Monthly Archives: March 2011

Suits for Mars

They’re not quite skinsuits, but someone is thinking ahead to what sort of suits future Mars settlers will need.

Wikipedia has a useful backgrounder on the skinsuit (aka “mechanical counterpressure suit” or “space activity suit”), which includes the basis for several details of how the concept is applied in In the Shadow of Ares. But if you’re more into a retro-look, Jeff Foust reviews of a new book on the development history of the Apollo lunar spacesuits.

Mars Needs…More Movies

I took the family to see Mars Needs Moms Friday, and for the most part the trepidation I expressed in an earlier post was unwarranted.

Despite some flat/cheesy dialogue I felt the screenplay did a nice job of extending a 700-word book to feature film length.  The movie was reasonably consistent with the book, while the new characters and subplots added depth to the original narrative.  Even the obligatory kid elements (gadgets, colors, slides, etc.) were generally plot-relevant and less annoying than other adaptations I have had to sit through.

Visually, Mars Needs Moms was impressive, though the human characters still suffer from the “dead-eye” that afflicts so much computer animation.  Among the humans, the character Gribble was well animated, but Milo and his Mom left something to be desired.  The Martians were interesting enough, though I have to say I found their lower bodies a bit disturbing to look at.

As for technical accuracy, the movie fared quite well.  Keeping in mind that it was based on a short, illustrated story, I was OK with the filmmakers keeping the imagery in the climactic scene where the characters are wearing helmets and ordinary clothing on the Martian surface.  I felt there was an effort to compensate for that by making the rest of the film more scientifically accurate, including using a wormhole to shorten the months-long Earth-Mars transit, and showing the lower Martian gravity (though as portrayed it looked closer to lunar gravity to me).

The most important critics, my 5, 8 and 10-year-old daughters, loved Mars Needs Moms, as did my wife.  I’d recommend it to anyone with children.  As for me, I enjoyed it though I’m still looking forward to a Mars movie that is simultaneously entertaining and realistic.

Agriculture on Mars

An interesting project at the South Pole, involving agriculture in a controlled (and in this case, sunless and soil-less) environment: To the moon…South Pole greenhouse model for growing freshies on other worlds

Crops of lettuce, kale, cucumber, peppers, herbs, tomatoes, cantaloupes and edible flowers comprise many of the plants grown in the climate-controlled chamber. Because the importation of soil is restricted by the Antarctic Treaty External U.S. government site, dirt is not used to grow the plants. In fact, the closest local dirt is nearly two miles beneath the ice on which the station sits. The plants are grown in a hydroponic nutrient solution instead — no dirt needed.

For that matter, no sunlight is needed either. The growth chamber, which was built in the winter of 2004, makes its own light via 13 water-cooled, high-pressure sodium lamps. In this bright environment, it is not uncommon to find people, like the plants, dwelling happily under the intense light produced in the chamber during the dark polar winter.

Carl and I put a lot of thought into extraterrestrial agriculture while writing In the Shadow of Ares, not least because the primary setting for the book is a very large agricultural settlement. Interestingly (or perhaps not surprisingly), we came to some of the same conclusions as these researchers. Of particular note, the morale benefit to settlers in an inescapably indoor environment of having an open green space (or Greenspace, if you’ve read the book).

Feeding Martians

An interesting project at the South Pole, involving agriculture in a controlled (and in this case, sunless and soil-less) environment: To the moon…South Pole greenhouse model for growing freshies on other worlds

Crops of lettuce, kale, cucumber, peppers, herbs, tomatoes, cantaloupes and edible flowers comprise many of the plants grown in the climate-controlled chamber. Because the importation of soil is restricted by the Antarctic Treaty External U.S. government site, dirt is not used to grow the plants. In fact, the closest local dirt is nearly two miles beneath the ice on which the station sits. The plants are grown in a hydroponic nutrient solution instead — no dirt needed.

For that matter, no sunlight is needed either. The growth chamber, which was built in the winter of 2004, makes its own light via 13 water-cooled, high-pressure sodium lamps. In this bright environment, it is not uncommon to find people, like the plants, dwelling happily under the intense light produced in the chamber during the dark polar winter.

Carl and I put a lot of thought into extraterrestrial agriculture while writing In the Shadow of Ares, not least because the primary setting for the book is a very large agricultural settlement. Interestingly (or perhaps not surprisingly), we came to some of the same conclusions as these researchers. Of particular note, the morale benefit to settlers in an inescapably indoor environment of having an open green space (or Greenspace, if you’ve read the book).

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Are We Alone?

Dr. Richard B. Hoover of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center claims to have found proof of alien life.  In a study published Friday in the Journal of Cosmology, Hoover says that fossils found in a very rare CI1 carbonaceous chondrite meteorite are conclusive evidence of alien bacterial life.

This is hardly the first such claim, and echoes studies involving the Allan Hills 84001 Martian meteorite that have prompted debate that has been ongoing since 1996.  This time NASA came out quickly and indicated that there was no support from other researchers for Hoover’s claims.

Hoover’s study was previously made available for peer review, and those comments are supposed to be published soon, so I’ll withhold judgement for now.  Of course, if you’re interested in how the discovery of living alien microbial life might play out, check out In the Shadow of Ares.

UPDATE:  NASA Watch questions several aspects of Richard Hoover and his paper, including whether or not he is a doctor of anything.  Oops.

Farming in Space

Popular Mechanics takes an ever-so-brief look at farming in space.

Gene Giacomelli, a University of Arizona agricultural researcher and the lead investigator of a NASA-funded growth chamber for the moon, envisions a multiarmed, inflatable greenhouse building staffed with robots that do the bulk of the work. “Astronauts should not have to be farmers,” he says.

Nor (more to the point) should settlers.

The settlers in In the Shadow of Ares make extensive use of this combination of inflatable greenhouses and robotic technology, in the form of the bubbles at the Green and the Jacobsens’ Ares IV homestead and their respective semi-autonomous gardener ‘bots.

While the article mentions food and oxygen production, it does not mention one of the important benefits such greenhouses would offer: enhanced morale. Whether it is the fresh atmosphere of a small homestead garden or the large park tucked into one corner of an industrial-scale agricultural bubble, greenhouses will offer settlers a reminder of Earth and a break from their otherwise wholly artificial surroundings.