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NASA

NASA Spends 72 Cents of Every SLS Dollar On Overhead Costs, Says Report (arstechnica.com) 157

A new report published by the nonpartisan think tank Center for a New American Security shows us where a lot of NASA's money is being spent. The space agency has reportedly spent $19 billion on rockets -- first on Ares I and V, and now on the Space Launch System rocket -- and $13.9 billion on the Orion spacecraft. If all goes according to plan and NASA is able to fly its first crewed mission with the new vehicles in 2021, "the report estimates the agency will have spent $43 billion before that first flight, essentially a reprise of the Apollo 8 mission around the Moon," reports Ars Technica. "Just the development effort for SLS and Orion, which includes none of the expenses related to in-space activities or landing anywhere, are already nearly half that of the Apollo program." From the report: The new report argues that, given these high costs, NASA should turn over the construction of rockets and spacecraft to the private sector. It buttresses this argument with a remarkable claim about the "overhead" costs associated with the NASA-led programs. These costs entail the administration, management, and development costs paid directly to the space agency -- rather than funds spend on contractors actually building the space hardware. For Orion, according to the report, approximately 56 percent of the program's cost, has gone to NASA instead of the main contractor, Lockheed Martin, and others. For the SLS rocket and its predecessors, the estimated fraction of NASA-related costs is higher -- 72 percent. This means that only about $7 billion of the rocket's $19 billion has gone to the private sector companies, Boeing, Orbital ATK, Aeroject Rocketdyne, and others cutting metal. By comparison the report also estimates NASA's overhead costs for the commercial cargo and crew programs, in which SpaceX, Boeing, and Orbital ATK are developing and providing cargo and astronaut delivery systems for the International Space Station. With these programs, NASA has ceded some control to the private companies, allowing them to retain ownership of the vehicles and design them with other customers in mind as well. With such fixed-price contracts, the NASA overhead costs for these programs is just 14 percent, the report finds.
Earth

US Scientists Launch World's Biggest Solar Geoengineering Study (theguardian.com) 56

In what will be the world's biggest solar geoengineering program to date, U.S. scientists part of the $20 million Harvard University project are going to send aerosol injections 20km (~12.4 miles) into the earth's stratosphere "to establish whether the technology can safely simulate the atmospheric cooling effects of a volcanic eruption," The Guardian reports. From the report: Scientists hope to complete two small-scale dispersals of first water and then calcium carbonate particles by 2022. Future tests could involve seeding the sky with aluminum oxide -- or even diamonds. Janos Pasztor, Ban Ki-moon's assistant climate chief at the UN who now leads a geoengineering governance initiative, said that the Harvard scientists would only disperse minimal amounts of compounds in their tests, under strict university controls. Geoengineering advocates stress that any attempt at a solar tech fix is years away and should be viewed as a compliment to -- not a substitute for -- aggressive emissions reductions action. But the Harvard team, in a promotional video for the project, suggest a redirection of one percent of current climate mitigation funds to geoengineering research, and argue that the planet could be covered with a solar shield for as little as $10 billion a year. Some senior UN climate scientists view such developments with alarm, fearing a cash drain from proven mitigation technologies such as wind and solar energy, to ones carrying the potential for unintended disasters. If lab tests are positive, the experiment would then be replicated with a limestone compound which the researchers believe will neither absorb solar or terrestrial radiation, nor deplete the ozone layer.
Mars

Trump Adds To NASA Budget, Approves Crewed Mission To Mars (nbcnews.com) 311

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: President Donald Trump signed a law on Tuesday authorizing funding for a crewed NASA mission to Mars. The new bill (S.442) adds a crewed mission to the red planet as a key NASA objective and authorizes the space agency to direct test human space flight programs that will enable more crewed exploration in deep space. The space agency has $19.5 billion in funding for the 2018 fiscal year, which starts this October. Trump had allocated $19.1 billion for NASA in his budget, which is slightly down from the current year, but still an improvement from the past decade, which saw the end of the space shuttle program. The commander in chief signed the bill surrounded by astronauts and his former Republican rivals, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who both sponsored the bill. Getting to Mars, though, isn't expected to happen during the Trump presidency. NASA has its sights set on getting to the red planet in the 2030s. In the near term, NASA plans to test its Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket, in addition to visiting an asteroid and redirecting a chunk of it into orbit around the moon. Astronauts could later visit the boulder and use the mission to test some of the tools needed for a Mars mission.
Space

Astronomers Find Star Orbiting a Black Hole At 1 Percent the Speed of Light (sciencealert.com) 124

schwit1 writes: Astronomers have spotted a star whizzing around a vast black hole at about 2.5 times the distance between Earth and the Moon, and it takes only half an hour to complete one orbit. To put that into perspective, it takes roughly 28 days for our Moon to do a single lap around our relatively tiny planet at speeds of 3,683 km(2,288 miles) per hour. Using data from an array of deep space telescopes, a team of astronomers have measured the X-rays pouring from a binary star system called 47 Tuc X9, which sits in a cluster of stars about 14,800 light-years away. The pair of stars aren't new to astronomers -- they were identified as a binary system way back in 1989 -- but it's now finally becoming clear what's actually going on here. When a white dwarf pulls material from another star, the system is described as a cataclysmic variable star. But back in 2015, one of the objects was found to be a black hole, throwing that hypothesis into serious doubt. Data from Chandra has confirmed large amounts of oxygen in the pair's neighborhood, which is commonly associated with white dwarf stars. But instead of a white dwarf ripping apart another star, it now seems to be a black hole stripping the gases from a white dwarf. The real exciting news, however, is regular changes in the X-rays' intensity suggest this white dwarf takes just 28 minutes to complete an orbit, making it the current champion of cataclysmic dirty dancers. To put it in perspective, the distance between the two objects in X9 is about 1 million kilometers (about 600,000 miles), or about 2.5 times the distance from here to the Moon. Crunching the numbers, that's a journey of roughly 6.3 million kilometers (about 4 million miles) in half an hour, giving us a speed of 12,600,000 km/hr (8,000,000 miles/hr) - about 1 percent of the speed of light.
Programming

Math Teacher Solves Adobe Semaphore Puzzle (mercurynews.com) 52

linuxwrangler writes: For over 4 years, lights atop Adobe's office building in San Jose have flashed out a secret message. This week, the puzzle was solved by Tennessee math teacher Jimmy Waters. As part of the winnings, Adobe is donating software and 3D printers to Waters' school in his name. "The semaphore had been transmitting the audio broadcast of Neil Armstrong's historic moon landing in 1969," reports The Mercury News. "That's right, not the text but the actual audio." The report provides some backstory: "Waters discovered the project, San Jose Semaphore, last summer while he was looking up something about Thomas Pynchon's 1966 novel, 'The Crying of Lot 49.' The text of that work was the code originally programmed by New York-based artist Ben Rubin in 2006. Seeing there was a new message, Waters began trying to decipher it while watching and writing down the sequences online from Tennessee. He discovered a pattern that led him to believe it could represent a space -- or a silence -- in an audio file, and when he graphed the results it looked like an audio wave. He dismissed that as being too difficult but came back to it and eventually ran his results into a program that would convert his numbers to audio. The first results came back sounding like chipmunks squeaking. So he tweaked things and found himself listening to the historic broadcast, which ends with Armstrong's famous line, 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.'" You can listen to the semaphore message here.
NASA

It's About Time Astronauts Got Healthcare For Life (mashable.com) 283

Miriam Kramer, reporting for Mashable: NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria flew to space four times for the space agency between 1995 and 2007. While in space, his eyesight deteriorated, a well-documented medical issue NASA's known about for years, and one that many astronauts have experienced first-hand. For many astronauts, their eyesight readjusts once they get back to Earth. That wasn't the case for Lopez-Alegria, though. His eyesight got significantly worse during his time in orbit, and NASA isn't paying for his contacts or doctor visits today, years after his retirement from the agency. However, he still travels to Houston, Texas once per year to allow the agency to gather data about his health, without any expectation that NASA will offer treatment for any conditions that may have developed because of his time in space. In other words, while Lopez-Alegria's eyesight deteriorates, NASA benefits from the data he provides to the American space program, without medical recompense to him today. The lack of health care for former astronauts has long been a sore spot at NASA, but now it threatens the agency's future. Deep space missions beyond the moon, like a mission to Mars, require a better understanding of how extended spaceflight affects the human body.
Space

Jeff Bezos' Spaceflight Company Blue Origin Gets Its First Paying Customer (nytimes.com) 32

Long-time Slashdot reader nickovs writes: Blue Origin was started as a "moon shot" company by Jeff Bezos and recently claimed that it would be offering an "Amazon-like" delivery service to the moon by 2020. In the mean time it seems their customers will be slightly closer to Earth: this week they announced that they now have a paying customer in the form of the satellite TV company Eutelsat. While this isn't a huge technical milestone, it is a major business milestone, turning Blue Origin from a hobby business into one which might eventually make a profit. According to a New York Times article, "The commercial partnership brings Blue Origin closer in line with SpaceX, created by Elon Musk, which has been launching satellites and taking NASA cargo to the International Space Station for several years."
Meanwhile, SpaceX announced last week that two space tourists have already put down "a significant deposit" for a week-long trip around the moon at the end of 2018, adding "Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow."
NASA

NASA Finds Lunar Spacecraft That Vanished 8 Years Ago (cnn.com) 56

An anonymous reader shares a CNN report: It made history as India's first unmanned lunar spacecraft. Then it vanished. Nearly a decade later, NASA has located two unmanned spacecraft orbiting the moon, including India's Chandrayaan-1, which went quiet in 2009. Scientists used a new ground radar to locate the two spacecraft -- one active and one dormant, NASA said Thursday. "We have been able to detect NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter [LRO] and the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft in lunar orbit with ground-based radar," said Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Finding LRO was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission's navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located."
Space

Stunning Close-up of Saturn's Moon, Pan, Reveals a Space Empanada (sciencemag.org) 63

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: Astronomers have long known that Pan, one of Saturn's innermost moons, has an odd look. Based on images taken from a distance, researchers have said it looks like a walnut or a flying saucer. But now, NASA's Cassini probe has delivered stunning close-ups of the 35-kilometer-wide icy moon, and it might be better called a pan-fried dumpling or an empanada. Pan orbits Saturn in a gap in the planet's rings and pulls material from them, so the ridge around it likely started accumulating soon after the moon formed, researchers say. If material in the ridge is still loose, rather than somehow fused together, the ridge can maintain its steepness only because the moon's gravity is so low. The latest pictures were obtained as Cassini conducts its final (and riskiest) flybys past Saturn's moons and rings before it blazes into the planet's atmosphere later this year.
China

China Developing Manned Space Mission To the Moon 149

China is building a manned spacecraft capable of sending astronauts to the moon as well as near-Earth orbit flight, according to Chinese state media. From a report on CNBC: The official newspaper of the Ministry of Science and Technology of China cited system chief architect Zhang Bainan who claimed the craft is being designed to carry as many as six astronauts. The newspaper, Science and Technology Daily, quoted Zhang Bainan as saying China wished to catch up with international standards of space exploration. The fresh announcement follows a separate Chinese ambition to bring back samples from the moon before the end of this year.
Businesses

Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin To Offer 'Amazon-Like' Moon Delivery By 2020 (geekwire.com) 76

Less than a week after Elon Musk's SpaceX announced it would soon offer space tourists a cruise around the moon, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has announced that he would be launching an Amazon-like service shipping supplies, experiments, and crew to the Moon by 2020. From a report: Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture has proposed sending a robotic lander to the moon's south polar region by 2020, as an initial step toward an "Amazon-like" lunar delivery system and eventually a permanently inhabited moon base. The report says the company's seven-page proposal, dated Jan. 4, has been circulating among NASA's leadership and President Donald Trump's transition team. It's only one of several proposals aimed at turning the focus of exploration beyond Earth orbit to the moon and its environs during Trump's term.
Government

Congressional Candidate Brianna Wu Claims Moon-Colonizing Companies Could Destroy Cities By Dropping Rocks (washingtontimes.com) 642

Applehu Akbar quotes a report from Washington Times: A transgender-issues activist and Democratic candidate for Congress says the advent of the space tourism industry could give private corporations a "frightening amount of power" to destroy the Earth with rocks because of the Moon's military importance. Brianna Wu, a prominent "social justice warrior" in the "Gamergate" controversy who now is running for the House seat in Massachusetts' 8th District, suggested in a since-deleted tweet that companies could drop rocks from the Moon. "The moon is probably the most tactically valuable military ground for earth," the tweet said. "Rocks dropped from there have power of 100s of nuclear bombs." After users on social media questioned her scientific literacy, the congressional candidate clarified that the tweet was "talking about dropping [rocks] into our gravity well." Small space rocks can indeed do nuclear-weapons-scale damage if hitting the Earth at orbital speeds. But launching one from the moon, even setting aside issues of aiming, would still require escaping the satellite's gravitational field, a task that requires the power and thrust contained in a huge rocket.
Moon

SpaceX Plans To Send Two People Around the Moon In 2018 (gizmodo.com) 195

Today, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced that in 2018, the company will fly two private citizens around the Moon in its Dragon 2 spacecraft, carried by its Falcon Heavy rocket. "While the voyagers' names have not been disclosed, according to SpaceX, a 'significant deposit' has already been made," Gizmodo reports. From the report: According to Musk, the mission will last approximately one week. The passengers will travel beyond the moon and loop back to Earth, spanning roughly 300,000 to 400,000 miles. While the passengers will undergo some sort of training beforehand, it's unclear if the two have any experience with piloting, nevermind spaceflight. The mission, although unrelated to NASA's plan to slingshot astronauts around the Moon in several years' time using the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule, was made possible in part by funding SpaceX has received to develop its human spaceflight technology through the commercial crew program. "This is a really thing that's happened," Elon Musk told reporters at a press conference. "We've been approached to do a crewed mission beyond the Moon ... [and these passengers] are very serious about it. We plan to do that probably Dragon 2 spacecraft with the Falcon Heavy rocket." He went on to say the company is "expected to do more than one mission of this nature."
Moon

How To Get Back To the Moon In 4 Years -- This Time To Stay (scientificamerican.com) 355

Scientific American describes "a way to get to the Moon and to stay there permanently...to begin this process immediately and to achieve moon landings in less than four years." It starts by abandoning NASA's expensive Space Launch System and Orion capsule, and spending the money saved on private-industry efforts like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Robert Bigelow's Bigelow Aerospace. schwit1 quotes their report: Musk's rockets -- the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy -- are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What's more, SpaceX's upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth's surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready...

Major segments of the space community want every future landing to add to a permanent infrastructure in the sky. And that's within our grasp thanks to Robert Bigelow... Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow's been developing something far more ambitious -- an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules.

The article calls Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin rockets "a wild car" which could also land passengers and cargo on the moon and suggests NASA would be better off funding things like lunar-surface refueling stations, lunar construction equipment, and "devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen."
Space

Slooh Observatory Is Webcasting Today's Rare 'Ring of Fire' Eclipse (space.com) 24

An anonymous reader quotes Space.com A solar eclipse and its spectacular "ring of fire" will be visible from the Southern Hemisphere this Sunday morning, but no matter what side of the equator you're on, you can watch the spectacular event unfold online in a live broadcast from Slooh's online observatory...beginning at 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT)... This type of eclipse is called an annular eclipse, meaning that the sun will remain visible as a bright ring around the moon...

Slooh will present the eclipse in live feeds from Chile and other locations. "During the broadcast, Slooh host Gerard Monteux will guide viewers on this journey across multiple continents and thousands of miles," Slooh said in a statement. "He'll be joined by a number of guests who will help viewers explore not only the science of eclipses, but also the fascinating legend, myth, and spiritual and emotional expression associated with these most awe-inspiring celestial events."

NASA

NASA Scientists Propose New Definition of Planets, and Pluto Could Soon Be Back (sciencealert.com) 213

Rei writes: After several years of publicly complaining about the "bullshit" decision at the IAU redefining what comprises a planet, New Horizons program head Alan Stern and fellow planetary geologists have put forth a new definition which they seek to make official, basing planethood on hydrostatic equilibrium. Under this definition, in addition to Ceres, Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects, large moons like Titan and Europa, as well as our own moon, would also become planets; "planet" would be a physical term, while "moon" would be an orbital term, and hence one can have a planetary moon, as well as planets that orbit other stars or no star at all (both prohibited under the current definition). The paper points out that planetary geologists already refer to such bodies as planets, citing examples such as a paper about Titan: "A planet-wide detached haze layer occurs between 300-350 km above the surface; the visible limb of the planet, where the vertical haze optical depth is 0.1, is about 220 km above the surface."
NASA

NASA Is Studying A Manned Trip Around The Moon On A $23 Billion Rocket (buzzfeed.com) 317

An anonymous reader shares a report on NASA's ongoing work on a manned trip to the moon. From the report: Without a new administrator even nominated yet, NASA's acting head Robert Lightfoot on Wednesday requested a study of whether next year's first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, billed as the most powerful NASA has built, could have a crew of astronauts. "I know the challenges associated with such a proposition," Lightfoot said in a letter to his agency, citing costs, extra work, and "a different launch date" for the planned 2018 Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The mission would be launched by the massive SLS, which is still in development, then boosted by a European service module to put three astronauts inside the new Orion space capsule on a three-week trip around the moon. NASA first sent three astronauts around the moon in 1968 in the Apollo 8 mission. The last astronaut to stand on the moon, the late Gene Cernan returned to Earth in 1972. The new talk of a repeat moon-circling mission, aboard an untested spacecraft, has space policy experts variously thrilled, dismissive, and puzzled. "I frankly don't quite know what to say about it," space policy expert John Logsdon of George Washington University said. Writing on NASAWatch, Keith Cowing called the study request a "Hail Mary" pass to save the life of the SLS ahead of Trump installing a budget cutter to head the space agency. The Government Accountability Office estimates the costs of SLS and its two planned launches (a second, crewed mission is planned for 2023) at $23 billion.
Mozilla

Mozilla Will Deprecate XUL Add-ons Before the End of 2017 225

Artem Tashkinov writes: Mozilla has published a plan of add-ons deprecation in future Firefox releases. Firefox 53 will run in multi process mode by default for all users with some exceptions. Most add ons will continue to function, however certain add ons have already ceased to function because they don't expect multi user mode under the hood. Firefox 54-56 will introduce even more changes which will ultimately break even more addons. Firefox 57, which will be preliminarily released on the 28th of Novermber, 2017, will only run WebExtensions: which means no XUL (overlay) add ons, no bootstrapped extensions, no SDK extensions and no Embedded WebExtensions. In other words by this date the chromification of Firefox will have been completed. If you depend on XUL add ons your only choice past this date will be Pale Moon.
Google

Google Fiber Sheds Workers As It Looks to a Wireless Future (engadget.com) 108

Mariella Moon, writing for Engadget: Alphabet is making some huge changes to steer Google Fiber in a new, more wireless direction. According to Wired, the corporation has reassigned hundreds of Fiber employees to other parts of the company and those who remained will mostly work in the field. It has also hired broadband veteran Greg McCray as the new CEO for Access, the division that runs Google Fiber. These changes don't exactly come out of left field: back in October, Google announced that it's pausing the high-speed internet's expansion to new markets and that it's firing nine percent of the service's staff. Wired says running fiber optic cables into people's homes has become too expensive for the company. A Recode report last year says it costs Mountain View $1 billion to bring Fiber to a new market.
Moon

A Guide To Friday's Comet-Eclipse-Full-Moon Triple Feature (cnet.com) 28

SonicSpike quotes a report from CNET: Even if you aren't a space nerd whose idea of a good time is craning your neck to stare into the vast nothingness of space on a frigid evening, this Friday the heavens will put on a show worth heading outdoors for. A penumbral lunar eclipse, a full "snow moon" and a comet will be spicing up the night sky February 10 in a rare convergence of such celestial happenings. We'll start with our nearest neighbor. February brings the full moon known as the "snow moon" because this month in North America tends to see a lot of the white fluffy stuff. This snow moon will be special though because, well... we'll all get in its way in a sense when the penumbral lunar eclipse takes place Friday. The eclipse will be at least partly visible from most but not all places on Earth (sorry Australia and Japan). The moment of greatest eclipse is at 4:43 p.m. PT and the eclipse will then dissipate until it completes a little over two hours later, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. Next up, Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova has actually been visible with binoculars and telescopes for several weeks already, but it will be at its closest approach to Earth on the morning of February 11 as it passes by at a distance of 7.4 million miles (11.9 million kilometers) or 30 times further away than the moon.

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