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Selected Articles from the
February 1999 Odyssey

Editor: Norm Cook

Bringing Science to Science Fiction

By Craig E. Ward

This Valentine's Day weekend, OASIS took another step to becoming the premier provider of real science programming to the Southern California science fiction convention circuit.

On February 13th, OASIS members Bob Gounley and Steve Bartlett gave one-hour presentations at Gallifrey One, a science fiction and fantasy convention emphasizing the Doctor Who universe (with welcome intrusions from other sources such as Babylon 5 and Star Trek). Bob's presentation covered the Deep Space 1 technology demonstration project. Steve presented the issues and success of the International Space Station. Both presentations were well received by the audiences.

OASIS staffed a table at the convention, offering information and soliciting membership to the convention attendees. Staffing the table were Diane Rhodes, Karin Ward, Pam Hoffman, and Tina Beychok as well as Bob and Steve. NSS Regional Organizer Jim Spellman came down from Bakersfield to provide additional props and materials for the table.

Picture of props used at OASIS Information Table

The role of OASIS as provider of science programming at these conventions grew out of the chapter's participation in LOSCON, the annual convention of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. In 1998, OASIS provided programming and participated in LOSCON, Gallifrey, and Agamemcon. (See the article by Steve Bartlett in the December 1998 Odyssey.) This cycle is repeating for 1999 with OASIS assuming a larger role.

At this summer's Agamemcon, the Babylon 5 convention, OASIS is hosting a panel in the NSS room with NSS Board of Governors member Bruce Boxleitner. The panel will be discussing the NSS vision and the importance of space development. Although Mr. Boxleitner is a principal member of the Babylon 5 cast, the real possibilities of and needs for space development will be the primary focus of the panel.

Check for the latest news on this and other OASIS events at the OASIS calendar. To volunteer to help out at this or any other event, send email to OASIS Leaders or call the OASIS Hot Line.

For more pictures of this event, see the OASIS Gallery.

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Rocket Looks Down on the High Cost of Space Launch

By Steve Bartlett

A small group of engineers and scientists took their first step toward reducing the cost to reach space on January 27 with the launch of the Scorpius SR-Sa rocket from the New Mexico desert. The team, working for a Torrance-based company called Microcosm, succeeded at building and flying a low-cost rocket quickly and with minimal bureaucracy, a feat that most start-up launch firms have tried for years to do.

The company developed the subscale technology demonstration vehicle under multiple small contracts from NASA and the Air Force and from internal research funds. The rocket proved several technologies that had been proposed for reducing space launch costs, but never demonstrated in flight, including inexpensive, ablatively-cooled engines; pressure-fed propellant delivery systems; simple on-board computer systems; and Global Positioning System-based rocket navigation.

In a launch campaign that lasted less than one week, the team performed numerous tasks that other programs typically take months to do. These included driving halfway across the country, assembling a mobile launcher in the field, performing pre-flight checks on the rocket, erecting the rocket on the launcher, launching the rocket, recovering the remains of the rocket after impact, then driving back across country with the launch equipment.

A video camera was mounted on the side of the rocket and looked aft during the short sub-orbital flight. The video signal, which was broadcast to ground receiving stations, provided viewers with a breathtaking view of the engine's ignition, the rocket's launch rail swooshing past, and the Earth seeming to shrink away with the SR-Sa's ascent. As the vehicle flew, its slow spin caused the sun and clouds to drift across the camera's field of view.

The group is currently developing its next rocket on the way to orbital capability, the SR-1. With effort and luck, the company will succeed in demonstrating all of the technologies needed to reduce space launch costs and the Scorpius's downward-looking cameras will see those costs shrinking away.

Note: Several OASIS members toured the Scorpius vehicle assembly facility and saw the SR-Sa rocket during its buildup in early 1998. If possible, a similar tour will be arranged for later this year. See the Gallery for photographs of the tour.

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