Who Is SpaceX's Mystery Moon Passenger? - Canadanewsmedia
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Who Is SpaceX's Mystery Moon Passenger?



“The moon is essentially grey, no color. Looks like plaster of Paris or sort of a grayish beach sand.”

This was how Jim Lovell described the lunar surface in 1968 from his perch about 60 miles above the moon. Lovell and his fellow NASA astronauts never touched down, but they returned to Earth with memories of what was, at the time, the closest view a human being had ever experienced of the planet’s rocky companion.  

Nearly 60 years after the Apollo 8 mission, SpaceX wants to give someone that view again.

Elon Musk’s spaceflight company announced Thursday that it will send a private passenger to fly around the moon on its next launch system, the Big Falcon Rocket. The voyage is “an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space,” SpaceX said on Twitter.

SpaceX did not give a potential launch date or other details, but those may come Monday night, when the company said it would reveal the identity of the passenger. This gives us a full weekend to speculate, and speculate we will. Because this trip, if it indeed moves forward—SpaceX previously announced and scrapped a similar plan—would make history. And not because the voyage would be developed, funded, and operated by a commercial company, rather than NASA, but because the passenger is probably unlike anyone who has made the journey before.

Only 24 people have been to the moon. They were all American, male, and white.

So, who could this mystery moon traveler be?

In February of last year, SpaceX announced it would send two paying customers on a trip around the moon aboard the company’s Falcon Heavy rocket sometime in 2018. The plan never materialized, likely because Musk eventually decided not to certify the Heavy for human spaceflight and focus on the development of the BFR instead. The identity of these private citizens was never revealed, though Musk did say that “it’s nobody from Hollywood.” The passenger SpaceX plans to fly on the BFR may be one of them.

The passenger doesn’t have to be a U.S. citizen. SpaceX will someday fly Americans, yes, but these will be the astronauts that NASA has chosen to test the company’s crew transportation system, which the space agency wants to use to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Unlike that project, the BFR is not affiliated with or funding by NASA. After the announcement Thursday, when a Twitter user mused whether the lucky passenger may be Musk himself, Musk responded with the emoji for the Japanese flag, prompting some to throw out names of wealthy Japanese individuals with an interest in tech. Russia, China, and India have all said they hope to put their astronauts on the moon, with India aiming to do so as early as 2022. SpaceX may beat them, and give another country the historic first.

Perhaps the voyage will record another first, for women. The Soviet Union sent the first woman to space, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963. Twenty years later, the United States sent Sally Ride. As of March of this year, 60 women from nine countries have gone to space, and several of them have made multiple trips, according to NASA. But none have been to the moon.

The bottom line, of course, comes down to money. The BFR passenger is a paying customer, which means they are certainly very, very rich. SpaceX is quite secretive about the cost of flights on Falcon 9, its workhorse rocket, but even that may not be the best comparison. The BFR will be much bigger than a Falcon 9, and in spaceflight, the heavier something is, the more expensive it is to launch. Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s spaceflight company, will charge $250,000 per ticket on its winged space plane, which is undergoing testing. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s company, will reportedly charge between $200,000 and $300,000 per ticket for flights on its New Shepard vehicle, also still being tested. But both of these will provide suborbital spaceflights, which means passengers will not leave low-Earth orbit. The farther you travel in space, the more expense it gets.

The BFR, which Musk first described in 2016 as part of his long-term goals for a Mars mission, is still under development. The launch system will have include two reusable stages, a booster, and a spaceship that can hold dozens of passengers. Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s chief operating officer, has said that the company will begin testing small, suborbital “hops” of the launch system late next year and predicts the BFR will be orbital “in 2020 or so.”

If this concept becomes reality, the mystery passenger—and the flight engineers picked to accompany them—will have plenty of leg room. Their experience will be very unlike that of Jim Lovell and his fellow astronauts, who were packed like spacefaring sardines in the lunar module. The view, however, will be the same. The window will fill up with the slate gray of the moon, with the texture of the ridges and craters of its surface. And then, as the spaceship circles the moon, the Earth will slink into view from behind it. “Oh, my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!” exclaimed one of the NASA astronauts 60 years ago when he snapped a photograph of that view, the now iconic “Earthrise” shot. Whoever the mystery SpaceX passenger is, let’s hope they don’t forget to pack a camera.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Marina Koren is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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Dandelion seeds reveal newly discovered form of natural flight




A ring-shaped air bubble forms as air moves through the bristles, enhancing the drag that slows their descent, according to new research from the University of Edinburgh. Credit: Naomi Nakayami

The extraordinary flying ability of dandelion seeds is possible thanks to a form of flight that has not been seen before in nature, research has revealed.

The discovery, which confirms the common plant among the natural world’s best fliers, shows that movement of air around and within its parachute-shaped bundle of enables seeds to travel great distances—often a kilometre or more, kept afloat entirely by wind power.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh carried out experiments to better understand why dandelion seeds fly so well, despite their parachute structure being largely made up of empty space.

Their study revealed that a ring-shaped air bubble forms as air moves through the bristles, enhancing the drag that slows each ‘s descent to the ground.

This newly found form of air bubble—which the scientists have named the separated vortex ring—is physically detached from the bristles and is stabilised by air flowing through it.

The amount of air flowing through, which is critical for keeping the bubble stable and directly above the seed in flight, is precisely controlled by the spacing of the bristles.

This flight mechanism of the bristly parachute underpins the seeds’ steady flight. It is four times more efficient than what is possible with conventional parachute design, according to the research.

Dandelion seeds reveal newly discovered form of natural flight
When dandelion seeds fly, a ring-shaped air bubble forms as air moves through the bristles, enhancing the drag that slows their descent. Credit: Cathal Cummins

Researchers suggest that the dandelion’s porous parachute might inspire the development of small-scale drones that require little or no power consumption. Such drones could be useful for remote sensing or air pollution monitoring.

The study, published in Nature, was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Royal Society.

Dr. Cathal Cummins, of the University of Edinburgh’s Schools of Biological Sciences and Engineering, who led the study, said: “Taking a closer look at the ingenious structures in nature—like the dandelion’s —can reveal novel insights. We found a natural solution for flight that minimises the material and energy costs, which can be applied to engineering of sustainable technology.”

A form of flight that has not been seen before has been revealed in a study of dandelions. A ring-shaped air bubble forms as air moves through the bristles, enhancing the drag that slows their descent, according to new research from the University of Edinburgh. Credit: Cathal Cummins

Explore further:
NASA to test parachute system for landing spacecraft on Mars

More information:
Cathal Cummins et al, A separated vortex ring underlies the flight of the dandelion, Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0604-2

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A separated vortex ring underlies the flight of the dandelion




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    Debris from Halley's Comet to spark Orionid meteor shower this weekend




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    1. Debris from Halley’s Comet to spark Orionid meteor shower this weekend  AccuWeather.com
    2. Halley’s Comet viewing: Orionid meteor shower peaks THIS WEEK but when is Halley back?  Express.co.uk
    3. Orionid Meteor Shower: See Them Before They Peak In Ohio  Patch.com
    4. The Best Meteor Showers in 2018  Sky & Telescope
    5. Full coverage

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