Elon Musk And SpaceX To Send Two Space Tourists To Orbit Moon In 2018

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, announced today that his ambitious and lofty space travel company is planning a trip around the moon next year. However, Musk isn’t sending NASA astronauts – or any astronauts – on the “mission,” rather he’s arranging a space tourism trip for two private customers. The unnamed SpaceX clients have, according to Elon Musk, already paid a “significant deposit” for their trip around the moon, and are reportedly incredibly serious about orbiting the Earth’s natural satellite next year. Fly me to the moon … Okhttps://t.co/6QT8m5SHwn — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 27, 2017 Musk used the SpaceX website to make the official announcement about the proposed lunar trip, and the first private space tourists are expected to take their roughly week-long trip around the moon in the SpaceX Crew Dragon (Dragon Version 2) spacecraft. Most funding for the development of the SpaceX passenger spacecraft has come from NASA and the organization’s Commercial Crew Program, and Musk thanked the agency for their support, adding that the impending new stage in space exploration and tourism “wouldn’t be possible” NASA support. As The Verge reports, the private citizens reportedly approached Elon Musk and SpaceX in order to have their dream of traveling to the moon’s orbit – and beyond – facilitated. The initial plans for the moon visit are lofty indeed, with Musk describing a tour that would “skim” the lunar surface, then extend beyond the moon before looping back to return to Earth. In all, the entire trip is expected to cover and impressive 300,000 to 400,000 miles. The current plan is to conduct the private moon mission near the end of 2018, however the two proposed participants (who are reportedly already acquainted with one another) will soon begin health and fitness tests to ensure their physical capability of enduring space travel. The pair who have chosen Elon Musk and SpaceX to fulfill their dreams for a trip to the moon will also require substantial specialized training between now and their launch date. Despite the fact that Elon Musk and SpaceX only announced their plans for a private moon mission just today, some critics are already taking issue with the proposed endeavor. After all, the Crew Dragon spacecraft has yet to complete a successful launch; that test isn’t even scheduled until later this year. And SpaceX has faced some highly-publicized and even catastrophic rocket failures in the past. The Crew Dragon is slated to pair with the Falcon Heavy rocket by SpaceX. Additionally, Elon Musk has a history of putting the cart ahead of the horse to a certain degree, and has failed to meet his deadlines in the past. For example, Musk vowed in 2011 to have people in space within three years, something that never materialized. SpaceX to fly two paying customers on tourist trip around the moon in 2018, Elon Musk reveals https://t.co/QlxVkDBLvE pic.twitter.com/mhlZxP6T3b — Mirror Tech (@MirrorTech) February 27, 2017 Musk has long-touted private space trips and tourism as “significant drivers of revenue” tso help fund future advanced rocket and space travel technology. Neither Elon Musk nor SpaceX have divulged how much their first lunar visitors have shelled out (or will shell out) for their trip arund the moon. However, Musk described the cost as “comparable” to that of a crewed mission to the ISS. According to Elon, the Crew Dragon spacecraft has been designed from the concept stage to be manned, and to transport humans to the moon and possibly beyond. However, the first tests of the spacecraft later this year will be unmanned. In a real-world situation, the Crew Dragon is reportedly designed to be flown automatically, and that is how it is intended to function throughout the majority of the planned 2018 trip around the moon. However, Musk says that if needed the passengers will be able to intervene with the operation of the SpaceX craft, although Musk claims that “the success rate is quite high” for the as-yet untested vehicle. @WSJ Can it also drop people off? I can think of a few folks I’d like to buy one-way tickets. — Suburban Chicken (@SuburbanChicken) February 28, 2017 Elon Musk says SpaceX will send two people around the moon next year. In related news, my TIE Fighter has a new target to practice on — Darth Vader (@DepressedDarth) February 28, 2017 @katelunau @Bryson_M think they could take @realDonaldTrump too? — Kim Anderson (@K_AndersonSays) February 27, 2017 @USATODAY I think I know the two tourists #America would like to vote for & probably start a gofundme to pay ???? #TrumpInSpace — 305 Pirate ☮????☠ (@305Pirate) February 27, 2017 Elon Musk further announced in his Monday statement that he believes that next year’s planned trip around the moon could be the first of many, possibly as many as one or two a year in the immediate future, which could generate up to 20 percent of SpaceX revenue once the project gets off the ground. Despite his lofty plans and boasts of a high success rate, Elon Musk admits that space travel is inherently dangerous. What’s more, no government safety regulations exists for private space travel and tourism. The Congress passed the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act in 2004, and it has been extended to 2023; the act allows for an unregulated “learning period” for private sector space exploration companies. According to the FAA, this may put the public at risk, and the agency has expressed interest in controlling and regulating private space travel when it expires. “Next year is going to be the big year for carrying people. This should be a really exciting mission that hopefully gets the world really exciting about sending people into deep space again.” SpaceX plans to fly two private citizens around the moon by late next year: Elon Musk https://t.co/YFb7mecdKe pic.twitter.com/uZyV8vc9HU — National Post (@nationalpost) February 27, 2017 According to Musk and SpaceX, the space tourists paying for a trip around the moon are aware of and have accepted the risks of their proposed, historic flight. “[These paying customers] are entering this with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here. We’re doing everything we can to minimize that risk but it’s not zero.” Government officials from the Government Accountability Office have also recently reported that the SpaceX vehicles involved in the proposed 2018 trip around the moon may not receive their official certifications until 2019, which casts some doubt on Elon Musk’s ability to send two private citizens to the moon and back in 2018. For his part, Musk claims SpaceX will be up to the task in the time-frame proposed. Provided Dragon 2 demo missions go well, SpaceX is highly confident of being able to fly US astronauts in 2018 https://t.co/usUto6QSi7 — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 18, 2017 What are your thoughts regarding the plan to send private space tourists on a trip around the moon next year? Do you think Elon Musk and SpaceX can pull it off on the timeline they are promising, or is this going to be another instance of broken space travel promises? [Featured Image by Refugio Ruiz/AP Images]

Space Travel: Making It Safer For Humans Traveling To Mars And Other Planets

Space travel has always been a hazardous activity, as noted by New Atlas. But even with the loss of several American crews during the Apollo and space shuttle eras, most Americans feel that the benefits are worth the risks. Even so, if SpaceX, NASA and other organizations are going to be sending human beings to Mars or other planets in the coming decades, it only makes sense to try to minimize the dangers involved in space travel. Of course, with any exploration, unknown dangers that engineers and scientists don’t anticipate could crop up. But while we may have to deal with such unexpected dangers on the fly, there are several known dangers we can address before manned space travel to Mars or elsewhere. Astronaut speaking from International Space Station about space travel. [Image by Mark Wilson/Getty Images] Radiation Dangers in Space Travel in space offers a number of dangers for human beings, but one of the most significant is radiation. Human beings on the surface of the Earth are protected from solar radiation and other types of radiation found in outer space by our atmosphere and surrounding magnetic fields. But during space travel away from the Earth – such as to the moon or to Mars – the only thing protecting human beings from potentially hazardous or even lethal radiation damage is whatever shielding exists on the outside or inside of the spacecraft. There are two types of shielding that can be used to protect astronauts during space travel. The first is passive shielding and can be anything from the metal walls of the spacecraft to the machinery and equipment lining the inside of those walls. Even compacted dirt from mined asteroids could be used. Is the Pegasus spacecraft Star Trek shield pure #sciencefiction? See what these magnetic researchers say: http://t.co/jSrkzquIYT — Apex Magnets (@ApexMagnets) January 24, 2015 Some designers have suggested that supplies used by both the crew and the spacecraft itself could be used as passive shielding. For instance, the massive supplies of water that a space traveler would need during the long journey to Mars could be stored along the inner walls of the spacecraft to act as passive shielding. Active shielding is another possible approach to radiation shielding. A powerful magnetic field could be generated around a traveling spacecraft that would deflect incoming radiation particles. This would likely require a substantial power source. However, if superconductors were employed in the mechanism in a vacuum, power loss would only occur when a particle of radiation was actually stopped. Zero Gravity and Space Travel One of the more obvious effects of space travel is zero gravity. As NASA points out, it’s not really zero gravity – it’s microgravity. Of course, from a human physiology standpoint, it amounts to the same thing. The human body evolved in a 1G environment – the Earth – and all of its functions are designed to operate under those conditions. Research on space stations and other spacecraft have revealed that long-term exposure to a zero gravity environment has an extremely detrimental effect on human health. For one thing, bone loss becomes a very serious concern during long-term space travel. While attempts have been made to address this through the use of exercise equipment and other strategies, the ultimate solution for the problem of zero gravity is to simulate gravity during the journey. @JasDnldTerry Any constant thrust drive like VASIMR would greatly improve transit times. Rotate the entire spacecraft to give crews gravity. — Just A. Tinker (@John_Gardi) July 6, 2015 The best way to accomplish this is through rotating either the entire spacecraft or some portion of it during the trip. NASA has for decades studied the construction of large rotating space colonies and spacecraft, but these would be prohibitively expensive because of the massive scale that would be required. Unfortunately, because of the human inner ear, astronauts can detect rotational effects if the radius of the rotation is below a certain size. For this rotation to have little or no effect on a hypothetical astronaut traveling to Mars, the spacecraft in question – or at least that section of it rotating – would have to be enormous. However, there is a possible alternative. Instead of having a single large spacecraft that either rotates or has a large rotating section – similar to that used by the space travelers in 2001: A Space Odyssey – a much smaller spacecraft could be designed so that it separates into two parts that then rotate around the axis of a tether connecting them. In this way, NASA might be able to simulate gravity without having to build a colossal spacecraft. Psychological Concerns in Space Travel In the past, another major concern about space travel to Mars or elsewhere in the solar system related to the psychological problems that might result from long-term isolation. After all, even in the rosiest propulsion scenarios, it will take months to get to Mars. This means that human crews would be essentially trapped with one another for an extended time. Movie version of space travel with a mission to Mars. [Image by Dream Quest/Getty Images] However, recent experience with space travel aboard the space shuttle and the International Space Station – as well as research carried out by the Russians aboard their various near space stations – indicate that this is not as much of a concern as once believed. Plus, it’s hardly a new phenomenon for people on long voyages to be stuck together for months. Colony ships traversing the Atlantic spent just as much time traveling to North America as space travel to Mars would demand from astronauts. More than this, maintaining connection with the Earth via transmissions of email, news, photos and video have done a great deal to alleviate the boredom and claustrophobia of the International Space Station. It’s safe to assume that – even with the time delay caused by the speed of light limit – space travel to Mars or elsewhere would still permit the astronaut voyageurs to keep in contact with home. [Featured Image by NASA via Getty Images]

Orbital Economy Developing But No One Wants To Live In Space

A number of commercial companies are working to build a new economy in orbit above Earth, but a new survey shows almost no one wants to live space. Researchers at San Jose State University and the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation found only 6 percent of self-identified space enthusiasts were willing to live in humanity’s first off-planet housing, according to researchers. “Roughly 6% of all respondents said they could be happy living in a space settlement no bigger than a large cruise ship with no more than 500 people and they would be willing to devote at least 75% of their wealth to be able to live permanently in orbit.” [Image by bestdesigns/iStock] That’s potentially bad news for the United Launch Alliance, A Boeing and Lockheed Martin partnership that plans on employing 1,000 people in cislunar space, the area between Earth and the Moon, within the next 30 years. The partnership is planning to develop potential commercial activities based on the extraction and sale of resources found in space like ice and the resultant water propellant derived from it. Boosting objects into orbit is very expensive and most satellites need to go much higher than their launch vehicles are capable of. To get around this problem they’re usually equipped with an additional boost stage designed to carry them into geosynchronous orbit, which is also costly. The ULA is building a fleet of reusable rockets designed to carry these satellites to their high orbits by recycling the second stage of the spacecraft, the part that normally carries the cargo to its final destination. After liftoff, the second stage of the reusable rocket is designed to separate from the booster and stay in orbit, where it will be refueled, and ready to ferry new cargo brought up by other spacecraft, ULS Vice President George Sowers told Space.com. “I want to buy propellant in space. Once I have a reusable stage and can buy my fuel, then I have the potential to dramatically lower costs to go elsewhere.” [Image by NASA] The ULA already has plans to buy water-based propellant from companies mining the surface of the moon and passing asteroids. This setup, however, requires a lot of support facilities and the people to run them, which even space enthusiasts don’t seem willing to embrace. The idea of living in orbit sounds fun, but when faced with the reality of that decision only 6 percent of self-identified space enthusiasts appeared ready to take the leap, according to the new SJSU survey. The research authors asked more than 1,000 self-identified space enthusiasts if they would be willing to live in a conceptual cylindrical orbital habitat called Kalpana Two, for how long, and how much they would be willing to pay to get there. The habitat, designed by Bryan Versteeg, measures 110m x 110m and would rotate to simulate gravity. They didn’t seem disappointed in the low numbers of people willing to live in space, according to the research paper. “While this is a small fraction of the subjects surveyed, when expanded to all space enthusiasts world-wide it should be more than enough to populate a number of small settlements.” There are some conditions to this survey, however; it asked about permanent settlement in space instead of a one or two year contract. The number of people willing to live in space might also have been higher if they were offered a salary instead of being asked to foot their own transportation bill. It brings into question, however, some of the more far fetched plans announced by Elon Musk and, lately, the United Arab Emirates to build futuristic cities on Mars. What would it take for you to be willing to live and work in space? [Image by ZargonDesign/iStock]

What Does NASA's Newly Discovered TRAPPIST Exoplanet Discovery Mean For Space?

This week NASA announced the discovery of a new system of alien worlds that might support life and space fans around the world are freaking out about what this might mean for the future of interstellar travel. Wednesday, NASA announced it had discovered seven alien planets orbiting the nearby TRAPPIST-1 star and three of them were rocky Earth-like worlds in the habitable zone that might support liquid water and therefore life. When NASA talks about finding life on other worlds its referring to microorganisms not full blown Star Trek style aliens, but that hasn’t stopped the TRAPPIST-1 discovery team from hosting a website with a number of science fiction stories. [Image by NASA/Getty Images] The website, fittingly named trappist.one, hosts information on the discovery, NASA designed travel posters, infographics, artistic videos detailing what life might be like on the newly discovered alien worlds, and a series of sci-fi stories and poems. One story, “The terminator” by Laurence Suhner, was published in Nature and tells the story of a girl who travels to the TRAPPIST-1 system to sprinkle her mother’s ashes. “So. Here I am. At the line between dark and light. At the very border that separates the side facing the star from the one that remains eternally shaded. It’s like being at the edge of the visible world.” The newly discovered system TRAPPIST-1 is an ultracool dwarf star about 39 light years from the sun in the Aquarius constellation and is very like our own solar system only much more compact; the planets all orbit much closer their star than our do. This might mean the alien worlds are tidally locked with one side always facing their star, as the authors of the discovery explained in Nature. “The TRAPPIST-1 system is a compact analogue of the inner Solar System.” SETI astronomer Seth Shostak wrote in a blog post that the newly discovered alien system would make a great backdrop for a sci-fi story. “With worlds that are about the same size as Earth but separated by relatively tiny distances, you could look up and see planets that looked like round balls.” He also suggests looking for radio signals emanating from the system to help speed the discovery of intelligent alien life on TRAPPIST-1. [Image by IoA/Amanda Smith/NASA] NASA artists have also drawn up a series of travel posters even though tourists won’t be visiting the new planets any time soon. The closest star, Proxima Centauri, is still the best choice for interstellar travel because it’s only 4.22 light years away from Earth and also has rocky, potentially Earth-like planets in the habitable zone, which are also tidally locked. Stephen Hawking’s Breakthrough Starshot project, with its laser-propelled wafer nanoships could reach Proxima Centauri in 20 to 25 years, but it would take the small ships about 200 years to reach the TRAPPIST-1 system. NASA is already planning follow up research on the TRAPPIST-1 system when the James Webb Space Telescope is operational next year. The European Space Organization’s Extremely Large Telescope, which goes online in 2024, will be able determine whether any of the newly discovered alien worlds posses liquid water. There are still many questions to be answered about the TRAPPIST system, but the chance to discover an alien planet that could support life is definitely motivating, as one of the NASA scientists told Gizmodo. “If the star is active (as indicated by the X-ray flux) then [a planet in orbit] needs an ozone layer to shield its surface from the harsh UV that would sterilize the surface. If these planets do not have an ozone layer, life would need to shelter underground or in an ocean to survive—and/or develop strategies to shield from the UV.” Do you think scientists will discover alien life in the the new TRAPPIST system? [Featured image by NASA/Getty Images]

First Contact Fears? Messaging Aliens Not Such A Scary Idea, Scientist Says

Many scientists fear what many see as an inevitability — first contact with aliens. They reason that reaching out into the vast universe to make that contact — via space probes and other means, such as the messaging initiative from Breakthrough Initiatives — could very well alert aliens who might be hostile to sharing the universe with the human species. Be that as it may, there are scientists who don’t see a proactive approach to contacting aliens as asking for trouble. Some scientists believe an alien outreach program could prove quite beneficial to humanity. METI (Messaging ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) International president Douglas Vakoch, who is also a professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology at the California Institute for Integral Studies in California, believes the dangers attributed to taking an active approach to contacting aliens (as opposed to the more traditional, passive way — listening, the method employed by SETI, or the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) is exaggerated. In an interview with Seeker, he said the fear of what METI, which works to coordinate messaging efforts that could potentially result in the contact with aliens, is attempting is only natural. “When I talk with other scientists about the potential risk of METI, they agree that the public perception of the danger is overblown,” Vakoch told Seeker. “And that’s natural. We know that our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to vivid images of danger — even when the alleged risk isn’t credible. So when Stephen Hawking warns that aliens could decimate Earthlings just as European explorers conquered the New World, that evocative image sets off our internal alarms — even if the scenario isn’t logically consistent.” Stephen Hawking famously noted in 2010 in the Discovery Channel docu-series Into The Universe with Stephen Hawking that first contact with aliens might come at a cost. Using the encounter of Christopher Columbus with Native Americans as an example, he pointed out the the occurrence did not work out too well for the Native Americans. Vakoch says Hawking’s views were based on an erroneous assumption, that aliens star-spanning aliens would have somehow not already known about humanity via all the broadcast signalling — via radio and television transmissions — that has been going on for nearly a century. He says that with almost 100 years of transmitting, our present knowledge of the existence of exoplanets suggests that signals have already traveled nearly 100 light years and been within interception range of hundreds of worlds swinging around all the known stars within 100 light years of Earth. And at least a few of those exoplanets are likely Earth-like and in their parent star’s habitable zone. “Any civilization that has the ability to hear our message has likely already heard our ‘leakage’ so they already know we are here,” Vakoch reasoned. It is possible that aliens already know that humanity exists. [Image by Liu zichan/Shutterstock] So what is the point of sending messages, considering all the broadcast signals that gone before? Vakoch said, “It’s important to find a way to seriously consider the risks of METI, and not just rely on lurid images of alien conquest.” He also believes that the content of the message itself should be carefully considered, as should be the targets chosen toward which the messages will be sent. Stars within a radius of 20-30 light years should be chosen as messaging targets. “And instead of sending messages where it would take 50,000 years to get a reply, we should send messages to stars that are closer so that, even if it takes a decade or two to get a reply, at least it would be in a person’s lifetime.” Seth Shostak, senior scientist for the SETI Institute, said similar words to Vakoch’s in 2015, telling The Independent that due to the so-called “leakage,” fear over whether or not to actively send messages to try and contact aliens is moot, because “it’s too late to worry about it.” Besides Vakoch’s METI International, Breakthrough Initiatives, a nonprofit space outreach organization founded by billionaire Yuri Milner and supported by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and, oddly enough, Stephen Hawking, also has plans for what has become known as “Active SETI.” Its Breakthrough Message will soon launch — perhaps as early as next year, according to NBC News — its phase of soliciting ideas for both the message and the method of conveyance. And although there are many scientists that support the idea of “active SETI,” and quite a few who are opposed to programs like METI and Breakthrough Message, as reported by The Inquisitr, there are also many who are on the fence as to what might be the better course to take. Would aliens look like us or take some fantastic evolutionary path to other living forms? [Image by Chris Harvey/Shutterstock] Lucianne Walkowicz, an astrophysicist at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, told NBC News, “There’s a possibility that if we actively message, with the intention of getting the attention of an intelligent civilization, that the civilization we contact would not necessarily have our best interests in mind. On the other hand, there might be great benefits. It could be something that ends life on Earth, and it might be something that accelerates the ability to live quality lives on Earth. We have no way of knowing.” At present, there still is no definitive answer to whether or not life exists other than on planet Earth. Making first contact with aliens, of course, would supply that definitive answer. And while proactive messaging programs near launch (and up until there is a definitive answer regarding intelligent extraterrestrials), the debate over whether or not “active SETI” — attempting to actualize contact with aliens — is a good idea will continue. [Featured Image by sdecoret/Shutterstock]

Congress Doesn't Want To Pay For NASA's Moon Mission

Congress has set NASA the goal of a manned Mars mission, but the space agency will need to first practice with a trip to the moon and that costs money the government doesn’t want to pay. During the height of the space race with the former Soviet Union the United States spent about 4 percent of the national budget on NASA, but now the agency is rationed to a mere 0.5 percent. That kind of funding makes deep space exploration really hard, which is why the House Scientific Committee hosted a committee hearing this week to discuss the agency’s long-term plans. Several experts, including two former Apollo astronauts, told the Congressional committee the space agency needed more money, but lawmakers didn’t want to hear it. [Image by NASA/Newsmakers] NASA has been working on building the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, both designed for long haul deep space missions, since 2004, but needs additional funding to fly astronauts in the spacecraft. The space agency has no budget to take advantage of the spacecraft once it’s completed, as Tom Stafford, a four-time astronaut who commanded the Apollo 10 told Congress, according to an Ars Technica report. “We certainly need the SLS, but equally we need a space program designed to make good use of it.” That may be one reason NASA’s acting administrator Robert Lightfoot circulated a memo this week asking agency employees to brainstorm ways to put astronauts on the first SLS test flight to lunar orbit, according to Time. “I know the challenges associated with such a proposition, like reviewing the technical feasibility, additional resources needed, and clearly the extra work would require a different launch date. That said, I also want to hear about the opportunities it could present to accelerate the effort of the first crewed flight and what it would take to accomplish that first step of pushing humans farther into space.” [Image by Steve Robinson/NASA/Getty Images] Many of the problems associated with human space flight center around a proper budget and that’s something NASA has been struggling with since the mid-1970’s. During the Congressional hearing this week Tom Young, a past director of Goddard Spaceflight Center, told representatives that if they continue to fund NASA with mere 0.5 percent of the budget they’d be disappointed with the results, according to Ars Technica. “You’ll all be saying what a disappointing decade we’ve had.” NASA receives some $19 billion annually and spends about half that on human space flight; $5 billion every year goes to operating the International Space Station, and another $4 billion on exploration, mostly building the SLS and Orion. One way to bring down NASA costs is to abandon the International Space Station and transfer the orbital lab to private commercial control, something the agency is already exploring. Given the number of commercial companies gearing up for the cis-lunar economy developing in orbit the government might also be able to save cash by contracting out spaceflights, an idea floated by President Trump. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is working to build a reusable heavy lift rocket capable of transporting astronauts, and future colonists, to Mars. He wants to establish the first off-world colony and make humanity a multi-world species. The United Launch Alliance, a Boeing and Lockheed Martin partnership, is also developing a reusable rocket with the idea of recycling the upper stage known as ACES. The catch, of course, is that neither private rocket is expected to be completed on deadline and in the meantime NASA has to fork over money to Russia to boost astronauts into space on the country’s Soyuz rocket. After the space shuttle fleet was decommissioned in 2011, Russia jacked up the cost of seats on Soyuz by some 372 percent, digging further into NASA’s budget. Would you support an expanded budget for NASA? [Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

SpaceX Launch Successful: Dragon Carries Supplies to International Space Station

As reported by The Associated Press, SpaceX enjoyed a highly successful launch this morning from its newly christened and highly historic 39A launchpad at Kennedy Space Center. The launch had to be scrubbed Saturday – with only 13 seconds left on the clock before the engines were ignited – when a potential problem with the steering system was detected. Elon Musk SpaceX news conference. [Image by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images] Saturday’s SpaceX Launch Delay Even though Elon Musk himself said that the chance of anything going wrong with the Falcon 9 launch was small – even with the anomaly – SpaceX chose to err on the side of caution, with Musk tweeting: 99% likely to be fine, but that 1% chance isn’t worth rolling the dice. Better to wait a day. This is hardly surprising, given that SpaceX has had only one successful launch – from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base – since the fiery accident it experienced last year. A great deal of money and reputation are riding on SpaceX’s ability to more consistently carry cargo – and ultimately personnel – into Earth orbit and beyond. Sunday’s Successful Launch The successful launch on Sunday of the SpaceX Falcon 9 is another step in Elon Musk’s short-term goal of getting back on track toward much more regular launches. According to The Verge, Musk and SpaceX want in short order to transition to launches every 2-3 weeks. This would be a staggering increase over the current rate of launches by the company. Elon Musk discusses SpaceX. [Image by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images] SpaceX also wants to soon begin reusing the first stages of the Falcon 9 rockets it has recovered. If the company can successfully refurbish and reuse these rocket stages multiple times at minimal additional expense, it would be possible for them to slash their current cost for launch from $60 million to perhaps less than $40 million. Interestingly, this reduction of roughly 30% is far less than the savings they will get by reusing these rocket stages. This means that the company’s profits will – nope and intended – start to so were once the Falcon 9 reusability is confirmed and becomes a regular thing. Supplying the International Space Station The SpaceX Dragon capsule – lifted into orbit by the Falcon 9 – is currently one of the few means by which the orbiting international space station can be resupplied. The interruption in the supply stream caused by the accident SpaceX experienced last year was an inconvenience, but hardly a disaster. At the same time, if SpaceX wants to move on to carrying personnel up to the space station – as they have contracted with NASA to do in a few years – they will have to demonstrate a long and consistent streak of reliability and safety in their launches. While the Dragon 2 – the version of Dragon that will carry astronauts into orbit – will be supplied with an escape system so that astronauts can in theory survive a launch accident, this obviously is not something NASA would want to have to rely on regularly. They would much rather the SpaceX rockets smoothly carry the capsules up into orbit without incident. More than this though, if SpaceX is going to be successful in its much more long-term goals of traveling to Mars and establishing massive, self-sustaining human colonies there, reliability and reusability of its rockets are going to be essential. This is not only because humans will be unlikely to climb aboard a rocket they think has a high chance of exploding. Reliability and reusability will also vastly reduce the costs involved in such an incredible project. [Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

Jupiter: NASA's Juno Probe Will Remain In Long Orbit Around Gas Giant

Jupiter, the fifth and largest planet in the solar system, is currently being studied by NASA’s Juno space probe. Juno, a reported $1.1 billion mission, was first launched in the summer of 2011. After nearly five years of traveling through space, it successfully began orbiting the gas giant in July of last year, according to CNN. When Juno arrived at Jupiter, it became only the second probe to enter the gas giant’s orbit, with the first being the Galileo mission. Juno has been a success, and it has already gathered science and sent back fascinating photos, as the Inquisitr has previously reported. However, a couple of glitches have taken place, and NASA has had to make slight alterations to its plans for Juno. Round and round we go! I’ll stay in my current 53-day orbit for the remainder of my journey of discovery at #Jupiter https://t.co/CNvisrI5Hs pic.twitter.com/HXCTYzgeiN — NASA’s Juno Mission (@NASAJuno) February 17, 2017 Back in October, the Inquisitr reported that NASA had delayed a scheduled “engine burn,” which was part of a plan called the “period reduction maneuver” (PRM). The PRM would have shortened Juno’s orbit around Jupiter from 53 days to 14 days. The decision to delay the PRM was made due to trouble with “two helium check valves.” At the time, NASA announced that it would again try to move Juno into shorter orbit on December 11. When December came, however, the maneuver was delayed once more, according to Slate. Now, NASA has announced that it will call off the plan to shorten Juno’s orbit altogether, and it will remain in the 53-day orbit for the remainder of its time at the gas giant. Juno will remain in its current orbit around Jupiter.https://t.co/Mfa0G4H3IR pic.twitter.com/UcgfP6DAte — Astronomy Magazine (@AstronomyMag) February 17, 2017 However, even though Juno will remain in the longer orbit, it may actually be a good thing, and NASA stresses that it will not have a detrimental impact on the “quality of science” that will be collected by the space probe. In a press release from NASA, Thomas Zurbuchen of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington described how the decision to call off the engine burn was the correct and sensible move. “Juno is healthy, its science instruments are fully operational, and the data and images we’ve received are nothing short of amazing,” Zurbuchen says in the press release. “The decision to forego the [engine] burn is the right thing to do — preserving a valuable asset so that Juno can continue its exciting journey of discovery.” In the press release, Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton claims that keeping Juno in a longer orbit will be advantageous as it will limit its exposure to Jupiter’s “strong radiation belts.” According to NASA, the change of plans will also allow for “bonus science,” as Juno will be able to more thoroughly investigate Jupiter’s “magnetosphere.” “Juno will further explore the far reaches of the Jovian magnetosphere – the region of space dominated by Jupiter’s magnetic field – including the far magnetotail, the southern magnetosphere, and the magnetospheric boundary region called the magnetopause.” Per NASA, “understad[ing] the origin and evolution of Jupiter” is the main objective of the Juno mission. It is also believed that Jupiter may hold clues to the early formation of the solar system. According to NASA, other goals of Juno include, but are not limited to, finding out whether or not Jupiter has a “solid planetary core” and learning more about how large planets come into existence. Juno spacecraft gives up, decides to take the long way around Jupiter https://t.co/1SmbtsyqKa pic.twitter.com/OObdCaJYOd — Popular Science (@PopSci) February 19, 2017 Recently, there has also been more exciting news surrounding Europa, one of Jupiter’s four largest moons (there are more than 60 known Jovian satellites overall). Last week, the Inquisitr reported that NASA had received a report from a 21-member unit of the Science Definition Team (SDT), which detailed how a potential lander mission to the Jovian moon should look. Europa is believed to have a massive subsurface ocean, which is kept warm by Jupiter, and it is thought to be one of the best places to look for extraterrestrial life in the solar system. According to NASA, data compiled from Juno’s early flybys continues to be studied. Juno has already completed a total of four orbits around Jupiter since its arrival last summer. Per NASA, “the current budget plan” covers the space probe through July of 2018, at which time it will have completed a total of 12 orbits. [Featured Image by Nostalgia for Infinity/Shutterstock]

Some Scientists Fear First Contact With Aliens Could Be Last Contact: Here's Why

There is a general consensus among scientists that alien life is extant in the universe and that humans have but yet to detect it, for whatever reason. In that consensus, most would agree that it is only a matter of time and technology (and perhaps broader search parameters) before aliens are discovered and first contact is made, whether that be with living organisms of intelligence or simply scooping up some alien microbes in the ice cover of Europa. For many, the prospect presents an anticipation infused with wonder, curiosity, and the hopeful quelling of some atavistic fear that we, Earth life in the collective, are all alone in the vastness of the universe. For others, the thought of contact with aliens brings with it another type of anticipation — it is either something to dread or at least something about which humans should be extremely cautious. Rebecca Boyle, writing for NBC News, recently noted that some scientists believe that first contact might not be in the best interest of humanity. Using the Breakthrough Initiatives upcoming Breakthrough Message program, where the philanthropic organization dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence will soon ask the world to submit its ideas for the composition of a message to aliens (and then determine how to send it), as a prompt for a scientific discussion about first contact and what consequences for humanity such an occurrence would entail. The point is made that first contact may be beneficial to humanity, that there may not be anything to worry about. The first aliens encountered might be harmless — like some innocuous bacteria or docile species — and not impact humanity at all. Or they might be peaceful, solicitous, and deliver untold advances in technology, medicines, and overall knowledge. At its worst, first contact could mean last contact with anything. And, of course, there are any number of outcome scenarios between the bad and the horrible, such as species subjugation and accidental near-annihilation via some alien-borne pathogen. (For that matter, according to The Inquisitr, first contact actually might be with a deadly alien pathogen, the potential for which SETI and NASA scientists are working to contain.) Lucianne Walkowicz, an astrophysicist at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, voiced just such a dual outlook. “There’s a possibility that if we actively message, with the intention of getting the attention of an intelligent civilization, that the civilization we contact would not necessarily have our best interests in mind. On the other hand, there might be great benefits. It could be something that ends life on Earth, and it might be something that accelerates the ability to live quality lives on Earth. We have no way of knowing.” Oddly enough, one of Breakthrough Initiatives’ founders, renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, has voiced reluctance in reaching out into the vast unknown. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” Hawking famously said in 2010 (per Popular Science). He said that meeting aliens might be akin to Christopher Columbus’ encountering Native Americans. “That didn’t turn out so well.” And Hawking is not alone. Could messaging aliens prompt hostile extraterrestrials to return the call? [Image by Juan Manuel Rodriguez/Shutterstock] Physicist Mark Buchanan stated in the journal Nature Physics in August, “Any civilization detecting our presence is likely to be technologically very advanced, and may not be disposed to treat us nicely. At the very least, the idea seems morally questionable.” David Grinspoon, an author and astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, said he at first thought the idea of belligerent, invasive, or ravenous aliens as somewhat ridiculous, but he has since decided that the viewpoint has some merit. “But I’ve listened to the other side, and I think they have a point,” he told NBC News. “If you live in a jungle that might be full of hungry lions, do you jump down from your tree and go, ‘Yoo-hoo?’” And like reasoning applies to those listening in for signals from aliens, such as the scientists that man the array and study the incoming data at the SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) Institute in California. Professor Matthew Bailes, a scientist at Swinburne University in Melbourne and leads Australia’s efforts at searching for alien life, warned in 2015, according to The Independent, that first contact might very well be disastrous for humanity. “The history of weak civilizations contacting more advanced civilizations is not a happy one,” he said. With regard to the first alien encounter: First contact stories rarely have a happy ending for the weaker or more primitive of the contactees. [Image by boscorelli/Shutterstock] But there may be nothing to worry about after all. In fact, those who adhere to the Fermi Paradox (i.e., if aliens exist, where’s the evidence?) believe humans might be the sole residents of a very large universe. At the very least, aliens that do exist might be too distant for humans to worry over or maybe too advanced to give humanity a passing glance. For some, not being given a passing glance by aliens that might see Earth and/or humanity as a resource or an impediment, could be a very good thing. Trying to get their attention, especially if they’re not disposed to sharing the universe — not so much. [Featured Image by 3000ad/Shutterstock]

Event Horizon Telescope To Produce First Ever Actual Black Hole Photo By 2018

Unbeknownst to many, the black holes we’ve been seeing in books are not actual images, but are instead just visual representations of the real thing. This is because it is nearly impossible to photograph a black hole. For one, they are too far away to be seen by the naked eye. More fundamentally, the center of a black hole is too dark, not to mention that its gravity is too great that light itself is easily swallowed into its maw. Despite the strangely endearing name, the phrase “black hole” is perhaps somewhat misleading. https://t.co/LyOyy5rpai — The Wire (@thewire_in) February 14, 2017 The fact that scientists haven’t been able to snap actual photos or videos of black holes has even made some people question their very existence. But make no mistake, researchers know they’re out there, thanks to the consistency of their calculations derived from Albert E. Einstein’s theory of relativity. But now researchers may finally be able to photograph or capture an actual image of a black hole, courtesy of a new state-of-the-art telescope called the Event Horizon Telescope Array. Global telescope array to deliver 1st-ever black hole image by 2018 https://t.co/XqzmrySk2d pic.twitter.com/4rfFA6g9kN — RT America (@RT_America) February 17, 2017 As previously reported by Science Alert, the Event Horizon Telescope Array uses a series of radio receivers installed across different continents on Earth, including the South Pole, Hawaii, the Americas, and the French Alps. The researchers have their sights on producing the first actual photograph of a black hole, specifically the one located at the center of our galaxy — Sagitarrius A. By using very-long-baseline-array-interferometry, each radio receiver from the Event Horizon Telescope can detect radio waves emitted by a particular object in space. One radio receiver isn’t nearly enough to produce an actual image of Sagitarrius A, because while this particular black hole is 4 million times larger than the Sun, it is also 26,000 light-years away from Earth. But using a network of radio receivers located in different locations on Earth, the Event Horizon Telescope can produce enough resolution (approximately 50 microarcseconds) to deliver a clearer image of the black hole. The telescope will aim particularly for the event horizon surrounding Sagitarrius A, but there will be enough resolution to see the black hole itself. The Event Horizon Telescope will be activated between April 5 and 14, but researchers won’t be able to release the black hole photos until the end of the year or early 2018. As is the case with most discoveries that have something to do with how the Universe works, the validity of Einstein’s theory of relativity will again be put to the test. Using Einstein’s own theory, researchers predict that they’ll see a crescent of light around the center of the black hole rather than a ring on account of the Doppler effect, which posits that the material moving closer to Earth should appear much brighter. “Hopefully, it will look like a crescent – it won’t look like a ring,” team member Feryal Özel said in a press conference last year. “The rest of the ring will also emit, but what you will brightly pick up is a crescent.” Using the theory of general relativity, researchers can predict the size of the actual shadow cast by the black hole. If the actual image captured by the Event Horizon Telescope produces different results, then a shake up in the world of physics is to be expected. Furthermore, researchers may once again face the necessity of testing the validity of Einstein’s theory of general relativity if that happens. “We know exactly what general relativity predicts for that size,” said Özel. “Get to the edge of a black hole, and the general relativity tests you can perform are qualitatively and quantitatively different.” Project leader Sheperd Doeleman from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics told Jonathan Amos at the BBC a couple of days ago that he won’t be surprised if the results they got are different from what they predicted. “As I’ve said before, it’s never a good idea to bet against Einstein, but if we did see something that was very different from what we expect we would have to reassess the theory of gravity,” he said. “I don’t expect that is going to happen, but anything could happen and that’s the beauty of it,” he added. [Featured Image by vchal/Thinkstock]