I'm about to head off to Niagara Falls for the weekend (as long as I keep reminding myself that the “camping” we are doing isn't anything like real camping, I won't be disappointed; I really excited to get out of North Olmsted…and I've never seen Niagara Falls before!), but before I do…
A few things…
We heard this talk on Thursday all about futuristic and innovative ways to design planes (if you can really call them that) that can fly in the atmosphere of other planets and moons. This is a complicated problem because some planets, like Mars, have an atmosphere that is much thinner than Earth's, which means you need to generate much more lift somehow (either by flying really fast or having a huge wingspan). Some planets, like Venus, have very thick atmospheres (which makes the aerodynamics easier) but are enveloped by extremely noxious gases. Another engineering problem arises when one considers that these planes need to be packed up into tiny spacecraft in order to get to their destinations. This means designing wings that fold up in inventive ways.
I was beyond excited to hear that they are working on creating a “dummy” rover for Venus that will be controlled by a plane that soars above the noxious layers of gasses (we can design metals that withstand the heat and sulfuric acid, but electronics just frazzle). Venus's geology is my first great scientific love, and physically exploring the surface is something that used to be an impossibility.
I was also fascinated by some of the creative flight designs they are considering for Martian flight. They are developing planes that flap their wings like birds. The wings are made out of some kind of special plastic that is very thin and flexes up and down. They are also using insects as inspiration. People like to say that insects like bumble bees are aerodynamically infeasible, but that's only because they don't use the same aerodynamic concepts that airfoils use. Instead they use the principles of an unsteady flow. If you'd like to read more about the way insects rely on vortices to produce lift, here's a good article.
On Mars, because of the fluid properties of the atmosphere, insect type flight can be scaled up to create larger flying insect-robots. Yeah…it's crazy. They are using technology that DARPA has been working on (apparently the military has tiny insect- flight technology robots but a lot of the work is classified…which makes me a little suspicious about the fly that attaches itself to my left shoulder every single day while I am running…seriously, it follows me, buzzes around my head, and then lands in the same place…am I being watched?) and making it bigger!
We saw lots of crazy far-fetched animations of all these designs. They were awesome.
Ok, getting back to reality, though…
Having a bike is the most wonderful thing ever. I have started biking to work, which is fantastic. I even love biking up the two huge hills every day, twice a day. I went on a long bike ride Thursday evening (don't worry, I didn't ride my bike at night; civil twilight began at 9:38 and I was back at around 9:45). I haven't gone on a long bike ride since…last fall along the Charles River, with Rob Radez (of all people) on the bike Sarah bought from the police auction (of all things). Anyway, I biked through the MetroPark and there were so many fireflies it was like I was biking through a planetarium. I didn't even know there were fireflies in Ohio. It was amazing…like a million tiny cameras flashing, or sunlight reflecting off a lake-only it was fireflies in the woods. Fantastic. I also rode through the entire solar system. Along the bike trail there are signs set up for each planet in the solar system and then the sun spaced to scale. So I biked in all the way from Pluto to the sun-which took about a mile-and then back again. It was awesome.
I hope everyone has a great weekend. Don't forget: Deep Impact is making its dynamic collision Sunday night/Monday morning. I'll be in a campground that has heated pools and is right next to a casino. Talk about “roughing it smoothly.”