- Elon Musk Loves the Idea of His Tesla Roadster Being the Falcon Heavy’s First Mars Payload
- The Genesis Project Plans to Use Robots to Seed the Galaxy With Life
- India’s First-Ever Moon Mission to Launch in 2018
- A Woman Has Given Birth After a Uterus Transplant for the First Time in the U.S.
Posted: 03 Dec 2017 09:23 AM PST
Launching a Roadster to Mars?
Elon Musk has once again taken to Twitter to excite and confuse space-enthusiasts and experts. Musk began by revealing details of the first Falcon Heavy launch, which is scheduled to take place next month, “from Apollo 11 pad at the Cape. Will have double thrust of next largest rocket.”
Soon after, Musk added that the Falcon Heavy’s “Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity. Destination is Mars orbit.” For the uninitiated, “Space Oddity” is a classic song by the late David Bowie.
Musk has stated that there’s a non-zero chance of the Falcon Heavy exploding on its first flight. With that in mind, he’s publicly stated that he intended to stick the "silliest thing we can imagine" atop the craft ( and he did stick a secret wheel of cheese on Dragon’s first flight).
The internet wasn’t sure what to make of Musk’s tweet at first. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time in recent history he managed to get the media to cover something he’d intended as a joke. Though, this time around, several media outlets have asserted that SpaceX had confirmed the story.
However, a source familiar with the info was more hesitant in their endorsement when Futurism reached out for comment over the weekend, saying “the roadster payload is real.”
While it’s no surprise to see Musk talking up such a whimsical concept, attempting a stunt of that caliber would be something altogether different. The idea is an intriguing one — but we’ll believe it when we see it.
The post Elon Musk Loves the Idea of His Tesla Roadster Being the Falcon Heavy’s First Mars Payload appeared first on Futurism.
Posted: 03 Dec 2017 05:00 AM PST
In the past decade, the rate at which extra-solar planets have been discovered and characterized has increased prodigiously. Because of this, the question of when we might explore these distant planets directly has repeatedly come up. In addition, the age-old question of what we might find once we get there – i.e. is humanity alone in the Universe or not? – has also come up with renewed vigor.
These questions have led to a number of interesting and ambitious proposals. These include Project Blue, a space telescope which would directly observe any planets orbiting Alpha Centauri, and Breakthrough Starshot – which aims to send a laser-driven nanocraft to Alpha Centauri in just 20 years. But perhaps the most daring proposal comes in the form of Project Genesis, which would attempt to seed distant planets with life.
This proposal was put forth by Dr. Claudius Gros, a theoretical physicist from the Institute for Theoretical Physics at Goethe University Frankfurt. In 2016, he published a paper that described how robotic missions equipped with gene factories (or cryogenic pods) could be used to distribute microbial life to “transiently habitable exoplanets” – i.e. planets capable of supporting life, but not likely to give rise to it on their own.
Not long ago, Universe Today wrote about Dr. Gros' recent study where he proposed using a magnetic sail to slow down an interstellar spacecraft. We were fortunate to catch up with Dr. Gros again and had a chance to ask him about Project Genesis. You can find our Q&A below, and be sure to check out his seminal paper that describes this project – "Developing Ecospheres on Transiently Habitable Planets: The Genesis Project“.
What Is the Purpose of Project Genesis?
Exoplanets come in all sizes, temperatures and compositions. The purpose of the Genesis Project is to offer terrestrial life alternative evolutionary pathways on those exoplanets that are potentially habitable but yet lifeless. The basic philosophy of most scientists nowadays is that simple life is common in the universe and complex life is rare. We don't know that for sure, but at the moment, that is the consensus.
If you had good conditions, simple life can develop very fast, but complex life will have a hard time. At least on Earth, it took a very long time for complex life to arrive. The Cambrian Explosion only happened about 500 million years ago, roughly 4 billion years after Earth was formed. If we give planets the opportunity to fast forward evolution, we can give them the chance to have their own Cambrian Explosions.
What Worlds Would Be Targeted?
The prime candidates are habitable "oxygen planets" around M-dwarfs like TRAPPIST-1. It is very likely that the oxygen-rich primordial atmosphere of these planets will have prevented abiogenesis in first place, that is the formation of life. Our galaxy could potentially harbor billions of habitable but lifeless oxygen planets.
Nowadays, astronomers are looking for planets around M-stars. These are very different from planets around Sun-like stars. Once a star forms, it takes a certain amount of time to contract to the point where fusion begins, and it starts to produce energy. For the Sun, this took 10 million years, which is very fast. For stars like TRAPPIST-1, it would take 100 million to 1 billion years. Then they have to contract to dissipate their initial heat.
The planets around TRAPPIST-1 would have been very hot, because the star was very hot for a long time. All the water that was in their stratospheres, the UV radiation would have disassociated it into hydrogen and oxygen – the hydrogen escaped, and the oxygen remained. All surveys have showed that they have oxygen atmospheres, but this is the product of chemical disassociation and not from plants (as with Earth).
There's a good chance that oxygen planets are sterile, because oxygen planets eat up prebiotic conditions. We believe there may be billions of oxygen planets in our galaxy. They would have no life, and complex life needs oxygen. In science fiction, you have all these planets that look alike. We could imagine that in half a billion years, we could have this because we seeded oxygen planets (only we couldn't travel there quickly since we have no FTL).
What Kind of Organisms Would Be Sent?
The first wave would consist of unicellular autotrophs. That is photo-synthesizing bacteria, like cyanobacteria, and eukaryotes (the cell type making up all complex life, that is animals and plants). Heterotrophs would follow in a second stage, organisms that feed on other organisms and can only exist after autotrophs exist and take root.
How Would These Organisms Be Sent?
That depends on the technology. If it can advance, we can miniaturize a gene factory. In principle, nature is a miniature gene factory. Everything we want to produce is very small. If it's possible that would be the best option. Send in a gene bank, and then select the most optimal organism to send down. If that is not possible, you would have to have frozen germs. In the end, it depends on what would be the technically available.
You could also send in synthetic life. Synthetic biology is a very active research field, which involves reprogramming the genetic code. In science fiction, you have alien life with a different genetic code. Today, people are trying to produce this here on Earth. The end goal is to have new life forms that are based on a different code. This would be very dangerous on Earth, but on a far-distant planet, it would be beneficial.
What If These Worlds Are Not Sterile?
Genesis is all about life, not destroying life, so we'd want to avoid that. The probes would have to go into orbit, so we are pretty sure that from orbit, we could detect complex life on the surface. The Genesis Project was intended for planets that are not habitable for eternity. Earth is habitable for billions of years, but we are not sure about habitable exoplanets.
Exoplanets come in all kinds of sized, temperatures, and habitabilities. Many of these planets will only be habitable for some time, maybe 1 billion years. Life there will not have time to evolve into complex life forms. So you have a decision: leave them like they are, or take a chance at developing complex life there.
Some believe that all bacteria are worth saving. On Earth, there is no protection for bacteria. But bacteria living on different planets are treated differently. Planetary protection, why do we do that? So we can study the life, or for the sake of protecting life itself? Mars most likely had life at one time, but now not, except for maybe a few bacteria. Still, we plan manned missions to Mars, which means planetary protection is off. It's a contradiction.
I am very enthusiastic about finding life, but what about the planets where we don't find life? This offers the possibility about doing something about it.
Could Humanity Benefit From This Someday (i.e. Colonize “Seeded” Planets)?
Yes and no. Yes, because nothing would keep our decedents (or any other intelligence living on Earth by then), to visit Genesis planets in 10-100 million years (the minimal time for the life initially seeded to fully unfold). No, because the involved time spans are so long, that it is not rational to speak of a 'benefit'.
How Soon Could Such a Mission Be Mounted?
Genesis probes could be launched by the same directed-energy launch system planned for the Breakthrough Starshot initiative. Breakthrough Starshot aims to send very fast, very small, very light probes of about 1 gram to another star system. The same laser technology could send something more massive, but slower. Slow is relative, of course. So the in the end it depends on what is optimal.
The magnetic sail paper I recently wrote was a sample mission to show that it was possible. The probe would be about the size of a car (1 tonne) and would travel at a speed of about 1000 km/s – slow for interstellar travel relative to speed of light, but fast for Earth. If you reduce the velocity by a factor of 100, the mass you can propel is 10,000 heavier. You could accelerate a 1-tonne Genesis Probe and it would still fit into the layout of Breakthrough Starshot.
Therefore, the launch facility could see dual use and you wouldn't need to build something new. Once that is in place one would need to test the magnetic sail. A realistic time span would hence be in the 50-100 years window.
What Counter-Arguments Are There Against This?
There are three main lines of counter-arguments. The first is the religious counter-argument, which says that humanity should not play God. The Genesis Project is however not about creating life, but to give life the possibility to further develop. Just not on Earth, but elsewhere in the cosmos.
The second is the Planetary protection argument, which argues that we should not interfere. Some people objecting to the Genesis Project cite the 'first directive' of the Star Trek TV series. The Genesis Project fully supports planetary protection of planets which harbor complex life and of planets on which complex life could potentially develop in the future. The Genesis Project will target only planets on which complex life could not develop on its own.
The third argument is about the lack of benefit to humanity. The Genesis Project is expressively not for human benefit. It is reasonable to argue, from the perspective of survival, that the ethical values of a species (like humanity) has to put the good of the species at the center. Ethical is therefore "what is good for our own species". Spending a large amount of money on a project, like the Genesis Project, which is expressively not for the benefit of our own species, would then be unethical.
Our thanks go out to Dr. Gros for taking the time to talk to us! We hope to hear more from him in the future and wish him the best of luck with Project Genesis.
The post The Genesis Project Plans to Use Robots to Seed the Galaxy With Life appeared first on Futurism.
Posted: 02 Dec 2017 01:30 PM PST
One Giant Leap
In 2013, China landed the Yutu rover on the Moon, but no one has stepped foot (or bot) on our cosmic neighbor since. But this will change in early 2018 as India makes its debut appearance on the Moon. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will land its first lunar rover as a part of India’s Moon mission. The agency is currently aiming for a March, 2018 landing.
This plan is called the Chandrayaan-2 mission, which roughly translates to “moon vehicle” or “moon journey,” began with the Chandrayaan-1, which made it into lunar orbit and was able to detect “magmatic water” within a crater on the Moon’s surface.
Unfortunately, in 2008 this initial probe crashed into the Moon and was lost in orbit until NASA found it adrift in 2016. But the impending launch of this lunar rover holds even more scientific promise and will hopefully allow for a more precise view of the lunar surface.
This upcoming launch will include three crewless vehicles. There will be an orbiter craft that will hover above the surface of the Moon, a lunar rover, and a lander craft that will safely land the rover on the surface. After its soft lunar landing — an exciting first for India — the rover will explore the lunar crust and the mantle while the orbiter creates a “detailed three-dimensional map of the lunar surface,” according to the ISRO.
The ISRO has other projects in the works as well. They are working on “Aditya,” a mission that aims to study the Sun, and “XPoSat,” a 5-year satellite that will improve working knowledge of cosmic radiation. But hopefully, this upcoming lunar launch will be completed within 14 days without a hitch. The mission is a positive sign that more and more countries are investing in space exploration and improving our abilities to understand and travel to the cosmos.
Posted: 02 Dec 2017 01:13 PM PST
A Remarkable Transplant
In a first for the United States, a woman with a transplanted uterus has given birth. The baby was born at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas and remains safe and healthy after the event. This is the first success for Baylor’s ongoing uterus transplant clinical trial, which works with patients with absolute uterine factor infertility — meaning their uterus either doesn’t exist or doesn’t work at all.
"We've been preparing for this moment for a very long time,” Liza Johannesson, an ob-gyn and uterus transplant surgeon at Baylor, stated in an interview with Time. “I think everyone had tears in their eyes when the baby came out. I did for sure."
This unique type of transplant is different and much more difficult than most, according to Giuliano Testa, the leader of the uterus transplant clinical trial and surgical chief of abdominal transplant for Baylor Annette C. and Harold C. Simmons Transplant Institute. "We do transplants all day long,” Testa said to Time. “This is not the same thing. I totally underestimated what this type of transplant does for these women. What I've learned emotionally, I do not have the words to describe."
The uterus transplanted was donated by Taylor Siler, 36, a registered nurse in the Dallas area. She previously had children successfully and wanted to pass the gift of life on. "I just think that if we can give more people that option, that's an awesome thing," Syler told Time.
It takes about five hours to remove the uterus from the donor, then another five to transplant it. The clinical study uses uteruses from both living and deceased donors. So far, the hospital has completed eight out its goal of 10 transplants. And, while three have so far failed, Baylor confirmed to Time that there is another woman currently pregnant with a transplanted uterus.
The Future of Fertility
This medical feat has had a long road to success. Last year, at the Cleveland Clinic, a promising uterus transplant went awry, and the organ had to be removed. This failure was devastating, but it perhaps aided further research and fueled this year’s exciting success.
The majority of the patients participating in this study have a condition known as Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome and have lived their entire lives thinking that it was simply impossible for them to carry a child. But this type of procedure could improve the lives of patients with a multitude of conditions. It opens the door for helping those who have had hysterectomies, couples struggling with infertility, and those born without uteruses like those with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome and transgender patients.
As we see advancements in womb transplant, we are also witnessing growth in the field of external wombs. Whether they are used in cases of infertility or truly represent the future of reproduction, external development of a fetus has so far proven successful in lambs. As our understanding of human reproduction continues to expand, artificial wombs could potentially become a more viable option for humans.
Currently, the uterus transplant procedure is very expensive — up to $500,000. The procedure is also seen by insurance companies as elective and, therefore, is not covered. The success of the procedure and the emerging field is still new, though. It’s certainly not out of the question to think that in the coming decades, procedures like this will be more commonplace — and therefore, hopefully, more affordable.
We still need to do a lot more research and experimentation before this type of procedure becomes more widely available — let alone routine. But this latest success proves that it’s not just possible, but life-changing for the patients who experience it.
The post A Woman Has Given Birth After a Uterus Transplant for the First Time in the U.S. appeared first on Futurism.
|You are subscribed to email updates from Futurism. |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google, 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043, United States|