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Space Science

ESA Conducts Mars Terraforming Experiments On ISS 181

geegel writes "Space is a hostile environment for living things, but small organisms on the Expose-E experiment unit outside Europe's Columbus ISS laboratory module have resisted the solar UV radiation, cosmic rays, vacuum and varying temperatures for 18 months. A certain lichen seems to be particularly happy in open space."
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ESA Conducts Mars Terraforming Experiments On ISS

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  • Re:Mars (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Lawrence ( 1733598 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @12:58PM (#31023826) Homepage

    Yes, but it was way behind schedule and for a long time had only a minimum crew. They needed to spend all their time just maintaining the station which didn't leave any time for scientific research. Now, finally, they have a full crew and can actually get down to business.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @12:59PM (#31023828) Homepage

    It's near earth orbit. INSIDE the magnetosphere which removes a huge amount of radiation from the equation.

    Big difference there.

  • by RavenChild ( 854835 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:11PM (#31023990)

    Mars (along with Venus) do not have a magnetosphere in the same way Earth does. They have ionospheres that operate in similar fashion but the magnetic field only deflects a bit of the solar wind.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:25PM (#31024166)

    This is important, but still doesn't rule out the usefulness of the experiment, since many of the panspermia advocates suggest that lifeforms might have evolved in such crazy places as asteroid fields, cosmic dust clouds, and the like.

    these cosmic phenomena aren't "open space" either, and in the case of cosmic dust clouds several AU across, there is more than enough dust to stop a good majority of cosmic radiation.

    The mere fact that this lichen (which is a complex, multicellular, and even symbiotic lifeform-- as opposed to say-- e.choli) has been able to endure for such a long time out there is pretty impressive for shooting down the "No atmosphere means no life jackass." nay sayers.

    Then there is always the interesting situation of food cultivation in deep space, or in very harsh environments (like on the moon; NASA isn't the only agency that can get there.)

    As for terraforming though, I would be much more interested in seeding the Venusian atmosphere with thermophilic microbes; much like the kind found in ocean vents, or in geysers.

    If these microbes were engineered to produce heat-stable sulfur precipitates as waste products (after consuming sulfuric acid, one of the major greenhouse substances on venus) it could induce global cooling on venus. This is especially true if the precipitate is light in color, because then you would get a double-whammy with the albedo effect.

    All in all, I find this kind of research very interesting.

  • by holmstar ( 1388267 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:41PM (#31024402)
    This experiment just shows that the lichen was able to survive long term exposure to space. It doesn't say anything about growth, which is what you would need in order to do any sort of terraforming. It would be nice if they would give a bit more detail on the findings.
  • Re:Mars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OolimPhon ( 1120895 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:42PM (#31024430)

    You misunderstand. Actually building the thing has involved a whole lot of new engineering and scientific knowledge.

    Doing experiments now it's up there is fine, but just getting it up there taught us a lot (including, the shuttle was a bad idea).

  • Re:Mars (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Greg Hullender ( 621024 ) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:08PM (#31024766) Homepage Journal
    On Earth, the Oxygen Cycle is about a million years. Seed Mars with plants, add water, and wait a million years. Presto! Instant oxygen atmosphere.

    Of course, advanced technology might cut that to as little as ten-thousand years . . .

    --Greg (Why I lost interest in terraforming)

  • Re:Venus (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:45PM (#31025232)

    This is something that has always riled me up, (no not the Lose VS Loose argument.)

    Air has mass! A planet with a rich atmosphere will be heavier, and thus have more mass!

    Thus, the more air on the planet, the more massive it becomes. Mars has little atmosphere (due to solar wind ablation over geological time), and as such, is much less massive than the earth, which has liquid oceans and a thick healthy atmosphere.

    The "mars doesnt have enough gravity!" folks are pitifully ignoring that there is excessive evidence that Mars had large oceans at one point. This requires a dense atmosphere to keep the water liquid. If mars never had the mass to retain an atmosphere, then it would never have had oceans to begin with.

    Instead, I am more apt to believe that mars COULD support a rich atmosphere, if it had a magnetosphere to prevent the solar wind from simply blowing/pinching it off into space. This is because the added weight of the atmosphere would cross the tipping point, and make mars heavy enough to sustain said atmosphere. (as it has previously had in the past.)

  • Why bother (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:50PM (#31025276)

    Mr. Obama just neutered our maned space program. Plans for the moon are shattered to say nothing about mars. We can even get into low earth orbit anymore after the shuttle is retired. What a mess. We no longer have any direction for manned space travel. So why are we still talking about this stuff.. Dream on.

The absent ones are always at fault.