Wednesday, August 27, 2008

McCain: Dear Bush, We Really Need The Space Shuttle

After the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia, Senator McCain is asking the President to delay the space shuttle retirement in order to help America avoid dependence upon Russia during "the gap."

( McCain, joined by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and David Vitter (R-La.), also cited Russia's recent military incursion into neighboring Georgia earlier this month as evidence that Russia's continued cooperation on the international space station program should not be taken for granted.

Once the space shuttle is retired, Russia stands to possess the only means of transporting astronauts to and from the space station until the shuttle's successor – the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares 1 launcher – comes on line around 2015. [...]

McCain, Hutchison and Vitter, in their letter to Bush, wrote that Russia's actions "raised new questions about the wisdom of providing" the exemption the White House seeks from a provision in the Iran, North Korea, Syria Non-proliferation Act barring so-called extraordinary payments to the Russian space program so long as Russia continues to help Iran acquire missiles and other advanced weapons.

While Senator McCain's rival for the White House, Senator Obama has proposed an alternative solution (basically giving NASA an extra $2 billion), neither solution will help NASA as the agency lacks the funds to continue shuttle flights and finish the constellation program.

NASA is (understandably) tired of circling the globe while dreaming of the stars beyond our home world.

With firm plans to establish a lunar base (which will hopefully turn into a lunar colony), it would be better for NASA to allow the private sector (aka NewSpace) to replace Russia in ferrying astronauts, thus freeing up NASA to help humanity establish settlements off world.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (Interstellar Travel Ain't Easy)

Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Adam Crowl of Crowlspace (note: be sure to subscribe to his site feed as he has some great content over on his blog).

Many articles ranged from interstellar woes to Louis and Clark (note: it's space related) to even more silly arguments about the definition of a planet.

One article of interest that caught my eye was from Louise RioFrio (aka A Babe in the Universe) who posted an article about Enceladus.

(A Babe in the Universe) Back in December 007, the AGU meeting included a short talk by scientist Jennifer Meyer. The young woman asserted that Enceladus' 6 GW of heat can not be accounted for by tidal forces. The conventional estimate from tidal heating is only 0.12 GW. The old hypothesis or "radioactive decay" does not work for these icy moons. Why do so many worlds have hot spots on their poles?

On October 9 Cassini will make its closest flyby, passing only 25 km from Enceladus! Already the spacecraft has found tantalising data and spectacular photos. Little Enceladus could hold wonders not yet imagined. It could even hide a small Black Hole.
A black hole embedded within a tiny moon would probably spark more questions than answers, but it may also help explain why so much heat is pouring out from Enceladus.

Whether or not the source is discovered, Enceladus "warm nature" may prove to be ukseful towards future colonists in the form of geothermal energy.

Either way, be sure to read the rest of the articles, and for those of you seeking to inject your viewpoints regarding the cosmos, feel free to visit Universe Today for more details.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Living Off World May Stink

I packed my bags to head off world,
To live beyond the sky that twirls,
Around the planet of my birth,
The one I call home--aka Earth.
But when I arrived on that new planet,
I left in a hurry as I could not stand it.
It was not the gravity, or the radiation,
It was the stench of that wretched habitation.

We are a unique species. We spend billions of dollars in order to launch satellites to orbit distant worlds (or rovers to explore across their surface) in order to bring back images of what the horizon may look like on another planet (or Moon).

Often, we imagine what it must be like to live on the red planet, or dance through the smog world of Titan, or even (if we are lucky) what it would be like to have a picnic on the Moon.

Unfortunately, our dreams of humanity expanding throughout our native star system may ultimately come to naught, due to the simple fact that living off world may irritate one of our key bodily members, also known as the nose.

Despite the romantic images off the dozens of worlds that dance around their paternal planets and stars, the reality is that many of these rocky spheres have unique odors to them, which may be encountered after a future settler returns to the outpost (after exploring the surface of their new home).

One prime example of this is the Moon, in which astronauts reported as smelling like gun powder after tracking in lunar dust from the outside.

Even though this scent may please those associated with the NRA, it may irritate would be lunar residents, convincing many that the view of the stars is not worth dealing with the smell of the lunar dust.

If one thought the smell of gun powder is bad, then they may have second thoughts about living on Mars after discovering that the red planet may actually smell like sulfur.

While many space scientists would probably be willing to deal with the stench in order to live upon a world hundreds of millions of kilometers away from our terrestrial home, most Earthen citizens may choose to simply skip even visiting the crimson planet, opting for a post card instead.

While these unique smells may not keep some people from abandoning Earth for a new orb to explore, it will (unfortunately) be more than enough to convince the vast majority to stay put on the home world.

Worse, it could also translate to more women avoiding living off world, since their sense of smell is usually greater than their masculine friends. After all, if women (en masse) decide that off world planets are not worth the "tribulation of the nose," then the only large space settlements humanity may see will be penial colonies (as prisoners usually have very few rights--at least in most countries).

Since changing the aroma of extraterrestrial soils smells would be difficult (even if one were able to terraform it), it may be easier (and less expensive) to simply import air fresheners (or even scented candles where permitted) in order to mask the offending odors entering the space habitats.

While not every world humanity lands on will contain an unpleasant odor (that may make its way into the future outpost), we should do everything in our power to ensure that living off world long term is not only safe, but a pleasent experience for all five of our senses as well.

A New Hope: Nanosail-D May Launch Again

(Hat Tip: Space Transport News, Image Credit: John Ballentine)

While many will acknowledge SpaceX's third launch failure as a setback for the private space sector (aka NewSpace), many may not realize that it was also a setback for the "deep space" community as one of the passengers on board was the Nanosail-D satellite (a solar sail prototype).

Despite the tragic loss, it looks as though another solar sail is available for launch--provided that they can secure a rocket to send them beyond the sky.

(Centauri Dreams) Greg’s recent phone call may not have been as dramatic as that scene in Contact, but he was able to tell me that although NanoSail-D did perish in the SpaceX Falcon explosion, there is a second sail. Marshall Space Flight Center built two. So now we’re in the energizing position of having a second chance at a sail deployment in space, and it could be done soon via the next Falcon launch, if SpaceX will cooperate in the enterprise.

Hopefully SpaceX will be kind enough to consider adding NanoSail's "surviving twin" on the next rocket, as it will help scientists and engineers study how a solar sail reacts "in the wild" (not to mention give SpaceX something to boast about to the ever skeptical media).

Even though the solar sail have the potential of helping humanity visit other star systems, they could also shorten the amount of time it would take to reach lunar moons around the gas giants (not to mention the Kuiper Belt as well).

This would enable future colonies on Callisto, Ganymede, Titan and Neptune's Triton to flourish, as solar sails could be used to speedily transport goods between these distant worlds.

Update: Added "hat tip."

Barbecue Toilets (For Future Lunar Bases?)

(Hat Tip: Gizmodo, Image Credit: Mark Martinez of the Orange County Register)

Contrary to popular opinion, the first lunar bases on the Moon may not have that much space. Even though we often imagine large inflatable outposts, the first lunar settlements may be nothing more than "hi-tech mobile homes," giving astronauts the bare essentials to survive on that barren world.

Whether one intends to stay for one month or six, the Moon's future inhabitants are going to produce a lot of "number two's" (note: and by that this author does not mean second in command).

Instead of attempting to recycle them for fertilizer, humanity may be better off by "baking" their waste into dust and ashes.

(OC Register) The EcoJohn Sr. is a waterless, incinerating toilet certified for safety by Underwriters Laboratories, which initially compared it to a barbecue during the certification process. It's officially classified as a gas-fired toilet. [...]

After a user does his business, he closes the lid and a large, screw-like auger turns and carries the waste to the burn chamber where the propane burner then bakes urine, feces and paper into ashes.

"With this, if you have a family of four for a year and half, you get about a cup of white ash," company president Frank Jacobsonsaid. "And because it's burnt so intensely, you can take it and put it in a flower bed or outside or just dump it in the trash can. It's completely biodegradable, so there's not a problem for disposal."

With water already being scarce on the Moon, the last thing astronauts want to use this liquid gold for is flushing their byproducts elsewhere. Instead, future lunar settlers (and perhaps even deep space craft) could consider using these units, as it would help NASA (and others) save on installing some serious plumbing.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (The Next Generation)

David Chandler of Next Generation hosted last weeks Carnival of Space with many, many posts ranging from conversations with pro-space Congressmen to how liquids behave in space (note: video included) to even some rare praises for NASA's Mike Griffen.

There was even quite a few articles covering Enceladus, which seemed to be the unofficial theme of the Carnival.

One article of interest was from Brian Wang (of Next Big Future) who highlights six medical and technological advances in radiation protection. Here are two of those highlighted below.

(Next Big Future) 2. Radiation immunity enhancement. Several gene therapy and drug treatments that could make what would have been 50% fatality down to 20% or less.

Gene therapy provides temporary protection from radiation

3. New physical materials. Like graphene and nanotubes with high hydrogen doping levels. Optimized shielding for space radiation protection[.]
Radiation shielding is perhaps one of the largest obstacles towards humanity settling the solar system--surpassing even problems associated with the side effects of living with reduced gravity (which we may already have solutions for).

Hopefully we can perfect these medical and technological breakthroughs, as failure to do so will severely limit which moons humanity will be able to build cities upon.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to read the rest of the entries, as well as sign up for this weeks upcoming Carnival of Space (details on how to sign up can be seen over here).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Russia's Loss May Be NewSpace's Gain (NASA)

With the recent crisis in Georgia (note: the country) slowly coming to a close (hat tip: Hot Air), many are wondering how this latest conflict will affect NASA's relationship with Russia--especially regarding transportation of US astronauts towards the International Space Station (aka ISS).

While only time will tell whether or not Russia reaches out towards its former allies, one thing is clear--NASA may no longer be able to rely upon the international community to send its "boys and girls" beyond the sky, leaving them with no "dedicated" access towards the ISS (and beyond) during the gap.

Even though some may see this new dilemma as a crisis, this may perhaps be a golden opportunity for the private space sector (aka NewSpace) to prove their worth towards NASA--not to mention the public as well (hat tip: Space Transport News).

( SpaceX's offices are in the aptly named Rocket Drive, close to Hawthorne Municipal Airport in Los Angeles. And it has lofty ambitions. Nasa's Space Shuttle is due to be retired in 2010, when Musk's company hopes to take its place as the leading provider of launches.

SpaceX won an award of $278m from Nasa for three demonstration flights of its Falcon 9 rocket, which will carry the Dragon spacecraft - a vehicle that will be able to transport cargo or seven crew members. This will culminate with a dock and delivery and return of cargo with the International Space Station.

If that is successfully completed, there will be an option of similar value for passenger launches to and from the space station. This, coupled with commercially booked missions into 2011, means that SpaceX is profitable, it says - even though it has yet to get a rocket into orbit.

If SpaceX (as well as others) are successful, humanity may witness a new era of space exploration where the private sector begins to replace the government as the main transport service beyond the heavens, reducing the overall cost of launching material into space.

While this may mean that expensive projects like the ISS will be replaced by better, less expensive alternatives, it could also help transform NASA into a regulatory agency (similar to the FAA), instead of having to "bend the metal" themselves.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (On Mars?)

Last weeks Carnival of Space (which enters its 66th round) was hosted by Nancy Houser over at A Mars Odyssey, a blog dedicated towards promoting a manned mission to Mars (and back). I would recommend subscribing to Nancy's feed over here.

Many of the posts highlighted dealt with Phoenix's discovery of perchlorate in the Martian soil, with articles about NASA "keeping the faith" about life being discovered, although reality may not offer much hope that life (note: as we know it) would coexist with perchlorate nearby.

Interesting articles readers might want to tune into include:

Those are only a few of the many posts mentioned at the Carnival of Space, so be sure to read the rest of the articles over at A Mars Odyssey.

Note: If you would like to participate in the upcoming Carnival of Space, feel free to visit Universe Today for more details on how to enter.

(Image: NASA Phoenix lander "scoop print." Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Moon Base Plus Amor Asteroids Equals Solar Powered Satellites?

(Note: Inspired by Ken Murphy of Out of the Cradle)

If extraterrestrials were (un)fortunate enough to visit our rowdy planet, they would realize that our civilization is powered by death. For our civilization to survive, to expand, and to literally keep the lights on our species must harvest the compressed liquid of billions of dead things--also known as fossil fuels.

While alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and "bio-fuel" do exist, they may not be enough to keep up with the future energy demand (hat tip: Life After the Oil Crash) of our ever growing population.

With energy supplies on Earth finite at best, some individuals have looked beyond the heavens above in order to satisfy our "energy cravings" below.

By simply constructing solar powered satellites (aka SPS) above our blue world, proponents argue that we would be able to not only meet energy demand, but hopefully create a greener environment at the same time.

(Video: A presentation to both Presidential Candidates of 2008 about the need to develop SPS for our planet).

Unfortunately one of the major obstacles to constructing an SPS is the cost of launching material into space, which may make an SPS unreasonable unless a space elevator is constructed (although by the time one is built, it may already be too late).

Since launching building material from Earth may be too expensive, our species may have to hunt for (and utilize) precious metals off world in order to reduce the cost of constructing these massive behemoths--which means future colonists may have to harvest not only lunar soil, but nearby asteroids as well.

Even though the Moon's surface is composed of mostly oxygen, it also contains silicon, a key ingredient for producing solar cells.

While the Moon also contains other elements such as iron and aluminum (which could provide extra resources for constructing these massive solar panels), lunar colonists may prefer to harvest these elements elsewhere as both of these elements would have practical uses "lunar side" (iron for construction and aluminum for radiation shielding).

Instead of scouring the lunar surface in search of extra building material, humanity instead may choose to harvest nearby space rocks orbiting between our homeworld and the red planet--also known as Amor asteroids.

Unlike the asteroids located in the main belt, Amor asteroids orbit much closer towards Earth, with many of them traveling around in stable orbits.

While their proximity towards our Earthen cradle may make them attractive for scientists, its their abundance of minerals and metals that may make them priceless for space minors.

One Amor asteroid in particular,  433 Eros may have enough precious metals within its tiny frame to be worth trillions of dollars (which should provide more than enough material to construct several SPS's in space--with cash to spare for financing the project as well).

Even though there are still many challenges to building an SPS (not to mention where to locate the rectenna), our species may have to wait until we begin to harvest our "local neighborhood" before we have enough funds to actually create these energy wonders (without bankrupting our civilization).

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

Update: Images inserted (with credits given).

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Video: Future (Inflatable) Lunar Bases?

(Hat Tip: Gizmodo)

With NASA preparing to establish a lunar outpost upon Earth's nearest neighbor, there have been various proposals on how to house the astronauts upon the Moon.

Here is a video by Architecture and Vision on what they envision NASA's first Lunar will look like.

While NASA has yet to indicate whether they are in favor of roaming space bases, or one that remains stationary, one design element seems to be clear--inflatable lunar bases seem to be gaining favor with the space agency (which is probably good news for companies like Architexture and Vision and Bigelow Aerospace).

Carnival Of The Space Geeks (65)

Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted by Dr. Bruce Cordell upon 21st Century Waves, a site dedicated towards predicting the next great leap in space colonization will occur.

Articles ranged from predictions of gloom for NASA's manned missions to interstellar wagers (note: I voted in favor of the flight), to even an explanation on why you will never see a green star.

Articles readers here may enjoy are:

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the rest of the articles from the Carnival of Space--and if you would like to join in on the fun, you can visit Universe Today for more details on how to enter.

Is Martian Soil Fertile For Earthen Gardens?

After various reports surfaced online that the Phoenix lander had discovered the potentail for life on Mars, it looks as if the red planet may be somewhat more hostile than what scientists were previously hoping for.

(MSNBC) The views expressed at Tuesday's teleconference were much more nuanced. "How this perchlorate in the soil affects habitability is a complex question that we certainly don't have the final answer on," Smith said.

On Earth, perchlorates are considered toxic contaminants requiring environmental cleanup. They're the main ingredient in solid rocket fuel and can be found in fireworks and other explosives. In fact, scientists still have to rule out the possibility that the perchlorates actually came from the Delta 2 rocket that sent the Phoenix spacecraft out of Earth orbit. (The lander itself used a hydrazine fuel that didn't contain perchlorates.) [...]

However, some organisms actually thrive on perchlorates and have been enlisted for cleaning up chemical spills. Perchlorate-loving microbes have been found in Chile's Atacama Desert and Antarctica — two of the places that have been compared to the Red Planet's cold, dry environment.
While more research has to be conducted to determine whether or not the perchlorate came from Phoenix, humanity may discover Mars to be an infertile world, which means that humans may have to import fertilizer from their homeworld (or create their own naturally).

(Image Credit: NASA)