space exploration

I was recently invited to speak at a school with two Estonian Student Satellite Program (ESTCube) members. Here’s me talking (the microphone made us look like a band 😂) about the electric solar wind sail which could propel superfast spacecraft and get us to deep-space in the shortest time yet. It was invented by Pekka Janhunen and a Finnish nanosatellite is set to test its working principles this year. Hopefully ESTCube will test it soon enough as well. 

Scientists discover hidden galaxies behind the Milky Way

Hundreds of hidden nearby galaxies have been studied for the first time, shedding light on a mysterious gravitational anomaly dubbed the Great Attractor.

Despite being just 250 million light years from Earth–very close in astronomical terms–the new galaxies had been hidden from view until now by our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Using CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope equipped with an innovative receiver, an international team of scientists were able to see through the stars and dust of the Milky Way, into a previously unexplored region of space.

Keep reading
Zenith Now: If we want to explore other planets, we need to contaminate them with Earth's microbes, ASAP
Does life exist beyond Earth? That's arguably the biggest question the modern science community faces. There's very good reason to believe it does. Life in the Cosmos seems statistically inevitable...

An opinion piece I wrote about why we need to stop worrying about contaminating other planets (i.e. Mars) with Earth’s microbes if we hope to inhabit other worlds. Otherwise, we’re wasting our time.


Behold- The Space Shuttle Tile

Designing an orbiter that is able to endure the brutal -250 F in the outer stretches to space to bewildering 3000 F during the reentry is a ridiculously challenging task.

Space shuttle is the name for the entire setup, whereas the orbiter is the ‘planeattached

The Thermal Armor

Ergo, after churning the minds of the elite scientists and engineers, we now have the TPS ( Thermal protection system ) that protects the orbiter from these harsh temperature changes.


The thermal protection system is like a armor that maintains the outer skin of the orbiter within acceptable temperatures. This is achieved by employing various materials on the outer structural skin.

Wait, what kind of materials?

The tile’s material is an Insulator. These materials do not give away their heat that is contained easily.

Cardboard, being an insulator protects your hand from the hot coffee. (PC: Nirzar)

Conductors on the other hand are the exact opposite. They love to give away their heat.

This is the reason why touching a hot aluminium / stainless steel ( Conductors ) pan at a moderate 100 C would cause burns, but touching the Space shuttle tile ( An amazing insulator ) at 2200 C is probably not a bad idea!

Perceiving Temperature


When something feels hot to you, it’s really because there is a large amount of heat transferred between the object and your skin.

And when there is very less heat transfer, we perceive it as cold!

In the case of the space tile, being a really good insulator it is conducting ( transferring out ) the heat that in within it at a remarkably low rate.

Ergo, if we were to touch it, it will feel the same as a quotidian household object.

Cool eh ?


NASA’s released a prototype of the spacesuit astronauts will wear on Mars

ICYMI, humans are going to Mars in the mid-2030s, and NASA is about to startrecruiting astronauts for the mission. But before it opens those floodgates, the US space agency has provided a little more insight into what those lucky future astronauts will be wearing when they touch down on the Red Planet for the first time.

NASA unveiled its first images of the Z-2 spacesuit advanced prototype last month, and it looks a lot more modern than the white extravehicular mobility unit suits we’re used to seeing on astronauts these days.

That’s because the Z-2 has been designed purely with one purpose in mind - to allow astronauts to explore a foreign planet. The suit won’t be worn during space walks or on board spacecraft, but will be used when humans reach Mars.

“The suit is designed for maximum astronaut productivity on a planetary surface – exploring, collecting samples, and maneuvering in and out of habitats and rovers,” NASA explained.

The suit is also made with adjustable shoulders and waste to allow a range of crew members to fit into just one suit. But despite that flexibility, the Z-2 is incredibly tough, and has a solid upper torso.

“The Z-2 uses advanced composites to achieve a light-weight, high-durability suit that can withstand long-duration missions in the harsh environments found on Mars,” said NASA.

Continue Reading.

So, we’ve finally confirmed water on Mars in more places than we could’ve imagined. What now?

On one hand, it’s a fantastic confirmation for planetary scientists around the world, and precisely what research seeks to achieve – validation through determination, or “reward after frustration” describes Nathalie A. Cabrol, Carl Sagan Director at the SETI Institute (read: ‘The Meaning of NASA’s Announcement: More Profound Than You Think’). Obviously, the search for life outside of Earth continues, and water has been the primer for this quest, thus the development and discussion of missions to Europa, Enceladus, Earth’s moon (Luna), and asteroids. To that effect, SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is as thrilled as anyone.

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(Above) Seasonal water flows on Mars

From the perspective of planetary science and continued exploration of Mars, we now have probable cause for meticulous examination of these locations for the purpose of learning more about Mars geologic/geophysical history regarding the unfolding of ‘Mars: The Mystery of the Missing Water’, to which we still don’t know what happened to the once-flowing liquid that crafted the Martian terrain. 

On the other hand, the prospect of in situ resource utilization of H2O on Mars presents a diverse array of opportunities for upcoming robotic missions to the red planet, such as the Insight lander, an advanced Curiosity rover, ExoMars (orbiter and rover), and others being developed, as we seek to learn more about the enigmatic planet as a precursor for humans on Mars. 

(Above) Humans on Mars concept by artist Bryan Versteeg

The topic and focus that seems to be alluding the main conversation is that of human settlement on Mars. Instead, it’s become more entertaining to use phrasing like “one way trip” or “dying on Mars” (in the case of Mars One at least). Let’s be quite clear here: the goal and purpose of nasa is to develop the necessary technologies and applications to understand our biosphere (and all life within it) by studying other worlds; and to advance human presence in space. The further out we go, the less practical it is to routinely return to Earth. What does that mean? We explore, work, play, and live - in space (i.e., planets, moons, Free Space). 

The U.S. government is being directed by people who are - as they’ve publicly declared repeatedly - not scientists. This means that all of their decisions are not based on evidence, peer review, global consensus, or the scientific method, but by opinion, bias, and short term profits, rather than a return on investment that involves the long term habitability and survival of the human species, let alone the robust biodiversity of life on Earth, which involves the rapid expansion of Earth life into space. 

It’s not that I’m personally biased myself because I’m an acclaimed “space advocate” (what is that?) but because, as Carl Sagan poignantly stated, 

“all civilizations either become spacefaring or extinct.”

To further this directive, Stephen Petranek (author, ‘How We’ll Live on Mars’) offers his perspective in this BigThink interview (transcript below):

The reason we need to travel to Mars and to establish a civilization on Mars is to protect the long-term survival of the human species. We need to become a space faring society and eventually we need to move far beyond Mars not only from our own solar system but into other solar systems within this galaxy and other solar systems in other galaxies. We are making wonderful progress finding other Earth-like planets and we will continue to find many of those in the future.

Eventually the human species is going to disappear. That means everyone who’s a human being will die eventually and this species will die of and go extinct. And there are a number of reasons how that could happen and why that could happen including a large asteroid hits Earth and destroys everything larger than a rabbit as happened in the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago or eventually our sun begins to die and there is a 100 percent probability our sun will begin to die in about two billion years. And one of two things will happen. Either Earth will be thrown completely out of its orbit and go spinning off into space and everyone will die very quickly. Or the sun will essentially irradiate Earth as it expands because what happens with a dying sun is it gets very large. And so in order to survive as a species we have to become a space faring species. We have to get off this planet eventually and that is the long term hope for humanity.

Mars is the most habitable place in our solar system by far. And even though it’s an incredibly hostile environment, we’ve developed the technology over the last 50 years to survive on Mars and to survive quite readily. So Mars is a wonderful first step. It’s where we go to learn how to go farther. Elon Musk says he will land on Mars in 2025. We’ve had, he and I have had a number of – several conversations about this. He’s more optimistic than I am and he’s one of the most optimistic people I’ve ever met. I’m very optimistic but he’s more optimistic than I am. So I am in the discussion with him about a timeframe and when a SpaceX rocket or two might land on Mars. We kind of came to the conclusion that maybe we should say 2027. In other words give him a two year fallback. But he specifically says and I quote him on this in the book that he will be extremely disappointed if a SpaceX rocket has not landed on Mars by 2030. And I think that’s quite reasonable. I’d give 90 percent odds to a betting person that a SpaceX rocket will land on Mars before 2030.

We aren’t going to Mars “because it’s there”, but because it’s within reach, and it’s a new World poised for settlement (with water, nonetheless). Pluto is “there”, space is “there”, but Mars makes economic sense because we don’t have to reinvent the wheel once we’re there, but live off the land like we’ve always done. This can be done on the Moon, Phobos and Deimos, and elsewhere in space, but Mars is the next logical step for humankind. Not because we are explorers, and not because we have the technological know-how to get there, but because it’s an evolutionary imperative as a species with the capability to survive and thrive amongst harsh environments, and we have the foresight to realize that our time on this planet - and the planet itself - is finite. 

Above conversation inspired by the article ‘There’s Water on Mars. We’ll Harvest Oxygen From It.’ by Natalie Shoemaker for BigThink.