Archive for July, 2017

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


Artist’s concept of the Tiangong-1 in Earth orbit.
Credit: CMSA

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has reissued a notification by China on the future uncontrolled re-entry of the country’s Tiangong-1 space lab.

On March 16, 2016, the Tiangong-1 ceased functioning and to date the spacecraft has maintained its structural integrity.

The space lab’s operational orbit is under constant and close surveillance by China. Its current average altitude is 217 miles (349 kilometers) and it is decaying at a daily rate of approximately 525 feet (160 meters), according to the notification.

Re-entry date

The lab’s re-entry is expected between October 2017 and April 2018. According to the calculations and analysis that have been carried out, most of the structural components of Tiangong-1 will be destroyed through burning during the course of its re-entry.

“The probability of endangering and causing damage to aviation and ground activities is very low,” the notification adds.

Artist’s view of Tiangong space lab
Credit: CMSE

Taking measures

The notice advises that China attaches great importance to the re-entry of Tiangong-1 and will take the following measures in terms of monitoring its fall and providing public information:

— China will enhance monitoring and forecasting and make strict arrangements to track and closely keep an eye on Tiangong-1 and will publish a timely forecast of its re-entry

— China will make use of the international joint monitoring information under the framework of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee in order to be better informed about the descent of Tiangong-1.

— China will improve the information reporting mechanism. Dynamic orbital status and other information relating to Tiangong-1 will be posted on the website of the China Manned Space Agency ( in both Chinese and English. In addition, timely information about important milestones and events during the orbital decay phases will be released through the news media

— As to the final forecast of the time and region of re-entry, China will issue the relevant information and early warning in a timely manner and bring it to the attention of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and the Secretary-General of the United Nations by means of “note verbale” through diplomatic channels.


Tiangong-1 was launched into Earth orbit on September 29, 2011. It conducted six successive rendezvous and dockings with spacecraft Shenzhou-8 (uncrewed), Shenzhou-9 (piloted) and Shenzhou-10 (piloted) as part of China’s human space exploration activities. The vehicle weighed  (18,740 pounds (8,500 kilograms) at launch.

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS).

According to the Aerospace Corporation, based on Tiangong-1’s inclination, the lab will reenter somewhere between 43° North and 43° South latitudes. As for leftovers, “it is highly unlikely that debris from this reentry will strike any person or significantly damage any property,” adding: “potentially, there may be a highly toxic and corrosive substance called hydrazine on board the spacecraft that could survive reentry. For your safety, do not touch any debris you may find on the ground nor inhale vapors it may emit.”

The Aerospace Corporation will perform a person and property risk calculation for the Tiangong-1 reentry a few weeks prior to the event.


Curiosity Navcam Right B image acquired on Sol 1754, July 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Curiosity rover is performing Sol 1754 science tasks, recently carrying out pre-drive science followed by a drive and making untargeted observations, reports Abigail Fraeman, planetary geologist at NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California.

“There were a variety of light and dark colored veins near the rover that were visible in the Navcam images, so the science team decided to spend our pre-drive science time investigating the chemistry and morphology of these features,” Fraeman says.

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

Coordinated Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam), as well as Mastcam observations, were planned on light and dark veins in targets named “Hockomock Bay” and “Hells Half Acre.” Also, Mastcam-only observation of dark layers in a target named “High Sheriff” is on the schedule, Fraeman explains.

Watching for mobility challenges

“The next major chunk of time in Sol 1754 will be spent driving towards Vera Rubin Ridge,” Fraeman reports, with scientists and engineers casting eyes toward any geologic features in the terrain that could present mobility challenges.

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

“We’ll be driving through a bunch of fractured bedrock and sandy areas as we head closer to our third official Vera Rubin Ridge approach imaging location,” Fraeman points out. “Because we’ve seen such spectacular sedimentary structures in our previous images of the ridge, we decided to try to get as close as possible to the vertical exposures of the lower portion of the Vera Rubin Ridge for this imaging stop. I can’t wait until we get there.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager (CHEMCAM_RMI)
photo taken on Sol 1753 , July 12, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Productive day

Lastly, on the plan is snapping a quick picture with Curiosity’s stowed Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), Fraeman concludes, and “that should give us a great view to the north back towards where we started from on Aeolis Palus almost five years ago. All in all, Sol 1754 should be a very productive day on Mars.”

Conjunction location

Opportunity Panoramic Camera image acquired on Sol 4785.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Meanwhile, elsewhere on Mars and now in Sol 4787 operations, the veteran Opportunity rover is parked in its conjunction location at the entrance to Perseverance Valley, on the southern side of the Valley, tilted to the north to be nice and sunny for its solar panels, explains Ray Arvidson of Washington University in Saint Louis. He is deputy principal investigator of the rover mission.

Opportunity Front Hazcam image taken on Sol 4787.
Credit: NASA/JPL

“We are currently planning a suite of sols to carry the rover over solar conjunction, with the last plan to be developed on July 18th,” Arvidson told Inside Outer Space. Communication and planning start again in early August, he adds.

Winter operations

After coming out of conjunction Opportunity will move toward winter operations, going from topographic lily pad to lily pad (north facing slopes), likely proceeding down the Valley in small steps, Arvidson explains.

Opportunity Panoramic Camera image acquired on Sol 4786.
Credit: NASA/JPL

“We have finished looking at the putative channel systems leading from the west to the entrance to Perseverance Valley,” Arvidson notes. Work is in progress about what Opportunity observations have told scientists about the valley its putative catchment.



Wheel-world worries

The veteran rover – landing on Mars in January 2004 — has been suffering from wheel worries.

Arvidson explains that for rover driving, Earth controllers either command tank turns so as not to not have the robot use its rear steering actuators. That is being done, or the rover just does turns with only modest rear wheel turns, like less than 10 to 15 degrees azimuthal rotation of those wheels.





Opportunity’s front right steering actuator is permanently rotated in about 8 degrees and has been that way since the sol 400s, Arvidson points out. Robot operators did get the robot’s left front wheel rotated back from its roughly 30 degree outward value to straight ahead. Rover controllers will not be using these two front wheel steering actuators, he adds.