Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Conquering The Frozen Frontier (Kuiper Belt Objects)

(Image: Size comparison between largest Kuiper Belt Objects, sometimes called Trans-Neptunians, against Earth. Credit: NASA)

Whether it takes 50 years--or five thousand--humanity seems destined to expand beyond their earthen cradle and conquer the solar neighborhood around them.

Our species may in the distant future find ourselves settling on worlds ranging from the burning crust of Mercury, to the desert world of Mars. From conquering our own lunar body towards colonizing other moon worlds such as Ganymede, Callisto and Titan.

We may even venture as far as settling upon Neptune's Triton, but beyond that humanity may see little incentive on settling beyond the classical eight planets (sorry Pluto).

While some may see little value of going beyond the gas giants, they may not realize that the Kuiper Belt, located on the "outer frozen edges" of our solar system may play a vital role for humanity--especially if we become an interstellar species.

Imagine if you will you are traveling on a star ship heading towards Alpha Centauri from the Epsilon Eridani star system. You need to make a pit stop in order to not only pick up a few supplies, but to also power down your craft in order to fix a few engines that keep creating a weird pining sound.

If you were the captain of that interstellar vessel, would you rather take your ship deep inside the Sol star's gravity field, or would it make more sense to dock near a Kuiper Belt object located between 30 and 50 astronomical units away?

Unless a star ship desired to take a tour of the solar system it would probably be wiser if humanity established trade settlements upon these frozen worlds in order to help space craft traveling between the stars refuel (or repair) before heading towards another star system.

Since trade upon a Kuiper Belt Object would probably be sparse at best (considering the enormous distances between nearby stars), their main inhabitants will most likely be astronomers and astrophysicists (with space entrepreneurs probably in the minority).

Located far way from the major worlds that dance around our sun, the Kuiper Belt objects would find little appeal among the vast majority of people, who would probably prefer living upon a world with "some scenery" (i.e. an atmosphere or gas planet in the sky).

This would provide many scientists (such as radio astronomers) with the necessary isolation needed to conduct observations of the universe without great interference from radio noise and light pollution beaming from solar colonies.

Scientists could also conduct experiments that might be considered "too dangerous," to be carried out upon other worlds, with little fear of contaminating everybody else living nearby.

Last but not least Kuiper Belt objects may be of use to military bases in order to ward off future threats. Creating military outposts upon these distant worlds may help establish a perimeter around our star system, which could act as a first line of defense against invasive fleets from another star system (whether they be human, robotic or God-forbid "something else").

While the bulk of humanity will probably reside within the classical eight planets, it may not be surprising to see our species placing our fingerprints upon these frosty worlds in order to spread our presence from the inner system towards its frozen edges.

(Image Credit (second photo): Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks! (51st Edition)

(Image: Neelix the chef of Star Trek Voyager, via Ex Astris Scientia)

The latest, (and perhaps largest) Carnival of Space was hosted by Ian O'Neill over at AstroEngine, who also writes for Universe Today (a site I highly recommend).

As far as the Carnival goes, there were many, many articles which explored topics ranging from our attempts at finding Martian life, whether or not light is slowing down to even why humanity needs to explore space before we exhaust our own resources.

A few articles of interest include:

There are numerous other articles not mentioned here, so be sure to read them all before the next carnival rolls around.

Speaking about the next Carnival of Space, this weeks will celebrate our one year anniversary! Yes, one year of scientists, engineers and space enthusiasts getting together (online that is) to entertain the world on the latest happenings from across the space blogosphere.

So instead of simply reading many of these fine articles online, you may want to consider submitting your post to be included within the next carnival. Details on how to enlist can be found over here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Will Ants Replace Bees As The Solar Insect?

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest."

King Solomon, Proverbs 6:6-8

Bees--whether you love them or hate them are an important insect, contributing an enormous amount to our food supply.

Without them, many of the foods that we eat (and take for granted) would be in scarce supply, which would be devastating for millions of tummies (not to mention agricultural stock holders) around the world.

Like many creatures, bees are dependent upon Earth's magnetic field, which helps them navigate to and from their hive.

Unfortunately for humanity, global magnetic fields are a rarity throughout our solar system, as the only known "rocky" worlds hosting them belong to both Mercury and Jupiter's moon, Ganymede.

Unless humanity is able to create an artificial magnetic field that can cover the entire planet, future off world settlers will become heavily dependent on both Mercury and Ganymede to grow their "daily bread" (not to mention Earth as well).

In order to avoid this scenario, our species will probably have to look towards another creature to help us grow our fruits and flowers--which may mean that humanity may have to rely upon ants to help raise our food supply off world.

While colonists would probably object towards importing fire ants (or even those flesh eating kind), they may want to consider adopting ants as a means of pollinating their flower crops and trees.

Even though they lack "the buzz" of their black and yellow friends, ants nonetheless are known to pollinate flowers.

Since many fruit trees require pollination in order produce a crop, ants may be able to compliment off world outposts since these insects rely upon smell, and not magnetic fields to guide themselves across long distances.

Like their flying "cousins," some ant species are known to breed large colonies, which may make it easier for settlers to export numerous these creatures to other locations without the fear of depleting the original ant colony.

Despite the fact that when comparing apples to apples (note: no pun intended), bees far outstrip their dirt walkers when it comes to pollination (due to their flying ability), scientists may be able to train ants to aggressively pollinate plants grown off world, enabling future colonies to grow their own food supply instead of importing most of it from Earth.

Radiation Belt Study Could Unlock Outer Lunar Worlds

(Image: Illustration of two NASA probes set to explore Earth's radiation belts. Credit: NASA)

Even though there are approximately 83 colony worlds within our solar system, many of these worlds orbit gas giants who unfortunately bathe their lunar children in deadly radiation.

In an attempt to understand these radiation belts, NASA is launching probes in order to gain more information regarding Earth's radiation belt.

(Astrobiology Magazine) NASA will launch two identical probes into the radiation belts to provide unprecedented insight into the physical dynamics of near-Earth space, where violent space weather can affect astronauts, satellites and even ground-based technologies. Data collected by the probes will aid in the development of future space missions beyond Earth orbit. [...]

"The radiation belts were a scientific curiosity when they were discovered 50 years ago by James Van Allen, who was one of the founding members of APL," said Barry Mauk, project scientist for RBSP. "But the belts are becoming very important because we have people and machines operating in them. That region of space is now part of our technology infrastructure. If we can understand the radiation belt environment and its variability, we can apply this knowledge to improve our spacecraft operation and system design, mission planning and astronaut safety."

Understanding these radiation belts could aid in humanity establishing colonies upon Ganymede, Saturn's icy ring moons, and Neptune's Triton, who orbit within their respective planets radiation belts.

While future settlers would probably have to live within Aquarium homes (guarded by magnetic shields), this research could teach us how to survive upon these rugged spheres instead of limiting ourselves to living upon radiation safe worlds.

SpaceX Adds NASA As A Future Client

SpaceX, an emerging space corporation that is slowly (but surely) winning over NASA's affection has been awarded a contract by the space agency in order to transport cargo into orbit.

(NASA Press Release) NASA has awarded Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, a NASA Launch Services contract for the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles. [...]

The contract is an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract where NASA may order launch services through June 30, 2010, for launches to occur through December 2012. Under the NASA Launch Services IDIQ contracts, the potential total contract value is between $20,000 and $1 billion, depending on the number of missions awarded.

The contract seeks a launch capability for payloads weighing 551 pounds or heavier into a circular orbit of 124 miles at an orbital inclination of 28.5 degrees. Payloads would be launched to support three NASA mission directorates: Science, Space Operations and Exploration Systems.

Despite the fact that this deals mainly with cargo, SpaceX is one of the few companies attempting at lowering the cost of launching humans and objects into space, thereby making it easier for corporations to enter into space.

If successful, Elon Musk (the CEO of SpaceX) may be able to help humanity not only reach the Moon, but Mars as well.

(Image Credit: SpaceX)

Video: Earthrise In HD

(Hat Tip: Moon Today)

To some people, space is a boring location, lacking beaches, liquid water and forests that often make Earth an ideal place to live.

But as Japan's SELENE satellite goes to show, its the view that attracts people to the cosmos (something FedEx admitted last year).

Note: Click on the image above to watch.

NASA To Enter The World Of Gaming?

(Hat Tip:, Image Credit: Avatar Reality)

Often known for being "disconnected" and irrelevant towards today's generation, NASA is adjusting its strategy by asking developers to create an education space themed video game.

(NASA) NASA Learning Technologies sponsored a workshop today to present its concept of delivering NASA content through a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) educational game to interested development partners. Designed to enhance learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), such an online educational game would draw players into a synthetic environment that can serve as a powerful "hands-on" tool for teaching a range of complex subjects.

"NASA will continue to pursue innovative strategies to encourage students to improve their interest and performance in STEM and related careers," said Dr. Joyce Winterton, NASA assistant administrator for education. "The use of online educational games can capture student interest in NASA's missions and science."

The daylong workshop provided more than 200 potential development partners the opportunity to learn directly from NASA officials about the vision, goals, and expectations for the development of an MMO educational game. Participants heard top NASA scientists and education officials talk about NASA's future plans for space exploration and how the agency is planning to leverage the game to enhance education efforts across the country.

While better late than never, this move could help spark some interest into the space program, although there is no word whether or not these educational video games will be allowed to include violence (not to mention aliens, warp travel, etc.).

Previously NASA has launched efforts to show the public how space has impacted society, although they may want to contact Avatar Reality who is creating a video game based on a terraformed Mars.

Monday, April 21, 2008

NASA Considering Six Month Lunar Missions

(Hat Tip: Universe Today)

Despite the fact that Moon is only three days away by rockets, NASA may be pondering about whether or not to establish a "long term" presence on the Moon via 6 month lunar missions.

( The US space agency hopes to build moon bases that can house astronauts for stays of up to six months, with an intricate transportation and power system, Carl Walz, director of NASA's Advanced Capabilities Division, said Friday.

NASA is examining different designs for lunar outposts but that they could be inspired by the orbiting International Space Station (ISS), he said.

"We need to establish a long, extended presence on the moon, up to six months -- same as the time we spend at ISS," Walz, a veteran astronaut, told AFP during a forum on the future of NASA at the University of Miami.

"I would anticipate that we would build something similar as what we are building for the ISS, but maybe something different," he said.

Whether NASA pursues using inflatable space bases or nomadic ones, a six month stay on the Moon could ultimately open up the door for Mars 30 years from now.

While NASA's means of accomplishing this lunar goal may be subject to debate (hat tip: Space Transport News), at least the agency is at least heading in the right direction (as exploring these worlds in person is better than glimpsing at them from afar).

Not Good: Living On The Moon, It's Electric

With threats from radiation, lunar dust and politics, one wonders whether or not Earth's little sister is daring us to even attempt to visit her off white world, let alone conquer it.

While scientists are working on ways to thwart radiation and counter lunar dust (not to mention voting for pro-space politicians), they may have to find another solution regarding the Moon's love for "static electricity."

( This new finding, announced this week by NASA, is important to future lunar explorers: Astronauts may find themselves "crackling with electricity like a sock pulled out of a hot dryer," according to an agency statement. [...]

Our entire planet is enveloped in a bubble of magnetism generated by the rotating core. The solar wind, a stream of charged particles, pushes the bubble away from the sun and creates a long tail of magnetized material downstream.

"Earth's magnetotail extends well beyond the orbit of the moon and, once a month [at full moon] the moon orbits through it," said Tim Stubbs, a University of Maryland scientist working at the Goddard Space Flight Center. "This can have consequences ranging from lunar 'dust storms' to electrostatic discharges."

Probably the easiest way to deal with this challenge is to somehow find a way to turn the lunar static into energy, which may be much more useful than either solar or nuclear power.

Hopefully a future scientists/engineer will find some way of accomplishing this, as the last thing we need is "fried astronaut" served up lunar side via an electrical charge.

Can Plants Survive In Lunar Soil?

(Image: The marigold plants in the first two pots on the left were grown with bacteria, while the third was not. The soil was made to mimic that on the lunar surface. Credit: N Kozyrovska / I Zaetz, via BBC)

While for most plants, the answer to this is probably a "resounding no," it looks as if one species may be able to brave the harsh lunar environment.

(BBC News) An Esa-linked team has shown that marigolds can grow in crushed rock very like the lunar surface, with no need for plant food. [...]

A team led by Natasha Kozyrovska and Iryna Zaetz from the National Academy of Sciences in Kiev planted marigolds in crushed anorthosite, a type of rock found on Earth which is very similar to much of the lunar surface.

In neat anorthosite, the plants fared very badly. But adding different types of bacteria made them thrive; the bacteria appeared to draw elements from the rock that the plants needed, such as potassium.

While marigolds may help make future space environments prettier, it will not "fill the tummies" of future colonists.

However if scientists can find a way to duplicate "this success" with other plants (perhaps in combination with certain bacteria), we may be able to establish permanent outposts on not only the Moon, but Mars as well.

Note: Also check out Ken Murphy's article about lunar gardens, who briefly explores perfecting lunar soil and exporting it to Martian colonies.

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Over The Hill At 50)

Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Wayne Hall over at the KentuckySat Blog (note: yes, Kentucky has officially caught space fever).

Numerous articles featured topics ranging from dark matter, to why Pluto is not a planet, to even how common intelligent life may be throughout our galaxy (if not the universe itself).

Some very interesting articles that may be of interest to readers here include:

While reading these articles like these can help "wet the tongue" when it comes to space exploration, submitting an article to the Carnival of Space is even better as it helps to not only keep everyone informed, but also expand our view of conquering our "little" Universe.

If you are interested in submitting your article for the upcoming Carnival of Space, then head over towards Universe Today for more details.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Neptune's Triton: Is It Worth Billions, Or Trillions?

Of the many worlds that dance around Sun or their paternal planet, Neptune's Triton is probably not a world that tickles one's imagination when envisioning space colonization.

The planetary system is barely shown in films, and even less is probably written about the moon in science fiction stories.

But while moon may be ignored as scientists chase after Mars and Titan, Neptune's Triton may in the distant future become a prime location at the edge of our solar system.

Although often known for its retrograde orbit (an unusual trait for a world this size), Triton boasts a tiny atmosphere and is located approximately 350,000 km from its blue parent.

While the small world does have some water upon its surface, it lacks any known resources that would make it an attractive target (although its nitrogen geysers would probably spark some tourism).

Despite the fact that the moon lacks a "monetary interest," it may attract settlers seeking to harvest helium-3 from Neptune's atmosphere.

Even though orbital stations will probably be constructed above Neptune's atmosphere in order to harvest its helium (similar to the ones seen in Star Wars), colonists may prefer to have their families raised upon Triton's surface, lest they see their loved ones accidentally descend into "the blue abyss" of Neptune's clouds.

While Neptune's helium-3 may make the system attractive, the Lagrange asteroids sharing the planet's orbit could "seal the deal" for establishing cities on that cold, frozen world.

Despite the dangers of mining asteroids, Neptunian colonists could use resources mined from these numerous floating space rocks to not only build up their tiny frozen world, but their economy as well.

Despite the fact that future colonists will probably have to live within aquarium homes (due to radiation) and wear gravity suits, settlers living upon Triton will probably find life to be fairly comfortable (at least financially), despite the fact that they are over 4.5 billion km from humanities Earthen homeworld.

(Image Credits: NASA)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lunar Revelation Via Japanese Maps

(Image: Detailed map of the moon, Credit: JAXA)

While NASA and other space agencies are busy planning on how to land people on the moon, Japan is busy mapping the lunar in extreme detail using its SELENE satellite (which is currently orbiting the Moon).

(Universe Today) The Japanese SELENE lunar orbiter has returned some of the most detailed maps of the Moon to date. The new collection of high-definition maps includes topological data and mineral location. Critically, the locations of uranium, thorium and potassium have been mapped, essential for mission planners when considering the future of manned settlements on the Moon. Seeing the lunar relief mapped to such fine detail makes for an impressive sight. So far six million data points have been collected and there's more to come. [...]

According to the JAXA press release, these new maps are ten-times more accurate than previous maps. Using the laser altimeter (LALT) instrument, 3D data of the shapes and altitudes of surface features are promising to give the most advanced relief mapping capabilities ever performed on a planetary body other than the Earth.

Hopefully more uranium will be discovered, as it would allow colonists to construct settlements virtually anywhere upon the moon's surface without the need for heavy dependence upon regenerative fuel cells or solar power.

Energy aside, these maps would also help future colonists determine which would be the best locations for settlement, not to mention whether or not building a railroad would be practical upon that dusty world.

While Japan has yet to launch any humans into space, they may be able to barter with NASA for a future trip, especially if they locate any more valuable resources (such as helium-3).

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (49)

(Image Credit: JPL / NASA)

Last week Will Gater hosted the Carnival of Space, which features articles ranging from black holes to answering kids questions on what is the biggest star in the universe.

Some interesting posts that caught my eye included:

The upcoming Carnival of Space is approaching the big "5-0," so if there are any lurkers out there desiring to express their point of view regarding the cosmos, you might want to consider joining the next Carnival of Space.

Details on how to enter can be seen over here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Video: Did Benson Space Go Kaputt?

(Hat Tip: Personal Spaceflight)

It looks as if one of the three "major" competitors for the suborbital flights has recently disappeared--at least from cyberspace.

Benson Space, who was pursuing development of the Dream Chaser seems to have either allowed its domain to fall into the hands of Rockets Away! Media (which is a good thing compared to a spammer) or has decided to currently lay down its pursuit of a suborbital vehicle, even after redesigning the shuttle craft (hat tip: RLV Transport News).

While the Dream Chaser continues to live on in its original form over at SpaceDev, the disappearance of its younger sibling Benson Space Company may not be an encouraging sign to investors looking into the space industry.

(Video: Dream Chaser (first design) promo demonstrating how the shuttle would ferry tourists from Earth to space. Redesign of craft can be seen in video format over here).

New Drug May Help Counter Muscle Loss From Micro Gravity

(Hat Tip: RLV Transport News)

In order to counter the side effects of micro gravity, scientists (and engineers) are going to have to come up with creative ways to maintain body strength, especially if a future space traveler wants to set foot upon another world.

While settlers living on planets (and large moons) could easily wear gravity suits in order to ensure that they make it back to Earth, space travelers may have to settle for medication to ease their atrophy woes.

(Science Daily) Taking daily recommended dosages of ibuprofen and acetaminophen caused a substantially greater increase over placebo in the amount of quadriceps muscle mass and muscle strength gained during three months of regular weight lifting, in a study by physiologists at the Human Performance Laboratory, Ball State University. [...]

Over three months, says Dr. Trappe, the chronic consumption of ibuprofen or acetaminophen during resistance training appears to have induced intramuscular changes that enhance the metabolic response to resistance exercise, allowing the body to add substantially more new protein to muscle.

Doctors are already working on ways to counter bone loss, which may be good news for future explorers intending upon making long voyages in order to reach distant planets.

While an orbital space station (Bigelow style) would probably be a wiser route to take, this new drug may be helpful towards future colonists prefering to live upon "gravity-lite" star ships and asteroids.

Google X-Prize: LunaTrex "Secures" Creative Funding

It looks as if one of the contestants in the Google Lunar X-Prize has found a unique way of securing funding in order to win the $30 million prize.

(LunaTrex X-Prize Blog) Team LunaTrex has a few companies in its membership that are profitable and that also have profit-generating products that relate to aerospace. One such company, AirBuoyant, is coming out with what could be considered a precursor to the "flying car", called VertiPod. VertiPod will have 2 models, the VP1 ultralight one-person craft, and the VP-2, two-person craft. Both will be in production this summer, and will be featured at Oshkosh AirVenture in Wisconsin.

AirBuoyant has made the commitment to direct all profits from the sales of VertiPods to Team LunaTrex's GLXP pursuit, until that effort is fully funded. This could represent millions of dollars per year, and additionally, provides a bridge to the aerospace industry for many with an experiential product like VertiPod. While the site is still under construction, you can keep tabs on VertiPod's progress at

While flying cars may be a more speculative industry, it is good to see more established players in the market backing smaller space firms whose goals may not yield a profit financially (at least immediately).

After all, if companies like Microsoft backed projects such as solar sails and space elevators, they would probably find themselves with a more favorable spotlight in the public (especially if one of these space firms actually succeeded).

Carnival Of The Space Geeks! (48 And Going Great!)

Brian Wang of Next Big Future graciously hosted the 48th Carnival of Space, with some interesting articles ranging from updates about our favorite Martian rover, potential for worlds orbiting red dwarf stars at harboring life, and why Martian lovers should consider moving towards Arizona.

A few interesting articles included:

  • Clark Lindsey of RLV Transport News highlighting how a small private space firm called Survey Satellite Technology was able to out perform its larger rivals with launching a satellite on time and within budget.

    This should help encourage minor space firms that they can compete in "the big leagues" (against major players).

  • Stuart Atkinson of Cumbrian Sky ponders what Phoenix will see once it lands on the red planet. Hopefully it will be able to determine whether or not Martian soil is friendly or hostile towards Earthen life forms.

  • AstroProf expresses thoughts over the radiation issue regarding space, something either NASA (or NewSpace) needs to seriously resolve or we, as a species will only be able to glimpse at other worlds from afar (instead of settling them).

Thanks for reading! This weeks space carnival is going to be hosted by Henry Cate (over at A Pondering Heart), who actually helped kick start this whole Blog Carnival, not to mention actually attended the Space Access event last week. Update (4/13): Henry Cate will be hosting the 50th Carnival of Space, not the 49th. Sorry for the confusion!

For those interested in joining our ranks (instead of observing from the sidelines), you can visit Universe Today for more information.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Video: Nomadic Space Bases Via Giant Robots?

(Image: NASA's ATHLETE robot, Credit: NASA / JPL, via New Scientist Space)

If humanities overall goal is to eventually settle upon other worlds, we first have to locate ideal spots to establish a home.

This is probably easier said than done, as many engineers would prefer future space bases to be located near potential energy sources (i.e. in continuous sunlight), while many scientists would prefer them next to interesting features (such as craters, mountains, etc.).

But instead of arguing out where our species should establish its first permanent base, why not opt for nomadic ones via our mechanical friends?

(New Scientist Space) NASA engineers are testing out a giant, six-legged robot that could pick up and move a future Moon base thousands of kilometres across the lunar surface, allowing astronauts to explore much more than just the area around their landing site. [...]

But a gargantuan robotic vehicle called ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) could change that. Measuring about 7.5 metres wide, with legs more than 6 metres long, the robot could act essentially like a turtle, carrying the astronauts' living quarters around on its back.

Using giant robots to transport space bases may prove to be a better alternative than their stationary friends as the robots could move the base out of harms way from an upcoming solar storm as well as help shelter the base during a Martian globacane.

These mechanical insect giants could also solve the "energy dilemma," by constantly moving within the Sun's rays on the Moon (assuming that they would be solar powered of course).

(Videos: ATHLETE robot demonstrating its ability at carrying potential space bases, drilling holes, and traveling over terrain, Credit: NASA / JPL, via New Scientist Space).

Saturn's Titan: A GPS Nightmare

(Image Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona)

When camping outside in an unfamiliar wilderness, two essential tools one needs to consider packing are a map, and a compass. While the former is wise so one knows the overall layout of an area, the latter can help you determine which direction the final destination lies.

Aside from Mercury, Earth and Ganymede, most worlds lack a global magnetic field, which means future colonists will have to rely upon a mini GPS system in order to navigate off world.

While a GPS system may sound like a "no brainer" solution for most worlds orbiting our Sol star, it may present a problem for Saturn's methane moon, Titan.

(Planetary News) Since the acquisition of the first SAR swath across Titan in October, 2005, there have been 19 regions on Titan that have been imaged more than once by the RADAR instrument. When the RADAR team assumed that Titan's rotation was synchronous -- that is, that it rotates precisely once with each orbit around Saturn -- features seen during one flyby were observably offset when imaged during another flyby, by as much as 30 kilometers (19 miles). [...]

The measured offset of the surface features, relative to the prediction for synchronous rotation, means that, over the time period measured in the Cassini data (October 2005 to May 2007), Titan's surface was shifting by 0.36 degrees per year. For there to be this rapid of a shift in the position of Titan's surface requires the surface to be able to move freely about the rest of the moon, sliding around atop a liquid interior ocean.

Believe it (or not), Titan's surface is actually being shifted by the moon's winds, which may affect how fast the world spins, not to mention which side faces Saturn.

If humanity ever settles upon that cloaked moon, they are going to have to figure out a way to pin point positions accurately, lest ships miss drop supplies (and colonists) all over Titan's hazy surface.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Future Martians May Have To Be Mountain Climbers

(Image Credit: NASA)

Hosting the solar system's largest "mountains" and canyons, Mars is home to an array of geological features that would put Earth (or any other solar body) to shame.

While driving an "over sized golf cart" upon rusty soils will be fun, in order to understand the crimson world's past, future Martians may have to figure out a way of navigating up the side of a rusty Martian cliff.

(SpaceRef) Initial human missions to Mars will be a precious commodity wherein a maximum amount of information is gathered by each crew. As was the case during innumerable terrestrial missions of exploration, the Martian terrain that visiting crews must traverse in order to gain an understanding will often be difficult. This is accentuated by the fact that Mars is a world of geology - one whose surface area is equal to dry surface on Earth. Human crews will be called upon to use a variety of skills and tools to traverse the Martian surface - including those often associated with hiking, mountaineering and technical climbing. While rovers and other mechanical devices will be employed, it should be assumed that skills commonly associated with rock climbing, caving, and mountaineering on Earth will also be required.

The article by Keith Cowing goes into greater detail of what future Martians will need to survive on that world, which may require a whole new space suit design (note: this is something Louise Riofrio may be able to assist with).

While mountain climbing on Mars will challenge even the most fit person on Earth, it may be rewarding experience for any future colonists--especially when one is able to reach the summit at the top.

Could Space Radiation Keep Humanity Earth Bound?

From Earth's vantage point, the heavens at night can inspire a sense of awe and wonder--not to mention stir our curiosity as to what lies "beyond the black."

But despite the appearance of serenity among the stars, an invisible killer lurks between the worlds that could threaten our voyage across the gulf of space, a danger NASA and others are attempting to address.

( Astronauts have long seen white flashes while in space due to cosmic rays, or extremely high-energy particles, passing through their heads. A return to the moon or a mission to Mars that NASA and other space agencies are planning would place astronauts at continued risk from cosmic rays or dangerous bursts of solar radiation. [...]

When it comes to shielding astronauts from radiation, spacecraft designers and mission planners have to consider trading off a safe amount of protective material — say, high density plastic — with cutting weight in order to enter space practically. Crafts that are too heavy simply can't carry enough fuel to make flight practical. Further research could not only look into better shielding materials, but also spacecraft designs that put electronics and machinery in the periphery between astronauts and harm's way.

While providing basic shielding within the spacecraft is important, NASA should probably try to focus on creating magnetic energy shields as it may be cheaper than "hauling lead" beyond the sky.

Since creating these fields would obviously consume a lot of energy, engineers could design the magnetic shields to only activate when the spacecraft (or a nearby probe) senses an increasing spike in radiation (a device scientists are already working on).

If humanity can solve the radiation issue, then settling on Mars (and beyond) will become a little easier for our rowdy planet.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Video: Google And Virgin Partner For Martian Colony

After realizing that going to the Moon was not their cup of tea, the Mountain View giant has decided to partner up with Virgin Galactic to launch the first Martian colony funded by corporate dollars instead of governmental taxes.

(Google Press Release) "Some people are calling Virgle an 'interplanetary Noah's Ark,'" said Virgin Group President and Founder Sir Richard Branson, who conceived the new venture. "I'm one of them. It's a potentially remarkable business, but more than that, it's a glorious adventure. For me, Virgle evokes the spirit of explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo, who set sail looking for the New World. I do hope we'll be a bit more efficient about actually finding it, though." [...]

"Virgle is the ultimate application of a principle we've always believed at Google: that you can do well by doing good," said Google co-founder Larry Page, who plans to share leadership of the new Martian civilization with Branson and Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

"We feel that ensuring the survival of the human race by helping it colonize a new planet is both a moral good in and of itself and also the most likely method of ensuring the survival of our best – okay, fine, only -- base of web search volume and advertising inventory," Page added. "So, you know, it's, like, win-win."

The plan calls for terraforming the planet within a 100 years, using the newly improved Virgle One spaceship to transport citizens willing to brave the dangers of Martian weather, radiation and wildlife in order to settle the red planet (via the Open Source Planet).

Despite the fact that experts have pointed out that terraforming Mars may be a bad idea, Sergey Brin has decided to lead the charge and is asking humans with Earthen citizenship to join him in his quest to conquer the crimson planet.

Sergey Brin is asking interested users to not only fill out the necessary forms online, but to also submit a video proving why they should be one of the lucky few to join him and several hundred pigs on the surface of another world.

Note: While Brin works out getting the permits for establishing a Martian colony, Larry Page is working on the Jupiter mission which involves settling the moons Ganymede and Callisto in the hopes of expanding Virgle's empire across the solar system.

In other related news, Microsoft has decided to partner with the Saturn Corporation (a division of General Motors) to colonize Titan in the hopes that its methane lakes will help ease the energy crisis on our home world.

Microsoft hopes this initiative will help ease public tension after the software giant imprisoned Yahoo! employees on Mercury after they resisted its attempts at taking over the company.

Note: Microsoft and Google are still suing each other in court over the right to colonize the dwarf planet Ceres, which they believe holds the key towards settling Mars.