Thursday, May 31, 2007

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (The Gathering)

Editor's note: Whether they post a few paragraphs or a few pages these space geeks are bound to make you laugh or cry (depends on you view of NASA with the latter).

There were several amazing posts (amazing was the theme of the carnival) ranging from Clark Lindsey new way to fund space tourism to Louie Riofrio's take on Benson's Dreamchaser space craft to Ed's sharp rebuke towards NASA and space whiners.

But the best post thus far has to go to Dave Rankin of Tales of the Heliosphere who discussed every one's favorite subject--unless you work for NASA of course.

(Tales of the Heliosphere) In any event, the truly uncomfortable reality of sex in space is not about relationships, morale, techniques, alternative sexual lifestyles, and the whole gamut of things that first come to mind when sex in space is discussed. The truly uncomfortable reality of sex in space is that the biological purpose of sex is reproduction and artificial birth control sometimes fails. What do we do if an astronaut becomes pregnant? [...]

We can't be certain how weightlessness or even reduced gravity would affect a developing human in the womb or an infant, and we don't know what should be done to protect its health in space. A pregnancy on a long, three-year mission to Mars, for example, would certainly help us learn. But that knowledge would come at the cost of unplanned experimentation on a human being that never consented and couldn't.

A pregnancy in space would probably be a nightmare for any space agency, not to mention NASA. After all, a deformed child born in microgravity could be more than enough to convince the public that space is too dangerous for humans, ensuring domination by our robotic slaves friends.

It would probably be wiser to raise a kid on the Moon or Mars, than try experimenting with microgravity where a child brought into the world of stars may have to spend the rest of their days living among them.

Note: Do not forget to check out the other various articles about space on Henry's Carnival of Space.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Can Solar Weatherman Predict Radiation Storms?

(Image: Sun's Corona in false color, Credit: Space Environment Center/NOAA via

Imagine starting your day with a hot cup of luna coffee grown on the surface of Earth's natural satellite, the Moon. As you head out of your bio home to fix another broken water pipe outside the Tycho observatory, you notice that the solar weatherman is on.

Not wanting to be late for your appointment, you turn off the satellite program and take the extra time to adjust your space suit before heading out the door.

Five minuets later your dead.

Unlike on our homeworld where one can skip the weather report and "make it" through the day, future colonists ignoring the solar weatherman may find themselves fried alive in their own space suits due to solar radiation.

Scientists are currently working on ways to predict solar weather, and one researcher may have discovered way to give future colonists an hours fare warning of the hazardous particles.

(Space Daily) The type of particle most feared by astronaut safety experts is the ion, that is, an atom which has lost one or more of its charge-balancing electrons. "Energetic ions can damage tissue and break strands of DNA, causing health problems ranging from nausea to cataracts to cancer," says Cucinotta. [...]

Every radiation storm is a mix of electrons, protons and heavier ions. The electrons, being lighter and faster than the others, race out ahead. They are like heralds proclaiming the ions are coming! Posner realized that by measuring the "rise time and intensity of the initial electron surge" he could tell how many ions were following and when they would arrive.

Predicting not only when, but how severe these storms will be would enable humans to determine whether or not it is wise to travel upon the surface of a world, not to mention between them. Although this study is yet in its infancy, solar weathermen will play an increasing role as we expand beyond our "earthen cradle," and into the solar playground beyond.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Radiation Eating Fungi Anyone?

Often associated with all things deadly, radiation is usually regarded as an evil force that could potentially derail our journey to the heavens. With scientists seeking out ways to shield our shuttles from the side affects (i.e. cancer) of radiation, it looks like one researcher has discovered an organism that enjoys living in the radioactive lime light.

(Space Daily) "The fungal kingdom comprises more species than any other plant or animal kingdom, so finding that they're making food in addition to breaking it down means that Earth's energetics-in particular, the amount of radiation energy being converted to biological energy-may need to be recalculated," says Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of microbiology and immunology at Einstein and senior author of the study, published May 23 in PLoS ONE.

The ability of fungi to live off radiation could also prove useful to people: "Since ionizing radiation is prevalent in outer space, astronauts might be able to rely on fungi as an inexhaustible food source on long missions or for colonizing other planets," says Dr. Ekaterina Dadachova, associate professor of nuclear medicine and microbiology and immunology at Einstein and lead author of the study.

Although eating fungi may not sound that appealing, scientists may be able to find a way to incorporate the genes of these fungi inside plants. Doing so would enable our species to thrive off world without heavy dependence on Earth.

Coupled with anti-radiation drugs (of space cattle certain animals), humanity may be able to create ecosystems on foreign soils such as Ganymede and Mars, helping to turn hostile worlds into inhabitable ones.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Extra Helpings)

Editor's note: The fourth Carnival of the Space Geeks is up, and this time there were a lot more interesting posts from a lot more interesting minds.

Interesting highlights include Brian Dunbar's brief analysis of solar powered satellites, Amanda Bauer creepy post about robot beetles, and Deborah Byrd commenting on scientists searching for life in Spock's region of space.

But the best post (in my opinion) goes to James of Surfin' English who discusses one of the largest hurdles towards becoming a space faring citizen: micro-gravity.

Our bones get brittle, blood moves up in the body because gravity stops pulling it downwards, and our hearts suffer because they don't have to work as hard in space to move blood. When we get home, our bodies are wrecks.

We also suffer from spacesickness ( like seasickness but worse), dizziness, and overly active farting. Seriously, going into space may look like fun, but it's like drunkenly stumbling onto the last train after running a double marathon and discovering that every passenger on the train has been eating beans for two weeks. Not pretty.

James notes a possible solution to this dilemma is artificial gravity, which would help curb most (if not all) of these nasty effects of living amongst the heavens.

Although it is doubtful that a space ship could simulate gravity (as no one knows yet how to create gravitons), Orbital space stations and space elevator stations could enable our species to actually not only function in space, but on low gravity worlds.

Note: Those interested in joining next week's Carnival of the Space Geeks can visit this page for details on how to enter.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is Terraforming Mars A Bad Idea?

(Image Credit: Popular Science, Aviation Space)

Of all the worlds ever graced by science fiction, Mars is second to only Earth in honorable mentions. Previously imagined in the past to harbor advanced civilizations, many space enthusiasts today now seek to not only visit Mars, but to transform this rusty world into a second Earth.

Although having a second home world (if not more) in our solar system is probably a wise idea, terraforming Mars into a miniature Earth could present new challenges making it very difficult into calling the red planet home.

Despite their similarities, Martian weather seems to be much more violent than its larger terrestrial brother Earth. Having less than 1% of the air pressure of Earth, Martian gusts seem to be able to generate wind speeds of up to 375 miles per hour.

Although Earth is no stranger when it comes to fierce storms, our planet has yet to encounter one on a global scale, an experience Mars seems to be very familiar with. If our species were ever to raise the air pressure to Earth levels, future colonists may end up finding themselves trapped on a world whose weather would put category five hurricanes to shame.

If raising the air pressure on Mars was not bad, raising the temperatures may be worse. Lacking major oceans, future colonists would be able to establish outposts throughout the red planet's surface, which area wise is roughly equal (in size) to all of the dry land on planet Earth.

With a large portion of water potentially lying beneath half of the Martian soil, (hat tip: Posthuman blues) as well as the polar ice caps, raising current temperatures on our future home world could end up flooding the planet. Although Martian oceans would definitely compliment this barren world (at least from space), they may provide little "land room" for colonists desiring to set up shop on Earth's distant neighbor.

Last but not least, a terraformed Mars may not be as "wildlife friendly" as planet Earth, enabling only humans and certain pets to dwell upon the surface. Unlike Earth, Mars lacks a global magnetic field which many animals such as birds, bats and certain insects depend upon for migration and navigation.

Although humans could easily navigate via an artificial GPS system, our animal friends may not be as fortunate. Unless an artificial magnetic field could be constructed, humanity will be unable to create the large ecosystems necessary to recreate the red desert into a thriving oasis.

Despite being a far cry from Earth like conditions, Mars may prove to be more livable in its current state than as a terraformed world. Humanities understanding of weather (especially global warming) is still in its infancy, and if we are not careful, our attempts at turning a world into an oasis may end up turning the world against ourselves.

Vesta And Ceres: The Dawn Of A New Age

(Image: Asteroid Vesta in false color. Credit: NASA)

Like a hostile mountain range separating civilization from the wilderness, the asteroid belt divides our Earthen and (future) Martian homes from the Jovian frontier. In this wilderness of floating boulders, lies a region that is often regarded as rubble, forgotten rocks of little beauty and appeal.

But in this unglamorous region of space lies riches untold for those who are willing to discover it, and with NASA heaven bent on sending its own across our star system, our species may be taking its first steps in locating our first asteroid homes.

(The Flame Trench) Mounted atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket, NASA's Dawn spacecraft is scheduled to blast off from Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on June 30. The launch window that day will stretch from 5:13 p.m. to 5:33 p.m.

The spacecraft will be setting sail on a mission to study the solar system's two largest protoplanets, Ceres and Vesta. Flying within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Dawn will swing by Vesta in October 2011 and Ceres in February 2015. It will be the first spacecraft to study two asteroids on the same mission.

Although both of these asteroids differ in composition and nature, both Vesta and Ceres hold much promise as future outpost colonies, especially for future mining industries. Despite its size, Vesta has shown surprising evidence of past geologic activity, which may indicate that heavier metals (and minerals) lie just beneath its surface.

With part of its mantle exposed on the surface, Vesta should provide a wealth of information for geologists, not to mention help "kick start" mining operations in the asteroid belt.

While Vesta provides a financial incentive to harvest the asteroid belt, Ceres may provide the "life necessities" for us to remain there. Rumored to harbor enough "fresh water" to rival our home world, Ceres may live up to its name and allow humanity to one day farm this world, helping to feed those who desire to live in this rocky region of space.

Although NASA's Dawn mission may not appear as glamorous as a visit towards Mars or Jupiter, it may enable us to gain a wealth of information that will inevitably help fund our trip to the stars.

(Image: Ceres cut out, Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In Space, Plastic Can Help You If You Bleed?

(Hat Tip: Mars News)

Imagine if you will that you are frolicking upon the moon's surface, and accidentilly fall into a crevice that was hidden by a lunar shadow. By the time rescue teams arrive, they discover that you have broken an arm and twisted a leg almost completely off, causing major bleeding inside your bulky (but yet untorn) spacesuit.

As they begin to stabilize you, doctors realize two things; you body is in need of several pints of blood, and no one on base has a compatible blood type. What do your lunar doctors do? Answer--they pump your body full of plastic blood.

(University of Sheffield) Donated blood has a relatively short shelf-life of 35 days, after which it must be thrown away. It also needs refrigeration, whereas the 'plastic blood' will be storable for many more days and is stable at room temperature.

The artificial blood is made of plastic molecules that hold an iron atom at their core, just like haemoglobin, that can bind oxygen and could transport it around the body. The small plastic molecules join together in a tree-like branching structure, with a size and shape very similar to that of natural haemoglobin molecules. This creates the right environment for the iron to bind oxygen in the lungs and release it in the body.

Unlike Earth, lunar (and Martian) colonies will not be able to rely on a vast population of blood donors in the event that a tragedy strikes a colonists. Until population centers grow to be thick enough to allow for "blood borrowing," humanity may have to rely upon synthetic plastic blood instead.

Despite being in the early stages, this research shows much promise in giving humanity greater independence as they colonize new worlds. Although some may dismiss this medical technology as "a minor detail," this plastic blood could easily mean the difference between a live engineer, and a dead scientist.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Is Our Future In Bio Solar Power?

(Image: Mars colony using bio-power. Credit: IntAct Labs, drawn by Chris Lund, via Astrobiology Magazine)

In order to survive off world, humanity will need to discover innovative ways of powering their space habitats. Although using energy from the sun is the most obvious choice when it comes to energy, constructing efficent solar panels on other planets (or even in orbit) may be difficult, if not expensive.

This has led one scientist to suggest that instead of constructing mechanical solar cells in space, why not just simply grow them instead?

(Astrobiology Magazine) Matthew Silver, a space systems engineer who heads IntAct Labs in Cambridge, Mass., presented radical ideas for using biology in a new generation of power supplies. These proposed devices would generate electrons using microbes that live in mud, or proteins native to the human ear or in photosynthetic bacteria.

In theory, biological power systems offer a number of advantages. Existing systems based on physical and chemical processes are difficult and costly to manufacture, and difficult to modify once fabricated. Biological systems may offer a high power-to-weight ratio, convenient fuel storage and many of them make useful byproducts like molecular oxygen. But the ultimate promise is this: they might be grown as needed in space.

These "solar microbes" have the potential of not only reducing the cost of living on both the Moon and Mars, but also enable future colonies to become less dependent upon Earth for energy supplies. These organisms also have the potential of allowing Martians to "farm their own air" instead of relying on oxygen imports from Earth or lunar rocks.

If humanity can harness the power of these tiny organisms, we may not only end up reducing the energy cost of setting up shop on the Moon and Mars, but perhaps on Earth as well.

Update: Centered image.

A Healthy Spaceship Is A Happy Space Ship

(Image Credit: South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resources)

Whether by fate or by chance, it seems that wherever humans set foot upon they end up bringing their microscopic friends along. While this obvious fact may seem trivial to most people, their unchecked presence on board star ships may spell certain doom for space traveling astronauts.

( Aboard Mir, colonies of organisms were also found growing on "the rubber gaskets around windows, on the components of space suits, cable insulations and tubing, on the insulation of copper wires, and on communications devices," said Andrew Steele, senior staff scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington working with other investigators at Marshall Space Flight Center.

Aside from being unattractive or an issue for human health, microorganisms can attack the structure of a spacecraft itself. "Microorganisms can degrade carbon steel and even stainless steel," Steele continued. "In corners where two different materials meet, they can set up a galvanic [electrical] circuit and cause corrosion. They can produce acids that pit metal, etch glass, and make rubber brittle. They can also foul air and water filters."

In short, germs can be as bad for a spacecraft's health as for crew health.

When Mir first launched into orbit, it was just as clean as any other man made interstellar object. The cosmonauts (and later astronauts) on board kept the space station tidy, cleaning the walls and floors as vigorous as Mr. Clean in the kitchen or bathroom.

But unfortunately nature does have a way of decaying even the best of our technology, and our space assets are no exception. Fortunately scientists are working on building the tools necessary to identify these microscopic nuisances, in order to not only keep future colonists healthy, but their spaceships (and biospheres) as well.

Update: Centered image.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Carnival Of The Space Geeks

Henry Cate over at Why Homeschool has started a Carnival of the Space Geeks (aka the Carnival of Space) which highlights interesting space related posts submitted by individual authors.

It is a great way of not only exposing ones writings to new audiences, but finding interesting (and new) space geeks chatting about the cosmos around us.

Space Geek Highlight: One post that I personally found to be very interesting was by Brian Wang on Advanced Nanotechnology who proposes combining the maglev launch systems with space tethers and some form of magbeam.

(Advanced Nanotechnology) The $10,000/kg cost of getting things into space has been crippling what is possible in space. Any low cost system will also need to have a high volume purpose. I discuss the best system that would still involve chemical propulsion and laser and magnetic launch systems. The focus is on laser launch array systems (and mirror reflecting enhancement). [...]

Chemical rockets and incremental developments will take a long time to radically alter the cost equation for space as well as the volume of material that can be delivered into space. The best systems involving chemical propulsion would swap out the bottom stage with a magnetic boost and the top with either tethers (skyhooks) or magbeam.

Although the magbeam technology is very theoretical (and very expensive) although the maglev combination with space tethers could help dent the cost of space below a $1,000/lb (which would be significant).

For those interested in joining the next Carnival of the Space Geeks, visit Why Homeschooling for details on how to enter.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Scientists Create Anti-Radiation Drug

Despite the fact that this drug is being produce to treat civilians who are exposed to radiation via a nuclear blast, this drug has the potential of enabling humanity to dwell upon the surfaces of "radiation friendly" worlds.

(Space War) But now researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis report they have developed an agent that protects cells from the lethal effects of radiation, regardless of whether it is given before or after exposure.

Using this agent in mice, the investigators found that the treatment helped shield rapidly dividing cells that are most vulnerable to radiation-induced death, providing proof in principle that it is possible to fend off radiation damage, according to a study published in the April issue of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.

One of the largest hurdles preventing our species from inhabiting the celestial heavens above us is radiation. Without a strong defense against this invisible enemy all of our dreams of expanding off world will be limited towards Earth orbit. An anti-radiation drug, coupled with artificial magnetic shields could enable our species to live above ground on both the Moon and Mars, not to mention travel throughout the solar system.

Although it would not enable our species to live on every terrestrial world orbiting Sol (as some, like Europa, are too radioactive for life to even survive), it would expand our options of setting up shop upon (or around) different planets.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Video: Does The Future Belong To Methane Rockets?

Although they may not reduce the cost of space, they may reduce the amount of space usually reserved for fuel tanks, allowing space craft to dedicate more weight towards either transporting more humans and equipment.

( Built by XCOR Aerospace, the test rocket packs 7,500 pounds of thrust--just a fraction of the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters at 3,300,000 pounds of thrust each--but its designers are just getting started. The Mojave Desert test will provide testing grounds for the design of a much-larger, space-faring rocket.

Today's space rockets use liquid oxygen and hydrogen or solid fuels, which are hard to collect, tricky to store and very expensive. Methane, however, need not be stored at -253 degree Celsius temperatures as hydrogen must be. It's also denser than hydrogen, making more out of limited space in fuel containers.

Despite the fact that hydrogen rockets dominate the space fuel industry on Earth, methane rockets may in the distant future overshadow their molecular brethren.

With the greenish-bluish-orange worlds of Uranus, Neptune and Saturn's Titan containing an abundance of methane within their respective atmospheres, methane may end up becoming the fuel that drives our species to conquer the solar system.

Borat's Kazakhstan Modernizing Army Via Space Tech

Kazakhstan, a nation made (in)famous thanks to a Hollywood film by the title of Borat, is seeking to modernize its military force using space technology.

(Ria Novosti World) Kazakhstan's president has called for overhauling the Central Asian country's military focusing on the introduction of space technologies Monday. [...]

"Considering Kazakhstan's growing demands for space exploration, it is necessary to accelerate the introduction of space technologies. They are used in modern technical reconnaissance and are applied in almost all military fields, such as communications, administration, navigation and mapping," Nazarbayev said at a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the independent Kazakhstan's Armed Forces.

Although it is doubtful whether or not Kazakhstan will actually be able to get it's forces off world anytime soon (unless Russia gives them a hand), it is good to see smaller nations taking a more active role within the general space race.

Despite the fact that Kazakhstan is taking a military approach, their involvement will hopefully add greater diversity amongst the heavens.

NASA Seeking Alternate Heat Shields?

Despite the treacherous journey up, one of the greatest dangers of space travel involves re-entry, as Columbia unfortunately demonstrated. Now it seems as if NASA is selecting several companies to develop "alternative heat shields" as insurance, just in case the primary ones fail.

(United Press International) NASA has selected The Boeing Co. and the Textron Systems Corp. to develop alternate heat shield materials for the Orion crew exploration spacecraft.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the contracts will support development and testing of three alternative heat shield materials that would be used if there are difficulties with the primary material.

This is probably a wise thing for NASA, as it can ill-afford another space tragedy on its books. Although these alternative heat shields are intended for "general Earth use," this technology could be easily adapted for future Martian missions in the distant future, not to mention Titan as well.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Is Jupiter's Ganymede A Second Earth?

Here lies father Jupiter
An angry, Jovian world
Orbited by his only son,
And three lunar girls.
~Darnell Clayton, 2007

(Image Credit: Windows to the Universe)

With the human race slowly (but surely) reawakening to the possibility of inhabiting other worlds, much of our species focus has been colonizing the surface of both the Moon and Mars.

Although these bodies will provide invaluable lessons to the human race, they may be tens of thousands of years away from becoming suitable homes for our young race, let alone for the rest of animal (and plant) kingdom due to space radiation.

Even though scientists are working on ways to provide shielding against this cosmic terror, unless humanity is able to develop a global magnetic field, any world we attempt to colonize will be at the mercy of the Sun (and other celestial objects).

Despite the fact that terraforming is at least centuries away from perfecting any world, Ganymede may hold the key towards providing a second home for hundreds of millions, if not billions of individuals in the not so distant future.

Unlike any of the 83 terrestrial bodies that orbit Sol (or a parent world), Ganymede is protected by two magnetic fields, one from its Jovian parent and the other hosted upon this icy moon. This dual layer of protection shields the icy moon from not only foreign radiation (via the Sun or beyond) but also domestic (via father Jupiter).

Water, whether in ice or liquid form, is a key ingredient to any future home off world. Fortunately Jupiter's Ganymede is known to harbor water ice in abundance, with hints of an ocean a hundred miles beneath the surface.

With enough water to spare, future colonists will not only be able to use this invaluable resource for the day-to-day affairs of life (such as drinking, watering plants, etc.) but also as a potential energy source, not to mention oxygen as well.

Although Ganymede is not known to posses any major resources such as minerals or metals (at least in abundance), Jupiter's asteroid Trojans and moons may provide the necessary building materials for a future colony.

(Image: Magnetic sail star ship, Credit: NASA)

Despite the distance of these space rocks from Ganymede (not to mention Jupiter itself) any star ship harnessing the power of magnetic sails will find travel to and from the Jovian system relatively easy. By using Jupiter's enormous magnetic field as a boost, magnetic star ships could potentially haul precious minerals towards Ganymede's surface, allowing future inhabitants to construct homes upon this frozen world.

Although well outside of the habitable zone, Ganymede could serve as humanities second home with colonists raising children, crops and animals within shielded biospheres. Colonists would be able to roam the surface of the world without much fear of the Sun's or Jupiter's wrath, with plenty of water resources around for nourishment and energy.

With metallic resources well within reach via magnetic sails, Ganymede may quickly find itself the envy of the solar system for centuries to come, second only to Earth in not only economic importance, but also habitation itself.