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Requiem for a Red Dream: Mars ONE Files for Bankruptcy

One day in 1986, while I was accompanying my mom to the supermarket, I stumbled upon a magazine that had the coolest cover ever. The popular science publication depicted a joint US-USSR space mission to the planet Mars, which could happen in the year 1992, to commemorate Columbus’s discovery of the Americas. I implored mom to buy the magazine for me and I took it home, devouring each page and dreaming on how a manned mission to the Red Planet was just around the corner. It would be the ‘Apollo’ moment of my generation, which would surely mark the dawn of Man’s colonization of other planets, to find our destiny among the stars.

I’m sure I still have that old magazine somewhere, yet I no longer hold the boyish optimism of my 13-year-old self. Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to witness the slow-but-steady incursion of NASA’s robotic probes, which have started to turn Mars into a charted world, giving it a certain sense of familiarity in the eyes of the public –to the point that a new photograph of its arid landscape barely deserves a like or a retweet– but at 45 years of age, I am actually uncertain on whether I’ll be alive to see humans leaving a historic footprint on the ochre sands of the nearest planet to ours. 1986 was, after all, the year the Challenger exploded, and in retrospect it seems the loss of America’s ‘space taxi’ inflicted a mortal wound to NASA’s ambitions, from which it never fully recovered…

But my bitter cynicism was not shared by the thousands of people from all over the world, who were all too eager to support a venture aiming to colonize Mars well within our lifetimes; the project did not originate on the blackboards of NASA (or any other space agency, for that matter) but was instead the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp’s initiative called Mars ONE, which made a bold yet stark promise to its backers –to send humans to Mars, but not to bring them back.

Mars ONE’s goal sounded ludicrous from the get-go: to turn the  of a new planet into the greatest reality TV show of all history by no later than 2023, without guaranteeing the survival of its participants; sell the media rights first, worry about the ‘particulars’ (like *actual* Science and Engineering solving) later. It almost resembled the kind of ‘safety not guaranteed’ classified ad inviting you to join a time-traveling expedition.

But just like that ad, Mars ONE’s plea got a massive response which prompted science writers to giggle, and sociologists to expound on theories trying to explain what seemed to be a collective death wish. I remember my friend Darren Grimes coaxed his associate and co-host of the Grimerica podcast, Graham Dunlop, to sign up to Mars ONE as a joke and conversational topic for their show; yet other applicants were dead serious about it. Check for example this letter by PhD student Hannah Earnshaw, published by The Guardian on February of 2015, explaining why she wanted to be among the chosen few to set foot (and die) on the Red Planet for the first time:

I’m 23, and the past couple of years have been uncertain: stepping through the application for Mars One, even though I’ve made the shortlist of 100 I’m still unsure whether I’ll be selected. Hoping that I am suitable, but ultimately wanting the very best and most capable people to go, I have had to hold two possible futures in my mind.

In one, I complete my PhD, get a place of my own, pursue a career in research or maybe in politics. I get really good at playing piano, I find time to travel to Norway, Italy, Canada, and Japan, and maybe find a husband or wife.

In the other, I leave behind the possibilities of Earth for the possibilities of Mars. Alongside my crew I pioneer planetary scientific research and, as the founding member of a new civilisation, I plant the seeds of a diverse and generous society. I communicate our life to followers on Earth, help establish new policy through which humans explore and settle the stars ethically and responsibly … and maybe find a husband or wife.

In light of recent developments, here’s hoping Hannah chose to complete his PhD, after all: A user on Reddit was the first one to alert that the commercial arm of Mars ONE (Mars ONE Ventures AG) has just filed for bankruptcy on a court in Basel, Switzerland, in mid January. And although Mars ONE spokesperson Emma Sledge has told Ars Technica that the filing does not affect the non-profit Mars ONE Foundation, any kind of reassurance from this organization sounds as legit as a real estate claim on the Moon.

It is said Mars ONE received more than 200,000 applications since their official launch. Perhaps it was the pioneering genes calling on to those who wished to follow in the footsteps of their forefathers, and help settle the ultimate frontier. Maybe it’s the lingering realization things are gonna get really dicey real soon on our own home planet due to our reckless mismanagement, so we’d better start working on a plan(et) B for the species. We could even enter the ‘really fringe’ territory and speculate whether the New Age ‘starseed’ mythos is what drives some people to feel they never really belonged to Earth in the first place. Hell, maybe it was just the YOLO mentality!

“Training for life in Zero-G, bro!”

Whatever the case, are there any other options for those who still dream of plum-colored skies and the spiders of Mars? It’s no big secret Elon Musk’s ultimate long term goal is to become a permanent Martian resident himself. Around the same time the first articles re. Mars ONE’s demise were published, Business Insider reported on one of Musk’s latest tweets –his favorite way to share the latest developments on Tesla and SpaceX– in which the real-life Tony Stark showed his confidence on how one day moving to Mars would be as affordable as securing a medium-sized home –I’m sure Millennials would have a thing or two to say about that

While I’m confident Mr. Musk’s retro-looking Starship will have enough power to traverse the enormous distance between Earth and Mars, we now know keeping the crew alive during the journey will be no small feat. The amount of radiation they will be exposed to is so great, there’s serious consideration the first men and women sent to the Red planet will have to be either artificially sterilized, or be of an age beyond the reproductive years to avoid the risk of an unscheduled pregnancy.

And then there’s the issue of keeping those future colonists alive once they get there. Without a steady supply of food, water and provisions sent from Earth, the International Space Station would be impossible to maintain, and that’s just a distance of 400 kilometers! whereas it would take a minimum of 9 months for any re-supplying mission to reach a Martian colony. The failed experiment of Biosphere 2 went to show we humans have a lot to learn when it comes to fully self-sustainable facilities. Populating other planets is not measured in decades, but in lifetimes –lots and lots of them..

In the meantime, let the demise of Mars ONE be a cautionary tale to all people willing to give improbable space-related ventures the benefit of the doubt. Whether it’s an interplanetary version of Survivor or a crowdfunded revolutionary spacecraft, these ‘giant leaps for Mankind’ always demand an even bigger leap of faith.


The Daily Grail



Voyager 2 has discovered something amazing: Denser space outside the solar system

In November 2018, after a 41-year voyage, Voyager 2 crossed the boundary beyond which the Sun’s influence ends, and entered interstellar space. But the mission of the little probe is not yet complete – it continues to make amazing discoveries

Perhaps the probes have found some kind of traffic jam at the edge of the solar system. The Voyager flight continues and we will soon find out what it was.

Voyager 2 discovered something amazing: as the distance from the Sun increases, the density of space increases.

Voyager 1, which entered interstellar space in 2012, transmitted similar indicators to Earth. New data have shown that the increase in density may be a feature of the interstellar medium.

The solar system has several boundaries, one of which, called the heliopause, is determined by the solar wind, or rather by its significant weakening. The space inside the heliopause is the heliosphere, and the space outside is the interstellar medium. But the heliosphere is not round. It looks more like an oval, in which the solar system is at the leading edge, and a kind of tail stretches behind it.

Both Voyagers crossed the heliopause at the leading edge, but within 67 degrees heliographic latitude and 43 degrees longitude apart.

Interstellar space is usually considered a vacuum, but this is not entirely true. The density of matter is extremely small, but it still exists. In the solar system, the solar wind has an average density of protons and electrons from 3 to 10 particles per cubic centimeter, but it is lower the further from the Sun.

The average concentration of electrons in the interstellar space of the Milky Way is estimated to be about 0.037 particles per cubic centimeter. And the plasma density in the outer heliosphere reaches approximately 0.002 electrons per cubic centimeter. When the Voyager probes crossed the heliopause, their instruments recorded the electron density of the plasma through plasma oscillations.

Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause on August 25, 2012 at a distance of 121.6 astronomical units from the Earth (121.6 times the distance from Earth to the Sun – about 18.1 billion km). When he first measured plasma oscillations after crossing the heliopause on October 23, 2013 at a distance of 122.6 astronomical units (18.3 billion km), he found a plasma density of 0.055 electrons per cubic centimeter.

After flying another 20 astronomical units (2.9 billion kilometers), Voyager 1 reported an increase in the density of interstellar space to 0.13 electrons per cubic centimeter.

Voyager 2 crossed the heliopause on November 5, 2018 at a distance of 119 astronomical units (17.8 billion kilometers. On January 30, 2019, it measured plasma oscillations at a distance of 119.7 astronomical units (17.9 billion kilometers), finding that the density plasma is 0.039 electrons per cubic centimeter.

In June 2019, Voyager 2’s Instruments showed a sharp increase in density to about 0.12 electrons per cubic centimeter at a distance of 124.2 astronomical units (18.5 billion kilometers).

What caused the increase in the density of space? One theory is that the lines of force of the interstellar magnetic field become stronger with distance from the heliopause. This can cause electromagnetic ion cyclotron instability. Voyager 2 did detect an increase in the magnetic field after crossing the heliopause.

Another theory is that the material carried away by the interstellar wind should slow down in the heliopause, forming a kind of plug, as evidenced by the weak ultraviolet glow detected by the New Horizons probe in 2018, caused by the accumulation of neutral hydrogen in the heliopause.

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NASA has banned fighting and littering on the moon

New details of the agreement signed by representatives of a number of countries on the development of the moon and the extraction of minerals within the framework of the Artemis program have appeared. Reported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

So, astronauts involved in the mission are prohibited from littering and fighting on the territory of a natural satellite of the Earth.

So, we present to you the new rules for being on the Moon:

Everyone comes in peace;

Confidentiality is prohibited, all launched objects must be identified and registered;

All travel participants agree to help each other in case of emergencies;

All received data is transferred to the rest of the participants, and space systems must be universal;

Historic sites must be preserved and all rubbish must be disposed of;

Rovers and spacecraft should not interfere with other participants.

“”It is important not only to go to the moon with our astronauts, but also that we bring our values ​​with us,” said Mike Gold, acting head of NASA’s international and inter-agency relations.

According to him, violators of the above rules will be asked to “just leave” the territory of the moon.

The effect of these principles so far applies to eight signatory countries of the agreement: the USA, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Countries other than China can join if they wish.

 It should be noted that at the moment NASA is prohibited from signing any bilateral agreements with the PRC leadership.

The first NASA mission to the moon, known as “Artemis 1”, is scheduled for 2021 without astronauts, and “Artemis 2” will fly with a crew in 2023.

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Methane snow found on the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains

Scientists believe that it arose as a result of the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above the surface of the planet.

In the images of the Cthulhu region – a dark region in the equatorial regions of Pluto – planetary scientists have found large reserves of methane snow that covers the peaks of local mountains and hills. It formed quite differently from how snow forms on Earth, astronomers write in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

“The white caps on the tops of Pluto’s mountains did not arise from the cooling of air currents that rise along the slopes into the upper atmosphere, as it happens on Earth, but from the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above Pluto’s surface. This gas condensed on the mountain tops, “the scientists write.

We owe almost everything we know about Pluto to the New Horizons interplanetary station. It was launched in January 2006, and in mid-July 2015 the station reached the Pluto system. New Horizons flew just 13 thousand km from the dwarf planet, taking many photographs of its surface. 

New Horizons data indicated an interesting feature of Pluto – in its depths, a giant subglacial ocean of liquid water can be hidden. It can be a kind of engine of those geological processes, traces of which can be seen on the surface of a dwarf planet. Because of this discovery of New Horizons, many discussions began among planetary scientists. Scientists are trying to understand how such a structure could have arisen, as well as to find out the appearance of Pluto in the distant past.

Members of the New Horizons science team and their colleagues from France, led by planetary scientist from NASA’s Ames Research Center (USA) Tanguy Bertrand, have discovered another unusual feature of Pluto. They studied the relief of one of the regions of the dwarf planet – the Cthulhu region. This is what astronomers call a large dark region at Pluto’s equator, which is whale-like in shape and is covered in many craters, mountains and hills.

Snow in Pluto’s mountains

By analyzing images of these structures taken by the LORRI camera installed on board New Horizons, astronomers have noticed many blank spots on the slopes of the highest mountain peaks. Having studied their composition, scientists have found that they consist mainly of methane.

Initially, planetary scientists assumed that these are deposits of methane ice. However, Bertrand and his colleagues found that the slopes and even the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains are actually covered not only with ice, but also with exotic methane snow that forms right on their surface.

Planetary scientists came to this conclusion by calculating how methane behaves in Pluto’s atmosphere. In doing so, they took into account how the molecules of its gases interact with the sun’s rays and other heat sources. It turned out that at the equator of Pluto, at an altitude of 2-3 km from its surface, due to the special nature of the movement of winds, unique conditions have formed, due to which snow is formed from methane vapor.

Unlike Earth, where such deposits are formed as a result of the rise of warm air into the upper atmosphere, on Pluto this process goes in the opposite direction – as a result of contact of the cold surface of the peaks and slopes of mountains with warm air masses from the relatively high layers of the dwarf planet’s atmosphere.

Previously, as noted by Bertrand and his colleagues, scientists did not suspect that this was possible. The fact is that they did not take into account that due to the deposition of even a small amount of methane snow and ice, the reflectivity of the peaks and slopes of mountains in the Cthulhu region increases. As a result, their surface temperature drops sharply, and snow forms even faster.

Scientists suggest that another mysterious feature of Pluto’s relief could have arisen in a similar way – the so-called Tartarus Ridges, located east of the Sputnik plain. A distinctive feature of this mountainous region is strange peaks that are shaped like skyscrapers or blades. Bertrand and his colleagues suggest that these peaks are also methane ice deposits that grow “from top to bottom.”

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