Friday, July 28, 2017

NASA Loses Control Of A Historical Treasure From The Apollo 11 Mission

Tour of Duty

On a fateful day in 1969, a small, white bag filled with moonrocks made its way back to Earth in the possession of astronaut Neil Armstrong.
But the historical artifact traded hands many times over the decades before it was eventually sold at a recent Sotheby’s auction for $1.8 million, the New York Times reported.
NASA first loaned the moon souvenir to the Cosmosphere, a modest space museum in Kansas.
But when the museum’s operator resigned in 2002, the bag disappeared with him, only to be found in the disgraced employee’s garage one year later.
Although the bag should have been returned to NASA, the government sold it to an Illinois-based lawyer for a mere $955, only to renege on the sale after discovering the calamity of their mistake.
A lawsuit ensued, resulting in a win for the buyer and a big payout once she sold the American treasure at auction. And it wasn’t to NASA.
Instead, Sotheby held a special space-themed auction last week, with the bag selling for $1.8 million to an unnamed buyer. Many hope this buyer will now do the right thing, and return Armstrong’s bag to a museum.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Astronaut Sally Ride's Obituary

Sally Ride in 1981 at the mission operations control room during a STS-2 simulation at Johnson Space Center in Houston. CreditNASA
Five years have passed since the death of Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. Her New York Times obituary — specifically, the way we addressed her sexuality — provoked an intense debate that still echoes from time to time.
In the third week of July 2012, The Times learned that Dr. Ride was terminally ill and was receiving hospice care. She was only 61, and her illness had been kept secret. I started working on an advance obituary right away.
Dr. Ride died that July 23. Late that day, her company, Sally Ride Science, posted a statement on its website. I read it hurriedly, picked up the name of a survivor we had not known about and hastily typed it into the draft: Tom O’Shaughnessy, Dr. Ride’s partner of 27 years.
“It’s not Tom,” said the obituaries editor, William McDonald, reading the company’s statement. “It’s Tam.”
I had misread it. Tam was a woman’s name. Only then did we have an inkling that Sally Ride had been gay. We quickly had to decide how to approach it.
Continue reading the main story
The Times has a general policy of not “outing” people who choose to keep their sexuality private. But we also identify immediate survivors in obituaries. So it was clear that we would mention Dr. O’Shaughnessy. But beyond that, what more could we — or should we — say?
We knew nothing about the relationship, and with the deadline closing in, we were in no position to report more fully on the matter had we wanted to.
There was no indication that Dr. Ride’s private life was relevant to her remarkable professional accomplishments, the focus of the obituary. Had she been an activist for L.G.B.T. causes or had she spoken openly about how her sexuality had shaped her life, if at all, we would have reported it. But such was not the case. If we made a big deal of the new information, it might seem as if we were trying to draw exactly the type of attention it seemed she had sought to avoid.
In the end, after some back-and-forth among the obituary editors, we decided to identify Dr. O’Shaughnessy as Dr. Ride’s partner and survivor and leave it at that.
The acknowledgment of the relationship set off a public debate about what to say — or not to say — about a national figure’s private life. Some gay rights activists accused The Times of homophobia for not drawing more attention to the couple’s relationship, and some criticized Dr. Ride herself for not having come out. Other readers thought we handled it right. Mr. McDonald was invited to discuss the episode on National Public Radio’s “On the Media.” I was grilled by the Columbia Journalism Review.
Dr. Ride was described by her sister, in later interviews with other news outlets, as an extremely private person who kept many aspects of her life out of the public eye. But family and friends knew she was gay, the sister said; Dr. Ride had made no effort to hide it from them.
Dr. O’Shaughnessy told interviewers much the same, adding that in 2001, when she and Dr. Ride were starting Sally Ride Science, they feared that sponsors would reject them if it became known that they were a couple. Indeed, in her era, had Dr. Ride disclosed that she was gay, it might have ended her astronaut career before it had even started.
As a postscript, Mr. McDonald, my editor, gave Dr. Ride and Dr. O’Shaughnessy’s relationship more prominence in the obituary when it was reprinted in 2012 in an annual collection of Times obits that he edited. There he also updated the obit to acknowledge the public reaction.
The revised obituary said: “Some commentators called it a posthumous ‘coming out’; others saw the disclosure as an invasion of the privacy she had long maintained. Some gay rights organizations adopted her posthumously as a heroine; but their critics countered that she had never identified herself with their cause. Some news organizations were accused of playing down the relationship; others, of ‘outing’ her.”
It all seemed like just what Sally Ride would not have wanted.
Continue reading the main story

Friday, July 21, 2017

What Was Buzz Aldrin Thinking As He Lifted Off From The Moon?

From Mars Rover: Panorama Above 'Perseverance Valley'

From Mars Rover: Panorama Above 'Perseverance Valley': NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded a panoramic view before entering the upper end of a fluid-carved valley that descends the inner slope of a crater's rim.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Inspiring One Way Trip To Mars!

Touring Mars-A Great Visualization Program

And Now A Weather Report From Mars

And Now, a Weather Report From Mars

Scientists in Spain are bringing Martian meteorology to the Earth-bound masses.

Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) tools on NASA's Curiosity Mars. Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) tools on NASA’s Curiosity Mars.

NASA’S ROVER CURIOSITY IS STILL alive and well in the Gale Crater, just south of Mars’ equator. Meanwhile, on Earth, the team of scientists who designed the robot’s weather station, known as the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), have decided to become the world’s first Martian weathermen.
Jorge Pla-García, the group’s meteorologist, likes the term. “When we send a human to Mars, we could include a section in the news,” he says.
Chasma Boreale, a valley in Mars' north polar ice cap.Chasma Boreale, a valley in Mars’ north polar ice cap.

Pla-García works at the Spanish National Center of Astrobiology, which is associated with NASA. Now, along with other two researchers, he has decided to publish a periodical weather report in layman terms. The other two weathermen are Antonio Molina, who inputs geological data, and Javier Gómez Elvira, who processes the data for mainstream consumption.
To make the weather report more appealing to the general public, the team has made a point of including comparisons with Earthly weather phenomena. In their first report, released on March 15, they compared the Gale Crater winds with the Chinook air streams in the Rocky Mountains of North America. Their second report, released on July 11, discusses the strong whirlwinds known as Dust Devils.
A towering dust devil in the late-spring afternoon, Amazonis Planitia region of northern Mars.A towering dust devil in the late-spring afternoon, Amazonis Planitia region of northern Mars.

“We do it because it’s the public’s right,” says Pla-García. “They fund us with their taxes, so they deserve to know what their money is being spent on!”
In their second report, the team highlights the start of summer in the Gale Crater. It’s also the end of the dusty season in the Martian southern hemisphere. During the spring, solar radiation warmed the air closer to the ground and lifted the particles, but now it’s “crystal clear time,” says Pla-García.
Jorge Pla-García at the Spanish National Center of Astrobiology.Jorge Pla-García at the Spanish National Center of Astrobiology. 

This month, as in the one before, atmospheric pressure is on its way down. It’s a typical feature of the Red Planet’s summertime, as the atmosphere’s main gas, carbon dioxide, progressively freezes over the Southern Polar Cap.As usual, Martian temperatures have stayed under 0ºC for the whole month, and they shouldn’t be expected to get higher any time soon.
The Red Planet is colder than people think. A few years ago, NASA reported temperatures up to 30ºC (86 ºF) at the planet’s equator. However, according to the REMS team, that was an instrumental error the American agency hasn’t corrected. “It was taken by an engineering thermometer used to control a camera,” says Pla-García. “It wasn’t in contact with the environment. The actual maximum we’ve ever registered is 3ºC (37.4 ºF), and 99 percent of the time, it’s below 0ºC.”
A view of Mars, showing ice clouds hanging above the Tharsis volcanoes.A View of Mars, showing ice clouds hanging above the Tharsis volcanoes.

The process of compiling the Martian weather report starts with the data the team downloads from REMS’ sensors. It’s data anyone can access through an app (available on Google Play and Apple App Store), but that doesn’t make the reports useless. With the app, you can see the conditions on the Gale Crater. With the reports, though, you get to understand Martian weather more broadly.
“We can get a lot of information from REMS, but that doesn’t really tell us the whole story,” says Pla-García. “We need a network of stations. That’s our problem, and that’s why we insist NASA to send more sensors to other areas of the planet. We need the context.”
Sand dunes in southern Terra Cimmeria showing the effects of Martian winds. Sand dunes in southern Terra Cimmeria showing the effects of Martian winds.

To cover for the lack of stations, they use a computer model designed by American professor Scot Rafkin, who is the Assistant Director of the Planetary Atmospheres and Surfaces Department of Space Studies at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. The team simulates what’s going on in and around the Gale Crater. They compare the model and REMS’ real information to make sure the model is accurate. And it is, so they assume it’s also right for the context.
“Hey! I’m here to get the dildo!” shouts Pla-García merrily, as he enters one of the engineering labs. The device (which is indeed quite phallic) is a replica the team used to test-drive REMS before the real one went roaming on Mars. It measures UV radiation, pressure and wind speed. The one in Mars also has sensors to collect ground and air temperatures.
A replica of REMS, used for tests on Earth.A Replica of REMS, used for tests on Earth. 

The 12 members on Jorge’s team take turns to keep watch, making sure the device’s abilities are squeezed to the maximum before it inevitably dies off. Pla-García says it gives him goosebumps to think he’s operating a device in another planet, but that collecting data is the hardest, most daunting part of his job.
“We used to be on watch on Martian time,” says Pla-García. “And a Martian day is 24 hours and 39 minutes long, so our work schedule was different every day. That included weekends, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, you name it.”
Fortunately for them, they’re now on a more steady Pacific Time schedule.
Installing one of the two mini-booms on the rover Curiosity that will monitor weather conditions on Mars, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 2010.Installing one of the two mini-booms on the rover Curiosity that will monitor weather conditions on Mars

While Jorge leaves the military base where the Center is located, he explains the point of it all. His team is trying to answer the million-dollar questions: How did life on Earth begin, and is there life out there? And he’s excited about the future.
The weather conditions in Mars are so inhospitable that the team, which has a lab devoted to researching extremophiles—organisms that thrive in extreme environments—is skeptical about finding any signs of life on its surface. Solar radiation and perchlorate compounds don’t even allow for fossils, if there was any to be found.
But underground the conditions are better. The next European Space Agency rover, ExoMars 2020 is expected to incorporate a two-meter-deep drill. “I pray every day so it gets there soon and everything works well,” says Pla-Garcia. “We may have some big news then.”

Friday, July 14, 2017

For Moratorium on Sending Commands to Mars, Blame the Sun

For Moratorium on Sending Commands to Mars, Blame the Sun: This month, movements of the planets will put Mars almost directly behind the sun, from Earth's perspective, causing curtailed communications between Earth and Mars.

An Amazing Chart Shows How Space-X Has Come To Dominate The Satellite Launch Industry

Space-X Asks Congress For Funding For Deep Space Exploration

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Amazing Jupiter

Juno and the Great Red Spot: 

Buzzing Jupiter's mammoth storm

As weather systems go, Jupiter's Great Red Spot is an interplanetary heavyweight. It could swallow the Earth whole and still have room for Mars.

Key points:

  • NASA'S Juno spacecraft will fly over Jupiter's Great Red Spot at 12:06pm (AEST)
  • The weather system is a 200-year-old hurricane that is 16,000km across
  • Juno will provide the first ever close-up snaps of the solar system's biggest storm
And at 12:06pm (AEST) on Tuesday, NASA's Juno spacecraft hurtled right over the top of it.
The gargantuan hurricane has been raging for 200 years or more — and we've never been as close to it as the spacecraft came today.
Travelling at about 50 kilometres per second, Juno flew within 9,000km of the billowing brick-red cloud tops.
Prior to the encounter, the Juno mission's principal investigator, Scott Bolton from the Southwest Research Institute in Texas, said of the mission: "It's going to be incredible."
"We're basically just scraping along the top part of the atmosphere."
The storm itself is a good 16,000km across; Juno, if you include its outstretched solar panels, is the size of a tennis court.
"We're going screaming past, but we've got cameras that know how to work at that speed," Dr Bolton said.
"I can't wait to see what it looks like."
The team will have captured the first-ever close-up snaps of the solar system's biggest storm, but it will be hours yet until the team receives confirmation the mission was successful.
"Nobody knows exactly what kind of features we'll see inside, what the kind of colours and swirling of the clouds are," Dr Bolton said beforehand.
"Maybe we'll see something that looks three-dimensional, like a tunnel going in — nothing would surprise me at this point."
As it watched the Great Red Spot skid past, Juno also drifted upwards away from Jupiter because its closest approach — a mere 3,500km above the cloud tops — happened about 11 minutes earlier. If Jupiter were the size of a basketball, this venture brought it within millimetres of the surface.

'Through the gates of hell'

It's the sixth time the NASA probe has buzzed the giant planet since putting itself into a precise, lopsided orbit almost exactly a year ago.
"There's high risk in every flyby. We're going through the gates of hell, every time," Dr Bolton said.
"And each time we go by, we're going through a worse region. More hazard, more radiation."
Jupiter's magnetic field, 20,000 times stronger than Earth's, endows the gas giant with vast and punishing radiation belts Juno must thread a path between. So the probe's inner workings are shielded by a thick titanium wall, which has successfully withstood the onslaught so far.
Based on early calculations, Dr Bolton said, the team was confident Juno would succeed again — but the team did not take anything for granted.
"We will be on the edge of our seats, just keeping our fingers crossed that everything works and we get the close-up pictures that we all want," he said.

In order to have all its instruments staring down at Jupiter, during the flyby Juno faced the wrong way to communicate with Earth. It was expected to be a few hours before the team received confirmation the craft was intact and still functioning.
Then begins the process of downloading actual data: first from Juno's magnetometer, then from its camera. And the photos will be sent in chronological order, starting with the ones taken at greater distances.
The first close-up views of the Great Red Spot will not arrive until at least the weekend, according to Dr Bolton.
"You really have to learn patience when you're in this business. And it's patience during a time when you're very tense. I've learned that."

Seeking the secrets of a storm

When they do arrive, Juno's measurements will open a new chapter in our understanding of this famous anticyclone (so named because it spins in the opposite direction to most storms).
The Great Red Spot has been studied continuously since the early 1800s, and even some of the earliest views of Jupiter through telescopes, in the late 1600s, reported a big spot on its surface. Many astronomers think this was probably the very same storm.

What keeps a planet-sized hurricane spinning for 450+ years?
"That's a big puzzle; nobody knows," Dr Bolton said.
"There are some scientists who believe that in order for a storm to have lasted that long, it must have very deep roots. Maybe the source of energy that's creating that storm comes from deep inside the planet.
"Of course, up till now, we've only had the ability to look at the top part of Jupiter. We just see this thin veneer, which is gorgeous — it has these beautiful zones and belts, and this great storm on it, and a bunch of cyclones — but the key is what's underneath."
That is one of the strengths of the Juno mission: the craft carries a variety of instruments that are peering beneath Jupiter's clouds for the first time.
So its flyby this week should reveal the Red Spot's deep roots, if they exist.
The team will also be looking for lightning, which has been seen elsewhere on Jupiter and suggests the presence of water clouds.
"Lots of storms on Earth have a lot of lightning, but it usually takes water," Dr Bolton said.
"This storm may be more ammonia than water, but we don't know."

Enjoy it while it lasts

Juno's visit comes at an opportune time. After all those centuries, the Great Red Spot appears to be vanishing before our eyes and telescopes.
"It's been observed for hundreds of years, but now in the last couple of decades, we've noticed that it seems to be getting smaller and changing in shape," Dr Bolton said.
"So we may be catching it at the right time. It's always exciting when you can watch something in transition — you can learn a lot more."
Among their total of 32 planned orbits, Dr Bolton and his team hope to see Juno make at least two more passes of the Red Spot. That will depend on orbital calculations and — critically — where exactly the storm travels on the planet's surface. It's a moving target.
"In the future, we'll have a pass that looks more at the gravity shield, to see if there's a clump or a blob of mass underneath this thing. If it really has deep roots, there could be some deep mass that's underneath, that's moving around Jupiter with it," Dr Bolton said.
"Most people would think that's not possible, but I've learned not to be too confident guessing how Jupiter works. In the last year I've been surprised by so many things."

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Space Review: In support of a forming a US Space Corps now

The Space Review: In support of a forming a US Space Corps now

The Space Review: The common burden of “spacemankind”

The Space Review: The common burden of “spacemankind”

The Space Review: Seeking private funding for space science

The Space Review: Seeking private funding for space science

The Space Review: Review: Adventures in Outer Space

The Space Review: Review: Adventures in Outer Space

The Space Review: The last astronaut class?

The Space Review: The last astronaut class?

Explore Mars Announces A New Virtual Reality Working Group

PRESS CONTACT: Chris Carberry
CEO, Explore Mars Inc.
Press Release

Washington D.C. July 12, 2017 - Explore Mars is pleased to announce the launch of a new Virtual Reality and Space Exploration Working Group.  Virtual Reality (VR) is playing an increasingly significant role inspiring business, education, and organizations throughout the world.  This growth is particularly true in the realm of space exploration where VR projects not only had a historical role in early astronaut training but also in a myriad of current VR projects about space. VR may well assist human exploration on the surface of Mars as well as robotic probes further out in the galaxy.  This evolving experiential medium also opens up intriguing possibilities for public engagement on a level never before achieved.  The VR and Space Exploration Working Group will examine opportunities and challenges for utilizing VR in mission operations, science and the support of public enthusiasm for venturing into the mysteries of space.

The working group will bring together experts in the VR industry, mission architects, scientists, communications experts and professionals from complementary disciplines to appraise opportunities for utilizing this technology to further space exploration over upcoming decades.

"We think this is an optimal time to coalesce people from relevant disciplines," stated Explore Mars CEO Chris Carberry. "While there are a number of VR projects underway at the moment, Explore Mars hopes to stimulate more ambitious projects that could advance both space exploration as well as VR technology."

Within the next six months, Explore Mars plans to hold initial workshops and release an initial report from this working group for distribution to stakeholders and interested parties.

According to Jacki Morie, Co-Chair of the VR and Space Exploration Working Group, “Virtual Reality has the power to bring the excitement of space to everyone’s personal experience in a way that was not possible with earlier iterations.  We can introduce new generations of engineers, designers and future astronauts to space and inspire them to create an expansive new future for humanity.”

If you would like to learn more about this group and future workshops, please contact us at

Chris Carberry
Explore Mars, Inc