Star Trek Starfleet insignia found on Mars

The high resolution imaging science experiment (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this image in the Red Planet's Hellas Planitia region. According to the University of Arizona researchers who operate the HiRISE camera for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, shapes like this "are the result of a complex story of dunes, lava, and wind." But they also note that "enterprising viewers will make the discovery that these features look conspicuously like a famous logo."

They add that it's a coincidence, but we know better.

"Dune Footprints in Hellas" (University of Arizona)

Full image below depicts area 5 km across:

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At-a-glance map of current planetary exploration spacecraft

Emily Lakdawalla and her colleagues at one of my favorite science nonprofits The Planetary Society prepared this fascinating map titled "Where We Are: An At-A-Glance Spacecraft Locator." As William S. Burroughs once said, "This is the space age and we are here to go." Read the rest

NASA opening International Space Station to tourists

NASA announced today that the International Space Station is now open to private astronauts for commercial business and, yes, tourism. It ain't budget travel, that's for sure. Kenneth Chang writes in the New York Times:

NASA is not selling space vacations directly, but allowing commercial companies to arrange such trips. The agency plans to charge the companies about $35,000 a night for use of the station’s facilities, including air and water.

The tourist companies would charge much more to cover the rocket flights to and from space, and to make a profit.

Bigelow Aerospace of North Las Vegas, Nev., has already reserved four launches. The company will use SpaceX, the rocket company run by Elon Musk, to take private astronauts. Each flight would have four seats.

Axiom Space of Houston is also arranging flights and hopes to fly tourists next year.

From NASA:

Pricing released Friday is specific to commercial and marketing activities enabled by the new directive, reflects a representative cost to NASA, and is designed to encourage the emergence of new markets. As NASA learns how these new markets respond, the agency will reassess the pricing and amount of available resources approximately every six months and make adjustments as necessary.

To qualify, commercial and marketing activities must either:

• require the unique microgravity environment to enable manufacturing, production or development of a commercial application;

• have a connection to NASA’s mission; or

• support the development of a sustainable low-Earth orbit economy.

NASA’s directive enabling commercial and marketing activities aboard the space station addresses manufacturing, production, transportation, and marketing of commercial resources and goods, including products intended for commercial sale on Earth.

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Astonishing X-ray image of the whole sky

NASA released this incredible image of the sky that depicts 22 months of X-ray data captured from the International Space Station using the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER). From NASA:

“Even with minimal processing, this image reveals the Cygnus Loop, a supernova remnant about 90 light-years across and thought to be 5,000 to 8,000 years old,” said Keith Gendreau, the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We’re gradually building up a new X-ray image of the whole sky, and it’s possible NICER’s nighttime sweeps will uncover previously unknown sources.”

NICER’s primary mission is to determine the size of dense remains of dead stars called neutron stars — some of which we see as pulsars — to a precision of 5%. These measurements will finally allow physicists to solve the mystery of what form of matter exists in their incredibly compressed cores. Pulsars, rapidly spinning neutron stars that appear to “pulse” bright light, are ideally suited to this “mass-radius” research and are some of NICER’s regular targets.

Other frequently visited pulsars are studied as part of NICER's Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) experiment, which uses the precise timing of pulsar X-ray pulses to autonomously determine NICER’s position and speed in space. It’s essentially a galactic GPS system. When mature, this technology will enable spacecraft to navigate themselves throughout the solar system — and beyond.

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Beautiful book, augmented reality, and film about stunning rocket launches

In the realm of rocket geeks and space nerds, filmmakers MaryLiz Bender and Ryan Chylinski have dream jobs. The pair have the equivalent of "backstage passes" to SpaceX, NASA and ULA rocket launches where they capture and share breathtaking videos that convey the power, risk, and thrill of space exploration. The work of their studio, called Cosmic Perspective, is visceral, wondrous, and inspiring. Now Bender and Chylinski are creating a fascinating art book enhanced with augmented reality along with a companion short film "documenting humanity's grand adventure to space." Titled "Guidance Internal: Lessons from Astronauts," the book, film, and their touring Cosmic Perspective show lies at the intersection of science and art "to inspire hope, elevate empathy, and bring people together." They've launched a Kickstarter to support the project and it looks, well, stellar.

From Kickstarter:

The art and the pages in this book come to life immediately teleporting you to rocket launch pads, directly to our intimate interviews with astronauts and the people sending missions to space. We fuse art with science blending our love of high-dynamic range photography with compelling video to capture the emotion, excitement, and gravity of these events. We also give you a front-row seat to transformative performances by artists inspired by these experiences.

We place autonomous high-resolution and ultra-high speed video cameras at the launchpads of SpaceX, NASA, and ULA. These are cameras we place well ahead of the liftoff, design to survive the elements and, since no humans can be anywhere near the rockets, trigger without any human interaction.

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Send your name to Mars on NASA's next rover

NASA invites you to enter into a drawing to have your name sent to Mars on a chip.

NASA:

Although it will be years before the first humans set foot on Mars, NASA is giving the public an opportunity to send their names — stenciled on chips — to the Red Planet with NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which represents the initial leg of humanity’s first round trip to another planet. The rover is scheduled to launch as early as July 2020, with the spacecraft expected to touch down on Mars in February 2021.

The rover, a robotic scientist weighing more than 2,300 pounds (1,000 kilograms), will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet's climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

"As we get ready to launch this historic Mars mission, we want everyone to share in this journey of exploration," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington. "It’s an exciting time for NASA, as we embark on this voyage to answer profound questions about our neighboring planet, and even the origins of life itself.”

The opportunity to send your name to Mars comes with a souvenir boarding pass and "frequent flyer" points. This is part of a public engagement campaign to highlight missions involved with NASA's journey from the Moon to Mars. Miles (or kilometers) are awarded for each "flight," with corresponding digital mission patches available for download.

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NASA launching living things into deep space for the first time (on purpose) in nearly 50 years

Next year, NASA's Artemis 1 mission will carry a baker's dozen of small cubesats to space, including one that's home to a colony of yeast cells. That cubesat, BioSentinel, will orbit the sun to help scientists understand how space radiation affects living organisms outside of Low Earth Orbit. NASA hasn't purposely sent any lifeforms beyond Low Earth Orbit since the last Apollo moon landing in 1972. (Purposely is a key word because of course every probe launched carries some accidental microbial contamination.) From Space.com:

But Apollo 17 lasted less than two weeks. BioSentinel will gather data for nine to 12 months, opening a window on the long-term effects of deep-space radiation on DNA and DNA repair...

The 30-lb. (14 kilograms) satellite will carry two different varieties of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae: the normal "wild type," which is quite radiation-resistant, and a mutant type, which is much more sensitive because it can't repair its DNA nearly as well.

"Importantly, yeast's DNA damage-repair process is highly similar to that of humans, making it a robust translational model," NASA officials wrote on the BioSentinel fact sheet. "BioSentinel's results will be critical for interpreting the effects of space radiation exposure, reducing the risk associated with long-term human exploration and validating existing models of the effects of space radiation on living organisms."

From NASA:

BioSentinel’s microfluidics card (seen above), designed at NASA Ames, will be used to study the impact of interplanetary space radiation on yeast. Once in orbit, the growth and metabolic activity of the yeast will be measured using a 3-color LED detection system and a metabolic indicator dye.

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NASA probe spots the final lunar resting place of the crashed Israeli spacecraft

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:

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.

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New song from Brian Eno's forthcoming expanded edition of "Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks"

In 1983, Brian Eno with collaborators Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois released "Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks," a stunning ambient score for Al Reinert's glorious space documentary "For All Mankind." On July 19, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Eno is reissuing that record accompanied by 11 new tracks -- five composed by Brian Eno, three from Lanois, and three from Roger Eno. The new collection is titled "For All Mankind." Above is a video for one of the new tracks, Brian Eno's "Like I Was a Spectator."

More details in this announcement.

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Auction: Apollo 11 lunar landing manual that flew to the moon and back

The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Timeline Book was a key onboard reference for the heroic astronauts who made the first moon landing on July 20, 1969. Fifty years later, it'll go up for auction at Christies this summer as part of their sale "One Giant Leap: Celebrating Space Exploration 50 Years after Apollo 11." It's expected to fetch between $7 and $9 million. And yes, it really should be in the Smithsonian. According to Reuters, it's being sold someone who purchased it from astronaut Buzz Aldrin. From Christies:

Aldrin had written Eagle’s coordinates in the Sea of Tranquility on page 10 of the book — the first writing by a human being on a celestial body other than Earth....

The Timeline Book narrates the entire Eagle voyage from inspection, undocking, lunar surface descent and ascent, to the rendezvous with Michael Collins aboard the Command Module in lunar orbit. The book contains nearly 150 annotations and completion checkmarks made in real-time by Aldrin and Armstrong. Traces of what appears to be lunar dust are on the transfer list pages that detail the movement of lunar rock samples and equipment from Eagle to Columbia.

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Watch astronauts on the moon sped up for laffs

Cue "Yakety Sax."

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Cute, floating cube robots arrive at the International Space Station

A few days ago, two little robots arrived at the International Space Station to help astronauts with simple tasks. Called Astrobees, the cube bots are 12" x 12" x 12" and propelled around the microgravity environment by small fans. The bots are named Honey and Bumble. A third, Queen, remains on Earth. From NASA:

Working autonomously or via remote control by astronauts, flight controllers or researchers on the ground, the robots are designed to complete tasks such as taking inventory, documenting experiments conducted by astronauts with their built-in cameras or working together to move cargo throughout the station. In addition, the system serves as a research platform that can be outfitted and programmed to carry out experiments in microgravity - helping us to learn more about how robotics can benefit astronauts in space.

(via Space.com)

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Watch: Lieutenant Uhura's NASA recruitment film from 1977

After Star Trek was cancelled, Nichelle Nichols, aka Lieutenant Uhura, volunteered her time to help NASA recruit women and minorities to join the space agency. The 1977 video above is from that era. Nichols' impact can't be overstated. From Wikipedia:

Among those recruited (by Nichols' NASA special project) were Dr. Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, and United States Air Force Colonel Guion Bluford, the first African-American astronaut, as well as Dr. Judith Resnik and Dr. Ronald McNair, who both flew successful missions during the Space Shuttle program before their deaths in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986. Recruits also included Charles Bolden, the former NASA administrator and veteran of four shuttle missions, Frederick D. Gregory, former deputy administrator and a veteran of three shuttle missions and Lori Garver, former deputy administrator.

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The Voyager Golden Record deconstructed on the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast

The new episode of the always-fascinating Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast is a play-through of the Voyager Golden Record, the iconic message for extraterrestrials attached to the Voyager I and II space probes launched in 1977. Listen below.

The Golden Record tells a story of our planet expressed in sounds, images, and science: Earth’s greatest music from myriad peoples and eras, from Bach to Blind Willie Johnson to Chuck Berry, Benin percussion to Solomon Island panpipes to, yes, Mozart's The Magic Flute.

This wonderful episode of Twenty Thousand Hertz features insightful track-by-track commentary by science and philosophy writer Timothy Ferris, producer of the original Voyager Record, and a rare interview with Linda Salzman-Sagan who compiled the greetings on the record.

Two years ago, my friends Timothy Daly, Lawrence Azerrad, and I released the Voyager Golden Record on vinyl for the first time as a lavish box set. Our project's resonance with the public, and the Grammy that we were honored to receive for it, are really a testament to the majesty of the original record and the brilliance of its creators -- Ferris, Salzman-Sagan, Ann Druyan, Frank Drake, and of course Carl Sagan who directed the project.

The Voyager Golden Record 3xLP Vinyl Box Set and 2xCD-Book edition is available from Ozma Records.

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"How to take a picture of a black hole," a 2017 TED talk by grad student Katie Bouman who then helped make it happen

Yesterday, scientists revealed the first ever photo of a black hole. Three years ago, Katie Bouman, then a computer science grad student at MIT, led the development of a key algorithm that helped make this historical image possible. In the TED Talk above from 2017, she explained "How to Take a Picture of a Black Hole."

"No one of us could've done it alone," Bouman told CNN yesterday. "It came together because of lots of different people from many backgrounds."

In September, Bouman will start her teaching career as an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology.

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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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