Archive for November, 2019

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

The fifth installment of “Apollo 17: Diary of the Twelfth Man” is now available, commemorating the 45th Anniversary of the December 7, 1972 launch of the Apollo 17 Mission.

Apollo 17 moonwalker, Jack Schmitt, has authored this impressive work with the new addition, Chapter 11, titled “It’s Orange!”

The contrast- and color-balanced version of NASA photo AS17-137-20990 taken by Gene Cernan of the trench dug by Harrison H. Schmitt through the orange surface area that he spotted from the Lunar Roving Vehicle parked nearby on the rim of Shorty Crater. Color-balanced derivative of NASA photo AS17-137-20990; Copyright © 2018 by Tranquillity Enterprises, s.p. Courtesy of Tranquillity Enterprises, s.p.)

Shorty crater

One of the Apollo 17 discoveries took place within the 34-minute stop at Station 4, Shorty Crater, and the discovery there of orange soil.


That finding “may be the single, most important legacy of the Apollo missions to the Moon,” Schmitt writes. “Color photographs of the trench dug by the author through the orange soil on the rim of the crater have never been adequately displayed in the [roughly] half century since the mission. They are presented here for the first time as the author saw and described the colors.”

The original digital scan of the prime film made at Johnson Space Center ca. 2005. It is clear from the gnomon and the over-all pale appearance of the view that both the brightness, contrast and the color need balancing across the image.
Credit: NASA

Record-setting driving

This chapter chronicles the events of Day 2 on the lunar surface and the 7 hr 36 min 56 sec duration of EVA-2, the longest of the mission. During that period, Gene Cernan and Schmitt traveled a record-setting total of 12.66 miles (20.37 kilometers) via their Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).

In December of 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt explored the Moon’s Taurus-Littrow valley.
Credit: NASA

For the Thanksgiving Holidays (in the USA) and later, “I hope all visitors to Jack’s website will enjoy riding along with him on the continuing saga of America’s last deep space manned mission of the 20th century recounted in “Apollo 17: Diary of the 12th Man,” explains Ronald Wells of Tranquillity Enterprises, s.p. and editor-in-chief of America’s Uncommon Sense – The Website of Apollo 17 Astronaut, Senator Harrison H. Schmitt.




Wells adds: “This very important chapter, of course, is a must read for astronauts in training to return to the Moon!”








To view this impressive and inspiring website, go to:

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission released its 2019 Annual Report to Congress on November 14, 2019.

This extensive report includes an informative chapter on China’s global ambitions. Flagged in the chapter’s section 3 is “China’s Ambitions in Space: Contesting the Final Frontier.”

Within that section, China’s “Space Dream” is highlighted, including a look at the country’s geopolitical and economic goals in space, as well as China’s view of space as the “Commanding Heights” of future military conflict and what are the implications for the United States.

Earth’s Moon and cislunar space looms large in our future.
Credit: ESA/NASA

Cislunar space

“Central to China’s economic and strategic goals in space is establishing a commanding position in cislunar space—the space within the Moon’s orbit of Earth,” the report notes. “Cislunar space will also play an important role in China’s plans for space-based solar power, a futuristic power source that China aims to fully deploy by 2050, which may have the potential to provide virtually unlimited power to the whole world.”

China’s goal to establish a leading position in the economic and military use of outer space, or what Beijing calls its “space dream,” the report states, “is a core component of its aim to realize the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

Report: “The China Space Station positions Beijing to leverage its presence in space into diplomatic and scientific gains.”
Photo credit: CMSA

Key recommendations

Among the report’s key recommendations:

Congress direct the National Space Council to develop a strategy to ensure the United States remains the preeminent space power in the face of growing competition from China and Russia, including the production of an unclassified report with a classified annex including the following:

“A long-term economic space resource policy strategy, including an assessment of the viability of extraction of space-based precious minerals, onsite exploitation of space-based natural resources, and space-based solar power.” It would also include a comparative assessment of China’s programs related to these issues:

— An assessment of U.S. strategic interests in or relating to cislunar space.

— An assessment of the U.S. Department of Defense’s current ability to guarantee the protection of commercial communications and navigation in space from China’s growing counterspace capabilities, and any actions required to improve this capability.

— A plan to create a space commodities exchange to ensure the United States drives the creation of international standards for interoperable commercial space capabilities.

— A plan to streamline and strengthen U.S. cooperation with allies and partners in space.

— An interagency strategy to defend U.S. supply chains and manufacturing capacity critical to competitiveness in space.

Chinese Control room.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Single-minded focus

The report explains that “China’s single-minded focus and national-level commitment to establishing itself as a global space leader harms other U.S. interests and threatens to undermine many of the advantages the United States has worked so long to establish.”

To review the entire report, go to:

An executive summary is available at:

Mid-drive image showing the sand patch “Stemster” behind the rubbly workspace the robot now explores.
Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2593, November 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just started performing 2594 Sol tasks.

Reports Catherine O’Connell, a planetary geologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada: “We are putting Central Butte behind us now, as we journey onwards to Western Butte, a nearby hill that appears to be similar to Central Butte. At Central Butte, we were spoiled for choice, with lots of rocky outcrops to investigate.”

Curiosity Front Right B Hazard Avoidance Camera image acquired on Sol 2593, November 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A recent drive by the robot brought it to the type of workspace Mars scientists have seen previously in Glen Torridon – lots and lots of small pebbles and sand.

Pebbly material

“We did still manage to find things to analyze,” O’Connell adds.

Curiosity’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is to integrate on an area called “Flow Country” over the weekend, split into three distinct sections – sand, very small pebbles and a single larger pebble.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 2593, November 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“This will allow us to compare the compositions, and to see how they relate to pebbly material encountered further back in Glen Torridon,” O’Connell points out.

Potential meteorite targets

The rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is to complete the contact science on Flow Country, imaging all three parts of the target. Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) is to investigate some larger fragments of rock “Nutberry Moss” and “Otterswick,” as well as two potential meteorite targets “Pladda Isle” and “Swona.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image acquired on Sol 2592, November 21, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Drive ahead

“As always, our plan is full of Mastcam imagery. In addition to documenting the ChemCam targets, Mastcam is imaging two sand patches “Stemster” and “Stonywynd,” and looking back towards Central Butte before we drive on sol 2595,” O’Connell notes.

The Environmental theme group (ENV) planned a series of Mastcam and Engineering Camera (ECAM) movies to look at environmental conditions, such as dust devils, clouds and dust overhead in the sky above the rover and towards the walls of Gale crater.

The plan also calls for Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) to continue their ongoing environmental monitoring.

“Once the drive completes, we will stay in place until after the Thanksgiving holiday. Mastcam will image our new workspace and surrounding area so that we can do lots of contact science and a very special imaging project over the holiday period,” O’Connell concludes.

Credit: Boeing/Watch U.S. Fly

Where were you two years ago?

“We know where the Boeing-made X-37B was — making its way into space,” explains a posting on Watch U.S. Fly – “a community of Americans dedicated to keeping America the world’s best manufacturer of aircraft, spacecraft and defense products” and posts info on space-based national defense.

“Why does that matter today? Because after 780 days in space, the spacecraft set the record for the longest flight mission in Earth’s orbit. The U.S. Military has launched the X-37B five different times, with each mission longer than the last.

These missions are tagged Orbital Test Vehicles, or OTV’s, the last flight was OTV-5.

Post-landing of OTV-5 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility.
Courtesy Photo 45th Space Wing Public Affairs

Latest innovative technologies

The X-37B is unique. In fact, it’s spent more than 7.5 years total in orbit across all of its missions, explains the posting. “This amazing spaceplane launches into space on a rocket, then separates from it to carry out its mission, then re-enters the atmosphere and lands on a runway just like an airplane.”

The X-37B is a spacecraft built with the latest innovative technologies to ensure our national security, explains the posting, and is designed to carry out important experiments that can be examined once they get back to Earth.

“As we continue to utilize the American-made X-37B in our solar system, we are relieved to know the Air Force is breaking records to protect the United States,” the Watch U.S. Fly communiqué concludes.

Credit: Boeing

Next flight

Reportedly, the next X-37B to fly is slated for the 2nd Quarter 2020. OTV-6 will be hurled into Earth orbit for the U.S. Air Force by a ULA Atlas V booster designated as AFSPC 7/OTV-6.

The mission was delayed from December and will fly on a single-engine Centaur upper stage from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – SLC-41. The launch window is yet to be announced.

For more information on the X-37B’s last flight, go to:

The swirls of Reiner Gamma in Oceanus Procellarum, shown in enhanced color from the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Wide Angle Camera.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

On the Moon “lunar swirls” are bright features that can be tens of miles across and appear as isolated individuals or in extensive groups or belts.

Lunar swirls are found where the lunar crust is magnetized, although not all magnetic areas have swirls. Furthermore, the bright areas in the swirls look to be less weathered than their surroundings.

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Wide Angle Camera (WAC) view of Mare Ingenii.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Those observations have led to several hypotheses about how lunar swirls are formed and several ideas about the separate question of the origin of the magnetized crust.

Is it possible that these tattoo-like oddities might help sustain a human presence on the Moon?









Go to my new story:

Could Weird Lunar Swirls Help People Settle the Moon?

A specimen whose head appears to have turned in the direction of the camera. Based on the scale provided in the photo from which this was extracted, this individual is estimated to be approximately 20 inches long.
Credit: Analysis by Dr. William Romoser

From Ohio University:  “Aw, Nuts! We’re having trouble locating the page you requested. There may be a typo in the URL, or the page may have been moved or deleted.”

From AAAS and EurekAlert!: “This release has been removed at the request of the submitter.”

These actions were stirred up by researcher William Romoser, Emeritus Professor of Medical Entomology at Ohio University.

The uproar stems from Romoser’s poster paper “Does Insect/Arthropod Biodiversity Extend Beyond Earth?,” presented during this month’s conference of the Entomological Society of America, held in St. Louis, Missouri.

Ohio University also issued a press release on the professor’s work, “Ohio University entomologist: Photos show evidence of life on Mars” – now pulled from the university’s website.

Putative fossil insect on its dorsum with head to the top, and with selected structures labelled. Credit: Analysis by Dr. William Romoser

Ample evidence

Romoser’s abstract for his poster explains:

“There is ample evidence to answer the question posed by the title in the affirmative. For several years, I have been engaged in study of the NASA-JPL photographs transmitted to Earth from the surface vehicles sent to explore Mars, Curiosity Rover in particular. These photos are available to the public via the internet. In this poster, I present and discuss numerous examples of insect/arthropod-like forms (fossil & living) found in Mars rover photos. Examples include insect-like forms displaying apparent diversity, clearly recognizable insect/arthropod anatomical features, and flight. Evidence of a fossil reptile-like (serpentine) form and reptile-like forms preying on insect-like forms is also presented. Each example is documented. These findings provide a compelling basis for further study and raise many important questions.”

Identifiable life forms

“This is the first professional report of direct evidence of identifiable life forms beyond the confines of Earth,” Romoser explained, offering images that appear to capture fossilized and living, insect-like organisms.

“The presence of higher metazoan organisms on Mars implies the presence of nutrient/energy sources and processes, food chains and webs, and water as elements functioning in a viable, if extreme, ecological setting sufficient to sustain life,” Romoser explained.

William Romoser, Emeritus Professor of Medical Entomology at Ohio University.
Credit: Ohio University


“Given evidence for the presence of insect/arthropod-and reptile-like organisms beyond the confines of Earth,” Romoser said, “perhaps ‘astroentomology’ and ‘astroherpetology’ will emerge as important topics within the field of astrobiology.”

Romoser has said that while any given image does not in itself prove anything, “I believe the mosaic of what I have described is compelling.” Furthermore, “I view the research reported here to be replicative and corroborative. It is very clear that much more study of the photos is needed. The information presented here barely scratches the surface.”

Responding to an Inside Outer Space query: “Dr. Romoser no longer wishes to engage with media regarding this research, so we have opted to remove the story from our website and EurekAlert,” explained Jim Sabin, Media Relations Manager at Ohio University.

Credit: Analysis by Dr. William Romoser


China’s Chang’e-4 farside lander and rover have “self-awakened” on Thursday.

The exploration twosome have entered their 12th lunar day within the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, according to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration.

Chang’e-4 farside mission – lander and Yutu-2 rover

Stable state

The Yutu-2 rover woke up at 0:51 a.m. Beijing Time (BJT) and the lander at 5:03 p.m. BJT. Both devices and the specially positioned relay satellite are working normally and are in a stable state. The data reception and processing of ground stations are normal.

Queqiao relay spacecraft is in a halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system, utilized to set up a communication link between the Earth and the Moon’s farside.
Credit: CNSA

The probe has spent 322 days working on the farside of the Moon, and the rover has traveled roughly 1,045 feet (318.62) meters across the lunar landscape.

Scientific payloads

During this working period, the lunar surface neutron and radiation dose detector, low-frequency radio frequency spectrometer and other scientific payloads on the lander will continue scientific exploration of the lunar surface environment.

The Yutu-2 rover will keep following a planned route.

The panoramic camera, lunar radar, infrared imaging spectrometer, neutral atom detector and other scientific payloads on the rover will carry out scientific exploration at different detection points.

Chang’e-4 was dispatched to the Moon on December 8, 2018, making the first-ever soft landing on the farside of the Moon.

Chang’e-5 mission is intended to return lunar specimens back to Earth.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Return sample mission

Meanwhile, work is ongoing on readying the Chang’e-5 mission for launch in 2020, designed to rocket back to Earth 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar samples.

That mission, however, is predicated on a successful return-to-flight of the powerful Long March-5 carrier rocket.

Long March-5 booster’s first liftoff occurred in early November 2016. Mishap on launcher’s second flight in July 2017. Progress for a return-to-flight Long March-5 mission appears to be underway for possible flight late this year.
Credit: CASC

The second Long March-5 rocket roared from China’s Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern province of Hainan on July 2, 2017. The flight suffered a malfunction less than six minutes after liftoff, causing an over two year mishap investigation by Chinese rocketeers.

The third Long March-5 rocket is now at the Wenchang Space Launch Center for a new flight, expected before year’s end.


Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2592, November 21, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is wrapping up Sol 2592 duties.

“Curiosity is continuing her exploration of Central Butte, focusing on characterizing the lithology of ledge-forming rocks in this area,” reports Lauren Edgar, a planetary geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

A recently drafted plan has the robot carrying out several Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations of “Ard Neakie” to assess a gray fractured zone, “Glen Doll” to characterize more typical bedrock adjacent to the fractured zone, and “Isle Ristol” to assess vertical changes in chemistry.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2592, November 21, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Characterizing the bedrock

Edgar adds that the plan involves a lot of contact science as well, including Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and a Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) full suite on “Glen Doll” and “Ard Neakie,” and a Dust Removal Tool (DRT), MAHLI full suite and overnight APXS on “Muckle Flugga” to characterize the bedrock at the rover’s location.

The Geology theme group also planned a Mastcam mosaic of “Muckle Flugga” and documentation of the ChemCam targets, Edgar notes.


The plan also includes typical Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) observations and a Navcam atmospheric movie.

Edgar concludes: “I’m looking forward to seeing the results from all of the great contact science!”


Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam Left B) image taken on Sol 2590, November 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2591 tasks.

Reports Fred Calef, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Curiosity’s Central Butte campaign continues and the rover is traversing along an ever narrowing ledge.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam Left B) photo acquired on Sol 2590, November 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“To continue forward, we need to take a few steps back and make a U-turn around to a less steep section to proceed,” Calef adds. “This ledge-forming material itself is an interesting pitted mudstone outcrop that we’d like to investigate.”

A view of possible pebble-forming rocks in front of the rover. A rock designated as “Quarff” is in the middle-left of the image.
Curiosity Left Navigation Camera Left B Sol 2590 November 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Pebble forming block

The robot recently performed a touch-and-go maneuver taking Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam), Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), and Mastcam measurements on a block called “Nedd.”

Nedd may be pebble forming and contributing to the surface texture viewed from orbit and on the ground, Calef points out.

Dipping strata

“In addition, we’ll get some Mastcam imaging on ‘Quarff,’ where we think there’s some dipping strata telling us how these rocks were laid down in the past. Also, we’ll acquire Mastcam of ‘Banffshire,’ our next drive location,” Calef reports.

Curiosity Left Navigation Camera Left B photo acquired on Sol 2590, November 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We wrap up the drive with some observations looking for dust devils and clouds for understanding wind direction,” Calef says. Last, but not least, a Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) image will be taken to document the smaller rocks (“clasts”) that make up the surface, he concludes.

Curiosity Left Navigation Camera Left B photo acquired on Sol 2590, November 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left Navigation Camera Left B photo acquired on Sol 2590, November 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Curiosity Left Navigation Camera Left B photo acquired on Sol 2590, November 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mast Camera (Mastcam) Left image taken on Sol 2589, November 18, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera (Mastcam Left) photo taken on Sol 2590, November 19, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera (Mastcam) Left image taken on Sol 2589, November 18, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



Micrograph of NIST’s high-resolution camera made of 1,024 sensors that count single photons, or particles of light. The camera was designed for future space-based telescopes searching for chemical signs of life on other planets. The 32-by-32 sensor array is surrounded by pink and gold wires connecting to electronics that compile the data.
Credit: V. Verma/NIST

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have made one of the highest-performance cameras ever composed of sensors that count single photons, or particles of light.

With more than 1,000 sensors — or pixels — NIST’s camera may be useful in future space-based telescopes searching for chemical signs of life on other planets, and in new instruments designed to search for the elusive “dark matter” believed to constitute most of the “stuff” in the universe.

The new NIST camera could efficiently capture light from atmospheres of extrasolar planets that possibly harbor life.

Superconducting nanowires

The NIST camera consists of sensors made from superconducting nanowires, which can detect single photons. According to a NIST statement, they are among the best photon counters in terms of speed, efficiency, and range of color sensitivity. A NIST team used these detectors to demonstrate Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance,” for example.

NIST’s camera is small in physical size: It is a square measuring 1.6 millimeters on a side, but packed with 1,024 sensors (32 columns by 32 rows) to make high-resolution images.

Credit: NASA

NASA requirements

The main challenge was to find a way to collate and obtain results from so many detectors without overheating. The researchers extended a “readout” architecture they previously demonstrated with a smaller camera of 64 sensors that adds up data from the rows and columns, a step toward meeting NASA requirements.

“My primary motivation for making the camera is NASA’s Origins Space Telescope project, which is looking into using these arrays for analyzing the chemical composition of planets orbiting stars outside of our solar system,” NIST electronics engineer Varun Verma explains. Each chemical element in the planet’s atmosphere would absorb a unique set of colors, he points out.

The new camera was made at NIST’s Microfabrication Facility in Boulder, Colorado. The work was supported by both NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

NIST researcher Varun Verma explains how a new NIST camera, made of nanometer-scale wires, could efficiently capture light from atmospheres of extrasolar planets that possibly harbor life. Go to this video at: