Archive for April, 2017

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgement: William Blair (Johns Hopkins University)


Here on Earth, researchers are on the lookout for microbial or, at best, unintelligent life.

But finding leftover technological artifacts by prior technological, perhaps spacefaring, species could be easier to locate.

Be prepared to detect unambiguous “technosignatures” is the advice of Jason Wright at the Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds.

Archeology of space

“While all geological records of prior indigenous technological species might be long destroyed, if the species were spacefaring there may be technological artifacts to be found throughout the Solar system,” Wright explains in a recent research paper, now in the production phase after being accepted for publication in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

Outward bound Voyager records with photos, messages, sounds.
Credit: NASA

Indeed, technosignatures could be in the form of artifacts beneath the surface of Mars, the rocky moons and asteroids, or in orbit in the outer Solar System where they could be discoverable.

“Such discoveries might occur using the tools of the burgeoning field of the archeology of space, which includes searching for, finding, and interpreting human artifacts in space,” Wright adds. “Such work includes the rediscovery and identification of lost probes and other space-borne human artifacts either for forensic purposes, or even accidentally.”

Buried structures

Wright suggests that more likely is revealing traces of buried structures or other artifacts via imagery and subsurface radar used to study the geology of planetary surfaces.

“Photometry and spectra of asteroids, comets, and Kuiper Belt Objects might reveal albedo, shape, rotational, compositional, or other anomalies because the targets host, or are, artifacts,” Wright explains.

Mars true-color globe showing Terra Meridiani.
Credits: NASA/Greg Shirah

The origins and possible locations for technosignatures of a prior indigenous technological species, Wright says, might be found on ancient Earth or another body, such as a pre-greenhouse Venus or a wet Mars of long ago.

Unambiguous technosignatures

“Remaining indigenous technosignatures might be expected to be extremely old, limiting the places they might still be found…beneath the surfaces of Mars and the Moon, or in the outer Solar System,” Wright suggests.

“The question is not how long the past we might be able to detect the fossil remains of the species — we don’t know how to measure intelligence reliably from fossils of bones — but to detect unambiguous technosignatures,” he writes.

Wright’s research was partially supported by Breakthrough Listen, part of the Breakthrough Initiatives sponsored by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation.

For the full research paper, go to Prior Indigenous Technological Species at:


U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) chaired on April 26th the first of a series of planned hearings to explore the reopening of the American frontier in space.

The hearing was titled “Reopening the American Frontier: Reducing the Regulatory Barriers and Expanding American Free Enterprise in Space,” and examined the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act signed into law in November 2015, potential regulatory barriers to address in future legislation, and ways to expand commercial opportunities for American firms in space.

Space entrepreneur, Robert Bigelow, explains his expansive plans for space.
Credit: Space Foundation

Four witnesses testified at the hearing, including:

  • Robert Bigelow, founder, Bigelow Aerospace
  • Rob Meyerson, President, Blue Origin
  • George Whitesides, CEO, Galactic Ventures
  • Andrew Rush, CEO, Made in Space

Investment and innovation

According to Senator Cruz, Congress needs to work to ensure that investment and innovation within the commercial space sector isn’t effectively chilled by obsolete regulations or overly burdensome requirements that may not naturally apply to new business models.

Virgin Spaceship Unity is unveiled in Mojave, California February 19th, 2016. VSS Unity is the first vehicle to be manufactured by The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s wholly owned manufacturing arm, and is the second vehicle of its design ever constructed. VSS Unity was unveiled in FAITH (Final Assembly Integration Test Hangar), the Mojave-based home of manufacturing and testing for Virgin Galactic’s human space flight program.
Credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic

“As we look at the future of American free enterprise and settlement in space we should also thoroughly review of the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty which was written and enacted during a different time and era in 1967. It’s important that Congress evaluate how a treaty that was enacted 50 years ago will impact new and innovative activity within space as well as potential settlement throughout the galaxy,” Cruz said.

Space entrepreneur, Jeff Bezos.
Credit: Blue Origin

“Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t explore ways that the commercial space sector, academia and NASA can look to build upon current partnerships and create new ones that can advance human spaceflight, research and discovery,” Cruz said.





Testimony and video

Witness panel testimony is available at:

Robert Bigelow, Founder, Bigelow Aerospace

Rob Meyerson, President, Blue Origin

George Whitesides, CEO, Galactic Ventures

Andrew Rush, CEO, Made in Space

To video view the entire Cruz Hearing: “Expanding American Free Enterprise in Space,” go to:

Artist’s view of Space Launch System/Orion spacecraft on the launch pad.
Credit: NASA



A newly released U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has found that the countdown for the first exploration mission of the Space Launch System/Orion spacecraft is likely to face delay.

The GAO report issued last week notes that NASA is working towards a November 2018 launch date for the first test flight of its three related human space exploration programs: the Orion crew vehicle, the Space Launch System, and the Exploration Ground Systems.

However, the GAO found that all three programs face challenges and have little time or money set aside to address potential issues, a situation that will likely delay the launch date, the report explains.

Credit: NASA




No schedule reserve

“All three programs face unique challenges in completing development, and each has little to no schedule reserve remaining between now and the [Exploration Mission – 1] EM-1 date, meaning they will have to complete all remaining work with little margin for error for unexpected challenges that may arise.

To view the full GAO report to Congressional Committees — NASA Human Space Exploration: Delay Likely for First Exploration Mission — issued April 27, 2017/GAO-17-414, go to:


At their fingertips: Adult participants getting a feel for solar eclipses at a recent Vision Rehabilitation & Assistive Technology Expo.
Credit: David Hurd

The total eclipse of the sun this August that sweeps across the continental United States is an eye-catching celestial occurrence. But what about a coworker, friend or family member who is totally blind or visually impaired?

Over the last couple of decades, there has been notable work done by NASA, educators and the National Federation of the Blind to make space science accessible for all.

To memorialize the forthcoming total solar eclipse event, a tactile guide has been created. Tactile graphics provides an illustration of the interaction and alignment of the sun with the moon and the Earth. Along with the guide, associated activities clarify the nature of eclipses.

For more information, go to my new story at:

Braille Guide Gives Users a Feel for 2017 Solar Eclipse

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1680, April 28, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


The Curiosity Mars rover continues its exploration trek, wheeling past the 10 mile mark since landing in August 2012.

Now in Sol 1681, the robot accomplished a drive of almost 95 feet (29 meters). The rover parked at a site suitable for a busy plan full of contact science on the Murray formation, reports Michael Battalio, an atmospheric scientist at Texas A&M University.


The rover focused mainly on characterizing nearby flagstone — “Duck Brook Bridge” — like the typical Murray formation that was tan in color, and “Cliffside Bridge” and “Waterfall Bridge” that were more coarse-grained and gray, Battalio adds.

Curiosity’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam ) is on tap to observe all of those targets, and its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is to measure both Duck Brook Bridge and Waterfall Bridge, with a long integration on Duck Brook Bridge.

Mastcam observations by the robot are slated to support that targeted science in addition to obtaining mosaics of fine-scale laminations on the “Stanley Brook Bridge” contact and alternating layering on “Chasm Brook Bridge.”

Curiosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 1680, April 28, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Wheel inspection

In the final targeted science block on Sol 1682, ChemCam will observe “Amphitheater Bridge” and nodule-rich “Cobblestone Bridge.”

A major component of the plan is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) full-wheel imaging that is periodically done to ascertain the state of the rover wheels.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 1680, April 28, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

This wheel inspection is being done slightly earlier than usual in preparation for traction control driving. Finally, after a drive, ChemCam will perform an Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science System (AEGIS). That software provides automated targeting for remote sensing instruments on the Marsauto-software activity, and the usual post-drive imaging will be performed.

Search for clouds

Battalio notes that there’s a busy plan for a morning imaging suite in Sol 1683.

In the suite, Navcam will search for clouds looking both directly above (zenith movie) and across the horizon (supra-horizon movie). Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere in two directions:  in the direction of the sun and towards the crater rim – called a line-of-sight (LOS) extinction.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1680, April 28, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


“Each of these measurements will be repeated in the afternoon to determine what, if any, diurnal changes occur,” Battalio reports. A 360 degree dust devil search looking towards Mt. Sharp will be captured on Sol 1681.

Finally, a Navcam LOS extinction measurement will be taken for comparison with Mastcam. Normal Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) measurements as well as several Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) passive measurements and one DAN active are in the plan.

Larger Chinese space station to be constructed on orbit in the 2020s.
Credit: CMSA

China space officials are bullish on pressing forward with constructing in Earth orbit a 60-ton permanent space station in the 2020s. To do so, piloted space missions are to be carried out by the country from 2019 to 2022.

China’s space station plans have been bolstered by the Tianzhou-1/Tiangong-2 space lab refueling in obit – the first of three trial-runs done earlier this week – an effort that’s considered a milestone in their space station strategy.

The State Council Information Office held a press conference on Thursday to elaborate on the future construction of the country’s maiden space station.

 Unique features

In the press briefing, Wang Zhaoyao, director of China’s Manned Space Program Office, said the future space station boasts unique features.

“We have an innovation in co-orbiting flight, which brims with Chinese characteristics,” Wang said. “We have designed a new platform loaded with large-scale optical equipment for astronomical observation and studies, similar to the Hubble Telescope.”

Credit: CSIS

Co-orbiting telescope

Wang said this platform can fly with the space station in a co-orbiting way and dock with it when necessary.

“Astronauts in the station will refuel the platform to meet its high precision and stability need as well as its normal working conditions. The design has initiated an innovation in a distributive space station framework. Meanwhile it possesses Chinese characteristics,” Wang said at the news conference.

Wang noted that China will apply state-of-the-art scientific achievements and cutting-edge information and electronic technologies to the building of a 21st-century space station.

European Space Agency (ESA) has outlined a number of space cooperation projects.
Credit: CMSE/Wei Yan Juan

International cooperation

Wang spotlighted international cooperation as key to the station’s utilization.

“We engage in international cooperation with an open mind,” Wang said. “Over the past years, we have had wide cooperation with many countries, regions and institutions in the world, including the European Space Agency, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and also a slew of institutions and organizations.”

Wang added that China can make concerted efforts “in equipment research and development, carry out space experiments, share experiment facilities, or transform our experiment findings into tangible results.”

Payload capacity

In a CCTV-Plus story today, China’s Yang Baohua, vice president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said, “the Tianzhou-1 cargo ship has a maximum takeoff weight of 13.5 tons with a maximum payload capacity of 6.5 tons. Its designed capacity for propellant refueling reaches 2.1 tons, which is large.”

Yang noted that the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft has a greater payload capacity and ratio than other cargo ships in active service. “The payload ratio of Tianzhou-1 is nearly 0.5, reaching 0.48, that is very high and reflects strong loading capacity of the cargo ship,” he said.

Credit: CGTM

The payload capacity of Tianzhou-1 exceeds those of Russian and U.S. cargo ships in active service, whose capacities range between two to over three tons, Yang added.

“Tianzhou-1 is also able to provide some storage space for space station. It is also a platform of payloads for experiments. Besides propellant, the cargo ship is also carrying dozens of payloads that will meet our needs to implement long-period experimental tasks,” Yang said.

Given that the International Space Station is set to retire in 2024, the CCTV-Plus story noted that the Chinese space station will offer “a promising alternative,” and China then will be the only country with a permanent space station.

Artist concept of the Tianzhou-1 cargo resupply spacecraft now in Earth orbit.
Credit: CMSE

China has completed its first refueling test in Earth orbit using the Tianzhou-1 cargo vessel.

The Tiangong-2 space lab has for the first time undergone “in-flight refueling.”

The cargo spacecraft was launched from the Wenchang Launch Center on April 20 and successfully docked with the unoccupied space lab two days later.

Two-month flight

As reported on CCTV-Plus, during its two-month flight in space, the cargo spacecraft is slated to refuel the space lab three times.

Credit: CMSA

Each refueling is scheduled to demonstrate a different aspect to China’s approach to space refueling. The refueling procedure takes 29 steps to complete and lasts for several days each time.

According to reports from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, the experiment of in-orbit propellant refueling from Tianzhou-1 spacecraft to Tiangong-2 space lab has been completed successfully.

“Here I pronounce that Tianzhou-1’s space mission has completed with success,” said Zhang Youxia, the commander-in-chief of China’s manned space program.

Larger Chinese space station to be constructed on orbit in the 2020s.
Credit: CMSA

Mastering technology and technique

As noted by CCTV-Plus, if the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft succeeds in all its planned in-orbit refueling, China will become the third country, along with Russia and the United States, to master space refueling technology and technique.

In-orbit refueling has been deemed as a major need-to-have by Chinese space officials to further their future space station programs.

That multi-component orbiting complex is to be completed in the 2020s.


Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1678, April 26, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It’s official!

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has racked up over 10 miles (16.12 kilometers) since landing at 10:32 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2012.

The robot is now performing Sol 1678 science duties.

Up Mt. Sharp

A recent report by Abigail Fraeman via the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona underscores the rover’s drive sessions as it continues up Mt. Sharp, studying the Murray formation along the way.

“A big part of the science team strategy for exploring the Murray formation, the group of rocks that are the lowest and oldest in Mt. Sharp, has been to systematically characterize their changing chemistry and mineralogy,” Fraeman explains. “Understanding how these properties vary with elevation gives us insight into changing conditions in the geologic processes that deposited and altered these rocks during burial.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1678, April 26, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perched on rocks

Last week, because two of Curiosity’s wheels were perched on rocks during Friday’s planning, researchers were unable to safely use the arm to measure their chemistry using the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Once the rover wheels were in good contact with the underlying terrain, a remote sensing block was adjusted and instead scientists uses the morning time to take advantage of the opportunity for contact science.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 1677, April 25, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“The area directly in front of the rover was filled mostly with sand, but we were pleased to find there was a small patch of Murray bedrock that we were able to reach with the arm and that wasn’t filled with white veins,” Fraeman adds. “While veins and filled fractures are extremely interesting and frequently targeted for study, their presence in the field of view of the APXS makes it more difficult to understand the changing chemistry of the primary Murray bedrock.”

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, took this image on Sol 1675, April 23, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Geologic context

Recently, Curiosity investigated a contact science target dubbed “Casco Bay” and observations were planned of the target using both Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the APXS.

Also planned were taking Mastcam color images to help document the geologic context of the robot’s surroundings. Environmental science also requested a dust devil movie plan. “After our morning science block, we planned another drive to continue our way up Mt. Sharp,” Fraeman concludes.

Traverse map

Meanwhile, a newly released map shows Curiosity’s traverse through Sol 1677.

Ten mile map.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/University of Arizona

This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1677 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars, as of April 25, 2017.

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

From Sol 1676 to Sol 1677, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 108.88 feet (33.19 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 10.01 miles (16.12 kilometers).

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

Reaching new heights – Ye Chenguang, the holder of Chinese record for skydiving.
Credit: CCTV-Plus

A record setting skydiver in China has announced an edge of space plunge slated to be the longest and fastest free fall jump. The jump is also a bid to boost safety in human space travel and further space science research.

Ye Chenguang, the holder of Chinese record for skydiving, officially announced in Beijing on Tuesday that he will do a dive of 43,000 meters next year.


Beating the mark

Ye broke the Chinese record for skydiving last year in the United States by jumping from 10,000 meters. He said he wants to challenge the current skydiving world record of 41,419 meters set by Alan Eustace.

Google executive, Eustace, jumped from over 130,000 feet in 2014, beating the mark set by the Austrian Felix Baumgartner in 2012.

Google executive, Alan Eustace departs Earth for record setting dive from space in 2014.
Credit: Paragon

In a CCTV-Plus interview, Ye said: “We have started the project since 2013. Last year, I made the new Chinese record by jumping from 10,000 meters. Actually, this is just a small part of our space diving project, and we will have jumps from 20,000 and 30,000 meters later. If nothing goes wrong, we will officially challenge the highest record by jumping from 43,000 meters in July or August next year.”

Air is rare

Ye’s space dive involves use of a high-flying, balloon-carried protective cabin and a special space diving suit.

“After Chenguang gets off the cabin, his space suit will supply him with oxygen for less than half an hour,” said Ding Langnuo, the technical consultant of Ye Chenguang’s space diving committee.

“So he will have limited time to deal with emergency. As air is very rare at high altitude, the space diver is liable to experience violent spins and faint,” Ding told CCTV-Plus.

Cosmic dust

Ye is now undergoing zero gravity and wind tunnel training in China and other countries, with a 1.0 version space suitmodel of the protection cabin ready.

“Through the space dive, I want to collect more space data,” Ye added. “Emergency may happen when a rocket launches, so astronauts can use the data to study how to escape. These data will also help the National Astronomical Observatories [under the Chinese Academy of Sciences] collect cosmic dust for further study of components of cosmic materials.”

For a CCTV-Plus video of the space diving Ye, go to:

Also, go to this video spotlighting the 2014 space dive by Alan Eustace at:

Credit: Lockheed Martin

New Rule: Make Earth Great Again on Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)
Stop ‘Trashing Earth Because We’ve Got Mars’ as ‘Back-Up’ (Video)
Published on April 21, 2017
In honor of Earth Day, Bill Maher calls on his fellow humans to save this planet instead of trying to colonize Mars.