Astronauts Could Mix Their Pee With Moon Dust to Build Lunar Bases

Photo credit: Aidan Monaghan/20th Century Fox

Researchers have made a 3D-printable building material by mixing urea and moon dust.

As NASA plans to return to the moon, scientists are looking for ways to protect and shelter astronauts.

The combined material is homogeneous in texture and can be piped into shape.

Was The Martian a documentary after all? In a new paper in the Journal of Cleaner Production, scientists looked at the ways space travelers might end up building structures on the moon, and one avenue they studied combines urea (from urine) with different materials to utilize urea’s unique chemical properties.

The researchers say this is a way to capitalize on what the moon already has, which is tons of rock, regolith (smaller rock particulate), and fine, silky lunar soil. By combining some distillate of urea from astronaut urine and the lunar silt, scientists have made a kind of geopolymer cement that can be piped using a 3D printer. In their experiments, they used a syringe to pipe the composite material in a similar way to a 3D printer.

Why urea? Well, once you decouple the ick factor, it’s a useful chemical. “Urea can break hydrogen bonds, and therefore reduces the viscosities of many aqueous mixtures. Since urea is the second most abundant component in urine (after water), it is readily available anywhere there are humans,” the researchers explain.

In the experiment, the scientists used powdered urea, which is available for purchase as a fertilizer, adhesive, and beauty additive. It’s also given to patients with very specific kidney problems and diseases. Humans naturally produce urea, of course, but it can also be derived from animals and plants.

Once blended with water, this liquid is combined with fine rock powder. We colloquially call all moon surface gravel regolith, but what this team used is technically more like lunar soil.

Photo credit: Journal of Cleaner Production
On Earth, we think of soil as something that’s often pretty damp and filled with organic material and microorganisms. Moon soil is simply rocks that have been ground down until they’re the consistency of dust—it’s just the pure mineral component, without the enlivening nutrients and living things that plants need.

This dry, lifeless dust is made almost exclusively by wind erosion. What results is more like plaster of Paris or Portland cement, ideal for mixing into a paste.

In their tests, the researchers found their piped urea mixture dried into a strong solid that they hope will be structural grade for things astronauts might need. They explain:

“Further studies are needed in order to assess how these lunar regolith geopolymers will behave under the severe lunar conditions, with a vacuum that can cause the volatile components to evaporate, and large temperature fluctuations which might cause crack formation.”

There are logistical and safety challenges, too. How could astronauts set up and shelter a 3D printing environment? Even if the material holds up to the extreme vacuum conditions on the moon’s surface, it’s not very useful if it can’t withstand meteor activity or shelter astronauts from powerful cosmic radiation. All of this is work for subsequent tests.

Caroline Delbert
Popular Mechanics

NASA’s Orion crew capsule is officially complete and ready to prep for its first Moon mission

orion done 1

NASA’s  50th anniversary celebrations weren’t limited to just remembrances of past achievements – the space agency also marked the day by confirming that the Orion crew capsule that will bring astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since the end of the Apollo program is ready for its first trip to lunar orbit, currently set for sometime after June 2020.

Orion won’t be carrying anyone for its first Moon mission – instead, as part of Artemis 1, it’ll fly uncrewed propelled by the new Space Launch System, spend a total of three weeks in space including six days orbiting the Moon, and then return back to Earth. Once back, it’ll perform a crucial test of high speed re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, to demonstrate the efficacy of the Orion capsule’s thermal shielding prior to carrying actual crew for Artemis 2 in 2022, and ultimately delivering astronauts back to the lunar surface with Artemis 3 in 2024.

This isn’t Orion’s first trip to space, however – that happened back in 2014 with Exploration Flight Test 1, another uncrewed mission in which Orion spent just four-hours in space, orbiting the Earth twice and then returning to ground. This mission used a Delta IV rocket instead of the new SLS, and was meant to test key systems prior to Artemis.

1 1

NASA contractor Lockheed Martin,  which is responsible for the Orion spacecraft’s construction, also noting that the combined crew module and service module are currently being properly integrated, and then will undergo a series of tests before returning to Kennedy Space Center in Florida by the end of the year to begin the final preparations before launch.

NASA is putting the finishing touches on its Mars helicopter

mars helicopterThe Mars 2020 mission will truly be one for the record books when it begins in July of next year. Not only is the Mars 2020 rover one of the most advanced piece of equipment that will ever be sent to the Red Planet, it’s also equipped with its very own helicopter.

The vehicle, named simply the Mars Helicopter, is the first of its kind, and a great deal of work as been put into perfecting its simple design and ensuring that it can withstand the conditions of Mars. Now, in a new blog post, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory says that the helicopter has entered its final testing phase and it’s already passed many of its trials with flying colors.

“Nobody’s built a Mars Helicopter before, so we are continuously entering new territory,” MiMi Aung, manager of the Mars Helicopter project at JPL, said in a statement. “Our flight model – the actual vehicle that will travel to Mars – has recently passed several important tests.”

The tiny copter will be affixed to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover during the flight to Mars and throughout the landing phase. Once the rover is on the surface, it will deploy the helicopter.

The helicopter doesn’t have any scientific objectives this time around, and it’s being sent to Mars simply as a testing and demonstration vehicle to provide scientists with information on flight within the thin atmosphere of Mars. The helicopter’s sole instrument is a high-resolution camera that, NASA hopes, will capture some lovely shots of the Red Planet and relay them back to Earth.

In the future, helicopter-like vehicles may be a regular addition to Mars missions since they afford greater flexibility to relocate to new areas in short periods of time. Rovers are, generally speaking, pretty slow, but if NASA can perfect the art of flight on Mars it will have the power to explore new areas rapidly.

NASA wants to commercialize the International Space Station, and make heaps of cash doing it

NASA has big plans for its immediate future, including missions to Mars and of course the Moon 2024 effort that was completely unaccounted for in the most recent federal budget. When it comes to science, funding can be hard to come by, and many of NASA’s projects are pricey.

So, in the hopes of generating additional revenue that it can then use for its own scientific research efforts, NASA just announced a new effort to embrace commercial interests and open up the International Space Station to private business. New opportunities for commercial visits to the ISS are expected to come swiftly, with pricing already being hashed out.

At present, NASA doesn’t have the cash it needs to make it to the Moon in 2024. The agency was recently given a mandate from the current administration to return humans to the lunar surface within five years, and despite how shortsighted that request was, NASA has been doing its best to generate support for the cause. Lawmakers have yet to allocate the additional funds NASA requested to make the mission a reality, and it’s unclear when (or if) that might occur.

So, with its wallet lighter than ever, NASA will now sell access to the ISS, an orbiting laboratory where companies can conduct their own research without needing NASA astronauts to do it for them.

Here’s NASA’s own description of its decision to commercialize the space station:

This effort is intended to broaden the scope of commercial activity on the space station beyond the ISS National Lab mandate, which is limited to research and development. A new NASA directive will enable commercial manufacturing and production and allow both NASA and private astronauts to conduct new commercial activities aboard the orbiting laboratory. The directive also sets prices for industry use of U.S. government resources on the space station for commercial and marketing activities.

NASA says it’s limiting its own “allocation of crew resources and cargo capability” in order to make room for private companies. This includes “90 hours of crew time and 175 kg of cargo launch capability” that it will now sell to whoever is willing to pay.

At present, NASA envisions at least two “short-duration private astronaut missions” to the ISS each year. Everything about the missions will be privately funded and will follow NASA’s guidelines for its Commercial Crew Program.

Lunar Module That’s Been Floating Through Space for 50 Years May Have Been Found Popular Mechanics

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bettmann – Getty Images
  • Snoopy, the 50-year-old NASA lunar module that helped with the first Moon landing during the Apollo 10 mission, may have been found by an amateur team of astronomers.
  • Nick Howes, a member of the team, says he is “98 percent convinced” that their finding is the long lost Snoopy module, which was shot into orbit (without being tracked) in 1969.
  • Howes suggests that once it’s confirmed the module is indeed Snoopy, Elon Musk should use a SpaceX aircraft to retrieve it.

Fifty years ago this July, the United States put a man on the moon, effectively ending the Space Race and owning one of the most historic events in human history. The efforts that went into making the Moon landing possible were myriad and took years to complete. Now, one piece of gear used in the race⁠-a relic astronomers have been searching for since they sent it to space five decades ago-may have finally been found.

The “Snoopy” lunar module was part of the Apollo 10 mock mission that ended with the module being launched into space, where it has been floating aimlessly ever since.

Photo credit: Historical - Getty Images
Photo credit: Historical – Getty Images

Back then, NASA did not follow Snoopy’s trajectory, so it was forgotten about until Nick Howes, a Royal Astronomical Society fellow from the U.K., recently shared that he may have found the module with a team of fellow amateur astronomers.

Howes and company began their search effort in 2011, well aware of the improbability that they would find Snoopy. This year, though, the team’s efforts seemingly paid off when Howes shared that he was “98 percent convinced” that they’d located the module, Sky News reported.

“It was a serendipitous set of observations and a message indicating that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) had done what we are doing and got a result that placed the object right where Snoopy should have been in 1969 [that] led us to believe we had Snoopy,” Howes tells Popular Mechanics. But “we can’t conclusively prove it’s Snoopy until a spacecraft visits it in heliocentric orbit,” he says.

Calling the Apollo program “the greatest technical achievement in human history,” Howes has suggested that someone like Elon Musk, who has the ability to retrieve Snoopy with a SpaceX shuttle, do just that. Get to it, Elon.

https://stacksocial.com?aid=a-t05y2r3p

Neptune looks beautifully blue in sharp new telescope image

 

This image of Neptune was obtained during the testing of the Narrow-Field adaptive optics mode of the MUSE/GALACSI instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope.ESO/P. Weilbacher (AIP)

At its farthest, Neptune is nearly several billion miles (4.7 billion kilometers) away from Earth. Some of our best ever images came from NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft back in 1989, but we now have a fresh view of the azure planet to enjoy.

The European Southern Observatory’s ground-based Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile got an upgrade that lets it rival and even exceed the imaging efforts of NASA’s orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. The VLT turned its eyes to Neptune and some star clusters to test out its new capabilities.

The VLT’s new adaptive optics technique uses lasers projected into the sky to help the telescope “correct for turbulence at different altitudes in the atmosphere.” That turbulence can make distant objects in space appear blurred.

The new method delivers sharper and more detailed images, as seen in a comparison showing Neptune with the use of the adaptive optics and then the gas giant without, which makes the planet look like a vague and fuzzy blue ball.

The Neptune image on the right is without the adaptive optics system in operation and the one on the left after the adaptive optics are switched on.ESO/P. Weilbacher (AIP)

There’s a good reason scientists are excited about the VLT’s new skills.

“It will enable astronomers to study in unprecedented detail fascinating objects such as supermassive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies, jets from young stars, globular clusters, supernovae, planets and their satellites in the solar system and much more,” says the ESO.

Astronaut says humans could have gone to MARS in the ’60s

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY:Hero astronaut Chris Hadfield says we could’ve sent humans to Mars in the 1960s — but there’s a very good reason we didn’t.

The former International Space Station commander said the risk of death was simply too high.

“We could send people to Mars decades ago,” Hadfield told Business Insider.

“The technology that took us to the moon and back when I was just a kid — that technology can take us to Mars.”

Hadfield was referring to the famous Apollo 11 mission: it was the spaceflight that landed the first two people on the moon.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the moon on July 20, 1969 – and Hadfield is convinced that same spaceship technology could put us on Mars.

The problem, according to Hadfield, is that those classic space shuttles would simply take too long to get to Mars.

This poses loads of risks, particularly illnesses caused by the tough environments in space.

Chris Hadfield.

Chris Hadfield.Getty Images

“The majority of the astronauts that we send on those missions wouldn’t make it,” he explained. “They’d die.”

The astronaut added: “Mars is further away than most people think.”

Hadfield isn’t wrong: there’s an immense distance between Earth and Mars, with the red planet being roughly 600 times further away from us than the moon.

The situation is made more complicated by the fact that the distance is constantly changing as the two planets rotate around the sun.

The closest that Earth and Mars can ever be is a distance of 33.9 million miles — or 9,800 times longer than the trip from London and New York.

A more useful distance is the average gap, which is even bigger at 140 million miles.

Launching shuttles to Mars have, so far, taken huge lengths of time – anywhere from 128 to 333 days.

That’s an incredible length of time to be aboard a cramped shuttle, particularly one so far from Earth — where the opportunity to launch rescue missions is near-impossible.

Astronauts who spend a long time in space face significant risks.

One is the threat from deep-space radiation, which can cause cancer due to prolonged exposure.

And a 2016 study published in the Nature journal found that astronauts who spend a long time in space have a much greater risk of deadly heart disease.

Hadfield compared the feat of putting humans on Mars to Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who famously circumnavigated the world between 1519 and 1522.

“Magellan, when he launched in 1519, they launched with five ships and 250 people to try and just go around the world once and almost everybody died,” Hadfield explained.

“They only came back with like 15 or 18 people and one out of the five ships.”

He said current space travel mechanisms of “burning chemical rockets” is the “equivalent of using a sailboat or a pedal boat to try and travel around the world.”

There are lots of space-faring firms claiming to offer Mars travel in the near future, but Hadfield is skeptical that using them to put people on Mars is a good idea.

They include NASA’s Space Launch System, SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (masterminded by tech billionaire Elon Musk) and Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket (funded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.)

“My guess is we will never go to Mars with the engines that exist on any of those three rockets unless we truly have to,” he explained.

“I don’t think those are a practical way to send people to Mars because they’re dangerous and it takes too long and it, therefore, exposes us to a risk for a long time.”

“Someone has to invent something we haven’t thought of yet,” Hadfield said.

 

NASA Dawn spacecraft zooms in on Ceres’ crazy crater

ceres photos

When NASA’s Dawn spacecraft approached dwarf planet Ceres in 2015, everyone from astronomers to UFO enthusiasts got excited about some strange bright spots seen in the craft’s images. Dawn is now closer than ever to Occator Crater, the source of some of those intriguing spots, and NASA has released a fresh look at what’s inside.

Dawn reached its newest and lowest orbit around Ceres on June 6. It skimmed within just 22 miles (35 kilometers) of the surface and zoomed in on a large deposit near the crater’s center named Cerealia Facula.

Dawn caught this view of a landslide on the crater rim on June 16.

The bright deposits are made of sodium carbonate and are the largest observed outside of Earth. Scientists are wondering how they got there, suggesting they are “either from a shallow, sub-surface reservoir of mineral-laden water, or from a deeper source of brines (liquid water enriched in salts) percolating upward through fractures.”

The Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research also released an image showing landslide activity on the northern rim of Occator Crater. NASA says Cere’s landslides resemble ones seen on Earth.

“There are clear signs that material has been recently moving down the slopes; some of it remains stuck halfway,” the institute notes.

NASA hopes data and close-up images collected by Dawn in its new orbit will shed some light on the fascinating formations.

Dawn’s chief engineer Marc Rayman of NASA waxed poetic about the spacecraft’s latest achievements, saying, “Dawn is like a master artist, adding rich details to the otherworldly beauty in its intimate portrait of Ceres.”
AMANDA KOOSER

NASA’s Lunar Space Station Is Almost Here

Justin Bachman

 

NASA’s goal of returning to the moon should see a major push in early 2019, when the agency awards its first contract for the lunar “Gateway” program.

The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway is NASA’s planned “staging” area intended for studies of the moon and the deep-space environment. Eventually, it will function as a way station for astronauts traveling to and from Mars .

NASA’s first spending for the platform will be for power and propulsion elements early next year, followed by habitation components, Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier said Thursday at the Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They will probably be launched moonward, in that order, starting in 2022.

The platform should be orbiting the moon in 2025, said Gerstenmaier, a 41-year NASA veteran who oversees human exploration and operations. It will carry a four-astronaut crew on 30-day missions, he said.

The Gateway would also further NASA’s goal of another human landing on the moon and will help determine whether water near the surface could be used to manufacture propellant for deep-space missions. The moon’s gravity could also help a spacecraft reduce the blistering speeds used for six-month voyages back-and-forth to Mars, thus facilitating re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere.

“We want to understand orbital mechanics around the moon” a little better, far from the Earth’s deep gravity well, he said. “Doing things in this region, where gravity isn’t such a big driver … is a different way of operating.”

In November, NASA selected five companies to study a high-power solar-electric propulsion system to use in deep-space missions, including the lunar platform. Future human missions will require a power system that has triple the capability of current designs.
Trips to the “gateway” will be aboard the Orion, a spacecraft being assembled by Lockheed Martin Corp., with the service module being supplied by the European Space Agency. The Orion’s first flight, without crew, is scheduled for next year. The craft will serve as the command deck when it’s docked with the platform.
“Development of the gateway has great momentum, and we are providing our expertise as NASA looks to industry to bring know-how to this important effort,” Lockheed said Thursday in an emailed statement. The lunar platform is based on current NASA budgets and “doesn’t require a huge new influx of funding,” Gernstenmaier said, calling realistic budget planning one of NASA’s strategic principles for how to pioneer deep-space missions.“It’s got fiscal realism, and it’s also adaptable,” he said of the program. “It can adapt to commercial partners. It’s not a rigid program of one mission following another,” an allusion to the Apollo program, which famously required an aggressive schedule of flights that built off each other.“As long as we view the moon as a stepping stone and not an end goal, I think we’re OK,” Gernstenmaier said. NASA is also assessing how to continue the U.S. presence in low-Earth orbit. The Trump administration has proposed ending U.S. funding of the International Space Station in 2024. “We think it’s a great place to do development,” Gerstenmaier said. “To do major development in the vicinity of the moon is really costly.”

 


Scientists Propose Craft to Search Venus for Life

David Grossman

Photo credit: Northrop Grumman
Photo credit: Northrop Grumman

After decades of looking to the outer solar system and beyond for signs of extraterrestrial life, an international team of scientists is suggesting that humanity take another look at a planet a little closer to home: Venus.

Although the surface of Venus is much too hot and inhospitable for life as we know it, scientists have long thought that microbes could be comfortably reproducing in the clouds of the Venusian atmosphere. Now, a new study in the journal Astrobiology suggests that dark patches in the atmosphere of Venus could, just possibly, be caused by light-absorbing bacteria. To find out, the study authors want to send a floating aircraft to comb the skies of Venus.

Earth’s sister Venus, the second rock from the sun, is similar in size, mass, and composition to our home planet-but that is generally where the comparisons end. The planet’s atmosphere is 96.5 percent carbon dioxide and almost 3.5 percent nitrogen. The runaway greenhouse climate keeps surface temperatures hovering around 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius), while atmospheric pressures on Venus can be as high as pressures a kilometer deep in the oceans of Earth.

But for all the planet’s seemingly inhospitable traits, “Venus has had plenty of time to evolve life on its own,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist Sanjay Limaye, who led the new study, in a press release. Limaye points to models that suggest Venus could have sustained a habitable climate with liquid water on its surface for as long as 2 billion years. “That’s much longer than is believed to have occurred on Mars,” says Limaye.

American and Soviet probes studying Venus in the 1960s and 70s revealed that the temperature and pressure conditions in the lower and middle portions of the Venusian atmosphere-around 25–27 miles up from the surface-do not necessarily preclude life. In 1967, Carl Sagan co-authored a paper with noted biophysicist Harold Morowitz suggesting that life could exist in the clouds. “While the surface conditions of Venus make the hypothesis of life there implausible, the clouds of Venus are a different story altogether,” Sagan and Morowitz wrote.

A chance encounter convinced Limaye to give the planet another look. Talking with co-author of the new paper Grzegorz Słowik of Poland’s University of Zielona Góra, Limaye learned about bacteria on Earth with light-absorbing properties. With a group of researchers, they noted similarities between the bacteria and a mystery within the atmosphere of Venus: dark spots in the atmosphere.

NASA has studied “an unknown UV absorber” embedded within the Venusian clouds. In presentation slides, the agency says that “the unknown UV absorber has been a subject of intense scrutiny since the dawn of the space age.” At the moment, the only probes which have observed this phenomenon have lacked the technical capability to distinguish between materials of an organic or inorganic nature. This unknown absorber, Limaye’s team suggests, could be alien bacteria in the clouds of Venus.

Photo credit: JAXA/Institute of Space and Astronautical Science
Photo credit: JAXA/Institute of Space and Astronautical Science

“On Earth, we know that life can thrive in very acidic conditions, can feed on carbon dioxide, and produce sulfuric acid,” says Rakesh Mogul, a professor of biological chemistry at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and a co-author on the new paper. Similarly harsh conditions might be able to sustain life amongst the clouds of Venus, something the team suggests could be similar to algae in lakes on Earth-except floating in the clouds.

There are many unknowns surrounding the new hypothesis, including when exactly Venus’s water supply evaporated. Limaye and his colleagues have an idea for how to get find the answers: the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform, better known as VAMP. A hypothetical aircraft proposed by Northrop Grumman, the VAMP would steer like a plane and float like a blimp through the skies of Venus, taking samples of the Venusian atmosphere. This craft would carry instruments capable of identifying living microorganisms.

“To really know, we need to go there and sample the clouds,” says Mogul. “Venus could be an exciting new chapter in astrobiology exploration.”