NASA Announces That Pluto Has Icebergs Floating On Glaciers of Nitrogen Ice ( 34

MarkWhittington writes: The most recent finding from New Horizons show that icebergs have broken off from the hills surrounding the Sputnik Planum, a glacier of nitrogen ice, and are floating slowly across its surface, eventually to cluster together in places like the Challenger Colles, informally named after the crew of the space shuttle Challenger, which was lost just over 30 years ago. The feature is an especially high concentration of icebergs, measuring 37 by 22 miles. The icebergs float on the nitrogen ice plain because water ice is less dense than nitrogen ice.

Apollo Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Sixth Man On the Moon, Dies At 85 ( 109

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 ( 309

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.

AnonSec Attempts To Crash $222m Drone, Releases Secret Flight Videos ( 133

An anonymous reader writes with an excerpt from IBTimes that says it's not just governments that have proven themselves capable of hacking into drones: Hackers from the AnonSec group who spent several months hacking NASA have released a huge data dump and revealed they tried to bring down a $222m Global Hawk drone into the Pacific Ocean. The hack included employee personal details, flight logs and video footage collected from unmanned and manned aircraft. The 250GB data dump contained the names, email addresses and phone numbers of 2,414 NASA employees, 2,143 flight logs and 631 videos taken from Nasa aircraft and radar feeds, as well as a self-published paper (known as a 'zine') from the group explaining the extensive technical vulnerabilities that the hackers were able to breach. Among these: the group discovered that the flight paths uploaded into each drone could be replaced with their own.

Tiny Pluto Big On Frozen Water Reserves 49

New submitter rmdingler writes that a new map created by NASA based on the New Horizons flyby of Pluto "shows much more frozen water than scientists initially expected." Using LEISA to photograph from 108,000 kilometers away, much more of the recently demoted planet's frozen surface liquid is water, rather than methane, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen as originally posited.

SpaceX Successfully Tests Crew Dragon Landing Parachutes 91

SpaceX successfully tested out the parachute system it plans to use to land its Crew Dragon spaceship safely back on Earth today. By using a "mass simulator," SpaceX was able to replicate the weight and shape of the spacecraft. According to NASA, "Later tests will grow progressively more realistic to simulate as much of the actual conditions and processes the system will see during an operational mission."

The goal of the test was to evaluate the four main parachutes, but this test did not include the "drogue chutes" the full landing system will utilize. The aim is for the spacecraft to splash safely into the ocean carried down by parachutes to reduce its speed. Eventually, SpaceX intends for the spacecraft to land upright on solid ground by utilizing eight SuperDraco propulsion engines. SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral in December. Earlier this month, a SpaceX Falcon 9 exploded upon landing on a drone ship.

The Future of Astronomy: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope 117

An anonymous reader writes: In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched and deployed, becoming the first space-based observatory. In the years since, many others have followed, covering the entire electromagnetic spectrum, but with nothing superseding Hubble over the wavelengths it covers. That will all change with the James Webb Space Telescope, currently on schedule and almost ready for its October 2018 launch date. The science instruments are all complete, the final mirrors are being inserted into the optical assembly, the sunshield (a new, innovative component) is almost complete, and then it just needs assembly and launch. When it's all said and done, JWST will be orders of magnitude greater than all the other observatories that came before, and will finally allow us to truly see the first stars, galaxies and quasars in the Universe, not limited by the obscuring neutral gas that currently blocks our view with other observatories.

30 Years Since The Challenger Disaster: Where Were You? ( 320

Martin S. writes: Thirty years ago today, NASA suffered a spaceflight tragedy that stunned the world and changed the agency forever. When I mentioned this at work most of my colleagues are too young to remember this first hand. When I heard the news, I was in a middle-school science class; our teacher walked us solemnly over to the school library, where we watched the television news. It hit especially hard because one of our other teachers had pursued the slot that was eventually filled by Christa McAuliffe.

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.

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.

NASA, NOAA Analyses Reveal Record-Shattering Global Warm Temperatures In 2015 ( 507

vikingpower writes: Earth's 2015 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Globally-averaged temperatures in 2015 shattered the previous mark set in 2014 by 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit (0.13 Celsius). Only once before, in 1998, has the new record been greater than the old record by this much. The British Met office also reports on the same phenomenon, even forecasting that global temperatures are very soon going to reach the one-degree-Celsius marker. According to Stephen Belcher, Director of the Met Office Hadley Centre, "We've had similar natural events in the past, yet this is the first time we're set to reach the 1 C marker and it's clear that it is human influence driving our modern climate into uncharted territory."

Growing Flowers In Space ( 44

An anonymous reader writes: This weekend, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly posted a picture of the first flower to bloom in space. The International Space Station has been home to the Veggie plant growth facility for almost two years, and scientists have been working hard to figure out how to keep crops alive in microgravity. It's a challenge to keep plants properly heated and hydrated, and their current specimens been attacked by mold as well. "More crops for Veggie are heading to the orbiting laboratory aboard SpaceX-8. The Veg-03 run will include two sets of Chinese cabbage, and one set of red romaine lettuce. In 2018, there are plans to launch dwarf tomato seeds to the space station. Smith said the lessons learned from growing zinnia flowers will be critical in the process of growing tomatoes, a fellow flowering plant. Studies are also in progress to see how adjusting the lighting in the Veggie plant growth facility can affect plan mineral composition. There will be preflight testing to determine what 'light recipe' to use aboard the station."

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.

Comets Can't Explain Weird 'Alien Megastructure' Star After All ( 412

schwit1 sends the latest news about KIC 8462852, the star that that led many to learn what a Dyson Sphere is. New Scientist reports: "The weirdest star in the cosmos just got a lot weirder. And yes, it might be aliens. Known as KIC 8462852, or Tabby's star, it has been baffling astronomers for the past few months after a team of researchers noticed its light seemed to be dipping in brightness in bizarre ways. Proposed explanations ranged from a cloud of comets to orbiting 'alien megastructures'. Now an analysis of historical observations reveals the star has been gradually dimming for over a century, leaving everyone scratching their heads as to the cause. Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University saw the same century-long dimming in his manual readings, and calculated that it would require 648,000 comets, each 200 kilometres wide, to have passed by the star — completely implausible, he says. 'The comet-family idea was reasonably put forth as the best of the proposals, even while acknowledging that they all were a poor lot,' he says. 'But now we have a refutation of the idea, and indeed, of all published ideas.' 'This presents some trouble for the comet hypothesis,' says Boyajian. 'We need more data through continuous monitoring to figure out what is going on.' What about those alien megastructures? Schafer is unconvinced. 'The alien-megastructure idea runs wrong with my new observations,' he says, as he thinks even advanced aliens wouldn't be able to build something capable of covering a fifth of a star in just a century. What's more, such an object should radiate light absorbed from the star as heat, but the infrared signal from Tabby's star appears normal, he says."

SpaceX Successfully Launches Jason-3 Satellite, Rocket Landing Partial Success ( 118

An anonymous reader writes: SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket today carrying the Jason-3 ocean monitoring satellite. "Jason-3 data will be used for monitoring global sea level rise, researching human impacts on oceans, aiding prediction of hurricane intensity, and operational marine navigation," NASA said. Unfortunately Space X reports that the attempt to land the Falcon 9 on a drone platform was only a partial success. According to the company twitter page: "First stage on target at droneship but looks like hard landing; broke landing leg." Update: 01/18 04:16 GMT by S : Here's a brief video of the landing attempt (somewhat loud).

Inside NASA's Space Rock Vault ( 11

An anonymous reader writes: In an unassuming building at Johnson Space Center, NASA maintains clean rooms and employs curators to support its collection of rocks and other matter from elsewhere in the solar system. Ars got to tour the facility and take pictures of the samples inside. "The collection houses about 20,000 rocks, but the most famous of those rocks is ALH84001. Sometime around 16 million years ago, a large meteorite or asteroid 0.5 to 1 km across or larger struck the Martian surface and blasted some rocks into space at a speed greater than the red planet's escape velocity. One of them flew through space until about 13,000 years ago when it crashed into Antarctica." NASA keeps bits of a comet trapped in aerogel, as well as the remains of the Genesis probe that captured particles of solar wind. Of course, this is dwarfed by the vast collection of lunar rock samples brought back by the Apollo missions. Some of them have yet to be opened. "They were collected in the vacuum of the lunar surface, placed inside vacuum sealed tubes, and remain that way to this day. NASA is preserving them for some theoretical future where science has progressed to enable some new, powerful method of analysis."

NASA Awards Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser an ISS Commercial Resupply Contract ( 57

MarkWhittington writes: The Verge reported that NASA has awarded the second round of contracts for the commercial resupply program. Two companies, SpaceX, and Orbital Sciences, which have been hauling cargo to the International Space Station in the first phase of the program, will receive contracts to fly at least six flights each to the ISS through 2024, the anticipated end of operations year for the space station. But Sierra Nevada has also gotten a six flight commitment, using a cargo version of its Dream Chaser spacecraft.

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

NASA Forms New Planetary Defense Office To Manage Asteroid Threats ( 63

An anonymous reader writes: NASA has set up a new Planetary Defense Coordination Office to detect and track near-Earth objects. CNN reports: "The department, which includes the position of Planetary Defense Officer, is managed by the Planetary Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. And its mission includes the early detection of potentially hazardous objects (PHOs) — asteroids and comets which get within 0.05 Astronomical Units of Earth's orbit around the sun (7.5 million kilometers) and are large enough, greater than around 30 — 50 meters (98 — 164 feet), to reach the Earth's surface." Bruce Willis had no comment on his level of involvement in the new agency.

NASA's Fermi Satellite Maps Entire Sky, Finds Mysterious Unknown Object 133

StartsWithABang writes: With the launch of the Fermi satellite in the late 2000s, we began observing the highest energy photons in the Universe — gamma rays — all over the sky, to unprecedented precision. Produced from cosmic ray showers in space when high energy protons run into other, stationary protons, these gamma rays locate point sources from supermassive black holes to supernova remnants to pulsars. There is, additionally, a great correlation between the infrared sky and the gamma ray sky, since the great high-energy background scatters off of the diffuse infrared gas, producing gamma rays there as well. But while a great many sources can be correlated with known structures, Fermi reveals at least one unknown, intense behemoth that emits spectacularly in gamma rays.

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