Daily Archives: March 7th, 2008

Friday Space News


NASA is facing the prospect of having to explore deep space without the aid of the long-lasting nuclear batteries it has relied upon for decades to send spacecraft to destinations where sunlight is in short supply.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told a House Appropriations subcommittee March 5 that the U.S. inventory of plutonium-238 — the radioactive material essential for building long-lasting batteries known to the experts as radioisotope power systems — is running out quickly.

“Looking ahead, plutonium is in short supply,” Griffin told lawmakers during the first of two days of hearings on the U.S. space agency’s 2009 budget request.

I know most of my readers hate nuclear energy in any form (except fusion possibly), but plutonium batteries are the most efficient way to power space probes to the outer solar system. A comparable solar power system would require extra-large panels that are mass prohibitive.

Plutonium Shortage May Thwart Future NASA Missions to Outer Planets


The mysterious properties of black holes can be recreated on a tabletop, scientists now reveal.Solving mysteries concerning black holes could yield key clues toward a “theory of everything” that unites how we conceive of all the natural forces.Black holes rank among the greatest enigmas of the universe. Scientists theorize black holes have gravitational pulls so powerful that nothing, including light, can escape after falling past a border known as the event horizon.Direct experiments with black holes are unlikely, due at the very least to how far any are from Eearth, not to mention how difficult these warps in space and time would be to work with. Instead, researchers are searching for ways to create lab models of event horizons. Now scientists have created an artificial event horizon on a tabletop using fiber optics.

I’m not a quantum physicist, but if I’m not mistaken an earlier attempt at creating wormholes follows along these lines too. Is this a precursor to recreating micro-universes?

Black Hole Effect Created In Lab


Space Daily:

Scientists studying images from The University of Arizona-led High Resolution Imaging Experiment camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have discovered never-before-seen impact “megabreccia” and a possibly once-habitable ancient lake on Mars at a place called Holden crater. The megabreccia is topped by layers of fine sediments that formed in what apparently was a long-lived, calm lake that filled Holden crater on early Mars, HiRISE scientists say. The Holden Crater image is on the HiRISE Website. “Holden crater has some of the best-exposed lake deposits and ancient megabreccia known on Mars,” said HiRISE’s principal investigator, professor Alfred McEwen of the UA’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. “Both contain minerals that formed in the presence of water and mark potentially habitable environments. This would be an excellent place to send a rover or sample-return mission to make major advances in understanding if Mars supported life.”

For this reason alone we should send a human being to find possible fossils. Or actual living critters for that matter.

HiRISE Discovers A Possibly Once Habitable Ancient Mars Lake


Air Force Reserve Command officials are expanding the critical role reservists play in space operations by establishing AFRC’s first space wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. Command officials will activate the 310th Space Wing March 7. The new organization is an expansion of the existing 310th Space Group, based at Schriever AFB. “This will be a landmark day in our Air Force’s long and proud history,” said Col. Jeff Ansted, 310th Space Group commander. “Our members have worked very hard over the past 15 years to provide unrivaled support in operating and defending our space systems. By increasing our unit’s mission and responsibilities, the Air Force is again acknowledging that space is a vital component to fighting and winning our nation’s wars.” The new organization comprises 16 subordinate units located at Schriever AFB, Peterson AFB and Buckley AFB in Colorado and Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

The U.S. Air Force Space Reserve probably gets more funding in one year than NASA does in five. Air Force Reserve Establishes First Space Wing _________________________________________________________________

Centauri Dreams:

Science fiction has brought us so many concepts for colonizing the stars over the last hundred years, everything from interstellar arks loading thousands of colonists (the sea-faring metaphor) to worldships that see generations of crewmembers live and die during their long joiurney. Suspended animation can get people through a trip that takes centuries, while robotic wardens might oversee the safe passage of human genetic material that could be converted into a colony upon arrival.von Neumann and ENIACIf you want to be on the cutting edge today, though, better look toward what George Dvorsky talks about in Seven ways to control the Galaxy with self-replicating probes. Here’s a novel way to colonize a distant star system: Let a von Neumann probe find a promising planet and use the matter it finds there to establish a colony and fill it with settlers. Not the kind of settler that gets out of a suspended animation tank, yawns, stretches, and then walks out onto an alien landscape, but an uploaded consciousness that would be able to take physical (robotic) form to explore the new environment.

This would be possible only with a Technological Singularity as purported by Vinge, Bradbury, Kurzweil and others. I was a fan of the Singularity, but now I see it as a techno-religion with promises of a Rapture and an after-life. Post-agricultural human constants, but it relieves us of our responsibilities to ourselves and future generations. This also could be a reason for the UFO phenomenon. Read Mac Tonnies’ essay on it here.

As for myself, I’ll take Asimov’s spomes‘ (sky-life) leisurely approach anytime!

Lastly, check out this week’s Carnival of Space at the Bad Astronomy blog, you won’t be disappointed!