Volunteers spend 60 days in bed... for space science!

Yesterday, 12 adults in Cologne, Germany climbed into special beds where they will remain for 60 days to help scientists better understand the impact of longterm space flights on the human body. Read the rest

Absolutely spectacular first-ever air-to-air images of supersonic jets' shockwaves interacting

For a decade, NASA scientists have worked on an air-to-air photographic technology that will be used to collect data for the agency's next-generation supersonic airplane project. They've just released these absolutely astonishing "first air-to-air images of supersonic shockwave interaction in flight."

“We never dreamt that it would be this clear, this beautiful," says NASA scientist J.T. Heineck.

From NASA:

The images feature a pair of T-38s from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, flying in formation at supersonic speeds. The T-38s are flying approximately 30 feet away from each other, with the trailing aircraft flying about 10 feet lower than the leading T-38. With exceptional clarity, the flow of the shock waves from both aircraft is seen, and for the first time, the interaction of the shocks can be seen in flight.

“We’re looking at a supersonic flow, which is why we’re getting these shockwaves,” said Neal Smith, a research engineer with AerospaceComputing Inc. at NASA Ames’ fluid mechanics laboratory.

“What’s interesting is, if you look at the rear T-38, you see these shocks kind of interact in a curve,” he said. “This is because the trailing T-38 is flying in the wake of the leading aircraft, so the shocks are going to be shaped differently. This data is really going to help us advance our understanding of how these shocks interact...”

While NASA has previously used the schlieren photography technique to study shockwaves, the AirBOS 4 flights featured an upgraded version of the previous airborne schlieren systems, allowing researchers to capture three times the amount of data in the same amount of time.

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Astronaut's magnificent photo of SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule approaching the International Space Station

NASA astronaut Anne McClain captured this astonishing image of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule approaching her temporary residence, the International Space Station. "The dawn of a new era in human spaceflight," McClain tweeted with the photo.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon, containing supplies rather than humans for this test, docked at the ISS yesterday morning and the hatch was opened a few hours ago. From NASA:

(The mission, called) Demo-1 is the first flight test of a space system designed for humans built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership. The mission also marks a significant step toward returning to the nation the capability to launch astronauts on a U.S.-built spacecraft from U.S. soil.

“It’s an exciting evening,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said after the launch. “What today really represents is a new era in spaceflight. We’re looking forward to being one of many customers in a robust commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit.”

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Elon Musk's SpaceX plans NASA test launch Saturday

NASA and SpaceX have completed thousands of hours of tests to prepare for this unmanned test flight to the International Space Station.

New US dollar coin honors Native Americans' contributions to the space program

The latest addition to the US Mint's Native American $1 Coin series celebrates "American Indians in the Space Program." The heads-side of the coin still features Sacagawea. From Space.com:

The reverse features Mary Golda Ross, the first known Native American woman to become an engineer. Ross' work for Lockheed Martin helped advance the Agena rocket stage used by NASA for rendezvous and docking trials during the Gemini program in the 1960s.

The tails-side also depicts an Atlas-Agena rocket lifting off and, peering down from the top of the coin, a spacesuited astronaut. The Mint describes the latter as being "symbolic of Native American astronauts, including John Herrington (mission specialist on the 2002 space shuttle Endeavour visit to the International Space Station)..."

"The nice thing is when something like this comes out, it opens up people to something they did not know about before and people who are really curious will go and learn more about it," explained Herrington. "They might learn about Jerry Elliott [of Osage and Cherokee heritage], who worked in Mission Control during the Apollo program and was part of the team that won the Presidential Medal of Freedom for the return of Apollo 13."

"Or Mary Ross, who was honored with the Ely S. Parker Award, the highest award that AISES, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, gives out for contributions to math, science and engineering in the native community," he said. "She was one of the original people at Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works."

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Incredible video of space station flying in front of the moon

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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NASA reaches the farthest target ever

NASA's New Horizons space probe passed by Ultima Thule, a tiny icy world four billion miles from the sun. It's the farthest target that humans have ever reached and will give scientists insight into the earliest days of our solar system. From NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory:

"New Horizons performed as planned today, conducting the farthest exploration of any world in history — 4 billion miles from the Sun," said Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "The data we have look fantastic and we're already learning about Ultima from up close. From here out the data will just get better and better!"

Images taken during the spacecraft's approach — which brought New Horizons to within just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of Ultima at 12:33 a.m. EST — revealed that the Kuiper Belt object may have a shape similar to a bowling pin, spinning end over end, with dimensions of approximately 20 by 10 miles (32 by 16 kilometers). Another possibility is Ultima could be two objects orbiting each other. Flyby data have already solved one of Ultima's mysteries, showing that the Kuiper Belt object is spinning like a propeller with the axis pointing approximately toward New Horizons. This explains why, in earlier images taken before Ultima was resolved, its brightness didn't appear to vary as it rotated. The team has still not determined the rotation period.

As the science data began its initial return to Earth, mission team members and leadership reveled in the excitement of the first exploration of this distant region of space.

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NASA makes cool space mission posters that reference pop culture

So, get this. For many years now, NASA has been putting out some really fun posters to bring awareness to their space missions. They reference everything from Star Trek to Star Wars and lots in-between.

Bored Panda writes:

Since the very first International Space Station mission in 2000, NASA has been creating expedition posters usually featuring a group photo of the crew. These posters were used to advertise expeditions and were also hung in NASA facilities and other government organizations. However, when astronauts got bored of the standard group photos they decided to spice things up a bit.

They call them "cringy" but I love them. I think they're fun and creative.

Here's a few of them (more here):

images via NASA, lead image cropped to fit Read the rest

NASA got hacked

It seems that we can't have nice, unhacked things. According to Gizmodo, someone has hacked NASA's personnel database to gain access to social security numbers and other personal information of the space agency's staff.

News of the security breach was only disseminated via memo to NASA's employees on December 18th, despite the fact that the agency became aware of the hack back on October 23rd.

From Gizmodo:

According to the memo, NASA is working with federal investigators to determine the extent of the breach and who might be responsible. It said that servers were accessed that contained the personal information of employees that worked at the agency between July 2006 and October 2018. The message was sent to inform employees to take the necessary precautions to prevent possible identity theft. It seems that investigators still haven’t narrowed down the employees who may have been effected, however the agency promised to notify individuals as that information becomes available.

When contacted for comment by Gizmodo, a NASA spokesperson could not say exactly how many employees’ information was potentially exposed, but they did confirm that the agency “does not believe that any agency missions were jeopardized by the intrusions.”

If anyone knows who's responsible for the hack, they're keeping their mouths shut about it. Hacking's so hot right now -- the breach could have been pulled off by anyone from a code-savvy lone-acting lady at a coffee shop to a high-falootin' government sponsored collective in Eastern Europe. Also, China. It'll be interesting to see what, if anything, is done with information that was obtained during the hack. Read the rest

Voyager 2 has entered interstellar space!

NASA's Voyager 2 space probe has officially left our solar system and entered interstellar space. Now more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from Earth, the spacecraft has crossed the boundary of the bubble-like heliosphere around the planets and is no longer touched by the plasma wind from our sun. Voyager 2's twin Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012 and continues to send back valuable scientific data via the Deep Space Network.

From NASA:

“I think we’re all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “This is what we've all been waiting for. Now we’re looking forward to what we’ll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause.”

Voyager 2 launched in 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1, and both have traveled well beyond their original destinations. The spacecraft were built to last five years and conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn. However, as the mission continued, additional flybys of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, proved possible. As the spacecraft flew across the solar system, remote-control reprogramming was used to endow the Voyagers with greater capabilities than they possessed when they left Earth. Their two-planet mission became a four-planet mission. Their five-year lifespans have stretched to 41 years, making Voyager 2 NASA’s longest running mission.

The Voyager story has impacted not only generations of current and future scientists and engineers, but also Earth's culture, including film, art and music.

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Listen to the "sounds" of wind on Mars for the first time ever

For the first time, we can hear the "sounds" of wind on Mars as captured by the scientific instruments on NASA's InSight robotic lander. From NASA:

"Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat," said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California...

Two very sensitive sensors on the spacecraft detected these wind vibrations: an air pressure sensor inside the lander and a seismometer sitting on the lander's deck, awaiting deployment by InSight’s robotic arm. The two instruments recorded the wind noise in different ways. The air pressure sensor, part of the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem (APSS), which will collect meteorological data, recorded these air vibrations directly. The seismometer recorded lander vibrations caused by the wind moving over the spacecraft's solar panels, which are each 7 feet (2.2 meters) in diameter and stick out from the sides of the lander like a giant pair of ears.

image: "One of two Mars InSight's 7-foot (2.2 meter) wide solar panels was imaged by the lander's Instrument Deployment Camera, which is fixed to the elbow of its robotic arm." (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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Striking new selfies from the InSight lander on Mars

Since the InSight robotic lander touched down on Mars last week, engineers have been putting its scientific instruments through their paces. This included extending the lander's 6 foot (2 meter) robotic arm that will be used to deploy instruments and take images of the Martian surface.

"Today we can see the first glimpses of our workspace," said mission principal investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

People, these images are from the surface of Mars! MARS!

NASA's Mars InSight Flexes Its Arm (NASA)

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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

Incredible images of NASA spacecraft's arrival at asteroid this morning

After traveling two billion miles over more than two years, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has arrived at asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft will survey the asteroid, collect a sample, and bring it back home in 2023. From NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona:

This series of images taken by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows Bennu in one full rotation from a distance of around 50 miles (80 km). The spacecraft’s PolyCam camera obtained the thirty-six 2.2-millisecond frames over a period of four hours and 18 minutes.

Below is a set of images compiled during OSIRIS-REx's approach. Learn more at: ISIRIS-REx: Asteroid Sample Return Mission.

From NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona:

From Aug. 17 through Nov. 27 the spacecraft’s PolyCam camera imaged Bennu almost daily as the spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km) toward the asteroid. The final images were obtained from a distance of around 40 miles (65 km). During this period, OSIRIS-REx completed four maneuvers slowing the spacecraft’s velocity from approximately 1,100 mph (491 m/sec) to 0.10 mph (0.04 m/sec) relative to Bennu, which resulted in the slower approach speed at the end of the video.

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Earth defenseless: former astronaut seeks to stop 'city killer' asteroids

"For God's sake, fund it as a mainline program. Don't put it in yet another competition with science," Russell "Rusty" Schweickart insisted. "This is a public safety program." Read the rest

Pens painted like iconic space race rockets

Retro 51 has issued this handsome series of rocket pens that celebrate NASA's launch vehicles of the space race era. The line includes a Mercury-Redstone, Gemini-Titan II, and the Apollo-Saturn V that carried all the astronauts who traveled to the moon. (No word on whether the pens work upside down.) From Space.com:

The Mercury and Gemini pens retail for $50 each. The Apollo pen is priced at $60.

The pens are also offered as a boxed set with matching serial numbers for $170.

Retro 51 will be donating a portion of the proceeds from each pen to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF). Over the course of the past three decades, the Foundation has awarded more than $4.5 million to more than 500 U.S. college students excelling in science, technology, mathematics and engineering degrees.

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NASA InSight robot lander's amazing first images from Mars

After sticking a perfect landing on the Martian surface this afternoon, NASA's InSight robot lander has successfully deployed its solar panels. Tomorrow, InSight will fire up its scientific instruments and get to work collecting data about the planet's interior. From NASA/JPL-Caltech:

NASA's InSight has sent signals to Earth indicating that its solar panels are open and collecting sunlight on the Martian surface. NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter relayed the signals, which were received on Earth at about 5:30 p.m. PST (8:30 p.m. EST). Solar array deployment ensures the spacecraft can recharge its batteries each day. Odyssey also relayed a pair of images showing InSight's landing site.

"The InSight team can rest a little easier tonight now that we know the spacecraft solar arrays are deployed and recharging the batteries," said Tom Hoffman, InSight's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which leads the mission. "It's been a long day for the team. But tomorrow begins an exciting new chapter for InSight: surface operations and the beginning of the instrument deployment phase..."

In the coming days, the mission team will unstow InSight's robotic arm and use the attached camera to snap photos of the ground so that engineers can decide where to place the spacecraft's scientific instruments. It will take two to three months before those instruments are fully deployed and sending back data.

In the meantime, InSight will use its weather sensors and magnetometer to take readings from its landing site at Elysium Planitia — its new home on Mars.

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