Monday, July 2, 2012

If Man Should Invade Space!

Thanks to reddit, I ran across the above, a great illustration/inforgraphic from a children's encyclopeida ('Our Wonder World') in 1918.  Just click the image for a larger view.

'A race for sun, moon, and planets at the terrific speed of two miles a minute!'

My Favorite blurb: 'Mercury: 54 years.  News of Lincoln's Death due there soon.'

These kinds of pics are great fun, but I think they also serve two important purposes:

1) It reminds us that what may seem impossible today may not seem so insurmountable in the future.   In 1918, any mechanical vehicle traveling at two miles a minute (120 mph) that wasn't plummeting out of the sky would seem utterly astounding and just barely in the realm of the possible.  Yet today, almost any mundane road vehicle can achieve that speed.

We reached the Moon in 3 days, not 83.  The Voyager 2 probe reached Neptune in 12 years, not 2,571.

Millions of years to the stars?  By our best estimates using realistic technology we now have that down to merely a few tens of thousands of years.  Ninety four years from now, the time between that encyclopedia and us, who knows what it will be?  Perhaps they will look back on what we write today,a nd chuckle at how limited our thinking could be at times.

2) It reminds us just how awesome the world we live in can be.

We take a lot of things for granted.  We get so caught up in our every day struggles and work and problems that we forget to take in the wonders of the world around us.  Space travel and probes to other planets and computers and intercontinental jets and so on seems pretty mundane to us nowadays.

But I can imagine taking a ten year old boy who may have read that old encyclopedia in 1918 and showing him all the things we take so for granted to day.  He would be utterly astonished and overcome with wonder.  Real pictures of other worlds!  Airplanes that can fly faster than sound! Thinking machines!  Wireless telegraphs that can talk around the world!

We would complain that men haven't walked on the Moon in 40 years.  He would be have trouble just getting his head around the fact that men walked on the moon at all.  We may be inconvenienced by technical difficulties with our computerized communication networks; he would be amazed that we even had such a thing to be inconvenienced by it in the first place.

We live in a world full of wonders that would utterly astonish almost every generation that came before us.  I think sometimes we just need to step back, take a deep breath, and realize just how awesome that is.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Next Great Fantasy Franchise Is... Ponies!?

As a life long animation fan, I've seen a true phenomenon emerging in the past year unlike anything I've ever seen around an animated TV show. The show is following a pop culture trajectory very similar to that of Spongebob Squarepants, starting out as a small but well done kids show that nonetheless quickly gained a huge adult following, especially among college students. Only this new show is doing it faster and with far greater numbers. After only two seasons, we've already seen over a dozen conventions dedicated to it springing up around the country, and what could only be called a massive following online. I've been struggling to put it all in proper perspective, so here are my thoughts about it:

One thing that always struck me about many of the great fantasy franchises is how they started off as lowly underdogs. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos and Robert E Howard's Conan the Barbarian had their origins in the pulp magazines in the 1920s and 30s, and floundered there in obscurity for decades. Tolkein's Lord Of The Rings suffered a similar fate by being lost in the small press, cherished only by a small population of enthusiasts and collectors, for nearly as long. Harry Potter? Written by some out of work mother of two and consigned to the children's books section. Who could possibly take any of them seriously?

And now we may be witnessing another great fantasy franchise emerge, one with an even huger underdog disadvantage than any of the others. Yes, I'm talking about the unlikely but undeniable cult phenomenon My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

Why its such an underdog goes even beyond its status as a G-rated animated show. The franchise's earlier incarnations really were the trite, sugary pap that many associate with girl-centric cartoons. They were shows that only five year old girls, and practically no one else, could really enjoy. Even in the dubious pantheon of saturday morning cartoons, My Little Pony was considered the bottom of the barrel.

But master animator Lauren Faust, who had helmed Power Puff Girls and created Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends, expressed an interest in reviving the show. Not because she was impressed with the cartoons that had come before, but because she had played with the toys as a kid and had always had a fondness for the characters. Hasbro, owner of the franchise, decided to give her a shot, and even more amazingly, gave her almost free reign to reinvent the franchise according to her vision. She and Hasbro both brought in much additional great talent, and the current show was born.

The series focuses on the magical world of Equestria, inhabited by Ponies as well as many other magical and mystical creatures. Here, 'Pony' doesn't mean an immature horse, but a trio of inter-related equine-like fantasy races: Unicorns, who can use a variety of magic powers; Pegasi, who can fly and manage the weather; and Earth Ponies, who have the least magic but who seem to grow all the food and run all the cities. The land is ruled by a pair of immortal sisters, Celestia and Luna, who embody traits of all three races and are powerful enough to control the rising and setting of the sun and moon.

The main character of the series is Twilight Sparkle, a nerdy, book-obsessed unicorn and introverted student of Princess Celestia. Her first adventure lands her in Ponyville, a small town that's the series' main setting, where she makes five unexpected friends while searching for the legendary Elements of Harmony during a crisis. After the danger passes, she moves to Ponyville permanently to be with her friends. Many adventures, some small and some epic, ensue as the former lonely geek learns the importance of friendship.

The earlier episodes, especially the two-part pilot, were very uneven in many places. But eventually, the stories became more polished, the characters became sharper and more three-dimensional, the humor became more sophisticated, and their former cookie-cutter fantasy world became shaped by a number of very interesting ideas. In many ways, its evolution writing-wise has mirrored Star Trek: The Next Generation, in that both series started out with middling pilots, lurched through a number of episodes that were obvious awkward growing pains, but eventually found their strides and elevated themselves up to the top of their respective genres. While many episodes of MLP are still merely fair with a peppering of a few stinkers, when MLP is good, it can be amazingly good.

Case in point was its recent popular and well-received two-part season ender. In fact, I think 'A Canterlot Wedding' may be the series' 'Best of Both Worlds' moment, to take another comparison from TNG; the episode that not only shattered all previous expectations about what the show could be, but made the rest of the world sit up and notice just how good it had become. Reviewers compared the episode to Disney animated features; in the animation world, there's little higher praise, and certainly almost unheard of for a TV cartoon. For me personally, I have to confess that Part 2 of "A Canterlot Wedding" was probably the single funnest half hour of TV I've watched all year.

I think what makes the show stand out so much is not any one thing, but a mix of all the creative elements firing on all cylinders. There's also the show's evolution in sophistication. It clearly started out being aimed exclusively at a younger audience, but its quality and smart writing attracted a sizable adult audience, so teh creators began catering to them as well. Hasbro recently claimed that the show's intended audience is now children between 5 and 11 and their parents. I think that "...and their parents" part makes all the difference. Its still very much a kid-friendly show, with occasional Looney-Tune jokes and Scooby-Doo chases and a lesson to be learned at the end of every episode. But its stories and characters are smart and savvy enough that adults can find a lot to enjoy as well.

A good example may be the character of Rarity. The main six characters are all young adults, so Rarity owns her own small dress maker's shop and dreams of becoming a premiere fashion designer. On any other kids' cartoon, or even on many live action adult shows, she would be the shallow, snobbish fashionista, most likely even an antagonist. But on MLP, she is portrayed as a struggling artist and businesswoman (er...businesspony) who is often harassed by clients and struggles to get her business noticed. She does have a touch of vanity and selfishness, but is also generous in many things. Despite being the most 'girly' of the main characters she's almost always portrayed as smart and strong-willed. I believe she is the most complex and mature of the main characters, and likely the one most adults will most easily identify with. The fact that a show like this even has a character like Rarity points to the amount of thought and care that goes into the writing.

Another aspect of the show I really enjoy is how unabashedly American it is in tone. I know some reading this are groaning that I may be segueing into shallow flag-waving, but hear me out. So much of fantasy--G-rated or R-rated, adult oriented or for kids, animated or live action--is derived so nakedly from European models or, more recently with the advent of anime, from Japanese or eastern traditions. Even great new shows like Game of Thrones is based loosely on the medieval european model.

While MLP has a location that does have a traditional fantasy feel--namely Canterlot, where the ruling Princesses reside--the show's main setting, Ponyville and much the rest of Equestria, has very much an American small town character, despite its mishmash of architecture. There are bowling alleys and family farms, old-fashioned school houses and a roller rink, beauty spas and yellow taxis (pulled by ponies, of course) and more. Equestria even has its own version of the Wild West and New York City ('Manehattan.') While this mash up can seem a bit awkward at times, its very refreshing to see a new approach, especially one based on American settings and traditions.

All in all, I do think that we're seeing a great new fantasy franchise emerging in My Little Pony:Friendship Is Magic. One more family-friendly and filled with more whimsy than the others I've noted, but that can be as much a source of uniqueness and strength as a liability. Will it fulfill such a promise? We'll have to see if it can keep up the quality of its stories. But I do think it has the potential. And I'll be one of the ones cheering for it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Updates, and a New Novel

Broken links for Laser Firearms and Lightsabers have been fixed.

Please DO NOT ask when new articles will be posted or what they might be, or what they are, because I don't know specifically myself. But harassing me about it--and more than one polite inquiry is what I do consider harassment--will do absolutely nothing to help, and in fact will likely delay new updates even further. Orbital Vector is a hobby, something I generally enjoy doing, and if that enjoyment's going to be sucked away by people demanding things unreasonably, I may delay or abandon updating it altogether.

Please understand that I'm still very busy, and my being able to update Orbital Vector and the Blog here means that things have gone from overwhelming to merely nearly-overwhelming. I'll update when I can with what I can, but it will be on no set schedule, as I still have to prioritize things that go into making a living over this site.

That being said, I do have a new ebook novel available co-written with my occasional collaborator, Phillip Velasquez. Its called DRYAD, a science fiction adventure novelette. Details below, so check it out and buy a copy or seven if you'd like.

Marooned on an unknown planet, xenobiologists Kendra Ling and Mona Favre must confront the mystery of bizarre alien 'dryads' if they are to survive. A fantastic tale of alien contact and transformation.

DRYAD for the Amazon Kindle

DRYAD for other E-Readers and the PC

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

...And We're Back!

Sorry this took a few months longer than I anticipated, but I've finally been able to turn my attention back to Orbital Vector. I just put up a new article on the main site ( Advanced Atmospheric Diving Suits ) and hope to put up a new article about once every two weeks or so from this point on. I have enough material in terms of half-finished articles from the past year (some examples are Spin Gravity, Artificial Gravity Fields, FTL Missiles, Manned Mars Mission, and more), I just need to buy a day here and there in my schedule once in a while finish them and put them online.

I'm still very busy trying to keep financially afloat, and one definitive thing I will be trying to emphasize with Orbital Vector is what commercial opportunities it can afford me, especially for advertising both my novels and freelance commission services. That will take the form mostly of banner ads I'll do up sometime in the next few weeks, so you'll probably see them dissemination through the site as I go along in months to come.

I know that's going to make some of you moan, but think of it as helping to keep me engaged in upkeeping the site that goes beyond just my uber-nerdy interest in awesome futuristic technology. Right now OV makes just enough from google ads to pay for its own webhosting. If it can make the webmaster a few extra dollars beyond that, all the more reason for me to keep updating it. Plus I doubt the changes I'll make toward that goal will have any major impact on the site itself beyond just one or two more banner ads per page.

But as I said in the last entry, one thing that will definitely suffer will likely be this blog. I'll still use it for updates, to promote a new book or such from me, or to point out some neat science or tech article I've read, but I'll be lucky to update it once a month or so.

Of course donations to help keep the site running and healthy are always welcome, and there's a button right on the main site's main page ( ) for those who'd like to help that way.

But if possible I'd rather have potential donors get something substantial in return for their money, so I'd like to offer the ebooks I currently have online as also a means of donating to OV. Buy the books, all reasonably priced, and you not only get some good stuff to read but also help keep Orbital Vector updated and its webmaster occasionally fed. They're listed below.


A full-length epic science fiction novel. One hundred thousand years in the future, on the vast ruins of a shattered Dyson Sphere, a young Myotan woman's complacent life is forever changed by the arrival of advanced human explorers. Soon plunged into an odyssey of love, terror, and wonders beyond her imagination, she must decide the fate of her people...and perhaps of all humanity as well.


THE SHATTERED SKY for other E-Readers and the PC


A fantasy romance novelette. In 1870s Italy, misplaced French actress Helen Mauvant finds herself penniless and abandoned. Taken in by a traveling puppeteer, she falls in love with the kindly but frail craftsman. But can even slmed down enough for me to more fully turn some much-needed attention back to Orbital Vector. For everyone who has commented or emailed with their support and concerns during my downtime on the site over the past year, thank you!


MARIONETTE for other E-Readers and the PC


A science fantasy novelette. In a future Earth where magic has returned, Aileen was a hard working but quiet student, hoping to earn a degree and make a decent living as a licensed wizard. But when a classmate's jealousy entangles her in demonic magic and transformations, Aileen is catapulted into the adventure of her life.

SELKIE for Kindle

SELKIE for other E-Readers and the PC

I also work as a freelance writers (typically ghost writing novels, stories, articles, academic papers, resumes, and so on for clients) and a freelance illustrator (specializing in character and story illustrations, and lately book covers) so if anyone need something like that feel free to contact me at

Anyway, hopefully things have calmed down enough that I can more fully turn my attention back to Orbital Vector like it deserves. For every one who commented or emailed me with their support and concern during my down time from the site, thank you!

P.S. I will also address some of the broken links that have been pointed out to me recently.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Website and Blog Are Still Alive!

...Just on a bit of a hiatus, at least until 2012.

I am very sorry I haven't been updating either like I used to, and in fact there's been a six month gap since I put up any new articles. The reason for that is rather straightforward: I have been very busy.

Orbital Vector, both the blog and the main site, are a one-man operation. And that one man (myself) has found himself in rather stressful financial straits. IN this day and age, that should come as no surprise, as there's a lot of that going around. That has meant doing a lot more work to just keep myself afloat. Since OV is more or less a hobby, making just enough from its ads to pay for its own hosting with little to no profit for its creator, its one of several things I've had to let slide for now just to make ends meet.

Some people have sent in donations through the button on the main site's front page, and for that I'm very grateful. I do plan on easing back into updating the site and blog regularly early next year, when (hopefully) work in other areas ease up for me.

OV is more or less an informational database, so hopefully even without regular updates people are finding it useful and educational, and the blog here fun and throught provoking. Hopefully you'll be seeing more on here soon!

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Habitat Gap

The big news going around the space community recently is that China recently announced plans to construct and orbit a 60-ton, multiple-module space station by 2020 (pictured above.) You can find more details of it HERE on's website. See also the original source HERE from the China Daily website.

I can do nothing but applaud this development. I know according to some people, China is supposed to be the US's big bad rival in the next decade, but any nation or organization that helps to expand on humanity's presence in the daunting frontier of space should be welcomed and encouraged.

The station itself, called 'Tiangong' (translated as 'heavenly palace') for now, will be composed of a main habitat module and two laboratory modules. It will be attended by a dedicated cargo ship and be designed to dock with Chinese space capsules. Though more modest than the ISS, it is definitely a step in the right direction for China's fledgling manned space program.

For the longest time, people pushing for human space exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit have focused almost exclusively on propulsion technologies. I think in some ways that has proven a mistake.

As I've stated a number of times on this blog, the development of long-enduring space habitats is as vital as advanced propulsion if we ever want to create a real human presence off Earth. And the way to do that is to actually live and work for long periods in space to determine which systems and techniques work best. That's what the project that eventually became the ISS was originally all about, but somehow people always end up whining (such as in the article's comment section) that the ISS "isn't going anywhere" or "isn't giving a valuable scientific return." It was never supposed to. It was originally supposed to be a testbed for humans living and working in space.

Some people seem to have the idea that all we have to do is strap a huge rocket onto an Apollo capsule and just like that we can zoom off to Mars. But even if NASA's advanced propulsion projects achieve all their goals flawlessly, future astronauts are still going to have to consign themselves to voyages of months or years once past the Earth-Moon system. Cramped, skimpy metal cans like current space capsules simply will not be able to keep human explorers safe and productive for such immense journeys, especially in an environment as hostile as space.

For those impatient to travel into the greater Solar System, one has to come to terms with the fact that improved propulsion technology like VASIMR alone is not enough. You also need space habitats that can keep a human crew healthy and in working shape for the entire voyage, and that's far, far more complex and tricky than most people surmise. In order to develop such habitats, we need the experience that space stations can provide us. Perhaps if more people had understood this and had not tried so hard to roadblock the ISS program in its various incarnations over the years, we might have already had human explorers on the way to other planets.

I have the feeling that future interplanetary spacecraft will end up looking much more like MIR or the ISS than the souped-up space capsules than many dreamers seem to envision. Or perhaps even like China's newly proposed Tiangong station, at a minimum. When you're out in the deeps of interplanetary space, on the longest journey by several orders of magnitude that any human has ever undertaken, what kind of ship would you rather have? A large one with the redundancy of systems and space to handle emergencies, or a cramped one that will tank if any one of several dozen life support systems fail?

NASA's proposed Nautilus-X, basically a mobile ISS, is definitely where things should be leading to by the 2020s. It would be relatively slow compared to some visions of interplanetary flight, but it definitely would be the best bet for getting a human crew alive and healthy to its destination. And the only way we can ever build such a craft successfully is through the data and experience we can collect through operating space stations. The public has to get past the notion that space stations are just hunks of metal orbiting in the sky, and understand that they are in truth our gateways to the heavens.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

NASA's Exploration Mothership

(First a quick apology for lack of updates lately, both here and on the main site. I've been caught up in that whole 'earning a living' thing lately and that's been sapping time away from OV. Hopefully things will calm down soon.)

Its big. Its ugly. Its as graceful as a swan glued to an anvil.

I love it.

Its NASA's proposed Nautilus X ("Non-Atmospheric Universal Transport Intended for Lengthy United States eXploration"), an idea put forth by the NASA Technology Applications Assessment Team at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. You can read more about the details in THIS recent Blog.

Basically, it replicates ISS in over all design using cheaper components, attaches rockets and more up-to-date supplementary systems, and sends it cruising on long-term missions. Proponents say that it could be built for $4 billion dollars and be ready by 2020. Realistically, we know that all initial budget and time estimates are significantly low-balled, so let's say it would really cost 3 times that ($12 billion) and would take as long to build and assemble as the ISS, which means 15-20 years with an earliest launch date of say, 2025.

It would still be more than worth it, in my opinion.

This is EXACTLY the approach to long-range manned exploration we should be focusing on. A larger robust, customizable, reusable habitat that can use reasonable propulsion technologies. This is in contrast to the super-compact vehicles where most of the emphasis is on the engine rather than what keeps the astronauts alive and healthy. The idea behind the latter is that if you can get astronauts to and from their destination sufficiently fast enough, you needn't bother with advanced habitat systems.

But the reality of both the vast distances in space, as well as our own near-future technological limitations (no warp drives or antimatter rockets any time soon. Sadly,) would seem to dictate the former approach. We HAVE to get used to the idea that if you want to go anywhere interesting beyond the Earth-Moon system, you're going to be spending a long time getting there. And that's just for manned exploration. Trying for economic exploitation such as construction or mining will require even more capable long-term mobile habitats.

Astronauts in these situations don't need cramp capsules attached to gigantic rockets, as many deep space proposals have posited, such as those to send astronauts to an asteroid or even to Mars in nothing more than two linked Orion capsules. They need actual ships that they can properly live and work on for months at a time. If you were trying to cross the Atlantic, it wouldn't matter how big a motor you attached to a canoe, because in the end it would still be a canoe, and poorly designed to handle the rigors of transoceanic travel. But if you had a big enough ship, travelling slower wouldn't be that big a deal, and you would be much better prepared to handle unforeseen circumstances.

This analogy I think very much applies to space travel, and why an idea like the Nautilus X is a big step forward. If we want to go back to the Moon, to an asteroid, even beyond to Mars or Venus, having an actual reusable ship that can do all that in succession makes more sense than building a new ship for each task. Plus the Nautilus is designed to be modular, and can be modified and updated through it operational lifetime.

But whether anyone at NASA will take the Nautilus-X seriously and moved forward with it is another matter. The space community is nothing if not traditionalist and slow to change, not only in their methods but in their modes of thinking about space exploration in general. Let's hope that won't be the case this time.