Credit: Inspiration Mars

Credit: Inspiration Mars

Billionaire Dennis Tito, who is known as the first-ever space tourist, unveiled on Wednesday Inspiration Mars, a plan to launch two people, likely a married couple, on mission to Mars in 2018. The best part: the spaceship in which they travel will be lined with the couple’s own shit! This whole idea sounds incredibly far-fetched, and I even mentioned my doubt of its feasibility last week when the “teaser” press release about the press release made some headlines. It still sounds kinda crazy because of the part about the shit (I’ll get to that in a minute), but they left out one really important detail last week- the couple won’t actually be landing on Mars, just flying around it once in a spacecraft. Actually landing on Mars is really, REALLY, REALLY hard in terms of engineering and feasibility, but just sending a couple of people on a slingshot around it? Not quite as hard. Tito is very committed to making it happen, and is even prepared to fund the first two years of mission development, so this could work. More details on the project can be found in this New Scientist article.

Now, as far as the shit goes… it’s really not as crazy as it sounds. One of the biggest challenges to deep space exploration like this is that the crew members will get bombarded with genetic mutation-inducing cosmic radiation. We’re talking X-rays and Gamma rays, along with the ever-present solar wind of ions. It’s practically a death sentence if you can’t shield the crew from all that, and as it turns out, dried up human waste is actually pretty good at just that! Rather than just jettison it into space, why not seal it up in (fully sanitary, of course) bags and line your spaceship with it to add to the shielding of your spaceship? Astronauts onboard the ISS are already using a reactor system that recycles the water from their urine, and gross as it may seem, this mission will do that AND recycle the moisture from their poop. When you’re going on a 500 day mission to Mars, you have to be very resourceful. For more on the poop shield, see this other article on New Scientist.

In other Mars-related news, unfortunately the Curiosity Rover has suffered a computer glitch which has forced the team to switch everything over to the rover’s backup computer. In short, they will slowly reboot all the rover’s systems from the backup computer, make sure everything checks out, and continue with normal operations. Meanwhile, another team will investigate the problem with the primary computer and attempt to fix it so that it’s operational and can be used in case the backup computer fails. For more, check out this post on Universe Today.

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This is an interesting short documentary episode from Vice’s Motherboard series on Copenhagen Suborbitals, a self-proclaimed “open-source, do-it-yourself space endeavor” started by two really smart guys in Denmark. Basically they want the world to realize that getting to space is actually a very achievable thing for average people if they really truly want to do it. It’s an awesome idea and one that I applaud whole-heartedly. Just watch and be amazed at what these guys have accomplished so far with their DIY approach.

Just a quick roundup of some news and updates in the science world:

  • Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic, record-setting skydive attempt was delayed until Tuesday morning due to weather concerns. The balloon launch is scheduled for around dawn, so I’ll try to tune into the interwebs tomorrow morning to see how it goes. More at Discovery News.
  • Space X successfully launched its first official, non-demonstration mission to the ISS last night. The launch was successful despite the Falcon 9 rocket losing one of its 9 main engines about 90 seconds into the launch. The faulty engine was immediately shut down and the onboard computer recalculated the flight trajectory, adding the necessary burn time to get its Dragon capsule to the correct orbit to rendezvous with the ISS. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has the full deets.
  • The Mars Rover Curiosity successfully scooped up a sample of soil and agitated it in a bin this past weekend. Instruments on board will soon run a series of tests to determine if the soil could have supported microbial life in the past. Check out this video created from a couple hundred photos taken of the sample as it was being agitated.

Rocketfest: I met Phil Plait!

September 5, 2012

SO MUCH NERD HAPPENING RIGHT HERE

This past Monday (Labor Day) I had the pleasure of meeting someone you’ve seen me reference approximately 8,956 times on this blog- the one and only Dr. Phil Plait, a.k.a. the Bad Astronomer. As I mentioned last week, the U. S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL held a fundraising event called Rocketfest for the Space Camp Foundation, an organization that creates scholarships for kids to go to Space Camp. If you don’t know what Space Camp is, then you need help. Above is photographic proof of the insane amount of nerdery that occurred. Just look at our shirts!

As a music snob of sorts, I had a hard time with the musical performances, though Molly Lewis’ anti-folk leanings reminded me of Jeffrey Lewis at times. That’s definitely a good thing. Phil Plait gave a short presentation on the Mars rover Curiosity, and while it was all stuff I’ve already seen and/or know about the mission, his passionate and charismatic delivery was the star of the show for me. He’s one of the best ambassadors of science to the general public I’ve ever seen, right up there with Adam Savage, and I sincerely hope he continues to become more of a public figure.

The whole point of the event was to raise money for Space Camp scholarships, so if you care about the future of human race, make a donation now. I say that because our future depends on the kids of today becoming more interested in STEM and thus becoming the scientists and engineers that will continue to innovate and improve our technology. Programs like Space Camp are what inspire kids to enter those fields. I wasn’t lucky enough to get to go when I was a kid, but I sure as hell want my kids to go someday. I will probably be able to afford the tuition, but some families aren’t as fortunate, and those kids deserve the chance to go just as much as the fortunate ones.

I now step down from my soapbox. 🙂

You’d have to have been under a rock to no know that NASA’s latest and greatest Mars rover is about to land on the Red Planet. It’s been all over the news lately… but here are a few more deets that you may not know, including when and how to watch the coverage.

As usual, Universe Today is on top of the coverage, and this infographic was particularly interesting. They will also be teaming up with Google, CosmoQuest, and the SETI Institute to do a live webcast via Google+ to cover the event. Among the cast of hosts is one of my favorite fellow science enthusiasts/skeptics Dr. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy. That begins at 10pm central time. The actual landing is scheduled for 12:31am central time. For more on the webcast check out the post on Universe Today.

Some random cool facts:

  • This is the most complex landing procedure ever carried out by a NASA interplanetary mission.
  • The supersonic parachute that slows the lander during the descent phase is a whopping 51 feet in diameter.
  • The rover itself is about the size of a Mini Cooper.
  • The rover weighs 1,982 pounds (on earth… on Mars it weighs about 747 pounds)
  • The rover is powered by a small nuclear reactor.
  • Curiosity will land inside Gale Crater, near the base of Mount Sharp, which has layers of exposed minerals that the rover will sample and study.
  • The total cost of the mission is $2.5 billion.


(Fast forward to about 2:30 to get to the actual launch.)

SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a Dragon capsule filled with supplies and experiments bound for the International Space Station this morning at 3:44am EDT. This mission is far from complete, however, and with the capsule now in orbit the company must also prove their capsule can be docked with space station, unloaded, reloaded with used experiments, and splash back down safely in the pacific ocean. This flight is historic because it will be the first private, non-NASA rocket to complete a full mission to the ISS.

SpaceX has thus far been the leader among the various private companies vying for the top NASA contract to ferry cargo and astronauts to the ISS. The Dragon capsule will catch up to the ISS and perform a few maneuvers before slowly and incrementally approaching until the crew of the ISS can latch onto the capsule with the station’s robotic arm. They will then bring it in for docking using that arm this Friday May 25th. I really hope this mission is successful because as I’ve said all along, I’m a big fan of private companies taking over the low earth orbit duties for NASA. Keep your eye on the NASA website for updates. (Video via Universe Today)

Credit: Planetary Habitability Laboratory at UPR Arecibo, NASA, EUMETSAT, NERC Satellite Receiving Station, University of Dundee.

As you probably already know, there was an annular solar eclipse that was visible to parts of the Pacific rim last night/this morning. Because of the international dateline, I had the days mixed up and thought it was happening today (Monday May 21st) for the western U.S., when in fact for us it was at sunset last night. But it was Monday May 21st when it began for areas like Japan, because for them it happened early in the morning. Confusing right? It’s like the eclipse time-traveled. Anyway, the above photograph gives you a different perspective on it. The dark dot over the northern Pacific Ocean is the shadow of the moon! (Photo via Universe Today)

In other space-related news: SpaceX scrubbed the launch of their Falcon 9 rocket early Saturday morning due to a faulty check valve in one of the nine Merlin main engines. Their system has a computer that runs a full diagnostic check on everything right as the engines fire, and if even the slightest problem is detected the system shuts off everything immediately. Engineers are working diligently to get the valve replaced and run diagnostics with the rocket still on the launch pad. The new target launch date is May 22nd at 3:44am Eastern Daylight Time. I hope this all works out- I’m a fan of commercial spaceflight and feel that it is essential that NASA be able to rely on private companies to handle all their low-Earth orbit operations so that it can focus its main efforts on exploring asteroids and Mars. For more info see SpaceX’s website, and NASA.