February 16, 2016

Can NASA's New X-Planes Transform Aviation? (Source: Flight Global)
The goals of NASA’s newly announced plan to revive the manned X-plane tradition may not seem quite so ambitious as the X-15, but it is also no mere nod to nostalgia. For the time being, there is no need to expand the boundaries of the human flight envelope of altitude and speed, which were set almost entirely over the Mojave desert during the 1950s. NASA is instead focusing on a narrower set of achievable goals that might transform the air travel experience in decades to come. Click here. (2/15)

Stranded Nigerian Astronaut Needs Our Help, Passwords to Get Back to Earth (Source: Inverse)
Everyone has heard about that one Nigerian prince who needs help transferring his fortune. But how about the stranded Nigerian astronaut who needs some cash to get home? Well, he’s out there in orbit and you’ll be rewarded handsomely if you help him make it back to Earth. Click here. (2/15)

China's Space Telescope to Displace Humans in Search for Aliens (Source: New Indian Express)
China will move nearly 10,000 people to make way for the world's largest radio telescope which promises to help humanity search for alien life. The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), nestled between hills in the southwestern province of Guizhou, is due to start operation this year.

Provincial officials have vowed to relocate 9,110 residents living within five kilometers of the listening device by September. The relocations will "create a sound electromagnetic wave environment", it cited a top regional official named Li Yuecheng as saying. Residents will receive 12,000 yuan ($1,800) in subsidies for their troubles, with some getting extra support for housing, it said. (2/16)

Astronaut Ice Cream is a Lie (Source: Vox)
Any space-enthused kid has endured the crumbly, chalky agglomeration of flavors known as "astronaut ice cream." We deal with it because of the supposed connection to the lives of real space explorers. The only problem is that astronaut ice cream is a lie.

Apollo 7 is identified by Wikipedia (and most other sources) as the only flight to harbor the chalky ice cream. When I asked astronaut Walt Cunningham, the sole surviving member of the crew, about it, he said, "We never had that stuff." As you can hear above, he said that years later, when he first encountered the freeze-dried dessert, he wished they'd had it on Apollo 7 — but they never did. (2/16)

GoPro Patriarch Invests in Central Florida Hydrogen Fuel Startup (Source: Orlando Sentinel)
GoPro family patriarch Dean Woodman is one of the lead investors in Joi Scientific, a Central Florida energy startup which claims a revolutionary new way make hydrogen fuel from water. The company, which is based at Kennedy Space Center, has just closed on its first round, or A series, of venture capital investment at $5.5 million, led by Woodman Family Investments LLC.

Woodman is an investment banker who once was managing director at ING Barings. While he has invested in many companies, he is perhaps best know for investing $200,000 as seed money for sports camera company GoPro, founded by his son Nick Woodman.

Joi Scientific is headed up by technologist Traver Kennedy, who formerly worked at Citrix in Fort Lauderdale. The company hasn’t revealed all the details of its process yet. Kennedy says the new method of separating hydrogen from water will be available on a small scale, and could eventually be used to make synthetic gasoline. (2/16)

Rocket Lab to Launch Spire Satellites (Source: Space News)
Rocket Lab, which started selling payload space on its launches through its website last year, offers launches for three-unit cubesats in 2017 for $250,000. The company’s launches through 2017 are listed as “fully booked” on its site. Spire is the second company to have announced a multi-launch contract with Rocket Lab. Florida-based Moon Express, a competitor in the Google Lunar X Prize, announced a contract with Rocket Lab in October for up to five launches of its lunar landers.

Rocket Lab also won a $6.9 million contract from NASA in October as part of the agency’s Venture Class Launch Services program to purchase launches on emerging small launch vehicles. Company spokeswoman Catherine Moreau-Hammond said Feb. 15 that the company plans to start test launches of Electron in the middle of this year.

The company is also switching launch sites. In July, the company announced plans to establish a launch site at Kaitorete Spit on New Zealand’s South Island. However, in December the company instead broke ground on a site on Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island. (2/15)

JHU to Help NASA Pick Good Spacemates for Mars Mission (Source: Baltimore Sun)
When NASA selects astronauts to travel to Mars sometime after 2030, they will need a small crop of candidates who are smart, skilled — and personable. For a voyage almost 34 million miles one way, the astronauts will need to work well together in an isolated and uncomfortably tight environment, as well as cope with boredom and the continuous company of the same tiny group of people.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University recently won a NASA grant to help the nation's space agency develop a method of sorting elite candidates, identifying those who are also amiable, people persons, for space missions that could last three years. Grouchy, moody types who value personal space probably will not be good candidates. Ditto chatty individuals who need lots of outside social interaction.

"NASA is already really good at picking people," said Michael Rosen, a Hopkins psychologist who is leading the effort. "But they'll need to be better." The project is one of 11 NASA grants awarded to 10 institutions sharing in about $5.7 million in funding to investigate astronaut health and performance on future space missions over the next two or three years. (2/15)

Pluto: What are NASA’s Five Big Discoveries So Far? (Source: BBC)
Pluto is too far away from Earth to be seen with the naked eye. If you stood on Pluto's surface, the Sun would merely appear to be a very bright star. Although previous images showed that something was happening on Pluto, with an average temperature of -240C, many people assumed it was a cold and relatively dead world.

That was until NASA's New Horizons probe arrived in 2015 and transformed our understanding of this distant, enigmatic body. Here are the five most surprising things discovered by the deep-space instrument. Click here. (2/15)

The Evolving Media Reaction to Female Astronauts (Source: Mother Nature Network)
In 1983, journalist and noted feminist Gloria Steinem interviewed Sally Ride about her experiences as the first American woman in space. In 2016, Glamour magazine published an interview with the female members of NASA’s 2013 astronaut class. Though both interviewers were hugely supportive of their subjects, the contrast is telling.

Ride made history as the first American woman in space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. She went into space twice, spending more than two weeks in orbit. She was a pioneer, paving the way for women in space and for women in STEM fields in general, but when she first entered the limelight, the media’s response was confusing at best — and belittling at worst. Click here. (2/15)

Simulating Life on a Deep Space Mission (Source: Cosmos)
The crew members for HERA only have contact with each other and mission control, not even access to the Internet. The current crew of four women is also the first to be led by a woman. They took up residence in the habitat 30 years to the day after the Challenger disaster. Click here. (2/15)

Will the World's Largest Supercollider Spawn a Black Hole? (Source: Space.com)
Can a supercollider end life on Earth? No. Of course not. But it's not really a silly question for people who haven't thought carefully about it. After all, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's biggest and most powerful particle accelerator, is explicitly an instrument of exploration, one that is designed to push back the frontiers of ignorance.

It's not so unreasonable to ask how you know something isn't dangerous if you've never done it before. So how is it I can say with such utter confidence that the LHC is completely safe? Well, the short answer is that cosmic rays from space constantly pummel the Earth with energies that dwarf those of the LHC. Given that the Earth is still here, there can be no danger, or so the reasoning goes. (2/15)

Space to Grow for Australian Satellite Industry (Source: ABC)
Flavia Nardini has an ambitious goal to connect the globe. As the chief executive of two start-up companies in the space sector based in Adelaide, Ms Nardini is one of a small but growing band of Australian entrepreneurs looking to the heavens for business opportunities.

However, despite Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's calls for an innovation revolution, Australia's antiquated policy approach to aerospace and space technology is hindering growth in this nascent industry. One of Ms Nardini's companies, Fleet - which designs, builds and operates nano-satellites - managed to receive seed funding through a matching $50,000 grant from the Government of South Australia. (2/14)

‘Space Screws Up Biology:’ UW Botanist Grows Plants in NASA Space Station (Source: Badger Herald)
Taking his research and questions to space, a University of Wisconsin faculty member now works closely with NASA to study how environmental stress on earth affects plants. For the last few years, botany professor Simon Gilroy and his lab have been studying environmental stress on earth.

In 2014, Gilroy’s lab sent 1,002 seeds up to the international space station to grow in the dark for eight days in Biological Research in Canisters, or BRICs. The seeds were then chemically preserved and brought back down to earth to be compared with the control seeds concurrently grown and preserved in Gilroy’s lab.

Once the seeds were back on earth, Gilroy and his team sent the seedlings over to UW’s Biotechnology Center to map more than 30,000 data points to record the genome of the plants. Comparing the space plants with the control group will help the scientists create a fingerprint to be used to understand the impact of microgravity and radioactivity on seedling growth, Gilroy said. (2/15)

NASA Moves to Enforce Early Switch to EUS for SLS (Source: NasaSpaceFlight.com)
NASA managers have placed a “stop work order” in relation to the human-rating of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (lCPS) for the Space Launch System (SLS). The stage, which was set to ride with a crewed flight on Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2), will be replaced by the early addition of the more powerful Exploration Upper Stage, although NASA recently claimed the proposed FY 2017 funding cuts to SLS place its implementation schedule in doubt. Click here. (2/15)

Things to Know About the Space Tourism Industry (Source: Washington Post)
Space tourism projects leaped off the drawing board when a $10 million prize was offered as an incentive for private development of manned rockets, but it took years to make a winner. Many more years have passed since, but the only space tourists have been a few wealthy people who paid millions of dollars for trips aboard Russian rockets to the International Space Station. Click here. (2/15)

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