Technology

NASA launches 100-year quest to send humans to the stars

100 Year Starship

A NASA center and the Pentagon’s lead research group are striking financial flint to steel in hopes of sparking a sustained effort to make interstellar space travel a reality.

On Thursday, an official with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that the agency will award a $500,000 grant to the person or group who can lay out the most effective road map for financing and implementing a research and development program to lead to interstellar travel by early next century.

At that point, the government will bow out, leaving it up to the winner to turn the ideas on Powerpoint slides to a sustainable research program – one that also is likely to focus on the ethical, economic, and legal issues surrounding the prospect of launching humans to other stars.

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NASA concludes first Open Source Summit, aims to make openness the default

NASA has been implementing an Open Government Plan for nearly a year, and this week they held the first NASA Open Source Summit in Mountain View, CA. But the roots of open source at NASA go back much further, to its founding legislation in 1958, which designed NASA as a source that would “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information”–a goal perfectly suited to an open approach.

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The Probability of Finding Aliens Is Now Three Times Higher

500x-keck-observatory-stars-yale-1203

The total number of stars in the Universe “is likely three times bigger than realized.” Yale University astronomer Pieter van Dokkum says there are “possibly trillions of Earths orbiting these stars,” dramatically increasing the possibility of finding alien civilizations.

According to the new study just published in Nature, new observations on the red end of the optical spectrum at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii show an overwhelming population of red dwarfs in eight massive nearby elliptical galaxies. The team has discovered that these galaxies hold twenty times more red dwarfs than the Milky Way.

Van Dokkum says that “there are possibly trillions of Earths orbiting these stars” which are “typically more than 10 billion years old.” According to him, that’s long enough for complex life to evolve, which is “one reason why people are interested in this type of star.” In fact, astronomers discovered the first exoplanet similar to our own Earth—and therefore capable of harboring complex life—orbiting the Gliese 581 red dwarf star system, 20.3 light years from our home planet.

Continue reading at Gizmodo.com

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NASA helps Haiti disaster relief efforts

Haiti shuttle radar image from 2000

An image of Haiti from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission in 2000 Credit: NASA

NASA is helping provide information to support disaster recovery efforts in Haiti in the wake of Tuesday’s killer earthquake.

According to the space agency, two NASA Earth monitoring satellites — the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, or ASTER, and NASA’s Earth Observing-1 ,or EO-1 — are beaming down images of areas hardest hit by the quake. Before-and-after pictures will be used to help damage assessment and recovery efforts.

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Voyager 2 on a ‘magic mission’ into Milky Way, or Melkweg in Dutch :)

Map of the Milky Way NASA

A map of the Milky Way. Credit: NASA/JPL

Holiday tidings come from NASA’s Voyager 2 this week, offering a view of deep space beyond our sun’s solar system.

Now speeding through space at more than 34,000 miles-per-hour, the 1977 space probe resides more than 8.3. billion miles away from the sun. That is twice as far as Pluto. Two years ago, Voyager 2 passed into the region of space where the sun’s solar wind peters out as it plows into the interstellar gases of our Milky Way galaxy. And now it’s giving us some news from this region, called the “heliosheath,” by astrophysicists.

“This is a magic mission,” says space scientist Merav Opher of George Mason University. in Fairfax, Va.. “After all these years, Voyager 2 is still working and sending us first hand (on-site) data.”

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NASA’s Shuttle, Satellite, and Space Telescope fleet triumph in 2009

For NASA, 2009 proved to be a stellar year, one filled with five extremely successful Space Shuttle missions (one of which repaired the Hubble Space Telescope), the test flight of the Ares I-X rocket, the launch of the Kepler Space Telescope, the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and companion spacecraft the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), and the launch of the WISE spacecraft earlier this month.

In all, the first half of 2009 proved an extremely challenging and rewarding time for NASA. Form January to June, NASA completed a complicated analysis of the Space Shuttle fleets Flow Control Valves, launched the Kepler Space Telescope to search for extra-solar Earth-like planets, conducted the STS-119 Shuttle mission, performed a dual-pad flow for STS-125 and STS-400 and the subsequent and highly successful STS-125 mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, and launched LRO/LCROSS.

In a recent interview with NASASpaceFlight.com, Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses talked extensively about the incredible year the Shuttle processing teams had and their ability to accomplish everything they did in 2009.

“It was all about the teams and their ability to create triple and quadruple redundancies in schedules,” Moses said.

“On the surface, it didn’t appear that we had all that challenging of a year. But if you take it month by month you can really see the issues the teams worked through and the amazing jobs those teams did to get us into a launch posture six times this year.”

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What is that cloud of interstellar material? Mystery at the edge of our Solar System solved

Voyager Monster artist rendering

Artist’s rendering of the Voyager 2 spacecraft as it studies the outer limits of the heliosphere — a magnetic ‘bubble’ around the Solar System that is created by the solar wind. Scientists observed the magnetic bubble is not spherical, but pressed inward in the southern hemisphere. Credit: NASA/JPL

Our solar system is passing through a cloud of interstellar material that shouldn’t be there, astronomers say. And now the decades-old Voyager spacecraft has helped solved the mystery.

The cloud is called the “Local Fluff.” It’s about 30 light-years wide and holds a wispy mix of hydrogen and helium atoms, according to a NASA statement released today. Stars that exploded nearby, about 10 million years ago, should have crushed the Fluff or blown it away.

So what’s holding the Fluff in place?

“Using data from Voyager, we have discovered a strong magnetic field just outside the solar system,” explained Merav Opher, a NASA Heliophysics Guest Investigator from George Mason University. “This magnetic field holds the interstellar cloud together ["The Fluff"] and solves the long-standing puzzle of how it can exist at all.”

The Fluff is much more strongly magnetized than anyone had previously suspected,” Opher said. “This magnetic field can provide the extra pressure required to resist destruction.”

Opher and colleagues detail the discovery in the Dec. 24 issue of the journal Nature.

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Pluto probe closes in – NASA’s New Horizons probe passed a key milestone today

NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto

An artist’s conception shows New Horizons at Pluto. Credit: NASA / JHU APL

NASA’s New Horizons probe passed a key milestone today on its nine-year journey and is now closer to Pluto, its primary target, than it is to Earth. But it still has more than five years and more than 1.5 billion miles to go.

The 1,054-pound (480-kilogram) piano-sized spacecraft blasted off for the solar system’s most controversial dwarf planet almost four years ago. New Horizons was the fastest spacecraft ever launched from Earth, and thanks to a gravitational boost from Jupiter, it’s closing in on Pluto at the rate of 750,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) per day. The probe is due to zoom past Pluto and its three moons on July 14, 2015.

As of today, New Horizons is between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus – a little more than 1.527 billion miles (2.463 billion kilometers) from Earth and 1.526 billion miles (nearly 2.462 billion kilometers) from Pluto, according to today’s status report from mission control at John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. (APL is managing the mission on NASA’s behalf.)

Read the rest at MSNBC Cosmic Blog

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Voyager 2 on a ‘magic mission’ beyond Milky Way

Milky way

A map of the Milky Way. Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Holiday tidings come from NASA’s Voyager 2 this week, offering a view of deep space beyond our sun’s solar system.

Now speeding through space at more than 34,000 miles-per-hour, the 1977 space probe resides more than 8.3. billion miles away from the sun. That is twice as far as Pluto. Two years ago, Voyager 2 passed into the region of space where the sun’s solar wind peters out as it plows into the interstellar gases of our Milky Way galaxy. And now it’s giving us some news from this region, called the “heliosheath,” by astrophysicists.

“This is a magic mission,” says space scientist Merav Opher of George Mason University. in Fairfax, Va.. “After all these years, Voyager 2 is still working and sending us first hand (on-site) data.”

Voyager 2’s vantage, revealed in the Dec. 24 Nature journal in a study led by Opher and colleagues, shows that beyond the solar system, the galaxy’s magnetic field is unexpectedly strong, about twice as much as expected, and unexpectedly tilted. Our galaxy is essentially a twin-armed flat disk of stars 100,000 light years across rotating around a spherical ball of stars in its center (one light year is about 5.9 trillion miles.).

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Trio of NASA missions in 2010 will probe answers to secrets of the Earth, sun

Earth view from space

Taken by astronaut William Anders from the Apollo 8 spacecraft, this December 1968 photo of Earth rising over the lunar surface would become one of the most famous images of the 20th century. Credit: NASA

NASA heads into 2010 with the bittersweet assignment of retiring the space shuttle after nearly three decades. But that’s not all the agency has planned: There are also launches of three new satellites aimed at better understanding the Earth’s climate and oceans, and the sun.

Two of the probes will examine Earth — specifically the concentration of salt in the world’s oceans and the presence of aerosol particles, such as soot, in the atmosphere. A third mission will study the sun and its effect on space weather including solar flares that can disrupt communication on Earth.

All three come at a critical time for NASA. Data from the two Earth probes will likely influence global-warming research, and the trio of launches could serve as bright spots in a year otherwise dominated by debate over the future of the agency’s manned space program.

“They are extraordinary timely,” said Michael Freilich, head of NASA’s Earth-science division, of the two Earth probes. “It is a quest for understanding of the Earth system and [to improve] our ability to predict how our wonderful environment and our planet is going to change in the future.”

Combined, the three missions will cost more than $1.5 billion.

Get the full details here…

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