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NASA has chosen SpaceX to build spacecraft that will take humans to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo program wrapped up in 1972 — first reported by The Washington Post. The agency announced SpaceX had won the contract for the Artemis lunar lander at a press conference this afternoon. The company beat out Blue Origin (which teamed up with key aerospace players like Lockheed Martin) and defense contractor Dynetics to win the $2.9 billion contract. It was previously expected that NASA would select two of the companies.

NASA tends to pick multiple contractors for its key programs to promote competition and to ensure there are several options in case a provider can't make good on its proposal. It chose all three for the initial step of the contract last year but it has decided to go all in on SpaceX.

The company pitched its Starship for the Artemis missions. Although SpaceX has been encountering problems with the reusable spacecraft during testing (all of the prototypes have crashed and/or exploded thus far), NASA seems confident the company can get it right. SpaceX is still planning to take Starship into orbit later this year. The agency also explained that the reusable nature of the Starship factored into its decision.

The contract is a major victory for SpaceX. It's already working with NASA to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, with the next mission scheduled for April 22nd.

When the Artemis program spun up under the Trump administration, the goal was to take astronauts back to the Moon in 2024, but the timeline for the project is under review. NASA doesn't currently have the funding it needs to make the mission happen by 2024 either.

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In 2023, will civilians fly around the moon for the first time? According to Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, the answer is yes. He is bankrolling the DearMoon mission, which is intended to take a group of eight people to the moon on SpaceX's still-in-development Starship and loop around Earth's natural satellite on a six-day mission.

The project, announced by Maezawa and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in 2018, originally planned to invite artists from around the world to experience. The criteria for "artists" was never clearly defined, but on Tuesday, in a new promotional video for the mission, Maezawa announced that DearMoon would be opened up to practically everyone across the globe.

"I began to think that maybe every single person who is doing something creative could be called an artist," he says in the video, which you can view below.

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Before the Apollo era, the moon was thought to be dry as a desert due to the extreme temperatures and harshness of the space environment. Many studies have since discovered lunar water: ice in shadowed polar craters, water bound in volcanic rocks, and unexpected rusty iron deposits in the lunar soil. Despite these findings, there is still no true confirmation of the extent or origin of lunar surface water.

The prevailing theory is that positively charged hydrogen ions propelled by the solar wind bombard the lunar surface and spontaneously react to make water (as hydroxyl (OH-) and molecular (H2O)). However, a new multinational study published in Astrophysical Journal Letters proposes that solar wind may not be the only source of water-forming ions. The researchers show that particles from Earth can seed the moon with water, as well, implying that other planets could also contribute water to their satellites.

Water is far more prevalent in space than astronomers first thought, from the surface of Mars to Jupiter's moons and Saturn's rings, comets, asteroids and Pluto; it has even been detected in clouds far beyond our solar system. It was previously assumed that water was incorporated into these objects during the formation of the solar system, but there is growing evidence that water in space is far more dynamic. Though the solar wind is a likely source for lunar surface water, computer models predict that up to half of it should evaporate and disappear at high-latitude regions during the approximately three days of the full moon when it passes within Earth's magnetosphere.

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