How the new economics of space exploration changes everything

"One small step for man" costs a lot of money. Who's going to help pay the bill for the next bout of space exploration?

It costs about $10,000 per pound, to put a person into orbit and $1,000,000 per pound to send a person to Mars. That's a lot of money, especially in these current times of economic austerity. So how are we going to explore space and build an insurance policy, so to speak, to save Earth from global warming? The acclaimed theoretical physicist Michio Kaku says that help could come not from NASA alone but with help from the private sector. Specifically, he posits that inventor, free-thinker, and all-around Silicon Valley disruptor Elon Musk "has the vision, the energy, and the checkbook" to turn these seemingly far-out ideas into a reality. Michio's latest book is The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth.

Want Faster Data and a Cleaner Planet? Start Mining Asteroids

Mining asteroids might seem like the stuff of science fiction, but there are companies and a few governments already working hard to make it real. 

Host and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, American Museum of Natural History Neil deGrasse Tyson from NovaScienceNOW 'Asteroid' speaks onstage during the 2006 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour for PBS. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty

Mining asteroids might seem like the stuff of science fiction, but there are companies and a few governments already working hard to make it real. This should not be surprising: compared with the breathtaking bridges that engineers build on Earth, asteroid-mining is a simple, small-scale operation requiring only modest technological advances. If anything is lacking, it is the imagination to see how plausible it has become. I am afraid only that it might not arrive soon enough to address the urgent resource challenges that the world is facing right now. 

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A Periodic Table of All the Exoplanets Found So Far

The Planetary Habitability Laboratory has made up some periodic tables of all of the confirmed and suspected exoplanets so far, plus planetary bodies in our own solar system.

(PLANETARY HABITABILITY LABORATORY)

Exoplanets are hot right now. In the popularity sense. Thermally, they’re also cold and medium. But ever since the first one was discovered nearly 26 years ago — or 9,457 days as of this writing — we’ve been fascinated by them. Some people are intrigued by the potential any of them may hold for migration from Earth should it become inhabitable. Some wonder if other life on our level could be there. And then there’s their most undeniable value: science. If you’ve been having trouble keeping track of what we’ve found so far, the Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) of the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo has just published its Periodic Table of Exoplanets, which it’ll presumably keep up to date as more of them are found. It’s actually a set of three tables:

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Neil deGrasse Tyson is Developing a Space Exploration Video Game

Neil deGrasse Tyson is working in with video game developers to create a space exploration game called Space Odyssey.

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NASA: The Beating Heart of America's Innovation Industry

As its CEO, Bill Nye lays out the missions The Planetary Society would like to see NASA focus on over the next 20 years. NASA by nature goes where the future is, and Nye can't help but think of another industry that should follow suit.

Why is NASA so important? Let us count the ways – for its intellectual and physical daring, its spinoff technology that has advanced civilization generally (we wouldn’t have the internet without NASA) – but perhaps chief among them is that no matter who you are in the world or how you feel about the United States, NASA earns global respect for its technological achievement and drive towards progress and efficiency. An industry that could learn from that ethos, rather than digging its heels in to delay the future, is fossil fuels. If everyone pulled together in the same direction, it would mean clean, renewable energy for everyone on Earth, much sooner. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.

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