My favourite has to be the ‘water bears’, or Tardigrades, little extremophiles that successfully survived their time in orbit.
As a science fiction and futurism buff, I can only get excited at the prospect of Asteroid Mining. Not because of their plan to mine things like platinum, which is appealing enough. I like the idea because if they manage to make asteroid mining profitable, space will open up quickly and dramatically.
A major barrier to space exploration has always been cost and risk. Government agencies like NASA have been seriously constrained by the confluence of these two issues – as you reduce risk you increase cost. A zero risk effort is monstrously expensive, and NASA has been (somewhat rightly) shy of risking humans in risky ventures. Fair enough – if they lost a Mars mission full of astronauts, they would likely have to shut their doors and Mars exploration would be pushed back a generation or two.
But commercial ventures have different risk/cost ratios. If a corporation like Planetary Resources loses a robot mining craft, or even loses everything, others can and will learn from their mistakes. They can still reduce risk, but they are not required to eliminate it altogether in the way that government entities must.
This makes me very optimistic. I don’t have an attachment to any particular entity or type of organization reaching space, and I think that viable space commercialization and (possibly) colonization will be enough of a singularity that it is impossible to predict the outcomes as they apply down here on earth. But what I am enthusiastically in support of is humans expanding into space, as soon as possible.
We are an adaptable species, but we are also at our best when we have significant challenges. Space exploration is a much more interesting and exciting challenge than many of the dystopian futures current SF seems obsessed with.
Via GFR and many others.
A recent study had some mice spend 91 days in space to test their bone retention, bone loss being one of the biggest challenges for human space exploration and colonization.
To examine other options, her team sent six mice up to the International Space Station. Three of the mice were genetically modified to produce extra pleiotrophin (PTN) – a protein involved in bone development.
The mice with extra PTN were protected from the breakdown of bone – losing only 3 per cent of the volume of their spine compared with a 41.5 per cent decrease in the normal mice
Three percent is still an issue, and obviously a study of six mice is only a tentative start, but that is definitely a promising result. All of our ideas about space exploration and every other SF trope become somewhat pointless if we don’t figure out a way to keep people healthy and alive while in space for long periods.
Read the research abstract here.
via New Scientist.
Esther Inglis-Arkell over at io9 has written a handy guide for where we’ll need to go to get resources once we escape the gravity well.
We are told two things constantly these days: 1) We should conserve our precious resources, and 2) we should devote more time and money to the space program. And let’s face it, these two goals are directly opposed to each other. Not just because the space program takes up resources, but because if we have a space program that’s sufficiently advanced, we shouldn’t need to conserve resources. We should be able to grab them from other worlds.
If you are like me and want a way to support moving our species forward in space exploration you should go have a look at Spacehack. They have pulled together a wide range of participatory space exploration projects worth helping out.
Distributed computing projects, human powered data analysis, participatory astronomy, there are tons of projects worth helping.
I am particularly interested in the OpenLuna Foundation, an open source approach to returning humans to the moon. From small beginnings…
Initial goals focus on a stepped program of robotic missions coupled with extensive public relations and outreach. Following these purely robotic missions, a short series of manned missions will construct a small, 6 – 10 person outpost based on a location scouted by the robotic missions. This outpost will be open for anyone’s use (private individuals to government agencies), provided they respect our ethical conduct and heritage policies.
I love the idea of traveling to Mars. I suppose it might even be at least theoretically possible to scrape together $500K over the next ten or fifteen years. If so, I really hope that Elon Musk is correct in his boast that he could get people to Mars and back for about $500K a seat (after a few years of building up capacity at higher rates).
“My vision is for a fully reusable rocket transport system between Earth and Mars that is able to re-fuel on Mars – this is very important – so you don’t have to carry the return fuel when you go there,” he said.
“The whole system [must be] reusable – nothing is thrown away. That’s very important because then you’re just down to the cost of the propellant.
He may or may not be correct, but I love that there are people who are actually working towards that goal. Musk has previously stated his serious intention to retire on Mars, a possibility I can only hope he will make a reality. Humanity stands the best chance of success in space exploration if it is somewhat chaotic, individualized and decentralized. Precisely the qualities that do not exist in a classical state structure, one reason that space exploration by states is happening at such a glacial pace.