Archive for October, 2022

The late Frank Drake with cosmic equation to gauge the presence of intelligent life in the cosmos. The Drake Equation identifies specific factors believed to play a role in the development of civilizations in our galaxy.
Credit: SETI Institute


A look into interstellar expansion through the framework of the Drake equation suggests that a “low-mass Galactic Club” remains a possibility for our galaxy.

Researchers have tackled a key question: If the galaxy is teeming with intelligent life, then where is everybody? It’s a question often described as the Fermi paradox, one that was asked by nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi.

The Fermi paradox typically assumes that expansion would proceed uniformly through the galaxy, but not all stellar types may be equally useful for a long-lived civilization.

Source: NASA Exoplanet and Exploration Program

Pondering this paradox is a new research paper – “Galactic settlement of low-mass stars as a resolution to the Fermi paradox” – authored by Jacob Haqq-Misral of Blue Marble Space Institute of Science and Thomas J. Fauchez of American University.

Migration locations

“We suggest that low-mass stars, and K-dwarf stars in particular, would be ideal migration locations for civilizations that originate in a G-dwarf system,” the study team explains. “The search for technosignatures in exoplanetary systems can help to place constraints on the presence of such a ‘low-mass Galactic Club’ in the galaxy today.”

Such a low-mass Galactic Club, originating from a parent G-dwarf system, the researchers note, would have had plenty of time to develop in the history of the galaxy without us taking any notice of its activities.

Extraterrestrial sociology

Haqq-Misral and Fauchez point out that there’s need to grapple with the unknown characteristics of extraterrestrial sociology. “We do not know if extraterrestrial civilization exists, and if it does, we have no knowledge of their motives.”

While it is possible that long-lived technological civilizations do not expand, it also remains possible that such civilizations pursue galactic settlement in order to ensure their longevity, they suggest. An expanding civilization will preferentially settle on low-mass K- or M-dwarf systems, avoiding higher-mass stars, in order to maximize their longevity in the galaxy, the study team adds.

Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA, CC BY

“Extraterrestrial expansion through the galaxy remains viable. We can exclude scenarios in which all G-dwarf stars would have been settled by now, but the possibility remains open that a Galactic Club exists across all K-dwarf or M-dwarf stars,” the researchers state. “The search for technosignatures in low-mass systems provides one way to constrain the presence of such a Galactic Club.”

Ideal targets

On one hand, K-dwarf systems may be ideal targets to search for biosignatures and technosignatures, however, such planets can be difficult to detect.

“Further research into understanding the breadth of possibilities for detecting extraterrestrial technology will become increasingly important as observing facilities become more adept at characterizing terrestrial planets in low-mass exoplanetary systems,” they conclude.

To read the full paper – “Galactic settlement of low-mass stars as a resolution to the Fermi paradox” – go to:

Credit: ThinkOrbital


As the dawning of private space stations looms large on the horizon, new visions about designs of orbiting facilities are growing.

One innovative look at creating habitable space comes from ThinkOrbital, based in Lafayette, Colorado. The spherical Orb2 provides a large volume, protected from orbital debris and thermal effects – habitation for astronaut missions and tourism.

Credit: ThinkOrbital

Turn up the volume

According to the firm’s website, they are exploring the possibility of delivering a platform with 4,000 cubic meters of internal volume in a single-launch configuration.

“That is four times the volume of the International Space Station in a single launch, thanks to developments in super heavy launch and autonomous on-orbit assembly capabilities,” explains Jim MacConnell, Chief Technology Officer at ThinkOrbital.

Credit: ThinkOrbital

Swiss knife assembly

“Our ThinkPlatforms are based on mature technologies available today, configured for single-launch, autonomous assembly in-orbit, re-imagining opportunities for satellite servicing, space debris processing, in-space manufacturing, on-orbit storage, refueling, space tourism and research,” the group’s website explains.

For in-space construction, walking robotic arms would be utilized. A combination of the robotic arm and an electron beam welding gun creates a Swiss knife of universal space assembly.

ThinkOrbital explains that electron beam welding has been successfully tested in space. “It is arguably the best welding method, with highest strength of welds and the smallest heat affected zone. It can weld 30 centimeters of steel in a single pass, with energy efficiency over 90%.”

Credit: ThinkOrbital

Scalable space structure

ThinkOrbital is focused on large, scalable and cost-efficient space structure for the “New Space economy.”

Offering the pressurizable 300 cubic meter ThinkPlatform-1 (a volume that is made by a cube that is one meter on each side), it can be attached to an existing space station. Possible use: Storage, fuel depot, entertainment.

To review the plans of ThinkOrbital, go to:

Credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


China’s Mengtian Laboratory Module is on the launch pad, being readied for a reported liftoff of October 31st.

The Long March-5B Y4 launch vehicle topped by the new space lab has been transported on October 25th to the launch pad at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site Hainan Province, China.

Both rocket and payload now enter a preparation phrase for its near-future launch.

The Mengtian Laboratory Module (“Dreaming of Heavens”) is the second module to be put in place that will expand the country’s space station.

Next up! China’s Mengtian lab for the country’s space station.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Operation window

“We have hammered out details and carried out relevant tests regarding its moves at every stage. Separate tests for its control system, power system and measuring system, as well as an overall test for all working systems have been done. (The rocket is) now in good condition,” Yu Ziwen, commander in chief of the Long March-5B carrier rocket’s power system under the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, told China Central Television (CCTV).

“To satisfy the working needs for Mengtian and the carrier rocket at the launching area, we have specially designed an operation window on the payload fairing,” said Liu Bing, deputy director designer of the Long March-5B carrier rocket.

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

To ensure wireless communication on its way up, a window designated for wave transmitting was also added, Liu added. “In the meantime, an elaborative evaluation was also carried out after we planned its orbit to enable a successful entry,” he told CCTV.

There have been voiced concerns regarding the Long March-5B’s core stage that, in the past, has fallen back to Earth in an uncontrolled manner – causing consternation as to where and when the discarded stage would makes its plunge.

In the future, this same booster will hurl Xuntian, the Chinese space station telescope.

Station complete is set for year’s end.
Credit: CNAS/CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space screengrab

T-shaped station

The soon-to-be-lofted module is loaded with scientific equipment to study microgravity and carrying out experiments in fluid physics, materials science, combustion science and fundamental physics.

If successfully launched, Mengtian will join its sister module Wentian, that was launched and successfully docked with the space station in July.

Mengtian will form the final section of the T-shape structure of China’s Tiangong space station.

The three-member crew of the Shenzhou-14 mission, now stationed onboard the space station, will later be joined by three more astronauts in the coming months. The goal is to complete construction of China’s space station by year’s end.

Go to these videos about the rollout of the Chinese booster at:

Credit: NASA

As robots wheel across the Red Planet and future human footprints are implanted there, ancient bacteria may well lurk beneath Mars’ surface.

A new study finds the chances of uncovering life on Mars are better than previously expected.

Michael Daly from the Bethesda, Maryland-based School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and colleagues, sought to better understand the impact of the martian surface, inundated with ionizing radiation — on microbial dormancy and survivability.

Credit: Astrobiology

The study results are published today in the peer-reviewed journal Astrobiology.

Conan the bacterium

Researchers mimicked the conditions on Mars and tested the influence of desiccation and freezing on the ionizing radiation survival of six model microorganisms: vegetative cells of two bacteria, a strain of yeast, and vegetative cells and endospores of three Bacillus bacteria.

They found that the hearty bacterium — D. radiodurans — could survive 280 million years if buried. Indeed, if life ever evolved on Mars, then its living remains could still be dormant in the deep subsurface.

D. radiodurans is affectionately known as “Conan the Bacterium.”

D. radiodurans (affectionately known as “Conan the Bacterium”) is particularly well-suited to surviving Mars’ harsh environment.
Credit: Michael Daly, et al.

Surviving radiation

“We report that desiccated and frozen cells of the bacterium D. radiodurans can survive astonishing ionizing radiation,” stated the investigators, “exposures equivalent to hundreds of millions of years of background radiation on Mars.”

The new findings, “Effects of desiccation and freezing on microbial ionizing radiation survivability: Considerations for Mars sample-return,” was supported by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the National Institutes of Health.

This new work comes at a time when NASA’s Mars return sample to Earth project is jelling. It becomes important to protect Earth from potential extraterrestrial sources of contamination. Likewise, it is critical to avoid mistaking Earth life for indigenous life hauled back from Mars.

Newly revised Mars Sample Return campaign makes use of a set of machines, including use of helicopters, to collect Martian soil, rock and atmospheric specimens for return to Earth.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Comprehensive look

John Rummel, an Astrobiology Editorial Board Member, noted that “the work put forward by Michael Daly and his colleagues represents a comprehensive look at the interactions between desiccation, freezing, and radiation survivability in one of our most tenacious microbes, Deinococcus radiodurans,” he said in an Astrobiology statement.

Even if viable lifeforms are not now present on Mars, given that whole viable D. radiodurans cells can survive the equivalent of 280 million years in the frozen martian subsurface, then their macromolecules would survive much, much longer.

“This strengthens the probability that, if life ever evolved on Mars, this will be revealed in future missions,” the investigators concluded.

Rummel added that the potential for D. radiodurans or other Earth microbes to survive present-day conditions on Mars “draws attention to the need for a complex analysis regarding the very real possibility of Earth microbes contaminating specific landing sites on Mars, and even some of them—as qualified martian survivors—showing up in our studies after a ride home to Earth in a sample returned from Mars.”

Mars Life Explorer – a general engineering model for MLE with solar panels, drill, and science payload on lander deck.
Courtesy: Amy Williams


Deep drilling

The research team, including Northwestern University’s Brian Hoffman and Ajay Sharma, reported that ancient bacteria could survive close to the surface on Mars much longer than previously assumed. And — when the bacteria are buried and, thus, shielded from galactic cosmic radiation and solar protons — they can survive much longer.

Any biological remains of life could be revealed in future missions, such as the European Space Agency’s ExoMars (Rosalind Franklin rover) and the projected Mars Life Explorer, which will carry drills to extract materials from 6.5 feet (2 meters) below the surface.

“Importantly, these findings have biodefense implications, too, because the threat of biological agents, such as Anthrax, remains a concern to military and homeland defense,” said study leader, Daly, in the university statement.

Back contamination

According to Hoffman, senior co-author of the first-of-its-kind study: “We concluded that terrestrial contamination on Mars would essentially be permanent…over time frames of thousands of years.” This may well complicate scientific efforts to search for Mars life, he said.

Signs of ancient life on Mars could be preserved in layered rocks like those shown in this illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover in Jezero crater.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Likewise, if microbes evolved on Mars, they could be capable of surviving until present day. That means returning Mars samples could contaminate Earth,” said Hoffman.

Although Conan the Bacterium could only survive for a few hours at the surface while bathed in ultraviolet light, its lifetime improves dramatically when it is shaded or located directly below Mars’ surface.

According to the university statement, buried just 10 centimeters below the Martian surface, “Conan the Bacterium’s survival period increases to 1.5 million years. And, when buried 10 meters down, the pumpkin-colored bacterium could survive a whopping 280 million years.”

To view the paper — “Effects of Desiccation and Freezing on Microbial Ionizing Radiation Survivability: Considerations for Mars Sample Return” — go to:

To access a collection of informative works in Astrobiology Mars Sample Return: Planning for Returned Sample Science – go to:



A new report — The SpaceTech Economy – Ready for Liftoff — advises that the Global SpaceTech Ecosystem – worth $386 billion in 2021 and $1 trillion+ by 2030 “has seen a sharp maturity curve in the last few years, but there is belief it is set to move to an accelerated growth path in the coming decade, driven by the confluence of “five megatrends.”

To access this free report issued by Intro-act, Inc., go to:

Chang’e-5: Returned lunar samples are offering new insight into the evolution of Earth’s Moon.
Credit: CNSA


China’s lunar exploration program has revealed how volcanism takes place on Earth’s Moon.

Bits and pieces of the Moon were rocketed back to Earth in December 2020 via the country’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission. Detailed looks at those returned samples continue to offer new perspectives on the Moon’s volcanic history.

One new finding: young volcanoes surprisingly took shape on the cooling Moon two billion years ago.

Under scientific scrutiny, specimens from the Moon returned to Earth for detailed study.
Credit: IGGCAS

Young lunar volcanism

A new study has been published on in the journal Science Advances showing that the mantle melting-point depression due to the presence of fusible, easily-melted components could generate young lunar volcanism.

Credit: IGGCAS

The new work was carried out by the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IGGCAS). A team of researchers scrutinized 27 Chang’e-5 basalt clasts to calculate the original ingredients of those samples. A clast is defined as a fragment of an older rock, now broken up and embedded in a younger one.

Apollo 16 photo shows on-site gathering of lunar specimens.
Credit: NASA

According to the just-released paper, the Chang’E-5 mission “has demonstrated that lunar volcanism was still active until two billion years ago, much younger than the previous isotopically dated lunar basalts.”

Ruling out a theory

How the small Moon retained enough heat to drive such late volcanism is unknown.

The study team found that the young Chang’e-5-source magma might have higher calcium oxide and titanium dioxide contents than magmas in older samples returned by the Apollo lunar landing missions decades ago.

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects Chang’e-5 lunar sample return capsule.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab



The Chang’e-5 lunar samples rule out the theory that the Moon has been geologically dead after the formation of Apollo returned-to-Earth samples from at least 3 billion years ago.















To view the entire paper – “Fusible mantle cumulates trigger young mare volcanism on the cooling Moon” – go to:

Curiosity’s location on Sol 3628. Distance driven to that sol: 17.86 miles/28.74 kilometers.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is currently performing Sol 3629 duties.

The robot is now at a new location, with new targets and new viewsheds to investigate, reports Alex Innanen, an atmospheric scientist at York University; Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 3628, October 21, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Power was a bit tight, especially for the first sol with two hours of science time, a drive, and arm activities. Still, we managed to pack in lots of targeted science before driving away,” Innanen added.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3628, October 21, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Bedrock target

On tap is a look at a bedrock target called “Pacu” with the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), as well as making a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) observation. ChemCam will be rounding out their sol’s imaging with a long distance mosaic of “Los Brincos.” Mastcam is also getting in on the action, with the similarly named “Arapari” and “Arapixi,” as well as “Baganara Island.”

The environmental team is also surveying the location, trying to catch dust devils.

The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is returning to Pacu before the rover drive’s off.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3628, October 21, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Untargeted science

“Just because we’ve driven to a new location doesn’t mean we have to wait to plan more science,” Innanen explains. “After driving in the middle of the plan, such as on the second sol in this plan [Sols 3628-3629], we can still do ‘untargeted’ science, which just means we don’t have the benefit of seeing exactly what our new location looks like.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 3628, October 21, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Lastly, a suprahorizon cloud movie, a dust devil movie, a full tau observation and a line of sight at the crater rim is slated.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 3628, October 20, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

ChemCam is also using AEGIS to autonomously select a target for analysis, Innanen concludes. AEGIS stands for Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science) – a software suite that permits the rover to autonomously detect and prioritize targets.

Credit: Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies (SCU)


NASA’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena study has moved forward. The space agency has selected 16 individuals to participate in its independent study team on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP).

NASA defines UAP as “observations of events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or as known natural phenomena.” 

The independent study will begin on Monday, Oct. 24.

In a NASA statement:

“Over the course of nine months, the independent study team will lay the groundwork for future study on the nature of UAPs for NASA and other organizations. To do this, the team will identify how data gathered by civilian government entities, commercial data, and data from other sources can potentially be analyzed to shed light on UAPs. It will then recommend a roadmap for potential UAP data analysis by the agency going forward.

The study will focus solely on unclassified data. A full report containing the team’s findings will be released to the public in mid-2023.”

Daniel Evans, the assistant deputy associate administrator for research at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (Right) gave list of NASA’s UAP panelists to Bill Nelson, NASA chief, for his approval. Credit: Daniel Evans

Study team

The members of NASA’s independent study team on unidentified aerial phenomena are:

David Spergel was selected to chair NASA’s independent study on unidentified aerial phenomena. He is the president of the Simons Foundation where he was the founding director of its Flatiron Institute for Computational Astrophysics. His interests range from the search for planets and nearby stars to the shape of the universe. He has measured the age, shape and composition of the universe and played a key role in establishing the standard model of cosmology. A MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, Spergel has been cited in publications more than 100,000 times.

Anamaria Berea is an associate professor of Computational and Data Science at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She is a research affiliate with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and a research investigator with Blue Marble Space Institute of Science in Seattle. Her research is focused on the emergence of communication in complex living systems and on data science applications in astrobiology, for the science of both biosignatures and technosignatures. She uses a wide range of computational methods to uncover fundamental patterns in the data. ​​

Federica Bianco is a joint professor at the University of Delaware in the Department of Physics and Astrophysics, the Biden School of Public Policy and Administration and the Urban Observatory. She is a cross-disciplinary scientist with a focus on using data-science to study the universe and find solutions to urban-based problems on earth. She also coordinates more than 1,500 scientists for the 2023 Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Science Collaboration to study the night sky in the southern hemisphere and discover new galaxies and stars. She has been published in more than 100 peer-reviewed papers and received that Department of Energy’s “Innovative Development in Energy-Related Applied Science” grant.   

Paula Bontempi has been a biological oceanographer for more than 25 years. She is the sixth dean and the second woman to lead the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island (URI). She is also a professor of oceanography at URI. She spent eighteen years at NASA and was appointed acting deputy director of NASA’s Earth Science Division for the Science Mission Directorate. She also led NASA’s research on ocean biology, biogeochemistry, the carbon cycle and ecosystems, as well as many NASA Earth observing satellite missions in marine science. She is a fellow of The Oceanography Society.

Reggie Brothers is the operating partner at AE Industrial Partners in Boca Raton, Florida. He previously served as CEO and board member of in Columbia, Maryland. Brothers also was the executive vice president and chief technology officer of Peraton, as well as a principal with the Chertoff Group. Prior to his time in the private sector, he served as the undersecretary for Science and Technology at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research at the Department of Defense. Brothers is also a Distinguished Fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology and he is a member of the Visiting Committee for Sponsored Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jen Buss is the CEO of the Potomac Institute of Policy Studies in Arlington, Virginia. Before she became CEO, Buss worked extensively with NASA to explore policy issues and strategic planning processes for astronaut medical care and cancer diagnostics and therapeutics. She is nationally recognized as an authority in her field for science and technology trends analysis and policy solutions.

Nadia Drake is a freelance science journalist and contributing writer at National Geographic. She also regularly writes for Scientific American, and specializes in covering astronomy, astrophysics, planetary sciences, and jungles. She has won journalism awards for her work in National Geographic including the David N. Schramm Award from the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society and the Jonathan Eberhart award from the AAS Division of Planetary Sciences. Drake holds a doctorate in genetics from Cornell University.

Mike Gold is the executive vice president of Civil Space and External Affairs at Redwire in Jacksonville, Florida. Prior to Redwire, Gold held multiple leadership roles at NASA, including associate administrator for Space Policy and Partnerships, acting associate administrator for the Office of International and Interagency Relations and senior advisor to the Administrator for International and Legal Affairs. He led for NASA, jointly with the Department of State, the creation and execution of the Artemis Accords, which established the norms of behavior in space. He also led the negotiation and adoption of binding international agreements for the lunar Gateway, the creation of new planetary protocols and the first purchase by NASA of a lunar resource. Gold was awarded NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal for his work in 2020.Additionally, Gold was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to serve as Chair of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee from 2012 until he joined NASA in 2019. 

David Grinspoon is a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tuscon, Arizona, and serves as a frequent advisor to NASA on space exploration. He is on science teams for several interplanetary spacecraft missions including the DAVINCI mission to Venus. He is the former inaugural Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology. His research focuses on comparative planetology especially regarding climate evolution and the implications of habitability on earth-like planets. He was awarded the Carl Sagan Medal by the American Astronomical Society and he is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is also an adjunct professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Science at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, as well as Georgetown University in Washington.

Scott Kelly is a former NASA astronaut, test pilot, fighter pilot, and retired U.S. Navy captain. He commanded the International Space Station Expeditions 26, 45, and 46. He was also the pilot of Space Shuttle Discovery for the third Hubble Servicing Mission. He was selected for a year-long mission to the space station where he set the record at the time for the total accumulated number of days spent in space. Prior to NASA, Kelly was the first pilot to fly the F-14 with a new digital flight control system. He flew the F-14 Tomcat in fighter squadron VF-143 aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. He is a two-time New York Times bestselling author and was recognized by Time magazine in 2015 as one of the most influential people in the world.

Matt Mountain is the president of The Association of Universities for Research and Astronomy, known as AURA. At AURA, Mountain oversees a consortium of 44 universities nationwide and four international affiliates who help NASA and the National Science Foundation build and operate observatories including NASA’s Hubble Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope. He also serves as a telescope scientist for Webb and is a member of its Science Working Group. He is the former director of The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and the International Gemini Observatory in Hilo, Hawaii. 

Warren Randolph is the deputy executive director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Accident Investigation and Prevention for Aviation Safety department. He has an extensive background in aviation safety at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and is currently responsible for setting and implementing safety management system principles and using data to inform the assessment of future hazards and emerging safety risks. Prior to the FAA, Randolph served as an aerodynamicist for the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Air Force for multiple flight simulations.

Walter Scott is the executive vice president and chief technology officer of Maxar in Westminster, Colorado, a space technology company that specializes in earth intelligence and space infrastructure. In 1992, he founded DigitalGlobe which became part of Maxar in 2017. He has held leadership positions at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California and was the president of Scott Consulting. In 2021, he was inducted into the David W. Thompson Lecture in Space Commerce by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Joshua Semeter is a professor of electrical and computer engineering as well as the director of the Center for Space Physics at Boston University. At Boston University, he researches interactions between Earth’s ionosphere and the space environment. Activities in Semeter’s lab include the development of optical and magnetic sensor technologies, radar experiment design and signal processing, and the application of tomographic and other inversion techniques to the analysis of distributed, multi-mode measurements of the space environment.

Karlin Toner is the acting executive director of the FAA’s Office of Aviation Policy and Plans. Previously, she served as the director of the FAA’s global strategy where she led the FAA’s international strategy and managed threats to international civil aviation. Prior to the FAA, Toner served at NASA in multiple leadership positions including director of the Airspace Systems Program at NASA Headquarters. She is a NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal recipient and is an associate fellow for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Shelley Wright is an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego’s Center for Astrophysics and Space Studies. She specializes in galaxies, supermassive black holes and building optical and infrared instruments for telescopes using adaptive optics such as integral field spectrographs. She is a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) researcher and instrumentalist. She is also the principal investigator for the UC San Diego Optical Infrared Laboratory. Previously, she was an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute.  

For more information on NASA’s UAP undertaking, go to:

The Red Planet as seen by Europe’s Mars Express.
Credit: ESA/D. O’Donnell – CC BY-SA IGO


Getting hardware and science gear down and dirty on Mars is an expensive proposition – be it via airbags, retrorockets or a “rover on a rope” technique called the Sky Crane.

Put aside for a moment the multi-billion dollar campaign to extract rock, soil, and atmospheric samples from the Red Planet, hauling those collectibles back to Earth for detailed study. That Mars Sample Return project promises to be a financially “big ticket,” money-hungry endeavor.

Newly revised Mars Sample Return campaign makes use of a set of machines, including use of helicopters, to collect Martian soil, rock and atmospheric specimens for return to Earth.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



Lander/shock absorber in one

Enter the SHIELD, for Simplified High Impact Energy Landing Device.

It’s a collapsible Mars lander designed to intentionally crash land on the Red Planet, absorbing the impact and protecting onboard science devices.

Part lander, part shock absorber in one is the once called Small High Impact Energy Landing Device (SHIELD) concept.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

“SHIELD is basically both a lander and a shock absorber in one,” said Louis Giersch, the primary investigator for SHIELD. Still being evaluated is what kinds of science instruments make sense, be they weather sensors, cameras, mass spectrometers, or other micro-devices.

SHIELD’s goal is to make doable a broad suite of potential missions. For example, the technology could potentially allow NASA to put down dozens of individual robots over a relatively short timespan, dotting the distant planet with landers.

A current illustration of SHIELD that would allow lower-cost missions to reach the Red Planet’s surface by safely crash landing, using a collapsible base to absorb the impact. Credit: California Academy of Sciences

Giant sling

To help confirm SHIELD can guard sensitive electronics during a head-on crash landing, a drop tower at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is being used. It features a giant sling – called a bow launch system – that can hurl an object into the surface at the same speeds reached during a Mars landing.


The bow launcher has slammed SHIELD into the ground at roughly 110 miles per hour (177 kilometers per hour) – the velocity that a Mars lander reaches near the surface after being slowed by atmospheric drag.

This drop tower at JPL includes a bow launch system, which can hurl test articles 110 mph into the ground, re-creating the forces they would experience during a Mars landing.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As follow-on, the next step is designing the rest of a lander in 2023 and seeing just how far the SHIELD idea can go forward…straight into Mars!

This prototype base for SHIELD – a collapsible Mars lander that would enable a spacecraft to intentionally crash land on the Red Planet, absorbing the impact – was tested in a drop tower at JPL on Aug. 12 to replicate the impact it would encounter during a Mars landing.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech




















For a video depicting the SHIELD testing, go to:

Also, go to these stories I’ve written that spotlight the emerging role of low-cost missions to open up Mars to a new era of exploration.

Go to:

  • “NASA rethinks its Mars strategy” at:

  • “Mars on the cheap: Scientists working to revolutionize access to the Red Planet – The concepts include souped-up Mars helicopters and inexpensive orbiters and landers” at:

Credit: Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies


The prestigious American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) has established an Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena Community of Interest.

Its mission is to improve aviation safety by enhancing scientific knowledge of, and mitigating barriers to, the study of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP).

AIAA represents 30,000 aerospace professionals.

Ryan Graves, a former Navy F/A-18F pilot, is the first Chair of the Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena Community of Interest.

Study teams

The AIAA study group is focused on team building in a trio of UAP topics:

  • Hardware Factors: Serves as a neutral focal point enhancing activities that integrate aviation safety related UAP data and analysis into relevant scientific/engineering aspects of aviation development, design, and safety planning across the aviation/space systems environment.
  • Outreach: Interacts with appropriate AIAA Committees, government agencies, academic institutions, and international researchers and organizations associated with the scientific/engineering study and understanding of UAP.
  • Human Factors: Engages with the scientific and engineering research community to assist with educating the Aerospace community relative to aerospace safety factors of UAP.

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

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

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






What’s in our skies?

“As we further our understanding of what’s in our skies,” Graves said in a website posting, “we must ensure timely access to these new safety insights across the military, commercial, and general aviation safety landscapes. It will take a diverse set of skills to advance our mission to enable us to reduce stigma, increase reporting, and integrate the findings into air and space policies.”

Graves in an AIAA statement notes that as a former LT U.S. Navy F/A-18F pilot, “I have experienced first-hand the persistent risk to aerospace safety posed by UAP.”

AIAA can apply its technical skill sets, Graves added, to improve aerospace safety and our understanding of UAP.

“The AIAA believes there is an urgent and critical imperative to improve aerospace safety by improving scientific knowledge and study of UAP,” Graves added.”

Volunteer status

In an AIAA statement sent to Inside Outer Space regarding the Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena (UAP) Community of Interest (COI), this group was approved in 2022 “to facilitate interested parties to exchange ideas on the topic.”

A small group of AIAA members have volunteered to lead the group.

“The UAP COI is focused on improving aviation safety by enhancing scientific knowledge of, and mitigating barriers to, the study of UAP. They do this through presenting material at AIAA forums and maintaining an active dialogue among members,” the AIAA statement explains.

Leaders of the UAP COI are acting in a volunteer role “and they do not represent AIAA nor its membership as official spokespeople. Their opinions are their own and not that of the Institute overall and should not be attributed to AIAA,” the statement concludes.

For more information on the AIAA UAP study group, go to:

For an overview article — ‘New territory’: America’s top aerospace sleuths join UFO hunt -the country’s largest organization of technical experts has concluded that recent incursions pose a safety hazard to aircraft in Politico, go to: