From Centauri Dreams:
Astronautics pioneer Robert H. Goddard is usually thought of in connection with liquid fuel rockets. It was his test flight of such a rocket in March of 1926 that demonstrated a principle he had been working on since patenting two concepts for future engines, one a liquid fuel design, the other a staged rocket using solid fuels. “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes,” published in 1920, was a treatise published by the Smithsonian that developed the mathematics behind rocket flight, a report that discussed the possibility of a rocket reaching the Moon.
While Goddard’s work could be said to have anticipated many technologies subsequently developed by later engineers, the man was not without a visionary streak that went well beyond the near-term, expressing itself on at least one occasion on the subject of interstellar flight. Written in January of 1918, “The Ultimate Migration” was not a scientific paper but merely a set of notes, one that Goddard carefully tucked away from view, as seen in this excerpt from his later document “Material for an Autobiography” (1927):
“A manuscript I wrote on January 14, 1918 … and deposited in a friend’s safe … speculated as to the last migration of the human race, as consisting of a number of expeditions sent out into the regions of thickly distributed stars, taking in a condensed form all the knowledge of the race, using either atomic energy or hydrogen, oxygen and solar energy… [It] was contained in an inner envelope which suggested that the writing inside should be read only by an optimist.”
Optimism is, of course, standard currency in these pages, so it seems natural to reconsider Goddard’s ideas here. As to his caution, we might remember that the idea of a lunar mission discussed in “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes” not long after would bring him ridicule from some elements in the press, who lectured him on the infeasibility of a rocket engine functioning in space without air to push against. It was Goddard, of course, who was right, but he was ever a cautious man, and his dislike of the press was, I suspect, not so much born out of this incident but simply confirmed by it.
In the event, Goddard’s manuscript remained sealed and was not published until 1972. What I hadn’t realized was that Goddard, on the same day he wrote the original manuscript, also wrote a condensed version that David Baker recently published for the British Interplanetary Society. It’s an interesting distillation of the rocket scientist’s thoughts that speculates on how we might use an asteroid or a small moon as the vehicle for a journey to another star. The ideal propulsion method would, in Goddard’s view, be through the control of what he called ‘intra-atomic energy.’
Image: Rocket pioneer Robert H. Goddard, whose notes on an interstellar future discuss human migration to the stars.
Atomic propulsion would allow journeys to the stars lasting thousands of years with the passengers living inside a generation ship, one in which, he noted, “the characteristics and natures of the passengers might change, with the succeeding generations.” We’ve made the same speculation here, wondering whether a crew living and dying inside an artificial world wouldn’t so adapt to the environment that it would eventually choose not to live on a planetary surface, no matter what it found in the destination solar system.
And if atomic energy could not be harnessed? In that case, Goddard speculated that humans could be placed in what we today would think of as suspended animation, the crew awakened at intervals of 10,000 years for a passage to the nearest stars, and intervals of a million years for greater distances. Goddard speculates on how an accurate clock could be built to ensure awakening, which he thought would be necessary for human intervention to steer the spacecraft if it came to be off its course. Suspended animation would involve huge changes to the body:
…will it be possible to reduce the protoplasm in the human body to the granular state, so that it can withstand the intense cold of interstellar space? It would probably be necessary to dessicate the body, more or less, before this state could be produced. Awakening may have to be done very slowly. It might be necessary to have people evolve, through a number of generations, for this purpose.
As to destinations, Goddard saw the ideal as a star like the Sun or, interestingly, a binary system with two suns like ours — perhaps he was thinking of the Alpha Centauri stars here. But that was only the beginning, for Goddard thought in terms of migration, not just exploration. His notes tell us that expeditions should be sent to all parts of the Milky Way, wherever new stars are thickly clustered. Each expedition should include “…all the knowledge, literature, art (in a condensed form), and description of tools, appliances, and processes, in as condensed, light, and indestructible a form as possible, so that a new civilisation could begin where the old ended.”
The notes end with the thought that if neither of these scenarios develops, it might still be possible to spread our species to the stars by sending human protoplasm, “…this protoplasm being of such a nature as to produce human beings eventually, by evolution.” Given that Goddard locked his manuscript away, it could have had no influence on Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s essay “The Future of Earth and Mankind,” which in 1928 speculated that humans might travel on millennial voyages to the stars aboard the future equivalent of a Noah’s Ark.
Interstellar voyages lasting thousands of years would become a familiar trope of science fiction in the ensuing decades, but it is interesting to see how, at the dawn of liquid fuel rocketry, rocket pioneers were already thinking ahead to far-future implications of the technology. Goddard was writing at a time when estimates of the Sun’s lifetime gave our species just millions of years before its demise — a cooling Sun was a reason for future migration. We would later learn the Sun’s lifetime was much longer, but the migration of humans to the stars would retain its fascination for those who contemplate not only worldships but much faster journeys.
Goddard was obviously influenced by his contemporary J.D. Bernal with his The World, the Flesh and the Devil which predicted Man’s spread out into the Solar System and interstellar space with artificial worlds and hollowed out asteroids.
These worlds are needed because such journeys will take hundreds or perhaps thousands of years.
Of course that brings in natural evolution and what these people inside these places will become when they eventually reach their destinations and if they’ll actually have need of them.
This is an interview with the true inventor of the InnerTubes.
Not Al Gore.
When some future Mars colonist is able to open his browser and watch a cat in a shark suit chasing a duck while riding a roomba, they will have Vint Cerf to thank.
In his role as Google’s chief internet evangelist, Cerf has spent much of his time thinking about the future of the computer networks that connect us all. And he should know. Along with Bob Kahn, he was responsible for developing the internet protocol suite, commonly known as TCP/IP, that underlies the workings of the net. Not content with just being a founding father of the internet on this planet, Cerf has spent years taking the world wide web out of this world.
Working with NASA and JPL, Cerf has helped develop a new set of protocols that can stand up to the unique environment of space, where orbital mechanics and the speed of light make traditional networking extremely difficult. Though this space-based network is still in its early stages and has few nodes, he said that we are now at “the front end of what could be an evolving and expanding interplanetary backbone.”Father of the Internet Vint Cerf is responsible for helping develop the TCP/IP protocols that underly the web. In his role as Google’s chief internet evangelist, Cerf is dedicated to thinking about the future of the net, including its use in space. Image: Google/Weinberg-Clark
Wired talked to Cerf about the interplanetary internet’s role in space exploration, the frustrations of network management on the final frontier, and the future headline he never wants to see.
Wired: Though it’s been around a while, the concept of an interplanetary internet is probably new to a lot of people. How exactly do you build a space network?
Vint Cerf: Right, it’s actually not new at all – this project started in 1998. And it got started because 1997 was very nearly the 25th anniversary of the design of the internet. Bob Kahn and I did that work in 1973. So back in 1997, I asked myself what should I be doing that will be needed 25 years from then. And, after consultation with colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, we concluded that we needed much richer networking than was then available to NASA and other space faring agencies.
Up until that time and generally speaking, up until now, the entire communications capabilities for space exploration had been point-to-point radio links. So we began looking at the possibilities of TCIP/IP as a protocol for interplanetary communication. We figure it worked on Earth and it ought to work on Mars. The real question was, “Would it work between the planets?” And the answer turned out to be, “No.”
The reason for this is two-fold: First of all, the speed of light is slow relative to distances in the solar system. A one-way radio signal from Earth to Mars takes between three and half and 20 minutes. So round trip time is of course double that. And then there’s the other problem: planetary rotation. If you’re communicating with something on the surface of the planet, it goes out of communication as the planet rotates. It breaks the available communications and you have to wait until the planet rotates back around again. So what we have is variable delay and disruption, and TCP does not do terribly well in those kinds of situations.
One of the things that the TCP/IP protocols assume is that there isn’t enough memory in each of the routers to hold anything. So if a packet shows up and it’s destined for a place for which you have an available path, but there isn’t enough room, then typically the packet is discarded.
We developed a new suite of protocols that we called the Bundle protocols, which are kind of like internet packets in the sense that they’re chunks of information. They can be quite big and they basically get sent like bundles of information. We do what’s called storing forward, which is the way all packet switching works. It’s just in this case the interplanetary protocol has the capacity to store quite a bit, and usually for quite a long time before we can get rid of it based on connectivity to the next hop.
Wired: What are the challenges with working and making a communications network in space as opposed to a ground-based internet?
Cerf: Among the hard things, first of all, is that we couldn’t use the domain name system in its current form. I can give you a quick illustration why that’s the case: Imagine for a moment you’re on Mars, and somebody is trying to open up an HTTP web connection to Earth. They’ve given you a URL that contains a domain name in it, but before you can open up a TCP connection you need to have an IP address.
So you will have to do a domain name lookup, which can translate the domain name you’re trying to lookup into an IP address. Now remember you’re on Mars and the domain name you’re trying to look up is on Earth. So you send out a DNS lookup. But it may take anywhere from 40 minutes to an unknown amount of time — depending on what kind of packet loss you have, whether there’s a period of disruption based on planetary rotation, all that kind of stuff — before you get an answer back. And then it may be the wrong answer, because by the time it gets back maybe the node has moved and now it has a different IP address. And from there it just gets worse and worse. If you’re sitting around Jupiter, and trying to do a lookup, many hours go by and then it’s just impossible.
So we had to break it into a two-phase lookup and use what’s called delayed binding. First you figure out which planet you’re going to, then you route the traffic to that planet, and only then you do a local lookup, possibly using the domain name.
The other thing is when you are trying to manage a network with this physical scope and all the uncertainty delays, the things we typically do for network management don’t work very well. There’s a protocol called SNMP, the simple network management protocol, and it is based on the idea that you can send a packet out and get an answer back in a few milliseconds, or a few hundreds of milliseconds. If you’re familiar with the word ping, you’ll know what I mean, because you ping something and expect to get an answer back fairly quickly. If you don’t get it back in a minute or two, you begin to conclude that there is something wrong and the thing isn’t available. But in space, it takes a long time for the signal to even get to the destination let alone get an answer back. So network management turns out to be a lot harder in this environment.
Then the other thing we had to worry about was security. The reason for that should be obvious — one of the things we wanted to avoid was the possibility of a headline that says: “15-Year-Old Takes Over Mars Net.” Against that possibility we put quite a bit of security into the system, including strong authentication, three way handshakes, cryptographic keys, and things of that sort in order to reduce the likelihood that someone would abuse access to the space network.
Wired: Because it has to communicate across such vast distances, it seems like the interplanetary internet must be huge.
Cerf: Well, in purely physical terms — that is, in terms of distance — it’s a pretty large network. But the number of nodes is pretty modest. At the moment, the elements participating in it are devices in planet Earth, including the Deep Space Network, which is operated at JPL. That consists of three 70-meter dishes plus a smattering of 35-meter dishes that can reach out into the solar system with point-to-point radio links. Those are part of the TDRSS [tee-driss] system, which is used for a lot of near-Earth communications by NASA. The ISS also has several nodes on board capable of using this particular set of protocols.
Two orbiters around Mars are running the prototype versions of this software, and virtually all the information that’s coming back from Mars is coming back via these store-forward relays. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers on the planet and the Curiosity rover are using these protocols. And then there’s the Phoenix lander, which descended to the north pole of Mars in 2008. It also was using these protocols until the Martian winter shut it down.
And finally, there’s a spacecraft in orbit around the sun, which is actually quite far away, called EPOXI [the spacecraft was 32 million kilometers from Earth when it tested the interplanetary protocols]. It has been used to rendezvous with two comets in the last decade to determine their mineral makeup.
But what we hope will happen over time — assuming these protocols are adopted by the Consultative Committee on Space Data Systems, which standardizes space communication protocols — then every spacefaring nation launching either robotic or manned missions has the option of using these protocols. And that means that all the spacecraft that have been outfitted with those protocols could be used during the primary mission, and could then be repurposed to become relays in a stored forward network. I fully expect to see these protocols used for both manned and robotic exploration in the future.
Wired: What are the next steps to expand this?
Cerf: We want to complete the standardization with the rest of the spacefaring community. Also, not all pieces are fully validated yet, including our strong authentication system. Then second, we need to know how well we can do flow control in this very, very peculiar and potentially disrupted environment.
Third, we need to verify that we can do serious real-time things including chat, video and voice. We will need to learn how to go from what appears to be an interactive real-time chat, like one over the phone, to probably an email-like exchange, where you might have voice and video attached but it’s not immediately interactive.
Delivering the bundle is very much like delivering a piece of email. If there’s a problem with email it usually gets retransmitted, and after a while you time out. The bundle protocol has similar characteristics, so you anticipate that you have variable delay that could be very long. Sometimes if you’ve tried many times and don’t get a response, you have to assume the destination is not available.
Wired: We often talk about how the things we invent for space are being used here on Earth. Are there things about the interplanetary internet that could potentially be used on the ground?
Cerf: Absolutely. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded tests with the U.S. Marine Corps on tactical military communication using these highly resilient and disruption-tolerant protocols. We had successful tests that showed in a typical hostile communication environment that we were able to put three to five times more data through this disrupted system than we could with traditional TCP/IP.
Part of the reason is that we assume we can store traffic in the network. When there’s high activity, we don’t have to retransmit from end to end, we can just retransmit from one of the intermediate points in the system. This use of memory in the network turns out to be quite effective. And of course we can afford to do that because memory has gotten so inexpensive.
The European Commission has also sponsored a really interesting project using the DTM protocols in northern Sweden. In an area called Lapland, there’s a group called the Saami reindeer herders. They’ve been herding reindeer for 8,000 years up there. And the European Commission sponsored a research project managed by the Lulea University of Technology in northern Sweden to put these protocols on board all-terrain vehicles in laptops. This way, you could run a Wi-Fi service in villages in Northern Sweden and drop messages off and pick them up according to the protocols. As you move around, you were basically a data mule carrying information from one village to another.
Wired: There was also an experiment called Mocup that involved remote controlling a robot on Earth from the space station. These protocols were used, right?
Cerf: Yes, we used the DTN protocols for that. We were all really excited for that because, although the protocols were originally designed to deal with very long and uncertain delay, when there is high quality connectivity, we can use it for real-time communication. And that’s exactly what they did with the little German rover.
I think in general communication will benefit from this. Putting these protocols in mobile phones, for instance, would create a more powerful and resilient communications platform than what we typically have today
Wired: So if I have poor reception on my cell phone at my house, I could still call my parents?
Cerf: Well, actually what might happen is that you could store what you said and they would eventually get it. But it wouldn’t be real time. If the disruption lasts for an appreciable length of time, it would arrive later. But at least the information would eventually get there.
What about quantum entanglement?
There’s an experiment to be done in 2016 which an entangled signal is to be sent to a satellite launched by the Chinese, ( The Race to Bring Quantum Teleportation to Your World ).
Will that make the Interplanetary Internet obsolete before it literally gets off the ground?
Or will quantum entanglement enhance it?
From Mysterious Universe:
Although many people look to the skies for answers concerning the UFO puzzle, there are more than a few reports on file demonstrating that UFOs have a deep connection to the oceans of our world. Indeed, I have many such cases in my files, and here’s just a few of them. Puerto Rico, or to give it its correct title, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, is what is known as an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the Caribbean Sea. And according to some, it may very well be the one place – possibly more than any other on the planet – that is home to not just one secret base, but to an overwhelming plethora of classified locations, certainly of a governmental nature, and maybe even of an alien nature, too.
Over the course of the last twenty-years or so, the people of Puerto Rico have been swamped by a multitude of UFO encounters, sightings of strange and unearthly-looking craft surfacing from both mountainous and cavernous lairs, and run-ins with strange, vampire-style creatures that one might accurately describe as the distinctly evil-twin to Steven Spielberg’s benign E.T.: the Chupacabras. And then there are the USOs (Unidentified Submarine/Submersible Objects) of Puerto Rico.
In 2004, when I visited Puerto Rico for the first time – in search of the Chupacabras – I was told of the account of a former civil-defense employee, who had seen a gigantic, unknown craft rise silently out of the coastal waters of the island, while he was on an early-morning jog in the spring of 1999. In this case, the vast device, which was viewed at a distance of around half-a-mile off the coast, or perhaps slightly more, wobbled slightly – rather like a falling-leaf – as it took to the skies, and then streaked vertically at a fantastic speed, before finally vanishing from view as it grew ever smaller, and was finally lost due to the effects of the bright, rising sun.
Further rumors of a potentially-related nature were also provided to me on that same expedition to the island. They came from a retired police-officer who had heard rumors to the effect that, somewhere off the coast of Puerto Rico – he was not entirely sure where exactly – in late-1993, elements of the U.S. Navy spent several days tracking, via sonar, the movements of a huge USO in the deep waters off Puerto Rico. Perhaps aware of its potentially hazardous nature, the U.S. Navy contingent was ordered to merely carefully log the movements of the undersea craft, but never to engage it any way, shape or form whatsoever that might be interpreted as hostility.
Taking the above into thoughtful consideration, is it truly feasible that Puerto Rico might be home to a massive undersea installation? When one realizes that we, the Human Race, have had the ability to construct such science-fiction-like facilities for decades, then the possibility becomes all-too-real, and not so unbelievable, after all. And, make no mistake: evidence of our very own undersea abilities is far from lacking.
For example, an October 1966 document prepared by one C.F. Austin, of the U.S. Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake, California, includes a truly remarkable statement. Titled Manned Undersea Structures – The Rock-Site Concept, it states in part that: “Large undersea installations with a shirt-sleeve environment have existed under the continental shelves for many decades. The technology now exists, using off-the-shelf petroleum, mining, submarine, and nuclear equipment, to establish permanent manned installations within the sea floor that do not have any air umbilical or other connection with the land or water surface, yet maintain a normal one-atmosphere environment within.”
If, as this previously-classified U.S. Navy document demonstrates, the government of the United States was constructing undersea installations – with a comfortable shirt-sleeve environment, no less – a number of decades before the documentation was even prepared in the mid-1960s, perhaps someone else, someone from a world far, far away, has secretly been doing likewise. And, maybe, they chose Puerto Rico as their secret base of both underground and undersea operations.
Extending from Bermuda in the north to southern Florida, and then east to a point through the Bahamas past Puerto Rico and then back again to Bermuda, is a truly ominous realm of wild, churning and turbulent waters known infamously as the Bermuda Triangle, a permanent fixture in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean, and one that has become renowned for the hundreds of aircraft, ships, boats and unfortunate souls that have disappeared in the area without trace – and for decades, too.
Down to earth explanations for such vanishings, it goes without saying, most certainly proliferate. Compass malfunctions, disorientation, sudden and violent bouts of severe weather, mechanical and electrical failure, and pilot error are just some of the conventional theories that have been offered as answers relative to why there should have been so many disappearances in such a clearly delineated area over so many years.
But, not everyone is quite so sure that those particular theories provide all the clues to solving the maritime mystery; one of the reasons being that on numerous occasions USOs have been seen in the area.
One particularly significant case involving a craft of distinctly unknown origin occurred in April 1973 when a Captain Dan Delmonico, a calm and collected character with a fine reputation for being grounded and logical, had an encounter that could be considered anything but grounded and logical.
It was around 4.00 p.m., while negotiating the waters of the Gulf Stream, specifically between Great Isaac Light, north of Bimini, and Miami, when Delmonico was amazed by the sight of a large cigar-shaped object – nearly two hundred feet in length, grey in color, and with rounded ends – which shot through the water, not surprisingly amazing and astounding Delmonico in the process. Who, or what, piloted the strange submersible on that April 1973 afternoon remains unknown.
Ninety sixty-six saw an unusual event occur at Pasajes, Northern Spain that caught the attention of the Ministry of Defense. From a radio officer attached to the S.S. Patrick M. Rotterdam, came the following, which I found in 1997, in a then-newly-released batch of formerly classified British Ministry of Defense files on UFOs. This case does not involve a USO directly, but since the witnesses were at sea, it may be of some relevance. A letter sent to the MoD by the ship’s captain reads thus:
“Perhaps the following will be of some interest to you or Jodrell Bank. Whilst at Anchor at Pasajes, North Spain on 22 April at 2100 Bst in a very clear sky, one of the crew noticed a bright patch in the sky and drew my attention to it. It appeared stationary and squarish, the area being about 4 times the size of a full moon. Several of the crew watched, being interested and of course at anchor, there is very little to do.
“The patch elongated and became brighter and to our amazement a complete ring, similar to pictures of flying saucers, bright and distinct with dark centre. For several minutes this object remained visible then returned to a patch, receding elongated again. Then it branched out to form a letter M. When the ring was clear it was about [the] same size as a full moon. We know it was not the moon because the moon was in another quadrant and lying on back at [the] same time. The patch receded away into distance. I can assure you none of us were drunk.”
And there you have it: a round-up of just a few of the weirder USO-themed reports from my files, all of which suggest maybe it’s not to the stars – but to the seas – that we should be looking for the answers concerning the many UFO-themed mysteries that dominate our world.
When Bill Byrnes was doing his UFO Hunters years ago, he did a few episodes about underwater UFOs, but he linked them to the extraterrestrial, not underwater life like in the movie ‘The Abyss.’
It’s too bad UFOs are linked to outer space, about 60-70% of UFOs are sighted in or under the water, most of which around South America, not North America.
But since the U.S. and thus North America has the bully pulpit, the UFO meme is the extraterrestrial variety, not under the oceans.
Hat tip to the Daily Grail.
Orbital Sciences Corporation Sunday launched its Antares rocket at 05:00 p.m. EDT from the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The test flight was the first launch from the pad at Wallops and was the first flight of Antares, which delivered the equivalent mass of a spacecraft, a so-called mass simulated payload, into Earth’s orbit.
“Today’s successful test marks another significant milestone in NASA’s plan to rely on American companies to launch supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station, bringing this important work back to the United States where it belongs,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Congratulations to Orbital Sciences and the NASA team that worked alongside them for the picture-perfect launch of the Antares rocket. In addition to providing further evidence that our strategic space exploration plan is moving forward, this test also inaugurates America’s newest spaceport capable of launching to the space station, opening up additional opportunities for commercial and government users.
“President Obama has presented a budget for next year that ensures the United States will remain the world leader in space exploration, and a critical part of this budget is the funding needed to advance NASA’s commercial space initiative. In order to stop outsourcing American space launches, we need to have the President’s budget enacted. It’s a budget that’s good for our economy, good for the U.S. Space program — and good for American taxpayers.”
The test of the Antares launch system began with the rocket’s rollout and placement on the launch pad April 6, and culminated with the separation of the mass simulator payload from the rocket.
The completed flight paves the way for a demonstration mission by Orbital to resupply the space station later this year. Antares will launch experiments and supplies to the orbiting laboratory carried aboard the company’s new Cygnus cargo spacecraft through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.
“Today’s successful test flight of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket from the spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia, demonstrates an additional private space-launch capability for the United States and lays the groundwork for the first Antares cargo mission to the International Space Station later this year,” said John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. “The growing potential of America’s commercial space industry and NASA’s use of public-private partnerships are central to President Obama’s strategy to ensure U.S. leadership in space exploration while pushing the bounds of scientific discovery and innovation in the 21st century. With NASA focusing on the challenging and exciting task of sending humans deeper into space than ever before, private companies will be crucial in taking the baton for American cargo and crew launches into low-Earth orbit.
“I congratulate Orbital Sciences and the NASA teams at Wallops, and look forward to more groundbreaking missions in the months and years ahead.”
Orbital is building and testing its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. After successful completion of a COTS demonstration mission to the station, Orbital will begin conducting eight planned cargo resupply flights to the orbiting laboratory through NASA’s $1.9 billion CRS contract with the company.
NASA initiatives, such as COTS, are helping to develop a robust U.S. commercial space transportation industry with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program also is working with commercial space partners to develop capabilities to launch U.S. astronauts from American soil in the next few years.
Although Orbital had to reschedule three times, they got their test launch off.
Let’s hope they solved their fairing separation issues before the main Cygnus missions start.
This picture was produced by my son Chris with my assistance to develop imagery that helps describe a “solid light” case that was focused at a beach headland area at Kiama New South Wales in Australia back in the early 1970s. I have revisited this affair many times and it has inspired my worldwide focus on similar cases. Gildas Bourdais from France helped me immensely with regard to the strange event played at Taize back in 1972. I have also focused on the classic Trancas case from Argentina in 1963. Both cases are striking, but not without their weaknesses and possible explanations. In both cases my enquiries to date suggest the possible explanations are not all that compelling, but we still need to examine them, to see how the evidence for these classic cases stack up.An objective and solid evidence based focus on the role military and government has emerged with the appearance of the book “UFOs and Government – A Historical Inquiry” by the UFO History Group, the primary authors being Dr. Michael Swords and Robert Powell, and contributions from the rest of the group – Clas Svahn, Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos, myself (Bill Chalker), Barry Greenwood, Richard Thieme, Jan Aldrich and Steve Purcell.One of the major themes that runs through the “UFOs and Government” narrative is the recurring sense of lost opportunities to engage appropriately with a consistently unexplained phenomena, which if studied properly could yield fascinating scientific breakthroughs. When the picture presented is of poor investigation and active debunking with far too little serious in depth analysis, and yet we have impressive international evidence of a consistent unexplained phenomenon, there is a vast disconnection from an appropriate scientific response.The book “UFOs and Government” alludes to several lost opportunities to focus on enduring unexplained attributes of the UFO phenomenon. Unfortunately if your only insight into the UFO phenomenon was the typical debunking official military response revealed time and time again by their documents and histories, you would miss these strange and possibly breakthrough attributes of the UFO phenomenon.A striking example of this is the fascinating 1960 Red Bluff California case where official attitudes caused a UFO witness, a highway patrol officer, to not initially describe the “light beam projected by the object seemed like what would be described today, as a big, fat laser beam. That is, it did not spread out or diffuse “properly.” But worse than that, the beam seemed to have an “end” to it,” wrote Mike Swords. Here was a remarkable example of what many researchers have called “solid light” in action. In writing this Dr. Swords touched upon a critical issue. He highlighted that Dr. James McDonald did manage to draw out this remarkable detail, because he was actually interested in what the witnesses reported, rather than conducting a myopic debunking exercise. Genuine scientific skepticism, driven by a desire to question and carefully investigate an experience can potentially yield scientific breakthroughs. We now know that there are many such cases of “this peculiar sawed-off light” or “solid light.”Indeed Michael Sword’s indicated in an endnote in “UFOs and Government” that “sawed-off light” cases are “a peculiar feature of a smallish set of “high strangeness” UFO encounters. As these encounters are widely spread across the world, this feature is suprising and difficult to explain on sociological grounds.” He indicated he had some 44 cases in his own files.I had been studying these sorts of “solid light” cases for decades so I naturally contacted Mike about his collection.I emailed Mike Swords:“I have been quietly studying for decades this strange aspect of many worldwide UFO cases and have developed a very disorganised collection of material on such cases.“In both “The OZ Files” and “Hair of the Alien” I refer to solid light cases and describe an Australian case from Kiama, southern NSW from the early 1970s. I have been looking into the case since learning of it in the 1990s and earlier this year conducted a very detailed site investigation to determine if the observations reported by the primary witness were possible and to see if further information could be found. The case is rather complicated and also has entity and abduction aspects. The primary witness has closely guarded his privacy and I have only had one face to face meeting with him, as well as many phone conversations, written statements and emails.“The on site investigations this year took place because the main witness was more forthcoming with locational details. Some of this was in my original interview notes and material when we originally talked in person, however they were not precise enough to undertake an on site reconstruction. Finally this year these confirmations were forthcoming and I had sufficient detail to locate the exact viewing locations, lines of sight, and confirm accurately the Kiama beach location. I stayed there for 2 days gathering information and managed to confirm that his ex parents in law were still living at the house in question. The ex father in law while elderly recollected the night, but while he feels he may not remember the event as the main witness Graham described to me, he is certain that his former son-in-law would not have invented the story. Bill, the ex-father in law, recollects that Graham was agitated and focused on the incident, but Bill cannot recollect that his own involvement was as Graham described it in his accounts to me.“Having talked to Graham a number of times over the years I have found him to be a compelling witness, but one who has struggled mightily with the ontological status of the events. Indeed he was originally much more comfortable casting the event as a strange dream. While the recent investigations seem to caste the stranger aspects as being witnessed by Graham only with marginal supporting cast in the form of his ex wife and ex father and mother in law, as well as possibly some neighbours, who may have interpreted the event in different ways, this seems to be a strange “display” event, so frequently reported in many CE type cases, particularly those with high strangeness elements, such as this one. In many of these sorts of cases there often seems to be selective perceptions of the events, sometimes so acute that often people near to each other have a very different experience, as if a central witness is the only intended viewer?“The ongoing investigation has continued to energise my interest in solid light cases and I have been attempting to drag all my solid light cases together with a view to create a catalogue of such cases, building on the early SOBEPS catalogue of the 1970s.“I was also intrigued with a UFO film taken by Ray Stanford, covered in Chris Lambright‘s recent e-book “X Descending”. Because I had some previous contact with Ray back in the 1970s and early 1980s and talked to him briefly at the 1987 Washington DC MUFON symposium, I renewed our acquaintance. This lead to some extensive email exchanges in which he elaborated on the “new film”, beyond the “air spike”/Leik Myrabo connection which Chris has understandably focused on.“Instead I focused on a different part of the same footage which appears to show a “solid light” projection event.“Apart from many other cases I was also drawn towards a Chinese event I located that occurred in 1998 at a desert Air Force base, involving a Chinese Air Force F-6 pursuit. The possibly striking confirmation of Zhao Xu, who is described as a famous Chinese Defence expert in unmanned aircraft, as one of the various high level witnesses, who mentioned “Surprisingly these two light beams of light were not as we normally see light beams, as has been according to the distance and spread, but as two light-emitting entities, sticking out from the bottom of the UFO ending on a certain length. At least today we have not got control of this sort of light technology.” Radar detection was also involved. Given this comment was made by a defence specialist* I suspect some Chinese military science investigation and research since then.* Correction: following further research and more detailed translations the quote above referring to “two light-emitting entities” comes from General Li the PLAAF missile base commander in the Badain Jaran Desert in Lanzhou province. Major General Zhao Xu witnessed the UFO incident. It was General Li’s pilots who undertook the attempted aerial pirsuits and close up observations.“Meanwhile open science has been playing with Bose-Einstein condensates et.al to manipulate light in diverse ways – our crude opening gambit in a direction that might show us “solid light” effects that have been reported for decades in a diverse range of international (UFO) case material. Mainstream science directions in this area have been nicely summarised with references in Sidney Perkowitz‘s “Slow Light: Invisibility, Teleportation, and other mysteries of light” (2011).“Hence my ongoing deep focus on “solid light” cases and my long winded way of asking if I can get a copy of your 44 “solid light” case files! A big ask I know, but it would support an in-depth focus on these cases and perhaps a collaborative workup of a catalogue of such cases to build on the early and somewhat flawed SOBEPS catalogue?“Best wishes in “solid light” anticipation, like don’t keep me in the dark (pun intended),Bill”Mike was very helpful and shared his listing of cases. Indeed he addressed this research focus in his always interesting blog “The Big Study” – thebiggeststudy.blogspot.com – on October 19 2012 – with a post entitled” “SLOW LIGHT & UFOs”:“Bill Chalker wrote the other day. He’s contemplating making a review of so-called “solid light” UFO cases, and I welcome that. Bill’s a hard-science-trained ufologist and might just be able to make some sense of a real puzzlement in this field. He asked me if I’d scour my files for such cases [since I'd foolishly admitted to having around 44 of such things], and so I did, making a list for him to pursue and build his analysis more robustly [Bill already had a bigger bunch than that].”Mike further stated, “In my understanding the term “solid light” came from witness testimony— the light beam seemed “solid”; it was as if the beam extended like a solid tube, etc. This phrase stuck but is probably a bad one. The light effects that we’re witnessing in these cases behave not like solids but like “regular” light which is abnormally “contained” somehow. Things don’t seem to be “impacted” by these beams, only illuminated by them. The things [generally] seem to be more like spatially-constrained lasers [admittedly of wide diameter] than anything solid, and might well be more like tubes [i.e. hollow] than “full” beams.”I recommend readers read Mike Swords valuable post on this fascinating group of cases.I’ve included the core details of the catalyst for this re-invigorated enquiry into “solid light” cases.BIZZARE UFO “LIGHT” PHENOMENA AT KIAMA…. I was approached by a man who was troubled by a bizarre episode on the south coast at Kiama, in the early 1970s…. The reporting witness, who I will call Graham, has pondered the nature of what occurred. He is troubled by it and now feels more comfortable with it being a dream. The fragmentary nature of the events and the strange elements of the experience beckon this interpretation. But there are startling aspects that fit in with some extraordinary characteristics of the UFO phenomenon. I have spoken to Graham on a number of occasions and meet him directly for an extended interview. I found him to be a compelling witness who is grappling with the ontological issues that striking episodes often force us to confront. I have quoted from his own prepared statement:“Awoken by a light coming into the room, I was too drowsy to do anything about it, I wanted to sleep. It came to mind that the only way light could come into the window was a light was being shone at it. I thought it may be an intruder so I forced myself awake, to step over the baby and my two year old daughter sleeping on the floor beside me. When I got to the window I could see nothing unusual outside. Thinking it must have been a dream because I had remarked on the endless stream of car headlights winding their way along the old highway towards Sydney. I laid down again and fell quickly asleep. Again the light came into the room. This time I jumped up quickly, wide awake again, there was nothing unusual outside. Suddenly I saw a light beam white in colour with a blue fluorescent tinge evaporating from it. Because of the luminescence of the light I was able to make out the shape of a flying craft from which the beam projected at an angle to the ground of about 75o. “The beam was about 30 feet long and about 2 feet six inches diameter, given the craft was between the headland I was on and the next headland. Suddenly the beam, still only 30 feet long fell, like a perfect cylinder of solid light. It did not fall in the direction of gravity, it continued along the path of its own axis. The cylinder of solid light hit a caravan. Upon impact the light behaved like water, pouring over the caravan, over its roof, over its walls, over every nook and cranny of the van. Like fluorescent paint from an electro, airless spray gun. The caravan illuminated completely for about three seconds then the light faded away. My attention was on the light. I could not see the craft any more.“I rubbed my eyes and looked for the craft. It appeared slightly to the left of its original position with another beam of light, descending from it at a very slow speed; say about only 3 feet per second. When the beam reached a given length, longer than the first time, it began falling as before. This time it hit an amenities block and the light covered its surfaces completely illuminating it in the same way as the caravan. Again the light faded away.“From the same location, the craft let another beam go at an angle of about 45o to the ground level line. The beam was much longer than before. It reached the beach and illuminated approximately an area of sand forty feet at its widest. Inside the lighted area were two men standing motionless looking up at the craft. A young woman jumped up from sitting near a small beach fire and ran to stand with the two men. A second young woman was running backwards trying to brush the light off her arms and body. Then she too stood separate to the other three and also stared up at the craft. The light suddenly went out and I looked for the people. Has it taken the people I thought. Where as I was marvelling at the craft and light before, I now became angry, thinking it has terrorised that woman. It was not a good thing as I first thought. Now I could see the fire dimly glowing. I looked this way and that to see if any of the people walked in front of the fire, to prove they were still there. I fell asleep on my feet. When I awoke I was standing on the other side of the window, one hand on the window.“I looked outside the window only feet away. The craft hovered over the street in front of the house. It manoeuvred very close to the window. I was impressed that it looked like a spaceship. It had no helicopter noises or blades. It did not force itself off the ground. There was no blowing of the small trees. It was not a hovercraft, and it had no wings like a plane. The metallic material it was made of appeared as though it was unpolished Zinc alloy. It had no seams, no rivets, no weld marks, no plates visible. It was as if it was made from one piece of metal about 40 feet wide and 10 feet high, which began to spin in one direction, then it stopped and spun for a shorter time in the opposite direction. Then it stopped spinning, hovering in a steady position above the skyline. There were no thoughts it belonged to the western world. That it was a secret craft, that got into difficulty. That I wasn’t meant to see. I blacked out.“When I came to, the craft was still opposite my window. I thought why was I meant to see that it had no welds or seams, it seemed to want to show me that. I looked at a window shape about six feet wide and two feet six inches high with carved corners. The metallic window shield suddenly disappeared and I could see inside the craft. I saw no fittings. It had flat vertical off white walls. I felt very peaciful. A man walked into the room of the craft and stood in front of the window. As he walked in he was looking at a flat object he was holding in his hands, like a clip board but thicker. He began to move his arms as though he was working on something at bench height below the window. Totally absorbed, he worked away. I felt completely safe. Another man then entered the room looking at the other man and what he was doing. He stood also facing me looking at the bench and pointing like without words he was helping the other fix something.“They had bright silver one piece suits like thin wetsuits on, with no badges or markings. They carried no weapons or tools. The craft had no fittings or anything that looked like a weapon, so I felt safe. And besides, they didn’t know I was watching them. With that thought the last one to enter the room smiled at the other, then they both smiled directly at me. I had physical fright, my hair stood on end literally and I knew what it meant to be really scared. I dropped to the floor and said, “Everybody keep down. Stay out of the light.” I knew that in the light they could control my thinking to feel and think peacefully. Suddenly great noise and severe vibration of the house took place. The laundry light went dim, the fridge began jumping about and there was great noise above the roof. The washing machine was bumping about also. I said, “Quickly get under the doorways, the house is going to fall.” It was like the craft overhead sucked the electricity out of the house, then took off.“Bill shouted out, “Shit, what was that? It took the bloody roof off.” I said, “It was a UFO.” Somebody said what, againI said, it was a UFO. Bill said, “Yes I saw it as it took the roof off.” Bill was trying to comprehend how come the roof was still there.“Gordon __ living behind came out to his back door and said very explicitly, “What the …… was that? I thought it took the roof off.” He too was greatly concerned with checking out his roof, reassuring himself it was still there. The lady next door on the seaward side opened a window and said, “Where did it crash? Do we have to get out?” She became very angry saying again, “Do we have to get out?” No you’re safe. It’s gone. Relieved, she said, “I am alone with the children tonight, that bloody pilot should be shot for that.” It was unusual to hear people who I had never heard swear before, swearing.“Bill and Gordon were saying it was a UFO. Suddenly, __, Bill’s wife began to try and quieten everyone down and get us all inside. We decided that I should phone the Nowra base. I spoke to the duty officer. He said he was the only one on duty. He asked me if I saw any orange lights. I said, “Yes.” He then quickly said it was a weather balloon you saw, it was let go at such and such a time from Jambaroo, it didn’t inflate properly and other people reported seeing it as an orange light over Kiama. In my mind I thought, he knows what it was, it must be secret. I’ve done my duty reporting it, so that was that.“The next day (our wives) said two men in dark suits with ID tags came to the door asking did any one see anything unusual last night. Frightened by the men, they said no and the men went on. (Our wives) warned me not to speak about it, they were very frightened that something would happen to me if I spoke up and also it would make us a laughing stock in the community. The plan was we would forget it, not talk about it, even to one another. So it would be distanced from our lives.“Bill was reading the paper some days later and said an expensive Navy helicopter flew from Jambaroo over Kiama. It lost its electronics and crashed forty kilometres out to sea off Kiama. The navy was reported to be trying to recover it to find out what happened. The crew were rescued. I said, “Yeh, I know about losing power, the same thing happened to the helicopter as what happened to the fridge and the laundry light. The UFO took its electricity.” Nothing was said further. We ignored the event. What I saw holds future understanding for me, if it was a dream I believe. Possibly it was an active imagination, a dream and actual occurrences combined.”This strange affair has several defined stages, but the evident discontinuities in awareness, argue both for a surreal, dream like quality and also reflect the paradoxical reality of some of the stranger elements of the UFO phenomenon. The extraordinary behaviour of the “light beams” behaving as both “solid” and “liquid” has been reported elsewhere in Australia and overseas. The apparent display quality to episodes in the incident is reflected in many cases. There seems to have been a number of gaps in the time sequence. The apparent plight of the people on the beach is provocative, and one I am trying to unravel. This is clearly a case that would benefit from further in depth enquiry.Fortunately the original witness to the Kiama case re-contacted me. He has been very difficult to relocate after my original interviews with him. He is still very guarded about his privacy and protecting the welfare of his family. However we were able to have some very extensive discussions and a detailed interview where I was able to locate the events much more precisely in the Kiama area and secure more details about the incident.He confirmed an aspect I had long suspected as part of the experience, which he only original hinted at in the vaguest possible way. He has an abduction recollection that was consciously recollected at the time, but he was extremely reluctant to share these details during our original discussions years ago.He recollects sitting in a curved hallway in a strange environment. He heard a voice and turned to find a woman. She asked him, “Do you remember what happened in there?” “No,” he replied. “Do you?” he asked. “Put it this way, I won’t be telling my husband.”He doesn’t recollect much more, or he volunteered little further detail about this aspect of the Kiama encounter. However he did say he started to frequent some UFO group meetings with the express purpose of seeing if he could find the woman he had encountered in the Kiama experience. At one meeting he saw a woman who looked like the woman encountered in the “strange environment”, presumably onboard the UFO. When he started to talk to her he felt she was not the right person and did not persist with the conversation.
I described some of the results of my 2012 field investigations in the Kiama area in my email to Mike Swords quoted above. I hope that further research and investigation will continue to assist the evaluation of this strange case. It will be fascinating if the ongoing enquiries further validate the affair. “Solid light” cases represent an intriguing and challenging opportunity to research a potential “breakthrough” aspect of the UFO phenomenon. If we can get to the bottom of such extraordinary manipulations of light and other associated UFO light phenomena, then real progress in a UFO science can be made. Maybe mainstream science is slowly catching up. New Scientist has done a few reports on “tractor beam” development following the Bessel beam principle, including this one:which was accompanied by this Russell Tate/Getty Imagest image:
An earlier New Scientist piece (3 March 2011) highlighted the Chinese connection: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20193-treklike-tractor-beam-is-possible.html(This image accompanied the March 2011 New Scientist article)
Now Jun Chen of Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and colleagues, have shown that it is possible to create exotic beams that would pull rather than push on an object. For tiny particles with dimensions of a thousandth of a millimetre or so, this would result in the particle being drawn back towards the beam.Hmm … I wonder what inspired them? Perhaps the Zhao Xu and General Li 1998 UFO observation? Seems to me that maybe someone within our more clandestine scientific community is already trawling through “solid light” UFO cases?
The “solid light” phenomenon is gaining scientific value in the laboratory as in the actual “slowing down” of light in crystals and heavy gases using diffuse lasers.
All in all, I think that the answer to the UFO issue lies in finding the answer to quantum entanglement, brane theory and linking of parallel universes at a practical level.
Hat tip to The Anomalist.
From Centauri Dreams:
I’ve always wondered how Arthur C. Clarke coped with the news he received in 1986, when doctors in London told him he was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a terminal illness that in the States is often called Lou Gehrig’s disease. The diagnosis was mistaken — it turns out Clarke actually suffered from what is known as ‘post-polio syndrome,’ a debilitating but not fatal condition. For two long years, though, he must have thought through all the symptoms of ALS, knowing that the degenerative motor neuron breakdown could gradually sap him of strength and movement. How would such an energetic man cope with an agonizing, slow fade?
Neil McAleer’s revised biography (Visionary: The Odyssey of Sir Arthur C. Clarke) gives the answer, as recounted by Clarke’s brother Fred:
“…after the initial shock, Arthur more or less said, damn it, he’d got an enormous amount he wanted to do, and if he’s only got fifteen months to do it, he’d better whack into it. And he did whack into it, and the next year he produced four books.
“Eighteen months later he was still writing, and all the horrible things they told him might happen hadn’t happened to him. Of course they had told him all the things he should do to keep it under control—what diets to take and what exercises to do, which he very religiously did. He carried on working intensely and produced an enormous amount of work, which might have been the saving grace. If he had been the sort to say, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die in fifteen months,’ he probably would have…”
That story speaks volumes about the man, identifying a resolve that kept him working despite his other ailments into his nineties. It also tells me that he was able to place himself mentally in a context that weighed a single human life against the broad movement of history. I think Clarke was happy to see himself as someone who instigated currents of thought, changed perspectives and launched careers. He did these things for people of all ages both by the example of his own life and by the lives he created in fiction that showed us what humanity might become.
Young Writer at Work
By the time Clarke moved from Somerset to London in 1936 he was already suffused with science fiction and in particular enraptured with Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, not to mention the second-hand copies of American science fiction magazines that were then available in England. He spoke of the ‘ravenous addiction’ these magazines inspired and the effect that Stapledon’s novel, with a time scale spanning five billion years, had upon his imagination. He was twelve years old when he first read Last and First Men, awed by its cosmic reach and its placement of the evolution of humanity against the broader backdrop of the cosmos.
Think for a moment of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Has any film ever covered a wider swath of time, from the beginnings of tool making to the apotheosis of the species in an extraterrestrial encounter? This was Clarke’s stage, but the other great discovery of his youth, David Lasser’s The Conquest of Space (1931) gave him the technology he would spend a life examining. Lasser was the founder of the American Interplanetary Society (which became the American Rocket Society and, eventually, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics). He was also, for a time, the editor of Hugo Gernsback’s Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories. If Stapledon brought Clarke the cosmos, Lasser gave the boy a focus on the attainable, the idea of space as a reachable frontier.
In London, Clarke had a tiny flat in Norfolk Square and was soon co-editing (with science fiction writer William Temple) the fanzine Novae Terrae, whose editorial sessions were so cramped in Clarke’s quarters that Temple once said “…there was hardly room for the two of us, and A[rthur]’s Ego had to be left outside on the landing.” Clarke’s nickname of Ego derives from this period when Temple and Clarke both discovered the latter’s competitive nature. I think McAleer is right in stressing, though, that Clarke’s volubility was largely the result of his enthusiasms. This was a man who loved, above all else, the communication of an idea.
Into the Remote Future
For those keeping score, Novae Terrae would soon become, under the editorship of Ted Carnell, the influential magazine New Worlds. But in the days just before World War II, while working on issues of Novae Terrae and assorted publications for the British Interplanetary Society, Clarke found time to begin developing his first novel from ideas that had come to him back in Somerset. “Against the Fall of Night” would appear in an early version in Startling Stories in November of 1948, but that hardly ended the tale. Clarke kept rewriting the story, seeing it into print as a novel from Gnome Press in 1953 and then putting it through a major revision as The City and the Stars, published in 1956.
I seldom think of Clarke as a reader of poetry, but he clearly knew his Housman:
Here, on the level sand, Between the sea and land, What shall I build or write Against the fall of night?
The words are from Housman’s poem “Smooth Between Sea and Land.” Maybe the idea of long stretches of sand and a metaphorical night that comes to us all fired his imagination. I came across The City and the Stars just a few years after it was published and was mesmerized by its setting in much the way Clarke was taken with Stapledon’s Last and First Men. Here was Diaspar, the city of the far future, the only city on planet Earth, whose inhabitants moved through a high-tech monument to stasis. Nothing changes in Diaspar even as the world around it loses its oceans and becomes desert. Clarke would have much to say about the kind of inward thinking that his characters have to overcome, but the unmistakable fact about Diaspar is that the city at the end of time is also achingly, eerily beautiful.
Here’s science fiction writer Jo Walton on the book, nailing its essential allure:
The plot is quite simple. Diaspar is beautiful but entirely inward turned. Alvin looks out and discovers that there is more in the universe than his one city. He recovers the truth about human history, and rather than wrecking what is left of human civilization, revitalises it. By the end of the novel, Man, Diaspar, and Earth have begun to turn outward again. That’s all well and good. What’s always stayed with me is the in-turned Diaspar and the sense of deep time. That’s what’s memorable, and cool, and influential. Clarke recognized though that there isn’t, and can’t be, any story there, beyond that amazing image. It’s a short book even so, 159 pages and not a wasted word.
As to its author, I love the way he could never let this book go. It was, after all, his first novel, and as such it was perhaps the most deeply inspired by the reading of his youth. When he wrote a new preface to it in 1955, he noted that developments in information theory encouraged him to re-think the future course of humanity, a revision that would lead, says McAleer, to a whopping seventy-five percent new prose. The man was indefatigable; he couldn’t let go when ideas seized him, and when he had the wind behind him, no horizon was too far to strive for.
Restless Thoughts from Orbit
On the same visit to the United States in which he met Neil McAleer and learned that he did not have ALS after all, Clarke visited the National Air and Space Museum with Gregory Benford, long-term colleague Fred Durant and Hector Ekanayake, whose friendship with Clarke in Sri Lanka spanned decades. Benford noted the lack of long-term perspective in much contemporary science fiction and pointed out that The City and the Stars had been written before the discovery of DNA, so biology made no significant appearance in the story. Benford and Clarke’s Beyond the Fall of Night (1990) would be the result of that conversation.
McAleer’s biography gives the details on all of Clarke’s books, but my childhood fascination with The City and the Stars has kept me focused on the early stages of Clarke’s career in London and the ideas that began germinating both there and earlier in Somerset. The Signet paperback illustrated here is not the edition I first encountered, but I have to run it because of my love of Richard Powers, whose cover art appeared in so many paperbacks from this period. In this case, Powers’ surreal images go far toward capturing the timeless allure of the city in the desert.
The letters that McAleer has access to offer insights from Clarke’s old associates, and some new ones as well. In 2006 a British engineer named Nicholas Patrick was about to fly on a Space Shuttle mission, Discovery STS-116. He wrote Clarke to invite him to the launch, telling him he had been reading Clarke’s books since growing up in London. Due to his health problems, Clarke was unable to appear, though he wrote an enthusiastic response thanking Patrick, who replied:
“I am sad to hear that you will not be able to attend the launch, but understand completely given the circumstances. Perhaps instead, if you are willing, I might email you from orbit. “A month ago I reread The City and the Stars, perhaps my favourite book, and was again drawn by the ideas in it. Ever since I first read it, I have wanted to find an old spaceship and travel to distant suns. I shall be very happy in low earth orbit, but I don’t think it will completely satisfy me.”
And that’s the thing: Anyone who has grown up with The City and the Stars is going to find even the wonders of Earth orbit a bit tame. Clarke was always at his best as a science fiction writer when taking the long view. His characters would learn to burst free from Diaspar, but its very conception is as staggering and poetic as anything he ever wrote. From the book:
Here was the end of an evolution almost as long as Man’s. Its beginnings were lost in the mists of the Dawn Ages, when humanity had first learned the use of power and sent its noisy engines clanking about the world. Steam, water, wind-all had been harnessed for a little while and then abandoned. For centuries the energy of matter had run the world until it too had been superseded, and with each change the old machines were forgotten and new ones took their place. Very slowly, over thousands of years, the ideal of the perfect machine was approached – that ideal which had once been a dream, then a distant prospect, and at last reality: No machine may contain any moving parts. Here was the ultimate expression of that ideal. Its achievement had taken Man perhaps a hundred million years, and in the moment of his triumph he had turned his back upon the machine forever. It had reached finality, and thenceforth could sustain itself eternally while serving him.
Thus Clarke’s description of the computer that runs Diaspar free from all human intervention. What continues to confound me about Clarke is what McAleer brings out so well, the duality between an imagination capable of transcending time and the canny engineering horse-sense that spawned near-term space achievements. This is the man who dreamed up communications satellites when not dreaming of eternal cities of the far future. Tomorrow, then, let’s look at Clarke the space pioneer.
Sir Arthur was one of my favorites growing up and I found his “hard” science science-fiction very entertaining and thought provoking. His ‘Rendezvous With Rama’ and ‘Songs of Distant Earth’ was the pinnacle of his “interstellar works” and no doubt influenced many of the rocket scientists working in NASA and private industry.
I did in fact read ‘The City and The Stars’, but after I read the other two books. I found “City” kind of esoteric and very advanced for it’s time period. In fact, I found several “Singularity” ideas in it.
Excellent post by Paul Gilster!
From Centauri Dreams:
Jules Verne once had the notion of a comet grazing the Earth and carrying off a number of astounded people, whose adventures comprise the plot of the 1877 novel Off on a Comet. It’s a great yarn that was chosen by Hugo Gernsback to be reprinted as a serial in the first issues of his new magazine Amazing Stories back in 1926, but with a diameter of 2300 kilometers, Verne’s comet was much larger than anything we’ve actually observed. Comets tend to be small but they make up for it in volume, with an estimated 100 billion to several trillion thought to exist in the Oort Cloud. All that adds up to a total mass of several times the Earth’s.
Of course, coming up with mass estimates is, as with so much else about the Oort Cloud, a tricky business. Paul R. Weissman noted a probable error of about one order of magnitude when he produced the above estimate in 1983. What we are safe in saying is something that has caught Freeman Dyson’s attention: While most of the mass and volume in the galaxy is comprised of stars and planets, most of the area actually belongs to asteroids and comets. There’s a lot of real estate out there, and we’ll want to take advantage of it as we move into the outer Solar System and beyond.
Comets and Resources
Embedded with rock, dust and organic molecules, comets are composed of water ice as well as frozen gases like methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia and an assortment of compounds containing nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur. Porous and undifferentiated, these bodies are malleable enough to make them interesting from the standpoint of resource extraction. Richard P. Terra wrote about the possibilities in a 1991 article published in Analog:
This light fragile structure means that the resources present in the comet nuclei will be readily accessible to any human settlers. The porous mixture of dust and ice would offer little mechanical resistance, and the two components could easily be separated by the application of heat. Volatiles could be further refined through fractional distillation while the dust, which has a high content of iron and other ferrous metals, could easily be manipulated with magnetic fields.
Put a human infrastructure out in the realm of the comets, in other words, and resource extraction should be a workable proposition. Terra talks about colonies operating in the Oort Cloud but we can also consider it, as he does, a proving ground for even deeper space technologies aimed at crossing the gulf between the stars. Either way, as permanent settlements or as way stations offering resources on millennial journeys, comets should be plentiful given that the Oort Cloud may extend half the distance to Alpha Centauri. Terra goes on:
Little additional crushing or other mechanical processing of the dust would be necessary, and its fine, loose-grained structure would make it ideal for subsequent chemical processing and refining. Comet nuclei thus represent a vast reservoir of easily accessible materials: water, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane, and a variety of metals and complex organics.
Energy by Starlight
Given that comets probably formed on the outer edges of the solar nebula, their early orbits would have been more or less in the same plane as the rest of the young system, but gravitational interactions with passing stars would have randomized their orbital inclinations, eventually producing a sphere of the kind Jan Oort first postulated back in 1950. Much of this is speculative, because we have little observational evidence to go on, but the major part of the cometary shell probably extends from 40,000 to 60,000 AU, while a projected inner Oort population extending from just beyond the Kuiper Belt out to 10,000 AU may have cometary orbits more or less in the plane of the ecliptic. Out past 10,000 AU the separation between comets is wide, perhaps about 20 AU, meaning that any communities that form out here will be incredibly isolated.
Image: An artist’s rendering of the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud. Credit: NASA/Donald K. Yeomans.
Whether humans can exploit cometary resources this far from home will depend on whether or not they can find sources of energy. In a paper called “Fastships and Nomads,” presented at the Conference on Interstellar Migration held at Los Alamos in 1983, Eric Jones and Ben Finney give a nod to non-renewable energy sources like deuterium, given that heavy elements like uranium will be hard to come by. Indeed, a typical comet, in Richard Terra’s figures, holds between 50,000 and 100,000 metric tons of deuterium, enough to power early settlement and mining.
But over the long haul, Jones and Finney are interested in keeping colonies alive through renewable resources, and that means starlight. The researchers talk about building vast mirrors using aluminum from comets, with each 1 MW mirror about the size of the continental United States. Now here’s a science fiction setting with punch, as the two describe it:
Although the mirrors would be tended by autonomous maintenance robots, the nomads would have to live nearby in case something went wrong… Although we could imagine that the several hundred people who could be supported by the resources of a single comet might live in a single habitat, the mirrors supporting that community would be spread across about 150,000 km. Trouble with a mirror or robot on the periphery of the mirror array would mean a long trip, several hours at least. It would make more sense if the community were dispersed in smaller groups so that trouble could be reached in a shorter time. There are also social reasons for expecting the nomad communities to be divided into smaller co-living groups.
Jones and Finney go on to point out that humans tend to work best in groups of about a dozen adults, whether in the form of hunter/gatherer bands, army platoons, bridge clubs or political cells. This observation of behavior leads them to speculate that bands of about 25 men, women and children would live together in a large habitat — think again of an O’Neill cylinder — built out of cometary materials, from which they would tend a mirror farm with the help of robots and computers. Each small group would tend a mirror farm perhaps 30,000 kilometers across.
The picture widens beyond this to include the need for larger communities that would occasionally come together, helping to avoid the genetic dangers of inbreeding and providing a larger social environment. Thus we might have about 500 individuals in clusters of 20 cometary bands which would stay in contact and periodically meet. Jones and Finney consider the band-tribe structure to be the smallest grouping that seems practical for any human community. Who would such a community attract — outcasts, dissidents, adventurers? And how would Oort Cloud settlers react to the possibility of going further still, to another star?
While by no means is this is a new theory, ( note the Jules Verne story ), it presents the scenario of the very slow spreading of intelligent biological life through-out the Galaxy ( see Slow Galactic Colonization, Zoo Hypothesis and the Fermi Paradox ).
Now here’s a thought; could a potential alien Oort Cloud civilization be the basis of the Ancient Astronaut Theory and the legends of the Sumerian Gods, the Anunnaki?
There’s no hard evidence of that of course, but there are Pluto-sized and larger objects in the Kuiper Belt glowing in the infrared, a sign that was said to represent a Dyson Sphere type civilisation.
Either these are natural objects such as Brown Dwarf stars, or potential alien civilisations whom don’t care whether they are detected in the infrared or not.
And that’s disturbing.
From Huffington Post:
Scientists in Europe and the United States are moving forward with plans to intentionally smash a spacecraft into a huge nearby asteroid in 2022 to see inside the space rock.
The ambitious European-led Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission, or AIDA, is slated to launch in 2019 to send two spacecraft — one built by scientists in the U.S, and the other by the European Space Agency — on a three-year voyage to the asteroid Didymos and its companion. Didymos has no chance of impacting the Earth, which makes it a great target for this kind of mission, scientists involved in the mission said in a presentation Tuesday (March 19) here at the 44th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.
Didymos is actually a binary asteroid system consisting of two separate space rocks bound together by gravity. The main asteroid is enormous, measuring 2,625 feet (800 meters) across. It is orbited by a smaller asteroid about 490 feet (150 m).
The Didymos asteroid setup is an intriguing target for the AIDA mission because it will give scientists their first close look at a binary space rock system while also yielding new insights into ways to deflect dangerous asteroids that could pose an impact threat to the Earth. [Photos of Potentially Dangerous Asteroids]
“Binary systems are quite common,” said Andy Rivkin, a scientist at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., working on the U.S. portion of AIDA project. “This will be our first rendezvous with a binary system.”
In 2022, the Didymos asteroids will be about 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from the Earth, during a close approach, which is why AIDA scientists have timed their mission for that year.
Rivkin and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory are building DART (short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test), one of the two spacecraft making up the tag team AIDA mission. Like its acronym suggests, the DART probe crash directly into the smaller Didymos asteroid while travelling at 14,000 mph (22,530 km/h), creating a crater during an impact that will hopefully sending the space rock slightly off course, Rivkin said.
The European Space Agency is building the second AIDA spacecraft, which is called the Asteroid Impact Monitor (or AIM). AIM will observe the impact from a safe distance, and the probe’s data will be used with other data collected by telescopes on Earth to understand exactly what the impact did to the asteroid.
“AIM is the usual shoebox satellite,” ESA researcher Jens Biele, who works on the AIM spacecraft, said. “It’s nothing very fancy.”
AIDA scientists hope their mission will push the smaller Didymos asteroid off course by only a few millimeters. The small space rock orbits the larger, primary Didymos asteroid once every 12 hours.
The goal, Rivkin said, is to use the DART impact as a testbed for the most basic method of asteroid deflection: a direct collision with a spacecraft. If the mission is successful, it could have implications for how space agencies around the world learn how to deflect larger, more threatening asteroid that could pose a threat to Earth, he added.
At the moment, AIDA researchers are not sure of the exact composition of the Didymos asteroids. They could just be a loose conglomeration of rocks travelling together through the solar system, or made of much denser stuff.
But once DART impacts the asteroid, scientists will be able to measure how much the asteroid’s orbit is affected as well as classify its surface composition, Rivkin said. And by studying how debris floats outward from the impact site after the crash, researchers could also better prepare for the conditions astronauts may encounter during future manned missions to asteroids — such as NASA’s project to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, he added.
The AIDA mission’s AIM space craft is expected to cost about 150 million euros (about $194 million), while the DART spacecraft is slated to cost about $150 million, mission officials said.
While the DART and AIDA missions are relatively inexpensive ( $150 and $194 million respectively ) private companies such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries don’t just plan on impacting asteroids, they plan on mining the crap out of them.
The question is whether these companies are willing to wait on the science to be obtained by these government probes in order to save them money on research.
(Spies, Lies and Polygraph Tape) — The now infamous MJ-12 / MAJIC / Operation Majestic 12 Eisenhower Briefing Document, allegedly created to inform President Elect Dwight D. Eisenhower of contact with extraterrestrial visitors, is dated November 18, 1952.
CIA has been busy responding to the 25 Year Automatic Declassification Rule (don’t get too excited, as there are plenty of X25 Exemption paragraphs that have been redacted from the documents). Among the various releases are the “flying saucer” documents — and some of those documents have been converted into PDF format for easy viewing and archiving.
Of particular interest are the “Deputies’ Meeting” documents, which review the various topics discussed by senior CIA officials on a daily basis.
And among the topics of discussion in late 1952? The need to brief the U.S. President (Harry Truman) on the flying saucer problem.
For those interested in pursuing the real “flying saucer” material, here are a few items of possible interest, from CIA’s website, in PDF format:
18 November 1952, same date as the alleged MJ-12 Eisenhower Briefing Document, mentions “the original 12″ — probably not a veiled secretly coded reference to Majestic 12 members, but a nice coincidence none-the-less for hard-core conspiracy buffs.
Some of the documents look authentic because they have the authentic dating regime; ex: 18 November 1952.
I know this because at one time during my own military service I handled memorandums and other documents that used that standard.
Also these documents are still redacted, Mr. Bekkum is correct about that.
Did the U.S. government conclude that these UFOs were nuts and bolts spacecraft piloted by real aliens?
I think they surmised so, but you be the judge when you peruse these documents.
The late researcher of UFOs, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, once wrote that, “In one’s frustration it is all too easy to seize on an explanation of the “Men from Mars” variety and to ignore the many UFO features unaccounted for… We may be inadvertently and artificially increasing the significance of the conspicuous features while the part we ignore–or that which is not reported by the untrained witness–may contain the clue to the whole subject.”
I would also argue just as well that, in addition to part of the UFO enigma that remain hidden, there might be researchers in this field that do the same.
I recently attended the 2013 International UFO Congress as a speaker, as well as a panelist for a discussion with fellow researchers Stanton Friedman and Richard Dolan, where we discussed the state of ufology in the 21st century. The Congress, arguably the largest and most well-attended UFO conference anywhere in the world, is not only a proving ground for both the budding young researcher and the decades-in ufologist alike; it is also a breeding ground for new ideas and the formation of new hypotheses, which may eventually sow the seeds of new insight toward solving this enduring mystery.
International UFO Congress – Educating the World One Person at a Time
And yet, while there is this obvious mainstream component to the UFO research community, there is another more clandestine arm of the community that is less active before the public eye… but not all things that are “secretive” are necessarily nefarious or part of some grand dark conspiracy. In truth, it may be within the humble confines of Ufology’s “Shadow Research Community” that some of the more innovative thinkers exist, working out problems behind the scenes that many point-and-click researchers of today might overlook altogether.
No doubt, a statement of this caliber might be enough to anger many prideful UFO researchers at large (although I would argue that most serious UFO researchers will learn early on to rid themselves of any pride, lest they be crushed by the seething sensationalism in the mainstream media, and their overt approach toward the UFO community in general). But again, the notion of their being an underlying academic element that persists behind the mainstream study of UFOs–if one could ever call UFO research “mainstream” at all–is nothing new.
French Ufologist and computer scientist Jacques Vallee in his book Alien Contact by Human Deception argued that there were many private UFO researchers in academic circles–perhaps a few hundred he knew and had worked with–that studied the UFO problem intently, but without doing so publicly. Vallee referred to this as being a sort of “Invisible College” that has continued serious scientific study of UFOs, despite the fact that since the late 1960s, Edward Condon and his University of Colorado UFO Project helped determine that once and for all, the UFO mystery would forever be pseudoscientific.
Hynek and Vallee
Indeed, the general study of UFOs has largely been pseudoscientific, in that the largest body of serious research spanning the last several decades has been carried out by civilians, and often those with little or no academic or technical training suited for study of the phenomenon. While this has often been a point of criticism by scientists the likes of Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and many others, it also highlights yet another problem in the UFO field: the tendency for academics to push for debunking of UFO phenomenon or labeling it as pseudoscientific, while doing very little on their own accord to help further the serious scientific study of the phenomenon aside from waging an ongoing war of words.
To the credit of the academicians, it should be noted that to openly and publicly embrace the study of UFOs most often becomes equivalent to academic suicide in the Western world. There are many instances where professionals have been forced to choose between studying fringe subjects and maintaing a career by more conventional standards. Scientists such as Dean Radin, who lost his teaching position for openly discussing parapsychology, comes to mind, as well as members of the media like Angelia Joiner, who famously reported on the Stephenville, Texas UFO flap several years ago; the latter was eventually pinned into a position where she felt she had to resign as a reporter for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune, in order to be able to continue following the UFO story.
Altogether, the problem here is that UFO research, by virtue of the fringe or “kooky” subject matter it has often become directly associated with, warrants blacklisting among professionals (especially scientists, university professors, etc). In my own experience, I’ve had numerous interactions with those in academia who reach out to me, often under aliases at first, to express interest not just in UFO research, but to share their own ideas and findings (albeit covertly) from an academic standpoint. The reasons these individuals would reach out to ufologists at all most often has to do, in my experience, with a hope for finding someone who will allow them to plead their case, but also that they might be able to influence or steer with their own professional observations. On both counts, this is usually a good thing, as it allows the academics to find others who won’t be so openly critical with the treatment of fringy subject matter, but the less technically skilled civilian researcher also gains insight from members of the scientific community.
Thus, while there is certainly a “trickle down effect” with regard to academics who occasionally reveal tidbits of insight to the publicly known UFO researchers, it could be argued that some of the most plausible and interesting insights into the field of ufology may exist behind the scenes, in what Vallee dubbed a so-called “Invisible College.” Today, could we ever get a serious, ongoing academic discourse on UFOs back into mainstream scientific circles… or is this even something that could ever be afforded the modern UFO research community, with an ever-growing divide that is occurring between the “believer” and “skeptic” diametric?
I actually don’t find it odd that there are some “mainstream” scientists working on the UFO mystery on their own time. After all that is what Jacques Vallee and Stanton Freidman did before devoting their studies of UFOs full-time .
The late J. Allen Hynek was a little different, he waited until he had a government pension before becoming a convert to studying UFOs on a full-time scientific basis.
Believe it or not, it is this “covert mainstream” that is fueling SETI, astroarcheology, astrobiological and advanced propulsion technology research.
Or perhaps, it’s the “science-fiction” collective consciousness?
Hat tip to the Daily Grail.