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On Sunday, SpaceX suffered the first failure of its Falcon 9 rocket in 19 launches, losing a Dragon cargo spacecraft bound for the ISS. Jeff Foust reports on what’s known about the failure and its implications for the company, the space station, and broader space policy.
Developing a coherent, sustainable space policy in the US is made challenging by changing administrations and a Congress often stuck in partisan gridlock. Clark Cohen describes how an alternative approach to congressional representation could end that gridlock and help space policy.
In just over two weeks, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will speed past Pluto in the first spacecraft reconnaissance of that distant world. Dwayne Day describes an ambitious mission concept from the 1980s to send a nuclear-powered orbiter, with landers, to Pluto.
The coverup, and later investigations, into Nazi scientists who found refuge in the United States after World War II remains controversial. Michael Neufeld reviews a book that examines the roles Nazi scientists and engineers played in America after the war, including two involved in the space program.
There is growing interest in developing constellations of smallsats for a variety of missions, with new concepts appearing regularly. Jeff Foust reports on some of the challenges these ventures face both in launching those satellites and dealing with orbital debris risks.
The issue of the role deterrence plays in protecting space assets has been the subject of debate in military policy circles. Roger G. Harrison and Deron R. Jackson respond to a recent essay here to defend their concept of a multi-layered approach to space deterrence.
Many space advocates lament that the US did not act upon the plans for long-term space exploration proposed as Apollo achieved its lunar landing goal. Alastair Browne argues that there’s little need to regret that path not taken, since the nation would not have traveled far down it.
Astronauts comprise an elite group, and it’s hard to think of any of them as ordinary. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a self-described “ordinary” astronaut whose details about life as an astronaut, in space and on Earth, are far from ordinary.
In a month, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly past the dwarf planet Pluto, the first spacecraft to visit this distant world. Dwayne Day ponders the effect the spacecraft flyby will have not just on science, but culture and policy as well.
While NASA has argued it needs full funding for its commercial crew program to keep it on schedule for first flights in 2017, House and Senate appropriations bills cut the request by hundreds of millions of dollars. Jeff Foust reports on the disconnect and its implications for the agency and the two companies under contract.
In the event that humans detect a signal from an extraterrestrial intelligence, or the more unlikely event of a physical encounter with them, how would the legal system be prepared to deal with repercussions? Babak Shakouri Hassanabadi discusses how existing treaties and interpretations of international law might apply in such scenarios.
Many of the German engineers who were at the core of America’s early space program came over after World War II in an effort called Operation Paperclip. Michael Neufeld reviews a book that offers a dramatic, but flawed, history of that program.
NASA is clear about its long-term goal of human spaceflight—sending humans to Mars—but has been vague about the next steps beyond low Earth orbit to achieve that goal. Jeff Foust reports how NASA, working with companies and potential international partners, is starting to look at a series of missions in cislunar space in the 2020s as those next steps.
America’s lead in military space capabilities is threatened by a number of internal and external factors. Tom Taverney discusses what those factors are and what the US needs to do to overcome them.
Estimates of the cost of a NASA Mars mission for six astronauts are north of $100 billion. Sam Dinkin wonders how this cost estimate would change if reusable rocket launches cost what SpaceX predicts they will.
Fifty years ago, NASA was racing to the Moon while the civil rights movement was unfolding. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the complex ways that the two efforts interacted as NASA sought to bring more African Americans into its workforce.
The most recent International Space Development Conference, like many of its predecessors, held sessions on space based solar power. Yet, as Dwayne Day notes, there’s been little progress in the field in recent years, and no sign that this long-term dream of space advocates is close to becoming reality.
Last week NASA announced the instruments it plans to fly on a future mission to Europa, while the House of Representatives is expected to approve a bill this week that would sharply increase funding for the mission. Jeff Foust reports, though, that as proponents attempt to make the mission more ambitious, they could also make it a target in future budget debates.
A recent essay argued for going to the Moon now because of the considerable challenges of sending humans to Mars. David Whitfield critiques the article and argues that there are ways to accomplish human missions to both worlds.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of Gemini 4 and the first American spacewalk, a milestone that will likely be recalled with the same, small set of images. Jeff Foust reviews a book that recalls missions like that using images not previously widely released.
Concepts of interplanetary spacecraft often face challenges with power, propulsion, radiation shielding, and more. Brian McConnell offers a concept for a “spacecoach” spacecraft that overcomes many of those obstacles by making use of water and solar electric propulsion in unique ways.
Both the House and Senate are considering legislation to support the US commercial launch industry, including extending key provisions of current law. Jeff Foust reports on those efforts, including the contrast between the partisan debates in the House and the bipartisan effort in the Senate.
As commercial ventures in outer space grow, so do issues like the protection of trade secrets such companies may obtain from their space activities. Kamil Muzyka explores the issue of trade secrets and offers one approach to protecting them.
India is making progress, albeit slowly, on the next generation of its GSLV launch vehicle designed to end the country’s dependence on foreign launchers. Debalina Ghoshal examines the state of the vehicle’s development.
Black holes are widely accepted today both in astrophysics and in popular culture, even though half a century ago they seemed inconceivable to many scientists. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a concise history of our understanding of black holes, and how they redeemed general relativity.
NASA says it has a plan for human missions to Mars in the 2030s. Jeff Foust reports that some, though, are pressing NASA for more details about those plans and coming up with alternative concepts that they believe could accelerate those crewed missions to the Red Planet.
Getting humans to live beyond Earth in a sustainable manner is a long-term effort with many steps involved. Derek Webber proposes that NASA focus on two initial steps, supporting key technologies that can enable eventual human space settlement.
Brazil is considering terminating its agreement with Ukraine to launch Cyclone 4 rockets from its spaceport, dealing another setback to that country’s space access plans. Ajey Lele suggests that Brazil partner with other nations, including India, to jointly develop launchers.
It’s been more than 40 years since Gene Cernan was the last human to walk on the Moon. Shane Hannon talks with the director and producer of a documentary about Cernan’s life.
He is one of the major figures in the space industry today, but Elon Musk remains something of an enigma to people who are puzzled by his way of doing business and his passion for Mars. Jeff Foust reviews a new biography that covers Musk’s life and his work at SpaceX.
Once on the cutting edge of commercial spaceflight, suborbital vehicles have been overshadowed in recent years, in part due to their development delays. Jeff Foust reports that, finally, some of these vehicles are entering, or about to enter, flight tests.
A recent study found that cosmic radiation astronauts would be exposed to on Mars expeditions could cause brain damage, resulting in dementia or other disorders. Robert Zubrin takes issue with the study’s methodology and argues the radiation risk to humans is far less serious than what the study concludes.
Colin Burgess is a prolific author currently working on a series of book about the Mercury program. Dwayne Day interviews Burgess to discuss how he got involved in writing about the subject and what space history books are in his future plans.
Space exploration has the ability to inspire students to pursue careers in science and engineering, as demonstrated by Apollo. However, Blake Ortner warns that inspiration could be suffocated by plans that take far too long to carry out.
To some, we appear to be on the verge of a new era of spaceflight, but even if that’s true, what does that mean for our future in space? Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to address that issue, but whose flaws may leave readers unconvinced.
Fifty years ago this week, the Soviets declared a mysterious Mars-bound mission called Zond 2 a failure. Andrew LePage examines the history of the program to uncover what Zond 2’s mission really was.
Six months ago, the commercial spaceflight industry suffered a double dose of accidents, just days apart. Jeff Foust reports on the progress made in the investigations of the Antares and SpaceShipTwo failures, and plans for them to resume flights.
On Wednesday, SpaceX is scheduled to perform a pad abort test of the crewed version of its Dragon spacecraft it is developing as part of NASA’s commercial crew program. Rick Boozer compares the capabilities of Dragon with NASA’s own Orion spacecraft.
India’s space program has achieved a number of major milestones in recent years, but still is a secondary player in the global space field. Narayan Prasad and Prateep Basu argue that India needs to encourage entrepreneurial space activities and better delineate civil and military space applications to further grow its space industry and be more competitive in the global market.
NASA’s program of robotic Mars missions has produced tremendous successes and embarrassing failures in the last quarter-century. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a comprehensive history of that era of Mars exploration, examining the challenges that even the most successful missions had to overcome.
NASA celebrated last week the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, looking back on the scientific accomplishments of that famous space telescope. Jeff Foust reports on what the next 25 years in space astronomy might look like beyond Hubble.
There remains interest in carrying out human missions to the surface of the Moon, even though that is not an official goal of the Obama Administration. Anthony Young discusses how a commercial model for lunar transportation, based on the COTS and commercial crew programs, might be the most cost-effective, and perhaps the only, way to carry out such missions.
Recent proposals have offered missions architectures to get humans to the vicinity of Mars, if not necessarily on the surface of the planet, by some time in the 2030s. Joe Webster argues that to maintain public support, those timelines need to be accelerated with a modest amount of additional funding.
Many in the space community like to debate the merits of two heavy-lift vehicles under development, NASA’s SLS and SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. Dale Skran offers a tale of the tape of the two heavyweights, comparing their planned capabilities and costs.
Last week marked the fifth anniversary of President Obama’s speech at the Kennedy Space Center, outlining his vision for the future of NASA’s space exploration efforts. Jeff Foust examines the progress NASA has made in various aspects of that vision, and the controversies that linger to this day.
Recent studies and recommendations by advisory groups have raised interest in a mission to Phobos as a precursor to a Mars mission, perhaps in place of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission. Louis Friedman notes that such interest in Phobos missions is not new, and may also not be that effective for long-term human Mars exploration.
Social events like Yuri’s Night are increasingly popular, but are they an effective way to increase awareness of and interest in space? Alan Steinberg goes over the results of a survey that explored that issue.
In recent weeks, plans for human Mars missions have been criticized for both their technical and financial feasibility. John Strickland argues that these critiques don’t hold up when Mars architectures are revised to take advantage of reusable launch systems.
Space can be a dangerous place, and knowing the various risks and their odds can be vital for space exploration. Jeff Foust reviews a book that tries to do just that, but falls far short of the mark.
The United States’ policy towards dealing with the potential use of weapons in space is one of deterrence. Christopher Stone argues that this strategy may be a flawed application of the concept of deterrence.
NASA adopted the “flexible path” approach to spaceflight as a more economical way to carry out human space exploration than a human return to the Moon. Roger Handberg described how this flexible path may be bending right back to the Moon.
Last week, Blue Origin announced a milestone in the development of an engine intended for its suborbital vehicle. Jeff Foust reports on the company’s plans for testing that suborbital vehicle, as well as its orbital vehicle and engine plans.
Can an international cooperation in lunar exploration open up commercial opportunities and expand the space economy? Vidvuds Beldavs describes how an “International Lunar Decade” could do just that.
While NASA’s civil space activities are supposed to be separate from the Pentagon’s military space work, the two have interacted, sometimes in collaboration and sometimes not. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a detailed history of those relationships, from the shuttle to Earth observation.
Recent studies have indicated you can either do human Mars missions in the 2030s with more money that NASA current receives, or wait until mid-century on NASA’s current budget. Jeff Foust reports on a new study that finds, although with few details, that humans to Mars by the 2030s can fit within NASA’s current budgets.
The Moon, and the moons of Mars, have previously been proposed as key steps towards getting humans on Mars. Al Anzaldua and Dave Dunlop propose an approach that involves those bodies, as well as Martian volcanoes, as key steps in a sustainable long-term exploration strategy.
Singer Sarah Brightman is in the midst of training for a September flight to the International Space Station as a space tourist. Anthony Young discusses her interest in spaceflight and her plans for her ten-day trip to space.
Launches can suffer from any number of conventional, well-known problems. But, as Wayne Eleazer recalls, there are plenty of, well, weird incidents involving launches and preparations for them.
NASA received last month more than two dozen proposals for the next round of its Discovery program of low-cost planetary science missions. Jason Callahan examines what we know about the various mission concepts submitted and the implications for NASA’s overall planetary science program.
Last week NASA announced that it had selected an option for its Asteroid Redirect Mission that involves collecting a boulder from an asteroid and returning it to cislunar space. Jeff Foust reports on the reasons why NASA selected that option and why skeptics of ARM in general appear unlikely to be won over.
Mars One, the private venture planning one-way human missions to Mars, has suffered from setbacks and bad publicity recently. Dwayne Day describes how one aspect of the venture’s plan, the development of a reality TV show about the mission, would have been difficult to pull off even without the recent problems.
On Saturday, India launched the fourth in a series of navigation satellites, bringing the nation closer to offering a regional navigation system independent of GPS. Ajey Lele discusses India’s system and why the country, like a number of others, is deciding to develop its own satellite navigation system.
Several months after its theatrical release, the movie Interstellar will be available on DVD this week. With the risk of spoilers now subsided, Jeff Foust reviews a book that goes into detail about the science that formed the basis for the movie.
At least five companies have said they have submitted proposals to NASA for commercial cargo contracts. Jeff Foust describes the proposals made by two companies seeking to enter this market, one repurposing a crewed vehicle concept and the other offering a novel approach that could be used beyond Earth orbit as well.
In the 1990s, a number of ventures tried to develop constellations of dozens or hundreds of communications satellites; they either ended up in bankruptcy reorganization or failed outright. Yet, Jeff Foust reports, there are today a number of firms, with significant financial support, trying even more ambitious systems.
Many people still consider John F. Kennedy as the president with the great influence on the American space program. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the historical record of another president who, in the long run, may have had a more significant effect on NASA’s human spaceflight program.
More than half a century ago, Project Orion offered the potential to open up the solar system with nuclear propulsion technologies, only to be shelved. Brent Ziarnick and Peter Garretson discuss, based on recently declassified memos, that the Air Force was closer than previously believed in deciding to fund work on Orion.
A hearing last week by a Senate committee about NASA’s propposed budget became a discussion on what NASA’s “core mission” should be. Jeff Foust reports this is not the first time, and likely not the last, the issue will be debated.
Mars One has garnered publicity in recent weeks with the selection of 100 candidates to be members of their first one-way Mars crew in the mid-2020s. Michael Listner and Christopher Newman argue that Mars One has yet to deal with a number of major technical and other challenges that makes their venture unlikely to succeed.
The last few years have seen companies attempt to turn asteroid mining from a topic of science fiction to a profitable business. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the science and technical issues associated with the field.
For decades, the United States has struggled to develop a sustainable long-term strategy for government and commercial access to space. Now, Roger Handberg argues, such a strategy appears to have emerged, thanks to commercial launch vehicle efforts and government programs that have supported them.
Humans missions to Mars would involve expeditions unlike any conducted in space to date, but may have analogies to seafaring exploration centuries ago. Rex Ridenoure compares ocean and space exploration to see if a mission to Mars is a trip too far.
Last month, a scientific conference featured a session debating the merits of actively transmitting messages in the hopes that other civilizations might one day detect them. Jeff Foust examines the arguments and whether the debate really has merit.
Dwayne Day offers a brief photographic comparison between science fiction and reality in one aspect of spaceflight.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has become one of the most famous astronomers alive today thanks to his frequent media appearances discussing astronomy. Jeff Foust reviews a book where his life becomes a tool by which to teach children about astronomy.
Space advocates have struggled in recent years for major victories in their efforts to increase NASA’s budget or enact other space policy changes. Jeff Foust reports on how a new alliance of space organizations, and the outcome of a separate space summit, seek more targeted efforts to support space development and settlement.
The new movie Journey to Space follows in the footsteps of previous space-themed IMAX films. Dwayne Day saw the film and finds it lacks the inspirational message that some of its predecessors had.
As government and commercial activity at the Moon ramps up, it raises questions about the legal status of some of those efforts, particularly the extraction of resources. Urbano Fuentes examines what one particular phase used in treaties regarding the Moon could mean for those activities.
In 2011, an unusual festival took place in the Canary Islands, bringing together veteran astronauts and cosmonauts with famous scientists. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers the proceedings, of sorts, of that event, a collection of essays that also represents something of a missed opportunity.
While discussions about the NASA planetary science budget have focused on the inclusion of a Europa mission and possible termination of existing missions, the budget also supports the start of another mid-sized New Frontiers mission. Jason Callahan explains why a new New Frontiers mission is so important.
Long before the current surge in interest in small satellites, plans for space-based missile defense fostered an earlier wave of smallsat work. Dwayne Day examines the brief history of one such effort in the early 1990s.
As a Senate subcommittee holds a hearing this week on human spaceflight and commercialization, one topic that may come up is an update to existing commercial launch laws. Jeff Foust reports on some of the major long-running issues likely to be considered in any such legislation.
The Second Mars Affordability and Sustainability Community Workshop: structure, findings, and recommendations
Late last year, a group of experts met to follow up on earlier discussion on developing affordable pathways for human exploration of Mars. Harley Thronson and Chris Carberry summarize the outcome of that effort.
One of the most remarkable planetary missions to date has been Voyager, providing up-close examinations of four outer planets and their moons, some never seen in that way before or since. Jeff Foust reviews a book by someone who had a cameo role on the mission that offers a very human story about these robotic explorers.
Launch companies that once dismissed reusability as neither feasible nor economically viable are thinking twice as SpaceX makes progress towards recovering and reusing its Falcon 9 first stage. Jeff Foust reports on SpaceX’s latest tests and what the head of another launch company now thinks about reusability.
Should people flying on suborbital vehicles wear pressure suits as protection from a decompression event? Anthony Young examines the historical record to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of using pressure suits.
Is simply exposing an organism or substance to the space environment sufficient to patent what results? Kamil Muzyka explores what patent law says about the ability to protect intellectual property resulting from commercial activities in space.
Long before Sputnik, engineers were studying spaceflight, which was also influencing, and being influenced by, broader culture. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the cultural history of early spaceflight in America, Europe, and Russia.
Last month, the X PRIZE Foundation awarded more than $5 million to five teams competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE for milestones they achieved getting their landers ready for flight. Derek Webber, one of the judges of those prizes, argues that these prizes are themselves a milestone for a more commercial approach for space exploration.
NASA’s 2016 budget proposal, released last week, included plans to formally start work on a project to send a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Jeff Foust reports that while this is good news for mission advocates, that decision could have a funding catch.
The last few years has seen a surge of interest in alternative “cryptocurrencies” like bitcoin. Petr Konupek examines whether a similar alterative currency might stimulate spaceflight.
Communicating the complex and even counterintuitive history of the universe to general audiences can be a challenge. Jeff Foust reviews a book that makes an attempt to do so through a combination of distinctive graphics and a lively writing style.
Last month, a protest of NASA’s commercial crew contracts was denied, allowing the agency and the winning companies to start sharing more details about their plans. Jeff Foust reports on those new details about the program, and continued criticism about some aspects of it.
The long-established European Space Agency is facing a new challenge to its power from the European Union. Clemens Rumpf argues that, as space becomes more competitive globally, the old models that supported ESA activities may no longer hold.
One approach to encouraging students to pursue space-related careers is outreach at science fairs. Ken Murphy describes how he and others in the Dallas area have used science fairs to recognize and reward promising students.
Can seeing the Earth from space change your perspective about the Earth and motivate you to action after returning to Earth? Jeff Foust reviews a book by a former astronaut who describes how his trips to space crystallized a new perspective that was already forming before he left the ground.
During a slow time in space policy in recent weeks, one topic that has attracted attention and controversy is the selection of Ted Cruz to chair a Senate subcommittee on space. Jeff Foust discusses what the senator can, and can’t, do from his new chairmanship.
Long-duration expeditions, on Earth and in space, can suffer from psychological issues, particularly just beyond the halfway point of the mission. John Putnam argues that those issues could be more serious for a mission that does not have an end at all.
The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum doesn’t just place space artifacts on display; it also restores them. Dwayne Day describes some of those artifacts under restoration the museum showed off during a recent open house.
While electronic books gain prominence and market share, there are still categories of books that work better in print. Jeff Foust reviews one such book that expertly combines images and text in a way that would be difficult to duplicate in an ebook.
On Friday, the UK Space Agency announced that the Beagle 2 lander had been found on the Martian surface, at least partially intact, in images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Dwayne Day discusses what we can learn from the discovery of the spacecraft more than a decade after it disappeared.
While astronomers are discovering ever more exoplanets, including some that may be like Earth, there’s a perception that the scientific community can’t agree on future goals and missions. Jeff Foust reports on efforts by astronomers to develop greater consensus on the direction of exoplanet research, and what some of the missions to achieve those goals might be.
In a recent newspaper op-ed, a university scientist argues against human exploration of Mars, claiming the money would be better spent on other scientific activities here on Earth. John Strickland argues against that mindset, provided human Mars missions are done in a more affordable, sustainable way.
More than a quarter-century ago, Frank White introduced the concept of a change in perspective that astronauts experience when observing the Earth from space. Jeff Foust reviews a new edition of White’s book about the Overview Effect, including the potential for future space tourists to experience a similar effect.
On Saturday, SpaceX attempted to land a Falcon 9 first stage on a ship, and while coming close, was widely considered in the media to have failed that test. Jeff Foust examines whether the public and the media need a better understanding of, and appreciation for, aerospace flight test and what constitutes success and failure.
Encouraging private investment in space: does the current space law regime have to be changed? (part 2)
Jonathan Babcock concludes his two-part examination of property rights in space by examining several options for protecting private investment in space, in some cases without major changes to existing space treaties.
Two major NASA astronomy projects, the Kepler space telescope and SOFIA airborne observatory, had been facing early ends for technical and fiscal reasons. Jeff Foust reports from a major astronomy conference how both have managed to continue their missions even with tightened budgets.
Museums often desire to show real flight hardware, but often have to settle with replicas, trainers, and other test articles associated with spaceflight. Jeff Foust visits one museum to find that, sometimes, such items have benefits that flown hardware doesn’t.
The new year is a time for new beginnings for many, but in the space industry there is a lot of leftover issues from 2014 to deal with first. Jeff Foust reports on some of the topics, from a contract protest to accident investigations to a test of reusability, on tap for early 2015.
Did a little-known space vehicle concept from the early 1960s inspire a science fiction author? John Charles examines the similarities between that vehicle concept and a vehicle from the film Marooned.
While the Air Force has been tightlipped about the missions of its X-37 robotic spaceplane, there’s been no shortage of speculation about its purpose. Michael Listner discusses if the Air Force is deliberately encouraging that speculation as par tof a broader strategy.
Encouraging private investment in space: does the current space law regime have to be changed? (part 1)
Many space commercialization advocates have argued for a change in space law in order to provide property rights for entities wishing to use the Moon or asteroids. Jonathan Babcock, in the first of a two-part essay, explores whether such wholesale changes are needed to provide such protections.
Science and religion often seem in conflict with one another. Jeff Foust reviews a book by two Vatican Observatory scientists that use several astronomy topics to examine if that is really the case.