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From Living Inside Asteroids to Solar Arks, a Scientist Designs the Space Colonies of the Future
New research explains how to build different types of outposts in space.
The next several decades are likely to be revolutionary in humanity’s relationship with space. Instead of just the select few astronauts, a much larger portion of the planet’s population, perhaps hundreds of thousands, could start traveling into the cosmos. They would go on long journeys to faraway planets like Mars, staff the first colonies on the moon and beyond, become asteroid miners and engage in many other professions that will be necessary as we explore this new frontier. But what will these first outposts in space look like and how will they work?
A new study on the future of space stations and space colonies was recently published in the journal Reach, a publication focused on human space exploration. The paper was written by Werner Grandl, an Austrian architect and civil engineer, who has been researching and publishing studies on space colonies and space stations since 1986.
Grandl provides a clear imperative for the humans to go to space, calling planet Earth "just the cradle of mankind.” According to Grandl, if we want to survive as a species, we need to “stretch the concept of nature beyond the biosphere” and understand “cosmic evolution”. And within that larger cosmic view, there is no reason to stay put on Earth, with all its dangers and scarcities.
The first place we should go? You guessed it - the moon.
Grandl thinks that humans will return to the moon in the 2020s, building a lunar base on and below the surface. The purpose of the outpost would be both for research and for learning to utilize the moon’s resources. Helium-3 (a rare isotope of helium), iron, aluminum, titanium and more can be extracted from lunar materials. Farther down the line, the moon base would produce fuel for spaceships on their way to intergalactic destinations.
Initial modular lunar base. The figure shows the initial stage of six modules with one additional module (to the left). Credit: Werner Grandl.
The initial lunar base would consist of 6 cylindrical modules made of lightweight aluminum, 17 meters long and 6 meters in diameter. One module would house 8 people. The modules would each have different functions in the base - one would would be dedicated to generating energy and communications. There would also be modules for a central gathering area, an airlock, laboratory, living quarters with private rooms for each person, and a spare module for enlarging the base.
Urban structure on the Moon, built of standardized modules (Grandl, 2010)
Another possibility for a lunar base location and design - put it into an underground “lava tube” - a natural cave under the surface, for example into the Mare Tranquilitatis Hole (MTH). Advantages of an underground base can be numerous, from providing water within their soil, to reducing the effects of cosmic rays and offering better temperature conditions.
‘Green” habitat for 100 inhabitants inside Mare Tranquilitatis Hole (Grandl and Böck 2015).
Grandl envisions that another place where humans might eventually find themselves would be in colonies dedicated to mining asteroids. Near Earth Asteroids could provide rare-earth elements and metals like platinum, which would be easier to extract than on Earth, without worrying about environmental pollution or politics. One kind of colony that would spring up to support this mining would be a manned space station connected to the asteroid. The station would have all the necessary equipment and staff for the mining process.
Once a particular asteroid has been tapped out, if it’s larger than 400m in diameter, its hollowed-out insides could be big enough to support a rotating human colony of more than 2,000 inhabitants. Water, oxygen and building materials would be extracted from the asteroid itself.
Prototype asteroid colony. Credit: Werner Grandl.
The premiere space colony envisioned by Grandl and his team is the Solar Ark. It would be cylindrical in shape and have artificial gravity. This idea of needing to create gravity was actually first proposed by the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, one of the founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics, who was also the first to advocate creating large colonies around Earth.
Why would we need artificial gravity? The lack of gravity in space can be dangerous to human health, with such issues as bone demineralization and atrophying of muscles. In order to avoid these negative effects, gravity could potentially be simulated in space by employing “centrifugal forces.” According to calculations by the NASA engineer Jesco von Puttkamer, a space station that’s 50 meters in radius and rotates at the spin rate of 4.2 rpm would create an artificial gravity of 1G.
Illumination of a Solar Ark. Credit: Grandl
The Solar Ark would be one such massive colony that could range in length from 2.3 km to 8km, with its diameter ranging from 900 m to 3.2 km. The larger colony could be home to up to 250,000 inhabitants.
The Ark would also feature an artificial climate, and would be illuminated by capturing sunlight via a system of parabolic mirrors (hence its name Solar Ark). Its hull would be covered by an outer and inner aluminum "membrane", with external thrusters adjusting the rotation and direction of the colony. The outer membrane would also be shielded by layers of foamglass with little thermal conductivity, protecting against meteorites and radiation.
A free-floating structure near the colony would protect it from solar flares.
How far in the future are these plans? Most technologies needed to make such ideas a reality, other than artificial gravity, are already available, says Grandl.
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.