Archive for August, 2010

Origins – Back to the Beginning

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present the fourth and final episode of the highly acclaimed PBS documentary series “Origins” hosted and presented by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The final installment of this series is entitled “Back to the Beginning” explores how the colossal, mind-boggling forces of the early universe made it possible for habitable worlds to emerge.

The clues begin with a race among scientists to capture lingering echoes of the big bang’s ferocious energy in a microwave “whisper” from deep space. The race pits underdog astronomer Tony Readhead and his improvised detector in the high Andes against NASA scientists and their state-of-the-art satellite probe. Tyson shares his excitement with viewers as computer animation of the big bang’s echo emerges on the screen. It’s as close as we can get to a “photograph” of the primordial universe.

Here we glimpse the seeds from which all the galaxies, stars, and planets eventually grew.

Origins Part 4 – Back to the Beginning

Mission to an Asteroid

I have previously discussed the need for planetary defense and the required ability to send astronauts  beyond Earth orbit. So how far off are we from being able to send people to the near Earth  asteroids? Well, Lockheed Martin  have just release a study of such a mission. They looked at a minimal two person mission using two Orion spacecrafts. From the executive summary:

In the last decade, the search for hazardous asteroids which might impact Earth has yielded an unexpected benefit. Astronomers have discovered a few dozen very small asteroids whose  orbits around the Sun are similar to Earth’s. Round trip missions to these asteroids are therefore much easier than to previously known Near Earth Asteroids, and roughly as easy as landing on the Moon. These asteroids represent a new potential destination for near-term human space exploration. Since favorable mission opportunities occur only a few times per decade, it probably would not be prudent to focus the human spaceflight program exclusively on asteroid exploration and develop new spacecraft customized for asteroid missions. Instead, asteroid exploration should be conducted in parallel with other missions such as Lagrange point visits or lunar landings, using common spacecraft designed for multiple types of missions. The authors have investigated the feasibility of conducting an asteroid mission that would complement NASA’s lunar exploration architecture, using the launch vehicles and Orion spacecraft which would be used for lunar exploration. The proposed mission concept, called Plymouth Rock, combines a pair of Orion spacecraft with only modest modifications to provide the necessary propulsion, living space, and life support capability for two astronauts. Human asteroid missions have many of the same functional requirements as lunar landings, so that complementary asteroid and lunar missions may be feasible even if the lunar exploration architecture changes from the current plan.
We have concluded that the dual-Orion configuration can probably support deep space mission durations of five to six months. Longer missions are constrained by radiation exposure, volumetric packaging limits for life support consumables, and the small habitable volume available. There are at least three opportunities between 2015 and 2030 when such a mission could be performed. These occur in 2019-2020, 2028, and 2029. All of the asteroids in question are small, between 5 m and 50 m in diameter. The number of opportunities is increasing as more asteroids are discovered. A dual-Orion configuration probably represents the minimum
capability necessary to perform an asteroid mission. Several additional mission opportunities to larger asteroids would be feasible for an upgraded spacecraft with a larger propulsion system. Desire for enhanced capabilities, such as a larger crew size and improved extravehicular activity (EVA) support may drive the need for a larger spacecraft. One of the two Orion spacecraft could be modified into an Orion Deep Space Vehicle with a larger habitat module suited for deep space operations rather than reentry.
By sending astronauts to explore these asteroids and bring back samples for study on Earth, we can learn about the formation and evolution of our solar system. We can improve our understanding of the threat to our planet from asteroid impacts, develop the practical knowledge needed to protect ourselves if necessary and even test this capability. We could also assess the feasibility of harnessing asteroid resources for a growing human civilization. If performed prior to the next lunar landing, a mission like Plymouth Rock can support lunar exploration plans by proving out the launch vehicles, spacecraft, and many of the operations for a lunar mission before the lunar lander is ready, much as the Apollo 8 mission did in 1968. A mission to an asteroid would also be valuable practice for a trip to Mars. Progressively more challenging asteroid missions provide an opportunity to incrementally develop expertise needed for long missions in deep space, without the leap in cost, complexity, duration, distance, and radiation exposure required for a Mars mission.

Of course theres a bit of a problem with all this, the Orion spacecraft does not exist and is no longer supported by the Obama administration.;
Note: Trent Waddington blogs regularly on asteroid missions and is worth following.

Origins – Where Are All the Aliens?

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present the third episode of the highly acclaimed PBS documentary series “Origins” hosted and presented by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The third installment of this series is entitled “Where are all the Aliens?” and focuses on the possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe.

Is the Earth unique and the only world in this vast Cosmos where matter has evolved into life and self awareness?

Origins is a spectacular four-part miniseries, first presented on PBS’s Nova, about the beginnings of the universe, our solar system, life on Earth, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life on other planets.

Origins Part 3 – Where Are All the Aliens?

Origins – How Life Began

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present the second episode of the highly acclaimed PBS documentary series “Origins” hosted and presented by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Origins is a spectacular four-part miniseries, first presented on PBS’s Nova, about the beginnings of the universe, our solar system, life on Earth, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life on other planets.

The second installment of this series is entitled “How Life Began” and focuses on the mystery of how life came into being.

In today’s episode we join the hunt for hardy microbes that flourish in the most unlikely places in the quest to unravel the mystery of life’s origins.

Inside rocks in a mine shaft two miles down, inside a cave dripping with acid as strong as a car battery’s, and in noxious gas bubbles erupting from the Pacific ocean floor. The survival of these tough microorganisms suggests they may be related to the planet’s first primitive life forms. Tyson deepens the search by investigating tantalizing and controversial chemical “signatures” of life inside three-billion-year-old rocks and meteorites found around the world.

Origins is a spectacular four-part miniseries, first presented on PBS’s Nova, about the beginnings of the universe, our solar system, life on Earth, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life on other planets. It is not a stretch to say that Origins, among all television documentaries about the evolving cosmos, offers the most breathtaking dramatic visual representation of Earth’s tumultuous history, and the clearest, step-by-step explanation of the formation of planets, the development of water and living organisms, and the forces that shape other parts of our galaxy and beyond.

Origins Part 2 – How Life Began

The Seabreacher

Here’s a new way to explore Aquatica. I want one!

More here.

Its getting crowded out there

Have a look at this video. It shows all the new asteroids discovered since 1980. 

From Youtube:View of the solar system showing the locations of all the asteroids starting in 1980, as asteroids are discovered they are added to the map and highlighted white so you can pick out the new ones.
The final colour of an asteroids indicates how closely it comes to the inner solar system.
Earth Crossers are Red
Earth Approachers (Perihelion less than 1.3AU) are Yellow
All Others are Green

Notice now the pattern of discovery follows the Earth around its orbit, most discoveries are made in the region directly opposite the Sun. You’ll also notice some clusters of discoveries on the line between Earth and Jupiter, these are the result of surveys looking for Jovian moons. Similar clusters of discoveries can be tied to the other outer planets, but those are not visible in this video.

As the video moves into the mid 1990’s we see much higher discovery rates as automated sky scanning systems come online. Most of the surveys are imaging the sky directly opposite the sun and you’ll see a region of high discovery rates aligned in this manner.

At the beginning of 2010 a new discovery pattern becomes evident, with discovery zones in a line perpendicular to the Sun-Earth vector. These new observations are the result of the WISE (Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer) which is a space mission that’s tasked with imaging the entire sky in infrared wavelengths.

Currently we have observed over half a million minor planets, and the discovery rates snow no sign that we’re running out of undiscovered objects.

Orbital elements were taken from the ‘astorb.dat’ data created by Ted Bowell and associates at

NOVA: Welcome to Mars

Today on Discovery Enterprise we take an astounding look at the red planet in this interplanetary adventure that picks up where the acclaimed NOVA documentary MARS Dead or Alive left off.

On behalf of Nova and all of us at Discovery Enterprise, dear readers, we welcome all of you to join us on a mission of discovery to the planet Mars.

NOVA: Welcome to Mars