Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Habitat Name Swap

Last year, through our Corporate platform, the League of the New Worlds, we designed a manned undersea habitat system that could be launched for 48 hour weekend undersea excursions. It was called the Leviathan. Later, the Atlantica Expeditions were launched in which we were planning to use the Leviathan habitat as a part of the expeditions.

As the Expeditions were being developed, the floor plan and design characteristics of the Leviathan began to change significantly to meet unfolding mission requirements. It has now passed beyond the point that it is a trailerable or a weekend endeavor. Hence, the habitat no longer qualified as the class of its original design.

Therefore, we are now swapping habitat names. The trailerable weekend habitat is renamed the NEW WORLDS EXPLORER I or the NWE-I and the Atlantica Expeditions I habitat has been named the LEVIATHAN.

Illustration Copyright (c) by Joe Calkins

Moon Camp

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW
As previously noted NASA spent good money several years ago developing inflatable habitats but decided not to use them for the Space Station. Fortunately, Robert Bigelow picked up were NASA left of and now there's a prototype inflatable habitat orbiting Earth.

Well, it looks like NASA has now decided that inflatable habitats may be useful after all and is testing one for possible deployment on the Moon. They intend to trial a unit in Antarctica next year.

...The first steps in making a lunar outpost a reality are being taken now, as planners intensify their efforts to determine what it will take for humans to safely live and work on the lunar surface.
One team of experts from NASA's Langley Research Center, NASA's Johnson Space Center and NASA contractor ILC Dover LP is looking at inflation-deployed expandable structures as one possible building block for a lunar base.
"Inflatables can be used as connectors or tunnels between crew quarters and can provide radiation shelter if covered with lunar regolith (soil)," said Chris Moore, Exploration Technology Development Program program executive at NASA Headquarters.
As a starting point, ILC Dover has delivered a 12-foot (3.65 meter) diameter inflatable structure made of multilayer fabric to Langley for ground-based evaluation of emerging technologies such as flexible structural health monitoring systems, self-healing materials and radiation protective materials. Attached to the structure is a smaller inflatable structure that serves as a demonstration airlock. Both are essentially pressurized cylinders, connected by an airtight door.
The "planetary surface habitat and airlock unit" can also be used to evaluate materials, lightweight structure technologies, astronaut interfaces, dust mitigation techniques, and function with robotics and other lunar surface equipment.
"Inflatable structures are very robust and adaptable. This demonstrator will show the capabilities of inflatable structures in future demonstrations at Langley and Johnson," said Dave Cadogan, research and development manager at ILC Dover.
In the next phase, the team will perform an architecture study comparing inflatable and rigid structures for crew habitats.
"This follow-on work will allow us to mature inflatable technology by designing and fabricating sub-scale inflatable components for more detailed testing," said Inflatable Structures Project lead Karen Whitley of Langley.
In a related development, the government-industry team -- spurred by a NASA Johnson proposal led by Larry Toups, space architect at Johnson -- will work with the National Science Foundation to build an inflatable structure for demonstration in the Antarctic. While not the lunar surface (or the top of an imaginary mountain), the harsh environment of the Antarctic will provide valuable lessons.
Once inflated, the unit will likely serve as a dry storage facility and be monitored for its behavior. The work is expected to start shortly. ILC Dover is contributing to the manufacturing of the unit, while Langley and Johnson will contribute a modest amount of manpower. The goal is to transport the unit to the Antarctic in 2008 -- in time to learn more about inflatable structures before decisions must be made between competing technologies for NASA's first habitable lunar base....

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Extended Warranty

Over three years ago, the United States launched two rovers to mars. They were planetary spacecraft designed to wheel their way over the Martian sands for weeks. The rovers were launched with great expectations: to wander around over 600 meters of Mars for 90 days. After that, the designers said their warranty ran out. Anything over 90 days and 600 meters was gravy.

The reason the warranty was so short was that the environmental conditions on the red planet are harsh – and that’s being generous. In the daytime the surface temperature may approach two or three degrees C in the bright sunshine. But at night the temperature drops to over minus 100 degrees. The atmosphere is precariously thin by any standards, about 1/100th that of the earth under the best of conditions and many times less than the top of Mount Everest. Yet in this near-vacuum, the Martian winds can kick up dust and rain it down as a constant layering of the thin particulates blown about by the thin Martian desert air.

The designers of the rovers felt this dust would ultimately kill the mission in 90 days. It would slowly obscure the solar panels that charged its lithium ion batteries and in so doing, the added effect of the bitterly cold nighttime temperatures would kill any chances of battery recovery. In 90 days or so, they felt certain it would just be all over for the rovers. They were wrong - very wrong.

Not only did the dust not settle as they thought, what did settle was blown off by passing dust devils whipped up in the thin but active atmosphere. And the combination of a good daily charge and the plutonium heaters inside each battery kept the beasts called Spirit and Opportunity alive on near opposite sides of Mars.

However, no one was foolish enough to believe that they could withstand a Martian winter when the sun would dip lower and lower and the temperatures would follow suit. At night on a Martian winter, the temperature drops lower than the temperature of dry ice and the carbon dioxide literally precipitates out of the atmosphere and settles as a fine frost on everything – including alien robots from another planet. Nothing on earth – not even in Antarctica does this planet experience such extremes.

But they did survive the Martian winter – twice - and phoned home faithfully each day.

The plucky little interplanetary robots are still alive and well, having exceeded their warranties by some unbelievable margins, as the graph above clearly demonstrates. They were designed for a life of 90 sols (a Martian day) - they have passed 1,100. They were designed to travel 600 meters before dying – they have passed 10,000, crossed deserts and low mountain ranges and they are still alive and well. Some vehicles are just made to keep on going. But 17 times the warranty? In my car that would mean that I would clock 1.7 million miles. This is not likely – even in Florida temperatures and paved roads.

Now that is amazing!

To follow the rovers day-by-day and download a mass of photos and videos, click here.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Titan's Methane Lakes

The massive “moon” Titan that orbits Saturn is a wonder of worlds. It is larger than the planet Mercury and it has an atmosphere ten times deeper than the earth’s but with an atmospheric pressure of 1.7 ATM – about the same as under 21 feet of sea water. (This is due to Titan's less significant gravity and icy core.)

I have lived for more than a month at this exact pressure, and although this fact may seem somewhat meaningless (and it is), it is still fun to think that I have lived as Titan’s surface pressure!

But there are some things about Titan that are quite earthly! It has a few similarities to earth, such as its atmosphere composition. It is composed primarily of molecular nitrogen (as is Earth's) with no more than 6% argon and a few percent methane. There are also trace amounts of at least a dozen other organic compounds: ethane, hydrogen cyanide, carbon dioxide and water. The organics are formed as methane, which dominates in Titan's upper atmosphere. No oxygen assures the planet does not catch fire!

But it is that methane that makes things interesting on Titan. On the earth, it is a nusance, "greenhouse gas", as some believe. But on Titan, it drives the interesing atmopheric chemistry. With a surface temperature of minus 290 degrees Farenheit, it forms methanse and ethane as percipitants – or clouds and even rain! These clouds are probably composed of methane, ethane or other simple organics and this fascinating organic soup rains down on the planet-moon, creating river channels and complex esutaries. It is assumed that the Casinni probe Huygens may have landed on a methane “mud-flat” ajoining a methane esutary.

Shown at the top is a photo of a Casinni radar image that depicts methane lakes on Titan – deep bodies of liquid methane lapping at shores of ice rocks that can never melt. Shown at the left is a true-color picture of one of those "shores" taken by the Hyygens probe on touchdown complete with ice rocks.

OBTW – the next Casinni flyby of Titan is in just 12 days.

If you want your daily dose of real science and otherworldly photos and videos each and every day, click here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Alan Stern Named Head of NASA Science

Dr. Alan Stern, the Pluto New Horizons Mission Principal Investigator has been promoted to NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. Quantum Limit interviewed Dr. Stern here on this blog last year regarding the furor over the demotion of Pluto from planetary status. Dr. Stern is an outspoken critic of that decision.

Dr. Stern and I swapped congratulatory emails yesterday over his promotion. I noted that he had a tough job ahead merging science with the new vision for exploration in an agency headed for human moon and Mars exploration. In his reply, he said that he was “looking forward to helping move that ball down the field.”

As far as we are concerned, they could not have made a better choice of the top NASA Science slot. Godspeed Alan!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Popular Science

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW

I don't know how many times I have heard scientists and others complain about the state of science in popular culture. Apparently it is not properly respected or popular. Some science fiction authors have similar complaints. Gregory Bedford bemoan the growth of fantasy fiction and the apparent stagnation of hard science fiction , he sees this as a rejection of science and reason, a comfortable retreat into the past.

Dr Seth Shostek writes:

And if the scientists in popular media haven’t slipped entirely to the dark side, they’ve at least gone bonkers. They’ve become obsessed with some narrow field of research, and lost sight of the big picture. When a prehistoric monster is shambling through a major metropolis, wreaking havoc and destruction, there’s always some lab-coated PhD who’s interfering with the steely-eyed military types, screaming “we have to save it for science!” And just to make sure that these howling academics won’t become your role model, they’re usually portrayed as short, ugly bald guys with social grace and sex appeal on a par with Ben the rodent.

The good doctor needs to watch more television.

Its true that we used to see scientist usually portrayed in the media as insane. Mad scientists were common, but its very different now. Think of the popular TV dramas such as the CSIs, medical shows such as House and theres Numb3rs – a program that has a nerdy mathematician as the hero! They have the scientists solving crimes , treating strange illnesses or whatever, but the main characters are scientists-heroes. Given the limits of TV they work well and have realistic science. The producers have even developed new techniques, short animations to explain the science.

Far from showing any development of ant-science they show the reverse, the complete acceptance of the role of science in our society.

Thats television, lets look at popular literature. As a former owner of a science fiction and fantasy bookshop I can testify to the predominance of fantasy over tradition science fiction, but how do we define science fiction? Many thrillers are at least borderline SF, the the works of the very popular Michael Crichton come to mind. Also theres the relatively recent genre of the techno-thriller. I'm reading Dale Brown's Tin Man at the moment, the story centers around a commando who fights terrorist wearing a science fictional superman suit. Seems like SF to me. The techno thrillers are immersed in science and technology, the certainly don't reject it.

Frankly, I think Dr Shostek should spend some time talking with TV writers and producers. Perhaps he can come up with a action packed story format featuring a handsome astronomer and a hottie astro-physicist.

A bald ugly guy... Not.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Doomsday Vault

Credit: Global Crop Diversity
Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW

Looks like it not only Dennis Chamberland's Aaron Seven who is taking world wide disasters seriously. The Doomsday Vault described below should be able to handle the Quantum Storms and anything else Aaron has to face. Although doomphile SF author Stephen Baxter would destroy it in about two paragraphs. More about the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Vault here.

Science Daily — The Norwegian government has revealed the architectural design for the Svalbard International Seed Vault, to be carved deep into frozen rock on an island not far from the North Pole. The entrance to the "fail-safe" seed vault will "gleam like a gem in the midnight sun," signaling a priceless treasure within: seed samples of nearly every food crop of every country. The vault is designed to protect the agricultural heritage of humankind -- the seeds essential to agriculture of every nation.

"This design takes us one step closer to guaranteeing the safety of the world's most important natural resource," said Dr. Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which will co-fund the vault's operations and pay for the preparation and transport of seeds from all developing nations to the Arctic island of Svalbard. "Every day that passes we lose crop biodiversity. We must conserve the seeds that will allow agriculture to adapt to challenges such as climate change and crop disease. This design is as awesome physically as it is attractive aesthetically, and both are fitting tributes to the importance of the biological treasure to be stored there."

Construction is slated to begin in March 2007 and to be completed in September 2007. The vault will officially open in late winter 2008.

"By investing in a global permafrost safety facility for seeds, the Norwegian Government hopes to contribute to combating the loss of biological diversity, to reduce our vulnerability to climatic changes, and to enhance our ability to secure future food production," said Mr. Terje Riis-Johansen, Minister of Agriculture and Food, Norway.

The site was chosen, in part, because the ground is perpetually frozen, providing natural back-up refrigeration that would preserve the seeds should electricity fail. Yet, even here, project architects had to consider how to offset the potential impacts of climate change.

The design will accommodate even worst-case scenarios of global warming in two main ways. For one, the vault will be located high above any possible rise in sea level caused by global warming: the vault will be located some 130 metres above current sea level, ensuring that it will not be flooded. This puts it well above a seven metre rise that would accompany the melting of Greenland's ice sheet, or even a 61 metre rise that could accompany an unlikely total meltdown of Antarctica.

Secondly, scientists determined the impact of rising air temperatures on the permafrost, which is normally between -4°C and -6°C (24.8°F and 21.2°F). They found that the permafrost would warm much more slowly than the air. In addition, the deeper into the mountain, the colder it will remain. Therefore, the vault will be located an extraordinary 120 metres into the rock, ensuring that rising external air temperatures will have no influence on the surrounding permafrost.

"Even climate change over the next 200 years will not significantly affect the permafrost temperature," says project manager Magnus Bredeli Tveiten, with Statsbygg, the Norwegian government's Directorate of Public Construction and Property.

To accomplish this, the 120-metre entry tunnel will penetrate through the permafrost, opening to two large chambers capable of holding three million seed samples. The tunnel and vaults will be excavated by means of well-known boring and blasting techniques, with the rock walls sprayed with concrete.

In contrast to this utilitarian interior, "the exterior structure shoots out of the mountainside," Tveiten said. The entrance portal will be a narrow triangular structure of cement and metal, illuminated with artwork which changes according to the special lighting conditions of the Arctic. In the summer months, the entrance "will gleam like a gem in the midnight sun," Tveiten says. Throughout the dark winter, when the sun never rises, it will glow with gently changing lights.

The design also reflects of the project's approach to security.

"We decided early on that there is no point in trying to hide this facility from the public," Tveiten said. "Instead we will rely on its presence being well-known in the local community, so if the public sees something suspicious, they will react to it."

Other security measures include several sets of reinforced doors between the entrance and the chambers, the absence of windows, and a video monitoring system.

Riis-Johansen emphasized the vault's importance to the world community. "From a global perspective the emphasis is on assisting developing countries by offering a safe haven for their valuable biological material. I also hope that the interest that is shown in the Svalbard Arctic Seed Vault will create increased awareness for the need for conservation and sustainable use of our genetic resources....."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

For Valentine's Day

Picture fromArchaeological Society SAP in Mantua, northern Italy

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW

I just couldn't resist this:

ROME (AP) — Italy's recently discovered prehistoric couple will continue their 5,000-year-old embrace undisturbed through Valentine's Day and beyond.

The two skeletons unearthed last week locked in a deep hug will be scooped out of the earth in one piece to undergo tests before going on display in the northern Italian city of Mantua, archaeologists said Tuesday.

The pair, buried between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago in the late Neolithic period, are believed to be a man and a woman and are thought to have died young, because their teeth were found intact.

Archaeologists have hailed the find, saying that double burials from that period are rare and none have been found in such a touching pose.

The burial was unearthed on the outskirts of Mantua during construction work. The site is located just 25 miles south of Verona, the city where Shakespeare set the story of ``Romeo and Juliet'' and the discovery fueled musings in the media about prehistoric love.

Archaeologists too have said there is little doubt the couple's pose was born of a deep love, but have warned that it will be almost impossible to determine the exact nature of their relationship and how they died.....

More here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

From Inner to Outer Space

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW
Photo Bill Stone

Just about now an orange robot is exploring the world's deepest hydrothermal sinkhole, Cenote Zacaton in Mexico. Unlike the Mars rovers it will not be directly controlled by human operators, it is designed to operate autonomously, searching for exotic underworld life. If the DEPTHX succeeds other robots will follow to explore the mysterious lakes in Antarctica, including Lake Vostok, and eventually the hidden oceans of the outer planets.

The DEPTHX is the brain child of Dr Bill Stone, one of the great explorers of our time. Dr Stone applied to be a NASA astronaut but failed as he was too independent. Instead he became the world's foremost cave diver. He has explored the world's deepest caves and developed ground breaking technology such as the Cis-Lunar rebreather which allow divers to stay underwater up to 24 hours. Unlike any currently flying astronaut he can truly claim to have stepped on terra incognita.

He has never really given up on his dream to explore space and has developed a plan to send explorers to the Moon's South Pole to look for water. NASA thought his plan far too risky but they have supported his robotic work. One day he hopes to send one of his robots to the ice covered seas of Europa.

Popular Science have an excellent article on this extraordinary man online. I urge everyone interested in exploration to read it. Also you can follow the adventures of the DEPTHX here.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Andrew McAuley Lost at Sea

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW
It now appears the Tasman has claimed the life of Andrew McAuley. The New Zealand search and rescue authorities have given up the search after 3 days of fruitless effort. His kayak has been recovered but there is no trace of Andrew and he has been too long in the cold water to survive. Despite his years of experience and careful planning, the merciless waters of the Tasman Sea beat Andrew in his attempt to be the first person to paddle from Australia to New Zealand.

I never meet Andrew but have been following his adventures for some time and had hoped to meet him after his return from New Zealand. I had questions about his future Antarctic explorations, but those questions will remain unanswered. I'm not the person to write a proper obituary but lets look at some of his achievements:

Ascended unexplored and unclimbed mountains including a Mt Jo Pakistan and Grupo la Paz, Patagonia. Kayaked Bass Strait three times including the first non stop crossing. First to kayak the Gulf of Carpenteria , a feat which earned him Australian Geographic Adventurer of the year award in 2005. First to take a kayak to Antarctica and attempted to paddle around the Antarctic Peninsula. Worked with of the Kitesled team to develop a revolutionary polar exploration vehicle .

He was one of those rare individuals who had the explorers gene. The sort of person who understood the wisdom of pushing both the geographic and personal frontiers and had the determination and ability to actually do so.

My sincere condolences go out to his family and friends.


On a related note , the Crossing the Ditch team still intend to cross the Tasman Sea. They have delayed departure until next summer as they are still making adjustments to their boat and their weather deadline was 7/Feb/2007. This should give them plenty of time to test and prepare their kayak.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Andrew McAuley Missing

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney NSW
I was hoping to report Andrew McAuley's successful crossing of the Tasman this weekend but it appears thats not to be. All comunications with him have been lost and an upturned kayak has been spoted by the New Zealand Air Force. reports:

Searchers spot upturned kayak

A NEW Zealand Air Force plane searching for missing Aussie kayaker Andrew McAuley has spotted an upturned kayak in the waters off the South Island, about 75km west of Milford Sound.

It was not immediately clear if the kayak was his and no-one was seen around the vessel, rescuers said.

Although failing light has made visibility poor, rescuers have said the search would be able to continue so long as a helicopter sent to the scene of the spotting was able to keep its sights on the kayak.

"It won't be too dark as long as they can see the kayak. They know where it is and I'm sure they would have dropped a smoke flare so it was more easily found," New Zealand National Rescue Coordination Centre (NRCC) Lyndsay Sturt has said.

"There's a spotlight on board the helicopter (but) we'll have to make a decision about what next when we know if he's on board. We just don't know that at this stage."

Mr McAuley lost contact with his support team two days ago.

A New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft and three yachts began heading for an area where he was believed to be in trouble after a garbled message was monitored in New Zealand on the maritime distress channel 16.

Lets pray he is found OK.
UPDATE 11 Feb 2007
Authorities have recovered the kayak and the immersion suit and lifejacket were missing. That probably means Andrew had them on when he was lost, which is good news as there is still a chance of recovery. More news here.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Atlantica Expeditions

If all goes according to plans, the Atlantica Expeditions will open the doors to the first permanent human colony undersea just off the Florida Coast. The Atlantica Expeditions is being planned in two phases. The Atlantica Expedition I will set a new world’s record for unbroken undersea living by two experienced Aquanauts – Dennis Chamberland and Terrence Tysall in a new habitat being designed for the mission – the Leviathan.

Atlantica II will feature the largest habitat ever built – the Challenger Station and it will form the core for the first permanent undersea community in more than 100 feet of water in the Gulf Stream.

The Atlantica Expeditions has gathered the most experienced undersea team in history whose participants hold multiple undersea exploration records. The website is being developed, but its introductory pages can be found at:

This website will be fully operational in early to mid April.