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Elon Musk's Mars Colony Would Have a Horde of Mining Robots ( 217

An anonymous reader shares an Engadget report: If it wasn't already clear that Elon Musk has considered virtually every aspect of what it would take to colonize Mars, it is now. As part of his Reddit AMA session, the SpaceX founder has revealed that his vision of a permanent colony would entail a huge number of "miner/tunneling droids." The robots would build large volumes of underground pressurized space for industrial activity, leaving geodesic domes (made of carbon fiber and glass) for everyday living. As a resident, you might never see the 'ugly' side of settling the Red Planet. Musk also explained how his colony would get to the point where it can reliably refuel spacecraft all by itself. Dragon capsules would serve as scouts, helping find the "best way" to extract water for fuel reactions. An unmanned Heart of Gold spaceship would then deliver the basics for a propellant plant, while the first crewed mission would finish that plant. After that, SpaceX would double the number of flights between each ideal Earth-Mars rendezvous (every 26 months) until the colony can reliably produce fuel by itself. Oh, and don't worry about today's Falcon 9 rockets being consigned to the history books. Although the main booster for interplanetary travel will "have an easier time of things," Musk believes that the final iteration of Falcon 9 (Block 5) could be used "almost indefinitely" if properly maintained. Production on Block 5 should fly in the next 6 to 8 months.

Elon Musk Scales Up His Ambitions, Considering Going 'Well Beyond' Mars ( 289

An anonymous reader writes: For most of its 14-year existence, SpaceX has focused on designing and developing the hardware that will lead to its ultimate goal: colonizing Mars. These plans have remained largely secret from the general public, as company founder Elon Musk has dropped only the barest of hints. But that is expected to change on Sept. 27, during a session at the International Astronautical Congress, when Musk details some of these plans for the first time in a public forum. However, on the eve of the meeting, Musk dropped a surprise on Twitter. The workhorse spacecraft that will carry approximately 100 tons of cargo or 100 people to the surface of Mars, which until now has been popularly known as the Mars Colonial Transporter, can't be called that, Musk said. "Turns out MCT can go well beyond Mars, so will need a new name..." he tweeted on Friday evening. By Saturday evening he had a new name dubbing the spacecraft the "Interplanetary Transport System," or ITS. Mars, it turns out, isn't the solar system's only marginally habitable world for would-be new world colonists. The Moon, Venus, the asteroid Ceres, and outer Solar System moons Titan and Callisto all have some advantages that could allow for colonies to subsist. However, Mars has generally been the preferred destination -- due to its relative proximity to Earth, a thin atmosphere, and sources of water ice. Musk now seems to be suggesting that some of these more distant destinations, especially moons around Jupiter and Saturn, might be reachable with the Interplanetary Transport System.

Jeff Bezos Unveils the Design of Blue Origin's Future Orbital Rocket -- New Glenn ( 79

Earlier this year, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Blue Origin said he would unveil details about his company's orbital rocket sometime "later this year." He is now delivering on the promise. Bezos has released some preliminary details about the "New Glenn" rocket which employs seven of the company's new generation BE-4 rocket engines. The rocket, named after the first American to reach orbit, is bigger than Elon Musk's Falcon Heavy rocket. Bezos said he intends to launch the New Glenn in less than a decade from now. The Verge reports: The New Glenn will incorporate reusability, according to an email update from Bezos. The first stage of the rocket will be able to land post-launch, similar to how Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle lands after a flight. However, the New Shepard is only capable of going to sub-orbital space, so it's not traveling as fast or as high as a rocket going to orbit. Landing an orbital rocket post-launch will put Blue Origin in a whole new ball game. And it looks like there will be a lot of rocket to land. The New Glenn will be 23 feet in diameter and range between 270 and 313 feet high. That height depends on if there is one upper stage or two on top of the rocket. With just one upper stage, the rocket will be able to send satellites and people into lower Earth orbit (LEO). But with two upper stages, the New Glenn is capable of taking payloads beyond LEO. The main portion of the rocket will be powered by seven BE-4s, an engine that Blue Origin is currently developing. It's the same engine that the company hopes to sell to the United Launch Alliance to power the future Vulcan rocket. Combined, the BE-4s should provide 3.85 million pounds of thrust, according to Bezos. That's more thrust than the 2 million pounds the Delta IV Heavy is capable of, and slightly less than the 5 million pounds SpaceX's Falcon Heavy can pull off.Bezos said: Our vision is millions of people living and working in space, and New Glenn is a very important step. It won't be the last of course. Up next on our drawing board: New Armstrong. But that's a story for the future.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Predicts People On Mars In 9 Years ( 224

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says his company should be able to land humans on Mars in nine years from now. "If things go according to plan, we should be able to -- we should be able to -- launch people in 2024, with arrival in 2025," Musk said. "That's the game plan," he added. CNN Money reports: Musk said he's planning to share an architectural plan for the colonization of Mars at a conference in September. The tech conference audience was enthralled by Musk's comments. He told interviewers Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg that plotting travel throughout the Solar System, and "ultimately other star systems," provides the kind of inspiration that makes life worth living.

We Need To Build Industrial Zones In Space In Order To Save Earth, Says Jeff Bezos ( 306

Onstage at the Code Conference, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said that we have to start bringing parts of the industrial economy to space in order to "save Earth." Bezos also said that we must protect our planet, adding that we don't want to live in a retrograde world where "we have to freeze population growth." From the report: Bezos says tasks that require lots of energy shouldn't be handled on Earth. Instead, we should perform them in space, and that will happen within the next few hundred years. "Energy is limited here. In at least a few hundred years... all of our heavy industry will be moved off-planet," Bezos added. "Earth will be zoned residential and light industrial. You shouldn't be doing heavy energy on earth. We can build gigantic chip factories in space." Solar energy, for instance, is more practical for factories in space, he said. "We don't have to actually build them here," he said. "The Earth shades itself, [whereas] in space you can get solar power 24/7. ... The problem with other planets ... people will visit Mars, and we will settle Mars, and people should because it's cool, but for heavy industry, I would actually put it in space."

Diamond Nanothreads Could Support Space Elevator ( 171

Taco Cowboy writes with news that Penn State researchers have discovered a way to produce ultra-thin diamond nanothreads that could be ideal for a space elevator. According to the report at, The team, led by chemistry professor John Badding, applied alternating cycles of pressure to isolated, liquid-state benzene molecules and were amazed to find that rings of carbon atoms assembled into neat and orderly chains. While they were expecting the benzene molecules to react in a disorganized way, they instead created a neat thread 20,000 times smaller than a strand of human hair but perhaps the strongest material ever made. ... Just recently, a team from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia modeled the diamond nanothreads using large-scale molecular dynamics simulations and concluded that the material is far more versatile than previously thought and has great promise for aerospace properties.

NASA's Robonaut 2 Can't Use Its Space Legs Upgrade 58

BarbaraHudson writes: Robonaut 2, now in orbit on board the International Space Station, has run into problems with the software controlling its new legs. From the article: "The machine ran into a few technical errors. According to NASA, the ground teams deployed Robonaut's software and received telemetry from the robot, but were unable to obtain the correct commands for the leg movement, which are vital to performing every day tasks aboard the International Space Station. Ground teams have begun assessing how to move forward with this issue, though it is unclear if they currently have a fix in mind."

Space Policy Guru John Logsdon Has Good News and Bad News On NASA Funding 78

MarkWhittington writes According to a story in Medium, Dr. John Logsdon, considered the dean of space policy, addressed a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. The author of a book on President Kennedy's decision to go to the moon and an upcoming book on President Nixon's post-Apollo space policy decisions had some good news and some bad news about NASA funding. The good news is that funding for the space agency is not likely to be slashed below its current $18 billion a year. The bad news is that it is not likely to go up much beyond that. If Logsdon is correct, static NASA funding will mean that beyond low Earth orbit human space exploration will remain an unrealistic aspiration. American astronauts will not return to the moon, not to mention go to Mars, in the foreseeable future.

Should We Be Content With Our Paltry Space Program? 287

StartsWithABang writes: At its peak — the mid-1960s — the U.S. government spent somewhere around 20% of its non-military discretionary spending on NASA and space science/exploration. Today? That number is down to 3%, the lowest it's ever been. In an enraging talk at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting, John M. Logsdon argued that astronomers, astrophysicists and space scientists should be happy, as a community, that we still get as much funding as we do. Professional scientists do not — and should not — take this lying down.

Technical Hitches Delay Orion Capsule's First Launch 71

According to NBC news, "A series of delays held up the maiden launch of NASA's Orion capsule on Thursday, adding some extra suspense to the first test of a spacecraft that's designed to take humans farther than they've ever gone — including to Mars." The much-anticipated launch, which had been scheduled for launch 7:05 a.m. Florida time, is to boost into orbit — empty — an instance of the Orion crew capsule intended to be part of a manned mission to Mars. As of shortly after 9 a.m. eastern time, troubleshooting has been in progress on the Alliance Delta 4 launch vehicle's hydrogen fill and drain valves in attempt to make the launch within today's launch window, which extends to 9:44 a.m. Besides the technical problem with those valves, the launch was delayed by wind, as well as by a boat that strayed into a restricted area. (Shades of the stray-boat delay in October for Orbital Science's ISS delivery launch.) Friday and Saturday have been designated as backup dates. Update: 12/04 15:03 GMT by T : The launch has been scrubbed.

Thanks To the Private Space Industry, Things Are Looking Up For Space City USA 47

gallifreyan99 writes When the shuttle program was ended, and manned space exploration was put on hold, the people of Titusville, Florida were left in big trouble. "Just 20 miles northwest of Kennedy Space Center in Florida, it used to have a proud nickname: Space City USA. The dizzying boom of the 1950s and '60s helped create myriad jobs by giving work to nearby aerospace companies. Unfortunately, the past 15 years have seen everything dry up By December 2010, Titusville had one of the America's highest unemployment rates, 13.8 percent." But even though there's been plenty of bad news recently, the city hopes that the private space industry can save it from destruction.

Life Insurance Restrictions For Space Tourists 68

RockDoctor writes: Reuters reports that there are changes afoot for life insurance contracts, which will require additional premiums for "space tourists." While not likely to be a disabling issue for the industry — the statistics for astronauts dying in flight are not that bad — it is an issue that people considering such a jaunt will need to address. Obviously this has been brought to the fore by the unfortunate crash of the Virgin Galactic craft under test. Relatedly, an article at IEEE Spectrum explains why SpaceShipTwo's rocket fuel wasn't the cause of the accident.

NASA's HI-SEAS Project Results Suggests a Women-Only Mars Crew 399

globaljustin writes "Alan Drysdale, a systems analyst in advanced life support and a contractor with NASA concluded, "Small women haven't been demonstrated to be appreciably dumber than big women or big men, so there's no reason to choose larger people for a flight crew when it's brain power you want," says Drysdale. "The logical thing to do is to fly small women." Kate Greene, who wrote the linked article, took part in the first HI-SEAS experiment in Martian-style living, and has some compelling reasons for an all-women crew, energy efficiency chief among them: Week in and week out, the three female crew members expended less than half the calories of the three male crew members. Less than half! We were all exercising roughly the same amount—at least 45 minutes a day for five consecutive days a week—but our metabolic furnaces were calibrated in radically different ways. During one week, the most metabolically active male burned an average of 3,450 calories per day, while the least metabolically active female expended 1,475 calories per day. It was rare for a woman on crew to burn 2,000 calories in a day and common for male crew members to exceed 3,000. ... The calorie requirements of an astronaut matter significantly when planning a mission. The more food a person needs to maintain her weight on a long space journey, the more food should launch with her. The more food launched, the heavier the payload. The heavier the payload, the more fuel required to blast it into orbit and beyond. The more fuel required, the heavier the rocket becomes, which it in turn requires more fuel to launch.
United States

White House Wants Ideas For "Bootstrapping a Solar System Civilization" 352

MarkWhittington writes Tom Kalil, the Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Senior Advisor for Science, Technology and Innovation for the National Economic Council, has an intriguing Tuesday post on the OSTP blog. Kalil is soliciting ideas for "bootstrapping a solar system civilization." Anyone interested in offering ideas along those lines to the Obama administration can contact a special email address that has been set up for that purpose. The ideas that Kalil muses about in his post are not new for people who have studied the question of how to settle space at length. The ideas consist of sending autonomous robots to various locations in space to create infrastructure using local resources with advanced manufacturing technology, such as 3D printing. The new aspect is that someone in the White House is publicly discussing these concepts.

Elon Musk: We Must Put a Million People On Mars To Safeguard Humanity 549

An anonymous reader writes: Elon Musk's ambitions for SpaceX keep getting bigger. First he wanted to make the trip to Mars affordable, then he wanted to establish a city-sized colony, and now he's got his eye on the future of humanity. Musk says we need a million people on Mars to form a "sustainable, genetically diverse civilization" that can survive as humanity's insurance policy. He continued, "Even at a million, you're really assuming an incredible amount of productivity per person, because you would need to recreate the entire industrial base on Mars. You would need to mine and refine all of these different materials, in a much more difficult environment than Earth. There would be no trees growing. There would be no oxygen or nitrogen that are just there. No oil." How fast could we do it? Within a century, once the spacecraft reusability problem is solved. "Excluding organic growth, if you could take 100 people at a time, you would need 10,000 trips to get to a million people. But you would also need a lot of cargo to support those people. In fact, your cargo to person ratio is going to be quite high. It would probably be 10 cargo trips for every human trip, so more like 100,000 trips. And we're talking 100,000 trips of a giant spaceship."

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