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Astronaut.com http://astronaut.com Where Science Fiction Meets Reality Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:47:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Canadians ‘Spocking’ their currency in tribute to Leonard Nimoy http://astronaut.com/canadians-spocking-their-currency-in-tribute-to-leonard-nimoy/ http://astronaut.com/canadians-spocking-their-currency-in-tribute-to-leonard-nimoy/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:47:45 +0000 http://astronaut.com/?p=8764 Since Friday, the world has been grieving the passing of Leonard Nimoy, with many touching tributes to the man best known for his role as Spock on “Star Trek” hitting the Internet over the weekend. Perhaps one of our favorites so far is happening in Canada, where Trekkies are “Spocking Fives” by putting images of Nimoy on…

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Since Friday, the world has been grieving the passing of Leonard Nimoy, with many touching tributes to the man best known for his role as Spock on “Star Trek” hitting the Internet over the weekend. Perhaps one of our favorites so far is happening in Canada, where Trekkies are “Spocking Fives” by putting images of Nimoy on the country’s $5 bill.

Nimoy 5 dollar

Canada’s $5 bill features a large image of Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and the note is a shade of blue that’s incredibly close to that of the uniform worn by Spock in “Star Trek.” On Friday, Canadian Design Resource, a site for Canadian designers, sent out a tweet urging Canadians to “Spock” their $5 bills by taking a pen and turning the portrait of Sir Wilfrid Laurier into a picture of Spock.

The idea of “Spocking Fives” isn’t entirely new, and can be traced back to at least 2008 when the “Spock Your Fives” Facebook group was founded to encourage people to add the Vulcan’s face to the $5 banknote. Canada switched from paper to plastic currency at the end of 2013, and the new material made it more difficult to “Spock” the $5 bill, but not impossible, as evidenced by this tweet from pedalpapa.

The practice isn’t illegal, but the Bank of Canada noted in 2002 that it strongly objects to the mutilation or defacement of bank notes, an objection it reaffirmed to Quartz on Monday. “Writing on a bank note may interfere with the security features and reduces its lifespan,” the Bank of Canada said. “Markings on a note may also prevent it from being accepted in a transaction.”

Given how beloved Mr. Nimoy was, we can’t help but hope this Spock-ified currency will take a note from the actor himself and live long and prosper.

 

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SpaceX Falcon 9 launches debut dual satellite mission http://astronaut.com/spacex-falcon-9-launches-debut-dual-satellite-mission/ http://astronaut.com/spacex-falcon-9-launches-debut-dual-satellite-mission/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 11:32:46 +0000 http://astronaut.com/?p=8761 (Reuters) – A Space Exploration Technologies rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Sunday to put the world’s first all-electric communications satellites into orbit. The 22-story tall booster soared off its seaside launch pad at 10:50 a.m. EST (0350 GMT), the third flight in less than two months for SpaceX, as the…

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(Reuters) – A Space Exploration Technologies rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Sunday to put the world’s first all-electric communications satellites into orbit.

The 22-story tall booster soared off its seaside launch pad at 10:50 a.m. EST (0350 GMT), the third flight in less than two months for SpaceX, as the privately owned, California-based company is known.

SpaceX Launch: SpaceX

Perched on top of the rocket were a pair of satellites built by Boeing and owned by Paris-based Eutelsat Communications and Bermuda-based ABS, whose majority owner is the European private equity firm Permira.

Eutelsat and ABS shared satellite manufacturing and launch costs, a business arrangement spurred by technological innovation.

The satellites launched on Sunday are outfitted with lightweight, all-electric engines, rather than conventional chemical propulsion systems, to reach and maintain orbit.

That enabled two spacecraft to be launched aboard one medium-sized Falcon 9 rocket.

“The value of electrical propulsion is that it allows the satellite operator to need much less fuel than when the satellite has chemical propulsion,” Eutelsat chief executive Michel de Rosen said in an interview before launch.

“You can have a much lighter satellite, so that, in theory, the cost of your launch is much reduced.”

SpaceX, owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, turned the theoretical price cuts into reality, breaking what de Rosen calls “a quasi-monopoly” Europe’s Arianespace had on the small satellite launch market.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although SpaceX’s website lists a Falcon 9 launch as costing $61 million.

The disadvantage of electric propulsion is that it will take the satellites months, rather than weeks, to reach their operational orbits about 22,300 miles (35,800 km) above Earth, high enough to appear virtually parked over a particular part of the globe.

Eutelsat’s spacecraft will become part of a 35-member network providing a range of mobile, internet, video and other communications services. The new satellite expands the company’s reach into the Americas.

ABS, which currently has six satellites, will position its new spacecraft to also serve customers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The companies are partnering for a second pair of satellites that are due to launch aboard another Falcon 9 rocket later this year. SpaceX also flies cargo missions to the International Space Station for NASA and is working on an upgraded spaceship to fly astronauts as well.

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Astronauts leave international station for 3rd spacewalk http://astronaut.com/astronauts-leave-international-station-for-3rd-spacewalk/ http://astronaut.com/astronauts-leave-international-station-for-3rd-spacewalk/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 13:04:28 +0000 http://astronaut.com/?p=8758 Two NASA astronauts have ventured out of the International Space Station in their third spacewalk in just over a week. Terry Virts and Butch Wilmore went into space on Sunday morning with 122 metres of cable and two antennas to install. Once that’s complete, the spacewalkers will have routed nearly 244 metres of power and…

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Two NASA astronauts have ventured out of the International Space Station in their third spacewalk in just over a week.

Barry Wilmore, right, and Terry Virts are seen during their third spacewalk outside the International Space Station. (NASA TV/Associated Press)

Barry Wilmore, right, and Terry Virts are seen during their third spacewalk outside the International Space Station. (NASA TV/Associated Press)

Terry Virts and Butch Wilmore went into space on Sunday morning with 122 metres of cable and two antennas to install. Once that’s complete, the spacewalkers will have routed nearly 244 metres of power and data lines, all of it needed for future American crew capsules.

Earlier reports from NASA said final task outside ISS was expected to take six and a half hours.

NASA is paying Boeing and SpaceX nearly $7 billion to develop spacecraft capable of transporting astronauts to the space station. The first manned flight is targeted for 2017. New docking ports will fly up later this year.

Virts and Wilmore’s first spacewalk was Feb. 21, their second Wednesday. NASA hasn’t conducted such quick spacewalks since its former shuttle days.

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Mars One destined for dreamland http://astronaut.com/mars-one-destined-for-dreamland/ http://astronaut.com/mars-one-destined-for-dreamland/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 13:12:27 +0000 http://astronaut.com/?p=8755 It’s hard not to be impressed by the ambition of a Dutch non-profit called Mars One, which says it hopes to send humans to Mars by 2025. The group, which takes no government funding, said last week that it had received more than 202,000 applicants from would-be astronauts and whittled them down to 100. It’s…

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It’s hard not to be impressed by the ambition of a Dutch non-profit called Mars One, which says it hopes to send humans to Mars by 2025. The group, which takes no government funding, said last week that it had received more than 202,000 applicants from would-be astronauts and whittled them down to 100.

It’s also hard not to notice the ethical debate that the project has ignited. Mars One would send its people on a one-way trip to Mars, where they would live for some indefinite period producing their own power, water and breathable air, among other things. Are the volunteers modern-day pioneers? Or merely suicidal?

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 9.10.43 AM

But the psychological aspects, however interesting, are virtually a moot point. That is because Mars One is so utterly lacking in practicality and financial backing that it has a near-zero chance of getting off the ground.

The enterprise has all the hallmarks of government-funded predecessors that were unveiled with audacious aims, received substantial funding, then died quiet deaths. Those projects went by such names as the National Aerospace Plane, a vehicle that would whisk people to the far side of the Earth in minutes; the Space Exploration Initiative, a government-backed Mars mission; and the X-33/VentureStar launch system, a public-private partnership that would reduce the cost of getting into space.

None got further than a few preliminary tests or prototypes. As long as they existed, though, they served as a rationale for funneling money to aerospace companies, which used the money to keep people employed and to maintain their expertise.

Mars One appears destined for a similar fate. The money it raises from crowd funding and corporate sponsorships will keep its people employed, and it will help maintain publicity and enthusiasm for space travel.

What it is highly unlikely to do is provide sufficient money to actually send people to Mars.

The $6 billion that Mars One officials say would be needed to send four people to the red planet is an eye-popping figure for a non-profit. It is also implausibly low. NASA estimated its Mars program of the early 1990s would cost more than 80 times as much, some $500 billion.

Granted, that program called for bringing the astronauts home, which raises the cost substantially. It was also to have been government-run, which would have meant more bureaucracy and less efficiency. Even so, it is a useful frame of reference. And with inflation, the price tag would be closer to $1 trillion today.

Mars One faces the same obstacle that sidelined government programs in the past: the incredible costs of getting payloads into space using chemical rockets, the only existing technology.

This might seem like a lot of naysaying. Perhaps it is. Critics scoffed at Christopher Columbus. They pooh-poohed the idea of flying machines. But the economic and physical realities faced by Mars One are daunting. And the incentives to raise money to keep the group going are pretty strong.

For these reasons, it is best not to get too invested in this program, either emotionally or financially.

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So – You’re Still Interested in Astronomy? Moons of Saturn http://astronaut.com/so-youre-still-interested-in-astronomy-moons-of-saturn/ http://astronaut.com/so-youre-still-interested-in-astronomy-moons-of-saturn/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:33:54 +0000 http://astronaut.com/?p=8748 So – You’re Still Interested in Astronomy? Hello again. Last time, we looked at the many moons of Jupiter. If you remember, Jupiter has 67 all together, by far the largest retinue of any planet in the Solar System. Today, I thought we’d dip into 10 facts you might not have known about some of…

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So – You’re Still Interested in Astronomy?

Hello again.

Last time, we looked at the many moons of Jupiter. If you remember, Jupiter has 67 all together, by far the largest retinue of any planet in the Solar System.

Today, I thought we’d dip into 10 facts you might not have known about some of the moons of Saturn. Again, I say, some, because like Jupiter, Saturn’s moons are numerous and diverse ranging from tiny moonlets less than 1 kilometer across, to an enormous example, bigger than the planet Mercury. To date, we know there are at least 62 of them.

So, this time around, I thought it would be better to start with some of the lesser known moons.

saturn2[1]

  1. 1. Why is it so difficult to measure the precise amount of moons?

You might not realize this, but out of all 62 moons, only thirteen have diameters larger than 50 km (31 miles). Wow!
Also, don’t forget the rings. Saturn’s rings are very dense with complex orbital motions of their own. Within them are objects that range in size from the microscopic – to moonlets, hundreds of meters across. Thus a precise number of Saturnian moons cannot be given, because there is no objective boundary between the countless small anonymous objects that form Saturn’s ring system and the larger objects that have been named as moons.

Fact: So far, more than150 moonlets have been detected by the disturbance they create in the surrounding ring material. Even these are thought to be only a small sample of the total population of such objects.

  1. 2. Are Saturn’s moons divided into groups like Jupiter’s?

Most certainly. Although the boundaries may be somewhat vague, Saturn’s moons can be divided into ten groups according to their orbital characteristics. Trying to describe how they differ can be rather complex, so astronomers sometimes split the moons into 5 broad categories instead.
The major icy moons
Titan itself (which we will talk about next time)
The Inuit group
The Gallic group, and,
The Norse Group

Fact: The moons of the Norse group also orbit in the opposite direction to Saturn’s rotation.

  1. 3. Tell us more about the major icy moons?

Janus and Epimetheus are called co-orbital moons. They are of roughly equal size, with Janus being slightly larger than Epimetheus. Janus and Epimetheus have orbits with only a few kilometers difference in semi-major axis. (Close enough that they would collide if they attempted to pass each other) Instead of colliding, however, their gravitational interaction causes them to swap orbits every four years. – Cool!

epimetheus_janus_orbit[1]

Janus is extensively cratered with several craters larger than 30 km but few linear features. From its very low density and relatively high albedo, it seems likely that Janus is a very porous and icy rubble pile. The moon is also highly non-spherical.

  1. 4. Is there anything interesting about the Inuit Group?

Not really. The Inuit group includes five prograde outer moons that are similar enough in their distances from the planet (186–297 radii of Saturn), their orbital inclinations (45–50°) and their colors that they can be considered a group. The moons are Ijiraq, Kiviuq, Paaliaq, Siarnaq, and Tarqeq. The largest among them is Siarnaq with an estimated size of about 40 km.

  1. 5. So what about the Gallic Group?

The Gallic group consist of four prograde outer moons that are similar enough in their distance from the planet (207–302 radii of Saturn), their orbital inclination (35–40°) and their color that they can be considered a group. They are Albiorix, Bebhionn, Erriapus, and Tarvos. As of 2009, Tarvos is the most distant of Saturn’s moons with a prograde orbit. The largest among these moons is Albiorix with an estimated size of about 32 km

  1. 6. Is there anything to note about this group?

Albiorix is the largest member of the Gallic group of irregular satellites.

It was named in August 2003 for “Albiorix, “a Gallic giant who was considered to be the king of the world. The name is known from an inscription found near the French town of Sablet which identifies him with the Roman god Mars (an interpretatio romana).

Albiorix orbits Saturn at a distance of about 16 million km (9.9 Million miles) and its diameter is estimated at 32 kilometers (19.8 miles).

Given the similarity of the orbital elements and the homogeneity of the physical characteristics with other members of the Gallic group, it was suggested that these satellites could have a common origin in the break-up of a larger moon.

  1. 7. Finally, we come to the Norse Group

The Norse (or Phoebe) group consists of 29 retrograde outer moons. They are Aegir, Bergelmir, Bestla, Farbauti, Fenrir, Fornjot, Greip, Hati, Hyrrokkin, Jarnsaxa, Kari, Loge, Mundilfari, Narvi, Phoebe, Skathi, Skoll, Surtur, Suttungr, Thrymr, Ymir, S/2004 S 7, S/2004 S 12, S/2004 S 13, S/2004 S 17, S/2006 S 1, S/2006 S 3, S/2007 S 2, and S/2007 S 3. After Phoebe, Ymir is the largest of the known retrograde irregular moons, with an estimated diameter of only 18 km. The Norse group may itself consist of several smaller subgroups. 

  1. 8. Why is this group also known as the Phoebe Group?

Now this is interesting….
The Norse group is also known by the most dominant moon of this group – Phoebe. She is roughly spherical and has a diameter of 213 kilometers (132 mi), which is equal to about one-sixteenth of the diameter of the Moon. Phoebe rotates on its axis every nine hours and it completes a full orbit around Saturn in about 18 months. Its surface temperature is 75 K (−198.2 °C).

Phoebe_closeup_cassini_NASA[1] (2)

Most of Saturn’s inner moons have very bright surfaces, but Phoebe’s is very dark. The Phoebean surface is extremely heavily scarred, with craters up to 80 kilometers across, one of which has walls 16 kilometers high.

Phoebe’s dark coloring initially led to scientists surmising that it was a captured asteroid, as it resembled the common class of dark carbonaceous asteroids. These are chemically very primitive and are thought to be composed of original solids that condensed out of the solar nebula with little modification since then.

However, images from Cassini indicate that Phoebe’s craters show a considerable variation in brightness, which indicate the presence of large quantities of ice below a relatively thin blanket of dark surface deposits some 300 to 500 meters (980 to 1,640 ft) thick. In addition, quantities of carbon dioxide have been detected on the surface, a finding that has never been replicated for an asteroid. It is estimated that Phoebe is about 50% rock, as opposed to the 35% or so that typifies Saturn’s inner moons. For these reasons, scientists are coming to believe that Phoebe is in fact a captured centaur, one of a number of icy planetoids from the Kuiper belt that orbit the Sun between Jupiter and Neptune. Phoebe is the first such object to be imaged as anything other than a dot.

Despite its small size, Phoebe is thought to have been a hot, spherical body early in its history, with a differentiated interior, before solidifying and being battered into its current, slightly non-equilibrium shape.

Material displaced from Phoebe’s surface by microscopic meteor impacts may be responsible for the dark surfaces of Hyperion. Debris from the biggest impacts may have been the origin of the other moons of Phoebe’s group—all of which are less than 10 km in diameter.

  1. 9. Anything else?

Well this little moon has a big name The Phoebe ring is one of the rings of Saturn. This ring is tilted 27 degrees from Saturn’s equatorial plane (and the other rings). It extends from at least 128 to 207 times the radius of Saturn; Phoebe orbits the planet at an average distance of 215 Saturn radii.

Saturn's Largest Ring

The ring is about 20 times as thick as the diameter of the planet. Since the ring’s particles are presumed to have originated from micrometeoroid impacts on Phoebe, they should share its retrograde orbit, which is opposite to the orbital motion of the next inner moon, Iapetus. Inwardly migrating ring material would thus strike Iapetus’s leading hemisphere, and is suspected to have triggered the processes that led to the two-tone coloration of that moon. Although very large, the ring is virtually invisible—it was discovered using NASA’s infrared Spitzer Space Telescope.

  1. 10. And Finally.

Two moons were claimed to be discovered by different astronomers but never seen again. Both moons were said to orbit between Titan and Hyperion.

Chiron which was supposedly sighted by Hermann Goldschmidt in 1861, but never observed by anyone else.

Themis was allegedly discovered in 1905 by astronomer William Pickering, but never seen again. Nevertheless it was included in numerous almanacs and astronomy books until the 1960s

So there we go. That’s our look at the ‘minor’ moons of Saturn.
Next time, much more fun – planet sized moons and strange mysteries to be explored.
(And we’re still only on Saturn)

See you then…

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Strange lights on dwarf planet Ceres have scientists perplexed http://astronaut.com/strange-lights-on-dwarf-planet-ceres-have-scientists-perplexed/ http://astronaut.com/strange-lights-on-dwarf-planet-ceres-have-scientists-perplexed/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 11:43:14 +0000 http://astronaut.com/?p=8743 A dwarf planet is shining two bright lights at a NASA spacecraft right now, and our smartest scientists are unsure what they are. As bizarre as that sentence sounds, that’s the situation with Ceres — the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, officially designated as a dwarf planet (the same category…

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A dwarf planet is shining two bright lights at a NASA spacecraft right now, and our smartest scientists are unsure what they are.

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

As bizarre as that sentence sounds, that’s the situation with Ceres — the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, officially designated as a dwarf planet (the same category as Pluto).

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is approaching Ceres ahead of a March 6 rendezvous. The picture above was taken February 19, from a distance of just under 29,000 miles, and shows two very shiny areas on the same basin on Ceres’ surface.

Previous Dawn images from further away showed a single light on Ceres, which was just as mysterious. Then, to the amazement of every astronomy geek, the one light turned out to be two — reflecting roughly 40% of the light hitting them.

MAGE: NASA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

IMAGE: NASA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us,” said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, in a NASA statement. “The brightest spot [of the two] continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size it is brighter than anything else on Ceres.”

So what could the bright spots be, other than alien castaways signaling at us with flashlights?

The most obvious contender is ice, although ice would reflect more than 40% of all light hitting it. The difference may be accounted for by the resolution limit of Dawn’s camera at this distance. Scientists have previously detected water vapor coming from the surface of the dwarf planet, making ice — a more likely option.

Scientists have also suggested the bright areas could be patches of salt. On the other hand, the location of the two bright spots so close together may be an indication that they have a geologic origin, such as some sort of volcanic process, possibly even ice volcanoes.

According to Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, the positioning of the bright spots within the same area may indicate “a volcano-like origin of the spots,” but scientists will have to wait for higher resolution images before making such interpretations. Scientists don’t think the spots comprise lava similar to that seen on Earth, since that would shine more brightly.

We’ll find out more as Dawn approaches Ceres next week and more imagery comes in during the next 16 months, according to NASA.

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NASA rover clicks stunning selfie on Mars http://astronaut.com/nasa-rover-clicks-stunning-selfie-on-mars/ http://astronaut.com/nasa-rover-clicks-stunning-selfie-on-mars/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 12:09:01 +0000 http://astronaut.com/?p=8738 NASA’s Curiosity rover has clicked a selfie showing the vehicle at the “Mojave” site on the Red Planet where its drill collected the mission’s second taste of Mount Sharp. The latest self-portrait shows a sweeping view of the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop on Mars where NASA’s Curiosity rover was working for five months. The selfie scene…

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NASA’s Curiosity rover has clicked a selfie showing the vehicle at the “Mojave” site on the Red Planet where its drill collected the mission’s second taste of Mount Sharp.

The latest self-portrait shows a sweeping view of the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop on Mars where NASA’s Curiosity rover was working for five months.

Image posted by NASA on its official twitter page.

Image posted by NASA on its official twitter page.

The selfie scene is assembled from dozens of images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the rover’s robotic arm.

“Compared with the earlier Curiosity selfies, we added extra frames for this one so we could see the rover in the context of the full Pahrump Hills campaign,” said rover team member Kathryn Stack at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

“From the Mojave site, we could include every stop we have made during the campaign,” he added.

Pahrump Hills is an outcrop of the bedrock that forms the basal layer of Mount Sharp, at the centre of Mars’ Gale Crater.

The component images for this self—portrait were taken in late January, while Curiosity was at a drilling site called “Mojave 2”.

At that site, the mission collected its second drilled sample of Pahrump Hills for laboratory analysis on Earth.

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions.

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The 5 coolest NASA missions that never happened http://astronaut.com/the-5-coolest-nasa-missions-that-never-happened/ http://astronaut.com/the-5-coolest-nasa-missions-that-never-happened/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 12:38:30 +0000 http://astronaut.com/?p=8730 NASA is full of ambitious dreamers. But those dreams cost money. And Congress has to approve them first. Ever since the end of the Apollo program, this tension has meant that many of NASA’s ideas are killed before they ever progress much beyond concept drawings. These ideas have ranged from far-fetched fantasies to financially prudent…

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NASA is full of ambitious dreamers. But those dreams cost money. And Congress has to approve them first.

Ever since the end of the Apollo program, this tension has meant that many of NASA’s ideas are killed before they ever progress much beyond concept drawings.

These ideas have ranged from far-fetched fantasies to financially prudent missions. Some were just sketches and equations on paper, while others materialized into models and test materials. But they all share one characteristic: they never happened.

Here are some of the most fascinating ideas concocted over the years.

1) GM’s giant moon truck

The MOLAB could travel at 21 miles per hour. (USGS)

The MOLAB could travel at 21 miles per hour. (USGS)

 

As the Apollo program made progress toward a crewed moon landing, some NASA scientists made plans for longer human missions to explore and study the moon’s surface.

Toward that end, in 1963, NASA contracted with GM to produce an inhabitable lab on wheelsthat astronauts could live in for weeks at a time as they drove around the moon. It was essentially a lunar RV, powered by an engine from a Chevrolet Corvair (the car that eventually became infamous as the subject of Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed).

But after a few successful Apollo landings, plans for longer-term exploration of the moon were cancelled. GM had built a single prototype, and it was eventually loaned to the US Geological Survey (which used it for several projects in the deserts of the southwest).

2) NASA’s 1970s space colonies

Following the success of the Apollo program, some scientists began drawing up ideas for enormous space colonies that would be established on stations in Earth’s orbit. A 1975 NASA study, for instance, envisioned “a space habitat where 10,000 people work, raise families, and live out normal human lives.”

Plans were devised for several different space stations, each of which would have rotated to use centrifugal force to simulate the feeling of gravity. Residents would use soil brought from the moon to grown their own food, purify their own water, and have their own parks, shops, schools, and hospitals. One of the colony’s purposes would be industry: “Using solar energy to generate electricity and to power solar furnaces the colonists refine aluminum, titanium, and silicon from lunar ores shipped inexpensively into space,” the report noted.

(NASA)

(NASA)

Of all the concepts on this list, though, this is by far the most fantastical. We’re still coming to grips with how hard it is to keep a few people alive in space for a year — let alone a giant colony that grows its own food. These sorts of ideas were tossed around at a few conferences in the 1970s, but never came close to happening.

3) Mars and Venus flybys

(NASA)

(NASA)

A more realistic plan for human space exploration following Apollo was based on a number of planetary flyby missions.

The first one, which NASA proposed to launch in 1975 using an Apollo-inspired craft, would have sent astronauts flying past Mars during a two-year journey, with probes descending off the craft to collect rock samples and return them to the lab.

A followup mission would have seen astronauts do a “triple flyby,” using the alignment of Earth, Mars, and Venus to fly past Venus, then Mars, then Venus again in one fell swoop.

But these flybys — like many other post-Apollo plans for human space exploration — were killed due to radically reduced funding from Congress after the success of the moon landings. Instead, after the final Apollo launch in 1972, NASA followed up with the much more modest Skylab space station during the 1970s.

4) Project Longshot

An artist's impression of the Alpha Centauri system. (ESO/L. Calçada/N. Risinger)

An artist’s impression of the Alpha Centauri system. (ESO/L. Calçada/N. Risinger)

In 1987, researchers from NASA and the US Navy concocted Project Longshot: an interstellar probe that would travel to Alpha Centauri B, one of the closest stars to our sun. The craft would have had a nuclear fission reactor on board to power its engine, and would have sent data back to Earth with a laser. If the probe traveled at about 8,300 miles per second (about 4.5 percent the speed of light), the scientists calculated, the journey to Alpha Centauri B would take about 100 years — and it’d take four years for data to travel back to Earth.

The idea never happened for a few different reasons: apart from the difficulty of developing the technology necessary to travel that far at that speed, there’s the problem of convincing NASA administrators to fund a mission that won’t bear fruit for a century. Right now, the object we’ve sent farthest from Earth, Voyager 1, is about 12 billion miles away — less than .2 percent of the way to Alpha Centauri B.

5) The Titan Mare explorer

(NASA)

(NASA)

Titan — Saturn’s largest moon — is covered by a number of lakes filled with liquid methane. To explore them, in 2009, NASA proposed sending the Titan Mare Explorer: a probe that would have landed in Titan’s second-largest lake and cruised around like a boat, in order to study the chemistry of the sea and help us understand how the methane cycle works. Titan is cloudy (ruling out a solar-powered probe), but if selected, the probe would have relied on a new, ultra-efficient plutonium-powered nuclear generator, which would have let it survive for much longer on less fuel than current generators used.

In 2012, however, the Mare Explorer was passed over for funding (in favor of a probe that will land on Mars and study its interior next year) and in 2013, NASA killed the development of the new nuclear generator, effectively finishing off Titan Mare.

Still, we could explore Titan’s seas yet. Last month, NASA announced the concept of sending a submarine to Titan instead. At this point, it’s just an idea — one that also has to survive many rounds of funding decisions — but it’s possible we could see it launch sometime in the 2020s or 30s.

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How will life on earth compare to life for the Mars One pioneers? http://astronaut.com/how-will-life-on-earth-compare-to-life-for-the-mars-one-pioneers/ http://astronaut.com/how-will-life-on-earth-compare-to-life-for-the-mars-one-pioneers/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 12:02:16 +0000 http://astronaut.com/?p=8727 Mars Mission, British Martianaut Maggie Lieu’s Log  Day One: Stardate 22/02/2025.  Hello Mission Control…. Just kidding! Hi mum, hi dad, or should I say earthlings! Well, me and Bruce the Australian Martianaut finally touched down beside the Herschel II Strait on the red planet today, the last of 12 pairs to arrive – though as…

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Mars Mission, British Martianaut Maggie Lieu’s Log 

Day One: Stardate 22/02/2025. 

Hello Mission Control…. Just kidding! Hi mum, hi dad, or should I say earthlings!

To infinity and beyond? Maggie Lieu Photo: Peter Quinnell

To infinity and beyond? Maggie Lieu Photo: Peter Quinnell

Well, me and Bruce the Australian Martianaut finally touched down beside the Herschel II Strait on the red planet today, the last of 12 pairs to arrive – though as you know it was touch and go. Ten years of training and research almost went down the drain when Google got hit by a massive retrospective tax bill and had to withdraw all its branded sponsorship from the starship at the last minute: fortunately Amazon stepped in, on the agreement we install its first matter transference delivery portal (“It’s there before you know it”) here. And rename the ship Bezos 1, of course

The trip was textbook, with both of us uploading videos on how to apply makeup and bake cupcakes in space direct to the Weibo-spex of our crowdsource funders in China – great practice for The Great Martian Bakeoff on BBC 12 next year (subscribers only). The one hairy moment was a near miss with that Virgin Galactic rocket, Beardie IV, that went AWOL five years ago. We were so close we could see Leonardo diCaprio’s little screaming face pressed against his porthole. And Kim Kardashian’s bum pressed against hers – though it’s looking kinda old now and I hoped we’d seen the last of it

So what can I tell you? When we landed the others threw us a party with full fat milk, rare beef and waffles (the only official space superfoods since it was discovered that kale and quinoa cause impotence). The landscape is pretty barren, just acres of rolling sand and no one in sight, sort of like Greece after it left the Eurozone and the entire population moved to Germany. Or like the so-called Caliphate after Islamic State finally perfected its time machine and managed to transport itself and all its followers back to the 12th century.

The temperature outside is about 20c, so a lot cooler than it is at home since the ice caps melted. There’s water here, but not as much as is now covering Indonesia, Holland and Somerset. The atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide so Juan, the Spanish Martianaut, had to keep his suit on when he went out to smoke. He tried to get us all to buy duty free for him in Mexico City spaceport before we left, now that a pack of cigarettes costs 450 Euros in the shops, and they’ve been camouflaged so you can’t find them.

The construction-droids did a pretty good job building Mars Camp out of the recycled parts of all those closed Tesco Metros. They say we have enough air up here to last 20 years, Earth’s stocks of storable oxygen having increased tenfold when the European Parliament collapsed following the expenses scandal. I still can’t believe that Dasha Putin-Mugabe was claiming for SIX driverless cars while she was EU President, and employing her wife as her accountant. And her being the first transgender Russian lesbian to hold the office, too.

Speaking of politics, how is life in coalition Britain? Who has the upper hand at the moment? UKIP? Scots Nats? The Greens? or those nutters from Cornwall, Mebion Kernow? Or are they underwater now. And how is young Straw doing now Labour is the smallest party in Parliament, after the New New New Conservatives? Hard to believe it’s three years since the last Lib Dem lost her seat.

I gather that some things have improved internationally now that Brian Cox has developed his own time machine at the Wowcher-Hawking Institute in Cambridge, and worked out that the entire world can now transport all its waste products back to the Caliphate in the 12th century.

We can see the Earth from here through the Clinton2020 Telescope that the US president endowed us with after her brief period in office. The joke up here is that she did it to keep a proper eye either on her husband (though he doesn’t get around so much any more, obviously) or on what President Palin is up to. I still can’t believe that she sold Alaska to Russia to pay the compensation bill for the Grand Canyon Fracking Collapse.

Even through the Clinton2020 the Earth looks pretty small, though at times, when the stars are really bright, we can see the Great Wall 2 ring of laser satellites that China has pointed at Russia to discourage any more “accidental” incursions.

Our team up here is like a microcosm of human life on earth. Well, up to a point. As you know the French and Italian Martianauts were expelled from the team before lift-off, because of some scandal or other. We weren’t told if it was financial or sexual but a space bra and a data stick with three million Bitcoins on it were found in the airlock.

The African and Brazilian Martianauts swan around the place as if they PERSONALLY solved the world’s food and energy problems.

And the North Korean guy just sits in the corner, muttering into some device up his sleeve and scowling. All the freeze-dried cheese has gone and he’s looking quite fat, if you get my meaning.

I don’t get much time to myself, what with work, the non-denominational Sorry Meetings where we apologise in case we’ve accidently offended someone’s beliefs, and the communal space-pilates sessions (the North Korean guy skips those so he may be in line for a compulsory gastric band, as mandated by the Intergalactic Health Organisation).

I always try and upload the latest Birmingham City Games onto my cortex chip when I feel homesick: I know it’s not fashionable, but I think football got better when they replaced the players with robots and the wage bill – and the number of court cases – dropped to zero. I know the electricity bill is massive, but the new Brazilian solar technology should fix that.

Anyway, got to run now. We’re putting together a bid to have the 2036 Olympics up here.

Bye, or as we say on Mars – see you on the dark side.

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NASA Thinks There May Be Life on Jupiter’s Moon http://astronaut.com/nasa-thinks-there-may-be-life-on-jupiters-moon/ http://astronaut.com/nasa-thinks-there-may-be-life-on-jupiters-moon/#comments Sun, 22 Feb 2015 11:45:48 +0000 http://astronaut.com/?p=8724 Scientists may soon head to the icy surface of Europa to search for evidence David Bowie once speculated about life on Mars, and now NASA scientists are wondering the same thing about Jupiter’s moon Europa. A potential mission may soon be sending NASA scientists to the small, icy moon to search for signs of alien life, Space.com reports.…

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Scientists may soon head to the icy surface of Europa to search for evidence
David Bowie once speculated about life on Mars, and now NASA scientists are wondering the same thing about Jupiter’s moon Europa.

A potential mission may soon be sending NASA scientists to the small, icy moon to search for signs of alien life, Space.com reports. NASA officials held a workshop Wednesday at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley to discuss the matter.

“This is our chance,” said NASA science chief John Grunsfeld. “I just hope we don’t miss this opportunity for lack of ideas.”

Specifically, scientists plan to search the plumes of water vapor, first spotted by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2012, that blast from the moon’s south polar region. This will allow researchers to sample the liquid hidden beneath Europa’s icy surface.

Plans for a Europa mission have been in the works for years, but NASA got closer to making it a reality when the White House allocated $30 million for a Europa mission in its 2016 budget request.

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