Archive for the ‘Space’ Category
Straight from Gizmodo: “SETI, the massive, international scientific effort to listen for life outside of earth, won’t be finding that life anytime soon, the Mercury News reports—too broke to continue, the project’s Allen Telescope Array is hanging up indefinitely.
The shutdown comes as both a shock and major disappointment to astronomers around the world. The 42-dish array, named after Microsoft founder Paul Allen’s thick-walleted donation, has only been operational for four years, and would just now be reaching its most valuable period of use: “There is a huge irony,” laments SETI Director Jill Tarter, “that a time when we discover so many planets to look at, we don’t have the operating funds to listen.” There are other dishes available to the project, but none as capable as the Allen Array. With these radio dishes out of commission, the project is completely hobbled. State and federal budgets are both tight, and many in Congress dismiss the project as trivial ET-chasing.
So the dishes will sit idle, for who knows how long. And if a broadcast from a distant intelligence happens to bounce in our vicinity, we’ll never know. “If we miss a distant signal,” says one amateur astronomer, “it would be a terrible loss.”
If you’d like to donate to a worthy cause today, consider throwing SETI some bones. It just might lead to the greatest scientific breakthrough in human history.
Straight from Slashdot: “NASA’s Cassini probe, in orbit around Saturn, may have discovered evidence for a liquid water ocean under the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. The data comes from radar observations of the surface that measure Titan’s rotation and tell how it is oriented relative to the plane of its orbit — its axial tilt. According to a paper to be published in an upcoming issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics (preprint PDF at arXiv.org), the new data showed that many of the planet’s surface features were in the wrong place, sometimes off by as much as 30 kilometers (19 miles). Titan always presents the same face toward Saturn, just like the Moon does to Earth. But in those situations, one expects that the moon will be in the ‘Cassini state,’ which means that the axial tilt will have a certain value. In Titan’s case, the axial tilt was measured at 0.3 degrees. That seemed too high if one assumed Titan was a solid body.”
Straight from Fox News: “Blue Origin, a highly secretive private rocket developer, was one of four companies chosen by NASA this week to receive funding toward the design and testing of a spacecraft to fly astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit.
As part of the second round of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, the agency will award $22 million to Blue Origin as it continues the development of its launch vehicle and critical systems.
While the Kent, Wash., company remains tight-lipped about its work, the contract between Blue Origin and NASA, called a Space Act Agreement, sheds some light on the planned spacecraft and the milestones the company must meet during the next year to qualify for the funding. [Illustration of Blue Origin's orbital spaceship]
The agreement, which runs until May 2012, acknowledges that Blue Origin is developing a crew transportation system made up of a space vehicle “launched first on an Atlas V launch vehicle and then on Blue Origin’s own Reusable Booster System.”
NASA plans to rely on private spacecraft to launch American astronauts into space after its 30-year space shuttle program shuts down later this year.
The CCDev funding will be used to further the design of the spacecraft through a systems requirement review stage. This includes work on the spacecraft’s thermal protection system and aerodynamic analyses of its cone shape.
The money also will be used to complete vital tests on the vehicle’s engine and pusher escape system, which incorporates escape rockets around the base of the crew capsule rather than tower-mounted concepts, as were used for NASA’s Mercury and Apollo spacecraft. [Infographic: Spaceships of the World]
Blue Origin’s space vehicle will be able to carry seven astronauts and “will transfer NASA crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station, serve as an ISS emergency escape vehicle for up to 210 days, and perform a land landing to minimize the costs of recovery and reuse,” the document reads.[The Best Spaceships of All Time]
“It will also conduct separate commercial missions for science research, private adventure, and travel to other destinations” in low-Earth orbit.
The three other companies who were awarded funds April 18 in the second round of NASA’s CCDev program were Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada.
Blue Origin was established by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. According to its Space Act Agreement, the company is developing its spacecraft to be compatible with multiple rockets; the Atlas V was initially selected because it has a dependable launch record and can be adapted for human spaceflight capabilities.
The company’s work on its New Shepard suborbital vertical launch vehicle will also be used to develop key technologies for its orbital spacecraft. New Shepard is being designed as a fully reusable vehicle capable of flying three or more astronauts on suborbital flights for science research and space tourism purposes.”
Straight from io9: “This might look like some weird cosmic gateway straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey or a particularly trippy old-school Doctor Whoadventure, but the Red Square Nebula is completely real. Just don’t ask astronomers to explain its bizarre shape.
Even if its name sounds downright un-American, the Red Square Nebula has got to be my new favorite celestial phenomenon, if only because it looks so ridiculously like something out of vintage science fiction, as you can see in this image created from various infrared exposures from Earth-based telescopes in Hawaii and California. Part of the reason the nebula looks so unreal is its unique square structure, for which astronomers still have no obvious explanation.
The leading hypothesis is that the star or stars at the heart of the nebula for some reason expelled unusual cones of gas at a late stage in their development, and these just happened to form a square-like shape. Sure, “for some reason” and “just happened” aren’t the most scientific argument ever, but that’s the thing about the universe – it’s so big that plenty of things can quite comfortably happen completely by chance.
Of course, we only see it like a square because that’s the shape that happens to be turned toward us at precisely the right angle to create this effect. The Red Square Nebula would look very different from other angles, and astronomers speculate that viewed from other angles its cones would look like the huge rings that we can observe on supernova 1987A, which suggests that a star inside this nebula is someday headed for a fierce supernova all its own.”
Straight from Fox News: “Fly me to the moon? Sure thing.
Private spaceflight company Space Exploration (SpaceX) has received tentative approval from NASA to send its Dragon cargo craft on a landmark first mission to the International Space Station on November 30, which would make it the first private company to dock with the space station.
A successful docking on December 9 would be a dramatic validation of NASA’s plan to replace the now-retired space shuttle fleet with cheaper, private vehicles — though how the space agency would send astronauts to space remains an open question.
The Dragon capsule, one of several vehicles competing to haul cargo for NASA into space, had planned two test missions for this winter. One would gauge the capsule’s ability to do a “drive-by” of the space station, where it would approach close enough to test navigation and communication gear. A second mission would test the craft’s ability to dock.
But SpaceX is ready now, the company argues. Why not combine the two and hit the milestone earlier?
“We technically have agreed with SpaceX that we want to combine those flights,” William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, said at a July 21 media briefing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “We are doing all the planning to go ahead and have those missions combined, but we haven’t given them formal approval yet.”
If approved, SpaceX would deliver cargo to the space station in early December. And if successful, it would validate NASA’s plan to replace the shuttle with dramatically cheaper private spacecraft.
SpaceX will charge NASA at least $1.6 billion for 12 cargo shipments to the ISS, or $133 million per flight. The space shuttle costs exceed $1 billion per flight.
SpaceX is not alone, however: Orbital Sciences Corp. also has a contract with NASA to supply cargo ships. And it plans to launch the Cygnus resupply ship into space in February 2012.
David Thompson, chairman and CEO of Orbital Sciences, recently noted that the addition of the final Atlantis flight allowed NASA to stock up on food and other consumables, giving private industry a little wiggle room — but only a little.
“This most recent space shuttle mission … was able to stock up the space station with supplies and consumables to buy some time for both us and SpaceX to get our cargo systems operational, but the pressure is on to get both of these delivery systems proven and into service over the course of the next year,” Thompson told industry blog Spaceflight Now.
SpaceX’s craft consists of two parts: the Falcon 9 rocket, a multistage reusable rocket capable of lifting significant amounts of cargo, and Dragon, a reusable space capsule that will carry the cargo, dock and parachute back to Earth, ultimately splash-landing in the ocean.
The first and second stages of the Falcon 9 rocket for SpaceX’s cargo flight are already at the company’s Cape Canaveral launch pad. The Dragon spacecraft is due to arrive in August or September, the news site noted.
“We’re doing all the planning to go ahead and combine those missions,” Gerstenmaier said. “The capsule is being designed that way and the software is being built that way, and we’re just kind of waiting for the right formal time where we collectively agree that this is the right thing to go forward.”
A half-century of America sending Americans into space came to an end July 21, when space shuttle Atlantis became the final shuttle to touch down from space.
“Job well done, America,” mission control told Atlantis pilot Doug Hurley and the thousands watching and listening to the landing in the pre-dawn dark. Russian space agency Roskosmos used the occasion to give a nod to America’s contributions — and signal the beginning of the era of its spaceships instead.
“From today, the era of the Soyuz has started in manned space flight, the era of reliability,” Roskomos said.
SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. may see things differently.”
Straight from Fox News: “As NASA’s space shuttle program winds down, President Obama is urging the agency to change its tired, old ways and reach for something bigger…like Mars, or perhaps an asteroid.
The three-decades old program is set for completion after the shuttle Atlantis takes off on its final mission Friday; dependent, as always, on the weather. With the program’s departure, so goes some 7,000 Kennedy Space Center jobs.
Mr. Obama told participants in a Twitter town hall at the White House Thursday that he’s got much more in mind for the space agency.
“[W]e’ve set a goal to– let’s ultimately get to Mars,” the president said. “A good pit stop is an asteroid. I haven’t actually — we haven’t identified the actual asteroid yet, in case people are wondering,” he added to laughter.
The president’s mission to Mars idea isn’t new– he unveiled it last year– but the timing of the Twitter question couldn’t be more relevant.
“Now that the space shuttle is gone, where does America stand in space exploration?” the president was asked.
The president said he’s been urging NASA to re-think its way of doing things.
“We’re still using the same models for space travel that we used with the Apollo program 30, 40 years ago. And so what we’ve said is, rather than keep on doing the same thing, let’s invest in basic research around new technologies that can get us places faster, allow human space flight to last longer,” he said.
The future of low-orbit space travel is expected to fall to private companies and U.S. astronauts may have to hitch a ride on Russian capsules, but those ventures have become routine, Mr. Obama said, and he urged NASA to broaden its horizons.
Still, the president indicated it’s important not to underestimate America’s stature in the final frontier, telling the town hall, “We are still a leader in space exploration.”"
Straight from Fox News: “First moonwalker Neil Armstrong, first American in orbit John Glenn, Mission Control founder Chris Kraft, Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell, first shuttle pilot Robert Crippen and others are pushing for a last minute reprieve for the about-to-be-retired space shuttle fleet. They’re even urging a delay of Friday’s final launch.
They may get a delay of a day or two because of bad weather. But the NASA veterans are looking for a pause of more than a year, until more shuttle parts are ready to keep flying and extend the 30-year program.
Back in June, as Atlantis headed to the launch pad, launch director Mike Leinbach on a live audio loop groused to his fellow workers “we’re all victims of poor policy out of Washington, D.C.,” for not having a new mission for the post-shuttle era.
Glenn, who returned to space at the age of 77 by flying on the shuttle Discovery in 1998, said: “I told the president, ‘We’re violating one of NASA’s critical design criteria.”‘
That means there must be a backup system for getting into space and bringing astronauts home from the International Space Station.
Armstrong, Kraft and Lovell sent a letter June 30 to President Barack Obama and NASA chief Charles Bolden asking that they keep shuttles flying and delay this final launch. Glenn, who wasn’t involved in the letter campaign, is also calling it a mistake to end the space shuttle program — planned since 2004.
Kraft said he considered a backup crucial as he ran Mission Control or oversaw the people who did — missions from the Mercury days of the 1960s through early space shuttle days. He said it is still possible at this late date to put Atlantis’ final mission on hold while NASA builds new external fuel tanks and boosters for future shuttle flights — a process that would delay the launch about 18 months.
“It’s a generational thing. It’s a culture thing and mostly it’s a political thing,” said Kraft, 87. Nearly all the signees of the letter are in their 70s and 80s. Glenn, who didn’t sign the letter, will turn 90 this month.
It’s a fight Kraft has waged for at least three years, pulling in Armstrong, 80, and others. Armstrong, in an email to The Associated Press, wrote: “Chris is an exceptional engineer and manager who has always been reliable in the many cases where he held the success or failure of American human space flight in his hands.” He wrote that if Kraft thinks this is too risky a plan, “I can readily accept that.”
For his part, NASA Administrator Bolden, a former shuttle commander, defended the shuttle retirentury approach: “This is a century with new challenges and also new opportunities.”
Scott Parazynski, a 49-year-old former astronaut who heads the educational center created by Challenger families, said in an email that he agrees with Kraft that NASA shouldn’t be left without a backup to the Soyuz, but disagrees with the idea of delaying the shuttle retirement.
“The cards have been dealt, and even though we may not all like the cards we’ve gotten, we’ve got to play,” Parazynski wrote. “I see a path forward that gives American industry (new enterprise as well as established aerospace) and NASA a bright future.”
The American public apparently wants the U.S. to continue to be a space leader. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center released Tuesday, 58 percent of Americans think it’s essential the nation continue as a leader in space.
For his part, Glenn said he doesn’t disagree with Obama’s plans, although he said he believes private spaceflight will take years longer than Bolden predicts. What Glenn objects to is the gap between the shuttle and a future spacecraft. While the Soyuz is reliable, Glenn said NASA should always want an alternative in case of a “hiccup” in the Soyuz plans.
“I think we should be keeping the shuttle going,” Glenn said. “It’s the most complicated vehicle ever put together by people.”"
Straight from Fox News: “Lawmakers working on next year’s federal finances have taken the ax to the James Webb Space Telescope.
That’s right, NASA’s next-generation space telescope, the successor to Hubble and the space agency’s biggest post-shuttle project, may be killed.
To be clear, there are many more steps in the budget process before this is final — lawmakers are working on next year’s budget despite a stalemate between the White House and Republican leadership, so a lot could change in the next couple weeks. And odds are decent that at least some lawmakers will fight to preserve this enormous technological marvel (and the jobs associated with its construction). But this is not good news for astronomy, to put it mildly.
The House Appropriations Committee released its 2012 Commerce, Justice and Science funding bill today, ahead of a scheduled committee markup Thursday. The bill provides $50.2 billion overall for the nation’s projects in those three areas, which is $7.4 billion less than President Obama’s budget request. NASA’s budget is slashed by $1.6 billion, which is $1.9 billion less than Obama wanted. About $1 billion of that comes from the end of the shuttle program, and NASA Science funding is cut by $431 million from last year.
“The bill also terminates funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management,” an Appropriations Committee press release says flatly.
While management problems are a little more subjective, the telescope is indeed massively over budget, as we’ve told you before. In November, a congressional panel described the telescope as “NASA’s Hurricane Katrina,” because of its destructive toll on other agency projects. That review found the telescope’s price tag had mushroomed to $6.5 billion and that it would not be ready until at least 2015. Then, just last week, the watchdog site NASA Watch obtained a memo from Goddard Space Flight Center describing that it may not launch until after 2018 — even that is “unfeasible,” the report said.
But that earlier report, last November, also pointed out a key fact: “The funds invested to date have not been wasted.” The JWST has enabled several engineering feats, from brand-new metal compounds to a huge space umbrella that will shield it from the sun. The umbrella will unfurl in space along with an enormous 18-piece primary mirror made of material that is supposed to warp in frigid temperatures. Astronomers say the JWST will provide unprecedented imagery of the deepest corners of the cosmos.
This bombshell is not the only piece of bad news for the scientific community. The National Science Foundation is also losing funding, set to receive $907 million less than Obama requested as part of his campaign to “Win the Future.” The NSF will get a modest $43 million for core research, Politico reports. Aside from that, NOAA is down $1 billion. The Environmental Protection Agency is down $1.5 billion, about 18 percent.
Pentagon spending would grow by $17 billion in 2012, on the other hand.
Again, this is all far from over, and plenty of fiscal feuding remains before we can write the JWST’s obituary. But with a budget debate raging in Washington — and, many economists say, the specter of a new economic crisis looming — future space telescopes could be a low priority.”
Straight from Astronomy Picture of the Day: “Explanation: In the final move of its kind, NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis was photographed earlier this month slowly advancing toward Launch Pad 39A, where it is currently scheduled for a July launch to the International Space Station. The mission, designated STS-135, is the 135th and last mission for a NASA space shuttle. Atlantis and its four-person crew will be carrying, among other things, the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module Raffaello to bring key components and supplies to the ISS. Pictured above, the large Shuttle Crawler Transporter rolls the powerful orbiter along the five-kilometer long road at less than two kilometers per hour. Over 15,000 spectators, some visible on the right, were on hand for the historic roll out.”
Straight from Engadget: “There’s been a lot of talk of things coming to an end at NASA lately, but there are also some new beginnings, and the space agency has now officially filled in one big gap. It’s announced that the so-called Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (or MPCV) will be its go-to space exploration vehicle for missions beyond Low Earth Orbit — presumably, the individual spacecraft will get names more up to the level of boldly-named vehicles like Endeavor and Atlantis. If it looks a little familiar, that’s because the MPCV will be based on the Orion spacecraft that was developed under the now-canceled Constellation program and, like it, it will be built by Lockheed Martin. Once its put into service, the spacecraft will be capable of carrying four astronauts on missions up to 21 days, and it could even be used as a backup for cargo and crew delivery to the ISS — to actually get into space, it would blast off atop a heavy lift rocket, and then splash down Apollo-style in the Pacific Ocean. Head on past the break for NASA’s official announcement.”
Straight from Astronomy Picture of the Day: “Explanation: What’s that bright orange dot above the large telescope on the right? Even seasoned sky enthusiasts might ponder the origin of the orange orb seen by scrolling across this panoramic image, taken last December. Perhaps identifying known objects will help. To start, on the far left is a diagonal band of light known as zodiacal light, sunlight reflected off of dust orbiting in the inner Solar System. The bright white spot on the left, just above the horizon, is Venus, which also glows by reflected sunlight. Rising diagonally from the ground to the right of Venus is the band of our Milky Way Galaxy. In the image, the band, which usually stretches dramatically overhead, appears to arch above the elevated Chilean landscape. Under the Milky Way arch, toward the left, lie both the Large and Small Magellanic Cloud galaxies, while toward the right lies the constellation of Orion surrounded by the red ring of Barnard’s Loop. On the ground, each of the four Very Large Telescopes is busy keeping an eye on the distant universe. The orange spot — it’s the Moon. The image was taken during a total lunar eclipse when the normally bright full moon turned into a faint orb tinted orange by the intervening Earth’s atmosphere.”
Straight from Fox News: “A pair of low Earth-orbiting demonstration satellites built by Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems for the first time on March 16 detected and tracked a ballistic missile launch through all phases of flight, a Northrop Grumman official said March 22.
So-called birth-to-death tracking of a ballistic missile launch had never been done before from space — and is the most significant achievement to date for the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) spacecraft, said Doug Young, Northrop Grumman’s vice president of missile defense and warning programs.
“It’s the Holy Grail for missile defense,” Young said during a media briefing here. [Top 10 Space Weapons Concepts]
Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman built three STSS demonstration satellites for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The first satellite, which had a classified mission, was launched in May 2009. After completing its test program, it was transferred Jan. 31 to the control of Air Force Space Command to continue supporting the service’s space situational awareness mission.
The two unclassified STSS satellites were launched in September 2009 on a single United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket. During an extended on-orbit check-out and calibration phase that concluded in November, the satellites tracked multiple missile launches in the early boost and post-boost phases and demonstrated the ability to relay data from one satellite to the other.
The tracking data was successfully relayed to the other satellite, which continued to observe the target as it coasted through space, re-entered the atmosphere and splashed down in the ocean, he said.
Future STSS tests this year will be more sophisticated, Young said. In the coming months, the MDA will attempt to cue the STSS satellites to a missile launch using data from the operational Defense Support Program missile warning satellites, rather than the acquisition sensors on board STSS, he said.
Another test this year will seek to determine if the STSS satellites can produce missile tracking data good enough to cue the launch of ship-based interceptors, a concept known as launch on remote.
Similarly, the STSS demonstration satellites later this year will attempt to track a target missile and feed data to the Aegis system to generate a “fire control solution” for an early interceptor launch, Young said. However, an interceptor will not actually be launched in that test, he noted.
Meanwhile, the MDA is pursuing an operational constellation of geosynchronous missile tracking satellites dubbed the Precision Tracking Space System. The agency will rely on the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., to develop a prototype system to be launched in 2015. An industry team is expected to be chosen in 2014 to build between nine and 12 operational spacecraft planned to begin launching in 2018.
The MDA aims to spend $1.34 billion on the Precision Tracking Space System between 2012 and 2016, budget documents show.”
Straight from Engadget: “Plasma propulsion may very well be our ticket to visit those little green men on Mars, which is why NASA is becoming besties with Ad Astra, makers of the VASIMR VX-200 plasma rocket. After successful terrestrial testing, the next step is to try out a VF-200 flight model in space — and a new agreement gives NASA engineers access to VASIMR while letting Ad Astra leverage NASA’s spacecraft expertise to get it into orbit. The plasma rocket was assumed to be destined for use on the International Space Station because it requires far less fuel than conventional boosters — making it better suited than the propellant-hungry thrusters keeping the station in orbit today — and can take advantage of the ISS’s considerable electrical power (250kW) to fully test VASIMR’s 200kW output. Plasma rockets produce sustained thrust, as opposed to the quick bursts of its chemical cousin, which makes it the preferred means of propulsion for space travel as well. NASA hasn’t fully committed to either use — but if Marvin and his fellow Red Planet denizens know what’s good for them, they’ll be watching VASIMR’s development with great interest.”
Straight from Engadget: “Space junk is a growing problem — 200,000 pieces and counting — and as the amount of earth’s orbital debris increases, so does the chance some satellite will be involved in a cosmic collision. As this would cause much gnashing of teeth and woe for the affected terrestrial parties, some researchers from NASA’s Ames Research Center have pitched the idea of moving said junk with a laser — once again proving that everything’s better with lasers. The idea is to use a 5kW ray, likely similar to the one we’ve got at the Starfire Optical Range, to slow our galactic garbage — perhaps slowing it down enough to burn it up in earth’s atmosphere. Current estimates say such a laser could migrate ten pieces of junk a day, which gives us the promise of a future with neat and tidy skies.”
Straight from Fox News: “NASA, already committed to paying Russia millions of dollars to hitch rides into space, had some expensive news to announce Monday: Russia plan to start charging even more.
With the United States phasing out the shuttle program, the new way for U.S. astronauts to get to the International Space Station will be to catch a ride with the Russians, and NASA’s existing contract for that transport priced each rocket ride at just under $56 million.
Now, Russia is hiking the price for each rocket ride to nearly $63 million in 2014. The contract extension with the Russian Space Agency totals $753 million, which covers trips for a dozen astronauts from 2014 through 2016.
Why such a price hike? NASA officials chalk it up to inflation.
NASA chief Charles Bolden says it’s critical for U.S. companies to take over this transportation job. The space shuttles used to do that job are being retired this summer.”
Straight from Fox News: “We are not alone in the universe — and alien life forms may have a lot more in common with life on Earth than we had previously thought.
That’s the stunning conclusion one NASA scientist has come to, releasing his groundbreaking revelations in a new study in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology.
Dr. Richard B. Hoover, an astrobiologist with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, has traveled to remote areas in Antarctica, Siberia, and Alaska, amongst others, for over ten years now, collecting and studying meteorites. He gave FoxNews.com early access to the out-of-this-world research, published late Friday evening in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology. In it, Hoover describes the latest findings in his study of an extremely rare class of meteorites, called CI1 carbonaceous chondrites — only nine such meteorites are known to exist on Earth.
Though it may be hard to swallow, Hoover is convinced that his findings reveal fossil evidence of bacterial life within such meteorites, the remains of living organisms from their parent bodies — comets, moons and other astral bodies. By extension, the findings suggest we are not alone in the universe, he said.
“I interpret it as indicating that life is more broadly distributed than restricted strictly to the planet earth,” Hoover told FoxNews.com. “This field of study has just barely been touched — because quite frankly, a great many scientist would say that this is impossible.”
In what he calls “a very simple process,” Dr. Hoover fractured the meteorite stones under a sterile environment before examining the freshly broken surface with the standard tools of the scientist: a scanning-electron microscope and a field emission electron-scanning microscope, which allowed him to search the stone’s surface for evidence of fossilized remains.
He found the fossilized remains of micro-organisms not so different from ordinary ones found underfoot — here on earth, that is.
“The exciting thing is that they are in many cases recognizable and can be associated very closely with the generic species here on earth,” Hoover told FoxNews.com. But not all of them. “There are some that are just very strange and don’t look like anything that I’ve been able to identify, and I’ve shown them to many other experts that have also come up stumped.”
Other scientists tell FoxNews.com the implications of this research are shocking, describing the findings variously as profound, very important and extraordinary. But Dr. David Marais, an astrobiologist with NASA’s AMES Research Center, says he’s very cautious about jumping onto the bandwagon.
These kinds of claims have been made before, he noted — and found to be false.
“It’s an extraordinary claim, and thus I’ll need extraordinary evidence,” Marais said.
Knowing that the study will be controversial, the journal invited members of the scientific community to analyze the results and to write critical commentaries ahead of time. Though none are online yet, those comments will be posted alongside the article, said Dr. Rudy Schild, a scientist with the Harvard-Smithsonian’s Center for Astrophysics and the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Cosmology.
“Given the controversial nature of his discovery, we have invited 100 experts and have issued a general invitation to over 5,000 scientists from the scientific community to review the paper and to offer their critical analysis,” Schild wrote in an editor’s note along with the article. “No other paper in the history of science has undergone such a thorough vetting, and never before in the history of science has the scientific community been given the opportunity to critically analyze an important research paper before it is published, he wrote.”
Dr. Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, said there is a lot of hesitancy to believe such proclamations. If true, the implications would be far-reaching throughout the fields of science and astronomy, the suggestions and possibilities stunning.
“Maybe life was seeded on earth — it developed on comets for example, and just landed here when these things were hitting the very early Earth,” Shostak speculated. “It would suggest, well, life didn’t really begin on the Earth, it began as the solar system was forming.”
Hesitancy to believe new claims is something common and necessary to the field of science, Hoover said.
“A lot of times it takes a long time before scientists start changing their mind as to what is valid and what is not. I’m sure there will be many many scientists that will be very skeptical and that’s OK.”
Until Hoover’s research can be independently verified, Marais said, the findings should be considered “a potential signature of life.” Scientists, he said, will now take the research to the next level of scrutiny, which includes an independent confirmation of the results by another lab, before the findings can be classified “a confirmed signature of life.”
Hoover says he isn’t worried about the process and is open to any other explanations.
“If someone can explain how it is possible to have a biological remain that has no nitrogen, or nitrogen below the detect ability limits that I have, in a time period as short as 150 years, then I would be very interested in hearing that.”
“I’ve talked with many scientists about this and no one has been able to explain,” he said.”
Straight from Gizmodo: “Back in 2009, the Japanese Space Agency JAXA announced moon hole deep enough to contain a small human base. Now, the Indian Space Research Organization has discovered a “giant underground chamber” near the Moon’s equator, in the Oceanus Procellarum area.
The huge cave— discovered by the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft—is more than one mile long (1.7 kilometers) and 393 feet wide (120 meters). By comparison, the vertical hole that Jaxa discovered was only 213 feet (65 meters across) and 289 feet deep (88 meters). This new chamber is big enough to contain a small lunar city or a secret Nazi base with a few thousand UFOs.
The Indian researchers have published a paper detailing their findings and talking about the possibility of making this giant underground vault as a future human base. The settlement would be protected from radiation, micro-meteor impacts, dust and extreme temperature changes by the lava structure:
Lava provides a natural environmental control with a nearly constant temperature of minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit), unlike that of the lunar surface showing extreme variation, maximum of 130 degrees Celsius (266 degrees Fahrenheit) to a minimum of minus 180 degrees Celsius (-292 degrees Fahrenheit) in its diurnal (day-night) cycle.
They also point out that explorers would only need minimal construction, without the added cost of having to use expensive shields against the hazardous lunar environment.
If humans ever colonize this chamber, I hope they call the city Attilan.”
Straight from Fox News: “There was no glory for NASA’s Glory satellite today.
A rocket that blasted off early Friday carrying the $424 million Earth-observation satellite Glory failed to reach orbit, NASA said, and has most likely crashed into the ocean. In a press conference Friday morning, Omar Baez, NASA launch director, voiced the space agency’s worries about the fate of Glory.
“All indications are that the satellite and rocket are in the southern Pacific Ocean,” Baez said.
Rich Straka of Orbital Sciences Corp., the private company responsible for the satellite and launch, had few details to add.
“Right now we’re crunching the data, but there really isn’t enough data to say anything more than the fairing didn’t separate,” Straka said.
Ron Grabe, executive vice president with the company, described it as a “tough night for all of us.” The teams involved are devastated, Grabe said, comparing this latest loss to a similar incident in 2009, when NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) mission also failed.
Unlike commercial rocket launches, NASA’s efforts aren’t insured — and there is rarely a paid backup, a NASA spokesman said. For the space agency to continue with the mission, it will have to divert funds from another project or request additional funding.
NASA told FoxNews.com that it was too early to say how it would recover from the loss of the mission and the two scientific instruments aboard the Glory satellite — and too soon to say what will happen to the two dozen NASA staff members ready to work on operations & science for the mission.
The 2009 failed satellite crashed into the ocean near Antarctica. Officials said Glory likely wound up landing in the same area. Both were on Orbital’s Taurus rockets. The next NASA Earth sciences launch on a Taurus rocket is scheduled for 2013 but the space agency can still change launch vehicles if the Taurus proves unreliable, NASA Earth Science Director Mike Freilich told The Associated Press.
“I don’t know if that’s necessary or not,” Freilich said. “We’re not going to fly on a vehicle in which we don’t have confidence.” NASA paid Orbital about $54 million to launch Glory, according to Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski. The Taurus rocket has launched nine times, six of them successfully.
NASA and Orbital spent more than a year studying and trying to fix the problem that caused 2009′s Orbiting Carbon Observatory to fail. The payload fairing — a clamshell-shaped protective covering for the satellite — did not open to release the satellite.
The same thing happened with Glory, officials said.
“We really went into the (Glory) flight feeling we had nailed the fairing issue,” said Ronald Grabe, general manager of Orbital’s launch systems division and a former space shuttle commander.
Glory was intended for a three-year mission to analyze how airborne particles affect Earth’s climate. Besides monitoring particles in the atmosphere –known as aerosols, they reflect and trap sunlight — it was meant to track solar radiation to determine the sun’s effect on climate change.
The vast majority of aerosols occurs naturally, spewed into the atmosphere by volcanoes, forest fires and desert storms. Aerosols can also come from manmade sources such as the burning of fossil fuel.
The $424 million mission is managed by the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Friday’s launch came after engineers spent more than a week troubleshooting a glitch that led to a last-minute scrub.
The Taurus XL rocket carrying NASA’s Glory satellite lifted off about 2:10 a.m. PST from Vandenberg Air Force Base, officials said. But NASA said in a brief statement that a protective shell or “fairing” atop the rocket did not separate from the satellite as it should have about three minutes after the launch.
That left the Glory spacecraft without the velocity to reach orbit, NASA launch commentator George Diller said.
“The flight was going well until the time of fairing separation,” Diller said. “We did not have a successful fairing separation from the Taurus and there was insufficient velocity with the fairing still on for the vehicle to achieve orbit.”"
Straight from MSNBC: “For the second time in two years, a rocket glitch sent a NASA global warming satellite to the bottom of the sea Friday, a $424 million debacle that couldn’t have come at a worse time for the space agency and its efforts to understand climate change.
Years of belt-tightening have left NASA’s Earth-watching system in sorry shape, according to many scientists. And any money for new environmental satellites will have to survive budget-cutting, global warming politics — and now, doubts on Capitol Hill about the space agency’s competence.
The Taurus XL rocket carrying NASA’s Glory satellite lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and plummeted to the southern Pacific several minutes later. The same thing happened to another climate-monitoring probe in 2009 with the same type of rocket, and engineers thought they had fixed the problem.
“It’s more than embarrassing,” said Syracuse University public policy professor Henry Lambright. “Something was missed in the first investigation and the work that went on afterward.”
Lambright warned that the back-to-back fiascos could have political repercussions, giving Republicans and climate-change skeptics more ammunition to question whether “this is a good way to spend taxpayers’ money for rockets to fail and for a purpose they find suspect.”
Used to failure
NASA’s environmental division is getting used to failure, cuts and criticism. In 2007, a National Academy of Sciences panel said that research and purchasing for NASA Earth sciences had decreased 30 percent in six years and that the climate-monitoring system was at “risk of collapse.”
Just last month, the Obama administration canceled two major satellite proposals to save money.
Also, the Republican-controlled House has sliced $600 million from NASA in its continuing spending bill, and some GOP members do not believe the evidence of manmade global warming.
Thirteen NASA Earth-observing satellites remain up there, and nearly all of them are in their sunset years.
“Many of the key observations for climate studies are simply not being made,” Harvard Earth sciences professor James Anderson said. “This is the nadir of climate studies since I’ve been working in this area for 40 years.”
Scientists are trying to move climate change forecasts from ones that are heavily based on computer models to those that rely on more detailed, real-time satellite-based observations like those that Glory was supposed to make. The satellite’s failure makes that harder.
Ruth DeFries, the Columbia University professor who co-chaired the 2007 National Academy of Sciences panel, said in an e-mail that this matters for everyone on Earth.
“The nation’s weakening Earth-observing system is dimming the headlights needed to guide society in managing our planet in light of climate change and other myriad ways that humans are affecting the land, atmosphere and oceans,” DeFries wrote.
NASA Earth Sciences chief Michael Freilich said it is not that bad.
“We must not lose sight of the fact that we in NASA are flying 13 research missions right now, which are providing the fuel for advancing a lot of our Earth science,” Freilich told The Associated Press. He said airplane missions, current satellites and future ones can pick up much of the slack for what Glory was going to do.
However, Freilich, at a budget briefing a year ago, described the Earth-watching satellites as “all old,” adding that 12 of the 13 “are well beyond their design lifetimes.”
“We’re losing the ability to monitor really key aspects of the climate problem from space,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Arizona. “Just about every climate scientist in the world has got to be sad right now.”
Why it failed
Glory failed when the rocket’s clamshell-shaped protective covering that was supposed to shield it during launch never opened to let the satellite fire into orbit. A similar fiasco happened in 2009 when the Orbiting Carbon Observatory fell back to Earth after the rocket nose cone also failed to separate.
A NASA investigation board and Taurus’ builder, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., will try to figure out what wrong. It was the third failure out of nine launches for that rocket. NASA paid Orbital $54 million for launching Glory. The last failure was traced to the system that jettisons the covering, and Orbital changed its design.
“To make any connection between our investigation of the 2009 … mishap and Friday’s failure of the Glory launch at this time would be purely speculative and wholly inappropriate,” said investigative panel chairman Rick Obenschain, deputy director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
The replacement for the Orbital Carbon Observatory is to be launched in 2013 on a Taurus XL, but NASA officials said the OCO-2 launch could be switched to a different launch vehicle if necessary.
Orbital is also developing a new rocket called Taurus 2 as well as a Cygnus space capsule to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. That project has received $171 million in NASA support. Orbital’s executives said they did not expect Friday’s Taurus XL failure to have significant impact on the Taurus 2 effort.”