Archive for July, 2021

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image acquired on Sol 3193, July 30, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 3194 tasks.

“Curiosity is continuing to climb through an area where orbital data show the layers of Mount Sharp are transitioning from clay-bearing to sulfate-bearing,” reports Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “I continue to be dazzled by the textures we’re seeing, especially the prevalence of centimeter sized bumps and lumps poking out of the bedrock.”

Fraeman notes that the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) has captured a particularly whimsical image of an interesting rock texture. The whole field of view is about 16.5 cm across, so this is a very tiny feature!

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 3190, July 27, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Scenic terrain

A recently scripted plan for sols 3192 and 3193 include contact science, remote sensing, and driving.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3193, July 30, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity was set to observe a nodular bedrock target named “Champeaux” with its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) first thing in the morning on sol 3192.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3193, July 30, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Then the plan scripts capturing Mastcam and ChemCam RMI mosaics of some of the scenic terrain surrounding Curiosity, a ChemCam Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) observation of “Manaurie,” and additional Mastcam images of surrounding outcrops.

Strategic route

“After wrapping up science at this site, we’ll drive along our strategic route up Mount Sharp and spend the second sol [3193] of the plan collecting observations that monitor the environment,” Fraeman says.

Also on tap is acquiring a ChemCam autonomously selected Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) observation.

Complex terrain of rocks, impact craters and sand dunes.
Credit: CNSA

China’s Zhurong Mars rover has been operating on the Martian surface for 75 Martian days and has traveled over 2,322 feet (708 meters) within the Red Planet’s Utopia Planitia.

The robot has begun traversing “complex terrain” the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said on Friday. Rocks, impact craters and sand dunes characterize that exploration site.

The rover has completed a survey of a second sand dune and is wheeling southward. Zhurong arrived in the complex terrain area earlier this week, said the center.

China’s Zhurong Mars rover.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Terrain images

According to China Central Television (CCTV), ground operators will make visual positioning and movement path planning for the rover based on navigation terrain images they obtain every day, so as to ensure the rover’s safety in the area.

When Zhurong meets a target of interest, scientific payloads onboard the rover — such as the surface composition detector and multispectral camera — will carry out tasks. During the journey, the rover’s subsurface radar, meteorological measurement instrument, and subsurface detection radar will also be turned on for detection.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Data processing

China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft, consisting of the orbiter and the rover as well as a lander, was launched on July 23, 2020. The lander carrying the rover touched down in the southern part of Utopia Planitia, a vast plain in the northern hemisphere of Mars, on May 15.

Zhurong drove down from its landing platform to the Martian surface on May 22, making China the second country after the United States to land and successfully operate a rover on Mars.

A newly issued CCTV video details the transmission and processing of data from Mars via China’s Tianwen-1 Mars probe mission.

Go to:

The United States government and commercial spaceflight providers have no plans in place to conduct a timely rescue of a crew from a distressed spacecraft in low Earth orbit, or anywhere else in space.

Without rescue plans in place, today’s space travelers will journey at their own risk.

The present posture, of not planning for in-space rescue and not having responsive in-space rescue capabilities, needs to be addressed before the need for a rescue materializes. The U. S. has the wherewithal to establish space rescue capabilities and to do so with a sense of urgency.

A new report — The In-space Rescue Capability Gap — seeks to raise awareness of the need to revisit space rescue policies and put in place measures to address this issue.

Author of the report, Grant Cates, is a senior project leader for The Aerospace Corporation’s Space Architecture Department.

USS Squalus and Diving Bell by John Groth/
Naval History and Heritage Command

Historical analogs

Issued by the corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy and the organization’s Space Safety Institute, Cates uses historical analogs, such as the ancient maritime explorers that embarked upon epic journeys with multiple ships, effective submarine rescue operations, and the rich history of human spaceflight.

Potential solutions to improve safety during space travel are identified and policy options are discussed in the paper.

The paper offers a series of conclusions:

  • The United States has no present capability or policy for conducting in-space rescues. This despite:
  • Having studied space escape and rescue systems since 1959.
  • Having demonstrated a self-rescue capability during the aborted Apollo 13 mission.
  • Having put in place rescue capabilities for the Skylab mission.
  • Experiencing the hard-learned revelation of the importance of in-space rescue options after the loss of space shuttle Columbia and her 7-person crew.

Columbia catastrophe

On February 1, 2003, Columbia broke up as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere, killing all onboard, with NASA suspending shuttle mission for more than two years as it looked into causes of the catastrophe.

Credit: NASA

Indeed, the report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board concluded that if NASA had recognized the damage at the beginning of the mission, then a rescue by using the next space shuttle due for launch, Atlantis, would have been feasible.

That rescue would have entailed maneuvering Atlantis next to Columbia and then transferring the crewmembers via individual spacewalks. “This rescue was considered challenging but feasible,” as noted in the Columbia Accident Investigation board report volume 1.

First step

“A space rescue capability is likely to be highly synergistic with the long-sought-after capability of having responsive launch capability,” Cates writes. “Perhaps a good first step to achieve both would be for the U.S. Congress to establish a policy such as: “It should be the policy of the United States to develop and put in place rapid launch-on-need capability to support: timely rescue of astronauts in cis-lunar space; rapid reconstitution of nationally important space assets; and the ability to put in place new space capabilities in response to emerging threats in near real time.”

Credit: dearMoon

Imagine the public outcry, Cates adds, that could arise if an Inspiration4, Axiom, dearMoon or a similar mission were stranded in low Earth orbit or cislunar space by a disabled spacecraft.

Inspiration4 is the world’s first all-civilian mission to orbit. The mission will be commanded by Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old founder and Chief Executive Officer of Shift4 Payments and an accomplished pilot and adventurer.

Axiom’s four-person Ax-1 crew is to fly to the International Space Station.

The dearMoon project is a lunar tourism mission and art project conceived and financed by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.

To read the full report — The In-space Rescue Capability Gap – go to:

After lifting off from the lunar surface, the Apollo 11 ascent stage docked with the Columbia command module, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin rejoining Mike Collins. The ascent stage was then jettisoned in lunar orbit.
Credit: NASA

New research points to the prospect that the historic Apollo 11 “Eagle” Lunar Module ascent stage may still be orbiting the Moon.

James Meador has published his numerical analysis and simulations in the Planetary and Space Science journal, work that “provides evidence that this object might have remained in lunar orbit to the present day.”

Meador notes that the lunar modules were designed for 10-day missions, and little consideration was given to long-term reliability. “For this reason, fuel leaks might have resulted in propulsive events or even complete destruction at any time after the craft was jettisoned. Although catastrophic outcomes are possible, there exists some possibility that this machine might have reached an inert state, allowing it to remain in orbit to the present day. If so, it should be detectable by radar,” he writes.

Wanted: radar scans

A rough analysis indicates that the historic Eagle ascent stage that boosted Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin off the Moon would be more than 78 miles (125 kilometers) above the lunar surface in about 25% of limb crossings.

“If one assumes radar is able to detect objects at this altitude, then four judiciously chosen 2-hour observation periods should provide sufficient coverage to possibly relocate one of the most important artifacts in the history of space exploration,” Meador writes.

To access the complete paper – “Long-term orbit stability of the Apollo 11 “Eagle” Lunar Module Ascent Stage” – go to:

Note: Special thanks to skywatcher John Williams for calling my attention to this interesting research.





20th century French depiction of ball lightning flying through a window.
Credit: Louis Poyet/Wikimedia, Public Domain


Significant attention is now being given to Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP), recently bolstered by the Galileo Project, led by Harvard scientist Avi Loeb.

An upshot of such research is that UAP studies may foster the discovery of — or better scientific explanations for — potential new natural atmospheric phenomena.

For example, ball lightning is on the baffling phenomenon list, described as luminescent, spherical objects that vary from pea-sized to several meters in diameter. While ball lightning has been reported for centuries, this phenomenon has not been consistently observed by scientific instruments.

Eyewitness accounts

Enter a new website hosted by New Mexico Tech physicist Richard Sonnenfeld and Texas State University engineer Karl Stephan. Their goal is to collect eyewitness accounts to improve the basic understanding of the phenomenon. Reported accounts will be compared to weather radar systems to characterize the factors that may well trigger ball lightning.

Texas State University engineer Karl Stephan.

Stephan has conducted investigations of naturally occurring luminous spheroids, which include various phenomena such as ball lightning, even “earthquake lights.”  Several of the researcher’s publications deal with laboratory phenomena that replicate or clarify various reported properties of ball lightning, including its degree of apparent opacity, its motion under the effects of a net charge, and its persistent glow.


Credit: Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies (SCU)


Sensor systems

“Ball lightning was an unexplained aerial phenomenon long before anyone heard of UFOs,” Stephan told Inside Outer Space. “There have been recent calls for increased scientific investigation of UAPs using all-sky cameras and sensor networks to acquire data in an organized way that would allow a systematic analysis of sighted objects.”

Stephan says the same kinds of sensor systems that would look for UAPs would also be useful for observing ball lightning, and similar kinds of data processing would be needed to filter out the explainable data (e. g. airplanes, balloons, meteorites, etc.) in order to focus on what you are looking for.

“I think a serious observational and experimental effort to explain ball lightning would take us far in the direction of explaining UAPs, with the advantage that we already have a rudimentary understanding of ball lightning, such as its association with thunderstorms,” Stephan adds.

“Perhaps if UAP research moves from the shadows of fringe science into the mainstream,” Stephan says, “the same thing can happen to ball lightning research, as similar methods are needed for both.”

Credit: DOD/U.S. Navy/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Precise position and time information

Have You Seen Ball Lightning? If so, Sonnenfeld and Stephan are eager to hear from you.

That information would allow the scientists to answer the following questions:

1) How frequently ball lightning associated with natural lightning?

2) In cases where it is associated, how nearby does the lightning need to be?

3) Is there anything special (e.g. polarity, max current, structure, multiplicity, continuing currents) about the natural lightning or thunderstorm that is associated with ball lightning production.

Other elements of those filing reports are also of interest. In particular:

— What does the formation and destruction of the ball look like?

— Is the path consistent with hot buoyant gasses? 

— Is the path consistent with a charged object inducing charge in other objects and tending to trace surfaces?

— How does the ball pass through windows?  Does it ever pass through electrical conductors?

As their website explains, despite thousands of published reports of ball lightning and a scientific literature comparable in volume to the literature on conventional lightning, researchers still have no idea of what mechanisms create or power ball lightning. “Our hope with this site is to get reports that contain precise position and time information regarding ball lightning.”


Go to this website to file a ball lightning report at:

Also, check out this article from the American Geophysical Union’s “Have You Seen Ball Lightning? Scientists Want to Know About It” at:

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Left B Camera image taken Sol 3190, July 27, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale crater is now performing Sol 3191 tasks.

Reports Michelle Minitti, a planetary geologist at Framework in Silver Spring, Maryland: “Our weekend drive completed successfully, landing us north of a roughly 15 meter [49 feet) tall butte that we had imaged the east side of over the weekend. The new parking position gave us a new angle on the butte. Seeing structures from multiple angles helps geologists unravel the story of their formation by revealing their layers in three dimensions.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Right images acquired on Sol 3188, July 25, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Butte imagery

A newly scripted plan offered a challenge; the large Mastcam mosaic scientists wanted to acquire of the butte was best taken early in the day, before the butte began to cover itself in its own shadow, and this window of time overlapped the best time to acquire Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) data before a drive.

“Rather than having to pit APXS against Mastcam, we were allowed to try something relatively unusual,” Minitti adds. Typically, when researchers analyze a target with APXS before a drive, they acquire Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) images of the same target immediately after APXS is done.

“Today, we broke up APXS and MAHLI, putting the desired Mastcam imaging and other remote science observations after APXS. MAHLI was then scheduled after the remote observations, but before the drive,” Minitti points out. “This allowed all the observations to occur at times that would benefit them – wins all around!”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Left B Camera image taken Sol 3190, July 27, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Bedrock chemistry

APXS and MAHLI were to analyze a patch of relatively smooth bedrock, “Fressignas,” to systematically record bedrock chemistry as the rover climbs up Mount Sharp.

“In addition to the large butte mosaic, Mastcam acquired a small mosaic of a bedrock slab right of the rover, dubbed “Creysse,” which exhibited a combination of lineations and resistant features that added to the variety of textures we have seen over the last several weeks,” Minitti notes.

Resistant nodules

The robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) acquired a small Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) mosaic of yet another wonderful structure, “Mescoules,” a delicate arch of rock that appeared to be made of a concentration of the resistant nodules so common in the local bedrock.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 3190, July 27, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“ChemCam will analyze the chemistry of a linear horizon of resistant nodules at the target “Loubejac” to continue our investigation of what makes these nodules stand out from the bedrock that hosts them,” Minitti explains.

After a drive that we hope will be extended in distance by Curiosity’s autonomous navigation capabilities, ChemCam will acquire chemistry from an autonomously-selected target, and scientists will turn their attention to the atmosphere.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3190, July 27, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Pulse of Gale crater

“APXS will acquire a measurement of argon in the Mars atmosphere, Navcam and Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and Navcam will shoot a movie in search of dust devils,” Minitti adds.

These dedicated atmospheric observations take place over a background of regular Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) measurements that keep their finger on the pulse of the Gale crater environment,” Minitti concludes.

Curiosity’s location on Sol 3185. Distance driven to date is 16.06 miles (25.85 kilometers)
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 3188 tasks.

Ken Herkenhoff, a planetary geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, reports that a Sol 3185 drive went well.

The robot is now near a low, linear ridge. “This ridge attracted the attention of the tactical science team so several observations of it are included in a 3-sol weekend plan,” Herkenhoff adds.

Following a Sol 3185 drive, the rover is near a low, linear ridge shown in the lower left part of image acquired by Curiosity’s Left Navigation Camera Sol 3185 July 22, 2021
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Weekend science

This weekend plan was slated to start with a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) raster on a dark, rough target named “Chalagnac” and a Mastcam 5×2 stereo mosaic of the area surrounding Chalagnac.

Mastcam was set to also take a 5×1 stereo mosaic of a nearby trough before arm activities begin.

The DRT will be used to brush dust off a bedrock target dubbed “Chauffour” and ChemCam’s Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) will be used to take pictures of the drill bit to look for changes.

Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 3187, July 24, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Herkenhoff points out that the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) was to then take full suites of images of Chauffour and a nearby darker target called “Le Manet,” then the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) was to be placed on Le Manet for an evening integration and on Chauffour for a longer overnight integration.

“The resulting data should be useful in measuring differences in the chemical composition of these targets,” Herkenhoff says.

Curiosity Front Left B Hazard Avoidance Camera image acquired on Sol 3187, July 24, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Planned drive toward the southwest

On the second sol (3188), the plan called for Mastcam acquire a big stereo mosaic of a butte to the west of the rover, then ChemCam will fire its laser at a bedrock target named “Campsegret” and acquire a 10×1 RMI mosaic of layering exposed in a cliff face toward the south.

“Mastcam will then take a documentation image of the Campsegret laser spots, a multispectral observation of the Chauffour brushed spot, and measure the dust in the atmosphere above the rover by imaging the Sun,” Herkenhoff notes. “Navcam will then search for dust devils and clouds and measure the dust opacity within Gale Crater. A drive toward the southwest is then planned, followed by the standard post-drive imaging of the terrain surrounding new rover location.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3187, July 24, 2021.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dust in the atmosphere

The third sol (3189) begins with a ChemCam LIBS observation of an autonomously-selected target and a Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) maintenance activity.

Later that afternoon, Mastcam will acquire a 13×2 stereo mosaic of a butte toward the southeast of the expected post-drive location and Navcam will survey the sky.

“Early in the morning of Sol 3190, Navcam will again search for clouds and Mastcam will again measure the dust in the atmosphere above the rover and across Gale Crater,” Herkenhoff concludes. “Another busy weekend for our intrepid explorer!”

Apollo Over the Moon in Perspective by Ronald A. Wells (Author), Harrison H. Schmitt (Author), Robert Godwin (Series Editor); CG Publishing/Apogee Books; 230 pages; Soft cover: $29.95

This multi-faceted volume provides exquisite detail and unique looks of the Moon as seen through the Apollo “J” missions – the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 Moon landing sojourns designed for longer stays on Earth’s celestial neighbor, including the first time humans drove a rover across the lunar surface.

As a sequel to his book “Apollo on the Moon in Perspective,” author Ron Wells uses cutting-edge photogrammetry techniques, providing the reader astounding views of some of the most distinctive features of the Moon seen from angles never before possible.

One of the model views from the book looking east across the Hadley Rille area, the landing site of Apollo 15. (Copyright by Apogee Books, 2021; Courtesy of Apogee Books (used with permission).

This book includes a multitude of 3D anaglyphs created painstakingly by the author including features from the lunar far side. 3D anaglyph glasses are provided.

This glossy book also includes a revealing DVD that includes flybys over many of the lunar features derived from 3D models. There are digital terrain model flybys of 40 lunar locations and a brand new unique movie. It is narrated by Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt, describing his flight over the Taurus Littrow valley, the site where he would spend three days as the only scientist to walk on the Moon.

This extraordinary volume is dedicated “to the unsung heroes of the Apollo lunar landing missions,” the Command Module Pilots:

Mike Collins, Dick Gordon, Stu Roosa, Al Worden, Ken Mattingly and Ron Evans.

“While their colleagues were exploring the lunar surface, they maintained their lone vigils in orbit, making scientific observations and imaging the Moon in unprecedented detail while waiting for the moonwalkers to return.”

As Schmitt writes in the book’s foreword, underscoring the tenacity of Wells to produce this matchless work, the volume “represents the latest culmination of his never ending search for new knowledge and the means to draw you into that quest with him. Working with him on the last chapter of this book, ‘Colors Across the Moon,’ was both a pleasure and a stimulation of new thoughts about volcanism on the Moon as well as about the evolution of that small planet.”

For more information on this book, go to:

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA


Look for a major reveal regarding the search for technological signatures from extraterrestrial civilizations.

To be showcased Monday, the multi-prong Galileo Project also may foster the discovery of — or better scientific explanations for potential new natural atmospheric phenomena, or in some instances terrestrial technology explanations for many of the presently inexplicable Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAPs).

One aspect of searching for UAP is with a network of mid-sized, high-resolution telescopes and detector arrays with suitable cameras and computer systems, distributed in select locations. The data will be open to the public and the scientific analysis will be transparent.

GIMBAL/“Tic Tac”
Credit: DOD/U.S. Navy/Inside Outer Space screengrab


The Galileo Project follows three major avenues of research:

1) Obtain high-resolution, multi-detector UAP images, discover their nature;

2) Search for and carry out in-depth research on “Oumuamua-like” interstellar objects; and

3) Search for potential satellites from extraterrestrial technological civilizations that may be exploring Earth.





International research team

The Galileo Project: “Daring to Look Through New Telescopes” is headed by Avi Loeb of the Harvard Astronomy Department.
Credit; Harvard University

The Galileo Project: “Daring to Look Through New Telescopes” is headed by Avi Loeb of the Harvard Astronomy Department. Loeb is leading an 11-person international research team that includes university astronomers, computer and chemistry experts and research scholars. The effort also includes scientific and philanthropic advisory boards.

According to a fact sheet, the goal of the Galileo Project is to bring the search for extraterrestrial technological signatures of extraterrestrial technological civilizations “from accidental or anecdotal observations and legends to the mainstream of transparent, validated and systematic scientific research.”

As a ground-based project, the new initiative is complementary to traditional SETI, “in that it searches for physical objects, and not electromagnetic signals, associated with extraterrestrial technological equipment.”

This very deep combined image shows the interstellar asteroid ‘Oumuamua at the center of the picture. It is surrounded by the trails of faint stars that are smeared as the telescopes tracked the moving asteroid. This image was created by combining multiple images from ESO’s Very Large Telescope as well as the Gemini South Telescope. The object is marked with a blue circle and appears to be a point source, with no surrounding dust.

Sufficiently anomalous

The existing data on UAP and that interstellar interloper “Oumuamua” are sufficiently anomalous to motivate the collection of additional data on UAP or Oumuamua-like objects “and to test whether such objects may be astro-archeological artifacts or active technological equipment produced by one or more putative, existing or extinct extraterrestrial technological civilizations.

Loeb told Inside Outer Space that the project is based on donations that he had received into my research funds at Harvard with a current total of 1.755 million dollars. “To get all the most ambitious science goals done, we need ten times that level of funding.”

Press conference details

The press conference on Monday, July 26, 2021 at 12 noon EDT, will announce the Galileo Project and its goals.

Below are the links where livestream will be available.

YouTube link:

Facebook event link:

For more information on the Galileo Project for the systematic scientific search for evidence of extraterrestrial technological artifacts, go to:

Blue Origin’s first human flight crew celebrate at the landing pad with the New Shepard booster. (July 20, 2021)
Credit: Blue Origin



The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has provided guidelines, eligibility, and criteria for the administration of the FAA Commercial Space Astronaut Wings Program.

Wally Funk receives her astronaut wings from Former NASA Astronaut Jeff Ashby. (July 20, 2021)
Credit: Blue Origin

Credit: Blue Origin

“In order to maintain the prestige of Commercial Space Astronaut Wings, the FAA may further refine the eligibility requirements at any time as it deems appropriate.”





































To read the full document, go to: