Archive for the ‘Space’ Category

Can a Jumping Spider Hunt in Space?

Friday, June 8th, 2012

The zebra spider is unique in that it jumps to kill prey instead of spinning a web. But what happens when you remove gravity. How will the spider adapt. Will it realize it now has amazing John Carter of Mars powers and jump all over the place killing everything?

Thanks to an Egyptian teenager, we will find out for sure later this year. Amr Mohamed of Alexandria won one or two slots for YouTube’s Space Lab competition where anyone was invited to submit experiments that would be carried out on the International Space Station.

It was conceived through Mohamed’s fascination with both science and spiders.

“I’m just interested in how things work, and science seems to answer all my questions,” said Mohamed. “For example, physics can explain the world with just a handful of equations. And biology tells you how your body works. I’m just interested in that stuff.”

Below is Amr’s original video. When space spiders are the scourge of the galaxy, let’s remember who started this.

Just kidding, this kid is awesome. And props to YouTube for providing the opportunity.


Is a Space Plague Killing Scores of Antelope in Kazakhstan?

Friday, June 1st, 2012
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In my country there is problem. And that problem is dead antelope.

Three major die-offs of the antelope population have occurred in the past three years due to mysterious causes. In fact, each death boom happened almost exactly one year apart from the previous one. Some suspect overuse of fertilizer, others believe they ate too much “wet” vegetation.

But reasonable minds agree: it’s probably a space disease brought down by the Soyuz capsule.

But some ecologists in Kazakhstan and Russia are instead blaming the fatalities on the April landing of a Soyuz capsule from the International Space Station. At least 120 dead saigas were found near the village of Sorsha, where the Soyuz landed last month. Others see a possible link to the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in central Kazakhstan. “It could be from chemical elements left from space rockets that fly over this place,” ecologist Musagali Duambekov, leader of the For a Green Planet political movement, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Throw the space disease down the well! So my country can be free!

[Scientific American]

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.


Blue Origin Ready for Next Step

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
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Blue Origin, the space exploration company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is ready for it’s close up. Although notoriously secretive in comparison to companies like SpaceX, May is a huge month for Blue and now they’re ready to talk about it.

Not only have wind-tunnel tests come back positive for their Space Vehicle unit, but they are going to begin testing on the rocketry phase of their plan.

Alexander said the resulting spacecraft design “will be officially blessed” at a system requirements review in May. Also during May, Blue Origin expects to begin testing of the thrust chamber assembly for its BE-3 rocket engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, Alexander said.

The company, based in Kent, Wash., is receiving $22 million from NASA during the current phase of the space agency’s program to help commercial ventures develop space taxis for the post-shuttle era. The SV isn’t nearly as big as the space shuttle, of course, but it should be capable of transporting up to seven passengers to and from the International Space Station.

The MSNBC post brings up a very interesting issues. Although NASA is currently offering money to four companies Boeing Co., Sierra Nevada Corp., SpaceX and Blue Origin, many believe that list will shrink with the next round of funding. Many in congress would like to see the space agency pick one horse this early in the game.

No matter who NASA sprinkles with coin, the bang for the buck on such an investment could really pay dividends in cheaper, reliable options for ambitious research. Very interesting.


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.

Wired interview with Elon Musk About SpaceX’s ISS Mission

Friday, April 27th, 2012

SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk talks to WIRED magazine’s Jason Paur about the upcoming mission to the International Space Station.

(Thanks to Daniel Connors for the link)

A 3 Minute Explanation of Planetary Resources in Their Own Words

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Still confused about all that asteroid mining talk yesterday? Here is a really simple explanation on the whole announcement from the folks making it happen.

[Planetary Resources]

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.

Is Asteroid Mining Ready to Take Off?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012
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Space blog superstar Phil “Bad Astronomer” Plait has a prediction about a news conference set to take place next Tuesday. It will feature Peter Diamandis, leading commercial space entrepreneur Eric Anderson, former NASA Mars mission manager Chris Lewicki and planetary scientist & veteran NASA astronaut Tom Jones.

It promises an announcement nothing short of “a mission to help ensure humanity’s prosperity.”

Plait says that means the mining of asteroids.

The big clue comes from the press release.

the company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.

Plait breaks it down…

If I were being optimistic, I might say something like this could get off the ground in 20 years or so, depending on several variables, and maybe sooner. Let me be frank: I don’t think this is a crazy idea.

This’ll take a lot of money… but he seems to have some fairly wealthy people — billionaires, and more than one — affiliated with this. So whatever idea he’s got, he’s being backed very seriously for it.

Will it be “Drill baby drill!” on Tuesday? We will have to wait and see but the concept is something truly mind blowing. For all the nostalgic handwringing surrounding the Discovery’s assisted flight around Washington D.C. this week, the dawn of a bold new space age is upon us.

Except this time, we aren’t visiting. We are annexing. We are occupying. We are moving in.

[Bad Astronomy]

Scientist: Super Genius Space Dinosaurs Could Rule Other Planets!

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

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We aren’t quite sure how this was the conclusion he reached but Ronald Breslow, Ph.D has a theory. In a new report he tries to shed light on the age-old mystery of why terrestrial amino acids (the very building blocks of life) exist in only one shape.

He posits that the kind of protein brought to earth millions of years ago could be evidence that another forms exists on other planets. The kind of proteins that create…


Quote Doctor Breslow:

An implication from this work is that elsewhere in the universe there could be life forms based on D-amino acids and L-sugars. Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth. We would be better off not meeting them.

That is, unless you’re really in the mood to get devoured by a SUPER GENIUS SPACE DINOSAUR. In that case, meet away.

[Science Daily]

Boeing Tests Spacecraft that Could One Day Take You to an Orbiting Hotel

Thursday, April 5th, 2012
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Boeing tested it’s CST-100 capsule by dropping it from 11,000 feet in the air from a helicopter into the desert.

According to reports, the test seemed to go fine, but what’s interesting is who footed part of the bill for the testing:

Bigelow Aerospace paid for some of the testing, according to Boeing, punctuating the space destination company’s interest in using the CST-100 to get to orbit. Bigelow, the brainchild of hotelier/motelier Robert Bigelow, envisions using inflatable space stations as orbiting labs or other destinations, but the company doesn’t have a rocket, so it will need a partner like Boeing.

Robert Bigelow is the owner of Budget Suites of America. Just think, children born now could be gossiping with each other in 18 years about who got a room in an inflatable space structure for after prom.


Why Newly Tapped Prehistoric Lake is Key to Understanding Jupiter’s Moon

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

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Lake Vostock, a body of water concealed under 2.2 miles of ice in Antarctica has been contacted by Russian researchers who began drilling for it more than two decades ago. The subglacial lake has not been touched in over 20 million years.

What is found under the ice, could very well inform how we look to explore more exotic locales beyond Earth.

Many scientists see Vostok as not only a last frontier on Earth but also a potential gold mine for learning about possible conditions on Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Encedadus. Each is covered by a thick shell of ice with liquid water below, warmed by either the inner heat of the moon or by tidal forces.

The United States and Britain will begin drilling later this year into small subglacial Antarctic lakes. Scientists estimate that there are about 200 of these lakes beneath the ice sheet.

The breakthrough comes after worries that the Russian team might have been in trouble after they did not respond to colleagues in the United States in the days leading up to the discovery.

[Washington Post]

We Found Tatooine!

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

There is no reason all newly discovered planets shouldn’t immediately be given science fiction inspired names. None at all. It would be easier for scientists to remember and reference, capture the imagination of those that find this kind of stuff awesome and create a cultural touchstone between us and our dreams for an exciting and adventurous future.

Take for example the newly discovered GJ 667Cc, it’s right in the middle of the “Goldilocks” zone making it a huge candidate to play host for liquid water and life as we know it.

Quote UC Santa Cruz astronomer Steven Vogt…

“The planet is around one star in a triple-star system,” Vogt explained. “The other stars are pretty far away, but they would look pretty nice in the sky.”

You mean like this?


Just think of it as a really convenient place to put our pod races and slave-owning racist caricatures. In 3D!

Then again, it might al still be a trap.

“Statistics tell us we shouldn’t have found something this quickly this soon unless there’s a lot of them out there,” Vogt said. “This tells us there must be an awful lot of these planets out there. It was almost too easy to find, and it happened too quickly.”

You’re right, it did happen too quickly. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. That’s no possibly habitable planet, it’s a space station!

[Scientific American]

The Scorpions of Venus: Russian Scientist Claims He’s Found Life on Cloudy Planet

Monday, January 23rd, 2012
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New findings by a Russian scientist may in fact prove that there is life on Venus, and we aren’t talking microscopic organisms in the soil either.

But in his article, published in the magazine Solar System Research, Ksanfomaliti says the Russian photographs depict objects resembling a “disk,” a “black flap” and a “scorpion.”

“What if we forget about the current theories about the non-existence of life on Venus?” he wrote. “Let’s boldly suggest that the objects’ morphological features would allow us to say that they are living.”

Scorpions on Venus! Are they giant? Do the breath the acidic gas cloud cover that envelops the planet? What do they eat?

This is the coolest idea in the history of Mondays.


Boo: SpaceX Delays February Launch

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012


The first private craft set to dock with the International Space Station will have to wait a little longer. An unmanned capsule to be launched by WeirdThings’ favorite SpaceX will not happen on February 7th as initially planned. The delay is attributed to additional preparation time.

“We believe that there are a few areas that will benefit from additional work,” said Kirstin Brost Grantham, a spokeswoman for the company, also known as SpaceX.

“We will continue to test and review data. We will launch when the vehicle is ready,” she said.

The flight will be the second and possibly last test flight before privately owned SpaceX begins delivering cargo to the station under a $1.6 billion NASA contract.

Considering the critical nature of such an early flight and what it means for private exploration in general, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry. Still, those anxious for SpaceX to continue its evolution will have to sit tight.


Strange Comet: Want to Watch a Failed Russian Probe Burn?

Friday, January 13th, 2012

If you listened to the most recent podcast, Andrew discussed the Phobos Grunt. It was supposed to be a probe that landed on the Martian moon of Phobos and sent us back soil samples, due to arrive in 2014. Instead, it’s going to be a REALLY expensive firework this Sunday as it burns up upon reentry after failing to break the Earth’s orbit.

C’mon, show em what your worth.

As it sinks into the denser layers of Earth’s atmosphere, the probe will heat up and begin to glow brightly, forming a long plasma tail and resembling “a surreal-looking comet,” Molczan said.

“Eventually, the combination of extreme heat and rapid deceleration will cause it to fragment into many pieces that will spread out along the path of descent,” he said.

“The debris trail will move rapidly across the sky, visible for perhaps one to two minutes, assuming [a viewer has a] reasonably unobstructed view of the sky.”

With a keen eye, you can even see it now circling Earth, ready for the big moment. Keep your peepers trained for a fast-moving, star-like object with a bright orange hue.

[Nat Geo]