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Mars

Comet To Make Close Call With Mars 43

Posted by samzenpus
from the skin-of-your-teeth dept.
sciencehabit writes In mid-October, a comet sweeping through our inner solar system for the first time will pass near Mars—so close, in fact, that if it were buzzing Earth at the same distance it would fly by well inside our moon's orbit. While material spewing from the icy visitor probably won't trigger the colossal meteor showers on the Red Planet that some scientists predicted, dust and water vapor may still slam into Mars, briefly heating up its atmosphere and threatening orbiting spacecraft. However it affects the planet, the comet should give scientists their closest view yet of a near-pristine visitor from the outer edges of our solar system.
United States

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Turns 45 204

Posted by samzenpus
from the we're-here dept.
An anonymous reader writes On July 20, 1969, U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. Neil Armstrong would say later he thought the crew had a 90% chance of getting home from the moon, and only a 50% chance of landing safely. The scope of NASA's Apollo program seems staggering today. President Kennedy announced his moon goal just four years into the Space Age, but the United States had not even launched a human into orbit yet. Amazingly, just eight years later, Armstrong and Aldrin were walking on the moon.
Moon

NASA: Lunar Pits and Caves Could House Astronauts 156

Posted by Soulskill
from the assuming-we-ever-go-back dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Astronomers have documented hundreds of holes on the lunar surface. These aren't simply craters, but actual pits ranging from 5 to 900 meters across. Scientists suspects many of these will lead to underground cave systems, which NASA says would be great spots for an astronaut habitat once we get back to the Moon. "A habitat placed in a pit — ideally several dozen meters back under an overhang — would provide a very safe location for astronauts: no radiation, no micrometeorites, possibly very little dust, and no wild day-night temperature swings," said Robert Wagner of Arizona State University. He says it's time to send probes into a few of these pits to see what they're like: "Pits, by their nature, cannot be explored very well from orbit — the lower walls and any floor-level caves simply cannot be seen from a good angle. Even a few pictures from ground-level would answer a lot of the outstanding questions about the nature of the voids that the pits collapsed into. We're currently in the very early design phases of a mission concept to do exactly this, exploring one of the largest mare pits."
United Kingdom

Scotland Could Become Home To Britain's First Spaceport 151

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-place-to-launch dept.
An anonymous reader writes Scotland could take a giant leap for mankind by becoming the home of Britain's first spaceport. UK Government ministers will announce on Tuesday eight potential sites for a base for sending rockets and tourists into orbit. RAF bases at Kinloss and Leuchars are believed to be among contenders for the spaceport, which would open in 2018 and be Britain's answer to Cape Canaveral. Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: "I am delighted that the government is pushing forward with its ambitious plans to open a spaceport in the UK by 2018. Spaceports will be key to us opening up the final frontier of commercial space travel. Scotland has a proud association with space exploration. We celebrated Neil Armstrong's Scottish ancestry when he became the first man on the Moon and only last week an amazing Scottish company was responsible for building the UK Space Agency's first satellite. The UK space industry is one of our great success stories and I am sure there will be a role for Scotland to play in the future."
Moon

Study: Why the Moon's Far Side Looks So Different 79

Posted by samzenpus
from the good-side dept.
StartsWithABang writes 55 years ago, the Soviet probe Luna 3 imaged the side of the Moon that faces away from us for the first time. Surprisingly, there were only two very small maria (dark regions) and large amounts of mountainous terrain, in stark contrast to the side that faces us. This remained a mystery for a very long time, even after we developed the giant impact hypothesis to explain the origin of the Moon. But a new study finally appears to solve the mystery, crediting the heat generated on the near side from a hot, young Earth with creating the differences between the two hemispheres.
NASA

Buzz Aldrin Pressures Obama For New Space Exploration Initiative 78

Posted by Soulskill
from the one-small-tweet-for-man dept.
MarkWhittington writes: While he has initiated the social media campaign, #Apollo45, to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin is also using the occasion to campaign for an expansion of American space exploration. According to a Tuesday story in the Washington Post, Aldrin has expressed the wish that President Obama make some sort of announcement along those lines this July 20. The idea has a certain aspect of deja vu. Aldrin believes that the American civil space program is adrift and that some new space exploration, he prefers to Mars, would be just the thing to set it back on course. There is only one problem, however. President Obama has already made the big space exploration announcement. Aldrin knows this because he was there. President Obama flew to the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010, with Aldrin accompanying as a photo op prop, and made the announcement that America would no longer be headed back to the moon, as was the plan under his predecessor George W. Bush. Instead American astronauts would visit an Earth approaching asteroid and then, decades hence, would land on Mars.
NASA

Interview: Edward Stone Talks About JPL and Space Exploration 57

Posted by samzenpus
from the listen-up dept.
samzenpus writes We recently had a chance to sit down with Edward Stone, Former Director of JPL, and ask him about his time as a project scientist for the Voyager program and the future of space exploration. In addition to our questions, we asked him a number of yours. Read below to see what professor Stone had to say.
Space

Cassini's Space Odyssey To Saturn 45

Posted by samzenpus
from the mission-of-the-rings dept.
An anonymous reader writes in with this look at the amazingly successful Cassini mission and the discoveries it has made. Scientists says Cassini is helping them understand how our solar system developed. Of the astronomically profound discoveries it's made over a decade of circling, the startling hint this April of a new moon being formed in the rings of Saturn is merely the latest. Indeed, the spacecraft Cassini — which inserted itself into orbit around the giant gas planet in July, 2004 — has transmitted imagery and sensory data back to Earth that has given us a new understanding of our bejewelled neighbour three doors down. "It's one of the most successful (space) missions probably ever," says University of Toronto astrophysicist Hanno Rein, whose own work has been significantly informed by the tiny craft's output.
NASA

NASA Approves Production of Most Powerful Rocket Ever 146

Posted by timothy
from the because-rockets dept.
As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, NASA has given a green light to the production of a new motor, dubbed the Space Launch System, intended to enable deep space exploration. Boeing, prime contractor on the rocket, announced on Wednesday that it had completed a critical design review and finalized a $US2.8-billion contract with NASA. The last time the space agency made such an assessment of a deep-space rocket was the mighty Saturn V, which took astronauts to the moon. ... Space Launch System's design called for the integration of existing hardware, spurring criticism that it's a "Frankenstein rocket," with much of it assembled from already developed technology. For instance, its two rocket boosters are advanced versions of the Space Shuttle boosters, and a cryogenic propulsion stage is based on the motor of a rocket often used by the Air Force. The Space Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group and frequent NASA critic, said Space Launch System was "built from rotting remnants of left over congressional pork. And its budgetary footprints will stamp out all the missions it is supposed to carry, kill our astronaut program and destroy science and technology projects throughout NASA."
Space

Searching For Ocean Life On Another World 49

Posted by Soulskill
from the hint:-it's-not-mars dept.
An anonymous reader writes: National Geographic has a detailed article about efforts underway to search for life in the oceans of Europa, which are buried beneath miles of ice. A first mission would have a spacecraft orbit just 16 miles over the moon's surface, analyzing the material ejected from the moon, measuring salinity, and sniffing out its chemical makeup. A later mission would then deploy a rover. But unlike the rovers we've built so far, this one would be designed to go underwater and navigate using the bottom surface of the ice over the oceans. An early design was just tested successfully underneath the ice in Alaska. "[It] crawls along under a foot of ice, its built-in buoyancy keeping it firmly pressed against the frozen subsurface, sensors measuring the temperature, salinity, pH, and other characteristics of the water."

Astronomers and astrobiologists are hopeful that these missions will provide definitive evidence of life on other worlds. "Europa certainly seems to have the basic ingredients for life. Liquid water is abundant, and the ocean floor may also have hydrothermal vents, similar to Earth's, that could provide nutrients for any life that might exist there. Up at the surface, comets periodically crash into Europa, depositing organic chemicals that might also serve as the building blocks of life. Particles from Jupiter's radiation belts split apart the hydrogen and oxygen that makes up the ice, forming a whole suite of molecules that living organisms could use to metabolize chemical nutrients from the vents."
NASA

NASA Funds Projects For Asteroid-Capture Plan 65

Posted by Soulskill
from the nasa-in-the-sky-with-diamonds dept.
An anonymous reader writes: NASA has announced funding for 18 different projects aimed at developing an asteroid retrieval mission. "The agency is working on two concepts for the mission. The first concept would fully capture a very small asteroid in free space and the other would retrieve a boulder off of a much larger asteroid. Both concepts would redirect an asteroid mass less than 10 meters in size to orbit the moon. Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft launched on the Space Launch System (SLS) would rendezvous with the captured asteroid mass in lunar orbit and collect samples for return to Earth." Astronomers using the Spitzer Space Telescope have also identified and measured the size of a candidate near-earth asteroid. It measures roughly six meters in diameter, and seems to be held together lightly, possible as a "pile of rubble."
Space

Draper Labs Develops Low Cost Probe To Orbit, Land On Europa For NASA 79

Posted by samzenpus
from the heading-out dept.
MarkWhittington writes Ever since the House passed a NASA spending bill that allocated $100 million for a probe to Jupiter's moon Europa, the space agency has been attempting to find a way to do such a mission on the cheap. The trick is that the mission has to cost less than $1 billion, a tall order for anything headed to the Outer Planets. According to a Wednesday story in the Atlantic, some researchers at Draper Labs have come up with a cheap way to do a Europa orbiter and land instruments on its icy surface.

The first stage is to orbit a cubesat, a tiny, coffee can sized satellite that would contain two highly accurate accelerometers that would go into orbit around Europa and measure its gravity field. In this way the location of Europa's subsurface oceans would be mapped. Indeed it is possible that the probe might find an opening through the ice crust to the ocean, warmed it is thought by tidal forces.

The second stage is to deploy even smaller probes called chipsats, tiny devices that contain sensors, a microchip, and an antenna. Hundreds of these probes, the size of human fingernails, would float down on Europa's atmosphere to be scattered about its surface. While some might be lost, enough will land over a wide enough area to do an extensive chemical analysis of the surface of Europa, which would then be transmitted to the cubesat mothership and then beamed to Earth.
Space

NASA's Horizons Spacecraft To Probe Pluto Moon For Underground Ocean 47

Posted by samzenpus
from the finding-water dept.
An anonymous reader writes NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is moving towards Pluto to explore Charon, one of Pluto's moons. The aim of the mission is to search of evidence of an ancient underground ocean on the moon. "Our model predicts different fracture patterns on the surface of Charon depending on the thickness of its surface ice, the structure of the moon's interior and how easily it deforms, and how its orbit evolved," said Alyssa Rhoden of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "By comparing the actual New Horizons observations of Charon to the various predictions, we can see what fits best and discover if Charon could have had a subsurface ocean in its past, driven by high eccentricity."
Moon

Why the Moon's New Birthday Means the Earth Is Older Than We Thought 98

Posted by timothy
from the just-measure-the-depth-of-the-mold dept.
Daniel_Stuckey (2647775) writes You're likely familiar with the theory of how the Moon formed: a stray body smashed into our young Earth, heating the planet and flinging debris into its orbit. That debris coalesced and formed the Moon. The impact theory still holds, but a team of geochemists from the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France has refined the date, finding that the Moon is about 60 million years older than we thought. As it turns out, that also means the Earth is 60 million years older than previously thought, which is a particularly cool finding considering just how hard it is to estimate the age of our planet.
NASA

NASA Forming $3M Satellite Communication, Propulsion Competition 9

Posted by samzenpus
from the win-big dept.
coondoggie (973519) writes NASA took the next step in forming a large-scale, $3 million competition to build advanced propulsion and communications technologies for small, inexpensive satellite systems known as cubesats. The Cubesat Lunar Challenge will be broken up into two areas: propulsion and communication while in orbit around the moon. In Request For Information published this week, NASA said the two challenges would provide competitive opportunities for a variety of competition teams to deploy cubesats on a NASA or third-party provided launch.
Moon

Moon Swirls May Inspire Revolution In the Science of Deflector Shields 76

Posted by timothy
from the tractor-beams-still-a-challenge dept.
KentuckyFC (1144503) writes 'One curious feature on the Moon's surface are "lunar swirls", wisp-like regions that are whiter than surrounding areas and that, until recently, astronomers could not explain. But one team of physicists recently showed that these areas are protected by weak magnetic fields that deflect high energy particles from the Sun and so prevent the darkening effect this radiation has. The problem they had to solve was how a weak field could offer so much protection, when numerous studies of long duration spaceflight have shown that only very powerful fields can act like radiation shields. The team now says that these previous studies have failed to take into account an important factor: the low density plasma that exists in space. It turns out that this plasma is swept up by a weak magnetic field moving through space, creating a layer of higher density plasma. That's important because the separation of charge within this layer creates an electric field. And it is this field that deflects the high energy particles from the Sun. That explains the lunar swirls but it also suggests that the same effect could be exploited to protect astronauts on long duration missions to the moon, to nearby asteroids and beyond. This team has now produced the first study of such a shield and how it might work. Their shield would use superconducting coils to create a relatively weak field only when it is needed, during solar storms, for example. And it would create a plasma by pumping xenon into the vacuum around the vehicle, where it would be ionised by UV light. The entire device would weigh around 1.5 tonnes and use about 20 KW of power. That's probably more than mission planners could currently accommodate but it is significantly less than the science fiction-type power requirements of previous designs. And who knows what other tricks of plasma physics engineers might be able to exploit to refine this design. All of a sudden, long duration space flight looks a little more feasible.'
ISS

NASA Beams Hi-Def Video From Space Via Laser 38

Posted by samzenpus
from the beam-it-down dept.
An anonymous reader writes "NASA successfully beamed a high-definition video 260 miles from the International Space Station to Earth Thursday using a new laser communications instrument. Transmission of 'Hello, World!' as a video message was the first 175-megabit communication for the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS), a technology demonstration that allows NASA to test methods for communication with future spacecraft using higher bandwidth than radio waves." Last September, NASA's LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) showed that they could supply a lunar colony with broadband via lasers.
Space

Evidence of Protoplanet Found On Moon 105

Posted by samzenpus
from the back-in-the-day dept.
mrspoonsi (2955715) writes 'Researchers have found evidence of the world that crashed into the Earth billions of years ago to form the Moon. Analysis of lunar rock brought back by Apollo astronauts shows traces of the "planet" called Theia. The researchers claim that their discovery confirms the theory that the Moon was created by just such a cataclysmic collision. The accepted theory since the 1980s is that the Moon arose as a result of a collision between the Earth and Theia 4.5bn years ago. It is the simplest explanation, and fits in well with computer simulations. The main drawback with the theory is that no one had found any evidence of Theia in lunar rock samples. Earlier analyses had shown Moon rock to have originated entirely from the Earth whereas computer simulations had shown that the Moon ought to have been mostly derived from Theia. Now a more refined analysis of Moon rock has found evidence of material thought to have an alien origin.'
Space

SpaceX Shows Off 7-Man Dragon V2 Capsule 140

Posted by timothy
from the yes-please dept.
As promised, SpaceX has unveiled its design for a 7-passenger space capsule, intended for carrying astronauts to the International Station or other missions. Writes the L.A. Times: "SpaceX's Dragon V2 spacecraft looks like a sleek, modern-day version of the Apollo capsules that astronauts used in trips to the moon in the 1960s. Those capsules splashed down in the ocean and couldn't be reused. SpaceX builds its Dragon capsules and Falcon 9 rockets in a vast complex in Hawthorne, where fuselage sections for Boeing's 747 jumbo jets once were built. The company is expanding its complex, near Los Angeles International Airport, and has more than 3,000 employees."

NBC News offers more pictures and description of what conditions aboard the Dragon would be like, while astronaut Chris Hadfield says that for all its good points, the Dragon won't eliminate the need for international cooperation in space: "The United States cannot fly to the Space Station without Russia, and Russia can't fly to the Space Station without the United States. It's a wonderful thing to have. If you look at the whole life of the Space Station, think of all the tumult, with the fall of the Soviet Union, and the devaluation of the Ruble in 1998, and other countries backing out of it, the Columbia accident, which would have left us completely helpless if we hadn't had the international commitment. It's easy to have a one-month attention span, but that's just not how you build spaceships, or how you explore the rest of the universe."
Robotics

Robots Will Pave the Way To Mars 95

Posted by samzenpus
from the leading-the-way dept.
szotz (2505808) writes "There's a lot of skepticism swirling around NASA's plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030's, not to mention all those private missions. If we want to have sustainable (read: not bank-breaking) space exploration, the argument goes, there's no way we can do it the way we've been going to the moon and low-Earth orbit. We have to find a way to exploit space resources and cut down on the amount of stuff we need to launch from Earth. That's not a new idea. But this article in IEEE Spectrum suggests research on resource extraction and fabrication in low and zero gravity might actually be making progress...and that we could take these technologies quite far if we get our act together."

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you've got it made. -- Jean Giraudoux

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