Our solar system is a pretty big place, and we haven't really seen that much of it. But as we send out more and more probes and get fancier telescopes, we're learning about a ton of interesting phenomena that occur beyond our own planet. Here are just a few fascinating factoids and links on how we're exploring space without sending astronauts anywhere (yet).
Space exploration is starting a new era. With more and more commercial ventures taking over low earth orbit missions, government space programs can focus on more long-term missions to increasingly distant places in our solar system. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be many collaborative international efforts for missions to other planets, so it's looking like a new nationalistic space race is emerging. Here are just a few space projects aimed beyond our planet.
Over the next few years, we should be learning quite a bit more about our Martian neighbors. The Curiosity Rover is just starting out, but if it performs as well as its predecessors, then it should provide tons of interesting data about Mars and its geological history. When Curiosity ceases to function, maybe we'll be more willing to send manned missions, but robots seem to be doing a pretty good job so far. Here are just a few interesting tidbits on the red planet.
Manned missions to Mars aren't going to happen for decades (if ever?), but in the mean time, we have awesome robots roaming the surface of Mars for us. We also have some simulations of living on Mars -- like the Mars500 project -- and the unforgettable original Total Recall movie. Here are just a few more Martian simulations if you need some help escaping from the realities of Earth.
The successful landing of NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars will hopefully be followed by several years of fascinating data collection about our planetary neighbor. The mission has already gathered tons of useful radiation measurements on its journey that will give scientists a better idea of what kind of radiation levels a future manned mission would face on a similar trip to Mars. Here are just a few other interesting Mars-related missions to peruse while Curiosity performs its self-diagnostics before roaming around the surface of Mars.
We hear from copyright system supporters that bogus copyright takedowns are rare and we only highlight the "exceptions." Of course, it seems like there are an awful lot of these exceptions. The latest is that with the massive success of last night's Mars landing of the Curiosity Rover, NASA posted the video to YouTube for those who didn't watching the thrilling, suspenseful landing live... except, if you checked out NASA's own YouTube page a few hours later, you got this:
It's back now, but as Vice's Motherboard blog explains, this kind of thing happens all the time. They spoke with Bob Jacobs, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications, who said that this happens about once a month, and almost always happens with NASA's popular videos.
“We spend too much time going through the administrative process to clear videos slapped with needless copyright claims,” says NASA’s Bob Jacobs. “YouTube seems to be missing a ‘common sense’ button to its processes, especially when it involves public domain material paid for by the American taxpayer.”
Jacobs is quite reasonably annoyed at the lack of consequences for these bogus takedowns:
“There seems to be few consequences for companies that engage in such activities, which often include legitimate news organizations. We do agree that people who make false copyright claims against our material should be held accountable, regardless of their automated systems.”
What's amazing here is that Scripps is a repeat offender with NASA. Back in April, people noticed that it had forced the removal of NASA's (again, public domain) footage of the Boeing 747 that carried the space shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian (its "final journey"). But, of course, there aren't many (or even any) serious consequences for these kinds of mistakes. While it's not clear what happened, it seems likely that Scripps replayed the footage itself somewhere, and via some semi-automated process uploaded it to YouTube's ContentID, in which it claimed copyright on all its works. But, of course, it was actually broadcasting public domain video from NASA. Unfortunately, YouTube can't recognize that Scripps is the latecomer here, rebroadcasting others' public domain material, and thus took down the material, only to have it corrected later.
Given that Scripps is now a repeat offender, it seems that perhaps YouTube should cut it off from automatically censoring others' videos.
Oh, and if you want to know one of the reasons we're so concerned about a possible broadcast treaty (which the US government is now supporting), it's because it actually would make these kinds of claims quasi-legal, in that broadcasters who broadcast public domain material could then claim a separate "broadcast right" over that footage. Even without that, we see operations like Scripps abusing the law. Do we really want to expand that power?
Now, since the video is back up, here's the actual (public domain) footage, in case you missed it (and if you did miss it, you should watch it, as it really is incredible):
Manned missions outside of low Earth orbit take a bit more planning since supplies are a trickier to deliver the farther out astronauts go. NASA is looking at a trip to Mars in a couple decades, and part of its preparations is creating edible items that are safe and nutritious for such a long trip. Here are just a few interesting stories about eating in other gravitational environments.
Most people's idea of astronaut food is freeze-dried ice cream -- which astronauts don't actually eat anymore. But with all the commercial space ventures that are trying to create a space tourism industry, maybe there should be more culinary options for zero gravity meals. Here are just a few examples of space food that might be better than a packet of salted peanuts.
The Space Shuttle program is retired, but we still have the Soyuz (and maybe a mysterious secret mini-shuttle) to get people into space. On top of that, though, the private space industry is starting to kick in with more and more ambitious plans to offer rides into space -- or at least to the edge of space. Here are just a few more examples of these private efforts.
Depending on how you look at it, the current state of space exploration can be seen as dismally underfunded -- or as the most amazingly productive in history. Unmanned probes are checking out all sorts of interesting destinations in our solar system, but manned missions have lately been limited to orbiting the Earth. The unmanned space race is generating plenty of fascinating science, nonetheless. Here are just a few interesting developments in the field of space exploration.