Category Archives: Space Colonization

Whittington: Let's shoot for the moon – yes, again

In this Feb. 13, 1971, photo, Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard Jr. conducts an experiment near a lunar crater. Science is a good reason to go back to the moon, but commercial development is a better one. Photo: HOGP / AP1971
Photo: HOGP

In this Feb. 13, 1971, photo, Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard Jr. conducts an experiment near a lunar crater. Science is a good reason to go back to the moon, but commercial development is a better one.

The ink was not yet dry on the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 when U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, announced that he was going to work on a new NASA Authorization bill that will chart a long-term course for the space agency. Speaking to the Commercial Space Federation in Washington, D.C., last month, Cruz also said he will work on a new commercial space transportation bill that will build on the success of the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. Cruz, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space, will be in the position to determine where and, almost as important, how and why America will go into space for the foreseeable future. He also will be able to correct some of the mistakes of the past that have hampered the American civil space program for the past 10 or so years.

One of the singular mistakes that President Barack Obama made concerning space policy was to cancel the Bush-era return-to-the-moon program. On April 15, 2010, Obama stood before a select audience at the Kennedy Space Center, including Apollo moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, and declared, “Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the moon first, as previously planned. But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before. Buzz has been there.” Instead, Obama set Mars as the goal, with the first boots on the ground on the Red Planet scheduled sometime in the 2030s, decades away.

Subsequent studies, conducted by MIT and a think tank called Next-Gen Space, revealed that the decision to bypass the moon was, at best, ill-considered. Water ice, hidden away in cratersat the moon’s poles, would serve as a source for rocket fuel for missions to Mars and other destinations, simplifying the missions and making them cheaper to mount. The moon also has some inherent benefits – commercial, scientific and political – which makes it attractive as a destination beyond President Obama’s jibe of “Been there, done that.”


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So, in crafting the new NASA bill, Cruz should designate the moon as the near-term target for American astronauts. But then, why should America go back to the moon?

During the 1960s-era Apollo race to the moon, national prestige, beating the Soviet Union and demonstrating the superiority of democracy and capitalism, were the primary motivations. The science that the astronauts performed on the lunar surface, while important to this day, was incidental.

Prestige, which in the 21st century also means space leadership, is just as important today as it was 50 years ago. Science is an excellent rationale for going back to the moon as well. But the overriding reason for a return to the moon should be something that did not exist in the 1960s, that being commercial development. The moon, besides the aforementioned water, has deposits of platinum group metals, as well as rare-earth minerals and an isotope called helium-3 that could be used as fuel for future fusion reactors. If markets could be developed for these resources, on Earth or in space, they could become the foundation of a new, space-based economy.

Commercial development should, therefore, be the overriding rationale for returning to the moon. Prospector robots could be sent to characterize where and in what quantities useful minerals are located. If lunar mining becomes economically feasible, then a crewed lunar base would become a center of commerce as well as scientific exploration and international cooperation as lunar miners work side by side with scientists and explorers.

Why we should go back to the moon is a question that leads us to: How? Prospector robots could be commercially developed by such companies as Moon Express and Astrobotic in partnership with NASA. When astronauts return to the moon, they could do so in commercially procured landers. They could live on the lunar surface in commercial habitats and acquire air, water, food and energy from commercial providers. Commercial companies can solve some of the problems of living and working in space for less cost than NASA, while benefiting from the space agency’s knowledge base and resources. Commercial development of the moon holds out the possibility that space exploration could become a net money maker. While some space advocates have pointed to technological spinoffs that they suggest offset the cost of prior exploration efforts, developing a purpose with a direct economic benefit would inculcate the idea that space is not just an expensive hobby that some great nations indulge in, but something that is vital for their continued prosperity.

If all of those principles are incorporated in a new NASA bill and a commercial space law, they could change the course of American space policy with benefits that may well be out of this world.

Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has just published a political study of space exploration titled, “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.

Our view: Keep looking to the stars

Space exploration is not a topic that strikes most of us with the same immediacy as tax reform or health care. It’s not as urgent. But it is a topic with long-term implications for our nation that we would be wise to heed.

That message was bolstered when Captain Jim Lovell visited Morehead Planetarium at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus on April 13 for a press conference and lecture. (He trained in celestial navigation at the planetarium some 40 years ago.)

Lovell, an astronaut who orbited the moon twice, is best known for commanding the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 13 in April 1970. Malfunctions and the threat of death in space led to his famous phrase, “Houston, we have a problem,” and a 1995 film, Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks.

But instead of that cold fate, Lovell, his fellow astronauts, and the scientists and engineers working for NASA used their ingenuity to bring the Apollo craft and its passengers safely home.

“This is a case where good leadership, including teamwork, are really what turned this into a successful recovery,” Lovell said at a press conference in Chapel Hill.

Lovell, still sharp-minded at 89, supports space exploration, suggesting we return to the moon — “we barely examined the moon,” he said in Chapel Hill — before going on to Mars.

Volumes have been written about the technological advancements and leaps in knowledge made through space exploration. Our solar system beckons us with its wonders — miles-high volcanoes, underground oceans — just days ago, the ocean of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, was revealed to possess conditions that could support microbiologic life — colorful, icy landscapes, whole worlds waiting to be explored. Scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson discuss colonizing Mars with entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, who is eager to send humans there.

The U.S. is not the leader in space exploration that it once was. Despite popular support, the NASA budget, miniscule in comparison to other programs, is often chipped at by a Congress looking for easy cuts. Its proposed 2018 budget is $19.1 billion, less than one percent of the total federal budget, and a 0.8 percent decrease from 2017. Missions to Mars and the Jovian moon Europa, which may harbor life under its icy crust, have been trimmed and postponed.

Other nations are stepping up to fill the gap and perhaps take the leadership role. India launched a successful Mars orbiter in 2014 and plans a lander next year. China expects to bring rock samples back from Mars in the 2020s. Russia is collaborating with the European Space Agency on several projects.

On Earth, we often find ourselves in conflict with one another. But space exploration more often than not calls to the best in us, harkening to a sense of optimism, of hope in the future, that can bolster us in dark times.

During his lecture, Lovell encouraged the next generation of scientists and engineers to jump in feet first, learn all that they can and follow their dreams. They could lead to the stars.

'Look at that you son of ab***h': First space protest against Donald Trump goes up in sky

First Space Protest Against Donald TrumpTwitter: @ASANspace

Donald Trump and protests have always walked hand in hand. Ever since he was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America, things have been rough for him.

And now, this unique protest is making protests great again, and his life, even more rough.

The Autonomous Space Agency Network (ASAN), a global network which promotes open source and ‘DIY’ space exploration said that it executed the first protest in near space on Wednesday to mark Yuri’s Night. which is a commemoration of the first human spaceflight by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, according to an RT report.

ASAN tweeted a message to President Trump alongside spectacular footage of the same message hanging loosely from space.

Drawing on inspiration from Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell who is the sixth person to walk on the moon, the agency made a banner which reverberates the memorable remark Mitchell made to describe the overwhelming experience of seeing the Earth from the moon:

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a b***h.”

Within near-space, the message was attached to a weather balloon. ASAN said that they protested in solidarity with the upcoming March for Science planned for Earth Day. It aims at defending the “vital role” of science in the society.

Watch the video of first space protest here:


This week in science: space exploration developments and the latest on human brain implants

This week in science is a review of the most interesting scientific news of the past week.

Mar’s global coverage created by MRO’s CTX. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter swept past its 50,000th orbit this week

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is NASA’s most data-productive spacecraft already sent to Mars, and it has achieved the 50,000th orbit-sweeping mark this week. MRO is currently responsible for science observations of Mars, by using its Context Camera (CTX), and for communications-relay service for two active Mars rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity.

CTX has already taken about 90,000 images since late 2006, the time it started operating. Until early 2017, it has surpassed 99 percent coverage of the entire planet, as can be seen in the image above. According to Michael Malin, CTX Team Leader:

“Reaching 99.1-percent coverage has been tricky because a number of factors, including weather conditions, coordination with other instruments, downlink limitations, and orbital constraints, tend to limit where we can image and when.”

Analysis of the area where NASA’s InSight mission will land in 2018. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona.

But MRO’s CTX has also observed 60.4 percent of the planet more than once, which helps scientists to create topographic maps of those regions. Those maps can be used to study possible landing sites for future missions to the red planet, what was the case for NASA’s next mission to Mars, the InSight lander, as can be seen in the image above.


CubeSat Mars atmosphere emulator. Source: International Potato Center.

We finally have a winning potato variety for future agriculture on Mars

As we have already covered here, the International Potato Center (CIP, in Spanish) has developed the Potatoes on Mars project, which is a series of experiments to determine if potatoes can grow under Mars’ atmospheric conditions. By using their CubeSat environment, which is hermetically sealed to avoid interference from the outside environment, and is constantly monitored by sensors to maintain the Martian conditions, they have finally determined a winning potato variety.

The winning variety is called “Unique”, and according to Julio Valdivia, an astrobiologist who is working on the project:

“It’s a ‘super potato’ that resists very high carbon dioxide conditions and temperatures that get to freezing.”

Now, scientists will build three more simulators to grow more potatoes under extreme conditions. Among those is a planned increase in the carbon dioxide concentrations, approaching those in the Martian atmosphere.


The Magellanic cloud. Source: NASA – Hubble Image.

NASA selects mission to study the chaotic “interstellar medium”

As already covered here at Neowin this week, NASA has selected the Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory (GUSTO) mission to conduct the first study of the interstellar medium. This medium contains lonely dust and gas particles that drift between stars. In the case of the Milky Way galaxy for example, the medium accounts for around 15% of the total mass of our galaxy.

The mission is expected to kick-off with the launch of an Ultralong-Duration Balloon carrying a $40 million dollar telescope over Antarctica in 2021.

Source: Neowin

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch. Source: NPR.

SpaceX has successfully launched its first recycled rocket into space

We have covered here at Neowin the first time ever a recycled rocket returned to space, a milestone achieved this week by SpaceX. As stated by Elon Musk, the company’s CEO:

“It means you can fly and re-fly an orbital class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket. This is going to be, ultimately, a huge revolution in spaceflight.”

The Falcon 9 rocket first stage took four months of inspections and refurbishments before being launched again. According to SpaceX’s website, the final goal of the development of reusable rockets is to deliver highly reliable vehicles at radically reduced costs. Finally, the company aims to launch five more pre-flown Falcon 9 rockets this year, which could transform space exploration as we know it.

Source: Neowin

William Kochevar, paralyzed from the shoulders down, uses a brain implant to control his arm and lift a fork to his mouth.
Source: MIT Technology Review.

The latest on human brain implants

A pilot trial by scientists from the Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center was successful in restoring movement to William Kochevar, who has a major spinal cord injury and is paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Scientists have implanted two chips into Kochevar’s brain, which were used to measure the electrical signals sent by neurons whenever he thought about moving his right arm. Those signals were then analyzed by an algorithm, and transmitted to the electrodes in Kochevar’s upper and lower arm. According to Kochevar:

“At first I had to think really hard to get it to do stuff. I’m still thinking about it, but I’m not recognizing that I’m thinking about it.”

Kochevar’s movements are still slow and limited, and the brain implants are expected to stop recording in one to four years. Such a short-life for the brain implants is still a huge problem for patients, and scientists still have to work on increasing it. But such an issue hasn’t stopped Elon Musk from announcing his latest venture this week: Neuralink.

As already covered here at Neowin, Neuralink wants to implant human brains with computing devices as a way for humans to remain relevant in the coming age of machine automation and AI. According to Elon Musk, humans face an upcoming “existential risk” that will be brought by those technologies, particularly AI.

Source: MIT Technology Review, Neowin

Stefanik co-sponsors US/Israel space collaboration legislation

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, on March 2 co-sponsored legislation Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., introduced Feb. 16 to direct the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to continue to work jointly with the Israel Space Agency “in identifying and cooperatively pursuing peaceful space exploration and science initiatives in areas of mutual interest,” according to the Library of Congress government information web site.

In October 2015, the two agencies signed an agreement that establishes the framework for NASA to utilize ISA technology for future missions to Mars and other endeavors.

The two space agencies have collaborated on various ventures since 1985.

The legislation — HR 1159 — had 25 co-sponsors, as of Sunday — 13 Republicans and 12 Democrats.

Other New York co-sponsors are Reps. Peter King, R-Long Island, and Kathleen Rice, D-Long Island.

New Book to Take a Comic (and Serious) Look at 10 Emerging Technologies

“Soonish” (Penguin Press, 2017), by Zach and Kelly Weinersmith, is set to release Oct. 17.

A new book will probe the future of technology from a scientific — and comedic — angle, exploring what’s coming next, what the future will really be like and what it will take to get that space elevator or moon colony running.

Zach and Kelly Weinersmith, the author of the online SMBC Comics and a biologist/podcaster, respectively, are aiming for an Oct. 17 release of the book, titled “Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything” (Penguin Press, 2017).

The husband-and-wife team investigate 10 developing fields of science and technology to figure out how they’d be used and the obstacles keeping them from becoming a reality, integrating interviews with scientists, original research and — of course — silly, irreverent comics. The promotional materials suggest space-based topics, including colonization, asteroid mining, deep space exploration and the aforementioned space elevator.

Right now, potential readers can preorder the book online, where an animated space elevator is slowly climbing past different additional perks based on preorder numbers, such as a recorded podcast discussing the book, signed bookplates and a live Q&A for the people that sign up.

The authors describe the work in true webcomic form in the graphic below.

Email Sarah Lewin at or follow her @SarahExplains. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

NASA Says 'Mars Ice Home' May Be Best Living Quarters on Red Planet


NASA is developing a Mars ice home for astronauts when the space agency finally reaches the Red Planet. The ice home or the Mars Ice Dome is being developed by a team of experts from NASA, architects, and designers from various industries and academia. Gathering at Langley’s Engineering Design Studio the Mars Ice Dome was one of many possible concepts for sustainable living on Mars.

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun and is the second-smallest planet in the Solar System. It is named after the Roman god of war and is often called the Red Planet because of the red soil on the surface. The soil is composed of iron oxide and gives a reddish appearance. With a thin atmosphere, Mars has many features reminiscent of the Moon with valleys created from impact craters, deserts, and polar ice caps. Currently, NASA’s Curiosity is on the planet gathering information for the agency in preparation for the mission to Mars.

Mars Ice Dome May be the Key to Living on Mars, NASA Says

In a press release from NASA, Kevin Vipavetz, the facilitator and a senior systems engineer at Langley said, that after identifying astronaut needs during the Mars mission, the team converged on the current Ice Home design finally. This will provide a sound solution for engineering. The team consisted of members from the Clouds Architecture Office and Space Exploration Architecture.

The design consists of a large inflatable circular tube, or torus. A shell of ice from water will surround the inner tube, the press release stated. Several advantages of the Mars Ice Home include the weight; materials can be found on Mars, and the structure also acts as a storage tank and can be refilled for the next crew. Another advantage to the system includes the ease of deployment by robots before the team even arrives at the planet. But perhaps one of the most significant benefits to the Mars Ice Dome is the water itself which can act as a shield from cosmic rays. These rays, NASA says, is one, if not biggest, issues for humans making long term stays on Mars. The rays can go through the skin and damage DNA or cells, increasing the risks for radiation sickness or cancer. The ice reduces radiation exposure and allows light to pass through without having to bury the habitats for protection. According to Universe Today, other design concepts for a Mars shelter included living in caves, underground, or in “dark, heavily shielded habitats.”

Sheila Ann Thibeault, Langley researcher, said that the materials for the habitat need to hold up for quite a few years of use in the harsh environment on Mars, including charged-particle radiation, ultraviolet radiation, perchlorates, possibly some atomic oxygen, as well as massive dust storms. Water extracted from Mars was a main constraint for possible materials. The experts working on the design developed a system that would allow the design of an Ice Home to be filled within 400 days, more if the water could be extracted at higher rates.

Other considerations were the flexibility of the workspace for the NASA Mars mission crew. This space needed to be indoors without the necessity of a pressure suit. For the temperatures, designers added a layer of carbon dioxide gas to use as insulation. Carbon dioxide, like water, is found on Mars. The idea of a “home” for Mars mission astronauts would be a huge benefit for them after the months and months of space travel.

By Cheryl Werber

Image Courtesy NASA/Clouds AO/SEArch