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.
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).
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.
SpaceX (which is short for Space Exploration Technologies) is either the most brazen company ever formed by man or America’s last great hope for expanding free civilization across the star system.
Either way the company has announced plans to conquer the red planet before 2031, which is about six years before NASA’s original plan and four years before Russia’s.
The only question is, “do they have the right stuff?”
Note: Fast forward to 13:05
“We’ll probably put a first man in space in about three years,” Elon Musk told the Wall Street Journal Saturday. “We’re going all the way to Mars, I think… best case 10 years, worst case 15 to 20 years.” [...]
“Our goal is to facilitate the transfer of people and cargo to other planets, and then it will be up to people if they want to go,” said Musk, who also runs the Tesla company which develops electric cars. (Physorg.com)
With NASA nervous about landing anything over a ton upon Mars (let alone dealing with the side effects of cosmic radiation), one has to wonder how SpaceX plans on achieving this goal when the US government themselves are hesitant about the idea.
While SpaceX does have the fortitude to encounter Mars within our lifetime, there are at least a few problems the company will have to address if they want to see someone survive the trip towards Mars (let alone return home from it).
Exiting The Home World
Truthfully this should be SpaceX’s least difficult task, as their upcoming rocket (the Falcon Heavy) not only out performs their rivals, but their rocket is even less expensive than China’s (who usually have the cheapest price around).
While Falcon Heavy lacks the lift to help humanity break Earth orbit (let alone land on the Moon), it wouldn’t be surprising to see the company develop a Mars bound rocket within a decade (or even 15 years).
Into The (Radioactive) Black
Despite the celestial heaven’s serene appearance, the blackness of space harbors deadly cosmic radiation that can reduce an astronauts IQ to the level of a vegetable (not to mention wreak havoc upon the heart as well).
If SpaceX aspires to trek the vastness of space in order to help humanity migrate upon Mars, they will need adequate shielding to protect them from being microwaved by the universe.
Although layers of lead around the craft would suffice, it might be wiser to use magnetic shields instead which would help reduce the amount of weight SpaceX has to launch into orbit.
The private space firm might also want to ponder patients using anti-radiation drugs too, although building a radiation safe cabin (surround by lead) would be advisable.
Micro Gravity Blues
Despite the joys of weightlessness, the fact is that humans were not designed to thrive in micro gravity.
While electrical shocks and omega-3 seafood could save future explorers muscles and bones (as exercise is not enough), SpaceX will need to figure out a sensible way of mimicking gravity upon their rocket lest future explorers skip landing upon Mars due to being too weak to survive Martian gravity.
Note: Do any readers have any ideas on tackling the gravity problem? Aside from spinning techniques that is.
Final Destination: Crimson Soil
Even if SpaceX finds a way to cheaply exit our homeworld and avoids succumbing to the effects of radiation and micro gravity, finding a way to safely land upon Mars will prove to be a daunting challenge.
It might be wiser for SpaceX to simply land their larger craft upon the Martian moon known as Deimos instead, and ferry astronauts to the surface using smaller space craft.
Since the red planet lacks an abundance of water in liquid form, SpaceX could use Ballutes to slow the craft down, enabling a human vessel to gently touch down upon the red planet instead of smashing into its surface.
Note: Future red planet residents might want to consider building a Skyhook (aka space elevator) upon Phobos, which could reduce the cost of landing upon Mars, as well as launching off of the crimson world.
Can SpaceX Put A Man On Mars?
Truthfully only time will reveal whether SpaceX can send a man (or woman) to Mars within the next two decades.
However if SpaceX is successful we could witness a new age for humanity, one that envisions us leaving our Earthen cradle in order to explore the solar playground around us.
Orbiting under 24,000 kilometers from the crimson world’s surface, the Martian moon Deimos isn’t exactly a beauty to behold up close in the celestial sky.
Despite it’s eyesore appearance (a common theme among asteroids), this ugly space rock could be the key towards humanities quest to conquer the red planet in the semi-distant future.
A site near the “arctic circle” on Deimos offers 10 months of continuous sunlight during Martian summer, enabling the use of simple solar power systems.
Astronauts also would have direct line-of-sight to Earth and to rovers on the surface of Mars, simplifying communication, according to the Lockheed Martin fact sheet.
During Martian winter, a similar site in the southern hemisphere is continuously sunlit. A cryogenic propulsion stage for Earth return could be stored in the cold shadows of a large south pole crater on Deimos. (Space.com)
Although similar outposts could be developed upon Deimos’s larger sibling Phobos, the latter resides much deeper within Mar’s gravity well, which may not appeal to space faring nations strapped for cash (due to fuel costs).
Deimos could also serve as a haven for future explorers seeking shelter from the wrath of Mars via global dust storms.
While Phobos will play a critical role in helping humanity settle the surface of Mars, the asteroid moon of Deimos will enable us to establish a stronghold in the planetary system (without having to immediately land upon the red planet).
Note: Promo video from Lockheed Martin (and a trip down memory lane of what was).
Mars lovers, take note! It looks like a former superpower has set their sights upon the crimson world a couple of decades from now, as Russia plans on visiting the red planet within our life time.
Unfortunately for us however, there seems to be a small problem.
Russia will test a next-generation spacecraft, build a new cosmodrome and even consider a manned mission to Mars after 2035, the nation’s space chief said Wednesday. [...]
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev vowed Tuesday that space will remain a key government priority, but skeptics said the nation has done virtually nothing to develop a successor to the 43-year-old Soyuz spaceship. (MSNBC / AP)
NASA currently has plans on visiting the red planet as well, although their timeline is in limbo due to recent budget cuts.
While Russia’s date of visitation is preferable, unless the nation can reinvent itself within the next decade, our hopes of visiting Mars will have to wait until we conquer the Moon.
As glorious as it would be to embrace the heavens above and set foot upon extra terrestrial soils, we need to face the reality that space is not for the faint of heart–this time quite literally.
A study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (or UAB for short) has presented another danger regarding space radiation which may cause a few people to scratch themselves off the list.
Using an animal model, researchers assessed the affect of iron ion radiation commonly found in outer space to see if exposures promoted the development of atherosclerosis, as terrestrial sources of radiation are known to do. They observed that cosmic radiation accelerated the development of atherosclerosis, independent of the cholesterol levels or circulating white blood cells of the mice. It also worsened existing atherosclerotic lesions. [...]
[...] Kucik and his colleagues examined atherosclerosis development in mice following targeted exposure to a particle beam of high-velocity iron ions — similar to those found in space — produced by scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. [...]
“At 13 weeks it was surprising and quite remarkable that we already could see permanent damage — an irreversible thickening of the artery wall where it had been exposed to radiation,” said co-author Janusz Kabarowski, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Microbiology. “The irradiation had no significant effect on the frequency of circulating immune and inflammatory white blood cells or plasma lipid profile.” (UAB News)
Although this isn’t a show stopper for future space travelers, it does mean that until we can develop artificial magnetic fields strong enough to repel cosmic radiation if we want to see our species survive off world (at least upon the surface).
Since space colonists will inevitably be exposed to cosmic radiation at some point in their lives (especially if they are traversing between the planets), it might also be a good idea to clone a few extra hearts (or harvest them from pigs) just in case the originals become damaged beyond repair.