Wednesday, December 17, 2014

News from/about space

What's happening?  Suddenly, there’s been a wave of … inspiration! 

As if in tempo with Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR, several short movies aggressively confront the cynical theme that’s dominated this dismal century, so far. (The way so many of you have given in to the seductive propaganda of limitations and despair.) These gorgeous pieces fight back by offering us visions of wondrous possibility.

First… try on this spectacular ode to courage – and our outward spirit – Cinema Space Tribute by Max Shishkin, using the Interstellar score as background, taking us on a tour of vivid SF cinema images of space.  

Even better is one off the finest things I have ever watched, period. Invest four minutes in Wanderers by Eric Wernquist! These amazing scenes all taken (or extrapolated) from reality*, not sci fi!  This is what being human must be about... or else, why bother?

(* Almost all of the places depicted here are real. Many of them extrapolated from photos taken already by our robot emissaries. “We” have already been to these wondrous spots. We are already titans!  On our way to unimaginable greatness. (Though I will keep trying to imagine.))

And see this: From Rosetta to Curiosity and Orion: Highlights from an amazing -- and inspiring -- year in space -- summarized in 60 seconds

Coda: I’ve oft said that centuries tend to change direction dramatically, in their fourteenth year.  Could this wave of "confidence porn" be indicative of our next sudden veer?  Backing away from the cliffs of cynical despair and getting back on trajectory toward ambition, daring and wonder?

Make it so.

== Comets and more comets! ==

Hot on the heels of the European Rosetta Mission’s success at landing on Comet 67P – (incidentally proving my doctoral thesis) -- the Japanese Space Agency announced plans to do a second endeavor to collect samples from an asteroid. The original Hayabusa mission, intended as a technology demonstration, returned samples from a rock-rich S-type asteroid called Itokawa in 2010. 

The new Hayabusa would aim at an accessible – Earth-orbit crossing – asteroid of the carbonaceous chondrite variety, very black and filled with water and organics. “It’s trying to understand the relationship of these (different types of) asteroids, how that fits into the formation of the solar system and how it may have influenced life on our planet.”

The spacecraft carries four rovers that will be deployed to the surface, plus a small impactor probe that will smash into the surface to excavate a fresh crater.  If all goes well, Hayabusa 2’s sample return capsule should land in Australia in December 2020.  Very exciting… and necessary steps toward the goal of getting out there and mining millions of floating rocks, creating so much wealth that Earth can be a park.

More on comets!  This attempt to give Comet 67P’s true color -- and it's not gray!

And... First samples of comet dust found in Antarctica. Much more promising than the old way: “-Until recently, the only way scientists could collect “chondritic porous interplanetary dust particles,” or comet dust, without going to space has been by flying research planes high in the stratosphere. It’s painstaking work: Several hours of flying time typically yield one particle of dust.” 

Oh, yes.  Did I mention results pour in, verifying my doctoral dissertation... on comets? ;-) 

== More space! ==

After a nine year voyage, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has awakened, and is ready to collect data on its approach to Pluto. 

See the One Earth Message -- beamed to the New Horizons probe. Jon Lomberg has partnered with the Arthur C. Clarke Center  on a project to upload messages to the future, doing in software, (once the mission is mostly completed) what the Voyager disk did in hardware.  Sign up to participate at One Earth: New Horizons Message.

28 Months on Mars: See these incredible time-lapse images from Curiosity. 

Watch 3D Printer-bots build the lunar colony of 2050 -- in this ESA video. Actually, we seed funded much of this at NASA-NIAC.  In fact, while 3-D building may be a useful technique, astronauts staying for extended periods may use the cavities we’ve discovered, that appear to lead into underground ancient lava tubes.

The ESA and Russia may partner for joint robotic missions to the moon.

NASA engineers propose combining a rail gun and a scram jet to fire spacecraft into orbit!

The fastest stars in universe may approach light speed.

Some astronomers suggest that dark matter,’ the cosmic scaffolding on which our Universe is built,’ is being slowly erased, swallowed up by dark energy. This conversion could explain why the universal expansion seems to have been slowed down by gravity, some billions of years ago, but now appears to be speeding up… toward eventual dispersal in a vast Big Chill.
Which leads us to... A breakthrough in the detection of dark matter?

And finally, from Kepler to Cassini: Fifteen ongoing space missions you should know about. 


Tim H. said...

SCAM jet? I think DOD has bought a few of those over the years... ;)

Tony Fisk said...

'Wanderers' is breathtaking, although some, like P.Z. Myers moan about how it shows we haven't yet learned to control our appetites.
It *is* a fair point but, in making it, he ignores what Wanderers is really about: curiosity. Sure, Sagan's speech is tapping into ancient themes of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle as a motivator. This bit of poetic license is being used to promote exploration, not immigration. As Sagan himself says in conclusion: 'Maybe it's a little early. Maybe the time is not quite yet.'

Following in the inspiration theme: a few years ago some futurist types were feeling decidedly pessimistic about world affairs and had taken to quoting passages from Yeats 'The Second Coming':

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

This was about the same time a crippled, giddy spacecraft was limping home on a jury rigged propulsion system to deliver its meagre payload of comet stuff.

The kicker? 'Hayabusa' is the Japanese word for 'falcon'.

re: dark matter. I wonder if the stuff is all we can detect of matter swallowed by black holes: the lumpy bits where the dust has been swept under the carpet?

Tony Fisk said...

Extra fun this Friday:

SpaceX to attempt controlled re-entry and landing of spent first stage.

sociotard said...

Holy smokes! Obama is going to try lifting the Cuban Embargo and reopen the US Embassy in Havana. I didn't think I'd see the day.

Of course, it isn't done yet. The Republican's control Congress, and they'll all oppose it, either because they think it's a bad idea or because they think it's a good idea and don't want Obama to get credit.

Tony Fisk said...

Sure Congress will support lifting the Cuban embargo.

That KXL pipeline they so desperately want has to go *somewhere*, hasn't it?

Alex Tolley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Tolley said...

color of comet - could it be organic material in the surface, or just brown rock/sand?

28 months on Mars - link fails. Youtube version

Lunar base printer - it really isn't much of an advance over just dumping a pile of regolith over the inflatable hab. As I recall, it needed a special binder that would need to be shipped from Earth, offsetting the "printing" advantage. Was Shackleton base near Clavius (2001 a Space Odyssey) - in looks like it was in the vicinity?

Rail gun and sc[r]am jet. This seems very premature. We don't have a reliable hypersonic scram jet vehicle even working yet. The rail gun only get the vehicle to 1000 mph, a fraction of orbital velocity, so why use it - a 500 mph jet will work just as well, then use rockets to boost the scram jet to 1000 mph to light the scram jet (if it works). You still need an upper orbital stage. It seems to me that existing ideas for a 2 stage jet plus rocket to orbit works already, so why the untried technology?

It's great to see so much interest in asteroids/comets/dead comets. Finally we are starting to get some decent ground truth about these objects. Definitely a great resource for solar system exploration.

Jumper said...

Oh, I see. It's "education" not education that's the bubble.

For-profit diploma mills seeing decline.

Tacitus said...

On topic of space and cinema, I did try to watch Ascension based on positive comments here.

Uhh, not my cuppa tea. I am sure that the sociology of a bunch of long time space travelers will be interesting, but cripes it was pretty much all class warfare and illicit nookie.

People NOT using their brains, yep, that is Sci Fi at its finest.

Made it through about a half hour, so if y'all tell me it was great from then on, fine.


awbryan said...

Should have stayed, Tacitus, there was some actual plot lurking behind the stupid class warfare and soap opera. Honestly, those were the weakest parts of the show -- I would have thought we could at least come up with new ways for people to have their tribal conflicts. This *is* a tribe, about four Dunbar units in size, and it should feel that way.

Still, now that all three nights have aired, I must ask: did they tell you, Dr. Brin, either of the main 'twists' of the plot? (Without spoiling anyone, I refer to the final moments of nights one and three, respectively)

Jumper said...
Intelligence in birds
All the ongoing space missions fit to print.

Joel said...

Sorry for the OT:

Outrage Bait from Not only does it analyse the differences between left and right, but it provides the best ones from 2014.

Something near/dear to Brin's heart - though no references to it as a 'drug'.

davidly said...

Of course mankind will expand with its universe, in pursuit of vaster worlds in an intellectual spirit and those of a more material nature and necessity. That it can reek its havoc on the greater universe and not just its planet is hardly a hopeful premise.

But I am a tad cynical. Indeed, the alternative message I read is "Hope is just beyond your reach."

SteveO said...

True color is a tricky is "blacker than coal" e.g.

That pinkish one is enhanced color. To the human eye it would be much more monochrome/black.

I am still desperately waiting to be shown how mining a stoney asteroid would actually be economically viable for Earth, and I say that as a metallurgical engineer who has worked in the mining industry. Even if you plopped one of those babies down next to a refinery, it would not be an economical ore.

If there were more of a human presence in space, a chronditic asteroid might provide CHON for life, or a metallic one could provide some horribly contaminated iron that might be used somehow with sufficient power to refine it. I don't see a role for stoney asteroid mining, or for any way to affect the Earth with asteroid mining. And I really really want to.

Paul451 said...

Did I miss a link? Who is talking about mining S-type asteroids?

Wet C-types for fuel/air/water and H-rich shielding for in-space uses, where it's competing with the cost of Earth-launch, not Earth-prices. M-types for simple bulk structures in space... and yes, amongst the over-enthusiastic, dreams of flooding the markets on Earth with platinum group metals. But I can't say I've ever heard anyone talk about mining S-types.

[Turing: "Hisam". I assume Sam is the robot?]

Paul451 said...

Phases of the moon.

Full screen, sound up. Strangely hypnotic.

[Turing: "Todye". Today is a good day to colour.]

David Brin said...


Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi SteveO

I would love some "horribly contaminated Iron" - given that the two elements that it is contaminated with (Nickel and Cobalt) are both worth over ten times as much as the iron

Metal meteorites are more than 95% Iron, Nickel and Cobalt
And you don't need to do the smelting - its already there as a metal not a metal oxide

Given the cost and HUGE mess associated with terrestrial iron mining and smelting I hope to live to the time when asteroidal iron is delivered to an earthside site for shipping to steel works