Space: the final frontier May 2021-

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NASA Reveals Webb Telescope’s First Images of Unseen Universe

(NASA) The dawn of a new era in astronomy is here as the world gets its first look at the full capabilities of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).
“Today, we present humanity with a groundbreaking new view of the cosmos from the James Webb Space Telescope – a view the world has never seen before,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “These images, including the deepest infrared view of our universe that has ever been taken, show us how Webb will help to uncover the answers to questions we don’t even yet know to ask; questions that will help us better understand our universe and humanity’s place within it.
The full set of the telescope’s first full-color images and spectroscopic data, which uncover a collection of cosmic features elusive until now, released Tuesday, are available at: nasa.gov/webbfirstimages

One of the first images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, this landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars is actually the edge of a nearby young star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

NASA
Space news
European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta Overview
Mars ; space.com
The Hubble Deep Field:

Stop for a minute. These space images are worth your time.
(WaPo) Everything about the Webb telescope is mind-boggling. Ponder this: Humans sent a telescope the size of a tennis court into space and parked it four times farther away than the moon.
The very first Webb image made public showed thousands of galaxies as they appeared about 13 billion years ago — that’s almost as far back in time as the Big Bang itself:
… The Webb will help us better understand much more than how galaxies form.
… With the Webb, we’ll also be able to see how stars are born
… Finally, the Webb telescope allows scientists to collect data of the chemical composition of stars and planets outside our solar system. This kind of detailed information will ultimately help us look for signs of life elsewhere in our galaxy.
These stunning images are a major achievement for us Earthlings. And given everything absurd we’ve witnessed on Earth of late, they are more than that. If nothing else, the humongousness of the universe ought to put our problems into perspective. A little insignificance isn’t such a bad thing.

1 May
Amid tensions on Earth, the United States claims that ‘conflict in space is not inevitable’
Kuan-Wei Chen, Executive Director, Centre for Research in Air and Space Law, McGill University
Space is a global commons, “available for all to use.” According to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, space must be explored and used “for peaceful purposes” and “for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.”
(The Conversation) Earlier this month, U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris stated that the United States would not be conducting anti-satellite missile testing. This is a significant statement — the escalations of the recent invasion of Ukraine have affected space collaboration, and in late 2021, the Russian military tested an anti-satellite missile.
The effects of conflict in space would be disastrous on a planetary scale. Our increasing reliance on space for services, communications and monitoring means that a space war could affect these global systems with an unimaginable impact on our lives.
Under international law, “declarations publicly made and manifesting the will to be bound” can create legal obligations. In this case, the U.S. issued a unilateral declaration, which has both tremendous political impact and legal effect.
The U.S. declaration must be read in light of the ongoing multilateral exchanges on reducing space threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviour, and the upcoming Open-Ended Working Group on reducing Space Threats. It will be of interest to see whether other countries will join the U.S. in making such declarations.
Related: We need new treaties to address the growing problem of space debris

17-18 March
3 Russian cosmonauts arrive at International Space Station
(AP) — A trio of Russian cosmonauts arrived at the International Space Station on Friday, the first new faces in space since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine.
Russian space corporation Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov blasted off successfully from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan in their Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft at 8:55 p.m. Friday (11:55 a.m. EDT). They smoothly docked at the station just over three hours later, joining two Russians, four Americans and a German on the orbiting outpost.
The war has resulted in canceled spacecraft launches and broken contracts. Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin has warned that the U.S. would have to use “broomsticks” to fly into space after Russia said it would stop supplying rocket engines to U.S. companies. Many worry, however, that Rogozin is putting decades of a peaceful off-planet partnership at risk, most notably at the International Space Station.
… “The other people that work in the Russian civilian space program, they’re professional,” Nelson told the AP on Friday. “They don’t miss a beat with us, American astronauts and American mission control. Despite all of that, up in space, we can have a cooperation with our Russian friends, our colleagues.”
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei — who on Tuesday broke the U.S. single spaceflight record of 340 days — is due to leave the International Space Station with two Russians aboard a Soyuz capsule for a touchdown in Kazakhstan on March 30.
In April, another three NASA and one Italian astronaut are set to blast off for the space station.
No European Mars mission this year, due to war in Ukraine
(AP) — Because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe is going to have to wait at least several more years and may need NASA’s help before its first planned Mars rover can drill into the planet’s dusty surface, seeking signs of whether it ever hosted life.
The European Space Agency said Thursday that it will no longer attempt to send the ExoMars rover aloft this year on a Russian rocket and may now have to strip out the mission’s many Russian components.

Nasa’s giant new SLS Moon rocket makes its debut
The American space agency has rolled out its new giant Moon rocket for the first time.
(BBC) The vehicle, known as the Space Launch System (SLS), was taken to Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to conduct a dummy countdown.
If that goes well, the rocket will be declared ready for a mission in which it will send an uncrewed test capsule around the Moon.
Ultimately, it’s hoped astronauts would climb aboard later SLS rockets to return to the Moon’s surface sometime in the second half of this decade.
These missions are part of what Nasa calls its Artemis programme.
Watching the roll-out, agency administrator Bill Nelson said we were entering a golden era of human space exploration.
“This generation will return astronauts to the Moon and this time, we will land the first woman and the first person of colour on the surface, to conduct ground-breaking science.”

24 January
Astronomy’s Most Dazzling Era Is About to Begin
The James Webb Space Telescope is now about 1 million miles from Earth, and almost ready to scan the cosmos.
By Marina Koren
(The Atlantic) The telescope and all its parts have traveled by truck, plane, ship, and rocket. But the most nerve-racking leg of its journey was the one it finally completed today, when Webb fired its engines and nudged itself into position about 1 million miles from Earth—four times farther than the moon’s orbit. Until this moment, Webb was mostly a marvel of logistics. Now nestled in its final orbit, the space telescope is finally poised to be a marvel of science. Over the next several months, Webb will make its last adjustments, switch on its instruments, and start basking in the starlight from distant galaxies. It’s all wonder from here on out.
Webb, a hundred times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, will soon study nearly everything between Mars and the edges of the observable universe. NASA has grand plans to re-create Hubble’s famous deep-field image using Webb’s ability to scan the cosmos in infrared, which should reveal even more distant galaxies. Caitlin Casey, an astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin, once told me that a Webb deep field will resemble the spray of a freshly opened bottle of champagne—a sparkling display, with every amber droplet a galaxy.

2021

25 December
James Webb Space Telescope, world’s largest, lifts off into orbit
The $9bn observatory seeks out faint light from the first stars and galaxies, providing a glimpse into cosmic creation.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope soared from French Guiana on South America’s northeastern coast, riding a European Ariane rocket into the morning sky on Saturday.
The $9bn observatory hurtled towards its destination 1.6 million kilometres (1 million miles) away – or more than four times beyond the moon. It will take a month to get there and another five months before its infrared eyes are ready to start scanning the cosmos.
First, the telescope’s enormous mirror and sunshield need to unfurl; they were folded origami-style to fit into the rocket’s nose cone. Otherwise, the observatory will not be able to peer back in time 13.7 billion years as anticipated, within a mere 100 million years of the universe-forming Big Bang.
James Webb Space Telescope Launches on Journey to See the Dawn of Starlight
Astronomers were jubilant as the spacecraft made it off the launchpad following decades of delays and cost overruns. The Webb is set to offer a new keyhole into the earliest moments of our universe.
(CSA) The telescope, which promises to change our understanding of the universe, is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the CSA.
Canada contributed two important elements:
– the Fine Guidance Sensor, which will guide the telescope with incredible precision during all of the telescope’s observations; and
– the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), one of the telescope’s four science instruments, which will enable scientists to observe distant galaxies and study exoplanets’ atmospheres to determine their potential for supporting life.
In exchange, Canada will receive a guaranteed share of Webb’s observation time, making Canadian scientists some of the first to study data collected by the most advanced space telescope ever built.

23 December
‘Game changer’: Canada’s crucial role in the James Webb telescope launch
(CTV) As the James Webb telescope prepares for launch, Canadians have had a crucial role in its development and in processing the information scientists will receive from it.
Els Peeters, a physics and astronomy professor at the University of Western Ontario, is part of the team leading the “Early Release Science Program,” which is designed to release some of the information from the JWST to the astronomical community as soon as possible, to show off its capabilities.
“In order to showcase what all the instruments could do, the project basically decided to come up with a special category of programs of which the data would be immediately public for the entire astronomical community and showcase what the instruments could do,” she said.
For this role, Peeters will be among the first people to see what images JWST can produce.
“The nice thing about these special programs is that they will be scheduled very early in the lifetime of James Webb and so it will be one of the first observations that will be taken,” she said. “I’m very excited about it because for the research that I’m doing … the instruments are just fantastic.”

19-21 December
James Webb Space Telescope Launch Update
…due to adverse weather conditions at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, the flight VA256 to launch Webb – initially scheduled for Dec. 24 – is being postponed.
The new targeted launch date is Dec. 25
Why the most powerful space telescope ever needs to be kept really, really cold
(NPR) Armed with the telescope, scientists intend to peer back in time to the formation of the earliest galaxies in the universe, to study how our solar system evolved and to analyze the atmospheres of distant planets, searching for gases that might signal habitability
In order to make these observations, the scientific instruments on the telescope need to be kept incredibly cold. That means a crucial part of the telescope is the massive sunshield that will protect it from the heat of the sun.
We Have One Shot to See the Universe Like Never Before
Days from now, the James Webb Space Telescope will launch and unfold a whole new view of the cosmos. That is, if it actually works.
By Marina Koren
(The Atlantic) We don’t really know, beyond those broad outlines, how or when the very first stars and galaxies came to be. Scientists have done what they can, stretching existing telescopes to their limits and filling in the gaps with theoretical models. But they know that there’s more primordial light out there, streaked with answers to some of humanity’s most existential questions. They just need a new kind of instrument to help them look even deeper.
Nasa sets new date for James Webb space telescope launch
The instrument will be the largest and most powerful telescope ever to be launched into space
(The Guardian) The project, begun in 1989, was originally expected to deploy the instrument – which will be the largest and most powerful telescope ever to be launched into space – in the early 2000s.
The James Webb Space Telescope is currently sitting on top of a rocket in South America, surrounded by technicians obsessively checking every bit of it. Launch for the $10 billion observatory is currently scheduled for December 24, Christmas Eve. Webb, the product of a collaboration between three space agencies, is 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.

16 November
Russian anti-satellite missile test draws condemnation
Space junk is a rapidly worsening situation. Sixty-four years of activity above our heads means there are now roughly a million objects running around up there uncontrolled in the size range of 1cm (0.4in) to 10cm.
The US has condemned Russia for conducting a “dangerous and irresponsible” missile test that it says endangered the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The test blew up one of Russia’s own satellites, creating debris that forced the ISS crew to shelter in capsules.
It’s impossible to control the debris field that results from a high-velocity impact. Thousands of fragments are produced. Some will be propelled downwards towards Earth and out of harm’s way, but many will also head to higher altitudes where they will harass operational missions for years into the future – including those of the nation state that carried out the test.
An impact from any one of these could be mission-ending for a vital weather or telecommunications satellite. Nations need to be clearing up the space environment, not polluting it still further.

The Elusive Peril of Space Junk
Millions of human artifacts circle the Earth. Can we clean them up before they cause a disaster?
By Raffi Khatchadourian
(The New Yorker) In the fourteen billion years between the big bang and the autumn of 1957, space was pristine. Then came Objects No. 1 and 2 in the NORAD catalogue: Sputnik 1—a polished orb of aluminum alloy with four long prongs—and the rocket that the Soviet Union had used to launch it, ushering in the space age. Sputnik circled the planet in an elliptical orbit, but at an altitude so low that atmospheric drag brought it down within three months. The following year, NASA launched Object No. 4, Vanguard 1, farther out into space, but then lost contact with it. Adrift since 1964, it still circles the planet. At the apex of the Cold War, Sputnik and Vanguard were triumphant emblems of a bold future. Today, they are emblems of junk.
Since 1957, humanity has placed nearly ten thousand satellites into the sky. All but twenty-seven hundred are now defunct or destroyed. Collectively, they cost billions of dollars, but they were launched with the understanding that they were cheaper to abandon than to sustain.
(21 September 2020)

8 October
Bob McDonald: Are celebrity tourists eclipsing the real science done in space?
William Shatner is scheduled to fly into space, but perhaps the late Leonard Nimoy would have been a better choice, as he played science officer Spock.
(CBC) Actor William Shatner, famously known as Captain Kirk of the original 1960s Star Trek television series, is the latest in a line of celebrities slated to fly into space aboard a Blue Origin rocket. While these flights are great publicity for the emerging space tourism industry, it could overshadow the real science taking place in space.
It is interesting that much of the public knows more about the adventures of a fictional space traveller on a fictional starship than they do about the actual people who are up there in a real space station.
It would be in the best interest of the space agencies to do a better job of publicizing the results of their space station research. It would go a long way towards justifying the upwards of $100 billion invested in the ISS. Otherwise it could end up looking like the world’s most expensive movie set. Space science may not be as exciting as an action movie or seeing your favourite celebrity floating weightless, but it can still be enormously valuable.

6 August
The Right Chemistry: All aboard for space tourism! Well, maybe not all
Joe Schwarcz
With all the publicity surrounding Richard Branson’s and Jeff Bezos’s recent flights into space, you might get the impression that these men are the pioneers of space tourism. Actually, the honour of being the world’s first space tourist belongs to American millionaire Dennis Tito, who in 2001 paid $20 million for a ride to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. An aeronautical engineer who once worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Tito made his fortune as an investment manager.
Tito had been captivated by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s orbital flight in 1961 and dreamed of following in his footsteps. He described his first sensation of weightlessness as the greatest moment of his life, and his ISS stint as “eight days of euphoria.” Seven other space tourists followed, paying the Russians millions of dollars until the program ended in 2009 when the U.S. Space Shuttle Program was retired, leaving the Russian Soyuz craft as the only means of transport to the ISS.
Dr. Joe Schwarcz on the long, controversial history of space tourism (video)

24 July
Why the billionaire Space Race is something to cheer
(CAPX) The reactions to Branson and Bezos’ trips have been predictably negative. Criticisms fall into three broad camps:
Space exploration is a waste of money. With so many pressing needs here on earth it’s wrong to pour billions into what is essentially a vanity exercise.
If they’ve got so much spare cash, why don’t they pay their taxes and treat their workers better.
The commercialisation of space travel is wrong and will just lead to yet another industry offering expensive perks to the super-wealthy.
There is actually a fourth category of criticism which boils down to ‘I really, really, don’t like these people’, which is perfectly reasonable but not particularly relevant or useful to debate.
…the most immediate justification for the money poured into space travel by both states and individuals: practical uses here on Earth for innovations developed in order to enable space exploration and the research that it has enabled.
Looking back over the last few decades it is truly astounding how many of these there are. Products in daily use today which only exist because of the research carried out for space exploration include: artificial limbs; the insulin pump; the polymers used in firefighters’ heat-resistant suits; shock absorbers to protect buildings during earthquakes; solar cells; water filtration technology; wireless headsets; camera phones; CAT scans; air purifiers; memory foam; home insulation; LED devices that relieve pain.
… There is a more fundamental challenge however about the ownership of the Moon, Mars, the skies themselves and the resources and knowledge they provide. As the Moon is increasingly visited by private companies as well as national agencies, perhaps even colonised, how it will it be used? Will access be modelled on the Antarctic, with strict controls on uses and population? Or will governments and private companies just stake claims? The legal issues are extremely complex. We urgently need an internationally agreed framework, with treaties agreed by the countries actively involved in space flight and a clear set of rules governing the involvement of private companies.
Much of the criticism of Jeff Bezos centres on the ability of large companies like Amazon to avoid paying much tax. That arises from the failure of nations and international bodies to keep up with the internationalisation of the world’s economy and put in place effective rules to govern it. Now that economy is set to become not just international but inter-planetary, we must not make the same mistake.

20 July
Jeff Bezos And Blue Origin Travel Deeper Into Space Than Richard Branson
(NPR) The founder of Amazon, who stepped down as CEO earlier this month, lifted off early Tuesday with three crewmates on the maiden flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle.
Liftoff! Jeff Bezos And Three Crewmates Travel To Space And Back In Under 15 Minutes
The date of the New Shepard’s maiden launch is no accident: July 20 was the day in 1969 that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon
Heather Cox Richardson: In 2021, Bezos paid $973 million in taxes on $4.22 billion in income while his wealth increased by $99 billion, making his true tax rate 0.98%. After his trip into the sky, he told reporters: “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this…. Seriously, for every Amazon customer out there and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart very much. It’s very appreciated.”

11 July
Richard Branson Has Completed A Historic Trip To The Edge Of Space On Virgin Galactic
(NPR) The ascent to the launch [the spacecraft was attached to a larger plane,] — where the mothership released the Galactic Unity 22 — lasted nearly 50 minutes. Once detached, an on-board rocket was engaged, shooting Galactic Unity 22 to a peak altitude of more than 282,000 feet.
Branson…is one in a trio of billionaire businessmen who’ve launched commercial space flight ventures.
Jeff Bezos, the founder and executive chairman of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, is set to take his company Blue Origin to space on July 20. Elon Musk, the CEO and chief engineer of Space X, has also been in pursuit of creating commercial space flight opportunities.

3 July
How to Decipher the Pentagon’s UFO Report The crucial, missing context for what military pilots might actually be seeing.
By Jeff Wise
(New York) For many, aerial objects moving in impossible ways immediately brings to mind alien visitors. But for those working in the electronic warfare industry, strangely manifesting phenomena are their stock-in-trade. The field is tasked with the detection of adversaries across the electromagnetic spectrum, from visual light to infrared and radar, as well as manipulating signals so that your forces are not detected by the enemy. “By radiating electromagnetic energy, one can deny, deceive, disrupt, delay or deceive that energy to confuse an observer about what you’re doing,” says Glenn “Powder” Carlson, president of the Old Crows Association, the EW professional organization. …
By opening up discussion of mysterious aeronautical encounters to the general public, even to the extent of endorsing the idea that alien UFOs are real, the military hopes to encourage the regular reporting of potentially worrisome anomalies.
25 June
Watershed U.S. UFO report does not rule out extraterrestrial origin
(Reuters) – A U.S. government report on UFOs issued on Friday said defense and intelligence analysts lack sufficient data to determine the nature of mysterious flying objects observed by American military pilots including whether they are advanced earthly technologies, atmospherics or of an extraterrestrial origin.report, released to Congress and the public, encompasses 144 observations – mostly from U.S. Navy personnel – of what the government officially calls “unidentified aerial phenomenon,” or UAP, dating back to 2004.
Labeled a preliminary assessment, it was compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in conjunction with a Navy-led task force created by the Pentagon last year.

24 June
Cosmic dawn: scientists hope to peer back in time to see birth of stars
Telescope may be able to observe event now calculated to have taken place 250-350m years after big bang
It is often said that looking through a telescope is like peering back in time, because of the millions of years it takes light from distant cosmic objects to reach Earth. Now scientists have calculated that they may be able to see far enough back to observe the birth of the very first stars – with the first images possibly available as early as next year. They have also pinpointed when this momentous event occurred.
Observing the moment when the universe was first bathed in light, the cosmic dawn, is a major quest in astronomy.
“All of the chemical elements that make up you and me are synthesised in stars, so in some sense, cosmic dawn is our own birth,” said Prof Richard Ellis at University College London, who was involved in the research. “It has been a holy grail for astronomers to not only predict when this occurred, but to actually witness it.”

14 June
The woman who forced the US government to take UFOs seriously
(The Guardian) In 1999, Leslie Kean was handed a 90-page report of UFO sightings by pilots. After publishing her first story on the subject, she was hooked.
Kean’s biggest breakthrough came in 2017, when she was invited by a longtime source to meet with Luis “Lue” Elizondo on the day he resigned as the director of a clandestine Pentagon program that collected information about UFOs, the shadowy Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP).
Essentially, he revealed the very program she had lobbied for.
Kean teamed up with Ralph Blumenthal and Helene Cooper to write up her scoop for the New York Times, Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious UFO Program. The story revealed the existence of AATIP from 2007 to 2012, funded by an initiative from the former Senate majority leader Harry Reid and fellow Senators Ted Stevens and Daniel Inouye.
[Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program
In the $600 billion annual Defense Department budgets, the $22 million spent on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was almost impossible to find.
Which was how the Pentagon wanted it.
For years, the program investigated reports of unidentified flying objects, according to Defense Department officials, interviews with program participants and records obtained by The New York Times.
16 December 2017]
17 May
For some Navy pilots, UFO sightings were an ordinary event: ‘Every day for at least a couple years’
(WaPo) When the Navy pilot first spotted the strange object hovering in restricted airspace off the Atlantic Coast, he was stunned — no exhaust plume, no visible engine and all the makings of something secret, something mysterious or something dangerous.
But years later, Ryan Graves sounded almost bored as he recounted for a national television audience his history with unidentified aerial phenomena — UAPs, better known as UFOs.
Perhaps because for him and some of his former Navy colleagues, such sightings became a regular occurrence.
Graves has told his story before. But the interview — part of a “60 Minutes” report dedicated to the subject — signaled something new: UFOs are going mainstream. The shift — from kooky conspiracy theory to object of congressional inquiry — has accelerated in recent years, fueled by the revival of a Pentagon unit to investigate the sightings. And in the next six weeks, a report is due that is required to make public everything the government knows about UFOs.
19 May
A very long, thorough, account of the gradual acceptance of the existence of UFOs or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena
How the Pentagon Started Taking U.F.O.s Seriously
For decades, flying saucers were a punch line. Then the U.S. government got over the taboo.
(The New Yorker May 10 issue) Last summer, David Norquist, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, announced the formal existence of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force. The 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act, signed this past December, stipulated that the government had a hundred and eighty days to gather and analyze data from disparate agencies. Its report is expected in June. In a recent interview with Fox News, John Ratcliffe, the former director of National Intelligence, emphasized that the issue was no longer to be taken lightly. “When we talk about sightings,” he said, “we are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for, or are travelling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom.”

5 May
America’s moon effort is getting weirder
(The Atlantic) We’re living in an exciting moment in American spaceflight history. I’m sure every space journalist since the Apollo era has said this at some point. But it’s true, and it’s true now in stranger ways than before. NASA is in the midst of a new moon effort—named Artemis, for Apollo’s sister—to return American astronauts to the surface of the moon, this time including the first woman and the first person of color.
The space agency has already picked which of its astronauts are eligible to train for these missions, though they’re not yet household names like Armstrong and Aldrin were. The most high-profile figures in this new project are instead Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who are also the two richest people in the world. Both men had pitched their rocket companies for the NASA mission, which is supposed to leave in 2024. NASA picked Musk’s SpaceX, but then Bezos’s Blue Origin challenged the decision, and now the whole thing is on hold. It’s a messy situation…
This is what I mean when I say that this moment in space history is different. Private companies are now doing work once reserved for government agencies, and their billionaire founders are shaping the future of space travel, for better or worse. Rich people can pay for flights to the edge of space to experience a few minutes of weightlessness, or for trips all the way into orbit, to loop around Earth for a couple of days. One very rich person has already purchased a moon journey.
Deeper in the solar system, robotic spacecraft are doing ever more exciting exploring for us. NASA’s little Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has already completed several flights on the red planet’s surface, proving that people can make machines fly in the atmosphere of an entirely alien world. Space robots such as Ingenuity are distinctly good at capturing the public’s imagination. People tend to anthropomorphize robots that act as if they have minds of their own, even something as purely mechanical as Ingenuity wiggling its blades. When machines make the long journeys to Mars and other planets in our cosmic neighborhood, they take a little piece of humankind with them. — Marina Koren

6 May
Elon Musk Is Maybe, Actually, Strangely, Going to Do This Mars Thing
From his private Cape Canaveral, the billionaire is manifesting his own interplanetary reality—whatever the cost.

5 May
How the Space Fantasy Became Banal
The final frontier, as a setting, has long channeled giddy dreams of human communion. A new group of cultural works explores the opposite possibility.

29 April
Path to the Pad: NASA Artemis I Moon Rocket Comes Together
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is on its path to the pad for Artemis I, the first integrated mission of SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft through the agency’s Artemis program. … With the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon and establish sustainable exploration in preparation for missions to Mars. SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, along with the commercial human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.

28 April
The World’s Richest Men Are Brawling Over the Moon
NASA gave Elon Musk’s SpaceX a coveted contract for a lunar mission. Jeff Bezos plans to fight for it.
Marina Koren
(The Atlantic) In one corner is Jeff Bezos, the founder of the rocket company Blue Origin, and the richest person in the world. In the other is Elon Musk, the founder of the rocket company SpaceX, and the second-richest person in the world. Bezos and Musk have pitched their respective businesses to NASA in the space agency’s search for new technology to land astronauts on the moon. It is a massive opportunity. Astronauts haven’t set foot on the moon since the final Apollo mission, in 1972. But American officials have long called for a triumphant return, longer stays, and even the construction of a permanent base. And in recent years, they have turned to the private sector for help.|NASA announced last week that SpaceX had won the coveted contract, worth $2.9 billion, to develop a lunar lander, beating out Blue Origin, which had partnered with a few longtime space contractors for its bid. This week, Blue Origin filed a protest with the federal agency that investigates government spending, challenging the decision.

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