Tag Archives: environment

Skylab II

From Space.com:

NASA’s first manned outpost in deep space may be a repurposed rocket part, just like the agency’s first-ever astronaut abode in Earth orbit.

With a little tinkering, the upper-stage hydrogen propellant tank of NASA’s huge Space Launch System rocket would make a nice and relatively cheap deep-space habitat, some researchers say. They call the proposed craft “Skylab II,” an homage to the 1970s Skylab space station that was a modified third stage of a Saturn V moon rocket.

“This idea is not challenging technology,” said Brand Griffin, an engineer with Gray Research, Inc., who works with the Advanced Concepts Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“It’s just trying to say, ‘Is this the time to be able to look at existing assets, planned assets and incorporate those into what we have as a destination of getting humans beyond LEO [low-Earth orbit]?’” Griffin said Wednesday (March 27) during a presentation with NASA’s Future In-Space Operations working group.

Astronauts Fly Orion to Skylab II

A roomy home in deep space

NASA is developing the Space Launch System (SLS) to launch astronauts toward distant destinations such as near-Earth asteroids and Mars. The rocket’s first test flight is slated for 2017, and NASA wants it to start lofting crews by 2021.

The SLS will stand 384 feet tall (117 meters) in its biggest (“evolved”) incarnation, which will be capable of blasting 130 metric tons of payload to orbit. Its upper-stage hydrogen tank is big, too, measuring 36.1 feet tall by 27.6 feet wide (11.15 m by 8.5 m).

The tank’s dimensions yield an internal volume of 17,481 cubic feet (495 cubic m) — roughly equivalent to a two-story house. That’s much roomier than a potential deep-space habitat derived from modules of the International Space Station (ISS), which are just 14.8 feet (4.5 m) wide, Griffin said.

The tank-based Skylab II could accommodate a crew of four comfortably and carry enough gear and food to last for several years at a time without requiring a resupply, he added. Further, it would launch aboard the SLS in a single piece, whereas ISS-derived habitats would need to link up multiple components in space.

Because of this, Skylab II would require relatively few launches to establish and maintain, Griffin said. That and the use of existing SLS-manufacturing infrastructure would translate into big cost savings — a key selling point in today’s tough fiscal climate.

“We will have the facilities in place, the tooling, the personnel, all the supply chain and everything else,” Griffin said.

He compared the overall concept with the original Skylab space station, which was built in a time of declining NASA budgets after the boom years of the Apollo program.

Skylab “was a project embedded under the Apollo program,” Griffin said. “In many ways, this could follow that same pattern. It could be a project embedded under SLS and be able to, ideally, not incur some of the costs of program startup.”

Skylab II Made From Tank

There has been much caterwauling in the space advocacy community about the Space Launch System ( ne, “The Senate Launch System” ) concerning its cost and lack of purpose and/or destinations.

Of course, the thing was designed by Congress in order to fund a jobs program in the NASA Centers for the good voters of those districts. But it’s a seriously underfunded program, with just enough money to keep the civil servants of NASA employed, with just enough contractor support to keep them happy.

In the meantime, ideas like Skylab II, the Spacehab at EML-2 and the asteroid capture scheme rear their ugly heads and claim they’re economical in these austeric times.

My money is still on Elon Musk, Bob Bigelow, Dennis Tito and company.

NASA Mega-Rocket Could Lead to Skylab 2 Deep Space Station

Binnall of America: Adam Davies

From BoA:

Wrapping up our annual traditions, we welcome renowned cryptozoologist Adam Davies back to BoA:Audio for a debriefing on his 2012 expeditions to Sumatra and America. Regarding the Sumatra trip, we’ll discuss how the TV program Finding Bigfoot fueled the latest expedition, the latest info on the ongoing quest to prove the existence of the Orang Pendek, the potential for significant DNA findings to be revealed in 2013 and much more. Then, during our lengthy discussion on Adam’s American journey, he will recount the amazing happenings from the visit, which included numerous vocalizations from an unknown creature as well as the controversial trail cam photo of a mysterious entity which caused a massive stir in cryptozoology. Along the way, we’ll discuss a myriad of crypto topics like Melba Ketchum and the British Bigfoot.

Akin to a reunion with an old friend at a local pub, Adam Davies returns to BoA:Audio for a rollicking conversation recounting his adventures of 2012 and covering a wealth of cryptozoological topics.

Full Preview: We begin the conversation reflecting on Adam’s 2012, as a whole, which included trips to Sumatra as well as America and Adam reveals one surprising force which influenced his decision to finally visit the States. We then dive into Adam’s Spring trip to Sumatra, which was undertaken in part with the TV show Finding Bigfoot. We find out when the program may be airing and what it was like working with the team from Finding Bigfoot, in light of their online reputation amongst some of the more ardent cryptozoology enthusiasts.

Adam talks a little bit about the sort of investigations which he conducted during the trip and what the next step in his quest to prove the reality of the Orang Pendek. Adam also recalls his second mission on the trip, which was to honor his longtime tracker Zahar, who passed away since Adam’s last journey to the island. This segues into some talk about the ongoing Orang Pendek research that Zahar’s brother is continuing there to this day. Additionally, we talk about what sets Adam’s expeditions apart from a potential layperson visiting Sumatra searching for the Orang Pendek.

We then revisit how the Sumatran government feels about the alleged mystery beast living in their midst. Considering that Adam keeps ending up back in Sumatra, we ponder the likelihood that he’ll be there at some point again in 2013. Getting philosophical and speculative on the Orang Pendek, Adam ponders what his longterm reaction would be if he were to see the creature on one of his visits. In turn, he muses on his legacy as well as how he has become so indelibly linked to the Orang Pendek. We then get Adam to extrapolate on the ongoing DNA testing being done on Organg Pendek hair samples by world renowned geneticists Dr. Bryan Sykes.

Our conversation then turns towards Adam’s Fall visit to America and we begin by finding out some of the elements which led to him finally making the trip to the USA in search of Bigfoot. He then details the research he did to determine where, specifically, in the US to visit and how his friendship with Lori Simmons helped in pinpointing that location. He also talks about his initial expectations for the trip ended up differing wildly from what actually happened on the trip, beginning with some ‘communication’ between Lori and something in the woods.

Adam then recounts the fateful evening when camera traps captured the breathtaking photo of a massive ‘thing’ that was lurking in the campsite and the reaction his team had, in the morning, upon seeing the bizarre
image. Adam also retraces the many, many weird noises and events which happened during his visit. We dig into the details of Adam’s extraordinary experience in the forest by having him speculate on how far away they may have physically been from the creatures (aside from the controversial photo).

Revisiting the controversial photograph, we discuss the firestorm which erupted over the photo in the cryptozoology community and Adam responds to some of the critics, skeptics, and outright rude people who chimed in during the debate. We then find out from Adam why the trail cam photo wasn’t any longer nor didn’t capture more photos since the creature, ostensibly, had been in the camp enough for more pictures. On a personal level, Adam talks about what if feels like to know that such a massive beast was looming over him while he slept.

We stay on the topic of the mystery picture and revisit the initial reaction from Adam’s team in the morning and the moment of discovery of the notorious picture. Getting meta, we examine the implausibility that, after years of outstanding research, Adam would turn around and come to America to hoax a trail cam photo. Next we get Adam to speculate on the nature of the thing or creature captured in the trail cam photo. He also reflects on how this experience has fundamentally changed the perspective and goals for his research. This leads to a side discussion on the British Bigfoot and Adam’s thoughts on the possibility for its existence.

Looking at some of the finer details of the North America trip, we find out if there is any documentation for these sounds that were heard by Adam’s team. We also contrast the seemingly docile Orang Pendek with the hulking Bigfoot. We also get Adam’s take on the possibility that Lori orchestrated the noises from the woods to fool his team. Additionally, Adam recalls his trepidation while trying to sleep at the camp the night after discovering the trail cam photo. Revisiting the disappearing food aspect of Adam’s story, we find out why the ‘thefts’ were not captured on camera traps that had been stationed nearby.

Next, we talk about this amazing trip seems to have transformed Adam in a fundamental way, far beyond his previous journeys. We then talk about how the sounds that Adam heard and the experiences he had seem to suggest a sentience beyond a ‘normal’ animal. This leads to some talk about the controversial Melba Ketchum Bigfoot DNA story which broke around the end of 2012 and we get Adam’s perspective on the story as well as the flap of DNA interest in cryptozoology, in general. Looking at Bigfoot’s ‘bad PR,’ as a whole, we speculate on whether DNA evidence would help ‘turn the corner’ for public perception about the veracity of the creature.

The conversation then merges into a full on jam session as we find out why Adam didn’t investigate sea serpents as he had planned to do during his 2012 appearance on BoA:Audio. Beyond another trip to America, we talk about what other trips Adam may make in 2013 and whether he’d consider looking at other areas of the United States where Bigfoot have been said to lurk. Revisiting another area of discussion from previous years, we learn what sort of other cryptids that Adam might have an interest in searching for in the future, including a bizarre hominid said to live on an island in the Pacific.

Heading toward the close, Adam reflects on how excited he is about his American experience, which leads to the annual discussion of a Binnall-Davies Summit in New England. We also talk about how the controversy over the photo seems to have dissipated in a lot of ways and Adam speculates on why that seems to be the case. Looking at Bigfoot research as a whole, we muse about the competitive nature of the field over who will ultimately be ‘the one’ who breaks the case. Closing out the program, we tease the possibility that, in light of the less arduous nature of the American expedition, perhaps someday, Binnall can join in on the fun in the forest.

I have seen Adam Davies a number of times on the History Channel’s old ‘MonsterQuest’ series and he lent a lot of credibility to the cryptozoology field. Now, that’s not saying much for my opinion, but when Tim Binnall is involved, you are assured for an entertaining interview and some real good information.

BoA Audio: Adam Davies

Hat tip to The Anomalist.

Is Geoengineering Evil ?

According to biologist and science-fiction author Peter Watts, the dumping of a hundred tons of iron sulphate into the ocean off the islands of Haida Gwaii is a double edge sword and it could be working.

And most of all, nobody really cares.

[...]Proximately, the gambit seems to have paid off: the resulting bloom covered ten thousand square kilometers and greatly exceeds the penny-ante impact of more “legitimate” experiments. Whether it will actually increase salmon yield remains an open question, but it seems a reasonable expectation; the project was inspired by a paper in Fisheries Oceanography which connected the dots between volcanic ash-fall, diatom blooms, and record salmon catches. As to the potential long-term carbon-sequestration impact, nobody knows.

In fact, not only does nobody know, nobody even seems to give a shit. They’re too busy pointing fingers. Discovery News regards Russ George, the entrepreneur behind the project, as a “Geoengineering nut“. David Suzuki decries the effort as “stupid”. Scientists and lawyers fill endless column inches with quotes about bad experimental design and the breaking of international treaties. The UN is gravely concerned, and has granted the Harper governmentan actual award (“The Dodo”) for its role in this fiasco; the Harper government, those champions of the environment, has in turn condemned the entire affair and is “investigating” (although their misgivings have been a bit muted by credible reports that they knew about the project in advance and did nothing to stop it, which makes them complicit).

For my part, I’m not going to argue those who point out that the project was poorly planned, that phytoplankton blooms are often toxic, and that even when they aren’t local eutrophication often leads to anoxic “dead zones”. (Iwill observe that some of these charges tend to cancel each other out: you can’t both buy into Jay Cullen’s complaint that strong eddy circulation compromises experimental design while at the same time worrying aboutAlyssa Danigelis‘s specter of neurotoxic dead zones.) I have no trouble believing that Russ George isn’t interested in anything other than turning a fast buck (although if there are laws on the book that make it illegal to profit from climate-mitigation research, you have to wonder if its author had ever spent more than two minutes observing human behavior).

In terms of environmental damage, however, I can’t help noticing that right around the corner from Haida Gwaii, the city of Victoria BC flushes the raw sewage of eighty thousand people directly into the ocean. I can’t help noticing a thousand-square kilometer dead zone off the Oregon coast, or the seventeen-thousand-square-kilometer dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, or the continent-long daisy-chain of dead zones skipping merrily up the eastern seaboard. If I squint hard enough I can just barely keep myself from noticing the salmon farms along our coasts that not only generate their own local anoxic zones but which also spread disease, parasites, and bad genes to wild populations. (I trust I don’t have to remind you all of past and ongoing oil spills.) All of these impacts arise directly from human activity — and while few would claim to like any of these things, I find it curious that the one-time dumping of a load of nutrients into the open ocean would provoke such outrage while all these other, vastly more severe impacts get off with a shrug and a what-are-you-gonna-do?

The fact is, the Haida-Gwaii patch is vastly bigger than any similar project heretofore attempted. It’s way out intoHere There Be Dragons territory, and you know what? It’s a fucking data point.

Bad experimental design? Let me remind you of another badly-designed experiment: that time about a decade back when a bunch of religious fanatics ploughed into the World Trade Center to prove that their invisible sky fairy was tougher than ours. Those guys didn’t check their flight plans with the research community at all, but that didn’t stop the scientists from making some serious inroads into the impact of jet contrails on climate change. (Granted, that particular inroad turned out to be a dead end. That’s science for you.)

This is nature, damn it. It’s a complex metasystem, if you think it’s ever going to let you run a “controlled experiment” in the laboratory sense then I’ve got some voting machines in Ohio to sell you. If you make the perfect into the enemy of the potentially-adequate you’ll never stop running simulations, because there is no perfect. Meanwhile, outside the window, Nature’s rolling her own D20. One day she’s going to kick over that anthill you’ve been too chickenshit to poke at all this time, and then where you gonna be?

This plankton stuff is small potatoes anyway; you want something to get scared about, stop looking out to sea and look up instead. Climate change is hitting the poles and the tropics especially hard — and the tropics are just chock full of small poor countries already sinking, increasingly impatient as the so-called developedworld sits on its ass and mumbles oxymoronically about clean coal. I wouldn’t blame them in the least if they got tired of waiting and started their own stratospheric geoengineering program out of self-defense — and it would be kind of nice if we had a bit of real-world data on that front, too, before it happened.

Make as many caveats as you like. Be cautious in your extrapolations, by all means. Remember that correlation is not causation, keep alternative hypotheses firmly in mind, scrawl Nature Is Not A Petri Dish onto a piece of duct tape and stick it over the Far Side cartoons yellowing on the wall. Be Adaptive in your “Management”. But use the goddamned data you’ve got. Don’t piss and moan because someone without all your degrees, someone more interested in bucks than biology, went out and took the first step when you were too fucking timid. Do it better.

Forget the world at large; Russ George’s sins pale into insignificance even set next the city of Victoria. The difference is, we can learn from his.

We’ve already kicked the whole world off-balance. We’re running out of time to figure out which way it’s falling.

Whether one adheres to the concept of the Kardashev Scale of Civilizations or not, of which becoming a Class 1 depends on human beings being able to control all processes of the planet; environmental and energy-wise, it doesn’t matter because we already have started down that road according to Watts.

It depends on us now to balance out these forces before Nature itself will surely balance things out.

And leave us in the dust-bin of planetary history.

Geoengineering and the Evils of Conservation

“More. Always more…”

The above is a direct quote from Billy Cox in a comment he made to another commenter in his blog he posted last Thursday concerning a posting he made about Anderson Cooper’s April 24th show on UFOs.

Now when it comes to UFOs and the mainstream media, no matter how good some amounts of physical evidence can be obtained around the incidents, disinformation and crack-pot debunking muddy up the waters so that nothing comes of the matter, confusing the issue:

After taking a look at the unedited version (thanks, Giuliano Marinkovic) of Anderson Cooper’s half-hour “Do You Believe in Space Aliens?” bilge from two weeks ago, it’s even worse than I feared.

Again, given the number of guests and the segment’s lack of focus, it was clear from the get-go that not a photon of light could’ve escaped from this sucking black hole. But it could have, because the producers actually had a hook to work with. And that’s what makes this strikeout especially regrettable.

Will one of you primates please just take a look at a couple of freakin’ leaves, please?/CREDIT: ppjg.me

Pennsylvanians were reporting a spike in UFO sightings in 2008, many emanating from the skies over Bucks County outside Philadelphia. It drew a little local media attention, the usual stuff, you know, with talking heads using the usual lame-o “out of this world” segues. And as these things usually go, nobody ever got to the bottom of it. So the flap stayed confined to local quarters.

Suddenly, from out of the blue, on April 24, Cooper resuscitated the mystery by inviting an eyewitness named Denise to tell national audiences about how she was awakened by her growling dog in the middle of the night to discover glowing lights above her house. The UFO(s) proceeded to sprinkle metallic-looking glitter on her tree, making her think “it was snowing in July.” Cooper then introduced Pennsylvania state Mutual UFO Network director John Ventre to talk about what happened to the tree.

Ventre said MUFON sent leaves from the affected tree to two different labs, both of which reported “high levels of magnesium and boron,” two to three times higher than controlled samples detected on neighboring trees. Furthermore, the leaves had produced anthocyanin, which Ventre accurately described as a plant’s natural defense from heat and radiation. But were those levels of anthocyanin excessive or unnatural? And what gives with the elevated magnesium and boron? This is the part where you bring in one of the lab analysts, right? Or a botanist, maybe?

Nope. Not on Anderson Cooper. This is the part where you immediately shift gears and bring in a couple of UFO abductees. Then you bring on the designated debunker, in this case Joe Nickell, to dismiss it all in a few short sentences. Nickell informed Denise she’d only seen Jupiter. “So Jupiter dumped stuff on my tree,” Denise wondered, “is that what you’re saying?” No, Nickell countered, “I expect the stuff on your tree was probably, you saw some sand or something in the light.” Bottom line: no additional chatter on the boron or the magnesium or the anthocyanin, because AC needed to get a psychic medium to talk about star families.

Cooper, whose CNN promo is all about “keeping them honest” and “accountability,” allowed Nickell to get away with unchallenged inaccuracies. Nickell attributed the 2006 Chicago O’Hare Airport incident to a “hole-punch cloud,” even though National Weather Service meteorologists confirmed the temperature at the incursion’s estimated altitude of 1,900 feet was 53 degrees. (Hole punch clouds need freezing temperatures to occur.) Nickell said the 1997 Phoenix Lights UFO was a misidentified military flare drop. That massive object was sighted traveling along a 200-mile southbound corridor by hundreds of eyewitnesses from 8:15 to 9:30 p.m.; the Air National Guard admitted to dropping flares at 10 p.m. along the Barry Goldwater Range near Luke AFB. Even former Arizona guv Fife Symington said the flare explanation was bogus. So it looks like Cooper’s daytime show is going the “Fair & Balanced/We Report You Decide” route.

Anyhow, the Bucks County leaf samples sounded interesting. Maybe someday another network will actually put MUFON’s investigation to the test.

Naaaah …

I wonder if the samples from these trees were saved and technicians who tested the samples could be persuaded to come forward and post the results online in the ArX (?) academic peer review archives ?

At least the results could be retested if samples were saved and other papers could be written about so the hypotheses could be confirmed or rejected scientifically.

But I’m certain the old CIA tricks of media and skeptic debunking are the orders of the day still and no amount of physical trace evidence will ever be taken seriously.

To quote Billy Cox, “More. Always more…”.

Sorry I looked …

Hat tip to The Daily Grail.

Geoengineering: Is it possible?

Global Warming, whether one considers it caused primarily by humans, or as a natural process determined by cyclical solar activity, is potentially a huge problem for the human race regardless of its cause.

One possible cure for GW is geoengineering. What is geoengineering you ask?

Well, read this post from The New Yorker:

Late in the afternoon on April 2, 1991, Mt. Pinatubo, a  volcano on the Philippine island of Luzon, began to rumble with a series of the  powerful steam explosions that typically precede an eruption. Pinatubo had been  dormant for more than four centuries, and in the volcanological world the  mountain had become little more than a footnote. The tremors continued in a  steady crescendo for the next two months, until June 15th, when the mountain  exploded with enough force to expel molten lava at the speed of six hundred  miles an hour. The lava flooded a two-hundred-and-fifty-square-mile area,  requiring the evacuation of two hundred thousand people.

Within hours, the plume of gas and ash had penetrated the stratosphere,  eventually reaching an altitude of twenty-one miles. Three weeks later, an  aerosol cloud had encircled the earth, and it remained for nearly two years.  Twenty million metric tons of sulfur dioxide mixed with droplets of water,  creating a kind of gaseous mirror, which reflected solar rays back into the sky.  Throughout 1992 and 1993, the amount of sunlight that reached the surface of the  earth was reduced by more than ten per cent.

The heavy industrial activity of the previous hundred years had caused the  earth’s climate to warm by roughly three-quarters of a degree Celsius, helping  to make the twentieth century the hottest in at least a thousand years. The  eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, however, reduced global temperatures by nearly that  much in a single year. It also disrupted patterns of precipitation throughout  the planet. It is believed to have influenced events as varied as floods along  the Mississippi River in 1993 and, later that year, the drought that devastated  the African Sahel. Most people considered the eruption a calamity.

For geophysical scientists, though, Mt. Pinatubo provided the best model in  at least a century to help us understand what might happen if humans attempted  to ameliorate global warming by deliberately altering the climate of the earth.

For years, even to entertain the possibility of human intervention on such a  scale—geoengineering, as the practice is known—has been denounced as hubris.  Predicting long-term climatic behavior by using computer models has proved  difficult, and the notion of fiddling with the planet’s climate based on the  results generated by those models worries even scientists who are fully engaged  in the research. “There will be no easy victories, but at some point we are  going to have to take the facts seriously,’’ David Keith, a professor of  engineering and public policy at Harvard and one of geoengineering’s most  thoughtful supporters, told me. “Nonetheless,’’ he added, “it is hyperbolic to  say this, but no less true: when you start to reflect light away from the  planet, you can easily imagine a chain of events that would extinguish life on  earth.”

There is only one reason to consider deploying a scheme with even a tiny  chance of causing such a catastrophe: if the risks of not deploying it were  clearly higher. No one is yet prepared to make such a calculation, but  researchers are moving in that direction. To offer guidance, the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) has developed a series of  scenarios on global warming. The cheeriest assessment predicts that by the end  of the century the earth’s average temperature will rise between 1.1 and 2.9  degrees Celsius. A more pessimistic projection envisages a rise of between 2.4  and 6.4 degrees—far higher than at any time in recorded history. (There are  nearly two degrees Fahrenheit in one degree Celsius. A rise of 2.4 to 6.4  degrees Celsius would equal 4.3 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit.) Until recently,  climate scientists believed that a six-degree rise, the effects of which would  be an undeniable disaster, was unlikely. But new data have changed the minds of  many. Late last year, Fatih Birol, the chief economist for the International  Energy Agency, said that current levels of consumption “put the world perfectly  on track for a six-degree Celsius rise in temperature. . . . Everybody, even  schoolchildren, knows this will have catastrophic implications for all of us.”

The human race might have no choice but to try geoengineering by the end of the 21st Century if the prognosis of a six degree Celsius rise in temperature holds true.

But if we are to become a true Kardashev Level One civilization, humans must have total control of the energy outputs of the planet.

And that includes the climate.

The Climate Fixers

Hat tip to Boing Boing.

Finally, Money to be made in Deep Space?

From DailyFinance:

In the 1981 film Outland, Sean Connery stars as an old-school lawman who keeps order in a mining colony on one of Jupiter’s moons, armed only with his wits and a trusty Browning 2000 shotgun. Outland is set in a future that has commercial space travel and off-planet mining, and the latter took a giant leap forward into reality last week when the private company Planetary Resources announced its plan to start mining asteroids in just more than 10 years’ time.

While the space industry isn’t easily accessible to private investors, its prospects mean that one day the sector will become the toast of the stock market. So it’s something I keep an eye on, as I believe it will present some great opportunities in the future.

Money from satellites A few public companies have major interests in space, and the one that immediately springs to mind is the satellite communications specialist Inmarsat. Britain’s largest pay-television operator, British Sky Broadcasting  (ISE: BSY.L) , is another company that relies heavily upon space; without its satellites, it would lose most of its business.

Many defense contractors, such as Boeing  (NYS: BA)  and Raytheon  (NYS: RTN) , also have substantial satellite operations, though much of this business is military and therefore under pressure as national budgets are squeezed. Then there are the firms that provide commercial images from satellites, such as DigitalGlobe and RapidEye.

But so far the space industry is pretty much limited to satellites and getting them into orbit. I believe the real excitement will be found in the new industries that are starting to spring up — in particular mining, space tourism, and zero-gravity manufacturing.

Back to the mining Planetary Resources has a star-filled shareholders’ register, which contains names like Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Google  (NAS: GOOG)  and the film director James Cameron. While its asteroid-mining plan seems to be the stuff of science-fiction, and there are many technological obstacles to be overcome before it is practical, it makes good business sense, because those metals that are rare on Earth are generally much more plentiful in space.

While the vast majority of asteroids are to be found in the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter, we know of at least 9,000 near-Earth asteroids that sometimes come close to our planet. These are Planetary Resources’ main targets, and at the top of the list are those that were produced by collisions between “planetesimals” — the bodies that combined to form planets in the early history of the solar system.

The reason for preferring these asteroids over the other main type of asteroid — those formed from the accretion of small bits of material — is that they contain vastly more metal. They also will not have undergone the same geological processes that occurred on Earth over billions of years, so their rare metals — including gold, platinum and iridium — will be more uniformly distributed.

In contrast, metals in the earth are disproportionately located within the mantle and core — well below the crust where we mine — because of the planetary formation process that stratified the earth into three distinct regions: core, mantle, and crust.

The economics of space mining Planetary Resources plans to launch several space telescopes in 2014 that will search for suitable near-Earth asteroids. These may be mined where they are or hauled back to Earth or lunar orbit for later dissection, but in any case the mining will likely be done by robots.

Of course, this is very expensive, and the Keck Institute for Space Studies has estimated that it would cost around 1.6 billion pounds just to bring a single 500-tonne asteroid back to the moon for mining. That’s before the cost of setting up the venture in the first place, which will probably run to more than 50 billion pounds.

Another problem is that rare metals go for high prices because they are, well, rare. So if these robot miners start to extract large quantities of them from asteroids, this would drive down their price.

Fly me to the moon Commercial space travel is much closer than you may think. Leading the pack is Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which has already sold more than 500 tickets for rides in SpaceShipTwo, on course to make its first commercial suborbital flight next year. If you fancy a ride, a ticket will set you back a cool $200,000.

Branson doesn’t have the field to himself, as there are several other companies also planning to take fee-paying passengers into space, such as Blue Origin (founded in 2000 by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com  (NAS: AMZN)  fame), Space Adventures, and SpaceX.

The new manufacturing frontier Outer space offers two environments that are not easy to create on Earth: low gravity and hard vacuum. This holds great promise for manufacturing special objects such as perfect spheres and certain types of alloy.

Another field that will benefit is medical research, because purer protein crystals can be grown in space, as the distorting effects of gravity will have been removed.

Numerous experiments have already been performed on the International Space Station and space shuttles, so we know that the technology works and is available. As with most things, it all boils down to cost.

Space to invest? My gut feeling when looking at businesses that depend upon high technology is to steer well clear. That’s because the technology industry is notorious for seeing a dominant market leader overtaken by a rival with a better product.

Remember when Friends Reunited and MySpace were the big social networks? Nowadays they’re also-rans when compared to Facebook, which in turn has become yet another giant with the competition nipping at its heels.

That said, the space industry has tremendous barriers to entry. Launching stuff into space isn’t cheap, and first-mover advantage will count for a lot in this sector. After all, if a company already has a multibillion-pound manufacturing facility in orbit, then this will put off some of the competition. Sooner or later, big money is going to be made in outer space. It just may take some time.

Now mainstream space is realizing the dream of us nerds from so long ago.

Somewhere, Gerard K. O’Neill smiles knowingly.

Making Money in Outer Space

NASA and UFOs Near the Sun

From the MailOnline:

A strange object flying close to the sun looks unnervingly like a huge, metallic ‘mothership’ familiar from Hollywood blockbusters.

The picture was released by Nasa’s sun-watching Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, known as SOHO – and has become an immediate cult hit on the internet.

UFO fan site Gather News said: ‘An unusually shaped, gigantic UFO was spotted on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and posted in a video on YouTube.

Scroll down for video.

UFO fan site News Gather said: ‘An unusually shaped, gigantic UFO was spotted on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and posted in a video on YouTube.’

An enlargement of the object makes the enormously large UFO look like a ship straight out of a Hollywood movie

‘The unidentified flying object, which bears no resemblance to anything ever spotted near the Sun, somehow manages to withstand the blazing heat thrown off by solar flare activity and the incredibly high temperatures emanating from nuclear fusion generated on the surface of the star. What is it?’ asked the site.

UFO fans on YouTube have been highly enthusiastic about the object, with many claiming it as a definite ‘spot’.

SOHO, the Solar & Heliospheric Observatory, is a satellite built to study the Sun from its deep core to the outer corona and the solar wind.

SOHO was launched on December 2, 1995.

The twelve instruments on board SOHO communicate with large radio dishes around the world which form NASA’s Deep Space Network are used for data downlink and commanding.

‘The video shows what looks like a metallic, jointed spaceship with a gigantic extension, perhaps a boom arm, anchored off its lower end.

‘An enlargement of the object makes the enormously large UFO look like a ship straight out of a Hollywood movie.’

Alien spacecraft? Observers pointed out that the ‘jointed’ arms of the object near the sun are very similar to fictional interstellar craft.

The unidentified flying object, which bears no resemblance to anything ever spotted near the Sun, somehow manages to withstand the blazing heat of the sun.

I took a screenshot and added light to it and you can see another part of the ship. It has another third arm that goes down. So strange. Keep up the great work,’ says one UFO fan.

Others are more sceptical, claiming such artefacts are often the product of distortion hitting SOHO’s sensors.

‘There is no way this object is merely vapour, as the shape of it is rigidly straight and grooved and appears to be manufactured in some way,’ says the UFO fan site. ‘Also, there seems to be some intelligent design involved. It’s beyond human engineering to create.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2134916/The-Icarus-spacecraft-Mystery-Nasa-sun-watching-satellite-captures-UFO-surfing-hellish-surface-sun.html#ixzz1tAIMKYko

Here is the link to the main video.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2134916/The-Icarus-spacecraft-Mystery-Nasa-sun-watching-satellite-captures-UFO-surfing-hellish-surface-sun.html

More SOHO UFO images.

Hmm..according to mainstream science there still isn’t proof of an advanced K3 civilization investigating us.

Most of the stars in this Galaxy are 4 billion years older than our Sun, why isn’t there a chance that perhaps one civilization is here checking out the primitives?

NASA and the Alien Contact Scenario

Lately I find it interesting in the mainstream media and science that the possibility of contacting extraterrestrial intelligence is getting more serious and less laughter associated with it.

Personally, I think it’s related to discoveries made by the Kepler space telescope and Keck observatory in Hawaii of hundreds, if not thousands of near-Earth sized planets within a sphere of 300 light-years. This has spurred interest in exoplanetary observation and studies of potential Earth-like atmospheres for changes such as warming, carbon-dioxide build-ups and artificial radiation.

One such project, the SKA (Square Kilometer Array) is the direct result of these discoveries. One of SKA’s missions is to probe potential exo-Earths within 50 light-years for radio transmissions, especially radar emissions because that would be a sure sign of civilization(s) capable of being potential competitor(s) in our local interstellar neighborhood.

So it seems that NASA (that bastion of governmental openess, lol) has an actual alien contact scenario that could be implemented at a moment’s notice.

It also seems to be drawn right out of the film classic ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still:’

Extraterrestrial beings monitoring Earth  might  view changes in our atmosphere as symptomatic of a a self-destructing civilization and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, according to a highly speculative scenario developed last year by scientists at NASA and Penn State University.

Shawn Domagal-Goldman of NASA’s Planetary Science Division and his colleagues developed scenarios that could unfold in the aftermath of a close encounter, to help humanity “prepare for actual contact”.Their report, Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis,divides alien contacts into three broad categories: beneficial, neutral or harmful.Beneficial encounters ranged from the mere detection of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), for example through the interception of alien broadcasts, to contact with cooperative organisms that help us advance our knowledge and solve global problems such as hunger, poverty and disease.

Another beneficial outcome the authors entertain sees humanity triumph over a more powerful alien aggressor, or even being saved by a second group of ETs. “In these scenarios, humanity benefits not only from the major moral victory of having defeated a daunting rival, but also from the opportunity to reverse-engineer ETI technology,” the authors write.

Other kinds of close encounter may be less rewarding and leave much of human society feeling indifferent towards alien life. The extraterrestrials may be too different from us to communicate with usefully. They might invite humanity to join the “Galactic Club” only for the entry requirements to be too bureaucratic and tedious for humans to bother with.

The most unappealing outcomes would arise if extraterrestrials caused harm to humanity, even if by accident. While aliens may arrive to eat, enslave or attack us, the report adds that people might also suffer from being physically crushed or by contracting diseases carried by the visitors. In especially unfortunate incidents, humanity could be wiped out when a more advanced civilisation accidentally unleashes an unfriendly artificial intelligence, or performs a catastrophic physics experiment that renders a portion of the galaxy uninhabitable.

To bolster humanity’s chances of survival, the researchers call for caution in sending signals into space, and in particular warn against broadcasting information about our biological make-up, which could be used to manufacture weapons that target humans. Instead, any contact with ETs should be limited to mathematical discourse “until we have a better idea of the type of ETI we are dealing with.”

The authors warn that extraterrestrials may be wary of civilisations that expand very rapidly, as these may be prone to destroy other life as they grow, just as humans have pushed species to extinction on Earth. In the most extreme scenario, aliens might choose to destroy humanity to protect other civilisations.

“A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilisation may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand. Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilisational expansion could be detected by an ETI because our expansion is changing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, via greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.

“Green” aliens might object to the environmental damage humans have caused on Earth and wipe us out to save the planet. “These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets,” the authors write.

Even if we never make contact with extraterrestrials, the report argues that considering the potential scenarios may help to plot the future path of human civilisation, avoid collapse and achieve long-term survival.

The idea of ETs giving a crap whether we destroy the Earth or not is laughable. It would eliminate a potential competitor without them lifting a finger (tentacle, mandible, hoof, nanobot?) and be energy efficient.

Somehow, since our Earth is only 4.3 Billion years old and the Universe and our galaxy are both over 13 Billion years old, it is likely any other civilization locally is millions of years older than we are. Therefore their physics are as beyond us as ours is beyond Homo Erectus.

Something to think about.

From the ‘X-Files’ Dept: NASA’s Alien Contact Scenario

Kudos to the Daily Grail!

James Cameron and the real-life “Abyss”

James Cameron, real-life film director of “The Abyss” and “Avatar” actually plunged into the depths of the Mariana Trench yesterday on March 25, 2012:

At 5:52 p.m. ET Sunday (7:52 a.m. Monday, local time), James Cameron arrived at the Mariana Trench‘s Challenger Deep, members of the National Geographic expedition have confirmed.

His depth on arrival: 35,756 feet (10,898 meters)—a figure unattainable anywhere else in the ocean.

Reaching bottom after a 2-hour-and-36-minute descent, the National Geographic explorer and filmmaker typed  out welcome words for the cheering support crew waiting at the surface: “All  systems OK.”

Folded into a sub cockpit as cramped as any Apollo capsule, the National Geographic explorer and frilmmaker is now investigating a seascape more alien to humans than the moon. Cameron is only the third person to reach this Pacific Ocean valley southwest of Guam (map)—and the only one to do so solo.

Hovering in what he’s called a vertical torpedo, Cameron is likely collecting data, specimens, and imagery unthinkable in 1960, when the only other explorers to reach Challenger Deep returned after seeing little more than the silt stirred up by their bathyscaphe.

After as long as six hours in the trench, Cameron—best known for creating fictional worlds on film (Avatar, Titanic, The Abyss)—is to jettison steel weights attached to the sub and shoot back to the surface. (See pictures of Cameron’s sub.)

Meanwhile, the expedition’s scientific support team awaits his return aboard the research ships Mermaid Sapphire and Barakuda, 7 miles (11 kilometers) up. (Video: how sound revealed that Challenger Deep is the deepest spot in the ocean.)

“We’re now a band of brothers and sisters that have been through this for a while,” marine biologist Doug Bartlett told National Geographic News from the ship before the dive.

“People have worked for months or years in a very intensive way to get to this point,” said Bartlett, chief scientist for the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE program, a partnership with the National Geographic Society and Rolex. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

“I think people are ready,” added Bartlett, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. “They want to get there, and they want to see this happen.”

(Video: Cameron Dive Is an Exploration First.)m

Rendezvous at Challenger Deep

Upon touchdown at Challenger Deep, Cameron’s first target is a phone booth-like unmanned “lander” dropped into the trench hours before his dive.

Using sonar, “I’m going to attempt to rendezvous with that vehicle so I can observe animals that are attracted to the chemical signature of its bait,” Cameron told National Geographic News before the dive.

He’ll later follow a route designed to take him through as many environments as possible, surveying not only the sediment-covered seafloor but also cliffs of interest to expedition geologists.

“I’ll be doing a bit of a longitudinal transect along the trench axis for a while, and then I’ll turn 90 degrees and I’ll go north and work myself up the wall,” said Cameron, also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. (Listen: James Cameron on becoming a National Geographic explorer.)

Though battery power and vast distances limit his contact with his science team to text messaging and sporadic voice communication, Cameron seemed confident in his mission Friday. “I’m pretty well briefed on what I’ll see,” he said.

(Video: Cameron Dive First Attempt in Over 50 Years.)

Bullet to the Deep

To get to this point, Cameron and his crew have spent seven years reimagining what a submersible can be. The result is the 24-foot-tall (7-meter-tall) DEEPSEA CHALLENGER.

Engineered to sink upright and spinning, like a bullet fired straight into the Mariana Trench, the sub can descend about 500 feet (150 meters) a minute—”amazingly fast,” in the words of Robert Stern, a marine geologist at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Pre-expedition estimates put the Challenger Deep descent at about 90 minutes. (Animation: Cameron’s Mariana Trench dive compressed into one minute.)

By contrast, some current remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, descend at about 40 meters (130 feet) a minute, added Stern, who isn’t part of the expedition.

Andy Bowen, project manager and principal developer of the Nereus, an ROV that explored Challenger Deep in 2009, called the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER “an extremely elegant solution to the challenge of diving a human-occupied submersible to such extreme depths.”

“It’s been engineered to be very effective at getting from the surface to the seafloor in as quick a time as possible,” said Bowen, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who also isn’t part of the current expedition.

And that’s just the idea, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE team says: The faster Cameron gets there, the more time for science. (Read more about DEEPSEA CHALLENGE science.)

Pursuing speed and science in tandem makes the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER test dives—and even the Mariana Trench mission—perhaps as unorthodox as the sub itself.

Typically “you conduct a sea trial for a vehicle, you pronounce it fit for service, and then you develop a science program around it,” Cameron said before heading to the trench. “We collapsed that together into one expedition, because [we were] fairly confident the vehicle would work—and it is.”

Techno Torpedo

Now, at the bottom of the trench, the sub’s custom-designed foam filling and the pressure-resistant shape of the “pilot sphere”—are helping protect Cameron from the equivalent of 8 tons pressing down on every square inch (1,125 kilograms per square centimeter). (Video: how sub sphere protects Cameron.)

Among the sub’s tools are a sediment sampler, a mechanical claw, a “slurp gun” for sucking up small sea creatures for study at the surface, and temperature, salinity, and pressure gauges.

While that might sound like a gearhead’s paradise, Cameron knows he’ll “have to be able to prioritize.”

“Is my manipulator working properly? Do I still have room in my sample drawer? And do I still have the ability to take a [sediment] core sample? … I only have [tools for] three sediment cores available on the vehicle, so I have to choose wisely when to use them.”

By contrast, the sub’s multiple 3-D cameras will be whirring almost continually, and not just for the benefit of future audiences of planned documentaries.

“There is scientific value in getting stereo images,” Cameron said, “because … you can determine the scale and distance of objects from stereo pairs that you can’t from 2-D images.”

But, Scripps’s Bartlett said, “it’s not just the video.” The sub’s lighting of deepwater scenes—mainly by an 8-foot (2.5-meter) tower of LEDs—is “so, so beautiful. It’s unlike anything that you’ll have seen from other subs or other remotely operated vehicles.”

(Video: Cameron Dive Is an Exploration First.)

The Search for Life

Right now it’s a mystery what Cameron is seeing, sampling, and filming at depth, in part because so little is known about the Challenger Deep environment.

The only glimpses scientists have had of the region, via two ROV missions, showed a seafloor covered in light gray, silky mud.

Cameron may be detecting subtle signs of life—burrows or tracks or fecal piles—said DEEPSEA CHALLENGE biological oceanographer Lisa Levin, also of Scripps, who’s monitoring the expedition from afar.

If the water’s clear, she added, Cameron may be seeing jellyfish or xenophyophores—giant, single-celled, honeycomb-shaped creatures already filmed in other areas of the Mariana Trench. (See “Giant ‘Amoebas’ Found in Deepest Place on Earth.”)

“If we get lucky,” Cameron said before the dive, “we should find something like a cold seep, where we might find tube worms.” Cold seeps are regions of the ocean floor somewhat like hydrothermal vents (video) that ooze fluid chemicals at the same temperature as the surrounding water.

Earlier this month, during a test dive near Papua New Guinea, Cameron brought back enormous shrimplike creatures from five miles (eight kilometers) down. At 7 inches (17 centimeters) long, the animals are “the largest amphipods ever seen at that kind of depth,” chief scientist Bartlett said. “And we saw one on camera that was perhaps twice that size.”

At Challenger Deep depths, though, the calcium animals need to form shells dissolves quickly. It’s unlikely—though not impossible—that Cameron is finding shelled creatures, but if he does, the discovery would be a scientific jaw-dropper.

Even if he uncovers “a rock with a shell limpet or some kind of bivalve in the mud”—such as a clam, perhaps—”that would be exciting,” Scripps’s Levin said.

Aliens of the Abyss

Expedition astrobiologist Kevin Hand, of NASA, imagines that the life-forms Cameron might be encountering could help fine-tune the search for extraterrestrial life.

For instance, scientists think Jupiter’s moon Europa could harbor a global ocean beneath its thick shell of ice—an ocean that, like Challenger Deep, would be lightless, near freezing, and home to areas of intense pressure. (See “Could Jupiter Moon Harbor Fish-Size Life?”)

I like the idea of this being a precursor journey for a trip to explore Europa, but I don’t foresee that mission happening in the near future due to NASA’s continuing financial woes.

Because of Cameron’s deep-dive journey however, exploration of the deep ocean might become cost-effective and common-place as the search for more natural resources becomes necessary as we humans continue to form a Kardashev Class 1 Civilization.

James Cameron Now at Ocean’s Deepest Point

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