Humans -- not content to be stuck on this planet and itching to find alien life -- are hard at work developing better ways to send satellites and spacecraft into orbit and outer space. If we actually want to colonize Mars by 2023, then some new propulsion technologies might be in order. Here are a few examples of various efforts going on around the world.
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.
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):
Commercial space flights for tourists could be a routine program someday soon. With that in mind, there is some renewed excitement surrounding manned spaceflight, and for people with a few million bucks burning a hole in their pockets, an opportunity to go up into low earth orbit is not a ridiculous vacation idea. But before you pack your bags, you should check out some next generation spacesuit designs that claim to be more comfortable than ever before.
Well, well. After some delays and an aborted attempt a few days ago, it appears that the SpaceX "test" flight to get a bit of cargo into orbit and aimed at the International Space Station has worked according to plan -- and we're now a step closer to a private space program (photo from NASA):
The SpaceX folks webcast the whole thing from its website (hopefully, they'll post the video for people to rewatch -- as of right now there's nothing). The White House immediately offered its congratulations for "the potential of a new era in American spaceflight..." powered by the private sector.
This is the second time that SpaceX has gotten this far, but rather than just orbiting the earth a couple times, the current mission goal is to have the Dragon capsule actually dock with the International Space Station (and deliver some food). The actual docking process is a bit complex, apparently, so there are still some worries. However, things certainly seem to be progressing.
And, of course, this is just one of many stepping stones towards actually offering private manned spaceflight, which goes beyond just touching the edges of space, but actually into orbit. Either way, it's an important milestone along the way.
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.
Unmanned missions to explore other planets and asteroids in our solar system look like a really cost-effective way to collect scientific data. But manned missions are so much more inspirational. Here are just a few space projects that are trying to keep manned spaceflight alive.
The failure rate of space programs makes space travel a bit of a risky venture. Sitting on enough explosive materials to escape the Earth's gravity isn't the safest-sounding job, but there are still plenty of willing volunteers to try it. Here are just a few stories on some recent space missions.
With the Space Shuttle program ending, it appears that NASA has some spare time on its hands... and it's using it to sue a former astronaut for trying to auction off a lunar movie camera that he claims he was given after becoming the sixth man to walk on the moon in 1971. Yes, he has had the camera for forty years, and it's just now that he was seeking to auction it off that NASA suddenly remembered it existed and is claiming that it owns it. Is there really no statute of limitations here? Or possibly a laches claim? Frankly, the whole thing just seems petty.
Getting into space isn't cheap or easy. However, the technology to get into orbit is making some awesome progress and getting more reliable -- and getting a little cheaper, bit by bit. There are lots of designs for rockets and spaceships, and some are more like science fiction than anything that'll actually fly. Here are a few more spaceships that might have a shot at taking off.