Courtesy Virgin GalacticThis morning high above the Mojave Desert in California, SpaceShipTwo fired its engines in air for the first time, making its first step toward putting a commercial, tourist space craft into space. As opposed to traditional ground-fired rockets, SpaceShipTwo is carried up into the upper atmosphere by a jet plane, cut loose and then fires its engines to boost it toward space. Today's test took the craft up to 45,000 feet with its partner. The blast shoot it up to 55,000 feet for about a 10 minutes. Here is a link to video of the firing. And here is a link to our previous posts about SpaceShipTwo.
Courtesy AAxanderrOf course, by “the skies,” I mean “space.” And by “eyes,” I mean “money.” “China” means “China,” though.
So, by “China sets its money on space,” I mean that China has announced its intentions to court that sweet maiden (or charming lad) we call space. (Also, it turns out that I like space travel/dating analogies quit a bit.)
China, already one of only three countries to send a human to space (after Mother Russia and the United States of Awesmerica), has big plans to expand its space program in coming years. While the US is cutting back its program, China intends to launch manned vessels, freighters, and space stations in just the next five years. (Space stations, plural, seems kind of strange to me, but that’s what the article said.)
China’s space program is run by the country’s military, which freaks some folks out, but China claims that the venture is purely scientific, and, being one of the big boy countries, it’s eager to make its own contributions to space exploration. Also, and this is a rough translation from the original Chinese, it has all this money, and the cool kids all have (or had) sweet space programs, so ….
Despite the impressive goals and Chinas recent rapid progress in space exploration, spokespeople acknowledge that China has a lot of work yet to do to get to the level of Russia’s and the USA’s space programs, seeing as how those institutions have a 50-year head start. So if you’re feeling defensive or jealous, you can keep that in mind.
But are you feeling defensive or jealous? Or are you just excited that more people will be going to space, and more science will be happening up there?
Courtesy Public domain (via Wikipedia)Fifty years ago today, 27 year-old Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human to be launched into space. On April 12, 1961, Gagarin and the Soviet Vostok-1 spaceship were sent skyward for a 108 minute ride above and around Earth. He made a single orbit around the planet before returning to earth where he received a hero's welcome and became an instant celebrity world-wide. The feat accelerated the so-called Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States. A mere eight years later, US astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Unfortunately, Gagarin didn't live to see that day, having died the year before in a crash while test-flying a Soviet MiG jet.
How would you like to live in a 26-foot capsule with five other people? That might be fun for a couple of days, but what if you couldn't leave for two whole years? Kavya Manyapu, an aerospace engineer and aspiring astronaut, who will spend two weeks in the Utah desert in a Mars-style research station, testing the conditions that researchers might find during a real stay on Mars. Manyapu will study bone loss and help design new, more convenient space suits for trips outside of the station. Read the full story here
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Those two weeks are just an experiment to see how the team members get along under highly controlled conditions in such a small space. Of course, during a real Mars mission, it would take several months just to get there, and the total mission would be a couple of years.
Now, some people could put up with just about anything for two weeks. Others of us get cranky after just a few hours cooped up in the car. But it gets me thinking: How would I do in those conditions for two whole years? Think about it:
--You can't go outside without a space suit (and presumably not at all during the flight itself), so no biking, walks, or sports.
--You can't get more than 26 feet away from anyone, no matter how smelly everyone gets when you don't get to shower every day.
--Your internet and phone time would be limited if you got it at all, since everyone would be sharing a very expensive connection.
--You can't call the plumber or the electrician if anything breaks.
--Space would be limited, so you can't bring stacks of books and games.
I'm thinking that one of those e-readers might be perfect, loaded up with books beforehand. Or perhaps the crew could pass the time playing charades or Twenty Questions. Got any other ideas?
Courtesy NASAIn the spirit of bold adventure and practical economics, two scientist are proposing the first manned mission to Mars be a one-way trip. It would be cheaper and could happen much sooner than a round-trip journey. The suggestion appears in the the Journal of Cosmology. NASA's not so enthusiastic about it, but I think it's a great idea. I even know a couple people I'd like to volunteer.
Star Tribune story
Remember the Russian Mars-flight simulation? Six volunteers in Russia were sealed up in a space ship sized structure in June, and would remain there for 520 days—the length of a trip to Mars and back.
It sounds like a stinky, claustrophobic situation, but it looks... kinda fun. Popular Science has a photo gallery of the "astronauts" ("cosmonauts"?) in their natural habitat. They have the Rock Band video game, and a lot of time on their hands. Sounds a little like life here on Earth.
Courtesy NASAWell, to be honest, that really isn't what Stephen Hawking, international super brain man, said. But he did say that if mankind doesn't spread out from Earth into space somehow, we will go extinct.
Oh, Stephen. You must be a blast at parties.
He's right, I suppose, if in a sightly long-term, sci-fi sense. He points out that "our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill"—ideas central to the concept of the anthropocene, the current, human-dominated era of our planet (and the subject of the Science Museum's upcoming Future Earth exhibit). It's possible that we might screw up the Earth beyond repair (something that has been within our ability since the dawn of the nuclear age, and is more so than ever now), and we'll be stuck here on a doomed planet. Unless we figure out how to survive in space, or make our way to other planets, he thinks. As the Hawk-man puts it, "The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet."
Enjoy your time on the planet while you can, folks, because the human race is like a 25-year-old whose parents are just about to start charging rent for the basement.
Courtesy JGordonHeyo, Buzzketeers. Any Starketeer Treketeers out there?
Yes? Well check this bit of fun science out: a Professor at Johns Hopkins says that traveling at near-light speeds in a space ship (as folks often do in science fiction) would have the delightful effect of almost instantly killing everyone on board.
Aw, whoops. Did I say "fun"? I meant the opposite of fun.
See, it'd obviously be no good to run into a big chunk of rock while flying around super fast in outer space, but (fortunately) big chunks of rock are really pretty rare way out in space. That's not the problem. The problem is the tiny stuff. The really, really tiny stuff.
Here on Earth, each cubic centimeter of air has about 30 billion billion atoms in it. (That's right—two "billions.") In outer space, however, each cubic centimeter of space might have 2 atoms in it. Two lonely, harmless little hydrogen atoms, drifting around, looking for friends. That low-density of matter is no problem for a low-speed ship—it'd just zoom right through them—but for a ship approaching the speed of light, they could be a huge problem, according to this professor.
Because the ship would be going so fast, the hydrogen atoms would "appear highly compressed, thereby increasing the number of atoms hitting the craft." There's something here about Einstein's special theory of relativity here, but, you know, blah blah blah.That stuff is complicated. I think if it like going running on a buggy night—if you run fast through a cloud of bugs, more of those bugs are going to hit you, and harder. (The moral there being: run with your mouth closed, and run slowly, especially if you're naked.)
So, because so many of the hydrogen atoms are hitting the ship, and because the ship is going so fast, it would be like turning a giant particle accelerator on the ship (except, in this case, the ship is being accelerated into the particles, not the other way around, but the effect is the same). It would be like getting hit with approximately the same amount of energy as if you stepped into the beam of the Large Hadron Collider. Even with a 4-inch-thick aluminum hull, 99% of the hydrogen would blast through the ship as radiation, frying the electronics and killing the crew in seconds. Sad.
You can't wrestle a particle beam, Kirk.
Still, maybe there are some Trekkies and physicists out there who can make us all feel a little better about this? The Johns Hopkins professor clearly knows a ton about radiation, but maybe he's not such an expert on space, or about the physics of Star Trek. I'm certainly not. Don't they warp space on that show? So that they aren't traveling though billions of miles of space (and all that dangerous hydrogen), but are skipping from one spot to another? Something like that? Help me out here. The image of Spock dying of radiation poisoning (again) makes me cry salty tears.
No, not literally. Probably not at all. But that’s not stopping those monkey farmers from dreaming.
This is just an utterly bizarre article. I don’t think I can make it any funnier.
It’s about an all but abandoned primate research facility in Abkhazia, a breakaway region of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Back in its heyday, when the communists were really into monkey-related science, the facility was producing “groundbreaking medical research,” and breeding monkeys to send into space. Then, as some of you may have heard about, the USSR went belly up, and things went down hill fast at The Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy.
And then Abkhazia tried to break away from Georgia, and things went further downhill, possibly underground. During the ensuing civil war, “many monkeys were shot.” Others were just let out of their cages to just run around the city. From a prewar population of about 1,000, the facility houses only about 350 apes and monkeys now, not including “at least a few dozen monkeys… believed to be living in the wooded mountains of Abkhazia, descendants of a 1970s experiment where scientists released apes* into the wild.” Ok.
(*If you call me out on monkeys being descended from apes released in the 70s, you’re not my friend, because I’m not friends with people like that. It’s just what the article said.)
But wait! There’s more! Abkhazia recently got a new sugar daddy—the big bear, Mother Russia herself. And with fresh investment, the monkey research facility has some high hopes and big dreams. “Going to Mars?” they say. “Send some of our monkeys instead!”
Granted, the proposed Mars trips would take about a year and a half, and the institute’s best-known space monkey, a rhesus named Yerosha, went, you know, ape during a space trip just thirteen days long. (Yerosha freed a paw somehow, and started hitting buttons and generally messing stuff up. That darn monkey.)
They have a plan to avoid that sort of thing on the Mars mission, however: robots. Yes, as the article puts it, “the project would also include a robot designed to take care of the imprisoned ape.” The robot will feed the monkey and clean up after it. The real challenge, they say, is “to teach the monkey to cooperate with the robot.”
What? That’s the speed bump in the monkey+robot Mars flight plan? They have a point, I guess. Because monkeys are so used to human servants that a robotic butler in space might be a big conceptual jump for them.
Anyway, best of luck to you, Abkhazian monkey farmers.