NASA Broke Up With Russia's Space Agency, Now What?

Categories: NASA

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The International Space Station, aka the one thing NASA and Roscosmos are still talking about.

The United States has ended things between NASA and Russia's space agency. While the U.S. has yet to issue a Taylor Swiftian pop ballad about the breakup, a memo on the split did get leaked.

We can't say we didn't see this coming. Things have been, shall we say, tense between the two countries since Russia got involved in the Ukrainian mess (and subsequently annexed Crimea.) All this while it seemed like NASA had managed to stay above the political fray and we crossed our fingers that the two space programs wouldn't get caught in a Romeo and Juliet situation due to the increasingly cold relations between their respective parent countries. That ended on Wednesday when Associate Administrator Michael O'Brien sent out a memo announcing they were severing all contact between NASA and Roscosmos, indefinitely.

Here's the memo, published by Space Ref:


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The Strange Case of Space History Theft Ends with an Austin Auction

Categories: NASA

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Gaston and Sheehan Auctioneers promotional material
Space history is for sale, but it's not cheap.

If you've always dreamed of owning a swathe of the Apollo 13 couch, a piece of an Apollo spacecraft heatshield, an Apollo patch autographed by the crew or some other little bit of material that has been to outer space and back again through the space program, you might still have a chance.

The Austin-based auction company, Gaston & Sheehan Auctioneers, is selling a bunch of space stuff, the bulk of it confiscated by the U.S. Marshal's Service about 10 years ago. It all started when some space artifacts went missing from the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center (yeah, we didn't know there was anything like that in Kansas either.)

Things had been disappearing for a while when the U.S. Marshal's Service got involved. It turned out -- go figure -- the museum curator Max Ary had stolen and sold off hundreds of space artifacts. He was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison in 2006 and his private collection was confiscated to pay for all the stuff -- which rightfully belonged to NASA and the Cosmosphere. The strangest part of all this is that Ary was known as the guy who turned the tiny Kansas setup into one of the most respected space museums in the country, according to NASA Watch.


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NASA Needs Asteroid Hunters

Categories: NASA

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Since a trip to Mars is years and a whole lot of scientific development away, NASA is focusing on asteroids. If you've always dreamed of saving the planet from an asteroid, now is your chance. NASA kicks off a program on March 17 where "citizen scientists" will have the chance to come up with algorithms to help identify asteroids.

The contest, NASA's First Asteroid Grand Challenge Contest Series, will run for six months with $35,000 in awards given out. It's an interesting idea, using scientific-type people participants to develop significantly improved algorithms to identify asteroids in images captured by ground-based telescopes. The winning solution must increase the detection sensitivity, minimize the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and run effectively on all computer systems, according to a release issued by NASA.

The thing is, this contest can also be taken as yet another sign of NASA's ever increasing navel-gazing approach to space exploration. Officially, NASA is supposed to be sending a craft to land on Mars in the next decade or so. However, the actual projects being pursued are this kind of thing - asteroid detection and earth science projects that have a clear-cut and obvious benefit for people now. Of course, this is likely a result of the reality of today when it comes to NASA in particular and the U.S. investment in space exploration in general.

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NASA Discovers 715 New Planets Outside Our Solar System

Categories: NASA

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Space is the final fronteir. Maybe we'll get to explore all these strange new worlds.

Space is still the final frontier, and NASA has announced that the frontier is more vast than we realized. The NASA Kepler mission has discovered 715 planets set up in multiple-planet systems a lot like ours. The discovery more than doubled the number of known worlds in one fell swoop.

Launched in March 2009, Kepler is the first NASA mission to find potentially habitable Earth-size planets. Discoveries include more than 3,600 planet candidates, of which 961 have been verified as bona fide worlds, according to a release from NASA. Since the discovery of planets outside our solar system two decades back, the process of identifying them has been a slow planet-by-planet setup. Now, scientists on the Kepler mission are using a statistical technique that can be applied to make the identification process move at light speed, relativity-wise.


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NASA Is Defending the Planet From Asteroids

Categories: NASA

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That which NASA folks (and all the rest of us) are hoping to avoid.

The asteroid that hit Russia came out of the sky just like we all thought it would -- a fireball meteor, a streak of light that landed with the impact of a bomb. We've seen it in the movies for years, but it seems NASA took the asteroid as a sign to really step up its anti-obliteration-of-the-Earth game and focus on spotting and understanding asteroids.

With this renewed focus come the Asteroid Grand Partnership and the Asteroid Redirect Mission. The former is focused on NASA seeking new partnerships to speed up planetary defense, designed to spot asteroids way before they're zooming across our skies.

The latter, a mission to redirect asteroids, is exactly what it sounds like. If you've seen Deep Impact or Armageddon, the overall principle is the same (stop a large asteroid from destroying most life forms on the planet), though we're willing to bet -- and are devoutly hoping -- the plan would move in earlier than the one from Deep Impact and that it wouldn't involve Bruce Willis.


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There Could Be a Supernova in the Sky, NASA Says

Categories: NASA

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Photo by NASA
Hubble has spotted a possible dying star.

While pottering around the universe, the Hubble Space Telescope recently clicked a photo of a dying star. The image sent back to Earth looks like a giant lidless eye peering back at the telescope, as described in unexpectedly poetic terms in a NASA release. At the center of the nebula is a giant star, one that was once 20 times the size of our sun. Now it is encased in a swirling ring of colored gas, the vestiges of another time before it cast off its outer layers with violent pulsations and winds.

There are countless stars out there, but this one -- known as SBW2001 but commonly called SBW1 -- is special because scientists believe it will become a supernova. What's more, it will be a supernova -- a star explosion -- in our own Milky Way.


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The First Asteroid of 2014 Hit Earth!

Categories: NASA

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Asteroid 2014 AA was a little less dramatic than this big guy.

Those who were anxiously awaiting the big arrival didn't have to wait long. Less than an hour into brand new 2014, Central Standard Time, Asteroid 2014 AA was spotted at the Catalina Sky Survey, Lunar & Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona streaking across the sky, according to a NASA release.

The asteroid, about two to three meters across, was followed by a couple of smaller asteroids as it showed up for the New Year's celebrations. (Note: If you were staring at the sky and inebriated at about this time and thought you were seeing things, it's slightly possible you were actually seeing outer space things. Maybe.)


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How Will NASA Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before With Slashed Funding?

Categories: NASA

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Photo from NASA
Europa aka the place NASA won't be going any time soon.

Once traveling at light speed was the kind of thing you'd only hear about right before or after William Shatner said, "Beam me up, Scotty," but physicist Harold White and a NASA team at the Johnson Space Center are working on making the warp drive a thing that will actually exist.

In a similar kind of fairy tale situation, we used to be a nation enthralled with the concept of space travel. Yes, that was mostly because the Soviets scared the hell out of everybody as Tom Wolfe vividly pointed out in The Right Stuff, but there was also a drive for discovery, a fascination that pushed us to see one of our own leave the atmosphere, circle the globe and land on the moon.

But that was all a long time ago. Now, even though NASA is working on incredible projects - in addition to the warp drive they want to lasso an asteroid and bring it to the moon's orbit so astronauts can land on it and study it - they've seen their budget brutally cut due to the sequestration and the Great Recession before that. Boldly going where no one has gone before is kind of tricky if you don't have scientists trying to figure out where we're going and how to get there.

The proposed 2014 budget proposes giving NASA $17.7 billion, which of course isn't exactly chump change, but it's still $50 million less than NASA's last budget in 2012. Yes, this proposed budget actually gives NASA about $1 billion back from the sequestration, but it still doesn't signal good things.


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What's in a Space Station Thanksgiving?

Categories: NASA

Way up there in outer space, the International Space Station crew is being deprived of the traditional Thanksgiving we're all enjoying -- you know, that complicated dance of balancing gobbling turkey, stuffing, pie and enough booze before someone you're related to brings up either politics or religion and you get too busy screaming they're wrong or biting your lip (personal choice) to eat or imbibe -- but the crew is still getting a Thanksgiving meal, albeit the outer-space version of it.

"We are happy to be up here orbiting above the Earth. If we can't be with our families during the holidays, then this is the next best place we'd like to be," NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio said in the Thanksgiving message from the International Space Station's Expedition 38 Crew while crew member Mike Hopkins nodded and smiled.

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Gravity Hits NASA: Shutdown as "Nonessential" NASA Turns 55

Categories: NASA

Now that they're on furlough, maybe NASA employees can go get away from work with a movie ... or not
Last week was NASA's 55th birthday. However, the folks over at NASA didn't have a giant cake or some crazy party to celebrate 55 years of the space program. Instead, 97 percent of NASA employees were deemed "nonessential," sent home without pay and told to wait and not work until the government finally agrees on a budget and gets up and running again.

The furlough doesn't seem to include two astronauts who can't just pack up and go home, Karen Nyberg and Mike Hopkins, since they're currently aboard the International Space Station. They have been sending down some entertaining tweets though with pictures of clouds and sky and floating hair, as NPR reported.

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