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Flare ups Friday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Tech.
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Solar flares have interfered with our communications to and from Earth, resulting in our plans for spin-up to fall back a few days. The relay is powered down to 10% while we perform diagnostics but we hope to be at peak transmission rate as soon

Engineering update is as usual: progress is slow but work continues non-stop. The robots are out-performing their specifications, thanks to our crack programming staff. The drones are working in concert now, much like a flock or birds can anticipate the actions of its individual members, whereas before it was linear behavior before. Much like our own social interactions, they’ve learned to pick up the slack if one member falls behind rather than act in a structured, pre-defined hierarchy.

The “Alexandra Effect” continues. Four more members of the CHOIRS communications team have defected to Sasha’s MRCZ. They call themselves “Jolly Donut” and even fashioned a flag (a donut and crossbones, which I will upload soon). I heard a rumor that they’re drafting a constitution based on the Pirate Party. I spoke to Guy about it and he said there won’t be any rules other than “work hard and have fun.” Hmmm… we’ll see about that. Multi-national? More like micro-national. A country of nine.

One of the botanists started his own MRCZ called “The Garden Party.” They’re increasing crop yield with various colors of LEDs and hybridizing plants that do better in blue-red spectrum light. One of their many projects, I’m told. Well as long as they get their normal work in on time. My wife, being an avid gardener, is interested in helping them with building some mini-greenhouses out of storage materials that we no longer need.

Sjon’s book “The Signal” that chronicles his life in micro-gravitational environments is still selling like mad. Last night I checked the bestseller’s list it was in the top-10 for non-fiction. He’s an interesting character and we’ve had many spirited conversations in the mess. He was born outside Gothenberg and is the younger brother of Jens Jensen, the guy I used to work with in the early days at ID&E (Sjon has six brothers and sisters, which astounds me… no wonder he’s so good at resolving conflict). Anyway, he’s working on a new book about CHOIRS, spurred on by the personnel issues that arose within the last year as we emerged from the pods. This is when he and the medical team aren’t working on their stem cell research. Post spin-up, once the medical labs are installed and in operating mode, they want to use some of the current research into universal blood types and cellular transplantation to create organic replacement parts. This has been in development on Earth for quite some time but space-based research is starting to catch up and overtake its terrestrial counterpart.


Preparing for spin-up Tuesday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Tech.
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The big news on the lifeboats is that Sasha was pardoned. We pulled her in on a last-minute jam session to get the relay up to power and she was invaluable. So, after a brief meeting, the decision to release her from confinement was unanimous. She’s in good spirits overall and has dived headfirst back into life aboard the ‘boats to reunite with her fellow merczers (merciers?). MRCZ culture is spreading across the station as our old way of doing things falls by the wayside. The new ad-hoc structure is maddening to get used to but it’s so nice to get my hands dirty again, mathematically-speaking. I don’t think large amounts of experience and technical knowledge are the best qualifiers for managing people with large amounts of experience and technical knowledge. I’m a great engineer. I’m not stellar with people. Go figure.

That said, I’m acting as in concordance with Gregor, Jürgen, Sam (from Ops) and Andre (from Comm) to manage my projects (which, thanks to this new structure, have doubled). I provided the engineering background and they assist with shepherding the projects. We’ve finished the Big Mirror and will maneuver it into position once the station begins its rotation to avoid any threat of collision. The days until spin-up can now be counted on both hands and some toes. Greg’s extraction team is processing megatons of regolith and the massive moon-crete plates are locking into the outer ring. As the shield is immobile, it’s not necessary to complete it by spin-up but his team is going for broke so they can begin processing and fabricating of structural materials for inside the superstructure. I

Speaking of fabrication, the materials team have figured out a hack for the heat problem that was plaguing our prototype fabricators. The initial plan was for a relatively small machine to output carbon and oxygen from waste CO2. Oxygen would output into collection tanks while the carbon would be assembled into nanotubes and used for materials production. Unfortunately, this required incredibly large and complex “shells” to cool down the fabricators. Tens of thousands of mechanical parts moving every second was creating terrific amounts of waste heat. Rather than use a traditional molecular method of assembly, we’re now using controlled electro-chemical reactions to shuttle parts to various parts of the assembler. We’re getting results, slowly but surely. Within the year we hope to be producing extruding simple objects (beams, struts, etc.) from base matter leftover from the mining operations on Titan, Tethys and Mimas.

Our monthly town hall meeting is in a few hours. I need to prepare my notes and finish some reading before it starts up. Take care, everyone.

– Hersh

Hard choices Thursday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Tech.
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I’m not sure how much of this message will get back without edits so I’m just going to say what’s on my mind. At the present time there are 127 people out of commission with complications from acute and/or chronic radiation sickness. 19 of these people were in critical condition and had to be placed back into the Ripley pods. It was a difficult decision to make and not one I was ready to make. My heart goes out the medical team and the captains for the awful decision that they had to make.

Ultimately it fell onto a deadlock with one deciding vote by a member of the medical team. I think he was 100% in the right in his reasons to send the sick people back to the pods, I can’t imagine making that call myself. Logic and reason won out in the end over emotion. There was a huge blowout after the news of the decision. People were really upset, and understandably so. Qiong is asleep now… she was crying for hours. Hard to believe. If anyone should trust the pod technology it should be her.

There is some good news. While developing the optical laser relay, Jayesh had tinkered with calcium fluoride lasers. Sjon was able to hack the key implants to monitor radiation levels using the calcium fluoride crystals as dosimeters. Terrestrial application was limited but up here, with constant low-level exposure, the crystals work much better than some other methods. When the surrounding tissue is dosed, it affects the key implant which and sends out a warning to the medical department and to the user if things get too hot. We’ve been poring over the design specs of the keys and seeing lots of potential uses that even Jay never realized. Thankfully, he was (is) a meticulous technical writer.

The communications team has been busy with data transmission problems that we hope to fix soon. Wide-band communications is still buggy and the optical laser is in low-power test mode for at least another month. In the meantime, we’re dealing with lots of family members sending and receiving messages to/from Earth and elsewhere to CHOIRS team, especially those suffering from illness. Those of us with family aboard the lifeboats have donated our time on the relay to those in need of it. Sasha and Guy came up with the idea, a way to “distribute data flow” based not on personal need but on desire to give it up… kind of brilliant, really. I mean, we all need/want time on the relay for whatever reason but did I need mine enough to keep my friend Sam from talking to his grandkids (yes, he’s a granddad now with a six year old granddaughter!)?

We’re a family up here, all of us, and we have to look out for each other. Now more than ever.

Genesis Wednesday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Tech.
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The problem is twofold: one, my bones de-ossify faster than normal folks. The other problem is that in a long-term transport, the passengers will be in cryonics for the duration of the trip (this reduces a lot of headaches that can arise when shipping humans). Dr. Flores has a background in nano-medicine and pharmacological chemistry and was on the team that perfected the hyper-branched polymers that are pumped into trauma victims instead of blood. Same thing will happen to us travelers, minus the trauma. The blood doesn’t form crystals so we don’t suffer irreparable damage upon the onset of acute hypothermia (i.e.: meat popsicle).

But it’s one thing to put someone under and wake them up. I mean, they were doing that to dogs years ago and people not too long after. The time you’re under is of huge importance! The issue is that your muscles atrophy while asleep. Your arms. Yours legs. Your heart tissue. And because you’re in a zero-gravity situation, you have no weight and your bones lose density. There’s the rub. Not only will my body be incapable of handling those stresses, but it’s possible that the other people on the boat will suffer a similar array of medical problems.

Now, Qiong is the transport guru. She’s lead designer and her system is very basic and structured, calling for a long period of inactivity. Each transport module will be shot off in groups of three and the plan is to have twelve such launches between Phases I and III. Total individuals on CHOIRS at Phase III will be ~9,000 adults. But her system is going to make recovery risky — that first wave of 750 is going to have problems we don’t even know about. So what to do? That’s when I came up with the “gravity lung.”

Essentially, it’s an artificial gravity simulator… almost like a centrifuge. A housing that generates near-Earth gravity for the occupant of what we’re called the “Ripley Pods.” The pods keep the passenger in cryonic stasis and the gravity lung supplies enough force to prevent certain kinds of space diseases. An onboard crew (working in shifts) will be awake and aware. This caretaker unit will administer medical attention to the passengers and live and work on the transport in zero-gees (much like the old ISS, except this is a shuttle and not an orbital station). According to a schedule Dr. Flores is working out, passengers will spend parts of the journey awake and part asleep (several month cycles). Total time will come to about a year and a half wakey-wakey and about five asleep. And even though there will be some issues with gravity while awake, it’s possible to exercise and stave off the effects of a no-grav environment.

So we hash this out, literally, in a night. Just cloud-bursting ideas on a white board.

Then we talk it over with various people from medical, engineering, transport and even the shrinks — they all agree it could work. And it could keep yours truly alive and well long enough to see CHOIRS spin up. Then, we can dock our transports and like the animals walking off the ark two-by-two, begin a new life.

Rollercoaster Monday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Tech.
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Bo called me into his office and gave me the bad news, that I was off the project and my contract with InfraCorp was terminated. Everyone believes that I didn’t intentionally mislead the medical board vis a vis my condition, but everyone agrees it doesn’t really matter to the suits. I could go to legal with it but then what? No pun intended, but after what came out at the inquest I have shaky legs to stand on in terms of legal rights.

I’m headed back to my office to clean out my desk (security is by my side the whole time) and it’s like a mini-reunion: Bo is there with some of the suits from InfraCorp. There are also some engineers and programmers, some I recognize and some I don’t.

The coder is freaking out about delta-V’s and triangulation and he’s speaking a mile a minute. I catch enough to know that the relay beacon failed. The whole impetus of the project was to send out this advance beacon, kind of an interplanetary buoy out there bobbing in the Saturnian “ocean” to light the way for CHOIRS and (hopefully) continued expansion of humanity into and out of our solar system. This is huge, this is the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria all over again.

So we send this rocket-propelled antenna (which is what it is in layman’s terms) out there and six and a half years later, the screwy thing fails to deploy. By “deploy” I mean, it should take up orbit around Titan and start sending back radio signals and lasers back to the nearest research bases (Ganymede and Agra). By “fails” I mean it doesn’t. It fails to respond. We have no idea where it is, when it is or what it’s doing. Without the beacon, we can’t send out the construction rigs. Without the construction rigs, we can’t start Phase I and CHOIRS dies a cold and painful death.

This is a few billion dollars down the drain on the relay alone and even more on CHOIRS’ development costs. I mean, the whole project is now on hold at least another what…decade? Eight years at the earliest. That’s an ungodly amount of money.

I say, I can help. I can fix this if you just give me the time. The suits say that I can’t work on the project. My contract was terminated and the company is not legally allowed to re-hire me without a full medical examination and review (which I’d fail again anyway). I tell them just let me freelance it! Whip up another contract and I’ll sign. Just to help save the project…nothing more.

Bosse holds up his hands and he tells me he wants me to help but it’s too late. I tell him it’s not too goddamn late…an hour before I had a job, now I don’t and they’re going to sacrifice all that time, money and hard work because of an hour?! So I lay it on the line: if the problem is liability insurance, then I’ll waive my rights, my pension, my death and disability. I need to help. And more important, I need to go out there to see it through.

We start knocking our heads together and figuring out What Went Wrong. Then we figured it out. Stupid, simple mistake. But I was always good at spotting those inconsequential details that turn out to be ridiculously important details. We have an all-night jam session, squirting new calculations back down to Earth and fourteen hours later we send the re-calibrated instructions to the beacon. And it sends us back a signal. We’re exhausted. We’re delirious with joy. Bo kisses both my cheeks. The suits are SMILING when we tell them what happened.

So later on, I talk to my wife. She knew I was fired…she did not know that I got myself re-hired. Qiong freaks out when I tell her what I did. I tell her it’s just money and she tells me that it’s not that I’m not fit for long-term space travel, it’s that I will 100% not survive the trip. I tell her (and I’m not making this up!), “Well that’s a chance I’ll have to take.”

And we both realize what I said and we start laughing and crying and just going nuts.

Green Cheese! (was Moon Patrol!) Thursday

Posted by James Dubois in Luna, Tech.
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Hi friends. Never got around to posting this before the whoops. So here’s a blast from my recent past…

Just found out that Jayesh and I will have a chance to meet in the near future. He’s going to give some InfraCorp directors a look at the latest key prototypes on Luna and I insinuated myself into the trip by suggesting I go with them for some training and research. I’ll be working with Gerrit Technologies’ engineering team on some new techniques for regolith excavation (non geek speak: lunar mining).

We already have planetary mining equipment to harvest regolith (for oxygen extraction and to create lunar concrete for construction) but to do this in a zero-g environment in, say, an asteroid field, is daunting. You try hurling a hundred-million dollars worth of robotic mining rig at a giant, spinning rock moving at around 25 km/second! Anyway, we’re going to try and Frankenstein a deep space probe with a mining robot and see what we can do with the combination. We’ll run two tests. The first run is going to use some kind of telepresence rig with a human operator. The second is to run a pre-programmed sequence aboard the drone based on our analysis of the landing site and the surface topography and see what we can pull out of the surface (150 kg is the target). CHOIRS is going to need mega-tons of material for the radiation shielding alone, and because of the distances involved all that stuff will have to be excavated, processed and formed on-site in orbit without much in the way of human intervention. Liberty and Agra were astounding accomplishments but CHOIRS, in both size and scope, is in a league of its own.

Lots of work to do, not enough time to do it so I’m going to take off. Hersh out!

Hersh 2.0 Tuesday

Posted by James Dubois in CHOIRS, Tech.
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As part of a new security protocol here on Liberty, I’ve been implanted with a “key capsule.” Now, as you all know by now I’m a bit leery of any kind of invasive identification beyond standard biometrics (right to privacy and all of that) but after the incident here a few months back, security and safety are the operative watchwords. There’s no safety net up here in the aether.

The procedure was simple and to the point. It’s similar to the ID tags they implant in animals and prisoners back on Earth, but the key capsule is much more than a simple transponder. I talked to one of the developers of the key, a chap named Jayesh who’s stationed on Luna. He studied with Dr. Warwick at the University of Reading a decade back while Warwick was doing his Cyborg 1.0 and 2.0 programs.

The key is based on Warwick’s implantation experiments at the turn of the century, but (thankfully) much smaller. And while Warwick’s chips were surgically implanted in his arm, the key is now inserted under the subclavius muscle (near the collarbone). I asked Jayesh why the implant wasn’t placed in the arm and he told me a gruesome story about an accident on Luna where they tracked a missing person to a collapsed tunnel and only found an arm. They found the arm’s owner a few hours later and only a few hundred meters away. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it. So the collar it is, then. Jayesh says he has the new version implanted in his palate — the lunars are much more gung-ho about the cybernetic lifestyle than I am. I’m perfectly happy with my workstation’s retinal scanner! Such is progress.

His design is intriguing and similar to some of CHOIRS’ security and tracking systems we’re planning to implement. The main difference is that whereas the CHOIRS ID chip is a static piece of hardware implanted in the subject, the lunar key capsule design contains software that can be upgraded and even modified by the user. The user can walk into an ad-hoc living space and have the room adjust to his preferences. The security system grants him access to the room as expected, but can also dim the lights, puts on some music and a pot of coffee and and re-configure the user’s workstation as soon as he sits down. Each capsule is registered with a unique serial number and the network tracks that bearer of the capsule in relation to its environment. I asked him if the key’s serial number could be hacked and he said no, that the number itself is part of the hardware, not the software. The only way to hack the ID of the capsule is to hack the network’s database (which is virtually bulletproof as its so vital to life support) or to extract the capsule itself and replace it. That seems like a more likely solution but he says that they’re working on that.

We spoke at length about privacy in closed environments. He’s of the mind that humans need to adapt and to use technology to enable us to live in non-private, confined places. He says the classical model of orbital life, all wide-open vistas and green spaces and Earth gravity is outmoded. That in order to live, we’ll need to change ourselves not just to survive but to prosper in what he calls “technological spaces.” That the concept of “privacy” is antithetical to cooperative life in these technological spaces. I told him my position, which is a lot less radical and more humanist, that people need privacy. We’re not bees!

His response was short and to the point: “Maybe we need to change.”

After my implant was installed, he called up the sysconfig of my key and we spent about a half hour tweaking and tinkering the system preferences. At first I was a bit nervous about the whole endeavor, then fascinated, then excited as soon as I realized the sheer utility of the device. I can now “squirt” biometric information from my key to the cardio equipment in the gym where I work out in the morning. No galvanic response, no electrodes, it’s all wireless and instantaneous. All it needs is storage memory, or the ability to access storage… hmm, I’ll have to whiteboard that when I get a chance.