Asteroids are fine… BUT…

Have Americans Given Up On Space?
— Topic of Fareed Zakaria

Yes — and No.  The retirement of the Space Shuttle, without a conceivable and cemented-in-plans vehicle replacement, my fear is that the love of space has been lost in America — for now.

While the prospect of landing on an Asteroid, and even controlling its direction is a laudable and heady goal — it’s my feeling that this isn’t quite what people want to see.– at least in an exclusive goal.

new-mission-to-fly-by-mars_64718_600x450With this in mind, I believe an eye back to the Moon should be the most urgent goal, with a plan of permanent colonization, similar to the Space Station.  Indeed, not only could it serve as a model for an eventual Martian research colonization, but indeed, the Lunar outpost could serve as a “pit stop” on the way to Mars to pick up supplies previously launched.

A goal of settling the Moon with a research team, as a model for a similar Martian research colony could do a lot to buoy American and world confidence in the Space Program again; and the return to progress, as opposed to the perception of figuratively spinning our wheels in space exploration…

…what do you think?

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Apollo 11 on the Moon

Chinese rover successfully lands on moon…

Chang'e-3

Chang’e-3

Today, the People’s Republic of China became the third nation in human history to successfully land on the moon, behind the United States and the former Soviet Union.

The Chang’e-3 spacecraft, launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan, PRC on 01 December, just two weeks ago, will soon release the Yutu (“Jade Rabbit“) rover, a six wheeled scientific vehicle that contains an imaging sensor array, a telescope, an ultraviolet sensor and arms that can dig into the lunar soil up to 90 feet.  With a planned mission of three months, hopes are that the solar powered vehicle will live well beyond it’s life expectancy and mission time, much like other rovers have done.

Further, the next phase of the CNSA’s lunar program, Chang’e-5 is set to not only soft-land also, but has a stated objective to return to Earth with lunar soil samples, with a projected launch date of 2020.

Coming a long way since it first put a Chinese cosmonaut into space for the first time just ten years ago, the Chinese National Space Administration has clearly made leaps and bounds in putting the flag of it’s nation on another celestial body in a soft landing.

During the first EVA of Apollo 17, Eugene Cern...

Harrison Schmitt with the American flag and the Earth,400 000km away.

The last soft landing on the moon was by the Soviet Union’s Luna 24, which occurred in August 1976.  This mission was the third Soviet lunar expedition to successfully return lunar soil samples to Earth.  Four years before, Apollo 17 was the last manned exploration of the Moon, made up of Professor (and future United States Senator) Harrison Schmitt, and Navy Captain Eugene Cernan, known as “the Last Man on the Moon,” when his mission left the lunar surface exactly 41 years ago today, funny enough, when the Lunar Module ascended to meet the CSM at 10:54PM UTC.

“Sometimes, I catch myself looking up to the Moon and I wonder, when are we going back, and when will that be?”
— Captain James Lovell, USN (Retired)
Commander, Apollo 13

The most distant galaxy found yet… …and it’s FAR.

English: The , atop Mauna Kea, Hawai'i

The Keck Observatory, at Mauna Kea, Hawaii 

Almost by accident, we’ve discovered the most distant intergalactic body yet; and it’s by no means close to us.

Designated z8_GND_5296, it was discovered by a combination of infrared and and deep optical telescopes by astronomers from from University of California, Riverside, in conjunction with the at the National Optical Astronomy Observatories University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.  This was confirmed by imagery from the telescope at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

By examining the redshift of the galaxy, that is, the shift in light color produced by a moving object, similar to the doppler shift heard in a racecar as it passes by you, this shift allows astronomers and physicists to determine how fast and how far away an object is, as the shift distorts the image more and more to the infrared end of the spectrum.  With a redshift of 7.51, and knowing the distance of the intergalactic objects between us and and that galaxy, we’ve been able to extract that the galaxy is over thirty BILLION light years away; and we are seeing it today as it appeared 13.1 Billion Light Years away.

What an incredible find!  When they say our universe is a big place, they mean it!

Humanity has finally left the nest of the Solar System…

Early Thursday, NASA announced that the Voyager 1 probe has been confirmed as leaving the reaches of the Solar System, and is now travelling in Interstellar Space.

After 36 years and 7 days, human creation has finally left the cradle of our solar system.  Could this be just the spark America and indeed, the nations of Earth need to jump-start our interest in joining together to accomplish a larger goal for ourselves, and maybe begin a new, 21st century space race,  With well over a decade of life expectancy, the craft continues to operate healthy, and takes ten hours from Tx time to Rx time with the Deep Space Array.  Now that we’re literally in uncharted waters… what will Voyager continue to teach us?

Sitting in my Asian Politics class at Eastern Michigan University, I read the news… and realized that this was a moment in our history analogous to Columbus discovering the new world…  or Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.

Our creation is finally “out there.”   Go, Starship Voyager.

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Could “Giant” Coronal Hole signal new Solar Cycle?

Every 12-15 years, the Sun has a “temper tantrum” and throws out MASSIVE amounts of solar wind, solar material and lots of energy out into space, a lot of it hitting us.  This has been going on for millions (and likely billions) of years.  While this normally doesn’t do anything to us, it does create a heck of a light show with the aurora borealis, as it slams into earth’s northern magnetic fields.   However, this could spell disaster for us today.

What’s different about our lives now than 12-15 years ago?  Technology.  Flash forward from 15 years ago.  Now, everyone has a GPS in their car.  Everyone has a cell phone.  Everyone has a laptop.

So what?  Well, when solar wind slams into the Earth’s magnetic fields, called the Van Allen Belts, they create what’s called a magnetic storm.  The Earth’s magnetic system wobbles around, and indeed, could even be affected if the storm is strong enough (Such as a Magnetic pole reversal, in the most severe of cases…).  Even slight “wobbles” of our magnetic pole can cause massive problems for our technology fueled society.

All of a sudden, computer networks go down.  The computers that run the NYSE-Euronext stock market find themselves functioning improperly, losing all sorts of trades, or worse, messing made-trades up.  GPS satellites go offline, causing navigation and timing problems.

Why is this a big deal now?  Well, we’re on the verge of another solar cycle.  Sometime between now, and the beginning of 2014, the solar cycle is expected to peak.  This is usually marked with increasing amounts of solar wind and even coronal mass emissions from the sun, where massive amounts of solar material is ejected into space.  In the last few days, NASA has released a picture of the surface of the sun, where it (color-adjusted for temperature) seems to be a dead-zone.  This normally happens when mass ejections take place.   In this instance, a MASSIVE emission took place that has sent the material hurtling toward Earth at roughly 2 million miles per hour.  The diameter of the “hole” is roughly 400,000 miles across — or 50 earths wide.

Could this be the start of the solar cycle that tests how hardened and resilient (or not?) our electronics and networks are, that geeks and computer engineers have been dreading for years?

“Are you out there?” Maybe — but not so fast…

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An Asgard, from Stargate SG-1

We’ve transmitted friendship messages, we’ve sent satellites, we’ve scanned the heavens… but we’ve found no clues as to ET or Supreme Commander Thor’s wearabouts yet.  Or have we?

Think of the Internet.  When we send an email, we click “Send” and the email is broken apart into bits and bytes, going through several [if not dozens of] separate servers and paths all over the internet, until it finally arrives at the server address you designated, where it’s reassembled, and readable to the receiver.

Now, to you and me, that’s no news.  No news at all whatsoever.  But imagine intercepting just one piece of this email.  It’s broken apart from the other parts of it; and because it is, it makes no sense to anyone.  You know something is here — but what?

That could be how an advanced alien culture is communicating — but instead of using different wires and communications steams, they could be using different frequencies and technologies all at one time; just as we use several different data pipes to move our information around the world at the same time, even just in email.  We haven’t quite figured out how to map frequency spread communication past hydrogen-based frequencies, which is what we scan for the most often (programs like SETI, etc.)

Michio Kaku, my favorite theoretical physicist, likens this to an Ant, versus a superhighway.  “Imagine you’re an ant,” he says.  “You’re going about your business, doing what ants do…” and meanwhile, you have NO idea that other more complex creatures are building an eight-lane superhighway a few feet away from you.  Now, a few feet in ant-size is the equivalent of several MILES away from you.  However, one of these creatures, a human, approaches you.  He looks down at you and says “I bring you this superhighway.  I bring you the internet.  I bring you nuclear medicine.  Take me to your leader.”

Unfortunately, we have a problem here.  One, not only are you able to understand this human, but two, you have no CONCEPT of what any of this is.  Let’s assume this language barrier doesn’t exist — and that you are now the human, looking down at the ant, saying “I bring you all of this.”  How do you explain to an ANT the basics of a superhighway?  Much less, how do you explain the benefits of nuclear medicine, or the internet?  It’s mind isn’t able to understand these things.

Dr. Kaku states, which I believe, that at this point, we haven’t evolved to an understanding of how things at that level work yet.  Sure, the ants can see us, and may be aware of us… but if you were to walk up to an Ant, and say “Hello…” how could you two break that barrier — not only the language barrier, but communicate so that you both understand each other.

2700 Planets so far…

An artist's depiction of an extrasolar, Earthl...

An artist’s depiction of an extrasolar, Earthlike planet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NASA’s Kepler Observatory satellite has discovered over 2700 exoplanets so far…  and counting.  Most of these are super-earths — however, there’s a lot more there, according to the people who run it.

Ames Research Center scientists have the Observatory’s Photometer observes 145,000 Main Sequence stars simultaneously, looking for the slightest dimming of the stars that indicate an orbital body.  Of these, 114 have been actually confirmed and observed, one of them is a Mars-sized planet.

Ames also believes that, based on the observed planets, with the confirmations in mind, that the galaxy is full of Earth-sized planets.

Yale Astronomy Professor Debra Fisher, who has worked on improving the planet-detecting technology we have today to detect Earth-sized planets, says it’s only a matter of time before we detect life on other planets; specifically, those in the ‘habitable zone‘ of the stars they observe — that is, the area that’s “just right” in light and temperature, for life to flourish.

Do you think we’ll find alien life in our lifetime?

NASAs FY ’14 Budget: Catch an Asteroid…

Satellite-Asteroid

Artist conception of a satellite on an Asteroid

In NASA’s next year’s fiscal budget, to be formally announced by the Obama Administration soon, it includes an appropriation of $100 Million for a satellite to capture an Asteroid and deliver it into the orbit of the Moon for study and possible mining.

Back in February, two large asteroids came closer to Earth than most of it’s communication satellites — one exploding in the skies over Russia, causing a fair amount of damage.  Could this be the Obama Administration’s response to the startling realization that Earth is indeed susceptible to strikes by the rocky and metallic objects?

russia-meteor-explosion

Meteor explosion over Russia

Aside from testing our ability to launch a satellite or other object to intercept and deflect an incoming stellar body — this could be an incredible chance for study… finding out more about what makes our universe works; as well as a possible source of rare minerals, or even possibly minerals not native to Earth.

Is this worth the hefty pricetag in today’s economy?  Could an investment today save us in the future — or is this something we should put off for another day?