Wednesday, July 30, 2008

McCain For Human Space Exploration, Obama Not So Much

With the upcoming November elections in the United States, both John McCain and Barack Obama are cementing their positions regarding various subjects--including the Vision for Space Exploration.

(Orlando Sentinel) U.S. Sen. John McCain took one small step -- but not a giant leap -- toward outlining his NASA policy today by announcing his support for the agency's moon-Mars program in a release that commended NASA on its 50th birthday.

"As President, I will act to make ensure our astronauts will continue to explore space, and not just by hitching a ride with someone else. I intend to make sure that the NASA constellation program has the resources it needs so that we can begin a new era of human space exploration," said the Republican presidential candidate in a statement. The impact was perhaps diminished somewhat by the statement's failure to capitalize "Constellation."

Meant to replace the space shuttle, set to retire in 2010, the Constellation program aims to send astronauts to the Moon, and eventually Mars, aboard a series of new rockets and capsules.

John McCain has previously stated his interest in sending a man to Mars, while Barack Obama has largly "danced around the issue," supporting robotic exploration but speaking nothing about landing people on other worlds.

(Orlando Sentinel) None of them included manned missions to the moon or Mars –- pillars of NASA’s current exploration agenda. Patti Grace Smith, former Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation with the Federal Aviation Administration, said Obama instead was focused on:

1. Closing the gap between the shuttle and its replacement.

2. Completing the International Space Station.

3. Using NASA to monitor climate change.

4. Supporting scientific research

5. Keeping weapons out of space

You can hear her presentation here, about 20 minutes into the panel discussion (first video). After this posting, the Obama campaign forwarded an e-mail from Patti Grace Smith, which notes she was "summarizing points that were already released as part of Obama's plan" and that she is not a representative for Obama, just an "early Obama supporter and fundraiser."

Even though neither campaign has expressed a desire to fully fund NASA (which would actually allow them to accomplish these visionary goals), McCain has at least shown an interest in expanding our civilization beyond our homeworld, instead of viewing the solar system through the lenses and instruments of robots.

While the space community needs to work with both parties in order to ensure that space exploration does not become a partisan issue, they should be more than willing to vote against candidates content to keeping the human race Earth bound.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Martian Desalination Factories: Providing Clean Water And Iron?

Whether or not Mars held oceans on its surface in the past, one thing is clear--there is a lot of water on the red planet. Despite most of it being frozen, future astronauts will probably have to filter the Martian water in order to be able to drink it safely.

Even though Mars has an abundance of water (not to mention soil that may be able to grow Asparagus), the planet lacks major known resources of any kind--especially in the "metal department."

While some may suggest future colonists scour the crimson world in search of resources (or import them from the asteroid belt), it may be better for future settlers to simply collect from the water they filtrate via desalination factories.

(Globes Online) A study by "Globes" found that that the Ashkelon desalination plant, produces 6,500 cubic meters of fresh water a day, and discharges iron into the Mediterranean as a byproduct. The 100-million cubit meter a year plant is owned by the VID consortium, VID is consortium of IDE Technologies Ltd. and Veolia Water SA. [...]

During the reverse osmosis desalination process, the facility removes iron from the seawater before it its pushed through the desalination membranes that produce fresh water. Ministry of Environmental Protection officials from the Coastal and Marine Division told "Globes" that they were unaware that the Ashkelon facility discharges this iron into the sea, in the form of "red water", and that they were taken by surprise when they learned about it.
Although Israel's desalination plants (or factories) will have to be improved in order to reduce (or hopefully eliminate) the iron being fed back into the oceans, these factories may have stumbled upon a unique way for future colonists to extract metals from Martian water.

Since Mars has plenty of rust within its soil, there is a good chance that a large percentage of that has mixed in with its water. While this is no guarantee that humanity would be able to turn "rust into iron," these desalination factories might be able to extract some iron from the crimson planet's "water supply."

(Image Credit: House Renovation Tips)

Google Celebrates NASA At 50

For those of you who daily use the search engine giant, Google has decided to join in the "festivities" by temporarily redesigning their logo in order to honor the space program.

On July 29th, 1958, NASA came into being in a direct response to the USSR's launch of Sputnik. Eleven years later NASA was able to land a man on the Moon, which helped spark our young species quest to ultimately colonize our solar system (and beyond).

While the agency has had its ups and downs, its successes and failures, one thing still holds true regarding NASA--no one has come even close to achieving what this agency has (as far as sending humans and robots to scour our solar system goes).

So happy birthday NASA! Here's to 50 more years of success, and hopefully you will be celebrating your 100th birthday on another world.

Carnival Of The Space Geeks! (63 And 64)

Note: Since I missed the Carnival of space from two weeks ago (hosted by Jon Voisey over at the Angry Astronomer), here is a brief recap below.


Articles from the 63rd Carnival of space ranged from the hazards of retrieving Martian soil, to colonizing other star systems, to some potential sad news regarding Centauri A (which is a little over four light years away from Earth).

Here are a few stories readers may be interesed in.

Those were just a few of the many interesting articles from the Carnival of space two weeks ago, so be sure to read them all (if you have the time).


Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Bruce of Music of the Spheres! Articles mentioned there ranged from how to weigh a black hole to stunning images of the Moon (courtesy of Japan's lunar satellite) as well as to why our Sun is classified as a "dwarf" star.

A few articles of interest include:

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the rest of the Carnival of Space over at Music of the Spheres!

For those of you desiring to submit your article to the next Carnival, please visit Universe Today for more details on how to enter.

(Image Credit: NASA)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

More Radiation Safe Worlds (Around Saturn)

(Image: Saturn's radiation belts, Credit: NASA / JPL / APL)

Despite the fact that planetary magnetic fields provide shelter against deadly solar radiation, they are also accompanied with radiation belts, an item some would consider a mixed blessing.

While Earth, Callisto and Titan comprise the three major radiation safe worlds (at least when it comes to raising kids), two other icy worlds--Dione and Rhea--join the list as they orbit beyond Saturn's radiation belts (and within its magnetic field).

Hopefully as technology improves (especially when it comes to building radiation resistant habitats), Saturn's other icy worlds will be safe enough for future colonists to establish outposts upon--without the fear of contracting cancer due to radiation exposure.

Although most of Saturn's residents will probably raise their kids upon Titan (because of its higher gravity), Dione and Rhea will probably attract a significant population due to its access to view the stars above (not to mention Saturn as well).

Update (7/21): Fixed excel sheet embedding code.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Welcome To Venus (Your Interplanetary Way Station)

(Inspired by Nancy Atkinson of Universe Today)

Venus, a world shrouded in dense clouds of sulfuric acid holds little promise of ever hosting future settlers.

Once thought to harbor a dense jungle underneath its "steamy atmosphere," Venus is now known to be an inhospitable world due to its crushing atmosphere and deadly climate.

Even though living upon the planet may be impossible (if not impractical), Venus may have a significant purpose for future space travelers beyond using the barren world as a convenient garbage dump.

Orbiting the sun at approximately 108 million kilometers, a space station orbiting Venus would have the opportunity to help resupply traveling shuttles, rocket ships, etc., braving the vaccum of space.

This would help not only cut down the cost of traveling to Mercury, but time as well (since spacecraft could always use the planet as a sling shot towards Mercury or Earth).

Since these future space stations would probably serve as interplanetary rest stops, they would probably have to be built with artificial gravity in mind, lest colonists suffer the side effects of micro gravity.

While Venus will unlikely boast a large population when compared to Mars, Ganymede and Callisto, its economy may rival that of its more "fertile" siblings orbiting the Sun.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Will ARCA Become The Lunar FedEx Of The Future? (GLXP)

Last year, FedEx launched a humerous Superbowl commercial, joking about how the company was willing to service businesses located anywhere--even on the Moon.

Even though FedEx currently has no plans to service companies located off world, about 14 teams are determined to send their little robots across the lunar surface in order to claim the multimillion dollar prize offered by Google.

While many of the teams hope to secure the "purse prize," in the hopes of attracting future investments (not to mention media attention), one contestant from Romania may find itself in a lucrative position of helping to send small packages inexpensively towards the lunar surface.

Although the Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association's (or ARCA) unique balloon-rocket-lander system will give them an advantage over the other teams competing in the Google Lunar X-Prize, it may also provide them with an opportunity to license their technology to packaging transportation services such as UPS, DHL and even FedEx.

After all, if NASA is going to establish lunar bases (not to mention China and Japan), then these companies may be interested in positioning themselves as the primary carrier for delivering Lunar packages.

(Image Credit: ARCA)

Space Water: Using Algae, Bacteria To Warn If Drinking Is Dangerous

(Hat Tip: IsraGood, Twice, Image Credit: Nicky At Bar Ilan University)

Even though humanity is blessed with an abundance of water stretching from our Earthen homeworld to the frigid edges of our solar system, most of it is probably not safe enough to drink without some heavy filtering.

Since most of the water mined will probably be used to quench thirsty plants and trees, it may be wise to simply test the water samples for safety using bacteria and algae (in order to reduce cost).

(Israel 21st Century) Luminescent bacteria glow at night on the beaches in Costa Rica and the Mediterranean Sea. Now an Israeli start-up has developed a novel and economical solution that uses these unusual micro organisms to help keep drinking water clean and safe. [...]

When the bacteria are placed in drinking water that contains harmful chemicals, they glow a warning signal, which can be read by a machine measuring light intensity. [...]

"We can go out to the water source and test on the spot. You will know in 15 minutes - the time it takes for the bacteria and sensors to respond to any number of contaminants in the water. Our system detects them at low concentrations, and very quickly," she explains.

This nifty technique from CheckLight could help future colonists tell whether water is healthy enough for their space crops, as well as for their families to drink.

While these microscopic "friends" would be useful in helping us identify whether space water is safe to consume, scientists may be able to use algae to help them determine what exactly is contaminating their H2O.

(Israel 21st CenturyThe groundbreaking development by scientists at Bar Ilan University's Faculty of Life Sciences is based on measurements of the level of photosynthesis in aquatic plants and uses a special aquatic microphone to pick up sound waves. [...]

The researchers radiate a green laser beam on the aquatic plant. A plant that hasn't realized its full photosynthesis potential will use part of the laser light, converting it into energy, with the rest being converted into heat. This heat causes the water to expand and therefore produce a change in pressure, which is actually a sound wave that can be picked up by a hydrophone - a special microphone designed for the water. [...]

A plant suffering from lead poisoning, discharged as waste into water sources from battery and paint manufacturing plants, will produce a different resonance to that of a plant suffering from lack of iron, or to that of a healthy plant. 

Even though a few species of algae can already be used to help create bio-fuel (which will be useful for human powered rovers), future colonists may want to consider giving these slimy creatures a "second job," as they could help us find ways to purify any toxins in the contaminated water (instead of just simply disposing the water).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (62)

Now that all of the iPhone hype has died down (note: okay, so it's just beginning--after all, its the only phone that can turn you into a Jedi master!), its time to review this week's Carnival of Space, hosted by Dave Mosher upon the Space Disco.

Posts ranged from observations regarding the "state of space" to ponderings about the shuttle's retirement to even some good news regarding fusion power.

Two articles that did catch this authors eye include:

  • David Portree of Altair VI post regarding NASA's previous plans of using blimps on Titan. Since mapping the moon via satellite will be hard due to Titan's "floating crust," it may be wise to pin down these land marks ahead of time.

  • Marc G. Millis guest posting on Centauri Dreams mentions the Tau Zero Foundation, an organization attempting to help support interstellar technology (which would indirectly enable humanity to swiftly travel between our own planets).

Thanks for reading, and for those of you desiring to submit your article to the next upcoming Carnival of Space, you can visit Universe Today for more details.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Spaceport America Revamps Website

(Hat Tip: Space Transport News)

Despite the fact that other spaceports exist in the United States (such as Oklahoma, Virginia and of course, Florida), Spaceport America has captured the media's attention, with thanks in part to Virgin Galactic's ability to market itself to "the masses."

Now it looks as if Spaceport America has taken some of Virgin Galactic's "flare," as they have revamped their website in order to make it more attractive.

(Video: A brief tour through what the upcoming Spaceport America will look like. Credit: Spaceport America)

The revamped Spaceport America site hosts many features, including a press release section (for the media) and a weblog (for the geeks).

The site also has a section highlighting organizations that will be using their facilities once the spaceport is built, which range from private corporations (such as UP Aerospace, Rocket Racing League, and Lockheed Martin) to the government (White Sands Missle Range), to even not-for-profit organizations (like the X-Prize Foundation, which recently launched a blog).

Creating a fancy website is a great way to attract (and keep) the attention of those curious about traveling "beyond the black," especially children (who may end up building homes on other worlds).

China: Building A Better Rocket

(Image: China's Long March V Rocket, Credit: CCTV)
Even though the China lacks the technological superiority to challenge the US today, the Asian giant is making great strides in order to become a major space power (and rival) tomorrow.

(Space Daily) With four boosters, the 59.5-meter-high environmentally friendly rocket's launching weight would reach 643 tonnes. It would be able to deliver a 25-tonne payload to an LEO, compared with the present 10 tonnes, and a 14-tonne payload to a GEO, compared with 5.5 tonnes now, said China Central Television in a report.

The 14-tonne payload to a GEO means the rocket can carry a heavier satellite or more satellites at one time while the 25-tonne payload to an LEO will enable it to carry the Shenzhou-series spacecraft, said Li Dong, a designer of Long MarchV.

While their rockets are still unable to deliver their citizens beyond Earth orbit, they are slowly (but steadily) improving their technology, and perhaps dreaming of the day when they land one of their own Taikonauts upon lunar soil.

So, How Much Water Is On The Moon?

(Hat Tip: Tales of the Heliosphere and the Lunar News Network)

After observing rock samples retrieved from the lunar surface during the Apollo era, scientists have discovered traces of water "embedded" within the little Moon pebbles.

(Wired Science) In a study published today in Nature, researchers led by Brown University geologist Alberto Saal found evidence of water molecules in pebbles retrieved by NASA's Apollo missions.

The findings point to the existence of water deep beneath the moon's surface, transforming scientific understanding of our nearest neighbor's formation and, perhaps, our own. There may also be a more immediately practical application.

"Is there water there? That's important for lunar missions. People could get the water. They could use the hydrogen for energy," said Saal.

While the Moon is obviously dry today, many scientists think that if the Moon did hold large reservoirs of water, probably lost most of it in the past, leaving Earth's little sister parched and dry.

According to Wired, scientists were able to find water at the molecular level, although such news will probably not quench the thirst of any future colonist.

If the Moon does in fact hold large quantities of water, it is probably buried deep underground, or hidden from the Sun's rays within the shadows of polar craters.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (61)

Another week, another Carnival! This week's Carnival of Space was hosted by Mang over at Mang's Bat Page!

Articles ranged from dark matter within our solar system to space manga/anime to even a mention about Disney's movie WALL-E (note: which I just saw today--an excellent movie for green and space geeks).

Interesting articles readers may want to check out include:

That's it for this week's Carnival of Space. Stay tuned for the next Carnival, and if you would like to have your article featured next week, be sure to visit Universe Today for more details.

Missing: Mercury's Iron

Messenger, a space probe by NASA responsible for de-mystifying secrets of the "first rock" from the Sun, has unfortunately informed scientists that the planet contains very little iron within its crust.

( "For example, according to our color data the Caloris impact basin is completely filled with smooth plains material that appears volcanic in origin," Robinson explains. "In shape and form these deposits are very similar to the mare basalt flows on the Moon. But unlike the Moon, Mercury's smooth plains are low in iron, and thus represent a relatively unusual rock type."[...]

The low-reflectance material is particularly enigmatic, says Robinson. "It's an important and widespread rock that occurs deep in the crust as well as at the surface, yet it has very little ferrous iron in its silicate minerals."

That, he says, makes it unusual. "You expect to find low-reflectance volcanic rocks having a high abundance of iron-bearing silicate minerals, but that's not the case here." One possible solution, he says, is that iron is actually present but invisible to MESSENGER's spectrometers because it's hidden within the chemical structure of minerals such as ilmenite.

While this new information does not completely rule out that iron (in some form) exists upon the Sun baked world's surface, it may rule out vast quantities within easy reach of humanity.

Further inspection of Mercury (in much greater detail) may be needed in order to locate "abundant spots" of iron, although humanity may still find some use for ilmenite (which can be used as a base for paints, paper and plastics).

If Mercury is found to be lacking in iron (or if it it is extremely difficult to export of the world), humanity could always scour the surface for helium-3 (perhaps with the help of a "few volunteers").

(Image Credit: NASA)

Russia Returning To Space Tourism With Secret Partner?

After previously deciding that space tourism was not for them, Russia has decided to partner with an unknown (or rather secret) American investor to help it construct a Soyuz spacecraft dedicated towards taking humans beyond the sky--and "into the black."

(Space Travel) The Russian space agency has sealed a deal with a private investor to build a Soyuz spacecraft specially for tourist hire and operational in 2011, a statement said Wednesday.
"We have concluded an agreement with an investor to begin financing such a Soyuz vessel with an anticipated launch date of 2011," the Roskosmos website stated.

The craft, piloted by a professional astronaut, is designed to carry two so-called space adventurers.

This is probably a smart move for Russia, as they can not depend afford to depend upon the US for financial security--especially with the US Congress getting nervous about NASA's plan to outsource to the Russians for human spaceflight.

Even though Russia is responsible for pioneering the space tourism industry (by partnering with Space Adventures), the former world power does not intend to merely launch people into space forever. Russia intends upon colonizing the Moon in the not-to-distant future, along with China and (hopefully) NASA as well.

(Image: Soyuz Spacecraft, via Wikipedia)

Good News! India And France To Militerize The Heavens

After the Chinese conducted their anti-satellite test, the world has debated about whether or not nations should develop the final frontier with weapons included or for purely scientific/economic reasons.

Even though India has previously expressed its desire that space be developed peacefully, it looks as if they, along with France (hat tip: Space Pragmatism) are seriously considered on militerizing the heavens above us.

(Financial Times) Paris, which today takes over the EU presidency, says Europe must counter threats from conventional military powers as well as terrorism. To do so it needs to add a "political and security dimension" to European space policy, according to documents sent to EU governments ahead of a meeting later this month in French Guiana, home to the European launch pad.

"In Europe, space policy has always been motivated by scientific and technical reasons. The US, Russia, China and so on are motivated by politics. Even so, Europe is the second- or third-biggest space power in the world. Using political drive as well, it would be even more powerful," said a European diplomat familiar with the plans.

(MSN India News) New Delhi: India needs to "optimise" the use of space for military applications to counter China's rapid strides in the sphere, Indian Army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor said on Monday. "We need to optimise the use of space for military applications," Gen. Kapoor said at a seminar here on 'Indian Military and Space'.

"China's space programme is expanding at a exponentially rapid pace, both in its offensive and military content," Kapoor added.
While conquer the final frontier in the name of science, business and "all that good stuff" sounds noble, the reality is that every country heading into space is going to have to ship their fleets as well (or at least defend their "aerial turf"), something both India and France have now realized.