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NanoRacks Plans To Turn Used Rocket Fuel Tanks Into Space Habitats ( 130

An anonymous reader writes from a report via IEEE Spectrum: A couple of weeks ago NASA announced it has committed $65 million to six companies over the course of two years for the purpose of developing and testing deep-space habitats that could be used for future missions to Mars. One of the six companies, called NanoRacks, is attempting to take empty fuel tanks from the upper stages of rockets and turn them into space habitats on-orbit. IEEE Spectrum reports: "A rocket like the the Atlas V, which can deliver payloads of nearly 19,000 kg to low Earth orbit, consists of three primary pieces: on the bottom, you've got the first stage booster, which consists of a huge engine and some big tanks holding kerosene fuel and oxidizer. Above that, there's the second stage, which consists of one or two smaller engines, a big tank for storing liquid hydrogen fuel, and a smaller tank for oxidizer. The payload, which is what all of the fuss is about, sits on top. The first stage launches the rocket off of the pad and continues firing for about four minutes. Meanwhile, the second stage fires up its own engine (or engines) to boost the payload the rest of the way into orbit. On the Atlas V, the second stage is called Centaur. Once Centaur gets its payload where it needs to go, it separates, and then suicides down into Earth's atmosphere. Getting a payload into space is so expensive because you have to build up this huge and complicated rocket, with engines and guidance systems and fuel tanks and stuff, and then you basically use it for like 15 minutes and throw it all away. But what about the second stage? You've got a whole bunch of hardware that made it to orbit, and when getting stuff to orbit costs something like $2,500 per kilogram, you then tell it to go it burn itself up in the atmosphere, because otherwise it's just useless space junk." NanoRacks thinks this is wasteful, so they want to turn these tanks into deep space habitats. IEEE notes that the hydrogen fuel tank on a Centaur upper stage has a diameter of over 4 meters, and an interior volume of 54 cubic meters, while the inflatable BEAM module that arrived at the ISS earlier this year has an interior volume of 16 cubic meters. For more details, IEEE Spectrum spoke with Jeff Manber, CEO of NanoRacks, and Mike Johnson, NanoRacks' Chief Designer. You can read their responses here.

From Now On You'll Be Able To Access NASA Research For Free ( 64

An anonymous reader writes:Fancy some super nerdy bedtime reading? NASA has announced that it will now provide public access to all journal articles on research funded by the agency. Any scientists publishing NASA-funded work will be required to upload their papers to a free, online database called PubSpace within a year of publication. PubSpace is managed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) PubMed Central, which archives biomedical research. You can see NASA-funded studies here, with recent examples including a paper on cardiovascular disease in Apollo astronauts and one on Martian tsunamis caused by meteor impacts. NASA explains that the new web portal is a response to a 2013 government request for federally-funded research to be more accessible. There are a few obvious exceptions to what's included, such as and material that's related to national security or affected by export controls. NASA's openness follows a trend to make science results more accessible outside of published, often paywalled journals.

Maybe There's No Life in Space Because We're Too Early 250

Long-time Slashdot reader sehlat shares "a highly accessible summary" of a new theory about why we haven't yet find life on other planets -- that "we're not latecomers, but very, very early." From Lab News: The universe is 13.8 billion years old, with Earth forming less than five billion years ago. One school of thought among scientists is that there is life billions of years older than us in space. But this recent study in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics argues otherwise... "We find that the chance of life grows much higher in the distant future..."

Stars larger than approximately three times the Sun's mass will perish before life has a chance to evolve... The smallest stars weigh less than a tenth as much as the sun and will glow for 10 trillion years, meaning life has lot of time to begin on those planets orbiting them in the 'habitable zone'. The probability of life increases over time so the chance of life is many times higher in the distant future than now.

The paper ultimately concludes that life "is most likely to exist near 0.1 solar-mass stars ten trillion years from now."

NASA Awards Companies $65 Million To Develop Habitats For Deep Space ( 88

An anonymous reader writes from a report via TechCrunch: NASA has committed $65 million to six companies over the course of two years for the purpose of developing and testing deep-space habitats that could be used for future missions to Mars. TechCrunch reports: "It's part of the organization's NEXTStep, an ongoing partnership program under NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems that funds private research into technology for space exploration. Last year's NEXTStep contracts were for a variety of things, but this year they're all on the same track: "deep space habitats where humans will live and work independently for months or years at a time, without cargo supply deliveries from Earth." The lucky companies are all taking slightly different approaches to the problem of deep space habitation." The six companies include Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Systems and NanoRacks.

NASA Publishes a Thousand Photos of Mars ( 62

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Engadget: NASA has released a huge number of high-resolution photos of Mars captured from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRise camera, which has been capturing images of the planet since 2005. The latest dump consists of over a thousand images that can familiarize you with the red planet's many craters, impact sites, dunes, mountains, ice caps and other features. You can view every single photo captured on HiRise's official website. Popular Science mentions that every 26 months or so, Mars and the sun are on the opposite sides of the Earth, allowing MRO to transmit a massive amount of photos from the planet's surface.

NASA Celebrates Curiosity's Fourth Year On Mars With a Game ( 35

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Engadget: In honor of Curiosity's fourth year on Mars, NASA has released a game. Engadget reports: "The glitch that shut down Curiosity in July was thankfully a temporary issue, else NASA would have mourned its loss rather than celebrating the rover's fourth year on Mars by releasing a game. It's simply called Mars Rover, and it's probably your only chance to pilot Curiosity. Mars Rover has a pretty straightforward gameplay -- you just have to press arrow keys to drive the vehicle and find underground pockets of water -- but it's harder than it seems. The virtual rover's wheels crack and break if they slam hard against rocks or heels, and when they do, it's game over. NASA derived these mechanics from Curiosity's actual mission and experiences on Mars."

NASA's 'Journey To Mars' Initiative Might Be Delayed Due To Government Audit ( 65

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Christian Science Monitor: NASA has taken bold steps toward crewed Mars exploration in recent years. But according to a new audit, the agency may be moving too hastily. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) expressed concerns this past week about the feasibility of NASA's Orion crew capsule and Space Launch System (SLS). In two government-requested audits, the GAO questioned NASA's ability to meet program deadlines, citing insufficient funding and internal management issues. According to the GAO, however, the agency's schedule just isn't realistic. By pushing for earlier launch dates, NASA is increasing the inherent risk of a deep space mission. NASA's budgeting practices are also scrutinized in GAO's audit. In September, the agency asked for $11.3 billion to prepare Orion for launch. "Ideally, if these programs go forward, NASA would be taking actions to reduce the risks we see now, which are being caused by management issues," says Cristina Chaplain, who led the GOA audit, in an interview with the Monitor. "They're going to face the technical issues no matter what. But they're exacerbating them with management concerns, like not having accurate cost estimates." The report adds: "NASA's 'Journey to Mars' initiative has been a source of both excitement and controversy. The Asteroid Redirect Mission, in which the agency will send four astronauts to redirect an asteroid into the moon's orbit, is slated to launch sometime in the next decade. The mission is designed to test new propulsion technology for future crewed Mars missions. In the 2030s, NASA hopes to send an Orion crew to the red planet. NASA plans to complete the first SLS launch in 2018. In the test mission, called Exploration Mission 1, the rocket will carry an empty Orion into orbit around the moon. In subsequent missions, SLS/Orion will launch with a full crew. NASA has scheduled Exploration Mission 2 for April 2023, but administrators hope to launch as early as 2021."

New Solar Cells Can Convert CO2 Into Hydrocarbon Fuel ( 195

"Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have engineered a potentially game-changing solar cell that cheaply and efficiently converts atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into usable hydrocarbon fuel, using only sunlight for energy," reports Next Big Future. Slashdot reader William Robinson writes: This artificial leaf delivers syngas, or synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide. Syngas can be burned directly, or converted into diesel or other hydrocarbon fuels. The discovery opens up possibilities of clean reusable energy.
"A solar farm of such 'artificial leaves' could remove significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and produce energy-dense fuel efficiently..." according to the article, which adds that the process could prove useful in the high-carbon atmosphere of Mars. "Unlike conventional solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity that must be stored in heavy batteries, the new device essentially does the work of plants, converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into fuel, solving two crucial problems at once."

Study: Astronauts Who Reach Deep Space 'Far More Likely To Die From Heart Disease' ( 157

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent: Astronauts who venture into deep space appear to be much more likely to die from heart disease, according to a new study. In another sign that leaving planet Earth is fraught with danger and a potential blow to hopes of establishing a colony on Mars, researchers discovered deep space radiation appears to damage the body's cardiovascular system. They reported that three out of the seven dead Apollo astronauts died as a result of a cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack or stroke. Although the numbers are small, that rate of 43 percent is four to five times higher than found among astronauts who flew in low Earth orbit or who did not actually go into space, according to a paper in the journal Scientific Reports. In an attempt to test whether the higher numbers of cardiovascular deaths were simply a statistical blip or a genuine sign of the effect of traveling into deep space, the scientists exposed mice to the same type of radiation that the astronauts would have experienced. After six months, which is the equivalent of 20 human years, the mice showed damage to arteries that is known to lead to the development of cardiovascular disease in humans.

Laser-Armed Martian Robot Now Vaporizing Targets of Its Own Free Will ( 73

Slashdot reader Rei writes: NASA -- having already populated the Red Planet with robots and armed a car-sized nuclear juggernaut with a laser -- have now decided to grant fire control of that laser over to a new AI system operating on the rover itself. Intended to increase the scientific data-gathering throughput on the sometimes glitching rover's journey, the improved AEGIS system eliminates the need for a series of back-and-forth communication sessions to select targets and aim the laser.
Rei's original submission included a longer riff on The War of the Worlds, ending with a reminder to any future AI overlords that "I have a medical condition that renders me unfit to toil in any hypothetical subterranean lithium mines..."

47 Years Ago Today, Apollo 11 Landed On the Moon ( 185

An anonymous reader writes: At this point 47 years ago we had begun our orbit around the Moon," writes Buzz Aldrin in a tweet. Today, Wednesday, July 20th, 2016, marks the 47th anniversary of when NASA astronauts landed on the moon for the very first time. Fox News reports: "Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins blasted off from Earth on a massive Saturn V rocket on July 16, 1969. Four days later, the Eagle module landed on the surface with Aldrin and Armstrong inside; Collins stayed behind in the orbiting Columbia craft. Millions of people back on Earth watched, captivated, as Armstrong was the first down the ladder, then uttered his now-famous line: 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.' The astronauts eventually returned to Earth, splashing down four days later in the Pacific. On the moon, an American flag and a plaque that read, in part, 'We came in peace for all mankind,' remained." To this day, only 12 people have ever walked on the moon. Hopefully, that number will increase within the next decade. NASA is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Viking 1 lander's arrival on Mars. Viking 1 was the first American craft to land on the red planet on July 20, 1976.

Taiwan Building Lunar Lander For NASA Moon-Mining Mission ( 84

MarkWhittington quotes a report from Blasting News: According to AFP, the Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology in Taiwan is building a $47 million, 3.7 metric ton lunar lander on behalf of NASA. The vehicle is designed to carry a rover called Resource Prospector, which would roll about the lunar surface searching out deposits of oxygen, hydrogen, and water. The Resource Prospector mission is still being formulated but is envisioned to be a joint project with several national space agencies and commercial companies. The lunar lander is the first vehicle of its type to be built in Taiwan. "The Resource Prospector would take samples from about a meter beneath the lunar surface and then heat them in an oven to ascertain what the materials are that comprise it," reports Blasting News. The mission is part of the second stage to NASA's Journey to Mars program called "Proving Ground." "Should the Resource Prospector prove to be successful, the moon could be used as a base for space journeys into Mars," says Han Kuo-change, the head of CSIST's international cooperation program.

Astronomers Say There Could Be At Least Two More Mystery Planets In Our Solar System ( 84

schwit1 quotes a report from ScienceAlert: A team of astronomers has performed new calculations on the data that originally gave rise to the Planet Nine hypothesis, and these new numbers suggest that the hypothetical extra planet might not be alone -- there could be multiple planets hiding at the edge of our Solar System that we've yet to discover. If the researchers are correct -- which nobody knows for sure right now -- it could really mean a do-over for the high school textbooks. The scientists estimate that Planet Nine is 10 times more massive than Earth, and think it performs an extremely elongated orbit of the Sun, that takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to complete. The Caltech researchers based their hypothesis for the existence of Planet Nine on the unusual movement of six large objects floating in the Kuiper belt, suggesting that their orbits are being shaped by a hidden planet.

First SpaceX Missions To Mars: 'Dangerous and Probably People Will Die' ( 412

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: As we get close to the end of September, when Elon Musk has promised to lay bare his plans for colonizing Mars at an international space conference, it seems like the ambitious founder of SpaceX can hardly contain his excitement. In an interview with The Washington Post, Musk gushed, "I'm so tempted to talk more about the details of it. But I have to restrain myself." SpaceX fandom has speculated for years about details of Musk's ideas, which include the Mars Colonial Transporter concept. The Transporter likely consists of a large first stage rocket and an upper stage spacecraft meant to deliver hundreds of people to the surface of Mars during the late 2020s and 2030s. Unlike NASA, which relies on public money and is therefore risk averse when it comes to "loss of crew" requirements for human missions into space, SpaceX appears to be willing to take some risks with the unprecedented exploration to Mars. Those first explorers would understand the perils, just as the pioneers who explored the New World or the poles of Earth did. "Hopefully there's enough people who are like that who are willing to go build the foundation, at great risk, for a Martian city," Musk told Washington Post. "It's dangerous and probably people will die -- and they'll know that." Eventually it will be safe to go to Mars, Musk said, and living there will be comfortable. But this is many years into the future, he acknowledged.

NASA And The UAE Will Collaborate On A Journey To Mars ( 84

An anonymous reader quotes an article from Gizmodo: The United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced an agreement Sunday that would allow the two nations to collaborate on matters of space and aeronautics research, including the potential journey to Mars... "NASA is leading an ambitious journey to Mars that includes partnerships with the private sector and many international partners," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "I am confident this new framework agreement with the UAE Space Agency will help advance this journey."
Bolden recently wrote on his blog that "Every single nation can play a part in our journey to Mars, in our scientific journey of discovery and in the next phase of humanity's development as a spacefaring people." UAE Space Agency Chairman Dr. Khalifa Al Romaithi added today that "we believe that working alongside international partners is the best way to accelerate the development of space technologies and the space sector within the UAE." Vice notes that the UAE has had a small "presence" in outer space for about 30 years, and had been working on becoming the first Arab Islamic country to send an unmanned probe to Mars.

Researchers Say The Aliens Are Silent Because They Are Extinct ( 559 writes: The Conversation reports that according to research by Dr. Charles Lineweaver and Dr. Aditya Chopra, a plausible solution to Fermi's paradox is near universal early extinction of life on exoplanets, which they have named the Gaian Bottleneck. "The universe is probably filled with habitable planets, so many scientists think it should be teeming with aliens," says Chopra. "The mystery of why we haven't yet found signs of aliens may have less to do with the likelihood of the origin of life or intelligence and have more to do with the rarity of the rapid emergence of biological regulation of feedback cycles on planetary surfaces." According to the researchers, most early planetary environments are unstable. To produce a habitable planet, life forms need to regulate greenhouse gases such as water and carbon dioxide to keep surface temperatures stable. About four billion years ago, Earth, Venus and Mars may have all been habitable. However, a billion years or so after formation, Venus turned into a hothouse and Mars froze into an icebox. Even if wet rocky Earth-like planets are in the "Goldilocks Zone" of their host stars, it seems that runaway freezing or heating may be their default fate. Large impactors and huge variation in the amounts of water and greenhouse gases can also induce positive feedback cycles that push planets away from habitable conditions. The difference on Earth may be that as soon as life became widespread on our planet, the earliest metabolisms began to modulate the greenhouse gas composition of the atmosphere. "The emergence of life's ability to regulate initially non-biological feedback mechanisms could be the most significant factor responsible for life's persistence on Earth, conclude Lineweaver and Chopra. "Even if life does emerge on a planet, it rarely evolves quickly enough to regulate greenhouse gases, and thereby keep surface temperatures compatible with liquid water and habitability."

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Predicts People On Mars In 9 Years ( 224

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says his company should be able to land humans on Mars in nine years from now. "If things go according to plan, we should be able to -- we should be able to -- launch people in 2024, with arrival in 2025," Musk said. "That's the game plan," he added. CNN Money reports: Musk said he's planning to share an architectural plan for the colonization of Mars at a conference in September. The tech conference audience was enthralled by Musk's comments. He told interviewers Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg that plotting travel throughout the Solar System, and "ultimately other star systems," provides the kind of inspiration that makes life worth living.

We Need To Build Industrial Zones In Space In Order To Save Earth, Says Jeff Bezos ( 306

Onstage at the Code Conference, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said that we have to start bringing parts of the industrial economy to space in order to "save Earth." Bezos also said that we must protect our planet, adding that we don't want to live in a retrograde world where "we have to freeze population growth." From the report: Bezos says tasks that require lots of energy shouldn't be handled on Earth. Instead, we should perform them in space, and that will happen within the next few hundred years. "Energy is limited here. In at least a few hundred years... all of our heavy industry will be moved off-planet," Bezos added. "Earth will be zoned residential and light industrial. You shouldn't be doing heavy energy on earth. We can build gigantic chip factories in space." Solar energy, for instance, is more practical for factories in space, he said. "We don't have to actually build them here," he said. "The Earth shades itself, [whereas] in space you can get solar power 24/7. ... The problem with other planets ... people will visit Mars, and we will settle Mars, and people should because it's cool, but for heavy industry, I would actually put it in space."

Mars Is Coming Out Of An Ice Age ( 166

Taco Cowboy quotes a report from Reuters: An analysis of radar images that peered inside the polar ice caps of Mars shows that Earth's neighbor is coming out of an ice age that is part of an ongoing cycle of climate change, scientists said on Thursday. Using images taken by satellites orbiting Mars, the researchers determined that about 20,872 cubic miles (87,000 cubic km) of ice has accumulated at its poles since the end of the ice age, mostly in the northern polar cap. Scientists are keenly interested in piecing together the climate history of Mars, which contains strong evidence that oceans and lakes once pooled on its surface, bolstering the prospects for life. From the perspective of an Earthling, every day on Mars may feel like an ice age. According to NASA, temperatures on Mars may hit a high at noon at the equator in the summer of roughly 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), or a low of about minus-225 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-153 degrees Celsius) at the poles. The Martian ice began its retreat about 370,000 years ago, marking the end of the last ice age, according to the research published in the journal Science

There Were Mega-Tsunamis On Mars ( 41

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Popular Mechanics: Today, a team of scientists has announced the first discovery of extraterrestrial tsunamis. A team of astronomers and geologists led by J. Alexis Rodriguez at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona has uncovered evidence of massive tsunamis on Mars billions of years ago. As Rodriguez reports, two separate mega-tsunamis tore across the red planet around 3.4 billion years ago, a time when Mars was a mere 1.1 billion years old and nearby Earth was just cradling its first microbial lifeforms. The two tsunamis created 150-foot-high shore-break waves on average, and some absolutely monster waves up to 400 feet tall. Rodriguez and his colleagues outline their tsunami findings today in the journal Scientific Reports. From the report: "Rodriquez and his colleagues stumbled across evidence of these tsunamis while scouring over images of Mars' relatively flat northern planes. Two regions called Chryse Planitia and Arabia Terra. Using detailed infrared maps rendered by the thermal camera on the 15-year-old Mars Odyssey orbiter, the scientists identified the high water marks of the tsunamis -- features that look a lot like ancient ocean coastlines." Within the last year alone, scientists have spotted the signs of flowing water on Mars, recently discovering how water flows on the red planet. NASA has detected atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of the planet, too.

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