No Signal Yet From Philae (But ESA Isn’t Giving Up)

Philae's view from its current location on comet 67P/C-G. ( ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA)

Philae’s view from its current location on comet 67P/C-G, captured by one of its three CIVA cameras. (ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA)

The first attempt by ESA and Rosetta to hear back from Philae has turned up only radio silence – but that doesn’t necessarily mean the lander is on permanent shutdown. It may just be that it’s still too cold and dark where Philae is to have sufficiently warmed up its components for reactivation.

“It was a very early attempt; we will repeat this process until we receive a response from Philae,” said DLR (Germany’s Aerospace agency) Project Manager Stephan Ulamec. “We have to be patient.”

After landing in an as yet unconfirmed location on comet 67P on November 12, 2014, Philae performed all of its primary science tasks before running out of battery power and entering a hibernation “safe” mode. Its reawakening is anticipated by mission engineers as the comet gets closer to the Sun over the next several months.

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MarsOne CEO Responds to Claims of Conspiracy and Fraud

The suffix “-gate” is often added to words to create a meaning of conspiracy or public debacle, à la the 1972 Watergate scandal that destroyed Nixon’s term as U.S. president, and we might soon be referring to this as “Marsgate” – the allegations of MarsOne of illegitimacy and fraudulent (or at the very least sketchy) practices by Medium.com reporter Elmo Keep and her contact Dr. Joseph Roche. While Keep and Roche – the latter of whom was chosen as a finalist in the latest round of candidate selections for a future one-way trip to Mars – are certainly not alone in their doubtfulness of the Dutch nonprofit company’s ability to actually set up a human colony on Mars over the next decade, their March 17 exposé article has certainly helped to position MarsOne directly under the burning spotlight of public skepticism (a place some say it should have been since the very beginning.)

Not to let such bad publicity remain blatantly unanswered, MarsOne CEO Bas Lansdorp has published a video interview in which he responds to the criticisms brought up by Keep and Roche. One thing Lansdorp does note is that there has been a delay of two years (already) to the mission timeline, which now puts the first crew’s boots on red ground in 2029 instead of 2027. Lansdorp openly asserts that they have a development team and contracts, and progress will be made.

“The recent bad press about MarsOne was caused to a large extent by an article on Medium.com by Elmo Keep, and that article contains a lot of things that simply are not true.”
– Bas Lansdorp, MarsOne CEO

Of course words aren’t rocketships or habitation modules and anything can be said in an interview. But this is the public response to a public challenge – not likely the first to come, either – and so it remains to be seen where it all goes from here.*

Watch the video interview above, and read more about this week’s Marsgate here.

*One thing that mustn’t be allowed to develop is a public perception of Mars as a human destination to be intrinsically unachievable. MarsOne is not NASA or ESA or any other government space agency (or even SpaceX); if MarsOne fails it won’t be because of Mars or indicative of human capability as a whole. Hopefully if it starts to go that way, Lansdorp will have the good sense and decency to shut it all down before anyone gets hurt. 

Also, check out this fun and insightful article by Kristi Harrison on Cracked.com.

NASA’s MAVEN Spacecraft Spots Mars’ Secret Invisible Aurora

In Dec. 2014 MAVEN observed auroras on Mars glowing in ultraviolet wavelengths (University of Colorado)

In Dec. 2014 MAVEN observed auroras on Mars glowing in ultraviolet wavelengths (University of Colorado)

Only a day after skywatchers in mid- to upper-latitudes around the world were treated to a particularly energetic display of auroras on the night of March 17 as a result of an intense geomagnetic storm, researchers from the University of Colorado announced findings from NASA’s MAVEN mission of auroral action observed on Mars – although in invisible ultraviolet wavelengths rather than visible light.

Read the rest of this article here.

Watch Footage From the First Spacewalk, 50 Years Ago Today

On March 18, 1965, the first extravehicular activity – or EVA – in space was conducted by Russian cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov, who spent ten minutes outside his Vokshod 2 spacecraft in Earth orbit. Leonov’s historic spacewalk paved the way for all future EVAs, from Ed White’s first American EVA on June 3 of the same year, to low-Earth orbit, to the surface of the Moon… and back to low-Earth orbit again.

Watch footage from the first human spacewalk above, and learn more about Leonov’s experience in space in this Air & Space article here (and find out how close he came to avoiding disaster.)

“Our orbit would soon take us away from the sun and into darkness. It was then I realized how deformed my stiff spacesuit had become, owing to the lack of atmospheric pressure. My feet had pulled away from my boots and my fingers from the gloves attached to my sleeves, making it impossible to reenter the airlock feet first.”
– Aleksei Leonov recalling his 1965 spacewalk (via Air & Space)

Also, the National Air & Space museum has an exhibit on 50 years of EVAs – you can learn more about that online here.

Have the Best-Laid Plans of MarsOne Finally Gone Awry?

MarsOne fade

MarsOne’s red planet promises may be fading away in the light of one candidate’s experiences with the company.

Just one month after the announcement of the 100 “finalists” selected by MarsOne – a Dutch nonprofit company that’s promising to establish a permanent colony on the Red Planet by 2025 – a scathing exposé has been published online that reveals some of the behind-the-scenes processes that have been going on for applicants, as described by selected finalist Dr. Joseph Roche, who happens to be an astrophysicist and assistant professor at Trinity College’s School of Education in Dublin, Ireland.

In fact, based on the article in Medium, it not only sounds like MarsOne will be unable to deliver on their promises in any reasonable fashion – they may even be a fraud. (A suggested donation of 75% of any interviewees’ profits to the company??)

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This is What it Would Look Like to Fight Flying Dragons on Titan

Obviously this is a totally-for-fun sci-fi video, but what a video! Created by Oscar-nominated Irish filmmaker Ruairi Robinson, it shows fleets of very industrial-looking fighter skiffs hunting giant flying eels through the skies of some very cloudy planet… the first thought that came to my mind was Titan! (Although Titan is more hazy than cloudy but that’s just getting nitpicky.) Check out the video above… if this ever becomes a feature-length film I know I’ll be buying a ticket for sure.

HT to my Facebook friend and fantasy artist Bob Eggleton.

Credit: Ruairi Robinson. Developed with the assistance of the Irish Film Board.

UPDATE 3/23: This proof-of-concept short may become a feature length movie, thanks to District 9 director Neill Blomkamp and X-Men: Days of Future Past producer Simon Kinberg… and also to all the people on the ‘net who have been raving about it! Read more on The Verge here.

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