Fifty years ago today, a Saturn V rocket launched with Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins on board. On July 19, Armstrong became the first human to step onto the moon. Above is almost five hours of CBS News's coverage of the historic Apollo 11 mission to the moon. And that's the way it was.
More: "Apollo 11 launch: Watch the most memorable moments from CBS News' coverage" Read the rest
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first human Moon landing on July 20, Vernacular photography collector Robert E. Jackson curated a lovely collection of vintage snapshots related to the Moon. I've always gotten a kick out of how TV viewers around the world used to snap photos of their screens to commemorate momentous moments.
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Trump’s moon mission threatened
Beneath a crater on the moon lies what could be the remains of a colossal, metal-rich asteroid that hit our moon 4 billion years ago.
From NY Mag:
It sits 180 miles beneath the South Pole-Aitken basin — one of the solar system’s largest impact craters, and the moon’s oldest, at over 4 billion years — a massive dent spanning some 1,550 miles on the far side of the moon. (It’s also where China landed its Chang’e 4 lunar rover in January.) Publishing in Geophysical Research Letters, the Baylor scientists have two theories for the origin of the huge subterranean blob. It could be the leftovers of dense oxides created in the last years when the moon’s surface was an ocean of magma — a theory that relies on the giant-impact hypothesis, when an impactor the size of Mars may have collided into a magma-covered Earth, ejecting magma into orbit that became the surface of the moon.
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Last month, Israeli non-profit SpaceIL's Beresheet probe made it to the lunar surface but sadly it wasn't a soft landing. Beresheet was the first private attempt at a lunar landing and they got pretty damn close. A couple weeks after the crash, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter orbited over the area and NASA has released images that show the impact site. From NASA:
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LROC took this image from 56 miles (90 kilometers) above the surface. The cameras captured a dark smudge, about 10 meters wide, that indicates the point of impact. The dark tone suggests a surface roughened by the hard landing, which is less reflective than a clean, smooth surface.
From so far away, LROC could not detect whether Beresheet formed a surface crater upon impact. It’s possible the crater is just too small to show up in photos. Another possibility is that Beresheet formed a small indent instead of a crater, given its low angle of approach (around 8.4 degrees relative to the surface), light mass (compared to a dense meteoroid of the same size), and low velocity (again, relative to a meteoroid of the same size; Beresheet’s speed was still faster than most speeding bullets).
The light halo around the smudge could have formed from gas associated with the impact or from fine soil particles blown outward during Beresheet’s descent, which smoothed out the soil around the landing site, making it highly reflective...
Most importantly, we knew the coordinates of the landing site within a few miles thanks to radio tracking of Beresheet, and we have 11 “before” images of the area, spanning a decade, and three “after” images.
“We must return to the Moon—this time to stay.”
On Sunday, UK-based backyard astrophotographer Szabolcs Nagy captured a series of images of the International Space Station transiting the moon and combined them in the captivating GIF above. Nagy's tools, seen below in the parking lot where he set up for the shoot, were a Skywatcher 250/1200 FlexTube Ddobson telescope and Zwo ASI224MC camera.
ISS: Extremely Good Lunar Transit (Space Station Guys)
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Starting Sunday evening, Jan. 20, 2019, North and South America will have a chance at seeing 2019's only total lunar eclipse, from start to finish.
Our Earth, Moon and Sun line up on Sunday night for the only total lunar eclipse of of the year. Catch it if you can. Read the rest
A cotton seed has germinated on the moon. The sprout is inside a canister on China's Chang’e 4 lander that touched down on the far side of the moon earlier this month. From The Guardian:
Plants have been grown previously on the International Space Station, but this is the first time a seed has sprouted on the moon. The ability to grow plants in space is seen as crucial for long-term space missions and establishing human outposts elsewhere in the solar system, such as Mars.
Harvesting food in space, ideally using locally extracted water, would mean astronauts could survive for far longer without returning to Earth for supplies...
Scientists from Chongqing University, who designed the “mini lunar biosphere” experiment, sent an 18cm bucket-like container holding air, water and soil.
Inside are cotton, arabidopsis – a small, flowering plant of the mustard family – and potato seeds, as well as fruit-fly eggs and yeast.
Images sent back by the probe show a cotton plant has grown well, but so far none of the other plants had sprouted, the university said.
Imaging the marketing opportunity for a cannabis company to sell space weed!
• China launching lunar spacecraft to test growing plants on the dark side of the Moon
• First images from China's probe that just landed on the dark side of the moon
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Earlier today, the China National Space Administration's Chang'e 4 landed a rover on the far side of the moon for the first time. Blocked from direct communication with the Earth, the lander and rover will depend on China's Queqiao communication satellite launched in May. From the New York Times:
“This is a major achievement technically and symbolically,” said Namrata Goswami, an independent analyst who wrote about space for the Defense Department’s Minerva Research Institute. “China views this landing as just a steppingstone, as it also views its future manned lunar landing, since its long-term goal is to colonize the moon and use it as a vast supply of energy.”
The place the probe is exploring, Dr. Goswami said, could become a future refueling base for missions deeper into space in the way “navies viewed coaling stations, for purposes of refueling and resupply.”
The instruments aboard the lander and the rover include cameras, ground-penetrating radar and spectrometers to help identify the composition of the area, which was formed by a meteorite. Scientists hope the rocks and dirt in the area will add to the understanding of the moon’s geology.
The lander will also conduct a biology experiment to see if plant seeds will germinate and silkworm eggs will hatch in the moon’s low gravity.
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Later this week, China plans to launch its Chang'e-4 spacecraft to the far side of the lunar surface. The aim is to land a rover on the dark side of the moon for the first time. Blocked from direct communication with the Earth, the lander and rover will depend on China's Queqiao communication satellite launched in May. From Scientific American:
The lander will also conduct the first radio astronomy experiments from the far side of the Moon—and the first investigations to see whether plants will grow in the low-gravity lunar environment...
The ultimate goal of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is to create a Moon base for future human exploration there, although it has not announced when that might happen.
One of (the experiments) will test whether potato and thale-cress (Arabidopsis) seeds sprout and photosynthesize in a sealed, climate-controlled environment in the low gravity on the lunar surface.
“When we take the step towards long-term human habitation on the Moon or Mars, we will need greenhouse facilities to support us, and will need to live in something like a biosphere,” says Anna-Lisa Paul, a horticultural scientist at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
(image: CNSA rendering of Chang'e 4 Rover on the Moon)
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In the United States, it's illegal to buy and sell moon rocks retrieved from the lunar surface during the Apollo missions. However, the law doesn't apply to the tiny moon pebbles seen above that a Soviet robotic probe drilled out of the lunar surface and sent back to Earth in 1970. In 1993, Sotheby's auctioned these "Soil Particles From Luna-16" off for $400,000. Now, they're going on the block again and expected to go for twice that amount or even more. According to Sotheby's, "the sale will mark just the second time that an actual piece of another world has ever been offered for public sale." From Collect Space
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The lunar samples were originally presented by the Soviet government to Nina Ivanovna Koroleva, the widow of Sergei Korolev, the "Chief Designer" of the Russian space program. Under Korolev's direction, the Soviet Union successfully put the world's first satellite into Earth orbit and launched the first human into space. His unexpected death in 1966 came before he could see the outcome of the space race to the moon.
Four years after Korolev died, the Soviets launched Luna 16, the first of three robotic lunar sample return missions. Touching down after the U.S. Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 astronauts had come and gone from the moon, Luna 16 deployed an extendable arm to drill and extract a core sample 14 inches (35 centimeters) deep. The 3.5 ounces (101 grams) of soil and rocks that it collected were then deposited into a capsule for their return to Earth.
Jeff Bezos's commercial spaceflight company Blue Origin is developing a lunar lander to deliver Amazon packages to the moon. Well, the first part is true and I'm sure the last part eventually will be too. The lander, currently in the concept development phase, is called Blue Moon. From Blue Origin:
Blue has joined leading space companies and agencies to support the creation of The Moon Race, a non-profit working to launch a competition for teams looking for a ride to the lunar surface. The goal is consistent with our aim to land large payloads on the Moon that can access and utilize the resources found there. We’re supporting this initiative, along with ESA, Airbus, and other entities seeking to foster the next generation of lunar exploration – with Blue Moon and New Glenn (the company's commercial launch vehicle).
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According to the Moon Race website, teams will be able to sign up in 2019, with prototypes due in 2020 and technology development – including a test in a lunar-like environment – targeted for some time in 2021. That would set the stage for a moon mission in for 2024. Teams will have the chance to apply for parallel technology streams in manufacturing, energy, resources and biology, contest organizers explained.
"We're excited to be a part of an international collaboration to build a sustained presence on the moon. #BlueMoon and #NewGlenn will help us get back to the moon, and this time to stay," Blue Origin said in a statement on Twitter.
Design studio Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell animated how it may be possible to build a lunar base with today's technology. They based the video on articles in New Space: The Journal of Space Entrepreneurship and Innovation. See you on the dark side?
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After the Apollo 11 moon landing nearly 50 years ago, the White House gifted tiny samples of moon rocks to all the 50 states and 135 countries. They were encased in acrylic and mounted on a wooden plaque. In 2002, Joseph Gutheinz, then a NASA investigator, realized that nearly all of them had vanished. Thanks to his persistence since then, there are only two missing lunar souvenirs of the 50 distributed in the US. From the AP:
NASA did not track their whereabouts after giving them to the Nixon administration for distribution, said chief historian Bill Barry, but added the space agency would be happy to see them located.
Gutheinz began his career as an investigator for NASA, where he found illicit sellers asking millions for rocks on the black market. Authentic moon rocks are considered national treasures and cannot legally be sold in the U.S., he said.
Many of the Apollo 11 rocks have turned up in unexpected places: with ex-governors in West Virginia and Colorado, in a military-artifact storage building in Minnesota and with a former crab boat captain from TV’s “Deadliest Catch” in Alaska.
In New York, officials who oversee the state museum have no record of that state’s Apollo 11 rock. In Delaware, the sample was stolen from its state museum on Sept. 22, 1977. Police were contacted, but it was never found.
"Moon rock hunter closes in on tracking down missing stones" (AP, thanks Bob Pescovitz!) Read the rest
The scientist/artists in NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio created this magnificent video to accompany a recent performance by the National Symphony Orchestra Pops of Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune." From NASA:
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The visuals were composed like a nature documentary, with clean cuts and a mostly stationary virtual camera. The viewer follows the Sun throughout a lunar day, seeing sunrises and then sunsets over prominent features on the Moon. The sprawling ray system surrounding Copernicus crater, for example, is revealed beneath receding shadows at sunrise and later slips back into darkness as night encroaches...
The visualization uses a digital 3D model of the Moon built from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter global elevation maps and image mosaics. The lighting is derived from actual Sun angles during lunar days in 2018.
A few days ago, we celebrated the 49th anniversary of the first Moon landing. But while the United States may have been the first to take that giant leap onto the surface and plant a flag, that doesn't mean the moon is a US colony. But the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that prevented a "land grab" on the Moon apparently doesn't address the exploitation of the Moon's resources. Space law professor Frans von der Dunk of the University of Nebraska explains over at Scientific American:
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Countries such as the United States and Luxembourg (as the gateway to the European Union) agree that the moon and asteroids are “global commons,” which means that each country allows its private entrepreneurs, as long as duly licensed and in compliance with other relevant rules of space law, to go out there and extract what they can, to try and make money with it. It’s a bit like the law of the high seas, which are not under the control of an individual country, but completely open to duly licensed law-abiding fishing operations from any country’s citizens and companies. Then, once the fish is in their nets, it is legally theirs to sell.
On the other hand, countries such as Russia and somewhat less explicitly Brazil and Belgium hold that the moon and asteroids belong to humanity as a whole. And therefore the potential benefits from commercial exploitation should somehow accrue for humanity as a whole—or at least should be subjected to a presumably rigorous international regime to guarantee humanity-wide benefits.