Monday, December 24, 2007

Video: Merry Christmas (Plus Carnival Of Space)

The 34th Carnival of the Space Geeks is up over at Rainer Gerhards Spaceflight blog, with a host of interesting articles ranging from Scramjets alternatives to free books about Mars.

There are also some spectacular astronomy images over at Bad Astronomy.

For those of you enjoying your holiday break, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, or Solemn Festivus, which ever you prefer.

I would also like to thank the many readers who spend time reading this little web journal of mine, as well as to the host of others out there who still believe that there is more to space than watching Star Trek, and are willing to share ideas to make this happen.

For your enjoyment, here is a video from the show Firefly, which for those of you who are not Browncoats can enjoy over at for free. Enjoy!

Update: Video size adjusted to fit within post.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gravity Suits For Off World Children

When one gazes upon the heavens that surround our fragile globe, one can not help but wonder what human civilization will look like as future generations dance upon foreign worlds.

With the final frontier ahead of us, our crowded world loses its Earthly appeal and seems to only regain it when viewed from the surface of its little sister Luna.

Unfortunately for our species, our bodies were simply not designed for living abroad, as the sub-Earth gravity has a way at reducing our hearts, bones and muscles into "malleable clay."

Not even our own immune system is not safe from the ravages of micro gravity.

To counter this, some have proposed constructing orbital space stations, while others may be looking at medical science to cure their gravitational woes.

While either of these paths would enable us to dwell among the heavens in some form or fashion, one may be too expensive to replicate across our star system while the other may be riddled with side affects.

Neither of these would allow us to thickly populate our solar system in an efficient manner, forcing our young race to remain near our birth planet.

In order for our species to live, breed and raise children off world, we are going to have to figure out an inexpensive and healthy way to raise our future young on other terrestrial bodies.

So instead of trying to alter our environment (or worse, our bodies) for "Earth norm" gravity, why not simply require future children to wear gravity suits?

Placing weights on the human body is not a new technique, as people have used weights to strengthen their legs as well as for their bodies.

A gravity suit would simply be a weighted suit that would simulate Earthen gravity by having the appropriate kilograms (or pounds) placed within the suit. These weighted suits would strengthen a person's muscles and bones, which would help fight against them suffering atrophy (for adults) and help kids muscles develop normally.

Gravity suits would also present kids born off world with the opportunity to visit Earth without worrying if their bodies could handle the pull from the home worlds gravity.

While other scientific and medical instruments could be added to the suit (for whatever practical reasons), simple weights could enable our species to not only explore other worlds, but live upon them as well.

Toshiba: A Micro Nuclear Reactor?

(Hat Tip: Mars Rover Blog)

With energy becoming the "word of the day" (at least among politicians) many people are taking a fresh look at nuclear power.

Apparently it seems as if one company has found a way to shrink today's nuclear reactors into a more portable size--twenty by six feet to be exact.

(Next Energy News) The 200 kilowatt Toshiba designed reactor is engineered to be fail-safe and totally automatic and will not overheat. Unlike traditional nuclear reactors the new micro reactor uses no control rods to initiate the reaction. The new revolutionary technology uses reservoirs of liquid lithium-6, an isotope that is effective at absorbing neutrons. The Lithium-6 reservoirs are connected to a vertical tube that fits into the reactor core. The whole whole process is self sustaining and can last for up to 40 years, producing electricity for only 5 cents per kilowatt hour, about half the cost of grid energy.

While citizens on Earth may be nervous about having a nuclear reactor near them (despite the fact they are much safer than the non-green alternatives), this could benefit future colonies on both the Moon and Mars.

If NASA were able to transport such a dozen of these to the lunar surface, NASA could find a way to power their bases during the frigid lunar nights, instead of having to rely upon various solar alternatives.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Construction Company Helps NASA With Lunar Lifting

(Image Credit: Universe Today)

As we gaze towards the heavens, and wonder about the future, one often overlooked aspect of space colonization is construction.

Whether we like it or not, we may have to actually build houses on the Moon, as not every lunar colony may be able to inflate its way towards habitation.

One company, called Caterpillar, is seeking to create a remote controlled construction machines to help NASA build bases on lunar soil.

(Universe Today) Caterpillar has proposed a multi-terrain loader for lunar surface development. Currently, they are working with NASA to develop the technology to augment existing earth moving equipment with sensors and on-board processors to provide time-delayed tele-operational control.

The loader would be able to undertake regolith moving such as grading, leveling, trenching, strip-mining, excavating and habitat covering. It also could be used for construction of lunar bases, the deployment or relocation of surface assets, as well as for mobility on the moon.

Caterpillar is working on not only remote operated machines, but also machines able to run independently of their human masters, similar to how the Martian rovers function.

While it is always preferable to have humans in the drivers seat, having our robotic friends prepare the way ahead of us may help to drop the cost of inhabiting Earth's nearest neighbor.

Spacesuits Of The Future...For Today?

(Image Credit: Orbital Outfitters via The Future of Things)

While space suits have to be safe, who says that they have to be boring?

While many companies are in the process of developing unique "solar wear" for future astronauts, it looks as if Orbital Outfitters is concentrating on creating fashionable spacesuits for the emerging space industry.

(The Future of Things) Jeff Feige, CEO of Orbital Outfitters, said his company will soon reveal a model of a passenger spacesuit as well, adding that space travel reservations are quickly piling up. "Our mission is to provide low-cost, industrial quality spacesuits and related services to companies providing commercial and government space travel" – he said. [...]

The spacesuit's inner layer is made from breathable materials, such as polyurethane, which is capable of preserving the atmospheric pressure level and of extracting sweat from the material underneath it. Details in regards to other fabrics that comprise the IS3C have yet to be disclosed. The most important aspects on which the company's engineers focused were safety and mobility. Feige said they have succeeded in developing a relatively light suit with lower production costs than any NASA spacesuit. He added that the spacesuit has been tested and performed well under higher pressures than those used in NASA's suit tests.

The suit also looks spectacular, although if Orbital Outfitters plans on releasing a similar version to space tourists, they may want to consider creating suits in various colors (to help space tourism companies differentiate from each other).

While this suit is probably not designed to handle the roughness of space itself, its success will help fuel the next generation of spacesuits worn by future colonists.

Update: Added image credits.

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (33 Rotations)

Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Fraser of Universe Today.

A few (of the many) articles that stood out included:

Those wishing to join the fun can submit articles for Thursdays round (of the Carnival of Space) to Fraser over at info [at] universetoday [dot] com or CarnivalOfSpace [at] Gmail [dot] com.

Details about what all the fun is all about can be discovered over here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lagrange Way Stations: The Key Towards Interplanetary Trade?

(Image: Deep Space 9, Credit: Star Trek)

Several thousand years ago, an empire called Rome used its extensive road system to keep communication and trade flowing throughout its empire.

Today, like Rome, the nations on Earth depend upon sea routes, railways and airplanes to safely transport goods and people across our planet.

But unlike the fixed destination points that span our busy world, space will pose a unique problem for future colonies. Since each planet orbits our Sol star at different speeds, sending frequent goods towards outposts off world may prove to be a bit of a challenge, especially if one factors in space pirates.

Whether composed of enormous orbital space stations or a fleet of armed star ships, future solar governments may want to construct way stations at various Lagrange points to ensure that they arrive at their destinations intact.

Sometimes referred to by scientists as the "three body problem," would provide stable orbits for whatever star ship was able fly within its space (at least L4 and L5).

Positioned at an equal distance from both the home world/moon as well as the Sun, a Lagrange way station would easily remain in a fixed orbital position giving more opportunity for travelers and cargo ships to transport people and goods across the vacuum of space.

Instead of having to wait every few years for the planets "to align," (like with Earth and Mars), star ships could simply head towards a safe way station located in a Lagrange point.

While creating Lagrange way stations may be a challenge for future colonies within the inner solar system, establishing them among the gas giants orbits will probably be "much easier" thanks in part to various asteroids.

Jovian worlds such as Jupiter and Neptune already have numerous space rocks orbiting, respectively, orbiting within these Lagrange points. Colonists could easily use these asteroids as way stations, especially if some of these frozen rocks are discovered to harbor water ice.

Despite the fact that humanity will continue to depend upon worlds (such as Callisto) to help to economically bridge the gap, way stations strategically positioned around Lagrange points could help jump start interplanetary trade, if not accelerate it throughout our vast star system.

Regenerative Fuel Cells: Power For Lunar Nights?

(Image: Regenerative fuel cell, Credit: NASA)

One of the biggest "show stoppers" against humanity colonizing the Moon is energy. While solar power can easily collect energy from the sun during a "lunar day," its the nights that might quite literally leave us in the dark.

While Germany has developed a unique way to power future off world outposts, it looks as if another scientist may have found a longer lasting method for keeping the lunar lights on.

(Moon Today) A typical hydrogen fuel cell combines hydrogen from a tank and oxygen from the air to produce electricity, leaving water and heat as its only byproducts. A regenerative fuel cell also works in reverse, using electricity to divide the water into hydrogen and oxygen, which are fed back into the fuel cell to produce more electricity.

"What makes our regenerative fuel cell unique is that it's closed loop and completely sealed," Bents said. "Nothing goes in and nothing comes out, other than electrical power and waste heat. The hydrogen, oxygen and product water inside are simply recycled over and over again." [...]

"On the moon, you would start with a tank of water. You'd use the solar arrays to make hydrogen and oxygen during the day, then use the hydrogen and oxygen to make electricity during the night when there's no sun," said Bents. "Ideally, if nothing broke and nothing wore out, it could run forever without being refueled."

According to the article, not only would these fuel cells last much longer than the standard batter, but they could provide four to six times more energy pound for pound.

Coupled with standard solar panels, humanity may not only have enough power to stay warm on that frigid moon, but also be able to develop artificial magnetic fields to protect their homes from the wrath of the sun.

Algeria And Ukraine Teaming Up For Space?

It looks as if another space alliance has formed recently between two aspiring space powers. Ukraine and Algeria have signed an agreement to help promote each others civilian space programs in an already competitive field.

(Space Fellowship) On the 5th of December, 2007 during the official visit of NSAU delegation to Algeria, there was signed a Framework Agreement on cooperation in exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes between the Government of Ukraine and the Government of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria. The Framework agreement was signed on behalf of the NSAU by Director General Yuriy Alekseyev and on behalf of the Algerian Space Agency (ASAL) by Director General Azedin Oussedik.

While this agreement is great for both nations, they should probably attempt to expand it to their neighbors (if they are friendly that is) as launching a rocket towards the heavens is not exactly cheap.

As more and more nations head into space, it will be interesting to see whether these treaties will translate into peaceful cooperation on the Moon, Mars, etc., and not just endure on Earth.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

NASA Plans On Kidnapping Martian Soil

Even though NASA has already sent robots to see if Martian soil is fertile, the space agency still desires to study the red dirt under terrestrial eyes.

(Mars Today) NASA and an international team are developing plans and seeking recommendations to launch the first Mars mission to bring soil samples back to Earth. The ability to study soil from Mars here on Earth will contribute significantly to answering questions about the possibility of life on the Red Planet. Returned samples also will increase understanding of the useful or harmful properties of Martian soil, which will support planning for the eventual human exploration of Mars.

A task force named the International Mars Architecture for Return of Samples, or IMARS, recently met in Washington to lay the foundation for an international collaboration to return samples from Mars. NASA hosted the meeting. IMARS meeting participants included representatives from more than half a dozen countries and NASA, the European Space Agency, or ESA, the Canadian Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Retrieving soil from the red planet could help humanity finally determine whether or not Martian soil is toxic or fertile towards Earthen life.

While Mars has yet to prove itself to be worthwhile financially, future samples would at least help remove the "danger excuse" from colonizing the planet, something the Mars Society would definitely enjoy.

Earth's Magnetic Field: A Shield For Lunar Astronauts?

(Image Credit: NASA)

After a "brief" delay, humanity will once again send a few brave souls to visit the lunar world that orbits our home planet. However if we are going to live upon that barren world, humanity will have to find a way to deal with the cosmic radiation that can bombard the lunar surface.

While scientists have yet to create a portable magnetic field to shield future explorers, they are looking at the possibility of "borrowing Earth's" to protect lunar astronauts.

( Earth is largely protected by its magnetic field, or magnetosphere, but new University of Washington research shows that some parts of the moon also are protected by the magnetosphere for seven days during the 28-day orbit around Earth.

"We found that there were areas of the moon that would be completely protected by the magnetosphere and other areas that are not protected at all," said Erika Harnett, a UW assistant research professor of Earth and space sciences.

While a week of protection is better than nothing, scientists may want to consider landing in and establishing bases within magnetic safe havens on the lunar surface.

Astronauts could then use the "week of protection" to conduct scientific experiments or (even better) explore for potential resources on the moon (such as helium-3).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (32nd Edition)

Last week's Carnival of Space was hosted by Ed Minchau over on Robot Guy.

Posts ranged from raging volcano's on Io to visiting Mars but "never touching it," to even a brief history regarding the fall and (hopeful) rise of the solar sail.

Brian Wang (who recently became a father--congrats!!!) has an interesting roundup of his favorite launch systems, one which may be cheaper than a space elevator.

The next Carnival of Space is coming up in a few days, and if anyone is interested in submitting articles to the next round can visit Universe Today for the details.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Making Space Relevant: It's The Energy Stupid!

Can two walk together, except they be agreed? ~Amos 3:3

During this holiday season, one may find it quite easy to strike up conversations with strangers regarding snow, caroling and which toys to buy for their kids (make sure that they are safe).

One could easily discuss the current war in Iraq, or even politics with their neighbor, as they (like Santa) are stuck on everyone's mind.

But when it comes to talking about the final frontier, you may find people's eyes either glaze over in confusion, or scoff at the idea of wasting billions more in sending people to the moon.

So how do you, the average space enthusiast, engage an audience more interested in Nintendo Wii's than exploring the cosmos?

Answer: You avoid all the excuses to justify human space exploration, and instead convert its reason for existence into "common cents."

If someone were to ask you why humanity should spend a $100 billion to put yet more men on the Moon, you should quickly reply "because its the energy stupid!" (note: you might want to tone this down, but you should get the point).

Instead of explaining the benefits of becoming a space faring species, instead enlighten individuals about the potential energy that lies beyond our atmosphere. One example that could be used is helium-3.

While the vast majority of the public may have never heard of helium-3 (or its potential for energy), many people are very familiar with the word oil, due in part to the rising gas prices.

By simply explaining that one tone of helium-3 is potentially worth 20 million tons of oil, you will not only perk people's interest in space, but you also justify the government spending money for exploring the Moon.

After all, if we do not harvest the Moon for ourselves, we may end up literally paying for it later from Russian hands.

While other examples such as solar power satellites could be cited, by making space relevant energy wise, you may end up converting a "few souls" towards your solar cause.

Note: Due to lack of time images will be inserted later.

Update: Images inserted!

Would You Want To Own (Future) SpaceX Stock?

Elon Musk, founder of Space Exploration Technologies (or SpaceX for short) has indicated that his company may consider going public in two years.

Despite being privately funded by the self made billionaire, SpaceX may acquire some serious cash in the future as Elon seeks to play off his company against rivals--both foreign and domestic.

(Reuters) Musk said he aims to put payloads into space for one-quarter to one-third of what his domestic competitors charge. He said he could beat by one-half the cost of international competitors including China, which he called the biggest potential competitor.

A spokeswoman for the rocket joint venture between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance, did not return a request for comment.

"I think going public might be some time in late 2009 ... something on that order," he said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

Reducing the cost of travel will not only guarantee the profitability of the company (not to mention any future stock), but also help set a precedent throughout the industry.

If SpaceX is able to reduce the cost of "rocket-fare," then humanities chances of leaving the globe en mass will increase slightly, which will hopefully encourage other entrants to do the same.

NASA Rediscovers Cyberspace, Gets A New Look

The boys and girls at NASA have (finally) redesigned their website, giving the agency a flashier presence in the digital world.

( "We're very excited to roll this new version of out for the public," said Brian Dunbar, NASA's internet services manager at Headquarters, Washington. "We've been able to add new functionality to the site, broaden and simplify the navigation to NASA's wide range of content and still keep the features that users liked best about the old design. All together, the new design will make it much easier for users to complete their top tasks." [...]

"This new approach to the NASA home page arose from ongoing feedback from the site's users, which we get continuously through e-mails, customer-satisfaction surveys and traffic statistics," Dunbar added. "The initial concepts and subsequent iterations have been put through three rounds of user testing with external audiences. We're proud of the initial reaction to the new design and the entire NASA Web team looks forward to adding new features and listening closely to user feedback."

NASA's redesign of their site could not have come at a better time, as politicians are already debating whether humans have a role to play among the celestial heavens.

Hopefully NASA will consider adding additional features in the future (such as allowing users to download video's, or embed them on their own sites) although for now NASA officially has the coolest governmental space page online.

Humorous Note: NASA's Brian Dunbar is different from LiftPort's Brian Dunbar.

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Round 31)

Last week Ken of Out of the Cradle hosted the Carnival of Space.

Unfortunately I was unable to submit a post for that round ('tis the season) although I should have a post by the end of today for the upcoming Carnival.

Nonetheless there were a few interesting posts, including one from Clark of Space Transport News in which he highlighted NASA moving up their COTS Phase 2 contract to next year, which may give SpaceX an unfair advantage over the competition.

Also, Brian Wang of Advanced Nanotechnology has an interesting post on how a Vasimr engines plus nuclear "batteries" could shorten a trip to Mars in under 40 days.

Submissions for the next Carnival of Space are due today, and willing participants can email Fraser at info [at] universetoday [dot] com or CarnivalOfSpace [at] Gmail [dot] com to be included into the next round.

More info regarding the Carnival of Space can be found over here.