Innovation pushes the envelope of imagination. Dr. Pamela Gay, astronomer, writer, and podcaster, discussed the three avenues most likely to be explored next in the space program: the moon, asteroids, and Mars. She laid out some ground rules for her hypotheses to start.
- Heavy lift rockets will be available
- Tech process remains steady (things get smaller and faster)
- No other major breakthroughs
- Current NASA/FAA rules in place
- Radiation can kill
- The sun is only semi-predictable (with respect to flares and solar spots)
- When humans die, funding for space drops
- Cost is a limit, weight defines cost
- Life weighs a lot (air, water, food)
Three days away from the Earth, the moon is our most stable option for exploration. We have a fair understanding of solar activity and the time to respond to changes in the solar winds. Lava tubes under the surface of the moon were formed because space is cold and cooled the edges of lava flow while allowing lava to continue to move. This resulted in hollowed tubes beneath the surface of the moon, deep enough for the mole people of Earth to shield themselves from solar radiation.
Six months from Earth, Mars is the more difficult of the three exploration options. Currently, we do not have the technology to successfully shield astronauts from the radiation they would be exposed to on a six-month journey through space. The positive side of Mars habitation is that the lava tubes on Mars are larger and may have dripping water. However, Mars residents would be setting up shop on the side of a volcano. The largest volcano on the surface of the planet is several times larger than Mount Everest.
Asteroids are the moving wildcard in space exploration. Landing on an asteroid requires precision and luck, but may be necessary at some point in our near future. The asteroid 99942 Apophis, larger than the Empire State Building, will have close encounters with Earth, crossing our orbit in 2029 and 2036. On its current trajectory, it doesn’t pose a threat. However, if there are any miscalculations and the asteroid passes through a small keyhole-sized area (on an astronomical scale) in 2029, when it returns in 2036 it could hit the Earth and land in the Pacific Ocean, taking out the West Coast of both Americas and Hawaii. The plan is to land a transponder on the asteroid to keep track of its path as an early warning detection system. Changes to the color of the surface of the asteroid as well as melting ice could alter its trajectory.
There are two ways to divert the asteroid’s orbit. The first is to land on the asteroid, hollow it out, and turn it into a space ship. First, because astronauts would be beneath the rock’s surface, that would keep them out of harm’s way in terms of radiation. The second is far more interesting to me. Physics 101: if you shine light on a black object, it’s absorbed. If you shine light on a white object, the light bounces off the surface. So, if we paint the surface of Apophis white, the sun’s rays will bounce off of it. Dr. Gay explained that when a super ball bounces off your forehead, it pushes your head back. When light bounces off the surface of the asteroid, it pushes it off course.
One question during the panel dealt with the colonization of one of the Mars moons. During that analysis, Dr. Gay talked about the orbit of Phobos, the closest Mars moon. Because its orbit is slowly degrading, eventually, as it gets closer to the surface of Mars, it will begin to lose its structural integrity. The moon will break up, giving Mars a ring.
Can you imagine looking up into the night sky and seeing a ring around Mars? Real-world Sci-Fi.
Book recommendations given during the panel: 2312 and Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson