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This week in The Space Review…
Weather and technology permitting, a Falcon 9 will lift off Wednesday afternoon, sending a Crew Dragon spacecraft with two NASA astronauts on board into orbit. Jeff Foust reports on this culmination of the commercial crew program amid some last-minute hiccups.
Recent policy actions by the US government have reinvigorated the debate about space resources. Kamil Muzyka argues that the issue is not just the resources themselves, but how they’re used.
Cyber security and space security: What are the challenges at the junction of cybersecurity and space security?
The distinctions between cybersecurity and space security are becoming blurred amid risks that hackers could interfere with or even take control of satellites. Nayef Al-Rodhan examines the policy issues where these two topics meet.
The robotic arm on NASA’s InSight Mars lander has been busy deploying instruments and helping get one of the them, a heat flow probe, into the surface. Philip Horzempa describes how the arm can also be used for another scientific investigation similar to that done on some other lander missions.
NASA’s human spaceflight program is getting a lot of attention this week, but in the long run its Earth science program may be just as significant. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines how NASA’s modern Earth science program took shape amid political and budgetary pressures in the 1980s and 1990s.
NASA is bringing back the “worm” logo for the upcoming SpaceX commercial crew flight, placing it alongside the “meatball” logo. Glen Swanson explores the history of NASA’s various logos and the controversy they have sometimes generated.
NASA recently awarded contracts to three companies for initial work on lunar lander concepts to support the agency’s goal of returning humans to the Moon by 2024. Jeff Foust reports on NASA’s optimism that the goal is achievable, and the skepticism many outside the agency have about meeting that deadline.
In the last in a series of interviews made two decades ago, Dwayne Day examines what a 1960s Senate staffer thought of the Apollo program, including proposals to delay the landing past 1969 and the leak of memos critical of the program to Walter Mondale.
The recent successful launch of a Long March 5B rocket allows China to proceed with development of a permanent space station, among other projects. Namrata Goswami discusses why Chinese space efforts should be understood through the lessons of Chinese history, rather than grafting Western rationales onto it.
The Big Bang is the best explanation to date for the origin and evolution of the universe, but it’s not without its critics who offer alternative models. Jeff Foust reviews a book by two astrophysicists who offer guidance for those who want to take on the Big Bang.
“Maybe you were put here to be the answer”: Religious overtones in the new Space Force recruitment video
The US Space Force released its first recruitment ad last week, a 30-second commercial that said that, “Maybe your purpose on this planet isn’t on this planet.” Deana Weibel explores the imagery and language of the ad and its religious influences.
The budget director for President Johnson suggested delaying the Apollo landings into the 1970s as a way to cut spending. Dwayne Day provides an interview with Charles Schultze that offers insights into why Schultze sought to defer the landing.
In the next few months, the US Air Force will award contracts to two companies to perform national security launches for the next five years. Jeff Foust reports on the assessments the Pentagon is using to justify awarding two contracts as four companies submit bids.
NASA may face budget pressures in the coming years as Congress adjusts to massive spending required by the coronavirus pandemic. Ajay Kothari suggests that NASA’s exploration efforts can maintain funding if the agency revamps and recasts the program.
The coronavirus pandemic has slowed some elements of NASA’s Artemis program. Jamil Castillo argues that moving forward on the program can provide a message of hope in a difficult time.
Working in the shadow space program: A General Electric engineer’s work on MOL and other space programs
Richard Passman was an engineer who worked on a number of classified space programs, including the Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Dwayne Day interviewed Passman about his career shortly before Passman’s death last month.
NASA once thought that hundreds of thousands of people would come to Florida for the first commercial crew launch. Jeff Foust reports that while that scenario is now unlikely, the agency and SpaceX are still focused on getting the Demo-2 mission launched safely and successfully.
The severe economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus pandemic has affected many companies in the space industry. Nicholas Borroz argues that companies best placed to survive and even thrive in this environment are those that provide Earth imagery or analysis of it.
One of the finalists for ESA’s next medium-class space science mission is an infrared space telescope called SPICA. Arwen Rimmer describes the science the proposed mission could accomplish, and how the pandemic has affected work on it.
Some scientists believe that “ocean worlds” like Jupiter’s moon Europa are the best places in the solar system to look for life beyond Earth. Jeff Foust reviews a book by one of those scientists that lays out the case for life within Europa and other icy moons of the outer solar system.
An executive order on space resource rights issued by the White House in early April generated debate and controversy regarding national policy on the topic. Ian Christensen and Christopher Johnson examine the order from an international perspective.
An image of a Russian fighter with a large missile mounted underneath it prompted speculation that the Russian military was working on a new anti-satellite weapon. Bart Hendrickx reveals new details about an effort that includes both an air-launched rocket and small, maneuverable satellites.
Mars sample return is a long-standing goal of many planetary scientists, but difficult and expensive to achieve. Jeff Foust reports on how NASA and ESA are firming up plans to do so over the next decade, despite many uncertainties.
The Moon Village Association recently released a draft set of principles regarding best practices for future lunar development. Giuseppe Reibaldi and Mark Sundahl discuss the formation of the principles and their request for feedback about them.
Management of lunar activities in a way that is consistent with existing treaties had long been a challenge. A group of authors offer a concept that they believe can effective coordinate various activities in a sustainable way.
Russia’s test of an anti-satellite weapon last week has reinvigorated debates about the utility of such weapons. Dwayne Day discusses a historical case where the US proposed developing ASATs to shed light on on their roles today.
The FCC is scheduled to vote this week on new regulations intended to mitigate the creation of orbital debris, which some in industry oppose. Three experts explain why the regulations are a good idea even if the implementation leaves something to be desired.
In early April, the White House issued an executive order reiterating policy regarding rights to space resources. Paul Stimers argues that the policy is a good step towards building an international consensus on the issue.
Some smallsat launch customers are willing to pay a premium in order to get their payload into their desired orbit on their own schedule. Jeff Foust reports on whether there are enough such customers out there to sustain small launch vehicle companies that emphasis flexibility over price.
“Space, the final frontier”: Star Trek and the national space rhetoric of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and NASA
While “Star Trek” has been an inspiration for many who pursued space careers, the show’s origins has its links to the early space program. Glen Swanson examines the various connections between the show and the early Space Age.
Sixty years ago, NASA was starting to plan how to get humans to the Moon but wasn’t sure of the best way to do so. Jeff Foust reviews a book that recounts how one person at NASA advocated, and eventually won support, for the approach ultimately used by the Apollo missions.
Comparing budgets from year to year among NASA planetary science program can be difficult. Casey Dreier discusses a new dataset on those budgets he has compiled, and trends apparent in the analysis of that data.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, work is getting started on the next planetary science decadal survey. Jeff Foust reports on what will be different about the next decadal, and how its recommendations can still lead to struggles regarding how to fund missions.
The coronavirus pandemic may force countries to delay or cancel space projects in order to pay for the relief effort. Ajey Lele argues that it provides an opportunity for greater international cooperation in future space projects.
Last week the White House issued an executive order calling on the State Department to seek international support for its stance on space resource rights. Dennis O’Brien recalls a recent space law conference that debated whether informal agreements or new, binding treaties were needed for the future of lunar exploration and utilization.
Justifying the difficulty and expense of human spaceflight has been a longstanding challenge for space advocates. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers an examination of how humanity can expand into the solar system, but not necessarily a compelling reason why.
Different people involved in historical events have different recollections of what happened. Dwayne Day demonstrates that from an interview with another NASA official who was at an infamous Senate hearing after the Apollo 1 accident.
Earlier this year, both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic appeared to be finally ready to start flying people to space by the end of the year. Jeff Foust reports that the pandemic has put those plans into question.
The Space Force has had some stumbles in the months since its establishment, but appears to have general public support. John Hickman argues one challenge the Space Force faces is changing how the public perceives spaceflight itself.
While the US Space Force was formally established last December, it’s still struggling with some organizational and policy issues. Taylor Dinerman discusses some of those issues and their importance to the nascent service.
It’s been 70 years since Enrico Fermi’s question became the paradox that bears his name about the existence of other civilizations. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the history of SETI and offers some potential answers to the Fermi Paradox.
With OneWeb’s bankruptcy filing, astronomers may have one less satellite constellation to worry about disrupting their observations. But, as Jeff Foust reports, they are still working with SpaceX to find ways to mitigate the effects of the Starlink satellites.
Besides being one of the most trusted people in America in the 1960s, Walter Cronkite was also a space buff who closely followed, and covered, the Apollo program. Dwayne Day finds an interview from decades later where Cronkite discussed how critical his coverage of the program was.
A new series of missions may be bound for Venus in the coming decade by NASA and other space agencies. Arwen Rimmer talked with planetary scientist and astrobiologist David Grinspoon on why renewed studies of Venus can help us not just understand our nearest planetary neighbor but also worlds around other stars.
One obstacle to a permanent human settlement on Mars, in the minds of many, is how such a settlement could be economically viable. John Strickland argues that a business case isn’t essential to a Mars settlement, at least during its formative phase.
Most histories of the Apollo program are written from an American perspective, but the program, especially the Apollo 11 landing, was a worldwide phenomenon. Jeff Foust reviews a book where people around the world discuss their memories of the first Moon landing and how it inspired them.
Much of the space industry, like the broader economy and society, has ground to a halt in the last few weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. Jeff Foust reports on what has shut down and what is continuing more or less as usual in spaceflight, at least for now.
The DARPA Launch Challenge ended earlier this month without a winner when the last remaining company scrubbed their final launch attempt. Todd Master, manager of the competition, explains how the DARPA Launch Challenge evolved and offers lessons learned for the future of responsive launch.
Robert Seamans was deputy administrator of NASA during the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, and was one of the officials who testified at a Senate hearing about it months later. Dwayne Day finds new insights about Seamans and his relationship with administrator James Webb in an interview from more than 20 years ago.
Magnificent isolation: what we can learn from astronauts about social distancing and sheltering in space
Calls for self-quarantine and “social distancing” in response to the pandemic have some people seeking to learn from the experience of explorers. Deana Weibel examines what astronauts, including the late Al Worden, can teach us about handling isolation in extreme circumstances.
Glen Swanson offers a more through examination of a recent book about the creation of the “golden records” that flew on the Voyager spacecraft with photos and sounds representing Earth.
Sen. Walter Mondale’s questioning of NASA in a hearing after the Apollo 1 fire led to his portrayal as a critic of the agency opposed to Apollo. Dwayne Day unearths an interview with Mondale that offers a different perspective on Mondale’s views about the program.
Last week the European Space Agency announced it was postponing the launch of its ExoMars rover mission from 2020 to 2022 because of technical problems. Jeff Foust reports on that delay and potential risks to other Mars missions scheduled for launch this year because of matters beyond their control.
Efforts to create treaties or other international agreements to keep space from becoming weaponized have failed to gain traction. Ajey Lele says an international organization, separate from any treaty regime, might be able to make progress on space security.
Later this year NASA astronauts will fly to the International Space Station on commercial crew vehicles. Roger Handberg discusses how that is reopening debates about the role NASA should play in overseeing the safety of such spacecraft.
The DARPA Launch Challenge ended last week without a winner as the sole remaining team failed to launch within the competition window. Jeff Foust reports on how Astra was less than a minute away from launching when it had to scrub its launch, and what it means for the long-running effort to demonstrate responsive launch.
The special relationship between the United States and United Kingdom extended to access to reconnaissance satellite imagery during the Cold War. Aaron Bateman examines how that influenced policy in the UK regarding arms control and anti-satellite weapons in the 1980s.
One of the shows on the Apple TV+ streaming service is For All Mankind, which examines an alternative history based on the Soviets landing a man on the Moon before the US. Dwayne Day discusses the strengths and weaknesses of that alternative history that many space advocates have desired.
One of the best known aspects of the Voyager missions is the “golden record” included on the two spacecraft with photos and audio from Earth. Jeff Foust reviews a book that recounts how that album came together.
It’s common today to see mentions of a new “space race” involving the United States and China. Dwayne Day argues that term doesn’t make sense, since there’s no agreement on where they are racing, when, or why.
OneWeb and SpaceX are shifting into high gear to deploy their broadband satellite constellations, with more systems proposed and in development. Jeff Foust reports on what industry expects think are the prospects for success for these systems, given the business and other challenges they face.
A Venus orbiter called EnVision is among the finalists for the next medium-class science mission by the European Space Agency. Arwen Rimmer explains why scientists, meeting at a conference in Paris last month, believe the mission is vital for ESA to pursue.
In early 20th century astrophysics, one of the most important discoveries was that stars were made primarily of hydrogen and helium, yet few people know the astronomer who made that discovery. Jeff Foust reviews a book about the life and career of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who overcame major obstacles on the path to that achievement.
The US government released updated orbital debris mitigation guidelines in December, the first update to those guidelines in nearly two decades. Brian Weeden explains why the few changes in the new guidelines are disappointing and a sign that the US may no longer be a global leader in dealing with orbital debris.
NASA awarded Axiom Space an agreement in January that gives the company the opportunity to attach a commercial module to an International Space Station docking port. Jeff Foust reports that, despite this milestone, there’s still uncertainty about the business plans of such companies and NASA’s ability to provide financial support for them.
Spacecraft engineers are studying a variety of approaches for deorbiting satellites at the end of their lives to minimize the growth of orbital debris. Rebecca Hill discusses one concept being studied that adapts solar sail technologies to bring down satellites.
The Hubble Space Telescope, approaching its 30th anniversary, has a legacy enabled by the ability to repair and upgrade the observatory over the years. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a NASA astronaut who played a key role ensuring the telescope could be repaired by later shuttle missions.
Last month, two defunct satellites missed colliding with each other by only meters, an event widely seen as a wakeup call about the dangers of orbital debris and the need to take action. Jeff Foust reports that while that incident might have raised awareness, it won’t necessarily translate into near-term action.
In a recent commentary, Louis Friedman argued against NASA racing back to the moon, saying its energies are better placed for going to Mars. Four authors note that Friedman once backed the concept for an “International Lunar Decade,” a concept that is still worth pursuing today.
Advances in satellite and launch technologies are often touted as opening space for new and expanded business opportunities. Dylan Taylor argues that such technologies also democratize space, making it available to more people around the world.
Six decades ago, a group of women later known as the “Mercury 13” took medical tests that demonstrated that they were just as able to handle the rigors of spaceflight as NASA’s male Mercury 7 astronauts. Jeff Foust reviews a book that profiles two of the women at the heart of that effort, which similar goals but different plans to achieve them.
One software error truncated an uncrewed test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in December, but last week a safety panel revealed there was a second problem that could have caused a “catastrophic” failure. Jeff Foust reports on that new problem and its implications for Boeing’s commercial crew vehicle.
Despite the long-term promise of extracting water ice and other resources from the moon, such efforts, done commercially, face the daunting challenge of raising funding. Blake Ahadi suggests some alternative approaches, drawn in part from similar issues faced in terrestrial mining, to help fund lunar resource extraction.
The establishment of a Space Force in the US has raised questions about international law provisions that prohibit some military activities in space. Bharatt Goel notes that while the militarization of space is hardly new, the Space Force could heighten debates about the roles of militaries in space.
Millennials are a growing part of the space community, but are their views of what they want to do in space, and why and how, that different from previous generations? Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers insights based on interviews with 100 millennials in the field.
As the White House prepares to release a budget proposal that will include a cost estimate for NASA’s Artemis program, the House Science Committee took up a NASA authorization bill that could make significant changes to it. Jeff Foust reports on the debate about the bill and its importance versus the upcoming budget and appropriations process.
A report by two Soviet academicians in the 1970s, which argued that the Space Shuttle that the US was developing could be used as a bomber, is widely thought to have spurred development of the Buran shuttle. Bart Hendrickx and Dwayne A. Day examine that claim and find that the report likely only reinforced an earlier decision regarding Buran.
Launch vehicle developers have for decades struggled to come up with approaches to enable frequent and cost-effective access to space using spaceplanes. Francis Castanos advocates for an alternative approach.
The search for “technosignatures” of civilizations beyond Earth is winning new support, including positive language in a House NASA bill. Jeff Foust reviews a book that argues that it’s time for a new strategy for such search efforts based on the proliferation of new approaches and the failures of past efforts.
Russian historians recently uncovered a Soviet report from the 1970s that studied whether the Space Shuttle could be used as a bomber to attack Moscow. Bart Hendrickx and Dwayne Day study that report in more detail to better understand its logic, and its flaws.
Outside the United States, the country with the most vibrant commercial space startup industry may be China, with dozens of firms established in just the last few years pursuing launch vehicles, satellites, and more. Jeff Foust examines a report that offered detailed insights on the size and growth potential of Chinese entrepreneurial space.
Iran is preparing to attempt another satellite launch in the coming days, amid tensions about its nuclear programs. Henk Smid discusses the history of both Iran’s ballistic missile and space launch vehicle programs to better understand if the latter helps the former.
NASA’s Mission Control in Houston has developed a reputation for rigorous decision making needed for the safety and success of human spaceflight. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a former director describing how the management of the organization that runs Mission Control needed to be overhauled.
At the end of this month, NASA will decomission the Spitzer Space Telescope, the second of the original four Great Observatories to go dark. Jeff Foust reports on what astronomers think NASA should do to continue the promise of the Great Observatories to enable space-based observations over a wide range of wavelengths.
Today is the 90th birthday of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Eric Hedman reflects on Aldrin’s influence on his own life.
Seventeen years ago this month, Columbia lifted off on its final, ill-fated flight. Dwayne Day explains how a fictional story may stir up very real feelings about the mission.
One of India’s biggest space achievements last year was a military one: the successful test of an anti-satellite weapon. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines India’s changing views of space security.
The long-delayed James Webb Space Telescope should finally approach completion this year, as work ramps up on NASA’s next major space telescope, WFIRST. Jeff Foust reports these missions are providing lessons, good and bad, on how to manage flagship missions as astronomers weigh what should come next.
Plans by SpaceX and other companies to deploy megaconstellations of satellites have alarmed astronomers, who worry that such satellites could interfere with their observations. Arwen Rimmer argues that such satellites should be a concern to anyone who looks up into the night sky, not just professional astronomers.
China’s Long March 5 rocket successfully returned to flight in late December after a failure nearly two and a half years ago. Namrata Goswami explains that this shows that that country’s lunar ambitions, including eventual human missions to the Moon, need to be taken seriously.
Existing treaties may be ill-equipped to deal with the surge in both government and commercial missions to the Moon. Dennis O’Brien discusses what changes a recent white paper recommended to one agreement regarding the registration of such missions.
In 2019, NASA accelerated its plans to return to the Moon under a program now called Artemis. Jeff Foust reports that NASA will have to overcome a number of challenges, financial and otherwise, to stay on track in 2020.
In the 1960s, NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office quietly cooperated on an imaging system developed for reconnaissance satellites that NASA sought to use to support lunar missions. Dwayne Day describes how the very different nature of the agencies, and changes in the program, made it difficult for them to work together.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner test flight last month was cut short because a problem linked to a timing error in the spacecraft. Wayne Eleazer explains it’s not the first mission where a timing error caused problems.
While there has been a surge of spaceports proposed in recent years, the supply of such facilities doesn’t match the demand for launch services. Roger Handberg notes this is similar to another wave of proposed spaceports two decades ago.
In the decades after landing on the Moon, Neil Armstrong received tens of thousands of letters, from political and business leaders to ordinary people. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a selection from that archive, and some of Armstrong’s responses.
NASA entered 2019 hopeful that it would be able to start launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil before year’s end. Jeff Foust reports that, as the year comes to an end, commercial crew faces continued challenges, highlighted by the problems on the recent test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner.
During the 1970s, the Soviet Union feared that the Space Shuttle could be used as a bomber to drop nuclear weapons on Moscow with little warning. Dwayne Day describes how a Russian researcher has turned up documents explaining how Soviet leaders came to that conclusion.
NASA recently announced that the Kuiper Belt object that New Horizons flew by at the beginning of the year would be formally known as Arrokoth, after provisionally, and controversially, being called Ultima Thule. Andrew Rader discusses how this is only one of many challenges facing the naming of celestial bodies and features on them.
The first American to fly a rocket-powered aircraft was William Swan in 1931. Mark Wade examines the mysterious life of Swan, including a disappearance at the site of a present-day launch site.
Some historians view the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s as part of a broader effort that started decades earlier and extended beyond the 1960s. Jeff Foust reviews a collection of essays that uses that perspective to examine NASA’s interactions with that movement.
Launch accident investigations often focus on the technical causes that prevented a rocket’s payload from reaching orbit properly. Wayne Eleazer explains why there are often fundamental managerial causes for many of those technical failures.
NASA declared the core stage for the first Space Launch System rocket complete last week. Jeff Foust reports there’s still some more work to do on the core stage before it’s ready for launch, as well as work determining the future of that heavy-lift rocket.
SpaceX’s Starlink broadband megaconstellation offers the prospect of improved Internet access worldwide, but also raises problems from orbital debris to impacts on astronomy. Namrata Goswami argues that even the challenges of Starlink can offer opportunities for both SpaceX and others.
This decade has been marked by the rise of commercial space ventures, but that increased emphasis on privatization has its critics. Jeff Foust reviews a book that promises to investigate those efforts, but falls short of those lofty aims.
Everyone acknowledges that orbital debris is a problem, but approaches to removing debris are hampered by legal issues. Three authors suggest an approach, borrowing from maritime law, that could address the problem without changes to existing space treaties.
A lack of launch companies and launch activity has not deterred the development of new spaceports around the United States and elsewhere. Jeff Foust reports on what motivates these sites beyond the prospect of one day hosting launches or landings.
Growing commercial and other space capabilities offer all sorts of new opportunities. Ian McCann describes how space travel offers an unprecedented vehicle for liberalism.
Exploration of space, many argue, is simply a continuation of humanity’s legacy of exploration across the Earth. Jeff Foust reviews a book that traces that history and looks ahead to exploration of the solar system and beyond.
Ministers representing the 22 member states of the European Space Agency met in Spain last week for funding decisions on the agency's programs for the next three years. Jeff Foust reports on how ESA was able to secure nearly everything it asked for as it seeks to take a bigger role in areas from Earth observation to human space exploration.
As NASA plans to resume launching astronauts on American spacecraft, it's time to take stock of the lessons learned from the shuttle program. Dwayne Day says that includes the culture of that program, including how a simple term could be used, or misused.
Much of the discussion about a proposed Space Force has focused on organizational structures and even the color of its uniforms. Jack Anthony argues that the most important issue is what sort of culture such a service needs in order to be effective.
The Soviet Union had an early lead in the Space Race with the US, but America pulled ahead over time. A group of authors tries to quantify this competition through an analysis of spacecraft data.
Wherever humans go, alcohol follows, in one form or another. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the history of alcohol in space and the prospects for producing it in orbit, on Mars, and elsewhere beyond Earth.
Policymakers have tried to play up a competition between China and the United States in space, with echoes of a Cold War-era Space Race. Benjamin Charlton says there’s less to such a race than meets the eye.
Last week NASA announced it was adding five companies to its program of commercial lunar lander services. Jeff Foust reports on what’s now a crowded field of companies proposing to land spacecraft on the Moon, and the technical and other difficulties they face.
While NASA presses ahead as fast as it can with its plans to return humans to the Moon, Congress has yet to fully get on board, or provide the needed funding. Jonathan Coopersmith argues that the agency faces steep challenges in Congress to win support.
While some scientists think about how to search for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations, others think about how to craft messages to send to them. Jeff Foust reviews a book that explores the problems of developing a message that could be decoded by an alien civilization.
NASA continues to emphasize that the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket is an essential part of its plans to return humans to the Moon and go on to Mars. Jeff Foust reports that NASA is getting some criticism in Congress not for the vehicle’s delays but instead because NASA isn’t planning to make greater use of it.
While information is gradually being declassified about early reconnaissance satellite programs, there are few first-person accounts from those who worked on them. Robert E. Andrews offers his recollections on working on several such now-declassified programs, dating back to the late 1950s.
A payload of wine on the latest cargo flight to the International Space Station is only the latest example of the intersection of spaceflight and alcohol. Chris Carberry explains why there’s likely to be more to come as humanity extends its presence in space.
What happened in the first few seconds, and especially the first fractions of a second, after the Big Bang remain a mystery to cosmologists. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines what scientists don’t know about the earliest moments in the universe and their struggles to learn more.
The growth of commercial space activities is placing new pressures on existing governance regimes in space on topics ranging from space traffic management to export control. Adam Routh argues that the solution is not new treaties but rather a growing network of bilateral agreements that address those concerns.
The launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station earlier this month marked the start of a new round of NASA contracts to support the ISS. Jeff Foust reports on the changes existing companies are making to their cargo vehicles as well as one new entrant.
Chinese officials recently discussed a long-term vision of an economic zone spanning from the Earth to the Moon and Mars that they believe could be worth $10 trillion by 2050. Ajey Lele examines if that concept seems credible for the Chinese to achieve.
Space debris is a growing concern, most acknowledge, with a need to clean up increasingly cluttered orbits. Jeff Foust reviews a book that discusses how such debris, and detritus left on the Moon and other worlds, also has archaeological insights that shouldn’t be overlooked.
A plot point in the new TV series “For All Mankind” features establishing a base on the Moon. Dwayne Day discusses how that was seriously considered by the Air Force in studies at the beginning of the Space Age.
NASA is developing space nuclear power systems that could enable long-duration stays on the Moon and faster missions to Mars. But, Jeff Foust reports, NASA’s choice of fuels has raised concerns in the nuclear nonproliferation community.
More countries are talking about developing and testing anti-satellite systems. Taylor Dinerman argues that the US should accept space is a future battlefield and act accordingly.
Commercial space tourism may finally be emerging as several companies complete development of suborbital and orbital vehicles. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the long history of proposals to fly private citizens in space, with a particular emphasis on shuttle-era programs like Teacher In Space.
Last week, there was a lot of discussion at the International Astronautical Congress about both countries and companies partnering on NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the Moon. Jeff Foust reports that while there were signs of progress, funding issues could slow the agency down.
Last month NASA announced it would proceed with development of a space telescope to search for near Earth asteroids outside of its usual set of planetary science missions. Three University of Arizona scientists explain why this is a major milestone for the researcher who has advocated for such a mission for 15 years.
Some objects in orbit are missing from official government satellite catalogs even as they’re tracked by hobbyists. Charles Phillips discusses one approach to linking those observed but uncatalogued satellites with their real identities.
The last quarter-century has demonstrated that both exoplanets exist in large numbers and wider varieties, and that life can exist in places once thought inhabitable. Jeff Foust reviews a book by two scientists that speculates, based on that knowledge, what kind of unconventional life might exist on other worlds.
In the 1960s the US Navy sparred with the National Reconnaissance Office over potential payloads to be flown on the Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Dwayne Day offers new insights into that dispute from a recently declassified document.
Recent space activities, from placing tardigrades on a lunar lander to proposals for massive satellite constellations, have raised new questions about the ethics of spaceflight. Monica Vidaurri says it illustrates the need to have more, and more diverse, groups of people involved in the discussion of those activities.
NASA made history last week with the first all-woman spacewalk outside the International Space Station. Jeff Foust reports that the achievement was a long time coming—too long, for many.
Decades of efforts have shown how difficult it is to develop low-cost, reusable launch vehicles. John Hollaway argues that track record is no reason to give up hope for finding disruptive solutions that can offer affordable, routine space access.
Around the same time people celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, an important space telescope was marking 20 years in orbit. Jeff Foust reviews a book that highlights the science and imagery from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
Nearly two weeks after the head of NASA appeared to criticize SpaceX’s lack of emphasis on commercial crew, the two appeared to get back on the same page about the importance of that program. Jeff Foust reports on the progress both SpaceX and Boeing have made as they now hope to start flying people early next year.
A rush to return to the Moon may not be sustainable unless launch costs can be sharply reduced. Ajay Kothari examines how that can be done with emerging launch vehicles.
Governments have taken new approaches to stimulating their economies since the financial crisis a decade ago. Vidvuds Beldavs describes how similar approaches could be used to support long-term space development.
The idea of parallel universes, or a “multiverse,” has gone from science fiction to a model accepted by many physicists. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines our changing knowledge of what constitutes the universe, and how other universes might exist alongside it.
Interest in space nuclear power systems appears to be growing again in Russia, based on announcements of new projects. Bart Hendrickx discusses what is known about one such project, which may be used for electronic warfare in space.
A half-century ago, the NRO studied a plan to build satellites capable of producing very high resolution images that would otherwise only be possible form aircraft. Dwayne Day examines what we know about this program and why it was never developed.
The satellite industry has been the foundation of the overall commercial space industry, but has been suffering from depressed demand. Jeff Foust reports on initiatives to deal with a changing market to stimulate demand and deal with new competition.
Brent Ziarnick revisits a recent essay on why the proposed US Space Force should use a rank structure like the US Navy, rather than the Air Force, addressing several criticisms and alternative structures.
The new movie Ad Astra came into theaters with high expectations, given its director and cast. Jeff Foust reviews the film and finds it as disappointing as many feared it would be.
On Saturday night, Elon Musk gave what has now become his annual update on development of the company’s giant next-generation launch vehicle, now called Starship and Super Heavy. Jeff Foust reports on the event in South Texas, including both SpaceX’s technical achievements and potential looming obstacles.
NASA repeatedly states that its Artemis program will land not just the next man, but also the first woman, on the Moon. Eric Hedman examines some of the implications of that effort to have women join the exclusive club of moonwalkers.
At the beginning of the Space Age, many aerospace companies pitched NASA on spaceflight concepts, including human lunar landings. Dwayne Day reviews a book that uncovers a little-known proposal for those missions by one such company.
Those who remember the late astronomer Fritz Zwicky today may only know him for his abrasive reputation and, perhaps, early studies of dark matter. Jeff Foust reviews a biography of him that reveals that, while he was difficult to work with, he was also a brilliant man with contributions in astronomy, aerospace, and beyond.
In early September, an ESA satellite maneuvered to avoid a potential collision with a SpaceX Starlink satellite, triggering a new debate on space traffic management. Jeff Foust reports on the lessons from that event and planning for a future with many more satellites in orbit.
Decades ago, cost overruns with the shuttle led to cuts in space science programs. Roger Handberg fears history could repat itself as NASA seeks funding to keep a human lunar landing in 2024 on track.
President Trump has given mixed signals about the importance of returning humans to the Moon versus a long-term plan for sending people to Mars. Namrata Goswami argues that confusion weakens America’s global position in spaceflight, particularly against China.
Historians have benefitted from records and even hardware from Cold War-era reconnaissance satellite programs that the government has declassified in recent years. Dwayne Day describes the forethought more than a half-century ago that made some of that possible.
In his final installment, Mike Snead turns to history to show one concept of a reusable spaceplane and how it could have led to an airworthiness-certified vehicle years ago, and how a similar approach could be used today.
Intersections in real time: the decision to build the KH-11 KENNEN reconnaissance satellite (part 2)
Developing the KH-11 reconnaissance satellite required not only technical breakthroughs but also political legerdemain. Dwayne Day tracks the debates in the late 1960s and early 1970s about which form of near-realtime spy satellite would go forward.
In the final installment of their analysis of the legal issues involved with the undisclosed inclusion of tardigrades on the SpaceIL lander, a group of experts examines some of the broader issues about commercial space activities raised by this event.
As the search for Chandrayaan 2’s lunar lander continues, so does speculation about what caused the lander to lose contact just a couple kilometers above the surface. Ajey Lele discusses what we know and what could have gone wrong in those critical moments.
The threat posed to the Earth by asteroid impacts has become increasingly clear in recent decades, but many people are only now becoming aware of it. Jeff Foust reviews a book by an author who, intrigued by a fireball he saw a few years ago, dived deep into the history and science of asteroid impacts.
Intersections in real time: the decision to build the KH-11 KENNEN reconnaissance satellite (part 1)
The idea that reconnaissance satellites can return high-definition images in near real time is taken for granted today, but took technology advancements and political persistence to make possible. Dwayne Day examines the efforts by the CIA in the 1960s to develop such spacecraft.
In the second part of his analysis of commercial spaceflight passenger safety, Mike Snead examines how the airworthiness certification system developed for aircraft could be applied to crewed spacecraft.
On Friday, India attempted to land its Vikram spacecraft on the surface of the Moon, but contact was lost with the spacecraft during its descent. Jeff Foust reports on the uncertain status of the lander and the lessons it and other setbacks offer for future missions to the Moon.
More details are coming to light about the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program of the 1960s. Dwayne Day reviews a recent documentary that offers a new overview of that program and its ultimate cancellation.
China has seen a surge of space startups, many of which are developing launch vehicles. Chen Lan and Jacqueline Myrrhe visit one of those companies, LandSpace, which is in position to become the Chinese version of SpaceX.
In the second part of their examination about the recent controversy about undisclosed microscopic life included on a lunar lander mission, a group of experts examines the regulatory issues in the United States that come into play in this incident.
Despite decades of experience, human orbital spaceflight remains a risky endeavor. In the first in a three-part article, Mike Snead critiques one recent proposal to establish a system intended to improve human spaceflight safety.
Space colonies, or space settlements, rose and fell quickly in the 1970s but still capture the imagination today. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines those concepts with a focus on architectural and design issues.
An Israeli spacecraft that crash-landed on the Moon in April carried a hidden payload: microscopic organisms called tardigrades, whose presence on the spacecraft wasn’t revealed until earlier this month. A group of space law experts examines the legal ramifications of this undisclosed payload.
Last week, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and others proposed a $2 billion prize for a human mission to the Moon. Casey Dreier explains that, while prizes can sound promising, they have significant flaws.
The space industry has long expected the vast majority of small launch vehicle startups to fail, a belief supported by problems suffered earlier this month by one high-profile venture, Vector. Jeff Foust reports that Vector’s problems don’t necessarily mean a shakeout is imminent for the rest of the industry.
A new book offers a history of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program. Dwayne Day reviews the book and discusses both the once-classified details it reveals about the program and the questions it leaves unanswered.
For decades, scientists have sought to bring back samples from Mars for study in terrestrial labs. Van Kane and Pat Nealon describe how those efforts are now picking up momentum with a series of missions that could return Martian samples within a little more than a decade.
Last month, French government officials, including President Emmanuel Macron, outlined plans to take a more active military space role, including its own space force. Taylor Dinerman examines why France is taking the lead on such efforts among its European allies.
Virgin Galactic took another step closer to commercial operations last week not with another test flight of SpaceShipTwo but instead updates to Spaceport America in New Mexico. Jeff Foust reports on the significance of what might seem to be a trivial milestone.
Today, the term “commercial space transportation” usually refers to rockets for placing payloads into orbit. Dallas Bienhoff describes how that will soon expand to in-space transportation services, either in orbit around the Earth or for missions to the Moon.
As the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 fades, so does the generation that made that mission possible. Jeff Foust reviews a book that profiles some of the “heroes” of the early years of human spaceflight.
The Planetary Society announced last week that its LightSail 2 mission successfully changed its orbit using a solar sail. Jeff Foust reports on the accomplishment and the long path that led up to it.
China’s growing space activities have generated debate about what the country’s real goals are with those efforts. Namrata Goswami describes how those efforts are part of a grand strategy to make China the leader in setting standards of behavior in space.
While there is growing interest in making use of lunar resources, the viability of those efforts is uncertain because of the lack of information about those resources. Vidvuds Beldavs describes how a coordinated effort modeled on the International Geophysical Year can help strengthen the case for using those resources in space or on Earth.
Legal experts have debated if the Outer Space Treaty restricts the ability of private entities to claim property rights on celestial bodies. Wes Faires argues that it can, when considered through the perspective of another UN document.
As NASA grapples with a new effort to return humans to the Moon, a study of the previous effort to do so can be instructive. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the development of the Vision for Space Exploration, and the years of behind-the-scenes studies that provided the foundation for it.
A lot of money has flowed into space startups in recent years, but there have been few exits by companies that were acquired or went public. Jeff Foust reports on Virgin Galactic’s non-traditional approach to raising money and going public, and whether other companies will follow its lead.
There are many examples, both well-known and more obscure, of how space applications provide benefits, and produce profits, on Earth. Jeff Greenblatt and Al Anzaldua outline both those existing applications and those that may emerge in the near and long term.
One of the final commemorations of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 took place last week at the EAA AirVenture show. Eric Hedman provides an overview of how Mike Collins and others in attendance reflected on the mission.
When Apollo 11 returned to Earth 50 years ago this month, one young boy listened to the spacecraft’s return in a remote part of India. Ajay Kothari describes how that inspired him to pursue a career in aerospace, and how it can be an inspiration again for a return to the Moon.
Some of the key figures in the early days of rocketry have largely faded from the popular histories of the era. Jeff Foust reviews a book about one such person who was a cofounder of both Aerojet and JPL.
As the Apollo 11 anniversary celebrations come to an end, some wonder when we will go back to the Moon. Jeff Foust notes that popular interest in Apollo today doesn’t necessarily translate into support for a return to the Moon or other human space exploration programs.
When many of the Apollo missions returned to Earth, the astronauts were recovered by the same helicopter. Dwayne Day tells the story of Helo 66 and its unfortunate fate.
On Monday, India successfully launched the Chandrayaan-2 lunar mission on its GSLV Mark III rocket. Ajey Lele says the launch suggests India has mastered the cryogenic engine technology it had struggled with for decades.
Most concepts for a separate Space Force or Space Corps assume that the new military branch will use the same rank structure as the US Air Force. Brent Ziarnick makes the case for naval ranks to help ensure a Space Corps takes on a different culture and mindset from the Air Force.
Advancing the jurisdiction of the US federal court system to address disputes between private space actors
The emerging commercial space industry brings with it potential for new disputes that could be difficult for current legal systems to handle. Michael Listner offers a proposal for how US federal courts could deal with cases involving companies from different countries.
As the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 winds down, so do the books about that mission and the early Space Age. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a concise and thoughtful history of that era of spaceflight.
As NASA and the nation prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the agency got caught up last week in issues involving its effort to return humans to the Moon. Jeff Foust reports on the shakeup that led NASA to reassign two top officials in its human spaceflight program.
Science and religion can often seem diametrically opposed to each other. Deana Weibel describes how NASA’s long-running relationship with the Vatican Observatory, one dating back to Apollo, can show how the two can work together instead.
Last week, Dwayne Day explained how a tall tale he created about a mythical Soviet program to send chimpanzees to the Moon took on a life of its own on the Internet. This week, the story itself.
While there’s an avalanche of new books about Apollo and the Moon, many others written years or decades ago are still excellent guides to the Moon. Ken Murphy offers his list of books about the Moon, and not necessarily Apollo, that have stood the test of time.
The story of Apollo is usually told through the lens of its most famous figures, from astronauts to politicians. Jeff Foust reviews a book that instead examines Apollo from the perspective of those working behind the scenes.
NASA launched an Orion spacecraft last week, and it returned to Earth minutes later, just like the agency planned. Jeff Foust reports on the test of Orion’s abort system that took the spacecraft a step closer to flying people.
Some in the US Air Force had plans in the 1960s for military space stations beyond the original Manned Orbiting Laboratory concept. John Charles examines how some of those proposals were depicted in art.
No, the Soviets didn’t land a chimpanzee on the Moon, but it can be fun to craft such a tale as a clever inside joke. Dwayne Day describes what happens when that story takes on a life of its own on the Internet.
In the decades since Apollo 11, hundreds of books have been published about the mission and the overall race to the Moon. Thomas Frieling looks at some of the books that have stood the test of time, and a couple that haven’t.
Commemorations of the Apollo 11 50th anniversary are also appearing on television in the form of a number of documentaries. Jeff Foust reviews a companion book to one of the more ambitious documentaries that focuses more on personalities and policies than science and technology.
Top Secret DAMON: the classified reconnaissance payload planned for the fourth space shuttle mission
The NRO built a reconnaissance payload for the Space Shuttle that would have been on STS-4, but the program was cancelled before it flew. Dwayne Day provides new insights on that program and why it was grounded.
The “megaconstellations” of communications satellites under development by Amazon, OneWeb, SpaceX, and others come two decades after previous efforts to develop networks of communications satellites in low Earth orbit ran into financial difficulties. Stephen J. Garber and James A. Vedda compare the two generations to see if history will repeat itself.
During planning for the Apollo landings, NASA turned to the NRO to develop a camera system based on reconnaissance satellites for mapping the Moon, including investigating any landing accidents. Dwayne Day examines what is known about the proposed system based on recently declassified information.
It took tens of thousands of engineers, technicians, and others to get astronauts to the surface of the Moon 50 years ago. Jeff Foust describes how a few astronomers and other scientists also contributed, in some cases literally guiding the way.
The first four space policy directives from the Trump Administration have dealt with everything from returning humans to the Moon to establishing a Space Force. Peter Garretson argues the next should deal with making use of the energy resources of space.
As its 50th anniversary approaches, the Apollo 11 mission is being retold in a variety of media. Jeff Foust reviews two graphic novels that recount the mission, and the history of the Space Age, in a mix of text and illustrations.
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