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For a trip to Jupiter's moon Europa that he hopes will someday uncover oceans of frozen water, University of California-Berkeley paleobiologist Jere Lipps worries most about the need to quickly get past damaging radiation. Lipps says DE could play a role in overcoming this obstacle.

"Radiation deteriorates electronics and the mass of the spacecraft must be increased to shield it," Lipps says. "I want to get to those far-off objects with the least radiation exposure, as fast as possible and with the biggest payload. The last two goals seem to be part of the differential evolution program and I suspect radiation avoidance could be part of the program, too."

Using differential evolution to send human crews to near-Earth asteroids intrigues Dave Brody, who sees a time when these once threatening space travelers could become our best friends.

ASTEROIDAL AMBITIONS: 'Precious metals like titanium, platinum and palladium that are hard to come by on Earth are far easier to mine on an asteroid.'

Image courtesy of Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

"For the kind of deep space missions differential evolution addresses, asteroids are your crew survival guides, building supply centers and interplanetary gas stations," Brody says. "They're rich in water and heavy metals like iron and nickel." Brody envisions crews constructing and repairing space stations using raw materials from asteroids that might otherwise spell our doom.

"As you know, for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction," Brody says, citing Newton's third law. "For every ton of material you jettison from an asteroid headed toward Earth, you push the asteroid in the opposite direction."

Asteroids are also green, says Brody, at least in the Earth-environmental sense. One day, he says, they'll eliminate strip mining. "Precious metals like titanium, platinum, and palladium that are hard to come by on Earth are far easier to mine on an asteroid," he explains. "Asteroids will become a valuable part of almost every futuristic space mission, in large part because software that uses new algorithms like differential evolution makes travel to them, and landing on them, possible."

Given the potential of differential evolution, it may seem surprising that NASA isn't exactly jumping to adopt the program. Brody isn't surprised. He says the space agency is often slow on the uptake. "NASA has a lot of lessons to learn," he says.

The European Space Agency, on the other hand, has shown interest, as have a number of forward-thinking entrepreneurs. Private space travelers may, in fact, be the first to boldly go where DE takes them. Companies such as Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace are already showing an interest, Brody says.

And indeed, the MU team's paper reads like an enterprising prospectus for making a trek to the stars so inviting that no self-respecting billionaire could possibly resist it.

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