In the year 2000, NASA engineer Ron Garret first heard about a new search engine called Google – in the Usenet newsgroup comp.lang.lisp. On a recent podcast he remembered opening Google in his Netscape Navigator browser – only to find a fateful message at the bottom of his page: “We’re hiring.”
“I wrote a resume and 15 minutes later my phone rang.”
Garret would have become Google 104th employee. His personal website remembers his work as principal engineer on the first version of AdWords. But it also highlights the ongoing cross-pollination between today’s high-tech sector and space exploration.
And reminds us that when humanity explores space, it will be computer programmers who will help us get there.
This month, Garret visited Adam Gordon Bell’s Corecursive podcast to recount debugging a problem in Lisp-based flight control software that was only discovered “in production” – in a spacecraft. millions of miles away.
But pioneering programmer Margaret Hamilton also had to debug code in space in 1968. During the Apollo 8 mission, astronauts who had orbited the moon then inadvertently selected a pre-launch program – overwhelming by error the data in the erasable memory of the controller.
And the Hamilton bug was more serious, since Apollo 8 was a reside assignment. In a recent interview, Hamilton recalled that the heavy responsibilities of their job weighed on each assignment. “If it didn’t work, a person’s life was at stake, if not over. It has always been the most important thing in my mind and probably many others too.
This may be the ultimate push – entrusting human-generated code to protect the lives of astronauts in the distance. So much so that in 1983, two young science fiction writers even teamed up for a story questioning the future of manned spaceflight itself.
In Red Star, Winter Orbit, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling portray an aging cosmonaut who lingers for decades at a manned research facility long since converted into a “Museum of Soviet Triumph in Space”, finally facing its dismantling. (“Colonel Korolev writhed slowly in his harness, dreaming of winter and gravity,” the story begins…)
And as recently like 1996, the researchers said: “The future of space is in information technology. We need to establish a virtual presence in space, on planets, in airplanes and spacecraft.
Unmanned space technology continues to provide a boon of scientific measurements. This week, NASA released the results of 30 years of observations from the Hubble Space Telescope (in an article titled “A Comprehensive Measurement of the Local Value of the Hubble Constant”.) Or, as the New Atlas to place Explain“The new study makes the most accurate measurement to date of the expansion rate of the universe” – while also paving the way for future research.
rather than big city hacker conferences with traffic and 1:1s in bars and stuff and if we all just went…camping instead.
I can light a really good fire, someone lights the s’mores, etc. and we can chat and talk about hacking on a giant group hike.
—Jeff Stone (@jeffstone500) May 26, 2022
And last week, The New Stack looked at the next generation of that research, the $9 billion James Webb Space Telescope, calling it “the biggest lesson in site reliability engineering” (with 344 score points). single failure different – all deployed a million miles away).
And yet, here in 2022, humans also continue to explore space undeterred…
Despite playing a spaceship captain more than half a century ago, 91-year-old William Shatner recalled last week that when he was offered the chance to explore the space in real life – he actually turned it down.
But only at the beginning.
“So I thought about it,” Shatner told the Niagara Falls Review. “About the thrill…” This has been a recurring theme throughout his life. After much internal debate, he decided to take the trip on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin New Shepard 4 rocket, and last October he became the oldest person, at 90, to fly in space.
Shatner recalled that when he finally reached space for real, and for the very first time, he cried as he looked down at the earth, “from grief for that beautiful thing that I saw – that speck of dust which I have seen in comparison with the vastness of space…”
“Everything we are attached to is insignificant compared to the grandeur of the universe… It was a very deep time. I apparently said, ‘I never want to forget how I feel.’ And I didn’t.
The man. The myth. The LEGEND, William Shatner will be at Niagara Falls Comic Con 2022! He will be present on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets on sale NOW at https://t.co/HAsUd7PN0r pic.twitter.com/tAMcMY0i8o
— Niagara Falls ComicCon (@NFComicCon) December 10, 2021
This is only a small part of humanity’s current and continuing push into manned space missions. Last year, a NASA Web page touted its Artemis program’s goal of getting astronauts back to the Moon by 2024 – and then by 2028 by establishing “sustainable missions”.
David Cassel is a proud resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, where he’s been covering tech news for over two decades. Over the years, his articles have appeared everywhere from CNN, MSNBC and the interactive edition of the Wall Street Journal to Salon, Wired News, Suck.com and even the original HotWired, as well as Gawker, Gizmodo, McSweeney’s and Wonkette. He is now expanding his professional skills by becoming a part-time computer programmer, developing two Android apps, co-producing two word games for Amazon Kindle and dabbling in interactive fiction.
And the agency now also works with sophisticated 3D printing companies “to build and assemble complex components in space” (as well as “hardware on demand”). The ultimate goal? Rather than trying to launch a huge space habitat from earth, it seems easier to construction one in space.
This month, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson pay a visit to Made in Space, Inc., one of the recipients of a new public-private funding program called “Tipping Point” that has partnered with NASA to pursue the mind-blowing technology.
In an upcoming test, a small spacecraft will print two long beams – one 33ft long, one 19ft, but each sticking out the side of a spacecraft. from NASA Web page explains that the beams “will then deploy solar panels that can generate up to five times more power than traditional solar panels on similarly sized spacecraft.” And NASA thinks the same technology could one day print an entire space telescope, or even support a moon base by printing entire structures like habitats, fuel depots or power grids.
During this month’s visit, the NASA executive saw the raw materials that will become the beams, according to a local report. (“Wound on a spool, slightly wider than the width of a basketball, the material feeds the printer…”) A retired astronaut on the tour explained that “to survive launch loads, c ‘is just a filament on a spool, like a spool of fishing filament’, as the material is carried into orbit on a powerful SpaceX rocket.
“You could never bring enough material and you could never anticipate exactly what you will need,” the company’s CEO added.
And since 90% of the cost of a launch is the weight of its materials, a belgian magazine recently called the company’s 2020 founding an “inflection point in the space tech race” as companies “began to imagine producing infrastructure in space instead of putting it on rockets” .
As Made in Space’s parent company RedWire opened its new European headquarters in Luxembourg, its COO called it “game-changing technology,” for now “as humanity returns to the Moon and sinks further into the solar system”. Last month, they announced that their project had successfully passed NASA’s mission critical design review (although it was scheduled to launch “no earlier than 2023).” They are currently testing its engineering design and building the spacecraft’s combat hardware.
But in another little-noticed announcement, a Mitsubishi-owned electronics company has revealed its own specially formulated resin that remains “stable in a vacuum” and can be cheaply cured into a heat-resistant solid simply by using its own ultraviolet rays of the sun. Mitsubishi envisions a world where satellites print their own satellite dishes after they have reached orbit.
“This technology gives small, inexpensive satellites some of the capabilities of large, expensive satellites and paves the way for 3D printing very large structures in space,” Mitsubishi says in a promotional video.
This ability makes taller structures possible – but also lighter, thinner structures (which would otherwise have struggled to survive all the vibration at liftoff, euphemistically described as “the stresses of launch”).
Mitsubishi last week announced a patent for technology — and resin…
So our explorations of the cosmos continue unabated – both manned, unmanned, and combinations of the two. And in a fitting coda, after two decades have passed, William Gibson looked back on this collection of short stories which included this short story from 1983 envisioning the end of manned spaceflight.
In a new presentation in 2003, Gibson joked that “nothing acquires such a rapid or peculiar patina as an imaginary future”, arguing that the story itself is “the ultimate in speculative narrative, subject to continual revision and inevitable”.
And then in the last sentence of that introduction, Gibson had sardonically joked to his readers, “Enjoy the patina.”
Published roughly every month, David Cassel’s “WebReduce” column explores emerging trends through this ever-new and broad perspective of the internet hive mind.