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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.