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.

The Lunar Library: nano-etched civilizational archives of 30m pages, designed to last for billions of years

The Arch Mission Foundation is nano-etching 30,000,000 pages' worth of "archives of human history and civilization, covering all subjects, cultures, nations, languages, genres, and time periods" onto 25 DVD-sized, 40-micron-thick discs that will be deposited on the surface of the moon in 2019 by the Beresheet lander. Read the rest

How to become a spaceship pilot

How do you become a spaceship pilot? Read the rest

NASA's unbelievably sadistic coloring book

It's the last day of the Apollo 11's Command Module tour's stay at Pittsburgh's Heinz History Center, and I enjoyed taking a look at the capsule that splashed down 50 years ago, returning NASA's moon-walkers to planet Earth.

What really caught my eye, though, was this coloring book in the NASA gift shop set up for the tour. What the hell, NASA? Read the rest

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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A surprise meteorite hit the moon during Monday's total lunar eclipse

During Monday's super wolf blood moon lunar eclipse, some observers noticed a tiny flash on the surface. Turns out that was a football-sized meteorite smashing into the western surface of the moon. This was the first time a meteorite impact was spotted during a total lunar eclipse. Now, scientists will study images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to hopefully find the new crater, perhaps as large as 33 feet across. From National Geographic:

An eagle-eyed viewer on Reddit spotted the potential impact during the eclipse and reached out to the r/space community to see if others could weigh in. The news spread quickly on social media, as people from across the path of totality posted their images and video of this tiny flicker of light...

“The Earth and the moon are in such close proximity that observing the impacts on the moon can help us learn a lot more about the frequency of impacts on Earth,” explains (University of Toronto planetary scientist Sara) Mazrouei, who recently authored a study detailing an ancient spike in large meteor bombardment on the moon, and thus on our planet.

...Seeing the aftermath of smaller impacts on airless worlds like the moon can help scientists learn about the effects of larger strikes on all kinds of worlds—including our own, Madiedo says.

“By knowing what happens with smaller impacts, you could know what could happen with larger impacts without really studying a large impact on Earth.”

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That first plant grown on the moon? Already dead.

On Monday, we reported that for the first time, a plant seed had germinated on the moon, an early experiment to test whether food could someday be grown on the moon to feed residents of a lunar base. The cotton sprout was inside a canister on China's Chang’e 4 lander that touched down on the far side of the moon earlier this month. Now, word that the first lunar plant has died. The little seedling froze to death during the lunar night. From GBTimes:

Liu Hanlong, head of the experiment at Chongqing University, said at a Chongqing government press conference on Tuesday that the temperature inside the 1-litre-capacity canister had reached -52 degrees Celsius and the experiment had ended.

According to Liu, the experiment did not carry a battery and could not continue environmental control during the lunar nighttime. The lack of battery was possibly due to mass constraints for the mission and the lander's own power demands...

"Although it is a biological payload for popularising science, it laid a foundation and technological support for our next step, that is, to build a lunar base for living," (Chongqing University professor and designer of the experiment) Xie (Genxin) said.

Previously:

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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Total lunar eclipse Sunday January 20 will be 'Super Blood Wolf Moon'

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

This is the first plant grown on the moon

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!

Previously:

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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SpaceX laid off 10% of its employees

Elon Musk's SpaceX let go 10% of its 6,000 person staff today. In May of last year, the company stated that it has had "many years" of continuing profitability and in recent weeks raised $273 million so far in a planned $500 million funding round.

"To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company," SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell wrote in an email to employees. "Either of these developments, even when attempted separately, have bankrupted other organizations. This means we must part ways with some talented and hardworking members of our team..."

From the Los Angeles Times:

SpaceX makes most of its money from commercial and national security satellite launches, as well as two NASA contracts, one a multibillion-dollar deal to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and the other up to $2.6 billion to develop a capsule that will deliver astronauts to the space station. The first launch of that capsule, without a crew, is planned for February.

The Elon Musk-led company has even more ambitious — and expensive — plans. Musk has said SpaceX will conduct a “hopper test” of its Mars spaceship prototype as early as next month...

SpaceX is offering a minimum of eight weeks’ pay and other benefits to laid-off workers, according to Shotwell’s email.

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Mysterious repeating signal from distant galaxy detected by new radio telescope

One distant galaxy, one "very unusual repeating signal." But it's never aliens.

...a very unusual repeating signal, coming from the same source about 1.5 billion light years away. Such an event has only been reported once before, by a different telescope. ... The CHIME observatory, located in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, consists of four 100-metre-long, semi-cylindrical antennas, which scan the entire northern sky each day.

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First images from China's probe that just landed on the dark side of the moon

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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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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Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo reaches space, bringing space tourism closer

Today in the Mojave desert, Virgin Galactic had a successful test flight that reached 50 miles above the surface of the earth, meeting the Federal Aviation administration's definition of space. This places the company one step closer to the long-awaited goal Richard Branson promised: space tourism.

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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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