Dreams of Mars
phil plait, astronomer
SpaceX founder Elon Musk, having already made public his ambitions about putting people on Mars, went a step further last week when he announced a plan to have the first human there in six years. Musk’s grand vision is to have close to a million people living on Mars in the next century. He wants to achieve this using a massive rocket, a huge spaceship and piles of money. The millions would be sent in thousands of trips over the century, he said. Astronomer and science writer Phil Plait discussed the feasibility of Musk’s grand scheme in an article, which he then tweeted. Plait noted that Musk’s rocket will carry close to 100 people in single attempts. The rockets under the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), he wrote, would be launched from Earth and placed in orbit while being refuelled several times. Though Plait expressed doubts about the six-year time-frame, he remained hopeful about Musk being successful. “Having thought it over, I have to say that what Musk is planning is doable. Yes, seriously. The engineering challenge is formidable, but technically possible,” Plait wrote. He noted some key elements that need to achieved — SpaceX needs to make a massive rocket that is also reusable; a spacecraft needs to be made that will be refuelled while in Earth’s orbit and one that can ferry the payload over the massive distance to Mars; and an efficient propellant for fuel needs to be found. The last part, Plait wrote, is crucial because the propellant chosen must be easily available (or manufactured) on Mars itself for the return journeys.
Jonathan Eisen, Biologist
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States approved the first-ever “artificial pancreas” for sale. The cellphone-sized device, according to an article tweeted by biologist Jonathan Eisen, automatically checks the blood sugar of a patient and then administers the necessary dose of insulin. The approval means that people suffering from Type-I diabetes in the US will now be relieved of the pain suffered and time spent when they had to constantly self-administer multiple finger-prick blood tests followed by insulin injections. Irish firm Medtronic’s MiniMed 670G system includes a tiny sensor placed under the skin that measures the blood sugar level, an insulin pump that is strapped to the body, an “infusion patch” that is grafted on the body with a minor surgery to deliver the doses of insulin, and a handheld cellphone-like device that displays all the information. People suffering from Type-1 diabetes need to keep measuring their blood sugar levels all day, administering the insulin according to their diet and physical activity they are undertaking that day. Though there has been a recent spike in creation of wearable devices that can monitor blood sugar levels, this is the first time a device will be coordinate insulin delivery with monitoring. The company said the cost of the device will depend on insurance but expects it between $6,000 and $9,000.