Sunday, October 31, 2010

Is NASA Covering Up 100 Year Starship?


Is NASA Covering Up the 100-Year Starship?
By John Brandon
Published October 29, 2010 |
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NASA appears to be debating a way to permanently colonize another planet, boldly going where no one has ever gone -- and where no one could come back, some fear.
A NASA official may have made a 35-million-mile slip of the tongue.

The director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California casually let slip mention of the 100-Year Starship recently, a new program funded by the super-secret government agency, DARPA. In a talk at San Francisco's Long Conversation conference, Simon “Pete” Worden said DARPA has $1M to spend, plus another $100,000 from NASA itself, for the program, which will initially develop a new kind of propulsion engine that will take us to Mars or beyond.

There's only one problem: The astronauts won't come back.

The 100-year ship would leave Earth with the intention of colonizing a planet, but it would likely be a one-way trip because of the time it takes to travel 35 million miles. That’s a daunting prospect, partly because of the ethical dilemma, and partly because it may be the only recourse.

"What psychological challenges should we anticipate in those who volunteer in good faith and with great courage, yet find themselves confronting misgivings or loneliness or feelings of rage or beset with mental illness?" asked Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team.

A NASA spacecraft has been beaming to Earth incredibly detailed pictures of the surface of Mars. And the beautiful colors and rich textures of the red planet will shock you.
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There's one other bizarre aspect to the plan: Humans would have to be “adapted” to the alien world, Worden said, instead of figuring out a way to make the planet more hospitable to them.

“The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds,” Worden said during his talk. “Twenty years ago you whispered that in dark bars and got fired.” (Worden actually was fired, he confessed during the talk, under the Bush administration.)

Since that revelation, hundreds of news reports about the program have theorized that the substantial budget indicates the Hundred Year Starship is a dramatic shift for the stalled space program, not just a research project; others suggest it is a serious attempt to find a way to Mars. And NASA? The space agency seems to be dodging all questions. first contacted NASA’s Ames Research Center last week and scheduled a call with Worden for Monday. The call was postponed to Wednesday. Late Wednesday the space agency postponed again, before finally canceling the interview, citing Worden’s busy schedule.

After a week and a half, DARPA issued a press release announcing the program -- but conveying no more information than in Worden's initial speech.

But what is the Hundred Year Starship? Some experts argue that any program that suggests putting humans into space for their entire life, or for multiple generations, is doomed from the start, since many people react negatively to the idea of leaving the planet and never returning. Others are more supportive, saying it is the only way to settle a space colony.

New exploration
Speculation about colonization takes many forms, and some of the freshest ideas sound a bit peculiar. Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies, who wrote in the Journal of Cosmology recently, suggest sending four astronauts on a one-way mission who “establish their presence” and do not come back. The suggestion is to send supplies to them occasionally, but the risks are similar to what Columbus undertook to explore the new world. (That analogy is a bit suspect, however: Columbus was most famous for actually returning.)

Les Johnson, a well-respected science author, spoke to and agreed with the plan: a one-way, hundred-year mission may be the only way to get to Mars or other planets.

The main issue has to do with a basic physics conundrum. In order to travel the great distance to Mars (about 35 million miles), a starship would need a tremendous amount of fuel. Yet fuel adds more weight -- in fact, every pound you add to a ship requires 4 pounds of fuel. The more fuel you add, the more you need simply to move the ship's bulk, making it impossible to go one-way to Mars, much less roundtrip.

Johnson said the only solution is a longer mission using some form of propulsion that has not even been invented yet, or is still untested. One is a massive solar sail, which captures energy from the sun. Another is a fusion reactor that generates power without any on-board fuel.

Dr. Chris DePree, who heads the Bradley Observatory, also helped fill in some gaps on a 100-year mission to another planet. “It seems like the only realistic way forward, if we really want to colonize the solar system, is to have one-way trips,” DePree told “It might be that technology improves, and the grandchildren of those first Martian colonists return to Earth.”

He also explained what “adapting humans” means: The suggestion sounds absurd, but science may actually have more luck developing new breathing apparatuses or using chemical injections to make humans able to live on a foreign world than developing technology for "terraforming" a planet.

As to the question of a one-way mission, DePree says the idea is not as hush-hush as you might expect. NASA doesn't intend for a suicide mission, he said, but rather is debating the idea that an astronaut may live out his or her natural life on another planet and never return to Earth. Johnson said there are astronauts who have already volunteered for one-way missions before, and it's not a ludicrous proposition.

Swirling controversy
Even with these explanations, there is still wild speculation about the program. Worden mentioned the idea of working with third-parties to help fund future missions. He said Larry Page, the Google founder, asked how much it would cost to fund the mission (the answer: about $10 billion). This begs the question: is NASA ready to leverage its work by enlisting private enterprises?

Some scientists have wondered how the 100-Year Starship would deal with the effects of long-term space travel. Johnson said that even after spending a few months in space, the wear and tear starts to show -- astronauts who have visited the Space Station often cannot walk for a few days. Johnson said muscle mass starts to decline and bone density decreases after prolonged periods in outer space.

Short of an official news release, one that spells out exactly how the starship program will proceed, many assume that the program is just in an early stage. Johnson said the funding level of just $1.1M sounds like it is simply for research.

Worden may have slipped by revealing the program, but -- as evidenced by NASA’s lack of cooperation -- it may be too early for any new revelations.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Oceans Of Ancient Mars May Have Sprung From Slow Leaks

Oceans of Ancient Mars May Have Sprung From Slow Leaks
By Charles Q. Choi Contributor
posted: 28 October 2010
07:49 am ET
The seas and lakes thought to have filled the basins of ancient Mars could have emerged from cracks in the ground, scientists now suggest.

Although Mars is cold and dry today, water is thought to have covered much of the Red Planet in the distant past. This could explain, for instance, why the northern lowlands hold extensive sedimentary deposits that resemble those seen in the abyssal plains of Earth's ocean floors.

The origin of these deposits is controversial. One theory suggests ancient Mars' oceans formed after huge volumes of water and sediment were suddenly released from zones of collapsed crust known as chaotic terrains. However, these zones of collapse are rare on Mars on the whole, while the plains deposits are widespread.

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A new study suggests this water emerged from aquifers, through extensive and widespread fractures in the floors of continent-scale Martian basins. Frequent, long-lived discharges of groundwater would lead to the development of river systems and cause large-scale regional erosion, sedimentary deposits and water ponding, the research scientists say.

"In addition, our model indicates this could have happened at any point in the planet's history," said J. Alexis Palmero Rodriguez at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz. "There could have been many oceans on Mars over time."

Evidence in the Red Planet's northern plains south of Gemini Scopuli in Planum Boreum suggests that it was not massive, sudden outflows of water that formed the oceans, Rodriguez said. Instead, water seeped up from underground over time, and "areas of the northern plains ultimately collapsed, creating the rough hilly surfaces we see today," he said.

"Some plateaus may have avoided this fate and preserved sedimentary plains containing an immense record of hydrologic activity," Rodriguez added. "The geologic record in the collapsed hilly regions would have been jumbled and largely lost."

These new findings could shed light on the nature of any seas that once covered Mars. It remains uncertain, for instance, whether they would have been warm or cold.

Also, if life existed underground on Mars, these discharges of water could have brought it up to the surface. Organisms and their fossils may therefore be preserved within some of these sedimentary deposits, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez and his colleagues will detail their findings in the November issue of the journal Icarus.

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A One Way Ticket To Mars

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Opinion · Cosmos Magazine
One way ticket to Mars
Issue 31 of Cosmos, February 2010
by Paul Davies

There's no shortage of people eager to take the next giant leap and make the long and hazardous journey to Mars, even if it's a one-way mission.

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Future generations might live in the cities and suburbs of Mars.
Credit: Jamie Tufrey/COSMOS

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NEIL ARMSTRONG'S first small step was widely believed to be the start of a long and glorious road to the stars. But 40 years after the first Moon landing, the dream has faded. Astronauts have been stuck in low-Earth orbit, boldly going nowhere.

American attempts to kick-start a new phase of lunar exploration have stalled amid the realisation that NASA's budget is too small for the job. A U.S. committee concluded that "no plan compatible with the … 2010 budget profile permits human exploration to continue in any meaningful way."

Clearly, some creative thinking is needed. Returning to the Moon may be worthy and attainable, but it fails to capture the public's imagination. What does get people excited is the prospect of a mission to Mars. The lure of the Red Planet lies in its Earth-like conditions and the prospect of some form of life.

Unfortunately, existing plans are too expensive and will remain unrealistic for decades. But there is a way to put humans on Mars with foreseeable technology and at a fraction of the cost.

FIVE YEARS AGO I proposed that a handful of astronauts be sent on a one-way journey to Mars. Not a suicide mission, mind you. With its protective atmosphere, accessible water and carbon dioxide, and significant amounts of methane, Mars is one of the few places in the Solar System that could support a human colony.

By eliminating the need to transport heavy fuel and equipment for the return journey, costs could be slashed by 80% or more. Supplies and a power source would be sent on ahead, and only when everything is functional would astronauts be dispatched. Other essentials could be re-supplied from Earth every two years.

Yes, the mission would be highly risky; but so is round-the-world ballooning and mountaineering. The ideal astronauts would be scientists and engineers who could continue to do excellent science while serving as trailblazers for the colonisation of a new planet.

Eventually, more would join. After a century or two, the colony would be self-sustaining.

The first 'Martians' would have to accept reduced life expectancy due to radiation, lack of advanced medical resources and lower gravity. Our ancestors accepted such a bargain when we abandoned nomadic life and settled down to farming: lifespans shrank as infectious diseases became more prevalent. In any case, returning to Earth entails similar hazards, and since the most dangerous parts of space exploration are take-off and landing, cutting out the return halves the risk.

The response to my suggestion has nearly always been positive, despite the persistent myth that nobody would volunteer to go. In fact, I have found no shortage of eager scientists, young and old, who say they would accept a one-way ticket.

Single page print view

Future generations might live in the cities and suburbs of Mars.
Credit: Jamie Tufrey/COSMOS

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WHILE IT MAKES SENSE, it leaves us with the key question: why? A permanent base on Mars would have a number of advantages beyond being a bonanza for science. If, as some evidence suggests, exotic micro-organisms have arisen independently of terrestrial life, studying them could revolutionise biology, medicine and biotechnology.

Mars would also provide an excellent forward base for mining the Asteroid Belt and developing new industries. And a self-sustaining Mars colony would serve as a 'lifeboat' in the event of a global catastrophe on Earth. In coming centuries, our civilisation faces threats from comet and asteroid impacts, world wars, global pandemics and climatic upheavals, any of which could wipe out civilisation and possibly humanity.

An outpost on Mars would keep the flame of human culture alight even in the worst-case scenario.

Another motivation is political: no single nation has either the will or the resources to do it alone, but a consortium of nations could achieve it within 20 years. It would bring nations together, with the scientific and technological advances shared among them.

Creating a second home for humanity in the Solar System would be the greatest adventure our species has embarked on since walking out of Africa 100,000 years ago, and would provide a unifying influence unparalleled in history. It would cost a lot less than a war in the Middle East and deliver untold benefits to humanity.

Now is the time to put a one-way mission to Mars at the top of the space exploration agenda.

Trapped NASA Mars Rover Finds Evidence of Subsurface Water On Mars

NASA Trapped Mars Rover Finds Evidence of Subsurface Water

This mosaic of images shows the soil in front of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit after a series of short backward drives during attempts to extricate the rover from a sand trap in January and early February 2010. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University
› Full image and caption | › Larger image (labeled)

October 28, 2010

PASADENA, Calif. -- The ground where NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit became stuck last year holds evidence that water, perhaps as snow melt, trickled into the subsurface fairly recently and on a continuing basis.

Stratified soil layers with different compositions close to the surface led the rover science team to propose that thin films of water may have entered the ground from frost or snow. The seepage could have happened during cyclical climate changes in periods when Mars tilted farther on its axis. The water may have moved down into the sand, carrying soluble minerals deeper than less soluble ones. Spin-axis tilt varies over timescales of hundreds of thousands of years.

The relatively insoluble minerals near the surface include what is thought to be hematite, silica and gypsum. Ferric sulfates, which are more soluble, appear to have been dissolved and carried down by water. None of these minerals are exposed at the surface, which is covered by wind-blown sand and dust.

"The lack of exposures at the surface indicates the preferential dissolution of ferric sulfates must be a relatively recent and ongoing process since wind has been systematically stripping soil and altering landscapes in the region Spirit has been examining," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, deputy principal investigator for the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Analysis of these findings appears in a report in the Journal of Geophysical Research published by Arvidson and 36 co-authors about Spirit's operations from late 2007 until just before the rover stopped communicating in March.

The twin Mars rovers finished their three-month prime missions in April 2004, then kept exploring in bonus missions. One of Spirit's six wheels quit working in 2006.

In April 2009, Spirit's left wheels broke through a crust at a site called "Troy" and churned into soft sand. A second wheel stopped working seven months later. Spirit could not obtain a position slanting its solar panels toward the sun for the winter, as it had for previous winters. Engineers anticipated it would enter a low-power, silent hibernation mode, and the rover stopped communicating March 22. Spring begins next month at Spirit's site, and NASA is using the Deep Space Network and the Mars Odyssey orbiter to listen if the rover reawakens.

Researchers took advantage of Spirit's months at Troy last year to examine in great detail soil layers the wheels had exposed, and also neighboring surfaces. Spirit made 13 inches of progress in its last 10 backward drives before energy levels fell too low for further driving in February. Those drives exposed a new area of soil for possible examination if Spirit does awaken and its robotic arm is still usable.

"With insufficient solar energy during the winter, Spirit goes into a deep-sleep hibernation mode where all rover systems are turned off, including the radio and survival heaters," said John Callas, project manager for Spirit and Opportunity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "All available solar array energy goes into charging the batteries and keeping the mission clock running."

The rover is expected to have experienced temperatures colder than it has ever before, and it may not survive. If Spirit does get back to work, the top priority is a multi-month study that can be done without driving the rover. The study would measure the rotation of Mars through the Doppler signature of the stationary rover's radio signal with enough precision to gain new information about the planet's core. The rover Opportunity has been making steady progress toward a large crater, Endeavour, which is now approximately 8 kilometers (5 miles) away.

Spirit, Opportunity, and other NASA Mars missions have found evidence of wet Martian environments billions of years ago that were possibly favorable for life. The Phoenix Mars Lander in 2008 and observations by orbiters since 2002 have identified buried layers of water ice at high and middle latitudes and frozen water in polar ice caps. These newest Spirit findings contribute to an accumulating set of clues that Mars may still have small amounts of liquid water at some periods during ongoing climate cycles.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the rovers for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

More information about the rovers is online at:

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Wet Run for a Dry Planet: NASA Tests Drilling Technology in the Desert with Mars Sample Return in Mind [Slide Show]: Scientific American

A Wet Run for a Dry Planet: NASA Tests Drilling Technology in the Desert with Mars Sample Return in Mind [Slide Show]: Scientific American

Cosmic Log - China lays out its plan for Mars

Cosmic Log - China lays out its plan for Mars

Suddenly, Lots of Talk About One-Way Missions to Space - Tech Talk - CBS News

Suddenly, Lots of Talk About One-Way Missions to Space - Tech Talk - CBS News

KUSI News Weather Sports San Diego - A One-Way Ticket to the Red Planet

KUSI News Weather Sports San Diego - A One-Way Ticket to the Red Planet

Can Starships Survive the Journey? : Discovery News

Can Starships Survive the Journey? : Discovery News

Underground aquifers formed Martian lakes

Underground aquifers formed Martian lakes

YouTube - NASAtelevision's Channel

YouTube - NASAtelevision's Channel

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Inside the Soviets’ Secret Failed Moon Program | Wired Science |

Inside the Soviets’ Secret Failed Moon Program | Wired Science |

The Houghton Mars Project-A Great Video

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"Outcasts" (2010) - Plot Summary

"Outcasts" (2010) - Plot Summary

Public Can Watch Wheels Go On New Mars Rover

Public can watch wheels go on new Mars rover

Posted: 10/23/2010 07:12:19 AM PDT

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE - A newly installed webcam is giving the public an opportunity to watch technicians assemble and test the next NASA Mars rover, one of the most technologically challenging interplanetary missions ever designed.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, also known as the Curiosity rover, is in a clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

The video will be supplemented periodically by live web chats featuring Curiosity team members answering questions about the rover. Currently, work in the clean room begins at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Clean room technicians have been busy adding new avionics and instruments to the rover. Beginning Friday, viewers will see technicians carefully add the rover's suspension system and its six wheels. On Monday, the rover's 7-foot-long robotic arm will be carefully lifted and attached to the front of the rover.

The rover and spacecraft components will ship to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida next spring. The launch will occur between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18, 2011.

Curiosity will arrive on Mars in August 2012.

Curiosity is engineered to drive longer distances over rougher terrain than previous rovers, with a science payload 10 times the mass of instruments on NASA's Spirit and Opportunity.

Continuous live video of rover construction is available at:

Read more:

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Constellation Program Is Dear But Pieces Live

Constellation Is Dead, But Pieces Live On

Oct 22, 2010

By Frank Morring, Jr.

Passage of legislation authorizing NASA spending for the next three years means the agency’s Constellation Program of back-to-the-Moon spacecraft developments is officially over, but some of its work will continue as the agency shifts its focus to sending humans to an asteroid.

Doug Cooke, associate administrator for exploration systems, told the Space Transportation Association at a Washington breakfast Oct. 22 that NASA will go ahead with the first test early next year of a complete J-2X upper-stage rocket engine developed for the terminated Ares I crew launch vehicle.

Work also is continuing on five-segment solid-fuel rocket motors originally intended as the Ares I first stage, but now, like the J-2X, as a possible component of the new heavy-lift rocket ordered in the authorization law.

“The bill is now law, so the truth is at this point we’re not going to continue with the Constellation Program as it has been, and we’re going to move in this new direction,” Cooke says, noting that new congressional guidance may emerge as lawmakers tackle appropriations legislation after the midterm elections Nov. 2.

Previously NASA was bound by its old appropriations language to continue the Constellation Program it had funded, and expressly forbidden from spending money on the Obama administration’s new approach to human space exploration. Now the agency is moving ahead on a path that will bypass the Moon in favor of sending humans to an asteroid, Cooke says, using a government-built heavy-lift rocket with an initial capability of about 100 metric tons to get the necessary hardware to the target from a jumping-off point in high Earth orbit or a lunar Lagrange point.

A notional asteroid mission would require on the order of 300 days, according to study data Cooke presented, in a spacecraft based on Constellation’s Orion crew exploration vehicle that is also mandated by Congress. Solar-electric propulsion currently is the favored route to the Earth-departure point, Cooke says, and there is a lot of engineering and scientific work to be done on how to approach and interact with a low-gravity body like an asteroid.

“These objects are actually excellent stepping-stones for long-duration missions in space,” Cooke says. “The capabilities that we need to implement it will help us get to cislunar space, Lagrange points, the Moon, Mars’ moons, as well as Mars itself.”

For most human trips to and from space, NASA will continue to pursue the administration’s new plan to shift to commercial crew vehicles for access to the International Space Station and any other destinations in low Earth orbit that are developed. To that end, Cooke says, NASA will begin seeking proposals for a second round of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) effort started this year with stimulus-package funds.

Although the final figures for CCDev 2 will not be available until there is a Fiscal 2011 NASA appropriations bill, and formal agreements will not be signed until next spring, Cooke says the second round will probably involve more government funding than the $50 million used in Fiscal 2010. Those funds were used as seed money for two different crew vehicles, some life support and crew escape hardware and launcher health-monitoring gear, all of which was supplemented or exceeded by private funding.

Affordability will be a key factor as NASA refines the architecture it will pursue for deep-space exploration, Cooke says, starting with an industry workshop on the subject next week at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. Inadequate funding for Constellation led to the White House call for its termination after President Barack Obama took office, a shift Cooke concedes has been “challenging,” with more challenges to come.

“We’ll work through them,” says the 37-year NASA veteran. “We always have.”

Photo Credit: NASA

Friday, October 22, 2010

One Way Trip To Mars Could Kick Start Coloization

Yahoo! Buzz
Mars or Bust! One-Way Trip to the Red Planet Could Kick-start Colonization
By Denise Chow Staff Writer
posted: 21 October 2010
07:41 am ET
The vast plains of Mars may be the most promising place beyond Earth for human colonization, but is it enough for a one-way trip to the red planet? Two researchers seem to think so.

In an article published this month in the Journal of Cosmology, Earth scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch and physicist Paul Davies argue that a manned one-way mission to Mars would not only make economical sense, but would also mark the beginning of long-term human colonization of the planet.

The researchers contend that while a manned flight to Mars and back is technically feasible now, the steep financial and political costs make such a mission unlikely to launch anytime soon.

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And since the greatest portion of expenses will be incurred by the safe return of the crew and spacecraft to Earth, the authors conclude that a manned one-way mission to Mars would both cut costs and help initiate Martian colonization. [POLL: Would You Join a One-Way Trip to Mars?]

"We envision that Mars exploration would begin and proceed for a long time on the basis of outbound journeys only," said Schulze-Makuch, who is associate professor in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences Washington State University in Pullman. "One approach could be to send four astronauts initially, two on each of two spacecraft, each with a lander and sufficient supplies, to stake a single outpost on Mars. A one-way human mission to Mars would be the first step in establishing a permanent human presence on the planet."

On Oct. 11, President Barack Obama signed a major NASA act into law that outlines the agency's future in space exploration. The signing paves the way for a manned mission to an asteroid by 2025, with an expedition to Mars to follow sometime in the 2030s.

Next stop: Mars

A manned trip to Mars would take roughly six months using available launch options and current chemical rocket technology, according to the new study. The Red Planet has atmosphere, moderate surface gravity, abundant water and carbon dioxide, and range of essential minerals – making it an attractive target for potential human colonization.

But a one-way mission to Mars would be accompanied by obvious and undeniable risks. However, danger is often an inherent part of exploration, and has been throughout history, the researchers said.

"It would really be little different from the first white settlers of the North American continent, who left Europe with little expectation of return," said Davies, a cosmologist at from Arizona State University in Phoenix. "Explorers such as Columbus, Frobisher, Scott and Amundsen, while not embarking on their voyages with the intention of staying at their destination, nevertheless took huge personal risks to explore new lands, in the knowledge that there was a significant likelihood that they would perish in the attempt."

The scientists stress that such an expedition would not amount to a suicide mission, but would instead culminate in a series of missions over time, with an eye toward suffiently supporting long-term colonization.

The proposed project would begin with selecting an appropriate site for the Martian colony, ideally associated with a cave or other natural shelter, as well as other nearby resources, such as water, minerals and nutrients.

"Mars has natural and quite large lava caves, and some of them are located at a low elevation in close proximity to the former northern ocean, which means that they could harbor ice deposits inside similar to many ice-containing caves on Earth," Schulze-Makuch said. "Ice caves would go a long way to solving the needs of a settlement for water and oxygen. Mars has no ozone shield and no magnetospheric shielding, and ice caves would also provide shelter from ionizing and ultraviolet radiation."

Schulze-Makuch and Davies propose that the astronauts would periodically be supplied with basic necessities from Earth, but would otherwise be expected to become increasingly proficient at harvesting and utilizing the resources available on the foreign planet. The researchers envision that the settlement would eventually reach self-sufficiency, and could then serve as a hub for expanding human colonization.

A lab away from home

Schulze-Makuch and Davies suggest that by building a human presence on Mars, it not only provides humanity with a "lifeboat" in the event of a mega-catastrophe on Earth, but would also be a unique platform for further scientific research.

Astrobiologists agree that there is a fair probability that Mars hosts, or once hosted, microbial life, perhaps deep beneath the surface, and Davies and Schulze-Makuch suggest that a scientific facility on Mars might therefore be a rare opportunity to study an alien life form and a second evolutionary record.

"Mars also conceals a wealth of geological and astronomical data that is almost impossible to access from Earth using robotic probes," the researchers said in their report. "A permanent human presence on Mars would open the way to comparative planetology on a scale unimagined by any former generation... A Mars base would offer a springboard for human/robotic exploration of the outer solar system and the asteroid belt. And establishing a permanent multicultural and multinational human presence on another world would have major beneficial political and social implications for Earth, and serve as a strong unifying and uplifting theme for all humanity."

But would anyone actually want to sign up for a one-way ticket to Mars? Apparently so.

"Informal surveys conducted after lectures and conference presentations on our proposal, have repeatedly shown that many people are willing to volunteer for a one-way mission, both for reasons of scientific curiosity and in a spirit of adventure and human destiny," the researchers said.

POLL: Would You Join a One-Way Trip to Mars?
Video Show – What Went Wrong on Mars
Photos: Mars Bases of the Future

Mars Society Convention on USTREAM: 10th European Mars Society Convention.

Mars Society Convention on USTREAM: 10th European Mars Society Convention.

NASA and DARPA Plan ‘Hundred-Year Starship’ To Bring Humans to Other Worlds And Leave Them There Forever | Popular Science

NASA and DARPA Plan ‘Hundred-Year Starship’ To Bring Humans to Other Worlds And Leave Them There Forever | Popular Science

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Colonizing Mars-The Journal Of Cosmology

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Russia Plans To Send A Monkey To Mars

Monkey to be sent to Mars
A monkey may be sent to Mars, under plans unveiled by Russian scientists.

By Urmee Khan
Published: 9:51AM GMT 22 Dec 2009

A test monkey strapped inside its seat of a Russian space satellite after landing in Kazakhstan in 1997 Photo: EPA
Although the ape will be looked after by a robot on the mission, the decision is expected to spark controversy with animal rights groups.
The Russians first succeeded in putting monkeys into orbit in 1983.

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“We have plans to return to space,” said Zurab Mikvabia, director of the Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy in Georgia which supplied apes for the programme in the 1980s.
The Institute is in preliminary talks with Russia's Cosmonautics Academy about preparing monkeys for a simulated Mars mission that could lay the groundwork for sending an ape to the Red Planet, he said.
Such an initiative would build on Mars-500, a joint Russian-European project that saw six human volunteers confined in a capsule in Moscow for 120 days earlier this year to simulate a Mars mission.
Mr Mikvabia said: "Earlier this programme was aimed at sending cosmonauts, people (to Mars).
"But given the length of the flight to Mars, and given the cosmic rays for which we don't have adequate protection over such a long trip, discussions have focused recently on sending an ape instead of a person."
Estimates for the length of the journey to Mars vary depending on the type of mission envisioned, but the European Space Agency says its proposal for a round-trip mission would take 520 days, or about a year and a half.
If Russia pursues the idea of sending monkeys to Mars, Mikvabia's institute could become the site of an enclosed "biosphere" where apes would be kept for long periods to simulate space flights.
The Institute said a robot would accompany the first primate to Mars to feed and look after the ape.
Mr Mikvabia said: "The robot will feed the monkey, will clean up after it. Our task will be to teach the monkey to co-operate with the robot."
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Monkey relates HE DOESN'T WANT TO GO!!!!

Lee Mulder
12/25/2009 08:23 AM
They don't have to send a monkey, I would gladly take its place. Some humanitarian may call it suicide, I would call it the adventure of a lifetime and would risk my own for the opportunity with no regrets.

12/24/2009 04:40 PM
Only the unevolved whose hearts aren't functioning as opposed to the tireless cliche' "bleeding hearts" don't have a problem with this. Of course their hearts don't bleed; all they have is their head to evaluate anything.

More war, more guns, more nationalism, more fear. And more science that doesn't have a clue about the life we share the planet with.


12/24/2009 04:31 PM
This is so cruel ! Poor animals. Slaves in the hands of greed, selfish and ignorant human beings. The animals have feelings, they suffer, they fell fear, they are in this planet to live a free and social life with nature. Man is destroing everything and hurting every creature. What a terrible and sick planet that we live in. People that agree with this are out of their minds too. They have no compassion in their hearts.

12/24/2009 08:45 AM
ohwell its only monkeys its not like its a human

12/24/2009 07:24 AM
I am sure if they ask around they will get volunteers for a one-way trip to mars.

snow leopard
12/23/2009 10:47 PM
Chimpanzees as crash test!

The height of the space research program involving chimpanzees lasted from the early 1950s to the early 1960s. During that time, chimpanzees were used to test the forces of gravity, the effects of high-speed movement, and other conditions anticipated in space travel.

Strapped into small, pitch-dark metal capsules, they were spun, jettisoned, and catapulted on track courses and in decompression chambers. Some were killed, and others were severely maimed.

snow leopard -France- :(

12/23/2009 09:48 PM
Can't they send some of our politicians instead?

Gordon must be useful for something... surely?

12/23/2009 08:26 PM
Monkeys in outer-space!!

Protecting the freedom of the human race!!

Four Fingers on his Hand

spreading freedom across the land!

12/23/2009 06:51 PM
Obama on mars...awesome!

12/23/2009 06:23 PM
Absolutely disgusting. Other apes are living, feeling creatures as well, remarkably similar to humans in so many ways. Their emotional and intellectual levels are comparable to that of a child ie they will be as able to understand, fear and suffer as much as if a child were to be used in its place.

Strapped into place, completely isolated for well over a year. The fact that this is even being considered shows quite how disturbed the world has gotten, and i am horrified that anyone could defend such outright cruelty.

12/23/2009 05:38 PM
Morality and science don't mix. If scientists in this country had full access to stem cells instead of being held back because of moralist views, we would probably have a cure for cancer and AIDS by now. I praise the Russians for taking this bold first step with monkeys. If we hadn't sent monkeys into orbit in the 60's, we wouldn't have gotten our space program off the ground (pardon the pun). Besides, we are going to need a place to go when our planet self-destructs from earth changes. Start saving for a down payment on that condo an Mars now.

12/23/2009 05:31 PM
I'm not sure as to the gain at sending a monkey to mars anyway. What can a monkey do that a machine can't?

I thought the whole point of sending animals (humans) into space was to conduct things that machines can't do and of course for the sheer challenge and awe of sending people to these far away, inhospitable places.

12/23/2009 04:09 PM
A monkey is going to have his life changed for science. Big deal. That monkey is lucky. How many monkeys get to explore another planet?

12/23/2009 03:55 PM
Seriously!!! Humans are morally obligated to spare the monkeys. We are superior by the way, we are the ones building rocket ships and talking in over 100s of different languages, capable of moral decisions, capable of love, capable of more than survival and primate pack running. If you really feel that way about monkeys, please tell me your stance on ants, misquitos and roaches. They are alive too. I am amazed at how far we will go to protect cute and lovable pets, but how dysfunctional we are about science and using said animals to further all life, even the animals.

12/23/2009 03:52 PM
Denying animal torture!!!!

Those scientists should be strapped inside their seats and put into gas chamber!

Jimmy SawFinger
12/23/2009 03:52 PM
I fully support the Russians in their effort to send a monkey to Mars. If only we could send some dolphins too.

12/23/2009 03:51 PM
This is awesome! Go Russia! Bring on the space race, the sooner we get into space exploration again, the better!

What's the life of one monkey against the huge amount of information we can gather for the eventual human expedition to Mars? Cheap at twice the price.


12/23/2009 03:50 PM
I think perhaps they should send something symbolic of our intentions for mars - a monkey being the very first living thing sent from the earth to mars dials up to many conflicting emotions to be a meaningful symbolic gesture.

12/23/2009 03:50 PM

Send as many as you can! Retrieve as much information as you can!


Olrac from the Planet Issor
12/23/2009 03:25 PM
Uh... Please hire me, an American soiftware engineer, to be the one to write the disciplinary programs - tzzt! tzzt! tzzt! - into the robot's commands software in case a bored monkey over 520 days gets it in his/her head to woop out it's peepee and pull down its spacesuit to start peeing and smearing monkey poop all over a nice tidy capsule.

12/23/2009 03:24 PM
why are you sending tat poor thing there??? :(

u think it cant talk and u wnt be sued on court...

this is very bad...


12/23/2009 03:23 PM
I say LAD,that we send Mr. Putin and every member of Congress!! If we lose them,who the Hell cares !!!

Head Cheese
12/23/2009 03:17 PM
If these scientists are so smart then they should be able to create a robot with artificial intelligence to send on the mission instead of a monkey. A robot created by man with artificial intelligence should be more intelligent than a monkey....wouldn't you think?

12/23/2009 03:16 PM
Only the unevolved whose hearts aren't functioning as opposed to the tireless cliche' "bleeding hearts" don't have a problem with this. Of course their hearts don't bleed; all they have is their head to evaluate anything.

More war, more guns, more nationalism, more fear. And more science that doesn't have a clue about the life we share the planet with.
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Friday, October 15, 2010

Let's Build An Interplanetary Space Station!

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My wife suggested this. SHe is a doctor and not a space person.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Could A Mission To Mars Be Funded Commercially?

Could a Human Mars Mission Be Funded Commercially?
Posted in: Commercial Space, Mars, Space Exploration, Space Tourism by Nancy Atkinson (19 Comments »)

An artists illustration of a manned mission to Mars. Credit: NASA
What will it take to actually get humans to Mars? The best answer is probably money. The right amount of cold, hard cash will certainly solve a lot of problems and eliminate hurdles in sending a human mission to the Red Planet. But cash-strapped federal space agencies aren’t currently in the position to be able to direct a mission to another world – at least in the near term – and seemingly, a trip Mars is always 20-30 years off into the future. But how about a commercially funded effort?

At first glance, a paper published recently in the somewhat dubious Journal of Cosmology appears to have some merits on using an independent corporation to administer and supervise a marketing campaign – similar to what sports teams do to sell merchandise, gain sponsors, garner broadcasting rights and arrange licensing initiatives. The paper’s author, a psychologist named Dr. Rhawn Joseph, says that going to Mars and establishing a colony would likely cost $150 billion dollars over 10 years, and he lays out a plan for making money for a sustained Mars mission through the sale of merchandise, naming rights and even creating a reality TV show and selling property rights on Mars.

Could such a scheme work?

Not according to former NASA engineer Jim McLane, who has a fairly unique scheme of his own to get humans to Mars: a one-way, one person mission.

For years, McLane has been a proponent of getting humans to Mars as quickly as possible, and his plans for a one-way mission are outlined in a very popular article Universe Today published in 2008. So, what does he think of a commercially funded effort?

Artists impression of a future human mission to Mars. Credit: NASA
“I am a vocal proponent of an early settlement on Mars,” McLane replied to a query from UT, “ So I should have welcomed Dr. Joseph’s proposal to establish a colony in 10 years with private funds and clever marketing. Regrettably, after reading the details of his scheme I believe the good Doctor should stick to peddling his patented herbal sexual dysfunction treatment and refrain from speculating about technologically intensive endeavors like a trip to Mars.”

For starters, McLane wonders about the costs that Joseph proposes. “It’s questionable,” he said. “One cannot propose a cost without first devising a technical approach and he has not done that. He justifies the large investment by alleging that there will be significant financial returns, for example the investors might be able to claim the mineral wealth of the entire planet. However owning such an asset is of dubious value since there is no way to send anything valuable back to Earth.”

Unlike ancient Spanish treasure fleets loaded with silver that sailed every year from the New World, McLane said, nothing on planet Mars will ever be worth the expense of shipping it home. Plus, selling real estate on Mars might not even be a viable option. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits governments from making extraterrestrial property rights claims, and even though some especially ambitious entrepreneurs have tried selling real estate on the Moon and Mars, ownership of extraterrestrial real estate is not recognized by any authority. According to current space law, any “deed” or claim on another extraterrestrial body has no legal standing.

McLane was also not impressed with Joseph’s statement about the wastefulness of spending on the US military as a justification for spending money on a Mars mission. “It is not as if one program could be substituted for the other,” said McLane. “But, substitution is not what Dr. Joseph proposes. He feels inclined to speculate on the wastefulness of current wars even though this is an essay on Space.”

Some of the ideas Joseph outlined for marketing does have some validity, McLane said. “Long ago NASA should have realized that the image they cultivate of nerdy, ethically and sexually diverse astronauts does not inspire the tax payer nearly as much as the early astronauts who we expected to be risk taking, hell raising test pilots,” he said.

In respect to finances, McLane said he agrees with Joseph that there is a place for private capital, but not in regards to the venture capital proposal.

“Private money could jump start a manned Mars mission,” McLane said, “but persuading billionaires to invest based on some speculative financial return is doomed to fail. I believe rich folks might be willing to help pay to put a human on Mars, but the motivations would be philanthropy and patriotism, not financial gain. Several wealthy citizens might contribute seed money (say a quarter billion dollars or so) to finance a detailed study of the design options for a one way human mission – a concept that thus far NASA refuses to consider. Such a study would reveal the technical practicality of the one-way mission and the relative cheapness of the approach. The study would probably show that a human presence on Mars would cost little more than a human moon base assuming the same 10 year time span for accomplishing both programs.”

Dr. Joseph concludes his paper by asserting that several foreign countries “are already planning on making it to Mars in the next two decades.” McLane said this seems highly improbable since the funds spent today by these nations on manned spaceflight are a tiny fraction of what the US currently spends.

Artist concept of a future human Mars mission. Credit: NASA
While Joseph – and seemingly the current President and NASA leaders favor an international effort to get to Mars, McLane believes this is short-sighted for two reasons.

One, there would be enormous technological returns from a human Mars landing that would greatly stimulate business and the economy. “Why should the US share these large returns with foreign countries,” McLane asked? And second, an all American effort could potentially take advantage of classified US military technology.

McLane did say previously, however, that the world would be excited and unified by a mission to Mars. “The enthusiasm would be the greatest effect of a program that places a man on Mars, over and above anything else, whether it makes jobs, or stimulates the economy, or creates technology spinoffs. We’re all humans and the idea of sending one of our kind on a trip like that would be a wonderful adventure for the entire world. The whole world would get behind it.”

McLane has written a recent article in The Space Review that Mars it he key to NASA’s future.


Tags: Commercial Space, Mars, Space Exploration
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October 7th, 2010 at 11:17 am
Great story Nancy. I’d already glanced at a few the articles in that “journal” and found their “peer-review” process woefully lacking (see: I hadn’t had time to look over more, so it’s nice to see that my first impressions weren’t far from the mark.
October 7th, 2010 at 11:35 am
Who’s to say what minerals and chemical compounds are yet to be found on Mars? OR what quantity of Nickel Iron meteorites lay on the surface? (Dirigible borne magnetometers anyone?)
October 7th, 2010 at 12:11 pm
The cost creep would push this at least 10 times the cost estimate here. Private companies are not going to invest in this, period. The only prospect I see for private investment in a large space venture is with solar power satellites.
As for this “Journal of Cosmology,” I’d say it looks a bit dodgy. However, people who do actually know something can in effect take it over. If higher quality papes are published there it might tend to raise the standards.
October 7th, 2010 at 12:28 pm
I’m pretty much convinced that we will never reach Mars in my lifetime. (I’m 31).
October 7th, 2010 at 12:41 pm
It’s too bad private companies won’t be able to do more. I’d love to see someone other than NASA putting people in space.
A mission to Mars is the sort of thing that would rekindle people’s enthusiasm for space. Really, we haven’t been doing much that would get a normal person excited. But I was under the impression that returning to Luna first would be the most practical plan. Wouldn’t it be easier and less expensive to launch from the moon than from here? I figured Mars wouldn’t be quite so unreachable from the moon.
October 7th, 2010 at 12:55 pm
RE “Journal of Cosmology”
I came across this pub a year ago after seeing a paper appear on arXiv by R Schild and C Gibson describing their “theory” of hydro-gravitational-dynamics (HGD). Several others have also made their way there (Here’s a recent paper by Schild band Gibson: )
Although I’m sure these papers withstood the scrutiny of peer review for the journal, I found it interesting that Schild is the Ed in Chief and Gibson and frequent HGD co-contributor N Wickramsinghe are listed as Exec Editors of The Journal of Cosmology. With JofC and viXra around, how hard is it to get alt-science published, again?
October 7th, 2010 at 1:21 pm
I don’t see why Mr McLane assume that there will be nothing worth the expense of shipping it back home. Until we dig under Mars surface there is nothing sure and we could even find valuable things on its surface. Regarding the international efforts I think they are useless the first mover should take the best of it, this is why the outer space treaty is useless, it has been signed by lot of nations that are not even capable of building a plane so let’s be serious there. Some are still discussing in which direction they should slaughter animals .. I highly recommend this excellent article entitled “Still crazy after four decades: The case for withdrawing from the 1967 Outer Space Treaty”
The nation or the group of people coming there first, should establish permanent settlements to claim land sovereignty The “world” itself is not going to get behind this project for obvious different cultural, religious or ethical approaches . Those divisions on earth are a chance because it will create a real incentive for people to leave and to create a new civilisation based on their own moral and scientific principles. Of course the real problem is money, but I don’t think it would be a good thing to build a new kind of Babel Tower on Mars…
October 7th, 2010 at 2:06 pm
I looked at and I am not enough of a galaxy structure maven to say whether this paper really works. It does not look like complete crap though. Thsi journal seems to exist a bit in the “grey zone.”
October 7th, 2010 at 3:09 pm
“I’m pretty much convinced that we will never reach Mars in my lifetime. (I’m 31).”
I’m pretty much convinced that we WILL reach Mars (or Europa, etc.) in my lifetime and yours! (I’m 19)
October 7th, 2010 at 3:39 pm
No companies are going to invest in this. Companies might invest on LEO technology which is pretty guaranteed to have some profit but that is all it is.
October 7th, 2010 at 8:13 pm
I think we should first think about setting up shop on the moon . . . not only because it will help us learn more about what we need to know to live on mars, but also, it is much more commercially viable. The long-term gains would outweigh the lack of a near-future trip to Mars. Our probes are doing a fine job, so just how much extra science for the dollars spent would we get out of sending a human to Mars? I think we would get a much better bargain of science for $$$ by focusing on the Moon first.
October 7th, 2010 at 8:39 pm
One thing you can always count on is a corporation to get behind a timely return on investment. R&D is the biggest cost in any major endeavor like this and no company is going to put up their precious disposable incomes on high risk ventures. Thus this is not a timely ROE for them; and for that I am thankful.
It is also a bad idea to scrap the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. I know, I know… y’all hate me when ever I say this, but I frankly don’t really care. Someone has to voice the concern. Keeping tight reigns on the corporates has been a great idea and will continue to be a great idea. Even if corporations got the go ahead, and saw a benefit worthy of the R&D, and got a colony of their own set up, there is no way then to police them. The dubious comments of Dr. Rhawn Joseph should have raised the alarms I’ve been sounding all along. It will always be more about the money for them and less about the science and the adventure.
Let nations settle Mars first. Let nations establish rule of law there first. Then, and only then, should the corporates be tentatively allowed to enter the picture.
October 7th, 2010 at 9:23 pm
Too bad the myopic criminals running this country would rather give $800 Billion to criminal banksters than spend it on something good, like the space program.
That said, when and if we ever go to Mars in our present human bodies, we would do well to seek shelter underground, as Mars’ atmosphere is virtually nonexistent and allows full force any solar CME’s and other electrical particle storms to impinge the surface unmitigated. Meteors as well. The Martian surface is actually quite dangerous over the long term. Ten meters underground would solve many problems, and be worth the effort of construction.
In other news, we will actually need to exchange our present human body for ‘the download’, that electronic transfer of a person’s mental essence into say, a flashdrive, and couple that to a computer and a robotic body. Only then will humans be fully ready to go to the stars or other planets. The dozen or so problems of ‘high maintenance’ bodies being solved. Food, water, air, warmth, radiation, acceleration, excretion, bathing, exercise, bone loss, etc etc etc. too many problems and expenses of going in a human body to justify not doing the ‘download’ first. But we are a ways away from perfecting ‘the download’ at present ! Tho every month I read news articles about more and more aspects in which we are acheiving small steps toward that goal.
October 7th, 2010 at 11:28 pm
With the deadly radiation problem It will be a one way trip.
October 7th, 2010 at 11:47 pm
Lets be realistic.
Do we REALLY want to live on Mars?
If so, why don’t we move to Antarctica, or live in the Gobi dessert? Lets face it, few if any of us would move to these places. Both would be more friendly places to live then on Mars. Since such projects costs billions – if not trillions – the public must have a desire to fund such national projects. Living on Mars is a tough sell.
It’s obvious that the expenses involved are beyond the means of corporate sponsorship. Billions or trillions is the realm of government investments. I would argue even top economies could ill-afford such projects. An international effort may be the only way forward (sorry US).
Still. I do not see any logical reason for setting up a colony there. The place frankly sucks for living. Our robots provide a good bang for buck value. They also don’t require n extreme effort in galvanizing the minds of the public.
We want to send humans to Mars so we can claim the pride of an Apollo style mission. Otherwise such a trip seems like a bad investment on returns. McLane needs to move on too. No 1-way possible suicide mission isn’t going to inspire the public. If an Apollo style adventure is the only way to justify a Martian landing, then no need to go there again. Frankly, most people don’t even know that there were multiple lunar landings. A lot of people tuned out after the first one. This is sad, but the reality we must face up too. One trip is enough to satisfy our explorer needs.
Personally I feel we should stick to scientific research with probes. It’s a tough and unpopular stance with many space enthusiasts – but I feel it’s the high road on this one. One day when we are realistically able to consider missions to Earth-analogs then we might have a place were humans could live full lives.
Until such a time as when we can explore other Earths, we have imagination and science to keep us busy.
October 8th, 2010 at 5:06 am
Uncle Fred, I agree. Living on Mars would be a daunting task. There is also a low fault tolerance involved. A very small error or problem can result in death. Also this would not accomplish much. There is nothing, short of the unobtanium of the movie “Avatar,” on any planet which can economically recover the cost of getting there to mine it.
October 8th, 2010 at 5:54 am
Could a Human Mars Mission Be Funded Commercially?
Yes, but the resulting establishment on Mars will probably end up like a cross between scenes in Total Recall and Paint Your Wagon.
October 8th, 2010 at 11:18 am
Uncle Fred, people already live on Antarctica and the deserts.
October 9th, 2010 at 5:51 am
Lucky for humanity Uncle Fred, we don’t all share those views, if we did, we would still be in Africa trying to figure if walking would be good for us or if its safe to leave the trees.
That may be harsh but my hunger for seeing people on Mars is massive, I see it as more important than any other goal we can set for ourselves. You may argue that its cheaper to send 100 probes than 1 person to Mars, but that 1 person will do more 100 times more work than all those probes. It will get the public excited in ways a probe could never do, thus generating more funds for space exploration.
I have been to Antarctica and I loved it there, I can’t wait to get back, I miss not been there more than anything, I would permanently live there if I didn’t have other commitments.
Mars means excitement, adventure, exploration, the unknown, mineral riches and the hope of a new beginning for humanity.
Could a Human Mars Mission Be Funded Commercially?
Yes, and the investors could earn a fortune, and humanity could enrich itself.
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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Evidence Suggests Icebergs In Frigid Oceans On Ancient Mars

Yahoo! Buzz
New Evidence Suggests Icebergs in Frigid Oceans on Ancient Mars
By Charles Q. Choi Contributor
posted: 01 October 2010
08:41 am ET
Ancient Mars once had surprisingly frigid primeval oceans complete with their own icebergs, new evidence suggests.

There are currently two leading ideas for what the climate of ancient Mars might have been like.

One is that it was cold and dry, contending that valley networks and other geological features suggestive of liquid water in Mars' past were essentially results of bursts of heat confined in space and time, suggesting that Mars could not have sustained oceans. The other is that Mars was once warm and wet, implying that it could once have supported lakes, seas and rainfall for long periods.

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Now researchers have found evidence of icebergs on Mars, supporting a third idea of the Red Planet's ancient climate — that of a cold and wet Mars, governed by oceans or seas covered partly in ice, as well as glaciers and massive polar caps. [Photo evidence of past Mars icebergs.]

Boulder and craters

To peer into Mars' climatic past, scientists focused on the flat, smooth, featureless Martian lowlands, which some have equated to an ancient ocean basin.

However, images captured by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed the presence of boulders about 1.5-6.5 feet (0.5-2 meters) across, as well as chains of roughly one or two dozen craters measuring 330-1,300 feet (100-400 meters) wide scattered throughout the northern plains. Both these details are hard to reconcile with the notion of fine-grained sediments deposited on a deep ocean basin, and had been used to cast doubts on the concept of an ocean on Mars.

Now astrobiologist Alberto Fairen at the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center and his colleagues suggest the presence and distribution of these boulders and chains of craters could have been caused by rock fragments carried by icebergs, a common process on Earth.

They suggest glaciers in the highlands could have eroded the terrain, transporting rock within them and on their surfaces. Armadas of icebergs would have formed at the edges of glaciers as they melted and broke apart, which could then float thousands of miles on the ocean before they disappeared, depositing rock downward.

Also, on Earth, when icebergs scrape against the ocean floor, they can rain boulders down in clumps, which could explain boulder clusters up to about a mile (1.6 km) wide that scientists have seen on Mars. In addition, when icebergs roll along the sea floor on Earth, they can generate strings of dents, perhaps explaining the chains of craters seen on the Martian lowlands.

Seas or oceans

If there were icebergs, then there were open and sizable bodies of stable liquid water on the surface of Mars, Fairen said.

"The size of the water bodies may have ranged from several local seas to a single hemispheric ocean, and they may have been continuous in time or episodic," he told

Some might suggest that the scattered boulders were deposited by so-called periglacial processes, Fairen said — that is, processes that take place at the edges of glaciers. However, such processes cannot give a satisfactory explanation for the boulder clusters that HiRISE also saw, he noted.

Others have also suggested that the crater chains were formed by volcanic processes.

"But our analyses can discard this hypothesis, especially because all the craters within one chain are almost identical in shape and dimensions, and that's neither expected nor usual in a volcanic process, but is expected if all the craters in the chain are carved by the same iceberg," Fairen explained.

Fairen added that scour marks some 0.6 to 3 miles (1 to 5 km) long seen in the northern plains and Hellas Basin of Mars could be evidence of icebergs as well. These could have been carved by the keels of icebergs scraping against the ocean floor.

"The scours are the most clear evidence for icebergs that we are finding," he said.

Fairen and his colleagues detailed their findings at the 2010 Astrobiology Science Conference in April.

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posted 01 October 2010, 7:37 am ET
01speed21 wrote:
So bumps caused by boulders are suppose to have survived the receding of the oceans and millenia of erosion?
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posted 01 October 2010, 7:56 am ET
MartianSam1 wrote:
If this turns out to be true, that's really amazing - a block of ice millions of years ago floating in an ocean and melting would leave something that could be seen from orbit today.

I remember flipping over a rock in the desert and finding perfectly preserved centipede footprints from the Jurrasic period. The bug forgot the footprints but the sand never did. I love stuff like this. It's like finding little treasures in the attic that your grandparents left you.
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posted 01 October 2010, 8:09 am ET
Sehala wrote:
It's not unthinkable that these "bumps" could survive the oceans' receding and millenia of erosion. The craters were probably buried in sediment in the millenia following their formation, well before the oceans receded, and they were only uncovered recently (in geological terms) by millenia of winds eroding the sediment. Much in the same way that delicate fossils have survived for millenia on Earth only to be later uncovered by erosion.
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posted 01 October 2010, 9:34 am ET
rlb2 wrote:
Another factor is at the bottom of these glaciers today may be a film of water just like what happened on earth, see this new article on movements of glaciers.

That being said other worlds that have icy surfaces and past evidence of glaciers, in particular Mars would have similar effect. Therefore water at the bottom of these glaciers on other worlds could support subterranean microbial life no matter what the surface temperature or atmospheric temperature is, case in point Enceladus and Europa.....
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posted 01 October 2010, 10:10 am ET
GeoDude wrote:
These features would have been left in shallow water, so they likely would have been near the edge of an ocean or deposited near the end of the ocean's existence. The article makes it sound like they have know about these features for awhile. I'm surprised anyone with geologic training would doubt that these were made in the presence of water, one look at the photo and it was pretty obvious what was going on. Do they not have geologists looking at these photos? They are quoting an astrobiologist on glacial processes, what's going on here NASA? Do you need to hire some people who have actually had training in identifying these types of landforms and processes? Sounds like they need to hire a geologist who specializes in glacial processes.
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posted 01 October 2010, 11:15 am ET
gordon_flash wrote:
If the MSSS website is still up then a look at many of the hi-res photos reveals many glacial features, and some features that may be rock glaciers that are active today. There was also, about a year or two ago, a photograph of Mars released by the European orbiter showing what looked all the world like huge icebergs (dust covered) floating in a sea. I don't believe for a minute that the 'bergs were floating in a liquid at present, but I could easily imagine they did at some point in the past.

One cannot discount the photos released showing exhumed deltas, either. Deltas don't form overnight. It takes time for the distributary channels to develop and it takes time for them to tear themselves down so new ones can form.

So, the conclusions reached in the article aren't surprising. The question is: how wet and how cold?
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posted 01 October 2010, 1:49 pm ET
nubsyn wrote:
I hope the first manned mars mission includes geologist, archaeologist, and a microbiologist. It would be a waist to send just a pilot, engineer and a chef!
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posted 01 October 2010, 3:36 pm ET
Jim_LAX wrote:
nubsyn: Of the 4 or 5 people sent, most should be scientists as you suggest. They should also be cross-trained in pairs for certain critical skills such as 2 pilots, 2 medics and 2 with Mr Fixit skills for electronic and mechanical repairs. And maybe one person who lived through the 60's so they can tell us how groovey it is on Mars.
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posted 01 October 2010, 5:54 pm ET
LavaMan wrote:
Hello All!
This image is one I'm just a tad familiar with since I'm the volcanologist on the MRO HiRISE team. These features are actually the result of steam exploding through a lava flow. Hot lava flowed over ground that had either ice or water in it. The heat from the lava boiled the water and it escaped by punching through the flow. The cones are in long chains because the top of the lava flow was moving over the site where the steam was being generated. This is discussed in good detail in an article published in 2007. My colleagues and I used this very image in a paper published earlier this year. Most of you won't have free access to those publications, but you can get more info at (which discusses a nearby image) and which discusses this specific image. And we have also found that the frozen sea reported by HRSC in 2005 is actually a frozen sea of lava, not water. Hope that helps!
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posted 01 October 2010, 6:00 pm ET
bc wrote:
Lets just go there and look and see what it is all about...
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