Archive for the ‘Robotic Exploration’ category

SEND IN THE ‘BOTS: An Editorial

January 16, 2012

Yes, NASA is sending in some robotic type exploratory craft. Certainly Curiosity, on its way to Mars, is a magnificent application of robotic technology for space exploration. In fact, our entire Mars exploration program is a glorious history of robotic successes. Good beginnings, and now it is time for more advanced humanoid-style robots to be developed for the next step in our exploration of our solar system.

Yes, I hear your shouts about human spaceflight and the long history of human exploration. I acknowledge all of that including a great but furtive human exploration of Luna, but in my opinion, right now and for a considerable length of time human spaceflight, except maybe back to Luna, is beyond our future budget picture. By future, I mean the next two decades. You betcha, I hear those shouts too about how stingy the White House and Congress have been in funding space exploration programs, but right now we are nearly broke in a bad way.

By broke in a bad way, I mean we have let our industrial prowess become gravely anemic. We, this nation, have been reduced to a bunch of greedy investment types who play games with our money for their enrichment. The net effect is a starvation diet for innovation and industrial growth. In fact, we have shipped lots of it overseas. Well, that has got to change and soon, if we are going to get back up off the floor and begin to design, develop and produce in a competitive manner with the rest of the world. Eventually we should strive to capture the lead again. This will take time and an intense investment in both dollars and sense. To inspire this, we must also cut off the flow of lobby-largess that influences boundless political stupidity.  To do all this in just two decades will take a concentrated effort by the innovators and their public support. Of course, this assumes we are willing to make that kind of commitment for our future.

Space-bots of a humanoid type are a good and necessary next step. Costs for this type of exploration program are less both in launch costs and the reduced costs from not having to design in human support systems. Robots eat less and breath less, in fact they do not need either food or air to perform in an efficient and productive manner. Yes, some of the drama associated with human spaceflight is lost for now, but inside those space-bots is the incredible brilliance of our space scientists and engineers. In other words the human element is very much there and absolutely vital. The Bots Are Us in an important and innovative way.

There is no doubt we can do this. The energy, the imagination, the drive are in the wings right now vibrating with eagerness and extreme impatience. We must release this powerful and progressive force to begin to both return us back into real space exploration and also begin pulling America back up off the dirty, dingy, stingy floor.

I can cheer, even weep a bit, as I watch the launch of our first space-bot team. The thrill and the throb of that powerful launch renews my hope and my courage. How about it, will you join me?

In the meantime lets remember our first and only real human space exploration of our solar system and take inspiration from that. We will honor them by starting again with space-bots because those bots will emulate those great beginnings and successes.

IMAGE CREDIT:

Space_bot – Courtesy of Wallpaper Box – http://tinyurl.com/8ylskf7

SPACE EXPLORATION MOMENTUM: About Focus and Vitality

May 26, 2011

Alone and blurred by the elements and time, Pad 39A longs for its shuttles.

“You can actually feel it” That comment refers, with sadness, to the decline of momentum in NASA’s space exploration programs. The approaching last launch of the space shuttle snaps shut NASA’s only current human space exploration activity. Most importantly it is entirely unrealistic and unfair to assume this decline  is NASA’s doing.

Throughout its fifty year history, NASA has been fiscally underprivileged and yet has managed to accomplish astounding missions. Its relations with its main funding source, the U. S. Congress, is similar to an orphaned child in a foster home limbo. Despite segments of support within that foster care setting, there is little assurance of sustained fiscal and policy support for America‘s space program.  At best, there are bushels of lip service and thimbles-full of dollars all tied together in a discouraging package.

We are past the glorious experiment and global supremacy stage. Space exploration, both robotic and human, is now a vital and integral part of our national profile. Additionally it is also a growing profile element around the globe. The esteemed Space Studies Board of the National Academies of Science defines this as an aggressive scientific and engineering effort to address a wide range of factors related to space exploration. In this regard, the SSB envisions a lunar base as the successor to the ISS after 2020 (see “Recapturing A Future For Space Exploration” NAS Space Studies Board, Document  13048.pdf  page 432). The SSB supports this recommendation with a long and detailed list of research projects all related to improving and extending the success of human space exploration. Please see the reference list at the end of this article for links to the referenced documents.

What, no Mars exploration? This is not what the study means, in fact it fully acknowledges human exploration of Mars, but first there are a host of questions that need complete answers before we put humans on the surface of Mars. The referenced report details those research objectives.

Establishing a Lunar Research Facility will enable us to fully address many of those objectives in the ideal mico-gravity and essentially hostile environment. Most  importantly that lunar environment is in close proximity to Earth and as such it can be serviced and supported with lower costs, and with the necessary reaction speeds to reduce or eliminate loss of human life. A Lunar Express shuttle would be the ideal transport vehicle connecting Earth and its new Lunar Research Facility. Yes, there would also have to be a recoverable lunar lander to complete the transportation process.  Most importantly, the research environment is no longer a low Earth orbit setting.

About Focus and Vitality: Following the range of research objectives and goals outlined in the SSB study would restore NASA’s and its host of private-sector partners’ space exploration focus and vitality by targeting a Lunar Research Facility. All the envisioned development and research activities either underway or planned now have focus and specificity. Linking all of this to an expanded research facility that duplicates but enhances the ideals of the ISS imparts renewed momentum to this nation’s space science and technology activities. Most importantly all that NASA is undertaking now in the aftermath of its shuttle program gain new direction and impetus because they become linked to the next stage of our space exploration goals. We have revived space research with the elixir of “purpose.” Return to the moon and a Lunar Research Base before others opt us out of it.

The vitality of partnerships with the attendant array of various scientific and engineering expertise fills the project with both eagerness and the cross fertilization of ideas that will grow new breakthroughs in the entire process of exploring space. Believe it,  returning to the Moon in this kind of joint effort from both government and industry will establish the operating style that will move us forward from lovely Luna to Mars and onward. Yes, politicos ramble around muttering about “common ground, shared objetives”, etc, but do little more than jiggle and talk. A cooperative, joint and global exploration program to Luna with the establishment of a true research base IS that sought after common ground.

The new international lead is this united space exploration effort. Instead of remaining a pleading, plaintive for support, a global space society lays the foundation for an entirely new focus on life here on this planet and beyond. We stop shriveling (especially psychologically) and once again, and together, stand tall. Yes, tall all across the Cosmos.

Are you coming?

IMAGE CREDIT: The image of a shuttle launch pad is courtesy of Phil Konstantin (http://tinyurl.com/3hjtd5w), the modifications of that image for the purpose of this blog article is by the author.

REFERENCES: National Academies of Science Space Studies Board: Recapturing A Future For Space Exploration:  http://www.nap.edu/catalog/13048.html

The inseparable and critical relationship between science and government: http://tinyurl.com/427x5go

Returning to the Moon and a Lunar Research Facility: http://tinyurl.com/3mpc2xz

The Lunar Research Institute: http://tinyurl.com/4y2u9pf

Bill introduced in House of Representatives for a 2022 Lunar Mission and Base.Link: http://tinyurl.com/3mktwez

THE MEET-UP: A Ceres Encounter

April 19, 2011

The following is an imaginary voyage to the dwarf planet Ceres by an astronaut and his robonaut partner. The meet-up described may, in the future, be a real event, and one which we should expect with both curiosity and delight. We hope you will follow along here and enjoy the meet-up.

At a sustained speed of 75km/s (167,770.2 mph), it had taken my partner and I 35.4 Earth days (See Note 1) to reach the dwarf planet Ceres. Well before we descended onto the planet we knew someone else had already been there. At the time of that discovery, we did not yet know if they were still there. We also did not know if they were live or robotic or both. Since my partner was a robonaut named Carl, he was especially interested in who or what may still be on Ceres. We knew this much because we had detected both an orbiting spacecraft as well as  a lander-craft on the surface of Ceres. We also knew this planetary body could support a visit by a lander based upon an earlier flyby survey of Ceres by  the NASA spacecraft Dawn in 2015.

Our spacecraft was a brilliant blend of the Apollo and Orion concepts that included an exploratory lander and rover. It also was designed to work independently of our presence so that both Carl and I could descend to Cere’s surface and conduct our exploration. The spacecraft’s VASIMR style propulsion system is what enabled us to sustain that 75km/s speed. This was the first human spaceflight mission of this distance that used a new spacecraft design with a new and powerful propulsion system.

We set up our spacecraft into its automatic parking orbit and boarded the lander for our trip to Ceres. We also had our rover along. The approach and landing were uneventful and Ceres’ surface was moon-like but less battered than the Moon or Mars.  At its warmest, Ceres boasts a temperature of -35 degrees Centigrade. There was a hint of an atmosphere and gravity, but neither were such that we could abandon our protective space suits. Similarly travel in the rover had to be very slow and cautious else we could probably bounce right off Ceres’ surface.

Before and during our landing approach we got a fix on the other lander. We picked a landing site that put us in close rover distance to that craft. After carefully anchoring our lander and assembling and testing the rover, we set out to visit the other nearby lander. My versatile robonaut partner managed a quick snapshot of the lander, which looked very similar to our earlier Viking landers.  It took us well over an hour to carefully drive the rover to the foreign lander. As we approached, we saw movement near the other lander and we stopped. We were unsure just what we were coming upon.

It appeared to be a robot of some sort. It approached us from the rear of its lander in a slow, almost staggering movement. It was articulated, but was not humanoid in form. Again, Carl, my robonaut partner, was able to snap a quick picture as it approached us. Because of its leggy design we, at first, were not sure if this was ET in some sort of spacesuit or a robot, as we suspected. It continued toward us and appeared to not be hostile. We dismounted from our rover and moved towards it. We continued towards each other until we were about 5 feet apart. As we observed it, it was obvious we were being observed; actually scanned. There was no communication between us, just a weird, silent mutual assessment.

Carl, very humanoid in design and capabilities, reached across and tapped my arm. Since he could speak, he informed me in his hum-like, echo-voice that ET or the ET robot was trying to communicate digitally. Excitedly I urged Carl to try to decipher and respond. As I watched both Carl and ETBot, I sensed a steady stream of data exchanges going on. Very quickly it we confirmed that ET was a robot who we named ETBot. Everything coming from ETBot was both digital and in binary numbers. Fortunately, Carl and his impressive onboard computer was able to quickly decipher the long, continuous string of data coming from ETBot. Carl, rapidly learned how ETBot was using binary and begin to directly communicate. Information exchange was now two-way.

For the next three days, Carl and I continued to converse with ETBot. Carl served as the translator for both of us. In summary here is what we learned and what we were able to do to help ETBot:

ETBot was from planet 57266 within the cluster G1 (MayallII) located in the Andromeda galaxy(See Note 2). His parent star was identified as 57 and his home was 266 with the full designation above, all expressed in binary form. ETBot transmitted a picture of his G1 home cluster, shown here.  I was overwhelmed. Here was contact with an extra-terrestrial robot from our neighbor galaxy some 2.5 million light years away.

ETBot arrived on Ceres by accident. Apparently a series of system problems forced him to find some place in our solar system to land and make repairs. His original target for exploration was Mars!. He had been sent here as part of a widespread exploration of our Milky Way galaxy. When we asked ETbot who sent him, he indicated he did not know. The entire population of his home, planet 266, was populated by robots. They all took commands from another distant planet. He had no idea what existed on that other planet. So we had no real idea what kind of life-form existed on another planet in the G1 cluster in the Andromeda galaxy. We wondered if we would be believed when we got home. At least we had Carl’s pictures and the picture ETBot shared with us.

ETBot’s lander was trashed. He was stuck on Ceres unless we could come up with some way to help him get back to his orbiting spacecraft. Carl made some calculations and suggested we abandon our rover and uses its storage space as temporary housing for ETBot. Carl also advised that if we were very careful we had enough fuel to allow us to rendezvous with ETBot’s spacecraft and then still get back to our own. ETBot declined to explain to us how he would be able to travel that immense distance back to his G1 home. He was receptive to our offer and indicated he could compact himself to easily fit in our lander’s storage space. We set about loading ETBot on our rover and begin the slow, tedious journey back to our lander.

The loading of ETBot into our lander’s storage space worked. We were also successful in our launch and rendezvous with ETBot’s spacecraft. It looked quite small in comparison to ours and we realized that somewhere out there, ETBot would link up with a larger, faster spacecraft that would take him home. Again, ETBot declined to give us any information about that other spacecraft. As far as we knew, ETBot was named a binary number, from a distant planet in our sister galaxy. We learned absolutely nothing about ETBot’s masters. In summary, an exciting, but disappointing encounter. When we finally got back to our spacecraft, ETBot and his spacecraft were gone. Had they ever existed? Were Carl and I in an altered state? Had we simply imagined all of this? Fortunately the pictures and Carl’s detailed recording of our digital communications with ETBot assured us that we were not crazy. We hoped our superiors back on Earth would arrive at the same conclusion. We terminated our full exploration of Ceres and proceeded home to present the results of our strange meet up with ETBot.

Disappointed in this outcome? So were we, but when you consider what we just experienced and all that we DID learn from ETBot it is not a total disappointment. We now know there is some form of intelligent life in a system in another galaxy. We now know we are not alone. Yes, so far, all we have done is exchange digital data with a robot supposedly from another planet that we cannot even see. Conspiracy buffs and other doubters will probably label this as some wild, make-believe story to pump up our lagging space exploration efforts. Well, we will just have to tough it out and begin to plan on our own deep space exploration  across to Andromeda and her G1 globular cluster. Will ETbot be there to greet us and be our guide?

What do you think?

NOTES:

  1. At its ideal distance from Earth, Ceres is 229,321,881km away. The spacecraft at its sustained speed of 75km/s will take the indicated number of days to reach Ceres. Actually, that time factor is a general estimate and is not adjusted for necessary speed changes and course changes to make an orbital intersect with Ceres. Ceres’ distance from Earth is an optimal distance based upon the difference between Earth’s greatest orbital distance (Aphelion) from the Sun and Ceres’ closest orbital distance  (Perihelion) from the Sun. Earth Days=24hours
  2. The G! (Mayall II) globular cluster (GC) as shown in the image above is one of thousands of GCs within the Andromeda galaxy. The image above is from an excellent blog article on G1. Click here to see that discussion. Additionally you may click here to read more detailed information about the G1 cluster. As stated in the link references, it is possible to see G1 with a 10″ or greater reflector telescope. You may also use Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope to visually learn more about G1. If you have the WWT use the coordinates cited in the link references to search for G1.

CREDITS:

In addition to the credits mentioned in the above text the following are:

Header Image: NASA image of shuttle ATLANTIS on its way to LEO.

Orbital Diagram of Solar System and Ceres: Courtesy of AstroBob http://tinyurl.com/3jtaz9q

Image of ETBot landercraft, courtesy of SciencePhoto Library http://tinyurl.com/3t43bvy

Image of ETBot: Artist concept NASA


AN ALL DIGITAL, DEEP-SPACE VOYAGE.

March 26, 2011

A modified model of the Orion spacecraft serves as the Gliese Explorer

Get ready! We are going again to the Gliese family of exoplanets, and especially Gliese 581g. This is not a deep future program, it is a program that can and should occur within the 21st Century.

Visiting an Exoplanet That Isn’t? Yes because we are not sure it isn’t there. If it is there, as originally presented, then it is important because it is the first suspected rocky, Earth-like planet orbiting within .its parent star’s habitable zone. This, as we have all come to know, means the strong possibility of life existing on Gliese581g.

Should we determine that Gliese 581g really does not exist, then we do not cancel the mission we simply select another likely candidate that is in a star system within the 25 light year or less distance profile.

So we propose to launch a human space flight to a maybe exoplanet 20+ light years distance? Yes and no.  Yes we should launch a mission to the Gliese family, but NO it should not be a human spaceflight mission.  Read on to follow our plan.

The power of IF: In the case of Gliese 581g some scientist maintain it is actually there while other competent astrophysicists express doubts. The overlying question is: If it is there, and if it is in a habitable zone, is there life on the planet? This is exciting science and the only way we can be certain is to test the validity of our earlier theories and observations. That is exactly what we will be doing with the Gliese Explorer program. Please read further for more detailed justifications for this expedition.

Mission Overview: The Gliese Mission is essentially a digital exploration. This means that the entire program is focused on the use of extensive electronic and robotic systems that will help detect, evaluate and describe the entire celestial environment of the Gliese family. Additionally the mission will conduct ongoing evaluations of the deep space environment while enroute to Gliese 581g. If it is determined that Glieses 581g physically exists and that it has an environment that could be life supporting, then one of the two Robonauts on board the spacecraft will physically visit Gliese 581g. It is anticipated that the reports back from that robonaut will be all of a breakthrough quality and importance. To review a more detailed presentation of the mission objectives go here.

Why an all robotic mission? The exoplanet count grows almost daily, and although we are improving our deep space detection capabilities, the final analyses will require a close encounter with a selected, Earth-like exoplanet that promises to be life supporting. Preparations for and the costs of human spaceflight (HSF) missions are time consuming and incredibly expensive. To launch an HSF mission to investigate only a marginally defined life supporting exoplanet could be wasteful in both time and resources. This is particularly the case where the travel distances are in multiple light years. We should only send in human astronauts after we have completed a detailed up-close visit by robotic systems. For a more detailed discussion of those robotic systems, please visit here.

The Abort, Redirect or Return Option: The Gliese Explorer craft is equipped with a infrared telescope that is continuously pointed and focused upon the Gliese environment and specifically searches for Gliese581g. Now this telescope is not of a Kepler size or quality by fully capable of detecting and assessing exoplanets in the Gliese family. Should this detection and tracking system confirm that there is no Gliese 581g or another Earth-like exoplanet in the Gliese family, then the system initiates an abort query sequence and awaits instructions from Mission Control on Earth. Depending upon the distance already traveled, the communication cycle time could be lengthy. In the interim, the spacecraft continues on toward the Gliese system. Once there is a complete data exchange between the Gliese Explorer and Mission Control, a decision is made to either redirect the spacecraft to an alternate destination or to return home. To learn more about this function as well as the overall functions of the spacecraft, please visit here.

Discovery and Confirmation: The odds are that with the onboard telescope system, it is doubtful that the Gliese Explorer will go the full distance if there is not new evidence (at closer distances) of GL581g. In that case the system would initiate the Abort regimen as described above.

Should the ideal happen in that as the explorer gets closer to the Gliese family and confirms the existence of GL581g; including its orbit within a habitable zone, then the mission is on course and begins the preparations for an eventual rendezvous with the exoplanet. For the details of the rendezvous program and the investigations it includes, please visit here.

Summary and Conclusions: The long term advantages of this mission are derived from all of the development work that leads up to its launch. Some of the key advances include:

  • Although the Kepler mission profile is continued, there is an additional effort to find and confirm Earth-like exoplanets that are in star systems that are 25 light years distance or less from Earth. This is in support of the Gliese Explorer concept of all digital deep space explorations.
  • Development of a propulsion system that supports sustained speeds of 20% the speed of light, and is either nuclear or a combination nuclear and a fuel regeneration system.
  • Development of complete neural network artificial intelligence that equips the Robonauts with extensive data analysis and decision capabilities.
  • Development of Robonauts that are fully articulated and can perform EVAs both in space and on the surface of a planetary body.
  • Design and development of a radiation shielding technology that protects all electronics as well as the Robonauts from damaging radiation.
  • Production of a modified Orion spacecraft to facilitate a totally robotisized mission. Excludes unnecessary life support required only for Astronauts.
  • Design and development of a communication system that anticipates and supports the long, long delays in transmission and reception due to light year distances. Actually enhancements to the Deep Space Network (DSN) are the most likely advancement.

The above is not a complete or exclusive list. What the items do emphasize is that the design and development for this mission is directly supportive of future human spaceflights into deep space. The data feedback that will come from Gliese Explorer will serve to advance overall spaceflight technology toward a safe and productive HSF goal. All of which will enhance NASA’s stated goal of 100 year intrastar travel.

Some may view the all digital space exploration concept as an unnecessary preliminary to HSF deep space explorations. A combination of sound technology and cost controls will allow a consortium of space faring nations to jointly pursue the first steps in deep space exploration. All of these efforts can serve to refine and improve the success of future HSF missions.These would be to fully identified and defined planetary targets. Most importantly, nothing has changed in the long history of the human drive to explore. We are now simply maximizing our efforts by increasing the effectiveness of new technologies and the vital science they can perform.

Hand in hand with our Robonauts, we will go into the unknown of deepest space where no Earthling has ever ventured before.

Astronaut and Robonaut in historic handshake - Photo by NASA

Click Image for Deep Space

PHOTO CREDIT:

Image of the Orion capsule courtesy of NASA and Lockheed Martin.

Image of Astronaut and Rob0naut shaking hands courtesy of NASA.

SAILING THE CELESTIAL SEA – A Reprise.

October 9, 2010

This is a reprise of and earlier editorial blog which seems very relevant to today’s times.

Yes, we have celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of the science of modern astronomy and the telescope, but we are also celebrating our bold steps across the threshold of the space sciences. We have stopped crawling and are now considering our next real steps into the space environment. We should reflect and rejoice.

As spectacular as our accomplishments have been they are furtive when compared to where we shall be going. Like youngsters taking their first steps, we need to be mindful of that parental warning: “Don’t Rush It.

What’s Ahead? In the “mid-distant” future, manned space exploration will be limited to this solar system.  Now, that is not a bad thing.  Not only are we going to find important answers to how life develops on planets, but we are also going to learn about the entire process of planet and solar system formation.  Yes, man will land on Mars, and probably one or more of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.  We will also explore the asteroid belt and actually develop mining operations on some of them.  None of these activities are overnight events.  We are talking trilllions of dollars and millions of hours for the design and development of efficient and safe space exploration systems. All of this is incredibly healthy for we Earthlings both financially and intellectually.

Going Deep Into Space: Well, what about deep space?  Is the Kepler Mission a waste of time and money? The answer should be obvious, it certainly is not.  Our exploration of deep space is going to not just blossom it is going to explode when we finally find life bearing exoplanetary systems.  There will be that dreamed of and prized “first contact.” It will be entirely and uniquely robotic, and will remain that way for a long, long time. Don’t despair, the kind of contact I am talking about will represent almost unimaginable breakthroughs in robot design. It is time to use the science-fiction concept of cyborgs to understand this process.

A New Improved HAL: With apologies to that legion of science fiction writers, I predict we completely discard those ideas of a “pasted” together man and machine cyborg.  In reality we will develop totally safe and sane “Hal-like” robots that are directly, intimately linked to a specially selected and trained astronaut team. The team are astronauts because they are in space, but not deep space.  They reside in a satellite complex located in, for example, the L1 or L2 orbital points around the Sun. These astronauts are the command, control and communication unit for the robot team in deep space.  This is necessary to escape the communication and control barrier of the Earths atmosphere. It also allows the full usage of an expanded Deep Space Network (the key space communications network).

To listen to what the robot team in the image above are playing, you may click here.

How that program will work is the topic for another My Celestia article.  The image on the left above is simply an example of a real robot team that was developed by Toyota as a demonstration.  Are they playing music?  Yes they are.  Are they playing in a coordinated manner?  Yes they are.  So, in this respect it is a very limited example of the kind of robotics we will develop for our deep space visits.  We can venture this. The robot team will operate on the most advancedneural network artificial intelligence that, like HAL, is very human and beyond in its capabilities and response to the ET environment they are visiting.

The Bottom Line: There is always a bottom line and in this case to bring this multiple space exploration program into reality there needs to be some big, big changes.  First the NASA team needs to become a full-fledged NASA-Industrial Complex.  Don’t let that frighten you.  This coordinated activity is the only way we are going to really get out there properly, safely and soon. For this to happen, NASA needs to get its act together.  Please, they have done marvelous, amazing and courageous things in their history, but now they have stepped into a much bigger role that needs an entirely new program and fiscal management paradigm

The above is not going to be an easy process, and there are many out there who rather shoot NASA down than realize that NASA and its industrial/scientific partners are one of the key elements of both our growth and future stability.  Space is the next (not the last) frontier and we are a nation that has built itself on our exploring past frontiers.  It has worked well, and this time we stand to move humankind far more forward and beneficially than has ever been done before. Most importantly, the new partnership is an international one that is far more comprehensive than the ones NASA has now.  This extends the growth and stability factor around the world.  In short, it spells FUTURE.

Now, who among us wants to deny the future?  Come aboard and let’s go sailing. The universe awaits us.

IMAGE CREDITS:  Robots: Toyota Corporation and REUTERS May 4, 2008

Astrophoto: Waddell Robey/Slooh.com 2008


THE VOYAGE OF GLIESE 1 – Part 2 – Why Bother?

October 4, 2010

The Milky Way Galaxy - Our local universe.

This is the last segment of a blog series on exploring the new exoplanet GL 581g. Here we will discuss some other important considerations and then spend a little time on the overall challenges of deep space exploration. Most importantly we will think more on when, if ever, humankind will take that giant step away from Earth, our solar system, and even our galaxy. For those who ask, why bother, we need to reply seriously and recognize that they may have a valid point.

Our Sun with Milky Way stars up to 20 light years away. Click image to enlarge.

The image above is of our Milky Way and is from An Atlas of The Universe (see Credits for more information). It clearly and graphically emphasizes the immense distances that are involved in any deep space explorations. In fact, our envisioned exploration of GL 581g is actually a pretty short distance by comparison. The image also underscores the possibility, at this point, of a very large number of Earth-like exoplanets to be discovered and explored within just our galaxy. Explorations beyond this seem almost unimaginable, but attainable.

The image above and on the right, also from An Atlas of The Universe, better illustrates where we (our Sun) is in relation to our galaxy. The red dwarf GL 581 and its exoplanets lie just outside the extreme limits of this graphic. They are at 20.3 light years distance from our Sun. They are not shown on this graphic or others in this atlas.  Regardless you can gain an appreciation for the distances involved from Earth.

The above examples of galactic distances supports our plan to continue telescopic investigations of GL 581g before launching a robotic mission to the exoplanet. We envision that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) with all of its special instruments will enable us to more positively confirm the habitability (life support potential) of the exoplanet.

O.K. so what if the JWST finds that GL 581g is not really a good Earth-like candidate for the robotic exploration? Well, like we stated in our first blog article on the Gliese 1’s voyage, the JWST and the spacecraft are flexible in that both are able to detect and explore, respectively, other stars with exoplanets in our galaxy. Additionally, we have yet to even scratch the surface of all the data the Kepler space telescope has provided on stars with potentially habitable exoplanets.

I remember that now, and I can see what you mean, but do we spend the time and money now on all this special space equipment (telescopes and spacecraft)when we may find an ideal candidate closer to home? Our guess is we will eventually find some closer to home, but also know that we believe that it is important to start and continue these deep space explorations now. To simply wait, is like slamming on the brakes in astrophysics and astronomy; even Galileo managed to work around that sorry state. In other words we cannot let that happen for the sake of our very intellectual and human evolution.

There is a strong possibility that life-forms from other planetary systems have explored or are exploring our galaxy and the universe. No, we are not talking about UFOs. What we are saying is that (a) we believe we are not alone, (b) that there are intelligent life-forms out there as intelligent or more so than we are and are just as dedicated to exploration as we are, and (c) some of these life-forms may have detected us in about the same way we have detected GL 581g. All of this would indicate that they may explore our solar system in about the same way we are planning on doing with the GL 581 system.

Well, couldn’t that exploration by them be in the form of UFO’s.? I am not sure I am happy with the idea. All that stuff that is published and talked about on TV makes that sound dangerous and threatening. We think if there has been any visits by ET they have been distant and difficult to detect. As for flashing lights and high-speed, glowing flying-saucers, well that is exciting sci-fi, but if they got that close, we feel they would stop and knock at our doors. We are not ready to accept and agree with Stephen Hawking’s warnings that ET will be aggressive and dangerous.  On the other hand if ET has visited us and has observed our warlike natures he may have scooted on away – permanently.

Some folks have real doubts about the existence of life elsewhere in our galaxy and the universe. They think Earth is unique and a product of spiritual creationism. They sincerely say, why bother? The really wonderful thing about our nation is the ability for any person to believe and espouse anything they want in both philosophy and theology.  The history of humankind is filled with moments where entire cultures and nations have been controlled by those special beliefs.  At the same time, we cannot close our eyes to the science that stands before us, and we must also accept the obligation to explore, discover and explain all that phenomena.  It is our opinion that those efforts produce a new level of reassurance and evolutionary glory that enriches rather than defies any given theology. Who does not, upon looking up into the night sky, become filled both with awe and a sense of oneness will all that surrounds us. For us, that is a warm, reassuring and sustaining experience that also prods us to keep on exploring and explaining.

Wow, that is quite a viewpoint. Do you think some folks are more frightened than offended by all this scientific exploration? Thank you, and that is a good question.  We do not have any idea about the ratio of those offended to those frightened by all that science and exploration uncovers and explains or tries to explain. We can see where this can be disturbing when we cannot come up, immediately, with clear and precise answers. At the same time, that very difficulty increases the demand for us to find clear and precise answers. We call this exploration.

In answer to the question, why bother? First of all it is not a bother, it is, as I hope we explained throughout the Explorology blog,  an imperative. Yes, we are still seeking the answer to how life developed here and expectedly everywhere in the universe, but as we get closer to that answer and as we find the presence of life throughout our galaxy and beyond we are fulfilled and enriched. It is like we are responding to an inborn quest to find answers and in doing it, we literally expand who we are and why we are probably here. That to us is the one and only real answer to why bother.

The prospect of eventually, robotically, visiting GL 581g and its neighboring exoplanets or some other candidate exosolar system is both exciting and demanding. If we should find life in some form on that planetary body then we have moved one giant step forward in understanding the glory, wonderment and promise of life throughout this universe. We, therefore, chose to bother!

CREDITS:

The images from An Atlas of The Universe are the result of very dedicated work by its creator Richard Powell and are made possible here by the permissions included in the Atlas’s Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.  You may click here to visit the Atlas site.

THE GLIESE EXPEDITION – Only Very Young Astronauts Need Apply

September 30, 2010

GL581 (Red Dwarf) - Exoplanets too distant to be seen.

Yes, extra-solar GL581g has been discovered as a definite Earth-like exoplanet. It could very well have an atmosphere and water; important life support ingredients.

Unofficial comments about a future mission to GL581g are already filling social networks. The key questionis will that expedition ever happen? A large chorus quickly shout YES, but a more sullen, conservative audience expresses resistant doubts.  Well, lets join the “can do” crowd and see just what it would take to visit the Red Dwarf and its string of planets; especially GL581g.

First there is the matter of distance. GL581 and its solar system is 20 light years away. That converts to 117,572,507,463,672.14 Miles. This is not just an around the corner distance. Current spacecraft and propulsion systems would not carry humans that distance unless we used sci-fi science and put the explorers in deep freeze for years and years.

Oh, well then lets just forget it. NO! Read on to see what can be done.

What about time-lapse? Considering the distance cited above we need to be able to make the journey at near the speed of light . Assuming we could achieve a propulsion system that could provide a thrust equal to 2/3 the speed of light (199841.653 km/s) which converts to 447,032,987 miles per hour, we could achieve this speed. It would take us 30.2 years to reach GL581.

Oh, well, see lets just forget it! NO! There is still more to consider. Please read on.

Warp Drive or what propulsion system? You can forget sci-fi science warp drive stuff at the moment and instead think about a propulsion system that could supply constant acceleration such as an expansion of the VASIMR propulsion system concept. To help you understand this take some time to understand acceleration, velocity and speed.  Any good physics text on motion should give you all you would need.

O.K, so we could get there in less than 30 + years? Not in the beginning. It is best to plan around that time factor.

Nuclear Power (Fusion) is a must. To reach the desired state of constant acceleration and to sustain it we need an energy source that can support the expedition for longer than twice the one-way flight time (We do plan to come back to report our discoveries). Right now the type of energy source that could be installed and operated in a spacecraft does not exist. There are many critical breakthroughs that must be achieved for this to become a reality. Roskosmos of Russia is working on nuclear power propulsion and NASA did once, and must start again – NOW!

Humph, most folks are scared silly of nuclear power so is that even something we should think about? YES!  We just need to grow up to where we can manage nuclear energy responsibly and safely.  The U.S Navy does it all the time, so….?

The spacecraft design. Unlike the concept of Earthship I, a spaceship under constant acceleration will create its own artificial gravity that will offset the effects of long-term exposure to weightlessness and the associated physiological effects on astronauts. Obviously in addition to the aforementioned propulsion system, the spacecraft must be designed to accommodate a crew over an extended journey. Protection from cosmic effects (radiation, meteor strikes, supernovae events, and black holes are serious hazards). Entirely new design criteria must evolve and should be aided by the spacecraft designs we have made and will develop for exploration of our own solar system.

Well seems to me we should consider the first voyage based on a totally robotic crew. This could enable us to do out first exploration more safely and at less cost. YES, that is correct and is in the plan.

Good, now who is going to foot the bill for all of this? The U.S. Congress? NO, not entirely. The only way this is going to come about is through an international effort that is represented by a formal international space organization that shares in all aspects of the expedition.  To see what we mean review again the details in Part III of the Earthship I blog article.

Mission 1 of the Gliese Expedition will be a robotic mission that will allow us to assess many factors involved with a very long-term, deep space exploration. This will be a less expensive first start and will also give us time to fully organize the development of the International Space Organization. Unless we can assure this new spacefaring unity and comradeship, our success in deep space exploration will be extremely limited.

O.K., so what is next? Well we have a lot more to present and to discuss with you so we are going to do at least one follow on blog article that will present our ideas about that first, robotic , voyage to GL581. We urge you to plan a return visit (in a view days) for our presentation of The Voyage of GLIESE 1.

CREDITS:

Astrophotograph of GL581 – Red Dwarf. Courtesy of Waddell Robey and Slooh.com. (See copyright notice on the image, please).