Thursday, September 29, 2011

NASA launches moon research mission

Moon Mission
NASA launched twin satellites on Saturday morning on a mission to unveil the inner secrets of the moon, the US space agency said. After a couple of weather delays, NASA finally launched its moon research mission.

The two probes will study the moon’s internal structure in unprecedented detail, shedding light on whether a second moon crashed into it long ago.

The probes, together called GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory), lifted off on Saturday at 0908 EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, New Scientist reported.

GRAIL will study how the moon was formed. It will explore “the structure of the lunar interior, from crust to core… to advance understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon,” NASA said.

The crafts — GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B — will eventually separate from the Delta rocket. GRAIL stands for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's time to reconsider the nuclear option for spaceflight

Nuclear Space Flight
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — For weeks to come, NASA will be working with the aerospace industry on its plans to develop its new super-sized rocket for missions back to the moon, the nearest Lagrangian point, asteroids, Mars and other ports of call in deep space.

The agency will be working with the latest technology, as well as innovations yet to be invented. Some even dare to whisper rocketry's N-word: nuclear.

But first, it seems logical to assume that NASA will use what it has.

For the initial flight tests, NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket will use two five-segment versions of the space shuttle’s solid-rockets. The solids will be strapped to a tank structure equipped with shuttle-style main engines, forming the basic “core stage.”

The second stage will use the J-2X engine, an updated version of the upper-stage rocket that powered the Saturn 1B and Saturn V rockets in the 1960s and '70s. The system was used for 16 manned space missions, including nine Apollo flights that carried crews to the moon and back.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Russia restarts Mars projects

Mars Project
After a many years break, Russia resumes Mars exploration projects.

It is planned that in November, Russia will launch a space station to one of Mars’s two moons, Phobos, to take samples of its soil.

The station will be launched from Baykonur, a cosmodrome in Kazakhstan which is rented by Russia. It is expected to reach Mars’s orbit in 11 months.

For several months, the station will study Mars from its orbit, and “look” for a better way to land on Phobos.

Scientists hope that studying the Mars’s moon’s soil will help them better understand the origins of the Solar System.

The station will be equipped with many brand-new apparatuses – both Russian, foreign and jointly-made. One of them is a facility for exploring the distribution of methane in Mars’s atmosphere, made jointly by Russia and France.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

NASA Wants Internet Access In Space

Nasa Internet Access
NASA hopes to extend the use of the Internet across the solar system as one of a host of key enabling technologies to help achieve future goals for human space exploration.

The space agency recently published the Global Exploration Roadmap, the result of collaboration between multiple space agencies around the globe, to find "feasible and sustainable exploration pathways to the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and Mars," according to the document.

Now that NASA has ended its space shuttle program, the agency is turning its attention to developing a new space-launch system and crew vehicle that can carry astronauts beyond near-Earth orbit and deeper into space, among other technologies. The rpadmap identifies two mission key goals, Asteroid Next and Moon Next, and outlines some of the technologies that will be needed to facilitate them and other future space missions.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

See Mars near the moon on equinox Friday

Mars near the moon
On Friday, Sept. 23, the sun will cross the celestial equator, heading south, in the annual equinox marking the start of the fall season in the Northern Hemisphere and the spring in the south. But this year's equinox brings a special treat: the moon and planet Mars shining together at dawn.

The north's autumnal equinox will occur Friday at 5:05 a.m. EDT (0905 GMT). If you look high toward the east-southeast at sunrise, you’ll see a lovely crescent moon, and hovering above and to its left will be a modestly bright "star" with a yellow-orange tinge. That's no star, but rather the famous Red Planet, Mars.

The sky map of Mars and the moon here shows how they will appear on the Friday's equinox.

These days, Mars is coming up about five hours before sunrise — around 1:50 a.m. local daylight time. It currently resides in the dim constellation of Cancer, the Crab. It's currently 173 million miles from Earth and shines as brightly as a first-magnitude star. (Remember, astronomers measure the brightness of objects as "magnitude." The lower an object's magnitude, the brighter it appears

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

'Asteroid Next', 'Moon Next' to dominate future space programs, Mars much later: NASA

“Asteroid Next” and “Moon Next” will dominate NASA and ISEC group’s future space exploration efforts over the next 25 years while “Mars Next” will also follow soon.

NASA has released the Global Exploration Roadmap (GER) developed by the International Space Exploration Coordination Group with 12 space agencies, including NASA, during the past year to advance coordinated space exploration.

The GER begins with the International Space Station and expands human presence throughout the solar system, leading ultimately to crewed missions to explore the surface of Mars.

The roadmap identifies two potential pathways: “Asteroid Next” and “Moon Next.” Each pathway represents a mission scenario that covers a 25-year period with a logical sequence of robotic and human missions. Both pathways were deemed practical approaches to address common high-level exploration goals developed by the participating agencies, recognizing that individual preferences among them may vary.

The following space agencies participated in developing the GER (in alphabetical order): ASI (Italy), CNES (France), CSA (Canada), DLR (Germany), ESA (European Space Agency), ISRO (India), JAXA (Japan), (KARI (Republic of Korea), NASA (United States of America), NSAU (Ukraine), Roscosmos (Russia), UKSA (United Kingdom).

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bigger than Saturn, at last

THE history of manned space flight since the end of America's moon missions in 1973 can be summed up by a single fact: nearly half a century after its maiden flight in 1967, the Saturn V, the immense, building-sized rocket that powered the Apollo programme, remains the most powerful space vehicle ever flown. After 1973 the space-faring nations were content to confine themselves to low earth orbit. With no appetite to return to the moon, let alone venture any farther afield (at least among the politicians who control the purse strings), comparably powerful rockets have simply not been needed.

Over the past few years, though, manned space exploration has come back onto the agenda. China has announced a lunar programme of its own. In 2005 George Bush announced a plan to send Americas back to the moon as well, with a view to building a permanent base there as a precusor to trips further afield. Last year, Barack Obama cancelled that plan, instead instructing America's space agency to send a manned mission to an asteroid as a prelude to a flight to Mars, pencilled in for some time in the 2030s.

Sending astronauts into the solar system would require a beefier rocket than any currently operating. On September 14th NASA unveiled its design for just such a rocket. Dubbed the "Space Launch System" (one might think that NASA's legion of PR people might have come up with a less quotidian name), the $18 billion rocket is a mish-mash of previous designs that will eventually be able to loft 130 tons into low-earth orbit, compared with 119 for the Saturn V.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spending Longer Time in Space Could Damage Astronauts' Eye-Sight

space Travel Eye Sight
Astronauts in space are exposed to a newly identified medical condition, something that NASA should consider seriously. It is the blurring vision of some of the astronauts who have spent months in space that has made NASA to think about possible impacts it may have on long-term space trips.

According to NASA researchers, if astronauts stay in space for long period of time, the risk of blurred vision increases. Doctors are worried that long space travels, such as a multi-year trip to Mars, may end up blinding the space explorers.

In response to the serious threat, NASA has asked a number of researchers to study the issue and has also sent special eye-glasses to the International Space Station to help those affected, Los Angeles Times reported.

NASA has done a survey on 300 astronauts and found that almost 30 percent of those who have flown two-week shuttle missions, and 60 percent of those who have continued to stay for six months longer in the space station noticed things became blurry either during or after the missions.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Stargazing: Waning crescent moon passes Mars

Crescent Moon
The official end of summer, and the beginning of autumn, will occur on Friday at 5:06 p.m. when the sun passes halfway between its summer high point and winter low point in the sky.

This morning's last quarter moon signals that the current lunar month is also coming to an end. The moon will shrink this week to a left-hand crescent in the eastern morning sky before disappearing into the glare of the sun next Tuesday. As the crescent sinks to the horizon this week, stargazers should look toward the eastern sky one hour before sunrise to see the crescent pass Mars Thursday and Friday mornings.

Mars is currently located in Cancer and rises around 2 a.m. It's headed for an encounter with M44, the Beehive Star Cluster, on Oct.1. The Red Planet will continue to brighten and rise earlier this autumn and winter. It will return to prominence in the evening sky in February and March, shining at it brightest in more than two years.

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Mars micro-rover Kapvik may tether to larger vehicles

Micro Rover
Engineers at Carleton University in Canada have demonstrated a small-scale rover that could be used as a risk-assessment tool in explorations of the surface of Mars and the moon.

The Kapvik micro-rover is inspired by design concepts seen in NASA's Sojourner, Spirit, and Opportunity rovers. It has six wheels, weighs less than 66 pounds, and could be deployed by larger unmanned rovers to scout out specific areas.

One problem that has dogged Martian rovers is getting stuck in sand or other topographic features. The Kapvik, named for an Inuktitut term for "wolverine," has a tethering system for winching it up hills.

The Canadian Space Agency is coordinating development of the rover, and partners include aerospace company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates as well as Toronto's Ryerson University, which created a utility arm that will collect surface samples and perform trenching operations.

Sensors planned for Kapvik include ultraviolet-visible spectrum, infrared imaging, and mapping tools to detect water and ice content.

Kapviks could serve as low-cost, adaptive rovers that would be remotely piloted and lower the chances of losing more elaborate, expensive rovers to inhospitable terrain.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

NASA Aims For Moon, Mars and Asteroids

SLS system
I hope later on we can all remember this moment as being as full of hope and promise as it seems right now. NASA is introducing, via a press conference, a new space launch vehicle aimed at taking astronauts to the moon, asteroids, and Mars. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison called the rocket “a new beginning.” There’s an aim to get people to Mars by 2030.

You can view a press release, complete with artists’ concepts and videos, for the new vehicle here, and watch the press conference here. And here is a more detailed story on the technology behind it.

This new rocket is in many ways a repudiation of much that the space shuttle stood for. Astronauts will ride in a capsule at the top of the rocket, as they did in the famous Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. This should make them safer than shuttle astronauts who were strapped to the side of the launch vehicle, the Senators said. It will have a massive ability to launch as much as 110 tons into space, four times what the shuttle could manage.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with one of biotech’s ranking futurists, Martine Rothblatt, more than a year ago. Rothblatt is currently chief executive of biotech United Therapeutics, which she founded, but before that she was one of the central figures in creating Sirius Satellite Radio. At the beginning of an interview for a profile I was writing about her biotech company, we spent some time talking about her first passion, which was space.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Students Building Rocket for Moon Vehicle

rocket for moon
Purdue University students are designing and building a rocket engine that might be used in a vehicle to land on the moon.

Graduate students Thomas Feldman and Andrew Rettenmaier are part of a team developing a rocket motor through the NASA-funded Project Morpheus, which includes research to develop new technologies for future trips to the moon, Mars or asteroids.

Two other groups from Armadillo Aerospace in Texas and NASA's Johnson Space Center also are in the process of designing an engine under the same requirements. The most promising design will be chosen for the vehicle.

The rocket must meet stringent design and performance specifications related to factors including efficiency, size and weight limits, thrusting power, and the ability to dynamically throttle the rocket from 1,300-4,200 pounds of thrust, Feldman said.

"This thrusting range is needed because initially, when the lander is fully fueled, it will weigh significantly more than at the end of the mission when most of the propellant will be gone," he said.

The rocket, which will use liquid oxygen and liquid methane propellants, will be designed, built and tested using specialized facilities at Purdue's Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories, including a new facility to liquefy the methane propellant.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

NASA Launches Mission To Study Moon From Crust To Core

NASA’s twin lunar Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 9:08 a.m. EDT Saturday to study the moon in unprecedented detail.

GRAIL-A is scheduled to reach the moon on New Year’s Eve 2011, while GRAIL-B will arrive New Year’s Day 2012. The two solar-powered spacecraft will fly in tandem orbits around the moon to measure its gravity field. GRAIL will answer longstanding questions about the moon and give scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.

“If there was ever any doubt that Florida’s Space Coast would continue to be open for business, that thought was drowned out by the roar of today’s GRAIL launch,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “GRAIL and many other exciting upcoming missions make clear that NASA is taking its next big leap into deep space exploration, and the space industry continues to provide the jobs and workers needed to support this critical effort.”

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nuclear power plants for settlements on the Moon and Mars

Nuclear Powerplant
The first nuclear power plant being considered for production of electricity for manned or unmanned bases on the Moon, Mars and other planets “may really look like it came from outer space.”

On earth, nuclear reactors are under attack because of concerns over damage caused by natural disasters. In space, however, nuclear technology may get a new lease on life.

Plans for the first nuclear power plant for the production of electricity for manned or unmanned bases on the Moon, Mars and other planets were unveiled today at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

James E. Werner, the project leader at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), said that innovative fission technology for surface power applications is far different from the familiar terrestrial nuclear power stations, which sprawl over huge tracts of land and have cooling towers and other large structures.

A fission reactor itself is about 1.5 feet wide by 2.5 feet high, roughly the size of a carry-on suitcase, according to Werner. And there are no cooling towers.

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Don't doubt the man on the moon

Man On Moon
NASA has released stunning new photos of the old Apollo landing sites — so naturally the conspiracy freaks are firing rockets.

“Fakes,” they cry across the Internet. “Photoshop fakes!”

Those space cadets still believe Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and all the other Apollo boys landed not on the moon, but on a Hollywood soundstage.

You’d think the new pics would bring the kooks down to earth.

The images were taken by a NASA orbiter from about 20 klicks up and show astronauts’ footprints and equipment they left behind four decades ago, including the cute little lunar rover.

The scorch marks of the Apollo 12 descent are tack sharp. Or they’re a cigarette burn on the image.

(Settle down, hoax fans. I’m joshin’.)

At the Apollo 14 site, you can see where Alan Shepard hit a golf ball. Six-iron, judging by the divot.

(Just kidding. But I think you can see George W. Bush in the deep rough.)

At Apollo 17 are man’s (mankind’s?) last bootprints on the moon. The rover is nearby.

A pile of parking tickets is clearly visible on the window.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

NASA Readies Twin Lunar Spacecraft

Lunar Spacecraft
ANASA-backed team of scientists and engineers is set to map the Moon’s gravity—and internal structure—with a pair of spacecraft working on the same principle as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) mission orbiting Earth.

Like Grace, the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (Grail) mission will track minute changes in the distance between two satellites in the same orbit caused by changes in the density of the terrain below. To hold down costs, it is drawing on heritage from Grace and other missions developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Lockheed Martin.

Beyond the rich scientific results expected from Grail, use of that heritage hardware holds an important lesson as NASA slashes its contractor workforce with the retirement of the space shuttle fleet. Heritage hardware is a good way to stretch space-exploration dollars, Grail managers have found, but it is not a substitute for experienced technical experts in making the hardware work.

While the Grail satellites are physically very similar to the Experimental Satellite System-11 (XSS-11) microsat that Lockheed Martin built for the Air Force Research Laboratory to launch in 2005, the differences were enough that in some cases it was a challenge to fit the new mission into the heritage hardware. That is where the experienced workforce came in handy to make the new mission fit into the old hardware designs.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

NASA's return to the moon

Moon to mars
When NASA and 14 space agencies formed the "Global Exploration Strategy and Lunar Architecture," returning to the Moon became a reality. Using important data from the Mars expeditions, future colonization is now more than a possibility.

A planned milestone in NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration was to colonize mysterious Mars, the unfathomable red planet. However, common sense is now saying to return to the Moon least, according to NASA and 1,000 scientists, space advocates, engineers, commercial entrepreneurs and the public.

Over the past year, NASA sent out two questionnaires regarding a return to the Moon. One was entitled “Why should we return to the moon?” and the second was “What do we hope to accomplish through lunar exploration?” NASA reports that the questionnaire responses have led to the development of Global Exploration Strategy and Lunar Architecture---with NASA and 14 global space agencies participating in its venture.

According to NASA’s Science News, plans were made six years ago for a return to the Moon even as Mars was being actively studied. However, both planets have much in common:

• The Moon has no atmosphere – the atmosphere of Mars is relatively thin.
• Mars has only one-third of the Earth’s gravity while the Moon has one-sixth of the Earth’s gravity.
• Both the Moon and Mars are cold: the Moon can be -240 degrees in the shadows while Mars varies from -20 degrees to -100 degrees.
• Both the Moon and Mars are covered with loose “regolith” dust that covers solid rock, with both worlds having layers of regolith 10+ meters deep.

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Monday, September 05, 2011

NASA To Launch Twin GRAIL Spacecraft to Measure Moon’s Gravity

The moon has fascinated mankind for centuries and has been studied by humans for hundreds of years, but Earth's natural satellite is still shrouded in many mysteries.

To shed some more light on the moon and its history, NASA is set to launch twin spacecraft to map the moon's gravity in exceptional detail.

By creating the most precise lunar gravity map ever, scientists hope to understand better how the moon formed, its evolutionary history and what's beneath the lunar surface all the way from crust to core. The orbiting probes also will help pinpoint the best landing sites for future explorers, whether human or mechanical, reports Associated Press.

The twin GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) probes are set to depart from Space Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Thursday aboard an unmanned Delta II Heavy rocket built by United Launch Alliance.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Armstrong Urges Return to the Moon, then Mars

He has previously criticized US President Barack Obama for being "poorly advised" on space matters and said it was "well known to all that the American space program is in some chaos at the present time, some disarray".

"There are multiple opinions on which goals should be the most important and the most pressing," he told a function in Sydney late Wednesday.

The US shuttle program came to an end last month with Atlantis cruising home for a final time, 42 years after Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission.

Critics have assailed NASA for lacking focus, with no next-generation human space flight mission to replace the shuttle program.

Now 81, Armstrong said the agency had become a "shuttlecock" for the "war of words" between the executive, legislative and congressional arms of US government.

"It's my belief given time and careful thought and reasoning we will eventually reach the right goal, I just hope we do it fairly quickly," he said.

The normally private and reserved space veteran said Mars should be the next frontier for exploration but urged more missions to the moon as the vital next step.

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