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Archive for the ‘space’ category: Page 284

Feb 6, 2012

The runaway greenhouse reversal: Cooling Venus

Posted by in categories: chemistry, existential risks, futurism, habitats, space

As we all know, Venus’s atmosphere & temperature makes it too hostile for colonization: 450°C temperatures and an average surface pressure almost 100 times that of Earth. Both problems are due to the size of its atmosphere — massive — and 95% of which is CO2.

The general consensus is that Venus was more like that of the Earth several billion years ago, with liquid water on the surface, but a runaway greenhouse effect may have been caused by the evaporation of the surface water and subsequent rise of greenhouse gases.

It poses not just a harsh warning of the prospects of global warming on Earth, but also a case study for how to counter such effects — reversing the runaway greenhouse effect.

I have wondered if anyone has given serious thought to chemical processes which could be set in motion on Venus to extract the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The most common gas in the Universe is of course hydrogen, and if sufficient quantities could be introduced to the Venusian atmosphere, with the appropriate catalysts, could the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere be eventually reversed back into solid carbon compounds, water vapor and oxygen? The effect of this would of course not only bring down the temperature, but return the surface pressure, with 95% of its atmosphere removed, to one more similar to that of Earth. Perhaps in adding other aerosols the temperatures could be reduced further and avoid a re-runaway effect.

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Feb 3, 2012

My case for Mars

Posted by in categories: habitats, space

There has been a lot of discussion about a lunar colony or at least a base as a precursor to sending humans to Mars. The advantages cited are its proximity to Earth, the use of telerobotics for construction, and the fact that we’ve been there before. My position is that it would be far easier to establish a self sufficient colony on Mars with existing technology.

One thing everyone agrees on is that local resources will have to be used. We now know that There has been a lot of geological and hydrological activity on Mars that has segregated and concentrated useful ore bodies that can be exploited with current extractive technology. One type of mineral of interest is the occurrence of iron and magnesium carbonate formations on the surface. Magnesium carbonate is easily converted by heating to magnesium oxide, the primary component of a type of cement that I am researching as a construction material for Mars. The widespread occurrence of sulfate salts also gives reason to believe that metal sulfide ore bodies are also available there. This type of ore can easily be refined with simple electrolytic equipment. The same metal refining on the Moon would require grinding and processing basalt with a lot of heavy equipment.

I would argue that Mars also has a more friendly environment. First, it has higher gravity than the moon, at 38% of Earth’s gravity. This may prove to be significant in minimizing the health effects of reduced gravity. The higher gravity would also aid in many industrial processes such as ore separation and concrete consolidation. Mars also has an atmosphere, however thin. While 4 to 8 millibars may not sound like much, it is enough to burn up a lot of micrometeorites before they reach the surface, reducing the danger of micrometeorite damage. It may also help reduce the danger of galactic cosmic rays, but that will need to be tested. One thing that is certain from my own research is that the thin atmosphere is enough to allow magnesium oxychloride cement to cure before a significant amount of water has evaporated from it, and prevent boiling during the curing process. On the airless Moon, this type of cement would boil violently and the water would evaporate before it would cure. The total lack of atmosphere on the Moon would preclude the use of any cement that depends on water for curing.

Dust will be the biggest challenge to machinery in either place, and I argue that it is much less of a challenge on Mars. We have already studied lunar dust, and it is composed of fractured particles that retain sharp edges and points, with no mechanisms for smoothing the surfaces such as wind or water movement. This makes Moon dust very abrasive to machinery (and air seals) and very irritating to human tissues on contact. Mars has annual wind storms that blow dust around the planet, and has had flowing water recently in it’s history. This would serve to smooth out Martian dust particles to something more closely resembling the kind of material found on Earth, which we can more easily deal with. As further evidence, we have had rovers survive multiple dust storms and keep operating. I would say this is as much a testament to the Martian environment as it is to NASA engineers. Additionally, the dust has been found to be largely magnetic, meaning that magnetic filtration could be used to keep it out of habitable spaces.

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Jan 30, 2012

The Difference Between a Lunar Base and Colony

Posted by in categories: existential risks, habitats, lifeboat, space, sustainability

Recently, Newt Gingrich made a speech indicating that, if elected, he would want 10% of NASA’s budget ($1.7 billion per year) set aside to fund large prizes incentivizing private industry to develop a permanent lunar base, a new propulsion method, and eventually establishing a martian base.

THE FINANCIAL FEASIBILITY OF A LUNAR BASE
Commentators generally made fun of his speech with the most common phrase used being “grandiose”. Perhaps. But in 1996 the Human Lunar Return study estimated $2.5 billion from NASA to send and return a human crew to the Moon. That was before SpaceX was able to demonstrate significant reductions in launch costs. One government study indicated 1/3 of the cost compared to traditional acquisition methods. Two of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavies will be able to launch nearly as much payload as the Saturn V while doing so at 1/15th the cost of the same mass delivered by the Shuttle.

So, we may be at the place where a manned lunar base is within reach even if we were to direct only 10% of NASA’s budget to achieve it.

I’m not talking about going to Mars with the need for shielding but rather to make fast dashes to the Moon and have our astronauts live under Moon dirt (regolith) shielding while exploiting lunar ice for air, water, and hence food.

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Jan 17, 2012

Artifacts in the Solar System

Posted by in categories: philosophy, physics, space

One way that astronomers and astrobiologists search for life in the galaxy is observation of rocky planets orbiting other stars. Such planets may contain an atmosphere, liquid water, and other ingredients that are required for biological life on Earth. Once a number of these potentially inhabited planets have been identified, the next logical step in exploration is to send remote exploratory probes to make direct observations of these planets. Present-day study of other planetary systems is so far limited to remote observation with telescopes, but future plans for exploration include the design and deployment of small robotic exploratory spacecraft toward other star systems.

If intelligent, technological extraterrestrial life exists in the galaxy, then it is conceivable that such a civilization might embark on a similar exploration strategy. Extraterrestrial intelligent (ETI) civilizations may choose to pursue astronomy and search for planets orbiting other star systems and may also choose to follow-up on some of these targets by deploying their own remote exploratory spacecraft. If nearby ETI have observed the Solar System and decided to pursue further exploration, then evidence of ETI technology may be present in the form of such exploratory probes. We refer to this ETI technology as “non-terrestrial artifacts”, in part to distinguish these plausible exploratory spacecraft from the flying saucers of science fiction.

In a recent paper titled “On the likelihood of non-terrestrial artifacts in the Solar System”, published in the journal Acta Astronautica (and available on arXiv.org as a preprint), Jacob Haqq-Misra and Ravi Kopparapu discuss the likelihood that human exploration of the Solar System would have uncovered any non-terrestrial artifacts. Exploratory probes destined for another star system are likely to be relatively small (less than ten meters in diameter), so any non-terrestrial artifacts present in the Solar System have probably remained undetected. The surface and atmosphere of Earth are probably the most comprehensively searched volumes in the Solar System and can probably be considered absent of non-terrestrial artifacts. Likewise, the surface of the moon and portions of Mars have been searched at a sufficient resolution to have uncovered any non-terrestrial artifacts that could have been present. However, the deep oceans of Earth and the subsurface of the Moon are largely unexplored territory, while regions such as the asteroid belt, the Kuiper belt, and stable orbits around other Solar System planets could also contain non-terrestrial artifacts that have so far escaped human observation. Because of this plenitude of nearby unexplored territory, it would be premature to conclude that the Solar System is absent of non-terrestrial artifacts.

Although the chances of finding non-terrestrial artifacts might be low, the discovery of ETI technology, even if broken and non-functioning, would provide evidence that ETI exist elsewhere in the galaxy and have a profound impact on humankind. This is not to suggest that the search for non-terrestrial technology should be given priority over other astronomical missions; however, as human exploration into the Solar System continues, we may as well keep our eyes open for ETI technology, just in case.

Jan 15, 2012

Access to Space: It’s as Cheap and Easy as it will get for a Long Time

Posted by in categories: habitats, space

Throughout most of our lifetimes, there has been a lot of talk and speculation about Human colonies beyond Earth. I personally grew up reading about how we would send people back to the Moon, then to Mars and beyond. We would establish settlements and on other planets and build spacious habitats out of metals mined in the asteroid belt. We would send our grandchildren to the outer planets on nuclear powered rockets and reap the bounty of the Solar System!

All we need is cheap and reliable access to space. The Space Shuttle was going to launch every week and only cost $20 million per launch. It would ride atop a carrier craft above the atmosphere where it would blast into orbit, deliver it’s payload and any passengers, and glide back to earth, to be refit, refueled and mated to it’s carrier plane for it’s next trip a few weeks later. It just had to be approved by Congress, which they did: after making it one of the biggest jobs programs since the New Deal. The Space Shuttle had been repurposed from a space transport system to a massively expensive vote buying scheme. The extreme decentralization and patronage, to the point of leaving a Krushchev era Soviet planner in shocked amazement, drove the per launch cost close to a billion dollars by the time the program was finally shut down.

At least we have cheap and reliable Russian Protons now that the Soviet Union has fallen and the Russians are desperate for hard currency, except that they aren’t really that cheap or reliable. Well, we have some startup companies who are going to get us into space on the cheap using old NASA surplus hardware (Huh?). Only in the past decade are we seeing any real practical alternatives, in the form of Dot Com billionaires putting their own money into spacecraft development. The most promising is SpaceX founded by Elon Musk. He has had his eye on Mars for a long time and finally developed a cheap rocket that will soon carry humans into space. He did so by using the same technology that has been available for the past three decades, only without the political interference, and shown how cheap space travel can be. The base price: $53 million for a cargo capacity comparable to the Space Shuttle. Interestingly, this amounts to around $20 million in 1980 dollars. We are finally at the point we were supposed to be 30 years ago!

Unfortunately, it looks like this is about as good as it will get any time soon. The Space Elevator is going nowhere, with the laws of physics getting in the way and all, not to mention the problems posed by micrometeorites, space junk, and monatomic oxygen if it does get built with some as yet undiscovered wonder material. Theoretically, carbon nanotubes have the strength needed. Maybe. With no significant safety margin. Other alternatives such as space guns and space piers have the same problems of prohibitively massive initial costs, fragility, and they are still useless for carrying people into space due to either long travel times (= high radiation exposure) or high acceleration.

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Jan 13, 2012

Verne, Wells, and the Obvious Future Part 2

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, biotech/medical, business, defense, economics, education, engineering, ethics, events, evolution, existential risks, futurism, life extension, lifeboat, media & arts, military, nuclear weapons, philosophy, physics, policy, space

I am taking the advice of a reader of this blog and devoting part 2 to examples of old school and modern movies and the visionary science they portray.

Things to Come 1936 — Event Horizon 1997
Things to Come was a disappointment to Wells and Event Horizon was no less a disappointment to audiences. I found them both very interesting as a showcase for some technology and social challenges.… to come- but a little off the mark in regards to the exact technology and explicit social issues. In the final scene of Things to Come, Raymond Massey asks if mankind will choose the stars. What will we choose? I find this moment very powerful- perhaps the example; the most eloguent expression of the whole genre of science fiction. Event Horizon was a complete counterpoint; a horror movie set in space with a starship modeled after a gothic cathedral. Event Horizon had a rescue crew put in stasis for a high G several month journey to Neptune on a fusion powered spaceship. High accelleration and fusion brings H-bombs to mind, and though not portrayed, this propulsion system is in fact a most probable future. Fusion “engines” are old hat in sci-fi despite the near certainty the only places fusion will ever work as advertised are in a bomb or a star. The Event Horizon, haunted and consigned to hell, used a “gravity drive” to achieve star travel by “folding space.” Interestingly, a recent concept for a black hole powered starship is probably the most accurate forecast of the technology that will be used for interstellar travel in the next century. While ripping a hole in the fabric of space time may be strictly science fantasy, for the next thousand years at least, small singularity propulsion using Hawking radiation to achieve a high fraction of the speed of light is mathematically sound and the most obvious future.

https://russian.lifeboat.com/blog/2012/09/only-one-star-drive-can-work-so-far

That is, if humanity avoids an outbreak of engineered pathogens or any one of several other threats to our existence in that time frame.

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Jan 10, 2012

Verne, Wells, and the Obvious Future Part 1

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, business, education, engineering, ethics, events, existential risks, finance, fun, futurism, media & arts, military, nuclear weapons, philosophy, physics, policy, robotics/AI, space, transparency

Steamships, locomotives, electricity; these marvels of the industrial age sparked the imagination of futurists such as Jules Verne. Perhaps no other writer or work inspired so many to reach the stars as did this Frenchman’s famous tale of space travel. Later developments in microbiology, chemistry, and astronomy would inspire H.G. Wells and the notable science fiction authors of the early 20th century.

The submarine, aircraft, the spaceship, time travel, nuclear weapons, and even stealth technology were all predicted in some form by science fiction writers many decades before they were realized. The writers were not simply making up such wonders from fanciful thought or childrens ryhmes. As science advanced in the mid 19th and early 20th century, the probable future developments this new knowledge would bring about were in some cases quite obvious. Though powered flight seems a recent miracle, it was long expected as hydrogen balloons and parachutes had been around for over a century and steam propulsion went through a long gestation before ships and trains were driven by the new engines. Solid rockets were ancient and even multiple stages to increase altitude had been in use by fireworks makers for a very long time before the space age.

Some predictions were seen to come about in ways far removed yet still connected to their fictional counterparts. The U.S. Navy flagged steam driven Nautilus swam the ocean blue under nuclear power not long before rockets took men to the moon. While Verne predicted an electric submarine, his notional Florida space gun never did take three men into space. However there was a Canadian weapons designer named Gerald Bull who met his end while trying to build such a gun for Saddam Hussien. The insane Invisible Man of Wells took the form of invisible aircraft playing a less than human role in the insane game of mutually assured destruction. And a true time machine was found easily enough in the mathematics of Einstein. Simply going fast enough through space will take a human being millions of years into the future. However, traveling back in time is still as much an impossibillity as the anti-gravity Cavorite from the First Men in the Moon. Wells missed on occasion but was not far off with his story of alien invaders defeated by germs- except we are the aliens invading the natural world’s ecosystem with our genetically modified creations and could very well soon meet our end as a result.

While Verne’s Captain Nemo made war on the death merchants of his world with a submarine ram, our own more modern anti-war device was found in the hydrogen bomb. So destructive an agent that no new world war has been possible since nuclear weapons were stockpiled in the second half of the last century. Neither Verne or Wells imagined the destructive power of a single missile submarine able to incinerate all the major cities of earth. The dozens of such superdreadnoughts even now cruising in the icy darkness of the deep ocean proves that truth is more often stranger than fiction. It may seem the golden age of predictive fiction has passed as exceptions to the laws of physics prove impossible despite advertisments to the contrary. Science fiction has given way to science fantasy and the suspension of disbelief possible in the last century has turned to disappointment and the distractions of whimsical technological fairy tales. “Beam me up” was simply a way to cut production costs for special effects and warp drive the only trick that would make a one hour episode work. Unobtainium and wishalloy, handwavium and technobabble- it has watered down what our future could be into childish wish fulfillment and escapism.

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Nov 13, 2011

D’Nile aint just a river in Egypt…

Posted by in categories: business, complex systems, cosmology, economics, education, ethics, existential risks, finance, futurism, geopolitics, human trajectories, humor, life extension, lifeboat, media & arts, neuroscience, open access, open source, philosophy, policy, rants, robotics/AI, space, sustainability

Greetings fellow travelers, please allow me to introduce myself; I’m Mike ‘Cyber Shaman’ Kawitzky, independent film maker and writer from Cape Town, South Africa, one of your media/art contributors/co-conspirators.

It’s a bit daunting posting to such an illustrious board, so let me try to imagine, with you; how to regard the present with nostalgia while looking look forward to the past, knowing that a millisecond away in the future exists thoughts to think; it’s the mode of neural text, reverse causality, non-locality and quantum entanglement, where the traveller is the journey into a world in transition; after 9/11, after the economic meltdown, after the oil spill, after the tsunami, after Fukushima, after 21st Century melancholia upholstered by anti-psychotic drugs help us forget ‘the good old days’; because it’s business as usual for the 1%; the rest continue downhill with no brakes. Can’t wait to see how it all works out.

Please excuse me, my time machine is waiting…
Post cyberpunk and into Transhumanism

Oct 25, 2011

Don Quijote — the podcast

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, space

The Don Quijote mission — so we don’t go the same way as the dinosaurs.

With some help from colleagues, I recently produced a report on the planned European Space Agency Don Quijote mission to divert an asteroid’s trajectory (kind of a test-run for the real thing that may happen some time in the future) as a 365 Days of Astronomy podcast.

It is reassuring to see humanity beginning to deal with this genuine risk to Earth’s survival — just in case we don’t all get swallowed up in a 2cm black hole in the next five years wink

The transcript is also available for reading on the 365 Days site if you are not a podcast fan.

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Oct 22, 2011

ISDHuB – Supporting for 100 years

Posted by in categories: futurism, space

ISDHuB — International Space Development Hub — Hangar One/Nasa Ames Research Park

An aspect of support for the 100 year star ship program
A.H.Sinclair 11/11/11

For the formulation of a 100 year star ship prospectus and for a comprehensive and compatible100 year world view which will advance both the sciences of space exploration and the issues of a planetary sustainability we suggest the following discussion as being alternative to the more isolate modes of inquiry:

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