This week the 126th Carnival of Space alights at The Gish Bar Times, where Jason orders the show by least to most active bodies of our Solar system, leading to a kind of drunken stumble around the planets and moons we may one day call home.
On the Carnival of the Moon side of things, your friendly Lunar Librarian is most excited by an upcoming event at one of the local community colleges here in the D/FW metroplex. Richland College ran planetarium shows for a long time, and the local Texas Astronomical Society (TAS) used to hold their monthly meetings there. A few years ago it closed down, and came very close to being destroyed as part of the renovations to the campus, with no plan for a replacement. Luckily, some folks care enough to fight, for their right, to (planetarium) Party!
And so they arranged for Buzz to pay another visit to the D/FW (he was just at the C.R. Smith Museum a few weeks ago), and he’ll be giving a talk this Friday at Richland College as a fundraiser for the newly re-named Aldrin Planetarium. Yours truly decided to dip into his ‘saving up for a house’ account to go for the VIP pass will all the extra benefits. There are corollary benefits as well, as now NSS of North Texas will have a new friend in the metroplex for space events.
Speaking of which, I’m quite happy with the results of the NSS-NT display at the Astronomy Day event at the UT Arlington Planetarium this last Saturday. Amy guesstimated that about 500 folks showed up [Update: make that 1,500] for the festivities, and noted that the theatre was standing-room only for the afternoon shows. I managed to hand out a copier-paper-sized box worth of space materials, from magazines to flyers to brochures. TAS, who co-sponsored the event with the planetarium, was also quite pleased with the turnout, and had a good turnout for their raffle, which gives me a few ideas for the next raffle we have for our chapter’s Science Fair Scholarship project. Basically we’re going to award a sum of money to the participant in next year’s Science Fair who has the best space-related project. The amount will depend on how much we’re able to raise, so this first year’s prize probably won’t be terribly large.
It’s kind of hard to top Buzz talking about being on the Moon, but let’s see what other items of Lunar interest are around…
Emily over at the Planetary Society Blog notes that researchers at JAXA appear to have discovered a cave entrance on the Moon (or a least a really deep pit too deep to be a crater) in the Marius Hills, which is great news for those who consider going underground to be the solution to the radiation pelting the surface of the Moon. Coupled with light-pipes, large underground spaces are a boon on the Moon for those who want to set up a human presence. [Update: Paul Spudis reminds us of the real estate maxim: location, location, location]
Part of the reason to set up a human presence on the Moon is to learn how to tap the resources found there to do better stuff in space. Oxygen is the most-cited export for Moon industry, and with good reason. The Moon is composed, in bulk, of about 40% oxygen, primarily bound up into the minerals. The reason oxygen is such a valuable commodity in space is that it makes up the bulk, by mass, of propellant loads. When you’re launching from Low-Earth orbit to near-Moon space, some 75-80% of your ‘wet’ mass (payload, vehicle and propellant masses) is composed of propellant. Of that propellant, 7/8ths of the ‘weight’ (the mass you’re moving out of the gravity well) is oxygen. If that oxygen can be delivered to LEO from somewhere other than the surface of the Earth then the potential exists for significant cost savings. That kind of paradigm is visited by Paul in his latest Once and Future Moon post, “Paradigms Lost“.
Over at The Economist they note China’s undertaking construction of a new launch complex that will be used as the starting point for China’s future trips to the Moon.
One of the slides that I use when I’m giving presentations is an illustration I scanned out of a Moon book I picked up in Beijing. It illustrates the concept of a low-energy trajectory that departs from the Earth-Moon L-1 (EML-1) point, loops around the Moon a few times and then winds back up at EML-1 with about the same energy as it left. This would be useful for things like free-flyer production platforms that need an astronaut-free (and therefore jitter-free) environment tomake their microgravity marvels. National Public Radio took the opportunity of the release of the Augustine Commission report to talk with a scientist from NASA Goddard about Lagrange points. He does an okay job of explaining them (and considering the work of the L-5 Society to be ‘science fiction’ is a bit annoying, speaking as an NSS member), but one thing to remember while listening to the broadcast is that the five Lagrange points in the Earth-Moon system function the same way as the ones in the Sun-Earth system, and that instrumentation at the Sun-Earth L-1 & L-2 points can be brought back to EML-1 via low-energy trajectories, so the servicing can be done relatively close to Earth, i.e. not even as far out as the Moon.
EML-1, in fact makes a great place from which to explore the Moon, because you can target your sorties anywhere on the Moon’s surface for about the same fuel cost. This allows you to not only get the lay of the Lunar South Pole (the current favoured destination), but also the North Pole, Marius Hills (to check out the potential cave), and a variety of other destinations like the heart of the Aitken Basin, where selenologists hope to find traces of mantle material from inside the Moon, or Aristarchus Plateau where all kinds of funky stuff seems to be going on. Staging from EML-1 would enable scientists to more quickly sample from diverse locales to build a better model of the Moon’s origin.
While the Big Whack Theory is currently the most broadly agreed upon hypothesis for the origin of the Moon, it is of only relatively recent vintage. In a broad sense the Big Whack Theory draws on two earlier theories, the fission hypothesis of George Darwin, and the planetary capture theory that had long battled with the nebular condensation theory to explain the Moon. Thea (Theia) was an approximately Mars-sized planetoid that was wandering around the earliest Solar system looking for trouble when she bumped into our sweet and innocent proto-Earth. The impact slooshed a great deal of material out into space from the Earth’s (and Thea’s) crust and mantle as the two bodies merged, some of which returned to Earth, and some of which remained in orbit to become our Moon. This theory explains a lot of the science results that came out of Apollo, as well as our increasing probing of the Solar system. The idea of Jupiter-moon-sized objects wandering around an early Solar system used to be inconceivable. Now, after greatly advancing our understanding of things like Lagrange points and really big impacts (q.v. Aitkin Basin, Hellas Basin, Mimas, Shoemaker-Levy 9), it’s not so inconceivable.
Still, controversy regarding the origin of the Moon remains, and Discovery.com brings our attention to a new scientific theory that perhaps the Moon formed Sunward of the Earth and wandered out to get captured in Earth orbit in a “Controversial Moon Origin Theory Rewrites History”
Speaking of the Augustine Commission report, the space commentariat are of course in a froth, and even the press is providing some coverage. Clark over at Hobbyspace has, as usual, the best round-up of linkage at the RLV & Space Transport News (just scroll down). One of the more interesting articles is from Popular Mechanics, which found “5 Surprise Passages From the Full Augustine Report“.
I generally haven’t had much to say about the Augustine Report (pdf), and having not yet read it I can’t really comment on its contents except through the hearsay of others in online accounts. My issue with the Commission was that there were no youngsters on board, from generations either X or Y. This told me that there really wasn’t much interest in changing the status quo. And from what I’ve read, it seems that the final report was sufficiently broad and ambiguous that a lot of different agendas could be read into it, making it perfect cover for rampant status-quo-ery.
In what may be an upset in the scheme of things, it looks like Masten Space Systems may be a strong competitor to Armadillo Aerospace for the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge victory. There’s even a strong competitor from the outside in Unreasonable Rocket. This one is going right down to the wire, and the folks over at The Launchpad have the updates.
The kinds of engines we develop to land and maneuver on the Moon will also be useful for landing and moving around on asteroids. (and hey – EML-1 makes a great staging point for missions to NEOs!) Many of the extraction techniques we develop on the Moon will likely also have application on asteroids. Many folks want to go to the Near-Earth Objects sooner rather than later, but as Jon Goff over at the Selenian Boondocks realizes, it may not be as easy as many assume in “Forehead Smacking Moments: NEO Delta-V Misunderstanding”
One way to avoid international misunderstandings is by nations working together and their peoples becoming more familiar with one another. The Christian Science Monitor ponders the question “Should nations fly to the moon together?”
Weird Warp explores the idea of staying on the Moon in “All About Moonbases”
Industry is going to be an important part of commercial development of the Moon, and one of the side-effects of commerce is lawyers. Chris over at Opinio Juris looks at a discussion on “Bilder on the Legal Regime for Mining the Moon“.
And that brings us to the end of this week’s Carnival update. Thanks for stopping by!