Our Place in Space: The Z-Series Spacesuits

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, Z is for…

THE Z-SERIES SPACESUITS

Oh my gosh, we actually did it.  This is the final post of this year’s A to Z Challenge!  All month long, we’ve been talking about humanity’s future in outer space.  We’ve talked about the space vehicles that will take us to other worlds, and we’ve talked about the kinds of habitats we could build on other worlds once we get there.  But there’s one thing I’m sure you’ve all been wondering about this whole time: what are people in the future going to wear?

Quite a few years ago, NASA introduced a prototype spacesuit for future missions to the Moon and Mars.  They called it the Z-1 spacesuit.  For some reason, the color scheme looked suspiciously like Buzz Lightyear.  A few years later, NASA introduced an updated design called the Z-2 spacesuit, which had glow-y parts that made it look like something out of Tron.

The Z-1 used mostly “soft” materials in its design, which gave astronauts increased mobility and flexibility; however, these soft materials did not provide much protection.  If you trip and fall on the Moon, you don’t want your spacesuit to rip or tear—not even a little bit!  So the Z-2 used a mix of soft and hard materials, in an attempt to strike a better balance between safety and mobility.

As I understand it, the really important thing is that the Z-series suits have a big, giant hatch in the back.  This hatch-back design makes it much easier to get in and out of your spacesuit, compared to more traditional spacesuit designs.  First, you open the hatch.  Next, you stick your arms in the arm tubes and your legs in the leg tubes.  Your head goes into the fishbowl part.  Then, just close the hatch behind you, and you’re good to go.  Easy!

So will astronauts in the future be wearing Z-3 or Z-4 spacesuits as they explore the Moon, Mars, and so on?  No.  No, they won’t.  I can’t find a source explicitly stating that development of the Z-series spacesuit was canceled, but I’m 99% sure development of the Z-series spacesuit was canceled.  At the very least, there hasn’t been any new news about it for years.  In the meantime, NASA has introduced other spacesuit designs, like the xEMU (eXploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit), intended for use on the Moon, Mars, etc.

It is worth nothing, though, that aspects of the Z-series designs—including the very convenient hatch in the back idea—have been incorporated into the xEMU.  Fans of the Z-1 and Z-2 suits can find some consolation in that.

Predicting the future is hard.  A lot of cool ideas have been proposed for space exploration, and quite a few of those ideas are now in active development at NASA, E.S.A., or elsewhere.  Some of the things we talked about this month may actually happen someday; others may be quietly canceled, like the Z-series spacesuits.  So whenever you see someone (like me) talking about what the future is going to be like, take what they say with a grain of salt (especially if they get hyper specific about what we’re going to do and by what date we’re going to do it).

But even if it turns out I got specific details about the future wrong, I still believe the general ideas expressed in these A to Z posts will be right.  Human civilization is going through a tough time right now, but will come out of this, we will learn from our mistakes, and we will build a better future for ourselves, both here on Earth and out there among the stars.

Want to Learn More?

Here’s an infographic from Space.com about the Z-1 spacesuit, and here’s their infographic about the Z-2.

Also, here’s a short video from NASA about the xEMU spacesuit, which borrows that super convenient hatchback design from the Z-series suits.

Our Place in Space: Yestersol

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, Y is for…

YESTERSOL

Do you ever feel like there just isn’t enough time in your day?  Like you just cannot get everything you need to do in a day done in a day?  Do you wish your day could be just a little bit longer?  If so, moving to Mars might be a good solution for you!  A day on Mars is nearly 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth!  Scientists call this slightly longer Martian day a “sol,” and several cute and clever new words have been introduced related to Martian timekeeping: words like yestersol, tosol, and solorrow.

As of yet, there are no humans on Mars (citation needed), but there are humans here on Earth who have to live and work and plan their whole schedules according to Mars time.  You see, the Mars rovers can only operate during Martian daylight hours.  Therefore, everyone back at mission control for those rovers needs to be awake, alert, at their desks and ready to go when it’s daytime on Mars (regardless of what time it is here on Earth).

Sometimes the discrepancy between a Martian sol and an Earthly day isn’t so bad.  Sometimes, when it’s daytime at Jezero Crater (current location of the Perseverance rover), it’s also daytime in southern California (where Perseverance mission control is headquartered).  But day after day, sol after sol, that forty minute difference adds up.  At some point, high noon at Jezero crater will be the middle of the night in southern California.

It’s important that the same crew of people always works with the same rover.  Therefore, NASA has had special clocks and watches made to help people keep track of what time it is on Mars.  NASA scientists and engineers associated with various Mars missions set their work schedules, meal schedules, and sleep schedules according to Mars time.  As a result, there is a small community of “Martians” here on Earth, living their lives about forty minutes out of sync from the rest of us.  And quite naturally, certain colloquial terms have developed within this little community of Mars researchers.

Yestersol refers to the sol before the current sol.  Tosol is the current sol.  And solorrow is the next sol, after the current sol.  Making a clear distinction between “yesterday” and “yestersol” is especially important for people who live on Earth and still have to deal with many Earthly concerns, but who also, in a very real way, need to think and act as if they’re living on Mars.

I like to think of the whole “yestersol, tosol, solorrow” phenomenon as a little preview of the future.  It’s one thing to think about big picture futuristic stuff, like space elevators and planetary protection laws; but it’s little bits of culture and daily life (sorry, sol-ly life) that help make the future feel like a real place.

Want to Learn More?

NASA spacecraft engineer Nagin Cox gave a really neat TED Talk about what it’s like living on Mars time.  Click here to watch it.

Our Place in Space: Xanadu

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, X is for…

XANADU

`Titan is the largest moon of Saturn.  It’s a very cold place.  It’s so cold on Titan that water is basically a kind of rock, and certain chemicals that we typically think of as gases (i.e.: methane and ethane) flow freely as liquids.  As a result, the surface of Titan looks surprisingly similar to some regions on Earth: a rocky landscape eroded by rain and rivers.  Except the “rock” is frozen water, and the rain and rivers are a mix of liquified methane and ethane.  One of the most curiously familiar “rock” formations on Titan lies near the equator.  It’s called Xanadu.

Xanadu is an Australia-sized region of craggy hills and mountains.  Due to Titan’s thick, hazy atmosphere, it’s impossible to see Xanadu (or any other surface feature on Titan) except in certain specific wavelengths, such as certain wavelengths of infrared.  When Xanadu is visible, it appears as a bright splotch on Titan’s surface, surrounded by much darker desert terrain.

It’s unclear how Xanadu came to be.  One hypothesis I read argues that Xanadu could be associated with some sort of giant impact event.  Perhaps a large asteroid or comet smashed into Titan, disrupting the icy crust, which then refroze as this jagged and craggy terrain.  Another hypothesis suggests that Xanadu was created by some sort of tectonic activity—a fascinating possibility.  At this point, Earth is the only world confirmed to have plate tectonics.

In this Our Place in Space series, I’ve tried to emphasize all the cool and exciting things humans could do in the distant future.  I have also mentioned, from time to time, my belief that humans in the distant future will learn to be good stewards of the Earth.  Space exploration can help us do that.  Titan is so curiously familiar, yet also so weirdly different from Earth.  Trying to understand why Titan is so different-yet-similar can teach us much about our own world—which, in turn, will help us figure out how to take better care of our planet.

But there’s a catch.  Just as we have a responsibility to take better care of Earth, we also have a moral responsibility to not mess up Titan.  Remember Titan’s thick, hazy atmosphere?  There are some weird chemicals forming in that atmosphere.  Organic chemicals.  Could those organic chemicals be associated, in one way or another, with biological activity?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  No one can say at this point.

In the next few years, NASA will be sending a robotic helicopter to explore Titan’s Shangri-La region, one of the dark-colored regions directly adjacent to Xanadu.  If we’re lucky, maybe that robo-helicopter will venture into Xanadu at some point.  I have confidence that NASA will thoroughly sterilize all of their equipment before sending it to Titan to ensure that we do not contaminate Titan with our Earth germs.

There will be many more missions to Titan in the future.  Just as Mars is crawling with Mars rovers today, Titan will be covered in Titan rovers, Titan helicopters, and Titan submarines in the future.  The place has too much in common with Earth, and we simply cannot leave it unexplored.  But humans in the distant future will not only be good stewards of the Earth; they’ll be good stewards of the Solar System.  And so, whether we’re exploring Xanadu or Kraken Mare or Shangri-La, or any other region on Titan that has a super cool name, strict safety precautions will always be a must.

Want to Learn More?

I had a really hard time finding information about Xanadu for this post.  I’m guessing that’s because very little information is available at this time.  More exploring needs to be done! What I did find came from these three scientific papers:

Our Place in Space: The Rocket Equation

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, R is for…

THE ROCKET EQUATION

Are you bad at math?  That’s okay.  I’m bad at math too.  I try to avoid talking about math on this blog because I know a lot of my readers are still traumatized by high school math classes, but also because I don’t feel I’m qualified to explain math anyway.  So in today’s post, we’re going to talk about what the rocket equation means and why it’s so important without talking about what the rocket equation actually is or how it works.

As you know, you need fuel to go to space.  If you’re a rocket scientist, the rocket equation tells you how much fuel you need to reach any specific destination in space.  You want to travel from Earth to the Moon?  Plug some numbers into the rocket equation, and the equation will tell you how much fuel you need.  Want to go from the Moon to Jupiter?  Plug new numbers into the equation, and it’ll tell you how much fuel you need for that trip.  It always ends up being an absolutely ridiculous amount of fuel.

When you see space vehicles sitting on the launch pad, something like 85% to 90% of the mass of that space vehicle is fuel.  The rocket equation demands that it be so.  For the sake of comparison, fuel makes up about 30% to 40% of the mass of an airplane, or about 4% of the mass of a car.  NASA famously refers to this as “the tyranny of the rocket equation,” because NASA is the American space agency, and whenever Americans don’t like something that call it tyranny.

With a little creative engineering, rocket scientists can make marginal improvements to a rocket’s fuel efficiency—a 1% or 2% improvement, perhaps!  But that’s about it.  The rocket equation is unforgiving, and it offers very little wiggle room.  In other words, the rocket equation means that space exploration is super expensive, and it always will be, unless and until we invent some totally new Sci-Fi propulsion system that no longer requires rocket engines.

As a science fiction writer, I’m perfectly happy to dream up propulsion systems that ignore the rocket equation.  But for the purposes of this “Our Place in Space” series, I’m trying to stick to more realistic science, which means that the distant future we’ve been exploring in these blog posts is still very much constrained by the rocket equation.

We humans can still do a lot under those constraints.  We can get to the Moon (we’ve done it before!), and we can get to Mars and the asteroid belt as well.  Most of the outer Solar System is within our reach—in time, perhaps the entire outer Solar System could be ours.  But there are limits.  So long as we’re still using rockets for space travel, there will always be limits on how far humans can go.

Want to Learn More?

Check out NASA’s “The Tyranny of the Rocket Equation” article, which goes into more detail about why the rocket equation matters.  There’s also some colorful language in there about “revolting against tyranny.”

And for those of you who do want to see the math, here you go.  Enjoy!

Our Place in Space: NIAC

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, N is for…

NIAC

So far this month, we’ve talked about some pretty wild ideas for future missions in space.  We’ve talked about building an elevator to space.  We’ve talked about putting a radio telescope on the far side of the Moon.  We’ve talked about sending astronauts to Callisto, one of the moons of Jupiter, and exploring the hydrocarbon lakes on Titan (a moon of Saturn) using a robotic submarine.  As crazy as these ideas may seem, they’ve all received some amount of funding from NASA through a program called NIAC.

NIAC stands for NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (yes, it’s an acronym that contains another acronym inside it).  NIAC is basically a program that awards grant money to researchers who are testing the limits of what we can do in space using current technology or who are developing new technologies that might one day revolutionize space exploration.  If you ever hear on the news that NASA is funding some project that sounds a little too Sci-Fi to be true, it probably just means that NASA gave somebody some NIAC funding for their research.

I once heard NIAC described as a high-risk/high-reward program.  Many NIAC projects probably won’t work out.  Some of these things really are too Sci-Fi to be true.  But what if a few NIAC projects do work?  What if some crazy idea that sounds like pure science fiction actually works!?!  Even if only a few NIAC funded projects do come to fruition, they could change everything for NASA.  More than that, they could change everything for human civilization.

I’m no expert on finances.  I’m certainly no expert on how the U.S. federal budget works.  I do know that space exploration is expensive.  Very expensive.

I also know that NASA does what it does within a very strict and rather inflexible budget.  I’m actually really impressed that NASA manages to do so much cool science stuff on such a tight budget.  This may seem weird, but I often ask myself “What would NASA do?” when I have to make difficult spending decisions.

Most NIAC projects are definitely not ready to fly and probably won’t be ready to fly for quite a few years to come.  But it makes sense to start planning for the future now.  It makes sense to do some of the research now that could help make a more Sci-Fi future become a reality.  That’s really what NIAC is all about.

Want to Learn More?

Wikipedia has a pretty thorough list of all the research projects that have received NIAC funding over the years, up to 2020.

Additionally, here’s a listing of NIAC funded projects from 2021, and here’s the listing for 2022.

Our Place in Space: The Moon Village

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, M is for…

THE MOON VILLAGE

The last time humans went to the Moon, it was motivated in large part by the Cold War.  Yes, there were scientific and humanistic reasons to go to the Moon as well, but the Cold War was a big part of it.  There’s no denying that.  Let’s hope that next time will be different.  Let’s hope that next time, human beings will set foot on the Moon as a result of international cooperation, rather than as a result of quasi-militaristic competition.

A few years ago, the European Space Agency proposed building a “village” on the Moon.  This International Moon Village would serve as the logical successor to the International Space Station.  Anyone and everyone who wanted to participate would be welcome to participate in the Moon Village program.  As the E.S.A.’s website explains it:

By “Moon Village” we do not mean a development planned around houses, some shops and a community centre.  Rather, the term “village” in this context refers [to] this: a community created when groups join forces without first sorting out every detail, instead simply coming together with a view to sharing interests and capabilities.

It’s hard to say at this point what the Moon Village would look like.  A lot depends on who decides to participate.  A lot also depends on how the various participants want to use the Moon Village once it is built.  The proposal is very open ended about this stuff.  Government run space agencies could join the program.  So could private companies.  The Moon Village could be used for purely scientific and technological research.  At the same time, it could also be used for economic interests, such as mining the Moon for resources.  Even space tourism would be welcome.

When the Moon Village was first proposed a few years ago, my understanding was that the Russian space agency was going to be a key player in this project.  That’s… ummm… I’m guessing that’s no longer the case.  I’m also a little unclear about whether or not the United States is involved.  It sometimes sounds like NASA’s Artemis Program and E.S.A.’s Moon Village Project are totally working together; other times, it sounds like Artemis and the Moon Village are two completely separate and unrelated projects.

Despite all that, and despite everything else happening in the world today, I get the sense that E.S.A. is still moving forward with their Moon Village plans.  This is a project that really could happen, and I really hope that it does happen.  Anyone who wants to participate in the Moon Village is welcome to participate in the Moon Village.  No one will be excluded.  No one will be left out.  Those are the kind of values humanity needs right now, and in the future, those are the kind of values that will help us secure our rightful place in space.

Want to Learn More?

Check out this brief statement from Jan Woerner, the Director General of E.S.A., describing what the Moon Village would be like and how it might be used.

Our Place in Space: Kraken Mare

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, K is for…

KRAKEN MARE

Earth is a pretty special place, what with all this liquid water covering our planet’s surface.  You won’t find that much liquid water on the surface of any other planet or moon in the Solar System (underground, maybe, but not on the surface).  In a similar way, Titan is a special place.  Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is covered with lakes and rivers of liquid hydrocarbons, a mix of mostly liquid methane and liquid ethane.  You won’t find that much liquid methane/ethane on the surface of any other world in the Solar System.

Kraken Mare is the largest body of… I wanted to say the largest body of water, but that wouldn’t be right, would it?  Kraken Mare is the largest body of liquid hydrocarbons on Titan.  Take all five of North America’s Great Lakes, combine them together—that’s how large Kraken Mare is.  Titan is much smaller than Earth, so Kraken Mare ends up being an enormous surface feature, sprawling across part of Titan’s northern hemisphere.

And nobody knows how deep Kraken Mare is.  Scientists were able to measure the depth of every other lake on Titan using RADAR data collected by the Cassini space probe, but the data for Kraken Mare was inconclusive.  This means either that Kraken Mare is too deep for Cassini’s RADAR equipment to measure, or some unknown substance at the bottom of Kraken Mare absorbed Cassini’s RADAR pings, limiting the data Cassini was able to collect.  Either way, wouldn’t it be fascinating to know what’s down there?

NASA seems to think so, and there are proposals on the table to send some sort of robotic submarine to Titan, to explore Kraken Mare further.  This is another of those space missions that is not actually happening yet.  It has not been approved by NASA.  It does not have the funding to go forward.  But still, it’s an idea that scientists are working on, trying to figure out if it’s feasible, with the hope that someday they can make it happen.

Could there be life on Titan?  Maybe.  Some astrobiologists clearly think it’s possible, though they probably aren’t expecting to find an actual kraken at the bottom of Kraken Mare.  Just some single-celled organisms doing some strange, alternative form of organic chemistry.  Still, that possibility is there, and it’s another reason why diving to the bottom of Kraken Mare seems like a good idea.

Fortunately, NASA has approved a new mission to explore Titan.  Unfortunately, this new mission does not include a submarine, and it won’t be going anywhere near Kraken Mare.  Instead, the Dragonfly  rotorcraft (a robotic mini-helicopter) will explore Titan’s Shangri-La region, a mysteriously dark colored region near Titan’s equator.

Meanwhile, the proposal to put a robotic submarine in Kraken Mare is still on the table.  Sooner or later, that mission is going to happen.  I’m sure of it.  Kraken Mare is simply too big and too mysterious for us humans to leave it unexplored.

Want to Learn More?

Here’s a short article from NASA, which includes a short video, on the Titan Submarine proposal.

And here’s a longer piece from EarthSky.org with more details about Kraken Mare and how we might one day explore its depths.

Our Place in Space: Jezero Crater

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, J is for…

JEZERO CRATER

Someday, I’d like to help dig up dinosaur fossils.  That’s apparently a thing pretty much anybody can volunteer to do.  Someday, I’d also like to live on Mars.  In the distant future, it may be possible to do both of those things.  Places like Jezero Crater on Mars may be full of ancient Martian fossils!

If you look at satellite images of Jezero Crater, it’s pretty obvious it used to be full of water.  You can see what appears to be a dried-up river bed snaking its way across the Martian landscape.  Where that river meets the crater, there’s a breach in the crater wall and a large river delta where the river would have spilled into the crater basin.

Right now, NASA’s Perseverance Rover is driving around that river delta, scoping the place out, examining the sediments and clays found in the region.

Okay, I may have taken some creative liberties with the cartoon above.  If life ever did evolve on Mars, it would have been short-lived.  All of Mars’s lakes, rivers, and oceans would have dried up fairly early in the planet’s history.  It is highly unlikely that anything as complex as fish or seaweed could have developed, and there certainly wouldn’t have been anything as awesome as a Martian dinosaur.

But in places like Jezero Crater, simple microorganisms could have been plentiful.  These microbes may even have joined together, creating larger structures like the bacterial mats we sometimes find here on Earth.  That’s kind of icky, I know, but it could have happened, and those bacterial mats may still be there, preserved as fossils beneath all that red dust.

I don’t expect questions about life on Mars (past or present) to be answered any time soon.  Even if one of our Mars rovers did stumble upon something that looked like a fossilized bacterial mat, there would be scientific debates for years—decades, even—over what that fossil-looking-thing really is and what it’s presence on Mars really means.  We’ve been through this before, when scientists found “bacteria shaped objects” inside a Martian meteorite.  Something can look like a fossilized bacterium, and yet not be a fossilized bacterium.

But someday in the distant future, we will know, one way or the other, if life ever existed on the Red Planet.  And perhaps in that distant future, humans living on Mars will volunteer to help dig up fossils in Jezero Crater, or other places very much like it.

Want to Learn More?

Here’s an interactive map from NASA showing the Perseverance Rover’s current location.  You’ll have to zoom out a little to see all of Jezero Crater.  If you do, you’ll see that the dried-up river (marked Neretva Vallis) and river delta I mentioned are pretty obvious.

And here is a NASA press release from a few years back, announcing Jezero Crater as the Perseverance Rover’s landing site and explaining why the crater was selected.

Also, here’s an article from Space.com about that Martian meteorite I mentioned, the one with those “bacteria shaped objects” inside.

Our Place in Space: HAVOC

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, H is for…

HAVOC

Venus is my favorite planet.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably already know this about me.  The Venusian atmosphere is weird and chemically complex.  The surface is mysteriously smooth, hinting at some pretty extreme geological activity.  And did you know Venus is spinning the wrong way?  She rotates clockwise where every other planet in our Solar System has counterclockwise rotation.  In many ways, I feel like Venus is the planet with the most personality (aside from Earth, of course).  So if there’s a realistic possibility of humans colonizing Venus one day, nothing would please me more!

HAVOC stands for High Altitude Venus Operational Concept.  It’s NASA’s very preliminary plan for exploring Venus, first with robots, then with astronauts, with the eventual goal of establishing a permanent human presence.  Most people scoff at the idea of sending humans to Venus.  Surface conditions are hellish.  The surface temperature is 475 degrees Celsius (900 degrees Fahrenheit).  Atmospheric pressure is 90 times greater than what we experience here on Earth.  Sulfuric acid falls from the sky as rain, and don’t forget about that extreme geological activity I mentioned.  Nobody’s sure what’s happening, but the ground is too smooth, as if it gets regularly “repaved” with fresh lava.

But HAVOC would not involve putting boots on the ground.  Instead, astronauts would explore Venus from the safety of blimps and other airborne habitats.  At an altitude of 55 kilometers above the surface, Venus is quite nice.  You might even call it heavenly.  The temperature and pressure are roughly Earth-normal.  We’d experience Earth-like gravity, too, and Venus would provide almost Earth-like protection from solar and cosmic radiation (a service that the Moon and Mars do not offer).  Also, 55 kilometers up, we wouldn’t have to worry about the sulfuric acid rain; we’d be above the layer of sulfuric acid clouds!

Obviously this is not happening any time soon.  The people at NASA seem to have their hearts set on returning to the Moon in the near future, with a long term goal of getting to Mars.  Still, the idea of exploring Venus with blimps makes sense.  In some ways, Venus might end up being a better second home for humans than Mars—just so long as we stay at that 55 kilometer altitude.

So in the distant future, when humanity is spreading out across the Solar System, don’t be surprised if large numbers of people live in Cloud City-like habitats on Venus.

Want to Learn More?

Check out this paper from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, detailing HAVOC as a five phase plan to explore and colonize Venus.

Also, here’s a video from NASA showing what a HAVOC mission might look like, from first arrival in Venusian orbit to safe return back on Earth.

Our Place in Space: The DART Mission

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, D is for…

THE DART MISSION

So far this month, I’ve been telling you about things that I think will happen (or plausibly could happen) at some point in the distant future.  But today, I’m going to talk about something that’ll happen in the not-so-distant future.  Something that will happen in the very near future, actually.  Later this year, in fact!  In late September or early October of 2022, a NASA space probe named DART will deliberately crash into an asteroid named Dimorphos.

Dimorphos is a relatively small asteroid orbiting a much larger asteroid named Didymos.  Basically, Dimorphos is Didymos’s moon.  These two asteroids will be passing fairly close to Earth later this year.  Now I want to be 100% clear about this: neither Didymos nor Dimorphos are going to collide with our planet.  We are in no danger.  But these asteroids will be coming close enough that we could do a little experiment—an experiment to see just how well we could defend our planet from a dangerous, mass-extinction-causing asteroid, should such an asteroid ever come our way.

DART stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Test.  As you can see in the highly technical diagram below, the plan is for the DART spacecraft to have a head-on collision with Dimorphos.

This head-on collision should cause Dimorphos to lose some orbital momentum, which should alter Dimorphos’s orbit around Didymos.  How different will Dimorphos’s new orbit be?  Hard to say.  The exact angle of impact… the astroid’s mineral composition… the amount of debris produced by the collision… all of these things may factor into what Dimorphos’s new orbit looks like.

Astronomers can do all the computer simulations they like, but until we throw a real life projectile at a real life asteroid, we won’t really know what will happen.  Not with any kind of precision.  Ergo, we need to do this experiment.

Looking once more into the distant future, I believe that humanity is going to spread out across space.  Large numbers of people will eventually be living on the Moon and Mars, as well as on other planets and moons of our Solar System.  But I also believe these humans in the distant future will take good care of the Earth.  Among other things, they will know how to defend Earth from incoming asteroids and comets, so that what happened to the dinosaurs never has to happen again.  And that capability—the capability to keep Earth safe from killer asteroids and comets—begins with a little NASA experiment scheduled to occur later this year.

Want to Learn More?

Here are a few papers that I’ve been reading about the upcoming DART Mission.  This is where I got most of the information for today’s post: