Fred Clarke (1921-2013)

Fred Clarke

Back around the year either 1999 or 2000 (I forget precisely) I had the honour of meeting Sir Arthur C.Clarke at the London based Science Museum. This was an encounter that I would remember for the rest of my life and I never expected to be influenced by another Clarke yet again. Forward several years to around 2011 and I had the honour of visiting Fred Clarke (brother of Arthur) at one of his family homes in Suffolk.  Around March 2011 I made the trip with Colin Philp and Mark Stewart, both loyal members of the British Interplanetary Society. Since, then I have repeated this trip and over time I became one of the many friends with the man that is Fred Clarke. He was even kind enough to take myself and my wife out for dinner one day to a nearby restaurant. It was lunch time, the lunch hour had gone and passed and all of the other customers had left. But the kindness of the restaurant owners showed brightly that day when they choose not to disturb us (even though they were now closed) because it was Fred Clarke, such was the respect that the man engendered in others. Eventually, myself and Mark Stewart ended up working on a project with Fred to put together a book about his brothers life.

Mark Stewart, Fred Clarke, Kelvin F.Long

In particular, Fred wanted to tell some stories about what Arthur was like as a child and how much fun they had had playing together and getting up to mischief. Out of this collaboration has come a book (which I codenamed Project Spaceship) which is soon to be available, two years after the project began:

 http://www.apogeebooks.com/9781926837260.html

The book contains exclusive photographs from the Clarke family archive many of which have never been seen before. A significant portion of the proceeds generated from all sales will be donated to the British Interplanetary Society, one of the main reasons for Fred initiating this project. Recently, in the months before Fred left this world, the book became a collaboration with Apogee books and Rob Godwin and in his hands the book will surely now be a success as Fred would have wanted it.

Fred Clarke had been a strong supporter of Arthur all of his life, running the family Rocket Publishing Company, and personally attending many events in support of his brother. But he was also quite a chap in his own right. Early on in our friendship he told me about one of the many books he had published which he had lost his copy of. So I tracked it down. It was called “Small Pipe Central Heating”. This was not my area of expertise, although I had once participated in a project to install a house boiler and radiators. But I had a rummage through the book before I sent it onto Fred and it struck me as being incredibly well written and highly scholarly. It wasn’t much different from the usual University text books I read as a student. This told me straight away that there was more to this man than meets the eye, a man who comes across as down to Earth as you can get with an incredible sense of humility and kindness. As I got to know Fred over several visits and telephone calls, I indeed found him to be a total gentleman who was as sharp and witty as his brother. Despite his age and loss of health over the years, he would engage you in a conversation with no problems at all with his wonderful West country charm.

He delighted us with many stories of his own, and many of those are in the book so I won’t spoil the surprise. But I recall him telling me about one of the times Arthur was staying over and a phone call came in late at night from Stanley Kubrick. Fred answered and had to wake his brother up. Stanley was apparently considering using electric propulsion for getting into Earth orbit for the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Arthur had to stay up until 3am convincing him as to why this would not work. Whenever Fred told stories like this, you almost felt like you were in the presents of Arthur too.

Fred phoned me barely a week before he died and it is a sad day when the light of one so bright is struck out. But I choose to celebrate the joy of his life, rather than the sadness of his passing. I celebrate the person he was, and the love he showed for his friends and family. He was also a long time dedicated member of the British Interplanetary Society and all of the membership is in mourning at this recent loss. You sort of had the feeling, that Fred would always be there.

When I think about what moved Fred the most, it appeared to me it was helping the next generation. He was always trying to help people, but in particular the young. He frequently spoke to me about his desire to see a Centre for Arthur C.Clarke built in the families home town of Minehead in Somerset, England. Indeed, he spoke about organising an event around the year 2017, the centennial anniversary of the birth of Arthur.  This ambition will stay with me for a long time and in my heart and mind the possibilities of making his dream happen occur to me daily. Minehead it is then.

My thoughts are with Fred’s family at this time, particularly his daughters Dianne and Angie. Fred Clarke, like many I am proud to have called you a friend and you will be missed. The legacy you and your brother left behind, continues and we will continue to honour your memory and the way you lived your life.

Kelvin F.Long

Executive Director I4IS

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When will Voyager 1 leave the Solar System?

When will Voyager 1 leave the Solar System?

Stephen Ashworth, Oxford, UK

Searching for a boundary

As Voyager 1 reports on changing patterns of particles and fields at the edge of the heliosphere, claims are appearing that it is on the verge of leaving, or may already have left, the Solar System:

  • An article by Tia Ghose in Space.com claims: “NASA’s Voyager 1 Probe May Have Left Solar System” (20 March 2013).
  • But according to the latest NASA update, “It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space” (20 March 2013).
  • Jonathan Amos and David Shukman provide coverage on the BBC website, together with a fanciful artist’s impression of Voyager 1 against a blue-sky (!) Milky Way (20 March 2013).
  • Paul Gilster recently discussed the Voyagers in Centauri Dreams, “Looking Back from Deep Space” (25 February 2013).
  • Meanwhile an earlier NASA news item reports on the changing signs that the Voyager science team are watching for (3 Aug. 2012).

Voyager 1 is currently humanity’s most distant probe, 123.7 AU from the Sun at the time of writing (the exact distances of Voyagers 1 and 2 from both Sun and Earth are given on their homepage, updated at half-second intervals).  It is a notable feature of their slow progress that for part of the year, their distances from Earth are actually decreasing because for part of its orbit Earth, moving faster, is catching up with them.  But their distances from the Sun, and from Earth year by year, are of course always increasing.

The domain of the Sun is the region of space which is dominated by our star’s gravitational and magnetic fields.  Here, too, the Sun is brighter than any other object in the sky.  But does this domain have a clear boundary which a spacecraft can cross?  Does it actually make sense to draw a line in the sky and define the space on one side as interplanetary and on the other as interstellar?

There appears to exist a reasonably well-defined magnetic boundary.  The Voyagers are clearly close to this boundary: JPL states that they are in the heliosheath (the outermost layer of the heliosphere), but have not yet crossed into interstellar space.  But a graphic of their current location suggests that the distance from the Sun to the edge of the heliosphere is wildly different in different directions.  Even in any particular direction, that distance will surely vary over the 22-year solar cycle as the Sun’s magnetic strength waxes and wanes.

The Sun’s gravitational dominance extends well beyond its magnetic influence.  The small world 90377 Sedna, discovered in 2003, is currently close to its perihelion of 76 AU (which it will reach in 2076), but over the course of the next 5,700 years it will retreat to an aphelion of around 937 AU, or more than seven times further from the Sun than Voyager 1 is at present, and so presumably well outside the heliosphere in that particular direction.

A few other small bodies are known with similarly large aphelia: minor planet (87269) 2000 OO67 has aphelion at 1068 AU, while (308933) 2006 SQ372 goes out as far as 1570 AU.  There must be many more waiting to be discovered.

Are we to say that Sedna and similar worldlets spend part of their orbit in the Solar System, but the rest of the time are outside the Solar System, in interstellar space?  This would be bizarre: these are Solar System bodies, therefore the Solar System must extend out at least to 1600 AU.  And what about the hypothesised Oort Cloud?  Although no bodies in the Oort Cloud have yet been directly observed, it is believed that vast numbers of icy asteroids (which form long-period comets when occasionally disturbed into falling into the inner Solar System) exist out to a distance of up to a light-year.  Do the unperturbed majority spend their entire lives orbiting the Sun in interstellar space?

These are, however, small bodies, smaller than Pluto.  Perhaps the outer boundary of the Solar System should be marked by the orbit of its outermost planet?

For the present the outermost known major planet remains Neptune; the largest body currently known beyond Neptune is tiny Eris, both smaller and lighter than Neptune’s largest moon Triton (which is in turn the smallest of the Solar System’s seven planet-sized moons).  The distance of Eris from the Sun varies from 38 to 98 AU, thus well within the heliopause.  But it remains possible that one or more larger worlds, even a planet, could be discovered in a stable circular orbit well beyond the heliopause, and even more so that such worlds may be found orbiting other stars.

The orbit of Neptune defines a pancake 30 AU in radius but only 1.9 AU thick (due to the inclination of that orbit at 1.77° to the ecliptic), which can be regarded as the domain of the major planets.

We thus find three possible definitions for the boundary of the Solar System:

  1. Magnetic, where the solar wind gives way to an interstellar flow of charged particles: apparently somewhere near 125 AU out in the direction in which Voyager 1 is travelling, but according to the JPL graphic much greater in other directions, and in all directions likely to fluctuate in time depending on the fluctuating strength of the solar magnetic field.
  2. Gravitational, at the orbit of the outermost major planet: that of Neptune at 30 AU in the direction of the ecliptic plane but only 0.93 AU towards the poles of the ecliptic; values that are stable over time but would change if a new trans-Neptunian ninth planet is discovered.
  3. Gravitational, at the aphelion of the outermost small body that may continue to orbit the Sun for the lifetime of the Solar System, which, depending on close encounters with other stars, may be in the region of 0.1 to 1.0 light-years (6,000 to 60,000 AU) away; identifying this body is, however, totally impractical: for a very long time to come it will always be possible to find an even smaller asteroid orbiting at an even greater distance than the current record-holder.

Clearly, none of these definitions by itself is satisfactory, and they are mutually inconsistent by orders of magnitude.  Taking the criterion of the Sun being the brightest object in the sky is not very helpful, either, as this would abolish the whole concept of interstellar space and divide space up among the interplanetary spaces of different stars, the larger part of which volumes would not in fact contain any planets.

James Jason Wentworth offered a suggestion in the comments to the Centauri Dreams article on the Voyagers: “In his 1979 book Planetary Encounters, Robert M. Powers usefully defined an intermediate region of space between the planetary region of the solar system and interstellar space, which he called ‘ultraplanetary space’. Its outer boundary is 0.1 light years (6,320 Astronomical Units [AU]) from the Sun.”

How he arrived at that outer boundary is not clear without reading the book; presumably it is impressionistic rather than physical, a round-number approximation to the distance at which an orbiting body would not be likely to be disturbed by stellar close encounters over the life of the Solar System.  While the inner edge of ultraplanetary space would be clearly defined (in our case) by the orbit of Neptune, its outer edge is fuzzy in the extreme.

The realm of the Solar System, then, merges gradually into that of the stars, with no clear boundary line where one could set up a border control and a passport checkpoint for humans leaving or aliens entering the Solar System.

Redefining the boundary

So how can we say that our spacecraft have or have not made the crossing from interplanetary to interstellar space?

The problem, I suggest, is that people are still thinking in terms of what they are used to on planet Earth.  Here on the ground, location is all-important, as every estate agent knows.  Every country has a precise boundary, often physically marked with a wall or a barbed-wire fence, a river or a coastline, and crossing the border is a big deal which politicians expend much rhetoric on, while police forces watch the queues at airport arrivals with eagle eyes.

In space, it is different, because nothing stays still, everything is moving under the influence of gravity.  The location of a body by itself is of little account because it is constantly changing.  A space “station” is not stationary, but always in motion.  The role of fixed points on the ground is played in the Solar System by fixed heliocentric orbits: the path followed by a body around the Sun when it is not influenced by rocket propulsion or by the gravity of another orbiting body such as a planet.

Left to itself, then, an orbiting planet, asteroid or spacecraft in a perfectly circular orbit around the Sun maintains a constant speed and constant distance from the Sun; but that perfect circle is an ideal, and in general closed orbits take the form of ellipses.  As the body approaches the Sun it speeds up and as it recedes away from the Sun it slows down, thus both its distance from the Sun and its speed are constantly changing as well as its position in space.

If we ask what feature of an orbiting body remains constant, a useful answer is the specific mechanical energy of that body.  That is, if we take its kinetic energy at any point and its gravitational potential energy at that same point, add the two and divide by the body’s mass, we arrive at the total energy per unit mass of any body in that orbit (as well as in a family of related orbits).

Gravitational potential energy is usefully defined to be negative everywhere, while kinetic energy is always positive.  This convention leads to the following result: if the body’s total energy works out to be negative (gravitational greater, in negative numbers, than kinetic), then that body is in a closed orbit (circle or ellipse) around the Sun.  But if the total energy is zero or positive (kinetic equal to or greater than minus potential), then that body is not bound gravitationally to the Sun, and after a single flyby of the Sun it will recede forever on a parabolic or hyperbolic trajectory (the difference being that on a parabola, with zero total energy, the body approaches zero velocity at infinite distance from the Sun, while on a hyperbola it is moving faster, even when theoretically infinitely distant from the Sun).

To be precise: if it has velocity v and distance r from the Sun, whose mass times the universal gravitational constant is G M, then a body’s specific mechanical energy E is:

E = 0.5 v2 – (G M / r)

This, then, is how a trajectory specialist would think of crossing into interstellar space: not by flying past some boundary line in space, but by accelerating to positive total energy relative to the Sun.  On Earth location is all-important, but in space that role is played by energy.

So when can we say that Voyager 1 has left the Solar System?  When it was accelerated by its flyby of Jupiter, which raised its total energy above zero.  Whether Voyager is in or out of the Solar System is not a function of location but of energy.  A spacecraft could be closer to the Sun than our Earth is, but if it is moving too fast to remain bound to the Sun, then it is already in interstellar energy space, like Arthur C. Clarke’s fictional starship Rama.  An icy asteroid may be drifting up to a light-year away from the Sun, but if it is in orbit around the Sun then it is still in interplanetary energy space.

Conclusions

(1) There is no clear geographical boundary to the Solar System.  We cannot think of the Solar System as we do of a country on Earth, with borders marked on a map and a passport office and a customs post set up on the border: the Solar System is not like that.  There is nowhere we can set up a notice saying: “You are now entering the Solar System (twinned with Alpha Centauri).  Please fly carefully.”

(2) The Solar System possesses a heliosphere, which is the domain where the Sun’s magnetic field is stronger than the interstellar field, and controls the flow of charged particles emanating from the Sun.  The boundary of the heliosphere is variable in time and direction, and at 123.7 AU distance in one particular direction Voyager 1 is now close to becoming the first probe to cross that boundary.

(3) The Solar System posseses a region of interplanetary space between the orbits of Mercury and Neptune.  This space can be completely enclosed within a flat cylinder 30 AU in radius and 1.9 AU in depth, aligned with the ecliptic plane.  Thus Pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2 left interplanetary space some time ago, travelling on hyperbolic trajectories.  The NASA/ESA Ulysses probe also left interplanetary space in 1992, while still remaining in an elliptical orbit around the Sun, through a Jupiter gravity assist which put it into a highly inclined orbit which took it several AU north and south of the ecliptic.  Ulysses has passed into and out of interplanetary space at regular intervals ever since.

(4) The Solar System possesses a region beyond interplanetary space in which stable heliocentric orbits are possible, but no major planets are found.  Robert Powers usefully named this region ultraplanetary space.  It is populated with small bodies (variously termed asteroids, comets, minor planets, dwarf planets, Kuiper Belt objects, Trans-Neptunian objects, Oort Cloud objects, and so on – in my view, it is sensible to use the word “asteroid” as a catch-all term for all bodies smaller than planets and major moons, but larger than meteoroids).  These speculatively exist out to a distance of a light-year or so, but identifying the outermost one down to any particular size is not practical due to their extreme remoteness and faintness.

The outer boundary of ultraplanetary space is therefore unknown, and it merges imperceptibly into interstellar space.  That boundary cannot even be defined clearly, since there is a vast region beyond say about 0.1 light-year where orbiting bodies are only weakly bound to the Sun, and are progressively more likely with increasing distance from the Sun to be disturbed out of the Sun’s gravity altogether by encounters with other stars.

(5) There does exist, however, a precise distinction between a Solar System body and one which is not in the Solar System; that distinction depends not on location but on energy.  Pioneers 10 and 11, Voyagers 1 and 2 and now New Horizons have become our first interstellar spacecraft, because all five have accelerated above solar escape velocity.  All now possess so much kinetic energy that they no longer remain bound to the Sun.

Let us celebrate Voyager 1’s crossing of the heliopause, when it happens, without too much rhetoric about it “leaving the Solar System”.  It left the Solar System already after its Jupiter flyby.  Later it passed Neptune’s orbit and thus departed from known interplanetary space, and is now passing through the heliopause and thus departing from the heliosphere.  But it will be a long time yet while it traverses solar ultraplanetary space, and the date of its final crossing into true interstellar space must remain a mystery.

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Principium issue 4

Issue 4 of the Institutes magazine Principium is now available to download here.

http://www.i4is.org/info_principium.html

Enjoy!

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You Tube Lecture (TVIW2013)

The recent interstellar lecture by Executive Director I4IS Kelvin Long, presented at the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, Huntsville, Alabama, is now available for viewing on You Tube. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeCaZ_-kiI0

 

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Icarus Interstellar announces 2013 Conference

The US non-profit foundation Icarus Interstellar has announced a new conference, to take place in Dallas, Texas, 15-18 August 2013. Details about the event can be found on their web site: http://www.icarusinterstellar.org/starship-congress-2013/

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Daedalus is the First and only “Starship design” in History

The title of this short blog is controversial but it is my claim. Daedalus was the British Interplanetary Society flyby probe design from the 1970s, which attempted to strike a balance between being sufficiently bold and sufficiently credible. For this reason they determined that technological extrapolation beyond a few decades hence was not credible. Because of this balance the design is not perfect and contains some contradictions which are only seen in the light of hindsight, such as the integration of an Artificially Intelligent computer but powered by Vacuum tube technology – this was before the days of microelectronics. In essence, the team set out to see if an interstellar probe could be designed in theory, as a way to address the Fermi Paradox; the apparent contradiction between our theoretical expectations for intelligent life in the Cosmos and our observations that we don’t see any. The study was produced over 5 years from 1973 to 1978, and was led by Alan Bond, Tony Martin and Bob Parkinson, among others. The conclusion of the Daedalus study was that “interstellar travel was feasible in theory”.

Caption: BIS Daedalus as depicted by Adrian Mann

Anyone who studies aerospace engineering knows that a vehicle design goes through three levels of iteration. First is the concept design phase, which addresses whether it will work, what it looks like, what requirements drive the design, what trade-offs should be considered and what mass should it have and if necessary how much it would cost. The next level is the preliminary design phase, which freezes the configuration, develops any vehicle sizing, creates the analytical basis for the design and moves into experimental demonstrations if appropriate. The final level is the detailed design phase, which identifies the individual pieces to be constructed and this includes any tools required. It involves any critical design tests of the structure and finalizes the vehicle configuration layout and performance specification. Along the way, there is a process of integrating the various systems and sub-systems, today couched in the language of systems engineering.  In my opinion the Daedalus was an early preliminary vehicle design for a Starship. The team defined all of the major systems and most of the sub-systems. Full integration was not possible due to the nature of the technological extrapolation. But the vehicle configuration layout, performance specification and mission profile was defined in full where practical to do so.

During my own reading of interstellar concepts, I have come across solar sails driven methods, laser beaming, microwave beaming, fusion, antimatter and exotic concepts, to name a few. All of these studies have been concept papers however, or proposal submissions, or case study analyses – they–do not constitute designs. I argue that at best they are concepts and for most of them even that is not fully justified due to the errors in the calculations or due to the gaping areas of the engineering or physics not addressed. Daedalus is the only one that can be claimed to be a “Starship design” in my view. The only other vehicle that comes close to it is the Project Orion design from the 1950s and 1960s. Orion certainly was a preliminary design, but it was calculated for an interplanetary mission only. Then there were the World Ship studies from the 1980s also by Bond and Martin, but these did not go into the sub-system level of the internal architecture. Daedalus was first, and Daedalus remains the only one.

On a recent trip to the United States I visited both NASA Marshall Spaceflight Centre and NASA Glenn Research Centre. I made this claim at both laboratories and none of the NASA staff disagreed with me. In fact, many indicated that they fully agreed with this assertion. I made the same claim at the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, Huntsville and on a recent visit to the International Space University in Strasbourg. Again, no one could present an opposing view. It is humbling to think that it has been that little known space organisation, the British Interplanetary Society, which has achieved this remarkable thing of designing the world’s first Starship and this will surely go down in its history as an inspirational activity. It’s not the first time of course; in the 1930s the BIS also designed a lunar lander decades before Project Apollo was an idea in the mind of President Kennedy. Other projects throughout the society’s history demonstrate its ground breaking and visionary pioneering as being “the first” to show the way. This includes manned V2 similar to the later Gemini-Redstone, a Mars probe, orbiting satellite, the list really does go on.

It was in 1952 that Dr Les Shepherd published his now famous paper “Interstellar Flight” in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. It amazes me that six decades on and we have only advanced as far as to have derived one Starship design. This is no surprise given the volunteer nature of interstellar studies. But for those who still doubt the plausibility of interstellar flight ask yourself this question: if we have only attempted to design one vehicle, how can you be so sure that interstellar travel is not possible?

Kelvin F.Long

 

 

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Future Worlds – track by track

By Alex Storer 

Alex Storer, a.k.a The Light Dreams, is a freelance digital artist, illustrator and musician whose latest album, Future Worlds, is out now and is available for download from his Bandcamp page, http://thelightdreams.bandcamp.com/album/future-worlds. Here Alex, who is I4IS’ honorary ‘Interstellar Musician’, discusses his new album and the meaning behind the tracks.

I like the idea of instrumental music being open to listener’s own interpretation, but as an artist, I always associate music with images, colours and concepts, so in turn, I like my music to have an idea to drive it as part of the creative process, which listeners can then either take or leave. Each track on Future Worlds has a specific theme or vision in mind, reflected in the title.

Souvenir of Earth is a downbeat and reflective start, taking both its inspiration and title from Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel, The Age of Miracles, which my wife had bought for me last year. The story depicts the impact on society and the environment following the slowing of the Earth’s rotation. The destruction or loss of our home world is a regular topic in SF literature, and I wanted to create a piece to match that mood, leaving Earth as just a memory. This was the first track I made and starting point for the whole album.

To the Stars was one of the first tracks I composed after being invited to join the Institute for Interstellar Studies™, and I wanted to reflect the forward thinking goals and ambitions of the Institute. I had recently made a 25-minute evolving soundscape entitled Chrysalis (http://thelightdreams.bandcamp.com/album/chrysalis-2), which was more of an experimental demo, but there was one section I particularly liked, which I adapted as the main melody in “To the Stars”.

Utopia – whether it’s the city of Diaspar in Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars, H.G. Wells’ When the Sleeper Awakes or almost any given Philip K. Dick scenario, beneath the perfect, blissful society and lifestyle there is always a dark undercurrent or conspiracy.

Colony – many space and science fiction artists have painted radical visions of what man’s colonies on other planets could be like. “Colony” is one of the more dynamic tracks on the album, starting out as a heavily electronic piece before gradually morphing into a thunderous orchestral score. I first started using symphonic sounds when I created the soundtrack to artist David A. Hardy’s English edit of the 1957 Russian film, Road to the Stars. I enjoyed working with these powerful sounds so much, I decided to fuse orchestral and electronic styles together for Future Worlds.

The World Outside – is actually the title to my own digital painting that I used as the album cover. I wanted a sparse sound and cold atmosphere, which could depict either the first sight of a new world outside a freshly-landed spacecraft, or a beautiful yet inhospitable alien terrain beyond the confines of a colony.

Second Sun – I was reading 50 Years in Space by the late Sir Patrick Moore and David A. Hardy, which contains one of my (many) favourite Hardy paintings, Antares. It’s one of those pieces that you feel you could step right into, with beautiful cascading waterfalls set against a vibrant double sunset. It’s also one of the brighter tracks on the album – thinking to the end of the film, Sunshine, when the dying sun is ‘rebooted” and warmth and sunlight returns to the Earth.

Icefall is one of the more orchestral tracks and combines the cold atmosphere of a solar winter with the underlying message of climate change and the melting of the polar ice caps.

Beneath the Surface continues the ecological theme, this time focusing on the endangered life under the sea. This is perhaps the album’s most epic track, with a gradual build and mid-point transition with echoes of Vangelis’ work and Mike Oldfield’s Songs of Distant Earth (which was inspired by the Arthur C. Clarke novel of the same name)

Cities in the Sky goes in a darker, industrial direction with thunderous drums and metallic drones. The concept of the floating city is no stranger to SF, and I wanted to produce a menacing piece that could capture the vast spectacle of enormous, monstrous floating machine-like cities.

Flightpath is about the adventure of space flight, such as the journey between warring worlds as depicted in Joe Haldeman’s Forever War or the plight of the Leonora Christine starship in Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero.

Earthlight – the partial illumination of a dark part of the surface of the Moon via light reflected from the Earth, and also a term for the appearance of the Earth as seen from the Moon during the lunar night – and an early Arthur C. Clarke novel!

Sea of Flames is an apocalyptic vision of the sun closing in on the Earth and setting alight to everything, including the oceans – a haunting close to the album.

I usually like albums to be around 40-45 minutes in duration – I think that’s just the right length to digest. However, I had so many ideas on the go whilst making Future Worlds, even after completing my planned twelve tracks, and there were two pieces that I really liked and decided to include as bonus tracks. In the one sense, the album starts off with man leaving the Earth and taking to the stars – almost like a first act.  So for the second act, we’re setting foot on a new world for the first time, and starting over there. This was the general thinking behind the two additional tracks, which are only available with the album download on my Bandcamp page (the 12-track version of the album should be available from Amazon and iTunes from mid-March).

First Steps started off as an energetic dance track entitled “Contact”, but it wasn’t the right style for the rest of the album, so I slowed it right down and changed it from an all-electronic piece to all-orchestral, the final track sounding almost Terminator-like in approach.

Origins is a slow building track, with layer upon layer of music gradually emerging and evolving into a dramatic, but optimistic crescendo. It’s also the only track on the album to feature vocal samples.

Sometimes when you start work on an album, it often takes unexpected turns and ends up going in a completely different direction to what you originally set out to. But with Future Worlds, I’d say it has turned out exactly how I intended, as an emotive and thought-provoking soundscape with a mixture of moods and atmospheres through a powerful blend of electronic and symphonic music. I’m certainly proud to associate the album with the Institute for Interstellar Studies.™

You can visit Alex’s website at www.thelightdream.net, where you can view his excellent artwork and buy digital downloads of his previous albums, as well as Future Worlds. Alternatively follow him on Facebook here. Alex is kindly donating ten percent of all sales of Future Worlds to I4IS.

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Comment facility re-enabled

We may have found a solution to our ‘comment’ issues and as a test will re-enable the comment facility for new posts (such as this one).  If this resolves our issues we will return to older posts and activate the comment facility for these older blogs – if you have a burning point to make on one of them!  Have a look through the older posts in the next few weeks.

If you have made a recent comment to one of our blogs which was awaiting moderation please be aware that it may have been lost and if that is the case we apologise.

Thank you for your patience.

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Principium Issue 3

Issue 3 of Principium is out now and free to download! Fourteen pages of interstellar goodness, including a retrospective of the Bussard ramjet, I4IS’ partnership with the International Space University in Strasbourg, and we also take a look at advances in both plans to mine asteroids and the development of the Skylon spaceplane. Including an introduction by Greg Matloff, issue 3 can be downloaded for free along with the first two issues fromhttp://www.i4is.org/info_principium.html

Note of Admin…apologies but we have had to temporarily disable our comment facilities – please come back later if you wish to comment!

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NASA Glenn

Today was the final day of the US tour. We reported to NASA Glenn Research Centre at 8am and then had a breakfast meeting with NASA management. The Tau Zero President Marc Millis also joined us as well as James Gilland from the Ohio Aerospace Institute. I then gave the lecture to an audience of NASA scientists, engineers and some young graduate students. The presentation was well received and the questions and feedback was all excellent. I was glad to also meet up with Geoffrey Landis, another interstellar pioneer.

We then all broke for lunch and much discussion was had. This included on the future direction of space exploration, national leadership in space, space politics, nuclear propulsion and other subjects. We then proceeded on a wonderful tour of the facilities. This included the Fission Technology Demonstration Unit, the advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator, Supersonic Propulsive Wind Tunnel, Small Chemical Rocket Propulsion Research, NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster NEXT.

Finally, we had a meeting to discuss the Institute and other issues facing the interstellar community. The staff at NASA Glenn were warm, friendly and openly enthusiastic for our efforts. It was an honour and a pleasure to spend some time with the people that are actually doing space. I dare others do better than these amazing space engineers.

Best wishes
Kelvin F.Long
Executive Director I4IS

I4IS Directors Kelvin Long and Rob Swinney next to the Agena upper stage which took the Ranger space probes to the Moon.

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