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NASA Concludes That Comets, Not Alien Megastructures Orbit KIC 8462852 (examiner.com) 90

MarkWhittington writes: Back in October, findings from the Kepler Space Telescope suggested that something strange was going on around a star called KIC 8462852. Kepler was built to detect exoplanets by measuring the cycles of dimming light from other stars, indicating that a large object was passing between them and Earth. But the dimming light cycle from KIC 8462852 seemed to suggest a lot of smaller objects swarming around it. Scientists narrowed down the explanations to either a swarm of comets or alien megastructures. NASA announced evidence garnered by two other telescopes that pointed to the comet explanation.

Dark Matter Grows Hair Around Stars and Planets (forbes.com) 162

StartsWithABang writes: Dark matter may make up 27% of the Universe's energy density, compared to just 5% of normal (atomic) matter, but in our Solar System, it's notoriously sparse. In particular, there's just a nanogram's worth per cubic kilometer, which makes the fact that we've never directly detected it seem inevitable. But recent work has demonstrated that Earth and all the planets leave a "wake" of dark matter where the density is enhanced by a billion times or more. Time to go put those dark matter detectors where they belong: in the path of these dark matter hairs.

Lori Garver Claims That NASA Is 'Wary' of Elon Musk's Mars Plans (arstechnica.com) 103

MarkWhittington writes: Ars Technica reports that former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver claimed, during a panel discussion at the Council for Foreign Relations, that many at NASA are "wary" of the Mars ambitions of SpaceX's Elon Musk. While the space agency has yielded low Earth operations to the commercial sector as part of the commercial crew program, it reserves for itself deep space exploration. Garver herself disagrees with that sentiment: "I thought, fundamentally, you just don’t understand. We’re not in a race in a swimming pool where everyone is racing against one another. We're in a cycling race where the government is riding point and the others are drafting behind us, and if someone comes alongside us and can pass us because they’ve found a better way, we don’t get out our tire pump and stick it between their spokes."

Blue Origin "New Shepherd" Makes It To Space... and Back Again (arstechnica.com) 121

Geoffrey.landis writes: Blue Origin's "New Shepherd" suborbital vehicle made its first flight into space (defined as 100 km altitude)... and successfully landed both the capsule (by parachute) and the booster rocket (vertical landing under rocket power). This is the first time that a vehicle has made it into space and had all components fully recovered for reuse since the NASA flights of the X-15 in the 1960s. Check out the videos at various places on the web.

NASA Contracting Development of New Ion/Nuclear Engines (nasaspaceflight.com) 70

schwit1 writes: NASA has awarded three different companies contracts to develop advanced ion and nuclear propulsion systems for future interplanetary missions, both manned and unmanned. These are development contacts, all below $10 million. However, they all appeared structured like NASA's cargo and crew contracts for ISS, where the contractor does all of the development and design, with NASA only supplying some support and periodic payments when the contractor achieves agreed-upon milestones. Because of this, the contractors will own the engines they develop, and will be able to sell them to other customers after development, thereby increasing the competition and innovation in the field.

How Close Are We To a Mars Mission? (thenewstack.io) 173

destinyland writes: NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s," reads the official NASA web site. But National Geographic points out that "the details haven't been announced, in large part because such a massive, long-term spending project would require the unlikely support of several successive U.S. presidents." And yet on November 4th, NASA put out a call for astronaut applications "in anticipation of returning human spaceflight launches to American soil, and in preparation for the agency's journey to Mars," and they're currently experimenting with growing food in space. And this week they not only ordered the first commercial mission to the International Space Station, but also quietly announced that they've now partnered with 22 private space companies.

Florida Group Wants To Make Space a 2016 Presidential Campaign Issue (examiner.com) 118

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story on News 13, an Orlando TV station, Space Florida is working to make space a political issue in the 2016 presidential election. Thus far the campaign for the presidency has been dominated by more mundane issues such as the economy, illegal immigration, and the threat of terrorism. Space Florida, which is "the State of Florida's aerospace economic development agency," is said to be "working with three other battleground states to make sure America's space program is a part of the campaign for president." Presumably one of those states is Texas, which has lots of electoral votes

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission To International Space Station (nasa.gov) 69

An anonymous reader writes: NASA has placed its first mission order for SpaceX to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. SpaceX is now in a race with Boeing, who received a similar order in May, to see which private space company can deliver astronauts to the ISS first. NASA said, "Commercial crew missions to the space station, on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will restore America's human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory." They anticipate dramatic reductions in cost for launching astronauts to orbit compared to similar missions aboard Russian rockets. "Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions. A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time."

NASA Selects Universities To Develop Humanoid Robot Astronauts (examiner.com) 21

MarkWhittington writes: NASA announced that it is sending copies of its R5 Valkyrie humanoid robot to two universities for software upgrades and other research and development. The effort is part of a continuing project to develop cybernetic astronauts that will assist human astronauts in exploring other worlds. The idea is that robot astronauts would initially scout potentially hazardous environments, say on Mars, and then actively collaborate with their human counterparts in exploration. NASA is paying each university chosen $250,000 per year for two years to perform the R&D. The university researchers will have access to NASA expertise and facilities to perform the upgrades. Spoiler alert: the robots are both going to Greater Boston, to teams at MIT and Northeastern University respectively.

MIT Helping NASA Build Valkyrie Robots For Space Missions (roboticstrends.com) 35

An anonymous reader writes: NASA announced that MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is one of just two institutions that will receive "R5," a six-foot, 290-pound humanoid robot also known as "Valkyrie" that will serve on future space missions to Mars and beyond. A group led by CSAIL principal investigator Russ Tedrake will develop algorithms for the robot as part of NASA's upcoming Space Robotics Challenge, which aims to create more dexterous autonomous robots that can help or even take the place of humans "extreme space" missions. While R5 was initially designed to complete disaster-relief maneuvers, its main goal is now to prove itself worthy of even trickier terrain — deep space exploration.

How Bill Nye Insulted NASCAR Fans About the Sport Being the "Anti-NASA" (examiner.com) 387

MarkWhittington writes: Bill Nye, the former science guy and current head of the Planetary Society, is very depressed about NASA and NASCAR, according to a story in Business Insider. He believes that the red-state yokels pay too much attention to NASCAR, which employs gas guzzling cars in races, and not enough to NASA, which employs cutting edge and environmentally correct technology, to explore the universe. However, it is a meme that the space agency itself once disagreed with. Indeed, NASA has suggested that the exploration of space is like NASCAR only with rocket ships instead of souped up, high powered cars

Inside the Mission To Europa (arstechnica.com) 106

An anonymous reader writes: Ars Technica details the political and engineering battles being waged to make it possible for NASA to land a probe on Jupiter's moon Europa. They have new information about mission plans; it sounds ambitious, to say the least. "First, the bad news. Adding a lander to the Clipper will require additional technical work and necessitate a launch delay until late 2023. At that time, the massive Space Launch System rocket NASA is developing could deliver it to Jupiter in 4.6 years. Once there, the lander would separate from the Clipper, parking in a low-radiation orbit.

The Clipper would then proceed to reconnoiter Europa, diving into the harsh radiation environment to observe the moon and then zipping back out into cleaner space to relay its data back to Earth. Over a three-year period, the Clipper would image 95 percent of the world at about 50 meters per pixel and three percent at a very high resolution of 0.5 meters per pixel. With this data, scientists could find a suitable landing site. ...The JPL engineers have concluded the best way to deliver the lander to Europa's jagged surface is by way of a sky crane mechanism, like the one successfully used in the last stage of Curiosity's descent to the surface of Mars. With four steerable engines and an autonomous system to avoid hazards, the lander would be lowered to the moon's surface by an umbilical cord."


This October Was the Hottest Ever Measured (scienceblogs.com) 369

GregLaden writes: Scientists track the global surface temperature, an average of readings from thermometers at approximately head height, and an estimate of sea surface temperatures, in order to track global warming. Over the last year or so we have been seeing many record-breaking months. Now, both the Japan Meteorological Agency and NASA have identified October as an extraordinary month. October 2016 is significantly warmer than any other in the NASA record, which goes back to 1880.

Journalist: NASA Administrator Has Short Memory on Changing Space Policy (spacenews.com) 87

MarkWhittington writes: Recently, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated that NASA would be "doomed" if the next president were to deviate in any way from the current Journey to Mars program. Space journalist and founder of the America Space website Jim Hillhouse took exception to Bolden's assertion in a letter to the aerospace newspaper Space News. In the process, Hillhouse provides a good summary of how space policy has evolved during the past five years under the Obama administration.

Lunar Scientist Proposes Dozens of Impact Probes To Map Moon's Water (examiner.com) 35

MarkWhittington writes: Water ice believed by scientists to reside at the lunar poles is the key to opening up the solar system to human activity. The water could help sustain a lunar settlement. It could also be refined into rocket fuel, not only to sustain travel to and from the moon but to make it a refueling stop for spacecraft headed deeper into the solar system. A recent MIT study suggested that lunar fuel would simplify NASA's Journey to Mars. Lunar scientist Paul Spudis, writing in Air and Space Magazine, pondered the next step in determining the extent and composition of the lunar ice. Spudis' idea is to deploy several dozen impact probes across one of the lunar polar regions.

Video Space Exploration Politics -- and an Explanation of the Apollo Flag 'Mystery' (Video) 39

Meet Tom Moser. And here's another NASA oral history interview with him. And we interviewed him last week ourselves. Tom has been involved, one way or another, as engineer or manager, with every American manned space flight program since 1963. Now, among other things, he's thinking of ways multiple governments and private companies can share their resources to make future space exploration feasible, which may not be engineering -- but in many cases politics can be more important than designing and building the hardware, which is why it's worth learning about.

And thinking of hardware, do you remember the conspiracy people talking about how the U.S. flag on the moon was faked because there's no way it could wave in the breeze without an atmosphere? Moser gives us the inside scoop on that: it was an engineering screwup, and at least partly his fault. Whoops!

The Two Modern Space Races (arstechnica.com) 99

MarkWhittington writes: Observers of the current state of the space program like to maintain that a space race, such as occurred in the 1960s, will never happen again. They cannot be farther from the truth, since not just one, but two space races are going on. The Google Lunar X Prize is managing a race for the first private group to land a rover on the lunar surface and perform a number of tasks for glory and prize money. Eric Berger at Ars Technica pointed out that another prize space race, with the goal of performing the first private crewed space mission in low Earth orbit, is ongoing thanks to NASA's commercial crew program.

Icy Volcanoes May Erupt On Pluto (space.com) 32

An anonymous reader writes: The New Horizons probe may have discovered two possible ice volcanoes on the surface of Pluto. "These are two really extraordinary features. Nothing like this has ever been seen in the solar system." Oliver White, a New Horizons postdoctoral researcher with NASA's Ames Research Center in California said. The mountains have been informally named Wright Mons and Picard Mons, and at their crests, each peak hosts a central crater, reminiscent of peaks called "shield volcanoes" on Earth. "Whatever they are, they're definitely weird" — 'volcanoes' is the least weird hypothesis at the moment," White says.

Video Veteran Spaceflight Engineer Talks About Governance for Space Exploration (Video) 12

Meet Tom Moser. (And if that piece of oral spaceflight history wasn't enough, here's a second one.) He's been involved, one way or another, as engineer or manager, with every American manned space flight program since 1963. Now, among other things, he's thinking of ways multiple governments and private companies can share their resources to make future space exploration feasible, which is the main topic of today's video (and transcript), and one we plan to run next week as well.