Posted tagged ‘spacefaring’

DRIVE OUT THE “HO HUMS”:Send In The Explorers

November 26, 2010

Right now, for so many of us, the future has the look of a scattered picture puzzle with lots of missing pieces. Oh yeah, we have been here before and have survived. One of the keys of our past survivals was the abundant view of a promising new future. We were able to dream and hope and thus our struggles, though painful, held promise and actually moved us forward. Well, we need such a set of views now. Most importantly, we need to send in more than clowns. We need to send in explorers to give us realistic dreams and hopes for our future. This has always worked for all humankind and it can work now.

Lo and behold, there is just such an exploratory rescue on the horizon! The aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin Corporation has announced its plans to launch an exploratory mission to the dark side of the Moon. Now as a space exploration venture by a leading member of the private sector, this is spectacular. In our opinion to make it even more spectacular and scientifically promising we would like to see this project become a joint effort by Lockheed-Martin and NASA.

Oh yes, we hear the grind, buzz and rattle of the government budget hackers as they get ready to launch another warning rant about the high cost of space exploration. We also hear the doors slam of the White House science advisory staff who have already exhausted their limited imagination. These reactions ignore the truly realistic economic stimulus for both the private sector and the legion of space exploration specialists stuck hopelessly on idle. On top of this is the incredible benefit of an awesome, exciting and stimulating space exploration effort. It reawakens both public and media interest and support. “Ho Hums” begin running out the door.

The working relationship between NASA and Lockheed-Martin is time-tested in the cauldron of our historically successful shuttle and International Space Station missions. Adding NASA into the new Moon project adds an immense and hungry public interest as well as shared funding and technology support. For Lockheed-Martin, as the prime, this is a significant boost to an already ambitious and inspiring plan. For NASA it is a new experience as second fiddle, but within a famous symphony orchestra with a  global performance ahead. Everybody can be winners. Everybody in this case are the key players, as well as a global population of space exploration enthusiasts.

“Make It So!” This classic order from the realm of the Star Trek series is most fitting for our joint venture recommendation. This phrase should become the motto for the launch of this joint space program. It should also be the shout that echoes throughout the halls of Congress and the White House. In making it so, our politicians stand to rise in eminence by boosting our economy, by boosting opportunities for the jobless and by projecting a glimmering view of humankind’s future in space exploration.

Dare we not “Make It So?”

CREDITS:

Broken puzzle image courtesy of  “smh” on Great House Fliggerty at:http://bit.ly/gdAQSs

Header image courtesy of Lockheed-Martin, and  POPSCI 

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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 VOYAGE OF GLIESE 1 – Part I – Exploring GL581g

October 2, 2010

Voyager Spacecraft are Role Models for Gliese 1

This is a follow-on blog article that discusses the possibility of an exploratory visit to the newly discovered, Earth-like exoplanet GL581g. You may click here to view the earlier blog article on GL581 (the red dwarf) and its six (or more) exoplanets.

Based on our preliminary calculations, it will take approximately 30.2 years to travel to the GL581 area, and this is at about two-thirds the speed of light.

Human spaceflight for this first voyage is not desirable. The decision has been made to make the flight of Gliese 1 a fully robotic mission. Although this will be the most far-reaching spaceflight mission yet attempted, the great design and development progress in robotic spacecraft by many of our spacefaring nations inspires confidence.  This is especially true when we consider the Voyager spacecrafts (#1 and #2) which at this point have gone farther than any other robotic spacecraft to date.

There are a great many important issues to be considered before we even begin this program. Let’s look at some of the ones at the top of the list.

Space telescope research before spacecraft? The ideal first step would be to further verify GL581g by looking for it by using a new telescope system called the Terrestrial Planet Finder.

Yes, I have read about that, but I understand that the TPF program was cancelled or put on hold. That is correct and now the idea is to add the TPF features to the Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Planetary scientist Sara Seager discusses this in her book, Is There Life Out There?

So, we wait until the Webb Telescope is launched and in use, and will it have the occulter unit included in the final assembly? We think so, but at this writing we are not certain. We are contacting Dr. Seager to get an update in that regard. As for waiting on the JWST, that is not a long wait. It is scheduled for launch in 2014.

A Parallel Program to include JWST investigation during the design, build and test of Gliese 1. The Gliese 1 spacecraft will be designed to travel to relatively nearby exo-planetary systems. If for some reason, GL581g is found not to be an Earth-like planet with the promise of a life supporting environment, then the Gliese spacecraft is simply re-assigned (before its launch) to a different exo-planetary system. Building this system while also using the JWST to probe GL581g and other exoplanet candidates is efficient use and development of space-related, scientific technology.

Well that sounds like a great idea, but good grief we are talking about very, very large budgets. Who is going to spring for that? You are right, and to do this we are talking about an immense change in governmental commitments to space research and exploration. In this regard, as we have mentioned before, no one government or private research organization will be able to fund this. It must be a fully joint effort by all the spacefaring nations on Earth.

Gliese 1 exploratory spacecraft is expected to achieve a reconnaissance orbit around GL581g. The sensitive equipment on the spacecraft is expected to confirm that the exoplanet can and may actually support life. This is a more detailed and critical assessment than what has been accomplished byboth land-based and space-born telescopes like the JWST.

OK, then why are we not sending a lander onto GL581g to make contact? That is not an option with regard to the design of the Gliese1 spacecraft. A lander is not an included option. Additionally, until we get more detailed biochemical as well as geological assessments from the orbiting spacecraft it is too early to consider a lander probe. Most importantly, in honor of our long-held principles, “we come in peace, with intent to do no harm.”

Deep Space communications with Gliese 1 could be a challenge; however, our success with the Voyager craft is encouraging. In any case it is expected that the Deep Space Network will be expanded and upgraded to ensure that we can sustain regular data and command exchanges with the spacecraft. This is certainly going to produce dramatic breakthroughs in deep space communications.

Hmmmm, we have had some problems with communications with the Mars rovers. Doesn’t it follow that in the deep space where Gliese 1 will be that these problems will be even greater? Yes, that is a good question, and the planning for this spacecraft calls for greater AI(artificial intelligence) programs and devices that allow Gliese 1 to diagnose and correct many of its problems on its own. This will be more than the automatic shut down modes we have experienced with many other rovers and spacecraft.

Like the Voyagers, Gliese 1 is a one way space exploration program. As a result this spacecraft will carry with it, extensive assessment technology that will give us as detailed information (visual and data) of GL581g. The spacecraft also, powered by radioisotope technology, is expected to continue full operation for a decade following its successful encounter and orbiting of GL581g. Again, the incredible success we are having with the Voyager craft demonstrates that we can succeed in this respect.

Whoowee, that is exciting!  What if there is human life on GL581g and they take offense at our prying and destroy Gliese1? Well, that could certainly be a possibility, but there could be no real proof that the spacecraft was destroyed by humans rather than either a malfunction on cosmic accident. This is a major risk in this type of exploration just like so many throughout the history of humankind, but look at all we have learned and mastered by taking such risks.

The actual discovery of life, in any form, on GL581g will dramatically change the lives of all of us on this planet. We expect this and in our design of the spacecraft in addition to our many assessment systems and protocols we have set up a network report protocol that will send back to Earth, for public broadcast, images and data that let all of us share in this remarkable exploration. Maybe we will even receive an image of ET waving to us.

Thinking about that feedback is both exciting and sort of spooky. I am not sure how I will really react to that revelation. I think I will be jumping with joy, but maybe not. We understand that. Reactions to proof of life elsewhere in the galaxy and the universe will have a shock effect on all of us. The joy is knowing we are no longer alone. The worry will be manifold as we are deluged with sci-fi histrionics and a new application of the superstitious warnings of those who have trouble accepting these facts. None of this will eradicate the fact that there is life out there.  Me, I hear great music and have beautiful visions of a whole new future for all of us.

Well, we have just considered a few of the important issues involved in this project.  We need to consider more. We will do this in one more blog article to follow this one. We hope you will join us and follow along.  Please we urge your comments, questions, and scientific corrections and additions. Until next week – Look up and ask: Quo Vadis?

CREDITS:

Image of Voyager Spacecraft – courtesy of NASA.



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).

 

 

SOUP’S ON! – Exploring the Primordial Soup

September 27, 2010

Like a gentle butterfly or a thistle-down we will alight on the sandy and or mucky shore surrounding a pool of burgeoning life. To do otherwise could easily demolish those vital secrets that will tell us how molecules of lifeless chemicals made the transition into life matter that began the replication process that led to us.

As most visitors here already know, there is an intense biological, biochemical, geobiological and astrobiological research being conducted to finally learn how life started here on Earth, and most likely on every habitable planet in the universe.

It is expected that we will find the answer to life’s beginning in our research on this planet and that will be a key to our understanding of how life will evolve or has evolved on the many habitable planets in the universe.  This is not to say that evolution will be exactly the same as our own and that humanoid life-forms that evolve elsewhere exactly resemble us. It is also possible that all life develops the same way, but evolves differently depending upon its unique environment. How will we know?

In time we will perfect our ability to travel into deep space beyond our solar system and to actually explore other planets in this galaxy and beyond. In some instances we may arrive on an exoplanet at that critical time when life is just beginning to evolve. In other words we have come upon the primordial soup. This would be an incredible opportunity to witness and assess that process that produces the earliest forms of life. Can we do this without interrupting or completely destroying the process? Dare we even venture to the point where that may happen?

In our opinion, as we continue the process of seeking the origins of life on this planet, we will learn more about both the robustness and fragility of the life-forming process and in doing so move closer to a new perspective and reverence for all life. This is expected to change how we conduct ourselves with each other and to all aspects of life on this planet. Hopefully, that critical evolutionary step will, first, assure the safe continuation of all life here on Earth, and impose extreme carefulness in our future deep space explorations. If we fail in this, then we will most likely quickly enhance our own extinction and never know more than we know now about that stunning instance when a chemical morass begins the transition into new life.

In summary, life is not wildness to be tamed and controlled. Right now we have not yet connected the dots leading to our understanding of the process that has produced humankind. What we have mistakenly presumed is that we are the top of the evolutionary ladder and therefore inevitably “in charge.”  Wrong! We must stay humble students who, as we learn, elevate ourselves not as masters but as grateful and enthusiastic partners of all life on this planet and beyond. This is our most important evolutionary step, and unlike all of our earlier steps, this one is solely our choice. As for me, I vote for life; all life.

Reference Links:

Abiogenesis

Are their still new life-forms to be discovered?

Astrobiology Magazine

Astrobiology Network

New study at Georgia Tech

CREDITS: Butterfly image: From “My Wild Life” nature photography by Waddell Robey (c)1997 (unpublished).

ISO: In Search Of A Schroedinger’s Cat

September 8, 2010

That segment of the Hippocratic Oath that calls for doctors “to do no harm” should not be relegated only to that profession.  It most certainly should apply to explorers.  Connected to this extended ethic is the scientific conundrum associated with Schroedinger’s Cat. Is the cat there, and is it alive or dead? In determining the answer we may very well impose circumstances that kill the cat or was the cat already dead? You may select the link above for more specifics on the cat and Herr Schroedinger. Our intent, here, is to make the point that in our explorations we should always strive to not kill the cat.

This ethic should apply to all levels of exploration; personal, scientific, and commercial. We are slightly more mindful of this imprimatur than in the past, but we are far from being perfect in our exploratory behaviors. To stress our point we will select three broad exploration areas and discuss the ethic within their respective contexts. The three areas are: Space Exploration, The Search for Life, The Search for Valuable Resources.

Space Exploration: We are doing pretty well here. We do not launch into space or to other planetary bodies without making sure that our spacecraft and our astronauts do not carry with them anything Earthly that may be harmful to our space neighbors or the broad environment of space.  Similarly, we also are careful to not bring back to Earth any foreign element that may be harmful to our environment.  Most importantly as we begin to extend our explorations from A (asteroids) to Z (some yet discovered Earth-like and habitable planetary body), we need to intensify these precautions.

Most importantly we must take extra precautions to not be overcome with the false hubris of the indomitable human. Past explorers have often suffered from this syndrome with resulting dangerous and often fatal encounters with foreign environments and life-forms. Does this mean we must be timid, overly cautious souls? Absolutely not, but it does insist that we proceed with caution and respect for the new domains we are investigating. This historically, has definitely NOT been a glowing reputation of our human predecessors. We must set a new and lasting example.

The Search for Life: What a glorious and exciting undertaking. Right now, with exception of some sampling from Mars and the Moon, we are exploring this planet for the answers to how life began. Scientists of many disciplines are involved in these explorations and generally they are most careful to not kill the cat By this we mean that we seek to study without disrupting or harming the source of our research or its environment. This is a practice that we must make certain follows us when we finally land humans, again, on the surface of a member of our solar system.

Are we perfect in the above precautions? Unfortunately we are not, and there will be instances where we repeat those accidents. We should learn from each incident and use it to guide us away from repeating these insults upon the foundations of life. Since we do not yet have all the answers and the key one of how life really started, we need to increase our cautiousness so that we do not obscure or alter those key pointers to life’s beginnings.

The Search for Valuable Resources: To live, to prosper and to continue to evolve we must attend to our well-being. This effort has evolved into a large and widely variable we generalize as commerce. This is very good and very bad. The good, all of us know about and appreciate. We also are very familiar with the bad, but often allow our attachment to the good to cause us to ignore the bad. We have certainly experienced a significant example of this in the late Summer and early Fall of this year (2010).  Most importantly we have clearly seen the impact of bad commerce on the well-being of ALL life-forms on this planet; from microbes to humans.

Commerce will actively and expansively enter space. This is good, and will be of benefit to all of us. What is not good is if that expansion continues to produce those bad outcomes. In order to prevent them we need to start here on Earth developing more effective ways to ensure that we eliminate those bad results.

No, we do not stop commerce, for that would stop us, but we can definitely create effective and HONEST systems that ensure that commerce does no harm, and does not kill the cat! This will cost each of us a bit more from our pockets, but it will buy us safety and peace of mind by making sure we fund commerce in such a way that it cannot be bad.

Most likely the money will be in the form of taxes, and the incentive to commerce will be a choice of investment help or serious fines and financial loss.  The latter hurts not only commerce, but it hurts us because we depend upon it to employ us and provide us with services and products that we need and want. There is absolutely no excuse for allowing commerce to kill the cat and thereby do harm to us. In space exploration this is critical, and we need to start now to develop systems that insure and support this policy and behavior.

So this exploration ethic must be expanded and sustained. In this regard, we close with a quote from Planetary Scientist, Dr. Sara Seager’s book, Is There Life Out There?

“When and if we find that other Earths are common and see that some of them have signs of life, we will, at last, complete the Copernican Revolution – a final conceptual move of the Earth, and humanity, away from the center of the Universe.  It will be a humbling, transformational experience.”

CREDITS:

We are pretty certain that the cat in the image is not Herr Schroedinger’s, but this is obviously a cat who is unhappy in his environment. This is a human environment not his.  This striking image is courtesy of Found at this site: http://bit.ly/b9qRk6

NO FAIL EXPLORATIONS

September 4, 2010

In general, throughout humankind’s history the only explorations that have drawn and kept our attention are those that are great successes. Certainly, there have been many of them, and each has moved humankind forward in our evolution. Some of the failed expeditions did grab our attention because we came to closely identify with the explorers. This is certainly the case in all of NASA’s many expeditions, of which, thankfully, there have only been  limited failures.

Most exploration programs and the people who are involved are bold and very courageous. This basic ethic should not change. Now that we are nearing the challenges and opportunities to explore more of our solar system, missions that involve astronauts need to concentrate on factors that enhance success of each mission. That is right, “we emphasize the positive”..[to]..” eliminate the negative.”

Part of the emphasis process is to design missions that allow the exploration team to assess their new environments and to progress in an orderly, highly scientific manner. Let’s take everyone’s favorite expedition; putting humans on Mars. Well we will do that, but to do it successfully and with a high degree of new discoveries we should consider a step by step approach. No, these would not be baby steps. Each sub-mission, if you wish, would be directly related to the key mission of landing astronauts on Mars.

In two related blogs, we present ideas and viewpoints that directly deal with both spacecraft and astronaut well-being such as the effects of weightlessness.  The concept of a “built-in-LEO” spacecraft/space-station we have proven with the ISS, and to expand upon that would be one of those sub-mission steps. This would be particularly true if the new spacecraft/space-station was a blend of the ISS and the super shuttle we previously discussed in the “spacecraft” link above.

Another and related sub-mission step would be the inclusion in the spacecraft design provisions of an antigravity module that would address the need to protect the crew from exposure to long duration weightlessness. This same design challenge should and would be expected to address the issue of strong cosmic radiation on both crew and equipment.

Considering just the sub-missions above, we can easily envision the creation of a true spaceship that, in essence, becomes an exploration vessel in the same tradition as its centuries earlier seagoing exploration vessels. In this concept, the combo super-shuttle and spaceship design becomes our operations base whether the target is Mars, the Moon, or one of the other planetary bodies.  This concept was presented earlier is a related blog series (Parts 1-5) OF ASTEROIDS AND ASTROBOTS.

We accomplish in these primary sub-mission the creation of both the concept of a spaceship exploration vessel and the development of an exploration strategy that uses our super-shuttle space-station as the base of all our exploratory operations.  No longer does each mission have to be launched, expensively, from Earth. Only crews and supplies are launched in regular scheduled supply missions by commercial space contractors. Additionally, our exploratory vessel becomes a temporary space-station that orbits a target planetary body during a long-term and extensive robotic and human study of the planet. Mission durations will be extensive because crews will spend more time within the spaceship than on the planetary body thus reducing exposure to hazardous conditions.

Spacecraft Docking At Space-station

Successive sub-mission steps are performed, as required, to set up the temporary, orbiting space-station base at a selected solar system site. Additionally, excursions by both robots and astronauts onto the planetary body include more sub-mission steps. Importantly no efforts are made to establish a permanent base on a planet until the first full-length exploration mission has been completed and data and research results fully evaluated. One expected exception will be the creation of a permanent International Lunar Research Park as envisioned by The Moon Society.

So, is this concept really an assurance of a no-fail exploration policy? What it does is represent a planned best effort to emphasize the positive and to reduce the known impact of hazardous conditions. The aim is safe, extended exploratory missions that are highly productive. In all cases, failures can occur, but the concept is to anticipate them and to significantly reduce their impact when they do happen.  This is not a new concept. This very anticipatory operations plan dates all the way back to history’s earliest exploration missions. We, today, are just modernizing that policy and making it more effective and productive.  We want all of our exploration projects to be beneficial to and remembered by all humankind.

CREDITS:

Jupiter and two moons:  Astrophotograph by the author.

Image of spacecraft docking with space-station. Courtesy cohga.net, Flickr, http://bit.ly/ck9S63