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Space

SpaceX Intends To Send a Red Dragon To Mars As Early As 2018 (blastingnews.com) 117

Reader MarkWhittington writes: SpaceX has announced that it intends to send a version of its Dragon spacecraft, called "Red Dragon," to Mars as early as 2018. The mission, to be launched on top of a Falcon Heavy rocket, would be the first to another planet conducted by a commercial enterprise. The flight of the Red Dragon would be the beginning of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's long-term dream of building a settlement on Mars.Ars Technica reports: According to the company, these initial test missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars. This series of missions, to be launched on the company's not-yet-completed Falcon Heavy rocket, will provide key data for SpaceX as the company develops an overall plan to send humans to the Red Planet to colonize Mars. One of the biggest challenges in landing on Mars is the fact that its atmosphere is so thin it provides little braking capacity. To land the 900kg Curiosity rover on Mars, NASA had to devise the complicated sky crane system that led to its "Seven Minutes of Terror." A Dragon would weigh much more, perhaps about 6,000kg. To solve this problem, SpaceX plans to use an upgraded spacecraft, a Dragon2 powered by eight SuperDraco engines, to land using propulsion.
NASA

NASA Gives Solar Ionic Propulsion A Monster Boost (networkworld.com) 52

coondoggie quotes a report from Network World: NASA this week took a giant step toward using solar electric power for future space missions by awarding a $67 million contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop an advanced electric propulsion system. Network World writes, "Specifically, Aerojet Rocketdyne will develop and deliver an integrated electric propulsion system -- known as the Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) -- consisting of a thruster, power processing unit (PPU), low-pressure xenon flow controller, and electrical harness. Such a system would deploy large solar arrays that can be used to convert sunlight into electrical power that ionizes atoms of xenon which is the propellant for the spacecraftâ(TM)s thrusters. In addition, such a power plant could potentially increase spaceflight fuel efficiency by 10 times over current chemical propulsion technology and more than double thrust capability compared to current electric propulsion systems, NASA said." NASA's plan is to use this propulsion system on its future Asteroid Redirect Mission, as well as on its mission to Mars.
China

China Plans To Reach Mars by 2020 and Eventually Build a Moon Base (techinsider.io) 105

Rebecca Harrington, writing for Tech Insider: China has plans to orbit the moon, land people on it, and eventually settle a moon colony. But that's just part of the nation's vision for space exploration: China intends to get a spacecraft to Mars by 2020. "Our long-term goal is to explore, land, and settle [on the moon]," Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's moon and Mars missions, told the BBC. "We want a manned lunar landing to stay for longer periods and establish a research base." Weiren didn't specify when the country plans to accomplish these goals, but he did say they will "check out" the far side of the moon before attempting to land astronauts there. This mission already has concrete plans. He also said China wants to reach Mars by 2020, and implied that the country has finally settled on a mission to send a rover to the Red Planet. "We will orbit Mars, land and deploy a rover -- all in one mission," Weiren told the BBC.
Republicans

Sarah Palin Says 'Bill Nye Is As Much A Scientist As I Am' (cnn.com) 634

ClickOnThis quotes a report from CNN: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin mocked Bill Nye on Thursday, using the premier of a film that criticizes climate change scientists to call into question Nye's credentials. "Bill Nye is as much a scientist as I am," the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee said, according to The Hill. "He's a kids' show actor, he's not a scientist." Palin, who was speaking at the Washington premiere of the anti-climate change film "Climate Hustle," targeted Nye during a rant against the "alarmism" of climate change activists. Palin urged parents to teach their children to "ask those questions and not just believe what Bill Nye the Science Guy is trying to tell them" about climate change. Just because Bill Nye may be best known for his role in the popular educational TV series "Bill Nye the Science Guy," doesn't mean he isn't a scientist. In fact, he graduated from Cornell University's School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. From Wikipedia: In the early 2000s, Nye assisted in the development of a small sundial that was included in the Mars Exploration Rover missions. He holds several U.S. patents, including one for ballet pointe shoes and another for an educational magnifying glass created by filling a clear plastic bag with water.
ISS

SpaceX Delivers World's First Inflatable Room For Astronauts (go.com) 102

An anonymous reader writes: The SpaceX Dragon cargo ship which launched from Cape Canaveral on Friday delivered the world's first inflatable room for astronauts. It arrived at the ISS on Sunday after station astronauts used a robot arm to capture the Dragon, orbiting 250 miles above Earth. The compartment should swell to the size of a small bedroom once filled with air next month. It will be attached to the space station this Saturday, but won't be inflated until the end of May. NASA envisions inflatable habitats in a couple decades at Mars, while Bigelow Aerospace aims to launch a pair of inflatable space stations in just four years for commercial lease. Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be restricted from the six on-board astronauts while NASA tests the chamber to see how it performs. The rocket used to launch the cargo ship successfully landed on a floating drone ship for the first time ever. It was the second time SpaceX successfully landed one of its rockets post-launch; the first time was in December, when the company's Falcon 9 rocket touched down at a ground-based landing site at Cape Canaveral, Florida, after putting a satellite into space.
Open Source

Infographic: Ubuntu Linux Is Everywhere 185

prisoninmate writes: To celebrate the launch of Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, due for release later this month, on April 21, Canonical put together an interesting infographic, showing the world how popular Ubuntu is. From the infographic, it looks like there are over 60 million Ubuntu images launched by Docker users, 14 million Vagrant images of Ubuntu 14.04 LTS from HashiCorp, 20 million launches of Ubuntu instances during 2015 in public and private clouds, as well as bare metal, and 2 million new Ubuntu Cloud instances launched in November 2015. Ubuntu is used on the International Space Station, on the servers of popular online services like Netflix, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit, Dropbox, PayPal, Wikipedia, and Instagram, in Google, Tesla, George Hotz, and Uber cars. It is also employed at Bloomberg, Weta Digital and Walmart, at the Brigham Young University to control the Mars Rover, and it is even behind the largest supercomputer in the world.
Earth

Lasers Could Hide Us From Evil Aliens (washingtonpost.com) 218

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Washington Post: Most of the time when we talk about silly scientific papers related to alien life, we're talking about crazy ideas for how to find aliens. But a new study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society proposes a way of hiding from aliens. Humans are so fickle. A lot of our search for Earth-like planets (and, by extension, for life as we know it) hinges on transiting planets. These are planets that pass in front of their host star in such a way that the transit is visible from our perspective. The movement of the planet in front of the host star makes the light from that star dim or flicker, and we can use that to determine all sorts of things about distant worlds -- including how suitable they may be for life. Professor David Kipping and graduate student Alex Teachey, both of Columbia University, determined how much laser light it would take to mask the dimming caused by our planet transiting the sun, or cloak the atmospheric signatures associated with biological activity, [such as oxygen, which is achievable with a peak laser power of just 160 kW per transit]. From the report: "According to their math, it would take 10 continuous hours of shining a 30 MW laser once a year to eliminate the transit signal in visible light. Actually replicating every wavelength of light emitted by the sun would take about 250 MW of power."
Space

Record-Setting Astronaut Retires from NASA (space.com) 40

Record-setting NASA astronaut Scott Kelly retired from NASA on Friday, after spending more than 520 days in outer space, spread across four space missions -- two space shuttle flights and two recent missions on the orbiting International Space Station. The 52-year-old astronaut's last visit to the space station lasted more than a year, "a profound challenge for all involved," Kelly says, "and it gave me a unique perspective and a lot of time to reflect on what my next step should be on our continued journey to help further our capabilities in space and on Earth." Kelly's time in space started with a 1999 mission on the space shuttle to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, and he's since spent more time in space than any other American. According to Space.com, NASA and Kelly have both said that his long-duration visits are the first baby steps towards a manned missions to Mars.
Displays

You'll Soon Be Able To 'Holoport' Anywhere In the World With Microsoft VR Tech (thenextweb.com) 54

An anonymous reader cites an article on The Next Web: Microsoft research manager Shahram Izadi is showing off the company's latest innovation using HoloLens: 'holoportation,' enabling him to appear as if he's there in real-time, anywhere in the world. His image is captured in 3D by cameras placed around the room. This is then stitched together, compressed and transmitted so someone else can see, hear and interact with him as though he's right there with them. You can even playback previous interactions, as though "walking into a living memory," and miniaturize the content to make it easier to consume. "Imagine being able to virtually teleport from one place to another," he says. Well, if you're the owner of a HoloLens, you soon could do. Microsoft's HoloLens is arguably the front-runner in the nascent, but fast-evolving, augmented reality space. The company's technology has previously been seen used by astronauts and scientists to "walk on the Mars surface" without stepping out of their office on Earth. It's fascinating to see how Microsoft continues to further innovate in this field.
Mars

NASA's Journey To Mars May Use Nuclear Rockets (blastingnews.com) 224

MarkWhittington writes: NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has been making the rounds of congressional committees, defending the indefensible, that being the latest Obama space agency budget proposal. Thursday it was the turn of the House Science Committee to complain to Bolden that the budget underfunded the Journey to Mars and to vow that more money would be forthcoming. One of the other complaints Congress has been making is that NASA lacks a plan to get people to Mars, scheduled to happen sometime in the 2030s. Bolden was coy, suggesting that the time was not right to start firming up architectures and missions. However, he did drop an intriguing hint that a nuclear thermal rocket engine being developed at NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center may take people to Mars quicker than chemical rockets.
Mars

ESA's ExoMars Successfuly Lifts Off From Baikonur (esa.int) 45

vikingpower writes: The European Space Agency's second mission to Mars, ExoMars, was successfully launched from the Baikonur launch pad today. ExoMars will search for traces of life, either past or present, on the Red Planet, and is the precursor to a more full-fledged mission to Mars in 2018, comprising a rover. It consists of an orbiter and of Schiaparelli, a lander built by European industry and scheduled to land in October this year. Both missions are cooperations between ESA and RosKosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. If one of them met their ultimate goal -- proving there is or was life on Mars — the excitement here on Earth would be unimaginable. Mark Whittington adds a link to The Guardian's coverage and a bit of detail: The Russian-made launch vehicle lobbed a probe into space, the Trace Gas Orbiter, that will enter orbit around Mars later in 2016 and search for methane in the Red Planet's atmosphere. Methane can have a number of sources, but one of them is the waste product of microbial life. Both the Mars Express orbiter and the Mars Curiosity rover have detected some measure of methane, which could be produced by geological processes as well.
Mars

ExoMars Probe Is Ready To Be Launched On Monday (cosmosup.com) 18

An anonymous reader writes: Run by the ESA and the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, ExoMars is set to launch to Mars from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 14th with an orbiter-lander combo set. The orbiter, called the Trace Gas Orbiter, will look for trace gases in the Martian atmosphere. In its search for compounds made of carbon and hydrogen, and chemicals containing sulfur, the orbiter will be able to map the hydrogen on Mars up to a meter below the surface. The mission will create a map of Mar's water ice with ten times the resolution we have now. ExoMars 2016 will also include a small test lander known as Schiaparelli. The small lander will be testing the ESA's Mars landing technique, which will help when the ExoMars 2018 mission arrives with a more advanced lander and rover. The mission was originally scheduled to launch in January, but back in October the ESA discovered some issues with Schiaparelli's sensors used to monitor fuel pressure. Instead of risk the sensors leaking fuel and ruining the mission, they delayed the launch and removed the sensors altogether. The launch window of the mission stretches from March 14th through March 25th. And the launch will be live streamed from the ESA's website.
Mars

Dutch Researchers Grow Crops In Simulated Lunar and Martian Soil (blastingnews.com) 120

MarkWhittington writes: When people start living on the moon and Mars on a permanent basis, they are going to need to grow their own crops to produce food to eat. Indeed, in the recent hit movie, "The Martian," Matt Damon's character grew potatoes to survive long enough to be rescued. With that in mind, researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands have been trying to grow crops in simulated lunar and Martian soil. The first attempt was not successful. The second, however, proved to have promising results.
Mars

Mars InSight Mission To Launch In 2018, After $150M Failure and Delay (arstechnica.com) 69

Reader wbr1 points to Ars Technica's Wednesday report that NASA has announced a 2018 launch date for its InSight mission to Mars, two years after its original launch date; the date slip gives engineers time to fix problems with the spacecraft's seismometer system. Adds wbr1: "Even with the failure and extra cost, I think this is the type of mission we should be doing more of. We need more landers and rovers, everywhere we can put them. The science benefit is high, but the cost is magnitudes lower than launching meatbags and all the attendant support they need."
ISS

Two Astronauts Return To Earth After Record 340 Days In ISS (technews.mobi) 78

An anonymous reader writes: U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian astronaut Mikhail Kornienko returned to Earth Wednesday after spending a year aboard the ISS, conducting experiments for future missions to Mars. Mikhail Kornienko, 55, and Scott Kelly, 52, completed the longest uninterrupted period aboard the ISS since the station was deployed in 2000. Kelly, who has made four trips to the ISS, also breaks the record for cumulative time in space by an American, with 540 days. Kelly and Kornienko performed this mission to study the biological and psychological effects of long stays in space in order to prepare for future missions to Mars in 2030 or sooner. During their stay at the station, both were frequently subjected to medical examination and a battery of tests to study the long-term effects of micro-gravity on the human body.
Crime

Mars Rover Code Used For Cyber-Espionage Malware 78

An anonymous reader writes: Two open-source libraries used in the Mars Rover software have been integrated in the source code of a malware family (nicknamed Rover) used as part of a cyber-espionage campaign against the Indian government (Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan). The two libraries are OpenCV and OpenAL, two libraries for processing image and audio information. As such, the Rover malware can take screenshots, record video and audio.
Government

Former NASA Chief On US Space Policy: "No Vision, No Plan, No Budget" (arstechnica.com) 171

An anonymous reader writes: During a congressional hearing Thursday, former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin had harsh words for the space agency and the space policy crafted by President Obama's administration. Under the Obama administration's guidance, NASA has established Mars as a goal for human spaceflight and said that astronauts will visit the red planet by the 2030s. However, a growing number of critics say the agency's approach is neither affordable nor sustainable.

On Thursday, Griffin, administrator of NASA from 2005 to 2009, joined those critics. The United States has not had a serious discussion about space policy, he testified, and as a result, the space agency is making little discernible progress. NASA simply cannot justify its claims of being on a credible path toward Mars, he added.

NASA

Sorry, But Lasers Aren't Taking You To Mars Anytime Soon 193

An anonymous reader writes: It's long been a dream of humanity to travel interplanetary distances at great speeds, or to make it to another star system within a human lifetime. Until recently, technologies to get us there — antimatter propulsion, wormholes or warp drive — have all been composed of physically unrealistic solutions. But recent developments in laser technology make directed energy propulsion a feasible solution. By building a giant laser array in space and developing a new type of solar sail that reflects the laser light with incredible efficiency, a laser sail, this propulsion system is scalable to arbitrarily large powers. There are many technical obstacles to be overcome, and so it's unlikely we'll see the fruit of this anytime in the next few decades (despite the promises of some), but this may well be the technology that takes us to the stars in the coming centuries.
Government

Russia's Moon And Mars Exploration Ambitions Hobbled By A Lack Of Money (phys.org) 114

MarkWhittington writes: Phys.Org reports that the ambitions of the Russian Space Agency continue to exceed its financial wherewithal to carry them out. A Russian rocket is due to launch the first element of the European ExoMars program, which consists of the Trace Gas Orbiter and the Italian-built Schiaparelli lander, in March. Both are due to arrive at Mars in October. After that, Russia's space exploration plans are a bit hazy, hobbled by a lack of money.
Mars

NASA Is Already Studying What Sort of Person Is Best Suited For Mars (blastingnews.com) 144

MarkWhittington writes: The first crew to set forth to Mars are likely in Middle School or High School, but NASA is already delving into what criteria it should use to select the interplanetary explorers. That they should be physically fit and experts in their fields are a given. But the space agency is keen that the people who will set forth to Mars in 20 years or so should be of a particular psychological type. NASA has granted Johns Hopkins money to conduct a study into the problem.

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