Thursday, January 10, 2013

NYC to Tokyo in just 45 minutes?

So, who's up for grabbing lunch in Tokyo today?

Yes, Tokyo, Japan.  Well, today this may not be a possibility, but scientists are working on new plane designs that could make this lunch date a distinct possibility.

XCOR, a rocket engineering firm, has announced the design of a new suborbital plane called the Lynx.  This vehicle would be able to take passengers from New York City to Tokyo in just 45 minutes.  Pretty amazing, right?  This plane would launch into the sky and reach about 60 miles above the Earth's surface.  This would place the passenger above almost all of our atmosphere.  Currently most commercial flights only get about 23,000 feet up (a little over 4 miles).  So, 60 miles above the Earth is a pretty large step up considering today's standards.  The lynx would be high enough for passengers to see the curve of the Earth, the blackness of space, and experience a little bit of weightlessness.  The flight would take only 45 minutes at the amazing speed of 3,800 mph (mach 5) that the engineering firm wishes to achieve. 

Travel has always been a great source of inspiration and invention among humans.  The earliest means of long range travel took place on foot.  Our earliest ancestors walked a lot.  This was made a little easier with the advent of floating wood on water, boats.  Once upon a time it took nearly nine months to cross the ocean.  As boats became more efficient the time took a little bit less, but you just could not make it faster than months at a time.  On Dec 17, 1903, the Wright brothers took one giant step forward in human transportation when they successfully flew the very first plane in North Carolina.  This design was very elementary compared to our modern day flying machines, but at the time this was a monumental achievement.  The Wright flyer was the first spark that ignited the rapid evolution of flying technology.  Shortly after the Wright brothers invention, planes developed into machines that could make trans-atlantic flights.  The first non-stop transatlantic flight went from Maryland to Ireland in a whopping 29 hours.  Think about that for a moment.  Humans were used to taking months to make this journey and suddenly there came a time in which it only took 29 hours, a fraction of the time it took on boat.  As planes developed the flight times got shorter.  Currently, a flight from Maryland to Ireland takes about nine hours.  So, let's zoom out a little, 9 months on boat, to 29 hours on early plane, to 9 hours using modern technology, in a relatively short time period of technological evolution.  Sure, 45 minutes seems bizarre, but consider what the first plane passengers must have thought when crossing the ocean below them.  What XCOR is hoping to do is just continuing the growth of technology and use the process of science to help advance a very basic component of human life, travel.

The Lynx plans on launching in 2013 with ticket prices starting at $95,000.  There has been no official announcement on the on-board baggage just yet.  Stay tuned for more developments!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Stop Thinking!

Why can’t we stop thinking?

Try to stop thinking for five seconds.

Okay, now you’re just reading this and not-stopping-your-thoughts!!

So why can’t we stop thinking? Well, this is the handiwork of our old friend, evolution.

A long time ago moment-to-moment readiness was necessary for survival.  In those days people had to worry about things like lion attacks, leopard attacks, monkeys stealing berries, scorpions, falling rocks, drowning, giant snakes, and so on.  This required a brain that was constantly working.  Naturally, not every single cognoscente being had the most efficient brain and thus the process of natural selection got involved.

Those that ended up as menu items on the savannah could not pass their genes on to the next generation.  Those that did survive turned out to be our ancestors.  This process, generation after generation, fine-tuned the brain to be working 24 hours a day. 

A lot has changed since then.  After all, you’re reading this on a computer monitor and not having it read out to you around a tree, right?  Well, our brain has not stopped working.  This genetic gift from our ancestors is still working around the clock, but now it has to process different types of information.  At some capacity we’re still ready to react to sudden things like lion attacks, but more realistically car accidents or dropping a tray of food.  Regardless our brain is still constantly thinking.  Our preservation instincts have had to adjust with the modern times:

“Was that my exit?!?”
“I didn’t know I have a wealthy relative in Angola?”
“So, what will my boss will think of this?”
“I wonder what will happen if I eat that now?”
and so on…

This cerebral power-house works around the clock! No wonder it consumes 20% of our body’s energy!  That’s pretty amazing considering that the brain is a mere 2% of our body mass!

This non-stop thought factory is what makes us who we are so please remember to think responsibly!