Well, I have survived the virus so far, but it is not going well at work and I was so burned out when I got off yesterday I called out today. Of course, I might be infected now and it won’t kill me for a couple weeks. Great. I am laying down trying to get one of my feet healed up enough to get me through tomorrow and then I get a couple days off. Then I have to shoot at the range and then the next day it is back on 13 hour shifts. Watching a YouTube documentary on the Second World War and it occurred to me, why not write a blog entry?
I have written often about freezing a human being without damage as the most important event in the history of the human race. On that day everything will change and nothing will ever be the same again. The pandemic might be giving people a taste of that kind of change. Nobody with any intelligence is going to think lightly about a contagious pathogen after this is over. And…as I have stated for years, an engineered pathogen is one of those few things that could end in our extinction. Freezing a human being without damage is essentially a technical challenge involving lowering the temperature of microstructures without ice crystals forming and damaging those structures.
There appears to be some kind of psychological mechanism at work that is preventing humans in all their various organizations from focusing on this most important of all technical challenge. As long as we collectively ignore individual mortality then we are, in my view, certainly doomed as a species. This most important key technology is obviously not as difficult as something like faster-than-light travel or teleportation. Those common science fiction devices are more science fantasy and have very little chance of ever happening as they violate certain fundamental laws of physics. Freezing an intricate and delicate microstructure while inhibiting the formation of ice crystals does not involve violations of the laws of physics and requires no magical unobtainium or handwavium. A tardigrade is a fairly complex organism and if one can be revived after being frozen for thirty years I would think there is some hope for us.
Of the several book projects I have considered one of my favorites is a review of the key technologies that enabled human beings to become the dominant species on this planet. From what I have read it was fire that let us cook food and this made our brains bigger. “Fossils show the teeth and digestive tract of Homo erectus decreased in size around the same time brain size increased. This evidence likely means our ancestors started eating softer, higher-quality foods (although not necessarily cooked). New archaeological research has also continued to push back the earliest known date for the control of fire. For example, traces of purposeful fire at Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa have been dated at more than a million years old.” https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/food-for-thought-was-cooking-a-pivotal-step-in-human-evolution/
“Fire, by keeping people warm at night, made fur unnecessary, and without fur hominids could run farther and faster after prey without overheating. Fire brought hominids out of the trees; by frightening away nocturnal predators, it enabled Homo erectus to sleep safely on the ground, which was part of the process by which bipedalism (and perhaps mind-expanding dreaming) evolved.” https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-fire-makes-us-human-72989884/?page=2
If fire made us intelligent by way of cooking then persistence hunting may have provided the high quality fat and protein for the fire. We may have worshipped fire and could have run down and killed game with simple spears with fire-hardened tips but it was binding a piece of shaped stone to that simple spear with plant fiber or other material that made the ultimate weapon- the spear. The spear made human beings the apex predator as a stout shaft of wood with a razor sharp flint or obsidian tip could kill any large predator and a fire would provide illumination to defend against attacks at night.
Many technologies could have been world-changing and history-making and seem simple enough but never came into use. These could-have-beens fascinate me and space exploration is one of those subjects most populated with ideas about what could have been. I was interested in missed opportunities long before I was a space enthusiast though. The could-have-been that hooked me early on I read about as a teenager in a book on the ME-109 by Martin Caidin. During the Battle of Britain the German single-engine fighter could not stay over England for very long and Caidin wrote that if they had been equipped with a simple drop tank England might very well have lost the Battle of Britain and been defeated by Germany.
My own theory concerning the Battle of the North Atlantic had to do with torpedoes and wire guidance. The Germans came up with a wire-guided missile to use against allied bombers and this technology was used postwar in anti-tank missiles. The less known application of wire guidance was in torpedoes. Since the wire propelled Brennan torpedo had been patented in 1877 the idea of using wire was not new. A line of hydrophones along the side of the U-boat would have given the bearing of the torpedo and the periscope would have given the bearing of the target and sending commands through the wire to the torpedo to match the two would have resulted in a hit. Such an improvement in torpedo accuracy would have resulted in a quick defeat for England as the U-boats came close even with unguided torpedoes.
While it would not have changed the outcome the Bachem BA 349 Natter or a similar concept may have stopped the Allied bombing campaign in its tracks. The Natter was essentially a anti-aircraft missile that used a human being as the guidance system. The pilot required very little training, needing only to steer the aircraft for a few minutes until a bomber filled the sight, fire the rocket salvo, and then bail out and parachute back to Earth. In my view it was the perfect weapon to use against allied bombers. Luckily it was not pursued much earlier in the war by von Braun and his people who, if I recall, were consulted on it.
I despise Nazis and it is scary to think how close they came to conquering the world. Too bad more people do not feel that way about Neoliberal ideology. It was the free market worldview that ended the space age before it really began. As I have stated many times over the years, it is obvious that after the Apollo 1 fire the aerospace industry realized Human Space Flight Beyond Earth Orbit (HSF-BEO) was going to be hard money. They went with the easy money of cold war toys. I remember sitting in class in elementary school as a boy watching the Apollo 13 splashdown on a black and white television and my teacher crying her eyes out. The deaths of three astronauts sitting on the launch pad years earlier had already ended any hope of humans expanding into the solar system. Not because of any insurmountable obstacle- simply because of greed. The effect of different weapon systems in war highlight interactions between those pursuing agendas and the harsh reality opposed to those plans. A clear example of this are the main guns mounted on various tanks with the soldiers demanding the most powerful weapons possible while those in charge were telling them they were not necessary.
The most famous example in space exploration is the statement concerning the loss of the space shuttle Challenger.
One more example to illustrate the principle of “what could have been” is the airship. The Zeppelin is best known for bursting into flames and we now consider it strange that such a giant delicate flammable thing could ever have been considered as practical. There were three big problems with airships. The first, as shown by the Hindenburg, is that most efficient lifting gas hydrogen would burn like crazy. The second was they were extremely difficult to handle when they landed. The third was they simply could not be built to withstand severe turbulence. The solution to the first problem was to have a thin layer of nitrogen gas in an outer envelope which would have made the ships far less likely to catch on fire. The reason this was not done was because the technology for handling gases like liquid nitrogen was not well developed. With the ability to separate nitrogen and liquify it an airship could have maintained an outer nitrogen envelope and the stronger double hull construction of the last U.S. airships would have facilitated this as this image of the structure shows:
The second problem was ground handling and again the Akron and Macon partially answered this problem with propellers that were rotatable and reversible, as 2:25 of this video shows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjPqK8dYD1A
The last problem was really connected to the first two as flying above most turbulence, in the stratosphere, was the only way to keep airships from being destroyed by severe weather events. Manufacturing lifting hydrogen from gasoline on board the airship would have allowed the engines to run on hydrogen as a means of regulating the amount of gas and this would have allowed for increased expansion and efficiently decreasing the amount of gas which was the main obstacle to high altitude airship flight. Engines could be turbocharged for high altitude flight and to provide pressurization for crew compartments and this technology was actually available. https://www.ge.com/reports/supercharged-ges-aviation-business-rose-ashes-world-war/
As I wrote about in this blog in May of 2015, “the-coming-zeppelin-satellite-apocalypse”, the airship is a way to connect the planet that may soon make expensive satellite, and especially the problematic smallsat megaconstellations, obsolete.
Airships did not dominate aviation early but if they had it is interesting to consider whether people would have considered airplanes just too dangerous for commercial travel. The key technology in about a century might be beam propelled “spaceliners” beginning to carry millions of people a year to space colonies. It could happen.