Exploración espacial (Continuación)

Tuesday is the 40th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 1, which, paradoxically, was shot into space two weeks after its partner spacecraft, Voyager 2. With all of the turbulent terrestrial news of late, it may seem like humanity is stuck in the past, dominated by religious wars and racial violence. But pondering the journey of these two small space explorers reminds us of just how far humanity has traveled in just a few decades.

In 2012, Voyager 1 left the sheltered cocoon we call the heliosphere, a bubble in space in which the pressure from the sun’s wind of particles and its magnetic field overcome the outside pressure from the rarefied gas that permeates the rest of our galaxy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Only 39 light-years away, astronomers have found seven planets circling a very small “red dwarf” star called Trappist-1. All seven are in or near what we call the “Goldilocks zone”: not too hot, not too cold, but just right for water to remain liquid on the planet. So we all speculate once again, but a little more bravely this time, about whether some of these planets might be home to life.

Not only are three of Trappist-1’s planets dead center in the Goldilocks zone; the other four are on the fringes of the habitable zone. And they are all big enough — from half Earth’s size to slightly bigger than our home planet — to retain an atmosphere for billions of years.…  Seguir leyendo »

Entre las numerosas noticias que pueblan las -afortunadamente cada vez más importantes- secciones de ciencia de los medios de comunicación resulta a veces difícil identificar aquéllas que constituyen auténticos hitos llamados a entrar en la historia de la ciencia. Uno de estos hitos, que no debe pasarnos desapercibido, se nos comunicó hace tan sólo unas semanas: el descubrimiento de Próxima b, una nueva Tierra potencialmente habitable que, necesariamente, es la más cercana a nuestro planeta. En efecto, este exoplaneta orbita en torno a Próxima Centauri, la estrella que -a tan sólo 4,2 años luz de distancia- es la más próxima de nuestro Sol, de ahí su nombre.…  Seguir leyendo »

El astrofísico Stephen Hawking sostiene que la humanidad desaparecerá relativamente pronto de la Tierra debido a un cóctel de problemas derivados de la manipulación genética de los virus, del cambio climático y de los accidentes nucleares. Por eso propone que algunos humanos se trasladen a otro planeta similar a la Tierra y vuelvan a empezar. De ahí el interés en localizar exoplanetas, o sea planetas de otros sistemas estelares, que resulten habitables.

Parece que el número de exoplanetas es de algunos millones. Ya se han descubierto unos 5.000. Se ignoraban hasta hace poco porque no se ven con los telescopios instalados en la Tierra.…  Seguir leyendo »

Yesterday, the European Southern Observatory announced that astronomers have detected a planet the size of Earth orbiting our nearest star, Proxima Centauri. We discover hundreds of “exoplanets” every year, but this one is different: It orbits its star at just the right distance so that, in theory, it’s possible it could sustain life. This detection of a “goldilocks” planet so close to our own marks a significant achievement for exoplanet astronomy, the young field devoted to the search for and study of planets orbiting stars other than our sun.

The European Southern Observatory’s news release explains that Proxima Centauri, unlike the other two stars in its system, is a red dwarf, smaller and cooler than our sun.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hace tan solo unos días que ha saltado a la prensa la noticia de que la misión privada Moon Express, apadrinada por el acaudalado empresario Naveen Jain y otros grandes entusiastas del espacio, ha obtenido el permiso legal del Gobierno de Estados Unidos para aterrizar en la superficie de la Luna en el año 2017. El objeto de la misión es explorar y analizar in situ los recursos de materiales y de energía de nuestro satélite para su posible explotación en el futuro. Esta misión forma parte de una contienda por ganar un substancioso premio de 20 millones de dólares, el Google Lunar X Prize, que promueve la competitividad de empresas privadas para impulsar el estudio de la Luna y de sus valiosos recursos.…  Seguir leyendo »

If the human race is to survive in the long-run, we will probably have to colonise other planets. Whether we make the Earth uninhabitable ourselves or it simply reaches the natural end of its ability to support life, one day we will have to look for a new home.

Hollywood films such as The Martian and Interstellar give us a glimpse of what may be in store for us. Mars is certainly the most habitable destination in our solar system, but there are thousands of exoplanets orbiting other stars that could be a replacement for our Earth. So what technology will we need to make this posible?…  Seguir leyendo »

A crescent moon rises over the cusp of the Earth’s atmosphere in this picture by astronaut Koichi Wakata onboard the International Space Station. (NASA via Reuters)

For many years, the United States has been spending billions of dollars on human spaceflight exploration. However, we have lacked a clear commitment to a program to break the pattern of humans simply circling Earth. It’s time to sojourn outward and have America soar beyond low Earth orbit.

When I peer into the future, I see Cycling Pathways to Occupy Mars — a comprehensive and immediate plan for human spaceflight. The overall objectives of this plan are to sequentially evolve international contributions of shared exploration beyond low Earth orbit and toward international crew landings on Mars by 2040. This plan can grow to enable a permanent settlement on the Red Planet to be up and operating in the following years and decades.…  Seguir leyendo »

Imagine a field geologist hiking a dusty landscape. She spies a ridge of rock, climbs to it, whacks off a protruding bit with a hammer. She stoops to pick up the broken piece, turning its freshly fractured face upward. From its color and crystals, she deduces its composition. She drops the rock and makes a note in her field notebook. Then she walks on.

On Earth, this whole process takes only minutes. On Mars, where robots substitute for human geologists, the same operation takes a day, sometimes several. Mars scientists eagerly anticipate a time when we’ll see human geologists walking on Mars, using their brains and hands to rapidly increase the rate at which we learn about Mars’s past.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thirty years ago, as footage of the Challenger space shuttle explosion streamed across television screens, President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation to reassure citizens that the tragedy would not stop American space exploration.

“It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery,” Reagan said. That sentiment — that the spirit of discovery is at the core of space exploration — remains central to NASA’s operating mission today, even as the agency’s budget flat-lines and the feasibility of future missions is questioned.

More recently, discussions of the future of space exploration have shifted. Last summer, as the New Horizons spacecraft sped past Pluto to observe the dwarf planet for the first time in history, President Obama lauded the achievement as “a great day for discovery and American leadership.” But only a few months later, he signed into law legislation that recognizes the right of private companies to own material mined from asteroids in the solar system.…  Seguir leyendo »

En The Martian, una de las películas más exitosas de 2015, la NASA salva heroicamente a un astronauta varado en Marte, con un poco de ayuda internacional y mucho ingenio humano. Dirigida por Ridley Scott, la película es visualmente hermosa y tiene en vilo al espectador. Pero también es un modo de señalar lo que los seres humanos podemos lograr cuando nos lo proponemos y (como la obra maestra creada en 1968 por Stanley Kubrick, 2001: Odisea del Espacio) nos da un atisbo de cómo puede ser el futuro de la exploración espacial.

La NASA dio asesoramiento técnico durante la producción de la película, y en muchas de las escenas aparecen tecnologías en las que estamos trabajando, desde trajes espaciales avanzados hasta métodos para cultivar alimentos en el espacio.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the early years of the 20th century, zeppelins filled with flammable and explosive hydrogen were all the rage in Germany, a reckless infatuation that ended with the eruption and crash of the Hindenburg in 1937. Sometimes, technology is a triumph of wild-eyed enthusiasm over the unpleasant facts of the real world.

Today we are witnessing a similar outburst of enthusiasm over the literally outlandish notion that in the relatively near future, some of us are going to be living, working, thriving and dying on Mars. A Dutch nonprofit venture called Mars One aspires to send four people to Mars by 2026 as the beginning of a permanent human settlement.…  Seguir leyendo »

Andreas Mogensen, Aidyn Aimbetov and Gennady Padalka rest outside their spacecraft and are surrounded by support personnel after landing. NASA

Expedition 44 to the International Space Station has been successfully completed after three astronauts landed in Kazakhstan. The mission saw a cosmonaut clock up more days in space than any other human being, the launch of the most audacious twin study in the history of science, and astronauts eating lettuce grown in space for the first time.

The crew have taught us plenty about how to survive beyond our own planet – knowledge that is crucial if we want to venture out on long journeys exploring the solar system.

Understanding the effects of space travel on the human body is crucial.…  Seguir leyendo »

Unless you have been, well, on another planet, you know that July 14 was the date of closest approach to Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft, which has now sent back unprecedented images from this historic encounter.

Passing Pluto at barely 7,750 miles (or 12,400 kilometers for savvy metric readers), the seven experiments on the New Horizons spacecraft are busily gathering extensive data on Pluto and its five known moons, Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra.

It will be months before these data are fully transmitted to Earth, in part because, like many of us, New Horizons needs to focus all its effort on one essential task at a time.…  Seguir leyendo »

Por qué ir a Plutón

¿Por qué escalar el Everest? Ésta es la pregunta que realizaban reiteradamente al montañero británico George Mallory, quien formó parte de tres expediciones que intentaron ascender a esa gran cumbre en los años 20. Gran parte del público no comprendía el objetivo de correr riesgos y de emplear costosos medios para alcanzar esa meta. De manera análoga, ahora que la sonda de NASA New Horizons nos envía imágenes inéditas del pequeño y remoto Plutón, ocupando así las páginas de la prensa, oímos la pregunta de cuál es la finalidad de tan difícil misión. Recordemos que con ésta, el ser humano ya ha enviado sondas a todos los cuerpos importantes del sistema solar y que, en este momento, tenemos varias naves espaciales y robots estudiando Marte tanto desde órbita como sobre la superficie del planeta rojo.…  Seguir leyendo »

This handout image released on February 5, 2015 by NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captures a rare occurrence as three of Jupiters largest moons parade across the giant gas planets banded face. (Ho/AFP/Getty Images)

Thanks to the New Horizons probe, which began its exploration of Pluto last month, scientists and the public can anticipate ever more exciting pictures and data about the dwarf planet. It will be the first encounter with a member of the Kuiper Belt of icy objects beyond Neptune. Yet the scheduled July 14 flyby will be of not one object but at least six: Pluto, Charon (a satellite half the size of Pluto) and four small moons — and who knows what else in orbit around their common center. Many wonders and insights about the origins and evolution of the solar system await.…  Seguir leyendo »

Everywhere you look, there is renewed interest in space. Two of the top grossing movies of the past two years were “Gravity” and “Interstellar,” while recent real-life space dramas have been even more fascinating than fiction.

Take the unprecedented 37-year, 12-billion-mile odyssey of NASA’s Voyager spacecraft — the first human-made object to venture into interstellar space. In 2012, our Curiosity rover made its harrowing landing on Mars. We also provided key support and instruments to the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft and the recent first-ever robotic landing on a comet with its Philae lander.

Everywhere I go, the world over, students, citizens, scientists, explorers and entrepreneurs are eager to get in on the action in this new era of space exploration.…  Seguir leyendo »

It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.

First came the launch failure of an unmanned Orbital Sciences rocket and cargo spacecraft bound for the International Space Station, which started a conversation in the media about the wisdom of relying on commercial carriers for transporting cargo (and later, crew) to the space station.

Days later came the fatal crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo during a flight test. The media discussion expanded to include the question of whether it would be ethical to launch members of the general public to space in the future, as nonprofessionals seeking the experience.

Regardless of the misconceptions (NASA has always relied upon commercial companies to design and manufacture its spacecraft and rockets) and arguments either way, the fact is that the public suddenly became aware that we are doing a lot of things in space.…  Seguir leyendo »

Noviembre de 2014 podría ser recordado como la época en que la humanidad aterrizó por primera vez una sonda robótica en el núcleo de un cometa.

Oportunamente, la misión que logró esta destacada hazaña se llama Rosetta. En 1799, los soldados franceses descubrieron una antigua tableta egipcia, pintada en el 196 a.C. con escritura en tres idiomas diferentes. A final de cuentas, esta escritura en la Piedra Rosetta, junto con la escritura en un obelisco en la isla de Philae del río Nilo, ayudó al entendimiento de los jeroglíficos egipcios. Esta escritura relataba un Egipto mucho más antiguo.

Similarmente, los creadores de la era moderna de la misión Rosetta esperan que su exploración ayude a entender los cometas; núcleos antiguos de roca y hielo que son clave para entender la formación de nuestro sistema solar.…  Seguir leyendo »

Le succès de Rosetta offre à la cinquantenaire Agence spatiale européenne (ESA) un somptueux cadeau d’anniversaire. Il vient couronner un plan à long terme engagé à l’ESA au début des années 1980. L’Europe était alors fortement dépendante de la NASA (et un peu de l’URSS) pour engager des programmes ambitieux d’exploration et les mettre en orbite. En 1981, la décision unilatérale de la NASA d’arrêter sa participation à la mission ISPM de survol des pôles du Soleil par un satellite américain et un européen provoqua une crise politique majeure et vint renforcer une croissante volonté d’autonomie renforcée par le succès du premier lancement d’Ariane en 1979.…  Seguir leyendo »