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NASA May Let You See Apogee Of Fear, First Ever Sci-Fi Movie Shot In Space

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Last week, we heard about Apogee of Fear”, the short film NASA didn’t want you to see.  Or, at least, that they wouldn’t give the approval for Richard Garriott to release it to the public.  Garriott made the film in 2008, when he undertook his self-financed trip to the International Space Station.  Apogee of Fear is officially the first science fiction film both set and actually filmed in space, which makes it kind of a big deal.  Even the Smithsonian was reported to have wanted to house the film because of its historical signficance.  However, for reasons that were not made very clear, NASA discouraged its release.  It seems that the agency has now changed its mind, and you may soon get the chance to see Garriott’s movie.

Wired got in contact with NASA to get some clarification on the space agency’s stance and received the following statement from Bob Jacobs, NASA’s deputy for communications:

NASA is working with Richard Garriott to facilitate the video’s release.  While the project was not part of his original Space Act agreement with NASA, everyone involved had the best of intentions.  We hope to resolve the remaining issues expeditiously, and we appreciate Richard’s cooperation and his ongoing efforts to get people excited about the future of space exploration.

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NASA Won’t Let You See The First Ever Sci-Fi Movie Shot In Space

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In 2008, Richard Garriott joined the ranks of a handful of independently-funded “space tourists”.  The British-American video game designer raised $30 million to fund his 12-day trip to the International Space Station.  His trip is the focus of a new documentary opening today (January 13), “Man on a Mission”.  Garriott wasn’t satisfied just to be filmed while on his cosmic journey, though.  While on the space station, he realized the fantasy of tons of science fiction nerds:  he made a science fiction movie set and filmed in space.  Unfortunately, you may never see it because NASA is resisting its public release.

Gariott’s eight-minute short film is called “Apogee of Fear” and stars two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut.  Space.com has a run-down of the plot of “Apogee of Fear”:  The film opens with Gariott departing the space station and waving to the astronauts, who immediately begin to express how glad they are to get rid of him.  They begin to miss him after a bit and start squabbling, but their arguments are interrupted when the cosmonaut announces that they are using oxygen at an unusual rate.  

The most obvious reason?  Aliens.  So the crew goes off to search the space station for their stowaway.

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Watch A Comet Fly Past Earth, As Seen From Space

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Space programs have produced a lot of remarkable inventions and scientific discoveries, but one of the most incredible things they have given us is a new visual perspective on our world and universe. The photos astronauts, satellites and probes send back to Earth are sometimes remarkable and often stunning, both of which are true for a new video and photo set released by NASA. The photos and video show the comet Lovejoy rising up over the horizon, looking like something straight out of Contact or Armaggedon.  Check out the video created from over 100 still photos taken from the International Space Station while it was orbiting Earth on December 21:

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NASA Ignores The Monolith’s Warnings, Plans To Land On Europa

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2001 gets all the praise and retrospectives and spots on the “Best Movies of All Time” lists, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the 1984 sequel 2010, directed by Peter Hyams. I love Roy Scheider’s performance as Dr. Heywood Floyd. I love the pervasive sense of wonder, from the something mysterious lurking in a crater on the surface of Europa to the ghostly Dave Bowman’s cryptic promises that “something wonderful” was going to happen. And, almost more than all the rest of it, I love that ending. The monolith – scratch that, monoliths — collapse Jupiter into a new star and we get that closing shot of a single monolith standing vigil over a newly tropical Europa, starting the whole process of life all over again. It seems, however, that the folks at NASA are not fans of 2010, because they are going against the stern warnings of the monolith aliens and planning a landing on Jupiter’s moon of Europa.

According to Space, NASA plans to send two robotic landers to explore the surface of Europa, which is considered to be one of the most likely locations for discovering extraterrestrial life within our solar system. The mission is being developed by scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and would be targeted to launch in 2020. The mission will investigate whether life exists, or could ever have existed, on the moon. One of the primary exploration targets will be Europa’s liquid-water ocean beneath the moon’s sheets of ice.

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Mars Rover Finds Minerals Deposited By Water

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The new Mars rover Curiosity is on its way to the red planet, but that doesn’t mean its brother still on the planet is slacking off.  The Mars rover Opportunity continues to truck around the Martian landscape just as it has since 2004, collecting data and transmitting it back to Earth.  At the American Geophysical Union’s conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, NASA announced that Opportunity found a mineral vein on Mars that was likely deposited by water.

NASA describes “bright veins of a mineral” occurring on an apron around a portion of the rim of Endeavour Crater.  Researchers have nicknamed the vein most closely observed by Opportunity “Homestake” and it and its kin are unlike any other veins Opportunity has observed on the planet’s surface since it’s been there.  The spectrometer on Opportunity’s arm identified a ratio of calcium and sulfur that points to relatively pure calcium sulfate and the multi-filter data from the rover’s Panoramic Camera suggests the form of this calcium sulfate is gypsum.  Calcium sulfate is a big deal, because its high concentration could mean less acidic and more hospitable water conditions than what is suggested by other sulfate deposits previously observed on Mars.  The gypsum was likely formed by groundwater coming up through the planet’s crust, which carried up calcium sulfate formed when calcium from volcanic rocks combined with sulfur from other volcanic rocks or volcanic gas.

In addition to suggesting that there was not only water on Mars but water amenable to more types of life than previously thought, researchers think it could explain other gypsum observed on Mars.  Orbital observations found a dune field of gypsum sand on northern Mars that looks like those in White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, but the origins of those dunes were previously unknown.  Basically, as Steve Squyres – principal investigator for Opportunity – puts it, the calcium sulfate veins discovered by the rover tell “a slam dunk story that water flowed through underground fractures in the rock. […] [gypsum isn’t] uncommon Earth, but on Mars, it’s the kind of thing that makes geologists jump out of their chairs.”

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NASA Closer To Finding Earth’s Twin

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The universe may be vast, but the conditions under which life as we know it could exist are actually very specific.  It can’t be too close to a star or too far away.  There has to be at least the potential for water and the ratio of gasses much be just right.  A good deal of our gazing out into the cosmos focuses on tracking down planets that fit the complex matrix of conditions.  Today, NASA announced that its Kepler mission has confirmed the existence of the very first planet in a “habitable zone”.

This new planet – Kepler-22b – is 2.4 times the radius of Earth, making it the “smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun”.  We don’t know much of anything about the terrain or gaseous make-up of Kepler-22b, but finding a planet similar to Earth’s size in the sweet spot of a habitable zone is itself cause for celebration.  Kepler-22b also follows an Earth-like, 290-day orbit around its star, which is smaller and cooler but in the same class as our own sun (G-type).

Kepler identifies potential planets by tracking variations in the brightness of stars that are caused by other celestial bodies passing in front them.  Once an identical blip is detected at least three times, researchers qualify the body as a potential planet.  In February 2011, NASA announced 54 habitable zone planet candidates and Kepler-22b is the first of those to be confirmed as a planet.  NASA also says that the increased numbers of smaller planet candidates proves that Kepler is fulfilling its mission of identifying planet candidates that are both Earth-like in size and potentially habitable, which puts us closer to finding “Earth’s twin”.