Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tree leaf physics

"Explaining the size of tree leaves using physics"


Chris Lee

February 28th, 2013

Ars Technica

One of the most useless-but-cool things about physics are the post-hoc explanations it offers for the field of biology. I suspect that these physics-focused explanations really piss biologists off, and rightly so, since they tend to offer an explanation for observations, but have no predictive power to point us beyond what we already know.

Biology is a big field with lots of sub-fields, though. For the most part, biologists interested in mammals and birds have had to bear the burden of physicists' attention. But that's changing, as plant biologists have become the latest victims. Yes, physics now offers an explanation for why tall trees have such, ahem, tiny leaves.

Before we get to the trees and their pitifully small leaves, let's take a quick look at the sort of arguments and insights that physics offers biologists. For instance, it can help you determine why the smallest and largest land-dwelling mammals are about the size that they are—look no further than the balance of energy. Mammals are warm-blooded, and that costs some energy. And, to make matters worse, they lose energy through their skin simply through heat conduction. The smaller you are, the greater the proportion of your energy is spent maintaining your internal body temperature, simply because you have more surface area relative to body mass. At a certain size, you simply cannot eat fast enough to maintain an internal body temperature.

On the upper end of the scale, you have many more cells to supply with energy, so you spend more energy foraging for food. At some point, you end up spending more energy on foraging than the total available energy in the food being foraged. Hence, at the bottom of the scale shivers the shrew, scurrying around desperately eating to keep warm, while at the upper end, an elephant is constantly and slowly eating everything in sight.

It is possible to make similar arguments based on the strength of bone vs. total mass, blood pressure for height, and metabolic rate for average lifetime. Now, I know I made this look a bit of a joke in the introduction, because, truth be told, these sorts of arguments are fun. In all seriousness, though, this form of reasoning—figuring out limitations due to the way that physical processes scale with increases and decreases in particular parameters—is very handy. More fascinating is that they are at least broadly in agreement with observations.

Resistance makes growth futile

Now a pair of scientists have applied a scaling law arguments to the leaves of trees. The heart of the argument is about how fast sugar flows down the trunk of the tree. A tree has to be able to distribute energy from the leaves to the roots, and this is all governed by flow through a network of tubes, called phloem.

The speed of the flow is in turn governed by just a few factors: two different flow resistances, and the pressure difference between the top and the bottom of the tree. It turns out that the pressure difference is independent of height, but the flow resistances are a different matter.

Flow resistance in the trunk depends on the length and radius of the phloem tube. As the length increases, the flow resistance increases. But, as the radius increases, the resistance drops. For small trees, both the radius and the length increase with height, so the flow resistance may drop as the tree grows. Unfortunately, for taller trees, the radius tops out at 20 micrometers, leaving the flow resistance to continue increasing as the tree grows.

For leaves, the story is a little more complicated. The phloem has permeable membranes that are designed to accept increasing amounts of sugar from the leaf. The argument is that the increased permeability and phloem surface area result in greater concentration differences that drive a higher pressure differential within the leaf. Looking at the leaf as a black box, it simply appears that the internal resistance has dropped. The upshot is that the flow resistance of the leaf decreases as the leaf size increases.

Why does this matter? Both resistances contribute to slowing the flow but, if one is much larger than the other, then changing the smaller resistance has no impact. So, for a tall tree, increasing the leaf size doesn't result in faster flow, since the phloem's resistance dominates. For smaller trees, a larger leaf size does result in faster flow. And this changes the energy balance for the tree.

My, what expensive leaves you have

The speed of energy flow has a maximum when the leaf resistance is zero, but that maximum is approached very, very slowly. At some point, the cost of maintaining the larger leaf is greater than the marginal increase in energy flow. Once you choose a tree height and a cost factor, you end up with a maximum leaf size.

On the lower end of the scale, the tree requires a minimum flow of energy. This is governed by cell-to-cell diffusion of sugar-water. Once you plug this number in, for any given tree height, a minimum leaf size pops out.

As the tree grows taller, the minimum leaf size goes up, while the maximum leaf size goes down. At around 100m, the two cross, so that the minimum required leaf size is greater than the maximum useful leaf size. And, guess what, the tallest known trees top out at around 100m. More importantly though, the variation in leaf size decreases with increasing tree height, and this is exactly what the observational data shows.

In fact, the data fits remarkably well. For the largest leaf size, there is a cost-factor that they have to fit. But, considering that a single parameter fits the data for multiple species within the angiosperm family (flowering plants; the study didn't consider anything else), that is pretty good. The lower limit on leaf size is a lot rougher, but the data is also a lot noisier at the lower bound, so no simple curve fit that data well.

What I love about papers like this is how a few simple physical principles come together to provide a rough explanation for observed data. What makes it more interesting is that it sets criteria that can help us find exceptions, and exceptions make for interesting research.

[The article is by subscription/purchase only.  Physical Review Letters .]

"The Space Merchants"...satire on advertising


The Space Merchants is a science fiction novel, written by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth in 1952. Originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine as a serial entitled Gravy Planet, the novel was first published as a single volume in 1953, and has sold heavily since. It deals satirically with a hyper-developed consumerism, seen through the eyes of an advertising executive.


In a vastly overpopulated world, businesses have taken the place of governments and now hold all political power. States exist merely to ensure the survival of huge trans-national corporations. Advertising has become hugely aggressive and by far the best-paid profession. Through advertising, the public is constantly deluded into thinking that the quality of life is improved by all the products placed on the market. Some of the products contain addictive substances designed to make consumers dependent on them. However, the most basic elements of life are incredibly scarce, including water and fuel. Personal transportation may be pedal powered, with rickshaw rides being considered a luxury. The planet Venus has just been visited and judged fit for human settlement, despite its inhospitable surface and climate; the colonists would have to endure a harsh climate for many generations until the planet could be terraformed.

The protagonist, Mitch Courtenay, is a star-class copywriter in the Fowler Schocken advertising agency who has been assigned the ad campaign which would attract colonists to Venus. But a lot more is happening than he knows about. It soon becomes a tale of mystery and intrigue, in which many of the characters are not what they seem, and Mitch's loyalties and opinions change drastically over the course of the narrative.

Mitch goes to a resort in Antarctica, only to become lost outside in a blizzard. He recovers to find that he has been shanghaied as an ordinary working stiff. His ID number tattooed on his arm has been altered so he cannot reclaim his old identity. However his skills remain intact. He becomes the propaganda specialist for a cadre of revolutionaries, in the process becoming a convert to the cause of those he once manipulated as mere consumers. In the end he confronts those who stole his life, who are not necessarily his enemies, and those from his old life, who are not necessarily his friends.


Whilst serving in the US Army Air Force during the Second World War, Pohl had been posted to Stornara, in south-eastern Italy, as a weather forecaster. Shortly after learning of his mother's death in 1944, and feeling somewhat homesick, he decided to start writing a novel about New York. He chose to write about the advertising industry, thinking it to be the most interesting topic in the city, and patiently wrote "a long, complicated, and very bad novel" with the title of For Some We Loved.

After the war ended, in early 1946, he re-read the manuscript, and decided that its major flaw was that he had written it despite knowing nothing about advertising. Before rewriting it, he applied for a number of advertising jobs to gain some background, and on 1 April 1946 joined a small Madison Avenue agency as their chief copywriter. He later moved to Popular Science, finding that he enjoyed the work so much he lost track of why he originally took the job.

Some years later, Pohl again returned to For Some We Loved. In early 1950, he read through the original manuscript, but found the writing to be completely unsalvageable; he burned it, and decided to forget the idea. The following year, he began drafting a science-fiction novel, loosely themed on advertising, under the name of Fall Campaign, and had reached twenty thousand words by the summer, working at weekends and in the evenings. At this point, Pohl's old friend Cyril Kornbluth arrived, having quit his job in Chicago to freelance as a science-fiction writer, and offered to look over the manuscript. A short while later he returned, having incorporated some plot suggestions made by Philip Klass and written a new twenty-thousand word middle section; the two men collaborated on the final third, and after Pohl gave it a final revision, the novel was complete.

Critical reception...

In his study of the pioneers of science fiction, New Maps of Hell (1960), the novelist Kingsley Amis states that The Space Merchants "has many claims to being the best science-fiction novel so far." It is also ahead of its time in stressing the importance of limiting population growth and conserving natural resources. On its initial publication, Groff Conklin called the novel "perhaps the best science fiction satire since Brave New World." Boucher and McComas praised it as "bitter, satiric, exciting [and] easily one of the major works of logical extrapolation in several years. . . . a sharp melodrama of power-conflict and revolt which manages . . . to explore all the implied developments of [its imagined] society." Imagination reviewer Mark Reinsberg described it as "a marvellously entertaining story" and "A brilliant future satire." P. Schuyler Miller compared the novel to Brave New World, finding it "not so brilliant, but more consistently worked out and suffering principally . . . from its concessions to melodrama."

It was rated the twenty-fourth "all-time best novel" in a 1972 Locus poll, jointly with The Martian Chronicles and The War of the Worlds. In 2012 the novel was included in the Library of America two-volume boxed set American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, edited by Gary K. Wolfe.

As with many significant works of science fiction, it was lexically inventive. The novel is cited by the Oxford English Dictionary as the first recorded source for a number of new words, including "soyaburger", "moon suit", "tri-di" for "three-dimensional", "R and D" for "research and development", "sucker-trap" for a shop aimed at gullible tourists, and one of the first uses of "muzak" as a generic term. It is also cited as the first incidence of "survey" as a verb meaning to carry out a poll.

Audio presentation...

CBS Radio Workshop...

The Space Merchants [Part 1]

The Space Merchants [Part 2]

Edward Alexander Bouchet...first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in physics

Edward Alexander Bouchet
September 15th, 1852 to October 28th, 1918

Physicists of the African Diaspora...

Bouchet had the misfortune of being a talented and educated black man who lived in a segregated society that imposed numerous barriers and thus hindered him from conducting scientific research and achieving professional recognition. Segregation produced isolation as Bouchet spent his career in high schools with limited resources and poorly equipped labs. No white college would have considered him for a position on its faculty even with his superior qualifications. Completely excluded from any means of utilizing his education and talent, Bouchet languished in obscurity. The ascendance of industrial education also served to limit his opportunities as his academic training in the natural sciences made him unattractive as a candidate at the increasing number of black institutions that adopted a vocational curriculum.

William Bouchet migrated to New Haven from South Charleston, South Carolina in 1824 for William was the valet of a young plantation owner, the future father of Judge John B. Robertson [corrected from A. Heaton Robinson by descendent A. Heaton Robertson] of New Haven, Connecticut. When the young planter graduated, he freed William Bouchet and gave him money to start a business. William was said to have been prominent in New Haven's Negro community, serving as deacon of the Temple Street Church, the oldest Negro church in the city, and which was a stopping point for fugitive slaves along the Underground Railroad.

As the youngest and only son of four children, Edward Alexander Bouchet was born to William and Susan (Cooley) Bouchet in New Haven on September 15, 1852. During the 1850s and 1860s New Haven had only three schools that black children could attend. Edward was enrolled in the Artisan Street Colored School, a small (only thirty seats), ungraded school with one teacher, Sarah Wilson, who played a crucial role in nurturing Bouchet's academic abilities and his desire to learn. He attended the New Haven High School (1866-1868).

In 1868 Bouchet was accepted into Hopkins Grammar School, a private institution that prepared young men for the classical and scientific departments at Yale College. He graduated first in his class at Hopkins. Edward (along with A. Heaton Robinson) entered Yale College in 1870. Four years later when he he was the first Black to be graduated from Yale in 1874, he ranked sixth in a class of 124. On the basis of this exceptional performance, Bouchet became the first black in the nation to be nominated to Phi Beta Kappa, but he was not elected at that time. [NOTE: George Washington Henderson was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1877 at the University of Vermont as the first, Bouchet was not elected until 1884]

In the fall of 1874 he returned to Yale with the encouragement and financial support of Alfred Cope, a Philadelphia philanthropist. In 1876 Bouchet successfully completed his dissertation on the new subject of geometrical optics, becoming the first black person to earn a Ph.D. from an American university as well as the sixth American of any race to earn a Ph.D. in physics.

Unlike anyone else in the U.S. who earned a Ph.D. at that time and for the next 80 years, Bouchet was unable to obtain a college (or university) position. So Bouchet moved to Philadelphia to teach at the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY), the same institution at which Charles Reason was Principal 20 years earlier, and the city's only high school for black students (founded by the Society of Friends because African Americans had historically been denied admittance to Philadelphia's white high schools). Members of the ICY board of managers like Cope, Bouchet's Yale benefactor, believed firmly in the value of a classical education and were convinced that blacks were capable of unlimited educational achievement. In 1874 Cope had provided $40,000 to establish a new science program at ICY, and soon thereafter began recruiting Bouchet to run it.

Although Philadelphia was as segregated as any southern city, it offered a supportive environment for a man of Bouchet's abilities. The city's black population, the largest in the North, had made considerable progress in education during the decades preceding his arrival. As early as 1849 half the city's black population was active in one or more of the many literary societies established by the black community. After the Civil War, the ICY played an important role in training the thousands of black teachers that were needed throughout the country to provide freedmen with the education they sought.

Dr. Bouchet taught chemistry and physics for twenty-six years at ICY. Dr. Bouchet resigned in 1902 when the Institute's college preparatory program was discontinued "at the height of the Du Bois-Washington controversy over industrial vs. collegiate education." The school was moved to Cheney, PA as a vocational and teacher-training school; the name was changed in later years to Cheney State College.

By the turn of the century, a new set of ICY managers emerged, more receptive to the industrial education philosophy of Booker T. Washington than to academic education for blacks. In their efforts to redirect the school's programs, the all-white board fired all the teachers including Bouchet in 1902 and replaced them with instructors committed to industrial education.

Over the next fourteen years, Bouchet held five or six positions in different parts of the county. Until November 1903, he taught math and physics in St. Louis at Sumner High School, the first high school for blacks west of the Mississippi. He then spent seven months as the business manager for the Provident Hospital in St. Louis (Nov. 1903-May 1904), followed by a term as a United States inspector of customs at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition held in St. Louis (June 1904-Oct. 1906). In October 1906, Bouchet secured a teaching and administrative position at St. Paul's Normal and Industrial School (later renamed, St. Paul's College) in Lawrenceville, Virginia. In 1908 he became principal of Lincoln High School of Gallipolis, Ohio, where he remained until 1913, when an attack of arteriosclerosis compelled him to resign and return to New Haven. Undocumented information has Bouchet returning to teaching at Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, but illness once again forced him to retire in 1916. He returned to New Haven, where he died in his boyhood home at 94 Bradley Street. He had never married or had children.

Bouchet's full impact on black education will never be known; that he had an impact is undeniable. Lillian Mitchell Allen remembered Bouchet from her childhood days in Gallipolis. Perhaps the most highly educated person in the area, he inspired both black and white young people with hitherto unknown goals, she said, noting that her brother, J. Arnot Mitchell, who graduated from Bowdoin College in 1913 and became the first black faculty member at Ohio State University, was influenced by Bouchet.

From The Edward Bouchet Abdus Salam Institute (EBASI) of The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP)...

Edward Alexander Bouchet was born in New Haven, Connecticut on September 15, 1852, just twelve years before slavery of African-Americans ended in 1864. He graduated valedictorian of his class from Hopkins Grammar School in June 1870 and entered Yale College the following September. In June of 1874, he graduated from Yale College (B. A.) and he was elected subsequently a member of Yale's chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Honorary Society. Two years later, in June of 1876, he received his Ph. D. degree in Physics from Yale College. His dissertation title was "Measuring Refractive Indices."

Dr. Bouchet's first job was at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (later to become Cheyenne State Teachers college) where he taught Physics and Chemistry for 26 years. During the next six years (after leaving the Institute for Colored Youth), Dr. Bouchet held several positions as teacher and manager until he was appointed principal and teacher at Lincoln High School in Gallipolis, Ohio. He held this, his final position, for five years (1908-1913) until he returned home to New haven in ill health at the age of 61. He died in New Haven on October 28, 1918.

Edward A. Bouchet was the first African-American and first known person of African descent to earn a Ph. D. degree in physics. He was the first African-American physicist to become a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honorary Society. As such, he was also a pioneer, being among the first 20 Ph. D.s in Physics (of any race) in the United States and only the sixth Ph. D. in Physics from Yale.

The Edward Bouchet Abdus Salam Institute (EBASI) of The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP)

Mission to Mars by private individual

A hot topic recently is Dennis Tito's plan to send two people to Mars. Frankly, it is ludicrous. He is already in the books as one of the world's wealthiest men, now an extension is made to be the first to Mars with humans. Logistics, mechanics, human complications, short range statistics of efficacy on reliability of the equipment. Many negatives. At least the financing is his own [and  supporters] and not the government's. It's his money, but it could be spent more wisely to ease human starvation or elimination of a disease.

"First-ever space tourist plans mission to Mars"

February 27th, 2013


The world's first space tourist, US multimillionaire Dennis Tito, unveiled plans Wednesday to send a manned mission to Mars and back, targeting a launch date less than five years away.

The two space travelers wouldn't land on the Red Planet -- or even enter its orbit -- just fly through the vicinity and back, a trajectory Tito said would take 501 days, thanks to a rare planetary alignment.

The US space agency has aimed for the 2030s in its vague projections for a manned mission to Mars, and is focusing in the shorter term on sending robots, like the Curiosity rover that landed with much fanfare last summer.

Tito's non-profit Inspiration Mars, by contrast, is starting essentially from scratch, with neither a vehicle nor a clear source of funding.

Still, the mission is "achievable," insisted Taber MacCallum, the foundation's chief technology officer and the head of Paragon Space Development Corporation.

"Experts have reviewed the risks, rewards and aggressive schedule, finding that existing technologies and systems only need to be properly integrated, tested and prepared for flight."

By foregoing a landing, the mission lessens the risks and simplifies the maneuvering required.

Such a mission would likely cost between $1 billion and $2 billion, according to Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, a group that campaigns for the exploration and settlement of the planet.

Inspiration Mars said it is not looking to NASA for the money, but will instead raise funds through "private, charitable donations."

In a statement, the foundation said it would act as the mission's "primary contractor," gathering technology, expertise and skills from a variety of companies and individuals, including Paragon and Applied Defense Solutions.

"Human exploration of space is a critical catalyst for our future growth and prosperity," said Tito, 72.

"This is 'A Mission for America' that will generate knowledge, experience and momentum for the next great era of space exploration."

NASA welcomed the Tito's announcement, saying the program is "a testament to the audacity of America's commercial aerospace industry and the adventurous spirit of America's citizen-explorers," and that it would continue talks on possible a collaboration with Inspiration Mars.

But space expert John Logsdon was less enthusiastic, saying the proposed mission was "not impossible, but implausible."

Logsdon, a former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, highlighted major challenges for financing and the technical execution, as well as the high risk for the crew.

"Once they start on a trip, they cannot come back... or turn around," he said.

In 2001, Tito was the first non-astronaut to fly into space, when he bought a seat on a Russian Soyuz mission for a week-long stay at the International Space Station.

"This Is How Dennis Tito Plans To Send People to Mars"


Keith Cowing

February 27th, 2013


The closest that the spacecraft would get to Mars would be ~100 km - and the crew would only spend 10 hours within that distance of the planet - with closest approach on the night side. Not too different than the first human mission to the Moon when all things are taken into account

Upon return, the Dragon capsule would use Earth's atmosphere to slow down via aerobraking. This has never been done with a human mission before. Ten days after aerobraking the Dragon capsule would return again to Earth and reenter at 14.2 km/sec. This would be the fastest reentry by any crewed spacecraft - ever. As such, this mission will require some advanced Thermal Protection System research. To that end Paragon/Inspiration Mars have already signed a reimbursable Space Act Agreement with NASA Ames Research Center. A check for $100,000 has already been presented to NASA to begin this work.

Since this IEE paper began to circulated, the Inspiration Mars Foundation has started to look at other mission concepts using different spacecraft and launch vehicles. As with the IEEE paper, the focus has been to use things that either exist or are expected to become available in the next several years.

The Dragon-based mission concept would require rather cramped quarters. Indeed the paper says: "The ECLSS was assumed to meet only basic human needs to support metabolic requirements of two 70 kg men, with a nominal metabolic rate of 11.82 MJ/d. Crew comfort is limited to survival needs only. For example, sponge baths are acceptable, with no need for showers ... Personal provisions are limited to items such as clothing and hygiene products."

In the weeks after this paper was submitted, Inspiration Mars has been looking at other concepts including an inflatable module placed at the nose of the crew capsule - something similar to what Bigelow Aerospace will be putting on the International Space Station (ISS). In order to limit use of internal volume, the mission concept also does away with all EVA provisions (spacesuits etc). This means that there is no way to fix things - or install things outside of the spacecraft - thus requiring all systems to be serviceable from inside the spacecraft. If this no-EVA approach is taken, then adding inflatable modules to the front of the crew capsule becomes problematic. Regardless of the final design they adopt, mass limitations are likely to force that final design to be rather cramped.

The initial SpaceX hardware concept uses only one launch. Adopting a mission that uses more than one launch increases cost and complexity. But that's nothing new. How much will it cost? Who knows. They have not settled on a mission architecture yet - but this will probably be in the hundreds of millions/half billion dollar range by the time it is all figured out. Again, unlike all the other space projects that have sprouted of late, Tito is a very wealthy man and is prepared to write some rather large checks. That fact alone moves this idea from giggle factor to the verge of credibility. Tito can afford to spend significant sums to figure this out. But, given the calendar aspects of his mission, he does not have time on his side.

Given the compressed schedule, assuming a launch in January 2018, one would assume that the mission design would need to be done very quickly and completed certainly no later than a year from now. Launch vehicle selection would likely need to be done in a similarly prompt time frame. Whatever rocket(s) are chosen, they need to be ordered and built. Unlike many missions, these trajectories have constrained launch windows that don't lend themselves to delays. As such development time will be highly compressed.

Based on this tight schedule and cost limitations it is rather unlikely that a full-up test mission will be possible to test everything out beforehand. As such, it would seem that the first time that the fully integrated and operational Inspiration Mars mission hardware flies will be the actual mission itself. Once the crew deaprts there is no turning back. This is somewhat risky to say the least. Its like putting a crew and full passenger load on a new jetliner design for its very first flight and then sending it off on an intercontinental mission with only one option: land at the final destination.

While we have all become risk adverse these days, this would not be the first time something like this is done in space. The Space Shuttle had four drop tests off of a Boeing 747 to see if the shuttle design would glide and land. The first time a Space Shuttle actually went into space and back was on a real mission - with a real crew. But the real similarity can be found in the Apollo 8 mission. A crew was put inside a spacecraft that had only flown once atop a booster that had only been flown twice before, on a trajectory to the Moon - with only one engine to modify its path. As was seen on Apollo 13, there was a razor thin margin of possible response to the failure of that propulsion system - an option that was simply not available on Apollo 8.

The IEEE paper spends a lot of time discussing various life support (ECLSS) concepts, but does not seem to refer to specific hardware already in use on the Dragon or elsewhere as being proposed for use on this mission. Add in the reliability and servicing/repair requirements and is probably safe to assume that many of the designs will be more or less unique to this mission. Without a chance to fly the vehicle in space, one would expect that a rather robust ground-based engineering version (perhaps several) would be needed.

The paper does make short mention of radiation - but only in a general sense saying that it will be provided for. Given that Jon Clark is involved, you can be certain that this issue is not going to be overlooked. While the mission's trajectory has been optimized for a 2018-2019 mission due to celestial mechanics, it has the unfortunate fact of falling in the middle of a period of minimal solar activity.

In orbits close to the Earth, such as occupied by the International Space Station, Earth's geomagnetic field offers significant protection against Galactic Cosmic Radiation (GCR) and energetic solar flare protons. As such, crews on the ISS, while exposed to more radiation than on Earth, are none the less protected to a great extent when compared to regions outside Earth's magnetic field. Shielding and storm shelter locations allow greater protection when conditions warrant - and in a potentially lethal solar event scenario, they could come home in a matter of hours.

Outside the Earth's magnetic field, there is some lesser level of protection still offered due to the activity of the sun itself. However, during a solar minimum, the point in the 11 year solar cycle when the sun's activity is lowest, the sun's ability to ward off CGR is at its lowest. As such, possible exposure to astronaut crews traveling in interplanetary space is at its highest. Some predictions for Solar Cycle 25 suggest an unusually quiet period for the sun. If things continue as predicted, the sun would be reaching its lowest activity levels of the space exploration era during the planned timeline of this mission, thus presenting the highest level of potential GCR exposure to the crew. Add in the unusual quiescence of the sun, and this could be especially hazardous. Again, this can be handled with shielding but that requires mass and volume which is already preciously short.

Other factors to consider include the effects of prolonged weightlessness and psychological issues. 50 years of human spaceflight has led to a collection of countermeasures that seem to limit many (but not all) of the deleterious aspects of prolonged weightlessness. Exercise is more or less the prime countermeasure for bone and muscle loss although some pharmacologic approaches have been explored. To date the longest single exposure of a human as been 437 days. A 501 day mission would be only 2 months longer but not problematic per se.

As for psychological issues - the paper does make reference to them and suggests the possibly of putting candidate crews through a ground based simulation 6 months in duration - and perhaps for the entire 500 day period. Given the fact that there are only 1,800 or so days until launch, expecting the flight crew to spend more than a third of that time simulating a full mission - and then doing it again (for real) becomes problematic.

Sources report that it is the intention of Inspiration Mars to have a crew comprised of a man and a woman. Given that the prime purpose of this mission is to inspire people it follows that the crew actually represents everyone. While this is an assumption, it would follow that the crew is more likely to be a couple. Then the questions arises: can you and your significant other live inside a large RV for a year and a half without being able to totally get away from one another - even for 5 minutes? If so, then you two should apply. Several of the Paragon authors on this paper (Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter) are veterans of the 2-year Biosphere II mission - so there is certainly some personal experience there.

Even if a robust spacecraft is designed with every contingency considered, time, cost, and mass will force some limits. It is unlikely that NASA would send a mission without significantly more redundancy and backup systems. But NASA is NASA. This is a private expedition - not a NASA mission.

Given that the crew are likely to be private citizens - not government employees, they can decide to accept certain mission risks. No one really jumps in front of anyone wanting to climb Mt. Everest - except, of course, journalists looking for an interview and government officials wanting so to be paid a climbing permit fee. So why should a totally private mission to another summit of sorts - i.e. Mars - be any different?

I have seen this sort of risk acceptance with my own eyes. In 2009 I spent a month living at an altitude of 17,600 feet at Everest Base Camp supporting Astronaut Scott Parazynski in his successful attempt to reach the summit. We both took physical risks - Scott much more than I. But we both had to sign lots of lengthy waivers, bring lots of medications, risk sudden death from totally unexpected (and possibly untreatable) things (stroke, heart attack, or edema), and perform regular countermeasures designed to limit the increased physical risk we placed ourselves in by living and working at these altitudes. And there were thousands of people around us who accepted the same risks.

Accepting known and increased personal risk is something that people have done as part of exploration since exploration began. Indeed, risk goes hand in hand with exploration. Again, we should allow - and expect - that the Inspiration Mars team will exercise the same personal acceptance process as other explorers have before them.

So why does Dennis Tito want to do this? You'll have to ask him that. Again, one thing is clear: he's looking to spend money on this - not make money. He's already made his money - and (in case you still do not know who he is) has been there, done that when it comes to space travel. Tito was the first person to pay his own way into space back in 2001. He has the means to attempt this mission and he has a track record.

Some insight into the rationale for this mission can be found in the IEEE paper: "Sending humans on an expedition to Mars will be a defining event for humanity as well as an inspiration to our youth. Social media provides an opportunity for people to meaningfully participate in the mission, likely making this the most engaging human endeavor in modern history. The mission will address one of the most fundamental technical challenges facing human exploration of space, keeping the humans alive and productive in deep space."

Given that NASA's current plans (totally unfunded) to send humans to Mars are a decade or two away, and the human mission to an asteroid that NASA is supposed to be working on is uninteresting to the agency, yet another generation of Americans will likely grow up seeing people only going in circles overhead on the ISS. The Inspiration Mars mission has the potential to jump start public interest in space again by actually going somewhere - perhaps in a way that echoes what I and many others saw as young children in the 1960s as Apollo went from nothing to the finish line in a scant 8 years.

The public is interested in space. They always have been - but that interest is episodic and often fickle. Public interest (and one would hope, inspiration) seems to manifest itself the most when NASA or other space agencies do something totally new or when new worlds are actually explored. Despite the engineering accomplishment inherent in the ISS, it just goes in circles. Yes, it is a place where we learn how to do long duration missions (someday) but the preparation for these missions is like watching grass grow. Its hard to tell people that this will all lead to something decades from now.

But the mission contemplated by Inspiration Mars will actually do something - and the launch date is easy to plan for. You can even set a calendar alarm for it on your iPhone.

"Honeymoon to Mars? Multimillionaire makes proposal"


Dan Vergano

February 28th, 2013


Mars or bust. Multimillionaire space tourist Dennis Tito announced details of his plans to finance a round-trip visit to the Red Planet by two spacefarers at a press briefing Wednesday.

The "Mission for America" plan is to ship two astronauts to Mars and back in 501 days, starting Jan. 5, 2018, under the auspices of Tito's Inspiration Mars Foundation. Tito, 73, was the first space tourist, visiting the International Space Station aboard a Russian rocket in 2001, at a reported cost of $20 million.

"We have not sent people beyond the orbit of the moon in 40 years," Tito said, at the briefing. "I don't want to wait any longer. We need to do something innovative and exciting."

That something would be a "free return" Mars mission where the initial rocket firing from Earth would carry two astronauts on a 227-day trip to Mars, coming within 70 miles of the nighttime side of the Red Planet. At that point, the planet's gravity would send them back "like a boomerang," Tito said, on a 274-day return trajectory for Earth, without firing any rockets. "The beauty of this mission is in its simplicity," he said.

The Mars visitors (Tito wants a married U.S. couple) would travel to the Red Planet in an inflated habitat module with about 300 square feet of room. The plan draws heavily from the Biosphere 2 experiment of the early 1990s, where a group of volunteers endured two contentious years in a sealed environment in Oracle, Ariz., to explain how space travelers would endure a year and a half in space. "They will need to be very even-keeled," said mission adviser Jane Poynter of Paragon Space Development in Tucson, Ariz., a former Biosphere 2 team member. The screening process aims to find a volunteer couple within a year.

Tito predicted the cost of the mission at around the price of robotic missions such as NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Curiosity rover, and said he intended to raise funds from donors and commercial sponsors. That's about 100 times less than some past cost estimates for a manned landing on Mars. The National Geographic Society is in talks with Tito's Inspiration Mars Foundation about a potential partnership with the 2018 mission

"If they are not spending government money, then I'm all for it," said veteran space policy analyst Marcia Smith of "However, I'm very skeptical," Smith added, citing the current clamor for wealthy philanthropists to sponsor space ventures, such as asteroid warning systems that might protect Earth and look like a more useful and prestigious use of charitable donations.

"NASA will continue discussions with Inspiration Mars to see how the agency might collaborate on mutually-beneficial activities that could complement NASA's human spaceflight, space technology and Mars exploration plans,"
said space agency spokesman David Steitz, in a statement.

The proposed trip would rely on planned Falcon Heavy rockets under development by Elon Musk's SpaceX corporation, which will be even larger than the heaviest current U.S. rockets. Tito's team estimates the rocket could send 10 tons of cargo, half of it living supplies and equipment, to Mars. SpaceX last year announced its first commercial contract and Defense Department contract for the heavy rocket, intended for launch this year or next.

"SpaceX does not have a relationship with the Inspiration Mars Foundation," SpaceX spokeswoman Christina Ra said. "However, SpaceX is always open to providing a full spectrum of launch services to interested customers."

Along with the Biosphere 2 experience, spacefarers have endured more than 400 days in orbit, noted mission medical adviser Jonathan Clark of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. A European Space Agency effort that simulated a 520-day Mars trip ended in 2011. In that case, six men lived inside a 720-square-foot module for much of the experiment. However, astronauts traveling to Mars would face a dangerous radiation environment, likely pushing them to a 3% lifetime risk of cancer, Clark says, a cut-off point for astronauts.

Also they would have to survive the fastest re-entry ever into Earth's atmosphere by astronauts on their return, around 31,760 miles-per-hour.

Tito made his fortune introducing quantitative analysis to Wall Street, but worked for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an engineer in the 1960s, before turning to finance. Noting that he will be in his 90s when the orbital window for the "free return" mission opens again in 2031, Tito said, "we better go this time or there will be a whole lot of other nations leaving with us in 2031."

"Private Plan to Send Humans to Mars in 2018 Might Not Be So Crazy"


Adam Mann

February 27th, 2013


An ambitious private manned mission to Mars aims to launch a two-person crew to fly around the Red Planet and return to Earth in 501 days, starting in January 2018.

This bold undertaking is planned by the Inspiration Mars Foundation, a non-profit company founded by millionaire and space tourist Dennis Tito that was officially unveiled on Feb. 27 after early details leaked. Though the spacecraft would not land humans on Mars or even put them in orbit, it would bring people within a few hundred kilometers of the Martian surface — roughly the same distance between the International Space Station and Earth — and represent a major milestone in human spaceflight. If successful, the mission would go down in history as the first time a private company accomplished something government agencies were unable to do in space.

The mission is extremely ambitious, well beyond anything previously accomplished by the private sector and it faces plenty of obstacles. The company has an aggressive schedule to keep if it wants to hit its 2018 mark and needs to make sure the necessary technology is developed and well-tested. Despite its deep-pocketed backer, the mission has nowhere near the funding it needs to launch and will require raising greater sums than have ever been done for a private space endeavor. Its designers also need to figure out exactly how to keep the crew healthy, both physically and psychologically, for the 501-day duration of the flight as they face dangers from radiation, bone and muscle loss, fatigue, and depression. Mission designers will have to ensure they can get the crew safely to the ground when the capsule returns to Earth at a screaming 30,000 mph.

Yet despite these hurdles, of all the bold announcements from private spaceflight companies in recent years, this one seems the most achievable.

“The reason this entire thing is possible is because it’s actually a very simple mission,” said Jane Poynter, president of the Paragon Space Development Corporation, which makes life-support systems and has partnered with Inspiration Mars. “We’re not trying to land, we’re going to fly by and we’re using extant technologies that NASA and the space industry have been developing for years.”

Inspiration Mars isn’t looking to sell a product in an unknown market, like the asteroid-mining Planetary Resources or the national-moon-ferrying Golden Spike Company, and doesn’t have incredibly aspirational aims, like the planet-colonizing Mars One. It hopes to undertake a straightforward mission that could spur innovation, inspire young scientists and engineers, and move human spaceflight forward.

“You have to have a reasonable degree of skepticism and realism,” said Taber MacCallum, who co-founded Paragon with Poynter (and is also her husband). “We might run into some insurmountable obstacle 18 months in. But with proper engineering, support, and a good mess of luck, we could see this done.”
Now all they have to do is actually fly to Mars.

As currently outlined, the Inspiration Mars mission would be departing on what’s known as a “fast free return trajectory,” which both minimizes the amount of time spent in space and the amount of fuel required. A spacecraft would fire its rockets for a single burn to set off to Mars, make a few course corrections on the way, circumnavigate the Red Planet, and then slingshot back home using Mars’ gravity, negating the need for another burn. Because of the positions of Earth and Mars, opportunities for such quick flybys happen only every 15 years and, if they miss the 2018 deadline, the next chance won’t come until 2031.

Paragon estimates that the mission would need to launch a 10-ton spacecraft with roughly 33 cubic meters of volume, equivalent to the space in the back of a large moving van. About half that volume would be taken up with water tanks, food, and life support, leaving a cramped living space with an area barely bigger than a parking space. That means putting two people in a room for 1.4 years that’s probably smaller than your bathroom.

The crew would process urine and flush water to recycle about 75 percent of it as drinkable water. They would carry the bare minimum of personal provisions, such as clothing and hygiene items. An initial feasibility study co-authored by Poynter, MacCallum, Dennis Tito, and others didn’t make allowances for privacy, separate sleeping quarters, or even showers (just sponge baths) in the habitat, but it remains to be seen how these ideas would evolve for a real mission.

No existing launch vehicle is large enough to get such a mass into space, though SpaceX plans to have its Falcon Heavy rocket ready within a few years. If SpaceX is unable to meet that deadline, the mission could use two smaller existing launch vehicles, one to bring the tank carrying the rocket engines and necessary fuel and another to launch the crew habitat, which complicates the mission and could make it more expensive.

The number one danger during the journey will be radiation. Whether charged particles streaming from the sun or galactic cosmic rays accelerated by distant sources, space is chock full of radiation. Humans on Earth are protected from this fallout by our magnetic field, which also shields astronauts on the ISS. But out in deep space, the crew of a 500-day trip would be exposed to total radiation roughly equal to the dose an astronaut that flew five or six times to the ISS would expect to receive over their career.

Among other things, radiation damages DNA thereby raising the risk of cancer, and lowers blood cell counts. The effect would be like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day during the whole mission, MacCallum said.

The most severe event to watch out for would be a solar flare or mass ejection, where the roiling surface of the sun produces a burst of charged particles and radiation. If exposed to such an occurrence, a crew might experience nausea, vomiting, blistering, and potentially death. Apollo astronauts were spared a potentially fatal flare in 1972 that occurred between Apollo 16 and 17 but the Inspiration Mars mission would be out in space for a long time, raising the odds of getting hit.

Solar particle events like these happen randomly, though in 2018 the sun will be closer to the minimum part of its activity cycle, lessening the chances of a large event. In the case of a major event, sun-observing satellites would provide some warning and the crew could retire to a storm shelter built from vehicle hardware. But a large event or even several smaller ones could weaken astronauts’ immune systems, said radiobiologist Ann Kennedy of the University of Pennsylvania, who works on the effects of radiation for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute.

With the sun at minimum the crew would be exposed to a higher rate of galactic cosmic rays than normal, and the chronic low-dose of ionizing radiation “can not be shielded against with current technology,” said radiation physicist Jeff Chancellor, also of the NSBRI.

Even surrounding the spacecraft with a huge, thick shield, something like five or six times what the ISS has, would not significantly lower galactic cosmic ray exposure, he added. In fact the more shielding you have, the worse, because the charged particles can interact with molecules in the material to produce further harmful radiation.

The crew can help counteract some of the radiation’s effects with drugs for nausea and vomiting and pills or supplements to provide the daily recommended doses of vitamins.

“My gut feeling is there’s a good chance they can do this mission, but there’s a lot left to be seen,” Chancellor said. Space travel is always risky, he added, though there is hope that further research can provide a crew with effective radiation countermeasures before 2018.

Beyond radiation, the main biomedical problem will be muscle and bone deterioration, which occurs to the human body during extended stays in microgravity. To counteract this, Poynter said it would be of the utmost importance for the crew to have an exercise machine that they use daily for several hours.

The other main crew danger will come from themselves. The tight accommodations coupled with being so far from Earth with no hope of aborting the mission once started, as well as an ever-increasing time delay could put tremendous strain on the crew psychologically. Similarly extreme isolation is rare but has occurred in overwinter crews in Antarctic base stations or simulations such as Mars500.

“In cases like that, they managed to successfully complete their mission, but it wasn’t all roses,” said Poynter. Some training could be given to handle the conditions, but the crew selection would require individuals to be resilient and upbeat for the duration of their flight.

MacCallum and Poynter favor sending a man and woman as the pair, possibly to balance out personalities but also because the crew will have a symbolic value as representatives of humanity. Given the cramped quarters, the lack of privacy, the need for cooperation and experience under similar conditions, and the dangers from radiation, the ideal crew would be “an older married couple,” said MacCallum.

When I pointed out that, with their previous experience in the Biosphere-2 experiment, he and Poynter happened to fit that description to a T, they both laughed.

“We have talked about it,” said Poynter. “And when the right time comes, I think we’ll put our hat in the ring.” But she and MacCallum added that they would be happy to be part of the mission in any way, even as ground support.

As it stands, Inspiration Mars is looking to work with NASA on their undertaking. The agency can provide a great deal of information and experience from decades of spaceflight. The company has already signed a partnership with NASA to research development of the mission’s heat shield and reentry strategy. Given that Inspiration Mars sees its mission as an important stepping stone for NASA’s long-term goals, the agency might even be able to help the mission financially, if there was enough support from the public and Congress. (Though the effects of the sequester later this week could constrain NASA’s finances.)

Currently, Tito is committed to funding the first two years of putting the Mars trip together no matter what. But even he doesn’t have unlimited money and is in talks with other potential backers. Yet so far, donors haven’t been quick to open their checkbooks and put money in private space ventures.

Though plans have yet to be finalized, MacCallum said that given the mission’s relative simplicity, he expected it would cost less than NASA’s $2.5 billion Curiosity rover, possibly putting it in the hundreds of millions or even billion-dollar range. Raising that kind of money for a private space mission has never been done before and that figure might be somewhat optimistic.

With its seven minutes of terror and Rube Goldberg landing sequence, getting Curiosity to the surface of Mars was one of the hardest engineering feats over done in space. Having humans land would be harder by an order of magnitude or more, said engineer Bobby Braun of the Georgia Institute of Technology, who was formerly NASA’s chief technologist.

“I’d say having humans circumnavigate Mars and return safely to Earth is somewhere in between what Curiosity already did and having humans walk on Mars,” he said.

Braun thinks that the Inspiration Mars idea is great, and he accepts that the private sector can accomplish things for less money than governments. But “it’s also a very bold plan, particularly doing it in the timeline they want, and there’s a good deal of challenges,” he said. “I would love to see them make that 2018 launch date, but it’s pretty darn quick.”

As is continuously pointed out in articles regarding different private company plans, space is hard. Initial estimates tend to be hopeful and delays can almost always be expected. Historically, there have been many ambitious space announcements – both from public and private organizations – that were unable to deliver on their huge promises.

New ideas are always welcome. “I think this announcement is going to stop and make people reconsider the possibilities,” said Braun, but the question is whether “they will be able to have the proper follow through.”

Braun added that Inspiration Mars need not confine itself to their 2018 deadline. With slightly more fuel, the company could try for missions at many of the two-year intervals where Earth and Mars get closer.

The main goal of Inspiration Mars is to inspire a younger generation. Taber and MacCallum sound like they are hoping to create a new “Kennedy moment” that would encourage people to think big. The mission would provide scientific data sorely lacking on long-term human spaceflight. If the company were somehow able to pull it off, independent researchers would be particularly interested in the information generated from this undertaking.

“As a professor, surrounded by undergrad and graduate engineering students, something like this would light their fire,” said Braun. “It would be very exciting for science and engineering students around the country and around the world.”

Dennis Tito [Wikipedia]

Romance via a paper on physics

Unusual and unique, but let's see what the emotions will be in 10 years.

"Scientist floors girlfriend with physics paper-like proposal"

February 28th, 2013


It could well be the geekiest marriage proposal when an Australian physicist got down on his knees to propose to his scientist girlfriend, pulling out a scientific report rather than a ring.

Christie Nelan revealed online how Brendan McMonigal asked her the all-important question in the form of a proposal that had, like any university paper, an introduction, results, difficult lingo such as "principle bodies" and even a graph, according to Nelan, who said 'yes' to the unusual proposal, published a link to a digital copy of the 'report' that went viral, viewed over 1.7 million times with umpteen Facebook shares and dozens of news articles. Interestingly, the graph in the proposal plots their future happiness if they spent the rest of their lives together.

The couple, who now plan to tie the knot next month, said they met as first-year science students at the University of Sydney. "We got to know each other pretty quickly since we had a lot of common classes, both doing advanced maths and advanced physics," McMonigal said. Seven years later, Nelan who returned from a work trip received the 'scientific proposal', a plan McMonigal was working on for some time and who "knew it would be perfect".

Nelan didn't notice that he had gone down on on his knees when he handed her the report and she put it away to read after dinner. "I hesitated because it was only one page, which is very short for your average physics paper, and then I realized Brendan was giving me a very odd look. So I looked at the paper more carefully and realized Brendan was the author," Nelan said. The report titled 'Two Body Interactions: A Longitudinal Study', examined the couple's attraction over an extended period of time, including their love for hydrometeors, the effects of a two-week break up and homemade cooking.

"... I read the abstract and conclusion first, which means it was a proposal before reading the whole thing," she said. It "projected happiness with high confidence" if she accepted his proposal that the "study goes on indefinitely".

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"The Enormous Radio"

This should have been the basis of a Twilight Zone episode.


"The Enormous Radio" is a short story written by John Cheever in 1947. It first appeared in the May 17, 1947 issue of The New Yorker and was later collected in The Enormous Radio and Other Stories.


Jim and Irene Westcott live contentedly on the 12th floor in an apartment building with their two children near Sutton Place (their city of residence is not mentioned, but Sutton Place is in New York City). Both Jim and Irene enjoy music very much, regularly attending concerts and spending a lot of time listening to music on their radio. However, the Westcotts kept their interest in music from their friends.

When their old radio breaks down, Jim orders a new one, but when it arrives Irene is shocked at the complete and utter ugliness of the device that Jim has bought. The radio is described as a large gumwood cabinet with numerous dials and switches that light up with a green light when it is plugged in. Until the new radio arrived, the Westcotts hardly ever argued and seemed to have a happy marriage.

One night, as Irene is sitting in the apartment listening to the radio she starts to hear interference in the form of a rustling noise over the music concert that is being broadcast. She tries to get the music back by flipping all of the switches and dials, but then begins to hear the sounds of people from other apartments in the building. She is so surprised by this that she shuts off the radio. Later that evening when Jim arrived home from work, he tried the radio to get some music. Instead of music, Jim hears elevator noises and doorbells.Believing that the electronics in the building are interfering with the signal he decides to turn off the radio and call the people who sold it to him and demand to have the radio repaired.

The radio is examined and the problem apparently fixed, but the next day while Irene is listening to a Chopin prelude she hears a man and woman who seem to be arguing. Realizing that the conversation is coming from people who live in a nearby apartment, she flicks a switch, but next hears a woman's voice reading a children's story, which she recognizes as belonging to her neighbor's children's nanny. She flips the switch again, but each time she does so she becomes privy to the events in another apartment. Irene demands that Jim turn off the radio because she is afraid her neighbors will hear her and Jim, just as they can hear the others in the building.

Over the next few days Irene listens in on the lives of her neighbors, and finds herself becoming both intrigued and horrified. Irene had become so obsessed with listening in on her neighbors, that she cut a luncheon short with a friend to go home and listen to the radio to hear what news would be revealed next in the lives of friends and neighbors. Jim noticed how strange Irene had become in her ways and conversations, especially at a dinner party the Wescott's attended. On the way home, Irene speaks of the stars like a little candle throwing its beam as to "shine a good deed in a naughty world."

Irene became totally involved in the lives on the radio and became depressed herself. She has gone from a pleasant, rather plain woman, to a woman who doubts who she is and doubts her relationship with her husband Jim. Once more, Jim arranges for the radio to be examined and this time the repairs are successful. The repairs are expensive and a great deal more than Jim can afford. All he wanted was for Irene to get some enjoyment from the radio. Instead the radio brought the Westcotts' peaceful life to an end. Not only was the second repair of the radio more than Jim could afford, but he also found unpaid clothing bills on Irene's dressing table. Thus the beginning of the hidden truths coming to the surface; Jim worrying about money issues and Irene worrying about the radio hearing their argument and the past indiscretions of her life.

The Enormous Radio


John Cheever


Jim and Irene Wescott were the kind of people who seem to strike that satisfactory average of income, endeavor, and respectability that is reached by the statistical reports in college alumni bulletins.  They were the parents of two young children, they had been married nine years, they lived on the twelfth floor of an apartment house near Sutton Place, they went to the theater on an average of 10.3 times a year, and they hoped someday  to live in Westchester.  Irene Wescott was pleasant, rather plain girl with soft brown hair, and a wide, fine forehead upon which nothing at all had been written, and in the cold weather she wore a coat of fitch skins dyed to resemble mink.  You could not say that Jim Westcott looked younger than he was, but you could  at least say of him that he seemed to feel younger.  He wore his graying hair cut very short, he dressed in the kind of clothes his class had worn at Andover, and his manner was earnest, vehement, and intentionally naïve.  The Westcotts differed from their friends, their classmates, and their neighbors, only in an interest they shared in serious music.  They went to a great many concerts - although they seldom mentioned this ti anyone - and they spent a good deal of time listening to music on the radio.

Their radio was an old instrument, sensitive, unpredictable, and beyond repair.  Neither of them understood the mechanics of radio - or when the instrument faltered, Jim would strike the side of the cabinet with his hand.  This sometimes helped.  One Sunday afternoon, in the middle of the a Schubert quartet, the music faded away altogether.  Jim struck the cabinet repeatedly, but there was no response; the Schubert was lost to them forever.  He promised to buy Irene a new radio, and on Monday when he came home from work he told her that he had got one.  He refused to describe it, and said it would be a surprise for her when it came.

The radio was delivered at the kitchen door the following afternoon, and with the assistance of her maid and the handyman Irene uncrated it and brought it into the living room.  She was struck at once with the physical ugliness of the large gumwood cabinet.  Irene was proud of her living room, she had chosen its furnishings and colors as carefully as she chose her clothes, and now it seemed to her that her new radio stood among her intimate possessions like an aggressive intruder.  She was confounded by the number of dials and switches on the instrument panel, and she studied them thoroughly before she put the plug into a wall socket and turned the radio on.  The dials flooded with a malevolent green light, and in the distance she heard the music of a piano quartet.  The quintet was in the distance for only an instant; it bore down upon her with a speed greater than light and filled the apartment with the noise of music amplified so mightily that it knocked a china ornament from a table to the floor.  She rushed to the instrument and reduced the volume.  The violent forces that were snared in the ugly gumwood cabinet made her uneasy.  Her children came home from school then, and she took them to the Park.  It was not until later in the afternoon that she was able to return to the radio.

The maid had given the children their suppers and was supervising their baths when Irene turned on the radio, reduced the volume, and sat down to listen to a Mozart quintet that she knew and enjoyed.  The music came through clearly.  The new instrument had a much purer tone, she thought, than the old one.  She decided that tone was most important and that she could conceal the cabinet behind the sofa.  But as soon as she had made her peace with the radio, the interference began.  A crackling sound like the noise of a burning powder fuse began to accompany the singing of the strings.  Beyond the music, there was a rustling that reminded Irene unpleasantly of the sea, and as the quintet progressed, these noises were joined by the many others.  She tried all the dials and switches but nothing dimmed the interference, and she sat down, disappointed and bewildered, and tried to trace the flight of the melody.  The elevator shaft in her building ran beside the living-room wall, and it was the noise of the elevator that gave her a clue to the character of the static.  The rattling of the elevator cables and the opening and closing of the elevator doors were reproduced in her loudspeaker, and, realizing that the radio was sensitive to electrical currents of all sorts, she began to discern through the Mozart the ringing of telephone bells, the dialing of phones, and the lamentation of a vacuum cleaner.  By listening more carefully, she was able to distinguish doorbells, elevator bells, electric razors, and Waring mixers, whose sounds had been picked up from the apartments that surrounded hers and transmitted through her loudspeaker.  The powerful and ugly instrument, with its mistaken sensibility to discord, was more than she could hope to master, so she turned the thing off and went into the nursery to see her children.

When Jim Wescott came home that night, he went to the radio confidently and worked the controls.  He had the same sort of experience Irene had had.  A man was speaking on the station Jim had chosen, and his voice swung instantly from the distance into a force so powerful that it shook the apartment.  Jim turned the volume control and reduced the voice.  Then, a minute or two later, the interference began.  The ringing of telephones and doorbells set in, joined by the rasp of the elevator doors and the whir of cooking appliances.  The character of the noise had changed since Irene had tried the radio earlier; the last of the electric razors was being unplugged, the vacuum cleaners had all been returned to their closets, and the static reflected that change in pace that overtakes the city after the sun goes down.  He fiddled with the knobs but couldn’t get rid of the noises, so he turned the radio off and told Irene that in the morning he’d call the people who had sold it to him and give them hell.

The following afternoon, when Irene returned to the apartment from a luncheon date, the maid told her that a man had come and fixed the radio.  Irene went into the living room before she took off her hat or her furs and tried the instrument.  From the loudspeaker came a recording of the “Missouri Waltz.”  It reminded her of the thin, scratchy music from an old-fashioned phonograph that she sometimes head across the lake where she spent her summers.  She waited until the waltz had finished, expecting an explanation of the recording, but there was none.  The music was followed by silence, and then the plaintive and scratchy record was repeated.  She turned the dial and got a satisfactory burst of Caucasian music - thump of bare feet in the dust and the rattle of coin jewelry - but in the background she could hear the ringing of bells and a confusion of voices.  Her children came home from school then, and she turned off the radio and went to the nursery.

When Jim came home that night, he was tired, and he took a bath and changed his clothes.  Then he joined Irene in the living room.  He had just turned on the radio when the maid announced dinner, so he left it on, and Irene went to the table.

Jim was too tired to make even pretense of sociability, and there was nothing about the dinner to hold Irene’s interest, so her attention wandered from the food to the deposits of silver polish on the candlesticks and from there to the music in the other room.  She listened for a few minutes to a Chopin prelude and then was surprised to hear a man’s voice break in.  “For Christ’s sake, Kathy,” he said, “do you always have to play the piano when I get home?”  The music stopped abruptly.  “It’s the only chance I have,” the woman said.  “I’m at the office all day.” “So am I,” the man said.  He added something obscene about an upright piano, and slammed a door.  The passionate and melancholy music began again.

“Did you hear that?” Irene asked.

“What?” Jim was eating his dessert.

“The radio.  A man said something while the music was still going on - something dirty.”

“It’s probably a play.”

“I don’t think it is a play,” Irene said.

They left the table and took their coffee into the living room.  Irene asked Jim to try another station.  He turned the knob. “Have you seen my garters?”  A man asked.  “Button me up,” a woman said.  “Have you seen my garters?” the man said again.  “Just button me up and I’ll find your garters,” the woman said.  Jim shifted to another station.  “I wish you wouldn’t leave apple cores in the ashtrays,” a man said. “I hate the smell.”

“This is strange,” Jim said.

“Isn’t it?” Irene said.

Jim turned the knob again.  “‘On the coast of Coromandel where the early pumpkins blow,’” a woman with a pronounced English accent said, “‘in the middle of the woods lived the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.  Two old chairs, and half a candle, one old jug without a handle . . .’”

“My God!” Irene cried.  “That’s the Sweeneys’ nurse.”

“‘These were all his worldly goods,’” the British voice continued.

“Turn that thing off,” Irene said.”Maybe they can hear us.” Jim switched the radio off.  “That was Miss Armstrong, the Sweeneys’ nurse,” Irene said.  “She must be reading to the little girl.  They live in 17-B.  I’ve talked with Miss Armstrong in the Park.  I know her voice very well.  We must be getting other people’s apartments.”

“That’s impossible,” Jim said.

“Well, that was the Sweeneys’ nurse,” Irene said hotly.  “I know her voice.  I know it very well.  I’m wondering if they can hear us.”

Jim turned the switch.  First from a distance and then nearer, nearer, as if borne on the wind, came the pure accents of the Sweeneys’ nurse again: “‘Lady Jingly!  Lady Jingly!’” she said, “‘sitting where the pumpkins blow, will you come and be my wife? said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò . . .’”

Jim went over to the radio and said, “Hello” loudly into the speaker.

“‘I am tired of living singly,’” the nurse went on, “‘on this coast so wild and shingly, I’m a-weary of my life; if you’ll come and be my wife, quite serene would be my life . . .’”

“I guess she can’t hear us,” Irene said.  “Try something else.”

Jim turned to another station, and the living room was filled with the uproar of a cocktail party that had overshot its mark.  Someone was playing the piano and singing the “Whiffenpoof Song,”[1] and the voices that surrounded the piano were vehement and happy.  “Eat some more sandwiches,” a woman shrieked.  There were screams of laughter and a dish of some sort crashed to the floor.

“Those must be the Fullers, in 11-E,” Irene said. “I knew they were giving a party this afternoon.  I saw her in the liquor store.  Isn’t this too divine?  Try something else.  See if you can get those people in 18-C.”

The Westcotts overheard that evening a monologue on salmon fishing in Canada, a bridge game, running comments on home movies of what had apparently been a fortnight at Sea Island, and a bitter family quarrel about an overdraft at the bank.  They turned off their radio at midnight and went to bed, weak with laughter.  Sometime in the night, their son began to call for a glass of water and Irene got one and took it to his room.  It was very early.  All the lights in the neighborhood were extinguished, and from the boy’s window she could see the empty street.  She went into the living room and tried the radio.  There was some faint coughing, a moan, and then a man spoke.  “Are you all right, darling?” he asked.  “Yes,” a woman said wearily.  “Yes, I’m all right, I guess,” and then she added with great feeling, “But, you know, Charlie, I don’t feel like myself any more.  Sometimes there are about fifteen or twenty minutes in the week when I feel like myself.  I don’t like to go to another doctor, because the doctor’s bills are so awful already, but I just don’t feel like myself, Charlie.  I just never feel like myself.”  They were not young, Irene thought.  She guessed from the timbre of their voices that they were middle-aged.  The restrained melancholy of the dialogue and the draft from the bedroom window made her shiver, and she went back to bed.

The following morning, Irene cooked breakfast for the family - the maid didn’t come up from her room in the basement until ten - braided her daughter’s hair, and waited at the door until her children and her husband had been carried away in the elevator.  Then she went into the living room and tried the radio.  “I don’t want to go to school,” a child screamed.  “I hate school.  I won’t go to school.  I hate school.”  “You will go to school,” an enraged woman said.  “We paid eight hundred dollars to get you into that school and you’‘ll go if it kills you.”  The next number on the dial produced the worn record of the “Missouri Waltz.”  Irene shifted the control and invaded the privacy of several breakfast tables.  She overheard demonstrations of indigestion, carnal love, abysmal vanity, faith, and despair.  Irene’s life was nearly as simple and sheltered as it appeared to be, and the forthright and sometimes brutal language that came from the loudspeaker that morning astonished and troubles her.  She continued to listen until her maid came in.  The she turned off the radio quickly, since this insight, she realized, was a furtive one.

Irene had a luncheon date with a friend that day, and she left her apartment a little after twelve.  There were a number of women in the elevator when it stopped at her floor.  She stared at their handsome and impassive faces, their furs, and the cloth flowers in their hats.  Which one of them had been at Sea Island?  she wondered.  Which one had overdrawn her bank account?  The elevator stopped at the tenth floor and a woman with a pair of Skye terriers joined them, Her hair was rigged high on her head and she wore a mink cape.  She was humming the “Missouri Waltz.”

Irene had two Martinis at lunch, and she looked searchingly at her friend and wondered what her secrets were.  They had intended to go shopping after lunch, but Irene excused herself and went home.  She told the maid that she was not to be disturbed; then she went into the living room, closed the doors, and switched on the radio.  She heard, in the course of the afternoon, the halting conversation of a woman entertaining her aunt, the hysterical conclusion of a luncheon party, and hostess briefing her maid about some cocktail guests.  “Don’t give the best Scotch to anyone who hasn’t white hair,” the hostess said. “See if you can get rid of the liver paste before you pass those hot things, and could you lend me five dollars? I want to tip the elevator man.”

As the afternoon waned, the conversations increased in intensity.  From where Irene sat, she could see the open sky above the East River.  There were hundreds of clouds in the sky, as though the south wind had broken the winter into pieces and were blowing it north, and on her radio she could hear the arrival of cocktail guests and the return of children and businessmen from their schools and offices.  “I found a good-sized diamond on the bathroom floor this morning,” a woman said.  “It must have fallen out of the bracelet Mrs. Dunston was wearing last night.”  “We’ll sell it,” a man said.  “Take it down to the jeweler on Madison Avenue and sell it.  Mrs. Dunston was won’t know the difference, and we could use a couple of hundred bucks . . .” “‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s,’” the Sweeneys’ nurse sang.  “Halfpence and farthings, say the bells of St. Martin’s.  When will you pay me?  say the bells at old Bailey . . .’”[2] “It’s not a hat,” a woman cried, and at her back roared a cocktail party.  “It’s not a hat, it’s a love affair.  That’s what Walter Florell said.  He said it’s not a hat, it’s a love affair,” and then, in a lower voice, the same woman added, “Talk to somebody, for Christ’s sake, honey, talk to somebody.  If she catches you standing here not talking to anybody, she’ll take us off her invitation list, and I love these parties.”

The Wescotts were going out for dinner that night, and when Jim came home, Irene was dressing.  She seemed sad and vague, and he brought her a drink.  They were dining with their friends in the neighborhood, and they walked to where they were going.   The sky was broad and filled with light. It was of those splendid spring evenings that excite memory and desire, and the air that touched their hands an aces felt very soft.  A Salvation Army band was on the corner playing “Jesus Is Sweeter”. Irene drew her husband’s arm and held him there for a minute, to hear the music.”They are really such nice people, aren’t they?” she said.  They have such nice faces.  Actually , they are so much nicer than a lot of the people we know.”    She took a bill from her purse and walked over and dropped it into the tambourine.   There was in her face, when she returned to he husband, a look of radiant melancholy that he was not familiar with.   And her conduct at the dinner party that night seemed strange to him, too.  She interrupted her hostess rudely and stared at the people across the table from her with an intensity for which she would have punished her children.

It was still mild when they walked home from the party, and Irene looked up at the spring stars. “How far the little candle throws its beams,” she exclaimed. “ So sine a good deed in a naughty world.” She waited that night until Jim had fallen asleep, and then went out into the living room and turned on the radio.

Jim came home at about six the next night. Emma, the maid, let him in , and he had taken off his has and was taking off his coat when Irene ran into the hall. Her face was shining with tears and her hair was disordered . “Go up to 16-C , Jim!” she screamed. “Don’t take off your coat.  Go up to 16-C. Mr Osborn’s beating his wife. They’ve been quarreling since four o’clock, and now he is hitting her. Go up there and stop him.”

From the radio in the living room, Jim heard screams, obscenities, and thuds. “ You know you don’t have to listen to this sort of thing,”he said.  He strode into the living room and turned the switch. “It’s indecent,” he said. “It’s like looking into windows. You know you don’t have to listen to this sort of thing. You can turn it off”

“Oh, it’s so terrible, it’s so dreadful,” Irene was sobbing. I’ve been listening all day, and it’s so depressing.”

“ Well, if it’s so depressing, why do you listen to it? I brought this dammed radio to give you some pleasure,” he said. “I paid a great deal of money for it. I thought it might make you happy. I wanted to make you happy”

“Don’t , don’t, don’t, don’t quarrel with me,” she moaned, and laid her head on his shoulder. “ All the others have been quarreling all day. Everybody’s been quarreling. They’re all worried about money. Mrs. Hutchinson’s mother is dying of cancer in Florida and they don’t have enough money to send her to the Mayo Clinic. At least, Mr Hutchinson says they don’t have enough money. And some woman in this building is having and affair with the handyman- with that hideous handyman. It’s too disgusting. And Mrs. Melville has heart trouble, and Mr. Hendricks is going to lose his job in April and Mrs. Hendricks is horrid about the whole thing and that girl that plays the “Missouri Waltz” is a whore, a common whore, and the elevator man has tuberculosis and Mr. Osborn has been beating his wife.” She wailed, she trembled with grief and checked the stream of tears down her face with the heel of her palm.

“Well why do you have to listen?” Jim asked again. “Why do you have to listen to this stuff if it makes you miserable?”

“Oh, don’t, don’t, don’t,” she cried. “Life is too terrible, to sordid and awful. But we’ve never been like that, have we, darling”? Have we? I mean, we’ve always been good and decent and loving to one another, haven’t we?  And we have two children, two beautiful children. Our lives aren’t sordid, are they, darling? Are they?” She flung her arms around his neck and drew his face down to hers. “We’re happy, aren’t we, darling? We are happy, aren’t we?”

“Of course we’re happy,” he said tiredly. He began to surrender his resentment. “Of course we are happy. “I’ll have that dammed radio fixed or taken away tomorrow.” He stroked her soft hair. “My poor girl,” he said.

“You love me don’t you? she asked. “And we’re not hypercritical or worried about money or dishonesty, are we?

A man came in the morning and fixed the radio. Irene turned it on cautiously and was happy to hear a California-wine commercial and a recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, including Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”. She kept the radio on all day and nothing untoward came toward the speaker.

A Spanish suite was being played when Jim came home. “Is everything all right?” he asked. His face was pale, she thought. They had some cocktails and went to dinner to the “Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore.  This was followed by Debussy’s “La Mer”

“I paid the bill for the radio today,” Jim said. “It cost four hundred dollars. I hope you’ll get some enjoyment out of it”

“Oh, I’m sure I will, Irene said.

“Four hundred dollars is a good deal more than I can afford,” he went on. “I wanted to get something that you’d enjoy. It’s the last extravagance we’ll indulge in this year. I see that you haven’t paid your clothing bills yet. I saw them on your dressing table.” He looked directly at her. “Why did you tell me you paid them? Why did you lie to me?

“I just didn’t want you to worry, Jim,” she said. She drank some water. “I’ll be able to pay my bills out of this months allowance. There were the slipcovers last month, and that party,”

“You’ve got to learn to handle the money I give you a little more intelligently, Irene,” he said. “You’ve got to understand that we don’t have as much money this year as we had last. I had a very sobering talk with Mitchell today. No one is buying anything. We’re spending all of our time promoting new issues, and you know how long that takes. I’m mot getting any younger you know. I’m thirty-seven. My hair will be gray next year. I haven’t done as well as I hoped to do. And I don’t suppose things will get any better.

“Yes dear,” she said.

We’ve got to start cutting down,” Jim said. “We’ve got to think of the children. To be perfectly frank with you, I worry about money a great deal. I’m not at all sure of the future. No one is.  If anything should happen to me, there’s the insurance, but that won’t go very far today. I’ve worked awfully hard to give you and the children a comfortable life,” he said bitterly. “I don’t like to see all my energies, all my youth, wasted in fur coast and radios and slipcovers and-“

”Please Jim,” she said. “Please. They’ll hear us.”

“Who’ll hear us? Emma can’t hear us.

“The Radio.”

“Oh, I’m sick! He shouted. “I’m sick to death of your apprehensiveness. The radio can’t hear us. Nobody can hear us. And what if they can hear us? Who cares?”

Irene got up from the table and went into the living room. Jim went to the door and shouted from there. “Why are you so Christly all of a sudden? What’s turned you overnight into a convent girl? You stole your mother’s jewelry before they probated her will. You never gave your sister a sent of that money that was intended for her- not even when she needed it. You made Grace Howland’s life miserable, and where was all your all your piety and your virtue when you went to that abortionist? I’ll never forget how coll you were. You packed your bag and went off to have that child murdered as if you were going to Nassau . If you’d had any reasons, if you had any good reasons-“

Irene stood for a minute before the hideous cabinet , disgraced and sickened, but she held her hand on the switch before she extinguished the music and the voices, hoping the instrument might speak to her kindly, that she might hear the Sweeney’s nurse. Jim continued to shout at her from the door. The voice on the radio was suave and noncommital. “An early-morning railroad disaster in Tokyo,” the loudspeaker said, “killed twenty-nine people. A fire in a Catholic hospital near Buffalo for the care of blind children was extinguished early this morning by nuns.

The temperature is forty-seven. The humidity is eighty-nine.”

Audio presentation...

CBS Radio Workshop