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Elon Musk Scales Up His Ambitions, Considering Going 'Well Beyond' Mars ( 289

An anonymous reader writes: For most of its 14-year existence, SpaceX has focused on designing and developing the hardware that will lead to its ultimate goal: colonizing Mars. These plans have remained largely secret from the general public, as company founder Elon Musk has dropped only the barest of hints. But that is expected to change on Sept. 27, during a session at the International Astronautical Congress, when Musk details some of these plans for the first time in a public forum. However, on the eve of the meeting, Musk dropped a surprise on Twitter. The workhorse spacecraft that will carry approximately 100 tons of cargo or 100 people to the surface of Mars, which until now has been popularly known as the Mars Colonial Transporter, can't be called that, Musk said. "Turns out MCT can go well beyond Mars, so will need a new name..." he tweeted on Friday evening. By Saturday evening he had a new name dubbing the spacecraft the "Interplanetary Transport System," or ITS. Mars, it turns out, isn't the solar system's only marginally habitable world for would-be new world colonists. The Moon, Venus, the asteroid Ceres, and outer Solar System moons Titan and Callisto all have some advantages that could allow for colonies to subsist. However, Mars has generally been the preferred destination -- due to its relative proximity to Earth, a thin atmosphere, and sources of water ice. Musk now seems to be suggesting that some of these more distant destinations, especially moons around Jupiter and Saturn, might be reachable with the Interplanetary Transport System.

Alibaba Engineers Fired for Mooncake Hacking ( 85

On the eve of Mid-Autumn Festival, some people will go to great lengths to get mooncakes, the traditional gift for family, friends and colleagues. At Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., four engineers tried to rig the distribution system of the e-commerce giant's mooncake selloff -- and were fired for their effort (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source), reports WSJ. From the report: Alibaba confirmed it fired the four this week, after they hacked into the internal website that allows employees to purchase the company's signature mooncakes, with an orange fluffy Alibaba mascot inside. The Hangzhou-based company allocates one free box to each employee for the holiday, and sells extras on the site at cost -- 59 yuan (about $9) for a box of four.

The Moon's Gravitational Pull Can Trigger Major Earthquakes, Says Study ( 130

schwit1 writes: A careful statistical analysis of when major earthquakes occur has suggested they are more likely to be more powerful if they occur around the full and new moons when tidal forces are at their peak. reports: "Satoshi Ide, a seismologist at the University of Tokyo, and his colleagues investigated three separate earthquake records covering Japan, California and the entire globe. For the 15 days leading up to each quake, the scientists assigned a number representing the relative tidal stress on that day, with 15 representing the highest. They found that large quakes such as those that hit Chile and Tohoku-Oki occurred near the time of maximum tidal strain -- or during new and full moons when the Sun, Moon and Earth align. For more than 10,000 earthquakes of around magnitude 5.5, the researchers found, an earthquake that began during a time of high tidal stress was more likely to grow to magnitude 8 or above." As these results are based entirely on statistical evidence, not on any direct link between tidal forces and actual quakes, they are quite uncertain and unproven.

Can Humankind Establish a Supply Chain in Space? ( 209

Long-time Slashdot reader RockDoctor shares a new paper by NASA planetary scientist Philip Metzger, "detailing a roadmap for humanity to take control of the Solar System in order to solve problems on Earth" by utilizing the resources that are already on the moon. In a 2013 paper, Dr. Metgzer wrote: "[B]ootstrapping" can be achieved with as little as 12 metric tons landed on the Moon during a period of about 20 years... The industry grows exponentially because of the free real estate, energy, and material resources of space. The mass of industrial assets at the end of bootstrapping will be 156 metric tons with 60 humanoid robots or as high as 40,000 metric tons... Within another few decades with no further investment, it can have millions of times the industrial capacity of the United States...
Dr. Metzger wrote in 2013 that "This industry promises to revolutionize the human condition." (See RockDoctor's original submission for more details.) While Metzger now notes that "It will require a sustained commitment of several decades to complete," his new article points out that a lunar supply chain outpost "will cost about 1/3 or less of the existing annual budgets of the national space programs," thanks to advances in both robotics and artificial intelligence, and will help humanity develop renewable energy and greatly expand the availability of other limited resources.

A Small Asteroid Buzzed Earth Wednesday, But Everything's Cool ( 94

An anonymous reader writes: If the Earth were a person, it might have felt a sudden wind rustling its hair when a small asteroid whizzed past the planet on Wednesday. The asteroid, saddled with the name 2016 RB1, is a new discovery. Astronomers just noticed it on September 5 thanks to the keen eye of a telescope from the Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Arizona. What makes 2016 RB1 so sneaky is its small size. It's only about 25 to 50 feet (7 to 16 meters) in diameter. It passed within just 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) of Earth, which NASA helpfully translates into 1/10th the distance from Earth to the moon. In terms of the massive size of the galaxy, that qualifies as a relatively close shave. An animated GIF of the flyby shows a tiny white dot moving against a grainy space background. The asteroid's trajectory kept it well out of the way of any satellites, and the planet was never in any danger.

Recent College Grads Aim To Land A Robot On The Moon ( 59

Sunday the Indian Space Research Organization successfully test-launched a scramjet rocket, propelled by "an air-breathing propulsion system which uses hydrogen as fuel and oxygen from the atmosphere air as the oxidizer" rather than carrying a tank of liquid oxygen. "if the need for liquid oxygen is taken away, the space craft can be much lighter, hence cheaper to launch," notes one newspaper, adding that India is only the fourth country to flight-test a scramjet engine after the U.S., Russia and the European Space Agency.

But in addition, 15 former ISRO scientists are now helping Team Indus, one of the 16 teams remaining in Google's $30 million Lunar XPRIZE competition, who will use ISRO's polar satellite launch vehicle to send their spacecraft to the moon. GillBates0 writes: An official designated as "Skywalker", said that such space missions used to be limited to extremely elite people and PhDs in the past. That stereotype is now breaking. "I was just a college student a couple of years ago and now I am working on an actual space mission, how cool is that," said Karan Vaish, 23, who is helping the team to design the lunar rover. Eighty per cent of the team is reported to be less than five years out of college.

Annoying 'Open PDF In Edge' Default Option Puts Windows 10 Users At Risk ( 118

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Softpedia: Microsoft fixed today a serious security flaw in the Windows PDF Library, a standard library used by Windows 10 to open and render PDF files, embedded by default in Edge. Exploiting this flaw allows attackers to execute code on the user's machine and take over the device, just by tricking a user into accessing a PDF hosted online via Edge. Since Edge is not only the default browser in Windows 10, but also the default PDF reader, this flaw puts countless of users that have not changed those settings at risk. Even worse, Microsoft has the annoying habit of resetting your personal app preferences once in a blue moon, always reverting Edge as the default browser and the default app to open PDF files.

North Korea Hopes To Plant Flag On The Moon Within 10 Years ( 215

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Associated Press: In an interview with The Associated Press, a senior official at North Korea's version of NASA said international sanctions won't stop the country from launching more satellites by 2020, and that he hopes to see the North Korean flag on the moon within the next 10 years. "Even though the U.S. and its allies try to block our space development, our aerospace scientists will conquer space and definitely plant the flag of the DPRK on the moon," said Hyon Kwang Il, director of the scientific research department of North Korea's National Aerospace Development Administration. An unmanned, no-frills North Korean moon mission in the not-too-distant future isn't as far-fetched as it might seem. Outside experts say it's ambitious, but conceivable. While the U.S. is the only country to have conducted manned lunar missions, other nations have sent unmanned spacecraft there and have in that sense planted their flags. Hyon said the current five-year plan, at the order of leader Kim Jong Un, focuses on launching more Earth observation satellites and what would be its first geostationary communications satellite -- which, technologically, would be a major step forward. He said universities are also expanding programs to train rocket scientists. "We are planning to develop the Earth observation satellites and to solve communications problems by developing geostationary satellites. All of this work will be the basis for the flight to the moon," Hyon said on July 28, adding that he personally would like to see that happen "within 10 years' time." Meanwhile, North Korea's southern neighbors are planning a similar mission to place a probe in orbit around the moon and a small lander and rover on the surface of the moon by 2020.

Moon Express Gets FAA Approval For Lunar Mission In 2017 ( 55

coondoggie quotes a report from Network World: The Federal Aviation Administration this week granted permission to a privately-held space firm to launch a robotic spacecraft to the moon. Moon Express expects to launch its MX-1 spacecraft on a two-week mission to the lunar surface in 2017. The MX-1, which is about as large as a suitcase will include instruments and a camera to explore the moon's surface. Moon Express has a contract with Rocket Lab USA for 3 lunar missions between 2017 and 2020. They are the first private company to receive permission to go to the moon. "Moon Express applauds efforts underway by the U.S. Congress and Executive Branch to establish a permanent regulatory framework to authorize commercial activities beyond Earth orbit," said Moon Express cofounder and CEO Bob Richards. "Our 'Mission Approval' process is an interim arrangement that can be implemented quickly enough for our 2017 launch requirements, allowing us to continue to execute on our business plans under U.S. law while ensuring our activities are consistent with U.S. obligations under the Outer Space Treaty."

NASA's 'Journey To Mars' Initiative Might Be Delayed Due To Government Audit ( 65

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Christian Science Monitor: NASA has taken bold steps toward crewed Mars exploration in recent years. But according to a new audit, the agency may be moving too hastily. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) expressed concerns this past week about the feasibility of NASA's Orion crew capsule and Space Launch System (SLS). In two government-requested audits, the GAO questioned NASA's ability to meet program deadlines, citing insufficient funding and internal management issues. According to the GAO, however, the agency's schedule just isn't realistic. By pushing for earlier launch dates, NASA is increasing the inherent risk of a deep space mission. NASA's budgeting practices are also scrutinized in GAO's audit. In September, the agency asked for $11.3 billion to prepare Orion for launch. "Ideally, if these programs go forward, NASA would be taking actions to reduce the risks we see now, which are being caused by management issues," says Cristina Chaplain, who led the GOA audit, in an interview with the Monitor. "They're going to face the technical issues no matter what. But they're exacerbating them with management concerns, like not having accurate cost estimates." The report adds: "NASA's 'Journey to Mars' initiative has been a source of both excitement and controversy. The Asteroid Redirect Mission, in which the agency will send four astronauts to redirect an asteroid into the moon's orbit, is slated to launch sometime in the next decade. The mission is designed to test new propulsion technology for future crewed Mars missions. In the 2030s, NASA hopes to send an Orion crew to the red planet. NASA plans to complete the first SLS launch in 2018. In the test mission, called Exploration Mission 1, the rocket will carry an empty Orion into orbit around the moon. In subsequent missions, SLS/Orion will launch with a full crew. NASA has scheduled Exploration Mission 2 for April 2023, but administrators hope to launch as early as 2021."

47 Years Ago Today, Apollo 11 Landed On the Moon ( 185

An anonymous reader writes: At this point 47 years ago we had begun our orbit around the Moon," writes Buzz Aldrin in a tweet. Today, Wednesday, July 20th, 2016, marks the 47th anniversary of when NASA astronauts landed on the moon for the very first time. Fox News reports: "Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins blasted off from Earth on a massive Saturn V rocket on July 16, 1969. Four days later, the Eagle module landed on the surface with Aldrin and Armstrong inside; Collins stayed behind in the orbiting Columbia craft. Millions of people back on Earth watched, captivated, as Armstrong was the first down the ladder, then uttered his now-famous line: 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.' The astronauts eventually returned to Earth, splashing down four days later in the Pacific. On the moon, an American flag and a plaque that read, in part, 'We came in peace for all mankind,' remained." To this day, only 12 people have ever walked on the moon. Hopefully, that number will increase within the next decade. NASA is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Viking 1 lander's arrival on Mars. Viking 1 was the first American craft to land on the red planet on July 20, 1976.

Taiwan Building Lunar Lander For NASA Moon-Mining Mission ( 84

MarkWhittington quotes a report from Blasting News: According to AFP, the Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology in Taiwan is building a $47 million, 3.7 metric ton lunar lander on behalf of NASA. The vehicle is designed to carry a rover called Resource Prospector, which would roll about the lunar surface searching out deposits of oxygen, hydrogen, and water. The Resource Prospector mission is still being formulated but is envisioned to be a joint project with several national space agencies and commercial companies. The lunar lander is the first vehicle of its type to be built in Taiwan. "The Resource Prospector would take samples from about a meter beneath the lunar surface and then heat them in an oven to ascertain what the materials are that comprise it," reports Blasting News. The mission is part of the second stage to NASA's Journey to Mars program called "Proving Ground." "Should the Resource Prospector prove to be successful, the moon could be used as a base for space journeys into Mars," says Han Kuo-change, the head of CSIST's international cooperation program.

Assembly Code That Took America to the Moon Now Published On GitHub ( 74

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: "The code that took America to the moon was just published to GitHub, and it's like a 1960s time capsule," reports Quartz. Two lines of code include the comment "# TEMPORARY, I HOPE HOPE HOPE," and there's also a quote from Shakespeare's play Henry VI. In addition, the keyboard and display system program is named PINBALL_GAME_BUTTONS_AND_LIGHT, and "There's also code that appears to instruct an astronaut to 'crank the silly thing around.'"

A former NASA intern uploaded the thousands of lines of assembly code to GitHub, working from a 2003 transcription made from scans inherited by MIT from a Colorado airplane pilot, and developers are already using GitHub to submit funny issue tickets for the 40-year-old code -- for example, "Extension pack for picking up Matt Damon". Another issue complains that "A customer has had a fairly serious problem with stirring the cryogenic tanks with a circuit fault present." Because this issue succinctly describes the Apollo 13 mission in 1970, the issue has been marked "closed".


United Launch Alliance Plans For 1,000 People Working In Space By 2045 ( 135

What if you could produce rocket fuel in outer space -- making it 83% cheaper? One company sees this as the basis a self-sustaining "space economy" based on refueling Earth-orbiting spaceships. Slashdot reader MarkWhittington writes: Jeff Bezos, of both Amazon and Blue Origin, may ruminate about moving a lot of industry off the planet, but the United Launch Alliance, that joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, has a concrete plan to do so. ULA is working on an idea to have 1,000 people operating in Earth-moon space by 2045, less than 30 years away...

Microsoft President Brad Smith: Computer Science Is Space Race of Today 171

theodp writes: Q. How is K-12 computer science like the Cold War? A. It could use a Sputnik moment, at least that's the gist of an op-ed penned by Senator Jerry Moran (R., KS) and Microsoft President Brad Smith. From the article: "In the wake of the Soviet Union's 1957 Sputnik launch, President Eisenhower confronted the reality that America's educational standards were holding back the country's opportunity to compete on a global technological scale. He responded and called for support of math and science, which resulted in the National Defense Education Act of 1958 and helped send the country to the moon by the end of the next decade. It also created the educational foundation for a new generation of technology, leadership and prosperity. Today we face a similar challenge as the United States competes with nations across the globe in the indispensable field of computer science. To be up to the task, we must do a better job preparing our students for tomorrow's jobs." Smith is also a Board member of tech-bankrolled, which invoked Sputnik in its 2014 Senate testimony ("learning computer science is this generation's Sputnik moment") as it called for "comprehensive immigration reform efforts that tie H-1B visa fees to a new STEM education fund [...] to support the teaching and learning of more computer science," nicely echoing Microsoft's National Talent Strategy. Tying the lack of K-12 CS education to the need for tech visas is a time-honored tradition of sorts for Microsoft and politicians. As early as 2004, Bill Gates argued that CS education needed its own Sputnik moment, a sentiment shared by Senator Hillary Clinton in 2007 as she and fellow Senators listened to Gates make the case for more H-1B visas as he lamented the lack of CS-savvy U.S. high school students.

Europa's Ocean Chemistry Could Be Earth-Like ( 73

An anonymous reader writes: Alien life in the universe could be close to home, swimming around Europa's ocean. The idea has been floating around scientific minds for more than a decade: beneath the icy surface of the Jovian moon could slosh a deep, wide ocean with the perfect environment for life to develop. In new research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, NASA scientists studied how the chemical composition of the Europan ocean may have evolved and what chemicals it possibly contains, assuming similar geochemical processes as on Earth are at play. Europa is thought to possess a rocky core fractured with deep cracks that have filled with water. Since the formation of the moon, the core has continued to cool, creating more cracks and exposing more rocks to chemical processes with this water."We're studying an alien ocean using methods developed to understand the movement of energy and nutrients in Earth's own systems," said planetary scientist Steve Vance, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The cycling of oxygen and hydrogen in Europa's ocean will be a major driver for Europa's ocean chemistry and any life there, just it is on Earth."

Wikipedia May Get Delivered To The Moon ( 52

A new Meta page on reports: "A group of science enthusiasts from Berlin, Germany, are planning to send their own custom-built rover to the Moon. And they want to take Wikipedia with them." Sort of. Wikimedia Deutschland has been offered space on a data disc to be carried by one of the five image-gathering rovers still competing to land on the Moon by 2017 for the Google Lunar XPRIZE challenge. But there's only 20 gigabytes of space, so they're calling on the Wikipedia communities to agree on which content should be included by June 24. "Even if only a snapshot of Wikipedia can be brought to the Moon, its content will equal a genuine snapshot of the sum of all human knowledge..." the Meta page explains "This is an anniversary gift to all Wikipedia communities all over the world."

China Plans To Reach Mars by 2020 and Eventually Build a Moon Base ( 105

Rebecca Harrington, writing for Tech Insider: China has plans to orbit the moon, land people on it, and eventually settle a moon colony. But that's just part of the nation's vision for space exploration: China intends to get a spacecraft to Mars by 2020. "Our long-term goal is to explore, land, and settle [on the moon]," Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's moon and Mars missions, told the BBC. "We want a manned lunar landing to stay for longer periods and establish a research base." Weiren didn't specify when the country plans to accomplish these goals, but he did say they will "check out" the far side of the moon before attempting to land astronauts there. This mission already has concrete plans. He also said China wants to reach Mars by 2020, and implied that the country has finally settled on a mission to send a rover to the Red Planet. "We will orbit Mars, land and deploy a rover -- all in one mission," Weiren told the BBC.

Despite Lean Space Budgets Russia Is Headed For the Moon ( 108

MarkWhittington writes: Thanks to the collapse of oil prices that has ravaged the Russian economy, dependent as it is on fossil fuel exports, Russia's space program is facing draconian budget cuts... Still, the country that lost the race to the moon still has ambitious plans for Earth's closest neighbor... The Russians even have hopes of landing cosmonauts on the lunar surface by the end of the 2020s.
New evidence of subsurface ice helped fuel their interest in human moon landings, according to Science magazine, which reports that Russia is first planning five robotic missions to the moon over the next nine years. Three of these will be conducted with the European Space Agency, including one which will drill for underground samples in the new areas of the lunar surface, and the director of Russia's space agency says "the next decade will be quite busy for us."

The 'Human Computer' Behind the Moon Landing Was a Black Woman ( 269

Reader bricko writes: The 'Human Computer' Behind the Moon Landing Was a black woman (video). She calculated the trajectory of man's first trip to the moon by hand, and was such an accurate mathematician that John Glenn asked her to double-check NASA's computers. To top it off, she did it all as a black woman in the 1950s and 60s, when women at NASA were not even invited to meetings. And you've probably never heard of her. Meet Katherine Johnson, the African American woman who earned the nickname 'the human computer' at NASA during its space race golden age.

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