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The Days of Miracles and Wonders: Bennu Flavor? One Scoop or Two?

Live at Five
Van-sized NASA spacecraft will touch down for SECONDS on asteroid Bennu today at 5pm EST in a bid to grab rock samples as it hurtles through space at 63,000mph

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  • Auntie Analogue October 20, 2020, 1:00 PM

    Magic Dirt!

    (winks & grins)

  • John Venlet October 20, 2020, 1:33 PM

    Auntie Analogue, you nailed it! Magic Dirt is right on the money, or, to be more exact, Magic Dirt is where alot of tax money goes. While I appreciate man’s fascination with space, I consider all the high falutin’ ideas of space colonization, asteroid mining, etc., the 20th and 21st centuries form of alchemy. I predict man will never leave earth to live in space in the numbers people wax on so about as a way to save civilization. Sure, you can put a few folks up in a space station and such, at $90 million a head, but humankind colonizing space, no way, it’s alchemy.

  • jwm October 20, 2020, 4:17 PM

    Please try to convince me that these scientists believed they were so at risk from the wuflu that they couldn’t even film a goddamn video without masking up in those asinine plastic face diapers. I smell propaganda from one more converged agency, and less than a minute in I turned it off. The satellite scraper is truly awe inspiring technology. That they had to use it for not-too subtle propaganda point on the scamdemic just ruined it. They might as well have tried to insert an anti-racism message as well.

    JW (getting more cynical by the hour) M

  • jwm October 20, 2020, 7:42 PM

    As a follow up to my snarky-ass comment. I just read that they did it. Mission successfully got asteroid samples.


  • Dex Quire October 20, 2020, 10:52 PM

    I know what you mean jwm, it gets discouraging down here on old planet Earth where feces seems to rule … but we’ve got to keep reaching for the stars, somehow, some way we’ll do it. It costs a lot per head, as you say, but, sigh, it keeps our math majors in good form and money flowing to other than booze dope boats extra bank accounts & houses and expensive whores for politicians … I would like to see NASA do something a bit more Earthbound in prep for planetary expansion like, say, turn the Sahara desert or some other barren patch into a greenbelt … what’s the term? Terraform? Terraform the Earth for practice … anyway, cheers …

  • John A. Fleming October 20, 2020, 11:40 PM

    The mask stuff is a pandemic of fear and the madness of crowds. The saying applies, people go mad all at once, and return to reason slowly and one by one. Colorado isn’t even having any kind of problem with the kung flu, it touched them lightly and faded early and really hasn’t come back. Who knew that weed was a preventative?

    As for the asteroid, while it’s technically glamorous, it’s just dry, sterile, radiation-blasted dirt. Aggregated cosmic dust grains. It won’t be any more exciting studying this dirt than studying moon dirt was back in the 70’s. Oh they tried to make it sexy by showing color polarized pictures of the crystalline structures in the moon dirt, but you could make the same sexy pictures of most earth rocks. It will keep a few astrogeologists and astrochemists happy for a few years until the grant money runs out.
    Years ago in the ’80s, Gerard O’Neill, Princeton physicist, popularized the idea of creating free-floating orbiting space habitats in cislunar space. The raw material is coming from lunar dirt and asteroids, especially small metallic asteroids. It’s still a great idea for a hundred years from now, but it has difficulties. First big problem: water and carbon. Lunar and asteroid dirt don’t have a lot of that. Not unless they can find a carbonaceous chondrite asteroid (the rarest kind), basically a lump of coal. They might find some water on the moon, but it’s a long-shot and difficult to get at.

    Nope. Go to Mars. It has water, it has air (well sort of). It has carbon. NASA always works on stuff that has no real value.

  • Alex October 21, 2020, 4:47 AM

    Since the universe is still expanding outward and away from earth most of the inhabitable type planets they talk about for colonization are getting farther away our solar system at a speed that we cannot ever reach. It’s like chasing a race horse with a tortoise, never to catch up. So most of these adventures while interesting are really about getting budget money for the jobs program known as NASA. Similar to the other jobs program known as the U.S. Military.

  • Neuday October 21, 2020, 7:26 AM

    At some point in the probably-not-so-distant future, the conquering but suddenly undernourished orcs will see this and either claim it was all CGI or an immoral waste of money that should have been spent on food.

  • Fletcher Christian October 21, 2020, 9:04 AM

    John Venlet:

    You’re sort of right. People will never leave Earth in significant numbers, compared to the number now living on Earth.

    But some will, and in 300 years’ time the population of Earth will be a drop in a bucket, compared to the population of the Solar System.

    It’s rather similar to what happened in the USA, but more so. How many people left Europe to go to America? Maybe 10 million. And what’s the population of the USA now?

  • Anonymous October 21, 2020, 9:52 AM

    jwm: agree. The real time video was tacky. Very unprofessional. The mission, however, has been professionally executed. Well done!

  • John Venlet October 21, 2020, 10:54 AM

    Fletcher, I remain unconvinced, and stand by my statements. Space exploration is largely a method of keeping NASA, and other space agencies, funded with taxpayer dollars. Humans will never colonize other planets, all the scientific facts support my contention, rather than spin men of science, and their spin doctors, put on the scientific facts. It’s this time’s alchemy.

  • John A. Fleming October 21, 2020, 2:49 PM

    John Venlet, you are unconvinced, perhaps a broader outlook past the NASA model will help.
    1. Really, no science is needed to colonize Mars. At this point, it’s in the realm of finance, business, and engineering. And in the realm of engineering, we don’t need impermium and unobtanium, it’s all doable with what we have now.
    2. NASA doesn’t do/won’t do anything to help colonization. When it comes to Mars they are all about the science. And they are extremely risk averse, they work very hard to not even be able to look for evidence of current life. NASA exploration of Mars is boring. The only good that has come of it is they have identified areas where water is right below the surface, just there for the taking, and in the equatorial and temperate regions of Mars.
    3. It’s tough luck for Martian life is there is any. It’s had 4 billion years to colonize the place, and failed. It’s time for the inhabitants of Earth to give it a try. It’s the inevitable truth: if you can’t or won’t defend your country/planet, somebody else will eventually come and take it from you. Martian life is boring and unimportant, good only to dazzle a few boffins in their laboratories.
    4. A good model of how Mars will be colonized is the American colonies. Started by joint stock companies in England, there aim was to sell land to colonists, and were protected by Royal charters. All the king asked for was 20% of all gold and silver found. There’s none of that on Mars. The first settlements on Mars will figure out how to be mostly self-sufficient, and then they will build a second settlement and sell it to the newcomers. What they are selling is the proprietary knowledge of how to live there. Two settlements become four, etc.
    5. The British merchants did a brisk business selling finished goods to the Americans who traded in raw materials. In the Martian case it’s different. There’s no thing on Mars that anybody on Earth wants, and won’t be for a long time. But there is something: once a Martian colony demonstrates sustainment, the race will be on for all the people who want to get out of their stupid countries they live in, and go where they can create their futures anew.

  • Fletcher Christian October 21, 2020, 4:05 PM

    There’s also a more fundamental point hiding here. Why assume that colonising Mars is even necessary? Gerard O’Neill wrote about this in the early 1980s; it’s quite easy to work out that colonising space itself, using artificial structures to do it, is more effective in all sorts of ways than living on Mars. Free choice of perceived gravity field, less radiation, and able to live in a shirtsleeve environment in places that would look and feel like outdoors.

    You know that old saw about investing in land because they aren’t making any more of it? Well…

    Mining colonies on the Moon and some of the asteroids will be necessary; most people won’t spend their lives on them. A Moon mine, for example, would be rather like an oil rig today, in that one would go there for a fairly short and well-paid stint and then go home again – the home wouldn’t necessarily be on Earth. Or Mars.

    Is the surface of a planet really the right place for an expanding technological civilization? The answer turns out to be no.


  • John A. Fleming October 21, 2020, 10:19 PM

    When I was in college, the gang of bright-eyed engineering students I hung out with were all enamored with O’Neill’s ideas. We brought him to our school. We started a SEDS chapter. We wrote papers, we did studies. All that stuff.
    I still don’t disagree, and I think it has great merit, but I don’t think it should be the first step. It’s too big a first step, constructing a habitat. It needs too many new things. Lunar mass drivers, asteroid capture, regolith refining, the ability to work for long periods of time in cislunar space, which means lots of radiation protection for the workers, or it will all be done remotely by prehensile and teleoperated robots.

    A Mars settlement can be bootstrapped with much less than an O’Neill habitat. Mars has almost everything needed to start: water, carbon, nitrogen, diurnal sunlight, gravity. OK, the air is crap, it’s not breathable and its like Earth air at 100,000 ft with no oxygen, but we have great gas handling equipment. Okay, it’s cold, the settlers are going to be using small nuclear reactors for heat and electricity for quite a while. Those reactors come from Earth, but they can be shipped and installed using well-known and mature tech. An O’Neill habitat starts with absolutely nothing and it’s a long time and much construction in zero-gee before the first human can sustainably stay.
    When those first colonists land on Mars, they’ll start with a two-year supply of food, water, power and construction materials. Their first jobs will be to build habitats so they can move out of their metal constructed homes shipped from earth, tap into the buried ice, and start growing food and recycling their poo and pee. They’ll have gas handling equipment to crack the CO2 and extract and concentrate the N2 in the Martian atmosphere. They’ll have chemical processing facilities to bootstrap all the chemical feedstocks they need. The next shipment of equipment, construction materials, Arduinos and Raspberry PIs, more food if needed, comes in two years.
    Here’s a way to think about it. What is at the foundation of all wealth? Land that you can grow crops on. And the foundation of that is the fertile soil itself. That land cannot be radiation-blasted dry regolith full of salts and peroxides, it has to be terroir, with tilth, humus, the thousands of bacteria and fungal species that inhabit our agricultural soils, all the microscopic organisms in the presence of water and oxygen that convert inert minerals to plant food. The first colonists will bring with them viable soil cultures, which they will inoculate the dirt with once they have cleaned out the salts and peroxides. And when you have growing crops, you have oxygen to breathe.

    I can see a start small and grow bootstrap path for a Mars colony. An O’Neill habit starts from way farther back and requires a lot more investment before there is anything viable.

    And don’t even talk to me about the Moon. No water, no air, no carbon, no nitrogen, lots of radiation, two weeks of darkness. It’s a big pile of slag and lava. The moon is a domain for robots not people. Boring.

  • ghostsniper October 22, 2020, 4:41 AM

    “The moon is a domain for robots not people.”
    Well, yes, everything away from earth is that way, initially.
    Until humans change it to suit their needs.
    This all has to be staged in the deserts of Arizona.
    Large scale 3d printers that excavate the surface and create “buildings” in place.
    Robots use native and imported materials to create the atmosphere inside the buildings.
    Over a hundred year period an entire facility can be created that is friendly to humans, while no humans directly contributed to it’s creation.

    Rather than print the buildings, chunnel borers can be created on site to tunnel and sleeve structures below the surface. Once you get past the notion of human “boots on the ground” and free up your mind to think about other ways to get it done, you can expand your range of imagination. The big thing the moon has in it’s favor is that it is much, much closer then say Mars for experimenting with methods to find out what works. Until they find a way to break the lightspeed barrier there is no more positive option than exploiting the moon first. Rather than getting bogged down on what the moon does NOT have think about what it DOES have.

  • John Venlet October 22, 2020, 4:45 AM

    John and Fletcher, all the ideas and means you present as objective reasons, or measures, which allegedly would allow for colonization of Mars by humans read like science fiction novels. Though you willingly admit the obstacles which needs be overcome in order for a colonization to become reality for humans, in my opinion the ideas you present for overcoming mentioned obstacles are not able to be overcome in any meaningful way for such actions to be taken.

    Now, if a group of deep pocketed private citizens desire to pursue the ideas you present, by spending every last cent in their pockets in an attempt to proceed, well, fine by me, but I remain entirely skeptical of the idea, and predict it will not happen. It’s alchemy.

  • Anonymous October 22, 2020, 10:48 AM

    Hi ghost, thanks for your expert professional comments. I have considered that most of the “outdoor” tasks on Mars will be performed by swarms of robots of various sizes, shapes and actuators. Most of the structure of the robots will be 3d printed and assembled onsite. Only the brains need to be shipped from the Earth. Settlers going outside is expensive, because they have to go in full pressure suits, the Martian air (“aer”) is just too thin. The robots would work during the day, and go into “heated” garages for the night, to recharge and survive. No robot is going to last long at -80 degC.

    There’s a bootstrap step there too. The first domes/habitats would be pressurized with aer to 10% Earth, so the settlers would only need breathing gear and not full space suits.

    A better analogue than Arizona would be the Atacama in Chile. High and dry and cold, nearly sterile soils. It forces the designers to truly simulate remote operations because nobody on Earth wants to live there. A local maintenance crew would be based in Iquique. All ops from the States would go over a satellite link, which is easy to time-delay. The Atacama site would use a solar power plant plus batteries instead of a nuclear reactor, and all solar power supplies would be sized to simulate the 40% Earth insolation at Mars orbit. Chile is a lot cheaper than Luna.

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