News from Space: The Orion MPCV gets a Manned Mission

Orion_arraysIt’s known as the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), and it represents NASA’s plans for a next-generation exploration craft. This plan calls for the Orion to be launched aboard the next-generation Space Launch System, a larger, souped-up version of the Saturn V’s that took the Apollo teams into space and men like Neil Armstrong to the Moon.

The first flight, called Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), will be targeted to send an unpiloted Orion spacecraft to a point more than 70,000 km (40,000 miles) beyond the Moon. This mission will serve as a forerunner to NASA’s new Asteroid Redirect Initiative – a mission to capture an asteroid and tow it closer to Earth – which was recently approved by the Obama Administration.

orion_arrays1But in a recent decision to upgrade the future prospects of the Orion, the EM-1 flight will now serve as an elaborate harbinger to NASA’s likewise enhanced EM-2 mission. This flight would involve sending a crew of astronauts for up close investigation of the small Near Earth Asteroid that would be relocated to the Moon’s vicinity. Until recently, NASA’s plan had been to launch the first crewed Orion atop the 2nd SLS rocket to a high orbit around the moon on the EM-2 mission.

However, the enhanced EM-1 flight would involve launching an unmanned Orion, fully integrated with the SLS, to an orbit near the moon where an asteroid could be moved to as early as 2021. This upgrade would also allow for an exceptionally more vigorous test of all the flight systems for both the Orion and SLS before risking a flight with humans aboard.

orion_arrays2It would also be much more technically challenging, as a slew of additional thruster firings would be conducted to test the engines ability to change orbital parameters, and the Orion would also be outfitted with sensors to collect a wide variety of measurements to evaluate its operation in the harsh space environment. And lastly, the mission’s duration would also be extended from the original 10 to a full 25 days.

Brandi Dean, NASA Johnson Space Center spokeswoman, explained the mission package in a recent interview with Universe Today:

The EM-1 mission with include approximately nine days outbound, three to six days in deep retrograde orbit and nine days back. EM-1 will have a compliment of both operational flight instrumentation and development flight instrumentation. This instrumentation suite gives us the ability to measure many attributes of system functionality and performance, including thermal, stress, displacement, acceleration, pressure and radiation.

The EM-1 flight has many years of planning and development ahead and further revisions prior to the 2017 liftoff are likely. “Final flight test objectives and the exact set of instrumentation required to meet those objectives is currently under development,” explained Dean.

orion_spacecenterThe SLS launcher will be the most powerful and capable rocket ever built by humans – exceeding the liftoff thrust of even the Saturn V, the very rocket that sent the Apollo astronauts into space and put Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on the Moon. Since NASA is in a hurry to reprise its role as a leader in space, both the Orion and the SLS are under active and accelerating development by NASA and its industrial partners.

As already stated by NASA spokespeople, the 1st Orion capsule is slated to blast off on the unpiloted EFT-1 test flight in September 2014 atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket. This mission will be what is known as a “two orbit” test flight that will take the unmanned Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle to an altitude of 5800 km (3,600 miles) above the Earth’s surface.

After the 2021 missions to the Moon, NASA will be looking farther abroad, seeking to mount manned missions to Mars, and maybe beyond…

And in the meantime, enjoy this video of NASA testing out the parachutes on the Orion space vehicle. The event was captured live on Google+ on July 24th from the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, and the following is the highlight of the event – the Orion being dropped from a plane!:

National Parks on the Moon?

apollo17Might sound like the plot of a Ray Bradbury novel, where parents and children crowd into the family rocket and make a day trip to the Lunar Park. But new legislation is being proposed that would turn the Apollo 11 landing site into a national park. It would go by the name of the Lunar Landing Sites National Historical Park, and given the rate at which commercial space flight is advancing, its not surprising to see this idea being put forward.

The bill – which was introduced by Reps. Donna Edwards of Maryland and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas – is known as HR 2617, or “The Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act”. This bill, if ratified, would put the National Park Service in charge of the moon park, which would consist of all the artifacts left on the moon from the Apollo missions.

Apollo_17_lunar-rover-577x580The bill also specifies that the Apollo 11 landing site should be submitted to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization for designation as a World Heritage Site. The bill refers to the Apollo lunar program as one of the greatest achievements in American history and recommends:

..establishing the Historical Park under this Act will expand and enhance the protection and preservation of the Apollo lunar landing sites and provide for greater recognition and public understanding of this singular achievement in American history.

Naturally, the bill does not specify on when ground would be broken on this new park, nor can it be expected to. At this juncture, there’s no way of knowing when commercial trips to the moon will be possible, though many hope to make it so by 2030. Still, in an age when federal and private space companies are pushing the envelope on what is possible, it’s good to plan ahead.

lunar_baseAnd let’s not forget that with Moon bases being contemplated and designs being proposed, it will be good to have certain recreational activities available for future Lunar settlers. Sooner or later, people are likely to go stir crazy living in 3D printed bases made out of lunar dust. And sightseeing is likely to be a popular option on a newly colonized world.

In the meantime, I think some ideas on what people will be able to do in this park might be in order. I’m sure the National Parks Service would be open to suggestions. Everything from buggy rides to concession stands offering typical astronaut treats, like freeze-dried ice cream and tang to albums of Chris Hadfields latest hits!

Source: news.cnet.com

 

Tweeting Aliens: The Lone Signal Array

gliese-581-eIn what could be called a case of serious repurposing – beating swords into plowshares and so forth – or something out of science-fiction, a crowdfunded project has sought to turn a Cold War era dish into a deep-space communications array. This array will send messages to that’s relatively near to us, and potentially inhabited. And assuming anything sufficiently advanced lives there, we could be talking to them soon enough.

dishantennaThe project is known as Lone Signal, a crowdfunded effort to send a continuous stream of messages to the folks at Gliese 526, a red dwarf star 17.6 light-years away in the constellation of Bootes (aka Wolf 498). And the dish with which they intend to do this is known as the Jamesburg Earth Station, a nuke-proof satellite relay station in California that dates from the 1960s and even helped broadcast images of Neil Armstrong on the moon.

Long Signal, it should be noted, is the brainchild of The Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, non-profit virtual research institute that networks scientists from across the globe and multiple disciplines for the purpose of expanding the boundaries of knowledge, science and astronomy and promoting an open dialogue on the subject of exploration and settlement.Towards this end, they arranged for a 30-year lease on the Cold War-era dish (for a cool $3 million) and set up a project that will allow participants who contribute money to send a personalized message into space.

exoplanetsUltimately, they plan to direct two beams at Gliese 526: a continuous wave with fundamental physics laws and basic information about Earth, and another consisting of crowdsourced greetings. The project is open to anyone and a series of initial short message (the equivalent of a 144-character tweet) will be available free of charge. Subsequent messages, images, and longer greetings, however, will cost money (about $1 for four texts) that will help the project fund itself.

The project’s website also lets participants track their messages and share them via social media, dedicate messages to others, and view signal stats. In an interview with Universe Today, Lone Signal co-founder Pierre Fabre, told people:

Our scientific goals are to discover sentient beings outside of our solar system. But an important part of this project is to get people to look beyond themselves and their differences by thinking about what they would say to a different civilization. Lone Signal will allow people to do that.

Indeed. Nothing like the prospect of facing another life form, a potential space invader even, to make people forget about all their petty bickering!

Gliese_581_-_2010As our knowledge of the universe expands, we are becoming aware of the existence of more and more exoplanets. Many of these exist within the Habitable Zones of their parent star, which means two things. On the one hand, they may be candidates for potential settlement in the future. On the other, they may already be home to sentient life. If said life is sufficiently advanced, its entirely possible they could be looking back at us.

For some time, the human race has been contemplating First Contact with potential extra-terrestrial life, which was the very purpose behind the creation of NASA’s SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) program in 1961. The Pioneer space probes were another attempt at making contact, both of which carried small metal plaques identifying their time and place of origin for the benefit of any other spacefarers that might find them in the distant future.

SETIFollowing in that tradition, Voyager 1 and 2 space probes contained even more ambitious messages, otherwise known as the Golden Record. These phonograph records – two 12-inch gold-plated copper disks – contained both sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth that would give any civilization that found them a good idea of what the people of Earth were capable of.

The contents of the records were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University, and consisted of 115 images and a variety of natural sounds – surf, wind, thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from then-President Carter and U.N. Secretary General Waldheim.

golden_record_cover_smIn this respect, Lone Signal represents the latest step in promoting contact and communication with other life forms. And in keeping with the trend of modern space exploration, it is being opened to the public via crowdfunding and personalized messages. But unlike SETI, which lost its government funding in 1995 and had to turn to private supporters, crowdfunded space exploration is something directly accessible by all citizens, not just corporate financiers.

Update: The Lone Signal project is now operational and on 9:00 PM EDT Monday, June 17 at a press event in New York, the team announced the transmission of the first interstellar message. The message was sent by none other than Ray Kurzweil, noted Futurist and science guru. That message was then read during his welcome talk to the Singularity University class of 2013, from the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California:

Greetings to Gliese 526 from Singularity University. As you receive this, our computers have made us smarter, the better to understand you and the wisdom of the universe.

What he means by this is that by the time the message is recieved – roughly 18 years from now, assuming it ever is – humanity is likely to have taken the first steps towards merging our brains with computers via biotech, artificial intelligence, or other means of computer-assisted brain augmentation. At least, that’s what guys like Kurzweil hope for.

Other “alpha beamers” — including Dan Aykroyd, Alicia Keys, and Jason Silva — also sent beams Monday night. And for the time being, anyone can send a “crowdsourced” 144-character beam and pic. Better get on it before they start charging. If texting and phone rates are any indication, the price is likely to go up as the plan improves!

And be sure to enjoy this promotional video from Lone Signal:


And also check out this time-lapse video of the Jamesburg Earth Station in operation:

Sources: cnet.news.com, universetoday.com, voyager.jpl.nasa.gov, bmsis.org, kurzweil.net

Apollo Rocket Engines Recovered from Seafloor

apollo_rocketThis past week, history was made when Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com) and his privately funded company, Bezos Expeditions, announced that they had successfully retrieved pieces of the very engines that had once launched Apollo astronauts to the moon. Using remotely operated vehicles and a series of slings, the crew members recovered enough parts to reconstruct the majority of two F-1 rocket boosters.

Bezos Expeditions announced last year that using state-of-the-art deep sea sonar, that they had discovered the remains off the coast of Cape Canaveral off the coast of Florida. And this past Thursday, and with NASA’s help, Bezos located the fragments at a depth of almost 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) and began hauling them to the surface. Bezos claims they belonged to the historic Apollo 11 spaceflight, but further study and restoration will be needed before their identity can be confirmed.

apollo_rocket1Regardless, this is an exciting find, and the nature of the rocket boosters confirms that they were at least part of the Apollo program. Between 1968 and 1972, ten missions were conducted that flew out of the Kennedy Space Center, each one using the Saturn V rocket, that used five F-1 engines to boost them into orbit. Once the rockets had spent their fuel, they were detached and fell into the sea.

That means that approximately sixty five F-1 engines reside in the ocean off the coast of Florida. No telling which of those these ones could be, but it is hoped that serial numbers will be retrieved from the engines that can connect them to a specific Apollo mission. But regardless, this is an exciting find, and could not have come at a better time since NASA is looking to embark on a renewed era of exploration.

saturn-v-rocket-engines-recovered-ocean-installed_65442_600x450All told, Bezos and his team spent three weeks at sea, working almost 5 kilometers below the surface. During this time, Bezos claims that his team found so much:

We’ve seen an underwater wonderland – an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program. We photographed many beautiful objects in situ and have now recovered many prime pieces. Each piece we bring on deck conjures for me the thousands of engineers who worked together back then to do what for all time had been thought surely impossible.

Naturally, NASA was pretty impressed with the find as well. After the find was announced, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden made the following statement on behalf of the Agency:

This is a historic find and I congratulate the team for its determination and perseverance in the recovery of these important artifacts of our first efforts to send humans beyond Earth orbit. We look forward to the restoration of these engines by the Bezos team and applaud Jeff’s desire to make these historic artifacts available for public display.

Apollo_11Needless to say, this is an exciting find, regardless of whether or not these rockets were the same ones that sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the Moon. Naturally, I hope it is. I can think of no greater tribute to Armstrong’s memory so soon after his passing. I can imagine him looking down on this from the stars, where he now resides, with a big old smile!

And be sure to check out this video taken by the Bezos Expedition of the undersea find:

Source: nationalgeographic.com, universetoday.com

The Moon: The Next Hot Vacation Destination?

apollo17Back in 2006, a series of millionaires shelled out a hefty 20 million dollars for a round trip to the International Space Station. At the time, this was considered quite the privilege, seeing as how civilian personnel almost never get to go into space or spend time on the ISS. But as it turns out, this story may be on its way to becoming small potatoes, thanks in part to a new company that has announced plans to mount commercial voyages to the moon by 2020.

Apollo_11_bootprintThe company is called Golden Spike, a company made up largely of former astronauts and personnel who want to use existing and future technology to make private Lunar trips possible. Its current chairman is Gerry Griffin, Apollo flight director and former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The president and CEO is planetary scientist Alan Stern, former head of all NASA science missions.

Given the cost, Golden Spike is mainly focused on offering its services to governments at the moment, much like how Russia has offering its services to governments looking to get to the ISS in the past few years. In that case and this one, these would be nations that would like to participate in space and planetary exploration but can’t afford a program of their own. But of course, should there be private citizens who want to book a ride and can afford it, they are not likely to be turned away!

Alpha Moon Base at http://www.smallartworks.ca
Alpha Moon Base at http://www.smallartworks.ca

Granted, at one time, science fiction writers were predicting that humanity would have bases on the moon by the early 21st century. But those predictions were largely abandoned thanks to the scrapping of the Apollo program and the fact that the ISS was Earth’s only orbiting space station by the turn of the century. And of course, the only way to get there cost private citizens 20 million bucks!

But this announcement, which comes on the heels of several encouraging developments, may have reignited these hopes. First, there was Reaction Engines Ltd’s announcement of the concept for the Skylon hypersonic engine , followed shortly thereafter by Virgin Galactic’s successful deployment of SpaceShipTwo. Given the pace at which aerospace is evolving and progressing, commercial flight to the moon may be coming, though a little later than previously expected.

However, making it affordable remains a daunting task. As it stands, Golden Spike’s own estimates place the cost of a single trip to the Moon at roughly 1.5 billion dollars. Naturally, the company has also indicated that they intend to make the process more affordable so all people can make the trip. No telling how this will be achieved, but if history is any indication, time has a way of making technology cheaper and more commercially viable.

apollo14So… vacation on the moon anyone? Hell, I can envision an entire line of spas, time shares and getaways on the Lunar surface in the not-too-distant future. Sure, it may not be the Mediterranean or the Mayan Riviera, but I can think of plenty of fun activities for people to do, and the novelty factor alone ought to sell tickets. Rover tours, visits to the Apollo landing sites, low-g sports and anti-aging therapies. Oh, and if Alan Shepard and the Apollo 14 mission are any indication, you can even play golf there!

Check out this video of Golden Spike’s proposed tours to the Moon, or learn more about the company by visiting their website.

Source: news.cnet.com

Once In a Blue Moon

Tonight, the Armstrong family pays a farewell tribute to Niel. In honor of this event, Mrs. Armstrong has asked that people stare up into the heavens tonight, and wink at the Blue Moon. As you all are certainly aware, Blue Moons come only once every three years (or 2.7 if you want to get technical), so the convergence of the Moon and the celebration of the man could not be more appropriate. Rest In Peace, Neil!

Neil Armstrong and the Moon Landing, the Conspiracy Continues…

Earlier this week, the world came together to mourn the loss of one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. Neil Armstrong, the first man to land on the Moon, died at the age of 82 and left a brilliant legacy. For the majority of people who don’t believe the government is microwaving their testicles and hiding little green men with anal probes in some facility in the Nevada desert, this was a time to remember Apollo 11, the Space Race, and all that men like Neil Armstrong had accomplished.

But for other individuals, it was a time to reassert their theories with even greater dedication. For these people – the same people who believe the Moon Landing was faked as a distraction of propaganda exercise – now claim a number of new conspiracies are at work. And I’m sure you’ll agree, they are pretty freaking interesting*.

Apollo11_Aldrin1Some say that Neil Armstrong was part of a Masonic plot, that he was a “lying piece of Mason shit” as it were. Others claim that it was an Illuminati plot, or (I’m guessing) that the Knights Templar were somehow behind it. Yet others seem to think their is a connection between his death and Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace. But the one I like best is the “rumor” that Neil was murdered because he was about to blow the whistle on the whole Moon Landing conspiracy.

Ever since he set foot on the Moon, Armstrong had chosen to weigh in on the conspiracy theories, taking them in stride and never once denouncing the people who spoke them. In fact, during an interview earlier this year with an Australian TV station, he said “”People love conspiracy theories, they’re very attractive. But they were never a concern to me.” Yep, sounds like he’s hiding something to me!

apollo_11_bootprint-e1405838911229After considering all this, I find I can do little except shake my head and wonder if eugenics is such a bad idea after all. Sure, it got a terrible wrap in the hands of the Nazis and other fascist morons, but what if we refocused it to ensure that people who believe in these kinds of conspiracies are kept from making babies Would that be evil, or to the benefit of the human race? Yeah, doesn’t seem very just, but it’s nice to pretend, isn’t it?

But just in case you’re interested what some of the conspiracy theorists are saying, here is a link to the Godlike Productions website where many of said people seem to be hanging out. It seems the only prerequisite to participating in this board is a child-like imagination and the belief that they really are out to get you.

In the meantime, remember: just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t all out to get you. Just because you don’t know who they are doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence! Good night and, given the proliferation of stupid theories and the people who believe in them, good luck!

*Note: by interesting, I mean the kind of brain-dead, bat-shit crazy garbage that can only come out of the worst recesses of a mouth-breathers stunted and paranoid imagination!

Source: Gawker