Category Archives: News
It’s August and one of the most highly-anticipated astronomical events of the 21st century is nearly upon us: the August 21 solar eclipse, which will be visible as a total eclipse literally across the entire United States…but that doesn’t mean everywhere in the United States. Totality will pass across the U.S. in a narrow band about 60 miles wide starting along the northern coast of Oregon at 10:18 a.m. local time (PDT) and ending along the coast of South Carolina at 2:48 p.m. EDT. But that’s just totality—the full eclipse event will actually begin much earlier than that and end later, and its visibility won’t be limited to only that path. And while it’ll be happening overhead in the daytime sky you’ll need the right equipment to view it safely, whether you’re in totality or not.
Wait, you say, what’s the difference between totality and…not totality? And how is it caused? And why is this a big deal at all? If you’re wondering those things (and perhaps others) then this post is just for you. Below are answers to some common—and certainly not dumb—questions about the solar eclipse, brought to you by yours truly (with a little help from NASA and other eclipse specialists.)
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
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.
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.
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.”