Raising Radiation Resistant Planets Off World

Posted by on Mar 7, 2011 in Plants And Animals, Russia | 0 comments

As glorious as it would be to live upon another moon, planet or asteroid, the reality is that most of the 83 spheres that dance around our Sun are far too radioactive to raise plants upon without heavy shielding.

However a recent discovery by scientists near Chernobyl may help us not only raise radiation resistant crops off world, but also enable us to transport grain throughout the solar system.

Radioactivity lingering in the soil near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident has not prevented life from creeping back at the Ukrainian site. Now researchers have discovered that oil-rich flax plants grown in the highly radioactive soil can apparently adapt and thrive with few problems.

The first generation survived with changes in barely 5 percent of the plant proteins, and researchers have also collected results from a second generation of flax grown in a radioactive plot of land near Chernobyl. But a mystery remains as to how the flax – a source of plant fiber and dietary oil – has adapted biochemically to the highly radioactive environment. Either way, researchers have been surprised to see that “the radioactive Chernobyl area is not a desert, but is full of life,” according to Martin Hajduch, senior scientist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Plant Genetics and Biotechnology. (Astrobiology Magazine)

If scientists can find a way to port the genes of these resistant plants into other crops (i.e. wheat, barely, or a few fruit trees), then humans will be able to raise food upon worlds like Mars without having to resort to expensive shielding.

Future settlers however will still have to import terrestrial fertilizer (or create their own) in order to raise gardens as the soil upon select worlds like the Moon as well as Mars is far too radioactive or toxic for terrestrial life.

Image: Soybean plant growing in radioactive soil, Credit: M. Hajduch

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Carnival Of The Space Geeks (A Love Poem)

Posted by on Feb 11, 2011 in Space Geeks | 1 comment

Welcome to the Carnival of Space! With Valentine’s Day coming up I decided the best way to express my love of all things celestial (shared by my fellow space bloggers below) was through poetry in motion.

So for those of you who enjoy gazing at the heavens above (as well as figuring out the science behind it all), this poem is for you! 🙂

________________________________

Lovers of asteroids, stars and moons,

And exploding stars that make your heart swoon

Welcome celestial lovers, both young and old

And if you’re new here, it’s time to join the fold!

See the image above? Isn’t it gorgeous and beautiful?!

Want to know what it is? ChandraBlog has the details!

Have you wondered why Mars is so small?

There’s a theory for that (Universe Today reveals all!)

Want to live on Mars and dance upon soil that’s red?

Talk to Bigelow Aerospace (that’s what Next Big Future said)

If getting beyond LEO is a difficult option

Then this EELV may be the perfect concoction!

Prefer not to fly but want to send a package off world?

Skylon may be of assistance (although it will cost you a pretty pearl)

Upon returning to Earth, our forefathers opted for splashdowns

Recovering them was complex; Vintage Space gives the low down.

Don’t be fooled by reports about Jerusalem true believers

Those weren’t extraterrestrials, Urban Astronomer dispels the rumors.

Did you hear about India, and the enormous telescope?

Parallel Spirals provides the update (and gives us some hope)

Vesta present is tranquil, but it boasts a violent past

A giant impact crater? Cue Planetary Society with the vidcast!

Jupiter’s ice belt was missing, but now it is found!

Breaking Orbit has the details with an end that’s profound.

Ever wonder about supernova’s and the various types?

Vega 0.0 can enlighten you and reveal why they’re so bright.

Don’t blame black holes for the presence of dark matter

Science Backstage reveals why you should ignore the chatter

Will we find another Earth boasting creatures that are alive?

According to Weird Warp we just might find five!

Our solar system is weird! We just don’t conform!

Lounge of the Lab Lemming shows why we are not the norm.

Even though our galaxy boasting numerous planets

The Meridiani Journal shows one with very tight orbits!

Thanks for reading, but why read when you can partake?

Contact Next Big Future for details, and join our space geek ranks!

~The End~

Update: Or is it?

Age before beauty, but what about science among the young?

Steve’s Astro Corner shows students getting it done!

But a mystery’s brewing upon a frozen wasteland

Can anyone solve it? Weird Science says yes we can!

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Asteroid Mining Is Nothing But A Pipe Dream?

Posted by on Jan 26, 2011 in Asteroids | 7 comments

(Image Credit: How Stuff Works)

If there was one future space industry with the potential of making space affordable it was asteroid mining.

With many of these space rocks harboring untold riches via (rare earth metals), it was assumed that mining these planetoids could help fund our trek into the final frontier without us having to resort to immediately stripping the Moon’s surface for helium-3.

Unfortunately it looks like our quest to harvest these metallic mountains may not yield the profits we were hoping for, which means that humanity may need to look for another lucrative alternative soon.

With the costs of rare earth metals on the rise, why can’t space entrepreneurs mine asteroids for platinum and other REM’s and return the materials to earth? Shouldn’t finding so many near earth asteroids make the problem even easier to solve (less delta-v to reach these nearby asteroids)? […]

Assumptions:

  • Mission: Mine platinum on NEOs and return the processed ore to earth for sale and consumption. Sale of platinum sole revenue source for the mission.
  • Mining Efficiency: for every one kilogram of mining equipment launched, the machinery could mine 100 times that amount of NEO material (2500kg mining device could mine 250,000kg of NEO material)
  • Mining Device mass: 2500 kg
  • Platinum concentrations on the NEO: 0.3%
  • Price of Platinum per kilogram: $58,500
  • Mission Cost: $600M

Based on these assumptions, the sale of the platinum mined on the asteroid would cover 7% of the mission costs. This business plan stinks. Not 7%, that seems too small. Really? Only 7% of mission costs could be covered with the assumptions above? (Space Business Blog)

Be sure to read Colin Doughan’s entire article, which delves into possible ways for asteroid firms to break even (the best scenarios being that we find asteroids rich in platinum or discover ways to drastically reduce costs).

If asteroid mining is proven to be a “pipe dream,” it may make more financial sense to mine Mercury instead of attempting to make a profit off of a random space rock (at least those that reside near our home world).

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Moon First: X-Prize And Bigelow Aerospace Explain Why

Posted by on Jan 13, 2011 in Moon | 3 comments

When it comes to planetary destinations within our star system, the two loudest voices within the space community are the Moon first crowd and the Mars Direct group.

While both groups often lay out strong opinions as to why their white or red world should take priority, lunar lovers will rejoice in the fact that a notable billionaire is advocating Earth’s nearest neighbor first, along with another influential figure.

“The moon is the perfect ground to get our feet wet for Mars,” said space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace, which is aiming to put private space station modules in Earth orbit.

In fact, our chances of making it to Mars could ride on whether we go back to the moon first, proponents say.

“The moon is the only logical first destination,” said William Pomerantz, senior director of space prizes at the X Prize Foundation. “It only makes sense to use the moon as a testing ground and proving ground and staging ground for missions to Mars and other parts of the solar system.” (Space.com)

Other advocates mentioned the Moon as a priority due to not only its proximity (as it’s 3 days away via rockets vs 6 months for Mars), but also due to the enormous amount of rare earth metals within its soil (not to mention silver too), as well as the holy grail of space advocates, helium-3.

The Moon also boasts millions of gallons of ice water, making the cratered barren world livable for future settlers and industrial miners.

Excusing all of these arguments, perhaps the greatest reason for visiting the Moon before Mars can be summed up in one word: cost.

Although Mars is much more aesthetic to the eyes, visiting the red planet is currently beyond the budget of any terrestrial government, which might explain why most space faring nations like China are intent on visiting Earth little sister instead of the distant crimson world.

While humans will eventually visit and conquer the red planet in the future, unless someone has a few hundred billion dollars lying around, it looks like humanity will be greeting Luna first on their quest to conquer the cosmos.

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UK Plans Close Encounter With Uranus

Posted by on Jan 3, 2011 in United Kingdom, Uranus | 1 comment

For those of you lamenting over the lack of attention Uranus is receiving (note: keep the comment section space related folks!) when compared to Saturn, it looks like the British are attempting to mimic Cassini’s success by sending a spacecraft to the distant gas giant.

Uranus Pathfinder is a developing mission concept aimed at sending a spacecraft to the planet Uranus. This mission would perform the first detailed study of an ice giant planetary system which would fill the gaps in our understanding of the formation of the solar system, and the physical processes in the interiors and atmospheres of ice giants. […]

All the major components of the solar system are being actively explored in situ by spacecraft apart from the ice giant planets Uranus and Neptune. Yet the ice giants are an important and essentially unknown part of the solar system, they have a unique place in planet formation, and are crucial in understanding exoplanetary systems (UCL: Uranus Pathfinder)

Although not exactly the most fascinating gas giant known to humanity, Uranus could in the distant future help fuel humanities travels throughout our star system without having to rely too heavily upon nuclear power.

But before we can dream about encountering this lopsided world, we first need to acquire more data about this cold Jovian wonder.

Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI), via Spaceports

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How Many Oceans Does Pluto Have?

Posted by on Dec 22, 2010 in Pluto | 1 comment

Despite being located billions of kilometers away from its host star, the dwarf world formally known as a planet may harbor and interesting secret beneath it’s icy crust.

Scientists suspect Pluto holds a rocky core spiked with radioactive materials that are slowly breaking down, releasing enough heat in the process to melt ice and keep it liquid. The temperature on Pluto’s surface is about -375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Considering Pluto’s size and composition, just 100 parts per billion of radioactive potassium would be enough to maintain an ocean 60 to 105 miles in depth 120 miles beneath the surface, says planetary scientist Guillaume Robuchon, with the University of California at Santa Cruz. (Discovery News)

While scientists have yet to prove whether Pluto has an ocean, settlers brave enough to establish homes upon this Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) would probably not be interested in digging/melting through its crust in order to find out first hand for themselves.

Either way this does make Pluto a bit more interesting than its KBO friends, and could help bring some much needed attention to the dwarf world (who is usually overshadowed by other planets closer to the Sun).

Image Credit: European Southern Observatory / L. Calçada

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Extraterrestrial Farmers To Raise Grain Without Soil? (Aeroponics)

Posted by on Dec 7, 2010 in NASA, Space Food, Video | 2 comments

If you were to attempt to raise a garden utilizing only lunar or Martian soil, chances are that your precious plants would either die a horrible death or survive albeit malnourished.

While there are probably exceptions to this rule (i.e. asparagus might be able to thrive within Martian dirt), the vast majority of terrestrial plants will need terrestrial soil in order to thrive, which poses a huge problem for humanity (as people need to eat off world, let alone find employment).

Instead of importing tons of terrestrial soil from the homeworld or manufacturing large quantities from humans, it’s probably wiser to raise them without soil thanks to aeroponics.

Growing plants without any soil may conjure up images from a Star Trek movie, but it’s hardly science fiction. Aeroponics, as one soilless cultivation process is called, grows plants in an air or mist environment with no soil and very little water. Scientists have been experimenting with the method since the early 1940s, and aeroponics systems have been in use on a commercial basis since 1983.

“Who says that soil is a precondition for agriculture?” asked Graber. “There are two major preconditions for agriculture, the first being water and the second being plant nutrients. Modern agriculture makes extensive use of ‘soilless growing media,’ which can include many varied solid substrates.”

In 1997, NASA teamed up with AgriHouse and BioServe Space Technologies to design an experiment to test a soilless plant-growth system on board the Mir Space Station. NASA was particularly interested in this technology because of its low water requirement. Using this method to grow plants in space would reduce the amount of water that needs to be carried during a flight, which in turn decreases the payload. Aeroponically-grown crops also can be a source of oxygen and drinking water for space crews. (Astrobiology Magazine)

Using Aeroponics would not only reduce the overall cost of raising grain, but enable us to establish “self sustaining” colonies beyond the Jovain lunar worlds (such as Callisto, Ganymede and Saturn’s Titan), but also upon asteroids and Centaurs (aka giant comets like Chiron) as well.

While aeroponics would not be feasible for every time of plant available (i.e. raising forests would require tons of soil), it would make it easier to settle upon the worlds that dance around our yellow sun which would aid humanities quest to conquer the final frontier.

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