BLOGS

space_exploration (10)

It Takes a Village...

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This cutaway shows the interior of a 3D printed section of ESA's planned Moon Village.

 

Topics: ESA, Moon, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


We've all fantasized of visiting somewhere exotic. For most of us, that dream spot is somewhere on Earth. But for some, the ultimate must-see destination isn't on our planet at all.

NASA is currently planning a series of 37 rocket launches, both robotic and crewed, that will culminate with the 2028 deployment of the first components for along-term lunar base, according to recently leaked documents obtained by Ars Technica. An outpost on the Moon is surely an exciting prospect for both science geeks and prospective solar-system sightseers, but some believe NASA’s timeline is a too ambitious to be realistic.

However, unlike NASA, who not long ago adjusted their sights from Mars mission to a return to the Moon, the European Space Agency (ESA) has already spent almost five years quietly planning a permanent lunar settlement. And while building it may take a few decades, if done right, it could serve the entire world — sightseers included — for many more decades to come.

 

Moon Village: Humanity's first step toward a lunar colony?
Jake Parks, Astronomy Magazine

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Going Vertical...

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Czech scientists have opened a lab to experiment growing food for environments with extreme conditions and lack of water, such as Mars.

 

Topics: Climate Change, Mars, NASA, Space Exploration


PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech scientists have opened a lab to experiment growing food for environments with extreme conditions and lack of water, such as Mars.

The “Marsonaut” experiment by scientist Jan Lukacevic, 29, and his team at the Prague University of Life Sciences is based on aeroponics - growing plants in the air, without soil, and limiting water use to a minimum.

The plants grow horizontally from a vertical unit and are stacked one above the other to minimize space. Researchers experiment with light and temperature changes, Lukacevic said.

The team has already succeeded in growing mustard plants, salad leaves, radishes and herbs like basil and mint.

Scientists ate their first harvest last week.

“They taste wonderful, because they grow in a controlled environment and we supply them with bespoke nutrients,” said Lukacevic.

 

Czech lab grows mustard plants for Mars
Reporting by Jiri Skacel; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Dan Grebler, Reuters Science

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Olympus Mons and Beyond...

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Olympus Mons, NASA/MOLA Science Team/ O. de Goursac, Adrian Lark

Topics: Mars, Planetary Science, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


Olympus Mons is the most extreme volcano in the solar system. Located in the Tharsis volcanic region, it's about the same size as the state of Arizona, according to NASA. Its height of 16 miles (25 kilometers) makes it nearly three times the height of Earth's Mount Everest, which is about 5.5 miles (8.9 km) high.

Olympus Mons is a gigantic shield volcano, which was formed after lava slowly crawled down its slopes. This means that the mountain is probably easy for future explorers to climb, as its average slope is only 5 percent. At its summit is a spectacular depression some 53 miles (85 km) wide, formed by magma chambers that lost lava (likely during an eruption) and collapsed.

Mars is a planet mostly shaped by wind these days, since the water evaporated as its atmosphere thinned. But we can see extensive evidence of past water, such as regions of "ghost dunes" found in Noctis Labyrinthus and Hellas basin. Researchers say these regions used to hold dunes that were tens of meters tall. Later, the dunes were flooded by lava or water, which preserved their bases while the tops eroded away.

Old dunes such as these show how winds used to flow on ancient Mars, which in turn gives climatologists some hints as to the ancient environment of the Red Planet. In an even more exciting twist, there could be microbes hiding in the sheltered areas of these dunes, safe from the radiation and wind that would otherwise sweep them away.

 

Touring Mars, Elizabeth Howell, Space.com

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Yggdrasil...

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The rings of Saturn take center stage in this portrait by the Hubble Space Telescope taken on June 20, 2019. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL Team

 

Topics: Astronomy, Planetary Science, Space Exploration


There was a strong temptation to use the Norse legend of Bifrost - the rainbow bridge made popular in Thor, but rings of trees tell their age, so...

Yggdrasil is the tree of life, and it is an eternal green Ash tree; the branches stretch out over all of the nine worlds in Norse mythology, and extend up and above the heavens. Norse mythology: Yggdrasil.

Against earlier studies estimating an age of just 100 million years, new research suggests the planet’s rings could be as old as the solar system itself.

The great Saturn ring debate is far from settled, a new study suggests.

For years, scientists have argued about the age of Saturn’s famous rings: Are they ancient, dating to the birth of the planet itself? Or did the ring system form more recently, in just the past hundred million years or so?

This latter hypothesis has been gaining steam in the last few years, with multiple papers reporting that the rings could be even younger than the dinosaurs. Such studies cite the rings’ composition—more than 95% pure water ice—and total mass, which NASA’s Cassini mission pegged at about 15.4 million billion metric tons shortly after the probe’s epic “grand finale” at Saturn in 2017. (For perspective, 15.4 million billion metric tons is about 40% the mass of the Saturn moon Mimas, which is 250 miles, or 400 kilometers, wide.)

 

Saturn’s Rings May Be Ancient After All, Mike Wall, Space.com and Scientific American

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Off-World Ventures...

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A scheme to beam solar power entails collecting sunlight and beaming it to Earth. An array of mirrored heliostats (conical structure) collects the sunlight, and a photovoltaic array (disk) converts it into electricity, which is then converted into a coherent microwave beam and sent to receivers almost anywhere in view on Earth. The image depicts the SPS-ALPHA, or Solar Power Satellite by means of Arbitrarily Large Phased Array.

 

Topics: Asteroids, Economics, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


An apparent confluence of political will and technological readiness has fans of humankind’s expansion beyond Earth hopeful that their dreams may soon become reality. Alongside a rise in missions to the Moon by agencies and private companies in the US, Europe, China, Japan, India, and Russia, commercial sectors are buzzing with related activities. And various governmental and nongovernmental bodies are strategizing about environmental, ethical, legal, sociological, and other issues of space utilization and colonization.

With interest in space travel growing—spurred in part by billionaire entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk—enthusiasts say the time is right to figure out how to use space resources, including water, solar power, and lunar regolith. Doing so would expand space exploration, increase commercial activities in space, and lead to technological advances for humanity, says Angel Abbud-Madrid, director of the first graduate degree program in space resources, which he and colleagues launched last year at the Colorado School of Mines.

The only space resource exploited to date is the view of Earth from orbit for such applications as global positioning systems, weather prediction, communications, and science missions. A few years ago the prospect of mining asteroids for platinum and other metals to use on Earth was “the rage,” says George Sowers of the Colorado School of Mines. But the business case didn’t hold up. One exception might be rare-earth elements, but in the near to mid term, he says, “bringing stuff back to Earth is not economically viable.” For now, the focus has shifted to using space resources in situ.

Water is a primary target resource in space. Electrolyzed into hydrogen and oxygen, it becomes fuel that could replenish satellites in orbit and propel rockets for exploring the solar system and returning to Earth. Astronauts and space tourists could drink water, use it for gardening and hygiene, and shield themselves from ionizing radiation with meter-thick sheaths of it around habitats or spacecraft.

 

Prospect of off-planet outposts spurs interest in space resources
Toni Feder, Physics Today

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Shake, Rattle and Roar...

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SpaceX's Mars Starship prototype "Starhopper" hovers over its launchpad during a test flight in Boca Chica, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2019. REUTERS/Trevor Mahlmann

 

Topics: Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


(Reuters) - SpaceX test-launched an early prototype of the company’s Mars rocket on Tuesday, unnerving residents near the Texas site and clearing another key hurdle in billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s interplanetary ambitions.

After the launch, Musk congratulated engineers from SpaceX, short for Space Exploration Technologies Corp, and posted a photo of Starhopper touching down on its landing pad with billowing clouds of dust and sand rising from the ground.

“One day Starship will land on the rusty sands of Mars,” Musk tweeted.

The prototype, dubbed Starhopper, slowly rose about 500 feet (152 m) off its launch pad in Brownsville, Texas, and propelled itself some 650 feet (198 m) eastward onto an adjacent landing platform, completing a seemingly successful low-altitude test of SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engine.

The Raptor is designed to power Musk’s forthcoming heavy-lift Starship rocket, a reusable two-stage booster taller than the Statue of Liberty that is expected to play a central role in Musk’s interplanetary space travel objectives, including missions to Mars.

 

SpaceX's Mars rocket prototype rattles nearby residents in Texas flight test
Joey Roulette, Reuters Science

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Half the Time...

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An illustration of a spacecraft powered by nuclear thermal propulsion. (Image: © NASA/Marshall)

 

Topics: Mars, NASA, Nuclear Fission, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


Humanity's next giant leap could be enabled by next-gen nuclear tech, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

During the sixth meeting of the National Space Council (NSC) today (Aug. 20), the NASA chief lauded the potential of nuclear thermal propulsion, which would harness the heat thrown off by fission reactions to accelerate propellants such as hydrogen to tremendous speeds.

Spacecraft powered by such engines could conceivably reach Mars in just three to four months — about half the time of the fastest possible trip in a vehicle with traditional chemical propulsion, said NSC panelist Rex Geveden, the president and CEO of BWX Technologies Inc.

And that's a big deal for NASA, which is working to get astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

"That is absolutely a game-changer for what NASA is trying to achieve," Bridenstine said. "That gives us an opportunity to really protect life, when we talk about the radiation dose when we travel between Earth and Mars."

 

Nuclear Propulsion Could Be 'Game-Changer' for Space Exploration, NASA Chief Says
Mike Wall, Space.com

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A Year of TESS...

 

Topics: Exoplanets, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration, Star Trek


"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before." (Star Trek: The Captain's Oath)

“Kepler discovered the amazing result that, on average, every star system has a planet or planets around it. TESS takes the next step. If planets are everywhere, let’s find those orbiting bright, nearby stars because they’ll be the ones we can now follow up with existing ground and space-based telescopes, and the next generation of instruments for decades to come.” Padi Boyd, TESS project scientist, NASA GSFC

- HD 21749c, the first Earth-size planet the mission has found. The world orbits a K-class star with about 70 percent of the mass of the Sun, located 53 light years away in the constellation Reticulum, one of two planets identified in this system;

- A number of multi-planet systems, like that around L98-59, which includes a planet (L98-59b) between the size of Earth and Mars, the smallest yet found by TESS. Here the host star is an M-dwarf about a third the mass of the Sun, 35 light years away in the constellation Volans;

- Three exocomets identified in the Beta Pictoris system. A comet’s lightcurve differs significantly from that of a transiting planet because of the extended cometary tail. These discoveries demonstrate the ability of TESS to identify tiny objects around young, bright stars, and should lead to future exocomet detections that can supply information about planet formation;

- Six supernovae occurring in other galaxies, among them ASASSN-18rn, ASASSN-18tb and ATLAS18tne, found before ground-based surveys could identify them.

 

TESS: Concluding First Year of Observations, Paul Gilster, Centauri Dreams

#P4TC: TESS... August 2, 2018

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Stepping Backwards...

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Image source: link [1] below

 

Topics: Civics, NASA, Space Exploration, Star Trek, STEM


The first time I ran into the notion of the moon landing being "faked," a young coworker showed me a grainy amateurish video on YouTube. I encountered it with a co-vendor at the IBM research facility I supported. To neither, both younger than me, did it matter that "I was there" and they weren't on the planet yet. Evidence and eye witness testimony did not move them from their stances.

Neil Armstrong thought he had a 50–50 shot at pulling it off. "There are so many unknowns," the first man to set foot on the moon said in a 2011 interview with an Australian accounting firm. “There was a big chance that there was something in there we didn’t understand properly and we [would have] to abort and come back to Earth without landing.” That he, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins—with the help of thousands of NASA engineers, scientists and mission controllers on Earth—did pull off a moon landing remains one of humanity's most incredible achievements.

Consider that 50 years ago this month a 36-story-tall Saturn V rocket weighing as much as 400 elephants climbed away from Earth atop an explosion more powerful than the output of 85 Hoover Dams. Once in space, the astronauts escaped Earth orbit, traveled to lunar orbit, then undocked part of their spacecraft and steered it down for a soft impact on an alien land. Perhaps even more impressive, after taking a walk around, they climbed back in their lunar lander, launched off the surface of another planetary body (another first), rejoined the command module orbiting roughly 60 miles above the lunar surface, and then flew back to Earth, splashing down safely in the Pacific Ocean two days later. [1]

The spin offs from the space industry technologically benefited America. Not since the king cotton era (fueled by the free, uncompensated slave labor of my ancestors) had the United States enjoyed such dominance in production, productivity and economic expansion. It would go on for decades, many young people inspired by NASA, Star Trek reruns and conventions to pursue STEM careers out of a passion for exploration, and birthing a more egalitarian society post previous sectarian divisions.

Exactly 50 years ago today, a Saturn V rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon. Four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin would land on the Moon and inspire a generation of young people to become scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.

The Apollo program's effect of inspiring America's children to pursue careers in STEM fields is one of the most powerful lasting legacies of the Moon race. Unfortunately, this effect seems to be coming to an end.

On the eve of the Apollo 11 anniversary, LEGO asked The Harris Poll to survey a total of 3,000 children in the United States, China, and the United Kingdom about their attitudes toward and knowledge of space. The results reveal that, at least for Western countries, kids today are more interested in YouTube than spaceflight. [2]

Entertainment and ambition looked upward: the notion of a three nacelle starship with a saucer section that could travel impossible speeds fueled imaginations. The notion of defying relativistic time dilation, traversing vast distances in human lifetimes propelled many of us into STEM to “do our parts” in getting at least close to this lofty goal. A fifth or tenth the speed of light to Proxima Centauri would achieve that aim. Any higher level physics class disabused us of attaining “warp speed,” but we could see the technological benefit and spin off of assisting in things that would promote the “Common Good” here on Terra Firma.

We did not count on the divorce of productivity and cost of living wages, stagnant since the 1970s. We did not count on conspiracy theorists masking themselves as serious news pundits and influencing more than clicks or product purchases from their sites. We did not count on the rapidly increasing (and encouraged) income disparity. We did not count on politicians bought by wealthy families and corporations whose only about getting wealthier and more powerful in our lives. We did not count on science denial, climate or otherwise. Such a dysfunctional dystopia depends on selfies, self-centered attitudes and distractions, like supercomputers in our hip pockets sharing our suppers; websites that reinforce our views and cute cat videos. And we did not count on the cultural division encouraged by authoritarians the world over as their best means of controlling the masses.

It is in such a world young people would rather be YouTube personalities than starship captains.

My previous, gob-smacking encounters with my younger coworkers are now explained.
 

1. One Small Step Back in Time: Relive the Wonder of Apollo 11, Clara Moskowitz, Scientific American
2. American kids would much rather be YouTubers than astronauts, Eric Berger, ArsTechica

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Mars 2020...

When I test a vacuum, I just sprinkle oats all over the floor. When NASA tests one, you get this.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Topics: Mars, NASA, Space Exploration, Spaceflight


NASA will leave no Martian rock unturned as it prepares the next Mars robot for the chaos of space travel and landing on the red planet.

Over the last two months, the Mars 2020 spacecraft has been subjected to a number of extreme tests designed to ensure it can withstand an intense rocket launch and the extremes of space. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has put the futuristic craft through "acoustic and thermal vacuum" testing -- and it has passed with flying colors.

The test involve blasting the spacecraft with sound levels as high as 150 decibels -- the type of levels you'd hear standing next to a jet at take-off -- to replicate the environment of a launch, according to Andy Rose, manager of JPL's environmental test facilities.

After the sound blast tests were performed six times, NASA put the Mars 2020 rover through a brutal test that replicates the vacuum of space. That required the spacecraft to be transported to the Space Simulator Facility and suspended in midair, as seen in the above image.

 

Mars 2020 spacecraft subjected to brutal tests as it prepares for launch, Jackson Ryan, CNET

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