This week in space: September 18, 2019

Welcome to Give Me Space, a weekly round-up of the most interesting things happening in space news.

Remember 'Oumuamua? (No, it wasn’t an alien spaceship. As Miriam Kramer always says, it’s never aliens.) Well, astronomers are very excited because yet another object from a far-off star system is going to be passing in our vicinity. Miriam discusses the comet C/2019 Q4 over at Axios.

Have we found another habitable planet (or at least, habitable to humans)? We don’t really know. It’s possible K2-18b might be the proper temperature to support human life (it’s in the habitable zone from its host star), and astronomers detected water vapor in its atmosphere. But that doesn’t mean we should start celebrating yet — the planet may be more like Neptune than Earth. Chelsea Gohd takes us behind the scenes of the discovery, in which two separate teams raced to be the first to publish the data, at Space.com.

India’s attempt to land Vikram, its lunar lander that’s part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, on the moon’s surface appeared to be a failure. But it turns out the little spacecraft that could actually is intact on the lunar surface. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to make contact again, but there’s always hope. Loren Grush has more about the mission at The Verge.

Lisa Grossman wrote a gorgeous story on how the video game Halo inspired one man to become an astrophysicist at Science News.

Space junk is an increasing problem, and nowhere is that more evident than the traffic in orbit right now. Amanda Kooser discusses the Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habitat called Genesis II that’s currently in danger from a defunct Russian satellite over at CNET. And if that weren’t enough, over Labor Day, the ESA and SpaceX had a bit of a standoff about a potential collision in orbit, as Marina Koren reports at The Atlantic.

The past-Pluto-and-now-in-the-Kuiper-Belt spacecraft New Horizons may not be in the news anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s not continuing to make observations. Meghan Bartels at Space.com writes about the latest batch of data, which is an eye-opening look into how scientists use and process data from distant spacecraft.

This week in space: August 15, 2019

Welcome to Give Me Space, a weekly round-up of the most interesting things happening in space news.

It’s been a long break between the last newsletter and this one, and there’s been a lot of interesting space news happening over the past few weeks. Here are a few stories you should read.

Marina Koren wrote an excellent takedown of the term “manned” for spaceflight at The Atlantic. It is well past time we retired that phrasing and used “crewed” instead.

Over at Engadget, I interviewed four amazing women in my explainer for the Artemis program, which NASA claims will take humans back to the moon’s surface by 2024. Will it actually happen? That’s complicated.

India launched its uncrewed Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft on July 22, and it’s scheduled to reach lunar orbit in less than a week. The spacecraft is comprised of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover, the latter two of which are scheduled to land on the surface in September. Meghan Bartels has details of the mission at Space.com.

Remember that Israeli moon lander that crashed on approach to the lunar surface? It turns out it was carring tardigrades, a nigh-indestructible form of life, and they probably survived the crash, as Amy Woodyatt reports at CNN. But as astrobiologist Monica Vidaurri pointed out on Twitter, the implications are not good.

Last week, small rocket launcher RocketLab announced an intriguing and bold plan to begin recovering its Electron rockets — in midair. With helicopters. Ashlee Vance describes the plan at Bloomberg.

LightSail 2, the spacecraft launched by the Planetary Society that’s designed to test the feasibility of solar sailing, successfully deployed its solar sail in July. Since then, it has successfully raised its orbit without the use of engines—it’s relying only on the power of sunlight. Loren Grush has more on this incredible feat at The Verge.

This week in space: July 18, 2019

It's the Month of Apollo, y'all!

Welcome to Give Me Space, a weekly round-up of the most interesting things happening in space news.

July is basically the Month of Apollo, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, and you’ll see that most of the articles over this week and next are reflecting on that achievement, as well as our return to the lunar surface. There is no way I’ll be able to list all of the amazing articles you should check out, but I’ll give you a smattering here.

Many people don’t realize that there is, in fact, a scientific case to return to the moon. Rebecca Boyle talks to scientists about the theories behind how the moon was formed, and why we won’t have certain answers until we return, at The New York Times.

There are many issues we’ll have to contend with if and when we return to the lunar surface. One thing most people don’t think about is lunar dust — it gets everywhere, and it mucks up spacesuits and equipment. At The Verge, Loren Grush discusses how we might deal with that “dusty nightmare.”

Michael Collins was the third member Apollo 11 and is the least known (but if you haven’t read his memoir Carrying the Fire, I can’t recommend it highly enough). Still, being part of that mission means that his name has gone down in history. Now, he wishes people would stop asking him about what it felt like to be alone in the capsule, reports Marina Koren at The Atlantic.

Over at KCET-PBS, I wrote about the influence of pop culture on spaceflight (and vice versa) for their Summer of Space.

It turns out that just because we’re all about Apollo doesn’t mean that space news stops happening. Construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope began this week in Hawaii. If you haven’t been following this case, native Hawaiians are protesting the construction of yet another telescope on a mountain they consider sacred, Mauna Kea. And environmentalists are concerned about the telescope’s impact on this protected space. Morgan Krakow has more context over at The Washington Post.

Earlier this year, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, which is supposed to be one of the two vehicles to shepherd astronauts to and from low Earth orbit, suffered a failure during a test. The company has finally released the reason, a leaky valve, that Miriam Kramer discusses at Axios. Now, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that Crew Dragon will have its first crewed flight this year.

SpaceX fired the engine on Starhopper, a prototype of its Mars launch vehicle, this week and it ended up catching on fire. It looks like the rocket itself wasn’t affected on the surface, but it’s not clear if there was any damage internally. Amy Thompson has more (including video you should watch) at Space.com.

This week in space: July 11, 2019

Welcome to Give Me Space, a weekly round-up of the most interesting things happening in space news.

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2 made history last night when it touched down for the second time on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. At Space.com, Meghan Bartels discusses the mission and shows off some of the incredible pictures.

Alex Witze wrote an excellent profile of five scientists who are going to advance moon research over the next 50 years over at Nature. I especially love that this article features international scientists.

A question we’re going to have to contend with as we return to the moon is how to preserve our existing lunar history in human exploration. Nadia Drake takes a closer look at whether we should save, for example, Neil Armstrong’s bootprints in the lunar surface for The New York Times.

In a little bit of space community insider news, Bill Gerstenmaier, who has overseen NASA’s human spaceflight program for the last 15 years, has effectively been demoted from his post. No one saw this coming, and it’s not a good sign for what’s going on behind the scenes with the new moon program, Artemis. Marcia Smith has some speculation on all of this at Space Policy Online.

Over at NASASpaceflight.com, Jamie Groh wrote about two new solar missions NASA announced in the context of the Parker Solar Probe, which launched last year.

Last night (a busy evening in the space community), Arianespace’s Vega rocket suffered its first failure and the payload, a UAE communications satellite, was lost. Elizabeth Howell discusses the incident at Space.com.

This week, Virgin Orbit had a successful drop test (it’s unique among launch vehicles, in that a 747 named Cosmic Girl climbs to 35,000 feet and then releases a rocket which proceeds to space) of a rocket, which is great news for the space company. That means it’s one step closer to its test flight. Loren Grush has more context for you at The Verge.

This week in space: July 5, 2019

Welcome to Give Me Space, a weekly round-up of the most interesting things happening in space news.

Last week, I told you that NASA greenlit a quadcopter drone mission (called Dragonfly) for Saturn’s moon Titan. The question is what will it find there? JoAnna Wendel has a wonderful comic explaining why we want to go there and also looking at the possibilities of what we might discover over at Gizmodo.

I’ve seen multiple rocket launches in person, but I’ve never tried to photograph one. I always worried I’d be too focused on my camera equipment to enjoy the experience of seeing a launch. But I absolutely loved this article from Loren Grush at The Verge that goes into how she photographed a launch for the first time — it makes me want to try it as well.

In good news, NASA is changing the way it allocates telescope time in order to reduce gender bias. Alex Witze reports the story over at Nature.

The Mars Curiosity rover reported a spike in methane — which can be a sign of life. It’s not the first spike, but scientists have no idea what’s causing it. Marina Koren discusses at The Atlantic.

NASA successfully tested the escape systems on the Orion spacecraft this week. Orion is slated to transport astronauts to the Moon; the escape systems would only be used in case of an emergency during launch. Miriam Kramer has the important details at Axios.

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