Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

If you’re shooting for the stars via an interstellar spaceship, start the journey by attending the fifth Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop (TVIW).

A comprehensive schedule of events for TVIW 2017 – “Step by Step: Building a Ladder to the Stars” — is set for October 3-6 in Huntsville, Alabama.

TVIW was founded to outline and develop this Interstellar Vision. The ladder to the stars has many waypoints, attendant milestones and processes. TVIW was founded with a grand vision — to facilitate an “Interstellar” process of knowing and journeying.

Progress and plateaus

According to the group: “To attain grand goals, one must first build an infrastructure that supports steady progress, with plateaus along the way.”  With this technological, philosophical and economic infrastructure, humankind can set foot on the Moon, establish outposts, even cultures, throughout our solar system, and finally, find its (our) pathway to the stars.

Swarm of laser-sail spacecraft leaving the solar system.
Credit: Adrian Mann

Star-studded symposium

The star-studded symposium includes talks by numerous experts, such as Pete Worden, Chairman for the Breakthrough Prize Foundation; Andrew Siemion, Director of the UC Berkley Center for SETI Research; and Slava Turyshev, physicist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as Congressman John Culberson and James Benford, sail system director for Breakthrough Star Shot and president of Microwave Sciences Inc.


TVIW partners with the interstellar starship development symposium Starship Century and with Tau Zero Foundation – a coalition of scientists, engineers, artists, and writers seeking practical solutions for interstellar exploration.

A comprehensive schedule of events for the October TVIW 2017 is now available at:

Also, go to the semiannual TVIW newsletter, in PDF format here:

Enhanced-color Cassini spacecraft view of southern latitudes on Enceladus.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Use of digital holographic microscopy, using lasers to record 3-D images, may be our best bet for spotting extraterrestrial microbes.

The technique is being advocated by Caltech’s Jay Nadeau and colleagues as a way to sample and identify living microbes in the outer solar system.

The work has been published this month in the journal Astrobiology within a special issue dedicated to the search for signs of life on Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus.

Self-directed motion

“It’s harder to distinguish between a microbe and a speck of dust than you’d think,” says Caltech’s Nadeau, research professor of medical engineering and aerospace in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science.

Narrow jets of gas and icy particles erupt from the south polar region of Enceladus, contributing to the moon’s giant plume. A cycle of activity in these small-scale jets may be periodically lofting extra particles into space, causing the overall plume to brighten dramatically.
Credits: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

“You have to differentiate between Brownian motion, which is the random motion of matter, and the intentional, self-directed motion of a living organism,” Nadeau said in a press statement.

To study the motion of potential microbes from Enceladus’s plumes, Nadeau proposes using an instrument called a digital holographic microscope that has been modified specifically for astrobiology.

3-D imaging

In digital holographic microscopy, an object is illuminated with a laser and the light that bounces off the object and back to a detector is measured. This scattered light contains information about the amplitude (the intensity) of the scattered light, and about its phase (a separate property that can be used to tell how far the light traveled after it scattered).

With the two types of information, a computer can reconstruct a 3-D image of the object—one that can show motion through all three dimensions.

“Digital holographic microscopy allows you to see and track even the tiniest of motions,” Nadeau says. Furthermore, by tagging potential microbes with fluorescent dyes that bind to broad classes of molecules that are likely to be indicators of life—proteins, sugars, lipids, and nucleic acids—”you can tell what the microbes are made of,” she says.

This view looks toward the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across). North is up. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on April 13, 2017.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Extreme environments

To study the technology’s potential utility for analyzing extraterrestrial samples, Nadeau and her colleagues obtained samples of frigid water from the Arctic, which is sparsely populated with bacteria; those that are present are rendered sluggish by the cold temperatures.

With holographic microscopy, Nadeau was able to identify organisms with population densities of just 1,000 cells per milliliter of volume, similar to what exists in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, such as subglacial lakes.

Next, the team will attempt to replicate their results using samples from other microbe-poor regions on Earth, such as Antarctica.

Nadeau collaborated with Caltech graduate student Manuel Bedrossian and Chris Lindensmith of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.


For more information, go to:

Digital Holographic Microscopy, a Method for Detection of Microorganisms in Plume Samples from Enceladus and Other Icy Worlds

Also, go to this video detailing Nadeau’s work and proposal to use new microscopes on spacecraft that could visit the icy moons of Enceladus (Saturn) and Europa (Jupiter) to collect and search water samples for life. Go to:

Credit: OMEGA


Worth a watch, with or without popcorn!

On the heels of Moon Day OMEGA has produced a short documentary called “Starmen,” featuring one of the first men on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, and George Clooney.

In the film, Clooney gets the chance to watch the original Apollo 11 footage with his boyhood hero — sharing stories (and popcorn!) and reliving the moonwalks of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during their historical lunar landing in July 1969.

To view this unique and novel special documentary film, please go to

Credit: Purdue University Press

Book Review: Calculated Risk – The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom by George Leopold, Purdue University Press, 416 pages (Hardcover); U.S. $29.95.

Today, back on July 21, 1961, Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom piloted a suborbital mission of Project Mercury, boosted by a Mercury-Redstone 4 rocket that was topped by an escape tower and the Liberty Bell 7 single-seater capsule.

Credit: NASA

That pioneering flight lasted all of 15 minutes and 37 seconds, reaching an altitude of 118 miles, with Grissom splashing down safely in the Atlantic. However, explosive bolts unexpectedly fired and blew the hatch off, causing water to flood into the spacecraft.

Grissom’s dramatic rescue and a possible reason for the hatch blowing is one of numerous gems in this outstanding, well-written book by George Leopold, a veteran technology journalist and science writer who has covered the nexus between technology and policy for over thirty years.

Purdue University Press published this book as part of its Bicentennial Legacy Project. This volume is also under the Purdue Studies in Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Grissom in Gemini-3 spacecraft.
Credit: NASA

This book chronicles the life of the late Gus Grissom, Purdue’s first astronaut and details his Gemini 3 mission, the first manned Project Gemini flight that he flew with John Young in March1965. In an unofficial nod to the sinking of his Mercury craft, Grissom named the first Gemini spacecraft Molly Brown after the popular Broadway show The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Sadly, Grissom was one of the three astronauts killed in the January 27, 1967, Apollo 1 launch pad fire.

Calculated Risk draws from interviews with fellow astronauts, NASA engineers, family members and friends of Grissom to place his career in the context of the Cold War and the history of human spaceflight.

George Leopold has written an engaging and fact-filled account of Grissom’s life that spotlights the late astronaut’s professionalism and daring in the context of the Cold War and the history of human spaceflight.

For more information, go to:

Jeff Bezos was on hand last weekend to accept the first annual Buzz Aldrin Space Innovation Award.
Credit: Chuck Davis



Apollo 11’s Moon landing on July 20, 1969 took place 48 years ago. That history-making first human touchdown on the lunar landscape was celebrated at the Kennedy Space Center last Saturday during an evening gala held under a massive Apollo Saturn V booster.

While a reflection on decades past, the event proved to be a look into the future courtesy of remarks by Jeff Bezos, the retail mogul of fame and fortune, as well as head of Blue Origin, an entrepreneurial start-up with big plans to pioneer the space frontier.

Space pioneers reflect on the past and the future at Kennedy Space Center gala, left to right: Buzz Aldrin, Jeff Bezos, Jack Schmitt, Michael Collins, and Walt Cunningham.
Credit: Cat Vinton

Humanity’s place in space

Bezos looked at the space past, but gazed into the decades to come, offering his views about humanity’s place in space.

Bezos was on hand to accept the first annual Buzz Aldrin Space Innovation Award.


Lottery winnings

“I have won this lottery,” Bezos said. It’s a gigantic lottery and it’s called And I’m using my lottery winnings to push us a little further into space.”

Take a look at my new story on the Bezos action plan for the tomorrows yet to come. Go to:

Jeff Bezos’ Vision: ‘A Trillion Humans in the Solar System’

By Leonard David,’s Space Insider Columnist

July 21, 2017: 06:30am ET

July 18 gala brought together Apollo 11 crew mates: Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin.
Credit: Cat Vinton


In a historical retro-fire, it was 48 years ago today that the first human landing on the Moon took place – the seminal space voyage of Apollo 11 that saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk across the lunar landscape.

That signature event was saluted last weekend at the Kennedy Space Center – a gala that was hosted by Buzz Aldrin, the Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 11, joined on stage by Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot for Apollo 11, Walt Cunningham of Apollo 7 and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt of Apollo 17 – the last expedition to the Moon in December 1972.

Left to right: Walt Cunningham, Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin, Jack Schmitt.
Credit: Cat Vinton

Red carpet

Aldrin rolled out a “red carpet for the Red Planet” to commemorate 48 years since Apollo 11’s Moon landing on July 20, 1969 and also to start the countdown to the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary in July, 2019.

The impressive gathering was held under the historic Apollo Saturn V rocket at the Kennedy Space Center.

The fashionable star-studded gala was held to raise funds for Buzz Aldrin’s non-profit ShareSpace Foundation, which undertakes programs that will drive education and help develop the next generation of space innovators who will lead humanity to future habitation of Mars.

Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin addresses gala attendees.
Credit: Cat Vinton

Cycling pathways

“I’ve been planning Mars missions for decades with my Cycling Pathways to Mars concept to create a permanent human settlement on Mars,” Aldrin says. “We left a plaque on the Moon that said ‘We Came in Peace for All Mankind’…that was the spirit of Apollo and the spirit I want to carry on to Mars,” he adds.

With the 50th Anniversary of our first Moon landing coming up in 2019, Aldrin says that “now is the time to remind the world that we can achieve ‘the impossible’ again” if we inspire the public through Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) education.

Silent, live auctions

At the exclusive Saturday event on July 15, Aldrin oversaw the auctioning of some unique auction lots donated from pioneers in the worlds of space, polar and aviation exploration.

Space gala underneath Saturn V booster.
Credit: Cat Vinton

Highly collectible memorabilia included a First Day Cover signed by all three Apollo 11 crew members, flown to the surface of the Moon, a signed, framed sample of Kapton foil from the Apollo 11 Command Module, and a signed, boxed OMEGA Speedmaster “Moonwatch.” Also grabbing high-stepping dollars were the shoes worn by Buzz Aldrin for the TV show, Dancing with the Stars!

Dancing with the Stars – a shoe-in.
Credit: ShareSpace

Significant funds were raised to inspire and enable future generations to make scientific advancements that will lead to humans living on Mars: $57,838 from a silent auction and $134,950 from the live auction.

Fund-raising campaign

The Apollo 11 gala event is the first part of an ambitious three-year fund-raising campaign devised by the ShareSpace Foundation. That campaign culminates in the summer of 2019 with numbers of global activities staged to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the first Moon landing.

Interactive Mars map.
Credit: Chuck Davis

In the past year, the ShareSpace Foundation gifted 100 Giant Mars Maps all over the United States and internationally to schools and education centers, enabling students to discover Mars first hand via an interactive floor map depicting the topography of Mars, as well as the landing locations of NASA’s Mars robots.

For more information on ShareSpace visit:

Blue Origin’s crew capsule – a suborbital six-seater craft.
Credit: Blue Origin


The New Shepard rocket and crew capsule is on tap on make a “touchdown” at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) 65th annual fly-in convention at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

On display the week of July 24-30, Blue Origin’s exhibit will feature a 1:1 mockup of New Shepard’s astronaut crew capsule, roomy enough for six passengers.

Visitors of the exhibit will be able to climb inside the capsule, recline in flight-ready seats and experience a simulated flight to space created with real mission footage from New Shepard’s on board cameras.

The crew capsule features the largest windows in spaceflight history, which take up more than one-third of the capsule’s surface area offering every passenger a striking view during flight.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster takes flight.
Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin goal

“We are very excited to come to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017 and showcase our reusable New Shepard rocket and crew capsule so everyone can experience what it’s like to be an astronaut,” said Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin. “We hope to inspire the explorers of tomorrow, the ones who will help us achieve Blue Origin’s goal of millions of people living and working in space,” he said in a press statement.

The Blue Origin exhibit will be one of the main attractions on Boeing Plaza.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster executes a controlled vertical landing at 4.2 mph.
Credit: Blue Origin

Karman line exploration

On November 23, 2015, New Shepard became the first rocket to ascend above the Karman line and successfully return to Earth for a vertical landing.

On that date the vehicle reached a height of approximately 330,000 feet — also known as the Karman Line, or the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space — and then returned to Earth to make a vertical soft landing. It was the first time a booster rocket had ever performed such a feat, and it was a huge step forward in the company’s plan to make space tourism a reality.

New Shepard flight profile.
Credit: Blue Origin

In 2018, the New Shepard rocket is slated to undergo test flights with a crew.

The EAA AirVenture Oshkosh fly-in convention occurs every July.

For more information, go to:

Past Martian sunset image from 2015.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M University


Reliable commands to NASA’s Curiosity rover has now ended. The robot on the Red Planet has disappeared behind the Sun for about three weeks.

This made planning “feel as if the Sun were setting on our normally active rover activities,” explains Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist for Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Napping on the job

The rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), and Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) have been safely stored for the “conjunction nap,” Minitti adds. Curiosity’s Mastcam and Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) collected a few last bits of science data for the rover’s geology group.

Mastcam acquired mosaics of the “Vera Rubin Ridge” above and in front of the rover, and of the workspace in front of the Mars machinery Minitti explains. “Both mosaics not only inform us about the rocks around us, they will be used to plan activities right after we return from conjunction.”

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B Sol 1758 July 17, 2017
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Wind-induced changes

Mastcam and MARDI were slated to acquire images on sols 1757 and 1758 to look for wind-induced changes in the sands around the rover. “These change detection images complement similar change detection images acquired at previous sand stops,” Minitti notes, “revealing the dynamic nature of Mars.”

After imaging on Sol 1758, the plan called for Mastcam to home her focus mechanisms and settle in for a well-deserved break.

Jam packed plan

The environmental group had a jam packed plan, acquiring three long Navcam movies seeking dust devils, and Mastcam and Navcam images monitoring the sky for clouds and dust load.

“The relative lack of other activities in the plan allowed these activities to be spaced out over early morning, mid-day and late afternoon times, giving the science team insight into how time of day influences atmospheric phenomena,” Minitti points out.

The rover’s Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) will acquire six long (at least one hour) passive observations, and Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) are to continue their steady monitoring of the Gale Crater environment.

DAN, RAD and REMS are the only three science instruments that will remain active over conjunction.

Curiosity Mastcam Left Sol 1757 July 16, 2017
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Drill issue continues

“In addition to squeezing in science observations, Curiosity will conduct a suite of tests with the drill, another step in the efforts of the engineers to bring the drill back to full functionality,” Minitti concludes. “These tests will give the engineers just as much data to chew on over conjunction as the science team! See you on the flip side, trusty rover!”

Enter the e-nose.
Credit DLR

A synthetic nose – the e-Nose – has been developed to sniff out environmental conditions that foster elevated microbial growth of bacteria and fungi. These organisms attack the materials on the International Space Station (ISS).

The device successfully sniffed microbial contamination in the Russian ISS sector from December 2012 to May 2013 by analyzing substances that microorganisms emit into the closed atmosphere of the orbiting facility.

According to the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) the e-Nose will be upgraded together with the Russian partner, the Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP): a modified e-Nose is scheduled to start measuring in 2018 the astronauts’ health and stress levels by analyzing their exhalation gases.

This month, movements of the planets will put Mars almost directly behind the Sun, from Earth’s perspective, causing curtailed communications between Earth and Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL


Now in Sol 1756, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover will cease operations this weekend. The team will check on the rover on August 4 and re-start full operations on August 7.

“In the meantime, Curiosity might just get lonely,” reports Roger Wiens, a geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He is Principal Investigator for Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument.


Solar conjunction

Reason for ceasing Curiosity operations: a solar conjunction.

“Planetary scientists take their vacations when the planets align,” Wiens reports. “In our case it is because communications with Mars are blacked out when the Red Planet goes behind the Sun. It is called a solar conjunction. Afterwards, Mars will re-appear in our terrestrial skies early in the morning, just before sunrise. As the Earth chases the Red Planet, Mars will rise earlier until at opposition, when the Earth passes Mars a little over a year from now, the Red Planet will be directly overhead at midnight, e.g., directly behind Earth, relative to the Sun.”

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 1754, July 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Facing steep ridge

A recent rover drive of 125 feet (38 meters) brought the mileage traveled by the robot since landing in August 2012 to just over 10.6 miles (17 kilometers).

The rover is now facing a steep, 65 feet (20 meter) high section of the Vera Rubin ridge. A recent image from the rover’s front Hazcam looks straight up the ridge. (photo at right)

“We won’t climb it here; there’s a gentler slope to the east,” adds Wiens.

The rover team has decided not to drive any further before conjunction.

Curiosity Mastcam Right photo acquired on Sol 1753, July 12, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity is on a roughly 8 degree slope right now “and the team didn’t want to risk a lot of slip just before conjunction,” Wiens explains.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1754, July 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The team planned the last ChemCams pre-conjunction, with targets “Jimmies Ledge” and “Jennys Nubble.” Mastcam will take a 2-image mosaic of the top portion of the ridge. The robot’s Navcam was in the plan, used to make a dust devil movie and a suprahorizon movie looking south, Wiens concludes.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1752, July 11, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Griffith Observatory Event