Archive for February, 2020

The spread of COVID-19/Coronavirus has impacted major upcoming space gatherings.

In a statement from the Space Foundation regarding its 36th Space Symposium to be held March 30th – April 2nd, 2020 at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, plans are continuing to move forward but the organization is continually monitoring all of the reporting from the recognized and authoritative sources concerning the virus spread.

“With thousands gathering from the civil, military, commercial and international space communities, the safety, security and success of each and every Symposium attendee, exhibitor, presenter and guest is always priority,” a Space Foundation statement noted.

Safeguard everyone

“We also know that federal, state and local leaders and public health providers are working together and sharing guidance to safeguard everyone from exposure to the virus. The Space Foundation encourages all of its attendees, exhibitors, presenters and guests to continue to follow the prescribed guidance of these authorities as well as the CDC’s healthy habits to prevent cold/flu,” the Space Foundation explains.

“As the 36th Space Symposium approaches, the Space Foundation will be continually working with The Broadmoor, as well as all of our vendors, staff, and volunteers to take appropriate measures to make sure your time with us is safe and successful. When and if additional guidance is provided, we will share further updates as warranted,” the statement adds.

Health and safety

Similarly, the 51st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) that’s being held in the Woodland, Texas March 16–20 has underscored the virus issue.

“As we prepare for the conference, we are confident that this year’s LPSC will be a complete success. However, we want to address how the coronavirus (COVID-19) may impact the conference. The health and safety of all attendees and exhibitors are paramount. The LPSC management team is working closely with the Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center to take all feasible precautionary measures that might reduce potential health risks at the conference.”

According to the LPSC statement, the organization continues to follow the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“At their websites, you will find regular updates about the virus and information about protective measures you can take. Both organizations advise that washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub can eliminate the virus if it is on your hands.”

While the LPSC management team noted they are always providing hand sanitizer for its attendees, “we will increase its availability throughout the meeting areas. Both the WHO and CDC also offer information about other healthy and protective practices. We encourage all attendees to visit these websites and remain informed on protective measures.”

Credit: APS

In addition, the 2020 American Physical Society (APS) March 2-6 meeting has been canceled.

“Due to rapidly escalating health concerns relating to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the 2020 APS March Meeting in Denver, CO, has been canceled. Please do not travel to Denver to attend the March Meeting.”






For more information:



Source images credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
Stitching and retouching: Andrew Bodrov


















360video 8K:

This panorama combines 85 exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the Sol 2687 of Curiosity’s work on Mars (February 27, 2020).

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2690 tasks. Here’s a few of new images from the robot:

Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2687, February 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B photo taken on Sol 2689, February 29, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2687, February 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2687, February 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2689, February 29, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2687, February 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2687, February 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

View of a potentially passable route onto the top of the Greenheugh pediment. (Area on the left). Image taken by Left Navigation Camera on Sol 2659, January 29, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech






Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screen grab

China’s lunar rover Yutu-2, or Jade Rabbit-2, is using its Lunar Penetrating Radar (LPR) to investigate the farside’s underground it roams.

A study conducted by a research team led by Li Chunlai and Su Yan at the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC) using that data reveals what lurks below the lunar surface.

Their work has been published in the latest issue of Science Advances.

China’s champion – long duration Yutu-2 rover.

Subsurface stratigraphy

The rover’s LPR sends radio signals deep into the surface of the Moon, reaching a depth of over 130 feet (40 meters) by the high-frequency channel of 500 megahertz (MHz). That penetrating capability is more than three times the depth previously reached by the Chang’e-3 lunar probe – Yutu-1 – that wheeled across the Moon at the end of 2013.


Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screen grab

As reported by China’s Xinhua news group this new data has allowed researchers to develop an image of the subsurface stratigraphy of the farside of the Moon.

“We found that the signal penetration at the Chang’e-4 site is much deeper than that measured by the LPR at the landing site of the Chang’e-3 probe on the near side of the Moon,” said Li Chunlai, a research professor and deputy director-general of NAOC.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screen grab

“The subsurface at the Chang’e-4 landing site is very complex, and this qualitative observation suggests a totally different geological context for the two landing sites,” Li said.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screen grab

Radar echo

Despite the good quality of the radar image along the rover route at a distance of about 348 feet (106 meters), “the complexity of the spatial distribution and shape of the radar features make identification and interpretation of the geological structures and events that generated such features quite difficult,” said Su Yan, also a researcher from the NAOC.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screen grab

“The first layer is a fine 12-meter soil layer below the surface. The second layer between 12 and 24 meters under the ground has a lot of stones and the strongest radar echo. It even forms a stone layer and stacks of loose stones. There are three gravel stacks. The third layer is 24-40 meters under the surface. Radar echo shows its dark and bright parts, so there are granules and scattered stones,” said Su in a China Central Television (CCTV) interview.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screen grab

The content is likely the result of a turbulent early solar system, when meteors and other space debris frequently struck the Moon. The impact site would eject material to other areas, creating a cratered surface atop a subsurface with varying layers, said Li in the CCTV interview.

Many layers

“We find the ejecta have many layers and each layer is different from each other. It may mean the place has lots of ejecta from impact sites, so history of meteorite impacts here is very complicated. It also shows the Moon was frequently struck by small celestial bodies, and debris will be ejected to bottom of the Von Kármán crater. The ejecta have recorded history of meteorite impact on the Moon,” Li said.

Von Kármán Crater as viewed by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University


As the Yutu-2 rover has walked about 985 feet (300 meters), Li said his team expects new discovery in the future.

“We hope it can walk out of the ejecta-covered area. If it can enter a basalt zone, maybe we can better understand distribution and structure of ejecta from meteorite impacts. The distance may be 1.8 kilometers. I think it may take another one year for the rover to walk out of the ejecta-covered area,” Li said.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured China’s Chang’e-4 farside lander/rover.
Image shows lander (near tip of left arrow) and rover (near tip of right arrow) nestled among craters on the floor of Von Kármán crater.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University




Tomographic technique

The scientists analyzed the radar image with tomographic technique, and the result shows that the subsurface is essentially made by highly porous granular materials embedding boulders of different sizes.

China’s Chang’e-4 mission – a lander/rover — made the first-ever soft landing on the eastern floor of the Von Kármán crater within the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the farside of the Moon on January 3, 2019.

Go to this CCTV video at:

Also, a similar video with different content at:



New research debunks the various conspiracy theories surrounding the 1967 death of Soyuz-1 cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, the first fatality of a spacefarer during a space mission.

An official Soyuz-1 “Onboard Journal” document has been translated and analyzed that contains information not previously available to researchers or the public, including details from the final hours of the Soyuz-1 flight, now  over 50 years ago. The 16-page document is signed by the shift directors of the Soviet equivalent of “mission control.”

Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov
Credit: Roscosmos



Auction catalog

In late 2018, the journal was discovered by Quest publisher Scott Sacknoff in a Heritage Auctions catalog of space exploration items dated May 11, 2018.

The catalog for that auction notes that the copy of the Onboard Journal (Transcript) for the ill-fated flight is from the Collection of General Nikolai Kamanin. A sixteen-page typescript in Russian, 8” x 11.25” in size, documents the April 23-24, 1967, voice transmissions between “Dawn” (ground control) and “Ruby” (cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov).

At the close of the last page is a handwritten notation by a KGB agent dated May 3, 1967. Its folder has “Soyuz 1” handwritten on the cover by Kamanin.

“The Soyuz 1 fight was a manned test of a new spacecraft and was plagued with technical issues. Many believe that Komarov knew he would perish during the  flight and went ahead anyway to protect his backup, which was Yuri Gagarin. It would be interesting to translate this official transcript and compare it to the transmissions picked up by U.S. Intelligence,” the catalog description notes. There was a starting bid of $350 for the document.

Conjecture and rumors

The forthcoming issue of Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly (Volume 27 #1) explores the recently uncovered document by noted Soviet space expert, Asif Siddiqi, a historian at Fordham University specializing in the history of science and technology.

Soyuz 1 crash site
Credit: Roscosmos

According to a Quest statement: “In April 1967, the Soviets launched Komarov on the very first mission of the Soyuz spacecraft. A day later, the cosmonaut died after his space capsule plummeted to Earth and crashed in Soviet Central Asia. As soon as Komarov’s death was announced, conjecture and rumors quickly filled the vacuum created by the lack of hard information. The most ubiquitous include: that he was “crying in rage” as his spaceship plummeted to Earth, angry at the engineers and designers who built a faulty capsule; that he directly talked to Chairman of the Council of Ministers Aleksei Kosygin, who broke into tears telling Komarov (over video!) that he was a hero; or that Komarov’s wife and children tearfully said their goodbyes before his demise. American intelligence agencies supposedly picked up all of these harried transmissions from tracking stations in Turkey. None of this, of course, was ever confirmed,” the Quest statement explains.

“Now with the official journal from the mission, the true and complete story can finally be told,” said Quest publisher, Scott Sacknoff.

Information about Quest can be found at:

Reporters/Media seeking additional information should contact Scott Sacknoff via email at or by phone at (202) 596-1812.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 268, February 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2688 tasks.

The rover is on the move, reports Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Over the last couple of weeks, the Curiosity science team engaged in a series of long debates about where we should go after we completed our analyses of the Hutton sample,” Fraeman notes. “Our first option was to drive downhill and rejoin the strategically planned route that skirts the base of the Greenheugh pediment. The second option was to head the other way and drive uphill onto the top of pediment capping unit.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 268, February 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Potentially passable route

Fraeman explains that Mars researchers had always planned to drive on top of the Greenheugh pediment at some point, “but the rover wouldn’t reach the access points identified from orbit for months, or possibly even years.”

While Curiosity was completing the drill campaign at Hutton, rover drivers working with surface properties scientists discovered a “potentially passable route” onto the top of the Greenheugh pediment that was accessible from our current location.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2686, February 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“So as a team we had to consider were the science benefits worth trying to drive onto the pediment now, or we should wait until later as originally planned? In the end, we decided the science rationale to ascend now were so compelling, it was worth going for it,” Fraeman points out.

Steep slopes

The focus of a recent plan is to execute the first of several drives that will take the robot to the top. Curiosity planners don’t expect to encounter slopes much greater than 25 degrees early on, Fraeman says, but subsequent drives will require the rover to ascend slopes of 30 degrees or more.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2686, February 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“We’ve never driven up slopes this steep with Curiosity before, and we don’t actually know if the rover will be able to make it all the way up and over,” Fraeman adds. “However, all of our analysis shows this attempt won’t put any unusual risk on the vehicle hardware, so there’s no reason we can’t try!”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2687, February 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Fraeman concludes: “Exploring Mars is always exciting, but for me, this has been a particularly fun and exciting time to be a part of the Curiosity science team. I love the feeling of exploring and venturing into the unknown. We don’t know if we’ll be able to make it onto the pediment capping unit here, but we know we’ll discover something completely new if we do reach the top.”


Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) closes in on the Intelsat 901 (IS-901) spacecraft.
Credit: Northrop Grumman

The first docking of the Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) to the Intelsat 901 (IS-901) spacecraft in order to provide life-extension services has been accomplished.

The February 25 event marks the first time two commercial satellites have docked in orbit and the first time that mission extension services will be offered to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit.

MEV-1 was launched Oct. 9, 2019 to dock with the Intelsat 901 satellite, a fully operational communication satellite that is running low on fuel.

The first time two commercial satellites have docked in orbit.
Credit: Northrop Grumman


What now?

The combined spacecraft stack will now perform on-orbit checkouts before MEV-1 begins relocating the combined vehicle to return IS-901 into service in late March.

MEV-1 will provide five years of life extension services to the IS-901 satellite before returning the spacecraft to a final decommissioning orbit. MEV-1 will then move on to provide mission extension services to a new client spacecraft.

Ground testing of docking technique.
Credit: Northrop Grumman/Space Logistics Services



Mechanical docking system

MEV-1 was designed and built at the Northrop Grumman’s Dulles, Virginia, facility and utilizes a low-risk mechanical docking system that attaches to existing features on the client satellite.

According to a Northrop Grumman statement, once docked, MEV takes over the attitude and orbit maintenance of the combined vehicle stack to meet the pointing and station keeping requirements of the customer.

MEV is designed for multiple docking and undockings and can deliver over 15 years of life extension services. The company is scheduled to launch its second Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-2, later this year, which is contracted to provide service to a different Intelsat satellite.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Right B Camera image acquired on Sol 2686, February 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2687 duties.

“We’re wrapping up our Hutton drill campaign literally at the tail end,” reports Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2686, February 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A recent plan focused on studying those drill “tailings” (gray material surrounding the drill hole with the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam), Mastcam, Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on February 24, 2020, Sol 2684.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Lunar gray

This phase of the drill campaign, Guzewich adds, helps compare the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite and the Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) laboratory analyses with the data from remote sensing instruments of the same material from the drill hole.

“It’s always interesting to see that Mars’ red color is sometimes literally only skin-deep and underneath can be much more of a lunar gray,” Guzewich points out.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 2685, February 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Additional observations

“We also packed in a few additional observations of some nearby rock targets,” Guzewich notes, “including an intriguing fin-like structure sticking out of the ground nearby called ‘Dunbartonshire.’”

The plan calls for looking at this feature also with MAHLI and APXS on the second night of a recently scripted 2-sol plan.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 2685, February 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



Lastly, on the plan is a dust devil movie. Curiosity has been unable to do much additional long-distance imaging work at its current location due to the cliff surrounding the robot on three sides blocking its view in most directions, Guzewich concludes.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 2685, February 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2686, February 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Rocky Mountain Star Stare (RMSS) is an annual star party sponsored by the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. Circle this year’s gathering: June 17 – 21, 2020.

Credit: Colorado Springs Astronomical Society

Located on 35 acres of land, RMSS’s “Starry Meadows” is conveniently located just over two hours southwest of Colorado Springs (outside of Gardner, CO), between the Sangre de Cristo and Wet mountain ranges, at an altitude of 7,600 feet above sea level.

Credit: RMSS


RMSS annually plays host to 300+ amateur and professional astronomers, family and friends.


This year, I am very pleased to take part as a speaker to highlight my latest book, Moon Rush – The New Space Race.


I’ll be joining these distinguished speakers:

Harrison Schmitt walked on the Moon in December 1972 as the Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 17. One of the twelve Moon-walkers, he is the last person to step on the Moon and the only scientist-astronaut to do so.

Timothy Cichan is the Space Exploration Architect at Lockheed Martin, where he leads a multi-disciplinary team of engineers who figure out how to help astronauts and robots visit the Moon, asteroids, and Mars.

Victoria Hamilton of the Southwest Research Institute is a planetary geologist interested in the mineralogy and histories of planetary bodies. She is a co-Investigator on the NASA OSIRIS-REx and Lucy missions.

For more information on this year’s Rocky Mountain Star Stare (RMSS), go to:

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2684, February 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2685 tasks.

Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University, Milton Keynes, U.K., reports that Mars scientists are still in the middle of the Hutton drill campaign.

“This gives us lots of things to do, but power constraints restrict what we can achieve each planning. But, we’ll get this all done, we just need to be patient,” Schwenzer adds.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2684, February 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Portioning and dumping

A recent focus of planning was to progress with the drill activities, mainly dealing with the remainder of the portioning and then dumping the samples and getting the robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) overnight on it. “There was a lot of discussion how to play that ‘power tetris’ once again,” Schwenzer notes.

First, arm movements were required to carry out further portioning of the sample, and then dump the sample. Mastcam, APXS and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) were tasked to document the chemistry and textures of the dump pile.

Dump pile. Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2684, February 24, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Document the buttes

Documenting the area far and near is one of the priorities for Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam. Planning also involved two Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope mosaics to document the buttes around the rover, named “South Esk 2” and “Glenrothes 2,” and there is a further RMI mosaic, named “Moray Firth.”

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope photo taken on Sol 2684, February 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“The latter is especially looking at the capping material of the butte – and the contact to the underlying rocks,” Schwenzer explains. “All those images will serve to investigate the sedimentary features of the area and understand if wind or water reformed these rocks. With the opportunity to image the buttes from three dimensions, there is great opportunity to get behind all the details.”

Sedimentary structures

Schwenzer reports that Mastcam is joining the imaging campaign, with one single frame stereo image to join previous mosaics, and two mosaics: a 9×1 of the target “Craiglaw Point,” which is to document the sedimentary structures at this location.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope photo taken on Sol 2684, February 23, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL


Mastcam is also joining the RMI sedimentology campaign with a 3×1 of the target “Morav Firth.” There are also images to document the ChemCam activities.

“ChemCam is busy documenting the chemistry in the area of the Hutton drill hole as there is a lot of diversity in the rocks,” Schwenzer adds. The targets in the new plan will investigate three targets: “Glen Rosa,” “Glen Quaich” and “Glen Shira.”

Lastly, Curiosity’s Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) and Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS are also busy doing their regular measurements.

“A lot to do, even for a three-sol [Sol 2683-2685] plan,” Schwenzer concludes.

Eight Years to the Moon – The History of the Apollo Missions by Nancy Atkinson, Page Street Publishing Company; July 2019; Hardback; 240 pages, $35.00

There was a literary landslide of books tied to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

But author Nancy Atkinson has written a truly impressive, behind-the-scenes look at the epic adventure that was Project Apollo. As a space journalist, she burned up significant shoe leather talking with the men and women who made the triumph of landing the first humans on the Moon a reality. The volume includes 30 new interviews and contains over 100 full-color photographs and scads of black and white images, many of them I’ve never seen before.

As the title suggests, the chapters of this large format book run from 1961 to 1969, with the final chapter dedicated to Apollo 11, followed by an epilogue detailing Apollo 12-17.

Atkinson writes that each of the missions leading up to Apollo 11 had their own unique characteristics: “the successes and accomplishments, the problems in preparations, all the step-by-step processes that needed to be learned and mastered in simulations, the personalities of the crew and everyone involved. And the quick sequence of missions – five within nine months – meant there wasn’t time to bask in any successes. Instead, there was urgency and intensity.”

The author’s impeccable research exposed an Apollo 11 anomaly. The details and documentation about this glitch were lost for nearly fifty years. You’ll have to read the book for details!

As noted in Apollo 9’s Russell “Rusty” Schweickart’s foreword in the book – “Apollo 50th Anniversary and the Cosmic Perspective” – it took over 400,000 people to make it possible to get to the Moon.

“While the stories in Eight Years to the Moon are just a sampling of the 400,000 stories that are out there, this sampling comes at a deeper level that has not generally been heard, and provides an intuitive view of those who worked on the myriad bits and pieces of Apollo,” Schweickart writes.

There are insights from dozens of Apollo experts in the book that offer fresh accounts of doing things that had never been done before that led to the conquering Apollo 11 mission.

This is an outstanding and well-written book that is a must-have for any person trying to fully appreciate the incredible project Apollo endeavor.