Search for life on Moon, Mars, ‘Planet Nine’ advances
• NASA claims humans could be living on ‘cheap’ $10bn lunar base by 2022
• Six-wheeled Mars Rover, Bruno, trained to hunt for life on red planet
• Kuiper Belt objects could help scientists locate Planet Nine’s orbit
Astronomers have advanced in search for habitable planets with the new report published in a special edition of the journal New Space that humans could be living on the moon by 2022 as the United States National Aeronautic Space Agency (NASA) scientists claim ‘cheap’ $10 billion lunar base will be ready in just six years.
Also, in another report, six-wheeled Mars Rover, Bruno, is being trained to hunt for life on red planet. Bruno, together with his two ‘siblings’ is helping scientists embark on one of the humankind’s greatest adventures – the search for life on Mars.
Bruno belongs to a ‘family’ of three rover prototypes, the others are named Bridget and Bryan, which are testing the latest in planetary navigation technology.
In two years time, a six-wheeled machine with a ‘brain’ similar to Bruno’s will be launched to the red planet as part of the ExoMars mission.
There it will look for signs of life in soil samples from below the arid Martian surface and take colour images of the surrounding landscape.
The British-built rover has star billing in the second half of the 1.2 billion euros (£946 million) joint European and Russian ExoMars mission.
As the ExoMars orbiter hurtles towards Mars at 20,500mph (33,000km/h) after its launch on 14 March, scientists and engineers are gearing up to start work on the rover that will go into space.
Assembling the complex array of mechanical parts and electronic circuits is due to begin at the United Kingdom (UK) headquarters of Airbus Defence & Space in Stevenage later this year.
Also, scientists are closing in on the location of Planet Nine as they say Kuiper Belt objects could help them locate its orbit.
The mysterious gas giant is thought to be almost as big as Neptune, and Caltech scientists first found signs of its existence in January.
Now Arizona University, United States, claims it has found a way to narrow its location. The University claims Kuiper Belt objects with a highly eccentric orbit may be on a path that is in a predictable pattern with Planet Nine’s orbit.
Meanwhile, it is widely regarded as one of the greatest human achievements ever made, but putting a man on the moon was no cheap undertaking.
The Apollo missions to send just 12 men onto the dusty lunar surface cost £25 billion (£17 billion) – estimated to be worth around $170 billion (£120 billion) in modern monetary value.
But it appears we may be able to send humans back to our rocky satellite and set up a permanent base where they could live for just a fraction of the cost.
A group of NASA scientists has calculated it may be possible to return to the surface of the moon within the next five to seven years for a total cost of just $10 billion (£6.4 billion).
Indeed, they say it may be possible to build a base that can support up to 10 astronauts for more than a year by 2022 as many of the technologies needed already exist today.
The study was published in a special edition of the journal New Space.
The recent study commissioned by NASA has estimated the cost of sending humans back to the moon could be reduced by 90 per cent by partnering with private companies and mining for lunar resources.
The study, conducted by the National Space Society and the Space Frontier Foundation, also found permanent lunar base could be established for around $38 billion (£24 billion).
The authors insist opening up lunar exploration to commercial partners could help to dramatically drive down the costs.
The report envisions building an industrial base on the moon that mines water from the lunar soil, processing it to hydrogen that can then be used to fuel spacecraft.
It says the base, which would house four astronauts, could provide around 200 megatons of propellant within 12 years of the initial landings.
While the US currently has no firm plans to return to Mars, the European Space Agency, Russia and China have all expressed interest in building a base there.
This has led to fears that NASA risks being left behind in a new era of space exploration by focusing its efforts on a mission to an asteroid before going on to Mars.
But many believe establishing a base on the moon is an essential step towards future manned missions to the red planet.
Writing in a special edition of the journal New Space, Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in California, along with John Cumbers, a synthetic biologist at NASA, and Alexandra Hall who also works at NASA Ames, said: “For a variety of very good reasons, it is time to go back to this moon, this time to stay, and funding is no longer the main hurdle.”
In a series of papers, a number of spaceflight experts argue the costs of building a lunar base are much lower than expected and that there is substantial commercial value there.
They said a lunar base could double as a commercial mining base to allow the moon’s resources to be exploited.
Furthermore, competition between private space companies could help to reduce the costs further and open up new business opportunities with a presence of a manned base on the moon.
McKay and his colleagues said: ‘When the cost of a short stay on the moon drops into the tens of millions of dollars per person, it starts to tap into the same market that has given us private spaceflight participants to the International Space Station.
“The presence of a government base is also the presence of a customer on the moon – a factor that can stimulate the development of services, supplies, and technology to the benefit of all.”
The researchers hope their papers can persuade NASA to invest some of its annual $19 billion budget on sending humans back to the moon.
It comes less than a year after a study by the National Space Society and the Space Frontier Foundation estimated it would cost $10 billion for two competing companies to send astronauts back to the Moon in cooperation with NASA.
It concluded a permanent lunar base could be established for around $38 billion (£24 billion).
But a paper by Lynn Harper, lead of astrobiology advanced missions and technologies at NASA Ames Research Centre’s Space Portal, along with colleagues from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, said the technology to support human life on the moon already exists.
Self-driving cars and green toilet technology being developed on Earth could be adapted while many technologies on the International Space Station could also be used on the moon.
They say sites for the lunar base could be selected by sending survey robots to the moon’s surface to characterise the terrain, resources and any hazards that may exist.
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