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The Truth is Out There: The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life.

It is a question that has been asked for centuries since telescopes looked at Mars in the 1800s and men believed that they were seeing canals of water running along the surface. Men have tried to imagine what life would look like from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds to C.S. Lewis Silent Planet Trilogy. Are there other life in our vast universe or are we the only ones here?

It is hard to say where exactly the search for alien life had begun. People have always looked to the sky and wondered what was up there. The thought was not fully brought forward until The Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik on October 14, 1957. Barring the political ramifications of the launch, Sputnik and the resulting space race got the attention of the world.

The first dedicated search for alien life was the SETI Project established in November of 1984. Its goal was to find intelligence in the universe by using a set of satellite dishes around the world.

The first thing to come out of the SETI project was the Drake Equation. It was a probabilistic argument present at the first SETI meeting to estimate the number of communicative alien civilizations that could exist the galaxy. Though met with some complaints about its usefulness, especially when it came to creating an explicit value, it is used today to ask the question “if they are out there, why aren’t they talking to us?”

The search for life inside and outside our solar system will continue for many years to come and only time will tell if we are truly alone. Man will continue to dream and to build so one day those questions will be answered when our probes and our satellites reach the edges of other star systems and galaxies.


These Are The Voyages Of Voyager 1

Space, the final frontier.

These are the words that have opened up most of the episodes of the various Star Trek incarnations as well as the movies. These words have meaning not only within the Star Trek Universe itself, but also within our own reality.

Say ‘hello’ to Voyager 1.


Marking the Anniversary of the First Woman in Space

While yesterday brought with it the achievement of 19 years as a fleet for UFOP: Starbase 118, it will have to share its day-after glory of another milestone. In the shadow of our own anniversary, let us celebrate another milestone; one that was met fifty years ago today.

The successful launch of the first woman, and first civilian, into space, and safely bringing her home.


The Man in Space

Hadfield-guitar, from lambtonshield.comWhat is it about us Canadians? Why are we so proud of the things we accomplish? Maybe it’s because we come from a country where two official languages flourish. Where walking in the streets of Ottawa, you can hear people switch from French to English as they walk and talk, while in the middle of a conversation. Or maybe it’s because so many unique individuals from different parts of this vast, frozen wasteland have flourished. Not just here in Canada, but on the international scene. And I’m not just talking Justin Bieber here.

But of those Canadians who have made it to where they are today as superstars in their own right, including William Shatner and James Doohan of Star Trek fame, no one could be as down to earth as the one Canadian who is presently the furthest away from Earth at the moment. Chris Hadfield.

Who is Chris Hadfield, you say? My response is one of the pioneers of the space age, and presently the commander of the International Space Station. What makes him so special? His connection to those who follow him. His constant communications with those on Earth since arriving at the station in December. He has been broadcasting, tweeting messages, and sending photos he has posted to allow those of us on the ground to see our world from his perspective.

He has conducted question and answer periods for schoolchildren through Twitter, had a conversation with another commander of a ship we all know, William Shatner, recorded a duet with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies, and was backed up by a Toronto glee choir. Basically, Chris Hadfield is showing us that being in space doesn’t mean you are out of touch.

But despite all this, what Chris Hadfield is doing is even more profound. He is showing Canadians, if not the world, the unique and wonderful vision of what space is all about, and in a way we could never otherwise see ourselves.


Voyager 1 Discovers a New Highway

 

Originally launched from Earth with its twin counterpart, Voyager 2, Voyager 1 has achieved a landmark status by being the most distant man-made spacecraft still in operation since leaving Earth in 1977 (at present, 11 billion miles from the Sun). It was from Voyager 1 that we received the first photographs of Jupiter, the ringed planet Saturn, and many of their respective moons.

On its way out of the Sol System, while heading for the heliopause (the border where solar wind from our sun ends and the interstellar region of space starts), Voyager 1 dropped its latest bombshell: an unexpected “magnetic highway” at the edge of our solar system.

Stamatios Krimigis and Edward Stone, a former Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Director, describe this highway district as a region which links the heliosphere (a bubble that surrounds the solar system) with the expanse of interstellar space beyond it, created by a magnetic field that originates with the southern hemisphere of the Sun that apparently allows particles from within the heliosphere to escape into interstellar space and allows particles from this region of space to pour into the Sol System.

The Voyager spacecraft (1 and 2) are expected to continue sending information back to Earth up through 2020 when their plutonium-based fuel will begin to power down, and are expected to cease operation all together in 2025.


Detecting The Dark Stuff

Dark matter and dark energy are two of the biggest and most confusing puzzles for scientists around the world. The scientific community has struggled to understand the, well, dark matter, ever since we have theorized its existence. And now, perhaps, scientists have come up with a way to finally see it.

It turns out that the key to solving one of the BIGGEST mysteries of the cosmos is to look at some of the smallest answers. Physicists like Katherine Freese at the University of Michigan are looking to DNA to help guide to a much more definitive way of findind dark matter. The reason why this attempt, unlike the various tests that claim to have detected dark matter already, will work? It’s all in the genes…


SpaceX Dragon Capsule Completes First Commercial Cargo Flight Successfully

For those of you wondering what comes next in the grand scheme of space travel, the next chapter has officially started. On October 28th, just as the entire Eastern Seaboard was marveling at images the NASA GOES satellite (among others) has sent back of Hurricane Sandy, the SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully splashed down in the Pacific ocean near southern California. The capsule had completed a three week trip to the International Space Station as a cargo container that brought supplies to the station and brought samples and experiments home.

Loaded with over eight hundred eighty pounds of food, equipment, and supplies, the capsule was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the top of one of the Falcon 9 rockets made also by SpaceX. Even more poundage worth of blood and urine samples, as well as scientific experiments and gear was returned in it. That makes this capsule the first ever unmanned (robotic) spacecraft that is able to return cargo to Earth instead of just bringing it to the station.


A Real World Version of the Enterprise, in Only 20 Years?

Many people have dreamed of creating the Enterprise, or even living in the realm of Star Trek in the distant future, but no one has ever put together an extensive proposal to actually attain such a lofty goal – until now. Today, an Engineer who simply goes by the name BTE (Build the Enterprise) Dan, suggests that a full scale Enterprise could be built within the next twenty years based only on technology that exists today. He believes that since we have the technology, there is no reason we shouldn’t make the attempt.

According to his plans, the first generation Enterprise would be able to make a trip to Mars in only three months. But is this just theory? Thos who have seen his plans note their meticulous nature and the fact that he seems to have all the details included. Not only do the plans contain ion powered engines, but also allow for artificial gravity on parts of the ship. He’s even come up with a funding schedule that would allow the project to be funded over time though simple, and small, tax increases and cuts that would bring in funds from other programs.

The ship, which would be built in space much like the International Space Station was, is quite functional. With a rotating plate to provide gravity within the saucer section, and nacelles that would keep nuclear powered reactors away from the people inhabiting the ship, it seems that BTE Dan has left nothing to question. He says it will act as a space station, with the capability of holding about a thousand people aboard at any one time, and as a ship to carry probes and other test equipment to various planets throughout the solar system.

While the project seems quite possible when viewed through the eyes of this engineer, there are some fairly large ‘if’s involved. Getting Congress to approve the funding, which could come through NASA is but one of such obstacles, but it may be one of the biggest. Dan postulates that the funding of the project could be easily accomplished without a huge impact on the United States, but can he get others to agree with that idea?

Find out more on the Build the Enterprise project here.


Strange New Worlds: Back To Gliese 581c

The writers and producers of Star Trek gave us fantastic views of worlds we could only imagine. But, as our observational technology improves,science is discovering that some of the planets in our galaxy are even stranger than that.  On the list of planets that have the potential to support life, Gliese 581c is near the top. It is in the orbital “sweet spot” of it’s star, meaning it’s close enough not to be a frozen waste, but far enough not to become a giant ball of flaming terror. But before you get too excited, there are two things you need to know.


Mission to Mars: Beating Menu Fatigue

Did you know that menu fatigue presents a real problem for long term spaceflight?  Throughout the years since man first traveled into space, food and mealtimes have been one of the things that scientists have focused on. Humans need to eat, so from the toothpaste tubes of the early days of the Space Race to modern, chef-cooked, dehydrated meals, the food taken into space has always been important. Now, as we look towards the future, and a possible mission to Mars, we find that food has once again become the center of focus.


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