Making the Overview Effect Real

By Gary Barnhard & Uma Shri Verma

Being in space and looking down at the Earth, astronauts are hit with an astounding reality: our planet is a tiny, fragile ball of life, “hanging in the void,” shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. This phenomenon is known as the Overview Effect.

Why do we explore? Surely it’s to discover the vastness of something outside of ourselves, something surreal and sublime.

What happens when you put yourself in the position to experience something astonishing? You are simultaneously filled with humility as you bask in the silence and are awed by beauty that is the reality of our planet.

The impossibly significant and insignificant merge as you seek to comprehend the part of the universe that you inhabit.

mccandlessThe image of U.S. astronaut Bruce McCandless using a manned maneuvering unit drives this home. Virtual reality can bring this experience to everyone and inspire the next generation of explorers.

Today we are at the cusp of witnessing one of the major technological breakthroughs in Virtual Reality (VR), the next disruptive technology that will redefine the future. It is an immersive experience that makes you feel like you’re physically present in an environment that you are not a part of. You’re transported to a virtual world and the result is spell-binding. It is possible for everyone to have the opportunity to experience the truly infinite, boundless universe that we live in…through virtual reality.

Through virtual reality you will be able to see the entire Earth pass underneath you, seeing exactly what astronauts do. Watch fireworks shoot off the planet on July 4th or a SpaceX Dragon module dock with the station as if you were floating right there!

Space is the final frontier, and everybody should have a chance to be a part of exploring it and, in turn, being influenced by it—to experience the Overview Effect. There’s a lot of excitement about exploring space by the people, for the people, and it will not happen unless people choose to be involved.  Together we can make the universe accessible to everyone, inspire the next generation of explorers and get people excited about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) fields.

SpaceVR is a San Francisco based start up working on sending a virtual reality camera to the International Space Station for everyone to experience what it’s like to see the world like an astronaut.  They plan to use 360-degree cameras placed in the International Space Station’s (ISS) Cupola observatory to capture and downlink imagery to Earth so a broader community can experience space travel in immersive virtual reality. From there their future plans include the Moon, asteroids, Mars and beyond. More details on their work can be found on their website at www.spacevr.co.

Voting Is Open For The Enterprise In Space Orbiter Design Contest

NSS Enterprise In Space Orbiter Design Contest Vote
Enterprise In Space Project

Voting is open for the public to select their favorite entry in the National Space Society (NSS) Enterprise In Space Orbiter Design Contest. The purpose of the Enterprise In Space (EIS) project is to build and return to Earth a satellite that will carry approximately 100 student experiments to low-Earth-orbit. Upon its return to Earth the satellite will go on a tour of museums world-wide before becoming a permanent exhibit at a museum to be named.

The public vote represents the first round in the selection process. The results of this vote will be a key consideration in the final round of judging which involves a panel of seven judges. These judges will formally select the Grand Prize, First Prize, and Second Prize winners. In addition to the results of the public vote, the judges will consider design feasibility as well as submission adherence to contest guidelines.

Voting ends at midnight UTC on December 21.

Vote now in the Enterprise in Space Orbiter Design Contest.

Update: Close of voting has been extended from midnight UTC Fri. Dec 19 to midnight UTC Sun. Dec 21 to give people the opportunity to vote over the weekend.

Origami used to design ultra-compact solar arrays

BYU engineers have teamed up with a world-renowned origami expert to solve one of space exploration’s greatest (and most ironic) problems: lack of space.

Working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a team of mechanical engineering students and faculty have designed a solar array that can be tightly compacted for launch and then deployed in space to generate power for space stations or satellites.

Applying origami principles on rigid silicon solar panels – a material considerably thicker than the paper used for the traditional Japanese art – the BYU-conceived solar array would unfold to nearly 10 times its stored size.

“It’s expensive and difficult to get things into space; you’re very constrained in space,” said BYU professor and research team leader Larry Howell. “With origami you can make it compact for launch and then as you get into space it can deploy and be large.”

The current project, detailed in the November issue of the Journal of Mechanical Design, is propelled by collaboration between BYU, NASA and origami expert Robert Lang. Howell reached out to Lang as part of landing a $2 million National Science Foundation grant in 2012 to explore the combination of origami and compliant mechanisms. (Joint-less, elastic structures that use flexibility to create movement.)

The particular solar array developed by the group can be folded tightly down to a diameter of 2.7 meters and unfolded to its full size of 25 meters across. The goal is to create an array that can produce 250 kilowatts of power. Currently, the International Space Station has eight solar arrays that generate 84 kilowatts of energy.

Howell said origami through compliant mechanisms is a perfect fit for space exploration: It is low cost and the materials can handle harsh solar environments.

“Space is a great place for a solar panel because you don’t have to worry about nighttime and there are no clouds and no weather,” he said. “Origami could also be used for antennas, solar sails and even expandable nets used to catch asteroids.”

Hubble Space Telescope Sees Evidence of Water Vapor Venting off Jovian Moon Europa

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has observed water vapor above the frigid south polar region of Jupiter’s moon Europa, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off the moon’s surface.

Previous scientific findings from other sources already point to the existence of an ocean located under Europa’s icy crust. Researchers are not yet certain whether the detected water vapor is generated by water plumes erupting on the surface, but they are confident this is the most likely explanation.

Europa
This graphic shows the location of water vapor detected over Europa’s south pole that provides the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off Europa’s surface, in observations taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in December 2012. Hubble didn’t photograph plumes, but spectroscopically detected auroral emissions from oxygen and hydrogen. The aurora is powered by Jupiter’s magnetic field. This is only the second moon in the solar system found ejecting water vapor from the frigid surface. The image of Europa is derived from a global surface map generated from combined NASA Voyager and Galileo space probe observations.

Should further observations support the finding, it would make Europa the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapor plumes. The findings were published in the Thursday, Dec. 12, online issue of Science Express, and reported at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

“By far the simplest explanation for this water vapor is that it erupted from plumes on the surface of Europa,” said lead author Lorenz Roth of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. “If those plumes are connected with the subsurface water ocean we are confident exists under Europa’s crust, then this means that future investigations can directly investigate the chemical makeup of Europa’s potentially habitable environment without drilling through layers of ice. And that is tremendously exciting.”

In 2005, NASA’s Cassini orbiter detected jets of water vapor and dust spewing off the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Although ice and dust particles subsequently have been found in the Enceladus plumes, only water vapor gases have been measured at Europa so far.

Hubble’s spectroscopic observations provided the evidence for Europa plumes in December 2012. Time sampling of auroral emissions measured by Hubble’s imaging spectrograph enabled the researchers to distinguish between features created by Jupiter’s magnetospheric particles and local enhancements of gas, and to also rule out more exotic explanations such as serendipitously observing a rare meteorite impact. The imaging spectrograph detected faint ultraviolet light from an aurora, powered by Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, near the moon’s south pole. Atomic oxygen and hydrogen produce a variable auroral glow and leave a telltale sign that they are products of water molecules being broken apart by electrons along magnetic field lines.

“We pushed Hubble to its limits to see this very faint emission. These could be stealth plumes, because they might be tenuous and difficult to observe in the visible light,” said Joachim Saur of the University of Cologne in Germany. Saur, who is principal investigator of the Hubble observation campaign, co-wrote the paper with Roth. Roth suggested long cracks on Europa’s surface, known as lineae, might be venting water vapor into space. Cassini has seen similar fissures that host Enceladus’ jets.

The Hubble team found that the intensity of Europa’s plumes, like that Enceladus’s plumes, varies with the moon’s orbital position. Active jets have been seen only when Europa is farthest from Jupiter. But the researchers could not detect any sign of venting when Europa is closer to Jupiter.

One explanation for the variability is these lineae experience more stress as gravitational tidal forces push and pull on the moon and open vents at larger distances from Jupiter. The vents are narrowed or closed when the moon is closest to the gas giant planet.

“The apparent plume variability supports a key prediction that Europa should tidally flex by a significant amount if it has a subsurface ocean,” said Kurt Retherford, also of Southwest Research Institute.

Europa’s and Enceladus’ plumes have remarkably similar abundances of water vapor. Because Europa has roughly 12 times more gravitational pull than Enceladus, the vapor, whose temperature is measured at minus 40 degrees Celsius, does not escape into space as it does at Enceladus. Instead, it falls back onto the surface after reaching an altitude of 125 miles, according to the Hubble measurements. This could leave bright surface features near the moon’s south polar region, the researchers hypothesize.

“If confirmed, this new observation once again shows the power of the Hubble Space Telescope to explore and opens a new chapter in our search for potentially habitable environments in our solar system,” said John Grunsfeld, an astronaut who participated in Hubble servicing missions and now serves as NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington, D.C. “The effort and risk we took to upgrade and repair the Hubble becomes all the more worthwhile when we learn about exciting discoveries like this one from Europa.”

Europa
This is an artist’s concept of a plume of water vapor thought to be ejected off of the frigid, icy surface of the Jovian moon Europa, located 500 million miles from the Sun. Hubble Space Telescope spectroscopic measurements lead scientists to calculate that the plume rises to an altitude of 125 miles and then probably rains frost back onto the moon’s surface. Previous findings already point to a subsurface ocean under Europa’s icy crust.

Zoomable Image of the Whole Earth at Night

This new image of the Earth at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite over nine days in April 2012 and thirteen days in October 2012. It took 312 orbits and 2.5 terabytes of data to get a clear shot of every parcel of Earth’s land surface and islands.

View larger image at gigapan.com/gigapans/119535 (may take a while to load).

Your Very Own Personal Space Program

By Michael Mackowski

There are many ways folks express their interest in the space program. Some space enthusiasts read everything they can find and often have a large book collection. Some people accumulate souvenirs and autographs. Photos, patches, and pins are popular collectibles. Scale models can be another way to bring the space program to life in your home or office.

I have been inspired by space exploration since I was a youngster. Prior to finishing school and entering a career in aerospace engineering, my participation in the space program was limited to building scale models of the vehicles that were leaving the planet. Actually, I have never stopped building models of spacecraft, even while I build them for a living as an engineer. Like engineering, I find that modeling is just another expression of one’s creativity.

Over the years I have been participating in a network of other hobbyists with similar interests. What I have found is that many of these people, while being hobbyists and craftsmen in terms of their model building, are also passionate about space. My situation is a bit unique in that space is both my hobby and career. Most people who are passionate about space have other, usually non-technical careers. So one way they can feel closer to space exploration is by building small replicas of the hardware that makes it possible.

Certainly this sort of passion is the root of many hobbies. Military history buffs build models of tanks and fighter jets. Auto racing enthusiasts build race car models. Would be sailors rig up miniature ships and sailboats. People collect or paint miniature horses because they cannot afford to own a real horse. Airplane fans who cannot afford lessons or a plane can have a shelf full of models. Frustrated astronaut candidates build Apollo lunar modules and space shuttles. It’s not the same, but for many people it may be as close as you will get. It’s your own personal space program.

Enthusiasts want a piece of the space program they can see up close, hold in their hand, and relate to three dimensionally. Books and videos and internet sites are flat and virtual. A model is real and fills space. And you built it yourself. That’s why model building is more fulfilling than just collecting or buying pre-built souvenir models. You are now a rocket scientist, only scaled down, and with simpler technology. You have combined art with technology. You feel more a part of the movement, a part of the collective that is moving out to space. Through model building, you are more than an observer. You have made a statement, that by building this miniature monument to space exploration, you are supporting it, and proclaiming it to whomever enters your hobby room or office or wherever you chose to display your work.

If you can’t be an astronaut or be an engineer in the space industry, you can have your own little private miniature space program, and thus pay homage to whatever past or future off-planet venture that inspires you.

In that way, maybe it will inspire someone else, and the movement grows by one more.

Michael Mackowski is a member of the Phoenix chapter of the National Space Society, and an engineers at Orbital Sciences Corporation in Chandler Arizona.

Coalition for Space Exploration "Why Explore Space?" Video Contest Winners

The Coalition for Space Exploration has chosen the grand prize winner and runner up videos in its “Why Explore Space” video contest. Each video is two minutes long.

Dreams of Space by Raymond Bell

The Economics of Exploring Space by Garry Livesay

NASA Gains Breathing Room On Commercial Crew Program

NASA has negotiated a continuation of its successful Space Acts Agreements (SAA) procedures for contracting and funding of the next phase of its Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The SAA has also been the process for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), which saw the flight of the SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) with cargo, and its return with science experiments and no longer needed space station equipment.

The deal, worked out between NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee, Representative Frank Wolf (R-Va), will allow NASA to select 2.5 partners under the CCP using SAA rather than the more restrictive and cumbersome Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Wolf’s statement on his website was followed by a letter from Bolden.

The agreement allows the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase of CCP to proceed under SAA rules, but then commits NASA to using FAR procedures for certification and procurement of services.

There was also agreement to fund the program at the Senate level of $525 million, although Bolden in his letter urged the conference committee to fund the CCP at a higher level for 2013. The Administration had originally requested $836 million.

Contenders in the Commercial Crew arena include:

  • Space Exploration Technologies Corporation – SpaceX – Dragon
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation – SNC – Dream Chaser
  • Boeing – CST-100
  • Blue Origin – New Shepherd

Moon Mines: Visionary or Senseless?

Editorial by Al Globus, December 2011

Do lunar mines make sense? The answer depends on what you want to do in space. If what you want is something close to what we have now: a booming commercial communication satellite business and government programs for science and exploration, then no. Lunar mines built entirely with tax dollars are expensive and unnecessary. On the other hand, if you see further than a few years ahead, if you see civilization, humanity, and Life itself expanding into space, if you see large scale industrialization, commercialization and settlement of space, then lunar mines are of enormous importance. The interesting thing is, the second vision will probably cost the taxpayer a lot less and deliver much greater value to the people of Earth.

First, let us consider what lunar mines can supply a growing civilization in space:

1) Shielding mass. Our atmosphere protects us from the intense radiation in space. For those who seek to spend long periods in space, particularly beyond Earth’s protective magnetic field, radiation shielding is a must. To mimic the atmosphere, roughly 10 tons/square-meter is necessary. The Moon is ideally situated to supply these bulk materials.

2) Rocket propellant. Today’s rockets are propelled by chemical reactions. The highest performance propellant is hydrogen and oxygen, which combine to produce water and the energy and thrust necessary to travel in space. Most of the weight, roughly 90%, of this propellant is oxygen. The Moon has very large quantities of oxygen tied up in surface materials.

3) Water. A great deal of money is spent today bringing water to the International Space Station (ISS). The same oxygen that supplies most of the mass for rocket propellant can be used to make water. There are also large quantities of water in the craters at the lunar poles where the Sun never shines.

4) Metals. Lunar materials returned by the Apollo astronauts contain large quantities of titanium, aluminum, iron and other metals. These metals can supply materials for large space structures, including habitats.

5) Silicon. Silicon and metals from the Moon could be used to build the space segment of Space Solar Power (SSP) systems. These satellites would gather energy in space and transmit it wirelessly to the ground. If successfully developed, SSP could supply massive quantities of clean energy to Earth for literally billions of years. A recent paper published in the NSS Space Settlement Journal [A Contemporary Analysis of the O’Neill – Glaser Model for Space-based Solar Power and Habitat Construction. Peter A. Curreri and Michael K. Detweiler. December 2011.] suggests that using lunar materials for the SSP satellites requires more up-front capital than ground launch but begins generating profits much sooner.

6) He-3. Over billions of years the solar wind has implanted He-3, an isotope that is particularly well suited to fusion power, into lunar surface materials. This could be mined, brought to Earth, and used in future fusion power plants.

Thus, a vigorous lunar mining system could be part of a system to deliver energy to Earth, build large structures in space, and even provide radiation protection, water and oxygen to those who want to spend significant time in orbit. Developing lunar mines will be an enormous effort and would cost huge amounts of taxpayer money if it were done the same way Apollo, the Space Shuttle, and the ISS were developed. Fortunately, there is another way.

In the 1960s the U.S. government provided modest subsidies to start up the communication satellite business. Today, communication satellites are a $250 billion/year global business producing yearly tax revenue far greater than the subsidies.

The U.S. government is currently providing subsidies to help develop private, commercial launch vehicles. The cargo versions are almost complete. Two launchers, one of which has flown, were developed at a small fraction of the usual cost for government launcher programs. The human launch versions are being developed by the commercial crew program, which was budgeted for $6 billion and scheduled to develop two or three vehicles that could deliver astronauts to the ISS by 2015. [The budget for the first year was cut from $850 million to $406 million. This is expected to delay the first flight by a year or two.] By contrast, the all-government Space Launch System (SLS) is not scheduled to fly astronauts until 2021 and is estimated cost $40 billion to develop. Although the SLS is much larger, variants of the commercial vehicles may approach or even exceed SLS performance sooner and at much less cost. [The first SLS version is expected to place up to 70 tons into Low Earth Orbit (LEO); a later version may lift up to 130 tons. The Falcon Heavy, due to launch in late 2012, is expected to place up to 50 tons in LEO. SpaceX has also proposed a larger version of the Falcon that could lift 150 tons to LEO; it is projected to take five years to develop at a total cost of $2.5 billion.]

Thus, the evidence suggests that reorienting our space program to support commercialization and industrialization of space, as opposed to 100% government missions, may produce far greater results at much less cost. Lunar mining could be a major component of such space industrialization. There is already at least one commercial company that intends to mine the Moon. Perhaps we should support it.

Vesta Full Frame

Vesta
Vesta Image from 5,200 kilometers
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA
See also full rotation movie of Vesta.

The Dawn spacecraft has completed imaging of Vesta from an altitude of 5,200 kilometers and has begun spiraling down to an altitude of 2,700 kilometers for the first series of scientific observations.

Chris Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator at UCLA, notes:

We have been calling Vesta the smallest terrestrial planet. The latest imagery provides much justification for our expectations. They show that a variety of processes were once at work on the surface of Vesta and provide extensive evidence for Vesta’s planetary aspirations.

Below are additional images of Vesta from the 24 July collection.

Vesta
The “Snowman” on Vesta
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA
Vesta
The Southern Hemisphere of Vesta with a multitude of craters
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA