Reconsidering giant ’60s Hydrogen SSTOs
(plus a mermaid and some toy teasers)

So I’ve been thinking with some excitement about this “artificial leaf” technology holy grail that seems to have been cracked. If I’m understanding it correctly, it’s a process for inexpensively splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, or to put it another way, an inexpensive way of generating hydrogen fuel. It’s not particularly difficult to convert an internal combustion engine to run on hydrogen rather than gasoline, and the great thing about doing this is that all you get for exhaust is hot water vapor (ie. steam), so it’s an essentially pollution-free power source. Of course in addition to driving cars it can generate electric power for us via fuel cells or via more traditional turbines. But since I’ve been talking about space lately, let me tie it in to that.

Back in the fifties and sixties there were a mountain of different lift vehicles with different technologies and power sources being tossed about. One of the most epic were immense SSTO (single stage to orbit) rockets — typically recoverable and reusable, rather than one-use disposible rockets like the Saturn V — of which the most epic were probably the Douglas Ithacus (1966, pictured left in a military version capable of transporting 1,200 troops — much more ambitious than Ball’s BoMi MX-2276 “atmospheric skipper” spaceplane that closely Echoed Eugene Sänger’s 1935 era Silverbird hypersonic plane for the Nazi’s Amerika Bomber program) and the General Dynamics / Convair Nexus (1962, technical drawing on the right). Each of these was a simple hydrogen rocket (which perhaps we can finally fuel “cheaply”) capable of lifting A MILLION POUNDS into low Earth Orbit. To put that into context, that means it could have lifted the entire current version of the International Space Station in a single launch and still had close to a hundred thousand pounds left over for supplies. If I remember right using current technology it took us between fifty and a hundred flights of American, European, and Russian lift vehicles to complete it.

By the way, there were nuclear rocket versions that Convair went on to develop based on the Nexus that were even more powerful, capable of taking a million pounds of cargo not just to low Earth orbit, but trans lunar injection… But let’s not be greedy, shall we? I would be quite happy just to see the more primitive — and safer and less pollution-capable — versions pictured above become real fifty years after their invention by a truly inspired generation of astro-engineers. I have to wonder whether anyone today has the initiative, even if the fuel costs dropped to negligible, to reconsider these old ideas. I sure hope so. Oh, and I should also add that water is quite common throughout the solar system (don’t believe the junk science in that horrible Battle: Los Angeles movie in which they claimed water was a rare resource unique to our planet) — Mars is covered in it, there are a multitude of asteroids and comets full of it, a pile of moons, and so on, meaning that it shouldn’t be terribly difficult once this technology matures to send automated factories in advance of human missions and permanent bases to make sure we have a large surplus of fuel waiting for us on arrival.

I have a bunch of projects, all that I consider successful experiments begging me to set up an Etsy-type shop (woe is me that I am so terrible at shipping on time — I would have already done it were it not for my fear of disappointing people as their paid-for products ferment my by front door… if that far…), that are lined up for me to post about and I will do so when I have a chance, but for now let me quickly just post the mermaid that Nefarious and I made (the picture above, duh). You saw the tail already a few entries before this one with the big collection of other toys, but Nefarious insisted on making an amended body with boobs, which she sculpted, and I made the hair and painted it for her and she seems quite happy.

I will try and add some more new stuff tomorrow that I’m feeling proud of but I have the feeling I’m going to be out of commission and resting tomorrow after over-exerting a little much the past couple days.

Oh, I couldn’t resist. There’s a teaser of some of the bodies and heads for my comic child soldier toy, each a bit (or a lot) different in theme and customization… I guess I don’t mind procrastinating a bit because the one thing I like very very much about exhaustion is that I sleep beautifully, whereas if I’m more “responsible” with my sleep needs I almost always wake up during the night in pain and likely don’t get that much more sleep anyway. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t as they say.

And something I forgot to mention. When I was bringing Nefarious home from the airport on Sunday at 1AM (she missed her normal flight due to an early Easter Egg hunt) we got stopped by the RIDE program. That’s a program here where the police set up a roadblock and stop every single car and ask them if they’ve been drinking. On principle I object to this because it skips the fact that the police should have resonable cause to stop and/or search and/or question you, and that I generally do not agree with this method of finding the guilty — same goes for when my entire neighborhood was “voluntarily” DNA tested after some sicko kidnapped a kid and raped her and cut her into pieces and dumped the bodies at the beach in garbage bags. I just think it’s a slippery slope. That said, they pretty much just waved us on after a single question “have you been drinking?” and a look in the truck, but on the other side of the road there was a dude having his car impounded… so maybe it saved a life and was worth it. My gut wants me to say that one should not trade liberty for safety, but sometimes it can be hard to stick with it after you experience the right anecdote.

I won’t muddy the waters with considerations of not trusting the police one bit.

PS. I’m loving this gallery of painted buildings and wishing all cities could look like that.


  1. Allahkat wrote:

    My faourite RIDE story is my brother-in-law barfing red wine and Percocet all over my dashboard about 100 feet away from one. “Have you been drinking?” “No, but HE has”. >:(

    Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 5:42 am | Permalink
  2. Shannon wrote:

    Along those lines, I was pulled over for speeding in Colorado and we had with us a huge industrial laser (legal, but enough to get the cop to call in backup and start sniffing) and a bunch of psychedelics (which I understand is frowned upon heavily in the USA)… Thankfully we said no to “can we search your van” and they had no probable cause and let us off with a speeding ticket only.

    A closer call was getting pulled over here (almost 20 years ago) while in the passenger seat cutting up a couple of 100-tab sheets of acid and individually packing them to sell at a party that night. Almost had a heart attack because I didn’t realize we had been speeding. Pushed the stuff under the seat quickly but totally thought I was going to jail.

    Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink
  3. Kimmo wrote:

    That is so strange to hear that they just ask have you been drinking. In Finland they use breathanalyzer. And I think this is one of the good things police can do. I mean, I dont give a good god dam how someone gets high, being high or drunk is fun. As long as you dont do it in traffic, car going 80-100km/per hour can be a deadly weapon. On the other hand, random dna-test and passport fingerprint databases are something I hate and fear.

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 5:55 am | Permalink
  4. Blandrea wrote:

    Mandatory DNA testing?

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 3:30 am | Permalink
  5. Blandrea wrote:

    Oh I misread “voluntarily”….still

    Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 3:32 am | Permalink
Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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