Posts tagged with "NASA"

U.S. company’s spacecraft malfunctions on its way to the Moon

January 10, 2024

The first NASA-financed commercial mission to send a robotic spacecraft to the surface of the Moon will most likely not be able to make it there, reports The New York Times.

The lunar lander, named Peregrine and built by Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh (ATOP), encountered problems shortly after it lifted off early Monday morning, January 8, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch of the rocket, a brand-new design named Vulcan, was flawless—successfully sending Peregrine on its journey.

But a failure in the lander’s propulsion system depleted its propellant and most likely ended the mission’s original lunar ambitions.

“The team is working to try and stabilize the loss, but given the situation, we have prioritized maximizing the science and data we can capture,” Astrobotic said in a statement. “We are currently assessing what alternative mission profiles may be feasible at this time.”

The failure raises questions about NASA’s strategy of relying on private companies, mostly small startups, for getting science experiments to the lunar surface. Those scientific studies are part of the space agency’s preparations ahead of sending astronauts back to the Moon under its Artemis program.

“Each success and setback are opportunities to learn and grow,” Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration at NASA’s science mission directorate, said in a statement.

Peregrine was the first of the missions under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, or CLPS, to get off the ground. Ever since CLPS was announced in 2018, NASA officials have said that they are willing to take greater risks in exchange for lower costs and that they expect some of the missions to fail.

Thomas Zurbuchen, then the associate administrator for science at NASA, made a hockey analogy; Each CLPS mission is like a shot on goal, and if the costs are lower, there will be more shots on goal even though not all of the shots will score.

For the Peregrine mission, NASA was the primary customer—paying $108 million to Astrobotic to transport five experiments. The mission also carried a variety of other payloads, including a small rover built by students at Carnegie Mellon University, experiments for the German and Mexican space agencies, and mementos.

Still, getting to the Moon on a low budget has proven to be more difficult than many thought it would be.

The Peregrine spacecraft launched at 2:18 a.m. Eastern time on Monday. Fifty minutes later, it was successfully sent on its way along a highly elliptical Earth orbit. All of its systems were successfully powered on. To give time to diagnose any problems, Astrobotic designed the trajectory so the craft would make one and a half loops around Earth before entering orbit around the Moon about two and a half weeks after it launched.

However, a few hours after launch, Astrobotic reported on the social media service X that the spacecraft was having trouble keeping its solar panels pointed at the sun to generate power, pointing to a likely malfunction in the propulsion system.

An improvised maneuver succeeded in reorienting the solar panels back toward the Sun, allowing the battery to charge. However, the loss of propellant meant the Moon-landing objective could not be achieved.

Astrobotic was the third private entity to try to send a spacecraft toward the surface of the Moon, and is most likely the third to fail.

In 2019, Beresheet, a spacecraft built by the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL, crashed when its engine was inadvertently shut off while the spacecraft was still far above the surface.

Last year, a lander sent by the private Japanese firm Ispace misjudged its altitude because of a software glitch and then plummeted to its destruction after it ran out of fuel.

Astrobotic, SpaceIL and Ispace all grew out of teams that had sought to win the $20 million grand prize in the Google Lunar X Prize competition for the first private venture to make it to the surface of the Moon. The competition, announced with fanfare in 2007, came to a quiet end in 2018 without any of the teams even getting to space.

Astrobotic and Ispace pivoted to seeking investors who believed sending experiments and other payloads to the Moon could become a profitable business, while SpaceIL received continued financing from Morris Kahn, an Israeli telecommunications entrepreneur, and other backers to finish Beresheet and launch it.

The next CLPS mission, by Intuitive Machines of Houston, could launch as soon as mid-February, headed toward a region near the Moon’s south pole.

Astrobotic has a contract for a second mission, using a larger lander called Griffin, to take NASA’s VIPER robotic rover to explore a shadowed crater at the lunar south pole. With the failure of Peregrine, NASA may now reconsider that mission.

Research contact: @nytimes

A ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse will light up the sky on Saturday

October 13, 2023

A “ring of fire” solar eclipse will dazzle sky-watchers this Saturday, October 14, for the first time since June 2021, reports ABC News.

This year, the solar eclipse will be directly visible in multiple states—from Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado in the West to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in the south. It also will be visible in Mexico, Central America and South America, according to NASA.

“This is a really unique event and why we’re so excited about it is that the next total eclipse happens in April 2024—but then not again until 2044—and the next annular eclipse seen in this part of the country is actually going to be in 2046. It’s going to be a long stretch that we will not see this phenomenon again,” Dr. Kelly Korreck, an astrophysicist and NASA program manager for the 2023 and 2024 eclipses, said in a September 26 teleconference.

There are different types of solar eclipses, including a total solar eclipse, a partial solar eclipse, a hybrid solar eclipse, and an annular solar eclipse, according to NASA.

The October 14 eclipse will be an annular solar eclipse, which, according to the agency, is when the moon in its orbit crosses between the sun and the Earth, and is at or near its farthest point from Earth. When this happens, the moon, sun, and Earth line up; but the moon looks smaller than the sun, allowing a “ring” of the sun’s light to remain visible around the moon. This gives the annular solar eclipse its “ring of fire” nickname.

According to NASA, the “ring of fire” annular solar eclipse will be visible “between 1 and 5 minutes for most places, depending on where you view it from.” It will appear in Oregon first at approximately 9:13 a.m. (PDT) and will wrap up in Texas by about 12:03 p.m. (CDT).

According to NASA scientist Alex Lockwood, over 6.5 million people in the United States will be able to see the solar eclipse directly, and another 68 to 70 million will be within a 200-mile viewing distance of the eclipse’s path of annularity.

But nearly everyone in the lower 48 states should be able to see at least some of the upcoming solar eclipse this weekend.

“Everyone actually in the entire contiguous United States can witness a partial solar eclipse, if not the annular solar eclipse itself on this date for a few minutes,” said Lockwood, who is also a strategic content and integration lead for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Before heading out to see the solar eclipse, people need to make sure they have the proper solar eclipse glasses to watch the “ring of fire” phenomenon safely. Doing so without the correct eye protection is extremely dangerous.

“You need certified ISO 12312-2 compliant solar eclipse glasses,” Lockwood says. “There are plenty of safe sellers of these glasses online and we encourage folks to find a safe pair.”

NASA notes that viewing an annular solar eclipse with other tools, such as binoculars, a camera lens, sunglasses or a telescope, that do not have a “special-purpose solar filter secured over the front of the optics will instantly cause severe eye injury.”

Although they may look similar to dark or tinted sunglasses, eclipse glasses are not the same and adhere to the ISO 12312-2 international standard. There are also handheld solar viewers that are compliant with the standard that can be used to view the “ring of fire.”

Eclipse glasses that are scratched, torn or damaged in any way should not be used and children should be supervised when using solar viewers, according to NASA.

Another way to view the annular solar eclipse is through an indirect viewing method like a pinhole projector, which projects the sun’s image onto a nearby surface and can allow you to see the sun without facing it. NASA cautions viewers not to look at the sun directly through a pinhole projector device.

For anyone who wants to watch the annular solar eclipse online, NASA will be broadcasting live coverage on Oct. 14 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. EDT on NASA TV, NASA’s website; and on NASA’s social media platforms, including Facebook, X, and YouTube. You can also track the annular solar eclipse’s path on NASA’s tracker.

The next solar eclipse will occur in about six months on April 8, 2024,according to NASA. The April solar eclipse however, will be a total solar eclipse, during which the moon will completely align over the sun—blocking the sun’s visibility and causing the sky to darken.

Research contact: @abcnews

Harvard professor Avi Loeb believes he has found fragments of alien technology

July 10, 2023

Harvard University Professor of Astronomy Avi Loeb believes he may have found fragments of alien technology from a meteor that landed in the waters off of Papua New Guinea in 2014, reports CBS News.

Loeb and his team just brought the materials back to Harvard for analysis. The U.S. Space Command can confirm with almost near certainty, 99.999%, that the fragments came from another solar system. The government gave Loeb a 10 km (6.2 mile) radius of where it may have landed on Earth.

“That is where the fireball took place, and the government detected it from the Department of Defense. It’s a very big area the size of Boston, so we wanted to pin it down,” said Loeb, “We figured the distance of the fireball based off the time delay between the arrival of blast wave, the boom of explosion, and the light that arrived quickly.”

Their calculations allowed them to chart a potential path of the meteor. Those calculations happened to carve a path right through the projected 10 km range that came from the US government. Loeb and his crew took a boat out there called the Silver Star. The ship took numerous passes along and around the projected path. The researchers combed the ocean floor by attaching a sled full of magnets to their boat.

“We found ten spherules. These are almost perfect spheres, or metallic marbles. When you look at them through a microscope, they look very distinct from the background,” explained Loeb, “They have colors of gold, blue, brown—and some of them resemble a miniature of the Earth.”

Their composition analysis showed that the spherules are made of 84% iron, 8% silicon, 4% magnesium and 2% titanium, plus trace elements. They are sub-millimeter in size. The crew found 50 of them in total.

“It has material strength that is tougher than all space rock that were seen before, and catalogued by NASA,” added Loeb, “We calculated its speed outside the solar system. It was 60 km per second—which is faster than 95% of all stars in the vicinity of the Sun. The fact that it was made of materials tougher than even iron meteorites—and moving faster than 95% of all stars in the vicinity of the Sun—suggested potentially it could be a spacecraft from another civilization, or some technological gadget.”

He likens the situation to any of the Voyager spacecrafts launched by NASA.

“They will exit the solar system in 10,000 years. Just imagine them colliding with another planet far away a billion years from now. They would appear as a meteor of a composition moving faster than usual,” explained Loeb.

The research and analysis is just beginning at Harvard. Loeb is trying to understand if the spherules are artificial or natural.  If they are natural, it will give the researchers insight into what materials may exist outside of our solar system. If it is artificial, the questions really begin.

“It will take us tens of thousands of years to exit our solar system with our current spacecraft to another star. This material spent that time arriving to us, but it’s already here,” smiled Loeb, “We just need to check our backyard to see if we have packages from an interstellar Amazon that takes billions of years for the travel.”

He still has more debris to research, and hours of unwatched footage from the camera attached to their sled. He believes there is a chance the spherules could be small breadcrumbs to a bigger find.

“They also help us pinpoint any big piece of the meteor we could find in a future expedition,” details Loeb, “We hope to find a big piece of this object that survived the impact because then we can tell if it’s a rock or technological gadget.”

Research contact: @CBSNews

NASA names astronauts to next moon mission, first crew under Artemis

April 4, 2023

“Bang, zoom, to the Moon.” That famous catchphrase from The Honeymooners (CBS, 1955-1956) also applies to the four astronauts named by NASA on Monday, April 3, as members of the Artemis II crew, who will participate in a mission to circumnavigate the Moon.

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced the names of the members of the first crewed mission on NASA’s path to establishing a long-term presence on the Moon during an event at Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“The Artemis II crew represents thousands of people working tirelessly to bring us to the stars. This is their crew, this is our crew, this is humanity’s crew,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Christina Hammock Koch, and CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen, each has their own story, but, together, they represent our creed: E pluribus unum—out of many, one. Together, we are ushering in a new era of exploration for a new generation of star sailors and dreamers—the Artemis Generation.”

The crew assignments are as follows: Commander Reid Wiseman, Pilot Victor Glover, Mission Specialist 1 Christina Hammock Koch, and Mission Specialist 2 Jeremy Hansen. They will work as a team to execute an ambitious set of demonstrations during the flight test.

The approximately ten-day Artemis II flight test will launch on the agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket, prove the Orion spacecraft’s life-support systems, and validate the capabilities and techniques needed for humans to live and work in deep space.  

“We are going back to the Moon and Canada is at the center of this exciting journey,” said the Honorable François-Philippe Champagne, the minister responsible for the Canadian Space Agency. “Thanks to our longstanding collaboration with NASA, a Canadian astronaut will fly on this historic mission. On behalf of all Canadians, I want to congratulate Jeremy for being at the forefront of one of the most ambitious human endeavors ever undertaken. Canada’s participation in the Artemis program is not only a defining chapter of our history in space, but also a testament to the friendship and close partnership between our two nations.”

The flight, set to build upon the successful uncrewed Artemis I mission completed in December, will set the stage for the first woman and first person of color on the Moon through the Artemis program—paving the way for future for long-term human exploration missions to the Moon, and eventually Mars. This is the agency’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

“For the first time in more than 50 years, these individuals—the Artemis II crew—will be the first humans to fly to the vicinity of the Moon. Among the crew are the first woman, first person of color, and first Canadian on a lunar mission, and all four astronauts will represent the best of humanity as they explore for the benefit of all,” said Director Vanessa Wyche, NASA Johnson. “This mission paves the way for the expansion of human deep space exploration and presents new opportunities for scientific discoveries, commercial, industry and academic partnerships, and the Artemis Generation.”

Research contact: @NASA

Nine dazzling facts about Venezuela’s Catatumbo lightning—a year-round electrical storm

January 4, 2023

Lightning was, in all likelihood, the very first source of fire on planet Earth—and it remains, along with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, one of nature’s most amazing displays of power.

But, almost no place on the planet is the weather phenomenon more dazzling on a consistent basis that in Venezuela, near the confluence of the Catatumbo River and Lake Maracaibo. In that area, often called Earth’s most electric spot, lightning makes an appearance almost every day of the year, reports Mental Floss.

The rayo del Catatumbo (Catatumbo lightning), also known as the Faro de Maracaibo (Maracaibo beacon), puts forth an average of 232.52 flashes of lightning per square kilometer each year. According to NASA, the energy released during just ten minutes of Catatumbo lightning could illuminate the whole of South America.

We can’t keep all that lighting in a bottle, so here are ten essential facts about the astounding phenomenon:

In 2016, Catatumbo took the crown as the world’s top lighting hotspot. Using data collected between 1997 and 2015 by NASA’s lightning image sensor on its Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite, researchers identified the Catatumbo zone of Lake Maracaibo as the lightning capital of the world. According to experts at Zulia State University in Venezuela, Catatumbo lighting is most active during the rainy season in September and October; and least active in January and February, the dry season. On average, electrical storms occur 260 nights appear per year, predominantly between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. The second- and third-most electric locales in the world are Kabare and Kampene, two towns in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Catatumbo lighting is born from a continuous dance of cold and heat. In the past, people attributed Catatumbo lightning to the action of uranium in the bedrock, methane released by the surrounding swamps, or the massive oil deposits of Lake Maracaibo. But the most likely explanation lies in the mechanics of wind and the unique topographic conditions of the region—especially at the lake’s southern confluence with the Catatumbo River. The Andes Mountains surround the lake on three sides, leaving an opening only in the north. There, warm waters from the Caribbean Sea flow into the lake, where the hot sun draws up moisture into the air and traps it among the slopes. In the evening, cold winds blow down from the mountain peaks and collide with the humid air, forming cumulonimbus clouds. Warm water droplets and ice crystals smack into each other and emit violent electrical charges in the form of constant lightning.

Catatumbo lightning generates a huge amount of ozone. Venezuelan environmentalist Erik Quiroga suggested to the BBC that ozone generated by Catatumbo lightning could replenish the ozone layer. But Ángel Muñoz, now an associate research scientist at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Science and Society, told a Venezuelan newspaper in 2014 that “the time it would take for the ozone produced by the Catatumbo lightning to ascend to the ozone layer is at least six months, so we do not see a viable mechanism for it to contribute to the regeneration of the planetary ozone layer.”

A severe drought interrupted the Catatumbo lightning for months. Wind and heat are crucial for the lightning’s display, but so is abundant moisture. In 2010 a severe drought caused by El Niño stopped the constant lightning storms, worrying the area’s residents. Months later, perhaps as a result of the dry El Niño weather pattern shifting to the wetter, stormier La Niña pattern, the lightning strikes returned. Muñoz and his colleagues suggest that these seasonal drivers can help scientists predict lightning activity over the long term.

A prominent explorer had theories about the lightning’s origin. From 1799 to 1800, the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt and naturalist Aimé Bonpland made a year-long visit to Venezuela. Although he didn’t observe the lightning in person, Humboldt heard about its regular displays and wondered about its cause.  “What is the luminous phenomenon known by the name of the Maracaybo lantern that is seen every night on the seaside as well as in the interior of the country [?],” he wrote in Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent (translated from Spanish). “The distance of more than 40 leagues at which the light is distinguished has led to the belief that it could be the effect of a storm or electrical explosions that take place daily in a mountain gorge and it is even assured that the sound of thunder is heard when one approaches the lantern.” He was correct on that point, but also reported that other observers had attributed the lightning to “an air volcano” created by deposits of asphalt.

Agustín Codazzi was the first observer to make a spot-on diagnosis. Codazzi, an Italian adventurer, geographer, and cartographer, moved to Venezuela following its independence from the Spanish Empire. He was tasked with creating accurate maps of the region, including Lake Maracaibo. He observed the lightning firsthand and noted in 1841 that there was more rain where the Catatumbo River ended. “It seems that […] the electrical matter is concentrated in those places, in which it is observed every night a luminous phenomenon that is like lightning that from time to time ignites the air,” he wrote. In the 20th century, when it became clear that storms caused the phenomenon, Venezuelans stopped calling it the Maracaibo Beacon and renamed it Catatumbo lightning.

The Catatumbo lightning helped Venezuela win independence. On July 24, 1823, the electrical storm acted like a lighthouse for the naval forces of Admiral José Prudencio Padilla, who managed to defeat to a squadron of Spanish ships in the battle of Lake Maracaibo. It was a decisive and final victory for the independence of Venezuela. A well-known myth suggests that a raid by English privateer Sir Francis Drake was thwarted by the light of the Catatumbo storms in 1595, an event celebrated by contemporary Spanish writer Lope de Vega in his epic poem “La Dragontea.” In fact, Drake never attacked Maracaibo, and the light that Lope de Vega describes came from burning boats during the battle of San Juan in Puerto Rico.

The Catatumbo lightning is pictured on a regional flag. Indigenous people living around Lake Maracaibo take great pride in the lightning show. The Bari people believe that it is caused by hundreds of supernatural fireflies, while the Wayuu people consider it the work of the souls of the deceased. In the 20th century, when photos and filming of the storms began to circulate in the media, Venezuelans (and especially those in Zulia State) adopted the phenomenon as their symbol. Several traditional songs of the Zulia State and the regional anthem mention it; and, since 1991, it has been pictured on the Zulia State flag.

Research contact: @mentalfloss 

NASA hires Icon to 3D-print U.S. base on the Moon

December 1, 2022

Mankind may not physically be back on the Moon just yet, but the Moon Economy is already booming. Case in point: Axios reports that an Austin-based three-dimensional printing firm called Icon just landed a $57.2 million cash infusion from NASA for its Project Olympus, an endeavor to create 3D-printed lunar shelters.

Icon plans to have its Moon huts ready for NASA use by 2026, assuming that the Artemis mission schedule remains intact. If the Moon is, indeed, to become a human outpost, durable and lightweight lunar housing will be essential — a reality that Icon CEO Jason Ballard doesn’t seem to be taking lightly.

“We feel real weight and responsibility — we’re not just doing this for ourselves,” Ballard said, according to a report by Futurism, adding that “we’re giving humanity the capability to build on other worlds.”

He added, “The final deliverable of this contract will be humanity’s first construction on another world,” he added, “and that is going to be a pretty special achievement.”

While Icon is best-known for its work building Earthly structures, it’s been hoping to build in space for some time now. Project Olympus was first launched in 2020, and the company also appears to have its eye on one day constructing a 3D-printed Mars colony.

Rather than bring a bunch of Earthly junk to the Moon’s relatively pristine surface, Icon’s goal is to build the lunar dwellings out of actual lunar materials — Moon dust, broken rocks, and the like, says Futurism.

According to Ballard, learning to build from the Moon’s natural regolith ensures the viability of long-term human tenure on the Moon. (After all, it would inconvenient if Moon miners had to receive a payload from Earth every time they needed to build a new road.)

“If you tried to plan a lunar settlement or a moon base and you had to bring everything with you, every time you wanted to build a new thing it’s like another $100M,” Ballard told Payload. “But once you’ve got a system that can build almost anything—landing pads, roadways, habitats—and it uses local material, you are probably two or three orders of magnitude cheaper to build a permanent lunar presence than you would be in any other way that we can think of.”

Research contact: @futurism

The Artemis I moon mission is set for liftoff on Monday

August 29, 2022

NASA is counting down to its Artemis 1 uncrewed test flight—a $50 billion, 42-day test flight that is designed to set the stage for humanity’s return to the moon, reports Business Insider.

The total distance to be traveled by the mega-spaceship—as it circles the moon and returns to earth on October 10—will be 1.3 million miles.

“We are go for launch, which is absolutely outstanding,” Robert Cabana, NASA associate administrator, told reporters at a press conference. “This day has been a long time coming.”

If the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket successfully launches, shoots its Orion spaceship around the moon, and the spaceship survives the fiery plummet at 24,500 mph back through Earth’s atmosphere, NASA could be on track to put boots on the lunar surface in 2025—the first human moon landing since 1972.

Eventually, NASA plans to build a permanent base on the moon and mine resources there, before sending astronauts on to Mars.

The rocket is sitting on Launchpad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, after being rolled out last week. Space agency officials say liftoff is scheduled for Monday, August 29, during a two-hour window that opens at 8:33 a.m. (EDT).

Two backup windows are also available on September 2 and September 5, if any last-minute technical issues or weather delays arise. More than 100,000 visitors are expected to gather near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to view the inaugural launch.

The bright new SLS rocket stands taller than the Statue of Liberty, at 23 stories, with the spaceship secured up top. Four car-sized engines and two rocket boosters should give it enough thrust to push through the thickest parts of the atmosphere,

It will zip as close as 60 miles above the lunar surface, allowing lunar gravity to sling it 40,000 miles past the moon before heading back to Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean in October.

Scientists will assess how future astronauts will experience the stresses of space by measuring how much cosmic radiation mannequins aboard the Orion capsule endured during the test flight. The mission will also launch several CubeSats, or miniature satellites, with science missions.

However, NASA’s main goal with Artemis I is to test every function of the launch and spaceflight system—including Orion’s communication and navigation systems and its heat shield, which must withstand a fiery plummet through Earth’s atmosphere at temperatures reaching 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit—before risking human lives in future missions.

If the uncrewed Orion spaceship makes it around the moon and back without a hitch, the Artemis II mission will carry astronauts on a similar roundabout. The Artemis III mission aims to put humans on the moon in 2025.

Research contact: @BusinessInsider

The ‘upshot’: Photographer captures the stunning peak of a meteor shower

November 3, 2021

A photographer has captured the amazing peak of a meteor shower—as sparks are seen shooting across the night sky, reports the Good News Network.

Uroš Fink, a 31-year-oold shop worker, photographed the annual Perseid meteor shower, which takes place every summer, from the Mangart Saddle, the highest lying road in Slovenia. His image shows the colorful Milky Way dotted with nebulas as the Perseid meteors shoot across the night sky.

The Perseids “are considered the best meteor shower of the year,” according to NASA. You can be anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere to enjoy this show of speed and light.

Uroš said, “I could hardly wait for the day to come. Every year I am full of expectation to see the Perseids. I was standing on the edge of the abyss—sometimes it’s necessary to make a little effort and go outside your comfort zone to get a top image.

He further explained, “I did it because I have great desire and motivation to photograph the universe in combination with nature. I simply adore nature and everything related to the universe, so combining these two things into one image is something invaluable.”

Up there, high on the mountain on August 7, Fink says he kept thinking to himself, “Just let the weather hold out so I can capture as many meteors as possible on camera.”

According to Farmer’s Almanac, “Meteors occur when Earth rushes through a stream of dust and debris left behind by a passing comet (the Swift-Tuttle comet, in the case of the Perseids). When the bits strike Earth’s upper atmosphere, friction with the air causes each particle to heat and burn up. We see the result as a meteor.”

Research contact: @goodnewsnetwork

NASA’S Lucy spacecraft will carry a time capsule intended to be found by future astro-archaeologists

July 15, 2021

NASA engineers installed a time capsule on the Lucy spacecraft late last week— intended for future astro-archeologists to retrieve and interpret. The time capsule is a plaque that includes messages from Nobel Laureates and musicians, among others, as well as a depiction of the solar system’s configuration on October 16, 2021—the date on which the spacecraft is expected to launch, Gizmodo reports.

Like the Pioneer and Voyager probes, Lucy will carry a message to whomever eventually might intercept the craft. But while the previous probes have messages meant for aliens, as they were shot toward interstellar space, Lucy will stay within the solar system. Its time capsule will presumably be for future humans to retrieve, hence the inclusion of words from Nobel Laureates, Poet Laureates, and musiciansaccording to a NASA release detailing the plaque’s inclusion.

The plaque was installed on Lucy on July 9 in Colorado, where the craft is undergoing final preparations before its slated autumn launch.

The plaque includes quotes from civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., authors and poets including Orhan Pamuk, Louise Glück, Amanda Gorman, Joy Harjo, and Rita Dove, scientists Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan, and musicians—including all four Beatles and Queen guitarist and astronomer Brian May. The messages discuss hope, love, the heavens, cultural memory, and eternity. A complete list can be found on Lucy’s website.

Lucy’s mission focuses on the Trojan asteroids, a group of space rocks that orbits the Sun beyond the ring of the asteroid belt—taking turns leading Jupiter or chasing the gas giant in its own solar orbit. (Trojan asteroids are those that share an orbit with a planet and often are byproducts of that planet’s formation, but the term most commonly applies to those involved with Jupiter.) Jupiter has a phalanx of Trojans, but Lucy (named for the fossil hominin, itself named for the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”) is targeting just seven of them for flybys over the course of 12 years.

According to Gizmodo, the asteroids are intriguing because they are thought to have formed in the early solar system; just as the Lucy fossil helped paleoanthropologists understand human evolution, the hope is that the Lucy spacecraft will inform NASA about solar system evolution. And since Lucy’s in the sky—beyond it, if we’re being extremely literal—you can imagine the “diamonds” here are the asteroids, a veritable wealth of information.

Lucy is a product of the Discovery Program, the NASA initiative that is producing the DAVINCI+ and VERITAS missions to Venus. The Lucy mission will conclude in 2033, just around the same time when those spacecraft will be arriving at Venus, but Lucy will bounce between the Trojans and Earth for at least hundreds of thousands of years. (NASA has no plans to snatch the craft back out from space.)

Perhaps the most apt passage on the plaque, then, is a quote from science journalist Dava Sobel: “We, the inquisitive people of Earth, sent this robot spacecraft to explore the pristine small bodies orbiting near the largest planet in our solar system. We sought to trace our own origins as far back as evidence allowed. Even as we looked to the ancient past, we thought ahead to the day you might recover this relic of our science.”

To the future humans who may nab Lucy: Enjoy your plaque. You probably won’t be using any language currently spoken on Earth, but hopefully you can grok our intent.

Research contact: @Gizmodo

Jeff Bezos and brother to be on Blue Origin’s first human space flight

June 8, 2021

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said in an Instagram post on Monday, June 7, that he will be one of the inaugural travelers on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spacecraft, during a flight scheduled for launch from West Texas on July 20, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Bezos said that his brother, Mark Bezos, also will be among the crew members in the pressurized capsule, which has room for six astronauts.

Named after NASA’s Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space, New Shepard is a reusable suborbital rocket system designed to take astronauts and research payloads past the Kármán line—the internationally recognized boundary of space.

The vehicle is fully autonomous. Every person onboard is a passenger—there is no “pilot” for the 11-minute flight, which will return to Earth via parachute.

“I want to go on this flight because it’s a thing I’ve wanted to do all my life,” Bezos said in a video posted to Instagram. “It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me.”

Bezos, who has said that he will step down as Amazon’s chief executive on July 5 after leading the company for more than two decades, has invested heavily in Blue Origin, contributing as much as roughly $1 billion in some years. He will continue to hold the title executive chairman after his lieutenant Andy Jassy becomes CEO.

Blue Origin has said it aims to support widespread commercial activity in space in the future. In addition to its space-tourism efforts, Blue Origin is also working on rockets that could launch payloads for NASA.

The passenger list for Blue Origin’s July flight also is set to include the winner of a charity auction that will conclude this month. The auction boasted nearly 6,000 participants and the highest bid is at $2.8 million, Blue Origin said Monday.

According to the Journal, Blue Origin’s efforts to commercialize spaceflight parallel those of SpaceX—the spaceflight company led by Tesla  CEO Elon Musk.

SpaceX last year became the first company to launch NASA astronauts into space.

Both companies competed to design a new capsule that could land astronauts on the moon before NASA awarded the contract to SpaceX in April. Blue Origin has filed a petition challenging the contract award.

Billionaire Richard Branson also has invested in commercial spaceflight. Virgin Galactic Holdings, a company he founded that also plans to offer space tourism, went public in a 2019 merger with a blank-check company.

Research contact: @WSJ