Archive for the ‘Asteroids’ Category

Revealed: NASA Plan to Land Humans on Asteroid

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

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It’s asteroid fever! Catch it.

Folks are trying to mine ’em and now NASA is talking about landing on one. The Telegraph reveals today that the US space agency will reveal their plan next month. The mission will including the first British astronaut Major Tim Peake.

A manned mission will aim to rendezvous with an asteroid up to three million miles from the Earth, taking around a year to make the entire round trip. The astronauts could stay on the asteroid for up to 30 days.

The officials will say that such missions to asteroids could help test technology for future human missions to other planets including Mars.

Nasa hopes that such missions will provide new scientific information about the early universe while also providing valuable information for ways of defending Earth from collisions with asteroids.

The paper says a mission could happen by the next decade. Twenty years to land on a tiny rock? Really NASA? JFK is frowning.


We Aren’t Allowed to Dream About the Future Until NASA Gives Us Permission

Saturday, April 28th, 2012
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The future seems closer today than it did yesterday.

People are talking about mining asteroids that contain more platinum than we’ve ever dug up on Earth and finding water that could be the key to permanent space habitation and long distance voyages. In a few weeks, a private company is about to launch a vehicle that will dock with the International Space Station. If successful, it will be a huge step toward a cheaper, safer and more efficient passage to low Earth orbit.

To me, this is amazing.

I’ve had more conversations about the future of the human race as a multi-planet species in the last three years than ever before. It seems like we are living in an age of exploration. Of true horizon shattering adventure.

I have no formal education in engineering. I will likely never have my name on a research paper. The wonders of space are a mystery to me beyond the most elementary of facts. Among them: once you are there, no one can hear you scream.

But according to Neil deGrasse Tyson, no one is thinking about the future. I’m not. You aren’t. Planetary Resources isn’t. Nor is Elon Musk and SpaceX. America has stopped reaching for the stars.

Why? Because we stopped giving money to NASA. Because no one can create the future until a group of politicians do it for us. After all, they decided they were responsible 60 years ago.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 makes NASA responsible for advancing the space frontier. And since low Earth orbit is no longer a space frontier, NASA must move to the next step.

America fell in love with space because NASA shattered boundaries. They did previously unimaginable things. Impossible became possible.

Other companies are now doing what NASA did decades ago. Spurring imaginations by minting a new reality. Creating new data sets for the smartest minds on the planet to process. And again, they are doing it from American soil.

The United States is on it’s way to claiming our destiny as the gateway to the stars. Unlocking the Earth’s ultimate achievement: leaving Earth.

Maybe we have stopped dreaming about the future because we decided tomorrow is today.

Or at least that’s what I would say if I were dreaming of the future.

Seven Awesome Facts Learned in the Planetary Resources Press Conference

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012
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One average asteroid, half the size of the conference room they made their announcement in, can contain enough resources to power every space flight in the history of the NASA space program

When asked during Q and A how many resources can be mined out of one astroid, that was the response from Peter Diamandis. They key is identifying the right ones and developing the right kind of tech to mine them.

Private industry can iterate faster and take bigger risks that are inappropriate for government

One investor made the point that if his neighbor was mortgaging his house to invest in Planetary Resources, it would be inappropriate. Which is why a private company and not a government underwater in trillions of dollars in debt is the right agent to make this kind of progress.

Much was said about the assembly line mentality, where no model or build of a Planetary Resources spacecraft will be revered beyond a necessary step to the right solution, better than the last but inferior to the next.

As we saw with the nostalgia and reverence we have for our public spaceflight tech, that is very rarely the case with NASA projects.

Finding resources like water are key to life support in space and refueling for longer journeys

Water is a tremendously expensive resources to get into space. But if one were to find the elements to create it amongst the stars and create it in orbit, it fundamentally changes the game.

The cost and complication of life support and long distance travel is changed forever, the closer this comes to reality.

The immediate future is identifying asteroids with prospecting spacecraft

The first Arkyd 100 spacecraft should launch sometime within 12 to 24 months. The goal will be to provide intelligent data on Earth bound asteroids and what they might contain.

Mining spacecraft is a priority in the next 10 years

Arkyd 200 and 300 units will focus on making contact with and the mining of the asteroids. Although the panel was loathe to give hard timetables, 10 years was mentioned as point by which they hope to mine and return resources.

Their team will be kept very small and move very fast

One of the few reasons Planetary Resources went public today was because they are currently trying to add engineering talent to their small Bellevue, WA based staff but couldn’t hope to do it quietly. They are very conscious of staff bloat.

Robots, not humans, are the future of asteroid mining for now

Humans are too expensive and not particularly necessary for the kind of prospecting they are looking to do. So any fear that we are getting into an Outland situation can be put on ice for a decade or so.

BONUS: Bad Astronomer Phil Plait spoke with Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki and has a great breakdown of the technical deets.

Also, just because this is the most excited anyone has been about prospecting since the gold rush, here is Will Ferrell’s legendary unaired Gus Chiggins sketch.

Terrifying Close Calls With Asteroids? Not Such A Big Deal

Thursday, September 9th, 2010


Astronomers are chuckling to themselves after laypeople paying attention freaked out last week when two astroids swooped through Earth’s orbit, nearly missing our planet. While a double complete asteroid swipe is rare, the still scary idea of a single asteroid nearly destroying our lives happens, like, all the time.

In fact, with a rough estimate of 50 million unknown asteroids, a 33-foot-wide (10-meter) near-Earth object could pass harmlessly between Earth and the orbit of the moon every day, Johnson added. Such an asteroid might hit Earth’s atmosphere once every 10 years, but because of its small size, it would pose no substantial threat to the people or property below.

“They would certainly break up in Earth’s atmosphere, or we might get some meteorites on the ground,” Johnson said.

So, don’t worry so much. Or worry every day. Either way.


NASA Mulls Asteroid Probe in 2106

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

In an update to our story from last week (Asteroid Heading For Earth (in 2182)!), NASA is considering sending a probe to the ominous asteroid 1999 RQ36 to collect rock samples so they can more accurately when and if it will collide with earth. The project is being proposed as part of the New Frontiers program, and is competing with a trip to Venus for funding.

Basically, we are choosing between finding out when Earth will be destroyed or finding somewhere else to go before it is. Considering Bruce Willis will most likely not be around when the time comes I think we can safely write off the ‘Armageddon Option.’


Asteroid Heading For Earth (in 2182)!

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Scientists say that the 510-meter in diameter (101955) 199 RQ36 astroid could strike Earth in a scant 172 years.

While there is no pressing need to build a spaceship to save your great-great-great-great grandchildren, the article does mention a similar asteroid that narrowly missed a collision with Terra firma in 2004. Probably best not to think about it too much.

[Discovery News]

When Science Met Awesome: Our Last Defense Against Asteroids? Nuclear Weapons!

Thursday, May 27th, 2010


The brilliant Phil Plait once penned an epic disemboweling of the film Armageddon which in turn morphed into a hilarious live talk that I was lucky enough to see in person. But it looks like at least one epic of the Michael Bay tour de force would be more of an omen than originally suspected.

Yes folks, Owen Wilson has offered his services to NASA just in case.

Just kidding, but it does look like our best defense from asteroids might be nuclear weaponry.

That’s the opinion of David Dearborn, anyway, who says we may need to tap our nuclear arsenal if a life-threatening asteroid suddenly comes into view. Dearborn, a research physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, laid out the nuclear case in a talk here Tuesday at the semiannual meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Dearborn’s research on nuking asteroids is a fairly natural outgrowth of his other work, which has involved weapons development and testing, as well as three-dimensional modeling of astrophysical processes. He has run numerical simulations of how a nuclear detonation either near or on the surface of a threatening near-Earth object could divert or fragment it, and has found that with a little bit of lead time the weapons could do the job rather well.

And cue the music.

[Scientific American]

Asteroid Discovery Could Lead To Intersteller Pit Stops

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010


Not going to lie to you folks, space is big. Like really big.

To get from one point to another you’re going to need more than just a full tank of gas and a Snapple pinched between your thighs because someone decided to use the cup holders for loose change and a half-drank, week-old Coke bottle.

Luckily, the recent discovery that some asteriods contain water compounds could mean the components of the water ice could be broken down and reassembled into rocket fuel.

“Water is the main component in how you might make propellants,” said Jerry Sanders, leader of in-situ resource utilization at NASA’s Lunar Surface Systems Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “If you’re going to go repeatedly to an asteroid, then the ability to basically start setting up gas stations could be extremely beneficial.”

Researchers announced last week that they had found definitive proof of frozen water, along with organic compounds, coating the surface of the large asteroid 24 Themis in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Previously, scientists had believed that asteroids there were too close to the sun to harbor water without it evaporating away.

Could be a big boon for longer voyages. No word yet on how hydrogen and oxygen could be reassembled to create Slim Jims.