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Astronaut Chris Hadfield Sings Space Oddity Before Returning Home From The ISS

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If you’re a regular GFR reader, the name Chris Hadfield probably rings a bell or two. During the Canadian astronaut’s five-month mission as the commander of the International Space Station, he’s become a social media sensation thanks to his videos, pictures, and even songs he’s shared with those of us down here on planet Earth. He’s answered questions we didn’t even know we had. What happens if you wring out a washcloth in microgravity? Been there. Can you cry in space? He doesn’t recommend it. Nachos, however, are a-okay.

Well, it’s the end of an era, because earlier this evening Hadfield boarded a Russian Soyuz capsule and began his trip back to the surface, along with American astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian Roman Romanenko. They’re set to touch down in the steppes of Kazakhstan later tonight. But Hadfield had one last treat for us, seen up above: a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”…from space!

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Student-Designed NASA Rover Will Explore Greenland’s Ice Sheets

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nasaCall him GROVER. But don’t go thinking about blue Muppets that live down streets named Sesame. That’s far from the truth. But something near the truth is that GROVER stands for Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, or the Greenland Rover. This thing’s name has multiple meanings. That’s how you know it’s legit.

GROVER set out today to explore the highest points in Greenland, where surface ice levels have been at their lowest, until the mission is complete on June 8th. Its main purpose is to help scientists understand exactly what happened during last summer’s massive surface melting. (Band name note: Massive Surface Melting.) Obviously the 800-pound, solar-powered GROVER isn’t going to just shrug and say, “Global warming, bros.” First, it doesn’t have shoulders. Second, it’s got a ground-penetrating radar that will study how the snow accumulates in the area, shooting out radio waves so the researchers will be able to get a better idea of the layers beneath. Because the sun is always over the horizon, GROVER will be a busy robot for a lot longer than any mere humans could possibly handle it.

Developed in 2010 and 2011 by students involved in engineering boot camps at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, GROVER is a far less expensive and bothersome alternative to humans on snowmobiles or using planes to survey the areas. Though he’s completely autonomous, the researchers will use the beginning of this mission to work any kinks out and make sure all the communication and equipment are functioning properly. He’ll be controlled via Wi-Fi from a base camp setup that GROVER will explore around before going off farther north, where communications will switch to satellite. It will be able to transmit data real time, traveling at 1.2 mph, though most of the research will be recovered once the mission is complete.

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NASA Wants To Send Your Name And Haiku To Mars

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mars

If aliens come
Have them know that I’m watching
Big ole telescope
 

For those of you out there with something to say in the written form, particularly the three-line haiku written form, then your 17-syllable masterpiece could end up on Mars. No, not that Mars. The planet Mars.

As part of their upcoming Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft launching in November, NASA is encouraging anybody who is interested to submit their name and a haiku poem to be put on a DVD that will make the flight to Mars as a part of the MAVEN mission. This will be the first time anyone will attempt to explore Mars’ upper atmosphere.

“This new campaign is a great opportunity to reach the next generation of explorers and excite them about science, technology, engineering and math,” said MAVEN’s principal investigator, Bruce Jakosky. “I look forward to sharing our science with the worldwide community as MAVEN begins to piece together what happened to the Red Planet’s atmosphere.”

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The First Battle Of Planetary Science Budget Cuts Begins!

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europaI’m pretty sure some of you guys out there are fans of Sid Meier’s Civilization series of PC strategy games, and perhaps you’ll agree with me that one of the easiest ways to win the game is to quickly develop as many of your technologies as possible, so that building military units and city buildings is quick and cheap. Because science and knowledge are the building blocks for all aspects of society. And what’s the simplest way to destroy a society? You take away its exit plan.

2013 has already been a solid year for space research, but that won’t last beyond December 31, unless the Planetary Scientists’ Rally Cry forces the government’s money hand. Earlier this month, the Obama administration released its 2014 budget, and NASA’s proposed funding is set for $17.7 billion, which is $50 million less they received in 2012. Planetary science, specifically, would be looking at $1.217 billion, which is about $268 million less funding than it received in 2013. Granted, some of that money is going into producing plutonium-238, which just started up again this year but has had its funding already shifted from the Department of Energy to NASA. There is also around $20 million going towards a manned asteroid research mission, but that’s still around $190 million of programs and research that might hit the cutting room floor, including a future robotic mission to Europa and the current Cassini and Messenger programs.

“Without immediate investment in technology and mission development — not possible under the FY14 proposal — the United States will go ‘radio dark’ in almost all regions of the solar system by the end of the decade,” wrote advocates for the Planetary Society in a testimony submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology. And then we just become the creepy hermit nation with the mountain man beard.

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NASA And MIT Team Up To Search For Earthlike Planets

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TESSAt the end of last year, astronomers said they believed an Earthlike planet would be discovered in 2013. Lo and behold, it’s 2013. As far as most exoplanets go, they’ve found big and small, with some Earthlike-like-like planets out there. But nothing quite so unique as our big blue marble.

The Kepler observatory, launched in 2009, will soon be completely outdated, thanks to a partnership between NASA and MIT that will give us TESS, or the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which will do the same thing that Kepler has been doing — namely searching for planets by detecting dips in a star’s brightness as the orbiting body crosses between it and the observer. The difference between the two is simple: TESS is going to be searching about 400 times as much of the sky as Kepler does. It will be here to survey the entire sky and chew bubble gum, and it’s all out of bubble gum. Also, satellites can’t chew bubblegum.

“It will identify thousands of new planets orbiting a broad range of stellar types, and with widely varying distances from their host star,” said the project’s principal investigator George Ricker, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. We all grew up with eight or nine planets to worry about memorizing mnemonically, but our kids’ kids are going to have thousands. The plastic glow-in-the-dark wall stick-on industry is going to explode!

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NASA-Backed Fusion Drive Could Get Us To Mars In 30 Days

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In Jules Verne’s classic book, the eccentric Phineas Fogg leaves his peers gobsmacked when he bets them that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, and then does exactly that. Now University of Washington researchers have a proposal that would undoubtably put a smile on Mr. Fogg’s face: they’re working on a fusion engine that they suggest could cut the travel time to Mars down to a mere 30 days. That’s genuinely jaw-dropping when compared to NASA’s estimated travel time for a round-trip journey using conventional rockets: a whopping four years.

One of the biggest obstacles to expanding further into our own solar system is the sheer cost and the amounts of fuel required to get you from here to wherever you’re going. But the proposed fusion-powered vessel wouldn’t require the massive payload of fuel, and the key process could be powered by solar energy collected during the voyage.

Fusion ship

Concept art of a solar-powered, fusion-driven craft