May 12, 2016

Dragon Cargo Capsule Splashes Down, Returning Scott Kelly’s Samples (Source: Geek Wire)
A month after delivering an expandable prototype habitat and other goodies to the International Space Station, SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean today with tons of equipment and scientific samples.

Among the roughly 3,700 pounds of cargo are freezers containing blood, saliva, urine and stool samples from astronaut Scott Kelly, who served as an experimental subject during a nearly yearlong stint on the station. Those samples will be studied to see how long-term spaceflight affected Kelly’s metabolic functions, including the function of the gut bacteria in his bowels. (5/11)

Review Finds Enterprise Florida Should Cut 27 Positions (Source: Political Fix Florida)
Enterprise Florida, the agency that creates jobs for the state, would need to slash 27 positions from its own budget in order to achieve $6 million in savings requested by Gov. Rick Scott, according to a review released Wednesday morning. A review of Enterprise Florida found the 27 positions would help the state’s public-private economic partnership reach the goal Scott set after the Legislature decide not to provide it with $250 million for its incentive fund.

The cuts, if they are approved by the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors, would save the agency $2.73 million. Enterprise Florida President Bill Johnson said the changes the agency faces is not easy, but it is necessary. (5/11)

Space Florida to Invest in Gamers to Bolster Aerospace Workforce (Source: Florida Today)
Game developers will play a growing role in state efforts to position the Space Coast region as an innovative place where software and aerospace engineers collaborate to solve space challenges. Space Florida’s board of directors approved a contract worth up to $200,000 with Hurricane Communications that includes establishing a Florida Space Gaming and Aerospace Conference.

The conference aims to build on the success of a gaming event Space Florida sponsored last year in Orlando, the Indie Galactic Space Jam. The space jam drew more than 100 participants who in a single weekend produced more than 20 prototype games built around a challenge to clean up space junk. Space Florida said both NASA and the Air Force have agreed to present real-world space challenges to gamers at the next conference as soon as this summer.

The gaming concept seeks to build stronger ties between the Space Coast’s decades of aerospace expertise with Orlando’s modeling and simulation industry. According to Frank DiBello: “Almost every company that we bring here will tell you that advanced computer software engineers and cyber security design people are their biggest workforce needs.” (5/11)

2007 OR10: Largest Unnamed World in the Solar System (Source: NASA)
Dwarf planets tend to be a mysterious bunch. With the exception of Ceres, which resides in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, all members of this class of minor planets in our solar system lurk in the depths beyond Neptune. They are far from Earth – small and cold – which makes them difficult to observe, even with large telescopes. So it's little wonder astronomers only discovered most of them in the past decade or so.

Given the inherent challenges in trying to observe these far-flung worlds, astronomers often need to combine data from a variety of sources in order to tease out basic details about their properties. Recently, a group of astronomers did just that by combining data from two space observatories to reveal something surprising: a dwarf planet named 2007 OR10 is significantly larger than previously thought.

The results peg 2007 OR10 as the largest unnamed world in our solar system and the third largest of the current roster of about half a dozen dwarf planets. The study also found that the object is quite dark and rotating more slowly than almost any other body orbiting our sun, taking close to 45 hours to complete its daily spin. (5/11)

The Race to Make Plutonium-238 for Space Exploration (Source: Fusion)
There are thousands of problems yet to be solved before we can start packing our bags for the first Mars colony and many experiments underway to solve them—but they won’t matter if we no longer have the power source that probes need to get to deep space. We’re projected to run out of current stocks of that power source, plutonium-238, within the next ten years.

Plutonium-238 is a one-inch by one-inch radioactive pellet that’s a byproduct of making nuclear weapons. In 1988, as the Cold War wound down, the US government stopped making it. Now we are almost out of it, with just enough left to fulfill NASA’s mission schedule until 2026.

The long, long road to manufacturing more of it presents one of the most pressing and difficult problems facing the future of space exploration—and even if we succeed, it still might not be enough to get us into deep space. (5/11)

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