Showing posts from March, 2015

The Science of Interstellar


Russia, US Aim to Create New Space Station After 2024 - Roscosmos Chief

Russian space agency Roscosmos head Igor Komarov said that Russia and the United States plan to jointly establish a new space station after 2024 with participation of partner countries. BAIKONUR (Sputnik) — Russia and the United States plan to jointly establish a new space station after 2024 with participation of partner countries, Russian space agency Roscosmos head Igor Komarov said Saturday.

"Roscosmos and NASA will fulfil the program of building a future orbital station. We will elaborate the details. It is going to be an open project, not restricted only to current participants, but open for other countries willing to join it," Komarov said.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who is currently on a working visit to the Baikonur cosmodrome, said that one day the International Space Station would be unable to function properly and should be replaced. Bolden stressed that both NASA and Roscosmos agreed that part of future building activities should be passed over to the …

Russia, US to Jointly Prepare Mars, Moon Flight Road Map – NASA

Russia and the United States will work together on a roadmap to send humans to Mars and the Moon, according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

The Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos and its US counterpart NASA will jointly hammer out a "road map" program on flights to Mars and the Moon, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said on Saturday.

Bolden, who is currently on a tour of Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, added that he had discussed joint efforts to send missions to the Red Planet with Roscosmos head Igor Komarov, including time frames and funding.

"Our area of cooperation will be Mars. We are discussing how best to use the resources, the finance, we are setting time frames and distributing efforts in order to avoid duplication," Bolden said.

The NASA chief also pledged to put US astronauts back on the Moon, saying that his country never abandoned its hope of a comeback.

Bolden added that in the future, NASA is planning "to attract…

Twin Earths may lurk in our nearest star system

There could be two Earth-like planets within cosmic spitting distance of our own. Both are likely too close to their star to host life, but the discovery opens the possibility of other planets in the system with more temperate climates.

Alpha Centauri is a binary star system just 4.3 light years away from our own. In 2012 astronomers announced that the system had a planet, which they dubbed Alpha Centauri Bb as it was apparently orbiting the smaller of the stars, Alpha Centauri B.

The team said it was a rocky world slightly more massive than Earth. But in 2013, other researchers called into question the existence of Bb, saying the evidence wasn't good enough.

"If you ask anyone working in exoplanets, they would all have a different opinion about the existence of Alpha Centauri Bb," says Brice-Oliver Demory of the University of Cambridge.

That's why he and his colleagues have been using the Hubble Space Telescope to search for planet. They weren't able to fin…

Astronomers On the Hunt for Exomoons That May Host Alien Life


U.S. Lawmaker Wants NASA Working on Interstellar Propulsion

WASHINGTON — NASA’s proposed, and oft-reviled, Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) may be worth doing if it helps pave the way for an electric-powered interstellar rocket engine, Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) said.

“[T]he great value” of an Asteroid Redirect Mission is “development of the first interstellar rocket propulsion system that would carry us to Alpha Centauri and beyond,” Culberson said during the closing moments of a March 4 hearing of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was the sole witness at the hearing, a routine step in the annual federal budget cycle that gives the lawmakers in charge of writing spending bills their first chance to register an official reaction to the White House’s budget request.

Buried within the Obama administration’s $18.5 billion NASA request for 2016 is $69 million for a solar-electric propulsion system that Culberson, a devoted space buff who has proven as likely to support NASA’s …

‘Goldilocks planets’ may be commonplace

For a planet to have liquid water – something necessary to support life as we know it – it has to be within a certain distance of its star. Too close, and the water burns up. Too far away, and it’s a frozen wasteland. But according to new research, most stars in the galaxy have so-called “Goldilocks planets,” which sit in the habitable zone, where temperatures are just right for life.

New calculations in a study published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society indicate that billions of the Milky Way’s stars have one to three planets in the habitable zone, meaning that they potentially have liquid water as well.

The calculations, which were produced by a group of researchers from the Australian National University and the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, are based on a method called the Titius-Bode law. This law, which was created around 1770, predicts how planets in a solar system will be spaced out.

The researchers applied the law to the 1,000 e…

As we begin to think of exoplanets as real worlds we could visit, we will want to go

Once we find habitable exoplanets in distant solar systems, some of us will want to – even feel we have to – explore them

For or most people, Pluto is just another light in the sky, dimmer than our eyes can detect and blobby through even big telescopes. But when the New Horizons spacecraft enters its orbit this summer, Pluto will transform into a real place whose surface we can all finally see.

Though astronomers will plow through New Horizons’ numerical data while sitting in the glow of their computers, in their hearts, they are more like Space-Age Shackletons, with downlink dishes instead of sled dogs. They want to know what it’s like to be on Pluto.

According to University of Virginia anthropologist Lisa Messeri, other scientists are starting to think of planets in other solar systems – exoplanets – as real places and of themselves as explorers – and the rest of us are almost ready to accept that psychological alchemy. Perhaps finally, if they see it, they will go.

The thousand…

Buzz Aldrin to NASA: 'Get Your Ass to Mars'

Note to NASA (and more specifically, the people who fund it): one of your most famous crew members wants you to get your as-tronauts in gear.

Earlier this week, the delightfully cranky and always outspoken Buzz Aldrin posted an Instagram photo of himself standing in front of Stonehenge, staring determinedly towards the heavens wearing a shirt proclaiming "Get Your Ass to Mars" over a reworked NASA logo.

Born Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr., the astronaut affectionately known to the ages as "Buzz" was a member of the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 space missions and the second person to walk on the moon.

NASA has publicly stated 2035 as a potential target date for a manned Mars mission (i.e. more than just rovers taking pictures of Mars rocks).

By that time, Aldrin would be age 105. Perhaps he's just in a hurry to check out all of those UFO and alien "sightings" recently spotted.

Aldrin's Mars shirts were recently made available for purchase on his ShareSpa…

Exoplanets Found in Habitable Zone Are More Common Than Once Thought


How an old law might bring new life to the search for habitable exoplanets

Researchers at the Australian National University and the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen have calculated that billions of stars in the Milky Way will have between one and three planets in the habitable zone conducive to liquid water, by using a law proposed in 1766 that helped to discover Uranus.

The Titius-Bode law, proposed by J D Titius and later described mathematically by Johann Elert Bode in 1772, has been given a new lease of life by researchers aiming to expand the range of planets found with the Kepler satellite. To date, astronomers have found around 1,900 exoplanets in our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, with a further 3,000 potential planetary candidates awaiting further investigation. A large proportion of the planets detected to date however are hot worlds close to their stars. Finding alternative ways in to search for planets at distances from their stars more suitable for potential life is motivation enough to revive a law once described as a mathematical oddity.


The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability - Space Pod 3/17/15


When NASA Had Nuclear Rockets

Most people think that Star Trek-style nuclear rockets are a thing of the future, but the fact is we had them in the 1960s... and gave up on them.

The Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application...NERVA... program was a joint effort between NASA and the US Atomic Energy Commission, and managed by the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office. Los Alamos Labs had begun work on nuclear rockets in 1952 and this research accelerated so quickly that by 1961 the Marshall Spaceflight Center started using nuclear rockets in their mission planning, with the first launch to be in 1964 as a final demonstration of the space-worthiness of these engines. The NERVA engine was built by Aerojet and Westinghouse. The first of these actually built and tested in a spaceflight configuration was the Kiwi-B4 engine that produced 70,000 pounds of thrust. The NERVA NRX/EST engine in 1966 ran for two continuous hours. The NERVA-XE engine tests ran for 115 minutes and as a result, it demonstrated that nuclear engines…

SpaceX: No One Laughs Anymore When We Talk About Colonizing Mars

When Elon Musk founded SpaceX, way back in 2002, the plan was to colonize Mars. The company is now profitable, America’s number one choice for flying astronauts to the International Space Station, and thinking about building a satellite-based internet to connect the world. But all of those are stepping stones for the Mars plan, which is very much still the focus of the company.

“We’re not shy about talking about Mars, which would be an extraordinary step for humans, to actually have a settlement there,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said Tuesday at the Satellite conference in Washington, DC. “The whole company is geared up on that, everybody’s eye is on the Red Planet.”

Mars One, a long shot, crowdsourced plan to colonize Mars, ​is apparently in shambles, so, even on the non-SpaceX front, there’s not much in the way of a concrete plan to get to Mars. We know that SpaceX is developing a methane-based rocket engine known as Raptor to get to Mars, but beyond that, much of it is spe…

Starfleet was closer than you think

Today, the United States is in the process of a renaissance of interstellar thought and ambition. In the popular culture, with the discovery nearly every day of potentially Earth-like exoplanets, and popular movies like Interstellar, we are seeing an increasing public interest. And in the technical community, there is new leadership when it comes to actually designing interstellar capable spacecraft, such as DARPA’s 100 Year Starship project, Icarus Interstellar, and the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop.

But we could have been so much farther along. After the publication of George Dyson’s book Project Orion, and a few specials, a lot of people know that in the early 1960s DARPA investigated the possibility of a nuclear-pulse-detonation (that is, powered by the explosion of nuclear bombs) spacecraft.

Preceding but also concurrently developed with Apollo, this extremely ambitious project had unbelievable payload capability. Where Apollo at 3,500 tons could only put two tons on …

Welcome To The Inflatable Space Age


GOP to NASA: Focus on space exploration

Republican Senators used a hearing on NASA’s budget Thursday to send a stern message to the space agency, that it should focus its yearly funding more on space exploration and not as much for science projects back on Earth.

“Almost any American would agree that the core function of NASA is to explore space,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), as he made clear his dismay with a proposed 40 percent increase in NASA’s budget for earth science spending.

Before the Senate Commerce Committee, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden tried unsuccessfully to persuade Cruz to the contrary, first by bringing up a local project in the Lone Star State.

“We have the Texas Soil Observation network, which is strongly supported by NASA,” the NASA chief said proudly.

But that only drew scorn from the GOP.

“NASA’s core competence is not Texas soil conservation,” Cruz observed.

But the NASA chief said the GOP was wrong to try to cut back earth science funding.

“It is absolutely critical that we understand the …

Let's all move to Mars! The space architects shaping our future

We’ve had starchitects. Now we’ve got space architects. Oliver Wainwright meets the people measuring up the red planet for inflatable homes and farms made of moondust concrete.

Fifty years from now, says Brent Sherwood, there will be a different kind of honeymoon on offer. “Imagine a hotel with a view that’s changing all the time,” says the Nasa space architect, “where there are 18 sunrises and sunsets every day, where food floats effortlessly into your mouth – and where you can have zero-gravity sex. Who wouldn’t sign up for that?”

Born the same year as Nasa, 1958, Sherwood trained as an architect and aerospace engineer. Having spent the past 25 years working on plans for everything from orbital cities to planetary settlements, he is convinced it’s only a matter of time before space travel becomes a regular holiday option and we’re living and working on the moon. There’s only one drawback. “Nobody knows how to cook in space,” he says. “Until you can mix a martini or make an omelett…

Billionaire teams up with NASA to mine the moon

Moon Express, a Mountain View, California-based company that's aiming to send the first commercial robotic spacecraft to the moon next year, just took another step closer toward that lofty goal. Earlier this year, it became the first company to successfully test a prototype of a lunar lander at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The success of this test—and a series of others that will take place later this year—paves the way for Moon Express to send its lander to the moon in 2016, said company co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain.

Moon Express conducted its tests with the support of NASA engineers, who are sharing with the company their deep well of lunar know-how. The NASA lunar initiative—known as Catalyst—is designed to spur new commercial U.S. capabilities to reach the moon and tap into its considerable resources. In addition to Moon Express, NASA is also working with Astrobotic Technologies of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, to de…


One of Silicon Valley’s best-known venture capital companies is making a big bet on outer space. Bessemer Venture Partners (BVP), which manages more than $4 billion in capital and primarily invests in cybersecurity and enterprise technology firms, announced a new aerospace investment practice this week. The launch coincides with the appointment of satellite industry veteran Scott Smith as a part-time partner and an undisclosed Series B funding round in New Zealand firm Rocket Lab, which produces low-cost rockets designed to send miniature satellites into space.

Bessemer previously invested large sums of money in Skybox, a satellite firm which was acquired by Google for $500 million in 2014. Both Skybox and Rocket Lab built their business models around drastically reducing the financial and research and development costs of launching satellites. Smith, who was unavailable for comment, is best known as COO of communications satellite company Iridium and as a former member of Skybox’s b…

Nation of explorers must return to the final frontier

The recent passing of Leonard Nimoy seems to have brought forth the nerds. "Star Trek" started in 1966, just five years after the Soviet Union sent a man to space. President John F. Kennedy announced that "(America) should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." Within a year of this announcement, we had sent John Glenn to orbit the earth three times before safely returning to Earth. A month after "Star Trek: The Original Series ended in June 1969", Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first ever men to walk on the moon.

In 1969, NASA comprised 4.5 percent of America's total budget. By 2012, it was down to only 0.5 percent. We launched our last space shuttle in 2011; America has given up on space.

We were once the nation that sought to boldly go where no man had gone before. Now, the only time you hear about NASA is when its budget is cut or when a launch a…

Signing Up for a Mission to Mars, and Planning to Never Return

Kellie Gerardi is training for the mission of her life, one from which she might never return.

Gerardi is one of thousands of applicants vying for a trip to Mars, courtesy of an audacious new company called Mars One.

Only 100 potential astronauts will be finalists, but there’s a pretty massive catch: It’s a one-way ticket.

Despite the no-return clause, Mars One said 200,000 people from around the world, including Gerardi, have applied to leave everything on Earth behind.

“I know for a fact that no matter what, in my lifetime, I’m going to space,” said Gerardi, who is newly engaged.

The 26-year-old Florida native trained for the mission in the rocky plains of remote Utah, where she spent three weeks at the Mars Society’s Desert Research Station to learn what it takes for humans to survive on Mars, from moving and breathing in a space suit, to eating bizarre cuisines like zebra tarantulas, because bugs would be a food source on Mars.

The commercial space industry has boomed in rec…

Vulcan Salute: Astronauts Honor Leonard Nimoy from Space (Photos)