Tag Archives: lunar exploration

Space.com: Moon Rovers Planned for Commercial Lunar Exploration Project

From the article:

The commercial spaceflight company Golden Spike – which aims fly private missions to the moon by 2020 – has teamed up with the New York-based firm Honeybee Robotics to design robotic rovers for the planned lunar expeditions.

“We’re very proud to be working with Honeybee, which has tremendous experience and a record of successful performance in the development of flight systems for NASA,” Golden Spike President and CEO Alan Stern said in a statement last month.

Golden Spike first announced its goal of launching two-person commercial flights to the moon in December 2012. To boost the scientific output of the expeditions, the company plans to send unmanned rovers to the moon ahead of the crew to collect samples from a wider area than the crew will be able to travel from their landing pad. The rovers will then meet up with the crew’s spacecraft once it arrives, according to the mission plan.  [Golden Spike's Private Moon Mission Plan in Pictures]

“Honeybee brings a unique body of knowledge and skills to help us augment the capabilities of human exploration missions with advanced robotics,” Clive Neal, a researcher at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and chair of Golden Spike’s lunar science advisory board, said in a statement. “Their participation is a key step forward in helping Golden Spike change the paradigm of human space exploration, through the development of highly capable lunar exploration system architecture for customers around the world.”

Honeybee Robotics has been designing planetary sampling devices for clients including NASA and the US Department of Defense for more than 25 years, and has contributed to the last three of NASA’s Mars landers: The company designed the rock abrasion tool for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, as well as the icy soil acquisition device (or “Phoenix Scoop”) for the U.S. space agency’s Phoenix Mars lander, and the sample manipulation system and dust removal tool for the Curiosity rover.

Golden Spike officials initially priced the missions at $1.5 billion per person, but has since estimated that the cost could drop down to about $750 million with the help of media coverage and sales of merchandising rights of the missions, Stern told reporters last year at the 29th National Space Symposium in Colorado Spring, Colo. Potential moon flyers include leaders of nations, large corporations, and independently funded individuals.

The companies plan to complete preliminary tests of their rover design by mid-2014.

The cost of the landers and other equipment were the long poles in the tent of NASA’s old Constellation program.

It will be interesting to see if Golden Spike’s plan will work to bring these expenses down. I surely hope so.

Moon Rovers Planned for Commercial Lunar Exploration Project

Bigelow Module on the I.S.S.

From spaceref.com:

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver announced Wednesday a newly planned addition to the International Space Station that will use the orbiting laboratory to test expandable space habitat technology. NASA has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2015 for a two-year technology demonstration.

“Today we’re demonstrating progress on a technology that will advance important long-duration human spaceflight goals,” Garver said. “NASA’s partnership with Bigelow opens a new chapter in our continuing work to bring the innovation of industry to space, heralding cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably.”

The BEAM is scheduled to launch aboard the eighth SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the station contracted by NASA, currently planned for 2015. Following the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft carrying the BEAM to the station, astronauts will use the station’s robotic arm to install the module on the aft port of the Tranquility node.

After the module is berthed to the Tranquility node, the station crew will activate a pressurization system to expand the structure to its full size using air stored within the packed module.

During the two-year test period, station crew members and ground-based engineers will gather performance data on the module, including its structural integrity and leak rate. An assortment of instruments embedded within module also will provide important insights on its response to the space environment. This includes radiation and temperature changes compared with traditional aluminum modules.

“The International Space Station is a uniquely suited test bed to demonstrate innovative exploration technologies like the BEAM,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “As we venture deeper into space on the path to Mars, habitats that allow for long-duration stays in space will be a critical capability. Using the station’s resources, we’ll learn how humans can work effectively with this technology in space, as we continue to advance our understanding in all aspects for long-duration spaceflight aboard the orbiting laboratory.”

Astronauts periodically will enter the module to gather performance data and perform inspections. Following the test period, the module will be jettisoned from the station, burning up on re-entry.

The BEAM project is sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Program, which pioneers innovative approaches to rapidly and affordably develop prototype systems for future human exploration missions. The BEAM demonstration supports an AES objective to develop a deep space habitat for human missions beyond Earth orbit.

A $17.8M contract is chump change for an I.S.S. article, but then again it’s only a test stand.

Bigelow plans on selling these things to countries like Japan and England who might want their own space stations on the cheap.

Maybe Golden Spike will buy a couple for a future Moon Base?

NASA To Test Bigelow Expandable Module On Space Station

Robot Rovers To Explore Asteroids and Moons

From kurzweilai.net:

Stanford researchers in collaboration with NASA JPL and MIT have designed a robotic platform that involves a mother spacecraft deploying one or several spiked, roughly spherical rovers to the Martian moon Phobos.

Measuring about half a meter wide, each rover would hop, tumble and bound across the cratered, lopsided moon, relaying information about its origins, as well as its soil and other surface materials.

Developed by Marco Pavone, an assistant professor in Stanford’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Phobos Surveyor, a coffee-table-sized vehicle flanked by two umbrella-shaped solar panels, would orbit around Phobos throughout the mission. The researchers have already constructed a prototype.

The Surveyor would release only one hedgehog at a time. Together, the mothership and hedgehogs would work together to determine the hedgehog’s position and orientation. Using this information, they would map a trajectory, which the mother craft would then command the hedgehog to travel.

In turn, the spiky explorers would relay scientific measurements back to the Phobos Surveyor, which would forward the data to researchers on Earth. Based on their analysis of the data, the scientists would direct the mothership to the next hedgehog deployment site.

An entire mission would last two to three years. Just flying to Phobos would take the Surveyor about two years. Then the initial reconnaissance phase, during which the Surveyor would map the terrain, would last a few months. The mothership would release each of the five or six hedgehogs several days apart, allowing scientists enough time to decide where to release the next hedgehog.

For many decisions, Pavone’s system renders human control unnecessary. “It’s the next level of autonomy in space,” he said.

Moon clues

The synergy between the Phobos Surveyor and the hedgehogs would also be reflected in their sharing of scientific roles. The Surveyor would take large-scale measurements, while the hedgehogs would gather more detailed data. For example, the Surveyor might use a gamma ray or neutron detector to measure the concentration of various chemical elements and compounds on the surface, while the hedgehogs might use microscopes to measure the fine crevices and fissures lining the terrain.

Although scientists could use the platform to explore any of the solar system’s smaller members, including comets and asteroids, Pavone has designed it with the Martian moon Phobos in mind.

An analysis of Phobos’ soil composition could uncover clues about the moon’s origin. Scientists have yet to agree on whether Phobos is an asteroid captured by the gravity of Mars or a piece of Mars that an asteroid impact flung into orbit. This could have deep implications for our current understanding of the origin and evolution of the solar system, Pavone said.

To confirm Phobos’ origins, Pavone’s group plans to deploy most of the hybrids near Stickney Crater. Besides providing a gravity “sweet spot” where the mother craft can stably hover between Mars and Phobos, the crater also exposes the moon’s inner layers.

A human mission to Mars presents hefty challenges, mainly associated with the planet’s high gravity, which heightens the risk of crashing during takeoffs and landings. The large amounts of fuel needed to overcome Mars’ strong pull during takeoffs could also make missions prohibitively expensive.

But Phobos’ gravity is a thousand times weaker than on Mars. If Phobos did indeed originate from the red planet, scientists could study Mars without the dangers and costs associated with its high gravity simply by sending astronauts to Phobos. They could study the moon itself or use it as a base station to operate a robot located on Mars.  The moon could also serve as a site to test technologies for potential use in a human mission to the planet.

“It’s a piece of technology that’s needed before any more expensive type of exploration is considered,” Pavone said of the spacecraft-rover hybrid. “Before sampling we need to know where to land. We need to deploy rovers to acquire info about the surface.”

These probes could  be precursors to a sample return mission. A promising area to dig determined beforehand would cut down on cost and wear and tear.

But these rovers could be used on their own for private industry, such as Google Maps in order to give ( and sell ) accurate virtual reality tours to Millenials who wish to sit in their livingrooms and explore Mars safely.

A true pre-Singularity technology.

Acrobatic space rovers to explore moons and asteroids

Slow Galactic Colonization, Zoo Hypothesis and the Fermi Paradox

I couldn’t resist posting this today after reading it at Centauri Dreams. It’s extremely mainstream, by which the papers Paul Gilster discusses uses geological travel times for interstellar travel and the effects on the Fermi Paradox.

But he talks about the “zoo” hypothesis for our supposed lack of contact with ETIs ( no discussion of UFOs what-so-ever of course ) and I find that fascinating:


Many explanations for the Fermi paradox exist, but Hair and Hedman want to look at the possibility that starflight is so long and difficult that it takes vast amounts of time (measured in geologic epochs) to colonize on the galactic scale. Given that scenario, large voids within the colonized regions may still persist and remain uninhabited. If the Earth were located inside one of these voids we would not be aware of the extraterrestrial expansion. A second possibility is that starflight is so hard to achieve that other civilizations have simply not had time to reach us despite having, by some calculations, as much as 5 billion years to have done so (the latter figure comes from Charles Lineweaver, and I’ll have more to say about it in a moment).

Image: A detailed view of part of the disc of the spiral galaxy NGC 4565. Have technological civilizations had time enough to spread through an entire galaxy, and if so, would they be detectable? Credit: ESA/NASA.

The authors work with an algorithm that allows modeling of the expansion from the original star, running through iterations that allow emigration patterns to be analyzed in light of these prospects. It turns out that in 250 iterations, covering 250,000 years, a civilization most likely to emigrate will travel about 500 light years, for a rate of expansion that is approximately one-fourth of the maximum travel speed of one percent of the speed of light, the conservative figure chosen for this investigation. A civilization would spread through the galaxy in less than 50 million years.

These are striking numbers. Given five billion years to work with, the first civilization to develop starfaring capabilities could have colonized the Milky Way not one but 100 times. The idea that it takes billions of years to accomplish a galaxy-wide expansion fails the test of this modeling. Moreover, the idea of voids inside colonized space fails to explain the Fermi paradox as well:

…while interior voids exist at lower values of c initially, most large interior voids become colonized after long periods regardless of the cardinal value chosen, leaving behind only relatively small voids. In an examination of several 250 Kyr models with a wide range of parameters, the largest interior void encountered was roughly 30 light years in diameter. Since humans have been broadcasting radio since the early 20th century and actively listening to radio signals from space since 1960 (Time 1960), it is highly unlikely that the Earth is located in a void large enough to remain undiscovered to the present day. It follows that the second explanation of Fermi’s Paradox (Landis 1998) is not supported by the model presented.

There are mitigating factors that can slow down what the authors call the ‘explosively exponential nature’ of expansion, in which a parent colony produces daughter colonies and the daughters continue to do the same ad infinitum. The paper’s model suggests that intense competition for new worlds can spring up in the expanding wavefront of colonization. At the same time, moving into interior voids to fill them with colonies slows the outward expansion. But even models set up to reduce competition between colonies present the same result: Fermi’s lunchtime calculations seem to be valid, and the fact that we do not see evidence of other civilizations suggests that this kind of galactic expansion has not yet taken place.

Temporal Dispersion into the Galaxy

I can’t discuss Hair and Hedman’s work without reference to Hair’s earlier paper on the expansion of extraterrestrial civilizations over time. Tom had sent me this one in 2011 and I worked it into the Centauri Dreams queue before getting sidetracked by preparations for the 100 Year Starship symposium in Orlando. If I had been on the ball, I would have run an analysis of Tom’s paper at the time, but the delay gives me the opportunity to consider the two papers together, which turns out to work because they are a natural fit.

For you can see that Hair’s spatial analysis goes hand in glove with the question of why an extraterrestrial intelligence might avoid making its presence known. Given that models of expansion point to a galaxy that can be colonized many times over before humans ever emerged on our planet, let’s take up a classic answer to the Fermi paradox, that the ‘zoo hypothesis’ is in effect, a policy of non-interference in local affairs for whatever reason. Initially compelling, the idea seems to break down under close examination, given that it only takes one civilization to act contrary to it.

But there is one plausible scenario that allows the zoo hypothesis to work: The influence of a particularly distinguished civilization. Call it the first civilization. What sort of temporal head start would this first civilization have over later arrivals?

Hair uses Monte Carlo simulations, drawing on the work of Charles Lineweaver and the latter’s estimate that planets began forming approximately 9.3 billion years ago. Using Earth as a model and assuming that life emerged here about 600 million years after formation, we get an estimate of 8.7 billion years ago for the appearance of the first life in the Milky Way. Factoring in how long it took for complex land-dwelling organisms to evolve (3.7 billion years), Lineweaver concludes that the conditions necessary to support intelligent life in the universe could have been present for at least 5.0 billion years. At some point in that 5 billion years, if other intelligent species exist, the first civilization arose. Hair’s modeling goes to work on how long this civilization would have had to itself before other intelligence emerged. The question thus has Fermi implications:

…even if this first grand civilization is long gone . . . could their initial legacy live on in the form of a passed down tradition? Beyond this, it does not even have to be the first civilization, but simply the first to spread its doctrine and control over a large volume of the galaxy. If just one civilization gained this hegemony in the distant past, it could form an unbroken chain of taboo against rapacious colonization in favour of non-interference in those civilizations that follow. The uniformity of motive concept previously mentioned would become moot in such a situation.

Thus the Zoo Hypothesis begins to look a bit more plausible if we have each subsequent civilization emerging into a galaxy monitored by a vastly more ancient predecessor who has established the basic rules for interaction between intelligent species. The details of Hair’s modeling are found in the paper, but the conclusions are startling, at least to me:

The time between the emergence of the first civilization within the Milky Way and all subsequent civilizations could be enormous. The Monte Carlo data show that even using a crowded galaxy scenario the first few inter-arrival times are similar in length to geologic epochs on Earth. Just what could a civilization do with a ten million, one hundred million, or half billion year head start (Kardashev 1964)? If, for example, civilizations uniformly arise within the Galactic Habitable Zone, then on these timescales the first civilization would be able to reach the solar system of the second civilization long before it evolved even travelling at a very modest fraction of light speed (Bracewell 1974, 1982; Freitas 1980). What impact would the arrival of the first civilization have on the future evolution of the second civilization? Would the second civilization even be allowed to evolve? Attempting to answer these questions leads to one of two basic conclusions, the first is that we are alone in the Galaxy and thus no one has passed this way, and the second is that we are not alone in the Galaxy and someone has passed this way and then deliberately left us alone.

The zoo hypothesis indeed. A galactic model of non-interference is a tough sell because of the assumed diversity between cultures emerging on a vast array of worlds over time. But Hair’s ‘modified zoo hypothesis’ has great appeal. It assumes that the oldest civilization in the galaxy has a 100 million year head start, allowing it to become hugely influential in monitoring or perhaps controlling emerging civilizations. We would thus be talking about the possibility of evolving similar cultural standards with regard to contact as civilizations follow the lead of this assumed first intelligence when expanding into the galaxy. It’s an answer to Fermi that holds out hope we are not alone, and I’ll count that as still another encouraging thought on the day the world didn’t end.

I have a problem with this simply because of the economics involved; what is the motivation for ETIs to expand into the Universe to begin with?

Like, are they like humans in the sense that we go because “it’s there?”

Or are there more practical impulses involved like “can we make money” on these endeavors?

A commentor to this particular post wrote that before we colonize ( if we ever do ) the Moon, Mars and other planets in this Solar System ( and perhaps the closer stars ) that it’ll be cheaper to shoot small probes with micro cameras to these places ( NASA is already proposing sending tele-operated probes to the Lunar surface instead of astronauts ) and sell virtual reality tours. Expanded versions of Google Earth and Google Mars!

In other words, it’s cheaper to build Universes that have Star Trek and upload your mind into it than actually building such things as star-ships!

Could this be an answer to the Fermi Paradox?

New Models of Galactic Expansion

Mars and all that radiation

From Phys.org:

Can humans live on Mars ?

Curiosity is taking the first ever radiation measurements from the surface of another planet in order to determine if future human explorers can live on Mars – as she traverses the terrain of the Red Planet. Curiosity is looking back to her rover tracks and the foothills of Mount Sharp and the eroded rim of Gale Crater in the distant horizon on Sol 24 (Aug. 30, 2012). This panorama is featured on PBS NOVA ‘Ultimate Mars Challenge’ documentary which premiered on Nov. 14. RAD is located on the rover deck in this colorized mosaic stitched together from Navcam images. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Ken Kremer / Marco Di Lorenzo

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-11-humans-mars.html#jCp

NASA’s plucky Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has thrived for nearly a decade traversing the plains of Meridiani Planum despite the continuous bombardment of sterilizing cosmic and solar radiation from charged particles thanks to her radiation hardened innards. How about humans? What fate awaits them on a bold and likely year’s long expedition to the endlessly extreme and drastically harsh environment on the surface of the radiation drenched Red Planet – if one ever gets off the ground here on Earth? How much shielding would people need? Answering these questions is one of the key quests ahead for NASA’s SUV sized Curiosity Mars rover – now 100 Sols, or Martian days, into her 2 year long primary mission phase. Preliminary data looks promising. Curiosity survived the 8 month interplanetary journey and the unprecedented sky crane rocket powered descent maneuver to touch down safely inside Gale Crater beside the towering layered foothills of 3 mi. (5.5 km) high Mount Sharp on Aug. 6, 2012. Now she is tasked with assessing whether Mars and Gale Crater ever offered a habitable environment for microbial life forms – past or present. Characterizing the naturally occurring radiation levels stemming from galactic cosmic rays and the sun will address the habitability question for both microbes and astronauts. Radiation can destroy near-surface organic molecules.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-11-humans-mars.html#jCp

Can humans live on Mars ?

Longer-Term Radiation Variations at Gale Crater. This graphic shows the variation of radiation dose measured by the Radiation Assessment Detector on NASA’s Curiosity rover over about 50 sols, or Martian days, on Mars. (On Earth, Sol 10 was Sept. 15 and Sol 60 was Oct. 6, 2012.) The dose rate of charged particles was measured using silicon detectors and is shown in black. The total dose rate (from both charged particles and neutral particles) was measured using a plastic scintillator and is shown in red. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ SwRI

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-11-humans-mars.html#jCp

Researchers are using Curiosity’s state-of-the-art Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) instrument to monitor high-energy radiation on a daily basis and help determine the potential for real life health risks posed to future human explorers on the Martian surface. “The atmosphere provides a level of shielding, and so charged-particle radiation is less when the atmosphere is thicker,” said RAD Principal Investigator Don Hassler of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. See the data graphs. “Absolutely, the astronauts can live in this environment. It’s not so different from what astronauts might experience on the International Space Station. The real question is if you add up the total contribution to the astronaut’s total dose on a Mars mission can you stay within your career limits as you accumulate those numbers. Over time we will get those numbers,” Hassler explained. The initial RAD data from the first two months on the surface was revealed at a media briefing for reporters on Thursday, Nov. 15 and shows that radiation is somewhat lower on Mars surface compared to the space environment due to shielding from the thin Martian atmosphere. RAD hasn’t detected any large solar flares yet from the surface. “That will be very important,” said Hassler. “If there was a massive solar flare that could have an acute effect which could cause vomiting and potentially jeopardize the mission of a spacesuited astronaut.” “Overall, Mars’ atmosphere reduces the radiation dose compared to what we saw during the cruise to Mars by a factor of about two.” RAD was operating and already taking radiation measurements during the spacecraft’s interplanetary cruise to compare with the new data points now being collected on the floor of Gale Crater. Enlarge Curiosity Self Portrait with Mount Sharp at Rocknest ripple in Gale Crater. Curiosity used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the robotic arm to image herself and her target destination Mount Sharp in the background. Mountains in the background to the left are the northern wall of Gale Crater. This color panoramic mosaic was assembled from raw images snapped on Sol 85 (Nov. 1, 2012). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-11-humans-mars.html#jCp

Mars atmospheric pressure is a bit less than 1% of Earth’s. It varies somewhat in relation to atmospheric cycles dependent on temperature and the freeze-thaw cycle of the polar ice caps and the resulting daily thermal tides. “We see a daily variation in the radiation dose measured on the surface which is anti-correlated with the pressure of the atmosphere. Mars atmosphere is acting as a shield for the radiation. As the atmosphere gets thicker that provides more of a shield. Therefore we see a dip in the radiation dose by about 3 to 5%, every day,” said Hassler. There are also seasonal changes in radiation levels as Mars moves through space. The RAD team is still refining the radiation data points. “There’s calibrations and characterizations that we’re finalizing to get those numbers precise. We’re working on that. And we’re hoping to release that at the AGU [American Geophysical Union] meeting in December.”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-11-humans-mars.html#jCp

This article epitomizes the battle between the sending humans to explore space and the artificial life-form/machine crowds.

I can truly understand the human exploration groups – they are the folks I grew up with during the Gemini/Apollo/Moon-landing eras and I will forever regard those folks as heroes and pioneers.

But as a late middle-aged adult who has followed the Space Age for the past 50 years I see the writing on the wall – economics are determining the course of spaceflight into the Solar System and Universe. And machine explorers are definitely more economical than human ones, especially in the foreseeable future.

I remain hopeful however that individuals like James Cameron and Elon Musk will find economical ways to colonize Mars and eventually nearby planets within 4 – 6 light-years.

Hey, if the Marianas Trench can be explored by folks like Cameron, so can Mars and Alpha Centauri Bb!

Can humans live on Mars?

Interplanetary Internet Communication and Robotics

From Kurzweilai.net:

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) used an experimental version of interplanetary Internet in late October to control an educational rover from the International Space Station, NASA says.

The experiment used NASA’s Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol to transmit messages and demonstrate technology that one day may enable Internet-like communications with space vehicles and support habitats or infrastructure on another planet.

Space station Expedition 33 commander Sunita Williams in late October used a NASA-developed laptop to remotely drive a small LEGO robot at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. The European-led experiment used NASA’s DTN to simulate a scenario in which an astronaut in a vehicle orbiting a planetary body controls a robotic rover on the planet’s surface.

“The demonstration showed the feasibility of using a new communications infrastructure to send commands to a surface robot from an orbiting spacecraft and receive images and data back from the robot,” said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation at NASA Headquarters. “The experimental DTN we’ve tested from the space station may one day be used by humans on a spacecraft in orbit around Mars to operate robots on the surface, or from Earth using orbiting satellites as relay stations.”

The DTN architecture is a new communications technology that enables standardized communications similar to the Internet to function over long distances and through time delays associated with on-orbit or deep space spacecraft or robotic systems. The core of the DTN suite is the Bundle Protocol (BP), which is roughly equivalent to the Internet Protocol (IP) that serves as the core of the Internet on Earth.

While IP assumes a continuous end-to-end data path exists between the user and a remote space system, DTN accounts for disconnections and errors. In DTN, data move through the network “hop-by-hop.” While waiting for the next link to become connected, bundles are temporarily stored and then forwarded to the next node when the link becomes available.

NASA’s work on DTN is part of the agency’s Space Communication and Navigation (SCaN) Program. SCaN coordinates multiple space communications networks and network support functions to regulate, maintain and grow NASA’s space communications and navigation capabilities in support of the agency’s space missions.

This ties in with NASA’s future plans of putting a small space station at the L2 (EML-2) point in the Moon’s orbit so that robotic exploration of the lunar surface can take place.

Of course this depends if this method is cost effective or not and the taxpaying public ( in both the U.S. and the EU ) are willing to foot the bill.

Astronaut on ISS uses interplanetary Internet to control robot in Germany

Moon Water

From Space.com:

A crater on the moon that is a prime target for human exploration may be tantalizingly rich in ice, though researchers warn it could just as well hold none at all.

The scientists investigated Shackleton Crater, which sits almost directly on the moon’s south pole. The crater, named after the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, is more than 12 miles wide (19 kilometers) and 2 miles deep (3 km) — about as deep as Earth’s oceans.

The interiors of polar craters on the moon are in nearly perpetual darkness, making them cold traps that researchers have long suspected might be home to vast amounts of frozen water and thus key candidates for human exploration. However, previous orbital and Earth-based observations of lunar craters have yielded conflicting interpretations over whether ice is there.

For instance, the Japanese spacecraft Kaguya saw no discernible signs of ice within Shackleton Crater, but NASA’s LCROSS probe analyzed Cabeus Crater near the moon’s south pole and found it measured as much as 5 percent water by mass. [Photos: Searching for Water on the Moon]

Now scientists who have mapped Shackleton Crater with unprecedented detail have found evidence of ice inside the crater.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter essentially illuminated the crater’s interior with infrared laser light, measuring how reflective it was. The crater’s floor is more reflective than that of other nearby craters, suggesting it had ice.

“Water ice in amounts of up to 20 percent is a viable possibility,” study lead author Maria Zuber, a geophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told SPACE.com.

Don’t get your hopes up, though. The amount of ice in Shackleton Crater “can also be much less, conceivably as little as zero,” Zuber cautioned.

This uncertainty is due in part to what the researchers saw in the rest of the crater. Bizarrely, while the crater’s floor was relatively bright, Zuber and her colleagues observed that its walls were even more reflective.

Scientists had thought that if highly reflective ice were anywhere in a crater, it would be on the floor, which live in nearly permanent darkness. In comparison, the walls of Shackleton Crater occasionally see daylight, which should evaporate any ice that accumulates.

The researchers think the reflectance of the crater’s walls is due not to ice, but to quakes. Every once in a while, the moon experiences shaking brought on by meteor collisions or the pull of the Earth. These “moonquakes” may have caused Shackleton’s walls to slough off older, darker soil, revealing newer, brighter soil underneath.

Whether or not the crater floor is brightly reflective due to ice or other factors is also open to question.

Shackleton Crater Relief Split View

This split-view image shows an elevation map (left) and shaded relief (right) of the 21-kilometer-wide Shackleton Crater. The crater’s structure is shown in false color from data by NASA’s LRO probe. Image released June 20, 2012. CREDIT: NASA/GSFC/SVS

“The reflectance could be indicative of something else in addition to or other than water ice,” Zuber said. For instance, the crater floor might be reflective because it could have had relatively little exposure to solar and cosmic radiation that would have darkened it.

Zuber noted that the measurements only look at a micron-thick portion of Shackleton Crater’s uppermost layer. “A bigger question is how much water might be buried at depth,” Zuber said, adding that NASA’s GRAIL mission will investigate that possibility.

The researchers also used the orbiter to map the crater’s floor and the slope of its walls. This topographic map will help shed light on crater formation and study other uncharted areas of the moon.

“We would like to study other lunar polar craters in comparable detail,” Zuber said. “There is much to be learned here.”


Huge Moon Crater’s Water Ice Supply Revealed

What does all this mean? Will the current occupants of the Moon share the water with us humans?

I wouldn’t bet on it.

We’re being relegated to catching asteroids.

Chang’e 2 Moon Photos

Finally some coherent Chinese moon probe (Chang’e 2) photos are released, along with one of the Chinese bosses of course.

Released with some fanfare (that’s the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, there. [Editor's note: originally had Jiabao as the "head of state"; that would actually be the president, Hu Jintao, not the premier, Jiabao]), the images get more or less straight to the point: they’re of the Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridium), which China has slated to be the potential landing location of it’s Chang’e-3 rover mission.

The images include a 3-D map, and have a resolution of ~1.3 meters (for comparison, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has resolution up to 1 m

Check out the official Chinese release page for all the images :) (A rough translation notes the last image is labeled as “antarctic”, so it’s unclear if that’s also a Bay of Rainbows crater, or one near the lunar south pole.)

I find the crater at the Lunar South Pole kind of interesting, kind of looks like a blast area for propulsion.

Which feeds into the artificial Moon theory.

No way, eh?

China Reveals First Chang’e-2 Photos!

Lunar Probes on a shoestring/Aqua-Net = Pre-Atlantropa?

While NASA is in the throes of budgetary Purgatory, they did manage to come up with an unique, inexpensive way to put a couple of probes that have finished their primary mission into Lunar orbit to do some extra science:

A pair of Earth-orbiting satellites designed to study the auroras are making a detour to visit the moon.

The two spacecraft are part of a fleet of five launched into Earth orbit by NASA in 2007 on a mission called THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms). They have been studying the space storms that trigger the northern and southern lights, or auroras, on Earth.

But two of the satellites were set to go on death row earlier this year. If they had been left in their original orbits, the solar-powered craft would have made lengthy passages through Earth’s shadow in March 2010, fatally draining their batteries, according to a Discovery News story.

To avoid this and to squeeze some more science out of the two spacecraft, the THEMIS team decided to send them farther from Earth and park them in orbit around the moon.

But there was a problem. Getting into orbit around the moon takes a lot of energy, and the two spacecraft simply didn’t have enough fuel to get the job done. So the team devised a clever, roundabout way to get there on a shoestring.

“We realized that if we had enough fuel to change their orbits, the moon’s gravity would start pulling them up,” the mission’s chief scientist Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University of California, Berkeley, told Discovery News.

The spacecraft were already in elongated orbits that passed close to Earth at one end and looped far into space at the other end. Starting in 2009, the spacecraft used their thrusters to extend the far end of their orbits, setting them up for close encounters with the moon.

The gravitational slingshot effect from these lunar encounters, as well as the probes’ close passes near Earth, changed their trajectories drastically – you can see the technical details here (pdf). Their own thrusters should be able to do the rest of the job, putting them in orbit around the moon in 2011. There, they will measure tenuous gas surrounding the moon, called the exosphere, and record the interaction of the solar wind with the moon.

Not bad for two spacecraft that would have been space junk by now without this creative rescue plan.

So NASA is capable of planning economic missions if pressed. We need more thinking like this.

Aurora mission makes detour to moon


Remember Atlantropa? The German idea from the early 20th Century to put a dam in the Straits of Gibraltar and divert the waters of the Mediterranean Sea into Africa in order to modify the Sahara Desert? (link)

Well, the Shimizu Corporation has a similar idea with its ‘Aqua-Net’:

Challenges of the future include energy use and continued population growth. And, while there are millions of square miles of land available in the world, not all of it is considered fit for human habitation. Shimizu Corporation, the company contemplating the Luna Ring, has another interesting project in the “just coming up with an idea” stage: The Desert Aqua-Net.

The  Aqua-Net is an idea that involves the building of interconnected lakes in the desert. These 18-mile-diameter lakes would be connected by canals fed from the ocean. The lakes would include built islands that could serve as homes for cities teeming with people. Supposedly, this would work because water from the lake would cool the cities, making them livable. There would also be arable land, theoretically, after this cooling above the desert lake islands. The cities would be powered by satellite power stations, and by the sun.

One of the biggest draw backs is that the lakes would be filled with . While the  would provide the opportunities for water-based wildlife, and even for biomass development, it doesn’t provide much opportunity for drinking. However, Shimizu plans that the some of the  would be desalinated, and thus made fit for human consumption and for irrigation of crops.

Of course, cost is a huge barrier to a project like the Aqua-Net. It would be extremely expensive, not to mention use vast resources, to build this Desert Aqua-Net. Other problems could easily arise, related to impacts on oceans and rivers. And, of course, predicting weather patterns, and changes to the climate, could present problems, since these cities could be impacted quite a bit. Finally, and not least, issues of sovereignty would likely arise — especially since the Desert Aqua-Net would require a great deal of cooperation between countries.

I think I would try this project in Australia first. They have experienced an extended drought in their interior for over seven years plus they have an advanced sea-water desalinization technology.

If the powers that be are trying to push for a Kardashev “Type One” civilization here, control of all of the planet’s resources and climate is necessary.

Could an Aqua-Net Bring Water to the Desert?


Today’s hat tip is Graham Hancock’s NewsDesk.

More Ancient Lunar Cover-ups

For years there have been rumors of spaceships and aliens on the far side of the Moon. In fact, the rumors have recently started since the US once again canceled another return to the Moon program (although it was rife with price over-runs, time slips and political pork).

Is the Moon occupied by an alien race? Or even more strange, by vestiges of an ancient human culture from an earlier age of advanced civilization that was spread through-out the Inner Solar System?

As Alice said, “…curiouser and curiouser…”


Timex Watch Found on the Moon


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