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NASA’s Sun-Orbiting Probe Reveals New Secrets of Our Host Star – Smithsonian.com

In August 2018, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe toward the sun to analyze and measure the G-type yellow dwarf star that makes life on Earth possible. Now, after the spacecraft completed 3 of 24 planned close orbits around the sun, researchers have released four papers published in the journal Nature detailing the probe's first findings.

The $1.5 billion probe has flown closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history, passing through the suns upper atmosphere, or corona, for the first time. The probe is loaded up with several suites of instruments that collect data about solar wind, plasma flows, the suns magnetic field and more, reports Alexandra Witze at Nature News & Comment.

Scientists at University of California, Berkeley led by plasma physicist Stuart Bale control the probes devices, fittingly dubbed FIELDS, that study the suns magnetic and electric fields. A second toolkit called SWEAPor Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons, operated by the University of Michigan and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatorymeasures the particles of solar winds. The probes imaging instrument WISPR is led by the Naval Research Lab. Another group of devicescalled the Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun suite, led by Princeton Universitymeasures the suns outflow of energetic particles, like electrons and ions. Together, data from all of these instruments are revolutionizing what we know about the star.

Solar winds constantly wash over Earth, but studying the phenomenon from an earthly vantage point is like trying to understand the origin of a waterfall by standing halfway down the cliff, explains Bale. Expanding on the waterfall analogy, Bale tells Witze, [i]f you want to know the source, you have to get up there and get closeris it coming from one hole in the ground? From a bunch of seams in the rocks? Is there a sprinkler system up there?

The so-called fast solar wind, which flows at 500 to 1,000 kilometers per second, emanates from large holes in the corona near the suns north and south poles, reports Hannah Devlin at The Guardian. However, the origin of the slow solar wind, which is denser and travels at about half that speed, is not understood, explains atmospheric physicist Tim Horbury of Imperial College London, who is part of FIELDS research team.

During each swoop toward the sun, the probe passes about 15 million miles above a coronal hole for up to a week at a time to measure the solar wind and magnetic fields, according to a Berkeley press release.

Parker Solar Probe is also investigating a mystery that has long baffled solar physicists: the extreme heat of the outer atmosphere. The corona is a million degrees, but the suns surface is only thousands, Horbury tells Devlin. Its as if the Earths surface temperature were the same, but its atmosphere was many thousands of degrees. How can that work? Youd expect to get colder as you moved away.

Data from the spacecraft shows that the movement of plasma in the corona is extraordinarily complex. The measurements revealed that quick reversals in magnetic fields and fast-moving jets of plasma cause turbulence in the solar wind. The researchers dubbed one particularly dramatic type of magnetic field reversal a switchback.

As the solar wind flows away from the sun, the magnetic field lines would almost completely reverse for a few seconds or even a few minutes, causing abrupt changes in velocity. When the magnetic field snaps back to its previous orientation, it produces a spike in energy. While the researchers do not yet know what causes these magnetic reversals, the spacecraft's close observations will help them narrow down the possibilities.

These switchbacks are probably associated with some kind of plasma jets," Bale says in the Berkeley release. My own feeling is that these switchbacks, or jets, are central to the solar wind heating problem.

The Parker probe was able to measure solar wind while it was still rotating with the sun, finding that the speed and strength of the rotation was ten times more powerful than current solar models predict.

Because the sun rotates, solar wind travels on a curved path. But after the energy is flung into space, its path eventually straightens out. Finding out the exact point at which that energy starts traveling in a straight line will tell researchers about the lifecycles of stars and the workings of protoplanetary disks, which will improve our understanding of how planets form.

The probe also observed the suns dust-free zone. Our solar system is full of dust particles remaining from the planet-forming process that occurred over billions of years. Researchers long ago predicted that the heat of the sun could vaporize this dust into gas creating an area with much less dust. The probe has finally found supporting evidence of this phenomenon and researchers suspect it will likely encounter less and less dust as it swings closer to the sun.

Scientists also used the probes data to measure the outflow of electrons and ions that sometimes produce solar flares or coronal mass ejections (CMEs). So far, the Parker probe has recorded several new types of particles and ejection events that researchers are unable to observe from Earth, explains Princetons David McComas who leads the Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun suite of instruments.

Its amazingeven at solar minimum conditions, the sun produces many more tiny energetic particle events than we ever thought, says McComas in a NASA press release. These measurements will help us unravel the sources, acceleration, and transport of solar energetic particles and ultimately better protect satellites and astronauts in the future.

As Mike Wall at Space.com reports, this new data is really just a taste of what the probe will likely discover if its 4.5-inch-thick, carbon-composite shield can survive the remaining 21 dips closer and closer to the sun over the next five years. Eventually, the craft will fly as close as 3.83 million miles above the sun.

We knew we were going into a region we've never been before. It is a voyage of discovery, Nicola Fox, director of the NASAs Heliophysics Division, tells Nell Greenfieldboyce at NPR. It's going to the last sort of major region of our solar system to ever be visited by a spacecraft. And as we continue to get closer and closer, then I'm sure that we are going to continue to see more and more surprises."

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NASA's Sun-Orbiting Probe Reveals New Secrets of Our Host Star - Smithsonian.com

A Billion Pixels and the Search for Indias Crashed Moon Lander – The New York Times

On Nov. 19, Mark S. Robinson opened an email with the subject line, Vikram Landers final resting place (Images with Proof).

Dr. Robinson is the principal investigator for the sharp-eyed camera aboard Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a NASA spacecraft that has been mapping the moon for a decade, and he had received a lot of these emails since an Indian robotic spacecraft disappeared in September as it attempted to land on the moon.

But this one turned out to be the crucial clue in finding the missing lander, and on Monday NASA announced the location of the crash site, with photographs showing the scar on the moonscape.

The accomplishment was a triumph of crowdsourcing in modern space research, and pointed to the value of NASAs openness with its data and operations. Most of the data from American civilian space missions is freely available to both academics and curious amateurs, who were able to scour pictures from a NASA orbiter for signs of the Indian spacecraft.

By contrast, the Indian Space Research Organization, or ISRO, the agency that runs Indias space program, has been parsimonious in revealing what it knew about the fate of Vikram, which was part of Chandrayaan-2, a mission that launched in July. An accompanying orbiter continues to operate around the moon.

If Vikram had successfully made it to the surface, India would have become only the fourth nation to accomplish that feat. But as it descended, something went awry about a mile above the surface. Vikram shifted off course, then went quiet.

A day later, the Indian space agency posted on its website that it had already found the lander: Vikram lander has been located by the orbiter of Chandrayaan-2, but no communication with it yet.

This week, K. Sivan, ISROs director, dismissed the NASA announcement, repeating the claim that Vikrams location had been identified back in September.

However, the Indian space agency never released images or other data to corroborate the statement, nor did it share the coordinates of where Vikram supposedly sat on the moons surface. Only last month did the Indian government admit failure.

Thus, NASA and others looked for Vikram without ISROs help.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been methodically mapping the lunar surface for a decade, happened to pass over the Vikram landing site 10 days after its crash.

Dr. Robinson and other camera scientists examined the images, but there were no obvious signs of Vikram. The high-resolution images encompassed about a billion pixels, and the small lander, if it were not hidden in the shadows, would be only a few pixels wide.

There was a huge search area, said Dr. Robinson, a professor of earth and space exploration at Arizona State University. There were five or six people who pitched in and spent a day.

They then returned to their more scientific tasks. It was interesting to do, Dr. Robinson said. There wasnt a lot of scientific value in it.

The orbiter made additional flyovers of the site on Oct. 14, Oct. 15 and Nov. 11, adding more pictures to analyze. The direction the spacecraft was pointing during the Nov. 11 flyover provided better lighting and sharper resolution in the images.

Amateur enthusiasts continued to examine the NASA images, and many claims of Vikram sightings landed in Dr. Robinsons inbox. For most, a quick before-and-after comparison with older photographs showed that the purported impact crater was already a feature of the lunar surface.

While NASAs openness has enabled many more eyes to look over the scientific data, the space agency, with management of its missions spread around the country, is not always diligent in following up on tips.

The November email came from Shanmuga Subramanian, a computer programmer and mechanical engineer living in the south Indian city of Chennai, who had already tried for a month to tell NASA what he thought he had found.

On Oct. 3, Mr. Shanmuga posted on Twitter a tiny white speck that was not visible in an older image, which he said he thought could be Vikram.

Two weeks later, he emailed Noah E. Petro, the project scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Five days later he followed up with Dr. Petro and John W. Keller, the deputy project scientist.

But it was only on the third email that he added Dr. Robinson, who forwarded the email to other scientists on the camera team, and they quickly found the crash site.

First, they confirmed that the speck Mr. Shanmuga identified was not there before September but was also visible in the October and November flybys. That ruled out the possibility that the speck was unlucky camera noise.

They then found changes in the brightness of nearby soil caused by bits of the moon flying upward and outward after the impact.

The pattern looked like a splash of water and pointed to where Vikram had slammed into the moon, about 2,500 feet to the southeast of the speck Mr. Shanmuga had seen. The speck turned out to be a piece of Vikram thrown out by the impact, and the scientists spotted other bits of wreckage.

The debris is spread out over a wide area, Dr. Robinson said.

While Indian authorities had initially suggested that the spacecraft could still be operational after a harder-than-designed landing, the images showed Vikram had disintegrated.

It wasnt a hard landing, Dr. Robinson said. It was a crash.

Dr. Robinson said it took a few days to carefully check the analysis before he informed Dr. Petro and Dr. Keller, who in turn told agency officials before Thanksgiving.

A NASA spokesman said that the release of the findings was coordinated with the Indian space agency. But the spokesman said ISRO did not share with NASA the coordinates of where it thought Vikram had ended up.

ISRO did not respond to questions about the claim that the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter had already located the lander in September.

Vikrams inadvertent strike of the moon reveals properties of the soil in the area that scientists would not have seen otherwise.

At the impact point, the surface became darker.

That material is not itself necessarily darker, but rather chunkier and thus casting more shadows, making it appear darker.

That tells something about the cratering mechanics, Dr. Robinson said.

Farther away, lighter-colored material emanates outward. The lighter streaks are not a coating of material thrown out by the impact but rather, the surface was smoothed out, making it more reflective and brighter, Dr. Robinson said. Seeing that could aid future studies of the moons surface.

_____

Hari Kumar contributed reporting from New Delhi.

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A Billion Pixels and the Search for Indias Crashed Moon Lander - The New York Times

NASA’s Orion Capsule Takes a Ride on the ‘Super Guppy’ (Photos, Video) – Space.com

NASA's Orion spacecraft just took a ride on one of the weirdest airplanes in the world.

Orion, which will help astronauts get to and from the moon and Mars, flew from Florida's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to Ohio over the weekend aboard the Super Guppy, NASA's specialized oversized-transport plane.

The Super Guppy touched down at Mansfield Lahm Airport on Sunday (Nov. 24). Orion was removed from the plane and loaded onto a flatbed truck on Monday morning (Nov. 25), NASA officials said. The capsule is headed for NASA's Plum Brook Station, where it will undergo extensive testing inside the world's largest vacuum chamber.

Related: The Orion Space Capsule: NASA's Next Spaceship (Photos)

The testing campaign will begin with a "thermal test," during which Orion's various systems will be powered on in a space-like environment.

"During this phase, the spacecraft will be subjected to extreme temperatures, ranging from minus 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit [minus 160 to 150 degrees Celsius], to replicate flying in and out of sunlight and shadow in space," NASA officials wrote in a statement. "The second phase is an electromagnetic interference and compatibility test, lasting about 14 days. This testing will ensure the spacecrafts electronics work properly when operated at the same time."

After these tests are done, Orion will be ferried back to KSC, where technicians will begin integrating it with NASA's huge Space Launch System (SLS) rocket ahead of the Artemis 1 mission.

Artemis 1, which is targeted for November 2020, will send Orion on a three-week, uncrewed flight around the moon. That mission will be the first for the SLS and the second for Orion, which took a brief uncrewed jaunt to Earth orbit in December 2014. (That flight lifted off atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.)

Artemis 1 will be a key milestone in NASA's Artemis program, which aims to put two astronauts down near the lunar south pole by 2024 and establish a long-term, sustainable human presence on and around the moon by 2028.

Accomplishing such goals will help NASA and its partners learn the skills needed to put boots on Mars, agency officials have said.

The Super Guppy has been hauling oversized NASA cargo for more than five decades. The plane's strange, bulbous shape makes perfect sense, given this role.

"Although there are other aircraft capable of carrying more weight than the Super Guppy, very few come close to its internal dimensions. Boasting an immense cargo area that is 25 feet in diameter and 111 feet long [7.6 by 34 meters], the Super Guppy can carry items that are virtually impossible to fit inside other cargo aircraft," NASA officials wrote in a description of the aircraft.

"The Super Guppy has a unique hinged nose that opens 110 degrees, permitting full frontal cargo loading," they added. "A control lock and disconnect system at the fuselage break allows the nose to be opened and closed without disrupting the flight or engine control rigging."

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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NASA's Orion Capsule Takes a Ride on the 'Super Guppy' (Photos, Video) - Space.com

China’s Microsatellite Crash Site on the Moon Spotted by NASA Lunar Orbiter – Space.com

A NASA spacecraft circling the moon has spotted the scar left by a Chinese satellite's impact.

China's Longjiang-2 spacecraft also known as the Discovering the Sky at Longest Wavelengths Pathfinder, or DSLWP-B crashed onto the lunar far side on July 31 after completing its orbital mission. On Nov. 14, a scientist on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission announced that the spacecraft had spotted Longjiang-2's apparent impact site.

The China National Space Administration launched the Longjiang-2 satellite to the moon along with the Queqiao relay communications satellite on May 20, 2018. The small spacecraft, which weighed nearly 100 lbs. (45 kilograms), was designed to work with its twin, Longjiang-1, to validate technologies for low-frequency radio astronomy observations.

Related: China On the Moon! A History of Chinese Lunar Missions in Pictures

Longjiang-2 was designed to orbit the moon for a year. The satellite exceeded that estimate, but its mission still needed to come to an end, and China wanted to crash the spacecraft to ensure it wouldn't clutter up lunar orbit.

Now, a new lunar crater has been identified, and it's most likely the result of that impact, according to a statement from Mark Robinson, leader of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team at Arizona State University.

In his remarks about the images released from the instrument, Robinson saluted the team led by amateur radio operator Daniel Estvez of Tres Cantos, Spain that estimated that the small spacecraft impacted the lunar surface somewhere within Van Gent crater (16.69 degrees North, 159.52 degrees East).

The LROC team used these coordinates to image the area on Oct. 5. Through a careful comparison of pre-existing LROC Narrow Angle Camera images, the LROC team located a new impact crater (16.6956 degrees N, 159.5170 degrees E, plus or minus 10 meters) just 1,076 feet (328 m) from the estimated site.

The crater is 13 feet by 16 feet (4 by 5 m), with the long axis oriented southwest to northeast.

Based on the crater's size and proximity to the estimated crash coordinates, "we are fairly confident that this new crater formed as a result of the Longjiang-2 impact," Robinson wrote.

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China's Microsatellite Crash Site on the Moon Spotted by NASA Lunar Orbiter - Space.com

NASAs in the market for quick taxi rides to and from International Space Station – GeekWire

An artists conception shows a Boeing Starliner space taxi approaching the International Space Station. (Boeing Illustration)

NASA already has committed billions of dollars to procuring regularly scheduled rides to and from the International Space Station from commercial space taxi operators but now it says its interested in buying short-term trips as well.

The proposed arrangement, detailed on Tuesday, is aimed at giving a boost to the commercialization of space operations in low Earth orbit, as well as to NASAs drive to send astronauts to the moon by 2024. It also makes the line dividing government-funded and privately funded space efforts even fuzzier.

SpaceX and Boeing are both building spacecraft to serve as taxis to the space station: Boeings CST-100 Starliner is due to go through an uncrewed test flight to the orbital outpost next month, and SpaceXs Crew Dragon is slated for an in-flight test of its launch abort system sometime in the next month or so.

Both space taxis are expected to carry crew starting early next year, assuming that they win NASAs clearance.

Once the spacecraft are certified, NASA will execute contracts for a series of regular flights to and from the space station, to support crew rotations every six months or so. SpaceX and Boeing also have the option of selling extra seats on those flights to private customers.

In addition, NASAs commercialization plan would let those companies plan up to two extra missions per year to the space station, for stays lasting as long as 30 days. The privately funded astronauts would have to pay a multimillion-dollar fare to the taxi operator plus a reimbursement to NASA for space station expenses, estimated at $35,000 a day.

The newly issued pre-solicitation notice focuses on the extra, privately organized missions: NASA says itd be interested in buying one of the seats on that kind of mission, in order to further its research goals for future trips to the moon and Mars.

NASA has identified a requirement to use missions of varying length on which it collects standard data to establish profiles of human physiological, behavioral, and psychological variables of importance for ensuring astronaut health and performance during future long-duration deep space missions, the space agency explained in a news release. Private astronaut mission opportunities NASA identified as part of its low-Earth orbit economy plan are up to 30 days, within the time frame necessary to perform research and collect critical data to build a comprehensive human spaceflight physiological profile.

This weeks announcement merely serves to give notice that NASA is interested in the idea. Its up to the organizers of future private-astronaut missions to let NASA know what theyre scheduling, and whether theyre willing to meet NASAs requirements for example, a four-person limit on space taxi occupancy.

Right now, Boeing and SpaceX are focusing on getting their taxis up and running for the missions that are dedicated to NASAs space station crew rotations, so it could be a year or more before they schedule the extra missions theyre entitled to offer.

Nevertheless, the idea sparked a lively discussion today when it was mentioned on Twitter by NASAs Doug Comstock, whos acting as a liaison for commercial crew activities in low Earth orbit:

NASAs proposed arrangement underscores the view that SpaceXs Crew Dragon and Boeings Starliner capsules really are space taxis a concept that one-time NASA Administrator Mike Griffin discussed 20 years ago in congressional testimony when he was Orbital Sciences chief technical officer.

Nowadays, maybe calling them Uber vehicles for spaceflight would be closer to the mark. If we stick with that analogy, you could say that NASA just wants to be able to get in on ordering Uber Pool rides as well as reserving an UberX for itself.

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NASAs in the market for quick taxi rides to and from International Space Station - GeekWire

At NASA, 2019 was the year of the woman, yet women still are a big minority at the space agency – Houston Chronicle

At NASA, 2019 could be called the year of the woman. In October, astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir completed the first all-female spacewalk. Koch also is on her way toward 328 days aboard the International Space Station - the longest single space mission by a woman.

Meanwhile, NASA is planning a lunar mission called "Artemis," named after the twin sister of Apollo, which, the agency says, would put "the next man and the first woman on the moon" by 2024. The aerospace industry also boasts an unprecedented number of women in high-ranking positions, including Leanne Caret, who leads Boeing's defense and space division and Gwynne Shotwell, the president and chief operating officer of SpaceX.

But for all the high-profile appointments and record-breaking feats, women remain an overwhelming minority among the rank and file at NASA and in the wider industry. Women make up only about a third of NASA's workforce. They comprise just 28% of senior executive leadership positions and are only 16% of senior scientific employees, according to a survey done by the agency.

In the aerospace industry, only 24% of employees are women, and there has been little change in years, according to a study done by Aviation Week.

For many, another example of how far the agency has to go came just a few weeks ago when NASA announced its "honor awards," what it calls its "highest form of recognition" to employees and contractors.

In total, 42 people were honored. All but two were men.

"We haven't moved very much in the last 30 years in overall diversity," said Mary Lynne Dittmar, the president and CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, an industry group. "Aerospace is still heavily male and white, and we're not moving very quickly."

Though perhaps not as overt as the early days of the space agency, when women were "hidden figures," sexism persists in an industry long dominated by white men. That has led women to leave science and engineering jobs at rates higher than their male counterparts. Women still struggle to get a foothold in the industry and often find themselves the only women in meetings dominated by men. Or being asked to fetch coffee. Or being called "honey."

"That's Dr. Honey to you, and the coffee machine is down the hall and to the right," is how Dittmar, who has worked in senior positions at Boeing and as an adviser to NASA, responds.

"Frankly, those attitudes have gotten better but they haven't completely gone away," said Ellen Stofan, the head of the National Air and Space Museum who previously served as NASA's chief scientist. "To pretend they have does not help us understand why women get paid 80 cents on the dollar and are still only making up 16 to 30% of the workforce."

While the aerospace industry hasn't been swept up in the recent #MeToo movement, it has over the years been hit by the occasional high-profile scandal. In 2012, Lockheed Martin's incoming CEO was forced out because of an affair with a subordinate, and in 2010, Boeing settled a pair of lawsuits filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging sex discrimination.

In one, two female engineers said they were subjected to sexist remarks and then suffered retaliation when they complained. In the other, a female employee alleged that her male counterparts harassed her and broke her tools, making it harder for her to do her job.

The employee reported the behavior, the EEOC said at the time, "but the company did nothing to address it. As a result, the harassment continued."

At NASA, which has about 17,000 employees, there were 62 EEOC complaints last year, 27 of which were on the basis of sex, according to agency statistics.

While that is not a large number, EEOC spokeswoman Christine Nazer said "it can be [a] difficult decision for individuals to come forward to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Employees often fear retaliation such as being fired or demoted if they assert their legal rights. Indeed, retaliation is the most frequently filed charge with the EEOC."

Major corporations such as Boeing and Lockheed say that they go to great lengths to ensure that all employees are welcomed and that they have robust programs to prevent harassment and to protect those who do report it.

Women in the industry acknowledge some improvement in the way they are treated, but cultural change has been slow. Even a term such as "manned spaceflight" continues to be controversial.

In the early 2000s, NASA's style guide was updated to include a section urging that "all references to the space program should be non-gender specific (e.g. human, piloted, unpiloted, robotic, as opposed to manned or unmanned)."

The word "manned" should only be used, the style guide said, when referring to any "historical program name or official title that included 'manned.'"

During an interview with reporters from the International Space Station about the first all-female spacewalk, Koch said she was happy to see the term fading from use. "It's been really nice to see that in the last several years, a lot of that language has been replaced," she said. "Even though that language is meant to represent all of humanity, it does conjure up images of men being the main participants."

But debate still surrounds it. In October, a chat board for members of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) hosted a spirited discussion of the term, with some arguing that "manned" refers to all humans and, as one put it, "the word itself has nothing to do with gender."

That incensed Lori Garver, a former NASA deputy administrator, who wrote on the message board that "if we want to encourage women or non-conforming genders to be a part of our next grand adventure, it would serve us well to remove 'manned' from our lexicon."

AIAA Executive Director Dan Dumbacher responded on the board that the institute "prefers to use 'crewed' or 'human' rather than 'manned' when referring to space travel in our publications and on AIAA.org. Increasing the diversity of the aerospace community and the future workforce has been - and continues to be - a mission priority for AIAA."

The debate became so heated that ultimately the organization decided to shut down the discussion board, asking members to write statements "with empathy and respect for your fellow members."

It wasn't until 1978, nearly two decades after John Glenn and the rest of the Mercury Seven had been chosen to go to space, that NASA selected its first female astronauts - six of a class of 35. One of those was Sally Ride, who five years later would become the first American woman in space.

Kathy Sullivan was a part of that class and said NASA was welcoming to the women. "Very open and evenhanded," she said. Then again, "walking in the door of NASA with the title of astronaut is like walking around the Navy with the title of admiral."

If they were accepted inside NASA, the rest of society was adjusting.

A reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times posed what he conceded "may seem like a male chauvinist pig question" when he asked about Shannon Lucid's fitness for space given that she "has three children and from her age I gather that the children are rather young."

Did NASA give any consideration "to her responsibilities to her children versus her responsibilities to the program?"

"If I gave you a one-word answer to Shannon Lucid's family situation, the answer is, 'none,' Chris Kraft, the legendary NASA flight director, responded.

Rather, he said "the most rewarding thing was that we found that there are a large number of very highly qualified women in the United States that can make the qualifications that we set out as astronauts."

Still, there were some embarrassing moments, as the male-dominated agency adjusted to the presence of women.

Before her first flight, the engineers asked Ride how many tampons she would need for her week-long mission.

"Is 100 the right number?" they asked, according to her biographer, Ann Friedman.

"That would not be the right number," she responded.

In many ways, the NASA astronaut class of 2013 was typical: full of overachievers, the best of the best, chosen from more than 6,000 applicants. The group of eight all had the right stuff, and more - six military officers, two scientists.

Typical except for one detail: For the first time, there were as many women as men.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA's administrator, said the agency is making great strides in hiring and promoting women, and he pointed out that three of the agency's four science mission directorates now are led by women.

"We're making significant progress in this area and have been for a number of years," he said. "We're not done. There's a lot more to do." And he said events like the all-female spacewalk last month are "what inspires tomorrow's astronauts, and we want tomorrow's astronauts to represent all of America."

It's not just at NASA. Several major aerospace firms have women in top leadership positions. Marillyn Hewson is the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, and Aerojet Rocketdyne's CEO is Eileen Drake.

But for more women to get to the C-suite, many think that more opportunities should be available to women earlier in life. That's why Garver, the former NASA deputy administrator, started a fellowship for undergraduate women that places them at aerospace companies across the country.

"It's important to support them, not just through mentorship, but get them actual jobs," she said.

The program has graduated 114 women over three years, creating a support group of women who can talk about the difficulties of breaking into an industry where women have long been a minority and faced discrimination.

When Stofan became head of the National Air and Space Museum, she saw it as not only a "symbolic" opportunity but also as a chance to showcase women in aerospace. "Whose stories are we telling in the museum?" she asked, shortly after starting the job, and decided to highlight the contributions of Margaret Hamilton, who worked on computer guidance systems during Apollo, and Katherine Johnson, one of the African American women whose work on the Mercury program was told in the film "Hidden Figures."

Stofan also oversees a summer camp for middle school girls at the museum called "She Can."

Women are still an overwhelming minority in many university engineering programs, something that remains a drag on female employment in the industry. Harvey Mudd College in California has been working for more than 15 years to attract women to its science, math and engineering programs, where they now represent nearly 50% of the enrollment. One of the biggest steps in that effort was to hire female professors.

"People always talk about how representation matters," said Nancy Lape, an engineering professor who is the interim chair of the engineering department. "I think this is one of those cases. So right away, when students come into our program, they see women, and they see women in leadership positions."

Much of the work focuses not just on lectures but also on hands-on learning - students get into a pool with an underwater robot for their introductory course - which she said has been shown to reduce learning gaps between the general student population and underrepresented groups.

Professors also encourage teamwork among students, which can help women and minorities "get a chance to really feel like they belong."

Female participation also has been on the rise at Space Camp, where adults and children go to learn about space, aviation and robotics at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Alabama. When it started 37 years ago, 32% of Space Camp attendees were women. Today, women are 42%.

"That's a little bit of a slow climb over 37 years," said Deborah Barnhart, the camp's director. "I hope it doesn't take us another 37 years to get to 52%, but that's where we should be." The camp works with the Girl Scouts to make space-related badges attendees can earn.

It also highlights the accomplishments of its graduates, who include Koch, the NASA astronaut on the space station. One of 12 women serving in the astronaut corps, she could be chosen by NASA to be the first woman to walk on the moon and become a Neil Armstrong for a new generation.

"The idea of having the honor of being the first woman to walk on the moon is almost too great to fathom," she told reporters, speaking from the space station. "Of course it would be a dream of mine and has been my entire life. But for now I'll settle for knowing that I'll probably at least know the first woman to walk on the moon.

"Hint. Hint," she added, poking Meir, who was floating beside her.

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At NASA, 2019 was the year of the woman, yet women still are a big minority at the space agency - Houston Chronicle

NASA Eyes a New Moon Rover for Astronauts and Robot Lunar Explorers – Space.com

HOUSTON NASA is considering developing an unpressurized rover that astronauts could drive remotely on the moon alongside a suite of robotic lunar explorers as part of the Artemis program.

In a speech Wednesday (Nov. 20) here at SpaceCom Expo, a two-day conference covering the business of space, Tom Cremins, NASA's associate administrator for strategy and plans,said such a project would be a public-private partnership that could include involvement from companies with expertise in making golf carts, all-terrain vehicles, automobiles or even autonomous mining parts. Similar rovers could be used in future crewed Mars missions as well.

Cremins said he would like the rover ready to operate "when the first crews arrive" (which NASA hopes will be in 2024) and allow for astronauts to operate it remotely from as far away as the planned Gateway station in lunar orbit. This rover would be used "to conduct operations and to add to the science objectives," he said.

Related: SpaceX, Blue Origin & More Join NASA's Private Moon Lander Project

The unpressurized exploration rover was also mentioned in late October at the annual meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, a group of scientists that supports NASA in identifying priorities and issues for moon exploration.

Once astronauts are on the surface, robotic exploration is a key strategy for expanding the range of terrain astronauts can view, NASA's John Connolly, lunar systems lead for the agency, said last month. People can only range about 1.8 miles (3 kilometers) from their lander, due to oxygen constraints. Robots have no such requirements, so they are essential if the agency is to meet its science goals on the moon.

"We're, no kidding, planning what we're going to do during those missions," Connolly said in his talk, which was archived on YouTube. For the first Artemis moon-landing mission in 2024, the agency plans a 6.5-day mission in the Shackleton Crater area with two crewmembers on the surface, he said. These astronauts will remotely drive a 440-lb. (200 kilograms) unpressurized rover and several handheld instruments to sample water ice from chilly, permanently shadowed craters.

But robots will beat humans to the moon.

NASA is drawing up plans for a suite of robotic helpers that will tackle lunar exploration tasks before and alongside the astronauts the agency intends to land on the moon in 2024.

The agency will send several landers and rovers to the surface through its own efforts and those of commercial partners, Steven Clarke, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration, said here at SpaceCom, a two-day conference covering the business of space.

One key target is water ice, because the compound could be turned into drinking water or rocket fuel. Multiple missions have studied ice on the moon, including India's Chandrayaan-1 moon orbiter, which helped confirm its existence; and the ongoing NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has mapped ice locations in high definition. But it's still unclear how that ice could shape exploration activities.

Related: NASA VIPER Moon Rover Will Hunt for Water at the Lunar South Pole

"How much [ice] there is, how easy it is to get to, and once we get to it how easy is it to excavate, we don't know," Clarke said. "We need to get to the ground first."

One rover that will pave the way for humans is called Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER). The VIPER moon rover will help NASA learn about the abundance and location of water ice. VIPER's instruments will include spectrometers to hunt water ice and a drill to burrow into the lunar surface, Clarke said. "These instruments are going to do that ground proofing we are talking about."

About the size of a golf cart, VIPER is expected to cost about $250 million. NASA has not yet decided which commercially provided lander will carry the rover to the moon, but expects VIPER to arrive in December 2022 for a 100-day mission.

NASA has 13 companies vying for lunar landing cargo contract opportunities under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program (CLPS), to support Artemis preparation and operations, including delivering projects like VIPER. Of that baker's dozen of companies, five were announced just this week SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, Ceres Robotics and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems.

Those commercial partners are a crucial part of NASA's moon strategy, Clarke said. CLPS will let the agency rapidly deploy its spacecraft to locations all over the moon, helping NASA find the most promising locations to send humans.

"I'm very excited about this new era of commercial partners," Clarke said.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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NASA Eyes a New Moon Rover for Astronauts and Robot Lunar Explorers - Space.com

NASAs space pallet concept could land rovers on the moon cheaply and simply – TechCrunch

Establishing an enduring presence on the Moon will mean making a lot of landings and NASA researchers want to make those landings as reliable and cheap as possible. This robotic pallet lander concept would be a dead simple (as lunar landers go) way to put up to 300 kilograms of rover and payload onto the Moons surface.

Detailed in a technical paper published today, the lander is a sort of space pallet: a strong, basic framework that could be a unit in many a future mission. Its still a concept and doesnt really have a name, so space pallet will do for now.

Its an evolution of a design that emerged in studies surrounding the VIPER mission that was intended to minimized cost and schedule and just get the rover to the surface safely. In a rare admission of (at least theoretically) putting cost over performance, the papers introduction reads:

The design of the lander was based on a minimum set of level 1 requirements where traditional risk, mass, and performance trade parameters were weighed lower than cost. In other words, the team did not sacrifice good enough for better or best.

It should be noted, of course, that good enough hardly implies a slapdash job in the context of lunar landers. It just means that getting 5 percent more tensile strength from a material that costs 50 times more wasnt considered a worthwhile trade-off. Same reason we dont use ebony or elm for regular pallets. Instead theyre using the space travel equivalent of solid pine boards that have been tested into the ground. (The team does admit to extrapolating a little but emphasizes that this is first and foremost a realistic approach.)

While most subsystems use off-the-shelf parts, one emerging technology needed for a lander like this would be Terrain Relative Navigation used for precision landing, said Logan Kennedy, lead systems engineer for the concept. Testing is under way!

The space pallet would go up aboard a commercial launch vehicle, such as a Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The vehicle would get the pallet and its rover payload into a trans-lunar injection trajectory, and a few days later the space pallet would perform the necessary landing maneuvers: attitude control, landing site selection, braking, and a soft touchdown with the rovers solar panels facing the sun.

Once on the surface, the rover would go on its merry way at some point in the next couple hours. The lander would take a few surface images and characterize its surroundings for the team on Earth, then shut down permanently after 8 hours or so.

Yes, unfortunately the space pallet is not intended to survive the lunar night, the researchers point out. Though any presence on the moons surface is a powerful resource, its expensive to provide the kind of power and heating infrastructure that would let the lander live through the freezing, airless cold of the Moons weeks-long night.

Still, its possible that the craft could be equipped with some low-key, self-sustaining science experiments or hardware that could be of use to others later a passive beacon for navigation, perhaps, or an intermittent seismic sensor that detect nearby meteorite impacts.

One concept involved unfolding solar panels to last for a whole lunar day (~14 Earth days) and technology exists to survive the lunar night and even longer, said Kennedy in response to a question about putting science instruments on board. NASAs Science Mission Directorate aims to take advantage of all opportunities for science investigations and intends to provide scientific experiments/instruments for all landers traveling to the lunar surface as long as they align with our needs and goals.

Even should the space pallet not be pursued further than concept stage, the team writes in the paper, it is important to note that these and other derived technologies are extensible to other lander designs and missions.

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NASAs space pallet concept could land rovers on the moon cheaply and simply - TechCrunch

Watch Boeing’s Starliner Meet Its Rocket for the 1st Time in This Awesome Drone Video – Space.com

A drone flying around the Kennedy Space Center recently captured incredible footage of a small step forward for NASA's delayed commercial crew program.

Boeing joined its Starliner spacecraft, which is supposed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station in the near future, to a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket for the first time on Nov. 21.

An epic new drone video shared on NASA's commercial crew Twitter shows Starliner (accompanied by the requisite train of personnel in their own vehicles) making its way to the launch pad, where it was hoisted into position atop its booster. If all goes to plan, Starliner will launch on Dec. 17 for its first uncrewed test in orbit.

Related: In Photos: Boeing's Starliner Pad Abort Test Launch

"From #Starliner rollout and move to #AtlasV mate, this week has been AMAZING," Boeing said on Twitter. "Now we're counting down the days until the December 17 launch for our Orbital Flight Test to @Space_Station."

NASA echoed the excitement in its own tweet. "A major step forward for @Commercial_Crew this week: @BoeingSpace's #Starliner spacecraft rolled out of the processing facility and was secured atop a @ulalaunch rocket," it said.

NASA has two companies vying for commercial crew opportunities: Boeing and SpaceX. SpaceX's Crew Dragon made a test flight in March and both companies are still working toward their first crewed launches. NASA contracted each company in 2014 for crewed launches that at the time were expected to occur in 2017. Today, the most optimistic estimates say astronauts will use these vehicles in 2020.

The NASA Office of the Inspector General recently released a report citing numerous schedule and technical issues in the commercial crew program, and warned that the U.S. may have to continue using Russian Soyuz flights to the space station for even longer than planned. Boeing strenuously objected to some of the findings last week, adding that it still plans to launch crew in early 2020.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Watch Boeing's Starliner Meet Its Rocket for the 1st Time in This Awesome Drone Video - Space.com

Original NASA ‘Red Number’ Prints Up for Auction, Expected to Fetch Thousands per Photo – PetaPixel

As we wrap up 2019 and the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 1969, Sothebys has one more NASA-themed auction up their sleeve. Launched yesterday, the Space Photography auction includes over 100 original NASA red number prints, including some of the most iconic images to come out of the US space program.

This lot of 140 prints comes from the collection of photography collector and dealer Philip Kulpa, and theyre not just anyones old prints of NASA public domain photographs. These are Red Number prints, meaning that they are the original chromogenic color prints direct from NASA, complete with NASA and the mission name or number stamped in the margin in red ink.

Included in the collection are some of the most iconic images to come out of both the Gemini and the Apollo programs, including Buzz Aldrin at Tranquility Base, mans first footprint on the moon, a view of the Earth rise as captured from the lunar surface, and Apollo 16 Commander John Youngs famous jumping flag salute.

Here are just a few examples:

This Space Photography auction is online only, and is running from the 25th of November (yesterday) through the 2nd of December. And while we dont expect anyone will be able to snag any of these for under one grand minimumeach of the 10 x 8-inch prints pictured above are expected to go for between $2,500 and $5,000none of the items seem to have a reserve, with some bidding as low as $50 as of this writing.

Who knows put in a bid and you might get lucky.

To see all of the red number prints currently up for saleas well as some other great items like a signed print of Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon thats expected to fetch up to $9,000head over to the Sothebys website.

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Original NASA 'Red Number' Prints Up for Auction, Expected to Fetch Thousands per Photo - PetaPixel

NASAs giant Super Guppy plane delivers the agencys spacecraft to Ohio – The Verge

Transporting a large space capsule around Earth can be a daunting process, but NASA has its own various equipment for such jobs one of which is a very big plane with a very big belly. Known as the Super Guppy, NASAs cavernous plane is capable of carrying large loads from point A to point B, and the aircraft just transported the space agencys next-generation passenger spacecraft to Ohio for a round of testing.

The Super Guppys precious cargo was NASAs Orion spacecraft, a new crew capsule thats designed to take future astronauts into deep space and eventually to the vicinity of the Moon. Orion is gearing up for its first flight on top of NASAs future monster rocket, the Space Launch System a mission, without a crew, thats supposed to take place in the early 2020s. The flight will send Orion around the Moon on a three-week trip before the capsule heads back to Earth.

Engineers are preparing Orion for the mission, known as Artemis 1, by putting the capsule through a series of tests to see if its ready to take on space. Over the next two months at NASAs Plum Brook Station, Orion will be subjected to extreme temperatures in the largest vacuum chamber in the world. The vehicle will experience temperatures from -250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit to simulate the wide range of environments it will experience off of Earth. Orions electronics systems will also be tested to make sure they all function as they should at the same time.

Once all of this is done, the Super Guppy will take Orion back to Florida where it will be mounted on top of its future ride, the SLS. However, the SLS is still in development for its debut flight, and its unclear exactly when itll be ready to launch. A recent government audit suggested it wouldnt fly until 2021 at the earliest, and one NASA official also indicated that was likely. But if all goes well with testing, at least Orion will be ready once the rocket is finally finished.

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NASAs giant Super Guppy plane delivers the agencys spacecraft to Ohio - The Verge

Now there are two NASA flying Astrobee robots working on the ISS – SlashGear

NASA has deployed a second Astrobee free-flying robot called Honey on the International Space Station. As with the initial Astrobee, the new addition is designed to help astronauts on the space station get their routine work done, freeing humans to spend their time working on more pressing tasks. An Astrobee system can support up to three free-flying robots that utilize a docking station for recharging.

Astronauts on the International Space Station are busy with scientific experiments, but that work has to be interrupted so that they can regularly complete chores and other rote activities. NASA developed the Astrobee robot system to aid the humans on the ISS with completing these important tasks so that they can spend more hours on research.

Late last week, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano wrapped up the initial tests on the second Astrobee robot named Honey, according to NASA. The robot was connected to the main Astrobee docking system, the space agency explains, which prompted it to wake up for work.

Honey joins the first Astrobee on the ISS, Bumble, and it will eventually work alongside a third robot to complete the system. The robots are all identical, so NASA gave Honey a different color than Bumble, enabling astronauts to tell the two machines apart (Honey is yellow, in case you were wondering).

It wont take as long to get Honey in operation as it did Bumble because the first robot already worked to map the entire interior of the ISS, NASA explains. This map is used by the Astrobee robots to navigate. Queen, the third and final robot for the Astrobee system already on the ISS, is expected to launch to the space station in July 2020.

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Now there are two NASA flying Astrobee robots working on the ISS - SlashGear

NASA astronaut lets go of shield as terrifying video shows it hurtling towards Earth – Express.co.uk

There are a reported 170 million pieces of junk floating in Earths upper atmosphere, but only 22,000 are being tracked. Some 7,000 tonnes of space junk circle our planet, as defunct satellites, collateral from rockets and other metals and rocks build up close to Earth. Experts have previously warned that as space debris increases, it will make it harder for rockets to escape Earths orbit out of fear of colliding with an object, known as the Klesser syndrome.

NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano, an astronaut from the European Space Agency, needed to remove this debris shield during a spacewalk.

NASA wrote on Instagram: "Did this debris shield spark joy?"Sometimes you need to let go of what no longer serves you!"On the first spacewalk to repair the International Space Station's cosmic particle detector,@AstroDrewMorganand@europeanspaceagencyastronaut Luca Parmitano removed a debris shield to access the worksite."

READ MORE:NASA news: Orion spacecraft arrives for vacuum chamber test in Ohio

Last month NASAreleased a video showing the extent of space junk in the Earths atmosphere amid fears humans are trapping themselves on the planet.

There are fears the space junk could crash into each other causing a breakdown in systems such as mobile phones, television, GPS and weather-related services which rely on the satellites.

It comes as Ralph Dinsley, founder and executive director of Northern Space and Security LTD believes we are approaching a point where it could be too late.

Mr Dinsley told Express.co.uk: At the far end of the spectrum, worst-case scenario, it will wipe it out.

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NASA astronaut lets go of shield as terrifying video shows it hurtling towards Earth - Express.co.uk

NASA has found sugar in meteorites that crashed to Earth – CNN

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In a statement, Transport for London (TfL) said it had identified "a pattern of failures by the company including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk."","descriptionText":"London transit officials have decided not to extend the company's license to operate in the city. In a statement, Transport for London (TfL) said it had identified "a pattern of failures by the company including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk.""},{"title":"Cut diamonds and treasure haul stolen in vault heist","duration":"01:41","sourceName":"CNN","sourceLink":"http://www.cnn.com","videoCMSUrl":"/video/data/3.0/video/world/2019/11/25/dresden-castle-green-vault-treasure-heist-vpx.cnn/index.xml","videoId":"world/2019/11/25/dresden-castle-green-vault-treasure-heist-vpx.cnn","videoImage":"//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/191125082533-dresden-castle-green-vault-treasure-heist-vpx-00000610-large-169.jpg","videoUrl":"/videos/world/2019/11/25/dresden-castle-green-vault-treasure-heist-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/around-the-world/","description":"Police say Germany's u003ca href="http://www.cnn.com/2019/11/25/europe/dresden-green-vault-thieves-intl-scli-grm/index.html" target="_blank">Dresden Castle was broken into by thievesu003c/a> and stole artifacts of "immeasurable value" from the Green Vault. 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According to public broadcaster RTHK, opposition candidates took nearly 90% of the seats up for grabs."},{"title":"Unarmed Hong Kong protester shot by police speaks out","duration":"03:21","sourceName":"CNN","sourceLink":"https://www.cnn.com/","videoCMSUrl":"/video/data/3.0/video/world/2019/11/23/hong-kong-protester-shot-by-police-walsh-pkg-vpx.cnn/index.xml","videoId":"world/2019/11/23/hong-kong-protester-shot-by-police-walsh-pkg-vpx.cnn","videoImage":"//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/191123190843-03-hong-kong-protester-shot-large-169.jpeg","videoUrl":"/videos/world/2019/11/23/hong-kong-protester-shot-by-police-walsh-pkg-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/around-the-world/","description":"Patrick Chow, the 21-year-old unarmed protester who was shot and critically injured by a police officer in Hong Kong, tells CNN's u003ca href="https://www.cnn.com/profiles/nick-paton-walsh" target="_blank">Nick Paton Walshu003c/a> he will never forgive the police officer who shot him.","descriptionText":"Patrick Chow, the 21-year-old unarmed protester who was shot and critically injured by a police officer in Hong Kong, tells CNN's u003ca href="https://www.cnn.com/profiles/nick-paton-walsh" target="_blank">Nick Paton Walshu003c/a> he will never forgive the police officer who shot him."}],currentVideoCollectionId = '',isLivePlayer = false,mediaMetadataCallbacks,mobilePinnedView = null,moveToNextTimeout,mutePlayerEnabled = false,nextVideoId = '',nextVideoUrl = '',turnOnFlashMessaging = false,videoPinner,videoEndSlateImpl;if (CNN.autoPlayVideoExist === false) {autoStartVideo = true;if (autoStartVideo === true) {if (turnOnFlashMessaging === true) {autoStartVideo = false;containerEl = jQuery(document.getElementById(configObj.markupId));CNN.VideoPlayer.showFlashSlate(containerEl);} else {CNN.autoPlayVideoExist = true;}}}configObj.autostart = CNN.Features.enableAutoplayBlock ? false : autoStartVideo;CNN.VideoPlayer.setPlayerProperties(configObj.markupId, autoStartVideo, isLivePlayer, isVideoReplayClicked, mutePlayerEnabled);CNN.VideoPlayer.setFirstVideoInCollection(currentVideoCollection, configObj.markupId);var videoHandler = {},isFeaturedVideoCollectionHandlerAvailable = (CNN !== undefined &&CNN.VIDEOCLIENT !== undefined &&CNN.VIDEOCLIENT.FeaturedVideoCollectionHandler !== undefined);if (!isFeaturedVideoCollectionHandlerAvailable) {CNN.INJECTOR.executeFeature('videx').done(function () {jQuery.ajax({dataType: 'script',cache: true,url: '//www.i.cdn.cnn.com/.a/2.175.2/js/featured-video-collection-player.min.js'}).done(function () {initializeVideoAndCollection();}).fail(function () {throw 'Unable to fetch /js/featured-video-collection-player.min.js';});}).fail(function () {throw 'Unable to fetch the videx bundle';});}function initializeVideoAndCollection() {videoHandler = new CNN.VIDEOCLIENT.FeaturedVideoCollectionHandler(configObj.markupId,"cn-featured-11d4lpe",'js-video_description-featured-11d4lpe',[{"title":"Journey through space with NASA's Voyager","duration":"01:14","sourceName":"CNN Business","sourceLink":"http://www.cnn.com/business","videoCMSUrl":"/video/data/3.0/video/business/2019/11/04/nasa-voyager-spacecraft-orig.cnn-business/index.xml","videoId":"business/2019/11/04/nasa-voyager-spacecraft-orig.cnn-business","videoImage":"//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/181210161812-voyager-2-interstellar-space-large-169.jpg","videoUrl":"/videos/business/2019/11/04/nasa-voyager-spacecraft-orig.cnn-business/video/playlists/around-the-world/","description":"NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts have been exploring space since 1977, and they continue to enlighten scientists to this day.","descriptionText":"NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts have been exploring space since 1977, and they continue to enlighten scientists to this day."},{"title":"See Kim Jong Un's 'bizarre' photo op","duration":"02:19","sourceName":"CNN","sourceLink":"https://www.cnn.com/?refresh=1","videoCMSUrl":"/video/data/3.0/video/world/2019/11/26/kim-jong-un-military-drill-photos-todd-tsr-vpx.cnn/index.xml","videoId":"world/2019/11/26/kim-jong-un-military-drill-photos-todd-tsr-vpx.cnn","videoImage":"//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/191126223349-kim-jong-un-military-drills-fixed-large-169.jpg","videoUrl":"/videos/world/2019/11/26/kim-jong-un-military-drill-photos-todd-tsr-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/around-the-world/","description":"North Korea's recent military drill was more than just a show of force, featuring a volleyball game, musical performance and photo opportunity with Kim Jong Un. 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CNN's u003ca href="http://www.cnn.com/profiles/phil-black" target="_blank">Phil Blacku003c/a> reports."},{"title":"Drone footage shows destruction after Albania earthquake","duration":"01:32","sourceName":"CNN","sourceLink":"","videoCMSUrl":"/video/data/3.0/video/world/2019/11/26/albania-earthquake-destruction-lon-orig-na.cnn/index.xml","videoId":"world/2019/11/26/albania-earthquake-destruction-lon-orig-na.cnn","videoImage":"//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/191126161758-14-albania-earthquake-1126-large-169.jpg","videoUrl":"/videos/world/2019/11/26/albania-earthquake-destruction-lon-orig-na.cnn/video/playlists/around-the-world/","description":"More than a dozen people have been killed and hundreds have been injured after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Albania.","descriptionText":"More than a dozen people have been killed and hundreds have been injured after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Albania."},{"title":"Operating manual for China's detention camps allegedly leaked","duration":"02:03","sourceName":"CNN","sourceLink":"https://edition.cnn.com/","videoCMSUrl":"/video/data/3.0/video/world/2019/11/25/xinjiang-camps-china-leak-uyghurs-detention-centers-beijing-icij-intl-ldn-vpx.cnn/index.xml","videoId":"world/2019/11/25/xinjiang-camps-china-leak-uyghurs-detention-centers-beijing-icij-intl-ldn-vpx.cnn","videoImage":"//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/191025100239-01-xinjiang-0419-large-169.jpg","videoUrl":"/videos/world/2019/11/25/xinjiang-camps-china-leak-uyghurs-detention-centers-beijing-icij-intl-ldn-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/around-the-world/","description":"A series of leaked documents published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) threatens to shine a spotlight on the Chinese government's Xinjiang detention centers, indicating what Beijing claims are voluntary training schools for Muslim-majority Uyghurs are in fact heavily policed re-education camps.","descriptionText":"A series of leaked documents published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) threatens to shine a spotlight on the Chinese government's Xinjiang detention centers, indicating what Beijing claims are voluntary training schools for Muslim-majority Uyghurs are in fact heavily policed re-education camps."},{"title":"Magnitude 6.4 earthquake strikes Albania","duration":"01:26","sourceName":"CNN","sourceLink":"http://www.cnn.com/","videoCMSUrl":"/video/data/3.0/video/world/2019/11/26/albania-earthquake-salaj-sot-nr-vpx.cnn/index.xml","videoId":"world/2019/11/26/albania-earthquake-salaj-sot-nr-vpx.cnn","videoImage":"//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/191126012021-albania-earthquake-november-26-2019-01-large-169.jpg","videoUrl":"/videos/world/2019/11/26/albania-earthquake-salaj-sot-nr-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/around-the-world/","description":"Blendi Salaj from u003ca href="https://a2news.com/" target="_blank">CNN affiliate A2u003c/a> describes the scene in Tirana, Albania, where a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit early in the morning near Durres, about 36 kilometers from the capital.","descriptionText":"Blendi Salaj from u003ca href="https://a2news.com/" target="_blank">CNN affiliate A2u003c/a> describes the scene in Tirana, Albania, where a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit early in the morning near Durres, about 36 kilometers from the capital."},{"title":"Uber loses London license again but can keep driving for now","duration":"02:21","sourceName":"CNN","sourceLink":"https://edition.cnn.com/","videoCMSUrl":"/video/data/3.0/video/business/2019/11/25/uber-london-license-transport-for-london-tfl-intl-ldn-vpx.cnn/index.xml","videoId":"business/2019/11/25/uber-london-license-transport-for-london-tfl-intl-ldn-vpx.cnn","videoImage":"//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/191014152056-uber-headquarters-large-169.jpg","videoUrl":"/videos/business/2019/11/25/uber-london-license-transport-for-london-tfl-intl-ldn-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/around-the-world/","description":"London transit officials have decided not to extend the company's license to operate in the city. In a statement, Transport for London (TfL) said it had identified "a pattern of failures by the company including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk."","descriptionText":"London transit officials have decided not to extend the company's license to operate in the city. In a statement, Transport for London (TfL) said it had identified "a pattern of failures by the company including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk.""},{"title":"Cut diamonds and treasure haul stolen in vault heist","duration":"01:41","sourceName":"CNN","sourceLink":"http://www.cnn.com","videoCMSUrl":"/video/data/3.0/video/world/2019/11/25/dresden-castle-green-vault-treasure-heist-vpx.cnn/index.xml","videoId":"world/2019/11/25/dresden-castle-green-vault-treasure-heist-vpx.cnn","videoImage":"//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/191125082533-dresden-castle-green-vault-treasure-heist-vpx-00000610-large-169.jpg","videoUrl":"/videos/world/2019/11/25/dresden-castle-green-vault-treasure-heist-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/around-the-world/","description":"Police say Germany's u003ca href="http://www.cnn.com/2019/11/25/europe/dresden-green-vault-thieves-intl-scli-grm/index.html" target="_blank">Dresden Castle was broken into by thievesu003c/a> and stole artifacts of "immeasurable value" from the Green Vault. CNN's u003ca href="http://www.cnn.com/profiles/phil-black" target="_blank">Phil Blacku003c/a> has the details.","descriptionText":"Police say Germany's u003ca href="http://www.cnn.com/2019/11/25/europe/dresden-green-vault-thieves-intl-scli-grm/index.html" target="_blank">Dresden Castle was broken into by thievesu003c/a> and stole artifacts of "immeasurable value" from the Green Vault. CNN's u003ca href="http://www.cnn.com/profiles/phil-black" target="_blank">Phil Blacku003c/a> has the details."},{"title":"Egypt hails rare find of mummified lion cubs, crocodiles, cats","duration":"01:02","sourceName":"CNN","sourceLink":"","videoCMSUrl":"/video/data/3.0/video/world/2019/11/25/egypt-animal-mummies-lions-saqqara-lon-orig-mrg.cnn/index.xml","videoId":"world/2019/11/25/egypt-animal-mummies-lions-saqqara-lon-orig-mrg.cnn","videoImage":"//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/191125104506-02-saqqara-animal-mummies-large-169.jpg","videoUrl":"/videos/world/2019/11/25/egypt-animal-mummies-lions-saqqara-lon-orig-mrg.cnn/video/playlists/around-the-world/","description":"Egypt has unveiled an unprecedented discovery of dozens of mummified sacred animals, including cats, crocodiles and two lion cubs, found during the excavation of a tomb of a royal priest.","descriptionText":"Egypt has unveiled an unprecedented discovery of dozens of mummified sacred animals, including cats, crocodiles and two lion cubs, found during the excavation of a tomb of a royal priest."},{"title":"Pro-democracy parties win big in Hong Kong election","duration":"03:03","sourceName":"CNN","sourceLink":"https://edition.cnn.com/","videoCMSUrl":"/video/data/3.0/video/world/2019/11/25/hong-kong-district-elections-beijing-china-carrie-lam-intl-ldn-vpx.cnn/index.xml","videoId":"world/2019/11/25/hong-kong-district-elections-beijing-china-carrie-lam-intl-ldn-vpx.cnn","videoImage":"//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/191125113811-hong-kong-votes-1124-01-large-169.jpg","videoUrl":"/videos/world/2019/11/25/hong-kong-district-elections-beijing-china-carrie-lam-intl-ldn-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/around-the-world/","description":"Theu003ca href="http://www.cnn.com/2019/11/24/asia/hong-kong-district-council-elections-intl/index.html" target="_blank"> landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong u003c/a>district council elections is a stinging rebuke to the city's government. According to public broadcaster RTHK, opposition candidates took nearly 90% of the seats up for grabs.","descriptionText":"Theu003ca href="http://www.cnn.com/2019/11/24/asia/hong-kong-district-council-elections-intl/index.html" target="_blank"> landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong u003c/a>district council elections is a stinging rebuke to the city's government. According to public broadcaster RTHK, opposition candidates took nearly 90% of the seats up for grabs."},{"title":"Unarmed Hong Kong protester shot by police speaks out","duration":"03:21","sourceName":"CNN","sourceLink":"https://www.cnn.com/","videoCMSUrl":"/video/data/3.0/video/world/2019/11/23/hong-kong-protester-shot-by-police-walsh-pkg-vpx.cnn/index.xml","videoId":"world/2019/11/23/hong-kong-protester-shot-by-police-walsh-pkg-vpx.cnn","videoImage":"//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/191123190843-03-hong-kong-protester-shot-large-169.jpeg","videoUrl":"/videos/world/2019/11/23/hong-kong-protester-shot-by-police-walsh-pkg-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/around-the-world/","description":"Patrick Chow, the 21-year-old unarmed protester who was shot and critically injured by a police officer in Hong Kong, tells CNN's u003ca href="https://www.cnn.com/profiles/nick-paton-walsh" target="_blank">Nick Paton Walshu003c/a> he will never forgive the police officer who shot him.","descriptionText":"Patrick Chow, the 21-year-old unarmed protester who was shot and critically injured by a police officer in Hong Kong, tells CNN's u003ca href="https://www.cnn.com/profiles/nick-paton-walsh" target="_blank">Nick Paton Walshu003c/a> he will never forgive the police officer who shot him."}],'js-video_headline-featured-11d4lpe','',"js-video_source-featured-11d4lpe",true,true,'around-the-world');if (typeof configObj.context !== 'string' || configObj.context.length

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NASA has found sugar in meteorites that crashed to Earth - CNN

NASA’s TESS Spacecraft Is Finding Hundreds of Exoplanetsand Is Poised to Find Thousands More – Singularity Hub

Within just 50 light-years from Earth, there are about 1,560 stars, likely orbited by several thousand planets. About a thousand of these extrasolar planets, known as exoplanets, may be rocky and have a composition similar to Earths. Some may even harbor life. Over 99 percent of these alien worlds remain undiscoveredbut this is about to change.

With NASAs new exoplanet-hunter space telescope TESS, the all-sky search is on for possibly habitable planets close to our solar system. TESSorbiting Earth every 13.7 days and ground-based telescopes are poised to find hundreds of planets over the next few years. This could transform astronomers understanding of alien worlds around us and provide targets to scan with next-generation telescopes for signatures of life. In just over a year, TESS has identified more than 1,200 planetary candidates, 29 of which astronomers have already confirmed as planets. Given TESSs unique ability to simultaneously search tens of thousands of stars for planets, the mission is expected to yield over 10,000 new worlds.

These are exciting times for astronomers and, especially, for those of us exploring exoplanets. We are members of the planet-hunting Project EDEN, which also supports TESSs work. We use telescopes on the ground and in space to find exoplanets to understand their properties and potential for harboring life.

Worlds around us await discovery. Take, for example, Proxima Centauri, an unassuming, faint red star, invisible without a telescope. It is one of over a hundred billion or so such stars within our galaxy, unremarkable except for its status as our next-door neighbor. Orbiting Proxima is a fascinating but mysterious world, called Proxima b, discovered only in 2016.

Scientists know surprisingly little about Proxima b. Astronomers name the first planet discovered in a system b. This planet has never been seen with human eyes or by a telescope. But we know it exists due to its gravitational pull on its host star, which makes the star wobble ever so slightly. This slight wobble was found in measurements collected by a large, international group of astronomers from data taken with multiple ground-based telescopes. Proxima b very likely has a rocky composition similar to Earths, but higher mass. It receives about the same amount of heat as Earth receives from the sun.

And that is what makes this planet so exciting: It lies in the habitable zone and just might have properties similar to Earths, like a surface, liquid water, andwho knows? maybe even an atmosphere bearing the telltale chemical signs of life.

NASAs TESS mission launched in April 2018 to hunt for other broadly Earth-sized planets, but with a different method. TESS is looking for rare dimming events that happen when planets pass in front of their host stars, blocking some starlight. These transit events indicate not only the presence of the planets, but also their sizes and orbits.

Finding a new transiting exoplanet is a big deal for astronomers like us because, unlike those found through stellar wobbles, worlds seen transiting can be studied further to determine their densities and atmospheric compositions.

By measuring the depth of the dip in brightness and knowing the size of the star, scientists can determine the size or radius of the planet. NASA Ames

For us, the most exciting exoplanets are the smallest ones, which TESS can detect when they orbit small stars called red dwarfs (stars with masses less than half the mass of our sun).

Each of these systems is unique. For example, LP 791-18 is a red dwarf star 86 light-years from Earth around which TESS found two worlds. The first is a super-Earth, a planet larger than Earth but probably still mostly rocky, and the second is a mini-Neptune, a planet smaller than Neptune but gas- and ice-rich. Neither of these planets have counterparts in our solar system.

Among astronomers current favorites of the new broadly Earth-sized planets is LHS 3884b, a scorching hot Earth that orbits its sun so quickly that on it you could celebrate your birthday every 11 hours.

But how Earth-like are Earth-sized planets? The promise of finding nearby worlds for detailed studies is already paying off. A team of astronomers observed the hot super-Earth LHS 3884b with the Hubble Space Telescope and found the planet to be a horrible vacation spot, without even an atmosphere. It is just a bare rock with temperatures ranging from over 700 C (1300 Fahrenheit) at noon to near absolute zero (-460 Fahrenheit) at midnight.

The TESS mission was initially funded for two years. But the spacecraft is in excellent shape and NASA recently extended the mission through 2022, doubling the time TESS will have to scan nearby, bright stars for transits.

However, finding exoplanets around the coolest starsthose with temperatures less than about 2700 C (4900 F)will still be a challenge due to their extreme faintness. Since ultracool dwarfs provide our best opportunity to find and study exoplanets with sizes and temperatures similar to Earths, other focused planet searches are picking up where TESS leaves off.

Illustration of TESS, NASAs Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center

In May 2016, a Belgian-led group announced the discovery of a planetary system around the ultracool dwarf they christened TRAPPIST-1. The discovery of the seven transiting Earth-sized exoplanets in the TRAPPIST-1 system was groundbreaking.

It also demonstrated how small telescopesrelative to the powerful behemoths of our age can still make transformational discoveries. With patience and persistence, the TRAPPIST telescope scanned nearby faint, red dwarf stars from its high-mountain perch in the Atacama desert for small, telltale dips in their brightnesses. Eventually, it spotted transits in the data for the red dwarf TRAPPIST-1, whichalthough just 41 light-years awayis too faint for TESSs four 10-cm (4-inch) diameter lenses. Its Earth-sized worlds would have remained undiscovered had the TRAPPIST teams larger telescope not found them.

Two projects have upped the game in the search for exo-Earth candidates around nearby red dwarfs. The SPECULOOS team installed four robotic telescopesalso in the Atacama desertand one in the Northern Hemisphere. Our Exoearth Discovery and Exploration NetworkProject EDENuses nine telescopes in Arizona, Italy, Spain, and Taiwan to observe red dwarf stars continuously.

The SPECULOOS and EDEN telescopes are much larger than TESSs small lenses and can find planets around stars too faint for TESS to study, including some of the transiting Earth-sized planets closest to us.

This artists concept shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about the planets diameters, masses and distances from the host star, as of February 2018. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The next decade is likely to be remembered as the time when we opened our eyes to the incredible diversity of other worlds. TESS is likely to find between 10,000 and 15,000 exoplanet candidates by 2025. By 2030, the European Space Agencys GAIA and PLATO missions are expected to find another 20,000-35,000 planets. GAIA will look for stellar wobbles introduced by planets, while PLATO will search for planetary transits as TESS does.

However, even among the thousands of planets that will soon be found, the exoplanets closest to our solar system will remain special. Many of these worlds can be studied in great detail, including the search for signs of life. Discoveries of the nearest worlds also represent major steps in humanitys progress in exploring the universe we live in. After mapping our own planet and then the solar system, we now turn to nearby planetary systems. Perhaps one day Proxima b or another nearby world astronomers have yet to find will be the target for interstellar probes, like Project Starshot, or even crewed starships. But first weve got to put these worlds on the map.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image Credit: Image by JAKO5D from Pixabay

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NASA's TESS Spacecraft Is Finding Hundreds of Exoplanetsand Is Poised to Find Thousands More - Singularity Hub

Texas A&M To Aid NASA In The Development Of Shape-Shifting Metals – Texas A&M University

Patrick Walgren, current aerospace engineering Ph.D. student at Texas A&M, working on a morphing radiator prototype in the Multifunctional Materials and Aerospace Structures Optimization (MAESTRO) Lab.

Texas A&M Engineering

Like the weather in Texas, the moons temperature varies drastically over the course of its day and night cycle. The moons surface can reach scorching temperatures as high as 250 degrees F during the day and a frigid 208 degrees below zero at night.

These dramatic fluctuations in temperature create a challenge during lunar missions keeping payload, whether thats astronauts aboard a spacecraft or an experimental device on a rover, from becoming too hot or too cold.

With lunar explorations on the horizon, including putting astronauts back on the moon by 2024, NASA is investing $2 million in cutting-edge thermal technology to make regulating temperatures during missions possible.

This technology will be developed by a team of researchers from Texas A&M University, the Boeing Company and Paragon Space Development Corporation. The team is focused on creating shape-shifting technology to adjust thermal control systems automatically.

Our proposed solutions incorporate shape-shifting metals that adjust their own heat rejection based on how hot or cold they are, so it solves the problem for us, said Dr. Darren Hartl, assistant professor in aerospace engineering and head of the Multifunctional Material and Aerospace Structures Optimization (M2AESTRO) Lab at Texas A&M.

Hartl and his team have a successful history partnering with both Boeing and Paragon on shape memory alloy (SMA) technology. Most recently, Hartl and Dr. John Whitcomb, professor in aerospace engineering, have worked on an idea with Paragon to create amorphing radiator composed of SMAs.

Prototypes of the morphing radiator were developed by former graduate students Christopher Bertagne, now at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Patrick Walgren, current Ph.D. student. They successfully tested the prototypes in a small thermal vacuum chamber at NASAs Johnson Space Center.

The recent funding from NASA, awarded through theTipping Point initiative, will launch the SMA-based thermal control technology into its next phase.

Its incredibly rewarding to be a part of the team that advanced this technology to its current state and to learn that NASA is committed to further maturing the concept, said Walgren.

Texas A&M researchers will begin their part of the project in the spring, which includes further development of the morphing radiator as well as the modeling and optimization of an accompanying thermal switch, also composed of SMAs. These thermally sensitive technologies represent uncharted territory, yet are critical to the operations of future space expeditions.

It will be another successful example of morphing structures enabling something that couldnt have been done before, said Hartl. It will be another example to the aerospace industry that you can have a structure adapt itself to its environment.

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Texas A&M To Aid NASA In The Development Of Shape-Shifting Metals - Texas A&M University

Naming a NASA Mars Rover Can Change Your Life – NASA Mars Exploration

Don't miss the out-of-this-world opportunity to name NASA's next Mars rover: U.S. students in kindergarten through 12th grade, attending public, private or home schools, have only through Nov. 1 to propose their name for the rover to be launched to Mars in 2020.

Just think about what it means to have something you named conducting history-making science on the Red Planet or, if you are one of nine finalists, getting to meet people who have spent their lives unraveling the mysteries of the specks of light in our night sky.

For Clara Ma, who won the naming contest for Curiosity, the NASA rover currently exploring the Red Planet, the experience rocked her world.

"I was really, really shy as a kid," Ma explained. "I didn't think my voice was important. But after winning the naming contest, there was a lot of attention on me unlike anything I'd ever known. My life would not be the same if I hadn't spoken up to articulate my thoughts."

Meet Clara

In 2008, Ma was a 12-year-old sixth grader in a Kansas City suburb and was just starting to develop an interest in science. She had recently entered her first science fair and watched a movie about a journey from Earth to the far reaches of the universe. As she looked up at the night sky above Lenexa, Kansas, her head practically exploded thinking about the mysteries of the cosmos.

When Ma read a magazine article about NASA's essay contest to name the next Mars rover, she knew precisely which name to propose: "Curiosity is the passion that drives us through our everyday lives," Ma wrote in her short essay. "We have become explorers and scientists with our need to ask questions and to wonder."

She won the contest; the rover Curiosity launched in 2011 and is hard at work today looking into whether ancient Mars ever had the right environmental conditions to support life.

"The experience of naming the rover and everything that came with it changed my life," Ma said recently. One key part of the experience was getting to speak with so many NASA scientists and engineers of different backgrounds; several of them became longtime mentors.

"It was so inspiring to meet people who were asking questions about the world and the universe for a living," she said. "It made me realize that was something I could do with my life: I could be a scientist, too."

Where is she now?

Ma graduated earlier this year with a degree in geophysics from Yale University. Her coursework and research focused in particular on how Earth's atmosphere, oceans and climate interact with one another. She is completing a master's degree in science, technology and environmental policy at the University of Cambridge in the U.K.

"Thinking about sending a robot to another planet made me realize how special and fragile life is on Earth," she said. "Space is incredibly vast. There are trillions and trillions of planets out there. And yet we're still the only place that we know of where life exists. I realized that studying the Earth was the most important thing I could do."

Winning the naming contest also gave her the confidence to tackle broad questions and reach beyond the world she knew.

How does the Mars 2020 naming contest work?

If you're a K-12 student and want to propose a name for the rover that launches in 2020, visit:

go.nasa.gov/name2020

Semifinalists will be chosen on Jan. 9, 2020, with finalists chosen on Jan. 20. The nine finalists will be interviewed by an expert panel including Ma. The grand prize winner will be announced on Feb. 18, 2020 exactly one year before the rover will land on Mars.

About the rovers

Every rover on Mars has been named by a student starting with the suitcase-size Sojourner rover that landed in 1997. The soon-to-be-renamed Mars 2020 rover will launch in July or August 2020. Equipped with a new suite of scientific instruments, the rover aims to build upon Curiosity's discoveries about how Mars was habitable in the past. Mars 2020 will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet's climate and geology and collect samples for future return to Earth.

Mars 2020 is also part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages Mars 2020 rover development and the Mars Science Laboratory mission, which includes Curiosity, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for Mars 2020 launch management.

For more information on Mars 2020, visit:

mars.nasa.gov/mars2020nasa.gov/mars2020

For more about NASA's Curiosity Mars rover mission, visit:

mars.nasa.gov/msl/nasa.gov/msl

For more about NASA's Moon to Mars plans, visit:

nasa.gov/topics/moon-to-mars

News Media Contact

Jia-Rui CookJet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.818-354-0724jccook@jpl.nasa.gov

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Naming a NASA Mars Rover Can Change Your Life - NASA Mars Exploration

Japan Sets Sights on Moon with NASA and India – Space.com

WASHINGTON Japan has its eyes on the moon, with two new partnerships designed to advance the country's lunar goals.

The nation signed on as a partner to NASA's Artemis program, although the details of that partnership have not yet been specified. A representative of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) also spoke yesterday (Oct. 22) at the International Astronautical Congress held here about a potential partnership with India's space agency on another lunar mission.

"It's not easy to succeed in our mission," Ryo Hirasawa of JAXA said during a presentation. "We decided to go together with ISRO," he added, referring to the agency's Indian counterpart. The two space agencies are embarking on a Phase A study of such a mission's feasibility.

Related: Tiny Satellites Launch From Space Station (Photos)

But right now, the pair would aim for a launch around 2023. Japan would provide the rocket and rover, Hirasawa said, while India would provide the lander. The mission would last for about six months and target a constantly sunlit region near the moon's south pole. There, the mission would investigate water, preparing for later missions in which JAXA would like to use ice as rocket fuel.

In particular, the rover would be equipped with a drill that could reach about 5 feet (1.5 meters) into the lunar rock. After drilling, the rover would heat up that material, and by measuring changes in the sample's mass, identify volatiles found in the rock.

Hirasawa also touched on a cubesat lander dubbed OMOTENASHI, which JAXA hopes to launch with NASA's first Artemis mission, according to a full paper submitted to the congress. The cubesat, which would fly in 2020, would be Japan's first lunar lander.

The OMOTENASHI project likely makes up part of the cooperation with NASA that the Japanese prime minister's office announced on Twitter on Oct. 18. "The program aims at maintaining a space station orbiting the moon, manned [sic] exploration of the lunar surface and other undertakings, and Mars and other destinations are also in our sights," the minister's office wrote.

The "space station orbiting the moon" is a reference to NASA's planned Gateway, a maneuverable spacecraft in long-term orbit around the moon that would serve as a way station for science experiments and human explorers. (The artist's depiction accompanying the prime minister's office's tweet also references Gateway.)

NASA has been openly recruiting international partners for the Gateway in particular. Canada signed on to provide a robotically operated arm, Canadarm3, that will be the successor of the International Space Station's robotic arm.

In the paper supporting Hirasawa's presentation, he and his co-authors included a graphic for JAXA's vision of international cooperation at the moon. In that diagram, in which only a handful of components include country labels, JAXA is listed as a provider of human landing services that would ferry astronauts from the Gateway to the surface of the moon.

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

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Japan Sets Sights on Moon with NASA and India - Space.com

NASA Wants to Send a Probe to the Hellish Surface of Venus – WIRED

With all the talk about sending humans to the moon and eventually Mars, it can be easy to forget there are other planets worth exploring. But a team of researchers at NASA has set its sights on Venus, Earths closest neighbor and one of the least understood planets in the solar system.

Since the first (crash) landing on Venus in 1966, by a Soviet probe, spacecraft have only survived a total of a few hours on the planets surface. But NASAs new probe is being designed last up to 60 days on the punishing Venusian surface. Known as the Long-Lived In-situ Solar System Explorer, or LLISSE, each of the probes components is specially engineered to withstand the high temperature, high pressure, and reactive atmosphere that define that infernal planet.

Venus has rightfully earned a reputation as Earths evil twin. Their mass and size are roughly the same, and scientists believe that Venus was once a water-rich paradise that may have hosted elementary life. Today, however, conditions on its surface are downright hellish. Temperatures are high enough to turn a block of lead into a puddle, and the atmospheric pressure is similar to what youd find diving thousands of feet deep into the ocean. If thats not enough, winds whip around the planet at tornado-like speeds, and during the day thick clouds of sulphuric acid blot out the sun. Once night falls, it lasts for over 100 Earth-days.

The going theory is that Venus once had a vast, shallow ocean of liquid water that the sun eventually boiled off. As the ocean evaporated and hydrogen escaped into space, the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere fueled a runaway greenhouse effect and turned the planet into the hellscape we see today. But the planets thick atmosphere limits the amount of information that spacecraft can collect as they orbit or fly by. To learn what happened on Earths neighbor, scientists need to get to the surface.

At the center of NASAs renewed Venus ambitions is Tibor Kremic, chief of the space science project office at Glenn Research Center in Ohio. Unlike the car-sized rovers NASA drops on Mars, LLISSE is small because it will have to hitch a ride with other spacecraft headed to the neighborhood. Its a cube less than 10 inches to a side, and it's packed with instruments to test everything from the Venusian atmosphere to its geology.

Shoring up LLISSE for the extremes of Venus has been an all-consuming task. Because the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere contains trace amounts of sulfur, crystals quickly form on normal electronic components. So Kremic and the LLISSE team designed and built hardened chips out of silicon carbide, a synthetic material found in sandpaper and fake diamonds. Every sensor on the probe also has to be similarly hardened. But LLISSEs size constraints mean it wont carry some instruments you might find on other spacecraftlike cameras. If there's a way for us to put a camera on LLISSE, you bet we'll try, but its a little small for that, says Kremic.

One of the biggest challenges, says Kremic, was figuring out how to power the probe for a full 60 days. Many deep space missions rely on small nuclear reactors to generate power, but LLISSE will use a heat-activated thermal battery similar to the kind found in missiles. Limiting power flow from the battery so it doesnt drain too quickly is an ongoing engineering challenge.

As they build the probes components, Kremic and his team methodically test each one for up to two months inside a chamber that perfectly replicates the conditions on Venus. Kremic and his team want the probe to last that long so it can witness the transition between night and day. If they land late in a Venusian day, which lasts almost four Earth months, they think they can eke out enough battery life to make that happen. We don't have any data on how the conditions change from day to night on Venus, says Kremic. We're trying to capture as much of that as possible.

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NASA Wants to Send a Probe to the Hellish Surface of Venus - WIRED

Jeff Bezos Blue Origin to Partner With 3 Companies on NASA Moon Lander – The New York Times

WASHINGTON The race is on to build the next spacecraft that will land American astronauts on the moon and the richest man in the world wants to come in first.

On Tuesday, three major aerospace companies led by Blue Origin, the rocket company started by Jeffrey P. Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, announced they would collaborate on a design that they will submit to NASA.

The Trump administration has accelerated the American effort to return to the moon by four years, aiming at 2024 instead of 2028. Private companies are central to this faster timeline, which has driven NASA to turn to nimble start-ups, like Mr. Bezoss Blue Origin. His company, working with other powerhouse corporations, would not only build spacecraft for the agency, but replace NASA in designing them, too, and all at a fixed price.

The hope is that these companies will get the job done faster for less money.

By partnering with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper Laboratory, Blue Origin, founded by a billionaire with grand space dreams, will gain skills and experience it lacks. Such a partnership puts Mr. Bezos company on a footing to take a leading role in American efforts to return astronauts to the moon.

This is the only way to get back to the moon fast, Mr. Bezos said on Tuesday as he accepted an award from the International Aeronautical Federation.

As far back as the Apollo missions 50 years ago, aerospace giants and their lobbyists shaped NASAs human spaceflight programs. But Blue Origins bid shows how the desires of a handful of very wealthy individuals, joining forces with those corporations, are exerting influence on sending Americans to deep space.

Another billionaire-led space company working with NASA, SpaceX, has set its sights on Mars, with its founder, Elon Musk, recently unveiling a giant spacecraft called Starship to go there. But it has also pitched the spacecraft as aiding NASAs moon plans, with Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceXs president and chief operating officer, saying on Tuesday the company hopes to land there by 2022.

The inflow of dollars not just from billionaires, but also venture capitalists and institutional investors has altered the space industry, said Mary Lynne Dittmar, executive director of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, a space advocacy group. Some of the companies now have the resources to develop and build entire systems, like a lunar lander.

Once you start doing that, then NASA can start leveraging that, Dr. Dittmar said.

While NASA has been working on a big rocket known as the Space Launch System and a capsule called Orion for human missions to deep space, it had not yet started on a lunar lander.

In the past, NASA has led the design process and used what are known as cost-plus contracts. The companies were reimbursed for what they paid to build the spacecraft plus an additional fee for their services. But increasingly, NASA is using a markedly different approach with fixed-price contracts.

In contrast to Apollo, where the giant Saturn 5 rocket carried all of the pieces needed for a moon landing, NASA this time will employ a more complex choreography for the new missions, named Artemis. (In Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo.)

First, NASA will construct an outpost called Gateway that will orbit the moon. Then the pieces of the landing system will be sent to the Gateway.

The landing system will consist of three pieces a module that moves the astronauts and the other pieces of the lander from the Gateway to an orbit much closer to the moon; a descent module that guides the lander to the lunar surface; and an ascent module that lifts the astronauts back into space after their stay on the moon.

While the first Artemis moon landing will carry only two astronauts, the same as the Apollo missions, they should have more spacious accommodations. With the ascent stage stacked on top of the lander, the spacecraft will be somewhat heavier, somewhat wider and considerably taller than the Apollo landers.

That will allow a longer stay of about a week on the moons surface. During Apollo 11, the first moon landing in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on the moon for less than a day. During Apollo 17, the last time humans landed, Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan stayed for just over three days.

When all of the pieces are in the place, the astronauts are to launch in an Orion capsule atop a Space Launch System rocket to the Gateway where they will board the lander for the moon. They are expected to land near the moons South Pole.

NASA is working on compressed timelines, with submissions for the lander contract due Nov. 1. And some companies realized that they might not have all the pieces to put together a strong proposal.

Blue Origin does not yet have experience with sending people to space. It has so far has only tested a small reusable rocket and capsule to carry tourists to the edge of space. The company has been working for several years on the Blue Moon lander, but it was originally designed for taking heavy cargo, not people, to the moon.

A national priority requires a national team, so we brought what we feel is best in class to the job, said Brent Sherwood, the vice president of advanced development programs for Blue Origin.

At the same time, Lockheed Martin, which is building the Orion capsule, had concentrated on a lunar ascent module. We strongly believe that the best way to safely and quickly accomplish this lunar landing is to leverage existing human-rated technology from Orion, said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager for commercial civil space at Lockheed Martin.

Northrop Grumman the Grumman part of the company built the Apollo lunar lander 50 years ago thought that its Cygnus spacecraft, which carries cargo to the International Space Station, could be adapted to serve as the orbital transfer module.

There will most likely be other proposals, notably from Boeing, the biggest space company not part of the Blue Origin partnership. A Boeing spokesman said in an email statement, We are working on lander systems development under NASA contracts from summer and expect to put in a bid for the lander program.

More than one team will probably advance to the next round of the competition. NASA officials have said that they would like to quickly select three proposals to move forward next year, and that two different landers would be built. One would be for the 2024 landing; the other would go to the moon the following year.

Mr. Sherwood of Blue Origin said the partners had a plan that can meet the 2024 deadline. But because the competition is still open, he declined to give details.

The developments could also be hindered if Congress does not provide the additional $1.6 billion that NASA says is needed to begin work on the landers. Congress has yet to finish work on the budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1 and did not provide financing for a moon mission in the temporary funding that runs through Nov. 21.

Excerpt from:

Jeff Bezos Blue Origin to Partner With 3 Companies on NASA Moon Lander - The New York Times


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