Saturday, December 20, 2008

Happy Holidays (Plus A Mini Update)

As some of you may have noticed, I have been publishing very few articles across several of my blogs.

Due to the busy season I have been scaling back writing online, although I should be back to posting regularly after the holiday season comes to a close.

Until then, I would like to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas, a Happy Channukah or a solemn Festivus (for you Seinfeld fans), and feel free to email/Tweet/scrap me--and above all stay safe!


-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One Solar Space Power To Rule Them All?

Note: Article inspired by NASA Watch, The Planetary Society and 21st Century Waves

Warning: This is an extremely long article, so you may want to grab a quick snack as you read through this post.

Anyone who has ever played board games such as Risk and Monopoly knows that the overall purpose of the game is for one player to dominant the board by either taking territory or securing financial resources ahead of their rivals.

The same rule also applies to the final frontier as evidenced by the space race emerging in Asia, as well as between the US and China.

While every nation probably has their own "road map" for conquering the final frontier, there are no less than five critical locations (ranging from asteroids to dwarf planets to even moons) that a space faring nation must secure if they desire to remain (or become) a solar space power in our star system.

First Stop: Luna

Orbiting a mere light second away from Earth, the Moon could easily be described as humanities second home due to its proximity towards our birth world.

Although the lunar surface may lack water (at least in abundance), its white regolith can be "easily" converted into breathable oxygen, allowing our species to survive beyond our earthen cradle without the need to constantly borrow air from our home world.

Often seen as free on planet Earth, oxygen in space will be literally worth its "weight" in gold, and any nation that can find a way to inexpensively produce lunar oxygen will have an advantage later on over its rivals (and may even be able to sell the precious gas for a profit).

While its oxygen rocks could enable humanity to live off world, its reduced gravity may make the tiny sphere appealing to asteroid miners seeking out near earth objects (aka NEO's).

Since micro-gravity has a way of eroding bones and muscles, destroying immune systems, weakening hearts and strengthening deadly bacteria, asteroid miners may prefer to live lunar side (with frequent trips to mine these NEO's), than to spend the majority of their time floating next to a space rock in micro-gravity.

Even though a space faring nation (both current and aspiring) could develop a sustainable presence around the Moon (and nearby space rocks) due to its resources and location, it may be wise to travel beyond Earth's orbit towards more promising worlds (in order maintain its status a future space power).

Next Stop: The dwarf planet Ceres

Although some would consider it "insane" to skip the red planet, heading to Ceres first will ensure that a future space power has the resources to fund its expansion (note: despite the fact that doing so means sacrificing the prestige of sending the first man or woman to Mars).

Ceres strategically orbits within the metal rich region of the asteroid belt, making this dwarf planet prime real estate (at least to asteroid mining corporations).

Any nation establishing a colony on Ceres would be able to send teams of astronauts to secure nearby metallic space rocks as their own, potentially selling them to future allies or harvesting the mineral resources for themselves.

While the dwarf planet lacks any resources of its own, Ceres is suspected of hosting more "fresh water" than Earth itself, which would enable future asteroid minors to potentially grow their own food off world without depending on frequent supplies from Earth.

It would also allow Ceres to act as a interplanetary rest stop between Mars and Jupiter, not to mention a safe haven as well (just in case the asteroid belt becomes infested with space pirates).

Since most of humanities attention will probably be focused on Mars after the Moon, there will probably be very little competition establishing a dominant presence on Ceres (if not conquer it entirely for themselves).

Third Stop: The Martian moon called Phobos

Despite its popularity in science fiction, Mars will probably attract very few visitors due to the extreme difficulty in landing large payloads on the surface of the red planet.

Coupled with the fact that Mars lacks major resources of any kind (note: at least that we know of), the crimson world may only be inhabited by scientists, various cults and individuals disillusioned by Earthen (and Lunar) governments.

Even though the red planet may not be of much economic worth (at least initially), one of its asteroid moons Phobos could be converted into an enormous space station in order to make it easier to process metals harvested from the asteroid belt.

Since the sunlight on Mars is much stronger than in the asteroid belt, a future mining corporation could use the Sun's rays to melt asteroid metals en mass before exporting them towards Earth (and Luna).

Although working on an asteroid moon may be profitable, living upon one may not due to the side effects of micro-gravity.

Even though a future miner could always counter the effects of micro-gravity with various drugs and electronic shocks, it may be wiser to settle upon the red deserts below as Mars's gravity is approximately 38% Earth norm.

In order to reduce the cost of transporting personal (and equipment) to and from the Martian surface, a future space power may need to construct an "orbital space elevator" on the near side of Phobos.

While constructing this would ultimately open up Mars to the rest of humanity (which a future space power could charge a fee for rivals to use), it would also allow them to import water from the Martian surface (instead of depending upon either Earth or Ceres for supplies).

Fourth Stop: The Jovian moon Callisto

Often regarded as a dead world, the Jovian moon Callisto may be of high worth to any space faring nation, due to the fact that it is one of the few radiation safe worlds in our star system.

Even though Mars and the Moon may have "celebrity status" throughout our solar system, neither of the worlds has a global magnetic field to protect their spheres from the wrath of the Sun.

Callisto on the other hand is not only protected by Jupiter's magnetic field, but it orbits just beyond the gas giant's radiation belt, enabling future colonists to raise families (and pets) upon this world without fear of growing a third eye ball.

While Callisto may not have any immediate value outside of being a midway point between the inner solar system and Saturn, establishing an outpost here would enable a future space power to "easily explore" its brother Ganymede.

Although Ganymede's orbit takes it into the heart of Jupiter's radiation belts, a properly shielded colony could use Ganymede's global magnetic field to raise an abundance of crops with the help of bees (instead of relying upon ants who may not need a magnetic field to pollinate our green friends).

While it would probably be impossible for one space faring nation to conquer both of these worlds for themselves, conquering these moons early on (especially Callisto) could give a rising space power significant influence over the future of the Jupiteran system (not to mention the next gas giant as well).

Last Stop: The methane moon called Titan

Even if humanity finds a way to harvest the helium-3 locked away within Luna's crust (not to mention the atmosphere of Uranus), the cost of mining it may put it out of reach for most interplanetary commercial spacecraft.

Since supplies of Uranium and Plutonium could easily become unavailable for space travel (as many nations on Earth may need them for energy or defense), finding an inexpensive alternative could determine whether or not a space faring nation thrives or merely survives in the depths of our star system.

One way to guarantee that a future space power has the neccessary fuel to maintain its fleet (at least inexpensively) is to establish outposts near Titan's methane lakes (which may contain an abundance of methane/ethane within them).

While it would not be surprising to see Titan heavily colonized in the fairly distant future (by various countries), securing this world early on would enable a space faring country to establish tremendous influence throughout the solar system (or at least within the ringed system of Saturn).

What about the other worlds?

Although their are plenty of other interesting worlds ranging from the burning crust of Mercury to the frozen wasteland of Neptune's moon Triton, these worlds may not attract that much interest in the future (at least as far as we can tell right now).

Even though everyone probably hopes that humanity would put aside their differences and explore the final frontier in peace, six thousand years of recorded history seems to hold a dim view regarding this viewpoint (as one can glimpse the wars that have raged upon our planet).

Whether or not humanity decides to conquer every sphere and space rock within our solar system only time will tell.

But either way, these four worlds (plus one asteroid moon) may be the key that determines which space faring nation not only dominates our solar system, but perhaps guides us unto the next one as well.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Is Obama Having Second Thoughts On NASA's Ares I Rocket?

After defeating John McCain in the bid for the White House, President Elect Barack Obama is determined to bring about the necessary change in government in order to keep the US economy from going off of a cliff.

While Obama is already asking for "meaningful cuts and sacrifices" in order to keep our economy afloat, it looks like his team may be hinting that future budget cuts could potentially affect NASA's Ares I rocket as well.

( U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's NASA transition team is asking U.S. space agency officials to quantify how much money could be saved by canceling the Ares 1 rocket and scaling back the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle next year. [...]

The questionnaire, "NASA Presidential Transition Team Requests for Information," asks agency officials to provide the latest information on Ares 1, Orion and the planned Ares 5 heavy-lift cargo launcher, and to calculate the near-term close-out costs and longer-term savings associated with canceling those programs. The questionnaire also contemplates a scenario where Ares 1 would be canceled but development of the Ares 5 would continue.

While the questionnaire, a copy of which was obtained by Space News, also asks NASA to provide a cost estimate for accelerating the first operational flight of Ares 1 and Orion from the current target date of March 2015 to as soon as 2013, NASA was not asked to study the cost implications of canceling any of its other programs, including the significantly overbudget 2009 Mars Science Laboratory or the James Webb Space Telescope.

According to the article, Obama seems to be committed towards keeping COTS alive (which is great news for companies like SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace).

While Ares I and Ares V do have have their fair share of critics, canceling either may end up hurting America's chances of beating China back to the Moon--unless a viable alternative can be found.

Note: If President Elect Obama decides to cancel the Ares rockets, NASA may want to consider teaming up with India and Japan, in order to make up for the short fall in funding (as well as support).

India: We Want A Man On The Moon

After successfully deploying a satellite around the Moon, it looks as if the worlds largest democracy is preparing to place one of its own citizens upon Earth's nearest neighbor.

(Moon Daily) "Sending man to moon is a very complicated mission. So, as a first step, we plan to develop an Indian spacecraft that will take astronauts across the earth and bring them back," ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair said delivering a lecture on 'India's Recent Space Achievements' here on Sunday. [...]

ISRO was also in the process of developing technologies for a manned moon mission and it would take more than six to seven years to develop those technologies, he said adding our effort is to achieve the milestone by the time the proposed next manned moon mission of USA and China materialise in 2020".
Even though India has yet to put a man into space (note: they are planning to send their first citizen around 2015), their belated entrance could help motivate Asia as a whole, especially if they team up with the Japanese.

Currently China is the leading space power in the region, as they have already conducted a space walk, with future plans on landing a lunar rover to explore the Moon's surface.

Only time will tell whether or not India realizes its dream among the stars--but if the nation of a billion people is successful, we may see future astronauts speaking an additional 20 plus languages (instead of just English and Chinese).

Monday, December 01, 2008

Carnival Of The Space Geeks! (Turkey Surprise Plus Extra Helpings)

I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday, as well as avoided the lines for Black Friday (note: do not forget to check out Cyber Monday while you are at it!).

Despite the busy holiday season, the 81st Carnival of Space was still able to be published thanks to Tracy Turner over at Tiny Mantras.

But since I forgot to mention the 80th Carnival of Space two weeks ago (which was hosted by Ethan Siegel over at Starts With A Bang), I will do a brief recap before diving into the latest space carnival.


Over on Starts With A Bang, there were a few interesting posts ranging from whether ancient Mars had oceans or not, birthday wishes to the International Space Station and past dreams of terraforming Mars (which data later on proved to be extremely difficult).

Interesting posts readers might enjoy include:

Be sure to visit the other posts over at Starts With A Bang! And now onto the 81st Carnival of Space!


Last weeks Carnival of Space was hosted over at Tiny Mantras, which included some interesting articles ranging from micro-gravity coffee drinking, what could happen if you traveled at the speed of light, and a rebuke against NASA (for overspending).

Articles readers might enjoy include:

  • Paul Anderson of The Meridiani Journal reports on buried Martian glaciers near the equator (which might be useful to future colonists who prefer not to live near the poles due to lack of water).
  • Dr. Bruce Cordell (of 21st Century Waves) highlights the "Moon and/or Mars" debate, and supports a greater emphasis towards the red planet (note: I disagree--a follow up post will explain why).
  • Ian O'Neill (via AstroEngine) questions whether we are emphasizing too much time searching for extraterrestrial life instead of building settlements on other worlds (like Mars).

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the rest of the entries over at Tiny Mantras! If anyone desires to join the next round, be sure to visit Universe Today on details on how to enter.