Faster-Than-Light Travel May Be Possible

Faster-than-light travel was once seen as simply a key element in science fiction tales that made stories work. Faster-than-light warp drive made all that possible, at least between the covers of a good sci-fi book. In the real world though, travel to distant planets at speeds known to man, was thought to be impractical. Now, NASA is re-thinking warp drive with a focus on making fantasy into reality.

“Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre proposed the first warp drive in 1994, but found that the energy costs associated with such a device would be problematic,” says Zach Walton in WebProNews. “In fact, scientists peg the energy required to be about equal to the mass-energy of Jupiter.” Way too much.Checking in with NASA on the idea, a new space ship design from Harold White at NASA’s Johnson Space Center might be the answer. “The original warp drive was envisioned as a small ship that’s encircled by a flat ring that would warp space-time around the ship,” says Walton. The new design would be more like a donut and, if proven true, could lead to faster-than-light travel.

A trip to Mars in minutes? Exploration of the solar system? All in line with this video from National Geographic on the colonization of Mars.

[Flickr photo by Sweetie187]

Space traveler brain scans bring troubling results to NASA

Space travel appears to have taken its toll on NASA astronauts. Those in space for more than a month have shown unexpected symptoms that could set back plans for longer deep-space missions.

Researchers scanned the eyes and brains of 27 astronauts who had spent an average of 108 days in space, either on space shuttle missions or aboard the International Space Station. In many of the astronauts, they found symptoms consistent with intracranial hypertension, a potentially serious condition that happens when pressure builds within the skull.

“NASA has placed this problem high on its list of human risks, has initiated a comprehensive program to study its mechanisms and implications, and will continue to closely monitor the situation,” Dr. William Tarver, chief of the flight medicine clinic at NASA’s Johnson Space Center told Fox News in a recent article.

A symptom of excess cerebral-spinal fluid around the optic nerve was found in 33 percent of the astronauts and a flattening of the back of the eyeball was found in 20 percent.

“The MRI findings revealed various combinations of abnormalities following both short and long-term cumulative exposure to microgravity also seen with idiopathic intracranial hypertension,” said Professor Larry Kramer, lead author of the study.

Odds are the study will have no effect on Virgin Galactic‘s plan to begin suborbital commercial flights this year.

Flickr photo by cobra.creations

Airborne students, teachers help continue NASA relevance

NASA’s Airborne Science Program and Earth system science research has a fleet of highly modified aircraft that can be deployed all over the world for Earth science missions. Operating in the United States, Europe, Asia and South America, researchers use these aircraft to improve our understanding of the planet. This summer, thirty-two undergraduate and graduate students from across the United States will participate in the Student Airborne Research Program aimed at measuring pollution in California.

Using NASA’s P-3B airborne laboratory, students will measure pollution in the Los Angeles basin and California’s Central Valley and study ocean biology along the California coast. In addition to airborne data collection, students will take measurements at field sites.

Its just one part of an ongoing program that combines global satellite observations and ground sampling to better model and understand the complete Earth system, continuing NASA’s mission even at a time when manned space flight has all but come to a stop.

“NASA’s Airborne Science support of the Earth system science community will be exceptional in 2012,” Randy Albertson, NASA Airborne Science deputy program director told SpaceDaily. “The program on track to exceed the 2011 record of 2,600 hours flying science missions.”

In addition to the Student Airborne program, NASA has projects scheduled this year that include measuring snowfall from space (critically important to freshwater resources, atmospheric water and energy cycles), collecting detailed measurements of important greenhouse gases and studying the processes that form hurricanes.

Not only students are engaged with NASA either. More than 70 teachers had an opportunity to experience what it feels like to float in space as they participated in the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston last week.

The teachers flew aboard NASA aircraft designed to fly parabolic flight paths, which create brief periods of weightlessness used in NASA’s astronaut training.

NASA Associate Administrator for Education and two-time space shuttle astronaut Leland Melvin also participated in some of the flights and shared first-hand with the participants his experiences in astronaut training.

“The enthusiasm among our teachers participating in the reduced gravity flights is contagious,” Melvin said in a statement. “I know it will add a new dimension to their teaching as they engage their students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies.”

NASA photo