Successful launch continues deployment of SpaceX’s Starlink network – Spaceflight Now

SpaceXs Falcon 9 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral at 9:56 a.m. EST (1456 GMT) Monday. Credit: Steven Young/Spaceflight Now

Sixty upgraded satellites for SpaceXs Starlink broadband network rocketed into orbit Monday from Floridas Space Coast, debuting performance enhancements and notching new firsts in SpaceXs list of rocket reuse accomplishments.

SpaceXs second batch of Starlink satellites joined 60 previous broadband-beaming spacecraft in orbit after deployment from a Falcon 9 rocket Monday, adding to a network that may eventually include thousands of satellites broadcasting high-speed Internet signals from space.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 climbed away from Cape Canaverals Complex 40 launch pad at 9:56 a.m. EST (1456 GMT), turned toward the northeast and soared through scattered clouds on a gorgeous Veterans Day morning.

Nine kerosene-fueled Merlin 1D engines powered the Falcon 9 with 1.7 million pounds of thrust, sending the rocket into the sky with a thundering sendoff. It was the first launch to take off from a Cape Canaveral launch pad since Aug. 22, and SpaceXs first satellite launch since Aug. 6.

The Falcon 9s first stage shut down and detached from the rockets second stage around two-and-a-half minutes into the flight. Moments later, the Falcon 9s second stage lit its single Merlin powerplant to propel itself into orbit with the Starlink payloads, then the rockets nose cone opened and fell away, revealing the Starlink satellites after transiting through the thick, lower layers of the atmosphere.

The first stage booster returned to a propulsive landing on SpaceXs drone ship Of Course I Still Love You holding position around 400 miles (250 kilometers) downrange from Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean, roughly due east of Charleston, South Carolina. The rocket completed its fourth mission, following three previous launches and landings two last year, and one in February that helped loft into space an Indonesian communications satellite and the Israeli Beresheet moon lander.

Mondays launch was the first time SpaceX flew a Falcon 9 booster on a fourth mission. It also marked another first for SpaceX, which demonstrated its capability to reuse a payload fairing recovered from a previous launch.

The bulbous payload shroud protects satellites during the first few minutes of flight, then drops away from the rocket in two halves. The fairing halves flown Monday originally launched on a Falcon Heavy mission April 11, then parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, where SpaceX teams pulled them from the sea for inspections, refurbishment and reuse.

SpaceX planned to attempt to catch both fairing halves with two specially-outfitted boats Monday. But managers ordered the ships to port due to concerns about rough seas.

SpaceX now has two fairing recovery ships in its fleet, both equipped with giant nets to catch composite fairing halves as they gently fall to the sea under parachutes. The fairings also carry cold gas thrusters to control their descent.

On previous missions, SpaceX has tried to catch one fairing half using a single boat. The company successfully caught one piece of the fairing for the first time after a July 25 launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket.

Pursuing the prime objective of Mondays mission, the Falcon 9s second stage engine switched off about nine minutes after launch, and the rocket coasted over Europe and the Middle East before reigniting its engine at around 10:41 a.m. EST (1541 GMT) to circularize its orbit. The Falcon 9 aimed for an altitude of around 174 miles (280 kilometers) for deployment of the Starlink satellites, and a member of SpaceXs launch team confirmed the rocket achieved an on-target orbit.

The Falcon 9 sent commands at 10:56 a.m. EST (1546 GMT) to release retention pins holding the Starlink satellites to the launcher, and live video from a camera on-board the rocket showed the 60 flat-panel spacecraft receding in the blackness of space.

The satellites, but at a SpaceX facility in Redmond, Washington, are designed to gradually disperse over the coming hours and days. Ion thrusters fed by krypton fuel will maneuver the satellites into operational 341-mile-high (550-kilometer) orbits inclined 53 degrees to the equator.

SpaceX says 1,440 of the satellites are needed to provide Internet service over the populated world, a service level the company says could be achieved after 24 launches.

The Starlink network could offer service for northern parts of the United States and Canada after six launches, according to SpaceX.

SpaceX could launch thousands more Starlink satellites if merited by market demand. The Federal Communications Commission has authorized SpaceX to operate nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites broadcasting inKu-band, Ka-band and V-band frequencies, with groups of spacecraft positioned at different altitudes and in various planes in low Earth orbit.

Documents filed with the International Telecommunication Union last month suggested SpaceX could add another 30,000 Starlink satellites to the network, growing its total size to 42,000 spacecraft.

The Starlink network is rapidly becoming a core business area for SpaceX, which is competing with companies like OneWeb and Amazons Project Kuiper to deploy fleets of thousands of small satellites in low Earth orbit to beam broadband Internet signals from space to users around the world.

Developers of the so-called mega-constellations in low Earth orbit say their networks offer key advantages over traditional satellite Internet architectures, which relay on satellites in higher orbits, where radio transmissions even traveling at the speed of light take longer to reach.

SpaceX has launched more satellites than either of its chief competitors Amazon has not yet launched any and the spacecraft that lifted off Monday will introduce new capabilities to the Starlink network.

Since the most recent launch of Starlink satellites in May, SpaceX has increased spectrum capacity for the end user through upgrades in design that maximize the use of both Ka- and Ku-bands, SpaceX wrote in a press kit for Mondays launch. Additionally, components of each satellite are 100% demisable and will quickly burn up in Earths atmosphere at the end of their life cycle a measure that exceeds all current safety standards.

SpaceX said the new Starlink spacecraft design can provide a 400 percent increase in data throughout per satellite, and each satellite carries double the number of steerable phased array broadband beams than on earlier Starlink platforms.

The first 60 Starlink satellites, which launched May 23, carried only Ku-band antennas. At the time, SpaceX said 95 percent of the materials in each of the first 60 satellites would burn up in the atmosphere after their missions were complete.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceXs president and chief operating officer, said last month that the company plans to begin launching Starlink spacecraft equipped with inter-satellite laser crosslinks some time mid-to-late next year.

Three of the 60 satellites launched in May have stopped communicating with ground controllers, but SpaceX officials say they are pleased with the overall performance of the initial block of Starlink spacecraft.

The U.S. Air Force is testing Internet connections between aircraft and SpaceXs Starlink satellites to evaluate the networks suitability for future military use, and Elon Musk, SpaceXs founder and CEO, said he sent a tweet last month through a Starlink satellite.

We still have ways to go from tweets to 4K cat videos, but we are on our way, joked Lauren Lyons, a SpaceX engineer who hosted the companys webcast of Mondays launch.

Skywatchers with clear skies at twilight could see the Starlink satellites passing overhead in a train-like formation after Mondays launch, similar to observations of the first 60 satellites following their launch in May.

The satellites reflected more sunlight than expected, creating a shimmering spectacle and sometimes flaring to be as bright as the brightest stars in the sky. The satellites appeared to dim over time, and observations became less frequent as they spread out in their orbital plane.

The bright satellites drew the ire of many astronomers, who worried the addition of thousands of similarly-bright satellites could interfere with scientific observations using ground-based telescopes.

The Royal Astronomical Society said in June that the large number of broadband satellites proposed by SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb and Telesat presents a challenge to ground-based astronomy.

The deployed networks could make it much harder to obtain images of the sky without the streaks associated with satellites, and thus compromise astronomical research, the society said in a statement.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory, funded by the National Science Foundation, said in May it was working with SpaceX to jointly analyze and minimize any potential impacts on astronomical observations caused by radio transmissions coming from the Starlink satellites.

These discussions have been fruitful and are providing valuable guidelines that could be considered by other such systems as well, the NRAO said in a statement. To date, SpaceX has demonstrated their respect for our concerns and their support for astronomy.

The NRAO said it continued to monitor, analyze and discuss the evolving parameters of the Starlink system. The NRAO identified several proposals under consideration, including exclusion zones and other mitigations around the National Science Foundations current and future radio astronomy facilities.

SpaceX says it is actively working with leading astronomy groups from around the world to make sure their work is not affected by the Starlink satellites. Engineers are taking steps to make the base of future Starlink satellites black to help mitigate impacts on the astronomy community, SpaceX said.

But SpaceX says satellites launched Monday do not incorporate the change.

SpaceX says it will adjust Starlink orbits should it be necessary for extremely sensitive space science observations, and the company has touted the ability of its next-generation Starship vehicle to send giant astronomical telescopes into space.

We have also proactively reached out to leading astronomy groups from around the world to discuss the Starlink mission profile, scientifically assess the impacts on astronomy activities and evaluate any helpful mitigations moving forward, a SpaceX official said.

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Successful launch continues deployment of SpaceX's Starlink network - Spaceflight Now

What it takes to be a space pilot – Astronomy Magazine

Lifting OffFlying into space is a coveted job. That demand means companies are able to choose the most qualified pilots. And top of that list for qualifications: hours in flight.

The more experience you have, the more likely you are to have encountered situations that are more challenging, says David Mackay, Chief Pilot for Virgin Galactic.

It only happened because I met Burt, and he saw that I built a plane accurately and it flew very well, Melvill recalls. He flew it himself and he then trained me himself to be a test pilot of his aircraft.

Melvill would go on to pilot Virgins SpaceShipOne, making the first commercial flight into space in 2004. But Melvills story is unique.

I dont know anyone else who went the path I went. No recollection of anybody who was lucky enough to get to do what I did, Melvill says.

Typically, test pilots receive their training through military branches, as Mackay did. On top of that, they spend countless days in flight simulators to prepare future commercial space pilots for all conceivable situations.

As we approach the flight day itself [the pilots] will be in the in the simulator every day, sometimes twice a day doing repeated profiles, Mackay says. In the airline industry, typically youre in the simulator every six months and were in it on a daily basis.

Its somewhat akin to going to a doctors office. The doctor informs you of all the known risks associated with the particular procedure or operation and once the patient has been informed of that, some documentation is signed and then the procedure proceeds, says Kelvin Coleman, the Federal Aviation Administrations Deputy Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation. We ensure that consultation is made, and that documentation is in place before those space flight participants and crew members can fly.

For commercial space pilots who have successfully completed an authorized flight into space defined in the U.S. as 50 miles above Earths surface where effects like weightlessness become apparent the Office of Commercial Space Transportation recognizes their achievements with Astronaut Wings. To date, seven commercial astronauts have received Astronaut Wings. Those flying under government programs, like NASA, are not eligible for Astronaut Wings.

Were in a test program and, you know, it makes complete sense to have test pilots working on an aircraft that is still in the test program, Mackay says. Maybe one day we dont need test pilots and on the other hand there are an awful lot of [pilots] who are really interested in doing this. And you know, why not get the most experienced and best-qualified pilots you possibly can?

Aside from flight experience and the ability to communicate clearly with a large team, a commercial space pilot also needs another crucial attribute: a passion for their job.

One of the most important things, of course, is that we want somebody who is highly motivated and really keen to see the project succeed. And a good team player, it takes a big team of people to make this work, Mackay says.

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What it takes to be a space pilot - Astronomy Magazine

Spaceflight alters heart cells but they quickly recover back on Earth – New Scientist News

By Ruby Prosser Scully

Joseph Wu lab, Stanford University School of Medicine

Human heart cells are altered by spaceflight but return mostly to normal when back on Earth. The findings could help scientists understand why astronauts hearts change and how to prevent it.

Previous studies of astronauts have found that spaceflight reduces both heart rate and blood pressure and increases the amount of blood pumped by the heart. But most research on how this happens has been done either on animals or on whole human tissues or organs.

To gain further insights, Alexa Wnorowski at Stanford University in California and her colleagues performed experiments using human heart cells.


First, they took blood from three people with no history of heart disease. They then reprogrammed some of the blood cells into stem cells that were then coaxed to form heart muscle cells.

Half of the heart muscle cells were put on a SpaceX spacecraft travelling to the International Space Station for a resupply mission. The other half were kept on Earth for comparison.

After five and a half weeks, the cells in orbit were returned to the ground and the scientists examined the effects of microgravity on them.

Read more: What happened when one twin went to space and the other stayed home?

The team found differences in the way that 3000 genes were expressed in these cells. The most notable changes were to genes responsible for metabolism and the functioning of mitochondria, which are the energy powerhouses of cells.

Around 1000 of these genes were still different after 10 days back on Earth, which is equivalent to roughly 4 to 5 per cent of all known human genes. But most of the genes responsible for the changes to the cells mitochondria and metabolism had returned to normal.

It isnt clear from this study what effects the changes might have on astronauts. A previous study looked at two people who were twins: one went to space for a year and the other remained on Earth. It found changes to genes associated with cell mitochondria and metabolism in blood cells in the twin who had been to space. These werent seen in the other twin.

This raises the possibility that spaceflight has similar effects on multiple cell types, including heart and blood cells, says Wnorowski. But its also not quite enough data to draw that large of a conclusion, she says.

The team plans to send 3D tissue structures with multiple different cells types on an upcoming trip to the International Space Station to see how they are affected.

Journal reference: Stem Cell Reports, DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2019.10.006

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4 Things to Know About New Space Company Virgin Galactic – Motley Fool

At some point in the not-too-distant future, the global space industry will be worth $1.1 trillion -- maybe as much as $1.8 trillion -- according to the space analysts at investment bank Morgan Stanley.

And now there's a pure-play way to invest in that: Virgin Galactic (NYSE:SPCE), shares of which began trading last week.

We first told you about space tourism company Virgin Galactic's plans to go public -- without actually doing an IPO -- back in July. Taking an unconventional route to the public markets, Virgin Galactic would first sell half its shares to publicly traded shelf-company Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings (SCH), then reverse-merge into SCH and label the entire combined company "Virgin Galactic."

Voila! Instant virtual IPO.

Now that Virgin Galactic is public and its shares have had a few days to trade around a bit, we thought you might like to know a bit more about "the world's first and only publicly traded commercial human spaceflight company" (their words, not mine).

Virgin Galactic shares jumped as much as 10% on the day of the name change, but ended the day right back where they began at $11.79 per share -- and it's been all downhill since. The day after "Virgin Galactic" became publicly tradable, shares lost 7% of their value... then 4% more the day after that... and 11% the day after that!

The good news is that by the end of the week, short-sellers apparently decided they had made enough money, and bought back some shares. But in the end, Virgin Galactic stock was down 18% in its first week of trading.

Hardly the result Sir Richard Branson -- or investors -- had hoped for.

Why are investors starting to sour on Virgin Galactic stock? Part of the reason may be that they've finally gotten a good, close look at its numbers. You see, the day after it began trading, Virgin Galactic filed an "8-K" report with the SEC, which included an "unaudited, pro forma, condensed" review of some of its financial information.

Among the revelations from this document: Virgin Galactic has almost no revenue -- but lots of losses.

Admittedly, coming from a company that has yet to make its first commercial spaceflight, this shouldn't be too surprising. But for investors with only a passing familiarity with Virgin Galactic's status, the numbers might have come as a bit of a shock.

Over the first six months of 2019, this company with an $1.8 billion market capitalization (that'sS&P Global Market Intelligence's latest estimate) has booked only $2.4 million in sales -- and racked up $96.4 million in net losses.

The good news is that for the time being at least, Virgin Galactic is in a good position to absorb these losses as it awaits its first commercial spaceflight (now expected to take place sometime in 2020).

Thanks largely to the cash that came with SCH's investment, Virgin Galactic now boasts a $536.6 million bank account, and no long-term debt. Almost all of its debts are short-term in nature, and the bulk of them ($81.1 million) consist of customer deposits -- obligations the company should quickly begin satisfying once it begins flying tourists to space commercially.

That's about it from the perspective of "dollars-and-cents" revelations from the report. No mention of free cash flow. No guidance for what to expect the numbers to look like going forward. (As I mentioned, Virgin gave us only an "unaudited, pro forma, and condensed" snapshot.) But one other revelation bears examination.

After the merger, Sir Richard Branson, in the form of "Vieco US," controls 58.8% of Virgin Galactic's shares. Shareholders of what used to be SCH own 40.2%. The remaining 1% of Virgin Galactic's shares, believe it or not, are now owned by Boeing (NYSE:BA) -- which, having its own space business, might ordinarily be considered a Virgin Galactic competitor! Boeing's venture arm HorizonX, you see, made a $20 million investment to take a 1% share in Virgin Galactic when it went public.

And this is interesting because it gives Boeing insight into the company. Boeing can use that to learn how good of a business space tourism might become without making investments of its own. It also gives Boeing insight into any advances Virgin Galactic might make in commercial air transport.

After all, beginning next year, and for years to follow, Virgin planes will be making regular flights at ultra-high altitudes and hypersonic velocity. In so doing, they're bound to learn interesting things about how passenger airplanes perform at very high speeds, in very thin atmospheres. Indeed, Virgin Galactic's CEO says this will be an "exciting part" of Virgin's business in future years. Over and above the excitement of flying into space, the path Virgin spacecraft take to get to space could blaze a new trail for intercontinental passenger transport, cutting travel times between Los Angeles and Tokyo from 11 hours ... to just two hours.

(Commenting on this aspect of the business earlier this year, investment bank UBS opined that while Virgin Galactic's primary reason for being -- space tourism -- might become a $3 billion industry a decade from now, hypersonic business travel could be worth as much as $20 billion annually.)

Unsurprisingly, this interests Boeing, too. Last month, Boeing HorizonX Ventures head Brian Schettler told CNBC that Boeing intends to use its Virgin Galactic investment "to explore" not just "commercial access to space," but also "high-speed mobility" of commercial airplanes as well.

As Virgin Galactic spins up its business and prepares to issue its first earnings report, investors might want to "explore" this aspect of Virgin Galactic's business model as well.

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4 Things to Know About New Space Company Virgin Galactic - Motley Fool

Mercury is making a rare ‘transit’ across the sun. Here’s how to watch. – NBCNews.com

Skywatchers around the world have the opportunity to witness a rare astronomical event Monday that occurs just 13 times each century.

Mercury, the smallest planet in the solar system, is set to inch across the face of the sun in whats known as a transit, and several organizations are planning to broadcast the celestial event live online.

During the Mercury transit, the planet will pass between Earth and the sun, and while this chance alignment occurs, skywatchers here will be able to see Mercury appear as an inky black dot crossing the suns bright disk.

The planet Mercury is a very small, terrestrial planet, and its quite a bit closer to the sun than we are, so itll just be a tiny little black spot, said Patti Boyd, an astrophysicist at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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The transit will begin Monday at 7:35 a.m. ET, and the entire event will last a little more than five hours. People on the East Coast of the United States, Central America and South America will be able to witness the entire transit because Mercury will start marching across the solar disk after the sun has already risen.

For the rest of North America and parts of Europe and Africa, sunrise will occur while the transit is already in progress, but skywatchers should still be able to catch part of the event, weather permitting. The transit of Mercury will not be visible in Australia and much of Asia, but enthusiasts can still catch all the action, thanks to almost real-time images from NASAs Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Slooh, an online observatory, is planning to livestream the event on YouTube, beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET. The Virtual Telescope Project, which collects images from remotely controlled telescopes around the world, will also broadcast the transit of Mercury online.

To watch the transit in person, do not look at the sun directly with the naked eye, including through binoculars or telescopes. Observing the sun without proper protection can lead to serious and permanent vision damage.

Rather, Boyd recommends using eclipse glasses, which are designed with certified solar filters to make viewing safe. But even with eclipse glasses, it will likely be difficult to spot Mercury.

The dot will be very small, she said. Even for people with perfect vision, itll be a stretch to make out the faint, circular dot crossing the face of the sun.

From Earth, its only possible to see transits of Mercury and Venus. Though a Mercury transit will occur again in 2032, the next one that will be visible from the continental United States is in 2049.

Transits of Venus are even more rare; the last one occurred in 2012, and the next one wont take place until 2117.

Denise Chow is a reporter and editor at NBC News MACH.

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Mercury is making a rare 'transit' across the sun. Here's how to watch. - NBCNews.com

Japanese ‘Shooting-Star’ Satellite to Launch on Landmark Rocket Lab Flight This Month – Space.com

Rocket Lab's 10th launch will be memorable in multiple ways.

We already knew that the company's Electron rocket will take some big strides toward reusability on the upcoming mission, which is scheduled to lift off from New Zealand on Nov. 25. And we just learned that Electron will loft seven satellites on this flight, including a small Japanese craft designed to create artificial meteor showers.

The shooting-star satellite, known as ALE-2, was built by Tokyo-based company Astro Live Experiences as part of its "Sky Canvas" project. ALE-2 is 24 inches long by 24 inches wide by 31 inches tall (60 by 60 by 80 centimeters), weighs 165 lbs. (75 kilograms) and is packed with 400 0.4-inch (1 centimeter) spheres that are designed to burn up high in Earth's atmosphere, creating a gorgeous sky show.

Related: Rocket Lab and Its Electron Booster (Photos)

"With this launch, we are a step closer to realiz[ing] the man-made shooting star," Astro Live Experiences CEO Lena Okajima said in a statement. "Please look forward to the world's first demonstration we are aiming [for] in 2020, which will be a major milestone for ALE."

As its name suggests, ALE-2 is the Japanese company's second such satellite. The first, ALE-1, launched this January aboard a Japanese Epsilon rocket and is also scheduled to deploy its colorful sky pellets sometime in 2020, after some on-orbit tests, company representatives have said.

The artificial meteors will travel more slowly through Earth's sky than real ones and will thus remain visible longer 3 to 10 seconds, ALE representatives have said. The pellets are designed to burn up completely between 37 and 50 miles (60 to 80 kilometers) above Earth's surface and therefore will pose no threat to people on the ground or planes in the air, according to a company FAQ.

ALE envisions creating artificial showers for big events, such as the opening ceremony of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The "shooting stars" should be visible to people across a region about 125 miles (200 km) wide, company representatives have said.

A look at the ALE-2 satellite designed to create artificial meteor showers from orbit.

(Image credit: ALE)

An artist's illustration of ALE's ALE-2 "shooting star" satellite.

(Image credit: Business Wire)

The other six satellites going up on the Electron later this month are ATL-1, a Hungarian craft that will test a new thermal isolation material; FossaSat-1, a Spanish communications satellite that can fit in the palm of your hand; NOOR 1A and NOOR 1B, communication satellite demonstrators operated by the U.S. company Stara Space; SMOG-P, a payload built by students at Hungary's Budapest University of Technology and Economics that will measure electromagnetic pollution; and TRSI Sat, which will be run by ACME AtronOmatic, a company that provides flight-tracking services to the aviation community and other users.

You can read more about these payloads in this Rocket Lab statement.

The Nov. 25 mission, which Rocket Lab calls "Running Out of Fingers," will be the company's 10th launch overall and sixth of 2019. But Rocket Lab plans to ramp up its cadence considerably, eventually getting Electron rockets off the ground every week, or perhaps even more frequently.

To help make that happen, the company wants to start recovering and reusing the first stage of the two-stage, 57-foot-tall (17 meters) Electron, which is capable of lofting a maximum of about 500 lbs. (225 kg) to orbit.

Running Out of Fingers will mark a big step toward this goal, if all goes according to plan. The first stage flying on Nov. 25 is outfitted with a variety of sensors and navigation gear, as well as a reaction-control system that will allow the booster to orient itself as it descends.

The main goal is to "see if we can bring this back from space into the atmosphere without breaking up or disintegrating," Lars Hoffman, Rocket Lab's senior vice president of global launch services, said during a panel discussion yesterday (Nov. 6) at the U.S. Air Force's first Space Pitch Day in San Francisco. "We will learn from that, and then we'll move on, move on, move on."

If everything works out, Rocket Lab will eventually move on to catching falling Electron first stages with a helicopter, then inspecting and reflying them in relatively short order.

Running Out of Fingers, like all previous Rocket Lab missions, will lift off from the company's Launch Complex 1, on New Zealand's North Island. But Electron rockets will soon start flying from American soil as well. Launch Complex 2, which Rocket Lab has been building at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia, should be ready to host missions before the end of 2019, company representatives have said.

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.

Need more space? Subscribe to our sister title "All About Space" Magazine for the latest amazing news from the final frontier!

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The Importance of Spacecraft Abort Tests – Forbes

Boeings CST-100 Starliners four launch abort engines and several orbital maneuvering and attitude ... [+] control thrusters ignite in the companys Pad Abort Test, pushing the spacecraft away from the test stand with a combined 160,000 pounds of thrust, from Launch Complex 32 on White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Early Monday morning, Boeings CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed its first pad abort test, marking completion of an important technical milestone ahead of their uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) currently scheduled for later this year. SpaceXs Dragon 2 spacecraft, which like Starliner is being developed under NASAs Commercial Crew Program, is slated to completed a static fire test soon ahead of its fully integrated In-Flight Abort Test.

Whats the difference between these tests, and why do they matter?

Pad Abort

A pad abort test demonstrates a spacecrafts ability to transport crew and/or cargo to safety in the event of an emergency on the launch pad prior to launch. To demonstrate this capability, the spacecrafts launch abort system (sometimes referred to as a launch escape system) is activated during a trial run, during which the spacecraft must both clear the launch pad and land safely within its authorized landing zone. The setup for this trial run includes a spacecraft with a flight-like abort system, but generally does not include a launch vehicle as it would not be used during the test.

SpaceX Pad Abort Test Concept of Operations

A launch abort system can be thought of as the spacecraft equivalent of a fighter pilots ejection seat. However, instead of ejecting the pilot from the spacecraft, the launch abort system ejects the entire spacecraft away from the launch vehicle and pad. Both Commercial Crew vehicles utilize a pusher abort system, in which the spacecrafts built-in propulsion module is used to propel the vehicle to safety. Since the propulsion module is fully integrated into the spacecraft, these systems have the advantage of providing an abort capability at any point during flight.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - MAY 6: In this handout provided by the National Aeronautics and Space ... [+] Administration (NASA), SpaceX completes the first key flight test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, a vehicle designed to carry astronauts to and from space, on May 6, 2015 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

Some other vehicles, including Russias Soyuz spacecraft, NASAs Apollo capsules, and more recently, NASAs Orion spacecraft, have used an extra solid-fueled rocket to achieve the same goal. This extra rocket is mounted above the capsule on a tower, and is used to tow the spacecraft away from the launch vehicle if an abort is triggered. If not used, these systems are discarded several minutes into flight, after which options for abort are limited to the vehicles remaining system capabilities.

Apollo pad abort test

Boeings test on Monday is reported to have met all of NASAs required criteria for a successful pad abort demonstration. SpaceXs Dragon 2 spacecraft successfully completed an equivalent test in May 2015.

In-Flight Abort

In contrast with a pad abort test, an in-flight abort test verifies a spacecrafts ability to keep crew and/or cargo safe during emergencies that occur after the vehicle has already lifted off the launchpad. In addition to the capability verified by a pad abort test, an in-flight abort test confirms that the spacecraft is able to abort as expected under the high dynamic pressures seen during ascent into space.

To perform this test, a spacecraft with a flight-like abort system must be integrated onto a launch vehicle. The vehicle then launches and performs a nominal ascent until it reaches its maximum dynamic pressure (often referred to by engineers as max q). At this point in the flight profile, the abort system is activated and used to separate the spacecraft from the launch vehicle. To complete the test, the separated spacecraft must be safely returned to Earth.

Of note, in-flight aborts that occur during operational flight will sometimes result in the spacecraft continuing the mission but aborting into a lower orbit than originally planned (usually referred to as an abort to orbit). The choice to return to Earth or to abort to orbit is dependent on multiple factors, including the altitude already achieved at time of abort, the objectives of the mission, and on which trajectory has the greatest chance of saving the crew.

As of November 2019, neither NASA Commercial Crew vehicle has yet completed an in-flight abort test. The last NASA-funded vehicle to complete this test was the Orion spacecraft, which did so in July 2019.

A NASA Orion test vehicle lifts off aboard a booster rocket from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape ... [+] Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch was a test to evaluate Orion's launch abort system designed to quickly get astronauts safely away from their launch vehicle if there is a problem during ascent to space. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The hardware for SpaceXs Dragon 2 In-Flight Abort Test has already arrived at the launch site in Cape Canaveral, with NASA and industry officials stating that the test is likely to occur before the end of 2019. Since SpaceX has already completed its uncrewed demonstration mission for Dragon 2 (Demo-1), the In-Flight Abort Test will be one of the final Dragon 2 hardware demonstrations ahead of the vehicles first crewed flight in 2020.

While NASAs Commercial Crew Program requires all providers to complete verification of an in-flight abort capability prior to crewed flight, Boeing has opted to complete this verification via analysis instead of via test. SpaceXs In-Flight Abort Test will therefore be the Commercial Crew Programs only flight hardware demonstration of an in-flight abort scenario.

A Brief History of Spacecraft Aborts

Though it is rare for a spacecraft to experience an abort scenario, there are several documented instances of aborts during crewed space missions that highlight the necessity of vehicle abort capabilities.

NASAs Space Shuttle experienced its only in-flight abort on STS-51F, which launched from Kennedy Space Center on July 29, 1985. The Challenger spacecraft used for this mission experienced multiple failed sensor readings on its main engines, forcing the crew to perform an in-flight Abort To Orbit (ATO) maneuver. This maneuver required manual intervention by the missions commander to switch the cockpit abort mode switch to ATO and depress the abort switch button, which activated the flight control software sequence for an ATO abort. While the spacecraft aborted its initial flight path and did not reach its intended orbit, the mission was still carried out successfully at a slightly lowered than planned orbital altitude. Due to the Shuttles unique vehicle design, aborting to orbit was considered preferable to returning to Earth, which was considered far riskier.

STS-51F lands safely at Edwards Air Force Base after successfully completing its mission.

Russias Soyuz vehicle has experienced 3 launch aborts during its multi-decade history of flight. The first of these occurred in 1975, when the Soyuz 18-1s second stage failed to separate prior to the rockets third stage ignition. The vehicles flight computer detected an anomaly and triggered an in-flight abort, but as the vehicle had already reached an altitude of 145km, its launch abort tower had already been jettisoned. As a result, the Soyuz capsules on-board propulsion systems had to be used for the abort. Both crew members survived and were successfully recovered.

The only documented instance of a crewed pad abort occurred during Soyuz T-10-1, which was slated to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 26, 1983. The launch vehicle for this mission caught fire on the pad, triggering a pad abort. The Soyuzs launch abort system separated the spacecraft just two seconds before the launch vehicle exploded, saving the crews lives.

Soyuz T-10-1 spacecraft uses its Launch Escape System to launch away from the exploding launch ... [+] vehicle.

The most recent instance of a Soyuz abort was in October 2018, when Soyuz MS-10 experienced an in-flight anomaly during staging that caused one of the boosters to slide down the core stage and rupture the tank. The launch abort system successfully activated once the anomaly was detected, pulling the capsule away from the launch vehicle and to safety. Both crew members were recovered alive and in good health.

Every spacecraft manufacturer builds its abort systems with the hope that they will never need to be used. But when it comes to human spaceflight, you cant be too safe.

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The Importance of Spacecraft Abort Tests - Forbes

Buy Virgin Galactic stock because space tourism will be safer than you think, analyst says – CNBC

Vertical Research Partners is the first firm to begin covering Virgin Galactic, initiating the space tourism venture's stock with a "buy" rating and saying its risk "is misunderstood."

"We think the technical risk to SPCE's human spaceflight program is less draconian than the stock appears to be pricing in," analyst Darryl Genovesi said in a note to investors.

Virgin Galactic began trading publicly last week, following the completion of its merger with Chamath Palihapitiya's venture Social Capital Hedosophia. Genovesi sees Virgin Galactic, ticker 'SPCE,' as a standout for being the only stock investors can trade in a niche but growing market.

"SPCE is the only means by which a public equity investor may gain pure-play exposure to human spaceflight, a socially-important endeavour, and the only means by which a public equity investor may gain ANY exposure to space tourism, creating scarcity value that we think can drive the stock higher as the risk-profile becomes better understood by investors," Genovesi said.

Shares of Virgin Galactic initially rose in trading on Tuesday following Genovesi's call. But the stock reversed course midday, slipping 3.4% from its previous close of $9.35 a share. Vertical Research has a $20 price target on the stock, more than double its current price.

Virgin Galactic spacecraft Unity fires its engine and heads to space with its first test passenger on board in February 2019.

Virgin Galactic | gif by @thesheetztweetz | CNBC

Virgin Galactic plans on flying high net worth individuals through extreme environments, and an accident mid-flight could be fatal. In 2014, an accident during a Virgin Galactic test flight killed its co-pilot. Since that fatal crash, the company updated the spacecraft and has spent the last few years verifying its rocket-powered vehicle can safely and repeatedly fly people to the edge of space.

Genovesi noted the safety risk as a particular weight on Virgin Galactic's stock price, saying "the market appears to imply a high probability of failure, higher than we believe is appropriate." His firm believes investors are using "a Space Shuttle like crash rate" to estimate Virgin Galactic's potential failure rate. The Space Shuttle had two fatal accidents in 135 flights, or a crash rate of 1.5%. But that isn't an accurate comparison, Genovesi says.

"Shuttle's mission profile was much more demanding than SPCE's space tourism mission profile is," Genovesi said.

Vertical Research partners sees Virgin Galactic's spacecraft as more comparable to the X-15 rocket-powered aircraft flown by NASA and the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s. The X-15 crashed once in 199 flights, a crash rate of 0.5%.

"And that was 50 YEARS AGO, meaning SPCE can likely to better," Genovesi said. "Additionally, we don't think a catastrophic failure would necessarily end the program as both Shuttle and X-15 programs continued following their respective fatal crashes and SPCE appears to have retained ~90% of its backlog through its fatal crash in 2014."

Virgin Galactic has 603 customers signed up to fly once it begins commercial operations next year, at a price of $250,000 per ticket. Genovesi reiterated an advantage outlined by Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides to CNBC last week: The space tourism venture is essentially a bet on the fast growing luxury experiences market.

"Globally, we think around 2 million people can experience this over the coming years at this price point," Whitesides said.

The analyst believes Virgin Galactic represents an opportunity to invest in three areas: The rapidly growing luxury consumer market, the pioneering of new technologies and "the recently popular theme of experiences over possessions."

"In short, we don't think SPCE will have any trouble getting customers to sign up to come to space while the economics of its operation (70% incremental EBITDA margins) are highly attractive," Genovesi said.

CNBC's Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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Buy Virgin Galactic stock because space tourism will be safer than you think, analyst says - CNBC

New bill aims to grow South Mississippis space industry – WLOX

For nearly 60 years, Mississippi has been a leader in rocket engine testing and certification of systems and workforce, said the governor in a statement. "When certifying rockets for space flight, it has been said, Man may go to the moon and return safely to earth but he will have to pass through Mississippi to get there. As this bill is considered, my hope is that the existing experience in Mississippi is used as the foundation to train the next generation of space explorers.

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New bill aims to grow South Mississippis space industry - WLOX

Now in space, a cutting-edge satellite the size of a shoebox, and UW students built it – Seattle Times

Just be thankful there are students like Paige Northway and Nathan Wacker, two University of Washington students who think its neat to work on stuff like a satellite the size of a shoebox.

For most of us, all that is beyond our comprehension.

But thats how things move forward in our high-tech age. Going from rotary phones to the 1973 brick-like mobile phones to todays 7-ounce smartphones entails complicated engineering, and that means technologically savvy people like Northway and Wacker.

In case you missed it and you probably did one big part of the future in space is tiny satellites weighing maybe 7 pounds, with thousands orbiting around the Earth. Their size, numbers and advancements in technology will mean everything from making the internet faster to helping climate research.

Instead of relying on two or three large satellites to look at weather, a whole bunch of mini-satellites can cover an area in much more detail.

Earlier this month, at 7 in the morning, a satellite assembled by about six dozen UW students was blasted up into space at NASAs Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast.It piggybacked on an unmanned cargo spacecraft sent to the International Space Station to resupply astronauts and pick up their garbage.

Over the past five years the students had spent an estimated 25,000 hours on the project, including building a custom thruster for the satellite. The thruster uses new technology that uses no moving parts. Instead, sparks are used to vaporize small amounts of solid sulfur, which then propel the satellite.

Thats not the kind of propulsion thatll have the power to send a craft up into space. But its enough to nudge a mini-satellite while in orbit.

Another custom-built item was a system that would transmit data at such a high frequency that itd quickly send down reams of information at a cheaper cost than now available. The UW mini-satellite will transmit down a test packet. For those of you that paid attention in science class, that high frequency is 24GHz, which is in the K-band spectrum.

All this work is a complicated, long ways from playing an intergalactic-themed video game or movies, says professor Robert Winglee, the groups adviser.

The name CubeSats is used to describe this new way of making a cheap, small satellite a 4-inch cube thats standardized in size so parts can be mass-produced. The UW one is three times as big. The students decided to call it HuskySat-1.

Northway says the hardware for the UW one cost around $40,000. NASA provided the main grant money.

Because of the standardization, the UW mini-satellite has a little Sony camera module that sells for $65 and will take pictures of Earth. Certainly, there are plenty of those from space.

But camera setup was built with the help of students at the Raisbeck Aviation High School in the Highline School District.

Northway, 30, is a doctoral student in Earth and Space Sciences.

Right from the start while in high school in Brainerd, Minnesota, I did well in math. I knew I wanted to do engineering, she says. Her dad runs a construction consulting firm, her mom runs payroll at a resort.

Wacker, 20, is a junior in computer science and a graduate of Mercer Island High School.

NASA spokesman Keith Koehler says the CubeSats program is a success, with 23 universities around the country getting funding students are receiving the hands-on aspects of the projects, as well as the real-world problem resolution.

Technology has advanced so much, says Koehler, that the mini-satellites are at least 1,000 times faster in processing speed than the guidance computer on the historic Apollo 11 mission.

Curt Blake, president and CEO of SpaceFlight, the Seattle company that assists in ride-share launches for CubeSats, says the mini-satellite industry is in its infancy. He compares it to the smartphone, which initially was used mostly for messaging and email.

Now there are millions of applications available, he says. Access to space is doing the same thing.

In a way, the mini-satellites hark to the very first ones. The very first satellite, Sputnik I, launched by the Soviets in 1957, weighed 184 pounds. Explorer I, the first U. S. satellite, launched the next year in 1958, weighed all of 31 pounds.

The Cygnus cargo spacecraft carrying the UW mini-satellite and other mini-satellites is now attached to the space station, where it will stay until early 2020.

Then the Cygnus will leave the space station, at which point the mini-satellites will be placed into orbit from a deployer with springs that will push them out into space.

The Cygnus will burn up as it enters the atmosphere, along with the garbage itll be carrying.

The UW mini-satellite will circle the Earth every 94 minutes for around 3 years, begin to lose altitude and then also burn up.

When Wacker tells his 20-something friends about the project, about this contraption the size of a bread loaf thatll be orbiting the Earth, he says they reply, Thats cool. Wow.

It really is.

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Now in space, a cutting-edge satellite the size of a shoebox, and UW students built it - Seattle Times

Human Heart Cells Transform in Space; Return to Normal on Earth: Study – The Weather Channel

Representational image

Heart cells are altered in space, but return to normal within 10 days on Earth, say researchers who examined cell-level cardiac function and gene expression in human heart cells cultured aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for 5.5 weeks.

Exposure to microgravity altered the expression of thousands of genes, but largely normal patterns of gene expression reappeared within 10 days after returning to Earth, according to the study published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

"We're surprised about how quickly human heart muscle cells are able to adapt to the environment in which they are placed, including microgravity," said senior study author Joseph C. Wu from Stanford University.

These studies may not only provide insight into cellular mechanisms that could benefit astronaut health during long-duration spaceflight, but also potentially lay the foundation for new insights into improving heart health on Earth.

Past studies have shown that spaceflight induces physiological changes in cardiac function, including reduced heart rate, lowered arterial pressure, and increased cardiac output.

But to date, most cardiovascular microgravity physiology studies have been conducted either in non-human models or at tissue, organ, or systemic levels.

Relatively little is known about the role of microgravity in influencing human cardiac function at the cellular level.

To address this question, the research team studied human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (hiPSC-CMs). They generated hiPSC lines from three individuals by reprogramming blood cells, and then differentiated them into heart cells.

Beating heart cells were then sent to the ISS aboard a SpaceX spacecraft as part of a commercial resupply service mission. Simultaneously, ground control heart cells were cultured on Earth for comparison purposes.

Upon return to Earth, space-flown heart cells showed normal structure and morphology. However, they did adapt by modifying their beating pattern and calcium recycling patterns.

In addition, the researchers performed RNA sequencing of heart cells harvested at 4.5 weeks aboard the ISS, and 10 days after returning to Earth.

These results showed that 2,635 genes were differentially expressed among flight, post-flight, and ground control samples.

Most notably, gene pathways related to mitochondrial function were expressed more in space-flown heart cells.

A comparison of the samples revealed that heart cells adopt a unique gene expression pattern during spaceflight, which reverts to one that is similar to ground-side controls upon return to normal gravity, the study noted.

According to Wu, limitations of the study include its short duration and the use of 2D cell culture.

In future studies, the researchers plan to examine the effects of spaceflight and microgravity using more physiologically relevant hiPSC-derived 3D heart tissues with various cell types, including blood vessel cells.

"We also plan to test different treatments on the human heart cells to determine if we can prevent some of the changes the heart cells undergo during spaceflight," Wu said.

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Human Heart Cells Transform in Space; Return to Normal on Earth: Study - The Weather Channel

NASA Marshall expands ties with UA to advance in-space manufacturing – Made In Alabama

Additive manufacturing is a rapidly evolving, disruptive technology, Singer said. As NASA continues to invest in in-space additive technology innovations, we welcome collaborations with industry and academia to develop these technologies.

I applaud the University of Alabama for pursuing the development of advanced technologies that will help NASA achieve our mission.


UA will enhance its core curriculum in areas of advanced and in-space manufacturing and foster new collaborations to further this emerging technology.

Areas of emphasis include modeling, analysis and simulation, data analytics, robotics, rendezvous and capture, navigation, advanced materials, on-site resource utilization, additive manufacturing, digital design, and manufacturing and construction.

Our partnership with NASA is an important priority in our efforts to provide opportunities for our students and researchers to offer solutions to leading-edge challenges, Bell said.

Working to further in-space manufacturing will establish the Universitys expertise in the area while training a skilled workforce our state can rely on to remain competitive in the global economy.

Marshall has worked with UA through multiple Space Act Agreements since 2015. Through these agreements and other partnership mechanisms, NASA shares resources, personnel and expertise, facilities and equipment, and technology with UA to advance aerospace research or achieve mission goals.

Marshall has entered Space Act Agreements with numerous colleges, including in-state institutions Auburn University, Alabama A&M University in Huntsville and the University of North Alabama in Florence.

NASA is actively partnering with universities and industry from across the country to leverage and accelerate technology development in key areas, especially areas that will make it possible to sustainably live and work on the lunar surface, achieving the Artemis vision, Singer said.

Artemis is NASAs path to the Moon and the next step in human exploration of our solar system. Through Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, assisted by innovative partners, technologies and systems.

NASA is investing in innovative in-space manufacturing technologies that will aid in developing the technological solutions needed to enable human missions to the Moon, Mars and other deep space destinations.

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NASA Marshall expands ties with UA to advance in-space manufacturing - Made In Alabama

Can We Genetically Engineer Humans to Survive Missions to Mars? – Space.com

Will we one day combine tardigrade DNA with our cells to go to Mars?

Chris Mason, a geneticist and associate professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell University in New York, has investigated the genetic effects of spaceflight and how humans might overcome these challenges to expand our species farther into the solar system. One of the (strangest) ways that we might protect future astronauts on missions to places like Mars, Mason said, might involve the DNA of tardigrades, tiny micro-animals that can survive the most extreme conditions, even the vacuum of space!

Mason led one of the 10 teams of researchers NASA chose to study twin astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly. After launching in 2015, Scott Kelly spent almost a year aboard the International Space Station while his twin brother, Mark Kelly, stayed back on Earth.

Related:By the Numbers: Astronaut Scott Kelly's Year-in-Space Mission

Geneticist Chris Mason discusses the genetic effects of spaceflight at the 8th Human Genetics in NYC Conference on Oct. 29, 2019.

(Image credit: Chelsea Gohd/Space.com)

By comparing how they biologically reacted to their vastly different environments during that time, scientists aimed to learn more about how long-duration missions affects the human body. Mason and the dozens of other researchers who worked to assess the genetic effects of spaceflight uncovered a wealth of data that has so far revealed many new findings about how space affects the human body.

Researchers hope that this work, which continues today, might inform strategies to support astronaut health on future missions. Mason discussed some of the results of this research at a talk at the 8th Human Genetics in NYC Conference on Oct. 29.

In addition to the research Mason discussed at the conference, these researchers are working on seven more papers incorporating the data from the twins study. However, they also hope to use new data from a larger sample.

"We want to do some of the same studies, longitudinal studies, with people on Earth, people in space," Mason told Space.com at the conference.

By studying, specifically, how certain genes are expressed during the different stages of spaceflight (including the intense return to Earth), these research efforts could support future efforts to mitigate the dangers of spaceflight, Mason said.

For instance, if further studies were to confirm that landing back on Earth were harmful to the human body, scientists could develop ways to prevent those detrimental effects. But with such a small body of data (the twins study was just two people), scientists aren't ready to prescribe any specific treatment or preventative medicine to alter how humans genetically react to spaceflight.

"I think we do what is normally done in science We see something interesting; let's try it in mice first," Mason said.

He noted that they might not even find it necessary to prescribe anything to alter the effects they've seen in astronauts like Scott Kelly. "Some of those changes, even though they're dramatic, maybe that's how the body needed to respond," Mason said.

Related: Space Radiation Threat to Astronauts Explained (Infographic)

While, Mason noted, future astronauts might be prescribed medicine or other tools to help to mitigate the effects which they've uncovered with this research. However, new studies are investigating how tools such as gene editing could make humans more capable of traveling farther into space and even to planets such as Mars.

One of the main health concerns with space travel is radiation exposure. If, for example, scientists could figure out a way to make human cells more resilient to the effects of radiation, astronauts could remain healthier for longer durations in space. Theoretically, this type of technology could also be used to combat the effects of radiation on healthy cells during cancer treatments on Earth, Mason noted.

However, the idea of tinkering with human genes is controversial. But Mason emphasized that there will likely be decades of research completed before this kind of science is applied to humans.

"I don't have any plans of having engineered astronauts in the next one to two decades," Mason said. "If we have another 20 years of pure discovery and mapping and functional validation of what we think we know, maybe by 20 years from now, I'm hoping we could be at the stage where we would be able to say we can make a human that could be better surviving on Mars."

But what does it mean to genetically engineer a person to better survive in space or on another planet? There are multiple possible approaches.

One way that scientists could alter future astronauts is through epigenetic engineering, which essentially means that they would "turn on or off" the expression of specific genes, Mason explained

Alternatively, and even more strangely, these researchers are exploring how to combine the DNA of other species, namely tardigrades, with human cells to make them more resistant to the harmful effects of spaceflight, like radiation.

This wild concept was explored in a 2016 paper, and Mason and his team aim to build upon that research to see if, by using the DNA of ultra-resilient tardigrades, they could protect astronauts from the harmful effects of spaceflight.

Genetically editing humans for space travel would likely be a part of natural changes to the human physiology that could occur after living on Mars for a number of years, Mason said. "It's not if we evolve; it's when we evolve," he added.

While changes to the human body are to be expected as our species expands off-Earth, there is a way to do this science responsibly, Mason said. "In terms of a question of liberty, you're engineering it [a future human] to have lots more opportunities, again assuming we haven't taken away opportunities," he said. "If we learned that, in some way, when we decided to try and prove the ability of humans to live beyond Earth, and we take away their ability to live on Earth, I think that would be unjust."

Genetically engineering humans could be ethical if it makes people more capable of inhabiting Mars safely without interfering with their ability to live on Earth, Mason said.

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Need more space? Subscribe to our sister title "All About Space" Magazine for the latest amazing news from the final frontier!

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NASA’s SOFIA Observatory: The Flying Telescope – Space.com

NASA's Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a stargazing platform unlike any other.

SOFIA observes nebulae and galaxies in a variety of "colors" of infrared light. It may not boast as large a mirror as some of its ground-based relatives, and it doesn't enjoy the complete freedom from Earth's atmosphere that the Spitzer Space Telescope does, but SOFIA's ability to capture a wide range of wavelengths and distinguish between fine shades of colors make it an observatory unrivaled in the astronomical world. The fact that SOFIA lives on an airplane also makes it pretty remarkable, as it has made observations from above a dozen countries spanning both hemispheres.

"This observatory allows us access to a part of the universe that otherwise we cannot study from any other facility," said Naseem Rangwala, an astrophysicist at NASA Ames Research Center and principal investigator of the SOFIA observing program.

Taking over from the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, NASA's previous high-flying infrared eye, SOFIA has been watching the skies since 2010 and is scheduled to operate until the early 2030s. The observatory takes the form of a compact Boeing 747, retrofitted specifically for this purpose. The aircraft makes about four flights each week, cruising for 10 hours at a time between 40,000 and 44,000 feet (12,000 and 13,000 meters), putting it above more than 99% of the infrared-scattering water vapor in Earth's atmosphere. For most of the year SOFIA operates from California, but it also makes trips to New Zealand for Southern Hemisphere stargazing, as well as to Germany, whose space agency developed three of the platform's eight instruments.

Related: Now You Can 3D-Print a NASA SOFIA Flying Telescope of Your Very Own!

A large door toward the rear of the craft opens to reveal a 8.9-foot (2.7 m), nearly 20-ton mirror, which swivels nimbly to maintain a fixed lock on its celestial marks while the plane bobs and vibrates.

"One of the things I like best is just watching the telescope," said Michael Person, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who uses SOFIA to study planetary atmospheres. "Eventually you realize the telescope is perfectly still as it must be to be pointing at the target, and it's the plane and you and everything else that's jostling and moving around."

Seats have been stripped from the main cabin to transform it into a control room, with table-mounted consoles for instrument operators, data analysts and visiting scientists. The flight crew and navigators hang out on an upper level, and the front of the plane retains its seats for takeoff, landing and enjoying the view. "In the Southern Hemisphere, you get to see the lights of the aurora," Rangwala said. "It's an amazing experience."

A panoramic view of SOFIA's interior.

(Image credit: NASA)

Portable, cutting-edge observatories don't come cheap. SOFIA cost $85.2 million to run in 2017, putting it close to the Hubble Space Telescope as one of NASA's priciest programs (although DLR, the German space agency, shoulders 20% of SOFIAs cost). But the missions the telescopes work on couldn't be more different.

Once a telescope arrives in space, that's typically the end of its development. SOFIA, however, which returns to the ground every day, can add new instruments and upgrade old ones without launching a single rocket.

In 2015, the German Aerospace Center upgraded its German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) instrument aboard SOFIA. With the new hardware, researchers were able to identify in deep space molecules of helium hydride the type of molecules long thought to have participated in the universe's earliest chemical reactions. "This molecule was predicted by theorists for decades," Rangwala said. "We finally found it."

Then last year SOFIAs High-Resolution Airborne Wideband Camera Plus (HAWC+) came online, allowing researchers to image magnetic fields and study the role they play in star creation.

Magnetic fields in the Orion Nebula shown as steam lines over an infrared image taken by the Very Large Telescope in Chile. SOFIA's HAWC+ instrument is sensitive to the alignment of dust grains, which line up along magnetic fields, letting researchers infer the direction and strength.

(Image credit: NASA/SOFIA/D. Chauss et al. and European Southern Observatory/M. McCaughrean et al.)

Another unique characteristic of SOFIA is its range. Some telescopes specialize in a few particular colors of infrared light. Others, like the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, are powerful but narrowly focused on a small spot of space. SOFIA, however, can do it all. Its instruments span much of the infrared spectrum from a few microns to hundreds. Stars burn brightly enough to emit visible light, but in this other swath of the spectrum SOFIA can pick out dimmer, cooler objects from galaxies to nebulae to dust clouds, similar to how infrared goggles can discern people and animals at night. The telescope can also tell one shade from another with rare precision an important ability for spotting the fingerprints of individual molecules.

The astronomical community has fully embraced the platform's unique rsum of skills. For instance, Michael Person, a research scientist at MIT, used SOFIA to observe Pluto in the summer of 2015. He and his colleagues have been studying the dwarf planet's atmosphere for 20 years through an eclipse-like phenomenon called occultation when Pluto moves in front of a star, casting a shadow out into space. At that moment, starlight passes through Pluto's atmosphere, and any telescope that finds itself in Pluto's diminutive shadow can extract some information about the gases that surround the dwarf planet.

Most occultation shadows fall over the ocean, though, and even if they don't, their path across the Earth is tough to predict. But SOFIA can overcome both of those challenges. In June of 2015, Person found himself on board the aircraft, fielding calls from MIT with final predictions and updating the navigators, who tweaked the flight plan in real time to chase Pluto's shadow across the Pacific Ocean. "At the last minute we can reposition [SOFIA] in a way you can't just quickly move a telescope on the ground," Person said.

The team's improvising paid off. By observing Pluto's atmosphere in two colors, they were able to help settle a long-standing debate about whether the dwarf planet's fuzziness indicated haze or heat. Two weeks later, the New Horizons probe flew by Pluto and confirmed their findings: Pluto was hazy. "It was basically the ideal experiment," Person said.

An image of stars forming in the W51 stellar nursery. The SOFIA FORCAST mosaic (color) is superimposed on a star field image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

(Image credit: NASA/SOFIA/Lim and De Buizer et al. and Sloan Digital Sky Survey)

Recently, SOFIA has embarked on two legacy programs both require observations spanning many hours. One aims to study groups of stars of different sizes to determine whether their bubbles and shockwaves make it easier or harder for other stars to form nearby.

The other is targeting a large tract of the center of the Milky Way about the size of four full moons. Despite an abundance of star ingredients, something seems to be stopping stellar birth in this region, and researchers hope more detailed images will help them figure out what.

Even as the more powerful James Webb Space Telescope comes online, Rangwala emphasized that SOFIA's complementary nature will make it an even more valuable part of NASA's fleet of astronomical hardware. Such sweeping maps of the Milky Way will be essential for helping the much more narrowly focused space telescope get its bearings, she said. "If the [JWST] wants to know where to point, [SOFIA] will be one of the most precise instruments for pointing."

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Massive Space Explosion Releases as Much Energy in 20 Seconds as Sun Does in 10 Days – The Weather Channel

llustration depicting a Type I X-ray burst.

NASA has detected a massive thermonuclear explosion coming from outer space, caused by a massive thermonuclear flash on the surface of a pulsarthe crushed remains of a star that long ago exploded as a supernova.

The explosion released as much energy in 20 seconds as the Sun does in nearly 10 days.

NASA's Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station (ISS) detected a sudden spike of X-rays on August 20, reports the US space agency. The X-ray burst, the brightest seen by NICER so far, came from an object named "J1808".

The observations reveal many phenomena that have never been seen together in a single burst. In addition, the subsiding fireball briefly brightened again for reasons astronomers cannot yet explain.

"This burst was outstanding. We see a two-step change in brightness, which we think is caused by the ejection of separate layers from the pulsar surface, and other features that will help us decode the physics of these powerful events," said lead researcher Peter Bult, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

The detail NICER captured on this record-setting eruption will help astronomers fine-tune their understanding of the physical processes driving the thermonuclear flare-ups of it and other bursting pulsars.

"J1808" is located about 11,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. It spins at a dizzying 401 rotations each second, and is one member of a binary system. Its companion is a brown dwarf, an object larger than a giant planet yet too small to be a star. A steady stream of hydrogen gas flows from the companion toward the neutron star, and it accumulates in a vast storage structure called an accretion disk.

Astronomers employ a concept called the "Eddington limit", named after English astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, to describe the maximum radiation intensity a star can have before that radiation causes the star to expand. This point depends strongly on the composition of the material lying above the emission source.

"Our study exploits this longstanding concept in a new way," said co-author Deepto Chakrabarty, a professor of physics at MIT.

"We are apparently seeing the Eddington limit for two different compositions in the same X-ray burst. This is a very powerful and direct way of following the nuclear burning reactions that underlie the event."

A paper describing the findings has been published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The Weather Companys primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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Airstream Enjoys Return to U.S. Space Program in Partnership with Boeing – Chief Executive Group

Airstream has become known as the makers of the pinnacle of recreational vehicles signified by their silver bullet profiles. But a half-century ago, Airstream also was recognized as a supplier of transportation services to the American space program. Now the company is getting a chance to reprise its role in rocketry as the U.S. space program begins experiencing a bit of a renaissance.

The Jackson Center, Ohio-based manufacturer has initiated a partnership with Boeing as the aircraft giant competes with Elon Musks SpaceX to launch next year what would be the first contingent of Americans taking off for space from U.S. soil since the last Space Shuttle launch in 2011. Boeings CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is slated to carry three humans to the International Space Station in 2020.

No, the Starliner isnt shaped like an Airstream travel trailer. But Airstream is supplying a vehicle known as Astrovan II to transport the astronauts to the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The vehicle is a modified Airstream Atlas Touring Coach named after the original Airstream trailer, nicknamed Astrovan, that, beginning in 1983, carried astronauts the last few miles to their space-shuttle launches at the Cape.

More than just a promotion, this represents the latest chapter in Airstreams involvement in manned space flight, Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler told Chief Executive. We love this part of our history.

And actually, Airstreams history with the space program goes back way before the space-shuttle program. Airstream first became associated with the space program in the public consciousness in 1969, the year Apollo 11 landed on the moon. It was tasked with supplying a vehicle that many Americans of baby boomer vintage and older will remember: the trailer that quarantined astronauts from other earthlings after they returned home from the moon.

NASA scientists wanted to protect against the possibility that the astronauts might carry back some alien pathogen from humanitys first physical contact with the lunar environment. And so Airstream outfitted a modified version of its Excella RV to house Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins after they splashed down on Earth from their triumphal return from the moon.

We were seen as a capable technology company building mobile environments, where we developed special air filtering and handling equipment, Wheeler explained. They wanted to keep the astronauts isolated for a time in that kind of environment. It seems quaint at this point, but put yourself back then.

Airstream built a total of four of the mobile quarantine labs for NASAs use in the last years of the Apollo program. Now it is being re-enlisted as America begins re-engaging space travel in a number of ways.

Some key fans of the brand inside Boeing, Wheeler said, helped get Airstream consideration for the role that became Astrovan II, including Warren Brown, Boeings executive director of marketing, brand and advertising, and Chris Ferguson, who led the final space-shuttle mission as an astronaut and is scheduled, at the age of 59, to command the first Starliner flight.

He was a three-time original shuttle astronaut, Wheeler said. He told me he loved the original Astrovan. So we had [Brown] pushing on one side and the guy whos leading the [next] mission say hed love to have Airstream be part of this story.

Wheeler said the company, a unit of Thor Industries, is just thrilled with its partnership with Boeing. Its an interesting sidelight to the [Airstream] brand overall, but it also demonstrates that very high-level technology organizations respect what we do in a way that compels them to involve us in their efforts.

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Airstream Enjoys Return to U.S. Space Program in Partnership with Boeing - Chief Executive Group

Yes, the ‘Von Braun’ Space Hotel Idea Is Wild. But Could We Build It by 2025? – Space.com

Will you be planning a trip to an orbiting "space hotel" as early as 2025?

The Gateway Foundation, a private company developing this "space hotel," thinks so. The organization plans to build what it describes on its website as "the first spaceport." This spaceport, the Von Braun Rotating Space Station, will orbit Earth and will accommodate not only scientific research but also visiting tourists looking to experience life away from our home planet.

But, while any timeline for the creation of such a structure would be daunting, the Gateway Foundation plans to build the spaceport as early as 2025 (with the support of the space construction company Orbital Assembly).

Related: In Pictures: Private Space Stations of the Future

This visualization gives a closer look at the design of the Von Braun "space hotel."

(Image credit: The Gateway Foundation)

According to Timothy Alatorre, the lead architect of this space station, who also works as the treasurer and an executive team member at the Gateway Foundation, the Von Braun station is designed to be the largest human-made structure in space and will house up to 450 people. Alatorre is also designing the interiors of the station, including the habitable spaces and gymnasium.

As its name implies, the concept for the station is inspired in part by the ideas of Wernher von Braun, who pioneered in the field of human spaceflight first for Nazi Germany and then for the U.S. This design is inspired by his ideas for a rotating space station, which were derived from other, older ideas. "He had inherited a lot of ideas from previous scientists and authors and theorists, so it wasn't entirely his idea for the torus-shaped, doughnut-shaped space station, but he kind of adopted it. He expanded upon it and eventually, he popularized it," Gary Kitmacher, who works for NASA in the International Space Station program, told Space.com. Kitmacher also has worked on the design of the space station, NASA's shuttle program, Spacehab and Mir, and has contributed as an author in textbooks and to the book "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space (Smithsonian Books, 2018)."

Additionally, "the inspiration behind it [this space station] really comes from watching science fiction over the last 50 years and seeing how mankind has had this dream of starship culture," Alatorre told Space.com.

A look inside the planned Von Braun space station.

(Image credit: The Gateway Foundation)

"I think it started really with 'Star Trek' and then 'Star Wars,' and [with] this concept of large groups of people living in space and having their own commerce, their own industry and their own culture, as it were," he added.

The team drew inspiration partially from Von Braun's concept of a rotating space station that utilizes artificial gravity for the comfort of its passengers. But, while this new design will use artificial gravity in areas of the station, it will also have spaces on board that will allow passengers to feel the weightlessness of space.

The ultimate goal for this station is to have it include amenities ranging from restaurants and bars to sports that would allow passengers to take full advantage of weightlessness on board the station. The station will also have programs that include the arts, with concerts on board. "We do hope, though, that people take the time to be inspired, to write music, to paint, to take part in the arts," Alatorre said.

Gateway Foundation officials acknowledge that the station might not be entirely finished by 2025, but the group aims to develop the station's main structure and basic functions by then. "We expect the operation to begin in 2025, the full station will be built out and completed by 2027. Once the station's fully operational, our hope, our goal and our objective is to have the station available for the average person," Alatorre said. "So, a family or an individual could save up reasonably and be able to have enough money to visit space and have that experience. It would be something that would be within reach."

He added that "once or twice a week, we would have new people coming up, and they would be able to spend a couple days or a couple weeks."

So how would this all work? Is it at all possible?

Related: Space Hotel? Orion Span's Luxury Aurora Station Concept in Images

Alatorre said that the Gateway Foundation feels that such a project is now possible because the growing success of commercial aerospace companies like SpaceX has made launch options more affordable.

He added that the company admits that it's possible its timeline is pushing it somewhat. "We completely understand that delays are almost inevitable with aerospace, but based on our internal projections and the fact that we're already dealing with existing technology, we're not inventing anything new. We really feel that the time frame is possible," he said.

The company also concedes that its plans are ambitious.

"I think you could do it," Kitmacher said. "You'd have to have the way to transport it into orbit."

"It might not be done the way in which we would go about doing it at NASA, but I think you can design and build hardware on a fairly rapid schedule," Kitmacher added.

Related: Space History Photo: Walt Disney and Wernher von Braun

But while it may be possible, there are a number of variables specific to space that the team will need to consider. For instance, the temperatures in space for those orbiting our planet range from extreme heat to extreme cold, depending on whether the astronauts are in direct sunlight or in the dark. "The real concern is to design the habitat the pressurized module that you're going to be living in [in] such a way that it can handle those kinds of temperature changes," Kitmacher said.

Kitmacher added that the company's current timeline might not be the most realistic. "If you look at something like a commercial airplane, typically a large, commercial airplane is in development for something like a 10-year period, so that's probably a more reasonable schedule," he said.

With a tight timeline and a number of difficult variables, Kitmacher said that the main obstacle the Gateway Foundation will have to overcome is actually cost. The "cost not only of designing and certifying and getting the whole thing into orbit but also the cost associated with taking the paying passengers, the tourists, up and back," he said.

The Von Braun space station is designed to be a vacation destination and aims to feature some artificial gravity on board.

(Image credit: The Gateway Foundation)

In addition to the technical challenges involved in building this space station, there are a heap of social concerns that could make its success more difficult.

For starters, if there is a "space hotel," that means the facility would have to have employees. That would mean extended periods of time in space, and research has shown that spaceflight and being in microgravity can have a number of effects on human health.

This would also mean that, if the space station actually becomes an accessible spaceport in orbit around Earth, more people (and not all of them highly trained astronauts) would be flying to space much more regularly than humans do today. There would likely be physical risks involved with such an increased amount of space travel for a wider variety of people, as well as significant legal red tape that the company would have to deal with to get this space station not only off the ground but also to allow for travel to this "space hotel."

Photos: Wernher von Braun, Space Pioneer Rememembered

Another issue that could affect the public's perception of this developing concept is its association with Wernher von Braun, who was a member of the Nazi party and an SS officer during World War II.

"We were drawing off of his [von Braun's] inspiration, which is why we started describing it as the von Braun station," Alatorre said. But, "there have been people who've questioned the name, definitely."

While many might disagree, Alatorre added, "our opinion on it is Wernher von Braun was a reluctant Nazi."

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Need more space? Subscribe to our sister title "All About Space" Magazine for the latest amazing news from the final frontier!

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Yes, the 'Von Braun' Space Hotel Idea Is Wild. But Could We Build It by 2025? - Space.com

Record-Setting X-Ray Burst From Massive Thermonuclear Blast Detected From Space Station – SciTechDaily

Illustration depicting a Type I X-ray burst. The explosion first blows off the hydrogen layer, which expands and ultimately dissipates. Then rising radiation builds to the point where it blows off the helium layer, which overtakes the expanding hydrogen. Some of the X-rays emitted in the blast scatter off of the accretion disk. The fireball then quickly cools, and the helium settles back onto the surface. Credit: NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (USRA)

NASAs Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station detected a sudden spike of X-rays at about 10:04 p.m. EDT on August 20, 2019. The burst was caused by a massive thermonuclear flash on the surface of a pulsar, the crushed remains of a star that long ago exploded as a supernova.

The X-ray burst, the brightest seen by NICER so far, came from an object named SAX J1808.4-3658, or J1808 for short. The observations reveal many phenomena that have never been seen together in a single burst. In addition, the subsiding fireball briefly brightened again for reasons astronomers cannot yet explain.

Once the helium layer is a few meters deep, the conditions allow helium nuclei to fuse into carbon. Then the helium erupts explosively and unleashes a thermonuclear fireball across the entire pulsar surface. Zaven Arzoumanian, Deputy Principal Investigator for NICER

This burst was outstanding, said lead researcher Peter Bult, an astrophysicist at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the University of Maryland, College Park. We see a two-step change in brightness, which we think is caused by the ejection of separate layers from the pulsar surface, and other features that will help us decode the physics of these powerful events.

The explosion, which astronomers classify as a Type I X-ray burst, released as much energy in 20 seconds as the Sun does in nearly 10 days. The detail NICER captured on this record-setting eruption will help astronomers fine-tune their understanding of the physical processes driving the thermonuclear flare-ups of it and other bursting pulsars.

A pulsar is a kind of neutron star, the compact core left behind when a massive star runs out of fuel, collapses under its own weight, and explodes. Pulsars can spin rapidly and host X-ray-emitting hot spots at their magnetic poles. As the object spins, it sweeps the hot spots across our line of sight, producing regular pulses of high-energy radiation.

J1808 is located about 11,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. It spins at a dizzying 401 rotations each second, and is one member of a binary system. Its companion is a brown dwarf, an object larger than a giant planet yet too small to be a star. A steady stream of hydrogen gas flows from the companion toward the neutron star, and it accumulates in a vast storage structure called an accretion disk.

This burst was outstanding! Peter Bult, an astrophysicist at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center

Gas in accretion disks doesnt move inward easily. But every few years, the disks around pulsars like J1808 become so dense that a large amount of the gas becomes ionized, or stripped of its electrons. This makes it more difficult for light to move through the disk. The trapped energy starts a runaway process of heating and ionization that traps yet more energy. The gas becomes more resistant to flow and starts spiraling inward, ultimately falling onto the pulsar.

Hydrogen raining onto the surface forms a hot, ever-deepening global sea. At the base of this layer, temperatures and pressures increase until hydrogen nuclei fuse to form helium nuclei, which produces energy a process at work in the core of our Sun.

The helium settles out and builds up a layer of its own, said Goddards Zaven Arzoumanian, the deputy principal investigator for NICER and a co-author of the paper. Once the helium layer is a few meters deep, the conditions allow helium nuclei to fuse into carbon. Then the helium erupts explosively and unleashes a thermonuclear fireball across the entire pulsar surface.

Astronomers employ a concept called the Eddington limit named for English astrophysicist SirArthur Eddington to describe the maximum radiation intensity a star can have before that radiation causes the star to expand. This point depends strongly on the composition of the material lying above the emission source.

Our study exploits this longstanding concept in a new way, said co-author Deepto Chakrabarty, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. We are apparently seeing the Eddington limit for two different compositions in the same X-ray burst. This is a very powerful and direct way of following the nuclear burning reactions that underlie the event.

As the burst started, NICER data show that its X-ray brightness leveled off for almost a second before increasing again at a slower pace. The researchers interpret this stall as the moment when the energy of the blast built up enough to blow the pulsars hydrogen layer into space.

The fireball continued to build for another two seconds and then reached its peak, blowing off the more massive helium layer. The helium expanded faster, overtook the hydrogen layer before it could dissipate, and then slowed, stopped and settled back down onto the pulsars surface. Following this phase, the pulsar briefly brightened again by roughly 20 percent for reasons the team does not yet understand.

During J1808s recent round of activity, NICER detected another, much fainter X-ray burst that displayed none of the key features observed in the Aug. 20 event.

In addition to detecting the expansion of different layers, NICER observations of the blast reveal X-rays reflecting off of the accretion disk and record the flickering of burst oscillations X-ray signals that rise and fall at the pulsars spin frequency but that occur at different surface locations than the hot spots responsible for its normal X-ray pulses.

A paper describing the findings has been published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

NICER is an Astrophysics Mission of Opportunity within NASAs Explorer program, which provides frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space utilizing innovative, streamlined, and efficient management approaches within the heliophysics and astrophysics science areas. NASAs Space Technology Mission Directorate supports the SEXTANT component of the mission, demonstrating pulsar-based spacecraft navigation.

Reference: A NICER Thermonuclear Burst from the Millisecond X-Ray Pulsar SAX J1808.43658 by Peter Bult, Gaurava K. Jaisawal, Tolga Gver, Tod E. Strohmayer, Diego Altamirano, Zaven Arzoumanian, David R. Ballantyne, Deepto Chakrabarty, Jrme Chenevez, Keith C. Gendreau, Sebastien Guillot and Renee M. Ludlam, 23 October 2019, The Astrophysical Journal Letters.DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ab4ae1

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Student Networks with Astronauts, Space Experts at International Meeting – Tennessee Today

Samantha Ramsey had an out-of-this-world experience last month when she attended the 70th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington, DC.

Ramsey, a first-generation college student and junior aerospace engineering major in UTs Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, was one of a handful of students selected by the national section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) to attend IAC as a diversity scholar.

Hosted by AIAA, IAC brought together more than 6,500 people from 70 different countries to celebrate both the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and the international accomplishments and partnerships that have become the hallmark of space exploration. This was the first time in almost 20 years IAC was held in the United States.

AIAAs Diversity Scholars Program, sponsored by Aurora Flight Sciences and Boeing Company, provides opportunities for underrepresented university students pursuing an aerospace degree to attend an AIAA forum. The scholarship covered all costs associated with attending IAC and included invitations to special events held during the conference.

[Note: Ramsey will talk about her experience at IAC at UTs AIAA chapter meeting at 6 p.m. on November 20 in the Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building, Room 622.]

Originally from Adams Run, a small town in South Carolina, Ramsey had to go to work after graduating from high school in order to support herself. After working for various nonprofits for eight years, she enrolled in college.

Being a first-generation student and adult returning to college, on top of being a woman in engineering, can be extremely challenging, said Ramsey. Being selected as a diversity scholar felt almost like an affirmation that, although I may not look like a typical engineering student, I do belong here and that all of my hard work is paying off.

As a diversity scholar, Ramsey was invited to breakfast with astronaut Frank Culbertson and lunch with astronaut Sandy Magnus. She met the CEOs and presidents of some of the biggest companies in the aerospace engineering industry, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and attended a private party for the Planetary Society, where she hung out with Bill Nye the Science Guy. She also shared a table at a diversity luncheon with former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon.

Attending the IAC was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, said Ramsey. I was also able to connect with international industry leaders, professors at my top choices for graduate school, and even childhood heroes. I have come away completely overflowing with inspiration, and more excited than ever to continue my education.

Ramsey plans to use the knowledge she gained at the conference in her undergrad research shes doing with the trajectory team at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center under the direction of Stephanie TerMaath, the Jessie Zeanah Faculty Fellow in UTs Tickle College of Engineering.

Before attending IAC I had no idea how important it is to establish and maintain international relationships within the space community. But from the people I met, the things I learned, and the global technologies I was able to experience, I have gained a completely new understanding and appreciation for the work that is being done all around the world, she said.

Although shes only a junior, Ramsey joined the interplanetary trajectory senior design team this year and competed last week in the Vanderbilt Hackathon, building a virtual reality simulation of the Milky Way galaxy and mapping the stars and major constellations. The team won the A Code of Art category for creating the most beautiful and stylistically inspiring project.

This past summer she interned on the mission design and analysis branch of the trajectory team at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, where she studied the celestial mechanics of the earthmoon system and built a program to help automate the process of determining launch windows for future Space Launch System missions. Ramsey hopes to continue interning there until she graduates.

Ramsey isnt sure what the future holds, but she aspires to attend graduate school, receive a doctorate in astrodynamics, and possibly study space law. One thing is for certain: she wants to continue being a role model for diversity in engineering, something shes very passionate about.

No matter where she ends up, she wants to work in astrodynamics and orbital mechanics and hopefully help calculate the trajectories for future deep space exploration missions.


Kathy Williams (865-974-8615, williamk@utk.edu)

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Student Networks with Astronauts, Space Experts at International Meeting - Tennessee Today

‘Star Trek,’ Space Travel and Teleportation with Tig Notaro – Space.com

Beloved stand-up comedian and "Star Trek: Discovery" actor Tig Notaro is proud to be in the Trek universe, but isn't so sure she'd fly to space herself.

Notaro recently took some time to chat with Space.com during the weekend of the Bentzen Ball, an annual comedy festival in Washington, D.C., that she curates and performs at. During the conversation, Notaro revealed her feelings regarding human spaceflight, the importance of diversity and representation, and what it feels like to become a part of the "Star Trek" universe.

Notaro has recently played chief engineer Reno in "Star Trek: Discovery" and an astronaut in the film "Lucy in the Sky." She also recently made waves in the space world as she joined forces with NASA's James Webb Space Telescope on Twitter.

Related:'Star Trek: Discovery' Renewed for Third Season

Here you can see comedian and actor Tig Notaro as Chief Engineer Reno in "Brother," Episode 201 of "Star Trek: Discovery."

(Image credit: Jan Thijs/CBS)

"It's not anything that I chose," Notaro said about her work in sci-fi with roles in both Trek and "Lucy in the Sky." But, while she noted that she wasn't seeking out sci-fi acting gigs, "I feel open to that world," the actor said.

"It's very different," Notaro added as a person who works primarily as a stand-up comic about her foray into science fiction. But, while it's different, "I like it, I like being a recurring role on "Star Trek" I'm not looking to become a full cast member but I enjoy the world, and I enjoy the cast and crew, and I think what I have going on is kind of perfect."

Now, while Notaro might be a relatively new face in the sci-fi world, "I did follow 'Star Trek' when I was a child, the original series obviously I'm more familiar with Discovery now, but I love being a part of it, if just simply for the ability to tell people I am on 'Star Trek,' it's really fun to be able to say that."

"It's fun, I'm proud to be a part of it," she added. "My sons, they think I actually work in space because whenever I go off to Toronto to film 'Star Trek,' I always tell them I have to go work on the space rocket "

Notaro, unsurprisingly, had a few funny words to say about her other recent sci-fi work in "Lucy in the Sky." According to Notaro, the film's director Noah Hawley liked her stand-up work and reached out, then joked that he thought, "she could probably act like herself in this too." She added that she received a nice surprise after filming, when the "Lucy in the Sky" team gave her the on-screen spacesuit that she wore in the movie.

While Notaro has recently played characters who either travel to space ("Lucy in the Sky") or spend their lives working in space ("Star Trek: Discovery"), she's not sure she would launch into space herself.

"I think it's really exciting and terrifying," she said. "If I could be in space, I would like to just be teleported; I don't know that I would want that actually takeoff and journey to outer space."

"I was just talking to my wife about that; she has absolutely no interest in being in outer space. I don't think were gonna run into 'should we go, should we not go?'" Notaro said, adding that, while her wife isn't interested, her sons would probably want to go. "I would bring my sons. I really think they would be interested."

Notaro, as a gay woman leading in stand-up comedy, is no stranger to providing representation for marginalized groups in spaces typically dominated by straight men.

On the topic of representation and diversity in Trek, Notaro noted that "It's really impressive, 'Star Trek' was already so ahead of its time with diversity and representation, but that's, I think, another part of what makes me proud to be a part of that show," she said. "It's really thoughtful it's just a smart, thoughtful show and it's nice to be a part of something that's positive. It's not just some random space series or sci-fi project. It's a really smart, thoughtful, diverse series."

"I'm certainly in ridiculous things, like my own nonsense talk show, but the other projects that I do, it is nice to have that anchor of pride with something. And I think it's tremendously important to have the representation that they do and the diversity." Notaro added.

This past year, NASA astronaut Anne McClain became the first active astronaut to be out as part of the LGBTQ+ community, astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch completed the first all-woman spacewalk, and NASA, with their Artemis program, has increased its efforts to land the first woman on the moon.

So, while Notaro is very familiar with the world of comedy, and now sci-fi, she also spoke about the importance of increasing diversity and representation in other sectors, like the world of real human spaceflight. As she described, it is extremely important "to kind of make sure that people and especially younger generations know that it's possible to do what you think is not possible."

Notaro, who was born in Mississippi, grew up largely before such representation was mainstream. "As a kid, when you don't have that, you just kinda skim past it and and you do feel like 'oh that's not for me' or 'I don't have that opportunity.' And then when you do see somebody, how invigorating it is and all the possibilities that start coming to light. I know it's kind of an obvious thing, but it's really really powerful."

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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