We’ll be Building Self-Replicating Probes to Explore the Milky Way Sooner Than you Think. Why Haven’t ETIs?

An early NASA concept of an interstellar space probe. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

The future can arrive in sudden bursts. What seems a long way off can suddenly jump into view, especially when technology is involved. That might be true of self-replicating machines. Will we combine 3D printing with in-situ resource utilization to build self-replicating space probes?

One aerospace engineer with expertise in space robotics thinks it could happen sooner rather than later. And that has implications for SETI.

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Two Spacecraft Could Work Together to Capture an Asteroid and Bring it Close to Earth for Mining

Mining asteroids might be necessary for humanity to expand into the Solar System. A new paper says spacecraft could work in pairs to capture Near Earth Asteroids. Credit: ESA.

Humanity seems destined to expand into the Solar System. What exactly that looks like, and how difficult and tumultuous the endeavour might be, is wide open to speculation. But there are some undeniable facts attached to the prospect.

We need materials to build infrastructure, and getting it all into space from Earth is not realistic. (Be quiet, space elevator people.)

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Explorers Could Build Bricks on Mars with Bacteria and Pee

The famous Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky once said, “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” Tsiolkovsky is often hailed as one of the fathers of rocketry and cosmonautics and remembered for believing in the dominance of humanity throughout space, also known as anthropocosmism. His work in the late-19th and early-20th centuries helped shape space exploration several decades before humanity first walked on the Moon.

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There are Places Where Salty Water Could Emerge Onto the Surface of Mars

A computer generated view of Mars, with an area including Gale Crater beginning to catch morning light. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The existence of water on Mars is a contentious subject. We know there used to be water on the surface of the planet, though it’s long gone now. We know there’s frozen water underground in the world, and we know there’s water vapour in the air. But life needs liquid water.

Could there be liquid water on Mars?

A new study shows how salty water could emerge from the atmosphere onto Mars’ surface under the right conditions.

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There’s Enough Oxygen in the Lunar Regolith to Support Billions of People on the Moon

When it comes to the future of space exploration, a handful of practices are essential for mission planners. Foremost among them is the concept of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), providing food, water, construction materials, and other vital elements using local resources. And when it comes to missions destined for the Moon and Mars in the coming years, the ability to harvest ice, regolith, and other elements are crucial to mission success.

In preparation for the Artemis missions, NASA planners are focused on finding the optimal way to produce oxygen gas (O2) from all of the elemental oxygen locked up in the Moon’s surface dust (aka. lunar regolith). In fact, current estimates indicate that there is enough elemental oxygen contained in the top ten meters (33 feet) of lunar regolith to create enough O2 for every person on Earth for the next 100,000 years – more than enough for a lunar settlement!

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Chefs on the Moon Will be Cooking up Rocks to Make air and Water

Artist impression of a Moon Base concept. Credit: ESA – P. Carril

NASA has delayed their Artemis mission to the Moon, but that doesn’t mean a return to the Moon isn’t imminent. Space agencies around the world have their sights set on our rocky satellite. No matter who gets there, if they’re planning for a sustained presence on the Moon, they’ll require in-situ resources.

Oxygen and water are at the top of a list of resources that astronauts will need on the Moon. A team of engineers and scientists are figuring out how to cook Moon rocks and get vital oxygen and water from them. They presented their results at the Europlanet Science Congress 2021.

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The Lunar Lantern Could be a Beacon for Humanity on the Moon

In October of 2024, NASA’s Artemis Program will return astronauts to the surface of the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. In the years and decades that follow, multiple space agencies and commercial partners plan to build the infrastructure that will allow for a long-term human presence on the Moon. An important part of these efforts involves building habitats that can ensure the astronauts’ health, safety, and comfort in the extreme lunar environment.

This challenge has inspired architects and designers from all over the world to create innovative and novel ideas for lunar living. One of these is the Lunar Lantern, a base concept developed by ICON (an advanced construction company based in Austin, Texas) as part of a NASA-supported project to build a sustainable outpost on the Moon. This proposal is currently being showcased as part of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition at the La Biennale di Venezia museum in Venice, Italy.

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Perseverance Successfully Extracts Oxygen From the Martian Atmosphere. About 10 Minutes of Breathing Time for an Astronaut

Mars
The MOXIE unit being placed into the Perseverance rover. Courtesy NASA/JPL.

Humanity achieved an incredible series of new milestones on Mars this week. It began on Monday April 19th, when the Ingenuity helicopter demonstrated the first-ever powered, controlled flight on another world. And now, for the first time, the Perseverance rover has used ingredients from the Martian atmosphere to create breathable oxygen, in a test that might pave the way for future astronauts to ‘live off the land’ on the Red Planet.

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A Titan Mission Could Refuel on Site and Return a Sample to Earth

Visualization of sample return launch from Titan. Credits: Katherine Miller

This decade promises to be an exciting time for space exploration! Already, the Perseverance rover landed on Mars and began conducting science operations. Later this year, the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), and Lucy spacecraft (the first mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids) will launch. Before the decade is out, missions will also be sent to Europa and Titan to extend the search for signs of life in our Solar System.

Currently, NASA’s plan for exploring Titan (Saturn’s largest moon) is to send a nuclear-powered quadcopter to explore the atmosphere and surface (named Dragonfly). However, another possibility that was presented this year as part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program is to send a sample-return vehicle with Dragonfly that could fuel up using liquid methane harvested from Titan’s surface.

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How do you get Power into Your Lunar Base? With a Tower of Concrete Several Kilometers High

Credit; NASA

It sounds like science fiction, but building an enormous tower several kilometers high on the Lunar surface may be the best way to harness solar energy for long-term Lunar exploration. Such towers would raise solar panels above obstructing geological features on the Lunar surface, and expand the surface area available for power generation.

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