Cloud City on Venus? Make it so!

December 26, 2014

venus sky base

(Photo credit: NASA Langley Research Center)

The fine folks at NASA are thinking it might be easier to go to Venus first, rather than Mars. After all, it’s nearer. But how, given the (to put it mildly) hostile conditions of the Venusian surface?

Simple: we build a colony above the clouds!

Called HAVOC – High Altitude Venus Operational Concept — engineers and scientists at the space agency have been studying ways in which a Venus mission would be possible.

“The atmosphere of Venus is an exciting destination for both further scientific study and future human exploration,” aerospace engineer Christopher A. Jones told CNN.

Venus is the closest planet to Earth, about 38 million kilometres, compared with 54.6 million km to Mars. However, it is also highly inhospitable with a mean temperature of 462 degrees Celsius, a cloud layer of sulphuric acid and atmospheric pressure that’s 92 times greater than Earth’s.

Scientists say, however, that just 50 kilometres above the cloud layer are conditions that mimic Earth – pressure is almost the same and so is the gravity and the temperature is about 75 C. With current technology, the astronauts could be outfitted in special suits to withstand the heat.

In previous years, probes have been sent to the surface of Venus, but could only last about two hours.

NASA has also provided a concept video (via):

There’s a fuller discussion at the IEEE Spectrum.

NASA projects the initial mission to last about 30 days, but, over time, the station itself could become permanent, with researchers coming and going. (And tourists? Why not?)

If you know me, you know I grew up watching and loving the space program. While I support private space efforts, I think a NASA-lead exploration program fits with our “Lewis and Clark” traditions. Add to that the possibility of a Star Wars-like “Cloud City” (1), and I’m all for it. Let’s start tomorrow!

We’ve walked on the Moon. No reason we can’t soar above Venus.

Footnote:
(1) Okay, okay. Not even close to Cloud City. But ya gotta start somewhere! smiley thumbs up

 

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And so it ends not with a bang, but a whimper

July 21, 2011

Yesterday was the 42nd anniversary of America’s greatest triumph in space exploration, the first manned landing on the Moon. Here’s a video commemorating that moment:

(via GinTheGin)

And late last night, 42 years after Neil Armstrong first stepped on another world and 49 years after John Glenn became the first American to enter orbital space (1), our manned space program came to an end with the landing of the shuttle Atlantis.

In the dark, as if to spare us the embarrassment:

(via The Jawa Report)

And, yes, I know there are plenty of reasons why a private space exploration program is a good idea; I even agree with many of the arguments. But I don’t want to hear them just now.

I’m not in the mood.

Footnotes:
(1) Of course, Alan Shepard went first in Freedom 7, but that was a suborbital flight. Impressive and heroic, but not quite slipping the “surly bonds of Earth.”

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


I weep

July 7, 2011

U.S. must rely upon the Russians for access to space

I remember when we had a space program.

via The Tatler


Saving our space program: the Free Frontier

February 9, 2011

I’m a child of the space program. As a kid in the 60s, I lived for those days when the rockets would take off from Cape Canaveral/Cape Kennedy and head for the stars. My parents would even let me stay from school on the day of a launch, figuring I’d learn more watching the lift-off than I would miss by playing hooky for one day. I had the whole launch sequence memorized and knew all the stages of the rockets and all the names of the men riding them. The voice of Mission Control was the Voice of the Future and the Age of Super-Science.

And when you add in movies like Forbidden Planet, The Thing, and The Day the Earth Stood Still, or TV shows like Star Trek, I was convinced back then that I’d one day be taking family vacations at Disneyland-Mars.

Boy, was I wrong.

Soon after that glorious moment when Man —Americans— first walked on an alien world, NASA became a space taxi-cab service and then decayed into a tool of the global-warming scam and a vehicle for bolstering Muslim self-esteem. Now, with the last shuttle flight, we can’t even take ourselves into space, anymore. We have to hitch a ride from… the Russians. How the mighty have fallen.

As you can imagine, that little boy still somewhere inside me was scuffing his toes and pouting.

In recent years, though, I’d become intrigued with the possibilities of space exploration as a private enterprise. The Wright brothers-like exploits of Burt Rutan showed the way, but I hadn’t realized until very recently just how big the private space-flight movement was and how far it had come along, and what hope it held for reviving an American space program.

All of which serves as a long-winded introduction to the following video from Bill Whittle, the Free Frontier:

That little boy is cheering again.

LINKS: More at Hot Air.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Going back to the Moon looks easier than thought

October 23, 2010

Ouch!

 

Not only did the LCROSS mission recently find water on the Moon, but the amounts turn out to be significant and includes useful volatile chemicals:

The missions found evidence that lunar soil within shadowy craters is rich in useful materials. Moreover, the moon appears to be chemically active and has a full-fledged water cycle. Scientists also confirmed that ‘moon water’ was in the form of mostly pure ice crystals in some places.

These results are featured in six papers published in the Oct. 22 issue of Science.

The twin impacts of LCROSS and a companion rocket stage in the moon’s Cabeus crater on Oct. 9, 2009, lifted a plume of material that might not have seen direct sunlight for billions of years. As the plume traveled nearly 10 miles above the crater’s rim, instruments aboard LCROSS and LRO made observations of the crater and debris and vapor clouds. After the impacts, grains of mostly pure water ice were lofted into the sunlight in the vacuum of space.

“Seeing mostly pure water ice grains in the plume means water ice was somehow delivered to the moon in the past, or chemical processes have been causing ice to accumulate in large quantities,” said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

In addition to water, the plume contained “volatiles.” These are compounds that freeze in the cold lunar craters and vaporize easily when warmed by the sun. The suite of LCROSS and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 percent of the material kicked up by the LCROSS impact was volatiles, including methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Read the rest at WUWT. It’s very exciting; not only is the problem of water for lunar explorers probably solved, but the volatiles indicate that usable fuels could be extracted from the soil, rather than being shipped from Earth, a very expensive proposition. These twin discoveries make a return to Luna and the establishment of a base there potentially much less daunting than previously thought.

Gosh, it would be so nice to have a real space program again.

Maybe a private company will make it so.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


“We’re gonna land on the Sun!”

September 3, 2010

That’s the punchline to an old Italian joke, at which point we’re supposed to laugh at the stupidity of the Italian scientists. I mean, who would think one could land on the Sun?

Well, it’s not such a joke, anymore:

Solar Probe+ to Plunge Directly into Sun’s Atmosphere

NASA’s daring plan to visit the sun took a giant leap forward today with the selection of five key science investigations for the Solar Probe+ spacecraft.

Slated to launch no later than 2018, the smart car-sized spacecraft will plunge directly into the atmosphere of the sun, aiming to solve some of the biggest mysteries of solar physics. Today’s announcement means that researchers can begin building sensors for unprecedented in situ measurements of the solar system’s innermost frontier.

“Solar Probe+ is going where no spacecraft has gone before,” says Lika Guhathakurta, Solar Probe+ program scientist at NASA HQ. “For the first time, we’ll be able to ‘touch, taste and smell’ the sun.”

Last year, NASA invited top researchers around the world to submit proposals detailing possible science investigations for the pioneering spacecraft. Thirteen proposals were received and five have been selected:

–SWEAP, the Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons Investigation: The most abundant particles in the solar wind are electrons, protons and helium ions. SWEAP will count these particles and measure their properties, even “sweeping up” some of them in a special Solar Probe Cup for direct analysis. The principal investigator is Justin C. Kasper of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass.

–WISPR, the Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe Plus: WISPR is a telescope that will make 3D images of the sun’s atmosphere similar to medical CAT scans. WISPR can actually see the solar wind, allowing it to image clouds and shock waves as they approach and pass the spacecraft. This telescope is an important complement to the spacecraft’s in situ instruments, which sample the plasmas that WISPR images. The principal investigator is Russell Howard of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC.

–FIELDS, The Fields Investigation for Solar Probe Plus: This instrument will make direct measurements of electric and magnetic fields, radio emissions, and shock waves which course through the sun’s atmospheric plasma. FIELDS also turns Solar Probe Plus into a giant dust detector, registering voltage signatures when specks of space dust hit the spacecraft’s antenna. The principal investigator is Stuart Bale of the University of California in Berkeley.

Check out the rest of NASA’s press release for more fun details. This will be an impressive feat of engineering: on entering the solar atmosphere, it will have to withstand temperatures around 2,000° Centigrade (3632° Fahrenheit) and blasts of radiation that would cripple a normal craft.

Neat!

(via WUWT)


Once upon a time, we had a space program

February 1, 2010

And it’s going to seem like a fairy tale to future generations, with the Obama administration killing a return to the Moon:

NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the moon are dead. So are the rockets being designed to take them there — that is, if President Barack Obama gets his way.

When the White House releases his budget proposal Monday, there will be no money for the Constellation program that was supposed to return humans to the moon by 2020. The troubled and expensive Ares I rocket that was to replace the space shuttle to ferry humans to space will be gone, along with money for its bigger brother, the Ares V cargo rocket that was to launch the fuel and supplies needed to take humans back to the moon.

There will be no lunar landers, no moon bases, no Constellation program at all.

I’ll be frank, this makes me very sad.  Sad

I grew up with the space program, from Mercury through Apollo. On launch days, my parents would let me stay home from school, figuring I’d learn more watching TV that day than I’d miss in class. I ran outdoors with my father to look at the Moon the day Neil Armstrong took that first step, and I was glued to the news during the Herculean effort to rescue Apollo 13. I waited patiently (okay, not so patiently) as the program was allowed to wither in the 70s and continue halfheartedly with the Shuttle program. And I remember how jarring it sounded when, for the first time in my life, I heard the calm, confident voice of Mission Control crack when he announced the shuttle Challenger had been lost.

All that time, I believed in my heart we’d return to real space exploration one day, and I cheered when President Bush announced a return to the Moon.

“Forget it,” says President Obama.

Sure, as Allahpundit argues, a fiscal conservative should have no problem with saving money in a time of recession and amidst insane profligacy. And, taken on its own, I’d agree with him.

But the idea that we can achieve significant savings by dropping the Lunar program is, well, a crock of you-know-what. The NASA budget is roughly $18 billion. The bills so far, over several years of development for the Ares rocket and the Constellation program has been an additional $8 billion. Call it $24 billion, total.

The Obama budget proposal released today projects a deficit of $1.267 trillion. The cost of NASA plus the Constellation program to date is less than 1.9% of the federal deficit. It’s six-tenths of a percent of the proposed budget. To argue that canceling the return to the Moon represents any real savings is farcical at best, and an insult to the intelligence of the American people. It’s like a fat man ordering a double bacon-cheeseburger and fries, and then claiming it’s okay because he also got a diet soda.

As I wrote on another matter:

You [President Obama] were willing to blow nearly $800 billion on a stimulus bill that was a monument to waste. You want to take over one-sixth of the American economy, a move opposed by nearly two-thirds of the nation, at a cost of … what is it these days, a trillion dollars? You have flushed down the toilet tens of billions on auto and mortgage bailout programs that have netted the Republic nothing. And that’s only in your first year!

And what’s NASA supposed to be doing, since it’s no longer taking us to the stars? Navel-gazing. Monitoring climate-change on Earth. The irony is almost overwhelming. We’re going to save money by not going to the Moon, but we’re going to flush down the toilet what we do spend tracking a “problem” that’s been shown to be a gigantic fraud. Head, meet brick wall.

While I applaud the plans mentioned in the original article to bring in more private contractors and I agree there’s an important role for the commercial development of the inner Solar System, I still believe we need a American space program.  I’m somewhat of a national greatness conservative; while I support the idea of limited government, there are still some areas that are legitimate Federal projects, and space exploration is one of them. A nation descended of pioneers, we need explorers to challenge the boundaries and open up to us the possibilities of “out there.” We need the jolt of national pride that comes from doing what everyone else says is impossible, like walking on the Moon. We need heroes.

Sure, it’s a romantic notion. For all the practical arguments one can make about the benefits of high tech developed through the program or of jobs provided from Alabama to California, it’s all about a kid’s dreams that came to life one day in July, 1969.

Don’t tell me kicking those to the curb is worth six-tenths of a percent.

LINKS: LowDown Central, where Lance Thompson say the President has mooned the American spirit. Pamela Geller on trillions for a hoax. Rich Trzupek – To Boldly Go Nowhere.

UPDATE: Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 co-pilot and the second man on the Moon, likes the plan.