April 30th, 2009

It Really Is Rocket Science

Costa Rica has recently become host to one of NASA’s most important and most intriguing aerospace research projects. Headed by Franklin Chang Díaz, Ph.D., Costa Rica’s famous NASA astronaut, the project could revolutionize space travel and exploration, greatly reducing costs for astronomical missions. Franklin Chang and his team of scientists conduct their research in Guanacaste, at the headquarters of Ad Astra Rocket Company Costa Rica, the Costa Rican branch of Franklin Chang’s aerospace research company. Ronald Chang Díaz, Franklin Chang’s brother, serves as General Director of the Costa Rican laboratory; he supervises all day-to-day operations.

Franklin Chang worked for NASA for 25 years and took part in seven space flights with NASA. He is the inventor and patent-holder of several important aerospace inventions, one of which is the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR, U.S. patent 2002). He received his Ph.D. from MIT, where he conducted research in applied plasma physics and fusion technology, two subjects unfamiliar to most laypersons but integrally related to the work of the Ad Astra researchers.

The beauty of a plasma rocket, like the one Franklin Chang has patented, is that it uses cheap and abundant fuel sources—hydrogen, argon and neon gases that are plentiful in the air we breathe. The plasma rocket converts these various gases into plasma, which is the rocket’s revolutionary secret. Sometimes considered a fourth state of matter (along with the usual three—solid, liquid and gas), plasma is made when scientists heat a gas to an incredibly high temperature—sometimes up to a million degrees. Interestingly, the layperson is familiar with matter in a plasma state, because lightning, the sun and some very hot flames are in the plasma state.

Once the plasma rocket converts a gas into plasma, the rocket energizes the plasma so that it reaches an ideal temperature for use as a rocket fuel. Then, using magnetized fields, the rocket converts the energy of the plasma into forward thrust. Ad Astra’s use of plasma as a cheap rocket fuel source could change aerospace travel and transport forever.

Because plasma rockets generate a great deal of heat, researchers have noted the importance of a thermal cover that will protect the rocket parts from intense heat. The Costa Rican branch of Ad Astra has the specific duty of creating a thermal cover for the rocket. Once its thermal-cover research is complete, Ad Astra Costa Rica hopes to send the plasma rocket up to the space station for the kinds of propulsion tests researchers can only conduct in outer space. Ultimately, Ad Astra Costa Rica plans to move into space transportation, delivering machinery and supplies to the space station and other outer space destinations.

As its Latin name suggests, Ad Astra’s dreams reach to the heavens. If Ad Astra’s research continues as successfully as it has so far, Costa Rica could play a major role in outer space.

Read more about Franklin Chang.
Read about the advantages of a plasma rocket.
Read more about plasma.
See The SJO Post, “Costa Rica Points to the Stars,” by Ivette Sojo, Edition No. 6, April 20-26, 2009

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.


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April 20th, 2009

Costa Rica: The New Roswell?

UFO enthusiasts who hailed Roswell, New Mexico as the destination of choice for earthbound aliens in the 1950s might have a new location from which to monitor alien visits to Earth—Costa Rica. For the last several years, people wandering Costa Rica’s less-populated areas have reported unidentified aircraft and other extraterrestrial-looking objects hovering in the tropical sky.

The April 15 edition of Diario Extra reported that a Costa Rican doctor, vacationing at Punta Leona for Easter, whiled away his time by taking pictures of ships at sea. When he later examined one of the digital images on his computer, he noticed an unusual object floating in the sky. Some might argue that the object looks like a parasail with two riders. Upon closer inspection, the object looks more metallic than a parasail would—more like a mechanized bronze jellyfish reflecting the coastal sun. The full-color photograph is so clear and sharp that refutation of its authenticity had seemed inevitable. One expected photography experts to find clear evidence that the image had been digitally enhanced.

Surprisingly, however, Diario Extra announced the next day that Edgar Picado, a UFO expert, determined that the photograph was authentic. He said that he could not conclude that the object in the photograph was, in fact, a UFO, but he did say that it could not be identified as any known flying object. Picado is very familiar with UFOs and their images, and he runs a battery of tests on UFO images to determine their authenticity. Picado’s pixilation test found that the Punta Leona photograph had no altered pixels; the digital image was completely uniform, a testament to its authenticity. Other UFO experts conduct more detailed authentication tests, and Picado will send the photograph to Spain and Argentina for those further tests. He and his colleagues should reach a final conclusion within one month.

Costa Rica’s most famous UFO photograph is from 1971, when members of Costa Rica’s Ministry of Public Works and Transportation (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte) visited a lake near the Arenal Volcano. Their assignment was to take aerial photographs that they would use in mapping the area. Their camera was set to take photographs every 20 seconds. One photograph in the series revealed a plate-shaped object floating above the surface of the lake. The government agency was unable to identify this object, as it did not resemble an airplane or helicopter or any object known to be in the area. Because the photograph was taken with government equipment and using a timing device, UFO experts rank it among the most authentic of unidentified object photographs.

Many of Costa Rica’s mysterious sightings have been near the country’s numerous volcanoes, a fact UFO enthusiasts believe is significant. These enthusiasts say that extraterrestrials could use geothermic volcanic energy to power their ships. Other UFO specialists believe that extraterrestrials and their ships in fact cause both tremors and volcanic activity.

Whatever the true nature of these mysterious flying objects—and their supposed pilots—it does seem apparent that Costa Rica is the new place to spot them.

Click here to read more about the UFO in Punta Leona, Costa Rica.

Click here to read more about UFO sightings in Costa Rica.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.


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April 6th, 2009

Bananas: A Mini History

During the middle-to-late 19th century, coffee accounted for nearly 90% of Costa Rica’s export revenue. The success of the coffee trade prompted business-minded entrepreneurs to seek other lucrative agricultural markets. Thus, the late 1800s witnessed the growth and development of the banana production and export business.

Until the end of the 1800s, Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast was all but inaccessible from the rest of the country. Its jungles and thick vegetation made trade with the area next to impossible, and politicians decided to finance the construction of a railroad that would link the Atlantic coast to the rest of the country. Construction of the railroad took longer than expected, and costs went significantly over budget.

In the end, an American contractor, Minor C. Keith, completed the railroad project, a fact which tied American interests to the Atlantic region for many unhappy years. As part of his contract for completing the railroad, Keith received large tracts of land in the Atlantic region. He used this land as a banana plantation and financed part of the railroad construction with banana exports. Keith exported many of his bananas to the United States and played an important role in forming the United Fruit Company.

The United Fruit Company soon developed a monopoly over banana production in the Atlantic Region, expanding its agricultural holdings across the region. Before long, the United Fruit Company—or “Yunai,” as it was known among agricultural workers—came to symbolize the worst of American imperialism. Banana workers suffered in the harsh coastal conditions, and Costa Ricans protested their mistreatment and the fact that workers received almost none of the profit from the lucrative banana exports. The Costa Rican Communist party emerged as a significant force in the clash between the United Fruit Company and its Costa Rican workers.

Revenue from banana exports soon equaled that from coffee exports, and a new chapter in Costa Rican agricultural history had begun.

The United Fruit Company influenced Costa Rica’s literary history as well. For more information about the United Fruit Company in Costa Rican literature, click here.

[See Historia de Costa Rica, by Iván Molina and Steven Palmer, Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica: 2007.]

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.


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