Friday, September 29, 2006

Video: Space Elevator Tether Concept

After surfing Google Video, I came across this video explaining the space elevator in "every day language" which is quite useful when explaining something they have only heard in story books (say Jack in the giant beanstalk).

This video displays a pretty good explanation of what the Space Elevator is all about, and may be quite useful, especially when presenting this video to a group of people as a LiftPort Ambassador (although I will probably need to secure approval from LiftPort first as it is their presentation).

Are Titan's Methane Lakes Evaporating?

It is probably a good thing Titan does not have a stock market, otherwise its fuel prices would be jumping through the roof at this news.

(New Scientist Space) A dozen more lakes have been discovered near the north pole of Saturn's moon Titan, according to images from the Cassini spacecraft's latest flyby of the moon. The lakes may be a seasonal phenomenon, filling with methane rain in the winter, then evaporating in the summer. [...]

The lakes may accumulate near the north and south pole in alternating periods when each experiences its winter and lower temperatures lead to more methane rain, [Stephen Wall of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, US.] says.

The key words in these paragraphs is "may," as the scientists seem to be unsure. Hopefully in the not so distant future (say 50 years) we will be able to land either a rover on Titan's surface or send humans to the moon before these lakes evaporate completely.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Micro Gravity Surgery Becoming A Reality?

With all of our eagerness to conquer the final frontier, we often over look a minor yet critical job that will be needed while en route to Mars, Jupiter or beyond the Sun's influence--space surgeons.

A team from France will be removing a cyst from a man via robots, the first ever attempted feat while in micro gravity.

(MSNBC) The operation, announced Monday by chief surgeon Dominique Martin and the French space agency, is part of a project backed by the European Space Agency that aims to develop earth-guided surgical space robots. [...]

Albertoni said the cyst removal operation was chosen because it is relatively simple and involves a local anesthetic.

The doctors say their experience Wednesday could help in the development of robots to perform surgeries in space.

Thanks to the Airbus A300 (which can simulate micro gravity by climbing and falling throughout the atmosphere), doctors will be able to perform the operation and take notes for the medical community.

Operating on someone while in space will not be an easy feat, mainly because blood and other liquids would have an easier time floating out of the body, not to mention sharp floating objects (i.e. scalpels). Although the latter can be restrained via magnets, the former may be a bit harder to stop in space.

Using space robots to operate may be a wise decision as there may not be too many doctors interested in working off world.

Space Elevator Goes Wireless

(Hat Tip: The Space Elevator Blog)

Who says you can't use a mini-space elevator to generate some cash?

It appears that the boys and girls (are there any girls?) at LiftPort are using their robotic climbers to help setup wireless platforms for rural areas.

(New Scientist Space) [...] LiftPort has finished a 60-day test with a 100-metre-long tether held aloft by four helium balloons. The test was designed to see what kinds of problems would crop up if such a platform were used to transmit Wi-Fi signals. The lofty platforms would be especially useful for providing Wi-Fi coverage to rural areas, says company president Michael Laine.

While doing the test, LiftPort did run into some humorous problems with wild life involving bats, insect colonies breeding on the tether and swallows trying to sip morning dew off of the balloons. They also discovered that the wind can twist the tether, causing it to thicken which results in broken climbers (a problem they will have to resolve before building the space elevator).

But despite the setbacks of the test, it appears as if LiftPort has taken another step towards building an actual space elevator.

(New Scientist Space) Several weeks ago, the company also made its own carbon nanotubes for the first time. Because carbon nanotubes are extremely thin but incredibly strong, they have been studied for use in a lightweight tether that could reach all the way to space.

A space elevator, if successfully built will increase the likely hood that humanity will travel to the stars, especially since public support for space may be declining.

Monday, September 25, 2006

India To Reach The Moon In 2008?

It appears that India has settled the debate on whether to send robots or humans into space. Unfortunately they have decided to go with the robots (as this author was rooting for the humans).

India will be planning a lunar mission around 2008, and will launch a satellite to locate not only valuable resources but water as well.

(Moon Daily) Discussing the aforesaid programme of ISRO, chairman PRI council, ISRO-DOS, Prof UR Rao said: "The mission aims to search for surface or sub-surface water-ice on the moon, specially at the lunar pole and to carry out high resolution mapping of topographic features in 3D. It would also look into the mineral composition of the moon." Rao, who is also Chancellor of Ambedkar University, was in the city on Tuesday.

Though Mission Moon would commence from 2006 and would culminate on 2008, space agencies of US (NASA), European Space Agency, Japanese and Chinese space agencies are working together to unravel some lesser known facts about the moon.

Getting India involved with space exploration is critical since one in six people on Earth reside in that nation of a billion faces. Although they are not sending any people to the lunar surface, their research should prove invaluable as it will help us locate the best spots for a lunar colony (and hopefully end the debate of where to establish one first).

Is Pluto's Atmosphere Freezing Too Fast?

It looks as if the previously thought out theory of how Pluto's atmosphere freezes has been shattered with new observation of the dwarf world orbiting billions of miles away from our Sun.

(Pluto Today) Pluto's surface is bright because its atmosphere periodically condenses onto the surface. Theory suggested that, as Pluto cools, the traces of methane should condense first, followed by nitrogen ice as Pluto's surface grows colder.

The study showed two surprising results: that most of Pluto's nitrogen ice contains dissolved methane and that the area covered by pure methane ice patches is roughly the same as the areas covered by the nitrogen methane mixture. The fact that methane ice is mixed in with the nitrogen suggests that the freeze-out process happens quickly and haphazardly.

Despite the controversy surrounding Pluto's demotion, this world (or rather dwarf world) still fascinates scientists with its patchy surface of nitrogen and methane.

Although orbiting over six billion kilometers away from the Sun, Pluto may hold some value for future explorers as methane is a valuable resource, especially in deep space.

China's Seed Breeding Satellite Returns

It looks as if the satellite China previously launched into outer space has returned bearing "fresh fruit,"--scientifically that is.

(Space Daily) China's seed-breeding satellite, Shijian-8, successfully landed in Sichuan Province, southwest China, at 10:43 a.m. Beijing time on Sunday after a 15-day flight in space. The recoverable satellite was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwest China desert on Sept. 9. [...]

Scientists from the Space-breeding Center of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science used the mission to carry out experiments aimed at discovering what happens to the germination and sprouting of plants when they are exposed to zero gravity.

After being exposed to cosmic radiation and zero gravity, some seeds may mutate and produce higher yields and improved quality when planted back on earth, scientists said.

It is interesting that the Chinese are exploring "space agriculture" and using the gained knowledge to benefit their farms on planet Earth. Although China's interest may sound silly to some, this technique of altering grain in space may become critical for future colonies of Mars and Jupiter since they lack the nutrient rich top soil common on Earth.

Of the three main space powers sending human beings into space, China seems to be the most aggressive at using space to benefit its people directly. Although NASA has the skills to get us to the stars, China has the will to get us there, and the future alliance between the two may benefit the human race for years to come.

Russia Heading To The Moon...On Mars?

The Russians, known for their brazen attitudes in space are going to attempt a mission not even NASA is brave enough to pursue. They are going to gather lunar soil from a Martian moon.

(Mars Daily) Neither NASA nor the European Space Agency (ESA) are planning flights to Phobos, [Russian Academy of Sciences member Mikhail] Marov said. "This is a niche that foreign space agencies have left us, not only because it is an exceptionally difficult task, but also because we have already invested work in this area of planetary research."

The landing will be a complicated operation due to the moon's small size and high orbital speed.

What makes the lunar asteroid Phobos unique is the fact that it circles the red planet about three times a "Martian day." Landing on this moon will be tricky, and although it is doubtful that any resources can be used from Phobos, the moon (along with its sibling Deimos) would make excellent space stations.

Google Interviews Anousheh Ansari From Space

To my complete surprise one of Google's founders interviewed Anousheh Ansari from the international space station. Ansari is the first female space tourist and perhaps the prettiest as well. ;)

Here is a of what Larry Page's interview with the Iranian in space (questions are in bold for you convienence):

What was the most fun in space?
Flying from one end of the Space Station to the other. She's gotten so good that she can nearly make it all the way without hitting any walls.

What was the biggest surprise?
Seeing the Earth rotate for the first time. Every time Anousheh wants to remind herself that she's really in space, she looks out the window, watches the Earth rotating, and pinches herself to make sure she's still awake.

Larry (wistfully): When can we come up to join you?
You'll have to come up one at a time. In any case, construction is speeding up on the International Space Station, so tourists will probably be fewer for the time being. She hopes Larry can improve the food; although the cheese pasta is fun to chase, it's not much fun to eat. At least there are M&Ms.

What would you change about the space station?
(Fast reply): "Add another shower!" And then - "Add Internet access!" (Wild cheering from Googlers.) Right now email is batched. Larry suggested that Anousheh plan that for her next trip -- and she shot back, "Actually, I'm planning my next trip!"

Do you have anything inspirational to say?
"Explore the boundaries. Try new things. Be free-thinkers and use your imaginations. Learn from your environment, your teachers, your books -- but then go beyond your knowledge. I always wanted to go to space, although I didn't wind up working for NASA. I detoured to different areas, but finally I found a way to make it happen."

I have been reading Ansari's blog for quite some time and she seems to be really enjoying micro-gravity while floating around in the ISS.

Her latest post reveals how much respect their is between the astronauts and cosmonauts, and she compares the space station to Earth by saying we have no where else to go so we all better get a long on this planet.

I truly envy this Iranian, although she is planning on going again. I wonder if I'll get a chance to visit space, via a rocket shuttle or a space elevator?

Update: It looks like Ansari has inspired some Iranian women. Heh.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Habitat For Humanity...In Space

With all of the talk of "space tourism," very few businesses have a legitimate reason for visiting the stars other than viewing the Earth from space.

But what separates Robert Bigelow from the space tourism industry is that he desires not to merely take people on a short visit in space, but to build a space hotel for them to check into.

( At a luncheon speech today in San Jose, Calif., at the AIAA Space 2006 Symposium, Bigelow said his third module, dubbed Sundancer, would have a mass of 8,618.4 kilograms and be equipped with life support systems, attitude control, three windows, on-orbit maneuverability, reboost and de-orbit capability.

He plans to place it at an altitude of 250 nautical miles at an orbital inclination of 40 degrees. Bigelow said that while Sundancer will be a scale model of the large, human-rated habitat he eventually plans to launch into orbit, it will nonetheless have 180 cubic meters of habitable space.

If Bigelow is able to get the space hotel up and operational, he will probably have to find an affordable way to bring those people into space (as $20 million plus may not be worth it to most people).

Although Lockheed Martin is partnering up with Bigelow Aerospace in order to provide a space ship to the hotel, they may want to consider the magnetic sled as a possible option as well (as it may be less expensive than sending a rocket into space).

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

New Hope For The Space Elevator?

(Hat Tip: The Space Elevator Reference and

Several months ago, some scientists determined that building the Space Elevator with current technology was impossible.

Now it appears that a couple of MIT scientists have discovered a way to not only allow engineers to create a mesh of carbon nanotubes but make them electrically conductive as well.

( Now Young-Su Lee, an MIT graduate student in materials science and engineering, and Nicola Marzari, an associate professor in the same department, have identified a class of chemical molecules that preserve the metallic properties of carbon nanotubes and their near-perfect ability to conduct electricity with little resistance. [...]

Attaching a molecule to the sidewall of the tube serves a double purpose: It stops nanotubes from sticking so they can be processed and manipulated more easily, and it allows researchers to control and change the tubes' electronic properties.

MIT researchers have discovered that certain molecules can attach themselves to metallic carbon nanotubes without interfering with the nanotubes' exceptional ability to conduct electricity. At left, the high conductance state has two molecular orbitals, shown in green. Some molecules even let the nanotube switch between highly conductive, left, and poorly conductive (right, with one red molecular orbital), creating the potential for new applications.


MIT scientists seem to have discovered a way to make nanotubes "electrically conductive," which may be useful as a means of transferring power to the lifter robots. This new discovery could also be used to combine individual nanotube threads together, instead of the 100,000 km length molecules that some scientists image will have to be built.

Either way, this is good news for the Liftport team. Now how about building that Space Elevator already?

Could Going To Mars Damage Your Brain?

Cosmic radiation will be a significant problem en route to Mars, and unless resolved could put the whole "colonize the red planet campaign" out of action fairly quick.

(Space Travel) Among the gravest risks of a manned flight to Mars ranks the possibility that massive amounts of solar and cosmic radiation will decimate the brains of astronauts, leaving them in a vegetative state, if they survive at all.

Dubbed "Risk 29" by NASA's Mars scientists, the cosmic radiation risk remains a show-stopper because shielding a spacecraft from all radiation could make it too heavy to reach Mars, which, at its closest, is 38 million miles from earth.

Although scientists are working on experiments to determine how tolerant the human mind is to deadly radiation, working on radiation tolerance level may not convince the public to travel off world.

What scientists and engineers need to do is figure out a way to make a lighter shield around the space craft to insure that solar radiation does not hamper future colonists as there will probably be no chemotherapists around to treat cancer on that world.

They could also perhaps have construct a "detachable" shield around the craft, which they can discard once arriving on Mars.

If no radiation safe ways are developed for traveling to the red planet (among other worlds) then we can expect perhaps only a few thousand souls living on other worlds, instead of the hundreds of millions necessary to colonize our solar system.

Observing Mars Underground

The Mars Orbiter which recently established its presence around the red planet seems to be equipped with ground piercing radar that can detect ice (and hopefully water) on Mars a kilometer below the surface.

(Mars Today) The orbiter's Shallow Subsurface Radar, provided by the Italian Space Agency, will search to depths of about one kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) to find and map layers of ice, rock and, if present, liquid water. [...]

"We will use the Shallow Radar to map buried channels, to study the internal structure of ice caps and to see boundaries between layers of different materials," said Dr. Roberto Seu of the University of Rome La Sapienza, leader of the instrument's science team. "The data will provide our first detailed look just under the Martian surface, where ices might reside that would be accessible for future explorers."

Mapping where potential water ice is on Mars will be crucial if we are intent on surviving on that hostile world. If Mars holds an abundance of water beneath its surface, then we can build the necessary robots to bring it to the surface.

Although Mars may lack the necessary resources to make it attractive to businesses and governments, its greatest resource may be water which is worth more than gold in this solar system.

Update: Added image.

Why "The Moon Before Mars" Argument Makes Sense

Out of the Cradle points to an article published by the Planetary Society Blog which reviews arguments for both the "Moon first" and "Mars first" crowd.

Although colonizing Mars would be much faster if we directly visited the planet first, any major crisis developed on the world would spell an inevitable set back for the space program (and the colonization of our Solar System).

Mars is at its closest 38 million miles away from Earth, and if any crisis happens upon that world, a rescue mission will be a couple years away. This would spell doom for not only the future colonists, but result in the quest for space to be delayed another generation.

The Moon is a lot closer to the Earth, and although the surfaces of Mars and the Moon differ greatly, it would provide a "beta environment" for us to learn how to survive off world before our species decides to settle on other planets millions of miles away.

Although going to Mars may be critical for our species, going to the moon first makes more sense.

Friday, September 15, 2006

From Space Elevators To Solar Bridges?

Imagine if you will that a small company out of Washington State (USA) achieves the impossible. Imagine if a company called LiftPort is able to successfully build a structure spanning from the oceanic surface to 100,000 km into space.

Such a feat would revolutionize the space industry entirely, and perhaps change the way we view space as we know it. But what if humanity went beyond constructing a planetary elevator into space, and decided to create a solar bridge connecting two worlds?

Solar bridges, like space elevators, would revolutionize the way citizens on two worlds engage in trade and transportation. Instead of having to launch shuttles into space (which can become fairly tedious and expensive), residents could simply transport their goods through an inter-planetary auto-bahn without worrying about the size and the amount.

A solar bridge would also serve as a "rest stop" for future star ships needing to deploy goods between worlds. Instead of docking on a space station and requiring its resources/crew to descend upon the world via miniature rocket shuttles, a solar bridge would enable star ships to quickly deliver necessary goods by tapping into the "economic blood stream" of the planetary system.

Last but not least, a solar bridge would enable scientists, governments and businesses to conduct research within a microgravity environment without having to board a shuttle. This would not only reduce the cost of these studies, but enable them to transport the fruits of their labor back home or towards the other side.

But just like their space elevator ancestors, solar bridges would only be feasible under certain conditions, and most planetary systems would probably not be suitable to host one.

They would have to be constructed in a region free from hazardous space debris (such as asteroids, comets and space junk). They would also have to be located within a binary system whose worlds are gravitationally locked, otherwise the rotation or orbit of one of these worlds would simply tear the structure in half.

Although the only planetary system meeting these conditions is Pluto and Charon, humanity may want to consider drawing plans for such a feat, especially if they encounter binary systems in other solar systems.

Humanity is a community orientated species, and one can notice this by observing the massive bridges built between cities, and even countries. If the conditions are favorable enough, why not attempt to build something similar between two worlds?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ethane Clouds Spotted On Titan

Titan, the future OPEC of the solar system appears to have ethane clouds floating above the north pole. Scientists are speculating whether or not these clouds could produce ethane rain and even snow.

(New Scientist Space) A giant cloud of ethane has been found near Titan's north pole. The finding suggests that ethane rain or snow could accumulate around the moon's poles, partially accounting for Titan's missing ethane oceans. [...]

"We think that ethane is raining or, if temperatures are cool enough, snowing on the north pole right now," Griffith says. "When the seasons switch, we expect ethane to condense at the south pole during its winter."

Titan was previously thought to hold vast oceans, although scientists were surprised to find the surface to be "very sandy" in nature.

The discovery of possible methane lakes near the poles helped raise the value of this cloudy moon, although it may take some time to exploit Titan with it being a billion and a half kilometers away.

Alas, "Planet" Xena Named Eris

The unofficial tenth planet of our solar system (that is until Pluto was stripped of its planetary status) has been named Eris, with the name Xena being cast to the wayside.

( Eris' discoverer, Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, said the name was an obvious choice, calling it "too perfect to resist."

In mythology, Eris caused a quarrel among goddesses that sparked the Trojan War. In real life, Eris forced scientists to define a planet that eventually led to Pluto getting the boot. Soon after Pluto's dismissal from the planet club, hundreds of scientists circulated a petition protesting the decision.

Eris's mini moon has been named Dysnomia (instead of Gabriel) which was the daughter of Eris in mythology. This world orbits about 9 billion miles away from the sun, and it is doubtful that any human colony would want to set up shop on a world that far out into Kuiper belt.

Pluto on the other hand will probably hold value, since it at least intersects Neptune's orbit, even it its only at an angle.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mars Orbiter Calls The Red Planet Home

The Mars Orbiter, which has been stationed around Mars since March has finally settled into orbit around the red giant after carefully adjusting its position lest it crash onto the surface below (not a good thing).

It will join other satellites orbiting Mars as well as two rovers below and hopefully capture the Martian landscape in unprecedented detail.

(MSNBC) The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter fired its thrusters for 12 minutes Monday to adjust to its final position six months after it arrived at the planet. Its altitude ranges between 155 to 196 miles above the surface.

"Getting to this point is a great achievement," said Dan Johnston, deputy mission manager at the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the $720 million mission.

Detailing Mars's surface will benefit scientists as they select a future landing site and (hopefully) a colony site as well.

Mars has yet to play a critical role in history, as it is humanities test to whether they can terraform a world into a second Earth, an important task if they are to survive outside of the solar system.

Finding Life On Europa...Via Earth?

A team has set out to the cold regions of the Arctic in order to discover the source of sulfur that has been appearing there for some time. They hope that these discoveries could help us locate life on a distant frozen world orbiting Jupiter.

(Astrobiology Magazine) "It's out of the norm," Pappalardo says. "Biology is expected to play a part in this. The fact that all [these forms of sulfur] were present in close proximity suggests that life is involved."

While Pappalardo acknowledges that Europa's outer surface contains too much radiation to ever support life, these findings could help answer the question as to whether life could exist below the surface of Europa.

I am not too sure how successful they will be, as Enceladus looks more promising, but a discovery of life on a foreign lunar body would help motivate humanity towards the stars.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Pluto Rocks?

(Hat Tip: NASA Watch)

With the recent demotion of Pluto, a Canadian group calling itself SubPlot A has released a song protesting its dwarf status and is even considering donating part of the profits towards promoting Pluto planethood.

(Pluto Rocks)Pluto got a bum deal.

On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided to demote Pluto to "dwarf planet" status. This news has been met with immediate outrage from scientists, parents, children and former children, and all those who share a non-gravitational affinity for our distant and benevolent neighbor.

Well, if they wanted to screw a planet they should have picked Uranus.

You can listen to the song over here, but for those who lack the time to enjoy the rhythms, here is a partial listing of lyrics to Pluto Rocks!

So smart and so smug, so proudly pedantic
Can't you be a scientist and still a romantic

Don't you still love him, don't you still need him
Don't you want your great great grandkids to meet him

I don't care what people say, you'll always be mine
I don't care what the experts say, you'll always be my number nine

Pluto rocks, in a vacuous void
Grandfather Pluto, he's no asteroid

Pluto rocks, stop the attack
Grandfather Pluto, you gotta bring him back

China Farming In Outer Space?

I have mentioned this before previously, but it seems that several days ago China has finally launched their satellite which will expose grain to radiation in order to (hopefully) produce a better crop within their farmlands.

(Earth Times) China today launched a satellite from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, which is carrying 215 kilograms of seeds of plants and fungus, Xinhua reports. The seed-breeding satellite called "Shijian-8" is apparently designed to test how space-enhanced produce can increase the efficiency of the country's food production.

The Shijian-8 was launched aboard a Long March 2C rocket. China National Space Administration informed that the mission was to enable scientists to figure out a process to cultivate "high-yield and high-quality plants."

China is becoming more aggressive about its space program, and with their recent partnership with Russia they may retake the Moon before NASA does.

No Solar Love For Pluto

With the IAU resolving the issue of Pluto's planetary status, (however disappointing their decision was) it seems that the distant world has been reassigned a cold hard number: 134340.

( On Sept. 7, the former 9th planet was assigned the asteroid number 134340 by the Minor Planet Center (MPC), the official organization responsible for collecting data about asteroids and comets in our solar system. [...]

Pluto's companion satellites, Charon, Nix and Hydra are considered part of the same system and will not be assigned separate asteroid numbers, said MPC director emeritus Brian Marsden. Instead, they will be called 134340 I, II and III, respectively.

A sad day for the future citizens of this frozen world...or rather minor planet that is. There is a petition out there to save Pluto's planetary status, although the odds of this happening are as good as finding intelligent life on other worlds within our solar system.

Colony Worlds Is Now Live

I've finished with all of the updates to the site, so now I can do what I have always wanted--post about colonization of our solar system...and beyond. ;)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Note To Google...

Just to let you know...this is NOT a spam blog, but I am merely importing my posts from my old blog*spot (Colony Worlds) to the newer beta version since it ROCKS!!!

And now, let the importing begin!