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NASA Prepares To Launch an Orion and 3 Cubesats To Deep Space: 3 Years To Go ( 51

MarkWhittington writes: As NASA has noted, the space agency and its contractors are working diligently on the first launch of the heavy-lift Space Launch System. The launch, officially called EM-1, or Exploration Mission 1, will loft an unpiloted version of the Orion spacecraft around the moon. also noted that a number of secondary payloads, known as CubeSats, will be along for the ride as well. NASA considered EM-1, scheduled for 2018, a crucial step in its Journey to Mars which will, it is hoped, reach its ultimate destination sometime in the 2030s.

The Moon's Two Sides Look So Different Thanks To 4.5 Billion-Year-Old Physics ( 96

StartsWithABang writes: 4.5 billion years ago, a giant object collided with our proto-Earth, kicking up debris that eventually coalesced into the Moon. While the near side contains dark maria and lunar lowlands, the far side is almost exclusive heavily cratered, high-mountainous regions. This was a mystery for a long time, but it appears that heating from the hot, young Earth caused a chemical and crustal difference between the two faces.

Inside the Mission To Europa ( 106

An anonymous reader writes: Ars Technica details the political and engineering battles being waged to make it possible for NASA to land a probe on Jupiter's moon Europa. They have new information about mission plans; it sounds ambitious, to say the least. "First, the bad news. Adding a lander to the Clipper will require additional technical work and necessitate a launch delay until late 2023. At that time, the massive Space Launch System rocket NASA is developing could deliver it to Jupiter in 4.6 years. Once there, the lander would separate from the Clipper, parking in a low-radiation orbit.

The Clipper would then proceed to reconnoiter Europa, diving into the harsh radiation environment to observe the moon and then zipping back out into cleaner space to relay its data back to Earth. Over a three-year period, the Clipper would image 95 percent of the world at about 50 meters per pixel and three percent at a very high resolution of 0.5 meters per pixel. With this data, scientists could find a suitable landing site. ...The JPL engineers have concluded the best way to deliver the lander to Europa's jagged surface is by way of a sky crane mechanism, like the one successfully used in the last stage of Curiosity's descent to the surface of Mars. With four steerable engines and an autonomous system to avoid hazards, the lander would be lowered to the moon's surface by an umbilical cord."


Lunar Scientist Proposes Dozens of Impact Probes To Map Moon's Water ( 35

MarkWhittington writes: Water ice believed by scientists to reside at the lunar poles is the key to opening up the solar system to human activity. The water could help sustain a lunar settlement. It could also be refined into rocket fuel, not only to sustain travel to and from the moon but to make it a refueling stop for spacecraft headed deeper into the solar system. A recent MIT study suggested that lunar fuel would simplify NASA's Journey to Mars. Lunar scientist Paul Spudis, writing in Air and Space Magazine, pondered the next step in determining the extent and composition of the lunar ice. Spudis' idea is to deploy several dozen impact probes across one of the lunar polar regions.

Video Space Exploration Politics -- and an Explanation of the Apollo Flag 'Mystery' (Video) 39

Meet Tom Moser. And here's another NASA oral history interview with him. And we interviewed him last week ourselves. Tom has been involved, one way or another, as engineer or manager, with every American manned space flight program since 1963. Now, among other things, he's thinking of ways multiple governments and private companies can share their resources to make future space exploration feasible, which may not be engineering -- but in many cases politics can be more important than designing and building the hardware, which is why it's worth learning about.

And thinking of hardware, do you remember the conspiracy people talking about how the U.S. flag on the moon was faked because there's no way it could wave in the breeze without an atmosphere? Moser gives us the inside scoop on that: it was an engineering screwup, and at least partly his fault. Whoops!

The Two Modern Space Races ( 99

MarkWhittington writes: Observers of the current state of the space program like to maintain that a space race, such as occurred in the 1960s, will never happen again. They cannot be farther from the truth, since not just one, but two space races are going on. The Google Lunar X Prize is managing a race for the first private group to land a rover on the lunar surface and perform a number of tasks for glory and prize money. Eric Berger at Ars Technica pointed out that another prize space race, with the goal of performing the first private crewed space mission in low Earth orbit, is ongoing thanks to NASA's commercial crew program.

NASA's Cassini Discovers Hydrocarbon Dunes On Titan ( 77

MarkWhittington writes: NASA made an announcement that Titan, a moon of Saturn and the largest moon in the solar system, has hydrocarbon dunes. The discovery has highlighted the entirely alien nature of Titan, which has seas, lakes and rains of liquid methane and ethane and a surface comprised on water ice. The fact that it has dunes made of frozen hydrocarbon that acts like sand, blown by the wind on Earth is yet another piece of data that has scientists interested in studying Titan further.

NASA Releases First Images of Cassini's Dive Through the Geyser of Enceladus ( 26

MarkWhittington writes: NASA released the first images from Cassini's dive two days earlier into the geyser that is erupting water and ice particles through fissures in the icy crust of Saturn's moon Enceladus from what is presumed to be a salty ocean underneath. The space probe, which has been orbiting Saturn for the past several years, survived the encounter. Scientists are eagerly awaiting the data that will be returned from the passage, which should be made available in a week or two.

Junkyard Owner Saves Lunar Rover Prototype ( 130

An anonymous reader writes: On Tuesday, Slashdot users learned that a man in Alabama sold a lunar rover prototype for scrap metal. We now learn that the junkyard owner has saved this important piece of scientific history. The man claims that, upon receiving the prototype at his scrap facility, he set it aside because he knew exactly what it was.

Cassini Probe Will Dive Through Enceladus's Water Jets ( 65

An anonymous reader writes: NASA's Cassini probe has a daring mission tomorrow: dive through the water jets spraying from the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus. The probe will be a mere 30 miles above the surface, traveling at a relative speed of 19,000 mph. Researchers hope to gain insight into the chemical composition of the jets. "[T]he plumes are more than just gas and water: samples show that they also contain many of the building blocks essential to Earth-like life. This lends itself to the exciting possibility that organisms similar to those that thrive in our own deep oceans near volcanic vents exuding carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide might exist on Eceladus." The molecules suspended among the water may tell us whether Enceladus's oceans are capable of harboring life. "The spacecraft's sensors will pick up gases in the plume searching for the presence of molecular hydrogen (H2). The amount of H2 found could reveal how much hydrothermal activity is occurring in the ocean."

Alabama Man Sold a Priceless Apollo-Era Lunar Rover Protoype For Scrap Metal ( 241

Jason Koebler writes: An Alabama man allowed an Apollo-era lunar rover prototype to rot in his backyard before ultimately selling it to a junkyard for scrap metal last year, according to documents acquired from NASA as part of a Freedom of Information Act request. NASA spent much of 2014 attempting to acquire the priceless artifact for display in a museum, but it was ultimately destroyed before the agency could recover it.

Study Questions Scientific Dating Method Used For Lunar Impacts ( 49

schwit1 writes: A new study has raised questions about the methods scientists have used to date the late heavy bombardment in the early solar system. According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison: "A study of zircons from a gigantic meteorite impact in South Africa, now online in the journal Geology, casts doubt on the methods used to date lunar impacts. The critical problem, says lead author Aaron Cavosie, a visiting professor of geoscience and member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the fact that lunar zircons are ex situ, meaning removed from the rock in which they formed, which deprives geoscientists of corroborating evidence of impact. 'While zircon is one of the best isotopic clocks for dating many geological processes,' Cavosie says, 'our results show that it is very challenging to use ex situ zircon to date a large impact of known age.'" The problem is that the removal of the zircon from lunar rocks changes the data enough to make the dating unreliable. The method might work on Earth, but the dating done on Apollo samples can be questioned. This means that much of the supposed history of the solar system, centered on what planetary scientists call the late heavy bombardment, a period 4 billion years ago when the planets were being hit by innumerable impacts as they cleared the solar system of its dusty debris disk, might not have happened as dated from lunar samples. If so, our understanding of when that bombardment ended and life began to form on Earth might be considerably incorrect.

Europe and Russia Are Headed Back To the Moon Together ( 65

MarkWhittington writes: Russia is turning its attention to the moon again for the first time in about 40 years. The first Russian mission to the moon since long before the end of the Cold War will be Luna 27, a robot lander that will touch down on the edge of the lunar South Pole as early as 2020. Russia is looking for international partners to help make Luna 27 a reality and may have found one in the European Space Agency, according to a story on the BBC. "The initial missions will be robotic. Luna 27 will land on the edge of the South Pole Aitken basin. The south polar region has areas which are always dark. These are some of the coldest places in the Solar System. As such, they are icy prisons for water and other chemicals that have been shielded from heating by the Sun. According to Dr. James Carpenter, ESA's lead scientist on the project, one of the main aims is to investigate the potential use of this water as a resource for the future, and to find out what it can tell us about the origins of life in the inner Solar System."

"Father of the Space Shuttle" George Mueller Dies At 97 ( 75

The Washington Post reports that long-time NASA engineer and administrator George Mueller died on October 12 of congestive heart failure, at 97. Mueller had a hand in NASA programs as Associate Administrator of the NASA Office of Manned Space Flight going back to the Apollo program, but not only as an administrator: he played a large role in the design of Skylab, and in lobbying for the Space Shuttle; this last earned him the (sometimes disputed) nickname of "Father of the Space Shuttle." During his Apollo days, Mueller became well known for his insistence on "all-up" testing, rather than incremental, per-component tests. From the Washington Post's story: As applied to the space program, [all-up testing] implied specifically such techniques as the testing of all three stages of the giant Saturn V booster rocket while they were coupled together and with a payload attached to boot. It was reported that the scheme had its doubters, among them such leading lights of rocketry as Wernher von Braun. But in time, the forceful Dr. Mueller proved persuasive enough to overcome all such reservations, and it was “all up” for the mammoth Saturn V, the launch vehicle upon which NASA pinned its hopes of sending Americans to the moon.

NASA Returns Images of Frozen Worlds Enceladus and Pluto ( 37

MarkWhittington writes: This past week, NASA provided a look at two frozen worlds far out into the solar system. Cassini, currently orbiting Saturn, flew by the frozen moon Enceladus and provided the closest views yet of its north pole. New Horizons, hurtling deep into the Kuiper belt at the edge of the solar system, returned a fresh image of the icy region of Pluto known as the Sputnik Planum.

China Looks To Deep Space Missions, Including More Lunar Landings and Robot Ants ( 65

MarkWhittington writes: China has already landed a rover on the moon and has launched numerous crewed space missions in low-Earth orbit. It is looking ahead to building a space station and landing more probes on the moon, including the lunar farside. According to a story in Xinhua, the Chinese are already looking beyond to deep space missions to destinations including the moon, Mars, and asteroids. The idea is that China will not be a respected space power until it starts accomplishing things in space that no other country has done before.

Going To Mars Via the Moon ( 151

An anonymous reader writes: Getting anywhere in space is a difficult proposition — at least, if you want to get there in a timely manner. Rocket propulsion requires combustion mass. The more mass you take, the more you need. A team at MIT has found that establishing fuel-generating infrastructure on the Moon could reduce launch mass for missions to Mars by up to 68%. "They found the most mass-efficient path involves launching a crew from Earth with just enough fuel to get into orbit around the Earth. A fuel-producing plant on the surface of the moon would then launch tankers of fuel into space, where they would enter gravitational orbit. The tankers would eventually be picked up by the Mars-bound crew (PDF), which would then head to a nearby fueling station to gas up before ultimately heading to Mars." The technology to make this happen is not difficult to build; it just requires a lot of money. Once it's in place, it'll cut down on expensive launch costs. As the commercial space industry gets going and launches happen more often, such an investment starts to make more and more sense.

Electoral System That Lessig Hopes To Reform Is Keeping Him Out of the Debate ( 239

schwit1 writes: Lessig has raised a million dollars, which is nothing to sneeze at, but he's being given the cold shoulder by the Democrats when it comes to participating in the debates. I think he's got a good argument for being included — he's certainly as serious a candidate as some of the others, and I'm hearing a lot about his campaign.

Why are they keeping Lessig out? According to Lessig, it's for the same reason he wants in: "My view is that if we can get this message [of reform] into the debate it would change the dynamics of this Democratic primary entirely. This issue framed in this way totally blows up the Democratic primary."

Hillary and Bernie, he says, are promising the moon to voters, but can't deliver. Lessig told me, "If I can get on that stage and say the rocket can't get off the ground, and we have to change this dynamic first," the narrative shifts in a way that the leading candidates can't address.


The History of City-Building Games ( 67

An anonymous reader writes: If you ask most gamers, the first city-building game they played was SimCity, or some sequel thereof. Though SimCity ended up defining the genre for years, it was far from the first. This article goes through the history of city-building games. It began before man first landed on the moon: "While extremely limited in its simulation, Doug Dyment's The Sumer Game was the first computer game to concern itself with matters of city building and management. He coded The Sumer Game in 1968 on a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8 minicomputer, using the FOCAL programming language. David H. Ahl ported it to BASIC a few years later retitled as Hamurabi (with the second 'm' dropped in order to fit an eight-character naming limit). The Sumer Game, or Hamurabi, put you in charge of the ancient city-state of Sumer. You couldn't build anything, but you could buy and sell land, plant seeds, and feed (or starve) your people. The goal was to grow your economy so that your city could expand and support a larger population, but rats and the plague stood in your way. And if you were truly a terrible leader your people would rebel, casting you off from the throne."

How Analog Tide Predictors Changed Human History ( 37

szczys writes: You'd think tide prediction would be quite easy: it comes in, it goes out. But of course it's driven by gravity between the moon and earth and there's a lot more to it. Today, computer models make this easy, but before computers we used incredible analog machines to predict the tides. The best of these machines were the deciding factor in setting a date for the Allies landing in Europe leading to the end of the second world war. From the Hackaday story: "In England, tide prediction was handled by Arthur Thomas Doodson from the Liverpool Tidal Institute. It was Doodson who made the tidal predictions for the Allied invasion at Normandy. Doodson needed access to local tide data, but the British only had information for the nearby ports. Factors like the shallow water effect and local weather impact on tidal behavior made it impossible to interpolate for the landing sites based on the port data. The shallow water effect could really throw off the schedule for demolishing the obstacles if the tide rose too quickly. Secret British reconnaissance teams covertly collected shallow water data at the enemy beaches and sent it to Doodson for analysis. To further complicate things, the operatives couldn't just tell Doodson that the invasion was planned for the beaches of Normandy. So he had to figure it out from the harmonic constants sent to him by William Ian Farquharson, superintendent of tides at the Hydrographic Office of the Royal Navy. He did so using the third iteration of Kelvin's predictor along with another machine. These were kept in separate rooms lest they be taken out by the same bomb.