SpaceNews: October 14, 2015

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Itty-Bitty satellites could carry your experiments to space

It looks like an alien balloon. Except that it flies at 17,500 mph in near-Earth orbit and can carry a science experiment—potentially your science experiment—for two months before it burns up in the atmosphere. And early next year, 20 of these ThumbSats will beam data back to a network of 50 listening stations all over the world.

Aerospace engineer Shaun Whitehead came up with the ThumbSat project because he wanted to help regular people send stuff into space. “We get slowed down by old-school ways of thinking,” he says. “I hope that ThumbSat accelerates progress in space, inspires everyone to look up.” His craft are so small that they fit into the nooks and crannies of commercial launchers, hitching a ride with bigger payloads and keeping costs down.

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How microbial farming could help terraform Mars

Mars received quite a bit of attention last week as NASA revealed for the first time they found liquid water in brine deposits. Using a combination of spectral readings and computerized analysis, they learned the most valuable chemical to life is not only there, but flowing. This in turn has sparked the debate over whether colonization of Mars and its subsequent terraforming might be more than a speculative fiction dream.

One of the most important needs in terraforming is microbial life. Granted, some people already believe bacteria may exist in that liquid water (perchlorate-respiring organisms, to be exact). But in order to have a sustained planet, a much larger biodiversity would be needed. Thankfully, studies here on Earth focusing on the potential for microbial colonization of Mars have revealed some very interesting phenomena that may one day allow us to be microbial farmers on Mars.

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