NASA’s next manned spacecraft — its first new model in 40 years — is called the Orion, or “Apollo on steroids.” Presuming that it passes the various stages of unmanned flight tests, this may be the spacecraft that brings humans to Mars or to the asteroid belt for mining. To put it mildly, there are a lot of eggs in Orion’s basket, so much so that not even the government shutdown halted work on the craft. Even Universe Today dubbed 2014 “the Year of Orion.” Despite its importance, there are higher-priority matters, such as national security. Orion’s first exploration flight test, due to take place in September, has been pushed back to allow the U.S. Air Force to launch two Space Situational Awareness satellites.
For those of you who haven’t heard, the Dutch nonprofit Mars One is aiming to start sending humans to the Red Planet in 2024. The field of over 200,000 aspiring pioneers has been whittled down to just over 1,000. All of these applicants are ostensibly ready to leave their Earthly lives behind. Among many other aspects, Mars One has a particularly interesting funding plan. Aside from donations, it plans to fund this ambitious project by turning the whole thing, application process and all, into a reality television show. In this day and age, is this really surprising? Now, Mars One will join forces with Lionsgate TV and they’re about to start shopping the show to networks.
After initially denying the rumors, founder Bas Lansdorp says that Mars One is “eagerly awaiting the contract” with Lionsgate, and will “make a more detailed announcement when a contract is signed.” Despite the lack of verified details, plenty of information is surfacing on the old interwebs, including an interesting news bit that Lionsgate will start a casting search of its own, eventually merging with what Mars One has already started. This seems a bit confusing. Does this mean starting from scratch, rather than looking back over the Mars One applicants? The earlier applicants submited videos in which they discussed why they want to go to Mars and what qualifications they bring. Would Lionsgate applicants do the same? What qualifications are necessary for a reality television contestant other than a propensity for drama? Bear in mind that the shuttle ride to Mars will take 7-8 months. If there are any drama queens in four person groups, they’re all liable to kill each other, or themselves, long before they even arrive.
Mars One, the Dutch nonprofit that plans to send colonists on a one-way trip to Mars in 2024, narrowed down a field of over 200,000 applicants to just over 1,000 at the end of last year. Those 1,000 applicants run the demographic gamut, from home country (applicants hail from 107 countries, including the US, India, China, Brazil, UK, Canada, Russia, Mexico, Turkey, and more) to education to age. And, one could assume, in terms of religion. Recently, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments (GAIAE), an organization within the United Arab Emirates whose mission is to enhance religious and social awareness, has urged Muslims not to participate in the Mars One mission.
GAIAE issued a fatwa, an official judgment on an issue concerning Islamic law, against Muslims traveling to Mars. GAIAE employs scholars whose job it is to tackle such issues and deliver a ruling, and they said, “It is not permissible to travel to Mars and never to return if there is no life on Mars. The chances of dying are higher than living.” That being their stance, a manned mission to Mars is akin to a suicide mission, and suicide violates Islamic principles.
All you ballad writers and singers, get ready to croon. Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds is a robot designed to help stop the spread of deserts.
Didn’t know deserts were a problem? Apparently, desertification, the process by which dry land becomes arid and unable to sustain any water, plants, or animal life, has become a rapidly worsening problem over many areas of the globe. Scientists know that climate change, mining, overpopulation, deforestation, and widespread agricultural proliferation all contribute to it in some measure to desertification, but they don’t understand precisely how it works. Part of that gap in information is because it’s difficult to gather data from and about deserts, especially from their dry and dangerous depths. Shlomi Mir, a Jerusalem-based industrial designer, has developed a robot to help solve the data-harvesting problem, and perhaps help make a dent in the problem of desertification itself. Appropriately enough, the robot is called Tumbleweed, for obvious reasons.
Ten years might not seem old, but for a rover that was only meant to conduct a three-month-long mission, a decade is milestone most scientists thought the Mars exploration rover Opportunity would never see.
Opportunity launched in July of 2003 and landed on Mars on January 25, 2004, three weeks behind its twin rover, Spirit. NASA sent the two rovers to kick off a long-term robotic exploration on Mars, largely focused on gathering information that would shed light on the presence of water on the Red Planet. NASA chose two sites on either side of the planet, both of which were thought to have contained large quantities of water at some point in the past. Spirit landed on January 3, 2004 in Gusev Crater, which may have housed a lake long ago, and Opportunity landed in the mineral deposits of Meridiani Planum.