Science Sunday: Move to Mars + Extreme Microbes + Chinese Taikonaut Launch + Nanodiamonds + More

Welcome to this week’s late edition of Science Sunday! This week, join Mars One and fly to (and live out the rest of your days on) Mars; discover some extreme microbes in the Mars-like south american desert; witness China’s next manned (and perhaps womanned?) space launch; and create diamonds by burning a candle. All this and more, plus our gadget of the week: the self-making bed!


Mars One: An Apolitical, Commercial Mission to Settle on Mars
Mars One has just revealed it’s plans to be the first project to land humans on Mars. They have already gained the support of commercial firms who will supply all necessary components. In 2016, a supply mission will be sent to a chosen landing site, followed by a rover in 2018 to scope out the perfect spot for settlement. By 2023, the first two astronauts will be sent to land on Mars and live out the remainders of their lives there. Two more astronauts will be sent every two years. The project is intriguing as it aims to do what NASA won’t – send people to Mars with no plans for their return to Earth, which is a key reason for Mars One’s feasibility. Astronaut selection begins in 2013 — could you be the first human on Mars?

More at

Extreme Microbes Discovered on Mars-like South American Volcanoes
A new DNA analysis of rocky soils from the extreme, Martian-like environments on some volcanoes in South America has revealed a number of rudimentary organisms called archaea. These organisms seem to have a different way of converting energy. “We haven’t formally identified or characterized the species,” said a doctoral student involved in the study. “But these are very different than anything else that has been cultured. Genetically, they’re at least 5 percent different than anything else in the DNA database of 2.5 million sequences.” On these volcanoes, UV radiation is exceptionally high, and temperatures can fluctuate wildly from freezing cold to burning hot over the course of a day. If microbes can live here, maybe they can survive at other extreme locations in the solar system and beyond.

More at CU Boulder.

The hostile environment where new microbes have been discovered

China to Launch Manned Mission to Space This Month
Government officials in China have announced the country’s plans to launch three astronauts into space later this month to be the first to dock with an orbiting experimental module launched last year. What’s more, the crew of the Shenzhou 9 capsule might include China’s first female Taikonaut. In 2003, China became the third country to put a human in space on its own, and they continue to make steady progress to becoming the next big superpower in space travel.

More at China Daily.

The crew of the Shenzhou 7 mission

Candle Flames Contain Millions of Tiny Diamonds
You’ll never look at a candle flame the same way again. New research has discovered that all forms of carbon – including millions of diamond nanoparticles – are created in the flame of a candle. Using a new sampling technique, scientists were able to remove particles from the center of a flame – something never achieved before. Nanodiamonds have been synthesized in flame before, but never in a candle. This discovery could lead to cheaper production of nanodiamonds.

More at University of St. Andrews.

About 1.5 million diamonds are created every second a candle burns

Pic of the Week: Astronaut Surprise in Dragon Capsule
The astronauts aboard the ISS left a little surprise in the Dragon capsule before in undocked and flew back to Earth.


Video of the Week: Volcanologist Gets Too Close to Lava Lake
Watch this stunning video from the BBC of scientific research at the Nyragongo lava lake, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. One volcanologist throws caution to the wind and tries to get a sample from the volatile and very dangerous lake of molten lava.

Gadget of the Week: Self-Making Bed
Lazy people, rejoice! We now have a bed that will make itself in 50 seconds flat. Using a series of mechanical arms, the bed straightens its own covers and even the pillows for you at the flip of a switch. It doesn’t look perfected quite yet — I’d probably have no trouble messing the bed up too much for this autobed to make itself. But, for the less extreme sleepers, this could work quite well.


Science Bytes
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.


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totally ready to move to Mars.

Kayla, admit it…you were the crazy person who almost dove into the lake of lava

The Mars One thing is fascinating….I hope it becomes a reality. A huge step forward…


It will be interesting to learn about the volunteers who are willing to spend the rest of their lives on Mars!

4 – Indeed. I am sure they will be really intriguing people… Heroes that are willing to “leave it all behind”…. restoring hero status to astronauts in the eyes of the larger public, I hope. This, if it actually happens, could majorly propel us forward…

Now, if we could just solve deep space travel propulsion issues…

There is an unmentioned thing related to Mars One and the one way trips. I assume the plan is that once you are old/infirm and can no longer be a productive member of the socieity, I suspect its Soylent Green time. Waste not, want not.

The private sector is the way to go. Perhaps my grandkids will visit if not live on Mars!

If I was, say 70, and had the chance to cash it in on The Red Planet, WHY NOT!
Of course *clears throat, breaks into best Shat impression*:
Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise a kid. In fact, it’s cold as hell. And there’s no one theeeeeeere to raise them, if you did.

After seeing that video, now I don’t even want to get too close to my lava lamp.

A universe in every black hole? Was that a Who I heard?

As for the auto-bed maker… just hope no one accidentally turns it on while… erm… turning their partner on. Could get awkward.

Thanks, Kayla!

@Anthony. Probably why the people elected to go will be in their late 20’s early 30’s. So that when they are old and unable to work 30/40 years will have passed they’ll be a thriving community on Mars or at least tech to bring them back.

Also. I’d totally go on that trip. Being able to walk on another planet is worth everything, for me at least. Heck, even dying their, you’re grave will be under an Alien sky, how awesome is that? Being one of the first people buried on mars. Yeah, I’d go with no regrets.

Why two people? Why not more? I would be more impressed with this endeavour if there were people involved with each mission. Our ancestors didn’t seed a new land with two people – they did this with small bands of humans.

Another reason I see for having more than two people is this – if one is incapacitated, how does the other person make up for the difference? The minimum number should be three. This isn’t a scientific outpost placed under the sea or in the South Pole, where help is accessible. This is Mars.

I hope this happens! It will be so cool for us who weren’t alive yet when the moon landing happened to be able to witness the Mars landing! I hope they broadcast some of the journey as well.

Finally, at least people are using their imaginations for space exploration again!

Actually… The image of 6 modules that arrive over 12 years is just goofy.
Time is plentiful. And the window on sending supply ships is not fuel sensitive so tools can be sent. Surely they can build pressurized structures, probably below ground. No need to spent your life in a closet.
And send more than two at a time. Jeez.

Lets do this people ! I’m glad theirs more talk about space exploration!

Okay, watched to lava clip and I have to say: for a bunch of people with Science degrees, they sure are STUPID. Who in their right mind walks up to the rim of an active volcano (while it’s active mind you) to collect samples? The samples are meaningless if you’re encased in lava!

Two people on Mars for two years. Hmm, I wonder… will these couples be… couples? A husband and wife perhaps? Will the capsule have tin cans tied to the back bumper? “Just Married—Mars or Bust.”

Well, in any event, psychological issues are a major hurdle in space colonization. Those two astronauts are going to have to get along.

“Don’t go to Mars mad.”

I can’t believe that, on a Star Trek site, there aren’t more people saying, “Sign me up immediately!” for the one-way Mars mission.

Clearly, we bear little resemblance to the heroic explorers we so revere.

I would love to go, and I would have signed up three years ago in a heartbeat. But know i have another heart to deal with and a developing heart to worry about, at this point it would be a selfish choice and I couldn’t do that, no matter how much I have wanted that life(on Mars or space).
Good luck to those that are chosen, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to bold go……

To Boldly Go…….

What are the odds that if a Mars mission like this were successful, it would lead to a boom in Mars exploration by other countries, and the good chance that a return to earth would then become an option for the original explorers if they wanted that after so many years?

You couldn’t count on that happening going in, of course, but it’s hard to predict what the consequences will be after they’ve done it.

If people see it’s possible after a few brave souls manage to do it, the Mars Rush may be on. A “one way” mission like this could be the tipping point that gets long range colonization started. And before the originals die, two way trips may be the norm.

I’m iffy about the Mars Mission. A one way trip? I understand exploration is important but something like this just seems rash.

After actually looking at the website and reading, I see this isn’t just exploration, but a kind of colonization akin to the first (after the Nords) settlers of America (hopefully there aren’t any Martians!). In that mentality I like it.

Maybe they can call it New Columbia (the original name for the New World, which in this case really fits!).

Sorry for the possible double post.

Sign me up!

Here’s my Trillion Dollar Bet:

You offer each settler 40 thousand acres and a mule (or better, a space bulldozer) and they’ll gobble up parcels of Mars like Snooki gobbles Appletinis.

You have (ice) water.
You have atmosphere. (a tad thin, but a good source for pressurizing your dome home)
You have raw materials in every direction and not a zoning commission in sight.
Hmmm… all we seem to need is people with planet-sized greed. Where oh where might we find those???


I’d even bet money you could develop a large scale supply delivery system that is basically ballistic. No parachute, baby. Just pack your non-breakables in potting soil and hurl it at Mars. If the crater plan doesn’t work, then add just enough retros to keep the landing below 100 miles per hour. This is for the bulk stuff: soil, chemical components, beer.

@15 Or husband & husband, or wife & wife. For the sake of completeness.

I’d go for sure. To be one of the pioneers of Humanity is worth it. Furthermore, each individual in Martian society would be important, with academic degrees or not.

That Mars One thing has got to be either a late or early April’s fool…

For instance, in the technology section it talks about the life support unit collecting 1500 litres of water and 120 kilogrammes of oxygen in 500 days.

Well according to NASA the average person, on average requires 0.84 kilogrammes of oxygen every 24 hours (day and night).

Water consumption needs to be around 3 litres per day for men and 2.2 for women.

Assuming the initial 2 person team is one male and one female that gives a daily combined requirement of 1.68 kilogrammes of oxygen and 5.2 litres of water per day.

Over 500 days I estimate the requirements as follows;
Oxygen: 840 Kilogrammes
Water: 2600 litres

I also assume some water will be required for washing, growing plants. They need to eat something!
Even with water reclamation, I imagine even more than I estimate above will be needed to survive.

Falls a bit short of their estimates above.

Sorry, but I can’t take that web site seriously, and I speak as someone who would sign up to this in a heartbeat.

Unless I’m being stupid and someone can tell me otherwise?

@27.Mark Lynch: Couple that with the EXTREMELY short time frame they’ve given. Four years for the first stuff to be sent to Mars orbit? Six to eight for the next stuff that’s actually supposed to gather in one spot on the planet? Good luck.

It would be wonderful if the Dutch Mars One company had real space experience to back up this overly ambitious plan, but as it is? I don’t seriously think it’ll happen. There are still too many variables (it IS rocket science, after all). The Dutch had a wonderful space success with the Huygens probe to Saturn’s moon Titan (ferried by the US Cassini orbiter). But I’m not sure exactly how realistic (or even possible) Mars One’s very ambitious (and expensive) timetables are.

But, of course, I’d LOVE to be proven wrong… ;-)

As for the Chinese teikonauts? Lots of luck (sincerely so). As Ben Kenobi would say, “They’ve taken their first steps into a larger world.”
It’s also a bit ironic that the first people to use primitive rockets in warfare (centuries ago) would take so long in finally putting their own people into space….

Regarding the mars one: i have to ask “why?”
Exploration is one thing, but colonization? To what end? And you really can’t compare this to other colonization attempts in history. What are the rewards that outweigh the risks? Without a plan to terraform, why the need to live on another planet? Glad this will be privately funded, cause I ain’t paying for someone else to do it ‘just cause they can.’

# 30.

I can answer that one! ;-D

Stephen Hawking recently pointed out how (ultimately) dangerous it is for humans to remain in ‘one basket’ (earth). It is in our nature to spread life to better insure our chances of survival (as a race). It’s against the long term interests of our species to stay on one planet (which, at any time, faces obliteration by natural or unnatural means). We need to spread outward to survive. The same reason we left the hot, dry plains of Africa many millennia ago..

As for terraforming? That would come in time. The longer humans are on other planets, the more and more they will be terraformed (either deliberately or not).

I wish Mars One success (as I would ANY ambitious space power; private or national), but it sounds like they really don’t have the resources or capital to succeed where so many others have simply given up. But again; I want to be wrong….. ;-)

Terraforming would be a long, sad joke.
Mars has, what?, 38% of Earth’s gravity. Much of its atmosphere likely bled off into space millions of years ago. Putting it back would be like filling a leaky balloon. In the meantime, you’re cooking your guts with radiation because there’s no protection. Much better to build pressurized underground cities. The little atmosphere above might be a source for distilling what we need to breath. There may be other options. Maybe an atmosphere can be “blown” over an area, yielding enough to breath without necessitating pressure seals. Maybe not. Point is, we need to get there and get stubborn about survival.

# 32

True (about Mars’ gravity).
But planets with weak gravities still manage to hold onto their atmospheres (Saturn’s moon Titan, for example; it’s atmosphere is actually denser than Earth’s). Gravity is only one factor for a thicker atmosphere….

To be truly human safe (at least on the surface), Mars would need to have some form of protective shield against deadly solar radiation; an ad hoc magnetic field of some kind. (either organically or technologically developed). Otherwise, the planet’s human-based ecology would largely be an underground one…

But I also believe that a human presence there (over generations) will begin to force the planet (or parts of it, anyway) into habitability somehow. We humans have a habit of continually forcing nature (right or wrong) to conform to us…

Did you know there’s more water on Europa than on Earth?
Crazy, ain’t it?

Where does one sign up for Mars One?
Sure, living on Mars will be tough. There’s the risk of death.
But I personally would go through it, even risk dying there, for a new life on a different world.

Looks like they have shitty printers on the ISS … well, maybe inkjets just don’t work like they should in a micro-g environment.

# 36 JAGT~

Looks like they ran dry on red and pink, too… ;-D

What I want to know is why have all these private sector companies not been doing this before NASA stopped its space programme

38. Mancutus…

NASA didn’t stop is space program, it only stopped the Shuttle program.

What else happened at the same time NASA ended its Shuttle program? Answer: the International Space Station was completed. Some of us having been saying for years (and we’ve been shouted down by naysayers claiming it was all a monumental waste of money for years), that the Station would be far more than just a glorified laboratory in low earth orbit. The Station is a destination. And that destination will herald a whole new era in human exploration of the solar system. SpaceX was first to really capitalize on this opportunity. Rocketplane-Kistler tried but didn’t put enough skin in the game and so Orbital Sciences is now runner-up and will start flying to the Station late this year. The billionaires behind the Stratolaunch air-launched launch system today purchased the rocket engine company Rocketdyne. These are just the first few steps. To quote a movie we all know, “the human adventure is just beginning.”

@27 Mark, once the two astronauts arrive, the water they consume, the oxygen they consume…. are replaced by waste which can be processed, and carbon dioxide that plants can turn back into oxygen via photosynthesis. You’d have to factor in current NASA-level capability on the ISS in reprocessing waste human fluid back into potable water. I imagine there’d be one hell of a compost pile once the astronauts get started there!

The one damning thing about a Mars colony… is the Martian North Pole is near where the water ice is… but you get that far north, and your solar power capability is diminished. It’s a tough call… you want solar power more or access to water ice.

Electricity is the real issue. You have to generate it. So, probably a small all-contained Toshiba sealed nuclear reactor would work. This is similar to what we *should* be putting in every home. The “disposable” small nuke reactor power generator. Then you can be close to the North Pole where the land is flattest, and water ice harvesting would be the key operation. Get more water, use power to electrically separate: vent the hydrogen, and keep the oxygen.

Whoever does go “first” will need to know most all the engineering fields and be a Scotty-like miracle worker!

Then again… don’t vent the hydrogen. Create methane from the hydrogen and the readily available carbon dioxide…. and store up methane for rocket fuel for sending small “sample return packages” back to Earth.

# 41.


Good points.
Bob Zubrin (who heads the “Mars Society” in Colorado) constructed a working prototype of a machine that would convert martian CO2 into air and rocket fuel (using only imported hydrogen from earth; but since water ice has been confirmed on Mars, they may not have to import it after all).
It was part of his “live off the land” philosophy of going to Mars. But many of his ideas could well be used for Mars One.

Even if Mars One fails to establish a human ‘beachhead’ on Mars in 2023, they might consider a secondary goal of simply launching their privately funded rover by 2018. The first privately funded rover to reach another planet would be a PHENOMENAL achievement and would certainly make Mars One a true space ‘player’, ala Space X or Virgin Galactic.

Can it be done? I bet it can…. but, maybe they should go for something like lunar-one first. A proof of concept, so to speak.

Not to rain on the bandwagon, but I’d have to learn a lot more about this before I decide whether this is a good idea. First, no one has yet discovered a deposit of water ice big enough and accessible enough for use by humans. Second, what if the ice is radioactive? Remember, Mars lacks a lot of the protection that we take for ganted here on good old Earth. Third, can humans really live in a dessert with no animals or plants and no direct connection to the environment without suffering from severe mental illness? Lastly: funny thing about humans, they tend to reproduce. Is it ethical to expose children to such harsh conditions? Also, what happens when the child becomes an adult? Will they be able to choose to leave? Lots to ponder…

# 44

Actually, they have found subsurface water ice near the polar regions (and spectral analysis shows there’s LOTS more where that came from!). As for the ice being radioactive? Not likely. Yes, Mars’ surface receives far more UV than earth (no magnetic field or appreciable atmosphere to protect it), but that type of radioactivity doesn’t have the kind of longer half life that you see in radioactive metals (from a geologically active planet like the Earth, for example) and wouldn’t ‘contaminate’ the ice with radioactivity necessarily. Water tends to be a natural absorber/insulator against radioactivity (hence it’s use as a buffer in atomic reactors).

But I agree with you that retrieving the ice (let alone setting up technology to properly utilize it on the surface) would be formidable to say the least…

And I also agree with you that as much as I wish Mars One success? I’m dubious for their potential for making this work. Too many unknown variables at play. There is still a LOT of homework that needs to be done before humans permanently settle the red planet, with surface radiation exposure being just one of the issues.

You also brought up a good point about children born at a Mars One base; they’d be far more prone to mutation (with the higher surface radiation) than their earth-born counterparts…. not to mention the effects of weaker gravity (1/3 of Earth’s) on their bones, muscles and overall health/maturation. Again, there’d be formidable health risks…

OK, I’ve been thinking more about this, and I’d like to amend my original position. At first, I was skeptical of colonization thinking it was wasteful and idealistic. I’d like to say more. There’s something satisfying and ‘right’ about the human race having dominion over Earth. And it seems like that dominion should naturally extrapolate to include the entire universe.

That said, I think our desire to have dominion over and nuture other worlds should be weighed proportionately with our desire to redeem Earth. There is so much here that we have responsibility for. And we are small fragile beings in a vast universe. There are some things that will yield easily to our influence, and there are other things that are unyielding. Perhaps everything beyond terra firma is only to be enjoyed through observation and not to be enjoyed through the dominion of it (at least in this life). Then again, perhaps not!