Space

Sperm Stored In Space Produces Healthy Baby Mice On Earth (theguardian.com) 53

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Reproduction may be possible in space, Japanese researchers have said, after freeze-dried sperm stored on the International Space Station for nine months produced healthy offspring. The scientists said their findings could have significant ramifications for human settlements in space, which they consider "likely." The average daily radiation dose on the ISS is about 100 times stronger than that on Earth, posing a threat of serious reproductive problems for any space-dwelling organism. But mouse sperm stored on the ISS for 288 days from August 2013 to May 2014, then returned to Earth, fertilized in vitro and transferred into female mice, produced healthy offspring. The space-preserved samples showed evidence of slightly increased DNA damage compared with control samples preserved on Earth, but this was found to be largely repaired in embryos following fertilization. The birth rate and sex ratio of pups derived from the sperm stored in space was comparable to those of pups derived from the control samples. Subsequent whole genome analysis revealed only minor differences, and the pups developed into adults with normal fertility. The study was published in the proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences on Monday.
ISS

Buzz Aldrin To NASA: Retire the International Space Station ASAP To Reach Mars (space.com) 349

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: If NASA and its partner agencies are serious about putting boots on Mars in the near future, they should pull the plug on the International Space Station (ISS) at the earliest opportunity, Buzz Aldrin said. "We must retire the ISS as soon as possible," the former Apollo 11 moonwalker said Tuesday (May 9) during a presentation at the 2017 Humans to Mars conference in Washington, D.C. "We simply cannot afford $3.5 billion a year of that cost." Instead, Aldrin said, NASA should continue to hand over activities in low Earth orbit (LEO) to private industry partners. Indeed, the space agency has been encouraging that move by awarding contracts to companies such as SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Boeing to ferry cargo and crew to and from the ISS. Bigelow Aerospace, Axiom Space or other companies should build and operate LEO space stations that are independent of the ISS, he added. Ideally, the first of these commercial outposts would share key orbital parameters with the station that China plans to have up and running by the early 2020s, to encourage cooperation with the Chinese, Aldrin said. Establishing private outposts in LEO is just the first step in Aldrin's plan for Mars colonization, which depends heavily on "cyclers" -- spacecraft that move continuously between two cosmic destinations, efficiently delivering people and cargo back and forth.
AI

Russia Wants To Send A Gun-Shooting Robot To The ISS (mashable.com) 141

"Just in time for the rise in global military tensions, Russian officials have released video that's sure to calm fears all around: a death dealing humanoid robot that shoots handguns." An anonymous reader quotes Mashable: Posted to Twitter on Friday by Russia's deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, the video shows the country's space robot FEDOR (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research) accurately shooting twin pistols in a scene chillingly similar to images from The Terminator. But rather than being displayed as a not-so-subtle warning to the entire human population of the planet, Rogozin instead claims via Facebook that it's just a demonstration of the robot's dexterity and use of algorithms to execute tasks.
CNET quotes Russia's deputy prime minister as saying "We are not creating a Terminator, but artificial intelligence that will be of great practical significance in a lot of spheres." Russia plans to deploy the robot on the International Space Station by 2021, Mashable reports, adding "Hopefully, the robot's arrival on the ISS will come sans life-snuffing weaponry, which is pretty much the opposite of the intent behind creating a peaceful international space station shared by the world's super powers in the first place."
ISS

No One Knows What To Do With the International Space Station (popsci.com) 236

An anonymous reader shares a report: In 2024 the clock will run out on the International Space Station. Maybe. That's the arbitrary deadline that Congress imposed back in 2014, at which point they'll have to decide whether or not to keep funding the ISS. And yeah, that's a whole seven years away. But then again...it's only seven years away. The ISS takes up half of NASA's human exploration budget -- half of the pile of money allotted for things like sending humans to Mars or to an asteroid. And if they want to push further into space exploration, NASA can't keep sinking three to four billion dollars a year into the ISS. Not that it's really their decision. Congress -- specifically the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology -- decides how much money NASA will get. And because politicians aren't experts in space travel, they keep holding hearings to discuss what they could possibly do with the ISS in seven years' time. Let private industry take it over? Let it crash and burn into the South Pacific? Let the program keep running? The latest hearing took place last week. These are hard questions, in part because people have very different opinions on what's valuable about NASA, and therefore about whether the ISS is still useful. Maybe you think that NASA should really be about exploration, about pushing the boundaries of what we know and where we can travel. In that case, the ISS might not be your first priority. That's a huge chunk of the budget that goes toward bringing things back and forth to low Earth orbit instead of venturing to other planets.
ISS

17-Year-Old Corrects NASA Mistake In Data From The ISS (bbc.com) 79

"A British teenager has contacted scientists at NASA to point out an error in a set of their own data," writes the BBC. An anonymous reader quotes their report. A-level student Miles Soloman found that radiation sensors on the International Space Station (ISS) were recording false data... The correction was said to be "appreciated" by NASA, which invited him to help analyse the problem... The research was part of the TimPix project from the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), which gives students across the UK the chance to work on data from the space station, looking for anomalies and patterns that might lead to further discoveries. What Miles had noticed was that when nothing hit the detector, a negative reading was being recorded. But you cannot get negative energy... It turned out that Miles had noticed something no-one else had -- including the NASA experts. NASA said it was aware of the error, but believed it was only happening once or twice a year. Miles had found it was actually happening multiple times a day.
There's a video of the student -- and his teacher -- describing the discovery, a story which Miles says his friends at high school listen to with "a mixture of jealousy and boredom"
Space

NASA's Scott Kelly Shares What He Discovered After a Year In Space (time.com) 58

Kelly, who returned to Earth after 340 days in space last year, is working on a memoir about his experience in the space since, and how he has been seeing the planet since. Two excerpts from his article on Time: The mission that I prepared for was, for the most part, the mission I flew. The data is still being analyzed, but the scientists are excited about what they are seeing so far. The genetic differences that appeared between my twin brother Mark and me could unlock new knowledge, not only about what spaceflight does to our bodies but also about how we age here on Earth. Emerging results reveal the condition of my telomeres -- the ends of our chromosomes that indicate our genetic age -- actually improved while I was in space compared to Mark's, contrary to expectations. The studies I worked on show promise in helping scientists reach solutions to health problems that emerge in long-duration spaceflight -- problems such as bone loss, muscle deterioration, damage to vision and the effects of extended radiation exposure. [...] Personally, I've learned that nothing feels as amazing as water. The night my plane landed in Houston and I finally got to go home, I did exactly what I'd been saying all along I would do: I walked in the front door, walked out the back door and jumped into the swimming pool, still in my flight suit. I'll never take water for granted again. Russian cosmonaut Misha Kornienko says he feels the same way. I've learned that showing up early, whether it's to a job interview or a spacewalk, is the only way to stay ahead of the game and be successful. "If you're not five minutes early, you're already late."
Moon

How To Get Back To the Moon In 4 Years -- This Time To Stay (scientificamerican.com) 355

Scientific American describes "a way to get to the Moon and to stay there permanently...to begin this process immediately and to achieve moon landings in less than four years." It starts by abandoning NASA's expensive Space Launch System and Orion capsule, and spending the money saved on private-industry efforts like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Robert Bigelow's Bigelow Aerospace. schwit1 quotes their report: Musk's rockets -- the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy -- are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What's more, SpaceX's upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth's surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready...

Major segments of the space community want every future landing to add to a permanent infrastructure in the sky. And that's within our grasp thanks to Robert Bigelow... Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow's been developing something far more ambitious -- an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules.

The article calls Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin rockets "a wild car" which could also land passengers and cargo on the moon and suggests NASA would be better off funding things like lunar-surface refueling stations, lunar construction equipment, and "devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen."
Space

Why Astronauts Are Banned From Getting Drunk in Space (bbc.com) 154

Bryan Lufkin, writing for BBC: "Alcohol is not permitted onboard the International Space Station for consumption," says Daniel G Huot, spokesperson for Nasa's Johnson Space Center. "Use of alcohol and other volatile compounds are controlled on ISS due to impacts their compounds can have on the station's water recovery system." For this reason, astronauts on the space station are not even provided with products that contain alcohol, like mouthwash, perfume, or aftershave. Spilling beer during some drunken orbital hijinks could also risk damaging equipment. [...] There could be another reason to avoid frothy drinks like beer -- without the assistance of gravity, liquid and gases can tumble around in an astronaut's stomach, causing them to produce rather soggy burps.
Biotech

SpaceX's Next Launch Carries Colonies Of A Drug-Resistant Superbug (businessinsider.com.au) 56

An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider: SpaceX is preparing to launch a lethal, antibiotic-resistant superbug into orbit...to live its days in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station. The idea is not to weaponize space with MRSA -- a bacterium that kills more Americans every year than HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, emphysema, and homicide combined -- but to send its mutation rates into hyperdrive, allowing scientists to see the pathogen's next moves well before they appear on Earth. The NASA-funded study will see SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launch colonies of MRSA into space, to be cultivated in the US National Laboratory on the International Space Station.

"We will leverage the microgravity environment on the ISS to accelerate the Precision Medicine revolution here on Earth," lead researcher Anita Goel, CEO of biotech company Nanobiosym, told Yahoo News... "Our ability to anticipate drug-resistant mutations with Gene-RADAR will lead to next generation antibiotics that are more precisely tailored to stop the spread of the world's most dangerous pathogens," says Goel.

That launch was scheduled for today, but SpaceX postponed it to "take a closer look at positioning of the second stage engine nozzle." [UPDATE: The launch was completed successfully on Sunday.] Two more externally-mounted payloads will conduct other experiments, with one monitoring lightning strikes on earth and the other measuring chemicals in the earth's atmosphere. In addition, there's also 21 science experiments that were submitted by high school students

Meanwhile, Slashdot reader tomhath brings news that researchers have discovered the red berries of a U.S. weed can help fight superbugs. The researchers found "extracts from the Brazilian peppertree, which traditional healers in the Amazon have used for hundreds of years to treat skin and soft-tissue infections, have the power to stop methicillin-resistant MRSA infections in mice." One of the researchers said the extract "weakens the bacteria so the mouse's own defenses work better."
Space

Space Junk-Fighting Cable Fails To Deploy (newscientist.com) 55

New Scientist reports: It's a rubbish start for the world's first space clean-up experiment. A cable designed to drag space junk out of orbit has failed to deploy from a Japanese spacecraft... A 700-metre-long metal cable was fitted to an unmanned spacecraft called Kounotori 6, which was on its way back to Earth after delivering supplies to the International Space Station. The cable was meant to unfurl from the spacecraft, at which point an electric current would pass along its length. The idea was that the current would interact with the Earth's magnetic field, creating a drag that pulled the spacecraft out of orbit. The spacecraft would then tumble into our atmosphere and become incinerated... However, Kounotori 6 was unable to release the cable to test its junk-removing potential, and JAXA could not fix the glitch before the spacecraft returned to Earth's atmosphere this morning... "Releasing a cable may seem simple, but nothing in space is simple," says Sean Tuttle at the University of New South Wales in Australia... The test's failure should be seen as a setback rather than a nail in the coffin for junk-removing cables, Tuttle says.
rickyslashdot writes: Because of the simplicity of this system, it is bound to be tested again -- hopefully sooner than later... This process is inherently safer than using rocket engines (to be attached to the junk), and is much less of a 'mass-to-orbit' cost, since it only requires a grappling system, and a spool of wire/cable. Hopefully, there will be a follow-up / re-try in the near future for this orbital debris clean-up process.
NASA

Boeing Unveils New NASA Spacesuits For Starliner Austronaut Taxi (space.com) 49

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: The NASA astronauts who fly aboard Boeing's new spaceship will wear sleek, blue suits that are lighter, simpler and more comfortable than the bulky orange gear of the space shuttle era, company representatives said. Unveiled today (Jan. 25), the new "Boeing Blue" spacesuits for the Starliner capsule weigh about 20 lbs. (9 kilograms) each with all of their accessories, compared to 30 lbs. (13.6 kg) for the old space shuttle suits, NASA officials said. Other advances include touch-screen-sensitive gloves, more-flexible material and soft helmets that are incorporated into the suit (rather than the hard, detachable helmets of the shuttle era). The Boeing Blue suit, and the one that SpaceX develops, will help keep astronauts safe in the event of an emergency during trips to and from orbit. The suits are not designed for spacewalks; the large, bulky "extravehicular mobility units" that astronauts use for this latter purpose are already aboard the ISS. "The spacesuit acts as the emergency backup to the spacecraft's redundant life-support systems," Richard Watson, subsystem manager for spacesuits in NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said in the same statement. "If everything goes perfectly on a mission, then you don't need a spacesuit. It's like having a fire extinguisher close by in the cockpit. You need it to be effective if it is needed." You can view pictures of the spacesuits here.
NASA

NASA Is Making New Robots That Can Control Themselves (vice.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: NASA wants humans and robots to work together as teams. To ensure that, the space agency's autonomous robotics group is currently developing new technology to improve how humans explore the solar system, and how robots can help. When NASA began working with remotely operated robots several years ago, Fong said the scientists needed a piece of software that would allow them to look at terrain and sensor data coming from autonomous robots. That led to the creation of VERVE, a "3D robot user interface," which allows scientists to see and grasp the three-dimensional world of remotely operated robots. VERVE has been used with NASA's K10 planetary rovers (a prototype mobile robot that can travel bumpy terrain), with its K-Rex planetary rovers (robot to determine soil moisture), with SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) on the International Space Station (ISS), and with the new robot Astrobee (a robot that can fly around the ISS). In 2013, NASA carried out a series of tests with astronauts on the ISS, during which astronauts who were flying 200 miles above Earth remotely operated the K10 planetary rover in California. Because of time delay, astronauts can't just "joystick a robot," said Maria Bualat, deputy lead of intelligent robotics group at the NASA Ames Research Center. "You need a robot that can operate on its own, complete tasks on its own," she said. "On the other hand, you still want the human in the loop, because the human brings a lot of experience and very powerful cognitive ability that can deal with issues that the autonomy's not quite ready to handle." That's why, according to NASA, human capabilities and robotic capabilities comprise a powerful combination.
ISS

Japan Sends Its New Space Junk-Fighting Technology To The ISS (phys.org) 64

What floats 249 miles in the sky, stretches 2,300 feet, and took over 10 years to develop? An anonymous reader quotes Phys.org: Japan launched a cargo ship Friday bound for the International Space Station, carrying a "space junk" collector that was made with the help of a fishnet company... Researchers are using a so-called electrodynamic tether made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminum... The electricity generated by the tether as it swings through the Earth's magnetic field is expected to have a slowing effect on the space junk, which should, scientists say, pull it into a lower and lower orbit. Eventually the detritus will enter the Earth's atmosphere, burning up harmlessly long before it has a chance to crash to the planet's surface.
Bloomberg has some interesting background: The experiment is part of an international cleanup effort planning to safeguard astronauts and about $900 billion worth of space stations, satellites and other infrastructure... Satellite collisions and testing of anti-satellite weapons have added thousands of debris fragments in the atmosphere since 2007, according to NASA... With debris traveling at up to 17,500 miles an hour, the impact of even a marble-size projectile can cause catastrophic damage.
ISS

Russian Supply Rocket Malfunctions, Breaks Up Over Siberia En Route To ISS (npr.org) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: An unmanned cargo rocket bound for the International Space Station was destroyed after takeoff on Thursday. The Russian rocket took off as planned from Baikonur, Kazahkstan, on Thursday morning but stopped transmitting data about six minutes into its flight, as NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell reported: "'Russian officials say the spacecraft failed [...] when it was about 100 miles above a remote part of Siberia. The ship was carrying more than 2 1/2 tons of supplies -- including food, fuel and clothes. Most of that very likely burned up as the unmanned spacecraft fell back toward Earth. NASA says the six crew members on board the International Space station, including two Americans, are well stocked for now.'" This is the fourth botched launch of an unmanned Russian rocket in the past two years. Roscomos officials wrote in an update today: "According to preliminary information, the contingency took place at an altitude of about 190 km over remote and unpopulated mountainous area of the Republic of Tyva. The most of cargo spacecraft fragments burned in the dense atmosphere. The State Commission is conducting analysis of the current contingency. The loss of the cargo ship will not affect the normal operations of the ISS and the life of the station crew."
ISS

Spinal Fluid Changes In Space May Impair Astronauts' Vision, Study Finds (sciencealert.com) 77

A condition called visual impairment inter cranial pressure syndrome (VIIP) that has been impairing astronauts' vision on the International Space Station is believed to be caused by a build up of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in their brains. The long-duration astronauts had significantly more CSF in their brains than the short-trip astronauts. Previously, NASA suspected that the condition was caused by the lack of gravity in space. Science Alert reports: The researchers compared before and after brain scans from seven astronauts who had spent many months in the ISS, and compared them to nine astronauts who had just made short trips to and from the U.S. space shuttle, which was decommissioned in 2011. The one big difference between the two was that the long-duration astronauts had significantly more cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in their brains than the short-trip astronauts, and the researchers say this - not vascular fluid - is the cause of the vision loss. Under normal circumstances, CSF is important for cushioning the brain and spinal cord, while also distributing nutrients around the body and helping to remove waste. It can easily adjust to changes in pressure that our bodies experience when transitioning from lying down to sitting or standing, but in the constant microgravity of space, it starts to falter. "On earth, the CSF system is built to accommodate these pressure changes, but in space the system is confused by the lack of the posture-related pressure changes," says one of the team, Noam Alperin. Based on the high-resolution orbit and brain MRI scans taken of their 16 astronauts, the team found that the long-duration astronauts had far higher orbital CSF volume - CSF pooling around the optic nerves in the part of the skull that holds the eye. They also had significantly higher ventricular CSF volume, which means they had more CSF accumulating in the cavities of the brain where the fluid is produced.
EU

ESA Launches Four Galileo Satellites (fortune.com) 68

The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched four additional Galileo satellites in to orbit on Thursday -- the first time the ESA has sent up so many satellites at once. The satellites will be used to thrust the EU into the global market for satellite navigation services, which it estimates will be worth 250 billion euros ($267 billion) by 2022, according to Fortune. The program has encountered some turbulence since the EU gave the go ahead with Galileo 16 years ago. In 2014, two Galileo satellites were launched into a wrong, lower orbit. As for today's launch, Slashdot reader nojayuk shares an excerpt from the ESA website: An Ariane 5 rocket has launched four additional Galileo satellites, accelerating deployment of the new satellite navigation system. The Ariane 5, operated by Arianespace, lifted off from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 13:06 GMT (14:06 CET, 10:06 local time) carrying Galileo satellites 15-18. The first pair was released 3 hours 35 minutes and 44 seconds after liftoff, while the second separated 20 minutes later. The Galileos are at their target altitude, after a flawless release from the new dispenser designed to handle four satellites. This was the first flight of a heavy-lift ES-variant of the Ariane V since the ATV resupply missions to the ISS. Previously Galileo satellites have been launched in pairs by Soyuz-Fregat craft from French Guiana. Two additional Ariane 5 launches each carrying four Galileo satellites are scheduled in 2017 and 2018. The full system of 24 satellites plus spares is expected to be in place by 2020.
Space

Those Facebook Live Videos From Space That Are Going Viral Are Fake, NASA Confirms (mashable.com) 39

Earlier this morning, a Facebook Live video allegedly showed a live feed of the International Space Station (ISS). The video has gone viral on the internet, with more than 17 million views, two million likes, and 400,000 shares. The only problem: that video feed is fake, a NASA spokesperson told Mashable. It said, "there is no spacewalk being conducted outside the International Space Station today." The video was shared by UNILAD, Viral USA, and Interstinate Facebook pages. From the report: NASA announces it whenever a spacewalk is expected to occur on the station, and they don't have anything about a spacewalk on their schedule for today. If the livestreams are showing spacewalks, that's a big hint they're fake.Good thing Facebook insists it isn't a media company.
Earth

Orbital ATK Returns To Flight With Successful Antares Launch To Space Station (techcrunch.com) 68

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: The Orbital ATK Antares rocket -- the same rocket that exploded on its way to the International Space Station two years ago -- returned to flight today with a much-anticipated launch. Lifting off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the Antares rocket is now on its way to deliver the Cygnus spacecraft filled with over 5,000 pounds of cargo to crew members aboard the ISS. Today's launch was particularly special for Orbital ATK, a company contracted by NASA to deliver 66,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS through 2018. After their Antares rocket exploded during a launch in 2014, destroying thousands of pounds of experiments and cargo bound for the space station, Orbital ATK worked for two years to upgrade that rocket and prepare for its return to flight. Today, the Orbital ATK was finally able to fly Cygnus on top of their own rocket again. The RD-181-equipped Antares rocket carried Cygnus, which housed science experiments and supplies for the ISS crew, for their fifth operational cargo resupply mission for NASA. Along with crew supplies, spacewalk equipment and computer resources, Cygnus will bring over 1,000 pounds of science investigations to the five crew members on the ISS. One of those experiments is Saffire-II, the second Saffire experiment to be conducted inside Cygnus in order to study realistic flame propagation in space. Cygnus will spend over a month attached to the ISS. In late November, the spacecraft will be filled with about 3,000 pounds of trash and then released to begin its descent back to Earth. During reentry through Earth's atmosphere, the spacecraft, along with trash and Saffire-II, will be destroyed.
ISS

NASA Has No Plans To Buy More Soyuz Seats (spaceflightnow.com) 87

schwit1 writes: Both Boeing and SpaceX better get their manned capsules working by 2019, because NASA at this point has no plans to buy more seats on Russian Soyuz capsules after the present contract runs out. Spaceflight Now reports: "Even as the commercial crew schedules move later into 2018, NASA officials say they are not considering extending the contract with Roscosmos -- the Russian space agency -- for more launches in 2019. The last Soyuz launch seats reserved for U.S. astronauts are at the end of 2018. It takes more than two years to procure components and assemble new Soyuz capsules, so Russia needed to receive new Soyuz orders from NASA by some time this fall to ensure the spacecraft would be ready for liftoff in early 2019." The second paragraph above notes that even if NASA decided it needed more Soyuz launches, it is probably too late to buy them and have them available by 2019. "A Soyuz is a complicated vehicle, and a complicated vehicle doesn't come into existence in a matter of days," said Kirk Shireman, NASA's space station program manager. "It takes over two years to build a Soyuz, so yes, at some point in time, building a new Soyuz vehicle is not an option. We're working with our Russian counterparts on exactly when that is. We have not crossed that date yet, but I believe the date is in sight. It will be this calendar year when we will cross the point where we won't be able to build a Soyuz in time for when our last seats that we've already procured expire," Shireman said.
Businesses

NASA To Allow Private Companies To Hook Up Modules To ISS (theverge.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Private space companies may soon get the opportunity to add their own habitat modules to the outside of the International Space Station. That's according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who announced the new initiative today as a way to help expand the number of companies and people that can do work and research in space. That can eventually help companies gain the experience and capability to create private space stations of their own. "A vibrant user community will be key to ensuring the economic viability of future space stations," wrote Bolden in a White House blog post. The announcement of this new opportunity comes just a few months after NASA asked private companies for ideas of how they might use one of the docking ports on the ISS. Based on the responses NASA received, Bolden said companies had a "strong desire" to attach commercial modules to the station that could benefit both NASA and the private sector. Bolden didn't specify which companies expressed interest, but one company in particular, Bigelow Aerospace, has been very vocal about its desire to hook up habitats to the ISS; the company wants to attach its next big inflatable habitat, the B330, to the ISS as early as 2020. One of Bigelow's experimental habitats is already connected to the ISS, though its stay is only temporary and meant to gather data about Bigelow's habitat technology. While the new ISS initiative is meant to foster innovation in the private sector, it will also presumably help jumpstart the space station's transition from a state-run project to one helmed by the private sector. The ISS is set to retire in 2024, and NASA is looking to move beyond lower Earth orbit and send humans to Mars by the mid-2030s. But before NASA abandons the ISS, the space agency wants to leave the orbiting lab in some private company's capable hands. "Ultimately, our desire is to hand the space station over to either a commercial entity or some other commercial capability so that research can continue in low-Earth orbit," Bill Hill, NASA's deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, said at a press conference in August. President Barack Obama also said Tuesday that the country will send Americans to Mars by the 2030s and return them "safely to Earth," which is part of a long-term goal to "one day remain there for an extended time."

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