What's your favorite space probe up to this month?

Since October of 2010, "What's Up In the Solar System" has provided monthly updates on the various locations of humanity's many space probes. The picture above is for September 2013. It's a nice reminder of two sort of mind blowing facts. First, we have a LOT more probes out there than you probably remember off the top of your head, all collecting data and representing on behalf of this planet. Second, almost half those probes are clustered around two places — the Earth and Mars. We have come so far. We still have so far to go.

The search for a greener rocket fuel

Hydrazine has powered rockets since WWII. Unfortunately, it's also highly toxic. Researchers in the U.S. and Sweden are working to create a better alternative, and may have a couple new fuels that could do the same job with less risk.

NASA had Apollo-era plans to send humans to Mars and Venus

In an alternate universe — one where Americans had a LOT more enthusiasm for spending money on massive space projects than we've ever actually demonstrated — the 1970s and 1980s might have been the era of manned missions to Mars and Venus. Amy Shira Teitel writes about how this could have been possible, using only the now-antiquated technology that got us to the Moon and back.

Voyager I: Maybe still in our solar system, maybe not

Call it Schrödinger's space probe: Voyager I may or may not have left our Solar System. Some of the information the probe has collected suggests that it's slipped the surly bonds of the Sun, while other incoming data leaves scientists believing it hasn't yet crossed that boundary. Both Xeni and I have written about this in the last couple years. At Nature, Alexandra Witze explains why we probably won't know exactly when Voyager leaves the Solar System. Instead, we'll only figure it out when the probe is well past the System limits sign.

Astronaut Luca Parmitano's first-person account of almost drowning in space

Who needs coffee when you have this little horror story to wake you up in the morning? Money quote: "I think the liquid is too cold to be sweat, and more importantly, I can feel it increasing."

Art at the intersection of archaeology and space geekery

Ancient Egyptians made some really nice jewelry out of meteorites.

NASA sells off shuttle launch platforms

Here's something new for the BoingBoing evil lair collection — NASA is selling the massive platforms that used to move spacecraft from the hangar to the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center. From The Guardian:

The platforms provided power and umbilical connections to Apollo and the shuttles, and had open sections for flames and rocket exhaust to pass through. "At this point Nasa is looking to gauge interest for potential use of the [platforms] and concepts for potential use," spokeswoman Tracy Young said. Proposals are due by 6 September.

I'm sure you all have some good ideas.

EDIT: I previously understood this story to mean that the whole platform/crawler system was for sale. That appears to be incorrect. You can't have the tread-wheeled vehicle. NASA will be using that. But you can buy the platform that sat on top of the vehicle.

See a star explode with your bare eyes

Now, to temper this awesome news with a bit of harsh reality: Nova Delphini is not a supernova and it's not going to be as bright an object as you're probably imagining. Discover's Corey Powell has instructions for how to spot it (it probably won't be super obvious, especially if you're in a city) and galleries of photos, just in case you can't see it yourself.

Astronaut soup


Here's the crew of the Apollo 1 relaxing poolside as they practice their water landings. You shoulda seen Grissom's cannonball.

Apollo 1 crew practicing a water landing in 1966. [Collective History]

The Moon's mysterious dust

I'd never seen this NASA photo of Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan before. It was taken after one of his three moonwalks with crewmate Harrison Schmitt, though you could be forgiven for assuming that Cernan just came in from a shift at the coal mine rather than a jaunt across the surface of the Moon.

At the Life, Unbounded blog, Caleb Scharf writes about the Moon dust you can see clinging to Cernan, describing it as sticky, abrasive, and gunpowder-scented. It's also not something we totally understand yet — at least, we still have a lot to learn about how Moon dust behaves on the Moon. On September 6, NASA is launching a satellite to study this very phenomenon. One thing it might figure out: Whether electrically charged particles of Moon dust might form an extremely thin and vanishingly temporary "atmosphere" that hovers and falls over the Moon's surface.

Ariel Waldman on hacking science

Ariel Waldman is an open science pioneer, and we are delighted she will speak at our Boing Boing: Ingenuity theatrical experience on Sunday, August 18, in San Francisco! Not only that, but Ariel has been tirelessly working with us to orchestrate the Boing Boing Ingenuity: Data Driven hack day taking place the day before the live show.

As creator of Spacehack, lead instigator of the global Science Hack Day, and a "Future for Good" Fellow at Institute for the Future, Ariel is dedicated to instilling a sense of wonder, curiosity, and passion about science, and empowering everyone to get involved in scientific research. Ariel was recently honored by the White House as a "Champion of Change" dedicated to "increasing public engagement in science and science literacy." Above, watch Ariel talk open science in a recent interview for the Syfy channel.

Not going to be at Boing Boing: Ingenuity in person? We'll be sharing both days of the Boing Boing: Ingenuity experience through video and other media on the site starting this weekend and continuing over the coming weeks!

Boing Boing: Ingenuity in partnership with Ford C-Max.

Happy birthday to Neil Armstrong

Steve Jurvetson (of venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson) posts this photograph of himself with "the true Armstrong hero," on the occasion of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong's birthday -- which was yesterday, August 5, same as mine! From Steve's post:

At Kelly's house, I had the chance to ask him a question about the first landing on the moon that provoked a response that seemed poignant and awe-inspiring.

I asked him, of all of the systems and stages of the mission, which did he worry about the most? He had spoken about the frequently failing autopilot... the reliance on a global network of astronomers to spot solar flares in time to get the warning out... the onboard computers being less powerful than a Furby...

Read the rest

Mars Rover mission team at JPL celebrates a birthday

Photo: Two of the first images transmitted back by Curiosity, as seen on monitors at JPL 20 minutes after the rover landed on Mars. (Xeni Jardin)


One year ago today, a one-ton, SUV-sized spacecraft "blasted into the Mars atmosphere at more than 13,000 miles an hour, deployed a supersonic parachute, fired eight rocket engines, unfurled a giant sky crane and lowered itself to the Martian soil." PBS NewsHour's Jenny Marder has a post up today looking back at that incredible milestone. Yours truly was there, and it was an amazing thing to witness. (HT: Aileen Graef)

X-ray of a space suit

Secret systems inside space suits x ray shoulders 69833 600x450 1

The above image is an x-ray of an experimental space suit from 1968. This x-ray and others are on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum as part of "Suited for Space," a special exhibit about the history of astronaut outerwear. (via National Geographic)

Onion accurately predicts GOP opposition to anti-asteroid initiative


Congressional Republicans are fighting Obama's plan to put a base on the moon and use it to launch an asteroid-capture program which would give NASA some practice in deflecting future asteroid-strikes -- as well as setting the stage for more ambitious missions, such as one to Mars. This whole kerfuffle was predicted by the Onion, two years ago, in a story called "Republicans Vote To Repeal Obama-Backed Bill That Would Destroy Asteroid Headed For Earth."

Read the rest