Category Archives: NASA

Sorry Nerds, There’s No Warp Drive

It makes for a sensational headline but NASA didn’t even come close to discovering warp technology.

The mechanism behind their fuel-free propulsion has no clear link to warping space-time. In fact, space-time is not proven or understood to exist as a material substance able to warp. It’s all nonsense. So what really happened?

Richard Feynman once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

You should have been suspicious when the story made the rounds on social media. The headlines were claiming NASA successfully tested something called the EM Drive. The EM drive is awesome, and it’s real science. It’s a propulsion engine doesn’t use propellant, which seems to violate the laws of physics by creating a reaction with no initial action.

First, let’s examine the actual finding. NASA has developed a hollow device that can be  pumped full of electromagnetic radiation which reflects back-and-forth, tapped inside the chamber, generates thrust, causing the device to accelerate in a direction based onthe shape of the chamber. You might ahve seen the story or similar reports over the last year because iterations of it have been built by Roger Shawyer (the EM Drive), one from a Chinese group led by Juan Yang, and one from Guido Fetta (the Cannae Drive), all claiming successful thrust. The stories on science news sites claim the acceleration created is caused by warped space of an Alcubierre Drive, the completely fictional “Star Trek” design.

Here are some problems. First off, none of the tests showed results from gadations in power. If this is a viable prototype for an engine, the science behind it hasn’t proven why a tiny acceleration in relation to a huge amount of relative power is worth any sort of real consideration for space travel. It’s a weak engine with no sign of how it can be scaled.

Secondly, the thrust they created is so small it might just be a mistake in mathematics or caused by an unknown factor, unrelated to warp tech. A true test requires an isolated environment, with atmospheric, gravitational and electromagnetic effects removed from the equation.

Thirdly, good science is reproducible. These tests lack a transparent design so no one else can verify that this actually works.
Finally, a real report has to be created that can be peer-reviewed and understood before irresponsibly publishing the claims.

Optimism of this sort, claiming to be able to put people on mars with a warp engine, is not scientifically valid. This latest group declared they have broken the previously-held laws of physics. They assume we can scale up and implement this engine for space propulsion just because of some questionably positive results. They claim to be distorting space, they claim they might be causing light to go faster by approximately 10^-18 m/s. They made these claims without actually proving them, and told the general public, spreading misinfo.

Harold “Sonny” White at NASA, has made extraordinary claims about warp drive in the past. He is totally the kind of guy who would jump to warp drive as a conclusion. There is nothing in NASA’s report that shows they’ve created a warp drive. Sorry, Star Trek and Star Wars fans. Most likely this is a public relations move to get America and the world science communities more excited about space travel and science education.

Jonathan Howard
Jonathan is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY

Mars isn’t a One Way Trip Anymore

150 Cubic Meters of Ice Means a powerful rocket fuel can be synthesized on Mars – powerful enough to escape Mars gravity for the return trip to Earth.

Turns out Mars has 150 billion cubic-meters worth of ice that’s been frozen for so long it’s covered with Mars’ ubiquitous red soil. NASA knows this because of  radar measurements from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The ice is spread out among a few ginormous belts made of countless glaciers.

There’s been evidence of a once liquid ocean on Mars’ surface.  Curiosity rover found riverbeds back in September 2012 with NASA able to estimate two pints of water for every cubic-foot of soil. In early 2014, Spanish researchers were able to prove glaciers dug canyons 3.7 billion years ago. Water leaves chemical byproducts of various reactions and residues.

No one expected such a big find, except maybe anyone who saw the Arnold Schwarzenegger version of Total Recall.

If you are wondering where Total Recall got the idea for underground glaciers, scientists  have suspected glacial activity below the Martian surface for decades. The debate centered around formations that would not be abel to hodl their particular shape without glacial activity but was the frozen material water ice, dry ice, or a muddy mix of red dust and water or some other frozen gas or liquid.


Using logic and science, the evidence available can now be interpreted to be enough to cover Mars with a meter of liquid water, if it melted – and if Mars was completely smooth.

Glaciers of Mars Image: Mars Digital Image Model, NASA/Nanna Karlsson


“We have looked at radar measurements spanning ten years back in time to see how thick the ice is and how it behaves. A glacier is after all a big chunk of ice and it flows and gets a form that tells us something about how soft it is. We then compared this with how glaciers on Earth behave and from that we have been able to make models for the ice flow.”

Read Nanna Bjørnholt Karlsson entire press release on the subject.

Water can easily be separated into hydrogen gas and oxygen, making breathable air and a powerful rocket fuel that can be used for other space missions, including a return trip to Earth. Water can also be used to cultivate food and animal crops on Mars, making colonization a hell of a lot more appealing.

Oh, and one more thing:

Jonathan Howard
Jonathan is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY

NASA Chief: We’ll find extraterrestrial life within the next decade

It seems almost unthinkable that out of an infinitely vast universe, there’s no one but us, occupying a small blue dot in a remote galaxy. So is anyone else looking towards us when we watch the stars at night? Or are we really the only ones? Now top NASA scientists are saying it’s almost certain that we’ve got company.

“I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years,” said Ellen Stofan, NASA’s chief scientist, during a public panel held in Washington on Tuesday.

“We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology,” said Stofan.

Jeffery Newmark, the agency’s interim director of heliophysics put it in these terms: “It’s definitely not an if, it’s a when.”

Lest the headline made you imagine an INDEPENDENCE DAY scenario of alien invasion – you can rest easy. The same goes for any thoughts that the ancient Egyptians received intergalactic help with building the pyramids.

“We are not talking about little green men,” Stofan said to clarify any hyperbole. “We are talking about little microbes.”

Throughout the course of their hour-long presentation, NASA’s leaders described the numerous recent discoveries that indicate how never before in history have people been closer to uncovering extraterrestrial life – whether it happens to be in our own solar system, or on any number of Earth-like candidates spotted light years from home.

Among the examples, Jim Green, the director of planetary science for NASA, referenced a study analyzing the thin atmosphere just above the Martian polar ice caps, the remains of an era when nearly 50% of the planet’s northern hemisphere were covered with an ocean larger than the Arctic Sea – up to one mile deep, and for up to 1.2 billion years, it had liquid water, plenty of time to have allowed for lifeforms to develop, and possibly even for there to be fossils, compressed within the planet’s organic rocks.

“We think that long period of time is necessary for life to get more complex,” Stofan said.

Bringing teams of field geologists and also researchers within the burgeoning field of astrobiology to Mars would sharply increase the odds of discovering fossils of the past – potentially an intriguing story of survival that rivals the narrative that rocks on Earth tell us – a mass extinction event that may have ended life as we know it on the red planet.

Another recent study that made headlines not too long ago was referenced by Green. Measurements of the aurora occurring on Jupiter’s distant moon Ganymede may indicate that beneath its layers of ice, it may be concealing an immense liquid ocean.

These findings are examples of why we may have been casting our nets too far in the hunt for extraterrestrial life. Previous searches for life were almost analogous to finding a hospitable planet to inhabit – one whose conditions most closely resembled the Earth, a familiar environment to adapt to in terms of climate and gravity. Therefore, astronomers set their sights on “habitable zones,” planetary bodies close enough to a host star where temperatures made it possible for liquid water to exist on the surface, without freezing or vaporizing. There is, however, the possibility that life may be very different from our own – with beings that are based on composites of methane and nitrogen, rather than the organic carbon-based life forms found on Earth.

“We now recognize that habitable zones are not just around stars, they can be around giant planets too,” Green said. “We are finding out the solar system is really a soggy place.”

Among other exciting voyages coming up, NASA announced plans this winter to travel to another moon of Jupiter Europa, also thought to contain an ocean with hydrothermal vents.

“I don’t know what we are going to find there,” he said.

Newmark described how NASA’s own work here at home, which recently came under fire at a Senate hearing, is critical to exploring the possibilities of interplanetary life. Right now, NASA dedicates $1 billion annually to Earth science, and is engaged in studying how Earth’s magnetic field is instrumental in protecting the planet’s water and atmosphere against being carried off by solar wind, making it critical in enabling life on Earth to develop.

“Mars does not have a significant magnetic field, so it lets the wind strip away the water and atmosphere,” he said.

Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at NASA also joined the panel discussion, where he spoke of the ways in which future telescopes already being planned will enable scientists to survey the atmospheres on large rocky planets, such as the Kepler discoveries found near distant stars, in a hope to find the chemical markers necessary for life.

“We are not just studying water and habitability in our solar system, but also looking for it in planets around other stars,” he said – something that could be advantageous in navigating the solar system and coming up with more efficient ways for space travel than what we currently have.

NASA associate administrator John Grunsfeld, said part of what excites him most about the search for life beyond our planet is to see what that life looks like.

“Once we get beyond Mars, which formed from the same stuff as Earth, the likelihood that life is similar to what we find on this planet is very low,” he said.

Grunsfeld maintains that researchers are very close to making strides in the search for extraterrestrial beings, and thinks that such a goal is within the grasp of an upcoming generation of scientists and space explorers. Green, however, hopes that the discoveries will be made much sooner. After all, the advances are coming at a faster pace than ever before. The Europa mission hopes to take off by the end of the decade.

“The science community is making enormous progress,” said Green. “And I’ve told my team I’m planning to be the director of planetary science when we discover life in the solar system.”

James Sullivan
James Sullivan is the assistant editor of Brain World Magazine and a contributor to Truth Is Cool and OMNI Reboot. He can usually be found on TVTropes or RationalWiki when not exploiting life and science stories for another blog article.

US space exploration left in the cold by lack of vision and money

Space exploration has taken a small step forward with a new mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Two of the three crew members, astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, will stay on the station for a year.

This is a positive step, given that if plans outlined by George W Bush back in 2004 had gone ahead for the US human space exploration programme, the ISS would soon be closing. Bush had planned to abandon it in 2016, most likely with a view to using the moon as the primary base beyond the Earth instead.

The decision was taken by Bush to decommission the space shuttle at the start of the 2010s and rely on Russian Soyuz flights to carry American astronauts back and forth to the ISS until replacement American rocket Ares I was developed.

The Obama retreat

The Bush plan was that NASA would embark on the Constellation programme, which envisioned missions to the moon and then eventually Mars. But Constellation was scrapped in 2010 when the Augustine Committee, a panel of experts convened by Barack Obama to review the country’s space plans, concluded that it was not feasible given projected funding.

Obama then announced that the human space exploration effort would embark on a “flexible path” to the future, beginning with a visit to an asteroid by 2025 to gain real experience in long-duration crewed space flight. He announced a new plan to keep the ISS going until 2020.

Borrowed time: Arianespace Soyuz

NASA set out a two-pronged approach to human spaceflight at around the same time. First, transport duties were to be outsourced to the private sector. Contractors SpaceX and Orbital ATK were selected to transport cargo to the ISS, then, more recently, SpaceX and Boeing were chosen as the carriers for moving crew back and forth. This will remove the need to depend on the Russians in future. The second part of the approach was to commission the Space Launch System to carry crew to locations beyond the region between the Earth and the moon. This is being developed instead of Ares I.

Last year the US announced its intention to keep ISS functioning until 2024 – depending on its structural soundness. The extension has not yet officially been approved by all the parties to the ISS, which include Japan, Russia, Canada and numerous members of the European Space Agency.

The main purpose of extending the life of the ISS from the US point of view is to allow more research to enable humans to cope better in the space environment. NASA also wants to keep the commercial side of space exploration alive as a means of establishing facilities that it can potentially make use of in future.

Chinese and Russian manoeuvres

The next full-size space station is expected to be the Chinese Space Station, which is expected to begin reaching orbit in 2020 with full operational capacity by 2022. China has invited other states to participate in its programme, although exactly what that means is unclear. The Europeans are clearly building their ties with China in the space arena, since there is no alternative on the horizon.

The US is prohibited by congressional action from cooperating or interacting with the Chinese space programme – indeed Washington has consistently prevented China from partnering in the ISS. This is based on several concerns, including Chinese cyberattacks on US technological secrets and the fact that their space programme operates under the auspices of the People’s Liberation Army.

Russia, meanwhile, has recently spoken of its efforts to build an independent space station but that has not moved beyond rhetoric yet, especially given the country’s financial difficulties.

A commercial US station?

There is no evidence that the US will lead a programme to build a successor space station, since the budget and political will appear to be lacking – and the country’s unwillingness to join the CSS programme may leave it isolated. But its intention is that the private sector will pick up that aspect of its space programme while NASA pushes outward along the lines envisaged by Obama.

This private “takeover” is written into the agreement that established the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) programme. The BEAM is an inflatable extra room that will be attached to the International Space Station which is projected to be active by late 2016 for two years of testing.

The aim of BEAM is to make space tourism more viable than at present. It is intended as a precursor to a Bigelow Aerospace commercial space station. Two prototypes are currently in orbit, the Genesis I and II, both of which launched in the mid-2000s.

The current mission takes off

Tourists presently fly to the ISS on a space-available basis. Such opportunities are available during the year-long stays of Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko. Hence the singer Sarah Brightman is heading to the station later this year, for instance.

But until we see how private moves towards a space station play out, it still remains unknown where astronauts will go once the current station is taken out of commission – which is a certainty given that the space environment is too harsh to use it indefinitely.

No one knows how important a space station will be in the future, though my personal instinct is that the US would be better to be a partner in one next-generation facility. Either way, the US is unlikely to finance another. If the private sector does not take the strain, this may be one aspect of space activity in which the US is left out in the cold.

Asteroids and beyond

Meanwhile NASA has not yet been able to gain sufficient political support for any specific exploration programme. The Asteroid Redirect Mission looks like a programme that is being done on the fly. The configuration of the mission has changed from going out to the asteroid for a long-duration mission, to corralling an asteroid and returning it to the region nearer Earth, to now plucking a small boulder from an asteroid and placing it in a lunar orbit.

This is expected by 2020 or so. The problems are the old ones that hampered the original plans for the ISS – money and lack of consistent direction. The ISS shrank both in size and function across the decades from Ronald Reagan’s initial approval in 1984 of the concept to its first operational status in 2000.

The Asteroid Redirect Mission appears to be drifting slowly toward a US presence on the moon as an intermediate step to the rest of the solar system. If so, the flexible path is being hammered into a straight line to the moon for cost and prestige reasons. Until the US government clarifies its intentions, the country’s whole space strategy is up in the air.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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