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UFOs remain elusive despite decades of study

In July, the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) celebrates 50 years of investigating and promoting research on the unidentified flying object phenomenon. The all-volunteer, nonprofit, science-based organization has endeavored since 1969 to hunt down answers about baffling vehicles of unknown origin.

Based in Irvine, California, MUFON makes its credo clear-cut on its website: “Our goal is to be the inquisitive minds’ refuge seeking answers to that most ancient question, ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ The answer, very simply, is no. Whether you have UFO reports to share, armchair UFO investigator aspirations, or want to train and join our investigation team, MUFON is here for you. Won’t you please join us in our quest to discover the truth?”

Related: 7 Things Most Often Mistaken for UFOs

After five decades, has there been any scientific pay dirt in studying UFOs? Are we inching closer to the truth that is perhaps out there?

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Jan Harzan is MUFON’s executive director, manning that post since August 2013.

“I’ve seen these craft. I know they are real,” he told Space.com. “I can’t tell you where they’re from. I don’t know if they are ours or belong to somebody else or whatever. But they are advanced technology.”

The world needs to understand UFOs, Harzan said. “This is real. We’ve got to put the data out there and share it. We have over 100,000 UFO cases in our files … and it’s growing. We currently have worldwide over 500 certified MUFON field investigators that go out and look at each one of these cases,” he said.

A MUFON Science Review Board (SRB) consists of scientists with degrees in physics, chemistry, geology and electrical engineering. Their work experience includes NASA, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and France’s national space program, CNES. The SRB reviews the best cases from the year to identify the strongest cases that cannot be identified as any known object.

Big leap

Assuming that weirdness in the sky represents an alien visitation is a big leap. But who knows?

Nearly 34% of reports coming into MUFON can be identified, be they aircraft, rocket launches, satellites, astronomical happenings — even Chinese lanterns (small hot air balloons made of paper) or the proliferating number of military, police and citizen-run drones of all shapes and sizes. For example, Google’s Project Loon, which uses high-flying balloons to bring Wi-Fi internet to rural areas, has repeatedly stirred up UFO reports.

It is becoming harder to weed out and identify “real” UFOs, Harzan admitted.

“But on the other hand, when you read some of the reports — we call it the 5%, one out of 20 — that are incredible observations by very articulate and credible people,” he said, “you get about 5% of cases that are so rock solid.”

Related: UFO Watch: 8 Times the Government Looked for Flying Saucers

Old beliefs

Harzan said that the No. 1 stumbling block to advancement as a civilization is holding on to old beliefs. Is our science even capable of understanding what UFOs truly represent?

“We have to be able to let go of some old beliefs, because maybe the way we think the universe works isn’t how it really works,” Harzan said. “I personally believe that these are extraterrestrial beings that have advanced physics that we don’t yet understand. And once we do, we’ll be out there doing the same thing that they are doing. We’re probably 20 to 30 years away from being the aliens.”

Valuable service

“I think the best way to characterize MUFON is to say that it’s a broad church,” said Nick Pope, a former investigator of UFOs for the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence.

“As is the case in the UFO community as a whole, MUFON members have a range of different views on the mystery, and, while bound together by a common interest, are a diverse group,” he told Space.com.

Pope noted that, as one finds in other UFO groups and in the wider UFO community, MUFON has had its disputes and feuds. “None of this detracts from the fact that they provide a valuable service to UFO witnesses, with field investigators looking into the sightings, sometimes turning up a conventional explanation and other times simply giving perplexed witnesses someone with whom to engage,” he said.

Day-to-day business

As for undertaking truly scientific research on UFOs, “MUFON is clearly at a disadvantage,” Pope said, “given that most of their members are nonscientists.”

But he doesn’t think this is necessarily a problem.

“While the research side of MUFON’s work needs to be scientific if it’s to have credibility, I don’t think this applies so much to the day-to-day business of investigating UFO sightings,” Pope said. The investigative methodology might be likened to the model used in criminal investigations, with interviews being done, evidence being gathered and leads and findings double-checked, he said.

“Scientific advice should be sought when necessary — for instance, if a soil sample needs to be checked for radioactivity,” Pope said.

“But one doesn’t need to be a scientist, or even adopt a scientific methodology, to interview a witness, cross-check with information about flight paths and find out, say, that at the time and location of a particular UFO sighting, the Goodyear blimp was in the area,” he added. “The bottom line here is that I don’t think we should get too hung up on whether or not MUFON as a whole is sufficiently scientific.”

Taking a look ahead, Pope said MUFON is only going to be as good as the people in it. “Thus, it needs to ensure it can attract hardworking and able people, retain them, and identify and promote the best of its people into leadership positions. And all of this has to be done without the organization becoming overly bureaucratic. It’s quite a challenge, and I wish them well,” he said.

Related: 5 Bold Claims of Alien Life

Skeptical investigator

“MUFON proclaims its dedication to the scientific method in UFO investigations, but it seldom lives up to that ideal,” said Robert Sheaffer, a leading skeptical investigator of UFOs.

In 1987, MUFON strongly embraced dubious UFO photos and contact claims in Gulf Breeze, Florida, even though two of MUFON’s top investigators regarded the photos as bogus and sniffed out a hoax. Subsequently, the MUFON director at the time booted the duo out of the organization and disavowed their report.

“The publicity from the Gulf Breeze photos was very good for MUFON, bringing in many new members. But this scandal prompted many experienced investigators to quit MUFON,” Sheaffer said.

The 2017 MUFON Symposium in Las Vegas seems to have been something of a turning point in triggering another round of resignations of serious UFO researchers, Sheaffer said. “Panels at the MUFON gathering were widely perceived as ‘crackpot,’ especially with the crazy theme of a giant ‘secret space program’ encountering aliens,” he said.

Lastly, Sheaffer pointed to MUFON working with the producers of the TV series “Hangar 1,” which premiered in 2014 on The History Channel, providing cases from the organization’s archives.

“The series has been almost universally panned by serious UFO investigators for its sensationalist approach,” Sheaffer said. “However, it too has been extremely successful in bringing people into MUFON.”

Making sense of UFOs

James Oberg, a leading popularizer and interpreter of space exploration events, also keeps a skeptical eye on UFO accounts and sighting claims.

“In my research on various space/missile events which have given rise to spectacular UFO stories, I have relied on and trusted the diligent work of past chroniclers and try to express gratitude to them,” Oberg said. “These research results are dedicated to the legions of unsung and often anonymous worldwide chroniclers of ‘UFO reports’ and other anomalous observations which so often fall through the cracks of scientific attention.”

Oberg said that these people, numbering in the thousands, have labored tirelessly for decades to capture information they want not to be lost forever, in the hopes that someday it could be important in making sense of UFOs.

“Without them, most of it would have vanished from human consciousness,” Oberg emphasized. Perhaps the explanations offered are not precisely in line with their own expectations, he said, “but they are sincerely offered in fulfillment of their higher hopes that someday, somebody would take real lessons from their efforts, and in keeping faith with them, would show their labors were not in vain.”

You can find more information on MUFON at the organization’s website.

Original article on Space.com

Westlake Legal Group 656961ac-DZKRG3pfckUg2MmWnUJueU UFOs remain elusive despite decades of study Space.com Leonard David fox-news/science/air-and-space/ufos fnc/science fnc article 15311e90-ec30-5423-a179-52f2c6aaade9   Westlake Legal Group 656961ac-DZKRG3pfckUg2MmWnUJueU UFOs remain elusive despite decades of study Space.com Leonard David fox-news/science/air-and-space/ufos fnc/science fnc article 15311e90-ec30-5423-a179-52f2c6aaade9

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Triple-threat ‘comet interceptor’ could explore an undiscovered space object

A new mission will intercept an undiscovered comet en route to Earth’s orbit, the first of its kind to observe a pristine interstellar object as it enters the inner solar system.

Three spacecraft will capture snapshots of the comet from different angles, creating a 3D profile of the object and characterizing its surface, composition, shape and structure.

The “Comet Interceptor” was selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) on June 19 as the latest “fast” or F-class mission — in reference to its quick implementation. The mission’s proposal was submitted to ESA in March, and it is scheduled to launch in 2028.

Related: Best Close Encounters of the Comet Kind

“Pristine or dynamically new comets are entirely uncharted,” Günther Hasinger, ESA’s director of science, said in a statement. “[They] make compelling targets for close-range spacecraft exploration to better understand the diversity and evolution of comets.”

Previous ESA missions to study comets, such as Giotto and Rosetta, have observed short-period comets that have approached the sun several times in recent history and therefore have undergone significant observable changes, according to the statement. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which the Rosetta spacecraft orbited from 2014 to 2016, swings by the sun every 6.5 years. And in 1986, the Giotto spacecraft flew by Halley’s Comet, which has an orbital period of 76 years.

This mission is unique in that it will observe a comet that has not yet interacted with the solar wind environment — and it will launch before its target has been discovered. By observing a pristine comet as it enters the solar system, it can provide information on the evolution of comets as the undiscovered comet will likely contain material that has not yet been altered since the birth of the solar system, the statement added.

Related: Living on a Comet: ‘Dirty Snowball’ Facts Explained (Infographic)

In the past, it was difficult to implement this sort of mission. The time frame between discovering a pristine comet and being able to launch a spacecraft to intercept its journey was typically less than a year — too short to prepare and launch a mission. However, recent advances in observational surveys have allowed the discovery of comets while they are much farther away, according to the mission’s website.

Comet Interceptor will hitch a ride to space on ESA’s Ariel exoplanet-hunting mission, which is expected to launch in 2028. Both missions will go to the sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point, which is located about 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth on the opposite side as the sun. From there, the parked Comet Interceptor will use its own propulsion system to chase down its target after the comet has been selected.

Original article on Space.com.

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NASA chief says returning astronauts to the Moon could cost $30 billion

It was always going to be expensive, but NASA’s first cost estimate for the agency’s push to land humans on the moon by 2024 is finally here — and it’s surprisingly cheap.

During an interview with CNN that aired June 14, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine offered his first concrete budget estimate for the agency’s current lunar aspirations, a plan that has been dubbed the Artemis program. That plan includes recruiting commercial companies and international partners, building a lunar space station, landing humans at the moon’s south pole by 2024 and framing the whole project as practicing for Mars.

“For the whole program, to get a sustainable presence on the moon, we’re looking at between $20 and $30 billion,” Bridenstine told CNN. He specified that the estimate represented additional money, beyond what the agency has already spent on the SLS rocket and Orion capsule it intends to use for the program.

Related: Can NASA Really Put Astronauts on the Moon in 2024?

Bridenstine also specified that the estimate represented money on top of the agency’s current budget. Throughout his attempts to sell his agency, Congress and the public on the Artemis plan, he has repeatedly promised that the moon landing push will be separately funded and won’t pull money from the agency’s other activities.

Last month, President Donald Trump asked Congress to allot an extra $1.6 billion to NASA to fund the Artemis program in fiscal year 2020, which begins Oct. 1. But that request, which Congress has not yet evaluated, always included a caveat from Bridenstine specifying that it would be only the beginning of dramatic budget increases required for the program.

Until today, Bridenstine had demurred on providing a total budget estimate for the Artemis program, although he had publicly denied rumors that NASA would request $8 billion per year for five years to fund the moon push. (If the program total does indeed run to $30 billion and NASA gets its $1.6 billion for 2020, that would leave $7 billion per year for each of the four remaining years of the program.)

For comparison, NASA’s last moonshot, the Constellation program that never came to fruition, was announced with an estimated cost of $104 billion in 2005. The Apollo program cost $25 billion — but that was in 1960s dollars.

More recently, the International Space Station has been estimated to have cost about $100 billion. Even the Hubble Space Telescope, between its construction, launch and in-orbit servicing, is estimated to have cost more than $10 billionover its life to date.

But returning humans to the moon in a more permanent way than Apollo is worth it, Bridenstine said.

“Think of it as a short-term investment to have a sustainable program at the moon where we’re ultimately keeping our eyes on Mars,” Bridenstine told CNN. “How do we learn to live and work on another world, namely the moon, and then go on to Mars and do it in a way [so that], when this is complete, the American people have a program they can be very proud of for the long term?”

Original article on Space.com.

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18 new Earth-size exoplanets pop up in old Kepler planet-hunting data

Scientists scouring old Kepler Space Telescope data have tracked down 18 more relatively small exoplanets imaged by the famed planet-hunting observatory.

While most of the planets orbit close to their parent stars and have scorching surface temperatures of up to about 1,830 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius), one world orbits a small red dwarf star in an area called the “habitable zone.” That term is usually defined as the area around a star where a rocky planet could host liquid water on its surface. However, life is never a slam-dunk, and on this world, it would be particularly tricky because red dwarfs put out killer X-rays that could make living on nearby planets a challenge, even for microbes.

A new computer algorithm flushed out the hidden planets from data gathered by K2, Kepler’s late-in-life observing program. K2 was developed after several of Kepler’s gyroscopes (devices that allow a telescope to maintain a consistent orientation in space) had ceased working by 2013 after four years of operations in space, well exceeding their design lifetime.

Related: RIP, Kepler: Revolutionary Planet-Hunting Telescope Runs Out of Fuel

Scientists figured out how to stabilize the telescope’s pointing using the constant pressure of particles streaming from the sun, hopping around from time to time to protect its sensors from solar light. Kepler found its planets using the “transit method,” which notices when a planet passes in front of its parent star and produces a drop in brightness.

K2 allowed Kepler to observe 100,000 more stars before the telescope ran out of fuel in 2018, including 517 stars that scientists had already spotted planets orbiting. The researchers behind the new study decided to revisit those stars with a new data-processing algorithm.

“Standard search algorithms attempt to identify sudden drops in brightness,” lead author René Heller, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, said in a statement. “In reality, however, a stellar disk appears slightly darker at the edge than in the center. When a planet moves in front of a star, it therefore initially blocks less starlight than at the mid-time of the transit. The maximum dimming of the star occurs in the center of the transit just before the star becomes gradually brighter again.”

The new algorithm attempted to plot a more realistic “light curve,” or pattern of dimming as the planet moves across the face of a distant star. This made it easier to find small planets in the data: The new planets Heller and his colleagues found range from 70% the size of Earth to double our planet’s size. The research team says their new algorithm also makes it somewhat easier to spot small planets amid natural brightness fluctuations of a star, such as those caused by sunspots, and other variables in observation.

More Earth-size exoplanets might be lurking in the data. Planets that orbit more frequently around a star have a greater chance of being spotted, because they pass in front of the star more often. But planets that are farther away might have gone undetected in the data, since their crossings are less frequent.

The researchers plan to apply their algorithm to the rest of the Kepler data, and say they may yield up to 100 new Earth-size worlds.

Two papers based on the research were published this month in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Original article on Space.com.

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Cost of 2024 Moon landing is still a mystery

We’ll have to wait a little longer to get an idea of how much it’ll cost to put astronauts on the moon by 2024.

NASA has calculated a preliminary price tag for this ambitious goal, which U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced in late March. But that estimate cannot be disclosed at the moment, because it’s still being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and NASA’s chief financial officer, agency officials said.

“Right now, it’s under review, and we can’t come up with [disclose] a number,” Mark Sirangelo, special assistant to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, said today (May 8) during a hearing of the space and aeronautics subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Science, Space and Technology committee.

Related: Can NASA Really Put Astronauts on the Moon in 2024?

“We’ve provided the information,” added Sirangelo, who previously served as executive vice president for Sierra Nevada Space Systems. “The discussions have been very positive and open, and as soon as those discussions are complete and OMB has approved the numbers, they’ll provide them to you.”

Returning humans to the lunar surface has been official U.S. policy since December 2017, when President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1. NASA intends to establish a sustainable outpost on the moon as well as a small orbiting space station called the Gateway, and use the lessons learned in the construction and operation of these assets to prepare for human missions to Mars in the 2030s.

The initial timeline targeted the late 2020s for the first crewed moon landings, which will take place near the lunar south pole. But Pence increased the urgency during a March 26 meeting of the National Space Council.

Neither NASA nor the White House has said how much money will likely be needed to ace the 2024 moon shot, so speculation has filled the information vacuum. For example, some reports have suggested that NASA will ask for an additional $8 billion per year over the next five years.

Bridenstine shot down those rumors last week but didn’t offer up any figures of his own.

“I will tell you that is not accurate,” he said at a May 1 hearing of the commerce, justice and science subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations. “It is nowhere close to that amount. But I don’t want to throw out a number until we have gone through the process with OMB and the National Space Council.”

NASA also has not published a plan detailing how it’s going to achieve the 2024 lunar landing — a fact that seems to have rankled some subcommittee members.

“In hearings from the last Congress to the present, members of the subcommittee and full committee have repeatedly asked for this road map, only to receive in response a high-level strategy that was delivered over a year and a half late,” subcommittee chairwoman Kendra Horn, D-Okla., said in her opening statement during today’s hearing.

In addition, during the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Horn noted that Bridenstine promised to provide the Science committee with an amended budget request “very close to April 15.”

“It’s now May 8,” Horn said, addressing Sirangelo and fellow hearing participant Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA Human Exploration and Operations. “My question is, what is the reason for the delay, and can you commit to providing this committee with a lunar plan and budget amendment — on what date?”

Gerstenmaier responded that the 2020 moon goal is challenging and complex, and NASA is taking the time to get its plans and cost estimates right. But the road map should be ready soon, he said.

“We’re probably several weeks away — maybe a week to two weeks away — from being able to give you a plan and show you what we have moving forward [in] specifics,” Gerstenmaier said.

He also stressed, in response to a question from subcommittee member Katie Hill, D-Calif., that the 2024 target is feasible.

“I think it’s very achievable,” Gerstenmaier said. “The challenge will be, can we get through the political process? Can we get the political stability, can we get the funding necessary to go do this in the time frame to move forward? Can we get any legislation relief that we might need, and get a clarity of purpose? Can we get united in this goal enough to move forward at the pace that we’d like to go? That’ll be the biggest challenge.”

Also testifying today before the subcommittee were Jonathan Lunine, director of the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science; Patricia Sanders, chair of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel; and Walt Faulconer, president of the Faulconer Consulting Group.

Original article on Space.com.

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Blue Moon: Here’s how Blue Origin’s new lunar lander works

WASHINGTON — Yesterday, Blue Origin’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, revealed the company’s plans to land a spacecraft named “Blue Moon” on the lunar surface.

During an exclusive presentation here at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center yesterday (May 9), Bezos laid out the details of Blue Moon and all the ways it can be used to explore Earth’s natural satellite.

From new tech to possible crewed missions to the lunar surface, there’s a lot to unpack from Bezos’ presentation. We’ll explain what Blue Origin plans to do with Blue Moon, as well as detail the spacecraft’s design and some of its bells and whistles.

Related: Blue Origin’s Lunar Lander: A Photo Tour

More From Space.com

Blue Moon is a relatively large lunar lander that’s designed to deliver science payloads, moon rovers and even astronauts to the lunar surface. It can also deploy small satellites into lunar orbit as a “bonus mission” on the way, Bezos said.

Blue Moon bears some resemblance to NASA’s old Apollo lunar modules , but there are some noticeable differences. The most obvious, aside from its sleeker design, is the enormous, spherical fuel tank with the words “Blue Moon” printed in big, blue letters on its side.

It also has much smaller landing pads, or “feet,” on the bottom of its landing legs. That’s because the Apollo landers’ engineers were worried that the lunar soil would be so soft that the lander would sink too far, but the ground was more solid than they thought, Bezos said.

Whereas the Apollo landers were designed specifically for human missions to the lunar surface — and, therefore, required human hands to deploy science payloads — Blue Moon is a fully autonomous, robotic spacecraft with built-in mechanisms for dropping off science gear, including lunar rovers. Using a crane-like contraption known as a davit system, the lander will gently lower payloads from its main deck to the lunar surface. The davit system can be customized for different types of payloads, and it can drop up to four large rovers onto the moon simultaneously.

Other bells and whistles include a star tracker system and a flash lidar device that will allow the spacecraft to navigate autonomously by looking at stars in space and features on the lunar surface. “There’s no GPS on the moon,” Bezos said.

“Now that we have mapped the entire moon in great detail, we can use those preexisting maps to tell the system what it should be looking for in terms of craters and other features, and it navigates relative to that. It uses the actual terrain of the moon as guideposts.” With that navigation system, Blue Moon will be able to touch down within 75 feet (23 meters) of its target landing site, Bezos said.

Hydrogen power

The lander will utilize Blue Origin’s new BE-7 engines, which the company will begin testing this summer, Bezos said. Those new engines will be powered by a combination of liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX), which is “not how Apollo did it,” Bezos said. Although Apollo’s command modules — which stayed in orbit while the lunar modules went to the surface — did use LH2/LOX for fuel, the landers ran on battery power.

“We know a lot now about the moon that we didn’t know back in the Apollo days or even really just 20 years ago,” Bezos said. “One of the most important things we know about the moon today is that there’s water there. It’s in the form of ice. It’s in the permanently shadowed craters on the poles of the moon, and water is an incredibly valuable resource. You can use electrolysis to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen, and you have propellants.”

So, the LH2/LOX-powered engines not only provide better performance but also run on natural resources found on the moon — that is, if scientists find a way to mine the hydrogen from the moon’s water ice. But Bezos seemed confident in the feasibility of that plan. “Ultimately, we’re going to be able to get hydrogen from that water on the moon and be able to refuel these vehicles on the surface of the moon,” he said.

The spacecraft

Blue Moon has a 23-foot (7 meters) payload bay that will stand about 14 feet (4 m) with its four landing legs fully deployed. When it’s fully loaded with fuel, the lander weighs about 16.5 tons (15 metric tons). By the time it reaches the lunar surface, having burned up almost all of its fuel, the lander will weigh only about 3.3 tons (3 metric tons).

For comparison, the Apollo lunar modules that carried astronauts to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s were 23 feet tall and weighed 4.7 tons (4.3 metric tons) without propellant. Lockheed Martin’s proposed lunar lander is a bit bigger and heavier. That lander, which would also use LH2 and LOX for propellant and has yet to receive a name, would be about 46 feet (14 m) tall. Even with an empty fuel tank, the lander would weigh 24 tons (22 metric tons) — more than seven times the dry weight of Blue Moon. When the Lockheed Martin lander’s fuel tank is filled, the module will weigh a whopping 68 tons (62 metric tons).

Blue Moon may look smaller than Lockheed’s lander, but it will have a bigger payload capacity. It will be able to deliver about 4 tons’ (3.6 metric tons) worth of payloads to the lunar surface, compared with 1.1 tons (1 metric ton) for Lockheed’s lander. A “stretched tank” variant of Blue Moon will be able to carry up to 7.2 tons (6.5 metric tons), including an added ascent stage — and some additional fuel — that would allow astronauts to visit the surface of the moon.

A lander for astronauts?

Although the Blue Moon lunar lander is designed to make one-way trips to the moon, the stretched variant with its ascent stage would enable round trips for astronauts. Once astronauts left the surface, they could, hypothetically, return to NASA’s Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a proposed lunar space station that would orbit the moon, although Bezos did not elaborate on where the Blue Moon crewmembers might go once they left the moon.

NASA aims to have some form of its lunar gateway in orbit within the next five years, because the agency won’t be able to fulfill the Trump administration’s ambitious request to land astronauts on the moon in 2024 without that critical piece of infrastructure.

“Vice President Pence just recently said it’s the stated policy of this administration and the United States of America to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years,” Bezos said. “I love this. It’s the right thing to do. We can help meet that timeline.”

Blue Origin has not yet officially offered NASA its lunar lander concept as a contender for the agency’s 2024 mission, but NASA plans to start soliciting proposals from private companies by the end of this month.

But Blue Origin doesn’t need a NASA contract to launch Blue Moon. The company has already secured paying customers, many of whom were present at the grand unveiling, Bezos said. “People are very excited about this capability to soft-land their cargo, their rovers, their science experiments onto the surface of the moon in a precise way. There is no capability to do that today.”

Original article on Space.com.

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Russia may soon mothball its most historic launchpad: report

Westlake Legal Group russia-may-soon-mothball-its-most-historic-launchpad-report Russia may soon mothball its most historic launchpad: report Space.com Samantha Mathewson fox-news/science/air-and-space/spaceflight fnc/science fnc bd13ef1e-0eb2-5ca5-947e-1f58eebf9f10 article

Russia may soon decommission its most historic launch site, from which the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, was lofted into space.

Site No. 1, also known as Gagarin’s Start, is located in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Sputnik was the first spacecraft to lift off from this site in October 1957, followed by the first human spaceflight mission in April 1961 by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Many other historic missions have also launched from Site No. 1, including Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who became the first woman to fly to space in June 1963, as well as Scott Kelly’s record-breaking stay aboard the International Space Station.

Related: Roscosmos: Russia’s Space Centers and Launch Sites in Pictures

Today, Site No. 1 is still used to launch all Russian, American, Canadian, European and Japanese astronauts into space. However, that soon may change, Ars Technica reported.

It’s possible that Site No. 1 will be decommissioned sometime after the final flight of the Soyuz FG vehicle in September. The crewed launches of the Soyuz MS-13 and Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft, in July and September, respectively, will be the final flights of the Soyuz FG vehicle, according to Ars Technica.

Reports suggest the launch site will be decommissioned due to a lack of funding for upgrades needed to launch the Soyuz 2 rocket. Site No. 1 was already reconfigured for launches of the Soyuz FG rocket, which was introduced in 2001 and is used today to fly crews to the space station.

However, cargo launches have already moved to the new Soyuz 2 rocket and it’s expected that crew launches will move to the newer rocket, too, according to Ars Technica, based on a report by RIA Novosti.

Compared with the 6.9-ton payload capacity of the Soyuz FG booster, the Soyuz 2.1b has a payload capacity of 8.2 tons to low Earth orbit. Currently, the Soyuz 2 rocket launches from Site 31 in Baikonur, as well as from two other launch facilities in Russia and Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

Original article on Space.com.

Westlake Legal Group BVRpgc52ebjX5GqSA383JQ Russia may soon mothball its most historic launchpad: report Space.com Samantha Mathewson fox-news/science/air-and-space/spaceflight fnc/science fnc bd13ef1e-0eb2-5ca5-947e-1f58eebf9f10 article   Westlake Legal Group BVRpgc52ebjX5GqSA383JQ Russia may soon mothball its most historic launchpad: report Space.com Samantha Mathewson fox-news/science/air-and-space/spaceflight fnc/science fnc bd13ef1e-0eb2-5ca5-947e-1f58eebf9f10 article

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The Moon loses water when meteoroids smack the lunar surface

Westlake Legal Group the-moon-loses-water-when-meteoroids-smack-the-lunar-surface The Moon loses water when meteoroids smack the lunar surface Space.com fox-news/science/air-and-space/moon fnc/science fnc Charles Q. Choi article 3db05749-8dc8-5af7-8b15-998dc6542bce

Meteoroid impacts regularly liberate puffs of water vapor from the moon, suggesting that minuscule amounts of water may lurk just under the entire lunar surface, a new study finds.

When the Apollo missions brought lunar rocks to Earth, scientists found evidence that the moon was devoid of water. However, in the past decade, data from a bevy of spacecraft — including NASA’s Cassini, Deep Impact and Lunar Prospector missions, and India’s Chandrayaan-1 probe — revealed trace amounts of water on the surface of the moon. Even more intriguingly, they found water across the moon’s surface, not only at the poles, as was previously expected.

But scientists still have many questions about the source and extent of lunar water. To learn more, researchers analyzed data from NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), which orbited the moon from October 2013 to April 2014.

Related: Watch Two Meteorites Hit the Moon!

The scientists behind the newly published research found that the moon released numerous puffs of water vapor from near its surface into its exosphere, the very tenuous layer of molecules comprising the closest thing that the moon has to an atmosphere. These outbursts coincided with 29 known meteoroid streams that passed near Earth during that eight-month span of time, including the Leonids, Geminids and Quadrantids.

“Most of the geological processes we deal with in planetary science are very slow — we almost never get to see something respond dynamically over the scale of hours like we did here,” lead author Mehdi Benna, a planetary scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told Space.com.

The researchers suggested that meteoroid impacts kicked up these puffs of water from the moon, and said that four of these puffs were apparently caused by previously undetected meteoroid streams.

“One would think we know all of the meteoroid streams that are out there, but apparently we don’t,” Benna said.

By analyzing the amount of water released by meteoroid streams of different sizes, the scientists estimated that the uppermost 3.15 inches (8 centimeters) of lunar soil is dehydrated — any less, and smaller meteoroids would have excavated more water. Below this desiccated layer, the researchers suggest, water comprises up to about 0.05% of the weight of the rock up to at least 10 feet (3 meters) deep.

“With our measurements, we could see exactly the water extracted from the moon in a very dynamic way by micrometeroid impacts, and by analyzing the data, see how much water was stored in the lunar reservoir and where it was going,” Benna said.

The researchers estimated that meteoroid impacts cause the moon to lose as much as 220 tons (200 metric tons) of water annually. To sustain this amount of loss over time, they suggested that this water either was present when the moon formed, about 4.5 billion years ago, or was delivered by cosmic impacts from water-laden rocks soon after the moon was born.

The lunar samples from the Apollo missions may have appeared devoid of water because the water on those rocks was likely not incorporated into the rocks themselves, but only weakly coated them. As such, any water on the rocks was likely fragile and difficult to hold onto during the return trips, Benna said.

Future research can examine how deep water actually extends on the moon, Benna said. He and his colleagues detailed their findings online today (April 15) in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Original article on Space.com.

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Astronauts hope to share space experience with all Earthlings, panel says

Westlake Legal Group astronauts-hope-to-share-space-experience-with-all-earthlings-panel-says Astronauts hope to share space experience with all Earthlings, panel says Space.com Sarah Wells fox-news/science/air-and-space/spaceflight fnc/science fnc article 9a9e7842-d7d6-57b1-b43e-3a2499cae21f

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Going to space is hard, but a panel of astronauts say communication, community and art can make it a little bit easier.

At the Beyond the Cradle 2019 conference on March 14, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, an astronaut and cosmonaut discussion concluded a day full of tech, science fiction, and optimism about the future of space travel and life in space.

NASA astronauts Cady Coleman, Leland Melvin, Nicole Stott and Tony Antonelli and Russian cosmonaut Nikolay Chub represent a wide range of experience levels, from retired veterans all the way to newly minted astronauts. In a panel discussion, the astronauts explored the wonders and never-before-told trials of spaceflight in front of a packed room.

Related: Before They Go to Space, Astronauts Go to Geology Camp

“On my first mission I had one of those afternoons where you needed just a little bit of alone time,” Antonelli, a retired astronaut and former commander in the U.S. Navy, said during the panel. “[I thought], ‘OK, I’ve gotta get somewhere quiet and close my eyes for just a couple of minutes.’ Of course, I didn’t think to tell everybody that that was the case. There were big rectangle boxes or bags and they were all bungeed … so I slid under the bungee cord in between these big bags and close[d] my eyes. I don’t think I was there very long [before] one of my shuttle crewmates floats up upon me, [as I lay there] bungeed,  with my eyes closed. I don’t know what he thought he found, but he screamed.”

Using Antonelli’s story as an example of what not to do, the astronauts stressed the importance of building bonds with their crewmates and maintaining an open dialogue about one another’s needs while aboard the International Space Station or space shuttle. Coleman, a retired astronaut and chemist, recounted a particularly moving evening she spent with an international crew aboard the space station celebrating Yuri’s Night — an event first created by another Beyond the Cradle speaker, Loretta Whitesides, to celebrate the first crewed spaceflight, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s 1961 mission.

“It really meant a lot to us,” said Coleman, showing a photo of the space station crew wearing shirts with Gagarin’s face. “Our crew was onboard the station on April 12, 2011, 50 years [after Yuri’s flight]. There’s a lot that that shirt says. It’s a picture of Yuri Gagarin. The fact that it’s on the space station, with one for [each]of us, is actually thanks to Loretta Whitesides … And I think that individual people make these kinds of differences.”

When reflecting on other moving moments they’d all experienced either in training or aboard the space station, the spaceflyers emphasized how important it is for more than just astronauts to gain this cosmic perspective. It’s possible to see videos of space travel or hear first-person stories, but the astronauts said to really express the overwhelming feeling of seeing Earth from space — an experience known as the overview effect — they need to turn to a more expressive form of communication, like art.

In lieu of sending artists in residence to the space station just yet, retired astronaut Nicole Stott has begun searching for a way to express her experience of space through art, following an experience she had painting aboard the station.

Related: The Rock Band OK Go Wants to Launch Student Art Projects into Space

“When I was thinking about retiring, [I thought], ‘What am I going to do that’s kind of different?’ [And] I just kept coming back to this really special experience [of] getting to paint in space,” said Stott. “Art is like this universal communicator … and I thought I can use art to reach audiences, unlike this one, that don’t even know we have a space station and that this wonderful place exists.

“And I can also encourage them to consider themselves Earthlings, to understand we live on a planet,” she added. “All of those kinds of things that I think really are the core of what I came back to Earth with.”

Since returning home, Stott has worked with the Space for Art Foundation and the Spacesuit Art Project to help kids explore the intersection of science and art. The bright, patchwork-style spacesuit Stott helped design has even found its way back to the space station, bringing her mission full circle.

“I came back to Earth with this undeniable truth of ‘Wow, we are already all in space together.’ And we need to start acting more like that,” Stott said.

Original article on Space.com.

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