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Today’s Deep Space Extra

July 9th, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… A 2021 NASA budget bill has begun its annual trek through Congress, $2.6 billion shy of the White House request needed to accelerate the return of human explorers to the surface of the Moon in 2024.

Human Space Exploration

Heat shield milestone complete for first Orion mission with crew
NASA (7/8): Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida recently finished meticulously applying more than 180 blocks of ablative material to the heat shield for the Orion spacecraft set to carry astronauts around the Moon on Artemis II. The heat shield is one of the most critical elements of Orion and protects the capsule and the astronauts inside from the nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, about half as hot at the Sun, experienced during reentry through Earth’s atmosphere when coming home from lunar velocities.

‘Worried for our families and all of mankind.’ Coronavirus a concern even for astronauts in space
USA Today (7/8): Though circling 260 miles above the Earth aboard the International Space Station (ISS), NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley feel they are never far from the global coronavirus pandemic concerns. After all, they have family, friends and memories of their hometowns that keep them concerned about the wellbeing of their home planet.

Space Science

Summer on Mars: NASA’s Perseverance rover is one of three missions ready to launch
Scientific American (7/7): This summer, three new missions are launching to the Red Planet—and at least one of them could reinvigorate interest in Mars with a renewed search for life there. On July 14 the United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter—the first interplanetary spacecraft ever built by the country—is scheduled to take off for Mars on a Japanese rocket. In the same month-long launch window—which occurs every 26 months, when the planet aligns with Earth for easier traversal—it will likely be joined by China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter and lander, also a first mission to Mars for the rising space power. And NASA’s Perseverance rover, the U.S. space agency’s latest effort to hunt for life on the planet, will probably launch in that window as well. A fourth mission, Europe’s Rosalind Franklin rover, was supposed to join this Martian armada. But it was delayed until 2022, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic.

NASA Rover starts new “road trip” across Martian wasteland
Futurism (7/8): NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the red planet’s immense Gale Crater and gradually climbing the three mile high Mount Sharp has begun what mission managers term a “summer road trip.” The autonomous jaunt will permit the instrumented rover to explore for sulfates, minerals that form in the soil with the evaporation of water. On July 30, NASA is to launch the Perseverance Mars 2020 rover, closely akin to Curiosity, which is to touchdown in February 2021 at Jezero Crater, which like Gale is believed to have once been a large Martian lake and possible site for biological activity.

Comet NEOWISE sizzles as it slides by the Sun, providing a treat for observers
NASA (7/8): Anticipation is growing over the prospect that Comet Neowise will become naked eye bright in the night sky. After racing in from the outer parts of the solar system, Neowise made its closest approach to the sun on July 3. Now outbound, Neowise will cross the Earth’s orbit on its journey outbound in mid-August. While growing brighter in response to the sun’s heat, the comet is now visible from Earth to the northeast near the horizon about an hour before sunrise. Neowise, the comet’s namesake is a NASA space observatory launched in late 2009 as the cornerstone of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer mission. Renamed Neowise, the spacecraft’s mission to seek out near-Earth asteroids and comets is about to come to an end.

Building NASA’s Psyche: Design done, now full speed ahead on hardware
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) (7/7):  Psyche is a planetary science mission to explore a metal rich asteroid. Planned for an August 2022 launch, Psyche has transitioned from the design to the hardware manufacturing phase. “It’s one of the most intense reviews a mission goes through in its entire life cycle,” said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, of Arizona State University,  the Psyche mission principal investigator,  of the recently completed critical design review. Psyche may be the core of a planetary object that that lost its outer layers. The mission may provide new insight into planet formation and the kinds of resources that could be found on asteroids.

Other News

Campaign urges NASA to rename the John C. Stennis Space Center
New York Times (7/9): NASA’s Stennis Space Center is the topic of an ongoing discussion over a possible name change. The rocket test facility in Mississippi was named for the late U. S. Sen. John Stennis in 1988. Stennis, who opposed civil rights legislation, died in 1995 at the age of 93. 

NASA’s most iconic building is 55 years old and just getting started
Ars Technica (7/5): A look at the history and future of the NASA Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), where for decades the hardware for human spaceflight has been coming together.

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