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NASA’s LADEE Moon Probe Puts On Show For The Eastern U.S.

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LADEELate Friday night, NASA launched a Minotaur V rocket carrying a lunar orbiter called LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer). The rocket was visible to much of the northeast seaboard as it arced through the sky.

LADEE, which despite its adorable acronym is unmanned (and unwomaned), is a “modular common spacecraft bus” that weighs roughly 850 pounds and is the length of a small car. The modular components and parallel assembly keep design costs down and shortens launch preparation time. It only takes 295 watts to power—that’s akin to five 60-watt light bulbs.

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Solar-Powered Autonomous Greenhouse Could Produce Fresh Spinach On Mars

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Popeye on MarsAs plans for a Mars colony are underway, at least preliminarily and tentatively, scores of questions arise about the logistics of supporting such a colony. Will people live under a dome? (Yes, until/unless we terraform Mars) What about radiation? And, most importantly, what will the Mars colonists have for dinner?

The answer: spinach.

A team from Greece recently won NASA’s Deployable Greenhouse Space Apps challenge. The challenge was for teams to design a deployable greenhouse small and light enough to stow aboard a spacecraft, that would require as few resources as possible, could function at low pressure, and could store plant-generated oxygen. Ideally, the greenhouse would also have a growing system, a system for recycling water, and a thermal control system.

The winning greenhouse, called “Popeye on Mars,” has an aeroponic system that can operate autonomously for 45 days, which is all the time needed for it to produce spinach. It can stabilize its internal environment, store oxygen, and harvest the spinach at the end of the 45-day cycle. It’s powered by photovoltaic panels that convert that pesky solar radiation into electricity via semiconductors, and is protected against the extreme conditions on the red planet.

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Robotic 3D Printer Spiders Could Build The Spacecraft Of Tomorrow

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spiderfabWe know that NASA has been talking about taking 3D printing into space for a little while now, and I’ll admit that my limited mental scope only thought they’d be sending a few manufactured 3D printers up there to work on things in the International Space Station, but boy was I off. They’re currently getting involved with the Washington-based aerospace company Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) to work on a much grander project they’re calling SpiderFab, which will be an arachnid-like bot that will be capable of building massive spacecraft while orbiting Earth. Sounds pretty awesome, right? I can already see businesses getting involved so that giant floating billboards will be circling the Earth in 10 years. But this collaboration has more sincere goals.

NASA chose TUI as the winner of the Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, awarding them a $500,000 contract, which will go a long way toward getting this unique concept into space. Simply put, there’s a multi-limbed robotic spider creature that is capable of 3D printing structures on the go, such as antennas, and it can make them much larger than anything that can comfortably be rocketed into space fully constructed. Since the main components consist of the spider and the polymers needed for building, as well as the program to tell the spider what to do, of course, this makes for a far smaller payload than sending already built parts. Conservation is key when you’re burning thousands of pounds of fuel to get a successful launch. TUI’s CEO and Chief Scientist Dr. Rob Hoyt can of course explain things better than I can:

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The Moon Shows New Evidence Of Subsurface Water

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MoonWhen it comes to space science, finding water on the moon has been something of a holy grail to astronomers and scientists for decades. While it would of course be more informative to stumble across a fully formed civilization that could just communicate all of the satellite’s secrets, nothing is so easy, and discoveries have been slow going. But now NASA‘s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3), onboard the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft has identified the existence of subsurface magmatic water on the moon, which could lead to a better understanding of how it formed. The research was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Amazingly, it’s the first time magmatic water has been identified from lunar orbit, and backs up the previous research done some months back on the moon rocks brought back from the Apollo missions. While it was once thought any water contained in those rocks was merely Earthbound contamination, the existence of hydroxyl (a molecule made up of one hydrogen atom and one oxygen atom) matches up with what the M3 found within the moon’s Bullialdus crater, which has a central peak comprised of rock that forms far below the lunar surface.

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Quantum-Thruster Physics May Be The Key To Warp Drives

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warp drive

Faster-than-light technology is one of those sci-fi inventions that I frequently wish was reality (along with replicators). I’ll take a Battlestar Galactica-style FTL drive, a Babylon 5 jump gate, or a Star Trek-style warp drive. I mean, it’s cool that the speed of light is so pivotal, but wouldn’t it be awesome to go even faster than that? It’s one of those wishes that scientists generally predict won’t come true (at least any time soon), like time travel. I take great pleasure in saying that those scientists might be wrong.

I guess one good thing about NASA being out of the space shuttle business is that they have some time to work on other stuff, such as warp drives. And since we know NASA doesn’t have extra money kicking around, if they’re working on it, it must be possible…right?

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NASA Accepting Bids On Moon Mission Launch Platforms

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nasa launch pad
Do you have a lot of money, a huge backyard and a key interest in space memorabilia? You’re in luck! NASA recently announced they’re auctioning off their three mobile launch platforms. Now that NASA is moving forward with the Space Launch System, they’ll be modifying the launch pad created specifically for the Ares rocket, which was originally developed for a program to send people back to the moon. Out with the old and in with the new, eh?

So how big would your backyard need to be? The structures each weigh around 3,700 tons and are two stories tall. They’re essentially buildings all on their own, with plumbing and electrical cabling and the ability to vent rocket exhaust. I bet they smell pretty rank.

These are the same platforms used to launch the Apollo rockets, and were then modified for the upgraded space shuttles. They’re integral parts of American history, but that doesn’t mean they need to be discarded on the side of the road with that flower-patterned couch you finally forced yourself to get rid of. However, they’re much too big to fit inside your average museum, and while you’d expect these kinds of artifacts to end up somewhere as prestigious as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, that outcome is highly implausible.