Strap on your astronaut suit and hold on to your space shoes, because in 20 years, you could just be aboard Earth’s first mission to Mars. At least, that’s the hope of over 400 people who read the Journal of Cosmology’s special edition issue, The Human Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet, and volunteered to take part in a not-yet-scheduled trip to Mars.
The journal spills the details about the logistics involved in a privately-funded journey to the Red Planet–a book-length brainstorm by leading scientists. What, for example, happens if you get an infection on Mars? How do you have sex in space? And, most importantly, how long do you have to live on Mars before you get to call yourself a Martian? (Ok, I made that last question up, but aren’t you curious?)
Any journey to Mars–especially one with no scheduled return to Earth–is fraught with challenges. As Fox News reports:
“It’s going to be a very long period of isolation and confinement,” said Albert Harrison, who has studied astronaut psychology since the 1970s as a professor of psychology at UC Davis…. “After the excitement of blast-off, and after the initial landing on Mars, it will be very difficult to avoid depression…. Each day will be pretty much like the rest. The environment, once the novelty wears off, is likely to be deadly boring. Despite being well prepared and fully equipped there are certain to be unanticipated problems that cannot be remedied. One by one the crew will get old, sick, and die-off.”
This top-secret space passenger doesn’t have the attributes often associated with astronauts–instead of being labeled brave and resolute, this passenger has been described as nutty, sweet, and buttery. Meet Le Brouere, a space-faring wheel of cheese.
One small step for a cheese, one giant leap fromage-kind.
The mild French cheese Le Brouere isn’t the first of its kind to be blasted towards space, but it is the first to reach orbit and to be successfully recovered post-flight. The cheese orbited the Earth twice before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday. The test flight was the first ever orbital reentry and recovery mission by a commercial space company.
That’s the mission adopted by a team at the Florida Institute of Technology–they hope to bring the flexibility and sustainability of poop power to space. As a first step towards that goal, they’re testing the ability of a special hydrogen-creating bacteria, called Shewanella MR-1, to live aboard a UN satellite, says Fast Company:
The goal is, to put it bluntly, to see if Shewanella can convert astronaut feces into hydrogen for use in onboard fuel cells. “The bacteria generates hydrogen. If we give waste to bacteria, it converts to hydrogen that could be used in a fuel cell. We’re looking at how reliable the bacteria are,” explains Donald Platt, the Program Director for the Space Sciences and Space Systems Program at the Florida Institute of Technology.
The bacteria will be going up on the UN’s first satellite, a $5 million project by the UN’s Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that will stay in space for five years. The satellite is scheduled for launch in the first half of 2011. If the bacteria are able to successfully grow in space, this project might lead the way to recycling the astronaut waste of the future, instead of freeze drying the excrement and turning it into a shooting star.
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Forget Avatar‘s exotic Pandora moon and the forest moon of Endor from Star Wars. Today’s top fantasy travel destination is the exoplanet Gliese 581g.
Last week, the astronomy world lit up with the report of a newly identified exoplanet that may be orbiting in the “habitable zone” around its star. As DISCOVER’s Bad Astronomer explained, the planet orbits a dim red dwarf star called Gliese 581, and seems to be at the right distance from the star to maintain liquid water on its surface. That, of course, makes alien-philes wonder if Gliese 581g also hosts life. And that makes people want to go check.
But the media enthusiasm may have gotten ever so slightly ahead of the science.
Announcing the find on NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams said: “They say it’s about 20 light years away, but that’s practically nothing in astronomy terms.” And he declared at the end of the segment: “It’s just nice to know that if we screw this place up badly enough there is some place we can all go.”
That really pissed off David McConville, a space and science educator with the company Elumenati. McConville worries that such flippancy discourages conservation programs here on Earth, and he did the math to show that Gliese 581g is a little more than a hop, skip, and jump away. Here’s his explanation, in cute avatar form:
Sure, the island found between Ireland and the United Kingdom is only three times the size of Washington, DC, but according to the consulting company ASCEND , it’s fifth in the line-up of most likely nations to make a moon landing between 2018 and 2020. They give Mann 50-1 odds that it will make it, coming in after India with 33-1 odds, and before the United Kingdom at 300 to 1 and Iran at 1,000 to 1. If I owned a consulting company, I’m not sure I’d publicize that prediction, but ASCEND’s seemingly tongue-in-cheek newsletter (pdf) has this to say:
A surprising choice this one but the tax haven island has firms with a commercial interests in manned lunar flyby flights using Russian hardware.
A British Crown dependency, Mann is technically separate from the United Kingdom. Though the island’s space aspirations might not be grabbing major headlines, it is branding itself as the “Space Isle.” As host of October’s Google Lunar X Prize Summit scheduled during the United Nations-declared World Space Week, it will hold a star gazing event in the 13th century Castle Rushen in Castletown.
The triskelion flag would certainly look handsome planted in lunar ground. If only I knew how to say “one small step” in Manx Gaelic….
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Image: Wikipedia / Castle Rushen Portcullis Chamber / Manxruler
How do we say goodbye? As the Space Shuttle program comes to a 2011 close, NASA has announced two shuttle-related music competitions. Also museums are already lining up like Black Friday shoppers to get their hands on one of those soon-to-be retired vehicles.
In a contest dubbed the “American Idol for space,” NASA invites musicians to create an original song to compliment the STS-134 mission, and asks them to submit their musical stylings online by January 10, 2011. After a NASA panel picks a set of finalists, website visitors can vote for the winner. The top two songs will play during the final shuttle flight in February 2011.
Another ongoing competition asks the public to choose from a top 40 list of previous “wake-up songs”–music used to help astronauts rise from their orbiting slumbers. Selections include the theme from Star Trek (old school version), Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” and U2′s “Beautiful Day.” The top two will play during the STS-133 mission scheduled for this November.
How do you white balance your camera? Aim it at a piece of paper. How do you white balance an Earth-monitoring satellite? Aim it at a Turkish salt lake.
At least that’s the hope of scientists headed to southern Turkey to study a salt lake named Tuz Gölü (Turkish for “salt lake,” natch) later this month. During July and August, most of Lake Tuz evaporates into reflective white salt, making it perfect for satellite-calibration, the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites said, recently endorsing the spot as one of eight calibration sites.
Just as white balancing your camera is important to keep your friends from looking jaundiced, calibrating satellites makes sure that they can take accurate climate and coastal degradation measurements.
As Popular Science reports, the team led by the UK National Physical Laboratory will spend nine days at lake Tuz measuring the reflectance of test sites from a variety of angles. From above, several satellites will simultaneously take recordings of the white lake for comparison. The NPL hopes this will be the first step for an automated system “LandNET” using all eight sites.
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“Peacekeeper” missiles are getting a new lease on life: as satellite launchers. Next week, the Air Force plans to launch the second of these decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missiles, renamed “Minotaur IV,” to deploy a trash-tracking satellite.
It’s nice to know that one relic will help us spot others–pieces of junk, like abandoned rocket stages left over from other space missions. As the IV in the new rocket’s name implies, the Peacekeeper isn’t the first retired missile to enter the Air Force’s very special recycling program. The first Minotaurs (pdf) incorporated stages from Minutemen missiles.
Barron Beneski is a representative of Orbital Sciences Corp., which holds the Air Force contract to transform the missiles into launch vehicles. Beneski told Discovery News:
“What is neat is that what was once a military weapons system is now a peaceful use of government assets. It’s the whole idea of turning ‘swords into plowshares.’”
Other countries, notably Russia and China, have similar missile makeover programs. Unlike these countries, the United States does not offer the boosters for sale on the open market–only for government use.
“OSC (Orbital Sciences) can’t sell a Minotaur to Brazil,” Wayne Eleazer, a retired Air Force officer, told Discovery News. “That’s still not allowed.”
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The personal brander job doesn’t sound like such a stretch, and the space pilot gig is definitely something for young rocket enthusiasts to aspire to… but grower-of-body-parts is definitely not something you expect to see advertised at a job fair this year. But a new study done by the British government has indeed included this unique profession as one of the important jobs in the future.
The report commissioned by Britain’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills was carried out by market research group Fast Future, and tried to determine a list of both jobs that do not currently exist and current jobs that could become more prominent by 2030.
Astronauts can’t be all business all the time; sometimes you just have to cut loose. Well that’s exactly what billionaire red-nosed clown Guy Laliberte intends to help the astronauts do when they blast into space tomorrow.
From the AP:
The man who hopes to be the first clown in space, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, said Tuesday he would tickle fellow astronauts as they sleep aboard the International Space Station.
The crew must be ecstatic to have him aboard. Laliberte might want to stick to handing out red noses and let the astronauts rest up so they can, um, fly a space shuttle.
MSNBC.com compiled a slideshow of their top nine space antics, a list that will surely include Laliberte’s ticklefest in the future. But for now it seems that astronauts’ favorite pastimes involve playing space golf, eating space fast-food, and dumping space trash.
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