mass that you can throw at Mars is effectively fixed, given a certain type of launcher and that the orbital dynamics are what they are. That mass has to include the rover, scientific payload, and the entry, descent and landing system. JPL figured that the "7 minutes of terror" thing was the way to minimise the mass that they had to use for the landing system, and so maximise the science they could do.

I would guess that scientific instruments are cheaper kilogram for kilogram than fuel, even ignoring the development effort...

78:

A "few bucks of fuel" actually means a tonne or two of fuel and oxidiser plus the orbit injection motor and its tankage, plumbing, pumps etc. which the Curiosity probe didn't carry. That orbital insertion motor has to be decent-sized as it needs to put out a lot of thrust in just a few minutes to achieve orbit around something as small as Mars -- see the size of the engine bell on the Apollo Service Module to give you an idea how big it needs to be.

All that extra mass eats into the deliverable payload given the size of the launchers available and it also increases the mission pricetag. The "seven minutes" was riskier but the engineering for it (overrated heatshield, skycrane system etc.) cost less in terms of cash and mass than a retrofire-into-orbit plus lower-speed atmospheric entry and the team was pretty sure their numbers for survivability added up. As it turned out they were right.

79:

So we'd be looking at maybe 6_000lb of fuel and engine, plus the fuel to slow those 6_000lb down from inter-planetary transit speed. Why do I get the feeling that this hardware weighs more than the deliverable payload?

80:

I dunno. Perhaps because it's three times Curiosity's mass of 2000 lbs?

(Doubling mass at Mars' orbit probably means doubling launch pad weight.)

81:

So, summarising #67 on - The reason for using aerobraking and not a retro engine package was basically that we'd have needed about 4 boosters to put the payload plus your retro pack plus sufficient fuel to get it out of Earth orbit into orbit in the first place Daniel!

82:

Another worked example is the Cassini probe to Saturn which carried an orbital insertion motor and fuel as it wasn't a flyby mission like the Voyagers. The Cassini probe massed about 6 tonnes in flight but it burned three tonnes of fuel to change trajectory into orbit around Saturn. The designers had the luxury of being able to go for a long burn, about 90 minutes or so meaning they could use a small low-thrust motor for the job. That won't be the case for a Mars orbit insertion burn which has to be completed before the spacecraft goes whizzing past.

83:

daniel.duffy20 wrote:
The difference is between short sharp shocks (like that experienced by Col Stapp) and sustained g forces.

Highly trained fighter pilots can sustain 9gs and still function. Depending on duration, 10 g results in tunnel vision, black out and eventually death. 10g appears to be the cut off between safety and risk of death under sustained g forces.


Orientation matters for all this. Human beings are most comfortable in +Z orientation (lying down on your back, aka "eyeballs in"). -Z - eyeballs out - is not that unsafe, but sufficient "jerk" - rate of change of acceleration over time - can damage eyeballs and combination of high jerk and high -Z loads can cause neck fractures (hence HANS devices).

+X, like in fighter jets (sitting down, head to toe) is likely to cause GLOC. jerk in the +X orientation can cause back injuries, hence early gun type ejection seat broken back problems.

84:

On Immigrant labor (Here in the US); Part of it is the sucess of the Plutocrat Agenda in Amerika. Right to Work and the openly anti-union agenda of Walmart.

The race to the bottom has already happened, a local temp agency was unwilling to hire me because I didn't "Fit in" with the existing (Banquet Service) wait staff, ie, I'm not hispanic. (But they didn't actually say that, just picked up the phone in front of me and had a comversation in Spanish).

The US is still the "Best" place to go, at least to raise that stake to do your start up back home. A right wing publication pointed out there were 13 million applicants for the visa lottery (50,000 places) last year, We don't have decent jobs for our own low skilled workers and the (estimated) ten million Hispanics already present (10% of Mexico's population?) What would we do with 10% of the population of Iraq, Hati and Egypt?

Oh, and it is a $500.000 "investment" for a green card. Convention and resort hotels are the current popular fiddle, no need to invest in anything so gauche as real jobs. (IE, more low wage Hotel Maids and Banquet servers).

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