Moon: Oxygen, Oxygen Everywhere, But We’ll Need Hydrogen To Drink

Posted by on Oct 30, 2009 in Blog, Ice Water, Moon, Solar Essay | 3 comments

nasalonemoon

The discovery of water within the lunar soil earlier set off a buzz amongst the space geek community.

While Luna’s revelation inspired dreams of interplanetary conquest, the fact is that the Moon’s soil is far too dry for us to use as a fountain, let alone for watering crop.

Instead of digging through 10 million tons of soil in order to get 10,000 liters of water, it might be easier (and cheaper) to simply ship tanks of hydrogen instead.


moondig1

Unmanned space craft could help open up the lunar frontier by steadily seeding Luna with thousands upon thousands of hydrogen tanks upon it’s surface.

Since about 40% of the lunar soil is composed of oxygen, future explorers could extract it from the Moon dirt, and then mix it with hydrogen dropped off by previous unmanned rockets.

moonsoil

(Image Credit: Crystal Links- Lunar Mining)

Water can then be heavily filtered and recycled, allowing humanitiy to establish independent lunar outposts without the need of frequent supplies.

As a bonus, future settlers could use the spare hydrogen and oxygen to also create rocket fuel, which could help reduce the cost of missions elsewhere (whether it’s Mars, Ceres or even the moons of Jupiter).

Read More

Mars: A Paradise For Plants (But Not Animals And People?)

Posted by on Aug 13, 2009 in Blog, Mars, Plants And Animals, Solar Essay | 1 comment

Update (12/23): Credited image (full of microscopic life) below.

Regardless of whether or not you believe that the red planet is the future of humanity, one thing is probably certain–whether it takes a decade or a millennium, humanity will probably settle upon that dusty crimson world.

If humanity ever does gain the necessary technology to terraform Mars into a habitable world (air pressure and temperature wise), we may discover that although the red planet makes an excellent habitat for terrestrial vegetation, it may make an extremely poor one for colonists and animals.

oxygen

One of the key ingredients for animal life on our planet is oxygen. Without it, most creatures would experience a short (but painful) death, leaving the insects to rule the planet.

Thanks to the laws of photosynthesis, plants are able to produce a large enough volume of oxygen to enable animals, space geeks and people to thrive upon planet Earth.

Most of this oxygen however does not come from land plants, such as trees, grass, etc., but rather from a single celled organism called Phytoplankton which contributes between 70% and 90% of the worlds oxygen from the ocean.

Diatoms through the microscope

Image Credit: Prof. Gordon T. Taylor, Stony Brook University, USA (via NOAA Photo Library)

While land plants do contribute their fare share of oxygen for our planetary survival, they may not be as effective on Mars which receives half the amount of sunlight as Earth (which could easily translate into less oxygen for our lungs).

Although Mars currently lacks large oceans like its bigger bluer brother, the red planet does contain an abundance of water that if melted could flood the planet.

While this may make it an ideal candidate to host Phytoplankton within Martian waters, it may not be a realistic scenario considering that the red planet could contain an abundance of perchlorate within its soil, which is deadly to most terrestrial life forms.

mars-trench-470-0808

Image: Soil samples from “Snow White” trench, taken on July 8, 2008, were found to contain perchlorate after analysis in the Phoenix Mars Lander’s Wet Chemistry Laboratory. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University)

If Phytoplankton were to even survive within future Martian oceans, humanity would probably have to find some way to heavily filter out perchlorate from the soil in order to prevent it from contaminating the future “red” oceans of Mars.

Although these two dilemma’s may not be enough to discourage humanity from creating an eden out of this crimson world, the lack of a sizable moon may present a unique challenge for our rowdy species.

On Earth, the Moon (via gravitational tugging) helps our oceans distribute oxygen rich water to stagnant areas critical for some organisms to survive.

moontides

Image Credit: How Stuff Works.com

Without a strong gravitational pull future Martian oceans could eventually become stagnant overall, making it extremely difficult (if not impossible) for certain species to survive, which could limit which animals we could bring thanks to the circle of life.

Even though these three challenges may prevent humanity from turning Mars into a second Earth, it probably would not be enough to prevent the masses from settling this planet.

While large forests may be able to survive on the planet due to a (future) rich atmosphere of COs, humans may have to be content living within biospheres along with their animal friends (pets and pigs alike).

Read More

Are Traditional Space Elevators The Wrong Way Up?

Posted by on Apr 10, 2009 in Blog, Solar Essay, Space Elevator, Technology | 1 comment

After being first envisioned by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, then perfected by Yuri Artsutanov, Jerome Pearson and Brad Edwards, the space elevator has captured the imaginations of thousands of individuals who believe it’s humanities best hope for colonizing the solar system en masse.

This radical space concept led to the creation of two startups (LiftPort and Blackline Ascension), as well as support from NASA who (despite their skepticism) is offering $4 million in prize money towards successful teams/companies (thanks in part to their Centennial Challenge).

Despite the momentum that the space elevator community has built up over the years, their dreams of a 100,000 km “beanstalk” stretching into the heavens may not come to pass as the earliest plans for a structure coming into being hover around 2030.

Rather than spend decades perfecting carbon nanotubes and power climbers (key ingredients if a traditional space elevator is to become a reality), it may be better to focus on Skyhooks (aka orbital space elevators) instead.

Instead of grasping the Earth’s surface from either a seaport or a mountain top, a Skyhook would hover 150 km above our home world, giving it several advantages over its earth bound cousins.

While a traditional space elevator would require a massive counterweight at the end (i.e. an asteroid or a large space station), a Skyhook would only need a light counterweight at the top of the structure, which might be feasible with today’s technology (not to mention this economy as well).

A Skyhook would also be much shorter than their traditional brethren, spanning a length of no more than 4,000 km compared to 100,000 km for a traditional space elevator. Even if a Skyhook’s cable had to be fashioned from carbon nanotubes (which may not be needed as Kevlar and/or Spectra might be sufficient), it would be much easier to fashion due to its shorter length.

Last but not least, Skyhooks would probably not need to beam power to their transport climbers from below, a feat that may be extremely difficult for traditional space elevators (especially 100,000 km away!). Instead, climbers transporting cargo on a Skyhook could be powered by miniature nuclear reactors or via solar power from the rays of the sun.

Although Skyhook’s have a significant advantage over their earth bound friends, their Achilles heal lies in the fact one would need to construct a rocket/jet hybrid capable of “breathing air” when flying through our atmosphere, and later on switching to rocket engines when they reach the edge of space.

Fortunately the British are in the process of developing a new craft called Skylon (by Reaction Engines Limited) which may help remove that hurdle, making the construction of a Skyhook possible.

While space elevator enthusiasts may still opt to construct their terrestrial beanstalk in an attempt to link heaven and earth, it may be wiser to focus their efforts on Skyhooks instead–especially now that companies like Lockheed Martin may seriously pursue building a Skyhook which in the end could help open the final frontier to the masses.

Read More

One Solar Space Power To Rule Them All?

Posted by on Dec 10, 2008 in Asteroids, Blog, Callisto, Ceres, Mars, Moon, Solar Essay, Titan | 7 comments

Image Credit: Loony Tunes

Note: Article inspired by NASA Watch, The Planetary Society and 21st Century Waves


Warning: This is an extremely long article, so you may want to grab a quick snack as you read through this post.

Anyone who has ever played board games such as Risk and Monopoly knows that the overall purpose of the game is for one player to dominant the board by either taking territory or securing financial resources ahead of their rivals.

The same rule also applies to the final frontier as evidenced by the space race emerging in Asia, as well as between the US and China.

While every nation probably has their own “road map” for conquering the final frontier, there are no less than five critical locations (ranging from asteroids to dwarf planets to even moons) that a space faring nation must secure if they desire to remain (or become) a solar space power in our star system.

First Stop: Luna

Orbiting a mere light second away from Earth, the Moon could easily be described as humanities second home due to its proximity towards our birth world.

Although the lunar surface may lack water (at least in abundance), its white regolith can be “easily” converted into breathable oxygen, allowing our species to survive beyond our earthen cradle without the need to constantly borrow air from our home world.

Often seen as free on planet Earth, oxygen in space will be literally worth its “weight” in gold, and any nation that can find a way to inexpensively produce lunar oxygen will have an advantage later on over its rivals (and may even be able to sell the precious gas for a profit).

While its oxygen rocks could enable humanity to live off world, its reduced gravity may make the tiny sphere appealing to asteroid miners seeking out near earth objects (aka NEO’s).

Since micro-gravity has a way of eroding bones and muscles, destroying immune systems, weakening hearts and strengthening deadly bacteria, asteroid miners may prefer to live lunar side (with frequent trips to mine these NEO’s), than to spend the majority of their time floating next to a space rock in micro-gravity.

Even though a space faring nation (both current and aspiring) could develop a sustainable presence around the Moon (and nearby space rocks) due to its resources and location, it may be wise to travel beyond Earth’s orbit towards more promising worlds (in order maintain its status a future space power).

Next Stop: The dwarf planet Ceres

Although some would consider it “insane” to skip the red planet, heading to Ceres first will ensure that a future space power has the resources to fund its expansion (note: despite the fact that doing so means sacrificing the prestige of sending the first man or woman to Mars).

Ceres strategically orbits within the metal rich region of the asteroid belt, making this dwarf planet prime real estate (at least to asteroid mining corporations).

Any nation establishing a colony on Ceres would be able to send teams of astronauts to secure nearby metallic space rocks as their own, potentially selling them to future allies or harvesting the mineral resources for themselves.

While the dwarf planet lacks any resources of its own, Ceres is suspected of hosting more “fresh water” than Earth itself, which would enable future asteroid minors to potentially grow their own food off world without depending on frequent supplies from Earth.

It would also allow Ceres to act as a interplanetary rest stop between Mars and Jupiter, not to mention a safe haven as well (just in case the asteroid belt becomes infested with space pirates).

Since most of humanities attention will probably be focused on Mars after the Moon, there will probably be very little competition establishing a dominant presence on Ceres (if not conquer it entirely for themselves).

Third Stop: The Martian moon called Phobos

Despite its popularity in science fiction, Mars will probably attract very few visitors due to the extreme difficulty in landing large payloads on the surface of the red planet.

Coupled with the fact that Mars lacks major resources of any kind (note: at least that we know of), the crimson world may only be inhabited by scientists, various cults and individuals disillusioned by Earthen (and Lunar) governments.

Even though the red planet may not be of much economic worth (at least initially), one of its asteroid moons Phobos could be converted into an enormous space station in order to make it easier to process metals harvested from the asteroid belt.

Since the sunlight on Mars is much stronger than in the asteroid belt, a future mining corporation could use the Sun’s rays to melt asteroid metals en mass before exporting them towards Earth (and Luna).

Although working on an asteroid moon may be profitable, living upon one may not due to the side effects of micro-gravity.

Even though a future miner could always counter the effects of micro-gravity with various drugs and electronic shocks, it may be wiser to settle upon the red deserts below as Mars’s gravity is approximately 38% Earth norm.

In order to reduce the cost of transporting personal (and equipment) to and from the Martian surface, a future space power may need to construct an “orbital space elevator” on the near side of Phobos.

While constructing this would ultimately open up Mars to the rest of humanity (which a future space power could charge a fee for rivals to use), it would also allow them to import water from the Martian surface (instead of depending upon either Earth or Ceres for supplies).

Fourth Stop: The Jovian moon Callisto

Often regarded as a dead world, the Jovian moon Callisto may be of high worth to any space faring nation, due to the fact that it is one of the few radiation safe worlds in our star system.

Even though Mars and the Moon may have “celebrity status” throughout our solar system, neither of the worlds has a global magnetic field to protect their spheres from the wrath of the Sun.

Callisto on the other hand is not only protected by Jupiter’s magnetic field, but it orbits just beyond the gas giant’s radiation belt, enabling future colonists to raise families (and pets) upon this world without fear of growing a third eye ball.

While Callisto may not have any immediate value outside of being a midway point between the inner solar system and Saturn, establishing an outpost here would enable a future space power to “easily explore” its brother Ganymede.

Although Ganymede’s orbit takes it into the heart of Jupiter’s radiation belts, a properly shielded colony could use Ganymede’s global magnetic field to raise an abundance of crops with the help of bees (instead of relying upon ants who may not need a magnetic field to pollinate our green friends).

While it would probably be impossible for one space faring nation to conquer both of these worlds for themselves, conquering these moons early on (especially Callisto) could give a rising space power significant influence over the future of the Jupiteran system (not to mention the next gas giant as well).

Last Stop: The methane moon called Titan

Even if humanity finds a way to harvest the helium-3 locked away within Luna’s crust (not to mention the atmosphere of Uranus), the cost of mining it m
ay put it out of reach for most interplanetary commercial spacecraft.

Since supplies of Uranium and Plutonium could easily become unavailable for space travel (as many nations on Earth may need them for energy or defense), finding an inexpensive alternative could determine whether or not a space faring nation thrives or merely survives in the depths of our star system.

One way to guarantee that a future space power has the neccessary fuel to maintain its fleet (at least inexpensively) is to establish outposts near Titan’s methane lakes (which may contain an abundance of methane/ethane within them).

While it would not be surprising to see Titan heavily colonized in the fairly distant future (by various countries), securing this world early on would enable a space faring country to establish tremendous influence throughout the solar system (or at least within the ringed system of Saturn).

What about the other worlds?

Although their are plenty of other interesting worlds ranging from the burning crust of Mercury to the frozen wasteland of Neptune’s moon Triton, these worlds may not attract that much interest in the future (at least as far as we can tell right now).

Even though everyone probably hopes that humanity would put aside their differences and explore the final frontier in peace, six thousand years of recorded history seems to hold a dim view regarding this viewpoint (as one can glimpse the wars that have raged upon our planet).

Whether or not humanity decides to conquer every sphere and space rock within our solar system only time will tell.

But either way, these four worlds (plus one asteroid moon) may be the key that determines which space faring nation not only dominates our solar system, but perhaps guides us unto the next one as well.

Read More

Uranus: One Planetary System To Fuel Them All?

Posted by on Nov 26, 2008 in Blog, Energy, Solar Essay, Uranus | 0 comments

Orbiting almost 3 billion kilometers away from the Sun, Uranus is an ice giant that gathers little attention from the creatures that currently rule Earth.

Except for being used as the butt of astronomy jokes, the lopsided wonder gathers little press (if any at all), often being overlooked by both Saturn and Neptune.

Although the blueish-green giant may lack large lunar children like Titan and Triton (not to mention a set of dazzling rings), Uranus may be the key that enables humanity to not only conquer the outer limits of our own solar system, but perhaps enable us to reach the next one as well.

Even though Uranus contains a considerable amount of methane (located in the stratosphere), many scientists suspect that the cold ice giant may contain up to 16 trillion tons within its atmosphere, which may make it a prime target energy corporations (not to mention space faring nations of the future).

Often seen as the future of fusion power, Helium-3 could be the fuel that allows interstellar ships to trek through the dark void in between the star systems.

While scientists suspect an abundance of Helium-3 on the Moon, sifting through millions of tons of lunar regolith may not appeal to many people–especially as one would have to compete with other lunar businesses (like tourism) who may have other uses for the white “soil” beneath their feet.

Since claiming land (or atmosphere) on Uranus would be nearly impossible (unless one is able to set foot on the Uranian core), an orbiting space station would be free to collect the precious element, without the need to haggle neighbors with lawyers (or petition the government to take away property via eminent domain).

Despite its massive size when compared to Earth, Uranus’s gravity is only 89% Earth norm (at least at the top of the atmosphere) which means that humans may be able to create floating space stations within the atmosphere of Uranus, without the fear of being crushed by its gravitational forces.

Although other gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn also have an abundance of helium-3, respectively, their deep gravity wells and strong winds would make mining the resource from the atmospheres incredibly dangerous (if not suicidal).

While Uranus’s heftier brother, Neptune would also be a potential source for helium-3, its violent winds may also dissuade would be helium minors from sending robotic probes beneath its icy blue clouds.

Uranus’s wind speeds on the other hand are a lot more tolerable, which may enable robotic probes (as well as future explorers) to travel beneath its clouds without the fear of being torn apart by Earth sized hurricanes.

Although it may be a century (or two) before we see humanity develop the technology (as well as the political will) to eventually reach this distant ice giant, it may not be surprising to see Uranus become the OPEC of the solar system, providing enough energy to not only keep lights on, but also to propel our species towards the next star system.

Read More

Melting Asteroid Metals With Martian Sunlight

Posted by on Oct 29, 2008 in Asteroids, Blog, Mars, Solar Essay, Video | 2 comments

(Hat Tip: Gizmodo and Dark Roasted Blend)

Whether or not we head to the asteroid belt before Mars, one thing is clear–while we may have the means to land upon and (hopefully) sift the metal from “the rubble” (or useless rocky material), we probably will be unable to inexpensively melt the metals on site.

Even though lasers are always an option, future colonists may not be too thrilled with using extra power to melt down the space metals, as that would only add to the overall cost of shipping the material elsewhere.

While some may be content to pass the cost onto the customer, it may be cheaper (and wiser) to ship the metals to the red planet in order to have the metals melted down via Martian sunlight.



Since Martian sunlight operates at half the strength of Earth’s, the solar furnace would probably have to be slightly altered to achieve the same strength as its bluer big brother.

Although some may suggest that the future asteroid mining industry could simply ship the metals to Earth, it may be wiser to divert the route towards Mars, as the red planet orbits about 100 million kilometers closer (at Aphelion) than Earth.

Martian colonists would also have the advantage of utilizing the crimson worlds two orbiting moons, allowing mining fleets to melt their metals upon either Phobos or Deimos without having to land on the Martian surface (which has a fairly steep gravity well).

Either way, Mars may play a critical role in our quest to colonize the solar system (which may make it a prime spot for future real estate).

Read More