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  • The Woman Who Should Have Been the First Female Astronaut

    StartsWithABang writes We like to think of the Mercury 7 — the very first group of NASA astronauts — as the "best of the best," having been chosen from a pool of over 500 of the top military test pilots after three rounds of intense physical and mental tests. Yet when women were allowed to take the same tests, one of them clearly distinguished herself, outperforming practically all of the men. If NASA had really believed in merit, Jerrie Cobb would have been the first female in space, even before Valentina Tereshkova, more than 50 years ago. She still deserves to go.

    28 comments | 2 hours ago

  • NASA Cancels "Sunjammer" Solar Sail Demonstration Mission

    An anonymous reader writes "Space News reports that NASA has cancelled its solar sail demonstration mission (also known as Sunjammer) citing "a lack of confidence in its contractor's ability to deliver." "Company president Nathan] Barnes said that in 2011 he reached out to several NASA centers and companies that he believed could build the spacecraft and leave L'Garde free to focus on the solar sail. None of those he approached — he only identified NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California — took him up on the offer. Rather than give up on the opportunity to land a NASA contract, L'Garde decided to bring the spacecraft development in house. It did not work out, and as of Oct. 17, the company had taken delivery of about $2 million worth of spacecraft hardware including a hydrazine tank from ATK Space Systems of Commerce, California, and four mono-propellant thrusters from Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California."

    54 comments | 12 hours ago

  • An Air Traffic Control System For Drones

    An anonymous reader writes: Personal drones are become more popular, and many companies are trying to figure out ways to incorporate them into their business. So what do we do in 10 years, when the skies are full of small, autonomous vehicles? NASA and a startup called Airware are working on a solution: air traffic control for drones. "The first prototype to be developed under NASA's project will be an Internet-based system. Drone operators will file flight plans for approval. The system will use what it knows about other drone flights, weather forecasts, and physical obstacles such as radio masts to give the go-ahead. Later phases of the project will build more sophisticated systems that can actively manage drone traffic by sending out commands to drones in flight. That could mean directing them to spread out when craft from multiple operators are flying in the same area, or taking action when something goes wrong, such as a drone losing contact with its operator, says Jonathan Downey, CEO of Airware. If a drone strayed out of its approved area, for example, the system might automatically send a command that made it return to its assigned area, or land immediately."

    77 comments | 2 days ago

  • Saturn's 'Death Star' Moon May Hide Subsurface Ocean

    astroengine writes With its heavily cratered, geologically dead surface, Saturn's moon Mimas was considered to be scientifically boring. But appearances can be deceiving. Using data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, new research shows something strange inside Mimas that is causing the moon to sway as it orbits around the ringed gas giant. Computer models point to two possibilities. First is that Mimas, which is about 250 miles in diameter, has an oblong or football-shaped core, a clue that the moon may have formed inside Saturn's ice rings. The second option is that Mimas has a global ocean located 16 miles to 19 miles beneath its icy crust.

    48 comments | 3 days ago

  • MAVEN Spies Mars' Atmosphere Leaching Out Into Space

    astroengine writes: Early results from NASA's recently arrived MAVEN Mars spacecraft show an extensive, tenuous cloud of hydrogen surrounding the red planet, the result of water breaking down in the atmosphere, scientists said Tuesday. MAVEN, an acronym for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, arrived on Sept. 21 to help answer questions about what caused a planet that was once warm and wet to turn into the cold, dry desert that appears today. "It's measurements like these that will allow us to estimate the escape rate of hydrogen from the Martian atmosphere to space today. It's an important measurement to make because the hydrogen ... comes from water lower down in the atmosphere," MAVEN scientist Mike Chaffin, with the University of Colorado, Boulder, told reporters on a conference call.

    63 comments | 5 days ago

  • NASA Finds a Delaware-Sized Methane "Hot Spot" In the Southwest

    merbs writes According to new satellite research from scientists at NASA and the University of Michigan this "hot spot" is "responsible for producing the largest concentration of the greenhouse gas methane seen over the United States—more than triple the standard ground-based estimate." It covers 2,500 square miles, about the size of Delaware. It is so big that scientists initially thought it was a mistake in their instruments. "We didn't focus on it because we weren't sure if it was a true signal or an instrument error," NASA's Christian Frankenberg said in a statement.

    213 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Air Force To Take Over Two Ex-Shuttle Hangers In Florida For Its X-37B Program

    schwit1 writes In an effort to find tenants for its facilities, the Kennedy Space Center is going to rent two former shuttle processing hangers to Boeing for the Air Force's X-37B program. "NASA built three Orbiter Processing Facilities, or OPFs, to service its space shuttle fleet between missions. All three are located next to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at the Florida spaceport where Apollo Saturn 5 moon rockets and space shuttles were 'stacked' for launch. Under an agreement with NASA, Boeing will modify OPF bays 1 and 2 for the X-37B program, completing upgrades by the end of the year. The company already has an agreement with NASA to use OPF-3 and the shuttle engine shop in the VAB to assemble its CST-100 commercial crew craft being built to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The company says up to six capsules can be processed in the facility at the same time."

    48 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Proposed Hab Module For Asteroid Redirect Mission Could Support a Lunar Return

    MarkWhittington writes Space News reported on Wednesday that NASA is mulling a hab module as part of the Asteroid Redirect Mission. The inclusion of the hab module would extend the mission from 28 days to as long as 60 days. The module would provide enough consumables such as food, water, and oxygen and other support to sustain the crew of astronauts for weeks while examining a small asteroid in orbit around the moon. The module might also support a return to the lunar surface, given certain modifications.

    55 comments | about two weeks ago

  • NASA Study: Ocean Abyss Has Not Warmed

    submitter bigwheel sends this excerpt from a NASA news release: The cold waters of Earth's deep ocean have not warmed measurably since 2005, according to a new NASA study, leaving unsolved the mystery of why global warming appears to have slowed in recent years. Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, analyzed satellite and direct ocean temperature data from 2005 to 2013 and found the ocean abyss below 1.24 miles (1,995 meters) has not warmed measurably. Study coauthor Josh Willis of JPL said these findings do not throw suspicion on climate change itself. "The sea level is still rising," Willis noted. "We're just trying to understand the nitty-gritty details."

    294 comments | about two weeks ago

  • NASA Asks Boeing, SpaceX To Stop Work On Next-Gen Space Taxi

    BarbaraHudson writes Due to a challenge by Sierra Nevada, NASA has asked the winners for the next earth-to-orbit launch vehicles to halt work, at least temporarily. "After rewarding Boeing and SpaceX with the contracts to build the spacecrafts NASA is now asking the companies to stop their work on the project. The move comes after aerospace company Sierra Nevada filed a protest of the decision after losing out on the bid. Sierra Nevada was competing against Boeing and SpaceX for a share of the $6.8 billion CCP contracts. The contracts will cover all phases of development as well as testing and operational flights. Each contract will cover a minimum of two flights and a maximum of four, with each agency required to have one test flight with a NASA representative on board.... According to NASA's Public Affairs Office, this legal protest stops all work currently being done under these contracts. However, officials have not commented on whether-or-not the companies can continue working if they are using private funds."

    139 comments | about two weeks ago

  • How President Nixon Saved/Wrecked the American Space Program

    MarkWhittington writes John Callahan posted an accountof a talk given by space historian John Logsdon on the Planetary Society blog in which he described how President Richard Nixon changed space policy. The talk covered the subject of an upcoming book, After Apollo: Richard Nixon and the American Space Program. Logsdon argued that Nixon had a far more lasting effect on NASA and the American space program than did President Kennedy, most famous for starting the Apollo project that landed men on the moon.

    Nixon came to office just in time to preside over the Apollo 11 lunar mission. At that time, the space program was a national priority due to the Kennedy goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. However by the time Neil Armstrong made that first footstep, public support for large-scale space projects had diminished. Nixon, therefore, made a number of policy decisions that redound to this very day.

    125 comments | about two weeks ago

  • NASA Eyes Crew Deep Sleep Option For Mars Mission

    astroengine writes: A NASA-backed study explores an innovative way to dramatically cut the cost of a human expedition to Mars — put the crew in stasis. The deep sleep, called torpor, would reduce astronauts' metabolic functions with existing medical procedures. Torpor also can occur naturally in cases of hypothermia. "Therapeutic torpor has been around in theory since the 1980s and really since 2003 has been a staple for critical care trauma patients in hospitals," aerospace engineer Mark Schaffer, with SpaceWorks Enterprises in Atlanta, said at the International Astronomical Congress in Toronto this week. "Protocols exist in most major medical centers for inducing therapeutic hypothermia on patients to essentially keep them alive until they can get the kind of treatment that they need." Coupled with intravenous feeding, a crew could be put in hibernation for the transit time to Mars, which under the best-case scenario would take 180 days one-way.

    236 comments | about two weeks ago

  • The "Man In the Moon" Was Created By Mega Volcano

    astroengine writes Whenever you look up at the near side of the moon, you see a face looking back at you. This is the "Man in the Moon" and it has inspired many questions about how it could have formed. There has been some debate as to how this vast feature — called Oceanus Procellarum, which measures around 1,800 miles wide — was created. But after using gravity data from NASA's twin GRAIL spacecraft, researchers have found compelling evidence that it was formed in the wake of a mega volcanic eruption and not the location of a massive asteroid strike.

    33 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Aral Sea Basin Almost Completely Dry

    An anonymous reader writes: In 2000, NASA began taking satellite images of the Aral Sea in central Asia, which was once the fourth-largest inland lake in the world. At that time, there was an expansive eastern basin, and smaller basins to the north and west. In images recorded just last week, we see that the eastern basin is completely gone, and the western basin just a thin strip of water. The local fishing industry has been devastated, old ship graveyards now rest on dry ground, and salt-heavy sand is being blown around the region, causing health issues.

    Most of the lake's decline is attributable to human intervention: "In the 1950s, two of the region's major rivers – the Amu Darya and and the Syr Darya – were diverted by the Soviet government to provide irrigation for cotton production in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, starving the Aral. It has been diminishing ever since, with the sea level dropping 16 meters between 1960 and 1996, according to the World Bank. Water levels are believed to be down to less than 10 per cent of what they were five decades ago." Low levels of rain and snow didn't help.

    151 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Mysterious Feature Appears and Disappears In a Sea On Titan

    schwit1 writes: Cassini images taken in 2007, 2013, and 2014 of one of Titan's largest hydrocarbon seas find that a mysterious feature there keeps appearing and disappearing. Quoting: "The mysterious feature, which appears bright in radar images against the dark background of the liquid sea, was first spotted during Cassini's July 2013 Titan flyby. Previous observations showed no sign of bright features in that part of Ligeia Mare. Scientists were perplexed to find the feature had vanished when they looked again, over several months, with low-resolution radar and Cassini's infrared imager. This led some team members to suggest it might have been a transient feature. But during Cassini's flyby on August 21, 2014, the feature was again visible, and its appearance had changed during the 11 months since it was last seen.

    Scientists on the radar team are confident that the feature is not an artifact, or flaw, in their data, which would have been one of the simplest explanations. They also do not see evidence that its appearance results from evaporation in the sea, as the overall shoreline of Ligeia Mare has not changed noticeably. The team has suggested the feature could be surface waves, rising bubbles, floating solids, solids suspended just below the surface, or perhaps something more exotic." That the seasons are slowly changing on Titan is probably contributing to the transient nature of this feature.

    65 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Sierra Nevada Corp. Files Legal Challenge Against NASA Commercial Contracts

    New submitter Raymondware sends an update to last week's news that NASA had awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to provide rockets for future manned spaceflight. Now, one of their competitors, Sierra Nevada Corp, has announced it will launch a legal challenge to the contracts. The company claims the government is spending $900 million more than it needs to for equivalent fulfillment, and they're demanding a review. They add, Importantly, the official NASA solicitation for the CCtCap contract prioritized price as the primary evaluation criteria for the proposals, setting it equal to the combined value of the other two primary evaluation criteria: mission suitability and past performance. SNC’s Dream Chaser proposal was the second lowest priced proposal in the CCtCap competition. SNC’s proposal also achieved mission suitability scores comparable to the other two proposals. In fact, out of a possible 1,000 total points, the highest ranked and lowest ranked offerors were separated by a minor amount of total points and other factors were equally comparable.

    127 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Astrophysicists Use Apollo Seismic Array To Hunt For Gravitational Waves

    KentuckyFC writes: Back in the 1970s, the astronauts from Apollos 12, 14, 15, and 16 set up an array of seismometers on the lunar surface to listen for moonquakes. This array sent back data until 1977, when NASA switched it off. Now astrophysicists are using this lunar seismic data in the hunt for gravitational waves. The idea is that gravitational waves must squeeze and stretch the Moon as they pass by and that at certain resonant frequencies, this could trigger the kind of seismic groans that the array ought to have picked up. However, the data shows no evidence of activity at the relevant frequencies.

    That's important because it has allowed astronomers to put the strongest limits yet on the strength of gravitational waves in this part of the universe. Earlier this year, the same team used a similar approach with terrestrial seismic data to strengthen the existing limits by 9 orders of magnitude. The lunar data betters this by yet another order of magnitude because there is no noise from sources such as oceans, the atmosphere and plate tectonics. The work shows that good science on gravitational waves can be done without spending the hundreds of millions of dollars for bespoke gravitational wave detectors, such as LIGO, which have yet to find any evidence of the waves either.

    25 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Expedition 42 ISS Crew Embraces Douglas Adams

    SchrodingerZ writes: In November of this year, the 42nd Expedition to the International Space Station will launch, and the crew has decided to embrace their infamous number. NASA has released an image of the crew mimicking the movie poster for The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a film released in 2005, based on a book with the same name by Douglas Adams. Commander Butch Wilmore stands in the center as protagonist Arthur Dent, flight engineer Elena Serova as hitchhiker Ford Prefect, flight engineer Alexander Samokutyayev as antagonist Humma Kavula, astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti as Trillian, and flight engineers Terry Virts and Anton Shkaplerov as two-headed galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox. The robotic "Robonaut 2" also stands in the picture as Marvin the depressed android. Cristoforetti, ecstatic to be part of this mission stated, "Enjoy, don't panic and always know where your towel is!" Wilmore, Serova and Samokutyayev blasted off September 25th for Expedition 41, the rest of Expedition 42 will launch November 23rd.

    39 comments | about three weeks ago

  • NASA Expands Commercial Space Program

    An anonymous reader writes: Just 10 days after NASA awarded multi-billion-dollar contracts to SpaceX and Boeing for future manned rocket launches, the agency announced today it is expanding its commercial space program to include contracts for delivery missions to the International Space Station. "Under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 RFP, NASA intends to award contracts with one or more companies for six or more flights per contract. As with current resupply flights, these missions would launch from U.S. spaceports, and the contracted services would include logistical and research cargo delivery and return to and from the space station through fiscal year 2020, with the option to purchase additional launches through 2024."

    24 comments | about three weeks ago

  • China Eager To Send Its Own Mission To Mars In the Wake of Mangalyaan

    MarkWhittington writes The recent arrival into Mars orbit of both NASA's MAVEN and India's Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Mission has not escaped the notice of China. The achievement of its Asian rival has especially proven galling to the Chinese. China has yet to successfully send a space probe beyond the moon. The development has elicited calls in Beijing to accelerate China's Mars program. China currently plans to send a rover to Mars in 2020 and, perhaps, do a Mars sample return mission in 2030. However, it feels that India, which China regards as its rival in an Asian space race, has stolen the spotlight and has left the Chinese behind. China is now keen to try to play catchup with its own Mars mission. One of the hold ups for a Chinese interplanetary exploration program is the delays surrounding the development of the Long March 5 rocket, which will be roughly the equivalent of the America Delta IV in its capabilities. The Chinese launch vehicle unveiling has slipped to at least 2015 because of the technological challenges it faces. The Long March 5 is also needed to launch the 20 ton modules of the Chinese space station, currently planned for later this decade.

    84 comments | about three weeks ago

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