Decisions made by the U.S. Administration to launch a space force are ill-conceived but are not ill-advised. Everyday, astronomers and their co-workers find reasons to continue the astronomical legacy started so long ago by ancient Greek, Chinese and Mayan civilizations. While the astronomers of long ago tied astronomical events to earthly happenings, I have to ask myself: what does the present Administration have to gain with a space force? One response to the posed question- the mining of asteroids and other planets for their resources. As the earth becomes depleted of its natural resources, it seems logical to look for resources elsewhere. Moreover, the mining of asteroids for resources could not have come at worse moment in history. The earth ecology is reeling from decades of over mining, abuse towards its living creatures, and a generalized misunderstanding of Earthly stewardship. Understanding the general principles of stewardship would have been optimal prior to launching the Space Force. I cite one overarching reason— the orbits of asteroids within the asteroid belt are governed by gravitational tugs and pushes from the Sun and the outer, gas giant planets. I caution it is speculative (while not wildly speculative).
— while carelessly blasting away (with explosives) at the asteroid belt —or removing or hollowing-out asteroids may disrupt disrupt their individual orbits— I am referring to a greater number than a small handful of asteroids. It could start a cascade of meteors or NEOs that may disrupt earthly routines. I regard the the announcement by the Trump administration as reckless— those are the words that I can say without hesitation.
Furthermore, the announcement comes as the present administration comes under increasing scrutiny. The formal launch of the program occurred the first seven months of 2019. It is the hallmark of the present administration to lie and obfuscate issues that are otherwise critical to the western governments and to the earthly populations.
As a US citizen, a writer, and concerned human being, I am dismayed and fearful of the potential damage this president can do to the earth.
The latest edition of the American Heritage English Dictionary defines terraform as: a verb that means to transform (a landscape) on another planet into one having the characteristics of landscapes on Earth. [Latin term, terra earth: see terrace + form]
Mars, the red planet with a mythology that speaks volumes, is daunting. While there are notable stories surrounding Martian lore, it is the realities faced by NASA and other space agencies . Mars seems like a littered graveyard of crashed probes. Up until 2014, a full third of any earth launched rockets headed to the planet never made soft landings.
Countless visionaries and entrepreneurs voiced their desires to terraform Mars. While no country or entrepreneur has attempted to send missions to Mars to terraform it, attempts may ensue before the end of the 21st century. However, success in terraforming Mars hinges on important priorities.
Successful understanding of Martian soil and rock (regolith).
Successful manipulation of plant genomes to be radiation-resistant and withstand Martian cold.
Plants need adequate sources of water.
Martian soil may need adequate amending to ensure proper minerals within the soil.
Astronauts must stay on Mars for an extended period of time to successfully implement the endeavor.
Scientists across the world have experimented with simulated Martian soil and performed computations for the past 25 years in the hopes of unlocking the secrets of Martian soil. If you recall Andy Weir’s book, The Martian or its movie adaptation, the lead character is stranded on Mars and grows potatoes to sustain himself until rescued. While Martian farming may occur in the lives of our children, it is decades until it becomes practical.
So, let’s get to the point – how can we terraform Mars?
There are, at least, two methods by which we can farm Mars:
1. Oxygenate the atmosphere first and then proceed to utilize the resources of Martian regolith with genetically engineered plants.
2. Use Greenhouses to grow crops and resources – vegetables, fruits, and hemp. Other uses of synthetic plants center upon genetic manipulations of plant biology to produce medicinal alterations and other commodity-like stuffs.
While the first method seems daunting, it has a sense of a pioneering spirit to it. It will take multiple generations to implement according to published studies. According to Cyprien Verseux and co-workers the first step is to seed multiple acreage of the Martian surface with cyanobacteria to begin an oxygenation of the atmosphere. It is postulated that early Earth had little to no oxygen and cyanobacteria or a related species of bacteria oxygenated the earth’s atmosphere. Life as we know it sprung forth. Professor Verseux and co-workers published their study in the International Journal of Astrobiology in 2016. Their studies delve into greater details of how engineered cyanobacteria can generate hydrogen fuels and potentially greater undertakings to help a Martian colony. In this fashion, multiple missions from NASA, Jaxa, or ESA tend to the endeavor.
Putting greenhouses on the Martian surface to facilitate colonization appears simpler than attempting to turn the Martian planet from rust-colored to an appealing shade or blue-green. NASA utilized the moon to put boots upon it and successfully proved they can do it almost routinely in the 1970s. Furthermore–from the Space lab in the 1970s to the ISS of present times, the international community proved it can work cooperatively to nobler ends. Thus, we get a better sense of the issues in the journal, Genes in 2018. The group of three Australian scientists paint a fascinating look at synthetic plant biology, in the article titled, The Multiplanetary Future of Plant Synthetic Biology.
The present outlook of international cooperation for space ventures appears cloudy from chaotic, nationalistic policies. It behooves nations of the world to band together. Perhaps, in the next decade, the world will understand and re-commit to space exploration as a peaceful undertaking.
Science fiction writers love Mars. Ray Bradbury, Andy Weir, and H. G. Wells encouraged readers to dream and fantasize of Martian aliens or desolate landscapes. The truth of Martian colonization maybe stranger than what he have dreamed or thought we could anticipate –it is a destiny well worth achieving. It may well turn the world stage away from war and terrorism to cooperation and peace.
Water is crucial to life, it can be a vehicle that carries disease as well. A specific case is the agent known to cause a deadly form of pneumonia- legionella. The bacteria first gained notoriety in the late 1970s. In 1976, cases of an antibiotic resistant pneumonia struck in Philadelphia. Individuals attending an American Legion convention were struck ill. There were fatalities. The disease became known as legionnaire’s disease since it affected convention-goers at the American Legion convention.
While the cause of the pneumonia was mysterious, it took more than one year to pin down its mode of action — or how individuals were sickened. To this day, illnesses associated with legionella are not completely understood. [There are at least two known diseases associated with legionnaires’ bacteria: pneumonia and Pontiac fever.] However, through painstaking detective work, some common factors appeared: water and air conditioning units were involved. More mysteriously, the water was shown as plain tap water. Eventually, epidemiologists narrowed the causative factors as an aerosolization of bacteria-carrying water. Shockingly, chlorinated drinking water does not remove the bacterium in all cases. Normally, water is chlorinated to remove all traces of bacteria, but chlorination failed in this instance.
According to the U.S. EPA – “… if more prevalent bacteria and viruses are not present in the drinking water, then chlorination would have removed Legionella, as well …“
So, we ruminate on potentially deadly diseases transmitted via a life-giving substance – water. The primary problems we face with water are poor infrastructure management. In fact, if we survey the potential number of diseases associated with water — the number and variety may astound us? From listeria to cholera to legionnaire’s to mosquitos infected with zika and west nile virus, it is a neglect of infrastructure coinciding with drastic climate change that proves problematic. It is no coincidence that rises in atmospheric and ocean temperatures trigger more cases of illnesses. To use an-oft quoted expression, we have a “perfect storm.”
While many individuals within the mainstream can not or don’t know how to accept that we are undergoing a drastic change, our fates appeared sealed with squabbling politicians whose only concern is money and wealth.
PARTS OF FLINT, MICHIGAN CONTINUE TO HAVE BAD WATER. IT HAS BEEN MORE THAT FOUR YEARS SINCE THE NEW WATER TREATMENT FACILITY HAS COME ON-LINE. DEATHS IN FLINT, FROM THE BAD WATER, CAME FROM LEGIONNAIRES’ DISEASE.
While Flint, Michigan continues to struggle with bad water, scientists and policy-makers continue to scratch their heads. The deaths in the poverty-stricken city are pushed to the back-pages of newspapers and not covered by the nightly news. The questions to ponder (according to this author), since Legionnaires’ is associated with higher temperatures, the likelihood of completely removing the bacterium from the water supply was not 100 percent.
Scientists now know that the legionnaires’ bacteria thrive in higher temperatures — even in chlorinated water.
Photosynthesis is a biochemical cycle that produces oxygen and a simple sugar, glucose. In present research, scientists are learning to make photosynthesis a process that can displace commercial chemical production and as a replacement to fossil fuels. It is in photosynthetic processes that research is done to improve the chemical apparatus used by plants and bacteria—making the processes environmentally safer than commercial syntheses or energy production.
What is the Chemistry Behind Photosynthesis?
Many of us in the U.S. learn about photosynthesis in High School science classes as one fundamental chemical process. The process is portrayed by a single equation. Plants and bacteria produce oxygen (O2), water (H2O), and a simple sugar- glucose (C6H12O6) :
6CO2 + 12H2O + UV-Light —> C6H12O6 +
6O2 + 6H2O.
However, the one equation does not tell a complete story. Photosynthesis involves two fundamental processes that include hundreds of individual reactions –light activated reactions and reactions occurring with no light activation. The two processes with numerous equations are known as biochemical cycles — the cycles of photosynthesis can be represented by the following chart:
While the question
becomes- what reactions are most conducive towards modification? No plant- nor
bacteria-based photosynthetic reaction is modified easily.
As researchers sought
ways to modify photosynthesis, they did not find suitable mimicking reactions
to take the place of natural photosynthetic reactions. Attempts modifying
photosynthesis result with inefficient substitutes that cannot compete with
One example is to
replace biological apparatus of the Calvin cycle with a synthetic catalysts.
The Calvin cycle produces a simple sugar- glucose, from carbon dioxide. Thus,
CO2 + H2O –>
While the reaction, as written, is not easy to fathom, biology performs the process simply. The plant or bacterium uses molecules called enzymes to push the carbon dioxide molecule to become a glucose molecule. Enzymes are far larger than the molecules they catalyze. In this particular case, the enzyme surrounds the carbon dioxide molecule while the hydrogens and oxygens are added in one step.
Proposed analogous synthetic reactions use a metal catalyst to add 12 hydrogen atoms and 6 oxygen atoms in separate steps to the carbon dioxide to make the simple sugar- glucose, C6H12O6. While researcher’s results showed the metal catalyst as ineffective, molecules, that can better mimic enzymes, are required.
Quoting from a publication of the American Chemical Society in 2017–researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley can be quoted “… it would be unreasonably hopeful to imagine we could currently capture all the performance capabilities of biological CO2 reduction…” Chemical processes of photosynthesis adapted to an almost static soil and mostly pure water over the course of billions of years– our current attempts pale in comparison. Knowing that sunlight shining on plants and other organisms is variable as well further confounds the issue.
The following table
captures the essence of the argument of the previous three paragraphs:
improve light harvesting actions of organisms. Of all aspects related to photosynthesis,
organisms efficiently harvest only 3 percent light. The 3 percent number is the
biggest reason to approach photosynthesis research to improve light harvesting
Modifications to Photosynthesis Understood from a ‘First Principles Approach’
When discerning ways to modify photosynthesis, scientists are left with one easy option. The improvement of light-gathering efficiency is addressed because the photosynthetic apparatus shuts out more light that it can handle. Given that plants and bacteria respond to increased light through the slow evolutionary processes that spawned their genesis, we proceed with evolution in mind. When increased light normally coincides with growth and carbon dioxide uptake, we take it one step at a time. Once light gathering efficiency is improved, scientists can take the next step: the discernment of plant photo-biochemistry and chemistry.
The present course of climate change has made research in this area a major concern. Of late, average yearly temperature changes appear to increase exponentially. When the year 2050 arrives, we may not possess the luxury of accepting fossil fuels as our source chemistry dependence–if we are still around to do so.
ADDITIONAL READING & REFERENCES
GARY F. MOORE and GARY W. BRUDVIG. Annual Reviews in Condensed Matter Physics. 2010, Energy Conversion in Photosynthesis: A Paradigm for Solar Fuel Production.
ICHIRO TERASHIMA, et. al. Plant Physiology. 2011,Leaf Functional Anatomy in Relation to Photosynthesis.
PEIDONG YANG and JEAN-MARIE TARASCON. Nature Materials, 2012, Towards Systems Materials Engineering.
CHONG LIU, et. al. Science. 2016, Water splitting–biosynthetic system with CO2 reduction efficiencies exceeding photosynthesis.
NIKOLAY KORNIENKO, et. al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2016, Spectroscopic elucidation of energy transfer in hybrid inorganic–biological organisms for solar-to chemical production.
J. BLOEMEN, et. al. Acta Horticulturae. 2013, Understanding Plant Responses to Drought: How Important is Woody Tissue Photosynthesis?
C. LIU, et. al. Science. 2016, Water Splitting-Biosynthetic System with CO2 Reduction Efficiencies Exceeding Photosynthesis.
STUART A. WEST, et. al. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B. 2002, Sanctions and mutualism stability: why do rhizobia fix nitrogen?
KELSEY K. SAKIMOTO, et. al. Accounts of Chemical Research. 2017, Cyborgian Material Design for Solar Fuel Production: The Emerging Photosynthetic Biohybrid Systems.
While the images like the Aurora borealis (seen below) are common to many of us. A lot of us recognize it as a scientific phenomena – It is one where the magnetic field of the Earth is excited by solar particles of our Sun.
The phenomenon is viewed as beautiful, and feelings of warmth and love are attributed to its viewing.
In many ways, there is a dichotomy to understanding our world. One of feeling and sentiment and one of analytical understanding based upon rationalism.
The dichotomy of the views present a problem– one can be said to think of the world in one of two ways. However, we can rectify the dichotomy. Rectifying the views requires wisdom.
This wisdom we need utilizing both rationalization and emotional/feeling — bringing together both to an understanding.
The present solutions to our problems are based upon concepts of Sustainability. Will we be wise enough to use the Paradigm of Sustainability to ensure that our progeny can thrive?
Can wisdom sustain humanity’s future? Image by John A. Jaksich.
Many problems that require humanity’s wisdom begin with solutions based upon hope. In this present era, it is known as the (era of Man) Anthropocene. It is fraught with pain and anxiety.
This Era of Man is a wake-up call for all.
Whether it is a La Nina driven hurricane slamming into the Yucatan Peninsula or an extreme high tide inundating the Florida Keys, the effects of human-driven climate change will affect more than just local populations.From journals to popular best-sellers, our planet’s challenges are documented.
Answers for the Anthropocene are based upon Sustainability—
Sustainability is the means of meeting the needs of the present while preserving biodiversity and the natural ecosystems for future generations.
A major issue surrounding the paradigm of sustainability is the lack of a crystal ball that the approach is meant to address. Let’s face it, when addressing the preparedness of humanity to take on disasters of their own making, our own track record is poor. Putting it succinctly: We can not solve today’s problems with yesterday’s technologies.
I do have hope, however. I will not give in nor surrender.