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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Space Exploration
Posted: March 26, 2020 at 6:18 am
Half a century since the Apollo 11 moon landing, space continues to be one of the foremost areas of geopolitical expansion and the projection of national capabilities. The UK is not alone in launching an ambitious space strategy: in November 2019, NATO foreign ministers recognised space as a new operational domain for the establishment of international governance and infrastructure. As Global Britain becomes a reality, space and the new space race will become a key frontier for the UKs redefinition of its role in the world.
But with space becoming increasingly important in many ways both in terms of developing new technology and in providing a new frontier for development and research a new space race, of sorts, appears inevitable. Dr Alice Bunn, Director of International Programmes at the UK Space Agency, noted this at the BFPGs recent event on the future of UK foreign policy in space, arguing that were coming back full circle (Donald) Trump is laying out his plans for boots on the moon and China is showing huge capabilities. We are coming back to a more competitive space.
But the new space race wont be as binary as the US-Russia Cold War contest to be the first to put man on the moon of the 60s. For example, both Dr Bunn and Liz Seward, Senior Strategist for Airbus Europe pointed to the capabilities of India which recently successfully launched an earth observation spy satellite. The new satellite can take high-resolution images during any time of the day, even under cloudy conditions, which will boost Indias all-weather surveillance capabilities.
Since the original space race of the 1960s, the world has changed in major ways. What back then was a battle for space supremacy between two competing ideologies, now incorporates not only governments around the world, but individuals and organisations. Elon Musk, soon after his company SpaceX launched the most powerful working rocket in the world into space launching a Musk-owned Tesla into orbit said: We want a new space race. Races are exciting. According to John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute: SpaceX has challenged the traditional launch industry in the United States and in Europe and in China and in Russia.
Space reflects more than the increased ability of billionaires to launch rockets into space its a microcosm of the ever-changing balance of power back down on Earth. Taking Brexit as an examle, the panellists at our recent event noticed that whilst the UKs withdrawal from the European Union has not magically opened doors for the UK space sector, it has massively increased the political will to ramp up our capabilities in space. As I wrote in a previous BFPG blog on space, the Conservative Party made a pledge to establish the UKs first Space Command in their December 2019 general election manifesto, and several Ministers have since made calls for the UK to embrace space as a new frontier in foreign policy. Spaceports have been proposed, and plans for new satellite systems drafted.
But that blog also noted that the comments made by Dr Bunn and Liz Seward on the idea that the new space race will not be binary is already proving true. Certainly, the UKs ambition is being matched across Europe. Sweden, for example, has committed to starting rocket launches from Kiruna by 2022. Norway aims to beat that and has 2020 in its sights. Portugal matches the UKs space ambitions and aims to open a spaceport in the Azores. France, Germany and Italy all spend a substantial amount more than the UK does on space exploration.
50 years since the first moon landing, space still ignites the imagination of millions around the world. As the global economy grows and becomes more cooperative, the space race is changing but its still there. With individuals, governments, organisations and more involved in the rapidly developing sector, Britain can have a huge role to play in writing the rulebook and convening exciting new coalitions.
Posted: at 6:18 am
Preparations at NASA are underway for creation of the next planetary science decadal survey, a roadmap intended to guide exploration of our solar neighborhood from 2023 to 2032. Six scientists, each considering a different world or class of objects, will share their thoughts and hopes. The Planetary Societys Emily Lakdawalla offers fun and fascinating science education suggestions for housebound families. Some lucky (?) listener will be getting a special message from Bruce and Mat if he or she wins the new Whats Up space trivia contest.
Bruce and Mat will record an outgoing message for your phone, if you dare.
Who was the first person to do a deep space EVA (extravehicular activity or spacewalk)? Deep space is defined as beyond low Earth orbit.
The Chandrasekhar limit is the maximum mass of a stable white dwarf star. In solar masses, what is the approximate value of the Chandrasekhar limit?
The winner will be revealed next week.
What is the second largest planetary moon in our solar system that orbits retrograde? (Neptunes Triton is by far the largest.)
Our solar systems second largest moon orbiting in retrograde is Phoebe at Saturn.
Mat Kaplan: [00:00:00] Planning the future through NASA's decadal survey, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. They are intended to guide NASA's science and nearly the entire scientific community believes they are essential. As we approach formulation of the next decadal survey for planetary science, we'll survey the solar system through the eyes of six scientists. Like the rest of us, Emily Lakdawalla is learning to deal with the challenges of these strange times. My colleague is uniquely qualified to recommend ways to keep our minds and the minds of our children wandering the universe, even as we stay within our homes. She'll join us right after The Downlink headlines.
We'll close as always with Bruce Betts and What's Up. You'll get the chance to win a [00:01:00] personalized message from Bruce and me, if you want it. Here's this week's sample of the mission updates collected by Planetary Society editorial director Jason Davis for The Downlink. Like the rest of the world, the space community is being affected by COVID-19. All NASA employees except mission essential personnel are working remotely. Europe has taken similar measures, suspending its launches, even Buzz Aldrin is quarantined at home. It's unclear how severely the pandemic will affect upcoming mission schedules, but NASA officials say at least one is still on schedule for now, the Perseverance Mars Rover. Sadly, work on the James Webb Space Telescope has been halted by the pandemic.
There are signs that NASA's latest efforts to save the heat flow probe aboard the Mars InSight Lander may be working. The self-hammering instrument known as the mole has unsuccessfully been [00:02:00] trying to bury itself since March of last year. Engineers are now using InSight's robotic scoop to press down on top of the mole while it hammers. And when NASA astronauts make their first flight to the lunar surface as part of the agency's Artemis program, currently scheduled for 2024, they won't be making a pit stop at the Gateway, a small yet to be built lunar space station. NASA officials say they are still committed to building the Gateway later, but that it is no longer in the so-called critical path for the first moon landing, not counting Apollo of course.
More news and other great features are waiting for you online at planetary.org/downlink. You can also sign up to get The Downlink delivered to your inbox each week for free. Here's our solar system specialist, Emily.
Emily, thanks for joining me, uh, and this is such a critical time to be doing this. Of course, we are both doing it from home. [00:03:00] I know you're there with your daughters, uh, attempting to keep them busy and stimulated. My wife just left to, uh, go take care of our grandson while our, uh, our daughter works from home, and we're all looking at the same challenge. Those of us who are working with children and many of us, uh, [laughs] we're trying to keep our own minds busy. This is something you've given a lot of thought to I know over the years and it now seems more important than ever.
Emily Lakdawalla: Yes. Uh, it's certainly an interesting challenge for a lot of us to try to maintain our jobs and maintain our children's education, and maintain all of our sanity while we're stuck at home here.
Mat Kaplan: [laughs]
Emily Lakdawalla: Uh, we're actually doing pretty well. My daughters are older now. They're 13 and 10. The 13-year-old's, uh, schooling has transitioned seamlessly online. She's just going, uh, right along with all of her classes. The fifth graders, not so much, but she does have work to do every day. And then she is actually very good at keeping herself busy. But we all want to enrich our lives with science. We're all a little bored staring at the same four walls all day. So, let me give you a couple of ideas for [00:04:00] things you can do to keep the kids and yourself entertained, and then I can, uh, give you some suggestions for how to guide you in making your own activities up for your kids.
So first of all, uh, let's talk about just exploring museums from home. Most of the great museums around the world are really acting fast to put a lot of their exhibit materials online. Um, they've been doing this for years and years and now they're just foregrounding it all. And of course I'm gonna highlight the National Air and Space Museum whose two museums are now closed to the public, but they have something called Air and Space Anywhere where they have a, a single website that's a portal into all of their great online offerings. So you can go explore, uh, the United States' vast collections of space paraphernalia, aerospace, airplanes, spaceships, tours, uh, artifacts, all kinds of interesting things to look at and activities to do.
Another great activity, if you're interested in studying planets, is to study your own planet. And the Washington DC [00:05:00] Capital Weather Gang has something called Weather School for kids at home that they're operating off their Facebook page and they're encouraging children and their parents to go out and make observations of the world around them, of the changing weather, and those kinds of observations, they're science, it's the very first step into understanding how to make observations on other planets. So that's a really fantastic activity to do with your kids and it gets them outdoors as well. And observing how each day is different from the next day, which I think is really helpful right now when all the days seem to be blending together.
Mat Kaplan: [laughs]
Emily Lakdawalla: Um, the last ones, both, uh, more relaxed and I think really super fun, and that's something called Story Time From Space, where actual astronauts on the space station read books aloud while they are floating through the space station, and in different parts of the space station. The books that they read, a lot of them are picture books suitable for younger children, but they read middle school books as well. So, um, really kids of all ages and honestly even adults, uh, can really [laughs] enjoy [00:06:00] the astronauts, uh-
Mat Kaplan: [laughs]
Emily Lakdawalla: ... reading their books from station. Some of them are better reader than others, but it's all just wonderful. And periodically you'll see another astronaut floating around or, or hear pe-, hear cosmonauts talking in Russian in the background, and that's really fun.
The last couple of suggestions I have are back on The Planetary Society's website, planetary.org. A more passive, but really inspiring thing you can do is to just look through our vast space image library, planetary.org/images. We have so many gorgeous images from all over the solar system. If you look down at the bottom of each individual image page, there's keywords that you can click on and then you get a whole host of images that, uh, are tagged with that keyword. And so, um, there's so much to explore there. It's really fun. And then-
Mat Kaplan: It's a beautiful library. Yeah.
Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah. Um, I'm very proud of it. [laughs] So-
Mat Kaplan: You should be.
Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah. And then finally we actually have courses online that are suitable I think for both high school, uh, students and adults. I've created some space image processing tutorials where, uh, [00:07:00] I walk you through the very beginning steps of learning how to process space images. And of course, uh, uh, Dr. Bruce Betts has his own, um, uh, solar system, introduction to the solar system classes. You can get those at planetary.org/bettsclass, and you can take a whole course on the solar system. And so, uh, all of those things I think would be great activities for kids of all ages.
Mat Kaplan: And I got one more to mention and that is the course on how to become a space advocate. Maybe you already are in your own mind, but if you want to make it happen in the real world, there's Casey Dreier's course, uh, for that as well. All three of these are terrific, and of course we got much more on the website. You might want to check out The Planetary Report. Uh, that new Equinox, Vernal Equinox edition is, uh, available right now. And, uh, that's, uh, something, Emily, that, uh, you had tremendous influence over up until just recently when now that you've moved on to, uh, other things. Listen, we still have some time, at least for our podcast listeners, there's so much content out there, not all of it at the [00:08:00] level of quality of the, uh, stuff that you've just described. How can parents and others figure out, uh, what's worth giving time to?
Emily Lakdawalla: Well, fortunately there's guidance in something called the science standards, and every single state has its own set of standards, but an awful lot of them are guided by something called the Next Generation Science Standards. They're sort of a-a guide to the kinds of topics that are suitable for children. And it's not just, uh, a list of topics like, "In first grade you study Earth." No, it's not that simple. It's not about the, the subject matter. It's about the kinds of scientific work that kids of different ages can be expected to do. So I went to the Next Generation Science S-standards website and I just pulled the standards for one particular topic, which is Earth's place in the universe. And so you can see how at different grade levels, uh, the standards ask kids to, um, be able to think about Earth's place in the universe in different ways.
For a first grader or a second grader, [00:09:00] you might expect children to be able to make observations of the Earth at different times of year and relate the amount of day light to the time of year. So you might ask kids to notice when the sun rises, when does it set? They're also learning at that age, how to read time on clocks. And so you can tie reading clocks with looking at when the sunrises and the sunsets. And that's the kind of activity that's appropriate for six-year-olds, five- and six-year-olds.
When you're looking at older kids like who are, you know, nine to 10, fifth grade in the United States, they're expected at that age to develop and use a model of the Earth, sun, moon system to describe the cyclical patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun, and moon. You can see how as kids get older, they're expected to be able to, um, uh, tie their observations to mental models, to things, pictures that they can hold in their head about how Earth, and sun, and moon move with respect to each other. You can't expect a six-year-old to do that, but you can expect a 10-year-old to do that kind of thing. In middle school, [00:10:00] they're expected to understand the role of gravity in motions of the solar system. And you know, it goes on to be more sophisticated as you get kids older and older.
Mat Kaplan: This is terrific. I mean, it's not just learning science, it's learning how to think, uh, how to be rational and, and appreciate everything that's around us. I, I, I think this is just, uh, terrific. So how can people learn more about these standards?
Emily Lakdawalla: Well, you go to the Next Generation Science Standards website and they actually have a really easy form that you can use to plug in the age of the child and the topic area that you're interested in, whether it's Earth and the solar system, or biology, or some other topic. And then you can ask it to spit out, uh, the kinds of topics, the kinds of, uh, subjects and also provides you with a, um, a download of the parti-, of a much longer description of the standards for that particular age. I highly recommend that the parents who are doing science education for their own kids to go there and read. And it helps you understand the, the capability of your child at their [00:11:00] particular age. Um, what they're able to, um, hold in their heads and observe at the same time, and the kinds of reasoning you can expect them to be able to do given their age. It's really valuable.
Mat Kaplan: Great. Great suggestions, Emily. Thank you so much for all of these. There is one more thing that I'm going to mention. Uh, and I only just learned about it in time for us to record this segment. Some of you out there may be able to participate in it live. If not, my assumption is though, I'm not sure, I believe I, I, it's hard to believe that they would not make this available as a recording on demand after the fact. But I was contacted, uh, minutes ago by Danica Remy who is a co-founder of Asteroid Day, and Asteroid Day has gotten together with space agencies around the world, especially the European Space Agency, on Thursday, Thursday, um, evening for some of us, Thursday morning for others, they are going to put together a series of live webcasts. Uh, you can find out about it [00:12:00] at spaceconnects.us, spaceconnects.us.
It's, uh, going to start at 3:00 PM GMT. That would be 8:00 AM Pacific Time. It's in five different languages, beginning with Dutch. The English broadcast will begin at 7:00 PM GMT. That's noon Pacific Time, Pacific Daylight Time, on Thursday, March 26th. Uh, the English portion will be hosted by physicist and science communicator, Brian Cox. So that alone would be worthwhile. But they are put, they have put together this tremendous list of celebrities, of scientists, and of astronauts. I mean, just in the English portion, uh, they've got Tim Peake from the UK, Tom Jones and Nicole Stott, both, uh, past guests on Planetary Radio. We don't have time to read all of these, but, uh, it is well worth checking out. Again, you can find out more at [00:13:00] spaceconnects.us, us. It's not continuous over this period. There are four half hour programs in Dutch, German, Italian, and French, and then an hour of English. Again, that's at 7:00 PM GMT and noon PDT.
Emily, if nothing else, most of us can go outside, stand in the yard or in front of wherever we live, and look up at the night sky if we're lucky enough to have a clear one, or maybe out the window. Because as, uh, my wife said, uh, just before she left to take care of our four-year-old grandson, we can all keep looking up. Thanks very much, and, um, keep sheltering in place.
Emily Lakdawalla: [laughs] And I'll be putting some more stuff out on video as time goes on. So, stay tuned to planetary.org for that.
Mat Kaplan: That's Emily Lakdawalla, our solar system specialists keeping our own minds and the minds of lots of children hopefully, uh, very busy during this unprecedented time around planet Earth. A new edition of The Planetary Report has been available to all for a [00:14:00] couple of weeks now. You'll find the digital version of the magazine at planetary.org. It offers a lot, including a main feature called The Next 10 Years, an introduction to the decadal survey. While there are surveys for each of the four science divisions of NASA, we're going to limit ourselves to planetary science.
The current survey's term ends in 2022. A new planning effort is just getting underway. It will lay out a recommended path for 2023 through 2032. It's remarkable how effective this process has been. With oversight by the National Academy of Sciences, it relies on scores of scientists for its formulation, with thousands more carefully following its progress and many attempting to influence it.
As the effort kicks off, The Planetary Society has invited six distinguished planetary scientists to give us an idea of what to expect. We'll hear from three of them [00:15:00] this weekend, and continue the conversations next week. We begin with Edgard Rivera-Valentin. Ed is a staff scientist with the USRA, the Universities Space Research Association, at the Lunar and Planetary Institute.
Ed, welcome to Planetary Radio. I, I guess from reading about you, we could have talked to you about, just about anything in the solar system since your interests are, are pretty much in everything, at least out as far as the outer planet. But you, uh, got Mercury in this, uh, issue, the current issue of The Planetary Report. I'm glad that we can start with you there and we'll work our way out from the sun as we, uh, progress through talking, uh, to your colleagues, who also contributed to, uh, the magazine this time around. And let me just say again, welcome.
Edgard Rivera-Valentn: Thank you. Thank you. I'm happy to be talking to you.
Mat Kaplan: Mercury, fascinating little world. As you look over the last 10 or 20 years, we've learned a lot about this little world, haven't we?
Edgard Rivera-Valentn: We definitely have. Um, Mercury [00:16:00] is I'd say one of the more interesting ones. Um, and I was happy to write about it because we've gotten so much radar data on it. One of the first weird things that we found on Mercury was the discovery that its poles might have ice. So you wouldn't expect that when you're talking about the planet that's closest to the sun, right? Uh, you'd imagine a very hot world, there's no way you could have water or ice there. Uh, radar return from both the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Goldstone Solar System Radar showed that there was definitely something very bright right at the poles. And later, once we were able to send, uh, a spacecraft to Mercury, we were able to say, "Yep, there's definitely ice here," and there's still a lot of work going on trying to decipher what that ice is, how did it get there, and how is it forming or was it delivered? There's still a lot to learn about Mercury.
Mat Kaplan: So that's one of the things you'd like to learn more about.
Edgard Rivera-Valentn: Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: And i-i-is this ice, is it the same situation that we have on the moon where it's in these [00:17:00] permanently shaded areas that, uh, keep the sun from hitting it directly?
Edgard Rivera-Valentn: Correct. Yeah. So Mercury, it's still in its topography is in such a way that at the poles, some of the craters will have parts of them that will be permanently shadowed. They will never see the sun. And because of that, those areas actually can be really, really cold. Um, there you'll be able to store ice either right at the surface or right below the surface, covered by some regular. There are a little bit differences between the type of ice that we think we're seeing at Mercury versus the type of ice that we're seeing at the moon, because when you zap the moon with radar, the returns would tell you there's no such thing as ice there.
Mat Kaplan: Hmm.
Edgard Rivera-Valentn: Versus Mercury where it was immediate, there's definitely ice there. So we're thinking that the ice that's at the moon, it's, it's not a lot. It's port fi-, it's what we call port filling. So in the right width or the soil, there's some water ice that's filling in some of the holes inside the soil. While [00:18:00] on Mercury, it might be more like slabs of ice and ...
On Mercury it might be more like slabs of ice and-
Mat Kaplan: Huh.
Edgard Rivera-Valentn: ... soil mixed together. So there's a larger fraction of ice there compared to [inaudible 00:18:08].
Mat Kaplan: What else do we still want to know more about on mercury? I mean, after all, I mean, you mentioned other spacecraft. We had the Messenger spacecraft visit there, uh, and do terrific work up until recently. And, uh, this European spacecraft, BepiColombo, will be arriving before too long to, uh, tell us much more.
Edgard Rivera-Valentn: Mercury is more than just the ice. That's one of the things that I really like about it. Mercury is enigmatic from all the way from its formation. The type of data that we've gotten back from Messenger shows us that if you look at Mercury from a geophysics perspective it's mainly a core. About 85% of the volume of Mercury is its core. How did that even happen? Did you have... Did it form that way? Did it form by a bunch of objects that were just really metallic [00:19:00] and all of those metals ended up suddenly into a core or at one point or another they had a large impact combine strip away those outer layers leaving behind, uh, maybe just a mantle covering the core? We still don't know that part.
And also from a solar system formation perspective, uh, in a lot of these models that we use to try to understand how all the planets formed Mercury is really close to what's called one of those boundary conditions, the outer edge of those simulations. So we really can't quite get to making a Mercury. We can reproduce everybody else, but making a Mercury is a little bit more difficult in these types of models. We're getting some hints by looking at exoplanets, but we're still a little unsure how you even get a Mercury. Not only how do you reproduce the interior of it but how do you make it where it's at?
So there's a lot of information to learn about the interior of its body. From a geology perspective, it's covered in [00:20:00] just volcanic plains. There's pyroclastic deposits everywhere. So it was definitely a very active world at one point or another, even though we're seeing a quote unquote dead world today, but some of the data that Messenger brought back is showing us that it's actually still changing. It's contracting. So that's still changing its geology. ,
So BepiColombo when it gets there around... Let's see here. It launched in 2018. BepiColombo should get there on 2025. Um, it's still going to be elucidating a lot of these very important, very fundamental questions for Mercury. How did it form? How the heck do you get the interior, um, to be with something such a large core? And can we better understand the volatiles and the geochemistry that we're seeing on the surface?
Mat Kaplan: And there's one more factor which you mentioned in your TPR, uh, article, and that's the [00:21:00] magnetic field of Mercury, which is something that I... We've had conversations in the past with Sean Solomon about. Of course, he was the PI for the, the Messenger mission. It's still something that we need to learn more about?
Edgard Rivera-Valentn: Oh, for sure. The more you learn about magnetic fields the... in planetary science, the more you know that we don't understand them. [laughing] Um, that's the best way I could, uh, describe my mag- magnetism. Yeah, so there's still a lot to learn about how, uh, Mercury is actually generating its magnetic field precisely, better measurements, uh, across the planet at distances so we could better characterize it. BepiColombo will definitely be unraveling a lot from that perspective. I'm... That is one of the fields I am definitely not an expert in. It's just one of those, "Oh, that's really neat." [laughs]
Mat Kaplan: From everything that you've talked about, it sounds like just like with all the other bodies in the solar system, Mercury can teach us a [00:22:00] lot about everything in the solar system and maybe worlds outside the solar system as well. Am I, am I right about that?
Edgard Rivera-Valentn: Yeah, for sure. The more we understand the diversity of worlds that we have in our own solar system the better we can understand not only our place in our solar system but also put into context all this new data we're getting from exoplanets. Understanding each and every world, including the first world, Mercury, helps us in getting a better understanding of how even the entire galaxy works.
Mat Kaplan: I got one I got to ask you just because of my science fiction interests. Uh, it's gonna be a little bit out of left field. When I was growing up, when I was a kid, a long time ago, people thought that Mercury was tidally locked, that, uh, it always had one side facing the sun, one side facing away from. We know now of course that that's not the case, but it does rotate pretty slowly. Are you familiar with... There was a great book by a Kim Stanley [00:23:00] Robinson past guest on our show, 2312. And in it it's got a lot of highly speculative, marvelous stuff. He actually talks about a city on Mercury appropriately called Terminator, and this city crawls along tracks so that it can always stay in that twilight zone, the terminator zone. Uh, so that it's neither frozen nor roasted. I... A completely novel idea or have you ever heard of this?
Edgard Rivera-Valentn: No, I have not read this. Now I need to.
Mat Kaplan: I highly recommend it. There's a lot of other stuff in it like, like colonies on Io where I'm not sure I would ever want to even visit much less live there. It's an absolutely fascinating and... As is Mercury. I appreciate your taking a few minutes to, uh, introduce us to it. And I, I hope like with all of the, the articles by your colleagues, uh, that people will take a look at the digital version of the Planetary Report, which is available at [00:24:00] Planetary.org. I've got just one more question for you. I know you're very involved with sharing science, uh, with the larger community and including young people, and there's one, one group in particular I'm curious about. Correct me if I get it wrong, but I think it's the Boricua Planeteers. Why... What's that about?
Edgard Rivera-Valentn: Yes. So Boricua Planeteers is a group of Puerto Rican planetary scientists, including myself and a bunch of my friends from PR. We're spread across the US. The point of the group is to increase the visibility of latinx, specifically in this case, Puerto Rican scientists, but to also bring back planetary science to Puerto Rico. So PR we have the Arecibo Observatory, right? The best radar telescope, the second largest radio telescope. But education wise on the island astronomy hasn't been one of the major focuses. In fact out of the about a 100 universities that we have in Puerto Rico only three offer [00:25:00] bachelors degrees in even physics. And there's no astronomy degree granting program in PR yet.
So we thought of putting together this group to be able to increase the ability for students to get into planetary science, to give them those opportunities in Puerto Rico and across the US, and to let people know that there are such thing as latinx scientists doing really cool science.
Mat Kaplan: That's outstanding. Great outreach work and, and great science, uh, to compliment it. Thanks so much, Ed. I- I'm a very glad that, uh, you could join us to kick off this, uh, coverage of what's ahead the next 10 years for our solar system.
Edgard Rivera-Valentn: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
Mat Kaplan: Edgard Rivera-Valentin of the Lunar and Planetary Institute. We'll take up Venus next right after a brief break.
Deborah Fischer: Hi, I'm Yale astronomer, Deborah Fischer. I've spent the last 20 years of my professional life searching for other worlds. Now I've taken on the 100 Earths Project. We want to discover 100 earth sized [00:26:00] exoplanets circling nearby stars. It won't be easy. With your help, the Planetary Society will fund a key component of an exquisitely precise spectrometer. You can learn more and join the search at planetary.org/100earths. Thanks.
Mat Kaplan: Continuing our survey of the solar system, we move out one big rock from Mercury for a conversation with Joseph O'Rourke. Joe is an assistant professor in the school of earth and space exploration at Arizona State University. He serves on the steering committee of NASA's Venus exploration analysis group. Joe, welcome to Planetary radio as we, uh, continue our little tour of the solar system looking 10 years out. Glad to have you here.
Joseph O'Rourke: Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to talk about Venus.
Mat Kaplan: You say that it is the most Earth-like planet that there is. You're not the first person I've heard say that, but it still sounds slightly outrageous. Can you make that case?
Joseph O'Rourke: Yes. If we were an alien astronomer looking at our [00:27:00] solar system using the same telescopes that we use to study exoplanets today Earth and Venus would be indistinguishable. They have the same mass, the same radius to within reasonable uncertainties. Venus is just a tiny bit smaller than earth and they're both compositions are similar. So if you were an alien astronomer looking at our solar system to first order you would think that Venus and Earth are similar planets.
Of course, when you look more closely Venus is different than Earth in terms of its habitability. Venus is a hellish wasteland, whereas Earth has been [inaudible 00:27:35] for billions of years. If we want to understand anything about rocky planets, we need to understand why Venus and Earth are so different on the surface, but so similar in almost every other respect.
Mat Kaplan: You take me back to when I was a little kid. I remember seeing artists' concepts of the surface of Venus and it looked like something from 65, 70 million years ago on earth. [00:28:00] Huge plants. It was hot. It was tropical, and, you know, something like dinosaurs wandering around and then we got this rude awakening, right, which partly came from people like one of our founders, Carl Sagan. It's kind of toasty down there, a lot more than tropical.
Joseph O'Rourke: Yes, exactly. Uh, science fiction books would show pictures of a jungle Venus because we thought we... We've known for a long time that Venus has clouds that cover the entire surface. Early astronomers thought those might be water clouds like on Earth, uh, in which case Venus would be a sort of swampy muggy world. But we now know that those clouds are sulfuric acid. The atmosphere is over 90% carbon dioxide, and the surface temperatures on Venus are hot enough to melt lead. So not a place you'd want to spend much time.
Mat Kaplan: That is the great cliche yet so true. Don't bring anything made out of lead to the surface of Venus on-
Joseph O'Rourke: Yes.
Mat Kaplan: When you visit there as a tourist. Okay. So then along comes Magellan, that [00:29:00] enormously successful spacecraft. It's hard to believe that it arrived at, uh, at Venus 30 years ago. I love that you pointed... point out that you were 10 days old when it happened. And we learned a little bit more about, uh, Venus because we were finally able to look through those clouds with, with some kind of accuracy, right?
Joseph O'Rourke: Exactly. You can't see the surface with visible light, but you can see the surface with radar and in a few spectral windows using infrared light. So the Magellan mission produced these amazing global maps of the surface with a resolution of just over 100 meters per pixel. And those geologic maps revolutionized our understanding of Venus basically by revealing that we have no understanding of Venus. [laughing] The surface geology, it's, uh, revealed that Venus is... has a young surface. It's an active world, but the surface geology is unlike any other planet in the solar system.
Mat Kaplan: The only other two spacecraft, Venus Express, it's done did... finished its work in [00:30:00] 2014, Akatsuki, that that plucky little spacecraft that had such trouble getting into orbit, but it's still there today doing some work. Have we learned much more from them and, and what about?
Joseph O'Rourke: Yes, we've learned tons from both of those fabulous missions. My own background is in geophysics and geology. And those two missions were designed to study, uh, atmospheric science, uh, but Venus Express in particular carried an infrared instrument that provided some constraints on the surface. It's provided these fascinating hints that terrain called tessera on the surface might have granite light compositions, which would mean that they are analogous to continents on Earth and signatures of abundant liquid water at some point in the past. Japanese mission has discovered, uh, an array of amazing meteorological features, uh, such as this huge, uh, stationary wave in the atmosphere. And it's produced some of the best maps of 3D wind speeds in the Venus [00:31:00] atmosphere.
Mat Kaplan: That has, uh, come up, uh, before on our show, a little bit of, uh, those results from Akatsuki. Uh, we all know that there still nevertheless has been this long drought in, uh, missions to Venus as you mentioned, but maybe it's going to come to an end. You must be pretty thrilled as a Venus guy to see that, uh, there are a couple of missions that are now being considered as finalists or semi-finalists anyway, no finalists I think, by NASA.
Joseph O'Rourke: I would call them finalists. Uh-
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Joseph O'Rourke: Yes, the VERITAS and the Da Vinci Plus missions. Um, NASA should pick both of them. [laughing] The science, uh, that both the missions would do does not really overlap. They aren't redundant with each other. And the Venus community has consistently said that the science goals of these missions are top priorities for the Venus community.
Mat Kaplan: Would either of these or maybe both be able to give us some more evidence about those strange structures that indicated [inaudible 00:31:56] you, you say in the article, it's possible that once upon a [00:32:00] time Venus was a very different place and maybe it did have oceans as we have today on Earth.
Joseph O'Rourke: Yes. The VERITAS mission is the natural successor to Magellan. It would use a updated radar instrument and a much better infrared camera, uh, to return data that are at least in order of magnitude, often many orders of magnitude, better than Magellan. So I really want to see the VERITAS mission fly in order to answer some of these questions that the community has debated answers to over the past three decades. I would say that Venus absolutely has volcanic activity and tectonic activity that have occurred in recent times. Uh, we have lots of powerful evidence for recent volcanism on Venus.
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Joseph O'Rourke: You see what looked like volcanic flows that are probably fairly young and there are chemical species in the atmosphere that would decay within a few million years if they weren't being constantly replenished by volcanoes, uh, in recent times, at least what counts to [00:33:00] geologists as recent times.
Mat Kaplan: We all know that you, you geologists, your, your timescales are a little bit different from those of us who just deal with, uh, lifetimes of humans. Wha- what are we talking about? Millions of years ago or, or tens of thousands of years ago.
Joseph O'Rourke: Arguably tens... as early as tens of thousands. Uh, what would be really exciting with the mission, again, like VERITAS is you can use modern radar techniques to study active surface de- deformation at Venus. And so you could possibly see much stronger evidence for, um, active meaning today, not just geologically recent volcanism on Venus.
Mat Kaplan: So I take it that the radar we're talking about that we would be able to send now all these decades after Magellan would deliver far better performance than Magellan could.
Joseph O'Rourke: Absolutely. The maps of the surface of Venus we have now are comparable to what we had for Mars in the 1970s. And I think it's time that, uh, the most interesting planet in our solar system, uh, that we had comparable data from it, uh, that [00:34:00] we can achieve on any other planet.
Mat Kaplan: Let's go to a, a theme which I think is going to run through every one of these conversations, uh, with you contributors to the current issue of the Planetary Report, and that is how the study of a word like Venus can help us understand other worlds in our solar system and of increasing importance the worlds, we're discovering the thousands of them that we find circling other stars that we, we talk about a lot on this show.
Joseph O'Rourke: Yes. I think the exoplanet revolution is one of the most powerful motivations for further exploration of Venus. If we don't understand why Venus and Earth are different than we don't know in general how rocky planets evolve and what governs whether they're habitable or not. And in that case, if we can't understand Earth and Venus it's useless to speculate about the possible fates of, uh, rocky worlds around other stars. If we can't understand the exoplanet in our own backyard, [00:35:00] uh, how will we understand the exoplanets that we can't go out and touch, go out and observe at, at close range?
Mat Kaplan: Well, best of luck to you and all the other Venus scientists out there who have their fingers crossed that, uh, NASA picks at least one and to make, uh, you happy, both of those venous missions which are now being considered as discovery class missions and would, and would visit Venus for the first time in, well, quite a few years. Before I leave you though, I got to ask you, you, you warned me. In fact, we had to change the time of our conversation a little bit because you had to, uh, have a meeting with some folks from JPL. I'll say a remote meeting because of course you are observing social distancing like the rest of us. And you mentioned that it had something to do with a, a proposal that you guys have for a mission. What's this about?
Joseph O'Rourke: I am the principal investigator of a mission called Athena, which is a small sat about the size of a mini fridge before we extend the solar panels that would visit one of the largest [00:36:00] asteroids in the main asteroid belt, uh, to understand how [inaudible 00:36:04].
... -roids, and the main asteroid belt, uh, to understand how water-rich it is. To understand how water has influenced its, uh, formation and evolution, and thus to understand, um, how the, uh, planetesimals that were formed on the asteroid belt may have delivered water to the inner solar system in the earliest epoch of planet formation.
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There needs to be a full review of the costs that will arrive from the ban on fossil fuels – HeraldScotland
Posted: at 6:18 am
YOUR article on the costly subsidies given out to the smart meter industry ("Costly smart meter plan has not been very clever", Herald Business, March 24) highlights the huge payments provided to the renewables industry that receive little attention from the politicians at Holyrood.
The problem in Scotland is that the consequences of such policies are never debated yet there is a proposal from the CEO of Scottish Power that, as renewable energy is too expensive, the cost must be transferred to the taxpayer. Voters are still awaiting a response from the Finance Secretary as to whether she will include such a policy in her party manifesto for the 2021 election. The mistake by Alex Salmond and his deputy in failing to ensure that the English interconnector was expanded in line with every planning application for Scottish wind farms means there will be billions of pounds paid by the taxpayer in constraint payments over the summer as the current system does not have the capacity to export the excess energy to England.
Surely it is time that Holyrood pays a body such as the Fraser of Allander to carry out a review of the subsidy and infrastructure bills that will arise from a ban on fossil fuels.
Ian Moir, Castle Douglas.
THE dire, present threats to economies of nations battling the present viral pandemic together with financial damage to nations complying with programmes to curtail carbon dioxide to offset future climate changes cannot be achieved simultaneously.
Costs of dealing with the viral plague are huge but unquantifiable.
The vast expenses of trying to prevent adverse climate changes along with the projected, barely tolerable, damage to our lifestyles are set to stretch national economies to breaking point or beyond.
Therefore, attempts to tackle distant threats to us from global warming can safely and must now be put on the back burner.
(Dr) Charles Wardrop, Perth.
I AGREE with many of Mike Wilson's observations on the state of the planet (Letters, March 23). We have not looked after our beautiful planet, we are dismally failing future generations and in addition we pour billions into space exploration while an estimated 790 million people on Planet Earth do not have access to clean water, and around 1.8 billion people (25 per cent of the world's population) are without access to adequate sanitation. However, while God knows there is nothing good about the outbreak of coronavirus and it is hard to find even a sliver of a silver lining, at least the drastically cut number of planes taking off into our skies, and the miles and miles of roads empty of vehicles in increasing numbers of countries around the world is providing a semblance of environmental relief.
As we sit in our houses fortified by walls of toilet rolls, perhaps we should pass the time pondering on how we all can do things differently in future, and what real, wide-ranging and decisive environmental action we should be demanding of our governments when we finally emerge back into our bruised, battered and neglected world.
Ruth Marr, Stirling.
Trump hails India’s ‘impressive strides’ on moon exploration, pledges greater cooperation on space – Space.com
Posted: February 29, 2020 at 11:39 pm
India's rapid progress in lunar exploration has the attention of the president of the United States.
During a speech Monday (Feb. 25) in India, President Donald Trump said the United States plans to cooperate more with India in the realm of space, after the "impressive strides" made under the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Chandrayaan moon exploration program.
"India and the U.S. are ... working together on the future of space exploration," Trump said at a stadium in the city of Ahmedabad; his remarks were livestreamed worldwide. "You are making impressive strides with your exciting Chandrayaan lunar program that is moving along rapidly, far ahead of schedule, and America looks forward to expanding our space cooperation."
Video: Trump praises India's space programRelated: Presidential visions for space exploration: From Ike to Trump
India has a data-sharing agreement to provide images from its Chandrayaan-2 mission to NASA for the Artemis program, a multinational initiative (led by the U.S.) to put astronauts on the moon again by 2024, according to the Times of India.
Chandrayaan-2 arrived at the moon in 2019 to begin a multiyear mapping mission to get high-definition photographs of the surface, photographs that could be useful for future landing missions. The country attempted to send a lander named Vikram to the surface, but the little machine was destroyed in a crash-landing .
A predecessor mission, Chandrayaan-1, confirmed ice water on the surface of the moon in 2009; water is considered an important resource for human missions. India plans even more work after this pair of missions, with Chandrayaan-3 already under development for a launch and another landing attempt next year.
The two countries are collaborating on other projects outside of lunar exploration, too. NASA and ISRO plan to launch a new satellite in 2022. The satellite, called NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) satellite, can monitor floods, glacial changes and soil moisture.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
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Posted: at 11:39 pm
Costa Rica was featured at the Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC2020) at the Space Center in Houston, Texas earlier this month.
A presentation from Sandra Cauffman a Tica who is director of the Earth Science Division at NASA alongside authors Bruce Callow and Ana Luisa Monge-Naranjo, introduced an audience of educators about Costa Ricas involvement in space programs.
Their session focused on how to engage Hispanic youth to pursue STEM careers.
Kids cant be what they cant see, Cauffman said. People have to have a name for something, to understand the change it represents, and recognize it as desirable. They have to have examples to accepting it and taking steps to get there.
The presentation also served to highlight Callow and Monges book, To the Stars: Costa Rica in NASA, which tells the stories of a dozen Ticos, including Cauffman, who have represented the country at NASA.
Having role models such as the ones outlined in the book is all about putting a name to that something, Cauffman said. Our session provided tools for teachers to discuss these something scenarios to describe potential futures and identify desired outcomes.
The books is very clear about the role models and the future we created on how we achieved it. We all took different paths, but one common thread to all is that we never gave up.
Callow, a Tico Times contributor, said it was the first time he had attended the Space Exploration Educators Conference and that Cauffman had made a great impression on the educators who attended their session.
The common theme is we try to get students to focus on what steps they need to take in their lives for them to achieve what they want to achieve, he said. We use the Costa Rican NASA people as concrete examples.
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Relativity Space will 3D-print rockets at new autonomous factory in Long Beach, California – Space.com
Posted: at 11:39 pm
Next-generation rocket builder Relativity Space is moving to a new home.
Relativity Space, which aims to revolutionize spaceflight with its 3D-printed rockets, will soon be based out of a 120,000-square-foot (11,150 square meters) space in Long Beach, California, company representatives announced Friday (Feb. 28).
The new facility, which is close to Relativity Space's old Los Angeles headquarters, will house business operations and the autonomous factory that will churn out the company's Terran 1 rocket. That vehicle is scheduled to fly for the first time next year.
Video: Meet Relativity Space, home of 3D-printed rockets
Related: 3D-printed rocket engine launches new era of space exploration
"Relativity is disrupting nearly 60 years of prior aerospace technology by building a new manufacturing platform using robotics, 3D printing and AI," Relativity Space CEO and co-founder Tim Ellis said in a statement.
"With no fixed tooling, Relativity has enabled a massive part count and risk reduction, increased iteration speed, and created an entirely new value chain," Ellis added. "Im confident our autonomous factory will become the future technology stack for the entire aerospace industry."
Ellis once worked at Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' spaceflight company. Fellow Relativity Space co-founder Jordan Noone is a former SpaceX employee. The duo formed Relativity Space in 2015 and brought it out of stealth mode a few years later.
The company aims to vastly increase access to space via 3D printing and intelligent automation. This approach leads to rockets that are much less complex, much more reliable and much faster to build than their traditional counterparts, Relativity Space representatives have said.
For example, the 95-foot-tall (29 m) Terran 1 has just 1% as many parts as "normal" rockets do, according to a description on the Relativity Space website. The two-stage rocket, which will be able to launch a maximum of 2,750 lbs. (1,250 kilograms) to low-Earth orbit on each $10 million mission, can be built from scratch in less than 60 days.
Terran 1's payload capacity, by the way, puts the vehicle in a niche between smallsat launchers such as Rocket Lab's Electron booster and bigger rockets like SpaceX's Falcon 9.
The new headquarters adds to Relativity Space's growing footprint around the country. The company already leases a 220,000-square-foot (20,440 square m) factory building at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, for example. Relativity Space also has an agreement to use two test facilities at Stennis, and the company has secured the right to launch Terran 1 rockets from Launch Complex-16 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Relativity Space's vision extends far beyond the United States' borders, however far beyond Earth orbit, in fact. The company wants to eventually help humanity colonize Mars.
"We believe in a more inspired future with people thriving on Earth and on Mars," the Relativity Space website reads. "In the early days of settlement, intelligent automation and lightweight, compact 3D printing are fundamental technologies needed to quickly establish a new society with scarce resources."
The design of the company's Aeon rocket engines can accommodate that Red Planet vision. The engines burn liquid oxygen and liquid methane, both of which could be produced on Mars, as SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has stressed. (SpaceX's new Raptor engine, which will power the company's Starship and Super Heavy Mars-colonizing transport system, also burn oxygen and methane.)
Though Relativity Space does not yet have any launches under its belt, investors have expressed considerable confidence in the company. Relativity Space snared $140 million in a funding round last fall, bringing the company's total investment haul to $185 million.
And customers are already starting to line up to ride Terran 1 to space. For example, Relativity Space recently announced contracts to launch payloads for Momentus, Telesat, Spaceflight and Thailand-based startup mu Space.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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Posted: at 11:39 pm
Were entering a new era of space exploration in the UnitedStates.
Private firms are pushing the boundaries of what is possible with technology and innovation. And the Trump Administration wants to get us back to the moon for the first time since 1972 as part of a longer strategy to put a human onMars.
When you try to do astronomy from Detroit, you have a big problem. Edward Cackett,astrophysicist
You might be surprised to hear that some of the ground breaking research and discoveries being made are happening right here in Detroit. Whilenot in a great part of the world to observe the night sky due to cloud cover, light pollution, and other weather conditions. But Wayne State University has its own robotic dark sky observatory in New Mexico that can be operatedremotely.
The Dan Zowada Memorial Observatory is a state-of-the-art 20-inch robotically-controlled remote observatory in the high desert of Rodeo, New Mexico,at an altitude of 4,128 feet, according to the observatorys page on WSUs website. This location has some of the darkest skies in thenation!
View live images collected by the observatoryhere.
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Wayne State University astrophysicistEdwardCackett
Michael Wall is a senior writer for Space.com and theauthor of Out There, a book about alien-life search that was published in Novemberof2018.
He talks about the state of space exploration in the United States in 2020 including funding for NASA, the push to get back to the Moon, and the mysterious object in the outer regions of our solar system often called Planet 9 (which may or may not actuallyexist).
Here, science and exploration and sort of learning how to function far from home would be the main driver for going back to the Moon, hesays.
Edward Cackett is aWayne State University astrophysicist. Hisresearch looks at trying to understand how material falls into black holes a process called accretion as well as trying to understand the structure of extremely dense stars called neutronstars.
If we learn about how the black hole grows, how things fall into the black hole, it helps us understand better how galaxies form, how galaxies evolve, and that, of course, tells us eventually about how we come about how we form solar systems and how everythingevolves.
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‘From Slave Ship To Space Ship’: The Black History Of Space Exploration Detailed In Fascinating New Doc – Essence
Posted: at 11:39 pm
How much do you know about the Black history of space exploration? It was something never taught in schools growing up, and I still didnt know much about it now. But a new documentary from the Smithsonian Channel is hoping to change that.
From Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Laurens Grant, Black in Space: Breaking the Color Barrier takes a look at Americas race to space and the Black astronauts who made history against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement. The documentary features Ed Dwight, the first Black astronaut trainee, Carl McNair, brother of late astronaut Ronal McNair, and Fred Gregory, the first Black person to command a space flight.
The documentary begins with Dwight, an Air Force captain chosen to train as an astronaut following calls from Black Americans and President John F. Kennedy. Picked to train during the Civil Rights Movement, NASAs race to space wasnt just about beating the competition technologically, Kennedys administration wanted to send the first Black man to space. However, Dwight faced push back from members of NASA and the film suggests that Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager reportedly lobbied against Dwight because of his race.
The whole space program was really about how far can you stretch a man before he breaks, Dwight told ESSENCE. How much can he take? Whether its doing spacewalks, how long can you last? What is your endurance? All those things. That came with the territory and the fact that you survived it, to walk away and say, I did that, its incredible. I did it and I did it well.
However, NASAs politics eventually pushed Dwight out of the organization, with Black in Space pointing to Yeagers possible interference and leaked reports that Dwight could not keep up with the rigorous program. He denies that he struggled with astronaut training.
When we think about what NASA did to make the first seven astronauts [known as the Mercury Seven] heroes, they spent millions of dollars telling the public they found seven heroes out of 30 million people; that they got seven guys who were supermen, who could go into space to fulfill our dreams. They were special men. They had special bodies, special brains, and all that stuff. The idea of a woman or a Black person, equally doing it, that was just preposterous. You couldnt. Dont even think about comparing those two things.
Dwight also watched as the USSR used propaganda to compete with NASA, claiming that their space program was much more diverse. Soviets saw the opportunity to send a Black man to space as a way to say that they were superior to Americans who believed that the American dream was available to all. In 1978, Afro-Cuban Arnaldo Tamayo Mndez joined the Soviet Unions Intercosmos program and became the first Black man launched into space.
Weve come from slave ship to spaceship, and we will continue to rise into endeavors far beyond that.
I knew it could be done, Dwight said, sharing how he felt about the news of Mndezs trip to space. And I knew if Kennedy hadnt died, that would have been me. He was my sponsor. He put me in the program and he got me through all the stuff that I was going through.
Dwight added that, at the time, there were tons of political conversations going on that he later discovered, including how the Soviets and Americans rushed to secure Nazi scientists and German equipment after World War II in order to boost their own space programs.
I had no idea all this stuff was going on. It surprised me. I didnt know until I saw Black in Space that all that stuff was going on with the Soviets. I did not know that when I was here in the program.
Dwight has since become a renowned sculptor, creating thousands of gallery pieces and 129 memorial sculptures.
Eventually, America did send a Black man to space. In 1983, astronaut Guion Bluford Jr. became the first Black person to travel to space. This would open the door for other firsts too, such as Fred Gregory becoming the first Black man to command a space flight. Gregory said he only became aware of the historical moment when newspapers mentioned it.
I never ever thought of anything like that, he told ESSENCE, sharing that his motivation to become an astronaut came from those he knew. I grew up in a family of educators. One of my dads attributes was that he never told me no. He also had a lot of friends, pilots, and I would listen to them talk about their exploits and combat experience. I had these influences who kind of set an example to me about what it is to fly in space. I was just looking for something to do and I just saw an advertisement in a magazine that offered this opportunity. If I applied, I could become an astronaut.
Gregory noted that that training with McNair, Robert Lawrence, the countrys first Black astronaut, and Michael Anderson, a Black astronaut that unfortunately perished in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, was further motivation, They were part of the future. They were looking at things in the future that would encourage young kids to look further forward.
While the Black history of NASA includes many firsts, it also includes tragedy. Ronald McNair became the second Black person to travel to space after being selected as one of 35 applicants out of a pool of thousands to join NASAs astronaut program. On January 28, 1986, McNair died during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
He was a country boy, McNairs brother Carl shared with ESSENCE. We grew up in Lake City, South Carolina. The population at the time was less than 2,000. Most of the folks in that town were domestics. If you were going to be a white-collar professional, you either had to be a preacher or teacher. This was during segregation. But we were both inspired to go to North Carolina A&T after meeting a [member of the] Air Force ROTC.
Carl described Ronald as someone who always called it like it is and who was always a bit of a risk-taker.He added, He was one of those natural leaders. Kids in the neighborhood, if Ronald said it, they considered it gospel.
Ronald would also challenge teachers and authority by always asking for more; more challenging problems in math; more challenging problems in physics and that kind of thing, Carl remembered.
It was Ronalds thirst for more that led him to NASA. His brother recalled being in graduate school at Babson College, when he found out his brother had been accepted into the astronaut program.He called and said to me, I dont know if I should tell you this, but Im going to be an astronaut. I thought, Okay. This brother mustve gone out last night, let me just play along. But one day [CBS Evening Newsanchorman] Walter Cronkite comes on television, Im at home between classes and he says, In from NASA, the first 35 space shuttle astronauts.
Carl tuned in, thinking his brother would be heartbroken at hearing he hadnt made it into the program. It was a shock to him when Cronkite announced Ronalds name. I call Ron. Ron answered the phone. I say, Congratulations man, you did it! He said, Did what? I said, Youre an astronaut. He said, I am? Ill call you back. Click. Cronkite had broken the news before Ronald himself had even found out.
During his time at NASA, Ronald continued to inspire others. An accomplished saxophonist, hed hoped to become the first person to record an original piece of music in space. His brother now shares his legacy with the world through the McNairs Scholars Program, speaking engagements, and a book, In the Spirit of Ronald E. McNair Astronaut: An American Hero. Carl hopes that Black in Space inspires others from minority groups to pursue STEM, to look to astronauts like his brother or Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to travel to space, as examples of whats possible.
I once mentioned that Ron was planning, after that last flight, to leave the space program. He had already assumed a professorship at the University of South Carolina, where he would be a professor of physics, Carl said. He wanted to use his story, his accomplishments, to encourage other young people, African-Americans in particular, that if this country boy coming from where he came from could do it, you can do it too.
I want [viewers] to take away the fact that there were others during even harsher times than were going through right now, and in spite of that, they have succeeded and we will continue to succeed too. In spite of the political situation as it is right now, in spite of all the continuous roadblocks that have been drawn in front of us, weve seen this movie before, he added. We have been here, weve done that. Weve come from slave ship to spaceship, and we will continue to rise into endeavors far beyond that.
Black in Space: Breaking the Color Barrier airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET on the Smithsonian Channel.
Posted: at 11:39 pm
The dream of traveling to another star and planting the seed of humanity on a distant planet It is no exaggeration to say that it has captivated the imaginations of human beings for centuries. With the birth of modern astronomy and the Space Age, scientific proposals have even been made as to how it could be done. But of course, living in a relativistic Universe presents many challenges for which there are no simple solutions.
Of these challenges, one of the greatest has to do with the sheer amount of energy necessary to get humans to another star within their own lifetimes. Hence why some proponents of interstellar travel recommend sending spacecraft that are essentially miniaturized worlds that can accommodate travelers for centuries or longer. These Generation Ships (aka. worldships or Interstellar Arks) are spacecraft that are built for the truly long haul.
The logic behind a generation ship is simple: if you cant travel fast enough to get to another star system within a single lifetime, build a vessel large enough to carry everything you would possibly need for a long voyage. This would entail making sure that a ship has a reliable propulsion system that can provide steady thrust during acceleration and deceleration and the necessary amenities to provide for several generations of humans.
On top of all that, the ship would need to be able to ensure that its crews had food, water, and breathable air enough to last for centuries or even millennia. In all likelihood, this would mean creating a closed-system microclimate inside the ship, complete with a water cycle, a carbon cycle, and a nitrogen cycle. This will allow for food to be grown and for water and air to be continuously recycled.
The closest star to our Solar System is Proxima Centauri, an M-type (red dwarf) main sequence star located roughly 4.24 light-years away. This star is part of a triple star system that includes the Alpha Centauri system, a binary consisting of a main sequence Sun-like star (a G-type yellow dwarf) and a main sequence K-type (orange dwarf) star.
In addition to being the closest star system to our own, Proxima Centauri is also the home of the closest exoplanet to Earth Proxima b. This terrestrial (aka. rocky) planet whose discovery was announced in 2016 by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is about the same size as Earth (1.3 Earth masses) and orbits within the circumsolar habitable zone of its star.
The next closest exoplanet that orbits within its stars HZ is Ross 128 b, an Earth-sized exoplanet that orbits a red dwarf star some 11 light-years away. The next closest Sun-like star is Tau Ceti, which is just under 12 light-years away and has one potentially-habitable candidate (Tau Ceti e). In fact, there are 16 exoplanets within 50 light-years of Earth that could support life.
But as we explored in a previous article, traveling to even the nearest star would take a very long time and require a tremendous amount of energy. Using conventional means of propulsion, it could take between 19,000 and 81,000 years to get there. Using proposed methods that have been tested but not yet built (like nuclear rockets), the travel time is narrowed to about 1000 years.
There are proposed methods that are capable of reaching the nearest stars within a single lifetime, such as directed-energy propulsion for example Breakthrough Starshot. For this concept, a light sail and gram-scale spacecraft could be accelerated to 20% the speed of light (0.2 c), thus making the journey to Alpha Centauri in just 20 years. However, Starshot and similar proposals are all uncrewed concepts.
Beyond this, the only possible methods for sending human beings to another star system are either technically feasible (but undeveloped) or entirely theoretical (like the Alcubierre Warp Drive). With that in mind, many scientists have drafted proposals that would forsake speed and instead focus on accomodating crews during the long voyage.
The earliest recorded example appears to have been made by engineer and science fiction writer John Munros in his novel A Trip to Venus (1897). In it, he mentions how humanity may become an interstellar species one day:
[W]ith a vessel large enough to contain the necessaries of life, a select party of ladies and gentlemen might start for the Milky Way, and if all went right, their descendants would arrive there in the course of a few million years.
The concept was addressed in more detail in the 1933 science fiction novel When World Collide, which was co-authored by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer. In this story, Earth is about to be destroyed by an exploding star, which forces a group of astronomers to create a massive ship carrying a crew of 50, along with livestock and equipment, to a new planet.
Robert A. Heinlein also explored the physical, psychological and social effects of a generation ship in one of his earliest novels, Orphans of the Sky. The story was originally published as two separate novellas in 1941 but was re-released as a single novel in 1963. The ship in this story is known as the Vanguard, a generation ship that is permanently adrift in space after a mutiny led to the deaths of all the piloting officers.
Generations later, the descendants have forgotten the purpose and nature of the ship and believe it to be their entire Universe. The bulk of the crew still lives within the cylinder, but a separate group of muties (which alternately means they are mutants or mutineers) live in the upper decks where the gravity is lower and exposure to radiation has caused physical changes.
Arthur C. Clarkes Rendezvous with Rama (1973) is arguably the best-known example of a generational ship in science fiction. Unlike other fictional treatments of the concept, the vessel in this story was extra-terrestrial in origin! Known as Rama, this massive space cylinder is a self-contained world that is carrying the Ramans from one side of the galaxy to the other.
The story opens as a crew from Earth is dispatched to rendezvous with the ship and explore the interior. Inside, they find structures arranged like cities, transportation infrastructure, a sea that stretches around the center, and horizontal trenches that act as windows. As the ship gets closer to the Sun, light floods in and the machinery begins to come to life.
Eventually, the human astronauts conclude that the buildings are actually factories and that the ships sea is a chemical soup that will be used to create Ramans once it reaches its destination. Ultimately, though, our Solar System is just a stopover on their journey and that this is how the Ramans seeds the galaxy with their species.
In Alastair Reynolds Chasm City (2001) which is part of his Revelation Space series much of the story takes place aboard a series of large, interstellar spacecraft. These ships are traveling to 61 Cygni, a binary star system consisting of two K-type orange dwarfs, to colonize a world that is known throughout the series as Skys Edge.
These ships are described as cylindrical and rely on antimatter propulsion to travel at relativistic speeds. In addition to carrying a compliment of cryogenically-frozen passengers, these ships maintain a crew in waking conditions and have all the necessary facilities and equipment to keep them entertained. These include personal quarters, mess halls, medical bays, and recreation centers.
In 2002, famed science fiction author Ursula K. LeGuin released her own take on the effects of inter-generational space travel, titled Paradises Lost. The setting for this story is the Discovery, a ship that has been traveling through space for generations. As those who remember Earth begin to die off, the younger generations begin to feel like the ship is more tangible to them than either the lore about their old homeworld or their destination.
Eventually, a new religion emerges called Bliss that teaches that the Discovery (spaceship heaven to the faithful) is actually bound for eternity rather than another planet. This religion is being embraced to the dismay of the older generation who fear their children will never want to leave the ship once it arrives. This story was adapted into an opera in 2012 as well.
The 2011 novel Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (and subsequent installments in the Expanse series) features a generation ship named Nauvoo. This vessel is being built by a group of Mormons so they can travel to another star system and colonize there. The Nauvoo is described as being massive, cylindrical in shape, and rotates to generate artificial gravity for its crew.
In Kim Stanley Robins Aurora (2015), the majority of the story takes place aboard an eponymously-named interstellar starship. Robinson describes a vessel that uses two rotating torii to simulate gravity while the people live in a series of Earth-analog environments. Their ultimate destination is Tau Ceti, a Sun-like star located 12 light-years from Earth, where they intend to colonize an exomoon that orbits Tau Ceti e.
The ship is described as an Orion-class vessel that uses the controlled explosion of thermonuclear devices to generate propulsion, along with an electromagnetic array used to launch it from the Solar System. In Robinsons signature style, considerable attention is also dedicated to how the colonists maintain a careful balance aboard their vessel and the psychological effects of multi-generational travel.
Multiple proposals have been made by scientists and engineers since the early 20th century. Many of these proposals were presented in the form of studies while others were popularized in science fiction novels. The earliest known example was the 1918 essay The Ultimate Migration by rocket-pioneer Robert H. Goddard (for whom NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center is named).
The crew would spend the centuries-long journey in suspended animation, with the pilot being awakened at intervals to make course corrections and maintenance. As he wrote:
The pilot should be awakened, or animated, at intervals, perhaps of 10,000 years for a passage to the nearest stars, and 1,000,000 years for great distances, or for other stellar systems. To accomplish this, a clock operated by a change in weight (rather than by electric charges, which produce too rapid effects) of a radiation substance, should be used This awakening would, of course, be necessary in order to steer the apparatus, if it became off its course.
He also envisioned that atomic energy could be used as a power source; but failing that, a combination of hydrogen and oxygen fuel, as well as solar energy, would suffice. Based on his calculations, Goddard estimated that these would be sufficient to get the ship up to speeds of 4.8 to 16 km/s (3 to 10 mi/s), which works out to 17,280 km/h to 57,936 km/h (10,737 to 36,000 mph) or 5% to 20% the speed of light.
Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky, the father of astronautic theory, also addressed the idea of a multi-generational spaceship in his essay The Future of Earth and Mankind (1928). Tsiolkovsky described a space colony (a Noahs Ark) that would be self-sufficient and where crews were kept in wakeful conditions until they reached their destination thousands of years later.
Another early description of a generation ship is in the 1929 essay The World, The Flesh, & The Devil by J. D. Bernal (inventor of the Bernal Sphere). In this influential essay, Bernal wrote about human evolution and its future in space, which included vessels that we would today describe as generation ships.
In 1946, Polish-American mathematician Stanislaw Ulam proposed a novel idea known as Nuclear Pulse Propulsion (NPP). As one of the contributors to the Manhattan Project, Ulam envisioned how nuclear devices would be repurposed for the sake of space exploration. In 1955, NASA launched Project Orion for the purpose of investigating NNP as a means for conducting deep-space voyages.
This project (which officially ran from 1958 to 1963) was led by Ted Taylor at General Atomics and physicist Freeman Dyson from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. It was abandoned after the Limited Test Ban Treaty (signed in 1963) established a permanent ban on nuclear testing in Earth orbit.
In 1964, Dr. Robert Enzmann proposed the most detailed concept for a generation ship to date, thereafter known as the Enzmann Starship. His proposal called for a ship that would use deuterium fuel to generate fusion reactions to achieve a small percentage of the speed of light. The craft would measure 600 meters (2000 feet) in length and accommodate an initial crew of 200 (with room for expansion).
During the 1970s, the British Interplanetary Society conducted a feasibility study for interstellar travel known as Project Daedalus. This study called for the creation of a two-stage fusion-powered spacecraft that would be able to make the trip to Barnards Star (5.9 light-years from Earth) in a single lifetime. While this concept was for an uncrewed spacecraft, the research would inform future ideas for crewed missions.
For example, the international organization Icarus Interstellar has since attempted to revitalize the concept in the form of Project Icarus. Founded in 2009, Icarus volunteer scientists (many of whom have worked for NASA and the ESA) hopes to make fusion propulsion and other advanced propulsion methods a reality in the 21st century.
Studies have also been conducted that have considered antimatter as a means of propulsion. This method would involve colliding atoms of hydrogen and antihydrogen in a reaction chamber, which offers the benefits of incredible energy density and low mass. For this reason, NASAs Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) is researching the technology as a possible means for long-duration missions.
Between 2017 and 2019, Dr. Frederic Marin of the Astronomical Observatory of Strasbourg conducted a series of highly-detailed studies on the necessary parameters for a generation ship including minimum crew size, genetic diversity, and the size of the ship. In all cases, he and his colleagues relied on a new type of numerical software (called HERITAGE) that they created themselves.
For the first two studies, Dr. Marin and his colleagues conducted simulations that showed that a minimum crew of98 (max. 500) to be coupled with a cryogenic bank of sperm, eggs, and embryos in order to ensure survival (but avoiding overcrowding) as well as genetic diversity and good health upon arrival.
In the third study, Dr. Marin and another team of researchers determined that a generation ship would need to measure 320 meters (1050 feet) in length, 224 meters (735 feet) in radius, and contain at least 450 m (~4,850 ft) of artificial land for the sake of agriculture. This land would also ensure that the ships water and air would be recycled as part of a microclimate.
The main advantage of a generation ship is the fact it can be built using proven technology and will not have to wait on considerable advancements in technology. Also, the central aim of the concept is to forego the issue of speed and propellant mass to ensure that a crew of human beings can eventually colonize another star system.
As we explored in a previous article, a generation ship would also fulfill two major goals of space exploration, which are to maintain a human colony in space and permit travel to a potentially habitable exoplanet. On top of that, a crew that numbers in the hundreds or thousands would multiply the chances of successfully colonizing another planet.
Last, but not least, the spacious environment of a generation ship would allow for multiple methods to be pursued. For example, part of the crew could be kept in waking conditions for the duration of the journey while another part could be kept in cryogenic suspension. People could also be revived and return to suspension in shifts, thus minimizing the psychological effects of the long-duration journey.
Unfortunately, thats where the advantages end and the problems/challenges begin.
The most obvious disadvantage of a generation ship is the sheer cost of constructing and maintaining such large spaceships, which would be prohibitive. There are also the dangers of sending human crews into deep space for such extended periods of time. On a voyage that would take centuries or millennia, there is the distinct possibility that the crew will succumb to feelings of isolation and boredom and turn on each other.
Then there are the physiological issues that a multi-generational journey through space could entail. It is well-known that the radiation environment in deep space is significantly different than the environment on Earth or in low Earth orbit (LEO). Even with radiation shielding, long-term exposure to cosmic rays could have a serious impact on crew health.
While cryogenic suspension could help mitigate some of these issues, the long-term effects of cryogenics on human physiology is not yet known. This means that extensive testing would be needed before such a mission could ever be attempted. This only adds to the overall moral and ethical considerations that this concept entails.
Last, there is the possibility that subsequent technological progress will lead to the development of faster and more advanced starships in the meantime. These ships, departing Earth after much later, could be able to overtake the generation ship before it ever reached its destination thus making the entire journey pointless.
Given the sheer cost of building a generation ship, the risks of making such a long journey, the number of unknowns involved, and the possibility that it would be rendered pointless by the advancement of technology, one has to ask the question: is it worth it? Unfortunately, like so many questions pertaining to multi-generational space travel, there is no clear answer.
In the end, if the resources are available and the will to do it is there, human beings may very well attempt such a mission eventually. There will be no guarantee of success and, even if the crew successfully makes it to another star system and colonizes a distant planet, it will be millennia before anyone on Earth hears from their descendants.
Under the circumstances, it would seem more sensible to just wait on further technological advances and try to go interstellar later. However, not everybody may not be so willing to wait, and history tends to remember those who defy the odds and take risks. And as ventures like Mars One have shown us, there is no shortage of people willing to risk their lives for the sake of colonizing a distant world!
We have written many articles on the subject of Generation Ships here at Universe Today. Heres Whats the Minimum Number of People you Should Send in a Generational Ship to Proxima Centauri? and How Big Would a Generation Ship Need to be to Keep a Crew of 500 Alive for the Journey to Another Star?, The Most Efficient Way to Explore the Entire Milky Way, Star by Star, and Pros and Cons of Various Methods of Interstellar Travel.
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Posted: at 11:39 pm
"With a surface temperature in excess of 840 degrees Fahrenheit and a surface pressure 90 times that of Earth, Venus can turn lead into a puddle and crush a nuclear-powered submarine with ease," NASA said.
"While many missions have visited our sister planet, only about a dozen have made contact with the surface of Venus before quickly succumbing to the oppressive heat and pressure."
Don't have an engineering degree? Doesn't matter. Never seen a spacecraft in real life? No problem.
"JPL is interested in all approaches, regardless of technical maturity," NASA said.
Great. What's the catch?
"Current state-of-the-art electronics fail at just over 250 degrees Fahrenheit and would easily succumb to the extreme Venus environment. That is why NASA is turning to the global community of innovators and inventors for a solution."
But the sensor has to be more than just ridiculously rugged.
That sounds tough. Why bother going to Venus?
"This is an exciting opportunity for the public to design a component that could one day end up on another celestial body," said Ryon Stewart, challenge coordinator for the NASA Tournament Lab.
"NASA recognizes that good ideas can come from anywhere and that prize competitions are a great way to engage the public's interest and ingenuity and make space exploration possible for everyone."
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