Saturday, May 31, 2014


Both Voyager spacecraft launched nearly forty years ago are still functioning, and the current project team expects them to last another ten.

The Voyagers, the Pioneers, the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity-- all vastly exceeded their projected life spans.  We should remember that.  It tells us what intelligent, dedicated humans can accomplish.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Dragon V2

Elon Musk introduced the manned version of his Dragon cargo capsule last night.  It will carry up to seven people and will have the ability to land on land, which would make the turnaround for the reusable ship faster and simpler.

It's called the Dragon V2, which has unfortunate historical echoes.  The Nazis terrorized Britain with their V-2 rockets.  Perhaps the name will change.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Manned Dragon

SpaceX will unveil the manned configuration of its Dragon capsule tonight.

Dragon will be able to carry up to seven people, equal to the old space shuttle.  It's first manned flight could come in 2017.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


A Swedish group is looking to erect a small red house on the Moon next year.  The house, modeled after a typical house in Sweden, would self-assemble.

The group sees the project as a demonstration of what people can accomplish by working together.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Human Space Exploration

Adam Steltzner, NASA's lead engineer on the development of the Mars Curiosity rover and its innovative descent strategy, is also an advocate of human space exploration.  He said recently he expects to see humans on Mars.

He thinks humanity should spread throughout the galaxy, too, even terraforming worlds to suit human needs.

Monday, May 26, 2014

On The Other Hand.............

Seth Shostak predicts we will find alien life within the next twenty years or so, but NASA scientists and Sara Seager of MIT are more cautious.

They agree we will soon have the technology to detect life elsewhere, but they argue being able to do it is one thing, actually doing it is something else.  Seager says simple luck will be a factor.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

SETI And Congress

Seth Shostak and Dan Werthimer of the SETI Institute testified before a House committee last week, with Shostak saying there's a good chance we will find alien life-- whether microbial life within this Solar System or intelligent life beyond-- within the next twenty years or so.  Werthimer agreed, outlining several approaches SETI searches are using or will be using soon.

Shostak made a similar prediction a few years ago, so it's encouraging he's found nothing since to change his mind.

Friday, May 23, 2014

New Martian Crater

Bruce Cantor does a daily weather report for Mars.  While preparing that report recently, he found a new crater.  By going back through the images of the area taken by orbiting spacecraft, he determined the impact that created the crater occurred March 27 or 28, 2012.

The crater is 143 meters wide, making it the largest new crater yet discovered anywhere by orbiting spacecraft.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Groovy Phobos

Astronomers have known since 1976 that Mars' little moon Phobos is covered in grooves.  A new study suggests those grooves were made after huge bodies crashed into Mars, blowing out ejecta that strafed Phobos.

Not everyone buys the hypothesis, but it seems to have some potential.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

InSight Advancing

NASA's InSight Mars lander has passed a major engineering hurdle on its way to the Red Planet to study Mars' interior and evolution.

InSight is scheduled to launch in 2016.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Supporting The Big Bang

Fifty years ago today, physicists Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias discovered the background noise of the universe they eventually pinned down as the echo of the Big Bang, the first direct evidence of that theory.

The discovery was accidental, and the two men tried every other explanation they could think of before being driven to the Big Bang hypothesis.  That's often how science works.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Musk On Mars

Elon Musk says his company, SpaceX, is making progress towards establishing a colony on Mars.  By his calculation, the company will be able to move a person to Mars for $500,000.

If you consider that Virgin Galactic is charging $200,000 for a quick trip to the edge of space, the Mars price would seem to be a bargain.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

K2 For Kepler

NASA has approved a new two-year mission for its Kepler spacecraft.  Dubbed K2, the new mission will have Kepler on the lookout for a variety of things, from exoplanets to supernovas.

Its original exoplanet hunting mission ended when two of four reaction wheels failed, meaning the craft could no long maintain its orientation in space over extended periods with the necessary precision.  The new mission is slightly less demanding in that area.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Great Red Spot Shrinking

Jupiter's Great Red Spot, a storm larger than Earth itself, may be winding down.  It could disappear entirely within fifteen years, scientists say.

Or not.  Astronomers have been observing the Spot essentially ever since they've had telescopes, nearly 400 years.  During that span, the Spot has nearly disappeared on occasion, but it has always come back strong.  We'll see about this time.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Sun And Lightning

A new study notes a connection between particularly powerful solar flare eruptions and lightning flashes on Earth.  The eruptions seem to increase lightning activity.

Scientists aren't sure yet how the process would work, but the correlation seems to be there.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Russia Hits Back

The U. S. is applying sanctions against Russia-- including against Russian individuals-- to counter Moscow's actions in Ukraine.  Now, Russia may be striking back.

The Russian deputy prime minister, himself a target of sanctions, has said Russia will no longer sell its RD-180 rocket engine to the U.S. for use in military projects.  He also said Russia does not plan to cooperate with the U. S. on ISS beyond 2020.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hypervelocity Stars

Hypervelocity stars are what the name implies, stars moving at abnormally high speeds; astronomers have recently found a star traveling three times faster than normal stars.  Scientists think such stars are originally in binary systems that venture too close to black holes.  The black hole devours one star and slings the other out of the galaxy.

Astronomers think they can use those stars to learn about dark matter, which seems to surround galaxies. by noting the gravitational influence it exerts on them.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Falcon 9 Delay

SpaceX delayed the next commercial launch of its Falcon 9 rocket this past weekend to study a problem.

The Falcon 9 is to deliver six communications satellites to orbit for ORBCOMM, but the next launch window isn't until late May.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Congress And Space Junk

The committee of the U. S. House charged with overseeing NASA held a hearing Friday to look at the myriad issues involved in dealing with the problem of space junk in low Earth orbit.

That's the good news.  The less good news is that it seems to have taken a Hollywood movie with Sandra Bullock to get Capitol Hill focused on this matter.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Planet X

A durable theory in astronomy holds that the Sun has a large companion far out in the Solar System-- a dim star, a failed star, or a large planet.  Astronomers from Percival Lowell forward have referred to the theoretical body as Planet X.

No such object has yet been found, but astronomers keep searching.  They haven't yet been able to prove Planet X does not exist.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mars One's 705

Mars One has cut its pool of potential Mars colonists from 1,058 to 705 from about 200,000 original applicants.  The number will be whittled down further over the next few years.

Mars One intends to begin the human colonization of Mars in the next decade.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Drilling On Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover has drilled into its third rock on Mars, going 2.6 inches deep.  This rock is a different color than the first two drilled into, so NASA hopes it will yield different information.

Curiosity's suite of scientific instruments will analyze the samples gathered by the drilling in the days ahead.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Greenhouse On Mars?

NASA is considering adding a small greenhouse to its next Mars rover mission, scheduled to land on Mars in 2021.  The experiment would test how Earth plants would do under Martian conditions that involve high radiation levels and only about 40 percent of Earth normal gravity.

The experiment would be the first step towards the huge greenhouses necessary to provide food and oxygen for the human colonization of Mars.

Monday, May 5, 2014


The crisis in Ukraine seems to be deepening.  Kiev has taken military action against "pro-Russian separatists," and lives have been lost.   Russia has a substantial military force amassed on the Ukrainian border and is threatening to cross that border to protect ethnic Russians.

How much escalation of the Ukraine crisis the U. S.-Russia space partnership can stand is unclear, but if Russia openly, militarily intervenes, we have to assume all bets will be off.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Another Close Shave

An asteroid about 25 feet long which was discovered just two days earlier flew inside the Moon's orbit yesterday.

As astronomers find more asteroids, they find more whizzing very close to Earth.  This one posed no threat to our world, but one will eventually.  Planetary defense needs to be somewhere on politicians' lists of priorities.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Life On Ganymede?

Astronomers have thought for a while that Jupiter's giant moon Ganymede had a subsurface ocean of liquid water.  A new study suggests the moon might also have a rocky ocean floor.

That's significant because chemical reactions between liquid water and a rocky surface may lead to life.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Very Short Day

Astronomers have been able to measure the length of day of an exoplanet.  It's a short day.  It's also a huge world.  At ten times the mass of Jupiter, a day on this world is only about eight hours long.  By comparison, a day on Jupiter is a bit more than nine hours long.

That's not all.  The exoplanet seems to be very young-- maybe only 20 million years old-- and astronomers think the day there will get even shorter.