5 Sci-Fi Solutions To Space Problems
Space is treacherous in every possible way, and any attempt to colonize it will be fraught with peril and discomfort. Because whatever inter-dimensional intelligence engineered the universe sure wanted us humans to stay the hell on Earth. Maybe to jealously keep us away from the variety of sexy alien species and moon cheeses that sci-fi has so tempted us with over the past several decades.
Fortunately, the following advances are designed to make the spacefaring experience suck slightly less. They also provide the added amusement of resembling ideas concocted by some $0.99-ebook-selling, D-list sci-fi writer ...
Protecting Ourselves With Cosmic Chain Mail
It costs thousands of dollars per pound to boot materials into outer space. Making it real hard for astronauts to choose between vital tools, life-saving equipment, and their life-size statue of Michael Clarke Duncan from Armageddon. Fortunately, they won't have to make this nigh-impossible decision, thanks to NASA's newly developed blast from the past.
This chain mail-like "space fabric" offers fantastic thermal qualities, strength, malleability, and versatility. And unlike the stuff that protected medieval crusaders while they fought over who loved God the mostest and bestest way, the cosmic version doesn't require the time-consuming, laborious linking of countless tiny rings. It's made simply through additive manufacturing, aka 3D printing. Or 4D printing, as NASA calls it because the process imbues it with its structure and functions.
It's multiple functions because this, and other second-space-age designs, are prized for their multi-functionality. For one, the cosmic chain mail is a thermal gangster, able to handle both sides of the temperature spectrum. Its shiny side reflects light, potentially protecting people and probes from getting fried. And the non-shiny side absorbs light, keeping everyone warm when they're locked out on the Lunar surface after the crew's comic relief character drops the Moonbase keys down a grate.
And in contrast to the extremely expensive chain mail of old, this version is designed to be cheaply printed on the fly, be it in deep space or on a far-off, Age of Sail-themed planet inhabited by cutlass-wielding marauders. It can be crafted from basic printing materials, like the melted plastics whose fumes so nicely coat the lungs. Or, crucially, it can be upcycled from used or waste materials, slashing costs, and transport difficulties.
The chain mail is also strong and could guard spacefarers and craft against micro-meteorites, a plunge down a Martian ravine, or the grasping mandibles of space-worms. Plus, it's super flexy. It can conform to various shapes without sacrificing any tensile strength to tackle rough, uneven terrain. Slap a coat of mail onto a rover or some landing struts or what have you, and it can smoothly navigate rocks. Or lay down a carpet across a frozen surface to avoid plunging into the icy, space-piranha-infested waters below.
Dressing Everyone In Slick Space Garments
The reality of space suits has always been utilitarian and, therefore, bulky and unaesthetic. But no longer, thanks to the folks at Boeing, who are ushering in a major evolution in cosmic exploration: from utilitarian to fly as hell.
"Boeing Blue" is a next-gen space suit for travelers aboard Boeing's next-gen spacecraft, the reusable CST-100 Starliner. Which will one day ferry people (and murderous AI systems) to the ISS and various low-Earth orbit destinations, like space-Guantanamo and other secret orbital interrogation facilities.
Decked out in their soothingly deep hues, cosmic explorers will enjoy the benefits of improved suit design, functionality, and eye-pleasing aesthetics. Boeing Blue promises better pressurized mobility, comfort, improved thermal capabilities, and state-of-the-art communications so astronauts can efficiently share lewd jokes with crews and ground control.
Possibly jokes about the CST-100 Starliner's resemblance to a giant suppository. And in a way, it is just that, a device for transporting tiny constituents into a large, dark, scary abyss:
Yet, instead of constipation-relieving chemicals, this suppository will tear through the anus of near-Earth space to "comfortably" deliver seven passengers, be they scientists, space tourists, or spies from Saturn.
Yes, the above is what classifies as "comfortable." This should remind you that space colonization, at least for the next millennium, will suck. But after that, it's all smooth sailing, with sprawling space-cities full of brothels and noodle vendors, as per gritty sci-fi imaginings.
Building Things Using Blood-Dirt-Pee Concrete
If getting things into orbit is expensive, getting things to Mars is stupefyingly prohibitive. It's estimated that it would cost a cool $2 mil to ship a single brick to Mars. So why not make Mars bricks? We'll have everything we need: the red planet's abundant dust and our astronauts' abundant body fluids.
That's no typo; it's the future. Thanks to The University of Manchester, which has recently invented "AstroCrete," an interplanetary concrete made from Martian dust (regolith) and a protein (human serum albumin) from blood. As one does.
The resultant AstroCrete boasted compressive strength up to 25 MPa (Megapascals), right in line with real concrete, which falls within the 20-32 MPa range. How? The blood proteins "curdle" or denature to create extended structures that form "beta sheets" with immense structural stability. Like the previously mentioned chain mail, this is also a medieval throwback: old-timey builders historically used animal blood as a binder for mortar.
The scientists could have stopped there, patted themselves on the back, and nipped down to the pub for a Boddingtons. But no, they further fortified their AstroCrete by incorporating another bodily substance: urea. Astronauts won't miss it since it's a waste product evacuated through urine, sweat, and tears. And by donating one of the aforementioned fluids (i.e., "we can do this the easy way, or the hard way"), the cosmic concrete's compressive integrity increases by 300%.
The best of these blood-dirt-piss (reminder that space colonization will not be glamorous) samples boasted strengths approaching 40 MPa, making it "substantially stronger than ordinary concrete."
On Mars, in-situ production could generate more than 1,100 pounds of this stuff throughout a two-year mission. That's enough for a six-person space crew to double their housing potential, gradually laying the foundation for an ever-growing Martian colony, then eventually maybe a city, then eventually, eventually maybe a Jabba's Palace-like crime den.
Slumbering In A Vacuum-Sleeping Bag For Healthy Eyes
Spending any appreciable time in microgravity causes all sorts of health issues. Including potential heart hiccups and cognitive impairments likened to a pervading state of "brain fart," thought to be due to the headward pooling of body fluids that occurs in space.
On Earth, fluids also accumulate in your head when you sleep. And give you that freshly awoken puffiness you begrudgingly see reflected in the coffee carafe as you shakily draw it to your cup. Yet on Earth, fluids redistribute themselves to the rest of the body after (if) you get up and go about your day. In microgravity, no such luck. They remain sloshing about the skull and result in another huge complication: visual woes. Fluid build-up gradually damages the eyes, changing their shape or distending the optic nerve, which sends sight signals to the brain.
Of the space-dwellers that logged six months or more on the ISS, more than half returned with eye problems. Some developed farsightedness, and others needed assistance in performing tasks. Such impediments could prove costly on a lengthier, couple-year Mars trip when lives may be on the line during colonization efforts.
To potentially solve the problem, UT Southwestern teamed up with outdoor-stuff-purveyors REI to invent a sleeping bag that works somewhat like a vacuum cleaner, gently sucking off astronauts while they sleep.
After a 72-hour stint spent lying down (courtesy of the test subject above), with the nights passed inside the half-body blowjob wonder-bag, results were promising. The bag did indeed pull fluids from the cranium area, helping to avoid the extra stress exerted on the eyes.
So, as previous-gen space-minded inventions indirectly gave use Nike sneakers, memory foam, and Invisalign, UT Southwestern's sleeping innovation may usher in the most pleasurable robot butler yet.
Making The Moon A Gas Station
In 2018, NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument (equipped on India's thrifty Chandrayaan-1 probe) confirmed that our natural satellite holds a decent amount of frozen water at its poles. Locked away in the Moon's darkest, coldest regions, reposing in polar craters where the Sun never shines, and temperatures never top -250 F.
If liberated from its eternal shade and cold, this water could feed crops, quench spacemen, and offer a vital source of fuel. After all, rocket propellant is just liquefied hydrogen and oxygen mixed together to yield a big boom. But rockets must carry all propellant from the start, wasting lots of room and mass and exponentially boosting launch costs. Yet we can sidestep this problem by collecting said ice, potentially with one of these badass Lunar-thresher-looking things:
Another solution comes courtesy of Redwire, a Floridian space infrastructure company. In 2021, Redwire won phase I of NASA's Break the Ice Lunar Challenge, snagging a cool $125,000. Though in the realm of space-tech, 125 Gs is the equivalent of that tarnished penny you found while vacuuming cruller crumbs from your floor mats.
Still, the prestige is valuable. As is the chance to work alongside NASA on the freakin' Moon. Redwire's design won because it's simple, economical, and doesn't feature complex systems that could backfire in many ways. Instead, it employs a little Lunar Regolith Excavator (L-REX) to excavate icy soil and a low-mass rover, the Lunar Transporter (L-Tran), to carry L-REX and all the ice.
Despite its simplicity, a Tran and Rex duo could furnish NASA with 60,000 pounds of water per year. Possibly enough to lift the Draconian, Expanse-like water restrictions and allow astronauts a nice, hot shower.
Plus, should such an ice-harvesting plan ever come to fruition, our space-fledged race could establish Moon-fuel depots orbiting near Earth, saving $3.5 billion per year. Spacecraft would no longer need to lug up all their fuel, making for a much easier, cheaper blast-off and providing a wider vista for exploratory forays. In the even further future, we could set up such fuel depots along space routes. This network of cosmic truck stops would allow us to top off our fuel tanks and top off ourselves, with detestable, astro bath salts, as our cyborg descendants probe ever-deeper into the unknown.
Top image: NASA