Insights

Space News: Holiday Edition 2014

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By Jill Cassidy

Space News apologizes for its hiatus and promises that more frequent updates will be its New Year’s resolution.  See you back on the Interwebs Jan. 9.

Quote of the Week

“At that point, I’ll be out of the presidency and I might hitch a ride.” – President Obama, referring to when an American is the first human to set foot on Mars, thanking Julie Kramer White, NASA’s chief engineer for Orion, for her work to ensure Orion’s first successful flight test

Repeat After Me

What to say when your stocking is full of gift cards …

That’s actually exactly what I wanted.  America’s favorite space is on board with receiving gifts of cash, too.  Over the weekend, the House and Senate agreed on and passed the 2015 federal budget, which keeps agencies like NASA, NOAA and the DoD funded.  The budget allocated $18 billion for NASA, which is $364 million more than the agency’s 2014 budget and $549 more than the White House had requested.  In other words, I’ll see your Orion and raise you one Space Launch System.

What to say when your best friend is less than stoked about travelling 400 miles to visit the in-laws …

Psssh, try 2,500 miles.  After a successful Exploration Flight Test-1 mission, the Orion spacecraft developed by NASA and Lockheed Martin is finally home, as a two-week road trip from San Diego, Calif. to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  The unmanned spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 630 miles from San Diego on Dec. 5.

What to say to your second cousin after last year’s holiday tiff …

Sometimes it takes a year to mend wounds, right?  And launch pad damage.  The Virginia Commercial Spaceport Authority now estimates that it will take a year to repair the launch pad damage at Wallops Island sustained Oct. 28 by the Antares rocket explosion.

What to say when the Viognier you brought doesn’t pair well with the duck your aunt made for supper …

Next time let’s chat in advance.  Sage advice, too, for members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Obama Administration.  Congress is pushing the White House for a stronger commitment to the U.S.’s budget for Mars and making exploration of the Red Planet a higher priority.  In Congress’ words: “We cannot have one set of goals for NASA and for our human exploration programs and then not match those goals with the resources that are required to commit to the work.”  Cue the awkward silence.

What to say when you’re over the 90 degree heat at your great aunt’s condo in Palm Springs …

I could really use 11 trillion gallons of water right about now.  According to NASA, that’s exactly the amount of water the state of California needs to get out of its current drought.  The research team’s analysis comes from satellite and aircraft-based measurements of groundwater and mountain snowpack in the Golden State.  NASA also let Cali know that the volume of water needed to quench its problem is “unprecedented.”  Cue the waterworks.  Oh wait …

What to say when the lake behind grandma’s house is a shell of its former self …

At least we know how it used to look.  According to scientists involved in NASA’s Curiosity rover mission, Gale Crater (aka where the rover first landed) may have been one of many suspected surface depressions on Mars that formed lakes.  Un-technically speaking, this means the Martian atmosphere used to be warm and wet, instead of dry like it is today.  We called California for comment, but no one got back to us before we went to print.

What to say after you swig too much of your brother’s homebrew …

Mars understands what I’m going through.  NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected a number of short-lived spikes, or “belches,” of methane gas on Mars that are 10x higher than the normal low-level amounts constantly in the background.  This is important because methane gas could indicate past or present life on the Red Planet.  Questions like “why” and “how” are still being ascertained, but this is potentially exciting news for scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who are leading the investigation.

What to say when asked about the company holiday party …

It was all a blur, really.  So was Philae’s landing on the comet, according to images released this week by the European Space Agency.  The lander is currently settled in a shadowy hole, waiting for better light conditions so it’s able to recharge its batteries and emerge from “hibernation.”  Due to its dormancy, the location of Philae on the comet is unknown.  We hope you like Sardines, ESA.

What to say when you can’t find your notorious holiday punch recipe …

What the heck.  Let’s just experiment.  Astronaut twins Scott and Mark Kelly are taking experimentation to a new level, gracing this week’s cover of TIME magazine.  This coming March, Scott will take off for a one-year stay aboard the International Space Station, setting a single-mission record for a U.S. astronaut.  Twin brother Mark will stay on Earth.  Why is this newsworthy?  Because NASA wants to send a crew to Mars, but humans have never been on such a long-duration mission and NASA scientists aren’t sure what effect being in zero-G for that long will have on the human body (i.e., bones get brittle, eyeballs lose their shape, muscles atrophy).  Over the course of the year, scientists will monitor Scott’s health in space as compared to their control variable, Mark, on the ground.  It’s like your 5th grade science fair experiment on steroids.

(Always give credit where credit is due. I owe everything I know about writing to theSkimm. If you’re not a subscriber, you’re missing out.)

Image credit: Salvador Spanos

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