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Category Archives: Moon Colonization

Martian Politics Are a Mess and We Haven’t Even Arrived – Inverse

Posted: February 24, 2017 at 5:56 pm

The instantly iconic image of a barely ruffled American flag, perched proudly at the top of the Lunar Flag Assembly, ran on the front page of LIFE magazines August 8, 1969 issue. The photograph, part of a series taken by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, wasnt just for American eyes. It was a masterful piece of propaganda that heavily implied the United States had taken a permanent lead in the space race by claiming the moon in much the same way it had claimed Hawaii a decade earlier. But no country owns the fifth-largest natural satellite in the solar system. And, unless changes are made to international laws, no country will own Mars even if NASA arrives on schedule in the 2030s.

Futurists have been talking about colonizing Mars since the German Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher got excited about a plan in the 17th century. But implicit in the idea of colonization is a premise that may not apply. Colonization connotes sovereignty and ownership. Those concepts define nations and international relations on Earth, but map poorly to the Martian surface for economic and legal reasons. Resources on Mars are limited and inefficiencies are massively expensive. Free markets arent likely to emerge rapidly. There are plenty of places Antarctica, Diego Garcia where similar constraints have led to the creation of more martial installations. But this process is much more complicated on Mars, because international treaties make it illegal for parties to claim land. (Flags can be planted, but they are just flags.) Given the high value of a scientific or military Martian installation and the lack of legal means to protect it, countries and private entities aiming for the red planet are taking a leap of faith in the adaptability of Earths political and culture technologies.

They are betting, in short, that Mars wont become a battlefield and, furthermore, that Martian conflicts wont result in crises on Earth. Its unclear if thats a smart bet.

The countries and companies (including SpaceX, NASA, the United Arab Emirates interested in colonizing Mars do have more to go on than optimism. They have the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which was created in the midst of the Cold War as a framework for dealing with potential conflict in space. And it hasnt exactly made a smooth transition into the 21st century. The treaty is not only 40 years old and outdated, but represents the product of a negotiation between two hostile and neurotic superpowers looking to avoid nuclear holocaust, not share unclaimed territory.

Russia was worried that the United States was going to claim areas of space as their own, explains Jacob Haqq-Misra, a research scientist with Blue Marble Space Institute of Science. The U.S. was worried that [the USSR] was going to do the same. Both sides were worried that nuclear weapons might get placed into orbit or even on the moon.

The result? A treaty that creates a protocol for planetary protection, bans weapons of mass destruction in orbit, and explicitly forbids military installations beyond the atmosphere. Then there is the diciest part: Outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.

But neither America nor SpaceX want outer space as such. They want continuous access to Helium-3, precious metals which are increasingly rare on Earth, and access to ice or liquid water which could be used in sustainable spaceflight technologies.

Theres an ambiguity in how you interpret the Outer Space Treaty, Haqq-Misra says. Its precisely this ambiguity that permits the U.S. and Luxembourg to justify the mining of resources in space. They claim states and companies operating under the purview of their states are not claiming sovereignty over land, merely claiming resources.

Haqq-Misra thinks its critical for the international community to have new ideas about space governance. He says this is especially important because private companies are likely to play a role going forward that no one envisioned in the late 1960s. Hes far from alone in thinking that the treaty is dated, but the solution to that problem remains unclear. As Frons von der Dunk, a space law expert at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, points out, scrapping the whole thing might be throwing a lot of baby away with the bathwater given that it does not explicitly empower or disenfranchise any single entity. Ambiguity, however unintentional, allows for progress while avoiding a potential Martian land rush and the conflicts likely between the U.S. and Russia that could be provoked. And theres not a clear demand for an alternative because there is no emerging consensus on what international space law should look during the second space age. States are not rushing to sit down and hash the issues out.

I do not see that readily happening, says von der Dunk.

Which means that its time to get creative about governance. Haqq-Misra does that by working backwards from specific, plausible scenarios. As an example, he describes a Chinese mission to Mars following on the heels of the successful creation of a SpaceX outpost. Would China want to avoid, say, anything within a 200-kilometer radius of Elon Musks biodome? Probably not and they wouldnt have to either.

They are free to land within SpaceXs exclusive economic zone and, in fact, might do so because going to space is really difficult, says Haqq-Misra. They would probably need direct support from others who are already there.

This only presents a problem if China seeks to extract resources from lands cultivated whatever that looks like by SpaceX workers. Within a system built on traditional ideas of sovereignty and land rights, this wouldnt make much sense. Within a system he calls Cooperative Sovereignty, Haqq-Misra believes the interests of both parties, and humanity writ large, can be preserved. Along with his colleague Sara Bruhns, Haqq-Misra proposes a Martian economic system that seeks to encourage the type of scientific endeavors NASA and others want to pursue while providing incentives and rules to foster trade, mining, and habitation development. Every Martian colony would basically have an exclusive economic zone within a bounded radius of a given installation. Other nations could land in that area, but not claim it.

Its not simply that that land could host valuable resources under the surface. Any colony thats looking to do more than simply kick back in the minus 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures and enjoy a gravity thats one-third of Earths would need space for water treatment plants, greenhouses for growing essential plants and vegetables, structures that can house massive 3D printers used to build more structures, communications equipment for chatting with friends back on Earth, facilities that can generate fuel from Martian methane, a place for Martian robots to be built and programmed, and so much more. We havent even begun to touch on what will be needed for recreation (imagine playing soccer or football on the red planet), religion (Martian church on Sunday, anyone?), schools, administrative headquarters, etc.

Cooperative Sovereignty takes its shape from protocols outlined by the Antarctic Treaty System and the Convention on the Law of the Seas, both of which allow nations to claim resource access without claiming land. The history of international conflict on the high seas is not particularly encouraging nor is the regular violation of the Law of the Seas but the limited history of human conflict in Antarctica is.

Not many people want to live there, says Haqq-Misra. Youve got a bunch of science bases and people, for the most part, cooperate. Theres no violence. Theres very little military presence. Theres a moratorium on industrial mining or any sort of resource extraction for I think another 30 or 40 years. A lot of scientists like that model and, to some extent, we are loosely in that mode of operation with space today. You have free access if youre a scientist in any nation to do research in space.

Still, its important to remember that Antarctica is almost devoid of valuable resources. There are some deposits of iron ore, gold, copper, nickel, and platinum, and even some reserves of coal, but theres not enough there to justify the expense of setting up an extensive mining operation built to withstand difficult conditions. Mars may prove similarly lacking in mineral riches, but Martian land could prove valuable in other ways, such as providing a base of operations for asteroid mining, or the development of extremely novel technologies that can only be made in a low-gravity setting. The Antarctica model works neatly when theres not much to fight over.

When there is, things can get problematic. The notion of Martian economic zones is derived from the ability of nations to claim resources within a certain distance of sovereign shorelines. In theory, fleets from other nations cannot fish in those waters. In reality, its not always so simple. Over the last decade, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, an incredibly important trade route, have become disturbingly common. Because the United Nations has no way of actually enforcing any rulings it makes, countries China in most cases have been allowed to pursue extralegal agendas.

There is unlikely to be a U.N. peacekeeping force on Mars.

To resolve disputes on Mars, Haqq-Misra and Bruhns came up with a mediating body modeled after the fairly weak Antarctic Secretariat, which helps manage disputes between nations who are fighting in the South Pole.

David Collins think this plan is naive.

Collins, a law expert at the City University of London, believes Mars has capitalism coming. Hes bullish on the idea of allowing private parties to lay sovereign claims to Mars, arguing that a strict motivation of profit could best facilitate productive development of Martian colonies.

In a 2010 paper, Collins wrote that common ownership and sharing of lands and resources disregards the unequal burden of costs, and associated risks discouraging investment and productive use. In his view, the incentive to make these productive uses of the land of Mars necessitates non-communal ownership because private property rights encourage the maximization of a resources potential because of the prospect of higher individual gains.

The rise in interest in Mars among private companies, however, makes profit a potential catalyst for both science and human progress. However, capitalist expansion could well lead to the proliferation of Earth problems inequality, war, oppression, corruption on another planet. It might make homo sapiens a multi-planetary species quickly, but it will not facilitate the sort of cultural or psychological transcendence that artists have often suggested lies among the stars.

And theres the third way, the rejection of government and market expansion in favor of true independence. It should not be taken as a given that Mars will be populated one outpost at a time. If terraforming goes well and self- sufficiency becomes possible either through the export of valuable goods or through local production of essentials, Mars could be its own country. Being Martian could take on a new meaning and the government of that country could form itself to suit the sentiment of the governed.

There are two narratives that arrive at this end. In the first, the planet is always independent and land is never claimed until it is claimed by a local government. In the second, the planet frees itself from Earth colonists.

At some point in the future [Martian colonists] may start rebelling against a faraway terrestrial government still claiming jurisdiction over them, says von der Dunk. Imagine the tea party but with titanium and magnetite. Because space war is impractical and wildly expensive, the ultimate result of that decision might be a contested claim of sovereignty. Chinas relationship with Taiwan might be a model of the future unhealthy Martian relationship with an Earth country.

Or maybe not.

I dont think it would take very long before you started to see the emergence of a new form of Martian society that is still very human, but a new type of human, says Haqq-Misra.

Photos via Imgur, YouTube, Robert Murray/Mars Society

Neel is a science and tech journalist from New York City, reporting on everything from brain-eating amoebas to space lasers used to zap debris out of orbit, for places like Popular Science and WIRED. He’s addicted to black coffee, old pinball machines, and terrible dive bars.

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EMS alum working for SpaceX says travel to Mars within reach – Penn State News

Posted: at 5:56 pm

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. Its safe to say that Michael Policellis career goals are pretty ambitious: supporting the effort to launch manned missions to Mars in a quest to colonize our neighboring planet.

But Policelli, a Penn State graduate with a masters degree in aerospace engineering and bachelors degree in materials science and engineering, doesnt see it that way. Policelli, now a propulsion development engineer for SpaceX, a private aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company, uses his background in engineering to tackle the task one step at a time, regardless of its challenges.

Materials science and engineering gave me the background to be able to analyze a problem critically and come to a solution, said Policelli.

Thats an important skill because much of what SpaceX does, quite literally, goes where no one has gone before.

Policelli landed the competitive job in 2014 after completing an internship with the company, where he tested rockets at their McGregor, Texas, facility. He said his aerospace engineering background and his work with the Penn State Lunar Lion Team a student team developing a rocket system for lunar exploration to expand humanitys knowledge of the Moon bolstered his resume. But his materials science background really stood out.

While working at the Applied Research Laboratorys Laser Processing Division and the Penn State Lunar Lion Team, Policelli became comfortable troubleshooting concepts using 3-D printing and modeling using metal alloys. When vying for an internship, he stressed his experiences at Penn State and how he was actually making things instead of just talking about concepts.

Ultimately youre going to have to do a lot of learning when you get to any job, and this one is no different, said Policelli. So, if you can demonstrate that you can go out and teach yourself what you need to succeed at a task and then iterate until you succeed, thats what theyre looking for.

Policelli has been working on SpaceXs Merlin engine for the second stage of the companys Falcon 9 rocket, in support of several missions including one where he was able to see all of Earth from the viewfinder.

You see the ground shrinking away and the edge of Earth with a thin little layer of atmosphere and get that perspective of what its like to be in space, and its pretty breathtaking, said Policelli.

He said its an exciting time to be working for a company that plans travel to Mars within a decade. SpaceX is already delivering cargo to the International Space Station, and is slated to begin human flights there as early as 2018.

A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, launched via the Falcon 9 rocket, on Thursday delivered 5,500 pounds of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station four days after launching from the Kennedy Space Center. Michael Policelli, a Penn State graduate with a masters degree in aerospace engineering and bachelors degree in materials science and engineering, works on stage two of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Image: Photo provided/SpaceX

A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, launched via the Falcon 9 rocket, on Thursday delivered 5,500 pounds of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station four days after launching from the Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX recently launched ten Iridium NEXT satellites into space and plans more commercial launches for the communications company and for NASA during the next year.

Space is a big place, and were going to need a lot of players. Were going to need a lot of people working to build the future of space exploration and, ultimately, colonization, said Policelli. Its a pretty amazing opportunity and I definitely appreciate the path it took to come here and to be able to work with all the people that I do. I have an amazing team and its been very satisfying. Everyone is working hard and trying to do their very best to accomplish the mission.

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Trump’s NASA Definitely Going To Jupiter’s Icy Moon – Daily Caller

Posted: February 23, 2017 at 12:49 pm

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NASA approved a new robotic mission to Jupiters icy moon Europa after a major internal review.

NASA will begin preliminary design and testing later this month, and the space agency intends to launch a probe sometime in the early 2020s.

The Europa Clipper probe will investigate the icy moons potential for human colonization and alien life. Europa probably has water oceans below layers of ice that are likely kept warm by complex gravitational interactions. The moons core may also keep the oceans warm.

NASA officials previously found clay-like minerals associated with organic matter on Earth on the moons icy crust.

President Donald Trump wants NASA to focus on eliminating bureaucratic waste and cutting back environmental science research in favor of more ambitious goals, like sending humans to Mars and robots to Europa two of the best places to find alien life near Earth.

Former President Barack Obama requested NASAs mission to Europa receive only $49.6 million in 2017, far less than the $175 million the mission got from Congress in 2016.

Obamas budget earmarked money not spent on the probe to global warming research. A rival proposal from the House allocates $260 million to fully fund the mission for the next year.

The Obama administration wanted more than $2 billion for NASAs Earth Science Mission Directorate to improve climate modeling, weather prediction and natural hazard mitigation. The directorates goal is to help NASA meet the challenges of climate and environmental change. Obama repeatedly attempted to cut other NASA directorates budgets to fund global warming science.

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United Arab Emirates Has a Plan to Colonize Mars with 600,000 … – Universe Today

Posted: at 12:49 pm


Universe Today
United Arab Emirates Has a Plan to Colonize Mars with 600,000 …
Universe Today
During the 5th World Government Summit, the United Arab Emirates announced a bold plan to build a permanent settlement on Mars.

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UA grad grows 10 million heads of lettuce without soil, could offer solution for future of agriculture – Arizona Daily Star

Posted: February 20, 2017 at 6:49 pm

At the University of Arizona, Jenn Frymark helped develop a greenhouse for extreme weather and then spent six months at the South Pole growing food for scientific researchers.

Now she grows 10 million heads of lettuce and other greens year-round, without soil, in considerably more benign conditions inside greenhouses in New York and Chicago.

She said her business, Gotham Greens, has been a success since she joined partners Eric Haley and Viraj Puri in growing greens hydroponically on a rooftop in Brooklyn in 2011.

Jenn Frymark, chief greenhouse officer and a co-founder of New York City-based Gotham Greens, points to lettuce crops at the companys Chicago rooftop greenhouse on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. The 75,000-square-foot facility, which opened in October, is one of the largest rooftop greenhouses in the world.

Frymark is the poster child for the UAs Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, where she did her graduate studies.

Shes certainly one of the most successful graduates we have, particularly as it relates to business development, said center director Gene Giacomelli.

She took the science she learned and put it into a highly successful, very unique business, Giacomelli said.

The center, known as CEAC, is training the next generation of farmers for an urban agriculture revolution, researching ways to improve efficiency, taste and freshness in everything from lettuce to mushrooms. Giacomelli is planning to extend it to wine grapes.

Frymark said the skills she learned there are key to her business success and she still calls the center for technical advice.

Gotham Greens facility in Queens, New York.

The center is helping NASA develop a gardening system for the moon and Mars. It is developing sensors that will allow plants to signal their needs for light, carbon dioxide and nourishment. The center is branching out into mushroom farming and its director wants to learn if its possible to make fine wine from grapes whose roots never touch the soil.

It is also helping to lay the groundwork for the Monsanto Co.s 7-acre corn-research greenhouse on Tucsons northwest side.

The center is housed in sheds, greenhouses and offices scattered across the historic floodplain on the south side of the Rillito near North Campbell Avenue. It is jointly run by the UA Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, and the School of Plant Sciences. About 85 students from those programs and others are taking the centers courses, Giacomelli said.

The Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at the UA is training farmers for an urban agriculture revolution.

This is an exciting time for food-production agriculture, Giacomelli said. For the first time in history, if youre not born into the agriculture business, you can start a food system in a garage, on a rooftop or in the corner of a building.

Controlled-environment agriculture will never replace field crops, said Jeff Silvertooth, UA associate dean of cooperative extension services, but its growth potential is great for high-value crops and niche opportunities.

Frymark said Gotham Greens had no trouble finding customers for lettuce it packages and ships every day.

Ship is a bit of an exaggeration. Her second site in Brooklyn was built atop a Whole Foods Market. They just walk it downstairs. Proximity, and her companys ability to control all aspects of distribution, make it possible to deliver greens the same day they are picked, she said.

Her greens are not organic a method of growing that is traditionally defined as feeding the soil rather than the crop.

But the companys greens remain attractive to the natural-foods crowd. People like local to the point where it is a stronger brand than organic, Frymark said.

Her hydroponic crops use no soil. They float on Styrofoam rafts atop a pool of water enriched with the chemical nutrients that the plants need.

The Mars Lunar Greenhouse at the UA is helping NASA develop gardening systems for the moon and Mars.

Methods of growing hydroponically were pioneered at the UA, and are being continually refined at the CEAC.

The center was started by pioneer hydroponic researcher Merle Jensen, who had previously worked on demonstrations of the technique for Disneys Epcot Center.

Jensen helped secure original funding for CEAC in 1998 from the Legislature, as Eurofresh Farms was developing huge tomato greenhouses in Willcox and Snowflake, Giacomelli said.

Many of the improvements made in growing crops in ordinary circumstances come from taking on the challenge of growing them in extreme environments, according to Giacomelli.

He contracted with Raytheons Polar Services division to work with the National Science Foundation to develop the South Pole greenhouse, and his students helped run it until 2012.

Giacomelli is in the last year of a third NASA grant to develop a system for space colonization called the Mars-Lunar Greenhouse. It was called the lunar greenhouse before NASA switched its long-range planning to include colonization of Mars.

The prototype is a lightweight, compact facility inside a windowless room in the corner of the Agriculture Colleges research complex just west of Campbell Avenue.

Light for photosynthesis is supplied by banks of 20-percent blue and 80-percent red LED lights. It is not just a food supply, said Giacomelli. It was designed to produce enough oxygen for a single astronaut.

Currently, it is growing lettuce and sweet potatoes, along with some basil and strawberries.

In a different building, in another lightless room, engineer Murat Kacira is experimenting with sensors that could allow the plants to control their own environment.

We call it speaking plant, Giacomelli said. The plants are speaking to us. What he does is he creates the systems to listen to those plants and create environments to help them grow more optimally.

Kacira, a UA professor of agricultural-biosystems engineering, and his students feed the plants nutrients, control the carbon-dioxide levels in the air and adjust the frequency of the lightwaves, as well as the duration of the lighting.

He is working with hydroponic basil and lettuce, but says his high-tech, indoor growing systems arent designed for such low-value crops. It could be used for pharmaceutical-grade plants that require precise control of plant quality, Kacira said.

In the education and teaching greenhouse, seven varieties of tomato are tended by volunteers and students who are learning all aspects of the process.

Tomatoes grow on the vine in a greenhouse at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, 1951 E. Roger Road, on Feb. 9, 2017, in Tucson, Ariz. CEAC is helping NASA develop a sustainable gardening system for the moon and Mars.

Its Thursday, which means lean and lower day for the tomato vines, which are reaching for the light at the glass ceiling.

Jacob Cataldo, who is working toward a degree in agricultural technology management, lowers the cord supporting a tomato vine and coils a weeks worth of vine growth around the base. He said his curriculum at the center covers everything it takes to run a greenhouse.

Jobs for graduates are increasing in number, said Giacomelli, as is corporate involvement. The center tests varieties of crops, grafting techniques, sensors, lights and other greenhouse infrastructure for a number of companies, he said.

Barry Pryor, UA professor of plant sciences, is not officially affiliated with CEAC, but he and his students have been so successful growing mushrooms in a large shed on the property that theyre about to make the leap.

Pryor is something of a reluctant mushroom farmer. He is a mycologist, an expert on mushrooms, but had never grown any until prodded by students in his lab.

While studying the usefulness of mushrooms for bioremediation cleansing polluted soil with some mushroom magic the students developed a plan to grow their own and pitched a proposal to the UAs Green Fund to grow them with discarded waste.

They have since refined the medium to equal amounts of straw and mesquite pods collected on campus. The medium is placed in plastic bags and inoculated with mushroom spores.

On a recent visit, the bags sprouted pearl and blue oyster mushrooms, along with a few lions manes. With limited control of temperature, the fungi grow best in spring and fall, he said.

Mushroom growing is mushrooming said Pryor, with backyard growers and farmers who find it to be a good, reliable extra-money crop.

Giacomelli said mushrooms represent a way to provide protein in controlled environments and he has plans to build facilities with better temperature control for Pryors studies.

Tomatoes have been the biggest greenhouse crop for the last couple decades, but greens are making a move.

Gotham Greens expansion to Chicago was instantly profitable, said Frymark, and the team is now looking at six other cities.

Frymark said shes been steadily employed since deciding to learn hydroponic agriculture after graduating from Arizona State University with a bachelors degree in plant science.

After getting her masters degree at the UA, she completed a six-month stint at McMurdo and South Pole Stations in Antarctica; then helped develop a greenhouse on a science barge in the Hudson River before hooking up with Haley and Puri to start a 13,000-square-foot rooftop greenhouse in Manhattan.

The demand for fresh salad greens was immediate and overwhelming, she said.

The rooftop location, while it created some permitting problems with city officials, provided the sunlight she needed.

A second greenhouse in Brooklyn was bigger. The company partnered with Whole Foods, which was building an ecologically friendly market and wanted a 20,000-square-foot greenhouse atop it.

We sold out immediately. We couldnt answer the phones, Frymark said.

A third greenhouse in Manhattan took up 60,000 square feet and their Chicago expansion is a 75,000-square-foot greenhouse.

Frymarks greens have a raft of advantages, she said. Pests are few in number and easily controlled. The produce is pesticide-free.

And while she cant call her lettuce organic, she can call it responsibly grown a label Whole Foods uses in the categories of good, better and best. Gotham Greens gets the best label, she said.

The technology also makes it possible to grow crops with a fraction of resources, including water and energy.

Giacomelli said controlled-environment lettuce generally uses a tenth of the water of field-grown crops, even when cooling water is factored in.

My number is so much better than that, Frymark said, though she doesnt want to say how much better until she has published, peer-reviewed research to back up the claim.

Because Gotham Greens is vertically integrated, it controls the timing of packaging and shipping, getting the product to customers with a lot of shelf life left. People are always asking, What do you put in the lettuce? It just doesnt go bad.

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The Coming Age of Space Colonization – The Atlantic

Posted: February 15, 2017 at 8:53 pm

A crescent earth rises above the lunar horizon. (NASA/Reuters)

Our new issue yes! subscribe! contains a two-page Q&A I conducted with Eric C. Anderson. He has had a variety of tech and entrepreneurial identities, but I was speaking to him in his role as chairman and co-founder of Space Adventures, which has made a business of sending customers into space.

The subject of our discussion was the future of space travel. Below is an extended-play version of the interview, with extra questions and themes.

James Fallows: Space exploration seems to have lost its hold on the public imagination, compared with a generation ago.

Eric Anderson: I think absolutely they are right to feel a little bit disappointed. On April 12, 1961, the first human being, Yuri Gagarin, goes to space. Then, July 29, 1969: We’re on the moon. If you and I were doing this interview on July 30, 1969 and you had asked me what space exploration would be like in the year 2013, I would’ve told you it would be far more advanced than it is now.

So I think the reality is that space was unnaturally accelerated by this Cold War conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1960s. Then, in the early part of the ’70s, that sort of slowed down. The latter half of the ’70s brought terrible economic trouble in the U.S., which really set the space program way back. In the ’80s, it was the reverse. The Soviets basically ran out of money and then the Soviet Union collapsed. Then in the ’90s we were sort of figuring out how to re-set ourselves in a post-Soviet world. It was in the mid-’90s that commercial revenues in space started to eclipse government revenuesthat was mainly for communication satellites and things like that.

So that part of the industry has gone pretty well. Every day we use GPS and DirecTV and get the weather , and that sort of stuff. But human flight has just been totally crimped. The number of people going to space, and the missions they were doing, went down. The Space Shuttle was so much over budget that it just was impossible for us to really do any real exploration. That’s a long-winded answer, but yes: There’s every reason for people to be disappointed with where we are now, particularly with regard to human space flight.

JF: Why should people be excited about what lies ahead?

EA: In the next generation or twosay the next 30 to 60 yearsthere will be an irreversible human migration to a permanent space colony. Some people will tell you that this new colony will be on the moon, or an asteroidin my opinion asteroids are a great place to go, but mostly for mining. I think the location is likely to be Mars. This Mars colony will start off with a few thousand people, and then it may grow over 100 years to a few million people, but it will be there permanently. That should be really exciting, to be alive during that stage of humanity’s history.

JF: I have to askreally? This will really happen?

EA: I really do believe it will. First of all, the key to making it happen is to reduce the cost of transportation into space. My colleague Elon Musk is aiming to get the cost of a flight to Mars down to half a million dollars a person. I think that even if it costs maybe a few million dollars a person to launch to Mars, a colony could be feasible. To me the question is, does it happen in the next 30 years, or does it happen in the next 60 to 70 years? There’s no question it’s going to happen in this century, and that’s a pretty exciting thing.

JF: Apart from the cost of transport, what are the challenges in making that a reality? Are they cost and engineering challenges, or are they basic science problems?

EA: I think it’s all about the economics. There is no technological or engineering challenge.

One key to making all this happen is that we need to use the resources of space to help us colonize space. It would have been pretty tough for the settlers who went to California if they’d had to bring every supply they would ever need along with them from the East Coast.

That’s why Planetary Resources exists. The near-Earth asteroids, which are very, very close to the Earth, are filled with resources that would be useful for people wanting to go to Mars, or anywhere else in the solar system. They contain precious resources like water, rocket fuel, strategic metals. So first there needs to be a reduction in the cost of getting off the Earth’s surface, and then there needs to be the ability to “live off the land” by using the resources in space.

JF: Againreally? To the general public, asteroid mining just has a fantastic-slash-wacky connotation. How practical is this?

EA: When [co-founder] Peter Diamandis and I conceived of the company, we knew it would be a multi-decade effort. From history, we knew that frontiers are opened by access to resources. We would like to see a future where humans are expanding the sphere of influence of humanity into space.

To make asteroid mining viable, we need spacecraft that can launch and operate in space considerably less expensively than has traditionally been the case. If we are able to do that, then asteroid mining can be profitablevery much so. When you ask “Is it viable?,” I’ll be the first one to tell you how risky this proposition is, and how there is a significant possibility that we could fail in a particular mission or technology, or fall short of our goals.

But we have found ways to reduce the cost of space exploration already. For example, our prospecting mission to a set of targeted asteroids will use the Arkyd line of spacecraft. The first of that series, the Arkyd-100, would have cost $100 million, minimum, in the traditional aerospace way of business and operation. But with the engineering talent we have, and by using commercially available parts and allowing ourselves to take appropriate risks, we’ve been able to bring that cost down to $4 or $5 million dollars.

In 10 years or so, what we’d really like to do is get robotic exploration of space in line with Moore’s Law [the tech-world maxim that the price for computing power falls by half every 18 months]. Remember, asteroid mining doesn’t involve people. We want to transition space exploration from a linear technology into an exponential one, and create an industry that can flourish off of exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Our first missions, for asteroid reconnaissance, will be launching in the next two to three years. For these missions, we’re going to launch small swarms of spacecraft. When I say small, I mean we’ll send three or four spacecraft, and each one of those spacecraft may weigh only 30 pounds. But they will have optical sensors that are better than any camera available today. They will send back imagery, they’ll map the gravity field, they’ll use telescopic remote sensing and spectroscopy to tell us exactly what materials are in the asteroid. It will be possible to know more about an ore body that’s 10 million miles away from us in space than it would be to know about an ore body 10 miles below the Earth’s surface.

We’re really not talking about if; we’re talking about when.

JF: Apart from the practicalities of asteroid mining, what is it going to mean in spiritual and philosophical ways for people to leave the Earth? I guess this is taking us back to the science fiction of the ’50s and ’60s, but what do you think?

EA: I’ve thought a lot about that. The interesting thing will be to see why the people who go to Mars, or to a colony on the moon, or to an asteroid, decide to go there. Will they go there because they’re escaping something? Will they go there because they’re curious? Will they go to make money?

Throughout history, most of the frontiers that we have had on the Earth have been opened up because people were seeking landnew hunting grounds, or fertile locations for cattleor mining for gold or precious metals. But occasionally they would go somewhere new because they were seeking religious freedom or some other kind of freedom.

So I don’t actually know why people will go. Will the Earth be so ravaged by war, or catastrophic climate change, or whatever else, that people will want to leave?

JF: In addition to the forces you mentioned, over the last half millennium or more, the search for new territory has been powerfully driven by national rivalries. The French, the English, the Spanish and others were seeking new territory in which to spread their influence. Do you imagine the national rivalries on Earth being soothed by space exploration? Or rather being aggravated by space exploration, the way the exploration of the New World was?

EA: I think it’s an excellent question, and I think it’s inevitable. The Outer Space Treaty, which was signed in 1967, basically says that no nation can claim a celestial body for its own sovereignty. And it also says that anything that is launched from a particular nation, that nation is responsible for, if it crashes into another nation or something like that. But I don’t see the Outer Space Treaty living another 100 years.

I think that history repeats itself, and all the same things that happened in our history over the last thousand years will happen in one form or another in the next thousand years. Nowadays things are accelerated, it won’t take as long for those cycles of history to happenbecause we have faster means of communication, faster democracies, faster governments. The consequences of action, of economic and political and social drivers, can be felt and reacted to faster than they have been in the past.

But those same things will happen. If the first colonists going to Mars are all American, what kind of system do you think they’re going to want to set up on Mars? And how are other countries going to feel about that? And at what point will the Americans just pull out of the Outer Space Treaty? Or maybe it’ll be the Chinesethe Chinese could get to Mars long before us. Who knows? But being there is 99 percent of it and I think that when the dam breaks and it’s possible to travel at a reasonable cost in space outside the Earth’s very-near vicinity, all sorts of things are going to change.

And one of the other tenets of the Outer Space Treaty is that space will not be weaponized. I hope that lasts for a long, long, long time, but I mean, who knows, it seems like a pipe dream to think that would last forever.

JF: About the environment: Are you thinking space could be not just an escape from a ravaged Earth but a way to save the Earth?

EA: There’s a huge environmental cost to mining on Earth. But there are lots of strategic materials and metals that we can get in space and that will be necessary for us if we want to create abundance and prosperity generations from now on Earth. We sort of had a freebie over the past couple hundred yearswe figured out that you can burn coal and fossil fuels and give all the economies of the world a big boost. But that’s about to end. Not only do we have to transition to a new form of energy, we also have to transition to a new form of resources. And the resources of the nearest asteroids make the resources on Earth pale by comparison. There are enough resources in the nearest asteroids to support human society and civilization for thousands of years.

I’m not suggesting that we’re going to start using resources from space next year. But over the next 20 years, resources in space will most likely be used to explore our solar system. And eventually we’ll start bringing them back to Earth. Wouldn’t it be great if one day, all of the heavy industries of the Earthmining and energy production and manufacturingwere done somewhere else, and the Earth could be used for living, keeping it as it should be, which is a bright-blue planet with lots of green?

JF: Here’s my last question. When I was a kid in the Baby Boom era, there was a genuine national excitement about space. Do you think that mood in the United States needs to be recreated for the populace as a whole? With an overall national excitement or sense of mission about space exploration, like in the 1960s? Or, on the contrary, is this something that should and can be left to people who see a business or scientific opportunity?

EA: If you look at polls, about half the population says that if it were at a price they could afford, and it were safe, they would go to space themselves. They would love to see the Earth from space. I don’t know what that means in terms of gauging support. But clearly the more people are interested in and supportive of space exploration, the faster the industry will grow.

I think spending a half a percent of GDP on space, on space exploration, would be a very wise investment, whether that investment comes from the government itself or from just private industry. There are few things that inspire human engineering, human ingenuity, and the human spirit more than space exploration. Kids love space, and they love dinosaurs, and they love all those fantastical things that can happen when you push the boundaries. It’s the same reason that, when my little one crawls out of her crib at night, she peeks around the corner to see what’s there. This is curiosity.

We have enough perspective on ourselves and the universe to know that we just inhabit this tiny little corner of the universe. Humans are curious; so to say that we’re not interested in space would put us [at odds with] the very core of our being as humans, in a world where we’ve defined a limit that we can never go beyond.

We obviously have huge problems on Earth, and nobody’s saying that we should try to go develop space in lieu of solving our problems on Earth. But the fact of the matter is that we should always be doing things that inspire our youth and ourselves, and try to bring out the best parts of human nature.

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China ‘Highly Commends’ Trump for Holiday Letter to President Xi Jinping – Breitbart News

Posted: February 10, 2017 at 2:48 am

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In the letter,President Trump stated that he looks forward to working with President Xi to develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China, according to an official White House statement. The letter also congratulated the Chinese people generally on two major holidays: the Lunar New Year and the upcoming Lantern Festival. The Chinese Foreign Ministry later confirmed the letter thanked President Xi Jinping for having congratulated Trump on his inauguration in January.

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NBC News notes that this is the first time President Trump has communicated personally with Xi as president.

We highly commend President Trump for his festive greetings to President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang told reporters during the ministrys daily press conference on Wednesday. Lus response to a question regarding the letter was largely favorable to President Trump and the United States in general. China will work with the US, in the principle of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation, to expand cooperation, manage differences, and strive for greater achievements in our bilateral relationship by ensuring its healthy and sound growth, he said.

Reporters attempted to goad Lu into condemning Trumps letter, either for addressing the Lunar New Year after it had occurred or referring tothe presidents upcoming meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a longtime Beijing rival. Lu responded to the former by telling the report they had read too much into it and suggesting you learn more about the significance of the Lantern Festival in traditional Chinese culture to understand why President Trump would choose that occasion for a greeting.

The state publication Xinhua, in their write-up of the press briefing, noted, Lantern Festival, which falls on Feb. 11 this year, is held to mark the first full moon of the new lunar year. It falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month. Chinese people consider it to be one of the countrys most important holidays.

In support of Lus unusually warm regards to President Trump, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters he was optimistic about economic ties between the two countries on Wednesday.The China-U.S. ties have never ceased development, overcoming various difficulties, he said, according to Xinhua. Almost every state in the U.S. has been doing business with China, every (U.S.) university has cooperated with China and the number of personnel exchanges between the two countries has risen to more than four million last year.

The Foreign Ministrys public attitude to Trump diverges significantly from the belligerence that has defined Beijing-controlled publications coverage of Trump. The Communist Party-runGlobal Times, for example, has accused Trump of causing total chaos in the United States and exposing the fragility of Western democracy. The Peoples Liberation Army has used its media channel to warn that Trump has made the possibility of a U.S.-China war more real and a practical reality.

Trump won election to the nations highest office on a campaign that emphasized reassessing Americas economic relationship with China, as well as promising to confront Chinas growing colonization of international waters in the South China Sea. Since assuming the presidency, Trump has ensured his administration remain consistent with his campaign promises.

If those islands are, in fact, in international waters and not part of China proper, yeah, well make sure we defend international interests from being taken over by one country, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in January in response to reports that China has expanded its military capabilities in Vietnamese and Philippine territory in the South China Sea. During his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised to send China a clear signal that, first the island building stops, and second, your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed.

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Students colonize Mars moon in Honeywell Aerospace Challenge – Cronkite News

Posted: February 9, 2017 at 5:49 am

By Josh Orcutt | Cronkite News Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017

Colonizing a moon of Mars is not an easy task.

However, more than 1,300 students from 20 schools around Arizona flocked to Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus to compete in the 18th annual Honeywell Fiesta Bowl Aerospace Challenge to do just that.

Nearly 300 separate teams of three to five students each created scale models and wrote reports about how they wanted to colonize and sustain a base of operations on Phobos. The reports included written descriptions of the original landing site, sequences of launches and the construction plans of the Phobos base. The teams presented their ideas to judges of the competitions who are Honeywell engineers.

The Aerospace Challenge is one of the largest STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) competitions in the state of Arizona.

There are three days of preliminary rounds. The top two teams with the highest scores from each day will move on to the finals.

Those six teams will have to create a 10-minute oral presentation and answer questions on the spot from Honeywell engineers later this month. The team with the highest score wins an all-expenses paid trip to the Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, an on-field appearance at the upcoming Fiesta Bowl, as well as plaques commemorating the victory.

A welcome sign greets students to the Honeywell Fiesta Bowl Aerospace Challenge. More than 1,300 students from 20 different Arizona schools competed. (Photo by Josh Orcutt/Cronkite News)

A view from above of the Honeywell Fiesta Bowl Aerospace Challenge held on Arizona State Universitys Polytechnic Campus in Mesa on Monday, Feb. 6, 2017. (Photo by Josh Orcutt/Cronkite News)

Seventh grade students Nicholas Kahhan, Sebastian Sanchez and Daniel Wade from Kyrene Altadena Middle School show off their project, codenamed Soup. (Photo by Josh Orcutt/Cronkite News)

Each groups presentation must include a written report about the logistics of the colonization of Phobos, a moon of Mars, as well as a scale model of their plan. (Photo by Josh Orcutt/Cronkite News)

Teams are required to build models detailing potential living quarters for the crews on Phobos as well as ways to stay sustainable. (Photo by Josh Orcutt/Cronkite News)

A judge from Honeywell discusses the plans proposed by Conall Mayo-Shanahan, Trevor Hunter and Eric Elizondo. (Photo by Josh Orcutt/Cronkite News)

One teams plan for colonizing Phobos, a moon of Mars, stands on display. Over the three days, 1,300 students from 20 schools will get feedback from Honeywell engineers about their plans. (Photo by Josh Orcutt/Cronkite News)

Students can win medals and awards while competing in the Honeywell Fiesta Bowl Aerospace Challenge. (Photo by Josh Orcutt/Cronkite News)

The Honeywell Fiesta Bowl Aerospace Challenge is one of the largest STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program for grade school and middle school students in Arizona. (Photo by Josh Orcutt/Cronkite News)

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Students colonize Mars moon in Honeywell Aerospace Challenge – Cronkite News

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‘Amazing Stories of the Space Age’: Q&A with Author Rod Pyle – Space.com

Posted: February 7, 2017 at 9:54 pm

The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) is one of the space missions discussed in Rod Pyle’s new book, “Amazing Stories of the Space Age,” now on sale.

A new book brings together tales of the most bizarre and incredible space missions ever conceived. The book’s author (and regular Space.com contributor), Rod Pyle, talked with Space.com via email about these amazing space missions and what they can tell us about the future of spaceflight.

The book, “Amazing Stories of the Space Age: True Tales of Nazis in Orbit, Soldiers on the Moon, Orphaned Martian Robots, and Other Fascinating Accounts from the Annals of Spaceflight,” is now available in paperbackand as an e-book. You can read an excerpt of the book here.

“Amazing Stories of the Space Age: True Tales of Nazis in Orbit, Soldiers on the Moon, Orphaned Martian Robots, and Other Fascinating Accounts from the Annals of Spaceflight,” by Rod Pyle.

Space.com: This book is a collection of stories about strange and amazing spaceflight missions and ideas for missions. To give our readers an idea of the kinds of things covered in the book, can you briefly describe one of your favorite “amazing storie,” or one of the missions you find really fascinating?

Rod Pyle: I love them all, of course, but one that touches my heart is about the final days of the Viking 1 Mars lander. Two Viking spacecraft, each comprised of an orbiter and a lander, headed off to the Red Planet in 1975, arriving in 1976. After studying the surface from orbit, the flight controllers committed Viking 1 to a landing on July 20, 1976. They could only infer what the surface might be like from relatively low-resolution imaging, but they met with luck twice: first with this landing, and then with Viking 2 about six weeks. The folks at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) still marvel at the accomplishment. After a long and successful campaign of great science, one by one, the Vikings went dark, and by late 1982, only Viking 1 was still transmitting, sending daily weather reports to Earth. At six years into the mission, however, the lander was experiencing some battery issues similar to what had ended the Viking 2 landers mission. The programmer assigned to the mission wrote some new software to optimize the battery charging cycles and uplinked it to the lander, where it was dutifully recorded onto the computers tape-drive memory. Unfortunately, it overwrote an instruction set responsible for keeping the radio dish oriented toward the Earth, and the lander fell silent. JPL tried to regain contact for months, to no avail. The team was devastated. And because the lander had a nuclear power supply, we have no idea how long it waited for a final message that would never arrive

Space.com: Some of these missions seem as though they would have left a very short paper trail, and some of them have just barely become declassified. How did you go about finding all of these?

Pyle: This is true in many cases. While it’s simple to buy a copy of something like [rocket pioneer] Wernher von Brauns “The Mars Project,” getting more in-depth data on many of these programs was far more complicated. To add to the adventure, some have only been fully declassified in the past few years. For example, much of the material on the U.S. Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory was posted in the National Reconnaissance Office’s online archives in 2015. Other programs have been extensively studied in academic papers that are available. Still others exist only as documents from the era, or even as hearsay that must be vetted by sources familiar with the program and the time frame the Soviet-era stories were the toughest. But this is in part what made it such a compelling book project.”

Space.com: You’ve been a spaceflight historian for quite a while, so I imagine you’ve been collecting these stories for some time. When and why did you decide to put them all in a book?

Pyle: I’ve been writing books about spaceflight since 2003. Prior to that, I was working in documentary television, and would steer projects towards space-related subjects whenever possible. This book originated as a pitch to a cable network for a show called “Secrets of Space” in the early 2000s. We got close a few times but were never able to begin production. The pitch languished for some time, and I decided about five years ago to recast it as a book, which would allow for a much deeper dive into the subject matter a huge plus. My agent made a deal with the good folks at Prometheus Books, and off we went.

Space.com: Of all the stories in your book that stood out to me, I think perhaps the most incredible was the idea in the late 1950s that the U.S. would have a military base on the moon and would actually be fighting moon wars against Russian moon armies within a decade. You even mention in the book that this may sound incredible, but that’s just a testament to how intense the Cold War was. Were most people really convinced that spaceflight would advance at such a rapid clip? When do you think people started to realize that wouldn’t be the case?

Pyle: Project Horizon was a 1959 U.S. Army study for a militarized moon base. It was pretty much [dead on arrival] when it was submitted, since things were moving in another direction by then NASA was a new civil space agency, and von Braun, who had worked on the Project Horizon study, had transferred there from the Army. When reading the Project Horizon proposal, I had to chuckle at some of the assumptions made the Redstone Arsenal [what is now ;NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama] was just developing the Saturn I rocket and the flight rates and amount of cargo needed to build the Horizon base would have been staggering on the order of 150+ boosters, including spares.

All this would need to be transported to Christmas Island [also known as Kiritimati, part of the Republic of Kiribati] in the central Pacific, where the equatorially based launch site would be, and everything would have to go perfectly to be anywhere near their scheduled time of completion, about 1965 to 1966. The budgeted cost was about $6 billion in 1959 dollars. Later, as NASA began to look hard at their manned lunar mission options, especially direct ascent versus Earth orbit rendezvous, it began to sink in just how difficult this could all be. Of course, Project Horizon was a filing-cabinet item by then; it was, to my knowledge, not taken seriously after being submitted in 1959, and von Braun, as mentioned, had moved on.

Today, when you look at all 363 feet [111 meters] of a Saturn V moon rocket, and realize that only the last 13 feet [4 m] of it returned home from the moon, plans like Horizon feel like studies in technological hubris. But it would have been magnificent, had it worked, and one must admire the determination of the planners.

Space.com: On that same point, your book is a great illustration that some of the biggest leaps of spaceflight tech have come along because they had military motivations. Would you say it’s true that the greatest spaceflight accomplishments of the 20th century were motivated by war and world dominance? Do you think that can change or is changing in the 21st century?

Pyle: Most of the unflown mission designs in the book were of military or quasi-military origins, with the one major exception being Project Orion, the atomic rocket. The late 1940s and early 1950s were a time of great paranoia and increasing fear. The United States had exited World War II as the sole power possessing nuclear weapons a comfortable position to be in at the time. Within a handful of years, thanks to clever physicists and good espionage, the Soviet Union had developed and tested both atomic and hydrogen bombs. At the time say, through the mid-1950s the only way to deliver such weapons was with lumbering, slow bomber aircraft. But what if some clever folks built rockets big enough to fling them across the globe at ballistic speeds, or placed them in an orbiting station that could drop them on U.S. targets at will? This was a huge concern.

So the plans for the Horizon lunar base, the Air Force’s Lunex base, von Braun’s inflatable “wheel” space station, the Dyna-Soar rocket plane and many others were based, at least in part, on this paranoia and the desire to seize the “high ground,” however each branch of the military perceived that. And, of course, although Apollo was a civilian program, we know that it was born of geopolitics and the Kennedy administration’s desire to find a pursuit in space in which we could assure a win over the Soviet Union something that would demonstrate the superiority of our technology, our political system and our people. A crewed lunar landing was the answer. This program, called Project Apollo, was almost curtailed many times, and it continues to astound me that it all worked, and within the decade.

I see great promise for a different outcome in the 21st century, a blending of international collaboration, commercial/government partnerships and private competition (mostly in the U.S. for the next decade) in space exploration and development.

Space.com: There are also some stories in your book about projections in the 1960s that humans would visit other planets by the 1980s. The fact that those estimates were wildly off target makes me feel nervous about NASA’s current plans to get humans to Mars by the 2030s. Does learning about the history of humanity trying to get past the moon make you feel hopeful for future solar system exploration, or does it mostly inspire caution?

Pyle: What an interesting question! It was all so much simpler when von Braun penned “The Mars Project” in 1953 We thought that Mars might have a sufficiently dense atmosphere to support a gliding landing of his huge space-shuttle-like landing craft, that we could cross the gulf between Earth and Mars with a 10-ship armada of taxpayer-funded behemoths, and it would all proceed much like a submarine journey under the North Pole (which occurred in 1958).

But we soon learned that Mars was much more hostile than we had suspected, that Venus was a hell planet and that the moon, while far closer than either, was still a tremendous challenge. And as we continue to study the deep-space environment and microgravity, we find that we, the frail beings who evolved to live perfectly on the surface of our planet and nowhere else, are at great peril when journeying in space for extended periods. So, during the space race we learned much about spaceflight and the associated engineering and scientific issues involved, but this was the low-hanging fruit.

From here on out, the exploration of the solar system gets much harder. And a few hardy U.S.-based billionaires aside, our greatest enemy seems to be a lack of cohesive direction and the dogged determination to forge ahead, in my opinion. As [retired NASA Flight Director] Gene Kranz said to me at the end of an interview a few years back, as he fixed me with that steely eyed missile-man stare, “What America will dare, America can do.” I think he’s right, and for more than just America. Today, I might rephrase it as, “We know what we can do. What will we dare?”

Space.com: In Chapter 4, you talk about General Atomics, which was a commercial company that wanted to build a brand-new kind of rocket to get humans into space. Would you call this company a predecessor to companies like SpaceX? (While private companies have been involved in spaceflight since its inception, I’m asking if there’s a similarity, because most of those companies contribute to existing human spaceflight missions rather than trying to initiate their own.)

Pyle: The idea of nuclear-pulse propulsion originated from Los Alamos [National Laboratory] in 1947 as a paper outlining an unmanned spacecraft. It was then restarted at General Atomics in 1958 on a slim budget, funded internally. It soon became clear that this was going to require more resources, and federal dollars became involved. It did begin in a fashion not entirely dissimilar from efforts such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, but without sexy billionaires at the helm it was a corporate decision.

Later that same year, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, (DARPA’s predecessor) committed to spending a million dollars per year on the project, and soon, the Air Force took over funding, seeing military potential in the program. The studies continued with more engineers and physicists involved, and the plan was to launch a giant crewed spacecraft ranging from 10,000 to a million tons, from Nevada, using nuclear explosions. [Theoretical physicist and mathematician] Freeman Dyson calculated that only a few lives would be lost per launch from fallout, far less than a week of automotive accident deaths in the U.S. The idea was tested with small-scale models called “putt-putts” and appeared to work, but ultimately, the scale of the project and the politics of raw nuclear pollution resulting from the launches doomed it.

NASA did later look hard at launching a far smaller version of Orion on a Saturn V, which would initiate atomic explosions only after it had left the atmosphere. But by then, the Apollo program was front and center, and Project Orion was discontinued. I’ll add that Dyson’s motto was “Mars by 1965, Saturn by 1970” a spectacular notion. It could have changed the course of human space exploration!

Space.com: Your book takes a look back at 20th century spaceflight and highlights some of the really grand, inspiring visions that people had for missions and technologies. Those people weren’t cranks, either; even if Project Orion or some of von Braun’s grander visions never got off the ground, the community still did amazing things. So do you think people are still dreaming at the same scale that they were in the first few decades of spaceflight? Is there room to dream up things like Project Orion and military bases on the moon?

Pyle: Is there ever! And we are, thankfully, somewhat less focused on the military aspect, though defense projects are still quietly well-funded. When I heard Elon Musk’s talk at Guadalajara last September, when he announced SpaceX’s plans to go to Mars, I was thrilled. I had expected something along those general lines, but the sheer scale of it, and the raw will and determination behind it, gives me great hope. He may never pull it off at the scale he outlined (though I, for one, would never bet against him), but the mere fact that he is willing to put this grand, almost utopian vision out there, and use his own money to seed it, is wonderful.

Ditto Jeff Bezos and his colonization plans for space, along with smaller companies like Bigelow, Sierra Nevada and all the rest. And, of course, other countries’ programs the European Space Agency’s Moon Village, Chinas ambitious plans for human flights to the moon and Mars, and other national space efforts are inspiring. It will be a wonderful time in space exploration and development the forward-looking visions of the 20th century may come true, in some form, at last.

Follow Calla Cofield @callacofield. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Snow Moon and lunar eclipse both coming this week – Cantech Letter

Posted: at 7:48 am

Skywatchers are in for a treat this Friday evening as a rare Snow Moon eclipse will take place.

A so-called deep penumbral lunar eclipse will occur on February 10th, as the Earth moves almost directly between the sun and moon, blocking the suns rays and casting a shadow on the moon. Unlike a total or partial lunar eclipse where the moon passes through the central part of the Earths shadow, called the umbra, and goes completely dark, the penumbral eclipse will involve the moon travelling through the outer edges of the Earths shadow (the penumbra), an event which on Earth will be seen as a dimming of the moons brightness.

What makes this penumbral eclipse special is that this is a rare occasion when almost the whole of the moons face will pass within the Earths penumbra, says Jeremy Shears from the British Astronomical Association, to the Telegraph, and so the reduction of the moons brightness will be more perceptible than usual.

The eclipse is expected to last just over four hours and can be seen almost everywhere on Earth. In Canada, viewers will see the full moon shining in the Eastern sky during the eclipse and theyll get the best view as the moon goes into mid-eclipse at 7:44 pm EST. Close watchers in eastern Canada, however, will get the best look as theyll be able to see the shading begin on the moons left side at least an hour and a half earlier at 6:15 pm EST.

Februarys full moon is known as the Snow Moon, a name said to be handed down from Indigenous North American cultures. Februarys moon has also been called the Hunger Moon and the Storm Moon.

For lunar enthusiasts, 2017 expects to be a banner year, space travel-wise, as all five remaining teams competing for Googles Lunar X Prize gear up for their respective missions to the moon. The $30 million prize ($20 million for the first place finisher and $5 million each for second and third place) will be rewarded to the team that first lands a rover on the moon, sends it rolling 500 metres across the moons surface and sends back images and video of the event to Earth.

All in the name of advancing private innovation and entrepreneurship, the Lunar X Prize recently announced the names of the five teams remaining in the competition, all of which have secured launch contracts. The one solely North American entry, Moon Express, has so far reportedly raised $20 million in financing. The Florida-based group is planning a launch later in 2017 and has said its larger ambitions include mining the moon for minerals and moon colonization.

We now have all the resources in place to shoot for the Moon, said Bob Richards, Moon Expresss CEO, in a statement. Our goal is to expand Earths social and economic sphere to the Moon, our largely unexplored eighth continent, and enable a new era of low cost lunar exploration and development for students, scientists, space agencies and commercial interests.

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