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2014 Astronomy Planetary Expedition Project

Project Description1: Plan a one-way expedition to a solar system 68 light years distance
from Earth.
Project Objectives:
Gain an appreciation for the vast distances between stars
Develop and appreciate the enormous challenges of interstellar human travel to nearby
(Milky Way Galaxy) star systems.
o Develop a detailed plan for a colonization expedition traveling at 0.2c (where c
is the speed of light) with up to 300 passengers
o Present your findings in the form of a formal written report and a formal
presentation to the class. The class presentation can be either as a Poster Board
presentation or an oral presentation. As the project matures, you will be asked to
choose a presentation method.
This is an individual project that will involve group/team work for ideas and general
brainstorming. I will consider proposals to break up report sections into a combined team
report if it can be shown that the sectionalization is logical, equally shared, well planned
and required to affect a thorough final report. Absent such a preapproval, each student will
prepare and present individual comprehensive reports.
All written reports will be submitted one week in advance through Reports
will include a bibliography using standard MLA Format.
The year is 2027. A recently launched space telescope has detected unmistakable signs of
free oxygen, water vapor and other Earth-like gases on a planet orbiting a star 68 light
years away. After careful study, a high-level ad-hoc committee of The National Science
Board has concluded that the planet is habitable by human standards and may contain life
forms. Exactly what, if any, life forms may be present is unknown. However, the presence of
significant free oxygen has convinced the board that some form of life currently inhabits
the planet.
Planet Specifications: The planet has been measured at 1.07 0.04 Earth masses, is
estimated to be the same diameter as the Earth, and orbits a star nearly identical to the Sun
as it was 100 to 500 million years ago. The planets orbit varies from 0.98 AU .03 AU to
1.07 AU, .03 AU. Additional data suggest, but cannot confirm that the planet axis tilt is 15
degrees off-axis (as compared to 23.5 degrees for Earth). The planet appears to be orbited
by a single moon similar in mass to Earths moon, and at an orbital radius similar to the
orbital radius of Earths moon. Data on the planet rotation period cannot be determined to
an accuracy greater than 17 hours, 8 hours. Measurements suggest an atmosphere
similar to Earth2: 81 percent nitrogen 5 percent, 18 percent oxygen, 5 percent, 1 percent

1 Consider the possibility that this report could serve as a preliminary senior project topic, revised and

updated for the requirements of your English teacher. Check with your English teacher before choosing this
course of action.
2 Earths atmosphere is 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, 1 percent argon and other trace gases.

argon, 3 percent, and 0.1 percent other gases, 0.5 percent including carbon dioxide and
methane. Water vapor is also present but the amount present cannot be determined and
appears to vary frequently. There is no evidence to support the presence of advanced
civilizations capable of electronic transmissions or communications.
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has deferred naming the planet and instead,
has delegated that decision to the colonization crew.
At the direction of The President of the United States and with concurrence and
representation of major world leaders (including Russia, China, England, France, Japan,
Korea, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other national
representatives), an international coalition has been set up to consider, plan and
implement a one-way colonization trip to the planet. In the event an advanced civilization
is encountered, a secondary mission is for the travellers to assume an ambassadorial role
with a focus on establishing peaceful representation of all Humanity. The mission is
expected to maintain on-going electronic communication with Earth for purposes of two-
way information sharing and initially, mission consultations.
Based on preliminary planning, current and projected technology could support the
building of a space vessel with a capacity to hold and support up to 300 individuals.
Scientists and engineers believe the proposed craft could achieve an average en route
speed of 0.2c (20 percent of the speed of light)3. The proposed spacecraft has built-in
designs that use centripetal forces to overcome the microgravity environment of
interstellar space and create the equivalent of a 0.8 1.1g simulated gravity environment
during the en route portion of the trip. In addition, developing technology is expected to
reduce crewmember exposure of high-energy radiation to levels currently found at Earth
equatorial elevations of approximately 17, 000 feet above sea level. In addition, temporary
and compartmental high-level shelter against periodic solar or other brief high-radiation
episodes is included in the design specifications.
A robotic probe capable of en route speeds averaging 0.3c is expected to be launch-ready
approximately six months prior to departure of the colonization ship. The probe will enter
orbit around the planet and relay critical data and high resolution photograhs to the crew.
In addition, the ship will carry six orbital probes for launch as the colonization ship
approaches the planet.
Some Factors to Consider (intended as a starting point, only):
To aid in your considerations, each of you is being given an excerpt from the Book,
Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, 1993 (part of a Trilogy as noted on the handout).
Your first assignment is to read this handout. Secondarily, I give you this excerpt as an
incentive to read the trilogy on your own (you can get the paperback copies online for
under $10 each). I consider the series an outstanding literary treatment of the human
condition and of human nature. There is a lot you can learn from reading this series.
Class time will be devoted toward consulting and brainstorming with your classmates.
Assume a birthrate that will create a new generation on average every 25 years. Clearly,
this voyage will be multigenerational.

3 This speed far exceeds current technology.

How will you determine crew selection? Follow through and select a crew makeup
based on the criteria you develop. Factor in that viable en route procreation is a
requirement for mission success. Keep in mind that the ship is designed at launch for a
maximum of 300 colonists.
Governance will be a major planning factor perhaps the most important of all factors.
o This is an international consortium that will assume autonomous status after
o What police powers will be required and how will these powers be
o Likely, weapons will be present and/or could be developed en route. How will
you plan for this likely reality?
Socialization and education of each generation will be critical. Consider how you will
assure generational buy-in to the original mission.
Grading: Imagination, coupled with justifiable credibility will be a major factor in grade
assessment. As per the Astronomy course syllabus, activities not directly related to exams
count as 50 percent of your grade. This project will count as 50 percent of the non-testing
portion of your semester grade (25 percent of your total grade).
Grade breakdowns are as follows:

Written report: 75 percent4

Poster Board or Oral Presentation: 25 percent
Bibliography in proper format: At least four (4) credible sources (as would be
acceptable to the English Department) are required. Failure to include a bibliography
will be considered the equivalent of plagiarism. The entire project will receive a
0 percent grade (you can expect college professors to have a similar policy in effect).
For each day late in each phase, the project will lose 10 percent of the overall awarded

This project will be developed in phases with checkpoints en route.

Of necessity, subjectivity in assessment will be a significant feature in determining final
grade assignment. Thorough research, clear indication of effort, and thoughtful imagination
will factor highly in my assessment.
Timeline (dates may change slightly due to unforeseen circumstances):
Friday, September 26, 2014 (20 points)
o Project introduction.
o In-class project (individual benchmark; no peer consultations): Using a bullet
format, develop, write down and turn in your initial game plan for getting to this
planet. When returned, this paper will be included as an appendix to your final
o Receive the Red Mars excerpt (near the end of the period)

4 All reports must be typed, Cambria or Times New Roman (or similar) 12-point font, 1-inch margins, single-

line spacing with 6 point spacing between paragraphs. Do not plan to use the class printer during class on the
day a report is due.

Monday, October 6, 2014 (40 points)

o Due at the beginning of class: Written report What did you learn from reading
Red Mars that will apply to your project? Typed report, minimum one full body page
with citations (see footnote #4 regarding required report formatting). When
returned, this paper will be included as an appendix to your final report.
o Class Coordination Day. During this class meeting, determine if you are going to
submit your own report, or focus on a specialized portion of a combined team
project. I will assume you will submit your own report unless you advise otherwise.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014 - Class coordination day.
Monday, November 3, 2014 (50 points)
o Turn in a typed progress report with an annotated bibliography (maximum 150
words per annotation).
o Summarize your planning to date and what areas you are continuing to
research/develop. Include in your summary how your sources have interfaced with
your project.
Monday, November 17, 2014 (30 points)
o Turn in a typed progress report (an annotated bibliography is not required for this
Progress Report).
o Summarize your planning to date and what areas you are continuing to
research/develop. This requirement may take the form of an attached addendum to
your October 27th Progress Report.
o Determine and advise me if you are going to do a poster board presentation or an
oral presentation.
Monday and Tuesday, December 1 and 2, 2014: In-class work on poster boards or oral
presentations with peer and teacher recommendations.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, December 3, 2014 (260 points)
o Submit to not later than Wed., December 3rd.
o Wednesday through Friday: Poster Board Session and Oral Presentations