After the recent election results, the thought of moving to outer space seems kind of nice. Without recapping all of Donald Trump’s anti-climate change rhetoric, or catalogue his appointments of other climate change deniers into his cabinet, maybe we can collaborate with the newly appointed CEO of America and get his opinions on property investments on Mars.
But until he tweets us back, we’re going to look to some of our more immediate connections with advice on escaping Earth. Like speaking with our friend Hallie Waxman who recently interviewed her brother, an Aerospace Engineer at General Electric, about fossil fuels and life on Jupiter.
Hallie Waxman: Besides make more money than Dad and me combined—what exactly does your work at GE entail?
Mr. Waxman: I research advanced propulsion technologies, specifically pulsed detonation engines, which is a more efficient kind of combustion, to be applied for future use in supersonic propulsion or aviation.
So like, space rockets and regular jet flying?
Yeah, for space “rockets” and different aspects of defense—like missiles and stuff. Also for ground based energy generation. They’ll apply it to that first, since no one will be up in the air relying on it if it actually works or not. Pulse detonation engines use a different type of combustion phenomenon. It’s detonation as opposed to deflagration. Now we use deflagration, in your car engines, jet engines, in everything. It’s a flame type of combustion. Detonation is more of an explosive, pressurized combustion—much more efficient. So fuel savings are big and there’s less of an environmental impact.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing us right now in terms of fuel and fuel efficiency?
Fossil fuels—jet fuel—has the highest energy density, which means you get the most energy for the weight or volume. In aviation, we’ve looked at moving over to hydrogen—but that energy density isn’t there. It’s not feasible.
What about cars?
Okay, there are cars that work on fossil fuels, of course. Then there are two different kinds of cars that use hydrogen, fuel cell cars use hydrogen and oxygen and have them on opposite sides of an electric circuit and what it does is it takes an electron from one and brings it through the circuit and it’s water, but when that electron is moving through it creates a current and that powers your car. What comes out of your exhaust is water vapor. There are also cars that use hydrogen combustion. BMW has this concept car, it would hold both gasoline and hydrogen. The problem with extracting hydrogen is the method is either inefficient or requires the use of fossil fuel, which defeats the purpose. There are straight electric cars—they use huge lithium ion batteries, and that’s where they are limited. I mean, we can make an electric car that you could plug in overnight and have enough energy to get around, but the expense of a battery that big…these are the obstacles.
Do you see us not using fossil fuel anytime soon? Why do you think we haven’t taken steps to switch to something else sooner?
Well we are going to have to. In Brazil, they use ethanol, made from corn oils and that’s a renewable resource. There’s huge business in oil. Oil is the most lucrative business you can think of right now—I mean, of the top 5 Fortune 500 companies in 2006, 3 are oil companies. Exxon Mobile is number 2 (with an annual revenue of $347.25 billion and profits at $39.5 billion). The idea of the hybrid has been around for like 40 years, but American car companies were not having it. After a lot of trying, they took the idea over to Japan, and they went for it. Using less oil means huge losses for these big oil and car companies.
Let’s talk about outer space…how come we’re not where we thought we would be 10 or 20 years ago?
We were at the moon, and since then, you could say we’ve gone backwards. Not in technology, but the focus is elsewhere. If you shoot for the moon and then get it, orbiting around in space is just not as exciting. And even though we need to do it to go farther out, it’s become less of a priority. The main focus has been putting up satellites and working on space stations, GPS, weather satellites, you know. Since the Columbia disaster, NASA was having trouble with funding before that and now…. The deal is, though, there is this new thing where they are offering these things called X prizes for private companies as an incentive for certain goals. Like, one was to independently build a shuttle that could be launched into space. It’s always been a strictly government thing. Some people argue that only the government can be careful enough to do this sort of thing, but God knows NASA has had its share of accidents. The prize was a million dollars, which is far less than what it would cost to make it, but the winner got recognized and bought by Virgin. The winner was Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composite Spacecraft Design, exclusively licensed to Virgin Galactic—go to the website. They are booking trips to space for as early as 2009 if you can buy the $200,000 ticket. Another contest like that is to build this theoretical “space elevator,” a physical cable, tether, something, that goes from earth up to space and to a body out there. The competition is to make something that can actually withstand going through the atmosphere and into space while still connected on the Earth end, and a vehicle for it, to carry cargo to and from space. The idea was actually from a science fiction novel. The emphasis is now on giving private companies the incentive to build these things. NASA’s still working on George Bush’s ‘back to the moon’ thing, it’s called Project Constellation and the vessel is called Orion, and what they want to do is replace the space shuttle and go back to something closer to what we used in Apollo—a big rocket with a space craft on top. The shuttle now is a bad design—incredibly expensive to send up and bring back.
What about underwater? Could there be a dance club underwater?
Underwater? I guess you could make a club underwater, there probably is one. The thing with underwater travel is that the military subs and stuff are nuclear powered. What limits them in terms of how long they can stay underwater or at sea is not their fuel, its how much food they brought along. Nuclear power is very powerful, very efficient. They are looking into using Nuclear power for other things—space flight, but it is a touchy subject. All that testing goes on underground. Like, you know K—–‘s Atomic Power Lab? It’s near our old house. They do that there, subs and nuclear power plants for training underground. There is another one farther upstate, a real big one. You could see it from Google Earth maybe.
Oh, man, really? Will you take me there so I can take pictures?
No way. They have gates with machine guns and stuff, its pretty high security. You can’t take pictures at where I work either.
Can we try?
You can do whatever you want.
Can there be a dance club on Mars?
Not in the near future. But I can tell you what might be. There is one thing that might cause us to go back to the moon very shortly. There is a material found very rarely on earth called Helium 3, it’s used for nuclear energy production, fusion, and it’s very expensive. They think there is a lot of it in the soil on the moon because it all comes from the sun, solar emissions, that our atmosphere blocks. If we find out there is enough on the Moon that makes it worth it for us to go to the moon and bring it back, then there will be a huge drive to go to the moon, colonizing it…there could possibly be a dance club.