A balloon into space

The suited figure stood on the ledge of his capsule, surveying the gentle arc of the horizon.  The planet below was a patchwork of clouds, land and sea.  It was engulfed by the black void looming above.  He checked his tracking device and saw that the drop-tether was within a few hundred metres.  He saw the weighted end just above him and reached out with an extended grapple to draw it to him.  This was the most dangerous phase, if the line rippled above then it could whip out of his grasp and throw him out of the capsule.

Reaching with a free arm he pulled a rocked propelled line-runner from his capsule and attached it just above the weighted end.  He looked up and saw a ripple moving rapidly down the line towards him.  With haste he stepped on to the footplate at the base of the line-runner and pushed away from the capsule.  He hung for a few seconds, suspended between the planet and space.  He clipped himself securely on to the line-runner and flicked the switch to light the rocket.  The drop-line would take him all the way to the station in orbit above.

Felix Baumgartner has made an astonishing free-fall from the edge of space back to the surface of Earth.  He rode a Helium balloon 39km into the upper atmosphere and then fell to within a few kilometres of the surface before deploying his parachute.  Find out more at his webiste here: http://www2.felixbaumgartner.com/ and see the clips online at the Red Bull YouTube site here: http://www.youtube.com/user/redbull



Burning metal

The astronaut tugged at the lever but she couldn’t move it.  The servos that were built into the fabric of her space suit to help with heavy lifting had failed over ten minutes ago.  Rather than return to safety inside the craft she had chosen to stay outside and try to fix the parasol.  She knew that without the parasol she would only be safe inside the craft for an hour before the heat started to breach its integrity.  The blisters on the outside surfaces were already creeping towards her.  She looked up.  Her polarising visor was not enough to turn her attention away from the boiling surface of the Sun.  The slow moving eruptions played a mesmerising dance across her field of vision.  Each cell of heat and light growing before folding into its neighbouring cells.  An alarm sounded inside her helmet and she turned her attention back to the broken parasol deployment mechanism.

EAS, the European Space Agency, has selected Astrium to lead the build of a new Solar Orbiter.  It will pass closer to the Sun than Mercury and will contain a range of scientific equipment.  Its 3-year orbital insertion trip will see it use the gravitational wells of both the Earth and Mercury to adjust its trajectory.  It is scheduled to spend 7 years orbiting the Sun and will be launched in 2017.  See a press release here: http://www.astrium.eads.net/node.php?articleid=8611 See a video here: http://videos-en.astrium.eads.net/#/video/36f387af2e2s  Visit the mission page here: http://sci.esa.int/solarorbiter


Harvesting the richness of space

The dim solar light flickered as the cloud of dust rose from the surface of the asteroid.  Three suited figure stood gripping tethers to hold them down against the gentle spin.  Gravity was weak.  As the dust cleared one of the figures crouched next to the excavation.  A suited hand brushed aside the dust that had settled and revealed metallic crystals that glinted in the light.  Glints that meant riches beyond imagine.

A group of technology innovators and NASA experts have teamed up to found and fund a company, Planetary Resources, to explore and commercialise the resources available on asteroids and other non-Earth territories.  An announcement and update to the website is scheduled for tomorrow, 24 April.  Visit the website here: http://www.planetaryresources.com/ See the wiki page here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_Resources


The beast under salmon skies

The creature rose to its hind feet, looked upwards at the salmon-coloured skies and roared.  The rocks nearby started to shake and dust drifted from the widening cracks.  It was unchallenged as the dominant creature of the dominant species on the planet and it would assert this as often as possible.  It saw a metallic streak puncture the atmosphere and plunge towards the surface.  Calculating its impact point the creature returned to all-fours and galloped to meet the craft.  It hadn’t tasted metal before and was keen to see if there was anything edible inside.

Scientists working on the HARPS project at the ESO have announced that there are far more Earth-sized planets in the universe than previously thought.  Many within the habitable zone that could give rise to life.  They estimate that there about 100 potentially habitable planets orbiting red dwarfs within 30 light-years of Earth.  See the press release here: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1214/


A long, long time ago in a country far, far away

He walked from the cave, a rasping sound emanating from his throat as he struggled to breathe.  He stood at the cave entrance and looked across the landscape before him.  Deer scattered through the valleys of rolling red hills.  Below, people were starting to gather in the settlement that had been built next to the river.  He reached out his hand and felt an energy pass through it, an energy that he would use to gain power over these people.

Darren Curnoe, from the University of New South Wales, and a team of scientists have identifed and associated a set of remains from southern China that suggest a new species in the history of human evolution.  The rounded skulls and widening cheeks give a visual impression very similar to that of Darth Vader from the hit sci-fi movie franchise Star Wars.  It makes you wonder whether we were their destiny…

See a news article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17370170 and the submitted paper here: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0031918 (Buy Star Wars merchandise here: http://www.starwars.com/)


* Images are the property of their respective copyright holders.

Let the waves guide my path

He lay on the wooden deck of the small craft gazing up at the relentless sun.  The hunger gnawed at his stomach.  Carefully he sat upright and took a reading from the power cells.  Hopefully it would be enough.  He flicked the switch that sent the power into the ocean below.  A few seconds passed before he saw the first fish float to the surface.  Greedily he leaned out to pull it on board.  After collecting several fish he wiped clean the surface of the solar cell array, careful not to cause any damage.  He wondered how many more days it would be before the machinery on the underside of the craft would deliver him to land.

Liquid Robotics has announce that three of their fleet of four Wave Glider ocean-going robot ships have completed thier journey from San Francisco to Hawaii.  The 3,200 mile trip sets a new record for the distance travelled by unmanned wave-powered craft.  The craft will be cleaned and the scientific equipment checked before they continue their trip across the Pacific.

Read the press release from a link on this page: http://liquidr.com/press/press-releases/ Follow the machines here: http://nighthacks.com/roller/jag/


The dance of the satellites

The surveillance craft turned as it continued its silent orbit of the Moon.  Its sensors focussed on the surface, ready to track any movement below.  Following in its orbit, invisible to the sensors of the first spacecraft, a second angular shape slowly gained ground.  As it approached it readied a concentrated burst of electromagnetic energy.

NASA has announced that the twin GRAIL Moon satellites have started their science mission.  They will track the distance between the two craft as they pass over sections of the Moon that may be more or less dense.  This will give scientists data to model the internal structure of the Moon, and hence refine theories as to its origin and evolution.  Read the press release here:  http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/mar/HQ_12-070_GRAIL_Science_Begins.html


Fewer mid-sized asteroids meandering about the solar system

Earth-bound asteroids are often the bane of human societies calmly minding their own business in many Sci-Fi films.  They lurk in the outer solar system awaiting an opportune moment to fall towards the sun, only to find a blue-green planet with an oddly large moon in their way.

The WISE mission at NASA has recently released a set of obserations that suggest there are fewer of these asteroids than previously thought.  Most of the larger asteroids have already been discovered and tracked, but the smaller mid-sized asteroids up to one kilometer across are less well known.  Analysis of the observations suggest there are only 19,000 of these rather than the previously expected number 35,000.

Although fewer are now expected only 5,000 of these have been discovered.  So the JPL at NASA still has some important work left to do.

See the press release at NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/sep/HQ_11-333_NEOWISE.html


NASA partners with Tor-Forge to inspire science through sci-fi

A great piece of news for lovers of hard Sci-Fi.  NASA has partnered with publisher Tor-Forge to create a series of NASA-inspired works of science fiction.  They promise to be based on hard science – with NASA scientists and engineers linking up with the writers at Tor-Forge.

The stories will be fiction, so should contain engaging plots, but will also have technological elements checked by NASA’s scientists.

Full press release at NASA site here:

NASA And Tor-Forge Books Partner In Themed Science Fiction Works

If you are in to hard science fiction, and want a taste of realistic sci-fi, can I humbly suggest my own novel “Agencies” available on Kindle and soon in paperback.  (Not written in association with NASA – but hopefully the sort of story they would enjoy.)

(“Agencies” at Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon DE)


Cleaning up space junk in Earth orbit

Every year Earth-orbit gets filled with more and more junk – obsolete and defunct satellites and rocket pods, and debris caused by collisions of exiting junk.  Hopefullly this latest attempt to start the clean up process will gain some traction.  Providing the funding for private enterprise to do the clean-up will also help to nurture space technology skills within the private sector.

Article here: