Go for Space

Friday, July 27, 2007

ET civilisation physics

Michio Kaku writes:

The late Carl Sagan once asked this question, “What does it mean for a civilization to be a million years old? We have had radio telescopes and spaceships for a few decades; our technical civilization is a few hundred years old... an advanced civilization millions of years old is as much beyond us as we are beyond a bush baby or a macaque.”

Although any conjecture about such advanced civilizations is a matter of sheer speculation, one can still use the laws of physics to place upper and lower limits on these civilizations. In particular, now that the laws of quantum field theory, general relativity, thermodynamics, etc. are fairly well-established, physics can impose broad physical bounds which constrain the parameters of these civilizations.

This question is no longer a matter of idle speculation. Soon, humanity may face an existential shock as the current list of a dozen Jupiter-sized extra-solar planets swells to hundreds of earth-sized planets, almost identical twins of our celestial homeland. This may usher in a new era in our relationship with the universe: we will never see the night sky in the same way ever again, realizing that scientists may eventually compile an encyclopedia identifying the precise co-ordinates of perhaps hundreds of earth-like planets.

Today, every few weeks brings news of a new Jupiter-sized extra-solar planet being discovered, the latest being about 15 light years away orbiting around the star Gliese 876. The most spectacular of these findings was photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope, which captured breathtaking photos of a planet 450 light years away being sling-shot into space by a double-star system.

But the best is yet to come. Early in the next decade, scientists will launch a new kind of telescope, the interferome try space telescope, which uses the interference of light beams to enhance the resolving power of telescopes.

For example, the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), to be launched early in the next decade, consists of multiple telescopes placed along a 30 foot structure. With an unprecedented resolution approaching the physical limits of optics, the SIM is so sensitive that it almost defies belief: orbiting the earth, it can detect the motion of a lantern being waved by an astronaut on Mars!

The SIM, in turn, will pave the way for the Terrestrial Planet Finder, to be launched late in the next decade, which should identify even more earth-like planets. It will scan the brightest 1,000 stars within 50 light years of the earth and will focus on the 50 to 100 brightest planetary systems.

All this, in turn, will stimulate an active effort to determine if any of them harbor life, perhaps some with civilizations more advanced than ours.

Although it is impossible to predict the precise features of such advanced civilizations, their broad outlines can be analyzed using the laws of physics. No matter how many millions of years separate us from them, they still must obey the iron laws of physics, which are now advanced enough to explain everything from sub-atomic particles to the large-scale structure of the universe, through a staggering 43 orders of magnitude.

Physics of Type I, II, and III Civilizations

Specifically, we can rank civilizations by their energy consumption, using the following principles:

1) The laws of thermodynamics. Even an advanced civilization is bound by the laws of thermodynamics, especially the Second Law, and can hence be ranked by the energy at their disposal.

2) The laws of stable matter. Baryonic matter (e.g. based on protons and neutrons) tends to clump into three large groupings: planets, stars and galaxies. (This is a well-defined by product of stellar and galactic evolution, thermonuclear fusion, etc.) Thus, their energy will also be based on three distinct types, and this places upper limits on their rate of energy consumption.

3) The laws of planetary evolution. Any advanced civilization must grow in energy consumption faster than the frequency of life-threatening catastrophes (e.g. meteor impacts, ice ages, supernovas, etc.). If they grow any slower, they are doomed to extinction. This places mathematical lower limits on the rate of growth of these civilizations.

In a seminal paper published in 1964 in the Journal of Soviet Astronomy, Russian astrophysicist Nicolai Kardashev theorized that advanced civilizations must therefore be grouped according to three types: Type I, II, and III, which have mastered planetary, stellar and galactic forms of energy, respectively. He calculated that the energy consumption of these three types of civilization would be separated by a factor of many billions. But how long will it take to reach Type II and III status?

Shorter than most realize.

Berkeley astronomer Don Goldsmith reminds us that the earth receives about one billionth of the suns energy, and that humans utilize about one millionth of that. So we consume about one million billionth of the suns total energy. At present, our entire planetary energy production is about 10 billion billion ergs per second. But our energy growth is rising exponentially, and hence we can calculate how long it will take to rise to Type II or III status.

Goldsmith says, “Look how far we have come in energy uses once we figured out how to manipulate energy, how to get fossil fuels really going, and how to create electrical power from hydropower, and so forth; we've come up in energy uses in a remarkable amount in just a couple of centuries compared to billions of years our planet has been here ... and this same sort of thing may apply to other civilizations.”

Physicist Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study estimates that, within 200 years or so, we should attain Type I status. In fact, growing at a modest rate of 1% per year, Kardashev estimated that it would take only 3,200 years to reach Type II status, and 5,800 years to reach Type III status. Living in a Type I,II, or III civilization

For example, a Type I civilization is a truly planetary one, which has mastered most forms of planetary energy. Their energy output may be on the order of thousands to millions of times our current planetary output. Mark Twain once said, ”Everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it.“ This may change with a Type I civilization, which has enough energy to modify the weather. They also have enough energy to alter the course of earthquakes, volcanoes, and build cities on their oceans.

Currently, our energy output qualifies us for Type 0 status. We derive our energy not from harnessing global forces, but by burning dead plants (e.g. oil and coal). But already, we can see the seeds of a Type I civilization. We see the beginning of a planetary language (English), a planetary communication system (the Internet), a planetary economy (the forging of the European Union), and even the beginnings of a planetary culture (via mass media, TV, rock music, and Hollywood films).

By definition, an advanced civilization must grow faster than the frequency of life-threatening catastrophes. Since large meteor and comet impacts take place once every few thousand years, a Type I civilization must master space travel to deflect space debris within that time frame, which should not be much of a problem. Ice ages may take place on a time scale of tens of thousands of years, so a Type I civilization must learn to modify the weather within that time frame.

Artificial and internal catastrophes must also be negotiated. But the problem of global pollution is only a mortal threat for a Type 0 civilization; a Type I civilization has lived for several millennia as a planetary civilization, necessarily achieving ecological planetary balance. Internal problems like wars do pose a serious recurring threat, but they have thousands of years in which to solve racial, national, and sectarian conflicts.

Eventually, after several thousand years, a Type I civilization will exhaust the power of a planet, and will derive their energy by consuming the entire output of their suns energy, or roughly a billion trillion trillion ergs per second.

With their energy output comparable to that of a small star, they should be visible from space. Dyson has proposed that a Type II civilization may even build a gigantic sphere around their star to more efficiently utilize its total energy output. Even if they try to conceal their existence, they must, by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, emit waste heat. From outer space, their planet may glow like a Christmas tree ornament. Dyson has even proposed looking specifically for infrared emissions (rather than radio and TV) to identify these Type II civilizations.

Perhaps the only serious threat to a Type II civilization would be a nearby supernova explosion, whose sudden eruption could scorch their planet in a withering blast of X-rays, killing all life forms. Thus, perhaps the most interesting civilization is a Type III civilization, for it is truly immortal. They have exhausted the power of a single star, and have reached for other star systems. No natural catastrophe known to science is capable of destroying a Type III civilization.

Faced with a neighboring supernova, it would have several alternatives, such as altering the evolution of dying red giant star which is about to explode, or leaving this particular star system and terraforming a nearby planetary system.

However, there are roadblocks to an emerging Type III civilization. Eventually, it bumps up against another iron law of physics, the theory of relativity. Dyson estimates that this may delay the transition to a Type III civilization by perhaps millions of years.

But even with the light barrier, there are a number of ways of expanding at near-light velocities. For example, the ultimate measure of a rockets capability is measured by something called “specific impulse” (defined as the product of the thrust and the duration, measured in units of seconds). Chemical rockets can attain specific impulses of several hundred to several thousand seconds. Ion engines can attain specific impulses of tens of thousands of seconds. But to attain near-light speed velocity, one has to achieve specific impulse of about 30 million seconds, which is far beyond our current capability, but not that of a Type III civilization. A variety of propulsion systems would be available for sub-light speed probes (such as ram-jet fusion engines, photonic engines, etc.)

How to Explore the Galaxy

Because distances between stars are so vast, and the number of unsuitable, lifeless solar systems so large, a Type III civilization would be faced with the next question: what is the mathematically most efficient way of exploring the hundreds of billions of stars in the galaxy?

In science fiction, the search for inhabitable worlds has been immortalized on TV by heroic captains boldly commanding a lone star ship, or as the murderous Borg, a Type III civilization which absorbs lower Type II civilization (such as the Federation). However, the most mathematically efficient method to explore space is far less glamorous: to send fleets of “Von Neumann probes” throughout the galaxy (named after John Von Neumann, who established the mathematical laws of self-replicating systems).

A Von Neumann probe is a robot designed to reach distant star systems and create factories which will reproduce copies themselves by the thousands. A dead moon rather than a planet makes the ideal destination for Von Neumann probes, since they can easily land and take off from these moons, and also because these moons have no erosion. These probes would live off the land, using naturally occurring deposits of iron, nickel, etc. to create the raw ingredients to build a robot factory. They would create thousands of copies of themselves, which would then scatter and search for other star systems.

Similar to a virus colonizing a body many times its size, eventually there would be a sphere of trillions of Von Neumann probes expanding in all directions, increasing at a fraction of the speed of light. In this fashion, even a galaxy 100,000 light years across may be completely analyzed within, say, a half million years.

If a Von Neumann probe only finds evidence of primitive life (such as an unstable, savage Type 0 civilization) they might simply lie dormant on the moon, silently waiting for the Type 0 civilization to evolve into a stable Type I civilization. After waiting quietly for several millennia, they may be activated when the emerging Type I civilization is advanced enough to set up a lunar colony. Physicist Paul Davies of the University of Adelaide has even raised the possibility of a Von Neumann probe resting on our own moon, left over from a previous visitation in our system aeons ago.

(If this sounds a bit familiar, that's because it was the basis of the film, 2001. Originally, Stanley Kubrick began the film with a series of scientists explaining how probes like these would be the most efficient method of exploring outer space. Unfortunately, at the last minute, Kubrick cut the opening segment from his film, and these monoliths became almost mystical entities)

New Developments

Since Kardashev gave the original ranking of civilizations, there have been many scientific developments which refine and extend his original analysis, such as recent developments in nanotechnology, biotechnology, quantum physics, etc.

For example, nanotechnology may facilitate the development of Von Neumann probes. As physicist Richard Feynman observed in his seminal essay, “There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” there is nothing in the laws of physics which prevents building armies of molecular-sized machines. At present, scientists have already built atomic-sized curiosities, such as an atomic abacus with Buckyballs and an atomic guitar with strings about 100 atoms across.

Paul Davies speculates that a space-faring civilization could use nanotechnology to build miniature probes to explore the galaxy, perhaps no bigger than your palm. Davies says, “The tiny probes I'm talking about will be so inconspicuous that it's no surprise that we haven't come across one. It's not the sort of thing that you're going to trip over in your back yard. So if that is the way technology develops, namely, smaller, faster, cheaper and if other civilizations have gone this route, then we could be surrounded by surveillance devices.”

Furthermore, the development of biotechnology has opened entirely new possibilities. These probes may act as life-forms, reproducing their genetic information, mutating and evolving at each stage of reproduction to enhance their capabilities, and may have artificial intelligence to accelerate their search.

Also, information theory modifies the original Kardashev analysis. The current SETI project only scans a few frequencies of radio and TV emissions sent by a Type 0 civilization, but perhaps not an advanced civilization. Because of the enormous static found in deep space, broadcasting on a single frequency presents a serious source of error. Instead of putting all your eggs in one basket, a more efficient system is to break up the message and smear it out over all frequencies (e.g. via Fourier like transform) and then reassemble the signal only at the other end. In this way, even if certain frequencies are disrupted by static, enough of the message will survive to accurately reassemble the message via error correction routines. However, any Type 0 civilization listening in on the message on one frequency band would only hear nonsense. In other words, our galaxy could be teeming with messages from various Type II and III civilizations, but our Type 0 radio telescopes would only hear gibberish.

Lastly, there is also the possibility that a Type II or Type III civilization might be able to reach the fabled Planck energy with their machines (10^19 billion electron volts). This is energy is a quadrillion times larger than our most powerful atom smasher. This energy, as fantastic as it may seem, is (by definition) within the range of a Type II or III civilization.

The Planck energy only occurs at the center of black holes and the instant of the Big Bang. But with recent advances in quantum gravity and superstring theory, there is renewed interest among physicists about energies so vast that quantum effects rip apart the fabric of space and time. Although it is by no means certain that quantum physics allows for stable wormholes, this raises the remote possibility that a sufficiently advanced civilizations may be able to move via holes in space, like Alice's Looking Glass. And if these civilizations can successfully navigate through stable wormholes, then attaining a specific impulse of a million seconds is no longer a problem. They merely take a short-cut through the galaxy. This would greatly cut down the transition between a Type II and Type III civilization.

Second, the ability to tear holes in space and time may come in handy one day. Astronomers, analyzing light from distant supernovas, have concluded recently that the universe may be accelerating, rather than slowing down. If this is true, there may be an anti-gravity force (perhaps Einstein's cosmological constant) which is counteracting the gravitational attraction of distant galaxies. But this also means that the universe might expand forever in a Big Chill, until temperatures approach near-absolute zero. Several papers have recently laid out what such a dismal universe may look like. It will be a pitiful sight: any civilization which survives will be desperately huddled next to the dying embers of fading neutron stars and black holes. All intelligent life must die when the universe dies.

Contemplating the death of the sun, the philosopher Bertrand Russel once wrote perhaps the most depressing paragraph in the English language: “...All the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temple of Mans achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins...”

Today, we realize that sufficiently powerful rockets may spare us from the death of our sun 5 billion years from now, when the oceans will boil and the mountains will melt. But how do we escape the death of the universe itself?

Astronomer John Barrows of the University of Sussex writes, “Suppose that we extend the classification upwards. Members of these hypothetical civilizations of Type IV, V, VI, ... and so on, would be able to manipulate the structures in the universe on larger and larger scales, encompassing groups of galaxies, clusters, and superclusters of galaxies.” Civilizations beyond Type III may have enough energy to escape our dying universe via holes in space.

Lastly, physicist Alan Guth of MIT, one of the originators of the inflationary universe theory, has even computed the energy necessary to create a baby universe in the laboratory (the temperature is 1,000 trillion degrees, which is within the range of these hypothetical civilizations).

Of course, until someone actually makes contact with an advanced civilization, all of this amounts to speculation tempered with the laws of physics, no more than a useful guide in our search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. But one day, many of us will gaze at the encyclopedia containing the coordinates of perhaps hundreds of earth-like planets in our sector of the galaxy. Then we will wonder, as Sagan did, what a civilization a millions years ahead of ours will look like...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virgin Galactica taking bookings

And now they are taking bookings over at Virgin Galactica http://www.virgingalactic.com/htmlsite/book.htm

The year sofar:

Stephen Hawking to go into Space
"This year I'm planning a zero-gravity flight and to go into space in 2009," Stephen Hawking said in an interview earlier this week.
Hawking, 65, suffers from a neurological disorder called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Special arrangements would be necessary for both trips to become a reality.

The zero-gravity flight would be aboard a Boeing 727. Little is known about the arrangements, but assistants would take care of him during the flight.

For his trip to space, Hawking plans for a flight aboard Virgin Galactic's space plane. The head of Virgin Galactic is very determined to make it happen.

william Shatner on the other hand turned out to be a sissy:

William Shatner has said no to a free trip to space. Billionaire Virgin CEO Richard Branson reportedly offered the 75 year old actor a free seat on the first of his space-bound Virgin Galactic ships. Tickets are projected to cost £114,000.
Captain Kirk apparently commented, "I'm interested in man's march into the unknown but to vomit in space is not my idea of a good time. Neither is a fiery crash with the vomit hovering over me. I do want to go up but I need guarantees I'll definitely come back." Not a ringing endorsement.

I say Shatner should give his seat to Lance Bass of 'N Sync. If you remember, Lance was the only civilian to complete full cosmonaut training with the Russian space program but failed to raise the 20 Million dollars for his ticket into the great yonder. That way, Shatner can play the nice guy while skirting the responsibility of playing Branson's guinea pig in his own private space race. And who can blame him? After all, Shatner doesn't want to see his life come crashing down to earth in a giant flaming ball - probably his biggest fear next to his career and ego suffering the same fate

The year sofar - In short:

January 9, Professor Stephen Hawking uses his birthday to announce his intention to become a space tourist aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo in 2009. Like Toyohiro Akiyama, his trip is being sponsored, this time by Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Galactic. ( Akiyama's flight to Mir was paid for by his employer, Tokyo Broadcast System).
March 21, SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket successfully reaches space but fails to achieve orbit.[Article]
March 26, Virgin Galactic agrees to pay $27.5m over 20 years to lease facilities at Spaceport America, located near Las Cruces, New Mexico.
April 3, Residents of Dona Ana County, New Mexico, vote to approve a 0.25% increase in sales tax to help fund Spaceport America.
April 7, Dr Charles Simonyi becomes the fifth space tourist to pay $20m for a trip to orbit.

Approach too ‘Earth-centric’

WASHINGTON - Scientists taking their first "sniffs of air" from planets outside our solar system are baffled by what they didn't find: water.

One of the more basic assumptions of astronomy is that the two distant, hot gaseous planets they examined must contain water in their atmospheres. The two suns the planets orbit closely have hydrogen and oxygen, the stable building blocks of water. These planets' atmospheres — examined for the first time using light spectra to determine the air's chemical composition — are supposed to be made up of the same thing, good old H2O.

But when two different teams of astronomers used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope for this new type of extrasolar planet research, they both came up dry, according to research published in Thursday's edition of Nature and the online version of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The study of one planet found hints of fine silicate-particle clouds. Research on the other planet found no chemical fingerprints for any of the molecules scientists were seeking.

Approach too ‘Earth-centric’
"We had expected this tremendous signature of water ... and it wasn't there," said the study leader for one team, Carl Grillmair of the California Institute of Technology and Spitzer Science Center. "The very fact that we've been surprised here is a wake-up call. We obviously need to do some more work."

Grillmair's colleague, Harvard astronomy professor David Charbonneau, said these surprising "sniffs of air from an alien world" tell astronomers not to be so Earth-centric in thinking about other planets.

"These are very different beasts. These are unlike any other planets in the solar system," Charbonneau said. "We're limited by our imagination in thinking about the different avenues that these atmospheres take place in."

Our own solar system has two planets without water in the atmosphere, Grillmair noted: Mercury, which doesn't have an atmosphere, and Venus, which is a different type of planet from the huge gaseous ones that would be expected to have the components of water in the air.

Water may be hiding, scientists suggest
So far, scientists have found 213 planets outside our solar system, but only 14 have orbits that make it possible for this type of study; only eight or nine of those are close enough to see. Grillmair's team studied the closest, which goes by the catchy name HD 189733b. It's a mere 360 trillion miles from Earth in the constellation Vulpecula. The other planet, HD209458b, is about 900 trillion miles away in the constellation Pegasus, and it's the one with the strange silicate cloud.

So where'd the water go?

Maybe it's hiding, scientists suggest. The water could be under dust clouds, or all the airborne water molecules have the same temperature, making it impossible to see using an infrared spectrograph. Or maybe it's just not there and astronomers have to go back to the drawing board when it comes to these alien planets.

The other finding on the more distant of the two planets seems to indicate that the atmosphere is full of silicon-oxygen compounds, said study lead author L. Jeremy Richardson of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"They'd be like dust grains and they would form clouds," Richardson said. And that cloud of silicates could be blocking the space telescope from measuring lower-lying water, he and other scientists said.

Water detected in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system

Astronomers have detected water in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system for the first time.

The finding, to be detailed in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal, confirms previous theories that say water vapor should be present in the atmospheres of nearly all the known extrasolar planets. Even hot Jupiters, gaseous planets that orbit closer to their stars than Mercury to our Sun, are thought to have water.

The discovery, announced today, means one of the most crucial elements for life as we know it can exist around planets orbiting other stars.

“We know that water vapor exists in the atmospheres of one extrasolar planet and there is good reason to believe that other extrasolar planets contain water vapor,” said Travis Barman, an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona who made the discovery.

HD209458b is a world well-known among planet hunters. In 1999, it became the first planet to be directly observed around a normal star outside our solar system and, a few years later, was the first exoplanet confirmed to have oxygen and carbon in its atmosphere.

HD209458b is separated from its star by only about 4 million miles (7 million kilometers)—about 100 times closer than Jupiter is to our sun—and is so hot scientists think about it is losing about 10,000 tons of material every second as vented gas.

"Water actually survives over a broad range of temperatures," Barman explained. "It would need to get quite a bit hotter to completely break the water molecules apart."

Using a combination of previously published Hubble Space Telescope measurements and new theoretical models, Barman found strong evidence for water absorption in the atmosphere of the extrasolar planet HD209458b.

Barman took advantage of the fact that HD209458b is a so-called “transiting planet,” meaning it passes directly in front of its star as seen from Earth. It transits every three-and-a-half days.

When this happens, water vapor in the planet’s atmosphere causes the planet to appear slightly larger in the infrared part of the starlight than in the visible portion.

Barman found the water signature after applying new theoretical models he developed to visible and infrared Hubble data collected by Harvard student Heather Knutson last year, which measured the perceived size of the planet over a broad range of wavelengths.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Eric Andersen shows the way

Eric Andersen shows the way:

You can also find the article at fly me to the moon.

Had some problems with the blog this sunday, which might indicate that it will be necessary for you to try out the http://mineting.125mb.com/flymetomoon/flymetothemoon.html backup in order to see this story.
Hope it wont be necessary though.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Space Islands - with those kinds of costs?

The spacejumper (flymetothemoon) association initiative is about bringing as many people as far away up in space as cheap as possible. What we can do to help make it happen.
For the time being cost is what is holding us back!
Nomatter how fascinating people think spaceexploration is, somehow enthusiasm cools when the costs are listed. e.g. Nasa audit:
For fiscal year 2000, NASA calculated an average cost per launch of $759 million based on four shuttle launches. Thus, for the four space station assembly flights charged against the limit, approximately half of NASA’s calculated costs ($379 million per launch or $1.5 billion in total) are not reflected in NASA’s fiscal year 2000 accounting. Although NASA capitalized shuttle-related costs for the space station at $441 million per flight in its audited fiscal year 2000 financial statements, NASA officials stated that its more recent calculation of $759 million per launch more closely reflects actual cost.

What we need is to get the cost down!
Especially if are ever going to see a lot of islands in space

And lots of people living in space:


With a pricetag of $100 million to bring a tourist to the the moon - it is still way to costly - but it is start -

The Guardian also reported on the $100 million plan to kickstart it all:

Russia's federal space agency took a giant leap in the field of cosmic tourism yesterday with the announcement it will offer a $100m (£57m) trip to the moon.
Roskosmos leaked details of the project as Nasa's space shuttle Discovery prepared for launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. A source at the Russian agency confirmed to the Guardian that the technology was in place for a flight to be launched within 18 months of a down payment
The fortnight-long trip would include a week at the International Space Station (ISS) before blasting off to the moon and completing a full orbit 100 miles above its surface.
The only two space tourists so far, American Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth, got no further than the ISS for $20m each and no Russian cosmonaut has ever orbited the moon.

A single tourist accompanied by one astronaut could go on each trip in a modified Soyuz-TMA capsule to be launched from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

"The tourist would go up in that capsule and spend the first week on the ISS," said the Roskosmos source. "Then a powerful booster like Proton would be launched from Earth with an accelerator block to dock with the craft at the space station."

That accelerator block - basically, an engine with fuel tanks - would then be used to propel the spacecraft towards the moon.

The Soviet Union sent the first unmanned probe to land on the moon in 1959. It came close to launching
a manned flight to the moon but dropped its programme when the Americans got there first a decade later.

Space tourists will not land on its surface but will circle its dark side and orbit close enough to examine its cratered lunar crust. They would live in two cramped modules about three metres across and eat biscuits and food in tubes.

Any candidate for the expedition would have to undergo several months of intensive training at Star City near Moscow.

It is thought the flight to the moon would be a commercial exercise to raise funds for the cash-strapped Roskosmos. Russia's space programme has about a tenth of Nasa's budget and has been struggling to finance the ISS in the absence of the US space shuttle fleet.

A trip to the moon poses far greater technical risks and danger than a relatively short flight to the ISS. The space station is only 220 miles from the Earth's surface in low orbit whereas the moon is almost 240,000 miles away and would take about three days to reach.

But Vitaly Golovachyov, a space analyst at the Trud newspaper, said the mission was realistic. "We've had the necessary technology for many years," he said. "The only problem will be finding someone prepared to pay that much."

Many Russians maintain a fierce pride in the country's legacy of space exploration, which reached its pinnacle when Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space in 1961.

American and Russian astronauts were meeting in the Russian capital yesterday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz mission which soothed tensions between the two superpowers at the height of the cold war.

· China will put a woman in space no later than 2010, the China Daily reported yesterday. The world's third country to put a man into space would start choosing pilots, scientists and engineers for its first wave of female astronauts next year.


БЕЗУМЕН (translated = crazy)

But we have to start somewhere! :-)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Space race for tourists - trip to the Moon $100 million

And now its official: a trip to the Moon - $100 million

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The firm that already arranged for two millionaire space tourists to visit the International Space Station is getting ready to sell trips to the moon for $100 million each.

Space Adventures, an Arlington, Va., company, is set to announce plans Wednesday morning for two passengers to ride a Russian Soyuz rocket to the moon and back as soon as 2008. The spacecraft would orbit the moon and not land, according to a company spokeswoman.

The firm arranged for American Dennis Tito to ride a Soyuz to the International Space Station in 2001, followed by South African Mark Shuttleworth, who visited the following year. American Greg Olsen is set to make the third privately-paid trip in October. Each paid $20 million.

The Soyuz doesn't have the capacity to reach the moon in its current configuration. It would have to attach to a booster in low earth orbit or at the International Space Station, according to a Space Adventures spokeswoman.

There has not been a manned mission to the moon since Apollo 17 in December of 1972. A total of 24 men have traveled to the moon, with half of them walking on the surface.

On July 26th 2005 CNN broke the story about Virgin, Penpal and Atlantic initiative about sending tourists to space.

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Forget the Russians and the Americans. The new space race is between the guys from Virgin Atlantic, Amazon.com, and PayPal.

The two-and-a-half years since the last manned NASA flight have seen great efforts by entrepreneurs who want to start providing flights for wealthy space tourists. (Click here for CNN.com's coverage of the space shuttle Discovery's flight.)

Virgin Atlantic won't be flying into space, but a sister company, Virgin Galactic appears to have an early lead, and hopes to offer sub-orbital flights as soon as 2008.

The company has a licensing agreement with aircraft designer Burt Rutan and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who backed Rutan's effort to build the first privately-financed rocket to carry a man into space, SpaceShipOne. That ship made two sub-orbital trips last fall to win the $10 million X-Prize.

Virgin Galactic is now spending $21.5 million for use of the technology, and plans to spend $100 million to build five of a new version of the space craft, which should each be able to carry six or seven passengers, plus crew, into space.

The flights will be sub-orbital, only giving the passengers about seven minutes of weightlessness and the ability to see the darkness of space and the curve of the earth. The cost for the flight, along with several days of training before takeoff, is estimated to be $200,000.

The fact that the space craft is carried into the air underneath another plane before being launched in mid-air gives it cost savings and safety that can't be accomplished in a traditional ground-launched rocket, said Will Whitehorn, the president of Virgin Galactic.

Whitehorn said it should allow for a successful business model, with about 460 passengers the first year of operation, or about the number of people who have traveled in space since the first manned fight more than 40 years ago.

"We've now signed up 100 pioneer launch customers," said Whitehorn. "We have another 35,000 have registered who said they want to take a flight. We're going to take an entirely different view of leaving the planet's surface."

But Whitehorn acknowledges his firm isn't the only one making such an effort.

Jeff Bezos, founder of online retailer Amazon.com (Research), has formed Blue Origin LLC, which is also working on the design of a spacecraft and has already bought 165,000 acres of land in West Texas for a spaceport.

Elon Musk, who created the online payment system PayPal, formed Space Exploration Technologies, which is now working on unmanned rocket launches as a way to eventually carry people into space for a fraction of current costs.

Musk and Whitehorn both believe that private competition will bring down the cost of space flight to the point where it is soon affordable for folks who can't spend six figures.

"It is despairing to consider that the cost and reliability of access to space have barely changed since the Apollo era over three decades ago. Yet in virtually every other field of technology, we have made great strides in reducing cost and increasing capability," said Musk in testimony before Congress. He blamed lack of new entrants into the field of space flight for the current high costs.

But Musk's firm, known as SpaceX, is concentrating now on achieving unmanned missions carrying commercial payloads into orbit. Once it has a track record, it hopes to be able to carry as many as five passengers into orbit on a rocket it is now developing. But it has no time frame for those flights.

Whitehorn is careful not to directly criticize NASA for the lack of commercial flights, but he believes the agency's structure has stuck it with old and very expensive spacecraft.

"[The shuttle] is technologically a very 70s and 80s product," he said. "Things have come along leaps and bounds since then."

Space travel agency
So far the only space tourists have been American Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth. Both underwent six months of training and paid $20 million to ride in Russian-built Soyuz rockets to the International Space Station. Those trips were arranged by Space Adventures, an Arlington, Va., firm that acts as a tour operator for space trips. It's arranged a third such trip for American Greg Olsen, set for this October.

It has also started to accept deposits from potential customers who want to pay just over $100,000 for a sub-orbital flight. Space Adventures President Eric Anderson said he has collected about $3 million from 150 customers, and that he'll be either the first or among the first to arrange for such flights. He also believes only a few days of training for passengers will be needed for a flight.

"Virgin will spend hundreds of millions to build SpaceShipTwo," he said. "We plan to have more than one kind of sub-orbital vehicle. We've got agreements with several different vehicles. I think over the next five to 10 years there will be many different choices."

But Anderson admits that whoever is first will have an price advantage.

"Once the price is above $100,000, it's for the elite affluent," said Anderson. "But if someone is offering flights right away and everyone else is talking about flying in five or six years, they'll be able to charge a big premium. People aren't going to want to wait."

One of Anderson's customers is Per Wimmer, a Danish investment adviser working for a London investment bank. He's already paid his $100,000 to be among the first customers Space Adventures will put on a sub-orbital flight, and he's sticking with the firm despite Virgin's plans.

"There's always a premium to pay to be a first," he said. "I'd get out tomorrow if I could."