SCIENCE TRIBUNE Thursday, October 5, 2000, Chandigarh, India

Space: the coming age

by D. P. Singh
ITH the opening of space frontier more than four decades ago, a new era in human affairs began. Twelve men have walked on the surface of the moon. All the planets known to the ancients have been explored directly. Our spacecraft have landed on Mars and Venus.

Science Quiz
by J. P. Garg

New products & discoveries



Space: the coming age
by D. P. Singh

WITH the opening of space frontier more than four decades ago, a new era in human affairs began. Twelve men have walked on the surface of the moon. All the planets known to the ancients have been explored directly. Our spacecraft have landed on Mars and Venus.

We take for granted telephone calls to the other side of the globe at the touch of a button and television weather forecasts using images taken only minutes before. Without satellites both would be unthinkable. Ours is truly the space age generation. If past is any guide, we have a pretty good idea of how the next few decades in space will evolve.

Within the next decade, permanently manned stations carrying astronauts from all over the world will become a reality. Robotic probes will be sifting the soils of Mars for signs of life and returning samples from the hearts of comets to see if they contain valuable minerals.

NASA has plans to launch its Earth Observing System in the year 2015. By the second decade of next century, we should have the most complete picture of how mankind is affecting the climate of the planet on which we live.

The key to space is transportation. Nearly all the spacefaring nations are now designing a new generation of spaceplanes and cargo vehicles, which will make access into orbit routine. Totally reusable, cost effective and single-stage-to-orbit vehicles will be the in thing. This will lead to a true revolution in space transportation.

The advent of commercial spaceplanes will bring the concept of a space hotel into the realms of reality. Shimizu Corporation, Japan, is planning to have a hotel in orbit by 2020. It could be the first element in a chain that may also include a hotel on the moon. The rooms on the Shimizu Hotel will have such luxuries as sofa beds, toilets, showers, windows, desks and liquid-screen TV monitors.

A network of solar power satellites placed in a geosynchronous orbit could conceivably solve the industrialised world’s power shortages. These satellites would transmit power down to earth, where it would be converted into electricity and fed directly into the national grid of the country in question. The space-based reflectors could light up enormous areas of agricultural land during winter, with obvious economic benefits.

The future will see human colonisation of worlds beyond our own. Once mankind broke free of the shackles of our planet’s gravity, “commuting” to space would become commonplace. The next century could be half over before the first baby is born at the lunar base.

Smart robots would be roaming the solar system by 2060s. These machines will be able to replicate themselves by utilising raw materials to hand. These self-replicating robots would be used industrially in the manufacturing processes. Solar sailing through the inner solar system would provide a cheap, renewable and non-polluting method of visiting the asteroids.

Matter — antimatter annihilation is an extremely efficient way of generating energy. The antimatter rocket is the fastest and most efficient form of interstellar propulsion known. By 2060s, we would be able to properly harness the antimatter propulsion.

By 2070s, the extension of human longevity through the use of genetic engineering techniques would be possible. It would allow all the crew members to reach their destination star system regardless of the velocity of the space ship. New biological techniques would allow us to travel to virtually infinitely distant stars in a lifetime.

During the next century, many human beings will spend their lives away from the earth, some never to return. A whole new world will come into its own beyond the atmosphere with vast factories in space, bases on the moon and Mars and eventually flights to the stars. One of the most intriguing possibilities is that some form of extraterrestrial life will be discovered.


Science Quiz
by J. P. Garg

1. Man has successfully transplanted human organs like eyes, kidneys, heart, etc., but transplantation of head of a human being (the lower part of whose body becomes dysfunctional) over the headless body of another human being (whose head or brain stops functioning) had eluded man till now. As a step in this direction, a US surgeon has successfully transplanted recently the head of a monkey over the torso of another monkey. Name the surgeon.

2. In the recent past, a remarkable new theory has captured the imagination of physicists. This theory promises to provide a unified description of all the forces, all the fundamental particles of matter, and space and time. In short, it is a “Theory of Everything”. What is the more popular name of this theory?

3. What is the branch of mathematics called that deals with those properties and space relations of geometrical figures that remain unaffected after a continuous deformation process such as squeezing, stretching, or twisting ?

4. Chitin is a hard, tough substance that occurs widely in nature, particularly in the hard shells of crabs, insects, spiders and their relatives. What is chitin chemically ?

5. Force between two material objects is supposed to act through a gravitational field. Through which field is a force between two stationary charges and two moving charges supposed to act ?

6. What is a scientist called who studies natural animal behaviour such as courtship, mating and self-defence, using both field observations and laboratory experiments ?

7. What is an organism called that obtains its energy from the digestion of organic matter (usually plant or animal tissue) through a process that provides essential nutrients?

8. This colourless, organic acid is formed from lactose in milk by the action of bacteria. It is also sometimes produced in muscles and causes muscle fatigue. What is the common name of this acid which is used in foods and beverages, tanning, dyeing, etc. ?

9. This technique employing a fibre-optics based instrument is used to inspect the organs of the chest to identify abnormalities like tumours, ulcers, lung cancer, sites of lesions, etc. It can also be used for taking biopsies from these areas. Which is this technique ?

10. The world observed on September 16 a special day to focus attention of the international community on a burning issue concerning preservation of environment. Which day ?


1. Robert J. White 2. Superstrings Theory 3. Topology 4. A polysaccharide like cellulose 5. Electrostatic and electromagnetic fields respectively 6. Ethologist 7. Heterotroph 8. Lactic acid 9. Bronchoendoscopy 10. International Ozone Layer Preservation Day.


New products & discoveries

Clearer earth vision
NEIL Armstrong’s metallic radio voice, as he spoke of the “small step for man, a giant leap for mankind” contained the sense of marvel as the astronauts viewed the earth from space. The earth has been referred to as the great blue ball by scientists and astronauts alike.

NASA scientists especially have been analysing details of pictures taken of the earth by members of various space missions. But a few pictures of great detail taken by special cameras by astronauts on a recent Space Shuttle mission, provide, according to NASA researchers, details of the earth that can spur higher studies.

These “higher studies” include shift in weather, cyclones, flood warnings and other disasters which can hit different parts of the world. The pictures can also provide clues to impending crop failures as also vital information on marine biology.

Personal security aid
A personal security aid which can be used to deter or mark out an attacker has been developed by a Warwickshire-based firm in the UK.

Called Di-Tector, it is a spraying machine that can fit into a bag or coat pocket and is slim enough to be held discreetly in the palm.

Once activated, it can spray an indelible dye to arrange of 1.5 metres, leaving a stain on skin or clothing which is extremely difficult to remove. Even several days after the vivid purple stain fades, the crystals contained in the spray can be detected by forensic experts, reports British Commercial News.

The spray contains a chemical known as gentian violet, which does not inflict any serious physical harm.

Available in 45 millimetre canisters, the aid may help people provide a greater feeling of security, particularly when travelling late at night, the report says.

Dating stars with alcohol
Dutch astronomers have come up with a new method of estimating the age of young massive stars by determining when a star began to emit ultraviolet light.

The new method involves determining the quantity of evaporated alcohol released by the ice layers in the gas and dust cloud surrounding the star. The greater the quantity of alcohol, the longer the period of time during which the star has emitted ultraviolet light.

The Dutch astronomers discovered that the concentration of evaporated alcohol is approximately one hundred times more in the area around a massive proto-star where the temperature is higher than 90 Kelvin than in the areas with a lower temperature. This is because of the evaporation of the ice layers which takes place at that temperature.

The astronomers can now determine the states which a massive star passes through. To do this, they determine the quantity of evaporated alcohol and the quantity of ultraviolet light emitted by the star.

Massive stars are formed when mass from a dust and gas layer contracts. After about ten thousand years, these stars become so hot that they emit ultraviolet radiation, according to the Netherlands Research Reports.

Burner as a blowtorch
British engineers have redesigned the familiar laboratory tool, the Bunsen burner, to produces a new kind of blowtorch that can melt steel but still-runs on cheap gas.

It could revolutionise workshops in the developing world especially, because its fuel costs would be around 50 times less than those of the oxy-acetylene burners used currently.

According to Graham Ball of the department of aeronautics at Southampton University, where the team developed the new blowtorch, “it’s a torch which uses simple propane fuel burning with compressed air, but is able to produce temperatures comparable to those of an oxy-acetylene flame”.

It can do jobs like metal brazing (high temperature soldering), welding and cutting tasks which conventional propane-fuelled torches cannot perform. Bottled propane gas is widely available throughout the world including developing countries, reports Spectrum.

Monitoring vehicles
A NASA satellite technology, originally developed to track global greenhouse gases and the ozone layer, will now be used as a high-tech tool in the battle against vehicular pollution.

The remote sensing technology will be adapted to an autonomous roadside system to monitor motor vehicle emission, according to a United States Information Services (USIS) release.

Cars and trucks will pass through a low-power light beam without stopping or slowing down and the sensor technology will instantly analyse vehicle exhaust pollutants important to local and state governments working to meet federally mandated air quality standards.

“Taking an accurate reading of several exhaust products as a car passes by is a formidable challenge. We want to take a measurement of all the gases of interest every one thousandth of a second over a period of a half-second. Fortunately, our newest remote sensing technology has that capability”, says Glen Sachse, senior research scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Centre, Hampton, in Virginia, Sachse is one of the six team members who invented the highly sensitive electro-optical system at the core of the technology.

NASA and SPX Service Solution; Warren in Michigan, announced last month that the patented NASA technology has been exclusively licensed to SPX for use in the new remote sensing device.

“Remote testing of vehicle exhaust will provide government around the world with a fast, efficient and low-cost method to identify and reduce motor vehicle pollution and greenhouse gases, which account for approximately 50 per cent of all air pollution”.