The Cold Space Race

The Cold Space Race

The Cold War between the East and the West lasted from 1947 to 1991.

The Cold War, often dated from 1947 to 1991, was a sustained state of political and military tension between powers in the Western Bloc, dominated by the United States with NATO among its allies, and powers in the Eastern Bloc, dominated by the Soviet Union along with the Warsaw Pact.

The Space Race between the East and West lasted from 1957 to 1975

The Space Race was a mid-to-late 20th century competition between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (US) for supremacy in space exploration. Between 1957 and 1975, the Cold War rivalry between the two nations focused on attaining firsts in space exploration, which were seen as necessary for national security and symbolic of technological and ideological superiority.

Evidently, having enjoyed themselves so much in The Cold War and The Space Race the main protagonists have quietly returned to the international stage for round three: The Cold Space Race.

Once more the protagonists are playing for high stakes while the rest of the world crosses its fingers and hopes they won’t become collateral damage this time around.

The mainstream media seems very cool and laidback [comatose] about the whole affair.

This is primarily because it’s difficult to paint your own side in a good light when they are scrabbling around in the ice looking for new microbes and new life forms.

Indeed, someone might eventually discover a new microbe buried under the ice that is beneficial to the civilian population.

However, there is also a huge potential for harm if a new microbial pathogen is discovered lurking underneath the ice in Antarctica.

Vostok Ice Core Microbes

Priscu Research Group:
American Association for the Advancement of Science Presentation – February, 2001
Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences
Montana State University

There is no formal history documenting The Cold Space Race.

However, there is plenty of information documenting its development and progress.

February 2011 – Lake Vostok
A Russian team stopped drilling at 3,730 metres, just 50 metres above the waters of Lake Vostok

In January 2011, the head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, Valery Lukin, announced that his team had only 50 m (200 ft) of ice left to drill in order to reach the water.

The researchers then switched to a new thermal drill head with a “clean” silicone oil fluid to drill the rest of the way.

Instead of drilling all the way into the water, they said they would stop just above it when a sensor on the thermal drill detected free water.

At that point, the drill was to be stopped and extracted from the bore hole.

Removal of the drill would lower the pressure beneath it, drawing water into the hole to be left to freeze, creating a plug of ice in the bottom of the hole.

Drilling stopped on 5 February 2011 at a depth of 3,720 m (12,200 ft) so that the research team could make it off the ice before the beginning of the Antarctic winter season.

The drilling team left by aircraft on 6 February 2011.

Location of Lake Vostok in East Antarctica

Location of Lake Vostok in East Antarctica

December 2012 – Lake Ellsworth
The British “sampling” of Lake Ellsworth lying about 3,400 metres of ice in West Antarctica ends in heroic failure after nearly 15 years of planning.

On 12 December 2012 the British research team of twelve scientists and engineers began to bore the ice-sheet to obtain water samples.

Using a high-pressure hose and sterilised water at near-boiling point, they hoped to bore a passage through more than two miles of ice.

The drilling process was expected to last five days and would be followed by a rapid sampling operation.

Professor Siegert said that the search for life in such an extreme environment could open up possibilities for life on other worlds such as Jupiter’s moon Europa.

On 25 December 2012 it was announced that the project had been called off, after attempts to link two 300m-deep boreholes failed.

For reasons that are yet to be determined the team could not establish a link between the two boreholes at 300m depth, despite trying for over 20 hours.

During this process, hot water seeped into the porous surface layers of ice and was lost.

The team attempted to replenish this water loss by digging and melting more snow, but their efforts could not compensate.

The additional time taken to attempt to establish the cavity link significantly depleted the fuel stocks to such a level as to render the remaining operation unviable.

Antarctic lake mission called off
British Antarctic Survey

British camp deep field, Lake Ellsworth

British camp deep field, Lake Ellsworth (Neil Ross / University of Edinburgh)

British Antarctic Survey engineering team heads to Antarctica to explore hidden lake
British Antarctic Survey

February 2012 – Lake Vostok
The Russian team resume drilling and reach the upper surface water of the Lake Vostok.

The Russians resumed drilling into the lake in January 2012 and reached the upper surface of the water on 6 February 2012.

The researchers allowed the rushing lake water to freeze within the bore hole and months later, they collected ice core samples of this newly formed ice and sent to Russia by boat for analysis.

The ice samples are currently on the research vessel Akademik Fyodorov, which will return to St. Petersburg from the Southern hemisphere in May 2013.

Analysis of the samples will then start, with results published in late 2013 or early 2014.

RADARSAT image of Lake Vostok, Antarctica

Radar satellite image of Lake Vostok

R.V. Akademik Fedorov

R.V. Akademik Fedorov

January 2013 – Lake Whillans
The US WISSARD team drill down to the surface of Lake Whillans at the south eastern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf in western Antartica.

On 28 January 2013, the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) team announced that they had reached the lake surface having drilled 800 m (2,600 ft) through the ice above.

Drilling was accomplished using a hot-water drill to create a borehole 30 cm (12 in) in diameter.

Over the following days the team collected water samples and also sediment cores from the lake bottom.

Initial analysis of water and sediment has revealed that they contain microbial life.

Bacteria are surviving in this environment without photosynthesis.

According to WISSARD, the project “marks the first successful retrieval of clean whole samples from an Antarctic subglacial lake”.

Similar efforts have been undertaken at Lake Vostok, where samples have yet to yield any discoveries, and at Lake Ellsworth, where drilling had to be abandoned.

These projects may yield insights into the search for life elsewhere in the Solar System.
In particular, the moons Europa (Jupiter) and Enceladus (Saturn) have large amounts of liquid water beneath icy crusts.

Lake Whillans research team

Members of the Lake Whillans research team board a ski-equipped cargo plane at McMurdo Station. JT Thomas
Life Under Antarctica’s Ice – Discover Magazine

Ice over Antarctica

Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling – Web site

March 2013 – New Bacterium from Lake Vostok
Russia announce the discovery of a new type of bacterium in Lake Vostok.

On 7 March 2013, a new type of bacterium was discovered in a water sample obtained by a Russian team from Lake Vostok when they initially drilled down to the lake’s surface in 2012.

Sergey Bulat, a geneticist at the Saint Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics, sequenced the bacterium’s genome and looked it up through a global database and was not able to find anything similar to its type.

Only 86% of the bacteria is said to be similar to other types of bacteria.

However, Vladimar Korolev, the laboratory head of the study at the same institution, said that the bacteria could in principle use kerosene — the antifreeze used during drilling— as an energy source, and they would have to wait for pure water samples to be retrieved next year.

July 2013 – Lake Vostok Ice Cores
Results are published detailing gene sequences obtained from a 1990s Vostok Ice Core.

Meanwhile, a different team led by Scott O. Rogers had been identifying a variety of bacteria and fungi from accretion ice (not from the subglacial water layer) collected during U.S. drilling projects in the 1990s.

Lake Vostok, the 7th largest (by volume) and 4th deepest lake on Earth, is covered by more than 3,700 m of ice, making it the largest subglacial lake known. The combination of cold, heat (from possible hydrothermal activity), pressure (from the overriding glacier), limited nutrients and complete darkness presents extreme challenges to life.

Here, we report metagenomic/metatranscriptomic sequence analyses from four accretion ice sections from the Vostok 5G ice core.

Two sections accreted in the vicinity of an embayment on the southwestern end of the lake, and the other two represented part of the southern main basin.

We obtained 3,507 unique gene sequences from concentrates of 500 ml of 0.22 µm-filtered accretion ice meltwater.

Taxonomic classifications (to genus and/or species) were possible for 1,623 of the sequences.

Species determinations in combination with mRNA gene sequence results allowed deduction of the metabolic pathways represented in the accretion ice and, by extension, in the lake.

Approximately 94% of the sequences were from Bacteria and 6% were from Eukarya.
Only two sequences were from Archaea.

In general, the taxa were similar to organisms previously described from lakes, brackish water, marine environments, soil, glaciers, ice, lake sediments, deep-sea sediments, deep-sea thermal vents, animals and plants. Sequences from aerobic, anaerobic, psychrophilic, thermophilic, halophilic, alkaliphilic, acidophilic, desiccation-resistant, autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms were present, including a number from multicellular eukaryotes.

Subglacial Lake Vostok (Antarctica) Accretion Ice Contains a Diverse Set of Sequences from Aquatic, Marine and Sediment-Inhabiting Bacteria and Eukarya
Shtarkman, Koçer, Edgar, Veerapaneni, D’Elia, Morris, Rogers – July 2013

With luck The Cold Space Race has only found benign microbes in Antarctica.

Bacterial activity in methane-rich, icy habitats

Bacterial activity in methane-rich, icy habitats
Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences
Montana State University

Let’s hope our luck holds out as the “Space Rangers” rove and probe the Solar System.

The Curiosity rover vaporizing rock on Mars

Artist’s conception of the Curiosity rover vaporizing rock on Mars.
The rover landed on Mars in August 2012.

Gallery | This entry was posted in Astrophysics, Earth, Science, Solar System. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Cold Space Race

  1. The Rus, being scandinavian in origin, value women as much as men. They are also egalitarian and pursue fewer physical sports as gambling is not used to dicert the mob from their elite rulers. Instead chess is favoured. There are other ways to assess mental and physical abilities. Their science and engineering is more rigorous than that in the west and of a higher quality. USA in particular tries to “buy in” scientific knowledge leading to leakages and loss of investment.

    China with a long tradition of civil service, Mandarins, is also going to out produce the west.

    Usually, this means war…… since the Tsunami weapon, this will not end well for the USA or North Europe or the Mediterranean. Australia has several sand islands protecting cities…. and shallow bays of great extent.

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