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SpaceX Will Unveil The Dragon V2 Spacecraft Tonight

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unveilWhat are you doing tonight at 10:00 PM EST? For most of us science and tech geeks, that’s a rhetorical question. We’ll be gathered around our computers, watching SpaceX unveil the Dragon V2—the next generation of the Dragon Spacecraft. This iteration isn’t for shuttling cargo to the ISS, it’s for taking astronauts there, and beyond.

Dragon has been proving its worth for years, becoming the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the ISS and serving as regular cargo service to the station. But SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has always had grander plans. Since the U.S. currently relies on Russian Soyuz capsules to get astronauts into space—a method of transportation that won’t be available to us for much longer—now is the perfect time to reveal the spacecraft that may take its place and restore the U.S.’s ability to launch its own astronauts into space by 2017. The V2, which Musk will unveil himself tonight via the webcast, is also known as the “Space Taxi.”


Russia Bailing On The ISS

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ISSSix weeks after NASA announced that it would be cutting ties with Russia, except for their collaboration on the ISS, Russia has gone a step further, saying that it plans to stop participating in the ISS after 2020.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, said that Russia will use its resources to focus on other projects. In the statement, he said, “We are very concerned about continuing to develop high-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States, which politicises everything.” He also mentioned “inappropriate” sanctions, including plans to deny the export of high-tech equipment to Russia. In turn, Russia says that while it is ready to deliver engines used to build widely-used Atlas V rockets, it will only do so on the “condition that they will not be used to launch military satellites.” Um…


NASA Recruits R2-D2 To Help Send Star Wars Day Message

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Today’s news cycle may have been dominated by the official announcement of Star Wars: Episode VII’s cast, but I’d hate to let any smaller stories fall into the cracks. Like, how a NASA astronaut decided to send out a celebratory video in anticipation of May the Fourth — Star Wars Day!

Yes, ISS flight engineer Rick Mastracchio figured the perfect way to celebrate Star Wars day was to beam a special message down from the ISS while hanging weightlessly in the way all us jealous landlubbers wish we could. But wait! The communications array is failing! Thankfully R2-D2 just happened to be hanging around NASA, so he just hopped a right on a conveniently timed launch, zipped up to the ISS, and saved the day. Thanks, little buddy!


NASA Cuts Ties With Russia, Except For ISS

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ISSEven though three new ISS crew members, including one American, launched into space aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule just over a week ago, NASA is calling a halt to many of its collaborative operations with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, because of the worsening situation in the Ukraine. Fortunately, the one area in which the NASA will continue to work with Russia is on ISS operations. Soyuz is currently the only manned spacecraft that makes the trip, and the fallout of not cooperating with regards to the ISS is something NASA doesn’t want to put to the test, especially given that there are two Americans currently working at the ISS.

NASA made the move because of “Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Space agency administrator Charles Bolden says that he doesn’t think Russia will try to prevent American access or communication with the ISS, and says that he believes Russia needs the U.S. as much as the U.S. needs Russia when it comes to maintaining operations. However, the halt of relations includes “NASA travel to Russia and visits by Russian Government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or videoconferences”—in other words, everything but the ISS.


Is A Manned Mars Mission Suicide? According To A UAE Fatwa, Yes.

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MarsMars One, the Dutch nonprofit that plans to send colonists on a one-way trip to Mars in 2024, narrowed down a field of over 200,000 applicants to just over 1,000 at the end of last year. Those 1,000 applicants run the demographic gamut, from home country (applicants hail from 107 countries, including the US, India, China, Brazil, UK, Canada, Russia, Mexico, Turkey, and more) to education to age. And, one could assume, in terms of religion. Recently, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments (GAIAE), an organization within the United Arab Emirates whose mission is to enhance religious and social awareness, has urged Muslims not to participate in the Mars One mission.

GAIAE issued a fatwa, an official judgment on an issue concerning Islamic law, against Muslims traveling to Mars. GAIAE employs scholars whose job it is to tackle such issues and deliver a ruling, and they said, “It is not permissible to travel to Mars and never to return if there is no life on Mars. The chances of dying are higher than living.” That being their stance, a manned mission to Mars is akin to a suicide mission, and suicide violates Islamic principles.


ESA’s Cosmic Vision Includes New Planet-Hunting Mission

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NASA likes to boast about its planet-hunting capabilities thanks to both the Kepler and the Hubble telescopes. But NASA’s not the only organization looking to identify new planets in the cosmos. The European Space Agency (ESA) conducts its own searches from across the pond, and they recently selected the PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) mission to join its 10-year Cosmic Vision programme.

In broad terms, the Cosmic Vision programme strives to push the foundation it has built in space science into a more contemporary, forward-thinking realm by foreseeing and addressing the challenges of the future. The overarching goals of the programme include identifying scientific challenges, prioritizing space research, figuring how how to marshal resources to achieve the maximum return on investment, maintaining Europe’s competitive technological status, and reinforcing ESA’s ability to advance space science.

PLATO, a space-based observatory, addresses these goals by focusing on the conditions necessary for planetary formation (link?) as well as how the Solar System formed, functions, and compares to other systems. Its particular specialty is identify Sun-Earth analogue systems using 34 distinct telescopes and cameras, PLATO will search for planets the same way Kepler does–by monitoring roughly a million stars and looking for the small but consistent reductions in brightness that signify a planet passing in front of them.

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