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.
MarkWhittington writes: In an interview published in The Verge, celebrity astrophysicist and media personality Neil deGrasse Tyson touched off a firestorm when he suggested that commercial space was not going to lead the way to open up the high frontier. Tyson has started a live show that he calls "Delusions of Space Enthusiasts” in which he touched on, among other things, why the Apollo program did not lead to greater things in space exploration such as going to Mars. Tyson repeats conventional wisdom about Apollo and the Cold War. In any case, it is his remarks on commercial space that has caused the most irritation.
MarkWhittington writes: NASA’s New Horizons flew by Pluto last July and is continuing to send back stunning images and breathtaking data. Forbes speculates about sending humans to the once and possibly future ninth planet from the sun. Since New Horizons took nine and a half years from launch to flyby, such a voyage would have to await the development of very advanced propulsion systems, among quite a few other technologies.
MarkWhittington writes: Ars Technica reported 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. As with many things that publically come out of Garver’s mouth, this statement has to be taken with a grain of salt.
MarkWhittington writes: ZME Science reported that the FDA has approved of a species of genetically modified salmon for human consumption. The salmon, developed by a company called AquaBounty Technologies, took 20 years to get approval. Five years, the FDA deemed the new species of salmon safe, but then took its time to “get everything right.” Despite rather stringent requirements to keep the GMO salmon segregated from the wild, Think Progress notes that environmentalists are outraged at the approval
MarkWhittington writes: Business Insider reported that NASA has decided, quietly, to add a lander to its upcoming $2 billion mission to Europa, the ice-bound moon of Jupiter. The Europa Multi-Flyby Mission will orbit Jupiter, making multiple passes at Europa, examining and mapping it in detail. Now, when an appropriate landing site is detected and decided upon, a landing craft will detach and set down, it is hoped, on the Europa ice field.
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
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.
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
MarkWhittington writes: Sen Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a candidate for president of the United States, is known for quite a few things, including waging fights against Obamacare and illegal immigration. He is not generally known for crafting and passing legislation. However, as the Dallas Morning News reported, Cruz played a crucial role in writing and then passing the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. The bill, a compromise between a previous Senate and House version, had recently passed the Senate and yesterday passed the House. It is on its way to President Obama for his signature,
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.
MarkWhittington writes: Dr. Louis Friedman, one of the co-founders of the Planetary Society, is coming out with a new book, “Human Spaceflight: From Mars to the Stars,” an excerpt of which was published in Scientific America. Friedman revives and revises a version of the humans vs. robots controversy that has roiled through aerospace circles for decades. Unlike previous advocates of restricting space travel to robots, such as Robert Park and the late James Van Allen, Friedman admits that humans are going to Mars to settle. But there, human space travel will end. Only robots will ever venture further.
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.
MarkWhittington writes: The Washington Post reported about a remarkable exchange that presidential candidate Donald Trump had with a ten-year-old boy named Adam at a townhall in New Hampshire. The lad, a recent spelling bee champ, asked the mercurial real estate tycoon his opinion of NASA. After a brief exchange about whether the young man had meant “NAFTA,” Trump offered a less than satisfying answer that showed that he is still rough around the edges where it comes to dealing with future voters.
Trump said, “"You know, in the old days, it was great. Right now, we have bigger problems — you understand that? We've got to fix our potholes. You know, we don't exactly have a lot of money.
MarkWhittington writes: NASA announced that the days of Phobos, one of the moons of Mars, are numbered. Recent images of the moon show long, shallow grooves in its surface that show the early signs of structural failure. In about 30 million to 50 million years, Phobos will be pulled apart by Mars’ gravity.
Currently, Phobos orbits Mars at a distance of 3,700 miles, closer to its planet than any other moon in the solar system. Mars is slowly pulling Phobos closer to it at a rate of 6.6 feet per second. The tidal forces of Mars are already acting on the moon as it hurtles slowly but steadily closer, suggests Terry Hurford of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.