Why NASA quarantined the Apollo 11 astronauts – Vox.com

On July 21, 1969, the Apollo 11 quarantine began.

As shown in the video above, it was an unusual process for an unprecedented task: keeping potential moon germs from entering the Earths atmosphere (and affecting its population).

To isolate the Apollo astronauts from Earth, NASA went to extraordinary lengths, clothing them in biological isolation garments, transporting them on a converted Airstream trailer, and quarantining them for weeks in a Lunar Receiving Lab built specially for analyzing moon samples and, of course, for holding the men who went there.

The quarantine was a strange capstone to the journey to the moon but a necessary one thats surprisingly resonant today.

Watch the conversation above to learn more.

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Why NASA quarantined the Apollo 11 astronauts - Vox.com

Boeing will refly its passenger spacecraft for NASA without crew after flubbed debut launch – The Verge

Boeing has decided to refly its new passenger spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, for NASA this fall without a crew on board, three months after the vehicles debut launch to space went awry. The company hopes to complete all of the objectives the spacecraft was supposed to do on its inaugural flight namely, docking with the International Space Station paving the way for people to start flying on the vehicle.

Flying another uncrewed flight will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer, Boeing said in a statement. We will then proceed to the tremendous responsibility and privilege of flying astronauts to the International Space Station. Boeing confirmed that it plans to conduct the flight in the fall, as The Washington Post first reported.

The Starliner is Boeings contribution to NASAs Commercial Crew Program, an initiative aimed at developing new private spacecraft that can transport NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing has been developing Starliner for the last six years. In order to ensure the vehicle is safe to carry passengers to the ISS, the company did an uncrewed test launch of the spacecraft on December 20th. But the flight didnt go as planned. Just after launching to space, a glitch with the Starliners clock prevented the vehicle from igniting its engines at the right time, and it got into the wrong orbit. The vehicle didnt reach the International Space Station as intended, and Boeing had to bring the spacecraft back to Earth early.

A few months after the launch, NASA and Boeing revealed that the Starliner had experienced a second software glitch before landing, too. Fortunately, Boeing caught it during a thorough review of the data midflight. But if the company hadnt found it, the glitch could have messed up the Starliners landing sequence, and that may have damaged the vehicle on the way down to the ground. Ultimately, Starliner landed successfully in New Mexico with parachutes two days after its shaky launch.

NASA and Boeing teamed up to investigate how the debut flight went so wrong. NASA wrapped up its investigation in early March and came up with 61 corrective actions that Boeing needed to take to address all of the problems with the launch. NASA also initiated multiple reviews of Boeings safety culture and organizational processes. However, NASA had yet to make a decision about whether Boeing needed to redo the mission before people could fly on Starliner. The findings and the corrective actions that Boeing has laid out they have to now come back to NASA with a plan, how theyre going to go ahead and address all of those, Doug Loverro, NASAs associate administrator for human spaceflight, said during a press conference on the investigation on March 6th.

Now it seems that Boeing has made that decision for the space agency. Boeing has already set aside the money needed to fund the do-over mission, too. In January, the company allocated $410 million in case a second uncrewed test flight of Starliner was required.

NASA says that it fully supports the call, according to a blog post by the space agency. If Boeing would have proposed a crewed mission as the next flight, NASA would have completed a detailed review and analysis of the proposal to determine the feasibility of the plan, according to the blog post. However, as this was not the recommendation made by Boeing, NASA will not speculate on what the agency would have required. The data from the upcoming flight, as well as the one in December, will be used to certify that the Starliner is ready for carrying people, according to NASA. Meanwhile, NASA still intends to complete its reviews of Boeings culture.

In the meantime, NASAs second Commercial Crew provider, SpaceX, seems poised to become the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX has been developing its own crew capsule, the Crew Dragon, and the company is targeting to fly its first crew of two on the vehicle this May.

Update April 6th, 7:40PM ET: This article was updated to include information from a NASA blog post.

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Boeing will refly its passenger spacecraft for NASA without crew after flubbed debut launch - The Verge

NASA solar mission spots wild threads woven into the sun’s atmosphere – CNET

A NASA mission revealed a stunning view of super-hot magnetic threads in the sun's atmosphere.

Here's an eye-opener. New high-resolution images of the sun show a feature of our closest star we've never seen before: "incredibly fine magnetic threads filled with extremely hot, million-degree plasma."

Scientists from the University of Central Lancashire in the UK and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center analyzed the data from NASA's High-Resolution Coronal Imager, aka Hi-C, mission and discovered the strands. The threads of "hot, electrified gases" are about 310 miles (500 kilometers) in width.

An image with the Earth superimposed gives some perspective on the size of the threads.

The Earth shows just how big these magnetic threads really are.

Previous images of the sun had shown dark spots where the threads are located. Hi-C, however, was able to deliver what UCLan said are the highest-resolution images of the sun's atmosphere ever captured. The research team published its findings this week in the Astrophysical Journal.

Hi-C is a bit different from most telescopes since it's launched on a sub-orbital rocket. On its last flight in 2018, Hi-C spent about five minutes snapping images of the sun from the edge of space. It returned to Earth with a parachute-assisted landing.

The strands are a bit of a mystery at the moment. "The exact physical mechanism that is creating these pervasive hot strands remains unclear, so scientific debate will now focus on why they are formed, and how their presence helps us understand the eruption of solar flares and solar storms that could affect life on Earth,"said UCLan in a release Thursday.

Hi-C isn't done with discoveries yet. The research team is now planning to launch the telescope once again to gather even more data. Between Hi-C,NASA's Parker Solar Probeand the European Space Agency'sSolar Orbiter, scientists are slowly teasing out the sun's secrets.

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NASA solar mission spots wild threads woven into the sun's atmosphere - CNET

SpaceX and NASA test the system Crew Dragon staff would use to exit the launch area in an emergency – TechCrunch

On Friday, April 3, 2020, NASA and SpaceX completed an end-to-end demonstration of the teams ability to safely evacuate crew members from the Fixed Service Structure during an emergency situation at Launch Complex 39A at NASAs Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SpaceX and NASA are in the process of final preparations prior to launching their first crewed spaceflight mission Demo-2, which is technically still a demonstration mission needed to validate SpaceXs Crew Dragon for transporting humans during regular flight. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be on board the historic flight, which will see SpaceXs vehicle fly them to the International Space Station for the very first time.

One preparatory step for that launch happened on April 3, with a full run-through of the emergency egress system that will be in place during Demo-2 launch day to ensure that astronauts and ground crew can all quickly and safely get clear of the launchpad in case anything goes wrong. Its highly unlikely that the system will actually be used, but safety is the name of the game in human spaceflight, and so NASA and SpaceX conducted a full demonstration with crew and support staff at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prove that everything works as intended.

As you can see in the video above, the system includes essentially loading crew from the launch tower into what amounts to a biplane system, with baskets they ride in to reach armored vehicles at ground level. Theyre loaded into those, which are technically called Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (explosion-resistant, naturally), and then those take them to a safe distance.

Part of the demonstration exercise included simulating crew injuries among the support staff, with other team members having to locate them and carry them to the baskets for evacuation. Everything seems to have gone to plan, and this means that May window for this groundbreaking SpaceX mission is looking more solid than ever.

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SpaceX and NASA test the system Crew Dragon staff would use to exit the launch area in an emergency - TechCrunch

Huge asteroid 1998 OR2 will zip harmlessly by Earth April 29. See the latest telescope photos. – Space.com

The huge "potentially hazardous" asteroid 1998 OR2 is just a few weeks away from its close encounter with Earth, and you can watch the giant space rock's approach online or with a small telescope.

While asteroid 1998 OR2 is large enough to wreak havoc on Earth if it were to strike our planet, it won't come anywhere near a collision when it flies by on April 29.

"On April 29, asteroid 1998 OR2 will safely pass by 3.9 million miles/6.2 million kilometers," scientists with NASA's Asteroid Watch program said in a Twitter update as they debunked a Daily Express report warning of the flyby. "There is no warning about this asteroid," they added in another Twitter post.

Related: Potentially dangerous asteroids (images)More: Near-Earth asteroids: Famous flybys & close calls (infographic)

NASA estimates that the asteroid is between 1.1 miles and 2.5 miles (1.8 to 4.1 kilometers) wide. According to Asteroid Watch, 1998 OR2 will pass and that it will pass by at a safe distance that is more than 16 times the average distance between Earth and the moon. While NASA classifies asteroids that come within less than 4.6 million miles (7.5 million km) of Earth as "potentially hazardous," there's nothing to worry about with 1998 OR2.

"The orbit is well understood and it will pass harmlessly at 16 times the distance to our moon," NASA wrote on Twitter. "No one should have any concern about it."

The asteroid is currently too faint to see with most backyard telescopes, but it has been visible in larger telescopes for a while. The Virtual Telescope Project, a remote observatory founded by astrophysicist Gianluca Masi of the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Italy, has been keeping an eye on the asteroid for about a month, periodically releasing new images of the space rock as it races through the cosmos at more than 19,000 mph (31,000 km/h).

Asteroid 1998 OR2 is currently only visible in professional telescopes, like the ones Masi uses at the Virtual Telescope Project. However, amateur astronomers will have a chance to see the asteroid for themselves when it becomes visible in smaller telescopes during its close approach.

According to EarthSky.org, asteroid 1998 OR2 is expected to reach a visual magnitude of 10 or 11 (magnitude is a measure of an object's brightness). This means it will be visible in at least 6-inch or 8-inch telescopes, weather permitting.

If you aren't able to watch the flyby, you can still see asteroid 1998 OR2 in a live webcast from the Virtual Telescope Project. Hosted by Masi, the free livestream will feature telescope views of the asteroid on April 28, starting at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT).

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and onFacebook.

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Huge asteroid 1998 OR2 will zip harmlessly by Earth April 29. See the latest telescope photos. - Space.com

NASA to hand off spacecraft communications to industry – SpaceNews

NASA is preparing to hand off to the private sector much of the work of communicating with spacecraft in Earth and lunar orbit.

This is an opportunity to promote U.S. industry, potentially improve the cost of service, and allow NASA to place its energy and focus on advanced capabilities which are not yet available in the commercial market, Badri Younes, NASAs deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation, said by email.

NASA already relies on commercial and university ground stations to provide 67 percent of communications and tracking for its Near-Earth Network, which supports suborbital and orbital missions as well as rocket launches and satellite operations at Lagrange points.

The effort to increase this percentage by the end of 2020 is already underway, Younes said.

NASA also will turn to partners for help communicating with spacecraft in the moon-bound Artemis program.

Additional commercial or government-owned 18-meter class antennas will be deployed to meet Artemis program needs, Younes said. A future Lunar relay network is being examined to support extended human presence at the Moon.

In addition, NASA is seeking industry assistance in replacing the Space Network, which provides communications for more than 40 missions including the International Space Station through government-owned Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) and associated ground stations.

While the TDRS System is a fine investment that the government has made, for the future we are looking at commercial alternatives, said Ted Sobchak, NASA Space Network project manager.

NASA plans a multistep campaign to encourage development of commercial space-based relay networks before the current TDRS spacecraft reach the end of their lives.

Based on past spacecraft performance, the newest generation of TDRS will remain operational well into the 2030s, Younes said.

NASAs campaign to replace the Space Network begins with information-sharing between NASA and industry, followed by on-orbit demonstrations and finally transitioning viable services into operations, Younes said. The approach will allow new NASA missions to access commercially provided satellite relay services while the TDRS are slowly retired.

By holding a competition and conducting a series of demonstrations, NASA wants to ensure both established providers and new entrants have an opportunity to prove and offer their services, Younes said. The end goal is to create a competitive, multi-player, multi-network environment.

Having a diverse group of vendors offering communications services will help NASA achieve its primary objective: to ensure continuity of communications services to its current and future missions, Younes said. NASA missions can last upwards of decades, and reliance on a single commercial vendor introduces risk that may be unacceptable.

The space agency plans to create an interoperable network of networks, in which user missions might roam between several providers, akin to the current terrestrial cellular model, Younes said. NASA is eager to see existing and new companies rise to the technical challenge posed by satellite-relay communication services and looks forward to those services meeting NASAs evolving mission needs.

For now, the effort to replace the Space Network is called Communications Services Program. It may be renamed to avoid confusion with similarly named programs, said Younes, who leads the Space Communications and Navigation office at NASA Headquarters.

In its budget blueprint sent to Congress in February, NASA requested $23.4 million in 2021 for CSP, followed by $42 million in 2022, $51.2 million in 2023 and $58.9 million in both 2024 and 2025.

Initial study contracts for commercial relay networks went to some of the nations largest aerospace companies. NASA awarded a total of about $4 million in 2019 to eight firms to conduct five-month studies of communications networks with optical communication and radio frequency data-relay capabilities. Winners of the Space Relay Partnership and Services Study contracts were Atlas Space Operations, Boeing, Eutelsat America Corporation, General Dynamics Mission Systems, Intelsat General Communications, Maxar Technologies, Northrop Grumman and SpaceX.

Additional firms are investing in data relay networks to accommodate growing space traffic.

With the sharp increase in spacecraft on the horizon, now more than ever we need to shift towards an always-connected, internet-of-things mindset in space, said Brian Barnett, CEO of Solstar Space, a New Mexico startup seeking to create a Space Wide Web.

Solstars Schmitt Space Communicator, a transceiver, relays messages between spacecraft and the ground through commercial communications satellites in geostationary orbit. Solstar tested the device in April and July 2018 on board Blue Origins New Shepard, sending the first tweets from space.

Were leveraging space infrastructure in new ways and embracing new technologies to craft innovative telecom solutions that open up new operations strategies for spacecraft and payloads, Barnett said.

A similar product is offered by Addvalue Innovation, a subsidiary of Addvalue Technologies of Singapore.

Addvalues Inter-satellite Data Relay System sends data through Inmarsats L-band constellation. Addvalue and Inmarsat have created a commercial communications network that offers satellite operators on-demand, uninterrupted communications with satellites in low Earth orbit, said Tan Khai Pang, Addvalue chief technology and chief operating officer.

The latest competitor to enter this market is EOS Defense Systems USA, a subsidiary of Electro Optic Systems Holdings Ltd. of Australia. Instead of relying on existing geostationary satellites for data relay, EOS plans to create a communications network with the spectrum license originally obtained by Audacy, a Silicon Valley startup that planned to send three communications-relay satellites into medium Earth orbit. Audacy closed in 2019 after failing to raise enough money.

If EOS wins approval from the Federal Communications Commission and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, it will take over Audacys license and assets and begin offering service from satellites in orbit by 2024, said John Berry, chairman of EOS Defense Systems and former U.S. ambassador to Australia.

This article originally appeared in the March 16, 2020 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

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NASA looking to play greater role in coronavirus pandemic response – SpaceNews

WASHINGTON NASA is looking for ways to leverage its expertise and capabilities to support the federal governments response to the coronavirus pandemic, while agency leaders said they would not rush to reopen centers.

In a virtual town hall meeting March 25, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and other agency officials said theyre in discussions with other federal agencies, as well as state and local governments, about how the agency can best contribute to efforts to combat the growing pandemic, with more than 65,000 confirmed cases and more than 900 deaths in the United States alone.

Your agency, NASA, is involved in providing solution sets for the nation, and we will be more and more involved as days go on because we do have an extremely talented, very bright workforce and a lot of capabilities that can help, Bridenstine said.

One early role is lending the agencys supercomputing resources to researchers studying the coronavirus to develop treatments and vaccines. The White Houses Office of Science and Technology Policy announced the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium March 23, which includes NASA as well as the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, companies and universities. NASA is providing access to supercomputers at the Ames Research Center as part of that effort.

NASA is examining other ways it can support the overall coronavirus response. Steve Jurczyk, NASA associate administrator, said the agency was part of White House meetings to coordinate the federal government response to the pandemic. Some local and state governments, as well as companies, are contacting field centers as well. We want that to continue, he said.

Another avenue is to solicit ideas from agency personnel through an internal challenge. Were going to put specific areas where we think we can best contribute, and solicit ideas from anybody across the agency on addressing those challenges and contributing to those areas, he said. Well prioritize those and well figure out how to get those up and running and resource those.

One question submitted by agency employees asked if NASA could use its facilities to produce ventilators for hospitals given growing fears of shortages as the pandemic worsens. J.D. Polk, NASAs chief health and medical officer, said that it was more likely the agency may assist companies that already produce ventilators.

It may not be just in the building of ventilators, but it may be in helping the companies that already build ventilators change their ventilators, he said, such as the use of 3-D printing for parts that are in short supply. That will help us focus our expertise to where the needs really are. Several NASA offices, he said, would be part of an interagency discussion March 26 regarding increasing the supply of ventilators.

Polk also said that NASA was looking at what personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves, it had available to give to hospitals in short supply. NASA orders its PPE on a just-in-time basis. We dont have a massive stockpile of PPE to donate, he said, and much of what is available is needed for its own activities, including launch preparations for the Mars 2020 mission. The agency, though, was looking at how to provide any PPE that might be available to hospitals.

Getting to the back side of the curve

Much of the hourlong town hall addressed the status of agency activities. Nine of NASAs 18 facilities, which include field centers as well as NASA Headquarters and sites run by field centers, are at Stage 4 of its coronavirus response framework, closing them to all personnel except those needed for safety and security and, in a few cases, for those working on essential mission activities. The other facilities are at Stage 3, which also calls for mandatory telework but with more mission-essential personnel working on site.

While the European Space Agency announced March 24 it was suspending operations of four science missions to reduce the number of personnel in its mission control center, Jurczyk said NASA was not planning anything similar for the moment. Were looking at that, possibly, if things deteriorate further, he said. Were going to maintain all our missions in space in mostly normal operations for now.

Others activities are continuing, or resuming, this week. The Orion spacecraft for the Artemis 1 mission flew from Ohio, where it recently completed environmental testing, to the Kennedy Space Center on a Super Guppy aircraft March 25.

NASA also said that integration and testing work on the James Webb Space Telescope, paused March 20, has resumed at a Northrop Grumman facility March 25 with reduced personnel and shifts. However, that work will last only to early April because of a lack of NASA personnel there. Well assess and adjust decisions as the situation unfolds, the program said in a tweet.

One issue is when NASA will move back to normal operations. In recent days, President Donald Trump has indicated he would like to open up the country by Easter, April 12. I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter, Trump said in a Fox News interview March 24. Most medical experts, and many state and local officials, say that timeline is premature.

Bridenstine, asked about those comments, said there was a very, very low probability that the president would act contrary to the recommendations of organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that the president was only aspirationally seeking to reopen the economy by Easter. Hes been very clear that the highest priority on his agenda is the health and safety of America, Bridenstine said.

Bridenstine didnt give a timeline for moving centers back from Stage 3 and 4 towards more normal operations, saying it depends on the conditions on the ground at each center, as well as guidance from the federal coronavirus task force and state and local governments. Certainly, when we get on the back side of the curve here, we need to start thinking about how we go back to work in an orderly way, he said.

Both Bridenstine and Jurczyk indicated that NASA would take a cautious approach when moving back to normal operations, to avoid trying to resume normal operations too soon and have to deal with another outbreak of the disease. Were being very careful about the decision to go from [Stage] 4 to 3, or 3 to 2, and not do it too early, Jurczyk said, to avoid going back and forth between stages.

Bridenstine encouraged employees to speak out if they felt they were working in unsafe conditions during the pandemic. Our number-one highest priority as an agency is your health and your safety, and we dont want to ask you to do anything that you feel is unsafe, he said.

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5 tips NASA astronauts use when living in ‘confinement’ in space to stay happy and productive – CNBC

If working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has you feeling cabin fever, isolation or boredom, NASA has some advice.

On Sunday, NASA astronaut Anne McClain shared a Twitter thread of expert skills that astronauts implement when working and living in confinement to ensure that they stay happy, productive and successful. The tips are often referred to as "expeditionary behaviors," or "EB," and they can be applied to any situation that involves working remotely as a group, according to a blog on NASA's website.

These NASA strategies were developed by retired astronaut Peggy Whitson, who spent a total of 665 days in space over three separate missions, and Al Holland, a NASA psychologist who studies the psychological impact of long-duration spaceflights.

While you may not be on a mission to space, these NASA-backed behaviors could prove useful while you're working from home during the pandemic.

"COVID-19 gives us a higher purpose much like being in space does because we are saving lives by quarantining so it is important to understand that bigger purpose and embrace that purpose," Whitson told "CBS This Morning" on Monday.

These are the five skills to keep in mind.

Effective communication is about more than just frequent Slack check-ins; you also have to "share information and feelings freely," according to the NASA blog. That includes talking things through and admitting when there's a misstep, as well as debriefing when something goes right. Good communicators are also effective listeners, which often means re-stating someone's message to ensure they're heard.

Trust and responsibility are the hallmarks of good leadership and followership, according to NASA. Those in leadership positions should "lead by example," and provide resources, solutions, tasks and goals.

And team members can "actively contribute" to the leader's plan too. For example, if you notice a kink in your telecommuting setup, you might suggest a solution to your manager insteadof just pointing out the problems.

NASA's definition of self-care is demonstrating your ability to be proactive and stay healthy. Are you getting enough sleep, practicing good hygiene and spending time on non-work activities that make you happy? Consider how your own habits are influencing your mood and stress levels, and how the rest of your team might be affected.

Remember that we're all in this together. The best way to support your team is to be patient and respectful, according to NASA. Foster good relationships with your coworkers during this time and encourage team-building activities such as virtual "happy hour." Offering to help others, especially on tasks that you know are a pain, can go a long way.

The final expeditionary behavior is all about building a "group culture," by taking into account everyone's "different opinions, cultures, perceptions, skills and personalities," according to NASA. Rather than feeling competitive with your team members, strive to work together and stay positive. "Respect roles, responsibilities and workload," according to NASA.

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NASA asteroid probe will dodge building-size boulders to snatch sample of Bennu – Space.com

Snatching a piece of asteroid Bennu was supposed to be well, not easy, but certainly manageable: scope out the space rock, find some flat spots, swoop down at one, come back home.

But when NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at Bennu in December 2018, the scientists and engineers on the mission realized that the asteroid was much, much rockier than they had expected. Like, boulders everywhere. Boulders as big as buildings. Boulders you do not want your fancy spacecraft to bang into.

OSIRIS-REx, which launched in 2016, has a lidar navigation system that would have allowed the spacecraft to recognize obstacles based on the echoes of a light beam the probe produced. But once the mission revealed Bennu's surface in all its rocky glory, scientists and engineers decided it was time to come up with something new.

Related: OSIRIS-REx: NASA's asteroid sample-return mission in pictures

"Boulders as big as buildings. Boulders you do not want your fancy spacecraft to bang into."

The result is a process the team is calling Natural Feature Tracking, which relies on the massive image database that OSIRIS-REx has built up in the months since it arrived at Bennu and began taking images of the space rock from every angle possible.

As the probe embarks on a sampling attempt, it will begin taking still more such photos, which its computer system will automatically compare to the archived images showing the path it should be following. If those views don't line up, the spacecraft will automatically retreat for another attempt, rather than risk damage on the perilous surface.

If the system works as planned, it should boost OSIRIS-REx's accuracy: Whereas its lidar system was only designed for accuracy within a site 164 feet (50 meters) across, Natural Feature Tracking will be accurate enough to tackle a target area just 10% that size, NASA officials said in a statement.

Scientists on the OSIRIS-REx mission have selected two target sampling sites on Bennu, dubbed Nightingale and Osprey. The mission's window for sampling opens in late August in order to ensure that the spacecraft can leave Bennu next year. If all goes well, scientists should have their space rock on Earth in 2023.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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NASA to participate in SpaceX engine anomaly investigation – SpaceNews

WASHINGTON NASA representatives will be part of an ongoing SpaceX investigation into an engine anomaly on a recent Falcon 9 launch as the company prepares for a Crew Dragon mission carrying two NASA astronauts.

NASA spokesman Josh Finch said March 24 that personnel from NASAs commercial crew program will be represented in SpaceXs investigation of an engine that prematurely shut down during a March 18 launch of 60 Starlink satellites. That participation is intended to comply with provisions in SpaceXs Commercial Crew Transportation Capability, or CCtCap, contract with NASA.

According to the CCtCap contracts, SpaceX is required to make available to NASA all data and resulting reports, Finch said. SpaceX, with NASAs concurrence, would need to implement any corrective actions found during the investigation related to its commercial crew work prior to its flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station.

During the March 18 launch, one of nine Merlin engines in the rockets first stage shut down early. Elon Musk, chief executive of SpaceX, said in tweets shortly after the launch that the malfunction did not affect the rockets ability to place the Starlink satellites into their planned orbit, as SpaceX has frequently touted the engine-out redundancy of the vehicle. However, Musk said that a thorough investigation would be required before the rockets next launch.

That launch involved the fifth flight of that particular booster, the first time the company had attempted to fly a first stage that many times. A launch attempt March 15 was aborted at the last second because of what Musk called slightly high power levels from the engines as they ignited, a glitch that Musk said was possibly, but not obviously related to the engine anomaly during flight.

This vehicle has seen a lot of wear, so today isnt a big surprise, he said March 18 of the engine anomaly. Life leader rockets are used only for internal missions. Wont risk non-SpaceX satellites.

While SpaceX routinely uses previously flown first stages for many launches, the Demo-2 commercial crew launch will use a new booster and thus wont be subject to the engine wear issues that may be linked to the anomaly on the previous launch. Finch said that launch is still scheduled for mid-to-late May, a schedule NASA announced March 18, but that the agency would adjust the date based on review of the data, if appropriate.

The anomaly on this launch was the first engine shutdown on a Falcon 9 launch since the companys first cargo Dragon launch for NASAs Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program, CRS-1, in October 2012. One of nine Merlin engines failed during ascent, but the Dragon still reached orbit and carried out its mission. A secondary payload, an Orbcomm demonstration satellite, was lost when it was released into a lower-than-planned orbit. That launch involved an earlier version of both the Falcon 9 and the Merlin engine.

SpaceX has not provided an update on the status of that investigation since Musks tweets shortly after the launch, including when the investigation would be completed. SpaceXs next launch, of the Argentine radar satellite SAOCOM 1B, was scheduled for March 30 but has been postponed because of international travel restrictions for the customer linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

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NASA: Explore space from home while confined by coronavirus – PennLive

For anyone stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, NASA is loaded with Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics projects and activities for all age ranges and interests.

Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics

NASA STEM @ Home for Students Grades K-4 offers dozens of how-to animations, guides, worksheets and more for children in kindergarten through fourth grade to do, sometimes alone and sometimes with their parents. Topics are far ranging, including things like an Apollo moon capsule craft, an edible cookie and pretzel spacecraft, space puzzles, a balloon-powered rocket, spacewalk coloring sheets, a 3-D dodecahedron paper airplane, printable space board games, storybooks, a straw plane and much more.

NASA STEM Activities for Families includes things like parachute design, building and launching a foam rocket, hovering on a cushion of balloon air, designing and building a solar water heater, filtering water, building a rubber band-powered rover, making a moon phase calculator and calendar, making a moon-like crater, creating a Mars exploration game, solving math problems using Pi, and much more.

NASA for Students in Fifth to Eighth Grades has things to do like making a paper model of the moon, an advanced paper airplane and stretchy slime; links to hundreds of online NASA website, materials and videos created for the age group; and wide-ranging articles like What Is the International Space Station? and What Is a Rockets?

NASA STEM Resources for Students 9-12 offers opportunities like the CineSpace competition, sending experiments to the International Space Station and the Blue Origins Club; videos like Where does the Suns energy come from? and Faces of Technology; activities like virtual reality and simulations; and projects like making starshades and rover models; and problems like talking to machines and the basics of spaceflight.

NASA Citizen Science Opportunities range from astronomy with opportunities like working with online photos to map the Moon, Mercury and Mars, and counting meteors, to the I See Change program, a community weather and climate journal for participants nationwide that combine citizen observations (photos and text) with cutting-edge weather and satellite data.

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NASA: Explore space from home while confined by coronavirus - PennLive

Everything NASA Is Shutting Down in Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic – Popular Mechanics

Update, March 24: NASA has elevated six facilities to Stage 4 of its four-stage Response Framework: Glenn Research Center and Plum Brook Station in Ohio, Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

As the spread of the novel coronavirus upends millions of lives across the country, NASA is working to understand and overcome challenges that the virus has posed for programs here on Earth and across the Solar System.

We are going to take care of our people. Thats our first priority, said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Technology allows us to do a lot of what we need to do remotely, but, where hands-on work is required, it is difficult or impossible to comply with CDC guidelines while processing spaceflight hardware, and where we cant safely do that were going to have to suspend work and focus on the mission critical activities.

On Friday, March 20, NASA released the results of an agency-wide check-up that assessed how its workforce, facilities, and missions were faring in the wake of the coronavirus. In order to slow the spread of the virus across NASAs sprawling campuses, many centers have switched to mandatory telework. Work-related travel has been banned and the only staff on-site are there to protect life and critical infrastructure, the statement read.

As of Monday, March 23, almost all of NASA facilities are hovering at Stage 3 of the agencys four-stage Response Framework. NASAs Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi were elevated to Stage 4 last week. So far, two NASA employees, one at Ames and Marshall, respectively, have tested positive for COVID-19. Stennis and Michoud were shuttered due to concerns about the spread of the virus in the surrounding community.

A number of missions have been delayed or suspended due to mandatory telework at NASAs centers. The shutdown of Michoud and Stennis sadly spells delays for both NASAs SLS and Orion crew capsule. Testing and integration on both vehicles, integral components of NASAs beleaguered Artemis Mission, has been paused for the time being.

This situation will undoubtedly cause some inefficiencies, but we continue to be supportive of any research that can be done remotely, Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said in a note to NASAs research community on Monday. He noted that his team is working with each mission directly to better understand their challenges and needs.

In California, work on the James Webb Space Telescope, which aims to map out the most remote corners of the universe, has also been suspended. On March 9, NASA announced that two airborne missions out of NASA Ames were going to be postponed for later in the summer. While Lockheed Martin will continue work on the long-awaited X-59 plane, NASA employees will conduct inspections remotely.

Despite telework orders and the shuttering of campuses, some missions are still on schedule.

NASA says one of its top priorities is ensuring the safety and health of its astronauts aboard the International Space Station, so flight controllers at NASAs Johnson Space Center in Houston are still on the job at Mission Control. NASA said in its statement that it still plans to send astronaut Chris Cassidy to the ISS on April 9, and that he and two cosmonauts are already undergoing a routine two-week pre-flight quarantine.

The Mars 2020 Mission timeline is also still a go. NASA noted in the statement that the Perseverance rover and its accompanying Mars Helicopter are currently under preparation at Kennedy Space Center and are still scheduled for launch in July. The highly anticipated Demo-2 launch, which will shuffle astronauts to the ISS aboard a SpaceX rocket and capsule, is still on track for its mid-to-late May launch. Resupply missions to the ISS are also still on track, the agency said.

Essential staff are monitoring all of the agencys spacecraft, from Juno to the Hubble Space Telescope to NOAAs weather satellites, and the NASA IT Security Operations Center as well as a number of supercomputers at Ames are still up and running, despite center closures.

Everything is subject to change, however, and the agency noted that it is monitoring especially fluid working situations such as those at NASAs Jet Propulsion in California, where mandatory shelter-in-place laws have been enacted.

Our first priority is the safety of everyone who works on NASA missions and funded research and SMD leadership is committed to doing all it can to support our community, Zurbuchen wrote. I want to thank all of you for your patience and hard work as we transition to this new normal.

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Everything NASA Is Shutting Down in Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic - Popular Mechanics

Here’s How NASA Captured the Highest-Resolution Image of Mars’ Surface Ever – Thrillist

How Did NASA Take the Highest Ever Resolution Photo of Mars? - Thrillist

It was earlier in March that NASA unveiled the highest resolution photo of Mars' surface ever made. It's the kind of picture that can create the rare sense of wonder that makes you feel small in a vast, unknowable universe. But the relatively brief moment of inspiration you might feel looking at the landscape took a lot of forethought and a lot of work, even setting aside the years of planning that went into getting a rover on the planet's surface in the first place.

So, you may be surprised to learn that the stunning panorama -- constructed from more than 1,000 individual images -- was largely possible because the team behind the Curiosity Rover was on vacation at the time, leaving the rover standing still. The images of "Glen Torridon" on the Martian surface were taken from November 24 to December 1 of 2019, while "the mission team was out for the Thanksgiving holiday," NASA explains. Because of the holiday, it was able to photograph the same area for days. The Mastcam was programmed to take photos from noon to 2pm (local time on Mars... so, do we call that MST?) each day to ensure consistent lighting."This is the first time during the mission we've dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama,"Ashwin Vasavada at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said in a statement.

However, the process from Curiosity to your eyes isn't as simple as the rover sending back an image and having it uploaded to a website. There's much more to it.

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JPL imaging specialist Hallie Abarca traced those pixels from your eyes back to the surface of the red planet. "Each [image] gets cut up into pieces and transferred to orbiters [around the planet]," she tells Thrillist when reached by phone. The images then "come back in chunks," arriving at one of three Deep Space Network sites on Earth in need of reassembly. It's the job of specialists like Abarca to reassemble each image and then combine the many images into a single coherent panorama.

"There's metadata in each image, something like what you might see from your Canon camera at home," she says. You'd see that metadata when you move an image from the camera to your computer. It may tell you the date and time and possibly even the location where that photo was taken. The metadata from Curiosity helps tell a program developed at the JPL where each image goes within the panorama. Then the team updates the metadata to correct the position of the images to remove seams between them. "[The process] can take days or even weeks, especially with large panoramas like this one," Abarca says of the image that was processed byMalin Space Science Systems.

All of that work and the 1.8 billion pixels in the image allow scientists and space enthusiasts to zoom in on the landscape in impressive detail.

If this image excites you, wait until the July 2020 launch of the recently named Mars Perseverance Rover (previously referred to as the Mars 2020 rover). Abarca says the imaging capability far exceeds what we've seen with Curiosity and Insight. We're going to see Mars as we've never seen it before, again.

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Here's How NASA Captured the Highest-Resolution Image of Mars' Surface Ever - Thrillist

3D NASA map tracks methane buildup and movement in the atmosphere – New Atlas

Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas that can come from all kinds of places, including industrial facilities, agriculture, the production of oil and gas, and natural sources like wetlands and bodies of water. NASA has developed a new 3D map to not only keep track of its sources but follow its movement as it builds up and travels in the atmosphere, offering a new tool in the efforts to mitigate its impacts.

Similar to carbon dioxide, human activity over long time periods is increasing atmospheric methane concentrations faster than the removal from natural sinks can offset it, says Abhishek Chatterjee, a carbon cycle scientist at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center. As human populations continue to grow, changes in energy use, agriculture and rice cultivation, [and] livestock raising will influence methane emissions. However, its difficult to predict future trends due to both lack of measurements and incomplete understanding of the carbon-climate feedbacks.

This need for a more complete picture of how methane is building up and contributing to global warming is a pressing one. According to NASA, methane concentration in the atmosphere has more than doubled since the Industrial Revolution and, molecule for molecule, it's far more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. In all, the agency calculates that methane is responsible for between 20 to 30 percent of the planets rising temperatures so far.

The agencys new 3D map was put together using methane data gathered by satellites and the emissions inventories of different countries. This was combined with computer modeling that calculates methane emissions from natural sources such as types of wetlands and simulates the atmospheric processes that break down methane. The team then employed a weather model to see how winds influence the movement of the gas through the atmosphere over time.

NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio

This global picture of methane revealed a few interesting insights. At least 60 percent of methane coming from the worlds wetlands originates in the tropics, while waste disposal is driving a 1.5 percent increase in methane emissions each year from southern Asia. Meanwhile, 70 percent of the methane from the Arctic was revealed to come from natural sources, while in Eastern Asia it is very much the opposite, with 85 percent coming from human activities.

Theres an urgency in understanding where the sources are coming from so that we can be better prepared to mitigate methane emissions where there are opportunities to do so, says research scientist Ben Poulter at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

You can hear from the team in the video below.

NASA Models Methane Sources, Movement Around Globe

Source: NASA

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3D NASA map tracks methane buildup and movement in the atmosphere - New Atlas

NASA reveals Bennus entire surface in first high-resolution global map – SlashGear

NASA has given the public its first high-resolution look at asteroid Bennus global surface. The details are revealed in a newly published global map of the asteroid, one that is currently the focus of NASAs OSIRIS-REx space mission. As weve seen in previously shared images, the asteroid has a very rocky surface filled with large boulders, which was an unexpected complication for the OSIRIS-REx mission.

Bennu is an asteroid that is relatively close to Earth, making its closest approach to our planet every six years. The asteroids diameter is around 1,600ft, which makes it the right size for landing a spacecraft it isnt spinning too fast, which is a problem with asteroids that have diameters around 650ft.

NASA chose the asteroid for its OSIRIS-REx mission, not only for its approachability, but also due to its age. The space agency describes Bennu as a fragment from the formation of our solar system, one that may even have bits of minerals older than the solar system. The well-preserved nature of this asteroid means that a successful sample collection will provide researchers with an uncontaminated bit of history.

Since the spacecrafts arrival at the asteroid, NASA has delivered increasingly clear and high-resolution images of the space rock to the public, as well as multiple 4K renders of the asteroid. The space agency is back this week with a new look at Bennu a high-resolution global map showing every part of its surface.

According to NASA, the new map is made from a series of images captured by the OSIRIS-REx mission from March 7 to April 19, 2019. Each pixel represents 2-inches of the asteroids surface and each image all 2,155 of them were captured at distances ranging from 1.9 miles to 3.1 miles. The public can view and download the full-resolution version of the global map on NASAs website here.

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NASA reveals Bennus entire surface in first high-resolution global map - SlashGear

This Powerful Ion Engine Will Be Flying on NASA’s DART Mission to Try and Redirect an Asteroid – Universe Today

Despite humanitys current struggle against the novel coronavirus, and despite it taking up most of our attention, other threats still exist. The very real threat of a possible asteroid strike on Earth in the future is taking a backseat for now, but its still there.

Though an asteroid strike seems kind of ephemeral right now, its a real threat, and one thatunlike a coronavirushas the potential to end humanity. Agencies like NASA and the ESA are still working on their plans to protect us from that threat.

NASAs DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission is scheduled to launch on July 22, 2021. Its a demonstration mission to study the use of kinetic impact to deflect an asteroid. Itll head for the tiny binary asteroid system called Didymos, (or 65803 Didymos.) This double asteroid system poses no threat to Earth.

The larger of the pair, named Didymos A, is about 780 meters (2560 ft.) in diameter, while the smaller one, Didymos B, is only about 160 meters (535 ft.) DART will crash itself into the Didymos B. Its close to the typical size of an asteroid that threatens Earth.

DART has a lot of space to cover to reach Didymos. After launching in July 2021, it will reach its target in September 22nd, when the binary asteroid is within 11 million km (6.8 million miles) of Earth. And to get there, itll rely on a powerful ion engine called NASAs Evolutionary Xenon Thruster Commercial (NEXT-C).

The engine comes in two primary components: the thruster and the power processing unit (PPU.) NEXT-C is getting ready for the mission with a series of tests, both performance and environmental. The thruster was put through vibration, thermal vacuum and performance tests before being integrated with its PPU. It was also subjected to simulated spaceflight conditions: the extreme vibration during launch, and the extreme cold of space.

NEXT-C is a powerful engine. Its nothing like a rocket, which requires a massive amount of thrust to lift something away from Earths gravity. But in terms of ion drives, its a very powerful unit. Its about three times more powerful than the NSTAR ion drives on NASAs DAWN and Deep Space One spacecraft.

NEXT can produce 6.9kWthrust power and 236mNthrust. The engine has produced the highest total impulse of any ion engine: 17 MNs. It also has a specific impulse, which is a measure of how efficiently it uses propellant, of 4,190 seconds, compared to NSTARs 3,120.

Ion drives dont burn fuel like a rocket, though they do use a propellant. Typically the propellant is xenon, like in NEXT-C. The NEXT-C ion engine is a double-grid system.

The xenon is fed into a chamber, where it encounters the first, or upstream, grid. Solar arrays provide the electricity, and the first grid is charged positive. As the xenon ions pass through the upstream grid, they are charged positively. This draws them toward the second or accelerator grid, which is charged negatively. This propels them out of the engine, providing thrust. The thrust is equal to the force between the upstream ions and the accelerator grid.

When DART reaches the Didymos binary asteroid, it will have some company. The Italian Space Agency is providing LICIA(Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids) for the mission. LICIA is 6 cubesats that will separate from DART prior to impact with Didymos B. Itll capture images of the impact and the debris ejected from the collision and transmit it back to Earth.

The impact is expected to change Didymos Bs orbital velocity by about a half millimeter per second. That will change its rotation period by a large enough amount that Earth-based telescopes will detect it. It will also leave a crater in the surface, about 20 m (66 ft) wide.

Though DART will be destroyed when it impacts, the ESA is planning a follow-up mission. Its called Hera, and its scheduled to launch in 2024, and to arrive in 2027. Hera will investigate not only the effect of DARTs impact, but will carry a suite of instruments to learn more about binary asteroids, and the interior of the asteroid.

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This Powerful Ion Engine Will Be Flying on NASA's DART Mission to Try and Redirect an Asteroid - Universe Today

NASA fixed a Mars probe by hitting it with a shovel – Boing Boing

The Mars InSight Lander has a ton of tools for exploring the Red Planet next door, including a 15-inch digging probe (also known as "the mole") meant to burrow into the Martian soil and take measurements.

Unfortunately, the mole got stuck. FromPopular Science:

A rock could be in the way, but the more likely culprit appears to be the Martian soil. Previous observations had led the German Aerospace Center engineers who designed the probe to expect that it would be digging through loose sand. They built the mole to bounce up and down like a jackhammer, sinking with each stroke and threading its way around any modestly sized rocks it encountered. But the probe has found soil that seems more dirt-like than sand-like; It sticks together and doesnt collapse around the mole to give it enough friction to dig. What the mole needs is a little nudge.

So what did they do to get the mole unstuck? They used the shovel-like scoop at the end of one of the InSight Lander's robot arms to pin down the mole. "The move is risky,"Popular Science explained, "because a delicate tether that provides power and communications from the lander attaches to the back part of the mole, and a hard whack could damage it."

Fortunately, it worked.

Public Domain via NASA/JPL-Caltech

Who knew that the "Why are you hitting yourself?" game would be such a useful tool for space exploration?

At long last, NASAs probe finally digs in on Mars [Charlie Wood / Popular Science]

NASA fixes Mars lander by telling it to hit itself with a shovel [Dan Robitzski / Futurism]

Mars InSight Lander to push on top of mole [NASA]

Image: Public Domain via NASA/JPL-Caltech

Whether youre a worried preparer for the worst or just a little concerned about whats ahead, you may haveoverdone it during your last trip to the store. Maybe you picked up some extra frozen goods or a larger stockpile of cheeses or dairy products than usual. And your fridge or freezer is now likely packed []

The Cheesecake Factory, with more than 200 restaurants across the U.S. and more than $2bn in annual revenues, today warned its landlords they will not be getting rent in April. The Calabasas Hills-based company informed all of its landlords in a letter dated March 18 (reproduced below) that a severe decline in restaurant traffic has []

In this thoughtful and heartwarming little video message, astronaut Chris Hadfield (the man who brought you Bowie from space), shares some tips on coming to grips with isolation and ends with the wonderful, Take care of yourself, take care of your family, take care of your friends, and take care of your spaceship. Simple words []

Whether youre a worried preparer for the worst or just a little concerned about whats ahead, you may haveoverdone it during your last trip to the store. Maybe you picked up some extra frozen goods or a larger stockpile of cheeses or dairy products than usual. And your fridge or freezer is now likely packed []

Every new year, people vow to read more. Of course, it seldom actually happens, but we all wish we had more time to slow down, pick up one of the books off the bedside table weve been meaning to get through, and dive in. If we can find any silver lining to all the COVID-19 []

With so much chaos happening in the world at the moment, this may not seem like the right time to start a new hobby. However, we would argue that now is actually the perfect time to dive into something new. Things are changing and while theres plenty happening thats worthy of genuine concern, theres []


NASA fixed a Mars probe by hitting it with a shovel - Boing Boing

7 Self-Isolation Tips From Scott Kelly, the NASA Astronaut Who Lived a Year in Space – Observer

French philosopher Blaise Pascal foresaw modern societys core trouble back in the 17th century. All of humanitys problems stem from mans inability to sit quietly in a room alone, he said. And, thanks to the coronavirus, thats exactly the position we are suddenly, collectively stuck in at the moment.

But perhaps one man struggles with being socially isolated a little less than the rest of us. Between March 2015 and March 2016, now retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly lived on the International Space Station for nearly a year. It was the longest a human had lived away from Earth. And it wasnt easy, Kelly recalled in an essay for The New York Times published on Saturday.

SEE ALSO:How to Make Work-From-Home Productive During a Pandemic: Expert Tips

But I learned some things during my time up there that Id like to share, he wrote, because they are about to come in handy again, as we all confine ourselves at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

So, here are seven tips from Kelly to those who find it difficult to sit quietly by themselves.

On the space station, my time was scheduled tightly, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep, Kelly wrote. His normal tasks range from simple five-minute tasks to a spacewalk that could last hours. But its important that you have something planned. Maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to a different work and home life environment, he said.

(Also, as remote working experts advised to Observer previously, establish some sort of a routine, such as getting dressed in the morning, will help boost productivity.)

When you are living and working in the same place for days on end, work can have a way of taking over everything if you let it, Kelly warned. [Writing this article at 9 p.m. on a Monday, I can totally attest to that statement.] Living in space, I deliberately paced myself because I knew I was in it for the long haul just like we all are today.

To maintain a healthy pace, Kelly recommends carving out time for non-work activities, whether binge-watching your favorite TV shows or setting a strict time to go to bed.

This may soon be hard to do as authorities tighten self-quarantine rules. But until then, Kelly recommends going outside at least once a day, as long as you abide by social distancing and stay at least six feet from other people.

If you really cant sit still, find something to do or somewhere else (figuratively) to be. Kelly recommends reading. The quiet and absorption you can find in a physical bookone that doesnt ping you with notifications or tempt you to open a new tabis priceless, he wrote.

Learning a musical instrument is another good idea. So are making some art or trying a handcraft.

Based on studies on humans living in prolonged isolation, NASA has found that keeping a journal is one of the most effective activities that keep people sane, Kelly said.

Even if you dont wind up writing a book based on your journal like I did, writing about your days will help put your experiences in perspective and let you look back later on what this unique time in history has meant, the astronaut wrote.

This one is self-evident. Scientists have found that isolation is damaging not only to our mental health, but to our physical health as well, especially our immune systems, Kelly warned. Technology makes it easier than ever to keep in touch, so its worth making time to connect with someone every dayit might actually help you fight off viruses.

Living in space taught me a lot about the importance of trusting the advice of people who knew more than I did about their subjects, Kelly wrote. This doesnt mean that you have to follow his advice during self-quarantine. But when it comes to news and updates about the coronavirus, you should make an effort to go to reputable sources and avoid suspicious content on social media.

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7 Self-Isolation Tips From Scott Kelly, the NASA Astronaut Who Lived a Year in Space - Observer

Want to help design a moon robot? NASA needs you. – Big Think

Are you an engineer, designer, manufacturer, or STEM student? Maybe just someone with a healthy predilection for bucket drums? Then NASA wants to hear from you.

NASA's Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative (LSII) is sponsoring a challenge hosted by GrabCAD to garner ideas for a bucket drum system to be equipped on the Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot (RASSOR) excavator. LSII is a technology development portfolio aimed at empowering human-robotic exploration of the Moon and, one day, Mars.

RASSOR 2.0 being tested along with the MARCO POLO/Mars Pathfinder, an ISRU propellant production technology, at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

(Photo: NASA)

The RASSOR excavatora "tele-operated mobile robotic platform"is being iterated at NASA Kennedy Space Center. Its current 2.0 design looks like it was built with a life-size K'NEX set. Four giant tread wheels surround the main platform, which has two arms coming out from either side.

At the end of each arm is a giant bucket drum with hollow cylinders for scoping up regolith, the layer of rocky material that covers bedrock. As the bucket drums on each arm counter-rotate, baffles within trap the regolith to prevent it from falling out as the excavator roams. When RASSOR reaches its deposit site, the drums reverse direction to spill their contents.

NASA's challenge for participants is to design a better shape for the RASSOR's bucket drums and interior baffling. The drums must be able to hold regolith at 50 percent capacity without spillage. That's easier said than done, and for most people, it likely didn't sound that easy in the first.

"With RASSOR, we're no longer relying on the traction or the weight of the robot," Jason Schuler, a robotics engineer in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs at Kennedy Space Center, told CNN. "RASSOR is excavation and transportation all in one, but we'd like to improve the design.

The reason the RASSOR can't rely on traction or weight has to do with the Moon's weaker gravity. On Earth, an excavator's weight and traction can be used to overcome soil's resistive force. The Moon's gravity is only 17 percent that of Earth's, so the RASSOR cannot rely on reaction force to penetrate the regolith, especially at depths with high density. For this reason, it must incorporate near "net-zero reaction force."

The RASSOR must also be much lighter than a typical excavator while maintaining the durability and reliability required to work in such an extreme environment. With space transportation costs at about $4,000 a pound, any pound shed or square foot condensed from the design equals thousands of dollars saved.

The RASSOR will be part of NASA's Artemis program. Through Artemis, NASA hopes to put the first woman and thirteenth man on the Moonthe first people to revisit to the lunar surface in more than 40 years. Once there, the goal is to establish sustained Moon exploration by 2028, a proving ground for the technology that may one day send astronauts to Mars.

To establish sustained exploration, NASA must practice in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). This practice allows astronauts to generate much-needed resources using local materials. The farther astronauts travel from Earth, the more necessary ISRU becomes to maintaining sustainable, human-friendly habitats.

RASSOR will travel to the Moon as a precursor to human moonflight. Coupled with a lander sporting a processing plant, the robot excavator will journey onto the Moon's surface to excavate regolith. It will deposit that regolith at the lander for processing.

Regolith can be processed into valuable resources such as water, propellant, and breathable air. It also contains metals that could be used to craft structures for the astronaut's labs and habitats.

NASA is working toward launching Artemis 1an uncrewed flight to test the Orion spacecraftlater this year, but had to suspend work on the rocket due to the COVID-19 threat.

The GrabCAD challenge has a prize pool totaling $7,000. The first-place proposal will be awarded $3,000, with monetary prizes offered for second to fifth place. There is also the satisfaction and bragging rights of knowing your design will make sustained Moon exploration a reality.

The challenge ends on April 20, 2020. Finalists will be announced on April 27, and winners will be announced on May 4. To learn more, visit GrabCAD's website.

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Want to help design a moon robot? NASA needs you. - Big Think

NASA wants your help designing the robot that will go digging on the moon – CNN

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CNN.MobileWebFloatingPlayer.transition,onPin: function () {playerInstance.hideUI();},onUnpin: function () {playerInstance.showUI();},onPlayerClick: function () {if (mobilePinnedView) {playerInstance.enterFullscreen();playerInstance.showUI();}},onDismiss: function() {CNN.Videx.mobile.pinnedPlayer.disable();playerInstance.pause();}});/* Storing pinned view on CNN.Videx.mobile.pinnedPlayer So that all players can see the single pinned player */CNN.Videx = CNN.Videx || {};CNN.Videx.mobile = CNN.Videx.mobile || {};CNN.Videx.mobile.pinnedPlayer = mobilePinnedView;}if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (jQuery(containerClassId).parents('.js-pg-rail-tall__head').length) {videoPinner = new CNN.VideoPinner(containerClassId);videoPinner.init();} else {CNN.VideoPlayer.hideThumbnail(containerId);}}},onContentEntryLoad: function(containerId, playerId, contentid, isQueue) {CNN.VideoPlayer.showSpinner(containerId);},onContentPause: function (containerId, playerId, videoId, paused) {if (mobilePinnedView) {CNN.VideoPlayer.handleMobilePinnedPlayerStates(containerId, paused);}},onContentMetadata: function (containerId, playerId, metadata, contentId, duration, width, height) {var endSlateLen = jQuery(document.getElementById(containerId)).parent().find('.js-video__end-slate').eq(0).length;CNN.VideoSourceUtils.updateSource(containerId, metadata);if (endSlateLen > 0) {videoEndSlateImpl.fetchAndShowRecommendedVideos(metadata);}},onAdPlay: function (containerId, cvpId, token, mode, id, duration, blockId, adType) {/* Dismissing the pinnedPlayer if another video players plays an Ad */CNN.VideoPlayer.dismissMobilePinnedPlayer(containerId);clearTimeout(moveToNextTimeout);CNN.VideoPlayer.hideSpinner(containerId);if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (typeof videoPinner !== 'undefined' && videoPinner !== null) {videoPinner.setIsPlaying(true);videoPinner.animateDown();}}},onAdPause: function (containerId, playerId, token, mode, id, duration, blockId, adType, instance, isAdPause) {if (mobilePinnedView) {CNN.VideoPlayer.handleMobilePinnedPlayerStates(containerId, isAdPause);}},onTrackingFullscreen: function (containerId, PlayerId, dataObj) {CNN.VideoPlayer.handleFullscreenChange(containerId, dataObj);if (mobilePinnedView &&typeof dataObj === 'object' &&FAVE.Utils.os === 'iOS' && !dataObj.fullscreen) {jQuery(document).scrollTop(mobilePinnedView.getScrollPosition());playerInstance.hideUI();}},onContentPlay: function (containerId, cvpId, event) {var playerInstance,prevVideoId;if (CNN.companion && typeof CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout === 'function') {CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout('restoreEpicAds');}clearTimeout(moveToNextTimeout);CNN.VideoPlayer.hideSpinner(containerId);if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (typeof videoPinner !== 'undefined' && videoPinner !== null) {videoPinner.setIsPlaying(true);videoPinner.animateDown();}}},onContentReplayRequest: function (containerId, cvpId, contentId) {if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (typeof videoPinner !== 'undefined' && videoPinner !== null) {videoPinner.setIsPlaying(true);var $endSlate = jQuery(document.getElementById(containerId)).parent().find('.js-video__end-slate').eq(0);if ($endSlate.length > 0) {$endSlate.removeClass('video__end-slate--active').addClass('video__end-slate--inactive');}}}},onContentBegin: function (containerId, cvpId, contentId) {if (mobilePinnedView) {mobilePinnedView.enable();}/* Dismissing the pinnedPlayer if another video players plays a video. */CNN.VideoPlayer.dismissMobilePinnedPlayer(containerId);CNN.VideoPlayer.mutePlayer(containerId);if (CNN.companion && typeof CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout === 'function') {CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout('removeEpicAds');}CNN.VideoPlayer.hideSpinner(containerId);clearTimeout(moveToNextTimeout);CNN.VideoSourceUtils.clearSource(containerId);jQuery(document).triggerVideoContentStarted();},onContentComplete: function (containerId, cvpId, contentId) {if (CNN.companion && typeof CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout === 'function') {CNN.companion.updateCompanionLayout('restoreFreewheel');}navigateToNextVideo(contentId, containerId);},onContentEnd: function (containerId, cvpId, contentId) {if (Modernizr && !Modernizr.phone && !Modernizr.mobile && !Modernizr.tablet) {if (typeof videoPinner !== 'undefined' && videoPinner !== null) {videoPinner.setIsPlaying(false);}}},onCVPVisibilityChange: function (containerId, cvpId, visible) {CNN.VideoPlayer.handleAdOnCVPVisibilityChange(containerId, visible);}};if (typeof configObj.context !== 'string' || configObj.context.length 0) {configObj.adsection = window.ssid;}CNN.autoPlayVideoExist = (CNN.autoPlayVideoExist === true) ? true : false;CNN.VideoPlayer.getLibrary(configObj, callbackObj, isLivePlayer);});CNN.INJECTOR.scriptComplete('videodemanddust');

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NASA wants your help designing the robot that will go digging on the moon - CNN