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Could Ancient Pottery Improve Spacecraft Tiles?

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the blast-from-the-past dept.

Space 57

astroengine writes "Earlier this year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded nearly $500,000 to scientists from the Getty Conservation Institute, Stanford's National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC) and the Aerospace Corporation to study the chemical and physical properties of ancient Attic pottery. Why? Well, the project will improve our understanding of iron-spinel chemistry, which is critical to the advanced ceramics used for thermal protection in aerospace applications, such as in the heat shield tiles used by spacecraft during atmospheric reentry."

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Finally... (5, Interesting)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562854)

... a good reason to tell those kids in high school there IS good reason to occupy their minds with ( Latin and ) Greek antiquity. Which is not to be confounded, as the OP demonstrates, with antiquities at the fair.

Re:Finally... (1, Insightful)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562860)

... a good reason to tell those kids in high school there IS good reason to occupy their minds with ( Latin and ) Greek antiquity. Which is not to be confounded, as the OP demonstrates, with antiquities at the fair.

Either that, or "those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it." Which is advice that I wish that half of our first-world countries' leaders would listen to. Fall of the Roman Empire, anyone?

Re:Finally... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562874)

No, a good reason to tell them that getting a degree in basket weaving/pottery is no joke...

Re:Finally... (4, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563000)

Either that, or "those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it." Which is advice that I wish that half of our first-world countries' leaders would listen to. Fall of the Roman Empire, anyone?

The bad news is they've done so, and it's all good for them, so they're not changing course.

Note that what the general public would call the "decline" was actually for the endless bureaucrat drones their "peak", so from their point of view, let the good times roll! Yes they all got killed in the end, only AFTER the general public bore the brunt, so again they come out ahead. There is really not much downside for them, is there?

The folks who need to listen are the general public, but bread and circuses numb them.

Re:Finally... (1)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563078)

Either that, or "those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it." Which is advice that I wish that half of our first-world countries' leaders would listen to. Fall of the Roman Empire, anyone?

The bad news is they've done so, and it's all good for them, so they're not changing course.

Which is the basic tenet of Barbara Tuchman's excellent "The March of Folly" [amazon.com] which so much influenced my view of history, as a young man...

Re:Finally... (3, Interesting)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563454)

The folks who need to listen are the general public, but bread and circuses numb them.

Which is why Plato noted that democracy is generally one of the worst forms of government, generally degenerating into tyranny:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato's_five_regimes [wikipedia.org]

Of course, we don't actually have a democracy in the U.S. (despite the rhetoric, we've never had more than a representative republic, except occasionally on very local scales). But we do have enough of the bad characteristics of democratic systems influencing our government that Plato's critique probably applies. And one could make an argument that the U.S. has been moving its way through the progression of Plato's theory of government degeneration: "aristocracy" (learned founders, who designed a system that was based on successive levels of disconnect from democratic opinion --who could vote was limited, Senate was elected by legislatures, President was elected by a "college" of electors, etc.), then "timocracy" (expansionist phase in the U.S.), "oligarchy" (concentration of power in the super-rich in the late 19th and early 20th century), and since the various rights movements, closer to true "democracy," with ever-encroaching hints at tyranny as our rights are gradually degraded.

Note that I don't necessarily agree with Plato completely, and the mapping is not exact. But his prized form of "aristocracy" (which is more like a meritocratic government founded on smart people) has really never been tried, outside of Star Trek perhaps.

Re:Finally... (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563684)

I agree with Plato, but unfortunately the human being is too flawed to be possible for a government that is truly based on aristocracy.

Re:Finally... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38567486)

"meritocratic government founded on smart people" has been tried in ancient China.
As usual, the dumb people rose up with pitchforks while the smart tried to explain logic to them. In the end, the stupid resort to brute force and win out.

Look at USA now and the anti vaccine group bringing back eradicated diseases from 100yrs ago.

Re:Finally... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38571546)

A meritocracy still tends to decline into tyranny. The main thing to realize is that whoever writes your entrance exams wields basically unlimited power in the long run (It takes a political party to do this since the scale of the effects is too long for it to be useful over a single life span).

Basically governments are like Windows 95. You have to reboot them every once in a while just to clear out the memory.

Re:Finally... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38571054)

That's not exact. Plato himself tried to get his conservative "Politia" to work, but it failed to function as a system of governance in just a few years.

Re:Finally... (1)

littlebigbot (2493634) | more than 2 years ago | (#38572578)

What form of government doesn't degenerate to tyranny? The ones that collapse before they get a chance?

Those aren't rhetorical questions, and I don't know the answers.

Re:Finally... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38591608)

Those that donâ(TM)t have absolute hierarchies. Simple.
If nobody gains absolute power, you can always choose somebody else in the blink of an eye.
Call it the "free market" (the actual one, not the lawless horrorshow industrial feudalists fap to)

(My profession is, to know the answers. Always. The only thing I can't tell you, is working for. Let's just call him Mr. Gold.)

Re:Finally... (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38570822)

Either that, or "those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it." Which is advice that I wish that half of our first-world countries' leaders would listen to. Fall of the Roman Empire, anyone?

What do you think is going to be learned from studying the Romans? It's not as if they learned anything from their predecessors, the Akkadians, Sumerians, Hittites and Persians, and the way their successive empires fell after over-extending themselves. Useless idiots - if they can't keep their regional hegemonies together for much longer than 500 years, it's not as if they can match the glorious decades of our current self-proclaimed overlords.

Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562922)

Why would you care about a "spacecraft" re-entering the atmosphere? Is this 1965? The Space Age is over, kids. I hear they also put entire circuits on a piece of silicon and call it molecular electronics! There's no future in that, though. The future is putting Wal Marts on the Moon!

Could Ancient Pottery Improve Spacecraft Tiles? (5, Funny)

rossdee (243626) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562946)

Sure, but you'll probably need Daniel Jackson to translate the writing, and Samantha Carter to work out the technical details...

Re:Could Ancient Pottery Improve Spacecraft Tiles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38563234)

Well, if you could have those two, you could just as well get MacGyver and he'd make you spacecraft tiles out of gum wrapper and a sheet of paper.

Re:Could Ancient Pottery Improve Spacecraft Tiles? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563344)

Well, if you could have those two, you could just as well get MacGyver and he'd make you spacecraft tiles out of gum wrapper and a sheet of paper.

No, that was before he retired... what, you mean MacGyver and O'Neill aren't the same character? I think it's more fun if they are

Re:Could Ancient Pottery Improve Spacecraft Tiles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38563908)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J847OF_jZ20

Re:Could Ancient Pottery Improve Spacecraft Tiles? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38565254)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J847OF_jZ20

you light up my life.

Re:Could Ancient Pottery Improve Spacecraft Tiles? (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | more than 2 years ago | (#38565352)

Still loved the episode where he and Carter were trapped on earth with the second gate, and she made a MacGyver reference. It was actually in the outtakes but funny none-the-less.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRkexJ-MBCQ

Re:Could Ancient Pottery Improve Spacecraft Tiles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38565678)

There's also an episode of SG:A where McKay is asked something impossible and replies "Who am I? MacGyver?".

Re:Could Ancient Pottery Improve Spacecraft Tiles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38563356)

Ancient Chinese secret, huhhhhh?

Re:Could Ancient Pottery Improve Spacecraft Tiles? (1)

gstrickler (920733) | more than 2 years ago | (#38565424)

Actually, McKay is the expert on Ancient technology, annoying as he is.

Those aliens built the pyramids folk ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562968)

...will run with this.

So Erich von Däniken was right . . . (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562980)

. . . ancient pottery technology left by aliens visiting the Earth ages ago proves that they were here. Stuff that they left around was used by ancient humans to build pyramids and monkey-shaped airfield landing patterns in deserts in South America and other stuff.

Although ancient humans possessed the technology for space travel, their governments kept squabbling about the strategic direction of space projects, so they never got off the ground.

Re:So Erich von Däniken was right . . . (2)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563026)

Although ancient humans possessed the technology for space travel, their governments kept squabbling about the strategic direction of space projects, so they never got off the ground.

The ones that did get off the ground are literally the ones that are not being dug up and studied... think about it...

If future civilization dug up the "factory seconds" "push pull or drag trade in pile" at the local aerospace factory, they'd probably have a pretty negative view of us too. "why this nozzle found in a dumpster marked "scrap" (whatever that word means) wouldn't even pass magnefluxing for crack detection, I bet the ancients never got a thing off the ground"

The answer lies in ancient Chinese history (2)

arcite (661011) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563018)

"Early in the sixteenth century, Wan decided to take advantage of China's advanced rocket and fireworks technology to launch himself into outer space. He supposedly had a chair built with forty-seven rockets attached. On the day of lift-off, Wan, splendidly attired, climbed into his rocket chair and forty seven servants lit the fuses and then hastily ran for cover. There was a huge explosion. When the smoke cleared, Wan and the chair were gone, and was said never to have been seen again."

If only poor Wan hu had covered his rocket chair in pottery tiles to act as a heat shield for re-entry maneuver, he may have lived to tell the tale. Legend says he saw no need for a space suit as he could hold his breath for 'a really long time'. The truth is out there!

Re:The answer lies in ancient Chinese history (0)

zammer990 (2225956) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563192)

Who knows? Maybe his dessicated body will damage the ISS in the coming years.

Re:The answer lies in ancient Chinese history (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#38564074)

Mythbusters did an episode on this. It ended badly for Buster.

Re:The answer lies in ancient Chinese history (1)

tsotha (720379) | more than 2 years ago | (#38564558)

It always does.

Short answer .... (1, Funny)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563044)

No.

Long answer .... no, but it's still a cool project.

Ancient Astronauts (2, Funny)

turgid (580780) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563092)

This is further proof of the existence of ancient alien astronauts. They came to Earth and taught us pottery using the same level of technology employed in the heat shields of their flying saucers.

You heard it here first: ancient pottery is derived from alien heatshield technology.

Re:Ancient Astronauts (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 2 years ago | (#38564628)

Yes, and ancient arrowheads are definitive proof of the heat-seeking missile technology the aliens used to conquer their quadrant of the galaxy.

Re:Ancient Astronauts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38568044)

Are you the History Channel?

Re:Ancient Astronauts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38571382)

I am not a real historian.. I just play one on TV.

I Doubt It (3, Interesting)

segedunum (883035) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563148)

Not sure what they are trying to find out here. There was something of an arms race going on in Formula 1 during the past year with such materials and exhaust blown diffusers, the caveat being that you needed heat resistant materials to stop the exhaust gas melting the back of the car. Most specialised heat resistant material these days is a form of carbon fibre reinforced polymer with a coating such as those from Zircotech (extremely specialised and secret in the case of Formula 1 and not for use elsewhere).

I'm not too sure what they're going to find out that isn't already known. The article was a little bit wishy washy.

Re:I Doubt It (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38563330)

Whatever they do find out, it is already covered by at least one patent.

Re:I Doubt It (1)

cynyr (703126) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563374)

good thing they changed the rules for next year, and gasses must exit at the back of the car in line with the trailing edge of the diffuser.

Good info though, I hardly saw anything on how they were keeping the cars from just catching fire, especially the renault with it's crazy forward pointed exhaust.

Re:I Doubt It (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563732)

I know this is off-topic, but how a forward pointed exhaust works?

Re:I Doubt It (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#38565368)

like any exhaust, burnt gasses come out. it seems that maybe the point was to route some air under the car.

apparently there was a mild explosion involving a fire from failed exhaust in last years races so.. maybe it was just renault being renault for the sake of being renault.

Re:I Doubt It (1)

turgid (580780) | more than 2 years ago | (#38565960)

I know this is off-topic, but how a forward pointed exhaust works?

Badly, like everything else that Renault ever made?

They managed to stop making cars that rust away to nothing in under 12 months in recent years so they have to have something to make up for it. I believe the original Clios used to drown if you drove them through a puddle.

When I were a lad watching Formula One, my dad always used to say that Renault had to put a turbo charger on Renee Arnoux's car to give it some sort of chance of getting over the finishing line before it fell to bits.

Those were the days.

Re:I Doubt It (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38576156)

Not really forward pointed exit, more exiting further forward. Explained better here in this excellent technical F1 blog.

http://scarbsf1.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/renault-r31-front-exit-exhausts-fee-explained/

Re:I Doubt It (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38563780)

It's about as crazy as using an apostrophe in a possessive pronoun!

Re:I Doubt It (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 2 years ago | (#38564188)

I'm not too sure what they're going to find out that isn't already known. The article was a little bit wishy washy.

Ancient civilizations were experts in various crafts because that was all they had to work with.
Consequently, there is a lot of ancient 'technology' that has been lost because of poor record keeping,
the knowledge didn't spread far enough to sustain itself, or no one (at the time) understood the science behind their work.

So our scientists are going to try and rediscover how to cheaply make those black tiles with something other than lasers and cad/cam systems.

Re:I Doubt It (1)

garyebickford (222422) | more than 2 years ago | (#38565042)

Heck, just look at how hard it is for the detailed knowledge about how a company's software and systems work after a few people have come and gone. There's all those little details, that may never have seemed important at the time, that make things work. As someone once said, "Every project has at least two programmers - you, the day you wrote it, and you, six months later when you've forgotten how it originally worked."

And my brother (a beam steering hardware geek) spent most of his career building systems that the physicists designed, but could never have made work, because the real materials and parts and sensors just aren't quite what the theory says they are. It's the 'black arts' behind so many technologies, that often get lost when that one guy retires.

I worked on a research project involving auto headlight designs at a very large car company. The guy who had been designing all their old head and tail lights (by stacking pieces of glass together to get the desired far-field pattern) was in his 80s, had retired twice and brought back because nobody else could do as well. We were trying to build a computer-aided design system that could allow mere mortals to replace that guy, preferably before he died. For a long time he hadn't had much to do with headlights because the sealed-beam lights were all made by others, and just plugged in. But with the advent of halogen bulbs the new designs could be incorporated into the body styling - but still had to work right.

Re:I Doubt It (1)

MountainLogic (92466) | more than 2 years ago | (#38566090)

It is not surprising that ceramic artisans of long ago developed unique properties. As much as the patent system has been abused of late, one of the reasons for patents was to publish, preserve and spread technology. For example, Damascus Swards http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damascus_steel [wikipedia.org] had amazing properties that we are just now starting to realize that they were making nano carbon tubules and wires centuries ago and we still do not fully understand how they did it because they did not publish their work.

Re:I Doubt It (1)

macfunk (1671162) | more than 2 years ago | (#38564318)

Starlite anyone? A remarkable substance invented by Maurice Ward that sounds too good to be true but has in fact been put through its paces by the military and demonstrated on live TV. A paint-thin coating that can withstand remarkable temperatures, even nuclear prompt heat apparently. But I suppose it's easier to throw more tax money at some mainstream institutions than negotiate with a pretty eccentric inventor.

Re:I Doubt It (1)

garyebickford (222422) | more than 2 years ago | (#38565178)

Withstanding is not the same as insulating against. No matter how much heat a paint can withstand, it's no good if the material it's painted on melts due to conduction and radiation. Also re-entry is not just heat but erosion - can the paint withstand the battering of all those air molecules bashing into it (at all angles of attack) at speeds that make a blowtorch look like a candle flame? It may be wonderful stuff (I actually read the Wikipedia article on Starlite) but I would not leap instantly to any conclusions about its capability in actual applications - especially as the now-deceased Ward made it so frigging impossible for anyone to actually work out a deal. Of course he was in a spot, vulnerable to the formula being stolen etc., but (with all due respect), maybe now he's deceased his heirs can work out a deal to allow _someone_ to really test it out and analyze the formula and the structure. No reputable defense or aerospace company is going to touch it without that. Otherwise they would be buying a pig in a poke. He wanted $zillions on essentially a few very restricted, preliminary tests and his promise that it was wonderful - and he was not qualified to say so.

Perhaps the best solution would be for a big company to buy it on a royalties basis, where their major upfront risk would be the cost of doing the testing necessary. I personally suspect that the folks who tested it were not convinced.

Re:I Doubt It (1)

tsotha (720379) | more than 2 years ago | (#38564570)

Yeah. The whole thing looks a lot more like pork to me than any legitimate materials research.

Re:I Doubt It (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38571636)

Not sure what they are trying to find out here. There was something of an arms race going on in Formula 1 during the past year with such materials and exhaust blown diffusers, the caveat being that you needed heat resistant materials to stop the exhaust gas melting the back of the car. Most specialised heat resistant material these days is a form of carbon fibre reinforced polymer with a coating such as those from Zircotech (extremely specialised and secret in the case of Formula 1 and not for use elsewhere).

I'm not too sure what they're going to find out that isn't already known. The article was a little bit wishy washy.

I'd imagine they're using the ancient pottery as a "random sample generator". In ancient times the methods for p[producing pottery would vary a lot from culture to culture, region to region, and craftsman to craftsman. Get a bunch of random samples and you can be reasonably sure they were all produced a little bit differently. So by looking at their chemical makeup you can search a large state-space for "interesting" molecules that are probably in there by accident and then figure out how to re-produce them on purpose later.

Modern pottery is likely more uniform in content (due to standardization on the equipment, refinement, and manufacturing processes) and thus a poorer source of random ceramic molecules to study.

It's analogous to looking through a Lego collection composed of several sets found in the attic for interesting bricks, as opposed to buying 100 of the same lego set and looking for interesting bricks among the homogeneous results.

Just woke up and read: (0)

wjcofkc (964165) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563268)

Could Ancient Spacecraft Improve Pottery Tiles?

Re:Just woke up and read: (1)

sandmaninator (884661) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563624)

I read "Could Ancient Pottery Improve Starcraft Tiles".
Just install Starcraft2. The new tiles are excellent!

Perhaps, (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563820)

But how would you convince a museum to "permanently loan" you enough ancient pottery to cover an entire spacecraft in the stuff?

Re:Perhaps, (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#38565376)

well.

during arab spring lots of ancient stuff goes missing.
and now this research comes up! the governments did it, obviously, to steal egypts space program.

Re:Perhaps, (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38565512)

An amusing thought—but more seriously I'm pretty sure most of the pottery from Attica (which was the region around golden-age Athens) is either in Greece, Turkey, the US, or western Europe.

Obvious Answer: Yes. (1)

aix tom (902140) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563916)

If there had been no ancient pottery, humanity would never have invented ceramics, ergo there would be NO ceramic spacecraft tiles at all.

germans do better tiles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38564674)

I remember one old NASA / ESA movie where germans claim that they could do better tiles to NASA shuttles immediately but NASA wants to use their own technology.

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