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Dec 13, 2005 - The European Space Agency is developing a new thruster based on the same physics that power the northern and southern auroras. This new plasma thruster could eventually deliver more power than the efficient ion engines which have been installed on several spacecraft. ESA engineers calculate that a plasma engine could deliver several times more thrust from a similar sized ion engine, but still be as fuel efficient.
Dec 9, 2005 - Volunteers with the Women International Space Simulation for Exploration (WISE) campaign have wrapped up 60 days of bedrest, simulating the effects of weightlessness on the human body. The 24 women spent two months in medical beds which were slightly tilted head down. The data collected during the study will help prepare astronauts for long-duration spaceflight, but it'll also help researchers working on medical problems here on Earth too.
Nov 21, 2005 - Modern spaceflight is dependent on reliable computers to handle navigation, life support, and other functions. The problem is that radiation in space, such as cosmic rays can cause computer chips to calculate incorrectly. NASA is working a solution that would run multiple redundant computers to do the same calculation several times over and then vote on which is the correct result. If a cosmic ray caused one processor to make a mistake, the other processors would still be correct, and the error would be prevented.
Oct 27, 2005 - One of the hazards of human spaceflight is the radiation damage of solar storms and cosmic rays. But it turns out the different parts of the human body are more susceptible to radiation than others. Although the best protection would be to get under cover, like in a spacecraft, future spacesuits could have extra radiation protection for specific areas of the body, like the hips (to prevent bone marrow damage).
Oct 18, 2005 - Researchers at the University of Arizona think that future robotic explorers should have the ability to survey their targets at many different levels: from orbit, in the air, and on the ground. These next generation missions would be able to arrive in orbit and then deploy a blimp or balloon that could create a more detailed map of a planet or moon's surface. The balloon could help coordinate ground rovers to analyze the most interesting targets. The rovers and balloons would relay their data up to the orbiter which could then give new targets to explore.
Oct 14, 2005 - Although NASA engineers are working on radical new kinds of propulsion, like ion engines, nuclear rockets, and even solar sails, they're still tuning up the old standby liquid-fueled rocket. Current rockets burn a small amount of fuel into preburners which power pumps that force the rest of the fuel into the combustion chamber. A new strategy will be to run all the fuel through the preburners which will create higher pressures, and should give better performance from the rocket.
Oct 12, 2005 - A Northrop Grumman/Boeing team has unveiled new details about the successor to the space shuttle: the Crew Exploration Vehicle. This new spacecraft, reminiscent of the original Apollo capsule, is expected to carry humans to the International Space Station by 2012 and return them to the Moon by 2018. Unlike Apollo, however, the CEV will carry four astronauts to the Moon and back. It will orbit the Moon autonomously, allowing all four astronauts to descend to the surface.
Sep 26, 2005 - That which was old is new again. The Moon, once thought a 'fait accompli', is now firmly back in the centre of many people's targets. We have to thank George W. Bush in giving his recent directive to NASA. This, together with NASA's announcement on how they plan to return to the moon, seems to indicate a golden lunar age has returned. You'd think smiles would be positively radiant at the recent seventh meeting of the International Lunar Exploration and Utilization Working Group, held from September 18-23 in Toronto, Ontario. Yes, many smiles enlivened the group. However, these smiles weren't like that of the child holding a cookie but like those of wise parents checking the list of ingredients. For this cookie has come before but disappeared all too quickly.
Sep 13, 2005 - Down here on Earth we're protected by our planet's magnetic field from harmful radiation, but out in space, it gets a lot more dangerous. One particularly dangerous region are the Earth's Van Allen belts which astronauts have to pass through to get to the Moon and beyond. Researchers working in Antarctica have observed two rare space storms which drained electrons out of the Van Allen belt, and reformed it closer to Earth in a region that was thought to be free of radiation. This research will help scientists predict what kinds of solar storms will move this radiation around, and give astronauts time to prepare if they're caught in the open.
Aug 11, 2005 - When human explorers reach the Moon or Mars, they're going to have to watch out for something we've all experienced here on Earth: static electricity. Zap! It's annoying when you grab a door handle after rubbing your socks across the carpet. But the dry environments on the Moon and Mars could cause astronauts to build up a significant charge that could fry electronic equipment when they try to handle it. Astronauts may have to walk across a sheet of aluminum mesh to ground themselves before returning to base.
Jul 28, 2005 - NASA is helping researchers build machines and materials at the smallest scales - known as nanotechnology - to enable future space explorers. One example of this research is in the development of carbon nanotubes, which could have 100 times the strength of steel at 1/6 the weight, and used in the construction of a future space elevator. Nanofactories could churn out spacecraft parts where atoms are placed individually with atomic precision.
Jul 6, 2005 - Scientists at the University of Maryland think that large quantities of artificial meat could be produced to supply the world with animal-free meat products, like chickenless nuggets. This is based on experiments for NASA, that created small amounts of muscle fibre cultured from single cells. According to the researchers, larger quantities could be grown in thin sheets and then stacked up to create thickness. Of course, they need to figure out a way to exercise it to make it taste like regular meat.
Jun 30, 2005 - This year NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) has selected a dozen new-fangled ideas that could lead to revolutionary changes in the way we explore the near and far solar system. Among these advanced concepts was a proposal headed up by Dr. Gerald A. Smith, of Positronics Research LLC, Santa Fe, N.M. whose "Positron-propelled and Powered Space Transport Vehicle for Planetary Missions" could lead to the kind of high-efficiency propulsion systems needed to get there and back without having to cart vast quantities of chemically-based fuel and oxidizer along for the ride.
Jun 27, 2005 - Now that NASA has committed itself to returning humans to the Moon, they're looking to overcome one of the major risks to anyone staying in space for a lengthy amount of time: radiation. In deep space, and on the Moon, astronauts would be bombarded by radiation from the Sun, and cosmic rays from space. NASA is considering an electromagnetic shield of highly charged inflatable spheres. These could be erected above a potential lunar base to attract the radiation and channel it safely away.
Jun 24, 2005 - The European Space Agency's new powerful 35-metre radio antenna in Cebreros, Spain came online earlier this month, to assist communications with the agency's growing fleet of spacecraft. Construction of the dish went very quickly; workers only broke ground a little more than a year ago. The dish has already received signals from the ESA's Rosetta and SMART-1 spacecraft as well as several radio-emitting stars. The Cebreros dish will also support the Venus Express spacecraft, due for launch in October 2005.
Solar Sail Goes Missing
Jun 22, 2005 - The Planetary Society's solar sail prototype Cosmos 1 was launched from a Russian submarine yesterday, but it seems have gone missing. There are conflicting reports coming from Russian news sources that say that the Volna rocket booster failed 83 seconds after launch because of problems with the first stage of its three-stage rocket. This is different from a US team also working to track the solar sail who said they've detected it a few times in orbit (link to BBC article).
May 5, 2005 - Prolonged exposure to microgravity causes astronauts to lose bone and muscle, so they have to exercise for hours a day to stay healthy. NASA is working on a new strategy that could involve just laying down and going for a spin - in a short-radius centrifuge. 32 test subjects will spend 21 days in bed rest, simulating the effects of microgravity. Some will spend an hour a day in a centrifuge that simulates 2.5 times the Earth's gravity. It's hoped that this treatment can reverse the loss of bone and muscle mass.
Apr 27, 2005 - The Liftport Group of space elevator companies has announced that it will be building a carbon nanotubes manufacturing plant in Millville, New Jersey, to supply various glass, plastic and metal companies with these strong materials. Although Liftport hopes to eventually use carbon nanotubes in the construction of a 100,000 km (62,000 mile) space elevator, this move will allow it to make money in the short term and conduct research and development into new production methods.
Mar 24, 2005 - NASA announced on Wednesday their first Centennial Prizes, which will reward the development of new technologies for space exploration. The first is the Tether Challenge, where various teams will compete to see who can built the strongest cable material. In the Beam Challenge, teams will build power transmitters that send energy wirelessly to a robot climber - the winner's robot will lift the most weight to the top of a 50-metre cable. The winner of each prize will be awarded $50,000. Follow on challenges are planned for next year, and will award even higher prizes.
Mar 23, 2005 - Officials announced on Tuesday that Greece has formally become the 16th country to join the European Space Agency. The country's Hellenic National Space Committee had been participating with the ESA since the 1990s, exchanging information, fellowship awards and access to databases and laboratories, but it only applied for official inclusion in 2003.
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