Archive for January, 2019

Credit: Chongqing University

Farside photo. CGTN story shows an image of the first-ever cotton sprout on the Moon, released by the Chongqing University which led the design team of the biological payload on the Chang’e-4 lunar mission. Credit: Chongqing University Photo  

China’s farside lander carried to the lunar surface an experiment devised by Chongqing University. Six living things — cotton, rapeseed, potato, thale cress, yeast and fruit flies – form a simple micro ecosystem.

Chinese media now reports that nightfall on the Moon has the mini-biosphere’s temperature dropping to nearly 180-degree centigrade below freezing. China Daily reports: “All the equipment has powered down, and the remaining seeds and animals will be gradually decomposed down to organic fundamentals.”

The Chang’e-4 test on the Moon’s farside began on January 3 and finished on Saturday, lasting about 213 hours and involved the transmission of over 170 pictures, reports China Daily.

Cotton shoots

At 8 pm on Saturday, the biological experiment sent back a photo showing that the cotton shoots had emerged and the plants were growing well inside the sealed test can, according to Chongqing University, which leads the biological science project for the Chang’e-4 mission.

“It is the first time humans have conducted a biological growth and cultivation experiment on the surface of the Moon,” Liu Hanlong, director of the project and deputy head of Chongqing University, said at a news conference on Tuesday. “It will provide valuable basic information and experience for building a moon base in the future.”

Ground unit.
Credit: Chongqing University

Ground unit.
Credit: Chongqing University

Cultivation of confusion

Part of the cultivation of confusion comes from photos taken of the ground unit, a comparative experiment on Earth. Scientists set up two identical payloads which started simultaneously: One on the Moon, one on Earth.

Chongqing University on Tuesday showed that one of the cotton seeds, taken up to the Moon by the lunar exploration probe, has sprouted. “We can confirm that the cotton has sprouted,” said Xie Gengxin, chief engineer of the biological project. “We are not sure about the other living things as the cameras didn’t record their activity.”

As tweeted via the journal, Astrobiology: “Update – the earlier 2 pictures we tweeted are being circulated by Chinese media. But they are actually from a ground unit of the #Change4 greenhouse. This is a picture from the farside of the Moon. It will be interesting to compare the growth. #astrobiology #spacebiology”

One of many Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) selfie photos taken on Sol 2291, January 16, 2019. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now wrapping up Sol 2291 duties.

The robot is concluding a single sol of activities on Sol 2291, reports Rachel Kronyak, a planetary geologist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

“As we begin to wrap up our activities at the Rock Hall drill site, Sol 2291 is chock full of science observations,” Kronyak reports. That sol was to begin with an hour-long science block.

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo taken on Sol 2291, January 16, 2019.

Dust levels

Curiosity’s environmental group (ENV) planned several activities to measure increasing dust levels in the atmosphere; these observations will occur at the start of the science block.

Following ENV’s activities, the geology group (GEO) planned a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observation on a soil target near the rover named “Loch Monar” as well as a long-distance Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) image of the sulfate unit on Mount Sharp, Kronyak adds.

Following ChemCam, Mastcam will take images of targets “Loch Monar” and “Stroma.”

“The “Stroma” target is an interesting small rock just in front of the rover,” Kronyak points out.

Curiosity Navcam Right A photo acquired on Sol 2289, January 14, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Self portrait imagery

After the science block, the plan calls for taking a series of images with the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera.

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo taken on Sol 2291, January 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“First, we’ll take a 57-frame self portrait, or selfie,” Kronyak notes. “Up next for MAHLI is part one of a wheel imaging campaign, which we do periodically to monitor the health of the wheels.”

Drive slated

The plan calls for more images to be taken after a Curiosity drive later on in the week.

Overnight, the to-do list has the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) performing an analysis on the Rock Hall dump pile. “This will be our second observation on the dump pile,” Kronyak explains, as a weekend analysis didn’t get the entire pile within APXS’s field of view.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2291, January 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo taken on Sol 2291, January 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Tuesday of this week was a no-planning “soliday,” which happens approximately every 38 days. “These solidays allow our Earth schedule to catch back up with the slightly longer Mars day. We will resume planning Sol 2292 on Wednesday,” Kronyak concludes.

Chang’e-4 lander carries mini-biosphere.

China’s Chang’e-4’s biological experiment returns the first farside results:  a cotton seed has sprouted on the Moon.

The mini-biosphere onboard the lander, designed by Chongqing University, is a canister containing the seeds of cotton, rapeseed, potato, and arabidopsis, as well as eggs of the fruit fly and some yeast.

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/Chongqing University/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

After Chang’e-4 touched down on the farside of the Moon on January 3, ground control instructed the probe to water the plants to start the growing process. A tube directs natural light on the surface of the Moon into the canister to allow the plants to grow.


Camera images

In a Xinhua news service story professor Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University notes that images sent by the probe showed that a cotton sprout had started to grow, though no other plants were found growing.

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/Chongqing University

More than 170 pictures have been taken by cameras and transmitted back to Earth, according to the team.

The cylinder canister, made from special aluminum alloy materials weighs 6 pounds (2.6 kilograms). It also holds water, soil, air, two small cameras, and a heat control system, Xie told Xinhua.

Biological technology

Xie explains that potatoes could be a major source of food for future space travelers.

Credit: XinhuaVideo/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

The growth period of Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, is short and easy to observe. Yeast could play a role in regulating carbon dioxide and oxygen in the mini biosphere, and the fruit fly would be the consumer of the photosynthesis process.

Researchers used biological technology to render the seeds and eggs dormant during the two months when the Chang’e-4 mission went through final checks at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, followed by a space trek of more than 20 days through space.


Credit: XinhuaVideo


Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/Chongqing University


Credit: NASA

Long-duration spaceflight leads to marked muscle atrophy.

However, another negative consequence of disuse is intramuscular fatty infiltration. Notably, few studies have investigated the effects of spaceflight on intramuscular fatty infiltration, or how muscle atrophy is associated with in-flight exercise.

New research by Katelyn Burkhart of the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program and colleagues analyzed computed tomography (CT) scans of the lumbar (lower) spine in 17 astronauts and cosmonauts who flew missions on the International Space Station.

Data was collected between years 2000-2006. All crewmembers underwent pre- and post-flight scanning, with pre-flight scans acquired 30-60 days prior to flight and post-flight scans acquired 7-10 days after landing.

Scans obtained before and after missions were studied to determine changes in the size and composition of the paraspinal muscles. Average time  of individuals in space was six months.

Credit: NASA

Low back pain

The muscular fatty infiltration that the report notes in the lumbar paraspinal muscles may have a connection to the low back pain that astronauts frequently report during flight.

Running up and down the spine, the paraspinal muscles play a key role in spinal movement and posture.

Previous studies have found reduced paraspinal muscle mass after prolonged time in space, suggesting that muscle atrophy may occur without the resistance provided by gravity.


The new study is the first to measure changes in the size and density of individual paraspinal muscles. The results show that muscle size returns to normal upon Earth recovery, but that some changes in muscle composition – particularly increased fatty infiltration – may persist for at least a few years.

Some of the paraspinal muscle changes seem to be affected by exercise, suggesting possible approaches to preventing the adverse effects of prolonged spaceflight on spinal health and functioning.

The study assessed such routines as treadmill exercise, cycle ergometer exercise, and resistance exercise.

Credit: NASA

Astronaut abilities

Burkhart and coauthors conclude: “As NASA plans for future missions to Mars and beyond, these results can be used to guide future countermeasures to mitigate declines in trunk muscle morphology and associated functional deficits.”

The researchers say they only investigated changes due to approximately 6 months of spaceflight.

“It’s unclear if the declines in trunk muscle morphology we report in this study would continue at the same rate for longer-duration missions or if they would begin to plateau. This information is of critical importance as NASA plans for longer-duration missions, as trunk muscle deficits could negatively affect an astronaut’s ability to perform mission-related tasks,” they write.

Credit: NASA



Their research paper — Negative Effects of Long-Duration Spaceflight on Paraspinal Muscle Morphology — has been published in SPINE- an International Journal for the study of the spine published by Wolters Kluwer and is available for free at:

Credit: National Geographic

For those local to the Boulder, Colorado area, I hope you can take part in my presentation at the Chautauqua Community House this Wednesday, January 16 with doors open at 6:30 PM; Showtime: 7:00 PM.

Are we at a crossroad in exploring the space frontier? Are we opting out as a nation – to build upon a legacy of sending humans and robots to delve into the mysteries of our solar system and beyond? Since the “Space Race” of the 1960’s, the portrait of space exploration has changed – one that is now a growing commercial and government endeavor. Still, the diplomatic value of pushing the boundaries of discovery in space is one that many nations are now pursuing.

Join me, Leonard David, space journalist, reporting on the future of the global space exploration program for more than five decades. I’ll be discussing what the next decade may hold around the world for space exploration – in low Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars… and beyond!

Space race rivals: Soviet Union’s Premier
Nikita Khrushchev with U.S. President, John F. Kennedy.
Credit: Kennedy Library

Credit: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for National Geographic Channel

About the Speaker

Leonard David is author of the highly-acclaimed National Geographic Society’s 2016 book: Mars – Our Future on the Red Planet. He is also co-author with Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin of Mission to Mars – My Vision for Space Exploration released in 2013 and also published by the National Geographic Society.

Leonard’s new book — Moon Rush – The New Space Race — will be published by National Geographic in May.









For more information go to:

Special Invite to Colorado Space Community: The Future of Moon and Mars Exploration

The State Council Information Office of China (SCIO) has held a press conference to discuss the January 3 landing of the country’s Chang’e-4 farside mission.


The State Council Information Office of China (SCIO) held a press conference to discuss the January 3 landing of the country’s Chang’e-4 farside mission.

Discussed at the January 14 event were future Moon exploration plans by China, particularly the launch by year’s end of the Chang’e-5 mission to bring lunar samples back to Earth.

China’s next Moon exploration phase: Sample return from the Moon.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Subsequent projects

“Experts are still discussing and verifying the feasibility of subsequent projects, but it’s confirmed that there will be another three missions after Chang’e-5,” said Wu Yanhua, deputy head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) at the press briefing.

According to Wu, the Chang’e-6 mission will be designed to bring samples back from the South Pole of the Moon. “Whether the probe will land on the nearside or the farside of the Moon, we will make the decision according to the performance of Chang’e-5,” he said.

As reported by the state-run Xinhua news agency, the Chang’e-7 mission will carry out comprehensive surveys around the South Pole, including studying terrain and landform, physical composition as well as the space environment in the region.

Apollo 15 image captures landing locale of China’s Chang’e-5 Moon lander – the Mons Rümker region in the northern part of Oceanus Procellarum.
Credit: NASA

Science, research base

The Chang’e-8 mission, in addition to scientific surveys and experiments, will test key technologies to lay the groundwork for the construction of a science and research base on the Moon, Xinhua reported.

China, the United States, Russia and some European countries all want to try out technologies needed for such a scientific lunar base. “For example, can we build houses on the moon with lunar soil using 3D printing technology?” Wu said.

The European Space Agency is exploring 3D printing of habitats and other structures on the Moon.
Credit: RegoLight, visualization: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018

“We hope that Chang’e-8 will help test some technologies, and do some exploring for the building of a joint lunar base shared by multiple countries,” Wu said.

Rover challenges

In a related Xinhua news story, Chinese space experts at the SCIO press briefing noted that China’s second lunar rover — Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit-2 — will face great challenges in its survey of the Von Karman Crater landscape in the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin on the Moon’s farside.

Yutu-2 rover as imaged by Chang’e-4 lander.

“From the images sent back from Chang’e-4, we can see the area surrounding the probe is dotted with craters of different sizes, and it’s very difficult for the rover to drive in the region,” Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the Chang’e-4 probe, explained.

“We’ll try to find the relatively safe areas and make a reasonable plan for the route of the rover based on the images taken by it,” Sun said, adding “we haven’t found any insurmountable obstacle in the region.”

Science phase

The Chang’e-4 mission is equipped with 13 payloads, including four scientific payloads jointly developed by scientists from the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Saudi Arabia and China.

Wu Weiren, general designer of China’s lunar exploration program, said that three major aspects will be carried out by Chang’e-4 probe as the mission transfers from commission phase to scientific exploration phase.

First is exploring the topography of the landing area and carrying out a geological profile of the farside. The second, Wu said, is primarily about the space environment around the Moon, including the impact of cosmic radiation, solar radiation and solar flare explosion on the lunar space. And the third is the study of the material composition of the lunar landscape.

The Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover have entered lunar night. The rover will be reactivated after 14 days when the Moon enters daytime.

Wu Weiren, general designer of China’s lunar exploration program.
Credit: SCIO

U.S.-China cooperation?

Meanwhile, China Daily reports that former NASA chief, Charles Bolden, said that Congressional prohibitions on space cooperation with China-as stipulated by the 2011 Wolf Amendment to NASA appropriations bills-is a “significant legal constraint” and “hindrance” that should be relaxed or reversed, Bolden said.

“I’m incredibly optimistic. I just think cooler heads will prevail,” Bolden said in an exclusive interview, according to China Daily.

A former astronaut, Bolden ran the U.S. space agency from July 2009 to January 2017.

Open airlock for China on the International Space Station?
Credit: Roscosmos

Remove restriction

“If this administration went to the Congress and said, ‘Look, we want to relax the stipulations on the Wolf Amendment’ or ‘We want to eliminate the Wolf Amendment’, it could get passed in a heartbeat, and that would remove the restriction and we’d be able to collaborate in human spaceflight,” Bolden was reported as stating.

“My firm belief is that we should integrate China into the International Space Station program. It doesn’t have a lot of time left,” Bolden said, referring to the planned retirement of the ISS in a few years. That would help China “avoid some of the mistakes that were made with building the International Space Station,” he said in the China Daily story.

To view the SCIO press briefing, go to:


Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover. Images of each other taken by the respective machinery.

China’s Chang’e-4 lander/rover is about to be cold-soaked, as darkness falls on the Von Kármán crater landing site.

On January 3, the probe softly touched down on the South Pole’s Aitken Basin on the farside of the Moon.

China’s Xinhua news agency reports that the farside Moon mission is equipped to measure the moody Moon swings of temperatures. The lunar day equals 14 days on Earth, and a lunar night is the same length.

Sleep mode

“Without our own data about lunar temperatures, we don’t know how cold a lunar night can actually be,” Zhang He, executive director of the Chang’e-4 probe project from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) told Xinhua.

Tan Mei, a Chang’e-4 consultant from CAST, said the lander will switch to a “sleep mode” during the lunar night due to the lack of solar power, and rely on a radioisotope heat source to maintain warmth. This power supply is the product of collaboration between Chinese and Russian scientists.

“We need to transform heat into power to run the thermometry to measure the temperatures of the lunar surface at night,” Tan said.

Moon Control room.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Data collectors

The lander is equipped with dozens of temperature data collectors, and the data they collect at night will be transmitted after the probe is wakened during the Moon’s daytime, said Li Fei, a designer of the lander from CAST.

As reported by Xinhua, Sun Zezhou, the chief designer of the Chang’e-4 probe from CAST, said the probe will get first-hand data by directly measuring the temperatures of the lunar soil, probe’s surface, and its key interior equipment during the lunar night.

Used for the first time in a Chinese spacecraft, the isotope thermoelectric generation technology on Chang’e-4 is a prototype for future deep-space explorations, Sun said.

Queqiao relay spacecraft is in a halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system, utilized to set up a communication link between the Earth and the Moon’s farside. Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

In 2013, China launched Chang’e-3, the country’s first spacecraft to soft-land on the moon. The scientific instruments on its lander are still operating after more than 60 lunar nights in the past five years.

Relay link

In May of last year, China sent a relay satellite, named Queqiao, meaning Magpie Bridge, to the halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system to set up a communication link between the Earth and the Moon’s farside. It is the first communication satellite operating in that orbit.

According to Xinhua, Chinese space experts hope Queqiao will be able to assist other countries that intend to send probes to the farside of the Moon within the relay spacecraft’s life span.

China’s lunar exploration will continue with Chang’e–5, which is expected to bring samples of lunar soil back to Earth.

Courtesy of New China TV, posted on January 13, watch this video about the Chang’e-4 mission and outreach to other nations:

Chang’e-4 lander on Moon’s farside. Image taken by Yutu-2 rover. Credit: CNSA/CLEP

China’s Chang’e-4 farside mission toted to the Moon a unique biological experiment.

China Global Television Network (CGTN) reports that a team of scientists from Chongqing University developed a small biological payload that’s aboard the Chang’e-4 lander.

This small tin weighs less than 7 pounds (3 kilograms) and carries seeds of cotton, potato, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, fruit fly pupa and yeast.

Micro-ecosystem carried to Moon’s farside aboard China’s Chang’e-4 lunar lander.
Credit: Chongqing University


Professor Xie Gengxin is the Chief Designer of this biological experiment payload on the Chang’e-4. He told CGTN that there are animal, plants and microorganisms in this payload, creating a micro-ecosystem. They used a light pipe to guide the sunlight inside the tin, they will study their photosynthesis under strong sunlight.

The lunar environment features low gravity, bright sunlight and radiation. Professor Xie says the water inside the payload has been released, and the seeds will soon sprout.

To better understand how plants and animals grow in different environments, researchers have set up two identical payloads which start simultaneously: One on Earth, one on the Moon.

Growth data

Professor Xie says one of the key challenges is to control and adjust the temperature within such a small area. They have tried many new materials and technologies. Researchers from Chongqing University are now monitoring the growth data 24 hours a day, and recording the latest condition accordingly. Since 2015, researchers and scientists from Chongqing University have brought this project from idea to reality.

Liu Hanlong, the Vice President of Chongqing University told CGTN that this biological experiment payload was chosen from almost 300 projects nationwide. Professors and researchers from Chongqing led the way, but they also cooperated with researchers from over 20 domestic institutes and universities.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left A image taken on Sol 2288, January 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just begun Sol 2289 activities.

Reports Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at the Open University; Milton Keynes, the U.K.: “We will soon be leaving the Rock Hall area, thus this one last look at the drill site from a hazard camera perspective. Seeing those holes always is special, even for #19!”

Front Hazcam Left A image taken on Sol 2288, January 12, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Rock powder dumping

Curiosity Navcam Left A image acquired on Sol 2288, January 13, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In recent planning, the rover was slated to dump the remaining rock powder from the drill and investigate it with all instruments, starting with the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Schwenzer notes that Sol 2288 plans included a range of environmental investigations, with a dedicated morning science block on sol 2288 to a passive sky observation and a Mastcam tau to see how the dust loading in the atmosphere is changing.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Image (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2288, January 13, 2019. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Bedrock observations

The science block of sol 2289 is dedicated to spectral analysis of the dump pile with Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) passive and Mastcam multispectral investigations.

ChemCam is holding off on its active Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) observations of the dump pile until scientists know that APXS and the spectral analysis completed successfully. Thus there are two bedrock observations in the sol 2290 plan: the targets are Dufftown and Lairg.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2287, January 12, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 2287, January 12, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Both will be investigated with 10-point rasters to further capture the bedrock variability we have been seeing,” Schwenzer adds. “Monday’s plan will be the last one at Rock Hall before we start our descent of the ridge and into the clay unit. I am excited to explore the new terrain, and so is the entire team!”

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Artist concept showing the protective role of the wind and thermal shield (WTS) at the martian surface.
Credit: IPGP/David Ducros






Now in Sol 46, NASA’s InSight Mars lander acquired these images on January 13 using its robotic arm-mounted, Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC).

Operators will soon make use of the five mechanical fingers of the grapple to pick up the Wind and Thermal Shield, placing it on top of the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) now in position on the surface of Mars.

Insight’s robotic arm will also deploy the heat flow probe – a mole that burrows 16 feet (five meters) into the ground. That’s deeper than any instrument that has ever been to Mars.

The grapple fingers close around a handle that resembles a ball on top of a stem. Each of the three items the arm will lift has one of these handles.