Robert Heinlein once observed that “Once you get to earth orbit, you’re halfway to anywhere in the solar system.” How unfortunate then, that in recent years, many within the space establishment appear to have completely given up on lowering the cost of reaching orbit. From the ever increasing costs of the heavily subsidized EELV program to the astronomical estimates for the Space Launch System, (each claiming they are “cost effective,” by the way) current NASA space transportation systems, with one critical exception, are all headed in the wrong direction.
The exception of course, is the COTS program, which has helped to sponsor the development of two new launch vehicles, the Orbital Sciences Antares, and the SpaceX Falcon. The former offers a modest return to the historical pricing level of early launch vehicles. The latter however, is utterly revolutionary.
Time for a second instalment of my ‘weird animal’ series! This time, something a little more cuddly: the pink fairy armadillo.
Humankind has undergone a dramatic shift over the past few centuries. A combination of industrialised farming and modern medicine has allowed us to completely overcome our biology. We exist in record populations, live for longer than ever, and, most crucially are able to survive a wide range of situations that would have previously killed us. We are a social species. We naturally collaborate and help each other, and don’t stand by while others suffer. As a result of this, we no longer live under the law of ‘survival of the fittest’ – we exist as ‘survival of everyone’.
Evolution needs two things in order to work: genetic variation and selective pressure. Genetic variation is inevitable. It will always exist amongst living populations. Even if you had a theoretical population of exact clones, variation would arise over generations due to DNA copying errors, recombination and genetic drift.
Congratulations to the great Elon Musk, whose Dragon capsule has successfully docked to the Space Station for the second time. SpaceX is moving along in leaps and bounds. Musk has long since stated that his ultimate goal is to successfully land people on the planet Mars. I fully believe he will accomplish that goal. He has even said that he would like to get the cost down to around half a million dollars, which would make moving to Mars a realistic goal for millions of people. I know that if I had the money, and he had the spacecraft, it’d be a tempting offer.
So when humans get to Mars, obviously the first priority would be survival. Mars is a hostile place. It is a freezing -60°C, there is no oxygen, and the atmosphere is only 1% the pressure of Earth’s. Clearly, we will be living indoors. Moving around outside would be possible with the use of pressure suits and oxygen tanks, but the cold would present a real challenge. Most of the energy produced would be used in just keeping us warm.
There are differing definitions of death, but it is clear that if a person is unconscious, their heart has stopped and their brain ceased to function, that person has died. They are beyond resuscitation, and their body, now just an object that resembles a person, meets none of the criteria for life. The body is no longer a series of self-sustaining chemical reactions; through the same miraculous processes that allowed it to live, it will begin an inexorable return to the ecosystem from whence it came.
Following death, pallor mortis is the first stage in the process of post-mortem disembodiment. As the heart has stopped, blood no longer circulates, and the red blood cells (being denser than the plasma) drift downwards, away from the upper surface of the body. This is the cause of the paleness of dead skin, and happens within the first half-hour of death.
This is the first in a series of articles about the weird and wonderful of the animal kingdom. You may or may not know about the animals; some will be common, other rare, but all with be noteworthy for possessing an unusual trait or two. The first is about a deep-sea beastie, one that is familiar is shape but not at all in size: the giant isopod.
The giant isopod is a close relative of the common household woodlouse, only massive: the biggest yet found weighed 17 kg and was 76 cm long. They live a solitary life deep at the bottom of the sea, where they scavenge for dead fish and whales in the muddy gloom.