Today’s Deep Space Extra

February 24th, 2020

Today’s Deep Space Extra… Moon and the prospect for valuable lunar resources not widely recognized during the Apollo appear a driving force in a U.S. return with human explorers. The push means more astronauts and the technologies to support their physical and mental well-being during long missions far from Earth. The Smithsonian premiers a new documentary looking at race and the space race. 

Human Space Exploration

Smithsonian docu ‘Black in Space’ looks at race and the space race (2/24): “Black in Space: Breaking the Color Barrier,” a new documentary from the Smithsonian Institution premiers on the Smithsonian Channel today at 8 p.m., EST. The program looks back at efforts by the U.S. and the former Soviet Union to launch the first black astronaut into space. “We know so much about the civil rights movement, the space race and the Cold War, but not a lot of people concentrate and focus on all three in one,” Laurens Grant, producer and director, told Collect Space in an interview.

Dream Job? NASA is hiring new astronauts for Moon mission (2/23): NASA is a week away from accepting applications for a “handful” of anticipated vacancies in the agency’s astronaut corps, which now numbers 48 women and men eligible for flight assignments. But the need for fliers is expected to grow as the agency pushes beyond the International Space Station (ISS) and low Earth orbit to the Moon in 2024 to establish a sustainable human presence by 2028 and prepare for missions to Mars in the 2030’s.

Sex in space: Could technology meet astronauts’ intimate needs? (2/20): When deep space opens for human exploration, the missions will be long and characterized by isolation from Earth and confinement, challenges to humans emotionally as well as physically. Erobots in many forms will likely take on a variety of duties on the missions. “Erobots could also provide intimacy and emotional support. And finally, erobots’ sensors and interactive capabilities could help monitor astronauts’ physiological and psychological health acting as a complement to daily medical exams,” according to the report. “The term erobots characterizes all virtual, embodied and augmented artificial erotic agents and the technologies that produce them. Examples include sex robots, erotic chatbots and virtual or augmented partners.”

Space Science

Scientists eye the Martian underground in search for alien life (2/20): The search for evidence of past or present life beyond Earth, especially at Mars, is mounting as scientists acquire advanced technologies and learn more about planet formation and nature of other stars. Mars appears to have once hosted a climate wetter and warmer than the frigid, desert like conditions evident now. If it exists now, biological activity on the red planet, is probably well below the surface, perhaps deep in caves and within salt and ice deposits away from exposure to surface radiation and the corrosive nature of the soil, astrobiologists believe. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is being prepared for a July launch to explore a past crater lake and river delta, but the search for life might require missions to seek out evidence of subsurface water deposits.

InSight to try to push mole into Martian surface (2/21): After successfully landing on Mars at Elysium Planita on November 26, 2018, NASA’s Mars InSight mission lander embarked on a first ever attempt to study the Red Planet’s subsurface geophysical activity by deploying a surface seismometer and a thermal probe, the troubled Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3. Unfortunately, efforts by HP3 to pound itself three to five meters underground stopped at 30 centimeters, largely because of the surprisingly dense soil qualities. HP3, nicknamed “the mole” has bounced out more than once. The InSight science team has initiated the latest of several attempts to point and pound HP3 deeper into the surface using the lander’s robot arm to press from above.

Should NASA send New Horizons to a nearby star for its final mission?
Forbes (2/24): Launched in January 2006 for the first ever flyby of distant Pluto, NASA’s still active New Horizons spacecraft could be asset for perhaps traveling to another star system.

Surprise! There’s more water on Jupiter than anyone thought (2/22): In a surprise, NASA’s Jupiter orbiting Juno mission has detected water molecules in the atmosphere over the giant planet’s equator. A previous mission to Jupiter, Galileo, in the mid 1990’s hinted at far less. Juno launched in August 2011.

Op Eds

Let the Moon rush begin
Washington Post (2/21): Homer Hickham of ‘Rocket Boys’ fame, writes that the Moon offers a strong business case for returning with human explorers. “Professional astronauts are going first. While I agree that professionals are required for the initial landings, I don’t think that exclusivity should continue for long,” writes Hickham in an op-ed. “Once electricians, plumbers, miners and construction workers start going to the Moon, and the middle class starts using products made with minerals from Luna, the U.S. will become a true space faring nation.” Hickham suggests the Moon could be considered another terrestrial continent.

NASA: Need another space assignment? (2/21): An op-ed from Greg Autry, founder of the Commercial Spaceflight Initiative, and author Rod Pyle, editor in chief of Ad Astra, fervently urges Congress to back off House Resolution 5666, the NASA Authorization Act of 2020 making its way through the legislative process. The measure seeks to slow efforts by NASA to return to the surface of the Moon with human explorers in 2024 with a private sector eager to expand the economic sphere to a first planetary object and international partners eager to participate. The proposed authorization measure calls for a minimal human return to the Moon in order to achieve a mission around Mars in the 2030’s. “Mars can wait,” Autry and Pyle suggest.

Other News 

Sensors are the next big thing in space, not starships
TechCrunch (2/23): The “next thing” in commercial spaceflight may be innovation among payloads rather than growing numbers of new space launch services, according to an assessment from last month’s FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference.

Physics undergrads crunched numbers for Star Trek’s tribble problem
Ars Technica (2/23): The Dec. 29, 1967 episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” was among the most popular from the original Star Trek Series. Turns out it was written by a young college student with concerns over for ecology.

Major Space Related Activities for the Week

Major space related activities for the week of February 23-29, 2020 (2/23): The U.S. House and Senate are in session this week and starting to hold hearings on the proposed 2021 federal budget, though nothing specifically yet with a NASA or NOAA focus. George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute will co-host a panel discussion “Emerging Issues in Space Governance” on Tuesday. 

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