Holy crap: there’s a giant planet far out beyond where the comets are made… maybe

This is so sense-of-wonder amazing to me. A bunch of researchers found a large object out there beyond Pluto. Which is cool. But after analyzing it they think its orbit hints at something really, really big out there.

Hold on Chewie, that ain’t no moon:

“Intriguingly, Sheppard’s team also found a strange alignment when they looked at the orbits of 2012 VP113, Sedna and 10 other objects that lie closer to the sun. ‘It was a big surprise to us,’ he says.

One explanation for the alignment could be the tug of a rocky planet that is 10 times the mass of Earth that orbits the sun at 250 AU, the team calculate. That world would be cold and faint – and would push and pull at the closer objects like a distant but powerful puppeteer.”

(Via New dwarf planet hints at giant world far beyond Pluto – space – 26 March 2014 – New Scientist.)

You know what’s cool? I’m a grown ass dude and every few years my whole understanding of the solar system gets readjusted as we learn more.

Science!

Yutu rover down for the count

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Bummer:

“As sunset approached, something seems to have gone wrong with the Yutu rover. In order to survive the lunar night, Yutu positions itself with one solar panel angled toward the direction of the rising sun. Then it folds down the mast that carries its color camera and its high-gain antenna into its body. Then the other solar panel is folded over the deck like a lid, insulating the interior and the mast, which are kept warm with a radioisotope heating unit. According to various reports online, it sounds like something in this sequence did not execute properly, although the reports are unspecific so I’m not sure yet what happened.”

(Via Bad news for Yutu rover | The Planetary Society.)

DARPA’s space plane project

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Interesting. DARPA projects have a way of coming true.

“Key XS-1 technical goals include flying 10 times in 10 days, achieving speeds of Mach 10+ at least once and launching a representative payload to orbit. The program also seeks to reduce the cost of access to space for small (3,000- to 5,000-pound) payloads by at least a factor of 10, to less than $5 million per flight. “

(Via DARPA trying to make a Mach 10+ unmanned spaceplane that can fly ten times in ten days.)

What is most intriguing to me is that we know have Elon Musk’s SpaceX working on a reusable rocket. DARPA. The British SABRE project. We have three private space companies working with NASA’s commercial crew transport program (SpaceX, Orbital, and DreamChaser).

There’s a lot of concurrent activity going on. Which is encouraging.

New Dragon 9 gets ready for launch [pic]

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A brooding picture of the all new Dragon 9.1, which is being shipped for a launch later this month.

The lower stage will attempt to control its descent and hover right before hitting the ocean. Something Musk says they have a ’10% chance’ of achieving this first time.

But it’s another step forward…

Space Farming: The Final Frontier

I’m very curious about this, and hope to see more space farming happening. Also, Diary of a Space Zucchini!

“Growing food in space helps solve one of the biggest issues in space travel: the price of eating. It costs roughly $10,000 a pound to send food to the ISS, according to Howard Levine, project scientist for NASA’s International Space Station and Spacecraft Processing Directorate. There’s a premium on densely caloric foods with long shelf lives. Supply shuttles carry such limited fresh produce that Gioia Massa, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA, says astronauts devour it almost immediately.

Levine and Massa are part of the team developing the Vegetable Production System (VEGGIE) program, set to hit the ISS later this year. This December, NASA plans to launch a set of Kevlar pillow-packs, filled with a material akin to kitty litter, functioning as planters for six romaine lettuce plants. The burgundy-hued lettuce (NASA favors the ‘Outredgeous’ strain) will be grown under bright-pink LED lights, ready to harvest after just 28 days.

NASA has a long history of testing plant growth in space, but the goals have been largely academic. Experiments have included figuring out the effects of zero-gravity on plant growth, testing quick-grow sprouts on shuttle missions and assessing the viability of different kinds of artificial light. But VEGGIE is NASA’s first attempt to grow produce that could actually sustain space travelers.”

(Via Space Farming: The Final Frontier – Modern Farmer.)

Almost drowning in outer space

This is terrifying to read. The astronaut’s own write up of what it was like to almost drown in outer space:

“As I move back along my route towards the airlock, I become more and more certain that the water is increasing. I feel it covering the sponge on my earphones and I wonder whether I’ll lose audio contact. The water has also almost completely covered the front of my visor, sticking to it and obscuring my vision. I realise that to get over one of the antennae on my route I will have to move my body into a vertical position, also in order for my safety cable to rewind normally. At that moment, as I turn ‘upside-down’, two things happen: the Sun sets, and my ability to see – already compromised by the water – completely vanishes, making my eyes useless; but worse than that, the water covers my nose – a really awful sensation that I make worse by my vain attempts to move the water by shaking my head. By now, the upper part of the helmet is full of water and I can’t even be sure that the next time I breathe I will fill my lungs with air and not liquid. To make matters worse, I realise that I can’t even understand which direction I should head in to get back to the airlock.”

(Via EVA 23: exploring the frontier | Luca Parmitano.)

Will the ISS really last beyond 2020?

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There was a lot more hinting about letting private companies run experiments to see if they could find out things in microgravity that would lead to more reasons to keep it up there, but that never quite materialized. I can see why the Russians want to do one of their own.

I’d be curious to see what could be done with Bigelow Aerospace, SpaceX and NASA, which is why I’ll be paying close attention to what Bigelow’s module does once NASA mounts it on the ISS for a test.

“The debate over how long to pay for the International Space Station is something that has long loomed over the program, one expert said.

‘This is a little bit like smoker’s cough. It’s something that nobody wants to notice,’ said John Logsdon, professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.

An expert in space policy and history, Logsdon said his bottom line is that ‘the odds, in my view, are heavily against the continuation of the station post 2020.’

Logsdon told SPACE.com that he did not think it likely that either Japan or Europe have any enthusiasm to pony up money for the ISS after 2020.

‘That presumes that there’s no major breakthrough,’ Logsdon said, referring to any potential discovery on the station that turns out to have either great scientific or economic value.

Looming in the background of the space station’s future beyond 2020 is talk by Russia of starting a second-generation space station on its own, Logsdon said.

‘And of course you have the Chinese station in the same time period,’ he added.”

(Via Can the International Space Station Really Last Beyond 2020? | Space.com.)

Europa or bust!

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I really think getting a probe on Europa is the next big thing for planetary science:

“Most of what scientists know of Jupiter’s moon Europa they have gleaned from a dozen or so close flybys from NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1979 and NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the mid-to-late 1990s. Even in these fleeting, paparazzi-like encounters, scientists have seen a fractured, ice-covered world with tantalizing signs of a liquid water ocean under its surface. Such an environment could potentially be a hospitable home for microbial life. But what if we got to land on Europa’s surface and conduct something along the lines of a more in-depth interview? What would scientists ask? A new study in the journal Astrobiology authored by a NASA-appointed science definition team lays out their consensus on the most important questions to address. “

(Via NASA-JPL.)

One year on Mars with Curiosity: video

Sense of wonder and awe in a cute space program video game? Check out this trailer for Kerbal Space Program

The last video I posted of Kerbal Space Program really doesn’t get across the sense of wonder and fun you experience KSS. I found one today that really gets across what is so amazing about this game for me. It pushes the same buttons I get when watching a SpaceX launch, or Dragon docking, or old footage of the moon landings. Check it: