Posts tagged with "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

NASA’s spacecraft grabbed too many asteroid chunks—and now they’re drifting into space

October 27, 2020

On October 22—two days after touching down on asteroid Bennu in an attempt to gather samples of extraterrestrial rocks— NASA’s OSIRIS-REx-mission team received images confirming that the spacecraft had collected more than 2 ounces (60 grams) of the asteroid’s surface material, NASA reports.

In fact, the spacecraft “may well have bitten off more than it could chew,” several media sources noted this week: Asteroid samples seem to be escaping from the jammed NASA spacecraft and drifting off into space.

The OSIRIS-REx (an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer) spacecraft captured images of the sample collector head as it moved through several different positions. In reviewing these images, the team noticed both that the head appeared to be full of asteroid particles, and that some of these particles appeared to be escaping slowly from the sample collector, called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) head.

Team members suspect that bits of material are passing through small gaps where a mylar flap —the collector’s “lid”—is slightly wedged open by larger rocks.

“Bennu continues to surprise us with great science and also throwing a few curveballs,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for Science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.. “And although we may have to move more quickly to stow the sample, it’s not a bad problem to have. We are so excited to see what appears to be an abundant sample that will inspire science for decades beyond this historic moment.”

The team believes it has collected a sufficient sample and is on a path to stow the sample as quickly as possible. They came to this conclusion after comparing images of the empty collector head with October 22 images of the TAGSAM head after the sample collection event.

The images also show that any movement to the spacecraft and the TAGSAM instrument may lead to further sample loss. To preserve the remaining material, the mission team decided to forego the Sample Mass Measurement activity originally scheduled for Saturday, October 24, and canceled a braking burn scheduled for Friday to minimize any acceleration to the spacecraft.

From here, the OSIRIS-Rex team will focus on stowing the sample in the Sample Return Capsule (SRC), where any loose material will be kept safe during the spacecraft’s journey back to Earth.

“We are working to keep up with our own success here, and my job is to safely return as large a sample of Bennu as possible,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. “The loss of mass is of concern to me, so I’m strongly encouraging the team to stow this precious sample as quickly as possible.”

OSIRIS-REx remains in good health, and the mission team is finalizing a timeline for sample storage. An update will be provided once a decision is made on the sample storage timing and procedures.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx.

Research contact: @NASAGoddard

Fashionistas mock SpaceX’s ‘half-finished Power Ranger’ space suit

June 2, 2020

On Saturday afternoon, May 30, in a first for U.S. private industry, SpaceX, launched a pair of NASA astronauts into the thermosphere—about 200 to 240 miles above the Earth’s surface.

The Elon Musk-led space company put on a big show. Clad in futuristic space suits courtesy of SpaceX, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley got the red carpet treatment as they made their way to a NASA logo-adorned Tesla Model X that drove them to the historic launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

However, Futurism reports, while the technology was flawless—and the flight docked without a hitch with the International Space Station on Sunday— the astronauts weren’t properly dressed for the occasion, according to fashion mavens.

“A boxy white top with minor detailing, paired with boxy white pants with minor detailing?” GQ Contributing Writer Tyler Watamanuk wrote in a recent article for the men’s lifestyle magazine—condemning SpaceX’s design choices.

This is the International Space Station, not Everlane!” Watamanuk added, pointing out that “in some ways, the design feels deliberately trend-adverse, paying no mind to contemporary style or even the larger world of design.”

“It looks like car upholstery,” Gizmodo staff reporter Whitney Kimball wrote in a post that Futurism picked up. “It looks like Tron. It looks like a half-finished Power Ranger. It looks like a Tesla-sponsored NASCAR tracksuit.”

Other fashionistas were kinder to the design.

“Actually, what the SpaceX suits evoke most of all is James Bond’s tuxedo if it were redesigned by Tony Stark as an upgrade for [‘Star Trek’ captain] James T. Kirk’s next big adventure,” Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic for The New York Times, wrote in a Thursday commentary piece.

“They do not have the dangling hoses, knobs, and wires of the traditional suits,” she added.

According to Futurism, the suit’s designer is Jose Fernandez, a Hollywood costume veteran who worked on movies including “The Avengers” and “Batman v Superman.” The flashy design was reverse-engineered to meet space travel requirements—not the other way around.

But speaking of dangling hoses and knobs, NASA’s own take for its upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon looks strikingly different. The agency’s Orion Crew Survival System suit features a traffic pylon-orange design with NASA-blue trim.

The boots look like a pair of futuristic Adidas. The helmet evokes the Apollo missions. And the gloves could basically be worn snowboarding, from a purely aesthetic point of view, Futurism notes. It’s liquid cooled, custom-fitted to each astronaut, and features a survival kit including a life preserver, rescue knife, flashlight, whistle, and light sticks.

In short, the Orion design is  a freakin’ space suit that’s ready for anything. Function takes precedence over form; it was designed to look like a space suit—not a tuxedo.

Research contact: @futurism

Space cadets: NASA offers online astronaut training for kids

May 7, 2020

Helping kids reach for the stars—or the International Space Station—is just one of the ways that NASA and ISS National Labs are keeping kids that are affected by the COVID-19 lockdown involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) activities while they are out of school.

The program comprises ten hours of learning at no cost.Families can download the Space Station Explorers STEM Guide, which includes what the ISS describes as hands-on space-themed learning activities for kids in grades 3-8, Goodnet reports. The activities are designed to encourage children to explore the various science activities on the Space Station.

The guide also offers activities that include a spacewalk simulation, designing a space station, measuring off-world distances, and more.

In addition, NASA has created STEM activities for families to execute with their older kids—like launching rockets, building a hovercraft, and building a NASA moon phase calculator. Other space-related activities for older children allow them to take part in experiments that are being done on the International Space Station and to compare results.

Learning modules help students explore life sciences, robotics, and mat, Goodnet notes. One example involves using simple materials to show how astronauts float in space and it has absolutely nothing to do with lack of gravity.

Older students can join citizen science projects like searching for new brown dwarf stars by researching Hubble space images—or using satellite data to help scientists track penguin populations. A program that just completed on April 22, was about helping to choose which protein plant could best be grown in space (alfalfa, mungbean, or lentil).

What’s more, NASA At Home gives parent’s ideas about science projects that can done at home and even contains a collection educational of videos, e-books, podcasts, and virtual tours.

While it is not easy for parents to keep their kids actively learning during these stay-at-home times, using the myriad of fun hands-on educational activities from NASA and its partners can help. After all, what child doesn’t dream about reaching the stars?

Research contact: @goodnet_org

NASA considers selling naming rights for rockets to brands

September 11, 2018

As if NASA doesn’t already have a  “high enough profile,” the U.S. space agency is reportedly looking into selling naming rights to spacecraft and allowing astronauts to appear in advertisements for brands—Jim Lovell on a box of Wheaties?—as a move to boost public awareness, The Washington Post reported on September 10.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, whom President Trump appointed to the post in April, announced at an August 29 NASA Advisory Council Meeting that he was forming a committee to look into the issue.

Bridenstine said at the meeting that having astronauts appear on cereal boxes, like professional athletes do, would inspire kids and help the agency become “embedded into the American culture.”

“I’d like to see kids growing up, instead of maybe wanting to be like a professional sports star, I’d like to see them grow up wanting to be a NASA astronaut, or a NASA scientist,” he said.

“Is it possible for NASA to offset some of its costs by selling the naming rights to its spacecraft, or the naming rights to its rockets?” Bridenstine said, according to the Post. “I’m telling you there is interest in that right now. The question is: Is it possible? The answer is: I don’t know, but we want somebody to give us advice on whether it is.”

Critics of the plan, including former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, argue that allowing brands to purchase ad space on rockets could present ethics conflicts for the agency.

Kelly told the Post that the move “would be a dramatic shift from the rules prohibiting government officials from using their public office for private gain.”

A recent study from the federally funded Washington, DC-based Science and Technology Policy Institute found that selling naming and branding rights could yield significant revenue for NASA.

The proposal comes at a time when NASA is seeing a boost in its cultural popularity, with an increased interest in the possibility of space tourism and Hollywood movies highlighting the agency. A NASA multimedia liaison told the Post that requests to use the agency’s logo on products and apparel have skyrocketed.

The Trump administration also has discussed a desire to cut off government funding for the International Space Station and move toward privatizing the project in the coming years.

Research contact: