Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wirefly X-Prize Cup 2006: Countdown

Just a little more than two days until the start of the second annual X-Prize Cup in New Mexico.

Around 20,000 people are expected at the two-day event which will spotlight some of the latest private aerospace technology currently being designed. Attendees can expect to be dazzled by lunar landers; rockets of all shapes and sizes; unveiling of the X-Racer; jet packs and much, much more.
No, we at SpaceBlog Alpha aren't getting paid to endorse the X-Prize Cup, but we are jealous of those who get to go...

Astronomers Prepare for Dazzling Meteor Shower

Space.com is reporting some meteor scientists are claiming the upcoming Leonid Meteor shower (Nov. 18) will be a bright, albeit brief display, producing as many 200 "shooting stars" in an hour. They also have a nice story on photographing meteor showers.
Best viewing will be in Western Europe, eastern North America, or just about any ship at sea in the North Atlantic...

In Case You Missed It: First Commercial US Spaceport Launch -- Fails!

The Spaceport XL Rocket slated to be the first launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico failed to reach a sub-orbital altitude during its Sept. 27 launch, but the significance of the event is no less.
UP Aerospace was behind the launch. The company claims it can reduce the cost of launch by as much as 95 percent although so far, no cargo has been successfully lofted. Investors continue to support the science and the business plan, and engineers are certain they will return to flight in short order.
They remain optimistic that the full slate of four successful launches for 2006 will happen.

If so, Space, will officially be open for business.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bigelow: Habitable Space Outpost by 2010

Space.com is reporting hotelier and space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow announced that based on the success of the Genesis 1 test module currently orbiting the Earth and transmitting reams of critical data for engineers, he will launch and operate Sundance, a habitable commercial space outpost capable of supporting three crew members, by 2010.

The station will operate in low earth orbit, but be maneuverable and sustainable for a decade or more. It will also have de-orbit capability.

This module will be a scale model of the larger station he plans to launch in 2012. Right now Bigelow is launching the inflatable space stations on Dnepr rockets. In the future he plans to use the low-cost launch system of Falcon rockets being designed by SpaceX, which is owned by upstart commercial space investor, Elon Musk.

So far, however, the Falcon rockets have been unable to get off the ground. A stark contrast to the incredible success of the Genesis-1 station, but not beyond the expectations of Musk, who recently received nearly $300 million from NASA to demonstrate the capability of getting seven people to and from the International Space Station by 2010.

Whether Falcon gets off the ground or not, Bigelow said he plans to launch Sundance in 2008.

He's just that determined...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Shuttle Atlantis Coverage: Know When the Pilot Poops

Thanks to ever more powerful video technology and the high-bandwidth Internet capability of most PCs, it is now possible to know when the astronauts use the lavatory.
Well, practically. Although, if you were listening on your shortwave radio kit you could certainly listen to them report in:
"Mission Control, I've got a problem" takes on a whole new meaning.

If you want to check out some great shuttle coverage, NASA has the best site.

Just remember, NASA is not the only game in town...by far...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Proton Rocket Returns to Flight

SpaceFlightNow.com is reporting the successful launch and orbit-insertion Eutelsat's Hot Bird 8 communications spacecraft atop a Russian Proton rocket.

This is the first successful launch of a Proton following a spectacular failure last February. The Breeze M upper stage of the rocket was the problem during that attempted launch of the Arab Satellite Communications Organizations ARABSAT 4A, a communications satellite meant to serve most of the Middle East, North Africa and Western Europe.

A replacement ARABSAT 4 spacecraft is slated for launch aboard a Proton later this year...

George Lucas Finds New Way to Make Money from Star Wars

According to Space.com, George Lucas has agreed to allow his entire Star Wars epic, all 13-plus hours of it, be reduced to a 20-minute comedic abridged version.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company will film their version at London's Criterion Theatre on August 17. Likely it will be available in DVD form by Christmas, although that has not been confirmed.

At 62, Lucas has made more dollars from his six-film franchise, tie-ins and merchandising, than there are stars in the galaxy. And he is not simply trying to squeeze every last dime from devoted fanatics of his old work, he is also currently planning four new projects, two of which have nothing to do with Star Wars...

Monday, August 07, 2006

John Glenn Mortal After All

American icon John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth; U.S. senator from 1974 to 1998, and world's eldest astronaut in 1998 at age 77, has finally been proven mortal after all.

Glenn, 86, and his wife of 63 years, Annie, were both injured August 4, 2006, in an automobile accident on I-270 near Columbus, Ohio. Glenn was cited by police for failure to yield.

CNN quoted Glenn as saying Annie suffered "bumps and bruises"; Glenn himself suffered a fractured sternum.

We know we speak for millions when we echo the words of Scott Carpenter from 1962: "Godspeed, John Glenn" and Annie too; Get well soon.

Now more than ever, America needs its heroes...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Transition Personal Air Vehicle: Possibly Your Next SUV

Update on a Post from May, 18, 2006:

MIT Superstar and recent Lemelson award winner, Carl Dietrich, and a couple of his best buddies want to sell you your next SUV. Oh, and did I mention it flies at around 140mph at 8,000 feet, gets about 30 mpg (highway and skyway) and fits in your garage.

Their company is called Terrafugia and their vehicle is called Transitions. They hope to have a prototype built by 2008. If interest is as high as they hope, they'll have production models available by 2009.

With a price tag around $150,000, this little personal aircraft might just make it as a commercial endeavor where so many others have failed...

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Powerful Algorithms Make ASAP Happen

SpaceRef.com has an interesting story about the Adaptive Sampling and Prediction program about to be kicked off in Monterey Bay, California this month. The three year project, funded by the Office of Naval Research, will utilize a new algorithm to control two autonomous submarine gliders to monitor ocean conditions and predict future activity.

The robot gliders will work in tandem, scouring the ocean and collecting data which will be transmitted to scientists on land. This marks the first time two robots have worked autonomously and in tandem, without human help of any kind.

If successful, the project could lead to further program models for use in exploration of everything from the rain forests to the solar system and beyond...

Friday, August 04, 2006

Russian Kliper D.O.A.

SpaceDaily.com is reporting the Russian Space Agency has shelved plans for the new Kliper spacecraft in favor of a less expensive retro-fit of the hugely successful Soyuz spacecraft.
This after months of publicity touting the new spacecraft.

On the surface this news is disappointing. New spaceship designs are an inevitability. The sooner they get beyond the disposable capsule as our best means of space travel, the better.

Then again, the Soyuz has proven reliable, adaptable and scalable. Why not stick with what they know? Or, as we say in America, if it ain't broke why fix it?

Of course this does not diminish the thrill of finally seeing a VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) spaceship carry astronauts to space and back. Guess we'll just have to pin our hopes to Masten Space Systems...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

JAXA Pushes Back Date for Lunar Base

SpaceDaily.com is reporting the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has pushed back a planned lunar base completion date from 2025 to 2030.
This announcement was followed by an admission they did not know where the funds were going to come from, but at least they are sticking with the original plan.

It is important to note, JAXA has only been around for a few years. It was formed in October 2003 by the merger of three former space/science institutions: the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, the National Aerospace Laboratory and the National Space Development Agency of Japan.

So far their string of successful launches, cutting edge spacecraft designs and data collection efforts have yielded enough positive results to make their plans, regardless of whether they have budgeted for any of it or not, much more likely to flourish than some other lunar plans being floating around...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Shuttle Atlantis to Launch Pad, Finally

The weather finally cooperated and NASA was able to roll the Shuttle Atlantis to launch pad 39B. The 4.2 mile journey started just after 1 a.m. and took about seven hours.
This is the second of 15 remaining flights needed to complete the construction of the International Space Station.

In a related story, Space.com is reporting that NASA administrator Mike Griffin has put a Hubble Space Telescope service mission back on the table. The only sticking point is, of course, the safety of the crew. Most likely Atlantis would fly that mission.
No confirmation yet, but surely a year's worth of successful flights would make the prospect much more likely...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Stardust Volunteers Finally Get Busy

As we reported in January 2006, NASA researchers in charge of finding and cataloguing the tiny particles of comet dust collected by the Stardust probe solicited volunteers from the general public to help. The project is called Stardust@home and more than 100,000 people have already passed muster and stand ready to participate.

Scientists planned to have samples ready for review by March, but the process became much more difficult than they had hoped, pushing the sample release date back to today. This is just the first batch, however. More are expected through 2007 as scientists continue to process and prepare the Aerogel sample collectors.

Universe Today has a concise story about the entire volunteer project from inception right up to today, when they finally had something to look at. Check it out here.

But remember, you read about it on SpaceBlog Alpha, first...

Monday, July 31, 2006

MEROPE Victim of Russian Rocket Failure

It's crushing to see anyone's good work go up in flames moments before it is to be unveiled. Unfortunately, so it was with the Montana Earth-Orbiting Pico-Explorer satellite or MEROPE, the first satellite built in Montana.

MEROPE was just one of 13 nano-sats lost in the failed launch of a Dnepr rocket from it's Baikonur Cosmodrome missile silo in Kazakhstan, Russia.
According to the National Association for Amateur Radio, each satellite carried amateur radio transmit-only payloads and all were lost. One private satellite was also lost in the crash.

Also lost was the BelKa "Belorusskit Kosmicheskiy Apparat" satellite. You can follow this cool thread for some neat pictures and further discussion of BelKa.

Despite this news, Dnepr rockets (formerly SS-18 Satan intercontinental ballistic missiles) are better suited for satellite launches (or failures) than the fate intended by their original design...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Space Island Group Plans to Launch Delta Clipper

Space Island Group has been working diligently to build a commercial space station for more than a decade, and they now believe their dreams will come true in less than five years.

These are the same folks who have been begging NASA to let them retro-fit a dozen external fuel tanks for conversion to a space-habitat complete with partial to possibly full gravity and room for up to 400 assorted scientists, visitors and business owners. They plan to service this new space station with a fleet of Delta Clipper spaceships.
All this as early as 2010.

We can only hope...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

China Looking To Open Space Program

An interesting story at SpaceDaily.com, claims the head of the Chinese space program said they will soon seek international partners for its planned lunar exploration mission.

According to Luan Enjie, cooperation is necessary for the program's success.

If progress on the Chinese manned lunar mission continues as it has, they could put boots on lunar soil by 2024.

He hinted at cooperation with his European and U.S. counterparts, but there is no way to know exactly what the future will bring.

They could be looking to partner with North Korea....

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Huygens Movie Making the Rounds

European Space Agency scientists have released some great little video clips of movies taken by the Huygens probe as it descended to the surface of Titan last year.

They are not very long and have little detail, but they're cool to watch anyway...

Titan Hydrocarbon Lakes Revealed

The story has been beamed around the globe by now, so surely you've already heard: The European Space Agency probe, Cassini, has finally spotted those giant lakes of hydrocarbons planetary scientists expected it would find there.

Scientists believe the lakes are likely comprised of methane or ethane, similar to racing fuel. More detailed photos will be taken and the region further explored to test the theory. But judging from the photos and radar images, the dark areas in question are liquid of some sort.

According to the story at SpaceDaily.com, if this is true, Titan becomes the only planet in the Solar System, besides Earth, with lakes.
Not right for water skiing, but lakes just the same...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Dirty Skies Links to Cool NASA Video

Follow a shuttle solid rocket booster from lift-off to splash down (yes, the solid ones are the ones they re-use) and watch as the external fuel tank detaches and drops away into Earth's orbit where it will eventually burn-up. (Although you don't get to see that.)

Check it out at DirtySkies.com which has links to some really cool NASA video. DirtySkies.com is in our Blogroll on the right side of this page. The site is run by a bunch of urban astronomers, hell-bent on getting the world to take a larger interest in the heavens above us.
It works for us. That's why we put their link on our Blogroll.

There are some cool links over there next to Dirty Skies.
If you haven't checked them out in a while, please do so now....

Shuttle Atlantis Readied for August Mission

SpaceflightNow.com is reporting the shuttle Atlantis has been prepped for mating to its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters. This is all in preparation for an August flight to the International Space Station where it will continue the expansion of the station, specifically, it will attach a long steel truss to the existing structure.

Spaceflight Now has a nice section devoted completely to the shuttle missions. Find photos, video clips, detailed mission analysis and the future mission schedule.

They even blogged the slow tedious move to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Here's an excerpt:

7:24 a.m. EDT
The move has not yet commenced. But the transporter just started its engine.

Now that's exciting stuff...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Cool new Genesis-I Video

Unlike so many others who came before them, Bigelow Aerospace is setting a new standard for success when it comes to experimental spacecraft. Much like the engineers at Scaled Composites (The folks who brought us SpaceShip One), the people operating the Genesis-I inflatable spacecraft project make it look easy.

They just posted some cool new video of their little inflatable space station, here. Check it out.

For now the things will act more like the Goodyear Blimp than Deep Space Nine. The company is offering to put various personal items aboard the next craft for a small fee. The deal is open to anyone. Find out about it here. But don't plan on sending anything you might want back...

Falcon 1 Failure Found in a B-nut

A DARPA review board has determined what it feels is the exact cause of the failure of the March 24 Falcon 1 flight and has cleared the rocket for another try. The next attempt is expected sometime this autumn, but an exact date has not been released.
Spacecraft builder SpaceX is working under contract to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a major source of funds for the Falcon project.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been furiously Blogging away at their official site, promoting the next launch of Falcon 1 and the yet-to-be-tested EELV class rocket, Falcon 9. SpaceX promises its fleet of Falcon rockets will revolutionize commercial space launch capability, greatly reducing the cost to orbit.
If it can get to orbit.
During the March 24 launch a leaking fuel tank caused the rocket to burst into flames just seconds after lift-off from the launch pad at the Kwajalein Atoll.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Safe Landing for Discovery Means Shuttles Back in Service

The Shuttle Discovery successfully landed at Kennedy Space Center this morning marking the first shuttle landing in Florida in four years.
Engineers say this shows the shuttle is ready for service. Up next, Atlantis launches sometime later next month to deliver a heavy beam for the further expansion of International Space Station.
Space.com has a nifty slide-show from the recent Discovery mission. Check it out....

Sunday, July 16, 2006

'Hubble Junior' Offers Astronomy at a Bargain

SpaceDaily.com is reporting on a proposal to use high-altitude, solar powered airships to carry sensitive telescopes for a view almost as good as we get from the Hubble Space Telescope.

According to the story, Astronomer Robert A. Fesen, of Dartmouth University, has written a paper describing in detail the benefits of such a project including low cost and flexibility of the hardware which could be repositioned, upgraded or repaired as needed.

This may end up being the best plan for "life after Hubble"...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Museums Hover Over Remaining Shuttles Like Vultures

NASA says it will take a minimum of 15 more shuttle flights to complete construction of the International Space Station. Following Discovery's successful launch and mission, the first of those flights is tentatively scheduled for late next month.

Since Congress has set a deadline of 2010 for all shuttles to be permanently retired, various museums have begun the process of vying for one of the three remaining shuttles.

This alone is surely a sign America's space program is back on track...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

ESA Gives Venus Express A-OK

The Venus Express spacecraft, in orbit around the cloud-shrouded planet since April, has been cleared by European Space Agency scientists to begin its work researching, photographing and otherwise studying what many planetologists call Earth's sister planet.

Already scientists are finding more water, more clouds and more things they don't understand about the mysterious world. Greenhouse gases rage and winds swirl the dense clouds that obscure the surface of the planet. Preliminary information obtained from Venus Express in just a few short weeks has scientists wondering if those clouds might also hide a volcanically active planet.
Mysteries abound...

Tracking Bigelow

Recognizing history in the making, Leonard David, writing at Livescience.com, has a couple cool links for tracking Genesis-I, the world's first inflatable spacecraft, currently floating about 550km above the Earth.
Seems the little space-blimp is doing surprisingly well.
Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace, said earlier yesterday that he was prepared for anything when it came to the maiden voyage of his prototype space habitat.

But I'll bet he wasn't prepared for complete success...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Inflatables in Space; Bigelow Aerospace Tests Genesis I

While NASA astronauts played with various types of icky black goo in an attempt to prepare themselves for future in-space repairs, a private space design firm seeking to be the first to offer commercial space habitats successfully launched and inserted its prototype Genesis I inflatable spacecraft into Earth orbit today.
Bigelow Aerospace engineers have already begun receiving telemetry data from the craft, orbiting some 550 km above the Earth. Launched atop a Russian ISC Kosmotras Dnepr rocket, the craft deployed solar arrays and began sending data back to mission control without a hitch.

Bigelow said it will launch at least two more test spacecraft before trying a full-size version sometime in the next couple years. All of this will take place as contestants in America's Space Prize work hard to design and build a spacecraft to service the inflatable habitats and win the $50 million prize.
America's Space Prize was modeled after the Ansari X-Prize which saw the development of the wildly innovative and successful, SpaceShipOne only after offering a $10 million prize. Millionaire developer and hotelier Robert Bigelow, owner of Bigelow Aerospace, is offering the larger prize in hopes of finding a solution to getting people to and from his orbiting platforms...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Meteorite Impacts Lunar Surface: Be Underwhelmed, See the Video

Initially, the headline of the story at NASA.gov, A Meteoroid Hits the Moon, sounded like a potential fireworks display.

Needless to say the 7-second video (slow-motion) leaves much to be desired. A little white dot, one brief pop! and then nothing.

Maybe when people live on the lunar surface it will be more exciting when it gets hit by stuff...

Hams in Space; ISS to be Outfitted With Amateur Radio

SpaceDaily.com reminds us that thanks to the successful launch of Discovery last week, the International Space Station is currently home to five Ham radio operators. The next crew, Expedition 14, will contain three amateur radio operators, the first time the entire crew will consist of Hams.

Later this year the ESA's Columbus module will be lifted by shuttle to the ISS. It contains amateur radio equipment for communications with stations on Earth.
Called ARISS, the educational station provides an opportunity for station-based astronauts to educate students back on Earth.
Cool thing about it: Partially funded by private donations. European donations...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Yet Another Flying Car

Another flying car is being promised for the masses. This one will get 40 mpg, cost around $150,000 and be a fully functional airplane that also drives like a car.
It's called Transition and its inventor is hailing it as the world's first "roadable aircraft."

It remains to be seen if the thing will even fly, much less sell. And it reminds me very much of some past flying cars, namely the Airphibian and the AeroCar, which both date back to the 1950's.

In fact, the latest Aerocar designs call for a detachable 'airplane assembly' that you simply back your car into, attach some bolts to, and then use to get airborne and land safely...

Japan Offers Rock Bottom Price On Commercial Space Launch: FREE

The Associated Press is reporting Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will offer free launch space aboard its H-2A rockets. Payloads of up to 50 kilograms can piggyback aboard already planned government launches. Hence the weight restrictions.

Anyway, applications are being accepted all year, but applicants are limited to Japanese companies, individuals or groups. And profit-making ventures will be excluded, so no get-rich-quick schemes....

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

APEX Series Spacecraft Closer to Reality

SPACEHAB has been crowing about the capability of its yet-to-be-built APEX spacecraft system for years now. But recently, a possible NASA contract has brought the project a little closer to seeing daylight.

SPACEHAB has certainly seen its share of successes. Their hardware has flown on past shuttle missions and is currently flying on the International Space Station. They have a working commercial space-business model that seems poised to explode in growth; maximizing profit potential through lucrative NASA contracts and by providing a reliable to-orbit payload delivery system.
Assuming they can get APEX off the ground...

Monday, May 15, 2006

Astrobiologist Dishes Dirt On NASA

Although a little wistful and melodramatic at times, Keith Cowing's four part essay on the deterioration of astrobiology-science at NASA under current Chief Mike Griffin is insightful. We're not often privy to the inner thoughts of scientists and researchers--usually relegated instead to just their discoveries.
Plus, since Cowing is an astrobiologist, scientist, researcher, writer and Web master--and has done work for the NASA Haughton-Mars Project--he knows of what he writes.
And he writes a lot.

While we at SBA have applauded Griffin in the past for his efforts at getting back to spaceship basics, trying to save the Hubble and keeping NASA under some-sort of budgetary constraint, we would be disheartened to hear he had turned his back on the very spark that ignites the curiosity of everyone who dreams of heading for the stars...Life.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Researchers Trip the Light Fantastic and Send It Speeding Backwards

Scientists at the University of Rochester in New York have done things Einstein said were impossible: They have slowed light down and somehow managed to speed it up to the point it actually travels backward.

It's little more than a trick really. The speed of light has not changed. It remains constant at approximately 186,000 miles-per-second. However, the dynamics of the way the light beam travels does change. Instead of flowing in a constant line along an optical cable, the beam skips to the end of the line and travels back to the beginning.
Making light travel faster than usual is nothing new. They've been doing that for years now. But this is something completely new and unexpected.

For full details, you're probably much better off reading the complete press release, but suffice to say, the more we think we know about the laws of the Universe, the more we realize we have left to learn...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Planned US Commercial Spaceports

AP Science Writer, Alicia Chang, tells a tale of US spaceports from coast to coast.

The New Mexico port is gaining the most attention, simply due to its affiliation with the Rocket Racing League and SpaceShip One. But my eye is on Jeff Bezos' planned venture in Oklahoma, Blue Origin.
Bezos has made it clear he is not interested in the commercialization of space. He wants to colonize the Solar System...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Discovery Heads To Assembly Building

Space Shuttle Discovery, still on schedule for a July launch, headed to the vehicle assembly building today. The trip only took about an hour-and-a-half. Once inside workers will begin the week long task of attaching to the (newly re-designed) external fuel tank and the twin solid rocket boosters.

After that, it will begin the long, slow crawl to the launch platform where it will be launched and then later docked with the International Space Station. It is delivering a German astronaut to ISS along with some supplies. It will also test an assortment of in-flight safety features such as tile damage detection and repair.

Although July 1st is the tentative launch date, NASA is keeping the entire month open as a launch window, just in case...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

H-Prize is Da Bomb

In an effort to spur the imagination of countless American youth, not to mention finding a cheap way to produce clean-burning hydrogen, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed legislation creating the "H-Prize."
The first person (or team) to develop this new "breakthrough technology" (within the next 10 years) will receive the grand prize of $10 million. Assorted other smaller prizes are also available through the same program. In all, about $35 million is up for grabs.

I don't know about America's Youth, but surely somebody will consider that incentive enough to change the world...

Texas Turns Its Back On Oil, Embraces Wind Power

Texas, known as much for its oil rig dotted landscape as it is for cowboys and cattle, is turning more and more to an alternative power source. Wind turbines are popping-up all over the Lone Star State like prairie dogs in the desert.
This latest project would slap 500 wind turbines in the Gulf of Mexico off Padre Island. With the exception of some complaints about dangers to migratory birds, the project seems sound.
But there have been other projects, large and small, that promised the wonders of wind power.
According to InfinitePower.org, Texas has a number of sites suitable for the development of wind turbine power parks. It also has a list of a half dozen wind turbine farms and assorted solar energy projects currently in use.

Overcoming our energy deficit is part of moving forward as a species. Getting into space requires massive amounts of energy. Traveling between the planets, much less the stars, requires even more massive amounts of energy.
Many people are saying it's time we turn to alternative energy sources.

At least, they are in Texas...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Enceladus Erupting Water; Could Harbor Life

That Saturn's tiny, icy moon called Enceladus was spouting water vapor is old news. That this water vapor comes from geyser-like vents of barely subsurface water pools heated to above freezing is shockingly new.

Not only does this make Enceladus ( just 498 km in diameter) one of only three places in the Solar System where active volcanism can be found--Jupiter's moon Io and Earth are the other two. (Neptune's moon Triton is also a possibility, but that's still unconfirmed.) It's also one of only four locations where liquid water is found--Earth, Mars and Europa being the other three. And these two facts make it one of a growing number of places which scientists believe may harbor life.
Check out this cool NASA video for more info. Or if you're feeling nostalgic, check out this old Voyager flyby movie from a couple decades back.

Life. The possibilities are seemingly endless...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

NASA Finds Yet Another Way To Extract Oxygen From Lunar Soil

It's great that NASA scientists, and researchers around the world for that matter, are discovering new and improved ways of extracting breathable oxygen--among other useful things-- from lunar soil.

If you didn't know, lunar soil is rich in oxides--molecules fused with oxygen. Break these molecules apart and the oxygen is released.
Some use carbon monoxide, others use a focused lens, but they all achieve the same spectacular results: Oxygen lunar citizens can breathe!

Now, if only NASA could just figure out how to get people to the Moon, they could put all this wonderful research to good use...

Old News Is Good News For Ansari

This story actually broke a month ago, but in case you missed it, it's worth noting.

Anousheh Ansari, a wealthy telecom entrepreneur and one of the key sponsors of the X-Prize, is undergoing training right now to be the next space tourist.

At around $20 million a trip, Ansari can afford it, and given her support of private space exploration it's sure she has the grit to get through the training.

Plus, she's a great role model for impressionable young girls everywhere....

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Leonard David Warns of 'Space Katrina'

Venerable Space Writer, Leonard David, warns of the dangers of (and apparent lack of governmental planning for) an asteroid strike.

This danger is nothing new. In fact, it's been with us throughout our evolution. Only chance has kept us relatively unscathed. Unless you count the time the human race was reduced to fewer than 10,000 souls (most likely caused by the Toba catastrophe.)

Anyway, David presents a good argument for public involvement. Petition your Congressman, Magistrate, Lord or whatever you have that passes for 'government' to learn more and force legislation to work on an international project to protect the Earth.
After all, it's the only one we have...

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Shuttle Team Infighting Continues

HobbySpace.com is reporting that engineers within NASA are in disagreement over the best re-fit of the shuttle's external fuel tank.
It's widely believed gangway-type ramps on the exterior of the tanks are causing the breakaway foam issue. There are various options to solving the problem--including flying the ship 'as-is.'
They have yet to decide which system will be the best for the fleet.
Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-115) in the meantime, is still tentatively scheduled for a July launch.
As is...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Build a Lunar Lander, Win $2.5 Million

NASA and the X-Prize Foundation have teamed up to spearhead a new Lunar Lander centennial Challenge worth $2.5 million to the first team to design, build and demonstrate a lunar Lander.
There will be two stages to the challenge, each designed to test different capabilities of the craft. Each Lander must hover, land and reach low-Moon-orbit.

It's hoped the partnership will procure a new and better craft faster than the traditional method, which hasn't worked well for quite some time.
Other centennial Challenges include re-designing the astronaut glove; building a space-elevator-type tether; extracting Oxygen from moon dirt; and systems to beam power from point-to-point.

Watch the Huygens Film

NASA has released a five-minute-movie, time-elapsed film of the descent of the Huygens Probe onto Titan.
Saturn's tiny moon has been getting a lot of attention lately from both Huygens and the Cassini craft that got it there.
And actually watching film of the craft viewing the red atmosphere, focusing on the ever-closing landscape, and then thudding to a stop on the surface, seems worth every bit the cost...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

DARPA Ups the Ante With Latest Challenge

Fresh from the stunning success of their first Challenge, DARPA(Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-essentially the US government military gear lab) is now pushing for a robot vehicle that can dodge other drivers, obey traffic laws and find its way through twisty-turning city streets.
This latest Challenge is set for 2007, but word has been spreading around the 'Net for months. Ever since DARPA essentially "self-leaked" it in a survey e-mail sent to earlier contestants.

When DARPA set their first challenge, it was incredible that teams even finished. But they learned from their mistakes; they were driven and aggressive. They enjoyed the challenge of achieving success, just for the spirit of it.

It seems likely the next set of challengers--everyone from Cal-tech to MIT to Stanford (last year's winner) to anybody with the brains and guts to give it a try--will amaze us as well.

Monday, May 01, 2006

A Great One Goes Away: Eileen Collins Bids NASA Adieu

CNN has been reporting, astronaut, pilot, scientist and adventurer, Eileen Collins, 49, announced today she was resigning her position with NASA in order to spend more time with her family.

She can be commended for her loyalty to her family as she was loyal to this country, through its space program by being the first woman to pilot a shuttle, first pilot to link with Mir, first female commander in the 1999 Columbia mission to launch the Chandra X-Ray Telescope and for being(according to STS-93 Mission Specialist Michel Tognini and others) a pretty nice person to hang around with.

Eileen Collins, we salute you! But, at least now there's room for the next record-breaking female astronaut...(Damaris, I'm looking at you...)