Tag Archives: space

I’m leaving on a spaceship, and I’ll never be back again

 Big Red Mars

-Casey Klekas

Putting a human footprint on Mars is possible within the next twenty years, scientists and Martian advocates say. But, if you don’t want to wait for the technology and funding to come through so you can get to and from the Red Planet, you can now bid for a one-way ticket. That’s right! Scientists say that a sending humans to Mars without the intention of bringing them back to Earth would cut the cost of a mission, just as a one-way ticket to Denver costs less than round trip. This would make the project more economically viable, which is one of the most deciding factors in what has become an ice-cold space race.

Discovery News reports that the ideal and lucky few would likely be past their reproductive prime and spend their retirement establishing a base camp and creating a sustainable environment for future planetary pioneers.

So what would be positive about spending your last years on Mars? On the plus side, you’d weigh 38 percent of what you do on Earth (I’d be past my summertime goal at sixty-nine pounds). Your Martian days would be thirty-seven minutes longer than Earth’s if you wanted to get in some extra reading. You’d also have 669 Martian days, the equivalent of 687 Earth days, in one Martian year. The average temperature measured on Mars is -67 degrees Fahrenheit. But, temperatures have ranged from -200 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, well above Eugene’s shorts and tank-top level.

You could spend your slightly longer days on Mars mining for water, fossils, and precious metals. You may get sick of the monotonous hue of the Martian backdrop, with colors ranging from orange to darker orange. It’s surface is basically made of rust, or iron oxide, which gives it its red shading. At night you could gaze at Phobos and Deibos, Mars’s two irregular shaped moons.

Let’s say NASA went with the plan to send a few cosmonauts on a one-way trip. If that were the case, it would not just raise questions about cost and engineering, but ethics as well. I guess it depends on how you look at it: Shooting a couple of people in a rocket headed for a barren planet without any chance of bringing them home may sound like a cosmological form of exile. Or, maybe it doesn’t sound that different from the stories of pilgrims leaving the old world of Europe to establish a new life in America.

Let’s grant that the two to four people sent to Mars are going willingly. Does that mean it would dissolve our ethical responsibilities? Certainly not, because we would be the ones sending them to their eventual, lonely deaths (can you make it to heaven from Mars?). Without our consent, the consent of NASA, and the good ol’ tax-paying American citizen, the mission would not exist.

The effects of a thirty-five million to 250 million mile journey on the human psyche are also under consideration by the Mars-bound hopefuls. Russian researchers have been conducting isolation experiments on six poor devils that have been locked in a room for over 500 days. Their internal clocks never adapted to the office lighting, causing the men to suffer insomnia. Add this to the knowledge that you’re in friggin’ space and can never turn around and that your destination is also where you’ll be buried. Again, the troopers on the voyage will have full knowledge of what they’ve bargained for, but if they change their mind on the interplanetary flight or when tilling the Martian sand, expect the world’s first cosmo-mutiny.

Sending two to four people to stay on another planet for the rest of their lives would be an unprecedented event. I mean that quite literally. It would have no equal in human history. Of course, this will open the pod-bay doors (HAL) to further man-and-womanned-missions to Mars. It could possibly mark the first chapter in the story of human colonization on the fourth rock from the sun. Or we could find ourselves being made to listen to the cries for help by the sick and deranged trailblazers from the Martian surface. (Hypothetical newsflash: at least three dead on Mars, no source to confirm fourth). My hope is that we wait to do this the old-fashioned way, with government money, a NASA logo, and a return flight home. “Cheap and quick” is liable to land you on Venus or something.

Image by Kevin M. Gill.

1.21 Gigawatts: Sci-Tube – Five Videos That Will Blow Your Mind

-Sarah Keartes

#1 Crying in Orbit?


In his recent mid-orbit vlog entry, Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Chris Hadfield demonstrates the physics of crying in space.

“Your eyes will definitely cry . . . but the big difference is, tears don’t fall, so grab a hanky,” Hadfield said. It is earth’s gravitational force that causes our tears to fall. In a micro-gravitational environment, tears collected in the eye are unable to flow downward. Instead they pool together, forming a “ball” of water which will sit on the eye until it reaches a larch enough size and will break free and float around.

Even more interesting is that space tears can actually sting your eyes. The reason behind this is unknown, but NASA has long studied the effects of space travel on human vision, which include flattening of the back of the eyeball, changes in the retina and optic nerve, and problems with both near and distance vision.

#2 The Prince Rupert’s Drop: Unbreakable Exploding Glass


Do not be afraid of this video’s seven-minute playing time. Stop what you are doing and tune in to this incredible high-speed video. Correction: high-speed video of explosions. Correction: high-speed video of exploding glass—that you can’t break with a hammer. What?

Destin of “Smarter Every Day” (with a bit of help from Orbix Hot Glass in Fort Payne, Alabama) explores the physics behind the Prince Rupert’s Drop. The drop, also known as “Prince Rupert’s Balls” or “Dutch Tears,” is a tadpole-shaped glass object that is created when molten glass is dripped into water to cool.

The resulting structure possesses mind-boggling physical properties: the head of the drop can be bashed and beaten to the heart’s content without breaking, but even the slightest nick to the glass tail causes a large release of stored potential energy resulting in microscopic fractures from tail to head. In other words? Boom goes the dynamite.

#3 00-Robots? University of Pennsylvania Quatrotors Go “Bond”


The James Bond theme has been covered thousands of times on Youtube, but to my knowledge, it has only been covered once by a fleet of autonomous flying robots.

Birthed from U. Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences GRASP lab, the tiny robots, dubbed “Nano Quadrotors,” can be programed with a series of points that must be reached at a precise time. Amazingly, the direct path is chosen by the bots, which are able to pick up the locations of fleet members using infrared technology.

GRASPLAB members are working with scientists to improve their robots by mimicking the swarming behaviors of birds, fish and insects—the Quadrotors operate not as a swarm, but much like a flock.

#4 The World’s Cutest Frog


Forget cats. This tiny, slimy squeak-toy which looks more like a character from Pokémon than an earthly creature, is the Namaqua Rain Frog (Breviceps namaquensis), and it may be the cutest thing I have ever seen.

Unlike many of its amphibious relatives, the frog, filmed here by nature photographer Dean Boshoff, is a desert resident. Native to the Namaqualand coast of South Africa (and adjacent sandy inland areas), the Namaqua Rain Frog is a burrowing species which surfaces only when ample rainfall brings a plethora of insects to feed on.

Should that blood-curdling, utterly terrifying, well, “peep” not do the trick; the frog will inflate itself to its full girth when threatened.

#5 “4D” Printing: Transformers Anyone?


SJET, LLC is a research-based practice founded by architect, designer, and computer scientist Skylar Tibbits. Combining tools from architecture, design, fabrication, computer science, and robotics, SJET focuses on creating self-assembling structures using “4D”printing technology. In other words, they are working to build things that build themselves without external guidance.

“What we’re saying here is, you design something, you print it, it evolves…it’s like naturally embedding smartness into the materials,” Tibbits told Wired in an interview.

How does it work? Each piece of the structure is molecularly altered—embedded with patterns of elements that attract each other through negative and positive interactions when the correct amount of energy is added (here through shaking). Tibbits and SJET see the application of this technology in the creation of large scale smart structures in extreme environments such as space and the ocean.

“The self-assembled structures of the future won’t just be large; they will also be smart. Every brick, beam, and bolt may one day compute and store digital information about the building, environment, and construction to aid assembly,” Tibbits said.

Follow Sarah on Twitter!

Into Orbit And Back Again

-Jamie Hershman

Would you take a vacation around the world? Literally?

One Russian firm, Orbital Technologies, believes traveling around space is going to be a hot commodity and has recently revealed plans to open a space hotel in 2016. The floating hotel called a “Commercial Space Station” will orbit 250 miles above Earth and can accommodate up to seven people at a time.

Those who want to travel on the Commercial Space Station must undergo special training that could last for three months. To stay in the space hotel, passengers have to drop some serious dough; it could cost over $750,000, and that is probably just for the shortest stay offered! The firm says it will be offering vacation times from three days to up to three months. But, half of the vacation is travel time, as it takes two days to actually make it up to space. The space hotel also does not have showers and bans alcohol, so passengers must wipe themselves off with wet wipes instead and cannot even drown their sorrows of having to shower with wet wipes in alcohol.

So what is there to even do in space? The firm says there will be Internet access and other ground communications. Basically, they are saying that all there is to do is go online, watch movies, or do whatever you can do on your own laptop—you’ll just have a view of Earth out your left window instead of your garden.

As exciting as it would be to travel to space, the lure might wear off very quickly as it costs so much money and there is really nothing to do. But, then again, the whole space hotel innovation isn’t meant for everyday folk like us, the company’s target audiences are wealthy individuals and private companies who want to do space research.

Another company called Virgin Galactic is planning to send people into space for a quick sub-orbital space flight. Considerably cheaper than Orbital Technologies, a space trip with Virgin Galactic costs a mere $220,000 for a two and a half hour flight. There have already been over 500 tickets sold, including notable passengers like Ashton Kutcher, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Stephen Hawking.

The space flight will begin with a launch at an acceleration of 2,500 mph. But, the highlight of this trip is the six minutes of weightlessness the passengers will feel once they are safely in space where they can freely roam about the cabin. These few minutes of a gravity-free experience are what the company prides itself on. While it is a cool concept, to me, it just seems ridiculous to pay so much money for a short trip and moments without gravity.

Yes, everybody is curious about space because it is so unreachable and mysterious, but the mystery shall remain because I don’t see myself or anyone else I know spending that much money to explore it.

Follow Jamie on Twitter!

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bethscupham/7663247816

Earth’s Extraterrestrial Animals

-Sam Katzman

Before NASA propelled earth’s first man into orbit, the space program sent our species’ closest relative.

A chimpanzee named Ham achieved world fame as an American “astro-chimp” after exceeding our planet’s boundaries on January 1st, 1961. Though monumental, Ham’s space voyage was not out of the ordinary during this era in history.

According to eas.sa.edu, the U.S. and Soviet space programs have launched innumerable other animals above our atmosphere since growing curious in space exploration in the late 1940’s. The site states that “Apart from dogs and primates many other animals and living creatures have been launched towards space or into space.”

Fruit flies, various rodents, turtles and microorganisms are among the very first pioneers of astronautics.

NASA justifies using animals as test subjects by stating it was necessary to discover essential, previously unknown information on how breathing organisms, like humans, react to extraterrestrial environments.

“Scientists couldn’t agree on what it would be like for a living organism to leave Earth’s atmosphere,” said howstuffworks writer John Fuller. “Instead of sending people up in such a risky situation, the United States and Russia sent monkeys, chimps, dogs and other animals into space in order to analyze such effects.”

While many of these animals returned from their missions as national heroes, advocates protecting the interest of these beings have been forced to question the ethics of animal space travel.

On several occasions, flight malfunctions were to blame for inflicting severe strain, anxiety, pain and even fatalities in the animal kingdom’s selection of galactic trailblazers.

Ham the chimpanzee’s famed mission is no exception. Throughout the duration of his “sixteen and a half minute” journey with Project Mercury, the astro-chimp experienced alarming variations in pressure, but ultimately only suffered a broken nose according to absoluteastronomy.com.

This outcome proved more positive than the realistic possibility of failure of the specialized suit he wore preventing the tremendous force of liftoff from crushing his fragile body. Mission coordinators also had to take in account and avoid the complications of past experiments gone wrong that led to test-subject casualties.

Arguably the most famous of which is the death of a former stray Russian dog, turned astronaut named Laika, who was the first earthling to live and die in orbit.

Using animals in space programs has not ceased. Recently, worms aboard the Columbia space shuttle tragedy were found alive in wreckage and in 2010 NASA announced its plan to irradiate squirrel monkeys “to learn about the potential long-term effects of radiation in space, hoping to use the information to plan human travel to Mars,” say NASA spokesman Grey Hautaluoma.

Ian O’Neill on universetoday.com says that fifty-one years later in 2008, a monument was built in Russia to commemorate Laika. Though a thoughtful sentiment, supporters of animal rights argue Laika’s survival should have been the main priority during that mission.

Kathleen Conlee, director of program management for the Humane Society of the US, claims, “Just because you’re using a primate doesn’t mean that you’re going to get the results a human would.”

No matter your stance on the issue of using test-subjects against their will, the positive contributions of animals to space exploration are indisputable.