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Airbus Is Officially Building an "Interplanetary Cargo Ship" – Futurism

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Heavy Lift

The European Space Agency has officially hired aerospace giant Airbus build a spacecraft designed to bring back the first ever rock samples from Mars, the BBC reports.

The goal is to help confirm if ancient life has ever existed on the Red Planet by carrying back samples collected by NASA’s Perseverance rover.

Hard Problem

It’s an ambitious, multi-billion dollar project, according to recently announced plans.

“This is not just twice as difficult as any typical Mars mission; it’s twice squared — when you think about the complexity involved,” David Parker, the director of human and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency (ESA), told the BBC.

“And this satellite that Airbus will build — I like to call it ‘the first interplanetary cargo ship’, because that’s what it will be doing,” he added. “It’s designed to carry cargo between Mars and Earth.”

Interplanetary DHL

The spacecraft, dubbed the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO), will weigh a whopping 6.5 tons and launch in 2026. Ion engines, powered by massive solar arrays, will power its journey there and back, according to the BBC.

Getting Mars rocks back to Earth will involve a patchwork of robots from both NASA and ESA working in tandem.

First, according to SpaceNews, a different, yet-unnamed NASA lander carrying an ESA-built “fetch rover” will pick up Perseverance’s sample tubes, according to the article, and put them in the unnamed lander. A small rocket called the Mars Ascent Vehicle will then bring the samples into the planet’s orbit.

Once it’s orbiting Mars, ERO will rendezvous with those samples of Martian rock and attempt to ship them back to Earth inside a soccer ball-sized container, the BBC reports. It will then release the capsule over the Utah desert in 2031, if everything goes according to plan.

READ MORE: Airbus to build ‘first interplanetary cargo ship’ [BBC]

More on Perseverance: NASA’s New Rover Hit a Glitch After Launch, Entered “Safe Mode”

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NASA’s SpaceX Capsule scheduled to return on Sunday with 2 Astronauts, if Weather allows!!! – Gizmo Posts 24

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The first private company to send humans to orbit is Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The same was done in May when astronauts Behnken and Hurley was launched. Upon returning, the astronauts will have spent on the space station for more than two months. In 2011 NASA’s shuttle program retired and since that time the missions marks the first that they have launched humans from U.S. soil.

NASA's SpaceX Capsule is scheduled for returning on Sunday with two astronauts
The return of the astronauts from the International Space Station

The NASA astronauts are returning from International Space Station after a nearly four-month voyage on Sunday. The two NASA astronauts boarding SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon rode to the International Space Station. In nine years, this marks the first crewed mission of NASA from home soil. The name of the U.S. astronauts is Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. They were launched in May to the space station. It is reported that they will splash down at about 2:48 p.m. ET on Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean through one of seven landing sites and board Crew Dragon around 5:30 p.m. ET.

A farewell ceremony was held for the astronauts earlier today aboard the space station. Behnken said, “The hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important part in bringing us home.”


Location of Splash Down

The coast of Panama City, Florida is chosen by the officials of NASA and SpaceX for the “prime” splashdown location on Sunday for Crew Dragon. The selection may also change as due to the approaching of a path of Hurricane Isaias, a category 1 cyclone on the east coast of Florida as monitored by the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing. If the Isaias forces a delay, the return opportunity opens on Monday.

NASA’s commercial crew manager Steve Stich said, “We have plenty of opportunities here in August and we’re in no hurry to come home.”

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In space, bacteria is even more deadly and resilient to antibiotics – The Next Web

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China recently launched its Tianwen-1 mission to Mars. A rocket holding an orbiter, lander and rover took flight from the country’s Hainan province, with hopes to deploy the rover on Mars’s surface by early next year.

Similarly, the launch of the Emirates Mars Mission marked the Arab world’s foray into interplanetary space travel. And on July 30, we saw NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover finally take off from Florida.

For many nations and their people, space is becoming the ultimate frontier. But although we’re gaining the ability to travel smarter and faster into space, much remains unknown about its effects on biological substances, including us.

While the possibilities of space exploration seem endless, so are its dangers. And one particular danger comes from the smallest life forms on Earth: bacteria.

Bacteria live within us and all around us. So whether we like it or not, these microscopic organisms tag along wherever we go – including into space. Just as space’s unique environment has an impact on us, so too does it impact bacteria.

[Read: Why are scientists trying to manufacture organs in space?]

We don’t yet know the gravity of the problem

All life on Earth evolved with gravity as an ever-present force. Thus, Earth’s life has not adapted to spend time in space. When gravity is removed or greatly reduced, processes influenced by gravity behave differently as well.

In space, where there is minimal gravity, sedimentation (when solids in a liquid settle to the bottom), convection (the transfer of heat energy), and buoyancy (the force that makes certain objects float) are minimized.

Similarly, forces such as liquid surface tension and capillary forces (when a liquid flows to fill a narrow space) become more intense.

It’s not yet fully understood how such changes impact lifeforms.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover will be launched later this month. Among other tasks, it will seek out past microscopic life and collect samples of Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) to later be returned to Earth. NASA/Cover Images

How bacteria become more deadly in space

Worryingly, research from space flight missions has shown bacteria become more deadly and resilient when exposed to microgravity (when only tiny gravitational forces are present).

In space, bacteria seem to become more resistant to antibiotics and more lethal. They also stay this way for a short time after returning to Earth, compared with bacteria that never left Earth.

Adding to that, bacteria also seem to mutate quicker in space. However, these mutations are predominately for the bacteria to adapt to the new environment – not to become super deadly.

More research is needed to examine whether such adaptations do, in fact, allow the bacteria to cause more disease.

Bacterial teamwork is bad news for space stations

Research has shown space’s microgravity promotes biofilm formation of bacteria.

Biofilms are densely-packed cell colonies that produce a matrix of polymeric substances allowing bacteria to stick to each other, and to stationary surfaces.

Biofilms increase bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics, promote their survival, and improve their ability to cause infection. We have seen biofilms grow and attach to equipment on space stations, causing it to biodegrade.

For example, biofilms have affected the Mir space station’s navigation window, air conditioning, oxygen electrolysis block, water recycling unit, and thermal control system. The prolonged exposure of such equipment to biofilms can lead to malfunction, which can have devastating effects.

Another effect of microgravity on bacteria involves their structural distortion. Certain bacteria have shown reductions in cell size and increases in cell numbers when grown in microgravity.

In the case of the former, bacterial cells with the smaller surface areas have fewer molecule-cell interactions, and this reduces the effectiveness of antibiotics against them.

Moreover, the absence of effects produced by gravity, such as sedimentation and buoyancy, could alter the way bacteria take in nutrients or drugs intended to attack them. This could result in the increased drug resistance and infectiousness of bacteria in space.

All of this has serious implications, especially when it comes to long-haul space flights where gravity would not be present. Experiencing a bacterial infection that cannot be treated in these circumstances would be catastrophic.

The benefits of performing research in space

On the other hand, the effects of space also result in a unique environment that can be positive for life on Earth.

For example, molecular crystals in space’s microgravity grow much larger and more symmetrically than on Earth. Having more uniform crystals allows the formulation of more effective drugs and treatments to combat various diseases including cancers and Parkinson’s disease.

Also, the crystallization of molecules helps determine their precise structures. Many molecules that cannot be crystallized on Earth can be in space.

So, the structure of such molecules could be determined with the help of space research. This, too, would aid the development of higher-quality drugs.

Optical fiber cables can also be made to a much better standard in space, due to the optimal formation of crystals. This greatly increases data transmission capacity, making networking and telecommunications faster.

As humans spend more time in space, an environment riddled with known and unknown dangers, further research will help us thoroughly examine the risks – and the potential benefits – of space’s unique environment.

This article is republished from The Conversation by Vikrant Minhas, PhD candidate, University of Adelaide under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Annual Perseid meteor shower peaks this week: How you can catch some 'shooting stars' – CBC.ca

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Looking for a fun, physical-distancing activity in the coming days? The best meteor shower of the year is upon us. 

The Perseid meteor shower is one of the best summertime treats. Under optimal conditions — clear, moonless dark skies — at its peak, the shower can produce up to 100 meteors an hour.

The meteor shower runs from July 17 to Aug. 26, with the peak occurring this year on the night of Aug. 11–12.

Meteor showers occur when Earth, as it orbits the sun, plows through debris left over from a passing comet or asteroid. These small, grain-sized pieces of debris burn up in our atmosphere, produce beautiful streaks of light, often referred to as “shooting stars.”

In this case, Earth is passing through a stream left from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. 

Try out this interactive map showing how Earth passes through the meteor shower:

When and where to watch

While last year’s shower was hampered by an almost full moon, the good news is that this year, the moon will only be 44 per cent illuminated and rise after midnight.

The biggest key to enjoying a meteor shower is getting away from light sources. That means finding a good, dark-sky location, such as a park or a beach. Also, stay away from your cellphone. As it takes our eyes some time to adjust to the dark, the phone’s bright light will make it more difficult to do so. Typically, it can take 30 minutes or longer for your eyes to adjust.

The greatest thing about meteor showers is that everyone can enjoy them. There’s no need for a telescope or even binoculars. All you need to do is grab a blanket or two, find a good location and look up.

A Perseid meteor in 2014 streaks over Starfest, a star party held annually in southwestern Ontario each August. This year, the Perseid meteor shower will peak on the night of Aug. 11-12. (Submitted by Malcolm Park)

See some ‘Earth-grazers’

Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors seem to originate, called the radiant. In this case, the radiant is in the constellation Perseus, hence the name.

The constellation rises in the northern sky at about 9:30 p.m. local time and continues to rise in the northeast. But you don’t have to look exactly in that direction to see the meteors. You can simply look up. 

In fact, if you’re doing your meteor-gazing at that time of night, the meteors will leave much longer trains — or streaks — in the sky as they skim the upper atmosphere. These are called “Earth-grazers” and can be seen low in the east moving from north to south. Though earlier in the night isn’t the most active time for meteors, the ones that you will see will likely be more spectacular as a result.

And you don’t have to look straight up because more meteors will be seen at somewhat lower elevations.

As the constellation rises higher in the sky, you will likely see more meteors. Of course, as the constellation rises, so, too, does the moon. That means that only the brightest meteors will be visible. The good thing is, the Perseids do tend to put on a show with some brilliant meteors seen even over urban areas. 

Now, if the weather doesn’t look like it’ll hold up, you can try watching on either side of the peak night, on Monday or Wednesday when meteor activity will still be high.

And, if you’re willing to go the distance, you can pull an all-nighter or wake up very early in the morning, as the best time to see meteors will be in the few hours before sunrise on Wednesday.

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