Friday, October 27, 2006

Nigeria's Space Program

Ever since man walked on the moon around 1970, people have been asking the question, "Why spend all of this money on space when there are too many problems to solve here at home and too many poor people in this nation?" Even though the money NASA spends is less than 1% of the national budget, this is still far too large for many people.

But try telling that to Nigerians. Nigeria is one of the poorest in the world, with a per capita income of only $1400/year. To many people, the thought of Nigeria building a space program was madness. They simply can't afford it, most people believed. Or, says others, the leaders merely wanted to use nationalism to become reelected.

In 2003, Nigeria launched a satellite into orbit to monitor agriculture and potential mining places, and it is planning more satellites. Nigeria wants to fly a man into space by 2025. While the launch in 2003 was a source of national pride, many were critical of the launch for the reasons mentioned above. So are Nigerians making a bad move?

No. Nigerians have an eye on their long term future. Looking back at the US space program, there were many important technological spinoffs. Modern computing technology is based upon many of the advances in microprocessor technology that Apollo was built on. Velcro came from the space program. Space is very important for monitoring Earth. We use it to monitor and forecast weather, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, potential mining spots, etc. Without satellite technology, weather forecasting would be much, much more difficult than it is today. As high as the death toll from Hurricane Katrina was, imagine if we didn't have space technology. Imagine if the hurricane was a total surprise for those affected by the storm. Weather satellites saved perhaps tens of thousands of people in the area ravaged by the storm. Satellite technology even helped with rescue operations in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami.

Only 1% of Nigerians has access to telephone lines. This lack of communications infrastructure is part of what keeps Nigeria impoverished. But putting a communications satellite into orbit will provide the entire nation with wireless communications, include available broadband Internet, which Nigerians hope to sell for revenue. As successful and profitable as cell phones have proven in African nations, broadband Internet could generate a huge economic stimulus to an economy that really needs it. These technologies could help Nigeria develop economically, and to alleviate poverty. The NASRDA explains their objectives for leapfrogging in their mission statement.

Friday, October 06, 2006

NASA - Moonquakes

NASA - Moonquakes: "NASA astronauts are going back to the moon and when they get there they may need quake-proof housing.
That's the surprising conclusion of Clive R. Neal, associate professor of civil engineering and geological sciences at the University of Notre Dame after he and a team of 15 other planetary scientists reexamined Apollo data from the 1970s. 'The moon is seismically active,' he told a gathering of scientists at NASA's Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) meeting in League City, Texas, last October."

This reminds me of an idea I've had for a while. I would like to see a network of nodes that handle related communication, navigation, and information tasks. It links well with the MUOL concept of building an automated infrastructure.

Each node would have a space based wireless internet router making communications possible between nodes. By deploying nodes in orbit around a location (like a moon or planet), constant communications may be maintained. All local satellites can then use these nodes for system wide communications that do not rely on line of sight links to a distant radio telescope on Earth.

Additionally, select nodes can act as a Celestial Positioning System (CPS) with plug in units that transmit position and timing information. The CPS would allow greater navigational control of future automated and manned missions.

Space and local weather plugins would monitor local weather conditions (i.e. dust storms and glaciation on Mars or eruptions on Io) as well as space weather conditions (background cosmic radiation, solar flare activity, Jupiter's magnetosphere, etc.) that may affect the local scene. This ties in with the above article by including land based seismic recorders as part of the network.

The network would continue the current work of mapping and surveying territories in ever greater detail. New sensors units delivered to MUOL nodes would tell new stories about the nature and history of the local environment.

MUOL and non-MUOL not in this network can use the net as client nodes. This gives each client all the capabilities of the network expanding it's own possiblilites. This includes potential robotic explorers, surveyors, miners, constructors, and factories. If alerts come up or suppliers fail, the clients can react appropriately to their situations.

The network could also provide data storage and backup facilities incase client nodes fail or lose contact with the network. The network would also act as servers to make this data available to users back on Earth.

As this MUOL network builds, automated missions to networked locations should become more reliable. More data can be collected and processed and shipped back to Earth. By the time humans arrive to a networked location, the environment will be very well understood and have a usable communication, navigation, and information network in place.

See also:
The Importance of Establishing a Global Lunar Seismic Network. Clive R. Neal [PDF]
MUOL Eric Hunting