from the world's big
Colonizing space will require gear that doesn't exist yet. But they're in the works.
What will it take to conquer our immemorial space dream?
- Our best bet for frolicking among the stars will come from building O'Neill space colonies.
- Landing on and terraforming distant worlds such as Mars is fraught with greater technical and biological difficulties.
- Advances in radiation shielding, space construction and propulsion are needed for any sort of space colonization effort.
Humanity has been openly flirting with cosmic destiny for centuries. From the early reaches of our science fiction literature to the astounding feats of manned space exploration. We're getting anxious still wading on the earthen shores. The vast expanse of space is calling.
It's time we finally left the planetary womb and started strutting our stuff permanently amongst the stars.
But, in order to do that, we are going to need some serious new inventions for space colonization. The likes of which will allow us to reach our most ascendent of aspirations — the conquering of the stars.
Whether it's getting to the moon first, crafting new terraformed sands of Mars, or spinning through self-sustaining colonies — the end result will be the same.
We're leaving the sandbox and these are some of the tools we'll use to do it.
O'Neill space colonies
In the 1970s, Princeton physicist Gerard K. O'Neill, was tasked with designing a free floating space colony with existing technology, materials and construction techniques. Suffice to say, we're no closer to having space colonies now then we were then. O'Neill wrote a number of fascinating books on the topic and claimed that the concept was feasible at the time. 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.
After its founder's namesake, this space colonization concept has come to be known as the O'Neill Cylinder. The basis of the structure would be crafted out of steel and aluminum and formed into a hollow cylinder.
This kind of space settlement is arguably the most important of inventions we'd need to give us a permanent place in space.
O'Neill's plans for the colonies originally appeared in the journal Physics Today. He went on to expand on the idea in a number of books, most notably in The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space.
A closed ecosystem inside would create the biosphere. Sunlight and solar power would be utilized by giant glass windows in space. All together the goal would be to create a climate controlled living space. There would be no limit to what kind of climate or ecosystem it is that you wanted to create.
Rather than living on top of a sphere as we do now, future cylinder colonists would settle from the inside. Artificial gravity would be created by the cylinder's walls rotating. These colonies would be situated at Lagrange points in order to stay in a consistent and stable gravitational environment. It would take weeks to fly to these colonies from Earth.
It's mind-boggling to think of the number of inventions we'd need to create to get a project of this magnitude started. But humanity has never shied away from inventing insane and impossible things.
An entire space mining industry would be needed to transport rocky material from the moon and asteroids to serve as the bedrock to these colonies. Space construction crews would assemble the colonies in space, backed by the thoughtful minds of engineers, master ecologists and so on.
Our American Gilded Age would look pathetically poor in comparison to such an expedition.
This type of space colonization technology was recently referenced by none other than Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon. A student of science fiction and fact, Bezos's goal is to help build the future of our space industry to one day make something like this possible.
Now, if Musk would have read up a little on his literature, he'd have realized he's an unwitting planetary chauvinist — a term coined by legendary fiction writer Isaac Asimov.
During an interview, Asimov was questioned about whether or not he'd ever written about space colonies. His response:
". . . We've all been planet chauvinists. We've all believed people should live on the surface of a planet, of a world. I've had colonies on the moon — so have a hundred other science fiction writers. The closest I came to a manufactured world in free space was to suggest that we go out to the asteroid belt and hollow out the asteroids, and make ships out of them [in the novelette The Martian Way]. It never occurred to me to bring the material from the asteroids in towards the earth, where conditions are pleasanter, and build the worlds there."
Yet, there is still some validity in wanting to both colonize planets such as Mars and create free floating space colonies. So why not aim for both?
Inventions for traveling through space
Getting ourselves to Mars requires an entire new class of things that don't exist yet. NASA has tasked themselves with leading the charge on an incredible amount of new technologies that will assist them in both the voyage and landing on Mars. These inventions would also of course spill over to other space colonization efforts.
NASA is working on creating satellite propellant transfer, which means that a robot would be able to refuel a spacecraft while in space, thus eliminating the need for a vehicle to return to the ground and fill up. This would allow for greater range in deep space and be a great boon for transporting space materials without expending more energy than needed.
Another problem that astronauts and future colonists will face is radiation. While scientists are working on better modes of propulsion such as advanced solar sails and lightweight heavy-lift rocket systems, they still face the ever present problem of radiation.
NASA needs to create something that can shield their spaceships if, for example, astronauts are looking to take a six-month trip to Mars. They'll need to be able to balance creating a radiation shield that's not too massive, but still protects the ship's inhabitants.
We're barely scratching the surface when it comes to just traveling to Mars. Until we can figure this out, actually landing and terraforming the planet is a pipe dream.But that hasn't stopped NASA from investing in some truly new revolutionary space technology.
Forward, space colonization!
There is an innumerable amount of problems that our space inventions will need to solve. The crafting of O'Neill colonies would bring on an absolute deluge of scientific discovery and creation.
Even the maddening planetary chauvinistic rush to Mars will be beneficial to our space colonist aspirations as well.
All in all, our most important inventions need to solve our most basic and eternal problems, but this time in space. Shelter, safety, sustenance and a place to grow and one day thrive.
We'll leave it up to our future inventors to decide how we get there.
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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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