Monday, June 30, 2008

Solar Steam To Power Martian Cities? (Video)

(Hat tip: IsraGood)

With average tempreatures hovering around -63 degrees Celcius, future Martian colonists are going to have to find innovative ways of staying warm--not to mention power their (hopefully) growing communities.

Since it may be awhile before Earth may allow future Martians to have a nuclear power plant (due to political reasons), residents may have to rely on using "solar steam power" technology to keep the lights on--not to mention biospheres toasty.





Since Mars has plenty of ice water upon (or underneath) its surface, colonists should have no problem building massive solar power steam plants, which could enable cities to be powered inexpensively (decreasing dependence from Earth for fuel).

Even though this technology is promising, future settlers of Mars may want to consider a variety of alternative energy sources, ranging from hydrogen energy to "green" algae, to even turning future trash into power.

If successful, future Martian metropolises may end up being powered by green technology, providing an example to not only Earth, but future colony worlds as well.

Europe: Human Space Flight Is Far From Dead

After seeking out future candidates interested in becoming Europe's next generation of astronauts, the European Space Agency has been swarmed with applications--a health sign that Europe's quest for the stars is not only alive and well, but it is just warming up.

(Space Travel) At the close of the application phase which lasted a month, 8413 aspiring astronauts provided a medical certificate and finalised the online application form. This qualifies them for the next step in the selection process. [...]

"We now have a large number of highly qualified applicants. I am confident that we will find the outstanding individuals we are looking for. This will be ensured by the next selection steps, starting with a first round of psychological testing," said Michel Tognini, Head of the European Astronaut Centre. 

Most of the applications were from France and Germany, although to the article the vast majority of them were from men (note: where are all of the ladies?). This is a good sign for Europe, as having their own space program will help keep NASA and China competitive (and perhaps help ease tensions between the two as well).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks! (Three Score And Counting)


Michael over at Slacker Astronomy hosts the 60th Carnival of Space, which had a variety of entries ranging from humanity traveling towards Alpha Centauri to why the Moon "grows larger/smaller" to even how persistance can pay off when confronting NASA.



A few interesting posts regarding our solar system (or technology that will help get us there) caught this author's eye, which included:






Feel free to read the rest of the articles over at Slacker Astronomy, and if you desire to see your thoughts included in the next round, feel free to visit Universe Today for more details.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Now Or Never: Its Solar Sail Time!




(Image Credit: John Ballentine)



Whether by nuclear, chemical or magic (note: joking on the last item) humanity has used rockets to transport ourselves and our robotic friends across the solar system.



Even though rockets can get us off world in a hurry, they may not be too efficent when traveling around our own star system (not to mention reaching another one).



In order to help humanity receive the "extra thrust" necessary to conquer the final frontier, the Ames Research Center (of NASA) will be deploying the first solar sail to soar throughout the solar system.



(Physorg.com) Montgomery's team and a team from Ames Research Center (led by Elwood Agasid) hope to make history this summer by deploying a solar sail called NanoSail-D. It will travel to space onboard a SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket, scheduled for launch from Omelek Island in the Pacific Ocean during a window extending from July 29th to August 6th (a back-up extends from August 29th to September 5th). [...]



"It's not so much about how far a sail will go compared to a rocket; the key is how fast," says Montgomery. "The Voyagers have escaped the solar system, and they were sent by rockets, but it's taken more than three decades to do it. A sail launched today would probably catch up with them in a single decade. Sails are slower to get started though. So, for example, between the Earth and the moon, rockets might be preferred for missions with a short timeline. It's a trip of days for rockets, but months for a solar sail. The rule of thumb, therefore, would be to use rockets for short hops and solar sails for the long hauls."



Even though alternative forms of "space thrust" have been developed (such as the ion propulsion system), the solar sail is one of the few technologies that would enable humanity to become an interstellar species, and not merely an interplanetary one.



Although this technology would be perfect for visiting (and perhaps colonizing) the Kuiper Belt Objects, it may help our young race to establish a quick transport to the outer gas giants (not to mention Pluto as well).



Update (7/5): It looks like SpaceX will be launching the Solar Sail for NASA!

Video: NASA Promo For Constellation Mission

(Hat Tip: Space.com)

NASA has released another video highlighting their Constellation mission, which features new space suits that will protect them as they venture upon the lunar surface.







Even though it has the backing of Congress, America's space agency has been facing criticism over the Ares I Rocket, which some view as a "failure waiting to happen."

While alternatives have been proposed (such as the Direct Launcher), none have been able to make it beyond the "powerpoint stage" and into reality. Despite the criticisms, NASA is assuring everyone that the Ares I rocket is fine, and will fly towards the heavnes with its bigger brother Ares V.

If successful NASA plans on establishing a few lunar outposts which will hopefully spark humanities interest in retaking the stars (not to mention colonizing every planet, moon and dwarf planet along the way).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Martian Soil: Fertile For Asparagus?



After gloriously landing on the red planet, the Phoenix lander has been able to not only analyze the small scoop of Martian soil within "its lab," but also determine its fertility towards life.

(Space.com) After performing the first wet chemistry experiment ever done on another planet, Phoenix discovered that a sample it dug of Martian dirt contained several soluble minerals, including potassium, magnesium and chloride. Though the data is preliminary, the results are very exciting, scientists said.

"We basically have found what appears to be the requirements for nutrients to support life," said Phoenix's wet chemistry lab lead, Sam Kounaves of Tufts University. "This is the type of soil you'd probably have in your backyard. You might be able to grow asparagus pretty well, but probably not strawberries."

Asparagus, which thrives in alkaline soil, would like the Martian dirt, which Phoenix measured to have a very alkaline pH of between eight to nine. Strawberries, meanwhile, like acidic soil, he said.


This analysis lays to rest one of the greatest fears about Martian soil, which many scientists had assumed to be fairly toxic towards Earthen life (or rather a few life forms at least).

While it is doubtful that Phoenix will be able to find anything alive on that crimson world (due to the radiation bombarding the surface), scientists may be able to figure out which plants would be able to survive upon Mars.

Although future colonists would probably still have to import fertilizer from Earth, they may be able to grow small gardens full of asparagus (note: and hopefully tomatoes, a favorite food of this author).

Monday, June 23, 2008

NASA: Our Study Shows Ares Can Deliver Us Lunar Side


With Congressional backing behind them, it looks as if NASA is pressing forward with the Constellation program after a nine month study confirmed what NASA already suspected--that the Ares V rocket can return the space agency towards former glory.

(NASA) "We confirmed that Constellation's conceptual designs for both Ares V and Altair will enable us to land astronauts and cargo anywhere on the moon and to build an outpost supporting widespread exploration of the lunar surface," said Jeff Hanley, Constellation Program manager at Johnson. "This extensive review proves we are ready for the next phase: taking these concepts and moving forward to establish mature requirements." [...]

The review refined early configurations of the Ares V rocket to ensure its capability to deliver the Altair lunar lander, four astronauts and cargo anywhere on the moon and return the crew to Earth at any time. To accomplish those objectives, the current configuration of the Ares V will use six RS-68B liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen engines on a core stage along with two five-and-one-half segment solid propellant rocket boosters, which are a direct evolution from the first stage of the Ares I rocket. The Ares V upper stage will propel the Orion crew capsule and Altair to the moon using the same J-2X engine as the Ares I crew launch vehicle. The Ares V will stand about 381 feet tall and be able to send more than 156,600 pounds of cargo and components into orbit to the moon, and later to Mars or other destinations.

Altair will be capable of landing four astronauts anywhere on the moon, providing life support and a base for the first week-long surface exploration missions, and returning the crew to the Orion spacecraft for the ride home to Earth.


Even though a few space advocates are proposing an alternate "safer" path to reach Earth's nearest neighbor (hat tip: Space Pragmatism), NASA is probably determined to finish the path that it has started.

While there is no mention of dropping a few roaming space bases upon the lunar surface, it is good to see NASA focused upon returning humans to the lunar surface.

McCain, Obama Beware: Congress Has NASA's Back

Even though US presidential candidates can help shape (or hinder) our trip towards the heavens, space enthusiasts may be thrilled to find strong support for conquering the final frontier within Congress.

(Orlando Sentinel) The measure also includes an extra $1 billion to accelerate the Constellation program, a series of new rockets and capsules that NASA hopes can carry astronauts to the moon and eventually Mars. Its first mission is planned for 2015 -- five years after the shuttle's 2010 retirement. [...]

"We're really on to the next administration at this point. That's 99 percent of our focus," said U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, one of the bill's sponsors. "By an overwhelming, enthusiastic and bipartisan majority, the U.S. House has endorsed an aggressive promotion of NASA in general and human spaceflight in particular."


After expressing uneasiness over the idea of outsourcing International Space Station flights to the Russians, it looks as if Congress is demonstrating its full support of NASA--regardless on whether or not the presidential candidates think human exploration is a good idea or a futile one.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (58 And 59)



Well, after spending a few days camping in the woods, and last week helping out family in the boonies (boonies=no wireless internet connection--not even through a phone) its good to be back in civilization!

Since I was unable to update a post regarding the Carnival of Space two weeks ago, I'll include it within this post, along with last weeks Carnival.

________________________________


Fraser from Universe Today hosted the 58th Carnival of Space, which highlighted posts ranging from problems with the Phoenix lander to Sun probes, to even more confusion regarding Pluto's status (note: it looks like Plutonian citizens are winning).

Interesting posts included:



Be sure to read the rest of the entries from the 58th Carnival of Space, (if you have not that is) and without further ado here is last weeks Carnival of Space!

________________________________


The 59th Carnival of Space was hosted by Maria Brumm upon the Green Gabbro.

Articles ranged from the Martian rovers, to Saturn's moon Titan, not to mention a few more "super-Earths" have been discovered around another star.

A few interesting articles readers might enjoy include:



Thanks for reading, and be sure to visit the rest of the articles from last weeks Carnival.

While reading these articles from scientists, space enthusiasts and cynics is fun, it would be even better to submit your own post regarding your view of the Universe.

For those interested in joining the upcoming Carnival of Space, you can find details about joining over here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Solar Bamboo Forests

(Note: Inspired by Ian O'Neill of AstroEngine, Image Credit: Paul Vlaar)

If one were able to measure the breadth of our solar system from the surface of the Sun to the distant orbit of Pluto, it would measure approximately 7 billion kilometers (or just under 50 Astronomical units).

While most of these worlds will probably be inhabited sparsely, some of the larger worlds in our solar system will probably be home to tens of millions (if not billions) of colonists, not to mention "zillions" of plants and animals.

Whether future residents choose to terraform their global habitats, or reside within biospheres instead, they will probably need a way to import some organic beauty and insert it upon their barren new homes.

Even though future settlers could simply grow a few flowers or bushes, they may choose to raise a forest in order to mimic life upon their Earthen cradle. Since many trees take decades to reach maturity, future colonists may opt to grow bamboo forests instead.

Sometimes seen as a pest in the west, bamboo is highly respected within Eastern cultures, which may have something to do with bamboos unique ability to grow very fast, ranging from 30 centimeters a day to (in one case) over four feet in 24 hours.

Their fast growth rate would make it easy for settlers to establish dense forests within a year (or two), making these outposts more appealing to not only families, but scientists needing a break from "all things metal."

While their fast growth and beauty may appeal to the artist, the bamboo's practicality may appeal to the pragmatist.

Despite the fact that other trees may grow thicker (and sometimes higher) than bamboo, very few (if any) can match the amount of oxygen generated by this eastern tree.



(Image Credit: Environmental Bamboo Foundation)

Bamboos are known to produce 35% more oxygen than their tree companions, as well as absorb more CO2.

If included within future space habitats, these fast growing trees could help reduce the cost of living away from Earth, as settlers would not have to import as much oxygen from Earth or the Moon.

Although off world inhabitants will probably view metal as the primary building material for outside the outpost, bamboo wood may prove to be an excellent source for building material within space colonies.

Often known for its "strength and toughness" (at least with some species), bamboo could enable settlers to build furniture (such as chairs, desks and tables), eliminating the need for importing these items from Earth (which can be quite expensive).

If building furniture appeals to the future solar craftsman, then eating bamboo shoots may appeal to the stomach.



(Image: Bamboo shoots (or sprouts) at a Japanese Supermarket. Credit: Chris 73 via Wikipedia)

Despite the fact that most bamboo species would be considered toxic to ones health, there is at least one species that may provide a source of nourishment for future settlers.

Since most worlds orbiting our star system lack a global magnetic field, scientist would have to depend upon ants to pollinate the flowers of these future bamboo forests, not to mention provide plenty of water for them to drink.

While it would not be surprising to see colonists importing (and planting) other trees upon worlds like Mars, Ganymede and Callisto, it may not be an uncommon sight to behold thousands of bamboo forests upon dozens of solar worlds.

Update: Edited a few words for grammar and clarity.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Video: Europe Getting Serious About Moon, Mars

Not content at watching NASA and China claim the stars for themselves, it looks as if the European Space Agency (or ESA) is seriously considering sending their own representatives to visit the surfaces of both the Moon and Mars.


video


(Video: ESA promoting both humans and robots for space missions. Credit: ESA)

While their recent attempts at recruiting astronauts is a start, the Europeans need to figure out a way of launching their own citizens into space.

If Europe is to inherit the vast wealth our solar system has to offer our planet, then they seriously need to consider adding humans to the equation lest they find themselves looking to the past for their glory, instead of the future.

Can Massive Radio Waves Make Radiation Worlds Safe?

(Hat Tip: Universe Today)

Despite its lack of attention from space science fiction movies, radiation is probably humanities deadliest foe--at least when it comes to colonizing a few promising worlds.

While anti-radiation drugs, specialized habitats and portable magnetic shields could enable us to live on hostile worlds, using massive radio waves could help "damper" the affects of encounter this invisible killer.

(ABC News Australia) Gamble and colleagues were using the research satellite DEMETER to investigate the behaviour of the magnetosphere when they picked up some interesting observations directly over the North West Cape military transmitter in Western Australia.

"We were able to determine that this transmitter has a direct effect on the electrons in the radiation belts [in the magnetosphere]," says Gamble.

"[It caused] those electrons to crash into the top of the atmosphere and be removed from the radiation belts."

He says this is the first study to show humans could control electrons in the magnetosphere from earth.

Gamble says specially-designed radio transmitters could be aimed towards to sky to dissipate the electrons, once a solar flare was detected.


If massive radio waves could be used to reduce the strength of radiation belts from Earth, future colonists may be able to replicate this on other worlds such as Ganymede, not to mention the icy moon worlds of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

This would enable humanity to settle upon lunar worlds heavily bathed within their parent planet's radiation belts, opening up worlds that may have been previously written off to the public because of intense radiation.

Moon Telescopes Via Lunar Concrete?

With NASA revisiting Earth's little sister in the not so distant future, a few scientists are dreaming of establishing massive telescopes upon the lunar surface.

In order to make this dream of reality, scientists are proposing on converting lunar dust into concrete, and turning a few craters into giant lunar telescopes.

(Space.com) "We could make huge telescopes on the moon relatively easily, and avoid the large expense of transporting a large mirror from Earth," said Peter Chen of NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. "Since most of the materials are already there in the form of dust, you don't have to bring very much stuff with you, and that saves a ton of money." [...]

To arrive at the concrete recipe, Chen and his Goddard colleagues including Douglas Rabin, mixed small amounts of carbon nanotubes and epoxies (glue-like materials) with simulated lunar dust, or crushed rock that has the same composition and grain size as dust on the moon.

After several iterations, one of which yielded what Chen described as "gooey and smelly," the team created a strong material with the consistency of concrete. Next, they coated the material with epoxy and spun the wet lunar concrete to form a 12-inch-wide (30-centimeter-wide) bowl-like structure shaped like a telescope mirror.


Scientists hope to be able to coat these "bowl-like structures" with aluminum, an element that is "fairly common" within the lunar crust.

While a lunar based telescope would probably have its fair share of problems (ranging from "moon static" to meteorites), it could enable humanity to observe the universe a little clearer without the radio noise from Earth.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (57)

Another week, another space Carnival! Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Ken Murphy over at Out of the Cradle.

The blog carnival featured articles ranging from brown dwarfs to Phoenix, to NASA rediscovering itself to Phoenix, to debunking Martian conspiracy theories to (you guessed it) Phoenix.

The best article (or rather video) was from Space Transport News which featured a rocket test on SpaceX's Falcon 9 engine.





While the site (and sound) of rockets is beautiful on Earth, it would be even more glorious to have that rocket launch lunar side (perhaps towards the asteroid belt, or even Mars).

Thanks for reading, and for those of you seeking to join the brave souls publishing their thoughts about humanities quest to wander the stars, you can find more information by visiting Universe Today.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (56)

Last week I hosted the Carnival of Space over at the Lifeboat Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving human civilization on Earth and expanding it towards the stars (for insurance).

Most of the posts revolved around the Phoenix Lander, although there were a few interesting posts highlighting extra-solar civilizations and earth-like worlds, not to mention a breakthrough in fusion power.

While hosting (and posting) the Carnival was enjoyable, reading the various posts (note: yes, I do read ALL of the articles published at the carnivals) was even better.

So instead of observing all of the fun from afar, why not submit an article to the carnival for the rest of the space geeks to enjoy? (note: details on entering the Carnival can be seen over here)