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Venus

NASA’s DAVINCI Mission Set To Explore Venus In 2029 

NASA’s DAVINCI mission to Venus is scheduled to launch in 2029. In a new paper from the Planetary Science Journal, details are shared of the upcoming mission which aims to shed new light on the potential habitable past for the planet. 

Venus is the second planet from the Sun, and the probe set to land there will act as a flying chemistry lab to analyze the atmosphere of the planet. DAVINCI will have to travel through one hour of gases in Venus’ atmosphere before actually landing, during which time  it will analyze atmospheric temperatures, pressure and wind speed while taking photos as well. 

DAVINCI is a part of three upcoming missions planned for Venus. NASA’s last mission to the scorching hot planet took place in 1989 when Magellan landed, however, all scientific operations of the mission were completed in 1994. 

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Since that moment, NASA hasn’t sent out any missions to study Venus. Scientists are now hoping to gain a greater understanding of Earth through what they learn on Venus, as it’s believed the two planets were created in similar ways. 

Earth and Venus are also the same size, mass, and density, although Venus normally reaches temperatures that can reach up to 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius). Venus has a very thick, carbon-dioxide rich atmosphere that makes it easy for the planet to trap heat the same way greenhouse gases are trapped on Earth. 

“Venus’s atmosphere holds the chemical clues to understanding a whole host of aspects of that planet, including what its starting composition was and how its climate has evolved through time,” Paul Byrne, associate professor of Earth and Planetary Science at Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the paper, wrote.

“The DAVINCI team in particular is hoping to establish whether Venus really did have oceans of liquid water in its past, and if so when, and why, those oceans were lost.”

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DAVINCI will travel around 38 million miles to Venus, initially performing two flybys of the planet to analyze clouds and measure the amount of ultraviolet radiation absorbed on the planet’s day side, and the amount of heat being emitted from its night side. 

The paper explained that two years after DAVINCI is launched, the DAVINCI probe will descend through Venus’s atmosphere to sample the various gases in the atmosphere. 

“It turns out that the Venus atmosphere is relatively clement up around 55 km [35 miles], but quickly starts to get hotter and far denser as you approach the surface. To say nothing of the sulfuric acid clouds, although thankfully they tend to dissipate once you’ve fallen to an altitude of around 47 km [29 miles],” Bryce said. 

Once the probe makes it to the surface of Venus, it will attempt to take hundreds of images, which could provide scientists with unprecedented views never seen from the planet before. 

“The DAVINCI probe will have a small inlet on the exterior of the pressure vessel (basically a big, metal sphere) through which samples of the atmosphere at different altitudes will be drawn into the spacecraft (or, really, pushed in as the pressure outside the probe starts to dramatically increase over the interior pressure),” Byrne said.

“The DAVINCI probe will look to answer this question by measuring the ratios of various gases in the atmosphere. Those measurements, in turn, will help scientists understand which of their climate and interior evolution models are correct, and thus what the likely planetary history of Venus is—including whether it really was ever habitable,” Byrne said.

Astronat on Moon

Scientists Claim Mold From Chernobyl Could Help Protect Astronauts From Space Radiation

NASA has been working on a way to get back to the moon for the past few years, and now, they’re claiming to return by 2024. The goal is to potentially establish a permanent human presence on the moon by the end of the decade, however, there are a ton of logistical obstacles to work through before that idea can get anywhere close to becoming a reality. 

One of the largest issues NASA scientists have been working through is space radiation. The radiation levels in space pose a genuine threat for all astronauts. On Earth, the planet’s magnetic and atmosphere fields shield us from the deadly radiation that exists in space, however, that “safety blanket” of atmosphere disappears the further into space one goes. 

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For reference, astronauts working in the International Space Station are receiving 20 times the normal amount of radiation when compared to what we endure here on Earth. Obviously, this is a major concern, and is part of the reason scientists have been working tirelessly with an unexpected organism to help combat this radiation issue. 

Scientists have found that fungi and mold species found in Chernobyl, one of the most radioactive places on Earth, are thriving in Russia by “feeding on the extreme levels of radiation.” For those who are unaware, in 1986 the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant experienced an explosion that blew a hole through a No. 4 reactor on the plant. The level of radiation around the plant was so intense it was said that exposure would result in death within 60 seconds, so finding species of fungi and agriculture in general was astounding. 

The initial study on these fungi species were published in a scientific journal last week, and specifically examined a species known as Cladosporium sphaerospermum (CS). The writers of the study claim that this fungi can be “used as a self-healing, self-replicating shield to protect astronauts in deep space.”

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The researchers explained in the study that they placed this specific species of fungi in the International Space Station for 30 days where they monitored its level of radiation absorption. They set up a petri dish with two sides; one side contained no fungi and acted as a control for the experiment, the other side contained CS particles. The dish was placed under a radiation detector where measurements were taken every 110 seconds. 

The study revealed that the fungi was able to adapt to the gravity conditions in space and “feed” on the radiation the same way it did in Chernobyl. Initial findings showed that CS was able to even block some incoming radiation by decreasing the levels up to 2%. 

In the conclusion of these findings the scientists claim that the biggest advantage of using CS fundi specifically is that it can replicate itself on its own, meaning workers at NASA would only have to send a small amount into orbit with astronauts to make it effective. With some tweaking and a lot more experimentation, researchers believe this fungi can be used to shield bases on the Moon or even Mars. 

As of right now NASA is planning on sending the Perseverance rover to the Red Planet by the end of the month, and the current astronauts aboard the International Space Station are set on returning to Earth on August 2nd.

Spaceship

India Announces They’ll Be Sending Humans To Space For The First Time

India is looking to become the fourth nation in the world to send its citizens into space. America, China, and Russia are the only other countries in the world to hold the same honor. The plan is to send four astronauts up into space in 2022. The identities of these individuals have been kept anonymous for now, as plans for the space mission are still in their preliminary stages. 

According to sources, India has been developing a spacecraft, known as Gaganyaan, that would let up to three individuals go into space and orbit the Earth for up to a week. The announcement came from the India Space Research Organization, or ISRO, which held a press conference about the mission on New Year’s Day. 

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Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Kailasavadivoo Sivan 

During the conference Kailasavadivoo Sivan, ISRO’s chairman pictured above, briefed over 100 media personnel about the mission and the four astronauts’ intensive training, which he mentioned would begin in Russia in a couple of weeks.

In addition to their first human-made space journey, ISRO is hoping to make up for their failed moon rover mission from 2018. Last year, India sent a small solar-powered space rover to the moon in order to land and collect data. However, the rover, known as the Chandrayaan-2, unfortunately crashed during a failed landing. ISRO states that the crash was due to a system malfunction that tampered with the landing gears in the rover. However, this incident was after a rather successful first moon rover mission from 2008. 

“India’s first successful lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, put a spacecraft in orbit around the moon in 2008 and then later sent a probe hurtling toward the moon’s south pole, where it deliberately crashed and released material that was analyzed by the orbiter’s scientific instruments, helping to confirm the presence of water ice on the Moon,” according to Nell Greenfieldboyce, who covered ISRO’s recent conference.

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Now, ISRO is hoping to make up for that malfunction by sending their newest rover, the Chandrayaan-3, to the moon. That mission is completely separate from the Gaganyaan mission; however, both were recently approved by the Indian government, so the announcements were made together. 

“The Chandrayaan-2 mission also included an orbiting spacecraft, however, that is still circling the moon and functioning well. That means it can be used by Chandrayaan-3’s rover to relay communications back to Earth,” said Greenfieldboyce

Since the first two space rover missions, India’s space program received a huge boost in public and political interest. Funding increased, and so did a desire for further exploration and expansion into the unknown.

Back in 2014, the ISRO was able to learn even more by putting a satellite into Mars’ orbit. At the time, this was a huge deal for India’s space program as they got to Mars before China, their biggest rival in terms of technology and space exploration. This made India the first Asian country to make it to Mars as well as the first nation in the world to reach it on their first attempt without any malfunctions.

The Chandrayaan-3 moon rover mission will likely occur before India is able to send their astronauts up into space, but both projects are predicted to launch within the next two to three years.

Space elevator

Study Finds a Space Elevator May Be Feasible

It sounds like something out of a cheesy science fiction novel, but scientists have long considered the possibility of creating an elevator that connects the Earth to the moon, making the trip between the two planetary bodies much easier. A number of practical considerations spring to mind immediately when contemplating such an endeavor, not the least of which is the financial cost of engineering and building such a system. A new paper, however, reaches the surprising conclusion that this barrier, among others, is not so great as to be prohibitive, and the reality of a space elevator may manifest within our lifetimes.

The paper, written by astronomy students Zephyr Penoyre and Emily Sandford and published on the online research archive arXiv, details a proposed “lunar space elevator” and describes the engineering difficulties involved in constructing one, as well as unique solutions to these problems. The students’ proposal leverages technology that already exists, instead of relying upon technology which has yet to be invented, by suggesting the construction of an elevator starting on the moon and reaching 200,000 miles to geostationary orbit. 

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This construction method would eliminate the need to place a counterweight near Earth’s orbit to balance out the gravitational effects of building an elevator from the ground up to the moon, and also eliminates the risk of relative motion between the Earth and the moon to twist or bend the elevator. As this method attaches the elevator to a satellite in geostationary orbit, rather than the Earth’s surface, additional space travel is required to move from the Earth to the elevator, though the costs of this trip would be substantially less than the current cost of travelling to the moon.

The researchers propose that the cable used to support the elevator, which they call the Spaceline, would be thinner than a pencil and weigh about 88,000 pounds, which is within the possible payload weight of a rocket ship to the moon. A number of different materials could be used to create this Spaceline, including carbon nanotubes, a remarkably strong and light synthetic material which has so far only ever been produced in short lengths and is often considered in various space elevator designs. 

A space elevator would make possible the establishment of a zero-gravity base camp in space, as well as an eventual moon base.

However, the researchers argue that other materials such as Kevlar, Dyneema, and Zylon, which are cheaper and easier to manufacture, could be used under their specifications. Though Penoyre and Sandford speculate that this project would easily cost a few billion dollars, the price is “within the whim of one particularly motivated billionaire,” bringing to mind the likes of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, both of whom have already invested significant portions of their personal fortunes into space exploration technology.

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Penoyre and Stanford also provide several practical justifications for investing in space elevator technology. The researchers argue that using a spaceline to move an elevator from geostationary orbit to the moon would be free, as the elevator could be powered by solar panels, and the cost of moving from the Earth to the elevator would be less than moving into a geostationary orbit. They also note that the development of this infrastructure would make transport of both people and materials across space much easier, and the engineering challenge of building a Spaceline would push forward technological capabilities. Additionally, a space elevator would make possible the establishment of a zero-gravity base camp in space, as well as an eventual moon base.

There are a number of scientific and economic advantages to returning to the moon generally. One potential application is the mining of valuable raw materials, such as helium-3, neodymium and gadolinium, which are thought to be buried beneath the moon’s surface. Helium-3, a rare material on Earth, could theoretically be used to fuel nuclear power generators, among other applications. The low-gravity vacuum of the moon has the potential to be a unique environment for scientific experiments, and establishing a human settlement on the moon would provide good experience for settling on other planets, most notably Mars.