Archive for May, 2019

The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility by Robert Zubrin; Prometheus Books, New York, 2019; hardcover:  395+ pages, $25.00

There is an on-going revolution in spaceflight. But where will this uprising in technological prowess take us?

Robert Zubrin has written a compelling account of the trajectory ahead for humanity. In 14 chapters (divided into a part 1: “How we can” and part 2: “Why we must”), the author puts forward a visionary account of how best to break the bonds of Earth and head for the stars.

“Great things are happening,” Zubrin says in an introduction that kicks off the book. “It’s a grand time to be alive. We are living at the beginning of history. We are present at the creation.”

There’s a new space race afoot; it’s not a replay of rival superpowers that ushered in the Cold War space race. Rather, competing entrepreneurs are the key to transforming our future in space.  The author underscores why the spaceflight revolution is a must: for the knowledge, for the challenge, for our survival, for our freedom, and for the future. In the book’s concluding chapter, Zubrin flags what now needs to be done, giving the charge to the reader to become a space activist.

The book is loaded with technical detail on pushing forward to the stars, as well as sweeping and captivating looks at terraforming, mining the asteroids for fun and profit, how to build a Moon base, and colonizing Mars. Zubrin does not skimp on provocative ideas and pulls no punches when critical of ideas promoted by NASA and others.

“Making history is not a spectator sport,” Zubrin concludes. “It’s your turn at the plate.” 

The reader will find this mind-stretching volume an absorbing look at the future of space exploration. A great glossary of terms and chapter by chapter notes for delving deeper into topics rounds out this impressive book.

For more information, go to:

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 2410, May 18, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2410 duties.

The robot has used its front wheel to dig a small trench in a ripple at the ripple field named “Rigg,” reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The plan then called for focus on what that scuff uncovered.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B photo taken on Sol 2409, May 17, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Active sand

“There is a lot that we can learn,” Anderson adds, “from these patches of active sand that we occasionally encounter as we explore Gale crater!”

“One of the big questions is where the sand comes from: by measuring the chemical composition of the sand at Rigg we can compare with sand we have seen earlier in the mission to see if the chemistry is different enough that there must be different sources. We also can compare the grain sizes in different parts of the ripple to get a better understanding of how the wind sorts sand grains under martian gravity and atmospheric pressure,” Anderson explains.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2409, May 17, 2019. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS




Similarities or differences?

Studying the shape of the ripples in detail also helps scientists compare modern bedforms (the generic term for dune-like features of all sizes) to the ancient ones seen preserved in the rocks, which lets researchers infer similarities or differences in the environment.

“And of course, looking closely at these wind-blown sand features lets us get a better handle on what the winds are like in Gale crater right now,” Anderson reports.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 2408, May 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Blocky outcrop

The sol 2409 plan called for the robot to make a Mastcam multispectral observation of the scuff, followed by Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) of the floor (“Ben Cruachan”) and wall (“Ben Lomond”) of the scuff, as well as the undisturbed crest of the ripple (“Ben Suardal”).

That plan also calls for use of Navcam to look for dust devils before starting contact science.

Contact science observations start with Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images of targets on the ripple crest (“Dunoon”), trough (“Gairsay”), and a secondary ripple (“Nairn”).

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 2408, May 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) will then quickly measure the chemistry of Dunoon before settling in for an overnight measurement of Gairsay.

“We plan to keep playing in the sand at Rigg for another couple of sols before moving on toward a blocky outcrop to the northeast,” Anderson concludes.


The Lunar Planetary Institute’s (LPI) has released the Lunar South Pole Atlas – a new online reference for mission planners.

NASA has been directed to land astronauts at the lunar south pole by 2024, an objective with a five-year timeline.

Speed, safety, and efficiency are key priorities driving this implementation of Space Policy Directive-1, which is to have humans on the Moon for “long-term exploration and utilization.”

New data products

To assist NASA and the lunar community, LPI, under the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), has compiled an online atlas that consists of a series of maps, images, and illustrations of the south polar region.

The atlas includes new data products developed with the south pole directive in mind; other content is drawn from LPI’s existing collection of Lunar Images and Maps and its Library of Classroom Illustrations.

Links to additional data products derived from recent and ongoing planetary missions are also included.

This atlas is curated to provide context and to be a reference for those interested in the exploration of the Moon’s south pole.








To review the newly released atlas, go to:

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University




NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has used its high-powered LROC system to image Israel’s SpaceIL Beresheet crash site.

The imagery was taken eleven days after the attempted landing on April 11th.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University






Think gouge…rather than crater

At the scale of the narrow angle camera image, photo specialists cannot detect a crater.

“Perhaps there is one but it is simply too small to be seen,” explains a posting from LRO central at Arizona State University (ASU), “or the low angle of impact (less than ten degrees relative to the surface), the fragility of the spacecraft, and the velocity precluded crater formation (think gouge rather than crater).”

Surrounding the smudge is an area of increased reflectance (up to 20% higher).

Ragged zone

This ragged zone spans 98 feet (30 meters) to 164 feet (50 meters) from the smudge and includes a ray that extends southward about 328 feet (100 meters).

“The higher reflectance was likely caused by gases or very fine high-speed particles rapidly moving away from the impact site, which smoothed the upper layer of regolith and redistributed fine soil particles, which in turn increased reflectance,” notes the ASU/LRO posting.

Depleted of fuel, NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft (LADEE) crashed on April 18, 2014. Its impact site on the eastern rim of Sundman V crater, the spacecraft was heading west when it impacted the surface. The ejecta form a V shaped pattern extending to the northwest from the impact point.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Small impact event

One upshot from the crash: while not a successful soft landing, the Beresheet impact provides another example of small impact events, explains the ASU/LRO website.

The crash site can be compared to NASA’s two GRAIL and the LADEE spacecraft that were purposely impacted on the Moon in 2012 and 2014, respectively. The study of these impacts is providing new insights into how the lunar regolith (soil) evolves over time.

“Despite the mishap, it is important to remember that Beresheet was the first spacecraft developed and flown by a non-profit entity to orbit the Moon,” explains the ASU/LRO posting. “And SpaceIL has announced they will be trying again, with Beresheet 2!”

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 2408, May 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2409 duties.

Now that the robot is back on the road following a drill campaign at Kilmarie, a quick “touch-and-go” activity was planned to characterize the local bedrock, explains Mark Salvatore, a planetary geologist at the University of Michigan in Dearborn.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 2408, May 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ripple field

Curiosity recently drove a short 10 feet (3 meters) to the north towards a large ripple field named “Rigg,” which is where the “go” portion of “touch-and-go” took place.

Before then, however, Curiosity extended her arm and analyzed a patch of bedrock with the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and then zapped bedrock off to the starboard side of the rover using the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) instrument, Salvatore reports.

Curiosity Navcam Left B Sol 2408 May 16, 2019
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Well-planned dance

“She’ll then proceed with a well-planned dance that will dip one of Curiosity’s wheels into the nearby sand ripples, scuffing the surface and creating a small trench, and then orient herself in a position that will be better suited to study both the disturbed and undisturbed portions of the ripples,” Salvatore adds.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 2408, May 16, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Wheel watch 2019. Curiosity Mastcam Left photo taken on Sol 2407, May 15, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The next few days will be dedicated to studying these ripples, Salvatore points out, before Curiosity planners have the rover investigate more of the clay-bearing materials of the Glen Torridon region to the south and east of Vera Rubin ridge.

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

Explore Mars, Inc. has released The Humans to Mars Report 2019, issued at the group’s summit meeting being held May 14-16 at the National Academy of Sciences Building in Washington D.C.

The report notes that the past year has been a particularly active year with regard to space policy. The National Space Council announced that it is now the goal of the United States to return humanity to the Moon by the year 2024.

Credit: Subcommittee on Space, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology/Screengrab

Broad-based, bi-partisan

According to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, this will help enable human missions to Mars by 2033, as required by the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017. “This is essential as Mars exploration maintains broad-based bi-partisan support, with unwavering support coming from NASA, Congress, and industry,” explains the report.

Public interest in Mars also remains strong, as evidenced by recent public polling.

Credit: Bryan Versteeg

“Although a recent report argued that missions to Mars in 2033 may not be feasible under certain conditions, we maintain that if the United States adopts leaner architecture approaches than those assumed in that report and if both funding and political capital are applied to the new accelerated space policy, humans on Mars in 2033 remains an achievable goal,” says the report.

Credit: Bryan Versteeg

Moon/Mars synergies

Regarding the new thrust toward lunar exploration, the report embraces such a strategy, “as long as they do not significantly delay human missions to Mars.”

“We view Mars as a critical destination that will enable the exploration and development of space,” the new report explains, “and we firmly believe that humanity should set the goal of sending humans to Mars by 2033.”

In a press statement, according to Explore Mars, Inc. Board member and Executive Vice President, Joe Cassady: “It is interesting to note that while much is made of recent focus on returning to the Moon, many of the same architectural elements remain and are the keys to both a return to the Moon and to human missions to Mars in the 2030s.  I am heartened by the spirit of cooperation and the many synergies we are finding between lunar and Mars advocates.”

To view the entire report — The Humans to Mars Report 2019 – go to:

For more information on Explore Mars, Inc., go to:

Credit: Smithsonian/NASM/Jim Preston

Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit will go on display July 16, the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11.

“This is a big moment for us,” explains a Smithsonian Air and Space Museum statement, “because it will be the first time the suit is displayed in 13 years, and the suit just completed a multi-year conservation.”

The suit conservation was funded by thousands of public donations through a Kickstarter campaign in 2015.

A state-of-the-art display case and mannequin have been created to help protect the fragile suit while on display.

Credit: Smithsonian/NASM/Jim Preston

Leftover lunar dust

Does the suit look significantly different to the naked eye?

“No, but that’s the point! Our conservation of the Armstrong spacesuit didn’t aim to make it look brand new, but rather to preserve and stabilize the suit, keeping all of the history-making elements intact,” explains the museum statement.

You can even see Moon dust that remains on the suit from the lunar mission.

For a view of Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit in person, it will be on display at the museum in Washington, D.C. starting July 16.




Apollo Leadership Lessons: Powerful Business Insights for Executives by Dick Richardson; Authority Publishing 2019; paperback: 232 pages, $24.99.

As we close in on the July salute of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, you’ll find this book an inspiring read – one that captures hope and disappointment, villains and heroes, greed and sacrifice. At every step it’s a story of leadership.

With unique access to key leaders and NASA resources, author Dick Richardson has captured the leadership insights of America’s journey to the Moon and other space projects. These lessons are told through the lens of the people who were there–the executives, flight directors, and astronauts.

As the volume explains: “You may not go to the Moon, but this book will help you apply NASA’s leadership lessons to your company’s mission.”

Twelve chapters take the reader from Wernher von Braun and his adaptive leadership in action, John F. Kennedy’s ability to nurture a vision, the crisis of leadership due to the Apollo 1 pad fire to Apollo 13’s responsive innovation and the changing strategic intent of the Apollo-Soyuz project.

“Many of the leadership insights that came out of NASA are still there, sixty years later,” Richardson writes. “The people who grappled with tough situations, made difficult decisions, and led challenging teams left a lasting legacy from which we all continue to benefit,” he adds.

“Read the book. You may be spurred on to lead others to do things that are hard to do or even imagine. Whether in space or on earth, these are exciting and changing times, and you are a part of them,” explains David Leestma, astronaut and former director, Flight Crew Operations in the book’s foreword. “Dick Richardson is making a difference in helping leaders and his insights may make the journey easier and better.”

I concur.

This unique read is a real plus in helping the reader better appreciate the leadership principals and tactics employed by Apollo’s key decision-makers.

For more information on this book, go to:

Credit: UCSB/Lubin


One small, high-flying step toward interstellar travel!

Last month, UC Santa Barbara students sent up, via balloon, a prototype miniature spacecraft designed to further interplanetary and eventually interstellar flight.

“It’s part of a process of building for the future, and along the way you test each part of the system to refine it,” said UC Santa Barbara physics professor and experimental cosmologist Philip Lubin.

Credit: UCSB/Lubin/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

Wafer scale spacecraft

The prototype wafer scale spacecraft (WSS) is small enough to fit in the palm of one hand. It was launched into the stratosphere above Pennsylvania, to an altitude of 105,000 feet (32 km) — three times that of commercial airplanes — to gauge its functionality and performance.

The launch was conducted in collaboration with the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis on April 12, 2019 — 58 years to the day that Russian cosmonaut and pilot Yuri Gagarin became the first human to complete orbital space flight.

The spacecraft prototype worked flawlessly and collected more than 4,000 images of the Earth.

“It was designed to have many of the functions of much larger spacecraft, such as imaging, data transmission, including laser communications, attitude determination and magnetic field sensing,” said Nic Rupert, a development engineer in Lubin’s lab. “Due to the rapid advancements in microelectronics we can shrink a spacecraft into a much smaller format than has been done before for specialized applications such as ours.”

Artist rendering of the Directed Energy Interstellar Study.
Credits: P. Lubin


The project’s is to build an ultra-lightweight (gram scale) silicon wafer with embedded electronics, capable of being shot into space by way of directed energy propulsion while relaying data back to Earth.

Part of a NASA-funded endeavor called Starlight, the effort is supported also by the Breakthrough Foundation, where it is known as Starshot. UC Santa Barbara initiated the project in 2009 with modest funding from NASA’s Spacegrant program, receiving additional funds in 2015 via NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

Go to this video at:

For more information, go to this story by Sonia Fernandez in UCSB’s The Current:

Aerial view of New Mexico’s Spaceport America.
Credit: Spaceport America

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced today that the space company plans to relocate more than 100 employees to New Mexico’s Spaceport America as it begins to ramp up operations for commercial flights.

Virgin Founder Sir Richard Branson announced that Virgin Galactic’s development and testing program had advanced sufficiently to move the spaceline staff and space vehicles to their commercial operations headquarters at Spaceport America, New Mexico.

The move, which involves more than 100 staff, will commence imm

Credit: Spaceport America

ediately and continue through the summer.

$218 million investment

Spaceport America represents a $218 million investment by the state of New Mexico. The 18,000-acre FAA-licensed facility sits adjacent to the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range and has three vertical launch complexes and a 12,000-foot runway.

Just 45 miles north of Las Cruces, Spaceport America has the most restricted airspace in the Unites States except for the sky over the White House.

To date, Spaceport America has hosted 204 vertical launches as well as student rocket and science competitions.

Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo launch system flies above New Mexico’s Spaceport America – at that time, still under construction.
Credit: Virgin Galactic/Mark Greenberg

Coming home

“New Mexico delivered on its promise to build a world-first and world-class spaceport,” said Branson. “Today, I could not be more excited to announce that in return, we are now ready to bring New Mexico a world-first, world-class spaceline. Virgin Galactic is coming home to New Mexico, where together we will open space to change the world for good.”

Branson made the announcement in a ceremony at the New Mexico state capitol in Santa Fe. He said more than 100 employees will be moving to New Mexico to support the current staff bringing employment for Virgin Galactic at Spaceport America to approximately 150.

More jobs will follow as operations progress into commercial service in the coming year, Branson said.