Today’s Deep Space Extra

March 20th, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… Discussions over the timing for a sustained human return to the Moon are unfolding this week in Russia as well as the U.S. At the same time, scientists gathered for the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in the Houston area are announcing findings from two asteroid sample return missions, each marked by surprising discoveries as well as challenge.

Human Space Exploration

1st scientist on the Moon says NASA lacks urgency for lunar landing (3/19): Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt, geologist and former NASA astronaut assigned to the final Apollo Moon landing mission in December 1972, expressed disappoint over what he termed a lack of urgency at the agency in returning to the Moon. He spoke at the Lunar Planetary and Science Conference underway this week in Houston. Schmitt is a member of the advisory group to the White House National Space Council. “I think the president and the vice president [Mike Pence] feel there’s a significant geopolitical urgency to do that, but we do not sense that NASA has that same sense of urgency,” said Schmitt. NASA is developing the hardware with commercial and global partners to assemble a human tended, lunar orbiting Gateway beginning in 2022, and anticipates a human mission to the lunar surface by 2028.

Six people have begun a 122-day simulated Mission on the Moon

Universe Today (3/19): In Moscow, Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problem initiated a four month lunar mission simulation on Tuesday, with three men and three woman subjects. NASA as well as the German and French space agencies are participating in Sirius-19.

Russia to start construction of habitable lunar base after 2030

TASS of Russia (3/19): As a human lunar mission simulation was getting underway in Russia on Tuesday, the lead for human exploration programs for Roscosmos, the country’s space agency, predicted a lunar mission by 2030 and an effort to establish a base on the Moon after that date. Sergei Krikalov, the executive director for manned space programs, is a former cosmonaut.


Space Science

Water on asteroid Bennu could mean ‘pay dirt’ for space miners (3/19): NASA’s Osiris Rex asteroid sample return mission to distant Bennu has discovered evidence of water ice, a resource that could be mined for human deep space exploration, providing a valuable life support resource as well as a source for liquid hydrogen and oxygen rocket propellants. Osiris Rex, launched in September 2016, reached Bennu in December. The spacecraft is to attempt a sample acquisition in mid-2020, materials it will return to Earth in September 2023.

Asteroid’s bumpiness threatens U.S. plan to return a sample to Earth

Nature (3/19): NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, Osris Rex, which reached its target destination in December, has observed something unexpected, plumes of surface rocks and pebbles streaming away from the surface. Some of the material is falling back to the surface and an explanation remains elusive. That coupled with observations of a more boulder strewn surface than expected may challenge efforts to land briefly to gather samples of the surface for return to Earth, according to mission scientists participating in this week’s Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in the Houston suburb of The Woodlands. 

Hayabusa2 finds that its destination is also a very dark rubble pile

Ars Technica (3/19): The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) asteroid sample return mission to Ryugu is making discoveries with similarities to NASA’s Osiris Rex sample return mission to the asteroid Bennu. Scientists from each have published findings this week in the journals Science and Nature and discussed them at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference underway this week in the Houston suburb of The Woodlands. Both asteroids are considered low mass, rubble piles, or a collection of small materials rather than a single object. Unlike Bennu, however, Ryugu appears to have little water in its surface material.

Engineers still studying problem with InSight heat flow probe (3/19): The NASA Mars Insight lander’s subsurface heat flow experiment remains stuck against an underground rock or layer of pebbles, according to mission scientists, who discussed the lander’s status at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference underway in the Houston suburb of The Woodlands this week. InSight landed on Mars in late November, and “mole” activities began on Feb. 28 and ended with the ‘mole” stuck as it attempted to dig on Mar. 2 at a depth of about 16 inches.

NASA cuts to Europa mission anger planetary scientists

Nature (3/19): Scientists gather this week for the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, a Houston suburb, are expressing disappointment that NASA’s plans for a multiple flyby mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa is facing a budget challenge. So far, NASA has elected to replace a costly magnetometer planned for the Europa mission with a cheaper version. ICEMag was intended to help assess the habitability of the ice and ocean covered Jovian moon by assessing the salinity of water spraying from cracks in the surface ice.


Other News

‘Alien in my backyard:’ The UFO community still believes and science is starting to listen

Orlando Sentinel (3/19):  It’s a story, at least a claim, that has lingered for decades; reports of strange beings, perhaps aliens, and Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs. The Mutual Unidentified Flying Objects Network, or MUFON, lives on in its pursuit of the truth.

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