So Where Are All Those ETs?


Fermi’s Paradox is a theory named after Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) who, during lunch with a fellow scientist, posed a question kind of like this, “Where the heck are the aliens if they are supposed to exist?” The premise of his theory goes something like this:

  • Billions of stars similar to our Sun exist with many of them billions of years older than our own planet.
  • It is highly probable that some of these stars would be orbited by Earth-like planets with conditions that could lead to the development of intelligent life.
  • If intelligent life developed on these older “Earths” their respective civilizations might have developed interstellar travel and have already begun investigating Earth.

Combine all these facts and you come up with the conclusion that Earth should have already been visited by ETs. So, like Fermi said, “Where is everybody?” Despite mankind’s best efforts Fermi could not find any credible evidence of alien visitation. The conclusion then must become that the existence of intelligent life is:

  • Extremely rare, or…
  • Alien intelligent civilizations have not contacted Earth.

In 1961 a scientist by the name of Frank Drake took Fermi’s 1950 theory and applied a mathematical formula to the probabilities. It is called the “Drake Equation”. The formula is expressed as:

N = R* · fp  · ne · fl  · fi  · fc · L

The variables are defined as follows:

N = The number of civilizations in The Milky Way Galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.

R* = The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.

fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.

ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.

fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.

fi = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.

fc = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.

L = The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

But what does the formula mean to scientists? Well, that depends on who you talk to. Some scientists translate the results to be wildly optimistic that there is, indeed, intelligent life out there. Others feel quite the opposite. When Frank Drake met with Carl Sagan to speculate on the calculations, they estimated the existence of 1,000 (on the low end) to 100 million (on the high end) possible intelligent civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy. To counter their claims, scientists Frank Tipler and John D. Barrow put forth that the average number of intelligent life civilizations in our galaxy would be much less than one. Seeing as how human civilization exists, that would consequently, then, rule out the possibility of any other intelligent civilization existing at the same time.

The Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) sees the Fermi’s paradox and accepts the reality that either interpretation of the possibility of the existence of intelligence life has a chance of being true. Thus, they continue their efforts, erring on the side of optimism. And the gringa likes that. Why not hold out hope? Why not be curious? And why not exercise such curiosity with a healthy dose of skepticism to balance out the equation and prevent a full-scale pre-disposition to crazy alien conspiracy theory by maintaining strict scientific standards?

SETI continues exploration and research as they search for others out there in the galaxy. They believe in the possibility that if a suitable environment was allowed enough time, that it is possible for intelligent life to develop. By using all sorts of science and technology (satellite arrays, chemistry, optical telescopes, and sophisticated radio signaling devices) SETI not only searches for signals from other civilizations but reaches out with messages of our own to anyone who may be listening. And with their Education and Public Outreach program (EPO), humans of all ages and walks of life can be a part of their endeavor. For educators there is nothing more exciting than to introduce to a classroom of elementary and middle school students SETI’s “Life in the Universe” curriculum. So log on and order your first package today and get students engaged with a lesson plan that is certain to pique their curiosity and hopefully inspire them to be the future of our world’s STEM programs, because we need them.

Sources:

www.seti.org

www.yahoo.news

wikipedia.org

Image Credit:  bing.net

 

 

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The Hi’s & Lo’s of JAXA


Back in February space agencies around the world were cheering on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as it launched a new space observation satellite that was going to get us all some darn answers about black holes. This joint effort between JAXA and NASA caused a bit of confusion among outsiders because the satellite went by different names depending on if you were an Eastern space enthusiast (Hitomi for you) or a Western space enthusiast (ASTRO-H for you).

The gringa prefers the moniker Hitomi. This Japanese word has several meanings, all of which the gringa likes much better than the anacronym ASTRO-H. Hitomi literally means the “pupil of the eye”. However, when you break the word down into its phonetical language parts “hito” and “mi” it becomes “beautiful history”. As I look into the vastness of space and the stars that are kazillions of years old, the cosmos most certainly is the most beautiful history I have ever beheld.

Unfortunately, however, Hitomi’s story is not so pretty. Launched back in February, space fans everywhere were so excited that soon the satellite would be orbiting about 300 miles above us and collect data on X-rays emitted by black holes as well as galaxy clusters. Scientists have been eager for any means to gather more information since the detection of gravitational waves were announced which are directly related to black holes.

After a successful launch the evening of February 16, JAXA and NASA announced that Hitomi’s solar arrays were operating properly and began anticipating the arrival of data and images. Japan’s sixth satellite for the research of X-ray astronomy, the science community waited with bated breath for what they were certain was going to be groundbreaking information from the latest state of the art space satellite technology.

By March 26, contact with Hitomi was lost. By April the announcement came that finally, all hope was lost as well. Bye-bye Hitomi.

Once Hitomi reached its orbit things began to go wrong. Scientists reported that communication was lost within days and that their only conclusion was that the satellite had most likely disintegrated. A quarter of a billion dollars converted to space junk in a matter of weeks. How terribly disappointing. The director general of JAXA, Saku Tsuneta, officially announced the abandonment of the project with his deepest regrets.

Researchers believe that the solar panels that control the instruments may have broken away from the satellite. This would have basically transformed the satellite into a rudderless ship adrift in space. It will be about twelve more years before anything matching Hitomi’s capabilities will launch when the European Space Agency (ESA) completes a similar project.

On a side note, the gringa is surprised that conspiracy theorists haven’t jumped all over this story. When communication was first lost with the satellite, hope was revived when JAXA detected three signals they believed originated from Hitomi. However, after more scrutiny, it was discovered that the signals were not from the spacecraft. Hmmm. The gringa wonders just where, or whom, those signals came from. Could it have been some very clever and covert space aliens who captured human technology? Only time will tell!

Sources:

www.japantimes.co

www.nasa.gov

phys.org

www.bbc.com

Image Source: i.dailymail.co.uk

 

 

 

 

India’s Space Explorers


The gringa has done innumerable posts on NASA, several on the European Space Agency (ESA) and even the space programs of Russia, China and Japan. Were my dear readers aware that India has its own space program? They do. It is called the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and they are now on the brink of exploring the galaxy with their own re-usable shuttle.

To India’s credit, they have accomplished the feat of designing and constructing a reusable launch vehicle for a fraction of what SpaceX spent on their reusable rocket. If their shuttle model is a success, the world may have to turn its eyes to India as the next world leader in space program development and exploration. Not only are they getting things done, but doing so extraordinarily efficiently.

On its virgin flight, the 21 foot long shuttle, weighing one and three-quarter tons, reached Mach 5 as it zipped through space 39 miles above Earth. The craft successfully splashed down right on target at coordinates in the Bay of Bengal. This prototype is much smaller than NASA shuttles but if the design is right and all goes well, India plans to enlarge the shuttle’s length by one hundred feet by the year 2030. By designing a re-usable shuttle, India will realize a 90% savings with every single launch. Cost was the very reason NASA’s shuttle program was discontinued.

Aerospace experts around the world view India’s achievement with great interest.  By drawing upon the successes and failures of other space agencies around the world, India has developed a space program that has avoided costly mistakes. They have also been able to model their inspirations upon the successes that have been accomplished. India is managing a successful and growing space program with a budget that, on average, is about three times smaller than their Western counterparts. One reason is that they have eliminated much of what we Westerners call pesky bureaucracy.

Going red tape free, however, is not without its risks. Only time will tell if lack of regulation results in a more hazardous space program. Re-usable shuttles should translate into multiple launches annually. This will mean more money for the space program by infusions of cash from investors and contractors who want their payloads delivered to the International Space Station and other countries paying cab fare for their astronauts to hop a ride.

At the rate India is clipping along with progress at a significant lower price, they may just boot SpaceX out of the space transport market altogether. Who knows, it may be India that gets to Mars first. And according to the stock market, investors seem to have the same suspicion. The companies involved in supplying ISRO with the materials they need have become quite attractive for foreign and Indian investors.

The gringa has always wanted to visit India. It’s rich history and beautiful culture has always intrigued me. Now, I have hopes that in yet one more country on this grand globe, this astronaut hopeful has just one more option of space programs that, one day, may be interested in sending a gringa into outerspace.

Source & Image Credit: http://www.fool.com

 

 

Only 4 More Years…


No, the gringa’s not talking about high hopes for an historical third term of Obama’s presidency to rescue the entire world from the potential disaster of a Trump presidency. The gringa is talking about China and Mars. In just 4 more years China plans to land a rover on Mars.

Now, this may not seem like big news considering that NASA has had a fleet of robotic spacecraft on or around Mars dating back as far as forty years. The significance of China’s contribution is that, well, the more the merrier when it comes to increasing knowledge about Mars and creating the technology necessary for human exploration.

China’s plan is patterned after NASA’s successful Viking I mission that landed the first rover on Mars forty years ago. China intends to orbit the Red Planet, land a rover, perform rover exploration and, once the mission is accomplished, learn from the experience to take another step forward in their own ambitions of a manned mission to Mars.

Like NASA, China’s space program also collaborates with private industry which is not only stimulating their economy, but rapidly advancing their mission objectives. In 2003 they launched their first manned spacecraft, Shenzhou. They also have their very own laboratory and space station orbiting the moon, Tiangong 1. Chinese astronauts aboard Tiangong 1 have performed a space walk and successfully explored the Moon with rover Yutu.

All of this space activity is really preparations for the greater goal, landing a manned mission on Mars. Next month China will launch a mission to deliver the components to recreate Tiangong 1, their experimental space station, into Tiangong 2, a permanent space station. Spacecraft Shenzhou 11 will deliver a 2 person crew who will reside in the space station for several days performing the necessary renovations.

Once China’s space station has successfully been converted to a permanent site, they can plan a manned mission to the Moon and begin rehearsing for a Mars mission. While other countries have slowed their space mission activities, China’s ambitious program has 20 missions planned for 2016. So, keep your eyes turned toward China for interesting developments.

It seems the space race is on to see who gets to Mars first. NASA plans a manned Asteroid Redirect Mission for 2025 and a manned orbit of Mars in the 2030s. The gringa would rather it be a team effort rather than a flag planting competition. However, if a race is what it takes to motivate engineers and scientists to up their game and move full speed ahead in the greatest exploration adventure of the gringa’s lifetime, well, who am I to judge?

Sources & Image Credit: http://www.nasa.gov, http://www.sg.finance.yahoo.com/news/china

 

Say Hello to R2 aka Hardhat Harry


Robonaut. It sounds like the title of a cheap sci-fi flick or perhaps the name of a second-rate children’s superhero action toy. In reality, Robonaut, Robonaut 2 (R2), to be exact, is a vital part of the crew aboard the International Space Station. He is a humanoid robot the gringa likes to call “Hardhat Harry” because of the types of jobs he performs as well as the future plans NASA is cooking up for him and future Hardhat Harry clones.

Presently Hardhat Harry is going through his paces as NASA engineers study how well he performs at this job. NASA hopes that one day Hardhat Harry will be able to join astronauts in their dangerous and risky spacewalks when they perform the necessary maintenance and repairs required on the outside of the space station.

But Hardhat Harry is more than just a handyman, he is also a scientist. In the Destiny laboratory he takes velocity air measurements. However, he is not above giving handrails a good scrubbing. And, just like the gringa, Hardhat Harry likes to flip switches and push buttons.

Guess how he performs his duties? Does the dear reader envision a programmer sitting in front of a computer screen inputting commands? Perhaps an image flashes through your mind of something like a video game with an engineer using a joystick to maneuver Hardhat Harry through his tasks. Nope, it’s even cooler than that. Crew members on board the ISS get to play a very serious scientific game of virtual reality, donning virtual reality headgear and controlling Hardhat Harry as if he were themselves!

Although Hardhat Harry has plenty of charm, don’t fall in love yet. Don’t get any ideas of thinking you will be able to visit one of the many space centers around the world when he returns from his mission and get his autograph. NASA has no plans for Hardhat Harry to ever return home.

Hardhat Harry will continue to be improved and upgraded as researchers learn how to adapt the technology to perform in the vacuum of space and eventually embark on deep space missions. Fleets of R2 Hardhat Harry clones will become the world’s future hi-tech repairmen, traveling far and wide to repair and upgrade communications and weather satellites. There is also great hope that a Hardhat Harry crew will be developed and shipped off to Mars for a surface mission or mine geological resources from the Moon.

Hardhat Harry and his kin will not replace astronauts, so, dear readers, if you are an astronaut hopeful like the gringa there is no need to despair. R2s are simply going to go first and make the way safer for exploration. And, by performing the boring repair jobs, astronauts can devote more time to discovery.

The next phase of progress is to deliver Hardhat Harry some legs. It may seem kind of silly to have Hardhat Harry up there, trying to get the job done without any legs, but remember, he is working in microgravity. He doesn’t necessarily need legs to move about the ISS. And, the legs they will be sending him don’t even have feet. They have grasping contraptions at the end of his “legs” that will secure him to railings while he works.

And, by having removable legs, Hardhat Harry has the option to rove about planetary surfaces centaur style. NASA is developing a four-wheel vehicle that Hardhat Harry’s torso can attach to as he zips about the Moon or Mars or wherever his adventures take him or NASA needs him.

Fans of R2 (aka Hardhat Harry) can keep up with all his exploits in space via Twitter @AstroRobonaut. So, for all the gringa’s dear readers who love robots and have great big dreams and ambitions with robotic technologies, keep your dreams alive and see if NASA can help you make them come true!

Source & Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov

 

Moonports, Caves & Bubble Pads


With all the worry of climate change transforming the Earth into an uninhabitable wasteland, kazillions of dollars are being spent to develop technology to colonize the Moon and various other stellar locales. But, if climate change results in a rise in sea levels that wipes out much of our habitable geography, what about living under the water? Wouldn’t it be more practical and economical to develop under the sea rather than colonize outer space?

These are just the sort of questions Samsung Corporation hoped to answer in their newly released “SmartThings Future Living Report” featured on their Samsung Newsroom website. The report is really a cleverly crafted marketing scheme to promote their latest gadgets and devices available in 2016. They want to reassure everyone that their products are keeping up with the times and will not be obsolete when the day comes that we are all surviving masterfully under the waves.

The report was researched and authored by a team of qualified “futurists”:

  • Maggie Aderin-Pocock – Space Scientist who believes in a future of sub-aquatic cities
  • James Monighan, MD – Commissioned the report and believes that smart technology will make everyone’s life better
  • Arthur Mamou-Mani – Award winning architect specializing on futuristic design, lecturer at University of Westminster
  • Toby Burgess – Award winning architect specializing in futuristic design, lecturer at University of Westminster
  • Linda Aitken – Urban planner specializing in innovative design
  • Els Leclerq – Urban planner specializing in innovative design

The future this team of brilliant minds envisions is one with skyscrapers in the depths of the sea, transportation via sophisticated smart-drones, all encased in a self-sustaining bubble. What kind of technology will make all of this possible?

Skyscrapers – Megalithic structures that will dwarf the average skyscraper of today will be constructed of nano-tubes made of carbon and nano-threads made of diamonds. Yum, diamonds.

Earth-scrapers – In order to escape the ravages of life above ground, humans will also burrow into the Earth, surrounding themselves with insulating soil. Delving twenty-five levels deep, the mole people of the future will live cool as cucumbers.

Underwater Urban – Self-contained biospheres will house urban areas under water. The water will provide the oxygen and hydrogen fuel to run the cities.

Drone Taxis – No more wheels. Everyone will be trading in their cars for personal drone transport.

Bye-Bye Ikea – No more shopping at a local furniture retailer. Instead, folks will equip themselves with a quality 3D printer and create their own furniture themselves out of recyclable and renewable materials.

Smart Décor – Paint and wallpaper will become a thing of the past. Heck, you won’t even need a hammer and packet of nails for hanging pictures. Walls will actually be LED screens and you can download and install and photoshop to your heart’s content until you are surrounded with the décor of your dreams.

Holograms – If you think Skype is cool, wait until you can talk to a loved one three dimensionally via hologram technology.

Medi –Pod – Who needs to bemoan the good ol’ days when doctors made house calls when your home is installed with its very own medi-pod. Step in, turn on and find out what that nasty cough is all about. A handy dispenser will supply you with the appropriate medication and, if things look really bad, a surgeon can even operate remotely.

Samsung believes that the space race to colonize the Moon and maybe even Mars will continue but those colonies will probably be reserved for elite scientific explorers, courageous entrepreneurs and wealthy adventurers. Regular folk will stay here on Earth, surviving underground or underwater. As for me, I’m thinking the underground route looks interesting but I’m not ruling out a sub-aquatic chalet.

However, despite all of the social evolution and revolutions that have taken place and are still on-going, the gringa just sees more of the same ol’, same ol’. I see the wealthy living in their master-planned communities on Mars and the Moon. The upper and middle classes submerged in style, living as one with the dolphins. Working class folks like myself and the caveman will be in the deep-Earth barrio. And, the truly impoverished will be eking out a minimal existence in the ghetto wasteland of above-ground planet Earth.

However, despite the gringa’s cynicism, she has great faith and hope for humanity. Throughout history humans have always managed to innovate and practice incredible ingenuity to survive. Despite all the fears that trouble folk about how we will survive the catastrophe of climate change, the gringa believes folks aren’t really worried about whether or not they will survive. I think most folks are worried about “how” they will survive. As in:

  • “How will I survive with air conditioning?”
  • “How will I survive without a grocery store?”
  • “How will I survive without my car?”
  • “How will I survive without a light switch that works?”
  • “How will I survive without soft toilet paper?”
  • “How will I survive without a flushing toilet?”
  • And the big one… “How will I survive without the Internet, my laptop, smartphone and social media?”

But the gringa promises everyone that we will, indeed, survive. And probably become a better people for it.

 

Source: http://www.samsung.com

Image Credit: http://www.coilycafe.blogspot.com

 

Houston Space Center Fun


Space Center Houston is only about an hour south of the gringa’s little barrio apartment. With the caveman and myself being empty-nesters, it has actually been awhile since we’ve visited. In the past, the ninos always had a wonderful and awe-inspiring experience (mamasita, too) whenever we would visit.

Today’s activities and programs offered that are designed to appeal to kids has some massive appeal to a grown-up gringa as well. I may have to take the time to make a visit.

This month Independence Plaza has its grand opening.  Visitors enter a replica of shuttle Independence that is mounted atop the original NASA 905 shuttle launch aircraft. It is the only shuttle in the world the public is allowed to enter and explore.

When I make my plans for a return visit, the gringa wants to make certain it’s on a Friday. Every Friday at 11am  and 1pm it is “Meet an Astronaut Friday”. Astronauts make a presentation and are then available for a question and answer session with the public. And, if you are so inclined (the gringa is), “Lunch With an Astronaut” offers an interesting cosmic dining experience. It’s casual, no spacesuit required. Fare is catered by NASA (wondering if freeze-dried ice cream is for dessert?).  Astronauts featured for February:

  • Tom Jones, February 5
  • Mike Foreman, February 12
  • Brian Duffy, February 19
  • David Hilmers, February 26

If you want to dine with some stars from the stars, NASA advises that you order tickets early because it is first come, first served. If you arrive early, or stay a bit longer, after lunch, you can enjoy the “Meet an Astronaut Friday” presentation.  Don’t forget your camera and let NASA know in your reservation if you have any special dietary requirements.

And, if that doesn’t sound fascinating enough, the center opens a new exhibit February 13 that was designed by Scitech of Australia fame. This is the public’s big chance to pilot an airplane or drive a hovercraft. There are other interactive things to do in this exhibit but the gringa mentions her two favorites. Visitors are invited to explore travel and transportation technologies that have been around for years as well as new, emerging technologies.

And, if that’s not good enough for you, you can go on the Level 9 Tour as a VIP. The gringa believes she definitely ranks VIP status. VIPs get behind-the-scenes access on this five-hour tour which takes visitors through the astronaut training center and mission control for the ISS. Tickets for this tour need to be made in advance because only twelve people daily are allowed.

The gringa’s birthday is coming up and I’m pretty sure tickets for lunch with an astronaut and a Level 9 Tour are at the top of my birthday to-do list. The caveman may have quite a pout if he has to compete for my attention over lunch, but, my outer space madness is just all part of my charm.

Source: spacecenter.org

Photo credit: www.collectspace.com