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NASA

NASA Names an Asteroid After 'Star Trek' Actor Wil Wheaton (cnet.com) 111

"An asteroid going boldly through the universe now carries a new name that honors actor Will Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation," reports CNET. An anonymous reader quotes their article. The announcement showed up on Twitter Wednesday from NASA's Ron Baalke, who describes himself as a "space explorer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory". Wheaton is in good company with other Star Trek alumni. Asteroid 7307 Takei is named for Sulu actor George Takei and 68410 Nichols gets its name from Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura. There's also asteroid 4659 Roddenberry for Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
"Today, I found out that I kind of get to be in space and live right here on Earth..." Wheaton wrote on his blog Wednesday, describing his life-long interest in space exploration. "As soon as it gets dark here, I'm going to walk out into my backyard, look up into the sky, just a little above Sirius, and know that, even though I can't see it with my naked eye, it's out there, and it's named after me."
Mars

Scientists Enter Hawaii Dome In Eight-Month Mars Space Mission Study (reuters.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Six scientists have entered a dome perched atop a remote volcano in Hawaii where they will spend the next eight months in isolation to simulate life for astronauts traveling to Mars, the University of Hawaii said. The study is designed to help NASA better understand human behavior and performance during long space missions as the U.S. space agency explores plans for a manned mission to the Red Planet. The crew will perform geological field work and basic daily tasks in the 1,200-square-foot (365 m) dome, located in an abandoned quarry 8,000 feet (2.5 km) above sea level on the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii's Big Island. There is little vegetation and the scientists will have no contact with the outside world, said the university, which operates the dome. Communications with a mission control team will be time-delayed to match the 20-minute travel time of radio waves passing between Earth and Mars. "Daily routines include food preparation from only shelf-stable ingredients, exercise, research and fieldwork aligned with NASA's planetary exploration expectations," the university said. The project is intended to create guidelines for future missions to Mars, some 35 million miles (56 million km) away, a long-term goal of the U.S. human space program. The NASA-funded study, known as the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (Hi-SEAS), is the fifth of its kind.
NASA

NASA Is Planning Mission To An Asteroid Worth $10 Quintillion (usatoday.com) 300

New submitter kugo2006 writes: NASA announced a plan to research 16 Psyche, an asteroid potentially as large as Mars and primarily composed of Iron and Nickel. The rock is unique in that it has an exposed core, likely a result of a series of collisions, according to Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Psyche's principal investigator. The mission's spacecraft would launch in 2023 and arrive in 2030. According to Global News, Elkins-Tanton calculates that the iron in 16 Psyche would be worth $10,000 quadrillion ($10 quintillion).
NASA

Earth Hit Record Hot Year in 2016: NASA (news.com.au) 266

Earth sizzled to a third-straight record hot year in 2016, government scientists have said. They mostly blame man-made global warming with help from a natural El Nino, which has since disappeared. From a report: Measuring global temperatures in slightly different ways, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that last year passed 2015 as the hottest year on record. NOAA calculated that the average 2016 global temperature was 14.84 degrees Celsius (58.69 degrees Fahrenheit) -- beating the previous year by 0.04 Celsius (0.07 degrees F). NASA's figures, which include more of the Arctic, are higher at 0.22 degrees (0.12 Celsius) warmer than 2015. The Arctic "was enormously warm, like totally off the charts compared to everything else," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York, where the space agency monitors global temperatures. Records go back to 1880. This is the fifth time in a dozen years that the globe has set a new annual heat record. Records have been set in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2010 and 2005.
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.
Moon

NASA Astronaut Gene Cernan, Last Man To Walk On the Moon, Dies At 82 (engadget.com) 99

NASA astronaut and retired U.S. Navy captain Gene Cernan was the second American to walk in space and the last to set foot on the moon during that mission. Unfortunately, today Cernan passed away at age 82. Engadget reports: During his time as an astronaut, Cernan logged over 500 hours in space and he spent more than 73 of those on the surface of the moon. Captain Cernan's NASA career began in 1963 and he made his first trip to space as part of the three-day Gemini IX mission in 1966. He went on to serve as the lunar module pilot for the Apollo 10 mission in 1969 before taking the role of spacecraft commander for Apollo 17 in December 1972. Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to the moon for the United States. Cernan retired from the U.S. Navy after a 20-year career in 1976 and left NASA at the same time. Watch Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt sing "I Was Strolling on the Moon One Day" on YouTube.
Earth

An Asteroid Passed By Earth At About Half the Distance Between Our Planet and Moon (smithsonianmag.com) 160

On Monday at 7:47 A.M. EST, an asteroid thought to be between 36 and 111 feet wide passed roughly 120,000 miles from Earth -- and astronomers didn't spot it until Saturday. Smithsonian reports: According to astronomer Eric Edelman at the Slooh Observatory, 2017 AG13 is an Aten asteroid, or a space rock with an orbital distance from the sun similar to that of Earth. AG13 also has a particularly elliptical orbit, which means that as it circles the sun it also crosses through the orbits of both Venus and Earth. Lucky for us, 2017 AG13 wasn't a planet killer; according to Wall, the asteroid was in the size range of the space rock that exploded in Earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February, 2013. According to Deborah Byrd at EarthSky, that meteor exploded 12 miles in the atmosphere, releasing 30 times the energy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. Not only did it break windows in six cities, it also sent 1,500 people to the hospital. That meteor also came out of the blue, and researchers are still trying to figure out its orbit and track down its origins. While 2017 AG13 would have caused minor damage if it hit Earth, the close call highlights the dangers of asteroids.
Earth

2016 Was Second Hottest Year For US In More Than 120 Years of Record Keeping (climatecentral.org) 436

Last year was the second hottest year for the United States in more than 120 years of record keeping, according to the National Climatic Data Center, marking 20 above-average years in a row. While Georgia and Alaska recorded their hottest year, every state had a temperature ranking at least in the top seven. Climate Central reports: The announcement comes a week before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which released the U.S. data, and NASA are expected to announce that 2016 set the record for the hottest year globally. Both the global record and the U.S. near-record are largely attributable to greenhouse gas-driven warming of the planet. In addition to the pervasive warmth over the last year, the U.S. also had to deal with 15 weather and climate disasters that each caused more than $1 billion in damage. Together, they totaled more than $46 billion in losses and included several disastrous rain-driven flooding events. These events, along with continued drought, lay bare the challenge for the country to learn how to cope with and prepare for a changing climate, said Deke Arndt, the climate monitoring chief of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information. The temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average for 2016, displacing 2015 and ranking only behind 2012, when searing heat waves hit the middle of the country. More notable than the back-to-back second place years, Arndt said, was that 2016 was the 20th consecutive warmer-than-normal year for the U.S. and that the five hottest years for the country have all happened since 1998. Those streaks mirror global trends, with 15 of the 16 hottest years on record occurring in the 21st century and no record cold year globally since 1911.
Earth

White House Releases Strategy To Defend Against Killer Asteroids (vice.com) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: On December 30, the White House quietly released its Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy, a 25-page document outlining the United States' plans in the event that a giant asteroid is found to be on a collision course with Earth. Among the priorities outlined by the strategy are improving Near-Earth Object (NEO) detection, developing methods for deflecting asteroids, and developing interagency emergency procedures in the event of an NEO impact. Given the stakes, it's clear why NASA and the leading US defense and research agencies came together in January 2016 to form the Detecting and Mitigating the Impact of Earth-bound Near-Earth Objects (DAMIEN) working group to address the issues associated with killer asteroids. The DAMIEN group is behind the White House's new NEO strategy, and will be responsible for hashing out the specifics of the plan to save Earthlings from killer asteroids going forward. To assist in the search, the DAMIEN report calls for a space-based observatory dedicated to finding NEOs, which will work in cooperation with ground-based observatories. Since a telescope in space isn't limited by terrestrial weather conditions, it would greatly enhance Spaceguard's search capacity. The only plans currently underway for a space-based NEO telescope are being carried out by the non-profit B612 foundation whose Sentinel telescope was supposed to launch last December, but has been delayed due to difficulties securing the requisite $450 million in funding required for the project. NASA has also been considering the NEOCam, a space-based telescope that has received provisional funding for "detailed refinement." Unfortunately, during the latest round of budgeting for NASA's Discovery program, two other satellites were greenlit instead of NEOCam, but NASA said it would continue the asteroid-hunter's provisional funding, so there is still hope that NASA may go forward with a space-based NEO observatory in the future, especially in light of the recent White House strategy. In tandem, the report also recommends updating the capabilities of ground-based NEO observatories by endowing them with more powerful planetary radars and improved spectroscopy instruments (this would allow for more accurate determinations of the composition of an asteroid). But detection is only half the battle. In the event that an asteroid is found to be on an impact trajectory with Earth, NASA is also thinking about ways to deflect the killer asteroid. Some pretty far-out ideas have been proposed on this front, ranging from nukes in space to giant sun-powered lasers, but the most likely method is simply ramming into the asteroid to change its course. Finally, should all else fail, the report also considers what to do in an impact scenario.
NASA

NASA Unveils Two New Missions To Study Truly Strange Asteroids (space.com) 86

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Space.com: NASA's next low-cost planetary missions will attempt to unravel the mysteries of some seriously bizarre asteroids. The space agency has selected projects called Lucy and Psyche via its Discovery Program, which funds highly focused space missions to destinations throughout the solar system. The Lucy project will investigate the Trojan asteroids, which share an orbit with Jupiter, while Psyche will journey to the asteroid belt to study a huge, metallic asteroid named 16 Psyche that resides there. Lucy is scheduled to launch in October 2021. If all goes according to plan, the probe will visit an asteroid in the main asteroid belt -- located between Mars and Jupiter -- in 2025, and then go on to study six Trojan asteroids between 2027 and 2033, NASA officials said. There are two streams of Trojan asteroids. One trails Jupiter, and the other leads the giant planet around the sun. Scientists think both streams may be planetary building blocks that formed far from the sun before being captured into their current orbits by Jupiter's powerful gravity. Psyche will explore one of the oddest objects in the solar system -- a 130-mile-wide (210 kilometers) metallic asteroid that may be the core of an ancient, Mars-size planet. Violent collisions billions of years ago might have stripped away the layers of rock that once lay atop this metallic object, scientists say. Psyche is scheduled to launch in October 2023 and arrive at the asteroid in 2030, NASA officials said.
Space

SpaceX Moves Past Explosion With New Launch Plans (cnn.com) 75

SpaceX plans to resume launching rockets as soon as next week, after completing an investigation into a spectacular launch pad explosion that destroyed a rocket and a satellite in September. From a report on CNN: The news comes following an in-depth investigation into the explosion of a rocket from SpaceX's September mission. The company said in a statement Monday the botched launch was due to a failed pressure vessel in a liquid oxygen tank. The vessel buckled, causing liquid oxygen to accumulate. It believes this led to friction, sparks and the explosion. SpaceX conducted the investigation along with officials from NASA, the Federal Aviation Authority, the U.S. Air Force and the National Transportation Safety Board. The Federal Aviation Administration will have to sign off on the report and issue SpaceX a license to launch. SpaceX appears optimistic it will be launching rockets again soon.
Science

Let's Raise A Glass To The Many Tech Pioneers Who Died In 2016 (slashdot.org) 64

In technology, you're always "standing on the shoulders" of those who came before you -- and together, each individual's contribution becomes part of a larger ongoing story. So as this year finally winds to a close, click through to see our list of some of the pioneers who left us in 2016. And feel free to share any memories and reflections of your own in the comments.
Mars

NASA Designs 'Ice Dome' For Astronauts On Mars (phys.org) 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: The "Mars Ice Home" is a large inflatable dome that is surrounded by a shell of water ice. NASA said the design is just one of many potential concepts for creating a sustainable home for future Martian explorers. The idea came from a team at NASA's Langley Research Center that started with the concept of using resources on Mars to help build a habitat that could effectively protect humans from the elements on the Red Planet's surface, including high-energy radiation. The advantages of the Mars Ice Home is that the shell is lightweight and can be transported and deployed with simple robotics, then filled with water before the crew arrives. The ice will protect astronauts from radiation and will provide a safe place to call home, NASA says. But the structure also serves as a storage tank for water, to be used either by the explorers or it could potentially be converted to rocket fuel for the proposed Mars Ascent Vehicle. Then the structure could be refilled for the next crew. Other concepts had astronauts living in caves, or underground, or in dark, heavily shielded habitats. The team said the Ice Home concept balances the need to provide protection from radiation, without the drawbacks of an underground habitat. The design maximizes the thickness of ice above the crew quarters to reduce radiation exposure while also still allowing light to pass through ice and surrounding materials.
Earth

Satellite Spots Massive Object Hidden Under the Frozen Wastes of Antarctica (thesun.co.uk) 296

schwit1 quotes a report from The Sun: Scientists believe a massive object which could change our understanding of history is hidden beneath the Antarctic ice. The huge and mysterious "anomaly" is thought to be lurking beneath the frozen wastes of an area called Wilkes Land. It stretches for a distance of 151 miles across and has a maximum depth of about 848 meters. Some researchers believe it is the remains of a truly massive asteroid which was more than twice the size of the Chicxulub space rock which wiped out the dinosaurs. If this explanation is true, it could mean this killer asteroid caused the Permian-Triassic extinction event which killed 96 percent of Earth's sea creatures and up to 70 percent of the vertebrate organisms living on land.This "Wilkes Land gravity anomaly" was first uncovered in 2006, when NASA satellites spotted gravitational changes which indicated the presence of a huge object sitting in the middle of a 300 mile wide impact crater.
IOS

BitTorrent Live's 'Cable Killer' P2P Video App Finally Hits iOS (techcrunch.com) 37

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: BitTorrent has now done for live video what it did for file downloads: invented peer-to-peer technology that moves the burden of data transfer from a centralized source to the crowd. Instead of cables and satellites, BitTorrent piggybacks on the internet bandwidth of its users. Since P2P live streaming is so much cheaper than traditional ways to deliver live content, BitTorrent could pay channel owners more for distribution per viewer. And BitTorrent can offer that content to viewers for free or much cheaper than a cable subscription. The transfer technology and the app that aggregates these channels are both called BitTorrent Live. Now, almost a year after the protocol's debut on smart TVs, and six months after it was supposed to arrive on iPhone, the BitTorrent Live app quietly became available on iOS this week. Until now it's only existed on Mac, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV -- much less popular platforms. And that's after being in development since 2009. The app features 15 channels, including NASA TV, France One, QVC Home and TWiT (This Week In Tech) that you can watch live. The latency is roughly 10 seconds, which could be faster than terrestrial cable, as well as systems like Sling TV that can delay content more than a minute. The problem right now is that BitTorrent Live has a pretty lackluster channel selection. It's still working on striking deals with more name-brand channels. It could offer some for pay-per-view, but cheaper than the same content on traditional TV due to the reduced broadcasting costs.
China

China Claims Tests of 'Reactionless' EM Drive Were Successful (popsci.com) 470

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Popular Science: The "reactionless" Electromagnetic Drive, or EmDrive for short, is an engine propelled solely by electromagnetic radiation confined in a microwave cavity. Such an engine would violate the law of conservation of momentum by generating mechanical action without exchanging matter. But since 2010, both the United States and China have been pouring serious resources into these seemingly impossible engines. And now China claims its made a key breakthrough. Dr. Chen Yue, Director of Commercial Satellite Technology for the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) announced on December 10, 2016 that not only has China successfully tested EmDrives technology in its laboratories, but that a proof-of-concept is currently undergoing zero-g testing in orbit (according to the International Business Times, this test is taking place on the Tiangong 2 space station). If China is able to install EmDrives on its satellites for orbital maneuvering and altitude control, they would become cheaper and longer lasting. Li Feng, lead CAST designer for commercial satellites, states that the current EmDrive has only a thrust of single digit millinewtons, for orbital adjustment; a medium sized satellite needs 0.1-1 Newtons. A functional EmDrive would also open up new possibilities for long range Chinese interplanetary probes beyond the Asteroid belt, as well freeing up the mass taken up by fuel in manned spacecraft for other supplies and equipment to build lunar and Martian bases. On the military side of things, EmDrives could also be used to create stealthier, longer lasting Chinese surveillance satellites.
Moon

Apollo 11 Moon Rock Bag Belongs To Buyer, Not NASA, Judge Rules (behindtheblack.com) 63

schwit1 quotes a report from Behind The Black: A federal judge has ruled that NASA has no right to confiscate an Apollo 11 lunar rock sample bag that had been purchased legally, even though the sale itself had been in error. CollectSPACE.com reports: "Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled in the U.S. District Court for Kansas that Nancy Carlson of Inverness, Illinois, obtained the title to the historic artifact as 'a good faith purchaser, in a sale conducted according to law.' The government had petitioned the court to reverse the sale and return the lunar sample bag to NASA. 'She is entitled to possession of the bag,' Marten wrote in his order." This court case will hopefully give some legal standing to the private owners of other artifacts or lunar samples that NASA had given away and then demanded their return, decades later. Space.com's report adds: "The zippered cloth pouch, which was labeled in bold black letters 'Lunar Sample Return,' was used on July 20, 1969, as an 'outer decontamination bag' to protect the first moon rocks retrieved from the surface of the moon as they were delivered to Earth by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Carlson purchased the bag for $995 in February 2015, at a Texas auction held on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service. The bag had been forfeited along with other artifacts found in the home of Max Ary, a former curator convicted in 2006 of stealing and selling space artifacts that belonged to the Cosmosphere space museum in Hutchinson, Kansas."
Mars

SpaceX Delays First Crewed Flight Of Its Dragon Capsule For NASA (theverge.com) 39

NASA says the first crewed test flight of SpaceX's Dragon vehicle has been delayed until May 2018. From a report on The Verge: In the wake of its September 1st rocket explosion, SpaceX has officially delayed the first crewed flight of its Crew Dragon vehicle -- the capsule that the company is building to take NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Originally planned for late 2017, the first flight of the Crew Dragon with people on board is now slated to take place in May of 2018, according to a NASA blog post. Prior to that flight, SpaceX will perform a demonstration mission of Crew Dragon in November 2017 -- a flight that won't include any astronauts. There had been heavy speculation that the flight would be delayed following the accident, in which a Falcon 9 rocket exploded as it was being fueled on a Florida launch pad. And SpaceX says the move was made as the company finalizes its investigation into the accident. "As this investigation has been conducted, our Commercial Crew team has continued to work closely with NASA and is completing all planned milestones for this period," SpaceX said in a statement to The Verge. "We are carefully assessing our designs, systems, and processes taking into account the lessons learned and corrective actions identified. Our schedule reflects the additional time needed for this assessment and implementation."
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.
Space

John Glenn, First American To Orbit The Earth, Dies At 95 (npr.org) 113

BenBoy writes: John Herschel Glenn Jr. (July 18, 1921 -- December 8, 2016) was an American aviator, engineer, astronaut, and United States Senator from Ohio. He was one of the "Mercury Seven" group of military test pilots selected in 1959 by NASA to become America's first astronauts and fly the Project Mercury spacecraft. He passed away today at age 95.

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