Saturday, 29 July 2017 00:00

NASA Measures Human Impact on Space Fungi

Whether we intend to or not, humans leave an impact on the areas we inhabit. This is even true in space, where the mere existence of astronauts can change the biological makeup of a planet. As NASA continues in its plans to send manned spacecraft to Mars, the agency is researching how human presence can impact outer space.

To conduct their research, the agency is recreating the environment seen on the International Space Station, which humans have occupied since 1998. For its most recent study, they looked at the affect only a few people living in an inflatable space would have. Even with four occupants, the species of fungi present in the habitat changed.

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The buzz surrounding the race to Mars has mostly focused on what explorers will do once they get there. But astronauts will spend significant time aboard the spacecraft transporting them there, leading to long-overdue speculation about plans for a shuttle.

Boeing recently unveiled its own plans for both a shuttle and a lunar outpost. The outpost has a dual purpose. First, it will reside in the Moon’s orbit, serving in a capacity similar to NASA’s Space Station. Secondly, the outpost will serve as a resting place for vehicles on their way to Mars when those missions finally begin. Not only are Boeing’s concepts visually appealing, but they use solar electric propulsion technology, making them a winner with environmentalists.

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For anyone who has ever spent years chasing a dream, the recent story of Sierra Nevada’s win of a NASA contract is inspiring. The company’s spaceship, ironically called the Dream Chaser, recently joined SpaceX and Orbital ATK in landing a contract to haul cargo to the International Space Station.

Originally, Sierra Nevada’s goal was to provide transportation to astronauts, but those contracts went to Boeing and SpaceX. Even after an appeal, NASA still went with the company’s competitors. Instead of giving up, however, Sierra Nevada took the feedback it received from NASA to rethink its design and come up with a craft that would fly supplies instead of people. The process made the company’s design stronger, as well as helping it land a coveted NASA contract.

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