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NASA Plans Missions to Mine Water on Moon & Mars

NASA/ Irene Klotz; space news

Scientifically, the Moon we know now is far different than the Moon we thought we knew only 5 years ago. Perhaps David Kring of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston put it best when he said “lunar science has changed more in the last 3 years than in the previous 30.” 

Thought for decades to have been a dry body, in 2009 the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter – whose data now accounts for a majority of data in the Planetary Data System – showed that water is distributed widely (if thinly) across the Moon’s surface at times. The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and other data then showed that not only does water exist on the lunar surface, but there is a lot of it—enough (particularly in polar regions) to be used by future human missions. 

Following these discoveries, NASA is laying the groundwork for a lunar rover that would scout for subsurface volatiles and extract them for processing. The proposed Resource Prospector Mission (RPM), notionally targeted for launch in 2018, would be NASA’s first attempt at demonstrating in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) beyond Earth. 

The Resource Prospector Mission is intended to pave the way toward incorporating use of space resources into mission architectures. NASA’s planning for eventual human missions to Mars depends on tapping the indigenous resources to make propellant for launching the return ship back to Earth, and a lunar precursor mission is a convenient location to test the ISRU technology. If it pans out, it may revolutionize the way NASA is approaching solar system exploration. These initiatives are part of an evolving space exploration strategy that relies on indigenous resources, primarily to make rocket fuel for the return trip home.

The idea is to have a rover scout for areas with high concentrations of subsurface hydrogen and then drill out samples for heating and analysis. The rover will be equipped with instruments– the Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) payload– to extract oxygen from the lunar regolith and process it with hydrogen to make water. 

Water is the key to life support, but it can also be used for propulsion. Water molecules can be processed by electrolysis to produce oxygen for breathing or for propellant, while the hydrogen is recirculated back into the system to make liquid hydrogen. If water on the Moon was accessible, it could be feasible to set up fuel depots to help astronauts reach further destinations and long-duration, interplanetary journeys. 

Luckily, the Moon is 42 percent oxygen by mass in the regolith itself. In the minerals, there is oxygen, as well as rare earth elements used to make key components in smart phones and other advanced electronics. Scientists are planning to heat lunar material to over 900 degrees Celsius and pass hydrogen over it in a reducing environment. Then the oxygen from the granular material will be liberated and join with hydrogen to create water. Scientists have already demonstrated such techniques in field tests and are ready to move to the next step—proving the technology and mining operations on the Moon. If successful, scientists hope ISRU technologies will evolve past demonstrations and into operational missions.

It’s very analogous to the mining processes here on Earth. “It’s basic chemistry,” says lunar geologist Paul Spudis, with the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. “The real issues are not the basic process. The issues are what are the unforeseen things about the environment, about being in space, being on the moon, being on Mars, that we don’t know or we don’t anticipate that are going to impact that production.”

Now NASA is seeking external partnerships for joint development of a robotic lunar lander as early as 2018.

“The concept of RPM came up out of the need to fly RESOLVE and the near-term, close way to test that would be on the Moon,” said Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA headquarters in Washington.

But RPM will also be testing technologies that we might need to go to Mars and try to mine resouces in a similar fashion. “A lot of the technologies have broader use than just lunar, [but] it’s a convenient location to test ISRU technology,” Crusan added.

Resource Prospector is among a handful of NASA lunar initiatives, including an ongoing solicitation for companies interested in tapping agency personnel, equipment, facilities and software to develop landers. NASA expects to select one or more partners for unfunded Space Act Agreements in April for its so-called Lunar CATALYST program.

Discussions with Canada for a rover are underway, Crusan said. While NASA intends to partner with international space agencies for Resource Prospector’s rover and lander, if those plans fall through the agency might consider a commercial alternative.

Other potential partners are the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which is considering providing a lander, and the Korean space agency, which has discussed a lunar orbiting communications satellite and science instruments. Partnership agreements are expected to be finalized this year.

A review to assess if the mission is ready to move forward is planned for this spring.

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Quantum Teleportation! Bits Vanish Here, Reappear There

Excerpt from

For the first time, researchers have teleported 10,000 bits of information per second from point A to point B across a distance of about six millimeters and inside a solid state circuit, similar to a computer chip.

The scientists, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, report their findings in this week’s issue of Nature.

In their experiment, the team spaced three micron-sized electronic circuits on a seven-by-seven-millimeter computer chip. Two of the circuits worked as a sending mechanism, while the other served as the receiver. The scientists cooled the chip to near absolute zero and ran a current through the circuits.

At that frigid temperature and small scale, the electrons in the circuit ... become linked, sharing identical quantum states, even if physically separated from one other.

Other experimenters have teleported quantum bits, too, and have done so across a larger distance. But those teams only got the teleportation to work once in a while, perhaps a few percent of the time. The ETH team was also able to teleport up to 10,000 quantum bits every second, and get it to work right consistently. That’s fast enough and accurate enough to build a useful computer. “Basically we can push a button and have this teleportation work every time,” Andreas Wallraff, Professor at the Department of Physics and head of the study, told DNews

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Computer First: Silicon Chip Holds Quantum Data ~ Makes Objects Invisible to the Viewer

Excerpt fromnews.discovery.comThe new approach turns a silicon transistor into an "artificial atom."Australian scientists have developed the first silicon quantum technology capable of holding data with over 99 per cent accuracy.The breakthrough, repo...

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Let There Be Light ~ Where did the first light in the universe come from? Hubble discovery reveals clues

NASA's GALEX ultraviolet satellite identified nearby starburst galaxies that made good analogs of early galaxies. Follow-up images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope revealed that the compact galaxy J0921 allowed a large fraction of its radiation to escape.

Excerpt from csmonitor.com

By Nola Taylor Redd, SPACE.com Contributor

A compact galaxy some 3 billion light-years away is shedding light, shedding light on how stars formed during when our universe was young.

A densely packed star-forming galaxy is reproducing the events that brought light to the early universe.

The nearby compact galaxy named J0921+4509, which is rapidly producing stars, has many of the characteristics that would have been required to light up the early universe. Located approximately 3 billion light-years from the Milky Way, the star-forming regions of the tightly bound galaxy are surrounded by dense clouds of gas. Holes in the gas allow radiation to leak out, mimicking events that would have broken through the darkness that followed the birth of the universe.

J0921+4509 produces approximately 50 solar-masses' worth of stars each year, more than 33 times the number of stars created by the Milky Way every year. While most stars in other locations remain swathed in the gas that forms them, trapping radiation inside, J0921 has holes that allow the radiation to escape, much as it might have in the early universe. 

Leaking galaxies

Only a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang, hydrogen gas in the universe cooled and became neutral as protons and electrons paired up. Any radiation emitted was quickly absorbed, rendering the period unobservable, or "dark," to astronomers. By the end of the first billion years, radiation known as Lyman continuum had reionized the hydrogen, scattering electrons and making the universe visible once again.

Events from the dark ages of the universe, including its reionization, cannot be directly studied. Instead, astronomers must search for similar processes in objects they can examine today, such as those found in the starburst galaxy J0921. The name "starburst galaxies" comes from the unusually high rate of stellar production in such locations...

A starburst studied

A handful of galaxies in the early universe are leaking radiation. Scientists are able to study these galaxies from the universe’s youth because of the correlation between the distance light travels and the time it takes to make the journey. Essentially, looking at objects in the distant universe is like looking back in time; astronomers see the light as it was when it left the object.

Two other nearby galaxies are suspected to be leaking radiation, but each has only a tenth as much radiation as J0921. 

"This is the direct evidence of how the galactic feedback via winds can lead to conditions that allow Lyman continuum to escape," Borthakur said. "This tells us about the physics of star formation and its feedback in the epoch of reionization, and solves the decades-old mystery of how Lyman continuum photons can escape through the cold cloud cocoon enveloping star-forming regions."
The new research is published this week in the journal Science.

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NASA prepares its science fleet for Mars comet encounter ~ Video

NASA assets to observe Comet Siding Spring

Excerpt from

Comet Siding Spring will pass within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of the Red Planet on October 19.

NASA’s extensive fleet of science assets, particularly those orbiting and roving Mars, have front-row seats to image and study a once-in-a-lifetime comet flyby Sunday, October 19.

Comet C/2013 A1, also known as Comet Siding Spring, will pass within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of the Red Planet — less than half the distance between Earth and our Moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.

Siding Spring’s nucleus will come closest to Mars around 2:27 p.m. EDT, hurtling at about 126,000 mph (56 kilometers per second). This proximity will provide an unprecedented opportunity for researchers to gather data on both the comet and its effect on the martian atmosphere.

Siding Spring came from the Oort Cloud, a spherical region of space surrounding our Sun and occupying space at a distance between 5,000 and 100,000 astronomical units (1 AU is the average Earth-Sun distance). It is a giant swarm of icy objects believed to be material left over from the formation of the solar system.

Siding Spring will be the first comet from the Oort Cloud to be studied up close by spacecraft, giving scientists an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the materials, including water and carbon compounds, that existed during the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

Some of the best and most revealing images and science data will come from assets orbiting and roving the surface of Mars. In preparation for the comet flyby, NASA maneuvered its Mars Odyssey orbiter, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the newest member of the Mars fleet, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN), in order to reduce the risk of impact with high-velocity dust particles coming off the comet.

In addition, Earth-based and space telescopes, including NASA’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope, will be in position to observe the unique celestial object. The agency’s astrophysics space observatories — Kepler, Swift, Spitzer, Chandra — and the ground-based Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii —will be tracking the event.

NASA’s asteroid hunter, the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, has been imaging and will continue to image the comet as part of its operations. And the agency’s two Heliophysics spacecraft, Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory and Solar and Heliophysics Observatory, will image the comet. The agency’s Balloon Observation Platform for Planetary Science, a suborbital balloon-carried telescope, already has provided observations of the comet in the lead-up to the close encounter with Mars.

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Introducing Google Goggles: The Google Cardboard Virtual Reality Kit

Google GogglesA review and a glimpse of how the Google cardboard virtual  reality kit works (above), and step by step instructions (below), will show you how you can build your very own pair of what I call the Google Goggles. GregClick to zoom

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Air Force Will Move X-37B Space Planes to Shuttle Hangars ~ Video

Excerpt from


The U.S. Air Force will take over two mothballed space shuttle processing hangars at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for its secretive X-37B robotic space plane program, NASA said Wednesday. The agreement transfers two of the shuttle’s three processing hangars for the military’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicles, built and managed by Boeing. 

The 29-foot-long (9-meter-long) space planes resemble miniature space shuttles. The Air Force currently has two vehicles, one of which has been in orbit since December 2012. The military has not disclosed what the X-37B is doing in orbit, nor when or where it will land. Two prior X-37B missions lasted 224 days and 469 days respectively, and landed autonomously at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Boeing is to use the third shuttle hangar for its NASA-backed CST-100 commercial space taxis. 

 Click to zoom

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Building the future: 3-D printing promises to radically transform the way we make things

Excerpt from mercurynews.com Behind the glass of an SUV-sized printer, a laser fuses fine powders of steel and tungsten, layering the material and building items from the ground up. The finished products, displayed neatly on a nearby table, range ...

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New Technology Can Test How Toxic a Substance is to Your DNA 

A technique for high throughput screening of substances that could cause DNA damage has been developed by scientists. The technology allows for testing of drugs and cosmetics that could pose a risk to human health, and assesses damage done to DNA, while reducing reliance on animal testing, researchers say.As more hand held and portable devices on the market are being developed for nanoparticle-based DNA sensing, many are able to detect and analyze organisms one-thousandth of the widt [...]

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NASA Injects New Funds Into Search for Origins of Life

Excerpt from

In a new round of funding announced on Monday, NASA is allocating $50 million to 7 astrobiology research groups in the US to tackle these questions.

The grants will cover 5 years of study and will average $8 million per research group...

The astrobiology teams are based at 3 NASA institutions (Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. and Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.), 3 universities (University of Colorado at Boulder, University of California, Riverside and the University of Montana in Missoula) and at The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) at Mountain View, Calif...

“The intellectual scope of astrobiology is vast, from understanding how our planet went from lifeless to living, to understanding how life has adapted to Earth’s harshest environments, to exploring other worlds with the most advanced technologies to search for signs of life,” said Mary Voytek, director, astrobiology program, NASA Headquarters. “The new teams cover that breadth of astrobiology, and by coming together in the NAI (NASA Astrobiology Institute), they will make the connections between disciplines and organizations that stimulate fundamental scientific advances.”

These 7 new teams join 5 existing NAI teams at the University of Washington in Seattle; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

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NASA’s SDO Watches 1 Million Mile Long Filament on the Sun

These 2 SDO images show a dark snaking line, a filament of solar material, hovering above the sun's surface.
A snaking, extended filament of solar material currently lies on the front of the sun-- some 1 million miles across from end to end. Filaments are clouds of solar material suspended above the sun by powerful magnetic forces. Though notoriously unstable, filaments can last for days or even weeks.
A dark snaking line in the upper right of these images on Sept. 30, 2014, show a filament of solar material hovering above the sun's surface. NASA's SDO captured the images in extreme UV light – different colors represent different wavelengths of light and different temperatures of solar material.
Image Credit: 

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, which watches the sun 24 hours a day, has observed this gigantic filament for several days as it rotated around with the sun. If straightened out, the filament would reach almost across the whole sun, about 1 million miles or 100 times the size of Earth.

SDO captured images of the filament in numerous wavelengths, each of which helps highlight material of different temperatures on the sun. By looking at any solar feature in different wavelengths and temperatures, scientists can learn more about what causes such structures, as well as what catalyzes their occasional giant eruptions out into space.

Look at the images to see how the filament appears in different wavelengths. The brownish combination image was produced by blending two wavelengths of extreme UV light with a wavelength of 193 and 335 Angstroms. The red image shows the 304 Angstrom wavelength of extreme UV light.

Steele Hill
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

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10 Bonkers Things About the Universe ~ By Marcus Chown

A simply beautiful image taken by the Hubble space telescope Click to zoom

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Another reality bending discovery? Princeton researchers spot particle that behaves like matter and antimatter at the SAME TIME

Excerpt from  theregister.co.ukScientists at Princeton are reporting the first observation of Majorana fermion, a particle first predicted over 70 years ago that behaves like matter and antimatter at the same time.Finding the Majorana fermion on...

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