The Case for Life on Enceladus

The Case for Life on Enceladus

Scientists have been trying to explain how life got started on Earth since Darwin upended biology over 150 years ago. This same question persists in planetary science today: we explore our Solar System largely because we want to figure out if life also started up somewhere else. And if so, we want to find out how and why it starts at all.

We may soon have a definitive answer. It turns out Cassini may have sniffed hydrogen gas in the plumes of Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons known to harbor a large subsurface ocean beneath its icy crust. According to the research team, the release of hydrogen gas suggests the presence of underwater hydrothermal events similar to those found throughout our oceans here on Earth. 

5 Reasons Humans Haven't Gone Back to the Moon

5 Reasons Humans Haven't Gone Back to the Moon

It’s been 45 years since humans last stepped foot on the Moon and, in that time, no human being has even traveled beyond low-Earth orbit. NASA currently plans to resume human activities in deep-space in the 2020’s, though the agency is also looking into the possibility of flying its own astronauts again as early as 2019. Meanwhile, SpaceX is aggressively pursuing a plan to send two paying customers around the Moon and back as early as 2018.

But why is all of this happening today? And why the huge delay in going back to the Moon in the first place? Well, the history of spaceflight is long, complicated, and ultra political—it’s far more than just rocket science. Here’s a brief (as can be) overview of a few of the reasons no human has traveled more than a few hundred kilometers beyond Earth’s atmosphere since 1972:

SpaceX and the Inevitability of the Future

SpaceX and the Inevitability of the Future

In case you hadn't been following along, rocket technology is on the cusp of changing human civilization forever.

Over a decade ago, SpaceX started out with the goal of drastically reducing the cost of spaceflight. How? By reusing flown rocket boosters. How? Well, no parachutes—upon releasing its cargo into space, the rocket booster is piloted back into the atmosphere and down to the surface for a precise landing. How? With really good software and slight hardware improvements (ie. landing gear).

Five Space-Age Legal Issues In Need of Solving

Five Space-Age Legal Issues In Need of Solving

Humanity is on the precipice of a space age. The Space Foundation estimated the value of the global space economy at $330 billion USD in 2014, growing at nearly 10% annually. At this rate of growth, the space industry could be worth over one trillion dollars (equivalent to the total GDP of Sweden, Finland, and Norway combined ) by 2025.

Only a small percentage of that total can be attributed to government space agencies. In 2014, NASA's annual budget only accounted for about $17.7 billion, with another $19 billion to come in 2017—that's a financial contribution of less than 5% of the global total for all space activities. 

All said, commercial space activities account for >75% of the global space economy, mostly from communications satellites in Earth orbit. And that's a good sign for the future of space travel. But before we officially usher in this great space age, there are a few space-related issues in need of solving.

Nearly 2,500 Years Ago, Plato Warned of Cosmic Doomsday Scenarios

Nearly 2,500 Years Ago, Plato Warned of Cosmic Doomsday Scenarios

I recently read through Plato's Timaeus—particularly the parts where he mentions the destruction of the city of Atlantis, alludes to asteroid strikes and tsunamis, and even discusses the catastrophic destruction of human civilization in recurring cycles. 

Here it is from Plato himself (as recited through a different character):

The Four Key Technologies that will Open the Space Frontier

The Four Key Technologies that will Open the Space Frontier

The whole of human civilization spends less than one thousandth (<0.1%) of the world's annual GDP on space exploration and development. In comparison, the world spends about 10% of its GDP on health care, and more than half a percent (>0.5%) on... Advertising.

We already possess all of the technologies we need in order to establish human outposts on the Moon and Mars—the only thing we're lacking is the capital investment needed to see these projects through. 

Fortunately, a few forthcoming technological innovations are going to allow us to do a lot more in space at a fraction of the price. Here's an overview of four such technologies that are set to revolutionize the space industry: