Finally! Mars InSight’s Mole is Now Underground

It looks like the InSight Lander’s Mole instrument is making some progress. After months of perseverance, the team operating the instrument has succeeded in getting the Mole at least some distance into the ground.

That’s a victory in itself, considering all the setbacks there’ve been. But it’s too soon to celebrate: there’s quite a ways to go before the Mole can deliver any science.

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NASA and SpaceX Gearing Up For Historic Crew Dragon Launch This Week

Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 27th, NASA and SpaceX will make history as they conduct the long-awaited second demonstration of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Dubbed Demo-2, this mission will not only see SpaceX’s crewed spacecraft sent to space for the first time with astronauts aboard, it will also be the first time since 2011 (and the retiring of the Space Shuttle) that astronauts are launched from US soil.

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WFIRST Will be Named After Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s First Chief Astronomer

In the mid-2020s, NASA’s next-generation Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will take to space. With unprecedented resolution and advanced instruments, it will build on the foundation established by the venerable Hubble Space Telescope – which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year! In anticipation of all it will accomplish, NASA decided that the WFIRST needs a proper name, one that honors its connection to Hubble.

This week, NASA announced that henceforth, the WFIRST mission will be known as the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (or Roman Space Telescope for short) in honor of Dr. Nancy Grace Roman (who passed away in 2018). In addition to being NASA’s first Chief Astronomer, she was also a tireless educator and advocate for women in STEMs whose work paved the way for space telescopes – leading to her nickname “the mother of Hubble.”

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NASA is Giving the SLS a “Green Run” to Prepare it for Launch in Late 2021

With the passage of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, work began on a launch vehicle that would carry cargo and crews back to the Moon and beyond. This vehicle is known as the Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy-launch system that (once fully operational) will be the most powerful rocket in the world since the Saturn V – the venerable vehicle that took the Apollo astronauts to the Moon.

Unfortunately, the development of the SLS has suffered from multiple delays over the past few years, causing no shortage of complications. However, engineering teams at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near St. Louis, Mississippi, recently completed a Green Run of the SLS’s Core Stage, which involved testing the rocket’s critical systems in preparation for its inaugural launch by November of 2021.

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NASA Proposes the Artemis Accords. The New Rules for Lunar Exploration

As part of Project Artemis, which was announced in May of 2019, NASA will be sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. To make this happen, NASA has partnered with the private aerospace industry to develop all the necessary systems. At the same time, NASA has entered into collaborative agreements with other space agencies to ensure that lunar exploration is open to all.

To formalize these agreements and ensure that all parties are committed to the same goals, NASA recently drafted a framework for cooperative lunar exploration and development. Known as the Artemis Accords, this series of bilateral agreements (which are grounded in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967) establish common principles for international partners who want to become part of humanity’s long-awaited return to the Moon.

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Finally! InSight’s Mole is Making Slow and Steady Progress

Personnel at NASA and the DLR have been working for months to get InSight’s Mole working. They’re at a disadvantage, since the average distance between Earth and Mars is about 225 million km (140 million miles.) They’ve tried a number of things to get the Mole into the ground, and they may finally be making some progress.

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NASA is Going to Try Manufacturing a Telescope Mirror in Space

One of the JWST's gold-coated mirrors. Not even launched yet, and the golden mirrors are already iconic. Image Credit: NASA/Drew Noel

Space telescopes are a pretty amazing thing. By deploying an observatory to orbit, astronomers are able to take pictures of the Universe unencumbered by atmospheric disturbance. At the same time, they are very expensive to build, maintain, and launch into space. As the case of Hubble’s flawed mirror demonstrated, a space telescope also has to go through rigorous checks because of how difficult it becomes to service them after launch.

To address this, NASA is investigating the possibility of constructing future space telescopes in space. A key aspect of this involves a manufacturing technique known as Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD), a process where layers of material no thicker than an atom is deposited on a surface and then hardened in place. Now, a team of NASA-supported researchers has been given the chance to test ALD in a microgravity environment (i.e. space!)

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Lunar Gateway Could be Built With the Falcon Heavy

In March of 2019, NASA was directed by the White House to land human beings on the Moon within five years. Known as Project Artemis, this expedited timeline has led to a number of changes and shakeups at NASA, not the least of which has to do with the deprioritizing of certain elements. Nowhere is this more clear than with the Lunar Gateway, an orbital habitat that NASA will be deploying to cislunar space in the coming years.

Originally, the Gateway was a crucial part of the agency’s plan to create a program of “sustainable lunar exploration.” In March of this year, NASA announced that the Lunar Gateway is no longer a priority and that Artemis will rely on an integrated lunar lander instead. However, NASA still hopes to build the Gateway, and according to a recent interview with ArsTechnica, this could be done with the help of SpaceX and the Falcon Heavy.

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