SpaceX Launches and Crashes a Rocket Into the Drone Barge. Again.

Categories: NASA

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Photo by NASA
SpaceX's Falcon 9 had a flawless launch on Tuesday but the landing didn't go quite as well.

The sixth SpaceX cargo mission to the International Space Station under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract lifted off without a hitch on Tuesday afternoon, but once again SpaceX failed to stick the landing.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off with its Dragon cargo space craft right on schedule at 3:10 p.m. from the Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After scrubbing the mission on Monday due to weather problems -- a storm system had moved within the launch pad's 10-mile nautical radius minutes away from completing the countdown, forcing NASA to abort -- SpaceX's Falcon 9 juddered off the launch pad, parting the blue sky until it became a hazy fiery dot on the NASA TV camera.


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5 Cool Projects that Prove NASA Is Moving Into the Future

Categories: NASA

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Artist's rendering courtesy of NASA.
So this is what the flying saucer (a.k.a. the LDSD) will look like in action.

Last year, after too many years seemingly spent in aimless loitering, NASA got a sense of direction and started actually doing things again. It announced plans to go lasso an asteroid and then go to Mars. It launched Orion, the spacecraft that it's hoped will one day take astronauts to the Red Planet. Suddenly, NASA was functioning as an actual space program again instead of as the glorified earth-science program it was threatening to become.

And the thing is, apparently, those bold steps toward going where no one has gone before weren't a fluke. So far this year, NASA has continued to do things and work on projects based on getting astronauts to new places in space. Considering this -- and the fact that Congress actually didn't cut the agency's budget this year -- it looks like this habit of space-focused activity will continue. Here are five NASA projects that are solid proof there's some actual life in the space agency:

5. The one where they've got a real flying saucer. Yep, NASA is testing a flying saucer. Of course, the agency doesn't call it that. (After all, that would be playing right into the hands of all those people who swear they spotted a coffin in NASA's Mars video feed, thus proving that there's a fairly high chance aliens have come from Mars, according to those who spotted the alleged coffin anyway.)

While the craft, which is due to be tested in June in Hawaii, looks a lot like the type of spaceship green men crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico, decades ago, the actual NASA name for this saucer-shaped craft is "Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator." NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been charged with this project. By the time all the kinks are worked out, this type of vehicle will be able to take heavy payloads, including astronauts, to Mars. But first NASA has to confirm that this doughnut-shaped craft can reliably fly.

The craft is slated to undergo its second round of flight tests from June 2 to June 12, weather permitting, from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on the island of Kauai. And once those tests are over, we're one step closer to a world where flying saucers are definitely a thing.

4. The one where they're scheduled to discover alien life by 2025.
Yep, just last week, NASA's chief scientist, Ellen Stofan, said that she fully expects NASA will find evidence of alien life within the next 20 years. "We know where to look. We know how to look," Stofan said during a panel discussion Tuesday when she talked about aliens and NASA's search for signs that they exist. (Some might argue the flying-saucer-like LDSD is pretty good evidence that they did exist, they crashed in Roswell and the government is finally cracking their alien technology. But we digress.) "In most cases, we have the technology, and we're on a path to implementing it."

However, she was quick to back away from the obvious conclusion people were jumping to, specifying that NASA is expecting to find microbes, not little green men. While we found this particular caveat a little disappointing, NASA has gone from being the space agency that was trying to get an astronaut into low-earth orbit a few decades back to the space agency that is confidently expecting to find tiny, microbe-size alien life, and it thinks that's going to happen by 2025.

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Ted Cruz Might Actually Be Good for Johnson Space Center

Categories: NASA

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Image by Monica Fuentes based on photos by pahudson and Daniel Kramer
Sen. Ted Cruz in charge of NASA might actually be good for the Johnson Space Center.

With his fancy new chairmanship, Sen. Ted Cruz is basically in charge of NASA. Shockingly enough, that might actually be a good thing for the Johnson Space Center.

We admit we had some reservations when we learned that Cruz had become chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, the senatorial crew that oversees NASA. After all, his views on things like climate change and other scientific-type stuff are most kindly described as what we've come to expect from the hard-right faithful of the GOP. (He probably doesn't believe that humans used to keep dinosaurs as pets, but we aren't 100 percent sure on that one.) Initially it was easy to look at his chairmanship as the end of any hope of real scientific work at NASA for the foreseeable future.

However, now that Cruz -- someone who belongs in the camp that believes global warming is, in SNL-parodying-Sarah-Palin parlance, just "God hugging us a little bit closer" -- has been charged with figuring out what NASA's priorities will be in coming years, we can see a silver lining for Houston's Johnson Space Center. So far Cruz has done exactly what everyone expected him to do, calling for an end to climate change studies currently in vogue at NASA in favor of space exploration. But the thing is, such a shift in NASA policy could be exactly what's needed to revitalize JSC.


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SpaceX (Finally) Launched NASA's Deep Space Weather Observatory

Categories: NASA

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Photo from NASA
After way too many stops, starts and scrubs, SpaceX launched NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (aka DSCOVR) on Wednesday evening.

DSCOVR is a $340 million project designed to keep an electronic-type eye on solar flares and geomagnetic storms. With DSCOVR -- a project that NASA worked on with the US Air Force and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) -- in its distant orbit, it will become the nation's first operational satellite in deep space, orbiting between Earth and the sun at a location called the first Lagrange point, or L1, according to a NASA release.

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While NASA Gets a Bigger Budget, There May Also Be Big Problems

Categories: NASA

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NASA has been a rudderless ship since the space shuttle program was canceled a few years ago. In fact, it seemed like the space agency's best days were long behind it, but lately things are looking up for NASA. They have plans to go places and do things. They have a president -- if not necessarily a Congress -- who seems inclined to give them money. The signs are so favorable right now, they're even claiming they aren't in decline but are ready to flourish. It would all be so encouraging if there weren't already rumblings from a watchdog group that this whole space travel renaissance is maybe being built on some shaky ground.

So what has changed? Well, as is so often the case, the biggest part of the deal is money. After five years of repeatedly slashing NASA's budget, the White House is actually requesting $500 million more for the space agency for 2016. If, by some miracle, Congress should get behind this proposal, NASA will be working with a budget of $18.5 billion. The money will go toward funding various projects including the asteroid redirect mission (the one where astronauts will lasso an asteroid), an eventual mission to Jupiter's moon Europa, and the one that will send astronauts to the red earth of Mars.


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NASA Astronaut's Official Portrait Is Doggone Adorable

Categories: NASA

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Photo from NASA
Leland Melvin, a.k.a. our new most-favorite-astronaut-ever, with his dogs Scout and Jake. Because of course an official portrait requires dogs.
We already knew that retired NASA astronaut Leland Melvin was pretty awesome. After all, the former NFL player has logged more than 10 million miles in space travel and met the Obamas and Elmo. Then we saw his official astronaut photo, the one with the dogs.

But of course, as with all the best things, NASA didn't exactly mean for this photo to happen. Melvin, who retired from NASA in February 2014, had a pretty long space career, according to the NASA website. He was an 11th-round draft pick in 1986 for the Detroit Lions, but after the NFL didn't work out, Melvin got a job at NASA.

In 1998 he was accepted into the astronaut program and he was on two missions, in 2008 and 2009, on the Space Shuttle Atlantis and orbited the Earth 374 times. However, his career was cut short after he went deaf during an underwater training exercise. He didn't let that stop him, though. Melvin became the head of NASA Education and is the co-chair of a White House Education Task Force to help develop the nation's STEM education plan.

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Ways to Check Out the Fancy Big Asteroid Tonight

Categories: NASA

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Image from NASA

An asteroid is swinging by Earth tonight and even though the massive flying rock (that's a technical term) won't be super visible to the naked eye, NASA has got you covered.

The asteroid, known as 2004 BL86, is scheduled to fly by Earth and it should be closest to us at 10:19 p.m. tonight. While the asteroid, which is about a third of a mile long, will be close enough to the planet to make scientists and other sky-watching types giddy with anticipation, we won't actually be able to see the thing with the naked eye because the asteroid won't be getting brighter until it's already zoomed past us.


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NASA Made the Coolest "Vintage" Exoplanet Posters Ever

Categories: NASA

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After years of hunting with NASA's Kepler spacecraft, researchers announced last week they'd discovered the most Earth-like other worlds yet. Of course, we have no way of getting to any of these other worlds with the current technology -- though the Johnson Space Center work on a Star Trek-esque warp drive and the first test of Orion last month are both good signs for some future of space exploration -- but in the meantime NASA keeps around the kinds of artists who can imagine making those trips, and they've done so in grand style, creating a set of the best posters ever. (If you think we're exagerating, see above awesome poster.)

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California has come out with three travel posters for three existing exoplanets drawn in the style of 1930s WPA "See America" posters. The posters were created on behalf of the "Exoplanet Travel Bureau" by NASA artists who are supposed to be doing exactly this sort of thing -- finding ways to capture the excitement of space exploration so that people like all of us get all giddy about getting to infinity and beyond, as Buzz Lightyear would say. (Yeah, it's sappy but these posters are so cool it knocked the snark right out of us).


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The 2014 Space Review: Is NASA Back From the Dead?

Categories: NASA

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Photo courtesy of NASA
The Orion launch was the highlight in NASA's very good year.

This wasn't a year to moonwalk about, but 2014 still ended up being a pretty nifty year for that final frontier known as space.

It seems like almost everyone got a little piece of the action. Way over in India, the space agency Isro got a low-cost probe in Mars' orbit on the first crack. In fact, Mars was a big theme this year, as trendy with global super powers as the moon was back in the 1960s. NASA had some wins with certain Martian-type things: the rover Curiosity made a few key discoveries while tooling around the red planet this year. For one thing, the rover detected some methane gas spikes on the planet, meaning that there just might possibly be something alive over there and it just might possibly have gas. Curiosity also found a rock sample that had organic material in it. That and the possible evidence of water on Mars are all promising indicators that there could in fact be something on Mars.

Plus, alien enthusiasts have been crawling all over the footage Curiosity is beaming back to Earth and they think they've really found something. Specifically, some are convinced that they've spotted a small, coffin-shaped box on the planet, just the right size for small, gray Martians. Scientists have explained this away, arguing that humans have a habit of seeing familiar things in unfamiliar images, but there are some still chomping at the bit in the hopes that Curiosity will turn around and go take a closer look at that possible alien coffin.


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NASA's First Orion Launch Is a Big Deal for Houston

Categories: NASA

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Photo courtesy of NASA
Orion, strapped onto a Delta IV Heavy rocket, took off from Cape Canaveral on Friday morning.

The spacecraft stood there gleaming on the launchpad as the countdown began, the numbers ticked off by a cool, measured voice. On NASA TV, the audibly giddy voice of the announcer took over, his voice raised to an almost-shout. "Three-two one and lift off art dawn, the dawn of Orion and a new era of American space exploration."

Orion launched on Friday morning and kicked off the start of a new age in space exploration before it had even fully cleared the launchpad.

Despite the scrubbed launch on Thursday morning -- canceled due to high winds, a valve problem and some idiot on an unauthorized boat in the area that we still hate -- thousands of people around the world gathered to watch the second attempt to launch the craft on Friday morning.

Today the wind was good, the spacecraft was go for launch and there were no mystery boats screwing things up. NASA had a two-hour-and-39-minute launch window on Friday, and this time everything clicked into place.

The Delta IV Heavy Rocket lit up and Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida was covered in plumes of flame. The Delta IV rocket lifted off the pad and jetted through the sky, and the whole thing was pure joy to watch. But the best part, for the Houston-minded, at least, came in about 15 minutes after, once Orion was safely hurling through space.

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