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Moon

50 Years Ago, NASA Put a Car on the Moon (nytimes.com) 32

The lunar rovers of Apollo 15, 16 and 17 parked American automotive culture on the lunar surface, and expanded the scientific range of the missions' astronaut explorers. From a report: Dave Scott was not about to pass by an interesting rock without stopping. It was July 31, 1971, and he and Jim Irwin, his fellow Apollo 15 astronaut, were the first people to drive on the moon. After a 6-hour inaugural jaunt in the new lunar rover, the two were heading back to their lander, the Falcon, when Mr. Scott made an unscheduled pit stop. West of a crater called Rhysling, Mr. Scott scrambled out of the rover and quickly picked up a black lava rock, full of holes formed by escaping gas. Mr. Scott and Mr. Irwin had been trained in geology and knew the specimen, a vesicular rock, would be valuable to scientists on Earth. They also knew that if they asked for permission to stop and get it, clock-watching mission managers would say no. So Mr. Scott made up a story that they stopped the rover because he was fidgeting with his seatbelt. The sample was discovered when the astronauts returned to Earth, Mr. Scott described what he'd done, and "Seatbelt Rock" became one of the most prized geologic finds from Apollo 15.

Like many lunar samples returned to Earth by the final Apollo missions, Seatbelt Rock never would have been collected if the astronauts had not brought a car with them. Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 are the NASA lunar missions that tend to be remembered most vividly. But at the 50th anniversary of Apollo 15, which launched on July 26, 1971, some space enthusiasts, historians and authors are giving the lunar rover its due as one of the most enduring symbols of the American moon exploration program. Foldable, durable, battery-powered and built by Boeing and General Motors, the vehicle is seen by some as making the last three missions into the crowning achievement of the Apollo era. "Every mission in the crewed space program, dating back to Alan Shepard's first flight, had been laying the groundwork for the last three Apollo missions," said Earl Swift, author of a new book about the lunar rover, "Across the Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings. You see NASA take all of that collected wisdom, gleaned over the previous decade in space, and apply it," Mr. Swift said. "It's a much more swashbuckling kind of science."

NASA

Bezos Offers To Cover $2 Billion In NASA Costs In Exchange For Astronaut Lunar Lander Contract (cnbc.com) 195

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos on Monday offered to cover billions of dollars of NASA costs in exchange for a contract to build a lunar lander to land astronauts on the moon. CNBC reports: Bezos said Blue Origin would waive all payments up to $2 billion from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the current and next two government fiscal years. Blue Origin would also fund its own pathfinder mission to low-Earth orbit, according to Bezos. In return, the company requested a fixed-priced contract from the government agency. "This offer is not a deferral, but is an outright and permanent waiver of those payments. This offer provides time for government appropriation actions to catch up," Bezos said in an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

NASA in April awarded Elon Musk's SpaceX with a sole $2.89 billion contract to build the next crewed lunar lander under its Human Landing Systems program. Before selecting the winner of the contest, NASA gave 10-month study contracts to SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics to begin work on lunar landers. "Instead of this single source approach, NASA should embrace its original strategy of competition," Bezos said. "Without competition, a short time into the contract, NASA will find itself with limited options as it attempts to negotiate missed deadlines, design changes, and cost overruns."

Security

Olympics Broadcaster Announces His Computer Password on Live TV (vice.com) 57

In what is, at least so far, the biggest cybersecurity blunder of the Tokyo Olympics, an Italian TV announcer did not realize he was on air when he asked the password for his computer. Motherboard reports: "Do you know the password for the computer in this commentator booth?" he asked during the broadcast of the Turkey-China volleyball game, apparently not realizing he was still on air. "It was too hard to call the password Pippo? Pippo, Pluto or Topolino?" he complained, referring to the Italian names for Goofy, Pluto and Mickey Mouse. The snafu was immortalized in a video posted on Twitter by cybersecurity associate professor Stefano Zanero, who works at the Polytechnic University of Milan. A source who works at Eurosport, the channel which was broadcasting the volleyball game, confirmed that the video is authentic.

A colleague of the announcer can be heard in the background saying the password depends on the Olympics organizers, and asking the announcer if it's on a paper or post it close-by. Turns out the password was "Booth.03" after the number of the commentator's booth. "Even the dot to make it more complicated, as if it was NASA's computer," he said on the air. "Next time they will even put a semicolon." "Ma porca miseria," he concluded, using a popular italian swearing that literally means "pork's misery" but is more accurately translated to "for god's sake."

NASA

NASA Taps SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket To Launch Jupiter Moon Mission (cnet.com) 44

Jupiter's unusual icy moon Europa may be one of the best spots in the solar system to check for signs of alien life. But first we have to get there. NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft will get a boost in the right direction from a SpaceX Falcon Heavy, one of the most powerful rockets ever built. From a report: NASA announced Friday that it has selected SpaceX to provide the launch services for the Jupiter moon mission. The launch is scheduled for October 2024 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The contract is worth about $178 million. Europa Clipper will try to determine if the moon could possibly host life. "Key mission objectives are to produce high-resolution images of Europa's surface, determine its composition, look for signs of recent or ongoing geological activity, measure the thickness of the moon's icy shell, search for subsurface lakes, and determine the depth and salinity of Europa's ocean," said NASA. SpaceX has been working with NASA on many fronts, including carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station, delivering cargo to the ISS and developing a human landing system to return astronauts to the moon through the Artemis program.
Mars

Quake-Measuring Device on Mars Gets Detailed Look at Red Planet's Interior (apnews.com) 10

"A quake-measuring device on Mars is providing the first detailed look at the red planet's interior, revealing a surprisingly thin crust and a hot molten core beneath the frigid surface," reports the Associated Press: In a series of articles published this week, scientists reported that the Martian crust is within the thickness range of Earth's. The Martian mantle between the crust and core is roughly half as thick as Earth's. And the Martian core is on the high side of what scientists anticipated, although smaller than the core of our own nearly twice-as-big planet.

These new studies confirm that the Martian core is molten. But more research is needed to know whether Mars has a solid inner core like Earth's, surrounded by a molten outer core, according to the international research teams. Stronger marsquakes could help identify any multiple core layers, scientists said Friday. The findings are based on about 35 marsquakes registered by a French seismometer on NASA's InSight stationary lander, which arrived at Mars in 2018...

InSight has been hit with a power crunch in recent months. Dust covered its solar panels, just as Mars was approaching the farthest point in its orbit around the sun. Flight controllers have boosted power by using the lander's robot arm to release sand into the blowing wind to knock off some of the dust on the panels. The seismometer has continued working, but all other science instruments remain on hiatus because of the power situation — except for a German heat probe was declared dead in January after it failed to burrow more than a couple feet (half a meter) into the planet.

The three studies and a companion article appeared in Thursday's edition of the journal Science.

Sci-Fi

Virtual Comic-Con Includes Trailers For 'Blade Runner' Series, 'Dune' Movie - and NASA Panels (space.com) 71

Comic-Con went virtual again in 2020. (San Diego businesses will miss the chance to profit from the 100,000 visitors the convention usually attracted.) And NPR reports the convention has gotten smaller in other ways: Both Marvel Studios and DC are staying away; as it did last year, DC is again directing its resources towards its own event, DC FanDome, set for mid-October. But fans of shows like Doctor Who, Dexter and Comic-Con stalwart The Walking Dead will have lots to look forward to.
Rotten Tomatoes and The Verge have gathered up the trailers that did premier. Some of the highlights:

But interestingly, one of the more visibile presenters was: NASA. Current and former NASA officials made appearances on several different panels, according to Space.com, including one on modern space law, U.N. treaty-making, and how it all stacks up against the portrayal we get in our various future-space franchises. And a former NASA astronaut was also part of a panel touting a virtual simulation platform, "where students can have access to the same tools that professionals use and in the case of space are given the opportunity to solve real problems related to missions to our Moon, Mars, and beyond... from piloting to terra-forming to creating habitats and spacecraft."

There was also a panel of four NASA engineers titled "No Tow Trucks Beyond Mars," on "how we go boldly where there's no one around to fix it. Hear stories from the trenches of the heartbreaks, close calls, and adventures of real-life landing (and flying!) on Mars and our round-table discussion of what Netflix got right in their movie Stowaway."

Sunday's panels will include an astronomer, an astrobiologist, and a geologist/paleontologist discussing "The Science of Star Wars" with the concept designer for Star Wars episodes 7-9, Rogue One, and Solo.


Space

Oregon Congressman Proposes New Space Tourism Tax (space.com) 155

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) plans to introduce legislation called the Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act, which would impose new excise taxes on space tourism trips. Space.com reports: "Space exploration isn't a tax-free holiday for the wealthy. Just as normal Americans pay taxes when they buy airline tickets, billionaires who fly into space to produce nothing of scientific value should do the same, and then some," Blumenauer said in a statement issued by his office. "I'm not opposed to this type of space innovation," added Blumenauer, a senior member of the House of Representatives' Ways and Means Committee. "However, things that are done purely for tourism or entertainment, and that don't have a scientific purpose, should in turn support the public good."

The proposed new tax would likely be levied on a per-passenger basis, as is done with commercial aviation, the statement said. "Exemptions would be made available for NASA spaceflights for scientific research purposes," the statement reads. "In the case of flights where some passengers are working on behalf of NASA for scientific research purposes and others are not, the launch excise tax shall be the pro rata share of the non-NASA researchers." There would be two taxation tiers, one for suborbital flights and another for missions that reach orbit. The statement did not reveal how much the tax would be in either case or if the collected revenue would be earmarked for any specific purpose. Such a purpose could be the fight against climate change, if the proposed act's full name is any guide. Blumenauer is concerned about the potential carbon footprint of the space tourism industry once it gets fully up and running, the statement said.

NASA

Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson Not Yet Astronauts, US Says (bbc.com) 80

New Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules say astronaut hopefuls must be part of the flight crew and make contributions to space flight safety. That means Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson may not yet be astronauts in the eyes of the US government. The BBC reports: These are the first changes since the FAA wings program began in 2004. The Commercial Astronaut Wings program updates were announced on Tuesday -- the same day that Amazon's Mr Bezos flew aboard a Blue Origin rocket to the edge of space. To qualify as commercial astronauts, space-goers must travel 50 miles (80km) above the Earth's surface, which both Mr Bezos and Mr Branson accomplished. But altitude aside, the agency says would-be astronauts must have also "demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety." What exactly counts as such is determined by FAA officials.

In a statement, the FAA said that these changes brought the wings scheme more in line with its role to protect public safety during commercial space flights. On July 11, Sir Richard flew on-board Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo to the edge of space as a test before allowing customers aboard next year. Mr Bezos and the three other crew members who flew on Blue Origin's spacecraft may have less claim to the coveted title. Ahead of the launch, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said that "there's really nothing for a crew member to do" on the autonomous vehicle. Those wishing for commercial wings need to be nominated for them as well. An FAA spokesperson told CNN they are not currently reviewing any submissions.

There are two other ways to earn astronaut wings in the US - through the military or Nasa. However, a glimmer of hope remains for Sir Richard, Mr Bezos and any future stargazers hoping to be recognized as astronauts. The new order notes that honorary awards can be given based on merit -- at the discretion of the FAA's associate administrator. Astronaut wings were first awarded to astronauts Alan Shepard Jr and Virgil Grissom in the early 1960s for their participation in the Mercury Seven program.

Space

After Repair, Hubble Captures Images of 'Rarely Observed' Colliding Galaxies (cbsnews.com) 21

UnknowingFool shares a report from CBS News: After being down for a month due to a computer issue, Hubble was brought back up last week. NASA released images captured by Hubble over the weekend including a rare observance of two galaxies that are colliding. The other interesting image is that of a spiral galaxy with three arms, as most spiral galaxies have an even number of arms. "I'm thrilled to see that Hubble has its eye back on the universe, once again capturing the kind of images that have intrigued and inspired us for decades," NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. "This is a moment to celebrate the success of a team truly dedicated to the mission. Through their efforts, Hubble will continue its 32nd year of discovery, and we will continue to learn from the observatory's transformational vision."
Space

Blue Origin Auction Winner Backs Out, 18-Year-Old Flies Instead (theatlantic.com) 98

18-year-old Oliver Daemon will become the youngest person ever to travel to space as the fourth passenger on Blue Origin's first crewed mission this week to the edge of outer space (flying with Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, and 82-year-old aviator Wally Funk).

The Atlantic calls it "a rather unusual bunch": When they take off on Tuesday, they will each fulfill a personal dream, but as a crew, they're making history: No group like this one has ever gone to space together before. Even the participants of the most diverse missions to the International Space Station have had far more in common with one another than this quartet. They were all professional astronauts, with comparable ages, educational backgrounds, and even temperaments, given that potential astronauts must undergo psychological screenings before getting the job. The motley crew of Blue Origin's first passenger flight seems closer to a cast of offbeat characters gathered together for a zany adventure: If The Breakfast Club had the brain, the jock, the basket case, the princess, and the criminal, this Blue Origin flight has the boss, the tag-along, the real deal, and the kid...

Blue Origin has conducted 15 test flights of the New Shepard rocket, but has never before flown the vehicle with people on board.

Of the passengers on Bezos's debut flight, Daemen might be the most unexpected pick. In fact, Daemen wasn't supposed to be on this flight. Blue Origin had held an auction for one of the seats on the flight, culminating in a top bid of a whopping $28 million. But the company said today that the winner, whose name has not been disclosed, decided to skip this particular flight and go later, citing "scheduling conflicts," so the company slotted in Daemen, a soon-to-be physics student at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands. (Blue Origin said the teen was "a participant in the auction," but did not disclose how much the seat cost.)

Daemen and Funk, as Blue Origin pointed out in its announcement, "represent the youngest and oldest astronauts to travel to space." But describing them by age alone elides the very different journeys they have taken to reach this point. Funk is an aviation legend who underwent more difficult tests than John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, had to, and has waited 60 years for this moment. Daemen is a teenager who took a gap year to get his pilot's license, and the son of a private-equity executive... Daemen represents a new class of spacefarers; in the coming years, as private companies such as Blue Origin, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, and Elon Musk's SpaceX make people into astronauts more readily than government agencies like NASA can, the distance between a childhood dream and reality is bound to shrink. Expect more smorgasbord space crews like the Blue Origin one, filled with an assortment of very wealthy individuals and the people they choose to go with them...

The rules about who can become an astronaut have changed, and the new "right stuff" is money and luck.

The Internet

Japan Has Shattered the Internet Speed Record at 319 Terabits per Second (interestingengineering.com) 32

We're in for an information revolution.Engineers in Japan just shattered the world record for the fastest internet speed, achieving a data transmission rate of 319 Terabits per second (Tb/s), according to a paper presented at the International Conference on Optical Fiber Communications in June. From a report: The new record was made on a line of fibers more than 1,864 miles (3,000 km) long. And, crucially, it is compatible with modern-day cable infrastructure. This could literally change everything.

Note well: we can't stress enough how fast this transmission speed is. It's nearly double the previous record of 178 Tb/s, which was set in 2020. And it's seven times the speed of the earlier record of 44.2 Tb/s, set with an experimental photonic chip. NASA itself uses a comparatively primitive speed of 400 Gb/s, and the new record soars impossibly high above what ordinary consumers can use (the fastest of which maxes out at 10 Gb/s for home internet connections).

NASA

NASA Revives Ailing Hubble Space Telescope With Switch To Backup Computer (space.com) 60

The Hubble Space Telescope has powered on once again. NASA was able to successfully switch to a backup computer on the observatory on Friday following weeks of computer problems. From a report: On June 13, Hubble shut down after a payload computer from the 1980s that handles the telescope's science instruments suffered a glitch. Now, over a month since Hubble ran into issues, which the Hubble team thinks were caused by the spacecraft's Power Control Unit (PCU), NASA switched to backup hardware and was able to switch the scope back on. With Hubble back online with this backup hardware, the Hubble team is keeping a close watch to make sure that everything works correctly, according to a statement from NASA.
Earth

NASA: Moon 'Wobble' In Orbit May Lead To Record Flooding On Earth (cbsnews.com) 117

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: Every coast in the U.S. is facing rapidly increasing high tide floods. NASA says this is due to a "wobble" in the moon's orbit working in tandem with climate change-fueled rising sea levels. The new study from NASA and the University of Hawaii, published recently in the journal Nature Climate Change, warns that upcoming changes in the moon's orbit could lead to record flooding on Earth in the next decade. Through mapping the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) sea-level rise scenarios, flooding thresholds and astronomical cycles, researchers found flooding in American coastal cities could be several multiples worse in the 2030s, when the next moon "wobble" is expected to begin. They expect the flooding to significantly damage infrastructure and displace communities.

While the study highlights the dire situation facing coastal cities, the lunar wobble is actually a natural occurrence, first reported in 1728. The moon's orbit is responsible for periods of both higher and lower tides about every 18.6 years, and they aren't dangerous in their own right. "In half of the Moon's 18.6-year cycle, Earth's regular daily tides are suppressed: High tides are lower than normal, and low tides are higher than normal," NASA explains. "In the other half of the cycle, tides are amplified: High tides get higher, and low tides get lower. Global sea-level rise pushes high tides in only one direction -- higher. So half of the 18.6-year lunar cycle counteracts the effect of sea-level rise on high tides, and the other half increases the effect." But this time around, scientists are more concerned. With sea-level rise due to climate change, the next high tide floods are expected to be more intense and more frequent than ever before, exacerbating already grim predictions.
The study says these floods will exceed flooding thresholds around the country more often, and can also occur in clusters lasting more than a month. "During curtain alignments, floods could happen as frequently as every day or every other day," the report adds. "Almost all U.S. mainland coastlines, Hawaii and Guam are expected to face these effects."
Space

'Gardened Zones' on Europa Could Be the Key to Finding Life, Study Says (vice.com) 22

Jupiter's moon Europa contains a voluminous ocean of liquid water under its icy crust that could potentially host extraterrestrial organisms. "But as evidence builds that Europa could be habitable under its crust, a problem remains: the intense radiation that Jupiter emits likely annihilates any signs of life, known as biosignatures, that upwell onto the moon's surface, presenting a challenge to future missions that aim to detect life with Europa landers," reports Motherboard. "Now, a team of researchers led by Emily Costello, a postdoctoral researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, have shed new light on this obstacle by examining the role of "impact gardening" in the search for life on Europa." From the report: Impact gardening occurs when rocks collide with a planetary body without an atmosphere, causing a mechanical churn that continually exposes new layers of the surface, known as the "gardened zone," to all the erosive effects of space, according to a study published on Monday in Nature Astronomy. "Knowing the depth of the gardened zone is critical for the exploration of Europa as a potentially habitable world," the researchers added. "We will need to sample material below the gardened zone if we wish to discover biomolecules that have never been exposed to hazardous radiation at the surface."

Of course, that raises the question: just how deep is Europa's gardened zone? To provide an answer, the team produced the first comprehensive models of impact gardening on Europa, with the help of Moon rocks returned from the Apollo program that also show a distinct gardened zone. This approach yielded good news and bad news. The bad news is that the models suggest that impact gardening exposes the top 30 centimeters (12 inches) of Europa's global surface to radiation, on average. Contrary to previous studies that proposed the possible presence of juicy biosignatures only a few centimeters under the moon's surface, the new study finds that signs of life would be embedded much deeper in the ice.

That said, the good news is that pristine material from Europa's ocean could be sampled at shallower depths in rare circumstances, such as in the fallout of recent landslides or fresh meteorite impacts. These natural processes can excavate layers of ice from below the gardened zone and position them within centimeters of the surface. Looking for recent examples of such disturbances could reveal samples that have not experienced the damaging long-term effects of radiation yet. Fortunately, scientists will soon benefit from close-up observations of Europa from ESA's Jupiter Icy Worlds Explorer (JUICE) and NASA's Europa Clipper, both scheduled to launch in the 2020s. These spacecraft will conduct intimate flybys of Europa, and they may be able to spot regions with freshly excavated material on the surface that would be prime destinations for future lander missions.

Businesses

Closer to a Space-Travel Future: Branson Prepares for Flight to Outer Space (cbsnews.com) 31

In two hours, Richard Branson (and five other Virgin Galactic employees) will attempt a historic flight to the edge of outer space. Bloomberg points out it will be followed 9 days later by Jeff Bezos's rocket trip with Blue Origin on July 20.

"Yeah, there's a little bit of competition in the who's going first or when things are happening," Virgin President Mike Moses, a former space shuttle manager at NASA, told CBS News. "But it's really not a race. It's not a competition. I know that sounds maybe a little shallow or disingenuous, but it's not. "It's a small community. I know dozens of people who work at Blue Origin, I know dozens and dozens of people at SpaceX, and we all used to work together at NASA. And I wish every single one of them the best.... Because all of us together is what's going to get humans into space and our culture to recognize that space travel is the foundation for the future for everyone..."

"This has been a long journey for him," Mike Moses said of Branson. "He's like a kid in a candy store here in training this week. He's bouncing around, he's happy, excited. ... But that excitement is really infectious. And so the whole crew is feeling it."

CNN points out that Branson has "narrowly avoided being killed numerous times in his nearly 71 years," including dangerous stunts like bunjee jumping that left him bloody and injured, as well as accidents during long-distance balloon flights while attempting to set records.

Here's how Branson describes some of them in his second autobiography, "Finding My Virginity," which includes an appendix called "75 Close Shaves": 1972: Survived a fishing boat sinking on honeymoon with my first wife, Kristen, off Mexico. We decided to jump off the boat and swim for shore, while the others stayed put -- we were the only survivors.

1976: Flew a microlight aircraft by mistake. It was the first time I'd sat in it, I had no idea how to fly it and accidentally took off. I was pulling wires out desperately. I cut the engine and managed to crash-land into a field. My instructor died in an accident the next day...

1986: On my first time skydiving, there was one cord that opened the parachute and one that got rid of it. I pulled the wrong cord by mistake. I was falling through the air before an instructor managed to yank my spare ripcord...

1989: I decided to make an entrance to my wedding with Joan, dangling from a helicopter in an all-white suit. I dropped into the shallow end of the pool by mistake, smashed my legs, and spent the whole wedding hobbling.

NASA

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Passes Key Review Ahead of Fall Launch (space.com) 25

NASA's next big space telescope just took a big step forward toward its planned launch this fall. From a report: The $9.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope mission has passed a key launch review, keeping it on track to lift off atop an Ariane 5 rocket before the end of the year, European Space Agency (ESA) officials announced last week. "This major milestone, carried out with Arianespace, the Webb launch service provider, confirms that Ariane 5, the Webb spacecraft and the flight plan are set for launch," ESA officials wrote in a July 1 update. "It also specifically provides the final confirmation that all aspects of the launch vehicle and spacecraft are fully compatible."

While Webb is primarily a NASA mission, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) are important partners. The CSA is providing the telescope's guidance sensor and one of its scientific instruments. ESA is contributing some science gear to the mission as well and is also providing launch services, procuring the Ariane 5 heavy lifter to get Webb off the ground. The launch will take place from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Mission teams are working toward a launch readiness date of Oct. 31, but liftoff is not expected to actually take place on Halloween. "The precise launch date following 31 October depends on the spaceport's launch schedule and will be finalized closer to the launch readiness date," ESA officials wrote in the same statement.

NASA

NASA's Mars Helicopter Breaks Record In Challenging, Nerve-Wracking Flight (thehill.com) 27

NASA announced on Monday that Ingenuity's ninth flight was a success, as it undertook a "high-speed flight across unfriendly terrain." The Hill reports: Ingenuity flew for 166.4 seconds at a pace of 5 meters per second over a terrain of high slopes -- all new records for the helicopter. In preparation for the flight, NASA said, "First, we believe Ingenuity is ready for the challenge, based on the resilience and robustness demonstrated in our flights so far. Second, this high-risk, high-reward attempt fits perfectly within the goals of our current operational demonstration phase. A successful flight would be a powerful demonstration of the capability that an aerial vehicle (and only an aerial vehicle) can bring to bear in the context of Mars exploration -- traveling quickly across otherwise untraversable terrain while scouting for interesting science targets."
Space

Kepler Telescope Glimpses Population of Free-Floating Planets (phys.org) 44

Tantalizing evidence has been uncovered for a mysterious population of "free-floating" planets, planets that may be alone in deep space, unbound to any host star. The results include four new discoveries that are consistent with planets of similar masses to Earth, published today in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Phys.Org reports: The study, led by Iain McDonald of the University of Manchester, UK, (now based at the Open University, UK) used data obtained in 2016 during the K2 mission phase of NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. During this two-month campaign, Kepler monitored a crowded field of millions of stars near the center of our Galaxy every 30 minutes in order to find rare gravitational microlensing events. The study team found 27 short-duration candidate microlensing signals that varied over timescales of between an hour and 10 days. Many of these had been previously seen in data obtained simultaneously from the ground. However, the four shortest events are new discoveries that are consistent with planets of similar masses to Earth. These new events do not show an accompanying longer signal that might be expected from a host star, suggesting that these new events may be free-floating planets. Such planets may perhaps have originally formed around a host star before being ejected by the gravitational tug of other, heavier planets in the system. Confirming the existence and nature of free-floating planets will be a major focus for upcoming missions such as the NASA Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, and possibly the ESA Euclid mission, both of which will be optimized to look for microlensing signals.
Space

NASA Astronauts Used CRISPR Gene Editing Technology For the First Time in Space (news18.com) 9

India's CNN-News18 reports: [P]revious research has found that how cells pick a particular repair strategy can be influenced by the microgravity conditions in space. Scientists are concerned that DNA repairs influenced by microgravity conditions may not be adequate, and can lead to harmful consequences. To study the DNA repair process in space, scientists have developed a new technique that uses CRISPR/Cas9 — a gene-editing technology — to recreate precise damages so that cells can be observed repairing them. The team of researchers led by Sarah Stahl-Rommel has successfully demonstrated the technique and its viability aboard the International Space Station.
"CRISPR gene editing is no longer confined to Earth," reports Engadget: The new approach clears the way for other research around DNA repair in space. With enough work, the scientists hope they can replicate the genetic damage from ionizing radiation, not to mention other effects from long-term spaceflight. That, in turn, could help NASA and other agencies develop technology that shields astronauts and makes deep space exploration practical. There's a chance CRISPR might play an important role in getting humans to Mars and beyond.
NASA

Still-Troubled Hubble Space Telescope Once Snapped a Red, White, and Blue Image (space.com) 12

For three weeks the "payload computer" has been down on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, and "Without it, the instruments on board meant to snap pictures and collect data are not currently working," NPR recently reported. But as this weekend approached, NASA made an announcement...

NASA confirmed that there is a procedure for turning on the telescope's backup hardware, and that in the coming week it will first test those crucial procedures. (In the past week NASA has "completed preparations" for those tests.) After more than 30 years in space, "the telescope itself and science instruments remain healthy and in a safe configuration," NASA confirmed this week. But while they've now suspended new scientific observations, images already collected by the telescope are still being analyzed, reports Space.com — including one image with all the colors of the American flag released just before the holiday celebrating the country's founding as an independent nation: The Hubble Space Telescope has captured a dazzling view of a distant star cluster, one filled with stars that sparkle in red, white and blue, unveiled just in time for the Fourth of July U.S. holiday.

The photo, which NASA and the European Space Agency released July 2, shows the open star cluster NGC 330, a group of stars located about 180,000 light-years away in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf satellite galaxy to our own Milky Way, in the constellation Tucana, the Toucan... Astronomers used archived observations from Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 in 2018 to create this image to support two different studies aimed at understanding how star clusters evolve and how large stars can grow before they explode as supernovas.

"The most stunning object in this image is actually the very small star cluster in the lower left corner of the image, surrounded by a nebula of ionised hydrogen (red) and dust (blue)," ESA officials said in a separate image description. " Named Galfor 1, the cluster was discovered in 2018 in Hubble's archival data, which was used to create this latest image from Hubble."

And today NASA also tweeted out an image of "the Fireworks Galaxy," the spiral galaxy Caldwell 12 with an unprecedented 10 supernovae observed since 1917.

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