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NASA Concludes That Comets, Not Alien Megastructures Orbit KIC 8462852 ( 76

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.

NASA Contracting Development of New Ion/Nuclear Engines ( 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? ( 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.

MIT Helping NASA Build Valkyrie Robots For Space Missions ( 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" ( 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

Journalist: NASA Administrator Has Short Memory on Changing Space Policy ( 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.

Icy Volcanoes May Erupt On Pluto ( 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.

NASA's Maven Mission Solves the Mystery of Mars' Lost Atmosphere 120

StartsWithABang writes: If you came to the Solar System some 500 million years after its formation, you would've found two world with oceans of liquid water, continents and all the conditions we know of for life to begin thriving: Earth and Mars. But unlike our own world, Mars' organic history was cut short when it lost its atmosphere and became a barren, desert wasteland. While we had some pretty compelling theories as to how this happened, it was only with the advent of the Maven mission and its first science results that we discovered exactly how, how fast and when Mars lost its atmosphere. One cool discovery: aurorae appear diffuse and all over the entire night sky on Mars!

NASA's Cassini Discovers Hydrocarbon Dunes On Titan ( 77

MarkWhittington writes: NASA made an announcement that Titan, a moon of Saturn and the largest moon in the solar system, has hydrocarbon dunes. The discovery has highlighted the entirely alien nature of Titan, which has seas, lakes and rains of liquid methane and ethane and a surface comprised on water ice. The fact that it has dunes made of frozen hydrocarbon that acts like sand, blown by the wind on Earth is yet another piece of data that has scientists interested in studying Titan further.

Junkyard Owner Saves Lunar Rover Prototype ( 130

An anonymous reader writes: On Tuesday, Slashdot users learned that a man in Alabama sold a lunar rover prototype for scrap metal. We now learn that the junkyard owner has saved this important piece of scientific history. The man claims that, upon receiving the prototype at his scrap facility, he set it aside because he knew exactly what it was.

NASA's Bolden Claims NASA Is 'Doomed' Unless It Stays the Course To Mars ( 162

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story in Space News, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made a speech at the Center for American Progress in which he declared that if the next president deviated from the Journey to Mars program, the space agency would be "doomed." The point he was making, that programs of that nature, have to have consistent support over several presidencies and congresses, was a valid one. The point was equally valid in 2010 when President Obama abruptly and without warning canceled the Constellation space exploration program. Bolden, however, had a ready answer for that, which may not be convincing on close examination.

How Some Creative Hacking Kept Skylab From Becoming Space Junk ( 69

szczys writes: Skylab was close to becoming space junk. You may remember it crashing back to earth as space junk but that was after it was used for several research missions. What you probably don't know is that the original concept was to build it from a spent upper rocket stage that is normally just junked after launch. The module that was sent up in place of a 3rd rocket stage was damaged during launch, making it unusable until some very creative repairs paved the way for manned missions. The damage included problems with thermal shielding that turned it into an oven — nearly cooking all materials and supplies inside — and damage to solar panels which put a big hit on the station's power budget. Creative solutions and astronaut tenacity when docking and performing EVAs are all that saved Skylab from being scrapped without ever being used.

NASA Chief Says Ban On Chinese Partnerships Is Temporary 63

An anonymous reader writes: Current head of NASA Charles Bolden has spoken out against the 4-year-old ban on collaborating with China. According to Bolden working with the Chinese is vital to the future of space exploration. Reuters reports: "The United States should include China in its human space projects or face being left out of new ventures to send people beyond the International Space Station, NASA chief Charles Bolden said on Monday. Since 2011, the U.S. space agency has been banned by Congress from collaborating with China, due to human rights issues and national security concerns. China is not a member of the 15-nation partnership that owns and operates the station, a permanently staffed research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, but Bolden says working China will be necessary in the future."

Why NASA Rejected Lockheed Martin's Jupiter For Commercial Resupply Services 2 ( 36

MarkWhittington writes: Recently, NASA rejected Lockheed Martin's bid for a contract for the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) program as being too expensive. CRS-2 is the follow-on to the current CRS program that has SpaceX and Orbital Systems sending supplies to the International Space Station. Motley Fool explained why the aerospace giant was left behind and denied a share of what might be $14 billion between 2018 and 2024. In essence, Lockheed Martin tried to get the space agency to pay for a spacecraft that would do far more than just take cargo to and from the International Space Station.

Space Travel For the 1%: Virgin Galactic's $250,000 Tickets Haunt New Mexico Town 239

The Real Dr John writes: The Guardian has an article about Virgin Galactic's proposed launch site, Spaceport America, which broke ground in southern New Mexico's high desert in 2009 with almost a quarter of a billion dollars from taxpayers, $76m of which came from the two local counties. Truth or Consequences, population 6,000 and home to the Spaceport America Visitor Center, is one of the poorest places in the state. The increased taxes, adopted across impoverished Sierra County, contributed to about $5m as of 2014. Since 2009, state school budgets have been cut and an estimated $26m in necessary repairs to the town's water system has been put on hold. There's no more money to pay for it. The average annual income of residents is just $15,000 per year, one third of residents live below the poverty line, and just 20% over the age of 25 have obtained a bachelor's degree.

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing for money.