Saturday, October 10, 2009

Random Linkage 10/10/09

'Trash Can' Nuclear Reactors Could Power Human Outpost On Moon Or Mars
‘NASA has made a series of critical strides toward the development of new nuclear reactors the size of a trash can that could power a human outpost on the moon or Mars.’
(Or small communities in, say, Iraq or Afghanistan.)

Trips to Mars in 39 Days

‘Using traditional chemical rockets, a trip to Mars – at quickest — lasts 6 months. But a new rocket tested successfully last week could potentially cut down travel time to the Red Planet to just 39 days. The Ad Astra Rocket Company tested a plasma rocket called the VASIMR VX-200 engine, which ran at 201 kilowatts in a vacuum chamber, passing the 200-kilowatt mark for the first time. "It's the most powerful plasma rocket in the world right now," says Franklin Chang-Diaz, former NASA astronaut and CEO of Ad Astra. The company has also signed an agreement with NASA to test a 200-kilowatt VASIMR engine on the International Space Station in 2013.’

Massive MESSENGER Mercury Mosaic
'Just in time for MESSENGER's third flyby comes a mosaic from the second flyby! This absolutely enormous mosaic of Mercury's globe represents 66 individual narrow-angle camera frames on Mercury captured by MESSENGER as it departed from its second encounter. Its departure view on its recent, third flyby would have been basically the same if it had not been in safe mode. The mosaic was assembled by Cassini imaging team member Jason Perry in his free time, and I hereby thank him for the four days of effort that it took him to establish a control network that would make his software behave and assemble this gorgeous view. I'm glad he could do it because it was way beyond my expertise! Now does anybody else want to dive into the Planetary Data System for the color data taken using the wide-angle camera during departure so we can produce a nice color version of this view? There was a 3-by-3 WAC color mosaic at about the same time...'
(If this doesn't inspire you to write some Mercury-based fiction, I don't know what will.)

Blasted into space from a giant air gun
'When Jules Verne wrote about a gigantic gun that could be used to launch people into space in the 19th century, no one expected it to become a reality. Now physicist John Hunter has outlined the design of such a gun that he says could slash the cost of putting cargo into orbit.'

Pumpkin cannon could be ultimate big-boy toy*
'John Gill tucks a gray pumpkin under his arm and climbs to the top of a rusty ladder. He opens a hatch on the side of a steel pipe, drops the pumpkin inside and sprays it with magenta paint.
'"So we can find it later," he says.'
(Via Neatorama.)
*(No kidding.)


Blogger Adam Roberts said...

That Mercury image is lovely, in a bleak, b+w way: it's a striking thing that this is a true colour image.

Subjectively the thing that occurs to me is that, compared to the moon (say), Mercury looks relatively uncratered, when -- since it has a higher gravity than the moon, and no atmosphere -- you might expect it to be more so. Is this because the sun snaffles a higher proportion of meteors etc. that would otherwise go on to mark the surface? Or because there's more active geology on Mercury? Or are my eyes deceiving me, and in fact it's every bit as cratered as Luna?

October 11, 2009 10:24 am  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

I'm not an expert (and if someone who has a better knowledge of this stuff wants to chip in, please do) but I think the Moon and Mercury are fairly similar. Both have one side that's fairly heavily cratered and another that's dominated by relatively uncratered smooth plains resurfaced by extruded lava. And the mosaic looks pretty heavily cratered to me - there are plenty of cases of overlapping craters or craters inside craters. One difference between the Moon and Mercury is that the former's plains are dark and its highlands are light, while the latter's topography doesn't show as much differentiation and is fairly dark overall. Maybe that's why you think the dark areas on Mercury are less cratered than they actually are?

October 11, 2009 2:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Vasimr Engine really opens up the solar system. Venus in what, twenty days? a Mars mission may not have to wait over a year to make a return trip while the planets approach closely. Since the Engine only works in space it might be best to construct a totally space based shuttle that can make repeated trips around the solar system. I favour something similar to the spacecraft in space 1999, that can carry modules which it could leave behind at various planets, or even be surface return vehicles. this however calls for a LEO garage facility.

October 11, 2009 2:09 pm  
Blogger Adam Roberts said...

Paul: that (the relative colouration) could certainly be it. I don't doubt craters have been counted on both bodies, and somewhere there will be a tabulation ... and I don't doubt you're right, that the moon and mercury have about the same.

October 11, 2009 8:49 pm  

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