'Like a Game of Solitaire': 45 Years Since the Lost Moonwalks of Apollo 13

Artist's concept of Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise exploring Fra Mauro. The Lunar Module (LM) Aquarius is visible in the background. Image Credit: Teledyne Brown

Artist’s concept of Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise exploring Fra Mauro. The Lunar Module (LM) Aquarius is visible in the background. Image Credit: Teledyne Brown

Had the cruelty of fate not intervened, 45 years ago, today—on 16 April 1970—the fifth and sixth humans ever to set foot on another world would twice have walked on the dusty surface of the Moon. Following their launch aboard Apollo 13, and a four-day voyage across 240,000 miles (370,000 km) of cislunar space, Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise would have boarded the Lunar Module (LM) Aquarius and accomplished humanity’s third piloted landing on our closest celestial neighbor. If near-disaster had not radically altered their mission, Lovell and Haise would have performed two EVAs at a place called Fra Mauro, becoming the first Apollo astronauts to explore a hilly upland lunar site. “It was driven by confidence in the LM capability and steerage,” Haise told the NASA Oral History Project of the site selection, years later, “but also, if you’re going to properly sample the Moon … you had to become more diverse in … where you went to get a proper sampling.”

And Fra Mauro was nothing if not diverse.

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The Eyes of SMAP: Interview With Astro Aerospace, Makers of SMAP’s Spinning Antenna (Part 2)

Members of the AstroAerospace team who worked closely with NASA JPL throughout the reflector development process for the SMAP spacecraft. From left to Right: Peter Laraway, Lead Reflector Project Engineer Ed Keay, SMAP Program Manager/Director of Business Development Mark Gralewski, Lead Systems Engineer Mehran Mobrem, Chief Analyst Mike Fedyk, Lead Thermal Engineer. Photo Credit: Chris Howell / AmericaSpace

Members of the AstroAerospace team who worked closely with NASA JPL throughout the reflector development process for the SMAP spacecraft. From left to Right: Peter Laraway, Lead Reflector Project Engineer Ed Keay, SMAP Program Manager/Director of Business Development Mark Gralewski, Lead Systems Engineer Mehran Mobrem, Chief Analyst Mike Fedyk, Lead Thermal Engineer. Photo Credit: Chris Howell / AmericaSpace

 A look into the research and development, mission objectives, and people behind our latest Earth science observatory, NASA/JPL’s Soil Moisture Active Passive, SMAP.

Flying out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in the pre-dawn morning of Jan. 31, 2015, a unique Earth science mission from NASA’s JPL began a three-year-plus mission to map Earth’s changing soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state.

Through cloud cover and vegetation, the new observatory, SMAP, will record the moisture content of our planet’s soil every two to three days. Even the moisture content of crops growing in the fields may be measured to ensure an abundant harvest. Once SMAP has completed its calibration and verification study, it’ll become one of the most effective instruments ever created to observe the metabolic rate of our planet.

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Curiosity Rover Finds More Evidence for Possible Liquid Water Brines on Mars

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on the Curiosity rover, used to make the brine calculations. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on the Curiosity rover, used to make the brine calculations. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The search for liquid water on Mars is one that has been on-going for decades. It can’t exist for long on the surface, as it will quickly sublimate into the cold, thin atmosphere. Aquifers deep below the surface are still possible, but there is also another tantalizing possibility which scientists have been considering: brines. Such salty liquid water could theoretically last a bit longer on the surface or in the near-subsurface, and now the Curiosity rover has provided more evidence that this may indeed be happening at its location in Gale Crater, as well as elsewhere.

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VIDEO: Chase Plane Captures SpaceX Rocket Landing Attempt After Successful CRS-6 Dragon Launch

The Falcon-9 CRS-6 first stage booster just before touching down on the company's offshore "Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship". According to SpaceX leader Elon Musk, the rocket came down with excess lateral velocity, causing it to tip over post landing. Photo Credit: SpaceX via Twitter @ElonMusk

The Falcon-9 CRS-6 first stage booster just before touching down on the company’s offshore “Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship.” According to SpaceX leader Elon Musk, the rocket came down with excess lateral velocity, causing it to tip over post landing. Photo Credit: SpaceX via Twitter @ElonMusk

Right now SpaceX’s CRS-6 Dragon cargo ship is en route to the International Space Station (ISS), aiming to deliver tons of fresh supplies, cargo, science experiments, and technology demonstrations to the Expedition 43 crew for NASA. The launch itself, although scrubbed on April 13 for unfavorable weather, took off beautifully this afternoon into mostly clear blue skies over Cape Canaveral, Fla., and although delivering Dragon and its payloads to the $100 billion orbiting science research outpost is the primary mission, SpaceX had another mission in mind as well: landing their rocket on an autonomous barge located a couple hundred miles offshore.

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Fourth SpaceX Falcon-9 in Four Months Roars to Space Station With Next Dragon Resupply Ship

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket to deliver the company's sixth dedicated Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket to deliver the company’s sixth dedicated Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station on April 14, 2015, at 4:10 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

Following a 24-hour delay, caused by unacceptable weather conditions, SpaceX has successfully delivered its latest Dragon cargo mission into low-Earth orbit, carrying about 4,390 pounds (1,990 kg) of provisions, payloads, tools, and scientific equipment to the incumbent Expedition 43 crew of the International Space Station (ISS). Liftoff of the Falcon 9 v1.1 booster, flying for the 12th time in less than 19 months, took place during an “instantaneous” window at 4:10:41 p.m. EDT Tuesday, 14 April, from the storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. At the time of writing, the CRS-6 Dragon—SpaceX’s sixth dedicated mission to the ISS, under the terms of its $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA—had been successfully released into orbit from the second stage of the booster and is presently headed for a rendezvous and berthing at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the space station’s Harmony node early Thursday, 16 April.

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ULA Names Vulcan as America's Next Generation Reusable Rocket Family

CEO of United Launch Alliance, Tory Bruno, announces the name of the Next Generation Launch System rocket at the 31st Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. Photo Credit: Talia Landman/AmericaSpace

CEO of United Launch Alliance, Tory Bruno, announces the name of the Next Generation Launch System rocket at the 31st Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. Photo Credit: Talia Landman/AmericaSpace

United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno unveiled the next generation Vulcan Rocket at the 31st Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. The Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) rocket will encompass a mighty American-made engine, four to six solid rocket boosters, and the ability to be re-used via an ambitious mid-air capture technique. The design of the Vulcan rocket, or NGLS, is much more cost-efficient for ULA customers whether it be used for defense and national security, human spaceflight endeavors for NASA, or the growing commercial space market. The Vulcan Rocket will be able to carry payloads anywhere from low-Earth orbit to the outer reaches of the Solar System.

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'To Come to California': Remembering Shuttle Columbia's Maiden Voyage

Columbia approaches touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., 34 years ago today. Photo Credit: NASA

Columbia approaches touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., 34 years ago today. Photo Credit: NASA

More than three decades have passed since the maiden voyage of the space shuttle. On 12 April 1981, orbiter Columbia rocketed away from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), kicking off a new era which would see more humans delivered into the heavens than at any other point in history. As described in a recent AmericaSpace commemorative article, the two-day mission of STS-1—crewed by Commander John Young and Pilot Bob Crippen—was one of the most hazardous spaceflights of all time, marking the first occasion on which a brand-new spacecraft had undertaken its very first orbital foray with humans aboard. There existed a very real risk that Young and Crippen might lose their lives, not only during launch and ascent, but also during Columbia’s hypersonic re-entry and desert landing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. That landing took place on 14 April 1981, exactly 34 years ago today, and was surrounded by almost as much drama as the launch itself.

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Astronomers Detect Complex Organics Around Nearby Young Star; Produce Them in Simulated Conditions in the Lab

Artist's impression of the protoplanetary disk surrounding the young star MWC 480. Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, have detected the complex organic molecule methyl cyanide in the outer reaches of the star's protoplanetary disk, where comets are believed to form. This discovery suggests that complex organic chemistry and potentially the conditions necessary for life, is found throughout the Cosmos. Image Credit:  B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Artist’s impression of the protoplanetary disk surrounding the young star MWC 480. Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, have detected the complex organic molecule methyl cyanide in the outer reaches of the star’s protoplanetary disk, where comets are believed to form. This discovery suggests that complex organic chemistry and potentially the conditions necessary for life, is found throughout the Cosmos. Image Credit: B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

The origin of life has been one of the most fundamental questions of human existence, ever since our first self-conscious ancestors began to walk upright and gazed at the night sky. For millenia, the heavens were seen as being completely separate from the material world, forever out of reach to human experience. The advent of modern science helped to systematically erode this worldview by revealing a Universe where the same physical laws applied similarly on Earth as in the skies, while also establishing that both were made up from the exact same elements. In addition, the scientific study of the Universe has provided an ever-growing body of evidence during the last half century, which suggest that even the chemical building blocks of life itself were probably forged over many eons in the vast expanses between the stars before finally finding their way into the young Earth, shortly after its formation 4.5 billion years ago.

Now the latest observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA for short, in Chile, come to provide more credence to this hypothesis by revealing the presence of complex organic molecules inside the protoplanetary disk of a newly formed nearby star, which suggests that the building blocks for the development of life in the Universe could be readily available during the early stages of planetary formation and evolution.

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From Shuttle to Hubble: An Interview With Dr. Story Musgrave

The STS-61 crew restored sight to the ailing Hubble Space Telescope in December 1993. Standing at top: Richard Covey, Jeffrey Hoffman, and Thomas Akers. Seated at bottom: Kenneth Bowersox, Kathryn Thornton, Dr. Story Musgrave, and Claude Nicollier (ESA). Photo Credit: NASA

The STS-61 crew restored full sight to the ailing Hubble Space Telescope in December 1993. Standing at top, from left: Richard Covey, Jeffrey Hoffman, and Thomas Akers. Seated at bottom, from left: Kenneth Bowersox, Kathryn Thornton, Dr. Story Musgrave, and Claude Nicollier (ESA). Photo Credit: NASA

In space shuttle history, there is one astronaut who bears the distinction of having flown a mission on each orbiter. He began his spaceflight career flying on Challenger’s inaugural mission, STS-6, in 1983. In addition, the same astronaut’s career included—but was not limited to—thousands of hours flying T-38s, pioneering extravehicular activities during the program’s earliest days, and ultimately performing iconic spacewalks that would restore a defective, ailing space telescope into tip-top shape. Following that mission, STS-61, Dr. Story Musgrave would enjoy time in the media’s spotlight, but he wasn’t yet finished. On his last shuttle mission, STS-80, he stood up during Columbia’s reentry to film the orbiter’s fiery ride back home. At the time, he was 61 years old. In his biography, Story: The Way of Water, written by Anne E. Lenehan, fellow astronaut Tom Jones recalled, “He certainly, he went out the way he wanted to.”

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Various Health Studies and Dragon CRS-6 Preparations Highlight Busy Week for Expedition 43

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) takes a break to enjoy the view earlier this week. Photo via Twitter @Astro Samantha

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) takes a break to enjoy the view earlier this week. Photo via Twitter @Astro Samantha

The six people who make up the Expedition 43 crew in orbit on the International Space Station (ISS) kept busy this week with a full schedule of work to accomplish a variety of science experiments, all the while making final preparations for an upcoming cargo delivery with the SpaceX CRS-6 Dragon.

One Year mission crew members, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, took a series of beginning measurements via ultrasound scan for their flight day 10 Ocular health exams, assisted by crew medical officers European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and cosmonaut Gennady Pedalka. As their bodies take time getting used to space, taking measurements during this period is crucial to establish baselines so that the evolution of their health can be accurately analyzed during the year they remain living in space. The Prospective Observational Study of Ocular Health in ISS Crews (Ocular Health) investigation has been an ongoing research study for many years on the ISS, but this is the first time it has been done on-orbit with a Russian subject and operator.

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