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NASA Plans To Wrangle Asteroids Beginning In 2019

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Asteroid

If you think NASA’s latest scheme sounds like it was lifted directly from Michael Bay’s Armageddon, then you’re not alone. The plan is to capture a small asteroid using a robotic probe and then relocate it to somewhere around the moon. This would all go down in 2019. Astronauts would then begin playing around and exploring the asteroid a few years later, in 2021.

If this happens, it will be the first time that humans have gone beyond the low levels of Earth’s atmosphere in decades. The last time we broke that barrier was in 1972 with Apollo 17. Some theorize that this could lay the groundwork for a future mission to Mars. Though there hasn’t been an official announcement from NASA, both Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, and an unnamed White House official have let it slip about this plan.

Nelson is himself a former astronaut—he flew on Columbia in 1986—and serves as the chairman of the Senate Science and Space Subcommittee. According to a press conference Friday, the plan involves a diminutive robotic probe, which will attempt to grab an asteroid in a device that is described as “a baggie with a drawstring.” Don’t you love it when they get all technical?

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Seventies NASA Concept Art Imagines The Future That Still Hasn’t Arrived

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Station1We’ve often complained that the future we were promised never arrived. We don’t live in the floating cities or drive the flying cars or smoke the zero-gravity cigarettes the futurists and dreamers of Don Draper’s era imagined. Of course, the truth isn’t that simple. The future did arrive, just in more subtle ways. We can’t buy round-trip tickets to the Moon, alas, but our cell phones are more powerful than computers that once filled entire rooms. I don’t have an android butler, but medical advances make it vastly more likely that I’ll live to see 70 or 80 or even 90 than earlier generations. But still, even knowing all that…I’m still a bit heartbroken that we never got the gorgeous space stations that populated the books I grew up salivating over. Space stations like the one above, and the ones below.

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Crowdfunded NASA Trailer Will Play Before Star Trek Into Darkness

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We Are the Explorers

With all the things that people are throwing money at on crowdfunding websites, it’s always encouraging to see something important getting attention, and not just movies and indie albums. (That said, my expectations for the upcoming Veronica Mars film are planetary in size.)

As an update to our previous story about a crowdfunded trailer for NASA on the Indiegogo website, it’s definitely worth noting that the campaign has already achieved and surpassed its $33,000 goal barely a week into it. The amount raised as of this writing is $43,551, with 29 days still left to go. Extraordinary!

Their initial goal covered a 30-second edit of their original pitch, titled “We Are the Explorers,” and getting the trailer into at least one theater per state, to be shown before Star Trek Into Darkness. Well, with that goal drop-kicked into orbit, the updated target has been raised to $94,000, which would rocket the trailer into 750 screens across the nation. That is a sizable chunk of the theaters that Into Darkness will play at, especially for something funded independently.

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Express Flight To International Space Station Takes One-Eighth Of The Time

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The International Space Station

I’m not much of a travel person — and my status as a stay-at-home writer on a science blog does nothing to prove this — but I’d easily drive for two straight days if the International Space Station was my end destination. However, I would probably just run into water if I did that, since my car doesn’t go up. At least, not if I want to still qualify for the warranty.

But a two-day trip to the ISS might be a thing of the past, as the second half of the crew from Expedition 35 took a trip via the Russian Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft and docked with the ISS last night around 10:28 p.m. EDT. But here’s the amazing part: the shuttle only took off from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome at 4:43 EDT, cutting the trip down to under six hours of travel and just four orbits of Earth, rather than over 50 hours and 30 orbits, as was typical. All it took were some “intricate ballistics maneuvers” to zip their way through space. And if the pizza wasn’t warm by the time they got there, ISS Commander Chris Hadfield didn’t have to pay full price.

Hadfield, NASA’s Tom Marshburn, and Roscosmos’ Roman Romanenko will be joined by Russian cosmonauts Pavel Viogradov and Alexander Misurkin, as well as NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy for the next three months doing “experiments in human research, physical and biological sciences, technology development, Earth observation and education.” The three former astronauts will then head back to Earth to make way for a new half-crew.

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NASA Proposes Holodecks And Motion-Controlled Rovers

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Holodeck

You wouldn’t expect NASA to be a crowd-pleaser at this year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC), but sometimes when the government cuts back on a chunk of your funding, you have to appeal to the demographic that still loves you.

For a presentation titled “We Are the Space Invaders,” NASA public speaker Dr. Jeff Norris — who also happens to manage to Planning and Execution Systems Section at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) out of Pasadena, California — opened the panel with a video of the first man to orbit Earth, Yuri Gagarin, juxtaposed next to a video of one of the earliest video games, Spacewar!, which was created in 1961, the same year as Gagarin’s famed flight. So what’s the connection? A one-ton, Kinect motion-controlled rover that another presenter, NASA’s Victor Luo, walked over a simulated asteroid surface located at JPL, as well as showing off the motion-controls to maneuver robotic hands and to land a Mars Rover in the Kinect-controlled game Mars Rover Landing. The presentation also showed other ways in which NASA has used the gaming industry in its research and development.

Of course, the loftier and slightly out-of-reach goal is what drew the saliva from the corners of everyone’s mouths: showing a picture of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Enterprise D before bringing up the holy grail of the holodeck. Norris went on to explain his wishes and goals, which are definitely his alone and have never been discussed at end by sci-fi fans for years.

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Crowdfund A Space Exploration Trailer To Play Before Star Trek Into Darkness

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After the insane success of the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter, the concept of crowdfunding has leapt back into the public eye. Most of the stories these past few weeks have been centered around which other beloved but cancelled TV shows could be resurrected, but crowdfunding isn’t limited only to entertainment. It can just as easily be used for more important things, such as attempting to inspire a whole new generation to become passionate about space exploration.

That’s the goal of the “We Are the Explorers” project at IndieGoGo. The goal is to raise enough money to air an edited version of the following NASA trailer in movie theaters across the country, beginning with the premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness. Utilizing the voice talents of the legendary Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime from Transformers), the video is designed to call out to the adventurous spirits of kids who may one day shape the path of our continued expansion into and exploration of space. I’ll admit it: this old space junkie got a little choked up. Here’s the full version of the trailer, which would be edited down to a 30-second spot for theaters.