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ISS

Soyuz Heads To Space Station With New Crew 36

An anonymous reader writes: Last night, a Soyuz rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to deliver three astronauts to the International Space Station. Russia's Sergey Volkov, Denmark's Andreas Mogensen, and Kazakhstan's Aidyn Aimbetov reached orbit without incident, and they'll dock with the ISS in the wee hours of Friday morning. Mogensen and Aimbetov will only stay until 11 September, at which point they and Expedition 44 commander Gennady Padalka will undock and return to Earth. (Here's a neat time-lapse of changing a Soyuz craft's parking space at the ISS.) Padalka was in charge for the current expedition, but he'll be passing command of Expedition 45 to NASA's Scott Kelly. Kelly and Oleg Kornienko will soon reach the halfway point of their one-year mission at the space station. It's worth noting that this was the 500th rocket launch from the Gagarin launchpad at Baikonur.
Mars

New Horizons' New Target: Kuiper Belt Ice Chunk 2014 MU69 43

Vox reports on the next target destination for NASA's New Horizons probe, an ice chunk in the Kuiper Belt designated 2014 MU69. The plan is not yet final; like any space mission, complications are bound to come up. But if this selection sticks, New Horizons should reach 2014 MU69 in 2019. (Re/Code has the story, too.)
Space

The View From 2015: Integrated Space Plan's 100-Year Plan 36

garyebickford writes: Wired Magazine has posted an article about the new 2015 version of the Integrated Space Plan, updated 14 years after the last version and descended directly from the original 1989 version. The original one was printed in the thousands, distributed by Rockwell, and appeared on walls throughout the space industry. One even hung behind the NASA administrator's desk. The new one is prettier, great for dorm room walls and classrooms, and Integrated Space Analytics, the company behind it, promises to expand their website into an up-to-date, live interactive tool. This is a great new beginning after over 30 years.
NASA

In Hawaii, a 6-Person Crew Begins a Year-Long Mars Isolation Experiment 81

The BBC reports that six volunteers have begun a planned year-long stint "without fresh air, fresh food or privacy" in a NASA simulation of what life might be like for a group of Mars colonists. The volunteers are to spend the next 12 months in the dome (11 meters in diameter, 6 meters high), except for space-suited out-of-dome excursions, where they will eat space-style meals, sleep on tiny cots, and keep up a science schedule. The current mission is the fourth (and longest yet) from the Hawai'i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation; you can read more about this mission's crew here.
NASA

How NASA Defended Its Assembly Facility From Hurricane Katrina 59

An anonymous reader writes: Tomorrow marks the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's arrival in New Orleans. Though that time was filled with tragedy, there were survival stories, and a new article gives an insider's account of how NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility weathered the storm. Michoud was their key fuel tank production location, and if it had been lost, the space program would have gone off the rails. A 17-foot levee and a building with four water pumps capable of moving 62,000 gallons per minute stood between the storm and catastrophe for NASA's launch capabilities. "Water was merely the primary concern of the first 24 hours; Hurricane Katrina left its mark on the facilities even if Michoud was the rare speck of land to escape flooding. Roofs were lost to strong winds, one building even blew out entirely. External Tank 122 took some damage." Members of the "ride out" team spent much of the next month at Michoud, working long days to inspect and repair issues caused by the water. They maintained the facility well enough that it became a base for members of the military doing search and rescue operations. Amazingly, they did it all without any injuries to the team, and NASA didn't miss a single tank shipment.
NASA

NASA Scientists Paint Stark Picture of Accelerating Sea Level Rise 382

A NASA panel yesterday announced widely reported finding that global sea levels have risen about three inches since 1992, and that these levels are expected to keep rising as much as several more feet over the next century -- on the upper end of model-based predictions that have been made so far. From the Sydney Morning Herald piece linked above: NASA says Greenland has lost an average of 303 gigatons [of ice] yearly for the past decade. Since it takes 360 gigatons to raise sea level by a millimetre, that would suggest Greenland has done this about eight times over just in the last 10 years or so. "People need to be prepared for sea level rise," said Joshua Willis, an oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. "It's not going to stop."
Space

NASA Mulls Missions To Neptune and Uranus, Using the Space Launch System 77

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story in Astronomy Magazine, NASA is contemplating sending flagship sized space probes to the so-called "ice giants" of Uranus and Neptune. These probes would orbit the two outer planets, similar to how Galileo orbited Jupiter and how Cassini currently orbits Saturn. The only time NASA has previously had a close encounter with either of these worlds was when Voyager 2 flew by Uranus in 1986 and then Neptune in 1989. Each of these missions would happen after the Europa Clipper, a flagship-class mission scheduled for the mid-2020s.
NASA

Dawn Drops To 1470km Orbit, Snaps Sharper Pictures of Ceres 45

An anonymous reader writes: NASA's Dawn spacecraft, after an extensive series of high orbits around Ceres, has now dropped to just 1,470 kilometers over the dwarf planet's surface. It has begun an 11-day process to map the entirety of Ceres, which it will repeat several times over the next couple months. Its lower orbit now allows photo resolution of ~140 meters per pixel, and it has sent back some great images. "Engineers and scientists will also refine their measurements of Ceres' gravity field, which will help mission planners in designing Dawn's next orbit — its lowest — as well as the journey to get there. In late October, Dawn will begin spiraling toward this final orbit, which will be at an altitude of 230 miles (375 kilometers)."
NASA

Calls For Funding NASA Commercial Crew Grow 71

MarkWhittington writes: As summer starts to give way to fall and the end of the current fiscal year draws nigh, demands that NASA's commercial crew program be fully funded are being heard with greater frequency and urgency. Astronaut Scott Kelly took time off from his year-long sojourn on the International Space Station to entreat Congress to pony up. IO9 was a little more caustic, stating "Dammit, Congress: Just Buy NASA its Own Space Taxi, Already." Monday, Slate became the latest media outlet to take up the cause

The situation is depressingly familiar to those who have followed the fortunes of the space program since the Apollo moon landings. When President Obama started the commercial crew program in 2010, NASA estimated that it would take a certain amount of money to get government funded and commercially operated spacecraft running by 2015. Then the space agency would no longer be dependent on Russia for rides to the International Space Station.

Congress has decided to allocate less money than NASA feels it needed for commercial crew. This situation is not unusual, as Congress often does this to space projects. However, the politics surrounding the creation of the commercial crew program, which featured the abrupt cancellation of the Constellation space exploration program, has exacerbated the conflict between NASA's will and Congress' won't. President Obama did not consult Congress when he cancelled President Bush's return to the moon program. Congress has displeased ever since.
Earth

NASA's Hurricane Model Resolution Increases Nearly 10-Fold Since Katrina 89

zdburke writes: Thanks to improvements in satellites and on-the-ground computing power, NASA's ability to model hurricane data has come a long way in the ten years since Katrina devastated New Orleans. Their blog notes, "Today's models have up to ten times the resolution than those during Hurricane Katrina and allow for a more accurate look inside the hurricane. Imagine going from video game figures made of large chunky blocks to detailed human characters that visibly show beads of sweat on their forehead." Gizmodo covered the post too and added some technical details, noting that, "the supercomputer has more than 45,000 processor cores and runs at 1.995 petfalops."
Mars

The Real NASA Technologies In 'The Martian' 60

An anonymous reader writes: On October 2, movie audiences will get to see Ridley Scott's adaptation of Andy Weir's brilliant sci-fi novel The Martian, about a near-future astronaut who gets left for dead on the planet Mars. (Official trailer.) Both book and film are rooted in actual science, and NASA has now posted a list of technologies featured in the movie that either already exist, or are in development. For example, the Mars rover: "On Earth today, NASA is working to prepare for every encounter with the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). The MMSEV has been used in NASA's analog mission projects to help solve problems that the agency is aware of and to reveal some that may be hidden. The technologies are developed to be versatile enough to support missions to an asteroid, Mars, its moons and other missions in the future." They also show off their efforts to develop water reclamation, gardens in space, and oxygen recovery.
NASA

How Viking 1 Won the Martian Space Race 53

derekmead writes: NASA launched the Viking 1 spacecraft to Mars forty years ago. The probe was the first to achieve a soft landing on the planet, providing the first images and data from Mars. Politically the Viking 1 success was a huge win for the U.S. against the competing Soviet space program. Motherboard reports: "Viking 1 went on to become one of the most productive landers ever deployed on Mars, operating for 2,307 days before it finally shut down on November 13, 1982. It held the record for the longest Martian surface mission for decades, until the Opportunity rover finally beat it out in 2010 (and that little trooper is still going, by the way)."
Democrats

Former Rep. Louis Stokes, the Man Who Saved the Space Station, Dies At Age 90 50

MarkWhittington writes: The Associated Press noted the passing of former Rep. Louis Stokes at the age of 90. Since Stokes was an African American Democrat first elected in 1968, most of the accolades touch on his effect on the civil rights struggle and his lifelong fight against racism. However, as George Abbey, former NASA Director of the Johnson Spaceflight Center and current Fellow in Space Policy at the Baker Institute of Rice University pointed out on his Facebook Page, Stokes can be rightly be said to be the man who saved the International Space Station and perhaps human space flight in America.
ISS

Enormous Red Sprites Seen From Space 30

astroengine writes: A gorgeous photo, captured from the International Space Station on the night of Aug. 10, 2015, shows an orbital view of thunderstorms over the city lights of southern Mexico as a recumbent Orion rises over Earth's limb. But wait, there's more: along the right edge of the picture a cluster of bright red and purple streamers can be seen rising above a blue-white flash of lightning: it's an enormous red sprite caught on camera! First photographed in 1989, red sprites are very brief flashes of optical activity that are associated with powerful lightning. So-called because of their elusive nature, sprites typically appear as branching red tendrils reaching up above the region of an exceptionally strong lightning flash. These electrical discharges can extend as high as 55 miles (90 kilometers) into the atmosphere, with the brightest region usually around altitudes of 40–45 miles (65–75 km). Sprites don't last very long — 3–10 milliseconds at most — and so to catch one (technically here it's a cluster of them) on camera is a real feat... or, in this case, a great surprise!
NASA

The 10th Anniversary of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter 18

An anonymous reader writes: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is celebrating 10 years of service in its mission to study Mars from orbit. Recently it has discovered an ancient lake that might hold the best possible chance of finding life on the Red Planet. "MRO has discovered that Mars' south polar cap holds enough buried carbon-dioxide ice to double the planet's current atmosphere if it warmed. It's caught avalanches and dust storms in action. The spacecraft's longevity has made it possible to study seasonal and longer-term changes over four Martian years," Rich Zurek from Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.
Mars

Donald Trump Thinks Going To Mars Would Be "Wonderful" But There Is a Catch 442

MarkWhittington writes: Donald Trump, the mercurial real estate tycoon and media personality who, much to the surprise of one and all, has become the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president opened his mind just a little about his attitude toward space exploration, according to a story in Forbes. In an answer to a question put to him about sending humans to Mars, the current focus at NASA, Trump said, "Honestly, I think it's wonderful; I want to rebuild our infrastructure first, ok? I think it's wonderful." In other words, dreams of going to Mars must take a back seat to more Earthly concerns. It is not an answer many space exploration supporters want to hear.
Books

XKCD Author's New Unpublished Book Becomes Scientific Best-Seller 90

An anonymous reader writes: XKCD cartoonist Randall Munroe will be publishing a new book in November, but it's already become Amazon's #1 best-seller in two "Science & Math" subcategories, for mechanics and scientific instruments. Inspired by a cartoon describing NASA's Saturn V rocket as "the up-goer V", Randall's created a large-format collection of blueprints describing datacenters, tectonic plates, and even the controls in an airplane cockpit — using only the thousand most common English words. "Since this book explains things, I've called it Thing Explainer," Randall writes on the XKCD blog, trying to mimic the humorously simple style of his book. Randall's previous book of scientific hypotheticals — published one year ago — is still Amazon's #1 best-selling book in their "Physics" category, ranking higher than Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time."
NASA

"Chaotic Architecture" At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory 69

New submitter CarlaRudder writes: NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) is ditching old, rigid, legacy tools and adopting a much more flexible approach that allows people within the company to pick and choose the technologies that help them do their jobs better. CIO Jim Rinaldi and IT Chief Technology Officer Tom Soderstrom are calling it "chaotic architecture," and they are using it to better prepare for change and to attract the next generation of IT talent to JPL.
Space

Galactic Survey: The Universe Dying as Old Stars Fade Faster Than New Ones Are Born 199

astroengine writes: A study of more than 200,000 galaxies, encompassing wavelengths of light from the far ultraviolet to infrared, shows that the universe is producing half as much energy as it did 2 billion years ago and continues to fade. "Newer galaxies are simply putting out less energy than galaxies did in the past," astronomer Mehmet Alpaslan, with NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., told Discovery News. In other words, astronomers, for the first time, have gathered observational evidence that our universe is slowly marching toward its eventual heat death (in a few trillion years time).
ISS

Growing Vegetables In Space, NASA Astronauts Tweet Their Lunch 39

An anonymous reader writes: Astronauts on the International Space Station got their first taste of space-grown lettuce today. It took the astronauts about an hour to harvest and prepare the lettuce both plain and with oil and vinegar. The Times reports: "The vegetable experiment had been a long-awaited harvest for the astronauts, who say that the ability to grow and sustain crops in space may someday aid travelers on long space trips. Cultivating crops is seen as a critical step in the path to traveling to Mars, for instance. Before the harvest, the astronauts did what any sensible Earthling with a Wi-Fi connection would do: They celebrated lunch in an exclusive locale by tweeting a picture of the goods."