An Interview with Buzz Aldrin. What Would You Ask Him?

Beginning at the “Fly Me to the Moon” premier in Hollywood last week (which I attended and met the great man himself!), this video interview shows a relaxed Buzz answering some questions from the public on the New York streets. A nice (and rare) insight to the life of a 60’s astronaut…

Go to ScienCentral for the interview

Video Source: ScienCentral

Confirmed! The “Phoenix Affair” Was a Storm in a Teacup

It's a storm. A storm in a teacup.
Its a storm. A storm in a teacup. Source: Photoshop Contest, Artist profile

It was a breaking story that held so much promise: Phoenix uncovering something more “provocative” than discovering water in the search for the “potential for life” on Mars. Unfortunately it would seem the source for Aviation Weekly’s report was either inaccurate or overly enthusiastic (unless NASA really is covering something up, but I really doubt it). It turns out that Friday’s news was more of a pre-emptive scramble to get some incomplete science into the public domain. Phoenix had actually found perchlorate in a MECA sample and the mission scientists were trying to find supporting evidence with one of the TEGA ovens. This is was what caused the delay according to NASA; Phoenix HQ did not want to make a public announcement about this potentially toxic substance until they had corroborative data from a second experiment. Sensible really. However, in the aftermath of the weekend’s frenzy that glittered with conspiracy theories and excitement, Phoenix scientists have vented their frustration at having to disclose incomplete science in an announcement forced by a misunderstanding, rumours and allegations of cover-ups…
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Phoenix Discovery Could be Proof that Life Cannot Thrive on Mars

The Phoenix lander may have disproven the possibility for life on Mars (NASA/JPL/UA)
The Phoenix lander may have disproven the possibility for life on Mars (NASA/JPL/UA)

Oh dear. It’s the possible result that 23% of Astroengine readers (who voted that they wanted Phoenix to find “A strong indicator for the presence of organic compounds” as of August 5th, 3am) did not want to see. According to Phoenix mission control, recent analysis by the MECA instrument on board the lander appears to have discovered something bad hiding in the Martian soil. Perchlorate, a highly oxidizing substance appears to have been detected just under the icy top-layer of the surface, possibly hindering the development of life (certainly the possibility of current life, perhaps past life too). Over the weekend the Internet exploded with reports that we were on the verge of a major discovery, leading to some reports indicating Phoenix had discovered life on the planet (nah, couldn’t happen). However, there were more grounded theories that further evidence for organic compounds may have been found or there was something more compelling than the discovery of water. But no, it looks like the forthcoming press conference (Tuesday, 11am) might have some bad news for us. A chemical that would actually halt the development of life may have been unearthed, possibly hindering the future of manned exploration of the Red Planet…
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Twitter: Phoenix Mars Lander Refutes White House Report

A Twitter statement from Phoenix (Twitter screenshot)
Right from the robot's mouth - Phoenix disagrees with reports (Twitter screenshot)

So the plot thickens… Ever since the primary source for the “Phoenix Affair” hit the blogosphere, it spread like a rampaging virus (with the help of the Universe Today and Astroengine.com, ehem). In the early hours of this morning, it was Aviation Week who broke the news that they had been in contact with an unnamed source, leading to the implication that Phoenix had discovered something and the NASA team had set off to Washington for an audience with the President’s Science Advisor. Having waited the whole day for a Phoenix/NASA response to this news, I’ve been frustrated with the lack of weekend activity at Mars HQ. That is until now. Right from the robot’s mouth, Phoenix has disputed the White House claims. On the Phoenix Twitter feed, the perky little robot exclaimed: “Reports claiming there was a White House briefing are also untrue and incorrect,” (from MarsPhoenix).
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SpaceX Falcon 1 Suffers “Anomaly” During Ascent, Assumed Lost

Falcon 1 launch in 2007 (SpaceX)
Falcon 1 launch in 2007 (SpaceX)

Sad news. In a surprise announcement today, SpaceX revealed they had opened a window for their Falcon 1 to launch. Unfortunately, 140 seconds into the ascent, Falcon 1 suffered an undisclosed anomaly and the live video feed was cut. According to one comment left on the article I was updating over at the Universe Today to cover this historic event, the rocket suffered a “roll oscillation” (thank you Steve) shortly before contact was lost. Due to a poor video stream in my location, I did not witness this. Immediately after the screen went blank; the SpaceX commentators (Max Vozoff and Emily Shanklin, obviously upset) reported that Falcon 1 had suffered an “anomaly.” Looking at the most recent launch update, the rocket had reached 35 km in altitude and had attained an ascent velocity of 1050 m/s. The video feed was cut soon after T+140 seconds and after the short message by Max, the feed was pulled off-air and the credits rolled. A sad day for SpaceX and commercial spaceflight…
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Phoenix has Found Something More Compelling than Water: President Bush Informed

The Mars vista as seen by Phoenix (NASA/JPL/UA)
The Mars vista as seen by Phoenix (NASA/JPL/UA)

On Thursday, NASA held a press conference to announce that the recent TEGA experiment on board Phoenix had confirmed the presence of water in the Martian soil. Whist exciting, Phoenix scientists were expecting that result. However, behind the scenes, something else was being discussed and it had little to do with melting water…
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Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Sees First Light

Branson and Rutan inspace Eve at the Mojave Air and Space Port (Virgin Galactic)
Branson and Rutan inspect Eve at the Mojave Air and Space Port (Virgin Galactic)

The new addition to the Virgin Galactic family has been rolled out during an early morning ceremony in the middle of the Californian Mojave Desert. Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan proudly showed off “Eve,” the first of two WhiteKnightTwo mother ships that will fly up to four times a day. This is a big moment for Branson and Rutan as it brings their dreams of space tourism to a new reality…
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New Russian-European Manned Space Vehicle Announced

Russian firm RKK Energia's new manned space vehicle (RKK Energia)
Russian firm RKK Energia's new manned space vehicle (RKK Energia)

NASA’s Constellation Program may be faltering, but the next Russia/ESA manned space vehicle set to replace the reliable Soyuz vehicle has been unveiled in the UK. It is designed to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and it has a unique soft-landing thruster mechanism that will make re-entry a little less dramatic. The new design has been designed by Russian manufacturer RKK Energia and a first look at the 4-6 man capsule was showcased at the annual Farnborough Air Show in the UK last week. ESA has been discussing the collaboration with the Russian space agency Roscosmos on the Crew Space Transportation System (CSTS) since 2006 and now it seems that this vehicle may rival the Orion/Ares system being developed by NASA. What’s more, the CSTS is designed to transport a crew of four to the Moon…
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The International Space Station as the International Space Ship? Why Not?

Could the ISS be modified to travel to Mars? Credit: NASA/Ian O'Neill
Could the ISS be modified to travel to Mars? Credit: NASA/Ian O'Neill

Now this is a cool idea: Strap rockets and a steering system to the International Space Station and send it to the Moon. Is this an insane plan? Up till yesterday I would have said yes, in fact before yesterday I hadn’t thought of the idea. Then I read the Washington Post online and find a science writer has been giving this a lot of thought. What’s more it kinda makes sense! So why isn’t this an option in NASA’s mind? And what’s the point anyway?
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How Long Would it Take to Travel to Proxima Centauri?

Project Orion - Using nuclear explosions as pulsed propulsion (NASA)

This is one of those articles I’ve been meaning to write for a long time: How long would the interstellar transit be from Earth to the nearest star (and no, I don’t mean the Sun)? It turns out that there is no practical way, using today’s available technology that we can travel to Proxima Centauri (a red dwarf star, 4.33 light years from the Solar System). This is a shame as there are so many stars and so many exoplanets to explore, which space enthusiast wouldn’t want to envisage interstellar space travel? However, there may be help at hand, using modern technology and materials; we might be able to mount a manned expedition to Proxima lasting a little under a century…
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