NASA outlines the three steps to becoming a multi-planet species

The race to Mars is on. NASA wants to put humans on the Red Planet by the 2030s – after landing us on asteroids in the 2020s – while Elon Musk’s SpaceX wants to get a human on our closest planetary neighbour first, by 2026.

In its ongoing mission, involving a suitable amount of bureaucracy and planning, NASA’s revealed the three stages it will need to go through to achieve the giant step of a boot on Mars’ surface.

The 35-page plan published by the space agency provides an outline of the colossal challenges that mankind must overcome if we are to be a two planet species: Earth-reliant exploration, a proving ground and finally Earth independence.

At present, we’re still in the Earth-reliant stage and we have been for all of our manned space exploration to date. NASA says the stage is currently “focused on research aboard the International Space Station”.

“On the space station, we are testing technologies and advancing human health and performance research that will enable deep-space, long-duration missions,” the roadmap to Mars says.

The stage is one that has been accelerated thanks to emerging technologies. In the last 18 months the first 3D printer has been sent to space, which will eventually allow us to build structures on other planets, and the first food has been grown in space. The stage also involves improving communications systems, working out how our bodies react to prolonged spaceflight and more.


It’s likely that the first and second stages of NASA’s plan will heavily overlap, although the third stage, which will provide the most risk to human life, will be carefully considered.

The proving ground – the second step to Mars – involves NASA learning to “conduct complex operations in a deep space environment” but still allows the crews to return to Earth in a few days. This will mostly be in cislunar space – the region between Earth and the Moon – the agency says.

Missions that prove the capabilities will include the asteroid redirect mission, in 2020, that will collect a boulder from an asteroid and return it to astronauts to investigate. The second stage will also see the first “deep-space habitation facility for long-duration systems testing,” the report says. There will also be an increase in autonomous missions and docking technologies, and a focus on resupplying “consumables, packaging, and materials” used in space.

Image and featured image courtesy of NASA

Images courtesy of NASA

The completion of these two stages will mean that sufficient technology has been developed to allow astronauts to get to Mars but also to be able to survive there, using the resources they took and those they create. This accomplishment will mean humans have reached the third stage: Earth independence.

“Earth Independent activities build on what we learn on ISS and in cislunar space to enable human missions to the Mars vicinity, including the Martian moons, and eventually the Martian surface,” NASA’s report says.

This stage will allow a “transition in humanity’s expansion,” the authors write. Humans will be able to live and work within commuting distance of Mars, as well as on its surface. This will include harvesting Mars’ resources to create the essential elements we need to survive: water, fuel and oxygen.

“This strategy charts a course toward horizon goals, while delivering near-term benefits, and defining a resilient architecture that can accommodate budgetary changes, political priorities, new scientific discoveries, technological breakthroughs, and evolving partnerships,” said NASA’s William Gerstenmaier.

The full publication, NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration, can be found here.

Wanted man captured thanks to facial recognition

A Chinese man who was wanted by police for “economic crimes” – which can include anything from tax evasion to the theft of public property – was arrested at a music concert in China after facial recognition technology spotted him inside the venue.

Source: Abacus News

SpaceX president commits to city-to-city rocket travel

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell has reiterated the company’s plans to make city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space a reality. Shotwell says the tech will be operational “within a decade, for sure.”

Source: Recode

Businessman wins battle with Google over 'right to be forgotten'

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a UK High Court action against Google.. The businessman served six months’ in prison for “conspiracy to carry out surveillance”, and the judge agreed to an “appropriate delisting order".

Source: Press Gazette

UK launched cyber attack on Islamic State

The UK has conducted a "major offensive cyber campaign" against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has revealed. The operation hindered the group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.

Source: BBC

Goldman Sachs consider whether curing patients is bad for business

Goldman Sachs analysts have attempted to tackle the question of whether pioneering "gene therapy" treatment will be bad for business in the long run. "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" analysts ask in a report entitled "The Genome Revolution."

Source: CNBC

Four-armed robot performing surgery in the UK

A £1.5m "robotic" surgeon, controlled using a computer console, is being used to shorten the time patients spend recovering after operations. The da Vinci Xi machine is the only one in the country being used for upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic rocket planes go past the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic completed its first powered flight in nearly four years when Richard Branson's space company launched its Unity spacecraft, which reached supersonic speeds before safely landing. “We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an email to Quartz.

Source: Quartz

Google employees protest being in "the business of war"

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. The letter, which is circulating inside Google, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures

Source: New York Times

Computer system transcribes words users “speak silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalises internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.

Source: MIT News

Drones could be used to penalise bad farming

A report by a coalition of environmental campaigners is arguing squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods.

Source: BBC

Californian company unveil space hotel

Orion Span, a California company, has unveiled its Aurora Station, a commercial space station that would house a luxury hotel. The idea is to put the craft in low-earth orbit, about 200 miles up, with a stay at the hotel likely to cost $9.5 million for a 12-day trip, but you can reserve a spot now with an $80,000 deposit.

UK mobile operators pay close to £1.4bn for 5G

An auction of frequencies for the next generation of mobile phone networks has raised £1.36bn, says regulator Ofcom. Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all won the bandwidth needed for the future 5G mobile internet services, which are not expected to be launched until 2020.

Source: BBC