Archive for August 2012


Orroral Tracking station

August 26th, 2012 — 12:37pm

I was talking the other day to old Roger, at a Canberra Speleological Society trip to Wee Jasper, who was telling me about his first job in Australia working at the Orroral tracking station. I have long thought it is a tragedy that Orroral and Honeysuckle creek tracking stations, which were such an interesting piece of local history, were both left to be vandalised before being bulldozed by the National Park Authorities in the 90s. Orroral was a little overshadowed by Honeysuckle creek’s role in the Apollo 11 landing, but still had an important job in tracking and communicating with passing satellites.

orroral tracking station 1969

Roger was there at the commissioning of the station. He said that all these boxes of electronic bits and pieces arrived from NASA with no instructions for how to put them together. There was one very large machine which sent a very accurate time signal based i think he said on some crystal inside.

There were three shifts of 8 hours each, about 12 people on each shift. There was also a kitchen and a couple of cooks, and for every shift they used to make a good meal, a roast leg of lamb and mint sauce for instance. Roger said it was a bit weird when you were on the night shift and had a meal like this at 3am. Orroral valley is a beautiful place, i can’t imagine how good it would be to work there, and to be doing such funky space stuff in the 60s as well.

Orroral tracking station opening – Rog is there somewhere. (image courtesy http://www.honeysucklecreek.net )

Rog said they had to send messages to military satellites as well as scientific ones. One funny story he told was of a command that had to be sent to a satellite that was carrying a box of fruit flies as part of a scientific experiment on the effects of cosmic rays in space. Anyway the command was for the satellite to drop the box of flies and there was a plane waiting flying around somewhere to pick it up. Well anyway to send the command to the satellite, a punch card had to be inserted into a computer. Unfortunately the operator at Ororral inserted it the wrong way around, and by the time he realised his error, and put it back in the correct way, the satellite had moved on a couple of hundred kilometres. So no-one ever found the box of fruit flies.

2 comments » | canberra history, space

interstellar travel

August 7th, 2012 — 10:20am

Reading an article in the Economist, about more work done on the fermi paradox (that the galaxy should be teeming with civilisations so why isn’t it), and i got musing again about interstellar travel.

If we view the galaxy as being innately fertile, as i do, then the flowering of intelligence would be as necessary a consequence of its birth as is the birth of its suns. And it would happen spontaneously across the galaxy like the opening of blossoms on a tree.

But that doesn’t mean we know about other intelligences. The galaxy is 100,000 light years across. Even if it could be crossed at near light speed, that is still a relatively long time. The earth could be circumnavigated by ships in theory within a year or two ever since early civilisation, but it didn’t occur at that rate, it took hundreds of years. By extrapolation, even once near light speed technology became possible, it would take much more than 100,000 years to thoroughly populate the galaxy. The researchers discussed in the economist calculated perhaps 50m years.

I think it is reasonable to believe that the emergence of intelligence is occurring elsewhere, and may be ahead of us by some millions of years, but I believe it is not so far ahead of us that it has completely populated the galaxy and become ubiquitous. I think it would arise across the galaxy spontaneously and contemporaneously, once initial seed conditions were right. This is a deterministic view, as opposed to the contingent view of evolution of life and intelligence (where random events like asteroid impacts completely change the story). I view the galaxy as, if you like, an fried egg. It all gets cooked evenly – even to within a few million years. We should expect to know our closest neighbours first, and even they might be 100 light years away (i love the lists at solstation when musing about this). But there is no civilisation out there that has got a massive head start on us.

And if it turns out that near light speed travel is in fact impossible for material things like spacecraft, then the maths makes it even more difficult to populate the galaxy. I can’t even see humans boarding a ship which was not destined to arrive for much more than a single lifetime, without some kind of stasis technology. Even then, the thought would be “perhaps a faster technology will be invented whilst I am travelling, making my journey pointless”.

And all of this assumes that there is no shift in how we view reality itself. I discuss elsewhere my thoughts on alternate realities in our mind and how this is where all the aliens could be (the Orpheus idea). Distance in material space becomes of no consequence when we are neighbours on other planes.

Comments Off on interstellar travel | space, whimsy

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