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NASA Announces Tomorrow’s Orion Launch Is The First Step Towards Mars

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OrionTomorrow, NASA plans to launch their newest spacecraft Orion. Since its inception, one of the aims has always been that this could be the vessel that takes humans farther than we’ve ever been before, and the space agency made that official, announcing plans to send a manned mission to Mars in the next few decades.

Science fiction has always had a fascination with walking on the surface of other worlds, and we accomplished that in 1969 when Neil Armstrong became the first person touch down on the moon. Though mechanical feet of various kinds have visited other celestial bodies, no flesh-and-blood human has walked anywhere but Earth since Apollo 17 in 1972.

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Cosmonauts Used To Pack Heat In Space

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space gunGuns in space are cool when it comes to Han Solo, Captain Kirk, or Ellen Ripley, but otherwise, most people agree that space should be kept weapon-free. That was a big focus of John F. Kennedy’s moonshot speech, as he intimated over and over that the USSR might use space as a “terrifying theater of war.” Space technologies have militaristic uses and connotations, even if they’re not designed for anything of the sort, which was why Russia’s successful launch of Sputnik in 1957 kicked the Space Race into high gear. The U.S. knew that if they had a rocket powerful enough to launch a satellite, they could also launch nukes. Plus, satellites can be used to spy. That’s part of why the U.N. and other countries approved the Outer Space Treaty, which, among other things, restricts the use of weapons of mass destruction in space, as well as using space for military bases or weapons testing (“The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes”). Despite all this, it used to be common practice for cosmonauts to have access to a gun in the emergency kit of all Soyuz capsules.

Apparently, this all started in 1965 when a return Soyuz flight landed off-course, prompting survival stories that boasted bears, wolves, and other dangerous Siberian wildlife that warranted protection. Though the cosmonauts never actually had to fight anyone or anything and were quickly rescued, the idea had been born that certain situations astronauts encounter could be dangerous enough to warrant a gun. Even after the formation of the ISS, the practice continued.

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Humans Have Landed Spacecraft On These Seven Celestial Bodies

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rosettaOn Wednesday, the European Space Agency’s Philae lander made history by being the first spacecraft to land on a comet. Comet 69P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is now the seventh celestial body humans have touched. What are the others? I’m glad you asked because we’re about to run through the list.

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Leave Your Permanent Mark On Space By Naming This Historic Site

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RosettaHave you always wanted to leave your mark on outer space but didn’t know how? If you’re anything like us, you spend a lot of time in a dark room (it’s like we live in caves scattered around the country), scouring the Internet, and are hardly any kind of astronaut material (I shudder to think what astronaut training would do to my questionably shaped body, I imagine I would wind up looking like Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd in Spies Like Us). But now none of that matters, and you can help named the landing site for the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission. But you better hurry, because the competition ends today.

The Philae lander is scheduled to set down on Comet 69P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in the middle of next month on November 12. This will mark the first soft landing on a comet ever by a manmade object, which is pretty memorable, and will, inevitably, lead to more and more Armageddon style adventures in real life. Right now the location is designated Site J, which is hardly befitting of such a momentous occurrence, so ESA and their mission partners want your help in coming up with a better moniker.

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Book Review: Packing For Mars Explores Your Bodily Functions In Space

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PFMcoverWhen I read Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars two thoughts kept coming up: one, that I so wish I’d written the book, and two, that going to space is a royal pain in the ass. I’m amazed anyone has ever wanted to or, in fact, done it. Going to the bathroom alone—a topic Roach delights in investigating in spite of, or perhaps because of, the associated awkwardness—is a major feat in zero gravity. Her book answers all of the practical and embarrassing questions you could ever think to ask about space. Best of all, she gets those answers through correspondence with astronauts and visits to various NASA outposts around the country, as well as a visit to JAXA headquarters.

If you don’t know Roach’s work, do yourself a favor and read one of her books. You’ve got plenty to choose from beyond Packing for Mars. I first found out about her when her first book, Stiff, which examines “the curious lives of human cadavers” made an appearance on Six Feet Under. Her next book, Spook, is all about ghosts and the afterlife. There’s Bonk, which is all about the science of sex and features crazy studies about things such as pig orgasms (and is my favorite of all her books so far), and Gulp, which explores eating and digestion.

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SpaceX To Bring Zero-G 3D Printer To The ISS

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zerogprinterSpaceX will be bringing the first 3D printer to space on Friday, delivering it to the ISS. Once it’s up and running, astronauts will be able to print new parts for the station and for repairs, rather than wasting precious space storing spares or having to wait for a supply run.

Private companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Science make cargo delivery runs to the ISS every few months, but every inch of cargo space is valuable. If there’s room, then the additional cost is difficult to calculate and depends on the size and mass of the parts being delivered. Generally, though, it costs anywhere from $3,000-$13,000 per kilogram to send objects into low Earth orbit (depending on the rocket and its manufacturer). So the only question regarding having a 3D printer on the ISS is, what took them so long?

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