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Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

Will NASA call it all off? PSYCHE!

August 18, 2022
MThomas

First of all, stop calling it “the golden asteroid.” That’s confusing people (the headline of the article linked below even uses the phrase “gold mine.” Come on, lazy journalists.)

If 16 Psyche is worth mining, when could such operations proceed? Citigroup thinks that space mining, including from the moon and asteroids, will be a $100 billion-per-year business by 2040. Launch costs will continue to decrease and experience in operating in space will continue to expand until such a business makes economic sense.

https://thehill.com/opinion/technology/3597381-nasa-might-cancel-mission-to-massive-gold-mine-asteroid-heres-why-it-shouldnt/

So is asteroid worth it?

Sure.

Is it horribly expensive right now?

Sure.

So why do it?

Well, how heavy do you think the materials to make buildings and ships in outer space are?

If we’re serious about putting people on the Moon and Mars, then it makes much more sense to set up robotic mining factories and assemble everything in space.

All this needs is a little incentive…like a new space race…

Bringer of Light, Chapter 35: United Mars Colonies (pt 3)

August 13, 2022
MThomas

Previously, in Bringer of Light

The crew of the Artemis have admitted that the water brought from Ceres was contaminated. And yet they deny it was dangerous. Only different. And requiring training…that may stretch the rationality and scientific understanding of the current “United” Mars colonists…


“Delegates,” Martin began. 

No response.

“Delegates, we must accept the help of the Artemis crew. We have little alternative. We must face the facts. The UN, our home countries, our home planet has abandoned us.”

“How can we survive?” another delegate asked, voice quivering. “Captain, how can we feed ourselves? Maintain heat, power?”

“These are legitimate questions,” she replied. “Coop, a small demonstration?”

He nodded and looked back and forth. Spotting a cup on a small table to the side of the console desk, he raised it above his head.

“Empty now. See?”

He stooped and scooped up a handful of regolith from the chamber floor. Dropped it to the cup. In an instant, water appeared.

“Sorcery,” a delegate whispered.

Continue Reading

When planets align! Eh. Again.

April 24, 2022
MThomas

https://www.nj.com/news/2022/04/parade-of-planets-4-planets-to-line-up-in-sky-this-weekend-joined-by-moon-next-week.html

(Note: You won’t be able to see the planets actually looking like these photoshopped images…unless you happen to have a really powerful telescope in your backyard.)

Not sure why I first got this info from a site based in New Jersey. The info about what time of day and in what part of the sky is only relevant to people living in the NJ_NYC area.

Still, it’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs once every few years…

2005. 2016. 2020. And 2022. Not exactly a regular pattern, it seems.

And, no, there is no “spiritual significance” to a planetary alignment. It’s an illusion, an imaginary lining up of the solar system that doesn’t affect you personally. Sorry.

But it’s still fun to watch. Er, if you enjoy getting up before dawn (I don’t).

According to nj.com, “The planetary parade of sorts will occur when Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn all appear to be lined up in a row above the horizon during the pre-dawn hours — starting Saturday morning, April 23. The alignment will also be visible during the next few mornings, and April’s crescent moon will soon join the parade, according to experts from LiveScience and AccuWeather.”

Yeah, lots of web sites are covering this. At least the one I linked above doesn’t have automated videos, flashing ad gifs, and other random pop-ups that drain your smartphone battery.

Click here for more info about the next great alignment (not as impressive as the so-called “Great Conjunction” a couple years ago, but we’ll see more planets in June and July): https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2022/04/17/planets-align-april-venus-mars-jupiter-saturn/7351117001/

Let’s make rocket fuel with E. Coli!

April 12, 2022
MThomas

In short, the algae will use sunlight to transform CO2 into sugars that are then enhanced by bio-engineered E.coli into 2,3-butanediol. Interestingly, 2,3-BDO is not entirely conceptual as it currently exists and is mainly used to produce rubber components. It has just never been thought of as fuel before.

https://www.universal-sci.com/article/producing-rocket-fuel-on-mars-using-microbes?utm_campaign=Universal-Sci%20Weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter

Neat. So all the astronauts have to do is bring, uh, how much algae we talking here?

The article doesn’t say, but it does mention a by-product of the process: Oxygen!

That would seem rather helpful. Mars or bust?

How do you do it without gravity?

March 18, 2022
MThomas

Or, as I’m sure was unintentionally titled, ”Nasa probing people having sex in space.” 🤦

Ya know, I’m pretty sure we need to figure out “this whole food-air deal” first (to quote comedian Bill Hicks).

“The US space agency confirmed that there were currently no plans for a field or project office to explore the topic in any detail but that could change as we get closer to putting humans on Mars.“

Uh-huh.

Priorities…

Bringer of Light, Chapter 34: Lunar Departure

February 19, 2022
MThomas

A coup is underway on Luna Base. Time for Sergey to leave…if he can stand up…

Red lights flashed around him. The floor shook once, twice.

Pounding of footsteps.

A face appeared.

Who? A woman.

Her mouth opened, then closed.

Again. And again. She must be talking to him.

His eyes fluttered, closed.

He was being shaken.

The floor? No, the woman.

His ears filled with the sound of rushing water. The Baltic Sea. He was home, he could smell the salt water, feel the mist. He could hear the lament, chanted on the steppe winds…

O what have you heard in Ukraine?

Nothing have I heard

Nothing have I seen

But horsemen on all four sides…

Then tazerfire. Pulses. An acrid smell.

Burning. Something was burning.

Someone.

He was shaken again, then a woman’s voice. “Captain! Captain! Stay with me!”

Opened his eyes again, nodded his head, down, down. His chest hurt. Why? Did she shoot him?

No. He had fallen down. Or something.

He tried to stand. One foot kicking against the other. The left knee refused to bend. His hands. They were. Where were they?

Here. He found them. The right hand clenched, unclenched. He grunted, felt the wall behind his back. It shook again. The wall, not the woman.

Who?

Ah. Elo-something. Elodie. He tried to shake his head, open his mouth. “Ahhh” came out. He blinked his eyes.

There seemed to be something else pounding beneath him. No, inside of him. His heart? He tried to move his left arm. It flopped uselessly on the floor. Hand. Right hand. Under his body. It moved. Someone grabbed it, then under the elbow.

“El,” he managed to say. Scattered red-tinted shadows seemed to rotate throughout the corridor.

“Yes,” he heard next to him. “We must go. Now.”

“Elo.”

He felt himself partially stand, right leg pushing against the floor. Something made an ugly scraping sound, like metal on tile. His left foot. Eyes rolled. Jaw. His jaw wouldn’t listen. Clamped shut.

“Captain! Stay—”

He felt himself falling again. Stopped partway, caught. Picked up and carried. Both legs dangling in the thin air. Like a doll.

Riss’s doll, he thought. 

Ah, little one. The doll is you. You are the doll. Your parents, I could not find. I did my best, little one. But you were always like a doll to me, so pretty, seeming so soft and yet tough, persistent. Precious, delicate, but determined. Nothing could harm you. Nothing will change you, unless you change yourself.

His daughter? No, he didn’t. Couldn’t think that. She was so young. No.

Should have got you a set of wooden dolls, little one. One inside the other. Ever so smaller. Until the solid core is found. But those are Russian, not Ukranian. And I could never make you choose.

He was flying. A sound like a door opening, closing. More footsteps. Smell of burning again. An engine turning on. Another door.

Then nothing.

He tried to open his eyes. One opened halfway. The other slightly more. His throat was raw, head pounding. His hand. Left one, useless. Right one. Lifted it, banged it against some kind of wall. Metal. Smell of pressurized oxygen—ship. He was on a ship.

“El.”

No response.

“Elod.”

That woman. Elodie? Where was she?

Sergey tried to move his left foot. Nothing. Right foot. Knee flexed. He could see it. Hazy, like surrounded by dense fog coming off the Danube on a late summer morning. It hurt.

Good. He focused on the pain.

The right foot fell off whatever he was lying on. Didn’t quite reach a floor. He reached with his good hand, found a vertical metal support pole. Holding up whatever kind of bed type surface he lay on. More effort. He grimaced. The foot touched down.

He pulled hard on the pole. Seven hells. His left side must be entirely paralyzed. It wouldn’t budge a millimeter. He briefly wondered if it would be worth it to fall on the floor, or to try to pull himself to at least a seated position.

“Elo. DEE. EloDEE.”

Motion from outside his vision. That must have got somebody’s attention finally.

A firm hand held his right leg, pushed it back up to its prone position.

“Captain, you need to stay here for now. Rest.”

“What. What.”

What happened, dammit?

Elodie sighed. “You had a stroke. Fortunately not too severe. But your body needs time. Then we’ll see how bad it was. All I had was a small med kit with some pain killers and muscle relaxant tranqs.”

He swallowed and nodded.

“Wh—where.”

“I borrowed a Lunar Base skiff. Agile, but not terribly fast. Our pursuers are bound to catch us sooner or later.”

Sergey closed his eyes. Pursuers. What did that mean again? Somebody chasing them?

He opened his eyes as best he could again and asked, “Who?”

Elodie leaned closer. “Who is chasing us?”

He could see more of her features now through the haze. She looked a little less clean than he last remembered. A little blacker and redder, as well. But otherwise completely unharmed.

“You. Clone?”

She nodded. “Yes. Sent from Ceres to Lunar Base several months ago.”

He tried to get up again. She held him down easily.

“Captain, I am not your enemy. I had orders to watch you. And protect you.”

He tried to grunt, but it came out as a soft cough. He waved his hand.

“Alright,” she conceded. “To prevent the UA from getting you. I didn’t think that the Lunar police would also try something. I should have guessed as much.”

Sergey said nothing. That Lieutenant Sanchez, he thought. Everyone has an agenda. Turn him over to the UA? For what purpose? He had never been a soldier. Not broken any laws.

He looked at Elodie.

“Sorry, I can’t read your mind, if that’s what you’re wondering,” she said. “That’s someone else’s specialty. I’ll just say that it was my job to get you back to Ceres as soon as possible in an emergency.”

He tried raising his eyebrows in question. Only the right one moved.

She almost laughed.

“Yes, I was able to fight through a few of them. Not all fled like I thought they would. And at least one ship is on the way from Ceres.”

She paused and stood.

“Friend or foe, however, I do not know. It will be close to us soon. If it’s a hunter ship…”

She trailed off. Sergey tried to imagine which hunter ship captain would want to attack him. Was anyone still holding a grudge?

Yes. Someone obviously was. His memory of that day was still clear.

“Stay here,” Elodie said. “And please don’t move. Rest, and pray.”

She left his field of vision, moving back to what he assumed was the control section of the ship. He couldn’t even tell how high the ceiling was, nor how far the opposite wall was. It couldn’t be a big ship, though. No cargo area. No gun turret ports. Even from his prone position, he could tell they were not going to win any races or shooting battles.

Ceres. The Mining Council. Something must have happened, he decided. Something drastic. Something related to the UA attacking Lunar Base.

He wondered who had won. And which side Riss was on.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 35: United Mars Colonies (Part 1) – Martin is taken by surprise…

Purple rocks on Mars

February 5, 2022
MThomas

SuperCam showed that the coatings are enriched in hydrogen and sometimes magnesium. In addition, images from Mastcam-Z suggest that they also contain iron oxides. Both the hydrogen and iron oxides point to past water being involved in the formation of the coatings. That shouldn’t be too surprising, perhaps, since this area in Jezero Crater used to be a lake a few billion years ago.

https://earthsky.org/space/purple-rocks-mars-perseverance-rover-desert-varnish/

The rocks resemble so-called desert varnish, which protect microbes from the sun’s radiation. It’d be interesting to find out whether cyanobacteria that once existed on Mars did this…but the four billion year old question is, how did those bacteria get there in the first place?

Bringer of Light, Chapter 33: Ceres

February 5, 2022
MThomas

For Weng, the patient waiting is over…perhaps…

The sudden appearance of Riss on his monitor shouldn’t have come as a shock to Weng.

But it did.

He swallowed a nervous greeting, waved a hand over his face. There she was.

“Riss.”

“Sam,” she said, with a little smile. “I always knew you would come to the rescue.”

“Rescue?” he repeated dubiously. It was his turn to smile. “I hardly think you needed rescuing, my princess.”

She laughed. “And you’re no shining knight. But it’s still good to see you. And we do need your help.”

Weng nodded. He had received the message from Gen moments earlier. He still had no idea how the clone had managed it, but he was sure Riss was involved somehow. Gen had also managed to contact Mars in the meantime. How, he wasn’t sure. A cypher? Things looked bad.

“I’ll do what I can,” he said. “Of course.”

“As you know, ditrium can be volatile,” she said.

“Yes. I gather you have quite a lot of it?”

“Enough to speed up the terraforming process. By speed up, I mean, drastically speed up.”

“I…see.” Weng pursed his lips. There was something she was holding back from him. She had found something during her transneptunian trip. But it hadn’t been the ditrium rocks currently in the Artemis’s cargo hold.

What had she sent to Ceres besides water?

Continue Reading

Bringer of Light, Chapter 32: United Mars Colonies

January 22, 2022
MThomas

Unaware of events on Ceres or Lunar Base, Martin Velasquez is finding out that the “united” Mars colonies aren’t so united at the moment…

Things on Mars had gone from bad to worse. Riots had broken out all over the Colonies. The water supply was dangerously low. The hydroponic farms were about to give out at any moment. The UA forces were still on their way from Earth, and Martin still hadn’t figured out how to hack into the UA ice factory’s electronic lock systems.

And now the settler factions wanted a conference.

With the sounds of fighting in the background of nearly every speaker, Martin found it nearly impossible to hear what the leaders were saying.

“—can’t control your own people, let alone—”

“—five dead already, our children starving and running around half-mad. What are—”

“—anything at all. The situation is insane!”

YES!” Martin shouted at them. “It is insane! I completely agree!”

“Then do something, Overseer!” the speaker from the Central African Alliance bellowed.

He looked at her. “I’m sorry, who are you? Where is Mr. Mbutu?”

“He is…otherwise occupied. As are most of my staff!”

“Mine, too!” the speaker from the Greater Indian Empire interrupted.

“Yes, here, as well.” The European Consortium.

They began to squabble again. The noise rose to a deafening pitch.

A button glowed under Martin’s left hand. He muted the conference and answered.

“Martin.”

“Overseer, an incoming message has been attempted. It has been blocked as ordered.”

“Incoming? From where?”

“Three ships on a trajectory to intercept Mars Colonies orbit. ETA three months.”

“Thre—Where are they from?”

“The message claims they come from the United Americas.”

He calculated. No, it couldn’t be troops. The UA forces would reach them much sooner, which is why he had taken the precaution of guarding the ice factories in the first place.

Then who?

“I’ll take it in just a minute. Remove the communications block temporarily and tell them to hold until I finish the conference call.”

“Yes, Overseer.”

He hesitated, covered an ear, and depressed the mute button. The deafening noise burst back into the speakers.

“Gentlemen,” he tried. They continued unabated. Some gesticulated at his direction, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“Gentlemen,” he tried again. No change. Louder, if that were possible.

Oh, hell.


WILL YOU ALL SHUT UP!” he screamed at the top of his lungs.

That seemed to have got their attention. For a moment.

“Overseer! How dare—”

“The UA is coming.” Martin said slowly, loudly, enunciating as clearly as possible.

He let the words hang there for a minute, letting the implication set in.

“I do not know what they want, but there are three ships,” he said in a more normal tone of voice, trying desperately not to let a note of panic in.

“What,” the Brazilian leader began. “What does the UA want with us?”

The Islamic Nations representative laughed nervously. “Perhaps they come with water we can actually drink without losing our minds.”

Martin glowered. “I don’t know why they are here. I don’t know how to stop the riots. I suggest you increase your own security, obey the water restrictions and food rationing. We are at a critical juncture. The UN appears to have failed. I will contact you again after I have found out what the UA ships want.”

He closed the session to somber, blank faces.

Martin rubbed knuckles into strained eyes. No water for washing. No water for tea. He dare not drink the contaminated water supply. Even using it for electricity seemed to have nearly drained what was left.

What chance had they got? Weng and Gen had not contacted him yet, so he had no idea when they might arrive with the supplies from Luna.

He sighed. Nothing else to lose, at any rate.

He clicked on the comm. “Patch through the UA ships. Visual if possible.”

A haggard white, bearded face topped with unruly dirty blond hair appeared on the aging console. The man appeared to be wearing the uniform of the UA from about two decades prior. An old Earthside airline pilot, Martin guessed.

“This is Dirk Prosser,” the man said in an exhausted, strained tone. He seemed on the verge of a breakdown. “Former Captain in the United Americas Airforce, now representing four hundred refugee families, requesting permission to dock at United Nations Mars Colonies orbiting station.”

“Refugees?” Martin asked quizzically. Not military?

“Yes, sir. Fleeing war zones in northeast UA, New York, Boston, Montreal, Halifax. Everything’s on fire.”

“I see.”

On the one hand, Martin felt he could relax. But on the other, this was the last thing they needed. More people. At least they weren’t invading marines.

But he had no choice.

“Go back,” Martin said curtly. “Or go to Luna. Our water and food supplies are critically depleted, and there is a medical quarantine in place throughout most of the settlements here.”

“Sir,” Prosser said, his voice quivering. “We have taken several months already. Several families are experiencing space sickness and we have virtually no medical supplies to treat them. Lunar Base is in chaos. We have nowhere else to go.”

“Go back,” Martin repeated in a calmer voice. He tried to remain emotionless, but an ugly thought entered his memories. Something from his family’s past. Something passed down to him.

“You don’t know what it’s like back there!” the representative pleaded. Martin could see the terror written on the man’s face. “Are you so heartless? We have children, infants, even. Starving! Being beaten, murdered!”

“Go back,” Martin repeated, his voice raising. “They will starve here, too. Didn’t you hear? Even if by some miracle we get new supplies, we do not have the electricity to operate enough gravity generators. The low gravity of Mars will deform the children. What kind of parents would make their children suffer so?”

“Don’t you think we thought about that?” The man seemed on the verge of hysteria. “Do you think we had any alternative?”

Something in Martin snapped.

“You should have thought of that when you denied entry to my country’s people,” Martin suddenly spat out. 

“I, I don’t—”

“When the UA denied entry to refugees fleeing war and hunger. Arresting parents and returning them, separating them from their children and selling them off to the highest bidder. Leaving infants to die of thirst and hunger on the desert border. How dare you come to Mars now and ask for the same!”

“Sir! I was only a child myself at the time. How can you—?”

“How can I!” Martin shouted, slamming his hands on the console. “How can I?!”

Another beep on the console. He abruptly cut the connection to the UA ship and swore. “Dammit! What now?”

“Overseer, a message from the shuttle.”

“What shuttle?”

“Gen and Mr. Weng, sir. They say they will arrive in two days.”

“What?” Martin cycled through the incoming records and known trajectories. “I don’t see any sign of incoming ships aside from the UA refugee ships.”

“They say they will arrive in two days, sir,” the Martin Colony Council receptionist robot repeated tonelessly. “They say to let all in. Everything is under control.”

Martin sat down, stunned.

He couldn’t handle this any more. With a barely suppressed giggle, he toggled the comm. The inside of the refugee ship appeared. Children crying in the background. The captain’s hand first appeared, then his bedraggled face as the man dragged himself back into view. “Yes? Yes?!”

“Mr. Prosser,” Martin said, shaking his head. “Continue on your course to Mars. I’ll see the docking station is open to you.”

“Thank you! Oh, thank you, sir!”

“Don’t thank me, Mr. Prosser,” Martin replied. He cracked his knuckles and shoved his chair away from the console and spun himself around slowly. “Enjoy your final few days in space. We may all very well die together!”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 33: Ceres – Weng. Star-crossed lovers begin their final journey on February 5th

Trace Gas Orbiter finds traces of hydrogen underground in the Valles Marineris

December 16, 2021
MThomas

A.k.a., the “Great Canyon of Mars”

The original article title?

“Astronomers Detect Secret Water Reserves in The Largest Canyon in The Solar System”

Science isn’t quite as catchy. The hydrogen may indicate water in the form of permafrost 3 feet and more under the surface.

The high-hydrogen region is about the size of the Netherlands, and overlaps with Candor Chasma, one of the largest canyons in the Valles Marineris system.

Looks like there may be some competition for who gets to land near here first…

https://www.sciencealert.com/hidden-water-has-been-found-in-the-soil-of-mars-grand-canyon

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