NASA To Starve Mars, Feed Outer Planet Missions

Posted by on Mar 18, 2008 in Blog, Jupiter, Mars, NASA, Saturn | 0 comments

(Hat Tip: Space Pragmatism)

After having successfully launched (and landed) two rovers on Mars, with a third on the way, NASA is readjusting priorities and focusing on the outer gas planets.

(Red Orbit) However, Griffin referred to a recent evaluation from the US National Research Council which gave NASA an “A” for its ventures to Mars, while it received a “D” for outer planets and a “C” for research and analysis.

He announced that a major robotic mission to the outer planets was in the works. “We’ve rebalanced our planetary science portfolio accordingly,” Dr Griffin told the conference.

“As I discussed elsewhere, we’ve learned more, and had more questions to answer, about the many other planets and moons in our Solar System.

“So after Mars Science Lab – the current planetary sciences flagship – we are now planning in earnest for an outer planets flagship to Europa, Titan or Ganymede.”

Even though news like this will not make the Mars Society very happy, NASA’s new direction will probably help out Jovian scientists who have been patiently waiting to launch their own probes (and perhaps rovers) to the outer planets.

While Europa and Io are too radioactive for human settlement, Jupiter’s other siblings (Ganymede and Callisto) may hold much promise for our future species, along with Saturn’s Titan (which may rival Earth in beauty).

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Could Hydrogen Fuel Replace Solar Power?

Posted by on Mar 13, 2008 in Blog, Energy, Jupiter, Saturn, Technology | 0 comments

(Hat tip: IsraGood, Image Credit: Jerusalem Post)

With the supply of nuclear fuel limited (especially for Americans), future space colonies will probably need to look towards the Sun as their source of energy.

While this may benefit colonies located within the inner solar system, beyond the asteroid belt solar power is practically useless.

In order to get around their energy dilemma’s, future colonists may have to rely upon hydrogen fuel in order to keep the lights on.

(Israel 21st Century) Most hydrogen vehicles on the road use a liquid form of the material, which requires a super strong and super heavy storage tank. Liquid hydrogen is unstable and needs to be insulated from the excess shocks of bumps and potholes that are a part of everyday driving, so the tanks themselves are large and heavy, and hold at most 20 liters of fuel – enough for barely 250 kilometers of driving. […]

The difference? C.En’s tank uses hydrogen gas, collected from the environment (i.e. not produced from fossil fuels) and enclosed in a thin but leak proof glass container. The best part: You’ll be able to buy your “gas” at automotive or discount stores, fueling up every 600 kilometers or so.

“We can build a 60-liter tank that can travel up to 600 km. and weighs no more than 50 kg.,” Stern said, unlike tanks currently used for liquid hydrogen that weigh hundreds of kilos.

“Our company’s breakthrough is in accumulating hydrogen in a glass material that is very small, only a few microns,” said Stern, who is also president of waste treatment company Environmental Energy Resources (EER).[“]

If humanity ever decides to settle upon Ganymede and Callisto, future residents could simply extract the hydrogen from the ice water and power their homes without having to haul around a nuclear reactor.

Other icy moons around Saturn, Uranus and Neptune would also be able to benefit from this, as would help cut down the cost of maintaining these outposts (which may convince Earthen governments of their value in supporting them in the first place).

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Radiation Safe Worlds

Posted by on Mar 5, 2008 in Blog, Callisto, Ganymede, Health, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Solar Essay, Titan | 2 comments

Of the 83 colony worlds that dance and prance around our golden star, only six worlds (excluding our home planet) hold the potential of being future homes, nine if you include Mercury, Pluto and Charon.

Despite the fact that future technology could eventually open up all of these worlds for human habitation, only a few of them may attract “the masses” after the first person sets foot upon their dusty soil due to the “evil R word”–radiation.

Contrary to the various rumors, taking heavy doses of radiation does not turn one into the Hulk, one of the members of the Fantastic Four or Spider Man via a radioactive spider bite.

Radiation, whether cosmic or solar has the potential of seriously roasting you alive, if not turning one into a vegetable.

Even though humans can tolerate “various degrees” of radiation, our bodies seem to be quite content with the level of background radiation our species receives on planet Earth, which is about 0.35 REM’s (aka Roentgen Equivalent Man) a year.

Higher doses of radiation can prove to be fatal towards future colonies, and some researchers do not recommend levels above 50 REM within a year or 25 REM during a 30 day period as it can lead towards some serious side affects (as highlighted in the chart below).

While radiation can be countered by using water, lead and aluminum, parents may be hesitant to breed upon foreign planets and moons (let alone raise kids upon them) if it will result in their children acquiring serious birth defects.

In order to determine which worlds are “family friendly,” one only has to look at how much radiation a world receives to determine whether or not it is suitable for large populations or should be left alone for industrial space companies.

Starting out with Mars, one often dreams about metropolises dotting the surface of that crimson sphere. While Mars may hold much promise for future colonies, its annual dose of 15-20 REM may give some settlers second thoughts.

While future Martians may be able to combat the threat of radiation by building cities within its lumpy magnetic field, the red planet as a whole may not spawn dense cities until a globe sized artificial magnetic field can be constructed.

Moving outward to the Jovian system future space settlers may find more fortune living on Jupiter’s moon Callisto. Orbiting just outside of its angry parents radiation belt, Callisto receives approximately 0.01 REM a day (or about 3.65 REM a year).

Coupled with its prime location in the outer solar system, Callisto may outpace its Martian rivals population wise, and may be second only to Earth as far as future inhabitants go.

Unfortunately Jupiter’s other lunar daughters do not fare as well as Callisto, with all three of these worlds (Ganymede, Europe, Io) bathed in Jupiter’s harsh radiation belt, putting them at a disadvantage compared to their much colder, “uglier” sister.

Traveling further outward towards Saturn, one may find it strange that humans may call the smog world of Titan home sweet home. While its surface may be hidden from the human eye, its atmosphere may be thick enough to protect residents from both solar rays as well as Saturn’s radiation belts.

Even though there are other worlds such as Luna (aka Earth’s moon), Ceres, and even Ganymede that may eventually be civilized by our ever growing race, these worlds may not conquered right away due to the “invisible killer” lurking in the shadows.

While it would not be surprising to see scientists and industrial corporations setting up shop on these hostile worlds, the bulk of humanity may choose to remain on these radiation safe worlds until over population forces them to conquer these overlooked spheres roaming silently among the stars.

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Which Worlds Should Humanity Skip?

Posted by on Sep 12, 2007 in Blog, Charon, Europa, Io, Jupiter, Mercury, Neptune, Pluto, Saturn, Solar Essay, Uranus, Venus | 2 comments

With our species blessed with 83 worlds that orbit our home star, why would we choose to settle some and skip the rest? After all, would it not be in humanities best interest to spread our glory over every celestial moon, planet and dwarf planet?

While covering every centimeter of every orbiting sphere may sound glorious, it may not be practical (or even desired) by our future descendants. Just as the human race chooses to (mainly) live within fertile valley’s and hills over deserts and mountains, so to our children may opt to skip worlds with “too much hassle” involved in settling them.

A prime example of this would be Mercury. Although humanity may posses the capability of colonizing this sphere, its close orbit towards the Sun may make it uninhabitable, at least during the day time (thanks to solar radiation).

Even though Mercury may contain many precious metals beneath its baked crust, it will probably never boast large metropolis’s upon its surface, unless Earth decides to turn it into a planetary penal colony.

Moving outward to Venus, one could easily realize why humanity would never ever want to set foot on the planet, let alone through its thick atmosphere. The atmospheric pressure on Venus is about 90 times that of Earth, strong enough to crush a human unprotected.

Hosting sulfuric acid within its upper clouds, Venus may be more valuable as an interplanetary garbage dump than a viable colony (even for science).

Over in the Jovian system, Jupiter’s moon Io shares a similar fate to Venus. Although lacking an atmosphere, Io does house numerous volcanoes upon its surface, some of which spew hot sulfur hundreds of kilometers from its surface.

Even if scientists were able to withstand the deadly radiation that engulfs this world, they would probably not enjoy swimming in one of Io’s numerous lava lakes.

Despite the fact that Io’s lunar sister is known to harbor an abundance of water ice, Europa may only gather a mournful glance from a few scientists observing from Ganymede. Even though many scientists suspect that Europa may have oceans beneath its surface, the world is jealously guarded by its father Jupiter, who bathes its lunar daughter in deadly radiation.

While some have suggested digging a hole beneath the icy surface, doing so may only guarantee ones fate within the icy walls, as Europa has a fairly active surface, which could result in one getting crushed by its icy “tectonic plates.”

When it comes to radiation, Saturn’s ring worlds do not seem to fare any better than Europa. While the icy moons of Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, and Rhea may find their surfaces scoured by robots (in search of water ice), these lunar bodies unfortunately orbit within Saturn’s radiation belts.

Even though engineers will probably find a way to shield themselves with artificial magnetic fields (or even create enormous planetary versions), the added cost of doing so may make living on these worlds too expensive for the “average space colonist.”

The moons of Uranus and Neptune who dance around their green and blue parents, respectively may share a similar fate to their Saturian cousins.

Although its quite possible that these moons may eventually be settled by humanity, they may find themselves harboring space pirates (to the delight of solar governments everywhere) as their distance from Earth and lack of nearby resources may make them unattractive for the masses.

Heading out towards the Kuiper belt, one wonders whether humanity will have the attention span of settling any of these frozen objects at the edge of our solar system.

Although colonizing both Pluto and Charon could provide a few engineering delights, one wonders if humanity may simply decide to ignore these historical relics as they head out to other promising star systems.

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Which Worlds Should We Colonize First?

Posted by on Sep 5, 2007 in Blog, Callisto, Ceres, Ganymede, Jupiter, Mars, Moon, Saturn, Solar Essay, Titan | 3 comments

Our race is indeed blessed to inhabit a fertile world that orbits our favorite star, Sol. With 83 colony worlds dancing around our yellow sun, one can only imagine all the possibilities of our brave race inhabiting them all.

Of course, reality has a way of correcting our fantasies, and just as humanity refuses to dwell near or upon certain mountains, canyons and islands, so our young species may opt to skip over certain worlds in order to inhabit others.

So which worlds hold the promise of housing tomorrows children?

The first (and probably most obvious) world earth’s kids may call home is the moon (aka Luna). The moon will be humanities first stepping stone way from Earth, and will most like jump start our journey into space, as its soil may contain valuable resources that can pay for all the fancy equipment needed to survive off world.

Skipping Earth’s nearest neighbor would probably be disastrous, as our sensitive public is barely able to handle any “boo boo’s” that happen in the solar abyss, much less a fatality. If terraforming ever became a reality, the moon would be a prime candidate for another Earth, as it already inhabits the “Goldilocks zone.”

Journeying outward, our dusty neighbor Mars would come into play. Despite lacking resources of its own to attract businesses upon its crimson soil, Mars does hold an abundance of water which would make a human settlement somewhat possible upon its rusty surface.

(Video: A visual of what Mars would look like if a large portion of its ice water melted and flooded the planet. Credit: NASA)

Mars is also conveniently located near the asteroid belt, which could help turn this barren world into an industrial paradise. Although other worlds (such as Earth) could always mine the asteroid belt with their own ships, it may be easier (and cheaper) to outsource that task to the Martians, the way many American business outsource their “sneaker and jacket making” to China.

Expanding further throughout the solar system, dwarf world Ceres would come into play. Thought to hold an abundance of water beneath its surface, Ceres could easily serve as a way station, supplying crews with water and fuel in the middle of the asteroid belt.

Entering the realm of the Jovian giant Jupiter, humanity would probably end up settling on Callisto. Not only does this heavily cratered moon harbor life necessities (such as CO2 and water), but it could also serve as a gateway towards the other gas giants.

Although Callisto may play a crucial role in our quest to colonize our star system, its bigger brother Ganymede may end up becoming the Jovian favorite, and perhaps even the prime world of the gas giants.

Entering our last stop would be Saturn’s Titan, a world believed to contain multitude of methane lakes. Although Titan’s methane weather cycle may be worth billions, its unique environment may become the attraction of the solar system, as its air pressure may make life very interesting for sports enthusiasts, artists and even musicians.

Of all the worlds that orbit our star system, these six worlds will probably be illuminated by the lights of future cities upon its surface.

But what about the other 76 worlds that grace our star system? Are not they worthy of being called home by future residents?

Unfortunately many of these other worlds will probably not be settled due to various reasons (at least voluntarily), although you will have to wait until next week to find out why most of these worlds will probably be skipped by our human race in our quest to colonize the stars.

Note: Due to lack of time images (an
d video) will be added later.

Update: Added video and images, as well as broke up last paragraph.

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Radiation Proof Space Camera's?

Posted by on Aug 28, 2007 in Blog, Europa, Ganymede, Jupiter, Technology | 0 comments

(Image: Radiation hardened camera’s could help locate oceans on Europa. Credit: NASA via MSNBC)

Carbon based life forms are not the only ones to fear deadly radiation. Apparently, our cybernetic friends loathe the energetic particles just as much, although they lack the will of HAL to do anything about it.

Previously whenever scientists sent camera’s into the radiation depths of the Jovian giant Jupiter, by degrading the circuits over time. A new invention however may enable these cameras to withstand the fury of Jupiter’s radiation tantrums.

(MSNBC) The technology driving the new detector is a capturing system that immediately converts electromagnetic signals into digital information, pixel by pixel. The method bypasses the standard pathway traveled by analog signals from sensors to the point where the signal is converted to digital data.

High-energy radioactive particles in space degrade these circuits, or pathways, over time and add to noise in the data by making pixels appear artificially bright. […]

“Our detector converts the analog signal to a digital number within the pixel,” Figer told LiveScience. “Radiation does not have time to affect the signal. And once the data is digitized it’s essentially impossible to pick up noise.”

This technology should help aid future colonists, especially if they consider establishing outposts on Europa or colonizing Ganymede.

This also might aid scientists in observing the turbulent weather that dominates the Sol star’s largest planet within its system.

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