Exploding the Myths of Explosive Decompression

Contrary to science fiction tropes, it takes more than a drop from one atmosphere to vacuum to do it. But it’s happened: Byford Dolphin Diving Bell Accident

Came across this while looking for information on the effects of the more likely 1-to-0 atmospheres depressurization for a scene in Ghosts of Tharsis. (Not really a spoiler, since you won’t see it coming.) It’s both horrifying and fascinating at the same time, and coincidentally led me to an account of the Piper Alpha disaster, which also has some bearing on events in the book.

Life Imitates Art (A Few Times Over)

Tech blog Gizmag.com has been on a roll the past two weeks where “technology borrowed from the Ares Project universe” is concerned.

Life Imitates Art #9845761: Splat

NASA Mars orbiter examines dramatic new crater.

Impressive. Now, imagine a few dozen of these happening. At the same time. I just drafted that scene last weekend…

I find it a bit surprising that this sort of thing (to various magnitudes) happens about 200 times per year. Not that it should be all that surprising, considering it probably happens on Earth as well – the rocks just don’t reach the surface thanks to our atmosphere. Surprising because one tends to think of Mars as a completely dead planet, where nothing much happens.

As we continue to explore and eventually settle the place, we’re bound to find out it’s nowhere near as dead as it seems. Something important to keep in mind with regards to writing fiction set on Mars – your characters are likely going to have to outrun a water outburst or dodge a meteoroid every now and then, and who knows what else.

The Ethics of Martian Babies

Rand Simberg probes the issue over at PJM: The Bioethics of Mars One.

It’s funny to see Rand and the commenters on his article echoing the sentiments we present in In the Shadow of Ares regarding Amber’s parents having a child on Mars and the continued reluctance of other settlers to have children. One criticism we received from several early readers of the manuscript was that it was unlikely that in a dozen years of settlement activity, nobody else would have had a child but Aaron and Lindsay.

Well…here’s an indication that it’s not so unlikely.

Grasshopper Flight Test

Watching this, I had to wonder what it would have been like had NASA done something like this with a Saturn V first stage back in the day…

What I find especially interesting and useful about SpaceX’s Grashopper effort is the applicability to Mars landers and (later on) surface-orbit shuttles – which is probably the long-term point of the exercise, given Elon Musk’s interests. If you picture this vehicle spread out at the base a bit more into a conical shape, you’ve got the Ares Project ERVs. Scale them up a little bit more from there, and you’ve got the MDA’s surface-orbit shuttles.  Add an Orbiter-sized payload bay, and you’ve got the new cargo shuttles which will make their appearance early in Ghosts of Tharsis.

Of course, the obvious problem this technology poses for In the Shadow of Ares is that this testbed is actually a better pilot than Daniel Martinez. Granted, he had no alternative under the circumstances but to deactivate the autopilot and land Odysseus himself (and succeeded), but his accuracy was somewhat less impressive than what’s shown here.

Speaking of Things That Look Like Settings From the Book…

This image at Wikipedia bears a striking resemblance to how I pictured the Ares IV “homestead” site in the simulation at the beginning of Chapter I, minus the “rump” portion of ERV Lilith.

Mars Direct base artist impression - N. Oberg
Mars Direct base artist impression – N. Oberg

You can almost imagine the suited figure as Amber preparing to fire up her jetpack.

Life Imitates Art (Sorta): Disaster at Xichang

Hmm…without knowing any of the details of this accident (though I do recall it happening), we had planned a similar incident for the prologue of the third book in the series: Disaster at Xichang

The rocket began to rise, and the American engineers in the satellite test room ran out the door. “I got out, turned and ran around the building to my best viewing spot, in time to see the mountain lit from behind, hear the startling rumble and see the rocket emerge,” the diary reads. “But instead of rising vertically for nine seconds and several thousand feet [before starting to arc toward the east] I saw it traveling horizontally, accelerating as it progressed down the valley, only a few hundred feet off the ground. ‘Wrong way!’ I yelled, and for the next few seconds I was frozen in my tracks.”

On the roof, Campbell and others were just as perplexed. “All of a sudden, we looked down the valley and saw this huge cruise missile flying by. Our first reaction was This is really interesting. And our next reaction was Holy shit, we need to get off the roof.

After flying for 22 seconds in the direction of the hotel and residential complex, the 426-ton vehicle crashed into a hillside, most of its propellant still on board. The overstressed payload section with the satellite inside had broken off and plunged to the ground moments earlier.

We were imagining a Chinese version of the Nedelin Disaster, but it looks like they’ve already had one. Looks like we’ll have to imagine something…bigger