Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. – Sagan

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sad. Russians fail to make contact with Mars probe

Efforts to establish communication with the Phobos-Grunt probe, as it’s been called, are continuing even now, but don’t look promising. The ESA and NASA have offered assistance in using their satellites in order to try and communicate with the probe.

Russia's Phobos Grunt Probe

Doug McCuistion, NASA’s director of Mars exploration, said, “We have offered assistance and if they need it, we will provide it to the best of our ability.”

The probe was successfully launched atop the Zenit rocket but has failed to initiate its Fregat engine burns to start its journey to Mars’ moon Phobos. The mission was to collect soil samples and return them to Earth, the first ever mission that would return samples from outside the Earth system.

If the engines cannot be started, Russian authorities predicts that Phobos-Grunt will re-enter the atmosphere on December 3.

Chances are extra-terrestrials will be discovered within 20 years

Back in June, at an international forum dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial life, Russian scientists expect us to detect intelligent extra-terrestrial life within 20 years.

“The genesis of life is as inevitable as the formation of atoms … Life exists on other planets and we will find it within 20 years,” said Andrei Finkelstein, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Applied Astronomy Institute.

Finkelstein estimates that 10% of the planets circling sun-like stars in the galaxy resemble Earth. Another main ingredient for life is water, now known to be quite common during stellar system formation. Finkelstein also claims that aliens would most probably appear humanoid with arms, legs and a head on top of a body.

You may ask yourself, how likely is the scenario that intelligent species would have the same basic form as us? Apparently, there is some consensus that intelligent species would tend to follow a humanoid form. Dr. Simon Conway Morris, a paleontologist at Cambridge University, thinks that the phenomenon known as convergent evolution would explain it. Convergent evolution is the tendency of evolutionary processes to find similar solutions to any given environmental challenge. For example, a predator would probably have two eyes with overlapping fields of view enabling stereoscopic views of their surroundings to help it catch prey. Even here on Earth, eyes have evolved several different ways because it is such a useful adaptation for survival. Barracudas, a fish, are shaped like dolphins, a mammal. And so on and so on. So it’s not such a stretch to think of intelligent extra-terrestrials as bipedal beings with sensory organs clustered on top of a body.

In a sense, this would actually make us more similar, possibly enabling easier interactions than we would have thought possible. Their evolutionary process would likely mirror ours, although they would be further ahead in their evolutionary process.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One way to jumpstart a commercial space industry

Currently, with our shuttles retired, NASA relies on Russia to ferry our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Yesterday, NASA announced a new initiative that hopes to jumpstart a US-based space industry that would develop space taxis capable of delivering people to the ISS. The plan is to spend up to $1.6 billion over the next two years.

NASA will be awarding contracts for complete systems consisting of launchers, spaceships, mission operations and ground support to bring astronauts to the ISS by 2015. The contracts would be awarded by July 2012 to be concluded by April of 2014.

Some of the companies that NASA currently work with to develop spaceships are Boeing, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corp. and Blue Origin.

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