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Apollo Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Sixth Man On the Moon, Dies At 85 ( 113

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story in the Palm Beach Post, Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, has died at the age of 85. He flew as lunar module pilot on board Apollo 14, which flew to and from the moon between January 31, 1971 and February 9, 1971. His crewmates were Alan Shepard and Stuart Roosa. Apollo 14 was the return to flight for the moon landing program after the near disaster of Apollo 13 in April 1970, and explored the Fra Mauro highlands on the lunar surface. NASA marks Mitchell's passing as well.

Congressional Testimony Says NASA Has No Plan For the Journey To Mars ( 310

MarkWhittington writes: Testimony at a hearing before the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Space suggested that NASA's Journey to Mars lacks a plan to achieve the first human landing on the Red Planet, almost six years after President Obama announced the goal on April 15, 2010. Moreover, two of the three witnesses argued that a more realistic near term goal for the space agency would be a return to the moon. The moon is not only a scientifically interesting and potentially commercially profitable place to go but access to lunar water, which can be refined into rocket fuel, would make the Journey to Mars easier and cheaper.

China's Chang'e 3 Lander and Yutu Rover Camera Data Released 56

AmiMoJo writes: Detailed high resolution images from the recent Chinese moon mission have been released. Links to the original Chinese sites hosting the images are available, but Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society has kindly organized them in English. Images show the lander, the rover and the surface of the earth. An interactive map is also available, built from data collected by the mission.

Elon Musk To Unveil Mars Spacecraft Later This Year, For 2025 Flight ( 101

frank249 writes: Fox News is reporting that Space X and Tesla CEO Elon Musk expects to unveil plans for the spacecraft that would send humans to Mars within a decade. Speaking at an event in Hong Kong, Musk said he was 'hoping to describe the architecture' of the spacecraft at the International Astronautical Conference in Mexico in late September. "That will be quite exciting," Musk said. 'In terms of the first flight to Mars, we are hoping to do that around 2025.' As for his plans to go into space, Musk said he was hoping to reach the International Space Station 'four or five years from now.'

NASA's Deep Space Habitat Could Support the Journey To Mars and a Lunar Return ( 43

MarkWhittington writes: Back in 2012, when NASA first proposed building a deep space habitat (DSH) beyond the moon, the Obama administration took a dim view of the idea. However, fast forward over three years, and the idea has become part of the Journey to Mars program. According to a story in Spaceflight Insider, the deep space habitat will be deployed in cis-lunar space in the 2020s to test various technologies related to sending humans to Mars. The DSH could also be part of an infrastructure that would support a return to the moon should the next administration decide to go that route.

Blue Origin Launches and Lands the Same New Shepard That Few In November ( 132

MarkWhittington writes: The commercial space race between Blue Origin and SpaceX got more interesting on Friday. In November, Blue Origin launched its New Shepard booster on a suborbital flight, and then successfully landed it afterward. On Friday, Blue Origin relaunched the same New Shepard spacecraft to a height of 101.7 kilometers, and then landed it a second time. Blue Origin has therefore accomplished a first by flying a vertical takeoff and landing rocket into space twice in a row. The company has taken another step toward its goal of taking the rich and adventurous on suborbital jaunts for fun and profit.

Russia Forming Space Alliance With Iran, May Fly Iranian Astronaut ( 107

MarkWhittington writes: Quietly, the Russians appear to be forming a space alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran, according to a story in Sputnik. Not only is Russia in talks to launch Iranian satellites on Russian rockets but also to include an Iranian astronaut on a future space mission. What that space mission might be is open to question. A visit by an Iranian astronaut to the International Space Station would likely kick up a political firestorm with the United States, even though the Obama administration is attempting to develop a rapprochement with the Islamic Republic.

NASA Awards Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser an ISS Commercial Resupply Contract ( 57

MarkWhittington writes: The Verge reported that NASA has awarded the second round of contracts for the commercial resupply program. Two companies, SpaceX, and Orbital Sciences, which have been hauling cargo to the International Space Station in the first phase of the program, will receive contracts to fly at least six flights each to the ISS through 2024, the anticipated end of operations year for the space station. But Sierra Nevada has also gotten a six flight commitment, using a cargo version of its Dream Chaser spacecraft.

NASA Safety Panel Finds Concerns With the Journey To Mars ( 155

MarkWhittington writes: NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel issued its annual report on various space agency programs. The panel found a number of areas of concern surrounding the Journey to Mars program, virtually all of them stemming from inadequate funding. It suggested that NASA's plan to launch the first crewed mission on the Orion, which would use the heavy lift Space Launch System to go around the moon, in 2021 was unrealistic given current, anticipated funding. The panel also suggested that lack of a clear plan for the Mars program is compromising its viability. It also suggested that the decision not to return to the moon should be revisited in view of the desire of international partners to do so and the need of low gravity surface experience in advance of going to Mars
The Almighty Buck

How Russia May Send Cosmonauts To the Moon After All ( 143

MarkWhittington writes: When Russia decided to abandon its drive to land cosmonauts on the moon, the reasons were not so much political than they were fiscal. The low price of oil and the costs of Vladimir Putin's imperial adventures in the Ukraine and Syria had crowded out funding for Russia space missions. It did not help matters that the Russian Space Agency was rife with corruption and mismanagement that seems to prevail across much of Russian society. However, Popular Mechanics suggests that Russia is still thinking of landing cosmonauts on the moon when that country's fiscal situation improves.

SpaceX To Test Recovered First Stage, Then Put It On Display ( 108

schwit1 writes: Rather than re-fly it, Elon Musk suggested that, after some testing, SpaceX will likely put its first recovered Falcon 9 first stage on display instead. '"[We will] do a static fire at the launch pad there, to confirm that all systems are good and that we are able to do a full thrust hold-down firing of the rocket," Musk said after the stage landed. The static fire will also test the modifications SpaceX has made to Pad 39A to support its rockets.

After that though, the stage will become a display piece. "I think we will keep this one on the ground for tests that prove it could fly again and then put it somewhere — just because it is quite unique," Musk said.' Since they already have a satellite company, SES, willing to buy that first stage, this only underlines how this last Falcon 9 launch changes everything. I don't think the change has sunk in with most people, yet. The last launch was not a one-time event. SpaceX intends to recover as many of its first stages as it can in all future launches. Their Falcon 9 first stage is no longer expendable. Thus, they can afford to put this first recovered stage on display because they expect all future first stages to fly again.


Russia Cancels All Moon Missions Till 2025 ( 135

schwit1 writes: Faced with a shrinking budget and poor economic conditions, Russia has once again trimmed back its proposed ten-year space plan for the next decade in space, canceling all Moon missions until after 2025. Russian might now have a giant government-run aerospace corporation, but flying space missions is not really its primary task. Like all government agencies divorced from profit and loss, its primary task is really to provide pork barrel jobs, regardless of whether those jobs do anything useful or not. Thus, Russia will have a very expensive space program for the next decade, but the money spent will not accomplish much of anything new.

NASA Uncertain How To Proceed In Developing Deep Space Module ( 120

MarkWhittington writes: One of the provisions of the new NASA spending bill, which provided a hefty $1.3 billion boost to the space agency's budget, is a mandate to build a prototype habitation module for deep space exploration by 2018. Space News suggested that NASA is uncertain how to proceed with this sudden largess. Quite some time has passed since the space agency has gotten more money than expected and been told to speed up the development of an item of hardware. Usually, the opposite happens, with accompanying delays and increases in overall costs.

NASA Has Suspended Its Next Mission To Mars ( 46

sciencehabit writes: NASA has suspended its next mission to Mars after problems with a French-built seismological instrument could not be fixed in time for the scheduled launch. The mission, a lander called InSight that was to listen for tremors on Mars as a way of understanding the planet's interior, will not launch in March 2016, the agency said today. NASA has not announced a new launch date, but because of the relative orbits of Mars and Earth, the agency will have to wait at least 26 months before it can try to launch again. The troublesome instrument is called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure; the Max Planck Institute, one of the instrument's developers, has a nice page outlining SEIS's construction and function.

The FAA To Facilitate American Commercial Participation In the ESA Moon Village ( 31

MarkWhittington writes: While NASA remains fixated on its Journey to Mars, quietly, the FAA is positioning itself as the lead United States Government agency for a return to the moon. According to a story in Space News, "FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) unanimously approved a recommendation that the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation begin discussions with ESA on ways American companies could participate in what's known as 'Moon Village.'" The "Moon Village" is a European concept for an international moon base where various countries and private entities would collocate habitats for mutual support and benefit.

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