MarsNews.com
August 17th, 2018

Science says waste beer could help us live on Mars

Flexible transparent aerogels as window retrofitting films and optical elements with tunable birefringence
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221128551830168X

Any project that starts with beer and ends with colonizing Mars has our attention. At its highest level, that describes new research coming out of the University of Colorado at Boulder — where scientists have developed a new super-insulating gel, created from beer waste, which could one day prove useful for building greenhouse-like habitats for Mars colonists.

“The Smalyukh Research Group at the University of Colorado Boulder has developed a super-insulating, ultra-light, and ultra-transparent aerogel film,” Ivan Smalyukh, a professor in the Department of Physics, told Digital Trends. “Aerogels are extremely porous solid objects that are made mostly from air, and are about 100 times less dense than glass panes. Our aerogel is made from nanocellulose, which is grown by bacteria that eat waste beer wort, a waste byproduct of the beer industry.”

The cellulose enables the researchers’ aerogel to be very flexible and durable. It can be produced very cheaply, and means the team can precisely control the individual size of particles which make up its solid structure. This lets the material allow light to pass through it without significant scattering.

“Our immediate real world use-case is to use our aerogel product to dramatically increase the efficiency of windows in homes and commercial buildings,” Andrew Hess, another researcher on the project, told us. “Replacing inefficient windows is a costly and difficult endeavor, especially for buildings with structural or historical constraints. We aim to commercialize a peel-and-stick retrofitting aerogel film for windows which will effectively turn single-pane into double-pane windows — all at an affordable cost well below that of replacing the windows.”

However, the team also has more far-flung ambitions for their research. The project was recently named one of the winners of NASA’s 2018 iTech competition, which aims to reward technologies that could one day be used to help people travel to space.

August 16th, 2018

Op/Ed: From mosques on Mars to meeting Martians: the dilemmas awaiting Muslims in space

The UAE is planning to send four Emirati astronauts into space by 2021. Courtesy Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future

Different religions will need to dig deep into their theology to tackle the dilemmas their astronauts will face.

Islamic theology is well-suited to support space travel, exploration and habitation. After all, the Quran includes the verse: “All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds.” In addition, the Quran dangles the challenge for humanity to cut through the boundaries of inner space and reach other planets and galaxies. It employs imagery that hints at rockets and space travel – but only with Divine permission.

If it’s true that within the next century humanity will be living on Mars, you might want to build a mosque. Experts are already designing homes that can be 3D printed once people arrive on Mars, to save on transportation. I can envisage 3D printed mosques with rotating prayer spaces that constantly adjust themselves to remain pointed at Makkah.

The most fascinating questions will be ethical ones about interactions with other life forms. What’s the right etiquette when you meet a Martian? Could they have a religion? Could you marry one?

August 7th, 2018

Five things you need to do to build a home on Mars

Ella and Nicki at the Mars Desert Research Station. Author provided

If you had to live the rest of your life on Mars, what would you miss the most? Figuring out how we could we be comfortable living on the red planet is a challenge but with increasing discussion about how to send people to Mars with the ultimate aim of colonising the planet, how to replace the sensation of the sunshine on your face or the grass beneath your feet is prescient one.

Luckily there is no shortage of expertise. On May 16, 2018, I organised a workshop at the University of Bristol in collaboration with local artists Ella Good and Nicki Kent to come up with a plan for building a Martian house here on Earth. The project is part of a large-scale public art work, with a plan to designing the house before building it in 2019. We have already identified five key things to do, taking inspiration from research facilities such as Biosphere 2 and the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, US.

August 6th, 2018

SpaceX organizes inaugural conference to plan landings on Mars

Elon Musk speaks at the International Astronautical Congress on September 29, 2017 in Adelaide, Australia. Behind him is a rendering of the Big Falcon Spaceship that could transport people to Mars.

No one can deny that SpaceX founder Elon Musk has thought a lot about how to transport humans safely to Mars with his Big Falcon Rocket. But when it comes to Musk’s highly ambitious plans to settle Mars in the coming decades, some critics say Musk hasn’t paid enough attention to what people will do once they get there.

However, SpaceX may be getting more serious about preparing for human landings on Mars, both in terms of how to keep people alive as well as to provide them with something meaningful to do. According to private invitations seen by Ars, the company will host a “Mars Workshop” on Tuesday and Wednesday this week at the University of Colorado Boulder. Although the company would not comment directly, a SpaceX official confirmed the event and said the company regularly meets with a variety of experts concerning its missions to Mars.

This appears to be the first meeting of such magnitude, however, with nearly 60 key scientists and engineers from industry, academia, and government attending the workshop, including a handful of leaders from NASA’s Mars exploration program. The invitation for the inaugural Mars meeting encourages participants to contribute to “active discussions regarding what will be needed to make such missions happen.” Attendees are being asked to not publicize the workshop or their attendance.

August 3rd, 2018

Senators seek focus on Mars in NASA’s exploration plans

Members of the Senate’s space subcommittee said at a recent hear they want NASA to remain focused on human missions to Mars even as it plans activities in cislunar space and on the moon. Credit: Boeing

Senators preparing a new NASA authorization bill want to ensure that the agency’s long-term focus remains human missions to Mars even as it plans flights to the moon.

At a July 25 hearing by the Senate’s space subcommittee, titled “Destination Mars – Putting American Boots on the Surface of the Red Planet,” key senators made clear that development of a “Gateway” facility in cislunar space, or human missions to the surface of the moon, should not be a distraction to human Mars exploration.

“While the moon will provide a great testing ground in preparation for the journey to Mars, we must remain vigilant and ensure that we limit costly delays that could push a crewed Mars mission in the 2030s out of reach,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the space subcommittee, in his opening remarks. “Mars is today the focal point of our national space program.”

That view had bipartisan support. “We need to help NASA lift its gaze past the moon and understand how the work we do in space closer to Earth will serve us in our quest for Mars,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), ranking member of the subcommittee.

Both Markey and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) criticized NASA for not yet providing a “roadmap” document required by a 2017 NASA authorization act outlining its plans for eventual human missions to Mars. That report was due to Congress last December.

July 30th, 2018

One Woman’s Math Could Help NASA Put People on Mars

Kathleen Howell is developing potential orbits around a Lagrange point.
SOURCE: PURDUE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF AERONAUTICS AND ASTRONAUTICS, AI SOLUTIONS

Kathleen Howell never aspired to walk on the moon. When she watched the first lunar landing as a teenager in 1969, she was more intrigued by the looping route that brought the Apollo 11 astronauts from Earth to the Sea of Tranquility and back. Orbits became her life’s passion. In 1982 she wrote a doctoral thesis on orbits in “multibody regimes” that earned her a Ph.D. from Stanford. She soon received a Presidential Young Investigator Award.

Howell’s world-leading expertise in unconventional orbits is in fresh demand. NASA has decided that a ­near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO)—a specialty of hers—would be an ideal place to put the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a planned way station for future human flights to the moon and eventually Mars. Mission planners have already brought her in for advice.

Unlike an ordinary flat orbit, an NRHO can be slightly warped. Also, it stands on end, almost perpendicular to an ordinary orbit—hence “near rectilinear.” The plan is for the Gateway’s circuits to pass tight over the moon’s north pole at high speed and more slowly below the south pole, because of the greater distance from the moon. Imagine moving your hand in circles, as if washing a window, while you walk forward. Except you’re making hand circles around the moon while walking around Earth.

July 30th, 2018

Top Five Teams Win a Share of $100,000 in Virtual Modeling Stage of NASA’s 3D-Printed Mars Habitat Competition

Team Zopherus of Rogers, Arkansas, is the first-place winner in NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, Phase 3: Level 1 competition.

NASA and partner Bradley University of Peoria, Illinois, have selected the top five teams to share a $100,000 prize in the latest stage of the agency’s 3D-Printed Habitat Centennial Challenge competition. Winning teams successfully created digital representations of the physical and functional characteristics of a house on Mars using specialized software tools. The teams earned prize money based on scores assigned by a panel of subject matter experts from NASA, academia and industry. The judges interviewed and evaluated submissions from 18 teams from all over the world and selected these teams:

Team Zopherus of Rogers, Arkansas – $20,957.95
AI. SpaceFactory of New York – $20,957.24
Kahn-Yates of Jackson, Mississippi – $20,622.74
SEArch+/Apis Cor of New York – $19,580.97
Northwestern University of Evanston, Illinois – $17,881.10

“We are thrilled to see the success of this diverse group of teams that have approached this competition in their own unique styles,” said Monsi Roman, program manager for NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “They are not just designing structures, they are designing habitats that will allow our space explorers to live and work on other planets. We are excited to see their designs come to life as the competition moves forward.”

July 26th, 2018

Putting Boots on Mars Requires a Long-Term Commitment, Experts Tell Senators

An artist’s depiction of humans working on Mars.
Credit: NASA

A group of senators heard expert opinions during a committee hearing on Wednesday (July 25) about what will be required — logistically and scientifically — to safely land humans on Mars.

The hearing was coordinated by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is chair of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. “Mars is today the focal point of our national space program,” Cruz said during opening remarks. “If American boots are to be the first to set foot on the surface, it will define a new generation — generation Mars.”

But right now, NASA’s focus seems to be split between the moon and Mars — a point raised by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, who asked whether the NASA budget is being “robbed” because efforts aimed at a journey to the moon are drawing resources away from the real priority of Mars.

Another clear takeaway from the testimony was the sheer number of tasks NASA needs to accomplish before such a mission can become a reality: everything from figuring out how to land larger spacecraft on Mars to developing systems that can function completely independently of Earth to making sure astronauts can withstand the mental challenges of being so far from home.

All those tasks mean NASA can’t do it alone and needs to find a way to bring other countries as well as private companies into the mix. “People make it sound like the government is actually building all the hardware,” said Chris Carberry, head of Explore Mars, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting exploration of Mars. “They’re not.”

July 13th, 2018

Fungus may be the key to colonizing Mars

Courtesy Redhouse Studio Architecture

The thought of colonizing Mars has science fiction aficionados, scientists, and billionaire entrepreneurs staring up at the night sky with renewed wonder and inspiration. But the key to achieving the lofty goal of colonizing and building extensively on a new planet may not exist out among the stars, but under our feet right here on Earth.

Christopher Maurer, an architect and Founder of Cleveland-based Redhouse Studio, and Lynn Rothschild, a NASA Ames researcher, believe algae and mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus that consists of a network of fine white filaments) may make the perfect building material on Mars.

The algae, which would act as the food supply for the fungus, and mycelium spores would be packed into a flexible plastic shell where it would be watered and coaxed to grow, providing structure for the shell and filling it out almost like air fills out a bouncy castle.

July 12th, 2018

What Ikea’s Designers Learned From Living In A Simulated Mars Habitat

[Photo: courtesy Ikea]

Ikea is looking to space for inspiration–literally. The furniture company announced last week that it will be collaborating with NASA in order to learn about what life would be like on Mars, and how the company might apply the space agency’s knowledge of living in small spaces to its products.

For the company’s designers to understand what it might be like to live on Mars, Ikea sent five people to live for three days inside a model Mars habitation in the Utah desert. Built in 2001 by the Mars Society–an advocacy group dedicated to helping humans get to Mars–the Mars Desert Research Station hosts scientists and students for two to three weeks at a time, allowing them to simulate what life might be like on the red planet next door. The Ikea team went through a three-day version of a Mars simulation with the engineer and space architect Constance Adams, with lectures, daily routines, and even an excursion outside the building to see what working on the planet’s surface might be like.