One of the major problems with space development for any corporation or government is that it is a huge money sink. Until the program is fully developed and operational, a process that may take years, there is no return on investment. For example, the Martian Rovers, highly complex semi-autonomous mobile robots, cost billions to develop. Is there a better way?
Elon Musk seems to be the only one who has come up with a practical solution. Spin-off is the term that NASA uses to describe commercial applications of technology that was originally developed for the Space Program. Musk has reversed that equation. His spin-off isn’t the commercial application of space technology. Space technology is the spin-off of his applications.
Of course, it required a certain amount of initial investment. However, as soon as SpaceX had functioning orbital rockets, they immediately began launching components of the Starlink Constellation (which, when fully operational, will cover much of the space development costs). He is also pushing tourist flights for similar reasons.
If we look at his various projects, it is interesting to observe that most of them will tie into the construction and support of a Martian colony.
The conditions on the Martian surface are inimical to life: a thin carbon dioxide atmosphere, extreme cold, and radiation due to a lack of a magnetic field and thick atmosphere. Any dwelling on Mars would need to be heavily shielded, ideally underground. Finding a large enough cave is highly problematic. Preferably, we would be able to create our own. By a remarkable coincidence, Elon Musk founded the Boring Company. This company is now focused on constructing transportation tunnels. When the need arrives on Mars, that company will have years of experience and the advanced equipment for excavating an underground environment. I can easily imagine future Martian settlements beneath the surface in huge tunnels drilled by Boring Company machines.
Any colony will require power generation and storage. Here, too, Musk is involved. His company, Solar City, is developing rugged solar power generators. Tesla, in addition to vehicles, produces advanced large-scale battery banks for power storage.
It is easy to envision autonomous vehicles crossing the Martian surface. Tesla is currently developing those. We can also imagine robots controlled by a direct human-machine interface operated using Neuralink.
Musk is also invested in artificial intelligence. Though this might seem like a contradiction, considering his warnings, in fact, it is not. His warnings refer primarily to a general-purpose AI, essentially the computer equivalent of a human mind. There is a major difference between that and what I call a Focused AI, where the AI is designed to function only in a narrow area such as safely operating a spacecraft or locating and retrieving asteroidal materials. The company DeepMind was purchased by Musk. It developed Open AI, which was ultimately sold to Google. He still holds a seat on the board and is in a position to direct much of the research and development.
The remaining big three needs of space colony development are air, water, and food. I firmly believe that as time goes on, Musk or one of his corporations will acquire companies developing technologies in these sectors. This will most likely happen only when these companies have become profitable here on Earth so that their terrestrial income can drive the research necessary for Martian Colony development.
All over the world, space enthusiasts gathered for World Space Parties this month in honor of Yuri Gagarin. Who is that and why is he being celebrated, you may ask? 60 years ago, 27-year-old cosmonaut (Russian astronomer) Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was the first human to travel to space and orbit the Earth! On April 12, 1961, he made a trip around the Earth in the spacecraft Vostok 1. In all, he spent one hour and 48 minutes in space that day. That may not sound like a lot, but at the time it certainly was! Listen to some short recordings of Gagarin’s messages from space in this video. You can read more about his childhood and career here.
Gagarin was highly respected and celebrated for this accomplishment. After he returned from the flight, Gagarin took another trip — a world tour this time. Many people were eager to meet the first man to travel to space. The Soviet Union (which included present-day Russia and 14 surrounding countries) even renamed streets after him and put up statues to show their appreciation. Gagarin was given the Order of Lenin and named a hero of the Soviet Union. This was a big win for the Soviet Union in the Space Race against the United States. They were in competition to see who would make the most progress, faster, in outer space technology and exploration. The United States was not far behind in sending the first person to space a month later, but it wasn’t until 1962 that the U.S. space program was able to send someone into orbit around Earth (History.com editors).
Sergei Pavlovich Korolev was the Chief Designer who created and led the Soviet space program in this project and many other firsts during the 1950s and 60s: “first animal in orbit, first large scientific satellite, first man, first woman, first three men, first space walk, first spacecraft to impact the moon, first to orbit the moon, first to impact Venus, and first craft to soft-land on the moon” (History.com editors). Despite these important contributions, Korolev’s identity was hidden by the Soviet Union until his death because he had gotten in trouble with the government and was sent to a prison camp (where he was still told to continue with his scientific work). After he died in 1966, Chief Designer Korolev’s identity was finally revealed to the world, and he was buried as a Soviet Union hero.
These are just a few examples of how young women have proven time and time again that they can shine just as brightly as anyone else, if they put their mind and heart to something. We would love to hear from you, too. What is your dream, and who/what inspires you? What did you learn from the young people featured in this article? Are there any other scientists or topics you’d like to see featured in a future HFO newsletter? Share all of your thoughts and more with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For More Information
BBC News. (2021, April 12). Yuri Gagarin: The first man in space – BBC News [Video].
ESA. (n.d). Yuri Gagarin. The European Space Agency.
FRANCE 24 English. (2021, April 12). Yuri Gagarin became first man in space 60 years ago [Video].
History.com Editors. (2010, February 9). Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space. History.com.
If you have the space, jump in place, or imagine jumping in place. How far up did you get? Now, try again, as hard as you can (again, if you have the room).
How far can you throw a ball into the air? Try it, if you have a small one (and you have space to do so safely). How high up did it get? Now, try again, as hard as you can (again, if you can do so safely). Did you throw it any higher?
Both times, now matter how far it went, the ball fell back down to Earth right? What if I told you there was a way to throw the ball hard enough that it never comes back down?
To get a baseball, or any object, to fly up and never come down, you have to make sure it reaches escape velocity. Escape velocity is the minimum velocity an object needs to reach to break free of a planet or moon’s gravity (NASA). (Velocity is the rate at which an object changes position, and is similar but not the same thing as speed. To learn more about the difference between velocity and speed, you can check out the link here).
If you know the right escape velocity, you know how fast a rocket will need to be to keep flying up until it reaches space. If you don’t know the correct escape velocity for a planet or moon, the rocket won’t travel fast enough, and it will fall back to Earth without reaching space, just like a thrown baseball.
Escape velocity can be calculated using the following equation: ve= √(2GM/r)
Ve stands for escape velocity. G stands for Newton’s universal constant of gravity. M stands for the mass of the planet and moon being considered. r stands for the radius of the planet or moon. Mass is especially important to consider, because the more mass a planet or moon has, the more gravity it has, and the harder it is to reach escape velocity. On each planet or moon, the escape velocity of an object will be the same, regardless of the mass of the object (Let’s Talk Science).
The escape velocity of Earth is 7 miles per second, or 25,038 miles per hour (NASA). Other planets have different escape velocities based on their gravity. Let’s think about the planet Jupiter. Because Jupiter is such a large, dense planet, it has more gravity than Earth. Its escape velocity is much greater than Earth’s – to escape Jupiter’s gravity you’d have to travel 37 miles per second, or 133,018 miles per hour!
So, no matter if you’re launching a baseball or a space shuttle, an object will need to travel 25,038 mph, or 7 miles per second, to reach escape velocity and escape Earth’s gravity (NASA).
But how do you do that?
Gravity is a powerful force. Any time an object is launched or launches itself into the air, gravity pulls on it, eventually pulling it back to Earth. But the further you get from Earth’s surface, the weaker gravity becomes. Eventually, when you get far enough away, an object can break free of Earth’s gravity. If an object can go fast enough, it can rise and escape Earth’s gravity before it loses speed and gravity pulls it back down to the ground.
If you threw a baseball straight up, it would go a certain distance before falling back down. If you threw it as hard as you could, it would fly farther before eventually coming back down. The force you added with your arm made the ball go farther. The more force you put in, the more speed you get.
Now, imagine that the baseball was a bowling ball. You’d have to throw it much harder to get it to the same height as the baseball, right? How much more force would you have to use?
This is an example of the problem that scientists and engineers have to consider when launching rockets into space.
Rockets are powered by fuel. They need a lot of fuel to get the lift to let them reach escape velocity, since rockets are incredibly heavy. But, the fuel itself also adds weight, so more force is needed to launch the rocket, which means more fuel is needed, which increases weight, and so on and so forth (Canright). This is one reason early rockets were so large – they needed to hold a lot of fuel to reach escape velocity. Scientists today are looking to break the cycle by using more efficient fuels and lighter vehicles (NASA). Even magnets are being considered as a way to get shuttles into space!
If rockets go far enough to reach space but don’t reach escape velocity, they begin to orbit the Earth (Let’s Talk Science). Most rockets launched into space don’t actually reach escape velocity. They are often used to launch satellites into orbit, or deliver supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station, and more rarely have to leave Earth’s atmosphere entirely (Canright).
In conclusion – could you launch a baseball hard enough to reach escape velocity? Yes! As long as it reaches 25,038 miles per hour, it will be able to achieve escape velocity, breaking free of Earth’s gravity to reach the stars. Unfortunately, unless you have superpowers, you won’t be able to throw it that hard on your own.
How would you launch a baseball past orbit?
For More Information
Canright, S. (2009, April 10). Escape Velocity: Fun and Games.
Let’s Talk Science. (2019, July 23). Escape Velocity.
Qualitative Reasoning Group, Northwestern University. (n.d.). What is Escape Velocity.
The Physics Classroom. (n.d.). Speed and Velocity.
Several months ago, I presented some thoughts about what form intelligent life might take on one of the deep-ocean worlds such as Jupiter’s moon Europa. In this, the second part of the series, I will look more closely at some of the basic requirements necessary for a society to develop under Europan conditions.
Europa is covered, to the best of our current knowledge, by an ocean nearly a hundred miles deep, enclosed in a shell of ice almost 15 miles thick. The water below is kept liquid by heating from the gravitational stress induced by Jupiter and radioactives in the rocky core. Sunlight, already weak that far out in the solar system, would never penetrate the icy shell. It is possible that the gravitational heating of the core could give rise to formations similar to the Black Smokers found in Earth’s oceans. Given these conditions and assuming the evolution of the being described in my prior article, how could they develop a society?
The primary requirement for any social organization is communication. Communication requires some form of language. In its broadest sense, language is a means by which one being can transmit information to another being and have them understand what is being presented. Language in turn requires a vocabulary. A vocabulary is a symbolic way of expressing a thing or concept – in short, words. For humanity, words are the tools of the mind. Try to express an idea or think about something without using words. It is very difficult. There are other forms of communication that we use. Music, for example, is able to communicate on an emotional level. It too has its own language and vocabulary.
Underwater sound travels very well. The cetaceans, whales and dolphins, can communicate and locate themselves using sound. Many marine creatures are able to detect chemical cues in the water. This too is a potential form of communication. In Earth’s deep ocean, many animals produce their own light by chemical means. This can likewise become a form of communication. It is interesting that even in the eternal darkness of the depths of Earth’s oceans, there are creatures with some form of light-sensing organs, eyes of various sorts.
There is also touch. If a creature is able to feel texture this can be a basis for communication. Braille is, after all, used for that purpose by blind humans.
Given all these possibilities, I will assume that our aliens are able to communicate with each other and coordinate their activities. A basic level of communication would allow the formation of small social groups, the equivalent of a tribal culture. To advance beyond that point, the society must have some means of recording information beyond the lifetime and memory of an individual, some form of writing.
Humanity, the only example we have to examine, has used many means to record data. From knots in strings, Polynesian ocean maps of islands and currents made of sticks, pictographs as in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and marks in clay such as cuneiform. Our marine being would most likely have most of these available, and more, based on additional abilities such as a chemical sense. If they are able to overcome the challenge of recording information, they would be on their way to developing an advanced civilization.
Almost every creature that lives manipulates its environment in some way. From the worm that digs a burrow to humanity’s mightiest city.
Humanity’s technological development followed several stages. Initially, direct use of available materials with little modification such as a pile of rocks or branches to protect the cave entrance. Later, materials were modified somewhat such as a shack made from lashed poles covered with branches. This gave way to highly modified materials such as shaped stone blocks and carpentry.
Fire was a critical development. The use of fire gave us the metal technology on which our civilization is based. In fact, our entire civilization is based on fire. We burn fossil fuels for energy. We use heat to turn limestone into concrete for roads and buildings. While ores might be available in a deep ocean world, there is no possibility of producing fire.
Could a civilization develop without fire? I believe that an advanced society could be created based on a biological rather than a mechanistic technology. This is not as far-fetched as it seems. Even primitive human societies engaged in biological manipulation. Take, for example, the development of many cereal grains from their wild ancestors. The wild ancestor of corn is very different from the corn that we know today.
Many of our food animals are so heavily modified that they would be incapable of surviving in the wild without human support.
For our alien society, the old saying would apply: “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” With multiple possible senses and means of communication, our creatures are well-equipped to become adept biologists.
Human technology developed for two primary reasons, food and shelter. The development of weaponry allowed the acquisition of expanded food sources. Larger and swifter animals could then be hunted. The development of agriculture allowed the replacement of a nomadic existence with permanent dwellings and ultimately contributed to the growth of cities.
Shelter is also a vital primary need. Shelter protects us from the extremes of the environment, heat, cold rain, and storms. A good shelter also protects against predation. In the early days of humanity, many predators were larger, stronger, and faster than man. Our technology helped us stay alive.
Mankind is not the only tool user. Chimps shape sticks to use in gathering termites that they eat. Even some birds use tools. Seagulls will drop a clamshell on a hard surface to crack it open. I once saw a seagull drop a shell on a sandy road. The shell didn’t crack. Instead of picking it up and trying again, it landed nearby and waited. A car came along and ran over the clam, cracking it. The gull then flew down to enjoy its meal. The bird had used a car to crack the shell. Certainly a demonstration of thought, planning, and tool use. One of the most intelligent non-mammalian creatures in the earth’s oceans is the octopus. In numerous experiments, an octopus has used reason to open a screw top jar to get to the prey inside.
We can therefore conclude, based on the fact that some form of intelligence has developed among so many diverse species, that intelligence is not just a fluke reserved for us humans, but is capable of appearing in many different species and environments.
If we assume some form of language and tool use for aliens, what sort of technology could they develop? What are the available resources on the ocean floor? It is hard to draw conclusions from a statistical sample of one, but the Earth is the only example we have, for now.
If we look at the greatest depths of terrestrial oceans, we find areas that are called the Abyssal Plains. They are relatively free of life, yet life is there, but the plains are not where most life thrives in the depths. The so-called black smokers are life’s deep water focus. This is where superheated water rises up from the sea floor. These hydrothermal solutions (hydrothermal means hot water) contain large amounts of minerals dissolved below the surface and heated by geothermal energy. They form the energy source for a diverse biosphere in the ocean’s greatest depths.
Could such formations exist on Europa? It is quite possible, even probable. The gravitational flexing of Europa’s core by Jupiter produces considerable internal heat that could power such formations and the life they might support.
What other conditions are probable? There are tides. The same force responsible for the gravitational flexing of the core affects the surrounding water so Europan oceans have powerful tides and currents. On Earth, the tides and currents are important for marine life. Many animals have adapted to accommodate them. Some release their eggs or larvae into the water knowing that the currents will distribute them far and wide. Many others have developed means of holding themselves against the force of moving water such as chitans, mussels, and oysters. Still others let water bring food and nutrients to their tendrils, such as filter feeders like corals.
The tides and currents even affect the shape of mollusks’ shells. The shells of oysters that live in calm water are thinner and have more complex surface structures than those found in rough seas.
Gravity is another issue. The gravity on Europa is only 13% that of Earth; therefore, things will sink more slowly than in terrestrial seas. If the tides and currents stir up sediment, the particles are more likely to remain suspended. This could potentially increase the availability of nutrients in the water and allow bottom feeders to be more mobile than on Earth.
In the third article of the series, I will attempt to imagine what a civilization could be like having evolved under these conditions. What form of technology might they develop, and what might their worldview be like? Let me know what thoughts you might have on the subject.
Around the Cosmos
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Quote of the Month
“Looking at the Earth from afar you realize it is too small for conflict and just big enough for cooperation.”
– Yuri Gagarin
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