July 5, 2010

Big Bang Clues Lie Behind New Image (Source: Financial Times)
The European Space Agency on Monday released a remarkable new view of the universe as seen from the solar system at the EuroScience forum in Turin. It is the first full-sky image from the €600m Planck space telescope, launched last year to observe the universe’s microwave radiation from a vantage point more than 1m km from Earth.

The satellite’s main mission is to help cosmologists understand what happened immediately after the creation of the universe 13.7bn years ago. “This single image captures both our own cosmic backyard – the Milky Way galaxy that we live in – and also the subtle imprint of the Big Bang from which the whole universe emerged,” said David Parker, science director of the UK Space Agency. (7/5)

Concrete Runway in Place at Spaceport (Source: Las Cruces Sun-News)
A 10,000-foot concrete runway has been finished at Spaceport America, a spaceport official said. While the runway is finished, contractors are finishing the turnarounds at either end of the runway and continuing work on the "apron," the concrete area around the terminal-hangar facility, spaceport director Rick Homans said.

The $29.4 million runway was built by David Montoya Construction of Albuquerque. In addition, Homans said steel trusses, "several hundred feet in length" have begun being added to the terminal-hangar facility, creating a platform for the roof. The $32.5 million, futuristic building is being constructed by Summit West. Homans said the overall $200 million spaceport construction project is about 60 percent complete. (7/5)

The Next Generation of Mars Rover (Source: KOLD)
NASA's next Mars rover, Curiosity, is sitting pretty on a set of spiffy new wheels that would be the envy of any car show on Earth. The wheels and a suspension system were added this week by spacecraft technicians and engineers. These new and important touches are a key step in assembling and testing the flight system in advance of a planned 2011 launch. (7/5)

Should We Work with China? (Source: Florida Today)
Last week, the world buzzed about whether China might become a partner in the International Space Station project. First, to clarify some confusion, the partners have not invited China. China has not accepted. The White House and NASA reiterate United States space policy may call for increased international cooperation in space, but it's too early to say where China fits in.

All that said, the question of China's potential contributions to the space station program or to other worldwide space expeditions is not going away. The Chinese are one of just three nations capable of launching people into space. Their Shenzou spacecraft is similar to the Russians' Soyuz spacecraft, which is already capable of docking with the space station. So, the questions are not surprising. Click here to read the article. (7/5)

It's Too Late to Worry That the Aliens Will Find Us (Source: New Scientist)
Stephen Hawking is worried about aliens. The famous physicist recently suggested that we should be wary of contact with extraterrestrials, citing what happened to Native Americans when Europeans landed on their shores. Since any species that could visit us would be far beyond our own technological level, meeting them could be bad news.

Hawking was extrapolating the possible consequences of my day job: a small but durable exercise known as SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Although we have yet to detect an alien ping, improvements in technology have encouraged us to think that, if transmitting extraterrestrials are out there, we might soon find them. That would be revolutionary. But some people, Hawking included, sense a catastrophe. Click here to read the article. (7/5)

Many Moons to Go: the Promise of Lunar Mining (Source: Globe and Mail)
For $1-billion, Canada convened a summer weekend session of assorted world leaders who, as they left, produced an ambivalent communiqué of improbable historic importance. For $3.2-billion (U.S.), or a week’s worth of such summitry, several of these same countries paid for the U.S.-European Cassini space mission to Saturn, a 3.5-billion kilometer, seven-year voyage that has revealed the secrets of Saturn’s strange orange moon, Titan.

It turns out that Titan is awash in liquid hydrocarbons: in oil. Indeed, it rains liquid hydrocarbons – and, in the moon’s light gravity, each drop floats down from the clouds at roughly the speed that large snowflakes fall to Earth. With only one-fifth of this moon radar-scanned so far, scientists calculate that dozens of lunar lakes each hold more oil and gas than all of Earth’s proven oil and gas reserves – and that Titan’s equatorial sand dunes hold hundreds of times more coal than all of Earth’s proven coal reserves. Titan is a vast reservoir of hydrocarbons. Talk about Peak Oil. (7/5)

Japanese Scientists Find 'Minute Particles' in Hayabusa Space Probe (Source: Telegraph)
Japan's space agency has identified "minute particles" of what its scientists believe are asteroid dust collected by the probe Hayabusa. The spacecraft returned to Earth last month after a 3-billion-mile journey that took more than seven years. Its mission had been to become the first probe to land on the surface of an asteroid and gather particles from the space rock before making the long trip home again.

Despite numerous technical glitches - including a malfunctioning gyroscope and a fuel leak - experts are hopeful that Hayabusa has achieved its goals. In a statement, the agency said, "We started the process of opening the sample container of Hayabusa on June 24, 2010, and have confirmed there are minute particles." (7/5)

Obama’s New Mission for NASA: Reach Out to Muslim World (Source: Washington Examiner)
In a far-reaching restatement of goals for the nation’s space agency, NASA administrator Charles Bolden says President Obama has ordered him to pursue three new objectives: to “re-inspire children” to study science and math, to “expand our international relationships,” and to “reach out to the Muslim world.” Of those three goals, Bolden said in a recent interview with al-Jazeera, the mission to reach out to Muslims is “perhaps foremost,” because it will help Islamic nations “feel good” about their scientific accomplishments.

In the same interview, Bolden also said the United States, which first sent men to the moon in 1969, is no longer capable of reaching beyond low earth orbit without help from other nations. Bolden made the statements during a recent trip to the Middle East. He told al-Jazeera that in the wake of the president’s speech in Cairo last year, the American space agency is now pursuing “a new beginning of the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.” (7/5)

Israel Upgrades Missile Range as Spaceport (Source: Science)
The Israeli air force is upgrading its missile test range to turn it into the country's primary space center, with launch facilities for different types of missiles and rockets. The missile test range is part of the service's Palmachim base in central Israel. The Offeq-9, Israel's new spy satellite, was launched from there on 22 June with a Shavit launcher.

In a visit to the base a few days before the launch, the air force outlined plans aimed at enabling more launches there despite of the physical limitations of the base. The location of the base forces Israel to launch its satellites in a western trajectory. At most facilities, launches are performed to the east to gain the Earth's velocity. (7/5)

Editorial: Keep Politics Out of NASA Shuttle Issue (Source: Decatur Daily)
NASA is under a great deal of pressure to service the International Space Station, but it needs to tread carefully in its extensions of the planned retirement date of the space shuttles. The agency announced Thursday the final space shuttle mission will not take place until Feb. 26. It also is facing pressure from Congress to delay the retirement, at least of Atlantis, until August.

Political pressure and scientific caution make lousy bedfellows. The well-meant efforts to extend the shuttle program as long as possible will look reckless if a delayed flight goes bad. Many engineers believe the 30-year-old shuttles should already be out of service. An unsuccessful launch would set NASA back seriously in its efforts to continue manned space flight.

In an agency whose mission is bound to the politics of federal funding, staying focused on mission safety is tough. That is its mission, though. Both for its astronauts and for the future of manned space flight, it cannot let itself be distracted. (7/5)

What May be Lurking Under Europa's Ice? (Source: Bangor Daily News)
Jupiter’s moon Europa is covered with ice. It’s kind of unsettling to think about it out there, circling silently around the giant planet in the middle of magnetic- and gravity-ridden space. It’s white and almost as smooth as a cue ball. The ridges, pits, cracks and grooves in its ice rise and descend no more than a few hundred yards, which is about the terrain you’d find if you expanded the cue ball to just less than the size of our own moon.

There is also a thin atmosphere of mostly oxygen, odd for a moon, or anywhere actually. It’s thought to be formed from sunlight striking water molecules and splitting them into their two atoms of hydrogen, which is light and drifts away, and oxygen, which is heavier and stays. The unusualness of this is not the gases as much as it is the water that gives rise to them: Europa’s ice shell is estimated to be 50 to 100 miles deep, and underneath that is believed to be a liquid ocean. (7/5)

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