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6 small steps toward cooler spaceships

Image: Magbeam station
An artist’s conception shows a Magbeam station emitting a plasma beam to propel a target spacecraft beyond Jupiter. (Credit: UW Advanced Propulsion Lab)

SPOKANE, Wash. — Is there a better way to power a spaceship? The basic tools of the rocket trade have been refined over the course of nearly nine decades, but there’s only so far the physics will take us. If we ever want to send anything to another star system, as described in Kim Stanley Robinson’s newly published book“Aurora,” we’ll have to come up with new technologies.

Some of those technologies were laid out at Sasquan, the world science-fiction convention playing out this week in Spokane, during a session on the art and science of spaceships. And it turns out many of those technologies have a Seattle spin. Get a quick rundown on six research areas, with links to the local connections.

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Will HBO finish ‘Game of Thrones’ first?

Image: George R.R. Martin
“Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin sets the scene for a reading at the Sasquan science-fiction convention in Spokane. (Credit: Alan Boyle)

SPOKANE, Wash. — “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin acknowledges that HBO could air the final episode of the show based on his books even before the last book in the series comes out — and he’s OK with that.

“Anything is possible,” he told GeekWire during Thursday’s Q&A at the Sasquan science-fiction convention in Spokane. Martin took questions after reading a chapter from “The Winds of Winter,” which will be the sixth book in what’s expected to be at least a seven-volume series.

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The moon photobombs Earth!

Moon and Earth
The moon passes across Earth’s disk in a July 16 image captured by the DSCOVR satellite from its observation point, a million miles out in space. The Americas and the Pacific Ocean are visible beneath Earth’s cloud cover. Because the moon was moving while DSCOVR acquired the data for this three-filter image, there appears to be a thin green offset on the right side of the moon’s disk, and red and blue offsets on the left. (Credit: NASA / NOAA)

The Deep Space Climate Observatory, better known as DSCOVR, is designed to provide full-disk, sunlit views of our home planet from a vantage point a million miles away. But every so often, the moon crosses through the frame. Today, NASA released the first amazing photobomb sequence.

The perspective from DSCOVR’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (a.k.a. EPIC), captured on July 16, provides a topsy-turvy view: Here we’re seeing the moon’s far side, which earthbound skywatchers can never observe. And although it looks like a full moon, on Earth the moon was in its totally dark, “new” phase.

This isn’t the first lunar photobombing: NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft caught the moon crossing Earth’s half-lit disk back in 2008. But when DSCOVR goes into full operation next month and starts sending back near-real-time images, we can expect to see a new-moon photobomb roughly twice a year.

Launched in February, DSCOVR is a joint mission of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with the twin objectives of making climate observations and keeping watch for incoming solar storms.

The Earth-watching part of the mission follows through on an idea put forward by Vice President Al Gore back in the 1990s – and the former veep was obviously tickled to see the latest pictures released from NASA’s lockbox:

A version of this item was published August 5, 2015, on GeekWire. For more from Alan Boyle, check out the Cosmic Log Google+ archive.