Space Miners May Be Hunting For More Than Ice In The Future

As our civilization has evolved, we’ve gone from gathering resources above ground for our shelters and day-to-day lives. Wood, stone, and natural fibers all functioned as the backbone for early human civilizations.

But as time went on, we started to look deeper, digging through the ground at our feet to discover iron ore and other precious metals.

And at this point in time, we’re pretty familiar with all the resources Earth has to offer, and are making quick use of them.

So, it begs the question: Where will we turn for resources once the Earth’s bounty has been depleted?

The answer is space. And mining in space might be closer to reality than we think.

Codexes for Space Miners

Science fiction writers have been thinking about this issue for a long time. Mining asteroids is a popular element of many space opera novels.

Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds has characters mining cometary ice in our solar system. Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey opens with the ship Canterbury hauling that same ice to Ceres Station. Powerstat by Ben Bova investigates harnessing massive amounts of solar energy from space. Countless other novels explore the idea of collecting resources from space, like The Web Between the World by Charles Sheffield and Macao Station by Mike Berry.

It’s fair to say that space miners are a critical part of many space operas, but how close to reality are these sci fi stories?

What Are We Mining in Space?

A recent article from Scientific News states that the collision of two neutron stars can produce massive amounts of heavy metal, like gold and platinum.

When two dead stars collide, debris and other materials are shot out into space. Eventually, they’re transformed into familiar heavy metals through a phenomenon known as the r-process.

This process occurs when “atomic nuclei climb the periodic table, swallowing up neutrons and decaying radioactively”.

But this is old news, these discoveries are at least 5 years old at this point. Yet, this data suggests that in the future, we might be mining more than just asteroid ice in space.

Not only could we collect gold and platinum from space, but mining asteroids could yield nickel, cobalt, iron, aluminum, and a slew of other materials, including hydrogen, one of the proponents of rocket fuel.

space miners 16 psyche asteroid
16 Psyche, an asteroid rumored to contain $10 quintillion worth of iron and nickel

Urgently Hiring: Space Miners

An article by Alex Gilbert in the Milken Institute Review, published in April 2021, claims that mining in space might happen as soon as 2024.

NASA recently handed out contracts to four companies, allowing them to extract sample material from the moon. The moon will probably be a hotspot for mining and exploration, with it being only a few days’ journey from Earth. Studies of have shown that there are large, frozen deposits of water in many of the moon’s craters, and who knows what’s lying under the surface.

But, just like in the works of science fiction we so revere, scientists are setting their sites farther than the moon. Asteroids and other moons—include those of Mars—are targets for potential mining operations. Japanese and Chinese space missions are already planned to bring back samples from one of Mars’ moons.

However, the realm of interplanetary mining gets into some sticky legal red tape. There isn’t a formal set of guidelines of who gets to mine what, or colonize where. Space law is still in its infancy, but the US, Luxembourg, and the United Arab Emirates are leading the charge in developing space-resource laws.

But certain treaties pose as roadblocks for space exploitation, and for good measure. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 states that no celestial bodies shall be exploited for national gain. We can only assume that must also apply to individuals such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who have set their eyes on the stars as a way to line their pockets.  

The difficulty of ironing out interplanetary doctrines between all the nations gives the technology ample time to meet the standards for widespread mineral harvesting.

See You Later, Space Miner

All of this is to say that sci fi worlds filled with space miners, pirates, and intergalactic diplomacy might not be far off. While we might not see it in our lifetimes, the foundations for mineral exploitation and far-flung space travel are under construction as we speak.

And our successors might not just be chunking up space ice, but rather harvesting gold, platinum, and other precious metals from neutron star fallout and hefty cash-cow asteroids.

But what do you think? What will become the most valuable resource in space? Hydrogen? Iron? Let us know in the comments below.

5 Habitable Exoplanets That Could Replace Earth

Now, maybe you’ve probably heard, and read, a lot of crazy stories and theories involving aliens, extraterrestrials, and possible life outside planet Earth. But the biggest catch is: it is possible. And we have some exoplanets to prove that!

But what exactly makes an exoplanet habitable? According to NASA, a planet can be considered habitable if it has what it takes to sustain life for a period of time. Like drinkable water sources, atmosphere that allows unaided breathing, and climates that don’t reach extreme temperatures.

The planet usually resides in what’s called the habitable zone; not too close to their host star as to make the planet’s surface unbearably hot, and not too far away from the host star to freeze the planet.

Now that you know the requirements to classify habitable exoplanets, we have gathered a list of some of them that might become the next Earth.

Check them out:

  • Proxima Centauri b
  • Ross 128 b
  • Tau Ceti f
  • Wolf 1061 c
  • Teegarden’s Star b

Proxima Centauri b

Proxima Centauri b orbits around the habitable zone of the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri (the closest star to the Sun and part of a triple star system).

The exoplanet was discovered in August 2016 by using the radial velocity method, where periodic Doppler shifts of the parent star’s spectral lines suggest an orbiting object.

The Proxima Centauri (the habitable zone where it orbits around), with the correct planetary conditions and atmospheric properties, may present the existence of liquid water on the surface of the planet, which makes the Proxima Centauri b exoplanet habitable.

In 1935, Murray Leinster’s short story “Proxima Centauri” puts human travelers into the Proxima Centauri system. The story received mixed reviews, but caught the eye of Isaac Asimov, who talks about it in the anthology Before the Golden Age.

Plus, Stephen Baxter predicted the existence of Proxima b three years before it was actually discovered with his book, Proxima!

Ross 128 b

Ross 128 b is an earth-sized exoplanet orbiting within the inner habitable zone of the red dwarf Ross 128.

It was found using a decade’s worth of radial velocity data from the European Southern Observatory’s HARPS spectrograph (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

Ross 128 b’s orbital patterns haven’t been completely confirmed, but it tends to stay within its habitable zone. However, if it has an Earth-like atmosphere, the planet could distribute the energy received from the star around the planet to allow more areas to potentially hold liquid water.

Tau Ceti f

Tau Ceti f is a super-Earth or mini-Neptune orbiting Tau Ceti.

This exoplanet was discovered in 2012 by statistical analyses of the star’s variations in radial velocity, based on data received by HIRES, APPS, and HARPS.

In October 2020, Tau Ceti f was confirmed to be the most potentially habitable exoplanet orbiting a Sun-like star.

The exoplanet has an estimated equilibrium temperature of only 190 Kelvin. But with a thicker atmosphere and a larger ocean, the temperature could be similar to Earth’s.

The Tau Ceti system has fascinated science fiction writers for decades, as it has been a part of literature by Arthur Clarke, Dan Simmons, Lois McMaster Bujold, and most recently, Andy Weir with Project Hail Mary.

Wolf 1061 c

Orbiting within the habitable zone of the red dwarf star Wolf 1061 in the constellation Ophiuchus, Wolf 1061 c is the fifth-closest known potentially habitable zone, classified as a super-Earth.

Since it is so close to its star and possibly tidally locked, the results show that on one side, it is permanently facing the star and the other side permanently facing away.

This could mean the existence of an extreme variations of temperatures, but the terminator line that separates the illuminated side and the dark side could potentially be habitable, as the temperature there could be suitable for liquid water to exist.

A larger portion of the exoplanet could also be habitable if it has a thick enough atmosphere to facilitate heat transfer away from the side facing the star.

wolf 1061 habitable exoplanet
Wolf 1061,
image from Wikipedia

Teegarden’s Star b

An exoplanet discovered in July 2019 by a peer-review article in Astronomy & Astrophysics published by Mathias Zechmeister and more than 150 other scientists.

This peer-review was published as a part of the CARMENES survey, supporting the existence of two candidate exoplanets orbiting Teegarden’s Star.

The radial velocity method detected possible habitable exoplanets due to the Teegarden Star’s alignment and faintness. After three years of observation, two periodic radial velocity signals emerged from Teegarden’s Star b at 4.91 days.

It orbits around the habitable zone of its host star, indicating the possibility of existing stable liquid water on the surface, thanks to its atmospheric composition.

The host star’s composition also bodes well for the exoplanet’s habitability. Most red dwarfs emit powerful flares, which can strip off other planets’ atmospheres and cause them to be uninhabitable. However, Teegarden’s Star is relatively quiet and inactive, making Tegarden’s Star b a good candidate for human life.

New Habitable Exoplanets Everyday!

In July 2020, an article at the Science Daily News reported a study from the University of Arizona that pinpointed the existence of methane in plumes of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, measured by the Cassini spacecraft on Saturn’s icy moon.

This could be a sign of possible life on the moon since the information received by Cassini is compatible with the characteristics of a habitable environment.

So there might be a potentially hospitable exoplanet closer than we think!

If you liked this article, I highly suggest you check out Nasa’s Exoplanet Exploration website. It has a lot of cool facts and an expansive exoplanet catalog.

The History, and Future, of Animal Testing in Space

The pages of space travel history are filled with records of countless animals and insects who were sent into space.

Perhaps the most famous was Laika, the cosmonaut dog sent into orbit on Sputnik 2 in 1957. She became the first animal to ever enter space, and her journey sparked a flurry of other tests that eventually led to the first human space trip in 1961.

But, why do scientists send animals into space, anyways? And what do recent medical discoveries like intestinal liquid ventilation mean for the future of space travel?

Why Perform Animal Testing in Space?

Animal testing has polarized the science community. On one side, the human safety activists argue that animal testing helps protect us from harmful side effects of pharmaceuticals, cleaning supplies, and pretty much every other product under the sun.

On the other side of the spectrum, the animal rights activists argue that there are other ways to safely perform tests that doesn’t cost lab animals their lives.

There are valid points on both sides of the argument, but sending animals to space has sort of become the posterchild for both animal testing and abolishing animal testing.

So why do we send dogs, chimps, and spiders to space to begin with?

In the early days of the space race, scientists were uncertain about the conditions in space. There were a lot of unanswered questions:

  • Could humans survive the g-force of entry and reentry?
  • Would the human body withstand the stress of a prolonged space trip?
  • How would the body readjust to Earth’s gravity?

Bioastronautics specialists figured that the road to these answers was simply to send various creatures into orbit and observe the results. Unfortunately, almost all animals sent into space died from the stress. But their sacrifice led to the first human spacewalk, the first feet on the moon, and the development of the ISS.  

What Kind of Creatures Got Tickets to Space?

While Laika was the first dog in space, she was followed by:

Felicette the first cat in space
Félicette, the French alley cat turned space traveler
Photo from thenewstack.io

While no adult birds were brought to space, the American flight Discovery STS-29 took 32 chicken embryos into space.

Once scientists had a substantial amount of data about the effects of space on the body, they became interested in unborn creatures.

In addition to the countless live animals sent into orbit, scientists have sent quail and frog eggs into space, as well as the seeds for potatoes, cottonseed, and rapeseed.

But new studies have shown that certain animals have the capacity to breathe with much lower levels of oxygen than previously observed, which is obviously a plus when it comes to space travel.

Discovery of Intestine Breathing in Pigs and Rodents

A new study published in the medical journal Med presents the findings of how oxygenated liquid given to the intestines supported two mammals in respiratory failure.

Both pigs and mice were able to survive environments with critically-low oxygen levels because of oxygen tubes inserted through their rectums to reach the intestines.

Kind of absurd, right?

Well, scientists have known about non-lung respiratory functions for a while. Sea cucumbers and some freshwater catfish, for example, use their intestines to process oxygen. But until now, no mammals have been known to possess such abilities.

What does intestinal breathing in these mammals mean for humans? And what does it mean for the future of animal testing in space?

Medical Benefits of Non-Lung Breathing

The researchers who found the intestinal breathing capabilities of pigs, rats, and mice stated that the discovery might be used in the future to help human patients in respiratory failure.

75% of mice that were given the intestinal liquid ventilation system survived for almost an hour in oxygen-deficient environments, and in non-lethal oxygen-deficient environments, mice with the intestinal liquid ventilation were more active than mice without.

It’s still unclear whether or not humans have the same intestinal breathing abilities, but Takanori Takebe, head researcher of the project, said that “The level of arterial oxygenation provided by our ventilation system, if scaled for human application, is likely sufficient to treat patients with severe respiratory failure, potentially providing life-saving oxygenation.”

In the current medical climate, such a device might remedy the lack of ventilators for COVID-19 patients.

Thinking Outside the Box

As science fiction enthusiasts, we like to take real-world discoveries and bend them a little. In this case, the finding of intestinal breathing sparks questions about a functional use for it in the vacuum of space (or at least, in a space station).

Picture this: you’re on a spaceship in deep space, life support systems are failing and your friend is badly wounded. Oxygen is a precious commodity and you’re already running low. You have to keep your friend alive until backup arrives.

The intestinal liquid ventilation system can support your friend’s respiratory function while not consuming valuable oxygen gas. You’re able to keep him stable until rescue arrives.

While not the most realistic scenario, it’s perfectly feasible that in the future, intestinal liquid ventilation will be used to life-saving effect, not just on Earth, but in space too.

And who knows, maybe pigs and mice will be sent into orbit to test the ILV system before it’s approved for human use. While many of the animals sent to space lost their lives, their sacrifice made modern space exploration possible, and will continue to advance our trek beyond Earth.

Updates From the Edge: March 6

Perseverance: A New Mars Rover

NASA’s new rover, previously called Mars 2020, finally has a name: Perseverance. There was a huge contest that got about 28,000 entries and the winner was a middle school student named Alexander Mather.

In an example of why he won the contest, here’s a powerful line from his essay: “We are a species of explorers, and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere.”

NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen added during the announcement ceremony, “Perseverance is a strong word: it’s about making progress despite obstacles.”

The rover is supposed to launch aboard an Atlas V rocket in July of this year and, if all goes according to plan, will arrive on Mars in February 2021. It will have with it an array of scientific instruments such as ground-penetrating radar, spectrometers to measure soil composition, as well as cameras for both close-up and panoramic views of the surface of the Red Planet.

There’s also going to be a tiny helicopter, which is going to be the first heavier-than-air aircraft on another planet. Finally, there will be an oxygen-producing device that will be able to work with the CO2 in the Martian atmosphere.

There are two main goals to the Perseverance mission. First, it is is to take scientific measurements that help us make sense of the Martian environment both past and current. Did it ever host life? The second mission is to collect samples that another rover, planned for 2026, will pick up and return to Earth.

The six-wheeler will land on Mars in the dry river delta in the Jezero Crater in February 2021.

Space Tourism, Coming Right Up

SpaceX plans to send three tourists up to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2021. They’re doing this along with a Texas start-up called Axiom Space.

This announcement came after NASA said last year it would open up the ISS to a bit more commercial activity.

Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said in a press release, “This history-making flight will represent a watershed moment in the march toward universal and routine access to space.”

There have been civilians on the ISS before, but they all went up on Russian Soyuz ships. This trip will be the first launch of private citizens on a private spacecraft, however. They plan to use a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and a Crew Dragon capsule.

How much will it set you back to go to the ISS? A pass for the 10-day trip reportedly runs about $55 million.

What’s Happening at CAEZIK SF & Fantasy Publishing

The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel About Parallel Universes hits the streets on March 24! It’s the previously unpublished work by Robert A. Heinlein that is a parallel to his 1980 novel, The Number of the Beast.

Check out this recent review here and if you think it’s for you, definitely reserve your copy right away.

Of course there’s also Robert J. Sawyer’s new novel, The Oppenheimer Alternative, which is being published by CAEZIK in paperback on June 2 in the United States. Read an advanced preview here (link opens a PDF) and be the first of your friends to have a peek inside Sawyer’s latest work.

Also, The Oppenheimer Alternative is now available for pre-order, so be sure to get on the list right away.

Follow news from CAEZIK and all of ARC Manor’s imprints on Facebook and Twitter.

Updates From the Edge: February 28

A NASA Legend

Katherine Johnson passed this week at the impressive age of 101.

For those of you who may now know who she was, Johnson was an American mathematician who worked for NASA. Her calculations of orbital mechanics were crucial to the success of the first (and following) American spaceflights. NASA says she had the “historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist.”

In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2019 she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

The 2016 movie Hidden Figures was in part about Johnson. She was portrayed by actress Taraji P. Henson.

Henson portraying Johnson in Hidden Figures

A Mini-Moon

In space-related news, Earth seems to have picked up an orbiting object.

Last week astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona noted a dim object that moved quickly across the sky. Skywatchers at several observatories kept an eye on the object, which is now designated “Temporarily Captured Object 2020 CD3”. It’s been orbiting the earth for around three years.

Scientist Kacper Wierzchos, who works with the Catalina Sky Survey, shared an animation of the object, which you can check out below.

The announcement (which you can read here) was posted by the Minor Planet Center, which monitors small bodies in space. It says “no link to a known artificial object has been found,” which tells us that it’s a naturally-occurring body such as an asteroid.

They also noted that 2020 CD3’s orbit is unstable so it will eventually escape orbit and away from Earth once again.

It’s quite small at around the size of a small car, so don’t get too excited for naked-eye sightings of 2020 CD3.

What’s Happening at CAEZIK SF & Fantasy Publishing

Less than a month to go until The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel About Parallel Universes hits the streets! It’s the previously unpublished work by Robert A. Heinlein that is a parallel to his 1980 novel, The Number of the Beast. It’s coming to you on March 24, 2020, so reserve your copy right here.

Of course there’s also Robert J. Sawyer’s new novel, The Oppenheimer Alternative, which is being published by CAEZIK in paperback on June 2 in the United States. Read an advanced preview here (link opens a PDF) and be the first of your friends to have a peek inside Sawyer’s latest work.

Follow news from CAEZIK and all of ARC Manor’s imprints on Facebook and Twitter.

Lettuce reach for the stars!

While it still seems like such a SF concept, it was proven in August 2015 that you can indeed grow lettuce in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station and consume it. And consume it, Expedition 45 crewmembers Scott Kelly, Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui did!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqtAK-FBtXU&w=560&h=315]

Fast forward to the most recent phase in the “Veggie” experiment: growth round Veg-03 was started on October 25th, 2016, to test the modified water delivery system, and this time six lettuces were grown simultaneously, under the care of Expedition 50‘s newly minted Space Station Commander Shane Kimbrough.

Space Lettuce
“Veggie” prototype. Credit: NASA/Gioia Massa

Yet how do you grow lettuce–indeed, any vegetable–in space when the microgravity means you can’t just “water” the plants? And no, the answer does not requite astronaut feces, such as in The Martian. Instead, it calls for a nifty invention where the seed “wicks” water out of nutrient pillows each seed is attached to and germinated from.

Shane Kimbrough was the first to taste the lettuce grown from the latest growth experiment, using a repetitive harvest technique where only the tops of a selection of leaves are sliced off for him to eat, allowing the lettuce base to grow new leaves for subsequent consumption and science samples to be sent home to be tested. Each growth cycle takes approximately ten days.

“Testing this method on-orbit, after using it on the ground, is very exciting for us,” said Veggie Project Manager Nicole Dufour. “A repetitive harvest allows us to provide more food for both the crew and for science, so it’s a win-win.”

iss050e043420.jpg
Tokyo Bekana Chinese Cabbage leaves are shown prior to February 2017 harvest aboard the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA.

Since then the fifth crop has been harvested on the ISS, by Peggy Whitson, on February 17th, 2017–the first crop of Chinese cabbage ever grown. While most of it will be going back to Earth for scientific study, the crewmembers were able to enjoy some of it. Peggy’s stay on the ISS was extended by three months as she is now Expedition 51‘s Space Station Commander, allowing her to oversea the planting of a second round of Tokyo Bekana Chinese Cabbage, and as of April 3rd, the crew are already seeing sprouts.

So what does this mean for the future of space exploration? Everything. Scientists agree it helps morale and the physical health of the astronauts to be able to consume fresh food while away from Earth. Not only that, but it increases the probability of creating a renewable sustainable food supply while NASA continues to explore the feasibility of humanity moving to Mars, or beyond.

veggie2
Astronaut Peggy Whitson harvests Tokyo Bekana Chinese cabbage aboard the ISS on February 17th, 2017. Photo Credit: NASA.

But what about the immediate future?

“I love gardening on Earth, and it is just as fun in space….” Peggy Whitson tweeted in early February. “I just need more room to plant more!”

And NASA apparently agrees. Later in Spring a second Veggie installation will be set up on the ISS, to provide side-by-side comparison experiments. And on the April 18th resupply mission is an experiment involving Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant as well as petri dishes to place within the Veggie facility. Arabidopsis is seen as the genetic model of the plant world, so the principle investigator, University of Florida’s Dr. Anna Lisa Paul, considers it the perfect specimen for performing genetic studies.

“These experiments will provide a key piece of the puzzle of how plants adjust their physiology to meet the needs of growing in a place outside their evolutionary experience,” Dr. Paul said. “And the more complete our understanding, the more success we will have in future missions as we take plants with us off planet.”

Now, when I read that quote, why can’t I help but think of The Day of the Triffids? Just how will the plants evolve to cope with microgravity? How will they adapt? With each advancement we make, the science fiction we extrapolate in books really does seem to becoming closer to reality. I can’t wait to find out what the future holds. How about you?