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Colonizing Mars may require humanity to tweak its DNA

Genetic engineering may be a big part of our future on Mars. If humanity is ever going to settle down on Mars, we may need to become a little less human.

Crewed missions to Mars, which NASA wants to start flying in the 2030s, will be tough on astronauts, exposing them to high radiation loads, bone-wasting microgravity and other hazards for several years at a time. But these pioneers should still be able to make it back to Earth in relatively good nick, agency officials have said.

It might be a different story for those who choose not to come home, however. If we want to stay safe and healthy while living permanently on Mars, or any other world beyond our home planet, we may need to make some tweaks to our species’ basic blueprint, experts say.

Genetic engineering and other advanced technologies “may need to come into play if people want to live and work and thrive, and establish their family, and stay on Mars,” Kennda Lynch, an astrobiologist and geomicrobiologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, said on May 12 during a webinar hosted by the New York Academy of Sciences called “Alienating Mars: Challenges of Space Colonization.”

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Martian moon’s orbit suggests the Red Planet had a ring

A cycle of moon formation could explain the slightly tilted orbit of Mars’ moon Deimos.

Mars has two moons circling the planet, called Phobos and Deimos. For many years, scientists supposed that both of these moons were captured asteroids, or space rocks. But new research shows the orbit of Deimos would not make that possible.

Deimos is very slightly tilted to the Martian equator, by only two degrees. Initially, the difference was so small that many scientists overlooked the matter.

“The fact that Deimos’ orbit is not exactly in plane with Mars’ equator was considered unimportant, and nobody cared to try to explain it,” study lead author Matija Cuk, a research scientist at the SETI Institute, said in a statement. “But once we had a big new idea and we looked at it with new eyes, Deimos’ orbital tilt revealed its big secret.”

The secret came from looking at the motions of Phobos, which orbits closer to the Martian surface and is slowly spiralling into the planet. Eventually, Phobos will drop so close to Mars that the gravity of the much larger planet will pull the moon into pieces — forming a ring.

Study co-authors David Minton, a professor at Purdue University, and Andrew Hesselbrock, who was his graduate student at the time of the research, suggest that Phobos’ future is not a one-off event. Instead, after the moon is pulled apart, eventually the pieces will reform into another moon. This not only will happen to Phobos, but has happened already other times in the Martian past.

This breaking up and reforming of moons would in turn explain how Deimos’ orbital tilt happened.

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Demo-2 astronauts get to work on ISS

After making history on the first crewed flight of an orbital spacecraft launched from the United States in nearly nine years, two NASA astronauts are settling in on the International Space Station. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the ISS May 31, 19 hours after the Crew Dragon spacecraft they were on launched

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How close can you get to a black hole?

The event horizon of a black hole is the invisible line-in-the-sand across which you can never return. Once anything passes through the event horizon, even light itself, it can no longer return to the universe. The black hole’s gravity is just too strong within that region.

Streams of gas fall to their dooms, plunging into black holes, locked away from the universe forever. In their final moments, these gassy shreds send out one last flare of light, some of the brightest emissions in the universe.

In a new study, physicists looked at specific features of that light to figure out the closest you can get to a black hole without having to work hard to prevent disaster — a threshold called the innermost stable circular orbit or ISCO.

This boundary, ISCO, is a firm prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the same theory that predicts the existence of black holes in the first place. Despite the success of general relativity in predicting and explaining phenomena across the universe, and our sure knowledge that black holes are real, we’ve never been able to verify the existence of the ISCO and whether it conforms to the predictions of general relativity.

But the gas that falls to its doom may provide a way for us to verify that existence.

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Lift-off! SpaceX launches 1st astronauts for NASA on historic test flight

SpaceX launched astronauts for the first time ever today, making history and opening a new age of commercial spaceflight. A shiny white Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from historic Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on May 30 at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT), carrying SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule into orbit. The launch kicked off SpaceX’s landmark Demo-2 mission, sending NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS). Demo-2 marks the return of orbital human spaceflight to U.S. soil after a nearly decade-long absence, and it signals the beginning of a new era in space exploration — one led by commercial companies.

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Following the successful launch, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule slid into a dock at the International Space Station on Sunday May 31, concluding a historic 19-hour voyage to for its veteran NASA crew. The arrival marked a major feat: the first docking of a crewed U.S. spacecraft at the station since NASA’s shuttle fleet retired in 2011. It’s also the first docking of a commercial spacecraft carrying humans, in this case astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

The Crew Dragon docked itself at the station 10:16 a.m. EDT (14216 GMT) as both spacecraft sailed 262 miles (422 kilometers) above the border of China and Mongolia. While today’s docking was completely automated, Hurley did take manual control of the Crew Dragon spacecraft (which he and Behnken have christened Endeavour) during a final test. The ship handled just like the simulator, he said. After the Crew Dragon docking, Behnken and Hurley performed a series of leak checks to make sure their spacecraft was safely secured to the space station. But at 1:02 p.m. EDT (1702 GMT), the festivities began. That’s when the crew opened the hatch of their spacecraft to join NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who have been in orbit since April.

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Rocket Lab to resume launches from its New Zealand launch site in June

Rocket Lab will resume launches of its Electron small launch vehicle in June as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic ease at its New Zealand launch site.

The company announced May 28 it has rescheduled an Electron launch for June 11 local time from its launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. That launch was previously scheduled for March 30 but postponed because of a lockdown imposed by the New Zealand government in response to the pandemic.

The announcement of the new launch date comes as New Zealand scales back its response to the pandemic. The country stepped down to Alert Level 2 of its response plan on May 29 (local time), allowing larger gatherings of people, as the country has reported only a handful of new cases of COVID-19 since the middle of the month. Rocket Lab said in its statement about the launch that it will continue to use “enhanced health and safety processes” for employees working on this launch, including physical distancing, split shifts and enhanced cleaning.

The launch, called “Don’t Stop Me Now” by the company, has the same set of payloads as what the company originally announced in March.

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SpaceX delays 1st astronaut launch for NASA due to bad weather

Mother Nature didn’t cooperate today. Elon Musk’s company was scheduled to launch its first-ever crewed mission, a test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) called Demo-2, this afternoon May 27 4.30 pm EDT (May 28 6.30 am AEST) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But bad weather has nixed that plan, pushing the lift-off back to Saturday May 30 at the earliest, NASA and SpaceX officials announced today.

Demo-2 has an instantaneous launch window: the capsule must launch at a specific time, when the space station is at a certain spot in its orbital path. The next attempt will be on Saturday at 3:22 pm EDT (1922 GMT). For those in Australia the launch will be on Sunday at 5.22 am AEST.

If that doesn’t work out, SpaceX could try again on Sunday (May 31) at 3.00 pm EDT (1900 GMT). For those in Australia this would be Monday June 1 at 5.00 am AEST.

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SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 Crew Dragon astronaut launch: Full coverage

SpaceX is set to make history on May 27, 2020.

On that date, Elon Musk’s company is scheduled to launch its first crewed mission, a test flight called Demo-2 that will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station aboard a Crew Dragon capsule. If all goes well with Demo-2, Crew Dragon and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will be validated for operational crewed missions, the first of which is expected to launch later this year.

Find out more including the latest updates, mission photos, and stories on topics including Crew Dragon, Space X spacesuits and a step-by-step guide to how the mission will run.

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NASA and SpaceX to launch astronauts into orbit this week on Crew Dragon spacecraft: the countdown is on!

This week, astronauts will take off from American soil for the first time since 2011, riding aboard a SpaceX capsule in a historic test flight to the International Space Station.

On Wednesday (May 27) at 4:33 p.m. EDT (2033 GMT), veteran NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will launch as co-commanders on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle, which will lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission, known as Demo-2, will fly the astronauts to the International Space Station. They are scheduled to arrive at the space station on May 28 and could stay in space anywhere from one to four months.

Demo-2 will be the first crewed launch to orbit from American soil since NASA’s shuttle program ended in 2011. In fact, Hurley was on the crew for both that final shuttle mission (STS-135) and the upcoming mission. The astronauts arrived at Kennedy Space Center on May 20, a week ahead of the launch, and have been preparing diligently for their ride to space. “We are on the cusp of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil yet again,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said May 20 after Hurley and Behnken arrived at Kennedy. “You really are a bright light for all of America right now. Thank you so much for all you’ve done and all you’re about to do.”

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Sensor glitch delays Virgin Orbit’s 1st launch of new LauncherOne rocket

Virgin Orbit postponed the launch debut of its new rocket for small satellite missions today (May 24) due to a sensor glitch on the booster.

The rocket, an air-launched vehicle called LauncherOne, was expected to make its first test flight over the Pacific Ocean during a four-hour window that opened at 10 a.m. PDT (1 p.m. EDT/1700 GMT). But after fueling the rocket late Saturday, an issue popped up.

“Everything has been proceeding smoothly: team, aircraft, & rocket are in excellent shape. However, we have one sensor that is acting up,” Virgin Orbit wrote in a Twitter update. “Out of an abundance of caution, we are offloading fuel to address.”

Virgin Orbit may try again on Monday (May 25), its backup date for LauncherOne’s debut. Virgin Orbit plans to launch LauncherOne from the air using a carrier plane called Cosmic Girl, a Boeing 747 jumbo jet modified for rocket missions. Under the plan, the carrier plane will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, fly over the Pacific Ocean and drop LauncherOne from an altitude of 35,000 feet (10,700 m).

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Baby exoplanet spotted growing around distant star

The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile has captured an image of a planet being born around the young star AB Aurigae, which lies 520 light-years from Earth in the constellation Auriga (The Charioteer).

Like previous AB Aurigae images taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), this new photo shows spiral arms forming in the thick disk of dust and gas surrounding the star. These spirals are evidence of newly forming worlds, which churn up protoplanetary disks, scientists have said.

[Picture description: This image shows the disk around the young AB Aurigae star, where the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) has spotted signs of planet birth. Close to the center of the image, in the inner region of the disk, we see the “twist” (in very bright yellow) that scientists believe marks the spot where a planet is forming. This twist lies at about the same distance from the AB Aurigae star as Neptune from the sun. The image was obtained with the VLT’s SPHERE instrument in polarized light.

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SpaceX’s 1st Dragon capsule for astronauts arrives at launch site for historic mission

The Dragon spacecraft that will fly SpaceX’s first-ever mission with astronauts on board has reached its Florida launch site ahead of a historic lift-off next week.

The Crew Dragon capsule arrived at Launch Complex 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Friday night (May 15), making the short trek from SpaceX’s processing facility at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The arrival marked another big milestone for SpaceX in the leadup to the planned launch of the Demo-2 mission on May 27.

Demo-2 will carry NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The May 27 lift-off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will be the first orbital human spaceflight to launch from U.S. soil since NASA’s space shuttle fleet retired in July 2011. Since then, NASA has relied solely on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to perform this taxi service.

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Space Force launches robotic X-37B space plane on new mystery mission

The U.S. Space Force’s mysterious X-37B space plane successfully launched on its sixth mystery mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 9.14 a.m. EDT (1314 GMT) on May 17, riding atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

While the X-37B’s exact purpose is a secret, Space Force officials have revealed that the craft is packing numerous experiments on this trip to test out different systems in space. Some of those experiments include a small satellite called FalconSat-8, two NASA payloads designed to study the effects of radiation on different materials as well as seeds to grow food, and a power-beaming experiment using microwave energy.

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Astronauts enter a routine quarantine for historic SpaceX Crew Dragon launch

The crew is two weeks away from a historic launch. Astronauts Robert “Bob” Behnken and Douglas “Doug” Hurley entered a pre-flight quarantine today as they get ready to launch to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle as part of SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission. This type of quarantine is known officially as “flight crew health stabilization,” and is used to ensure that they will be healthy and will not carry any contagious illnesses to the space station. It is standard procedure and not related to the ongoing coronavirus issues.

This mission, scheduled to launch later this month on May 27 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, will be the first crewed mission for the vehicle and will be the first crewed mission to orbit since NASA’s Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

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SpaceX’s Starship SN4 prototype passes another, tougher pressure test: a test flight could be just around the corner

SpaceX’s latest Starship prototype keeps passing tests, edging closer and closer to a highly anticipated test flight.

The SN4 vehicle, the latest pathfinder for SpaceX’s Starship Mars-colonization spacecraft, aced a high-pressure and high-simulated-thrust trial at the company’s Boca Chica facilities in South Texas.

But the SN4 looks poised to leave terra firma for the first time soon. Musk has said he wants the vehicle to make an uncrewed test flight to an altitude of about 500 feet (150 meters), and the prototype has now checked off a lot of boxes on the road to lift-off. That’s probably as high as the SN4 will get. SpaceX is already building its successor, the three-engine SN5, which Musk has said will target a test-flight altitude of 12 miles (20 kilometers).

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