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20 Questions We Have for the 2020s – Popular Mechanics

Posted: November 30, 2019 at 9:54 am

Ko Hong-Wei / EyeEmGetty Images

December 31, 2019, will mark the end of one whirlwind decade, and perhaps the beginning of the most important decade in recent memory with such existential threats like climate change, automation, and AI hovering over humanities head.

As we get ready to welcome the new decade, here are some questions we have for the 2020s.

1Will James Dean Be the Biggest Movie Star of the Next Decade?

Earlier this month, producers announced that James Dean will star in a new movie about the Vietnam War, set to hit theaters on Veterans Day 2020. The catch, of course, is that Dean died in a car crash 64 years ago at age 24.

No matter: Thanks to the wonders of CGI, the long-dead heartthrob will live again on the big screen, setting a creepy precedent for reanimating old movie stars because we cant find new ones anymore. Stay tuned for Charlie Chaplins eight-episode Netflix sitcom.

2Are We Headed for a UFO Revolution?

3Will Big Tech Finally Get a Bit Smaller?

Google. Facebook. Amazon. These are some of the most powerful firms in the world and, arguably, the Microsofts of the 2010s, given their outsize market power.

Theres a burgeoning antitrust movement against these so-called Big Tech firmswith four state attorneys general probing into Googles alleged anti-competitive practices and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren promising to break up Big Tech if electedbut this decade has trended in the direction of bigger and bigger behemoths.

Just this July, for instance, the Justice Department approved a $26 billion merger between two telecommunications companies, Sprint and T-Mobile.

4Will We Ever Get a TV show Like Game of Thrones Again?

When Game of Thrones said goodbye last spring after eight years, it wrapped up its historic run as arguably the biggest TV series everand certainly the last show the world will collectively watch together. Replicating the success of a juggernaut like Thrones is impossible for any number of reasons, but mostly because it debuted and became a phenomenon well before the advent of the streaming age.

We now have over 100 on-demand entertainment services to satisfy our fractured tastes; the notion of ever reaching a consensus on a sci-fi or fantasy series again seems insane.

But that wont stop the networks and streamers from trying to capture the zeitgeist: HBO says Thrones spinoffs are coming, and Amazon has a billion-dollar Lord of the Rings prequel series in the pipeline. Could they possibly break through?

5Will Augmented Reality Finally Go Mainstream?

Remember Pokmon Go? Its hard to believe the augmented reality app debuted over three years ago in summer 2016, but when it didit did in a big way. It got the people outside and exercising, meeting new friends, and exploring their neighborhoods.

And the augmented reality (AR) game has generated some handsome revenue from this relatively small business unit: to the tune of $470 million in revenue after only 80 days on the app store.

Except, most augmented reality apps are fun for about five days and the we forget about them and they clutter up our phone and hog up precious memory storage. Will it be any different in 2020 as Apple promises to enter the game?

6Will We Finally Regulate Self-Driving Car Tests?

While 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was walking her bike across a poorly lit street outside of a Tempe, Arizona crosswalk in March 2018, a self-driving Uber struck and killed her. That sparked a whole new debate about the safety of autonomous vehicles testing and just how much leeway regulators should give to private firms like Uber, Waymo, and Argo AI.

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board found that the Uber safety driver behind the wheel was guilty of hitting and killing Herzberg, not the company. Just six months after the accident, which marked the first time a pedestrian had ever been killed by an automated vehicle, the U.S. Department of Transportation put out some pretty weak guidelines that firms may choose to ignore.

However, there is still freedom for states to impose their own rules, but in most cases these are simply guidelines, not requirementsand the difference between those two terms could be life or death for others like Herzberg.

So, will we see hard lines on what is and is not allowed when it comes to testing in the 2020s? Its hard to say, but in any case, it looks like were still a longshot away from fully robotic vehicles.

7What Will We Clone Next?

Weve already cloned cows, sheep, cats, dogs, deer, and horses and in 2002, Clonaid, a cloning companyfounded by the followers of Raelianism, who believe that humans are clones of extraterrestrialsmade a huge claim: they had successfully cloned a baby girl named Eve.

However, theres been no evidence to prove the existence of Eve or the subsequent clones the company claims to have created. Theres controversy surrounding the ethics of human cloning, so were curious to see where the scientific community will take this issue over the course of the next 10 years.

8What Will Next-Gen Biometrics Look Like?

Biometrics have become incredibly prevalent thanks, in large part, to phones being able to recognize our faces and fingerprints. There are also retinal scans and Apples Siri can be trained to recognize and respond to the voice of the devices owner and no one else.

Were wondering what kinds of security threats enhanced biometrics could pose and how far this kind of tech will go before its too far and becomes an invasion of privacy (which for some, began at fingerprints).

9Will the World Finally Get Serious About the Climate Crisis?

Are we going to sink or swim? The climate crisis has spawned a generation of people gravely concerned with what the future will look like if we dont take action now to create sustainable living conditions using things like renewable resources.

Its surprising how debated global warming has become considering the fact that its backed by hard scientific evidence. Were hoping the 2020s will be the decade of innovating and creating a better, more sustainable future.

10Will Hollywood Overcome its Marvel Addiction?

Its hard to ignore the outsized importance of Marvel movies in Hollywood in the 2010s. Avengers from 2011 and Endgame in 2019 are perfect bookends for a decade of cinema that lost itself in the tight spandex and wide profit margins of superheroes.

But with growing ire from creative giants and overall audience fatigue with similar franchises like Star Wars, could the superhero franchise finally reach its end? One can only hope.

11Will We Start Trusting Science Again?

The 2010s displayed one major troubling trend in sciencea growing distrust in the conclusions of overwhelming scientific research. One prominent example (and sadly not the only one) is the surprising rise of measles.

According to the CDC, During January-September 2019, 1,249 U.S. measles cases were reported, the highest annual number since 1992. Eighty-nine percent of measles patients were unvaccinated or had an unknown vaccination status, and 10 percent were hospitalized.

Will the 2020s cure humanity of this reckless inability to accept scientific consensus?

12Will the U.S. Finally Focus on Infrastructure?

Its no secret that U.S. infrastructure is crumbling, and when you consider the growing threat of climate change, things start to look downright apocalyptic. Another administration has comeand will likely gowithout addressing this hugely important issue.

The U.S. used to be the envy of the world in terms of infrastructure (in fact, it helped save U.S. democracy), can the country reclaim the crown in the 2020s?

13Will We Finally Witness the End of the Combustion Engine?

14How Many More Species Will Go Extinct?

In 2018, we lost three bird species alone and there are currently several species who will become extinct within the next few yearslike the Northern White Rhinoceros. Will the next 10 years help or hurt the animals on the brink of extinction?

15Google Achieved Quantum Supremacy, So What Comes Next?

After vying against the likes of IBM, Intel, and others, Google claimed to achieve an important quantum computing milestone before anyone else in the world. Their quantum computer performed a task in just over 3 minutes that no standard or supercomputer could complete in 10,000 years, according to a paper published Oct. 23 in Nature.

Companies and countries alike are leaning hard into the quantum craze. The Trump Administration is investing more than a billion dollars in quantum research through its National Quantum Initiative, and China has invested nearly half that amount and filed a slew of patents.

But what does all of this mean for us? Advances in quantum computing are sure to drive innovation in artificial intelligence, power the modeling and forecasting of complex systemslike the weather!and change the way we encrypt, well, everything. Will this be the decade we finally harness its power?

16Will We Set Up Shop on the Moon?

This year, NASA announced its new Artemis mission, in which it will send the next man and first woman to the moon by 2024. Next year, India aims to avenge the death of its Vikram lander by sending Chandrayan-3 to once again visit our natural satellite and attempt a landing. Russia has plans to visit in 2023, and China has vowed to open a permanent base on the Moon by 2030.

And then theres private spaceflightSpaceXs Starship and Blue Origins Blue Moon are both vying for a chance to land on the lunar surface in 2023 and 2024, respectively. Its going to be a big decade for the moon, and were eager to see how our exploration and colonization of the lunar surface unfolds.

Its all missions go.

17Will 5G Live Up to the Hype?

You hear the term 5G everywhere, all the time, right? Industry experts, such as John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications in Dallas, Texas, believe that this fifth-generation mobile technology will create a virtually instantaneous real-time network.

That not only means streaming lags on your Disney+ account could dissolve into thin air, but also that self-driving cars could potentially become a reality. But is it all just a marketing ploy?

Only time will tell, but according to a report by McKinsey, optimists tout the great benefits of low latency and high capacity that will eventually enable new value-added use cases, while pessimists focus on the lack of actual new use cases to emerge so far and what they see as a wobbly commercial rationale, not to mention the huge capital expense required.

18Will the 2020s Be a Decade of Cures?

Earlier this year, the FDA announced that the first approval of the first vaccine designed to mitigate the spread of dengue fever in endemic regions. In August, researchers announced two treatmentsan experimental vaccine and a drug called Zmapphave shown promise in combating against the spread of ebola.

Recently developed treatments for HIV have made the virus all but disappear, living virtually undetectable in the body. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is pouring money into curing poliothere were less than 40 cases worldwide in 2016and malaria, the worlds deadliest disease.

Researchers are slowly beginning to untangle the ins and outs of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimers and Parkinsons. The race to cure the worlds most prolific diseases has been a long, hard-fought battle, but, somehow, it feels like may be inching closer to curing them.

19Will Nuclear Fusion Finally Arrive?

Nuclear fusion energy, a renewable, carbon-free source of energy, powers our sun and other stars. Weve been trying to harness this power here on Earth for decades.

ITER, the largest of the nuclear fusion energy projects, says theyll achieve their first plasma reactionthe first of many stepsin 2025. MIT researchers partnering with a private company claim theyll achieve fusion within 15 years. Its ambitious by any stretch of the imagination.

While we may not see fusion turned into viable energy in the next decade, well likely see incredible progressespecially as the impacts of climate change worsen and pressure to find alternative solutions increases.

20Will the Space Force Get Off the Ground?

President Trumps dream of a sixth branch of the armed services, meant to manage off-planet defense, is in its nascent stage, with planners sketching out what it would look like when its formally established.

The only problem? We have no idea when that will be. Building an entire military branch is a big task, with concerns both budgetary (some estimates peg the price tag at nearly $5 billion) and logistical (can the Pentagons space weapons strategy catch up with the pace of growing threats?).

Well certainly see Steve Carrells Space Force long before we ever sniff the real thing.

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20 Questions We Have for the 2020s - Popular Mechanics

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Column: I am not afraid of Thanksgiving dinner, I just hate it – Los Angeles Times

Posted: at 9:54 am

Beginning two weeks before Thanksgiving, I avoid looking at, much less reading, all food sections. But this year, Thanksgiving, like everything, started early, mere days after Halloween, and with it all those Heres how to make Thanksgiving dinner without meat/outdoors/on the moon pieces that inevitably have me reaching for the Xanax.

Many people have anxiety about their ability to make the meal; hence all those articles and the turkey crisis hotlines. (Memo to the culture at large: If you need a crisis hotline about the main tradition of a holiday, perhaps you should rethink that tradition.)

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I am not at all anxious about my ability to make Thanksgiving dinner. I can do it 11 ways to Thursday in my sleep. In fact, when I see a piece celebrating an authors ability to work in a cramped kitchen, in a lavish setting or over a campfire, a recipe list rhapsodizing the creativity involved in throwing together a feast in 24 hours or accommodating vegans, vegetarians, small children and all manner of food intolerance at the same meal, I think, Bitch, please.

I am not afraid of Thanksgiving dinner, I just hate it.

Its an uneasy and slightly appalled joke in our family that while I genuinely love to bake and cook for multitudes at Christmas, I am a Thanksgiving Grinch. Every year I dream of spending the day at the movies or beach-eating Chinese takeout.

I could say this stems from the adult realization that the original Thanksgiving meal probably never happened, that the holiday is instead a celebration of colonization that decimated and enslaved the native population, and that whatever religious persecution those early settlers fled they replaced with a strain of Puritanism that would leave hundreds of women dead or tortured as witches.

But that would be incredibly irritating of me, and it wouldnt be true.

I hate Thanksgiving dinner because I am the adult child of an alcoholic and it is the event I most associate with the emotional damage that implies.

I can make Thanksgiving blindfolded because I started doing it when I was 9 or 10. It was easier than watching my mother unravel into tears and increasingly bitter invective beginning sometime mid-Tuesday, when the shopping and the polishing and the laundry and the ironing began, and culminated, inevitably, with her sitting in sodden, furious martyrdom while everyone choked down their coffee and pie before fleeing, leaving us to clean up the literal and emotional mess.

Ill just do it, I said one year, echoing codependents throughout the ages. Itll be fun, I said, unaware of the burden of self-appointed control and inevitable resentment I was shouldering, possibly forever. Let me do it.

Ill just do it. From an early age, columnist Mary McNamara took on the Herculean task of preparing Thanksgiving dinner. It was easier than watching her mother unravel into tears and become increasingly bitter.

(Camily Tsai / For The Times)

The turkey, the stuffing, the creamed parsnips, creamed onions, the candied sweet potatoes, the mashed potatoes, the mashed rutabaga, the tiny canned peas. The pumpkin pies, the apple pies, the raisin-walnut and pecan pies. The shopping lists, the near-algebraic milk and butter calculations (butter is expensive and money was an issue), the factory-floor scheduling of the pots and pans and burners and hot plates, the calculating when the turkey should be thawed and stuffed, and how often it should be basted. The management of counter space, serving dishes and those final insane minutes when everything somehow had to get from the kitchen to the dining room without getting cold or even cool.

Because if it was cold, or the cream sauce was runny or the turkey was dry, then Mom would get mad, and the whole point was to keep that from happening.

During the first Thanksgiving dinner I ever made, I managed to dump the entire pan of peas on the floor minutes before serving them. Mercifully, I was young enough to see nothing wrong in just rinsing them off real quick in very hot water and praying that if there were dog hairs, they wouldnt show up on my mothers plate.

After a hot rinse, not a dog hair in sight.

(Camily Tsai / For The Times)

Over the years, I took great pride in my Thanksgiving dinners. I started making the pies from scratch, introduced pumpkin and zucchini bread. I ditched the rutabaga (which looked good but no one ate) and substituted sauted broccoli, green beans and spinach. I quietly abandoned the beloved boxed mashed potatoes for real ones, experimented with stuffing that included apples or sausage or sage. For a couple of years, and this is absolutely true, I made my own butter.

I was in middle school. It was insane.

It was also and those of you who also grew up with alcoholic mothers will have seen this punch line coming a mile away a classic example of irony in action. By taking over her duties, I gave my mother even more time to drink, with the inevitable results. But I was safe in the kitchen, and how could she yell at me when everyone was so astonished at a child making Thanksgiving dinner?

She couldnt.

Every year I wallowed in the praise and admiration; every year I tried to one-up myself and my Ill do it, just let me do it mentality spread, for good and ill, to each and every part of my life. It gave me confidence and normalized compulsion, in equal measure.

Every Thanksgiving, columnist Mary McNamara tried to one-up herself like abandoning boxed mashed potatoes for real ones.

(Camily Tsai / For The Times)

When I had kids it began to make sense to alternate holiday dinners with family; as I was not about to give up Christmas dinner, which I truly love, I surrendered Thanksgiving.

But I did so grudgingly. Fearfully. What was I if I couldnt miraculously produce 18 dishes in an afternoon all by my lonesome? A miserable failure, thats what.

But once I made the leap, I lost any interest in the groaning boards of turkey roasted/grilled/brined/deep-fried/sprinkled with cannabis, the great cranberry sauce debate, the root vegetables ripped from the earth and subjected to all manner of culinary indignities, the salads that are now required so no one can eat them. I did the math on the effort that went into it: the days of cooking that resulted in, at best, an hour at the table; the Herculean task of cleaning up; the following days of pretending we were going to eat those leftover creamed onions before just throwing them away. I realized I dont even like Thanksgiving dinner, or at least any of the parts that are not involved in pumpkin pie and the after-hours turkey sandwich.

More than that, I began to see how much of my Thanksgiving cooking had been driven by anxiety and fear, a self-concocted need to please, appease and prove ... what? That I could do it? That I could do it anywhere and alone? That I didnt need help, that success is measured by levels of exhaustion and the use of every pot, pan, dish and glass I own? That all this somehow proved something?

By surrendering Thanksgiving dinner, columnist Mary McNamara began to see how much of her holiday efforts in the kitchen were driven by anxiety, fear and a need to please.

(Camily Tsai / For The Times)

My mother, God bless her, eventually got sober; I slid into my own alcoholism and eventually got sober too.

And I recognize now that as a child I believed that one Rockwellian moment could counterbalance all the messy dysfunction that came before and after, and I tasked myself with creating it.

As an adult, I realize this kind of thinking is absurd, dangerous and damaging; the only control I have is over my own self, my expectations and the pressure I put on myself to meet them.

Over the years I have acknowledged and silenced many voices in my head that told me I could fix this by doing that, but way down deep, in the dark inner recesses of my neurosis, theres a gleaming, steaming Thanksgiving dinner. You could do it, that dinner whispers. You should do it. And then everything will be all right.

So I dont really hate Thanksgiving; I hate my own unquenchable desire to shun help, appoint myself fixer-in-charge and then kill myself attempting some version of perfection that doesnt fix the imperfect things in life anyway.

Because honestly, even with the pixie dust of pumpkin spice and the 70 million recipes available online, if were being honest, what everyone really looks forward to is pumpkin pie, which can be bought, and those leftover turkey sandwiches.

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Column: I am not afraid of Thanksgiving dinner, I just hate it - Los Angeles Times

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NASA’s Plan To Reduce Planetary Protection For Mars Risks Accidentally Extinguishing Second Genesis Of Life Before We Find It – Science 2.0

Posted: November 23, 2019 at 11:59 am

Right now all our missions to Mars are sterilized to protect it from any Earth life that could hitch a ride and confuse the searches. A report by the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board recommends that NASA treats most of Mars similarly to the Moon for planetary protection. It comes with a cover letter from NASA recommending to their planetary protection officer that they implement the proposal. This would be fine if Mars was like the Moon. However, new discoveries show that Mars has liquid water there, in the form of brines, just a few centimeters below the surface. The measurements are indirect because we can't visit most of these locations yet and can't drill down even a few centimeters. There is now clear evidence of very cold brines even beneath the surface of the sand dunes that Curiosity drives over.

Their suggestion is to reclassify large parts of Mars as Category II (current classification for the Moon), meaning that there are no niches where terrestrial microorganisms could proliferate, or a very low likelihood of transfer to such places.

where there is only a remote chance that contamination carried by a spacecraft could jeopardize future exploration. In this case we define remote chance as the absence of niches (places where terrestrial microorganisms could proliferate) and/or a very low likelihood of transfer to those places.

COSPAR Workshop on Planetary Protection for Outer Planet Satellites and Small Solar System Bodies European Space Policy Institute (ESPI), 1517 April 2009

As far as I know mine is the only article to suggest that there may be very significant downsides to dropping planetary protection - most of what you see are articles praising NASA for moving with the times, and making things easier for commercial space and future planetary colonization.

(skip to What about the forwards direction? )

Curiosity can't drill down to examine the brines it detected indirectly, and also is not equipped with any specific life detection instruments. It can detect some organics related to life, but only after heating them up in a small oven until they decompose, then it analyses the evolving gases. Those particular brines are probably too cold for Earth life, but biofilms could create microhabitats to make them more habitable and there are suggestions for several other microhabitats in the equatorial regions that may be more habitable than the Curiosity brines.

The Moon has nothing like that.

The new report has few cites, and its main cite for this proposal is a controversial 2014 report. While the 2014 report was in process of publication, NASA and ESA took steps to get it independently reviewed. This 2015 independent review said the maps from the 2014 report are most useful if they accompanied by cautionary remarks that they represent incomplete knowledge. This new report by the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board doesn't cite the 2015 review or mention these criticisms of the main cite they rely on.

Overlay in white text: : "2015 review says maps represent incomplete knowledge. Extraterrestrial microbes may be here in salty brines just below the surface. Introduced Earth microbes could extinguish second genesis on Mars". Map from the 2014 report. Text summarizes one of the main criticisms of this report in the 2015 review.

Its important to get this right as there is no way to do a do over. It would be so sad to get to Mars, find life there, and then realize it was just life we brought ourselves. For many, the search for other lifeforms in our solar system is one of the major motivating reasons to explore Mars and other parts of our solar system with a potential for life.

This would also impact on the science interests of other countries. That includes the future discoveries of ESA (Europe), ROSCOSMOS (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ISRO (India), CNSA (China) and any other nation with an interest in exploring Mars. It's far easier to detect martian life, and know that it is from Mars, if there is no introduced Earth life there.

What we find on Mars could be absolutely unique. We can't make even the simplest of living cells from non living chemicals. We can make, or modify DNA, and we can insert DNA into a cell and use it to modify how it functions. However this only works if we have a pre-existing cell to modify. We can't make a new living cell from scratch. We don't know the details of all the chemical and physical processes that make up the simplest living cell, but even if we did, we still can't make it. Any attempt to build even the simplest RNA world cell, even if we knew the exact position of every atom in it, would fail. As soon as we start to assemble the chemical constituents they would react together to make a chemical mush. Our attempts to assemble early life in the laboratory (e.g. in the Szostack lab) are based on trying to accelerate chemical evolution, not assembling it from scratch. As Cairns-Smith put it in his "Seven Clues to the Origin of Life" (which approaches the problem of the origin of life like a detective puzzle modeled after Sherlock Holmes novels):

"Subsystems are highly INTERLOCKED within the universal system. For example, proteins are needed to make catalysts, yet catalysts are needed to make proteins. Nucleic acids are needed to make proteins, yet proteins are needed to make nucleic acids. Proteins and lipids are needed to make membranes, yet membranes are needed to provide protection for all the chemical processes going on in a cell. It goes on and on. The manufacturing procedures for key small molecules are highly interdependent: again and again this has to be made before that can be made - but that had to be there already. The whole is presupposed by all the parts. The interlocking is tight and critical. At the centre everything depends on everything"

(page 39 of Seven Clues to the Origin of Life)

If native martian life is especially vulnerable, for instance some form of early life, pre-DNA, we might make it extinct. There would then be no way to reconstruct it, even if we later found clues to how it worked before we made it extinct. This could also impact on the future commercial potential for Mars. Enzymes derived from extremophiles are already the basis for a billion dollar global industry. If we can find life based on a different biochemistry, this has a vast commercial potential. For details see Billions of dollars commercial potential of extraterrestrial biology (below).

Microhabitats for life and shallow subsurface habitats on Mars are likely to be undetectable from orbit. The harsh ultraviolet light would cause even surface lichens to huddle into partial shade in cracks and crevices. as they do in the high Antarctic mountains. Similarly it would be impossible to see life hidden beneath the surface of rocks, or beneath a mm or so of dust or deeper down in the top few centimeters of the Martian surface where, as we'll see, there are possibilities that conditions may be habitable for native as well as introduced Earth life.

The 2015 review found that maps of surface features" can only represent the current (and incomplete) state of knowledge for a specific time".

Text on image: Lichens on Mars would huddle in partial shade protected from UV, like this lichen in high mountains in Antarctica. It could not be seen from orbit with 30 cm resolution.

Pleopsidium chlorophanum in Antarctica From DLR press release Surviving the conditions on Mars

Pleopsidium chlorophanum on granite, collected at an altitude of 1492 m above sea level at "Black Ridge" in North Victoria Land, Antarctica. This photograph shows its semi-endolithic growth in Antarctic conditions. You can see that it has fragmented the granite, and that pieces of the granite are partly covering it, possibly helping to protect from UV light. Photograph credit DLR

See Lichens, cyanobacteria and molds growing in humidity of simulated Martian atmosphere

There are some dark hillside streaks near to the Curiosity landing site that grew and shifted in ways that suggested the presence of flowing water below the surface. Because of the possibility that these streaks could be habitable, Curiosity has to avoid them, because it is not sterilized sufficiently to go up to them to examine them. Importantly, these streaks were not discovered until after Curiosity landed on Mars. Also they are not proven to be dust cascades, as some say. It's one hypothesis that may have some truth to it, but there are many issues with it, such as the seasonality correlated with warmth and not correlated with winds, that the streaks fade too quickly over weeks rather than decades, and are too narrow for dust, and the problem of resupply from the top every year. Though the stopping angle matches the motion of cohesionless dust, there is likely to be liquid brines involved as well. See Dust cascades explanation,

If there is life on Mars, it's likely to be sparse and slow growing, like the life in our coldest driest deserts. Depending how much life is there, it may have almost no effect on the atmosphere, but it might have some effects we can notice. Curiosity has recently discovered variations in oxygen. Some process on Mars is creating more oxygen than expected in spring to summer, and less in mid winter, and the only correleation they have found is that less oxygen is produced when there is more dust in the atmosphere. They didn't find a correlation with seasonal and interannual pressure vartiation, or temperature variation. Could it be photosynthetic life? We also have the intriguing methane plumes also confirmed by ESA's trace gas orbiter.

Cassie Conley who used to be planetary protection officer for NASA puts it like this, as reported by Scientific American

Weve got engineers who are convinced that they know everything and biologists who still acknowledge that we still dont know very much. Fundamentally, that is the dispute.

Here is a video I made for this article (while working on the draft)

(click to watch on Youtube)

This article will focus on the forwards direction, the risk of sending Earth microbes to Mars because the legal protection in that direction is very weak.

In the backwards direction the legal protection is very strong indeed, far more than it was at the time of Apollo. Margaret Race of the SETI institute mapped out the laws that NASA would have to navigate to return a sample to Earth. I figure out, based on her list, that they should have started work on the legal process in 2010 or earlier to return a sample by 2032 as they plan. So, I don't think they are going to return it to Earth unsterilized myself. Most likely sterilize it, or return it to somewhere not in contact with Earth such as telerobotic study above GEO.

At any rate there is no risk of harm to Earth's biosphere. It would be looked at in great detail over a period of years and expert astrobiologists would be called as witnesses to testify and help keep Earth safe. For details about that, skip to Earth has strong legal protection/

Skip to: 2015 review and problems with maps

Since Earth is well protected in the backwards direction, for a sample returned from Mars, the main concern is for the forwards direction. Unlike the backwards case, there isnt any other legislation here to protect Martian life apart from the weak Outer Space Treaty. All the rules for planetary protection are based on a few phrases about harmful contamination. They have been interpreted as including "harmful to the scientific experiments of other parties to the treaty".

I think the way ahead here is to make sure everyone is on board and understands the importance of planetary protection - for scientists - and for colonization enthusiasts too. It's important for all of us to know what is there, and if there is life there that could harm humans or Earth's biosphere, or whether astronauts could impact adversely on martian life.

If these proposals were adopted in the forwards direction, you could send what you like to these regions of Mars, tardigrades, and extremophile blue green algae that have already been tested in Mars simulation chambers. The only requirement would be to document what you do. Eventually you could send humans too, with this category II classification, though returning them would be another matter if they had made contact with extraterrestrial microbes on Mars.

The report is here together with a cover letter from NASA recommending to their planetary protection officer that they implement the proposal:

One of their main cites is a report from 2014 by Rummel et al which proposed the use of maps to divide Mars into special regions which need especially careful planetary protection measures such as was used for the Voyager landers in the 1970s, and others that have less stringent requirements such as is used for Curiosity:

This is the basis for their proposal that Mars could be subdivided into regions some reclassified as category II. Although they dont go into detail, presumably they would use a map like the one in the 2014 review, and classify all except the uncertain regions as category II:

Map from the 2014 report. Purple is low in elevation, and grey is higher elevation. Red and blue lines delineating regions are approximately 50 km in width

In the text overlay I summarize the objection to this map in the 2015 review "2014 map of uncertain regions of habitability. 2015 review says maps can only represent incomplete knowledge."

Skip to: Vigorous debate in Nature and Astrobiology journal

Even before Rummel et als report was published, both NASA and ESA took steps to have it reviewed independently.

This 2015 review overturned several of the findings of the 2014 report, and in particular, it recommended against the use of maps [49] saying:

In general, the review committee contends that the use of maps to delineate regions with a lower or higher probability to host Special Regions is most useful if the maps are accompanied by cautionary remarks on their limitations. Maps [of] surface features can only represent the current (and incomplete) state of knowledge for a specific timeknowledge that will certainly be subject to change or be updated as new information is obtained.

5 Generalization of Special Regions and the Utility of Maps

This new NASA report doesnt mention the 2015 review. Its an extraordinary omission from a report that is recommending the use of maps for category II.

I dont know the reason for this omission. They certainly should have looked at this 2015 review, and not just at the original 2014 report, before making this recommendation to NASA to map out large parts of Mars as category II like the Moon.

The 2015 report used the example of Recurring Slope Lineae (RSLs) to explain why maps are not enough by themselves. These are seasonal streaks that form on sun facing Martian slopes. They appear in the Martian spring, grow and broaden through the summer and fade away in autumn.

These dark features are not themselves damp and may be dust flows. However, they are associated with hydrated salts and they may also be linked with salty water (brines) in some form. Sadly the HiRISE instrument can only observe them in the early afternoon locally, the driest time for the Martian surface, because of its high inclination sun synchronous orbit. This makes it especially hard to know if there are any brines moving down these slopes.

Warm Season Flows on Slope in Newton Crater (animated)

The first ones were found in higher latitudes, but many of these have now been found in the Martian tropics, especially on the slopes of the Valles Marineres. Their status is unknown, whether they could have habitats for Earth life or not. At present they are classified as

As such they meet the criteria for Uncertain Regions, to be treated as Special Regions. [a Special region is one that Earth microbes could potentially inhabit]

The 2015 review gives the example of the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander. All HiRISE images of the landing site were inspected for the possible presence of RSL's. [50]

As another example of this, 58 RSLs were found on Mount Sharp close to the Curiosity landing site.

Here are some of them:

Possible RSLs on mount Sharp not far from the Curiosity rover. These photos are taken at a similar time in the Martian year, they are less prominent in the earlier one in 09 March 2010 and more prominent with some new ones in the later image August 6 2012. Photo from supplementary information for Transient liquid water and water activity at Gale crater on Mars

Importantly, these were not discovered until after the Curiosity landing in 2012. See Slope activity in Gale crater, Mars (2015) and Nature article: Mars contamination fear could divert Curiosity rover

This shows that we mightnt always be able to rule out potential uncertain regions that could be habitats at a landing site. They may be discovered later, after the landing itself.

More RSLs have been found in the Mawrth Vallis region, one of the two final candidates for ExoMars landing site

These results denote the plausible presence of transient liquid brines close to the previously proposed landing ellipse of the ExoMars rover, rendering this site particularly relevant to the search of life. Further investigations of Mawrth Vallis carried out at higher spatial and temporal resolutions are needed to , to prevent probable biological contamination during rover operations,

Discovery of recurring slope lineae candidates in Mawrth Vallis, Mars

ExoMars isnt going to Mawrth Vallis, because they chose the other candidate Oxia Planum. I cant find anything about RSLs in Oxia Planum, but how confident can we be that this doesnt have RSLs or other potential habitats? Does non detection so far mean they arent there?

Skip to: Important habitats not covered by 2014 report

This new report also doesnt mention the long running and vigorous debate on the topic of whether we should relax sterilization requirements for spacecraft sent to Mars.

This debate started in two Nature articles in 2013 and has continued in Astrobiology journal through to 2019.

Both sides in this debate were in agreement that there is a significant possibility that Earth microbes can contaminate Mars.

Surely neither side in this debate would support classifying most of Mars as category II like the Moon.

Rather, the argument in Nature and Astrobiology journal is about whether we should reduce sterilization requirements for Mars in order to study these potential habitats quickly before human missions get there and make it impossible to study them in their pristine condition without Earth life.

The other side in this debate argue that we have a fair bit of time before humans get there, and that if we relax planetary protection we risk finding Earth microbes we brought there ourselves.

Those arguing for relaxing planetary protection are:

Against

This debate is not mentioned in this report.

Nor does it mention the many new potential surface or near surface habitats that have been proposed / indirectly detected / theorized since 2008. We have had more of these than there have been years since 2008.

Skip to: Nilton Renno's droplets

The 2014 report briefly considers these. The 2015 review expands on this topic, and says that to identify such potential habitats requires a better understanding of the temperature and water activity of potential microenvironments on Mars, for instance in the interior of craters, or microenvironments underneath rocks. These may provide favourable conditions for establishing life on Mars even when the landscape-scale temperature and humidity conditions would not permit it. [46]

The 2014 report looked at distributions of ice and concluded that ice in the tropics is buried too deep to be a consideration[47]

However the 2014/5 review corrected this due to evidence of ice present at depths of less than one meter in pole-facing slopes[48]

Research since then still hasnt resolved these issues.

Even the 2014 report acknowledged limitations:

"Claims that reducing planetary protection requirements wouldn't be harmful, because Earth life can't grow on Mars, may be reassuring as opinion, but the facts are that we keep dis4g life growing in extreme conditions on Earth that resemble conditions on Mars. We also keep discovering conditions on Mars that are more similarthough perhaps only at microbial scalesto inhabited environments on Earth, which is where the concept of Special Regions initially came from."

"A New Analysis of Mars "Special Regions": Findings of the Second MEPAG Special Regions Science Analysis Group (SR-SAG2)" (PDF).

Skip to: Does this matter:

Id like to cover a couple of these potential habitats to motivate this, then Ill look at why it is so important to protect Mars from Earth life - is it really so important to make sure we dont mix Earth life with Mars life before we canstudy it?

Skip to: Curiosity brines

Nilton Renno's droplets that form where salt touches ice - why did he call a droplet of salty water on Mars "a swimming pool for a bacteria"?

This is perhaps one of the most striking discoveries in recent years because of its implications for habitability of Mars. Nilton Renno found that liquid water can form very quickly on salt / ice interfaces. Within a few tens of minutes in Mars simulation

experiments.

Erik Fischer, doctoral student at University of Michigan, sets up a Mars Atmospheric Chamber on June 18, 2014. These experiments showed that tiny "swimming pools for bacteria" can form readily on Mars wherever there is ice and salt in contact.

This is striking as it could open large areas of Mars up as potential sites for microhabitats that life could exploit. The professor says

"If we have ice, and then the salt on top of the ice, in a few tens of minutes liquid water forms. Our measurements clearly indicate that. And it's really a proof that liquid water forms at the conditions of the Phoenix landing site when this salt is in contact with the ice.

"Based on the results of our experiment, we expect this soft ice that can liquefy perhaps a few days per year, perhaps a few hours a day, almost anywhere on Mars. So going from mid latitudes all the way to the polar regions.

" This is a small amount of liquid water. But for a bacteria, that would be a huge swimming pool - a little droplet of water is a huge amount of water for a bacteria. So, a small amount of water is enough for you to be able to create conditions for Mars to be habitable today'. And we believe this is possible in the shallow subsurface, and even the surface of the Mars polar region for a few hours per day during the spring."

(transcript from 1:48 onwards)

(click to watch on Youtube)

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NASA's Plan To Reduce Planetary Protection For Mars Risks Accidentally Extinguishing Second Genesis Of Life Before We Find It - Science 2.0

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Meet the robotic pioneers that will help humanity colonize Mars – Digital Trends

Posted: at 11:59 am

From NASAs upcoming Moon to Mars mission to Elon Musks ambitious plans touse a SpaceX Starship to eventually colonize Mars, the race to populate the Red Planet is already on. But before humans can visit Mars and set up any kind of long-term base there, we need to send out scouts to see the lay of the land and prepare it for manned missions.

The mechanical pioneers well be sending to Mars in the coming years will follow in the tire tracks of explorers like the Curiosity rover and the Insight lander, but the next generation of Martian robotics will use sophisticated AI, novel propulsion methods, and flexible smallsats to meet the challenges of colonizing a new world.

There are distinct difficulties in building machines which can withstand the Martian environment. First, theres the cold, with temperatures averaging around minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit and going down to minus 190 degrees Fahrenheit at the poles. Then theres the thin atmosphere, which is just one percent the density of Earths atmosphere. And then theres the troublesome dust that gets kicked up in any operations on the planets surface, not to mention the intense radiation from the Suns rays.

These environmental conditions create problems for robotics, from temperature variations which cause mechanisms to expand and contract and so wear over time, to dust getting into gears which prevents the use of exposed lubrication.

Its a very unique and extreme environment, even for space robotics, said Al Tadros, VP of Space Infrastructure and Civil Space at Maxar Technologies, which is the company that builds the robotic arms for NASAs Mars rovers. Maxars robotic arms must be able not only to survive this harsh environment, but also perform the tasks like digging and drilling which enable scientific investigations.

Another consideration is weight limitations. When a part has to be delivered to Mars via rocket, every single gram need to be considered and accounted for, and that requires carefully selecting materials. A lot of what we do uses different types of aluminum, Tadros explained. We also use titanium and in some cases we use carbon fiber, depending on the application. Other weight-saving tricks include hollowing out some sections that dont need to be so structurally strong, such as the length of a robotic arm which could be made from honeycomb matrix composite tubes.

When a rover has been delivered to the surface of Mars, it can start exploring. However, due to the distance from Earth, its not feasible for engineers to control rovers directly. Instead, the robots have a degree of autonomy in their explorations, with NASA exercising supervisory command.

They can tell the rover to go five meters in this direction, Tadros says as an example. If theres a problem executing that command, the rover will stop and wait for more instructions. Its rather rudimentary in that sense. But in the future, the desire is to have autonomy on board so the rover recognizes Oh, I was told to go five meters, but theres a boulder here. Ill go around in this direction because I know the terrain is open.

We need communication networks on Mars, both between two points on Mars and from Mars back to Earth.

With a map and local knowledge, rovers will be able to perform self-navigation. They will even eventually be able to perform science autonomously, so scientists would only need to specify a command like find this kind of rock and the rover could locate and analyze a sample. This kind of autonomy is already being planned as part of NASAs upcoming lunar mission with the VIPER rover, Tadros said. Its going to be doing rapid prospecting, looking at and characterizing the regolith and the rocks to look for ice and other materials.

With robotics like VIPER and theMarscopter launching as part of the Mars 2020 project, we can expect machines to scout and explore Mars, finding out about local resources and hazards which will help or impede the survival of humans on the planet.

Knowing where humans can safely land on Mars and where they can locate the resources they need is the first step towards colonization. But the real difference between a visit and a long-term stay on another planet is a matter of infrastructure. From water to communications to building habitats, well need to find a way to provide the basic necessities of life in a sustainable way.

One method for setting up early infrastructure is through the use of small satellites, or smallsats. If youre thinking of colonizing Mars, where the smallsats come in is setting up the infrastructure for the colony, said Brad King, CEO of Orbion, a company creating more efficient propulsion systems for smallsats. We need communication networks on Mars, both between two points on Mars and from Mars back to Earth. On Earth, weve solved many of these problems with orbiting satellites around our planet.

Smallsats could fulfill similar functions on Mars, by setting up a Martian equivalent to GPS we could call it the Mars Positioning System. They can also scout out the surface of the planet, preparing the area for the humans to come.

The issue is getting satellites from Earth to Mars in an affordable manner. Traditionally, craft have been moved through space via chemical propulsion that is, burning fuel to create thrust. This is a great way to create large amounts of thrust, such as the thrust required for a rocket to leave Earths atmosphere and make it into space. But it takes a massive amount of fuel, to such a degree that the biggest part of modern rockets is simply the fuel tank.

A cheaper alternative for moving through space is electric propulsion, which uses solar power to shoot an inert substance like xenon out of the back of the craft. This method is highly fuel-efficient, allowing the traveling of long distances with very little fuel. The downside is that this propulsion method is low thrust, so it takes longer to arrive at a destination. Sending a craft from Earth to Mars using electric propulsion might take a handful of years, compared to chemical propulsion with which the journey would take in the region of six to nine months.

We as humans cant hear something going wrong there, but when you translate that into data over time, AI can spot those subtle changes in deviation from the norm.

However, the principle doesnt only apply to small unmanned craft. A distinct advantage of electric propulsion is that it scales up very efficiently: Electric propulsion technology works better the bigger it gets, King said. In principle, theres nothing limiting the scaling up of electric propulsion to very large, crewed missions. You just start to run into economic hurdles because youre building Battlestar Galactica-sized craft to get there.

Electric propulsion has been used in projects like the Japanese Space Agencys Hayabusa craft, which recently visited the distant asteroid Ryugu. And there are more plans for electricity propelled craft in future projects, such as the power and propulsion element (PPE) module of NASAs Lunar Gateway station which use solar electric propulsion and will be three times more powerful than current capabilities.

Launching and landing on planets will still require chemical propulsion, but the journey in between could be made far more efficient. King suggests that a non-propulsive crew vehicle or cargo vehicle could be put into a cycling orbit that goes past Earth and Mars. Then you can essentially send things up and ride the bus to Mars, requiring no propulsion, he explained. A similar system has already been used for the Kepler Space Telescope, which used very little fuel after its launch into a Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit.

Of course, getting from Earth to Mars is only part of the journey. Once a craft arrives at Mars, it needs to slow down and enter orbit. To slow a craft, there are typically two methods: using reverse thrusters which require fuel, and aerobraking. The latter is where a craft dips into the outer atmosphere of Mars, using the aerodynamic drag to reduce the vehicles energy enough that when it comes out of the atmosphere, it can enter orbit.

The concept of electric propulsion has been somewhat fringe for the past several decades, but with these new projects its moved into the mainstream. Now its being applied on a large scale its like the transition of air travel from propeller driven aircraft to jet aircraft, King said.

So we can send robots to scout the surface and satellites to set up infrastructure. We could even move enormous constructions like habitats through space using minimal fuel through electric propulsion. But the challenges of Mars colonization dont only occur when humans are actually occupying an on-planet habitat. One major issue is how habitats and structures can be maintained for the long periods during which they will be unoccupied. Planned projects like NASAs Lunar Gateway station, for example, will likely only be occupied 20 to 30 percent of the time, and we can expect similar or even lower rates of occupancy for potential Mars habitats.

Off-planet habitats need to be able to monitor themselves and fix themselves, especially when the nearest human is millions of miles away. And for that, AI is required.

I believe that colonizing Mars is not a technological issue, its an economics issue.

A system recently launched to the International Space Station could provide the basis for AI habitat monitoring. BoschsSoundSee system consists of a payload containing 20 microphones, a camera, and an environmental sensor for recording temperature, humidity, and pressure. These sensors collect data about the environment, especially acoustic information, which can be used to flag up problems.

If you imagine there is a leak in the station, not only would there be ultrasonic tones, but also a pressure loss, Bosch research scientist Jonathan Macoskey explained. If we see both a pressure loss and an ultrasonic tone and other factors, thats a concrete way of identifying a problem.

Of course, a leak in the ISS would be loud, obvious, and dramatic. But many machine failures, especially in unmanned environments, are due to a gradual degradation over time. AI can be used to sense these things, SoundSee principal researcher Samarjit Das said, not by adding more or better sensors, but rather by using sensor data more efficiently to search for subtle patterns.

Machines dont just break down immediately from good to bad, Das said. There is gradual wearing down over time. Think of a system you might want to monitor in the ISS like a treadmill. The gears inside slowly degrade over time as its used. We as humans cant hear something going wrong there, but when you translate that into data over time, AI can spot those subtle changes in deviation from the norm.

Dont imagine future ships and habitats controlled entirely by AI though, or even worse a rouge AI like 2001s HAL. Sensors and AI wont replace humans entirely and automate everything, Das said. AI is a line of defense. Macoskey agreed: We see AI as a tool that enables new things in the same way that the microscope enabled humans to look at microscopic organisms.

With all these environment and logistical difficulties, it might seem as if sending humans to Mars at all is a long shot, let alone establishing any kind of permanent or semi-permanent base there. Although these are serious challenges, solutions do exist in the form of AI, robotics, and propulsion methods which are being tested now for use in future space projects.

I believe that colonizing Mars is not a technological issue, its an economics issue, King said. If we had the resources to spend, we know what needs to be built and we know how to build it. But the number of dollars or euros that it takes to do that is daunting.

With sufficient funding, we do have the knowledge to begin setting up communication systems, enabling transportation, and building habitats on Mars. King is confident that it could even happen within our lifetime: Given unlimited resources, we could set this infrastructure up in a decade.

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Space Cowboys, Chinas New Long March, Interplanetary Opportunities And Existential Risks Our New Age In Space – Forbes

Posted: at 11:59 am

In 1508, King Ferdinand II of Spain drafted his memoires. Youd guess the voyages he and Queen Isabella funded would have featured prominently in his personal puff-piece. Imagine bragging about your man Columbus discovering the New World as it was Eurocentrically termed. Oddly, Ferdinand didnt even mention the voyage in his first version.

Ferdinand II of Aragon, King of the Crown of Aragon (1452-1516) detail of wooden altar, Peruvian ... [+] folk art.

While a few monarchs were plotting routes to world domination, the preponderance of Europe paid little attention during those early years.

When forces begin to fundamentally challenge our worldview note the Earth-centric notion worldview only a few people truly pioneer.Most fail. A few make history. Thus we are poised for frontiers in space.

Space Cowboys and Cowgirls

I recently spoke for the New Worlds 2019 confab in Austin, Texas, an annual gathering of space enthusiasts. Hosted by Rick Tumlinson of the Space Fund and Earthlight Foundation, New Worlds focuses on space exploration and colonization. Tumlinson joined me for a trialogue at TWIN Global 2019 earlier this year (find our conversation here), then invited me to join the space race.

Comic book detail from the exhibit, Cowboys in Space and Fantastic Worlds, at the Bullock Texas ... [+] History Museum through December 1, 2019.

The venue for the event, the Bullock Texas State History Museum, hosts an intriguing exhibit Cowboys in Space, which explores the cultural synthesis of space and the American cowboy ethos. Surviving on any true frontier requires self-reliance, a conditions-relevant code of ethics and extraordinary courage the cowboy ideal.

As the exhibit and event explored, science fiction (cowboy or otherwise) generates visions for where we might go in the future.

Not Just For Billionaires And Comiconers

While the space community is still small, its passionate and making progress. Its not just for billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk though their commitment is essentialand Comicon enthusiasts though New Worlds did include a fair dose of Comiconisity. Real businesses, from healthcare and resources to aerospace and defense, are actively investing in these early days.

Investors such as Dylan Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, see investable opportunities. We now have second and third generation entrepreneurs. The business cases are becoming more viable and industry expertise is becoming stronger. I expect this trend to accelerate.

While many presenters and companies impressed me, a group of young researchers and designers stood out. They were selected for their innovative, insightful work on challenges facing our future in space.

What struck me about their work was how relevant some of their insights are for us here on Earth. Out-of-this-world (literally) challenges catalyze ideas relevant for nearer-term terrestrial purposes.

Designing Our Futures In Space And On Earth

Many science fiction authors envision complicated physical environments in space, to help astronauts and travelers feel at home. University of Houston Space Architecture program student and MIT Media Lab visiting student Tamalee Basu is taking an alternative, low-cost holodeck-like approach. With few resources, she decided to try to create a light-weight immersive AstroPod within which an individual can experience any environment.

Some of Tamalee Basu's sketchs for her AstroPod concept, 2019

Basus building a cloth cocoon with 360-degree projection and interactive capabilities. One could envision running simulated environments or having near-real time conversations with colleagues or dinner with loved ones back on Earth.

While Basus idea arose from considering the challenges of spending years away from Earth, we wont need to wait for space to benefit from her idea. When AstroPod or some similar solution works, we could enjoy such devices on earth. Or anywhere. Low cost, fully 3D, 360-degree immersive virtual spaces.

Mockup of a real-time Space-to-Earth meal experience with two participants, via an AstroPod. ... [+] Tamalee Basu

Over the next decade, well transcend the notion of virtual reality goggles and create dedicated virtual spaces with a variety of form factors and use cases. Basus insights from considering potential needs in space could inform progress here at home.

Near-Space Opportunities

Even in space conventionally defined by the Krmn line, or 100 km above Earths sea levelinvestable opportunities already exist. Aquarian Devices endeavors to build communications networks orbiting Earth, and eventually to the realm between Earth, the Moon and Mars. CEO Kelly Larson explained, Were already signing MOUs with customers who already have needs for orbital-to-earth communications not well-satisfied by current solutions, or who see rapidly expanding requirements in the near future.

Whether building the definitive telecommunications network for near-space requires 3 years or 30, someone will win big. Many players will die painful deaths, but any business or government with reasons to engage should be paying attention. Inter-galactic prizesand investment black holes loom.

Chinas Centennial Vision

Whilst space race veterans like the United States, Europe, Japan and Russia continue apace, and new entrants like the UAE and India rise, the most compelling plans explored at New Worlds came from China. Namrata Goswami, a MINERVA grantee from the US Office of the Secretary of Defense, presented an overview of the Peoples Republics long-term vision and activities.

China endeavors to be the foremost nation in space by 2045ahead of their 2049 Centennial Celebrations. Initiatives include Lunar and asteroid mining by 2034 with a permanent presence by 2036 and industrial scale space-based solar power by 2050. Thus far, China has largely achieved announced timelines.

The Shenzhou X spacecraft carried by a Long March-2F carrier rocket installed at the launch pad in ... [+] Jiuquan, Northwest China's Gansu province the morning of June 3, 2013. China launched the Shenzhou X spacecraft to advance their manned space program. The spacecraft carried three astronauts to visit the Tiangong-1 space module, state media reported. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Meeting epochal objectives requires deep, motivating belief. Chinas leadership equates their space ambitions to a new Long March, referring to the multi-year retreat of the Chinese Communist forces in the 1930s that enabled them to overcome their Nationalist adversaries and eventually found the Peoples Republic of China.

Chinas long-term vision to conquer space deserves respect. The countrys activities also pose cooperative opportunities and competitive threats for the US, Europe, India and others.

Americas To Win Or Lose

In contrast to Chinas centrally controlled efforts, a few commentators at New Worlds espoused Americas decentralized, entrepreneurial ferment of thousands of organizations generating many paths to the future. The American Cowboy ideal.

But we must humbly recognize that China has also proven itself capable of impressive success at new ventures. Entrepreneurial advantages require entrepreneurial commitments.

Space is not Americas birthright, though neither is it anyone elses. America must take a leadership role with willing partners worldwide to ensure globaland interplanetary security and prosperity. This will require Herculean efforts over decades, though failure could be existential.

America must up its game. Provide more public funds for space-related research, technology and infrastructure at a scale necessary to de-risk opportunities for investors. Encourage initiatives like Tumlinsons efforts to expand public and private sector engagement and build the community dedicated to space.

Expect many hype cycles and crashes (financial and physical) before space becomes a normal course of business. Nonetheless, be assured the heavens will look very different 30 years from now thus so will life on Earth.

Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand might not have recognized the magnitude of change they catalyzed, but others did. Some attained fame and fortune, while many others died on the high seas. They collectively transformed the world. Yet again, limitless frontiers await.

Tomb of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, Spain, engraving by Lemaitre from ... [+] Espagne, by Joseph Lavallee and Adolphe Gueroult, L'Univers pittoresque, published by Firmin Didot Freres, Paris, 1844.

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Outer space capitalism: The legal and technical challenges facing the private space industry – Big Think

Posted: October 16, 2019 at 5:28 pm

Image: Lear21, CC BY-SA 3.0

East and West Berliners on top of the recently opened Berlin Wall, early November 1989.

Image: TD Architects

The rich world, developed world, first world or Western world by another name: the walled world.

Image source: Korean Culture and Information Service (Jeon Han), CC BY 2.0

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.

Image: ngel Gutirrez Rubio, CC BY 2.0

The 'Valla' in Melilla, where Europe touches Africa.

Image source: Duke Human Rights Center, CC BY 2.0

One of the 99 "Peace Walls" in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Image source: Cedric31, GFDL

The expansion of Morocco's Berm, in six phases from 1982 to 1987.

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Outer space capitalism: The legal and technical challenges facing the private space industry - Big Think

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Deep learning nails correlation. Causation is another matter. – Big Think

Posted: at 5:28 pm

Image: Lear21, CC BY-SA 3.0

East and West Berliners on top of the recently opened Berlin Wall, early November 1989.

Image: TD Architects

The rich world, developed world, first world or Western world by another name: the walled world.

Image source: Korean Culture and Information Service (Jeon Han), CC BY 2.0

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.

Image: ngel Gutirrez Rubio, CC BY 2.0

The 'Valla' in Melilla, where Europe touches Africa.

Image source: Duke Human Rights Center, CC BY 2.0

One of the 99 "Peace Walls" in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Image source: Cedric31, GFDL

The expansion of Morocco's Berm, in six phases from 1982 to 1987.

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Deep learning nails correlation. Causation is another matter. - Big Think

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NASA, SpaceX Working On Refuelling Rockets In Space For Moon, Mars Mission – International Business Times

Posted: at 5:28 pm

The collaboration between Elon Musk-led SpaceX and NASA is getting bigger and broader. The latest is a $3 million contract by NASA to expand on the technology concepts of spacecraft fuel refilling in low earth orbits pitched by SpaceX.

This is mainly for new generation spacecraft and rockets being developed for Mars and Lunar missions.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine recently had a joint press conference with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk where the impending SpaceX launch of Crew Dragon was discussed.

Bigger size and heavy payloads and hundreds of astronauts in the future will require orbital refueling as an important feature.

Musk is on record that SpaceX is developing the new technologies to dock two Starships together in orbit and transfer fuel to the one that will be going beyond low-Earth orbit, per SpaceX news.

According to Elon Musk, new generation spacecraft heading for the moon and other longer voyages like Mars the mission will need such mode of refueling in the low orbit around Earth.

Under the $3M contract, SpaceX will work with NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) to build cryogenic fluid couplers. They are special nozzles Starship will need to refuel in orbit.

According to NASA news, SpaceX will work with NASA to build those nozzles Starship will use to mate and refuel in orbit.

The prototype of Starship being developed by SpaceX in Texas involves launching a stainless steel crewed craft atop a Super Heavy booster. Refueling that rocket around Earth orbit will be a high priority.

NASA announced a Tipping Point funding on September 27th with a corpus of $43.2 million that will be distributed among 14 companies.

The fund is focused on advancing important technologies necessary for the sustained exploration of the Moon and Mars.

Mars colonization plans intensified after the flow of data from Mars rovers sent by NASA.

In addition to SpaceX, AmazonBlue Origin also received funding. Fuel feed is required for Super Heavy as well as it must perform booster landings and needs propellant for a boost back and landing burns.

Starship is aiming to use an in-space propellant transfer to enable the delivery of over 100 tons of useful mass to the surface of the Moon or Mars. Pictured is the exterior of SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California as seen on July 22, 2018. Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Main challenge

Orbital refueling has never been tested on a bigger scale, speed, or reliability. That calls for Starship needing numerous in-orbit refuelings.

The transfer of fuel will have to be in the scale of at least 150 metric tons (330,000 lb) of liquid oxygen and methane in microgravity conditions at the LEO.

SpaceX hadSpace Act Agreements with NASA to develop orbital propellant transfer technology. The September 27th award expands that relationship with direct funding from NASA.

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Your Time Is Almost Out To Join The GODSPEED Kickstarter Campaign – GameTyrant

Posted: at 5:27 pm

Pandasaurus Gamesthe board game publishers behind popular games like Machi Koro, Dinosaur Island, and The Mindis raising funds for a new tabletop adventure that redefines the space race. The Kickstarter campaign for Godspeed has already blasted past its goal of $30,000, and there is still time if youre interested in the latest offering from the publisher known for immersive experiences and a whole lot of fun.

Godspeed is a worker placement game. Expect between sixty to ninety minutes of playtime to finish a session, and two to five players can clamor for first place as the nations pursue extraterrestrial colonization. This is the 1960s space race in an alternate reality. The moon landing was a spectacle, but astronauts have traveled much further and found an exoplanet with ancient relics. These alien machines are worth everything. The pioneering space cowboys arent coming back. They will stay to secure these relics for their country. Whichever one that may be.

Three phases will take place each roundthe High Council Phase, the Supply Depot Phase, and the Action Phase. Diplomacy, power, and action all play a part in the efforts to colonize the exoplanet. Whoever wields their influence in the most strategic way will win.

The Kickstarter campaign for Godspeed will end Friday, October 18th at 11:59 PM CDT. If you want to secure a copy and take over the stars for your country, act now.

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Elon Musk Unveils SpaceX’s New Starship Plans for Private Trips to the Moon, Mars and Beyond – Space.com

Posted: October 5, 2019 at 3:43 pm

BOCA CHICA, Texas Elon Musk has a Starship, and one day he expects it will help SpaceX reach other worlds.

Standing beneath a towering Starship Mk1, a prototype for SpaceX's massive reusable launch system, Musk laid out his plan for interplanetary travel at the company's South Texas test site here on Saturday (Sept. 28) the 11th anniversary of the first successful orbital launch of SpaceX's first rocket, the Falcon 1.

The new version of Starship (and its Super Heavy booster) will be able to carry up to 100 people to the moon, Mars or other destinations in space or around Earth, he said. It will stand 387 feet (118 meters) tall and be completely reusable, with quick turnarounds.

This is the rocket that will launch the billionaire Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa and a handful of artists on a trip around the moon in the 2020s. SpaceX unveiled that planned space tourist trip last year (but did not disclose how much Maezawa paid).

"This is, I think, the most inspiring thing I have ever seen," Musk told a crowd of about 200 SpaceX employees, guests and reporters at the company's site near Boca Chica Village, just outside of Brownsville. "Wow, what an incredible job by such a great team to build this incredible vehicle. I'm so proud to work with such a great team."

Musk later thanked Maezawa for his support. The billionaire has contributed an unspecified amount to SpaceX to aid Starship's development.

Related: SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy Mars Rocket in Pictures

Musk has long said that the main goal of SpaceX, since its founding in 2002, has been to help make humanity a multiplanet species. The company has developed reusable Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, as well as reusable Dragon cargo capsules and a new Crew Dragon ship for astronauts. It has launchpads in Florida, California and now Boca Chica, where the company broke ground on its test site in 2014.

But Mars, Musk has said, has remained the true objective.

"This is the fastest path to a self-sustaining city on Mars," he said Saturday night, referring to the Starship-Super Heavy architecture.

SpaceX's Starship concept has undergone a kind of rocket evolution in the three years since Musk first unveiled it to the world in September 2016 at the International Astronautical Union meeting in Mexico.

At that meeting, Musk unveiled what he called the the Interplanetary Transport System, or ITS, for Mars colonization. The ITS called for a fully reusable spacecraft (with two fins) and booster that would stand 400 feet (122 m) high when assembled. Its first stage would have 42 next-generation Raptor engines, and the booster would be 40 feet (12 m) wide. The spacecraft would have nine Raptors. (SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets have nine Merlin engines on their first stage. Falcon Heavy first stages have 27 Merlins.)

Musk updated the design in 2017, calling it the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR for short. That plan called for a launch system that would stand 348 feet (106 meters) tall and 30 feet (9 m) wide. Its booster would have 31 Raptor engines, while the spacecraft atop it would have six.

Then, in 2018, Musk unveiled yet another design (and the Starship name): a sleek, stainless-steel spacecraft with three tail fins that would stand taller than its 2017 precursor, with a height of 387 feet (118 m). The spacecraft would still be powered by six Raptor engines, with up to 37 Raptors powering the booster (now called Super Heavy).

The switch to 301 stainless steel from a lightweight, but expensive, carbon fiber composite material, was a turning point, Musk said. The steel gets stronger the colder it gets, making it perfect for flights in the cold depths of space. It also has a higher melting point, making it more resilient during the fiery reentry through Earth's atmosphere.

It's also way cheaper, about 2% the cost of carbon fiber, he added.

"Steel was the best design decision on this whole thing," Musk said.

This latest design has held to the present day; SpaceX is still shooting for a 387-foot-tall Starship-Super Heavy stack, with six Raptors on the spacecraft. The number of engines on Super Heavy could vary from flight to flight; Musk said the rocket has space for up to 37 Raptors, and each mission will probably require at least 24.

"Starship will allow us to inhabit other worlds," Musk wrote on Twitter Friday (Sept. 27). "To make life as we know it interplanetary."

With the design nailed down, SpaceX plans to move fast.

"This is going to sound totally nuts but I think we want to try to reach orbit in less than six months," Musk said. "Provided the rate of design improvement and manufacturing improvement continues to be exponential, I think that is accurate to within a few months."

.And people could start flying aboard the vehicle in the next year or so if the test program continues to go well, he added. That appears to be an extremely accelerated program, given that SpaceX has not yet launched astronauts on its Crew Dragon spacecraft for NASA.

While Musk and SpaceX have been lauded by their ambitious push for a Starship capable of deep-space travel, the road has not always been smooth.

As the company ramped up its testing with a smaller rocket, called Starhopper, frequent road closures, launch hazard advisories and other side effects of the program sparked ire among some residents of Boca Chica Village, a nearby beachside community. SpaceX's Starship Mk1, for example, is just dozens of feet from a main travel route, Boca Chica Boulevard, that leads to the village.

Earlier on Saturday, the boulevard was the scene of a rotating gallery of onlookers and SpaceX fans posing for selfies and photos with the Starship Mk1, even as SpaceX put the finishing touches on the 165-foot (50 m) vehicle.

"I can sum up my first impression like this: 'Ooo, Shiny!'" said Roy Paul, 78, of Mebane, North Carolina, who flew to Houston and drove over 7 hours with a niece, nephew and their five children from Beaumont to see the Starship Mk1. He's a dedicated space fan who goes as IonMars on NASASpaceflight.com forums.

This month, SpaceX offered to buy out some Boca Chica Village residents after a short 500-foot (150 m) test sparked a brush fire at the test site, according to Business Insider.

On Saturday, Musk confirmed that SpaceX has sought to buy out some Boca Chica residents. If SpaceX's flight test rate holds, then Starship launches may become more disruptive to the hamlet's residents, he said.

Then there are SpaceX's other customers.

NASA is still waiting for SpaceX to complete the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The space agency has picked SpaceX (and another company, Boeing) to provide commercial crew flights to the station.

While SpaceX did launch an unpiloted Crew Dragon test flight to the space station this year, a subsequent abort system test failed, leading to the destruction of the vehicle. SpaceX aims to resume abort system tests later this year ahead of the first crewed test flight.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, it seems, is not happy with the years-long delays of Crew Dragon, as well as Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, especially after seeing SpaceX build Starship Mk1 this year ahead of its own test flight.

"I am looking forward to the SpaceX announcement tomorrow," Bridenstine wrote on Twitter Friday. "In the meantime, Commercial Crew is years behind schedule. NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the taxpayer. It's time to deliver."

On Saturday night, Musk assured that SpaceX is focused on Crew Dragon for NASA, as well as flights for other customers. Only about 5% of SpaceX's resources are devoted to the Starship program, he said.

Meanwhile, the city of Brownsville, remains hopeful that SpaceX's presence and future launches from Boca Chica could be a boon for the community.

The city's mayor, Trey Mendez, a lawyer and native of Brownsville, said that in the five years SpaceX has been at the Boca Chica site, the area has seen some tourists come to gawk at the rockets, but such visits have not had a significant impact on the city's economy.

That could change, Mendez said, if SpaceX sets up regular space launches from Boca Chica. But if the area just stays a test site, then it may not be as big an impact as the city would like.

"Definitely I can say that the community is overall excited with the opportunities that the space industry brings. And we're excited to learn more about SpaceX's plans out here," Mendez told Space.com just hours before Musk's presentation. "I certainly hope that it is something that will have a measurable impact for our city, because I would definitely love to have that."

Space.com Senior Space Writer Mike Wall contributed to this story. This story has been updated to include new comments by Elon Musk from his Starship update.

Email Tariq Malik attmalik@space.comor follow him@tariqjmalik. Follow us@SpacedotcomandFacebook.

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Elon Musk Unveils SpaceX's New Starship Plans for Private Trips to the Moon, Mars and Beyond - Space.com

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