Apollo Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Sixth Man On the Moon, Dies At 85 ( 113

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story in the Palm Beach Post, Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 85. He flew as lunar module pilot on board Apollo 14, which flew to and from the moon between January 31, 1971 and February 9, 1971. His crewmates were Alan Shepard and Stuart Roosa. Apollo 14 was the return to flight for the moon landing program after the near disaster of Apollo 13 in April 1970, and explored the Fra Mauro highlands on the lunar surface. NASA marks Mitchell's passing as well.

Congressional Testimony Says NASA Has No Plan For the Journey To Mars ( 310

MarkWhittington writes: Testimony at a hearing before the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Space suggested that NASA's Journey to Mars lacks a plan to achieve the first human landing on the Red Planet, almost six years after President Obama announced the goal on April 15, 2010. Moreover, two of the three witnesses argued that a more realistic near term goal for the space agency would be a return to the moon. The moon is not only a scientifically interesting and potentially commercially profitable place to go but access to lunar water, which can be refined into rocket fuel, would make the Journey to Mars easier and cheaper.

Russia Begins Work On a Lunar Lander ( 93

MarkWhittington writes: Whether and when Russia will try to send cosmonauts to the moon is an open question. The Putin government has heavily slashed spending on the Russian space program, a measure brought on by declining oil and gas revenues. But, as Popular Mechanics reports, Russian engineers have gone ahead and have started to design a lunar lander for the eventual Russian lunar surface effort. When money is going to be forthcoming for such a vehicle is unknown, though Russia could partner with another country with lunar ambitions, such as China or the European Union.

China's Chang'e 3 Lander and Yutu Rover Camera Data Released 56

AmiMoJo writes: Detailed high resolution images from the recent Chinese moon mission have been released. Links to the original Chinese sites hosting the images are available, but Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society has kindly organized them in English. Images show the lander, the rover and the surface of the earth. An interactive map is also available, built from data collected by the mission.

Ancient Babylonians Figured Out Forerunner of Calculus ( 153

sciencehabit writes: Tracking and recording the motion of the sun, the moon, and the planets as they paraded across the desert sky, ancient Babylonian astronomers used simple arithmetic to predict the positions of celestial bodies. Now, new evidence reveals that these astronomers, working several centuries B.C.E., also employed sophisticated geometric methods that foreshadow the development of calculus. Historians had thought such techniques did not emerge until more than 1400 years later, in 14th century Europe.

The Tragedy Of Apollo 1 And The Lessons That Brought Us To The Moon ( 118

An anonymous reader writes: On January 27, 1967, the Apollo 1 crew was performing a "plugs-out" test of the Command/Service Module, an essential simulation of how the three-person capsule would perform under in-space conditions under its own power. At 6:30 PM, a voltage spike occurred, leading to a disaster. In 26 seconds, everything changed. The Apollo 1 fire and the tragic death of all three astronauts wasn't due to just a single point-of-failure, but rather due to five independent confounding factors that if any one of them had been different, the astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee might have survived. As it stands, all the crewed Apollo missions were scrapped for 20 months while NASA changed how they did business. The changes worked remarkably well, and 2.5 years later, humans walked on the Moon.

Math Says Conspiracies Are Prone To Unravel ( 303

An anonymous reader writes: Who doesn't love a good conspiracy theory? Well, I don't — they're usually annoying daydreams from annoying people. Fortunately, an Oxford mathematician seems to feel the same way. Dr. David Grimes just published research in PLOS One establishing a formula for determining the likelihood of a failed conspiracy — in other words, how likely some of its participants are to spill the beans. There are three main factors: number of conspirators, the amount of time passed since it started, and how often we can expect conspiracies to intrinsically fail (a value he derived by studying actual conspiracies that were exposed). From the article: "He then applied his equation to four famous conspiracy theories: The belief that the Moon landing was faked, the belief that climate change is a fraud, the belief that vaccines cause autism, and the belief that pharmaceutical companies have suppressed a cure for cancer. Dr. Grimes's analysis suggests that if these four conspiracies were real, most are very likely to have been revealed as such by now. Specifically, the Moon landing 'hoax' would have been revealed in 3.7 years, the climate change 'fraud' in 3.7 to 26.8 years, the vaccine-autism 'conspiracy' in 3.2 to 34.8 years, and the cancer 'conspiracy' in 3.2 years."

NASA's Deep Space Habitat Could Support the Journey To Mars and a Lunar Return ( 43

MarkWhittington writes: Back in 2012, when NASA first proposed building a deep space habitat (DSH) beyond the moon, the Obama administration took a dim view of the idea. However, fast forward over three years, and the idea has become part of the Journey to Mars program. According to a story in Spaceflight Insider, the deep space habitat will be deployed in cis-lunar space in the 2020s to test various technologies related to sending humans to Mars. The DSH could also be part of an infrastructure that would support a return to the moon should the next administration decide to go that route.

Katherine Johnson: NASA's Pioneering Female Physicist ( 133

destinyland writes: Tuesday's State of the Union address included a shout-out to Katherine Johnson, the pioneering African American mathematician and physicist who calculated the trajectory of Alan Shepherd's 1961 space trip. "Her reputation was so strong that John Glenn asked her to recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth," notes one technology reporter. NASA policy at the time was to not acknowledge the female contributors to scientific papers, though "She literally wrote the textbook on rocket science," according to one NASA official, noting that her impact literally reaches all the way to the moon. At a ceremony in November, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the 97-year-old pioneer continues to encourage young people to also pursue careers in technology, science, engineering and math.

Reusable SpaceX Rocket Has Implications For a Return To the Moon ( 51

MarkWhittington writes: While it is unclear what, if any, implications the recent successful landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9 first stage means for the future of space travel, planetary scientist and space commentator Paul Spudis suggested that the feat and the similar one performed earlier by Blue Origin could have some benefit for a return to the moon. In the meantime, a test of the engines in the recovered first stage had mixed results. The engines fired alright, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reported, "thrust fluctuations" that might have been caused by "debris ingestion."

China Targets 2018 For Landing Probe On Far Side of Moon ( 101

An anonymous reader writes: Despite all the time we've spent studying the moon, nobody has ever deployed a probe to its far side. Now, China has announced that it plans to land a probe there in 2018. The craft they plan to send is similar to the Chang'e-3 probe with its Jade Rabbit rover. They plan to study the geologic conditions on the far side of the moon. "China insists that its space program is for peaceful purposes. However, the U.S. Defense Department has highlighted China's increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing its adversaries from using space-based assets during a crisis. In March, the Chinese government said it would open up its lunar exploration program to companies rather than simply relying on the state-owned sector as before, hoping to boost technological breakthroughs."

NASA Safety Panel Finds Concerns With the Journey To Mars ( 155

MarkWhittington writes: NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel issued its annual report on various space agency programs. The panel found a number of areas of concern surrounding the Journey to Mars program, virtually all of them stemming from inadequate funding. It suggested that NASA's plan to launch the first crewed mission on the Orion, which would use the heavy lift Space Launch System to go around the moon, in 2021 was unrealistic given current, anticipated funding. The panel also suggested that lack of a clear plan for the Mars program is compromising its viability. It also suggested that the decision not to return to the moon should be revisited in view of the desire of international partners to do so and the need of low gravity surface experience in advance of going to Mars

The 40,000-Mile Volcano ( 85

An anonymous reader writes: The NY Times reports on one of the wonders of the underwater world: the extensive web of volcanoes and hydrothermal vents present where tectonic plates meet and grind against one another. "Welcome to one of the planet's most obscure but important features, known rather prosaically as the midocean ridges. Though long enough to circle the moon more than six times, they receive little notice because they lie hidden in pitch darkness." The magma seeping through these cracks generate massive amounts of heat — enough to sustain incredible ecosystems.

But as scientists have gained a deeper understanding of this geological phenomenon, they realize it's more chaotic than they had imagined. "The old idea was that the eruptions of oozing lava and related activity occurred at fairly steady rates. Now, studies hint at the existence of outbursts large enough to influence not only the character of the global sea but the planet's temperature. Experts believe the activity may carry major repercussions because the oceanic ridges account for some 70 percent of the planet's volcanic eruptions. By definition, that makes them enormous sources of heat and exotic minerals as well as such everyday gases as carbon dioxide, which all volcanoes emit."

The Almighty Buck

How Russia May Send Cosmonauts To the Moon After All ( 143

MarkWhittington writes: When Russia decided to abandon its drive to land cosmonauts on the moon, the reasons were not so much political than they were fiscal. The low price of oil and the costs of Vladimir Putin's imperial adventures in the Ukraine and Syria had crowded out funding for Russia space missions. It did not help matters that the Russian Space Agency was rife with corruption and mismanagement that seems to prevail across much of Russian society. However, Popular Mechanics suggests that Russia is still thinking of landing cosmonauts on the moon when that country's fiscal situation improves.

China Names Chang'e 3 Lunar Landing Site 'Guang Han Gong' Or 'Moon Palace' ( 83

MarkWhittington writes: One of the privileges of landing on the moon is that the country that does so gets to name the landing site. For example, the International Astronomical Union has officially recognized "Tranquility Base", using the Latin designation "Statio Tranquillitatis", as the site where the Apollo 11 astronauts first landed and walked on the moon on July 20, 1969. Now, according to a story in Moon Daily, the site where the Chinese Chang'e 3 probe landed has been named "Guang Han Gong" which translates as "Moon Palace." The name has also been recognized by the IAU.

Planetary Exploration In 2016 ( 27

An anonymous reader writes: Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society blog has put together a post about all of the space missions set to return data from planets, moons, and other bodies in the solar system this year. She's also assembled some cool visualizations of when the missions are active at their locations of interest. In summary: "Akatsuki is at Venus, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and two Chang'e missions at the Moon, two rovers and five orbiters are active at Mars, Dawn is at Ceres, Rosetta is at 67P, Cassini is at Saturn, and although New Horizons is far past Pluto, it'll be sending back new Pluto science data for most of the year, so I'm counting that as still doing science. Another two missions (Hayabusa2 and Juno) are in their cruise phase; Juno arrives at Jupiter in August. Two (ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and OSIRIS-Rex) or three (if you count the Schiaparelli lander separately) will launch this year, with their science starting after 2016."

Comet Catalina Coming To a Night Sky Near You ( 26

TigerNut writes: CBC is running a story on the upcoming closest approach of Comet Catalina. While the headline makes it sound like a one-night deal for the morning of January 1, the best viewing may actually occur next weekend (Jan 8-10) because the moon will not be a bright distraction at that time. The CBC reports: "Comet Catalina, which is less than 20 kilometres across, was discovered in 2013 by the Tuscon, Ariz.-based Catalina Sky Survey, which looks for potentially hazardous near-Earth objects. At first, it was thought to be a very large near-Earth asteroid. But astronomers soon realized it was actually a very long, near-parabolic orbit and observations with the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope showed 'modest cometary activity.'"

Russia Cancels All Moon Missions Till 2025 ( 135

schwit1 writes: Faced with a shrinking budget and poor economic conditions, Russia has once again trimmed back its proposed ten-year space plan for the next decade in space, canceling all Moon missions until after 2025. Russian might now have a giant government-run aerospace corporation, but flying space missions is not really its primary task. Like all government agencies divorced from profit and loss, its primary task is really to provide pork barrel jobs, regardless of whether those jobs do anything useful or not. Thus, Russia will have a very expensive space program for the next decade, but the money spent will not accomplish much of anything new.

NASA and China's Yutu Rover Are Still Making Discoveries On the Moon ( 34

MarkWhittington writes: The last time men walked on the moon was during the flight of Apollo 17, 43 Decembers ago. According to a story in Forbes, lunar soil and rock samples returned by the last moonwalkers are still yielding new insights into the history and nature of Earth's nearest neighbor. In the meantime, the latest explorer to go to the moon, a Chinese robotic rover named Yutu has made some discoveries of its own.

NASA Rings Out 2015 With Close Looks At Ceres and Enceladus ( 15

MarkWhittington writes: 2015 was a historical year for NASA with its close flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto last July. But the space agency rings out the year with some close looks at two divergent worlds thanks to its far-ranging space probes. The Dawn mission returned the closest images yet of the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt. Also, the space agency released images of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, whose ice geysers have fascinated scientists, indicating a subsurface ocean similar to the one that resides beneath the ice moon of Jupiter, Europa.

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