Space Troll: Discussing the REAL future of Humanity

Hubble not to be rescued

Saturday, January 22, 2005
After the last blue-sky posting, I thought I’d discuss something a bit more hard-nosed.

The story is that NASA is going to submit a budget that scraps efforts to save the Hubble space telescope . This is likely as much a political ploy as a true financial decision; the Hubble has a lot of popular appeal and NASA expects an outcry to help boost their budget. In this way, NASA is functioning by the basic rule of all government agency; cut your most public program to help your budget requests.

I’m sorry, but saving it is not worth the billion or more it will cost to salvage it. There is no question that it has inspired imagination as well as provided some real science. But is the additional ROI worth another billion? Considering that exceeds the entire cost of the two Mars rovers (admittedly, an excessively successful mission, making up for two previous disasters with no return), I personally don’t think so. Hard decisions need to be made to get concentration back on real human-oriented space exploration, this is one of them. Once there is a more permanent presence of human in space, the cost factor for a new telescope rapidly improves.

The ‘Duhh!’ award (along with the kudo award) of the week go to the Cassini/Huygens team. It seems most of the wind measurement readings have been lost because the readouts were not switched over to the proper transponder, sending it through the erratic, slower frequency. After seven years, a significant amount of important data was lost because somebody forgot to pick up the remote and change the channel?? Still, the rest of the outstanding success of the Titan mission makes just a point of minor humor.
5:32 AM :: ::

Mike O :: permalink

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
The search for extra-terrestrial life is one of the most exciting areas of long-term space exploration. By that, I am not refering to the silly 'UFO' type of search; I'm talking the search for those planets capable of sustaining life and the exploration of such planets.

However, I think that search is overly biased in terms of our own 'traditional'
form of life. I remember a presentation on the exciting finds on Jupiter's moon Europa, that seems to indicate the presence of a salty ocean underneath a layer of ice, possibly as thin as one mile thick. One scientist, obviously quite nervous about going out so far on a limb as to suggest the slight possibility of life uderneath that ice. But, he was quick to point out, it would be simple microbial forms at best.

That statement convinces me that they are thinking with Earth-based blinders on. Just because life here that exists without oxygen and dependent on chemical processes without light (anaerobic lithotropes) is only microbial, doesn't mean that's all they'd be there. They wouldn't face competition from the more energy efficient processes involving light and oxygen, so who knows.
For those interested in the type of biochemistry involved, here are a few links (stuff I had to memorize a couple decades ago :):

Sulfur Cycle - Nitrification Cycle - Non-traditional Biochemical Cycles

And all of this assumes water as the solvent of life, which is the only form we know. Does that preculde the possibility of another solvent of life, such as liquid mehane? And, if such life could exist, would we even be able to recognize it as life? It seems highly unlikely, but there has been very little research on complex molecular structures at temperatures that far below our ambient temperature. We simply don't know.

Think the above sounds far-fetched? How about life thriving around underwater volcanic vents at boiling temperatures? Or living organisms in burning coal refuse piles at ph 0 and sixty degrees Centigrade? Both exist right here on Earth; living proof that life is really stubborn.
3:03 AM :: ::

Mike O :: permalink

This beach would be a bit nippy; liquid ethane, maybe??

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Congratulations to the Cassini/Huygens team on the first successful landing on another planet's moon! Although I agree with this assessment on how the announcement was handled, it beat my local paper in Dallas; the article was on 18a!
A great accomplishment, nonetheless, and an imprtant milestone in extraterrestrial investigation. After all, the moons of Saturn and Jupiter is where things really get interesting (a topic to be detailed later)

A possible lake or methane or ethane.

The suggestion is that these may be ice boulders.
4:05 PM :: ::

Mike O :: permalink

Mars Options

Monday, January 10, 2005
To truly advance manned exploration of space, a single, definitive, long-range plan has to be developed, agreed upon, and pursued on an international level. There are several possible approaches, each having its advantages and problems, as weel as detractors and advocates: However, all start out by heading to Mars; the one place with all the fundamental building blocks to sustain Earth's form of life. The approaches:

Space station continuance, Lunar outpost, Manned Mars mission
The previous NASA, go slow approach. Supposedly the safest and having the most subsidiary benefits, but unquestionably the most expensive and lengthy. The theory is such ‘baby step’ approach provides the best safety factor, as well as lower probability of catastrophic failure. The issue is both a cost and a focus factor; is today’s society capable of the kind of diverse, yet directed, long-term effort?

Space Station de-emphasis; Lunar outpost, Mars mission
This argument, currently held by many in the Bush Administration (including the boss), recognizes what has happened over time; that the Space station plans grew to a point to consume the resources and the focus of outward-bound manned efforts. Bureaucracy and political back-scratching has taken hold. It is time to recognize that the value of the Space Station effort toward the final goal has grown minimalistic and the time has come to redirect the primary efforts elsewhere. Bush sees it this way and NASA has reluctantly responded. I doubt my fellow blogger Maryam agrees with this, but that’s freedom of speech. She is more than free to blast me on it; I’m the theorist here, she the one who does it (hopefully).

Direct to Mars mission
This position is strongly advocated by a small, noisy, but technically competant group called the The Mars Society, their primary spokesman being Dr. Robert Zubrin. Their point is that all other steps are unnecessary and detract resources from the key first goal. They have a pretty tight argument and technology plan of sending unmanned processing plants to use the thin atmosphere of Mars to produce essential supplies and return fuel prior to sending the exploration team. My own background in biology and chemistry tells me the approach is feasible. Risky, but certainly the least expensive and potentially quickest result. The problem; they lack any significant support in governmental circles, the only place that- for now- matters.

Myself, I lean toward the third option, though I don't think it will happen. The first is not focused enough and the second could get tied up in providing resources continually to a Lunar colony, if the resources (primarily water) all have to be shipped from Earth. However, if some source of water (underground ice or- very unlikely- a small, redirectable NEAR asteroid and a viable acquisition plan) can be found on the moon that would allow local generation of resources necessary to sustain a lunar outpost, it would be a less-risky first step.

Comment what you think.

1:26 AM :: ::

Mike O :: permalink

All aboard who's coming aboard. What? No food service?

Friday, January 07, 2005
Russia's space agency Roskosmos announced that it would stop giving free rides to US astronauts beginning in 2006. US space shuttles have been grounded since February of 2003, when the shuttle Columbia burned up on re-entry and they have been relying on the Russian workhorse spacecraft for transportation to the orbital outpost.

Roskosmos is hoping to expand its space tourism program; two people are currently under consideration for flights on a Russian space craft to the International Space Station. So far, two passengers have paid $20 million (US) for tourist trips to the ISS aboard Soyuz craft.

Full Story
7:52 PM :: ::

Maryam :: permalink