Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Space Lottery and Ion Thrusters

Strangely, Christmas Day is usually a day I like to think about space. And it’s easy to do with Mars so prominently displayed in the sky this year. In my life I have had many pathways to choose from but you just can’t do everything your heart desires. There was one aspect of physics that really captured my attention: electromagnetic physics. The equations are very sexy. Almost as sexy as Misaki Ito (伊東美咲)! HeHeHe . . . Take a look at the equations for yourself here in this article. Seeing what they ultimately translate into is very exciting to me.

Back in my music days, before college, I learned about Magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) generators and ever since then I loved extrapolating the applications of Lorentz Force fields and the Hall Effect to ideas involving space exploration. A couple of my friends might even remember a small magnetic device I designed for a theoretical medical application. If I had chosen physics instead of biology, I'm pretty sure I would have ended up in ion thruster design. Ion thrusters have seen use on small craft such as the asteroid probe Hayabusa (はやぶさ) and the small body probe Dawn.

My particular favorite is the magnetoplasmadynamic thruster or MPD arcjet. Obviously there are many problems yet to be solved but that’s why we become scientists right? I’m still trying to get my head around how nuclear decay could be used to provide sufficient, long-term electrical power to the MPD arcjet. Wow, when I get excited about stuff like this it makes me want to give up on going medical school or the game company and go get a physics degree. Damn it!! Life is just too short!

Anyway, my other thought for today is that NASA should start selling lottery tickets for trips on the shuttle. Buying a $1 ticket for a chance to fly on the space shuttle would be like winning what - $20 million? There can always be disclaimers involving a health check. Dangerous? It’s not that bad. Jeez, people die at Disneyworld too. The shuttle lift-off and re-entry G-forces are around 3 while typical rollercoaster G-forces exceed 3. The Mindbender rollercoaster at Galaxyland in Canada delivers 5.2 Gs. As for weightlessness, places such as Zero-G offer the experience for people into their 90s. Obviously some medical conditions preclude participation and so this company keeps the parabolic flights to around 20 to minimize detrimental effects.
Offer a week or two of astronaut training and significantly increase your revenue. More importantly, you also increase public attention on your programs which gives you leverage in the Congress to get more funding.
- Just a peasant
Photo of a Xenon ion thruster from NASA's Glenn Center.