Power

US Tests Nuclear Power System To Sustain Astronauts On Mars (reuters.com) 194

Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface on Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday. Reuters reports: National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Department of Energy officials, at a Las Vegas news conference, detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA's Kilopower project. Months-long testing began in November at the energy department's Nevada National Security Site, with an eye toward providing energy for future astronaut and robotic missions in space and on the surface of Mars, the moon or other solar system destinations. A key hurdle for any long-term colony on the surface of a planet or moon, as opposed to NASA's six short lunar surface visits from 1969 to 1972, is possessing a power source strong enough to sustain a base but small and light enough to allow for transport through space. NASA's prototype power system uses a uranium-235 reactor core roughly the size of a paper towel roll. The technology could power habitats and life-support systems, enable astronauts to mine resources, recharge rovers and run processing equipment to transform resources such as ice on the planet into oxygen, water and fuel. It could also potentially augment electrically powered spacecraft propulsion systems on missions to the outer planets.
Mars

Ice Cliffs Spotted On Mars (sciencemag.org) 83

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: Scientists have discovered eight cliffs of nearly pure water ice on Mars, some of which stand nearly 100 meters tall. The discovery points to large stores of underground ice buried only a meter or two below the surface at surprisingly low martian latitudes, in regions where ice had not yet been detected. Each cliff seems to be the naked face of a glacier, tantalizing scientists with the promise of a layer-cake record of past martian climates and space enthusiasts with a potential resource for future human bases. Scientists discovered the cliffs with a high-resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, revisiting the sites to show their subsequent retreat as a result of vaporization, and their persistence in the martian summer. The hunt should now be on, scientists say, for similar sites closer to the equator. The findings have been reported in this week's issue of Science.
Space

The Biggest Rocket Launches and Space Missions We're Looking Forward To in 2018 (theverge.com) 112

Loren Grush, writing for The Verge: Next year is already overflowing with exciting missions to space. NASA is launching a new lander to Mars, as well as a spacecraft that will get closer to the Sun than ever before. And two of NASA's vehicles already in space will finally arrive at their intended targets: one will rendezvous with a nearby asteroid, while another will pass by a distant space rock billions of miles from Earth. But it's not just NASA that has a busy year ahead; the commercial space industry has a number of significant test flights planned, and the launch of one of the world's most anticipated rockets, the Falcon Heavy, is slated for early 2018. And if all goes well, people may finally ride to space on private vehicles. Here's the complete list.
Space

Wired Publishes Fake Christmas Letter By Elon Musk (wired.com) 32

Wired's transportation editor just published what he's calling "Elon Musk's Christmas letter" touting the accomplishments of Musk's "family" of companies, "thanks to an anonymous tipster." (Though the story's photo caption suspiciously calls it "an absolutely real and totally not made up holiday message," and at the very bottom of the piece it's tagged as "satire" -- a word which also appears at the end of its URL.)

SpaceX (age 15) Man these companies grow up fast. SpaceX didn't just successfully launch its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station this summer, it upped its ambitions with a pretty detailed plan for colonizing Mars. (OK, as long as it comes home for Thanksgiving and Christmas!) The scheme involves an Interplanetary Transport System the company calls the BFR, or Big Fucking Rocket (you wonder where they get their sense of humor!), which it will definitely have built in just five years.

Tesla (age 14) After promising to start deliveries of its affordable Model 3 sedan this summer, my little automaker went all the way to production hell to make it happen. And boy is the car a wonder, with its huge glass roof, innovative touchscreen interface (so long, dashboard), and all the acceleration you know to expect from Tesla. I'm sure the 400,000 people who have pre-ordered one will agree whenever they get theirs...!

OpenAI and Neuralink (ages 2, 1) I've always thought we should merge our brains with computers, and I'm so glad two of my youngest are dedicated to making it happen... Maybe it'll even find the time to help big brother Tesla with that AI chip it's making for Autopilot.

The Boring Company (age 1) Celebrated its first birthday this month...! Boring knows my views on public transit, and has reassured me these tunnels will be for fancy hyperloops and private cars on electric sleds, only...

So, my friends and fans, comrades and competitors, investors short and long, my best tidings. May your lives be as rich, electrifying, and ambitious as ours.

For its 13th resupply mission of the ISS on December 15th, (the real) SpaceX used a recycled rocket, and Friday (the real) Elon Musk jokingly tweeted a video of the weird trail left behind by SpaceX's latest rocket launch with the caption, "Nuclear alien UFO from North Korea." By late Saturday he'd posted an update. "Having a sinking feeling that most people actually do think it was aliens..."

"So strange that people often believe things inversely proportionate to the evidence."
Space

Elon Musk Shows Off the Tesla Roadster That SpaceX Will Send Beyond Mars (theverge.com) 118

Elon Musk has released photos of the Tesla Roadster he plans to send to space via a Falcon Heavy rocket. "The series of photos, posted to Instagram, show the Roadster attached to a fitting and placed between the two halves of the payload fairing that caps the rocket," reports The Verge. "The photos were posted just hours after a picture leaked on Reddit that showed a grainy view of the car being readied for its final ride." From the report: This will be the inaugural flight of the Falcon Heavy, a rocket that SpaceX has been planning for years. The successor to the Falcon 9 , it's essentially (and simply put) three boosters strapped together, all of which will add enough thrust to make it the most powerful rocket in the world. It will give SpaceX the ability to send bigger payloads to space while also helping the company push farther out into the Solar System. But SpaceX doesn't want to put a valuable payload on the very first flight, which even Musk has admitted could end (or begin) with an explosion. So the company plans to use a "dummy payload" instead. "Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring," Musk wrote on Instagram today. "Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel."
NASA

Elon Musk Shows Off Near-Complete Falcon Heavy Rocket (newatlas.com) 150

Eloking quotes a report from New Atlas: SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has been a long time coming. The successor to its Falcon 9 and the vehicle hoped to carry humans to Mars, this booster will be one of the most powerful ever. And we've just gotten our best look at it yet, with CEO Elon Musk tweeting out photos of an almost complete Falcon 9 Heavy in the hangar ahead of a planned maiden launch next month. The Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9 first stages rolled into one, with a second stage sat atop the middle one. The nine engine cores in each first stage work together to provide thrust equal to eighteen 747 aircraft, making it the most powerful rocket currently in operation and the most powerful since the Saturn V rocket last lifted off in 1973. In a series of tweets, Musk revealed that when the Falcon Heavy does lift off for the first time, it will do so from the same pad used by the Saturn V rocket at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Musk has said recently that the Falcon Heavy will carry his own cherry-red Tesla Roadster as its first payload, but as an earlier tweet professing his love for floors has shown, it's not always easy to tell how serious he is about such matters.
Mars

Where in the World is Mars' Water? (axios.com) 102

An anonymous reader shares an Axios report: In the beginning, Mars was a water world. But at some point in Mars' distant past, much of that water disappeared, leaving behind polar ice caps and a complex geology. Figuring out just where it went has been a major priority for scientists -- life as we know it can't exist without water, and any future settlers would need a steady supply. A new study, published Wednesday in Nature, suggests that much of what remains might in inaccessible. Some went into space, but even more of it may have sunk into the ground like a sponge, only to become bound up in minerals deep within the planet. "Mars, by virtue of its chemistry, was doomed from the start," study author Jon Wade, of Oxford University, tells Axios.
NASA

NASA Uses Its First Recycled SpaceX Rocket For a Re-Supply Mission (nypost.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Post: SpaceX racked up another first on Friday, launching a recycled rocket with a recycled capsule on a grocery run for NASA. The unmanned Falcon rocket blasted off with a just-in-time-for-Christmas delivery for the International Space Station, taking flight again after a six-month turnaround. On board was a Dragon supply ship, also a second-time flier. It was NASA's first use of a reused Falcon rocket and only the second of a previously flown Dragon.

Within 10 minutes of liftoff, the first-stage booster was back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, standing upright on the giant X at SpaceX's landing zone. That's where it landed back in June following its first launch. Double sonic booms thundered across the area. At SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, cheers erupted outside the company's glassed-in Mission Control, where chief executive Elon Musk joined his employees.

The Dragon reaches the space station Sunday. The capsule last visited the 250-mile-high outpost in 2015. This time, the capsule is hauling nearly 5,000 pounds of goods, including 40 mice for a muscle-wasting study, a first-of-its-kind impact sensor for measuring space debris as minuscule as a grain of sand and barley seeds for a germination experiment by Budweiser, already angling to serve the first beer on Mars.

Also onboard were several hundred Star Wars mission patches created by a partnership between Lucasfilm and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (the non-profit organization managing the ISS National Lab). Space.com reports that Elon Musk named the Falcon X after the original Millennium Falcon in Star Wars.
Space

Space Is Not a Void (slate.com) 285

An anonymous reader shares an article: When President Kennedy announced the Apollo Program, he famously argued that we should go to the moon because it is hard. Solving the technical challenges of space travel is a kind of civilizational achievement on its own, like resolving an interplanetary Rubik's Cube. The argument worked, perhaps all too well. As soon as we landed on the moon, humanity's expansion into the cosmos slowed and then stopped (not counting robots). If you were to draw a graph charting the farthest distance a human being has ever been from the surface of Earth, the peak was in 1970 with Apollo 13. With the successful moon landings, we solved all of the fundamental challenges involved in launching humans into orbit and bringing them back safely. The people watching those early feats of exploration imagined we would soon be sending astronauts to Mars and beyond, but something has held us back. Not know-how, or even money, but a certain lack of imagination. Getting to space isn't the hard part -- the hard part is figuring out why we're there. Sure, we can celebrate the human spirit and the first person to do this or that, but that kind of achievement never moves beyond the symbolic. It doesn't build industries, establish settlements and scientific research stations, or scale up solutions from expensive one-offs to mass production. Furthermore, as five decades of failing to go farther than our own moon have demonstrated, that kind of symbolism can't even sustain itself, much less energize new activity.
Mars

Boeing CEO Says Boeing Will Beat SpaceX To Mars (space.com) 128

Boeing's CEO says the megarocket his company is helping to build for NASA will deliver astronauts to the Red Planet before billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX. Space.com reports: According to Fortune, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was speaking on CNBC today when host Jim Cramer asked whether Boeing or SpaceX would "get a man on Mars first." "Eventually we're going to go to Mars, and I firmly believe the first person that sets foot on Mars will get there on a Boeing rocket," Muilenburg said, according to Fortune. Boeing is the main contractor for the first stage of NASA's giant Space Launch System , which is designed to launch astronauts on deep-space missions using the space agency's new Orion spacecraft. (United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne are also SLS contractors.) NASA hopes to build a "Deep Space Gateway" near the moon before using SLS and Orion vehicles to send explorers to Mars. The first test launch is scheduled for 2019. "Do it," Musk tweeted.
ISS

The International Space Station is Super Germy (washingtonpost.com) 88

Thousands of species have colonized the International Space Station -- and only one of them is Homo sapiens. From a report: According to a new study in the journal PeerJ, the interior surfaces of the 17-year-old, 250-mile-high, airtight space station harbor at least 1,000 and perhaps more than 4,000 microbe species (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source ) -- a finding that is actually "reassuring," according to co-author David Coil. "Diversity is generally associated with a healthy ecosystem," said the University of California at Davis microbiologist. A varied population of microscopic inhabitants is probably a signature of a healthy spacecraft, he added. And as humanity considers even longer ventures in space -- such as an 18-month voyage to Mars -- scientists must understand who these microbes are. The samples for Coil's paper were collected in 2014 as part of the citizen science program Project MERCCURI. The initiative, conceived by a group of National Football League and National Basketball Association cheerleaders who are also scientists and engineers, involved swabbing down dozens of professional sports stadiums, identifying the microbes in the samples, and sending those species to the ISS to see whether they would thrive. (Bacillus aryabhatti, collected from a practice football field used by the Oakland Raiders, grew fastest.)
Mars

SpaceX Plans To Blast a Tesla Roadster Into Orbit Around Mars (arstechnica.com) 272

An anonymous reader quotes Ars Technica: Previously, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said he intends to launch the "silliest thing we can imagine" on the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy. This is partly because the rocket is experimental -- there is a non-trivial chance the rocket will explode on the launch pad, or shortly after launch. It is also partly because Musk is a master showman who knows how to grab attention. On Friday evening, Musk tweeted what that payload would be -- his "midnight cherry Tesla Roadster."

And the car will be playing Space Oddity, by David Bowie; the song which begins, "Ground Control to Major Tom." Oh, and the powerful Falcon Heavy rocket will send the Tesla into orbit around Mars. "Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn't blow up on ascent," Musk added. Ars was able to confirm Friday night from a company source that this is definitely a legitimate payload. Earlier on Friday, Musk also said the Falcon Heavy launch would come "next month" from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, meaning in January.

"No private company has ever launched a spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit, let alone to another planet," according to the article, adding that SpaceX's new rocket "could play a major role in any plans the agency has to send humans to the Moon." In addition, Musk added on Twitter, "Red car for a red planet."

UPDATE (12/2/17): Saturday Elon Musk told The Verge that he "totally made it up" about sending a Tesla Roadster to Mars. Then in "multiple emails" to Ars Technica --- sent Saturday afternoon -- "Musk confirmed that this plan is, indeed, real."
Space

SpaceX's First Falcon Heavy Launch Will Now Take Place In 2018 (engadget.com) 131

The launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket has been delayed to 2018. In an email to Aviation Week, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said, "We wanted to fly Heavy this year. We should be able to static fire this year and fly a couple of weeks right after that." Engadget reports: The static fire test will be the first time that all of Heavy's 27 Merlin engines will be fired at once. And if all goes well there, Falcon Heavy should be ready for launch within the first few weeks of 2018. There have been multiple launch delays with Heavy, which Elon Musk has attributed to the development of such a large and powerful rocket being "way, way more difficult" than SpaceX expected. "Falcon Heavy requires the simultaneous ignition of 27 orbit-class engines," Musk said at the ISS R&D conference in July. "There's a lot that can go wrong there." And because of that, Musk has been very clear about where everyone's expectations should be going into Falcon Heavy's first launch. "There's a real good chance that it does not make it to orbit. I hope it gets far enough away from the launch pad that it does not cause pad damage -- I would consider that a win," he said.
The Almighty Buck

Did Elon Musk Create Bitcoin? (cryptocoinsnews.com) 189

An anonymous reader quotes CryptoCoinsNews: It should be no surprise that the elusive hunt for Satoshi, often referred to as the father of Bitcoin, has led to the theory that Elon Musk has been hiding a big secret from all of us. Sahil Gupta, a computer science student at Yale University and former intern at SpaceX, believes just this... Bitcoin was written by someone with mastery of C++, a language Musk has utilized heavily at SpaceX. Musk's 2013 Hyperloop paper also provided insight into his deep understanding of cryptography and economics...

One week before Gupta's Medium post on Musk, another Medium blog was published with a theory that Musk invented Bitcoin for future use on Mars. As radical as this may sounds, the point around Paypal in this article was relevant. Musk has already revolutionized digital currency with his founding role in Paypal, which he sold to eBay in 2002. The author claims Musk is under a non-compete from this deal, leaving him to secrecy about his role in Bitcoin.

Gupta's article cites other clues that suport his theory, including Musk's interest in solving global problems, his unusual silence on the topic of cryptocurrencies, and the fact that "Elon has said publicly he doesn't own any bitcoin, which is consistent with a 'Good Satoshi' who deleted his private keys. This means Satoshi's one million coins (worth about $8 billion) are gone for good." And of course, with a net worth of $19.7 billion, Elon Musk is one of the few people who wouldn't need the money.

UPDATE (11/28/17): On Twitter, Elon Musk has responded, saying the rumors that he created Bitcoin are "not true."
Youtube

Brands Pull YouTube Ads Over Images of Children (reuters.com) 125

An anonymous reader shares a report: Lidl, Cadbury maker Mondelez, Mars and other companies have pulled advertising from YouTube after the Times newspaper found the video sharing site was showing clips of scantily clad children alongside the ads of major brands. Comments from hundreds of pedophiles were posted alongside the videos, which appeared to have been uploaded by the children themselves, according to a Times investigation. One clip of a pre-teenage girl in a nightie drew 6.5 million views. The paper said YouTube, a unit of Alphabet subsidiary Google, had allowed sexualized imagery of children to be easily searchable and not lived up to promises to better monitor and police its services to protect children. In response, a YouTube spokesman said: "There shouldn't be any ads running on this content and we are working urgently to fix this."
Mars

Flowing Water On Mars' Surface May Just Be Rolling Sand Instead (theverge.com) 81

Two years ago, NASA made a big splash when it announced the discovery of flowing water on the surface of Mars. Unfortunately, according to new research from the U.S. Geological Survey, the surface features that NASA thought were made up of liquid water may actually be flowing grains of sand instead. The Verge reports: The features in question are dark streaks that show up periodically on Martian hills, known as recurring slope lineae, or RSLs. When one of NASA's spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, studied these lines more closely, it found that the RSLs were made up of hydrated salts -- meaning they were mixed with water molecules. At the time, NASA thought that was significant evidence that flowing liquid water caused these bizarre streaks. But researchers at the USGS say these features look identical to certain types of slopes found on sand dunes here on Earth. Those slopes are caused by dry grains of sand flowing downhill, without the help of any water. It's possible the same thing is happening on Mars, too. Since liquid water is key for life here on Earth, many thought these strange lines of flowing water may help support life on the Martian surface. But now these RSLs may not be the best place to look for life anymore.
Space

NASA Funds Designs for a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Rocket (space.com) 172

"Dangerous radiation. Overstuffed pantries. Cabin fever. NASA could sidestep many of the impediments to a Mars mission if they could just get there faster," writes Space.com, which reports NASA is now exploring an alternative to chemical rockets. In August, NASA announced an $18.8-million-dollar contract with nuclear company BWXT to design fuel and a reactor suitable for nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP), a rocket technology that could jumpstart a new era of space exploration. "The strengths with NTP are the ability to do the very fast round trip [to Mars], the ability to abort even if you're 2 to 3 months into the missions, the overall architectural robustness, and also the growth potential to even more advanced systems," Michael Houts, principal investigator for the NTP project at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, told Space.com. NTP rockets would pull all that off by offering about twice the bang for the buck that chemical rockets do... "Nuclear thermal propulsion can enable you to get to Mars faster, on the order of twice as fast," said Vishal Patel, a researcher involved in subcontract work for BWXT at the Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. in Los Alamos, New Mexico. "We're looking at nice 3- to 4-month transit times."
Space

Five New Asteroids Surprise Astronomers In Hubble Images (sciencemag.org) 33

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Five previously unknown asteroids in our solar system have photobombed new Hubble Space Telescope images. Astronomers spotted the space rocks -- plus another two that had been previously catalogued in images collected as part of the Frontier Fields project, which observed six clusters of galaxies billions of light-years away. When multiple exposures obtained at different times were stacked together to produce the image above, the asteroids showed up as trails because they had moved between exposures, and some of the asteroids were spotted more than once. The five new asteroids orbit within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Previous studies missed them because they're extremely faint
Moon

India, China, and Japan Are All Planning Moon Missions (upi.com) 114

schwit1 shares an article from UPI: India will make its second mission to the moon in 2018, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) announced this week. The Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft consists of an orbiter, lander and rover configuration "to perform mineralogical and elemental studies of the lunar surface," the ISRO said... Several other countries, including China and Japan, are planning lunar expeditions in the coming years -- partly to better understand the moon's environmental conditions for the potential of human settlements...

According to Popular Mechanics, the ISRO is attempting to make the lunar landing on a budget of $93 million, which is about the same cost of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket that's scheduled for launch by the end of this year. The Falcon rocket, though, is only going into orbit -- and a $93 million price tag for a lunar landing could have impact on other countries' space plans.

India landed a spacecraft on the moon in 2008, and plans to complete this second lunar landing by March.
Education

Could VR Field Trips Replace the Real Thing? (theindychannel.com) 96

turkeydance shares a report from RTV6, which cites a new editorial in the journal Science that explores the question, "Could VR field trips replace the real thing?" Virtual field trips have been around for a while, but they used to be pretty boring: some photos, some text -- basically a Wikipedia entry. But they've come a long way. Nearpod and Google Expeditions let students immerse themselves in places they couldn't normally visit, like Antarctica or even Mars. These virtual field trips are safer and easier to organize than real outings, and they might soon be cheaper, too. Douglas McCauley, assistant professor of ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says traditional field trips have already declined under budget constraints, so schools might be tempted to simply make a switch. McCauley says he's excited about the possibilities of VR. Taking students back to prehistoric times or forward to witness the results of climate change could be a powerful teaching tool.

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