October 21, 2012: This Week's Alien and Space News

By on 1:09 PM

Space news in general doesn’t follow much of a theme each week. A majority of it might cover a specific event (the landing of Curiosity reigned for at least a solid week), but usually there’s a chaotic combination of theoretical science, experiments, discoveries and funding battles. Though there’s a bit of all of that this week, as usual, there’s quite a bit of cohesion, too, and it’s all about making space travel more practical.
Humans vs. Germs: Microgravity might just be out to kill us. Not only does it suppress the immune systems of the astronauts in it, microgravity also boosts the sticking power of microorganisms. Out in space, and outside the confines of a space suit, germs can float wherever, and virtually for however long, they like. So far prevention methods include lots of vaccines, stringent sterilization of the food and environment, and maybe some HEPA air filtration. But this is definitely something to think about, because few places would be worse for an epidemic to break out in.
The Shuttle is Dead, Long Live the Shuttle: Now that our much-loved shuttles are ensconced in museums, NASA’s more focused on the Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy lift rocket for exploring farther than low Earth orbit. As part of the task of sending the spacecraft Orion to future destinations – the article throws in Mars as a teaser – an umbilical arm was attached to NASA’s launch tower; it’s job is handle all the cryogenic propellant the rocket will need. One of the best parts of this story is that NASA will do hundreds of tests on it before declaring it ready: the SLS has to be screw-up resistant, or fault tolerant, and work even if singular components break before it’ll be used.
The Smashing Moon Interlude: Thinking about space travel isn’t the only that happened this week, after all. Sadly, we’re still not 100% sure about how the Moon came to be – it’s in that nebulous zone of ‘You mean we still can’t agree on the right answer?’ that water on Mars stayed in forever. However, evidence seems to point at a Mar-sized body smashing into Earth in the past and the Moon taking form from the ensuing dust and shrapnel. Scientists had sort of known for decades that the Moon had been made through a huge impact: Moon rock is just like Earth rock except for not having any elements that can easily evaporate. But it wasn’t until now that planetary scientist Frédéric Moynier found variations in zinc concentration that point firmly towards the ‘Earth + Horrible Collision = Moon” idea.
The Dragon Will Have Veggies: Next year, SpaceX will be carrying a new food experiment by NASA in the form of a vegetable garden. Trying to grow fresh food in a space-like environment is hardly a new idea, but as people are rallying around ideas like visits to asteroids and colonies on Mars, it’s becoming more and more important. Through NASA’s VEGGIE experiment, the Vegetable Production System, plants like tomatoes and swiss chard could grow in about a month 200 miles above the Earth. There are quite a few challenges involved in this, like carbon dioxide, nutrients, and photosynthesis as a whole, but NASA seems to be doing well so far. Just as cool, NASA’s encouraging science classrooms to get in on the act. This last bit might just be some good PR, but since there’ve been kids building nuclear reactors and solar death rays before, it might also be extremely useful.
Space News by CBS: Space articles by general news venues are usually kind of sketchy: New York Times, in particular, has a sad tendency to be cutesy and a little vague whenever they cover science news rather than science people. But it’s exciting when a general news site, within two days of the discovery, plasters in article from a space website on their page and says, ‘Read this – it’s kind of important.’ Also, the topic itself – a relatively close alien planet called Alpha Centuari Bb – is pretty exciting. This planet, maybe, we could send exploratory devices to.
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Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

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