Sunday, September 16, 2007

On Martian Hemp

Here's some of my thoughts on producing a cannabis variant for Martian cultivation. The rhetorical comments are in response to the high;y political nature of...a plant.

Yield from aquaponics would have to approach the yield of Terran hemp in soil per square meter.

Hydroponic yields of marijuana per square meter is significantly less than that of hemp in soil in the same space. Based on what literature you read, on average you can grow a range of 200-300 hemp plants while you yield arount 10 -12 marijuana plants per square meter. Sure comparing hemp to marijuana is an " apples & oranges" thing. However, given the lack of studies on growing hemp in water culture (hydroponics, aeroponics & aquaponics), it's all that I can find available to gauge yield. That's why research in this area is critical.

It would also have to yield close to Terran hemp in terms of local temperature and atmospheric pressure.

From what I've read, hemp fiber yield decreases with lower temperatures and higher altitudes.

Hemp could be slowly cross-bred over time in continuously changing environments until it can be as close to whatever the Martian greenhouse conditions will be.

There have never been any human-rated structures built for long term habitation on another planet. So will the greenhouses on Mars sport temperatures & lower pressures found in spacecraft, or closer to that of the International Space Station? Or will research show that in order to be economically viable for the settlements, cannabis will require it's own separate greenhouse? Again, nobody knows.

Water & nutrient uptake would have to be adjusted for Mars gravity.

There's about three decades worth of plant research studies done in microgravity, with a significant portion of it still untranslated in Russian. That database points the way on how to proceed. The only way to specifically work on this is with hard data from plants grown in an on-orbit experiment package.

Now we enter the frustrating political realm of the International Space Station.

Even though you can have these experiments performed there as simply as using small plastic shopping bags as planters (major kudos to the brilliant high school students who came up with that one), that order of simplicity requires a $100 billion space station, astronauts doing it for the PR value thereby not charging their services for station resources, and every bit of ISS infrastructual support.

A few posts ago I mentioned NASA's free research plan, but you have to get it there.
And to run it " for free" , it would have to be completely autonomous once on-line. Unless you need to have a human work with it. Then NASA charges something like $15,000 per hour to do so. Or if you need to use their power, water, telemetry, computer network, etc. .

In reality, nothing is free on the ISS, the USA rules the roost, and NASA has final say on what goes up there. I'm pretty confident that the US government is not going to allow this research on board. Even if it was proposed by more hemp-friendly ISS partner nations like Canada or France.

So we're left with DIY university-class microsatellite use. Works for me.

Loss of crop yield due to infestation by indigenous vectors may not be factor. Resistance to molds, & possibly any bacteria from human exhalation and fish (via water from the aquaponic system) must be considered.

Due to the irrational political nature that nations have placed on Cannabis Sativa L. and it's subvariations, it's tragic that the possibility that terrestrial pests could be introduced on Mars as a deliberate act of interplanetary state-sponsored bio-terrorism must be seriously taken into account. Makes me wonder if The Big Four (Energia, ESA, JAXA, NASA) modeled this possiblity in their long-term space greenhouse studies?

Long term storage & radiation protection must be developed to keep the initial seed stock viable en route to Mars.

Here's another wonderful area of hard core engineering research that can be done on a micro-satellite level.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

AB 684 Passes in California - UC Davis as Mars Hemp Central?

A wonderful opportunity has appeared for areo-agricultural cannabis research within the United States.

On September 11th by a 26-13 vote, the California legislature passed AB 684, the California Industrial Hemp Farming Act. The bill now goes to the Governor for signing.

According to Section 1g of the Act, within four pre-selected counties in the stste of California to produce hemp; Imperial, Kings, Mendocino & Yolo, agricultural hemp research can be conducted under strict criteria.

The perfect choice for this research would be Yolo County's UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Not only does it perfectly fit the criteria set by the Act as a research facility, ironically Davis, California is also the home of celebrated Mars Trilogy author Kim Stanley Robinson.

But the Act has a built-in expiration date. Unless otherwise put into law, this act will automatically be repealed on 01 January 2013.

Also by no later than 01 January 2012, the Hemp Industries Association must report no later than 01 January 2012 to subcomittees of agriculture & pubic safety the economic impact of this act.

Within this time frame, along with fundamental research on growing hemp (not marijuana) aquaponically (which to date I can't find any research ever done), the real business of research and development could begin on producing a hemp variant for use in martian greenhouses.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Reality Check: Zen & the Art of Space Hacking

There was a great article in Wired online about space hackers: DIY types using weather balloons to get their ultralight payload to the very edge of space around 100,000 ft. It helped me realize that it was that perspective I had to consider as a working plan to do this.

As of right now, before even beginning to write up the PDR, HempSat is a commercial failure.

If this were a straight-up commercial venture this would completely suck. However, according to Fleeter, an astounding 98% of all satellite missions fail for the same two reasons:

1) Lack of engineering
2) No money. Especially no money.

After all, I’m not an engineer, nor do I have the financial backing to hire any talent let alone serious talent. Or money to have HempSat professionally designed, fabricated, tested and launched. Nor do I have a ground station & all the legal ducks in a row that it requires to establish & maintain one. In the real world, starting from scratch, that’s looking at around $ 2 million.

For me, when I really started approaching this concept, the first thing I had to get over was 'sticker shock'. Two million dollars is busfare for the commercial satellite industry. But for everybody else, this is ponying up the cost of several average sized homes in order to construct something the size of a small microwave oven.

And speaking of realities, even should all the former setbacks get resolved; there’s always the payload itself to consider. Can anyone within the continental US legally launch it in the first place? True, I will have to petition the DEA for a hemp cultivation license, at a cost of around $3000 I’m told. And all the paperwork & inspections that entails. Unfortunately, that could very well be the simplest problem to solve.

But would that license allow the LV vendor to accept the payload containing live hemp seeds, or be able to secure insurance without all parties facing federal threats of a RICO felony? And, launch vehicle aside, you can’t launch anything within the USA without insurance. So to get answer to those questions, I will have to add in attorney fees into the bottom line costs.

Also, launching outside the US is out of the question: on top of FAA & DEA involvement, they’d be another three letter agency involved: the DoS. The Department of State is responsible for enforcing ITAR ,the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. And shipping a satellite from the US to be launched elsewhere in the world may be a violation of Federal arms & munitions regulations.

It could be argued that as a science-oriented and not a communications satellite, it is not considered a restricted technology that cannot be exported from the US. But the same may not be the case for the satellite sub-systems; i.e. the commercially produced operating software that’s been modified for space flight, or believe it or not, just the expansion nozzles on the attitude control thrusters themselves could make this an arms issue.

So that means even more attorney fees.

Of course there’s the possibility this will be easier and less costly than I think it will be. I keep thinking of those space hackers I mentioned earlier on.

Sending their balloons aloft, cobbling electronic bits together to track their payload, or to be made into the payload itself. They too have little or no engineering experience, no real money to speak of, and could very well face negative governmental intervention.

I also keep thinking of a title of a book on Buddhism called Start Where You Are.

And keep going.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Launch of the Phoenix

Yesterday morning, I watched the launch of the Mars Phoenix mission online at NASA-TV. Needless to say, in the context of this blog, this mission is huge.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Orbital Squatting in the Name of Science

Here's my "Wild Goof Chase" for today.

I read online that NASA has changed their policy on using the ISS for research. Basically, if you can pony up the $ 20 million plus to get there yourself, the use of the facilities is free.

It says nothing about having to pay to get back to Earth. Or even going back to Earth for that matter. Imagine being a permanent citizen squatter in orbit in the name of science.

So in order to do this, I'm thinking a tricky " Pierre LeGrande meets Buckaroo Banzai " routine is in order.

In a break of thought from every space venture of the last 20 plus years, launch a completely expendable WYSIWYG spacecraft. My guess is it would be easier on you if you launched by dropping it out the back of an Antonov @ 30K feet. Hit the first stage engine(s) a la X-15 to get it to around an altitude100 miles, Stabilize the orbit for a prelim systems check for the next act, which is a 2nd stage burn that kicks it up to 250 miles.

Figure the shuttle & Soyuz craft take approx. two days to catch up to ISS from launch. So in the name of margin say the total life cycle of the throw-away spacecraft can be three days.

When you match orbits & are in rendevous range, maneuver with the ACS to the main US airlock, go EVA with ( ultralight ) research gear in hand. Then literally kick the spacecraft away from the ISS to both avoid any collision mishaps & give you the impetus to propel towards the airlock.

After that just ring the doorbell. I think ettiqutte demands you bring gifts. Then once you're in, you get to work!

Friday, June 22, 2007

One small step for cannabis: HempSat-X™

Section (Associated Market Segments) of 1997's Commercial Space Transportation Study (CSTS) by the United Space Alliance, it is subsections d, e, and f that are relevant for use here.

The study's methodology links subsection e, space agriculture, with subsection d, space settlements. As the study concluded that the market for space settlements was defocused due to lack of an assessed market demand, the study did not report in any depth on space agriculture.

But it's in 3.7.6 of the CSTS, Multiuse LEO Business Park, that is the most relevant.

'Market Infrastructure' (, raises the political & financial questions: tax laws, registering deeds, operating expenses and so on.

And it is here you find a legal landmine:

" One of the standard clauses in all U.S. real estate contracts is a statement saying, ' this contract shall be governed by the laws of the state of _________.' This clause needs to be clarified for a space business park development."

Bottom line: it's potentially legal as well as financial suicide if designing any C. Sativa on-orbit research based on the use of any American commercial orbiting facilities. It will no doubt take years of litigation, and tens of millions of dollars away from any real research & technological development to legally secure access of any orbiting platforms.

And even if it was possible to gain access, would it even be economically viable to do so? It's been reported that in 2002, NASA charged over US $ 20 million for facility usage ( fixed time , consumables, station power , data transmission, communications, etc.) and US $15,000/hour for ISS personnel assistance.

Outsourcing this on-orbit research to another international platform is not even an option. The NASA forced ISS/Mir debacle is solid proof of that. So at least for the next ten years the ISS is the only game in town for human space research.

Hence the critical need for the development of HempSat-X™: an independent automated micro-satellite, launched from international territory, dedicated to place cosmoponically germinated industrial cannabis (low/no THC) plants in low earth orbit for remote microgravity research. It bypasses the entire issue of using a crewed facility.

Unfortunately, a big downside is the micro-sat cannot re-enter the atmosphere & deliver the plants themselves back to Earth for full post-orbit analysis by researchers. Not only would it be cost prohibitive, there's also legal issues to consider. One of course would be if it could return with the plants intact and land in US territory, would the DEA consider the entire project as prosecutable under RICO? Maybe.

And what about insurance? Bet the premiums would be, well, astronomical. Getting quotes from aerospace insurers for a project cost analysis should be interesting.

I am working under the assumption that I can, for the near future, work up the inital design phase as outlined in Sarafin. One of the ideas I have regarding the bus modelling/fabrication process is using a more environmentally-friendly hemp-based molding material. Perhaps even using a hemp-based material as part of the structure itself. If that's feasible, then the satellite really will earn it's name.

It's way too early to be concerned about securing any outside funding. Though my guess is that soliciting for funding could very well be another legal landmine. But that's another topic.

Granted, I have no prior professional experience in this field. This is going to take some time to come to fruition. But that's the whole point behind the 'New Space' ( n00b Space? ) concept? To be personally involved in advancing humans in space instead of waiting for some government to to do it. If they ever do, that is.

What I do know is that without pursuing this so very important "one small step", the Big Vision is just another utopian science fiction concept that comes to light and fades away all too soon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

- The Big Vision -

NOTE: All figures are approximations and strictly for descriptive purposes at this time.

Generic name: Cosmoponicum (tm)
Trade Name: GrowHab (tm)

Basic description:

A small orbiting cylindrical test-bed capable of growing over eleven million cannabis plants, using cosmoponics (tm); aquaponic technology adapted for on-orbit variable gravity environment.

Length: four kilometers
Diameter: one kilometer
Maximum acreage: 35,281
Maximum yield: 11,841,234 cannabis plants

" Post in progress "

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Feds quietly stop NASA Mars money-again.

In a press release dated 11 June 2007 from the office of Congressman Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV), the House Commerce,Justice and Science and Related Agencies Appropriation Subcommittee passed FY08 bill which stops all federal funding for sending humans to Mars.

The press release states that in one of the two provisos known as a-76, that a moritorium will prohibit NASA "from funding any research, development or demonstration activity related exclusively to Human Exploration of Mars."

It also says that " the President is welcome to include adequate funding for the Human Mars Initiative in a budget amendment or subsequent year funding requests."

The other proviso prohibits the use of funds for public-private competitions for the employees of the Bureau of Prisons.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Notes for today

Been reading up over the last month & am more convinced fiber cannabis cultivation is vital to human expansion throughout the solar system.

But there's the reality of the situation. Long term human habitation off- world is decades away, and I harbor no illusions that I may live long enough to see it, let alone hop a flight & go there myself.

It's going to require dedicated highly technical people to even develop the technology to make this work. I'm no rocket scientist, but I'm beginning to get the idea.

Case in point. Any delevopment of large scale cultivation equipment will at one point require product testing. To do so in the USA may be considered illegal, even though the use if the technology is not even for this planet.

A possible solution: Test systems with a fiber cannabis simulant.
Another solution: test using low-THC (fiber) cannabis in a country that is more open to such development. For example, the EU subsidise hemp growers, and are agressively active in space botanical research. So are the Russians & the Japanese.

On the topic of space botany: just what are the effects of microgravity on germination of low-THC cannabis sativa seeds? That's not something you can pull off the web or read in High Times. Nor can you take as truth data collated from research on other plants that have been previously observed in microgravity.

Somebody is going to have to actually do this. Whether or not the Americans will allow such basic research be done on the ISS is another matter. It may require the contsruction of an independent on-orbit automated satellite specifically designed to observe germination, using privately owned launch facilities.

But will the Americans see that as an act of "astro-narco-terrorism"?

Next time I'll clarify why I'm so concerned about the American governmnet's reaction to this research.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Cannabis as treatment for Space Sickness

Pop culture has, metaphorically speaking, allied the concept of midnight tokers and outer space. Truth is they have been mutually exclusive. Astronauts take drug tests like any other federal employee. And do you think right now NASA will risk the PR damage by having some billionaire waving millions of dollars in their face for a ride to the ISS, only for the press to grab hold of the fact that those same " space tourists" were busted as teenagers for possesion?

That fact alone would disqualify them and every other citizen for a seat on a government rocket. It may not disqualify them for a seat on privatized space transportation that the so called New Space entrepeneurs are developing. So just like commerical air travel, the bong hits you did last night doesn't mean you can't catch your flight today.

However, in all the ballyhoo about sub-orbital space flight made by these entrepeneurs, as far as I know, nobody has ever addessed "Vomit Comet Syndrome".

It's a well documented fact of life in the space biz that amost 40% of all people when in a microgravity environment can get extremely nauseated if not violently ill. And quite frankly, if I were a well-heeled potential space tourist, I sure wouldn't want to think I'll spend experiencing my lifetime dream and up to US $ 260,000 a seat up-chucking into a bag.

In 1989, NASA first tested the use of Promethazine HCl injections to treat the symptoms of space sickness. At the time, it was a great choice. Promethazine [ Phenergan (TM)] is not only an anti-nausea agent, but it also acts as an antihistamine. Body fluids pool in microgravity, and at least for the first 72 hours, practically everyone feels as if they have a head cold. The anti-histamine would help relieve the sinus pressure.

Treatment begins prophyllactically with one 25mg injection approx. one hour prior to flight. Should symptomatic treatment become necessary during the flight, the suffering crewmember is given 1 x 25mg injection twice daily.

Promethazine has been their number one choice of treatment since.
As a space sickness treatment for space tourists, however, is another story.

In the following 18 years since it's introduction to the shuttle's medicine cabinet, astronauts report consistent side effects such as drowsiness, mental impairment and negative moodiness.

Furhter, according to the 2006 Physicians Desk Reference, this medication is contra-indicated for use by persons with underlying cardiovascular conditions. it is als reported as not being "tolerated well" in young children, up to and incluing suppression of respiratory function in toddlers.

I would love to go with my kids on a space trip, but the thought of one or more of them having a life threatening drug reaction on top of the possiblity of having them aspirate on their own vomit in zero-g is 100 percent unacceptible!

And consider the aging baby boomers, full of Space Age nostalgia and money to indulge fulfilling it, only to launch, get sick & being treated by something that may exacerbate an unknown heart condition.

NASA and the New Space entrepeneurs may not have the solution right now, but it's possible medical marijuana users and their caregivers may have. The use of low/no-THC cannabis ( specifically a high cannabinoid type ) for treating the nauseating after-effects of chemotherapy, as well for those persons suffering with HIV/AIDS, could be a well-tolerated treatment.

So it's quite possible that thanks to those patients, caregivers, compassion club volunteers & the med-mar growers risking so much for just wanting to improve quality of life, a significant roadblock to the permanent migration of humanity to Mars & beyond may be solved.

And for that, the very least that we as a people can give them, is the complete and unconditional decrimilization & legalization of cannabis use for medicinal purposes.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Obligatory Rambling Introduction

It's a thought experiment that I've been noodling off & on for four years now. More off than on truth be told. But this being the day after the "420 holiday", it's as good a time as any to use this blog to pull my thoughts together to put this concept into words. And hopefully in time, begin to put it into action.

Guessing here, but a strain of C. Sativa bred specifically for Mars would be called Cannabis Aresii. I need to double check on the suffix for accuracy, but for now C. Aresii works for me.

And as on Earth, it can be bred for a wide variety of uses; industrial, medical, spiritual or recreational.

Like here on Earth, the locals will give it popular names; for example, recreational users could call it 'Barsoomian Kush' or 'Tharsis Thunderf*ck'. Indeed, what about one honoring the late great Marshead (and marijuana user) Carl Sagan : 'Cosmos Chronic'? No doubt they (or for that matter anybody else who reads this post) will come up with much better names than these.

But whatever it's called, I truly believe sustainable human communities on the planet Mars isn't possible without it.