January 25, 2015

SpaceX Assigns Science Fiction Names to Landing Barges (Source: TOR)
While he’s working on getting humans into space, SpaceX CEO/CTO Elon Musk hasn’t forgotten the greats who propelled us out of the stratosphere through fiction long before him. Today, Musk tweeted that he’s named two of his spaceport drone ships in the most fitting way: after ships from science fiction writer Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels.

SpaceX’s autonomous spaceport drone ships are custom-built ocean platforms designed to accommodate the landing of booster rockets after they have sent spacecraft into orbit. "Just Read the Instructions" and "Of Course I Still Love You" are two of the sentient, planet-sized Culture starships which first appear in Banks’ The Player of Games. Just as the Minds inhabiting each Culture ship choose their names with care, you have to imagine that Musk did the same here. (1/24)

Europe, China Issue Call for Joint Science Mission (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Europe and China are planning a joint robotic space mission for launch in 2021, and officials are asking scientists to propose projects aimed at research in astronomy, exploring the solar system, or investigations in fundamental physics. ESA and the Chinese Academy of Sciences released a joint call for mission proposals Monday after crafting an outline for a cooperative space project during two workshops held in China and Denmark last year. (1/24)

Data Collective Tapped Its New Growth Fund for Planet Labs Deal (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Data Collective, a venture firm known for its investments in very young startups, tapped its new growth fund for the first time earlier this month to lead a $70 million round for satellite company Planet Labs Inc. Planet Labs’ post-money valuation well exceeded the $500 million price that Google agreed to pay for another satellite imaging startup, Skybox Imaging Inc., for an investment in mid-2014. “It is materially above what Google paid,” Matt Ocko said, declining to be more specific. (1/23)

Virgin Galactic Appoints Mark Stucky As Pilot (Source: Virgin Galactic)
Virgin Galactic is pleased to announce the appointment of Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky as pilot. Stucky will join Virgin Galactic’s commercial flight team responsible for flying WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo: Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and pilots Frederick ‘CJ’ Sturckow, Michael ‘Sooch’ Masucci, and Todd ‘Leif’ Ericson, who is also Virgin Galactic’s Safety and Testing Vice President. His first day with Virgin Galactic is February 2.

Stucky brings valued hands-on experience with Virgin Galactic’s fleet of vehicles having served in a number of roles in Scaled Composites’ WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo development program, ranging from engineering test pilot for both vehicles to technical adviser, design engineer, instructor pilot, project pilot and mentor. (1/23)

NASA Alters Orion Heat Shield for 2018 Flight (Source: America Space)
NASA and Lockheed Martin have decided to change a critical component of the Orion spacecraft’s heat shield for its next test flight in 2018 to include an advanced 3-D woven thermal protect system fabric that will help insure maximum safety for our astronauts returning from deep space expeditions as the vehicle experiences blistering reentry heating. It’s a must-have for Destination Mars. (1/24)

The Astronaut Beach House (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
It is perhaps one of the least-covered (in terms of the press) components of astronaut “life” at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the adjacent Kennedy Space Center – the Astronaut Beach House. However, just going to the historic site – really wouldn’t allow one to get a feel for the true background of the place. For that, one would need to speak with people who have actually done that. Click here. (1/25)

To Be or Not to Be? Our Exodus to the Stars (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Today, Earth is a very accommodating and hospitable place for us to live. Temperatures are just about right. There is more than enough oxygen for us to breathe. Pure drinking water falls from the skies. Food grows on trees. For what more could we ask?

These near-ideal conditions are dependent upon our nearest star, the Sun. Our understanding of solar physics and astronomical observations of other stars tells us that since its formation the Sun has grown 30 percent brighter. Over the course of time this increase in brightness will continue. 10 percent brighter than today and the increased radiant energy will have vaporized the oceans. Click here. (1/25)

NASA Awards Power System Upgrade Contract (Source: NASA)
NASA has awarded a contract to A. West Enterprise of Albany, Georgia, to implement various safety and reliability upgrades to the institutional power system at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The firm-fixed price contract begins Jan. 23. It has a maximum value of $8.8 million with a potential performance period of approximately two and a half years. (1/23)

Mixed Messages to Alien Intelligence (Source: Aeon)
Our latest message to ET could be full of LOLcats and celebs. We should try to do better, or keep quiet altogether. Once NASA's New Horizons mission is complete, NASA will wipe its memory and wave goodbye as the shuttered spacecraft continues on into deep space, forever.

But the craft will then take on another kind of cargo: memories of home. Engineers plan to upload the ‘One Earth’ message, the first crowd-sourced portrait of biological Earth, to the New Horizons’ hard drive some time in 2016, after all the data from the Pluto flyby have been downloaded. In the meantime, anyone with an internet connection can submit prospective images, audio, video, text and 3D renderings for the message, and a crowd will vote on what makes the final cut.

Right now, the One Earth message website asks visitors for just one term describing ‘the aspect of life on Earth [they] think should be included in a message to the Universe’. I recently logged on to make my own entry, and found it a difficult task. Click here. (1/24)

No, Astriobiology Hasn't Made the Case for God (Source: New Yorker)
Recently, the Wall Street Journal published a piece with the surprising title “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.” At least it was surprising to me, because I hadn’t heard the news. The piece argued that new scientific evidence bolsters the claim that the appearance of life in the universe requires a miracle, and it received almost four hundred thousand Facebook shares and likes.

The author of the piece, Eric Metaxas, is not himself a scientist. Rather, he’s a writer and a TV host, and the article was a not-so-thinly-veiled attempt to resurrect the notion of intelligent design, which gives religious arguments the veneer of science—this time in a cosmological context. Life exists only on Earth and has not been found elsewhere. Moreover, the conditions that caused life to appear here are miraculous.

So doesn’t that mean we must have come from a miracle at the hand of God? “Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?” Metaxas writes. (1/24)

There’s a Crack Forming on Rosetta’s 67P. Is it Breaking Up? (Source: Universe Today)
Rosetta’s comet 67P, the Rubber Duckie comet, has a crack in the neck that raises concerns. Some comets may just fizzle and uniformly expel their volatiles throughout their surfaces. They may become like puffballs, shrink some but remain intact. Comet 67P is the other extreme. The expulsion of volatile material has led to a shape and a point of no return; it is destined to break in two. The images show an approximate 100 meter (328 foot) fissure in the neck of the two lobe comet. Click here. (1/24)

NASA KSC Director Robert Cabana to Receive the 2015 National Space Trophy (Source: NASA)
The Rotary National Award for Space Achievement (RNASA) Foundation has selected Colonel Robert D. Cabana, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, former NASA astronaut on four space shuttle missions, and retired United States Marine Corps Colonel, to receive the 2015 National Space Trophy on April 24, 2015, at the Houston Hyatt Regency in Houston, Texas. (1/20)

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