Mars to be colonized by millionaires

Elon Musk, an American billionaire and co-founder of SpaceX, announced development of a rocket motor designed for flight to Mars. According to his calculations, the price of "delivery" of a single colonist to the Red Planet would be half a million dollars. The future "Martians" are expected to pay the entire cost of the trip.

"The ticket price should be low enough so that most people in developed countries by the age of 45 or so could save money for a flight," Musk proclaimed at a conference at the Royal Society of Astronautics (UK). He added that $500,000 would buy a house in California.

Meanwhile, statistics show that most Americans are not able to save this amount by the age of 45. Moreover, the average real income of American households has not increased since 1975. It is unlikely that even in developed countries there will be a large number of people willing to colonize Mars. The average age is not the best for becoming a "cosmonaut." At the age of 45 it is not easy to travel to space and then adapt to far from comfortable conditions of another planet.

However, Musk has his own ideas in this regard. Let's say at the beginning of the colonization only one in 100,000 humans will be ready to pay for a ticket to Mars. Most likely, by the time the world's population will grow to about 8 billion people. Therefore, we would have as many as 80 thousand potential colonists who would purchase tickets for a total of $40 billion. This is enough to create the first colony on Mars the size of a small city on Earth. Primary infrastructure will have to be prepared, but it would require less money than the transfer of humans to Mars.

It is the delivery of colonists to Mars that is by far the most challenging task. Even a heavy rocket carrier Falcon-9 with a built-in first stage will not be able to complete such an operation. Now SpaceX is developing a space vehicle called MCT (according to various sources, it stands for Mass Cargo Transport, or Mars Colony Transport). This ship is assumed to run on closed cycle methane engine.

Unlike in Falcon-9, in the engines used in the new vehicle gas will not be released into the environment, but will get into the combustion chamber, thereby increasing traction and engine efficiency. Moreover, methane is much cheaper, for example, than hydrogen, which is important for frequent flights. It can be safely stored at high temperatures, whereas under these conditions liquid hydrogen makes the tanks material more brittle.

But most importantly, methane does not have to be delivered from Earth. It can be obtained directly on Mars using terrestrial anaerobic bacteria and local substrates. Theoretically, hydrogen can be produced on Mars as well, but since this is only possible by electrolysis of water that is found on Mars under the sand in the form of ice, the process would be much more complex and energy-intensive.

Incidentally, according to Elon Musk, using a "reusable" ship for flights that would return to Earth in the early stages of colonization is not feasible, since the distance between the Earth and Mars is constantly changing. The first ship will not transfer many people. Mostly its compartments will be occupied by construction material for the pressurized dome under which the colonists would live, as well as plants and fertilizer. It is also expected to send to Mars supplies of oxygen and water. Water will also provide protection from radiation, which is higher on the Red Planet than on Earth.

Generally, the idea is feasible. It would be possible to find 80,000 people who would agree to be pioneers on an alien planet. Some will look for exotic and romantic adventures, others would look for a chance to leave the overcrowded earth or escape from their terrestrial problems. Another question is whether these people will be fit for Mars exploration? There will be a need not only in people who know how to make money, but also a variety of scientific and technical experts, teachers, doctors, psychologists, and even laborers.

To meet the need in various professionals, a cheap way of transporting them will be required, and then a "ticket" to Mars cannot cost half a million. As for a handful of millionaires, it is unlikely that they can make substantial contributions. So far, none of wealthy people are in a hurry to invest in this expensive project.

Irina Shlionskaya


Royal baby: What are the odds of twins?

 Since the Duchess of Cambridge was admitted to hospital with acute morning sickness - hyperemesis gravidarum - there has been a great deal of speculation about the possibility of her having twins. But what are the chances?

There has been a flurry of bets on the possibility of not one royal baby, but two at once.

The bookies have all already slashed their odds. Ladbrokes had odds of 50-1 last week and they are now 10-1.

"We have had to slash the odds on the bet because of the sheer volume of money coming in," says spokeswoman Jessica Bridge.

The betting has been intense because there is an association between the duchess's medical condition and the chance of having a multiple birth.

Evolutionary biologist Dr Yan Wong has analysed the data available. If you look at births in the UK, about 1.5% are twins.

Another factor is IVF treatment, which increases the numbers of twins, but there is no suggestion that the duchess has had this.

In Norway, Denmark and Sweden, they are good at collecting data about births, as well as women who suffer acute morning sickness. There is a Norwegian data set of almost a million births between 1967 and 2005.

There is also extensive data from Denmark and Sweden. It is these figures that Wong has looked at.

There is somewhere between a 50% and 100% increase in the probability of having twins suggested by the acute morning sickness, he says.

"That actually means that the chance of having twins goes from 1.34% if you don't have acute morning sickness, to 2.5% if you do have the condition. It's still pretty low," he concludes.

But the figures do suggest an outcome that is far more probable - that is the suggestion that the duchess will give birth to a girl. Birth statistics in the UK show slightly more boys are born than girls.

According to the Scandinavian data, the standard chance of giving birth to a girl is 49%. But mothers with severe morning sickness have a 55% probability of giving birth to a daughter.

"Despite its poorly understood causes, morning sickness does have a loose association with heightened levels of a hormone called chorionic gonadotrophin. This hormone is also increased when the child is female," says Wong.

On the point of twins, a look at the family tree might help.

Royal historian Robert Lacey has looked at the prevalence of twins in both William and Catherine's families.

"William's uncle Charles Spencer has identical twin daughters and his grandfather Lord Fermoy was an identical twin," he says. "On Kate's side, her paternal grandmother had a twin sister and Kate's father Michael had twin Middleton great-aunts.

"I can't think of any senior members of the royal family or heirs to the throne who have had twins."

And it is only a predisposition towards having non-identical twins that is passed down through families.

Noble-born twins don't always live happily ever after in legend and literature:

  • Roman myth says city's founder Romulus and his twin Remus were suckled by a wolf - but Romulus later murdered RemusIn John Webster's play The Duchess of Malfi, the title character is persecuted and killed by her jealous twin brother

    Alexandre Dumas's novel Vicomte de Bragelonne creates fictional brother for French king Louis XIV, who is locked up in an iron mask

    "There is some indication that non-identical twins run in families. The studies have concentrated on cases where there are very close relatives who have non-identical twins, a woman's mother or a woman's sister having non-identical twins," says Wong.

    Lacey doesn't know if the duchess's distant relatives are non-identical or not. And St James' Palace won't comment.

"But having identical twins, there does not seem to be a genetic predisposition. It's just a fluke," says Wong. So the identical twins in William's family won't have any impact on whether he and his wife will have twins themselves.

There is plenty of misleading information on the internet about a single gene that produces twins, says Wong.

"There isn't one gene that increases the probability of having non-identical twins. People have done studies, genome-wide association studies, and it seems like there is a number of different factors on all sorts of different chromosomes that are inherited equally through the male and female lines. But it's very difficult to pin down."

So the statistical chance of William and Catherine having twins is slightly raised because she has suffered from acute morning sickness, but only very slightly. You might say it isn't worth betting the house on.




Kate shock as hoaxed nurse kills herself

PRINCE William and Kate were “shocked and saddened” last night after the hospital nurse fooled by a hoaxer posing as the Queen committed suicide.

Jacintha Saldanha, 46, was found dead two days after the stunt by an Aussie DJ.

Tributes were paid last night to tragic mum-of-two Jacintha, who apparently killed herself after she became tormented by her mistake in putting the call through to pregnant Kate’s ward.

The two Australian radio DJs who rang posing as the Queen and Prince Charles while Kate was being treated for severe morning sickness were taken off the air amid calls for their sacking.

King Edward VII private hospital in central London, where Jacintha worked for more than four years, said she “was an excellent nurse and a well-respected and popular member of staff”.

Hospital chief executive John Lofthouse said: “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies at this time are with her family and friends. Everyone is shocked by the loss of a much-loved and valued colleague.”

Lord Glenarthur, hospital chairman, said: “This is a tragic event. Jacintha was a first class nurse who cared diligently for hundreds of patients during her time with us. She will be greatly missed.”

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It is deeply saddening that a simple human error due to a cruel hoax could lead to the death of a dedicated and caring member of the nursing profession.”

Jacintha was found yesterday morning in living quarters next to the private hospital.

She was said to have been “inconsolable and distraught” after being duped by 2Day FM hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian into believing she was speaking to the Queen, asking after Kate’s condition.

Her devastated family said: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha.” A hospital spokeswoman added: “We can confirm Jacintha was recently the victim of a hoax call. The hospital had been supporting her.”


A spokesman for Prince William and Kate, both 30, said: “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jacintha Saldanha. Their Royal Highnesses were looked after wonderfully well at all times by everybody at King Edward VII hospital.

“Their thoughts and prayers are with Jacintha’s family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time.”

A spokesman for the radio station said last night: “Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) and 2Day FM are deeply saddened by the tragic news of the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha.

 “We extend our deepest sympathies to her family and all affected by this situation around the world.

 “The presenters are both deeply shocked and at this time we have agreed that they will not comment about the circumstances. They will not return to their radio show until further notice, out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy.” The hoaxers’ audio clip was still on the station’s website for hours after Jacintha’s death.

William and Kate, already angry over the intrusion at the hospital, were told of Jacintha’s death yesterday afternoon.

Royal aides refused to say whether the couple had met Indian-born Jacintha.

Source:The Sun

Compiled by:M.W


 The Real Saint Nicholas

December 6 marks Saint Nicholas Day, it marks the beginning of the Christmas season by telling the story of Santa Claus's namesake. But before I do, I should remark that, historically speaking, there's not much we really know about Nicholas. Though he's one of the most popular saints in the Greek and Latin churches, his existence isn't attested by any historical document. All we can say is that he was probably the bishop of Myra (near modern Finike, Turkey) sometime in the 300s.

There are of course many legends about Nicholas, and since these have influenced people throughout history, and they likely illustrate something about the historical man, they are fair game for a publication, like ours, devoted to Christian history.

Supposedly, Nicholas was born to a wealthy family in Patara, Lycia. His parents died, and he inherited a considerable sum of money, but he kept none of it. In the most famous story about his life, he threw bags of gold through the windows of three girls about to be forced into lives of prostitution. At least that's the most common version of the story; there are others, including an excessively grim one where the three girls are beheaded by an innkeeper and pickled in a tub of brine until Nicholas resurrects them.

After a couple of miracles (he's sometimes called Nicholas the Wonder-Worker) performed while he was still a boy, Nicholas was chosen by the people of Myra to be their new bishop. But it wasn't long before Diocletian and Maximian began their persecutions of Christians, and the new bishop was imprisoned.

When Constantine became emperor, Nicholas was released with countless others and returned to his preaching only to find a new threat: Arianism. According to one biographer (writing five centuries after Nicholas's death), "Thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as a death-dealing poison." Other biographers claim Nicholas attacked the heresy of Arius (who denied the full divinity of Christ) in a much more personal way—he traveled to the Council of Nicea and slapped Arius in the face! As the story goes (and this should be taken as fantasy because there are pretty good records of the council, and Nicholas isn't mentioned), the other bishops at Nicea were shocked at such rude behavior and relieved him as bishop. But then Jesus and Mary appeared next to him, and they quickly recanted.

That's the questionable legend of Nicholas. But not the end of the story. Even by the reign of Justinian (d. 565), Nicholas was famous, and the emperor dedicated a church in Constantinople to him. By the 900s, a Greek wrote, "The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. All Christians reverence his memory and call upon his protection." The West became even more interested when his "relics" were taken from Myra to Bari, Italy, on May 9, 1087. He's said to have been represented by medieval artists more frequently than any saint but Mary, and nearly 400 churches were dedicated in his honor in England alone during the late Middle Ages.

With such a popularity, his legends inevitably became intertwined with others. In Germanic countries, it sometimes became hard to tell where the legend of Nicholas began and that of Woden (or Odin) ended. Somewhere along the line, probably tied to the gold-giving story, people began giving presents in his name on his feast day. When the Reformation came along, his following disappeared in all the Protestant countries except Holland, where his legend continued as Sinterklass. Martin Luther, for example, replaced this bearer of gifts with the Christ Child, or, in German, Christkindl. Over the years, that became pronounced Kriss Kringle, and is now considered another name for Santa Claus.



Giant leap for spiders: ‘Nefertiti’ dies on Earth after 100 days on ISS

Nefertiti the jumping spider traveled into space and returned to Earth after 100 days in orbit. The first such arachnid to do so, she seemingly couldn’t handle the fame, dying after just four days on display at Washington, DC’s Smithsonian museum.

­Nefertiti was chosen for the once-in-a-lifetime trip to space after winning the chance through a YouTube competition. The contest asked 14- to 18-year-olds to send in their ideas for experiments to be performed on the International Space Station (ISS).

Amr Mohamed, the 18-year-old winner from Alexandria, Egypt, proposed that the Johnson Jumper (Phidippus johnsoni) spider would have difficulty catching fruit flies in space.

But after spending 100 days on the ISS, Nefertiti – named after an Egyptian queen – showed that it was capable of adapting to zero-gravity and successfully caught its prey.

She even developed a new technique to cope with the antigravity – sidling up to her prey rather than jumping on it.

But upon returning to earth, it did take her a few days to adapt to gravity. And after just four days at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, DC, she died of natural causes.

"The unexpected loss of this special animal that inspired so many imaginations will be felt throughout the museum community. The body of Nefertiti will be added to the museum's collection of specimens where she will continue to contribute to our understanding of spiders,” Kelly Carnes of the Smithsonian told the LA Times.

Nefertiti’s traveling companion Cleopatra, a zebra spider, wasn’t as lucky, dying shortly after touchdown.

Jumping spiders live to be about a year old, and female spiders were chosen since their male counterparts usually no longer eat when fully grown.

Nefertiti was 10 months old at the time of her death, which led many to believe she was reaching her expiration date anyway.