M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

Magnetic reconnection plasma thruster: Not too fast, not too slow, juuuust right

February 4, 2021
MThomas

A crewed mission to Mars may be more practical thanks to a new rocket concept developed by Fatima Ebrahimi, a physicist at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), that uses magnetic fields to generate thrust.

https://newatlas.com/space/magnetic-reconnection-rocket-thruster-concept-spaceflight-mars/

Looks good so far…

…although it’s just a computer simulation right now and the magnetic thruster model hasn’t even been built yet.

Ah, well, just repurpose an existing ion thruster, right?

Hmm. I’m not a rocket scientist, but.. 🚀

All-civilian space flight? Uh. Don’t sign me up.

February 1, 2021
MThomas

The CEO of an online payment company is the perfect leader for an emergency in outer space.

OK, hands up who thinks this is a really super dumb and risky idea but isn’t terribly surprised by the super dumb and risky things Musk continually blurts out? 🤷‍♂️

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/spacex-announces-first-mission-space-all-civilian-crew-n1256390

Man, what a pain…

December 4, 2020
MThomas

…researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have created an artificial skin that mimics this mechanism and reacts to pain stimuli….

https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2020/12/02/health/artificial-pain-sensing-skin-spc-intl/index.html?__twitter_impression=true

Once again, Star Trek was way ahead of its time…

“If you prick me, do I not…leak?”

No, that’s not it. Wait…

“Resistance is futile!”

Yeah, that’s it.

I, for one, can’t wait to greet our artificial skin-covered overlords…

Micro-Voyager goes where none have gone before…

November 8, 2020
MThomas

“By studying synthetic microswimmers, we would like to understand biological microswimmers,” Samia Ouhajji, one of the study’s authors, told CNN. “This understanding could aid in developing new drug delivery vehicles; for example, microrobots that swim autonomously and deliver drugs at the desired location in the human body.”

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/11/08/us/star-trek-3d-microscopic-spaceship-scn-trnd/index.html

Another once-science fiction concept turned reality…

…until the next fantastic voyage(r)?

Is teleporting a death sentence?

October 15, 2020
MThomas

“Beam us down, Mr. O’Brien! No, wait, I didn’t meaaaannnnnnnnn……”

Some would argue that having one’s “molecules scrambled,” as Dr. McCoy would put it, is actually the surest way to die. Sure, after you’ve been taken apart by the transporter, you’re put back together somewhere else, good as new. But is it still you on the other side, or is it a copy? If the latter, does that mean the transporter is a suicide box?

https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2017/09/is-beaming-down-in-star-trek-a-death-sentence/

An old article (2017, whose impetus was the imminent release of ST: Discovery) but a good one.

Is the copy of you, you? Or is it a brand new person with the same memories? Would it have ANY memories? Would it have the same consciousness? (Or ANY consciousness?)

Of course, you can always stick to the “David Brin Theory” of teleportation: “Some dude in the future will figure this all out.”

Lazy writers!

(This is why, in my novel, I stick to quantum teleportation of inanimate objects only. That includes quantum communication relays, chunks of asteroids…miniature nuclear bombs…you know, “realistic” things like that.)

And, yes, quantum teleportation is real. Just very, very tiny. For now.

PK Dick wrote fiction…or did he?

September 26, 2020
MThomas

“But decoding and storing memories raise a new set of ethical, moral and legal questions. For instance, who would own these memories after a person has died? Could the police obtain warrants to search through memories? Given that memory itself isn’t completely reliable, could memories be used in lawsuits? How could we ensure that unscrupulous professionals don’t sell or share them?”

Hm, I think I can see another direction this might eventually take…

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/computer-chips-can-read-our-brains-have-moved-sci-fi-ncna1239575

Tech visionaries are needed. Scientists are more important.

September 1, 2020
MThomas

I get the attraction of people like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. They have big ideas. They’re enthusiastic, ecstatic, even. They’re great at simplifying difficult concepts and promoting tech to the lay person.

But they’re not creators. They’re “visionaries.”

I.e., salespersons.

Is that a bad thing? Of course not. I was in computer sales once. It was hard. Only the charismatic are good at it. But I didn’t have the knowledge and ability to make the products I was selling, let alone the power to innovate.

Sticking a chip in a person’s brain and sending thousands to the Moon or Mars sound cool. Possible, even.

But science isn’t sales. Someone might die.

Small difference.

We need visionaries, but scientists are more important. Maybe if they talked to each other…

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53987919

Drill, rocket launch, catch, ferry, repeat?

August 2, 2020
MThomas

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The Airbus spacecraft will have to manoeuvre itself into a position to capture these samples that will be packaged inside a football-sized container.

After ingesting this container, the satellite must then prepare it for return to Earth.

This means not only shipping it across hundred of millions of km of space, but also putting the football inside a re-entry capsule that can be dropped into Earth’s atmosphere to land in an American desert.

This would be, indeed, a feat of engineering as well as a first in interplanetary exploration.

But I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an “interplanetary cargo ship.” Unless the intention is to maintain it as a permanent link between research locations (i.e., some kind of permanent orbitor stationed above the Jezero Crater) and research facilities on Earth (or the Moon, or the International Space Station).

Political will is needed in addition to the enormous funding. Semi-privatization, anyone?

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-53575353

 

 

SpooQy-1 action at a distance!

June 30, 2020
MThomas

“In the future, our system could be part of a global quantum network transmitting quantum signals to receivers on Earth or on other spacecraft,” says Aitor Villar, lead author of the study. “These signals could be used to implement any type of quantum communications application, from quantum key distribution for extremely secure data transmission to quantum teleportation, where information is transferred by replicating the state of a quantum system from a distance.”

OK, OK, so it’s not the first time quantum entanglement has been demonstrated. But it sure is the smallest. Only 20 cm by 10 cm!

Now we only need a few thousand of these things and a way of somehow making tangled photons actually carry encrypted messages…

(Sorry, thinking of the SF novel I should have published by now…still figuring out the last two chapters!)

See more at New Atlas (note: I seriously doubt the CubeSat actually looks like that picture when it’s doing its thing).

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