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The Aerospace Perspective

December 18, 2010 1 comment

As a Systems Engineer working in the space industry, specifically with the United States Space Shuttle Program, I approach the Venus Project from a unique perspective. I have decided to use this first article as a chance to introduce myself to you, so that when I post articles in the future, you have an idea about the man behind the writing. I’ll also include information on a technical project I’m personally working on that you might be interested in.

For all intents and purposes, I am a technology, space and astrophysics geek, formally educated in Aerospace Engineering Technology and soon to be pursuing an advanced degree in either astrophysics or systems engineering, depending on what happens for me after the Space Shuttle Program ends.

I recently published a book about how vital space exploration and development is to mankind, called Turning Point, where the book is my funding source to travel and do public speaking on the topic (and also the Venus Project where possible). If the subject interests you, my book can be found here and can be internationally shipped.

I’ve been on WebTV (Fox News), various web and standard radio shows, and have given several speeches on the subject to various groups. Additionally, I manage a blog where I discuss space advocacy, recent space news articles of importance, and my thoughts about how the Venus Project can positively affect not just the world, but our travels beyond it.

Some of you may be aware of the video I made called “Awakening”. If not, it can be found here on my Youtube Channel:

I have also made a few other videos, like “Population to Convince” and my lecture to the Houston Humanist group. “Our Technical Reality” is more in tune with showcasing the science and technology standpoint.

As you can see, I am passionate about the success of the Venus Project, and my scientific and technical background allows me to bring more data, facts and science to the table, which in combination with my ability to do public speaking will hopefully allow me to address and spread the vision of the Venus Project to many people. And while many of us in the movement run on emotion and passion, I do to, that does not always work for convincing people of the necessity of our vision. So I hope that with my technical background, I can help bring others to the point where they see this new direction as possible, real and vital.

It is my passion for space and what it can provide humanity that causes me to embrace the Venus Project as I do, for in my eyes it is the RBE that will catapult us from a species that mainly tinkers on the edge of our atmosphere into a serious space faring civilization, where the benefits can and do directly affect the people living on this glorious blue marble. The visions of the Venus Project would not be possible were it not for the advances in technology that are directly or indirectly attributable to space exploration, manned or robotic. It is the challenges of space that afford us the opportunity to think outside the box, or more specifically, off the Earth. Many of the challenges of space simply cannot be duplicated on Earth, and it is those challenges that drive innovation, like advanced recycling and reusability technologies, far more than any ludicrous notion that profit and money are the motivators.

For example, one of the biggest things we discuss is sustainability, not just of our energy systems, but of every product we make. Planned obsolesence, or at least the basic notion that products are made on the cheap so they fetch the most profit, is something that cannot go on, else our natural resources will be obliterated in just a few generations and humanity will suffer as a result. But let’s focus on something I am personally working on, an automated hydroponic farm facility.

This is a pretty straight forward concept and completely realistic in every manner. The sad part is that it’s just not being done. Instead of aid relief non-profits gathering money to buy food, thereby fattening the wallets of the food industry, they should be building sustainable food production systems for impoverished people so that we never have to worry about their food supply again! Alas, our current system doesn’t exactly want that, but we (The Venus Project) do, so this is something we should be trying to work on a global level. World hunger, solved by The Venus Project. I like the sound of that, not for selfish reasons, but because it’s the right thing to do, so why shouldn’t we be the ones doing it? So what would this system be made of?

  1. Solar/Wind hybrid powered facility with substantial battery systems such that any climate condition throughout the year would not reduce the energy level of the facility below tolerance operating conditions.
  2. Hermetically sealed building, with an atmosphere pressure and concentrations of Nitrogen and Oxygen set to the Paleozoic era, when plants thrived on the Earth as never before. It requires one to pass through a “clean room” before even being able to enter the growth facility, including wearing a “bunny suit” the likes of which is required for those who work in space industry clean rooms for satellites and space hardware.
  3. Use the Omega Garden system, which I’ve already researched to be the best system that takes up the smallest footprint, but also delivers the most robust and strongest yields without using one drop of “plant altering” chemicals or pesticides. It’s kind of difficult to have pests in a hermetically sealed building.
  4. Robotic planting and harvesting arms strategically placed in the facility.
  5. Delivery system: Basically a “Farmers Market” waist level train that brings the harvest to an adjacent building where the public can get the food right off the train carts. After a few days, whatever isn’t taken is returned and converted into mulch that can be used for outdoor facilities. Nothing is wasted.
  6. Externally facing monitors in the building showing the interior of the facility, because the facility itself has no windows. Cameras in the facility can show the public what’s going on inside, to satisfy curiousity more than anything else, but also good for public awareness. Also, monitors would show the harvest cycle, what’s coming up next and when.
  7. Each facility would grow 12 of the most healthy and popular vegetables, enough to feed 1,000 people per crop. After plenty of research, there is a good consensus on what those are: Spinach, Green Peas, Red Leaf Lettuce, Garlic, Onions, Carrots, Brocolli, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, Tomatoes, Red Peppers and Green Peppers.

Currently I am researching cost and systems, as well as designing the informal blueprint of the facility in an Engineering CAD program. All of my information will be released as an official report for all chapters to access freely. You might have different companies, different prices for materials, and need a different design layout based on that, but the report will give you a great starting point.

I am not a know-it-all, but I do a vast amount of self study and research on the topics of science (including social sciences), space and technology (viable technology, not the latest video game or phone widget). I look forward to bringing this knowledge to the movement and to the project. Remember, you personally don’t have to convince the world. We are all working together, neighbor by neighbor, community by community. Those of us with the option of a larger platform should most definitely utilize it, but don’t let us detract you from the most vital aspect of any movement…your community is part of the world, get out in it and start talking!

Douglas Mallette
Space Shuttle Systems Engineer, Space Advocacy Speaker, Author: Turning Point
Houston, TX

The Scientific Method Exposed!

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment


I never thought it would really happen to me! I know it sounds cliché, but… really… I didn’t! I had already come to the conclusion that the rate of crime is simply overblown in the mass media… however, probability decided to drop in and pay a visit. A simple reminder of the nature of life in general, and that sooner or later you’re going to experience something that is so deviated from your normal expectations of this world that you can do nothing else but sit back and watch how it affects you.

My day started particularly well, actually, when I walked out my door yesterday on one of the first, real spring days in Houston, Texas. The air has a distinct quality in it when the real change occurs between the seasons here, and the extra electric nature of new life is more palpable.

I strode to my car, unlocked it, got in, and while tossing my purse onto the passenger seat, I noticed a rectangular-shaped ‘thing’ on the floorboard. Having no frame of reference for such a ‘thing’ occurring there before, my mind failed to grasp a definition. I sat up in a state of confusion, and saw my middle dash looked odd as well. It didn’t click at first… I actually consciously observed the few seconds of time-lag. Up until now, 100% of the instances where I’d gotten in my car, I had observed the same interior surroundings. I was now dealing with a new exception to the rule that my mind had created, which was “Every time I enter my car, I see the same scene.” Having a different scene before my eyes was, well, quite an education.

The measurable time-lag experienced occurred because my observation did not immediately yield a known conclusion, thus the synapses in my brain searched my databanks and linked together some kind of correlation that yielded a brand new determination. My conclusion, after LITERALLY not recognizing what I was seeing, was “Oh, wow, my center air vents are ripped out, and my stereo is about an inch more forward than it usually is… someone must have tried to rip it out!” Someone tried to yank my car stereo. ‘Tried’ is the operative word here, because it was obviously amateur night at the Apollo.

I’ve learned over the past few years to not panic, thanks in part to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, loads of meditative practice, and self-inflection, so I was able to actually observe the event from a 3rd-party perspective instead of immediately entering a state of shock. What I learned from this experience is fascinating to me, and hence led to the basis for this article on exploring the realm of science as the methodology which humans inherently use to learn about the world around them and their place within it. Yes, this methodology is emergent indeed, as you will soon see.

In short, everyone uses the scientific method every day, all the time. This is simply the process by which we intake data through our 5 senses from our environment, create databanks in our brains, and then use whatever critical thinking skills we learn from other humans to process/link this data… and, of course, draw conclusions. So, everyone is a scientist! Yes, even those of you too cool for school, deal with it. Most people don’t consciously run through the steps of the scientific method to make decisions in their lives. However, the method is simply the description of this process which happens naturally and, after a certain point in our childhood development, instantly for everyone. Most simply put, your environment shapes who you are by providing the type of data you are exposed to and, it is very important to note, the processes by which you use to make decisions based on the data you’ve gathered. These processes for decision making are also learned from your interaction and observation of other people’s processes.

We emulate those around us as we learn; we take on their processes. You can see this when two children are playing together, they will most likely take on roles of pretend which emulate the adults in their lives. One will pretend to smoke a cigarette like her mother does and the other will pretend to speak as his father does. My political science professor in college once gave us a lesson on logical thinking. She told us several stories about her mother attempting to protect her from physical harm, her mom would tell her things like “Don’t touch the light socket! Rats will jump out of it and eat your eyeballs!!!” Of course, most likely no one has ever experienced this event, but in the attempt to control my professor’s behavior as a child, her mom had also unconsciously given her a lesson in logic. My professor shared with the class how it took her years to figure out how to think rationally and retrain herself to respond to certain situations without jumping to abject fear of the irrational or unknown. She ended this treatise by saying “Please, teach your kids logic, let them know the truth, because simply aiming to protect them will cause misery.” I’ll never forget that speech.

Another valid point is that if we don’t know why and how people do things differently elsewhere, our data set is somewhat limited, thus we do not have the opportunity to allow that data to enter into our decision-making process. Ignorance is not to our ultimate advantage in a world where it is swiftly becoming more evident that the globe is truly so interconnected on many levels, ecologically and otherwise.
When I introduced these concepts at the ZDAY 2010 event, an audience member stated with a surprised look, “Interesting way to look at it, I’ve never thought of it that way.” Indeed, I can say with some confidence that not one person goes about their day in every moment consciously using the scientific method. Can you imagine how that would go! “Now that I have stated the hypothesis as ‘I need a volume of 8 ounces of water to fulfill my biological conditions.’ to address the question of ‘Why do I feel thirsty?’, owning that my research into the subject produces vast sources of data as studies have already taken place regarding water as a key element in the functioning of biological organisms. Thus I will perform the experiment of drinking 8 ounces of water and will record the results of this experiment every 2 minutes to determine if my thirst does indeed subside as theorized…”

As you can see, consciously using this process in EVERY moment is not the most efficient way of using the method, hence, the emergent nature of the methodology itself. Every time you drink a glass of water, and you are not thirsty any longer, you reinforce this conclusion without ever having to consciously think about it. Wow – right?!?!
The steps themselves are simple really. Step one is “Ask A Question.” Umm, done and done. Isn’t this mostly what we do as humans anyway? Step two is “Gather Relevant Research.” Okay, this is the biggie as far as I’m concerned, the one that got away. People tend to skip or glaze over this one quite frequently, even within communities where the scientific method is known and revered. Ego alert: you don’t know it all just because you sat through a few classes! Step three is “Construct A Hypothesis.” Easy enough, because you have already researched your topic you should have plenty of different ideas how to answer your question. Pick the one with the most research behind it to start. Step four is “Test Your Hypothesis By Doing An Experiment”. Duh!!! How will you know if your proposed answer is right if you never test it out? And the closer to real world conditions the better; experiments don’t just happen in a laboratory, that’s actually the exception. Step five is “Analyze Your Data and Draw (a) Conclusion(s).” Okay, so you ran your test. Does the evidence say you could be right or wrong? And finally, step six is “Communicate Your Results.” Tell other people, even if your experiment proved your supposed answer was wrong. Give others the opportunity to test out your theory as well.
All experiments are important, because they either rule out or leave open possible answers to our questions! Thomas Edison himself said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” How could he have been such a prolific inventor if not for ruling out so many alternatives, and learning from his failed experiments? This is how the scientific method truly works.
Okay, so now you know the method! However, how do we know how true or real a conclusion is once we’ve reached one? How do we know we’ve analyzed the data using the best statistics and methods? How do we know we didn’t start out with a bias built into our experiment which skewed the results from the start? Is there a better way to test the hypothesis? How can we trust previous findings within researched reports and previously gathered data? These are questions that scientists deal with everyday, and these are equally valuable concerns when using the scientific method in our everyday lives.
Yes, I do mean VALUABLE concerns. These concerns can shed valuable insight on conclusions embraced by popular culture and the mainstream ideologies, but don’t get addressed frequently enough by most of us. These concerns are truly the crux of the matter since the method is only as good as it’s implementation. Faulty or limited data = faulty or limited conclusions. It’s that simple. If you think that the sky is blue because your dad told you that it’s a gigantic mirror reflecting the blue of the oceans, and you have never heard or attempted to find any information to the contrary – this will be your conclusion. It’s very poetic, it’s a nice story, but is it true?
So, we need to check our results over and over. Ask different questions about our results and probe them from different angles. We have to make sure what we know is reliable, and when used, the scientific method allows us to move in the direction of greater and greater certainty. How cool is that!
To end, I’ll simply state that I am certainly glad I had another experience that shook my perception up a bit. After shoving the air vents back into the dash, I found out my car stereo actually still works! So, there’s no real harm done as far as I’m concerned. I relish these out-of-the-ordinary occurrences now, because I learn so much and they allow me to expand my views more and more. Encompassing as full a spectrum of understanding as possible has always been one of my main goals in my life, and I hope that I have encouraged this within you. Experience life… and know that the more you do, the more your banks fill with varied data. And the more you know about processing that data, the truly better off we all are on this shared planet.

Karen E. Siragusa