A proposed architecture for a mission to the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, with a possible launch date of 2021.

This concept, from the Saskasawa International Center for Space Architecture at the University of Houston, requires the development of a nuclear thermal rocket, which would be difficult (perhaps impossible) under the current political climate.

Even if the political problem could be solved, it’s unlikely that anyone would commit to using such a rocket for a manned mission without at least one long-term in-space test. These factors (and the lack of NASA funding for true deep-space hardware) make the proposed 2021 launch date highly unlikely. The basic concept, however, does appear to be technically sound.

If this is viewed as a one-shot mission, it could be accomplished with conventional chemical rockets and a few more launches, which would still cost less than nuclear-thermal rocket development.

Written by Astro1 on March 3rd, 2014 , Space Exploration (General)

Exposure to microgravity has been shown to weaken astronauts’ immune systems and increase the activity if harmful microorganisms. The news from space medicine is not all bad, however. New research suggests that thyroid cancer cells enter a less aggressive state under the influence of microgravity. By understanding the genetic and cellular changes that occur in space, scientists may be able to develop new cancer treatments for use on Earth.

Differential Gene Expression Profile and Altered Cytokine Secretion of Thyroid Cancer Cells in Space” was published in the February issue of The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Daniela Gabriele Grimm, MD, from the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University in Denmark, said, “Research in space or under simulated microgravity using ground-based facilities helps us in many ways to understand the complex processes of life and this study is the first step toward the understanding of the mechanisms of cancer growth inhibition in microgravity. Ultimately, we hope to find new cellular targets, leading to the development of new anti-cancer drugs which might help to treat those tumors that prove to be non-responsive to the currently employed agents.”

Grimm and colleagues from Denmark and Germany used the Science in Microgravity Box facility aboard the Chinese Shenzhou-8, which was launched on October 31, 2011. Cell feeding was performed automatically on day 5 of the mission and automated cell fixation was conducted on day 10. An onboard centrifuge was used for inflight control cultures.

On the ground, additional cells were tested using a random-positioning machine, which aims to simulate microgravity by rotating a sample around two axes.

Cells were studied for gene expression and secretion profiles, using modern molecular biological techniques such as whole genome microarrays and multi-analyte profiling. Results suggest that the expression of genes that indicate high malignancy were down-regulated in microgravity.

“We are just at the beginning of a new field of medicine that studies the effects of microgravity on cell and molecular pathology,” said Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. “Space flight affects our bodies, both for good and bad. We’ve known that microgravity can cause some microorganisms to become more virulent and that prolonged microgravity has negative effects on the human body. Now, we learn that it’s not all bad news. What we learn from cells in space should help us understand and treat malignant tumors on the ground.”

Written by Astro1 on January 30th, 2014 , Space Medicine and Safety

This summer, we invited Popular Science editor-in-chief Jacob Ward to join us for the current phase of our citizen-astronaut training. The resulting story, Trials and Tribulations of Space School, appears in the January issue of Popular Science, which is on the newsstands now.

“Until this point, space, the final frontier, existed almost as an abstraction for most of us,” Jacob writes. “Now it is within reach. The democratization of space has arrived.”

The story is also available online here.

Written by Astro1 on December 18th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Citizens in Space

Citizen astronaut Richard Garriott (son of Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott) gave a stirring talk at the South By SouthWest music, film, and digital media festival last year. The talk is now available on YouTube.

Written by Astro1 on November 16th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

USAF F-22 Raptor

“Unmanned space” guys take note: Unmanned air vehicles are now being escorted by manned fighters.

The Aviationist reports:

Earlier this year… an IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-4 Phantom combat plane attempted to intercept a U.S. MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace off Iran…. After this attempted interception the Pentagon decided to escort the drones involved in ISR (intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) missions with fighter jets (either F-18 Hornets with the CVW 9 embarked on the USS John C. Stennis… or F-22 Raptors like those deployed to Al Dhafra in the UAE.

This is significant to space because UAVs are often cited as proof that human flight crews are becoming obsolete. The military, however, is now realizing that UAVs cannot do every job.

The fact is, many jobs can be more easily accomplished by humans and machines, working together, than by machines alone. This is true in space as well as aviation.

As an interesting side note, the US military once considered having manned spacecraft fly escort for high-value satellites (anti-ASAT missions) during times of crisis.

The DARPA Space Cruiser (also called the High-Performance Spaceplane) was a 1980′s concept for a one-man spacecraft that could be launched by the Space Shuttle or an expendable rocket. Using its own propulsion system or a Centaur upper stage, the Space Cruiser could accomplish a variety of missions in cis-lunar space. Proposed missions included satellite inspection and repair, reconnaissance, space control, and the aforementioned anti-antisatellite missions.

DARPA Space Cruiser

Written by Astro1 on October 27th, 2013 , Military Space, Space Exploration (General), Space History Tags:

Russian New-Generation Advanced Manned Transportation Spacecraft mockup

Russia is in race with NASA’s Orion project to go back to the future.

The S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia has released photographs that show a mockup of its “New-Generation Advanced Manned Transportation Spacecraft,” intended to replace the nearly 50-year-old Soyuz capsule with — wait for it — another capsule!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on October 15th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

NASA astronaut Frank Borman

USA Today has published a misleading article on what it takes to become an astronaut.

USA Today equates becoming an astronaut with applying to NASA. For anyone planning an astronaut career today, that advice is woefully outdated, like suggesting that anyone who wants to go to America needs to sign up with Columbus. The great majority of astronauts in the next decade will not work for NASA.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on October 7th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

Soyuz capsule landing

Soyuz TMA-08M suffered a failure during its descent over Kazakhstan on September 11. The capsule’s altitude sensors, which determine timing for retrorocket firing, failed. Fortunately, the rescue crew was able to radio audio cues to the flight crew.

NASA has downplayed the problem, saying “the crew was in no danger.”

“What I can tell you is that the crew doesn’t fly the Soyuz,” Navias said. “They’re passive. This thing about flying blind has to do with their situational awareness of altimeter data based on what appears to have been a sensor issue that prevented them from seeing data onboard.”

Because the astronauts were unable to follow their altitude from readings in the cockpit, recovery crews on the ground kept them updated with information being relayed to them from Russian Mission Control.

NASA spokesman Rob Navias told Space.com,
“The crew doesn’t fly the Soyuz. They’re passive. This thing about flying blind has to do with their situational awareness of altimeter data based on what appears to have been a sensor issue that prevented them from seeing data onboard…. the Soyuz performed as it was expected to.”

This is not the first time NASA has downplayed problems with the Soyuz capsule and launcher. NASA seems willing to trust the Russian Space Agency despite multiple problems, while insisting on super-strict Human Rating Standards for US companies such as Boeing and SpaceX.

Written by Astro1 on October 1st, 2013 , Space Medicine and Safety

Burt Rutan has some reflections on the history of aviation with relevance to space travel:

In 1908 only ten people had flown airplanes. Then… Wilbur Wright flew his airplane in Europe… By 1912 many thousands of pilots were flying hundreds of airplane types in 39 countries. One organization alone (the Aero Club of France) had certified 2,000 pilots and recorded 10,000 passengers. By 1912 the European airplane industry had grown to 45 million dollars (nearly a billion dollars today) and three shops each had delivered more than 500 aircraft.

Compare that to 541 humans, at last count, who have flown in space: a feat that took more than 50 years to accomplish.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on September 18th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

“The purpose of the space program should be pointed and singleminded: namely, the exploration, by men and women, of the rest of the Universe and the establishment of extraterrestrial colonies.” — Tom Wolfe, 1985

Written by Astro1 on September 17th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General), Space Settlement

Peggy Whitson, the former head of the NASA Astronaut Office, believes NASA’s radiation standards are too restrictive and discriminate against female astronauts.

Whitson expressed her views at a workshop on Ethics Principles and Guidelines for Health Standards for Long-Duration and Exploration-Class Spaceflights, conducted by the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine. The story was reported by Space.com.

NASA limits astronauts’ lifetime radiation exposure to keep the probability of radiation-induced cancer death below 3%. The limit for NASA astronauts is higher than the limit for terrestrial radiation workers. Women are more susceptible to certain forms of cancer, however, so the limit for female astronauts is lower than the limit for male astronauts. A female astronaut can fly only 45-50% as many missions as a male astronauts, Whitson said.

Many of NASA’s astronauts are already limited by their lifetime radiation exposure. According to Col. Robert Behnken, who replaced Whitson as head of the Astronaut Office, only three of NASA’s 50 astronauts were eligible for the recent one-year mission to ISS, because of radiation limits. A mission to Mars is probably impossible within current radiation limits.

Questions for NASA

Three questions come to mind:

First, is NASA calculating the radiation risk correctly? At present, no one has good data on the biological effects of long-term low-level radiation exposure. Instead, the risks are inferred from data on the effects of short-term, high-level radiation exposure (collected from events such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki). This data is applied to low-level radiation using an extrapolation model known Linear No Threshold (LNT).

The LNT model assumes that a given dose of radiation will have the same effect regardless of the dose rate. It is a highly conservative model, which assumes the body has no way to recover from the effects of gradual, low-level radiation exposure over time. It ignores the usual principles of toxicology and much of what we know about the biological repair mechanisms. There is no scientific evidence to prove the LNT model is correct, but the government has adopted it out of an abundance of caution (the “precautionary principle”).

The LNT model has been criticized many times in the past, but environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists have resisted any attempted change. In space, however, the precautionary principle may cost NASA the chance to go to Mars.

Second, does the 3% fatality limit makes sense? The Shuttle had about a 2% fatal accident rate on each flight, as does Soyuz. Future launch systems may do better, but right now, an astronaut who flies multiple missions has a just of death that is significantly greater than 3%.

Third, is the male-female dichotomy really the best way to classify radiation risks? There’s no doubt that cancer risks differ between men and women, but gender is only one of many variables that affect cancer risks. With the development of modern genomics, we’re reaching the point where it’s possible to determine risks on a personal level based on individual genetic markers. This is part of an emerging field known as personalized medicine, which treats people as individuals rather than broad statistical groups. Inspiration Mars is looking at personalized medicine to help select crew members for its proposed Mars flyby mission. Is NASA doing the same?

These are questions which NASA needs to answer as it plans for future exploration activities.

 

Written by Astro1 on September 4th, 2013 , Space Medicine and Safety

Red Whittaker is developing robots that can enter and traverse the caves of the Moon.

Written by Astro1 on September 4th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

Celebrity astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t think much of citizen space exploration. He delivers a three-minute broadside against it in this video by Business Insider.

“Private enterprise will not ever lead a space frontier,” Tyson declares, “not because I don’t want them to, but my read of history tells me they can’t, it’s not possible. Space is dangerous, it’s expensive. There are unquantified risks. Combine all of those under one umbrella; you cannot establish a free-market capitalization of that enterprise….

“Those that are the kinds of frontiers that the history of governments have undertaken. The first Europeans to the New World were not the Dutch East India Trading Company. It was governments funding government missions. Columbus drew the maps…”

Dr. Tyson needs to read some history books. His knowledge of Christopher Columbus, and exploration in general, seems to be based the myths told in old high-school textbooks. Columbus was not the first European to sail to the New World. Queen Isabella did not hock the crown jewels to finance Columbus. His expedition was funded by Italian bankers.

Furthermore, Columbus’s maps were terrible. He thought the world was about 18,000 miles in circumference. Most educated people believed it was about 24,000 miles. That figure had been known since the time of the ancient Greeks. Columbus did his math wrong. Any educated person could have shown that, but Columbus simply refused to admit he was wrong. He failed in his mission to reach the East Indies, and he would have perished, along with his entire crew, if they hadn’t chanced upon a completely unexpected continent where they could rest and reprovision. What does that story tell us about citizen space exploration?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on September 2nd, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

Stasis pods (habitat) for long-duration space exploration

Spaceworks Engineering is studying a concept that would put astronauts into a deep sleep (hibernation or torpor) for long-duration space missions.

John Bradford of Spaceworks says medical progress is advancing our ability to induce deep sleep states with significantly reduced metabolic rates for humans over extended periods of time. Because astronauts would not be awake and moving around, the habitat volume needed for long missions could be significantly reduced. The slower metabolic rate would reduce life-support requirements as well.

Spaceworks has received a $100,000 Phase I award from the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts to design a torpor-inducing Mars transfer habitat and assess its effect on Mars exploration architectures.

Spaceworks envisions a small, pressurized module docked to a central node/airlock, permitting direct access to the Mars ascent/descent vehicle and Earth entry capsule by the crew. Spaceworks believes the torpor approach can reduce the habitat size to 20 cubic meters and 5-7 metric tons (for a crew of 4-6), compared to 200 cubic meters and 20-50 metric tons for traditionally designs.

Written by Astro1 on August 31st, 2013 , Innovation, Space Exploration (General)

As of January 2013, none of the research submersibles supported by the US government were operational, according to Newsweek. Funding for the NOAA Undersea Research Program (NURP) was zeroed in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

In May, however, we saw two homebuilt submersibles at Maker Faire in San Mateo. As government funding for ocean exploration disappears, citizen science may take over. Perhaps this is a portent for the future of space exploration?

maker subs: homemade submersibles at Maker Faire

Written by Astro1 on August 20th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

Renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle gives this defense of ocean exploration. The space community should also pay attention.

Dr. Earle is the former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and currently explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society. She has led more than 60 research expeditions and spent over 7,000 hours underwater. Dr. Earle has set women’s depth records in a hard-shell diving suit (1,250 feet) and a submersible (3,300 feet), as well as leading a team of female researchers during an extended underwater stay in the Tektite II habitat in 1970.

No one denies that Sylvia Earle is an explorer.

Yet, there are people in the space community who insist that astronauts (especially citizen astronauts) are not explorers. Ben McGee discussed this in his recent treatise. “Particularly amongst the old guard of space science,” McGee says, “‘exploration’ is reserved for those pushing the frontier in higher orbits, cislunar space, trips to near-Earth asteroids, Mars, and beyond.” In other words, almost no one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on August 20th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration Tags:

Inspiration Mars capsule, inflatable module, and upper stage

Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars flyby mission needs financial assistance from NASA.

“We’re going to have to do it with NASA, and probably a certain amount of government funding,” said Dennis Tito, in a story reported by NASA’s Alan Boyle.

This follows a long pattern of space projects whose promoters start off saying “launch costs are not an issue.” Over time, these projects require more and more government funding, and usually fail when that funding is not forthcoming.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on August 19th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

Naomi Murdoch and Thomas-Louis de Lophem in zero gravity alongside the experiment (Credit: A. Le Floc’h, ESA)

An experiment performed on a parabolic flight aboard a microgravity aircraft suggests avalanche hazards that might influence the design of future asteroid missions. This is yet another example of the value of low-cost microgravity platforms (parabolic aircraft and, in the near future, suborbital spacecraft) for orbital and deep-space operations.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on July 6th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

[Note: Somehow, this article was accidentally posted under June, even though it's really from August. Because several people have already linked to it, we've left a copy at this location, as well as the correct location here.]

Renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle gives this defense of ocean exploration. The space community should also pay attention.

Dr. Earle is the former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and currently explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society. She has led more than 60 research expeditions and spent over 7,000 hours underwater. Dr. Earle has set women’s depth records in a hard-shell diving suit (1,250 feet) and a submersible (3,300 feet), as well as leading a team of female researchers during an extended underwater stay in the Tektite II habitat in 1970.

No one denies that Sylvia Earle is an explorer.

Yet, there are people in the space community who insist that astronauts (especially citizen astronauts) are not explorers. Ben McGee discussed this in his recent treatise. “Particularly amongst the old guard of space science,” McGee says, “‘exploration’ is reserved for those pushing the frontier in higher orbits, cislunar space, trips to near-Earth asteroids, Mars, and beyond.” In other words, almost no one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on June 22nd, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Uncategorized Tags:

Much is being made of Wang Yaping, who is described as “China’s first teacher in space.”

The Chinese space program is all about public relations and scoring “firsts.” Yet, no one seems to ask if this claim is accurate.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on June 16th, 2013 , Education, Space Exploration (General)

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver surprised attendees (including some NASA employees) during her keynote address to the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference on Monday.

Garver, who addressed the conference via videolink due to travel restrictions, revealed changes to the NASA Flight Opportunities Program which buys rides for payloads on commercial suborbital spacecraft (as well as sounding rockets, balloons, and parabolic aircraft).

At present, the Flight Opportunities Program (run by the Office of the Chief Technologist) is limited to technology experiments, leaving science payloads out in the cold. Garver acknowledged that NASA “could do more” and promised a new joint solicitation, from the Space Technology Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate, that would cover both technology and science payloads.

Garver said NASA would hold a workshop at the Smallsat Conference in August to start educating the scientific community about opportunities to fly science payloads on suborbital flights.

The big surprise came when Garver said NASA does “not want to rule out paying for research that could be done by an individual spaceflight participant — a researcher or payload specialist — on these [suborbital] vehicles in the future.”

Until now, NASA has had a strict policy which prohibited the Flight Opportunities Program from paying for human-tended experiments on suborbital flights. This policy has frustrated many researchers who want to fly payloads on crewed vehicles such as the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two and XCOR Lynx.

The exact interpretation of Garver’s words is still a mystery. Not ruling something out does not necessarily imply that it will be allowed. “In the future” is a vague timeframe. There’s also the question of whether “paying for research… done by an individual spaceflight participant” includes paying to fly the individual’s ride as well. The NASA Flight Opportunities people were as surprised and confused as anyone, since they were not briefed on the policy change or Garver’s remarks beforehand. There was cautious optimism, however, among conference attendees.

Written by Astro1 on June 6th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General), Space Policy and Management

NASA Administrator Major General Charles Bolden (USMC-ret.)

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has explained his recent comment that NASA is not going back to the Moon. In the process, he demonstrates a certain myopia:

I have never said the United States is not going back to the lunar surface. I just said that in the foreseeable future, given the budget that NASA currently has and given where we are and what we need technologically if we’re going to go to Mars, then it will not be the United States that leads an expedition to the lunar surface…. If somebody else is going, we will provide our engineering expertise and the only condition is that I be allowed to send an astronaut as a part of the crew.

Note to General Bolden: The United States does not consist solely of NASA. It is quite possible that “someone else” could be an American.

Written by Astro1 on June 4th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

A British radio journalist who goes by the moniker of “Radio Kate” or “Space Kate” has resurrected the old canard that “suborbital spaceflight isn’t exploration.”

Radio/Space Kate has been twittering up a storm. According to R/S Kate, international cooperation (exemplified by the European Space Agency) is the best way to explore space. Individual nations are not up to the task, and private space exploration is simply defined away. “Going suborbital is not new, it is not exploration,” according to Kate. “Exploration is about unknown and unfamiliar regions.”

And suborbital space is not unfamiliar or unknown, according to Kate.

Why Kate considers suborbital space to be familiar is unknown. It’s safe to say she has never been there. The number of astronauts who have flown suborbitally is quite small. Eight pilots were awarded suborbital astronaut wings in the X-15 program. Two astronauts flew suborbital flights in Project Mercury. Two more flew SpaceShip One. At the moment, that’s it. Only 12 human beings have flown suborbital flights — the same number who have walked on the surface of the Moon.

Yet, the Moon is considered to be unexplored while suborbital space is familiar territory? The scientists who discovered upper-atmosphere phenomena such as blue jets, ELFs, and sprites, all of which were unknown just a few years ago, would surely disagree.

How anyone can call a region which it’s been visited by only 12 human beings “familiar” is a mystery. Suborbital space makes the summit of Mt. Everest look like Times Square.

It’s also strange that Radio/Space Kate considers ESA a model for future space exploration. The European Space Agency has not sent astronauts anywhere but the International Space Station — which is more familiar, at this point, than suborbital space. So, if we accepted Kate’s definition, we would have to say that ESA astronauts have never explored space.

The exploration community, of course, does not use that definition. The Explorers Club recently honored citizen space explorer Greg Olsen, who visited ISS in 2005, in their Exploring Legends series.

The Explorers Club is an old, prestigious organization. Founded in 1904, it promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural and biological sciences. Club members have been responsible for an illustrious series of firsts, including the first explorers to the North Pole, first to the South Pole, first to the summit of Mount Everest, first to the deepest point in the ocean, and first to the surface of the moon.

Yet, the Explorers Club does not limit its membership to those who accomplish “firsts,” nor does it insist that all exploration must occur in remote, unknown, and unfamiliar locations. To quote the Club’s website:

Many of our members have contributed to field science and exploration in much less remote and dangerous ways. A field study of butterflies here in New York or recording bird migration data on the nearby Long Island seashore qualifies you for membership just as much as collecting data from the top of the highest peaks or the oceans’ deepest depths.

We spoke to a former president of the Explorers Club not too long ago. He did not express the slightest doubt that suborbital spaceflight was exploration.

We’re sure the Explorers Club will welcome a great many citizen space explorers in the next few years. Almost all of them will be suborbital explorers. Sorry about that, Kate.

Written by Astro1 on May 30th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

The Astronomer Royal is a peculiar British position with no official duties and an salary of £100 per year, which makes him somewhat less important than the royal gardener. Nevertheless, the Astronomer Royal tends to get quoted in the press with some frequency,because of his impressive-sounding title.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Astro1 on May 28th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration