Showing posts from October, 2014

Spoiler-free guide to the science of Interstellar

As Christopher Nolan's epic new film opens, it's not quite apocalypse now, but it will be soon. Crops are failing all over the planet. Humanity's final generation has already been born. We've got to get off the planet. And not just off to a nice moon in our solar system: we've got to go Interstellar.

This is going to require some serious science.

The film's hard-science pedigree is guaranteed by its science advisor and executive producer, Kip Thorne, one of the world's leading experts on Einstein's theory of general relativity. "The things he was able to open up for me were far more exotic and exciting than anything I could've come up with as a screenwriter," Nolan told New Scientist.

Some critics have said they wished they'd brushed up on their physics before seeing the film – so here's our spoiler-free guide to everything you need to know before you see Interstellar.

What is this "dust" that threatens the Earth'…

Interstellar Travel Won't Look Anything Like The Movie

The astronaut leading humankind's journey to the stars says if we want to get to another Earth, we'll have to expand our thinking. Christopher Nolan's Interstellar imagines a human journey to planets beyond our star. But that kind of trip would seem impossible in today's terms. Fortunately, a DARPA-funded task force is already working to make it happen in the next century.

Mae Jemison, leader of the 100 Year Starship Project (100YSS) told Popular Science that enormous challenges stand between human beings and colonizing a distant star system. But she believes 100YSS can bring together the diversity and creativity of invention necessary to make it happen.

Jemison has had a rare vantage point on human spaceflight. An engineer, physician, and—for six years—a NASA astronaut, she became the first woman of color in space when she orbited Earth in space shuttle Endeavour. Often, astronauts talk about the "overview effect" from space, a sense of oneness with Eart…

NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Complete

NASA’s new Orion spacecraft received finishing touches Thursday, marking the conclusion of construction on the first spacecraft designed to send humans into deep space beyond the moon, including a journey to Mars that begins with its first test flight Dec. 4.

The assembled Orion crew module, service module, launch abort system and adapter will reside in Kennedy’s Launch Abort System Facility until its scheduled rollout to the launch pad, set for Nov. 10. At the launch pad, it will be lifted onto the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that will carry it into space for its uncrewed flight test.

“This is just the first of what will be a long line of exploration missions beyond low earth orbit, and in a few years we will be sending our astronauts to destinations humans have never experienced,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development “It’s thrilling to be a part of the journey now, at the beginning.”

The December flight test will sen…

What It Will Take to Become an Interstellar Civilization

The new movie “Interstellar” is set in a not-so-distant future, but distant enough that they’ve managed to build something still elusive in 2014: a spaceship that can travel between solar systems. Such starships have been a technological mainstay in science fiction for decades, but they remain a crazily complicated proposition in everything from propulsion to human reproduction.

Still, that hasn’t stopped researchers from trying. Last month, a bunch of rocket scientists, microbiologists and entrepreneurs gathered in Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center to discuss—in level and serious tones—how to become a spacefaring civilization. The meeting is called the 100-Year Starship symposium, and it’s brought brains together once a year since 2011 to figure out what we need to do now if we want to have an interstellar spacerocket a century from now.

The group has made progress defining the challenges and pointing their noses toward solutions, but much work remains (like, say, buildi…

'Interstellar' Science: The Movie's Black Hole Explained

"Interstellar" may be a work of fiction, but the upcoming film gives viewers an amazingly accurate view of a black hole, its creators say.

Renowned theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, an "Interstellar" executive producer, worked closely with the movie's visual-effects crew to come up with an unprecedentedly realistic portrait of "Gargantua," the monstrous black hole at the movie's core.

"Neither wormholes nor black holes have been depicted in any Hollywood movie in the way that they actually would appear," Thorne said in a new explainer video produced by Wired magazine, which you can watchabove. "This is the first time the depiction began with Einstein's general relativity equations."

The visualization of Gargantua revealed that black holes twist their "accretion disks" of infalling material into complex and stunning shapes — a find that had quite an effect on Thorne.

"I saw this disk wrap up over the blac…

Private Astronaut Training Company Picks Spacesuits for Spacewalk Simulator

A private spacesuit company and an astronaut-training organization are teaming up to give private astronauts on simulated spacewalks a more spacelike experience.

With a Kickstarter campaign underway to simulate spacewalks on Earth, Houston's Waypoint 2 Space announced a new partnership to integrate spacesuit design ideas with the simulator. The company plans to work with Brooklyn-based Final Frontier Design to integrate life support systems into the spacewalk simulator and other training systems.

"Our experts looked at several excellent space suit designs along with ways to incorporate these life support systems into our core pre-suborbital program," said Kelly Soich, director of programs and chief payload specialist for Waypoint, in a press release. "In the end, FFD [Final Frontier Design] presented an innovative solution, embodying the core efforts of commercial space and providing us the capability to maximize spaceflight training for a large segment of the po…

Mars or bust! Elon Musk talks Star Trek and space colonies at MIT

SpaceX has its roots in billionaire Elon Musk’s interest in reaching Mars. That much is part of the legend. But you don’t realize how serious Musk is about sending humans to other planets until he’s speaking live.

In a talk that drew several spontaneous rounds of applause and ended with a standing ovation, Musk talked Tesla, SpaceX, and the future of humans in space at the closing talk at the centennial celebrations of MIT’s historic aeronautics and astronautics department.

“The basic ingredients are there,” Musk told a sold-out crowd in MIT’s Kresge auditorium.

Of course, humans are going to need to figure out a few things if we’re going to make it to our neighbor planet. Robust, reusable landing gear (which SpaceX is tussling with already) is at the top of the list. Also energy: Power generation on Mars is going to be an “interesting problem,” Musk said.

In Musk’s view, an investment in becoming a “multi-planet” species is essential for our longevity.

It could come fairly chea…

Buzz Aldrin Says One-Way Trips to Mars Could Actually Work

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin wants to send people on a trip to Mars, and he doesn't want them to come home — at least not at first.

The time and resources that will be used to get humans to the Red Planet only make sense if the astronauts stay there and help to jump-start an outpost on the new world, Aldrin said during a panel here at MIT's AeroAstro 100 conference Wednesday (Oct. 22).

"It [will] cost the world — and the U.S. — billions and billions of dollars to put these people there, and you're going to bring them back?" Aldrin said. "What are you going to do when you bring them back here that can possibly compare [to] the value that they would be if they stayed there and Mars wasn't empty? And then, they helped to work with the next group and it builds up a cadre of people. When we've got 100 — or whatever it is — then we start bringing people back."

Not all of Aldrin's fellow panelists agreed with him, however…

Interstellar Earth: The Future We See In Our Stars

This Fall, interstellar aspirations seem to be in the air.

Christopher Nolan’s film “Interstellar,” coming Nov. 7 in the U.S., is heavily anticipated for the otherworldly adventure it promises. In the realm of gaming, players are every bit as expectant for the Oct. 24 release of Sid Meier’s “Civilization: Beyond Earth,” by Firaxis Games.

Looking at the trailers for these two epic works side by side brings interesting questions about the themes showing up on society’s radar.

Both hint at near-term challenges that will test us to the limit. Both suggest that human effort, knowledge, and resolve will see us through to the other side. And both see interstellar achievement as key to how we get there. Just visible in both trailers, like a gem in a flash flood, lies this possibility: Before us lies a chasm, but we are capable of making its leap.

Although it is early to make too many guesses on the details of these two works, another idea can also be glimpsed: though challenges may lie d…

Will Humans Start Colonizing Mars in Ten Years?

Colonizing Mars has long represented one of the more ambitious dreams for space travel proponents ranging from NASA scientists to Silicon Valley entrepreneur and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. The latter also envisions sending humans to Mars sometimes in the next several decades, and has mused about how to build a Mars colony population of 1 million people in an Aeon interview.

Mars One — a nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands — shares some of the Musk’s goals and indeed, the Mars One vision relies on Musk’s SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. But Mars One’s concept of seeding Mars with human colonies by launching one-way missions recently received some close scrutiny from a team of MIT researchers.

The MIT team’s critique identified potential challenges and estimated that settling the first batch of Mars colonists would require about 15 launches of the Falcon Heavy rocket being developed by Musk’s firm SpaceX at a cost of $4.5 billion. MIT also suggested that Mars One may want to …

Private Space Habitat to Blow Up on ISS Next Year

Until someone manages to figure out how to get a space elevator up and running, sending stuff into space is going to remain enormously expensive. Payloads are also limited by size: if it doesn’t fit inside a rocket, it’s not going to make it into orbit. This places significant restrictions on large space structures like the International Space Station, which have to be made up of lots of tiny little modules stuck together, meaning that you don’t have access to a lot of open space.

Fifty years ago, NASA experimented with launching inflatable spacecraft that could be carried into space wadded up inside small rockets, and then pumped up to enormous sizes once they reached orbit. It was a fantastic idea that was in the running for a habitat on the ISS until funding for it was axed by the U.S. Congress. But Bigelow Aerospace has taken up the idea, and at the 2014 International Astronautical Congress last week, the private company reconfirmed its plan to test an inflatable module on the I…

Elon Musk Wants to Colonize Mars in Order to Fend Off Human Extinction

While the most brilliant business minds on Earth often possess strange quirks, a glimpse into the intergalactic future as envisioned by Elon Musk paints a rather harrowing -- and thought-provoking -- picture.

“I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary,” said the Tesla and SpaceX founder in a new interview with Aeon magazine, where he discusses his hopes for 1 million people to colonize Mars by the end of the century.

Musk is betting on Mars -- where no human has ever travelled -- as a safe haven in the case that a catastrophic event assails the Earth. Though this is a scientific inevitability, such an event isn’t predicted for far into the future.

In a billion years, for instance, a swelling sun will scorch our food chain, boil our oceans and extinguish life on Earth as we know it. And this is the optimistic version of impending Armageddon, writes Aeon’s Ross Anderson -- barring a more sudden end in the form of a cosmic collision or supernova …