Archive for December, 2017

Courtesy: To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science

In the high-degree of strangeness department, the New York TimesPolitico and the Washington Post have posted stories on a secret UFO program run by the Department of Defense, who worked with Bigelow Aerospace.

Go to:

The Pentagon’s Secret Search for UFOs

Funded at the request of Harry Reid, the program probed a number of encounters military pilots had with aircraft they believed didn’t operate like anything they had seen before.


Go to:

Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program

Courtesy: To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science




Go to Washington Post story:

Head of Pentagon’s secret ‘UFO’ office sought to make evidence public

Also, go to:

To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science website that discusses GIMBAL, the first of three US military videos of unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP) that has been through the official declassification review process of the United States government and has been approved for public release.

Video credit: NASA

Peer over the shoulders of Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers as they build hardware for NASA’s Mars 2020 mega-rover mission.
This 360 video transports you to the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Engineer Emily Howard narrates as you walk around the hardware that is intended to softly plant the Mars 2020 robot on the Red Planet.

Note: Not all browsers support viewing 360 videos. YouTube supports their playback on computers using Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera browsers. Use the YouTube app to view it on a smart phone. For this impressive 360 video, go to:

Curosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1903, December 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Now in Sol 1906, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is prowling around Vera Rubin Ridge, soaking in the vista in various directions.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A new Curiosity’s traverse map through Sol 1905 has been issued by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1905 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars as of December 15, 2017.

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up.

The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

From Sol 1903 to Sol 1905, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 45.38 feet (13.83 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 11.13 miles (17.90 kilometers).

Curiosity landed on Mars in August of 2012.

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Meanwhile, here’s a sampling of new imagery from the robot on Mars:

Curosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 1903, December 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo acquired on Sol 1905, December 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Curiosity Navcam Left B photo acquired on Sol 1905, December 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1905, December 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: National Academies

A new report, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era, highlights the critical need for space life and physical sciences research both for enabling and expanding the exploration capabilities of NASA as well as for contributing unique science in many fields that can be enabled by microgravity.

The report assesses the progress made by NASA so far, and also lays out exploration-related science areas of highest importance that should be addressed in the remaining half of the decade.

ISS: undefined future

While the international partners have all committed to funding their International Space Station (ISS) partnerships through 2024, the strategy for ISS in the post-2024 timeframe is undefined.

The report recommends that NASA should develop this strategy for the ISS or other orbital platforms for research as soon as possible in order to provide a basis for planning and prioritization.

To view this new midterm assessment report by the National Academies (Free Download), go to:

Credit: Blue Origin/Screen Grab

Chief rocketeer for Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos, has released a full video of Mannequin Skywalker’s ride to space, from liftoff to landing.

“Unlike him, you’ll be able to get out of your seat during the zero gee part of the flight. And ignore the pinging sound – it’s just from one of the experiments on this flight,” Bezos tweeted.

Large windows

Onboard camera view of the mannequin sent to space comes from inside Blue Origin’s Crew Capsule 2.0 – a vehicle that has the largest windows in space, the company states. The impressive video also includes sound from inside the vessel.

Blue Origin launched the capsule atop its New Shepard for the 7th time and for the first time in 2017.

The last launch of the rocket (booster / capsule configuration) was in 2016.

Credit: Blue Origin

Weightless somersaults

Designated as M7 (Mission 7), the recent flight took place on December 12, 2017 and featured the next-generation booster and the Crew Capsule 2.0’s on its maiden flight.

The New Shepard reusable rocket was also carrying 12 commercial, research and education payloads with the booster reaching an altitude of 325,000 feet (99 kilometers) while the Crew Capsule 2.0 reached an apogee of 326,000 feet (98 kilometers).

Nearing touchdown….
Credit: Blue Origin/Screen Grab


Blue Origin is testing the capsule and booster to support suborbital space tourism. The New Shepard capsule’s interior offers over 10 times the room Alan Shepard had on his Mercury flight in May 1961. It seats six astronauts and is large enough for you to float freely and turn weightless somersaults.

Credit: Blue Origin/Screen Grab









To watch the video, go to:


U.S. President Donald Trump holds up the Space Policy Directive – 1 after signing it, directing NASA to return to the Moon, alongside members of the Senate, Congress, NASA, and commercial space companies in the Roosevelt room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017.
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani


An assessment of U.S. President Trump’s new Space Policy Directive-1 has been issued by Steven Aftergood in his Secrecy News report published by the Federation of American Scientists.

“President Trump created an entire new category of presidential directives to present his guidance for the U.S. space program,” Aftergood notes.

Trump’s new Space Policy Directive 1 was signed on December 11 and published in the Federal Register today.

Moon swoon

President Donald Trump is sending astronauts back to the Moon, proclaimed an enthused NASA public affairs in a news release.

“But the directive itself does no such thing. Instead, it makes modest editorial adjustments to the 2010 National Space Policy that was issued by President Obama and adopted in Presidential Decision Directive 4,” Aftergood adds.

Obama’s policy had stated:

“Set far-reaching exploration milestones. By 2025, begin crewed missions beyond the moon, including sending humans to an asteroid. By the mid-2030s, send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth.”

President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Thursday, April 15, 2010. Obama visited Kennedy Space Center to deliver remarks on a new course the Administration is charting for NASA and the future of U.S. leadership in human space flight.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Deletion, replacement

“Trump’s new SPD-1 orders the deletion and replacement of that one paragraph,” Aftergood advises, with the following text:

“Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”

Earth’s Moon as seen from the International Space Station taken by ESA British astronaut, Tim Peake.
Credit: NASA/ESA

New resources?

At a White House signing ceremony on December 11, President Trump said that “This directive will ensure America’s space program once again leads and inspires all of humanity.”

But it’s hard to see how that could be so, Aftergood explains. “The Trump directive does not (and cannot) allocate any new resources to support a return to the Moon, and it does not modify existing authorities or current legislative proposals,” he notes.


Aftergood concludes: “Interestingly, it also does not modify the many other provisions of Obama’s 14-page space policy, including requirements ‘to enhance U.S. global climate change research’ and ‘climate monitoring.’ Unless and until they are modified or revoked, those provisions remain in effect.”

For a space trip down memory lane, go to the U.S. Space Policy from June 2010 as scripted by the Obama administration at:

Deep space architecture.
Credit: NASA

Thales Alenia Space has signed a trio of contracts with U.S. companies to help shape NASA’s Deep Space Gateway and Deep Space Transport projects.

The work is being done under the framework of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) activities with Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital–ATK.

Deep space infrastructure

Thales Alenia Space support to the U.S. partner’s activities in NextSTEP is primarily focused on the definition of a key core element of the cislunar infrastructure, i.e. the Habitat Module, but with potential additional contributions in terms of general Deep Space Gateway architecture and other composing elements, such as a potential airlock.

Thales Alenia Space is drawing upon its track record of work, including ISS Pressurized Modules, both permanently operative in orbit like the Nodes or used to support ISS cargo logistic like the Cygnus resupply vehicle.

Credit: Orbital -ATK

This new support includes overall module configuration to layout, structures, micrometeoroid and radiation protection, as well as thermal control.

Proving ground

“Based on a public-private partnership model, the next step for human spaceflight is the development of deep space exploration capabilities to expand architectures to support more extensive missions in the proving ground around and beyond cis-lunar space and then towards deep space and, ultimately, Mars,” explains a Thales Alenia Space press statement.


Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1903, December 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Just wrapping up Sol 1903 operations, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has been scooting about on Vera Rubin Ridge.

The robot has been focusing on the rocks that make up the ridge, measuring their chemistry and imaging their structure to try and understand the origin of this prominent feature in Gale crater reports Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist for Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Laser shots across the sand. Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo taken on Sol 1902, December 12, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Sand deposits

Sand has been the focus of Curiosity’s attention lately. Small depressions gather sand as the wind blows along the ridge, and the rover science team wanted to measure the chemistry and grain size of such a Vera Rubin Ridge sand deposit to understand their similarities (or differences) to those of the Bagnold dune sands, Minitti adds.

The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) were deployed on two targets, “Goatfell” and “Eilean Dubh.”

The former is along the crest of a sand ripple, and the latter avoids ripple crests to provide the largest contrast to Goatfell,” Minitti notes.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1902, December 12, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Bedrock chemistry

Curiosity Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instruments was to raster across another ripple crest at “Stonehaven,” and Mastcam will acquire a multispectral observation at “Corrie” that covers the ripple crests targeted by ChemCam, MAHLI and APXS.

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo taken on Sol 1901, December 12, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“The Vera Rubin Ridge rocks did not go without attention despite the comprehensive sand observations. ChemCam will measure bedrock chemistry at “Arran,” and the chemistry of one of the gray cobbles scattered throughout the workspace at “Trotternish.” Targets “Coll” and “Yell” mark a contact between two different rock types on the ridge,” Minitti points out.

Curiosity’s Mastcam mosaics across these targets will provide detailed insight into the nature of the contact.

360 degree mosaics

The rover’s Mastcam was also slated to image “Hoy,” a small, bumpy rock that shares similarities with the target “Moffat” imaged during the rover’s last stop.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1903, December 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“All of the plan’s targets will be recorded for posterity in one of our systematic Mastcam 360 degree mosaics,” Minitti explains, including Curiosity’s drive target, a stretch of bedrock roughly 16-feet (5 meters) away with unique color characteristics as viewed from orbit.

Also planned were environmental observations by the rover, including dust measurements at three different times of day, early morning searches for clouds looking above the rover and across the horizon.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 1903, December 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL


Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) and Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) measurements were also on the schedule.

Traverse map

A Curiosity’s traverse map through Sol 1901 has been issued. This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1901 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (December 11, 2017).

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona




Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

From Sol 1896 to Sol 1901, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 87.25 feet (26.59 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 11.11 miles (17.88 kilometers).

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Talking exoplanets? Better watch what you say advises Elizabeth Tasker, solar system scientist.
Credit: Barbara David

The fine art of exoplanet detection is on the upswing, perhaps at the cusp of a watershed moment in detecting life on other worlds. Ground and space-based telescopes have been busy plumbing the depths of space to find and confirm over 3,500 planets are circling their parent stars. For sure, that number is destined to grow.

Indeed, the discovery of extrasolar planets with similar radii and mass to the Earth has opened the door to scientific debate about the probability that such worlds may well be habitable.

Cautionary flags

Revelations like these stir up overtones of “most habitable” planet or “Earth’s twin” and spark lots of headlines in the last few years. However, the reality is that we have no way to quantitatively assess a planet’s ability to support life.

A hypothetical planet covered in water around the binary star system of Kepler-35A and B is depicted in this artist’s view.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

That is one of several cautionary flags tossed into the air by Elizabeth Tasker, an associate professor in the Department of Solar System Sciences for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and its Institute of Space and Astronautical Science.

What’s her beef? Check out my new story at:

Earth-Like Planet? Not So Fast — Scientist Says to Watch Your Words

By Leonard David,’s Space Insider Columnist

December 13, 2017 07:30am ET



New Shepard liftoff.
Credit: Blue Orign/Screenshot







Blue Origin’s New Shepard flew again for the seventh time December 12 from Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site.

Video at:

Known as Mission 7 (M7), the flight featured the next-generation booster and the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0.

New Shepard landing.
Credit: Blue Orign/Screenshot

Crew Capsule 2.0 features large windows, measuring 2.4 feet wide, 3.6 feet tall.

Onboard payloads

M7 also included 12 commercial, research and education payloads onboard.

Crew Capsule 2.0 reached an apogee of 322,405 feet AGL/326,075 feet MSL (98.27 kilometers AGL/99.39 kilometers MSL).

Capsule landing.
Credit: Blue Orign/Screenshot

The booster reached an apogee of 322,032 feet AGL/325,702 feet MSL (98.16 kilometers AGL/99.27 kilometers MSL).

NanoRacks payload integration

It was the third flight in which NanoRacks has managed customer payload integration.

Notably, one full Blue Origin payload locker in which NanoRacks integrated on this mission is for Orbital Medicine, in collaboration with Purdue University Aerospace Engineering. Their experiment, “Thoracic PARG” is demonstrating a new medical technology for managing collapsed lungs in microgravity or other extreme environments, according to a NanoRacks press statement.

T-cells, genes

In a statement from Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus, one experiment carried within the capsule assessed how microgravity impacts the cellular processes of T-cells or T-lymphocytes, which develop from stem cells in the bone marrow and are key to the immune system.

The second Embry-Riddle payload was designed to study how microgravity affects genes that play a role in tumor growth.

Embry-Riddle’s two experiments were part of 12 commercial, research and educational payloads onboard the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0.

Blue Origin’s chief rocketeer, Jeff Bezos, (right) discusses capsule payloads with team members.
Credit: Blue Origin

Capsule closeup.
Credit: Blue Origin








“Mannequin Skywalker” instrumented test dummy made the suborbital journey.
Credit: Blue Origin

Griffith Observatory Event