Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mars One Moves Ahead

Mars One has cut the number of potential future Martian colonists from over 200,000 applicants to 1,058 who will continue in the selection process.

The group plans to start peopling Mars in 2023.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Another Glitch At ISS

Russian cosmonauts performed a spacewalk at ISS Friday to install a HD Earth observation camera for a private company. They installed it, but mission control detected a problem, so they uninstalled it and brought it back inside.

Another spacewalk will be required to re-install it later on.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mars Race?

Might China decide to show it's a super power by putting people on Mars?  If China announced such an intention, would the U. S. feel obliged to take up the challenge?

The Moon Race was the result of a specific historical situation.  Essentially, Kennedy and Khrushchev implicitly agreed to compete in space in an attempt to avoid World War III.  It's not clear when, if ever, China and America would reach such a crossroads, and it's not clear a race to Mars would make sense if they did.  There will be other ways to assert super power status, and other reasons to go to Mars.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Lunar Sample Return

China is planning to launch a mission designed to return samples from the Moon in 2017.

If successful, China will join the US and the USSR as only the third nation to accomplish that feat.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Points Of Eternal Light

There are mountain peaks and ridges in the polar regions of the Moon that are so high they are in sunlight 70% of the time.  Some places even receive virtually constant solar radiation.  When lower elevations are black through the long lunar nights, such places are islands of light, seemingly their own realms.

Such "points of eternal light" will likely play major roles in the colonization and economic development of the Moon.  Solar arrays positioned in those areas could provide a steady stream of power to operations below.  PELs may also establish the legal structure for handling property rights that governs the initial phase of Solar System expansion.  By being the first pieces of ET real estate with intrinsic economic value, how they are handled legally could set a precedent that will be applied to other worlds.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Repair Completed

Astronauts successfully completed repair of the ISS cooling system yesterday, performing the task in two spacewalks instead of the scheduled three.

Another plus-- there were no major problems with the spacesuits this time.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Phobos Flyby

The European Space Agency's Mars Express probe will soon pass within 28 miles of the Martian moon Phobos.  Unfortunately, the encounter will be too fast and too close to get good photos from a probe designed to study Mars, but by studying the gravitational effect Phobos has on the craft's orbit, scientists can learn more about the tiny moon's mass.

There are indications, in fact, that huge caverns exist under the surface of Phobos.  If that's accurate, such a cavern may be the ideal place for the first human base in the Martian system, as the surrounding rock would protect astronauts from harmful radiation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Artistic Mercury

The International Astronomical Union, the governing authority about such things, has decreed that surface features on the planet Mercury will be named after creative people-- musicians, painters, sculptors, writers, etc.

Among those honored in the latest group are Alexander Calder, Truman Capote, and John Lennon.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Another Spacesuit Issue

NASA has delayed the second spacewalk to repair the ISS cooling system for one day because of a problem with water in one spacesuit.  This comes after a July spacewalk in which a helmet started to fill with water.

NASA says the issue is minor and does not expect another delay.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Curiosity's Wheels

NASA is preparing to check the six wheels of its Curiosity rover.  The rough surface of Mars might be taking a toll.

If a problem is found, Curiosity might be routed over softer, sandier ground.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Apollo 8

Tomorrow marks the 45th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 8, the first time humans voyaged to another world.

None of the crew ever set foot on the Moon, however.  Apollo 8 was the last spaceflight for Frank Borman, and the only one for William Anders.  The third crewmember, James Lovell, went on to command Apollo 13.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were backup crew on Apollo 8, along with Fred Haise.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Avoiding Drowning In Space

In preparation for the three spacewalks to fix the cooling system on ISS, NASA is improvising an anti-drowning system in the spacesuits.  During the latest spacewalk, the helmet of one astronaut began to fill with water, so NASA is inserting a tube connected to the oxygen supply into the helmet that will allow astronauts to suck in oxygen if water rises into the helmet.

The space agency is now acknowledging an urgency in fixing the cooling system.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

ISS Spacewalks

NASA has scheduled three spacewalks, including one Christmas Day, to fix the cooling system problem on ISS.  The Christmas Day excursion may or may not suggest more urgency than NASA has admitted so far.

The spacewalks will be the first since an astronaut's helmet started filling with water during a spacewalk earlier this year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Geologists studying canyons and ravines on Earth are suggesting some of them may have been cut quickly by huge floods rather than slowly by the steady pressure of powerful rivers.

They also see similar landforms on Mars and suggest that they were cut by megafloods early in Martian history.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Yulu Roving

China's lunar rover Yulu is already moving across the surface, exploring the Bay of Rainbows.

The most interesting scientific instrument carried by Yulu, or Jade Rabbit, may be a ground penetrating radar that should examination of structures up to 300 feet down.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Geysers On Europa

Recently discovered water vapor in geysers erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa may suggest a quick way to search for life there.

If the geysers throw up water from the presumed ocean under Europa's icy surface, scientists speculate, they may also throw up organic material from possible life in that ocean.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

China On The Moon

China's Chang'e 3 probe has successfully landed on the Moon, making China only the third nation, after the U. S. and the now defunct Soviet Union, to accomplish that feat.  It's also the first soft lunar landing since a Soviet probe in 1976.

Chang'3 also carried a rover, which should soon be exploring the lunar surface.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dating Saturn's Rings

A new study suggests Saturn's legendary rings formed shortly after the planet itself.  Researchers used data from the Cassini spacecraft to determine the amount of dust in the rings, which are mostly water ice.  By comparing that amount with the rate dust would have arrived in the area, they determined the rings cannot be a recent development, as some argue.

In fact, they set the age of the rings at about 4.4 billion (Earth) years.  They also say the rings include interstellar dust, which is intriguing in its own right.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cooling ISS

NASA is dealing with a malfunction in the cooling system of ISS.  Some non-essential systems have been turned off to aid the situation.

The space agency is so far saying the problem is manageable, and that the six crewmembers are in no immediate danger.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Streaking On Mars

No, not that kind of streaking.

Streaks appear running down slopes on Mars, in the mid-latitude and now in the equatorial regions.   They appear seasonally, in the warmest parts of the Martian year.  Some scientists think the streaks are caused by flowing salt water-- salt water stays liquid at lower temperatures than fresh water-- or brine.

If it is water, it suggests there's a lot more water near the surface than previously thought.  That would alter the picture for possible past life on Mars, extant life, and possible future human colonization.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ancient Martian Lakebed

According to data gathered by Curiosity, it is roving across what was once a lakebed.  Further, the data suggests the water in that lake may have been drinkable by humans, if humans had been around.  In fact, the lake would have existed well before multicellular life developed on Earth.

The case for a habitable early Mars is fairly strong, and seems to strengthen as we go.  But was it inhabited?  Did life ever begin on Mars?  If Curiosity finds fossils in the sediment layers of Mount Sharp, a new epoch in human history will open up.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Going To Mars

A new study of the radiation risks to astronauts on an 860-day round trip mission to Mars, including 500 days on the planet's surface, suggests those risks are manageable.  This study is not the final word on the subject, of course, but it is encouraging to advocates of manned missions into deep space.

Another factor: Radiation is dangerous to humans because it can cause cancer.  If the treatment of cancer advances over the next several years to the point that at least most cancers have become manageable diseases, as some experts project, a higher risk of cancer by the time we are ready to send people to Mars might become acceptable.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

China In Lunar Orbit

China's Moon probe, Chang'e 3, has successfully entered lunar orbit about 60 miles above the surface.

Chang'e 3 is scheduled to make a soft landing on the Moon and deploy a rover.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Huge Exoplanet Found

Astronomers have discovered a world 11 times more massive than Jupiter.  It's also young-- only 13 million years old and still radiating heat from its formation.

The real kicker, though, is that it's 650 times more distant from its parent star than Earth is from the Sun.  How such a huge world formed way out there is a mystery.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Exoplanet Water

Researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope have found trace amounts of water in the atmospheres of five exoplanets.

All five are so-called hot Jupiters, so none is a good candidate for being an abode of life, but demonstrating the ability to detect water in the atmosphere of an exoplanet is a step forward in the search for life.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

SpaceX Success

SpaceX has successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket on a commercial mission, putting a communications satellite into orbit.

The launch was delayed a few days because a computer had detected a problem with one of the rocket engines.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Lunar Ring

The Japanese construction firm Shimizu is suggesting building a 250-mile wide ring of solar panels around the lunar equator to harness solar energy as the main power source of an advanced human civilization.

Shimizu is known for coming up with such big ideas; it's a way to publicize the firm.  Collecting solar energy in space and beaming it into the electric power grid, however, is an option to power an advanced society over the long term.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Only a small fragment of what could have been the magnificent Comet ISON seems to have survived its intense close encounter with the Sun last week, according observations made with two NASA space telescopes-- and that fragment is fading rapidly.

Astronomers like to proclaim "the comet of the century."  They're often wrong.  ISON probably should have been a no-brainer.  A snowball grazing the Sun likely has a snowball's chance in hell of coming out the other side.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

China's First Moon Mission

China launched its first mission intended to land on the Moon today.

It includes Yulu, or Jade Rabbit, a rover.