Currently, commercial air travel accounts for 4 to 9% of the anthropogenic greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. What’s worse, airplane emissions are on the rise thanks to rising populations and the increasingly globalized nature of our economy. Hence why NASA has been pursuing the development of electric aircraft these past few decades.
Much like reusable spacecraft and infrastructure, electric aircraft are part of NASA’s pursuit to make aerospace cheaper, more efficient and less harmful to the environment. Their efforts bore fruit in the form of the X-57 Maxwell – the first all-electric experimental aircraft – which was recently delivered to the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) in Edwards, California.
Back on March 26th, 2019, NASA was forced to cancel the first all-female spacewalk because they didn’t have the right spacesuits available on the ISS. There was a short-lived social media storm over that development, as some claimed it was evidence of sexism on the part of NASA. But that small storm didn’t have legs and it died out, because no serious-minded observer thinks that NASA is actually sexist.
Now, the problem has been worked out, and the spacewalk will happen on October 21st, when astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir will walk outside the ISS and install new lithium-ion batteries. There’s is the first of five walks needed to complete the installation.
What happened to Mars? If Mars and Earth were once similar, as scientists think, what happened to all the water? Did there used to be enough to support life?
Thanks to the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity, we’re getting a better picture of ancient Mars and what it went through billions of years ago. A new study published in Nature Geoscience says that Mars likely underwent alternating periods of wet and dry, before becoming the frigid, dry desert it is now. Or at least, Gale Crater did.
One of the chief aims of space agencies and commercial aerospace these days is reducing the associated costs of space exploration. When it comes right down to it, it is still very expensive to send rockets into orbit, never mind sending them beyond Earth. But it’s not just the cost of sending payloads into space (and the pollution it causes) that concerns agencies like NASA.
There is also the cost (economic as well as environmental) associated with aviation. Jet fuel is not cheap either, and commercial air travel accounts for 4 to 9% of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (and is on the rise). For this reason, NASA has partnered with the commercial industry to develop electric aircraft, which they hope will provide a fuel- and- cost-efficient alternative to commercial jets by 2035.
NASA’s Flight Opportunities program has selected 25 space technologies for further testing. They’re testing the technologies on aircraft, balloons, and sub-orbital rocket flights. NASA hopes to learn a lot about each of the technologies with this rigorous testing, without the expense of sending them all into orbital space.
In a death-defying maneuver for the spacecraft, NASA’s Juno has completed an unprecedented and unplanned engine burn. The purpose? To save the spacecraft’s “life,” or at least the rest of its mission to Jupiter.
Jupiter casts a deep, dark shadow. Dark enough, in fact, to effectively kill Juno if it flies through it. Rather than let the spacecraft spend 12 battery-draining hours in Jupiter’s shadow, and then attempt a risky resuscitation on the other side, NASA took another course of action: a 10.5 hour burn of Juno’s reaction thrusters that will steer it clear of Jupiter’s life-draining shadow.
The SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure) instrument on NASA’s InSight lander has sensed 21 Marsquakes since it was deployed on December 19th, 2018. It actually sensed over 100 events to date, but only 21 of them have been identified as Marsquakes. SEIS is extremely sensitive so mission scientists expected these results.
SEIS is a key part of InSight, NASA’s mission to understand the interior of Mars. Along with other instruments, it’ll help scientists understand what’s going on inside Mars.
When it comes to space exploration, it’s robots that do most of the work. That trend will continue as we send missions onto the surfaces of worlds further and further into the Solar System. But for robots to be effective in the challenging environments we need to explore—like Saturn’s moon Titan—we need more capable robots.
A new robot NASA is developing could be the next step in robotic exploration.
In 1978, NASA’s Pioneer Venus (aka. Pioneer 12) mission reached Venus (“Earth’s Sister”) and found indications that Venus may have once had oceans on its surface. Since then, several missions have been sent to Venus and gathered data on its surface and atmosphere. From this, a picture has emerged of how Venus made the transition from being an “Earth-like” planet to the hot and hellish place it is today.
It all started about 700 million years ago when a massive resurfacing event triggered a runaway Greenhouse Effect that caused Venus’s atmosphere to become incredibly dense and hot. This means that for 2 to 3 billion years after Venus formed, the planet could have maintained a habitable environment. According to a recent study, that would have been long enough for life to have emerged on “Earth’s Sister”.
What sounds like a slap-stick comedy shtick is actually solid science. With so much of humanity’s space-faring future involving habitats, other structures, and a permanent presence on the Moon and Mars, mixing concrete in space is serious business. NASA has a program of study called MICS, (Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification) which is examining how we might build habitats or other structures in microgravity.