Tag Archives: Moon

Reliving the Titan Descent

A couple of days ago NASA released this gorgeous video constructed from real images taken by the Huygens lander. This revisits Huygen’s successful landing on Titan — Saturn’s largest moon, just over 12 years ago, on January 14, 2005.

Huygens made up half of the Cassini-Huygens joint NASA-ESA (European Space Agency) mission to investigate Saturn and its strange moons. Cassini is currently still in close orbit around Saturn. To date the mission remains the first to successfully land on a moon beyond Earth’s own.

Video: This movie was built thanks to the data collected by ESA’s Huygens Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR) on 14 January 2005, during the 147-minutes plunge through Titan’s thick orange-brown atmosphere to a soft sandy riverbed. In 4 minutes 40 seconds, the movie shows what the probe ‘saw’ within the few hours of the descent and the eventual landing. Courtesy: NASA/ESA.

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What Keeps NASA Going?

Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan on lunar rover

Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan is the last human to have set foot on a world other than Earth. It’s been 44 years since he last stepped off the moon. In fact, in 1972 he drove around using the lunar rover and found time to scribble his daughter’s initials on the dusty lunar surface. So, other than forays to the International Space Station (ISS) and trips to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) NASA has kept humans firmly rooted to the homeland.

Of course, in the intervening decades the space agency has not rested on its laurels. NASA has sent probes and robots all over the Solar System and beyond: Voyager to the gas giants and on to interstellar space,  Dawn to visit asteroids; Rosetta (in concert with the European Space Agency) to visit a comet; SOHO and its countless cousins to keep an eye on our home star; Galileo and Pioneer to Jupiter; countless spacecraft including Curiosity Rover to Mars; Messenger to map Mercury; Magellan to probe the clouds of Venus; Cassini to survey Saturn and its fascinating moons; and of course, New Horizons to Pluto and beyond.

Spiral galaxies together with irregular galaxies make up approximately 60% of the galaxies in the local Universe. However, despite their prevalence, each spiral galaxy is unique — like snowflakes, no two are alike. This is demonstrated by the striking face-on spiral galaxy NGC 6814, whose luminous nucleus and spectacular sweeping arms, rippled with an intricate pattern of dark dust, are captured in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image. NGC 6814 has an extremely bright nucleus, a telltale sign that the galaxy is a Seyfert galaxy. These galaxies have very active centres that can emit strong bursts of radiation. The luminous heart of NGC 6814 is a highly variable source of X-ray radiation, causing scientists to suspect that it hosts a supermassive black hole with a mass about 18 million times that of the Sun. As NGC 6814 is a very active galaxy, many regions of ionised gas are studded along  its spiral arms. In these large clouds of gas, a burst of star formation has recently taken place, forging the brilliant blue stars that are visible scattered throughout the galaxy.

Our mechanical human proxies reach out a little farther each day to learn more about our universe and our place in it. Exploration and discovery is part of our human DNA; it’s what we do. NASA is our vehicle. So, it’s good to see what NASA is planning. The agency just funded eight advanced-technology programs that officials believe may help transform space exploration. The grants are part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. The most interesting, perhaps, are a program to evaluate inducing hibernation in Mars-bound astronauts, and an assessment of directed energy propulsion for interstellar travel.

Our science and technology becomes more and more like science fiction each day.

Read more about NIAC programs here.

Image 1: Apollo 17 mission commander Eugene A. Cernan makes a short checkout of the Lunar Roving Vehicle during the early part of the first Apollo 17 extravehicular activity at the Taurus-Littrow landing site. Courtesy: NASA.

Image 2: Hubble Spies a Spiral Snowflake, galaxy NGC 6814. Courtesy: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

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From a Million Miles

epicearthmoonstill

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft is now firmly in place about one million miles from Earth at its L1 (Legrange) point, a focus of gravitational balance between the sun and our planet. Jointly operated by NASA, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the U.S. Air Force, the spacecraft uses its digital optics to observe the Earth from sunrise to sunset. Researchers use its observations to measure a number of climate variables including ozone, aerosols, cloud heights, dust, and volcanic ash. The spacecraft also monitors the sun’s solar wind. Luckily, it also captures gorgeous images like the one above from July 16, 2015, of the moon, with dark side visible, as it transits over the Pacific Ocean.

Learn more about DSCOVR here.

Image: This image shows the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth. Courtesy: NASA, NOAA.

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The Richest Person in the Solar System

Forget Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Carlos Slim or the Russian oligarchs and the emirs of the Persian Gulf. These guys are merely multi-billionaires. Their fortunes — combined — account for less than half of 1 percent of the net worth of Dennis Hope, the world’s first trillionaire. In fact, you could describe Dennis as the solar system’s first trillionaire, with an estimated wealth of $100 trillion.

So, why have you never heard of Dennis Hope, trillionaire? Where does he invest his money? And, how did he amass this jaw-dropping uber-fortune? The answer to the first question is that he lives a relatively ordinary and quiet life in Nevada. The answer to the second question is: property. The answer to the third, and most fascinating question: well, he owns most of the Moon. He also owns the majority of the planets Mars, Venus and Mercury, and 90 or so other celestial plots. You too could become an interplanetary property investor for the starting and very modest sum of $19.99. Please write your check to… Dennis Hope.

The New York Times has a recent story and documentary on Mr.Hope, here.

From Discover:

Dennis Hope, self-proclaimed Head Cheese of the Lunar Embassy, will promise you the moon. Or at least a piece of it. Since 1980, Hope has raked in over $9 million selling acres of lunar real estate for $19.99 a pop. So far, 4.25 million people have purchased a piece of the moon, including celebrities like Barbara Walters, George Lucas, Ronald Reagan, and even the first President Bush. Hope says he exploited a loophole in the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits nations from owning the moon.

Because the law says nothing about individual holders, he says, his claim—which he sent to the United Nations—has some clout. “It was unowned land,” he says. “For private property claims, 197 countries at one time or another had a basis by which private citizens could make claims on land and not make payment. There are no standardized rules.”

Hope is right that the rules are somewhat murky—both Japan and the United States have plans for moon colonies—and lunar property ownership might be a powder keg waiting to spark. But Ram Jakhu, law professor at the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal, says that Hope’s claims aren’t likely to hold much weight. Nor, for that matter, would any nation’s. “I don’t see a loophole,” Jakhu says. “The moon is a common property of the international community, so individuals and states cannot own it. That’s very clear in the U.N. treaty. Individuals’ rights cannot prevail over the rights and obligations of a state.”

Jakhu, a director of the International Institute for Space Law, believes that entrepreneurs like Hope have misread the treaty and that the 1967 legislation came about to block property claims in outer space. Historically, “the ownership of private property has been a major cause of war,” he says. “No one owns the moon. No one can own any property in outer space.”

Hope refuses to be discouraged. And he’s focusing on expansion. “I own about 95 different planetary bodies,” he says. “The total amount of property I currently own is about 7 trillion acres. The value of that property is about $100 trillion. And that doesn’t even include mineral rights.”

Read the entire article after the jump.

Video courtesy of the New York Times.

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Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from the Moon?

To honor the brilliant new album by the Thin White Duke, we came across the article excerpted below, which at first glance seems to come directly from the songbook of Ziggy Stardust him- or herself. But closer inspection reveals that NASA may have designs on deploying giant manufacturing robots to construct a base on the moon. Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Once you’ve had your fill of Bowie, read on about NASA’s spiders.

From ars technica:

The first lunar base on the Moon may not be built by human hands, but rather by a giant spider-like robot built by NASA that can bind the dusty soil into giant bubble structures where astronauts can live, conduct experiments, relax or perhaps even cultivate crops.

We’ve already covered the European Space Agency’s (ESA) work with architecture firm Foster + Partners on a proposal for a 3D-printed moonbase, and there are similarities between the two bases—both would be located in Shackleton Crater near the Moon’s south pole, where sunlight (and thus solar energy) is nearly constant due to the Moon’s inclination on the crater’s rim, and both use lunar dust as their basic building material. However, while the ESA’s building would be constructed almost exactly the same way a house would be 3D-printed on Earth, this latest wheeze—SinterHab—uses NASA technology for something a fair bit more ambitious.

The product of joint research first started between space architects Tomas Rousek, Katarina Eriksson and Ondrej Doule and scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), SinterHab is so-named because it involves sintering lunar dust—that is, heating it up to just below its melting point, where the fine nanoparticle powders fuse and become one solid block a bit like a piece of ceramic. To do this, the JPL engineers propose using microwaves no more powerful than those found in a kitchen unit, with tiny particles easily reaching between 1200 and 1500 degrees Celsius.

Nanoparticles of iron within lunar soil are heated at certain microwave frequencies, enabling efficient heating and binding of the dust to itself. Not having to fly binding agent from Earth along with a 3D printer is a major advantage over the ESA/Foster + Partners plan. The solar panels to power the microwaves would, like the moon base itself, be based near or on the rim of Shackleton Crater in near-perpetual sunlight.

“Bubbles” of binded dust could be built by a huge six-legged robot (OK, so it’s not technically a spider) that can then be assembled into habitats large enough for astronauts to use as a base. This “Sinterator system” would use the JPL’s Athlete rover, a half-scale prototype of which has already been built and tested. It’s a human-controlled robotic space rover with wheels at the end of its 8.2m limbs and a detachable habitable capsule mounted at the top.

Athlete’s arms have several different functions, dependent on what it needs to do at any point. It has 48 3D cameras that stream video to its operator either inside the capsule, elsewhere on the Moon or back on Earth, it’s got a payload capacity of 300kg in Earth gravity, and it can scoop, dig, grab at and generally poke around in the soil fairly easily, giving it the combined abilities of a normal rover and a construction vehicle. It can even split into two smaller three-legged rovers at any time if needed. In the Sinterator system, a microwave 3D printer would be mounted on one of the Athlete’s legs and used to build the base.

Rousek explained the background of the idea to Wired.co.uk: “Since many of my buildings have advanced geometry that you can’t cut easily from sheet material, I started using 3D printing for rapid prototyping of my architecture models. The construction industry is still lagging several decades behind car and electronics production. The buildings now are terribly wasteful and imprecise—I have always dreamed about creating a factory where the buildings would be robotically mass-produced with parametric personalization, using composite materials and 3D printing. It would be also great to use local materials and precise manufacturing on-site.”

Read the entire article after the jump.

Image: Giant NASA spider robots could 3D print lunar base using microwaves, courtesy of Wired UK. Video: The Stars (Are Out Tonight), courtesy of David Bowie, ISO Records / Columbia Records.

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Fly Me to the Moon: Mere Millionaries Need Not Apply

Golden Spike, a Boulder Colorado based company, has an interesting proposition for the world’s restless billionaires. It is offering a two-seat trip to the Moon, and back, for a tidy sum of $1.5 billion. And, the company is even throwing in a moon-walk. The first trip is planned for 2020.

From the Washington Post:

It had to happen: A start-up company is offering rides to the moon. Book your seat now — though it’s going to set you back $750 million (it’s unclear if that includes baggage fees).

At a news conference scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Washington, former NASA science administrator Alan Stern plans to announce the formation of Golden Spike, which, according to a news release, is “the first company planning to offer routine exploration expeditions to the surface of the Moon.”

“We can do this,” an excited Stern said Thursday morning during a brief phone interview.

The gist of the company’s strategy is that it’ll repurpose existing space hardware for commercial lunar missions and take advantage of NASA-sanctioned commercial rockets that, in a few years, are supposed to put astronauts in low Earth orbit. Stern said a two-person lunar mission, complete with moonwalking and, perhaps best of all, a return to Earth, would cost $1.5 billion.

“Two seats, 750 each,” Stern said. “The trick is 40 years old. We know how to do this. The difference is now we have rockets and space capsules in the inventory. .?.?. They’re already developed. .?.?. We don’t have to invent them from a clean sheet of paper. We don’t have to start over.”

The statement says, “The company’s plan is to maximize use of existing rockets and to market the resulting system to nations, individuals, and corporations with lunar exploration objectives and ambitions.” Golden Spike says its plans have been vetted by a former space shuttle commander, a space shuttle program manager and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

And Newt Gingrich is involved: The former speaker of the House, who was widely mocked this year when, campaigning for president, he talked at length about ambitious plans for a permanent moon base by 2021, is listed as a member of Golden Spike’s board of advisers.

Also on that list is Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor and secretary of the Department of Energy. The chairman of the board is Gerry Griffin, a former Apollo mission flight director and former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The private venture fills a void, as it were, in the wake of President Obama’s decision to cancel NASA’s Constellation program, which was initiated during the George W. Bush years as the next step in space exploration after the retirement of the space shuttle. Constellation aimed to put astronauts back on the moon by 2020 for what would become extended stays at a lunar base.

A sweeping review from a presidential committee led by retired aerospace executive Norman Augustine concluded that NASA didn’t have the money to achieve Constellation’s goals. The administration and Congress have given NASA new marching orders that require the building of a heavy-lift rocket that would give the agency the ability to venture far beyond low Earth orbit.

Routine access to space is being shifted to companies operating under commercial contracts. But as those companies try to develop commercial spaceflight, the United States lacks the ability to launch astronauts directly and must purchase flights to the international space station from the Russians.

Read the entire article after the jump.

Image courtesy of The Golden Spike Company.

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Testosterone and the Moon

While the United States’ military makes no comment a number of corroborated reports suggest that the country had a plan to drop an atomic bomb on the moon during the height of the Cold War. Apparently, a Hiroshima-like explosion on our satellite would have been seen as a “show of force” by the Soviets. The shear absurdity of this Dr.Strangelove story makes it all the more real.

From the Independent:

US Military chiefs, keen to intimidate Russia during the Cold War, plotted to blow up the moon with a nuclear bomb, according to project documents kept secret for for nearly 45 years.

The army chiefs allegedly developed a top-secret project called, ‘A Study of Lunar Research Flights’ – or ‘Project A119’, in the hope that their Soviet rivals would be intimidated by a display of America’s Cold War muscle.

According to The Sun newspaper the military bosses developed a classified plan to launch a nuclear weapon 238,000 miles to the moon where it would be detonated upon impact.

The planners reportedly opted for an atom bomb, rather than a hydrogen bomb, because the latter would be too heavy for the missile.

Physicist Leonard Reiffel, who says he was involved in the project, claims the hope was that the flash from the bomb would intimidate the Russians following their successful launching of the Sputnik satellite in October 1957.

The planning of the explosion reportedly included calculations by astronomer Carl Sagan, who was then a young graduate.

Documents reportedly show the plan was abandoned because of fears it would have an adverse effect on Earth should the explosion fail.

Read the entire article following the jump.

Image courtesy of NASA.

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