2010/05/23

Sailing On A Star

Friday morning, JAXA launched an H-IIA missile from Tanegashima Space Center. On board were four small earth orbit satellites built by Japanese universities as well as the main attraction - Akatsuki, a craft which will carry out an extensive study of the atmosphere of Venus. Also onboard was Ikaros, a "space yacht" built by JAXA which is testing the use of the sunshine for propulsion.

Here's the launch and separation of Akatsuki from the launch vehicle (2 min 46 seconds)


The next clip runs about 12 minutes and details (with English subtitles) the Akatsuki spacecraft and mission. It's quite impressive and if all goes well, will provide a wealth of information about the climate of Venus, which in turn may help us to better understand our own planet.



As a sailor, I was curious about the Ikaros mission. Particularly, how one could use sunlight to "tack" "upwind" in space to a planet closer to the Sun. Essentially, the sail is set so that the spacecraft's orbital velocity around the sun is slowed by the wind (charged particles thrown off by the Sun). In other words, the sail is used as a brake. As the velocity drops, the craft's orbit gets smaller - closer and closer to Venus. I found a website at Cal Tech with an excellent explanation of this - Tacking Solar Sails .

The Ikaros space craft (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun) carries a sail that is just 0.0075mm thick wound around its core. Ikaros will spin and unwind the sail using centrifugal force. When deployed, the square sail will measure 46 feet on a side. This clip is in Japanese, but you can get the (ahem) drift by watching the animation. There are thin film solar cells and dust counters attached to the sail. In addition to testing the sailing concept, the development of this craft and a much large one later on, will lead to lower cost solar cells - an important element of Japan's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.



Fair winds Ikaros and Akatsuki.

JAXA website is here: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

2010/05/08

Slow Is Beautiful

During the colder months, we had set up - at the vet's suggestion - a cage in the house where Momo (the wonder dog) could sleep out of the cold air. As the weather warmed a bit she was still in the habit of coming inside after dark. She would let us know by a few barks when it was time.

Last night she stayed out well past the usual time and was unusually quiet. We thought it a bit strange and offered to let her in a few times, but she refused. After about nine o'clock, I went outside to check on her. I sat down beside her on the bench (her bench) on our covered patio. A soft rain was falling that I had not heard from inside the house and I found the air temperature to be 'just so' - not warm, but not too cool either. A chorus of frogs were singing from the small farm fields all around us. There were no barking dogs or noisy motorcycles nor much in the way of car traffic. As I sat talking to her, stroking her fur and scratching behind her ears, I realized why she had remained outside on this evening and had been so quiet.

Sometimes animals can show us, through their innate wisdom, how to be. Just slow down and "be". I was reminded of a talk that I listened to recently by Cecile Andrews, author of "Slow Is Beautiful", in which she quoted a passage by Henry David Thoreau -

I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveler's wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance.

Momo "knows" what we humans often forget. That we don't have to be "doing" all the time - running to the mall to buy "stuff", watching TV, reading, eating, blogging, and on and on trying to fill each hour of the day with doing. How much of our "doing" behavior is really superfluous? Even unhealthy? We have time. We can slow down. Should slow down. Experience the present. Listen to the frogs and the rain, feel the air around us, smell the soil, notice our own breathing, and thus feeling fulfilled, have no need for meaningless actions.

Thank you Momo, for getting me to come outside and share in your wisdom. This was indeed the best use of my time.