Before getting into real life space adventures...
The lavish blockbuster - Wandering Earth - based on Liu Cixin’s novel - was released (quietly) on Netflix. “The Wandering Earth doesn’t yet appear under “New Releases” or “Netflix Originals” section, though it shows up on the “Recently Added” list when you scroll down. It seems odd to bury this film after the incredible reception it’s received overseas (even worldwide, it’s cracked $700 million), and Netflix’s enthusiasm when the company first acquired it.” And yes, by elevated standards of "high" SF there are some... simplistic or "oh, my" aspects. Hey. They're learning the ropes, fast.
Earth has two “extra moons.” Dangerous rocks! Gold in them thar space rocks! And Fool’s Gold!
First an announcement: NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program (I’m on the External advisory Council) has announced its 2019 grant selections. Your comments are welcome here.
News from the future! My headline from 2039 leads off a series by the XPrize Foundation! Theme of this round: The Moon 2039. As you might expect, my "headline" is a bit sardonic. (I’ll be at the June International Space Development Conference in DC, as a lonely voice skeptical of the “Back to Luna!” theme.)
NASA, FEMA, and other national and international agencies and other agencies joined to run a hypothetical asteroid impact preparedness scenario at the International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference, hoping to learn the best strategies for responding to a potential strike, starting from the moment a threatening asteroid is first detected by astronomers.
You can be part of the solution via an NGO that will apply your membership to finding gaps in the way governments are doing Planetary Defense: the B612 Foundation.
And so, this time, let’s focus on those rocks out there! Newly discovered “moons” of the Earth, an older dustpile, and prospectors’ delight…
== Where the rewards are ==
Okay, here’s some moon-madness. One day - (one!) - after I predicted it, the administration swished from eagerness for a flag-waving, U.S.-only moon-race junket to calling for a joint international effort. (In fact, I predicted it more than a year ago, on-blog.) To be fair, I deem it likely NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is honest and just trying to make the best of a truly awful situation. Still, it all boils down to the same thing. In order to help other nations get their rite-of-passage moon-selfie moment on a useless and utterly resource-barren plain of poison dust, the US will share every technology and skill, virtually for free. We could be joining with Japan to do things no one else can even approach (see below), things that would benefit all humanity and also make us rich. But not on Mike Pence's watch.
But for a pretty thorough update/appraisal plus vivid historical perspective on our gorgeous planetary satellite, see a soon-released book entitled The Moon: A History for the Future, by my friend Oliver Morton, author of The Planet Remade. Pre-order now! It pairs well with Robert Zubrin’s recently released The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility, portraying the visionary entrepreneurs who are forging a bold future of space exploration, developing reusable rockets, pushing ahead to Mars, the asteroids and beyond... even to the moons of the outer planets.
Just read skeptically in both places – and anywhere else – when folks wave at “lunar resources.” There’s plenty to love about lovely Luna, and even visit. But we’ll get rich elsewhere.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Luna is important over the long run, and even now -- scientifically. And I might be wrong about its sterile, near term uselessness. Hence it’s good that humanity will be checking it out again. Worthwhile science will get done, each time desperately eager tourists land there in expensive rites-of-adulthood. May those preening tourists prove me wrong! (I do think NASA should send a robot to one of those lava tubes.) But elsewhere I list a dozen reasons why all talk of “lunar resources” tends to amount to just hot air.
Speaking of moons… NASA's got lucky last month and spotted not one but two cool eclipses — in less than two weeks, one for each of the Red Planet's moons. Which leads to this reminder: Phobos and Deimos should be mission targets! If one of them possesses usable volatiles, then ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization) could fill fuel and water tanks both in orbit and on the surface of Mars, making the economics of crewed landings (and return to Earth) vastly easier. https://www.space.com/curiosity-rover-sees-solar-eclipses-on-mars.html
And so we get to a special kind of “moon.” It turns out that Earth has several other than big ol’ Luna. We know a class of asteroids that are locked into periodic dance orbits that return them to near-Earth space – the “nearest” of the NEOs (Near Earth Asteroids) and by-far easiest to reach, though none has yet been visited. And Dr. James Benford has pointed out that these could be perfect hosts fir the sort of “lurker” interstellar surveillance probes that I describe in EXISTENCE.
Benford argues for close study of co-orbitals like Cruithne (3753), a 5-kilometer object with closest approach to Earth of 0.080 AU, and 2010 TK7, which oscillates around the Sun-Earth Lagrangian point L4. A number of other such objects are known in a 1:1 orbital resonance with Earth The dancer that comes nearest – 2016HO3 – is just tens of meters across… also known as Kamoʻoalewa — a Hawaiian word for an oscillating object in the sky.
Now comes news that China plans a sample return mission to this object. Simpler and easier to get to than the Hyabusa and OsirisRex missions (see below), it’s still a very ambitious step that proves the PRC is not just fixated on military endeavors out there or the Apollo wannabe landing of taikonauts. They must be aware (as Mike Pence is not) that the real riches are likely in asteroids. After dropping those samples for Earth recovery -- and getting a gravity assist -- their probe will continue to the main asteroid belt and orbit the comet 133P to characterize its accessible water and other resources. The whole mission will last about 10 years. So far, China has achieved five continuous successes in its lunar exploration program, and they plan to launch a probe to explore Mars in 2020, which is expected to arrive at the red planet in 2021.
Still a leader -- Japan’s Hayabusa mission to explore asteroid Ryugu just keeps doing more wonderful things. After deploying three varied sub-landers, then poking the asteroid for a sample to return, it just blasted the surface to make a new crater, to later sample more pristine matter! Efficiently and boldly testing methods that may take humanity closer to accessing the vast troves of wealth out there. These are the partners the U.S. should team up with, if we outgrow the current literal Lunacy of joining an insipid “race” back to the Moon’s dusty waste. Don’t underestimate Japan. They’d be glad to be our helpers in this. But if we drop the ball… they are capable of carrying it alone.
And the U.S. mission OsirisRex is zeroing in on Bennu. The Colorado School of Mines just became the first university to offer master’s and doctorate degrees in space resources, bringing together many fields, including mining, resource economics, robotics, advanced manufacturing, remote sensing, metals/metallurgy, solar and nuclear energy along wwith ISRU or i or using what’s in place. Colorado Reps. Scott Tipton, a Republican, and Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat, are sponsoring that would establish the Space Resources Institute.
Confused about how we’ve managed to measure distances and times across the universe? This animation is truly wonderfully made. Explained in this article.
Humanity is advancing gloriously! Too bad large and stupid minorities of voters in western nations have let them selves be egged into hatred and all-out war against the very same fact-professions – many of them their own sons and daughters – who are pushing the envelopes of understanding of climate, environment, technology, biology, medicine and the fantastic realm of God’s universe.