NASA recently released a new prototype spacesuit for future Martian exploration. The Z-2 design can effectively “dock” with a Mars rover or with some sort of habitation placed on the surface. A little like this:
A major advantage of this sort of design is that you can keep the Martian dirt on the outside and never track it through an airlock.
Of course, this design will likely go through many more iterations in the next two decades leading up to launch. If you want to get involved, NASA is looking for new astronauts! The job application opens in December, 2015. You need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in Science, Engineering, or Math with a few years of experience in those fields. Best of luck!
Wanderers is a beautiful short film by Erik Wernquist. The visuals depict humanity’s future expansion into the Solar System replete with colonies on Mars, astronauts floating through Saturn’s rings, and humans hiking across Europa’s frozen oceans. Erik’s renderings are stunning. As Phil Plait pointed out at Slate:
“Nothing in there is impossible; no faster than light travel, no wormholes. Even the space elevator shown towering over Mars and the huge cylindrical rotating colony in space (did you notice the Red Sea in it?) are problems in engineering, not physics. We can build them.”
Humanity has an exciting future ahead. I hope our species can work toward this reality.
“Riding Light” is a new, beautiful animation by Alphonse Swinehart. In the 45-minute journey, you will travel with light on its way from the Sun to Jupiter. I love videos like this because they really help me gain a better appreciation for the scale of our Universe. If you watch light travel from Earth to Mars, for example, you will realize how difficult it will be to successfully complete a manned exploration mission to the red planet. There’s just so much emptiness between the planetary masses…
A word from the creators:
“In our terrestrial view of things, the speed of light seems incredibly fast. But as soon as you view it against the vast distances of the universe, it’s unfortunately very slow. This animation illustrates, in realtime, the journey of a photon of light emitted from the surface of the sun and traveling across a portion of the solar system, from a human perspective.
I’ve taken liberties with certain things like the alignment of planets and asteroids, as well as ignoring the laws of relativity concerning what a photon actually “sees” or how time is experienced at the speed of light, but overall I’ve kept the size and distances of all the objects as accurate as possible. I also decided to end the animation just past Jupiter as I wanted to keep the running length below an hour.
Hydrolab Training, I.S.S., Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center [GCTC], Star City, Zvyozdny gorodok, Russia, 2007.
Class Room, Arianespace, Guiana Space Center [CGS], Kourou, French Guiana, 200
“The Space Project” is an incredible series of photographs by Vincent Fournier, who hails from the little known country of Burkina Faso in West Africa. Vincent traveled around the world to capture space training facilities which were left mostly in a state of abandonment. You may have noticed that most countries seem to have shifted their interests away from manned space programs in recent years. After the lunar landing on July 20th, 1969, we just haven’t collectively wanted to exhaust the resources need to journey to Mars and beyond…
These photographs capture some of the beautifully faded glory of space programs around the world. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Apollo Control Room, John F. Kennedy Space Center [NASA], Florida, U.S.A., 2011.
Ergol #4, S1B clean room, Arianespace, Guiana Space Center [CGS], Kourou, French Guiana, 2011
Space Helmet, Extravehicular Visor Assembly, John F. Kennedy Space Center [NASA], Florida, U.S.A., 2011
Mars Desert Research Station #2 [MDRS], Mars Society, San Rafael Swell, Utah, U.S.A., 2008
Mars Desert Research Station #1 [MDRS], Mars Society, San Rafael Swell, Utah, U.S.A., 2008
Plateau de Bure Observatory #3 [IRAM], Grenoble, F 78 French Alps, 2006
There are many more gems from “The Space Project” that you can find at Vincent’s website, here. I think he may be my new favorite photographer. If you are in Amsterdam before October 31st, definitely check it out.
One of the most interesting findings to emerge from this data set is that the oldest geological region of Mars (~4 billion years, brown color region) is 3 times larger than originally suspected. In addition, the data backs up recent research which demonstrates that Mars was a geologically active planet until recently. But what does the word “recently” really mean in terms of planetary science? Well, many scientists believe that Mars was last active approximately 10 million years ago, which was before the common ancestor of the chimpanzee and the human split (~6 million years ago). But that’s still just a small time period for the history of the planet.
The reason we care about geological activity is that active planets are believed to provide richly chaotic environments necessary for life to develop. Gaining a better understanding of Mars will give us a clearer picture of what to expect elsewhere in the Universe.
For a more detailed view at the map above, please visit the USGS site.
Dava Newman, an Aeronautics researcher at MIT, has been working on a revolutionary new spacesuit for more than decade, and she recently showed off her progress at the TEDWomen session last month. The crux of the design is a new way to deliver pressure that the human body desperately needs to survive the vacuum of space. A traditional astronaut spacesuit creates a rigid pressurized vessel which is bulky and cumbersome. In contrast, Newman’s BioSuit employs semi-rigid ribs traced across the body to provide mechanical counter-pressure while letting the wearer retain a full range of movement. It sounds a bit like a suit that give you a light hug all around your body.
If we plan to go to Mars and beyond, a new, more maneuverable spacesuit will likely be essential. If you’ve ever seen a recorded spacewalk, you can get a sense of just how difficult it is to do the simplest tasks in space. This new design has the potential to completely change the game.
Unfortunately, Newman hasn’t received NASA funding for the project since 2005. She recently told Boston Magazine that “without funding, we are sort of working on this one student at a time. We have a pretty extensive plan to get to a flight system for the BioSuit, and, if that were in place and funded, in two years of full-on work, we could be ready.”
Hopefully, someone can give her some $$$ to move this project along.