Documentary Probes Challenger Disaster on 30th Anniversary

A powerful new documentary takes a fresh look at the space shuttle Challenger explosion, a tragedy that is still seared into the minds of a generation 30 years after the smoke cleared.

The National Geographic Channel’s hour-long “Challenger Disaster: Lost Tapes” will premiere Jan. 25, three days before the 30th anniversary of the accident that claimed the lives of seven astronauts, including New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe. But you can get a sneak peak at the documentary now in this 3-minute teaser video, which the National Geographic Channel provided exclusively to Space.com.

Read more at: Space.com

Jeb Bush Reiterates Need for Aspirational Goals as Challenger Anniversary Approaches

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said yesterday in New Hampshire that NASA has “lost its purpose” and needs an “aspirational purpose.”   Although he did not reference it, his comments come just before the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger accident that claimed the life of New Hampshire Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe.

As reported by CBS News, Bush made an unannounced campaign stop at a Portsmouth, NH diner and engaged in conversations on a broad range of issues with local patrons.  A 13-year old boy asked about the space program and the boy’s mother said she was “upset that NASA has kind of like — closed.”  Bush replied that it was not closed, “but it’s lost its purpose.  There is no big aspirational purpose.”   CBS said he then began talking about Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, concluding by saying “I’m not obsessive about space but I think it’s part of our identity as a culture.”

Read more at: Space policy online

Why SpaceX is Changing its Rocket Landing Location

SpaceX has confirmed that they will attempt another, more difficult, rocket landing on their next launch January 17th. Their Falcon 9 is scheduled to lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with NASA’s Jason-3 satellite on board. This time the rocket will be returning to a “drone ship” (an autonomous floating platform) in the ocean rather than a launchpad on land like their last successful landing on December 21st

If they succeed, it will be the first successful rocket landing in the sea. Elon Musk named the autonomous drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” as a nod to the fictional starships in sci-fi novels written by the late Iain M. Banks. Just Read the Instructions, which was used in the previous SpaceX landings from Cape Canaveral, has been restored, modified and brought over to the West Coast for this launch.

Read more at: Tech Crunch

Layoffs Hit Bigelow Aerospace

Bigelow Aerospace, a company developing commercial space station modules, has laid off an unspecified number of employees as it seeks to transition from research and development to commercial operations.

In a Jan. 6 statement provided to SpaceNews, Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow said that the company determined that many areas of the company were “overstaffed” and decided to lay off employees to reduce the company’s expenses.

“In December of 2015, we analyzed the amount of staff that we employed throughout all of our departments at Bigelow Aerospace, and discovered that numerous departments were overstaffed,” Bigelow said in the statement. “Regrettably, we had to make the choice that, beginning with the New Year, we need to follow standard business protocols, which sensibly requires an attempt to achieve balance in how much staff is necessary.”

Read more at: Space News

Rocket Parts Crash-land in Vietnam

Rocket debris crash landed in Vietnam last weekend when the spent second stage of a Russian-Ukrainian Zenit rocket re-entered over south-east Asia. Observers in Thailand caught sight of the blazing re-entry of the 8-metric-ton rocket stage as it disintegrated in mid-air on a trek taking it over Thailand, Laos and Vietnam where sonic booms were heard and multiple debris from the rocket were recovered.

Read more at: SpaceFlight 101

Twenty Missions Prepare to Lift Off in 2016

China will conduct more than 20 space missions this year, including a manned one and the maiden flights of two rockets, according to the nation’s major space contractor.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp said it plans to launch the Tiangong 2 space laboratory and the Shenzhou XI manned spacecraft and to test-fly the Long March 5 and Long March 7 rockets.

China will also launch two satellites for the domestically developed Beidou Navigation Satellite System and the Gaofen 3 for the Gaofen High-Resolution Earth Observation System. The company said in a statement on its website, “This year will see more than 20 space launches, the most missions in a single year.”

Read more at: Xinhuanet

Proton to Lift Key Space Mission of 2016

The Proton’s launch campaign in 2016 will open with a liftoff on January 28. Along with the delivery of the Eutelsat-9B communications satellite, the flight will be the final qualification for the Proton-M rocket and its Briz-M upper stage, before a similar vehicle lifts the historic ExoMars-2016 mission on its journey to Mars. Several Proton launches at the end of 2015, showed increasingly accurate performance of the Briz-M in delivery of its payloads to orbit — a welcome news for the ExoMars team.

Limited by the relative positions of the Earth and Mars, the launch window for the ExoMars-2016 extends from March 14 to March 25 only. The window will not re-open until around two years later.

Read more at: Russian Spaceweb

Space Fungus! Mold Attacks Space Station Plants

Four zinnia plants on the International Space Station are sickly or dead after mold was discovered in the Veggie experiment facility late December, according to NASA. The problem was immediately traced back to excessive water in the experiment, which was addressed. There are still three healthy plants that appear unaffected by the issue.

ISS commander and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly reported the mold to Mission Control Dec. 22 just as Veggie principal investigator Trent Smith was trying to manage the water problem. In pictures, Smith saw water on the plants a few days before. He told Discovery News he was trying to relay a command from NASA’s station operations team to increase fan speed in Veggie, but the mold developed before the command could be put through.

Read more at: Space.com

NASA Office to Coordinate Asteroid Detection, Hazard Mitigation

NASA has formalized its ongoing program for detecting and tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs) as the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). The office remains within NASA’s Planetary Science Division, in the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The office will be responsible for supervision of all NASA-funded projects to find and characterize asteroids and comets that pass near Earth’s orbit around the sun.

It will also take a leading role in coordinating interagency and intergovernmental efforts in response to any potential impact threats. More than 13,500 near-Earth objects of all sizes have been discovered to date – more than 95 percent of them since NASA-funded surveys began in 1998. About 1,500 NEOs are now detected each year.

Read more at: Space Daily

Stephen Hawking May Help Launch Virgin Galactic’s New Spaceship

The future of Virgin Galactic and commercial space tourism will be unveiled this February at the company’s Mojave Desert facility in California. And famed physicist Stephen Hawking may be there for the big event.

The reveal will be both emotional and symbolic, marking the first steps for Richard Branson’s space dreams since a tragic accident in October 2014 destroyed the company’s first spacecraft, leaving one pilot dead and another badly injured.

“When this story is told in years to come, I believe alongside the bravery of Mike [Alsbury] and the incredible tale of Pete [Siebold]’s survival, will stand the story of the commitment, loyalty and passion of the world’s first private astronauts,” Branson said in January 2015.

Read more at: MNN

Asteroid-Mining Company 3D-Prints Object from Space Rock Metals

An asteroid-mining company is giving the world a glimpse at its vision of the future.

Planetary Resources, which aims to extract water and other useful materials from asteroids, has 3D-printed an object using metal powder gleaned from a space rock.

“It is the first part ever 3D-printed with material from outer space and is reminiscent of a design that could originate from a 3D printer in the zero-gravity environment of space,” Planetary Resources representatives wrote in a blog post Thursday (Jan. 7) about the object, which is about 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) tall by 3.4 inches (8.7 cm) wide and weighs 8.8 ounces (250 grams).

Read more at: Live Science

‘Time is Running Out’ for Damaged Philae Comet Lander

It may be the end of the line for Philae, the lander sent by the Rosetta probe to survey the surface of a comet in 2014. What was going to bethe first controlled landing on a comet turned out to be a bumpy ridethat damaged its equipment and put it in a bad position for keeping its solar-charged batteries topped up.

The lander successfully sent data back to Earth via the probe for about two days, but since then only woke briefly in July 2015 — and the end of January is the last time it could wake again. After that, the comet — known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko — will have grown too cold for Philae to function.

Read more at: NBC News

NASA Reveals Astronauts are ‘Sleep-deprived’ in Space!

I’m sure you must have wondered if astronauts sleep in space. A new NASA research reveals sleep times of astronauts is compromised and may lead to disruption of circadian rhythms.

At NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, researcher Erin Flynn-Evans is focusing on the major reasons that lead to disruption of circadian rhythms. The reasons include noise and uncomfortable temperatures.

Flynn-Evans, a researcher at the Fatigue Countermeasures Laboratory at Ames was quoted as saying: “Imagine flying across the country and getting jet-lagged,” said. “It’s very similar to what astronauts deal with on the International Space Station, only the stakes are higher.”

Read more at: Zee News

Meet the Nose of NASA

While the space station orbits high in the heavens, it’s George Aldrich’s job to make sure it doesn’t stink to the high heavens.

Aldrich, whose official title is chemical specialist, works at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. He uses his nose to protect astronauts from noxious odors that could compromise a mission. He’s NASA’s esteemed head “nasalnaut,” and his near four-decade career has involved smelling objects from technical manuals to astronauts’ personal effects.

Read more at: MNN

Arianespace Surpassed SpaceX in Commercial Launch Orders in 2015

The chief of Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium on Jan. 5 said competitor SpaceX’s recovery of the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket, spectacular though it was, does not demonstrate the economic viability of stage reuse.

The proof of the pudding, Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said, will come only after a thorough assessment of the stresses incurred by the stage as it traced what time-lapse photos show as a giant “X” in the sky — a line for its ascent, and then another, broken line as it powered its way back from about 75 kilometers in altitude.

At a briefing here outlining Evry, France-based Arianespace 2015 record and plans for 2016, Israel sought to portray Arianespace as once again in the driver’s seat when it comes to commercial launches.

Read more at: Space News

Declassified: U.S. Military’s Secret Cold War Space Project Revealed

A newly released treasure trove of historical data reveals intriguing details about a secret Cold War project known as the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL).

The U.S. Air Force’s MOL program ran from December 1963 until its cancellation in June 1969. The program spent $1.56 billion during that time, according to some estimates.

While the program never actually lofted a crewed space station, those nearly six years were quite eventful, featuring the selection of 17 MOL astronauts, the remodeling of NASA’s two-seat Gemini spacecraft, the development of the Titan-3C launch vehicle and the building of an MOL launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Read more at: Scientific American

What is the Atmosphere Like on Other Planets?

Here on Earth, we tend to take our atmosphere for granted, and not without reason. Our atmosphere has a lovely mix of nitrogen and oxygen (78% and 21% respectively) with trace amounts of water vapor, carbon dioxide and other gaseous molecules. What’s more, we enjoy an atmospheric pressure of 101.325 kPa, which extends to an altitude of about 8.5 km.

In short, our atmosphere is plentiful and life-sustaining. But what about the other planets of the Solar System? How do they stack up in terms of atmospheric composition and pressure? We know for a fact that they are not breathable by humans and cannot support life. But just what is the difference between these balls of rock and gas and our own?

For starters, it should be noted that every planet in the Solar System has an atmosphere of one kind or another. And these range from incredibly thin and tenuous (such as Mercury’s “exosphere”) to the incredibly dense and powerful – which is the case for all of the gas giants.

Read more at: Universe Today

Hyten: Space Command Should be an Active Force in Dynamic Times

General John Hyten bridles at the perception of his Air Force Space Command being comprised of technicians in a 9-to-5 office environment reacting to threats thousands of miles above Earth. It’s a perception he wants to correct, Hyten told the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies “Space Power for the Warfighter” breakfast seminar, on December 8 in Washington.

Space Command should be proactive, and space is no longer tranquil. It’s a contested environment, the Commander said in a speech entitled “My First Year in Perspective: What Did We Get Done?”

Read more at: SpaceWar

China Preps for Space Warfare

Following recent tests of anti-satellite missiles and near-space hypersonic vehicles, China’s military will soon create a new Space Force within the People’s Liberation Army, a sign Beijing is preparing for future space warfare.

Military analysts say there has been no official announcement of the new space warfare unit; however, unofficial sources in China revealed the unit will be part of a new Strategic Support Forces service that will include nuclear missiles — currently under the Second Artillery Force — along with an electronic information forces, cyber warfare units and electronic and signals intelligence.

Read more at: Washington Times