China’s New Lunar Goals

With the increased interest in space exploration due to the recent Mars mission, everyone seems to be looking up at the heavens. In fact, some researchers feel that humanity is entering into a new space race. Although China doesn’t seem to be fully funding all of its space projects, construction of a Chinese manned lunar facility is actually a major goal of that nation’s space program.

Environmentalists might also be interested in China’s extraterrestrial power generation plans. There has been a lot of talk about orbital power satellites in some circles. A network of facilities is supposed to be constructed in the near future that would beam electrical energy towards Earth to be used as a source of clean power. New energy sources are very important considering concerns over China’s emissions of greenhouse gases.

Chinese industrial developments have been prominently featured in many news stories recently. However, there are few places where politics haven’t shaped the reporting of such issues. There is a good chance that China won’t even be able to finish such illustrious projects, and they currently suffer from a lack of funding. Regardless of how one chooses to view such developments, it’s clear that all nations need to focus on the stars.

Image Credit: NASA Concept

Holistic Design Factors in Space Colonies

Assuming that we never achieve FTL travel, generational colony ships may become a necessary method used to traverse great distances. Inherent in the term generational, individuals will live their entire lives on these massive spaceships as will their descendants. In other words, these space ships will be the only home many generations of inhabitants will ever know. This of course means that the ships would have to be designed in the best way possible to ensure the survival of travelers. Inhabitants would need to feel at home. That’s definitely a big challenge, but new techniques being used to design oceangoing vessels today could provide a roadmap to achieve these difficult gains in the years ahead.

Holistic design seems to be a buzzword today, but taking this approach means that people are more likely to enjoy the surroundings that they’re in. The Earth’s growth was not the result of careful human engineering. While gardens might be planned, forests are not. It’s difficult for people to be truly random. However, they’ll need to at least simulate randomness in order to build a craft that was as holistic as the planet that people have already called home for so long.

Design optimization plans are already in place with the intent of increasing safety and cargo space, but habitability seems to be all but forgotten. In the future, this will have to change if people are going to be able to run their own space dwelling civilizations on interstellar missions.

Considering emerging conditions on Earth today, if you were given a chance to spend the rest of your life on one of these generational colonies, would you leave behind our planet forever in the name of human survival/exploration/discovery? What must-have features would the ship have to include if you were to go?

Reference:

Apostolos Papanikolaou (2010). Holistic ship design optimization Computer-Aided Design, 42 (11), 1028-1044 : 10.1016/j.cad.2009.07.002

Cooper RA (2008). Quality-of-life technology. A human-centered and holistic design. IEEE engineering in medicine and biology magazine : the quarterly magazine of the Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society, 27 (2), 10-1 PMID: 18472458

Image Credit: G4

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A Case for Cosmic Exploration

An archival inkjet print of the emission nebula IC5067 by Ken Crawford.

I’ll be brief in today’s post.

We need to step up our efforts for space exploration if for no other reason, than to save ourselves from…well…ourselves.

Cosmology is often viewed as a belief system as well as a scientific field of study. Speculative fiction often presents futuristic societies as living in peace (i.e. utopia) because they’ve turned to the stars. The cosmos unite people in ways that might best be described as existential. Value systems are often based around a certain thing, and those values are typically tied to the Earth.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Earth is currently the cradle that delivers each of us into existence. However, the Earth isn’t the center of the universe. Nations continue to war with each other because they’re tied to this chunk of rock. Perhaps if our species were to place a greater emphasis on cosmic exploration/development and less on boundaries, religions, and fossil fuel, then people might very well develop an appreciation for the universe and consequently, each other.

Teleologism is a philosophy that expresses the belief that natural phenomena are all part of a greater purpose. Likewise, pancosmists feel that time and space comprise all of existence. Followers of such belief systems might say that humans are gifted with a certain raison d’etre that they haven’t yet realized. Humanity is expected to explore, but will continue to fight amongst itself until it does so. Many conflicts are fought over resources, but resources are vast in space. Humans could become siblings if they might only realize they’re part of something much greater than themselves.

Given the state that our planet/society is in today, a major paradigm shift might very well be what the Earth needs.

Cosmocentric Thoughts Among Policymakers

While there are several different philosophies that focus on the benefits of space exploration, they all agree that cosmocentric values are important to the survival of the human race. Extraterrestrial contact may still be far off, but it makes sense for major powerbrokers to be prepared to deal with the issue. Rather than considering the issue from the viewpoint of a conspiracy theorist, policymakers could take the same scientific perspective that they take when dealing with any threat.

Communications data is one of the major points that seem to go by the wayside in any serious discussion of the search for intelligent life. Much has been written about the Voyager plaque and signals sent to the stars. However, most of this isn’t much better than throwing a message into the ocean and hoping for someone to find it.

Scientists need to consider more realistic methods of getting in touch with otherworldly beings if humanity is ever going to have a shot at meeting anyone from another planetary world. Some researchers believe that traces in a particular meteor are the fossilized remains of unique microbes. If this were true, it only proves the fact that preparing for contact is a pressing matter.

The Physics of Space in Robotics Research

Precision honed to within +/-0.0018 inches tolerance across its surface, the Gravity Offset Table (shown right) will allow scientists to emulate the inertia of space in the laboratory using full-size spacecraft and robotic arms like the Front-End Robotic Enabling Near-Term Demonstration arm (pictured center).

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Spacecraft Engineering Department’s space robotics research facility recently took possession of a one-of-a-kind 75,000 pound Gravity Offset Table (GOT) made from a single slab of solid granite. Read More →

Kamanin’s Space Diaries Tell All

Scores of untold stories seem to hit the shelves every week, but the diaries of Nikolai Petrovich Kamanin are rather unique. Between 1960 and 1971, Kamanin was the head of the cosmonaut corps in the USSR. His diaries are one of the most important primary sources that space historians have on hand. Sadly, they’re currently only available in Russian. English scholars would certainly like to have a translated copy available I’m sure.

By all accounts, the diaries contain many unique human-interest stories. For instance, he essentially went on camping trips with fellow explorers in Kazakhstan. On the other hand, there were some startling facts hidden within the pages that are likely of great interest to historians and space enthusiasts.

For instance, Kamanin believed that cosmonauts needed more active control over spacecraft. Soviet engineers didn’t like this idea. While his words were quite scathing, Kamanin still showed loyalty to the USSR. Geopolitics and science didn’t always mix well, so his allegiances were particularly interesting. Students of astronomical history (myself included) would love to get their hands on western editions of the book. It would be fascinating to see what he had to say about major events like the failed Venera launch. It would be equally as interesting to see what he knew that everyone else has been kept in the dark about.

Salyut 1’s Lonely Mission in Orbit

Individuals have often focused on the moon landing as an event that brought all of humanity closer together. Other projects related to the exploration of space have also seriously influenced the course of human society and culture. While the Soviet space program was often focused on political aims, some spacecraft transcended boundaries. Read More →

Robotic Telesurgery in Space

Telemedicine is a field that uses telecommunications technology to provide healthcare at a distance. Certain computer systems can be linked to a physician’s office for diagnostic purposes. Different clinics and hospitals can be linked together. In the future, telemedicine could be used to perform robotic surgeries in space. Read More →

Microlaunchers Hopes to Make Space Exploration Accessible to Everyone [Interview]

As I continue to explore all of the exciting citizen science projects and space-related initiatives going on around the world today, I always keep an eye out for projects that are unique and can get lots of people excited about space. I recently came across one such project, called Microlaunchers. What caught my attention is that the founders are focused not only on creating new ways to access space, but to do it affordably and on a mass-scale. This is a subject near and dear to my heart so I thought I’d reach out to the folks behind the project to learn more. Read More →

Let’s Explore Orbital Elevators

Orbital elevator technology could become a serious reality despite the fact that progress over the last ten years has been less than promising. The individuals involved with the LiftPort Space Elevator project believe that humanity is not that far away from designing a usable surface to orbit infrastructure. While there are those that remain skeptical, the project does show promise. I had tons of questions when I first heard of this. How does it work? What’s the difference between a ‘space elevator’ and ‘orbital elevator’. Is this technologically feasible? Is there going to be actual elevator music on the way to the moon (if so, count me out)? Here’s a little information I’ve discovered based on my research thus far. Let me know what you think of all of this. I personally think it has potential. Read More →