Thursday, April 19, 2007

Long time, no Blog... Yep.

This blog was read by too many people with competing agendas for my life, so it seemed appropriate to halt it for a time.

Since this began as the Earth Return Vehicle blog, chronicling my efforts do design a vehicle for The Kepler Prize, it seems appropriate to update that subject. I'm competing in a second, very similar, contest to Kepler, which was the event that started this blog in the first place. Kepler was hosted by The Mars Society. This new contest is simply called Mars Sample Return, or MSR, and is hosted by The MarsDrive Consortium. MarsDrive is an affiliation of several pro-space organizations that both works with them and has its own projects. MSR is a design for a vehicle that will fly robotically to Mars, grab a sample, make its own fuel to return with, then fly the sample back home. Whereas the judges for Kepler were Tom Hill (who started it and develops weather satellites for a living) and several other professionals in the field, MarsDrive is judged by what could best be described as leaders with The Mars Society and NASA, along with the MarsDrive organizer/judge in Australia. Tom, judge and founder of Kepler, is a contestant in this competition, with a small team (read: Gulp!). Again I compete alone. There are five teams total in this puppy. For Kepler, there were 20 that started, 12 that made it to the mid-term, and five who finished. They included two universities and three private individuals or teams. The criteria for MarsDrive MSR are tighter than they were for Kepler, and include cost and specifics about flights. Both emphasize the creative.

The contest judging is to be completed at the end of this month. Yes, I'm nervous. When I competed in Kepler, I was shocked I won, so I was hoping against hope to place if anything, or at the very least not come in dead last. I had no idea what the other reports looked like. I went with my strengths, acknowledged my weaknesses, and did my best. In the end, I wasn't completely satisfied with the results, but I was proud of them. It was innovative, but it wasn't idealized. It left no margin for error, which for a first effort is pretty much grounds for a redo. But it was beautiful, unique, and just plain cool. Its other strength was the degree to which it was based on existing designs or things that NASA had considered in the past - and while they took a different route, the fact that the real rocket scientists considered them and did some planning on those designs lended them validity. Also, I spent 5 of the 6+ months in the contest simply getting a huge spreadsheet to calculate values for me. It was clunky, but it worked.

My MSR design picks up where Kepler left off. The huge spreadsheet was streamlined into a single column and enhanced and validated. The column became twenty columns to compare values across different design options. The research base went from a few articles and books to dozens of each to choose from. The design, rather than being pushed to the limit, picked the safest spot in that matrix and built out one iteration of design detail from there, still only using 30 percent of the allowed margin. There is no single system that can fail and take the whole design down, or if there is, there is more than one way to fix it. Everything is either based on existing designs or rendered so simple that you could build a prototype in the garage with enough money and time. The ballistics, cost, and other new territories for me are allowed for. The system takes the best and brightest of current designs and rather than pushing them forward, scales them back to avoid cost overruns. The individual parts are tested, but the overall system is unique and intensely capable and harmonized to do groundbreaking science and exploration. It is robust in design yet bold in ambition - when it hits the surface, it does so like a native, not with timidity but with purpose, much like the next rover planned in 2009. The Kepler was good but it was incomplete, so I did three additional papers on parts of it I felt weren't fully explored. This design, Rigel, is good in my mind - no changes, just expansions of detail and margin.

It also crossed a line with me - it's CAD-worthy.

I honestly want to start digging into its innards and spending the time meticulously drawing parts. The design is so complete in my mind that it really ought to be rendered as such. Then structural masses can be calculated, along with stresses and centers of gravity based on fuel burn. It will take both the design and my ability to design to the next level. It can even be flown in a free simulator called Orbiter after that point, and/or rendered as a movie. Normally, you don't do things like this until you are confident things won't change. This design is complete enough that I don't believe, at least for the first pass, that it will change much. It does need some work on the amount of waste in the system (unburned fuel, unrealized potential in engine efficiency, etc.) that should be margined in in more detail, but that could be done fairly quickly. (It allows large margins for production on landing and during the surface stay, medium margins for mass all around, but little for consumption on takeoff - it's still good because it's ).

If this design is selected, I'll get a flight to Dallas to present it. This is the next big step for design in my world, the next level. The big leagues (for design anyway) - submission to the AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics). I've certainly read enough papers with an AIAA index number - this year, Lord willing, I'd have written one (assuming it's accepted).

I'll find out in 11 days, barring any extensions by the judges.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Sing, Thou Sirens of the Deep
At this point, unless things change, Divorce day is scheduled for December 2, at 10 AM. What makes this really strange is that this was scheduled Monday, and today I got called by the dean of my old college to see if I wanted to be one of ten people (including the college president, other deans, etc.) at a leadership prayer breakfast in downtown Chicago.
After much soul searching, I'm thinking my last act as a husband should be to be there for my wife, such as she is. I'm also thinking that if I go to this because of the leadership part or the honor part, and not the prayer part, I'm using God as window dressing, and that's basically wrong. I could definitely go off on her about "this is how it feels to be abandoned" or something - she certainly deserves to go out of her marriage alone and abandoned just as she did me. I also know the advice many of you would give me, particularly those who know Theo and her tirades and so on. But she was there for me with Yakko's being put to sleep. When I needed her, despite everything, she did show up and hold me while I cried the terrible soul-crushed agony of a grown man loosing his best friend yet again.
I've linked to a painting I dearly loved when I first saw it as a print several years ago, but neglected to purchase because I thought it would send the wrong message about why it was placed in my home. I think anyone seeing it now and knowing my story would be less focused on the nudity. The Lament for Icarus, Herbert Draper, 1898.
Daedalus created wings for he and his son to escape the labyrinth of Crete and return to Greece, but Icarus - so excited by flight - flew too close to the sun. The wax holding his wings together melted and he fell to the sea and drowned. His father flew back and forth looking in vain for him, crying out for him, and so the legend ends. In this painting, he has washed ashore and is now wondered at and mourned by the sea nymphs - his drowned eyes not comprehending their tenderness or beauty, they lost in wonder - not comprehending where he came from, but recognizing that it must have been a beautiful adventure that went very wrong and separated them forever though they touch.
My childhood was not unlike that experience, with my father repeatedly warning me what not to do with an aircraft. I always saw a little gleam of Daedalus in his eyes when he warned me like that. I always tried to thank him for flight by letting my story begin like Icarus but not end like it.
Fortunately, my last two years of beautiful flights and agonizing losses has been met with such sea nymphs holding me on occasion and telling me I’m an adventurer and that my adventure does not end on these rocks, that someday someone will join me and fly with me again. And unlike Icarus, my ears are not so drown nor my eyes so separated from the gift of sight to not look back and thank you. So bless you, my dryads of the deep, you beautiful ones. For Icarus and the Icarus within every man, I bless you and will one day fly for you.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sox Win!

Just a quick observation...

Red Sox - 2004 World Series champs, after a lifetime of loosing.
White Sox - 2005 World Series champs, after a very long lifetime of loosing.
Cubs - no pressure, guys... really!

Or maybe a sign of the end of the world, or that old joke about the guy in Hell who the devil can't seem to make unhappy no matter how high he turns up the heat, so he turns it down to freezing, and the guy is delighted because the Cubs must have won the World Series .
Just stuff I think about when the world flips upside down.

Speaking of, the earth's magnetic field flips every 3 million years or so, so that south is north and vice versa on a compass. It has like clockwork throughout the geological record. This is interesting because A) we are due for a flip, and B) the poles have been migrating more quickly in the last hundred years or so, so much so that the north magnetic pole is no longer technically in Canada as of a year or so ago. Nobody quite knows what to expect when the poles flip. Does the field decrease to zero (endangering satellites and astronauts, who hide under it for radiation protection in low earth orbit), then come back on the other way? Does it just move like it appears to be doing now? There are no mass extinctions associated with these flips, but we didn't have electronics, satellites, and a space station before either.

Or baseball.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Mind the Gap

I posted the following this morning to the IMAO comments section:

First off, condolences and prayers to our allies and brothers/sisters in London. You have been the haven of fighting for freedom since Nelson and Wilberforce. Make them proud.

Spain be damned. What works is repeated; what fails dies. Whatever aggression you reward with cowardice you will get more of. Whatever you resist you will get less of. Clinton gave us a strong and encouraged Al Qaeda after cutting and running from multiple attacks. Spain gave you this.

Britain should double its commitment to Afghanistan and perhaps Iraq. A pissed off Al Qaeda is better than a happy Al Qaeda any freaking day, considering what makes them happy.

If they attack again, double it again. While an American should find Bin Lauden, I think today if a Brit does, we’ll still be as happy (that, and you lost hundreds on 9/11 as well).

I fear for you, England. Not that you will bleed more, but that your blood will have been spilled in retreat. The land that gave us Churchill also gave us Chamberlain. Choose your path well. Your future will thank you for what you defended or curse you for what you let grow, just as it always has.

God bless Britain!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Many Updates on My Life

Now that a year has past, I can legally admit my name and the bank I worked for when started this blog. My name is Kent Nebergall and I used to work for Washington Mutual. my e-dress is knebergall at ameritech.net.

Recently I haven't posted much. My wife left me for another man last December just two weeks before Christmas, then came back after he returned to his wife and kids, after six months of marriage counseling for our side that was going well until the end, she ended up leaving me for him again, and she's been away over two weeks now. We are getting divorced.

Many people are praying for me, hence my ability to sleep at night. I went to Cornerstone music festival last weekend and feel nearly normal during the day now. It's still a shock to see so much furniture gone and so many piles of what she left behind that is still her crap, so I'm getting by. Nights just suck.

When word gets out in Mensa, and I go to the Chicago convention to speak in October, I'll probably be awash in women who wish to comfort me. Unfortunately the ones who know me are older, and the younger ones don't necessarily know me enough to pounce. Oh, well. It only takes one. Odds are whoever I end up with I don't know yet. Or maybe I do. I'll be 37 on July 23. Not the latest age to start over. Young enough for kids. Still though. Damn. I hate this. Why couldn't she have been sane? Why couldn't she have seen me as what she wants and needs and stayed in love with me?

I'm at work late, and feeling feverish and sore along with this cold. I should head home - long commute, over an hour each way.

If you are reading this from IMAO, please continue to a couple more posts. I write well, better than this. I can also be very funny when I'm not bleeding like this, and sometimes when I am. Later I will write of the incidents that indicate (A) God isn't happy with her decision either, and (B) He has a wicked sense of humor.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Touching My Father's Hand

I was listening to Rick Wakeman’s Out There album on the drive home. I’ve listened to it a couple times before, but it finally sank in with full force and left me smashed to jelly, and I only got through the first three tracks.

I was left with images of flying to orbit, then Mars, then Sirius, ever more fascinated yet alone. Dad isn’t coming back no matter how far I fly in this body. I won’t round a distant sun and have him say “here I am.” Nor will the dust of some distant icy moon spell more words of his love or advice to me. I won’t feel his embrace in an alien race. I’ll never forget my plastic gloved hand holding his cold swollen hand in the hospital as his heart beat its last, and my brother said “he’s gone”.

And tears fell as a soul rose. Reward for him, punishment for us to loose him.

“And as I look back on the stars,
It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park -
And it won’t break my heart to say good-bye.”

God cannot be touched in the rocks of Mars, though his image is in the face of everyone.

Someday my soul will touch both father and Father, and my body will join me later, but for now…

For now…

There are rocks and faces to touch. Much to learn. Advice of wise Godly men and women. Things to learn from mud and stone and sky - things to learn from the vision where humans haven’t touched yet. Yet they have been touched by stars – the coherent points of sky-blue and amber light fires through the mind and heart. We are touched by the words of pens long stilled and hearts long since departed – poems from hundreds or even thousands of past years around the sun. Souls like ours, eternally climbing and sinking like birds in a thunderstorm, pressing on. Pressing on to land and safety somewhere. Answers… Beauty… Love… Understanding… The very ecstatic touch of God.

Words of God and Man passed through the course of human life, and genetically, before text began. Written in bones in stone, tracks written by centipede footprints in sandstone as they dodged dinosaur steps, worms beneath the Jurassic seas and filtered sunlight of shorter days. Speech of winds of suns exploding and casting fertile ash like zero gravity volcanoes making islands of the sea of light and dust, awaiting the life of God to speak and mould and breathe life into their soul-less molecules, making a timeless dent in the space time continuum. Making a moment aware of time. Aware of space. Aware of the breath itself. Aware of God.

They say a nuclear explosion is what happens when you take a pound of matter out of the river of time. Edward Teller said of the first atomic bomb, “At first I was disappointed. It appeared to be a little explosion. Then it flashed and grew brighter and brighter and brighter.”

A child is what happens when you place a timeless soul within the stream of time. Who is to say what is more powerful?

Friday, December 03, 2004

Ritual and Flight

I recently learned from a Discovery Home Theater documentary that hot air ballooning and champagne were invented around the same time/place 210 years ago and closely related. The first balloonists in France were worried they'd be killed by farmers when they landed, who would be convinced they were aliens/demons/Brits or something, so they insisted the king give them something to give the farmers to prove they were of earthly/human/French origin, and champagne was the agreed-on payload. To this day, as they showed in this documentary about the balloonist festival in New Mexico, they drink champagne on landing and have a long ritualistic recited toast to go with it. I though this was cool beyond words.

A bit of a google search for more details, from Yankee Magazine:
Following in the tradition of the first balloonists, French thrill-seekers who
landed in vineyards, your pilot will offer a bottle of wine to appease the
landowner. There's another bottle, shared by all. (What's not to like about a
pastime that features champagne at sunrise?) And, always, the balloonist's
toast: "The winds have welcomed you with softness. The sun has blessed you with
his warm hands. You have flown so high and so well, that God has joined you in
your laughter. And he has set you gently back again into the loving arms of
Mother Earth."

I always thought there should be more ritual to aviation. Boys playing high school football get a marching band and cheerleaders, yet my flights as a kid were rarely greeted with so much as a handshake on landing, and usually a blank stare of "Oh, do you need gas now?"

My dad's last plane sounded like and handled like a Star Wars pod racer, with the two high powered engines pulling you on either side of your fuselage like mechanical horses pulling Apollo's chariot across the sky. Speaking of Star Wars, I always loved the flag parade at the beginning of the pod race - it gave ritual to it. I often heard the music from that in my head when we pulled the twin out of the hangar, so perfectly balanced on its wheels that one person could pull it's 5000 pound mass from the hangar doors and turn it 90 degrees on the pavement outside.

On one of those flights we were over-flying a parade, but we couldn't find the rest of the formation, and frankly we had no intention of linking with them because we couldn't slow down that much. So we flew around at top speed 200 feet above their altitude along the route. According to my nephew on the ground at the parade, we flew directly over the formation in the opposite direction at double their speed, so it worked.

At Dad's funeral, we asked for the flying club to over-fly the funeral, and they did with three Cessnas. We were moved to tears by the beauty of it. Ritual and flight should really be more joined. Maybe in another hundred years.

Space and ritual? Only at funerals for astronauts, it seems. They added a verse to the Navy Hymn for space travelers, but I have yet to find it. I heard it on the C-SPAN coverage of (I believe) Alan Shepard's funeral and promptly wanted to find it. I should look again soon.

Another item - I found a used copy of the movie Dune last night. I remember seeing it the first time on television and being very struck by the scene toward the beginning where the shuttles are docking with the space station - and the station gate looks like it belongs on a cathedral. That's probably the moment when I realized flight and ritual where not as joined as they could be and should be.

Of course, if they were, maybe it would seem more a substitute for faith, so maybe it's not all bad that planes are treated like cars or more to the point, family boats with special storage requirements and so on. No, not even - boats are more ritualistic in the party sense than aircraft.

A pilot's toast? Somehow drinking and flying shouldn't mix in craft that can be flown again immediately, but there is the poem "High Flight", which many pilots know by heart. I made it a point to memorize it when I was a student pilot, and can still recite it.

High Flight
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

- Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941 at age 19 in a training accident
More history here

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