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Submission + - Google Lunar XPrize Israeli team SpaceIL gets confirmed launch contract (

MarkWhittington writes: Thus far, only three countries have landed payloads on the moon, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. Now, according to an announcement by the Google Lunar X Prize, an unlikely fourth country, the state of Israel, may well be the fourth. Team SpaceIL, the Israeli team that is pursuing the prize for the first private group to land on the moon, is the first competitor to be officially certified as having a launch contract. Other teams, such as Moon Express, have announced launch contracts, but have yet to have them confirmed.

Submission + - A remarkable number of people think 'The Martian' is based on a true story (

MarkWhittington writes: “The Martian” is a smash hit movie that made $100 million worldwide during its first weekend. The science and engineering depicted was, with certain notable exceptions, near perfect. The cinematography and special effects were so well done that one could almost imagine that Ridley Scott sent Matt Damon and a film crew to Mars to shoot the movie. In fact, perhaps the film was a little too good. Buzzfeed took a stroll through social media and discovered that many people think that “The Martian” is based on a true story.

Submission + - Rush Limbaugh says the left was against space exploration before it was for it (

MarkWhittington writes: On a recent broadcast, Rush Limbaugh made his latest attempt to clarify his musings about water on Mars and its relationship to claims of global warming and the perfidy of the left. Limbaugh made an interesting observation about the attitude that liberals have toward voyages to Mars and space exploration in general. The conservative radio talker suggested that the left has been against spending money on space exploration before they were for it. As it turns out, Limbaugh was right about the first part of the statement, but on a somewhat shakier ground on the second part. The political history of space is fascinating, though somewhat more complicated than the left vs. right ideological struggle.

Submission + - Elon Musk scheme to give Mars two extra suns may have come from Arthur C. Clarke (

MarkWhittington writes: A little while ago, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk got into trouble when he proposed, as a quick way to terraform Mars, exploding nuclear bombs on the Red Planet’s poles. The idea was that the bombs would heat up the frozen carbon dioxide at the poles, covering Mars with greenhouse gasses that would in due course heat up the planet. Of course, the scheme would also render Mars uninhabitable by spreading radioactive fallout. According to Mashable, Musk clarified his scheme.

Submission + - Moon Express signs launch contract for possible first private lunar landing (

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story in, Moon Express, one of the leading contestants in the Google Lunar X Prize competition, has made a giant leap toward its goal of being the first private group to land on the moon. The company has signed a contract with Rocket Lab, a new launch company based in New Zealand, for five launches of its upcoming Electron rocket. The first two launches will take place in 2017 and will be attempts to land the MX-1 lander on the lunar surface in time to win the prize by the current deadline by the end of that year.

Submission + - NASA's New Horizons shows Pluto's moon Charon is a strange, new world (

MarkWhittington writes: NASA's New Horizons has returned a stunning series of images of Pluto, the dwarf planet that resides on the edge of the solar system, revealing a strange new world of ice mountains and glaciers of frozen nitrogen. NASA released images of Pluto’s largest moon. Charon. Scientists expected a plain ball of rock pockmarked with craters. What they saw was anything but plain and monotonous.

Submission + - The case for going to Phobos before going to Mars (

MarkWhittington writes: The current NASA thinking concerning the Journey to Mars program envisions a visit to the Martian moon Phobos in the early 2030s before attempting a landing on the Martian surface in the late 2030s, as Popular Mechanics noted. The idea of a practice run that takes astronauts almost but not quite to Mars is similar to what the space agency did during the 1960s Apollo program. Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 each orbited the moon but did not land on it before the Apollo 11 mission went all the way to the lunar surface, fulfilling President John. F. Kennedy’s challenge.

Submission + - Is Rush Limbaugh a 'Mars water truther?' (

MarkWhittington writes: When Rush Limbaugh mused about the discovery of flowing water on the surface of Mars he as he is want to do, attempted to tie it in with an Earthly political issue, in this case, climate change. Limbaugh suggested that someone would attempt to make a relationship between water on Mars and the idea that global warming is threatening the Earth. Naturally, some parts of the media leaped upon what Rush said with both feet, despite the fact that the conservative radio talker tried to clarify his position.

Submission + - How can NASA's Road to Mars be made more affordable? (

MarkWhittington writes: The Houston Chronicle’s Eric Berger published a piece that touched on one of the most vexing issues surrounding NASA’s “road to Mars,” that being that of cost. How does one design a deep space exploration program that “the nation can afford,” to coin a phrase uttered by the old NASA hand interviewed for the article? The phrase is somewhat misleading since one of the truisms of federal budgeting is that the nation can afford quite a bit. A more accurate phrase might be, “that the nation is willing to spend.”

Submission + - NASA could use a Mars base built with robots, 3D printers, and inflatables (

MarkWhittington writes: When the first NASA astronauts depart on the voyage to Mars, currently scheduled for the 2030s, they will need a place to live while exploring the Red Planet. NASA planning currently imagines that the Mars habitat would be brought all the way from Earth and landed on Mars in advance of the astronauts. However, according to a story in Wired UK, a design firm called Foster + Partners has a better idea, involving 3D printing using local materials and inflatables. The firm’s plan for a manufactured Mars base is similar to the study it performed for the European Space Agency for the “lunar village” concept.

Submission + - Why NASA's road to Mars plan proves that it should return to the moon first (

MarkWhittington writes: published the results of current NASA thinking concerning what needs to be launched and when to support a crewed mission to Phobos and two crewed missions to the Martian surface between 2033 and 2043. The result is a mind-numbingly complex operation involving dozens of launches to cis-lunar space and Mars using the heavy lift Space Launch System. The architecture includes a collection of habitation modules, Mars landers, propulsion units (both chemical rockets and solar electric propulsion) and other parts of a Mars ship.

Submission + - Making mining the asteroids and the moon legal (

MarkWhittington writes: Popular Science reported on a bill called the Space Act of 2015 that has passed the House and may soon pass the Senate that will allow private companies to own the natural resources that they mine in space. The idea would seem to be a no-brainer. However, the bill is causing some heartburn among some space law experts, especially in other countries. Fabio Tronchetti, a lawyer at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, argues that the law would violate the Outer Space Treaty. He seems to be on thin ice in that assessment, however.

Submission + - Who will pay for a commercial space station after the end of ISS? (

MarkWhittington writes: While NASA is planning its road to Mars, a number of commercial interests and place policy experts are discussing what happens after the International Space Station ends its operational life, according to a story in Space Policy Online. Currently, the international partners have committed to operating ISS through 2024. Some have suggested that the space station, conceived by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, could last as long as 2028. But, after that, there will still be a need for a space station of some sort, either in low Earth orbit, or at one of the Lagrange points where the gravity of the moon and Earth cancel one another out.

Submission + - Launch manifest for NASA's 'Road to Mars' takes shape but questions remain (

MarkWhittington writes: reported that NASA’s so-called “Road to Mars” is starting to take shape. The deep space program that would conclude with human astronauts departing for the Red Planet in 2039 would require just over 40 launches of the heavy-lift Space Launch System, including an uncrewed flight in 2018 and one flight a year to cis-lunar space starting in 2021 lasting until 2027. A flight in 2028 would launch something called the Pathfinder Entry Descent Landing Craft to Mars as a precursor for a human landing. Then the Mars program begins in earnest with a mission to Phobos in 2033 and missions to the Martian surface in 2039 and 2043.

Submission + - NASA's Resource Prospector mission could land on the moon in 2020 (

MarkWhittington writes: Ever since President Obama foreswore interest in returning to the moon in his April 2010 speech at the Kennedy Space Center, lunar exploration has been on the back burner at NASA. According to a story at Space News, that may change starting around 2020 thanks to a project called RP15, the letters standing for “Resource Prospector,” a rover designed to drill into the lunar regolith and collect samples for analysis. The rover, originating at NASA Ames Research Center, was recently tested on a simulated lunar surface at the Johnson Spaceflight Center south of Houston.

RP15 was built by the same team at JSC that developed Robonaut 2, now being tested on the International Space Station, with the software being written at Ames. The tests at JSC involved the rover being controlled by engineers at NASA Ames, half way across the country in California.

"Lead us in a few words of silent prayer." -- Bill Peterson, former Houston Oiler football coach