June 1, 2014

Japan Eyes Early Manned Mission to Mars (Source: Asahi Shimbun)
Japan, with the help of the international community, is working on plans to send a manned mission to Mars. Science ministry officials, citing the staggering costs and technological difficulties, said such an undertaking could only be accomplished with participation of other countries. In a May 30 meeting with an advisory council to discuss Japan's space exploration strategy, ministry officials said the first step was to get other countries involved in the Mars project. The council is expected to compile a report on the project by July.

Japan's science ministry plans to propose at a ministerial-level international conference scheduled for 2016 in Japan that human missions to explore Mars be an international undertaking. Tokyo hopes to seek the participation of various countries and lead the discussion for an agreement. Editor's Note: With multiple commercial companies planning/designing missions to Mars, it would be interesting if a nation like Japan simply bought into one of these plans and made it their own. (5/31)

NASA Designs Sandals to Make Sure Astronauts are Getting Exercise (Source: Geek.com)
Don’t like to exercise? Well, no one’s forcing you, unless you’re an astronaut. NASA allots two-and-a-half hours each day for astronauts to exercise while in space, and the health consequences of skipping it for a few days are much more severe than that time you got ice cream instead of going to the gym. NASA has now developed a special shoe that can be used to gather data on how effective this vital exercise is in orbit, but it could also tattle on anyone who skips a day. Click here. (5/30)

Meet NASA's Commercial Space Capsule Contenders (Source: Engadget)
Sure, the Dragon V2 is the latest (and greatest) spacecraft from SpaceX, but it's not the only capsule that may one day schlep astronauts to the International Space Station. In fact, Elon Musk's firm is just one of three private outfits currently competing in a NASA program for commercial launches with their own vehicles. We've surveyed the space capsule landscape and have whipped up a primer on the future crafts that may wind up taking humans to space. Click here. (5/31)

Sierra, Boeing, SpaceX Hit First Benchmark on Path to Fly Crews to ISS (Source: Denver Post)
The first phase of certifying U.S.-made spacecraft that may ferry astronauts to and from the international space station — and eliminate NASA's dependency on Russian transport — is now complete, the space agency announced Friday. NASA's Commercial Crew Program and its three industry partners proved that safety was incorporated into all of the competing designs and that each spacecraft could meet the agency's performance requirements. Click here. (6/1)

Astronaut Recruit: Alaska a Good Analog for Space (Source: Fairbanks News Miner)
Jessica Cherry spends her favorite moments looking at Alaska from above. As a new recruit for a class of astronaut candidates, she may someday view the world from miles higher. Cherry, 37, is a pilot and professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center and Institute of Northern Engineering. She flies small aircraft all over the state for fun and research. She is also a member of the newest class of “Astronauts for Hire.”

Astronauts for Hire is a private, nonprofit version of NASA’s astronaut training program. After advancing to NASA’s final astronaut selection round in 2013, Cherry applied for and landed a volunteer position with the space startup. Some Astronauts for Hire will fly suborbital space vehicles like the one being launched next spring by Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson. Others will pilot commercial vehicles that will resupply the International Space Station. Click here. (5/31)

Has a Space Trip With Leo DiCaprio Been Overbooked? (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio sure knows how to sell tickets — both on Earth and in space. But, has Virgin Galactic overbooked his flight? A trip on a Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle with the superstar actor was auctioned off for 700,000 euros ($954,000) recently at the amfAR auction in France. The charity benefits AIDS research.

Space.com reports three other seats on the flight have already been auctioned off on the scheduled 2015 flight for a combined $3.8 million. The vehicle is designed to carry two pilots and six passengers. However, reports have come into Parabolic Arc indicating that the passenger load will be reduced to four due to modifications that have added weight to SpaceShipTwo. Reportedly, the reduction is still required even though Virgin Galactic has switched to a more powerful fuel.

This raises the question of whether the DiCaprio flight has been overbooked. Imagine spending nearly a million dollars on a flight and getting bumped! Virgin Galactic will have offer more than a $300 toward a future flight and a hotel voucher for something like that. (5/31)

Amazing NASA Video Shows the Sun Erupting in Unprecedented Detail (Source: LA Times)
You've never seen a solar eruption video quite like this before. After 11 months in space, NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) has captured video of a coronal mass ejection in unprecedented detail, and the results are spectacular. Click here. (5/31)

NASA Faces Identity Crisis, Funding Battle (Source: Space Daily)
As NASA funding continue to dissipate, space agency officials are left trying -- frustratingly -- to figure out what's worth paying for. And the Spitzer Space Telescope is just the latest in a growing list of defunded and soon-to-be-extinct projects. Since the Apollo missions to the moon ended in 1973, NASA's budget has steadily declined -- from 1.35 percent of the federal government's total expenditures to less than 0.6 percent today. Click here. (5/30)

Earth's Gravitational Pull Stretches Moon Surface (Source: Space Daily)
Anyone who's been to the beach -- and seen the ocean's tides -- knows the moon's gravitational effects on Earth are rather obvious. The effects of Earth's gravitational pull on the moon are less apparent. But a new study by scientists at NASA shows even the shape of the moon's all-solid surface changes in response to the position of Earth.

"The deformation of the moon due to Earth's pull is very challenging to measure, but learning more about it gives us clues about the interior of the moon." Scientists at NASA were able to pick up on the subtle changes in the moon's surface by taking extremely precise measurements using the NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, mission. (5/30)

Apollo 13 Astronaut's Toothbrush Sells for $11,794 (Source: Space Daily)
A toothbrush used by one of the American astronauts who flew to the Moon was sold at auction for nearly $12,000, or triple the starting bid, the auction house said Friday. The clear Oral B-40 toothbrush was used by command module pilot Jack Swigert during the 1970 Apollo 13 mission and sold for $11,974, said the Nate D. Sanders auction house, which did not reveal the buyer. (5/30)

University Rover Challenge (URC) Crowns Its First Back-to-Back Champion (Source: Mars Society)
From an initial field of 31, 23 rovers from six countries descended upon the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in remote southern Utah for the 2014 University Rover Challenge (URC). Over the course of a grueling three day competition, student teams and their robotic creations had to complete a series of complex tasks in a Mars-like setting, providing a glimpse at the technology that could one day support future astronauts on the Red Planet.
In the end, Team Hyperion from the Bialystok University of Technology (Poland) walked away with the top spot, earning a total of 368 points (out of 500 possible). The victory was the second consecutive for the Hyperion team. Their rover impressed judges and left the competition behind, in large part due to its overall reliability which scored high marks in each event. (6/1)

U.S. Agencies Vexed by Dependence on Russian Rocket Engines (Source: Washington Post)
American spy satellites and classified military spacecraft are routinely launched into orbit with help from Russian rocket engines developed in the Soviet era. That is no secret to anyone in the world of national security space launches. The big question is whether this intimate technological relationship can continue given the political fallout from Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

U.S. military officials and space-industry experts say it’s high time the United States had an industrial base that produced rocket engines that can do what the Russian engines do. Congress is in the process of authorizing money for such an effort. In theory, it’s a no-brainer: Why rely on Russians for such an integral ­element of the U.S. national security program?

But everything is highly inertial in the world of rocket science. The creation of powerful rocket engines in the United States could take several years at least. If the supply of Russian engines were cut off in the meantime, the U.S. launch program would face delays, with attendant costs to taxpayers of billions of dollars, according to a recent U.S. Air Force study. Editor's Note: At least the billions would be invested in the U.S., instead of paying Russian suppliers. (5/30)

U.S. Sanctions on Russia Threaten America’s Space Ambitions (Source: Al Jazeera)
U.S. sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine are weighing most heavily not on Earth-bound assets but on opportunities in outer space. Unless the Obama administration can find a way to lift the sanctions soon, the rich prospects for America’s nascent private spaceflight industry may fade into dreams of what could have been. What’s worse, the immediate national security needs of the U.S. will suffer. (5/31)

Colonizing Space By Printing Humans on Other Planets (Source: Motherboard)
Assuming human deep space travel turns out to be not just incredibly dangerous, but perhaps “crazy idiotic" and "laughable," as Harvard biologist Gary Ruvkun put it, the tenacious dream of an interstellar civilization forces some out-of-the box thinking. What if, instead of rocketing humans to other planets, we made an exact copy on site?

Adam Steltzner, the lead engineer on the NASA JPL's Curiosity rover mission, believes that to send humans to distant planets, we may need to do one of two things: look for ways to game space-time—traveling through wormholes and whatnot—or rethink the fundamental idea of 'ourselves.' "Our best bet for space exploration could be printing humans, organically, on another planet," said Steltzner. Click here. (5/29)

NASA, Khan Academy Take STEM Lessons Out of This World (Source: Mashable)
NASA has partnered with nonprofit, educational website Khan Academy to create online tutorials aimed at boosting science, technology, engineering and math understanding. The tutorials feature some aspect of space exploration, such as how to land a spacecraft on Mars. The online lessons were announced during the fourth annual White House Science Fair. (5/29)

Progress for Women in Defense and Aerospace? Not So Much. (Source: FedBiz)
We hear a lot about how aerospace and defense has made such progress in closing the gender gap — particularly since two of the largest companies in the market appointed women CEOs. But once again, Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women shows just how far the defense and aerospace industries still have to go to level the playing field.

In all, three women from the defense and aerospace marketsmade the list. You probably can guess two of them: Lockheed Martin Corp. CEO Marillyn Hewson and General Dynamics Corp. CEO Phebe Novakovic. Both saw healthy jumps in the rankings, Hewson to No. 21 from No. 34, and Novakovic from No. 75 to No. 65. The third is a new entrant — though not a hugely surprising one. Gwynne Shotwell, chief operating officer and president at SpaceX ranked No. 90. (5/29)

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