“Back Up Life…”


SpaceX is the private company that is contracted with NASA to supply the space agency with the “Dragon”, a crew transport spacecraft designed for large crew capabilities as well as deep space missions. Elon Musk, the creator of SpaceX, recently gave an interview with GQ magazine. In that interview he voiced his concerns regarding accomplishing the Mars mission in light of the fact that this world’s nations just can’t seem to grow up and stop all of this war mess.

Musk’s big dream is to colonize Mars. Considering his accomplishments, the gringa believes he can achieve his dream. I mean, just think about it: he leads a company that has managed to develop technology that can design and build rockets at a fraction of the cost as NASA. SpaceX is also the first private company, ever, in all of the world, to have launched a spacecraft into orbit and have it successfully return to Earth. SpaceX has impressed NASA so much that it is contracted to manage resupply missions to the International Space Station as well as transport the astronauts between the ISS and Earth.

Musk believes colonizing Mars is more than just a glamorous adventure. He believes this mission is critical to the ultimate survival of the human species. Considering how mankind has been consistently annihilating one another since a caveman first created a club to sock it to his romantic rival, the gringa has no trouble at all believing Musk’s worst-case scenario of a natural or man-made disaster destroying life as we know it on Earth and the survivors starting over somewhere else. Why not Mars? Musk’s philosophy can be summed up in this statement, “You back up your hard drive… Maybe we should back up life, too?”

In addition to reusable rocket technology and personnel space ferries, SpaceX is developing “Mars colonial transport architecture” to further advance toward the ultimate goal. The gringa asks, “What the heck is that?”

A critical piece of this architecture is commonly called the BFR rocket (it has a technical name but Musk and the developers refer to it as BFR). Now, the gringa likes to keep things family friendly on these blog posts, but, just so you know, BFR actually stands for Big F*#@ing Rocket. I MEAN IT! No kidding! I love that! Scientists that have a sense of humor are right up the gringa’s alley.

The BFR is a two part rocket, booster rocket + spaceship. The booster is to break through the gravity and atmosphere of Earth. Once free, the spaceship is designed to travel through deep space to Mars. The gravity of Mars is weaker than Earth’s and also has a thinner atmosphere. Because of this the spaceship does not need a rocket booster to blast off from Mars for a return trip home.

In order for Martian colonists to create a self-sustaining environment on the Red Planet, what must be done? The planet has to be terraformed to create a warmer environment that will lead to ice melts so that it becomes a “watery” planet. Then fauna can be introduced that will help to create a breathable atmosphere. Musk considers Mars to be a “fixer-upper”. The gringa likes that term.

Nuclear energy could be used to help warm the planet. By converting technology that has been used to destroy life, the fusion bomb can be repurposed into technology that creates and sustains life (now, the gringa LOVES that!). As tiny pulsing suns at each Martian pole, this technology would create a warming effect without radiation and fallout. Mars would then experience the same benefits Earth has from its proximity to the Sun.

Now, NASA is devoted not only to preserving life on the planet Earth, but any life that may possibly be present throughout the cosmos. It has a Mars directive in place forbidding any mission landing near any area containing the potential for liquid water. That is because of the possibility of the presence of bio-organisms, life, causing cross-contamination, whether those organisms are of Earth and contaminate Mars or vice versa.

The good news, as far as the colonial mission goes, is that NASA’s research has not detected any life present on Mars, even on the microscopic level. So, if it is eventually determined that no life at all exists on Mars, the moral dilemma of invading, contaminating and/or destroying it is resolved and colonization can get the green light. The only life on Mars that might exist that NASA’s current research methods are unable to detect is subterranean microbial life.

So, who would like to give the pioneering life a shot and actually become a MARTIAN?  The gringa says, “Where’s the sign up sheet?”

Now, it’s pretty clear that Musk is the type of personality that is driven. There is very little that seems to get in his way when he has set a goal. His biggest concern regarding achievement of colonizing Mars is the very real reality of war. The Earth has never seen a single day in modern history where there has not been an active war somewhere. War could be the very thing that prevents progress.

War stood in the way of progress in the early 1900’s. It was supposed to be a golden era with no more war. Then, guess what? BAM! World War I started. Then World War II. Then the Cold War. However, the Cold War eventually led to the space race, so progress did come of that mess.

How possible is it, then, for progress toward colonizing Mars be disrupted? Pretty darn possible. So, the gringa says to all the religious zealots and war profiteering warmongers everywhere, “JUST STOP IT! KNOCK IT OFF! WE ARE SICK OF IT!”

Now, I know you must be itching to see just how much more fantastic Musk’s dream can get. Well, just check out his timetable. He is determined for all of this to be accomplished within his lifetime. If Musk gets his way (and he seems very apt at always getting his way) the world could see the first boots on the ground on Mars within the next ten to fifteen years.

In fact, before the end of 2015, or early in 2016, he plans to make a big announcement regarding his Mars-colonization plan. The gringa cannot wait to hear this crazy plan because I’m a crazy gringa who is his biggest fan!

 

Source: www.gq.com

Photo Credit: www.joserojas.org

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The “Little Green Men” Star


If you happen to be a writer looking for fodder for a great science fiction story, you may want to delve into NASA reports regarding star KIC 8462852. NASA is fascinated by the strange goings on about this star and bears much resemblance to a pulsar named LGM-1 (Little Green Men). This pulsar emitted strange signals that created a stir within NASA and were ultimately determined to be a natural phenomenon. The strange events involving star KIC 8462852 have yet to solved.

Monitoring this star has been the responsibility of the Kepler mission for the past four years. In 2011, and later in 2013, two significant, and as yet unexplained, events took place. What do scientists really know? They know that the star dimmed because “something” passed in front of it large enough to block its light. The gringa says, “What the heck?”

In September scientists finally reported their theory and findings on what could possibly explain these strange events. They are blaming a “swarm” or “family” of comets. The gringa’s imagination begins whirling and thinks, “Or perhaps a fleet of starships.” Another theory suggests a cluster of planetary fragments and asteroids.

Scientists are using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to probe deeper into this mystery. To learn more, scientists, who first studied the star using observations conducted in visible light, then tried using infrared light. This is because if asteroids were involved and actually impacted the star there will be a whole bunch of infrared light surrounding the star and the dusty old bits of gravel from a pulverized asteroid should be at the perfect temperature to glow like a firefly under infrared wavelengths.  And detecting infrared light is one of things the Spitzer Space Telescope is designed to do.

This year the Spitzer took a gander at star KIC 8462852 while looking at hundreds of thousands of stars in its search for planets. One thing in particular that Spitzer was looking for was infrared emission of space dust that encircled stars. Spitzer didn’t find any of this type of dust around star KIC 8462852 so scientists think the asteroid collision theory can probably be scratched.

So, the gringa wants to know just what their thinking is now. What the scientists seem to be leaning toward is the possibility of a “swarm” of cold comets. For such a theory to work, this cluster of comets would need to have an unusually long orbit around the star. They also call this theoretical comet cluster a “family” because it would require a “pack leader” to explain some of the phenomena. The larger “big daddy” that would be in the lead would have been the one to block the star’s light in 2011. In 2013 the rest of the family would have been passing through in front of the star and blocked the light again in the strange pattern that was recorded.  This would explain why in 2015, when Spitzer observed the star again, there were no infrared signatures. The comet “swarm” was long gone and probably around on the other side of the star in its orbit progression.

The gringa must confess to thinking, “Mm hmm. Scout ship shouts, ‘The coast is clear!’ and the support ships soon set a course for the coordinates.” Oh yes, what an imagination! But please don’t judge the gringa! I just couldn’t help myself when NASA itself goes and names a pulsar something like “Little Green Men-1”.

NASA admits that what is going on with this star is strange and not understood. Their interest is extremely piqued so study and research will continue until the curiosity of these scientists are satisfied. And I ask you, is that not the greatest job ever? For every little kid that has lain on their back in the grass in the dark of the night staring up at the stars and wondering if there really are “little green men” out there, is that not just the coolest job ever to grow up and get to do!

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

The Girl Who Loved To Count


And who says girls are bad at math? Most definitely Katherine Johnson is not!

Born in West Virgina in 1918, she was a girl who grew up in a time when not only were women not expected to grow up and do great things, but a woman of color had the additional obstacle of racism. But that didn’t stop Katherine from counting and that is the fascination that led to her greatness that culminated in her service at NASA.

When describing her youthful obsession, she said, “I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to the church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed… anything that could be counted, I did.” And what did all that counting lead to? The 2015 National Medal of Freedom.

She was an amazing achiever. At the tender age of ten she was a freshman in high school. Imagine that in the time period and circumstances she was in! The gringa is in awe! And, apparently, her father was as well. He did what was necessary to see that his daughter fulfilled her potential.

Eventually he relocated the entire family to Institute, West Virginia so Katherine could complete her education and she graduated college at the age of eighteen.  Katherine then went on to teach, raise a family and eventually work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1953 which would later be replaced by NASA. In the time before there were computers to do the tedious job of counting and recording, people like Katherine did the job.

As a “human computer”, Katherine completed mission assignments like calculating the trajectory for the first American in space, Alan Shepard. Once computers did exist, Katherine was the back up that double checked the computer’s accuracy on calculations. Her work was so respected that before John Glenn made his spaceflight aboard Friendship 7, he specifically asked for Katherine to do the recheck on his mission calculations.

Katherine worked on the Apollo Moon landing mission as well as the early beginnings of the shuttle program. She continued to serve the people of the United States of America, as well as the entire world, through her extraordinary work at NASA until 1986.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom medal that she was awarded on Tuesday, November 24, 2015, was not the only merit to her name. In addition to honorary doctorates, in 1967 she received the NASA Lunar Orbiter Spacecraft and Operations team award for her work in navigation.

What does NASA have to say about Katherine? The following are quoted from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s public statement:

“She’s one of the greatest minds ever to grace our agency or our country…”

“Katherine’s legacy is a big part of the reason that my fellow astronauts and I were able to get to space…”

NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman said:  “We are fortunate that when faced with the adversity of racial and gender barriers, she found the courage to say ‘tell them I’m coming’.

And the gringa will close with those simple yet bold words from a great woman.

 

 

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

 

 

The “REAL” Martian Story


The recent film, “The Martian”, was a big hit at theatres. One reason it turned out to be one fabulous work of cinematic science fiction was because NASA actually collaborated with the filmmakers. With such expert technical advisement, how could it fail to succeed? The gringa would like to know just how similar the technologies featured in the film parallel actual technologies NASA is developing for the future Mars mission.

One of the technologies in development is a habitation module so astronauts can slip out of their dusty spacesuits and put their feet up for a well deserved break at the end of a long day exploring the Red Planet. The Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) is just the place where this happens. This artificial living habitat is a self-contained environment used for training at the Johnson Space Center in Texas. It simulates what will be the primary living quarters in deep space. Included in the two-story floor plan are workspaces, a bathroom, technically called a “hygiene module”, and an airlock.

Unlike the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), Mars mission astronauts will not enjoy food delivery from Earth on a regular basis. Even a hotshot rocket pilot would need at least nine months for an express delivery service. So, if astronauts want to bite into a delicious red apple or sip a glass of fresh orange juice or munch on a salad of crispy fresh leafy greens, they are going to have to grow their own.

So far, astronauts have proven successful farmers where lettuce is concerned but it’s going to take more than arugula to keep them from getting a case of scurvy.  What is being experimented with on the ISS is a vegetable growing system called “Veggie”. This system grows plants in pillow like structure and small bags that use a wicking material that contains the growing media and fertilizer. After the success of growing “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce, the farming operation has been expanded to include other crops that are important nutrition resources for future astronauts.

Not only will the astronauts need water to drink and use for personal hygiene, but the plants will also need fresh, clean water in order to grow. Although water has been discovered on Mars, there is still as yet no way to access this precious resource. When astronauts arrive, they will need to be supplied with their own water recovery system. Such a system is used on ISS. For years, this system has been tweaked and perfected to the point that not even a teardrop is wasted on ISS. Every drop of water produced in any way is recovered by the Environmental Control and Life Support system and recycled.

Reclaiming and purifying water for re-use sounds pretty simple. I mean, after all, we do it all the time all over the place on Earth. The major difference is gravity. Gases and liquids don’t separate the same way in micro-gravity so rather than use something like a steam distillation purification system or a process that requires gravity to pull unclean water through a filter, a centrifuge is required in space.

Since free-flowing saltwater exists seasonally on Mars, one thought is to construct new technologies for brine water recovery and purification. Water recovery from urine is already successful at separating salts and minerals from pure water on ISS. This technology simply has to be experimented and perfected for use on Mars.

And NASA is not stingy with their technology. Their work extends to vulnerable people all over the world in order to help provide them with clean drinking water. The gringa is proud that NASA considers humanitarian efforts as part of their mission.

Now, in the Mars movie the astronauts carried their oxygen supplies around wherever they went on Mars. Their oxygen supply was created by using carbon dioxide from the fuel generator in the ascent vehicle. In real life, how will astronauts have a regenerative supply of oxygen? We can again look to the ISS to see this technology already successfully in use. Breathable air is continuously made by splitting water molecules. After all H2O is a blend of hydrogen and oxygen. Work is underway to advance the existing technology to recover oxygen from any byproduct that may exist in the atmosphere and collected not only on Mars but also along the journey to Mars.

Now what about Matt Damon’s fashionable spacesuit in sporty orange? How real is that? Well, any astronaut is going to have to wear a protective suit to explore Mars. There is not enough breathable air for them to survive in and the cold would definitely wipe them out pretty quickly. After looking at photos of the Z-2 prototype spacesuit NASA is developing, the gringa is a bit disappointed after the high bar that Hollywood set with the sexy, Matt Damon spacesuit. NASA’s focus is not on a brilliant fashion statement. They are more concerned with creating a functional survival outfit that will remain comfortable to wear even after six or eight hours trekking about the remote wasteland of Mars. The trick is to design a spacesuit from a flexible material that is highly durable. Oh, well, if NASA decides to let the gringa tag along, I will just have to smuggle in my BeDazzler.

And just like the spacesuit let down, the gringa is a bit miffed that the real Mars rover design is not as sporty as depicted by Hollywood. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. Noone in Hollywood has any grip on reality, after all. It’s like living on another planet in that city! Maybe astronauts could spend some time there to practice what first contact will be like when they encounter their first alien species in outer space.

To go where their feet can’t take them, astronauts are going to have to have a vehicle that is sturdy and filled with all sorts of gadgets. The name of such a craft is the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). The first real space mission this vehicle will be used on will be the upcoming asteroid mission that will precede the actual Mars mission. This little baby is still under development so the gringa doesn’t really have any specifics other than the design has to be extremely versatile in order to be prepared for just about anything that could happen on the Martian landscape.

The Mars journey will be one of the most dangerous undertakings NASA has tackled yet. Because safety is the primary concern, there is no big rush to get there. Zero margin of error is the mission standard. We have accomplished much on ISS that has helped get closer to accomplishing the ultimate goal of landing a crew on the surface of the Red Planet. The next stage of the game is to lasso that damn asteroid and start staging Mars rehearsals. The gringa just can’t believe that this may all happen within her lifetime!

Source & Photo Credit:  www.nasa.gov

Space Cadets, All Hail The Dragon!


The gringa wants to introduce you to the Dragon. This automated spacecraft, designed by SpacEx, is the first commercial spacecraft EVER to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and return cargo to Earth. Governments can move over because private industry has got this job covered. Refinements are underway so that very soon the Dragon will be able to achieve the ultimate goal it was designed for, to carry a human crew.

The configurations of the Dragon are versatile. It can be used, as it already successfully has shown, to be a perfect cargo vessel. It will very soon have the capability to house a human crew. However, it’s not your average space taxi. It can also be used as a DragonLab to conduct technology demonstrations and scientific experiments in outer space. The different configurations are so similar, that converting from one to another is relatively quick and seamless.

The Dragon’s pressurized section houses the cargo and crew. The outside base of this section carries the thrusters, guidance and navigation control bay as well as the ever critical heat shield. The Dragon even has a trunk. No, it’s not where the astronauts store a spare thruster and crowbar. This is the part of the spaceship that is the foundational support during ascent, houses the craft’s solar arrays, and can also carry cargo that does not need to be pressurized. Just before the Dragon enters the atmosphere of Earth, this section is jettisoned. The gringa thinks, “How many of us ladies wishes it was so easy to get rid of unwanted junk in our trunk?”

Presently, the primary mission of the Dragon is to routinely resupply the International Space Station. This is not your average delivery-man job. I don’t believe UPS or FedEx train their delivery personnel for the effects of anti-gravity. To accommodate these effects, the cargo hold is filled with honeycomb shaped racks constructed of a carbon-aluminum material.

After the first successful test flight in 2012, and many more resupply missions after that, the Dragon has been undergoing upgrades. Hopefully, very soon, perhaps within the coming months, NASA crews will perform the first manned test flight in a vessel that SpacEx says will be the world’s safest crew transport spacecraft. It will seat seven. The gringa doesn’t take up much room. For being so tiny I’m also awfully strong. I would make a perfect space delivery person. I’d be so happy to be a part of something this fantastic, I wouldn’t even expect the astronauts to tip me.

 

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.spacex.com/dragon

A Bit Of Sun & Hope For Humanity


Coming up in December is the one year anniversary of the test flight of the Orion spacecraft that launched from Kennedy Space Center December 5, 2014. The test flight was unmanned. Because of its success, the next time Orion punches through the Earth’s atmosphere, it will deliver astronauts to an asteroid in our Moon’s orbit to rehearse their Red Planet mission. That is the ultimate goal, after all, to have a full astronaut crew heading out to deep space with a final destination of Mars.

The amazing new technologies that will send astronauts farther than they have ever gone before is thanks, in part, to the students of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). NASA and Lockheed Martin offered students the opportunity to collaborate in this daring mission with a program called “Exploration Design Challenge”. What problem were these students asked to solve? The students were challenged to solve the most dangerous issue that faces humans in space – exposure to radiation. The gringa is very proud to say that these students rose to the challenge and their very own radiation experiment was on board for Orion’s test flight. If there was ever a reason for parents to encourage their children in STEM curriculum, parents, the time is NOW!

The emerging generation of scientists will inherit a planet that is rapidly changing. NASA needs this young talent more than ever. Researchers will manage the data collected from satellites and airborne missions. Engineers will keep these missions alive with their technological expertise. These are the critical thinkers the world needs to face the future challenges of rising sea levels and extreme weather events due to climate change. The next generation of astronaut explorers will be the ones to aid our planet in finding freshwater resources out in the cosmos to help replenish are own that are rapidly becoming depleted.

In 2014 NASA studies were published and revealed a rapidly melting western sheet of ice in Antarctica. This appears to be irreversible. Later in the same year, NASA, along with researchers at the University of California, Irvine, concluded that the potential threat of groundwater loss to America’s stable water supply may have previously been underestimated and things were worse than scientists thought. In August of 2014, NASA published research based on the discovery of a large amount of a compound creating ozone depletion. This was an unexpected surprise considering that for decades such a compound has been banned worldwide. Our world is in trouble and our best resource to solve these problems is in the minds of our youth.

The gringa is getting depressed with all this bad news so, let’s get back to the good news! The Orion! I simply must know all I can about this spaceship because the gringa is putting in that ship all her hopes that it is going to be the mother ship of a future fleet of ships that’s going to save humanity’s bacon.

The purpose of the test flight was to see if Orion was up to the task of the most dangerous parts of the mission. Those would be lift-off, entry, separations, the jettison of the Launch Abort System, descent and splashdown. However, most important of all was to test the heat shield that needed to be strong enough to protect astronauts, as well as all the technology on board, from 4,000 degree Fahrenheit temperatures and the related radiation. Is the dear reader dying to know Orion’s report card? The gringa is!

At 7:05am at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Orion was prepped to lift off with the help of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. Three RS-68 engines created almost two million pounds of thrust which then pushed a 1.63 million pound spacecraft into orbit. After about four minutes the side boosters disengaged and fell away to Earth. The center booster remained with Orion for another ninety seconds. When its fuel was spent, it disengaged and also fell back to Earth. The next thing to release its hold on Orion was the structural supports and the Launch Abort System. Orion was headed out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Seventeen minutes and thirty-nine seconds after lift-off, Orion began its orbit. Two hours into its flight, Orion traveled through the Van Allen radiation belts which are 3,609 miles away. Data recorders provided critical calculations on the doses of radiation within the cabin. This determined if the craft was of sound design and safe to man with a human crew. Three hours and twenty-three minutes into its flight, Orion headed for Earth’s atmosphere where the heat shield withstood the brutal re-entry friction.

What is re-entry like? Orion hit Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 mph. The gringa can only say, “Incredible!” The spacecraft gets so amazingly hot at that speed, it is eventually enveloped in plasma. Plasma is considered the fourth state of matter after solids, liquids and gases. When plasma is created on Orion upon re-entry, what happens is that the heat and friction become so energized that electrons break free from their nucleus and travel along with them. That’s what the Sun does all the time. It’s just a big, ol’ ball of plasma. Orion creates a little bit of Sun on re-entry. The gringa’s mind is filled with the Beatles refrain, “Here comes the sun, little darlin’. Here comes the sun. And I say it’s alright.” After all, ultimately that IS the plan, RIGHT? Orion is going to help launch the scientific efforts that hopefully will make everything wrong with the environment alright? Or, at least give humanity some viable options and hope?

After picking up Orion as it bobbed amongst the waves of the Pacific of the coast of Baja, California, NASA used the data to make improvements for the upcoming manned mission. Astronauts will continue their own preparations for a mission that is sure to make history in so many ways. If everyone at NASA is excited about the future, then they truly believe in the mission. The gringa will take her cue from them and toss out the doom and gloom and grab hold of hope and positivity. I will hold fast to an exciting future that most certainly is full of change, but change is not necessarily always a bad thing.