TIME space travel

Neil Armstrong’s Widow Discovers Bag of Lunar Landing Souvenirs

30th Anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon Mission
NASA/Getty Images Astronaut Neil Armstrong smiles inside the Lunar Module on July 20, 1969.

One giant leap for the National Air and Space Museum's collection

Neil Armstrong’s widow recently discovered a white purse in the closet of her Cincinnati home, specially designed for space flight and packed with souvenirs from Armstrong’s moon landing in 1969.

Carol Armstrong reported the historic find to the National Air and Space Museum, which unveiled new details about the bag’s contents in a blog post this week. Among the 20 items Armstrong stowed in the bag was the original 16 mm movie camera he used to record the first steps on the moon, an emergency wrench, a power cable and a helmet strap.

“Odds and ends,” he called them in a transmission to mission control, but for a curator at Air and Space Museum, the items took on a more significant meaning decades later. “It is hard to imagine anything more exciting,” wrote Allan Needell of the museum’s Space History Department.

Read next: Hubble Telescope Spots an Emoticon in Outer Space

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TIME space travel

Virgin Galactic Will Resume Test Flights This Year

British billionaire Richard Branson pose
Adrian Dennis—AFP/Getty Images British billionaire Richard Branson poses in front of a model of the Virgin Galactic.

After a deadly crash last year

The space tourism company Virgin Galactic is set to resume test flights this year after a deadly crash last year, its CEO said, defying expectations that it wouldn’t be ready to take flight again until at least 2016.

“I really think we’re turning the corner,” CEO George Whitesides told the Associated Press. “We’ve gone through one of the toughest things a company can go through and we’re still standing, and now we’re really moving forward with pace.”

The company, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is completing construction of a new shuttle after one broke apart during a test flight in October, leaving one pilot dead. The accident was the most recent in a long line of setbacks. Successful in-flight testing is one of the company’s last major obstacles to the elusive of commercial space travel.

MORE: What Richard Branson Can Learn From the Virgin Galactic Disaster

[AP]

MONEY space travel

SpaceX Wants to Send You to Mars

The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket launched by SpaceX on a cargo resupply service mission to the International Space Station (ISS), lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida January 10, 2015. An unmanned Space Exploration Technologies mission blasted off on Saturday carrying cargo for the ISS, but efforts to reland the rocket on a sea platform failed, the firm said. The Dragon cargo capsule itself was successfully launched into space and is expected to dock with the space station on Monday.
Mike Brown—Reuters

Elon Musk and his reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets pose a real threat to the economics of Boeing's and Lockheed's orbital satellite space launch franchise.

“I am Elon Musk, CEO/CTO of a rocket company … Zip2, PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity. Started off doing software engineering and now do aerospace & automotive …

Looking forward to your questions.”

With those words began a singular event on the Web, as Elon Musk, CEO of — as he noted — electric car company Tesla TESLA MOTORS INC. TSLA -0.89% , of solar power lessor SolarCity SOLARCITY CORP COM USD0.0001 SCTY 3.44% , and private space exploration firm SpaceX as well opened himself up for questions on Reddit earlier this month.

You can imagine what happened next.

Fans swarmed. Bedlam ensued. And over the next several hours, Elon Musk fielded every question his fans could throw at him.

Missing in action

Curiously, while Elon Musk serves as titular head of two publicly traded companies, Tesla and SolarCity, neither of those got much attention in last Tuesday’s Reddit discussion. (Indeed, Musk didn’t mention either one by name, even once). Instead, all the action surrounded the one company that Musk has not yet deigned to IPO to the public: SpaceX.

But what did he have to say about it?

Elon on … spaceplanes

“If you want to get to orbit or beyond, go with pure rockets. It is not like Von Braun and Korolev didn’t know about airplanes and they were really smart dudes.”

There’s been a lot of talk lately about spacecraft that fly into the upper atmosphere and from there release payloads into orbit. DARPA is working on one bird capable of high altitude payload delivery. Stratolaunch Systems has another. Britain’s got a third. But Elon Musk isn’t worried about these competitors at all. In fact, he seems to kind of dismiss them.

Elon on … reusable rockets

“We could make the 2nd stage of Falcon reusable. … There is no meaningful limit [to the number of times Falcon 9R could be refueled and relaunched]. We would have to replace a few parts that experience thermal stress after 40 cycles, but the rest of the engine would be fine.”

Instead of spaceplanes, Elon Musk is placing his big bet on the potential to turn the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket — which already costs less than rockets launched by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) of Lockheed Martin LOCKHEED MARTIN CORPORATION LMT 0.07% and Boeing BOEING COMPANY BA 0.08% — into a true ULA-killer.

Key to this effort will be turning Falcon 9 into a “reusable” rocket — one whose first, and potentially even its second stages can descend back to Earth after launch, and land safely for recovery, refueling, and relaunching with a new payload a few days later.

Musk thinks a reusable rocket can potentially save taxpayers $50 billion or more on the cost of satellite launches by the U.S. government. And as we now know from the Reddit discussion, Musk doesn’t see “wear and tear” on a Falcon 9 rocket being a limiting factor in those savings. While there certainly must be some shelf life on how often any single rocket can be reused before it must be replaced (obsolescence alone is probably one such factor), Musk seems to be saying that for all intents and purposes, a properly maintained reusable Falcon 9 will be indefinitely reusable.

The mission to Mars

“Goal is 100 metric tons of useful payload to the surface of Mars. This obviously requires a very big spaceship and booster system. … At first, I was thinking we would just scale up Falcon Heavy, but it looks like … [the] default plan is to have a sea level and vacuum version of Raptor, much like Merlin. … [Raptor will boast] a little over 230 metric tons (~500 klbf) of thrust per engine, but we will have a lot of them :)”

In the short term, Elon Musk and his reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets pose a real threat to the economics of Boeing’s and Lockheed’s orbital satellite space launch franchise. Already, SpaceX is underpricing the competition, and if he succeeds in making Falcon 9 truly reusable, space launch prices will fall even further.

But SpaceX poses an even more existential threat to Boeing and Lockheed in the long term. That is to say, if you believe that the “long-term” future of spaceflight is to actually fly through space — as opposed to just heaving chunks of metal into orbit, there to circle the globe.

SpaceX calls this threat the “Mars Colonial Transport,” or “MCT,” a true spacecraft capable of sending 100 tons of supplies and/or 100 live human passengers, between planets. For comparison, that’s a goal already 25 times bigger than that of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which Lockheed Martin is building for NASA. And MCT will boast new “Raptor” engines to match.

With a nine-engine configuration similar to that used on the Falcon 9, a first-stage “Raptor 9″ core would boast 4.5 million pounds of force — roughly half the 8.4 million pounds of thrust offered by the Space Launch System that Boeing is developing for NASA. A three-part configuration featuring a core, and two “core-like” booster rockets, though, would provide 50%more thrust than Boeing’s SLS.

In other words, at the same time as ULA is working out the details of its most advanced and most capable space launch system ever, SpaceX is, too. And its spaceship is both bigger and better.

The upshot: After hearing what Elon Musk had to say last week, Boeing and Lockheed Martin should be shaking in their spaceboots.

TIME space

See the SpaceX Rocket Crash Land in Middle of the Ocean

SpaceX Rocket Crash
GIF by Mia Tramz for TIME

“Close but no cigar,” Elon Musk tweeted

SpaceX launched a resupply ship to the International Space Station last week, but it narrowly failed a test to securely navigate the rocket back to earth.

The company founded by Elon Musk believes that a reusable rocket could drastically reduce the costs of space transportation, and as you can see in the GIF above compiled from images that Musk tweeted, they’re very close to finalizing the technology. In the first attempt, the Falcon 9 rocket descended back to floating platform about 200 miles off the Florida coast. But it was a hard landing, and the rocket was largely wrecked.

“Close but no cigar,” Musk tweeted at the time.

 

TIME space travel

Watch: SpaceX Makes Second Launch Attempt for Daring Ocean Barge Landing

Reusable rockets could change the future of space exploration

SpaceX to launched its Falcon 9 rocket early Saturday morning in an ambitious attempt to open a new era of rocket reusability, potentially reshaping space travel after years of fits and starts.

The Falcon 9 launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 4:47 a.m. E.T., and will attempt to land the first stage of the rocket on an ocean barge. An initial launch attempt was scrapped at the last minute a few days earlier.

Since the beginning of space programs, rockets have been used just once and then discarded. Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture is aimed at making spaceflight more affordable by creating reusable rockets.

“If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred,” Musk once said. “A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.”

TIME space travel

Your Ride on Another Planet Will Be Self-Driven

Latest Electronics Products Are Displayed At Ceatec Japan
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Nissan Motor Co.'s Autonomous Drive Leaf electric vehicle is driven for a demonstration ride at the CEATEC Japan 2013 exhibition in Chiba, Japan, on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.

NASA and Nissan team up to create autonomous vehicles for other worlds

Nissan has begun developing a self-driving car in partnership with NASA, in the hopes that some of the technology will one day be used to ferry passengers around on other planets.

The Japanese car manufacturer and the U.S. space agency announced a five-year partnership on Thursday to jointly engineer vehicles capable of self-operation, Wired magazine reports.

The cars will be developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center, close to Nissan’s Silicon Valley facility in California. They will also be zero emission, modeled on the electric Nissan Leaf.

“This is a perfect blend of the capability of what the robotics folks at NASA Ames have and the autonomy that we bring,” said Martin Sierhuis, the director of Nissan’s Silicon Valley research center. Sierhuis, incidentally, is a former NASA scientist.

NASA said that it was looking forward to using some of the automation technology pioneered by Nissan in its space programs. “We have a rover on Mars. It is not very autonomous. As we go deeper into space, into more and more dangerous locations, we need to add that autonomy,” Pete Worden, director of the Ames Research Center, told Wired.

[Wired]

TIME space travel

These ‘Vintage’ NASA Posters Imagine Travel Beyond the Stars

Designers NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory capture the excitement of space exploration

Planet-hunters haven’t found a Mirror Earth orbiting a star beyond the Sun yet, but this week’s discovery of a new batch of exoplanets that come awfully close, plus the announcement that the amazing Kepler probe has topped the 1,000 mark in its search for alien worlds makes it only a matter of time before we find planets where life might be thriving.

Once that happens, of course we’re going to want to go visit.. That’s not going to happen tomorrow: it’s impossible to visit any of these worlds in person with any current technology, so until we build a Star Trek-style warp drive or discover an Interstellar-esque worm hole, a trip to an exoplanet will have to remain a dream.

Fortunately, though, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, has some professional dreamers on staff—artists who try to capture the excitement of space exploration in a way the rest of us can appreciate. Their latest creation: three fanciful posters advertising tourism to three actual exoplanets, done in the gorgeously romantic style of 1930’s-era railway posters.

This being a NASA lab, they didn’t just make stuff up. “There was a lot of back-and-forth with the scientists,” says David Delgado, one of the designers, “figuring out which exoplanets to choose, then noodling on what it would actually like to visit them.” In the case of Kepler 186f, for example, which was discovered last year, the planet orbits a small red star. “Maybe the color of vegetation would be different there,” he says—and on the poster, it is. The second poster shows Kepler 16b, a planet that orbits twin suns. The third depicts HD 40307g, a so-called Super Earth about 1.4 times the size of our home planet and eight times as massive. All three could in principle be habitable, based on how much heat they get from their stars.

“The posters were really designed primarily for use within JPL,” says Joby Harris, another designer on the project. When they were released to the public a few days ago, however, the response was overwhelmingly positive. “We were a little surprised by it,” admits Harris.

He shouldn’t be. One of the reasons JPL has these artists on staff, says Delgado, “is to get people excited about space science, to build their curiosity.” They’re clearly exceptionally good at doing their jobs.

Three more exoplanet posters are in the works, although there’s no word on when they’ll be finished. For those who want to print out their own posters, high-resolution print-optimized versions are on JPL’s Planet Quest website.

 

TIME space

Check Out NASA’s New ‘Spinning Lasso’ Spacecraft

The spacecraft can tell scientists how dramatic droughts will be

A new NASA research spacecraft scheduled for a late January launch will employ a “spinning lasso” to measure moisture in the Earth’s soil—from space.

Dubbed the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP), the instrument will employ radar, a radiometer and the largest rotating mesh antenna ever deployed in space. The fine mesh antenna dish, which has a diameter of 19.7 feet, transmits microwaves toward Earth that penetrate the soil and then rebound into space.

“We call it the spinning lasso,” Wendy Edelstein of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement. The antenna is attached to a mechanical arm on the spacecraft like a cowboy’s rope.

The spacecraft can tell scientists how dramatic droughts will be in large swathes of farmland and help the agriculture industry recover from long dry spells. The SMAP will launch on Jan. 29 and orbit the Earth every three days or less.

 

TIME space

Watch Stunning Timelapse Imagery of Earth’s Surface From the International Space Station

From cities at night to Auroras and sunrises, the surface of the earth is as beautiful as you might imagine

In the six months astronaut Alexander Gerst spent at the International Space Station, he captured an incredible compendium of images of Earth in ultra high definition. The sunrises, clouds, stars, oceans, the Milky Way, and the fragile web of cities lighted at night are collected here in a series of time-lapses.

And perhaps because Gerst is a native of techno-loving Germany, the spectacular video is accompanied by a tasteful soundtrack of spacey house music.

Gerst ended his six-month Blue Dot mission in November.

TIME space travel

Watch the ISS Crew Land Safely Back on Earth

Footage from NASA shows Maxim Suraev, Alexander Gerst, and Reid Wiseman touch safely back down to earth in the Soyuz-13M capsule at 10:58 p.m. EST

Three crew members from the International Space Station (ISS) landed safely back on earth in Kazakhstan on Sunday after spending 165 days in orbit.

The trio were part of Expedition 41 and were conducting hundreds of scientific experiments and other research focusing on how humans can stay healthy while spending long durations in space.

Commander of the station, Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, and flight engineers Alexander Gerst, from the European Space Agency, and Reid Wiseman, an astronaut from NASA, completed a remarkable 82 hours of research in a single week in July.

During their time on board the ISS they traveled more then 70 million miles.

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