Archive for May, 2019

Artist’s concept of rail gun aboard ship. Credit: U.S. Navy

 

 

It’s going fast…and there’s a new directed energy arms race.

One project that’s part of that scenario is the Navy’s electromagnetic (EM) “rail gun,” reportedly due soon to see testing on a warship. That technology may have off-world implications for future Moon exploration and exploitation.

The Office of Naval Research work on the EM rail gun launcher is being pursued as a long-range weapon that fires projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants.

Electromagnetic mass drivers using solar power provide low cost transportation of materials to space construction sites.
Courtesy: Space Studies Institute

Recent testing of the electromagnetic rail gun under Navy auspices had the technology firing a projectile that exceeds Mach 6 – approaching a velocity that harkens back to early ideas of utilizing this machinery on the Moon to hurl payloads from the lunar surface.

Mach 6 equals 4,567.24 miles per hour with the escape velocity from the nearly airless Moon being about 5,300 mph.

Sparks of creativity. Mass driver workers Gerard O’Neill (center), Henry Kolm (left), Kevin Fine (right).

Payloads from the Moon

In 1974, Princeton University professor and space visionary, the late Gerard O’Neill first proposed use of an electromagnetic rail gun to lob payloads from the Moon.

“Mass drivers” based on a coilgun design were adapted to accelerate a non-magnetic object. One application O’Neill proposed for mass drivers: toss baseball-sized chunks of ore mined from the surface of the Moon into space. Once in space, the ore could be used as raw material for building space colonies and solar power satellites.

Given today’s push for plumbing and processing ice-rich craters on the Moon, could that water-ice resource shot off the Moon also be part of a cis-lunar, fuel-making enterprise?

Deflection plates near the end of the mass driver make minute adjustments to the trajectory of the launched ore to ensure it reaches its target: a mass catcher at the L-2 point.
Courtesy: Space Studies Institute

Mass driver work

O’Neill worked at MIT on mass drivers, along with colleague Henry H. Kolm, and a group of student volunteers to construct their first mass driver prototype.

Backed by grants from the Space Studies Institute, later prototypes improved on the mass driver concept, showing that a mass driver only 520 feet (160 meters) long could launch material off the surface of the Moon.

Ocean of space

Meanwhile, according to a story last Friday from the Seattle Times, the Navy’s latest Northwest Training and Testing draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Assessment explains that “the kinetic energy weapon (commonly referred to as the rail gun) will be tested aboard surface vessels, firing explosive and non-explosive projectiles at air- or sea-based targets.”

According to the assessment, “the system charges for two minutes and fires in less than one second,” also noting that “the system is shielded so as not to affect shipboard controls and systems. The amount of electromagnetic energy released from this system is low and contained on the surface vessel.”

As this know-how is trial-run on the Earth’s ocean…could it be a forerunner of technology useful for the ocean of space – a Moon-based technology?

Go to this video to see the Navy’s rail gun in operation:

https://www.dvidshub.net/video/539084/navy-railgun-successfully-fires-multi-shot-salvos?jwsource=cl

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has used its LROC system to provide looks at the Apollo 11 landing site. The remnants of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s historic first steps on the surface are seen as dark paths around the Lunar Module (LM), Lunar Ranging RetroReflector (LRRR) and Passive Seismic Experiment Package (PSEP), as well as leading to and from Little West crater.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

 

Senators Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and Ted Cruz( R-Texas) have introduced a bill — the One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act – seeking to preserve and protect Apollo 11 landing site.

The bill notes that the lunar landing sites of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, the robotic spacecraft that preceded the Apollo 11 mission, and the piloted and robotic spacecraft that followed, “are of outstanding universal value to humanity.”

The Act explains that such landing sites: are the first archaeological sites with human activity that are not on Earth; provide evidence of the first achievements of humankind in the realm of space travel and exploration; and contain artifacts and other evidence of human exploration activities that remain a potential source of cultural, historical, archaeological, anthropological, scientific, and engineering knowledge.

“As commercial enterprises and more countries acquire the ability to land on the Moon,” the bill notes, “it is necessary to ensure the recognition and protection of the Apollo 11 landing site and other historic landing sites together with all the human effort and innovation the sites represent.”

Credit: For All Moonkind

Common human heritage

“We were honored to work with Senator Peters’ office on this legislation,” says Michelle Hanlon, co-founder of For All Moonkind – a group that seeks to protect each of the six human lunar landing and similar sites in outer space as part of our common human heritage.

“When we first met in March, it was clear that the Senator and his staff share our passion for the preservation of human history in space,” Hanlon told Inside Outer Space. “They knew how important it was to get it right, and they recognized the need to develop a bill that would not violate international law by claiming any sort of possession or ownership of the historic lunar landing sites.”

Credit: For All Moonkind

 

Sustainable exploration

The bill is indeed a small step, Hanlon adds, but an incredibly significant one. 

“Senator Peters and Senator Cruz are asking the U.S. to take the lead in assuring that we explore space sustainably with respect for history.  We hope that the entire Senate will agree that it’s time to take this one small step and help nudge an important international conversation on protection of human heritage in space,” Hanlon says.

The bill was introduced on Thursday, May 23.

To read the entire Act, go to:

https://www.forallmoonkind.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/One-Small-Step-Act-bill-text.pdf

For more information on For All Moonkind, go to:

https://www.forallmoonkind.org/

Credit: Space HD Wallpapers

 

How much of the Solar System should we leave as wilderness – off-limits to human development?

That’s the question tackled by Harvard astrophysicist Martin Elvis and Tony Milligan at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London.

Yes, the Solar System is big, the researchers admit. It is so big, they add, that the idea that humans may fully exploit and deplete its resources seems ridiculous.

“Yet if a true economy emerges in space it will start to make use of the vast yet finite resources of the Moon, Mars and small Solar System bodies (such as asteroids). We have no good reason to believe that such an off-world economy would behave in a radically different way from terrestrial economies and the latter (as we know) grow exponentially,” Elvis and Milligan write.

Artist’s illustration of astronauts at an asteroid as well as other mining and transportation vehicles operating in space.
Credit: TransAstra Corporation & Anthony Longman

They make a general argument that, as a matter of fixed policy, development should be limited to one eighth, with the remainder set aside. It is prudent to adopt a “1/8 Principle” as a tripwire, they suggest; do not exploit greater than 1/8 of the solar system.

Unchecked growth

In summary, Elvis and Milligan observe while we remain dependent upon the resources present inside the Solar System, and while economic growth remains exponential, we should regard, at most, one-eighth of the solar system as humanities to use. “The remaining seven-eighths of the solar system should be left as space wilderness,” they contend.

Newly developed extraction technique for the Moon, thermal mining, makes use of mirrors to exploit sun-shy, water ice-laden polar craters.
Credit: School of Mines/Dreyer, Williams, Sowers

“Failure to do so will mean that future generations will have insufficient ‘breaking distance’ after only a few centuries of exponentially growing economic activity/resource utilization,” they conclude. “If unchecked, such growth will tend towards a point of super-exploitation, i.e. a situation of resource depletion where new resources cannot readily be brought into use, even in an emergency situation. The dangers of super-exploitation, for a space-faring civilization whose limits are set by the bounds of a single solar system, are too great to be set aside.”

A practical upshot of the proposed approach by Elvis and Milligan is that we need to inventory the resources of the Solar System carefully and at a sufficiently early point in time in order to know just what lies out there.

Their research paper – “How much of the solar system should we leave as wilderness?” –is available in Acta Astronautica, sponsored by the International Academy of Astronautics.

Go to:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0094576517318507

Bright block in the image center is Curiosity’s next potential drill spot, “Broad Cairn.”
Curiosity Navcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2414, May 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2416 science tasks.

Reports Fred Calef, a planetary geologist at the NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California, after Curiosity made a short drive of roughly 20 feet (six meters) to “Hallaig,” the science team began the investigation of a new potential drill target named “Broad Cairn,” a flat spot on a bright block in the clay-bearing unit.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B photo acquired on Sol 2415, May 23, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dust removal

“To confirm whether this location is high in potassium (K), the rover was commanded to clean off the spot with the dust removal tool (DRT),” Calef adds, then take some close-up pictures with its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2415, May 23, 2019. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This was followed by an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) integration at the right time of day to maximize the data quality.

“Since getting the data back expeditiously was the highest priority, other science observations were pushed to the next planning sol,” Calef concludes. “For now, the science team waits with bated breath for the results.”

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 2414, May 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 2415, May 23, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Courtesy of NASA/JPL/USGS

 

U.S. Vice-President Pence recently announced the Trump Administration’s goal of returning American astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. That NASA plan is nicknamed “Artemis.”

Last week the Administration delivered to Congress an amendment to its initially proposed fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget to reflect this ambitious new goal.

Credit: NASA

 

 

Pell grant reductions

However, a just-posted message from the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) suggests that Artemis is an “ill-defined and untested proposal.”

“The budget amendment contained proposals to add a total of $1.6 billion to NASA’s FY20 budget, offset by reductions to the Pell Grant program in the Department of Education.

The amendment also contained a proposal to give the NASA Administrator the authority to transfer funds between appropriations accounts “…in the event that the Administrator determines that the transfers are necessary in support of establishment of a U.S. strategic presence on the Moon.”

Concern raised

As noted in the AAS/DPS posting:

“The proposed reductions to the Pell Grant program are certainly a concern for any organization that cares about the training of current and future generations of researchers and educators in our disciplines. There will be fierce opposition in Congress to this proposed budgetary offset.

“NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has publicly stated on at least a couple of occasions that it doesn’t make sense to cut science programs to achieve human exploration goals — mostly because Congress is opposed to such moves — and we take him at his word. However, this initial $1.6 billion augmentation is only a down payment, and some outside experts have put the likely additional annual funding augmentation need closer to $4-8 billion. While trimming science programs won’t come close to filling such budgetary holes, the proposed transfer authority is an item for serious concern should push come to shove in achieving the 2024 goal.

“One reason for this concern is that such transfers and communications to Congress about them take place in the shadows, outside of the sunshine of the normal public Congressional appropriations process.”

Private lunar landers.
Credit: Blue Origin/Blue Moon

Science priorities

Furthermore, the AAS/DPS posting adds:

“In addition to the Administration’s already-proposed Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program (LDEP) — which the House Appropriations Committee appears to be on track to support — the new $1.6 billion amendment allocates $90 million to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) ‘for the purchase of commercial services to deliver a rover to…explore the Moon’s polar regions in advance of a human mission.’

Since the changes in civilian space policy to return to the Moon have occurred after the last planetary science decadal survey in 2013 and that survey’s midterm assessment in 2018, there is not a community-wide consensus on where the Administration’s proposed lunar science program would rank within the relative priorities for lunar science, let alone within the priorities for the overall planetary science enterprise.

The primary new lunar mission prioritized by the 2013 planetary decadal was the Lunar Geophysical Network (recommended for inclusion in the fifth New Frontiers competition). The 2013 survey also reaffirmed the 2003 survey’s Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return mission for the fifth New Frontiers competition since it wasn’t selected in the fourth New Frontiers round.

Example of a landing site traverse: This image depicts Malapert massif to South Pole-Aitken basin center.
Credit: E.J. Allender et al./Advances in Space Research

The current astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey is likely to consider lunar far-side project proposals, and the upcoming planetary science decadal survey will certainly need to consider the changes to civil space policy and commercial spaceflight capabilities as they impact the survey committee’s holistic approach to prioritizing lunar and planetary research. In the meantime the LDEP program within SMD appears to be doing an admirable job of finding synergies between efforts to kick-start a lunar commercial services industry and solid peer-reviewed science investigations and payloads, while adhering to science priorities described in the 2013 planetary decadal survey.”

Next steps

“We have decided against taking an official position on NASA’s Artemis proposal at this time. It is still very early, and we do not think that the benefits of public opposition to an ill-defined and untested proposal outweigh the use of political capital, at least not yet. We are clearly opposed to the Pell Grant offset on principle, and we have serious concerns about the proposed transfer authority and the as-yet undefined scientific content of the proposed crewed Artemis lunar program. The House Appropriations Committee responsible for NASA is working toward a 7% increase for NSF and a 4% increase for NASA SMD in FY20, which is a reassuring sign of their continued strong support for space sciences.

We will, however, have the AAS public-policy staff informally present our concerns — Pell Grant offset, transfer authority, and lack of community consensus on the science program — to relevant Congressional and Executive Branch staff. A Congressional Hill visit by the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) Committee on May 10th preemptively delivered the core of this message, which was well received. If evolving circumstances require the AAS to take a strong public position for or against what NASA proposes or does, we will not hesitate to do so.”

The posted letter is signed by Megan Donahue, AAS President and Linda Spilker, DPS Chair.

The posting — Moon 2024? — is available at:

https://aas.org/posts/news/2019/05/moon-2024

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up the Space Policy Directive – 1 after signing it, directing NASA to return to the Moon, alongside members of the Senate, Congress, NASA, and commercial space companies in the Roosevelt room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017.
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Response of concern

Meanwhile, the AAS/DPS posting has stirred the ire of lunar scientist, Jack Burns at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Provided to Inside Outer Space, the Burns communique to Linda Spilker of DPS reads in full:

Dear Megan,

I am writing to express a bit on concern with respect to the letter sent out to the AAS regarding NASA’s new Artemis program.

First, you know that I am a long-time ‘lunatic’ so you are not surprised that I am excited to see NASA finally stepping up with an ambitious plan of new missions of exploration going first to the Moon and eventually to Mars.  There are exciting opportunities for science from the Moon, including a sample return from the South Pole Aitken basin and a low radio frequency lunar farside array to study the Dark Ages and Cosmic Dawn.  These were singled out in the Planetary Science Decadal Survey and in the NASA Astrophysics Roadmap, respectively.  So, it is fair to say that these lunar-based science concepts have been vetted by the planetary and astrophysics community, unlike what is implied at the end of the letter.

Second, I share the concern about any funds being taken from the Pell Grant program.  But, this is not NASA’s plan nor that which Congress is likely to follow but rather a proposal from the White House.  Administrator Bridenstine made it clear it is Congress’ job to appropriate the funds from whatever source they choose.  So, the Pell grant issue is a red herring in my opinion being used by some to bash the accelerated lunar program.

Third, there has been a misunderstanding about the authority that the Administrator is seeking for transferring funds.  He has stated several times, including in a Congressional hearing last week, that he is seeking authority to transfer funds only within the lunar program not between directorates as is implied below.  He has stated many times, including at the Space Astrophysics Landscape for the 2020’s workshop held in DC last month, that NASA will NOT cannibalize science to pay for the lunar program.  In fact, he has proposed the opposite – to increase funding for lunar and related science.  I certainly do understand the concern about other proposed cuts in the President’s budget for WFIRST and for some Earth Science programs.  But, the Congress has the final authority to weigh in on these priorities.

Finally, I hope that the astronomy community is not sending out indirectly a message that it is prepared to oppose the human exploration program as some have done in the past out of fear for our telescopes.  Because history shows just the opposite has been true.  When the human program has been healthy, NASA science and the Agency has been healthy as well.  This added attention to a bold initiative tends to energize the American public and the Congress giving NASA more positive attention.  Our community tends to win under these circumstances.

So, I urge caution in how the AAS proceeds.  Let Congress fully weigh in and in the process let’s advocate, as we’ve done in the past, for a balanced program of human and scientific exploration.  It is unwise to divide our support for NASA between science and human exploration.

Also, I recommend that you meet with and talk directly with Administrator Bridenstine about these issues so you can better assess for yourself the relative risks.  It has been a tradition for the AAS President to meet with the Administrator regularly.

Best wishes,

Jack

 

 

The Vinyl Frontier – The Story of the Voyager Golden Record by Jonathan Scott; Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc., New York, May 2019; hardcover: 288 pages, $28.00

As I write this, those long-gone NASA spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are respectively 13,475,095,569 miles and 11,175,244,034 miles from Earth.

Voyager 2 launched in August 1977, and Voyager 1 soon followed, launching in September 1977. Each spacecraft carries a copy of a “Golden Record” with a protective cover adorned with instructions for playing its contents. For all their supposed intellect, one gathers that aliens recovering the records need a helping hand.

The final playlist contains music written and performed by Bach, Beethoven, Glenn Gould, as well as Chuck Berry and Blind Willie Johnson. There’s music from China, India and more remote cultures. It also contained a message of peace from U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Each song, sound and picture that made the final cut onto the record has a story to tell.

And that story has been captured in a distinctive and fascinating book, written by Jonathan Scott, a music writer and self-confessed astronomy geek. Furthermore, if he’d been in charge of the Voyager Golden Record, he suggests that aliens would deduce that Earthkind was limited to three music chords.

This book tells the story of a team led by astronomers Carl Sagan to put together a record that would travel to the stars on the back of NASA’s Voyager probe. The Vinyl Frontier tells the whole story of how the record was created, nicely presented in a dozen chapters.

Team members for the effort included astronomer Frank Drake, father of the scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), serving as technical director, writer and novelist Ann Druyan was the creative director, science journalist and author Timothy Ferris produced the record, and space artist Jon Lomberg was the designer, with artist Linda Salzman Sagan organizing the greetings.

“This is a story of the summer of 1977 – when science rubbed up against art to create a monument that will, in all probability, outlive us all,” the author explains in the book’s prologue.

The research done in writing this book is exceptional. For instance, how and why the Beatles missed the boat being on the record. “No Dylan. Elvis was discussed but discounted…even Jefferson Starship, who had offered their music for free, weren’t in the running,” Scott writes.

Thanks to the author, scads of little known nearly forgotten, behind-the-record stories are told in a splendid writing style. So many nuggets of information!

BTW: The book points to a YouTube video you’ll find worth a view at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibByF9XPAPg as well as an associated video at: https://boingboing.net/2017/09/05/how-to-decode-the-images-on-th.html

Also, in celebration of Voyager’s 40th anniversary, The Voyager Interstellar Record was made available on vinyl and can be purchased here:

https://ozmarecords.com/pages/voyager

For more information about The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record, go to:

https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-vinyl-frontier-9781472956132/

NASA inventor Keith Gordon holding up an early stage sample of self-healing technology.
Credit: NASA

If anything that has come forward in the 21st century it’s the art of self-healing.

Not to be outdone by “I’m okay, you’re okay” philosophy, NASA has developed a new polymer material that can self-heal in micro-seconds after bullet strikes, other high-velocity punctures, and even non-high-speed projectiles in certain environments.

This expertise — originally developed to protect space vehicles from micrometeoroids — has many other down-to-Earth applications that entrepreneurs, startups, and companies can utilize for their business needs.

In space, this inventive idea is a plus. How about an off-Earth inflatable habitat that can apply this technology?

Bullet testing of self-healing material. Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Micro-second self-healing

It’s called Multi-layered Self-healing Material System for Impact Mitigation.

This material is capable of micro-second self-healing from high-velocity punctures across a wide range of temperatures.

NASA Langley researchers in Virginia have developed this material system for impact mitigation from ballistic or hypervelocity events (e.g., micrometeoroids or orbital debris).

Reactive liquid middle

Here are the details: The system is constructed by sandwiching a reactive liquid monomer formulation between two solid polymer panels. While developed with space exploration in mind, the innovation has many other applications, such as fuel tanks and hydraulic insulation.

This tri-layered structure is comprised of solid plastic front and back layers sandwiching a viscous, reactive liquid middle layer.

Combined, this system provides rapid self-healing following high velocity ballistic penetrations. Self-healing in the front and back layers occurs when the puncture event creates a melt state in the polymer materials and the materials melt elasticity snaps back and closes the hole.

NASA Inflatable structure.
Credit: NASA

Ballistic puncture

The viscous middle layer augments the self-healing properties of the other layers by flowing into the gap created by a ballistic puncture and concurrently solidifying due to the presence of oxygen.

All that said, this creative technique has two tiers of self-healing: a puncture-healing mechanism triggered by the projectile and a second mechanism triggered by the presence of oxygen.

Look for more information about this technology via this informative video at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnJbH9re2rI

Also, go to this fact sheet:

https://technology.nasa.gov/patent/LAR-TOPS-122

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2414, May 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2414 science duties.

“Curiosity is investigating an area that is very high in potassium, and we’re trying to characterize the distribution and the source of that potassium,” reports Ashley Stroupe, a mission operations engineer at NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 2414, May 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The robot recently completed a short drive to get one of these potassium-rich rocks into its view – “Grampian Mountains.”

“While this target isn’t viable for drilling, it is a good example of this potassium-rich area, which is now in our workspace,” Stroupe adds.

Science block

Curiosity science planners are starting out with some contact science via the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the target.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2413, May 21, 2019. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

After the arm activities, there is a long targeted science block with Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam of several targets, including Grampian Mountains, “Annbank” and (to a lesser extent) “Brimmond.”

They have similarities to the Woodland Bay block that was examined on sol 2359 (and which might be another possible drill target), “so we’re examining them to make a comparison,” Stroupe points out. “Our fourth target is “Balintore,” which is part of our systematic bedrock survey; we’re looking for more potassium-rich bedrock.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2414, May 22, 2019. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Next drill decision

After Curiosity completes science observations at this location, the robot will be heading toward what researchers hope is the next drill location, target “Hallaig.”

“Hallaig rock was already identified by ChemCam as being potassium-rich. The rover planner evaluation looks promising for drilling, though it is still unclear from remote sensing how representative Hallaig is of this general area,” Stroupe explains.

Laser strikes observed by Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2414, May 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

 

 

“The rover planners are able to turn and drive straight to this target; the terrain is benign enough that the parking requirements for drilling are not highly constraining. Our post-drive imaging will include high-quality color imaging of two spots on the rock to help us evaluate them for possible drilling,” Stroupe concludes. “If things look good, we may be drilling as early as the weekend!”

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

 

 

 

New traverse map

Meanwhile, a new Curiosity traverse map through Sol 2412 has been produced.

The map shows the route driven by Curiosity through the 2412 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (May 20, 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 2408 to Sol 2412, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 129.71 feet (39.54 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 12.74 miles (20.50 kilometers).

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

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo acquired on Sol 2413, May 21, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

 

Credit: ISRO/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

India is now gearing up for the July launch of Chandrayaan-2, a robotic lunar orbiter/lander/rover combo that is slated to touch down at a predetermined site close to lunar south pole.

According to a statement from the Department of Space of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) the country’s moonshot will fly atop a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) MkIII booster during the window of July 9-16 with an expected Moon landing on September 06, 2019.

Credit: ISRO/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

Chandrayaan-2 will be an advanced version of the previous Chandrayaan-1 mission to Moon that flew successfully on October 22, 2008 from SDSC SHAR, Sriharikota launch site.

Three modules

As India’s second lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2 is comprised of three modules, an orbiter, the Vikram lander (named after a former ISRO chairman, Vikram Sarabhai) and the Pragyan rover.

The orbiter and lander modules will be interfaced mechanically and stacked together as an integrated module and accommodated inside the GSLV MK-III launch vehicle. The Pragyan rover is housed inside the lander.

After launch into Earth bound orbit by the GSLV MK-III, the integrated module will reach Moon orbit using an orbiter propulsion module. Subsequently, the lander will separate from the orbiter and soft land at the predetermined site close to lunar south pole.

Credit: ISRO/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

 

Payloads

Once deployed, the Pragyan rover will carry out scientific experiments on the lunar surface. Instruments are also mounted on the lander and orbiter for performing science tasks.

India’s Pragyan Moon rover.
Credit: ISRO

There are 13 Indian payloads (8 on the orbiter, three on the lander and two on the rover, along with one passive experiment from NASA – a Laser Retro-reflector Array (LRA) for Lunar Landers.

This LRA is the same design as the one carried onboard Israel’s Beresheet lander that crashed on the Moon last month.

NASA’s retro-reflector is a mirrored device that reflects laser light signals to help pinpoint precisely where a lander is as well as accurately calculate the Moon’s distance from Earth.

 

Apollo’s Legacy: Perspectives on the Moon Landings by Roger Launius; Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C., 2019; hardcover: 264 pages, $27.95

Space historian Roger D. Launius has authored this unique and notable book, one that recollects the triumph that was Apollo…but also Apollo’s less positive aspects.

“Each chapter of the book focuses on a major them in our memories of Apollo,” the author explains, “revealing the ways in which it has been seen as a positive endeavor, as well as the ways in which it remains rooted in a time and a place far removed from both our present concerns and our future priorities.”

That piece of prologue sets the reader up for an expertly written retro look at the “feel-good” triumph for America of astronauts on the Moon and high salutes to the U.S. flag.

But Launius then offers provoking chapters, such as: “Applying Knowledge from Apollo to This-World Problems,” “Apollo and the Religion of Spaceflight,” as well as delving into the surrealistic community of those calling Apollo fake news – individuals that deny the Apollo Moon landings.

The chapter on Apollo hoax accusations is chalk-full of insight. Launius reminds the reader: “More than half the world’s population was born after the last of the Moon landings took place in December 1972. Consequently, they had not lived through the excitement of the experience.”

The contents of this book are divided into 10 chapters, with a “Remembering Apollo” conclusion. The author suggests that Apollo increasingly seems to be viewed as a once-upon-a-time situation “for reasons that have receded far into the background.”

Launius goes on to say that in 100 years, “Apollo may be remembered as a singular event, glorious and revered but viewed increasingly as an undertaking without lasting significance.”

There will be those that will argue with that sentiment. Regardless, this volume is a beneficial and essential look at the Apollo space program, one that challenges the status quo of blindly embracing the space past while disregarding the framework of today’s human space exploration planning.  

For more information on this book, go to:

https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/releases/smithsonian-books-releases-apollos-legacy