Archive for January, 2019


Outpost in Orbit: A Pictorial & Verbal History of the Space Station by David Shayler and Robert Godwin (Executive Editor Gary Kitmacher), Apogee Books, 2018; 8½ x 11, 320 pages full glossy color, $49.95.

So often above where I live there’s a marvel of space engineering that flies overhead – a finger-pointing exercise into the night sky. There are few that can appreciate the complexity of the International Space Station (ISS), how it was built, by whom, and what are the experiences of the folks that took the high road and roared off to live onboard this unique vessel of the vacuum.

This book is a beautiful illustration of getting a dream done. The volume celebrates the recent 20th anniversary of the astonishing ISS, but more than that details the foundation from which ISS grew.

Lavishly illustrated, and created with the assistance of NASA, Outpost in Orbit is a visual and noteworthy account of why space stations are mandatory for moving forward – not only giving us a leg up on low Earth orbit – but pushing onward.

The reader will find this read incredibly informative, not only about what the ISS represents today, but a great account about the pioneers that pushed the boundaries on why and how a station is needed and can be built. Personally, I found those pages of great benefit. What a legacy of thinking made the ISS what it is today – a heritage that few know, but underscored in this book.

This book is filled with comments from astronauts, engineers, managers, retirees and historians. Adding to the value of the book are interviews with key leaders from NASA, the Russian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency – all of which contributed to making the ISS the triumph it is today.

In this unique anniversary accolade, you’ll be introduced to over 100 space stations designed by German Russians, British and American thinkers – all prelude to planting you onboard the high-flying ISS via hundreds of pictures, many never published before.

For more information on this book, go to:

Also go to this informative interview with author Robert Godwin about the book:

In addition, Godwin is interviewed on the popular Space Show to talk about the book, available at:

Previously released image of Chang’e-4 lander taken by Yutu-2 rover.


China’s Chang’e-4 lander and rover are in good shape following a cold spell on the Moon. They were put to sleep as night fell roughly two weeks ago at the Von Kármán crater landing site.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced on Thursday that the lander woke up at 8:39 pm Wednesday. The rover, Yutu 2 (Jade Rabbit 2), awoke at about 8:00 pm Tuesday.

Yutu-2 lunar rover, ready for exploration duties. Credit: CNSA/CLEP

A lunar day equals 14 days on Earth, and a lunar night is the same length.

Relay satellite connection

CNSA also noted that communication and data transmission between Earth ground control and the farside hardware via the relay satellite Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) are stable.

Chang’e-4 relay link.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Both the lander and the rover ended the dormant mode automatically according to the elevation angle of sunlight now available at Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin. Furthermore, key instruments have started to work.

Presently, the rover is located about 60 feet (18 meters) northwest of the lander.

Farside temps

As reported by China’s Xinhua news service: “According to the measurements of Chang’e-4, the temperature of the shallow layer of the lunar soil on the farside of the Moon is lower than the data obtained by the U.S. Apollo mission on the near side of the Moon,” said Zhang He, executive director of the Chang’e-4 probe project, from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

“That’s probably due to the difference in lunar soil composition between the two sides of the moon. We still need more careful analysis,” Zhang added.

Chang’e-4’s farside landing zone.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Deep plunge

The lander and rover are outfitted with a radioisotope heat source.

The lander was also equipped with an isotope thermoelectric cell and dozens of temperature data collectors to measure the temperatures on the surface of the Moon during the lunar night, the Xinhua story notes.

China’s Global Television Network (CGTN) reports the first night’s temperature detection data, the temperature on the lunar surface plunged to a minimum of minus 190 degrees Celsius during the night.

Go to this CCTV News Agency video at:

Sol 63 image taken by InSight’s Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) on January 30, 2019. Robotic arm with grapple fingers hovers over soon-to-be- deployed Wind and Thermal Shield.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s InSight Mars lander is moving toward another deployment milestone in readying the probe for performing an agenda of scientific duties.

The InSight team finished fine-tuning the cable position last Sunday, the tether link to the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) now in position on the surface of Mars.

Sol 63: InSight’s Instrument Context Camera (ICC) acquired this image on January 30, 2019. The InSight team has finished fine-tuning the tether link to the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) now on the surface of Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Operators are ready to make use of the five mechanical fingers of a robotic arm grapple to pick up the Wind and Thermal Shield (WTS), placing it on top of the SEIS.


“On Tuesday, we commanded the final stereo imaging of the SEIS in order to precisely localize its position for planning the arm motions to deploy WTS, and then positioned the grapple just above the WTS post,” said W. Bruce Banerdt, Principal Investigator of the InSight mission.

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

Yesterday, the plan called for sending commands to grasp the WTS, Banerdt told Inside Outer Space. Today is a rest day for the operations team, he said, “and if everything goes according to plan we will command the WTS deployment on Friday, with confirmation images coming down on Saturday.”

Handle with care

InSight’s robotic arm is also slated to later 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 seismometer, the Wind and Thermal
Shield, and the heat flow probe, have one of these handles.

This artist’s concept depicts NASA’s InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. Robot arm would deploy the sensitive Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) device, white object in foreground.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Honeycomb structure

The WTS consists of an aerodynamically shaped aluminum cover with a honeycomb structure to which is attached a gold-coated thermal skirt.

The whole assembly rests on three legs that are to deploy automatically once the robotic arm lifts the dome off the lander’s platform.

Despite its design, the WTS could be struck by violent gusts of wind or a dust devil, forces that might dislodge or even lift the dome, causing it to fly away.

The shield has nonetheless been developed to withstand squalls of 60 meters per second and should even be able to survive winds of 100 meters per second.

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


China is poised to reactivate this year Moon sample return via the country’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission. That prospective outing get’s the go-ahead depending on an upcoming return-to-flight of a Long March-5 carrier rocket this July.

Long March-5 booster’s first liftoff occurred in early November 2016. Mishap on launcher’s second flight in July 2017. A return-to-flight Long March-5 mission is slated for this July.
Credit: CASC

If that third flight is successful, the fourth Long March-5 carrier rocket will be tasked to send the Chang’e-5 lunar probe to the Moon to bring lunar samples back to Earth at the end of 2019.

Soviet Union’s last Moon sample mission, Luna 24 sits on the edge of a 60 meter diameter crater. Photo taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Given victory, it would be the first lunar-sample-return mission in over four decades after the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 project in 1976. That mission collected and returned to Earth 170 grams of Moon material.

Complex mission

Chang’e-5 is a multifaceted mission, divided into 15 sub-systems, including structure, thermal control, antenna, sample collecting and sealing and propulsion. It is composed of an orbiter, a returner, a lander and an ascender.

According to Peng Jing, deputy chief designer of the probe from the China Academy of Space Technology, Chang’e-5 will first enter an Earth-Moon transfer orbit. It will then slow near the Moon, entering lunar orbit, followed by descent of a lander, touching down at a pre-selected area for ground research work, including collecting lunar samples.

Sealed container

After completing its work on the Moon, the Chang’e-5 mission’s ascender will rise from the lunar surface for rendezvous and docking with the orbiter flying around the Moon. Then the returner — carrying the lunar collectibles — will fly back to Earth via transfer orbit, reenter the atmosphere and land at the Siziwang Banner (County) of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Peng said in a recent China Central Television (CCTV) interview.

The lunar samples rocketed back to Earth by the Chang’e-5 probe will be sealed in a container and sent to labs for further analysis and research, Peng added.

Ground facility

Meanwhile, China has designed and completed fabrication of a ground facility to handle and study returning Moon specimens.

In a paper prepared for the 50th annual gathering of scientists at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) to be held mid-March, a Chinese research team is slated to detail a lunar sample facility.

A key task, they note, is to collect lunar soil and rock samples and to seal them in good condition for scientific research here on Earth. The design of an advanced ground facility has been done, they add, geared to open sealed samples and transfer those treasured specimens in a way that they are free of contamination.

Map of Rümker region, target of Chang’E-5 sample return mission. Credit: Y. Qian, et al.

Credit: New China/Screengrab

Grasp and drill

China’s Chang’e-5 sample return mission plans to return over four pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar samples from the Moon’s Rümker region, explains Yuqi Qian of the School of Earth Sciences at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan. Touchdown of the craft is within a zone of roughly 370 miles x 78 miles (600 kilometers × 125 kilometers).

The Rümker region is located in northern Oceanus Procellarum of the Moon and is the most distinctive geological feature in the area. The region is characterized by prolonged lunar volcanism. “In order to pick a science-rich site, many studies have been conducted and the Rümker region was selected and characterized for its geomorphology and geology,” Yugi and colleagues note in their LPSC abstract.

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

There are two ways Chang’e-5 will acquire samples:  grasp from the surface and drill into the surface to 6.5 feet (2 meters) depth. A ground drilling simulation using lunar regolith simulants has already been carried out using a system that resembles the equipment onboard the Chang’e-5 spacecraft.

Lunar research station

In another LPSC presentation, Lin Xu, General Office of the Lunar and Deep Space Exploration is on tap to detail China’s Moon plans. On the basis of the current lunar exploration, Chinese scientists and technical experts have proposed a tentative plan by several missions to preliminarily build a lunar research station at the Moon’s South Pole by implementing three to four missions before 2035.

The first mission will carry out comprehensive exploration in the South Pole of the Moon, including the topography, elemental composition and volatile contents of the Moon. Water ice in the permanently shadowed areas is one target of the investigation, Lin and colleagues are to explain.

After that, a sampling return mission will collect samples from the South Pole of the Moon and return them to the Earth. In addition to the scientific exploration of the Moon, the utilization of lunar resources is to be considered. In later missions, lunar platforms will be used to make astronomical or Earth observations and to consider the utilization of lunar resources, the Chinese lunar researchers note in their LPSC abstract.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left A image acquired on Sol 2304 January 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Curiosity Navcam Left A photo taken on Sol 2304 January 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Curiosity Navcam Left A photo taken on Sol 2304 January 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Curiosity Navcam Left A photo taken on Sol 2304 January 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2304, January 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2305 duties.

New imagery from the Red Planet prowler has been posted, including these photos:

Long March-5 booster’s first liftoff occurred in early November 2016. Mishap on launcher’s second flight in July 2017.
Credit: CASC

An essential launcher for China’s future space station and Moon exploration plans is being readied for a July flight.

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

The third Long March-5 takeoff follows a mishap of this booster-class on July 2, 2017. An intensive investigation was carried out to identify why the rocket failed less than six minutes after liftoff.

China’s Xinhua news agency reports that Yang Baohua, vice president of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), that the cause of the failure had been found.

Analysis based on computer simulations and ground tests showed that a problem occurred in a turbine exhaust device in the engine of the first stage of the rocket, the China National Space Administration said earlier last year.

The Tianhe core module for China’s Space Station undergoes ground testing.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab

If the third flight is successful, Yang said at a press gathering, the fourth Long March-5 carrier rocket will be tasked to send the Chang’e-5 lunar probe to the Moon to bring lunar samples back to Earth at the end of 2019.

Space station elements

Shang Zhi, director of the Department of Space under CASC added that the Long March-5B rocket will be the key for China’s future space missions.

A test version of the Long March-5B carrier rocket, Shang advised, which will serve China’s human space exploration agenda, is under development, and the research and development of the core module of the country’s space station have carried on as planned.

Artist view of China’s space station. Credit: CMSE

The Long March-5B rocket can lob into Earth orbit payloads greater than 22 tons and is tasked to rocket the core module and experiment modules of China’s space station in the future.

Joint tests and exercises are planned at the Wenchang Space Launch Center at the end of 2019, Shang said, to make preparations for the maiden flight of the Long March-5B, helping to lay the groundwork for the construction of China’s space station.

Picture perfect: A selfie taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on Sol 2291 (January 15) at the “Rock Hall” drill site, located on Vera Rubin Ridge.
This was Curiosity’s 19th drill site. The drill hole is visible to the rover’s lower-left.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just begun Sol 2304 duties, with Red Planet scientists looking forward to the clay-bearing unit that the robot is set to explore.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left A photo taken on Sol 2302, January 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ryan Anderson, a planetary geologist at the USGS in Flagstaff, Arizona reports that the last weekend plan started off on Sol 2301 with some Mastcam atmospheric observations, followed by Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) analysis of “Loch Ness” and “Loch Skeen,” examples of brown and gray bedrock.

“ChemCam also had a long-distance image mosaic of an interesting outcrop in the clay-bearing unit. Once the remote sensing was done, it was time for some contact science,” Anderson adds.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 2301, January 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Brush off

The robot’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) collected some images of Loch Ness before and after it was brushed, as well as the target “Puddledub.”

The Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) made a quick analysis of Puddledub and an overnight analysis of Loch Ness.

“On Sol 2302, we started off with a Navcam atmospheric observation, followed by Mastcam multispectral observations of Loch Ness and Loch Skeen. Mastcam also had a large stereo mosaic surveying the clay-bearing unit that we will soon be exploring,” Anderson explains.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2301, January 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Looming large

The rover then drove for about 105 feet (32 meters) and collected some post-drive imaging including a routine Mastcam “clast survey” to document changes in the rocks and soils along its traverse, Anderson adds, “as well as some additional Navcam images to help with imaging the pediment that is looming large just beyond the clay-bearing unit.

This was followed by some Mastcam atmospheric observations and a Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) image of the ground beneath the rover.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Anderson concludes that Sol 2303 rover work was dedicated to atmospheric observations, with the usual Mastcam “tau” images plus several Navcam movies. “Some of these were pointed at the sky to watch for clouds, while others were pointed out across the crater floor to watch for dust devils.”

On the trail 

Meanwhile, a newly issued Curiosity traverse map through Sol 2302  shows the route driven Curiosity through the 2302 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (January 28, 2019).

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

From Sol 2300 to Sol 2302, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 86.26 feet (26.29 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 12.46 miles (20.05 kilometers).

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


Credit: Boeing/screengrab


The secretive mission of a U.S. Air Force X-37B mini-space plane has winged past 500 days of flight. This robotic drone is performing classified duties during the program’s fifth flight.

This mission – tagged as Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-5) — was rocketed into Earth orbit on September 7, 2017 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Space-based demonstrations

The missions of the X-37B space planes are carried out under the auspices of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, and mission control for OTV flights are handled by the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. This squadron oversees operations of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.

Credit: Boeing

This Schriever Air Force Base unit is tagged as the Air Force Space Command’s premier organization for space-based demonstrations, pathfinders and experiment testing, gathering information on objects high above Earth and carrying out other intelligence-gathering duties.

And that may be a signal as to what the robotic craft is doing — both looking down at Earth and upward.

The first X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle waits in the encapsulation cell of the Evolved Expendable Launch vehicle on April 5, 2010 at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Fla. Half of the Atlas V five-meter fairing is visible in the background.
Credit: U.S. Air Force


Flight-duration record

Each X-37B/OTV mission has set a new flight-duration record for the program:

OTV-1 began April 22, 2010, and concluded on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit.

OTV-2 began March 5, 2011, and concluded on June 16, 2012, after 468 days on orbit.

OTV-3 chalked up nearly 675 days in orbit before finally coming down on Oct. 17, 2014.

OTV-4 conducted on-orbit experiments for 718 days during its mission, extending the total number of days spent in space for the OTV program at that point to 2,085 days.  It was launched in May 2015 and landed in May 2017.

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle 4 is seen after landing at NASA ‘s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida on May 7, 2017.
Credit: U.S. Air Force courtesy photo

On-orbit testing

On this latest clandestine mission of the space plane, all that’s known according to Air Force officials is that one payload flying on OTV-5 is the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader, or ASETS-II.

Developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), this cargo is testing experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipes for long duration stints in the space environment.

Asets-II payload logo.
Credit: AFRL

According to AFRL, the payload’s three primary science objectives are to measure the initial on-orbit thermal performance, to measure long duration thermal performance, and to assess any lifetime degradation.

Tarmac touchdown

Exactly when the space plane will land is unknown.

The last Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission touched down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility May 7, 2017 – a first for the program. All prior missions had ended with a tarmac touchdown at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Back to hangar for another flight day. U.S. Air Force X-37B/OTV-4 is rolled into facility after its May 7 landing at Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: Michael Martin/SAF

Several website postings say that the sixth mission, X-37B OTV-6, is planned for this year on a United Launch Alliance Atlas-5(501) rocket. Launch would be from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-41.

Reusable vehicles

The classified X-37B program “fleet” consists of two known reusable vehicles, both of which were built by Boeing.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle was fabricated at several Boeing locations in Southern California, including Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and El Segundo. The program transitioned to the U.S. Air Force in 2004 after earlier funded research efforts by Boeing, NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Looking like a miniature version of NASA’s now-retired space shuttle orbiter, the military space plane is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.6 m).

Recovery crew members process the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at Vandenberg Air Force Base after the program’s third mission complete.
Credit: Boeing

The X-37B space plane has a payload bay of 7 feet (2.1 meters) by 4 feet (1.2 meters), a bay that can be outfitted with a robotic arm. X-37B has a launch weight of 11,000 lbs. (4,990 kilograms) and is powered on orbit by gallium-arsenide solar cells with lithium-ion batteries.

Milestone for the program

Prior to launch of OTV-5, Randy Walden, the director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office said there were many firsts on this mission, making it a milestone for the program. “It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community.”

The Air Force also noted that the fifth OTV mission was launched into, and will be landed from, a higher inclination orbit than prior missions to further expand the X-37B’s orbital envelope.

Ground track

Ted Molczan, a Toronto-based satellite analyst, told Inside Outer Space that OTV-5 began September 2018 in an orbit about 243 miles (391 kilometers) high, inclined 54.5 deg to the equator. Its ground track repeated every three days, after 46 revolutions.

“In mid September, it lowered its altitude to 214 miles (344 kilometers), which caused its ground track to repeat every two days, after 31 revolutions,” Molczan said. “It appeared to still be in approximately that orbit when last observed, on January 26, by Alberto Rango, from Rome, Italy.”

Repeating ground tracks are very common, Molczan said, especially for spacecraft that observe the Earth. “I do not know why OTV has repeating ground tracks,” he said.

Kevin Fetter, an amateur Canadian satellite spotter in Brockville, Ontario, caught the OTV-5 craft zip by above a bright star. The video can be viewed at:


Mission commander Alan Shepard assembles a double core tube. Astronauts Shepard and lunar module pilot Edgar D. Mitchell, who took this photograph, explored the lunar surface while astronaut Stuart A. Roosa, command module pilot, orbited the moon.
Credit: NASA

Apollo sample 14321 is a specimen collected during the Apollo 14 moonwalking mission in 1971 – and it may have a new story to tell.

Apollo 14 rock sample: 14321
Credit: NASA/LPI

As the third lunar landing, Apollo 14 touched down in the Fra Mauro highlands on February 5, 1971. Commander Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell, lunar module pilot, made the mission’s moonwalks.

Last week, Australia’s Curtin University announced that the lunar rock sample gathered by astronauts almost 50 years ago may be originally from Earth, thrown into space when an asteroid struck our planet billions of years ago.

Credit: NASA/Curtin University

Mineral traces

The sample was found to contain traces of minerals with a chemical composition common to Earth and very unusual for the Moon. The lunar collectible was on loan from NASA to Curtin University, where it was investigated in cooperation with researchers from the Swedish Museum of Natural History, Australian National University and Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

Research author Alexander Nemchin, from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said the 1.8 gram sample showed mineralogy similar to that of a granite, which is extremely rare on the Moon but common on Earth.

The sample also contains quartz, which is an even more unusual find on the Moon, reports Nemchin.

The research has been published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Cone crater site.
Credit: USGS

 Earth characteristics

By determining the age of zircon found in the sample, scientists were able to pinpoint the age of the host rock at about four billion years old, making it similar to the oldest rocks on Earth.

“In addition, the chemistry of the zircon in this sample is very different from that of every other zircon grain ever analyzed in lunar samples,” Nemchin adds, “and remarkably similar to that of zircons found on Earth.”

In a Curtin press statement, Nemchin says the chemistry of the zircon lunar sample indicated that it formed at low temperature and probably in the presence of water and at oxidized conditions, making it characteristic of Earth and highly irregular for the Moon.

Round-trip rock

“It is possible that some of these unusual conditions could have occurred very locally and very briefly on the Moon and the sample is a result of this brief deviation from normality,” Nemchin points out.

“However, a simpler explanation is that this piece was formed on the Earth and brought to the surface of the Moon as a meteorite generated by an asteroid hitting Earth about four billion years ago, and throwing material into space and to the Moon,” Nemchin says.

Further impacts on the Moon at later times would have mixed the Earth rocks with lunar rocks, at the Apollo 14 landing site too, where Apollo sample 14321 was collected by moonwalkers and hauled back to the Earth – perhaps making a celestial round-trip.

Location of rock sample 14321.
Credit: NASA

Big Bertha

Lunar Sample 14321, a breccia, was collected during the second EVA at Station C1, near the rim of Cone Crater. It was the largest sample returned during the Apollo 14 mission and was also known as “Big Bertha.” This sample is the third largest sample returned by any Apollo mission. The sample was returned in bag 1038.

According to transcripts of the two moonwalkers, Shepard collected sample 14321, a 20-pound (9.0-kilogram) breccia.

The research, Terrestrial-like zircon in a clast from an Apollo 14 breccia, can be found online in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Volume 510, 15 March 2019, pages 173-185 here:

For detailed information regarding the geology of the Apollo 14 landing site, go to:

Geological Survey Professional Paper 880 (Swann et al., 1977) here:

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 2299, January 24, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
This image looks along the back edge of the Vera Rubin Ridge (top left to top center) down into the clay-bearing unit.


NASA’s Curiosity rover is now performing Sol 2301 tasks.

“Curiosity is on the brink of descending down off the Vera Rubin Ridge (VRR) onto the clay-bearing unit,” reports Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 2299, January 24, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“We are hoping to ‘beam up’ lots of interesting new data to the Mars orbiters, to be relayed to Earth after executing our plan on Mars tosol,” Thompson adds.

Touch and go tactic

Scientists have planned a typical “Touch and Go” sol, which includes using the arm to place contact science instruments – the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) — on a rock target to document chemistry and texture, Thompson explains. That is followed by remote science by Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument and the rover’s Mastcam to also look at chemistry and the larger scale view out the front window, before a drive.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 2299, January 24, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“We are documenting how the chemistry and appearance of the rock is changing as we transition from the resistant VRR to the less resistant, orbitally distinct clay-bearing unit, and taking larger-scale images and mosaics to assist in future planning of our investigation of the clay-bearing unit,” Thompson notes.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left A image acquired on Sol 2300, January 25, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Looking for spectral variations

A reddish-purple, laminated bedrock target has been selected for APXS and MAHLI and tagged with the name “Linlithgow,” which is apparently the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and the future birthplace (in 2222) of Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, chief engineer of Star Trek’s Enterprise (hence the title)!

Curiosity Mastcam Left image taken on Sol 2299, January 24, 2019. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“The great grandfather of one of our science team members also compiled an anthology of poetry from the area in 1896, so a popular choice of name! Mastcam images will be taken of this target and an adjacent, rougher textured and different colored bedrock target, “Stoneywood” (also a ChemCam target), to look for spectral variations between the two areas,” Thompson adds.

Planned drive

The more typical bedrock target, “Stornoway” will be analyzed for composition by the robot’s ChemCam instrument. “A large Mastcam mosaic of 21×2 images was also planned of an area named ‘Boyndie Bay,’ says Thompson, “to document some interesting features that we are thinking of visiting during our investigation of the clay-bearing unit.”

Curiosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 2300, January 25, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The planned drive should take Curiosity to the very edge of the VRR, and that will likely be its last stop before the rover drives down onto the clay-bearing unit. The plan calls for acquiring images to facilitate a full weekend of science activities at this important location, as well as a post-drive Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) active measurement to investigate the distribution of subsurface hydrogen.

Additional Mastcam images and Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) meteorological observations were planned to monitor dust in the Martian atmosphere, Thompson concludes.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

New traverse map

A newly issued Curiosity traverse map shows the robot’s movements through Sol 2299 (January 24, 2019).

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

From Sol 2298 to Sol 2299, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 88.19 feet (26.88 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 12.42 miles (19.99 kilometers). The rover landed on Mars in August 2012.

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