Saturday, July 29, 2006

Future Spacesuit, Heal Thyself!

This technology would not only benefit astronauts in space, but also future colonists on Mars and the Moon.

(New Scientist Tech) Future spacesuits could have some remarkable new abilities. They could self-repair holes, generate electricity and kill germs, thanks to new "smart" materials. Such suits may be ready for use by 2018, when NASA hopes to return to the Moon. [...]

The spacesuit would be self-healing because its innermost layer, which provides the spacesuit's airtight seal, is filled with a thick polymer gel. The rubber-like gel is sandwiched between two thin layers of polyurethane so that if a hole forms in these layers, the gel oozes from surrounding areas to plug it. In vacuum chamber tests, the gel healed punctures up to 2 millimetres wide.

Developed by ILC Dover LP (from Delaware) for NASA, these future spacesuits may prove quite useful, especially when one considers the hazards of space junk that orbits our world. I could also see this technology utilized for future colonists on the Moon, (for obvious reasons) not to mention future minors in the asteroid belt.

New Ion Cannon Could Bring Us To Saturn

A new ion cannon built by Aerojet (an aerospace company located in Sacramento, California) may provide future space craft with the power necessary to bring them all the way to Saturn's moon, Titan.

(New Scientist Space) An ion engine several times more powerful than any previously flown is being tested by NASA. It could propel a spacecraft all the way to Saturn's moon Titan.

Ion engines operate by removing electrons from atoms of a gas--usually xenon--and then accelerating the resulting ions through an electric field. The ions are shot out the back of the engine to create thrust.

The engines provide much less thrust at any given time than do rockets. But they are much more fuel efficient, providing a steady source of propulsion that could ideally be used to take spacecraft to the outer solar system.

This technology will be quite useful for satellite's traveling in deep space as well as future explorers traveling throughout the asteroid belt. Despite being fuel efficient, we may need something a little faster for colonists as traveling through space can become quite dangerous.

Is Outer Space Sex Really That Complicated?

If this is true, then future space colonists may be in for a major disappointment.

(MSNBC) Having sex in the weightlessness of outer space is the stuff of urban legends and romantic fantasy--but experts say that there would be definite downsides as well.

Spacesickness, for instance. And the difficulty of choreographing intimacy. And the potential for sweat and other bodily fluids to, um, get in the way. [...]

"Sex in space is not just a good idea, it's survival," said Vanna Bonta, a writer who blends romance with space travel and quantum physics in the novel "Flight."

The article later on goes to list several reasons why this event may be "underwhelming," and the list does not look pretty. Vanna Bonta has designed a "2suit" to deal with the problems of weightlessness know, but I am going to wager that honey mooners may opt for their birthday suit instead.

China Farming In Space?

Apparently the red dragon nation is preparing to launch another satellite which will conduct experiments on breeding plants in outer space.

(Earth Times) BEIJING: China is expected to launch its first satellite for breeding plant seeds in September. The satellite will be launched from the Jiuquan satellite launch center, according to officials of the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. It will make a 15-day space flight.

The satellite, named Shijian-8, would carry over 2,000 varieties of plant seeds in nine categories and 180 groups, including seeds of grains, cash crops and plants, as well as seeds of fungi and molecular biomaterials that have been sequenced.

Before anyone claims that "natural food" is the way to go, they should examine the results with China's tampering. By exposing these seeds to radiation, China has been able to grow not only more food, but healthier grain as well, making it easier to feed their growing population.

(Earth Times) According to scientists, when seeds are exposed to special environment and subjected to phenomena like cosmic radiation and micro-gravity, they are likely to mutate and offer higher yields and better quality. [...]

China has already established space seed breeding centres in regions such as Beijing, Shanghai and Heilongjiang province. A government official said between 2001 and 2004, space-bred rice and wheat varieties had been planted in about 566,600 hectares of land, producing an additional 340,000 tons of grain.

Experiments show that vitamin content of vegetables grown from space seeds is 281.5 per cent more than in ordinary vegetables and microelements of ferrum, zinc and carotene are also higher than normal.

According to the article, China has done this several times, and it apparently is paying off by producing higher yields of crop. If more experiments like these are successful, it may be wise for future colonies with barren (or no) soil to simply grow their food in orbit rather than on the surface.

Saturn's Titan May Have Methane Lakes

Although I am probably late in the game reporting this, apparently Saturn's cloudy moon may harbor hydrocarbon lakes, making the moon prime real estate for colonization.

(Saturn Today) The Cassini spacecraft, using its radar system, has discovered very strong evidence for hydrocarbon lakes on Titan. Dark patches, which resemble terrestrial lakes, seem to be sprinkled all over the high latitudes surrounding Titan's north pole. [...]

Scientists have speculated that liquid methane or ethane might form lakes on Titan, particularly near the somewhat colder polar regions. In the images, a variety of dark patches, some with channels leading in or out of them, appear.

This is good news since it was assumed that Titan lacked methane lakes due to previous snap shots of the world. These lakes are located near the polar regions, although "rain drops" from Titan's atmosphere will hopefully create more of them.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Life Support System For Mars, Moon

We still have a long way to go before we can establish colonies on Mars and the Moon. Despite our lack of knowledge on how the ecosystem on Earth operates (especially within a closed system) some scientists busy finding ways to eliminate those mysteries in order to keep us on our lunar neighbor as well as the red planet.

(Red Orbit) BEIJING (Xinhua) -- Scientists are doing ground-based experiments on life support systems so that humans can explore space and one day live outside the Earth's biosphere, for example on Mars or on the Moon. [...]

Nelson said that researchers have termed the project "Mars on Earth". They stress that substantial work needs to be carried out on Mars life support prototypes here on Earth before scientists will have the data base, confidence and ability to undertake similar projects in space or in lunar/Martian conditions.

The U.S. laboratory being used for the experiment, which covers an area of approximately 800 square meters, is located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Scientists there are developing life support systems for space, such as water and waste water recycling, food production and air purification, and are also developing space engineering and technology for the Mars Base, Nelson said.

Scientists are trying to find ways to live in a closed system by recycling their waste products and living on a complete diet of plant food (as it looks like meat is off the menu for future colonists). This diet includes ten crops which include "rice, wheat, sweet potato, peanut, soybean, pinto bean, winter squash, beetroot, banana and papaya."

Although the experiment was not a total success (as they ran into some problems) their attempts and failures here on Earth will help us avoid serious problems while setting up habitations on the Moon and Mars.

Drilling For Water On Mars

Before we can actually establish a colony on the red planet, we first need to locate adequate supplies of water. If scientists are able to locate where possible sources of water lie on Mars (via new technology, rovers or telescopes) then it will be much easier to set up a colony on that dusty world.

But before humans are sent towards Mars, robots will have to do the dirty work first. And it looks like scientists are building one smart enough to handle the job.

(Red Orbit) NASA scientists plan to drill someday into the surface of Mars to look for water and signs of possible life. So, scientists are developing an automated, unmanned drill rig that can operate totally on its own, unsupervised for hours at a time. [...]

An eight-person team, made up of scientists and engineers from NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., will set up drilling equipment that is a little taller than a human being, and sits in a footprint of about one square yard (one square meter).

Earth-based experiments will help scientists learn if synthetic brainpower is able to control a rig on Mars for many hours of drilling without human intervention. Future Mars missions with drills will likely have the ability to communicate with Earth only once or twice a day.

Since people will be unable to directly observe what is happening on Mars, scientists were forced to create an AI (or artificial intelligence) for the bot. Using lasers, vibration sensors and logic, this machine will be able to tell when to stop drilling, adjust and (hopefully) locate any problems that come along the way.

Called the Drilling Automation for Mars Exploration project (or DAME for short), this piece of technology will become very useful once we begin the first stages of colonizing Mars.

Exploring Mars Via Minibot Balls?

Mars is a harsh world and sending rovers to understand is not only expensive, but fairly limiting. But engineers and scientists may have found a new way to explore the red planet by using mini bot balls to scour the Martian surface.

(Universe Today) MIT engineers and scientist colleagues have a new vision for the future of Mars exploration: a swarm of probes, each the size of a baseball, spreading out across the planet in every direction.

Thousands of probes, powered by fuel cells, could cover a vast area now beyond the reach of today's rovers, including exploring remote and rocky terrain that large rovers cannot navigate. [...]

Scientists believe that lava tubes commonly seen on Mars are a promising location to search for signs of water. Lava tubes are tunnels left behind by underground lava flows. Signs of these tubes, which are also present in many locations on Earth, can be seen above ground.

Although observing the red planet through rovers is fine, what scientists need to do is locate water on the Martian surface. Despite being the focus of NASA and other space agencies for years, Mars desperately lacks resources for the human race.

These balls may be able to locate resources in hidden locations, since they are more expendable than a multi-million dollar rover.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

International Lunar Decade Begins In 2007?

The Planetary society is attempting to keep the vision of lunar exploration alive by calling for an international lunar decade set to begin next year in 2007.

(Moon Today) The Moon is "hot." China, India, Japan, Italy and the United States are all currently planning lunar missions, and the European Space Agency has the SMART-1 spacecraft in orbit there right now.

"The Moon is the first step beyond low Earth orbit for any space-faring nation," stated Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society, "and the next decade will see a number of nations taking that step."

With all that is going around in the world (ranging from bird flu to world war three via Iran) keeping the world community focused on lunar exploration is not only key, but a priority. Although the decade technically extends to 2019, (making it twelve years) it coincides with the presumed future landing on the moon.

Europe Building Its Own "Hubble" Telescope

It looks as if our European friends have decided to build their own version of NASA's Hubble.

(Red Orbit) We believe that the European Extremely Large Telescope is essential if we are to ensure the continued competitiveness of the astronomical community in ESO's member-states, said Catherine Cesarsky, ESO's director general.

The ESO said a baseline design is to be presented by the end of this year for a telescope with a primary mirror between about 100 feet to 200 feet in diameter and estimated to cost approximately $944 million.

I wish all the luck to them in this endeavor. Of coarse, nothing thus far has been able to compete with Hubble, although it would be good if another country was able to inspire some friendly competition. After all, it's getting to be very lonely being the only space power on planet Earth.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Martian Moons As Future Space Stations?

Update: Incorporated sources within post and edited text for clarity.

(Note: Published on Blog Critics)

Mars is a world that has captivated the minds of humanity for thousands of years. While it is not known whether or not this world harbors any resources, this rusty world, after the Moon, will probably become humanities first test on whether or not we can survive off world.

But before humanity can conquer the red planet, they need a cost effective way to transport food, passengers and supplies towards its surface. Hosting as well as launching large shuttles on the planets surface may become burdensome and expensive, especially when one considers the effect of red dust upon mechanical devices.

What Martian colonists need is an inexpensive way to transport goods from the surface to space, and what better way could they obtain this than by turning the Martian moons into space stations?

The Martian moons Phobos and Deimos orbit about 6,000 and 14,500 miles from the surface, respectively, and would lie within easy reach for smaller space craft (especially with Martian gravity being only 38 percent of Earth's).

Although launch pads hosting large rockets may look appealing on Earth, they would probably be considered a waste on the red planet. Launch pads hosting large rockets would not only have to be constantly cleaned of the red dust, but be enclosed within a powerful warehouse capable of surviving Martian tornadoes. It would be much easier to host smaller shuttle craft that could "ron de vue" with a larger ship via a space station than launching these massive vessels from the surface.

Despite being composed of carbonaceous rock, the orbital periods of the moons make them prime real estate. Phobos orbits Mars about every 7 1/2 hours while Deimos is just over 30, making them accessible (at least with Phobos) several times a day. If constructed properly, larger ships could simply dock near or inside the asteroids and simply await smaller shuttles to transport the necessary goods or passengers to and from the planet.

Also the lunar asteroids close proximity towards their parent world would give them a bird's eye view of any storms that may potentially delay a launch or prevent a landing on the crimson planet.

Last but not least, by altering the barren asteroids into technological habitats, it would provide a way for Mars to process any metals or minerals harvested from the asteroid belt before being transported to the surface below. This would probably not only reduce costs but also enable them to manufacture stronger materials as well (since it is being done in micro gravity).

After the moon, colonizing Mars will be humanities first taste of conquering another world. But unlike the Moon, future Martian colonists will be unable to depend upon resources in great demand in order to finance their stay on the red planet. Keeping costs down while thriving on Mars will be in the best interests of humanity, and transforming both Phobos as well as Deimos into space stations may aid in that regard.

New Way To Locate Earth-like Worlds

One of the reasons it is hard for us to spot Earth-like worlds is because of the brightness of their parent star. A new technique with current technology may find a way of eliminating that brightness and allow us glimpse worlds beyond our solar system.

(MSNBC) A thin plastic "starshade" shaped like a giant daisy flower could one day help astronomers observe faraway planets by blocking out unwanted light from their parent stars, a new study reports.

When telescopes point to a distant planet, the small amount of light reflected by the planet is overshadowed by the light from its parent star, making it especially difficult to be seen. [...]

One way to tackle this problem is to place a shield, known to Sun-watchers as a coronagraph, inside the telescope. In this way, astronomers block out the main light from our own favorite star, providing a view of the environment around it.

If we are able to locate star systems harboring worlds that are favorable, not only would this encourage humanity to explore the stars, but we would have an idea of which direction to head towards in the first place.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A New Direction

I've decided to take this weblog into a more "focused" approach. Instead of covering everything revolving around space (as there are already sites doing that) instead I'll focus on what I love--discussing about which worlds are worth colonizing for the human race and which ones are not.

I'll probably resume posting tomorrow, so stay tuned.