Archive for July, 2019

On July 25, SpaceX launched its eighteenth Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-18) to the International Space Station.
Credit: SpaceX



Matchbox-sized prototypes – called biomining reactors – have been sent to the International Space Station (ISS).

The “space mining kits” are dedicated to studying how microscopic organisms could be used to recover minerals and metals from space rocks – from asteroids and other celestial targets.

Space testing is expected to reveal how low gravity affects bacteria’s natural ability to extract useful materials – such as iron, calcium and magnesium – from rocks, researchers at the University of Edinburgh say.

Their findings could also help improve the process – known as biomining – which has numerous applications on Earth, including in the recovery of metals from ores.

Rosa Santomartino
School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh checks out space mining kits pre-launch.
Credit: Rosa Santomartino

Three-week experiment

On July 27, eighteen of the devices reached the International Space Station, along with a host of other experiments, via a SpaceX Dragon supply ship. 

Onboard the ISS, small pieces of basalt rock – which makes up the surface of the Moon and Mars – will be loaded into each device and submerged in bacterial solution.

Biomining reactors.
Credits: Rosa Santomartino, UK Centre for Astrobiology/University of Edinburgh

According to a University of Edinburgh press statement, the three-week experiment will also study how microbes grow and form layers – known as biofilms – on natural surfaces in space. As well as providing insights into how low gravity affects biofilms, the findings will also improve understanding of how microbes grow on Earth.

Once returned to Earth, the rocks will be analyzed by the Edinburgh team in a lab at Stanford University in California.

Fundamental insights

The groundbreaking study could aid efforts to establish human settlements on distant worlds by helping develop ways to source minerals essential for survival in space.

“This experiment will give us new fundamental insights into the behavior of microbes in space, their applications in space exploration and how they might be used more effectively on Earth in all the myriad way that microbes affect our lives,” explains Charles Cockell of the School of Physics and Astronomy and project lead at the University of Edinburgh.

Matchbox-sized prototypes – called biomining reactors.
Credits: Rosa Santomartino, UK Centre for Astrobiology/University of Edinburgh

“Microbes are everywhere, and this experiment is giving us new ideas about how they grow on surfaces and how we might use them to explore space,” added Rosa Santomartino, also of the School of Physics and Astronomy. She is leading the study of the rocks when they return.

The “BioRock” experiment is led by the University of Edinburgh, with the European Space Agency and the UK Space Agency, in collaboration with DLR (Germany) and SCK-CEN (Belgium), and is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

What lurks within the Moon’s underground lava tubes? Entrances or “skylights” to lava tubes might allow future explorers access to subsurface ice.
Credit: Pascal Lee/Mars Institute/SETI Institute

The drum beat of back to the Moon with humans “this time to stay,” is fueled by harvesting available lunar resources. Many see plunging into the floors of permanently shadowed polar craters. Water ice found resident in these everlastingly shaded “cold traps” is thought to be stable and exploitable.

The city of Philadelphia is shown inside a theoretical lunar lava tube. A Purdue University team of researchers explored whether lava tubes more than one kilometer wide could remain structurally stable on the moon.
Credit: Purdue University/courtesy of David Blair

But there may be other spots on the Moon that could yield a scientific motherlode of data – as well as survive and thrive resources to sustain human occupation of Earth’s celestial next door neighbor.

Take a look at my new story:

Living Underground on the Moon: How Lava Tubes Could Aid Lunar Colonization – But there’s a lot we still don’t know

Go to:

Curiosity Right Navigation Camera on Sol 2480. Several candidate drill sites have been identified, with a decision to drive to a relatively flat slab that is visible in the right portion of this image.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity is now carrying out Sol 2481 duties.

Reports Vivian Sun, a planetary Geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California: “After a successful ascent to the top of the southern outcrop in the ‘Visionarium,’ we are now searching for our next drill site.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo acquired on Sol 2480, July 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Sun adds that there were no bedrock exposures available for contact science activities in Curiosity’s immediate workspace, so attention has now shifted to identify a drill site area, with the rover driving to that spot.

Drill site selection

“There are a number of factors we considered when selecting this drill site. We looked for bedrock that looked ‘in-place,’ meaning bedrock that likely has not been moved since it formed. While there can be ‘out-of-place’ rocks — or ‘float’ rocks — that are interesting, in-place bedrock can be more stable for drilling and its geologic context is simpler to interpret, Sun points out.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 2480, July 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars researchers have also prioritized larger bedrock exposures, as they need room to drill, discard, and analyze the sample, Sun adds. The size of the bedrock slab is even more important than usual at this location because science teams may consider drilling a second time and delivering sample for a possible Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite wet chemistry experiment.

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2480, July 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Lastly, we considered other practical constraints,” Sun continues, “like finding an area that gives us a good parking position and a level surface to drill on. Considering all of these factors, we identified several candidate sites and finally decided to drive to a relatively flat slab.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2480, July 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Remote sensing activities

With the major drive decision out of the way, Curiosity team members then proceeded to plan the rest of the observations at the rover’s current location.

Since contact science was not on the plan, Mars researchers obtained some extra time for remote sensing activities and planned three Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) measurements of some nearby bedrock (“Blaven,” “Glen Lyon,” “Glen Orchy”).

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2480, July 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Sedimentary structures

“We also planned a large Mastcam mosaic of the bedrock exposures in front of us, dubbed the “Hebrides” region, which we imaged in the previous plan from a different angle. Imaging this area before we drive up to our drill site will help us examine sedimentary structures and provide context for our future drill sample,” Sun reports.

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2480, July 29, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In addition to these observations, Mars team members also planned a suite of atmospheric observations including Navcam dust devil movies, crater rim extinction, and Mastcam tau observations.

“There is much to look forward to in the upcoming days,” Sun concludes, “with the start of our next drill campaign and excellent views from our future parking spot!”

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

New road map

Curiosity has now driven 13.10 miles (21.08 kilometers) since landing on Mars in August 2012.

A newly released Curiosity traverse map through Sol 2480 shows the route driven by the robot through the 2480 Martian day, or sol.

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 2477 to Sol 2480, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 40.36 feet (12.30 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 13.10 miles (21.08 kilometers).

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

Courtesy of NASA/JPL/USGS


Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon with an in-depth look at four unique outcomes of this momentous event, led by four esteemed professors.

This unique series is offered by The Great Courses (an educational streaming video on demand company), a new course on what most people still don’t know about exploration of Earth’s neighbor, the Moon.

One of the Apollo 16 sample boxes being opened in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory on Earth. The box contains a large rock and many small sample bags.
Credit: NASA/Johnson Space Center

The lecture series features:

Moon Rock Revelations: An Inside Story

What can the samples collected by the Apollo astronauts tell us about the Moon? Neil Armstrong and his fellow explorers were able to bring back about 50 pounds of rocks and soils that revealed things about the Moon that we had never known, or even surmised. Join Professor Bob Hazen, mineralogist and crystallographer, to uncover what the Moon is made of, how the Earth and the Moon are intimately connected, and the minerals that form the Moon.

Geologist Harrison Schmitt performs Moon tasks during Apollo 17 mission in December 1972.
Credit: NASA

Viewing Apollo Landing Sites from Earth

Join Ed Murphy, professor and astronomer, to go outside and really view the Moon—the complex geology, mountains, lava flows, volcanic domes, and more. Discover and recognize what you can and can’t see with your naked eye, binoculars, and a telescope, as well as learn the best time to view the Moon. Once you’ve established the Moon’s topography, Professor Murphy shows you how to orient your viewing to the location of the Apollo 11 landing and what, exactly, you are seeing.

Credit: NASA/Curtin University

Moon Rocks Reveal a Wild Early Solar System?

In a story that sounds like the basis for a science fiction blockbuster, Professor Sabine Stanley, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University demonstrates how studying Moon rocks has suggested a large number of meteor collisions in our solar system about four billion years ago—known as the Late Heavy Bombardment. See how this Moon event, which occurred during a concentrated time period of 200 million years, has implied that giant planets migrated during their formation—a possibility many scientists never considered.

Soviet technician working on Sputnik 1, 1957.
Credit: ESA/Sovfoto/

Geopolitics of Space: Past, Present, Future

The Apollo space mission was more than just a giant leap for mankind in terms of scientific developments and insights into both space and Earth, it was also a huge step in advancing America’s position in the geopolitical world as the Cold War extended into space. Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, the Lindsay Young Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society, invites you to investigate how the Space Race was not just a matter of prestige, but how it also established a claim on the future for the “winner’s” values, ideology, and way of life.

For more information, go to:

Also, tap into this overview of The Great Courses Plus and its offerings at:



Credit: Griffith Observatory TV


I was honored to be on panels and provide a talk on my new National Geographic book, Moon Rush – The New Space Race, at the fabulous Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

In my talk, I detailed the story of the path for our return to the Moon. This time, however, it’s not just NASA that’s going. Nations from all over the world and private industry have big plans.

Credit: Griffith Observatory

Golden Moon

The presentation was streamed live on July 21, 2019, one part of the Observatory’s “Golden Moon” celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission.

For my appearance, I was joined by Dr. Laura Danly, Curator for the Griffith Observatory, and Lon Rains, my former editor at SpaceNews.

This discussion can be viewed at:

For a complete roster of all activities and videos available via Griffith Observatory TV, go to:


Curiosity Navcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 2477, July 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now wrapping up Sol 2478 duties.

Over the last few weeks Curiosity has collected hundreds of spectacular images that document the layers and textures of rocks exposed in the “Visionarium,” reports Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2478, July 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Delve deeper

“With all of this imaging under our belt, we’re now hoping to delve deeper into studying the composition of the rocks in the Visionarium, so we are beginning to look for our next potential drill target,” Fraeman explains.

The scripted plan for the weekend is having Curiosity driving roughly 33 feet (10 meters) to the top of the southern escarpment in the Visionarium.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 2477, July 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Future drill targets

“The drive will place us in an ideal location to image potential future drill targets,” Fraeman adds. Before the drive, Mars researchers will spend a sol collecting Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) data from targets named “Naver” and “Fetterangus,” along with Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam observations of “Malin Sea,” “Loch Katrine,” and “Loch Broom.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 2477, July 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We’ll also take several environmental science monitoring observations,” Fraeman points out, “and an 80 frame stereo Mastcam mosaic of ‘Hebrides,’ which is the area where we hope to find our next drill target.”

Credit: NASA


The City of Kent, Washington and the Kent Downtown Partnership in King County, Washington received historic landmark designation on July 25 for the Lunar Roving Vehicles that were built in Kent at the Boeing Space Center and used in Apollo Missions 15, 16 and 17 in 1971 and 1972.

The designation was unanimously passed at a public hearing at the Kent City Hall on Thursday evening by the King County Landmarks Commission.

Now that the Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicles have achieved landmark designation for the region, the City of Kent will go on to pursue recognition at the state level.

To date, only California and New Mexico have lunar objects in their state historic registers.

Astronaut John Young works at the mission’s Apollo 16 Moon buggie in April 1972.
Credit: NASA

Heritage worthy of protection and preservation

Applauding the decision for designation is Michelle L.D. Hanlon, co-founder of For All Moonkind.

The group’s stated mission is to ensure the six Apollo Lunar Landing and similar sites in outer space are recognized for their outstanding value to humanity and consequently preserved and protected for posterity as part of our common human heritage.

“While it is an entirely symbolic designation, the more organizations and entities that recognize our history on the Moon as heritage worthy of protection and preservation, the closer we come to persuading the international community to help us develop a convention to do the same,” Hanlon told Inside Outer Space.

Credit: NASA

Embrace contributions

Hanlon points to the 400,000 individuals who worked on some aspect of the Apollo program. These are people who worked, sometimes around the clock in anonymity and without clamoring for recognition, she said.

“The fact that communities are starting to understand and embrace their contributions to space exploration helps to put names against numbers.  And hopefully, it will help inspire a renewed interest in space exploration at all levels of public discourse,” Hanlon concluded. 

Go to this earlier story at:

Historic Landmark Designation Sought for Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicles

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image acquired on Sol 2477, July 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now concluding Sol 2477 tasks.

“Europeans, Californians… and many others on the team watched their thermometers rise to record highs today, reaching 36 °C,” reports Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University, Milton Keynes, U.K.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2477, July 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Thinking about planning, Schwenzer adds, where the Mars researchers think about cold, wintertime temperatures on Mars and seeing the maximum temperature was minus 30 °C according to the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), this 66 °C difference in temperature “is a very practical demonstration of orbital mechanics and other factors, and more generally how different Earth and Mars are!”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2476, July 25, 2019. It is pointed at Mt. Sharp and shows how steep a tilt the rover currently is experiencing.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Rover tilt

Temperatures are not today’s most important record, though: Curiosity is currently tilted 25° – and that’s more than ever before, during science operations, Schwenzer explains.

Despite the slope, the robot is using its instrumented arm to investigate the outcrop in front of the Mars machinery.

“Since lamination and other sedimentary features are exceptionally well accessible,” Schwenzer notes, the plan calls for using the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to create a “dog’s-eye mosaic” to study all the details on a target called “East Caithness Cliff.”

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2477, July 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Outcrop observations

The robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) is slated to target some of the layers of East Caithness Cliff for chemistry.

Curiosity’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is busy on the target “Cruden Bay,” which is also part of the outcrop but at a lower level than the MAHLI mosaic.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 2476, July 25, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Curiosity will then drive away to reach the top of the ridge,” Schwenzer concludes, with the robot then on closer-to-horizontal ground, “which hopefully comes with a first view of the top of this ridge.”

Credit: ISRO


India’s Chandrayaan–2 continues to make progress – a lunar orbiter/lander/rover mission.

A second Earth bound orbit raising maneuver for Chandryaan-2 spacecraft has been performed successfully today (July 26, 2019) at 0108 hrs (IST) as planned, using the onboard propulsion system for a firing duration of 883 seconds.

The Moon mission’s orbit is now 156 x 34,069 miles (251 x 54,829 kilometers).

Credit: ISRO

All spacecraft parameters are normal reports the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

The third orbit raising maneuver of Chandrayann-2 is scheduled on July 29, 2019.

Lunar orbit insertion

The spacecraft is scheduled for lunar orbit insertion by August 20, 2019.

Once the Moon probe is in lunar orbit, imaging of the landing site region prior to landing will be done for finding safe and hazard-free zones.

Credit; ISRO


The lander-Vikram is slated to touch down near the south pole of the Moon on September 7, 2019.

India’s Pragyan rover mounted on the ramp projecting from out of the sides of Vikram lunar lander.
Credit: ISRO

Subsequently, the Pragyan rover will roll out and carry out experiments on the lunar surface for a period of one lunar day – equal to 14 Earth days.

The orbiter will continue its mission for one year.

Credit: NanoRacks

NanoRacks released today its NASA-funded Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Commercialization study.

The four-month long LEO Commercialization Study came out of the Administration and NASA’s efforts to understand the role of the private sector in creating a sustainable LEO marketplace, allowing NASA to focus its energies going forward to the Moon and onwards to Mars.

NanoRacks was one of 12 companies selected to participate in this study.

No station gap

“Today we are at the crux of defining the role of commercial space as we consider the eventual end of the International Space Station in order to assure there is no United States space station gap,” said Jeffrey Manber, CEO of NanoRacks, based in Webster, Texas.

“No one company is going to succeed on their own. Commercial space survives if we develop an ecosystem, full of multiple providers, a world-wide customer base, and government and regulatory support,” Manber said in a statement regarding their study.

Credit: NanoRacks

Space: viable location

Per the study: “The most important conclusion to come out of the data gathered through this LEO Commercialization Study is that there is no single point solution for the challenge of creating a commercial marketplace in space. Rather, an ecosystem of service providers, hardware manufacturers, and consumers (to include government customers) are required to make space a viable location for commercial activity.”

Also noted in the study: “NASA and the U.S. government should consider LEO activity a Public Private Partnership, or PPP. In such partnership, NASA and government agencies like the FCC retain important regulatory roles, as well as basic infrastructure maintenance, while largely leaving open room for commercial activity—of whatever nature—in LEO.”

Right balance

The right balance within a PPP, the study suggests, “would be one where NASA and the government make infrastructural investments that the private sector leverages with private capital, commercial rules, and commercial terms and conditions.”

To read this important study — Outpost: An In-Orbit Commercial Space Station Habitat Development Enabling Cost-Effective and Sustainable U.S. Presence in Low-Earth Orbit – go to: