Are you keen to live in a lava tube on Mars?

Lava tubes are caves formed by  lava flowing and creating a channel. When the lava flow has ceased and the rock has cooled, a long tunnel is left behind.  Although the presence of lava tubes on Mars has never been proved, their existence is likely.

The pictures below have been taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) tool on-board of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). They demonstrate holes which could be lava tube entrances.

Possible lava tube entrance observed by HiRISE - Diameter 150m - Credits: NASA

Possible lava tube entrance observed by HiRISE        Diameter: 150m – Credits: NASA

Possible lava tube entrance observed by HiRISE - Diameter 150m - Credits: NASA

Possible lava tube entrance observed by HiRISE        Diameter: 35m – Credits: NASA

Why live in a lava tube?

The Martian ground is not the coziest place for establishing a camp with explorers and sensitive materials. Mars has an atmosphere and magnetic field which are not as efficient as the Earth’s to protect humans from the hazardous space environment.  In order to live on Mars, astronauts must carry their own habitats and living equipment from Earth. This requires a large volume and mass on board the spacecraft, reducing the payload capacity for other items.

If you ever have to live on Mars, lava tubes are very nice places which offer:

  •  Protection from radiation: radiation is a big concern regarding astronaut’s health in space (major damage on DNA).  The large layer of rock would protect explorers and materials from solar radiation.
  • Constant temperature: on the surface of Mars the temperature ranges from 20°C to -150°C. This variation of temperature is very challenging for thermal engineers. Lava tubes similar to most caves provide a constant temperature which is more convenient for thermal control. In addition, the camp may benefit from natural heat and so preserve electrical power.
  • Dust protection: dust is a very important problem. It is very intrusive, adhesive, abrasive and contaminant. Dust is harmful for equipment, experiments, and astronaut’s health. It mustn’t be introduced in the habitat.
  • Presence of alien life: lava tubes represent an interesting location to find alien life or evidence of alien life. Minerals present in the lava could be a quality source of nutrients.
  • Scientific activities: caves are excellent records of past environmental conditions. Therefore they are a target area for scientific research.
Possible Mars habitat arranged in a lava tube - Credits: Cater Emmart

Possible Mars habitat arranged in a lava tube – Credits: Cater Emmart

How to choose your lava tube?

First of all, your lava tube must be solid. You don’t want  the roof to collapse while you are sleeping in your  room, or conducting experiments on Martian regolith.  You would probably also prefer to have easy access to your habitat with a natural opening. Some caves could be very comfortable but unfortunately inaccessible from the surface. You may also want to have it near to other valuable Martian point of interests. Finally, you also must check if the place is not already occupied by a tenant, like in the book “The Caves of Mars” by Emil Petaja (1965).

The Caves Of Mars - Emil Pateja (1965)

The Caves Of Mars – Emil Pateja (1965)


100 good reasons to go to space !

To have good time on the Moon - (Drinking Carlsberg beer - Advertisement) Credits: Carlsberg

To have good time on the Moon – (Astronaut drinking Carlsberg beer on the Moon – Advertisement) Credits: Carlsberg

  1. Why not?
  2. Because we can.
  3. To shut up the people who said: “No, you can’t”.
  4. To extend human limits.
  5. To expand human knowledge.
  6. “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.” Konstantin E. Tsiokovsky (1911) – astronautics pioneer
  7. Because we are not afraid of a challenge.
  8. To be a part of the exploration of space.
  9. To tell your grandchildren amazing stories about the beginning of the space odyssey.
  10.  To evoke the next step of human evolution.
  11. Improve daily life on Earth by pushing development of advanced technology
  12. To foster international cooperation.
  13. To understand “life”.
  14. Because the benefits of a mission are not quantifiable.
  15. To inspire people.
  16. To better understand the human body.
  17. To help people understand that we must preserve Earth.
  18. To develop space tourism.
  19. To be part of history.
  20. To understand the value of our home.
  21. To understand the value of fresh water.
  22. To improve water management.
  23. To investigate alternative food systems.
  24. Because we are not robots.
  25. To get a better spot to observe the cosmos.
  26. To make people ninjas of waste management.
  27. To meet some aliens.
  28. Because this would be the next giant leap of humankind.
  29. Because we control our destiny.
  30. Because we are born to explore.
  31. Because it is difficult.
  32. Because it is not forbidden.
  33. Because it could be the largest peaceful enterprise of humankind.
  34. To have a cooler rocket than Tintin.
  35. To one day have affordable space travel.
  36. Because you can be on-board of a spaceship.
  37. To have an interplanetary Yuri’s Night!
  38. To make all Sci-Fi movies to look obsolete.
  39. Kids will play with astronauts instead of Barbie dolls.
  40. So artists can paint reality.
  41. To break free.
  42. Because everybody has a role to play in space exploration.
  43. To become an astronaut.
  44. To have a cool application of mathematics.
  45. To invent new sports.
  46. To improve medicine.
  47. To improve human behavior.
  48. To smell other planets.
  49. For you.
  50. To make tele-reaching a commonplace.
  51. Because geologists rock!
  52. To easily modify the trajectory of dangerous asteroids.
  53. Because it is not a dream, it is near future.
  54. To be prepared in case of alien invasion.
  55. To change the world.
  56. To eat Moon cakes on the Moon.
  57. To watch “full Earth” from the Moon.
  58. To understand that Earth is unique.
  59. To have a spare place when Earth dies.
  60. To open a gateway to the Solar System.
  61. Because the space race doesn’t belong to the past.
  62. Because we are not the center of the universe.
  63. Because discoveries are invaluable.
  64. Because “I am from Earth” will truly mean something.
  65. To develop sustainable and efficient propulsion.
  66. To develop a sustainable and efficient power supply.
  67. To better control radiation.
  68. To watch movies made of real space pictures.
  69. To hear the silence of space.
  70. Because you could be the first human on Mars.
  71. To eat a Mars bar on Mars.
  72. To be a pioneer.
  73. Because if more people go to space, more people will follow.
  74. Because we have questions.
  75. So we can get answers.
  76. To be a hero.
  77. Because we can’t wait anymore.
  78. Because everyone must have a chance to go.
  79. Because there is no easy kind of exploration mission.
  80. Because no robotic mission will be able to perform as a human does.
  81. To have another point of view on the Milky Way.
  82. To keep scientists busy for a long time.
  83. To play the Star Wars theme song among stars.
  84. To feel weightlessness.
  85. To have an Interplanetary Space University.
  86. To watch a spaceship race!
  87. Because a lot of people are already volunteering.
  88. To understand what humankind truly needs.
  89. Because so many people dream of it.
  90. To end the debate of whether pencils are more efficient than pens in space.
  91. To improve the intellectual level of TV shows.
  92. To understand that Earth’s atmosphere is thin, fragile and precious.
  93. To do the Moon Walk on the Moon.
  94. To lie on the moon and stare up at the stars.
  95. Because it is only the beginning of the story of humankind.
  96. Because many people were not born in 1969.
  97. To touch the Martian ground.
  98. To benefit from clean energy.
  99. Because space is the place to be.
  100. Because we are all Born For Space!

Europa: a better target than Mars to find alien life

At the beginning of the 17th century, few people contributed to the invention of the refracting telescope. It was the beginning of lenses capable of observing objects with a large aperture. In 1610, Galileo Galilei provided the major contribution to the design of this optical device and used it in order to observe celestial bodies. Among other observations and discoveries, he pointed the refracting telescope at the giant planet Jupiter. It was such a surprise when he discovered that Earth was not the only planet with a moon. Actually, at this time Galileo observed four of the natural satellites around Jupiter: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

Europa, natural colours - Credits: NASA

Europa, natural colours – Credits: NASA

In 1996, Galileo the space probe made the most significant discovery since Galileo the scientist: Europa has water ice on the surface with a higher mineral content which may allow extraterrestrial life! In 1982, in his book 2010: Odyssey Two, Arthur C. Clarke imagined an ocean below Europa’s ice which hosted a form of life.

2010:Odyssey Two - Credits: D.Shire

2010:Odyssey Two – Credits: D.Shire

Europa is the sixth-closest natural satellite of Jupiter. It orbits the giant planet in three and half Earth days and is slightly smaller than the Moon. From Earth, spectroscopy helps to determine the composition of planets. The light from Europa was observed with different wavelengths which revealed that the planet was composed of silicate rock and has an iron core. The layer of water ice wasn’t detected until the space probe Galileo flew over Europa in 1996. A salty ocean covered the entire planet below the water ice layer. This demonstrates the need of space exploration: Observing and discovering features which are not possible to do remotely.

Conditions of life on Europa

This satellite of Jupiter harbors the conditions necessary for life such as liquid water, appropriate chemical elements and energy. These are essential elements for the presence of life in the form as we know it; carbon based.

By studying the Jovian magnetic field and its surface, Europa allowed us to discover some of its mysteries. It appears that the surface has been transformed by tectonic activity. Planetary scientists found evidence of presence of salty liquid water below the ice water surface.

Jupiter constantly bombards Europa with radiation. Europa’s surface is composed of water ice and other material which is transformed into oxygen, hydrogen peroxide, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. These components could be valuable nutrients for supporting life.

In order to have water in liquid form, the planet must receive appropriate heat. This may be generated with the interaction of Jupiter’s gravity and its others moons Io and Ganymede. On Earth, we experience the same interaction with the Moon over oceans but regarding Jupiter’s gravity it is microscopic.

On Earth, early life appeared in deep oceans where light doesn’t exist. This means that not all life is dependent on photosynthesis.

All these elements indicate that a form of life has great chance to exist on Europa below the surface. Compared to Mars where the presence of liquid water hasn’t been proven yet, Europa seems more likely to host life.

Potential life on Europa - Credits: NASA

Potential life on Europa – Credits: NASA

Around 2022 the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch the space probe “Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer” (JUICE) which will explore Jupiter, Calisto, Europe and Ganymede. Regarding Europa, JUICE will look for evidence of the ocean and determine the composition of the ice. There are large expectations from this mission to provide components that could support the presence of alien life on Europa.

Because we are all Born For Space!

Where Can We Launch a Human into space?

Sending a human into outer space requires some special facilities. Going to space is still not routine and is not something particularly easy to do.

A piece of history

Humans have only ever been launched into outer space in three countries: Russia (ex-Soviet Union), USA and China. The Soviet Union was the first nation to send a cosmonaut to orbit.  Yuri Gagarin was launched on April 12th, 1961 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome located in Kazakhstan. USA followed on May 5th, 1961. The astronaut Alan Shepard was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (USA). Finally, China sent the first taïkonaut Yang Liwei on October 15th in 2003 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in the Gobi desert (China).

In space today the human race is continuously represented onboard of the International Space Station (ISS). Usually, there is a crew composed of 6 astronauts. Right now on board the ISS there are 3 Russians, 2 Americans, and 1 Japanese. It is very easy to know how many people are in space right now thanks to this website: How Many People Are In Space Right Now ?

Launch sites around the world

The following map represents these launch sites and also some other interesting points.

Places where humans can reach space.

Places where humans can reach space.

Since the American Space Shuttle retired in 2011, only Russia is able to carry a crew to the ISS via the Baikonur Cosmodrome. USA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan all rely now on the Russian Soyuz program for transporting humans to the ISS.  Regrettably, it reduces launching sites available to launch humans into space from three to two. Actually, NASA and ESA are jointly developing a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) known as the Orion capsule. It is planned to be launched on-board of the Space Launch System (SLS) around 2020 probably from the Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX is also developing a variant of the Dragon capsule capable of transporting a crew on-board of a Falcon rocket. However, Soyuz has demonstrated that it is a reliable program and the technology has been developed for 50 years, making it the most experienced human space program. In 2013, President Vladimir Putin declared that Russia will launch crew to the ISS from Vostochny, a cosmodrome in eastern Siberia, near the Chinese border. This facility is currently under construction and is expected to be available around 2018.

China has also showed some capabilities to transport humans to outer space. Since the beginning of their program in 2003, they have already sent 10 people (including 2 women) in 5 missions to space. The future for Chinese human spaceflight from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) seems to be very promising. The Chinese have a vision for the Moon in 2020 and then, why not, Mars!

 Will India be the fourth nation to carry a human into space?

India invests a large amount of money into its human spaceflight program. This program should commence around 2020. The best India launch site is the Satish Dhawan Space Centre located in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. They plan to build facilities for astronaut training at this site.

Disappointing Europe!

ESA human space exploration especially with launching capability is underdeveloped! It means that the Guyana Space Centre, spaceport of France, in Kourou is not where people will lift off the ground anytime soon. ESA possesses one of the best launch sites in the world, due to its position being close to the equator and facing the Atlantic Ocean, but they only use it for commercial, military, and scientific purposes.

Many locations around the world have the potential to be wonderful space gates for astronauts.

Because we are all Born For Space!

Afronaut: an astronaut for Africa

Afronaut: Africa has a role to play in human space exploration

Africa is constantly progressing on sciences, technologies and education. This progression could greatly benefit the local development of the space sector.  In turn, the space sector would provide communication, navigation, global monitoring and would drive towards development of the whole continent. They have a role to play in human space exploration.

Afronaut, an African dream - Credits: Cristina De Middel

Afronaut, an African dream – Credits: Cristina De Middel

Afronauts for Africa

So far, three people may deserve the title of Afronaut. First, Patrick Baudry is a French astronaut of CNES (French Space Agency) born in Douala in Cameroun. He flew on Discovery in 1985 for a NASA mission. Second, Mark Shuttleworth is a British-South African entrepreneur, and was the second space tourist. In 2002, he flew on-board of a Soyuz Russian mission and spent 8 days on-board of ISS (International Space Station). He “bought his journey” for almost 20 million US Dollars and had to train for a year mainly in Star city, Russia. Finally, Mandla Maseko is an engineering student from Mabopane in South Africa. He is one of the winners of the global Axe Apollo competition. If he successfully passes his medical tests, he will fly on-board of the Lynx Mark II in 2015. So, fingers crossed for Mandla.

And…that’s it! Actually, Africa doesn’t really have a formal astronaut born, raised, educated, selected and trained by Africa.

Past and present ambitions

In 1964, the Zambian Director of the National Academy of Science, Edward Makuka Nkoloso, came with the ambition to send a human in space. He planned to send one 17 year old girl and two cats to the Moon. Unfortunately, the freshly independent government of Zambia was not ready to support such a space program and Nkoloso never managed to collect enough funding. Today, this Zambian adventure is qualified on the web as “fiction” or “fantasy”. We prefer to believe that this man dared to breach the limits and restrictions for the scientific and technological ambitions of his country. Zambia in space, for sure!

In 2013, the Nigerian Space Agency NASRDA announced they will train one astronaut by 2015. The director general of the agency, Dr. Seidu Mohammed declared:

“The possibility of this has been demonstrated by a lot of research done in the past and we have decided that by 2015, a Nigerian can go to the space and conduct research at the highest level”.

We are now waiting for this afronaut! Full text here.

Currently, only five African countries have developed a solid space program: Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, and South Africa. They have in place policies, laws, investments and scientific programs.

The best way for Africa to prepare regular afronauts will be an African cooperation. At the moment, most of African countries  haven’t yet defined any national policies and programs to develop space industries and sciences. What could be the future of spaceflight in Africa?

The global situation of space in Africa is described in the Geoffrey Onyango’s article on the African Sciences News website.

Because we are all Born For Space !