Sadness: Mercury’s Magnetic Field Is Worthless Against Sun’s Wrath

Posted by on Oct 5, 2011 in Mercury | 0 comments

Despite being one of the three terrestrial spheres blessed with a global magnetic field (with the other two being Earth and Jupiter’s moon Ganymede), Mercury’s invisible shield will not protect future explorers from the wrath of the Sun.

Earth and Mercury are the only two magnetized planets in the solar system, and as such, they can somewhat deflect the solar wind around them. The solar wind is a squall of hot plasma, or charged particles, continuously emanating from the sun. Earth, which has a relatively strong magnetosphere, can shield itself from most of the solar wind. Mercury, which has a comparatively weak magnetosphere and is 2/3 closer to the sun, is a different story.

 

“Our results tell us is that Mercury’s weak magnetosphere provides very little protection of the planet from the solar wind,” [said Thomas] Zurbuchen [a professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences and Aerospace Engineering at the U-M College of Engineering.] (Space Daily)

Although Mercury could prove its worth in the future, for now it looks like residents living upon the first “rock” from the Sun, will have to avoid contact with the fiery rays during the Mercurian day, and venture above ground at night.

Unless humanity uses Mercury as a penal colony, the planet will probably be home to mining corporations seeking to strip the world of precious metal and minerals which are needed upon other worlds (such as Earth, Luna and Mars).

(Image Credit: NASA)

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Experience Martian Gravity Without Leaving Earth?

Posted by on Oct 3, 2011 in Mars, NASA, Video | 1 comment

For those of you who are Mars-bound, Adam Norton has developed a clever way of simulating reduced gravity without having to visit the red planet.

Mars Gravity Simulator is a fully functioning experiment adapted from the design of Apollo- era lunar gravity simulators, but made for Martian conditions. It can be used to assess maneuverability of Astronauts at a gravity approximately 40% Earth gravity, as well as to study gait changes for those conditions. Lunar locomotion styles from the Apollo landings were tested for speed and efficiency as well as to establish a figure for the approximate change in the walk/run transition speed at Mars gravity. (Adam Norton / Performance Space)

As you can see from the video above, this is actually an ingenious way to train future explorers intent upon settling Mars on how to “trot” upon the crimson world’s surface.

Norton’s adapted design is inexpensive enough (at least relatively speaking) to be adapted by the public as well as the private sector, not to mention private citizens seeking to envision themselves living off world.

Note: Since Martian gravity is almost 2/5 Earth norm, future residents could probably forsake wearing gravity suits (unless they plan on making a return trip to Earth in near future).

(via New Scientist, Video Credit: Adam Norton and Performance Space, Image Credit: NASA and Craig Bender)

 

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Russia Ignores Fears, Reaches Out Towards Phobos (Mars)

Posted by on Sep 27, 2011 in Asteroids, Mars, Russia | 1 comment

Despite being inactive in the whole “deep space exploration” hobby (at least with humans), Russia is determined to once again reclaim their place among the stars by planning a trip towards the Martian moon of Phobos.

Although the purpose of the expedition is to collect soil samples from Phobos (not an easy task as the Japanese can tell you), Russia is apparently visiting the asteroid moon to potentially solve another mystery.

“Our country is about to return to planets and stars. We must learn how to fly to deep space, to Mars, after a 20-year break,” Khartov told the Interfax news agency.

 

He admitted the Phobos mission would be “very risky”, but said “the first step must be made”.

 

Russia had spent about 5 billion rubles (161 million U.S. dollars) preparaing for the three-year mission, which would include drilling Phobos’ surface and returning 200 grams of soil back to Earth in 2014, he said.

 

The mission would also collect bacteria samples for two Russian and one U.S. biological experiments. (Xinhua News Agency)

Thanks to a steady diet of cosmic (as well as solar) radiation, scientists will probably find microbes to be in short supply (although a find upon the surface would be extraordinary).

While drilling for life may yield zero results, understanding the soil upon Phobos is valuable as the lunar space rock might be humanities key towards conquering the red planet.

Russia will probably need the assistance of NASA and Japan to successfully extract soil from the lunar asteroid (especially when it comes to funding the mission), but despite the challenge it’s great to see the nation that introduced humanity to the stars regain their passion for the cosmos.

(Image Credit: European Space Agency, hat tip: Mars Daily)

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Obama To China: Lets Go To Mars

Posted by on May 10, 2011 in China, Mars | 0 comments

Right after the heels of making one gutsy call, the President is now asking Congress to partner with their beloved frenemy to help conquer the red planet.

“[What] the president has deemed worth discussing with the Chinese and others is that when the time comes for humans to visit Mars, it’s going to be an extremely expensive proposition and the question is whether it will really make sense — at the time that we’re ready to do that — to do it as one nation rather than to do it in concert,” [White House science adviser John] Holdren said in response to a question from Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), a staunch China critic who chairs the powerful subcommittee that oversees NASA spending. (Space.com)

 

Note: Italicized text inserted by me for clarification.

While the idea of landing a man (or woman) on Mars appeals to many people, a few prominent voices would rather visit the crimson world minus help from the Chinese despite the latter’s thriving economy.

“When you say you want to work in concert, it’s almost like you’re talking about Norway or England or something like that,” an irate Wolf told Holdren, repeatedly pounding a hand against the table top in front of him. “As long as I have breath in me, we will talk about this, we will deal with this issue, whether it be a Republican administration or a Democrat administration, it is fundamentally immoral.” (Space.com)

Representative Frank Wolf (R-Va.) isn’t exactly fond of China’s human rights record, and views the Chinese government as “fundamentally evil” (a view shared by many Congressmen and women).

Despite the cost of a Martian expedition, NASA may not need help from the Asian giant as SpaceX could light the way for a Martian expedition by 2031 (if not sooner), especially considering that rocket prices from SpaceX are a lot less expensive than America’s eastern rival.

Regardless whether NASA partners with China or not, the space agency needs to first prove that they can safely reach the red planet without being irradiated en route (not to mention set up an outpost upon Deimos which could be the key towards conquering the red planet).

Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

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SpaceX To Skeptics: We Can Beat China

Posted by on May 4, 2011 in China, Space Industry | 0 comments

SpaceX has sent out a press release aimed at silencing the chatter that the young rocket company prices are “too good to be true” (since not even China can match SpaceX’s prices).

However in the process of defending the reputation of his rocket company, CEO Elon Musk does reveal a few interesting tidbits about SpaceX that may have rivals rethink their current practices within the industry.

The price of a standard flight on a Falcon 9 rocket is $54 million. We are the only launch company that publicly posts this information on our website (www.spacex.com). We have signed many legally binding contracts with both government and commercial customers for this price (or less). Because SpaceX is so vertically integrated, we know and can control the overwhelming majority of our costs. This is why I am so confident that our performance will increase and our prices will decline over time, as is the case with every other technology.

 

The average price of a full-up NASA Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station is $133 million including inflation, or roughly $115m in today’s dollars, and we have a firm, fixed price contract with NASA for 12 missions. This price includes the costs of the Falcon 9 launch, the Dragon spacecraft, all operations, maintenance and overhead, and all of the work required to integrate with the Space Station. If there are cost overruns, SpaceX will cover the difference. (This concept may be foreign to some traditional government space contractors that seem to believe that cost overruns should be the responsibility of the taxpayer.) […]

 

SpaceX has been profitable every year since 2007, despite dramatic employee growth and major infrastructure and operations investments. We have over 40 flights on manifest representing over $3 billion in revenues. […]

 

China has the fastest growing economy in the world. But the American free enterprise system, which allows anyone with a better mouse-trap to compete, is what will ensure that the United States remains the world’s greatest superpower of innovation. (SpaceX)

 

Note: Emphasis theirs.

Truthfully SpaceX probably would not post prices online if they were not confident that they could service their clients at those rates (as changing prices “midway” can open ones self to a plethora of lawsuits).

While SpaceX’s press release will not satisfy skeptics (something their first successful rocket launch was supposed to do), it may help encourage the rocket industry to become much more transparent with their prices (as forcing tax payers to fork out extra cash is a great to kill off public trust for private space companies).

With the space race heating up between the US and China (note: Russia is apparently having a few difficulties), America will need companies like SpaceX to help us not only get back to the Moon, but also help our species settle Mars without breaking the bank.

Image Credit: SpaceX

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