Next Stop: The Red Planet?


Read these as well:-

Given the state of the country as at now, you can safely say that when we celebrate the year 2020, this country would not have achieved the status of a “developed country”. So Dr M’s Vision 2020 will remain a vision and will not become a reality, at least in 2020.

For one, religion had taken precedent in key areas of the country and have caused a mismatch of priorities. Instead of us busy with human resource development and preparing the country for a “developed” status, we are busy on which law to use and how holy or religious one must be. And I saw this in play when I went to a shopping complex one fine day and decided to drop by a bookstore as my son wanted to buy a science book. We walked around and realised that there was more books on religion than on science and mathematics. I was hardly surprised – there were more people at the religion book section than at the science & mathematics book section.

Vision 2020 is also doomed to be nothing but fancy slogan because we still place high importance on racial based policies (we still calling ourselves as Malay, Chinese, Indian, etc instead of Malaysian) and on cheap politics. But come year 2020, all is not all lost though. Year 2020 would mark the start of activities that would eventually place humans on the planet Mars by year 2026.

Imagine a human colony on another planet and we don’t have to look another 100 – 200 years for that. We will see that in the next 10 years and it is very exciting news indeed. The company that is taking the exploration one step ahead is Mars One – is a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands that has put forward plans to land the first humans on Mars and establish a permanent human colony there by 2027.

NA_384397_MADD_mars

(It may not look much now but imagine a lot more people on the surface and with high end technology which allows them to come back to the Earth and back to Mars again? Image source: Mars One)

It may sound far fetching at first and Mars One have been on the receiving end of many as nothing but a scam. Some even question the USD6 billion budget of sending humans to Mars but remember India sent its spacecraft to Mars for mere USD73 million. But think of the feasibility. Think of the possibility.

Mars One lists out the mission feasibility of a human colony in Mars in the following manner:-

Permanent settlement

The Mars One crews consist of people that want to settle on Mars. Absence of a return mission reduces the mission infrastructure radically. No return vehicle, return propellant or the systems to produce the propellant locally are required. Permanent settlement also reduces the required technology development; vehicles that can take off from Mars and return to Earth are currently unavailable and untested. Since the vehicle returning to Earth and the accompanying systems are mission critical for a return mission, they will also require backups adding to the infrastructure that needs to be delivered to Mars. More importantly, to attain a somewhat acceptable risk level, the return mission would need to be tested in a complete unmanned return trip before the first crew even departs the Earth. Even after a full test of the return system is successfully performed, the risk for a crew that will ride the first return rocket would be very high: 126 rockets launched from Earth since 1990 failed to deliver their payloads in the correct orbit.

Permanent settlement also solved the challenge of the astronauts entering into Earth’s atmosphere after having spent about two years in reduced or zero gravity environments.

Use of In-Situ resources

Mars has resources that can be used for a sustainable settlement. Water is present in the soil and can be made available to the settlement for hygiene, drinking, and farming. It is also the source of oxygen generated through electrolysis. Nitrogen and Argon in the Martian atmosphere can be mined to be the inert part of the atmosphere inside the habitat. Martian soil will cover the outpost to block cosmic radiation. Carbon dioxide can be taken from the atmosphere if the plants take in more than the humans expel.
The systems to mine water from the soil and to mine Nitrogen, Argon, and Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere have never been tested in space. Mars is however not space because there is gravity and a thin atmosphere. Additionally, the processes are all more than 100 years old. The water can be collected from the soil by breaking up the soil with a drill and harvesting the resulting debris. Argon and Nitrogen can be collected from the atmosphere by removing the Carbon dioxide through a phase change.

Solar panels

The Sun is a reliable, robust, and plentiful energy source. Using solar panels is the best choice for Mars One since it takes away the requirement to develop and launch a nuclear reactor, thereby saving time and money while avoiding the risks and concerns of the use of a nuclear power source.
Thin film solar (photovoltaic) panels will power the Mars One settlement. These are less efficient than those more commonly used in aerospace, but have the advantage of being extremely light, and are thus easily transportable. The first settlement will install approximately 3000 square meters of power generating surface area.

Existing technology

No new major developments or inventions are needed to make the mission plan a reality. Established suppliers can build each stage of Mars One mission plan. While most of the components required are not immediately available with the exact specifications, there is no need for radical modifications to the current component designs.

Every effort was made to design the mission with as little complexity as possible. The choice to send permanent settlers removes the need for a heavy lift launch vehicle, which does not currently exist. Permanent settlement makes the landing module small enough to land with current technology. A pressurized rover will not be sent to Mars until large enough rockets exists. No water recycling in the transit habitat will be present because the trip to Mars takes only 210 days. Instead, all required water is stored in tanks that also function as radiation shielding. Storage of waste that is not easily recycled is available in the settlement until more technology is available.

(Source)

And just look at the number of people who shown interest in the Mars One project:-

Mars One applicants come from over 140 countries; the largest numbers are from the United States (24%), India (10%), China (6%), Brazil (5%), Great Britain (4%), Canada (4%), Russia (4%), Mexico (4%), Philippines (2%), Spain (2%), Colombia (2%), Argentina (2%), Australia (1%), France (1%), Turkey (1%), Chile (1%), Ukraine (1%), Peru (1%), Germany (1%), Italy (1%) and Poland (1%).

(Source)

The first 3 nations are well known for their eagerness and competition in space exploration. Out of the three, US and India already have rovers and space crafts orbiting Mars. And I am pretty sure the Chinese will do so soon as well although these guys are busy exploring the moon (hmmm, they know something we don’t?). And Malaysia is involved in Mars One in 2 areas – our own Angkasawan, Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor is an ambassador for Mars One and three brave explorers from Malaysia including a woman.

SPACE: India Mars mission

(It’s only cost USD70 million to launch a space craft to the Red Planet. Trim down the money spent on wars, religion conflict and corruption and you can send hundreds of the space craft to many part of the solar system. Image source: engtechmag.wordpress.com)

Mars One is an one way trip as there is no way (presently) to bring the space explorer back. The environment is harsh and there is no guarantee, despite the mission feasibility, that the colony will succeed, especially when the next human civilization is million kilometers away (230,000,000 km to be exact) and in case of emergency, one cannot simply dial up 999 and ask for help. Rescue mission if it is to be done, will take months to prepare and execute and by then, any rescue mission would have been redundant.

Mars One itself can go bankrupt and may not be able to bring the next set of explorers to add to the colony. Anything can happen. After all, it took a lot of research, time, risk and money to send man to the moon, so what more another planet and that too for one way trip. But there are good reasons to make this trio to Mars, namely:-

To give our kids new Hope, careers and Dreams — beyond merely surviving in a world of growing terrorism, more “police state” responses, with increasing resource and energy scarcity ultimately leading to endless global wars

By finally opening up unlimited solar system resources — be it exotic fuels, new planetary minerals or endless solar energy – dramatically alter the “have not” competition between the First and Third Worlds here on Earth … the ultimate source of increasing global terrorism

By greatly accelerating these radical technologies — from “black” energy systems and propulsion to autonomous robotics, from desktop “super computers” to their ultra-broad band communications (essential to conducting “routine operations” on the Moon and Beyond) – dramatically accelerate overall national and global productivity, with startling increases in GNP and GWP

By federally subsidizing the creation of a whole new generation of consumer industries — through pioneering a literal “Second age of Space” — dramatically increase the historical “return on investment” from past NASA spending … from 23 to one to more than 100-to-one; thus, for every billion dollars invested in this New Space Program, over a hundred billion will return to the national and world economy

By finally providing accessible new sources of raw materials and energy “off planet,” processed in lunar and orbital industrial facilities, naturally reverse over a century of planetary degradation and pollution … including global warming

By accelerating fundamental solar system exploration with human beings, return equally fundamental, radical scientific information – ranging from comparative planetary data which will assist preservation of the Earth’s environment through new space installations, to answers to the origin of the human race itself

(Source)

Yes, money and human resource is important but aren’t we been busy wasting them on wars, corruption and wastage as well. Save up on those and you will plenty for the science exploration, I am sure.

Many of us, including myself are from the generation that grew with science fiction movies like Star Wars and Star Trek. Still remember ” to boldly go where no man has gone before”? It is in our nature to explore and find new worlds and the more we explore, the more we will push the boundaries of technology, science and human endeavor. And there is the prospect of rich natural resources that could be mined for humans (there was even plan to start a mining colony in the moon).

For those reasons alone, Mars One mission should succeed.

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Direction of a Nation


(Sorry for missing out on blog posts for couple of weeks now. I have been tied to work rather overwhelmingly and I still have a long way to go)

Sometimes when you see what happens around the world and see how much mankind have moved forward since, since I don’t know – perhaps since he climbed down from the trees and learned to walk on his own 2 feet hundred thousands of years ago, you get this amazing, proud happy feeling.

One recent example is this:-

Many congratulations to the Rosetta team at ESA for successfully landing the lander module on a comet. It was not an easy thing to do, after all, the comet is flying past in space at more than 130,000 km/h. It will be interesting to wait and see what discoveries that we will find from this mission on a comet. Perhaps confirming or disapproving the theory that all water on this earth was brought down by a string of comets striking the earth millions years ago.

And last month, it was the India’s Mars Orbiter which made serious news and it was for a good reason too:-

The Mars Orbiter Mission cost Rs. 450 crore (£46 million) in comparison to NASA’s Maven orbiter costing £413 million, which also successfully inserted itself into the Martian orbit on Monday 22nd September 2014.

The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, even stated: “Our program stands out as the most cost-effective. “There is this story of our Mars mission costing less than the Hollywood movie Gravity. Our scientists have shown the world a new paradigm of engineering and the power of imagination.”

(Source)

Whether you like it or not, the world have become very technologically advance. It has become small too – it is possible to go to any country in the world within a day (compared to months or years 200 – 300 years ago). Information these days is at one’s finger tips literally and connected to the world wide web 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Sir Ken Robinson in his talk in TED once said that as early as the 17th century, the industrial revolution drove the education blueprints of many nations towards science, engineering and mathematics. And that had given birth to some of the greatest minds that the world have seen. That industrial revolution plus two world wars that came later however had not stopped the advancement of mankind towards science and technology and whoever who do not embrace it at this age would be left out high and dry. Same thing happened to many companies in the 1990s who failed to embrace the digital age. Still remember Polaroid? And even Nokia, once a world leader in the telecommunication sector is no longer is in existence (after it was taken over by Microsoft).

That is why, the country as whole should emphasize more on science and technology instead of religion. Religion which have always been the scourge of science (or the other way around) should be left to individuals and should not form the backbone of a country. Think about it and take a good look of events around the world. There have been more people died and suffered in history due to religion indifference compared to people who died from say science experiments. There have been more dark ages brought by religion than by science. Some of the biggest tragedies in the recent times were done by twisted culprits claiming supremacy of religion and they continued to make an ass of themselves and the better aspect of a religion – such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in Syria & Iraq.

And back home in Malaysia, we too been taking all the wrong steps. First we decided to teach Science and Mathematics in Bahasa instead of the accepted language of science and mathematics which is English. The lame excuse that was given was that the country needed to promote the national language and there was not enough teachers who can speak proper English. Unfortunately, despite the obvious reasons and calls from many quarters including the former Prime Minister, this decision have not been reversed to this day and the damage to the nation continues to this day.

But instead, we are entrenching ourselves with trivial issues like this:-

Non-Muslims in Kedah need not be worried or confused over the recent amendment to an 1988 enactment that bars non-Muslims from using Islamic religious words and terminology. State exco member Mohd Rawi Abd Hamid said no non-Muslim had been arrested in the state under the enactment for using terms that are exclusive to Islam and Muslims.

Mohd Rawi said non-Muslims could still use the words in their daily conversations, but not in their own prayers, public speeches or in religious publications.

“If you say you want to go to a masjid (mosque), why not? If you ask me where that masjid is, there’s no problem with the usage of that term,” he said yesterday

(Source)

Earlier, the whole nation seemed to be busied itself with someone who had organized a “want to touch a dog” event and after that, of an image on a water bottle.

Obviously we are getting our priorities all wrong and that is why for reasons like this, we will not going to be a developed country in 6 years time. Forget achieving vision 2020. We are too worried on what we can say and do in the name of religion. We are not worried about building more schools, getting our children to embrace science and mathematics in the most convenient way (by learning in English) and push for greater space and opportunities for citizens to speak aloud and to agree or disagree with the establish norms. One wrong say or act in this country can make one run foul of the dreaded Sedition Act and the authorities. We cannot advance if we confine ourselves to very few options and old rules. We even banned Darwin from this country.

And that is why, the country as whole need to wake up to reality of things and what is important for the society survival? And if one still have doubts as to where the nation should be moving, perhaps this will give a food for thought:-

Science is the engine of prosperity. Economists have said that a third to a half of U.S. economic growth has resulted from basic research since World War II. The cars and trains that got us here today, our smart phones, the energy that lights this chamber, the clothes we wear, the food we eat: All of these were developed and improved through research.

And so it is. Science is a system for exploring, and for innovation. It can fuel our nation’s economic growth. It can form a path for our young people in a competitive global marketplace. And it can fire our imagination.

(Source)

And mankind seems to be heading that direction too and probably in a greater pace due to the wealth of information available on the internet:-

Religion will become extinct by 2041 as the world becomes more developed and wealthier,, proclaims a new study by a noted author and biopsychologist Nigel Barber.

Barber makes the claim in his upcoming e-book, Why Atheism Will Replace Religion, which will be available next month. The Irish author says Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and all other types of religious beliefs will be wiped out by atheism.

Barber notes there is a direct correlation between religious or atheist beliefs with economic development and level of education. The more educated and wealthier a society is, the less religious they are and vice versa. Barber adds that religion is most popular in underdeveloped countries.

(Source)

Religion is important but it should be something personal and it should never mix with the state of a nation. Science on the other hand is going to be the stepping stone for many things to come to make a country strong, capable and flexible. Something for us all to ponder especially for the next generation of Malaysians. Good governance helps too but let’s start with something simple – give more focus on science and mathematics and put this country on the path of it’s own industrial revolution if you may. There must be a new paradigm of vision and a greater power of imagination. As I have said, religion is important and let’s not discard it from our life but not to a point that it drive the state backwards and into the dark ages. We just need to look into history and move forward.

Have a good weekend ahead…

Neil Armstrong: 1930 – 2012


(The first man who will step on the moon -Neil Armstrong. Image source: The Hindu/NASA)

“This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”

Although he was not the first in space (that credit goes to a Russian, Yuri Gagarin who unfortunately died of a young age) and as the LM commander (and the pilot), he just happen to be the first to step out, we shall not forget the famed statement that Neil made after stepping on the Moon in July 1969 The moment was historic to all mankind who for ages have been fascinated by the Moon both spiritually and scientifically.

There is certain aura and mystery of the Moon – for one; it is not clear how the Moon was formed. The best theory is the giant impact hypothesis which states that the Moon was formed out of the debris left over from a collision between the Earth and a body the size of Mars, approximately 4.5 billion years ago. And without the Moon, the planet Earth would not have tidal motion which is generated by the gradient in intensity of the Moon’s gravitational pull from one side of the Earth to the other. And the Moon also stabilizes Earth’s wobble, which led to a more stable climate (otherwise we will have extreme weather every few months) and probably helped life evolve. So, was it by chance or by design we have a Moon for close companionship?

And whatever the reason, landing on it seemed to be dream that eluded us for many years until Apollo 11. Man’s exploration of the Moon ended with Apollo 17 in December 1972 and the planned exploration in recent times under the Constellation program have been cancelled in favour of a manned asteroid landing by 2025 and a manned Mars orbit by 2035. The Moon is moving away from Earth at the rate of 3.78cm per year but it will take billions of years before we can feel any drastic impact from this and who knows, perhaps by then we would have already landed humans on the planet Mars and travelled to other galaxies and managed to stabilize Moon’s shift from the planet Earth.

The possibilities are endless – all we need to do is to take that one giant leap.

Real Mission to Mars


In case you have missed this important event last week…

(Photo note: An image taken by the Mars rover Opportunity, shown by NASA during a press conference Thursday, Oct 7, 2004, shows a bizarre, lumpy rock informally named Wopmay on the lower slopes of Endurance Crater. Scientists believe the lumps in Wopmay were formed by one of two processes. Either they were caused by the impact that created the football field-sized crater, or they arose when water soaking the rock dried up, said the scientists)

(Photo note: The Mars Descent Imager (MARDI), a camera on board the Curiosity designed to take photos during the descent to Mars, took this image of the heat shield plummeting to the Martian surface)

(Photo note: A close-up of one of the rover’s wheels. Curiosity is currently driving around the Gale Crater, a place NASA scientists believe could harbor signs of microbial life, from the past or present)

(All text and images sources and for more images, click here and here. Copyright NASA)

NASA successfully landed the latest of its Mars Rover called Curiosity in Mars last week. With this, they have 3 rovers (Spirit and Opportunity which landed back in 2004) on the planet exploring the surface and geology. The mission’s scientific objective was to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars.

The much-celebrated Mars rover Curiosity is headed for Mount Sharp, where it will help scientists explore the question of life on Mars as it climbs up and up. Meanwhile, however, NASA’s budget for planetary exploration is slated to go down, down, down.

Scientists are basking in the success of Curiosity’s stunning landing earlier this week, proving that a complicated system involving a parachute and a sky crane can safely deliver a 2,000-pound vehicle to Mars. The $2.6 billion Curiosity will spend years roaming the planet, snapping photos and gathering scientific data.

Given the budget constraints facing the space agency, however, there are limits on what the rover, and NASA, will be able to do on the surface of the Red Planet. Although astronauts brought back thousands of moon rocks during the Apollo Mission, there’s never been a sample of Martian material returned to Earth. Such a mission is considered a priority, so scientists can do more detailed chemical analyses.

(Source)

After the Moon, we have been eyeing Mars as the next frontier and a place where humans may be able to adapt as their next home. Who knows what lays thereafter – new mining colonies perhaps or as a “jumping stone” to explore other planets? And inspire future generation of space explorers and scientists to think beyond and ahead. And with 2 rovers on the planet, why we need another rover on the planet?

From Associated Press:-

NASA’s new robot rover named Curiosity landed safely early Monday in a huge crater near the equator of Mars and will soon begin its scientific studies. This marks NASA’s seventh landing on the red planet and is its 19th Mars mission, including those by orbiters and other spacecraft.

Why Mars Again?

The big unknown remains. Scientists want to know if any form of life ever existed there, and that means microscopic organisms. Curiosity is the most ambitious effort ever to burrow into that question, though it is not equipped to look for actual microbes. During its two-year exploration, it will try to answer whether the giant crater had the right conditions to support that type of life.

What will Curiosity do?

Curiosity carries a toolbox of 10 instruments, including a rock-zapping laser and a mobile organic chemistry lab. It also has a long robotic arm that can jackhammer into rocks and soil. It will hunt for the basic ingredients of life, including carbon-based compounds, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and oxygen, as well as minerals that might provide clues about possible energy sources.

And talking about the mission to Mars, if you recalled in 2010, President Obama talked about a manned mission to Mars by year 2030 whilst at the same time, cancelled the project to return to the Moon citing that the project was too costly, “behind schedule, and lacking in innovation”. With the latest successful landing of the Curiosity Rover, it will be interest how this mission to take man to the Red Planet going to take place in the next few years. It is also going to be very interesting how we are going to push the current innovation to make space exploration cheaper, safer and longer lasting.

(Our very own Planetarium Space Theater – it is a good platform to generate keen deep interest on space exploration and science. The other is the Langkawi National Observatory which has good stellar and solar telescopes. Image source: National Planetarium)

Looking back at Malaysia, no doubt we started with the wrong foot with teaching of Science and Mathematics in Bahasa Malaysia instead of the more “universal” language of English (we still have a chance to correct this mistake) but it is good that we have also started to expose Malaysians (especially the young ones) on the science of astronomy, mechanical, robotics, computing and others that is crucial for future space explorations. The sight on a greater exploration of the space should be there for all and we should start with the right language of science and mathematics.

P.s. Have a nice weekend and happy holidays to all. Hope that you will miss the madness at the highway and arrive safely at your destination.