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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.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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