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Scientists Without Borders Has Arrived

I just learned (via Nature) about Scientists Without Borders (SWB), an extraordinary joint project launched on 12 May 08 by the New York Academy of Sciences and the UN Millennium Project. The goal is to “mobilize and coordinate science-based activities that improve quality of life in the developing world. The SWB database will provide a way for organizations, projects and individuals with complementary needs and resources to find one another.” A major challenge of the initiative is to link science-related activities across the developing countries that face many communication barriers. The SWB site can function as a Community of Practice for researchers in developing countries and their colleagues and allies in the developed world.

Our experience in facilitating science communications, especially in space life sciences between NASA and the Russian, French, European, Canadian, and Japanese Space Agencies taught us many lessons within the developed world. The SWB will no doubt face even greater challenges and perhaps greater rewards in doing so across the developing world. The SWB deserves broad support and you can register on their site and begin to participate as you wish. We have offered our support to the SWB and encourage you to do the same. The world needs the science community to virtually join hands to deal with our major global issues.

Arthur C. Clarke – Also the Father of Commercial Space?

The passing of Arthur C. Clarke, announced March 19th, is being grieved widely around the world.  Clarke said recently, “Sometimes I am asked how I would like to be remembered.  I have a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter.  Of all of these I would like to be remembered as a writer”.  In this he was prolific producing fiction and non-fiction books, articles, movie scripts (most famously, 2001: A Space Odyssey) and more.  After serving in the RAF during WWII, he graduated King’s College, London in Physics and Mathematics.  And he, like Carl Sagan and few others, wrote history, science fiction, science-based articles for publication and developed educational and highly entertaining programs for television and film.  This had a major impact on all of us. While serving as an RAF electronics officer during WWII, he published a paper in “Wireless World” that combined the just-emerging technologies of rocketry, wireless communications and radar.  He envisioned an extra-terrestrial system that relied on orbiting space stations in high Earth orbits to relay radio signals around the world.  Only twenty years later, in 1965, the new international satellite telecommunications organization, Intelsat, under the U.S. Communication Satellite Corporation (COMSAT), successfully placed the “Early Bird” satellite over the Atlantic into what is now known internationally as “the Clarke orbit”.  Clarke himself never thought the idea would be realized and his article was almost not published since it was so visionary.  His patent counsel suggested that it wasn’t worth trying to “own” the idea because it was so far-fetched.  However, the current multi-billion dollar international telecommunications industry was born from Clarke’s ideas and can be considered the first widely successful commercial space endeavor.

Columbus Sets Sail!

A major milestone has been reached by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) – the Columbus research module, built by ESA, has just been attached to the International Space Station (ISS) during the current NASA/ESA Shuttle mission (STS-122). And, the large Japanese KIBO research module is scheduled for launch this spring. For those of us space research types who remember when the ISS was still a vision, the promise for it to be a true international space research facility, is gradually being fulfilled. To give some human perspective to this accomplishment, a space life scientist colleague of mine retired from NASA about 20 years ago who had already worked on what has now become the ISS, for 20 years. Both NASA and ESA deserve major credit for continuing to work through many challenges to ensure that the Columbus will finally produce research results to support both space exploration and many applications on Earth. The ISS is apparently still only about 60% assembled, but when completed it will be a world-class opportunity for international cooperation in space. Considering the global challenges the world is facing, we need this example of practical international cooperation now, more than ever.

Extreme Environments

It is widely agreed that exploration drives innovation and builds prosperity. This is true whether the explorers are ancient or modern, human or robot. While we know that life gravitates toward habitats that are easy to live in, in order to make new discoveries, we need to explore new places, often extreme environments, on both the macro and micro scale. This requires that we find ways to adapt to and do work in extremes of temperature, pressure, isolation, gravity, miniaturization, and more. It is mainly entrepreneurs that create innovative solutions to these problems, and "spin-off" products and services that benefit society at-large. This is increasingly seen as the "American Way" to solve extreme environment challenges.

Mains Associates has been involved in exploration for over 25 years with an emphasis on space, and we've learned a lot about working in extreme environments. Space exploration requires development and application of a broad range of innovations in artificial life support, closed environment habitats, resource recycling, renewable solar energy use, and with proposed long-duration space missions, the ultimate need for sustainable systems. Increasingly global problems such as climate change, energy depletion, drought, disaster mitigation, etc. are being defined in similar terms.

We have been fascinated by space exploration and space research because of the innovations, technical and social, required to adapt to extreme environments. We are also convinced that international collaboration in space exploration over the years has significantly benefited both our country and the world. Exploring and learning to utilize space for all mankind is truly a noble and worthwhile pursuit. Working on global challenges probably brings out the best in us, and benefits all humankind because of the discoveries made in, and in order to adapt to, Extreme Environments.

Welcome to Non-Trivial Pursuits

Non-Trivial Pursuits (NTP) is a way for us at Mains Associates to better connect with our friends, clients, colleagues, and partners and others who share our interests. The convergence of science and space exploration with the emerging commercial space market and our increasing involvement in online communications and community building makes being part of the blogosphere a natural for us. NTP gives us a new opportunity to expand our interaction with these groups, and along the way, highlight some of the tools and techniques we use to help our clients and partners be more effective in their pursuits, as well. We intend to talk about:

Space - "The Final Frontier" is really just being opened up to broader human involvement and we find this to be an endlessly fascinating topic. Whether it's domestic or foreign, public or private, human or robotic, space exploration holds fantastic potential. We will share our 25 years of experience and knowledge on developments of the extra-planetary kind, especially how they can and have benefited Earth.

Science - Biosciences R&D is another area that we are very familiar with, whether it is conducted on the ground, in a satellite, or on the International Space Station (ISS). This is an exciting time to be working at the intersection of life sciences and space exploration, and the emerging link with the commercial sector and societal applications adds fascinating new dimensions.

Communications - Mains Associates was established during the early days of the personal computer, and experienced the dramatic change in how that facilitated communications with our partners and clients. Our experience working both in the government and private sectors provides us a unique perspective on intra- and inter-organizational communications, most importantly, what works and what doesn't with respect to the critical human elements.

Community - Whatever one's industry, vocation, or avocation, it is the interaction with others having similar interests that makes projects rewarding and able to succeed, yet it brings its own set of challenges. The most productive and rewarding communities include face-to-face interactions and use of online tools to enable virtual collaborations. We see creating effective communities as the ultimate goal of any project we pursue - including NTP! We hope you'll join us at NTP by not only sharing our thoughts, but contributing your own we we can learn a lot together. As with any blog, NTP is a work in progress, so please contribute comments, critiques and new ideas. Welcome to our community!

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