Archive for September, 2007

Crossing the Ditch: The interview

This summer (Aussie time) two young Australians, James Castrission and Justin Jones, will embark on an incredible adventure. They will attempt to be the first to cross the Tasman Sea by kayak. They will leave Sydney and after paddling for 2200 kms, will hopefully end their journey safely in New Zealand.

The two adventurers will be pushing the envelope of the ocean frontier. Success will require physical and mental endurance, advanced technological and scientific application and excellent seamanship. Its a voyage fraught with danger, Andrew McCauley, a very experienced adventurer lost his life attempting a Tasman crossing earlier this year. However achieving their goal will be triumph of ingenuity and the spirit of adventure.

Theres more information on their website, Crossing the Ditch, also I reported on the official launch last January, but I’m very pleased to bring you a short interview with James I conducted before he and Justin set off on a sea trial this weekend:

Lets start by asking a question I’m sure you have been asked plenty of times, Why are you undertaking such a risky adventure?

As Helen Keller once said- “life is a daring adventure or nothing at all”. Crossing the Ditch is less about being the first to get from point A to point B and more about the journey. The last 3 years of preparation have taught us more about business, adventure and more importantly ourselves than any other situation in our lives has taught us. Delaying the Expedition last summer was incredibly difficult, but as often happens it has led to multiple opportunities.. Sailing a yacht from Brisbane to PNG and from Melbourne- Syd, spending many more days familiarising ourselves with Lot 41.. the list goes on.

Other people have tried to paddle the Tasman and failed, some fatally so. Why do you believe the two of you can do it?

We have taken a significantly different approach to crossing the Tasman than any previous expedition. One just needs to look at the shape of Lot 41, the route choice and the gear we have on board to see some of the surface level differences. We have designed Lot 41 so that she is capable of crossing not just crossing the Tasman, but any of the world’s great oceans.

Your route is different from what Andrew McAuley tried, can you lets us know why you will be traveling a longer route?

Three main reasons:

1) A big part of our strategy in crossing the Tasman is utilising an eddy current off the EAC

This current moves around at different times of the year. In a couple of months it will tend East and extends out half way across. Our departure location will depend where the current is sitting.

2) Water temperature. As can be seen by the above link, the water temperature of 18- 20 degrees is significantly warmer than down south. This will result in less calories being burned to keep warm and significantly increases our survival time in the water if there is a situation.

3) Down below the 40th Parallel (ie Tasie-NZ South Island) the incidence of storms is much greater as is there intensity and duration.

You will be consuming about 6000 calories a day, what will you be eating? What sort of meals will be having for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

Typical days diet includes: 2 Dehydrated meals , 150g muesli, 300g scroggin, fat supplements, Sustagen, 2 protein bars, 2 Powerbars.

How will you be heating your meals?

Using flameless heating rations (Didn’t buy them from here but just so you get an idea).

What type of watermaker will you be using? Andrew McCauley had a hand operated one will one of you have to crank the watermaker or is it electrically operated?

Primary: Powersurvior 40E This unit will be pumping 10L per day for Justin and run off our electrics. If our electrics go down the unit can be converted into a manual pump.

Secondary: Power Survivor 35E (same one as Andrew)

I know the expedition will have lots of high tech communication gear, will the public be able to track your journey? Also do you intend to send back regular reports?

Our position will be updated live every 6 minutes to our website. We will also be sending blogs, photo’s etc. quite frequently. so keep logging onto

Your kayak, Lot 41, is based on a design by Rob Feloy, who designed a kayak that crossed the Atlantic, what sort of modifications were required for your expedition?

Although based on the concept of Pete Brays kayak that he paddled across the Atlantic, Lot 41’s primary difference is that there are two of us on board.

I know you have a trial trip coming up to Jervis Bay, will you be doing any longer tests before the big day?

We have this 4/5 day trial starting this weekend which will give us a good indication where we stand. The kayak will be fully loaded with all provisions and gear as though we are to set off across the Tasman. We have actually moved the mini-ex: we’re paddling from Port Stephens- Syd (approx 180km). We will be updating our website each day from out there.

On behalf of myself and the other contributors to Discovery Enterprise I wish you a successful and safe voyage.

Good luck!




James Castrission

Crossing the Ditch

Trans Tasman Kayak Expedition

Carnival of Space 21

Carnival of Space number 21 is up!

Image Credit: Copyright © 2003, Damon Taylor

The 21st Carnival of Space is up at Why Homeschool. Have a read of what the blogsphere thinks about the Google Lunar Xprize and other recent space news.

More on the New Moon Race

As expected the GoogleLunarXprize has generated plenty of controversy. Some are dismissing the whole thing as a PR stunt by Google. Others are complaining because their pet projects are not the goal. Lets have a deeper look.

David Nolan at Popular Mechanics gives five reasons why the prize won’t be won. Clark Lindsey responds to the criticisms but I like to make a few points. The contest does not require the team to build the rocket, they can hire a commercial vehicle. Back in 1998 a Chinese communication satellite, Asiasat 3 failed to reach a stable orbit, so engineers rescued the craft by sending it on two lunar flybys making it the first commercial spacecraft to reach the Moon. Perhaps a team could send their rover piggyback with a geostationary satellite. Or perhaps they can use the Interplanetary Super Highway as Brian Wang suggests.

The Xprize people know the prize is winnable from previous experience. Remember this is not a new idea. Lunacorp tried for several years to develop a commercial lunar rover using Russian technology but didn’t get anywhere. Perhaps more relevant was a company called Blastoff!. It was a started by several entrepreneurs in 2000 and managed to raise several million dollars before the bust killed it. One of those entrepreneurs was Peter Diamandis of Xprize fame. Diamandis described how the project came about:

It turns out that Bill Gross (and Larry) were both space fans. One day Bill was talking to his son about the space program and decided he wanted to buy him a moon rock… so he naturally looked on eBay to see if one was available for purchase (of course there are no moon rocks in the public sector). This exercise got him thinking about space… after a few other chance meetings, and a reflection on the tremendous success of the July 1997 Mars Pathfinder internet outreach (run by Kirk Goodall), Bill got the idea that he would fund the first private mission to the moon… a robotic mission that would make its money through internet advertising and media rights…. a company he called BlastOff! Bill and Larry viewed Pixar as the model for a company that could create entertainment and garner a multi-billion valuation. Their objective was to only build business models that could reach the billion dollar category… after all they had done it many times already!

Blastoff! eventually folded but they made enough progress to realise a private moon mission is doable.

As too the New Space critics they are completely missing the point. They seem to think that the only worthwhile space research should be about reducing the cost of space access. I may be stating the obvious , but the purpose of a transport system is to transport something. If some team manages to pull this off despite the high cost of transport, fantastic. This will be a world wide event. Millions of people will be following it on the Internet. It will certainly create world wide interest in space exploration something Paul Breed’s reusable micro-launcher idea will never do.

Theres already one serious entry I’m sure there will be more. I’m hope some Australian group has a go.

The New Moon Race

Alex makes some very important points in his recent post. President Kennedy certainly did inspire the United States to reach the Moon. When he made that speech at Rice University the USA had only 15 minutes of experience in Space, yet seven years later Neil Armstrong set foot on the Sea of Tranquility. I clearly remember that day in July 1969, I was a school boy, the class sat around a black and white TV watching that marvelous event. The world was amazed and astounded. There was no doubt of the United States technological leadership. If you have forgotten, go see the Australian movie The Dish, I was one of those wide eyed kids. In 2004 President Bush directed NASA towards the Moon again, and if all goes as planned, NASA astronauts will walk on the Lunar surface by 2015. So the United States , starting from nothing in 1962, could get to the Moon in seven years but now, with decades of human space experience it will take it more then ten. I would hardly call that inspiring or amazing.

However today two Americans, Xprize founder Peter H. Diamandis and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, have announced the start of another Moon race. The Google Lunar Xprize is a $30 Million prize to send a rover to the moon:

SANTA MONICA, Calif., September 13, 2007 – The X PRIZE Foundation and Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) today announced the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a robotic race to the Moon to win a remarkable $30 million prize purse. Private companies from around the world will compete to land a privately funded robotic rover on the Moon that is capable of completing several mission objectives, including roaming the lunar surface for at least 500 meters and sending video, images and data back to the Earth.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is an unprecedented international competition that will challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. The X PRIZE Foundation, best known for the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for private suborbital spaceflight, is an educational nonprofit prize organization whose goal is to bring about radical breakthroughs to solve some of the greatest challenges facing the world today.

“The Google Lunar X PRIZE calls on entrepreneurs, engineers and visionaries from around the world to return us to the lunar surface and explore this environment for the benefit of all humanity,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation. “We are confident that teams from around the world will help develop new robotic and virtual presence technology, which will dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration.”

“Having Google fund the purse and title the competition punctuates our desire for breakthrough approaches and global participation,” continued Diamandis. “By working with the Google team, we look forward to bringing this historic private space race into every home and classroom. We hope to ignite the imagination of children around the world.”

About Lunar Exploration:

In the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a historic superpower Moon race, which culminated in 12 men exploring the surface of the Moon. The first era of lunar exploration reached a dramatic conclusion in December of 1972 as Apollo 17 Astronauts Captain Gene Cernan and Dr. Harrison Schmitt became the last men on the Moon.

Moon 2.0, the second era of lunar exploration, will not be a quest for “flags and footprints.” This time we will go to the Moon to stay. The Moon is a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system and a source of solutions to some of the most pressing environmental problems that we face on Earth – energy independence and climate change. Already, governments from around the world recognize the importance of lunar exploration, and national space agencies from the United States, Russia, China, India, Japan, and the nations of Europe plan to send probes to the Moon in the coming decade.

Today, the frontier of private enterprise is the halo of communications satellites in geostationary orbit 24,000 miles above our planet. The Google Lunar X PRIZE now challenges private enterprise to reach 10 times beyond its present limits to participate in this great exploration adventure……

An international private race to the Moon. Much more exciting and inspiring. A real Amazing Race!

Sailing the North West Passage

1906 saw the completion of one of the greatest feats of exploration in history, the crossing of the North West Passage by Roald Amundsen. The North West Passage was the great goal of polar exploration and had defeated explorers was centuries. Even the British navy, the most powerful naval force of the era failed. They would get so far, then get stuck in the ice. With luck they got out before their rations expired.

Then the Master Explorer Amundsen came along. He spent time learning how to live of the land from the Eskimos. He knew the water could be shallow so only used a small 47 ton fishing boat. The crew totaled just seven. But he took dog sleds, and rifles, when they got stuck in the ice they went hunting for caribou. Instead of starving they got fat. Because they had mobility they were able to locate the North magnetic pole. A major scientific achievement of the time. It took them three years but finally they reached the Pacific.

Now Sebastien Roubinet has become the first person sail a boat across the passage in one season:

It took Sebastien Roubinet one year to build Babouche – a 7,5 m ice catamaran designed to sail on water and slide over ice. Sunday, the vessel made Sebastien’s dream come true.

The adventurer and his friends connected the Pacific to the Atlantic by the north of Canada; claiming the first Northwest Passage made without engine in one season.

Gamble won!

“Hundred years ago, Amundsen crossed the North-American archipelago from the East to the West and became thus the first person to carry out the passage of this way. Now, Sébastien will try become the first person to carry out this passage only by sail,” read the expedition project description.

Sunday – the triumphant dispatch: “GAMBLE WON, CHALLENGE SUCCEDED, DREAM REALIZED… for Babouche, Sebastien, Anne-Lise, Eric and Boris!!!! Babouche reached Greenland!”

Hard wind and sea

The passage took 3 months and 21 days, and spanned 4500 miles. As the ice melts (partially) only two months of the year, August and September, Babouche was in a hurry to get through.

The crew took turns, with Seb and Boris nailing the long, final leg. The team lost the mast at one point, had no heat – and used only sun and wind power for progress.

Soaked and tired, they fought hard conditions during the crossing of the Baffin Sea. North-east winds prevented a direct route to Greenland and leaving Devon Island, the guys battled 20 knot winds and a very hard sea……

Their website is here.

We Must Choose To Return to the Moon and Do the Other Things

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too”.

“Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there”.

“Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked”.

President John F. Kennedy at Rice University, September 12th, 1962

Forty-five years ago president John Fitzgerald Kennedy affirmed our nation’s commitment to putting a man on the Moon before the end of the 1960s in the most stirring and inspiring speech ever given by any American president concerning our national space goals. In his “We Choose to go to the Moon” speech he asserted the need for the United States to lay claim to a firm leadership position in the new frontier of space and that the U.S. should “do it right and do it first before this decade is out.” The young American president linked our nation’s commitment to the exploration of space to our long term national political and strategic goals during our Cold War battle against the forces of international communism.

Four and a half decades later we must reassess and reaffirm this nation’s commitment to the high frontier of space and link that commitment to the present political realities we face as a nation in the post 9/11 world. Our present national space objectives must reflect and address our current short and long range national security concerns. And, in order to do this we must choose to return to the Moon and do the other things and state clearly what those other things are precisely.

Yes space is there, the Moon and the planets are still there but, we as a nation are not quite out there yet. Our national space goals should be directed towards forging a spacefaring nation clearly committed to not just getting there but, maintaining a permanent human presence there, and stating concretely why we must be first.

The Cold War is not quite over yet. As a nation we face new adversaries and with some of our old adversaries old habits die hard. Communism and tyranny have not gone away and we face many new dangers in this new millennium. Our national space program must address these dangers and help us attain new long term national and economic security objectives.

We can no longer remain a nation held captive by our political and ideological foes by solely relying on strategic mineral and energy resources controlled by nations and despotic regimes that neither share our democratic values nor our love for individual human liberty. A common definition of a strategic mineral is a mineral that would be needed to supply the military, industrial, and essential civilian needs of the United States during a national emergency. Furthermore, they are not found or produced in the United States in sufficient quantities to meet this need. We can no longer allow ourselves to remain bound by this status quo.

Nor should we relinquish nor endanger our leadership as defenders of the free world by making political and diplomatic compromises with these same nations. And, neither should we allow ourselves to be forced to engage in reckless military actions that would compel other nations to question our real commitment to democratic values throughout the rest of the world in order to secure our hold on these resources.

Our nation must commit itself to a long term program of energy independence and give up its debilitating addiction to Mid-eastern oil and its dependency on strategic minerals located in the most politically unstable and volatile regions of the World.

A crucial first step in meeting these objectives is to embark and commit our nation to a long term space program with the clear objective of developing the mineral and energy resources of cis-lunar space. And, by choosing to return to the Moon we will have taken the first step in attaining these goals. We must focus our efforts towards utilising the mineral resources of the moon and near earth asteroids, exploiting space based solar power and committing our nation to the settlement of space. Only such a long term roadmap can ensure the security of our nation and its allies. In the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy:

“The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.

Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.

Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation”.

Kennedy saw, as few political leaders have before or since, that our leadership in the high frontier of space is very much linked to our leadership as defenders of the free world. We as a people must make our political leadership understand this and state clearly that as Americans we can not allow our nation to flounder in the backwash of history. Neither should our ideas of individual freedom and free enterprise be left behind on Earth to decay and wither in the face of global tyranny by allowing other nations to go in our stead. It is up to our generation to ensure that our most cherished values be taken to the stars where they can continue to flourish. This can be made so only by avowing ourselves to the goal, before this decade is out, that the United States remains first and foremost amongst spacefaring nations.

Journey to the center of the Earth … and beyond

Alex’s recent post on Europa reminded me of the incredible work of explorer-inventor Bill Stone . Stone, one of the leading explorers today, has explored deep underground caves, built autonomous robots that could one day search for life in Europa’s oceans and developed his own plan for exploring the moon. I have previously written about his extraordinary achievements. However below is a video of a talk given by the man himself. Very much worth seeing even if you only have dial up like I do.