Archive for November, 2016

What Would Water on Mars Be Like?

The red planet is the most likely human outpost in outer space. Setting up a manned colony on the fourth planet from the sun has been a project that a number of space exploration agencies have been hoping to do. It will take the help of a number of countries to make it a success because no single country can spare the resources or has the skill sets that will be required to make this project a success.

One of the primary concerns about making this colony self sufficient is proving adequate food and water. Most of the water on Mars is not in liquid form. It’s mostly in ice chunks, and they have a whole lot of the the martian soil mixed in with it. So if you were to dissolve the ice and drink it, it would be highly salty and not suited for human consumption.

The low atmospheric pressure on Mars makes ice sublime directly into gas without melting into liquid. If the water is distilled in a pressurized habitat, the liquid water may become possible. Although it is unlikely to taste like the water we drink here on earth, it should hopefully be enough to sustain body functions.  Only another science project working on the problem will be able to tell for sure.

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Race to Return to the Moon

The moon is our closest neighbor in outer space. It is also the only celestial body that human beings have actually managed to land on. Considering the success that NASA had with the moon landing with Apollo 11 where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin managed to touch the surface of the moon way back in 1969, it is strange to see no more moon missions taking place after that.

NASA may have shifted it’s focus to Mars for the next manned mission, but there are other space agencies who are ready to take up the challenge to return to the moon. The European Space Agency (ESA) wants to build a permanent base on the moon. It would be similar to the International Space Station allowing astronauts of different nations to come together and work on mutual goals.

The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) is currently hoping to land a rover on the far side of the moon. They are targeting reaching the Aitken Basin by 2018. If the mission is a success they may send manned missions to the moon by 2030.

Roscosmon, the Russian space agency is also drawing up plans for a manned moon landing by 2030.  Currently their Luna series of orbiters and landers are working towards exploring the resources available on the moon.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is working on a high precision landing on the moon’s surface in 2018 of a lunar lander and rover. The Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon or SLIM is a small 120 kg craft.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is also looking at a moon landing in 2018 with it’s Chandrayan-2. This is the first time they are not collaborating with another nation and going with their own orbiter, lander and rover.

The moon is likely to get a number of new visitors if all of these science projects are successful.

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Communicating with Space Probes

Talking to each other is something we take for granted because as soon as I ask you a question, you can answer it immediately. This same seamless communication is not possible in outer space. There is a time lag between when you send in a set of instructions to a space probe and it receives it.

Take for instance a rover on Mars like Curiosity. It would take 24 minutes for new instructions to reach from the surface of the earth to the rover. Yet another 24 minutes for the people in the control room to see that the rover had actually complied with the instructions.

With the Voyager 1, the same communication takes much longer given it’s distance from the planet. A signal reaches Voyager 1 in about 17 hours.  That means it takes nearly two days for reciprocation of whether the instructions passed have been understood.

Needless to say the science project which succeeds in creating a better communication system between space probes and their earth bound control rooms will be welcomed as a major step forward in space exploration. It will be the next best thing to actually putting a man in the space craft and letting him take immediate decisions based on current inputs.

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Living the Astronaut Way

Ever wondered how the astronauts in space managed to do basic living out there? It’s tough to think of how they must do things like eat, drink, poop and sleep. Here’s some facts that you may like to know about how astronauts manage these basic functions in space.

Eating is perhaps the simplest function as they eat precooked, prepackaged food. It may not be the greatest cuisine but it includes the basic nutrients required to keep the astronaut healthy and functioning optimally.

Drinking is also pretty much the same with bottles working as well in space as they do on Earth. For visiting the loo, it’s a little different where the pee goes into a funnel attached to a hose. That is connected to a suction fan and will take it away to a containment drum.

For solid waste, the astronaut must ‘dock’ over a hole the size of a drain pipe and clamp their feet into restraints. The poo is then caught in an individual bag liner and sucked away into the containment drum.

The sleeping is not at all like back home. The astronauts zip themselves into vertical sleeping bags that have been secured to the room’s interior. Of course it would make no difference being upright as gravity is really weak. Not a science project I would volunteer for.

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Planets and Rings

There are four “Gas Giants” in our solar system. These planets are Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus. Also called the outer planets, they have no defined surface. They primarily are a huge ball of gases storming around a core. We aren’t sure just how much of that core is solid either!

With Juno, NASA’s space craft heading out to Jupiter to help us better understand the gas giant, we will know a great deal more about the planet. At the present moment it is believed that the rings that have developed around gas giants include dust clouds and remnants of moons that may have broken down but stayed in orbit around the planet.

The theory expounds that the heavier material got sucked in to form the core of the gas giants, while the lighter substances continued to swirl around the planet. Not quite able to escape the planet’s gravity, and not quite influenced to come and merge with the planet.

Since the size of the gas giant planets is much larger, they are more likely to extend a stronger gravitational force compared to the smaller, rock based inner planets. This makes them ore likely to hold on to planetary rings. Juno may provide more science experiment based evidence to prove the theory.

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Chemical Reactions in Space

Temperature plays an important role in chemical reactions on Earth. Most substances need to be brought to the right temperature for the chemical reaction to take place. Otherwise they may remain inert till the optimum temperature has been reached.

Imagine if the temperature drops drastically, how will chemical reactions take place? In outer space the temperature of objects varies depending on their proximity to the sun. A comet heats up as it approaches the sun, but cools off when it shoots out towards the outer recesses of space after crossing the sun at some distance.

The reaction speed of any two chemicals is usually linked to their temperatures. So if the chemical reaction takes about two minutes in average conditions on the surface of the planet, how will the same reaction take place on the International Space Station? Much more slowly, since the temperatures will be lower.

Although if they are placed in a controlled environment with temperatures similar to earth, it would be the same reaction time. Now if they were placed without protection in outer space, they would also have to deal with high energy cosmic rays and ultraviolet rays that can heat up objects and increase the reaction time. This is an ongoing science project.

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Fitness Trackers

A fitness tracker allows you to trace a number of variables such as the steps you walk in a day, your blood pressure, the number of hours you sleep and even the quality of your sleep. They also can be plugged in to a computer or your smartphone to generate a number of statistics based on the recorded data.

In the 1960s the Japanese came up with the first fitness tracker which could count your daily steps. It was worn around the waist and that’s when the concept of walking ten thousand steps a day to stay fit began. As the technology improved more variations of the fitness tracker came up and now we can wear one on the wrist.

The wrist worn fitness trackers have been popular for the last decade and use sensors to track various different human body parameters. They can tell us how many calories we need to burn to lose weight and can even keep track of the number of calories we have consumed.

If you are not keen on the wrist worn fitness tracker, the latest generation of trackers can literally be popped into your ear. The earbuds can monitor your heart rate, speed and mileage with ease. Now this is one science project keen on miniaturization.

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