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Category Archives: News

SpaceX Says It Will Fly Humans Past the Moon in 2018 (But It Still Must Meet NASA’s Needs)

Illustration of a Falcon Heavy launch from KSC’s Pad 39A, the first of which is planned for summer 2017. (Credit: SpaceX)

On Monday, Feb. 27, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced plans for his company to send two privately-paying “space tourists” on a trip around the Moon in late 2018. According to Musk it’s a voyage that would send them, aboard SpaceX’s still-in-development Dragon 2 spacecraft, on a “long loop” past the Moon and out to about 400,000 miles before returning—farther than any of NASA’s Apollo missions and even farther into space than any humans have ever traveled.

This announcement came as a surprise to many people, especially those who know the amazingly enthusiastic nature of a late 2018 target and how much work yet remains for a crewed version of the Dragon spacecraft, especially considering SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy has yet to launch.

SpaceX’s news release on Monday was quickly met by one from NASA, with whom the company is currently under contract to develop human transportation capabilities for transport to the Space Station and whose taxpayer-provided funding is paying for development of the Dragon vehicle. SpaceX has yet to launch Dragon 2 or achieve human rating from NASA, even though it was slated to begin flying astronauts to Station next year.

“We will work closely with SpaceX to ensure it safely meets the contractual obligations to return the launch of astronauts to U.S. soil and continue to successfully deliver supplies to the International Space Station,” said NASA’s representatives—somewhat pointedly—in a responsive press release.

This news also happened to come just a couple of weeks after a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggested that delays by SpaceX and Boeing—the two companies contracted to provide astronaut transportation to the ISS for NASA—will likely push any U.S. launches past 2018, requiring yet more Soyuz seats for American astronauts.

I don’t have any insider information from either SpaceX or NASA, but I can’t help but wonder how the former plans to achieve a 2018 launch of a crewed Dragon 2, and if the latter wonders if its needs—and the needs of the country—are being overlooked in favor of additional profit (which, admittedly, SpaceX as a privately-funded company relies upon.) In addition, is this putting Dragon 2 in direct competition with NASA’s Orion spacecraft?

“By putting forth the idea that its Dragon spacecraft could essentially fly the same mission as Orion for much, much less than the government, SpaceX is boldly telling the Trump administration that the private sector could get the job done if Orion were axed from the space agency’s budget to cut costs,” writes space journalist Eric Berger on Ars Technica.

Read more in this story from Eric Berger here: SpaceX plans to send two people around the Moon in late 2018

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Can Pluto Be a Planet Again Already?

New enhanced-color image of Pluto from New Horizons (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Enhanced-color image of Pluto from New Horizons (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Ever since the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 our Solar System was known to have nine planets orbiting the Sun. “My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” was a popular mnemonic in my elementary school days to help remember the order of major planets from Mercury outward. But in 2006, a controversial decision by the International Astronomical Union—spurred in part by Caltech astronomer Mike Brown—changed the specifications on what officially classifies a planet in the Solar System, thereby stripping Pluto of its 76-year-old designation. The reclassification, done by an in-person vote at a meeting in Prague (at which only about 400 of over 9,000 IAU members were in attendance) has been a topic of debate—often fierce—in the astronomical community ever since, and now some scientists are demanding to have it redefined again.

The new definition, based on a 2017 proposal by six planetary scientists, would classify “at least 110” known objects in the Solar System as planets—including Pluto.

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Find Out How NASA Technology Improves YOUR Life

NASA's Spinoff 2017 showcases how its technology is in use here on Earth.

NASA’s Spinoff 2017 showcases how its technology is in use here on Earth.

When someone mentions NASA you may first think about the Apollo Moon missions, space shuttles, rovers on Mars, and breathtaking pictures of the planets and distant stars and galaxies. And while NASA was and is very much responsible for all of these things, some of the most important achievements of NASA aren’t what’s accomplished out in space but how its technological advancements are used right here on Earth. Because of NASA’s needs in space, advancements were also made possible in aeronautics, defense, medicine, law enforcement, sports, transportation, safety, industrial, retail, and even some of the technology used in your home.

NASA doesn’t keep these innovations a secret, either. Its Spinoff publication lists, each year since 1976, the improvements made in various fields by NASA itself as well as companies across the country that have taken advantage of its publicly-available technology.

Part of NASA’s mission, written into the Agency’s foundational legislation, is a requirement to “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination” of the fruits of its scientific and technological discoveries. Spinoff 2017 shows that this spirit is alive and well at NASA, and we hope that you enjoy reading about the many ways space exploration yields practical benefits for all of us on Earth.
— Stephen Jurczyk, Associate Administrator, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate

Download the 2017 issue of NASA Spinoff here to learn how NASA is launching innovations and improving lives across the U.S. and the world.

Gene Cernan, the “Last Man on the Moon,” Has Died at 82

Photo of Gene Cernan in the Apollo 17 CSM during return from the Moon in 1972. (NASA/JSC)

Photo of Gene Cernan in the Apollo 17 CSM during return from the Moon in 1972. (NASA/JSC)

Sad news today: Eugene A. Cernan, former NASA astronaut and one of the twelve people who walked on the Moon during the Apollo program, died today at the age of 82.

“It is with very deep sadness that we share the loss of our beloved husband and father,” Cernan’s family said in a news release from NASA.  “Our family is heartbroken, of course, and we truly appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers. Gene, as he was known by so many, was a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.”

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We Still Don’t Know What Exploded Over Tunguska in 1908

This is an article, now updated, that I originally posted in 2009 during my first year of blogging. Since then more research has been done on the famous 1908 Tunguska Event and we even had a remarkably similar type of thing occur in February 2013 over the Chelyabinsk area, not too far from Tunguska, but even today, the 108th anniversary of the event, scientists aren’t in agreement over what it was that violently exploded over the boggy forests of Siberia—asteroid or comet.

tunguska_event

Flattened trees in Siberia from a 1908 atmospheric explosion

Long the subject of debate, with various theories ranging from meteorite impact to a comet to a flying saucer’s sudden engine meltdown, there’s actually strong evidence that the 1908 “Tunguska Event” was likely caused by the explosion of a comet in the upper atmosphere.

This idea has been suggested before, and is supported by Cornell University engineering professor Michael Kelly’s study of – strangely enough – the space shuttle’s exhaust plumes and their effect on high-atmosphere cloud formation.

To those not familiar with the Tunguska Event, something exploded or impacted in the remote area of Russia on June 30, 1908, flattening the forest in an 830-square-mile area, but leaving no visible crater or other obvious sign of what caused the event. Nearby residents reported the sound of a massive explosion, but that’s about it. Whatever it was, the devastation it caused was extensive and undeniable.

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