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Friday, November 15, 2019

Mars Scientists Investigate Ancient Life in Australia

Mars Scientists Investigate Ancient Life in Australia: Teams with NASA's Mars 2020 and ESA's ExoMars practiced hunting for fossilized microbial life in the Australian Outback in preparation for their Red Planet missions.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Space Review: Review: Light from the Void

The Space Review: Review: Light from the Void

The Space Review: Tailoring spacesuits

The Space Review: Tailoring spacesuits

The Space Review: What happens when you leave empty seats at the table?

The Space Review: What happens when you leave empty seats at the table?

The Space Review: What happens when you leave empty seats at the table?

The Space Review: What happens when you leave empty seats at the table?

The Space Review: Blacker than blue: the US Navy and the Manned Orbiting Laboratory

The Space Review: Blacker than blue: the US Navy and the Manned Orbiting Laboratory

The Moon: Walking On Air

Walking on Air

The moon might look barren and very inhospitable for humans, but actually its surface dirt – known as regolith – is rich in oxygen.
Now scientists have figured out how to extract oxygen from lunar soil, Science Alert reported.
Regolith samples collected from previous lunar missions revealed that oxygen in the moon’s surface is chemically bound to other substances in the form of oxides and can’t be used immediately.
Since the real samples are valuable, the researchers used “fake” lunar dirt, created from terrestrial materials, in their study.
The team, led by Bethany Lomax of the University of Glasgow, used an electrolysis technique to extract about 96 percent of the oxygen in the sample in a matter of 50 hours.
Previous methods required higher temperatures and generated low oxygen amounts. The new method provided a higher yield and was more sustainable.
Moreover, Lomax’s team also extracted several metal alloys in the process, which could prove useful for future colonization.
“This process would give lunar settlers access to oxygen for fuel and life support, as well as a wide range of metal alloys for in-situ manufacturing,” said James Carpenter, lunar strategy officer of the European Space Agency, who was not involved in the study.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Tests Descent-Stage Separation

NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Tests Descent-Stage Separation: A crane lifts the rocket-powered descent stage away from NASA's Mars 2020 rover after technicians tested the pyrotechnic charges that separate the two spacecraft.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Friday, September 13, 2019

How Long Before People Will Be Living On Mars?

NASA's Mars 2020 Comes Full Circle

NASA's Mars 2020 Comes Full Circle: Aiming to pinpoint the Martian vehicle's center of gravity, engineers took NASA's 2,300-pound Mars 2020 rover for a spin in the clean room at JPL.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Can Low Gravity Kill Cancer?

Can low gravity kill cancer? 

    We’ve been sending humans to space for more than half a century now, but there is still so much to learn about how a low-gravity environment impacts our physiology. An Australian scientist has been looking into such matters through simulation studies here on Earth, and with early indications that space can kill off the majority of cancer cells without the need for drugs, is now preparing to launch his experiments toward the International Space Station for further investigation.
    There are quite a few studies that have been completed or are ongoing at the International Space Station that explore the effects of low-gravity on living organisms and human physiology.
    NASA has previously studied cellular changes of mice and mussels on the ISS to gain new insights into the human immune system and looked into how the microgravity environment can lead to vision impairment. The agency’s twin study, meanwhile, comparing the biology of an identical twin who spent almost a year at the ISS with the other who did not, continues to be one of the more intriguing examples.
    But the intricacies of how cancer cells behave in the microgravity environment remains largely unexplored. Biomedical engineer Joshua Chou has been conducting experiments in his laboratory at the University of Technology Sydney to advance our understanding of this, using a micro-gravity simulator to observe how cancer cells respond and the potential reasons why.
    “Prior to this research, most focus has been on the genetic expression of cancer under microgravity,” Chou explains to New Atlas. “But no one has looked at the mechanisms, and the strategy of how we are approaching this is to identify the sensing receptors in the cancer, in hope of tricking them.”
    Scientists hope to learn more about the behavior of cancer cells by launching them into space
    Scientists hope to learn more about the behavior of cancer cells by launching them into space
    Chou and his student Anthony Kirollos exposed ovarian, breast, nose and lung cancer cells to the micro-gravity simulator for a 24-hour period, and found that it caused 80 to 90 percent of them to die, as first reported by the ABC. The scientists believe this is because the lack of gravitational force on the cells influences how they communicate with one another and makes them unable to sense their surroundings, something they call mechanical unloading.
    “I have to clarify that microgravity does affect other cells, like bone cells, that is why astronauts lose bone,” Chou tells us. “But having said that, the different tissues and organs in the body respond differently, and it’s just that we found bone and cancers are super sensitive to the effects of microgravity.”
    Why this mechanical unloading effect hits cancer cells harder than most is one of the questions Chou hopes to shed some light on when he launches his experiment for the ISS next year. In the first Australian research mission to the ISS, the cells will be packed into a device smaller than a tissue box and studied within the micro-gravity environment for a period of one week.
    “Twenty-four hours before launch, we will introduce the cells into microfluidic devices, they will go up to the ISS and the experiment will be carried out for seven days, but won’t return until after 28 days at the ISS,” Chou says. “Then of course we will do analysis upon its return. But we also designed technologies to study them while they are alive on the ISS.”
    Sending cancer patients to space for treatment certainly seems a fanciful idea, and Chou isn’t looking to change that through his inventive line of investigation. The hope is that the experiments can shed light on the specific receptors and sensors behind the mechanical unloading effect on cancer cells, so scientists can design drugs that mimic the same effects here on Earth.
    "I see what we are developing on working in conjunction with existing therapies and not replacing anything,“ Chou says. “What we hope is that it will increase efficiency of current drugs to give the patient an added advantage by disrupting the normal function of the cancer. Because if the cells can't 'function as a team' then it becomes easier to kill them.”
    ...

    Friday, August 30, 2019

    NASA Mars 2020 Rover Gets Saddled With Helicopter Sidekick

    NASA's Mars 2020 rover gets saddled with helicopter sidekick

      Engineers have attached what could be the first ever helicopter to fly on another world, to NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. The robotic duo is set to be launched into space atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in July next year, and will arrive at their destination on February 18, 2021.
      The Mars Helicopter has no scientific goals of its own beyond proving that it is possible to fly an autonomous aircraft through the super-thin Martian atmosphere. The drone carries a single 13-megapixel camera, no science instruments, and weighs in at just under 4 lb (1.8 kg).
      The dual-blade, solar-powered helicopter has been subjected to stringent testing designed to assess not only its ability to fly, but also whether it can survive the tumultuous environment of launch and re-entry, not to mention the frigid space environment that it must endure during transit.
      NASA engineers attached the helicopter and its delivery system to a plate on the rover’s underbelly. The now integrated drone will remain in its protective cocoon while traveling through interplanetary space, and during re-entry and landing.
      The target site for the mission is an impact site known as Jezero Crater. The region boasts ancient terrain formations, some of which are thought to date back 3.6 billion years. An analysis of the landing site could provide clues as to the habitability of ancient Mars and how that world evolved into the one we know today.
      The helicopter will be released from the rover between 60-90 Martian days after landing on the Red Planet. Having dropped the drone to the surface, the rover will drive a short distance away, allowing its aerial accomplice to spread its rotors, and prepare to explore its new home.
      NASA engineers cover the main body of the Mars Helicopter in a protective thermal film
      NASA engineers cover the main body of the Mars Helicopter in a protective thermal film
       
      NASA/JPL-Caltech
      If successful, the Mars Helicopter is expected to attempt up to five flights over the course of a 30-day period. Each foray will last up to 90 seconds, and could see the drone rise up to 15 ft (4.5 m) above the barren Martian surface.
      Should these tests be a success, future crewed and robotic missions could make use of the next generation of autonomous drones to add an aerial element to exploration and path finding tasks. For example, the helicopters could be used to explore regions that would be too hazardous to the wheels of a rover, or that could even put an astronaut’s safety at risk.
      Alongside receiving its aerial sidekick, the Mars 2020 rover is also due to get a new name. NASA is inviting kindergarten and school students living in the US to submit essays to rename the rover prior to launch. The deadline is November 1, 2019, and the winner of the competition will be invited to watch the rover launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July 2020.
      Leading up to the launch you can sign up to become part of the mission by submitting your name to be etched in microscopic size on a chip that will be mounted on the robotic explorer as it trundles across the surface of the Red Planet.
      ...

      Sunday, August 18, 2019

      Huge Subsurface Lake Found On Mars

      Huge lake of liquid water found on Mars

      A huge liquid water lake has been found on Mars, stretching 20 km (12.4 mi) and...
      A huge liquid water lake has been found on Mars, stretching 20 km (12.4 mi) and buried beneath 1.5 km (0.9 mi) of ice at the Red Planet's south pole(Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
      A huge lake of liquid water has been found on Mars. The groundbreaking discovery comes after years of evidence of the Red Planet's watery past and icy present, but this is the first time a significant amount of the life-giving liquid has been detected. Discovered through satellite radar readings, the lake lies beneath the ice caps at the south pole of Mars, and has profound implications for future missions and the search for extraterrestrial life.
      According to its discoverers, the lake lies below 1.5 km (0.9 mi) of solid ice, and stretches 20 km (12.4 mi) wide. Although temperatures at that spot plummet to about -68° C (-90° F), the water remains in a liquid form thanks to the heavy presence of sodium, magnesium and calcium salts. This, along with the immense pressure of the ice from above, lowers the freezing point.
      The discovery was made by astronomers using the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) onboard the Mars Express orbiter. This instrument beams radar pulses down to the planet's surface and measures how the waves reflect back to the spacecraft, which can tell scientists what kind of materials lie down there, even below the surface.
      Using MARSIS to survey a region around the south pole of the Red Planet, the team collected 29 sets of radar samplings between May 2012 and December 2015. A section of this area returned very sharp changes in the radar signals, showing up as a bright spot in the image that's consistent with a water interface. The radar profile, the researchers say, closely matches those of subglacial lakes here on Earth, beneath the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.
      Although it seems like "water found on Mars" headlines have been doing the rounds for years, this discovery is really what it's all been building to. The majority of modern Mars is dry and barren, but plenty of evidence has been found that the Red Planet used to be a much wetter place. NASA studies suggest a vast ocean covered the planet's northern hemisphere some 4.3 billion years ago, and lakes may have filled and emptied repeatedly over tens of millions of years in places like Gale Crater, the landing site of the Curiosity rover.
      Nowadays, water exists on the Red Planet in the form of trace amounts of vapor in the atmosphere, or locked away in underground ice sheets and mineral compounds. Any liquid water was believed to be transitional, pooling in short-lived microscopic puddles or flowing down hillsides in the Martian summer.
      The discovery of a large, stable reserve of liquid water on Mars is massive, giving us new potential targets for future missions and places to search for signs of past or present microbial life – although the sheer saltiness of it might kill those hopes.
      The research was published in the journal Science.
      ...

      Friday, August 16, 2019

      Lost In Space

      Lost in Space

      There may well be life on the moon now, and humans are responsible for it.
      Recently, the privately funded Israeli lander Beresheet released one of Earth’s hardiest creatures after accidentally crash-landing on the moon’s surface, the Guardian reported.
      Scientists believe that thousands of tiny tardigrades – also known as water bears or moss piglets – are the only survivors of the incident since they are almost indestructible.
      The microscopic eight-legged creatures can shrug off fatal conditions by turning into a dormant seed-like pod, which allows them to survive high temperatures, radiation and the vacuum of space – to name just a few calamities. To bring them back to life, just add water.
      “Tardigrades can survive pressures that are comparable to those created when asteroids strike Earth, so a small crash like this is nothing to them,” according to tardigrade researcher Lukasz Kaczmarek.
      In their dormant state, it appears that even the aging process stops – a trait with obvious implications for any future space colonization efforts.
      “It may be that we can use this in the future if we plan missions to different planets, because we will need to be young when we get there,” Kaczmarek said.
      Despite the tiny animals’ superhuman abilities, any sleeping survivors of Beresheet’s crash won’t be colonizing the moon. Earth’s satellite lacks the liquid water needed to reactivate them.

      Thursday, August 15, 2019

      Tuesday, August 6, 2019

      The Space Review: Review: Origins of 21st-Century Space Travel

      The Space Review: Review: Origins of 21st-Century Space Travel

      The Space Review: The role of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in supporting space property rights

      The Space Review: The role of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in supporting space property rights

      The Space Review: The International Lunar Decade: A strategy for sustainable development

      The Space Review: The International Lunar Decade: A strategy for sustainable development

      The Space Review: China’s grand strategy in outer space: to establish compelling standards of behavior

      The Space Review: China’s grand strategy in outer space: to establish compelling standards of behavior

      The Space Review: Solar sailing, at long last

      The Space Review: Solar sailing, at long last

      New Finds for Mars Rover, Seven Years After Landing

      New Finds for Mars Rover, Seven Years After Landing: NASA's Curiosity rover is discovering odd rocks halfway into a region called the 'clay-bearing unit.'

      Saturday, August 3, 2019

      Saturday, July 27, 2019

      Neil Armstrong's Lucrative Legacy

      A Close Call With An Asteroid

      Forget about Mars, spend more time on asteroids!!
      Alan Duffy was confused. On Thursday, the astronomer’s phone was suddenly flooded with calls from reporters wanting to know about a large asteroid that had just whizzed past Earth, and he couldn’t figure out “why everyone was so alarmed.”
      “I thought everyone was getting worried about something we knew was coming,” Duffy, who is lead scientist at the Royal Institution of Australia, told The Washington Post. Forecasts had already predicted that a couple of asteroids would be passing relatively close to Earth this week.
      Then, he looked up the details of the hunk of space rock named Asteroid 2019 OK.
      “I was stunned,” he said. “This was a true shock.”
      This asteroid wasn’t one that scientists had been tracking, and it had seemingly appeared from “out of nowhere,” Michael Brown, a Melbourne-based observational astronomer, told The Washington Post. According to data from NASA, the craggy rock was large, an estimated 57 to 130 meters wide (187 to 427 feet), and moving fast along a path that brought it within about 73,000 kilometers (45,000 miles) of Earth. That’s less than one-fifth of the distance to the moon and what Duffy considers “uncomfortably close.”
      “It snuck up on us pretty quickly,” said Brown, an associate professor in Australia with Monash University’s School of Physics and Astronomy. He later noted, “People are only sort of realizing what happened pretty much after it’s already flung past us.”
      The asteroid’s presence was discovered only earlier this week by separate astronomy teams in Brazil and the United States. Information about its size and path was announced just hours before it shot past Earth, Brown said.
      “It shook me out my morning complacency,” he said. “It’s probably the largest asteroid to pass this close to Earth in quite a number of years.”
      So how did the event almost go unnoticed?
      First, there’s the issue of size, Duffy said. Asteroid 2019 OK is a sizable chunk of rock, but it’s nowhere near as big as the ones capable of causing an event like the dinosaurs’ extinction. More than 90 percent of those asteroids, which are more than half a mile wide or larger, have already been identified by NASA and its partners.
      “Nothing this size is easy to detect,” Duffy said of Asteroid 2019 OK. ″You’re really relying on reflected sunlight, and even at closest approach it was barely visible with a pair of binoculars.”
      Brown said the asteroid’s “eccentric orbit” and speed were also likely factors in what made spotting it ahead of time challenging. Its “very elliptical orbit” takes it “from beyond Mars to within the orbit of Venus,” which means the amount of time it spends near Earth where it is detectable isn’t long, he said. As it approached Earth, the asteroid was traveling at about 24 kilometers per second, he said, or nearly 54,000 mph. By contrast, other recent asteroids that flew by Earth clocked in between 4 and 19 kilometers per second (8,900 to 42,500 mph).
      “It’s faint for a long time,” Brown said of Asteroid 2019 OK. “With a week or two to go, it’s getting bright enough to detect, but someone needs to look in the right spot. Once it’s finally recognized, then things happen quickly, but this thing’s approaching quickly so we only sort of knew about it very soon before the flyby.”
      The last-minute detection is yet another sign of how much remains unknown about space and a sobering reminder of the very real threat asteroids can pose, Duffy said.
      “It should worry us all, quite frankly,” he said. “It’s not a Hollywood movie. It is a clear and present danger.”
      Duffy said astronomers have a nickname for the kind of space rock that just came so close to Earth: “City-killer asteroids.” If the asteroid had struck Earth, most of it would have probably reached the ground, resulting in devastating damage, Brown said.
      “It would have gone off like a very large nuclear weapon” with enough force to destroy a city, he said. “Many megatons, perhaps in the ballpark of 10 megatons of TNT, so something not to be messed with.”
      In 2013, a significantly smaller meteor — about 20 meters (65 feet) across, or the size of a six-story building — broke up over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk and unleashed an intense shock wave that collapsed roofs, shattered windows and left about 1,200 people injured. The last space rock to strike Earth similar in size to Asteroid 2019 OK was more than a century ago, Brown said. That asteroid, known as the Tunguska event, caused an explosion that leveled 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) of forest land in Siberia.
      Although the chances of a large asteroid landing on a city are “modest,” Brown said it is still worthwhile to devote resources toward detection and prevention. Brown said Asteroid 2019 OK proves there are “still dangerous asteroids out there that we don’t know of” that “can arrive on our doorstep unannounced.”
      Scientists are working on developing at least two approaches to deflecting potentially harmful asteroids, Duffy said. One strategy involves gently pushing the asteroid slowly over time off its course and away from Earth, he said. The other, which he called a “very elegant solution,” is the gravity tractor. If an asteroid is detected early enough, it could be possible to divert it using the gravity of a spacecraft, according to NASA.
      People shouldn’t try to “blast it with a nuke,” Duffy said.
      “It makes for a great Hollywood film,” he said. “The challenge with a nuke is that it may or may not work, but it would definitely make the asteroid radioactive.”
      In light of Asteroid 2019 OK, Duffy stressed the importance of investing in a “global dedicated approach” to detecting asteroids because “sooner or later there will be one with our name on it. It’s just a matter of when, not if.”
      “We don’t have to go the way of the dinosaurs,” he said. “We actually have the technology to find and deflect certainly these smaller asteroids if we commit to it now.”
      Emily Lakdawalla, senior editor of the Planetary Society, which promotes space exploration, said the recent near miss is a reminder that “it’s an important activity to be watching the skies.” The more that can be learned about an asteroid, the better prepared people can be to prevent potential disasters, she told The Post.
      Still, Lakdawalla said that while the asteroid’s close brush with Earth may have sparked some concern, “it is zero percent danger to us.”
      “It’s the kind of thing where you learn about something that you didn’t know about, like things flying close by us, and your inclination is to be scared,” she said. “But just like sharks in the ocean, they’re really not going to hurt you and they’re really fascinating to look at.”
      ...

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      NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Does Biceps Curls

      NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Does Biceps Curls: In this time-lapse video, the robotic arm on NASA's Mars 2020 rover maneuvers its 88-pound (40-kilogram) sensor-laden turret as it moves from a deployed to stowed configuration.

      Thursday, July 25, 2019

      The Space Review: Review: Reaching for the Moon

      The Space Review: Review: Reaching for the Moon

      The Space Review: Why the Space Corps needs to use naval rank

      The Space Review: Why the Space Corps needs to use naval rank

      The Space Review: Is ISRO’s “cryogenic curse” finally over?

      The Space Review: Is ISRO’s “cryogenic curse” finally over?

      The Space Review: The big white bird: the flights of Helo 66

      The Space Review: The big white bird: the flights of Helo 66

      The Space Review: And now, the next 50 years

      The Space Review: And now, the next 50 years

      Fueling of NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Power System Begins

      Fueling of NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Power System Begins: NASA gives go-ahead to fuel the Mars 2020 rover's Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator - which powers rover and helps keep it warm exploring Mars.

      Tuesday, July 23, 2019

      What Does a Marsquake Look Like?

      What Does a Marsquake Look Like?: InSight scientists used a special 'shake room' to demonstrate the differences between quakes on Earth, the Moon and Mars.

      Sunday, July 21, 2019

      The Apollo 11 Anniversary And Why It's So Important

      Some Final Thoughts On The Apollo Program From Carl Sagan


      Bill Nye - The Planetary Society connect@planetary.org via mta-bbcspool.convio.net 

      Jul 20, 2019, 7:39 AM (21 hours ago)
      to me
      Jack,
      Today, we are celebrating one of the greatest days in human history: The day we stepped foot on the surface of the Moon. To celebrate with you, I wanted to share some wise words from my old Astronomy professor, Carl Sagan. He contributed the following article in 1994 while serving as President of The Planetary Society. It's a great reflection on the past, with a new perspective to take with us into the future:
      —Bill
      "The gates of Heaven are open wide; off I ride..."
      Ch'u Tz'u (China, ca. 3rd century B.C.E.)
      It's a sultry night in July. You've fallen asleep in the armchair. Abruptly, you startle awake, disoriented. The television set is on, but not the sound. You strain to understand what you're seeing. Two ghostly white figures in coveralls and helmets are softly dancing under a pitch-black sky. They make strange little skipping motions, which propel them upward amid barely perceptible clouds of dust. But something is wrong. They take too long to come down. Encumbered as they are, they seem to be flying—a little. You rub your eyes, but the dreamlike tableau persists.
      Of all the events surrounding Apollo 11's landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969, my most vivid recollection is its unreal quality. Yes, it was an astonishing technological achievement and a triumph for the United States. Yes, the astronauts—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, the last keeping solitary vigil in lunar orbit—displayed death-defying courage. Yes, as Armstrong said as he first alighted, this was a historic step for the human species. But if you turned off the byplay between Mission Control and the Sea of Tranquility, with its deliberately mundane and routine chatter, and stared into that black-and-white television monitor, you could glimpse that we humans had entered the realm of myth and legend.
      We knew the Moon from our earliest days. It was there when our ancestors descended from the trees into the savannahs, when we learned to walk upright, when we first devised stone tools, when we domesticated fire, when we invented agriculture and built cities and set out to subdue the Earth. Folklore and popular songs celebrate a mysterious connection between the Moon and love. Especially when we lived out-of-doors, it was a major—if oddly intangible—presence in our lives.
      The Moon was a metaphor for the unattainable: "You might as well ask for the Moon," they used to say. For most of our history, we had no idea what it was. A spirit? A god? A thing? It didn't look like something big far away, but more like something small nearby—something the size of a plate, maybe, hanging in the sky a little above our heads. Walking on the Moon would have seemed a screwball idea; it made more sense to imagine somehow climbing up into the sky on a ladder or on the back of a giant bird, grabbing the Moon and bringing it down to Earth. Nobody ever succeeded, although there were myths aplenty about heroes who had tried.
      Not until a few centuries ago did the idea of the Moon as a place, a quarter million miles away, gain wide currency. And in that brief flicker of time, we've gone from the earliest steps in understanding the Moon's nature to walking and joyriding on its surface. We calculated how objects move in space; liquefied oxygen from the air; invented big rockets, telemetry, reliable electronics, inertial guidance and much else. Then we sailed out into the sky.
      The Moon is no longer unattainable. A dozen humans, all Americans, have made those odd bounding motions they called "moonwalks" on the crunchy, cratered, ancient gray lava- beginning on that July day in 1969. But since 1972, no one from any nation has ventured back. Indeed, none of us has gone anywhere since the glory days of Apollo except into low Earth orbit—like a toddler who takes a few tentative steps outward and then, breathless, retreats to the safety of his mother's skirts.
      Once upon a time, we soared into the solar system. For a few years. Then we hurried back. Why? What happened? What was Apollo really about?
      The scope and audacity of John Kennedy's May 25, 1961, message to a joint session of Congress on "Urgent National Needs"—the speech that launched the Apollo program—dazzled me. We would use rockets not yet designed and alloys not yet conceived, navigation and docking schemes not yet devised, in order to send a man to an unknown world—
      a world not yet explored, not even in a preliminary way, not even by robots—and we would bring him safely back, and we would do it before the decade was over. This confident pronouncement was made before any American had even achieved Earth orbit.
      As a newly minted PhD, I actually thought all this had something centrally to do with science. But President Kennedy did not talk about discovering the origin of the Moon, or even about bringing samples of it back for study. All he seemed to be interested in was sending someone there and bringing him home. It was a kind of gesture. Kennedy's science advisor, Jerome Wiesner, later told me he had made a deal with the president: if Kennedy would not claim that Apollo was about science, then he, Wiesner, would support it. So if not science, what?
      The Apollo program is really about politics, others told me. This sounded more promising. Nonaligned nations would be tempted to drift toward the Soviet Union if it was ahead in space exploration, if the U.S. showed insufficient "national vigor." I didn't follow. Here was the United States, ahead of the Soviet Union in virtually every area of technology—the world's economic, military and, on occasion, even moral leader—and Indonesia would go Communist because Yuri Gagarin beat John Glenn to Earth orbit? What's so special about space technology? Suddenly I understood.
      Sending people to orbit the Earth or robots to orbit the Sun requires rockets-big, reliable, powerful rockets. Those same rockets can be used for nuclear war. The same technology that transports a man to the Moon can carry nuclear warheads halfway around the world. The same technology that puts an astronomer and a telescope in Earth orbit can also put up a laser "battle station."
      Even back then, there was fanciful talk in military circles, East and West, about space as the new "high ground," about the nation that "controlled" space "controlling" the Earth. Of course strategic rockets were already being tested on Earth. But heaving a ballistic missile with a dummy warhead into a target zone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean doesn't buy much glory. Sending people into space captures the attention and imagination of the world. You wouldn't spend the money to launch astronauts for this reason alone, but of all the ways of demonstrating rocket potency, this one works best. It was a rite of national manhood; the shape of the boosters made this point readily understood without anyone actually having to explain it. The communication seemed to be transmitted from unconscious mind to unconscious mind without the higher mental faculties catching a whiff of what was going on.
      When President Kennedy formulated the Apollo program, the Defense Department had a slew of space projects under development—ways of carrying military personnel up into space, ways of conveying them around the Earth, robot weapons on orbiting platforms intended to shoot down satellites and ballistic missiles of other nations. Apollo supplanted these programs. They never reached operational status. A case can be made then that Apollo served another purpose—to move the US-Soviet space competition from a military to a civilian arena. There are some who believe that Kennedy intended Apollo as a substitute for an arms race in space. Maybe.
      Six more missions followed Apollo 11, all but one of which successfully landed on the lunar surface. Apollo 17 was the first to carry a scientist. As soon as he got there, the program was canceled. The first scientist and the last human to land on the Moon were the same person. The program had already served its purpose that July night in 1969. The half-dozen subsequent missions were just momentum.
      Apollo was not mainly about science. It was not even mainly about space. Apollo was about ideological confrontation and nuclear war—often described by such euphemisms as world "leadership" and national "prestige." Nevertheless, good space science was done. We now know much more about the composition, age and history of the Moon and the origin of the lunar landforms. We have made progress in understanding where the Moon came from. Some of us have used lunar cratering statistics to better understand the Earth at the time of the origin of life. But more important than any of this, Apollo provided an aegis, an umbrella under which brilliantly engineered robot spacecraft were dispatched throughout the solar system, making that preliminary reconnaissance of dozens of new worlds. The offspring of Apollo have now reached the planetary frontiers.
      If not for Apollo—and, therefore, if not for the political purpose it served—I doubt whether the historic American expeditions of exploration and discovery throughout the solar system would have occurred. The Mariners, Vikings, Voyagers, Magellan, Galileo and Cassini are among the gifts of Apollo. Something similar is true for the pioneering Soviet efforts in solar system exploration, including the first soft landings of robot spacecraft—Luna 9, Mars 3, Venera 8—on other worlds.
      Apollo conveyed a confidence, energy and breadth of vision that did capture the imagination of the world. That too was part of its purpose. It inspired an optimism about technology, an enthusiasm for the future. If we could go to the Moon, what else was now possible? Even those who were not admirers of the United States readily acknowledged that—whatever the underlying reason for the program—the nation had, with Apollo, achieved greatness.
      When you pack your bags for a big trip, you never know what's in store for you. The Apollo astronauts on their way to and from the Moon photographed their home planet. It was a natural thing to do, but it had consequences that few foresaw. For the first time, the inhabitants of Earth could see their world from above—the whole Earth, Earth in color, Earth as an exquisite spinning white and blue ball set against the vast darkness of space. Those images helped awaken our slumbering planetary consciousness. They provide incontestable evidence that we all share the same vulnerable planet. They remind us of what is important and what is not.
      We may have found that perspective just in time, just as our technology threatens the habitability of our world. Whatever the reason we first mustered the Apollo program, however mired it was in Cold War nationalism and the instruments of death, the inescapable recognition of the unity and fragility of Earth is its clear and luminous dividend, the unexpected final gift of Apollo. What began in deadly competition has helped us to see that global cooperation is the essential precondition for our survival.
      Travel is broadening.
      It's time to hit the road again.
      - Carl Sagan
      Founder and First President for The Planetary Society
      This article was adapted from a chapter Carl Sagan's book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. It was originally featured in the May/June 1994 issue of the Planetary Society member magazine, The Planetary Report.
      Onward! As Carl says, "It's time to hit the road again."
      Bill Nye, CEO
      The Planetary Society