Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Friday, December 29, 2006

Muddy Mars?

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW

Have a good look at the picture above. Its a recent picture of the Spirit Rover tracks on Mars. They sure looks like mud tracks to me! The tracks are darker then the surface material. They are smooth and well formed. Their muddy origin would be immediate to anyone who has been to a beach or river bank. The white stuff could be salt left over from the evaporated brine. If you examine the raw pictures you will see that the white substance mostly disappears in latter images which would make sense if it was reabsorbed by the damp mud.

Now I realise there may other explanations and some people won't be satisfied until they put their finger in it. Also NASA has to be cautious in announcing a major discovery. But they now agree there is evidence of current liquid water Mars, at least for short periods. So I don't see why the obvious explanation can't be the most likely.

The raw NASA images can be found here.

Thanks to Xuxalina Rihhia-1 and Jim Sorenson at the Xenotech Research forum for the head up.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Space Wear

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney NSW


Ok, our space explorers need better space suits but what about clothing inside the spaceship? If they are members of the astro-military or a civilian space exploration group astronauts will probably have to wear some type of uniform. NASA has its blue flight suits but lets face it, they are completely sexless and leave the astronaut looking like petrol station attendants.

Surely we can do better. Hollywood has been working on this problem for decades so lets see what they have come up with.

Tom Corbett from the 1950's TV series certainly had a futuristic uniform. But I don't think the Super Nerd look cuts it. Although I think the boys at the MardiGras might like the outfit.

Star Trek would have to be the most famous TV space show. Lt Uhura looks lovely in her mini skirt but sorry girls, skirts are just not going to work in zero-G. The Star Trek male uniform had its own problems. They looked very streamlined but where do you put your communicator and phaser? Captain Kirk had a holster arrangement under his shirt. Didn't look very comfortable to me.

In the 1970's Gerry Anderson, famous for his Thunderbirds puppet productions, gave us two live action Science fiction series. UFO had a moon base populated by an all female crew who wore purple wigs and silver bodysuits. This is probably the most bizarre attire anyone has every proposed for a space mission. No explanation was ever given as to why there were no male lunar crew members or why they all wore the same uniform but hey, I suppose it satisfied someone's fantasy.

Mr Anderson 's next series was Space 1999 again it had a moon base but this time everyone was wearing pajamas.
More recently shows like Babylon 5 and the new Battlestar Galactica has more believable uniforms but they are really updated military uniforms not specialised space uniforms.

However there was one show that did have realistic well thought out space uniforms, Star Trek: Enterprise. Awful show but it had great uniforms. Have a look at the humans in the picture. Simple one piece jumpsuits with lots of closeable pockets. Usable in all gravity environments and plenty of places to hide your communicator. Very importantly both the men and women look good in them.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Air we Breathe

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney, NSW

We have all seen the movie. The astronaut puts on a spacesuit, enters the airlock then makes a quick exist to the outside. The reality is much more complicated. Because of the mobility problems mentioned in the previous article space suits are kept at low pressure. In the case of the shuttle suit 4.3 psi. The Shuttle and Space Station on the other hand are at sea level pressure, 14.7 psi. A quick drop to spacesuit pressure would be a sure way to give the astronaut a bad case of Decompression Sickness, the bends.

To avoid this the astronauts have to preform a lengthy procedure before they can commence a EVA. In the case of the Shuttle it involves pre-breathing pure oxygen for an hour then reducing the cabin pressure to 10.2 psi for 24 hours before a final 75 minute oxygen prebreathe. ISS astronauts also use the Shuttle suit and they cope with a 2 hours and 20 minutes pre-breathe but that includes a 10 minutes of vigorous exercise which helps in removing the nitrogen. Now a Moon or Mars base will require astronauts to do frequent outside excursions, time consuming pre breathing procedures will need to be avoided if the astronauts are actually going to explore, not just stay indoors.

One possible solution is to reduce the habitats atmospheric pressure. A good percentage of the human race does not live at the 14.7 psi of sea level. Residents of Mexico City live with a 28% reduction in pressure , at Lhasa,Tibet (altitude 3,800 meters) people cope with with 42% reduction. With proper acclimatization, most people seem to cope with these low air pressure. In a habitat we can do even better as the oxygen partial pressure can be maintained by increasing the O2 percentage. The Apollo command module used a 100% oxygen atmosphere at 5psi. But there are problems with very low pressure, lower the pressure and you lower the boiling point so getting a hot meal becomes a problem. More importantly the risk of fire increases and getting rid of waste heat becomes more difficult.

Another way to to use tougher spacesuits that can handle higher pressure. Originally the American ISS astronauts were supposed to use a spacesuit that could handle 8psi. But that proved more difficult to build then first thought so the Shuttle suit was used. There has been considerable work on hard suits over the years but these just worse the cost and mobility problems I have previously mentioned.

There is no easy solution to this problem. Real world trials are just going to have been done to find a compromise between low habitat atmospheric pressure and suit design to allow effective base operation.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Space Suits

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney NSW

Above is a picture of a space shuttle astronaut wearing the Shuttle EMU space suit. The spacesuit is a pressure suit with a heritage going back to 1930's high altitude flights. Pressure suits have been used for decades by all the space faring nations and allowed the Apollo astronauts to explore the Moon.

However if pressure suits are the best we can do we can forget about Space settlements.

A conventional spacesuit surrounds the occupant with a pressurised balloon. The suit will inflate to the originally sewn shape and will want maintain the shape. The astronaut has to fight against the suit to move. Mobility is only possible with the use of constant volume joints. Even with the best pressure suits every movement is remains an effort. The gloves provide special difficulties, fine work is virtually impossible. There are other problems, to keep astronauts cool they have to wear a garment of tubes that pump water around the body. Also any puncture would be fatal.

These suits are complicated, expensive and heavy. The old Apollo Moon suit weighted about 100kg, the Shuttle suit even more, 131kg. Operations on the Moon and Mars are going to be dusty, those joints will need to be regularly cleaned and repaired. The work in maintaining such suits , not to mention the expense will be a severe restraint on even a small settlement. The comparison here is with undersea exploration. Think back to the old hard hat suits, they were dangerous and expensive to use. What is required is the space version of SCUBA gear.

Fortunately there is an alternative. Back in the late 60's Dr Paul Webb developed a revolutionary protective suit called the Space Activity Suit. The SAS was based on the realisation that the human skin is a pretty good barrier to vacuum. A person can be exposed to space for one to three minutes with out serious harm. The body will swell due to gas expansion but this takes several minutes. If the skin could be reinforced there would be no swelling. Dr Webb therefore developed an elastic leotard to provide mechanical counter pressure (MCP). Any swelling is restrained by the elastic garment . The suit needs no joints bending requires minimal effort. There is no need for the complicated cooling garment .either. The leotard can be made from porous material so the astronaut can still sweat away the body's metabolic heat. Even the problem of punctures is reduced, any cut would produce local bruising at most.

Dr Webb was able to successfully take the suit to proof of concept stage. As can be seen from t picture the test subject was able to run on a treadmill!

If you think skin tight leotards are just a bit to sissy for astronauts don't worry. They would well a lose fitting coverall over the leotard to protect them from micro-meteorites and solar radiation.

There are problems with MCP suits the major one being the difficulty of donning the outfit. The original suit required assistance and took about 20 minutes to put on. However that was over 30 years ago, according to Dr Webb new materials allow the suit to be put on by one person in a few minutes.

Dr Webb is still not alone in researching MCP suits, others include Dava Newman from MIT and James Waldie in Australia. Hopefully NASA and others do fund this essential work.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Atlantica's Dream

As you may know, I am in the process of writing a book titled, “Undersea Colonies” which I hope to have out in the 1st Quarter of 2007. The idea of the book is very basic: mankind has a permanent undersea population of exactly zero but that is about to change. I say that because part of the reason I am writing the book is in preparation of building that permanent undersea settlement myself – Atlantica – in 2012.

As exciting as all that is, there has been a certain flurry of undersea development in the past few years and I wanted to review that here with you. Note that there is a difference between an “undersea” hotel that is accessed by a tunnel or elevator and a totally submerged habitat with no access except by submarine or divers. One is a true undersea habitat and the former is absolutely not. A “hotel” arrangement connected to the surface with a tunnel is a kind of barge, ship or surface structure that partially extends underwater and is not a habitat by any means, nor is the settlement a true undersea settlement. As I said before, if this were true, than any ship with a manned engineering space below the waterline this qualifies as an undersea colony - which is silly.

Yet – the world is suddenly “awash” with these proposals – and all of them designed as “undersea hotels” accessed by the surface through a tunnel or elevator. Every single one of them make the same claim: “The World’s First Undersea Luxury Resort”. Let me review them for you.

Poseidon Resorts – Fiji

This undersea hotel complex idea has bounced from being located in the Bahamas now to Fiji. The website used to promise an “opening day” and “now taking reservations” day to dropping the time promises altogether, then reposting them again. The website now says to contact them in January 2007. Hmmm. I wonder if they will really start taking cash? The site says that the first rooms will open in 2009 and will cost $15,000 per single room or $30,000 per couple for a week. I do hope they are successful. Check out their very well done website by clicking here. Also – don’t miss this awesome Youtube video!

Crescent Hydropolis – Dubai, Las Vegas, Monaco, Oman and China

Crescent Hydroplois is a corporation that is planning undersea resorts in the above named places. The seriously funded one is the Dubai resort ostensibly funded by a wealthy Arab Sheikh. However, it seems there was a little matter of $2 Billion that became a problem so the project is now not certain anymore and there is some soft dates. The Chinese project they call the “Hydropalace” seems to have some serious Chicom money attached and it is being linkjed to the upcoming 2009 Olympics so that may actually come to pass. We’ll see. Don’t miss their website by clicking here.

Aquapolis: Located at Mykonos, Cydades Islands, Greece.

This is a real mystery project – another expensive, expansive undersea resort idea. They supposedly once had a website then it disappeared. One site reported they website had 'five spelling and grammatical errors in the in the overview page' – but now it appears the site is now gone so there’s no way to tell for sure. If it is true, that would not seem to inspire a lot of investor confidence, I’m guessing.

Where is this all leading us? Well – if you have a LOT of money to burn, it will allow you to live in an expensive undersea room for a week and you won’t even have to get wet while you breathe all the surface air you want at one ATM. Doers it lead to new undersea empires? Hardly. But it is a great start to cultivating an impression that it is at least possible.

The Atlantica Project is far different. Atlantica will begin as an undersea research community comprise of many habitats with no surface tunnel – accessible by submarine or divers. It is designed to be a permanent, manned colony comprising the first human undersea settlement. It is scheduled to being its first day of operation in May of 2012. Our website will be substantially populated by late January 2007.

Illustration by James Carson

Sunday, December 17, 2006

What Ralph Wants For Christmas

Santa, can I have one of these please? Its the Deepworker Submersible fron Nytco. Capable of taking you down to 2000 feet. Sure beats a wetsuit.
Ralph Buttigieg, Sydney Australia

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The 2006 Solar Radiation Storm

The astronauts of the International Space Station slept in unusual quarters last night, taking shelter from a solar radiation storm. When I heard that, even though I have worked in space life sciences for most of my professional career, I had to ask myself the question, “What exactly does THAT mean?”

We all have these images of alarms sounding and space ships bucking and rocking around and sweaty astronauts clinging to equipment in fear as the raging radiation storms buffets the ship. But, alas, it is nothing like that. In fact, had our solar observatories and satellites not reported it, they would never have known there was a solar event in progress at all.

And what kind of shelter are they talking about? Is there a hardened radiation bunker onboard the space station that they seal themselves up in and wait out the storm? And how bad was it And how bad can it get? And what are the contingencies for the entire scale of possible solar storms that might impact the space station?

Those are all excellent questions that have been asked before, of course.

The space station does not have a hardened radiation bunker. But last night the shuttle crews were ordered to sleep in the space shuttle’s middeck and space station astronauts were ordered to sleep in the aft ends of the space station's U.S. Destiny laboratory and Russian-built Zvezda service module which have greater densities of materials between them and space.

What’s the concern? Flight surgeons worry most about high-energy solar protons, which can penetrate deep into the body. Severe exposure can cause radiation sickness, increased cancer risks or death. Greater shielding - or in this specific case - more equipment, machines and specifically placed geometries and craft orientation were all used together as a "substitute" for hardened shelter shielding.

Has there ever been a significant worry in spaceflight history? Yes - an Apollo crew that walked on the moon in 1972 narrowly missed a potentially lethal dose of radiation from a solar storm that struck soon after the crew left.

If you are interested in such scientific facts in an exciting fiction setting, try reading my book, Quantum Storms which covers the full range of what the sun may be capable of doing in its worst moods!

Finally, if you would like an exhaustingly detailed but very interesting web based mini-book published by the National Academy of Sciences on this very topic, click here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

More Thoughts About Undersea Colonies

In Part II of the discussion on living undersea in human colonies, we continue the discussion on how we will define the terms. This is an excerpt from my coming book, Undersea Colonies, due out in a few months.

A habitat is a fixed structure beneath the ocean that is designated for the occupation by aquanauts who live and work there. It can be fixed to the seafloor or tethered from the seafloor. It has no means of propulsion, or that would make it a submarine whose purpose it is to transport submariners. A true undersea habitat is specifically designed to meet all needs of the human aquanaut from comfort to shelter for long periods of time.

Habitats are not a part of a surface platform or island structure that extends below the waterline. Structures under the water that open up to the surface are not habitats at all, but they are, in fact, submerged platforms, barges or extended, submerged shore side docks. Aquanauts cannot be certified as an aquanaut if they live out of one of these structures. If they were counted as aquanauts, then most crewmembers in engineering spaces on nearly all ships would be “aquanauts”, since their working level is typically beneath the waterline. A true habitat is linked to the surface only by air, power and communication lines, not by elevators or stairwells. A true underwater habitat is truly an underwater dwelling separate and distinct from the surface.

Engineering cofferdams or work spaces created for underwater repairs or welding are also not counted as underwater habitats, since these metal boxes are not designed for long duration general living but for the shortest term possible accomplishment of dry work under water. They are not configured for all aspects of life and living, but are instead designated as crude work spaces that certainly no one would ever want to live in.

These classifications are important in order to distinguish between the true aquanaut – a citizen and resident of the sea as opposed to the always transient submariner or curious surface dweller who descends through a tunnel to peer out some glassed in chamber, but is not at all isolated from the surface, its air, pressure or effects.

An aquanaut is one who lives in a habitat for extended periods of days, weeks, months, years or decades without surfacing. The habitat is a structure whose purpose is much like a land based home. It is specifically designed to indefinitely meet all aspects of life and living beneath the surface of the sea and except for a small cluster of support lines and it is always completely isolated from the surface.

If you may be interested in being sent a notice when the book is released, send me an email and I will out you on the list of readers to be notified when it is ready to ship. This list does not obligate you to buy the book, of course. I anticipate the price to be somewhere around $11.99.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wet Mars

Image courtesy NASA

Ralph Buttigieg

Sydney NSW


I said some time ago that liquid water can exist on Mars now NASA has found real evidence:

NASA Images Suggest Water Still Flows in Brief Spurts on Mars

NASA photographs have revealed bright new deposits seen in two gullies on Mars that suggest water carried sediment through them sometime during the past seven years.

"These observations give the strongest evidence to date that water still flows occasionally on the surface of Mars," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, Washington.

Liquid water, as opposed to the water ice and water vapor known to exist at Mars, is considered necessary for life. The new findings heighten intrigue about the potential for microbial life on Mars. The Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor provided the new evidence of the deposits in images taken in 2004 and 2005.

"The shapes of these deposits are what you would expect to see if the material were carried by flowing water," said Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. "They have finger-like branches at the downhill end and easily diverted around small obstacles." Malin is principal investigator for the camera and lead author of a report about the findings published in the journal Science.

The atmosphere of Mars is so thin and the temperature so cold that liquid water cannot persist at the surface. It would rapidly evaporate or freeze. Researchers propose that water could remain liquid long enough, after breaking out from an underground source, to carry debris downslope before totally freezing. The two fresh deposits are each several hundred meters or yards long.

The light tone of the deposits could be from surface frost continuously replenished by ice within the body of the deposit. Another possibility is a salty crust, which would be a sign of water's effects in concentrating the salts. If the deposits had resulted from dry dust slipping down the slope, they would likely be dark, based on the dark tones of dust freshly disturbed by rover tracks, dust devils and fresh craters on Mars.....

Read the rest.

Don't be surprised if theres even more dramatic Mars news . This fellow makes a good case that the Spirit rover has photographed actual water drops.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

First Thoughts About Undersea Colonies

I am hard at it completing the book, Undersea Colonies. My plan is that it will be available by mid-first quarter of 2007. As I write the book, I have become very aware that since no one is colonizing the very, very vast undersea region now – population zero – that people naturally have a fuzzy understanding of what terms to use. During the next two days I am going to post excerpts from the book that will help all of us understand what the terms of undersea living mean. Here’s Part I:

Many people find it surprising that mankind is not already permanently inhabiting the world’s oceans. There is much misinformation in this age of millions of SCUBA divers and fleets of submarines. This has led to many misunderstandings when discussing the permanent human colonization of the oceans.

But, why is it not true that mankind has been a permanent occupant undersea since the first submarine fleets were launched?

That is about as accurate as stating that humans have been permanent residents of Interstate 95 since truckers are continually driving up and down its length. Transient travelers have never been considered permanent residents, particularly since they have bases that are on land and they never stop underwater to go home at the end of each mission. And, of course, I-95 is not considered by anyone to be a human community.

Submarines and submariners are not at all the same as aquanauts and habitats. Just as a 16 wheel semi-truck is not considered a human colony, a submarine is not considered a colony for the exact same reasons. A truck and a submarine are moving vehicles and their passengers are obviously passengers – not residents of a highway. Further, a truck driver is not considered a permanent resident of every city and town they drive through. Obviously, they are considered transient drivers, not permanent residents!

Likewise, a submarine and an undersea habitat are also very different. A submarine is a moving vessel whose designed purpose is to travel from one underwater point to another. An undersea habitat is a fixed structure whose purpose is to provide shelter and long term living accommodations for aquanauts.

SCUBA divers are typically far away from claiming the title of an “aquanaut”. An aquanaut is an individual who lives and works in a fixed habitat beneath the sea for more than 24 continuous hours without returning to the surface. Most SCUBA divers return to the surface in less than an hour. Further, they all go to their homes on land where they actually live for the other 23 hours of that day, not beneath the ocean.