Thursday, April 27, 2006

Uncle Sam Regulating Space Citizens?

It seems that the American government has decided to keep track of US citizens and corporations that engage in space flight. In order for one to fly, they would need to apply for a space permit.

(Flight Global) Washington claims right to regulate suborbital launches made by US companies anywhere around the world

US persons or organisations operating suborbital test flights outside the USA will still have to obtain a Federal Aviation Administration permit, according to newly proposed rules.

This is because, under existing international treaties, governments are responsible for launches made by their citizens or legal entities beyond their own borders.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is hoping that these new rules become permanent regulations by the end of this year. Some may see this as minor bureaucracy, but a more reasonable explanation (outside of security) would suffice--taxes.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Mars Trip Safer With Antimatter Ships?

If humanity is to conquer the red planet, they need to be able to cross the gulf of space as quickly as possible. Otherwise future colonists may suffer from health problems such as bone loss and muscle fatigue when en route towards Mars.

However, if a future antimatter engine can be built, then those future threats could be eliminated, if not at least reduced.

(Red Orbit) Antimatter is sometimes called the mirror image of normal matter because while it looks just like ordinary matter, some properties are reversed. For example, normal electrons, the familiar particles that carry electric current in everything from cell phones to plasma TVs, have a negative electric charge. Anti-electrons have a positive charge, so scientists dubbed them "positrons".

When antimatter meets matter, both annihilate in a flash of energy. This complete conversion to energy is what makes antimatter so powerful. Even the nuclear reactions that power atomic bombs come in a distant second, with only about three percent of their mass converted to energy.

Unlike the nuclear powered space craft, a "positron" powered ship would be safer and more efficient. Many scientists have opted towards a nuclear powered craft in order to reduce time while in flight. However, reactors can be complex and a slight error could spell doom for all on board--especially during a launch.

(Red Orbit) If a rocket carrying a nuclear reactor explodes, it could release radioactive particles into the atmosphere. "Our positron spacecraft would release a flash of gamma-rays if it exploded, but the gamma rays would be gone in an instant. There would be no radioactive particles to drift on the wind. The flash would also be confined to a relatively small area.

The danger zone would be about a kilometer (about a half-mile) around the spacecraft. An ordinary large chemically-powered rocket has a danger zone of about the same size, due to the big fireball that would result from its explosion," said Smith.

Currently the price for assembling 10 milligrams of anti-matter is around $250 million. This price could be reduced through research as well as technology, and is probably less expensive than chemical rockets which cost around $10,000 per pound.

This would probably be easier to develop than a safe nuclear reactor and may be a preferable choice amongst astronauts--since no one probably enjoys riding with a nuclear device strapped to their back.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Tiktaalik Missing Links (Funny)

Being a former follower of "the way of Darwin," the missing link drama is what first convinced me of the possibility that macro evolution was a fable.

Evolution News has an interesting post about the new Tiktaalik missing link, which I found (along with the author) to be amusing myself.

Update: For those of you interested in the "does God exist" debate, their is an interesting video debate between Cliff Knectle and atheist Michael Newdow (the man who tried to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance).

Pentagon To Test Space Weapons

(Hat Tip: New Scientist Space)

As if space were not hostile enough (with all of the radiation and future health problems), it looks as if the Pentagon is arming the final frontier. I feel safer already.

( Destruction of enemy satellites with high-powered ground-based lasers is among weapon systems the U.S. Defense Department reportedly wants to test in space. [...]

Other tests for creating a space battlefield would include a missile launched at a small satellite in orbit and a small space vehicle that could disperse weapons while traveling at 20 times the speed of sound, the report said.

Weaponizing space, although uncomfortable is probably going to become a "necessary evil" as every nation tries to harvest the future resource on the moon.

The Pentagon however is citing several "civilian advantages" towards arming the heavens above, although I am not sure if those benefits outweigh the setbacks.

( The Globe report said the Pentagon feels its aerospace technology has advanced exponentially in the past two decades. The military says the investment is justified because the technology will also have civilian applications such as refueling or retrieving disabled satellites. [...]

A government spokesman said there are no plans to base weapons in space. ''We just want to do some experiments" on weapons technology in space, he was quoted as saying.

As long as they do not put nuclear weapons into space (or any other weapon of mass destruction) then planet Earth should remain safe. After all, would you be comfortable with the knowledge that someone has a death weapon floating hundreds of miles above your head?

Martian Trip Could Be Dangerous To Bones, Muscles

(Hat Tip: Mars News)

Space, the final frontier. Unfortunately it can also be the most dangerous--especially when it comes to human health while en route.

( Human spaceflight to Mars could become a reality within the next 25 years, but not until some physiological problems are resolved, including an alarming loss of bone mass, fitness and muscle strength. [...]

"The rate at which we lose bone in space is 10-15 times greater than that of a post-menopausal woman," said [former astronaut James A. Pawelczyk, Ph.D. and a kinesiologist].

"There's no evidence that bone loss ever slows (in space.) Further, it's not clear that space travelers will regain that bone on returning to gravity. Recent data suggests that not all people are recovering."

This news does not bode well for future space travelers, as a trip to Mars could take up to 13 months! Unless there is a way to counter act this (via massive vitamin's and working on a bow flex daily) then our future colonists are going to have the skeleton of a 100 year old man.

( According to Pawelczyk, "With a trip to Mars, a third of exercise capacity will be lost, and about the same amount of muscle strength--—that is, barring an intervention." [...]

While Earth-based exercise is well known to build muscle, cardiorespiratory fitness and bone strength, scientists have not identified equivalent benefits in space.

"Exercise alone has not been sufficient to prevent loss of bone, muscle strength and fitness capacity. More research is needed," said Pawelczyk.

Aside from suspended animation, the only way to reduce the bone deficiency is to shorten the trip. One way of doing this is developing a hyperspace engine, although that may be several decades away from becoming reality.

Update (9/23/07): Corrected html error in second quote.

Lunar World A Stepping Stone For Mars

If humanity ever desires to visit its distant neighbor Mars, then using the Moon as a stepping stone is a wise choice. After all, the moon is several days travel from the homeworld, and we better be able to work out "the kinks" there rather than on the red planet.

(Red Orbit) Scientists and engineers are hard at work studying technologies that don't yet exist and puzzling over questions such as how to handle the psychological stress of moon settlement, how to build lunar bulldozers and how to reacquire what planetary scientist Christopher McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center calls "our culture of exploration."

The moon is not for the faint of heart. It is a lethal place, without atmosphere, pelted constantly by cosmic rays and micrometeorites, plagued by temperature swings of hundreds of degrees, and swathed in a blanket of dust that can ruin space suits, pollute the air supply and damage machinery.

Dust is as much of a problem on the Moon as it is on Mars, although unlike martian soil, lunar dirt may be quite valuable.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Can Russia And China Make It To The Moon?

(Published on Blogger News)

With all of the talk of the "space race" between the leading powers--Russia, China and the United States, many assume that America may be beaten by its more socialistic friends. But upon examination of what each nation spent last year for the budget, one wonders if "the dragon and the bear" will reach there at all.

Last year Russia spent a total of $660 million towards its space program, while China spent an estimated $500 million. NASA, in retrospect spent $16.5 billion, dwarfing both nations roughly 14 times over.

Although both countries space programs have accomplished amazing feats, establishing a presence on the moon will cost billions of dollars, which is definitely outside of either nation's budget.

Unless significant strides are taken to increase funding towards the stars, Russia and China may have to settle for an American presence looking down on both of them from above.

Source: Red Orbit (Article 1, Article 2)

Xena Slightly Larger Than Pluto

Apparently Hubble has discovered that object 2003 UB313, nick named "Xena" by Mike Brown is slightly larger than Pluto.

(NASA) Though previous ground-based observations suggested that Xena's diameter was about 30 percent greater than Pluto, Hubble observations taken Dec. 9 and 10, 2005, showed Xena's diameter as 1,490 miles (with an uncertainty of 60 miles).

Pluto's diameter, as measured by Hubble, is 1,422 miles.

Xena lies roughly ten billion miles away from Earth and is an unlikely spot for a colony world. Although most people probably will not care about how large Xena is, the findings by Hubble do challenge what our idea of what a planet is in general.

After all, if Pluto is a planet, then so is Xena, and there could be a hundred worlds like it orbiting our solar system.

(Live Science) [W]e now know there are a handful of other offbeat worlds almost as large as Pluto. Estimates suggest there are hundreds of Pluto-sized worlds out there waiting to be spotted.

If 2003 UB313 [Xena] gains planet status, we'll instantly have so many planets that kids won't be able to memorize them all. Worse, the list will be a lie, made up of eight bona-fide planets and dozens of compounded mistakes. That's not science.

Although Pluto and Xena may be the "odd balls left out," classifying both of them as a planetary object may be a necessary evil. Pluto is already ingrained in our minds as a world of its own and despite the disappointment that Xena was not "fatter" than expected, she may be the newest member to join the planetary club.

In Search For Lunar Ice Water

(Hat Tip: Lunar News Network)

In an attempt to discover water upon the moons surface, NASA is preparing one of two probes on a kamikaze mission towards the surface. The idea behind the stunt is to determine whether or not the southern pole contains ice water--a critical element if we are to establish future colony.

( "I think aggressively touching the Moon is an understatement," said Scott Horowitz, NASA's associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, in a Monday press conference.

"What this mission buys is an early attempt to know what some of the resources we're going to have...we know for sure that for human exploration to succeed we're going to have to essentially live off the land."

While one probe suffers an early death, the purpose of the other craft is to analyze the "flying debris" for signs of ice water. Unfortunately it seems as if NASA is having way too much fun and has decided that the second probe will suffer a similar fate of its sibling.

( The 1,940-pound (880-kilogram) LCROSS probe will fly through the resulting plume and use its instruments to scan for water while taking photographs, then--15 minutes after the upper stage booster's impact--the "shepherding" satellite will also crash into the crater floor, Andrews said.

"We know that we can steer it sufficiently to sample another region of the crater," Andrews said, adding that smashing into the same place twice would likely not yield additional valuable data.

Ladies and gentlemen, your tax payer's money at work.

If water is discovered (in abundance) then that would indicate that a thriving colony on the moon could be possible. If not then we could always haul tons of it from the Pacific ocean.