An engineering student’s Blog

” …All of this. All of this was for nothing – unless we go to the stars.” – Infection, Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski

We should go to Mars – my letter to the Augustine commission

My letter to the Augustine Commission’s subgroup on exploration beyond LEO

Dear Augustine commission and members of the Exploration Beyond LEO subgroup:

We should be a society that exists on more than one planet.  Humanity can determine our own destiny, unlike the vast majority of species that have come and gone on this planet – But we have not yet proven this. We should make Mars our immediate focus and develop the means to go there in an incremental, series of progressive steps that capture the publics interest and maintain it. With major mile stone events in an evolving architecture with Mars firmly established as this generation’s challenge. This and this alone will restore NASA to it’s rightful place in humanities consciousness, as an institution that Inspires.

Mars is the most compelling target for manned space exploration – but a sortie styled unsustainable architecture would be unacceptable. One of NASAs priorities should be to bring the private sector along every step of the way to fill in what NASA can never do alone, and that is levee the creativity and resourcefulness of the most productive nation in the world towards opening up the next frontier and developing space. It would be ashame for NASA not to learn from the greatest error of the Apollo flights, the lack of follow up, the fact that US policy wasn’t to catalyze the amazing capabilities of industry and private human enterprise to tackle the challenge of space flight. The 2nd industrial revolution awaits with untold potential for wealth and economic growth. NASA can begin this by funding more COTS like programs, and integrate these into the path to Mars. So that when the political environment changes with respect to space as it unfortunately and maybe inevitably does, commercial interest can further humanities interest in developing space. NACA did amazing things for commercial aeronautics and developed a real industry that could continue without an overwhelming, unsustainable federal expenditure. This can be done for space. And the US is still in a position to fully exploit this and lead in this emerging industry, an industry that in my humble opinion is still in its infancy with respect to its unbound potential.

Do we want humanity to fight over the scraps of what remains of Earth or do we want to infuse ourselves with the renewed vigor of a challenge worthy of humanities ability to do anything. Transform our world, save it, by giving our society this challenge that unites us, one more time.

I am just a freshman mechanical engineering student and father of a 2 year old boy. I’m in no way an expert with all of the facts in front of me I humbly submit my thoughts to you with a grain of Hope. I’m inspired by people like the Apollo 11 Astronauts, engineers like Robert Zubrin, and space enthusiast like Ross Tierney, to do what I can while I can. More over I’m taking the time to share my thoughts because I believe we have an opportunity for positive change in the course of history at this time. Good luck & may reason guide you hearts and hope steer your minds.

Interesting ideas from more skilled and capable people here:

Now if you were to ask me what some of those first steps beyond LEO should be and how we could achieve them, my best guess would be something like this.

We are in the process of developing a heavy lift capability to go to the moon and enter the first phase of the Vision for Space Exploration.  Continue this.  But the Ares I and V don’t seem to be the best means vs cost, capability and time frame.  I’d have to say the best alternative is the DIRECT shuttle derive launch vehicles the Jupiter130 and Jupiter246, one rocket plus an earth departure upper stage that levees what we already know, the people and skilled labor we already have and the hardware we’ve already characterized and operate.  Modify the EDS to serve as a phase I LEO propellant depot, and contract commercial providers like SpaceX and ULA and our international partners to refuel the depot.  Fund Commercial Orbital Habitat Services, Commercial Orbital Propulsion Services and Commercial Orbital Power Services competitions and leverage NASAs capabilities to integrate these new ventures into a phase I Orbital Transfer Vehicle that can move mass and crew between orbits and to the moon.  Fund a Commercial Orbital Propellant Depot Services competition to develop a better propellant depot based on the EDS technology that you can share with private companies to place a more capable PD at EML-2 and SEL-2 and investigate human NEO and Phobos missions.

I imagine you can throw an inflatable transHab module from Bigelow Aerospace a solar electric power system and VASIMR propulsion system from AdAstra Rocket into orbit on a series of SpaceX Falcon9 heavy rockets within 5-10 years as a means to get Astronauts back and forth between the Earth and the moon.  While NASA begins its moon missions based on the Altair/Orion baseline.  Once the technology for the Orbital transfer Vehicles are fully vetted NASA may want to switch to a Commercial Orbital Transfer Services program and use the program savings from utilizing lower cost commercial providers to perform its current operations to develope the technology to spear head the next step.  This will involve more commercial competitions to evolve the OTVs into a phase II Interplanetary Transfer Vehicle from witch NASA can contract for missions to NEOs and Phobos.  All of thise while NASA works the most difficult, long poll, development item.  The Mars EDL system for landing heavier loads on the martian surface.

Thru this entire development process you’ve involved the private sector more and catalyzed new economic growth and capability towards space exploration and development.  While at the same time the incremental process has allowed opportunities to capture the publics attention with milestone flights, landing and events – critical for continued political support and funding.

One of my favorite quotes, “It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.” – Robert H. Goddard

Respectfully and hopefully yours
Eric Rivera


Filed under: Mars, Science, Space

Miles Obrien to testify before congress tomarow on “Enhancing the relevance of space.”

Follow Miles at

I spoke breifly with the 26-year broadcast news veteran and former CNN science, aerospace, technology and environment correspondent over twitter w00t

From and

milesobrienI am testifying before Congress tomorrow. Subject is “enhancing the relevance of space…” Would love your thoughts.

engstudent@milesobrien good luck tomorrow. Is what NASA can do in the future within the scope of your testimony or just how its received by the public

engstudentThis 140 character limit is killing me!

milesobrien@engstudent both i think

engstudent@milesobrien If NASA could show incremental milestones in S.E.(space exploration)

engstudent@milesobrien I think this would help the most with keeping the publics short space attention span + a major event every say 4 years can help

engstudent@milesobrien again best of luck tomorrow – ill stop spamming you now. CNN should never have to let you go.

milesobrien@engstudent not spam at all…thanks


Okay very breifly – hope he does well in futhering the cause of the next frontier.  No preasure

Filed under: Politics, Science, Space

DIRECTs AIAAs Houston section Interview

Ross Tierney answers questions and masterfully summarizes the STS derived DIRECT Alternative including what lead to the latest iteration, Plume-induced flow separation, PIFS which heats the base of any rocket accellerating thru the atmosphere.

Read the well illustrated AIAA Houston Horizons Summer 2009 Report :: Revisiting a DIRECT Approach here, it begins on page 8

Or Continue to the text bellow.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Politics, Science, Space

The 2nd Industrial Revolution & New World

Some good reading about the current state of human space flight and what itll take to break out of LEO and move out further, with potentially a much greater pay off than what it’ll take to startoff at the SpaceRef’s going beyond LEO.

And at the IEEE’s spectrum a number of great articles about the technical and economic challenges of a Mars Mission, at this time.  Included is an article written by Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society about how to go – Right Now.

Should I stay or should I go?…

GO.  It is my opinion that humanity is doomed to a pathetic death and waste of universal proportions if we don’t take on the challenge of exploring, developing and eventually settling other worlds.  We waste away and fight over trivia with grave immeasurably horrific consequences without challenges.  We grow and evolve with them.  This mission to explore and go to other worlds is the challenge Humanity needs to survive and break free of its current grim, status quo.

A decision to abandon Human space flight or leave it to future generations, is humanities death sentence.  We should choose to go.  We should choose to grow.

Filed under: Mars, Science, Space

A question of severity & evidence of evolution

At risk of stating the obvious the flu appears to spread quickly.  DOH!  Its rate of transmissibility is high.  But its severity or virulence maybe indirectly related to its transmissibility.  People don’t have to be oozing with the virus and litterally falling apart for this thing to spread.  As a result the new H1N1’s initial fatality rate maybe low.  Quite low.  The danger however, still exsist that it can better adapt to human physiology, it could borrow the right code in a reassortment somewhere and come out with the right protiens to be much more lethal.  But for now its missing crital protiens needed for it to be much of a threat.  More information here at the Wall Street Journal by Peter Palese and Here at the Virology Blog

The most likely result in the short-term is the continued spread of a new, mild-flu which no one has any immunity to resulting in a larger number of hospitalizations as the virus spreads over a larger fraction of the population,  taxing our healthcare system.  In fall this will become a problem as it could come back as a slightly more virulent form during the usual flu season – or it just reach an even larger fraction of the population, sending a fraction of the population to the hospital for treatment.  

A healthcare crisis is possible in even a moderate flu epidemic.  At least it doesnt have the capability of the 1918 Spanish flu.  If we take this as an oppurtunity now would be the time to lobby and push for improvements to a healthcare system with some serious wholes in it.  Now before a more deadly organism emerges.

USEFUL LINKS ::,-And-When-Do-They-Open


About evolution – I’ve always thought of it as a useful theory in simplifying complex problems in the lifesciences.  A philosophical construct, a tool.

I’ve never accepted that there are solid arguements and real articles of evidence, in mutations occurring allowing a new genetic branch or new organism to thrive better than previous itterations which could eventually replace previous ones – evolution.  A few weeks ago I was thinking about this again and thought about insects and thought ants are ants, bugs remain the same for millions of years.  And I thought what about bacteria, something with a faster life cycle, something where a new generation appears on a more compressed time scale you maybe able to notice changes in genetics and potential improvements.  But I left it at that.

It would appear the evidence I was looking for smacked the world in its face recently.  A new virus – a random reassortment of genetic code gave us this new influenza A, which was of benifit to the organism experiencing the mutation allowing it access to more resources (humans) thru its new found quicker rate of transmissibility. So I will be investigating and entertaining the idea that evolution is more than just a philosophical construct or a useful way of aproaching lifescience problems.  

Although I will not quickly give up what I believe – it would be wrong to ignore the possibility that I was wrong.  The bible says, “make sure of all things.”  Essentially – it commands us to question, inquire and seek the truth.  Well evolution appears more to be a working theory with physical, real relevance and supporting evidence that needs to be explained.  As a human being with a head on and a heart pumping life thru it I have an obligation to do nothing less.

Filed under: Health, Science

Current WHO phase of pandemic alert is 5

UPDATE :: Make that 5 – that is, The world health organization has confirmed a pandemic is imminent.


The current world health organizations phase of pandemic alert is still at 4 but I wouldnt be surprised if they raise this to level 5 before the end of the week – Level 5 means theres evidence of human-to-human spread in two different countries, like the US and Mexico, for example.

Phase 4 is characterized by verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus able to cause “community-level outbreaks.” The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic. Any country that suspects or has verified such an event should urgently consult with WHO so that the situation can be jointly assessed and a decision made by the affected country if implementation of a rapid pandemic containment operation is warranted. Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion.

Phase 5 is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.

Phase 6, the pandemic phase, is characterized by community level outbreaks in at least one other country in a different WHO region in addition to the criteria defined in Phase 5. Designation of this phase will indicate that a global pandemic is under way.

Filed under: Health, Science

1 fatality out of 66 cases in the US

My wife said she’d die if she were the mom – I can’t imagine the horror and tragedy this family just experienced.

UPDATE :: The CDCs 11 oclock update is up.

Which makes my attempt at a CFR look hasty indeed.

UPDATE :: Our first death was a patient originally infected in Mexico and brought to the US for treatment, not originally infected here in the US and maynot be statistically appropriate include if youre trying to estimate an effective CFR for the US.  I need to read m0r3.

A CFR is an extremely difficult value to get
See this post at “Effect Measure” for more information 


A rough, very rough, CFR (case fatality ratio) of 1/66, about 1.51%, or 15 fatalities for every 1000 infections is possible.  In statistics one of the most important things you learn is how to look at the sample number and data of the statistic to analyze its usefulness, a sample number of 66 out of a potential population of 305 million may not be a good idea.  The actual CFR for this strain of H1N1 maybe end up being way off this initial value.  I should try to construct an error estimate.  But I wont.  Im not a statician, Im not a medical expert, I just felt like writing down what worries me about this new flu.

A gross approximation of the potential of such a virus can now be done, if you allow a number of assumptions, in the absence of much more valuable, real data.  

If the spanish flu infected 25% of the population and killed 2.5% of those effected, and this virus seems milder but its ability to be transmitted between humans is still unknown even if we know its happening.  Lets assume this aspect of the virus will also be milder.  Say 10% of the population infected 30.5 million out of which 462000 could be serious, fatalities could be reduced in this group if promtp and appropriate action is taken, and antiviral medications like tamiflu and relenza remain effective against it, reduced by about 2/3rds to about 154000 fatalities in the US.  Of course this gross estimate ignores a lot of factors like not being in flu season and if this will reduce the potency of the virus and how much and how fast it spreads, if it does effect it.  We still dont know why there even is a flu season.  And more importantly we don’t know much at all about this very new virus to expect an estimate like this from anybody who knows anything about disease and epidemiology.

Maybe this number isn’t useful – maybe I took a number and ran too far with it.  Kinda like forest gump catching the football and running off the field, down the street, …and what.  You didnt see the movie?!  Its a blog not a news source, you want safe and reliable analysis?  Wait a few years for the CDC to cruch the data.  But this is my number and I hope im wrong I hope its another flu we just deal with every year – makes us miserable for a week and we shrug it off then get the regular flu – and shrug it off.  But Im worried that we’ll be lucky to see only 154000 fatalities at the end of this.

Remember if you’ve seen one flu pandemic – you’ve seen, one flu pandemic.

Filed under: Health, Science

If you’ve seen one flu pandemic – You’ve seen one flu pandemic.

UPDATE 04.29.2009 :: At least 66 cases in the US with our first fatality – a 23 month old baby in Texas. 

Germany Confirmed its first 3 cases.

UPDATE 04.28.2009 :: Statement issued Tuesday by the state health department:

INDIANAPOLIS – State health officials report test results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed a case of North American Human Influenza A (H1N1) in northern Indiana.

This case does not appear to be included in the latest CDC update meaning there are at least 65 confirmed cases in the US now.


Snipped from Effect Measure at


Posted on: April 28, 2009 11:07 AM, by revere

It would be nice to think that the 28 cases at the NY Prep School are it for the city and that the virus has been contained there. But that was always more a wish than a plausible reality:

CBS 2 HD has learned of a confirmed case of swine flu at the Ernst & Young headquarters in Times Square.One of the staffers became ill over the weekend after coming into contact with a family member who had been exposed to the virus.

The staffer is said to be resting at home and the company believes, due to the virus’ 24-hour incubation period, that no one else at Ernst & Young was exposed. The company released a statement on Monday night:

“An employee in our offices at 5 Times Square was diagnosed on Sunday with swine flu, which she contracted from a family member. The individual had not been in offices since last Thursday. According to the Center for Disease Control, the disease has a 24-hour incubation period. Given the timeframe, we believe that it is unlikely that any other of our people have been infected.

“The health of our people is our foremost priority. Since learning of the diagnosis, we have followed the procedures outlined by the Center for Disease Control, including closing the offices on the floor where she worked and retaining a skilled sanitation service to clean the area. We have alerted our people and have told them to feel free to work from home if they would be more comfortable doing so. We have also notified the appropriate authorities.” (CBS2, NY)


As we keep looking, we will find cases, so the total will rise, probably on a daily basis. Like poll numbers, it is probably wise not to pay attention to daily fluctuations but look at the big picture. Right now the big picture isn’t visible, but with the passage of days or a week, it should become clearer. The current spate of cases could burn itself out as warmer weather ensues. Flu is a highly seasonal disease, for reasons we don’t understand. That wouldn’t mean we were home free, however. Wherever flu hides in the “off season” (flu does find work in the southern hemisphere’s winter), it can come back the following year. Those familiar with 1918 know there seems to have been a milder “herald wave” the previous spring which came back like a freight train in August. CDC is well aware of this possibility and should this outbreak wane will clearly urge and engage in continued preparation in the event this evolves in the same way.

If it evolves the same way. Influenza is a virus full of mystery and surprises. The more we study it the more complicated it becomes. Remember the adage: “If you’ve seen one flu pandemic, you’ve seen one flu pandemic.”

Filed under: Health, Science

unprecedented commitment to science

Missed in yesterdays headlines was Obamas announcement to increase R&D funding to a new high of 3% of GDP.  And attempt to reverse losses in our nations ability to lead in education and innovation.

Highlights of the speech by the American Institute of Physics here.

Full transcript of the speech here

Filed under: Economics, Education, Science

Shift happends

Found this video at the JSC Advanced Planning Office Blog 

Its not exactly News – was posted November of last year – but still EYE OPENING and highly recommended that you watch it and meditate on it if you have a minute.   Me I dont have a minute and this is probably going to be my last post in a while – vector calculus is kicking my ass and I have a test tomarow morning.  If I didnt I would be entertaining the idea of driving up to see the shuttle launch tonight at 920pm – but I cant.  Maybe will go to Miami beach and hope theres no clouds.  Sad – yeah I know – maybe we’ll just watch it on NASA TV or and look out the window (: will have mission coverage from 430pm including an interview with Astronaut Leroy Chiao and Damaris Sarria, Coalition Advisory Board Member and aspiring astronaut.

Now back to studying


UPDATE :: also available in v2.0 && v3.0

Filed under: Economics, Education, Science, Space



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