William Shatner Completes his Trip to Space With Blue Origin

After traveling to the edge of space this week, William Shatner and the crew of the NS-18 mission made it back to Earth safe and sound. This was the second time Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle flew to space with a crew aboard, and as with the inaugural flight, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos decided to enlist some star power! Who better than the man known to millions of fans as James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the starship Enterprise?

At 90 years of age, the veteran actor of television, film, and stage is the oldest person to fly to space. The previous record was held by 82-year old veteran aviator Wally Funk, who went to space as part of the first crewed flight of the New Shepard on July 20th. Along with his fellow crewmembers, Shatner’s experienced what it’s like to go to space for the first time from the company’s Launch Site One facility in West Texas.

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Perseverance has Collected its First Sample of Mars and Prepared it for Return to Earth… Eventually

It’s another first for NASA.

In early September, the Perseverance rover successfully used its robotic arm and drill to drill into a rock and extract a sample. It extracted a rock core about 6 cm (2 in) long and placed it inside a sealed tube. This is the first time a robotic spacecraft has collected a sample from another planet destined for a return to Earth on a separate spacecraft.

Now we wait for the eventual return of the sample to Earth.

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Rocky Planets Might Need to be the Right age to Support Life

Extrasolar planets are being discovered at a rapid rate, with 4,531 planets in 3,363 systems (with another 7,798 candidates awaiting confirmation). Of these, 166 have been identified as rocky planets (aka. “Earth-like”), while another 1,389 have been rocky planets that are several times the size of Earth (“Super-Earths). As more and more discoveries are made, the focus is shifting from the discovery process towards characterization.

In order to place tighter constraints on whether any of these exoplanets are habitable, astronomers and astrobiologists are looking for ways to detect biomarkers and other signs of biological processes. According to a new study, astronomers and astrobiologists should look for indications of a carbon-silicate cycle. On Earth, this cycle ensures that our climate remains stable for eons and could be the key to finding life on other planets.

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Not Just Sitting Ducks. Maybe Satellites Could Dodge Almost all Space Junk

Kessler syndrome is becoming more and more of a potential hazard as more and more companies vie to place more and more satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  But it will only get out of hand if a chain reaction of collisions happens, which could potentially cause a complete breakdown of orbital infrastructure.  

To combat that possibility, satellites currently attempt to dodge any debris that gets anywhere near them.  Now, a new paper by Dr. Jonathan Katz of Washington University, St. Louis, proposes a system that can accurately detect whether a piece of debris will impact a satellite and allow the satellite itself to move out of the way only for trash that will actually hit it.

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NASA’s Mission to Visit 8 Asteroids, Lucy, Launches on October 16th

An early morning launch is planned for the Lucy spacecraft, the first space mission to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids. Tomorrow, October 16 at 5:34 a.m. EDT is the first day and time in Lucy’s 21-day launch window, and current weather conditions show a 90% chance of favorable conditions for liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The launch window remains open for 75 minutes.

Lucy will embark on a 12-year mission to explore the “fossils of planet formation,” Jupiter’s Trojan asteroid swarms. This mission provides the first opportunity to observe these intriguing objects close-up.

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How to Prevent our Spacecraft From Contaminating Mars

Mars has become something of an international playground over the past twenty years. There are currently eleven missions from five space agencies exploring the Red Planet, a combination of orbiters, landers, and rovers. Several additional robotic missions will be leaving for Mars in the next few years, and crewed missions are planned for the 2030s. Because of this increase in traffic, NASA and other space agencies are naturally worried about “planetary protection.”

With this in mind, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recently released a new report that identified several criteria for future robotic missions to Mars. These would reduce these missions’ “bioburden” requirements, which are designed to prevent the unintentional contamination of the Red Planet with Earth-based organisms. Specifically, the report considers how Earth organisms would interfere with searches for indigenous life on the planet.

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Why Visit Just one Moon When you Could Explore Them all?

The Solar System’s moons are intriguing objects for exploration. Especially moons like Europa and Enceladus. Their subsurface oceans make them primary targets in the search for life.

But why not send one spacecraft to visit several moons? NASA’s about to launch its Lucy mission which will visit 8 separate asteroids. Could the same be done for a mission to multiple moons?

For a spacecraft to do that, it would have to do a little dance with the notorious three-body problem, which makes a stubborn partner. A new study presents a possible way to do that.

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The Biggest Comet Ever Seen Will get as Close as Saturn in 2031

A mega-comet – potentially the largest ever discovered – is heading from the Oort Cloud towards our direction. Estimated to be 100–200 kilometers across, the unusual celestial wanderer will make its closest approach to the Sun in 2031. However, the closest it will come to Earth is to the orbit of Saturn.

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China’s FAST Telescope Could Detect Self-Replicating Alien Probes

One of the most challenging questions to answer when confronting the Fermi Paradox is why exponentially scaling technologies haven’t taken over the universe by now.  Commonly known as von Neumann probes, the idea of a self-replicating swarm of extraterrestrial robots has been a staple of science fiction for decades.  But so far, there has never been any evidence of their existence outside the realm of fiction.  That might be because we haven’t spent a lot of time looking for them – and that could potentially change with the new Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST).  According to some recent calculations, the massive new observational platform might be able to detect swarms of von Neumann probes relatively far away from the sun.

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Advanced Civilizations Could use Their Stars to Communicate (and as Telescopes)

A Long Distance Call

E.T. managed to call home with a Speak and Spell, buzzsaw blade, and an umbrella. The reality of interstellar communication is a bit more complicated. Space is really, really big. The power needed to transmit a signal across the void is huge. However, rather than using super high power transmitters, recent research by Stephen Kerby and Jason T. Wright shows that we could make use of a natural signal gain boost built into solar systems – the gravitational lensing of a solar system’s star. Networking a series of stars as nodes could get signals across vast tracts of the Milky Way. And we may be able to detect if our Sun is already part of an alien galactic communication network.

Distant Satellites at the far reaches of the solar system may use the natural focusing of light by the Sun to communicate across space – c. NASA
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