SPACE AS AN OCEAN
LESSONS FROM THE AGE OF EUROPEAN MARINE EXPLORATION FOR THE SPACE AGE.
From the Book "PROTOCOLS" (c) 2012 by American Admiralty Books
WAITING ON THE CALCULUS AND THE CARAVEL
It has been over forty years since man first walked on the moon. Within thirty years of the Wright Brothers flight commercial air service for passengers and freight was readily available and growing into a major industry. Why then the apparent slowing of progress in manned exploration of space and the development of a commercial space transport industry? If we more closely examine aviation history we find little reason for concern. More over, if we think of space as an ocean there is ample precedent and logic to what appears to be an otherwise unnecessarily long pause in developments relative to manned interplanetary flight.
First lets look at heavier than air aviation history. Here is a Chronology of some of the main events.
1. The first heavier than air flying machines to lift off the surface of the earth were kites invented by the Chinese between 400 and 300 B.C.. These and the flight of birds would be the subject of study for thousands of years before the study of aerodynamics would be formalized. The study of heavier than air flight would be studied from the flight of the Chinese kites continuously but in an uncoordinated fashion throughout this time frame. Study would be hampered by a lack of the printing press, difficult communications, in short, the inability to build a recoverable and organized body of literature on the subject that succeeding generations could build on.
2. Leonardo da Vinci scientifically studied the flight of birds and sketched various flying machines. This was the start of a recognized body of literature on flight. This would occur about 1500 A.D. or about 1800 to 1900 years after the lift off of the first kites.
3. Most heavier than air manned flight experiments after daVinci's were also man powered. In 1680 Italian mathematician Giavonni Borelli proved that human muscles were too weak to support powered flight. (At least with the technology and materials of the day. Recently there have been several human powered flights using specially geared bicycle mechanisms to drive a propeller on super light weight aircraft with very low stall speeds and giant wing span to fuselage ratios) .
4. British inventor sir George Cayley built and flew model gliders and organized the science of aerodynamics in 1804. His work was most useful to the Wright Brothers.
5. German, Otto Lilienthal devised a system to measure lift produced by experimental wings and made the first successful manned glider flights in 1891 through 1896. His work was also most useful to the wright Brothers.
5. In 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright , made the first heavier than air powered flight. This would be about 400 years after da Vinci's formal studies and 99 years after the formal organization of aerodynamics into a recognizable science. sixty six years later , Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
The likely progress of any science or technological development in the age of the Internet is bound to be much faster than the 1800 year gap between kites and da Vinci's drawings. Still, we should not be surprised to wait 400 years or more for the kind of game changing, break through technological development that the wright flyer or space shuttle represent.
|Model of a Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum|
Link to a YouTube video of a filmed early Wright Brothers flight.
On the subject of going to mars:
"If we really wanted to throw money at the problem, I think we could have gone ten years ago. It's no longer a question of technology. At this point , I think we need to focus on advances in propulsion technology......
Capt. William Readdy, USNR , Commander of Shuttle Mission STS-79
p. 55 of the USNI PROCEEDINGS, February 1997.
Capt. Readdy and like minded thinkers look to a propulsion break through because of the vast distances that must be covered to carry manned space flight and exploration beyond the moon. At present space craft speeds, Mars, a close in planet, is at least nine months away. Much too far for a quick raise the flag and grab a soil sample mission. When we go, we going to stay a while and eventually start a long term base. The Wright Brothers powered flight with a technology that was not invented with flight in mind, the internal combustion engine. Without the internal combustion engine they would have simply been glider builders. Capt. Readdy has simply noted that to conquer the great distances that must be traversed to continue manned exploration, of even our own solar system, much less the galaxy beyond, a new propulsion system is needed. It is this vast distance that makes the manned exploration of space so like our exploration of the seas. We may be awaiting a development from an unrelated technology before we can move forward beyond our nearest solar system neighbors. When we compare the history of ocean exploration to space exploration not only do we get a closer parallel than a comparison with aviation history, we get a much longer time frame.
Maritime history, like aviation history, is in fact thousands of years old. But unlike aviation, developments in marine technology did not suffer as much from a lack of authoritative literature. New technologies put to sea, were seen in diverse places and quickly copied and improved upon when real improvements appeared. Here the only cultural drag was the natural conservatism of sailors. The eventual vehicle of global, ocean spanning voyages of exploration was the humble but wind and sea efficient caravel, eventually used by Columbus. It took about five thousand years for the caravel, a break through technology to evolve out of the longboat. The longboat evolved through many forms from the dugout canoe to the galley and trireme. But at its' most seaworthy point of development it was grossly inadequate for an Atlantic or Pacific crossing. Such crossings had to await a new propulsion system vastly improved over oars and a square sail. The needed new system came in the form of lanteen sail and a new hull form more sea kindly than the traditional Arabian dhow. The first ship type to fill the requirements was the Portuguese caravel. While the Space shuttle was called the "caravel of space" in its heyday by some writers, I believe it is but another longboat. Compared to other man to space lift systems it was relatively cheap and efficient., but it can not go the distance like the sturdy little caravel.
I suggest that we are in a long pause in interplanetary exploration We have made the equivalent of short coastal voyages, near earth orbital missions routine. We have even made some interplanetary voyages to our nearest celestial neighbor, the moon. The knowledge gained allowed us to launch and operate unmanned probes to peer into much more distant parts of the universe and even visit other planets of our solar system. In so peering we have discerned that it is far more vast a place than ever before imagined and that planets, with atmospheres and water are probably more abundant than once thought only a few years ago. We are standing on the beach and looking out across that vast sea of outer space, with ever increasing knowledge of the far shore coming to us. But our longboats can't make the crossing. We await the development of the caravel.
And the space "Caravel" awaits the development of a new calculus for its' would be ship wrights. Before newton could give us the clock work like physics that guided our voyages to the moon, he first had to invent the calculus. Physics has progressed far beyond the Newtonian view of the universe, and even that of Einstein, the real possibility of faster than light travel is hinted at, but we lack the calculus to describe it. How much money do we put in pure mathematical research as opposed to applied physics? Yet without the calculus there would be little physics. Without the advanced calculus that we need there will be no "warp drive". Newton provided us with enough theoretical physics to get us to the moon and back. But Newton and Einstein together can't take us where we need to go. Newton's calculus runs out of steam around the fuzzy edges of Einstein's universe, the realm of "complexity" where we seem to be doing little more than collecting and describing elements of reality that have become observable but don't fit into the order described by Newton and Einstein.
|SIR ISAAC NEWTON|
The space "caravel" awaits the development of a new calculus. Before Newton could give us the clockwork like physics that guided our efforts to the moon and back he first had to create his calculus. Physics has progressed far beyond the Newtonian view of the universe to the far and fuzzy edges of the relative universe of Albert Einstein. At that far edge which some call "complexity" and others "Chaos" the real possibility, indeed probability of faster than light travel is hinted at, but we lack the calculus to describe it. How much money do we put into pure mathematical research as opposed to applied physics? Yet without the calculus , there will be no applied physics at the far and fuzzy edges of relativity we need to be exploring now. Should we be surprised than at the long pause we seem to find ourselves in? The history of ocean exploration informs us that we should expect progress in "fits and starts". The mere sixty six year span between Kitty Hawk and the Apollo flights was one of those "fits" , a period of furious and intense technological progress fueled by two hot and one "cold" global wars. It is instructive to note that Kitty Hawk came at the end of nearly a century of aeronautical study, experimentation, and publication. But now we encounter a vast distance to be crossed for which we have few tools or theories, a new start. New studies are required. We await the the calculus that will lead to the caravel. We don't know if we will have to wait fifteen, fifty, or even five hundred years. There was nearly a century between the organization of aerodynamics and powered flight. There was at least a century or two between the first appearance of the lanteen sail and the deployment of Portugal's caravels. So while we await the arrival of the calculus and then the caravel, what should be our next move? I suggest that we continue to improve the "longboat", our earth orbit operational and transport capability.
Building a greatly improved space shuttle and perhaps some cheap "pick up truck" winged space vehicles and improved capsules makes sense. Making access to near space cheaper and more routine
is important, if we are to build the ultimate "longboat" that may take us to Mars, or the "caravel" for travel beyond our solar system, we must build them in space. Since we can not in the foreseeable future make a quantum leap in speed, we must improve habitability for long voyages. This requires size, genuine seagoing ship type size, and that requires construction in space from components no larger than the old space shuttle, or sky lab.
Once we have big comfortable long boats assembled there is no reason not to push off for the far but visible shore, the Moon and Mars at the least. There is a lot that is of intense interest to visit within a one year journey from the earth at present rocket speeds.Our past history as seafarers tells us that intrepid and motivated crews can and will endure voyages of discovery lasting two years or more. So the next logical steps may be simply a better shuttle, a space station big enough to serve as space port and ship yard, and a humble little space tug to help pull all the component parts together.
No doubt we can go to Mars now if we will foot the bill. But we intend to go to stay, which is the only way to go that makes sense, we have a fleet to build. That means the next decade or more of manned space flight will continue to be in manned earth orbit with the probable exception of a Chinese version of an updated Apollo program. If we are spending the time building the very best "longboats" we can, this is not to be lamented. Nothing else can happen until we find the calculus that lets us build the caravel. After the "caravel" voyages will still be long and dangerous. We need experience in shipboard organization, and voyage management, and space construction. Once the "caravel" is available it would be handy to have a good idea where to go, so unmanned exploratory missions should continue. If the decades ahead in space look like the decades just past since the start of the shuttle and international space station programs , there is nothing wrong with this picture if we view space as an ocean and look at our history of global exploration by sea. Even if we find the calculus in our life times we won't be able to immediately build the "caravel". Meanwhile we need to get on with space-faring in our solar system in order to have the infrastructure and personnel ready to operate the caravel when it comes.
Before the European powers launched out to accidentally discover the New World, they had already created navigation charts for as much of Europe and Africa as they could and mapped as much of Asia as possible given that they were mostly cut off from Asia by hostile forces between Europe and Asia. Such efforts are mundane, not as exciting as a Moon landing. But, we are doing what we need to do with the space station, and shuttle replacement, if we enlarge the concept of the station and build the space tug with the clear intent of building some really good longboats for use in our solar system.
Charting the globe wasn't done in a day. The New World wasn't discovered by a big government bureaucracy The New World was accidentally discovered by a Merchant Marine Officer leading a three boat flotilla on a small scale government sponsored expedition with a specific profit motive. This perhaps underscores the concerns voiced by some astronauts over the perceived slow development of commercial space transport. It will probably take more than a government only effort to both get us into the best "longboats" and eventually into the "Caravel".
The closest thing in human history to what we are now experiencing in space is known as the "European Recognizance", the pivotal point of which was the first voyage of Columbus in 1492. The "European Recognizance" didn't begin or end with Columbus, the era encompassed more than 500 years. The likelihood is that the "Human Recognizance of the Universe will follow the pattern of the European Recognizance by sea. We shouldn't be amazed or disheartened by the occasional forty year lull in electrifying events. Indeed space is an ocean, I think, and events are proceeding about like last time.