Today’s Deep Space Extra

February 6th, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… Record setting NASA astronaut Christina Koch, Europe’s Luca Parmitano and Russia’s Alexander Skvortsov return safely to Earth early Thursday from the International Space Station (ISS). Where next for human space explorers? The Moon to stay? Or the Moon and on to Mars?  

Human Space Exploration

Space Station crew safely returns to Earth (2/6): Russia’s Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Christina Koch, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano and cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov landed safely in remote Kazakhstan early Thursday, ending what for Koch was a recording setting spaceflight mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Her 328 days marked the longest spaceflight ever by a woman. Koch was joined by fellow NASA Space Station astronaut Jessica Meir in October for the first spacewalk by two women. The trip to space was Koch’s first. The mission was Parmitano’s second. He served as the Station’s commander prior to departure for Earth. His career 367 days in space are the most by a European astronaut. The landing was at 4:12 a.m., EST.

Trump touts Space Force, Moon and Mars plans in State of the Union address (2/5): President Trump’s lengthy State of the Union Address before Congress on Tuesday night included a call to lawmakers to support NASA’s Artemis initiative, an accelerated return to the surface of the Moon with human explorers in 2024. The president stressed the importance of the U.S. being the first to return to the Moon with astronauts and to be the first nation to plant a flag on Mars. Trump also praised the new Space Force.

Space Science

NASA’s Webb will seek atmospheres around potentially habitable exoplanets
Coalition Member in the News – Northrop Grumman
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (2/5): Thirty nine light years from Earth, the Trappist-1 solar system counts seven, Earth-sized planets, three of them in the star’s habitable zone, a region where the environment would support water as a liquid on the surface. Currently undergoing pre-launch preparations at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is targeted to liftoff as soon as March 2021. Once operational, the JWST will study the Trappist-1 system and the planetary atmospheres to assess whether they might be habitable.

How can the solar cycle threaten technology on Earth?
MIT Technology Review (2/5): The sun is dynamic and evolving in cycles. During the 11 year solar minimum/maximum, the poles of the sun flip. But everything about the sun, from sunspots to coronal mass ejections, can influence the solar weather near the Earth. Extremes can pose hazards to satellites, terrestrial power grids and other technologies on which society increasingly depends.

Could a habitable planet orbit a black hole?
Science (2/4): Despite their immense gravity, it’s possible super massive black holes could host planets with habitable conditions, according to a study led by astrophysicist Pavel Bakala, of the Silesian University in Opava, in the Czech republic, and his colleagues. The study was inspired by the science fiction film Interstellar, released in 2014.

Pluto’s famous heart powers icy winds on the dwarf planet (2/5): NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft famously carried out the first ever close flyby of distant Pluto in July 2015. Scientists continue to obtain and study the data. A new study suggests the heart shaped surface feature, Sputnik Planitia, a plain of nitrogen ice, drives a wind that alters the surrounding terrain. The phenomena may have as much influence on Pluto’s climate as the oceans do on the Earth’s. The findings were published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Op Eds

For the U.S., a second race to the Moon is a second-rate goal (2/3): Space vet Louis Friedman is co-founder of the Planetary Society, the Pasadena, California, based space exploration advocacy group. In an op-ed, he argues the U.S. should be focused on the human exploration of Mars, rather than returning to the Moon with commercial partners and on timescales that may be achieved more quickly by other nations motivated by geopolitical goals. “In 1962, the stretch goal was the Moon. Today, it should be Mars” he argues. “Diverting our human spaceflight program to support hypothetical commercial lunar interests is not sustainable; it is far too expensive and does not benefit commercial goals.”

Other News

Smallsat industry faces challenges to growth (2/5): The annual launch rate for small satellites, a major innovation, has leaped from 52 in 2012 to 389 in 2019 and anticipated launch activities by SpaceX with Starlink and OneWebb could boost the annual total higher, according to a presentation before the SmallSat Symposium by Bryce Space and Technology earlier this week in Mountain View, California. Participants offered several future concerns, among them vulnerability to cyber security; a need by the industry to pursue sustainability as well as innovation; finding a middle ground between alarm and dismissal of the orbital debris threat; and finding and maintaining workforce talent.

A Snow Moon, the first supermoon of 2020, will light up the sky this weekend
CNN (2/5): Coming Friday evening until Monday morning, a supermoon. Supermoons occur when the Moon is closest to Earth at the full Moon phase. Fullest this month falls on Sunday at 2:33 a.m., EST. The supermoon also coincides this month with Jewish, Indian and Chinese holiday observations and has also long been of interest to Native Americans.

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