Space

Space Is Not a Void (slate.com) 175

An anonymous reader shares an article: When President Kennedy announced the Apollo Program, he famously argued that we should go to the moon because it is hard. Solving the technical challenges of space travel is a kind of civilizational achievement on its own, like resolving an interplanetary Rubik's Cube. The argument worked, perhaps all too well. As soon as we landed on the moon, humanity's expansion into the cosmos slowed and then stopped (not counting robots). If you were to draw a graph charting the farthest distance a human being has ever been from the surface of Earth, the peak was in 1970 with Apollo 13. With the successful moon landings, we solved all of the fundamental challenges involved in launching humans into orbit and bringing them back safely. The people watching those early feats of exploration imagined we would soon be sending astronauts to Mars and beyond, but something has held us back. Not know-how, or even money, but a certain lack of imagination. Getting to space isn't the hard part -- the hard part is figuring out why we're there. Sure, we can celebrate the human spirit and the first person to do this or that, but that kind of achievement never moves beyond the symbolic. It doesn't build industries, establish settlements and scientific research stations, or scale up solutions from expensive one-offs to mass production. Furthermore, as five decades of failing to go farther than our own moon have demonstrated, that kind of symbolism can't even sustain itself, much less energize new activity.
NASA

President Trump Is Sending NASA Back To The Moon (npr.org) 306

President Trump has formally told NASA to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon. From a report: "The directive I'm signing today will refocus America's space program on human exploration and discovery," he said. Standing at the president's side as he signed "Space Policy Directive 1" on Monday was Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, one of the last two humans to ever walk on the moon, in a mission that took place 45 years ago this week. Since that time, no human has ventured out beyond low-Earth orbit. NASA doesn't even have its own space vehicle, having retired the space shuttles in 2011. Americans currently ride up to the international space station in Russian capsules, though private space taxis are expected to start ferrying them up as soon as next year.
Mars

Boeing CEO Says Boeing Will Beat SpaceX To Mars (space.com) 128

Boeing's CEO says the megarocket his company is helping to build for NASA will deliver astronauts to the Red Planet before billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX. Space.com reports: According to Fortune, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was speaking on CNBC today when host Jim Cramer asked whether Boeing or SpaceX would "get a man on Mars first." "Eventually we're going to go to Mars, and I firmly believe the first person that sets foot on Mars will get there on a Boeing rocket," Muilenburg said, according to Fortune. Boeing is the main contractor for the first stage of NASA's giant Space Launch System , which is designed to launch astronauts on deep-space missions using the space agency's new Orion spacecraft. (United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne are also SLS contractors.) NASA hopes to build a "Deep Space Gateway" near the moon before using SLS and Orion vehicles to send explorers to Mars. The first test launch is scheduled for 2019. "Do it," Musk tweeted.
Medicine

What It Looks Like When You Fry Your Eye In An Eclipse (npr.org) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Doctors in New York say a woman in her 20s came in three days after looking at the Aug. 21 eclipse without protective glasses. She had peeked several times, for about six seconds, when the sun was only partially covered by the moon. Four hours later, she started experiencing blurred and distorted vision and saw a central black spot in her left eye. The doctors studied her eyes with several different imaging technologies, described in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, and were able to observe the damage at the cellular level.

"We were very surprised at how precisely concordant the imaged damage was with the crescent shape of the eclipse itself," noted Dr. Avnish Deobhakta, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, in an email to NPR. He says this was the most severely injured patient they saw after the eclipse. All in all, 22 people came to their urgent care clinic with concerns about possible eclipse-related damage, and most of them complained of blurred vision. Of those, only three showed some degree of abnormality in the retina. Two of them had only mild changes, however, and their symptoms have gone away. The young woman described in this case report, at last check, still has not recovered normal vision.
For your viewing pleasure, The Verge has embedded several images of the woman's retinas in their report.
Space

New Evidence Points To Icy Plate Tectonics On Europa (gizmodo.com) 67

According to new research published today in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Europa has what it takes to support plate tectonics. "Using computer models, a team lead by Brown University planetary scientist Brandon Johnson was able to demonstrate the physical feasibility of icy plates driving deep into the icy interior in a processes similar to what's seen on Earth," reports Gizmodo. "Excitingly, this same process could be delivering important minerals to the ocean below, heightening the moon's status a potentially habitable world." From the report: Europa has surface features reminiscent of Earth's mid-ocean ridges. For astronomers, this hinted at geological processes akin to subduction zones, where, on Earth, tectonic plates slide underneath another, sinking deep into the planet's interior. Several years ago, researchers Simon Kattenhorn and Louise Prockter posited this explanation when they noticed that a 20,000 square-kilometer (7,722 square-mile) chunk of ice had mysteriously disappeared from Europa's surface. Their explanation was that Europa's surface, like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, is composed of tectonic plates, and that occasionally a plate of ice will sink beneath the other into warmer layers below. But this observational evidence of extension and spreading needed to be supported by geophysical reality. To that end, Johnson's team ran a computer simulation to see if it was possible for ice to sink in this way.

On our planet, subduction is primarily driven by differences in temperature between a descending slab and the surrounding mantle. Dense crustal material features a negative buoyancy that drives it down into the mantle. The Brown University scientists figured a similar thing happens on Europa, but with ice. In the case of Europa, the researchers surmised that the moon has two frozen layers -- an outer lid of very cold ice that sits above a layer of slightly warmer convecting ice. Their models showed that subduction is indeed possible in this alien environment, but only if the outer shell contains varying amounts of salt. This added ingredient provides the necessary density differences for a slab to conduct.

Mars

SpaceX Plans To Blast a Tesla Roadster Into Orbit Around Mars (arstechnica.com) 272

An anonymous reader quotes Ars Technica: Previously, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said he intends to launch the "silliest thing we can imagine" on the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy. This is partly because the rocket is experimental -- there is a non-trivial chance the rocket will explode on the launch pad, or shortly after launch. It is also partly because Musk is a master showman who knows how to grab attention. On Friday evening, Musk tweeted what that payload would be -- his "midnight cherry Tesla Roadster."

And the car will be playing Space Oddity, by David Bowie; the song which begins, "Ground Control to Major Tom." Oh, and the powerful Falcon Heavy rocket will send the Tesla into orbit around Mars. "Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn't blow up on ascent," Musk added. Ars was able to confirm Friday night from a company source that this is definitely a legitimate payload. Earlier on Friday, Musk also said the Falcon Heavy launch would come "next month" from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, meaning in January.

"No private company has ever launched a spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit, let alone to another planet," according to the article, adding that SpaceX's new rocket "could play a major role in any plans the agency has to send humans to the Moon." In addition, Musk added on Twitter, "Red car for a red planet."

UPDATE (12/2/17): Saturday Elon Musk told The Verge that he "totally made it up" about sending a Tesla Roadster to Mars. Then in "multiple emails" to Ars Technica --- sent Saturday afternoon -- "Musk confirmed that this plan is, indeed, real."
Space

Asgardia Becomes the First Nation Deployed in Space (cnet.com) 176

An anonymous reader quotes CNET: An Orbital ATK Antares rocket carrying a cubesat named Asgardia-1 launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia early Sunday. The milk carton-sized satellite makes up the entirety of territory of the self-proclaimed "Space Kingdom" of Asgardia... Over 300,000 people signed up online to become "citizens" of the nation over the last year. The main privilege of citizenship so far involves the right to upload data to Asgardia-1 for safekeeping in orbit, seemingly far away from the pesky governments and laws of Earth-bound countries...

As of now, Asgardia's statehood isn't acknowledged by any other actual countries or the United Nations, and it doesn't really even fit the definition of a nation since it's not possible for a human to physically live in Asgardia. Not yet, at least. The long-term vision for Asgardia includes human settlements in space, on the moon and perhaps even more distant colonies.

On Tuesday Orbital ATK's spacecraft will dock with the International Space Station for a one-month re-supply mission -- then blast higher into orbit to deploy the space kingdom's satellite. "Asgardia space kingdom has now established its sovereign territory in space," read an online statement.

Next the space kingdom plans to hold elections for 150 Members of Parliament.
Moon

India, China, and Japan Are All Planning Moon Missions (upi.com) 114

schwit1 shares an article from UPI: India will make its second mission to the moon in 2018, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) announced this week. The Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft consists of an orbiter, lander and rover configuration "to perform mineralogical and elemental studies of the lunar surface," the ISRO said... Several other countries, including China and Japan, are planning lunar expeditions in the coming years -- partly to better understand the moon's environmental conditions for the potential of human settlements...

According to Popular Mechanics, the ISRO is attempting to make the lunar landing on a budget of $93 million, which is about the same cost of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket that's scheduled for launch by the end of this year. The Falcon rocket, though, is only going into orbit -- and a $93 million price tag for a lunar landing could have impact on other countries' space plans.

India landed a spacecraft on the moon in 2008, and plans to complete this second lunar landing by March.
NASA

Astronaut Paul Weitz Dies At 85; Veteran of Skylab and Shuttle Missions 15

NPR reports the death of NASA astronaut Paul Weitz, who spent nearly a month in orbit on the first manned Skylab mission in 1973 and flew a decade later as mission commander on the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle Challenger. He was 85. From the report: Weitz died in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Monday; he had been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of blood cancer. Weitz was born in Erie, Pa., and graduated from Penn State. He joined the Navy and became an aviator and test pilot, eventually rising to the rank of captain. He was chosen in NASA's fifth round of astronaut selection in 1966, as the agency was ramping up for the Apollo moon program. On his first space flight, he served as pilot on Skylab-2 (SL-2), along with Apollo 12 veteran Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr., and Joseph Kerwin, also a rookie on SL-2. The mission to fix Skylab, which had suffered significant damage during the space station's launch, is still considered one of the most difficult and dangerous in the annals of spaceflight. The three astronauts had to conduct multiple space walks to repair the damaged craft, deploying a giant reflective parasol to act as a sunshade in place of a damaged thermal shield. Weitz logged two hours and 11 minutes in space walks and the crew of the mission established a new world record for time in space -- 672 hours, 49 minutes.
AI

When an AI Tries Writing Slashdot Headlines (tumblr.com) 165

For Slashdot's 20th anniversary, "What could be geekier than celebrating with the help of an open-source neural network?" Neural network hobbyist Janelle Shane has already used machine learning to generate names for paint colors, guinea pigs, heavy metal bands, and even craft beers, she explains on her blog. "Slashdot sent me a list of all the headlines they've ever run, over 162,000 in all, and asked me to train a neural network to try to generate more." Could she distill 20 years of news -- all of humanity's greatest technological advancements -- down to a few quintessential words?

She trained it separately on the first decade of Slashdot headlines -- 1997 through 2007 -- as well as the second decade from 2008 to the present, and then re-ran the entire experiment using the whole collection of every headline from the last 20 years. Among the remarkable machine-generated headlines?
  • Microsoft To Develop Programming Law
  • More Pong Users for Kernel Project
  • New Company Revises Super-Things For Problems
  • Steve Jobs To Be Good

But that was just the beginning...


The Almighty Buck

Amazon Spends $350K On Seattle Mayor's Race (jeffreifman.com) 62

reifman writes: Until this summer, Amazon had never contributed more than $15,000 to a city political campaign in Seattle, but this year's different. The company is a lead funder in the Seattle Chamber of Commerce's PAC which dropped $525,000 Monday on Jenny Durkan's PAC, the centrist business candidate. Her opponent Cary Moon is an advocate for affordable housing, which complicates Amazon's growth, and city-owned community broadband. Comcast and Century Link joined Amazon contributing $25,000 and $82,500 respectively to the Chamber's PAC. Amazon's $350,000 contribution represents .00014 of its CY 2016 net profit.
Moon

Discovery of 50km Cave Raises Hopes For Human Colonisation of Moon (theguardian.com) 140

New submitter Zorro shares a report: Scientists have fantasised for centuries about humans colonising the moon. That day may have drawn a little closer after Japan's space agency said it had discovered an enormous cave beneath the lunar surface that could be turned into an exploration base for astronauts. The discovery, by Japan's Selenological and Engineering Explorer (Selene) probe, comes as several countries vie to follow the US in sending manned missions to the moon. Using a radar sounder system that can examine underground structures, the orbiter initially found an opening 50 metres wide and 50 metres deep, prompting speculation that there could be a larger hollow. This week scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) confirmed the presence of a cave after examining the hole using radio waves. The chasm, 50km (31 miles) long and 100 metres wide, appears to be structurally sound and its rocks may contain ice or water deposits that could be turned into fuel, according to data sent back by the orbiter, nicknamed Kaguya after the moon princess in a Japanese fairytale. Jaxa believes the cave, located from a few dozen metres to 200 metres beneath an area of volcanic domes known as the Marius Hills on the moon's near side, is a lava tube created during volcanic activity about 3.5bn years ago.
Google

Google Maps Now Lets You Explore Your Local Planets and Moons (cnet.com) 53

Google has added three planets and nine moons to Google Maps. "The heavenly bodies include Saturn moons Dione, Enceladus, Iapetus, Mimas, Rhea and Titan, and Jupiter moons Europa, Ganymede and Io," reports CNET. "Google also added dwarf-planets Pluto and Ceres and full-planet Venus." From the report: Once inside Google Maps for planets, you can spin the space objects around, get more information on their place names and zoom in for a closer look. The new worlds are possible thanks to imagery from NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's dearly departed Cassini spacecraft sent back a treasure trove of views of Saturn's moons. If you have a few moments to spare, fire up a browser, go to your current location on Google Maps, enter satellite mode and hit the zoom-out button until you've left the planet and are "floating" in space. A list of available planets and moons pops up on the side and you're off on your space adventure.
Social Networks

Elon Musk Teases Reddit With Bad Answers About BFR Rocket (reddit.com) 100

Long-time Slashdot reader Rei writes: On Saturday evening, Elon Musk took questions in a Reddit AMA (Ask-Me-Anything) concerning SpaceX's new design for the BFR (Big F* Rocket). But unlike the 2016 IAC conference where many audience questions seemed to be trolling Musk, this time the tables were turned. Asked why Raptor thrust was reduced from 300 tons to 170, Musk replied, "We chickened out." He responded to a statement about landing on the moon by quoting Bob the Builder, while responding to a user's suggestion about caching internet data from Mars by writing simply "Nerd." A question as to whether BFR autogenous pressurization would be heat-exchanger based, Musk replied that they planned to utilize the Incendio spell from Harry Potter -- helpfully providing a Wikipedia link for the spell.

A technical question about the lack of a tail? "Tails are lame." A question about why the number of landing legs was increased from 3 to 4? "Because 4." After one Redditor observed "This is one bizarre AMA so far," Musk replied "Just wait..." While Musk ultimately did follow up some of the trolling with some actual responses, the overall event could be best described as "surreal".

To be fair, Musk provided some serious answers. (And his final comment ended with "Great questions nk!!") But one Redditor suggested Musk's stranger answers were like a threat, along the lines of "Just wait. It will get way more bizarre than that. Let me finish my whiskey."

Musk replied, "How did you know? I am actually drinking whiskey right now. Really."
Space

Scientists Discover Ring Around Dwarf Planet Haumea Beyond Neptune 49

A ring has been discovered around one of the dwarf planets that orbits the outer reaches of the solar system. Until now, ring-like structures had only been found around the four outer planets -- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The Guardian reports: "In 2014 we discovered that a very small body in the Centaurs region [an area of small celestial bodies between the asteroid belt and Neptune] had a ring and at that time it seemed to be a very weird thing," explained Dr Jose Ortiz, whose group at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia in Granada made the discovery described in the journal Nature. "We didn't expect to find a ring around Haumea, but we were not too surprised either." Haumea was recognized by the International Astronomical Union in 2008 and is one of five dwarf planets, alongside Pluto, Ceres, Eris and Makemake. They are located beyond Neptune -- 50 times farther away from the sun than Earth. Haumea, named after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth, is unusual because of its elongated shape, comparable to a rugby ball, and its rapid rotation, spinning around once every 3.9 hours. Its diameter is approximately a third of the size of Earth's moon.
Mars

SpaceX's Mars Vision Puts Pressure on NASA's Manned Exploration Programs (marketwatch.com) 142

An anonymous reader shares a report: Entrepreneur Elon Musk's announcement late last month accelerating plans for manned flights to Mars ratchets up political and public relations pressure on NASA's efforts to reach the same goal. With Musk publicly laying out a much faster schedule than NASA -- while contending his vision is less expensive and could be financed primarily with private funds -- a debate unlike any before is shaping up over the direction of U.S. space policy. Industry officials and space experts consider the proposal by Musk's Space Exploration to land people on the red planet around the middle of the next decade extremely optimistic. Some supporters concede the deadline appears ambitious even for reaching the moon, while Musk himself acknowledged some of his projected dates are merely "aspirational." But the National Aeronautics and Space Administration doesn't envision getting astronauts to Mars until at least a decade later, a timeline NASA is finding increasingly hard to defend in the face of criticism that it is too slow.
NES (Games)

Third 'Nintendo World Championship' Ends With Three Unreleased Switch Game Levels (kotaku.com) 14

An anonymous reader writes: The Nintendo World Championships wrapped up in Manhattan Saturday with two finalists competing on three as-yet-unreleased levels from the upcoming Nintendo Switch game Super Mario Odyssey. 16 contenders had been selected from Mario Kart 7 qualifying rounds at Best Buy stores in eight U.S. cities, and Thomas G. "surged up through the 'underground,' the loser's bracket," reports Kotaku, "after overcoming opponents in games like Mario Party 2 and Super Mario Bros. Deluxe."

Thomas G. found himself in the final round against defending champion John Number, and Kotaku has embedded video clips from Twitch of their climactic final showdown on the three unreleased levels. "The first level forced the two to do a little timing-based puzzle solving, hitting buttons with their caps to create platforms on walls, which they could then hop across to the moon. Level two was a vertical platforming stage using Mario's new cap abilities to fling and fly up the side of a tower. The final boss fight from above closed out the race, with Thomas G. landing the final punch to the boss' face and taking home the trophy."

Moon

Vice President Pence Vows US Astronauts Will Return To the Moon (engadget.com) 226

Before astronauts go to Mars, they will return to the Moon, Vice President Mike Pence said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday and in a speech at the National Air and Space Museum today. He touts "humans exploration and discovery" as the new focus of America's space program. This "means establishing a renewed American presence on the moon, a vital strategic goal. And from the foundation of the moon, America will be the first nation to bring mankind to Mars." Engadget reports: There have been two prevailing (and opposing) views when it comes to U.S. endeavors in human spaceflight. One camp maintains that returning to the moon is a mistake. NASA has already been there; it should work hard and set our sights on Mars and beyond. The other feels that Mars is too much of a reach, and that the moon will be easier to achieve in a short time frame. Mars may be a medium-to-long-term goal, but NASA should use the moon as a jumping-off point. It's not surprising that the Trump administration is valuing short-term gains over a longer, more ambitious project. The U.S. will get to Mars eventually, according to Pence, but the moon is where the current focus lies.
Earth

Elon Musk Proposes City-to-City Travel By Rocket, Right Here on Earth (theverge.com) 318

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled revised plans to travel to the Moon and Mars at a space industry conference today, but he ended his talk with a pretty incredible promise: using that same interplanetary rocket system for long-distance travel on Earth. From a report: Musk showed a demonstration of the idea onstage, claiming that it will allow passengers to take "most long-distance trips" in just 30 minutes, and go "anywhere on Earth in under an hour" for around the same price as an economy airline ticket. Musk proposed using SpaceX's forthcoming mega-rocket (codenamed Big Fucking Rocket or BFR for short) to lift a massive spaceship into orbit around the Earth. The ship would then settle down on floating landing pads near major cities. Both the new rocket and spaceship are currently theoretical, though Musk did say that he hopes to begin construction on the rocket in the next six to nine months. In SpaceX's video that illustrates the idea, passengers take a large boat from a dock in New York City to a floating launchpad out in the water. There, they board the same rocket that Musk wants to use to send humans to Mars by 2024. But instead of heading off to another planet once they leave the Earth's atmosphere, the ship separates and breaks off toward another city -- Shanghai. Just 39 minutes and some 7,000 miles later, the ship reenters the atmosphere and touches down on another floating pad, much like the way SpaceX lands its Falcon 9 rockets at sea. Other routes proposed in the video include Hong Kong to Singapore in 22 minutes, London to Dubai or New York in 29 minutes, and Los Angeles to Toronto in 24 minutes.
Space

Cassini's Saturn Mission Goes Out In A Blaze Of Glory (npr.org) 74

An anonymous reader shares a report: Controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent a final command Friday morning to the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. Not long after, accounting for the vast distance the message traveled, the order was received, putting the craft into a suicidal swan dive, plummeting into the ringed planet's atmosphere. Flight Director Julie Webster called "loss of signal" at about 7:55 a.m. ET, followed by Project Manager Earl Maize announcing "end of mission" as the spacecraft began to break up in Saturn's atmosphere. "Congratulations to you all," Maize announced to applause. "It's been an incredible mission, incredible spacecraft, and you're all an incredible team." With Cassini running on empty and no gas station for about a billion miles, NASA decided to go out Thelma & Louise-style. But rather than careen into a canyon, the plucky probe took a final plunge into the object of its obsession. Just how obsessed? Its 13-year mission to explore the strange world of Saturn went on nearly a decade longer than planned. It completed 293 orbits of the planet, snapped 400,000 photos, collected 600 gigabytes of data, discovered at least seven new moons, descending into the famed rings and sent its Huygens lander to a successful 2005 touchdown on the surface of yet another moon, Titan. Also read: Cassini's Best Discoveries of Saturn and Its Moons.

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