Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks! (55 And Counting)

Last weeks space Carnival was hosted by Todd over at Catholic Sensibility, with a large number of posts dedicated to the red planet (including mine).

One post that stood out was from Ian O'Neill over at AstroEngine with his recent visit to The Eden Project:

Proudly supporting radically different ecosystems, the chain of biomes are carefully controlled to support a mini rainforest through to a temperate Mediterranean environment. For me, the most inspiring zone was the rainforest. There seemed to be a focus on educating visitors as to what the rainforest provides and how humans can exist in harmony under the palms and huge poles of bamboo. Interestingly, and this was something that only just dawned on me when I saw it, many of the structures and mock-up "settlements" were constructed with bamboo. Apart from the obvious biome structural design, I couldn't see anything obvious that connected my work with the Mars Foundation to the Eden Project. But there it was, all around us: bamboo.

Regardless on whether one dreams of living lunar side or on the red planet (or even Callisto and Ganymede), future colonists are going to need some type of reminder of home that they can preferably touch and smell.

While a garden may help settlers "connect" with their earthen cradle, a forest would probably ease the burden of living millions of kilometers from global civilization.

Unfortunately the average tree takes decades to reach maturity (not to mention provide some sort of aesthetic value), while bamboo on the other hand is known to grow several inches a day (if not more).

This could enable future outposts to not only raise their own forests fairly quickly, but also provide some interesting hobbies off world (at least for those who enjoy carpentry that is).

For those of you reading this, the next Carnival of Space is coming up, and for those of you looking to submit your article to the next round, you can visit Universe Today for the latest details on how to enter.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

NASA: The Phoenix Has Landed!

(Image Credit: NASA)

The Phoenix Mars Lander has touched down upon the surface of the red planet, according to NASA.

Unlike its rover siblings, the Phoenix's priority is to discover whether or not life exists on Mars.

NASA has been promoting the mission aggressively, as it has the potential to reshape our viewpoint of the Universe (not to mention life itself).

While the prospects of finding current life are probably dim, the Martian lander can help us discover whether or not Martian soil "is safe" for not only humans, but future creatures (like pigs) as well.

Note: NASA is going to be posting images from Phoenix within about 90 minuets, although you can watch the live broadcast from NASA HQ over here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Future Martian Colonies Powered By Algae?

(Hat Tip: IsraGood, Image Credit: Ken Rust via Got Algae?)

Mars is cold. It's unbelievably cold. In order for future colonists to avoid freezing to death (as well as their machines), they are going to need a source of energy to provide heat.

While innovative solar power may be able to help keep a small outpost alive, it will probably not be able to power large settlements.

Even though nuclear power plants have proven their worth as far as energy goes, Earthly politics may prevent them from being used on Mars, as launching anything nuclear has the side affect of making a million minds nervous.

In order to establish thriving cities upon the pink deserts of Mars, future colonists may have to turn towards algae in order to keep their cities (and rovers) alive.

(Haaretz.com) "I am constantly dumbfounded by this plant. This little thing is the baseline for the production of oxygen in the world; it knows how to use carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen. It amazes me that despite this, algae are not given enough respect, and instead are treated like green slime." [...]

Berzin, the founder of GreenFuel Technologies - a U.S. company that produces green fuel from algae - discovered that "green slime" contains one of the keys to the alternative fuel the world is seeking. His company is the first ever to develop and produce biofuels from algae that are bred on gases emitted by power plants. It might sound like some sort of magic trick to put algae, CO2 and sunlight into a box and come out with fuel, but Berzin did it.

The fuel from these algae may not only help to keep the lights on within future Martian cities, but also enable them to develop faster (human driven) rovers, as the solar powered ones on Mars are definitely lacking in the speed department.

Since Mars has plenty of CO2 within its atmosphere, future colonists could easily pull this gas from the Martian environment, as well as from "the nostrils" of humans and pigs (after they exhale that is).

Mars also has no shortage of water, and while it will have to be heavily filtered, it could be more than enough to satisfy the thirst of these terrestrial algae.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The (Frozen) Red Planet

Despite the fact that Mars has an abundance of water upon its poles, many scientists were hoping that underground oceans existed beneath its surface.

Unfortunately it seems as if recent scans of the Martian north pole indicate that if Mars does contain underground oceans, they may a much deeper than what we previously expected.

(Space.com) An international team of scientists used the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to probe the north pole of the red planet with radar. The ice cap there goes about 1.2 miles deep (2 km) and is roughly the size of Pakistan at 310,000 square miles large (800,000 square km). [...]

Unexpectedly, the radar scans also revealed the massive weight of the ice cap does not deform any underlying sediment. This implies the crust beneath the cap is strong — more than 180 miles thick (300 km).

To have such a thick crust, "Mars might be colder than we thought," Phillips told SPACE.com. As a result, any liquid water that might be underground has to be buried even deeper than once speculated. "If one thought that liquid water was 5 kilometers deep (3 miles), it's now at least 30 percent deeper than that," he said.

While the planet's colder side may make it harder to terraform the crimson world, it may convince the first colonists to establish outposts near the north and south Martian poles (instead of searching for "liquid water wells").

In Space, Lunar Colonists May Have To Drink "Recycled Urine"

In space, water is more precious than gold. Unfortunately for our species, our nearest neighbor has very little (if any) upon its surface.

While importing water from Earth would be desirable, future settlers may have to settle for drinking water redeemed from their own urine.

(Universe Today) But NASA has been working on a recycling system to transform urine and other liquid wastes into water that can be used in space for drinking, food preparation and washing. Agency officials say the water from the system will be cleaner than U.S. tap water. [...]

The Water Recovery System recycles liquid wastes — which can consist of urine, sweat, or leftover water used for bathing or food preparation — by filtering it through a series of chemical processes and filters, making it safe to drink. Urine, for example, first passes through a distillation process to separate the liquid phase from the gaseous phase, after which it is mixed with other water waste and is treated with the help of a water processor.

Since exporting water to the Moon will probably be very expensive, recycling ones own urine may help not only keep costs down, but enable the future colony to become more self sufficient.

This technology would also be useful for future settlers (or prisoners) upon Mercury, whose close proximity towards the Sun makes water a bit scarce.

Google Lunar X-Prize: More Teams To Join?

Last year in an effort to motivate humanity to revisit the Moon, Google announced an X-Prize competition (aka GLXP) aimed at spurring the international community to land a rover on Earth's nearest neighbor.

Thus far only 10 teams have accepted Google's challenge, with sizes ranging from one (fairly wealthy) person to a little over a dozen.

But starting tomorrow (May 21st) it looks as if more teams may be "entering the ring."

(Chandah GLXP Blog) [A]t the Google headquarters [...] 10 teams presented themselves to the world. This is about to change. Tomorrow, more teams shall be announced, expanding the universe of explorers who aspire to go to moon!

It will be interesting to see who the new comers are, not to mention how they plan to launch, land and roam the lunar surface in order to claim the $20 million prize (not to mention fund their operations).

Thus far only one team has really demonstrated an innovative (and inexpensive) way at launching their "rover," which could spell bad news for anyone rooting for the United States.

Note: Hopefully Interplanetary Ventures made the list, as they were seeking sponsors to pay the remaining fees.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Space Cynics Plus Altair?)

After a brief hiatus from the blogosphere (that is if you do not count Twitter and FriendFeed) Colony Worlds is back.

Since I missed posting about the Carnival of Space (two weeks ago), I'll post an update here before mentioning last weeks post.


Space Cynics Are Us?

The 53rd Carnival of Space was hosted by everyone's favorite critic, the Space Cynic, with the theme being that of the Night Gallery.

Posts ranged from Martian dust devils, how physics discovered Neptune, to even better ways at finding exo-solar worlds (or planets outside our solar system).

Some interesting posts readers might be interested in include:


Moving on, David Portree via Altair VI hosted the 54th Carnival of Space, with articles ranging from UFO skeptics, to rethinking galactic alien empires, and even a post about Iron Man (note: yes, its space related).

Articles of interest included:


Thanks for reading, and hopefully these snippets will encourage "the lurkers" out there to join our ever growing group of space bloggers/journalists, as its always encouraging to see a new perspective regarding the cosmos, and humanties role in it.

For those of you desiring to submit your article towards the next blog carnival, you can visit Universe Today for more details in how your post can be viewed by hundreds (if not thousands) of eyeballs.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Russia: Oxygen Plus Argon Equals Future Martian Air?

While NASA plans on finding ways for us to "recycle our air," Russia is trying to find the perfect balance for a breathable atmosphere on board a future Martian spacecraft.

(Universe Today) Volunteers in Russia are testing the ability of humans to breathe argon-enriched air, as part of a research program that simulates a manned trip to Mars. Researchers want to know if humans can survive breathing air similar to that found on Mars. Of the experiment one Russian scientist said, "Our experiments show that argon combined with the right portion of oxygen is safe for humans. I tested it on myself and I'm OK, and volunteers are also doing fine."

Despite the fact that argon is apart of the Martian atmosphere, some may wonder why the scientists chose that over nitrogen, since their is more nitrogen than argon on the red planet.

The answer lies with the fact that argon is a lot safer than nitrogen, as the latter has the potential to bond with oxygen (via static heat), which can form Nitric Oxide--or even worse, Nitrogen Dioxide), which can be fetal towards humans.

Argon on the other hand is not only non-toxic, but it can resist bonding with other elements (as it is more stable) giving future astronauts fewer headaches to worry about.

This makes Argon the perfect "filler gas" (as pure oxygen is too dangerous), and this experiment may make it possible for humans to one day visit, and perhaps live on Mars.

Learning To Breathe (On Artificial Air)

"When you can't breathe, nothing else matters."

~American Lung Association

Breathing is important. Ask any healthy, happy, human being and you will probably receive the same answer regarding inhaling oxygen: it's recommended.

Not too surprising, future lunar explorers are probably going to have to figure out a way to create a breathable system, as importing oxygen from Earth may not be a readily available option.

(Moon Daily) For three weeks, 23 volunteers dedicated time to do just that - sweat and breathe - inside a test chamber so NASA scientists at Johnson Space Center in Houston could measure the amount of moisture and carbon dioxide absorbed by a new system being developed for future space vehicles. [...]

Known as the Carbon-dioxide and Moisture Removal Amine Swing-bed, or CAMRAS, the Exploration Life Support project within NASA's Exploration Technology Development Program is developing the new system. The program is investigating technologies that will help sustain life on exploration vehicles and reduce the dependence on resupply from Earth.

"Our goal for CAMRAS is to develop a simple, regenerative, lightweight device that will work for both the Orion crew capsule and the Altair lunar lander," said lead researcher Jeff Sweterlitsch.

While scientists could always figure out ways to pull oxygen from lunar rock, finding a way to use as little air as possible could help reduce the overall costs of future space missions.

Even thought NASA is using these tests to aid in its plans to revisit the Moon, this technology will become critical for future missions--especially Mars.

Europe Looking For A Few Good Lunar Astronauts

(Image: ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli inside the Station's Quest Airlock during the STS-120 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Credits: NASA)

After previously pondering the worth of sending humans into space, Europe has recently decided that not only do they want to send people to the Moon, they want to recruit "fresh blood."

(New Scientist Space) ESA hopes to inject some young blood into its astronaut corps. Currently Europe has only eight astronauts, with an average age of 50. The agency wants to recruit four more, ideally aged 27 to 37.

"If we have a Moon programme and if Europe commits to participating in that, I anticipate that one of those who we are selecting now will walk on the Moon," says Gerhard Thiele, head of ESA's astronaut corps. [...]

The agency will target two key types of candidate. One is scientists and engineers; the other is pilots who fly sophisticated jet aircraft. Successful applicants must also have various personality traits, including high motivation and gregariousness.

The European Space Agency (or ESA) is accepting applications no earlier than May 19th. Qualified individuals can apply online, although their is no word on whether they will be accepting entries via snail mail (or even faxes).

Either way, this is a good sign for the ESA, although they need to find a way to launch their own astronauts into space, lest they become dependent upon NASA, Russia or China (which could affect their future in space).

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mercury Before Mars Equals Space Faring Civilization?

Orbiting a little over one light second away from the surface of Earth, the Moon is an obvious choice in our quest to revisit the stars.

Harboring helium-3 withing its crust, the Moon could help "jump start" our journey into the cosmos financially, if not pay for itself by selling future space stations oxygen via its lunar rocks.

Even though the Moon may benefit our species tremendously, visiting Mars may be harder to justify economically.

For corporations, stock holders may not see the value in visiting the red planet for short term gains (or profits). Meanwhile tax payers may grumble at politicians spending money on another world without seeing any immediate benefits towards Earth.

Such a scenario could easily lead towards humanity delaying (or even skipping) Mars, opting instead to visit the asteroid belt in order to harvest its precious metals.

While mining the asteroid belt would benefit humanity financially, it may not motivate our species to choose a second home en mass outside of the gravitational influence of Earth.

In order to justify Mars, our species may have to look towards the first "rock" from the sun, Mercury.

Described by some as "A Mini-Earth in Moon's Clothing," the planet Mercury shares a few similarities with Earth's Moon.

Orbiting "recklessly close" towards the surface of the Sun, solar energy on Mercury is about 6 1/2 times greater than that on the Moon (or Earth), making the world a prime location for solar powered satellites.

Its close proximity towards the Sun has a few scientists predicting that its crust may be loaded with helium-3, which would make it an ideal "next step" after humanity is done depleting reserves on the Moon.

Mercury may also have an abundance of metals within its crust as well, which could make it an attractive location for future mining corporations (who may consider asteroid mining too dangerous for their employees).

Despite the fact that this world has a global magnetic field, this sun baked world may not attract a large population due to the fact that it lacks an abundance of water.

While lunar colonists would probably be able to import water from Earth, Mercurian settlers may have to look elsewhere as Earthen gravity could make importing water (not to mention food) from the homeworld very expensive.

Since Mars has an abundance of water (in the form of ice), future Mercurian corporations could easily contract explorers to filter and export this precious liquid "sun-ward," launching a whole new industry on Mars.

This could make Mars economically attractive to future Earthlings, who may consider settling the planet en mass in order to reap the benefits of interplanetary trade.

This ultimately could help push our species towards other promising worlds (such as Callisto, Ganymede and Titan), enabling our species to become a space faring civilization.

Note: Due to lack of time, images will be added later on.

Update: Images inserted.

Monday, May 05, 2008

GPS For Lunar Astronauts

(Image: Drawing of a communications/navigation satellite in lunar orbit. Credit: NASA / Pat Rawlings)

With NASA planning on sending astronauts to live lunar side for six month sessions, the agency is attempting to figure out the best way to establish a communication network upon that eggshell colored world.

While establishing radio towers may be effective if one is constantly facing Earth, creating a GPS network is probably more ideal.

(Space.com) Getting radio signals to these hard-to-reach places is going to require a go-between that can cope with the constant gravitational nudges from the Earth, moon and sun.

One potential path a lunar communication satellite (com-sat) could take is by following a "frozen orbit" around the moon. In such an orbit the satellite's orbital characteristics remain constant despite prods from the moon's lumpy gravity field.

This uneven gravity field is due to mascons, large concentrations of mass in the lunar crust.

"You can think of it [a frozen orbit] as a roller coaster ride over the lunar mascons. If you pick the path just right, the tugs and pulls of the mascons will end up cancelling each other out. At the end, the spacecraft will be right back where it started in the orbit," Hill told SPACE.com.

NASA is also considering placing satellites within the Moon's Lagrange point (Lagrange two and two to be exact) as a communications satellite would be able to remain in a safe "fixed" position.

This would give greater flexibility for astronauts as they could establish lunar bases on the "dark side" of the Moon. This would also benefit astronauts if they decided to roam the moonscape in search of resources or to satisfy scientific curiosities.

Video: Space Elevator Invades Conan O'Brien Show

(Hat Tip: The Space Elevator Blog)

The Space Elevator, a future technology that has the potential to revolutionize how humanity ventures beyond the sky was able to gain more public exposure thanks in part to the Kansas City Space Pirates (a team competing in the Elevator 2010 competition).

Congrats to Brian Turner for presenting the concept in a humerous, yet understandable manner (although it appears as if O'Brien did his homework regarding the space elevator).

The Kansas City Space Pirates are looking for a few good sponsors, so if you have deep pockets (or just feel like helping them out) feel free to invest in their project.

Recyling Trash Into Energy (Future Colonies Take Note)

(Hat Tip: IsraGood, Image: TGE Tech's device converting garbage into energy. Credit: Israel 21st Century)

One item that seems to follow humanity no matter where they go is trash. While we often have glorious visions of future settlements operating perfectly efficient space bases, the reality is that as colonies begin to grow, so will the need for a place to throw our garbage.

Instead of our species repeating "the sin" of polluting yet another world, why not instead turn our "useless leftovers" into useful energy?

(Israel 21st Century) Some of the biggest mountains aren't made out of stone; they're built out of garbage. It's a sad fact of life that the human race generates a lot of byproducts. If they can't be recycled - and about 70 percent of our trash can't - then it gets dumped, in what is euphemistically called a "landfill."

But hold on a second: There may be gold, or at least electricity, in those dumps. So says Jean Claude Ohayon, CEO of Israeli startup TGE Tech, which has developed and patented a system whereby unrecycled refuse can be converted into fuel with a special patented device that turns garbage into gas - syngas, a well-known element that has some of the properties of gas, oil and coal. [...]

Syngas is not as effective as oil or coal, Ohayon realizes; it only has about 15% of the calorie (energy) power of its authentic siblings. However, Ohayon explains, that level of energy is more than enough to power the gasifier, the waste treatment plant, and probably all the streetlights and traffic lights in a city on any particular day.

Even though syngas will not be the end all solution for every type of waste, it could help humanity reduce the cost of powering off world colonies significantly, making them more attractive towards politicians--not to mention tax payers as well.

Saturn: Titan Colonists May Loathe The Moon's Sand

(Hat Tip: The Space Fellowship, Image Credit: NASA)

Located approximately 1.5 billion kilometers away from the Sun, Saturn's Titan may prove to be one of the more interesting worlds to live upon in our solar system.

While it would not be surprising to see cites constructed upon the moon due to its methane lakes, future colonists may find its sand to be "slightly irritating."

(NASA) On Earth, sand grains form by breaking things down, but on Titan, the opposite may be true - with much of the sand a product of building things up.

That's one theory Cassini scientists are considering after studying Titan's massive sand dunes with the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer on the Cassini Saturn orbiter. The new observations raise the possibility that much of the sand grows from hydrocarbon particulates fallen from the sky that, once on the ground, join together and become sand grain-size particles. [...]

In the May 2008 issue of the journal Icarus Cassini scientists report that dunes contain less water ice than the rest of Titan. The dark brown sands appear to be made up of the same kind of complex organic chemicals that dominate Titan's smoggy atmosphere. If the dunes are made up of the same dark material on the inside as they have on the outside, then there's simply too much organic sand to have come from erosion alone.

The new findings may help explain how, once on the ground, hydrocarbon particulates the size of smoke particles might grow into sand grains through a process called "sintering" - a slight melting that welds particles together. It may be that sintering produces particles that are just the right size for sand grains - between 0.18-0.25 millimeters and no larger, perfect for blowing in the wind and drifting into dunes.

If humanity desires to ever live upon this world, they may have to find a way to counteract this sintering effect, as the last thing colonists need is to have these particles building up upon future spaceports, buildings and homes (not to mention rocket ships).

Carnival Of The Space Geeks! (Anniversary Edition)

A long, long time ago in a place not so far away (at least online), Henry Cate founded the very first Carnival of Space.

While blog carnivals are nothing new, this was the first time a group of scientists, engineers and space enthusiasts working at aerospace companies, labs, or simply posting from their computer gathered together online in order share their thoughts regarding the future of humanity--blog style.

The diversity of people publishing articles for all to see is truly amazing, and hopefully one day we will all be able to meet--whether in this world or on the next (note: as in the Moon or Mars--now wouldn't that be glorious?).

Without further delay, here are just a small sample of the articles that caught my eye from the Carnival of Space hosted by Henry, which you can see over at Why Homeschool.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to tune into the next Carnival of Space coming up this Thursday.

For those of you desiring to share your opinion regarding space, humanity and what lies "beyond the black," feel free to contact Fraser over at Universe Today and he will give you the necessary details on how your article can be posted upon the next Carnival of Space.