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The International Space Station (ISS) is usually a pretty clean place. But where there are people, there are microorganisms.

And when you're trapped in a giant hunk of metal some 400 kilometres (250 miles) above the surface of Earth, you really want to know what that furry white stuff is growing in the corner.

Right now, the only way to test contaminants of the space station is to collect samples and send them down to the planet.

"We have had contamination in parts of the station where fungi was seen growing or biomaterial has been pulled out of a clogged waterline, but we have no idea what it is until the sample gets back down to the lab," says NASA microbiologist Sarah Wallace.

 

Normally it's not such a big deal for astronauts, who have a ready supply of disinfectants on hand, but we'd want to be able to do those tests right there in space, especially once future missions move beyond the safe cocoon of Earth's relative proximity.

"As we move beyond low-Earth orbit where the ability for resupply is less frequent, knowing what to disinfect or not becomes very important," says Wallace.

That's why NASA has been working on a new project, Genes in Space-3. Its goal is to establish a user-friendly system for astronauts to sequence DNA of various microorganisms aboard the ISS.

"The Genes in Space-3 experiments demonstrate ways in which portable, real-time DNA sequencing can be used to assay microbial ecology, diagnose infectious diseases and monitor crew health aboard the ISS," explains the project website.

Just last year, molecular biologist and astronaut Kate Rubins was the first person to ever sequence DNA in space. She used a small device called MinION, which relies on nanopore technology to analyse DNA and RNA in real time.

 

Devices such as MinION are routinely used in the field to track the spread of diseases like Ebola and Zika, or studying environmental samples in places like Antarctica. 

But before Rubins successfully used MinION on the ISS, nobody was sure if it would work in microgravity. For the test, investigators sent up ready-made samples of mouse, viral, and bacterial DNA, and then compared Rubins's results against tests done on the same samples back on Earth.

If we're ever going to evade superbugs and detect aliens, what we really want is the ability to identify unknown organisms right there in space. And to do that, we need technology to prepare those samples.

Fortunately, NASA also has a device called miniPCR. It was designed by 17-year-old student Anna-Sophia Boguraev for the inaugural Genes in Space competition.

Boguraev's invention is a handy, ISS-friendly version of a device needed to perform polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on a DNA sample so that it can be analysed.

anna sophia dna day

By joining the two technologies, NASA now has a workable solution to prepare, sequence, and identify microorganisms from start to finish right there on the space station.

 

"What the coupling of these different devices is doing is allowing us to take the lab to the samples, instead of us having to bring the samples to the lab," says NASA biochemist Aaron Burton.

This is good news for all future astronauts, as it will be extremely useful if there's ever something weird growing on the walls of the space station.

"Onboard sequencing makes it possible for the crew to know what is in their environment at any time," Wallace, who is the project's chief investigator, said last year. "That allows us on the ground to take appropriate action – do we need to clean this up right away, or will taking antibiotics help or not?"

Besides, ISS is basically a giant space laboratory, and adding these molecular biology tools to its arsenal will help with many other experiments aboard. And it's possible that one day we'll be taking these tools to Mars and beyond.

Who knows if we'll be sequencing alien life any time soon (come on, Enceladus), but at least when we stumble across it, we'll come prepared.

 

Author: SIGNE DEAN
Source: sciencealert.com

Categorized in Science & Tech

NASA has finally revealed details about its plan to send astronauts to Mars.

  • The plan calls for building an outpost to orbit the moon and test Mars hardware.
  • A crew of four may have to spend up to three years inside of a Mars spaceship — yet never land on the planet.
  • It remains to be seen if NASA's flat budget can facilitate reaching Mars by 2033.

For years, NASA has talked about sending people to Mars with its gigantic new rocket, the Space Launch System, and a new spacecraft called Orion.

But NASA hasn't said exactly how it plans to use this hardware, which it's spending $40 billion to develop — not even with the publication of a 36-page Mars exploration plan in October 2015.

Fortunately, a plan may finally be coming into place.

 

On March 21, President Donald Trump signed a law that mandates NASA send people to Mars by 2033. Then, a week later, the space agency published its most detailed plan yet for reaching the red planet.

The scheme is neither for the claustrophobic nor the faint of heart. It involves locking astronauts into a tube-shaped spaceship, sending them into deep space for three years, and giving them no form of emergency escape beyond the moon.

What's more, astronauts would only orbit Mars in 2033 — they'd never attempt a landing.

That's according to a document by William Gerstenmaier, the head of NASA's human exploration and operations directorate, that he presented during a NASA advisory council meeting on March 28. We learned about the presentation via a story by Eric Berger at Ars Technica.

NASA is leading the next steps into deep space near the moon, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems needed for challenging missions to deep space destinations including Mars," NASA said about the plan in a press release.

 

Getting to Mars in five phases

deep space gateway moon mars nasa

(An artist's concept of NASA's Deep Space Gateway space station, left, near the moon.NASA) 

Gerstenmaier's program lists five phases to reach Mars.

Phase 0 involves using the International Space Station "as a test bed to demonstrate key exploration capabilities and operations, and foster an emerging commercial space industry" with partners like SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital ATK, and others. We're currently in this phase.

Phase 1 is ambitious, involving six launches between 2018 and 2025.

First, NASA wants to launch its inaugural SLS rocket, a 321-foot behemoth that's designed to Saturn V rockets that blasted Apollo astronauts to the moon. If the maiden flight and tests of its Orion spaceship went well, the space agency would launch five more SLS rockets.

The first of those five would send NASA's unrelated Europa Clipper probe to Jupiter, where it would study an icy moon with a hidden ocean that may be habitable to alien life. Four other missions would each launch a piece of a new space station, called the Deep Space Gateway, into orbit near the moon — a region called cislunar space — where four astronauts would help assemble and provision it.

"The gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system," Gerstenmaier said in the release.

deep space transport moon mars nasa
deep space transport moon mars nasa
(An artist's concept of NASA's Deep Space Transport spaceship, right, near the moon.NASA) 

Phase 2 would build on the lunar space station by launching a Deep Space Transport to it in 2027. Then, around 2028 or 2029, four lucky astronauts would spend up to 400 days inside the 41-ton tube as it orbits near the moon. Their mission: make sure the DST works and nothing critical stops working.

 

Phase 3 would begin around 2030, assuming the DST and its crew experienced no problems. Another SLS flight would restock the spaceship with supplies and fuel, then yet another launch would load it with four people — the first crew to visit Mars.

Their two- to three-year flight "would likely involve a Venus flyby and a short stay around Mars" and "would offer no hope for an emergency return once the crew leaves cislunar space," Berger wrote.

Phase 4 would happen beyond 2033 and is fairly nebulous at this point. All it calls for in Gerstenmaier's document is "development and robotic preparatory missions" to deliver habitats and supplies to the surface of Mars, plus eventual "Mars human landing missions."

Will NASA put the first boots on Mars?

mars colony
View photos
(NASA) 

It remains to be seen whether NASA can pull off this grand plan on the relatively flat budget Congress keeps handing it.

During the Apollo moon missions, NASA made up more than 4% of the US budget. Today, its share has shrunk to about half a percent.

Even if NASA manages to execute this plan, it may have competition from the private partners it hopes to involve. The private sector may even beat NASA to Mars.

Elon Musk, the founder of the rocket company SpaceX,, recently said he planned to send people to Mars by 2022. Boeing has also challenged SpaceX in getting to the red planet. Musk said he was OK with this because all he wanted to do was colonize Mars and protect humanity from self-imposed annihilation or a rogue asteroid.

 

"I think it's good for there to be multiple paths to Mars ... to have multiple irons in the fire," Musk said in August.

This article was originally published in finance.yahoo.com.

Categorized in Science & Tech
  • NASA has finally revealed details about its plan to send astronauts to Mars.
  • The plan calls for building an outpost to orbit the moon and test Mars hardware.
  • A crew of four may have to spend up to three years inside of a Mars spaceship — yet never land on the planet.
  • It remains to be seen if NASA's flat budget can facilitate reaching Mars by 2033.

For years, NASA has talked about sending people to Mars with its gigantic new rocket, the Space Launch System, and a new spacecraft called Orion.

But NASA hasn't said exactly how it plans to use this hardware, which it's spending $40 billion to develop — not even with the publication of a 36-page Mars exploration plan in October 2015.

Fortunately, a plan may finally be coming into place.

 

On March 21, President Donald Trump signed a law that mandates NASA send people to Mars by 2033. Then, a week later, the space agency published its most detailed plan yet for reaching the red planet.

The scheme is neither for the claustrophobic nor the faint of heart. It involves locking astronauts into a tube-shaped spaceship, sending them into deep space for three years, and giving them no form of emergency escape beyond the moon.

What's more, astronauts would only orbit Mars in 2033 — they'd never attempt a landing.

That's according to a document by William Gerstenmaier, the head of NASA's human exploration and operations directorate, that he presented during a NASA advisory council meeting on March 28. We learned about the presentation via a story by Eric Berger at Ars Technica.

NASA is leading the next steps into deep space near the moon, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems needed for challenging missions to deep space destinations including Mars," NASA said about the plan in a press release.

 

Getting to Mars in five phases

deep space gateway moon mars nasa

(An artist's concept of NASA's Deep Space Gateway space station, left, near the moon.NASA) 

Gerstenmaier's program lists five phases to reach Mars.

Phase 0 involves using the International Space Station "as a test bed to demonstrate key exploration capabilities and operations, and foster an emerging commercial space industry" with partners like SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital ATK, and others. We're currently in this phase.

Phase 1 is ambitious, involving six launches between 2018 and 2025.

First, NASA wants to launch its inaugural SLS rocket, a 321-foot behemoth that's designed to Saturn V rockets that blasted Apollo astronauts to the moon. If the maiden flight and tests of its Orion spaceship went well, the space agency would launch five more SLS rockets.

The first of those five would send NASA's unrelated Europa Clipper probe to Jupiter, where it would study an icy moon with a hidden ocean that may be habitable to alien life. Four other missions would each launch a piece of a new space station, called the Deep Space Gateway, into orbit near the moon — a region called cislunar space — where four astronauts would help assemble and provision it.

"The gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system," Gerstenmaier said in the release.

deep space transport moon mars nasa
deep space transport moon mars nasa
(An artist's concept of NASA's Deep Space Transport spaceship, right, near the moon.NASA) 

Phase 2 would build on the lunar space station by launching a Deep Space Transport to it in 2027. Then, around 2028 or 2029, four lucky astronauts would spend up to 400 days inside the 41-ton tube as it orbits near the moon. Their mission: make sure the DST works and nothing critical stops working.

Phase 3 would begin around 2030, assuming the DST and its crew experienced no problems. Another SLS flight would restock the spaceship with supplies and fuel, then yet another launch would load it with four people — the first crew to visit Mars.

Their two- to three-year flight "would likely involve a Venus flyby and a short stay around Mars" and "would offer no hope for an emergency return once the crew leaves cislunar space," Berger wrote.

Phase 4 would happen beyond 2033 and is fairly nebulous at this point. All it calls for in Gerstenmaier's document is "development and robotic preparatory missions" to deliver habitats and supplies to the surface of Mars, plus eventual "Mars human landing missions."

Will NASA put the first boots on Mars?

mars colony
View photos
(NASA) 

It remains to be seen whether NASA can pull off this grand plan on the relatively flat budget Congress keeps handing it.

During the Apollo moon missions, NASA made up more than 4% of the US budget. Today, its share has shrunk to about half a percent.

Even if NASA manages to execute this plan, it may have competition from the private partners it hopes to involve. The private sector may even beat NASA to Mars.

Elon Musk, the founder of the rocket company SpaceX,, recently said he planned to send people to Mars by 2022. Boeing has also challenged SpaceX in getting to the red planet. Musk said he was OK with this because all he wanted to do was colonize Mars and protect humanity from self-imposed annihilation or a rogue asteroid.

"I think it's good for there to be multiple paths to Mars ... to have multiple irons in the fire," Musk said in August.

Source : finance.yahoo.com
Categorized in Science & Tech

You might think that the only people who believe in aliens are forum-dwelling internet conspiracy theorists.

But it turns out a lot of Nasa astronauts also think extraterrestrials are real and that they have been in touch with humanity for a long time.

At least four celebrated spacemen have become famous for their outspoken beliefs about the existence of extraterrestrials.

Some have seen UFOs soaring through the sky, while others claim to have been tipped off about alien contact by military top brass.

 

Here are four Nasa astronauts who believe aliens are real.

Edgar Mitchell

Getty Images

In 1971, Mitchell became the sixth person to walk on the moon.

But he spent the rest of his life convinced that “aliens have been observing us and have been here for some time.”

He once claimed that peace-loving aliens had visited Earth on a mission to save humanity from nuclear war and suggested the Vatican knows the truth about the existence of extraterrestrials.

 

Mitchell also alleged that UFOs had been seen above nuke bases and often disabled the missiles held within Cold War-era weapons silos.

The spaceman firmly believed the American government covered up the famous Roswell incident in 1947, when a flying disc allegedly crashed near a small town in New Mexico.

“The reason for the denial is they didn’t know if they [the aliens] were hostile and they didn’t want the Soviets to know so they devised to lie about it and cover it up,” he reportedly said.

Gordon Cooper

Gordon Cooper was one of the original Project Mercury astronauts, and was the first man to sleep in space.Getty Images

Cooper was one of the seven astronauts who took part in Project Mercury, the first American manned mission which ran from 1958 until 1963.

The craft he piloted was dubbed “spam in a can” because it was automatically controlled, rather than piloted by the astronauts on board.

 

But even before he underwent the life changing experience of becoming the first man to sleep in space, he claimed to have seen UFOs flying over Germany in 1951.

The spaceman also said he saw flying saucers spying on a secret airbase where experimental American aircraft were being tested.

“I believe that these extraterrestrial vehicles and their crews are visiting this planet from other planets, which are a little more technically advanced than we are on Earth,” he told the UN in 1984.

“We may first have to show them that we have learned how to resolve our problems by peaceful means rather than warfare, before we are accepted as fully qualified universal team members.

“Their acceptance will have tremendous possibilities of advancing our world in all areas.”

Deke Slayton

Deke Slayton was also an original Project Mercury astronaut.NASA

Slayton was also part of Project Mercury, before enjoying an illustrious career which saw him serve as NASA’s Director of Flight Crew Operations.

But he also reportedly saw a UFO in 1951.

“It looked like a saucer sitting at a 45-degree angle,” he said, according to the Daily Star.

“I didn’t have any cameras otherwise I would have shot some pictures.

“At that time – for whatever reason – it just took off climbing and just accelerated and disappeared.”

Brian O’Leary

NASA selected Brian O’Leary as a scientist-astronaut in 1967, for a potential manned mission to Mars.NASA

He never made it into space, but he was one of 11 astronauts named for a possible Nasa Mars mission in the 1960s.

Later in his life, O’Leary had a near-death experience which changed his perspective on life and reality.

Dr. O’Leary, who became respected physics professor at Princeton University after leaving Nasa, said: “There is abundant evidence that we are being contacted.

 

Civilizations have been monitoring us for a very long time and that their appearance is bizarre from any type of traditional materialistic western point of view.”

Source : nypost.com

Categorized in Science & Tech

Could a synthetic magnetic bubble, like a mini-magnetosphere, protect a crewed mission to Mars from cosmic radiation, and would the energy cost be prohibitively high?

As much as some folks are keen on sending people to Mars as soon as possible, it’s become obvious that protecting any astronauts from an unsafe level of radiation before they even get to Mars is going to be a tricky business.There are two main problems for astronauts leaving our home planet; one is cosmic rays, which are usually turbo-speed protons from outside of our solar system. Some cosmic rays are blocked by our Earth's magnetosphere, and the remainder are usually stopped by our atmosphere. The other problem comes direct from the Sun itself; the Sun also flings electrons and protons in our direction in the solar wind.

 

The solar wind is mostly stopped by our magnetosphere, but if you’re going out a bit further, we won’t have that protection.

The solar wind is a stream of particles, mainly protons and electrons, flowing from the sun's atmosphere at a speed of about 1 million mph.
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio and the MAVEN Science Team
The solar wind is a stream of particles, mainly protons and electrons, flowing from the sun's atmosphere at a speed of about 1 million mph.

 

The solar wind is usually relatively easy to protect yourself from; with a slightly thicker wall than the bare minimum on your spacecraft, you can usually protect your crewmembers from a solar wind related battering. However, cosmic rays are harder to stop. The protons which make up cosmic rays typically have more energy to them, so shielding has to be more robust. The second problem with cosmic rays is that sometimes they’re more than just a proton; they can be an entire helium nucleus (two protons, and two neutrons), making them a projectile that’s both very high speed and four times the mass of a solar wind particle. These enormous cosmic rays can break apart, at an atomic level, the material they crash into, filling the interior of your spacecraft with radiation, which is not great for anyone trying to live in there.Once a spacecraft leaves the Earth’s protective bubble, not only does the cosmic ray dose increase dramatically, but you’ve also got a much less protected place to deal with the solar wind. And if the Sun decides to unleash a solar flare in your direction, you’ve got an awful lot of protons coming your way from the Sun, in addition to the Galaxy in general pelting you with helium nuclei.Enlil model run of the July 23, 2012 CME and events leading up to it. This view is a 'top-down' view in the plane of Earth's orbit.Unprotected, a solar flare can rapidly give you radiation sickness, which makes you tired and also makes you vomit. Fortunately for all involved, most spacecraft have thick enough walls that the crew should be protected from solar flares, but it’s generally considered good practice to reduce all possible risks. On the other hand, cosmic rays are not so easily stopped.

Because cosmic rays are fundamentally a charged particle, using a miniature magnetosphere surrounding the spacecraft would be an effective way of keeping them away from both your crew and the walls of the spacecraft; if this could be built into a spacecraft, you wouldn’t need to bulk up the outer surfaces of the craft for radiation protection. However, actually doing so is a bit beyond us at the moment. There have been a number of proposed magnet configurations developed, and a recent simulation of three different styles indicated that the magnetic shielding could, in fact, reduce the overall radiation dose an astronaut would recieve. This is not a given, because to create such a magnetic field, you need to add extra stuff to your spacecraft; the more mass you have, the more stuff Galactic cosmic rays can bash into, filling your craft with extra radiation. However, these portable magnetospheres are only just in the design phase - the next big steps will be building them, making them lighter, easier to power, and making sure they work they way we hoped they would. At this point, all we can really say is that it should be possible. We'll have to wait and see if it's also practical.

Author : Jillian Scudder

Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/jillianscudder/2017/03/19/astroquizzical-magnetosphere-travel-mars/#3d83bb8351c8

Categorized in Science & Tech

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is giving away $30,000 to anyone who can propose a “pooptacular” idea on how astronauts stationed in space can relieve themselves. The “Space Poop Challenge” calls for serious submissions as per a press release.

“NASA seeks proposed solutions for fecal, urine, and menstrual management systems to be used in the crew’s launch and entry suits over a continuous duration of up to 144 hours. An in-suit waste management system would be beneficial for contingency scenarios or for any long duration tasks.”

While the challenge sparked hilarious social media responses, the agency reminds readers that there are no toilets in space and that “while you may go about your life mostly unaffected by this, it is more of a challenge for our brave astronauts in their space suits. After all: when you gotta go, you gotta go. And sometimes you gotta go in a total vacuum.”

 

Before launching the Space Poop Challenge, astronauts have used highly absorbent adult diapers, but these do not necessarily solve the problem for they are only good for a day. Aspiring contestants must think of a poop system that will not only hold 75 grams of fecal mass per astronaut each day but also 1 liter of urine. It should also hold 80 milliliters of menstrual fluid.

The proposed system must function regardless of the crew members’ movements in their space suit. While the system might be sophisticated, the astronauts’ set up time should take no longer than five minutes. Most importantly, the system must last for six days without compromising the health, safety, and comfort of NASA’s crew members.

The Space Poop Challenge was launched for long-term space missions. Innovators must design their solutions based on the astronaut’s Modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit (MACES) which is meant for longer duration in the space as opposed to its ACES counterpart. NASA’s press release provides a background on MACES.

An astronaut’s way of living has always been considered baffling. The search engine alone will yield various inquiries from curious minds – how do astronauts sleep, bathe, eat, and even wash the dishes.

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti produced a video “tutorial” on how to use the restroom when you’re up on the International Space Station. Due to the astronaut’s weightlessness once in space, a suction plays a significant role.

 

The Orbital Outhouse Team member revealed that the seated space toilet comes with a fan that creates the suction. The absorbed waste then goes in a plastic bag which astronauts would insert into a waste container. The container is replaced every 10 days. Samantha said that the case is different for urine because it gets recycled.

Astronauts undergo a special training on how to use the toilet in space since they don’t really get to sit because of the weightlessness. In the 1960s, pooping in space was way tougher because astronauts relied on fecal collection bags that were attached to skin by adhesives. The process takes up to an hour.

NASA Astronaut on a mission

In this NASA handout, mission specialist, Astronaut Stephen K. Robinson, is anchored to a foot restraint on the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm, during his space walk to repair the underside of the space shuttle Discovery [Image by NASA via Getty Images]

With the help of the Space Poop Challenge, NASA hopes that pooping for their astronauts won’t be as burdensome anymore. NASA will grant one winner the generous cash prize. The entries will be judged based on nine factors including Soundness and Technical Readiness of the Design, Gas Conservation, Health and Safety, Suit Integrity, Speed, Ease of Use/Constraints, Comfort, Ease of Incorporation, and Other Benefits.

 

The agency will implement the winning solution in the next three or four years. Further specifications are outlined on the Hero X website. There is also a forum on the site that allows people to discuss ideas and ask clarifications about the mechanics. Submissions are accepted until December 20 while NASA will announce the winning entry on January 31, 2017.

[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]

Source : http://www.inquisitr.com/

Categorized in Science & Tech

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