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Planetary Science

A glimpse into a new, yet ancient world

A glimpse into a new, yet ancient world

By now I’m sure you have all heard about Rosetta, and the long awaited arrival at its destination, and you’ve all seen the stunning images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that are being returned to Earth, giving an unprecedented hires insight to a piece of our ancient history. Rosetta’s arrival to its comet is one of those rare happy occasions, when Space achievements are widely reported in general press. Tons of scientific, and not-so-scientific ;-) , reports have already been posted all over the internet and dozens of arguably more qualified than me people have explained most of what is to be explained.

The moment the signal of Rosetta arrival's reached Earth

Arrival signal obtained!

I was there at ESA’s ESOC facilities in Darmstadt, Gremany to witness the moment when at 09:30 UTC, the ground based stations received the signal confirming the successful execution of the first of a series of maneuvers that will eventually bring the spacecraft into a 50 klm orbit around the comet. You can view an animation of Rosetta’s maneuvers planned for the coming weeks here. Although clearly the arrival at the comet was not the biggest achievement in this project, I chose to be there because it felt to me as a big moment. A moment to pause and reflect. Reflect on what was done, what it took to do it, and how this fits into the history of the world, into the story of us.

Exploring a comet on location (in situ, as the scientists call it) was a dream conceived three decades ago, inspired by the one of the most fundamental human needs, the need to understand, to explain and thus to explore. Composed from the primordial ingredients of the early Solar System, comets have been roaming interplanetary space since its birth unchanged “by the elements” or by time. They are hoped to contain the answers to our questions. Here is a video created by NASA JPL explaining more on why we think comets are important.

Since the beginning, the Rosetta project had to endure scientific skepticism, political turmoil, financial uncertainties, and unprecedented technological challenges. Yet it succeeded. It survived NASA’s withdrawal from the project, a last minute change in target-comet selection, and a most-feared 2-year-long hibernation during its 10 year and 6.4 billion kilometer journey into the cold inhospitable Solar System. Constructed on what is now considered obsolete technology, by engineers who have long since retired, Rosetta proved to be a marvel of engineering and a triumph of knowledge transfer and process continuity between generations of team members. It became the little space-engine that could, and in the words of ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain, somewhere between Jupiter and Mars, Rosetta’s drivers proved to be the best drivers in the world.

Comet 67P (aka the Rubber Duckie) on August 11

Comet 67P (aka the Rubber Duckie) on August 11

While the bulk of the engineer’s work is now completed, the mission is far from an end. As eloquently put by ESA representatives, this is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. The scientists’ work is only now starting. I was amazed to hear how must science has already been done on the comet. Comet 67P-Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is not even the comet originally targeted for, is an unexpected jewel. It’s rubber-duck-like shape indicates that it might actually consist of two pieces (the head and the body) fused together, providing to be a buy-one-get-one-free bonus for research.

Named after astronomers Klim Churyumov and Svetlana Gerasimenko, who discovered it in 1969, comet 67P is one of numerous short period comets which have orbital periods of less than 20 years and a low orbital inclination. Since their orbits are controlled by Jupiter’s gravity, they are also called Jupiter Family comets. These comets are believed to originate from the Kuiper Belt, a large reservoir of small icy bodies located just beyond Neptune. As a result of collisions or gravitational perturbations, some of these icy objects are ejected from the Kuiper Belt and fall towards the Sun.

67P has been observed from Earth on seven approaches to the Sun – 1969 (discovery), 1976, 1982, 1989, 1996, 2002 and 2009. As most of these comets, 67P is pitch-black and not reflective, so very difficult to observe. As you are admiring the spectacular photographs, keep in mind that they are false-color images composed for better comprehension of the very subtle color variations observed on the surface. ESA is releasing new images from Rosetta’s navigational camera on a daily basis.

Comet close-up on August 6, 2014 from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera

Comet close-up on August 6, 2014 from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera

Close-up of 67P from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on August 6, 2014

Close-up of 67P from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on August 6, 2014

Rosetta scientists have already been able to determine that the comet’s rotation is stable with little or no wobbling, on a tilted rotational axis running down between the head and the body of comet. The spacecraft began feeling the comet’s gravity two weeks ago. Not being a spherical object, 67P’s gravity is not pulling exactly surface-down on most locations, which will prove a challenge for the second stage of the experiment, a hard-docking type of landing on the surface, which is planned for November this year.  In the next weeks the comet’s mass and gravity will be precisely calculated by measuring the bending of the spacecraft’s triangular trajectory.

The first images of the coma

The first images of the coma

Although still at a distance of more than 140 million klm from the Sun, 67P is already active, venting water gas at a rate of 0.3kg/sec which is the equivalent of a soda can of water per second. Water spectra from the tail of the comet show a Doppler redshift, indicating the direction and speed at which it is moving away from the Earth.  They also reveal very little gas activity on the dark side, i.e. the side facing away from the Sun.

The next challenge is choosing a suitable place to land! The computer graphic below was created from Rosetta OSIRIS and NavCam images and shows the first estimations of possible landing sites. Yellow and orange indicate what are so far considered the best landing areas, while the green circles and ellipses mark provisional landing sites. The red areas are parts of the comet’s northern hemisphere in constant sun: the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko summer. The blue areas are now in constant darkness, either due to the weird shape of the comet and/or the side being in the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko winter.

Potential landing sites on Comet 67P

Potential landing sites on Comet 67P

It was originally envisaged that the nucleus of the comet would be rock hard, and so in order to avoid re-bouncing on impact, the lander Philae is designed to immediately transform all kinetic energy in its legs to electric energy, while its harpoons immediately drill in the comet’s surface to secure the lander in position. Now that 67P is within reach, its surface is thought to be more soft than originally expected.  The max temperature measured indicates a surface that is porous and has little water. Dust particles from the comet have also started to be analysed, revealing a density equal to or perhaps even higher of that predicted by the models.

But landing on the comet is not the primary objective of Rosetta. And it also is not a sure thing, especially now that 67P has revealed itself to be a more complex structure than ever dreamed of. Rosetta will be orbiting the comet for the next two years as it gets closer and closer to the Sun. Rosetta’s instruments will be measuring the comet’s transformation getting all the data  required from the orbiter. Any measurements obtained from the lander, if it manages to successfully dock, will be an added bonus.

Following the tales of this little spacecraft will be a fabulous journey. In an era when space exploration looks rather stagnant, Rosetta is giving us back the hope that the best is yet to come.

 

Credit for all images on this post belongs to ESA and the Rosetta instrument teams.

We *are* going to Mars, so why are we denying it?

We *are* going to Mars, so why are we denying it?

Ever since the retirement of the Shuttle and the completion of Station assembly, the most current question in the Space world has been “what’s next?“. The obvious answer in everybody’s mind seems to be “Mars“. Yet, Space organisations around the world, policy makers, and even scientists and astronauts, are going out of their way to offer reasons why Mars, while not excluded, should not be the next step. They go to great lengths to explain why Mars is not the obvious answer.

The reasons offered are logical and well founded in science, economics and politics, yet totally contradictory to actual practice. The same institutions and individuals advocating against Mars are ever more vigorously preparing for taking humans to the Red Planet.

The numbers speak for themselves: Since 1960, there have been seven flyby attempts and seven successful flyby missions; eleven orbit attempts and eight successful orbit missions; seven landing attempts and eight successful landings on Mars, and one on its moon Phovos. During this time, four man-made rovers have walked the surface of Mars.

No other planetary body is being looked at, measured and poked, as much as Mars is.

On this day, Mars is being orbited by three spacecraft, while an equal number of rovers are at work on its surface, all actively researching current and past conditions on the planet and resources available:

The 2001 Mars Odyssey – Artist’s impression
Credit: NASA

 

The 2001 Mars Odyssey has been mapping minerals and chemical elements, identifying pockets of buried water ice, measuring the surface temperature, determining radiation levels in low-Mars orbit, and supporting ongoing exploration performed by the rovers on the ground.

Spirit & Opportunity – Artist’s impression
Credit: NASA

 

 

 

 

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers have trekked for miles across the Martian surface, conducting field geology and making atmospheric observations, and have found evidence of ancient Martian environments where intermittently wet and habitable conditions existed.

Mars Express – Artist’s Impression
Credit: ESA

 

 

The Mars Express has been orbiting Mars since 2003. Its main objective is to search for sub-surface water and perform a series of remote-sensing observations designed to shed new light on the Martian atmosphere, the planet’s structure, geology and composition.

 

The MRO on a polar orbit – Artist’s impression
Credit: NASA

 

 

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is seeking out the history of water on Mars, while also testing a new telecommunications system that serves as the first link in an “interplanetary Internet” between the Earth and the Solar System.

Curiosity self-portrait
Credit: NASA

 

 

 

The Curiosity rover, a full-blown laboratory, is analyzing samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks of Mars, to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and assess what the Martian environment was like in the past.

 

 

Only two weeks ago, India launched it’s first mission to orbit Mars, the Mars Orbiter Mission and, as these lines are being written, NASA is preparing to launch the MAVEN spacecraft which will explore the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind in an effort to acquire insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and its habitability.

And there’s still more to come.

Elements of the ExoMars program 2016-2018
Credit: ESA

ESA, in partnership with Roscosmos, has now embarked on an ambitious long-term robotic exploration programme, called ExoMars. An ESA-led orbiter – the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter – capable of tracing methane in the Martian atmosphere, will be launched in 2016, followed by the Agency’s flagship ExoMars rover, in 2018. ExoMars will have the ability to drill up to 2 metres beneath the Martian surface searching for chemical evidence that might have been preserved from solar radiation.

Also in the near future, NASA’s InSight mission will place a single geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior. By using sophisticated geophysical instruments, InSight will delve deep beneath the surface of Mars, detecting the fingerprints of the processes of terrestrial planet formation, as well as measuring the planet’s “vital signs”: Its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow probe), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).

Clearly, mankind has been going, and is still going to Mars! The scientific objectives  of all the above missions may vary in their specifics, yet they all seem to be pointing to the same general goal: sustainability of life on Mars. “Life as we know it”, that is.

At the same time, back on Earth and in orbit,  numerous experiments are being performed researching and advancing human ability to withstand long duration space flight from a physiological and psychological perspective. Mars spacesuits are being built and tested. And desert or arctic locations are being used to simulate the inhospitable environment of the Martian surface.

Finally, institutions and industry are racing to develop the technical capabilities to launch us beyond LEO and into the Solar System. NASA next space vehicle, for example, is being built with the explicit parameter of being able to carry humans to Mars.

All the pieces of the puzzle are pointing in one direction: The commitment to put humans on Mars has already been made. The denial phase is over. Let’s move into acceptance.

 

Additional sources: NASA’s Mars Exploration ProgramThe Planetary SocietyWikipediaRussian Space Web 

 

#NASATweetup Juno Launch

Today is the launch from the Kennedy Space Center to study Jupiter. Want to know about why Jupiter is important? Follow us with the hashtag #NASAtweetup

Celebrate St. Patty’s Day at the American Museum of Natural History – follow MESSENGER Spacecraft as it begins to orbit Mercury

MESSENGER Orbital Insertion of the Innermost Planet, Mercury

After flying nearly 5 billion miles over 6 years from Earth, the MESSENEGER spacecraft is scheduled to begin orbiting Mercury on March 17, becoming the first spacecraft to do so if successful. To date, MESSENGER’s three flybys of the innermost planet have yielded invaluable insights about Mercury, the smallest, densest, and least explored of the terrestrial planets.

The event will feature a live feed from MESSENGER operations center at Johns Hopkins University with Sean Solomon, director of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution and principal investigator of the MESSENGER mission, and Museum scientists, who will discuss the mission, including the importance of understanding Mercury’s high-density composition. The Museum’s Digital Universe Atlas will be used to illustrate the path that MESSENGER traveled before entering Mercury’s orbit on the AstroBulletin screen.

The fate of the spacecraft—which will begin its rocket burn at 8:50 pm—won’t be known until after 10 pm.

WHEN: Thursday, March 17, from 8:30 to 10:15 pm Wine and beer will be available for purchase from the Starlight Café.

WHERE: Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Hall of the Universe, Fredrick Phineas and Sandra Priest Rose Center for Earth and Space. Enter at 81st Street.

ADMISSION: Free

Thank you to Ellen Evaristo of the American Museum of Natural History for the tip!

My Martian Me!

There are many days that I feel his presence; a yearning
itch to “call or go home.” No, I am not hallucinating. All of us are stardust
people. By this I mean the fundamental threads that helped produce all life and
eventually human life are from the universe. Being part Martian could be a
given in our DNA profiles. We could also be part of a life-form from a far
distant planet. This possibility could also mean, a little bit of ET could
reside in all of us.

Is this cosmic itch universal for Earth’s humankind? I am
inclined to say yes, despite any current scientific evidence that supports it.
In this regard, is the very large and extended interest by many people in both
learning about the planet Mars, and maybe visiting it unusual or inborn? I will
take the easy way out, and say it is both unusual and inborn. Regardless the
growing urge to visit Mars and to even colonize Mars persists whether it is a
genetic urge or just human curiosity and adventurism.

Greek and Roman mythology and even philosophy links Mars to
aggressive warfare. Could they have already known that we had a genetic Martian
link and that the link induced warlike societies? Would an expedition to Mars
and the inhaling of Martian dust increase our warlike demeanor? Well, this
could all be just a SciFi brainstorm and have no real relevance, but are we
sure? The Greeks named Mars, Ares (their word for the god of War), and the
Romans did the same using the name Mars to label the planet. What remains a
deep puzzle is why this red planet, rolling across the solar system got tagged
as warlike. Was it the redness of its color and the conclusion that it was a
blood filled planet ; thus lethal and warlike?

Science Fiction (SciFi) has also endowed us with a deep
interest in Mars and outer space in general. Imaginative descriptions such as
the following from Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” always enlivened our
mystified interest in life on Mars.

..”They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of
the empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits
that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning house with handfuls of magnetic
dust which, taking all dirt with it blew away on the hot wind,”  From Ylla – The Martian Chronicles – by Ray
Bradbury

In their landmark publication “The Exploration of Mars”
rocket maestro Wernher von Braun and his colleague, Willy Ley clearly state the
non-fiction appeal of the exploration of outer space.  Were both of these great instigators of our
present day space exploration focus endowed with Martian dust? Wernher Von
Braun’s family history is filled with many family members who had influential
military careers.  So here we have a
member of a warrior family who strives to put the lie to the Greek and Roman
myths and to show Mars and space exploration as a good thing, a safe thing, and
as an exciting and inspiring venture. Considering our advances in the space
sciences it appears Wernher von Braun was on the right track.

Well, back to my Martian me. It actually should be called a
space exploration itch. Yes, I want to go to Mars, maybe even live there for
awhile, but I also wan’t to go as far and as deep in space as I can. I want to
live for real that glorious moment of going “where no [human] has
gone before.” For me, it is a Martian imperative.

It’s Gonna Be A MISS!

Don’t worry this is not a birth announcement. Well, actually it could be! MISS in this presentation stands for Mars International Space Station. That’s right a good focus point for our future exploration of our solar system is the creation of orbiting space stations that provide both observation and launch points for the study of our planetary neighbors.

MISS would be constructed in the same manner as the present ISS orbiting Earth. Like the ISS, MISS would be built in a LEO environment with the needed propulsion units to eventually move it on its way to Mars. Right, it would not be a high speed rocket trip to Mars, but as a moving space laboratory it would be gathering a host of new data enroute.

Well, forget it right? We just shelved the shuttle  So we take that glorious design and expand upon it and create a super shuttle that gives us the load capacity to carry the required components for MISS. We are planning on building a new HLV  anyway, so lets make it an HLV that will put a super shuttle in LEO.  

MISS will be bigger and provide for eventual lander missions to Mars, and because of the extreme distances the duty time of its international team will be longer. This is a challenge and the data we have from the ISS will help, but because of increased solar radiation hazards MISS will be of a heftier design. MISS, however, is expected to still chug along at a speed that will put her in orbit around Mars in just under 5 months or less.

What about crew exchange and emergency relief? Well we have several designs already on the books, we just need to update and develop propulsion systems that will move the crew modules at top speed back and forth to the MISS.  The same HLV that puts up the super shuttle will move the “Orion” style crew vehicle in LEO where its own VASIMR type propulsion system take over. I use VASIMR as an example, it could be any other variation of these new innovative propulsion systems. Fusion engines would be ideal, but we should not delay MISS while waiting for that eventuality. 

By the way, the crew modules remain in space. When they return to LEO they are met by the super shuttle. The returning crew transfers to the shuttle for the trip down to Earth. Repairs or upgrades to the crew modules are done in orbit.

Hopefully, you have noted that the real innovation with MISS is really already proven and that is “in-orbit” construction.  We need to expand on this and MISS is the ideal opportunity.  MISS construction will underscore the ISS success and lay the groundwork for the future construction of all DSV’s (Deep Space Vehicles). Additionally, it takes the incredible performance history and functionality of the shuttle and puts it back in its rightful place as a major and critical factor in all future space exploration efforts. We should remember that aerodynamic sleekness is needed only when we need to enter, re-enter or exit planetary environments. DSV’s and MISS type spacecraft do not need this. Only modules that will be deployed as landers may need these design qualities.

One major mission in all of this is the clearing away of space junk. If we are going to do in orbit construction we need to sharply reduce the mass of orbiting debris in order to keep the area impact safe. Not to degrade the super shuttle, but it could easily become the space junk interceptor.  A fairly undramatic task and critically dangerous, but we already know how dedicated and courageous our astronauts are. So we get on with it.

Politics can’t be shoved aside so we must advocate for this program. Up to now, we have been somewhat slack in this regard. Well lets not miss out on MISS.  It will truly “be a giant leap for all humankind”

Sleeping Beauty and The Lorelei: Epic Challenges

In short, Sleeping Beauty is our Moon, and The Lorelei is Mars. Both are charmers and invitingly pull us toward them. No wonder there are such heated discussions over their relative charms and promise.

Well Sleeping Beauty is asleep and needs to be reawakened for us to fully realize her value and magic. The Lorelei, well they are the ladies of the rocks, and as alluring and beguiling as they are; for the incautious they can spell catastrophe. If you are unfamiliar with the Lorelei, follow this link for delightful edification.

Me, I am a Sleeping Beauty man and strongly believe that by re-awakening her we will open a golden gateway to a magnificent route for the exploration of our entire solar system. Yes, I hear the soft croons of the Lorelei maidens and admit they are almost irresistible, but I have, in my sailing days, run close to rocky doom and so I am very careful while still enjoying their charms.

Yes, in time we will visit the Lorelei and fully enjoy all they promise, but we come to them filled with experience and caution that our times with Sleeping Beauty has given us. Not an unpleasant experience under any circumstance and a maturing one too.  We launch from Beauty’s homeland for the land of the Lorelei with great wisdom and fully equipped with sharper skills that allow us to skirt the Lorelei rocks while enjoying the allure and promise of Mars.

How can not, the expected visitations with all these lovelies not be at the forefront of our minds? I am sure they are. All we have to do is to not turn our back on Sleeping Beauty who longingly awaits our return. On the next Full Moon, look up, and tell yourself you cannot resist reaching out to re-awaken such a lovely, lovely lady. Shhhh, while you look, listen too to those soothing voices of the waiting Lorelei. Be brave enjoy but resist for now.

Japanese Spacecraft to Study Venus Atmosphere

A Japanese space observatory will
depart Earth this month bound for Venus as it begins a multi-year
mission to study the planet’s mysterious atmosphere.

The
Venusian atmosphere as a whole is one of the great mysteries in our
solar system — from it’s make up and fast rotating upper atmosphere to
why it differs so much from it’s twin planet, Earth.

Launch
of the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) H-2A-200 rocket with
the Venus Climate Orbiter “Akatsuki” spacecraft is scheduled for May 17
at 5:44:14 pm EDT (2144 GMT), or 6:44 am local time on May 19, from the
Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.

The
Akatsuki observatory, also known as PLANET-C, will spend nearly five
years investigating the make-up of Venus’ high carbon dioxide
atmosphere with high resolution mapping.

The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Venus this November.

“Akatsuki
is the world’s first planetary probe that deserves to be called a
meteorological satellite,” JAXA project scientist Dr. Takeshi Imamura
explained. “The unique feature of this mission is that it will map the
movement of the Venusian atmosphere in three dimensions, by taking
continuous images of a broad swath all at once, using different
wavelengths ranging from infrared to ultraviolet.”

The
planet’s atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide creates surface temperatures
which average 860 degrees Fahrenheit. Venus’ heavy atmosphere, which
includes nearly 4% nitrogen, is ninety-two times heavier than that here
on Earth.

The box-shaped spacecraft will orbit the planet once every 30 hours as it flies an elliptical orbit of 186 x 49,710 miles above.

Earth’s sister planet orbits the Sun from a mean distance of 67 million miles, and has no natural satellites of it’s own.

Akatsuki will carry several science instruments and cameras, including an ultraviolet imager and a Longwave infrared camera.

“Akatsuki
is equipped with five cameras,” Imamura explained in a recent
interview. “One of them, a near-infrared camera, will be able to peer
through the thick clouds of sulfuric acid and observe the surface of
Venus, which is normally completely obscured by these clouds. In
addition to studying meteorological phenomena, we might be able to see
whether Venus has any active volcanoes.”

Venus does have over 160 volcanoes which have added a vast amount of sulfuric acid to the planet’s atmosphere.

A
secondary payload which will become a test bed for future solar sail
spacecrafts will accompany the planetary probe as they leave earth
orbit.

A small
Japanese solar power sail experiment known as IKAROS (Interplanetary
Kite-Craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun) will depart Earth and
speed toward Venus as well.

A
circular core will begin moving out into outer space and begin to
rotate at 20 rotations per minute. Then two weeks later, it will deploy
a 20-meter (66 feet) diagonal square solar array blanket which will
surround the rotating core.

The solar sail is only .0075 mm or .0003 of an inch thick, according to JAXA.

The
solar array blanket is supported by four masts, and it will be these
masts which will support the very thin polyimide solar cells.

The
IKAROS demonstration will pave the way for a larger platform which will
span 50 meters (164 feet) across as JAXA launches a solar sail probe
toward Jupiter late this year.

 Japan's Venus spacecraft will arrive this November in it's orbit.

Moon Base Now

What? Moon base now? Don’t you follow the news? Constellation has been cancelled! Yes, and I understand the confusion and consternation, but the most logical first step in getting ready to reach out into our solar system will be to develop a full-scale assembly and launch facility within a low-gravity environment. I nominate the Moon.

In his briefing before the National Press Club, Administrator Bolden implied that we will be going to the Moon despite the acknowledged demise of Constellation.  When we go, and under what arrangement will depend on three important bodies; the White House, The Congress, and a NASA-Private Sector-International partnership. Partnerships are a sharing arrangement in both benefits and costs.  This is the key to a renewed and expanded Moon mission that is completely designed as a stepping stone from which humankind will leap out into the solar system.

This is the “missing goal” that everyone is talking about; actually griping about! We need to turn our disappointment into an energizer of this mission.  We do not wait!  We take advantage of Congress’ rants and snarls during the budgeting process and get them focused on this mission concept.  Who are we?  We are SpaceTweeps and we must now begin to organize the biggest, most important and most vital tweetup in our history.

NASA, ESA, and the private sector must be made aware of the rising public support for the Moon base mission.  How do we get rising public support?  Again, SpaceTweeps band together and use the Internet to drive home both the idea and to stimulate its full support.

We have resources and design visions that come from both our earlier space missions and our initial work on Constellation.The original program is cancelled, but the ideas, concepts and technology are NOT! The “i” in America stands for “innovation” and that is exactly what we must demand from the White House, the Congress and the new space exploration partnership discussed above.

So, lets get started. Lets get with folks like Neal Wiser and his SaveNASA site to begin to launch a full-fledged advocacy for this concept.  I hope you agree.  I hope you will join in.  We cannot wait, we must start immediately and it must be ceaseless, precise, and most of all from our hearts.  We can win.  You do believe that don’t you?  You do want us to go into space in this century, right?  Well…..?

The Real Trip To Bountiful

Yes, when we consider space exploration there are many bountiful trips awaiting us, but for me and for many others it is: that bountiful trip to Mars.  Yep, I know, there are already tons of arguments in favor of this astro mission and I will try to not repeat them.

There was probably some level of life on Mars, and maybe there still is. What is vital is that we learn the details.  I believe Mars was well along the way in evolutionary development when something happened. We need to fully investigate that and understand what happened.  Why?

First, we need to understand the entire planetary process and threats thereto.  This will help us not only to better understand and protect our home planet, but come to understand what is happening with the increasing number of exoplanets that we are finding.

Secondly, we need to know as much as possible as to what happened to Mars, if anything.  It is highly possible that nothing has happened and good old Mars is just as always.  I doubt this, as many others do. We then need to get onto that planet with astro missions so that we can amplify and expand all that good stuff our faithful roborovers have dug up for us.

In following the second mission above, we begin to build a geological and biological history of Mars that is essential.  We take it back to its beginning as much as we can. This takes the special and personal skills/knowledge of research scientists – on site. This implies the creation of a full fledged Mars station.

Lastly, before we can do any of the above, we need to be sure we can operate safely in an essentially cosmic rad environment. Mars may be very hostile for humankind. NASA’s next Mars rover will be evaluating that.  If the results indicate we can safely operate on Mars, then we must start that trip to bountiful as soon as possible.  The answers we find will both amaze and most probably preserve us.

Oh my, whenever skies are dark and clear I look up, and a skyslide of bountiful explorations descend upon me.  I am enriched with both challenge and inspiration. The constant message is: We are here; are you coming?

Buying The Right Telescope – A Rough Guide

Just to let everyone know my guide to buying a telescope is online at:

http://spacetweepsociety.org/page/buying-right-telescope-rough-guide

It’s a general overview of what is available, what to consider and what you can do. A lot of folks have asked me about this since I got my own telescope, and attended a talk on the topic by Sky at Night magazine’s Reviews editor Paul Money.

No longer a dusty, dry rock…

Just imagine. A nuclear reactor, an electrolyses plant and we’ve got fuel folks. Lots of it.

Yes, LCROSS, the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite was responsible for not only the worst meme of the year (we were so not bombing the moon people!) but it has also turned up much more useful and exciting data. In a press conference today NASA scientists announced that results recorded during the LRCOSS impact experiment pointed to a “significant amount” of water on the moon in the Cabeus crater.

Isn’t that exciting? I thought so too. Read all about it here:

LCROSS Preliminary Water Results

So what does that mean? Well water is important. It’s not only the fact that all life (at least on earth) needs water to survive, but also what we could use it’s constituent components for, in some cases while we create water for human consumption.

Look at the Shuttle as an example. The Main Engines (those 3 big ones) use Hydrogen and Oxygen to generate thrust. It’s a mighty feisty reaction but it works very well because Hydrogen andOxygen are very reactive, but at opposite ends of the scale and love to react with each other. That reactivity also lends itself to another use on the shuttle – hydrogen fuel cells. These generate electricity for the many systems on the shuttle during it’s missions. They take in Hydrogen and Oxygen and use the reaction to generate power. NASA has been using them since the mid 1960s but they’ve always taken fuel onboard with them to keep these systems going. not only that but onboard the Shuttle Orbiter, Fuel Cells make 25 lbs of pure, clean water per hour to supply the crew.

Imagine then if we could build a semi-portable plan on the moon to process water ice into fuel for these types of systems on future space craft. Inter-planetary filling station anyone? It’s possible, we have the technology, and we could make it work in space. What’s more, if it works well on the moon we could go beyond that and setup on Mars, or anywhere else we find water ice. Truly exciting future technology.