Thursday, December 29, 2016

Reusable rockets and the dawn of the mission to Mars

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From: "Carol from Softonic" <>
Date: Dec 28, 2016 6:20 AM
Subject: Reusable rockets and the dawn of the mission to Mars
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The week's best bits in 4 bites

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The week's best bits in 4 bites


Image: Gizmodo

There and back again

Did you see that video of Elon Musk running round, going crazy and high-fiving everyone?
You mean this one? I sure did. It was filmed by National Geographic last year when Musk's company, SpaceX, made history by successfully landing a rocket after it had delivered its payload.

Really. What is the big deal?
It positions SpaceX to dominate a market that has around $70 billion worth of US military contracts for launching satellites into orbit up for grabs. Being able to reuse rockets after use will allow SpaceX to seriously undercut their competitors. As well as that, it is the first time it has ever been done. Since the landing last December they've also been attempting to land a rocket on a floating barge, which is an incredibly difficult task. It took 4 failed attempts before they finally found the sweet spot. They estimate between one third and a half of all their missions will require landing at sea.

Wow, it sounds like a huge deal then.
Yeah, it is a huge milestone that looks set to herald a new era of space flight and for a new generation of engineers it is akin to televised coverage of the moon landings.

Isn't there anybody else trying to do this?
With so much money being up for grabs there are bound to be other companies interested and in fact the political side of things has been hotting up for quite some time. The thing is though for Elon Musk and SpaceX it isn't just about money.

What is it about then?


Colonizing the Red Planet


Colonizing the Red Planet

These reusable rockets are supposed to go to Mars and back?
Bingo. Elon Musk is super serious about sending humans to Mars. He doesn't want to give exact dates but he said recently that if things go super well he could have his first developmental spaceship ready to operate in 3 years and, possibly, ready to depart in about 10 years.

You're pulling my leg.
Honestly, I'm not. At the International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Mexico last September, Musk outlined his grand plans for colonizing Mars. SpaceX, says Musk, "…are aspiring to help make humanity a true space-faring civilization and ultimately become a multi-planet species."

Is he not getting ahead of himself a little?
Well, yes and no. SpaceX have seen a number of rockets explode on the Launchpad and they still haven't been able to send humans into space. In fact they've had to delay their first manned mission from August next year until May 2018 because of the aforementioned explosions. The fact remains, however, that they're making huge strides with reusable rockets and reusability is one of the biggest problems that need to be solved to make missions to Mars affordable. The others are being able to refuel in orbit, produce propellant on Mars and being able to develop to correct propellant. These are all huge problems and will cost more money than even Elon Musk has so when he is stating these grand ambitions he is no doubt pitching to other interested parties to get involved.

Does he have any idea at all then, about how he is going to get there?
In fact he does and SpaceX have created a fairly polished video showing how the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) will work. SpaceX have also developed new Raptor Engines that can provide 28.7 million pounds of thrust. To put that into perspective, it is nearly four times the amount of thrust created by NASA's Saturn V rocket, which took the Apollo Astronauts to the moon.

That is impressive. One question though, why?
Well, it turns out one of the main reasons is to protect humanity against a growing extinction crisis here on Earth.

Image: shutterstock

It's getting hot in here

What is an extinction level event?
An extinction level event is when there is a widespread and rapid decrease in biodiversity on Earth. There have been five such mass extinction events in the lifetime of our planet.

And something like this could happen now, to us?
Unfortunately, the extinction crisis if far worse than you think. Up to three-quarters of all species could vanish and species are going extinct at a rate that is 100 times higher than normal.
100 times higher than normal, that is shocking!
It really is and big causes like Industrial Agriculture, Wildlife Crime such as poaching and Pollution are huge contributors but the biggest and most dangerous is Climate Change.

Is there anything we can do?
Well in fact, there is some good news. Renewable energy is the cheapest it has ever been as since 2008 the price of wind and solar power have dropped by 40 and 60 percent respectively making solar power the cheapest source of power available. It is now so cheap that Solar Power costs half the price of generating power using coal.

So we still have a chance of turning it around then?
We do. The city of Las Vegas just announced that it is completely powered by renewable energy and Google have announced that they want to do the same in 2017.

What about at home, what can I do?
As well as the usual recycling and carpooling or cycling to work type of initiative there are plenty of cool new gadgets coming to the market that can help you save the planet.

Go on.
It is that guy Elon Musk again who is leading the charge here. His other company, Tesla, have developed tiles for your roof that are longer lasting and cheaper than regular tiles whilst also collecting solar energy. Tesla have also released high capacity battery packs for your house where you can store all your solar energy if you don't need it right away. If that isn't exciting enough for you Tesla have also created the world's fastest production car and it is completely electric.

Jeez, Elon Musk is like some kind of real life superhero.
Not quite…

Human Touch Required

Image: ion9

A true hero of our times

Come on, Elon Musk is like some kind of Superhero.
He is doing amazing things but he is human just like the rest of us and he goes through ups and downs just like the rest of us. I've somebody else in mind who is even more like a superhero.

Who is that then?
Mark Zuckerberg.

The founder and CEO of Facebook?
The one and the same. He has recently released a couple of videos showing the world his AI virtual assistant called Jarvis.

Just like…
Yep. Iron Man. Even better than that, Jarvis has the voice of Morgan Freeman.

Well, I guess we're all saved then.
I wouldn't go that far just yet. In fact our situation is pretty stark and we've got a lot of hard work ahead of us if we're to dig ourselves out of the hole we've dug ourselves into. It is heartening though, to know that there are giant strides being made by humanity that could take us to some incredible places whilst saving our own home in the meantime. We must always be aware though that whilst big names can do big things to take us back from the brink ultimately, it'll count for nothing if we don't do our bit too.

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Carol from Softonic

Caroline Koriche writer at Softonic

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