Archive for December, 2012


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Its filled with drama, love, passion, space armadas, aliens…. okay, its got NONE of that. But it is fun and may just provoke some discussion.

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Space Elevators? Maybe….

Posted: December 28, 2012 in Uncategorized


Copied from 
20 August 2012

Space elevators: Going up?

Richard Hollingham
About the author
Richard is a science journalist and presenter of the Space Boffins podcast. He edits Space:UK magazine for the UK Space Agency, commentates on launches for the European Space Agency and is a science presenter for BBC radio. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
Space elevator artwork (Copyright: Science Photo Library)(Copyright: Science Photo Library)

Will space elevators ever be more than science fiction? Our space columnist meets the man who hopes to do away with dangerous and expensive rockets forever.

The Russians don’t do countdowns. For the final few seconds before launch those of us watching just hold our breath and stand well back. I find several thousand kilometres back at the European Space Agency’s mission control in Germany to be safest.

When ignition comes, the launcher is engulfed in clouds of toxic orange smoke before it rises through the inferno and accelerates into the clouds. Many of these Russian rockets, such as the Cosmos and Rockot launchers, are converted from missiles designed to deliver nuclear warheads. Given that their launch would originally have signalled the end of the world, I don’t suppose the toxicity of the smoke was a major design consideration.

Rockets are dangerous, complicated and relatively unreliable. No-one has yet built a launcher that is guaranteed to work every time. A misaligned switch, loose bolt or programming error can lead to disaster or, with a human crew, a potential tragedy.

Rockets are also incredibly expensive – even the cheapest launch will set you back some $12 million, meaning the cost of any cargo costs a staggering $16,700 per kilogram. Although the funky new space planes being developed, such as Britain’s Skylon or Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo, will slash the costs of getting into space, they are still based on rocket technology – using sheer brute force to escape the clutches of gravity.

But there is a radical alternative. Science fiction fans have long been familiar with space elevators. Popularised by Arthur C Clarke, the concept of an elevator from the Earth to orbit has been around for more than a century. In the space operas of Iain M Banks or Alastair Reynolds, space elevators are pretty much taken for granted – they’re what advanced civilisations use to leave their planets.

These futuristic engineering feats consist of a cable – also known as a ribbon or tether – of material stretching from the Earth’s surface into orbit. An anchor and Earth’s gravity at the lower end, and a counterweight and centrifugal force at the top end keep the elevator’s “cable” taut and stationary over ground station.  Robotic ‘climbers’ would then pull themselves up the ribbon from the surface, through the stratosphere and out into space, potentially powered by lasers. The climbers could carry satellites up and bring minerals from the moon, or asteroids, back. They could take tourists into orbit or convey astronauts on the first part of their journey to the stars. No longer would space exploration be held back by gravity or rely on smelly, dangerous and expensive rockets.

“You could take a ride for the cost of a first class airline ticket,” exclaims David Horn, the Conferences Chair of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC). Estimates suggest that the cost of sending cargo into space could plummet to around $100 per kilogram. “A primary school could have a bake sale to cover the costs of sending a class science experiment into space.” Or, by selling enough cakes, even the entire class.

ISEC has been organising space elevator conferences for the past ten years – the latest will be held in Seattle later this month. They are attended by scientists, engineers and students from around the world, including those from various national space agencies like Nasa. There are also annual conferences in Europe and Japan and technical papers on various aspects of space elevators are published every year.

“There’s global interest,” says Horn. “Reducing the cost to access space will change the global economy.” Which would be wonderful, but how much of this interest is just wishful thinking?

‘Climbing concern’

Although the concept is simple, the engineering challenges that have to be overcome are awesome. The secret is to find the right material for the ribbon, which has to be light, strong, flexible…oh, and stretch, without breaking, for some 100,000 km (62,000 miles) – higher than geostationary orbit.

The current favoured material for this mega-cable is carbon nanotubes. Made up of interlinking carbon atoms, rolled up into a cylinder, each carbon nanotube is around a millionth of a millimetre in diameter. By sticking a load together you end up with a structure that’s lightweight, strong and flexible.

“This material, or something similar, is the key to making the space elevator a reality,” says Horn. “Carbon nanotubes can be spun into cables and tethers, just like rope is made…theoretically they would be strong enough. We just need to figure out how to manufacture the ribbon out of these materials in large quantities.”

At each annual conference they try to hold a ‘string tether competition’ to see how things are progressing. “No-one has won the competition yet as the bar is pretty high,” Horn says. “Every year we see improvements and better tethers entered.”

“Once the materials aspect is figured out, the rest is just engineering and political problems to solve,” Horn explains. However, the list of these problems is, even for space elevator advocates, rather daunting. It ranges from issues such as how do you operate space elevators (the theme of this year’s conference) to the political treaties required to permanently connect Earth and orbit. From how you go about deploying an enormously long cable (not a job handled by your average scaffolding contractor), to concerns about radiation exposure for human occupants of the climber.

But Horn remains optimistic. Even the proposed length of the space elevator ribbon is not beyond engineering feats, he says, if you consider “there are 80,000 miles of cable in the Golden Gate Bridge”.

Price estimates vary from $10 to $50 billion, which is still cheaper than the cost of the International Space Station (ISS). A space elevator would also take around the same amount of time to build as the ISS and would, arguably, be much more useful.

“Once we have the materials science capability,” says Horn, “we could have the first one built and operational in about a decade with a concerted effort.”

It’s easy to be dismissive of such a grand scheme but the space elevator concept is being taken seriously by a lot of people. The more we use space, the more apparent the limitations of current rocket launchers are becoming. The phenomenal cost is almost certainly holding us back – a point illustrated by the difficulties faced by academics trying to launch small satellites (and covered in my previous column). Space elevators are possible; eventually, I would suggest, they are also inevitable.

“Once we have a big breakthrough, then we can start the clock to build the first Earth space elevator,” says Horn. And if you can’t wait that long, he has another suggestion. “In the meantime, with existing materials, we could build one on the Moon.”

What do you think the future holds for space elevators? Head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter to comment.

My thanks to BBC Future Facebook followers for the inspiration for this column, there were two people in particular who I should mention but unfortunately, I’ve lost your names…you know who you are. All ideas welcome – Richard.

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Gerry Anderson obituary – RIP

Posted: December 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

Gerry Anderson obituary

Thunderbirds creator who made some of the most popular children’s TV shows of the 1960s

Copied from The Guardian News: Story by Nigel Fountain, The Guardian, Wednesday 26 December 2012 17.41 GMT


Gerry Anderson with some Thunderbirds figures in 2000. The Tracy brothers were named after US astronauts and fought evil from their International Rescue base on a south Pacific island. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

Gerry Anderson with some Thunderbirds figures in 2000. The Tracy brothers were named after US astronauts and fought evil from their International Rescue base on a south Pacific island. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

Gerry Anderson with some Thunderbirds figures in 2000. The Tracy brothers were named after US astronauts and fought evil from their International Rescue base on a south Pacific island. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

Gerry Anderson, who has died aged 83 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, was the main mover behind a number of puppet series commissioned by Lew Grade’s Independent Television Corporation. They made the company a fortune from the space age: perhaps the best known was Thunderbirds(1965-66), and among the others were Fireball XL5 (1962-63), Stingray (1964) and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-68).

Anderson embarked on Thunderbirds in 1964. For Grade, international sales – particularly into the US market – were a key concern. So Thunderbirds focused on the Tracy brothers, with first names borrowed from the US astronauts Scott Carpenter, Virgil Grissom, Alan Shepard, John Glenn and Gordon Cooper. Enormously popular in its time, the series is still being repeated today.

Scott and the others were members of International Rescue, based on a south Pacific island, set up, in a nod to the Bonanza western series, by their father, former astronaut Jeff Tracy. Thus did the brothers, with their motto “Thunderbirds are go!”, fight fires in mines and villains in Monte Carlo, rescue solarnauts from the sun, quench blazing gasfields and take on the evil of The Hood, a villainous mastermind operating from a Malaysian jungle temple over some 32 episodes. The British featured with aristo blonde bombshell Lady Penelope (voiced by, and modelled on, Anderson’s then wife Sylvia Thamm) and Parker, Cockney butler-cum-chauffeur of Penelope’s 21st-century Rolls-Royce, FAB 1.

The pre-ITV world of the early 50s had been one of puppets such as Muffin the Mule and the Flowerpot Men, a mirror for a Britain on extremely visible strings. Rocket men, on BBC radio, Radio Luxembourg and in the Eagle comic, meant Dan Dare and Jet Morgan – recycled Biggles and Battle of Britain pilots. After Anderson, they were destined for the galactic dole queue, just as Eagle’s demise was hastened by the arrival of Anderson spin-offs such as TV Century 21 (1965-71). “Everything we did,” Anderson told his biographers Simon Archer and Marcus Hearn, in What Made Thunderbirds Go! (2002), “was in an endeavour to sell to America,” and Grade spectacularly achieved that with Fireball XL5, a US network sale to NBC. Thunderbirds, shown across the world and more than a dozen times on British TV, is the show that defines the Anderson achievement, yet never attracted a US network.

There was also the merchandising, for all the hit Anderson series, but spectacularly for Thunderbirds. While listening to the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s rendition of the theme tune, the consumer could contemplate the purchase of the Dinky Toy FAB 1. There was a (very) minor hit record for Fireball XL5 and, beyond toys, wrote Chris Bentley in The Complete Gerry Anderson (2003), there were “clothing, toiletries, crockery, bedding, soft furnishings, ornaments, stationery, confectionery and baked beans”.

Grade and Anderson’s collaboration began in 1960, in the wake of the latter’s western series for children, Four Feather Falls. Anderson proposed Supercar, featuring – just before astronauts took off – a test pilot hero from Arizona, Mike Mercury. Grade slashed Anderson’s projected budget by a third, commissioned 39 episodes, and sold the series to the US, where it was a huge hit. That year, Anderson married Sylvia, beginning their tempestuous creative partnership.

Two years later, as Fireball XL5 was going to NBC, Grade’s Associated Television (ATV) purchased Anderson’s company, Anderson Provis Films (APF). The deal enriched Anderson, and left him, Grade aside, in creative control. In October 1964 Stingray, with Captain Troy Tempest of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, battling, among others, Titan, ruler of Titanica, waded ashore on ITV – and netted ITC millions worldwide. After Thunderbirds came Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, and then Joe 90 (1968), which was erratically broadcast – or not – around the ITV network.

However, the moment seemed to have passed: television appeared clogged up with Anderson’s Supermarionation puppets. Two Thunderbird movies had flopped; the tide was ebbing.

Anderson was born in London, the younger son of Deborah and Joseph Abrahams. Joseph’s parents were Jews from eastern Europe. Deborah Leonoff’s background mixed Jewish and Cornish roots. Their vituperative marriage gave Anderson an unhappy childhood. His father was a socialist, increasingly debt-ridden and trapped in low-paid jobs. The family gravitated from Willesden Green to penury in Kilburn, and then on to Neasden. In the face of the commonplace antisemitism of the times, mother and son, prevailing over Joseph, had the family surname changed to Anderson.

Gerry was educated at Kingsgate infants school in Kilburn and Braintcroft junior and senior schools in Neasden. Puppetry did not feature – indeed, he preferred knitting. Escape was provided in the front stalls at the Kilburn State and Grange cinemas, facing each other across the Kilburn high road. He won a scholarship to Willesden county secondary school and became a chain smoker. The death of his Mosquito pilot brother, Lionel, on active service in 1944 devastated the family. Anderson enrolled at the local polytechnic, flirted with a career in architecture, and developed an aptitude for plaster modelling, which triggered dermatitis.

Then a friend invited him to the Pathé laboratories at Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, and Anderson the moviegoer became intrigued by film. At the end of the war he became a trainee at the Colonial Film Unit, before joining Gainsborough Pictures as an assistant editor. Work on two bodice rippers, Caravan (1946) and Jassy (1947), and a thriller, Snowbound (1948), was followed by a posting as an RAF radio operator. By 1950, he was a freelance dubbing editor. The films included The Clouded Yellow (1950) with Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons, Appointment in London (1953) with Dirk Bogarde, A Prize of Gold (1955) with Richard Widmark and Mai Zetterling, and Devil Girl from Mars (1954). It was a journeyman’s career path, in a then declining industry.

In the mid-50s, commercial TV arrived. Anderson and Arthur Provis, a camera operator, set up Pentagon Films, whose recruits included Sylvia as a secretary. After Pentagon went bust came APF, which struggled until commissioned to produce a 52-part, 15-minute puppet series, The Adventures of Twizzle (1957-58). This was followed by Torchy the Battery Boy (1959-60). The wild west was big on late 50s British TV, via shows such as Wagon Train and Wells Fargo. APF came up with Four Feather Falls. Nicholas Parsons voiced, and Michael Holliday sang, Sheriff Tex Tucker. Bought by Granada, the programme debuted on ITV in February 1960. Tucker, his English-accented horse Rocky (Kenneth Connor), his dog Dusty and Pedro the villainous bandit rode into British children’s teatime – to be followed by Supercar.

In 1960 Anderson had produced and directed the B-movie Crossroads to Crime. At the other end of the decade, alongside a late and ill-starred puppet-live action series The Secret Service (1969), he produced the science fiction movie Doppelgänger. The live action TV series UFO (1970), The Protectors (1972-74) and Space 1999 (1975-78) followed. None greatly prospered.

In 1975, financially battered, and in the era before video sales, Anderson sold off his share of APF royalties. That year, too, he and Sylvia separated. Soon his relationship with ATV, in decline since the late 60s, ended. Anderson’s finances were collapsing; his career reached its nadir before signs of revival in the 80s.

From the 1990s onwards the work of Anderson and the group of gifted puppeteers and film-makers he had worked with in 1960s Slough was rediscovered. There were conventions, live shows and repeat showings. Anderson developed other projects, but nothing really compared with those strange times – and the mystery of Supermarionation, credited from the later episodes of Supercar.

Not that there was a mystery: it was the product, as the 60s advanced, of increasingly sophisticated and expensive technique. Just as the Wizard of Oz turned out to be a man behind a curtain, so Supermarionation merely combined the words “super”, “marionette” and “animation”. “It didn’t mean,” Anderson told Archer and Hearn, “anything other than that.”

He was appointed an MBE in 2001. His first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Mary, two daughters from his first marriage, a son from his second, and a son from his third.

• Gerald Alexander Anderson, film and TV producer, director and writer, born 14 April 1929; died 26 December 2012


Your 5 Day Weather Forecast

Posted: December 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

Your 5 day weather forecast is provided for your convenience. Please note that all temperatures are given in metric. Don’t forget to have your disaster kits handy including your zombie bite prevention pack and radiation sickness pills.

weather 5 day

Read Part 2 of my two part Feature Book Review of ‘Babylon Confidential: A memoir of Love, Sex & Addiction’ by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan.

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Join me on Blogger for a Feature Book Review of Babylon Confidential: A Memoir of Love, Sex & Addiction by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan.

“Think about secrets you have kept over time; secrets that hurt inside and out. Now turn to a perfect stranger and tell them all the painful truths that you have kept hidden all these years. I suspect that very few people could do that; could open old wounds and hidden memories from ones past…..”

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