Dr. Edward Belbruno was the speaker today, and had been intending to talk about his new book, and how he got into the field of chaotic orbital dynamics. But first we heard him share some of his excitement about the potential for the changes (still not yet official) for NASA and US space exploration.
Ed just got back from China, in particular Shanghai, where he was stunned by the vibrancy of the city, the changes of just the last few years, and how inexpensive everything was (sumptuous dinner for eight people: $12.00). What really made him both excited for China, and depressed about the current state of the US, was the repeated sighting on the local news of Yang Liwei, China’s first astronaut, who seems to have caught his country in a frenzy of space enthusiasm. To Ed it seemed like a combination of New York in the 1900’s (when the skyscrapers first went up) and the US in the 50’s and 60’s – positive, win-win attitudes and enthusiasm and hard work everywhere.
And while he was there, Beagle (is that any name for a spacecraft?) vanished. Even though China hasn’t attempted any lunar or interplanetary probes yet, it seemed further evidence of the decline of the west… But, now we have Spirit on Mars, and the promise of a new direction for NASA at last! Perhaps all is not lost! But some remain skeptical – does NASA really still have it in it, or is it now like a former Olympic athlete eating potato chips and drinking beer while watching reruns of past glories.?
Anyway, Belbruno did eventually get to his fascinating talk on chaotic orbits, capture dynamics, and the story of political machinations at the Jet Propulsion Lab. Interestingly enough, ESA’s Smart-1 craft is following one of Belbruno’s suggested trajectories right now. And Martin Lo’s Interplanetary Superhighway, which was in the news a couple of years back, is all based on Belbruno’s mathematics. Rocket science is actually quite a bit more complicated than everybody thought!
By the way, NSS has chapters even in remote locations like Alabama; no admission normally required for meetings :-)