Scientists find routes using arches of chaos that can lead to much faster space travel.
- Researchers discovered a route through the Solar System that can allow for much faster spacecraft travel.
- The path takes advantage of "arches of chaos" within space manifolds.
- The scientists think this "celestial superhighway" can help humans get to the far reaches of the galaxy.
Humanity could be making its way through the Solar System much faster thanks to the discovery of a new superhighway network among space manifolds. Don't get your engines roaring along this "celestial autobahn" just yet, but the researchers believe the new pathways can eventually be used by spacecraft to get to the outer reaches of our Solar System with relative haste.
The celestial highway could get comets and asteroids from Jupiter to Neptune in less than a decade. Compare that to hundreds of thousands or even millions of years it might ordinarily take for space objects to traverse the Solar System. In a century of travel along the new routes, a 100 astronomical units could be covered, project the scientists. For reference, an astronomical unit is the average distance from the Earth to the Sun or about 93 million miles.
The international research team included Nataša Todorović, Di Wu, and Aaron Rosengren from the Belgrade Astronomical Observatory in Serbia, the University of Arizona, and UC San Diego. Their new paper proposes a dynamic route, going along connected series of arches within so-called space manifolds. These structures, coming into existence from gravitational effects between the Sun and the planets, stretch from the asteroid belt to past Uranus.
The most pronounced of these structures are linked to Jupiter by its strong gravitational pull, explained UC San Diego's press release. They influence the comets around the gas giant as well as smaller space objects called "centaurs," with are like asteroids in size but exhibit the composition of comets.
This animation shows space manifolds over a hundred years. Each frame of the animation shows how the arches and substructures appear over three-year increments.
Credit: Nataša Todorović, Di Wu and Aaron Rosengren/Science Advances
"Space manifolds act as the boundaries of dynamical channels enabling fast transportation into the inner- and outermost reaches of the Solar System," write the researchers. "Besides being an important element in spacecraft navigation and mission design, these manifolds can also explain the apparent erratic nature of comets and their eventual demise."
A closer image of the manifolds showing colliding and escaping objects.
Credit: Science Advances
The researchers discovered the structures by analyzing collected numerical data on the millions of orbits in the Solar System. The scientists figured out how these orbits were contained within known space manifolds. To detect the presences and structure of the space manifolds, the team employed the fast Lyapunov indicator (FLI), used to detect chaos. The scientists ran simulations to compute how the trajectories of particles approaching different planets like Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune would be affected by possible collisions and the manifolds.
While the results are encouraging, the next step is to figure out how these arches can be used by spacecraft for much speedier travel. It's also not clear how similar manifolds work near Earth. Also unclear is how they impact our planet's run-ins with asteroids and meteorites or any of the man-made objects floating up in space near us.
Check out the new paper "The arches of chaos in the Solar System" in Science Advances.
The future of cities on the Moon, Mars and orbital habitats.
- In the 1970s NASA published an extensive book on urban planning in space.
- Acclaimed architectural and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) designed a conceptual plan for the first permanent settlement for human life on the moon.
- An MIT team developed a concept for the first sustainable cities on Mars to be built in the next century.
One day humanity will again step foot on other worlds. When that day comes we will need to build new cities in these places. Where we go, our cities go. The urban form follows us like a civilizational shadow.
In order to house our post-terrestrial bound culture, we'll first need to layout the new order of our settlements. There are three prime candidate planets and places in space that may be the first to house our founding space pioneers.
These are the Moon, Mars, and orbital habitats around Earth.
Major governmental space agencies, engineering firms and even urban planning groups have already seriously considered the prospect of space colonization.
In 1977 NASA published "Space Settlements: A Design Study." This extensive 155-page book essentially contains a city planning policy guide on the future of cities and urban planning in space. The book focuses exclusively on orbital civilian habitats – the type that would revolve and settle in Lagrange Points around Earth.
"Space Settlements" covers everything it can think of, from the psychology of its inhabitants, rocket landing areas, and zoning land-use to the barebones of oxygen production. Even with such depth the book still covers only a small portion of the challenges facing space colonization.
The sheer scale of genius needed for this feat will keep us busy down here for years.
Yet, urbanists would be happy to hear that the plan advocates for communities that are walkable, transit-oriented, dense and inclusive. This list checks off a fair bit of principles modern urban planners abide by.
The book's authors even took the time to think about the notion of the first extraterrestrial pioneers' budding culture:
The first extraterrestrial communities may not be purely American if the United States is no longer a major world power or a major technological center by the time the first extraterrestrial community is established. If the United States remains a major world power, many nations including nonwestern nations and African nations could be highly technological and want to participate, so that the first extraterrestrial community may be international.
The present technological nations are not necessarily advantaged, because the technology they possess is "Earth-bound" in addition to being culture-bound. They may have first to unlearn the forms, the assumptions and the habits of the Earth-bound technology before learning the new forms and assumptions of technology useful in extraterrestrial communities.
Moon culture evolution, confirmed. The thought of new cultures developing in the newly forged lunar cities and floating metropolis colonies would be a testament to our accomplishment.
Building a city on the Moon
Wikimedia Commons | Source: NASA Ames Research Centre
What would it take to build a full scale city on the moon? Skidmore, Owings & Merrill recently threw their hat in the proverbial moon ring.
In partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), SOM presented a conceptual design for their "Moon Village." In a press statement, Design Partner Colin Koop talked about the new challenges needed for architectural design in space.
"The project presents a completely new challenge for the field of architectural design. The Moon Village must be able to sustain human life in an otherwise uninhabitable setting. We have to consider problems that no one would think about on Earth, like radiation protection, pressure differentials, and how to provide breathable air."
Masterplanning, designing and engineering the imagined settlement, SOM imagines are cross-disciplinary collaboration and an entirely new way to approach the space industry's most complex problems.
- The Moon Village is imagined on the edge rim of the Shackleton Crater near the South Pole.
- This area was selected because it receives near continuous daylight throughout the whole lunar year.
- Overall development plans were envisioned in three distinct phases to set up infrastructure, resources and habitable structures.
The Moon Village would sustain its energy from direct sunlight and set up food generation and life-sustaining elements through in situ resource utilization by tapping into the Moon's natural resources. Water extracted from the depressions near the South Pole would create breathable air and rocket propellants to support the burgeoning industry in the town. By being near the South Pole, the town would have direct access to the crater's water-ice deposits.
As for habitats for lunarites to live in, there would be individual pressurized modules which are inflatable, giving residents the flexibility to increase their living space when needed.
Most buildings would be three to four story structures that would serve as a combined workspace, living quarter and have the necessary environmental and life support systems integrated into each one.
The Moon Village was created for the ESA's reflection of future exploration beyond 2050 in partnership with NASA's strategic plan to "extend human presence deeper into space and to the Moon for sustainable long term exploration and utilization."
A pioneer Moon Village could set in stone the first opportunity to permanently inhabit the moon, spur research and explorations and serve as a gateway to the rest of the solar system and beyond.
Designing cities in Space Colonies
Wikimedia Commons | Source: NASA Ames Research Centre
Such ring habitats have been a common sight in science fiction for years, from Halo's massive ring worlds to Neuromancer's Tessier-Ashpool floating Freeside. But physicists have known for quite some time that they're actually possible to build. When space becomes more accessible, these would be the first contenders for habitation.
In NASA's "Space Settlements" study, researchers dedicated a few chapters on basic comprehensive plans, which is a deep dive into how much space would be needed for residential housing, schools and other land uses combined with transportation and other infrastructure. As for transportation, the book again goes into detail:
"Because of the relatively high population density (15,000 people/km2) in the community, most of the circulation is pedestrian, with one major mass transport system (a moving sidewalk, monorail, and minibus) connecting different residential areas in the same colony."
These floating cylinders with artificial gravity would survive by creating from the natural resources of outer space. Again in the 1970s Princeton physicist Gerald K O'Neill laid out compelling studies where he envisioned 100,000-person colonies, stationed at what is known as the fifth Lagrangian libration point (L5) in the moon's orbit.
"It is orthodox to believe that Earth is the only practical habitat for Man, but we can build new habitats far more comfortable, productive and attractive than is most of Earth," he wrote in Physics Today in 1974.
He was interested in building alternative human habitats that were both beyond Earth and beyond a planetary body. Out of this was conceived the idea of a giant rotating spaceship, which could support a biosphere and house up to 10 million people.
Planning the first cities on Mars
Wikimedia Commons | Source: NASA Ames Research Centre
In 2017, an MIT team developed a design for a settlement that won the Mars City Design competition. MIT's winning urban plan, titled Redwood forest, proposed to create domes or tree habitats that would house up to 50 people each. The domes provided residents with open public spaces containing vegetation and water, which would be harvested from deep in the Martian northern plains.
The tree habitats would be connected on top of a network of tunnels, or roots, providing transportation and access to both public and private spaces between other inhabitants of this proposed 10,000 strong community. Advanced technology such as artificial light inside these pods could strongly mimic the sight of natural sunlight.
MIT postdoc Valentina Sumini who led the interdisciplinary team, described the project's design fundamentals and elaborated on the project's poetic forest metaphor:
"On Mars, our city will physically and functionally mimic a forest, using local Martian resources such as ice and water, regolith (or soil), and sun to support life. Designing a forest also symbolizes the potential for outward growth as nature spreads across the Martian landscape. Each tree habitat incorporates a branching structural system and an inflated membrane enclosure, anchored by tunneling roots.
The design of a habitat can be generated using a computational form-finding and structural optimization workflow developed by the team. The design workflow is parametric, which means that each habitat is unique and contributes to a diverse forest of urban spaces."
The team aims to build a comfortable environment and architecture that focuses on the fundamental and critical aspect of sustainability, a baseline component needed for any Mars or offworld city.
On the entirety of the system, System Design Management Fellow George Lordos summed up the functionality by explaining the holistic and connected system they imagined.
"Every tree habitat in Redwood Forest will collect energy from the sun and use it to process and transport the water throughout the tree, and every tree is designed as a water-rich environment. Water fills the soft cells inside the dome providing protection from radiation, helps manage heat loads, and supplies hydroponic farms for growing fish and greens. Solar panels produce energy to split the stored water for the production of rocket fuel, oxygen, and for charging hydrogen fuel cells, which are necessary to power long-range vehicles as well as provide backup energy storage in case of dust storms."
The changes in brain structure aren't the only bodily changes caused by zero gravity.
- A new study finds that long term weightlessness can cause changes in brain structure, with an increase in white matter lasting a year after returning to Earth.
- The researchers believe it to be caused by an increase in fluid pressure on the brain.
- Potential solutions include creating artificial gravity.
I think my desire to go to space just declined a bit.
Eleven astronauts, ten men and one woman, were given MRI tests before they went for extended stays on the International Space Station. They were then given follow up scans the day after their return and at several points during the year after.
Not only did the researchers find that long-term exposure to zero-gravity increased the amount of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, but that the amount of white matter in the brain increased as well. Several of the astronauts also had deformed pituitary glands, the gland that tells all the others what to do, as a result of the increased pressure on it.
These changes lasted for some time, just as other astronauts' vision problems have continued for years after returning to Earth. This suggests that some of the effects, particularly the increased amount of fluid, might be permanent. The higher amount of fluid also flowed through the cerebral aqueduct at an increased velocity.
The researchers hypothesized that these changes, like the previously mentioned vision problems, were caused by increased pressure in the head itself caused by an increased amount of fluid present, including blood. While Earth's gravity causes fluid to flow out of the head and pool towards the lower part of the body, weightlessness removes this tendency, and fluids begin to shift their locations. This effect has been known for a while and is also why many astronauts look like they skipped leg day or have puffy faces when they take pictures in space.
What does this mean? Are astronauts in danger?
It is too early to say what these changes to the brain mean. While some of the changes are associated with other symptoms, none of those have been seen in any of the astronauts yet.
However, ideas for how to reduce the build-up of fluids in the head are already being put forward. One suggestion is to create artificial gravity through the rotation of a centrifuge, like the spaceship in "2001: A Space Odyssey" has, or to create negative pressure around the lower parts of the body to draw fluid to them. Either of these mechanisms would cause less fluid to remain in the head.
The human body evolved to function decently in an environment where gravity is always a factor. As humanity ventures out towards the stars, the problem of how to keep that body working in such an alien environment will be a substantial obstacle. However, if we can solve the problem of getting into space in the first place, the issue of keeping fluid out of our heads seems comparatively simple.
The dream of space travel has been usurped by superficiality.
- Recent survey of 3,000 kids showed that more kids aspire to be a YouTube star than an astronaut.
- Children in the U.S. and U.K. were three times more likely to want to become vloggers than kids in China.
- The survey also indicated that kids in America were less knowledgeable about space travel than their global counterparts.
Space travel was once the communal dream and subsequent reality of 1960s. Fifty years ago, the Saturn V blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center and landed the first men on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the surface, while Michael Collins stayed in Lunar orbit.
This exalted event stands as one of our most triumphant accomplishments. The many scientists, engineers, astronauts and creative people that it would go on to inspire is countless.
We owe an innumerable cultural debt to this technological era. Which is why on the eve of Apollo 11's 50th anniversary, LEGO and The Harris Poll set out to survey children in the United States, China, and the United Kingdom on their attitude and knowledge concerning space.
A total of 3,000 children were surveyed. While the results revealed that there was some lingering excitement for space, there were some disconcerting trends as well. Such as the fact that American kids would rather aspire to inanity on YouTube as a "vlogger" than to the great beyond as an astronaut in space.
Results of the survey
The Harris Poll / LEGO
According to the study, children were three times as likely to aspire towards a YouTube career than an astronaut. That is, creating videos on the internet in order to become famous. Kids in the study were between the ages of 8 and 12. On average only 11 percent said they wanted to be an astronaut.
The only place this trend was reversed was in China. A majority of children in China, at 56 percent, would rather be an astronaut over other professions. Their other answers to space questions showed that Chinese children were also more interested in the prospect of not only going to space, but creating settlements there as well.
Three out of four children, in general, believed that humans would eventually live in space or on another planet. About 96 percent of Chinese children prescribed to this answer, compared to 68 percent in the United States and 63 percent in the U.K.
On the subject of whether they'd like to go to space, 95 percent of Chinese children said yes, compared to 70 percent from the U.S. and 63 percent from the U.K.
The survey didn't delve into why children in the West were less interested in space than their Chinese counterparts. We can only begin to speculate. Perhaps it's the fact that we've been in a rut since the 1970s and haven't set foot on another celestial body since then. It could be a lapse in good space PR combined with apathy spurred from our continual failings to rile up enough support for another grand initiative.
China currently places a greater emphasis on long-term goals, as well as a higher value on the tangible applications of space exploration. They're both educated and united under the primal banner of human curiosity and a nationalistic organizational efficiency.
It also comes down to just plain ignorance. Western kids are barraged at a young age with frivolous "internet stars," whose only claim to fame is commercialized parroting. This is a great waste of intellectual capital as children seek to emulate these people. The survey also found that kids truly don't understand the impact and importance that space travel has imparted to their daily lives.
For instance, only 18 percent of Western children knew they used something that was invented because of space travel, compared to 43 percent in China.
Like many things in life, knowledge and inspiration can help reverse these concerning trends.
Inspiring kids for space exploration
Bettina Inclán, NASA associate administrator for communications, is optimistic about what to do next to inspire future generations of America:
"For nearly 20 years, NASA and LEGO Group have collaborated on projects to inspire the next generation to imagine and build their future in space. Our latest efforts celebrate the incredible feats we achieved during Apollo 50 years ago, and now with our accelerated plans to go forward to the moon, we will continue to inspire children to dream about what's possible and to grow up to pursue STEM careers."
There is a lot to be inspired about. The future of humanity lies beyond the atmosphere. If we're going to travel there and stay there, we'll need our best and brightest to invent some incredible new technology.
If we're going to make space exploration possible, we first have to pass down our dreams to the future custodians of the stars.
- NASA's new plan will span the next 10 to 20 years.
- First, the Moon, and things around the Moon. Then, Mars.
- One of the primary goals? To privatize and get industry to eventually fund all of it.
NASA this week unveiled its new plan that many are calling "bold" and other lofty adjectives, with a 10-to-20-year span, each phase of which is somewhat dependent on what is learned during the first missions. It's certainly aiming high: it's going into low-Earth Orbit, to the Moon and its orbit ('cislunar'), and then on to Mars and possibly other moons and surfaces, to be precise.
So what are the core goals of this new effort?
Glad you asked.
NASA's five-part plan
"The Exploration Campaign has five strategic goals:
- Transition U.S. human spaceflight activities in low-Earth orbit to commercial operations that support NASA and the needs of an emerging private sector market.
- Lead the emplacement of capabilities that support lunar surface operations and facilitate missions beyond cislunar space.
- Foster scientific discovery and characterization of lunar resources through a series of robotic missions.
- Return U.S. astronauts to the surface of the Moon for a sustained campaign of exploration and use.
- Demonstrate the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations."
These certainly mean more dollars headed toward research and development; while the original Apollo and other missions were government-funded and ultimately fell under the purview of the military (indeed, one of the primary stated goals of the Gemini and Apollo programs was to lessen the "Missile gap" between the United States and the Soviet Union), this new concept relies heavily on private investment, corporate involvement and funding, and the eventual mining and financial rewards of "exploration and use" of the lunar and Mars surfaces.
While it's not the driving, all-encompassing effort that the first missions to the Moon were (and, really, how could it be?), it's much better than letting NASA and other space entities languish and die.
More from NASA's announcement:
"Based on inputs from current partners, commercial and other stakeholders, NASA will shape the plan for the transition of low-Earth orbit activities from direct government funding to commercial services and partnerships, with new, independent commercial platforms or a non-NASA operating model for some form or elements of the International Space Station by 2025. In addition, NASA will expand public-private partnerships to develop and demonstrate technologies and capabilities to enable new commercial space products and services."
An outpost near the Moon
This dovetails with the plan to privatize the International Space Station. Indeed, a part of this long-term plan is to replace it with a station orbiting the Moon that can then travel to planets such as Mars much more easily than overcoming Earth's gravity and atmosphere. As NASA told Popular Mechanics, "Because the station [will be] in an egg-shaped orbit, stretching anywhere from 1,500 km to 70,000 km (930 to 44,000 miles) from the Moon, it would need only a little push to be sent flying to a yet-to-be-chosen destination.
With private companies beginning to have success in sending various things and even people into space, sometimes for financial reward, perhaps this is a sustainable way to fund future space development.
It would be nice, however, if there were a way to guarantee that new discoveries and resources would benefit the public good as well as private profit.
Hey, I can dream, can't I?