NASA's next mission will search for life on Saturn's largest moon

NASA has announced that our next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan. Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn's icy moon.

Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034. The rotorcraft will fly to dozens of promising locations on Titan looking for prebiotic chemical processes common on both Titan and Earth. Dragonfly marks the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor vehicle for science on another planet; it has eight rotors and flies like a large drone. It will take advantage of Titan's dense atmosphere — four times denser than Earth's — to become the first vehicle ever to fly its entire science payload to new places for repeatable and targeted access to surface materials.

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NASA selects new missions to study how our Sun effects space

NASA has selected two new missions to advance our understanding of the Sun and its dynamic effects on space. One of the selected missions will study how the Sun drives particles and energy into the solar system and a second will study Earth's response.

The Sun generates a vast outpouring of solar particles known as the solar wind, which can create a dynamic system of radiation in space called space weather. Near Earth, where such particles interact with our planet's magnetic field, the space weather system can lead to profound impacts on human interests, such as astronauts' safety, radio communications, GPS signals, and utility grids on the ground. The more we understand what drives space weather and its interaction with the Earth and lunar systems, the more we can mitigate its effects — including safeguarding astronauts and technology crucial to NASA's Artemis program to the Moon.

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MIGHTY TACTICAL
Clare Skelly

These technologies will help return astronauts to the Moon

Robotically surveying lunar craters in record time and mining resources in space could help NASA establish a sustained human presence at the Moon – part of the agency's broader Moon to Mars exploration approach. Two mission concepts to explore these capabilities have been selected as the first-ever Phase III studies within the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

"We are pursuing new technologies across our development portfolio that could help make deep space exploration more Earth-independent by utilizing resources on the Moon and beyond," said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. "These NIAC Phase III selections are a component of that forward-looking research and we hope new insights will help us achieve more firsts in space."

The Phase III proposals outline an aerospace architecture, including a mission concept, that is innovative and could change what's possible in space. Each selection will receive as much as $2 million. Over the course of two years, researchers will refine the concept design and explore aspects of implementing the new technology. The inaugural Phase III selections are:

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NASA is helping you make your mark on Mars

Although it will be years before the first humans set foot on Mars, NASA is giving the public an opportunity to send their names — stenciled on chips — to the Red Planet with NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which represents the initial leg of humanity's first round trip to another planet. The rover is scheduled to launch as early as July 2020, with the spacecraft expected to touch down on Mars in February 2021.

The rover, a robotic scientist weighing more than 2,300 pounds (1,000 kilograms), will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet's climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

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Listen to eerie audio of the first recorded 'marsquake'

NASA's Mars InSight lander has measured and recorded for the first time ever a likely "marsquake."

The faint seismic signal, detected by the lander's Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, was recorded on April 6, 2019, the lander's 128th Martian day, or sol. This is the first recorded trembling that appears to have come from inside the planet, as opposed to being caused by forces above the surface, such as wind. Scientists still are examining the data to determine the exact cause of the signal.

"InSight's first readings carry on the science that began with NASA's Apollo missions," said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "We've been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology!"

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MIGHTY TRENDING
Elizabeth Zubritsky

What water vapor on the moon means for deep space exploration

Researchers from NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, report that streams of meteoroids striking the Moon infuse the thin lunar atmosphere with a short-lived water vapor.

The findings will help scientists understand the history of lunar water — a potential resource for sustaining long term operations on the Moon and human exploration of deep space. Models had predicted that meteoroid impacts could release water from the Moon as a vapor, but scientists hadn't yet observed the phenomenon.

Now, the team has found dozens of these events in data collected by NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. LADEE was a robotic mission that orbited the Moon to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere, and determine whether dust is lofted into the lunar sky.

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The first type of molecule that ever formed in the universe is discovered in space

The first type of molecule that ever formed in the universe has been detected in space for the first time, after decades of searching. Scientists discovered its signature in our own galaxy using the world's largest airborne observatory, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, as the aircraft flew high above the Earth's surface and pointed its sensitive instruments out into the cosmos.

When the universe was still very young, only a few kinds of atoms existed. Scientists believe that around 100,000 years after the big bang, helium and hydrogen combined to make a molecule called helium hydride for the first time. Helium hydride should be present in some parts of the modern universe, but it has never been detected in space — until now.

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Here's the (failed) status of the first private lunar mission

April 11, 2019 Editor's Note: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine released the following statement on the Beresheet lunar lander: "While NASA regrets the end of the SpaceIL mission without a successful lunar landing of the Beresheet lander, we congratulate SpaceIL, the Israel Aerospace Industries and the state of Israel on the incredible accomplishment of sending the first privately funded mission into lunar orbit. Every attempt to reach new milestones holds opportunities for us to learn, adjust and progress. I have no doubt that Israel and SpaceIL will continue to explore and I look forward to celebrating their future achievements."

Following a nearly two-month journey, the first private robotic spacecraft to attempt a Moon landing is on track to meet its goal on April 11, 2019, and NASA is a partner in SpaceIL's Beresheet mission. The landing attempt comes on the heels of the agency's own charge from the president to accelerate its plans to send astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024.

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'Twins Study' reveals what happens to human genes in space

Results from NASA's landmark Twins Study, which took place from 2015-2016, were published April 11, 2019, in Science. The integrated paper — encompassing work from 10 research teams — reveals some interesting, surprising and reassuring data about how one human body adapted to — and recovered from — the extreme environment of space.

The Twins Study provides the first integrated biomolecular view into how the human body responds to the spaceflight environment, and serves as a genomic stepping stone to better understand how to maintain crew health during human expeditions to the Moon and Mars.

Retired NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and his identical twin brother Mark, participated in the investigation, conducted by NASA's Human Research Program. Mark provided a baseline for observation on Earth, and Scott provided a comparable test case during the 340 days he spent in space aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 43, 44, 45 and 46. Scott Kelly became the first American astronaut to spend nearly a year in space.

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