Blue Origin’s Latest New Shepard Flight is a Success, With Passengers Climbing on Board (and Getting off Again Before it Flew)

In 2000, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos founded Blue Origin, a commercial space company intended to become one of the crown jewels of his financial empire. Unfortunately, Blue Origin has lost ground in recent years to companies like SpaceX, which have been pushing the envelope with the development of reusable launch systems, resupply services, and human-rated spacecraft.

To address this, Bezos recently stepped down as CEO of Amazon to devote more attention to Blue Origin and other projects. On Wednesday, April 14th, the company hit a milestone when their New Shepard spacecraft (named in honor of famed astronaut Alan Shepard) conducted its fifteenth consecutive mission (NS-15) to space and back. This “crew rehearsal” mission brings Blue Origin one step closer to launching crews and tourists into space.

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New Horizons is Now 50 Astronomical Units Away From the Sun

As the New Horizons spacecraft hurtles out towards interstellar space, it has now reached an historical milestone. On April 17, 2021, New Horizons passed 50 astronomical units, or 50 times Earth’s distance from the Sun. It is just the 5th spacecraft to reach that distance, joining the Voyagers 1 and 2 and the Pioneers 10 and 11.

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Catch Comet R4 ATLAS as it Nears Earth

R4 ATLAS

The coming weeks are a great time to catch comet C/2020 R4 ATLAS… while you can.

Looking to do some springtime astronomy? With temperatures warming up in the northern hemisphere in April through May, galaxy season is upon us. At dusk, the area in the Bowl of Virgo asterism rising in the east is rife with clusters of galaxies that spill over into the adjacent constellations of Coma Berenices and Boötes…

But this May, keep an eye out for a fuzzball interloper that is not a galaxy: Comet C/2020 R4 ATLAS.

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What if Starship Didn’t Do a Landing Burn at All?

Thanks to Musk’s preference for sharing his ideas directly with the public, SpaceX is inundated with all kinds of proposals from citizen scientists and space-exploration enthusiasts – some of which are practical and some outlandish. This latest proposal definitely straddles these two categories! In an animation shared via Twitter, 3D digital artist Nick Henning offered an alternative vision for a SpaceX tower that could “catch” the Super Heavy.

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One Idea to Explain Dark Matter – Ultralight Bosons – Fails the Test

Dark matter continues to resist our best efforts to pin it down. While dark matter remains a dominant theory of cosmology, and there is lots of evidence to support a universe filled with cold dark matter, every search for dark matter particles yields nothing. A new study continues that tradition, ruling out a range of dark matter candidates.

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Meteorites Hold Early Atmospheres From Across the Solar System

Since they were formed in the early solar system, many meteorites offer an unadulterated view into what that solar system was made out of, or what happened to it as we reported before.  Recently a team of researchers led by Maggie Thompson at University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) took a look at the chemical composition of three different chondritic meteorites, which have largely been untouched since before the planets were formed.  Their composition was different than current models predicted, and could lead to a better understanding of early planetary atmospheres.

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NASA Picks SpaceX to Land Astronauts on the Moon!

As part of the Artemis program, NASA is gearing up to send the “first woman and next man” to the Moon by 2024. Central to this is the development of the Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V that took the Apollo astronauts to the Moon, and the Orion spacecraft. But after these elements transport astronauts to Lunar orbit, they will need a lander to take them to and from the surface.

For this reason, NASA contracted a number of commercial partners to develop a Human Landing System (HLS). After much consideration, NASA announced on Friday, April 16th, that they had selected SpaceX to continue developing their concept for a lunar lander. When American astronauts return to the Moon for the first time in fifty-two years, it will be a modified version of the Starship that will bring them there.

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This Is a Collapsed Pit on Mars, Not a Pimple

Mars has been in the news a lot lately, and for good reason. With the historic landing of the Perseverance Rover earlier in the year, and the successful flight of Ingenuity, the first-ever aircraft to fly in another atmosphere, earlier this morning (April 19, 2021), there’s no shortage of exciting stories of technical brilliance from the human-built wonders exploring the red planet. High above the plucky helicopter, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) surveys the Martian landscape on a grand scale. A brain-bending image released by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), a powerful camera aboard MRO, shows a sunken pit in the planet’s polar region. From the high-altitude perspective of the orbiter, it’s easy for the mind to warp the concave depression into a convex, acne-esque Martian polar zit!

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“You Wouldn’t Believe What I Just Saw:” Ingenuity Helicopter Flies Successfully on Mars

NASA pulled off a Wright Brothers moment on Mars early today by successfully flying the tiny Ingenuity helicopter for approximately 40 seconds.

“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s lead engineer, speaking to her colleagues gathered at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California to execute and monitor the flight.

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