Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Lifeboat Theory Of Space Settlement And The Tragedy Of Human Nature.

Spacedaily has this story about Astrobiology magazine's publication of their latest thought experiment. (Here.) In this one, scientist Bernard Foing proposes putting a "Noah's Ark" on the Moon to preserve humanity and life as we know it in the event disaster befalls the Earth.

The lifeboat theory of space settlement is a fairly common justification for human colonization of other planets. That theory holds that other worlds could be a refuge for humanity in the event the Earth is destroyed by war or environmental destruction or a big giant asteroid or comet striking our world.

Not a bad idea but you've got to wonder how practical it is. If it's war that destroys the Earth the conflict is likely to sweep the colonies in space. As a refuge in case of environmental disaster, well that's a better idea, although if we can't save our own planet from ecological catastrophe, one wonders how we'll do making other planets habitable for humanity.

But as havens against asteroid or comet collision, Earth is at least as safe as anywhere else. With apologies to the followers of Gerard K. O'Neill, the two most commonly suggested homes for humanity in space are the Moon and Mars. The common characteristic of those two worlds is how heavily cratered they are.

Unlike the Moon, the Earth has an atmosphere to protect it from collisions. It's true that Earth's atmosphere won't protect us from a large asteroid but there is even less protection on the Moon. On the Moon, even the tiniest of meteors has a clear shot at the surface because of the lack of a true Lunar atmosphere.

As for Mars, one look at all the craters tells the story about that planet's history with asteroid collisions. Its two moons are asteroids for that matter. And just look at its location in the Solar System: one orbital position in from the Asteroid Belt.

We've always been a bit depressed at the lifeboat theory of space settlement. We prefer more glorious reasons for settling space. Spreading life to other planets, preparing other worlds for new branches of human civilization, opening frontiers, fulfilling American manifest destiny --- humanity's too, and making tons of money. O yeah, and learning things about the universe we live in. That's also important. But settling other planets so we can preserve humans in case Earth is destroyed; that's just depressing.

On the other hand, we have to admit that humans are a sorry lot who, although they learn from their mistakes, can really make a mess of things before they get it right. We also have to admit that we subscribe to a tragic view of humanity in which human nature is fixed throughout time and in which the future is likely to see the same sort of problems as the past and the present, just played out in different ways and magnified, thanks to how advanced our science and technology have become. In other words, with humans, what you see is what you get, and the best we can hope for is to preserve civilization to keep our worst instincts in check.

So, by all means lets put lifeboats on other planets. Humanity will certainly be better off when we spread our eggs among many baskets. Yet one could describe space settlement as the easy way out. The hard way would be learning to get along with each other, learning how our ecology can be protected, tracking the solar bodies that can do our planet in, and learning how to divert or destroy them before they do. Given human nature, however, our best bet for long-term survival is to do settlement and the rest. There's no good reason why we shouldn't.




Sunday, February 26, 2006

Debunking Extraterrestrial Land Sales.

A lawyer from Romania has written a book that apparently explains that there is no legal basis for buying property on other planets. (Here.) Now if only some enterprising prosecutor would read the book and do something about the so-called land sales of extraterrestrial property that so many people have wasted their money on.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Send Those Women To Mars!

The Mars Society of San Diego recently presented a talk by three female Mars researchers. Shannon Rupert, Kathryn Bywaters, and Melinda Capes were the speakers. They spoke about their experiences doing Mars analog research at the Mars Society's research stations.

Gerry Williams started the evening with a multimedia presentation about the San Diego chapter and the goals of the Mars Society.

Rupert spoke next. She is a biologist who teaches at a San Diego college. She explained that exploring Mars is important for several reasons. For society in general it will help us to understand whether we are alone in the universe and will lead to technological advances. Exploring Mars will also be inspirational much as Apollo inspired millions around the world. And Mars exploration will help scientists to understand more about the Red Planet.

But we haven't sent people across space to Mars yet so we must do our research here on Earth. That is done through analog research, which is research here on Earth at Mars-like environments, such as the Utah desert, the Canadian Arctic, and Australia. Rupert has the singular distinction of having done Mars analog research in all three of those locations. She has been a crew member and commander. She has served on international crews, coed crews, and an all-female crew.

Rupert said she enjoys doing research at the Mars Society's research stations. She was a veteran of biological field research before she began doing Mars analog research. The difference between the two is that in typical field research she works alone or with other scientists in her field; in Mars analog research, on the other hand, she never works alone and her companions are scientists in other fields, engineers, and others. She said she learns more working with others with different skills than she does working alone or only with other biologists.

Capes spoke next. She is a student of Rupert's. She has been a scientist on a crew at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah where she studied microbial diversity in the soil at the site much as scientists on Mars might do looking for life. Her research revealed there were a variety of organisms living in the soils around the MDRS.
Bywaters had just returned from doing research on extremophiles known as halephilic microorganisms (salt loving little buggers) at the MDRS in Utah. Scientists trying to find life to study on Mars will be on the lookout for extremophiles because the environment out there is so harsh to life as we understand it. The halephilic microorganisms show how life adapts to living in extreme environments. They have adapted by developing a salt lining on their cells which helps protect their interiors from the salty environment they live in.
The talks were followed by a question and answer session. The scientists were asked about crew dynamics. The optimum crew size for the research stations appears to be five. Four is not enough to keep up with the work. But having six or more crew results in having one or more crew members who tend to become isolated from the others.

As for the dynamics between men and women on crews, with mixed crews there is a tendency for leadership challenges and some conflict. For a mixed crew where there are more men than women, all the speakers agreed that there should be at least two women, for the sake of the women on the crew. The all-female crew worked very smoothly together as a team with little or no conflict. Williams chimed in on this topic that his experience on an all-male crew was the same.

Harmony isn't everything.

The women spoke at San Diego's Women's History Museum before an audience of about 20 people. Read more about the Mars Society of San Diego (here), the Mars Society (here), Mars analog research (here), and the all-female crew at MDRS (here).


Technorati: ,


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine's Day Space Photo.

Maybe Mars, not Venus, is the planet of love. Malin Space Science Systems in our hometown of San Diego has this photograph of the heart-shaped crater on Mars. (Here.)Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems



Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sally Ride Science Festival San Diego 2006

University of California San Diego was host today to the Sally Ride science festival for girls. Around 1600 girls attended the day-long event. In the morning the girls visited the display tables and booths set up by local science, technology, space, and education organizations. In the afternoon the girls broke into small groups and attended workshops. In between, around midday, Ride spoke to the girls.

Ride told the girls that she was interested in math and science since childhood. Her interests were nurtured by her parents, who knew little about the subjects but encouraged her to study them. Teachers along the way helped her to build the confidence she needed to continue her science and math education in college. Her life-long interest, education, and hard work prepared her when it came time for her to apply to be an astronaut, so that she could achieve her dream of flying in space. Mentoring, hard work, talent, and education were the ingredients of her success.

The girls gave Ride an enthusiastic reception. Their questions focused, naturally, on what it was like to fly in space.
The questions were surprisingly sophisticated at times. For instance, one girl asked how much younger Ride was today for having flown 17,500 miles per hour for two weeks in space than if she hadn't. It's interesting and amusing that Ride had done the math previously and had an answer: about one millisecond.

Ride said that she prefers weightlessness to Earth's gravity. She said that "the human body loves weightlessness." She said that the body adjusts quickly to space and the brain learns to adjust to the lack of gravity. She said that returning to Earth is hard because as gravity slowly returns on re-entry, everything starts to feel very heavy.

Another adjustment problem during and immediately after re-entry is vertigo and lack of balance. Ride said that during re-entry as the inner ear begins to experience gravity again the signals to the brain cause extreme vertigo. Simply moving the head causes the entire cabin to spin. Pilots flying the shuttle are trained not to move their heads from side to side during re-entry. The instruments and controls on the shuttle are placed in front of the pilots to limit side to side motion.

After re-entry it takes about 25 minutes to restore a sense of balance. She said that during those 25 minutes on the ground before the astronauts leave the shuttle, they are stumbling around and bumping into each other.

Last year after the Chinese flew an astronaut into space there was a brief flurry of news stories about whether the Great Wall of China was visible from lower Earth orbit. Ride said that the wall indeed is visible, as are many cities, long runways at airports -- Los Angeles for one --, and long roads. And of course, at night, the lights of cities are dot the Earth's surface.

Ride was the hero of the day. She was obviously greatly admired by the girls and parents at the event. Her reception shows the inspirational quality of human space flight. Her example will inspire youngsters to dream of going into space themselves and to pursue careers in science and technology so they can make their dreams of space flight come true.

Where will these future astronauts go? The Mars Society of San Diego was at the event to help show them the way to another world.

Jesse Clark, Dave Rankin, and Gerry Williams talked to the hundreds of girls who stopped by their display table about human exploration of Mars. The display table included a photo board that had pictures of volunteers doing simulated Mars research at bases in the Utah desert and the Canadian Arctic. Girls got to experience the differences in gravity between Earth, Mars, and Luna, by lifting "gravity bricks" of the same size but different weights, the Mars brick being 38 percent the weight of the Earth brick and the Luna brick being 16 percent the weight of the Earth brick. Girls could also pose with Marsha the Mars Astronaut. Marsha is a mannequin dressed in a space suit like those worn by Mars Society volunteers to do their research at the Utah and Arctic habitats.

Two Mars Society members, Williams and Shannon Rupert, led workshops in the afternoon. Williams talked about the Mars rovers and what they have taught us about Mars. He also showed the girls, and let them drive, the one-quarter scale, remote-controlled Mars Rover built and maintained by San Diego chapter. Rupert, a biology professor at a local San Diego college, talked to the girls about biology, the prospects for life on Mars, and led them in building a "creature from Mars."

The event was a day-long promotion for science, technology, and human space travel. The day was about inspiration. For more mundane reasons why we go to space, click the photo below to enlarge and read it.-tdr

Technorati: , , , .

Saturday, February 11, 2006

What SciFi Crew Would You Be On?

We took this quiz (here) to find out which science fiction space crew we'd fit in. The top three were Babylon 5, Cowboy Bebop, and Millenium Falcon. Can't really complain about those results. Don't really believe them. But can't complain.



Thursday, February 09, 2006

SpaceX Delays Launch Once Again.

See the update here.



Wednesday, February 08, 2006

SpaceX To Try Again Saturday.

SpaceX has pushed back their attempt to launch Falcon 1 to Saturday. (Here.) We wish them success. As a reminder of what's at stake here's a quote from a recent New York Times article about SpaceX's Elon Musk.
"In the commercial market, the United States' two big rocket giants, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, have been priced out by lower-cost competitors from Russia, Ukraine and France. Lockheed's Atlas 5 had only one commercial order in 2005, compared with 22 in 1998. Boeing has withdrawn its Delta 4 rocket from the commercial market and relies exclusively on business from the United States government.

At stake is a market that was worth $4 billion last year, when governments and businesses paid for 55 launchings, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Of those, 18 were commercial, with a value of $1 billion.

American companies compete for commercial orders only by teaming with foreign partners — often former cold-war foes. Lockheed has teamed up with Khrunichev State Research of Russia to form International Launch Services, which mainly uses Russia's Proton rockets. Boeing has joined with several nations to form a consortium called the Sea Launch; it uses the Ukrainian Zenit 3SL to put up commercial payloads."
Read more here.


Technorati: , .


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Land Me On The Moon: North, South Or In Between?

There's a controversy brewing among NASA planners over whether human missions should land at the North or South Poles or the equatorial region. (Here.) The poles are where the water might be and the temperature there remains relatively moderate (by Lunar standards, anyway) most of the time. The equatorial region is more well-known, has regions where resources for on-site use are more likely to be found, but it suffers from temperature extremes. Either-or, either-or once again. Let's try both-and, shall we? Why not go to all three?


Technorati: , ,

Mars: The Rad And Dusty Planet

Gerda Horneck of the German Aerospace Center is interviewed by Astrobiology magazine about the affects of radiation in space on life. (Here.) Much of the interview discusses the theory of Panspermia. One part of the interview dealt with radiation on the Red Planet.
"AM: What sort of answer have you found to that last question? Many people think the radiation environment of Mars is one of the main barriers to humans living on the planet.

GD:Actually, the radiation environment of Mars is less serious than the radiation of the moon, because Mars has an atmosphere. On Earth, the magnetic field and the atmosphere keep the cosmic radiation away. Our atmosphere has a shielding of about 1,000 grams per square centimeters, so there's very little radiation arriving on the Earth's surface.

On Mars, there's no magnetic field but there is an atmosphere. Because the atmospheric pressure is less than six millibars, the shielding is 60 grams per square meter. That's nearly a factor of a 100 less than Earth's, so the annual radiation dose on Mars is about 100 times more than the annual radiation dose on Earth. But there are also areas on Earth, such as in Brazil, where the natural radiation dose also is about a factor of 100 higher than usual.

Of course, the composition of the radiation is different on Mars. For instance, on Earth we have the back-scattering neutrons. But the only thing I think is a problem for people on Mars is the so-called solar flares, which are also called solar particle events. These are eruptions of the sun that blast out a high dose of radiation. To guard against these on Mars, we'll have to build shelters.

So on Mars, we will have to be careful about radiation, but there are other perimeters that I think are even more serious. One is the dust. We don't know how hazardous the dust is. We know from the Viking experiments that if you add water to the soil, you get a burst of different gases. These gases include peroxides, and that can create difficulties for astronauts if they get that in their lungs.

The dust on Mars is composed of very tiny, one-micron-sized grains -– the same size of the dust grains on the moon. The lunar astronauts said that you can not get rid of the dust; it gets into everything. So I think it's urgently required, before we send humans to Mars, for us to do a study with robots to see what happens if you gradually moisten the martian soil. I had proposed such an experiment for ExoMars, a rover of the European Space Agency, but they said it was too complicated."

Later Horneck said this about organisms exposed to UV radiation and those protected by dust.
"The organisms that are exposed outside the space station are in a dormant state, so they cannot evolve. They are just surviving. We have found that solar ultraviolet radiation is the most damaging perimeter -- it kills all organisms so far known. Except that Rosa de la Torre from Spain recently exposed lichens, and discovered that they had the same biological activity as before they were exposed to the full sunlight.

So that is something new. But we did find that if we shielded microorganisms against solar UV radiation with dust, even a dust sphere of just one centimeter, they survive pretty well in space. So that means little meteorites just one centimeter in diameter could travel for at least two weeks in space and the organisms inside would survive. I also participated in the NASA LDEF mission, the Long Duration Exposure Facility. Their microorganisms stayed in space for six years, and they also survived pretty well when they were shaded against UV radiation."

The survivability of lichen exposed to raw sunlight is an interesting discovery for advocates of Mars exploration and settlement. Also Horneck's optimism about humans being able to beat the radiation environment there is encouraging. Living underground, building shelters, and perhaps locating colonies and bases where the Martian localized magnetic fields are strongest might be a strategy for success. The power of dust to protect organisms in space is also encouraging for would-be Mars explorers. Maybe those illustrations from the Mars society that show landers covered with sandbags for radiation protection is actually a good idea. Not sandbags though: dustbags.


Technorati: , ,


Monday, February 06, 2006

Preliminary Reaction To NASA's 2007 Budget

This Spacedaily.com story (here) breaks down the 2007 proposed NASA budget. No doubt there will be much criticism of all the money going to try to get the shuttle flying again. The shuttle is long overdue for retirement. And robotic science missions are taking a cut. But this budget should surprise nobody. It increases funding for human space exploration by a considerable amount and it funds the shuttle and the International Space Station. These priorities are in keeping with the President's Vision for Space Exploration. It's not a perfect budget but its priority to human space flight is a good thing.


Technorati: ,


Sunday, February 05, 2006

More Biomimetics In Space

We've reported before on the usefulness of biomimetics in space, biomimetics being the field that looks to designs in nature as inspiration for engineering designs. This article provides more information on so-called self-healing spaceships. (Here.)



Saturday, February 04, 2006

NASA's Funding Amid Domestic Cost-Cutting, War, and Disaster Relief.

Media articles speculating on the 2007 federal budget are starting to appear. This Associated Press article (here) states that domestic programs will be held at current spending levels or reduced. Increases are recommended for defense and Hurricane Katrina reconstruction.

How will NASA fare in this?

According to these two stories on Space.com (here and here) NASA spending is due to increase by a modest 1 percent. The Shuttle's allies in Congress have used their influence to ensure sufficient funding to use the shuttle to finish building the International Space Station. NASA's human space exploration budget is expected to receive a substantial increase in the proposed budget. The budget decisions appear to mean that, despite the President's failure to talk much about his space exploration vision, he remains committed to funding the flights needed to finish the ISS as well as the human space exploration program.

The devils in the details are likely to be revealed during Monday's NASA budget press conference on February 6th.



Friday, February 03, 2006

Earth Photos By Astronauts

NASA has this link (here) to photos of the Earth taken by astronauts since 1961. Chances are good that your neighborhood is there. Smile when you look to the sky!



National Space Society's Heinlein Award Balloting Begins.

This year's voting for the National Space Society's Heinlein Award has begun. The Heinlein is given to those individuals who have made significant, lifetime contributions to the creation of a free, spacefaring civilization.

We voted for Dr. Peter Diamandis, Dr. Michael Griffin, and Burt Rutan, in that order.

Diamandis because of his lifetime of work trying to do just what the Heinlein award honors, the creation of a free spacefaring civilization.

Griffin because of his lifetime of service in the United States space program, for much of the 20th Century the only human space program of a government that is free. And also because he had the guts last year as NASA Administrator to state explicitly to the mainstream media that the bottom-line rationale for human space flight is human settlement of outer space. (Here.)

And Burt Rutan because of SpaceShipOne, SpaceShipTwo, and his own private space program operating out of Mojave, CA. If there is a space race today it is between private space ventures and government, and Burt and his gang are pacesetters.

The NSS has warnings on their ballot links asking that they not be copied, otherwise we would share the ballot on this blogsite. So join the NSS (here) and see the ballot for yourself. Then vote. Cancel our vote if you feel it's necessary. Reasonable minds could differ.


UPDATED (2/4/2006): Balloting closes on February 12, 2006, leaving little time to vote. The NSS is an organization worthy of joining regardless.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?