Sweet new moon rover from Toyota and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

No, this isn't a concept design for a Space: 1999 reboot but rather an illustration of the new moon rover in development by Toyota and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Toyota has just signed a three year agreement with JAXA and created a Lunar Exploration Mobility Works department that they will staff up with 30 people in the next few months. Unlike NASA's 1970s Apollo moon buggies, this vehicle will be pressurized so astronauts won't need to wear oxygen-supplying spacesuits when tooling around the lunar surface. It'll be powered by "fuel cell electric vehicle technologies." From Space.com:

If all goes according to plan, Toyota and JAXA will build a full-scale prototype in the 2022 time frame, design the flight model and build and test an engineering model about two years later, and build and test the flight model around 2027.

Launch would follow in 2029.

"The rover will be used for missions to explore the moon's polar regions, with the aim both of investigating the possibility of using the moon's resources ― such as frozen water ― and of acquiring technologies that enable exploration of the surfaces of massive heavenly bodies," Toyota representatives wrote in the statement.

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The latest trailer for Universal Pictures' "First Man" about Neil Armstrong is absolutely perfect

The latest trailer for Universal Pictures' First Man packs a whole lotta action and drama into a 2-minute 14-second package. The movie chronicles the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong, his first manned mission to the Moon, and the cost this mission took on Armstrong's family in the days leading up to the launch.

I don't head to the theater often these days, but I'm down for this. Read the rest

4K tour of the Moon

NASA posted this high-definition tour of the Moon, a perfectly serene antidote to the noise here on Earth.

Take a virtual tour of the Moon in all-new 4K resolution, thanks to data provided by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. As the visualization moves around the near side, far side, north and south poles, we highlight interesting features, sites, and information gathered on the lunar terrain. Music Provided By Killer Tracks: "Never Looking Back" - Frederick Wiedmann. "Flying over Turmoil" - Benjamin Krause & Scott Goodman. This video is public domain and along with other supporting visualizations can be downloaded from the Scientific Visualization Studio at: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4619 Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/David Ladd

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Over 8,400 NASA Apollo moon mission photos just landed online, in high-resolution

Space fans, rejoice: today, just about every image captured by Apollo astronauts on lunar missions is now on the Project Apollo Archive Flickr account. There are some 8,400 photographs in all at a resolution of 1800 dpi, and they're sorted by the roll of film they were on. Read the rest

Watch Neil Armstrong narrowly escape a 1968 training accident

This silent film clip, posted at the Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine blog, is one of the most amazing things I've seen in a while.

First off, it shows a 1968 test run of a lunar landing research vehicle—a practice version of the lunar module that would later carry Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the Moon. It's weird and surreal and very, very awesome to watch an LLRV rising, lowering, and swooping through the sky from the vantage point of someone standing on the ground. In general, a great reminder that we make UFOs right here on Earth.

But the real crazy bit happens at the end of the video, when Neil Armstrong—who was piloting this LLRV—bails out just before the craft plummets to the ground and explodes.

No, seriously. And it leads to this amazing story, which is, in itself, a brilliant tribute to Armstrong.

In his Armstrong biography First Man, author James Hansen recounts how astronaut Alan Bean saw Armstrong that afternoon at his desk in the astronaut office. Bean then heard colleagues in the hall talking about the accident, and asked them, “When did this happen?” About an hour ago, they replied. Bean returned to Armstrong and said, “I just heard the funniest story!” Armstrong said, “What?” “I heard that you bailed out of the LLTV an hour ago.” “Yeah, I did,” replied Armstrong. “I lost control and had to bail out of the darn thing.” “I can’t think of another person,” Bean recalls, “let alone another astronaut, who would have just gone back to his office after ejecting a fraction of a second before getting killed.”

Read the rest at the Air & Space Magazine blog

NOTE: We couldn't get the embed code from Air & Space to work for some reason, so we've embedded the same video, but from YouTube, rather than their site. Read the rest

Inside the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

If these photos of NASA's Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project look suspiciously like they might actually have been taken inside an abandoned McDonalds ... well, that's very observant of you.

All of those film canisters you see in the first image are actually spools of 70mm magnetic tape containing the analog originals of images taken by the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft in 1966 and 1967. Very few of these images have been seen by the public—at least, in their full glory. Some of the images were released early on, but only as grainy photos of photos. The originals are a lot more sharp and detailed.

After sitting in storage for decades—most notably in a barn in California—the tapes were brought to the NASA Ames Research Center in 2007. Since then, some of the originals have been digitized and preserved. (There's a good chance you saw a few in 2008, when the first preserved images were released.) Others are still in process. There's not much funding for this type of work, and it can get expensive, as it involves maintaining extremely rare FR-900 tape drives.

These photos of the LOIRP facility were taken in 2008 by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, who has been on a couple of tours there. He says:

Some of the applications of this project, beyond accessing the best images of the moon ever taken, are to look for new landing sites for the new Google Lunar X-Prize robo-landers, and to compare the new craters on the moon today to 40 years ago, a measure of micrometeorite flux and risk to future lunar operations.

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Why does the rising moon look so big?

A few years ago, artist Maki Naro drew a comic explaining why the Moon appears larger on the horizon than it does way up in the sky.

Recently, he got a helpful email from astronomy blogger Phil Plait. Turns out, the original comic was just a bit wrong and Phil Plait had a much more thorough explanation. So, like any good evidence-based comic artist, Naro drew a new version of the comic, featuring a only-sorta-creepy Phil Plait jumping out of the bushes to accost people with accurate astronomical information.

See the full comic

Check out this post on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog, upon which the comic is based. Read the rest