Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Iron On Mars?

Often seen as a red barren wasteland harboring little value (outside its orbit near the asteroid belt), Mars may have at least one resource underneath its soil that may be of some use to future colonists.

(New Scientist Space) FUTURE colonisers [sic] of Mars needn't worry about lugging materials from Earth to build their bases - the most widely used building material on Earth, steel, could be manufactured on the Red Planet.

The rover Opportunity has found elemental iron - a key ingredient of steel - peppered across the Martian surface as a result of collisions with iron-rich meteorites. The dry conditions and lack of atmospheric oxygen mean that the stuff has not rusted, says Geoffrey Landis of NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Hopefully scientists will be able to confirm how much iron is within the soil, as that would enable colonists to construct large cities on that crimson world.

China's Space Footprint (And Why America Should Be Worried)

Despite the fact that the United States is the leading space power (at least in this solar system), it looks like they may now have some serious competition from China, who recently was able to complete their first space walk (a feat that very few nations have achieved).

(Video: China's first space walk, Hat Tip: Spaceports)

Even though the Asian giant has a long ways to go (technology wise) in order to catch up with both Russia and the United States, China is already gazing further upward towards a terrestrial body once grazed by American footprints.

(Space.com) "We still do not have an exact timetable for a manned mission to the moon, but I believe a Chinese (astronaut) will set foot on the moon in the not too distant future," an unnamed official told the Communist Party newspaper the People's Daily after the mission landed.

Wang Zhaoyao, spokesman for the manned space program, told reporters Sunday that it is "necessary" for China to put a man on the moon, the Agence France-Presse news service reported.

"We believe that as long as we can make further progress in science and technology, we can achieve the dream of a manned space flight to the moon in the near future," he said.

Despite the fact that China is in no position to currently challenge the United States for space supremacy, their future is looking a little brighter than their western friend, as the US is facing a financial crisis that could potentially derail NASA's attempts at establishing a lunar base in the not so distant future.

To make matters even more interesting, a few analysts expect China's economy to surpass the United States by 2035 (if not sooner), which will give them a financial advantage in not only creating outposts on the Moon, but harvesting the helium-3 within its soil.

America's only hope for solar dominance may lie in NASA and NewSpace teaming up for the final frontier, which (thankfully) is a concept that is quickly becoming a reality (hat tip: Space Transport News).

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Twisted Physics)

(Image via Wikia.com)

Jennifer Ouellette over at Twisted Physics hosted the latest Carnival of Space!

There were so many great articles from the Carnival (and not enough time to read them!), which covered everything from Martian volcano's to space rocks attacking Earth to second guesses as to whether a galactic habitable zone is really limited to the median portion of our galaxy.

Interesting articles that caught my eye included:

Be sure to visit the rest of the articles posted, and for those of you interested in publishing your thoughts on the upcoming Carnival of Space need to visit Universe Today for the necessary details on how to submit your article for this weeks carnival.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Victory!!! SpaceX Falcon 1 Launch A Success! (Video)

(Hat Tip: Space Transport News )

After three previous launches that ended prematurely, it looks as if SpaceX has finally launched their Falcon 1 rocket, setting a stage for NewSpace (aka the private space sector) and more importantly humanity.

Here is a link (windows media player) to the video for those of you who might have missed the launch. an image of the Falcon rocket at liftoff.

Here is a video of the launch (hat tip: Space Transport News).

Note: Space Transport News has more!

Update: Some are saying that the video is linking to the second launch. I will see if I can hunt down a video towards the fourth launch (as SpaceX has yet to post an official video of the launch an official video of the launch in their gallery section).

Update 2: Clark via Space Transport News has found a video of the launch via YouTube! :-)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Belated: China Gets A New Spacesuit

(Hat Tip: Space Fellowship)

After previously cozying up to their new Russian allies, it looks as if the Asian super power is now designing their own spacesuits--in house.

(RIA Novosti) Chinese spaceflight research specialists have presented a new domestically created spacesuit to be used in spacewalks by the country's astronauts, the China Daily said Thursday. [...]

"The extravehicular spacesuit is now on board the Shenzhou VII at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center," the article said.

This is good to see, as it will make China more independent instead of having to rely upon Russia for assistance.

Unfortunately this news will probably not make Japan happy, who seems to be currently focused on satellites--both around the moon and beaming solar power upon Earth.

ESA Astronaut Trials: And Then There Was Only 192 (Out Of 10,000)

(Image Credit: J-L.Atteleyn / ESA)

After previously declaring that the "old continent" was looking for a few good astronauts, it looks as if the ESA has sifted the 10,000 individuals who applied to be astronauts, and after many trials have reduced that number to a mere 192.

(ESA) Following a first stage of psychological testing, there are now only 192 highly talented individuals still in with a chance of becoming the new astronauts in ESA's European Astronaut Corps.

This first stage of computer-based psychological testing finished at the end of August and consisted of tests to evaluate the cognitive capabilities of the candidates, such as tests of memory, psycho-motor test, multitasking, linguistic skills, and various forms of visualisation-based tasks. [...]

Almost 10 000 people originally registered as astronaut candidates through the ESA website prior to the closing date of applications on 18 June 2008, of which 8413 fulfilled the initial application criteria. From these individuals 918 were chosen to take part in the first stage of psychological testing.

Despite the "small" number, the ESA plans on reducing the ranks again after a second round, with several more after to reduce the group of 192 to just four astronauts!

Hopefully the ESA will consider keeping the resume's of the 192 (or at least 100 of them), as they are going to need more people if they are serious about conquering both the Moon and Mars.

Instant Roads (On Luna And Mars)

(Hat Tip: IsraGood)

As any government official can tell you, creating and maintaining roads in a community can be quite expensive.

The problem only becomes much worse when one considers creating them off world, especially if humanity decides to build thriving colonies. These future space settlements will need a dependable transportation system in order to move goods around their respective globes.

While some have suggested that the easiest way to get around this is by constructing an off world railroad system, it may be easier to simply create instant roads instead (thanks in part to Professional Reinforcement Solutions).

(Israel 21st Century) Invented by the US military in the 70s, the continued innovation behind PRS's soil stabilization honeycombs is very much Israeli. Now used as a soil stabilizer in Siberia to help truckers get to isolated tracts of land, or in landscaping to prevent soil erosion, the high-tech honeycombed sheets, called the Neoweb Cellular Confinement System is "beyond clean technology," says Yitzchak Schary, documentation manager for Tel Aviv-based PRS.

Schary, who's consulted for Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry on Sustainable Development, speaks with ISRAEL21c about the innovation. Represented in 40 countries, the company's product is "actually low-tech, high tech and cleantech all in one," he says. "Although the product is fairly dry, it's a soil stabilization solution for civil engineering projects, and inherently sustainable."

Developed as an advanced polymer, Neoweb can be laid out on land, and then filled with local soil, or recycled materials to form a road, or as infrastructure for landscape architects.

Although adaptations will obviously have to be made to adapt this technology towards the vacuum of space and Martian weather, the technique behind it could be duplicated on both Luna (aka the Moon) and the red planet.

Colonists can use these "honey combs" to create and maintain roads inexpensively, which will help reduce the overall cost of building large settlements off world.

As far as the Moon goes, they could then melt down the top layer via microwaves in order to insure that rovers do not kick up too much lunar dust into the vacuum of space (which could become a hassle for travelers behind them).

While acquiring soil on Mars should be relatively easy (thanks in part to its thin atmosphere), Moon settlers will probably have to use lunar vacuum cleaners or soil acquired from innovative "air" drilling in order to help create various highways for rovers to travel upon.

This will enable outposts located at various locations around both the Moon and Mars to remain interconnected with each other, allowing them to thrive thousands (or millions) of kilometers away from Earth (without the sense of feeling isolated from the rest of the global community).

Russia And China: A Future Alliance In The Making?

After declaring their support for Cuba's space center, the former Soviet Union is now planning on helping China conduct its first space walk.

(RIA Novosti) Russian experts will have a role in overseeing the upcoming mission of Chinese astronauts, which will include China's first spacewalk, a spokesman for country's manned space program said Wednesday.

The Shenzhou-7 spacecraft with three astronauts on board is scheduled to launch Thursday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province, in the northwest of China. [...]

"We are also grateful to Russia for its active cooperation in the training of astronauts," the spokesman said, adding that good opportunities were opening up for further partnership.

With Russia facing isolation from NASA over its conflict with Georgia, the former Soviet empire is probably attempting to strengthen its position as a space power, while at the same time ensuring that it has a dedicated partner to help take them beyond the sky.

China is probably warming up to the idea (as going alone can be rough), as an agreement between the two could help form a counterweight against America's, who has been less than thrilled about partnering with the Asian giant ever since the Anti-Satellite Test (aka ASAT).

Either way, this alliance could help spark a future space cold war, which may ultimately motivate our species to expand off world (note: provided we do not destroy this one of course).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Dot Astronomy)

Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Robert Simpson over at .Astronomy (note: yes, there is a "dot" in front of Astronomy).

Articles ranged from colliding galaxies to worm holes to even snapshots of distant star systems.

Two posts that caught my eye were:

Thanks for reading, and be sure to read the rest of the articles from the Carnival of Space! For those of you seeking to join our growing ranks, you can visit Universe Today for more details.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Space Cold War Has Begun: Russia To Assist Cuba

With Congressional leaders urging the President to extend the shuttle in order to avoid dependence upon Russia, the former USSR is planing on assisting Cuba in helping the country build its own space center.

(MSNBC) Moscow is ready to help Cuba develop its own space center, Russia's space agency chief said on Wednesday after talks in Caracas with Venezuelan and Cuban officials, Itar-Tass news agency reported. [...]

"We have held preliminary discussions about the possibility of creating a space center in Cuba with our help," the chief of Russia's Federal Space Agency Anatoly Perminov was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass in Caracas.

"With our Cuban colleagues, we discussed the possibilities of joint use of space equipment...and the joint use of space communications systems," Perminov was quoted as saying.

While it will be interesting to see whether or not Russia decides to arm Cuba as they did in the past (in response to the US arming Poland), this may spark a renewed interest in Congress to maintain its status as a space power.

This could easily translate in not only more funds for NASA, but potentially a greater role for NewSpace as well.

With Russia hungry to establish its former glory (and China not too far behind them), we could see a global space race pitting the east against the west, which may ultimately translate into lunar colonies down the road (as mining helium-3 may require a human presence to keep away squatters).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Drilling Lunar Holes With Gas?

(Image: Illustration showing lunar rover carrying lunar dirt "sucked up" by pneumatic digger towards storage tower (for later use). Credit: DigitalSpace / Jeroen Lapre)

Its not until one leaves our blessed home world that one realizes how hard it is to live lunar side.

Without an atmosphere settlers will be unable to drill beneath the surface (due to friction between lunar rocks and drill bits), and unless one has an endless supply of labor using shovels and pick axes may take too long.

Despite the difficulty, one company has approached the problem from a different angle, choosing to use gas to drill lunar holes instead of striking the surface with metal.

(Space.com) In detail, this so-called pneumatic excavation mechanism involves gas pumped into the ground through a thin tube encased by a wider hose. When the gas escapes, carrying along material from the ground, it travels up through the hose to a storage container.

"It's kind of like a vacuum cleaner, but the reverse," Zacny said. Instead of using suction, the machine injects gas down to draw material up.

The contraption weighs a lot less than conventional digging tools, though it begs the question: Where will future moon-dwellers get the gas needed to operate the machine?

In the article Zacny suggests using either CO2 from astronauts nostrils or exhaust from the left over fuel (of the lander) in order to acquire the gas they need.

After "sucking up" enough dust, future colonists could simply convert the lunar regolith into oxygen, as well as sift the soil for metals, minerals and helium-3.

Good News! NASA Ponders A Nuclear Reactor On The Moon

(Image: An artist's concept of a fission surface power system on the surface of the moon. The nuclear reactor has been buried below the lunar surface to make use of lunar soil as additional radiation shielding. The engines that convert heat energy to electricity are in the tower above the reactor, and radiators extend out from the tower to radiate into space any leftover heat energy that has not been converted to electricity. Credit: NASA)

With America's favorite (and only) space agency drawing up plans for lunar habitats, NASA is now turning its attention on how to power the lunar outposts.

Despite the fact that other space agencies and companies are working on innovative ways to keep the lights on via green technology, NASA is looking at something that has been tried and tested--nuclear power.

(NASA) NASA astronauts will need power sources when they return to the moon and establish a lunar outpost. NASA engineers are exploring the possibility of nuclear fission to provide the necessary power and taking initial steps toward a non-nuclear technology demonstration of this type of system.

A fission surface power system on the moon has the potential to generate a steady 40 kilowatts of electric power, enough for about eight houses on Earth. It works by splitting uranium atoms in a reactor to generate heat that then is converted into electric power. The fission surface power system can produce large amounts of power in harsh environments, like those on the surface of the moon or Mars, because it does not rely on sunlight. The primary components of fission surface power systems are a heat source, power conversion, heat rejection and power conditioning, and distribution.

"Our goal is to build a technology demonstration unit with all the major components of a fission surface power system and conduct non-nuclear, integrated system testing in a ground-based space simulation facility," said Lee Mason, principal investigator for the test at NASA's Glenn Center in Cleveland. "Our long-term goal is to demonstrate technical readiness early in the next decade, when NASA is expected to decide on the type of power system to be used on the lunar surface."

According to NASA, the nuclear reactor would be very different then the ones built on Earth, with the reactor size being "about the size of an office trash can."

Even though this would be about a decade away from becoming a reality, NASA may have a tough fight on their hands from activist groups who may not be comfortable with a rocket launching a nuclear reactor into space (even for peaceful purposes).

Building a nuclear reactor on the Moon is probably inevitable--especially when one considers how much helium-3 is on the lunar surface.

(Hat Tip: Physorg.com)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (69 And 70)

Before I post last weeks (and this weeks) interesting links from both Carnivals, be sure to remember those who were killed on September 11th, 2001.

Personally I am glad that both McCain and Obama are laying aside politics (at least for a season) in order to honor the dead--as well as those who continue to defend freedom around the world (whether our own or someone else's).


That being said, here is a quick review of last weeks Carnival of Space, hosted by Irene Klotz of Free Space.

Articles of interest from that "alphabetical carnival" ranged from Star Trek, to an unspotted Sun to even images of ice clouds on Mars.

One article that caught my eye was from Ken Murphy (via Out of the Cradle) who wrote:

(Out of the Cradle) Were going to need folks with all different kinds of backgrounds if we are truly going to develop space. When you're assembling large solar arrays out at geosynchronous/geostationary orbit (GEO) for a Space-Based Solar Power system, you're more likely to need experienced construction workers than PhDs. The guys who are servicing spacecraft at EML-1 facility are going to be technicians, not PhDs. They might as well start designing a blue collar into the next round of spacesuits, because more people are learning that space is not just going to be about NASAnauts anymore.

While Ken is probably right regarding the "technical side" of making space colonies a reality, the general public will probably never see space beyond Star Wars until they can envision themselves working within (or upon) a satellite, space shuttle, lunar settlement, etc.

Perhaps what is not needed is more glamorous speeches or promises, but by finding ways to engage the "blue collar" work force with the upcoming space technology--which might be the solution to excite the less than thrilled masses.

Ken's interesting thought regarding space was just one of many, and be sure to read the rest of the entries over at Free Space.


This weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by "DJ" over at OrbitalHub.

Blog posts ranged from the Genesis planet, to asteroid fly-by's to even interesting facts regarding our homeworld.

Interesting articles included:

Thanks for reading, and be sure to readf the rest of the entries over at OrbitalHub.

Note: For those of you desiring to partake in next week's carnival, be sure to contact Universe Today for more details on how to enter.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Will Geothermal Energy Power Our Solar System?

Regardless whether one intends to dwell upon a dusty world, or an icy one, living on another planet, moon, or dwarf planet is going to require energy. Without a dependable power source, off world settlements will become nothing but fantasy, regulated to the imaginations of Star Wars, Star Trek and Serenity.

While a few worlds such as Mercury, Luna (aka the Moon) and Saturn's Titan are blessed with an abundance of energy in the form of solar energy, helium-3 and methane-ethane lakes, respectively, most of the other spheres that dance around the sun (or their respective planets) seem to lack an ample supply of energy.

Without an lush supply of energy nearby, colonists living on other worlds will be forced to import energy from abroad, making these outposts not only expensive, but also small (as increased energy demand may make large cities unreasonable).

In order for our species to truly create independent colonies elsewhere, we may have to drill down beneath the soil in order to acquire the neccessary energy to power our future interplanetary cities.

Despite the fact that this technology is a little over a century old, geothermal energy has the potential to not only power our own home world, but the other globes that "roam" the vacuum of space as well.

For those unfamiliar with the technology, a geothermal power plant basically uses heat from the Earth's core to turn water (or a "watery mix") pumped from above into steam. This steam in turn spins the turbine engines, creating electricity for nearby communities to use.

A geothermal power plant can also pump up hot water trapped below, as in the case of the Calpine Corporation's geyser power plant.

While the technology may not be as glamorous as solar power satellites, it does have the potential of fueling our energy dependent world.

(Video: Scientists explaining how geothermal energy works, as well as its potential. Credit: Google.org)

While this technology is promising, one may wonder whether or not this technology would be feasible off world. After all, in order for geothermal power to have any relevance, it would have to reside on a world that is not only somewhat geologically active, but also contains water (or another liquid substitute) to turn the turbine engines.

Fortunately for our species, it seems that most of the worlds in our solar system seem to be blessed with both.


Upon first glance, the surface of the red planet appears to be (for lack of a better word) dead. While boasting the largest volcanoes in our solar system, the crimson globe apparently changes little, aside from a "global-cane" that covers the surface every six (earthen) years.

Despite its passive appearance, the Martian depths may be more active than we think beneath the surface, as evidenced by its semi-active core that seems to be generating a "lumpy magnetic field" that barely pops up above the surface (in some spots).

(Image: Artistic drawing of Martian geysers, Credit: Arizona State University / Ron Miller)

Mars also is known to host geysers in its southern pole, which may indicate that the red planet may a lot warmer underneath than we can imagine. Combined with the abundance of water, Mars may become fertile ground for future geothermal power plants.


With its parent world orbiting almost 780 million kilometers away from the Sun, solar power is not an option for any future colony settling on Jupiter's largest moon.

Boasting a global magnetic field which is ironically three times larger than the planet Mercury, a future outpost on Ganymede may be a prime candidate for a geothermal plant.

While future "Jupiterans" would have to live within "aquarium houses" in order to survive the intense radiation surrounding the moon, their ability to "tap" into the Jovian moons center, providing enough energy to turn this frozen globe into a second Earth.

Saturn's Icy Moons

Despite its size, the tiny ice world of Enceladus contains geysers that are spewing icy crystals above its surface.

While scientists remain baffled on how such a tiny world can contain a core warm enough to produce geysers on top, this tiny world could become a prime candidate for a geothermal power plant (by tapping into the "warm crevices" beneath).

(Video: NASA highlighting geysers discovered on Enceladus, Credit: NASA, via Windows to the Universe)

But Enceladus is not the only ice world orbiting Saturn with geysers. Last year scientists discovered that both Tethys and Dione are also spewing ice particles into space, which may hint toward a warmer than anticipated core underneath.


Often known for its retrograde orbit around Neptune, Triton may become a major settlement in the future by harvesting helium-3 from the atmosphere of its paternal planet.

But before colonists can exploit the blue gas giant for profit, they will need to find a way to acquire energy upon that frozen world. Fortunately, Neptune's "favorite son" does boast nitrogen geysers, whose erupting pressure may help keep an advance turbine engine spinning (thus keeping "the lights on" for a future colony.


While the debate rages on whether or not its "bigger brother" can join the planet club, scientists suspect that Pluto's moon Charon may also have geysers on its surface, which could point towards a warmer core underneath.

Even though off world colonies will probably have to adjust their technology in order to make geothermal power plants feasible (perhaps by using the geyser pressure from the worlds to turn the turbine engines instead of simply using steam heat), future settlements may consider it more reasonable to power their cities from energy below, rather than importing it from afar.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Mapping The Surface Of Mercury

Before the first human creates a foot print on Mercurian soil, we are going to have to create maps in order to navigate on the "first rock" from the Sun.

Fortunately it looks as if one scientist is committed to creating accurate maps for NASA (and others) on one of the hottest planets in our Solar system.

(Space Travel) Gaskell, who is based in Altadena, Calif., uses a method called stereo-photo-clinometry, or SPC. Just as stereophonic means sound from different directions, stereo-photo means light from different directions, and clinometry means that slopes, or inclines, are being measured. [...]

His newest project, which was recently funded by NASA, will create highly accurate maps of the entire surface of Mercury based on images sent back by NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft. MESSENGER flew by Mercury in January and is scheduled to go into orbit in 2011, after several passes of Earth, Venus and Mercury.

Despite the fact that the planet's surface is slowly baked under the brutal rays of the Sun, Mercury could ultimately serve as an interplanetary hub in the future, as its close orbit to our celestial star may grant it easy access to the rest of the worlds in our solar system.

But before we can even think about colonizing Mercury, we are going to need maps (in great detail) in order to turn that barren world into a thriving outpost for humanity.

NASA Ponders Extending Shuttle Flights

It looks as if Senator McCain's request to the President to delay the shuttle's early retirement has convinced NASA to take a second look at keeping their craft alive.

(Physorg.com) The e-mail obtained by The Orlando Sentinel describes NASA Administrator Michael Griffin's order for a study to determine if the shuttle could fly until 2015, when NASA's next-generation space platform is expected to be completed.

"We want to focus on helping bridge the gap of U.S. vehicles traveling to the ISS (International Space Station) as efficiently as possible," wrote John Coggeshall, manager of manifest and schedules at Johnson Space Center in Houston, in the e-mail sent Wednesday.

NASA officials confirmed the e-mail's authenticity, but said it was too soon to say what the study's reach would be.

NASA is still not entirely thrilled with the idea of flying the shuttle, and this "study" may be a way for them to politely prove that keeping the shuttle is not in America's best interest.

While the shuttle has benefited the agency in many areas (except for cost), it is time for the agency to pursue other paths (like building settlements on the Moon).