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FKE Space Program

Getting Started

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Editorial Note: Most of the text in this section was written in 1993, and has not been significantly modified since. As a result, there are significant parts of it that are obsolete, perhaps even quaint. This section will be updated as time permits. I am including this old text now because I think it's important that people know about the work I've been doing, and the directions I'd planned, for a discussion point, at least. Comments are welcome...
-- Fred Koschara, April 8, 1997 @ 7:05 pm


This book was written primarily as a description of the FKE Space Program. However, it is also being used as a tool to tie together the company's past activities and current projects into a visibly coordinated plan of action leading toward the development of its space business.

FKE has been heavily involved in the computer and electronic industries for several years. The company became involved in these fields primarily to raise capital to finance our on-going aerospace research program. Although the computer work has produced, and will continue to produce, many extremely valuable tools to use while developing its space colonization effort, the firm is maintaining its position toward the electronics work: The proceeds from the sideline projects are to be used to underwrite the initial development of the FKE Space Program.

FKE is now in a transitional phase, wherein the electronic and computer work is being reduced, and an active development effort for the FKE Space Program is being started. The change of priorities is driven by management's desire to return to the objectives that led to the company's formation in the first place. In addition, there are significant economic incentives: As military tensions across the globe are easing, a substantial number of highly skilled workers in the aerospace industry are entering the job market. Starting active development of its space program at this time will make it possible for FKE to absorb many of these desirable employees, and gain a lot of valuable experience in its workforce in a short period of time.

A tremendous volume of information and design work has already been completed in the effort leading toward the construction of space colonies. Involved in the development of that data have been NASA and other government agencies, a large number of universities, and a vast array of private firms engaged in commercial ventures. Even with all of the effort done to date, there are still many questions that remain to be answered if we are to achieve the maximum efficiency possible in using the resources available. That efficiency is necessary, especially to a private development such as the program undertaken by FKE, since even a small change can make the difference between bankruptcy and a huge success. Therefore, research cannot be stopped, even if a workable system has been designed and brought into operation.

We recognize there is still a lot of work to be done before permanent human settlements are established elsewhere in the universe, including low Earth orbit, the Moon, and L-5. FKE intends to gain an industry leadership position as the work progresses through dedication to efficiency, safety, and customer satisfaction. Our space program will only be successful if it can be built on a sound economic foundation with a plan resulting in a tangible profit for our employees and investors.

Since FKE will not accept any government funding to support its space program, skeptics most often wonder where the money will come from to finance a project of this magnitude. Although a detailed plan is not presently available to fully respond to such questions, there are general answers available: Much of the capital for the effort will probably come from the utilities we will ultimately be selling electricity from our solar power satellites to, since they have a vested interest in seeing the project succeed. We also hope to attract substantial investments from our suppliers, since their continued success will depend more and more on commercial efforts such as the FKE Space Program as government spending is cut back to reduce budget deficits. As the project develops, we also expect to be able to sell long-term bonds in markets throughout the globe, especially to investors with large amounts of risk capital available. Financing plans with increasing levels of detail will be developed as the project progresses and we have more resources available to commit to the planning effort. None of this will happen, though, without developing a cash flow that gives the company's personnel enough extra time to be able to dedicate their resources increasingly toward the space program. Toward that end, several computer projects are being developed, and the proceeds will be used to launch FKE along its chosen path.

In addition to its sideline work to internally raise its initial operating capital, FKE currently has several active projects at various stages of planning and development directly related to its space program effort. These projects include:

  1. The FKE SpaceBoard BBS, an electronic information center
  2. Stereoscopic Video Displays, both for revenue and spacecraft instrumentation
  3. Several "educational entertainment" projects
  4. Seeking vendor and customer participation in financing and development work
  5. Establishing a "grass roots network" of people interested in seeing the project completed.

Most of these projects will be continued for the foreseeable future, even after the FKE Space Program has been built and is fully functional: The work being done now is laying the foundation on which the remainder of the program must be built. The remainder of this chapter will describe the current efforts in further detail, and explain their place in the larger picture of the Space Program effort.

The FKE SpaceBoard BBS

Editorial Note: This is one of the sections that's going to be nearly completely rewritten: Most, if not all, of the functionality discussed here for the FKE SpaceBoard BBS is now going to be done on the Internet. The BBS will probably be resurrected, especially when a reliable high-speed interface system is required that does not depend on the vagaries of network loading.

A "BBS" is a computer "Bulletin Board System," a system equipped with hardware and software which enable it to function much like a cork bulletin board, where people can post messages and announcements, or leave mail for each other. Most BBS's, including the FKE SpaceBoard BBS, are connected to the telephone system to allow their users to call in from any location where a telephone line is accessible. Such "public access" systems usually have some form of restriction, such as membership requirements, which determine who can use the information stored in the BBS, and how. The FKE SpaceBoard BBS has features both with membership restrictions, and available to the general public.

The main purpose for establishing the FKE SpaceBoard BBS ("the SpaceBoard") was to provide a central communication and information center for the FKE Space Program. Its facilities are being built primarily to provide program participants and the general public with information about the status of new and existing development efforts, and as a repository for design data accumulated by the project. All other features of the BBS, whether in place or planned, are considered optional additional enhancements, and are included solely to provide a more attractive working environment for the program staff.

Fundamental to its communication support is the BBS's electronic mail facility. The SpaceBoard is capable of storing and forwarding sizable messages, with or without attached files. This core service allows project members to communicate ideas and planning data with a minimum of delays, and independently of the type of computer they are using. It is also an integral part of the BBS's support for discussion groups on a wide variety of topics: Members can communicate their thoughts either through private messages sent to individual recipients, or by posting the message to a "public" forum where they can be read and responded to by anyone with access rights to the forum. There are no restrictions on the contents of messages, except that messages posted to a public forum are expected to be relevant to the topic of discussion and worded in a civilized manner. The system can also support the exchange of any types of files which can be created with a computer system through its capability of attaching files to messages. The only restrictions on exchanging files are that they have to fit on the disk the BBS uses to store messages, and the recipient's system must be capable of interpreting the transmitted data.

The second major feature of the SpaceBoard's communications system is its news services: Any newsworthy events which occur within the FKE Space Program will first appear on the SpaceBoard. Events that can be expected to be found in the BBS news section include announcements of milestone achievements and development breakthroughs as they occur, and of any major personnel changes. Our news section will also be the first place to find about new projects being developed, contract awards, requests for proposals, and any other operational communications that may be of interest to the public. We are also investigating connections to the major wire services (AP, UPI, etc.), so our members will be able to turn to the SpaceBoard for complete information about events occurring anywhere on Earth.

The FKE SpaceBoard BBS is also being built to form the core of the company's information system. It will become a repository for everything from corporate records to detailed design drawings for the space program hardware. As the system is expands, we will be setting up several nodes at various locations across the country. These communication hubs will be internally connected through high speed data links, and will have several redundant databases to reduce communications costs. Each node will be in charge of maintaining one or more of the source databases. Incremental updates will be broadcast across the data links to the other sites in many circumstances. Periodically, or when a major changes are made to one of the databases, the entire data set will be transferred to CD-ROMs and physically carried to the remote locations. We fully expect to grow to the point where each BBS node has one or more cabinets attached containing multiple CD-ROM drives that are loaded by a common jukebox changer mechanism. If the equipment is not commercially available by the time we need it, FKE will construct the hardware, and offer it for sale to other large information users.

Naturally, as its use as an information system grows, security will become an increasingly important issue, especially since large portions of the network will be open to public access. Transmission of database information by carrying it physically from one location to another on CD-ROM will reduce the likelihood of its interception or alteration while in transit. Development of hardware and software data protection systems will also be conducted through an on-going effort as the BBS expands.

The FKE SpaceBoard BBS is an operational project with growing capabilities. {Ed. note: Operations were suspended in October, 1992.} Its current operations are restricted to the electronic mail and news dissemination features described above, and the classified advertising (including job listings) discussed below. The other features presented in this section require additional hardware, and software which is under development, and will be added as time and budget permit. We are also developing terminal software to run on a variety of computer systems for our members. These programs will allow users to reduce the communication overhead and costs associated with menus, information screens, and other static data used to access the BBS features. They will also provide enhanced security by eliminating transmission of plain text passwords through the public telephone network, and by directly supporting encrypted message passing.

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The Electronic Mall

One of the largest projects presently being designed and written for addition to the FKE SpaceBoard BBS is its "electronic mall" section. Like a shopping mall where many stores can be found under one roof, the SpaceBoard Mall offers goods and services provided by many different vendors. When a user enters one of these electronic stores, they can browse catalogs or any other type of information provided by the store owner to assist in their selection. While some products, primarily data objects such as special reports or image files, can be retrieved directly from the electronic store, most on-line purchases will be goods shipped by suppliers from anywhere across the country or globe to their buyer. The SpaceBoard Mall provides a 24-hour shopping opportunity where its users can immediately purchase products they select, with a minimum of delays before they receive their order. The Mall also provides a direct feedback path to the store owners, allowing queries, complaints and suggestions to the vendors with a minimal expenditure of effort, which will hopefully lead to better service.

The stores of the SpaceBoard Mall will generally be open to the public, although each store will be able to set restrictions on who has access to its area as needed. We expect it will initially be populated with space related businesses selling goods and services to relatively small groups of enthusiasts. However, stores will be made available in the Mall to any vendors interested in developing this marketing approach. As the Mall grows, users of the SpaceBoard should be able to find an increasing variety of products to make their lives and jobs more fun and productive. We expect to attract a diverse range of stores to the Mall, since it can open a new market for suppliers with minimal costs and excellent growth potential.

Naturally, the SpaceBoard will be charging "rent" for the stores in the SpaceBoard Mall. In addition to covering the costs of the computer capacity needed to support its operation, the profits generated by the SpaceBoard Mall will be used to finance the space development effort. It won't be one of the largest contributions in the long run, but it is expected to be an important source of revenue during the early stages of the FKE Space Program.

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Dating service

There is a trend in today's world for people to demand much more compatibility in their personal relationships than at any time in the past. The high divorce rate in American society is merely one symptom of this condition: Where our ancestors would put up with many personal differences, members of the present generation prefer to go separate ways. The stigma attached to a divorce has gone away, but the stress and personal costs still remain: After all is said and done, people are still social animals, and we perform more effectively when we have the support of a loving companion.

Just as traditional lifestyles are becoming passé, the means used historically to look for and find a compatible mate have become obsolete. Consequently, there has been a tremendous upsurge in development of new systems to introduce people who may be right for each other. Dating services, computer bulletin board systems, social chat lines, and personal advertisements in newspapers have all been marketed as "the" best way to find "that special someone for your life." In most cases, however, the results fall far short of even pessimistic expectations.

Many of these operations continue to survive simply by making a big deal of their few successes. Participants who are disappointed with the service are often too embarrassed to publicly admit they were suckered into a program with little chance of finding what they were looking for. As a result, there is still a steady flow of new victims into these agencies with no concept of the poor chance for success they really have. Because of the volume of traffic through their doors, most dating services can continue to point to recent members who did find someone they were compatible with. This is not because the service's methodology was particularly good, but simply because there is a statistically high probability that with enough members, two will be compatible and happen to find each other.

The existing dating services all have their own methodologies, advantages, and faults. Some services offer "personal" matching of their members, meaning a counselor has a stack of cards they search through to find someone to match you up with. Any success achieved by their program depends very heavily on the counselor knowing each members' desires, and happening to know two people that might be compatible. Other services offer a more scientific approach by developing personality profiles for each of their members, but then seem to ignore the information after closing the sale of the membership. At least one of these services also doesn't have any provisions for members with specific physical or age restrictions they'd like to see applied. A third type of business in this field has the interesting concept of allowing their members to see each other in advance by reviewing videos recorded by the opposite sex. However, they don't have a database members can search to find compatible people, other than manually poring through their entire collection of notebooks of descriptions. Computer bulletin board systems can be found in all of the major metropolitan markets that are set up as dating boards. Here members can search the system database to find any sort of specific person they'd like to know, as long as the system's software happens to ask the right questions of its users. However, these boards nearly always contain questionnaires that are hidden away in obscure corners, especially if any sort of sexual response is being asked for. While such a practice allegedly reduces the risk of children being exposed to adult material, it also prevents legitimate users from obtaining information that may actually be critical to their health and safety. In addition, since access to a computer is needed to find the dating boards in the first place, the audience is rather restricted - and heavily overloaded with male members. Because the dating boards are all text-based information systems, users have nothing more than written descriptions to find what the person they are trying to match up with is like - descriptions that often are wildly off base.

FKE would like to see a better way for space people to meet and get to know each other. Each of the systems described above has advantages that, if combined, could create a powerful tool to help a person find someone they are truly compatible with. By implementing a dating section on the SpaceBoard BBS, we can offer the database search capabilities found on other dating boards. Each member will be required to supply one or more pictures that will be digitized and attached to their membership profile, to reduce the likelihood of inaccurate personal descriptions and to give the person searching the database a better idea of what their prospective contact is like. By using an extensive questionnaire covering a broad range of subjects and opinions, the software will develop a personality profile for each member, giving users an idea of possible conflicts in their potential relationships.

The biggest danger in using a computer system as the core of our dating service is that, like other BBS services, it will become overloaded with male members, and restricted to computer owners. To answer these concerns, FKE would like to construct "dating booths" that could be installed in video game parlors (for example), where prospective members could sign up, get their picture taken, and access the database for the price of a few coins or by "swiping" a credit card through a reader. As the dating booths become more common, they could also be utilized for other information access functions, possibly leading to development of public data terminals, similar to the telephone booths so common in today's cities.

FKE is also working on building a subsidiary business as a spin-off of its dating service. The firm is tentatively called "The National Connection Network" to reflect its additional functions. Besides offering access to the dating service functions of the SpaceBoard BBS, NCN will be developed into an employment agency, and possibly a venture capital network. We will be selling franchises in cities all across the country, which will lead to increased membership for the dating service, and could make a respectable financial contribution toward supporting the FKE Space Program.

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Classified advertising

The FKE SpaceBoard BBS already features a classified advertisement section, but the software implementing it is crude, at best: There really aren't any classifications yet, just advertisements. Our intent is to develop it into a system resembling the classified advertising pages of a newspaper, with listings divided along logical lines to reduce the amount of time a user has to spend browsing before they find something they want. The SpaceBoard Classifieds will be open to all kinds of trade to give our users a "one-stop shopping" type of access to a broad range of products and services. One thing that will set the SpaceBoard's classifieds apart from other systems' offerings is the special categories set aside for space-related things: Where else would you look for standby tickets for seats on a space launch at reduced rates?

Accessing the SpaceBoard Classifieds is done by a process much like using the mail section: After signing on to the system, a user navigates a series of menus to find the particular category of advertisement they are interested in. Individual advertisements are read like mail messages, and the user can browse forward or back, or select a particular advertisement by the title found on the list of advertisements for the section. When the user finds an ad they would like to respond to, if the advertiser hasn't provided a telephone number or other means of direct contact, they send a reply to the advertiser, much like a mail message. The advertiser can supply a reply form for respondents to fill in, or just request contact information. It is then the advertiser's responsibility to read their responses, which is also done like reading mail. If the advertiser has provided a form to be filled in, a software system can be built to load the results directly into a database on their home system when retrieving responses: We will supply advertisers with the tools for building their database loaders for a reasonable charge. This would be most useful for survey questionnaires, or developing prospect lists for further advertising material, for example.

Classified advertisements are ubiquitous in our society, and will be a constant part of the FKE SpaceBoard BBS. Providing them as a service to our users will give them another place to find a wide range of things they may be looking for, and will generate some of the income that supports the early stages of the FKE Space Program. As the business develops, the SpaceBoard Classifieds will probably become the first place many people look for space-related goods and services, which may lead them to look around the rest of the system where they find numerous other things that interest them.

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Job listings

"Help Wanted" advertisements can be found in every newspaper in the country, in most of the trade and technical journals in publication, on computer bulletin board systems, and in a host of other places. Each medium has its own limitations of scope and audience, but there is little hope of achieving a "universal" source of employment advertising: The world is just too diverse for that to be a realistic goal. The FKE SpaceBoard BBS include Help Wanted advertising in its Classifieds department. Our objective is not to replace the other places a person would look for a job, but to provide another source of possibilities, many of which are unique to our system.

The SpaceBoard Help Wanted section is growing as an extension of the dating service software and the classified advertising services. It is being designed to provide a low cost method of reaching a widely dispersed audience of space enthusiasts with employment opportunities. The system will allow employers to categorize the positions available and the skills required to fill those jobs. It will also provide prospective employees with a way to enter their experience and interests into the database as supplemental information to their résumés. Both employers and employees will thus be able to search the system's records to find the best match for a specific situation, then to send messages to each other to initiate negotiations that lead to a position being filled.

All of the jobs that the FKE Space Program creates will first be posted on the SpaceBoard in its Help Wanted section. Many will never be posted anywhere else, either because they are filled by the system's subscribers before we turn to other advertising mediums, or because we may decide to only offer the positions to persons already involved enough with the program to be regular users of the BBS. Once the system software has sufficiently matured, we will also be actively encouraging other aerospace companies to utilize the system to advertise their positions as well. It is our express intent to make the SpaceBoard Classifieds the premier "Help Wanted" center for connecting space-related jobs and employees.

In time, we fully expect that a complete range of job listings will be available through the SpaceBoard Classifieds, especially as our member base diversifies and the system expands. The increased system traffic will lead to a greater awareness of the company's efforts, and additional revenue as connect time charges accumulate.

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Stereoscopic Video Displays

Displaying three dimensional objects on a two dimensional screen is a difficult task to achieve with a large degree of realism. One major factor in this difficulty is the fact that a 2D screen lacks depth, severely limiting the number and type of "depth cues" that can be portrayed. In the photographic industry, one of the most successful ways around this problem has been the use of stereo imaging. Stereo imaging provides a separate picture for both eyes, with a slightly different perspective in each view.

The conceptually simplest way to display a stereo image using computer systems would be using two screens, one each for the left and right images. Still, a complex optical system would be required to allow its user to comfortably view the image pair to see the stereo effect. Not only would such an arrangement be cumbersome and expensive, it also would be difficult for more than one person to use at a time. A system that could display both images on one screen would be much more practical.

One of the major complaints against television, after the poor picture quality, is that it provides a two-dimensional picture of the world, with no valid clues for depth perception, and making it impossible to look around objects in the foreground at ones behind them. This is fine for Hollywood movie producers, making set construction simpler since only the front surfaces are needed, but for a viewer trying to look at a documentary or newscast, the problem can become a real burden. We are used to this flat window into the photographic world, but through holograms and similar technologies, the prospect of still images that have true depth is becoming a real possibility. Motion, however, in that type of medium, is still a gleam in the designer's eyes. Added to those difficulties is that transmission of a three-dimensional image would require a tremendous information handling capacity in whatever medium the signaling is to take place. Together, these problems combine to leave achievement of true three dimensional television a thing of the future.

Besides its value as an entertainment tool, a three-dimensional imaging system would be useful in security systems, for scientific applications, and as one of the navigation instruments of a spacecraft. Security systems could benefit by using this technology to get a complete picture of the area they are charged with protecting. Intruders could not hide behind objects in the environment, making stealth and surprise much more difficult to achieve. Modeling systems under study in three dimensions, and observing their interactions, would be far simpler for scientists if they were able to watch the actions of the model they had constructed. By the same token, designers could check the fit of the parts of a new machine after designing it on a computer-aided design system. Perhaps the most exciting application for the technology, though, will be using it as a part of the navigation system in a spacecraft. Through this type of imaging, the crew will be able to get a clear picture of the location of their craft, of other objects around them, and observe the relative motions of each. As their range of travel grows beyond our solar system, navigators will be guiding vessels on interstellar journeys by observing the positions of features of the universe in "the tank," the three dimensional display of space around them. The same type of system would also simplify air traffic control, since the controllers would be able to directly visualize the relative altitudes of two aircraft, not simply read those numbers off their screen.

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Air traffic control

As the number of airplanes traversing the skies increases, keeping track of them is rapidly becoming a formidable task. One problem air traffic controllers have is the screens that show them the status of the skies above are two dimensional. As a result, any depth information - which airplane is at what altitude, and compared with the altitude of others in the field - must be written as text on the screen. This can, and has in the past, led to fatal errors. A display system that provides a three dimensional view of the airspace would directly benefit this industry, potentially saving millions of dollars and thousands of lives each year. The Stereo Video Adapter described above could easily be used to construct such a system.

Spatial modeling

Given a practical system capable of displaying computer-generated objects in three dimensions, such as the Stereo Video Adapter, both the user interface and capabilities of Spatial Modeling software could be improved. Used with a "spatial mouse" that reports its motion and position in three dimensions to the computer, users could "grab" objects in the display and rotate or move them as needed. If the user wanted to get a different view, all they would need to do is grab "handles" attached to the entire view, and reposition it as they wish. With this kind of display power available, software developers would be encouraged to add capability to their products, and the industry as a whole would move forward at a rapid rate.

3D TV for entertainment

Three dimensional television is an exciting concept, with equally provocative potential uses. It is, however, an idea blocked from reality by a variety of scientific and technical difficulties. Because of its potential utility, and the fact that it will prove to be the only feasible way of implementing some of the necessary systems of the spacecraft of tomorrow, FKE has a strong interest in developing the concept, and will pursue the subject as soon as it is feasible to do so.

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Educational Entertainment

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SpaceCon

The name of this event may have to be changed, since there probably is an event using "SpaceCon" to identify itself already. An alternative may be to join in, or acquire control of, managing the existing event. Whichever way it goes, the spirit will stay the same: SpaceCon, as will be described here, is planned to be an event larger, and more influential, than the electronics conventions that dot the landscape of today's business world.

SpaceCon is planned as an industry-wide discussion of the obstacles blocking, current state, and future direction, of the colonization and industrialization of space. It will be started as a preliminary, introductory group, introducing those who are interested in the effort to those who are already involved, with the intent of furthering discussions to speed progress. As sufficient interest is generated by the seminar, the event will evolve into a full-scale convention to display hardware, software, and plans, to recruit participants, and to raise the public's awareness of the current state of the art.

Although it will generate some revenue, the purpose of SpaceCon is to give the business world a chance to see some of the opportunities made available through the development of a space program. It is primarily an advertising tool, to be used to sell the concept as much as to sell anything else. By attracting broad industry participation, the advertising will pay for itself, similar to the way the space program is planned to supply its own financing as it evolves.

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Vendor and Customer Participation

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A Grass Roots Network

We want the FKE Space Program to be viewed as a program being built by the people who will most benefit from it. Our employees and staff will be the first ones to go to space, and will join the effort with that end in mind. FKE is an organization of space colonists working together to built their own homeland. The people supporting the project are doing it because it's something they believe in, a vision of hope for the future that is often difficult to find anywhere else. We expect to find the Mom 'n' Pop's of America and the world gathering behind us because they see it as a means of investing in a better life for their children. This is not just a dream of a collection of ivory-tower scholars fantasizing about how things could be: Our space program has direct benefits for everyone in the world, and we hope we can help people see that dream come true.

Those who invest their money in this project will find that our dedication to only using private funding presents them with an opportunity for a return on their investment better than anything else offered now. We recognize, from the start, that there isn't a blank check to spend, that every dollar is going to have to be accounted for, right up until the time dividend checks are issued that represent a net profit on the transaction.

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