Archive for July, 2017


The Red Planet as seen by Europe’s Mars Express.
Credit: ESA/D. O’Donnell – CC BY-SA IGO

Although the Martian surface has been suspected for some time to have toxic effects, a new study suggests that it may be highly damaging to living cells.

Indeed, the environment on Mars may be more harmful to Earth-based life forms than previously thought.

Researchers in the UK Center for Astrobiology and School of Physics and Astronomy in Edinburgh investigated the potential reactivity of perchlorates and their effect on Bacillus subtilis, a bacterium found on spacecraft and common in soils and rocks.

Perchlorate purgatory

Researchers investigated the behavior of chemical compounds — called perchlorates — which are found on the surface of the Red Planet. They found that, when exposed to UV light whilst in environmental conditions mimicking those on Mars, the chemicals can kill bacteria commonly carried by spacecraft.

Their findings could have implications for potential contamination from robotic and human exploration of Mars.

Credit: Bob Sauls – XP4D/Explore Mars, Inc. (used with permission)

Death of bacterial cells

The study also suggested that the effect of perchlorates can be compounded by two other types of chemicals found on Mars’ surface: iron oxides and hydrogen peroxide.

In experiments in which all three were present, the combination led to a more than 10-fold increase in death of bacterial cells compared with perchlorates alone.

Scientists have speculated on the influence that perchlorates may have on the habitability of the planet, since their discovery there several years ago.

Important implications

Their experiments showed that when magnesium perchlorate was exposed to UV radiation similar to that on Mars, it became capable of killing bacteria much more effectively than UV light alone. At concentrations of perchlorate similar to those found on the Martian surface, cells of B. subtilis quickly died.

Lead investigator, Jennifer Wadsworth of the UK Center for Astrobiology and School of Physics and Astronomy explains in a press statement: “Our findings have important implications for the possible contamination of Mars with bacteria and other materials from space missions. This should be taken into account in designing missions to Mars.”

Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings

Charles Cockell at the UK Center for Astrobiology, School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh is a co-investigator.

To read “Perchlorates on Mars enhance the bacteriocidal effects of UV light” published in Scientific Reports go to:

The invented material is so thin that hundreds of layers could fit on the tip of a needle.
Credit: ANU

A new nano material appears promising to shield astronauts from harmful radiation.

Scientists at the Australian National University in Canberra report that the material is so thin that layers could fit on the tip of a needle and could be applied to any surface, including spacesuits.

Ultra-thin film

ANU’s Mohsen Rahmani notes that the material can reflect or transmit light on demand with temperature control, opening the door to technology that protects astronauts in space from harmful radiation.

Associate Professor Andrey Miroshnichenko (left) and Dr. Mohsen Rahmani demonstrate how the nano material can reflect or transmit light on demand with temperature control. Credit: Stuart Hay, ANU

“Our invention has a lot of potential applications, such as protecting astronauts or satellites with an ultra-thin film that can be adjusted to reflect various dangerous ultraviolet or infrared radiation in different environments,” explains Rahmani, an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Research Fellow at the Nonlinear Physics Centre within the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

Array of applications

Co-researcher Associate Professor Andrey Miroshnichenko said the invention could be tailored for other light spectrums including visible light, which opens up a whole array of innovations, including architectural and energy saving applications.

The sample here contains hundreds of thousands of nanoparticles that manipulate the incoming light.
Credit: Stuart Hay, ANU

Lei Xu, a co-lead researcher from the Nonlinear Physics Center within the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering points out that achieving cost-efficient and confined temperature control such as local heating is feasible. “Much like your car has a series of parallel resistive wires on the back windscreen to defog the rear view, a similar arrangement could be used with our invention to confine the temperature control to a precise location.”

The research is published in Advanced Functional Materials:

Go to video at:

Vice President Pence will chair the National Space Council.
Credit: White House


U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and designated driver of the newly anointed National Space Council will visit NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, July 6.

NASA TV and the agency’s website will air live coverage for parts of the visit starting at noon EDT with Air Force Two’s arrival at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility runway, followed by a special address to the center’s workforce in KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building at 1 p.m.

KSC tour

The vice president is slated to tour KSC and learn more about the center’s work as a multi-user spaceport for commercial and government clients, as well as see the agency’s progress toward launching from U.S. soil on spacecraft built by American companies, and traveling past the moon, and eventually on to Mars and beyond with the help of NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.

To view the Thursday July 6 event, go to:

Also, go to this overview of the new National Space Council – promises and pitfalls, at:

Assembling Mars-bound spacecraft requires ultra-clean conditions.
Credit: NASA/JPL


New research suggests that spacecraft clean rooms are more “room” than clean.

As multiple nations lob spacecraft to Mars, there’s always concern that Red Planet-bound vehicles are providing a free ride to organic material and microbes. That material can pollute a place that was beforehand thought immaculate.

Moreover, unintentional inoculation of Mars with Earthly microorganisms or other contaminants could imperil the scientific validity of spotting a true Martian bio-signature from an Earth-transported organism.

Inoculation of Mars with Earthly microorganisms could imperil the scientific validity of spotting a true Martian bio-signature. Shown here is NASA’s Mars 2020 rover now in development.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Special care

While special care is given to probes headed outward to Mars — or other destinations that may be a site with a potential for past or present life – turns out that spacecraft clean rooms are due for increased scrutiny.

For more details on this bio-worry, go to my new story at:

Spacecraft Clean Rooms Have Some Dirty Little Secrets

By Leonard David,’s Space Insider Columnist

July 5, 2017 07:10am ET

International Space Station.
Credit: NASA

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft returned to Earth today, loaded with science samples including the first Chinese experiment to fly onboard the International Space Station.

China’s Xinhua news agency reports that the experiment from the Beijing Institute of Technology was aimed at studying the effects of the space radiation environment on DNA and the changes in mutation rate.

“Everything went according to our plan,” reports Deng Yulin, who led the Chinese experiment. “All the data sent back looks good,” Deng told Xinhua.

The Chinese experiment was brought to the space station under an agreement with Houston-based NanoRacks, which offers services for the commercial utilization of the orbiting complex.

SpaceX booster departs on cargo supply mission June 3, 2017.
Credit: SpaceX

The SpaceX CRS-11 was launched on June 3, later linking up with the ISS, roughly 36 hours after liftoff.

Transfer ceremony

Deng said he will soon fly to Florida, where a ceremony of transfer of the experiment between NanoRacks and his team is scheduled for Friday.

The Chinese research involves no technology transfer between NASA and China.

Xinhua had reported earlier that the 8-pound (3.5 kilogram) experiment is keyed to answer questions, such as: “Does the space radiation and microgravity cause mutations among antibody-encoding genes and how does it happen?”

ISS astronauts conducted studies using the device with data sent back to the Chinese researchers.

For more information, go to:

Artist concept of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft. DART, which is moving to preliminary design phase, would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique for planetary defense.

NASA is moving forward on the first-ever mission to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique for planetary defense – the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. But there are a few hurdles to overcome.

While current law directs the development of the DART mission, DART is not identified as a specific budget item in the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

As an element of the joint NASA/European Space Agency’s Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission, DART would be the kinetic impactor while the ESA Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) provides assessment capabilities.

However, ESA’s AIM has yet to be approved.

Target body

The target for DART is an asteroid that will have a distant approach to Earth in October 2022 and then again in 2024. The asteroid is called Didymos – Greek for “twin” – because it’s an asteroid binary system that consists of two bodies: Didymos A, about one-half mile (780 meters) in size, and a smaller asteroid orbiting it called Didymos B, about 530 feet (160 meters) in size. DART would impact only the smaller of the two bodies, Didymos B.

The European Space Agency’s Asteroid Impact Mission is joined by two triple-unit CubeSats to observe the impact of the NASA-led, and once named, Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) probe with the secondary Didymos asteroid, planned for late 2022.
Credit: ESA –

ESA’s AIM would observe the asteroid before impact to determine its properties and study the effect of the collision on the double asteroid system Didymos.

If the ESA/AIM mission is not available, telescopes and radar would assess Didymos pre impact and following the collision.

NASA approval

DART is being designed and would be built and managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. DART is moving from concept development to preliminary design phase following NASA’s approval on June 23.

The DART Mission is being developed under the auspices of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. NASA established this office to coordinate planetary defense related activities across NASA, and coordinate both US interagency and international efforts and projects to address and plan response to the asteroid impact hazard.

Published on June 30, 2017, go to this animation showing the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission that would demonstrate how a kinetic impact could potentially redirect an asteroid as part of NASA’s planetary defense program:



Credit: White House

Remarks by President Trump in signing an Executive Order on the National Space Council in the Roosevelt Room, June 30, 2017:

Thank you very much to our great Vice President and also for the fantastic job that Mike has been doing.

The future of American space leadership — we’re going to lead again. It’s been a long time. It’s over 25 years, and we’re opening up, and we are going to be leading again like we’ve never led before.

We’re a nation of pioneers, and the next great American frontier is space. And we never completed — we started, but we never completed. We stopped. But now we start again.  And we have tremendous spirit, and we’re going to have tremendous spirit from the private sector — maybe in particular from the private sector.

I’d like to extend a special welcome to an American hero who’ve I’ve known actually for a long time, Buzz Aldrin, who is with us today. (Applause.) Known him a long time. Thank you also to Astronauts Benjamin Drew and David Wolf and former NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz for being with us and for working with us on exactly what we’re doing today. Thank you all very much. We appreciate it. Thank you, thank you, thank you.  (Applause.)

Credit: White House

We’re also joined by our great Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, who spent the morning negotiating trade deals with South Korea. And as you know, that trade deal is coming due, and it actually came due a couple of weeks ago.  And I think we’re going to make a good deal, right?

SECRETARY ROSS:  We’ve made some progress.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think so.  That’s what the word is. And good for both countries.

Also distinguished members of Congress are with us, and leaders of several of America’s great aerospace companies.

Today, we’re taking a crucial step to secure America’s future in space by reviving the National Space Council after it was — has been dormant almost 25 years if you can believe it.

During the campaign, Vice President Pence promised that our administration — because Mike is very much into space — would revive the National Space Council, and with this executive order, we’re keeping that promise.  Feel very strongly about it.  I’ve felt strongly about it for a long time.  I used to say before doing what I did — I used to say, what happened?  Why aren’t we moving forward?

Today’s announcement sends a clear signal to the world that we are restoring America’s proud legacy of leadership in space.

Our Vice President cares very deeply about space policy, and for good reason — space exploration is not only essential to our character as a nation, but also our economy and our great nation’s security.

Our travels beyond the Earth propel scientific discoveries that improve our lives in countless ways here, right here, at home:  powering vast new industry, spurring incredible new technology, and providing the space security we need to protect the American people.  And security is going to be a very big factor with respect to space and space exploration.  At some point in the future, we’re going to look back and say how did we do it without space?

Vice President Pence will chair the National Space Council.
Credit: White House


The Vice President will serve as the council’s chair.  Several representatives of my administration will join him including the Secretaries of State, Defense, Commerce, Transportation, and Homeland Security; the Chairman of the great — I’ll tell you, he’s doing a fantastic job, always working, always fighting, and winning — winning big against ISIS, that I can tell you, seeing what’s happening there — the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Advisor, NASA, and the Director of National Intelligence.

The council will also draw the expertise of other White House offices as well as insights from scientists, innovators, and business leaders from across the country.  Many business leaders that want to be a big part of this. I think the privatization of certain aspects is going to play a very crucial role, don’t you think? They are truly into it. This coordination will be accomplished through an advisory group that is being convened by today’s executive order, which I’ll be signing in a minute.

The National Space Council will be a central hub guiding space policy within the administration.  And I will draw on it for advice and information and recommendations for action. And the Vice President, myself, and a few others are going to pick some private people to be on the board.  I will say that’s not easy because everybody wants to be on this board.  People that you wouldn’t have believed loved what we’re doing so much they want to — some of the most successful people in the world want to be on this board.

The human soul yearns for discovery.  By unlocking the mysteries of the universe, we unlock truths within ourselves. That’s true. Our journey into space will not only make us stronger and more prosperous, but will unite us behind grand ambitions and bring us all closer together. Wouldn’t that be nice? Can you believe that space is going to do that? I thought politics would do that.  (Laughter.)  Well, we’ll have to rely on space instead.

Every launch into the skies is another step forward toward a future where our differences seem small against the vast expanse of our common humanity.  Sometimes you have to view things from a distance in order to see the real truth. It is America’s destiny to be at the forefront of humanity’s eternal quest for knowledge and to be the leader amongst nations on our adventure into the great unknown. And I could say the great and very beautiful unknown.  Nothing more beautiful.

With the actions we are launching today, America will think big once again.  Important words: Think big. We haven’t been thinking so big for a long time, but we’re thinking big again as a county. We will inspire millions of children to carry on this proud tradition of American space leadership — and they’re excited — and to never stop wondering, hoping, and dreaming about what lies beyond the stars.

So, I just want to tell you that we are now going to sign an executive order, and this is going to launch a whole new chapter for our great country. And people are very excited about it and I can tell you, I’m very excited about it. Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)

(The order is signed.)

COLONEL ALDRIN: Infinity and beyond.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: This is infinity here. It could be infinity. We don’t really don’t know. But it could be. It has to be something — but it could be infinity, right?

Okay.  (Applause.)

Users’ advisory group

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot saluted Friday’s Executive Order creating the National Space Council:

“I am pleased that President Trump has signed an executive order reestablishing the National Space Council. The council existed previously from 1989-1993, and a version of it also existed as the National Aeronautics and Space Council from 1958-1973. As such, the council has guided NASA from our earliest days and can help us achieve the many ambitious milestones we are striving for today.

“This high-level group advises the president and comprises the leaders of government agencies with a stake in space, including the NASA administrator, the Secretaries of State, Commerce, Defense, and others, and will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. It will help ensure that all aspects of the nation’s space power — national security, commerce, international relations, exploration, and science, are coordinated and aligned to best serve the American people.  A Users’ Advisory Group also will be convened so that the interests of industries and other non-federal entities are represented.

“The establishment of the council is another demonstration of the Trump Administration’s deep interest in our work, and a testament to the importance of space exploration to our economy, our nation, and the planet as a whole.”

Chair of the National Space Council, Vice President Pence.
Credit: White House

VP visit of Kennedy Space Center

Space Council chair, Vice President Mike Pence, will visit NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, July 6.

NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage for parts of the visit starting at noon EDT with Air Force Two’s arrival at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility runway, as well as a special address to the center’s workforce at 12:50 p.m.

The Vice President will tour Kennedy and learn more about the center’s work as a multi-user spaceport for commercial and government clients, as well as see the agency’s progress toward launching from U.S. soil on spacecraft built by American companies, and traveling past the moon, and eventually on to Mars and beyond with the help of NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.


For a video of the White House remarks by the President and Vice President regarding the National Space Council, go to:

Presidential Executive Order on Reviving the National Space Council

President Trump Issues Executive Order on Reviving the National Space Council

Also, go to an earlier story on the history and future potential of the National Space Council:

Playing the Space Trump Card: Relaunching a National Space Council

December 29, 2016 12:00pm ET

Credit: CGTN

China’s Long March-5 Y2 carrier rocket is being readied for a Sunday launch at Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province. The process of filling propellant into the booster’s fuel tanks began on Saturday afternoon.

The powerful rocket is to hurl into geosynchronous orbit the Shijian-18 communication satellite, China’s largest spacecraft, for a series of on-orbit tests.

Future plans

This is the second flight of this class of rocket, a central piece of China’s space station and deep space exploration plans. The Long March-5 Y2 is on tap to launch the Chang’e-5 moon probe this November, a robotic sample return mission.

The maiden flight of this booster from Wenchang took place on November 3, 2016.

To view a CCTV-Plus video of launch preparations, go to: