Monday, September 11, 2017


NASA has a cool new plan being developed by Aerospace Corporation. The Brane Craft. Currently in development by US based Aerospace Corporation, it is expected to be resilient, with a special built in back-up. If one component gets damaged, the others will continue to work.

I don’t need to spell out the problem with space debris. But I will.

5250 launches have taken place since Oct 4th 1957 (Sputnik 1 satellite launched)

Of missions launched since Sputnik, 23,000 still in orbit.

Of the above only 1200 are still operational.

Add in decommissioned satellites

Add in launch adaptors, len covers, spent upper stages…

Then toss in the many explosions, collisions of satellites or rocket bodies..

Then there are the objects that are not able to be tracked…

Apparently there are an estimated 166 million objects that range in size from 1 mm to 1 cm in diameter. Then there is the from 1 cm to 10cm – about 29,000 objects, the larger ones are estimated at 42,000.

Thanks to SpaceX, this number isn’t growing as fast as it could, but if it continues to grow at the current rate, heck even without growing but without dissipating, our pathway to space will be blocked in about 20 years. 

So back to NASA’s cool idea – the Brane Spacecraft.

So, what is the definition of brane? An extended object with any given number of dimensions, of which strings in string theory are examples with one dimension; Our universe is a 3-brane.

That didn’t help did it?

Basically the goal is the removal of debris from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) through rendezvous, conformal wrapping, and application of thrust.

There are lots of really cool ideas out there by all of the space faring nations but unfortunately they all are also rather costly. Suppose you were to Send conventional spacecraft, even 1-to-5 kg CubeSats, to each of the thousands of 10-cm or larger debris objects for active deorbiting. It quickly becomes prohibitively expensive. With current CubeSat launch costs of ~$250,000 for a 3U CubeSat with ~kilometer/s delta-V propulsion and 3-axis attitude control, the U.S. would spend close to billion dollars in launch costs alone to remove 4 thousand debris objects.

Brane Craft could significantly reduce that cost and enable removal of more objects.

Researchers have developed this ultrathin spacecraft capable of wrapping itself around debris in space. Then it will be directed back towards Earth, burning all the debris it collects up in reentry. 

It is a net-like device approximately a yard across and self-powered. Developer’s goal is to make its width less than half the width of a human hair. This can make other areas of more concern.  The Brane Spacecraft needs to be highly capable and withstand damage. And because a 5-micron diameter particle can penetrate the main structural sheet as if it were a bullet, it is being made so that if one component is damaged the rest will not be affected.

Because Brane is being designed so thin, it should be cheaper to launch. One also could launch several, like a swarm, to take down different sorts of debris.

As one who sees space as figuring in to the future in many cool ways, I understand the situation and hope for a solution. Identifying a problem is not much assistance if there is no follow through.

NASA, you have my blessing!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

ZIKA to the rescue? Virus used to treat aggressive brain cancer!


From a terribly destructive virus science has found a silver lining. While I normally am intrigued by science that occurs above the exosphere, I find this to be kinda awesome.


To understand the dichotomy, let’s review the effects of Zika.

                  Zika infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects and is associated with other pregnancy problems.

                  Several countries that have experienced Zika outbreaks recently have reported increases in people who have Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS).

                  Current CDC research suggests that GBS is strongly associated with Zika; however, only a small proportion of people with recent Zika virus infection get GBS.

                  The birth defects are tremendous –

o   from Severe microcephaly where the skull has partially collapsed or Decreased brain tissue with a specific pattern of brain damage or Damage (i.e., scarring, pigment changes) to the back of the eye

o   Joints with limited range of motion, such as clubfoot

o   Too much muscle tone restricting body movement soon after birth


But research has shown a benefit. It shows that the virus is able to selectively kill previously hard to kill (or treat) cancer cells in adult brains.


With fully grown mice it was found that Zika injections were able to select and shrink the aggressive tumors, leaving the healthy brain cells alone. That is something we have had a problem with, killing the disease but not the host. 


A report in the Journal of experimental medicine goes into more detail; explaining that human trials are a bit off, but none the less, potentially it could be injected into the brain at the time of surgery to remove the tumors.


It actually has been tested on human cells using donated brain tissue and has shown great promise.


It is unfortunate that it is only in adult brains. Apparently the brain of a baby is very different with a different sort of stem cell present.


Basically, something so destructive may be able to save lives…ahhhh the ying and yang of things!


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The littlest Spaceship! – currently in LEO

You may have seen coverage on SPACE-TIME CONTINUES (my science show on You Tube) regarding Breakthrough Initiatives and Alpha Centuari but one thing the show couldn’t give you is the breakthrough that was launched on June 23rd – the chips pictured just above, yup, they are the probes

Granted it is a prototype of the tiny spacecraft they plan to send to Alpha Centuari, called Sprites.

Of course this was their first test, so instead of riding solo, they took a position on low Earth Orbit satellites. Four of the Sprites are on Max Valier as well as one riding shotgun and only one on Venta-1.


The plan was to release the freeloaders, but as of the second week of August the Sprites on Max Valier were not responsive although the one on Venta-1 is in Radio contact.


No big deal, this was the first in many 100’s of steps. Scientists expect that before sending a new batch up, they will equip them with cameras, actuators for steering and other tools.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT? NASA repurposes Urine / wastes for mission to Mars.

Actually a cooler idea than drinking the urine, NASA is currently funding research that has a whole host of ideas about what else you can do with urine, and it’s really cool! 


Human urine & the carbon dioxide that is exhaled, both waste that needs to be cycled into something, can be used for several things. Nutritional supplements for a long trip to Mars? Makes sense. What? Tools and plastic parts? And remember, they will already have the 3D printer necessary to bring out their inner Picasso or Tim the tool man from Home Improvement. 


Apparently there are some important yeast strains of which there are many by-products that are healthy. One is found in fish, nuts, leafy greens – its name, Omega – 3 fatty acid. What does it do? It fends off heart disease, arthritis, lower blood pressure, help to prevent stroke and more.


The funny thing, the human body can make most of the fats it needs from raw materials, but not omega-3 fatty acids. And, omega-3 is essential! Also, it is not as if the astronaut meals will be salmon or other fish, maybe walnuts or flaxseeds, and leafy vegetables.


Apparently Mark Brenner (assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering) of Clemson University says that if this research continues as expected, an important aspect of NASA’s ‘Journey to Mars’ just could be mingling hibernating yeast with the nitrogen in their pee and the carbon in their breath.


The concept is awesome – and actually, should it all work in the end, may solve other unknowns/problems. But you are probably looking for some details, maybe get walked through what it might be like…


OK – your 4 month’s into your trip to Mars. Your individual alarm on your wrist goes off. It is a reminder to take your daily meds. You take them – one of which was fashioned out of a process that…well, that’s actually next. You’ve taken your morning supplements, now you must get on with the rest of your day.

You go to the area where to cynobacteria is maintained in a vat of sorts. There the cynobacteria feeds on Carbon Dioxide and then releases sugars. Next you take that mixture and add it to urea (urine by-product) in a separate container. Your part is done.


The yeast will grow as they feed, creating omega-3 fatty acids. You could just go ahead and eat that, but likely it will be dried and formed into a pill for easy swallowing. 

In vat two, of the yeast are forming and accumulating the polyester polymers. It is these granules, that the yeast creates, which can be easily turned into the ‘ink’ for a 3D printer and used to print whatever tool or screw or other device is needed.


Keep in mind – not only is this for space. This also then becomes transferable to 3rd world nations, military outposts, anywhere that needs to create something out of nothing.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Mars on a budget – with a little help from NASA’s friends!


Back when we went to the Moon, NASA did it, but not alone. Perhaps we need to be more open about how we are planning it. We could even have more than one company help out in the flying. Have one company maybe do a fly by and another do an attempt at landing on the surface, if a third wants a go at it, maybe Phobos?


Boeing (BA), Lockheed Martin(LMT) and Northrop Grumman (NOC) to name a few. Actually there were more, but many were purchased by bigger and bigger…You get the idea. But regardless, NASA did this for America & for Mankind – big business always makes money off of letting NASA go first but the billions and billions that are up there for them, shouldn’t they ante up?


NASA could handle all the cool tech and also extend rights to place on the spaceships the tech for growing food, greehouses and the like,  the pulling the water out from the soil, air from ice, fuel from….well you get the idea, NASA’s work yields such cool things - like that robot in Hawaii that could go in advance and build a landing pad for the astronauts. SpaceX (et al) could handle the flying.


Perhaps instead of civilians for the first flight to Mars, trained astronauts would be used on a commercial ship.


Granted, I have always thought a collaborative move to Mars made more sense, but after the Trump cuts to the budget, granted they’re not final yet but…I thought about it some more and thought it made the most sense. It’s not fair to make our countries spaceflight operate on a skin-tight budget! We are the best in space-flight.  That is the one thing we remain consistent on. But if we keep expecting NASA to do ‘our’ very best off of so little, it’s time to think out of the box, it’s time to do what Kennedy & Johnson proved works well, make it a Corporate/NASA joint venture. Look, I want to make Mars in my lifetime. Actually, I want to make Titan and Europa and maybe find out from Breakthrough Initiatives what exists out in Alpha Centauri! So let's get going!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cell regeneration like you have never seen!


This topic is not my usual fare as I am a Space Geek of the highest degree, but it was so cool I just had to share!


There is new device developed at Ohio State University that starts healing your organs (even brain injuries) in mere minutes. Consider stroke injuries – well that was completely repaired and the brain function was restored in a mouse. And that is not it! It can restore any type of tissue. 


Current methods are less than desirable, one reason, because they introduce a virus and then complete a bunch of steps in order to possibly help you out. Basically when you have missing or malfunctioning genes you would be given a virus that would carry the genetic cargo into the cells – this was developed because it was ground breaking at the time. Actually the method has been updated to sometimes use what is called Hybrid methods which act via inactive HIV or Influenza virus. There are literally dozens of different viral envelopes for any genetic changes as viruses bind to their host and introduce their genetic material into the host’s replication cycle; thus spreading throughout as quickly as possible. It’s really quite genius and sort of like hacking the body’s mainframe. 

          But this new ‘breakthrough’ technology is incredibly promising. It breaks down to reprograming cells, live, while the body keeps on living.  As a matter of fact, it does not require a hospital, a lab, actually, it can be handled in the field. Good news particularly to those who suffer from strokes as not only would it repair but lessen the amount of damage caused!

               So what does the process involve? Well, while it’s not much, it does sound a little futuristic. Take a square chip about the size of a fingernail and place it on the skin. Add a droplet that contains the genetic code. Now, zap it with a power source. All done! This methodology turns skin cells into any type of cell the body needs. This has limitless potential! Think of it – a wounded limb on a soldier in the field but the enemy has them trapped. No problem let the healing begin. A stroke experienced out in the boondocks and far from a hospital. What about repairing a damaged heart?

               The technology is known as Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT). To date it has only been utilized on mice. So repair times might differ. For instance injured legs of mice were completely repaired during a three week time frame: Same time frame for restoring brain function in a mouse who had suffered a stroke.

     Oh – and it has been used on pigs. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland they expressed interest and so repeated the leg-healing process but on pigs.

               Now you knew this was too good to be true, right? Well, here’s the catch. It must be utilized within 72 hours of the injury. Simple enough, right?


               Currently it is waiting on FDA approval but is expected to be tested on humans within the year.


               *You know something else that is working out well? Stem cell research. They have been able to take victims who are paralyzed from the neck down and by introducing some stem cells give them back some of their dignity – movement from their arms to their neck. There may be more it can do. Research seems to indicate that it is important when the injury happen. Check it out online!*


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

SATURN’s Titan – Life (almost) always finds a way!

When it comes to alien life, maybe you want to start in ALMA and then perhaps proceed to NASA’s Cassini, check in with their scientists to see what theories they have. Of course while I’m speaking specifically Saturn’s of Titan: I’m pretty sure you can apply that to almost anywhere.


Let’s start with ALMA. What’s ALMA? The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. Where is it? Chile's Atacama desert, the driest place in the world, important because almost every night is clear of clouds and free of light-distorting moisture and that is important because it is a huge array – consisting of 66 twelve meter & seven meter in diameter radio telescopes. These are then able to observe at the millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths.


ALMA is able to provide insight regarding local stars & planets and their makeup. ALMA is an international partnership between Europe, the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Chile and has been operational since 2013. 


Let’s zoom out. Titan is Saturns largest moon. About the size of Mars with a nebulous atmosphere. It’s atmosphere is made up mostly of Nitrogen, a touch of organic carbon based molecules, some CH4 and C3H6. Guess what? Scientists believe those ingredients are similar to the one’s Earth had in its primordial days.


Scientists say that the conditions on Titan are not actually conducive to our way of life. Cold, as it is rather far from the Sun, with liquid Methane raining onto its solid icy surface. This forms all sorts of lakes and rivers and seas of hydrocarbons – which (it is believed) create C2H3CN/vinyl cyanide. Vinyl cyanide when linked together forms membranes which have features that resemble the lipid based cell membranes of living organisms on Earth.


So between the old data at ALMA, Cassini’s infrared scans and laboratory mock-ups of Titan’s atmosphere one arrives at the decision that Titan may be home to life of some sort.


If you have any doubts – think of our Water-bear, or as it is more formally known, the Tardigrade; an extremophile that can live though just about anything. And that’s on Earth. Who is to say that normal life, for Titan, couldn’t find a way? 


**FYI – though many say Titan is rough and as you can see by my description of it, maybe it is, it also has a lot of things that make me want to go there – the first of which being its gravity. An architect might go wild on Titan and you or I might esadily fly/glide from the 18th floor!