Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Russia: Still Number One In Space Launches

Despite losing out to the US in the original space race, Russia is still the dominant force when it comes to sending up rockets into space.

(Red Orbit) Anatoly Perminov, head of the agency, said the country launched 24 spacecraft this year and plans a final space shot Wednesday, RIA Novosti reported Tuesday.

Russia's current share in the spacecraft launch market is about 40 percent, and counting joint Russian-Ukrainian launches from the Sea Launch platform it totals about 45 percent of all launches conducted in the world, Perminov said.

Although they lack the financial muscle to aggressively compete in today's world, Russia is nonetheless more willing to take risks in space--even more than China and the US.

With NASA retiring the shuttle in 2010, Russia will probably dominate the rocket industry as even the US is slowly becoming dependent upon them for our space travel needs. (at least we will in the future)

Perhaps Russia's ticket to the final frontier will be through servicing rocket launches to wealthier nations, which is actually not a bad position to be in.

Seeing Mars With X-Ray Vision

Thanks to the Mars Express spacecraft, we are getting a whole different view of Mars which is revealing ancient secrets hidden beneath the red surface.

(Mars Daily) Scientists are finding an older, craggier face of Mars buried beneath the surface, thanks to pioneering sounding radar co-sponsored by NASA aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft. [...]

The technique uses echoes of waves that have penetrated below the surface.

"It's almost like having X-ray vision," said Dr. Thomas R. Watters of the National Air and Space Museum's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, Washington. "Besides finding previously unknown impact basins, we've also confirmed that some of the subtle topographic depressions mapped previously in the lowlands are related to impact features."

Although geologists will be excited about using the satellite to discover old Mars, hopefully scientists will use it to discover whether or not underground water tunnels exist on the red planet.

It could also prove quite useful in locating any valuable resources that may stimulate businesses to invest in a future quest towards Mars (after the moon of course).

South Korea Heading Into Space

It looks like another Asian nation will soon take its place among the stars. Although they will be using Russian power in order to get to the stars, it will be good to see some more diversity among the heavens.

(Space Travel) After weighing the merits of some 36,000 applicants, South Korea has selected two finalists -- a male researcher and a female postgraduate student -- in its search for the country's first astronaut. Researcher Ko San, 30, and Ph.D student Yi So-Yeon, 28, were chosen late Monday after a live TV appearance along with four other potential finalists. [...]

South Korea will be the 36th country since Russia's Yuri Gagarin in 1961 to put a man -- or woman - into space. It will cost some 26 billion won (28 million dollars). "I am so grateful for those who have supported female candidates. I want to boost the self-confidence of women," Yi was quoted by Tuesday's Korea Times as saying.

South Korea also plans on sending up some kimchi (fermented spicy cabbage) for their astronaut to enjoy (although I wonder which company is going to pay the big bucks to have the astronaut eat their brand?).

With South Korea now entering the human space field, one wonders if Japan may consider partnering with the Russians as well.

Note: Is it me, or does it seem that Russia is cornering the market for space travel?

First Commercial Launch Towards The Moon

(Hat Tip: Space Ports)

It looks like TransOrbital, Inc. may be the first commercial company sending cargo towards the lunar world. They plan on launching a rocket to the moon and after observing the surface for scientific data, they intend to crash the rocket on the surface below, burying the crafts contents underground.

Image Credit: TransOrbital, Inc.

(TransOrbital TrailBlazer Mission) TrailBlazerTM is the first commercial lunar mission. It is designed to be an inexpensive precursor probe for a variety of commercial lunar missions, both those accomplished by TransOrbital, and those of other companies and space agencies. It is essentially a flying camera platform, carrying high-resolution video cameras, with the goal of returning scientific and artistic video throughout the mission. [...]

The TrailBlazer will not have enough fuel to raise its orbit again, so we will end the mission by commanding it to impact the surface at a pre-selected location. We will choose this site to be far away from any site of historical interest (e.g. Tranquility Base). During the final descent, we will beam back "barnstorming" video of the approaching lunar surface.

This should prove to be interesting, although not quite as useful as getting us on lunar soil. Ironically, I can see people desiring the ashes of their loved ones (along with family heirlooms or historical items) paying to have their contents embedded deep inside moon dirt.

I wonder if NASA would consider a similar craft containing all of Earth's history and burying it underneath the lunar surface?

Can NASA Save Us From Asteroid Armageddon ?

Probably not, but that does not seem to be stopping the world's largest space agency from planning a mission on these space rocks.

( Progress is being made on defining a human mission to an asteroid. Experts at several NASA centers are sketching out a prospective piloted stopover at an asteroid-a trek that could return samples from a targeted space rock as well as honing astronaut proficiency and test needed equipment for other space destinations. [...]

Meanwhile, NASA is wrapping up a report required by the U.S. Congress on how best to search for, catalog and even deal with the hazard of Earth-bruising rocks from space. That space agency report is to be turned over to Congress by year's end.

Although we will not be landing on the asteroid, NASA hopes to gain more knowledge about these space rocks in order to perfect future space missions (which will be quite helpful around those Martian moons).

Currently humanity has no way to deflect asteroids heading straight towards Earth (so in that regards we are screwed) but we may be able to alter their orbits via a space tractor.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Was Jesus Born In August, July Or December?

With the holidays around the corner (or just ending if you are Jewish) there seems to be a reflection of when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.

Despite tradition placing his birth in late December, some astronomers think Christ may have been born in the summer time--based on the star hailing his entrance into the world.

(MSNBC) The show started on the morning of June 12 in 3 B.C., when Venus could be sighted very close to Saturn in the eastern sky. Then there was a spectacular pairing of Venus and Jupiter on Aug. 12 in the constellation Leo, which ancient astrologers associated with the destiny of the Jews.

The crowning touch came on June 17, when Jupiter seemed to approach so close to Venus that, without binoculars, they would have looked like a single star.

Their is a brief mention of a star in the scriptures, which many see as a prophetic hint towards the coming Messiah.

Although his birth and life are often the cause of debate on our planet (as one can notice by glimpsing over at Cosmic Log's comment section) no one can deny that this man has probably influenced the world more than any other person (as our economy can at least tell you that).

Whether you are a theist, atheist, IDist or agnostic, I wish you all a Merry Christmas (or Happy Hanukkah, Festivus, etc.).

Note: It's not a space elevator, but it may be the worlds tallest Christmas tree (see this image for a reference).

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

LockHeed Martin Building A Space Elevator?

(Hat Tip: Robot Guy and Space Elevator Reference)

With LockHeed Martin drafting plans to construct its own space elevator, it looks like LiftPort may have some serious competition on its hands.

(Google Patents) A Space Elevator for transporting a payload from one point to another in outer space, includes a first structure, located at a first relatively fixed, non-zero orbital distance from the surface of the earth, for receiving payloads, a second structure, located at a second relatively fixed orbital distance from the surface of the earth, for receiving payloads, where the second distance is greater than the first distance, a third structure located near the center of gravity of the combined apparatus providing a platform for storing and/or processing payloads, and a payload transporting apparatus disposed between and interconnecting the first and third and second and third structural means.

Although this differs from LiftPort's version of a space elevator, (which should probably be called a Sky Hook) LockHeed's version would preserve the current rocket industry in its current status.

LiftPort's version, although probably not in the best short term interests of any rocket company, would enable larger cargo to be hauled into space, not to mention giving most countries access to the final frontier.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Loose Regulations For Private Space Industry

It looks as if the the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) has decided to regulate the upcoming space industry with minimal restrictions. This is a good thing as bureaucracy is the last thing the private sector needs.

(Zee News) Thrill-seekers looking to blast into space would need to be informed in writing of serious risks -- including death -- and promise not to sue the government under the first-ever rules for commercial space travel. [...]

The rules apply to American companies launching from anywhere in the world, and to foreign companies launching from US soil.

Virgin Galactic, run by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, is aiming to offer out-of-this-world vacations in 2008 for travelers willing to pay USD 200,000 apiece. Space Adventures Ltd of Vienna, Virginia, is making similar plans, as are other outfits.

The good thing about these rules is it allows the private sector to determine who is fit for space, as NASA's requirement's might exclude those who are disabled, or not "strong enough" to survive the trip up.

Of course the FAA is requiring that the pilots be fit and go through some training, although they are hinting that they will become heavily involved if fatalities start to "pile up" (although most of these companies would have financial reasons for avoiding these, as having passengers die is not good for business).

Monday, December 18, 2006

India Considers Sending Men In Space

After years of highlighting the benefits of machine over men, India is finally considering launching full blooded humans into space.

(The Space Review) India has long shunned manned spaceflight, given its expense and limited practical applications, the only exception being the flight of Rakesh Sharma on a Soviet-era Soyuz mission in 1984. However, in November a panel of Indian scientists and other officials (among them Sharma), endorsed a proposal to develop a manned spacecraft that could be launched by an upgraded version of India’s existing Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The program, according to an ISRO statement, would cost 100 billion rupees ($2.2 billion) over eight years: a not-insignificant sum for an agency whose current budget is around a half-billion dollars a year.

India probably realizes that unless they seriously consider sending their own citizens into space, there will be no emotional attachment to the stars, at least enough to justify the program.

With other nations drawing up plans to colonize the final frontier, it would be silly for India to simply focus on "robotizing" the cosmos that surrounds us.

Google Mars And Google Moon Coming Soon?

It seems with NASA and Google teaming up for space, there is serious discussing between the two about developing a real Google Mars and Google Moon, similar to the search engine giant's version of Google Earth.

(NASA) As the first in a series of joint collaborations, Google and Ames will focus on making the most useful of NASA's information available on the Internet. Real-time weather visualization and forecasting, high-resolution 3-D maps of the moon and Mars, real-time tracking of the International Space Station and the space shuttle will be explored in the future.

"This agreement between NASA and Google will soon allow every American to experience a virtual flight over the surface of the moon or through the canyons of Mars," said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin at Headquarters in Washington. "This innovative combination of information technology and space science will make NASA's space exploration work accessible to everyone," added Griffin.

This should make it much easier for people to explore our nearest neighbors without breaking the bank account (as $21 million for space trips can be quite expensive). Hopefully users will be able to construct models on both the red planet and our lunar friend above via Google Sketchup, which may aid scientists (not to mention space geeks) in building real life models of future space colonies.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is Saturn's Enceladus Spewing Water Or Clathrate?

One of the geysers of the ice moon Enceladus (nick named "cold faithful") may not be spewing out water as previously thought. Scientists have discovered new chemicals within the spray, leading to researchers to think that Enceladus may have more under the surface than H20.

( "A problem with this model is that 10 percent of the plume consists of the gases carbon dioxide, nitrogen and methane," said lead study author, Susan Kieffer, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "You might get a carbon dioxide-driven liquid geyser there, but you can't put this much nitrogen and methane into liquid water at the low pressures found inside Enceladus."

Nitrogen and methane, almost insoluble in water, are highly soluble in clathrate. When exposed to vacuum, the gas molecules burst out, ripping the ice lattice to shreds and carrying the fragments away.

Although probably a century away from human exploration, Enceladus is proving to be an interesting moon to explore. If the methane concentration is high enough, it may not be surprising in the future to find its surface dotted with "ice rigs" pumping fuel towards the surface (although you get some protests from space environmentalists).

NASA And Google Partner For Space?

The search engine king and NASA are geared to broadcast a major announcement regarding their partnership tomorrow morning.

(Commercial Space Watch) From what I have learned, this announcement will unveil a NASA/Google collaboration that is rather unique - indeed exciting. This agreement represents a significant advance for how the agency might collaborate with the private sector in the future - specificially as to how the agency takes its vast collection of data and imagery and makes it more easily available to the world. Among the details of this new cooperative project, Google will be contributing funding to support NASA employees - and not just at ARC - but at other NASA centers as well.

What makes this more exciting is the very fact that NASA's partnership with Google may mean future developments in the work. Something I would love to see would be a Google Mars program to rival that of Google Earth (and perhaps a Google Moon too).

Either way, this shows that if NASA can partner with Google, they may just be open to partner with some of the smaller space companies out there.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Raining Asteroids Could Threaten Martian Colonists

Although not as dangerous as the Moon, (as Mars is much larger) future colonists on Mars may need to construct underground bunkers just in case a space rock is headed in their direction.

( "If you were to live on Mars for about 20 years, you would live close enough to one of these events to hear it," said researchers Michael Malin, [chief scientist at San Diego, California's Malin Space Science Systems] who led the study. "So there’d be a big boom and you’d know there was an impact crater." [...]

Malin said that it was by chance [Kenneth Edgett, a Malin Space Science Systems researcher] spotted an image with a new crater and recalled a similar view taken years earlier by the MGS orbiter. Their subsequent survey found the new craters, which range in diameter from seven feet (two meters) to 486 feet (148 meters), and an average impact rate of about 12 per year.

Since Mars is the closest world to the asteroid belt, this should not come to a surprise. Future colonists may want to consider taking shelter near a Mons volcano, as they may provide some cover (especially if there is a cave nearby).

However, unless scientists can find a way to thwart these future space rocks, Mars may become known as the "bloody planet".

Smarter, Harder, Space Robots

Perhaps next time NASA (or any other space agency) decides to launch a rover to another world, they may want to contact Hod Lipson, (assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering for the Cornell Computational Synthesis Lab) for programming tips.

(Space Daily) Nothing can possibly go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong ...The truth behind the old joke is that most robots are programmed with a fairly rigid "model" of what they and the world around them are like. If a robot is damaged or its environment changes unexpectedly, it can't adapt. [...]

"Most robots have a fixed model laboriously designed by human engineers," Lipson explained. "We showed, for the first time, how the model can emerge within the robot. It makes robots adaptive at a new level, because they can be given a task without requiring a model. It opens the door to a new level of machine cognition and sheds light on the age-old question of machine consciousness, which is all about internal models."

What was interesting was how that after the robots learned how to walk, researchers were able to take away a leg which forced the robot to relearn the process all over again. Robots like these will prove to be quite useful not only on Mars and outer space, but also on other hostile worlds such as Saturn's Titan.

Note: If they become too smart, I may have to order a special bracelet supporting "the robot movement."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mars Society's Bob Zubrin Jealous Over Lunar Plans?

(Hat Tip: NASA Watch)

Bob Zubrin, President of the Mars Society seems to have shown a little bit of resentment (and perhaps jealousy) over NASA's plans to return humanity to the Moon.

( I'm very much a believer that NASA needs to have a central driving mission. Basically the manned space program has accomplished nothing since 1973 except for the Hubble Telescope. They're just doing things to do them. But this can hardly be regarded as bold, a plan to do 14 years from now what they did 50 years before. They're also doing it in twice the time it took to do the first time. We could be on Mars in 10 years without a doubt. The idea that your strategic goal is the moon as opposed to Mars I think is wrong. I think it's too timid. I think it's, well, un-American. [emphasis mine]

For many years, Zubrin has pushed for a Martian colony within his lifetime, even creating a DVD in order to promote his cause. However, he has not laid out a public road map to explain how we could get to Mars within ten years, something even Buzz Aldrin has done (although it's about 15 years longer than Zubrin's proposal).

Buy why should we skip the moon for Mars? Zubrin explains:

( Mars compares to the moon in the coming age of exploration as North America compares to Greenland in the previous age of exploration. It might take a little more to travel to North America than to Greenland, but it is easier to sustain a colony there. Mars has resources that can be used to support the base. You can make fuel there. You can get water. On Mars you have the elements of life and you have the elements of industry. On the moon, you don't really have either. [emphasis mine]

Despite this analogy being "cozy," it does not work very well regarding our current neighbor and our distant red friend. While Greenland has no resources, the moon does, something of which we might not be able to say regarding Mars.

And scientists do not know whether or not Martian soil is toxic to life (which would hinder us greatly if we ever settle on Mars).

A better analogy of the two worlds is this: The Moon is like Iceland. Its fairly distant, has some resources and despite the dangers is habitable.

Mars is like Antarctica. It is very far away and brutal, and despite holding some resources, it may not be in our financial best interests exporting them.

Is Russia Becoming Too Old For Space?

It looks as if the future of humanity may lie in the hands of America and China. Not only does it seem that Russia is unable to afford a lunar trip, but now they may not have the resources to greatly assist NASA.

(RIA Novosti) This country plans to continue to upgrade its aging launch vehicles, service the International Space Station (ISS) and develop new spacecraft, including satellites that can operate for a decade rather than just 12 months. This is why Russia needs a powerful, multi-purpose and cost-effective spacecraft industry, something that seems to be lacking today. [...]

The Russian space industry will eventually be reorganized along civilian lines, but who is going to work there? The problem is that its 250,000 employees have an average age of 46. In effect, Russian space companies are getting older and more obsolete in every respect, including their human resources.

Although the American space industry is facing a similar problem regarding rocket scientists, it seems as if Russia currently has little to offer NASA as far as support goes.

It makes one wonder if all those press releases were merely wishful thinking on their part.

Everyday Space Technology That You Don't Think About

Many critics of the space program whine that sending men and women to the moon (and Mars) is a waste of time, money and media coverage when such efforts could be better focused on humanitarian issues or improving the economy.

But before one can write off the entire space sector, they should consider all of the benefits it has provided us.

(ABC News) Since the 1950s, space technology has been applied to more than 30,000 commercial products. Sunglasses, quartz watches, and cordless tools are all products with roots in outer space.

Add to that list global communications systems, personal computers and satellite technology, and it's fair to say that most Americans don't make it through a day without using a space spin-off.

Ironically, even the coffee you drink everyday (made from the coffee pot)is a direct spin-off from space technology. Without, half of the US probably wouldn't be able to function (or at least on time with little sleep).

But what is the main reason for exploring the cosmos?

(ABC News) "These things are nice and important...but not worth risking lives for," [Dan Barry, retired astronaut] said. "So why do we risk astronaut's lives? If we don't go out into space and continue to expand and explore, then as a species, we're going to eventually stagnate. And species that don't adapt and expand become extinct."

Any more excuses?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Will Rocket Scientists Become Extinct?

Probably not, but their numbers sure are diminishing throughout the industry, causing concern among experts. This may be because the space industry is not focusing on reaching one arena critical to our future--our youth.

( Throughout the meeting, many speakers talked about the need to educate the future workforce for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The President's vision of going back to the Moon and on to Mars requires that an ever-increasing number of Americans choose STEM careers, and do the hard work to achieve college degrees in STEM subjects. Likewise, the 2005 "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Future" and resulting American Competitiveness Initiative both call for action aimed at producing better educated, technologically savvy workforce in order to assure US economic leadership and security. Yet, several speakers noted that the number of American students completing STEM majors in college is decreasing.

If we are going to ever colonize our neighboring moon and planets, then we have to transfer that desire to the upcoming generation. Today's children will probably be tomorrow's colonists, and if we are unable to move the culture focus from MySpace to outer space, then NASA's bold objectives (along with the private sector) will all be in vain.

Space Culture Catching On In Vietnam

We definitely need to see more of this on planet Earth.

(VietnamNet Bridge) VietNamNet Bridge – The Prime Minister has just approved the establishment of the Institute of Space Science under the Vietnam Institute of Science and Technology (VIOST), said Mr Nguyen Khoa Son, Vice Director of VIOST.

Research and application of satellite engineering will top the list of priority tasks in the first operational steps of the institute.

Although making its first baby steps into space culture, it's at least taking a step. Many nations will not even do that.

FlyWheel As Space Batteries

(Hat Tip: Hobby Space)

This technology shows promise, however it is still more expensive than regular chemical batteries. If perfected though, these may prove to be more useful than their chemical cousins.

(American Scientist Online) One place that flywheels might eventually find a niche is space. NASA has contemplated using flywheel energy storage for the International Space Station and has funded considerable research in this area (although so far this technology has not been adopted). The impetus was to find a way to hold the electrical energy generated by the station's solar panels, in darkness a good fraction of each orbit, without having to suffer the vagaries of chemical batteries, which tend to wear out after many charge-discharge cycles. In space, flywheels could serve double duty, replacing both the batteries that would otherwise have to be carried and the "reaction wheels" that are often used to adjust attitude by taking up or giving back angular momentum. For such control, one would install several flywheels at different orientations and then move energy among them to obtain the desired angular momentum for the set.

Although the concept is fairly new to me, it seems that FlyWheel batteries may be an alternative battery system for future lunar colonists. FlyWheels may be able to store energy during the "day time" via solar panels, and serve to power up the colonies "at night" when facing away from the sun.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Grassroots For Space Geeks Goes Live

(Hat Tip: Space Politics)

With criticism over NASA's lunar plans growing, the Coalition for Space Exploration has taken the initiative in their own hands and has decided to launch a grass roots effort to keep our space program (as well as the vision) alive.

( is an advocacy website sponsored and maintained by the Coalition for Space Exploration. The mission of this website is to advocate the Vision for Space Exploration across our country and to legislators on Capitol Hill and within our states.

Our goal is to recruit space advocates who share our passion for space exploration and support this mission.

The site looks as if its taking its baby steps, although the Space Advocate site might consider several more options in order to make itself truly effective.

  • Create a blog (with comments enabled and rss feeds)

  • Create a forum or "social network" within the site

  • Have an unofficial blog roll and list member bloggers who in turn link back via text or image.

I'm looking forward to the future development of this site. Hopefully we can send a message to Congress that Americans do care about their space program over their pet pork projects.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Russia To America: Give Us A Lunar Lift

Although Russia is already pursuing many adventures towards the moon, (including partnering with China) they seem to be unable to send their own people to visit that lunar world.

With NASA revisiting the moon via astronauts, Russia is looking to hitch a ride and offer their expertise.

(RIA Novosti) "If the U.S. offers the necessary financing for Russia to participate in its national lunar program, Russia is likely to accept the proposal," said Igor Panarin, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency.

Panarin said separate funds have not been earmarked for Moon exploration projects under Russia's federal space program for 2006-2015.

"The program includes a number of projects to study but not explore the Moon, as exploration requires separate and substantial funding," the spokesman said.

The article does not go on to say whether Russia desires humans or robots to hitch a ride, but it would not be surprising if they were requesting Russian blood to represent them on the moon.

NASA's first trip (if not the first several) will probably be American's, and although the cost of reaching the moon will be high, the rewards of going there will hopefully be worth it.

More Evidence Of Martian Water Arises

(Hat Tip: Mars News)

NASA has released news of water existing on the red planet, perhaps in liquid form underground. If so, future colonists may be able to tap into the "water line," although doing so may cause a flash flood.

(NASA) MALIN: We think that the water is coming from deep in the ground. It's warmed as it gets closer to the center of Mars. The outer parts of Mars are really, really quite cold, but the inner part is probably still warm, just as the Earth's interior is warm. As the water came up, it reached the surface and initially froze at the surface. But as more and more water came up, it would build pressure behind the frozen water in front of it and eventually it would break out of behind that barrier and flow down the surface. So we think there's an ice dam that is holding back water for some period of time, and then that dam breaks, and water comes out, and as it comes out, and as the dam breaks, it consists of rock debris from the rock around that water, it includes ice fragments from the dam and it includes liquid water.

How thick that "ice dam" is would be something future Martians would have to find out. Of course any water found on Mars would have to be filtered out for contamination (as Martian soil can be toxic and that may include some of the sub layers as well).

NASA Regains Its Manhood (Destination: Moon)

(Hat Tip: Space Scan)

After decades of spending billions on projects helping us orbit our own planet, NASA has decided to change course and retake lost ground on our lunar neighbor.

(MSNBC) NASA announced Monday its strategy and rationale for robotic and human exploration of the moon, determining that a lunar outpost is the best approach to achieve a sustained, human presence there. [...]

"What we're looking at are polar locations...both the north pole and south pole," said NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale. Picking between the two poles will be done once NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter begins surveying the moon after its launch in October 2008.

One particular area that's already receiving high marks by NASA's lunar architecture team is at the South Pole-a spot on the rim of Shackleton Crater that's almost permanently sunlit.

This announcement is long overdue, and despite the complaints of costs by some, NASA should be able to fund this project as well as the various science programs. Although cutting back on these programs is not fun (as that means somebody is out of a job), it would probably be better for this to happen in the short term than having us forever observing the stars.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Artificial Gravity And Orbital Space Stations?

One of the biggest challenges towards colonizing the solar system (and beyond) is gravity--or rather the lack thereof. Gravity plays an important role in the health of the human body, and the lack of it for long periods of time can be dangerous for future space colonists.

Although it is currently unknown at what percentage of Earth gravity is necessary for human survival, we may have to build enormous space stations that can simulate gravity via centripetal force.

(AstroProf's Page) In science fiction, this is an easy problem to solve - you use artificial gravity generators. Actually, I rather think that this is an invention of producers who wanted to keep special effects budgets down rather than any attempt to overcome physiological problems! [...]

For large space colonies, with a very big radius, the colony could be rotated at a comfortably gently rate, people living in the ring at the outer edge of the colony would feel just like they were on Earth (if f = 1). So, this is how we'd more likely generate artificial gravity, rather than with the graviton generators used in science fiction.

Since most of the solar worlds lack the necessary gravity to enable human colonies upon their soils, we may be stuck living in orbital stations except for brief visits to the surface.

Although this may produce an acute form of cabin fever (if the stations are small that is) it is better to ere on the side of caution in this regard than to suffer the side effects of micro-gravity.

Update: Adjusted image for size and credit. Also added extra category for post.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Helicopter Hover For Future Mars Lander?

It looks like the terrestrial helicopter has inspired one company to design a lander that may aid in future missions to the red planet.

(MSNBC) If NASA's 2009 Mars Science Laboratory reaches the red planet's surface in one piece, the agency will owe a debt of gratitude to the Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane heavy-lift helicopter.

Like its namesake, NASA's Sky Crane carrier platform will hover above its drop site - albeit with retrorockets rather than rotor blades - and lower its payload, the compact car-sized MSL rover, to the surface using a winch and tether. As soon as the rover is ready to roll, the tether connection will be severed and the Sky Crane will fly off and crash land a short distance away.

NASA seems to be favoring this method as the current "balloon bounce" on the Martian world does not give the space agency many options to land (as the landing site has to be free from sharp rocks).

Using the Sky Crane will enable NASA to land the rover or craft virtually anywhere on the Martian surface, allowing them to explore key areas on Mars and hopefully discover some resources to make the trip worth it.

Hopefully sometime in the current century humanity will be able to actually visit the Martian landscape, although we may have to wait sometime after the first space elevator is built in order to make the journey cheap enough.

Russia Considers Lunar, Martian Space Elevators

(Hat Tip: Space Elevator Blog, One and Two)

Not desiring to deal with the hassles of launching and landing a payload from Earth to the Moon and Mars, Russia is considering building a space elevator in order to help cut down on transport expenses.

(RIA Novosti) Scientists from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences have developed a unique space elevator for lunar and Martian missions. Although a bit slower, the new system will cut back on interplanetary delivery expenses. [...]

In 1965, the Central Machine-Building Design Bureau, headed by leading rocket scientist Sergei Korolev, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, started preparing for the first space-tether experiment. The Bureau, which later changed its name to Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, planned to link a Soyuz spacecraft to the last stage of the launch vehicle using a steel cable. Unfortunately, this project was mothballed after Korolev's death and resumed by Energia only 20 years later.

The fact that they started this project is a testimony to the Russian spirit to push the boundries of space technology as we know it. Although there is no mention of a space elevator on Energia's website, it is good to see another company (aside from LiftPort) taking the concept seriously, if not on Earth then elsewhere.

The Russian Space Research Institute, another organization considering the possibilities of a space elevator, has already outlined a fancy way of building one on the Moon.

(RIA Novosti) Theoretical studies and experiments showed that the cluster should comprise two cableway systems, one in a low circular and the other in a low elliptical Earth orbit, and one cableway in a circular equatorial lunar orbit. The dimensions of all three cableways should create different gravitational potentials at each end. By adjusting tether length, it will be possible to change each orbital system's angular speed of rotation.

The space-elevator cluster will exchange payloads between orbital cableways. In essence, two-way freight traffic would turn such cableways into a transportation artery.

A lunar space elevator would definitely go a long ways towards colonizing the lunar surface. There are some who even think one may be built before one is constructed on Earth.

But unlike the moon, a lunar space elevator would have to be constructed out of cheap materials due to the fact that space rocks raining down from above can easily damage the lunar lift, temporarily crippling transport to the moon.

A Martian space elevator may not fare any better, as the red planet is known to harbor violent storms that cover the entire surface.

Russia may be able to overcome both of these problems (at least in the lunar scenario) as one should not wager against technological breakthroughs in the space arena. But even if space elevators are only feasible on planet Earth, just being able to construct one within the solar system is enough to change the history of our planet as we know it.

Space Rocks Could Endanger Future Moon Colonists

As humanity heads back towards the moon, we may have more than just radiation from the sun (or dust from the soil) to deal with. Colonists may also have find a way to cope with space rocks raining down from on high.

( Potentially dangerous small space rocks are smashing into the Moon a lot more often than was expected, according to an ongoing NASA study.

"We've now seen 11 and possibly 12 lunar impacts since we started monitoring the Moon one year ago," said Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "That's about four times more hits than our computer models predicted." [...]

"The flashes we saw were caused by Leonid meteoroids 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) in diameter," Cooke said today in a NASA statement. They hit with energies equal to 150 to 300 pounds of TNT.

Although it may be impossible to shoot down and track such objects entering lunar territory, it may not be improbable to create a strong enough barriers (or force fields) that can sustain damages from such impacts.

If so, then colonizing the Moon would quickly become a reality, allowing us to build communities and use our lunar neighbor as a springboard for Mars.

With Congress Lacking Vision, NASA Keeps The Faith

With Congress more focused on social programs, tax cuts and votes towards the future, NASA is not dismayed by Washington's lack of support for the Centennial Challenge.

(Aviation Week) NASA says it will continue to support its Centennial Challenges prize program, despite the fact that Congress may be on the brink of denying funding to the effort for the second year in a row.

Senate appropriators have voted to deny the program's $10 million fiscal 2007 budget request, although the Senate and House have yet to agree on a final FY '07 NASA budget (DAILY, Nov. 29).

Centennial Challenges is still planning to offer purses for seven prizes totaling $10.9 million, using funds originally appropriated for FY '05, according to NASA spokesman Dave Steitz. "We have spread out the money into the 'out years' to allow for multiple challenges and purses," he told The DAILY.

Although this is a classic example as to why the public can not rely upon government initiatives to bring us to the stars, (as politics can be short sighted at times) this move by NASA to continue financial support shows that their is some hope for the space agency.

If NASA began to actually apply more of this "solar backbone" when it comes to politicians and bureaucrats, the US could seriously implement Buzz Aldrin's road map to Mars within our lifetime.

NASA And UK To Conquer The Lunar Frontier

(Hat Tip: Space Scan)

It looks like the English worlds (both old and new) will be forming an alliance to pioneer the surface of the Moon--and reclaim humanities place among the stars.

(BBC) Britain could become involved in Nasa plans to send astronauts back to the Moon by 2020, science minister Malcolm Wicks has said.

He met Nasa chief Dr Michael Griffin at the Cabinet War Rooms to discuss the plans for future Moon landings. [...]

"We will be considering whether there is an opportunity to build a partnership with the US."

With NASA and England partnering up with each other, it looks as if a new space race is quickly emerging as both China and Russia are already considering partnering up for a lunar trip themselves.

This "East vs. West" space race could prove quite useful, as it would be better for the world to compete for lunar first place than for diplomatic or military supremacy on planet Earth.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Russia Helping South Korea Gain It's Space Legs

In a sign of international cooperation, it seems as if Russia is helping the Korean democracy launch its first astronaut into space. Since South Korea lacks the technology to successfully put a man into space, they are hiring out the Russians to do it for them, all the while taking their first baby step towards the stars.

(Space Travel) Russia will sign a contract with South Korea December 7 to launch the East Asian country's first astronaut on board a Russian carrier rocket in 2008, the Federal Space Agency said Wednesday. The number of hopefuls to become South Korea's first ever astronaut has dropped from 36,000 to 30. The final candidate and one reserve will be selected soon. [...]

"The project has the South Korean president's special support, and will serve to strengthen relations between Russia and South Korea," Panarin said, adding the project was 100% financed by Seoul.

Although science fiction writers often portray space as dominated by western ideals, with South Korea's entry space may become more Asian in appearance. The Korean democracy probably does not want to get left behind as the major space powers grab their share of resources above, and probably wants to slice out a pie for themselves.

Putting their first astronaut into orbit should help fuel the space passion for that little penisula, and perhaps help ease the tension between the two Korea's (as they are virtually brothers).

Note: With both China and South Korea sending up humans in space, where is Japan in all of this?

China Prepares First Phase For Lunar Encounter

The red dragon of the east is preparing to launch Chang'e I lunar orbiter in 2007, which will study the moon's surface and help Earth's citizens understand a little more about their lunar neighbor.

(MSNBC) Among several tasks, the orbiter will provide 3D images of the moon’s surface, chart elements on the moon, measure the thickness of the lunar soil, as well as monitor the space environment between the moon and Earth. [...]

The moon orbiter is to be followed in later years by a remote-controlled lunar rover that would perform experiments and send data back to Earth. In the third phase, an automated probe will be dispatched to the Moon that carries drilling gear to dig up lunar samples for return to Earth.

Although they have not clearly specified, China is probably preparing to establish colonies on the lunar surface, in order to take advantage of the resources within the soil.

Despite have a budget that is puny compared to NASA's, China seems to be a lot more aggressive when it comes to space. What gives?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Video: LiftPort Ballon Test (Via LiftPort Energy?)

Apparently it seems that LiftPort conducted a balloon test earlier this month and one of their employee's from LiftPort Energy has posted a video of the test on YouTube (which you can view below).

There is not much information about the test, although the user who posted the video is promising a follow up (hopefully with more explanation of what is going on).

Note: Perhaps Karl might be able to shed some light on this video.

Should We Build Lunar Telescopes?

With NASA committing to return back to the moon, some scientists and engineers are considering building telescopes on the lunar surface for a clearer view of the universe.

(MSNBC) This week at a workshop entitled "Astrophysics Enabled by the Return to the Moon" at the Space Telescope Science Institute here, astrophysicists are discussing such moon plans, including the idea of setting up telescopes on the lunar surface.

"The main purpose is to really for the first time in many years have a very diverse group of astrophysicists come together and talk about whether it makes sense to do astrophysics from the moon now that we've got NASA committed to sending people there and putting up infrastructure there," said Laurie Leshin, Director of Sciences and Exploration at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

A lunar telescope would have several advantages over its Earthen brethren, mainly being able to view the cosmos without the filter of an atmosphere. Larger telescopes could also be built due the moon's gravity being one-sixth's of Earth.

Unfortunately the lack of an atmosphere can be dangerous, as virtually anything falling from space can easily destroy these telescopes without proper shielding. Dust will also be a major problem if humans are operating the telescope, although NASA (or a private space company) is probably working on resolving both of these issues.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Road Map To Mars: Buzz Aldrin To The Rescue

(Hat Tip: What on Mars?)

Proverbs 29:18a- Where there is no vision, the people perish...

The president and founder of the Mars Society, Robert Zubrin, has recently released a DVD detailing how humanity can send the first astronaut towards Mars by 2018.

Despite the plan being very ambitious, there was no detailed road map explaining the needed steps on visiting Mars, an important detail if one desires to attract investors. The plan also seemed a little "accelerated," something Brian from LiftPort made note of previously.

Although Dr. Zubrin does not provide a road map for exploring Mars, Buzz Aldrin seems to have filled in the gap. Despite presenting this blueprint last year, his approach makes more sense logically, although he does push back the Mars time frame to 2030.

(Popular Mechanics) My blueprint for manned travel to Mars, based on reusable spacecraft that continuously cycle between Earth and Mars in permanent orbits, requires much less energy over the long term. Once in place, a system of cycling spacecraft, with its dependable schedule and low sustaining cost, would open the door for routine travel to Mars and a permanent human presence on the red planet. Its long-term economic advantages make it less susceptible to cancellation by congressional or presidential whim. In effect, this system would go a long way toward politician-proofing the Mars program.

The key advantage of a permanently orbiting spacecraft, or Cycler, is that it must be accelerated only once. After its initial boost into a solar orbit swinging by both Mars and Earth, the Cycler coasts along through space on its own momentum, with only occasional nudges of thrust needed to stay on track. This dramatically reduces the total energy required for a Mars mission. Because conventional chemical rockets are so thirsty--the mass of the Apollo 11 craft that carried us to the moon was more than 90 percent fuel on takeoff--every pound saved pays a huge dividend in the form of less propellant and smaller, cheaper boosters.

What makes Buzz's plan realistic is the fact that it incorporates returning to the moon first by 2018, something humanity can easily muster within the next decade. He also promotes the idea of building factories on the lunar surface, and using the moon to help assemble the next generation of space ships, making it easier to launch towards Mars.

For those who lack the time to read all six pages of his explanation, he does provide a quick visual road map (pdf) which helps envision the whole project while putting everything in perspective.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Video: The Case For Mars

(Hat Tip: The Mars Society)

Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society has produced a DVD highlighting the case for Mars and envisions the first settlement being established by 2018 (note: is it me or is that date somehow familiar?).

You can watch the video below, although you can also check it out over on The Mars Underground web site.

Although he makes an interesting case for settlement of Mars within the next ten years, his organization does not seem to be brave enough to produce a road map highlighting the journey towards the red planet.

Many people have debated whether we should skip the Moon and heads towards Mars, or to colonize our lunar neighbor first. Although settling on Mars (within our lifetime) would be a step forward for our species, simply going without "beta testing" on the moon would be disastrous.

It would only take one serious problem on Mars to end human exploration beyond Earth's orbit, as the public would probably lose heart watching their own die on a world millions of miles away.

The Moon, however would provide a more fitting choice, as it would prepare for the eventual leap towards Mars, allowing us to colonize the planet for the long term.

India Seeking Life On Mars

India is considering launching an unmanned probe on the Martian surface to see whether or not life really does exist on the red planet.

(Mars Daily) Indian space scientists plan to send an unmanned mission to Mars by 2013 to look for evidence of life, a news report said on Sunday. The six-to-eight-month mission, likely to be launched in the next seven years, would cost three billion rupees (67 million dollars), the Hindustan Times reported.

"Mars is emerging on our horizon. The geo-stationary launch vehicle can take a payload to Mars and our Deep Space Network can track it all the way," G. Madhavan Nair, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), told the newspaper.

India is already becoming very active within the space field, as they are already preparing to visit the Moon (although they only intend to do this via robots). Searching for life on Mars will probably raise India's global status as a major space player, although such a search may be futile as Martian soil is not friendly towards life.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Earth Killing Asteroids Being Tracked By China

China is using a new telescope to track down possible NEO (Near Earth Objects) that may threaten planet earth.

(Space Daily) China has built a new Schmidt telescope, the largest of its kind in China, to keep track of near-earth objects (NEO) that could threaten Planet Earth. The telescope, measuring one meter in diameter, has been tested in a branch observatory belonging to Mount Zijin Observatory under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in east China's Jiangsu Province. [...]

"It is quite likely that some asteroids and comets hit the earth in the past, and it might happen again in the future," said [Yang Jiexing, a researcher with the observatory].

"We built this detector to know in advance of any approaching danger, and be able to figure out how to deal with it," he said.

Cataloging these dangerous space rocks is of great concern not only for our planet, but for any others we are fortunate enough to colonize. Although the Earth is blessed with an atmosphere hostile towards incoming objects, it may not be enough to stop planet killers, which may be as small as a half of mile wide.

Protecting Earth will become a priority, even after we begin to colonize and terraform other worlds. Earth is a unique world in our solar system, and it is good to see another space power lending her efforts in defending our fragile paradise.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Can Russia Build A Better Hubble?

Russia is eyeing first place in the "telescope space race" and plans on building a telescope that would not only rival Hubble, but surpass its American cousin completely.

(Space Daily) Russia will build a deep space exploration telescope that will outstrip the U.S.-made Hubble Space Telescope, a Russian astronomer said Tuesday. Hubble, orbited in 1990, has been the most successful and expensive project in astrophysics, costing over $6 billion.

"In cooperation with our colleagues from Germany, the United Kingdom, China and Spain, we have set ourselves the task of building the Spectrum-Ultraviolet telescope, which will surpass Hubble in some aspects," Boris Shustov, director of the Astronomy Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told a news conference.

Russia it seems is planning on adding on a "ground version" to complement the one in orbit. Combined, these telescopes would be powerful enough to "read a newspaper on the Moon" according to Shustov.

Although focused mainly on the Universe, such a telescope may prove useful on highlighting features or potential resources on asteroids and lunar bodies.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ten Reasons For Not Building A Space Elevator

Throughout our history, humanity has built technology to enable faster, cheaper or larger transportation from one point to another. Although many of these feats faced great difficulties from the drawing board to the final product, our world has been blessed by these inventors efforts decades later as the airplane, train and automobile can testify.

But before any of these inventions were fully developed, skeptics and doubters have mocked either the possibility of an invention or the need for one. Since the Space Elevator definately falls into this category, here are ten reasons why a space elevator should not be built to benefit humanity.


10) Too complex to succeed: The technology behind a space elevator has too many moving parts. It lacks the simplicity of a rocket engine.

9) It's too expensive: It would be better to spend $10 billion on developing new ways to kill each other on dozens of projects than to pool our money into this single one.

8) It's a dumb idea: The space elevator has only existed in science fiction novels. Since when has anything from a science fiction novel become reality?

7) It will take too long: If such a feat can not be built in my generation, why should the next one have the honor to benefit from it?

6) It's too hard: We should focus on solving easier topics such as ending war and global poverty.

5) It would ruin Star Trek: The writers never envisioned a space elevator in their television series. Building one would ruin the story line, enraging fans across the scifi community.

4) We need Space Powers: If too many nations have access to space, people might get the notion that we are all created equal, leading to chaos.

3) Rockets are doing a fine job: Despite 95% of their weight being fuel, rockets are doing a great job hauling up cargo and people. Who needs change?

2) Space is for the elite: Only the healthy and wealthy deserve to visit the stars. The poor and unhealthy deserve their lot on Earth.

1) The English language has too many words: We have too many "ports" on planet earth already, such as seaport, airport, carport, etc. Adding LiftPort to the dictionary would only increase the cost of dictionaries worldwide.


Note: These are the best reasons I could come up with. Does anyone else have a better excuse?

Ted Semon Interviews CEO Of Elevator 2010

Ted Semon of the Space Elevator Blog has a transcript (via email) of an interview he had with Ben Shelef, co-founder of Spaceward and CEO of Elevator 2010. Here is a snippet below:

Q. In your opinion, what was the most significant accomplishment of the 2006 Games?

The most significant accomplishment was the scale of what happened - this was the first "real", or full-form competition, and we had 12 teams arriving with real hardware, 2 from Europe, 3 from Canada, 7 from the US - we've got ourselves a Space Elevator competition now! A few more teams were registered and couldn't produce hardware in time - all in all we had 20 teams that tried. This is a good base to building the 2007 games from. Obviously this year USST was head and shoulders above everyone else, with their 2-seconds-too-slow climb, but I’m betting in 2007 we will see plenty of climbers zooming up at over 2 m/s.

You can check out the full interview over here.

Update (3/14): Corrected Ted Semon's last name.

Does NASA Need A Solar Dump Truck?

(via Space Scan)

Unable to house some materials aboard the space station due to safety concerns, NASA is considering dumping them out into space as an alternative method of disposal.

(The Sydney Morning Herald) Officials say that certain objects aboard the space station - such as a worn-out ammonia tank - cannot be carried safely back to Earth.

"We are only going to be doing it in rare cases under very strict conditions, and doing it because of the safety of the crew and the station," said Nicholas Johnson, the chief scientist for NASA's orbital debris program.

Most discarded items will burn up in the atmosphere. But until they do they pose an extra headache for NASA, already tracking 13,000 of the largest items to ensure they do not hit the space station.

While some may cry we are polluting our "spacial skies," we must remember that in space their are no solar dump trucks available to transport broken machinery, space junk, etc. from the international space station to planet earth.

NASA should probably consider creating "roaming satellite" whose job is to collect space junk and then perform a kamikaze dive towards the Earth's atmosphere as a way to resolve the space junk issue (as there are enough hazardous objects orbiting around planet earth).

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Finished Editing...

I redid the previous template, although most of it was html/java that was annoying the heck out of me (it was causing the page to load in weird locations).

Hopefully this will be a much smoother layout. Cheers!

Redoing Template....

Will be editing the current template...please excuse the mess.

Friday, November 17, 2006

NASA Ponders Sending Humans Towards Asteroids

NASA is seriously considering sending astronauts to nearby asteroids in order to increase not only our understanding of them, but rekindle public interest in space as well.

(MSNBC) "A human mission to a near-Earth asteroid would be scientifically worthwhile," said Chris McKay, deputy scientist in the Constellation science office at Johnson Space Center. "It could be part of an overall program of understanding these objects. Also, it would be useful, instrumentally, in terms of understanding the threat they pose to the Earth." [...]

"There's a lot of public resonance with this notion that NASA ought to be doing something about killer be able to send serious equipment to an asteroid," McKay observed. "The public wants us to have mastered the problem of dealing with asteroids. So being able to have astronauts go out there and sort of poke one with a stick would be scientifically valuable as well as demonstrate human capabilities."

Although we are still decades away from asteroid mining, visiting these worlds would give humanity much needed practice before heading off towards the asteroid belt.

As for the "preventing killer asteroid" dilemma often seen on Hollywood screens, most solutions (such as nuclear retaliation) would not prevent a space rock from hitting Earth, although a space tractor may be more effective.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

LiftPort Promo Video: Space Elevator Happiness?

(via Space Elevator Blog)

LiftPort has (to my knowledge) released a teaser video promoting their company on YouTube (which you can see below).

Review: To quote Ted Semon, "For some reason it makes me think of Fantasia."

One almost expects to see dancing hippos lifters gracefully crossing the earthen sky. Although not as good as the Elevator 2010 promo video, its a good start for the LiftPort team.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Magnetic Safe Havens On The Lunar Surface

Despite lacking a "global" magnetic field, the moon appears to be broadcasting magnetic currents over certain areas on the surface. This is good news for future space colonists, as that means that certain regions may be free from cosmic radiation, making habitation of the lunar body all the more likely.

( Yet amidst this hostile landscape a number of safer havens exist where the lunar surface escapes much of this sleet of radiation. One such benign feature, named Reiner Gamma [image], lies on the Moon's Earth facing side and is marked by a 37-mile-long (60 km) bright swirl and one of the strongest magnetic fields found on the lunar surface. [...]

Not only does the magnetic field preserve an unsullied lunar surface but it would partially protect any astronauts strolling beneath, "The lunar fields are strong enough to deflect solar wind ions with energies of several kilo-electron-volts," [Lon Hood of the University of Arizona] said.

Scientists also think that these fields may enable the concentration of hydrogen via solar wind and helium 3, an element that may rival OPEC on Earth below. If humanity is able to take advantage of these safe havens, we will be able to not only survive the harsh space weather (i.e. radiation) but raise children on the moon as well (since they may have more fragile bodies than adults).

Monday, November 13, 2006

Will Radiation Belts Dampen Space Elevator Hopes?

If a space elevator can be built When the first space elevator is built, humanity will be able to send up cargo at a fraction of the price compared to rockets. Unfortunately, humans may not be able to ride up the cable due to one, minor problem--radiation.

(New Scientist Space) [H]umans might not survive thanks to the whopping dose of ionising radiation they would receive travelling through the core of the Van Allen radiation belts around Earth. These are two concentric rings of charged particles trapped by Earth's magnetic fields.

"They would die on the way through the radiation belts if they were unshielded," says Anders Jorgensen, author of a new study on the subject and a technical staff member at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, US.

Several options have been proposed to deal with this, such as moving the base station away from the equator, uploading a magnetic field and last, redesigning the lifter to incorporate shielding (which would make it five times heavier). LiftPort (a space elevator company) seems to be exploring the "heavy lifter" option.

(New Scientist Space) Finally, space elevator builders could simply increase the overall mass of the elevator "car", or lifter - which will require more energy to heave it into space. LiftPort Group, which plans to take up as many as 20 people per trip, will pursue this strategy with a 100-tonne lifter. That is significantly heavier than the 20-tonne lifter planned by Brad Edwards, who devised the current conception of a space elevator.

Making a space elevator that heavy may have dire consequences, which may limit how much cargo a lifter can carry into space (thus reducing profits and increasing costs).

Although I am not an engineer or scientist, perhaps a more novel way at approaching this problem would be simply to create a "safe room" composed of lead where passengers could sleep and interact until the radiation danger is over. It may mean that the lifter is 30 tons instead of 20, but that definitely would be better than 100 tons.

Radiation Protection From A Nano Particle

If humanity is ever going to travel to Mars and live off world, new ways for dealing with the radiation problem (which can fry your brain) have to be dealt with.

Scientists have discovered a nano particle that may help astronauts become resistant towards the side affects of radiation, a minor step enabling our species to live on other worlds.

(Space Daily) Researchers at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia say the nanoparticle, DF-1, might be part of a "new class of radioprotective agents" that help protect normal tissue from radiation damage just as well as standard drugs.

The scientists have shown DF-1 -- a soccer ball-shaped, hollow, carbon-based structure known as a fullerene -- is as good as two other antioxidant drugs and the FDA-approved drug Amifostine in offering protection from radiation.

Drugs, combined with radiation shielding may enable people to travel across the stars--as well as live on other worlds. Most planets and moons within our solar system lack a magnetic field, exposing them to solar and cosmic radiation.

Drugs like these may prove effective for not only visiting other worlds, but raising children on them as well.

Russia And China Partnering In Lunar Outreach

With the US heading to the moon alone, Russia and China are partnering together in order to increase their chances of actually visiting the lunar world.

(Moon Daily) China and Russia are discussing lunar exploration co-operation in the next three years, the deputy head of the Russian Federal Space Agency said Thursday. Russia regards China as a "partner" in space exploration, Youriy Nosenko told a press conference in Beijing, adding that the two sides have shown interest on a lunar project.

While both have independently visited the stars, neither has the budget to compete against their American friends. Perhaps joining forces is the best measure, as they are already working together in order to reach Mars.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

NASA Advances In Carbon Nanotube Production

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (located in Greenbelt, Maryland) is licensing its technique for building high quality, low cost carbon nanotubes.

( Although CNTs were discovered 15 years ago, their use has been limited due to the complex, dangerous, and expensive methods for their production.

However, Goddard researcher Dr. Jeannette Benavides developed a simpler, safer, and much less costly manufacturing process for single-walled CNTs. The key to the innovation developed by Dr. Benavides was the ability to produce bundles of CNTs without using a metal catalyst, dramatically reducing pre- and post-production costs while generating higher yields of better quality product.

Carbon nanotubes have uses beyond a space elevator, ranging from fuel cells, solar cells, video displays, not to mention medical advances as well.

Note: LiftPort's Nanotech department may want to consider purchasing a license, unless of course they already developed a similar method at their New Jersey facility.

Can Science Locate God Amongst The Heavens?

There are some scientists who believe that instead of looking for God among ancient text, that humanity might be better served by seeking him out amongst the stars.

(New Scientist Space) [S]ome physicists believe there is another way to pick up a divine message that will leave traditionalists rolling their eyes to the heavens. Forget scripture, they say, try looking out to space instead.

Impossible? Not necessarily, according to physicists Stephen Hsu and Anthony Zee. No one knows why our universe came into existence. But Hsu and Zee argue that if some superior being or beings did intentionally create it, they might have left an elaborate signature in the cosmic microwave background, the relic radiation of the big bang.

Despite the fact that God could have left a message in the heavens, doing so would seem very illogical, at least to me. After all, wouldn't it be easier for a divine being to simply enlighten men with visions of himself than wait for Earthlings to develop the technology to hear his voice?

The Lunar Dust Dilemma

Although not toxic, lunar dust can be quite annoying to human lungs, eyes and even your mechanical bots.

(MSNBC) [Apollo 17's Gene Cernan] said that "one of the most aggravating, restricting facets of lunar surface exploration is the dust and its adherence to everything no matter what kind ... and its restrictive friction-like action to everything it gets on." The astronaut added: "You have to live with it but you're continually fighting the dust problem both outside and inside the spacecraft."

Despite being uncomfortable, some scientists have come up with ways to resolve the dust problem such as melting the lunar soil so it will not irritate future colonists.

Could Riding A Space Elevator Be Dangerous?

If humanity is ever able to construct an elevator to the stars, they may have to overcome a haunting problem that will plague all those who desire to live space.

(New Scientist Space) [P]assengers could be killed by the radiation they receive on the way to the top, say Anders Jorgensen and Steven Patamia at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and Blaise Gassend of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the proposed speed of 200 kilometres per hour, passengers would spend a few days in the Van Allen radiation belts, long enough to induce severe sickness and even death.

The article (which requires subscription) proposes shifting the elevator away from the equator in order to avoid the belts of radiation. Despite being a great idea, such a move would reduce the amount of momentum needed to lift objects into space.

It would probably be wiser to simply launch vehicles until a radiation solution can be discovered as moving the base away from the equator would mean lengthening the space elevator cable.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Short Space Elevator Film

Here is a short film show casing the space elevator via YouTube.

Unlike many films online this video highlights the friction between the tether and the lifter as it climbs its way towards the stars. I wonder if a climber speeding that fast (and causing that much friction) would wear out the tether in a year or two?

One interesting aspect of this short film was the asteroid as a counter weight. Although held up to some as a good idea, no earthly government would be comfortable with a rock that large near earth. Such an idea by itself would be enough to kill off the space elevator idea.

A New Currency For The Space Elevator?

(Hat Tip: LiftPort, and the Space Elevator Reference)

Mondolithic is auctioning off a silver Space Elevator coin over on Ebay.

The bid starts at $75 (plus shipping and handling) and so far no one has made any offers. By itself the coin does not look very interesting, although if several (perhaps ten or twenty different ones) were created, it would make the offering a little bit more attractive.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Happy Space Elevator Day!

Today is happy Space Elevator day. Why is that? That is because LiftPort, a space elevator company plans on launching the first "lifter shuttle" in orbit on October of this day in 2031.

LiftPort is one of the few (and possibly only) company out there striving to make space available to all (and not just the wealthy and healthy) and if you would like to help make this dream a reality, you can support them by either purchasing their book, enlisting as a LiftPort Ambassador or simply Google-bombing the word "space elevator" with LiftPort's homepage as you can see from the example below:

Although only one score and four years away, wouldn't it be nice to ride in a space elevator? (if not you, at least your kids could go up).

Note: Did we mention listening to music on the way up? (Hat Tip: Space Elevator Blog)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Travel To Mars Via Asteroid?

Since traveling to Mars can be dangerous to your health (thanks to cosmic radiation) some researchers are proposing that future astronauts travel to the red planet via asteroids that orbit between Earth and Mars.

(New Scientist Space) In one version of the idea, the astronauts would actually dig a hole in the asteroid, put the spacecraft inside and cover it over with material from the asteroid. Within this protective burrow, the spacecraft would be shielded from cosmic rays during the six- to 10- month journey to Mars.

In a second version, the spacecraft would not contact the space rock. Instead, it would hover nearby, and astronauts or robots would visit it on spacewalks. "You'd have the astronaut actually go to the asteroid and begin to extract material," Della-Giustina told New Scientist.

Hitch hiking via asteroids is pretty ingenious, although it may not work in the long term. If a martian colony is established and an emergency arises, we can not simply depend upon asteroids to bring us to safety across space.

What NASA needs to seriously consider is either investing in creating a radiation shield for the astronauts, or finding out faster ways to travel between worlds (via nuclear or momentum from a space elevator). Although radiation shielding is expensive, it would enable us to travel without fear of having our minds reduced to nothing upon arrival on Mars.

Hubble Trouble, Will Saving It Cost Double?

(Hat Tip: The Astronomy Blog)

Hubble has provided a unique perspective about the universe that no other space program has matched. Its beautiful pictures have probably kept the space program in public view, and helped launch the imaginations of thousands of others.

But keeping Hubble alive is costing NASA (or rather the American tax payer) $230-250 million a year, money that could be spent elsewhere (as in getting humans back on the moon). Despite the cost, NASA seems to have some emotional attachment to Hubble, although it may require two shuttles in order to secure approval for repairing our galactic eye in the sky.

(MSNBC) The remaining 14 shuttle flights are dedicated to completing the space station by the time the fleet is grounded in 2010. If a Hubble servicing mission is approved, it would have to be squeezed into the space station construction schedule sometime in early 2008.

NASA also would have another shuttle on the launch pad, ready to make an emergency rescue trip if there were a catastrophic problem.

The repair trip would only extend Hubble's life by about five years, which would mean that unless another shuttle or rocket was designed to replace it, there would be no easy way to repair Hubble unless the Russians were solicited.

Hubble has made the universe a lot more beautiful by revealing the hidden mysteries that surround us, but if it does not further humanity off world, what is the point in funding future repair missions?

Life On Mars, Is It Possible?

Scientists seem to be excited about discovering bacteria living two miles beneath the Earth's crust, able to adapt to not only extreme cold but also an oxygen-less environment.

(Mars Today) "The low temperature limit for life is particularly important since, in both the solar system and the Milky Way Galaxy, cold environments are much more common than hot environments," said Neill Reid, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute and leader of the research team. "Our results show that the lowest temperatures at which these organisms can thrive fall within the temperature range experienced on present-day Mars, and could permit survival and growth, particularly beneath Mars's surface. This could expand the realm of the habitable zone, the area in which life could exist, to colder Mars-like planets."

Although it would be interesting to find life on Mars, the planet is not known to be friendly to life as its surface may be toxic, not to mention the lack of a magnetic field.

These organisms may provide another use however, as scientists may be able to insert their DNA into grains and plants, allowing colonists to grow food on the red planet. Of all the worlds that orbit the solar system, Mars provides the greatest opportunity for terraforming. Perhaps these microbes could provide a little assistance along the way.