space exploration

VASIMR Plasma Rocket Passes Power Test, Announces Launch Date

Spacecraft headed to Mars or beyond may harness a new source of propulsion that could refuel almost anywhere in the solar system. Last week, the VASIMR prototype plasma rocket achieved 200 kilowatts of power, the milestone the team was striving for. Now they are beginning development of a flight-capable version, slated for launch in 2013.

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NASA's Messenger Flyby Captures Never-Before-Seen Images of Mercury

NASA’s Messenger spacecraft recently made its third flyby of Mercury, in order to get a gravity boost that will enable it to enter into orbit around Mercury in 2011. Scientists used the close encounter to capture images of Mercury's surface that had never been seen before.

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Plutonium Shortage Threatens Future Deep Space Missions

Imagine you’re driving across the Mojave Desert, and somewhere in the middle of absolutely nowhere you realize that the next gas station is further away than your car can travel on its current supply of gasoline. What next? That’s the problem NASA mission planners are facing as the agency's supply of plutonium-238, the fuel used to power deep space probes like Cassini and surface scouts like the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory, are dwindling.

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Three Lunar Spacecraft Agree: There's Water On the Moon

Caches of H2O could serve as fuel depots for future lunar bases

Although science news is often muddied by qualifiers, the news today is clear. After decades of believing that the moon was a dry, dusty wasteland, we now know that there is water on the moon's surface. This discovery means that colonizing the moon could be a bit easier, since water could be used to produce oxygen and fuel, not to mention a delicious glass of refreshment.

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Water found on the moon

Colonisation is now a (distant) possibility!

The Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) on the Indian lunar satellite Chandrayaan-1, which stopped operating last month, detected water by analysing the way that light from the sun reflects off the lunar surface. Light is reflected in different wavelengths off of different minerals, and the researchers detected wavelengths of reflected light that would indicate water is present. Similar instruments were also present on Deep Impact which went past the moon in June and the NASA's Cassini probe which passed the moon ten years ago, and both have confirmed the finding.

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Space Shuttle Unleashes Magnificent Plume of Pee

To anyone who's ever pondered what urine looks like in space -- c'mon, don't be shy -- we say: wonder no more, because photos of the phenomenon have finally hit the internet.

Last Wednesday, a number of skygazers were lucky to sight a mysterious flare in the night sky, that, as it now turns out, was a 150-pound cocktail of astronaut urine and waste water released from the shuttle Discovery.

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NASA Successfully Tests Vacuum-Packed Inflatable Heat Shield

A vacuum-packed inflatable shroud could enable future spacecraft reentry on both Earth and Mars

Packing for space missions has always faced weight limitations due to fuel costs. But NASA's successful test of an inflatable heat shield signals a way forward for future spacecraft to reenter Earth's atmosphere, and maybe even land heavier loads on Mars.

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New Reactor To Make Breathable Air Out of Moon Rocks

One the major differences between visiting the moon and staying on the moon involves resupply. In fact, the prospect of constantly hauling water and oxygen to the moon is so daunting that NASA offered a million dollars to the first lab that could extract 11 pounds of oxygen from a simulated pile of moon rocks.

Well, it seems like scientists at the University of Cambridge may want to start thinking about how they're going to spend their million.

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NASA's New Base Uses Smart Spaceship Tech on the Ground

NASA's new building will use smart systems that adjust to climate conditions to reach zero net energy consumption

NASA Gets Green: Smart systems and a central computer will keep track of even individual energy efficiency in NASA's Sustainability Base. Don't anger the computer.  NASA

Get ready for the greenest federal building ever built, and maybe also the smartest. NASA plans to channel decades of space exploration technology into its upcoming Sustainability Base in California.

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Launch Your Own Personal Satellite

TubeSat: My First Satellite
Ever wanted to launch your own satellite into low earth orbit, then track it on ham radio for a few weeks before it burns up on re-entry? Well, 52 years after the launch of Sputnik, you can. Interorbital Systems is offering YOU the chance (by the end of 2010) to send up a TubeSat Personal Satellite Kit for the low introductory price of just $8,000.

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China Cracks Down on Bad Breath in Space

Chinese astronauts must meet standards "close to perfection" for physical and mental health

China's future astronauts can't have bad breath, cavities, or scars if they hope to join the next wave of Chinese space exploration. Hospitals have begun the first of three rounds of tests to weed out candidates who fail to meet the rigorous standards.

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New NASA Administrator Delays Ares Launch, Decries "Path We Are On"

Charlie Bolden rips off the Spock mask, and the space agency delays its new rocket test until Halloween

Former NASA administrator Mike Griffin once likened himself to Spock in his rational, emotionally-detached approach. Now Griffin's replacement, Charles Bolden, seems ready to inject new passion into a space agency that is struggling to reevaluate both long term goals and its vision for space exploration.

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Company Wants to Carve Ads On The Moon, Supervillain-Style

Last week, a fly-by of the moon showed impressions remaining on the surface from the Apollo 11 landing. That was 40 years ago, and those impressions linger on undisturbed. It's that longevity that one company wants to exploit, carving messages into the surface in the moon for the purpose of selling ad space.

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Beyond the Moon: A Chat With Buzz Aldrin

The 79-year-old astronaut says: Enough about the moon; let's go to Mars

Preparing for an Apollo 11 Countdown Test:  NASA
It's been 40 years since Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin landed the Apollo 11 lunar module in the Sea of Tranquility. Aldrin, now 79 years old, recalls that fateful day with clarity. Alarms were sounding inside the space capsule during their speedy descent, and even down to the last seconds, the astronauts were uncertain whether they would need to abort the landing. Millions of Earthlings watched on television as the Eagle touched down.

Much has changed over four decades, and despite the success of the International Space Station, enhanced shuttle technology, robotic rovers, and satellites which bring us back daily analytical data from our solar system, the visionary optimism that once propelled the space race and captured the world's collective imagination has waned. Ironically, with the loss of this optimism, the very notion of manned space travel beyond our moon seems to have become antiquated itself.

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Ball Aerospace: Where Satellites Come From

PopSci visits the Colorado facility of the company that makes satellites, advanced instruments, and mason jars

When it comes to space, what goes up must be sturdy, safe and secure if it's to live very long. Satellites must survive the bone-rattling jostle and pressure of launch, and once they reach orbit, they've got to weather the vast temperature changes they experience with every sunrise and sunset. Their skins must be thick enough to survive pummeling by micro-debris, and they'd better have trusty gyroscopes to be able to change directions or keep their balance.

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