China launching lunar spacecraft to test growing plants on the dark side of the Moon

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) Read the rest

Auction: the only moon rocks retrieved from the lunar surface that can be legally sold

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:

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.

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Jeff Bezos's new lunar lander

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).

From Space.com:

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.

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How to build a lunar base today!

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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Case of the missing moon rocks

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

NASA's gorgeous music video for Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune"

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:

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.

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Who owns the Moon?

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:

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.

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Humans have left 400,000 pounds of "garbage" on the moon

Humans have left approximately 400,000 pounds (181,000 kilograms) of "trash" on the lunar surface. That includes probes, rovers, landers, a metallic olive branch, a hammer and falcon feather (for a gravity experiment, image below), two golf balls, a javelin, a urine collection assembly (small), various rakes and hammer, a portrait of James Irwin, 100 $2 bills, flags, and so many more items. In fact, here is NASA's list of manmade objects on the moon, although it hasn't been updated in 6 years. From Space.com:

Although many people might call the odds and ends humans have left on the moon "garbage" (what else would you call a used urine-collection assembly?), NASA takes a kinder view.

Researchers can study these objects to see how their materials weathered the radiation and vacuum of space over time, (NASA chief historian William) Barry said. Moreover, some of the objects on the moon are still being used, including a laser-range reflector left by the Apollo 11 crew. [What Does the Top of the Moon Look Like?]

Researchers on Earth can ping this reflector with lasers, which allows them to measure the distance between Earth and the moon, according to NASA. These experiments helped scientists realize that the moon is moving away from the Earth at a rate of 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) a year, NASA reported.

The so-called trash left on the moon also has archaeological merit, Barry said. Future lunar visitors may want to view the old Apollo sites and see gear from NASA, the European Space Agency, the Russian space agency Roscosmos and other countries, Barry said.

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Vodafone and Nokia building 4G network for the moon

Vodafone Germany and Nokia are designing a 4G network for the moon. The network is meant to support PTScientists's "Mission to the Moon" that involves the Berlin-based company launching a lunar lander and two moon rovers aboard a SpaceX rocket in 2019, the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. (PTSScientists was one of the teams competing in the Google Lunar XPRIZE that's ending this month without a winner.) From Space.com:

Vodafone picked Nokia to build a space-worthy version of its Ultra Compact Network, one that will be the lightest ever made, at just 2.2 lbs. (1 kilogram) — no heavier than a bag of sugar, Vodafone representatives said in a statement.

"This project involves a radically innovative approach to the development of mobile network infrastructure," Vodafone Germany CEO Hannes Ametsreiter said in the same statement. "It is also a great example of an independent, multi-skilled team achieving an objective of immense significance through their courage, pioneering spirit and inventiveness."

Under the plan, PTScientists' ALINA lander will use the 4G network to beam the first live HD video feed from the surface of the moon. The signal, which will operate in the 1,800-MHz frequency band, "will be broadcast to a global audience via a deep space link that interconnects with the PTScientists server in the Mission Control Centre in Berlin," according to the statement.

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Quiz: pancake or moon?

Pancakes are delicious, and they can also look a lot like moons, as proven in Alternative Moons by Nadine Schlieper and Robert Pufleb. I tried my hand at making a few lunar flapjacks and gathering up some mouthwatering moons. Answers in the comments! Read the rest

It took 83 engines to get to the moon

Amy Shira Teitel of Vintage Space shares lots of cool facts about the golden age of space exploration. Here, she enumerates the engines (and motors) it took Apollo to get to the moon. Read the rest

ISS astronaut asked if he took home a piece of the moon

A beautiful exchange between returning starman Major Tim and a presumably tired and unprepared interviewer. Read the rest

Here's a moving video montage of the total eclipse

Now that eclipse mania has settled down a bit, were seeing a round of work by editors and artists who needed a little time to shape their images and video into something even more transcendent. Erick Oh's Totality is among the best of these. Read the rest

Celebrate Apollo 17’s 44th anniversary with this footage of astronauts singing on the Moon

Apollo 17—the last manned mission to the Moon—landed on the lunar surface on December 19, 1972. To celebrate, here’s some delightful footage of astronauts Eugene A. Cernan and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt singing as they hop around the Moon. Read the rest

How to see the extraordinary "supermoon" on Monday

On Monday November 14, we'll have the opportunity to see the full moon closer to Earth than its been since 1948, and won't be again until 2034. It will be a spectacular sight. From NASA:

The moon’s orbit around Earth is slightly elliptical so sometimes it is closer and sometimes it’s farther away. When the moon is full as it makes its closest pass to Earth it is known as a supermoon. At perigree — the point at which the moon is closest to Earth — the moon can be as much as 14 percent closer to Earth than at apogee, when the moon is farthest from our planet. The full moon appears that much larger in diameter and because it is larger shines 30 percent more moonlight onto the Earth....

The biggest and brightest moon for observers in the United States will be on Monday morning just before dawn. On Monday, Nov. 14, the moon is at perigee at 6:22 a.m. EST and “opposite” the sun for the full moon at 8:52 a.m. EST (after moonset for most of the US).

If you’re not an early riser, no worries. “I’ve been telling people to go out at night on either Sunday or Monday night to see the supermoon,” said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. “The difference in distance from one night to the next will be very subtle, so if it’s cloudy on Sunday, go out on Monday. Any time after sunset should be fine.

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Great moments in space history: farting on the moon

YouTuber Barb Ackue (get it?) was kind enough to upload an important moment in US history: Commander John Young complaining about flatulence while Apollo 16 was on the lunar surface. After working through some technical issues, Young says: Read the rest

A topographically accurate lunar globe designed with data From NASA

Oscar Lhermitte and Kudu's MOON lunar globe eclipses every other Kickstarter project currently underway.

MOON is the most accurate lunar globe, using NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter topographic data combined with electronic and mechanical engineering alongside careful craftsmanship in mold making.

MOON is unlike traditional lunar globes that uses 2D photographs or illustrations of the Moon.

1. it is a truly accurate 1/20 million replica of the Moon featuring all the craters, elevation and ridges in accurate 3D.

2. it has a ring of LED lights that revolves around the globe, constantly illuminating the correct face of the moon and recreating the lunar phases as seen from Earth.

The combination of the 3D terrain with a light source is what makes it unique. By projecting the light onto the Moon, all the craters, ridges and elevations are brought into relief by their shadows. This recreates the lunar features as we see them from Earth.

For the first time, MOON allows you to see the side not visible from Earth ("dark side of the Moon" or "far side" to be scientifically correct).

[via] Read the rest

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