A Blue Moon Halo over Antarctica : Have you ever seen a halo around the Moon? Such 22 degree rings around the Moon – caused by ice crystals falling in the Earth’s atmosphere – are somewhat rare. OK, but have you ever seen a blue moon? Given the modern definition of blue moon – the second full moon occurring in a calendar month – these are also rare. What is featured above might therefore be considered doubly rare – a halo surrounding a blue moon. The featured image was taken late last month near Zhongshan Station in Antarctica. Visible in the foreground are a power generating house and a snowmobile. What might seem to be stars in the background are actually illuminated snowflakes near the camera. via NASA

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Satellites Spy Nearly Quarter-Century of Sea Level Rise

These globes show a visualization of global sea level rise. The data used here, accurate to around 1.6 inches, comes from 23 years of direct NASA satellite measurement of changing ocean surface topography.

Josh Willis, the project scientist for JASON-3, NASA’s next mission to measure sea level rise from space, says what we see here is explainable by a simple fact. “As water heats up it takes up more room. This drives sea level rise,” he says in a recent video. “In addition, as glaciers and ice sheets are melted, extra water is added to the ocean–just like when you turn on your faucet in the bath tub.”

As the data shows, though, the simplicity of the drivers doesn’t mean the results around the planet are simple. Some parts of the ocean are rising faster than other areas, and a few regions are even seeing falling sea level heights. In the Eastern Pacific, for example, sea height dropped over the observation period due to a recurring phenomenon called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. See the video below.

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Good Morning From the International Space Station : NASA astronaut Scott Kelly took this photograph of a sunrise over the western United States and posted it to social media on Aug. 10, 2015. Kelly wrote, #GoodMorning to those in the western #USA. Looks like theres a lot going on down there. #YearInSpace

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Part 1: ‘Knowing the Past to Understand the Future’

This is how we celebrated off-world explorers in the 1960′s when the federal government was writing blank checks to an organization called nasa​. The country was provided clear directions (launch, research, experiment, maneuver, rendezvous, perform, survive, return, repeat) and destinations (orbit, space, moon, beyond home).

The United States was heralded for this massive undertaking and demonstrated what could be accomplished when investing into the education and science literacy of its citizens to churn out the expertise necessary to achieve such a hazardous endeavor. In the present day, it certainly represents humanity’s first dip of the toe into the cosmic ocean, but it wasn’t so easy to test the waters. Hundreds of thousands of people dedicated and gave their lives to the emergence of human spaceflight with the promise and the forward motion of Mars, the rest of the solar system, and, in JFK’s words “…to the planets beyond.” Space settlement was the obviously inevitable course of progress.

People like to refer to this as humanity’s literal “giant leap” as a civilization. And certainly, it was, at that time. Now, we look back with a nostalgic “if only” and a solemn bitterness of what could have been. It was taken away right in front of our eyes (and our votes). The Space Shuttle program was terminated, not with something new and improved to immediately reinvigorate our spacefaring senses…not with anything at all. Human spaceflight was placed on hiatus, and the U.S. government started buying seats at $70M per Cosmonaut.

Meanwhile, with the rumbling public whispering tales of NASA’s demise, false promises that were projected in the 60′s were beginning to rear their heads once again, the American public (and the world) watched as legislation spun their wheels in the sand. The children of Apollo wanted to venture further into the stellar sea, but their ability to do so was anchored the moment the public, media, and legislative authority determined the Moon landing as our finest hand America ever showed to the world. They were going out on top. Everything else was just pennies to feed the dreams of wannabe space cadets.

In the​​ fightforspacefilm​, Bill Nye assessed the human spaceflight program direction - as per Congress - quite simply:

It’s not to boldly go where no one has gone before; it’s to timidly go where 600 people have already been.

That may sound a bit unappreciative of our great successes in planetary science orbiters, landers, rovers and spacecraft bound for the stars, but the Space Shuttle represented more of a Space Tractor compared to the promise of a multitude of missions launched per year. Human spaceflight (and space exploration as a whole) in the United States became (mis)guided by budget constrains and in the clearest terms: the willingness of Congress to consider NASA a viable asset to their country, the world, and longevity of the human species.

The National Aeronautics And Space Administration was swiftly considered a “special interest” program, where, in its present day status, still wrestles with a pathetic budget dwarfed by the amount Americans spend on potato chips, makeup, and with the federal government’s assumed approving public consensus, a “no expenses spared” approach to provide the finest military and advanced technological applications in preparation for war.

Former NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz offered some insight into the possible byproduct of such war-driven funding allocations in regards to the declining behavior of risk taking as such was demonstrated in the early Apollo program: 

I believe part of the challenge we face is to go back and become risk takers. If you take a look at where we went when President Kennedy challenged us in 1961 to go to the moon, we had yet to be in Earth orbit. And he gave us a decade, 10 years - we were starting from scratch - to get to the moon. It is this kind of a challenge that determines the greatness and the longevity of a nation.

Reflecting further on NASA’s early success vs where the American space program is now, Kranz again offers his perspective as someone who literally sat in the front seat of the human spaceflight program during those exceptionally brave and historic first missions…

I believed that when we landed on the moon in 1969 as a flight director, my children would see an American back on the moon. I’m starting to lose that belief. I’d hoped I would’ve seen it myself. That is now, impossible. I hope my children will see it; and if not them, their grandchildren will see it. So it is time for us as a nation to take the steps forward and recognize the challenges we face and move forward and make things happen.

Watch: ‘Neil deGrasse Tyson on NASA Geopolitics vs Science’ + ‘Dream of Tomorrow’ + ‘How NASA’s Budget Is Made’ (Planetary Society’s ‘The Space Advocate Series’) + ‘Risk Is Our Business’ (Plumbline Pictures)

So, #WhatIsNASAFor? Why develop a society founded upon the technological achievements and integrative improvements of an administration pregnant with the skills and capabilities to provide an evolutionary launchpad for life as we know it?

We’ve heard the excuses. NASA was developed as a byproduct from the Cold War. Amidst our advancements made in neuroscience, however, once we discovered how complex the human brain was, we determined it the new inner-space frontier and now the world’s collective nations are trying to do for brain research what the Apollo program did for the space industry, by which all commerce, navigation, and planetary science take place. So why does space exploration continue to struggle, anchored to the confines of monetary woes when there is an entire universe to explore?  

In Part 2 of this post, we’ll wave goodbye to the past 50+ years of stagnant government funding and explore what is happening now with the developing #SpaceRush of NewSpace. From space habitats, suborbital tourism, cislunar activity, mining moons/asteroids, the human exploration of Mars, fuel depots in space, and ultimately, the path we’re now on toward the human settlement of space as a true frontier.

Before reading on, let’s close out Part 1 with one of the greatest testimonies ever provided to the U.S. Senate, courtesy of Neil deGrasse Tyson on March 7, 2012. In his testimony, he begins with a quote relevant and reflective of all the above…

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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The Orion Parachute Test Vehicle following yesterday’s test. Simulating the failure of one drogue and one main parachute, the capsule still landed within acceptable speeds for a safe landing.

Although it’s hard to believe from the images above, the capsule landed safely. The exterior of the PTV is covered in 24 foam panels which protect the capsule from impact with land. They’re designed to be damaged and fall off so that engineers can replace them for subsequent tests.

A Boeing C-17 Globemaster III carried the PTV to an altitude of 35,000 feet - roughly the same height where the capsule’s parachutes would begin their deployment sequence. According to engineers following the drop test, Orion’s parachutes likely reinflated, dragging the capsule across the ground and on its side. 

This drop test was part of a series of tests NASA is conducting called the Minimum Systems Test. Every spacecraft is built with multiple redundancies in the event primary systems fail so that a single failure won’t lead to the overall mission failing. The Minimum System Tests give engineers a better understanding of what the spacecraft’s system limits are.

Orion, like the Apollo capsules before them, were designed to fall to Earth under two parachutes; a third was added as a redundancy. All spacefaring Orions returning with crew will land in the ocean, which will further dissipate landing forces.

This test was the sixteenth and penultimate test in a series of developmental engineering tests; early 2016 will see the start of “human-related qualification tests.”

The capsule was loaded on the C-17 Monday. Below, a diagram of Orion’s Forawrd Bay, which hosts the spacecraft’s Capsule Parachute Assembly System.

Photocredits: NASA and Jason Davis.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2015 August 27 

The Large Cloud of Magellan 

The 16th century Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan and his crew had plenty of time to study the southern sky during the first circumnavigation of planet Earth. As a result, two fuzzy cloud-like objects easily visible to southern hemisphere skygazers are known as the Clouds of Magellan, now understood to be satellite galaxies of our much larger, spiral Milky Way galaxy. About 160,000 light-years distant in the constellation Dorado, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is seen here in a remarkably deep, colorful, image. Spanning about 15,000 light-years or so, it is the most massive of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies and is the home of the closest supernova in modern times, SN 1987A. The prominent patch below center is 30 Doradus, also known as the magnificent Tarantula Nebula, is a giant star-forming region about 1,000 light-years across.

theconversation.com
Talking to Mars: new antenna design could aid interplanetary communication
New research provides a compact but powerful way for Mars rovers to communicate directly with Earth via an array of smaller antenna elements, bypassing the need for an intermediary.
By Yahya Rahmat-Samii

Our antenna “organs” begin with a specialized geometry that looks like half of the letter “E.” We derived it from the original E-shaped antenna design we’ve already had a lot of success with. This novel “half-E” shape allows the antenna to transmit and receive radio signals which are circularly polarized. Basically that means the polarization of the radio waves can be oriented in a special configuration that helps reduce the effects of atmospheric gases and particles on the waves as they travel. It can also help to make sure a strong signal is maintained even if the rover itself or the antennas are moving.

When enough of these antenna elements – 256 in this case – are combined together just right into what antenna engineers call an array, the whole can transmit and receive much greater power.

A Sagittarius Triplet : These three bright nebulae are often featured in telescopic tours of the constellation Sagittarius and the crowded starfields of the central Milky Way. In fact, 18th century cosmic tourist Charles Messier cataloged two of them; M8, the large nebula left of center, and colorful M20 on the right. The third, NGC 6559, is above M8, separated from the larger nebula by a dark dust lane. All three are stellar nurseries about five thousand light-years or so distant. The expansive M8, over a hundred light-years across, is also known as the Lagoon Nebula. M20’s popular moniker is the Trifid. Glowing hydrogen gas creates the dominant red color of the emission nebulae, with contrasting blue hues, most striking in the Trifid, due to dust reflected starlight. The colorful skyscape recorded with telescope and digital camera also includes one of Messier’s open star clusters, M21, just above the Trifid. via NASA

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The Large Cloud of Magellan

(via APOD; Image Credit & Copyright: Carlos Fairbairn )

The 16th century Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan and his crew had plenty of time to study the southern sky during the first circumnavigation of planet Earth. As a result, two fuzzy cloud-like objects easily visible to southern hemisphere skygazers are known as the Clouds of Magellan, now understood to be satellite galaxies of our much larger, spiral Milky Way galaxy. About 160,000 light-years distant in the constellation Dorado, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is seen here in a remarkably deep, colorful, image. Spanning about 15,000 light-years or so, it is the most massive of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies and is the home of the closest supernova in modern times, SN 1987A. The prominent patch below center is 30 Doradus, also known as the magnificent Tarantula Nebula, is a giant star-forming region about 1,000 light-years across.